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If this wasn't a curse then it was Hell. Because surely, in Hell, all roads would lead to Harry Potter's living room.

"Malfoy," Potter intoned with an eyebrow raised – just the one, mind you – as, once again, Draco found himself in Potter's house, this time having tumbled out of the Floo.

"Fuck!" Draco spat, looking around himself in disbelief.

Potter turned to him and crossed his arms. "By any chance is your life malfunctioning?"

Draco sneered at him, picked up the briefcase he'd dropped, and stomped off toward Potter's front door.

He stepped out onto the pavement, through the glamors and magicks, and frowned on the curb. Draco pulled his wand and thrust it out. Moments later, a Knight Bus pulled up.

"Ah, Mr. Malfoy, where ought you be going to today, sir?"

Draco shoved his wand back into its holster and stepped aboard. He bypassed Stan Shunpike and glared instead at the driver. "You are to take me straight to the Ministry of Magic, do you understand?"

The driver nodded.

"No, I need you to answer me. The Ministry of Magic. Do you understand?"

"Oi. I understand, lad."

"Straight there, do you hear me?"

"Yes."

"Nowhere else."

"Yes, yes."

Draco straightened his suit coat, his tie. "Good."

"Please have a nice kip, Mr. Malfoy," Shunpike said. "Could I get you a hot chocolate?"

"No, you can't get me a hot chocolate," Draco growled. He marched up the stairs to the second floor, intending to get his parchments in order for the morning meeting on the way.

But no sooner had he reached the landing than Shunpike called, "The Ministry of Magic!"

Draco turned and marched back down the stairs. He stepped off the bus and...

"Wait!" Draco called, turning, but the bus had already boomed off down the lane. He turned back to the bleak facade of Grimmauld Place. He ran a weary hand over his face. "You have got to be joking," he murmured beneath his breath.

There seemed to be nothing for it; Draco lugged his briefcase up the walkway, through magicks that allowed him for no apparent good reason, and he saw Potter there, leaned in his own doorway, a faded red dish towel slung over his shoulder.

Waiting for him.

Draco stormed toward him. "Is this your doing? What in the name of Merlin have you done to me?"

"Why would I want you to keep coming back here?" Potter asked reasonably. "Do you think I salivate for your scintillating company, Malfoy? I should hope it's not me; I'm getting a raw deal as you only stay a few seconds, shout, 'Fuck,' and then bolt. What is it now? Four times?"

"I have to get to work," Draco huffed.

"Malfoy, I don't think that's going to happen."

"Let me use your Floo. Perhaps it will work the other way around."

Potter shrugged. "Suit yourself." He pushed out of the doorway and opened the door. "And since you asked so politely and all."

Draco followed him into the house and down the long hallway, wishing Potter would get a move on. Draco checked his pocket watch. In five minutes, he'd officially be late.

Potter led him into his study. "I'm running low on Floo powder, so don't go wild or anything."

Draco shoved his hand into the ugly urn Potter provided while Potter watched him with a bland expression. Once again, Draco's gaze was caught by the red dish towel.

"Do you do your dishes like a Muggle?" Draco couldn't help but ask.

"I was a Muggle for eleven years of my life, Malfoy," Potter explained with what seemed like barely concealed anger.

"No you weren't," Draco muttered under his breath as he turned to the hearth.

"What was that?"

"Nothing, Potter." Draco threw the powder into the fireplace, stepped into the green flames, and emphatically enunciated, "The Ministry of Magic."

He watched Potter and his towel twist and swirl into oblivion while he himself went shuttling through the Floo network, his elbows drawn in tight, hands clutching his briefcase. After several seconds, he ejected from the Floo with such force that he tumbled end over end, finally coming to a stop on his arse in the middle of...

"Bloody fuck."

"Come on," Potter said with what seemed like a distinctly amused half-second quirk to this lips. "Hermione's in your division. We'll let her know you're going to be late." Potter held out his hand as though to help Draco up.

Draco firmed his lips and got to his feet on his own, brushing off his suit, half-expecting Doxies to come flying out of it from the state of Potter's floor.

"Do you want to talk to her or shall I?" Potter asked.

"Who, Granger?"

"Yeah."

"You, I suppose," Draco said. Although, he did work with her, and it wasn't as though he couldn't do it himself. Still, he let Potter handle it since it was his stupid Floo, and as Potter knelt on the floor in front of the hearth, Draco turned his attention to the décor rather than suffer that dip in Potter's denims as he stuck his face into the flames.

It was precisely how one might imagine Potter's house to be kept: cluttered with all manner of nonsense, from worthless art on the walls and tasteless knick-knacks to stacks of books and parchments tottering in the corners and on every surface, with photos of his smiling friends and their recent escapades laughing everywhere and making Draco feel nauseous.

Plus, nothing matched. Nothing was chosen with the care he'd have given. It looked like a second-hand store had mated with Flourish and Blotts and conceived a lovechild.

"She wants to talk to you."

"Excuse me?"

"Hermione. She wants to talk to you." Potter lugged himself off the floor and promptly left Draco there with Hermione Granger's head.

Draco, far from wanting to kneel on Potter's floor, squatted before the hearth.

"So, you're cursed then," Granger began.

"It appears so."

"And whatever mode of travel you try, you end up in Harry's house."

"That's correct," he sniffed.

"Have you tried a broom yet?"

"No, but nothing else has worked; why would that?"

"Harry has multiple brooms. Maybe it's only your--"

"His Floo doesn't work for me either."

Granger sighed, biting her fiery lip.

"Look, I'm late," Draco told her. "Would you tell Rogers?"

"Of course. Do you want to owl me your report?"

Draco sighed. He looked around Potter's study once more. As though on cue, a photograph of Ronald Weasley in Muggle ski gear tossed his head back and laughed uproariously. Draco fought a sneer. It would be pathetically stupid to sneer at a photograph, even one so imbecilic. He looked back down at Granger. "No. I'll try a broom. If it works, I should make it there before the end of the meeting at least."

"All right then," Granger nodded. "Oh and could you please remind Harry about Saturday night?"

He was about to answer with an affronted, 'Merlin's pants, no,' but then he remembered that though she had once punched him in the face, now she appeared to be trying to help him. He swallowed down his ire. "Fine."

When her head had disappeared from the grate, Draco stood once more, sneezed from the dust that rose as he did so, and then went in search of Potter.

He found him in the kitchen, as the dish towel had suggested he might be.

"I need a broom," said Draco perfunctorily.

Potter wiped his hands on the towel, turning from the sink. He was doing dishes by hand. What a complete tosser. Draco's gaze dropped to where his jumper was pushed up his arms. The hair on Potter's forearms was still damp. There was a line where a wristwatch once was.

There was a line where a wedding band once was, too.

Potter tossed the towel aside. "All right then. Follow me."

Draco lifted his gaze from Potter's wet hands and cleared his throat.

Potter led him out to what was clearly an Engorgioed back garden. They walked across a vast lawn that was really more like a meadow, dotted with wildflowers and littered with little shrubs and benches and such. It was ridiculous really. Why should a single man and one complete arsehole of a house elf need all that space?

Draco did have to admit, though, that it was kept better than the house at least.

The summer sun beat down on their heads, and Draco dearly wished to take off his suit jacket, but he didn't dare. It would feel too much like he was staying – like he'd been defeated. The last thing he wanted to do was make himself comfortable.

Potter walked up to a large shed beneath a huge oak tree at the edge of the property. He produced a very Muggle-looking key and opened a very also-Muggle-looking padlock, removing it from a heavy pewter chain.

"Colloportus too difficult for you, Potter?"

Potter turned to him with an unfazed smirk. "Afraid of getting your hands dirty, Malfoy?"

"Yes, actually."

At that, Potter broke into an actual smile. He might have even laughed a little bit.

Draco frowned deeply, and Potter hauled open the metal doors. "Lumos," he called, and the entire shed – which was really the size of a large garage – lit up.

They stepped inside, and though there was an impressive rack of every kind of broom imaginable lining one wall, Draco couldn't help but notice the hulk of something else in the middle of the room under a tarp. The kickstand was just visible.

"Is that...?" Draco began.

"That's none of your business, Malfoy," Potter interrupted. His jaw had tightened, and there was a small muscle twitching in his cheek.

Even Draco himself realized his rudeness. For lack of anything better to do, he straightened his tie.

"Take your pick," Potter said, then, gesturing to the brooms. He settled his hands on his hips as Draco slowly walked the line of them. "The new Clean Sweep is quite good for city travel. They charmed it with automatic Muggle wards."

Draco touched its twigs. Tightly bound. Sturdy. He moved on to the Nimbus Classic.

"I wouldn't recommend that one," Potter said. "I crashed it a week ago. Haven't had the time yet to fix it."

"Because you're too busy washing dishes?" Draco said. Potter snorted softly in nonanswer.

Draco walked the line and came to a stop at the Firebolt. He looked at Potter and saw that same muscle twitching. He walked on.

"Is this the newest Shooting Star?" Draco asked.

"Yeah. Just off the showroom floor. I took it for a ride yesterday, in fact. Nice torque."

"Have they improved the speed since we were in school?" Draco's heart had begun to beat inexplicably faster.

"Why don't you find out, Malfoy?" Potter suggested.

Draco settled his hand on the broom and looked at him. Potter shrugged and then walked away. "I'll leave the shed open. You're just going to wind up back here anyway, now aren't you?"

xX

"Fucking fuck fuck FUCK!" Draco yelled as he rolled across Potter's back garden, having fallen off the broom at ten feet off the ground while going quite a bit too fast for a proper landing. Because one minute he'd been nearing the Ministry and then he'd hit a dense cloud and come out the other side a moment away from crash-landing in Potter's oak.

Draco had performed a quick roll that he'd maybe have been able to manage back when he played Seeker for Slytherin house but most definitely not now that he hadn't played in a decade and worked for the Ministry's International Magical Office of Law behind a desk all day.

Now here he was. Back again. And his suit was ruined, too. "Bugger," he groaned as he rolled over onto his side, cradling what felt like a broken wrist.

"Hi."

It was Potter, of course, standing over him with his arms crossed. But just as soon, he knelt and reached for Draco's arm, which Draco snatched away reflexively.

"It's broken, isn't it?"

"No."

Potter rolled his eyes. "I teach almost three hundred students Defense. I know a broken wrist when I see one."

"Don't touch it."

"I wasn't going to touch it, for Merlin's sake. Just hold it out a second."

Draco frowned at him. He was dimly aware that he had leaves in his hair, and there was possibly one stuck to his face, but he wasn't about to let go of his own arm and let Potter get at it.

"Malfoy," Potter said, then. "I'm not Lockhart. Hold out your bloody arm." He pulled his wand.

Draco fought the desire to bite his lip in fear. He held out his arm.

Potter aimed his wand. "Ferula," he said.

Draco winced as the bones in his arm moved back into place and mended. But after one second's pain, there was a nice splint on his wrist and it did, indeed, feel much better. "Thanks," he got out.

"No problem. Now, are you hurt anywhere else?" He didn't give Draco an opportunity to answer before reaching out. Draco flinched away, but all Potter did was pluck the leaf – for it was a leaf – off his cheek. "You weren't planning to keep that as a look, were you?"

Draco sighed and eased himself to his feet. Potter stood with him. "What happened to the broom?" Draco asked.

Potter's eyes cast up for a moment. "Tree," he said.

"Oh. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. Accio." The broom shot into his waiting hand. "So? Are you hurt, Malfoy?"

Draco moved around experimentally and grimaced.

"Ribs?" Potter asked.

"Yeah."

Potter sent the broom soaring into the shed once more and then, either to spite Draco or in some sort of strange acquiescence to his rightness, magically locked it up again.

"I've got some salve in the second floor loo," Potter told him.

"I have to get to work," Draco said, his voice rising. "I've been working on this report for a month. It's important. I can't just--"

"I'm not the one keeping you here," Potter informed him with a shrug. "You want to try another way to get there, bruised ribs and all? Be my guest. Or you can come inside, take care of your ribs, and we can talk over our options."

"Our options," Draco scoffed.

"This is my house you keep showing up at, Malfoy, so yeah. Our options."

Draco blinked. His gaze dropped. Potter's jumper was grey. Charcoal grey. It wasn't a Weasley number, either. It actually fit him. Draco swallowed.

"Fine," he said, cradling his side. "Fine."

"Come on then," Potter said and started off down the garden path.

Draco grudgingly followed.

xX

"Son of a bitch," Draco hissed.

"Everything all right in there?" Potter called from the hall. "If it's bad, I can Floo Pomfrey. She owes me a favor."

"It's not my bloody ribs," Draco answered, holding his precious ecru silk shirt special ordered from Milan in his hands. The salve stain was the size of a golden egg.

"What is it then?"

Draco pulled his wand. "Scourgify!" The stain lightened but didn't disappear. He tried it again. "Scourgify!"

"What are you doing in there?"

Draco wanted to yell back that it wasn't any of Potter's business, but unfortunately he was in need of a shirt.

"Do you--" Draco stopped and sighed. "Do you have a shirt I could borrow?"

There was a momentary silence, then, "Uh, sure."

Draco heard the crack of his Apparition and then a few moments later, his return, except that this time he was on Draco's side of the door.

"Hey!"

"What?" Potter asked. "It's not like you were starkers in here." But even as he said it, his eyes dipped down and observed Draco's chest and stomach before rising again.

"I could have been," Draco informed him yet cursed how pouty and prude it sounded.

Potter held out the shirt. It was some horrible blue cotton thing. Draco took it reluctantly, but before he could don it, Potter reached out and--

"What are you--?"

He had taken Draco's hip in his hand and with his other was gently prodding the bruised ribs. He crouched to get a better view, and Draco inhaled sharply, his stomach pulling in as though to get away from Potter's touch, his gaze, his utter presumptuousness.

