Ron can tell something is wrong straight away. Harry doesn’t know how he does it. He just walks into the office, hangs his waterproof robes up on the hook, takes one look at Harry, and says, “What happened.”
“Good morning to you, too,” mutters Harry, mostly upset at being found out so easily.
“Good morning,” Ron amends. He sits at his desk and begins to pull from his inbox. “So, what happened?”
“How do you know anything happened?”
Ron taps his nose knowingly, something Harry doubts he realizes he does, or he’d be mortified. “I can tell things. It’s why I’m a good Auror. Plus, you and Ginny didn’t show up for weekend dinner.”
“Oh Great and Wise Auror Weasley,” says Harry, deflecting, “finish your paperwork on the Gibbous-Nightshade case, which was due last week, or you won’t get a word out of me.”
“You sound like Hermione,” says Ron, but the distraction works for now.
It works for another couple of hours too, until Harry starts his nervous habit of chewing on the end of his quill and piques Ron’s interest again.
“What is it?” asks Ron. “You’re driving me batty. Did you and Ginny have an argument?”
“No.” That’s true enough.
Ron frowns down at his paperwork. They’ll not be sent out into the field until he finishes it, but it’s deep this time because Yellowroot, their newest trainee, was injured in the line of duty; he’s all healthy now, but it always takes a while to sort everything out when that happens.
Harry knows he should tell him about the divorce right away. The longer he waits, the harder the news will hit. But he can’t seem to get the words out yet, as if they have tangled up together on the way out of his throat.
“Look,” says Harry, “I’ll tell you about it at lunch.”
“Okay, then. How was your weekend?”
“I said, I’ll tell you about it at lunch.”
“That bad, huh?” Ron looks genuinely concerned now, but as Harry thinks of an answer, something soft fills his mouth. He’s gnawed off the end of his quill.
“Merlin,” says Ron mildly as Harry spits pieces of feather into a handkerchief. “I guess I’ll find out about it at lunch, then.”
Harry gags a little.
At lunch, Harry almost forgets to tell them anything at all, because Hermione bursts into the staff room with the post, beaming.
“Hugo’s just sent his first letter from school!” she gushes, depositing the letter into her husband’s lap. “And Harry, here. Lily’s done her first one too!”
Harry takes a handful of letters from Hermione with a small smile. There’s Lily’s message on top, an official-looking Hogwarts letter beneath, and something from Teddy, it looks like. Beside him, Ron laughs. “Already looking forward to Christmas,” he reports. “And he wants glitter ink.”
Ron and Hermione share a fond look, and Harry feels awash in affection for them. They have both turned out so well, Ron wearing a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles and Hermione as keen and plump as always, her bushy hair pulled back in a professional bun beneath the ridiculous feathered cap she is required to wear at work. It seems silly that Harry ever worried about them, if they can look so happy now.
Instead, he can focus on worrying about breaking the news to them that he’s divorcing Ron’s baby sister. That’s much better.
His stomach gives a lurching flip-flop.
Noticing his hesitation, Hermione frowns. “Is everything all right, Harry?”
Ron says, “A-ha! I said the exact same thing this morning! Something’s wrong, I knew it.”
Harry looks between them and offers a sheepish smile that just makes Hermione’s frown deepen. “What’s for lunch?” he asks.
With one quick flick of her wand, Hermione produces several large bags of takeout, placing one on the table in front of Harry. “It’s the best I could do. We’re swamped upstairs.”
“It’s perfect,” says Harry, grateful that she has allowed him to steer her away from his personal life for now. For a few moments, at least, they don’t bother him again. They eat together in contended silence, Ron occasionally batting at the feathers in Hermione’s cap, Hermione smiling down at the letter from her son. Harry can almost forget about his letter from Lily, just for a little while, and he can stop thinking about the empty house that awaits him when he goes home. That thought fills him with cold dread.
Then Hermione says, “Harry, you know you can talk to us about anything,” and he knows his good luck has ended.
It occurs to him that he hasn’t thought this through. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say. He doesn’t know how to express the feeling that this whole thing had been a long time coming, and that he is concerned about how his family is going to take it, and how he doesn’t want this to come between them all, and he doesn’t want to go home and feel, for the first time since he was ten years old, like he is alone.
Perhaps the best way is to just get it over with. That sounds like a good idea. Something gentle, something tactful, but clear-cut, no room for misinterpretation. He can do that.
“I’m breaking up with Ginny,” he says, and winces. Gentle, tactful, clear-cut.
“Pardon?” says Hermione, tone dangerously polite.
“I can explain,” Harry rushes to add.
“Mate,” says Ron, “you’d better.”
Harry takes a deep breath and starts over. “We talked about it, and we are getting a divorce. It’s all civil, and everything.”
“That didn’t explain very much,” says Hermione.
“I don’t get it,” says Ron. “Did you… is it because of, you know…” He flounders, face going red. “Was there cheating, or something?”
It takes a minute for that to hit home. Harry is horrified. “No!”
“All right. Okay… And you didn’t have an argument?”
“No, I told you. We agreed on this together.” Harry’s hands are starting to sweat. He puts the letters on the table and begins to tug on his hair, an old nervous habit.
Almost tenderly, Hermione takes his hands away and sets them on his lap. “Relax. He just means, and I have to agree with him, that this is all rather sudden.”
“But it’s not!” says Harry. “It’s always been like this. I love her and all – we love each other – but it’s missing something. I think… We did what was right for us. I’m grateful for everything, especially the kids, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But… I don’t think we would have gotten married if it wasn’t for the war.”
“Oh,” says Hermione. He can tell she understands, and relief hits him in a wave.
Ron, as he always does in the face of uncomfortable information, looks a bit green. When he recovers, he says, “Well, if she says it’s all right, then I guess it’s all right.”
Hermione gives him a proud look. It’s not the reaction he would have had ten years ago.
“It’s going to take more than this to get rid of us,” Ron continues. “You know that. We’re brothers, right?”
Harry smiles a bit now. “Yeah.”
“I’m still angry, though.”
Harry laughs. “Yeah.”
Hermione pats his knee as if to adjourn the whole ordeal. “Now, then, you should finish eating. You’ve really been losing weight lately.”
At once, Harry moves to pull his dish closer to him, suddenly realizing just how hungry he feels. About to dig in, he stops himself again. “I meant to say that differently,” he says.
Hermione nods. “I know, you lovely idiot.”
Thankful, he gives them both what he knows must be a soppy look, and they smile warmly back.
As soon as he gets back from work, Harry writes up a letter to his children to inform them what has happened. He doesn’t have the benefit of waiting, knowing that the press will likely be on his doorstep tomorrow, and the last thing he wants is for James, Albus, and Lily to find out through gossip or tabloids that their parents have broken up.
He has no experience with this, but he has decided to do his best. Of course, he can’t tell them everything. About that desperate need for something stable and personal and warm. To feel rooted. To have a purpose. How it had been enough, once. They are growing up in peacetime, sheltered and loved, and won’t understand. When he sends the letter off with the family owl, he feels a little hollow inside. He isn’t sure what to do with himself. Even before Ginny left, he had struggled with this feeling of swimming through molasses. He had hoped it would go away, but it’s staying, following him as he paces around the room.
He stokes the fireplace. He stares out the window. He strokes the fronds of the emotional plant in the sill, which is starting to wilt.
“Just you and me,” he murmurs, trying to convince himself he doesn’t sound ridiculous talking to a plant.
There are still a couple of messages to go through, sitting on the dining room table. Harry’s eyes ache from going over paperwork all day, but, he supposes, he doesn’t have anything better to do anymore. Taking the potted plant with him, he sits down at the table to read.
The letter from Teddy says that he’s already heard the news from Victoire, who heard it from her father, who heard it from Ginny – so no need to bother about him. He gives his support, he says, and reminds Harry that he’s the best father figure he’s ever had, and if it wouldn’t bother him too much to maybe think generously of Teddy when he goes Christmas shopping. By the time Harry finishes his letter, he’s grinning.
That leaves the Hogwarts letter for last. Harry assumes it’s a disciplinary note or some such thing, but when he opens it, he can’t help the baffled scowl that spreads across his face.
He shoots a look at the plant, motionless on the tabletop, and announces to it, “It’s an employment offer. They want me to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
The plant says nothing. Harry imagines that maybe it looks a little shocked.
He thinks on it. He’s alone in the house, and outside the sky is growing dark with thick autumn clouds. It will continue to get darker.
“What the hell,” he says. If one change, why not another? “I’ll take it.”
It will be nice, he thinks, to approach the new year with a fresh start.
It happens quickly after that. A dozen reporters camp in front of Harry’s office come morning. His hiring letter from Hogwarts comes that afternoon, so he quits his job at the Auror department an hour after that. He is set to begin once the holiday break ends. The next few weeks are spent Christmas shopping, reviewing lesson notes, and, when they arrive from school, shuttling the kids about and trying to keep their minds off of the bigger changes in their lives.
They are apprehensive at first, as expected. James paces around the house twice saying, “This is so weird.” The first night home, Albus sneaks into Harry’s bedroom at 3:00 in the morning and sits on top of the sheets where Ginny used to sleep, just to feel the empty space. Lily tells her father, “I’m cross with you,” but after that she is all smiles and hugs. She has always bounced back quickly.
Finding himself with abundant free time for the first time he can remember, Harry takes them everywhere. Diagon Alley for clothes shopping (and then pet shopping: Lily walks away with a new cat, Albus with a toad). Dinner at all of their favorite places. To the movie theater nearby. To the Muggle zoo. To a local game of Quidditch.
The press stalks them wherever they go, of course, but the Potter clan knows very well how to ignore the flashing cameras and waving hands. It’s an unfortunate skill Harry wishes they had never had to learn.
Even so, the two youngest children adjust well. Other than occasional bouts of gloomy silence, and comments about missing their mother around the house, they are much the same as usual.
It’s James who needs convincing. He is sullen – no surprise, for a fifteen-year-old – but he doesn’t seem angry. He is alert and laughs now and again.
“I know it’s a big change,” Harry tries to say once over breakfast, and James mutters, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and that’s that.
On Christmas Eve, just like every Christmas Eve, they prepare to go to the reconstructed Burrow for dinner. Harry’s stomach is in knots.
“Do I get twice the presents this year, dad?” asks Lily as she pulls on her nice shoes.
