Three months after his showdown with Slughorn, Harry steps across the threshold of Auror Headquarters and knows abruptly that he can’t work there anymore.
It’s not that much of a surprise, really. He’s been talking around it with Draco for weeks, over dinner or during lazy mornings in bed — the fact that he only ever got into this line of work because he thought it was what he was supposed to do, because he couldn’t picture himself doing anything else. Draco’s done a lot of eye-rolling and jabbing him in the chest and calling him an idiot about the whole thing, but he hasn’t actually come out and said that he thinks Harry should quit. Harry’s not certain, but he thinks it’s a conclusion Draco wants him to draw for himself, either for Harry’s mental health or because Draco doesn’t want to be held responsible for any consequences.
There was that one night, though, when Harry came home shaken and covered in blood, too angry and heartbroken at what he’d seen, what he hadn't managed to stop, to even say anything to Draco other than, “I’m fine, it’s not my blood,” and “No, I don’t want to fucking talk about it.” He got in the shower and tried, to no avail, to scrub himself clean of the experience, and after a while Draco climbed in behind him, hooked an arm around Harry’s waist, his chin over Harry’s shoulder.
“You don’t have to do this to yourself, you know,” Draco said, barely audible over the sound of the spray. “There are plenty of people who even enjoy their jobs. I enjoy my job. I think Blaise would make sweet love to his job, if it were possible.”
Harry bowed his head, the water beating a steady, shaming pattern against the back of his neck. “Blaise is a sick man,” he said, because it was always worth saying, before, miserably, he continued: “But it’s — I have an obligation, you know? To these people. To everyone. I have to — fight, and defend them, and I can’t just run out on that because I don’t… enjoy it, or whatever.”
After a long moment of silence, and in a strange voice, Draco said, “Good lord, Harry. Don’t you ever get tired of martyring yourself? ‘I have an obligation to all people in any kind of distress,’ honestly.”
“But,” Harry said, and Draco calmly reached up a hand and redirected the spray of the shower directly into Harry’s face, the obnoxious little fuck.
“I’ve got this theory,” Draco said, all innocent, earnest interest as Harry spluttered. “That you actually don’t hear yourself, when you talk. I’ve decided that every time you open your mouth all that registers for you is — well, I don’t know, I haven’t worked this bit out yet. A duck quacking, or something. In any case, it’s clearly less theory than fact, because if you could hear what you sounded like just now, I have full faith that you’d know it for the utter nonsense it was.” He dug his sharp chin into the meat of Harry’s shoulder, a punishing little gesture. “You deserve to be happy, you know, even if you are the most tragically irritating person under the sun.”
Harry didn’t really believe him or anything, but he turned around to press Draco against the cool, damp tile and kiss him just for saying it; just for seeming to think that it was true. Draco opened his mouth against Harry’s and with one thing and another they never worked their way back around to the topic, but he’s carried Draco’s words in his pocket since he heard them all the same, a talisman of sorts. You deserve to be happy. It’s a strange thought.
Still, that’s not even what does it, the morning he walks into the office and knows in his bones that he’s not cut out to be an Auror anymore. It’s not as though he thinks, This doesn’t make me happy and it never did and therefore I must go, because I deserve happiness; Draco said so, or anything silly like that. It’s more that he looks out at the hive of activity buzzing around him and is struck, wholly and without reservation, with the realization that he doesn’t know where he fits into it, anymore. That maybe he’s never known.
He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t stop to think it through. He just walks into Erhard’s office, crosses his arms over his chest, and said, “So, er. I think I quit?”
Erhard raises her eyebrows and, after a second, spells her door shut and mirrors his posture, leaning back over her crossed arms to regard him. “You think you quit?”
“Er,” Harry says again. He shifts a little under her scrutiny, even as his resolve firms up. “No. I quit. I mean, I won’t just — I guess people don’t just… leave, do they?”
“Two weeks notice is the customary courtesy,” Erhard says, and Harry’s surprised to notice a slight smile slip onto her face. “Have you ever actually quit a job before, Auror Potter?”
“No,” Harry admits. He runs a hand through his hair, and offers her a rueful shrug. “I’ve never quit — well. Much of anything, really. Sorry?”
Erhard snorts. “Don’t apologize to me. I have no interest in keeping anyone on staff who doesn’t want to be here, and, to be entirely honest with you… ” She trails off, and the rare expression of uncertainty on her face is so pronounced that Harry can’t help but laugh.
“I’m not very good at it, am I?” Harry says. He doesn’t really need her to answer; he knows it’s the truth.
Erhard gives him an evaluative look, steepling her fingers. “I think that’s a little harsh. In some aspects of the position, you’re one of our strongest Aurors. But in others… ”
“Tactical decision making?” Harry says lightly. This conversation should be embarrassing, but weirdly it’s kind of a relief. “Waiting for backup? Following orders? Doing any paperwork, at all?”
“You do at least seem to know your weaknesses,” Erhard says, the smile stealing back onto her face. “Which is more than I can say for some of your colleagues.” She leans forward, rests her now folded hands on her desk. “May I ask what prompts this abrupt exit? Have you been snapped up by another department, perhaps? Going to work with Granger in Justice?”
“God,” Harry says, laughing on it a little, before he realizes it’s a serious question. “Oh! Er. No, ma’am. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do next, to be honest with you. Just… something else. No offense,” he adds, a little awkwardly, when she raises her eyebrows.
“I’ll admit, Potter, I had you pegged for a Ministry lifer,” Erhard says, shaking her head. “But what can you do? Start organizing your active cases for transfer, and we’ll announce it to the press on Monday.” She holds up a hand before Harry can protest that there’s no reason to involve the papers, and he doesn’t know why she would insist on calling them. “You’re a public figure whether you like it or not, Harry Potter. It’s the smart thing to do, for you and for the department.”
“Fine,” Harry mutters, wondering if he can’t figure out a way to be conveniently held at wandpoint that day, for old times’ sake.
Erhard surprises him, and laughs. “I’ll tell you one thing I will not miss: that look on your face. The migraine that always goes with it, either. Get out of my office, and whatever you’re thinking about doing on Monday, forget it. One last favor to the old boss before you go.”
“Yeah, all right,” Harry says, grinning now. He feels… lighter, as he stands and walks to the door. Guilty too, already, and afraid to even consider what the Prophet might write about it, but… lighter, all the same.
“Oh, and Potter?” Harry turns, and Erhard straightens in her seat, lifts her jaw. “Thank you for your service.”
“Er,” Harry says, startled and touched, “you too?” and flees to his desk before he has to deal with any further sincerity.
He keeps his head down for the rest of the day, not ready to say anything to anyone, and when he gets home he remembers that it’s Wednesday, and Ron, Hermione and Rose are coming for dinner. It’s a thing they do pretty regularly now, him and Draco — have people over. Invite friends to share their space. It’s nice. Harry’s getting used to it.
Draco’s not home yet, but dinner (as always) is at seven, so Harry shrugs and starts cooking, losing himself a little in the process. When Draco bursts through the door at ten minutes til, sweaty from the summer heat and enraged about some meeting with an antiquities dealer in Sussex, Harry honestly forgets to tell him. He leaves his pots and pans working on the stove and follows Draco upstairs instead, leans against the doorway of their bedroom while Draco changes shirts and rants — “And then, Harry, then he says, ‘Oh I don’t know about that, Mr. Malfoy, I’ve got another buyer offering me fair market value,’ like I don’t know what fair market value is for an 18th century amulet that never even worked in the first place,” — and it’s all so comfortable that Harry doesn’t think about the big, life-changing the decision he just made. He just hums vague agreement where he thinks he’s supposed to and watches Draco’s hands, which are flying around in agitation even as he does up the buttons of his shirt, making the whole process agonizingly slow.
It’s still a little weird for Harry, if he’s honest, to look at this room that was once Draco’s and acknowledge that it’s his now, too. It’s not like it’s really a new thing; even though they both agreed that it would be insane to move in together straight off the bat, in practice Harry’s lived here since he decided to stay temporarily during the case, and they both know it. Hell, Harry’s only slept a handful nights at his apartment in the last three months, and a few of them were just to prove that he could, and the other one barely counts, anyway. It wasn’t even a full night — he and Draco had an enormous row about Hagrid, of all things, and then Draco turned up at four in the morning to, essentially, needle Harry into bullying him into apologizing, so. Harry’s lived here for a while, is the truth.
Harry supposes, as he watches Draco do up his last button, that it’s a bit like the hole that used to be in the perfectly solid wall Draco’s standing in front of. It took weeks to knit itself back together, slow, painstaking work that Draco tracked with a little frown and a ruler, and Harry bets it feels a bit strange sometimes, too, standing there perfectly whole like it was never it pieces at all.
He smiles at Draco, who fixes things up as a hobby, who loves this mad old house he rescued and that mad old plant he rescued and maybe even mad old Harry, who he rescued a little bit, too. Some days Harry thinks Draco has a lot of nerve accusing him of having a savior complex, since, if anything, he’s worse; he’s just a lot more selective about it.
Draco catches him looking, and flushes. Still, his voice is lofty and dignified when he says, “Stop ogling me, Potter. Your friends will be here any minute — with their child, no less — and I’m sure they’d all be scarred for life if they walked in on anything risqué.”
“Oh, because they’re going to come up to the bedroom looking for us,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “And they’re your friends too, Draco.”
“Bite your tongue,” Draco says, though Harry knows it’s mostly for show. “It’s bad enough that I associate with you.”
“You and Ron went and got a drink last week,” Harry says, in the triumphant tones of a man with an ace up his sleeve. “That’s true friendship, that is.”
“It was only because you and Hermione were late!” says Draco, looking hunted. “No fun was had! No camaraderie was forged!”
“Ron said you had a lovely time,” Harry says wickedly. “I believe his exact words were ‘Dead helpful, that Malfoy.’”
Draco shudders. “That’s truly horrible, Harry, thank you. My day was going too well, you see. Without you to bring me down I might have spent the whole night doing something as hideous as enjoying myself.”
“Something one does,” Harry says mildly, “with one’s friends.” He attempts Draco’s signature solo-eyebrow raise, too, but he’s not sure that it’s really working all that well.
After struggling to hold a scowl for about two seconds, Draco snorts with laughter and shakes his head. “You look deranged. I mean, you are deranged, so it’s fitting, at least, but — ”
They lose whatever he was about to say to Kreacher appearing with his customary crack. Though it drove him a bit mad at first, Harry has grown to love that crack; it’s very helpful in delicate situations, and has saved him from accidentally exposing himself more than once.
“The Weasleys are here, Master Draco and Harry Potter!” Kreacher trills, even as Harry sighs. He’s categorically forbidden Kreacher from calling him Master Harry, Master Potter, or anything else involving the word Master, on the theory that it really is Draco’s house, whatever it might have decided, and also the idea of answering to Master makes him uncomfortable anyway. Kreacher agreed easily enough, but could not be swayed into calling him either “Harry” (Harry’s preference) or “Potter” (Draco’s), so Harry seems to be stuck with his full name for the duration.
“Thanks, Kreacher,” Harry says, instead of fighting that losing battle again. He and Draco go downstairs, still bickering about whether or not Ron and Hermione are Draco’s friends, though Harry notes with some amusement that Draco abandons the topic the minute they’re in earshot. They have drinks in the kitchen while Harry finishes making dinner, and Draco plays with Rose, and all in all it’s not until about halfway through the meal that Harry remembers that he has an important piece of information to share. He braces himself.
“So,” Harry says, keeping his voice casual and his eyes on his plate, when there’s a lull following an impassioned discussion of Hermione’s last official ruling, “I, er. Quit my job today.”
His admission is followed by dead silence. He doesn’t dare look up.
Ron’s the first to break. “You — you did what?”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione says, sounding despairing. “But you’ve put in so much time there! You couldn’t have been more than a year or two out from a promotion!“
“I didn’t want a promotion,” Harry says, to his peas. “I’d’ve had to give up the field work, and that’s the only part of the job I’ve ever even sort of liked.”
“That’s not true!” Ron says at once. “You liked — well, okay, maybe not most of the paperwork and networking and stuff, but still! You could have found a way to, I don’t know — work around that! Something!” He lowers his voice conspiratorially. “You know, I haven’t even heard any whisperings about this among the senior staff; I bet you still have time to change your mind.”
“I don’t want to change my mind,” Harry tells his remaining bites of rosemary-crusted lamb, defiant for all he’s not making eye contact with anyone. “And I’m not going to, anyway. It’s done.”
Silence blooms out between them again, unbroken except for the sound of Rose merrily thwapping her spoon against the side of the table, and Harry can’t take it anymore. He lifts his head, and looks at Draco.
Draco is looking back at him, eyes warm, smile small and honest and so pleased that Harry can’t help but grin back, awash with relief. “Well, Potter. Took you long enough.”