"Are you sure you don't want me to Floo Pomfrey? A couple of these could be cracked, and I'm better with arm bones, frankly."

Potter's fingers brushed over the purpling. Draco backed into the sink. "No. No, I don't need anyone. I'd just like to dress in peace and then find a way to get to my meeting."

Potter stood slowly. He pushed his glasses up his nose. "Whatever you say, Malfoy." He turned and began to stride out of the room. At the door, though, he turned back. "If you want I can have Kreacher take a look at that shirt for you."

Draco stood there feeling very naked with Potter's gaze on him. Then he nodded, grabbed up the ruined silk, and tossed it to Potter who caught it and then walked out, shutting the door behind himself.

Draco shook out the coarse cotton and slid it on over one arm and then the other. He watched himself in Potter's mirror, and, before he buttoned the shirt, he touched the place Potter had, smearing the salve in some more and watching it glisten on his goose-pebbled skin.

xX

They met in the kitchen to discuss their options.

Discussion almost immediately devolved into argument, however.

"If you just Floo it in for today, you can spend your time figuring out what's actually wrong rather than banging your head against a wall," Potter said, annoyed with him.

"My work may seem incomprehensible to you when all you do is baby-sit reprobates all day, Potter, but I can assure you it is of the utmost importance."

"You think what you do is incomprehensible to me?"

The kettle that Potter had put on for tea had begun a low whistle.

"It likely is, yes."

"And you think I'm a glorified baby-sitter."

"Who has summers off and nothing better to do than wash dishes by hand," Draco added. He knew he was hexing himself in the foot, but he couldn't seem to stop. Potter's cocky attitude had begun to get to him.

The kettle began to wail.

"You wouldn't last one day as a teacher," Potter informed him.

"You wouldn't last one day as a lawyer."

Potter blinked at him. The anger drained from his face. "That's probably true," he said.

Draco blinked, waiting for the next insult to fly.

Instead, Potter rose, sighing, and poured tea. "Milk and sugar?"

Draco just sat there. He'd thought they might come to wands and now Potter was serving him tea.

Potter looked over his shoulder at him. "Malfoy. Milk and sugar?"

Draco frowned. "Do you have any actual cream?"

At that, Potter shook his head and outright laughed.

xX

It was getting late.

They'd tried a dozen different ways to get Draco to work including Potter ordering the Knight Bus for him, bewitching Potter's Floo, casting multiple spells on Draco himself, and even calling a taxi.

Draco took one look at it. "No," he said. Potter paid the driver for his time with some sort of paper money.

Nothing worked. And not only had Draco missed his meeting entirely, he'd missed the whole bloody work day. It was six-thirty, and even the most die hard (like Granger) would be leaving to go home soon.

Home...

"Merlin," Draco sighed, his elbows on his knees and head in his hands as he perched on the edge of Potter's study sofa.

"What?"

"Potter, what if I can't go home either?" Draco lifted his head to look at him. "Have you thought of that?"

"It had occurred to me," Potter replied evenly. The evening had gotten increasingly warmer, and he'd doffed his jumper for a t-shirt an hour previously. Draco's tie hung loose around his neck, never having been retied at all.

Draco rose and ran both hands through his hair. He walked over to the hearth, grabbed a handful of Floo powder, and then looked at Potter. Potter nodded and shrugged. Draco threw the powder down, stepped into the flames and declared his intentions for home.

In moments, he was back. Potter hadn't moved.

"I need a drink," Draco announced from the floor.

Potter scratched at the scruff that had grown along his jaw. "Legendary Levicorpus suit you alright?"

"What year?" Draco demanded, though he couldn't care less.

Potter smirked. "It's that or you have to brave the basement ghoul yourself to get at the Ogden's."

Draco made a face that he hoped Potter correctly interpreted as dislike for Ogden's and not fear of fighting a ghoul. "Levicorpus will do," he said.

xX

They shared the most awkward dinner ever. For one thing, Potter let Kreacher eat at the table like a human, sitting on stacks of books and maneuvering bites of food past his long hooked nose while muttering nonsense to himself.

That said, the roast was perfect.

They decided to Floo Granger one more time after dinner just to get any last ditch ideas before the day and night were completely lost.

"Ron's been trying to get in touch with Bill," her head said, "but he's on a business trip."

"That's good, though, Hermione. Tell him thanks."

"Oh, and Charlie's going to Egypt in three days to meet with him, so if we can't get a hold of him before then, Charlie said he'd spread the word."

"Brilliant," Potter answered.

"Yes, brilliant. What we really need are a big bunch of Weasleys on this," Draco groused from the sofa, a new Firewhisky swirling in his hand.

Potter didn't seem to feel the need to spare him a dirty look, but he felt certain eyes were rolling.

"Is that Draco?" Hermione said. "Tell him to try walking tomorrow."

"That's ten kilometers!" Draco shouted back.

"Would you like to continue shouting?" Potter asked, "Or would you maybe want to get your arse down here?"

Draco shrugged lazily and sipped his drink. It had snuck up on him, but the buzz was rather nice. He could almost not quite care that he'd be sleeping in Potter's house tonight. A couple more Levs and he'd be able to pass right out.

"And did he remind you about Saturday?" Hermione said primly.

Potter looked at him and then back at the fire. "No. He didn't."

"Do I or do I not have a massive problem here?" Draco said loudly.

"Well, don't be late," Hermione scolded. "Eight o'clock." Then Draco distinctly heard her whisper, "Bring him along if he's still there."

Draco watched Potter cast a hand over his face before saying, "I think I'll say goodnight now," on a sigh.

"Don't worry, Draco," Hermione called to him. "We'll sort you out."

Draco looked past Potter at her flaming head and, with a withering look, raised his glass in a mockery of a toast.

Moments later her head disappeared from the Floo and Potter stood. "Do you find being a git to people who want to help you somehow satisfying?"

"I find this whiskey quite satisfying," Draco declared.

Potter firmed his lips. "Come on," he said. "I'll get you some things to sleep in and show you to your room."

Draco downed his drink and stood, only wobbling a little. "Potter," he said, "I can't wait."

Potter then led him up some narrow stairs that had obviously been renovated since Potter took over the old Black mansion; the stairs were well-lit, the walls lined with portraits of kindly old witches and wizards already fast asleep, and Draco could feel faint traces of dark magicks still in the walls, though to Potter's credit, they were very weak and clearly weren't dangerous.

"I like what you've done with the place," Draco said as they reached the second floor landing and Potter began to lead him down the hall. Potter didn't reply.

They came to the first door, and Draco trailed his hand over the frame in drunken appreciation for the fine woodwork. The Blacks may have been completely mental in their day, but they knew how to build a house.

"Not that one," came Potter's tight voice. "You're not to go in there, do you hear me, Malfoy?"

Draco scoffed at first and was ready to reply with something about Potter's lack of hospitality when his gaze rose to the plaque above the door.

Buckbeak, it said.

Draco cleared his throat. He dropped his hand and moved on behind Potter.

The next door they came to had a plaque that read, Regulus.

"You can stay here," Potter told him. "I'll have Kreacher bring you something to sleep in." Potter opened the door for him, and Draco peeked inside to find a large four poster bed, a dresser and mirror, several bookshelves, a desk by the window… Everything appeared clean and ready for use.

Potter made to leave him there then.

"Potter," Draco called. Potter turned, an inscrutable expression on his face. They stared at one another for what felt like incalculable moments. Then Draco muttered, "Nothing," Potter nodded slowly, and Draco moved into the room as Potter walked down the hall.

It was only after Potter had disappeared behind the door at the end that Draco peered back out to see that the plaque above Potter's door read Sirius.

Draco ducked back inside his own room and shut the door.

xX

Draco woke with a blistering headache and Harry Potter's scent all around him.

"What the—" Draco tried to sit up, and a shaft of bright sunlight struck his face cruelly. "Oh, fuck."

Draco looked around himself. The unfamiliar bedroom took a moment to come into focus. He looked down at himself. He'd shunned wearing yet another of Potter's shirts, and the pajama trousers hung wrong on his skinny hips -- which actually made them the right length at least.

Still. They smelled like him -- some mixture of cloves and spearmint that was only slightly off-putting.

He'd slept in Potter's house.

He was waking up in Potter's house.

Maybe he was in Hell after all.

Except there was the distinctly inviting smell of fresh coffee and…was that cinnamon?

Draco found the source of the smell and Potter himself down in the kitchen.

"Morning," Potter said, though he seemed to have shouted it at him, and Draco winced.

"Is it?" Draco replied.

Potter took in his apparel or lack thereof, his gaze calm and unhurried as it descended down Draco's body. Draco shot a frown his way that Potter didn't see for ogling Draco's pale stomach, and he went to fetch himself a cup, being that Potter's elf was already seated at the table and enjoying what appeared to be a scone.

"Help yourself to whatever you'd like," Potter told him, and Draco saw that there was a veritable buffet feast laid out on the kitchen counters under warming charms. It reminded him suddenly of Hogwarts, and Draco was surprised at the way his chest grew tight at the thought.

"Thank you," he muttered, taking a plate and filling it up. He hadn't realized how ravenous he was until he'd seen all the food. He normally just had a couple of poached eggs, toast, and fruit. His mouth watered at the sight of piles of sausages, pancakes, fluffy eggs, crumpets, three kinds of jam, and of course, cinnamon buns the size of Potter's head.

And coffee. Steaming, dark roast, imported coffee.

Draco nearly drooled.

He took his plate and sat at the table, suddenly quite embarrassed at his state of undress. He glanced at Potter in a wrinkled t-shirt and boxers, though, and felt marginally better.

"Do you need a headache potion?" Potter asked around a bite of bacon.

"Why?"

"You were three sheets last night, Malfoy," Potter informed him, grinning.

"I was?"

Potter nodded. "Not falling down," he said, "but close."

"Merlin," Draco sighed. That would explain things.

"Lev's strong stuff," Potter allowed.

"I don't need you patronizing me, Potter," Draco spat.

Potter just shrugged and shoveled a bite of egg into his arrogant mouth. "Fine. I withdraw the offer of headache potion." He rolled his eyes.

They ate in silence until Kreacher got up and began clearing his place. A gnarled old hand reached for Draco's plate of barely touched pancakes, but before Draco could slap at it, Potter cleared his throat. "Let's wait on that one, Kreacher."

"Whatever Master says," Kreacher intoned, shooting an inexplicably scathing look at Draco before leaving his dishes in the sink and then Disapparating to Merlin knew where.

"Why do you put up with him?" Draco asked.

"It's a long story," Potter said. He sipped his coffee and then added, "I'm sure you've got your own long stories, right Draco?"

Draco looked up at him and blinked.

The memories came up involuntarily: Potter speaking on his behalf at the war trials; his parents fleeing to France anyway and leaving Draco the Manor; long nights with no one to talk to, no one who also remembered or cared….

Applying for the Ministry position and nearly losing it over his Dark Mark.

Fighting his way from the mail room to his own modest office.

Suffering the long stares, the sneers, the whispered talk.

Potter sipped his coffee again, studying his expression.

"Let's get to work," Draco said, pushing his plate away and standing.

Potter wiped his mouth with his napkin and nodded.

xX

"Bloody hell, Potter, we already tried that! I believe it was attempt number eighty-seven right after I almost got splinched trying to Apparate down the block."

"Well, what do you suggest?"

Draco stared at him, breath huffing. Potter, too, was in a similar state, his hair in disarray from running his hands through it and his color high. He had his arms crossed over his chest, tapping his fingers against his biceps. Draco's attention was once again drawn to his empty ring finger, though he said nothing. The state of Potter's personal life was of no concern to him, especially not now. So he might have poured over the papers when the divorce was announced – "Irreconcilable differences," the Daily Prophet had reported, "An amicable split, though, for the wizarding world's most famous couple." Rita Skeeter had had a drastically different take on it in her three-page column, and Draco couldn't help but to feel just slightly ashamed at how many times he had read it. He had certain places memorized.

But that was neither here nor there. Not when Draco still couldn't leave Potter's house for any reason whatsoever.

"I don't know," he sighed finally.

Potter sighed, too.

They were both just standing there like a couple of prats when a screech owl barrel-turned through the study's open window and came to a tottering landing on the mantle.

"Ministry owl," Potter mused. "Must be for you."

Indeed, the owl had turned her leg toward Draco, holding out the attached note in a rather dignified way.

Draco took it and read:

"Mr. Malfoy,

Why don't you have P—"

Draco stopped abruptly.

"What?" Potter pressed. "Why don't you have what?"

"It's nothing. It's a stupid idea."

"Malfoy, I think we're down to liking stupid ideas. Or was your plan to have a fleet of owls fly you there some bit of unappreciated genius?"

Draco firmed his lips. Before he could crumple the parchment, though, Potter Accioed it from him. He dodged Draco's snatching at it and read, "'Mr. Malfoy. Why don't you have Potter accompany you to the office today? Perhaps that may trick the curse.'"

Draco made another attempt to swipe the parchment away, but Potter's free hand came up and braced against his chest. "The damage is done, Draco; that's the whole letter."

Draco jerked away from Potter's warm palm and straightened the damnable cotton dress shirt.

"What do you think?" Potter asked. "Worth a try, right?"

"I am not going to be dropped off at work like I'm a first year getting on the train."

"Would you rather get sacked?"

Draco opened his mouth to retort but found nothing in his mouth but the stale taste of a very real fear. He swallowed. "Fine then. Hurry up."

"Hurry up and do what?"

"Change your clothes, of course."

Potter smirked. "I don't work there."

Draco looked him up and down. He'd thrown on some worn denims and a less wrinkled t-shirt that seemed to advertise a brand of ale.