Albus stands smoothing his jumper over and over, as though worried his grandmother might criticize him for wrinkles. Harry doesn’t know where this fastidiousness comes from, but it is nonetheless endearing. “She overheard Mellie Pendeghast talking about how, since her mum and dad divorced, she’s been getting double of everything,” he tells Harry. “I think she’s lying, but Lily loves the idea.”
“Well, why would she lie about that?” asks Harry, adjusting the butterfly clip that holds his daughter’s hair in place.
“She wants to impress Edie Flint, who’s filthy rich. I’ve never seen her produce two of anything.”
“You’re such a Slytherin,” snipes James, which makes Albus flush.
“Not his fault,” Harry intervenes. “He gets it from me.”
They’ve made this joke before, but now James doesn’t smile. He makes himself busy cleaning his glasses for the third time in as many minutes. Harry feels more than a little lost, unsure how to reach him.
“You didn’t answer my question, dad,” says Lily, folding her arms.
“Albus, have you got your coat?”
“Yes, right here.”
“All right then. Lily, your mittens. Yes, good.” He smooths her hair one more time. “I’ll talk to your mother about the double presents. We’ll see.”
Lily rolls her eyes, knowing a ‘no’ when she hears one, but she also knows when there will be no arguing.
Giving his family one last once-over and finding it good enough, Harry ushers them through the fireplace and into the Burrow. It isn’t until Lily steps out ahead of him that he notices her socks don’t match.
And by then it’s too late. Here comes a swarm of Weasleys, hugging him, kissing his cheeks, ruffling his hair. He can hardly move until he’s hugged everyone at least once, even Percy, who gives him an accommodating pat on the shoulder. On Christmas Eve, especially in more recent years, the rooms are full to bursting. There are children everywhere. James, Albus, and Lily disappear into the mob.
By the time Harry finishes with one relative, someone else comes to say hello. The room circulates this way, a little bit chaotic. There’s even an owl loosed upon the room, perched atop the Christmas tree. It’s crowded and warm, though the Burrow never seems to get stuffy, and the smell of cooking and sweets settles over everything. In the corner, Louis and Hugo, who have both turned out just a little odd, are tying brightly colored ribbons to each other’s fingers. Charlie, by the door to the back garden, keeps introducing his partner by the wrong name on purpose, which will inevitably lead to a row before dinner. At the window, George, with tiny Roxanne hefted on his hip, flashes Angelina a mischievous grin when she demands that he put that exploding mistletoe back where he got it or so-help-her. All the while in the kitchen Molly is singing and sending out snacks. And when Ginny finds Harry in the middle of it all and gives his hand a squeeze, he finally lets himself sink into the nearest armchair, nearly overcome, as he always is this time of year, by the feeling of being at home.
Even divorced, it’s all he could have dreamed of as a boy.
“Rose’s Grandma Granger gave her some very nice new braces, so be sure not to say anything,” says Ginny, perched on the arm of Harry’s chair and sipping something that looks rather good. Harry taps her elbow for a sip, and is surprised to taste something like hot chocolate. “She’s already cried twice tonight, poor thing.”
“Lily’s been asking for double presents this year,” says Harry. “I told her I’d ask you.”
Ginny laughs, a full-bodied sound that loosens something bunched tight in Harry’s ribs. “Not bloody likely, that imp.”
The noise of chatter and clinking glasses and laughter rumbles through Harry, and he closes his eyes to savor it. Tonight is a welcome respite from the worries that have been dogging him. Everyone he loves is right here at arm’s reach, safe.
“Is Teddy here?” asks Harry.
Ginny nods. “I think I saw Teddy earlier. He’s a girl tonight, so you might have missed him. Auburn hair, blends right in. It’s pretty.”
“She’s gorgeous,” Victoire murmurs, passing by with a tray of snacks; she’s been wrangled into helping by Bill, Harry suspects. He gives her a grin that she returns wholeheartedly – a Weasley smile, to be sure. She pushes a cold drink into Harry’s hand before moving on, and for a few minutes they sit in silence, drinking from their respective cups.
With a good deal of bravery, Harry asks, “How are you holding up?”
She sighs. “I’m doing all right, Harry. I could do without Rita Skeeter breathing down my neck, asking about our sex life, but she’ll get bored eventually.” She cocks an eyebrow at him. “And did you know, you’re the wizarding world’s Number One Most Eligible Bachelor again?”
“Fucking hell,” Harry groans. That earns him another laugh.
“I don’t regret a thing,” she tells him, suddenly very serious, and they look at each other for a short moment that feels like forever.
Here comes Lily, Albus right on her heels. “Can we play Quidditch afterwards, mum?” she asks.
“You’ve got grass stains all over your nice shoes!” says Ginny.
“Sorry. But can we?”
“Of course, love. We always do.”
“I told you,” hisses Lily, and Albus shrugs.
“Well, I couldn’t be sure! There’s a baby dragon in the broom shed. I think it belongs to Uncle Charlie.”
As if summoned, Fred Junior appears behind them, twisting his hands together. “Uncle Harry,” he squeaks, “I think I’ve accidentally let a dragon escape into the garden.”
It truly is Christmas Eve.
No one presses Harry very hard for details about the divorce. Anyone paying any attention can see that he and Ginny are getting on just as well as before, and the dragon incident steals away most of the dinner conversation anyway. “How many times have I told you not to bring your work home with you?” says Molly. Charlie, George, and Arthur all say in unison, “Sorry, mum,” which sends laughter round the table for a long time.
After dinner, they play Quidditch until dark, or until their hands are too cold to hold onto their broomsticks. Angelina and Ginny sweep the floor with everyone, as expected, though Little Molly and Louis show good promise.
Harry plays a little, but mostly he keeps track of the smaller children and of Victoire and Teddy, who keep trying to disappear behind the (now dragonless) broom shed together. He chats with the spouses and relatives not in the air, trying his best to assuage their concerns about the sudden turn in his life. Even Molly looks at him with greater concern than usual, making him nervous. By the time the festivities end, he’s nearly dead on his feet. Hermione keeps stroking his hair and saying, with the great intensity of the drunk, “You are my best friend, Harry Potter.”
“I love you too, Hermione,” he says, and even though he’s trying not to laugh, he means it.
Little Roxanne, in a perfect imitation of her father, stretches her arms above her head and declares loudly, “I’m knackered!” After that, the party actually wraps up in earnest.
Even so, everyone spends the next half-hour saying goodbye, hugs and kisses, making promises to write, and gathering leftovers that will last them until February, but it is at last coming to a close.
Just as soon as Harry collects his coat from the pile, Molly pulls him aside. “Come talk to me a moment, sweetheart,” she says in that voice that tells him it isn’t a suggestion. He follows her into the kitchen without a struggle.
She turns to look at him with worried eyes and he can’t help himself asking, “You’re disappointed, aren’t you?”
“Oh, Harry,” she sighs. “Yes, I’m disappointed. But it’s neither here nor there. After Percy and…” Fred, the name hangs, she doesn’t finish, “I know that all I really care about is that you know we would never turn you away. You will always be welcome here.”
A pressure is relieved from Harry’s diaphragm that he hadn’t even realized was there, sending cool relief soaring through him. “Thanks, mum,” he says, and she gives his cheek a hearty pat.
“All that, and I was just going to ask if you wanted my pudding recipe.”
He blinks. “Really?”
“Why, yes! I watched you put away three bowls of it. You don’t eat enough, dear, I can tell.”
Harry frowns down at himself to confirm what he already knows. He’s losing weight again. It’s difficult enough to keep it on when things are going well, but with the press and the packing, he has noticed his clothes growing baggier and baggier. It has always been like that.
“Okay,” he says. “Let me have a look at it.”
She does. When they leave the kitchen together, Ron pins him with a questioning look. Harry shrugs and moves to usher his children into Ginny’s arms, so that they can spend Christmas day with their mother.
“See you when school starts, Uncle Harry,” says Hugo as Ron takes the hat off of his head to exchange it with the one Fleur has taken from Louis across the room.
Harry smiles, but it hits him hard to hear that. He’s going to be a professor. He’s going back to Hogwarts, the place that was his first home. The place where he went to war and died (if only for a little bit).
For the first time in a long time, he doesn’t have a clue what lies ahead. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous. But it only makes him feel more determined to enjoy it.
He spends Christmas alone. It’s just another in a series of uncomfortable changes in his life.
He has, of course, received invitations from Ron and Hermione, Bill’s family, and even Luna to spend the holiday with them, but he can’t help but feel like he’d be imposing upon them.
The whole situation is just this side of miserable. After so many years building up a family for himself, Harry is suddenly without it again, if only for a little while.
There’s not a whole lot to do, without the kids around. He has already packed up what he needs for his stay at Hogwarts, and opened his gifts (four different hefty bags of sweets tell him that the Weasleys know him very, very well indeed), and watered the plant on the window sill twice.
He knows what Hermione would say. There is still a stack of lesson plans to review for his Defense Against the Dark Arts position sprawled across the coffee table. When he had complained to her that he had homework even as a professor, she had given him a fond, if not slightly evil, grin. He needs to get that finished before the school year starts up in the very near future, yet the idea still makes him cringe.
“No time like the present,” he says to the plant.
Heaving a forlorn sigh, he drags himself off the sofa to collect his notes, ink, and quill.
When the day finally comes, Harry packs the plant too. It will die of heartbreak if left alone in the house all year. He also packs the family owl, Cupcake (Lily named it), as well as his broom and his bags of sweets. The last one he will use as a reward system for his students, to get them to like him. It’s all he can think of to make him feel more prepared. His nervousness has turned into lingering terror.
The ride over to the castle is painless, though, and Headmistress McGonagall is the first to greet him, and she chats with him and walks him through the familiar halls, so it feels a lot like coming home.
“I’m afraid your carriage arrived on the late side,” says McGonagall, “so if you don’t mind, we’ll simply go straight to the first-of-the-year staff meeting. There’s quite a commotion about your arrival, Mister Potter.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Harry, only lying a little bit. His palms are so sweaty that he has to keep swiping them against his sleeves.
“Meetings will be held regularly, twice a month, in my office,” she continues, seemingly determined to run him through the basics as fast as possible. “I expect everyone there promptly and to stay for the duration. After we retire tonight, I’m sure that Professor Singh will show you to your rooms, as he is your neighbor.”
They are approaching the Headmistress’s office now, and McGonagall deliberately slows so that she can look him in the eye. She’s still such a formidable woman, taller than Harry by at least a head, and when she peers down at him he feels something quail inside. “One last thing. The Room of Requirement is still indisputably out.”