“Git,” Harry says, so affectionate that Draco winces a little, though he doesn’t quite stop smiling.
“Oh, no,” says Ron, looking back and forth between them. “Don’t tell me you support this, Malfoy! If this is one of your — your schemes — ”
“Sorry to disappoint, Weasley,” Draco says, though his eyes don’t leave Harry’s for a second. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d say Draco sounded almost proud. “I’m afraid this was all Harry’s doing.”
“But mate,” Ron says. His voice is so entreating that Harry forces his gaze away from Draco to glance at him, and regrets it immediately; Ron’s face has fallen dramatically, and Harry feels a swell of guilt at his wounded look. “We were going to work together until we were old. We were going to be those guys, you know! Who’d been there forever! And the Junior Aurors would come in and say, ‘Who’re those guys,’ and everyone’d laugh and say, ‘Oh, them? That’s Potter and Weasley. They’ve been here since the dawn of time.’”
Harry has a wild, angry moment, just for a second, thinking of that night in Ron and Hermione’s dining room, months and months ago now. He’d gone over there so sure that he was going to beg Ron not to take his promotion, and then — then he saw how happy Ron was, and he bit his tongue. And it’s not — it’s not fair, the situation’s not the same, but for a second he wants to take Ron’s head off anyway. Hermione’s, too. Can just see himself screaming, “Don’t you want me to be happy,” even though he’s not entirely sure he knows the answer to that question himself. Even though he wants to believe that isn’t why he’s done this, because it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason, somehow.
“That is such a grim dream I may drink my own tears with dessert,” says Draco, before Harry can say anything. “Harry, will my tears go well with whatever you’ve made?”
“Victoria sponge with raspberries? No,” Harry says, grateful for the distraction. “But I can do you a quick cheese plate, if you like.”
Draco’s shoulders shake a little with suppressed laughter, though his voice is sarcastic when he says, “Truly, your mastery of the culinary arts astounds me. A cheese plate — what insight! What vision!”
“Look, if you want to drink a cup of tears with cake be my guest,” Harry says, not bothering to hide his amusement all that much. “Choke on it, for all I care.”
“Maybe I will, Potter,” Draco says, with a slight leer. He leans forward on his elbows a bit. “Do you think — ”
“Oh my god!” says Ron, abruptly reminding Harry — and Draco, judging by his little jump — that he’s still there. Thankfully, having forgotten him makes it a bit difficult to hold onto his anger vis-a-vis Ron not paying enough attention to Harry’s — whatever. Emotional state. “First of all, let’s spare baby Rose the floor show — ”
“And her mother, too,” Hermione says, patting the now-visible swell of little Possibly-Violet-Possibly-Hugo. “I’m fragile, you know. In the family way. You might overwhelm my delicate sensibilities and kill me right here at this table.”
“Hermione, the first half of tonight’s dinner conversation featured a story about you telling two clerks where they could shove their inaccurate reports,” Harry says, raising his eyebrows. “‘Fragile’ and ‘delicate’ aren’t really the words that come to mind.”
“Well,” Hermione says, popping a cherry tomato in her mouth and not having the grace to look even slightly moved, “still.”
“Getting back to the matter at hand,” Ron says pointedly, “maybe — maybe it was a little unrealistic, okay, to think that you and me would just, you know. Work together forever, or whatever. But — mate! What are you even going to do now?”
“Yes, Harry,” Hermione says, leaning forward to regard him with interest. “If not the Aurors, then what? Ooh, you’re not thinking of going back to get your NEWTs, are you? I know it’s a bit late, but I think that’s a great idea. I always said you’d wish you had them someday!”
When Harry throws another look to Draco, feeling hunted, Draco’s staring back at him, still wearing that small, honest smile. Eyes glittering, he says, “Let me guess. You decided to do it, oh, about twelve seconds before you actually did, didn’t you? And of course you didn’t bother to think it through any further than that, so you have no earthly idea what you’re going to do now. Does that sound about right?”
Harry winces and shrugs a shoulder. “Er. Well. More or less?”
“Harry,” Hermione groans, even as Ron drops his head into his hands.
But Draco tips his head back and laughs, the sound low and rich, filling the room. He’s not laughing at Harry, exactly — Harry, for better or worse, is very familiar with that particular sound — and there’s no hint of mockery to it, no sharp edges on which to cut himself. It seems more delighted than anything else, like Harry is so wildly entertaining that Draco can’t help but bubble over with it a little. It warms Harry to his toes.
“Oh, Potter,” Draco says, shaking his head, voice still thready with laughter. “You are who you are, aren’t you?”
Harry shrugs again. “I guess so?”
“Incredible,” Draco says to his plate, spearing a couple of peas, but not actually making any move to eat them. He rolls his eyes at Harry, all fond exasperation. “And I suppose it hasn’t occurred to you to ask yourself what you want to do, has it? Or what you like to do, even?”
“Er,” says Harry, which seems to be answer enough.
Draco waves his laden fork in the air a bit; one of the peas flies off into a corner, not that he seems to notice. “It’s honestly a miracle you’ve survived so many years on this earth. You will be 26 in one week, Harry Potter, and yet still, somehow, you know nothing about life.” He smiles, then, a bright one that Harry thinks is vaguely reminiscent of a shark. “Luckily, you have me. I’m sure that between us we can figure something out.”
“This conversation has taken a terrifying turn,” Ron says in fatalistic tones, “you’ll both be dead in a year,” but. Well. Harry’s just not really all that worried about it.
They travel, for a while. Draco closes the museum for a month and they go — well, “galavanting around” isn’t the phrase Harry would use, but it’s cropped up in owls from both Hermione and Pansy, so. Draco keeps trying to insist that they’re taking a Grand Tour, like the wizards of old, until eventually Harry has to tell him about Dumbledore and Grindlewald’s Grand Tour plans just to get him to shut up about it. It backfires on him, because Draco spends the rest of the trip muttering to himself occasionally about how you still have a responsibility to queer youth even if your big gay vacation got cancelled by tragedy, but at least he’s not proudly announcing them to people as Tourists anymore.
Some of their stops are work, for Draco; Harry spends three days wandering around by himself in Istanbul, another two in Prague. He doesn’t mind it; it’s kind of nice, actually, ducking into shops and chatting pleasantly with locals who either don’t know who he is or couldn’t give a fuck, eating little meals at random from carts and stands and tiny restaurants. He kind of can’t believe that the version of him it brings out, this relaxed, affable person who resembles the man he always hoped he would become, but not in any way Harry really knows how to quantify. Draco rolls his eyes and says Harry’d know a vacation high for what it was if he’d ever behaved like a normal person and taken a vacation before, but Harry thinks he’s at least a little bit wrong. Harry thinks that he’s just… learning how he fits inside of his skin, maybe, if a handful of years later than he was probably supposed to.
In Cairo, Pansy takes Draco firmly by the shoulders and insists that Harry fuck off for the day, so Harry shrugs, asks around a little, and then Apparates the ten miles to Giza to see the Great Pyramid. He only means to stop and look at it, the way he’s looked at a dozen old houses and caves and weird trees Draco’s dragged him to, always with some fabulous, insane story about whatever moved him to bring them there in the first place. It’s interesting, certainly, but more because of Draco’s stories than because of the visits themselves; when he’s on his own Harry prefers his method of sight-seeing, which admittedly is less about seeing the sights and more about having bizarre conversations with area strangers in magical shops, but still. He’s not expecting anything earth-shattering, when he Apparates to the pyramid. He just wants to have seen it for himself.
He ends up staying for hours, the sun beating down hot on his neck, marveling. He’s not sure what it is; his father’s family was from Egypt before they settled in England generations back, and maybe that’s why he’s so captivated, why he doesn’t even consider walking away. Maybe it’s just… Harry’s spent so much of his life hearing, knowing, that he was living history, that his very existence was prophesied and foretold to bring down dark evil, that his every action would be studied and judged for years and centuries to come. He went from being a worthless waste of space to the savior of the Wizarding world, and one way or another he never got much of a chance to just be Harry, or really even figure out who Harry was. But he stands in front of that pyramid, built by hand all those years ago and standing still, the work of people who stood right here on this same earth that’s beneath Harry’s feet now, and he feels — small. Blissfully, blessedly small. Just one in an endless, ever-expanding line of souls to live and die under this sun — lovers, failures, heros, all.
“Does sunburn actually bliss you out?” Draco demands that night, while Harry submits without complaining to being rubbed down with some potion or another. The answer to is his question is no — it hurts a lot, actually — but there’s this unfamiliar sensation in his limbs anyway, and also the rub-down is pretty nice. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this, by the way. It’s grotesque. It’s undignified.”
“I didn’t make you do shit,” Harry says, easily enough. “You said ‘For god’s sakes, you idiot, you’ve turned purple, I swear sometimes I could just kill you,’ and then you insisted — ”
“Slander and lies,” Draco says, rubbing a particularly painful spot on Harry’s neck. The potion helps, and when Harry lets out a little sigh of relief Draco’s voice goes soft. “I obviously don’t care if you burn yourself to a crisp.”
“Obviously,” Harry murmurs, and wonders if maybe the sensation in his limbs isn’t peace. It’s bizarre. He thinks he likes it.
They spend a weekend in France with Narcissa Malfoy, and Harry sees what Draco meant about growing up in a museum. He’s a different person inside the walls of her beautifully appointed country home, conciliatory and studied in his words and his movements; careful, in this way that goes beyond the already painful consideration he brings to most of his life. A dozen times Harry sees him bite back something he’s going to say, cover the impulse with a cough or a yawn or, a couple of times, a little kick to Harry’s ankle. He thinks Narcissa sees it too — every once in a while Harry catches her frowning at the smooth mask of Draco’s features, like she’s trying to see beneath them, though of course the expression vanishes the moment she notices Harry watching.
It’s strange. Harry’s never really — he doesn’t know much about family dynamics, is all. About parents. His relationship with his own has obviously been a basically one-sided conversation, barring a year he doesn’t remember and that night in the Forbidden Forest he’ll never forget, and otherwise he doesn’t have much except the Dursleys and the Weasleys to go off of. Maybe that’s why he’s spent his whole life thinking that family, real family, meant people who knew you backwards and forwards, who listened to you, who loved you regardless of who you were — even the Dursleys were that way, if only and very exclusively for Dudley.
This thing between Draco and his mother is… a lot more complicated than that. Harry watches, largely in silence, as they talk around a dozen topics, their tones always pleasant even when their eyes are warm or narrowed or hard. Narcissa must offer a hundred little comments that seem totally innocuous to Harry but visibly aren’t to Draco, and Harry sees Narcissa flinch more that once at something Draco says that sounds perfectly innocent to him. They don’t talk about: Lucius; the war; Draco’s childhood; Harry’s presence; the attacks on Grimmauld Place that drew Narcissa to Britain a few months back; the fact that Harry and Draco are sharing a bed. They don’t seem to talk about much of anything, somehow, despite the fact that at any given moment either Draco or Narcissa is speaking.
It makes Harry sad, watching it. It’s painfully obvious that each of them loves the other, but equally clear that neither one knows how to express that, and that maybe they’ve never known. Harry puzzles it over for a while, because once you learn to speak his language Draco’s actually a very demonstrative person; he just hides it, often rather sloppily, under a few layers of insults and vitriol and babbling wildly about something odd. Eventually, Harry concludes that Narcissa doesn’t speak Draco’s language, and that’s about half of the problem — the other half is that Draco, afraid of being misunderstood, has more or less stopped speaking it at all.
Harry’s not really sure how to be helpful — he’s not even sure the situation can be helped — so he tries to focus on not being actively unhelpful, which mostly works. They get through Friday and Saturday without any carnage, and after dinner on Sunday, their last night, Narcissa asks Harry to run out and pick up some milk for tea the following morning. He thinks maybe he’s being cleared out to make room for a private conversation, so he takes his time about it, dawdles around in the supermarket and then just walks, for a while, through the French countryside. It’s a clear night, and on his way back to the house he sees a head of white-blonde hair out in one of the wide fields beyond Narcissa’s property.
Harry veers his path off the road, cutting through tall grass and wildflowers. When he reaches the long wooden fence Draco’s leaning against, he leans against it, too, places the carton of milk down on the wood between them.
Draco gives it a baleful look. “After all that time you were gone, I rather expected a bucket. I assumed you’d found a cow and milked it — well, no. In fact what I assumed is that you found a bull, attempted to milk him, and after the resulting head trauma wandered off into the night, never to be seen again.”
“Out here mourning me, were you?” Harry says dryly.
“Oh, sure,” Draco says, shooting him a quicksilver grin that vanishes as rapidly as it appeared. “Mourning, celebrating; whichever you like.”