"Come on, Malfoy. Take my arm."

"We're Apparating?"

"Would you rather share a broom?"

Draco inhaled, remembering – and then shook the memory off.

"I'd rather share a Knight Bus.," he answered.

Potter made a sound of exasperation. "I don't want to deal with Shunpike, thanks. Plus, this will have you there twenty times faster."

Draco couldn't argue against that. He just never thought he'd go side-along with Harry Potter. He huffed a sigh and stepped in closer. He met Potter's unflinching eyes and touched his arm. In a breath, they had cracked away, pulled through time and space and landing with a soft thud right outside the Ministry building.

Draco wasn't about to say anything, but it was quite the best Apparition landing he'd ever experienced. Potter had a surprisingly deft feel for it.

"I'd better go in with you, just in case," Potter said.

The next to last thing Draco wanted was for the entire office to see Potter escorting him into work. But the very last thing he wanted was to walk through the door and find himself in Potter's study all over again, so he nodded reluctantly.

They entered, and Draco set a brisk pace for the lifts. Potter matched him despite Draco's longer legs.

"Mr. Potter!" called a wizard from Magical Games and Sports. "See you at the Harpies game next Friday?"

"Sure thing!" Potter called out, waving.

"Potter!" cried a witch near the fountain. "Harry Potter, how are you? What brings you here to see us today?"

"Good morning, Hannah. How's Neville? I owe him an owl."

"Oh, you know, always busy in the dirt," she smiled.

"Indeed," Potter answered, squeezing her arm warmly. "Hannah, I have to go. See you Saturday?"

"Yes, see you then!" she called after them.

"Who the bloody hell was that?" Draco asked under his breath.

"Hannah Abbott," Potter said as though Draco might be the rudest person on the planet. "Jesus, she was in Hufflepuff in our year," he went on. "You're…" He stopped.

"I'm what?" Draco pressed. He felt something rise up his spine at the silence, the unspoken words. For some barmy reason, Draco found he really wanted to know what Potter thought he was.

But they'd reached the lifts, and as they entered, two more people squealed over Potter's presence, and Draco was left to sulk at the back of the car.

They got out at Draco's department, and Draco pushed past Potter to lead him through the bullpen toward the hall.

"Mr. Malfoy," Rufus Crowley called.

Draco didn't break stride. "What."

"Ms. Granger's looking for you, sir. She and Ms. Sheffield. They can't send the proposal to the American Ministry without your paperwork or your signature."

"Thank you. I have to drop some things off first." He shot a look at Potter who was once again matching his strides (and now also smirking).

They reached Draco's door. Potter raised his eyebrow at him, so Draco opened it and gestured him inside first. Draco followed.

"Well, then. Want to see if it works?" Potter offered.

"The sooner the better," Draco gritted out.

"Shall I pick you up at five?"

"No, damn it. I intend to Floo home."

"Whatever you say, Draco," Potter said. "But dinner's at six." Then he turned around and walked out.

And Draco stayed.

After five blissful minutes of just wandering around his office stroking things, Draco exhaled. He was on his own for at least eight hours.

He gathered his parchments together and prepared to face a Potter-free day.

xX

Draco trudged into the kitchen, his briefcase nearly dragging the ground.

"Honey, you're home!" Potter said to him as he stirred a pot of something frankly wonderful smelling.

"What?" Draco said. "Why did you say that?"

"It's a Muggle thing," Potter explained. "Want me to try to Apparate you home? I can put a good enough stasis on this."

Draco wanted to ask what it was. "Yeah, okay."

Potter turned to him. Tonight he was in a Weasley jumper. It was dark green with red trim. He looked ridiculous. He looked like Christmas in July.

He looked fit.

Draco stood there as Potter flung his dish towel over his shoulder again and approached him. He came to stand very close. Draco unintentionally held his breath. Then Potter took his wrist, gently curling his fingers around it. They Disapparated. There was the familiar tug, the unseating of one's brain, the confusion…

And then the soft Potter landing. Back in Potter's kitchen.

Draco was too tired and too hungry to summon complaint. Potter's kitchen smelled so bloody good. It took a couple of seconds to realize Potter had yet to let go of his wrist. And he was still uncomfortably close.

"Guess that was an epic fail," Potter said quietly.

"A what?"

"It's what all my kids are saying," he explained.

His fingers were warm. They felt solid and…kind.

Draco shivered.

Potter blinked.

Draco pulled free.

"Have a seat," Potter told him. "It's just about ready." He turned back to the stove.

"You're…cooking??"

Potter shot him a smirk. "All wizards have to eat. What do you do, Malfoy?"

"Well, I don't dine with my house elves," he said. Truth was, though, he didn't have any left. They'd gone with his parents. He'd become quite a fan of take-away.

"Speaking of, he's got the night off, so it's just us." Potter stirred, sniffed the spoon, blew on it, and then tasted the contents. He put the licked spoon back into the pot and stirred some more. Draco knew he should feel revulsion. He didn't.

They sat across from one another as the sun set behind the black trees. Turns out, it was some kind of chili. And while pedestrian and not at all fitting for the summer months, it warmed Draco's insides like little else had done lately. As he ate, he felt some kind of exhausted torpor infuse his body.

"Rough day?" Potter asked.

"Is that some kind of joke?"

"No," Potter replied. "What have you been up to, Malfoy? Hermione says you're all kinds of hot and bothered over illegal potions distribution."

"'All kinds of hot and bothered'?" Draco parroted back with a grimace.

Potter just shrugged.

"Well, she's one to talk with this spew thing."

"It's S.P.E.W."

"I know very well what it is, and it's ridiculous."

"I thought so, too, once," Potter admitted. "But now I think she's got a point." He took a bite of bread.

"Well, you would," Draco accused.

Potter shrugged in that annoyingly all right-with-things way he'd apparently adopted and offered Draco a glass of wine.

Draco shook his head in distaste. The morning's headache had returned, and he certainly didn't want to fuel it.

"So who would want to curse you?" Potter asked, chewing, his elbow leaned on the table and a bit of bread dangling from his fingers.

"You, Granger, any number of Weasleys, Longbottom…"

"Okay, well I can guarantee none of us did it. And for the record, I have very little desire to curse you, and if I gave in to that little bit, I wouldn't do this."

Draco couldn't help it; he smiled a touch. He covered it up with his water goblet and drank deeply. Then he shrugged. "I don't know. Your guess is probably as good as mine, Potter."

There was a silence, then:

"What are you doing Saturday night?"

"Excuse me?"

"Saturday night. What are you doing?"

Draco snorted. "You're probably looking at it."

"Well, whether or not we've got this fixed by then, I'm inviting you."

"Inviting me to what?" It felt like someone had doused his insides with Champagne.

Potter waggled his eyebrows, stood, and took his chili bowl to the sink where he left it. "Kreacher said he'd get them in the morning. We sort of trade off," Potter explained. Although, he was explaining the wrong thing as far as Draco was concerned.

"Take your time," Potter told him. "I'm a fast eater." He headed toward the stairs. "If you need anything, you know where the study is. I'm going to be getting some work done."

Draco looked at him and nodded.

Potter turned to the stairs but hesitated.

"Oblivious," he said.

Draco blinked at him. "What?"

"Today, at the Ministry. I was going to say that you're oblivious." He looked at Draco long and hard. "But maybe you're not."

Draco frowned.

"Sleep tight, Malfoy," Potter said.

Draco listened to the sound of his footsteps ascending.

xX

It had been a hazy Tuesday morning when Draco first wound up at Potter's, cursed and cursing. Saturday found him in no different state. Except that he wasn't cursing as much.

They'd tried Potter accompanying him home by various modes of travel, but every attempt saw them both back at Grimmauld Place without fail.

Potter daily escorted Draco to work, and by Friday morning, "Mr. Potter! Mr. Malfoy!" was a familiar refrain. That or some variation.

"Mr. Malfoy, Eckles wants to see you about that issue with Accounts. And Mr. Potter, while I've got you here, thank you for teaching my Malcolm how to defend against Stinging Hexes. His brother can't even get near him now!"

Things of that nature.

It wasn't all that horrible. It was ten minutes of suffering his presence and the fame and glory that went along with being the Chosen One. It was him and Potter, walking side by side, like they weren't enemies. Like this was normal. And it had taken no time at all for Draco's coworkers to treat it as though it was.

"Hey, Potter, got tickets to the Quidditch World Cup yet? No? Owl me sometime; I can get you prime seats, my friend! See you later, Draco."

That sort of business.

Draco could stomach it. He could endure.

It was just Potter riding the lift with him, standing close, their arms brushing.

It was just Potter's cologne wafting over him and making Draco dizzy.

It was just "Have a nice day, dear," all cheeky with that saucy wink.

It was just Draco blushing and waving him off.

It was just that.

The days had flown by really. Staying at Potter's wasn't at all what Draco had expected. He was eating better than he had in a very long time, for one thing. And the bed rivaled the one he had at the Manor. His room at Potter's was smaller, of course, but Draco found he rather liked that. At home, he tended to feel his aloneness more for all the space. Regulus Black's old room felt cozy and had a nice view out onto the garden.

Potter himself was annoying, sure. But his voice, when they talked, filled the silence. His presence was at once frustrating and reassuring – even if neither one of them had been able to figure out what kind of curse this even was, much less how to counter it.

But then there was Saturday.

Potter never told him what he was invited to. "Well, how should I dress?" had been Draco's response.

Potter had then looked him up and down. "I don't suppose I could get you into a pair of denims."

Draco blushed hot for no good reason. "Hardly."

"Then dress as casual as you dare, Draco," Potter told him.

Potter had taken a trip to the Manor alone to gather some of Draco's belongings. He'd returned with an acceptable arrangement of trousers, shirts, and robes. To Draco's humiliation, he's also absconded with seven pairs of Draco's pants and a couple sets of pajamas, plus his personal care items.

"Green silk boxers, Malfoy? Really?" Potter had teased, and Draco had snatched the bottomless bag away.

Potter had also, thankfully, gathered the books and parchments Draco had instructed him to fetch, plus Draco's preferred quills, and his eagle owl, Bertrand.

Having all of his things close at hand felt at once calming and infuriating. He hadn't intended to move in for Merlin's sake. This would all be over soon. He'd go back home and live his Potterless life and that would be that and good riddance.

That would be that.

But it was not that yet. It was Saturday, and they were dressing for whatever this thing was Potter had invited him to.

"We're going to be late," Potter yelled through his bedroom door.

"Sod off," Draco muttered beneath his breath as he combed his hair back for the hundredth time. He straightened the black dress shirt he'd chosen -- not silk; he was never wearing silk again after having been teased by Potter for his pants – and smoothed his hands down the thighs of his black trousers.

Potter knocked again. "Are you trapped under a large bureau, Malfoy? Is there dark dressing magic afoot? Should I send for a few Aurors?"

Draco yanked the door open on his diatribe.

Potter actually gasped a little bit in surprise. And then Draco watched his pupils dilate as he looked Draco up and down once.

"Is this appropriate? Since you won't tell me what it is we're doing?" Draco snapped.

Potter's gaze rose to meet his own again. He licked his lips and swallowed. "It's appropriate."

"Wonderful," Draco drawled. "So, where is it we're going?"

"And risk you chickening out?" Potter smirked. "No way, Malfoy. You'll see when we get there."

Then before Draco could protest, Potter grabbed him hard by both arms, yanked him in, and Disapparated them both.

They arrived in front of…

"No. No, no, no. Potter. No."

But Potter still had hold of his arms. "You're coming, Malfoy. Do you want to know why?"

Draco blinked at him. Then Potter was pulling him toward the front door of the Burrow by an elbow, like a tantruming child. Potter knocked.

A second later, Molly Weasley threw open the door, and an entire houseful of Potter's friends shouted, "Happy birthday, Harry!"

Potter broke into a smile. He hugged the Weasley woman one-armed, because he still had a hold of Draco as though he would take the opportunity to bolt. When she released him, Potter glanced at Draco, and the prat winked.

"Come on. It'll only hurt a little," he said. Then he was shoving Draco through the door.

"Draco Malfoy," Molly Weasley said too cheerfully.

"M-Mrs. Weasley," Draco replied.

"Well," she said. "Well, come in the both of you. Get a drink. Come in, come in. My, that is a lovely shirt you're wearing tonight, Harry, just lovely."

"Ah. It was Hermione's Christmas present to me, actually." Potter looked at Draco, then, and Draco let himself really look at what Potter was wearing.

It was a sage green dress shirt, untucked from his denims.

The damned thing was silk.

Potter shot him a wide smile.

"Git," Draco said.

"Yeah," Potter agreed. "But at least it's not my pants." Then he took Draco by the elbow again – which was ungodly annoying, but Draco probably would have stayed rooted to one spot had he not – and dragged him into the kitchen where every Weasley imaginable – and some unimaginable – plus a variety of other Gryffindors awaited his appearance.

"Harry!" Granger exclaimed and threw her arms around him. Finally, Potter let go of him to return the embrace.

Draco looked around the room awkwardly, but before he knew it, Potter was gesturing to him. "Malfoy needs a drink. He's tense as hell."

"I what?"

"I recommend the red currant rum," Hermione said. "Luna made it, and it's wicked strong. Ron's already out back with Dean and Seamus singing." She rolled her eyes.

"Well, then, thanks for the warning," Potter said.

Draco snorted a laugh.

Granger and Potter both looked at him.

"Speaking of Luna," Granger said. "I need to find her. She brought a herd of Nifflers to the party and they went right for the punch, so now they're loose and drunk off their heads and I promised I'd help round them up."

"A herd. They come in herds?" Potter asked.

Granger shrugged. "I guess she's planning on using them in her first years' Care of Magical Creatures class next year," she explained and then disappeared.