Her voice is stern, as though Harry would actually try to go back in there without thinking.
Then again, maybe he might have.
“I’ll be careful,” he says with great solemnity. She gives him a look that says she doubts that very much.
“Very well,” she says. “Come along.”
He follows, debating whether or not to push his luck, and then deciding that he didn’t get this far by being shy.
“It’s nice to see you again, Professor.”
They’ve reached the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to her office. She doesn’t answer, instead choosing to utter the password, but he can see her smiling just a bit. It’s victory enough. With a little bow, the gargoyle steps aside.
The room inside, though not particularly spacious, seems to hold everyone on staff comfortably enough. It has changed a great deal since Dumbledore was headmaster – more organized, more grounded. At the sound of the door creaking open, all eyes turn to stare, landing squarely on Harry’s face. He holds his breath, but there’s no need. Flitwick exclaims warmly, “Harry Potter!” and McGonagall wasn’t lying – there is a commotion.
Almost all of the faces are the same as they were when he was a student. Harry is happy to see every single one. Professor Vector and Professor Trelawney both pinch his cheeks. Hagrid slaps his back hard enough to knock the wind from him, and then grapples Harry into a crushing hug which Harry returns with all of his strength. Neville, who has replaced Professor Sprout, gives him a shy little wave, and Harry hugs him, too.
“It’s good to be back,” he says. There is a chorus of agreement. An unfamiliar hand reaches for him, lost in the huddle, and Harry shakes it without question. “Hullo.”
“Oh, hello! Hold on.” A man Harry doesn’t recognize squeezes through and stands before him. He’s somewhat older than Harry, it looks like, and has a brown, earnest face. “Welcome back, Harry Potter. I’m Soter Singh. Muggle Studies.”
Harry gives his hand another firm shake, pleased to make a new friend. “Nice to meet you,” he replies. “Who else is new?”
“I’m sure you’re familiar with Neville, so meet Iris Nguyen.”
An energetic-looking woman with graying hair shakes Harry’s hand next. “Pleasure,” she says.
“And of course,” says Singh, “you’ve met the Potions instructor, Professor Black.”
Frowning a little, Harry looks about. Other than Andromeda, he doesn’t know any Blacks still alive. But the question dies on his lips when he turns around fully and comes face-to-face with Draco Malfoy.
Of course. Neville had mentioned him. Harry had read about it in the paper, a distant memory at least eight years old, but he had never stopped to really consider it. Malfoy has been teaching at Hogwarts. They’ll be working together.
Harry had completely forgotten.
He knows he’s made an undignified noise from the way Malfoy’s eyebrow shoots right up. Harry corrects himself by saying “Uh?” and that’s not much better.
He’s sixteen years old again. His robes are too big. His cheeks feel hot under that cool, unimpressed gaze.
He didn’t sign up for this.
With the last shred of social grace he has left, he thrusts out his hand to shake. After a significant pause that seems to stretch an age, Malfoy reciprocates. He touches Harry’s hand as though it’s covered in something slimy, gives one squeeze, and quickly lets go.
“Potter,” he says by way of greeting. His voice is annoyingly calm.
“Malfoy,” says Harry, but the other man shakes his head.
“Okay,” says Harry weakly.
Behind him, Soter Singh makes an uneasy sort of sound and clears his throat. “Right, well,” he mumbles. “That’s everyone.”
But Harry can’t stop staring. Worse, Malfoy stares right back.
It’s awful. Malfoy is almost unrecognizable, which is a bit of a surprise. Physically, all of the pieces are there: his face is still sharp and full of angles, still as pale as ever. He has stopped slicking his hair back with gel, leaving it feather-soft about his temples, but it has retained its platinum blond sheen. Wrinkles have collected in the corners of his eyes from squinting (and smiling?) over the years, and none of that is so unexpected. The change is in his demeanor.
His eyes are bright, confident, open. His expression, while wry, is not cruel. It’s unafraid. Perhaps, even, a little amused.
Shit, Harry thinks, his stomach flips, and then he really thinks it, shit.
Malfoy has gotten fit.
Malfoy is hot, and this is unfair.
He’s opening his mouth to say something else, something probably humiliating, when Professor Hooch lays a hand on his arm. “How was your holiday, lad?” she asks, and Harry could kiss her.
“Oh, it was a great time,” he says, seizing upon the distraction with both hands. In his peripheral vision, Malfoy steps away. Harry takes a much-needed breath, then another.
It’s a brand new year, and it’s going to be a long one.
Maybe – and here is the most absurd thing to happen all day – Draco supposes they could be friends.
The Potter children are about, all three of them.
Draco, despite himself, has grown used to Albus well enough. Scorpius is attached to the boy at the hip and is never to be found without him. Since Draco does after all love his son, he has had to adjust to that.
But three of them. Three of them running about, disrupting his classes, making noise. The sloping teenager James, the chubby first year Lily, and Albus, awkward and bumbling in those transitory years that Draco wouldn’t wish upon anybody. And when they get together with the unending brood of Weasleys, it becomes a cacophony.
Worse still, there’s Potter himself to contend with, now. That’s the biggest issue at hand.
Four Potters is a lot to deal with over breakfast, and Draco already has a headache. Beside him, Vector and Sinistra are having a spirited discussion about the importance of dwarf planets in the alignment of certain houses of power, and if they don’t shut up soon he might just get it over with and drown himself in his morning porridge.
“Are you all right?” asks Neville beside him. “You’re looking a bit pale.”
“I always look a bit pale,” sneers Draco.
To his great annoyance, that only makes Neville smile. He has quite gotten used to Draco over the years and, by a cruel twist of fate, now seems to find him funny. “Good one.”
“Honestly, though. Do you want me to bring you some of the healing tea I’ve been developing? Works great on influenza and also, strangely, old nail polish.”
“Suit yourself. Figured I’d offer. Hey, have you talked to Harry yet? He’s been asking after you.”
Of course he has, Draco thinks, a fresh bout of hot frustration bubbling in his stomach. He had suspected that the tentative peace that had followed his hiring at Hogwarts would be a thing of the past once that Gryffindor bloodhound was unleashed upon the campus once more, but foolish optimism had convinced Draco that Potter would at least take a few days off before picking up his old hobby of hunting Draco to the ends of the earth. No such luck.
It must show on his face, because Neville looses another grin. He swipes some powdered sugar out of his beard. “You’re in a mood this morning, aren’t you?”
“Yes, well, we can’t all be rays of sunshine all the time like you.”
“Ha! That’s sweet of you to say.” But, bless his soul, Neville leaves him alone after that.
Draco finishes off his breakfast in silence. He has plans to write Blaise about this serendipitous turn in his life as soon as he gets back to his classroom, and then to drink an entire bottle of elixir to banish his headache to the dark side of the moon. The thought of getting this off his mind is a huge relief in itself.
So, of course – of course – Potter stops him as soon as he gets up to leave.
“Where are you going?” he asks tactlessly, and Draco can’t help but feel at least a little bit amused. For all that has changed, Potter’s social ineptitude remains the same as ever. It’s a little bit comforting.
Draco chances a look at the staff table, but no one seems to be paying them any attention. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” he says. Potter’s expression is just short of wounded, and Draco sighs. If he starts a fight, no one will side with Draco, and he’ll be out on the streets again; it’s best to at least make a stab at diplomacy. “I’m going to prep for my first class of the day. I am, in case you have forgotten, an instructor at this school.”
“Oh,” says Potter.
Draco meets his gaze and waits. Then, nothing else comes.
“If that’s all, may I go now?”
“Oh, um,” says Potter. “Yes. I just… I wanted to say it’s been a long time. And it’s… You look well.”
So he’s extending an olive branch, Draco supposes. He can handle that.
“And you, Potter. Thank you.”
With a stiff nod, Potter steps away to let him go. Draco does his best to get his robes to swirl dramatically as he strides out, still feeling that familiar gaze tracking him all the way out of sight. Although used to odd behavior by now – living amongst children will build immunity to that sort of thing, given time – he doesn’t know what to make of this. This fumbling.
Though, it is nice to know that they won’t be rekindling ancient rivalries while they work together. Draco has put too much time and effort, sweat and tears into this position over the years, and he’ll be damned if he’ll let Harry Bloody Potter waltz into his life and take that away. This is the first time in his life that he has felt happy. More than that, it’s the first time that he has felt safe. He had expected it wouldn’t last, had expected that Potter would happily scrawl over the blank canvas of his life, and he is ready to fight back to preserve it.
The only thing he hadn’t counted on was such an upfront offer of a truce, the deep beseeching look in Potter’s eyes. There is no plan Draco can devise for that.
It’s all more than a little strange.
Scorpius pays him a visit in the evening, which is always a pleasant surprise. Draco is far from the first professor to have his own child attending Hogwarts, but he struggles not to show apparent favoritism towards his son when he can help it. For his own part, Scorpius mostly stays out of Draco’s hair. He’s too posh to be seen hanging around his father’s office. It serves them both well enough.
“I fell down in Quidditch practice today,” says Scorpius, sitting atop one of the desks as Draco takes inventory of what he’ll need for tomorrow’s lesson.
“Whatever for? I thought I taught you how to hold onto your broom, at the very least.”
“I tried to catch the quaffle but it was too far starboard. I’m still figuring out how to fly with my hands full.” He wrinkles his nose. “Briar laughed at me in front of everyone.”
“Serves you right, falling down in front of everyone,” says Draco. As soon as the thoughtless words are out his mouth, he regrets them. Scorpius picks at the tiny bits of lint clinging to his winter sweater. This isn’t the way to talk to his child, regardless if he means it. It’s the sort of thing Lucius would say. “I’m not being serious.”
“I know, dad.”
“Did you… Were you all right? Did you hurt yourself?”
“I scraped my knees, a little. It’s okay.”
“Did you get it fixed?”
“It’s not a biggie, dad.”
But Draco is already rolling up his sleeves. “Let me have a look, then.”
Scorpius turns up the palms of his hands first, which are scratched and red, but clean. Mouth pinched in sympathy, Draco retrieves his personal healing salve from the drawer and hands it to Scorpius so that he can apply it himself. It doesn’t heal immediately, but it will do.
Then, Scorpius goes for his right elbow, and then both knees, and then, finally, his chin. When at last he finishes, he gives Draco a guilty look. Draco tuts disapprovingly.