Harry makes a rude gesture, then picks a stalk of tall grass from a nearby cluster and starts picking it apart, one long string at a time. After a moment, he says, “I thought, er. I thought maybe she wanted to talk to you, or something. I didn’t want to come back too quickly, in case.”
Draco laughs, brief and bittersweet. “Please. We’re Malfoys. Any serious conversation we have goes like this: my mother says, ‘Draco, I’ve made the following unilateral decision,’ and I say, ‘Perhaps you might have consulted me first,’ and she says, ‘It’s a bit late to worry about that now, isn’t it?’ and I say, ‘Very well.’ Three minutes would have more than sufficed.” He grimaces, and adds, “I suppose, technically, that tonight we may have taken up to five. Occasionally she attempts to deliver a bit of Lucius in absentia, in which case it’s the same as before, except at the end there’s a nice little addendum warning me not to make a scene, featuring an exciting list of highlights from scenes I have made in conversations prior.”
“You do put on a nice scene,” Harry says, because he has to say something, and because he does speak Draco’s language, even if that’s still a little strange for him even now; even if Narcissa doesn’t. “Fun and engaging for the whole family, not to mention anyone lucky enough to be in a three-mile radius.”
“Oh, piss off,” Draco says, but he leans a little closer to Harry as he says it, so their arms are pressed together over the bar of the fence. The milk falls over, but Draco doesn’t seem to mind. “You’re one to talk, anyway. ‘I’m Harry Potter, all the ill that has ever befallen anyone on the earth is my fault, over the course of my life I’ve committed six acts of arboreal violence — ’”
“We are, thank god, on you right now,” Harry says, knocking his shoulder lightly against Draco’s without moving his arm away. Draco scowls but says nothing, so Harry, carefully, asks: “So, what — er, unilateral decision, I guess? Did your mum make?”
“Oh,” Draco says, and sighs. The scowl drops away from his face, leaves him looking unguarded and young as he stares out into the night. “She’s, ah. Selling the Manor, in fact.”
“Is that right,” Harry says, after a moment’s pause. He, personally, has no love in his heart for that particular property, being as his only memories of it revolve largely around torture, imprisonment, and the heartbreaking sound of Hermione screaming, but they’re not on him right now. “I’m sorry?”
Draco scoffs. “You’re not sorry,” he says, and then, more quietly: “I’m not sorry. Isn’t that horrible? That house endured so much for us, and it — I suppose we had a complicated relationship, but it was still my childhood home.”
“How d’you —”
“Have a complicated relationship with a house?” Draco says, pointed. “I don’t know, Harry. Why don’t you tell me?”
“That’s fair,” Harry mutters, though he hates to give up the point.
“I don’t mean that I’m not sorry,” Draco says, abrupt, as if Harry hadn’t spoken. “Or I shouldn’t mean it, anyway. I — about some of it, I’m — that house has held generations of Malfoys, you know. It’s probably my,” his mouth twists in distaste, “responsibility to talk her out of selling it. To live in it myself, honestly. If I could just keep the grounds, that would be one thing; I am sorry, truly, about losing those.”
Keeping to himself his dawning realization about why Draco seems to find some feature out in nature to lean upon whenever he’s experiencing an emotion, Harry says, “Draco. You know I’m the last person who would — judge you, or whatever, for not wanting to live somewhere.”
“Who cares about your judgement?” Draco snaps. “I’m judging me for it. I’d judge someone else, if they let their ancestral home get sold off to some unknown third party.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Oh, Grimmauld Place wasn’t even your ancestral home, you egomaniac,” Draco says crossly. “And anyway, I did judge you for that. I still do. Even right now, as we stand here, I think to myself, ‘That man, Draco? Who once threw mud at you, and tossed aside your pride and joy for a rank little hovel covered in mold? Him?’”
“Glad to see you’ve worked through the mud incident,” Harry says, and laughs a little when Draco elbows him. “What? I’m just saying, that’s very mature of you, letting bygones be bygones and all.”
“You’re a horror,” Draco mutters, without any real rancor behind it. Then, sounding a little uncertain, he adds, “Do you know — she didn’t even ask me if I wanted it. She said, ‘I’m selling it,’ and I said, ‘What if I don’t want you to sell it, what if I buy it from you,’ and she said, ‘Do what makes you happy, Draco.’ Just that.” He laughs, a faint, pained little chuckle that slips away on the wind. “And the truth is, I honestly don’t know if she meant it as a dig or not. I’ve been standing out here for half an hour thinking about it and I still don’t know. If she meant ‘Do what makes you happy, Draco, even if that’s to live at Grimmauld Place without producing an heir while Malfoy Manor changes hands, ultimately dooming your line and failing your father and I once and for all, as he suspected you would from your first words,’ well. I suppose I don’t necessarily blame her, and I can live with it, anyway. I’ve lived with it this long. But if she genuinely meant she wants me to be happy… ” He frowns, looks at his hands. “I’m not sure I know what to do with that, to be entirely honest.”
Harry looks at the line of his shoulders, the tension in the set of his mouth, and hates it. He has no idea what to do, so he says what he’s thinking, which is: “I don’t know if it helps, but. Er. I know that she loves you.”
He really does, is the thing. He knew it even before he properly knew Draco, will never forget the look on Narcissa’s face that night in the Forest, the desperation in her voice when she hissed, “Is Draco alive?” At the time Harry hadn’t entirely been able to square with the idea of anyone loving Draco enough to defy Voldemort for him, an irony that twists his heart a little now, but. He still knows it’s true, and Draco deserves to know, too, if he doesn’t.
“Don’t be absurd, of course she does,” Draco spits, proving that he does know, and also that Harry’s an idiot. He smiles at Harry, though, after a second, something guarded in the expression. “I even know the story I imagine you were about to tell me, but it should tell you something about our relationship that I didn’t hear it from her. I heard it from — well, from you, in fact,” he says, voice going quiet. “At her trial. We never discussed it, afterwards, but in fairness to her she did make very significant eye contact with me during your testimony, so. I suppose that’s something.”
He looks so brittle in that moment, lip curled against whatever brutal thought is rattling around inside his head, that Harry itches with the desire to touch him, to offer him some sort of — physical — something, to make up for the words he has no chance of getting right. Which isn’t to say that he’s likely to get the touching thing right, either; he’s mostly pretty bad at it, awkward and uncertain and never quite sure how it’s supposed to go. He reaches out anyway, pulls Draco into a rough, graceless hug.
It’s — well, it’s kind of horrible, at first. Draco’s obviously not expecting it, possibly because Harry is inserting a hug where a hug does not belong (he’s never quite been able to work out where they go, to be honest) or possibly because Harry is almost never the one to initiate touch that isn’t the sexual kind. He prefers to follow Draco’s lead than take blind stabs in the dark and humiliate himself, which he had done a time or five back when he was with Ginny and would like to avoid repeating now.
Whatever the reason, Draco doesn’t shift in time to keep Harry from essentially knocking Draco’s head into his chest, and Harry grimaces at his own ineptitude, wishing briefly but fervently for death.
“Er,” he says, unwilling to let go, because that’s when the laughing will start. Of course, then his stupid mouth opens again and produces, “Am I — doing this right?” without any input from his damned brain, so the laughing’s bound to start in a second anyway.
But Draco surprises him. He stills for a second under Harry’s arms, immobile in an awkward, uncomfortable position, before he twists a little, lines them up. His moves his head to rest on Harry’s shoulder, wraps his arms around Harry’s waist, and relaxes under Harry’s hands when they land, one carefully after the other, on his back.
“I’m not sure I’m the authority,” he says against Harry’s collarbone. “But I’d say — six out of ten. Room for improvement, but not a terrible showing.” He does laugh, a bit, when Harry punches out a huge sigh of relief. “You’re pathetic, Potter. Someone could toss you into a death match in a scorpion pit and you wouldn’t bat an eyelash, but this has you shaking in your boots?”
“Yeah, well,” Harry says, because it’s true. He shrugs, just slightly, trying not to jostle Draco’s head. “The worst a scorpion can do is sting you.”
“That’s,” Draco says, sounding horrified, “you’re so,” but he doesn’t finish the sentence, and he tucks himself in against Harry a little closer. “I don't need you to do this, you know,” he adds, not moving away.
“Of course not,” Harry agrees, a little too warmly, but instead of insisting that Harry not humor him, Draco just huffs an irritated little breath against his neck.
They stand there like that for a while, and after fifteen seconds or so Harry is even able to shut up the voice in his head yelling, Step away! It’s been too long! You’re making it weird! Draco is obviously aware that Harry’s got basically no idea what he’s doing at all; he’ll end it, when he wants it to be done. Harry can just stand here, and rub his hand up and down the path of Draco’s spine, and hope it’s helping, somehow. It feels good, at least on his end. Maybe that’s enough.
“Do you want me to buy the Manor and turn it into a museum?” Harry says, eventually. It’s mostly a joke, but there’s a horrifying little part of him that’s pretty sure he’d do it, actually, if it was what Draco wanted.
Draco laughs and finally steps back, looks up at Harry with bright eyes. “I don’t think that will be necessary, Harry, but thank you. The image of what that place would look like under your care is actually very helpful; at least whoever does buy it won’t be you.”
“I’m sure whoever it is will let you visit,” Harry says, kindly ignoring the rest of it.
“Are you,” Draco drawls, sounding as though he doesn’t believe it for a moment.
“Sure,” Harry says. “And if they’re not, well. I’ll come along, and you can do that ‘Look, it’s Harry Potter, now do whatever I say to save Britain,’ bit you like so much. Maybe you can even bury my body on the lawn. You know, when I die from embarrassment.”
“I do enjoy the opportunity to abuse your celebrity,” Draco says, voice thoughtful. “Since it’s so hideously wasted on you, and everything. I honestly consider it a public duty. If not I, then who? If not now, then when?”
“See, I mostly get stuck on the why, with you,” Harry says, and then laughs when Draco gives him a speaking finger and a scowl.
They walk back to the house a few minutes later, though they have to double back when they realize they’ve forgotten about the milk, and Draco grabs Harry by the hand and swings him into a kiss a few minutes before they get to the door. Harry goes along, draws Draco in with arm against the small of his back, and finds himself palming Draco’s jaw when they step apart with no real memory of how his hand got there.
He thinks he sees another head of blonde hair disappear behind the curtain of the upstairs window, and the next morning, as he and Draco are heading out, Narcissa draws him into a hug of her own. It’s both much briefer and considerable less comfortable than Draco’s embrace from the night before, especially because of the death grip she has on his upper arms when she whispers, “Take care of my son.”
Harry doesn’t have any interest, now or ever, in telling her that more often than not that particular sentiment works the other way. But he smiles cautiously, and nods, and follows Draco out into the morning sunlight feeling… good, he thinks, for being asked. Good to think that she might feel easier for having said it. Good to think that maybe there’s something he can do beyond not being actively unhelpful after all.
“I like helping people,” he tells Draco, before they Apparate. Draco has been needling him since he quit the Aurors to come up with things he likes doing, keeping a list of his answers in one of the notebooks he always has hidden away somewhere on his person, and it’s hard — honestly kind of distressingly hard — but Harry’s working on it. “I like… feeling like I did some good for someone.”
“Shocking,” Draco says, rolling his eyes, but he writes it down.
Their last stop is to New York City, because Draco has a deep and bizarre obsession with the idea of reptilian people living in their sewers.
“They’re like merpeople,” he tells Harry enthusiastically, about six minutes after they arrive. “Only not entirely aquatic, obviously, and of course I’m sure merpeople themselves would object to the comparison. They don’t particularly enjoy being associated with anything that doesn’t have gills. But apparently this sewer society is very advanced! They name their young after famous European painters, and are strongly committed to the pursuit and enforcement of justice.”
“Draco,” Harry says, biting back an absolute scream of laughter with heroic effort, “I think you’re talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Draco narrows his eyes. “A ridiculous name for an underground reptilian society. I’m sure that's not what they really called; it’s a mistranslation or something, I’m certain. And if you’re about to tell me they’re a Muggle myth, I remind you again — “
“No, I know, so are we, but,” Harry says, rapidly losing control of his mirth. “They’re not a myth. They’re a cartoon.”
“What’s that, a Muggle word for urban legend?” Draco says, rolling his eyes. “You can split all the hairs you like, Potter, I still maintain that the society exists.”
“Well, in that case,” Harry says, “d’you think we should get them a pizza?” and then gives up and howls with laughter, doesn’t stop even when Draco sighs and grabs his sleeve and starts hauling him forcibly through Central Park.
It takes him the better part of twenty minutes for Harry to calm himself down and, slowly and painstakingly, attempt to convince Draco that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not real beings living in the sewers of New York. Draco is very loathe to believe it, and Harry has to pull out the big guns of explaining that Dudley had loved them when they were children before he will even grudgingly allow that maybe, possibly, there was also a show about creatures which resembled the justice-minded reptilian society that he still maintains could dwell in the New York City sewer system.