"Let's try that rum," Potter suggested.

But he kept getting accosted on the way to the make-shift bar, so round about the fourth greeting, Draco went without him and got them each a glass. He met Potter almost where he'd left him, listening to Charlie Weasley telling a dragon story.

"…but once you've got the blinders on them, they're sweet as kittens."

"Kittens. Is that right?" Potter nodded.

Draco nudged his arm, and he turned to take his drink. "Thanks," Potter said, sipping.

"Ah, the cursed one!" Charlie said in greeting to Draco. "How are you boys getting on then?"

"We're managing," Potter told him with a brief glance at Draco. "Is Bill around?"

"Yeah, he and Fleur are with Dad. But they're talking plugs, so it might be a while."

"Ah. Yes."

"What?" Draco asked.

"I'll explain later," Potter told him. "Do you know if he has any ideas, Charlie?"

Charlie Weasley shrugged and leaned his hip against a kitchen counter. "He said he wants to sit down with the two of you tomorrow if you've got time."

"It's summer," Potter said. "All I have is time. Draco?"

"Where am I going to go, Potter?"

"Quite right," Charlie laughed. Then he punched Draco in the arm, and it took everything Draco had not to cry. Instead he compressed his lips into the semblance of a smile and rubbed the blooming bruise surreptitiously.

"I need another," Draco told Potter. Though why he was explaining, he couldn't have said. "Bloody brute," he muttered under his breath as he turned back to the bar, still rubbing his maligned arm.

Once he had another rum in hand – and they were frightfully delicious – he turned toward what had to pass as a living area if only to get away from Potter for a few moments. Near something that resembled a sofa, Draco ran into someone he never would have expected to find at Harry Potter's birthday party.

"Draco Malfoy!" Millicent gasped. "What are you doing here?"

"I-- What are you doing here?"

"Granger invited me," she said. "I came with Daphne and Blaise. They're out there," she indicated the back, "singing."

"Really."

"Oh yes. I think they had some of that rum you've got there. Powerful stuff."

Draco looked down at his glass and then promptly poured the rest into the nearest fern.

"So, Draco, how have you been?" Millicent asked. "I haven't seen you since—" She seemed to catch herself and start over. "It's been ages."

It had been ages. She hadn't seen him since the war trials when he'd wanted to die of shame, of anger, of so much bitterness it was difficult to breathe.

"How are you?" he deflected and then was treated to a run down of the last ten years of her life, including her job tending dragons at Weasley's rehabilitation ranch.

"So much better than treating humans, I say," Millicent laughed.

"Right," Draco said distractedly. Potter had just come into the room and was hugging a very pink-cheeked Luna Lovegood.

Draco watched out of the corner of his eye as Potter smiled at her, as he sat on the arm of yet another sofa monstrosity and listened to her tell, no doubt, a tale of batshit lunacy. Millicent talked on and on, and Draco watched Potter smile and laugh and touch Luna's arm as she spoke and finish his drink and magic himself another.

He watched Potter's throat working as he swallowed.

He watched the springy black hair peeking out where his shirt was unbuttoned – his forearms where he'd rolled up the sleeves.

Draco watched Potter scratch his ear, tugging at the stupid lobe.

He watched Potter's lips move as he talked.

"Draco. What are you staring at?"

"Hmm? Oh, nothing. It's nothing. Just too much rum. Think I'll go sing," he finished with a tight, fake smile.

It was a horrible thing to do and stupid, too. He was stuck with this man. He should get as far away from Potter as he could while he had the chance. Two of his old friends were outside right now singing Salazar knows what with three shit-faced Gryffindors, and they'd all used to want to scratch each other's eyes out. Draco could have another rum, go out there too, and try to mend old friendships and tolerate new ones.

He could just walk the bloody hell away from Harry Potter.

But then Potter looked up and found him staring. One corner of his lips lifted in a smile even as Luna kept talking to him. Draco walked away from Millicent, pushing through the crowded room. Walking toward Potter, not away.

"Draco!" Lovegood crooned. "How perfectly lovely to see you. Isn't it wonderful that Harry's alive for his twenty-eighth birthday?"

Potter choked on his next inhale.

"It's wonderful," Draco drawled.

"It's grand that you've come out to celebrate with us tonight, too – even though you've been bitter enemies."

"It is grand, isn't it?" Draco replied. "Really, I simply had to be here. I felt strangely compelled." He looked down at Potter who was now trying not to smile. Something happened inside Draco's chest – something that inconceivably went tight and vast simultaneously.

"How are you liking the rum, Draco? I made it from scratch." Luna's eyes were large and only blinking every few minutes it seemed.

"It's…extraordinary," he answered.

"Harry, would you refill all of us, please?" Luna asked, holding out her glass for his wand.

"Certainly," he said. "Although, I'd like to keep from getting so drunk I join Ron and his band out there for a round of Sorting Hat classics."

"Now, now, Harry," Luna said. "You're really more of a Muggle rock and roll fellow, I would think."

Potter filled all of their glasses and held his up to toast.

"May I?" Draco asked.

Potter narrowed his eyes at him, hesitating.

"What?"

"Oh, I'm just trying to decide how afraid I should be right now."

"You're afraid of me, Potter?"

Potter's eyes glittered in the ambient light. "Should I be, Malfoy?"

Draco shifted slightly, and his leg came into contact with Potter's as it dangled off the sofa arm. Potter didn't move away.

Draco lifted his glass. "To red currant rum and Muggle rock and roll."

Potter's lips curved into a slow smile that Draco felt to his bloody toes. Potter said, "Hear, hear," and he drank deeply.

Draco felt a hand on his shoulder before he could sip. He dragged his gaze away from Potter licking his lips. It was Blaise just behind him.

"Draco. It's been a long time."

Draco turned and shook his old friend's hand. "Blaise. How have you been?"

Draco tried to listen to the response, but instead he found himself tuning into what was happening next to him as Potter's friends, Seamus and Dean, finally came in from their outdoor concert.

And they had the Weasley girl with them.

God, of course she'd be here. Draco didn't know why he hadn't realized that. Not that it mattered, of course.

Finnigan cornered Potter and began talking to him. "Come on, Harry, you've got to see this."

But Potter was looking at Ginny.

Blaise was talking about what it was like working at Gringotts, and Draco nodded in all the right places even as he took surreptitious glances at Potter. He was hugging her now, though it seemed a careful embrace. He kissed her on the cheek, and maybe Draco imagined the blush that rose in the wake of his lips.

"You've got to Shield your assets, see?" Blaise went on.

Draco felt his stomach curl into a nasty ball and try to squeeze into his throat.

"Dean," Potter said, then, sticking out his hand to shake.

And that's when Draco noticed that Dean's arm was wrapped securely around Ginny Weasley's shoulders.

"How are you, Harry?" Ginny asked.

But before he could answer, Seamus was tugging on his arm. "Not now, Gin. The cake's all lit up, and he needs to see it before it explodes."

"But don't put any money into cauldron futures or you'll lose every Knut – mark my words," Blaise continued.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Draco murmured.

Potter went to move past, and as he did he rested his hand on Draco's hip and side-stepped behind him.

"'scuse me, Malfoy," came Potter's voice low and right behind his ear. Potter's hand on his hip was overly warm, and Potter's front brushed up against Draco's backside as he moved behind him.

Draco's whole body became a riot of insufferable pleasure – for about three seconds.

Then Potter had moved on, and Blaise was droning on and on, and never before would Draco have thought that he'd prefer Potter's company to anyone, much less someone he used to count as a friend during the days when he had nearly no one.

Draco chanced a look to see that Seamus and Dean had pulled Potter over to his birthday cake – a five foot high affair with horrific red and green frosting and sparklers whizzing away at the top. Ginny hung back with Granger as Ron and Seamus and Dean whooped and shouted.

"That's great, Blaise," Draco found himself answering when appropriate. But he was watching Potter, in the middle of all his friends, smiling and laughing while they sang to him.

Draco stood back with Blaise and sipped his rum, and he watched Potter fail at blowing out the sparklers. He watched him pull his wand and, with a flick, turn them into little broomsticks that then went flying all about the room.

"Nice, Harry," Ron said.

Granger hugged him again.

Dean returned to Ginny's side, and they kissed. Draco's stomach unknotted a little.

Lovegood started cutting the cake. People were clapping. Several friends whacked Potter on the back in congratulations.

And then Potter looked up, smiling, and found Draco's gaze.

His smile faded. It softened. He blinked.

Draco sipped his drink as Potter stared at him. Potter's eyes traveled down Draco's body, lingered at his hips, then rose again. Draco swallowed, flushing with heat, feeling the look like a touch – slow fingers dragging down his body. He watched Potter's attention drawn away – watched some drunk friend sling his arm around Potter's shoulders and call for a toast.

Draco watched as, over and over again, Potter's eyes came back to him, to Draco, with interest, with a question, with the answer already shining there.

Draco spent the rest of the party chatting with people he thought would never talk to him with anything other than disdain, the rum having loosened his tongue and theirs. He spent it feeling like he wasn't the monster he thought they'd all assume him to be.

He spent it looking up only to find Potter's eyes already on him from across the room.

xX

 

Draco had been cornered by Charlie Weasley, listening to every dirty joke known to wizards and avoiding shoulder punches, when Potter found him.

"Ready?" Potter's voice came from just behind him. A strong hand pressed against his lower back, too.

Draco inhaled. "I suppose if you're ready, what choice do I have?"

"Thanks for the gloves, Charlie," Potter said, his hand unmoving and unseen by anyone. But Draco felt it. It was all he could feel.

What the bloody hell was wrong with him?

For that matter, what the bloody hell was wrong with Potter?

"Humane dragonhide," Charlie emphasized, raising his pint glass. "Only from dragons who died by natural causes. Don't fuck with dragons and they probably won't fuck with you."

"Words to live by," Draco chimed in and was surprised to hear (and, dear Merlin, feel) the deep chuckle behind him.

"Happy birthday, Harry," Charlie said, reaching over Draco's shoulder to shake Potter's hand.

"Oh, are you going, Harry?" called Granger. She had a very drunk Ron Weasley hanging off of her.

"Harry!" called said Weasley. "Harry, I love you, man."

"I love you, too, Ron," Potter said. Then he pulled Granger close, and Draco heard him whisper to her, "You two are staying the night, yes?"

Granger nodded. "Ginny and Dean, too." Then, for unknown reason, she looked right at Draco.

"Good," Potter answered, and her gaze went back to him.

Potter's hand remained.

"Bye Harry!" his friends chorused. "Happy birthday, Harry! See you soon, Harry! Bye!"

"Thanks, everyone!" Potter called, now gently ushering Draco toward the door. His wand was in his other hand, and Potter was levitating a large pile of gifts ahead of himself. He kissed Molly Weasley on the cheek on the way to the door. "Thank you so much," he murmured to her. "Arthur, thank you. Bill, see you tomorrow?"

"After I've taken my hangover potions," Bill granted.

Fleur struck him affectionately on the arm.

"Fleur, good seeing you," Harry said and kissed her on the cheek next.

All without dislodging his hand from Draco's back.

Draco felt anger. He felt embarrassment.

He felt claimed.

He felt…excited.

They exited, and once the door shut, the silence was almost a ringing. The night sky was clear and dark. It seemed to go on forever.

Potter let go of him to magic his presents tiny. He then tucked them away into his pocket.

"How many drinks have you had?" Draco thought to ask. Because that would explain the hand. That would explain the looks. Sort of.

"Don't trust me to Apparate you?"

"I can Apparate myself, thanks."

But Potter acted like he didn't hear him or that it didn't matter. He stepped in close. "I'm not pissed," he said. He reached out. He didn't take Draco's arm, though. Instead he placed both hands on Draco's hips.

On his hips.

Draco wanted to ask what the fuck Potter was on about. But he didn't want him to take his hands away. Why the bloody fuck didn't he want Potter to take his hands away?

They stood there looking at one another for five tense seconds. Draco could only hear the desperate sound of his own breathing. Then their crack of Apparition boomed across the tall grasses, and together they hurtled back to Grimmauld Place, where they landed in the study.

Potter made no move to step back from him. Draco made no move to dislodge Potter's hands, though his mind was shouting at him to move. They looked between one another's eyes.

"So," Potter breathed. "You survived your first Weasley party, Malfoy. How does it feel?"

Despite his innocuous words, Potter's thumbs began rubbing little circles over Draco's hipbones through his trousers. Dull fire raced over Draco's skin. What the fuck? What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?

He shrugged. "Fine, I guess."

Potter took a step in. "Good. Fine's good." One hand slid up onto Draco's waist.

It wasn't Potter who was drunk. It was Draco. It had to be. Why else would he suffer Potter doing this to him? Why else would he just stand there? Draco left his hands loose at his sides, but he was buzzing. His cock, half-hard through the whole party, was now fully erect.

"Would you like a drink?" Potter asked, his lips nearing.

"I don't know. I don't want to get stupid," Draco replied, his gaze dropping to Potter's mouth. This was not his fault. This was Potter's fault. Potter and his googly eyes. Who wouldn't get turned on, getting ogled all night like that?

Potter neared so that Draco had to close his eyes. "Stupid's underrated," he said. Then he stopped with his lips just centimeters from Draco's, his head tilted and ready. He whispered, "Want me to stop?"

The bastard. The bloody bastard. This was his fault. Wasn't it enough that Draco was stuck with him? Did he have to pull this shit, too? Did he have to make Draco want him?

And Draco wanted him.

God damn, Draco wanted him.

Well, fuck Potter then. Fuck him for this whole charade if it was one. Fuck him for acting like he suddenly cared. Fuck him for toying with Draco, for the hands on his body and the lips right the fuck there and for rescuing Draco on his bloody broom and for speaking on his behalf at the war trials and for washing dishes with his bare hands and that blasted dish towel. God, fuck him for that alone!