“Getting yourself all beaten up like that,” he says. He searches for the words to say what he means, kindly. “Please be more careful, won’t you?”
“It’s a sport. I’m going to get knocked around a little. Albus got it worse than me.”
Rolling his eyes because he knows it makes Scorpius smile, Draco says, “Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t start living up to that boy’s example.”
With a touch of laughter in his voice (thank goodness), Scorpius shrugs and says, “I’ll try.”
“Good enough, I suppose.”
And that’s that. Draco putters around the classroom, organizing and gathering supplies, finding one student’s discarded house scarf and hanging it by the door. Scorpius carries on about this and that. Apparently there is a blooming romance between the portrait of the crying duchess and the painting of the bejeweled mermaid on the second floor. And Terry Boot’s girl, Priscilla, is keeping a pygmy puff in her dormitory against school rules (Draco promises not to tell anyone for now).
“Professor Abbott says I’m really good with stinging nettles,” Scorpius continues. “He said you’d be cross now that Professor Potter is teaching here. Why’s that?”
“How about you tell Neville to keep his nose where it belongs,” replies Draco.
“I don’t think I could afford the house points.”
Draco smiles at that. They talk a bit more, but it isn’t long until the students are all meant to be in bed. Draco wonders when the time will come that these discussions will go by the wayside, as they always do. He hopes it isn’t anytime soon – not yet. It is with a decent amount of reluctance that he ushers his son out of his classroom.
One foot out the door, Scorpius turns to look at him, worry furrowing his brow. “You will try to be civil with him, won’t you, dad?”
All at once, Draco understands. “Me? I hope you’re asking him, too!”
“We are,” says Scorpius gravely. “But Albus thinks you’re the smartest of the two of you.”
Despite himself, Draco snorts. “I’ll do my best not to kill Potter, if that’s what you want.”
Scorpius, with perfect Malfoy airs, heaves a long-suffering sigh. “If that’s the best we can hope for,” he says, dramatic enough to give his grandmother a run for her money.
“Get to bed,” says Draco.
Grinning, the boy pelts down the corridor and out of sight.
The next few weeks are rough for everyone. All of the students promptly catch each other’s winter colds upon returning to the castle, and in the enclosed space the illness spreads like wildfire. Most of the staff is sick as well. What’s more, Neville’s four-year-old daughter at home is having some trouble or other, leaving the professor looking half-dead most of the time. And Potter, who likes to throw himself wholeheartedly into other people’s problems, looks just as bad, if not worse. He’s just skin stretched over bone.
Draco starts his older students on Pepperup potions as soon as he can, in the hopes of providing them some relief. Then, he supposes, he’ll start on sobering potions: Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, Merlin help him.
He looks forward to seeing Blaise come Sunday. They often meet for lunch in Hogsmeade when their schedules allow to hash about their families and complain about wizard fashion. Blaise is the only person Draco knows who understands why brown is an unacceptable color to be worn at any time for any reason, and that connection is something far too precious to let fall to the wayside.
There used to be a time when Draco never wanted to set foot in Hogsmeade again, for good reason. He still avoids the Three Broomsticks when he can. However, the war was long ago, all of the physical damage repaired, and he knows he’s a different person now. That’s all that matters.
Blaise usually brings a sack lunch, and this time is no different. The two of them stroll and eat, since Blaise often complains that his job at the Ministry requires a lot of sitting, and the motion keeps away the biting chill of mid-winter.
“How’s the boy?” asks Blaise. It’s always his first question.
“Getting himself into trouble, as usual.” Draco fishes for some dessert in the bottom of the bag, and is delighted to find a cauldron cake nestled behind some chips. Sending Blaise a grateful look, he digs right in. Dessert comes first for Draco, without exception. “That Potter urchin is an awful influence.”
“Then why do you encourage it?” wheedles Blaise.
“You know why.”
Draco knows how it is to have his friendships dictated by people more powerful than him. He won’t do that to his child. And, though he won’t admit it, it sooths something in him to see a Potter and a Malfoy at peace with each other, as it should have been.
Blaise nods. He doesn’t say anything, but Draco can tell he feels embarrassed for asking. Then, he says, “So what about the big Potter, then? I hear he’s working with you now.”
“Oh, you hear that, do you? The news that has been in the papers since Christmas? I imagine it might have come to your attention.”
“No need to get testy, darling.”
“I would thank you not to call me that.”
“Yes,” says Blaise, “you certainly would.”
Grumbling, Draco polishes off his cauldron cake to give himself time to think of what to say. It’s difficult to explain, but it seems to him that if he wants the chance to change as a person, he should give Potter the same courtesy. Besides, he has gotten used to this new life, one where he is safe and his days are calm and predictable. Fighting with Potter simply won’t do.
“Potter’s just as much of a gibbering goody-two-shoes as he was when you knew him. Still, I’m giving him a chance. He’s been… surprisingly well-mannered towards me. Anyway, I think that if he can produce a son that Scorpius gets along with, he can’t be too monstrous.”
“My stars,” says Blaise. “That’s quite the sparkling commendation, coming from you!”
“Yes, well,” says Draco, uncomfortable.
“Shall I check you for amortentia?”
“Blaise, stifle your melodrama.”
“Well,” teases Blaise, polishing off his sandwich and licking his fingertips, “you know, he is newly single, and it has been – what, six years since you were shagged last…”
“That’s enough out of you.” Scowling, Draco busies himself with adjusting his robes and scarf to perfect alignment. “Talk to me about Blue.”
If there’s a surefire way to distract Blaise Zabini, it’s to ask about his daughter. For the next hour, they circle about the streets of Hogsmeade, nibbling on cold chips as Blaise carries on about Blue’s latest interest in finger-painting (“she’s an infant genius, Draco, a prodigy, I’m telling you!”) and her harrowing foray into trying new foods (“she has such a discerning pallet, as well the offspring of a pureblood should”). Draco is happy to listen, and it’s good to stretch his legs.
Before they part ways, Blaise tells him about how Greg is doing (“drunk ”), and Millicent (“gay”), and Theo Nott too (“gay and drunk”). How much of it is true is up to interpretation, but Draco appreciates it nevertheless. Socializing can be difficult from school grounds. Perhaps, he thinks, he’ll try to make more time for them. Wizards tend to live far too long to go it alone, after all.
“And do keep me updated on the Potter situation,” says Blaise finally. “And try not to rip his head off.”
“Why is everyone telling me that?” sniffs Draco. “Why is no one concerned about my safety?”
Blaise gives him an incredulous frown, and Draco has to admit he’s right. “You don’t have to become best friends or anything,” he says.
“Not to fret. No one could replace you, Zabini.”
“All right, all right. That’s enough.”
Blaise hugs him roughly, and then disapparates with a faint pop. For a moment, Draco stands alone in the snowy street, dusting sugar and salt from his fingers, and listens to the sound of his own breathing in the wind. He understands where his friends and family are coming from – no one wants another fight between Draco and Potter, not after everything that’s happened. Best to let sleeping dogs lie. But don’t they understand that he feels the same way?
Anyway, how is he supposed to act? As if he doesn’t know the man at all?
Now that’s an interesting thought.
He has his chance sooner than he thought he would. Potter corners him after breakfast the next week, as Draco is en route to the washroom. He grabs hold of Draco’s sleeve and tugs like a child.
Turning to greet him, Draco is completely prepared to reintroduce himself and begin from scratch with Harry Potter – but then his eyes catch up to his mouth.
Potter is a mess. There’s dirt streaked across his face and every bare patch of skin that Draco can see is covered in tiny red claw marks. His trousers from the knees down are covered in mud and various pieces of foliage. His hair, while normally wild, is really outdoing itself today and standing nearly on end. Worst of all, Potter smells overwhelmingly of mushrooms. It’s as if he crawled out of a lagoon like some sort of swamp creature.
“Mercy, Potter, you look a fright,” says Draco before he can stop himself. He wrinkles his nose in disgust. Too late now to undo the damage, he adds, “And you smell a fright, too.”
Shockingly, Potter manages to look chagrined. “I was helping Hagrid trap pixies for his Care of Magical Creatures lesson today. They’re attracted to mushrooms,” he explains.
Draco just stares, hoping that Potter hasn’t gotten mud on his nice work robes.
“Um,” says Potter now. “Glad I caught you.”
Draco blinks. “That you have. So you can let go of me, now, if you please.”
For a second, it looks like Potter didn’t hear him, but then he releases Draco’s sleeve, mumbling “Sorry.” As casually as he can, Draco puts a reasonable distance between them. He plants his hands on his hips to ground himself, still feeling a mite startled, and decides it would be best to try and start the conversation over. “Is something the matter, then?” he asks.
“Uh,” says Potter. “Well, er… no.”
The silence hangs. Draco begins to worry that someone spiked his orange juice this morning.
“Quidditch!” shouts Potter, and Draco starts.
“It is indeed a sport.”
“I was going to ask if you were up for a game after classes. Nothing flashy, just a friendly game.”
It’s no use to pretend like this isn’t the same Potter. He’s simply too ridiculous to imagine as anyone else. Exasperation flares in Draco’s stomach, and then something else he doesn’t care to look at too closely – something like nostalgia. It may be a stretch to start over, but he might be able to turn over a new leaf, at the very least. It is worth any gamble to keep the life he has worked so hard for.
So instead of turning the absurd offer down, Draco hears his mouth saying, “Will you be put out if I beat you?”
Potter gapes. Draco lets him.
A few students leave the Great Hall, laughing and joking, bringing with them the smell of bacon. Draco presses, “Don’t tell me you’re still a sore loser.”
“I’m not,” says Potter at last, “because I’m not going to lose. Are we on?”
Although Potter extended the offer, Draco hadn’t really thought he was serious. Now that the plan seems to be solid, he isn’t sure how to react. Bright-eyed determination is written all over Potter’s face. His eyes are fixed steady on Draco’s, as though he is a particularly challenging beast to be wrangled down.
Draco feels the hairs on his neck stand on end. It’s been a long time since he’s felt so hunted, and he turns to go before he can say something foolish. “Fine.”
Potter’s mouth twitches. “After classes, by the pitch.”
Draco waves a dismissive hand over his shoulder and escapes as quickly as he can, feeling Potter watching him all the way.
Class that afternoon is chatty but pleasant, and nobody sets anything on fire – always a plus, in Draco’s book. It’s fourth-year Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, a pleasant mix despite the sometimes good-natured and sometimes less good-natured zingers flying back and forth.