“You’re certifiable,” Harry tells him cheerfully, as Draco walks sulkily beside him. “Where are we going, anyway? To find the likeliest looking manhole cover?”
“Well, now we’re not,” Draco mutters, and Harry laughs again, hard enough this time that he nearly cries.
They end up just walking for a while, their bickering about the Turtles sliding into the truly hysterical story of how Draco came to believe in a subterranean New York City reptilian society in the first place. It involves two chickens, a 13th century cutlass, and a Muggleborn teenager who was very clearly just fucking with him for sport, and as Draco tells the story that fact visibly becomes obvious to him, which just makes it that much funnier. By the time he’s done Harry’s wiping actual tears of laughter from his face and Draco is hunched a little, hands in his pockets, vibrating with impotent rage.
“Years, Potter!” he says, sounding equal parts enraged and mortified. “Years, I spent believing that! Talking to people about it! Oh, I could just die. I swear on all that is holy, should I ever run across that ingrate child again I’ll — I’ll send him to live in the sewers.” He shudders slightly. “It’ll be no more than he deserves, too. Filthy places, sewers.”
Harry agrees, but then he remembers that his only real experience in a sewer involved a basilisk and Tom Riddle, and Draco had very emphatically not been present. Which, Harry thinks now, is kind of a pity, because probably if he and Draco hadn’t been at each other’s throats every second of the day back then they could have solved that whole thing much earlier. He sort of can’t imagine a version of events where that situation could have baffled both Draco and Hermione for so long.
Still: “Wait,” Harry says, laughter already bubbling up in his voice again, “have you gone looking before?”
“I’m going to get an ice cream!” Draco says, a little too loud, cheeks pinking as he hurries off towards a cart in the distance. Which means: yes. And, also, that this is the best day of Harry’s life.
Harry laughs to himself as Draco stalks off, delighted by this entire ridiculous turn of events, and sees a tent and some people a little ways away. Curious, he walks over and finds a pet adoption fair, dogs and cats in cages, a couple of volunteers chatting to the people milling around. Harry smiles vaguely at a little girl playing with a small, enthusiastic puppy, and then finds himself drawn to a cage down at the end of the group, with no people nearby. Inside is a blue pit bull, maybe six months old and too skinny, with one eye missing, an angry, fresh-looking scar stretched across the place where it would have gone.
He growls at Harry from the corner of his cage, the sound coming harsh from the back of his throat.
“Huh,” Harry says, tilting his head. After a second he crouches in front of the cage, drops his eyes to the ground, and says, voice low, “I’m not pitying you, if that’s what you think. I bet whatever happened wasn’t even your fault, and I’m sure you did the best you could. I’ve got a couple of scars, too — see?” He holds out his right hand, where the words I must not tell lies will be written every day for the rest of his damn life, and watches the dog from underneath his lashes.
Warily, growl abandoned, the creature creeps forward a few steps in the cage and sniffs at Harry’s hand for a moment before, hastily, he retreats again. Harry bites down on a smile. “That’s okay. I get it. Constant vigilance, am I right?”
The dog cocks his head at him. Harry cocks his head back, and is rewarded with a second’s worth of a tongue-lolling grin before someone says, “Wow! He really likes you!”
Harry looks up to see a teenaged volunteer beaming at him. He gives the dog a betrayed look, ashamed to have been caught out talking to him like a person; the dog seems unperturbed.
“Er,” Harry says, with an awkward little shrug, and wonders if he’s supposed to stand up from his crouch or not. “I don’t know about all that. I’m sure he’s just… bored, or something.”
“No, I really mean it,” the volunteer gushes. “He’s been out at three of these events now, and he always scares people. He’s a great dog, really,” she adds quickly, looking horrified with herself. “I mean, I’ve worked with him at the shelter, I shouldn’t have said — he’s wonderful, he really deserves to get adopted. He just doesn’t like being in a cage.”
“Who does?” Harry says, shooting the dog a commiserating look.
Draco returns as she walks away, and Harry does get up from his crouch. It’s too late, though, because Draco raises his eyebrows and says, “Potter, oh my god. Absolutely not.”
“Did you actually not get me an ice cream?” Harry says, staring at the lone cone in Draco’s hand, and Draco smirks, momentarily distracted.
“You didn’t say you wanted one,” he says, all feigned innocence, widening his eyes and blinking quickly. “And of course I’d share, but — Potter!” This last he squawks, probably because Harry has just stuck his finger into the side of his ice cream and scooped out a little section for himself.
Harry licks about half of it clean, returning Draco’s feigned-innocent look and enjoying the way Draco’s gaze keeps flicking down to Harry’s mouth, as if he’s fighting the urge to openly stare. Then Harry crouches down, ignoring Draco’s despairing groan, and sticks his finger into the cage with the pit bull.
Again, the dog approaches warily, but this time when he sniffs Harry’s hand his tail starts to wag, and he licks the ice cream off at once.
“I can’t believe I left you alone for five minutes and this is what happened,” Draco says, clearly more to himself than to Harry. “I can’t believe you stuck your finger in my ice cream. I’d honestly be better off traveling with a toddler!”
“He’s always like this,” Harry tells the dog, who is watching Draco with interest now, possibly because he’s the one holding the rest of the ice cream. “It’s not you.”
“Harry, you are not adopting this dog,” Draco says urgently. “You are barely capable of keeping yourself alive, let alone another living being. I urge you, I implore you, stop speaking to him like a person — in fact, come away at once. You are clearly already dangerously attached, and in another thirty seconds even I won’t be able to keep you from doing something reckless and rash.”
“Bye, buddy,” Harry says to the dog, as Draco grabs his arm to pull him up. He’s a little regretful, but Draco’s probably right — he is, after all, unemployed with absolutely no idea as to what his future work schedule will look like, in a city across an ocean from his own. It’s probably not a responsible time to become a pet owner.
And that would be the end of it, except that as they’re walking away, this totally random white guy in a Rush t-shirt nods to Draco and says, “Making the right call there, my friend.”
“Pardon me,” says Draco, lip curling a little, “but I don’t believe we’ve met. So tell me: I care about your opinion because why, now?”
The guy shrugs, not seeming at all bothered by Draco’s knee-jerk hostility. “Maybe you don’t. I was just saying, it’s the right call, not taking that one home. They’re dangerous, pit bulls. It’s down to the breeding. Not a one of ‘em that doesn’t go bad in the end.”
“Is that right,” Draco drawls. His voice is like ice, and the guy must pick up on it this time, because he hurries off pretty sharpish. Draco stares after him for a second, and then looks back at the cage where the dog’s still looking up at them, and then snaps, “Oh, come on,” and starts walking away again, clearly expecting Harry to follow.
Harry does follow. After a few steps, Draco says, sharp and interrogatory, “What would you even do with a dog?”
“I don’t know, really,” Harry admits. “I’ve never had one before. I always kind of wanted one as a kid, but obviously that never happened. Well, unless you count Sirius’s Animagus form,” Harry smiles a little to think of Padfoot, ache in his chest be damned, “but I don’t, really. It wasn’t quite the same, I don’t think.” He considers Draco’s question for a moment. “I’d take him on long walks, I suppose. Runs, too. Teach him tricks and things. You know. Dog stuff.”
Draco groans, a heartfelt noise from the back of his throat.
“What?” Harry says, a little stung. He did not, after all, say, Make him be my best friend and listen to me and go on adventures and bite my cousin on the bum, which is why he’d wanted one when he was nine. “That’s what you do with dogs!”
“No, I was just thinking,” Draco says, and there’s a slight pause before he finishes: “that we should probably settle in, is all. I’m famished. You go find us a restaurant, I’ll track down lodgings, and we’ll meet back here in, oh, twenty minutes?”
“Sure,” Harry says, bemused, as Draco walks off, as to how he could be famished whilst currently eating an ice cream cone.
He’s a lot less bemused when, twenty minutes later, he returns to the spot they agreed upon only to see a sheepish Draco, leash in hand, standing next to the one-eyed dog.
“Really great job keeping me from doing anything rash or reckless there, Draco,” Harry says, looking back and forth between them with wide eyes.
Draco scowls. “Your stupid Gryffindor rot is contagious,” he mutters, thrusting the leash at Harry. “And this is your fault, so he’s your dog.”
Harry could argue, but he doesn’t really want to, so he takes the leash instead. The dog looks up at him with a curious eye; as promised, he seems infinitely happier outside of his cage. “You’ll need a name,” Harry tells him seriously, and he whuffs out a cheerful-sounding breath, wags his tail.
“I am consumed by immediate regret,” Draco says, looking despairingly between the both of them, “how do you Gryffindors live like this,” but he moves up their Portkey home to the end of the afternoon, so Harry doesn’t think he means it all that much.
The name thing turns out to be a point of contention, because even though Draco insists that it’s Harry’s dog to do with what he likes, he demands to have a say. Harry wants Cyclops, for obvious reasons; Draco rejects this out of hand, and suggests Bartholomew, which Harry hates.
“What about Alastor?” he says, still on the one-eyed thing.
“Absolutely not,” Draco gasps, putting a hand to his heart and pulling a face of deep betrayal. “I know he’s your great shining hero of never relaxing a minute in your life, but that man turned me into a ferret, Potter. A ferret! And bounced me around on the stone floors! It took me days to physically recover and psychologically I still haven’t; I flatly refuse to name an animal after him.”
“That wasn’t even Mad-Eye, though,” Harry says, even though he knows it’s a losing battle. “Mad-Eye was locked in a trunk for Polyjuice ingredients when that happened, your issue is with a different man. Who,” he adds, delighted to realize it, “actually might as well have been named Bartholomew. So.”
“I hate you,” Draco says, and then looks at the dog and adds, “and also you. Both of you. Obviously him,” he gestures at Harry, “a little more, but you are a terror in your own right, and I wouldn’t doubt for a second that you used some kind of canine trickery to secure your adoption in the first place.”
The dog cocks his head at Draco, and then looks at Harry, who shrugs. “Don’t look at me, mate. I warned you. He gets like this.”
“Don’t talk to him like he’s a person,” Draco insists, for the hundredth time already, either not noticing or not deigning to care that he’s just done the same thing himself.
For a fraught week the dog has no name and wreaks havoc while Harry's learning up on how to train him, peeing everywhere and knocking things down; he eats the bottom of a set of curtains that Draco claims were a treasured heirloom, although he doesn’t mention whose heirloom, and he never seemed to like them much before. Still, every time he comes across a new canine-adjacent affront Draco yells, “POTTER,” and there’s a day or two there where Harry is genuinely afraid that the dog is going to start answering to it, and doom him to a lifetime of shame.
Luckily, Rose sorts it out for them, after a fashion. She’s toddling around underfoot that Wednesday night while Harry cooks dinner, and Harry keeps forgetting how fast she’s gotten. He looks around after just two seconds of concentration on his gazpacho and she’s gone, and he hurries off to look for her, calling her name.
“What, did you lose her?” Ron demands, sticking his head out of the parlor door. He doesn’t sound that worried, probably because Rose has, Harry knows, outfoxed him several times as well. “Hermione, Harry lost the baby!”
“The baby escaped him with intent, you mean,” Hermione says, as she and Draco step out into the hall after him. “I swear, ever since she learned to walk — Rose! Rosie!”
“Tomo!” comes back to them, in Rose’s gleeful, still-developing toddler voice.
It seems to be coming from the drawing room, and as they all move to follow the sound of her voice Ron says, “Funny. That’s what she calls tomatoes.”
“Oh, god,” says Harry, understanding dawning horribly as he steps through the door. Rose is standing in the center of the room, clapping her hands in delight, across from the dog, who is gleefully holding between his teeth the sack which Harry has enchanted to follow him around and catch scraps while he cooks. Which, tonight, is almost entirely full… of chunks of tomato.
“Oh my god,” Draco says, in a kind of restrained shriek. He elbows his way up to stand next to Harry, ignoring Ron and Hermione’s respective objections. “Potter, so help me, if a single exhibit in this room gets damaged I will ruin you. Do you understand me? I will ruin your life.”
“Easy,” Harry says, not sure if he’s talking to Draco or the dog. He steps towards the center of the room, one hand reaching out slowly towards the sack of scraps. “Hey, boy, why don’t you just let me — “
Even as the dog starts to tilt his head, every adult in the room is moving; Ron, Harry, Hermione and Draco all draw their wands and cry, “Protego!” Presumably the rest of them are casting it on themselves — Harry, in the interest of not forcing Draco to choose between going back on his word and ruining his life, casts it around the exhibit cases and walls, resigned to his fate.