In a fit of anger, Draco surged forward, closing the distance completely and opening Potter's mouth with his own. He thrust his tongue inside and felt Potter meet him. He sank his hand into Potter's hair, and Potter moaned into his mouth.

Take that, you miserable prick.

Potter shuffled closer, his hands sliding to Draco's back and rubbing, gripping, rubbing again. Draco changed the fit of their mouths, going deeper and harder, feeling Potter's cock hard against him, big and thick. Draco started on Potter's shirt buttons. Fuck him for wearing silk!

Draco broke away, panting. His fingers were shaking trying to get Potter's shirt off.

"Jesus, Malfoy," Potter whispered. He dropped his lips to Draco's neck, under his ear. "You smell fantastic."

"Shut the fuck up, Potter."

Draco got a hand inside Potter's half-unbuttoned shirt and onto his stomach.

At the touch, Potter walked him backwards until his back hit a wall. Potter growled, and then he kissed him again, and this time it was Draco who moaned. Potter fit his leg between Draco's, pressing tight to his erection. Draco wanted to ride his thigh. And that was Potter's fault, too. Draco hated that he wanted it – hated that he'd go down on Potter's cock right now if the git gave even one moment's indication.

Potter broke the kiss to start on Draco's buttons. "I wonder if it's like the fairy tales and we've just broken the curse," he smirked. "You should really try Apparating to the Manor now."

Draco froze. "What?"

"It was a joke," Potter said, opening Draco's shirt to bare his chest and stomach. His eyes went hungry as they roved up and down Draco's pale skin.

But Draco's stomach flashed cold. "Was this…? Was this a test?" he spat. He shoved Potter away from him.

Potter's eyes registered confusion. "What are you on about? It's snogging."

Draco laughed mirthlessly. "Yeah," he said. "And I'm the idiot, right? I'm the poncy prat you can't get rid of, except that you hadn't tried everything, had you? Well, great. Watch me Apparate the hell away from you, Potter."

Draco mustered all the focus he could and Disapparated. And as he knew he would, he popped right back to the spot he'd left moments earlier, Potter still standing there looking thunderstruck.

Well, good! He ought to! He ought to get a taste of his own bullshit, winding Draco up like that for a laugh.

"What the hell is your problem? It was a joke!" Potter shouted, running a hand through his hair, his blasted shirt half unbuttoned so that Draco could see the wiry muscles, the trail of hair leading down…

Draco started buttoning his shirt again. "Don't worry, Potter. Bill Weasley will sort me out tomorrow. Then I'll leave you alone."

"Draco, dammit—"

But Draco didn't stay to hear whatever it was he was going to say. He turned and stalked out, practically running up the stairs to the only place he could get away at the moment. He shut the door to Regulus' room and leaned his back against it.

He hadn't been there five minutes when the realization struck.

The one that he'd been wrong. And he'd been wrong on purpose.

Potter hadn't wanted to get him to leave.

Potter clearly wanted him to stay.

And that was the terrifying thing.

Draco slid down the door to the ground, gritted his teeth, and closed his eyes, feeling like the greatest coward he'd ever been.

xX

 

After a fitful sleep, Draco rose early the next morning in order to avoid Potter in the kitchen. He met Kreacher there instead and reluctantly accepted some porridge and tea from the muttering elf.

But if he thought he'd miss Potter altogether, he was wrong. Draco was heading back up to his temporary room when he met Potter coming out of his study, apparently having risen before Draco.

Draco just stood there, saying nothing – unable to say anything. Potter looked like hell, like perhaps he hadn't slept. There was scruff on his jaw, and though he was in new clothes, they looked rumpled.

Potter removed his glasses and began cleaning them with his t-shirt. "Bill will be here in an hour."

Draco cleared his throat. "Good," he answered.

"Yeah," Potter said, donning his glasses once more. "Look, Draco—"

"I need to shower," Draco interrupted. "That rum is seeping out of my pores."

"Yeah. Sure," Potter answered, blinking. "Okay."

They both stood there for a moment, then Potter turned to head back into his study and Draco turned to climb the stairs.

When he came back down again, he heard Bill and Potter already talking together in the study. Draco stood on the stairs a moment, listening. He told himself he wasn't eavesdropping. He just wanted to be prepared.

But he couldn't make out distinct words, only that this was Bill's voice and that was Potter's.

Draco sighed. There was nothing for it. He walked into the study, head held ridiculously high.

"Malfoy," Bill greeted jovially. "We were just talking about you."

He seemed to be smirking slightly, and Potter seemed to be trying to signal him to shut the bloody hell up.

So that's how it was going to be. Draco couldn't believe he hadn't sensed it before. Potter had dragged him to that party so that his friends could laugh behind their hands at him. He'd brought him as some sort of demented party favor. And he'd snogged him after because maybe he'd made a bet with them about it. Maybe Potter had insisted he could bed Draco or something. Draco wondered just how many Galleons were on the line.

He firmed his jaw and shook the eldest Weasley's hand. He wouldn't stoop to their level. He'd play it with class. He hadn't let Potter fuck him. He had at least that to be proud of. The fact that he didn't feel proud – that he felt battered and ashamed and small and worthless – was neither here nor there.

"Weasley," Draco greeted calmly.

"Bill was just saying that he's heard of a new kind of poison that acts as a curse, Draco," Potter said.

Draco. God, wasn't he just oh so willing to lay it on thick?

When Draco glanced at his face, Potter looked hopeful. Not a trace of the cruelty Draco now believed him capable of.

"Is that so?" Draco said.

"I didn't believe it at first," Bill answered. "I mean, they reported it in the Quibbler. And, no offense to your friend, Harry, but…"

"Yeah, none taken," Potter said with a perfunctory smile.

"But now I've seen it a couple of times. Very isolated incidents, mind you. And I really don't have any other explanation for it, so… Well… Do you mind?"

"Do I mind what?" Draco asked.

"I'll need to check you for it," Bill answered.

"Isn't that what you're here for?" Draco frowned at him.

"Of course, it's just that… Well." Bill clapped his hands together. "You'll need to get undressed."

Draco's eyebrows rose. He blinked. And then they rose some more.

"You're serious."

"Yes."

Draco looked to Potter. Potter nodded, but Draco laughed. "And you thought I'd fall for this bollocks?"

"It's not bollocks. I promise." Potter swallowed. "None of it is."

Draco ran a hand through his hair. He laughed again. "Oh, this is just rich. Tell me, Potter, are you even gay?"

Potter looked at Bill whose eyes had gone quite wide at their exchange.

"I'll just…" Bill gestured with his thumb across the room, "Muffliato myself, shall I? Just until you blokes get some things sorted out?"

"Thanks, Bill," Potter said. Then once Bill had become seemingly entranced with the shade of the drapes, Potter turned his attention back to Draco. "Would you sit down?"

"What? Afraid I'll leave and ruin the fun you two plan to have at my expense? I can't. Remember? You're in control here, Potter."

"I'm not in control of anything," Potter informed him. He stood and ran a hand through his own hair, then. "Jesus, do you think I'd have chosen to find you so bloody— To want to snog— Do you think we'd be in this…this, this clusterfuck if I had any control over anything at all, Malfoy?"

Draco stared at him, unsure what to say, because suddenly his body was reacting without his permission, going hot and cold and tight and speechless at what he thought Potter might be trying to say. But Potter, apparently, wasn't finished anyway.

"And now here you are!" Potter exclaimed. "You think your life is fucked up! My marriage ends because I'm a poof and I can't stop thinking about—" He stopped abruptly and ran both hands through his hair now. "Shite!"

Draco watched Potter pace in frustration – watched him put his hands on the mantle and hang his head. Draco chanced a look at Bill to find him absolutely engaged with admiring the texture of the drapes. Draco looked back at Potter, who had shoved off the mantle and was now facing him like Draco had somehow managed to piss him off without saying a word.

Draco blinked.

"And yes, I know we have our shit. I mean, Merlin knows we have our shit, but bloody fucking hell, Malfoy, don't manufacture extra."

Draco opened his mouth, but Potter strove on.

"I'm sorry about last night, all right? It was a stupid thing to say and crap timing, too. This isn't exactly the ideal situation to start dating someone, you know, and that's not my bloody fault. I didn't do this to you. I don't know who did." He sighed. "Now, will you drop trou for Bill so we can figure this out and get on with whatever the fuck is happening between us?"

Draco stood there silent for a moment. Then he asked, "Dating someone?"

Potter said, "You snogged me first."

"Yeah, but that was only because you had your bloody hands all over me all night."

"So now I know what it takes," Potter said, smirking.

Draco blinked at him. His hands itched to grab, to stroke, to have and have and have. He balled them into fists. "Are you going to stay for this and get your jollies then, Potter?"

Potter's eyes practically smoldered. "I can wait." Then he turned and walked over to an almost perversely engrossed Bill and tapped him on the shoulder. When Bill took the spell off himself, Potter told him, "He's all yours," then he shot one last look Draco's way and walked out, shutting the door behind himself.

Bill turned to him, clapped his hands, and said, "Well then. Let's see that shiny bum."

xX

"Sure enough," Bill said, crouching behind him.

"I have it?" Draco tried to wrench his upper body around to see.

"Hold still. And yes. Here." Bill ran a finger over the top swell of his right arse cheek. "Looks like a blow dart to me. Probably distributed the poison quickly." He sighed and stood. "You can pull them up now."

Draco yanked his trousers up and fastened them hastily. "So? How long will this last?"

Bill shook his head. "Difficult to say. It's not like a regular poison with a distinct half-life. It's much more like a curse in that it could last until its objective has been reached."

"How can a poison have an objective?"

"You tell me. Why does it bring you back to Harry's over and over again? What could possibly be the object of that?" His words said one thing, but his eyes said something different.

"You think someone wanted…" Draco's eyebrows rose. He couldn't say it lest he sound like a fool.

"For you two to do the deed? Perhaps. Have you yet?"

"I should think that's not really any of your—"

"Well, I'm your curse breaker. If this is the curse, it really is my business, sorry to say." He lowered his voice. "If it's any consolation, Charlie swings both ways, so the fact that you're both a bit dodgy," he shrugged, "doesn't really make much difference to me. Not now that Gin's happy at least. So?" He waited a moment, then, "Have you two done it?"

Draco's mouth tried to make words but failed.

"I'll take that as a no," Bill said, frowning and scratching his chin. "I don't mean to be pushy, but…"

"You want me to go to bed with Potter just to see if it breaks the curse?" Draco spat.

"Well, you know, if you want to go home, yeah."

"You're not going to do more research? Try to find out who did this to me?"

"Oh, sure," Bill said happily. "Sex would be faster, though, wouldn't it? Especially since you're blokes," he added with a laugh.

Draco frowned deeply. He was gaining no fondness for Weasleys over this, that was for sure.

"What if it's something else entirely?"

"Well, then you'd have fucked for nothing," Bill said with chuckle. "Look, you could be right. It could be anything. And it might wear off. But I think it's pretty obvious from how he was all over you last night that Harry's good to go, so…" He shrugged. "Do what you will."

Bill made for the door.

"Are you going to tell him?" Draco asked.

"Just that I'm not sure about anything. He should love that." Bill opened the door. "Oi! Harry!"

"Yeah?" Potter's voice came down the hall along with his footsteps.

"It's the poison, that I know. Don't know much else." He shot a look at Draco, but then he leaned down and stage whispered in Potter's ear, "But the git has the most adorable arse I've ever seen. And you know my wife, so that's saying something." He smacked Potter on the arm. "Mind if I use your Floo then?"

"Uh, no, but I'm almost out of—"

"Mum sent me with a bag of Floo powder for you. She knows you forget to shop."

"Thanks," Potter said.

"Take care, Malfoy," Bill said and then stepped into the flames and swirled away.

Draco stood watching the flames go back to ash. He could feel Potter looking at him.

"What else did he tell you?" Potter asked warily.

"Nothing. I have some work to do," Draco said. Then he skirted around Potter as quickly as he could without looking like a bloody coward – and there was really no chance of that – and made for the stairs.

He was in such a hurry to get back to the relative privacy and safety of Regulus' room that he opened the wrong door by mistake and was treated to a loud, warning squawk.

Draco jumped back slightly at the sound. The hippogriff stood in the corner of the room, possibly interrupted while preening; his feathers were fluffed, some sticking out at odd angles. A bit like Potter's hair, Draco couldn't help but observe.

The hippogriff observed him with a keen eye while Draco just blinked, frozen in the doorway.

"Sorry," he found himself murmuring.

Buckbeak blinked at him, straightening to full height. Draco caught his breath, but the beast didn't charge. He didn't even trumpet again for Draco to get out. He just stood there looking at Draco as though he could see through to his rapidly beating heart, his thoughts.

Draco gulped a swallow and backed out of the room, closing the door again with a shaking hand.

"Is everything all right?" he heard Potter call.

Draco practically ran the rest of the way down the hall to his own room. He snuck inside but left the door cracked and listened for Potter's steps in the hall, not even sure why he felt the need to do such a silly thing.

So he'd startled the hippogriff. Surely that wasn't a punishable offense! And what punishment would such a thing require? Banishment? That was a laugh.

Except that Draco wasn't laughing. He crouched at the crack in the door and listened as Potter walked up to the beast's lair and knocked.

"Buckbeak?" he called. "You all right?"

Then there came the sound of the opening door and Potter stepping inside. Draco wasn't sure why he wanted to hear what went on. He felt sure it was none of his business – not that that mattered – but that it would be a dreadful bore as well. Yet he felt compelled to come back out into the hall, to tiptoe back to the animal's door, and to peer in a watch Potter bowing to it.