One Hufflepuff boy sneezes directly into his potion and screams when it changes from the correct shade of aquamarine to a much more menacing orange. Another sobs when he loses an heirloom ring in the bottom of his cauldron. It happens every year. One Slytherin, clearly smitten, offers to replace it with an even more expensive one, but that only seems to make things worse. Draco has to stay behind an extra twenty minutes to console the distraught student, and by the time he has cleaned up the classroom and changed into more casual clothing, he is running late for his game with Potter.
He considers simply not showing up. He’s certain that there will be no hard feelings if he chickens out and stays hidden in his room for the rest of the night. Potter might not have even been serious, asking Draco to play like that. Maybe this is the Boy Wonder’s idea of a practical joke.
If he were younger and greener, Draco supposes that he would stay home. But now curiosity nibbles away at him, pushes him out the door and down to the pitch. It’s been a very long time.
Draco wonders if Potter plays half as well as he used to.
To his surprise, Potter is still waiting for him as he walks up, sitting sprawled in the grass and tending to the bristles on his broomstick. It’s a battered thing, nothing like the slick new brooms he once flew in his school days, the handle rubbed shiny where Potter grasps it. Draco’s own broom isn’t really in better shape; he hasn’t had much use for flying, lately.
Potter stares at him approaching. “Hullo,” he says simply.
A smirk breaks over Draco’s face, startling them both. “Good to see you didn’t get cold feet, Potter.”
“You’re the one who’s late.”
“I stand by my words.”
There, the cow-eyed expression on Potter’s face is gone, replaced by staunch competitiveness. That’s a relief. Draco knows how to work with that. With no effort at all, Potter’s on his feet – of course, Draco realizes, the man was an Auror for more than fifteen years, he’s in shape, not like Draco who has gone soft from dithering about the castle day in and day out – and he’s reaching into his pocket to produce a sleeping golden snitch. He gives it a stroke to wake it. “First to catch it wins,” he says. “Sound fair?”
Draco considers accusing him of enchanting the thing, but all at once he finds he wants to make a good impression. He says, “Perfect.”
Potter lets the snitch go.
“And don’t go easy on me, either,” Draco adds. “I’ll trounce you well enough as it is.”
Potter laughs a soft little laugh that rumbles straight through Draco. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
And just like that, they’re off.
Inside of five minutes, Draco is freezing and Potter is flying obnoxious loop-de-loops. He’s over here, he’s over there, doing backflips and tumbling. Draco suspects that he’s just quit looking for the snitch and decided to have fun showing off instead.
This little competition shouldn’t take very long, in theory. There are no bludgers to avoid, and there are no other players or balls on the field to disrupt the seekers’ line of sight. Perhaps it would go quicker, but more and more Draco is finding difficult to pay attention. Potter’s acrobatics are too distracting.
“You don’t seem to be searching very hard,” he remarks when one of Potter’s ridiculous barrel-rolls bring him alongside Draco’s broom.
“It’s all part of the strategy,” replies Potter, grinning, and Draco has to admit that the man can be decently charming when he puts his mind to it. Something about him is different here, up in the air. He is wind-swept, bright-eyed, vital.
“Strategy, is it? And here I would have called it showing off.”
“A-ha! I knew that you were going to call me a show-off. It was only a matter of time.”
Draco does his best to look irritable. “You’re cluttering my airspace, cretin.”
Rolling his eyes, Potter banks away and drops out of sight. For a moment, Draco can breathe easy again.
It feels almost simple, somehow. It’s not what he expected. The familiarity and insults are all still there, but the raw anger is gone. It’s almost as though they have always been friendly – always on good terms.
Draco shakes his head. Friendly with Harry Potter. Not in this lifetime.
It’s another ten minutes until Draco catches first sight of the snitch, lounging around near the grass as if too tired to fly. He isn’t sure where Potter is – trifling about the goal posts, last time he checked – but he doesn’t waste time searching for him. He lays low and jets across the lawn, close enough for the soggy grass to dampen his boots, eyes fixed on his tiny golden goal. The snitch dashes up and away, but he’s after it, he’s spiraling up higher and higher, and the pull of inertia sends his nerves afire, he can barely breathe, the icy air pelting his face. And then, heinously, the sun appears from behind a cloud. It’s too bright. The snitch is lost.
“Damn!” Panting, Draco dives back towards the stands. He’s shivering all over. It’s possible that he just doesn’t have it in him to do that again. All of the muscles banded around his middle are aching faintly with the effort of staying on his broom, and his thighs, and the palms of his hands are raw from gripping his broom handle tight.
Just as soon as resumes his lazy laps around the pitch, Potter takes off like a shot, and Draco knows he does indeed have another round in him. They race each other to the opposite end of the pitch, and at first Draco is just blindly following Potter’s lead, but then he sees it glinting by the leftmost goalpost; he begins to corkscrew around his broom to build speed.
“Show-off!” shouts Potter. They’re side-by-side, then Draco is ahead, but he’s dizzy, and the snitch dashes up into the hoops. He doesn’t have the control, the aim. Potter dives through, quaffle-like, really, and claps the snitch in both hands. His broom catches him on the other side. It’s over.
Draco pulls up short before he can crash into a goalpost and hurt himself. He’s breathing hard, can feel his blood rushing beneath his skin, tingling and alive. Even as he reaches the lawn and dismounts onto his wobbly legs, he can’t feel entirely disappointed by his loss. He can’t remember the last time he felt like this.
Here comes Potter, both hands still clasped in front of him and held out as if for Draco’s approval. A smug smile creeps over his features. “Good game,” he says.
“Oh, shut up,” grouses Draco, but he sort of wants to laugh. “I almost had it that time.”
“Almost,” Potter agrees.
Still winded, Draco takes a minute to adjust his robes and cast a drying charm on his snow-soaked boots. Next to him, Potter pockets the snitch again and stretches, which creates all sorts of unsettling popping noises. There will be a lot to write Blaise and Mother about, Draco thinks. They’ll find this all hilarious.
Even if it’s just Potter, though, they’ll be glad that Draco is socializing again. Ever since Astoria, he hasn’t really moved focus beyond his son. Perhaps it’s time.
“Same time next week?” he asks.
Potter beams. “Absolutely.”
That enthusiasm takes Draco by surprise. No hesitation. Potter wants to play Quidditch with him, Potter wants to spend time with him.
Draco had good reason to dislike him, once. His pig-headedness, brashness, and fame alone were enough to make him jealous, but then there were the politics, and the fact that he was admittedly good-looking. He still is, in a mature sort of way. But the unassuming way he looks up at Draco, the way he has shut the doors on his fame and his past and sealed them with cement, makes him suddenly less threatening. He is still Potter, but this Potter isn’t asking for a fight.
“Wait,” says Draco suddenly. “Be honest with me. Why did you ask me out here in the first place?”
The corner of Potter’s mouth twitches up, but he suppresses it. “Neville told me I should give it a shot.”
Neville. Draco huffs.
“But… I think I’m very glad I took his advice,” Potter finishes. He smiles at the ground, sheepish.
Maybe – and here is the most absurd thing to happen all day – Draco supposes they could be friends.
Tonight, Draco dreams.
At first, it’s all the usual things: He dreams about fire. It is everywhere, on and under his skin, until it seems like everything. He’ll reach out a hand, and feel a hand grasp back, tight; he’ll think, Potter has come to rescue me. But when he pulls, the hand comes to him without resistance, and it’s Vincent Crabbe, face blackened and charred, saying, “I didn’t mean it, Draco, I didn’t know, until the screaming of the Fiendfyre swallows his voice.
Sometimes, he dreams of Scorpius, standing in the hall at the Manor, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His hands are covered in grime and blood. He says, “It’s your fault.” He’s only a little boy, Draco thinks. But no matter how much he apologizes, his son only answers, “It’s your fault.” Sometimes, his son is him.
He knows these dreams. He’ll wake, gasping, and then go back to sleep. They are always the same, familiar old friends. There are ways to fix this, he knows, but in a way they feel like penance.
Tonight, he dreams something different. A sweet, simple dream. There are hands on his skin, hips and belly, and lips against his ear. Everything is warm and safely dark. A voice he knows very well whispers to him, “I’ll watch over you,” and Draco knows it will be all right. He tilts his head to be kissed, and gets what he wants, and suddenly he falls down.
Draco wakes up in a cold sweat, starfished in the bed and staring at the ceiling. It’s a moment before he can catch his breath. All of the muscles in his legs and torso are aching – from flying, he realizes, and he feels ashamed for being so out of shape. Worse, his nose is stuffed and his throat rasps as he breathes; he has caught cold from his students, heaven help him.
He rolls over in the bed, gripping handfuls of sweat-damp sheets.
This is all Potter’s fault.
At breakfast, Draco finds that Neville, too, is nursing a runny nose.
“Hey Draco,” he snuffles, “do you have any Pepperup I could borrow from you?”
All of the nightmares from the night before have left Draco groggy and, admittedly, a little cranky. On the other end of the staff table, Potter and Singh are laughing together. Unlike his opponent, Potter seems no worse for wear after their impromptu Quidditch match.
Pulling up a seat beside Neville, Draco says mildly, “Bugger off, Abbott.”
Neville goes grumbling back to his toast, and that’s that.
Valentine’s Day comes in a flurry of pink and glitter, and Ron and Hermione enter into their annual Big Fight about it. From what Harry can gather from his various relatives, Hermione has stormed out the house (again) and is camping on Harry’s couch (again) while he’s away at Hogwarts. He would have been grateful for her asking before she just moved into his empty home, but a part of him is glad that the place isn’t simply going to waste, and he would have said yes anyway. Hermione is family.
Everyone knows it will blow over once Ron has groveled sufficiently. It’s how it always is, and always has been, with the Weasley-Grangers. George wisecracks about it in a letter, saying he offered Hermione a discount on revenge pranks, but she didn’t take the bait this time.
The children still don’t handle it well, though. Rose comes to Harry’s office in tears, wailing, “They’re going to really break up this time, just like you and Aunt Ginny!”
He’s going to be hearing about that one from Hermione once this settles down, Harry thinks miserably as he receives his weeping niece and pats her shoulder. He throws a helpless look at the stack of essays he still has left to mark up before his next class, and then resolves that they can sit another day if need be; they aren’t getting done on time.