The ensuing catastrophe only takes a few seconds to play out; the dog gleefully shakes the sack between his teeth and it bursts, as it was always going to, spattering Harry with tomatoes and basil stems and garlic husks and all the other detritus he’s shoved in there tonight. He sighs, reaches up to wipe his eyes, and then realizes that while the exhibits, Ron, Hermione, and Rose are all perfectly clean, Draco looks exactly like Harry must.
He cast his protection spell the way Harry did, Harry realizes, seeing the same knowledge dawn on Draco’s face. God, he looks a mess, tomato bits in his hair and something brown — probably that balsamic vinegar Harry spilled — dripping down his cheek onto his starched white shirt. His face is already twisting with some histrionic expression, horror or fury or both, that is especially ridiculous underneath its coating of kitchen garbage and honestly a bit painful, for Harry, because he loves the bastard a truly wretched amount.
Harry can’t help himself. He starts to laugh.
It takes a second, but then Draco’s laughing too, hard enough and long enough that he has to reach out and grab Harry’s arm for support. Harry lets him, and for a minute they just stand there, leaning on each other, cracking up, because: they’re idiots. Because: really, it’s pretty funny.
“Tomo!” Rose declares, and toddles forward to give the dog a hug around the neck. He offers Harry a tongue-lolling grin over Rose’s shoulder, not an ounce of shame in him, and Harry can’t help but grin back at his sheer good-natured audacity, the way he just has to make things difficult.
The floors take forever to clean, and Harry’s sure that one rug didn’t have those little red spots on it before, but the dog’s Tomato after that. Tomo, for short.
And it’s weird — Harry gets up in the morning, the same time every morning, and takes the dog for a run. He gets home in time to sneak in a shower before Draco wakes up, and then cooks breakfast and takes it up to the sitting room, where Draco’s still doing his own little morning routine, consistent as breathing, unchanged by all the change that’s been wrought around it. They eat and Draco tells Harry what was in the papers and sneakily feeds the dog something off plate only to voraciously deny having done so, and then he goes to open the museum or go to a meeting or host a talk or whatever else, and Harry is at a loose end in his own city for — well. For kind of the first time in his life.
That’s not true, of course. He had time to spare, an embarrassment of it, for years and years, but somehow he never went out and… did anything with it. Somehow it felt like it didn’t belong to him. At first he was so heavy with the weight of what he’d been through, what he’d lost, that he could barely function; then, for a long time, he drew in guilt with every breath, knowing in his bones that it was unfair that he’d lived, and they had died. He was a void those first few years, just a black hole doing its best impression of a star. And when that finally started to shrink down — when he finally started to feel as though there was something other than emptiness inside of him — well, when that happened Harry was so grateful that he didn’t notice, didn’t care, that what came back wasn’t as… much, or something, as what had been there before. Harry hadn’t bothered to wonder if “less empty” was the same as “full.”
It wasn’t. He understands that now. He thinks he’s probably still — that there’s probably always going to be a pocket of emptiness he carries beneath his skin, the way he once carried a corner of a toxic soul. He’s probably never going to be full, not the way people like Ron and Hermione are full, and that’s all right. He can get close, like Draco is close, and tuck that pocket of emptiness in with all his other scars.
Harry takes Tomato on long walks through the city. Harry takes himself on long walks through the city, wandering into and out of whatever random shops and structures strike his fancy. He even finds himself walking Diagon Alley, now and again, something he hasn’t done since he was at Hogwarts; for the last seven and a half years he’s Apparated straight to his destination anytime he had to go to Diagon even though he lived right up the street, and was always filled with dread that someone would try to talk to him. But — Harry wants to show Tomo the Owl Emporium, slowly, walking by it a few times so he can get comfortable with the smell of a bunch of birds and maybe stop being so freaked out by Mathilda and Draco’s owl, Antigone. Harry wants to get an ice cream at Fortescue's and feed Tomato little bites of it when he does a trick right. Harry wants to get to know Diagon, his very own Wizarding district, the way he started to know the Wizarding districts in Istanbul and Prague after only a few days, so he goes sometimes. People do try to talk to him, almost always, but it’s a lot easier with Tomo than it was without; Harry can redirect the attention to the dog, who actually appreciates it, and then use him as an excuse to be getting on with his day.
In Muggle London he has to put a Disillusion Charm on Tomato sometimes, but, to his surprise, in a lot of places he doesn’t. He notes those businesses, keeps going back, and one Saturday morning he’s showing Draco this incredible little shop where a woman and her husband carve sculptures out of pine cones, and a little girl, maybe 11 or 12, walks up to him and says, “Your dog so cute! Is it okay if I pet him, or is he working? I don’t mean to bother you, if he’s a service dog.”
“Potter,” Draco says, sounding intrigued, “did you get the dog a job here? You do understand that you are the one of the two of you who is eventually expected to acquire one of those, yes? Dashed enterprising of you, of course,” he adds, to Tomato. “Perhaps we can use your wages to pay for all damage you’ve caused to my home.”
“Tomato and I remain unemployed,” Harry says, rolling his eyes, but grinning slightly. To the girl, who is still hovering patiently and exchanging barely-restrained looks of eagerness with Tomo, he says, “Sure, you can pet him. What’s a service dog?”
The girl immediately drops to her knees and gives a thrilled Tomato a vigorous scritch behind the ears. “Oh, you know! They help people with like — illnesses, and stuff.” She frowns, considering. “I think lots of different kinds. My Aunt Anjali has one for her nerves. She says it’s much easier to get out of the house when Wilber helps!”
“Does she, now,” says Draco, a speculative look in his eye. Harry hurries them out of the shop quickly, before he can do anything mad, because he’s learned about that look the hard way a time or two by now.
Draco doesn’t do anything mad, though. He just tucks his arm through Harry’s, and takes Tomo’s leash, and, voice carefully light, says, “I truly can’t believe the dog’s more employed than you are.”
“Oh, bite me,” Harry says, but he doesn’t argue. He figures — well — Tomo does make it easier to get out of the house, doesn’t he? Not that Harry has nerves, or whatever Aunt Anjali’s got. Still, though: the dog helps. Having him around makes it easier for Harry to live his life. He doesn’t need Draco’s oblique references, let alone the self-satisfied nudging and muttering, to tell him that much.
One late September morning, about a month after they get back from their trip, Harry wakes up and feels... odd.
He takes Tomato for a run, and it helps, a little, the way it does when he jerks awake from a nightmare, or finds himself heavy with the desire to bury his face in his pillow and sleep through the day. The run doesn’t chase the feeling away completely, though, like it usually does, and he heads home a few minutes early and wakes Draco with a kiss, leaning down over him. Draco mumbles some half-hearted complaints against Harry’s mouth about showering and routine disruption and how unconscionably rude it is to wake someone up for sex, but he sinks his hands into Harry’s hair anyway, moves obligingly beneath him when Harry crawls back into the bed and presses their bodies together.
“You’re disgusting,” Draco says drowsily, in between doing his level best to leave a hickey on Harry’s neck, “this is foul, you’re all sweaty, I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet,” but he’s not so horrified that he doesn’t come all over Harry’s stomach ten minutes later, so.
Harry comes too, and it’s good — really good, even — but when his body stops shuddering with release he realizes the feeling he woke up with is still there, discontented, thrumming underneath his skin. He collapses off of Draco and onto his own side of the bed, stares up at the ceiling with his head on the pillow.
“I think I’m bored,” Harry says.
Draco sits up so quickly that Harry worries he might have given himself whiplash. “With our sex life?” he demands, a strange look on his face. “And this is how you think it’s appropriate to go about telling me? I mean, putting aside the level of depravity you must be craving in your soul to be bored after everything we’ve gotten up to in the brief span of, what, three months — ”
“Four,” Harry says absently, instead of correcting Draco’s misinterpretation of his comment, since he’s occupied with squinting at Draco, trying to place his expression, his tone.
“Oh, four. Well in that case it’s perfectly normal!” Draco snaps. There’s a thread of hysteria in it, and then Harry figures it out — he looks hurt. He sounds hurt, although, of course, he’s doing his level best to pretend to be anything else.
It’s at this point that Harry actually processes that Draco is saying he thinks Harry is tired of having sex with him.
“Draco,” Harry says, horrified with himself. He reaches up a hand to palm Draco’s jaw, and Draco leans out of reach, which is awful. “Hey — Draco. No. Come on, look at me.” When Draco does, Harry widens his eyes, lifts his hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t mean I was bored with our… er. With that. That’s — it’s — er.” Harry has never been very good at talking about this sort of thing outside of while he’s actually doing it, but Draco clearly needs him to, and that’s Harry’s own fault. He averts his eyes, feels his face heating. “That’s — really good. Still... really good. Er. For - for me, at least.”
“Good lord, you unbelievable tool, don't hurt yourself,” Draco drawls, rolling his eyes, but he looks cautiously pleased as he relaxes and lays back down against his pillow. This time when Harry reaches for him Draco doesn’t move away; he lets Harry rub a thumb across the scar along his cheekbone and draw him in, though he does, when they break apart, mumble, “Stop kissing me, Harry, god. My mouth is gross. Your whole person is gross. This, right here? It’s gross.”
“Sorry,” Harry whispers, more for causing Draco’s earlier distress than anything else, but then Draco, sounding strangled, says, “Oh for god’s sake,” and kisses him, so he can’t really mean it all that much.
“So,” Draco says, when they break apart again. “You’re not bored with our sex life, though thank you for that exciting little early morning heart attack. So you meant — existentially bored? Bored with your wardrobe? Me too, if that’s it. Oooh, Potter, are you perhaps bored with your terrible friends? I am wholly onboard if you want to go out hunting for new ones. What say this time you look for a slightly less earnest and Gryffindor set?”
“They’re your friends, too,” Harry says for the hundredth time. “And I’m not bored with them. I’m just… bored. I don’t know.” He frowns up at the ceiling. “I just woke up, and I thought about what I wanted to do with my day — or, well, the middle of it, anyway — and realized that nothing I could think of sounded interesting. I think,” he pauses. Chews his lip. “I don’t miss being an Auror or anything, but. I still don’t have any idea what I want to do now, you know? And I think maybe I need one. I think I might go a little mad if I don’t figure it out soon.”
“Oh,” says Draco. “Is that all?” He rolls over to rummage around in the drawer of his nightstand even as he says, “Honestly, of course you’re bored — I’m frankly amazed it’s taken you this long to get there, with your freakish action-hero complex and everything. You do understand that that’s the whole purpose of this list I’ve been having you dictate to me like a trained monkey, yes?” He pulls his notebook out, flips it open. “It’s much easier to determine what kind of career might — hey! Potter! Give that back!”
Harry only grabbed the notebook in the first place because he thought Draco intended him to look at it. He holds onto it now, laughing and leaning back over the edge of bed to keep it out of Draco’s grasping reach, because Draco doesn’t want him to look at it, which obviously means that he must.
Then he actually lays his eyes on the writing, holding the book in front of his face as he hangs upside-down, and — stops laughing.
The list, titled “Things Harry Enjoys,” spans two pages, though there’s a drawing on the left page that’s taking up a significant amount of space. It appears to depict Harry jumping off a ledge marked The Cliffs of Bleak Despair, into waters infested with… Harry tilts the notebook a little, staring. Alligators, maybe, or the aquatic cousins of the subterranean lizard people Draco claims, not very convincingly, that he doesn’t believe in anymore. It’s a goldmine in terms of proof that Draco is well and truly off his nut, but Harry stops looking at the sketch quickly, is distracted by the list itself. It’s long, and written in a variety of different inks, as though Draco added to it whenever he thought of something with whatever quill was nearby. Some things are circled — Harry doesn’t know why — but what stops him in his tracks is the fact that not everything on the list is the stuff he told Draco he liked. Some of isn’t even stuff that would have any bearing on a potential career; Draco’s noted how low he prefers lighting spells when he’s got a headache, the pumpkin cake he likes from that new bakery in Hogsmeade, his pure and enduring love of treacle tart. And some of it is stuff Harry didn’t even know, that he realizes is true only as he reads it, like the phrase “High pressure but low stakes,” in the bottom left corner.
“Draco,” Harry says, and finds that this time he has to scrape the word out over a lump in his throat. He sits up, and sees that Draco is sitting up too, his knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them.
“Oh, don’t,” Draco says, brittle. He won’t meet Harry’s eyes. “I’m perfectly aware that I’m obsessive and insane, I did try to tell you. Anyone with an ounce of sense would know better than to snatch away the private writings of a man who had already disclosed that unpleasant little reality, but I suppose sense is too much to ask of the great Harry Potter.” He sighs, an unhappy sound, and his voice is curdled with bitterness when he says, “Go ahead, then. I’m prepared. If you could try to avoid using the words ‘smothering’ or ‘overwhelming,’ I’d really appreciate it.”