The hippogriff bowed back without hesitation.

"You need to get outside," Potter advised it. "If you're cranky, you have no one to blame but yourself."

Draco felt sure Potter was done for then. But he walked up to the thing and it dropped its head for Potter to stroke it.

"You can refuse to fly," Potter murmured to it. "I can't make you. But you need to get outside. Remember what Luna said."

The beast tossed its head as if to communicate grudging acknowledgement.

"That's why we built you this door," Potter went on. "So you could get out on your own and get some fresh air. You don't want me to call Luna back in, do you?"

The animal nuzzled Potter's shoulder. As they both made their way to the large paneled door Draco had not noticed before, Draco backed away. He turned and made his way back to his bedroom. As he'd suspected, his curiosity had gotten him nowhere except to realize why the garden had been enlarged to the extent that it had. And to reaffirm that Potter was a sappy ponce who still needed something to save no matter how ridiculous.

Draco closed the door to his room. He really did have work that needed tending to. That wasn't a lie. The past week had not been at all conducive to him not only getting to work but getting anything important done. He had loads of parchments to go over, and tomorrow, being Monday, would be busy anyway even if Draco wasn't behind.

He wasn't hiding from Potter.

He wasn't distracting himself from that completely barmy conversation in the study in which Potter insinuated that they were now dating. Draco was cursed for fuck's sake. If he hadn't tumbled through Potter's Floo a week ago, they wouldn't be dating, now would they? Potter would not have sought him out at the Ministry and asked him out for coffee. He wouldn't have taken him to the Weasleys' for his birthday party and snogged him after.

He wouldn't have told Draco that he smells fantastic.

Draco surreptitiously sniffed his right armpit. Then his left.

He shook himself and sat at the desk by the window. He opened his briefcase, forgetting that he'd charmed it to hold all his files, and watched them spill out over the desk and onto the floor.

"Bugger," Draco gritted out. He sighed and started organizing his papers into awkward stacks. But a flash caught his eye out of the window. It was the sun glinting off Potter's glasses.

Draco squinted and leaned forward, watching. He peeled back the sheers. Potter seemed to be playing a kind of fetch with the hippogriff, tossing a flat discus-shaped object into the air for the beast to catch, which it did, snagging it with its powerful beak. Then it twisted its thick neck and flung the thing back at Potter, who leapt into the air to catch it, his t-shirt riding up and his denims slipping down in the process.

This went on for a good while.

And Draco didn't stare out the window the whole time.

Only most of it.

xX

The Potter avoidance didn't go so well. It was hard to avoid the man who had to escort you to work everyday. Draco thought about fucking him just for some peace and quiet.

Draco thought about fucking him just to wipe that look off Potter's face – the one that didn't at all suggest that Potter was thinking about fucking him.

To counteract it, Draco had taken to researching the poison in his off hours in the hopes of finding a different way to eradicate or appease it.

But Potter still found and harassed him.

"Any luck?" he asked, coming up behind Draco in the Black family library one evening.

"I'm still here, aren't I?"

Potter pulled up an armchair and slumped into it. "Bill said it was likely from a blow dart?"

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yeah."

"Well, did you feel it? Do you remember anything?"

Draco speared him with a look. "What do you think?"

Potter just shrugged. "I'd just think if I were darted in the arse—"

"Yeah, well, it's my arse, isn't it? Not yours. And I didn't bloody feel it, Potter."

"No need to get snippy."

"On the contrary, I think I'm being exceedingly polite." Draco went back to his research, but he could feel Potter staring at him. He huffed. "Are you quite finished?"

"I just came in for a book," Potter informed him, then got up and started perusing the shelves.

Draco was quite sure none of these books had been touched in over a hundred years, but Potter gazed and stroked spines and drummed his fingers on his chin and went 'hmm' every few minutes such that Draco read and read and reread the same useless information over and over again.

"Just pick something!" Draco finally shouted.

"I don't think I really feel like reading after all," Potter said. He scratched the back of his neck and then stretched, showing off that stupidly fit midsection. "Want to get something to eat?"

"With you?"

"Yeah." Potter came closer and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Do you mean from the kitchen?"

Potter's eyes twinkled. "No."

Draco blushed like a first year.

A first year girl.

"Sod off," he muttered, going back to his research.

Potter reached across the desk, across Draco's body, and flicked on the desk lamp, spilling warm yellow light across his work. His chest was practically in Draco's face. Draco compressed his lips and tried not to inhale.

Potter pulled back. "If you change your mind," he said, "I'll be doing lesson plans in the study."

He turned around and walked out. Draco resituated the fit of his trousers and went back to his books and articles.

It went like that: Draco looking for answers that had anything to do with something other than Potter's bed and Potter pestering him with his presence until Draco could think of little other than being in Potter's bed.

But he didn't actually want to have to shag Potter. Well, he hadn't wanted to. Not before. And he didn’t really now, either. Not if he had to. Not any time, dammit!

Potter was good-looking, yes. Potter seemed unduly interested as well. And he was stuck in Potter's house, with Potter's smell and Potter's little looks and Potter brushing up against him and Potter's sexy voice and his slipping denims and his bloody half-smile and all that bollocks.

But he wouldn't be for long if he could just find some other way to nullify the poison. And he would find another way. He'd get out of Grimmauld Place and never look back.

He'd go back to the Manor.

He'd be in control once more.

Maybe he'd Owl Blaise and Daphne and Millicent and even Pansy and see if they wanted to get drinks. That wasn't pathetic, was it? Ten years after ignominy, show your lousy face and beg for company?

He didn't have to beg for Potter's company. He had that in spades.

Potter wanted to be around Draco.

Draco just didn't want to be around him.

Except when he did.

xX

Saturday morning arrived, and Draco woke determined to hit his newly acquired antidote texts which had arrived by Flouish and Blotts owl the previous night when he was just too exhausted to read another word. In fact, Potter had awakened him with the package, tapping him gently on the shoulder and lifting his hands when Draco pulled his wand in his confusion.

"What?" Draco had groused, his neck stiff from having fallen asleep with his head on the desk.

"Your books arrived," Potter told him. Then he lifted a mug. "And I brought you some tea."

Draco blinked.

"But I really think you ought to think about sleep," Potter advised. He set the books and the tea on the desk.

"And I really think you ought to mind—"

And that's when Potter had stepped behind him, put his hands on Draco's shoulders, and squeeeeeezed.

"Oh bloody hell," Draco sighed.

Potter kneaded and squeezed and his thumbs stroked down Draco's spine, rubbing perfect slow circles into his flesh.

Draco's wand clattered to the floor, he closed his eyes, and he moaned.

That's when he felt Potter's breath near his ear. "Would it be so terrible?" he asked.

Draco swallowed. His lips parted and his breath escaped in quiet gasps. His cock rose up inside his trousers, yearning. His whole body melted into the chair as Potter's hands rocked him back and forth and the tense muscles unwound, warming even as Potter's breath made him shiver.

"Malfoy…" Potter whispered. "You're coming out with me tomorrow night."

"Wha—?" Draco began.

"You heard me." Potter's thumbs dug into him hard. It was heaven. "Also," he went on, "you dropped your wand."

Then he straightened, letting his hands stroke over Draco's shoulders one last time as he walked away.

"Ten o'clock," he'd said in parting.

The door had shut, and all Draco had been able to do was whimper.

But today was a new day. Today meant breaking the curse with an antidote that Draco was going to find in one of his new books.

Draco rose with the sun. It didn't matter that he had an erection as hard as elder. He'd take care of it quickly in the shower and then he'd get to work.

But on his way into the loo, Potter ran into him coming out.

"Sorry," Draco muttered without thought.

But Potter just stood there, crowding him, scrubbing his damp hair with a towel.

Shirtless.

"Malfoy," Potter greeted. "Need the loo?"

"No, I just thought I'd admire the tile," Draco quipped, but he'd lost his breath, and with Potter that close and his dreams too near and the erection still persisting and such… Draco swallowed.

"Don't forget," Potter told him. "Ten o'clock."

"I'm not going on a bloody date with you, Potter."

Potter crowded him still further, stepping in and pressing Draco back into the wall. "Dress casual and meet me at the garden shed," he said. "And Draco?"

Draco gulped.

"If you're not there, I'll find you."

Draco stood against the wall stiffly, barely breathing. He thought about sending a hex Potter's way, but the idea of grinding against him to completion was much more compelling. Instead, he did nothing.

Potter grinned at him, a soft, kind sort of smile that belied his stance and his demand to be dated. Then he walked off down the hall to his room, closing himself inside.

Draco wilted against the wall for a moment, then stamped into the loo and beat off hard in the shower, using Potter's shampoo for lube.

Potter found little ways to interrupt his work all day. Some might call it helping rather than interrupting. But Draco knew better.

It was interrupting.

He brought Draco an Owl from Bill with the Quibbler article on the poison, complete with quotes from Luna Lovegood herself:

"These sorts of poisons are fast-acting and long-lasting," said Lovegood today as this reporter caught up with her outside the Ministry of Magic's visitor's entrance. "I'm here at the Ministry today to give a talk on saving the last of the wild East Asian Bowtruckles, but I'll be here in two weeks' time as part of a joint committee on curse-poison identification. Please tell Mathilda I said hello and happy Fire Crab day."

"This is rubbish," Draco announced, tossing the paper aside. "Your friend is sadly misinformed. I saw her that day at the office. She was wearing an anti-Pogrebin charm the size of a troll's club. I'm sure I'll find the answer in one of these…" He gestured to his six new books, some twelve inches thick.

"Gigantic tomes?" Potter supplied helpfully.

"Don't you have some lesson planning to do?"

"No."

"Dishes?"

Potter smiled. "No, Malfoy."

Merlin, that smile…

"Well, bugger off," Draco said without heat.

Potter left him alone, then, but not without a jaunty, "Don't forget."

Yet even with Potter's interruptions – sitting his arse on the edge of Draco's desk, sipping tea and chatting, dragging Draco downstairs for dinner – the day went quickly. Too quickly.

After they'd eaten, Draco had retired to his room and tried to work at the little desk by the window, but he found himself checking the clock every so often. Okay, often. And he had the strangest sensation in his stomach, like he was about to play in an important Quidditch match.

Eight o'clock.

Eight twenty-six.

Nine ten.

Nine sixteen.

Nine twenty-two.

Nine twenty-four.

One minute later, Draco dropped his head into his hands and sighed.

Bugger.

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Dear Salazar Slytherin, he was thinking of doing it.

He was completely and utterly mental, he was sure, but as the time drew near, he couldn't stop wondering. He couldn't stop remembering Potter's thrusting tongue in his mouth, his hands gripping his hips and rubbing his shoulders…all of the little ways Potter kept saying it.

Kept telling Draco that he wanted him.

"Dress casual and meet me at the garden shed. And Draco? If you're not there, I'll find you."

Draco lifted his head.

Nine twenty-six.

"Bugger."

His heart jumping into his throat, he stood from the desk, watched the very last wisps of summer sun die against the dark clouds, and then started to get ready.

xX

He didn't have denims, so casual meant a pair of grey trousers and a white dress shirt with no tie and no robes. Draco knew it wasn't right. What if Potter was meeting him at the shed to grab a couple brooms and have a game of one-on-one? What if that was the idiot's idea of a date?

But no sooner had he crossed the garden did Potter step out of the shadows of the oak tree, and Draco knew Quidditch was not on the schedule.

Potter wore dark denims and presumably a t-shirt. Presumably, because he had a leather jacket on over top.

And he was wearing the dragonhide gloves.

Draco was embarrassed to realize he'd just made a sort of kittenish sound. It was a good thing Potter was far enough away not to have heard.

Draco licked his lips and strode forward, hoping that the trembling in his legs wasn't too apparent.

As he approached Potter, Draco jutted out his chin and said haughtily, "Well, you prat, I'm here."

Potter uncrossed his arms. "You look…" he began.

Draco could feel himself going red in the face during the pause. "I don't own any bloody denims," Draco spat. "I know this isn't—"

"It is," Potter interrupted. He wore an expression of dawning delight on his face, and Draco couldn't help but thrill to it.

"So," he said. "Where is it you're dragging me off to? Or is snogging in the shed some kind of warped fantasy of yours?"

"That is not a warped fantasy," Potter informed him, even as he unlocked the door and opened it. "Lumos."

Draco gaped, as in the middle of the shed, tarp gone, stood a large, shiny black motorcycle. Potter ran reverent fingers over one of the handle bars and then looked at Draco. "Go for a ride with me?"

When Draco only stood there blinking, Potter threw his leg over the bike, mounting it, and went on, "I know a little dive of a bar just a couple of kilometers from here. But we could take the scenic route."

Draco had to get hold of himself. God, what in the bloody hell did he think he was doing? His mind was a riot, screaming at him that this was stupid, that he'd likely make a fool of himself somehow, that he was Pureblood – he didn't go to dives, he didn't go out with Harry Potter, he didn't deser—

Draco took a deep breath. That last thought rushed through him unchecked.

He didn't deserve it.

The night was warm and dark, but in the bright lights of Potter's shed, he felt exposed and off-balance.

He blinked and took another breath. He didn't like what his mind was telling him was the truth. He didn't like it, and he was sick of believing it.

Draco stepped in close to Potter. He cast his thoughts off like a cloak. He was listening to his body tonight, not his head.

He looked down consideringly and ran his hand along the side of the bike before looking back into Potter's eyes. Draco straightened his shoulders. He unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up. "Let's go then, Potter," he said, injecting a note of challenge into his voice, maybe even flirtation.

At Potter's smile, Draco slung a leg over the bike.

Potter rose up and kicked it hard to life. The engine roared between Draco's legs, and he felt it in his bollocks, up into his belly, and like some fell magic was going to burst out of the top of his head. It was magnificent.