“Well,” he says into Rose’s bushy hair, “it’s not exactly the same. Your Aunt Ginny and I almost never fought like that.”
This doesn’t help. Rose sobs. Much like Ron was at her age, she’s stick-thin, and Harry is afraid that if he hugs her, she’ll break into pieces.
“You know that your mum and dad love each other very much. They haven’t gone through everything they’ve gone through just to come apart. Rose, they do this all the time.” He gives her another pat. “Come on, now, cheer up.”
“I hate it when they do this,” she sniffs.
“I know. I do, too.”
There’s a knock on the door, and Hugo comes in, holding his cousin Louis by the hand. Hugo’s face is ruddy too, but if he has been crying, it’s long passed. Louis says, “Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron had a huge row,” with a sympathetic look at Hugo.
“I heard about that,” says Harry, as if his arms aren’t full of a very teary Rose.
Hugo, though, doesn’t seem any worse for wear. “I found a secret room just full of butterflies,” he says. “Dead ones, I mean.”
“Really?” says Harry.
Louis adds, “And a really, really angry candelabra.”
This piques Rose’s interest, and the crying stops at once; she is her mother’s daughter, after all. “I never heard about that room. Can I come with and see it?”
“It doesn’t sound so safe,” says Harry reluctantly, as if he has any room to talk after the things he got up to in his youth.
“We’ll be safe, Uncle Harry,” says Rose. “Honestly, you’re such a worry wart.”
With that, the three of them sweep out the door and out of sight. “I’m not a worry wart,” mutters Harry.
When the post comes over breakfast, all hell breaks loose. Harry had forgotten, in all of the recent bustle in his day-to-day, that he is single again and also famous. The first few valentines earn a solid snicker from him, but then there are a dozen, some with gifts of flowers and chocolates. Some are howlers from jealous partners. Then there are two-dozen of them. Some are apparently quite expensive. Some start singing steamy love songs at top volume in the crowded Great Hall. Some begin to spit glitter. One is leaking some sort of violet-colored fluid all over the table, and finally Malfoy, several seats down, slams his palms on the table and shouts, “For heaven’s sake, Potter, get them out of here! Or are you enjoying all of the attention?”
Harry’s face turns hot. He’s too embarrassed to look up, trying to gather the massive pile of presents and letters without getting anything poisonous on his skin. Neville gets up and comes over.
“Let me help you,” he mumbles, blushing scarlet, because one of the letters is singing something very risqué indeed.
“No!” Harry shakes his head. “Please, I’ve got it. Let me go hide in shame for a bit.”
Nodding in sympathy, Neville lets him go. “It’s because of that article they published about you. The one saying you’re on the market.”
“Who wants to date a divorcee who gave up all his money and has three kids?” Harry wonders out loud. He settles on casting a shield charm around the whole mess and levitating it out.
“Apparently everyone on the fucking planet,” grumbles Draco.
In a shroud of humiliation, Harry lets himself out of the Great Hall. He spots various Weasleys laughing at him outright. Something in the pile of letters explodes with a thunderous bang and a cloud of heart-shaped confetti.
Harry reminds himself to set limits on who can send him letters while he is on school grounds. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
It takes almost a half an hour to go through the hodge-podge of gifts. Harry counts six attempts to poison him with love potion, two attempts to poison him with nightshade, four marriage proposals, three bags of mysterious pollen that he avoids breathing in, twelve assorted chocolates (nine of which are laced with yet more potions), and one particularly nasty long-lasting erection curse that he manages to disarm at the last moment. All of these things he seals and burns.
He does keep the singing telegram, though. It plays a nice piece of pop music about sweet memories and patronuses.
By the time all’s said and done, breakfast is over with and classes have started. Harry has a prep period before his classes start for the day, but there’s not much to prepare for; it’s deflection charms today.
He is busy at the happy task of tearing up strips of parchment and crumpling them up when Malfoy appears in his doorway. As usual, Harry’s breath catches, just a little – but he’s getting used to it now. So Malfoy is attractive, so what?
“Still alive, Potter?” he asks. He sounds disappointed.
“Only just,” answers Harry. “Lots of jealous boyfriends sending me all sorts of unpleasant business for stealing away their girlfriends’ hearts.”
Harry smiles. Talking with Malfoy is stunningly easy when he’s not stumbling over his own tongue, which he never could have anticipated. He supposes that it makes sense, given how much they knew of each other’s mannerisms in school – he just hadn’t expected their shared sense of humor, just a little bit wry, barbed.
“You know, you’re looking thin nowadays,” remarks Malfoy.
“I just incinerated several boxes of chocolates saying the same thing. I’m working on it.”
“Anything from that ginger wife of yours?” Malfoy inquires, almost innocently.
“I… no,” says Harry. “I don’t think that’s really something divorced people do.”
Malfoy makes a noncommittal noise and leans against the doorframe. His expression is dark and drawn. From what Harry has heard from Neville, Valentine’s Day always makes him incredibly grumpy – something about frills and garish colors and propriety. Harry thinks that’s rather endearing.
“What about you? From Scorpius’s mum, I mean,” says Harry, hardly daring to hope. He hasn’t heard much about her, but he knows enough to put together that she’s out of the picture.
“Oh, well,” says Malfoy, not quite looking at him, “Astoria left out the country and never came back.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Well,” says Malfoy again. He swallows hard.
“A few years ago, just after we sent Scorpius off to school. Took off with some socialite from Norway.”
“I shouldn’t have mentioned it.” Harry can feel a blush crawling up his face. He’s really mucked it all up now. “I’m sorry. Do you… want to talk about it?”
Malfoy sends him a glower so vicious that it sends a spike of fear down Harry’s spine. “I think not.”
Harry flinches and frowns down at his desk. He lets the silence hang, taking a moment to arrange his wads of parchment by size on his desk so that he doesn’t have to meet that Malfoy’s gaze. Neither of them speak, until Harry manages to say, “Was there something you needed, Malfoy?”
“It’s Black,” snaps Malfoy.
Harry does not like that tone, but swallows down his retort. Then, he swallows down his questions. “Black, then.”
“Bah,” says Malfoy, and with a great flurry of charcoal robes, he stalks away.
In his absence, Harry is cold all over. He feels as though the floor beneath him has suddenly and disturbingly turned to jelly. Of course, Malfoy has every right to be touchy – but all Harry wants is to call him back and apologize, to undo whatever he had said.
But then Malfoy is back in the door, looking absolutely livid, and Harry thinks, this is it, Malfoy is going to kill him.
“Yes,” says Malfoy, “I did need something.”
“Oh,” says Harry.
“There’s a Hogsmeade trip coming up before Easter. Chaperones were set up before you came here, but I’m informing you that I’m going. Do you want to come with?”
Whatever Harry was expecting, it isn’t this. It takes him a long time to pick his jaw up off the floor, and all the while Malfoy watches him like a hawk, his features arranged into a peevish but inaccessible mask.
“With you?” blurts Harry.
If possible, Malfoy looks even more furious. “Don’t get too excited. Are you coming or not?”
“You’re asking me?”
“One would hope, unless I have the wrong Potter. I could use the company – I’m assigned with Nguyen, and you know what a bore she is.”
Confusion and shock give way to amusement, and Harry grins. “You just admitted that I’m good company.”
“Merlin preserve me, you are insufferable.”
“All right,” says Harry, trying hard not to let on how much the idea of strolling around Hogsmeade with Malfoy makes his heart thrill. “I’ll go with you.”
Malfoy blinks in surprise. It occurs to Harry that maybe he didn’t think he’d actually get a yes. “Good. Excellent. Well… I’ll see you then.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Malfoy doesn’t smile, per se – Harry isn’t sure that the man knows how to smile – but the corners of his eyes crinkle in a rather attractive way. He lingers in the door a moment, nodding to himself, and then leaves, his stride much slower and calmer now. Harry watches him go, bemused. He doesn’t bother to quash the little joyful puddle of warmth that has settled behind his ribs.
That conversation ended much better than it had started.
A flood of students arrives shortly after that, and Harry enjoys spending the next two hours pelting them with crumpled parchment.
That night, there’s no avoiding it. Harry lies awake in bed and wonders.
He has never thought about men before. First there had been Cho, and then Ginny, and only Ginny. To Harry, she was perfect. There had never been any trouble with that aspect of their relationship, no lack of interest on his part, and women have always done just fine for him. There has never been any reason to look beyond that – not until now.
Draco Malfoy is obviously not a woman. And yet.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Harry tries to picture what it might be like to kiss a man. He pictures the flat chest pressed against him, the feel of close-cut hair in his fingers, the scratch of stubble along his jaw. It makes him ache in the pit of his stomach. It’s confusing.
He wants to ask Ron about this, but Ron won’t know. And all of this because of Malfoy, which makes it even worse and more frustrating, and after only a few months of being divorced Harry is developing a crush on his male colleague, his enemy in the war that structured his entire adolescent life, and it’s very complicated.
Harry rolls over in the bed.
He can’t be infatuated with Malfoy now, not when Malfoy is just now beginning to like him and see him as a friend, not when Harry has worked so hard to undo the damage between them. There’s still so much left unsaid, so much time to make up for, before he can even consider something like this. What’s more, Malfoy has just lost his wife and mother of his child, and anyone can see that he’s still raw about it.
But that doesn’t stop Harry’s mouth going dry every time Malfoy looks at him.
And what the press would say when it got hold of this! It would destroy Ginny. It would destroy his family.
Harry stares at his bedroom wall, feeling sick and alive within his skin, and knows that he can’t press this. Now isn’t the time. The realization kicks him hard in the gut.
He is resolved, but sleep doesn’t come, and he lies awake till morning.
“You look glum,” says Neville. “More than usual, I mean.”
Harry sighs, dragging his feet as they make their way to Hagrid’s hut. The sun is out, but the air is still prickly with winter chill; Harry can see his own breath. “Yeah, I reckon.”
“Because of Ron and Hermione? You said yourself that it’s usually over as soon as it begins. I’m sure Hermione will be out of your place in no time.”
“Thanks, Neville,” says Harry, not feeling like correcting him just yet. It’s nice enough to have an old friend to talk to on Hogwarts grounds who understands – Hagrid is well-meaning, but matters of the heart are more than a tad out of his depth.
Neville, on the other hand, is often too astute for his own good. “It’s something else, isn’t it?” he presses, spot-on.