“What?” says Harry. His voice cracks on it, and Draco does look at him then, just for a second. There’s so much naked fear on his face that Harry feels it like a punch to the gut, and he wonders with a hot surge of rage who in the hell made Draco this afraid of himself, how anyone could tell Draco he was smothering and overwhelming and…
…well. On consideration, Harry supposes that Draco is those things, a little. Demanding, too. Temperamental. Harsh. Harry just doesn’t care — no, that’s not right either. Harry just likes all that about Draco, wouldn’t trade a bit of it, and can’t believe that any idiot ever would have felt otherwise, either.
But someone obviously did — maybe more than one someone — and Harry’s glad of it, for all that it’s selfish. It means he gets the chance to be here now. It means he gets this opportunity to value that which some mind-bogglingly incorrect person did not.
“Nobody’s ever cared about me like this before,” Harry says, low. The lump in his throat is still there and so it comes out uneven, a hopelessly pathetic sentence even without the ruin his voice makes of it, but. It’s the truth, and Draco deserves to know. “Not — not that I can remember, at least. Plenty of people have… I mean, I’m not trying to say I haven’t been — lucky. In friendships. I have. But… ” He looks helplessly back down at the notebook, swallowing hard when he sees Draco’s written out the way he takes his tea when his sleep is troubled. “Nothing like this, Draco. Never. It’s — I — ” Harry takes a deep, steadying breath. “I don’t want to tell you off, or call you insane, or do… well. Whatever it is you’re afraid I’m going to do. I don’t want to do anything that might make you — stop.”
“Oh,” Draco says. His eyes are startled, his cheeks slightly pinked, and Harry thinks for a second that he’s going to do what he usually does when Harry surprises him with genuine emotion; to wit, say ‘Oh,’ in the exact way that he just did and then walk straight out of the room. Instead, wincing even as it comes out of his mouth, Draco says: “Really?”
Harry offers him a smile he can’t quite hold in place — it's too heartbreaking, all of it, the incredulity in Draco’s voice and the weight of what Harry’s admitting. He shrugs one shoulder when the expression falls. “Er. Yeah.”
“You’re a very stupid man,” Draco tells him, so quiet it’s nearly a whisper. “As if I didn’t try everything to make it stop, Harry, as if I even could,” and then he’s moving, unfolding from his defensive little huddle and pushing Harry back down onto the bed.
Draco still hasn’t said I love you, and Harry thinks it’s possible he never will; he’s not sure Draco’s ever said even it to his own mother, or to any of his friends. Harry doesn’t mind. He himself really hasn’t said it since that first time, finding it a lot harder to vocalize when he’s not screaming it in a fit of rage, and anyway he’s never cared that much if he heard it or not, in romantic relationships or any other sort. Harry knows what love looks and feels like, learned it from the white spaces in his life where it wasn’t. He’s always been someone for whom actions meant more than words, and as he twists and writhes under Draco’s capable hands, his sinfully talented mouth, he knows as sure as he’s ever known anything that Draco loves him. Knows it entire, and to his very bones.
“Jesus,” Harry pants, body arching off the mattress as much from that — the warmth in Draco’s cool grey eyes, the little absently stroking circles of his hand on Harry’s thigh — as from the sensation of his cock hitting the back of Draco’s throat. He comes hard and quickly, an unintelligible little shout escaping from his half-open mouth, and stumbles into the bathroom after Draco when Draco pokes and prods him out of bed. They shower, and Harry jacks Draco off slow and reverent under the spray, his face hidden in the safe expanse of Draco’s neck. He doesn’t know what he feels, except good. Wanted. Home.
It’s not until after Draco’s put up a sign saying the museum will be opening late, until Harry’s made them breakfast and brought it up to the sitting room for a delayed version of their morning routine, that they actually get back around to talking about why Draco pulled out the list in the first place.
“So, as I intended to explain before we got distracted,” Draco says, tapping the cover of the notebook and then flushing, just slightly, at whatever he sees on Harry’s face. “For the love of god, would you stop that? Sanctuary, Potter, honestly. Anyway, I only wanted to tell you that — the items I circled — well.” He smiles, and the barest hint of anxiety in his expression fades when Harry smiles back. “I think I may have an idea.”
It’s a good idea.
That very afternoon, Harry Apparates almost at random to the neighborhood a few blocks up from Diagon Alley, where his apartment has sat empty for months. He nearly buys the first space he finds that’s open, but it feels a little cold to him, without character, and anyway Tomato doesn’t like it and won’t go more than a few feet inside. Harry comes even closer to buying the second place he sees, but he decides at the last second to run it by Draco, just in case. It’s not, after all, like he has a great track record, real estate decision wise.
“I knew you were off doing something like this, you reckless imbecile,” Draco says, exasperated but fond, when he’s replied to Harry’s surreptitiously cast Patronus by just Apparating into the middle of the room and scaring the Muggle realtor half to death. They’ve got her sitting on a bench outside shaking off the effects of an Obliviate while they look around (“You took a funny turn,” Draco said firmly, thrusting what Harry was amused to note was a packet of his own favorite biscuits at her, “absolutely nothing strange happened at all, you just sit here and eat your biscuits and think about how perfectly normal this whole encounter has been,” and she's been out there quietly nibbling at them ever since).
“Right,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “You break the Statute of Secrecy and I’m the reckless one.”
“You are!” Draco exclaims. “You were going to buy this place, which is, let’s be clear, just exactly as horrible as that hideous rat hole you called an apartment. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that that’s around here somewhere, by the way. You really are a creature of habit, it’s terribly dull.”
Harry, not even remotely fazed at being called a dull creature of habit by a man who has a specific pair of socks for each day of the week, shrugs. “Yeah, well. I like the location, you know? The glen’s just around the corner, which is nice, and it’s close enough to Diagon to make sense as a Wizarding destination, but Muggles could find it too. And I know the space isn’t… great... ”
“That might be the understatement of the century,” Draco says, looking around with distaste.
It’s not that Harry doesn’t see what he means. The place is spacious but clearly the worse for years of neglect; there’s a patina of dust and grime over everything, suggestions of termite damage, and an unsettling wheezing sort of sound that starts up whenever the heating system kicks on. None of the electric lights work, and there’s a faint smell carrying the suggestion of death underneath everything — Tomato’s been sniffing around, tail wagging, since they walked in, probably looking for its source. But…
“I was thinking maybe I could fix it up,” Harry admits, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I mean, the heating and lighting is all obviously buggered, but I’d be replacing most of that with spellwork anyway, right? And I’ll need appliances, but this way I can choose my own, instead of having to customize whatever’s already built in. The floors — well, they’re kind of a mess, but I know a lot of those restoration spells now, and I think they might be pretty incredible underneath all the damage. A couple of coats of paint, and maybe a fireplace in the far corner, for Floo traffic — ” He stops, because Draco’s giving him a look he can’t interpret. “What?”
Draco cocks his head to the side and looks for a moment as though he’s trying to determine what to say. Harry’s expecting a barrage of insults to his decision-making skills and business savvy, so he’s surprised when Draco says: “I’m lamenting.”
Entertained in spite of himself, Harry plays along. “Lamenting what, exactly?”
“The beautiful space you could have had,” Draco says, shaking his head and pasting on a huge, mocking frown that looks nothing like the twisted little one he pulls out when he’s really upset. “The beautiful months we both could have had not breaking our backs trying to make this one vaguely passable. They were going to be beautiful, Harry, and they’re lost to us, since it’s obvious you’re already attached to this nightmare.”
Harry grins at him, not even bothering to glance round at the realtor as she comes back inside. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“Oh, I do,” Draco says. “I always have. Ask anyone who knew me in school, they’ll tell you. ‘That Potter chap, what a maniac,’ I said, time and again, to whomever would listen — they never seemed to recognize my genius, of course, but that didn’t make it less true.” The edges of his mouth curl into a small, slightly sardonic smile. “But I imagine that I understand better than most the desire to take something that’s been left an unholy mess and do the work to make it your own.”
“Are you talking about me or Grimmauld Place?” Harry asks, raising his eyebrows. It’s a silly question — one he means flippantly, that he’s mostly just asking to tease Draco a little — but Draco flushes, looks away at once.
“Oh,” he says to the floor, “whichever you like.”
It takes two solid months of work, but The Hollow opens in December, just in time for the holidays. Harry was right about the floors; they turned out beautifully, a deep, gorgeous cherry, even if there is a set of paw prints running down the center of the dining room where Tomato dashed across before Harry could finish setting a varnishing spell. He even likes that, the easy imperfection of it, though Draco despairs and carries on every time he looks at it — it makes the place feel lived in. Harry’s.
The rest he sort built around the floors, mostly figuring it out as he went, taking Draco’s opinion on some things and ignoring it on others. What’s resulted is a place so wholly and profoundly attuned to him, so deeply and inexplicably correct, that he stops in the doorway and takes a deep breath, just enjoying it, in every time he walks inside. The dining area, a long, curved room that wraps around most of the little building, is a warm ochre color. It’s furnished mostly with wide wooden tables and chairs Harry actually had commissioned because he couldn’t find what he was looking for (“I have a chair guy, Potter, relax,” Draco said, like this was perfectly normal thing to have, and didn’t everyone?). There’s a grouping of leather armchairs tucked in the corner by the fireplace, too, a gathering space in lieu of a bar, hidden behind a charmed screen so any Muggles who visit won’t notice people coming out of the Floo. And Harry’s kitchen — it’s spacious, burgundy walls with white accents, filled even when there’s no one else around with the soft hum of appliances Harry selected himself: all of them magical and most of them old as dirt, but all as cheerfully functional as if they were crafted yesterday. There’s a thick, magnetized bar over his favorite stove where all his knives can hang, and racks hanging down from the ceilings for his pots and pans, and a whole separate range for the rest of his staff, so he can have a little room to maneuver, an area all his own.
It’s mostly a restaurant. That’s what Harry says, usually, when people ask what he’s doing these days: “I run a restaurant,” or, if Draco catches this and elbows him, “I own and run a restaurant.” That’s true, more or less. A little bit, though, it’s also a gathering place; a way station; a soup kitchen; a trading post. People get a hot meal no matter what they’re doing there — they pay if they can and don’t if they can’t, and when he comes across someone who needs a place to sleep for the night, Harry gives them the keys to his old apartment, which he let Draco fix up to help him contain his urges to make all of Harry’s decisions about The Hollow for him. He also paid the fees and sat through the two hour seminar to have his Floo connected as an international grate, figuring it would be interesting and exciting, meeting whoever came through. He’s certainly been right so far; he has amazing, bizarre conversations with his visitors, witches and wizards who hop in and out of grates all over the globe, most of whom don’t so much as recognize him, but seem to like the food he cooks. And they have the oddest conversations with each other, not to mention with the Muggles who come in sometimes, which Harry catches snatches of as he works and carries with him, afterwards, laughing again at someone’s joke hours after he’s gone home for the night.
His friends come, too, in big groups at first but eventually individually, dropping by for a meal whenever they find they have a moment. Harry stands Neville a bacon sandwich every Wednesday after his weekly client meeting up the road, and he thinks he might see Ron more now than he did even when they were partners, since Ron takes an hour at lunch pretty much every day to flop across one of Harry’s tables and moan to whoever will listen about the trials and tribulations of baby Hugo. The rest of the Weasleys are regular visitors, as are Teddy and Andromeda, and Blaise all but sets up camp as his fireplace, using the little collection of armchairs to hold god knows what kind of meetings. Even Pansy drops by sometimes.
And, of course, excepting those occasions when he’s got his own plans, Draco’s there every night at seven, tucked into the corner next to Harry’s range or sitting at the little table right next to the serving window, eating and talking to Harry over the spill of noise from the dinner rush. They’re the only ones that know about the core they buried under the center of the floorboards — the knife that spent an afternoon inside of Harry, which Draco, the creepily foresighted little git, saved in case they ever wanted to do something like this, since blood magic was powerful and the damage had already been done. They spent hours practicing the spells at Grimmauld Place before they cast them, talking through their complexities and patterns, and in the end poured a little of both their magics into the knife, bound with an oath Kreacher freely offered to give but refused to teach them for themselves. They won’t know for years yet if it’s worked, but sometimes Harry catches Draco’s eye and would swear he could feel it too, the gentle undulation of personality slipping into these walls, making something where nothing once was.
It’s ridiculous. It’s incredible. Harry loves it.
“It’s a year today, you know,” Draco comments, offhand, over breakfast one Saturday morning in February. He doesn’t even look away from the Prophet as he says it.
Harry panics a little anyway. “Er. No? That’s — I mean — like — sometime in, er. Oh, god. April? Right? Tell me you don’t actually expect me to know this.”