Then Potter sat back down and took Draco's hands, wrapping them around his front. Draco took the cue and pressed himself flush against Potter's back. Potter turned his head and flashed him a smile. Then he was opening a hidden door at the back of the shed and easing them out into an alley. The engine growled like a beast, Potter shouted back, "Hold on," Draco clutched at Potter's body, and they took off down the street, the wind whipping around them until Draco felt like he was flying close to the ground.

After all these years, flying.

xX

 

The music blared hard through the cramped room. It smelled of sweat and liquor and men's cologne. They'd found two stools at the end of the bar, and Potter had ordered for them, a couple of golden shots of something that came with a small side of fruit.

Draco kept having to look around in disbelief. They weren't just in a bar. They were in a Muggle bar.

A Muggle gay bar.

There were men everywhere, some half dressed, some hardly dressed at all. Many of them were all over other men on the crowded dance floor.

It's not that Draco hadn't heard of such places – or the wizarding equivalents – but seeing it, smelling it, having it brush up against you, was a completely different experience.

He wasn't sure if he liked it. He wasn't sure if he disliked it. He only knew that he liked how close Potter was sitting, having moved his own stool nearly up against to Draco's. He knew he liked that their legs were touching. It made him feel somehow both dangerously reckless and completely safe. He liked how Potter's eyes roved up and down his body, how he appeared to like how Draco had dressed. He no longer felt like an ignorant ponce. Men were looking at him, and they were looking at Potter, and they were looking at the two of them – but Potter's eyes were on him. And Draco didn't feel the shame he thought he might. He didn't feel like a dodgy peg shoved into the wrong hole. He felt…ready.

For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, Draco felt ready for his own life.

"So what is this?" he asked, swirling the liquid in the glass.

"It's called tequila," Potter said. "And there's an art to it."

"Well, go on then, Potter. Show me how it's done."

Potter waggled his eyebrows and picked up a salt shaker. He licked his hand, just under his thumb.

"Are you putting me on?" Draco asked.

But Potter just shook a little salt there. "To Muggle rock and roll," he said, picking up the glass, and then he licked the salt off, tossed down the drink, and picked up his lime wedge and sucked it.

Draco watched every movement raptly.

"Now you," Potter said.

Draco went to mimic Potter's actions, but when he raised his hand to lick it, his shirt sleeve rode up and exposed his Dark Mark, now faint. He felt a moment of panic and wished he had never rolled up his sleeves. He went to cover it, but Potter's hand shot out and captured his arm in a tight grip.

"You don't have to hide it," Potter told him. "I know who you were. You were a git, but you weren't ever that." He nodded to Draco's forearm. Potter's hand covered half of it. Potter was touching it.

No one had ever touched him there. Not after. He'd never let them.

Draco swallowed. Potter's grip loosened. He looked down at Draco's arm and moved his thumb over the black ink, over the snake and the skull and the fine hairs. "This is something that happened to you," he said, almost to himself. Then he looked up and into his eyes.

After a moment, he leaned back again, releasing Draco's arm, which now tingled from his touch.

"Now are you going to lick, drink, and suck or do I have to demonstrate again?"

Draco quirked a brow at him. He took hold of Potter's hand, turning it palm up on the bar. Potter inhaled, long and slow. Draco leaned down and, without losing eye contact, licked below Potter's thumb. He picked up the salt shaker and shook where he'd licked. He leaned down again, slowly. Potter watched him and smiled. Draco licked the salt off Potter's skin. "To scars," he said. Then he picked up the drink and threw it back and sucked on the lime wedge, his body going cold and then warm, one after the other, as the alcohol rushed down his throat and hit his stomach.

It burned deliciously.

"I have to hand it to the Muggles," Draco said. "That's a lovely thing."

Potter waved over the bartender. "Ice water," he said. Then he looked at Draco.

"I'll have one more of those things," he shouted over the music.

"Tequila shot," Potter clarified and then produced a wallet.

"I can pay you back," Draco told him. "I didn't know we'd be coming to a Muggle place."

"It's my treat," Potter told him.

"But you're not having another?"

Potter shook his head.

"Why not?"

"Because the first one was just for courage. I'm not trying to get pissed."

"Courage for what?" Draco asked.

"For this," Potter said.

He leaned in and kissed him, opening their mouths and sliding his tongue inside Draco's. He kissed slow and deep, tasting like sweet liquor and salt and restrained urgency. His hand planted on the stool between Draco's legs for leverage, and even though he wasn't using it to touch Draco, Draco still felt it acutely. He tilted his head and let Potter in deeper. Somewhere, somebody whistled.

When Potter leaned back, he licked his lips.

"Is that the big secret to the famous Gryffindor courage then?" Draco asked. "Tequila shots?"

"Of course," Potter told him, smiling. "It's in all our pumpkin juice."

"Is that why you're trying to get me drunk then? Because I lack courage?" Draco felt the tequila moving serpentine through his open veins. Potter's kiss still tingled on his lips. He was half-hard.

Potter sipped his water. "I'm not trying to get you drunk, Malfoy. And what's the difference between Gryffindor courage and Slytherin ambition?"

"Who kisses first, I guess."

"But you kissed me first," Potter reminded him.

Draco looked between his eyes and found no malice there, only daring and excitement and sex. "I guess ambition is just taking what you want."

"What do you think courage is?"

"Do you seriously think this is the right venue for these questions, Potter? A man just danced by you in a satin g-string with his bits flying around."

"Answer me, Draco."

Draco sighed. "Courage…" he started and stopped. "Courage is having the bollocks to admit what you want in the first place."

Potter smiled. "Who knew you were such a sweet talker?"

"Sod off, Potter." Draco picked up the salt shaker and then did the whole tequila song and dance again, this time on his own arm. The one with the mark. And Potter didn't blink at him doing so. Once he'd sucked the lime virtually dry, Draco dropped it into the shot glass. "So do you just make toasts about Muggle rock and roll or do you dance to it as well?"

Potter snorted a surprised laugh. "Malfoy, I don't dance."

Draco just raised his eyebrows at him.

"Were you or were you not at the Yule Ball fourth year?"

"Completely different situation," Draco informed him. The two drinks were making him brave. Or reckless, one of the other.

"What, we're just going to chalk that up to my awkward phase?"

"Are you bisexual, Potter?"

He smirked at that. "I really tried to be."

Draco took a chance and stood, crowding into Potter's space, between his legs. He reached for and unzipped Potter's leather jacket, revealing the white t-shirt beneath. "Don't you think dancing with a man would be different?"

Potter let him shove the jacket off his shoulders, his lips parting, his gaze falling to Draco's mouth.

"Not to mention those stodgy robes and that ancient music," Draco went on as Potter pulled the jacket free of his arms altogether. Draco laid the jacket over the bar. He felt wicked, his body singing with the anticipation.

Potter stood, crowding into him, too. "You're bloody full of surprises, aren't you, Malfoy?"

"Are you going to fucking do it or what, Potter?" Draco challenged him.

Potter's eyes flared. He took Draco's hand and dragged him out onto the floor. When he turned back again, they were already close. Potter grasped Draco's hips and pulled him in tight. Draco wound his arms around Potter's neck.

The music was slower now, grinding, sensuous, and they didn't so much dance as…move slowly against one another's bodies. Potter's hard cock brushed his own, and Draco gasped. Their chests pressed together so that Draco could feel Potter's heartbeat. Their lips were close to kissing. The lights flashed over them and then moved on, leaving them in near darkness. Draco's breath shivered out of him. He moved so that their cocks pressed together. Potter exhaled against him and one hand dropped to cup his arse, squeezing and dragging Draco as close as he could get him.

They moved like that, never separating, always a breath away from kissing, until Draco was all but abortively humping Potter and Potter was squeezing his arse in time.

"I could come like this," Potter told him. He moved his lips to Draco's ear. "Or I could drive you home and fuck you over the bike. Your choice."

Draco felt the whine rise from somewhere in his chest. He grabbed Potter's hair and shoved his tongue into his mouth, snogging him hard for a few aching seconds before pulling back. "That second thing," he breathed.

Then he took Potter by the hand and began dragging him out. Potter was just able to snag his jacket as they passed the bar.

xX

 

The ride back was excruciating.

Excruciating.

But then they were pulling into the garage, and Potter left the engine on and dismounted. Draco sat there thrumming while Potter pulled his wand and in very quick succession threw out a stabilizing charm on the bike, brought the lights to low, and privatized the space.

If Draco had had any doubts as to his prowess with a wand, they were promptly nullified.

He holstered his wand, stripped off his t-shirt, and then moved behind Draco and started unbuttoning him, nipping Draco's earlobe in between his teeth and licking it. Draco whimpered.

"Come here a minute," Potter murmured.

Draco dismounted, turning, shrugging off the shirt and letting if fall to the dirty ground as Potter worked on his trousers.

It was all very fevered and hurried until Draco was naked, having kicked his trousers and pants clear of his feet.

Then Potter's hands moved up and cupped his face, his lips finding Draco's and parting them, his tongue sliding inside softly. Draco pressed himself to Potter's body, skin to skin and skin to denim. He groaned. One of Potter's hands dropped down between them and stroked Draco's cock from base to tip, his thumb swiping over the head.

Draco gasped out of the snog. His hands gripped Potter tight. They met one another's eyes.

"Are you sure?" Potter asked him.

Draco blinked. He turned and once again mounted the bike. He leaned forward so that he was practically lying on it, his cock pressed hard to the vibrating seat and his arsehole exposed. His heart was racing and yet he was also completely calm. His toes danced over the floor for purchase.

He waited.

The first thing he felt were Potter's hands running down his bare back. Strong, steady hands, the fingers caressing first and then digging into his skin. Draco gripped the bike and shut his eyes. A hand sifted through his hair once, which was bloody wonderful, then Potter said a charm, and a very wet finger pressed to his rim. The sensation flew up Draco's spine, an almost-tickle, and he made himself relax. Potter's finger pushed inside of him, and Draco's hands tightened still more. He buried his face against the rumbling bike's body.

"All right, Malfoy?" Potter's voice was gentle, turning his name into something worth whispering.

Draco could only nod.

Potter moved his finger in and out. There was no rush except for the emerging urgency in Draco's bollocks. He felt like a slut, like a slag, but he arched his back and silently begged Potter for more.

He didn't get it.

Potter finger-fucked him with just the one slow digit until Draco was trembling – until he opened his mouth and groaned, "Please…"

Only then did Potter add a second finger, pressing as slowly in as the first time. Fire leapt at Draco's every nerve. His cock throbbed against the bike and began leaking. He put his head down again and bore back into Potter's hand.

Now Potter began to thrust. All the way in and all the way out, creating a rhythm that moved Draco's body against the purring bike.

"Christ, Draco," Potter whispered.

Draco heard him fumbling with his own denims – heard the scrape of Potter's boots on the floor.

Then the fingers were being pulled out, and Draco moaned long and regretfully – even though he knew what was coming – what it seemed they'd danced around for over ten years.

Potter nudged Draco's arsehole with the fat head of his cock. Draco dropped his head down and lifted up on his toes for it. When Potter found the right angle and started pushing inside him, Draco's head came up off the bike and he gasped.

"All right?" Potter asked again.

"Yeah," Draco got out. "Yeah." He laid his cheek against warm metal and bit his lip as Potter pushed all the way inside of him.

Potter's hands wrapped around his hips, hauling him back a little more, and Potter let out this little grunt as he did so that sounded almost as good as his thick cock felt.

"You're bloody perfect," Potter told him reverently. Then he was fucking him, thrusting long and deep.

Draco didn't know what he'd expected when Potter had offered to shag him over the bike. Fast and dirty? Hard and quick?

Not this.

Not like every inch inside him counted.

Not with Potter's hands drifting up and down Draco's back, curling around his hips again, his thumbs peeling Draco's cheeks apart so he could, presumably, watch it.

He had not expected Potter's cock to feel like it was stroking him from the inside – for he himself to be undulating against it, tears sharp in his eyes.

He didn't expect Potter to draw his wand in the middle of it and rev the bike's motor harder so that Draco felt like it was going to fly him apart when he came.

Draco cried out at the intensity of it. Potter murmured the charm to slick him further. Then he grabbed Draco's hips and started finally going faster, taking shorter, more brutal thrusts.

Draco reached up and gripped the handle bars. Potter seemed to like that, because he growled low in his throat and his thrusting wavered.

"Please," Draco gasped. It was about to hit him. His cock rubbed through the slick he'd leaked against the seat, and it built and built and-- "Harry, please," he gasped.

Then he came, Potter now pounding into him, the bike purring between his legs. Draco came, and as his arse clamped down around Potter's cock, he felt him start coming, too. Potter whimpered and held still for a moment, deep inside, and Draco felt the wet warmth of it, and then Potter was fucking through it, falling over Draco's back and taking short, arrhythmic thrusts until he slowed to a stop.

Slowly, as though with great effort, Potter reached up and shut off the bike's motor. They panted together in the quiet, Potter's breaths coming in warm puffs against Draco's cooling skin. Then Potter said, "Jesus fucking Christ."

Carefully, he stood once more and slowly withdrew from Draco's arse. Draco pushed himself upright gingerly as he heard Potter zipping up his denims.

Potter chuckled behind him.

Draco turned his head. "What?"

"It's just a good look on you," Potter explained.

Draco blushed. He and the bike both were an absolute mess. He dismounted awkwardly and reached for his trousers to shake them free of dirt. His pants flew out of one of the legs, and Potter caught them.

"Oh, lovely," Draco groused. But his body… Merlin, his body felt magnificent.