For a second, Harry wonders if Neville might be able to help him make sense of his new feelings towards Malfoy, but he nips that idea in the bud. The last thing he needs is to cause tension amongst his colleagues, being so new himself. Instead, he says, “I’m still working it out for myself.”
“Okay.” Neville gives him a much-appreciated and encouraging smile.
Relieved, Harry looks down at his feet, the way he cuts a darkened path through the morning dew in the grass. He allows himself to think about other things, like how much this feels like his school days, how good the air feels in his lungs, and what to get for Lily’s upcoming birthday, and Teddy’s recent decision to go into the medical field. Teddy, who still sometimes calls him “Da” without thinking.
“So,” says Neville, “I’ve been wondering what happens when a werewolf bites a mandrake.”
Harry chokes, laughter taking him by surprise.
Arriving first at the gate, Neville holds it open for him. “I’m considering a controlled experiment. What do you think?”
Together, they climb the steps to Hagrid’s front door. Harry says, “I think you’re a good friend, Nev.”
Blushing, Neville mumbles, “Me too, Harry.”
To Harry, this is almost as good as being home for Christmas Eve. Hogwarts, while darkened by some memories, will always be his first home. Neville and Hagrid are two people who have given him nothing but support and friendship, and there are few places Harry would rather be than spending time with them. All at once, he is in good cheer again.
Hagrid flings open the door, right on cue, and gathers them both into a mulch-scented hug. “Pardon th’ mess,” he tells them in a low rumble, “I’ve been watchin’ o’er these lot all morning! Just come in from the States, special order.”
“What lot?” asks Neville nervously. They don’t know what Hagrid has planned for his latest lesson, only that he needs their help. With a great deal of caution, Harry peeks around Hagrid’s elbow to see for himself.
Packed into Hagrid’s tiny hut, leaping from countertop to cupboard, are a half-dozen chupacabras.
“The students’r going to just love ‘em,” gushes Hagrid. “But first, we’ve got to give ‘em a good wash.”
Neville whimpers. Steeling himself for a very long afternoon and a fair amount of bloodshed, Harry rolls up his sleeves.
Chupacabras are everything they are built up to be – mainly, terrifying. Harry drags himself into the bath as soon as he gets back, eager to wash off the blood, dried soap, and dirt that he collected in his attempt to help Hagrid out. As sore and mussed as he is, though, he is happy that he can do this for the man who has cared so much for him throughout his life. He has no complaints. Well, no serious complaints.
Stumbling into his quarters, Harry strips without ceremony, leaving his clothes wherever they fall. He lurches towards the bathroom, but stops when he notices something new on his desk. A bottle.
He picks it up and looks it over, captivated by the opalescent gleam of the potion inside, an inviting amber shade mixed with swirls of white. Still, his experience makes him suspicious. The Valentine’s holiday is still too recent for him not to at least consider the wisdom of drinking this thing.
Then he spots the note, folded neatly on the corner of his desk and stamped with a Hogwarts seal. He knows who it’s from before he picks it up.
Potter, it reads, You are a walking skeleton. I don’t understand why you insist on ignoring your personal health, but if you must continue, please do me a kindness and drink this potion each morning. I did my best to make it taste less appalling. It should help you keep some meat on your bones.
Don’t read too much into it. I’m just tired of wondering when you’ll faint dead away. With my luck, everyone will think it’s my fault.
Harry knows that his smile is more than a touch goofy, but he’s alone in here and no one can judge him for it. Then it occurs to him that he’s standing there grinning in nothing but his pants, and even that’s pushing it by his standards. He puts the letter and potion back down and goes to run a bath.
On the way, he notices his emotional plant in the windowsill, full and lively, its leaves stretched up towards the sun. He pauses to touch the fronds affectionately.
As he dips his head beneath the water of the bath a few moments later, allowing it to swallow almost all of his senses, he decides that a friendship with Malfoy is better than nothing at all.
“James has got a girlfriend,” announces Albus first thing in the morning, even before breakfast.
It’s Friday, which means dinner at the Burrow if Harry feels so inclined, which he very much does. He needs the comfort of his family’s presence, even if he can’t talk to them about what’s been troubling him. His last Quidditch match with Malfoy (fast becoming a regular Wednesday thing) went well, with Malfoy winning for the second time in a row, and Harry is horrified to find that he can’t muster the energy to be upset about it. And on Saturdays, he has begun a ritual of having tea and sweets with Neville, Singh, Hagrid, and – oddly – Hooch.
All of this means that Harry has entirely lost track of his eldest son’s personal life. It’s probably how James prefers it, anyway. He’s old enough to manage himself. “What?” says Harry, voice still rough with sleep.
Albus scowls. He’s so impatient. “I said, James is dating a girl.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Okay, well, first of all, it’s gross.”
With great effort, Harry hauls himself out of his armchair, where he usually reads the morning paper, and goes about getting his robes on for the day. Albus trails him with anxious eyes. “Well?” he presses when Harry doesn’t say anything else.
“What’s her name?” asks Harry. He makes a face at himself in the mirror.
“It’s Demeter Diggle. She’s a sixth-year.”
“I remember.” Demeter is rather rubbish at her defensive spellwork, but her offensive abilities are beyond impressive. Harry decides to play along. “What makes you say that they’re dating?”
“Because they were kissing in the corridor, and Lily saw it too,” says Albus. “And it was gross.”
“That does sound like solid proof.”
“Don’t make fun of me. Aren’t you going to put a stop to it?”
“You sound just like your brother when he was your age, did you know that? Time changes things,” says Harry, and immediately tries not to think about how true that really is. “Don’t worry about him, Albus. Okay?”
“I’m not worried. I’m annoyed. He’s so stupid. She doesn’t know anything about him.”
“Oh,” says Harry, understanding now. “I see. Come here.”
Albus hesitates, just for a beat, before folding right into Harry’s arms. He is remarkably short for his age, just like Harry was, coltish and clumsy at thirteen. With a quiet sigh, he presses his face hard into Harry’s shirt, arms hanging limp at his sides. Harry pats his back.
“Listen, he’s not going to just go and forget about you because he has a girlfriend,” Harry assures him. “You know that. Did Teddy forget about you?”
“It’s not that,” says Albus. He pulls back a bit early; in the last year or so, he’s become more self-conscious about acting like a little boy. “But thanks.”
“Am I going to be like that in two years? Kissing girls all the time, who don’t even like me?”
Harry doesn’t understand. “Er,” he says. “If you want to.”
But Albus doesn’t say anything. He glowers at the floor, and Harry can’t hope to parse what that means. This is one more incident on a pile of issues he needs to sort out. Dinner can’t come fast enough; he needs to clear his head.
Visiting the Burrow revives Harry’s spirit a great deal, and Molly, commenting that she is convinced that he works too hard, sends him home with enough desserts to feed a small army. He disperses these amongst his students and colleagues, taking special care to give Malfoy just a little bit extra; he watches carefully, and ascertains that Malfoy loves the strawberry tarts best. It’s good information to have.
Ron and Hermione make up over the weekend. Harry wins his next Quidditch game against Malfoy. Then, in their next match, they lose the snitch entirely and spend the next hour racing each other round and round instead. Between these little games, Harry enjoys watching his students learn. His bonds with Neville and the other professors grow stronger. Spring comes sneaking onto school grounds, bringing rain and gusts of wind and allergies.
Harry is content. It is with a light and happy heart that he waits for the upcoming Hogsmeade trip with Malfoy.
The day comes with a light drizzle of rain and a few fat gray clouds. Malfoy, with the calm patience of a father, herds all of the students together and keeps them in check all the way into town. Harry has to admit that he’s impressed.
“You’re really good at that,” he comments as soon as he has Malfoy to himself. They stand together watching the students disperse down the street and break off into groups of twos and threes.
“Children are not so complicated,” says Malfoy mysteriously.
Harry looks at him. There’s some color in Malfoy’s cheeks, a reaction to the stiff breeze that blows his hair about. He moves his mouth silently as he counts the heads disappearing into shops left and right, then pulls out the little silver-framed reading glasses he carries with him to check the attendance sheet one last time. God, he’s gorgeous.
“Everyone accounted for. Two of your little sprogs have come along, did you know?”
Harry shrugs, unable to suppress his cheery smile.
Pocketing the list and glasses, Malfoy gives him a slightly strange look. “Are you quite well?”
“Hm? Oh, yes.” Harry rocks from heel to toe, twice. “So, where are we going?”
“I should have been clear. This isn’t a holiday, Potter. We’re watching the students so that they stay out of trouble. Stalking couples into dark alleyways, getting them down off war memorials, that sort of thing.”
“Don’t look so disappointed,” chides Malfoy, but the corners of his eyes crinkle. “Come on, then. Let’s get something to drink.”
They make their way to a tiny snack place that has emerged sometime since the war; Malfoy doesn’t look twice at the Three Broomsticks, and Harry supposes he can’t blame him. Inside, Malfoy buys some sort of painfully sweet magical drink that sparkles as he drinks it, and Harry buys something fizzy with lemon ice cream in it. He finds that he doesn’t really like the taste, but eats it anyway. As he licks the last of it off of his spoon, Malfoy wrinkles his nose.
“You eat like an animal,” he says. That comment might have hurt Harry once, but now he laughs.
“I always have.”
“I know. I’ve seen you in the Great Hall, mauling your plate like that. Beastly.”
“To be honest, Hermione says that it’s because of how I was raised,” says Harry, feeling the words coming and feeling dimly astonished that he wants to share this with Malfoy of all people.
“I wager they never taught you any manners where you came from. I’m shocked.”
“Not exactly, no. They never fussed with me more than they could help, really.”
Malfoy’s brows are drawn in befuddlement, but he doesn’t interrupt. Out of nowhere, they are having a grim conversation, but it’s too late to back out. Harry swallows and continues speaking to his hands.
“It’s not common knowledge but the Dursleys – the Muggles who kept me – would sometimes starve me.”
“What, on purpose?” asks Malfoy. Harry nods and distracts himself by scratching his spoon along the inside of his cup, collecting tiny bits of sugar. “Why would they do a thing like that?”
“I don’t know if they intended to do it. I think they were so concerned with wishing I wasn’t there, they just forgot to bother. I would… I’m sorry, do you want me to stop?”
Malfoy’s lips part and he takes one soft little breath. He shakes his head. “No.”