Draco flips down the corner of his newspaper to lift a scathing eyebrow. “For the love of god, Harry. I meant since the first break-in, not since all of this,” he waves a hand between them, a graceful, encompassing little gesture, “happened. You nitwit,” he adds, sounding pleased about it. “As if I’d expect you to remember something like that. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder you remember your own name.”
“So it’s a thoughtful mnemonic technique, then?” Harry asks, laying the earnestness on thick. “The way you’re constantly squawking ‘Potter?’”
“Potter!” Draco squawks, and promptly looks so abruptly, mutinously furious about it that Harry cracks up laughing, carries the mirth with him all the way to work.
It’s a good day. Towards the end of the lunch rush, he leaves his staff with the restaurant and takes Hermione some food at her office, where she’s been more or less ensconced since returning from maternity leave a week ago. They chat and Hermione nearly weeps at the chance for some adult conversation that isn’t about a) the baby, b) work, or c) the baby, and Harry kind of can’t believe, sitting across from her, that he ever worried for one second that he would lose her and Ron in the slow slide of old friendships neglected. It feels silly, impossible, now, and he almost tells her as much, but. Well. It’s probably kinder, he thinks, to spare her the knowledge that he ever thought it could happen. It would probably hurt her to know, and there’s no reason for Harry to put that on her, when it doesn’t really matter anymore.
On his way out of the Ministry, he catches sight of the gelato shop down the road, stopping dead in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at it. A year, he thinks, remembering the way he used to have to bribe himself with the thought of a cup just to get through a shift. For a second he can almost see that version of himself, superimposed in sketchy lines over the reality of the day, his hunched posture and bent head radiating misery, discontent. Harry wants to apologize to him, to tell him it can be different, to grab him by the shoulders and point him towards Grimmauld Place, the unlikely path that turned out to wait within. Of course, then he blinks and the moment’s gone, leaving him feeling stunned and slightly stupid in the center of the sidewalk.
He goes back to work. He makes gelato to serve as dessert with dinner, a rich raspberry one ribboned through with chocolate, and smiles down at his hands while he works, glad to be where he is. Reveling in it, just a little.
Draco, Andromeda and Teddy all tumble in at five, their faces windswept, ice skates thrown over their shoulders. That was… weird, at first, the Draco and Andromeda and Teddy thing; Harry didn’t even know to worry it would be until the first time he brought Draco to a Weasley dinner at which Teddy and Andromeda happened to show up, a month or so after they started really seeing each other.
“She’s my aunt,” Draco hissed, having gasped at the sight of them, ducked behind a chair before they could see him, and dragged Harry into a bathroom in a crouch-walk in full view of about six Weasleys. Harry wasn’t that fussed about it; it’s not like it was even the weirdest thing the Weasleys had seen him do. “And I’ve never really even met her! You understand, that alone — the strangeness of it — and the child, Potter, my god! Do you honestly not recognize that I had an obligation to him! An obligation which I neglected! Due to the grudges of previous generations! Well, and, yes, all right, the insurmountable social awkwardness of penning a letter that said, ‘Dear Aunt Andromeda, my mother banned your name from our home when I was a child; sometimes I think she lives in France to avoid confronting you, and I feel incredibly guilty even writing you this note, but nevertheless — ’” He stopped, glared at Harry. “The letter! Is not the point! Potter!”
“Er,” said Harry, blinking at him. “Who said that it was?”
“He’ll hate me,” Draco said, ignoring this, though he didn’t lessen his glare one iota. “They both will, how could you not warn me they might be here? I could have — oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what you do in this situation, that’s why I’ve never done anything about it!”
“Well,” said Harry, carefully, aware now that they were treading in not-entirely-rational waters, “you could maybe just try… talking to them?”
“Oh, helpful,” Draco snapped. “Talk to them, how unutterably brilliant, never would have bloody occurred to me, you — ”
“Look, Draco,” Harry said, cutting off a barrage of insults on the theory that neither of them really believed he meant them anymore. “Andromeda’s a softer touch than she looks, especially if Teddy likes you. And Teddy’s eight, okay? He likes pretty much everyone. All you’ve got to do is compliment his new light-up trainers and you’ll be his best friend, I swear.”
Draco did not look convinced in the slightest. “Oh, please. That’s a terrible plan. What if I say, ‘I like your trainers, Teddy,’ and he says, ‘I don’t care! I reject your compliment due to eight years of neglected attentions! Begone from my sight, you black-hearted rogue!’ What do I do then?”
Harry didn’t mean to, but he laughed a little, trying and failing to hide it behind a cough. “Sorry, I am, but — what the fuck kind of eight year old would say that? To… anyone?”
“I would have,” Draco muttered, crossing his arms.
“Oh, sure,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Because you were such a normal eight year old. All other eight year old behavior should be judged against yours, that makes perfect sense.”
Draco narrowed his eyes, arms still crossed. “You didn’t know me when I was eight, Potter. I could have been a perfectly normal child in every way.”
“Yes, but,” Harry said, quite sure of the answer already, “you weren’t. Were you?”
“No,” Draco admitted, on a forlorn little sigh. “Of course not. That was the winter I read seventeen books about pirates and then broke into a fundraiser my father was hosting. On my head: a pair of my mother’s pantyhose. On my feet: broomsticks, because I felt I could rather improve upon the concept of a peg-leg. I attempted, if I recall correctly, to liberate the entire dessert cart. That I ended up wearing it goes without saying, I suppose.”
“A black-hearted rogue, huh?” Harry said, only laughing on it a little. It’s always oddly endearing, hearing these stories that explain, but don’t excuse, the pernicous, horrible, incessant little bastard Draco’d been when they were children — in some ways, he was just doing his best to hide unmatchable strangeness under a pile of nastiness and bluster.
“Yes, well,” Draco said, but he smiled a little, losing some of the hunted look he was wearing when he dragged Harry into the bathroom. “Who wants to be the hero, after all? Dreadfully boring, heroes. Always prattling on about doing the right thing, and their great and terrible burdens, and how their duty to society is more important than eating or sleeping or even the most basic of hygiene — ”
“You know I don’t find this funny,” said Harry, who actually did, a little, but wasn’t planning on admitting it any time soon.
“Oh, yes,” Draco said, grinning properly now. “This is for me, Potter. Who cares what you think?”
“I think you’re an ass,” Harry said, but he kissed the side of Draco’s mouth as he walked past him anyway, opened the bathroom door. “If you’re not out in ten minutes, I’m telling everyone you’re hiding in here like a chicken.”
“I’m not eight years old now, you know,” Draco drawled, raising his eyebrows. “Surely you don’t imagine that’s going to work.”
Harry shrugged one shoulder. “We’ll see.”
Nine minutes and thirty seconds later, Draco emerged from the bathroom, gave Harry a truly filthy look, and marched up to Teddy. “Hello there. I’m Draco. I… like your shoes?”
“They are the BEST shoes,” Teddy agreed, before he grinned, stomped his foot on the ground to set off the lights, and changed his hair along with them to match. “They can do like I do, look!”
“That,” Draco said, eyes widening, “might be the coolest thing I have ever seen,” and within ten minutes they were running around the first floor of the house, wrapped up in a game of Pirates vs Robbers, which they seemed to be inventing as they went along.
“He’s odd, isn’t he,” Andromeda said, stepping up next to where Harry was leaning against the doorframe watching them. “Always thought Narcissa could do with a little more odd, myself.”
Harry looked at her sidelong. He wasn’t entirely sure sure what he was supposed to say to that, so he shrugged. “I like him.”
“So does Teddy,” Andromeda said, nodding over to where her grandson’s hair was turning steadily blonder, and Harry smiled.
It’s worked out well, since then. Teddy likes the museum, follows Draco around hounding him with questions, and it makes Harry ache for Remus, the teacher Teddy should have gotten — but that’s nice, almost, in this weird way Harry’s not sure how to explain. It… eases something in him, he thinks, even though it hurts. Maybe because it hurts; Harry doesn’t really know. In any case, it passes a lot of afternoons, and so do walks in Diagon, and day-trips through Harry’s international Floo, and the random visits to odd little festivals Draco insists they make now and again, usually on no more than a few hour’s notice. Harry still takes Teddy to the park alone sometimes — or, well, with Tomato, now — and they run around like they used to, shrieking and laughing and throwing a ball, but sometimes Draco comes. And sometimes, on days like this one, Draco and Andromeda take Teddy out to do something that Harry wouldn’t be caught dead doing (“I’ll see you on skates one day, Potter,” Draco promised, ominously, the night before), and Harry can do what he likes without feeling guilty that he’s… whatever. Depriving Teddy of important childhood experiences due to his inadequacy as a godfather, or something.
“How was it?” Harry says, as they all start shedding coats and hats and scarves onto the tops of various tables. “Did you have fun?”
Teddy beams at him. “Yeah! I only fell once, and I did the whole loop frontwards a bunch of times and Draco taught me how to do backwards, a little. Well, he pulled me mostly. But it was still cool! Oh, but. I felt, um,” Teddy pauses and looks at Draco, who nods encouragingly at him. Teddy bites his lip. “But Draco, I didn’t feel like Uncle Harry abandoned me, lying is wrong — “
“I swear, four blocks of rehearsal and you bring up your morality objection now,” Draco says, though he ruffles Teddy’s hair as he says it, and Teddy grins. “Very well, you are excused from participating. Potter, the jig, as they say, is up: only Andromeda and I felt cruelly abandoned by your refusal to be reasonable and come skating, though that alone is reason enough you have to come next time.”
“I’d say don’t drag me into this,” Andromeda says, helping Teddy off with one of his gloves, “but hey: what the hell, right?”
“Grandma, you said a swear,” Teddy breathes, delighted. Andromeda winces down at him, looking caught.
“I’d just fall on my face,” Harry said, to Draco, leaving Andromeda to the unfortunate task of distracting Teddy from her vocabulary choices. “Probably a bunch of times.”
“I know,” Draco says, “it would be so funny. Don’t you want me to be happy?”
“You’re twisted and horrible,” Harry says, rolling his eyes.
“Yes,” Draco says, grinning at him. The little shit already knows that he’s won. “But you want me to be happy, don’t you?”
“God help me,” Harry agrees, cheerfully enough, and retreats to the safety of his kitchen before Draco can do something truly terrible with this little victory, like secure a promise towards future ice skating in writing.
He hums while he works, because tonight is the Gryffindor pub night.
It’s — still pretty weird, looking forward to it. Harry doesn’t look forward to the part at the Bowtruckle, of course; he hasn’t actually attended that bit for a few months, because as it turns out even with someone to talk to he hates a crowded bar, and he and Draco always end up leaving early anyway. But in November, when Harry was getting ready to open The Hollow, Hermione suggested they do a test run with friends and family, and Draco immediately insisted that they do it directly before the piss-up. “It just makes sense,” he argued, when Harry raised his eyebrows. “People should put down a base before they drink like that, and anyway, we know they’re all available that night. Besides, we’re adults, aren’t we? It’s hardly civilized, at our advanced age, to go out drinking without first sitting down to a meal.”
“We’re twenty-six, Draco,” Hermione said. “‘Advanced age’ is a stretch, and not an appreciated one. But I do think that’s a good idea — Harry, what do you think?”
Harry thought Draco was up to something, but he said, “Sure,” anyway, because, actually, it sounded kind of nice.
And it was nice. It is. They’ve done it every month since then; this is their fourth, and Harry’s already grown comfortable with it, developed certain habits and routines. He closes up the restaurant at six, pays whoever on his kitchen staff volunteers to stick around and help out, and then cooks — whatever he feels like. Whatever he thinks his friends might like. That’s actually the best part, however much he does also love getting to see his nearest and dearest in an environment less awful than the Bowtruckle; there’s something centering, grounding for Harry, in the act of putting together a meal, and it’s weirdly easier, afterwards, to socialize with everyone all at once. Draco says it’s because his real destiny in life was to be a hermit and fate got confused, but Draco’s always saying stuff like that. He also says it doesn’t matter why something makes someone happy so long as it does; Harry thinks that part’s probably right.
Tonight the first guest arrives at 6:15. Harry steps out of the kitchen to greet them, but it’s Blaise, because of course it is; he says, “Harry, Draco, Andromeda. Tedward,” and breezes right past all of them to the Floo grate, where he promptly sticks his head in the fire.
“My name is not Tedward,” shouts Teddy, who has had this exact fight with Blaise easily twelve times. “It’s Teddy Remus Lupin!”
“You’re only encouraging him,” Draco says in a carrying undertone. “What you have to do, you see, is pretend like it doesn’t bother you.”
“Well, that sounds healthy,” Ron says, walking in with Rose under one arm, Hugo tucked against his chest in one of those baby sling things Harry himself can never quite figure out. “Teddy, what’s he telling you to pretend doesn’t bother you?”