Potter smiled and walked up to him with his pants. "Before you go and put all that rubbish back on, though…" He took Draco's arm. There was the crack, the swirling world, and then they were in a bedroom – Potter's bedroom. And Potter was sinking his hand into Draco's hair, letting his pants fall to the floor. Draco let the trousers go, too. He let everything go, and Potter snogged him until Draco wound his arms around his neck.

Then he snogged him some more.

xX

 

The morning found Draco faced the wrong way in Potter's bed. Draco turned his head, squinting his eyes open, and there were Potter's toes.

Potter was, after all, faced the right way.

Draco remembered how they got there and stifled a smile.

He sat up.

"Potter," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"Hmm?" Potter answered. He blearily opened just one eye. "Hey," he said, a slow smile spreading amidst his enormous stretch.

"I have to try it," Draco told him, afraid of what this might do to the besotted look on Potter's face.

But Potter nodded. "I know."

"You do?"

"Well, I figured you'd have to," he said. "Doesn't mean you can't come back and have a proper breakfast, does it?"

Draco blushed and looked down at the rumpled bedding.

"Do put some clothes on first, though, lest you pull a Charlie Weasley and wind up in Trafalgar Square or something."

Then Potter rolled out of bed and grabbed some pajama bottoms sans pants (making Draco wonder if that's how he always wore them). He came around to Draco's side. "You know," he said, hair going every which way, "whether or not that broke the curse – whether or not you can go home – last night is going into my Pensieve."

There was no stifling the smile this time, nor the snort that abruptly occurred. "Careful, Potter," Draco said. "I'm liable to swoon."

Potter smiled hugely at him, one hand tucking some hair behind Draco's ear tenderly. Draco shivered and batted Potter's hand away when what he really wanted to do was pull him into the bed and ride that thick cock of his until it no longer mattered if there was a curse or not.

But Potter dropped his hand and left and Draco tromped out after him, almost reluctantly heading to his own room. He told himself it was because he was afraid it wouldn't work. And that was part of it. The other part of it was that he was afraid it would.

He dressed carelessly, and when he was through…

He closed his eyes.

Determination. Destination. Deliberation.

"The manor," he murmured to himself.

The air cracked, he went tunneling through twisted space, and then…

Potter's living room.

Draco exhaled hard.

It hadn't worked.

Letting Potter fuck him hadn't broken the curse.

"Maybe I have to bugger him," Draco said under his breath to himself, and then couldn't help the stupid smile that crept over his face.

He wasn't happy it hadn't worked. He wasn't. He might be sleeping with Potter now, but that didn't mean he didn't need or want his life back.

Well…perhaps not the same life. A life. He needed some sort of life. But after last night, it was impossible to see the same one he'd been living before, with all its compromises and loneliness and shame, working.

He joined Potter in the kitchen with a little shrug.

"Huh," said Potter. "I sort of thought that would do it. Maybe we should try it again later. For good measure, you know."

"Yeah. For science."

"For science," Potter agreed. Then, "Listen. I'm out of chives. I need to run to the market. Can you wait to eat for…thirty minutes?"

"What do you need bloody chives for?"

"It's a secret."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Fine."

"Okay, I'll go dress and Apparate straight there."

Draco nodded. "I'll just make tea then?"

"Sounds lovely." Potter smiled at him and then Disapparated to his room for clothes.

Draco rifled through the cabinets and found some Darjeeling. He was setting a kettle to boil when he heard the second crack of Apparition from upstairs.

Potter was going to the market. For chives. After they fucked. And sucked each other off. And fell asleep in the wee hours.

Chives.

Draco shook his head.

He was just taking the kettle off the stove when he heard it.

He stopped, turning in the kitchen and frowning. Had it come from upstairs? Draco stood very still and listened.

It happened again. A low, desperate sound. Not human. Definitely upstairs.

Draco slowly ascended the stairs, trying to walk quietly. He didn't want to know where the sound was coming from, but he was afraid that he did.

"Kreacher?" Draco called warily. Maybe the elf could do something. It would be part of his job, wouldn't it?

Kreacher did not appear. And the sound echoed through the house again.

It was pain. Maybe grief.

Draco swallowed and continued up the stairs to the second floor, one creaking step at a time. Once he reached the landing, he turned. He took a breath. He walked slowly toward the door, wishing with all he had that Potter would come back and deal with it.

He didn't know what to do, damn it. This was about the last thing he felt ready for. Maybe it wouldn't happen again. Maybe it had just been dreaming or something. Or maybe that's what happened when it stubbed its talon.

Draco neared the door and then stood there outside it, waiting, holding his breath.

The sound pierced through the closed door and right into Draco's chest. He stepped back on a gasp. He looked both ways down the corridor.

"Fuck," he cursed.

He put his hand on the knob.

Draco closed his eyes. "Damn it," he muttered. He opened the door.

The beast was leaned against the far corner, head hanging down, eyes nearly closed. When Draco opened the door, it peered sideways at him, blinking.

Draco couldn't breathe. He wanted to turn around and run out. He was filled with fear and anger and…

As he watched the beast, it lifted its head and turned slightly toward him. It opened its beak and let out a plaintive sound that went to Draco's bones. Tears sprang to Draco's eyes.

"Why me?" he found himself asking it. When the creature didn't move but to blink, he asked again. "I can't help you. I can't—"

The beast lifted its head, and Draco thought he saw its own tears shining there, too.

Draco's lip trembled. He looked around himself again. No one was coming to his aid. No one was here but him. The hippogriff turned to him and made the sound once more.

"I'm sorry," Draco told it, the anger battling the sudden feeling of horrible guilt. "I'm bloody sorry, all right?"

The tears clouded his vision, making the hippogriff a blurry thing against the far wall. Two tears raced down his cheeks. "What the hell can I do?" he asked. He sniffed.

Then he did the only thing he could think of in that moment. He dropped into a bow.

His heart filled with fear. The thing could charge him again. It could take his arm clean off this time. Draco had been the reason it was almost executed. He'd triumphed in its approaching demise, its suffering.

Draco snuck a look up at the animal across the room without rising from his bow. It was blinking at him, calm but wary. And then the most unexpected thing happened: it lowered its head, and it bowed back.

Draco stared at it – at the ferocious beak, dipped down, the intelligent eyes closed, the wings folded back.

He stood slowly, and the hippogriff stood as well. Draco took one step toward it, and when it didn't move to attack, he took another.

In small, scared movements, Draco crossed the room. The hippogriff watched him. It never raised its wings. It never opened its beak.

Draco moved closer and closer, until he was right next to it. He could smell the hay of its bedding and hear the breath move through its lungs.

It turned to him, then. It lowered its head and lifted its wing, pulling Draco in and enfolding him against its body. Draco hesitated, but then he reached out a trembling hand and laid it against the hippogriff's body, and he broke down into sobs against its pristine feathers.

"I'm sorry," he cried. "I'm sorry."

No other words would come out. The regret filled his heart until he thought he'd crumple under the weight. But Buckbeak held him up. As Draco cried and he sagged against its body, it held him there, silent and allowing, a witness to his breakdown.

"I'm sorry," Draco whispered, finally catching his breath. The small downy feathers twitched under his hands. "Please forgive me."

"He does," came a lilting voice from the doorway.

Draco's head jerked up at the sound, and he sniffed.

Luna Lovegood stood there smiling.

And Potter was right behind her. He pushed gently past Lovegood into the room, his haunted gaze steady on Draco. Draco would have felt humiliated and afraid, would have moved away from the animal and hidden his tear-streaked face, but Buckbeak held him there as Potter neared. And as he neared, Draco saw that his eyes were damp, too.

He reached for Buckbeak first, stroking along his brow, then Potter reached for Draco, a hand going into his hair. He smiled at him. "Look who I ran into in the market," he said, indicating his friend. "Good thing, too. She said we needed to come back straight away."

"I didn't hurt him," Draco stammered.

Potter shook his head to shut him up. "I know."

"You were here when he needed someone," Luna said, coming into the room, too. "I think that ought to do the trick."

"It what?" Draco asked.

Potter rolled his eyes. "Just please don't kill her."

Draco blinked.

Luna spoke again. "He should go outside now," she said. "He needs to fly."

At that, Buckbeak lifted his wing and released Draco out from under it. He and Potter stepped back as the animal wandered over to the door at Luna's suggestion, opened it with his beak, and then ambled down the wide ramp built into the side of the house for him.

"Go on then," Luna shooed them both out behind it.

The sun wasn't as hot as it had been two weeks before, but it was bright as it rose past the oak into the cloudless sky.

"Why am I going to want to kill your friend?" Draco asked Potter once they'd set foot in the garden.

"If you don't yet understand, Draco, I'm tempted not to even tell you. Suffice it to say," he sighed, "you can go home now."

Draco spun to face him. "What? You mean she-- She blow darted me?"

"She claims to have done it for your own good."

"I--!"

"It was unbelievably unethical," Potter agreed.

Draco looked over at where Harry's demented friend was trying to get the hippogriff to frolic. "I don't bloody believe it," he said.

"She means well," Potter grimaced.

Draco snorted. He should have felt enraged. He was trying to get to the rage. But he just…couldn't quite. He had every right to be. He could call in the Aurors right now, for Merlin's sake. But…

He looked back at Potter and he bit his lip. "I can leave?" he asked.

Potter nodded. "But," he said, and he reached for Draco's hand, clasping it in his own. "I'd really like it if, every once in a while, you'd come back."

"Are you asking me to, Harry?" The word just slipped out. It bloody slipped out.

He looked up at Draco and smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm asking you to, Draco."

Luna's voice rang out over the garden then. "Are you ready?"

"Why?" Draco asked warily. "What are you going to do?"

"Oh, nothing," Luna said. "Buckbeak's ready, too, that's all."

"Buckbeak is ready?" Draco asked, walking over.

"Yes," Luna informed. "He's very excited to see the Manor. He thinks he can be very useful there. I dare say it's lifted his mood quite a lot. He's ready to fly when you are."

"Ready to— I'm going to…fly?"

"Oh yes. He only asks that you let him come back and visit Harry. And that you bring Harry to visit him."

"He does."

"Mm hmm."

Draco looked at the beast. He looked back at Luna Lovegood. "How were you not a Slytherin?"

She just smiled airily at him and then skipped away.

Draco turned back to Potter. "What about your breakfast?"

"Oh, I can make that for you another morning after, I think." He winked. "I know you have a life to get back to."

Draco found himself nodding, but his insides were not in full agreement. He looked at Buckbeak. "So you want to live with me?" he asked.

Buckbeak tossed his head in an obvious yes.

Draco snorted. "Why?"

But Buckbeak just blinked mildly. Draco felt he could guess the answer. Because Draco needed him. Although, why the creature cared was still a bit beyond him. Forgiveness was one thing; caring for someone was another.

Draco looked back at Potter and swallowed.

"You should go," Potter said. "Just let him loose on the grounds, and I can come over later in the week and help you get him outfitted." He looked down. "If that's all right."

Draco touched his arm. "That's quite all right," he said, with a bit more feeling than he felt comfortable allowing himself.

Potter smiled.

Draco turned to Buckbeak, and the hippogriff sank down to let Draco mount him. Once he was astride the brute's back, it took off at a run across the garden, and Draco had to hold on for dear life as it rose suddenly and swiftly, the air lifting it under the wide wings and carrying them up and up and bloody Merlin's pants UP!

The great wings beat, and they rose through the morning haze. Draco dared to turn his head to see Potter far below waving at him.

But then they were too high, and they hit a nice air current, and Buckbeak stretched out his wings and soared, and it was glorious.

Just bloody glorious!

Draco broke into a wide, ridiculous smile even as the tears rose to his eyes. He rubbed Buckbeak's neck, and they flew up a little higher, turning away from the sun, toward the Manor.

Draco closed his eyes as the world sped past below, as Potter got farther and farther away and his other home got closer and closer.

It would be something different to share it again. Even with a hippogriff instead of a human. It would be better.

When Draco opened his eyes again, they were already nearing. He could see the mansion rising behind the tall gates in the distance, and as they neared, Buckbeak descended, making Draco have to hold on tight.

When they flew over the gates themselves, Buckbeak pulled up again to coast over the house and then circle the garden.

"Do you like the look of it then?" Draco asked, stroking his feathers.

Buckbeak made a happy squawk and tossed his head.

They landed gently, Buckbeak's hooves making a soft thud into the earth.

Draco dismounted.

He patted the animal's neck and then turned toward the house. His smile faded. Everything was silent and daunting. He turned back to Buckbeak. "It's a bit lonely sometimes," he warned him.

Buckbeak nuzzled into his side.

"I don't know what that means," Draco chuckled.

He sighed and looked back at the house again. That had been his life.

This house had been his childhood and his years at Hogwarts. It had been his mother and his father.

It had been, briefly, Voldemort.

It had been a place he'd had to magically tear down and then rebuild.

And for the last ten years, it had been his safe haven, his quiet place to hide and rebuild himself.

And yet… He couldn't bring himself to walk up the stone steps and through the door.

He looked back at Buckbeak, standing there and stamping the ground happily.

His heart did a little flip.

"Buckbeak," he said. "Do you feel like flying a little more maybe?"

The beast did a little circular dance, tossing its head in an undeniable affirmative.

"Really?" Draco asked. "You wouldn't mind?"

Buckbeak lowered his body down again so that Draco could mount.

Once Draco was on board once more, he stroked Buckbeak's neck. "You know where I want to go, don't you, boy?"

Buckbeak squawked loudly and then took off at an astounding run over the grounds, finally hitting the right air pocket and lifting up hard just before the thick trees at the edge of the property.

"Oh, fuck!" Draco exclaimed, laughing as he held on once again for dear life and the hippogriff soared high into the air. Then he laid himself against the beast's warm neck and whispered, "Let's go home," as the sun rose high into the sky above them and everything else fell away.

END