“Blaise called me Tedward again,” Teddy says sullenly. “My name’s not Tedward! He knows it’s not!”
“Ah,” says Ron. He hands Rose to Harry, ignoring Harry’s raised eyebrows. “Well, you can’t take that, can you? Got to think of a name to call him back, that’s what I say.
“What a sage parenting move, Ron,” Andromeda says, dry. “Do remind me to return the favor in a few years, won’t you?”
Ron laughs, but he pales a bit. Harry gives him a wincing little nod of greeting, passes Rose off to Draco, and goes back to his kitchen, where everything is, if not calm, at least always under control. He waves and shouts hellos through the long, wide serving window as more guests arrive — Molly and Arthur, Ginny and Neville, George and Angelina, Bill and Fleur and Victoire. That’s one of the nice things about about these nights; because they’re not starting off at a bar anymore, everyone can come, not just whoever could find babysitters or, in the case of Molly and Arthur, the energy and will to spend an evening in a pub with a bunch of wasted twenty-somethings. Percy and Penelope show up next, and then Hermione and Seamus and Dean, and then Blaise pulls his head from the fire and actually joins the party. Harry’s just put down his whisk and come to say a proper hello to everyone when Pansy walks through the door.
She’s holding hands. With Luna.
“Oh my god, what?” Draco says, striding over to them. Harry, who recognizes that tone of voice as well as that purposeful gait, follows him pretty sharpish, and so sees him raise a hand and point an accusatory finger at Pansy. “What? You never said! Not a word! Not a peep! How long have you kept this from me?”
Harry thinks it says a lot about how used to the Slytherins in their lives the Weasleys have gotten that no one really bats an eyelash at this behavior. The only person who reacts at all is Blaise, who reaches for some bread, and even that is only because Harry didn’t think to put out popcorn.
“Actually,” Luna says, smiling at Pansy, “we met almost exactly a year ago. At that one pub night — you remember, Harry. Of course, it was all under rather false pretenses, but it all worked out in the end.”
“A year ago,” Draco says, voice cracking on it. “Pansy, an entire year?”
“Well,” Pansy says, wincing slightly, “the thing about that is — ”
“Wait,” Harry says, casting his mind back. The last time he remembers seeing Luna hook up with someone at a pub night... “Pansy, you were that girl? Vi? With the pink hair?”
“Are you kidding me,” Draco says, all in one breath. “Potter knows more about this than me, Pansy? Potter? Him ?”
“We live together,” Harry says mildly, solely for the entertaining reward of Draco’s scowl.
Draco does not disappoint. “You would be better off remaining silent, you wretched imbecile. ‘The girl with the pink hair,’ honestly. I can’t believe you never said!”
“What was I supposed to do?” Harry says, eyebrows climbing. “List off for you every person I’d ever encountered in my life who wasn’t like, one of my close friends?”
“A true partner,” Draco says, with a pained little sniff, “would have been willing to make that sacrifice, yes.”
“You are mental,” Harry says, a little fonder than he really means to. “How was I supposed to know it was Pansy, anyway? I mean, why would I look for Pansy at a Gryffindor piss-up? It was weird enough running into Blaise.”
“There’s a point,” Draco says, turning his narrow-eyed stare on Blaise, who just pauses with a slice of bread halfway to his mouth and offers Draco a Cheshire Cat smile. Draco huffs out a little noise of irritation and then rounds on Pansy again, who at least has the good grace to look a bit caught. “What were you both doing there that night, Pansy? I never did believe Blaise’s, ‘I was just a little afraid he might kill you,’ routine.”
“Hey,” Harry says, to Blaise.
Blaise rolls his eyes. “Please. I am, of course, being misquoted. Draco, I said I was a little afraid that you might kill him .”
“Makes a lot more sense,” says Harry, grinning.
“You hush,” Draco says. He takes a half step backward into Harry’s space without looking round, even as he says, “Go cook something, isn’t that your job?”
“I work alone, anyway,” Pansy snaps, pulling the attention back to her. “I didn’t even know Blaise was there that night; I got a little — distracted.”
“By me!” Luna says, and waves the hand that isn’t holding Pansy’s a little. “And then her Polyjuice wore off right in the middle of — ”
“You know, darling, maybe we don’t tell them that story,” Pansy says quickly, though it’s too late; Draco’s face is rapidly turning purple, and Blaise looks about half a second from breaking down in a fit of hysterics. “I — well! Look! It’s your own fault anyway, Draco! I only went that night because — I mean, Blaise said Potter was assigned to your case, and I remembered what you were like in school, and I figured I had one shot to prevent the worst possible outcome.”
“Yes, well, as much as I’m enjoying all these jokes about the two of us murdering each other,” Draco says, and takes one more subtle step backwards, so his back is just barely touching Harry’s chest. “Thankfully the worst possible outcome did not come to pass, so — ”
“Oh, no, it happened,” Pansy says grimly, shaking her head. “I’m looking at it. Really, I blame myself.”
The conversation gets a bit shouty and vicious for Harry’s taste at that point, and he offers Luna a quick congratulatory smile and squeezes Draco on the shoulder in solidarity before promptly abandoning him for the kitchen. Arthur and Teddy come back with him — Arthur to look at the appliances and Teddy to lure Tomato out of his dog bed by the back door and into the dining room — and are soon replaced with various other Weasleys, Neville, and eventually Draco.
“A peace has been brokered,” he says, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe the way he can’t when they’re actually open and serving food, and so does constantly the rest of the time. “You needn’t hide in here any longer, hostilities have ceased.”
“I wasn’t hiding,” Harry mutters.
“Oh, no, of course not, not you,” Draco agrees, smiling slightly. “The great Harry Potter hides from nothing! You were merely — avoiding. Not engaging. Filling your time with more important things than shouting.”
“Can we just skip ahead to the part of this conversation where you say, ‘Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night?’” Harry asks, though he’s smiling a little, too. “You know, for efficiency’s sake?”
“Lunatic,” Draco says, warm. “This all looks done; come talk to your guests. Have a cocktail. Be a person.”
“Ugh, fine,” Harry says. He throws a last dash of sea salt into one of his pots and then allows himself to be dragged out into the dining room.
It’s a good night. Harry ends up sitting next to Ginny, who tells him excitedly about her new placement with a Quidditch team in Leeds, and George, who Harry strongly suspects of putting some sort of inflating spell on his chair cushion. Draco’s way down at the other end of the table, chattering eagerly and in a way that can spell nothing good for Harry with Molly Weasley, but they catch each other’s eyes a few times over the noise of everyone eating, drinking, enjoying the company. Harry smiles, and Draco smirks, and Harry thinks that he’s glad, actually, for the seven long, slow years that led to this wild one. Harry thinks that they were worth it, if this is the reward.
Of course, he thinks that before Charlie comes through the Floo in the middle of dessert, looks directly at Blaise, and says, “Sorry, babes, am I late?” And then, in the ensuing barrage of questions, reveals that they have been dating for five years.
The Hollow descends into chaos.
Pansy is screaming at Blaise about knowing she was coming with Luna tonight, and how he has stolen her thunder; Bil is screaming at Charlie about breaking the bonds of brotherhood. Draco is screaming at Pansy about how the important thing is five years of secrecy, and George is screaming at Bill about how he’s not screaming at Charlie loudly enough. Ron and Hermione are screaming at each other — for sport, Harry’s seen them do it before, they like to have perfectly normal conversations at the tops of their voices in the middle of family fights because they think it’s funny — and Teddy is scream-singing his favorite song, which is about a mischievous cabbage, if Harry’s remembering right. And above them all, like an avenging angel, is Molly Weasley, bellowing at Charlie about trust and honesty and lies of omission at a volume anyone would find a little terrifying.
Harry sips his drink and mourns for his kitchen, where he could go hide out — that is, tactfully avoid all this fuss — if only they weren’t already finishing the last course of the meal. Still, when Arthur Weasley sidles up next to him and says, “Ah, family,” Harry can’t help but agree, with this weird rush of mingled emotions — surprise, exasperation, exhaustion. Gratitude, most of all.
Eventually Charlie says, “Merlin, Mum — didn’t we used to drink at these things? Properly drink? Can’t we go do that now?”
“I’m coming!” Molly says quickly. “I’m coming to this bar, and to any other place you might go, Charlie Weasley. You’ll not get out of this just by running off! Harry, dear, thank you for a lovely evening.”
“Er,” Harry says, “sure, Molly.”
He says goodbye to everyone else as they gather their coats and bags, all of them thanking him but most of them also still arguing with each other, and grabs Draco’s arm as he passes Harry in stalking off for one more go at Blaise. In a low voice, he says, “Please tell me we don’t have to go to the bar.”
Draco’s face, which was stormy and creased when Harry grabbed him, clears. He tilts his head at Harry, hair falling in his eyes, and smiles. “No, Harry. We don’t have to go to the bar.”
“Thank Merlin,” Harry says, and is surprised when Draco kisses him, just for a moment but with real feeling, before he breaks away to yell at Blaise one last time. Draco — doesn’t do that, usually, in public, and Harry doesn’t even know what it was for, but… he thinks he likes that, maybe. A little mystery with an inevitably happy ending. Just one more thing about Draco he can try to puzzle out.
It’s not until they’re locking up for the night that it happens — Harry’s locking up, eager to get home and see whether Draco means to deliver on the speaking looks he’s been giving Harry all night, when a voice calls, “Mr. Malfoy! Mr. Potter!”
Draco turns, and Harry turns with him to see — a little girl, with dark hair and skin the same color as Harry’s. Maybe 8 or 9. Familiar, for some reason that Harry can’t quite put a finger on.
“Hello there,” Draco says, smiling down at her. He glances at Harry and rolls his eyes, and then, pointedly, adds, “You’re Delia Heatherby, aren’t you? You were at the museum with the tour group, oh, about a year ago?”
She’s the little girl who’d been clinging to Draco’s arm during the break-in, Harry realizes, startled. God. He can’t believe how bizarre it is to remember the way he thought of Draco then — his bemused, distant horror at Draco’s rambling disclosure of slandering Harry to schoolchildren, which wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest to hear today. The little “Careful, I bite!” sign on the violent stair, and how even then he’d felt the faint echo of the fascinated entertainment that he’d come to feel looking at Draco. How confused he’d been to see this very girl clinging to Draco’s arm as though he was someone who could protect her, someone she trusted.
The irony of that last makes him grin a little, tuck the arm he isn’t using to hold Tomato’s leash through Draco’s, even as little Delia says, “Oh, yes, that was me. Is the museum okay, Mr. Malfoy? I kept wanting to come back and see it, but my mum and dad said I couldn’t on account of I had a traumatizing experience there last time, and what if this time I died?”
That, Harry thinks wryly, explains the distant shapes of two adults running frantically up the sidewalk.
“Ah,” Draco says. He throws Harry a look that’s half amusement, half dismay, before he says, “Well. It’s fine, as it happens. Better than ever. Any further trauma inflicted on my guests, god willing, will be at the hands of history alone.”
Delia grins up at him. One of her front teeth is missing, Harry notices, and is charmed until she turns on him and adds, “And you, Mr. Potter? Have you broken your dangerous and destructive habit of creating chaos for chaos’s sake and inserting yourself where you do not belong?”
“Er,” says Harry. He glares at Draco, who is making choked sounds of badly concealed laughter, the treacherous little snake; he won’t be any help. He’ll probably be howling about this until summer. “Well. Uh. Sure, Delia. I’ve — kicked the habit. Changed my ways, and, er. Such.”
“Good,” Delia says sternly, “Mr. Malfoy said you were a drain on society,” and Draco loses his fight with his laughter just long enough to let out one supremely undignified shout of it.
Delia’s parents catch up to them then, panting and chiding her until they realize he’s Harry Potter. Then they do that whole — the really uncomfortable — fawning thing, and Harry shifts on his feet for a second and then nudges Tomato surreptitiously with his foot until he starts walking, calling, “Oh, sorry, what can you do, dogs, right?” as he follows.
Draco comes along, because his arm is still tucked into Harry’s, and because he usually does, one way or another. It takes him nearly half a block to stop laughing, but eventually he tucks himself a little closer against Harry’s side, his breath coming even and calm.
“So,” he says, voice still lit up with amusement. “Changed your ways, have you?”
Harry looks at him sidelong; he’s lit up in the glow of the streetlamps, all the sharp angles of his face smoothed out with good humor, his mouth turned up in a familiar, well-loved smile. Pulling his arm out of Draco’s grip, Harry wraps it around his shoulders instead, kissing him briefly but fiercely until the dog nearly wraps them both up in the leash, and they break apart.
“Do you know,” Harry says, “I think I have.” He lets Draco lead the way home.