Harry hasn’t spoken about this in what feels like forever. Clearing his throat, he casts about for the words that will seem the least dramatic. “They kept me in a cupboard under the stairs. During the day, I helped with the chores, cooking and cleaning. I would make meals for all of them and then I would have whatever was left. If there was something left. They sometimes made a point of making sure there wasn’t. Then at night, I was to go back into my cupboard and make no noise until morning.” Harry takes two deep breaths. “I don’t like to talk about it much, so nobody really knows except the Weasleys. It was a long time ago. I know you didn’t ask for an explanation, I just – I wanted to tell you.”
“Tell me? Why?”
“You’re easy to talk to.”
With the last sliver of his resolve, Harry looks up. Malfoy’s eyes are gentle, and then angry. “How horrible. Don’t you hate them?”
Some of the pressure in Harry’s chest eases. “Yes,” he says, “all the time. But I forgive them, too.”
“Well,” says Malfoy with a sniff. “I don’t. Fuck them, I say.”
Harry laughs in shock, and then again with genuine pleasure. Malfoy stares at his shoes and sips his drink. “You are unexpected, Mal… Black.”
Turning his face away, pretending to be watching a nearby group of students, Malfoy says, “It’s all right to call me Draco.”
“Only if you return the favor.”
“You there!” bellows Malfoy, startling the small cluster of students, who have now huddled around something on the ground. “No fireworks!”
“This is the worst!” sighs one emphatic Slytherin. “This was your idea, Wendell, you owe me three knuts.”
“You’d have a hard time walking with three nuts!” giggles one of the Ravenclaws. After that, the crowd disperses.
Still refusing to look at him, voice so quiet it’s almost lost in the wind, Malfoy says, “Fine… Harry.”
The sound of his name in those familiar drawling tones sends warmth singing through Harry’s blood and he knows that he is in deep trouble now.
The next hour passes much the same way, with Draco and Harry patrolling up and down various alleyways and hidey-holes, shooing out underage students trying to drink firewhiskey or get in a surreptitious snog. Now and again, Harry spots Dominique, who has shaved her head down to fuzzy orange stubble, and he knows that Fleur is just going to have kittens when she finds out. He says so to Draco, who gives an appreciative snort.
“I remember her, that Veela girl,” he says. “Greg was head-over-heels for her for months, poor sod.”
“Greg? Gregory Goyle? Was he really?” goggles Harry.
“Merlin, yes. He isn’t bright, but the man has an appreciation for pretty things. He has… unexpectedly good taste.”
“Are you saying you’d have a go with my ex-sister-in-law if you had the chance?”
A bare flash of a smirk on Draco’s face, here and gone. “Am I?”
Harry’s own smile dies on his lips when they round yet another corner and he is confronted with the sight of James and his new girlfriend, tangled amongst some delivery boxes. His first thought is a confused one, wondering when his son sprouted an extra set of arms; the next is that Albus was right. It’s gross.
“Oh dear,” says Draco.
James and Demeter come apart with a hideous sucking sound, like an octopus being pried off of a windowpane. Part of Harry is satisfied to see the way that James, caught red-handed, blanches six shades paler. The girl has him pinned back against the wall so that he cannot escape, and if father is anything like son, it’s likely that he would if he could. Then again, if James takes after Ginny, it’s likely he gets up to this more than he lets on.
He looks a mess, his school tie undone, his robes pushed half off his shoulders, and his girlfriend isn’t in much better shape. He looks as though he desperately wants to run, but that has never worked when Harry is involved.
“Sorry, dad,” says James, “we were just… Er… I’m sorry.”
“The rules say no snogging,” says Draco helpfully when Harry can’t find the words. “I personally think that it’s a bit unfair. How about you come out here and snog in broad daylight, instead? It’s safer that way.”
“Okay,” says James at once.
Demeter makes a noise of disgust and gets off him.
“I’m going to go find Ophelia,” she says. With that, she flounces away in a whirl of fruity perfume. Harry has to cough.
At least, he thinks to himself, his son is having a normal kind of life, kissing girls in dark alleys and getting caught; it was something Harry never had the chance to do.
Looking beyond despondent, James looks straight into Harry’s eyes. “Are you angry?” he whispers.
Not wanting to hug him just now, lest he get perfume on him, Harry settles for ruffling the boy’s already thoroughly tousled hair. “Of course not. Taken aback, maybe. Don’t know why you picked that one, though.”
“Half the girls in this school are my cousins.”
Draco laughs. “That’s true! That’s a good one.”
To Harry’s great relief, James manages a faint smile. He rubs at the bruises developing on his neck and adds, “She latches onto me like a limpet. It’s awful.”
“Tell her to be a bit less rough, then,” suggests Harry. “Now go on and go after her.” A pause. “And, er… um, five points from Gryffindor.”
James’s smile is strong and bright now. He slips around Draco and out into the sun. Draco raises his eyebrows at Harry and waits for the boy to wander out of earshot before he says, “Well-handled, Potter.”
“Just wait until Scorpius is that age,” grumbles Harry, finally allowing himself to shudder in horror. He is embarrassed, though not as embarrassed as James probably feels.
“Ah, but he’ll have Albus to keep him in line, I should think.”
Harry has to agree. In the three years that Albus has been at Hogwarts, he has mentioned Scorpius quite a lot – they’ve become fast friends, despite Ron’s amused disapproval. And for all that James has been brash and outgoing, little Albus keeps his toes in line and keeps everyone else’s toes in line. He will be a good friend for Scorpius, deeply loyal. Albus had seen something good in a Malfoy just like Harry had; only Albus acted on it faster. No, not a Malfoy. Not anymore.
Harry asks, “Why Black?”
It wasn’t what he expected to ask, but it’s out anyway. Draco blinks. “It’s my mother’s maiden name, in case you forgot. I know you associate it with someone else, but I have as much right to it.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” says Harry, but Draco has already turned and is walking down the street again. Harry stays on his heels. “I was just wondering why you changed it at all. You seemed so proud of being a Malfoy, once.”
Distant once more, as though they haven’t been chatting all day, Draco shrugs and peers through the window of a nearby shop; he taps it with one finger and shakes his head at a shoplifting fourth-year, who reluctantly puts the stolen item back. He says, “You’ve been more than open with me, and turnabout’s fair play.”
Harry waits, but it’s still a good while before Draco says anything else.
“It was something I had to do,” he tells Harry, voice almost lost in the general din of Hogsmeade. “You know. You were there – I will admit that I made my own choices, but I was born to that side. Those people were my family and I loved them. When that wasn’t enough to assure my obedience, they made me fear them. After the war, there were a lot of… marks, you could say.”
Harry knows about that all too well.
Draco swallows thickly. “The name was one that I could change. I had that power. I could make that choice. My father gave me the Dark Mark and his face, and everyone who meets me can see that, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But my birthright, that I could do something about. I used to want it more than anything, but now…” His mouth twitches, and he brings a hand to his face as though to scratch his nose, but Harry knows better. Draco’s voice is rough. “Fuck his legacy, now. The Blacks, in hindsight, were a much nobler family on the whole and a lineage to be proud of. I am no Malfoy. I only wish I had known that sooner.”
His honesty is humbling. Nervously, Draco looks at him, and then away. All of Harry aches to touch him, to console him, but he knows that such a thing would be crossing the line. He bunches his hands into fists and keeps them at his sides.
“That’s very brave,” he says at length.
Draco lets out a huff of breath. “Bloody Gryffindor,” he murmurs, “only concerned about bravery.” But this time when he looks at Harry, his eyes are warm again.
To Draco’s dismay, Harry Potter becomes a permanent fixture in his life from this moment on. It is as if he has stumbled across an unfamiliar room in the castle and, upon crossing the threshold, accidentally unleashed a curse upon himself. A curse to be pestered until the end of his days.
He isn’t sure how it happened. Before their surreal heart-to-heart in Hogsmeade, they had maintained a respectful distance, friendly enough to chat and occasionally go one-on-one at Quidditch. But now, it seems like they run into each other every day. Harry mostly talks about his children, which is by far his favorite subject. His sense of humor is surprisingly decent, too. It almost makes up for the fact that Draco is as tethered to him now as he was twenty years ago.
It’s his fault, he knows. Curiosity had gotten the better of him, inviting Harry to go with him. But he hadn’t expected it to become a full-time job.
And people are starting to notice. Tonight is their bimonthly staff meeting, and Harry has chosen to sit next to Draco in the circle of their chairs. Neville is on Draco’s other side, so naturally the two lean over him to chat with each other. Wedged between two Gryffindors, Draco churlishly shoves out his elbows to give himself breathing room and tries not to reflect too much on what his life has become.
When Draco pulls out his reading spectacles to go over his notes, he feels Harry staring. “Don’t be rude,” he says without looking up.
Harry sputters, making Neville laugh. “It’s just odd to see you like that,” he says, a bit loudly. “You look… older.”
Draco does look up at that, eyebrows raised. “I know my youthful good looks make it hard to believe, but I am indeed older.”
“Yeah, but, when you put those on…” Harry’s face goes funny. “You look like Dumbledore.”
Neville bursts out a laugh that sounds like the honk of a goose. Draco wants to feel offended, but the emotion just doesn’t come, so he puts on a show of feigning it anyway. “Forgive me if I don’t take your critiques of my eyewear seriously, when you’ve got owl eyes like that.”
“Oh, come on. They’re not that bad.” Harry grabs his own spectacles and takes them off to squint at them, as if he can tell what they look like without them. After a moment, he blinks myopically at Draco. “I think they’re distinctive.”
His face looks very strange without his glasses. It makes his eyes look a little bit larger and farther apart, with impossibly long, dark lashes. Draco realizes that he has never stopped to consider them before. The color is strikingly green.
Draco, with his glasses on, and Harry, with his off, stare at each other. The moment stretches, elastic.
“You both look weird,” declares Neville.
Harry shrugs and fixes himself, but despite that, he still looks off somehow. Draco returns to his notes while his coworkers babble over top of each other. He catches snippets of conversation about essay length and George Weasley’s latest cheating device, about children and grandchildren and great grand-children, about politics and sports and weather. Tremendously boring, normal conversation. Draco can’t remember what he used to talk about, before he came here – but then he does.
Almost all of it had been about survival. Personal, political, physical.
Swallowing, Draco busies himself with removing and cleaning his spectacles. With any luck, his squinting will be passed off as trying to read without them. After a moment, he says, “They are.”
Harry and Neville pause mid-sentence.
“Pardon?” asks Neville.
“Distinctive,” says Draco. “The glasses.”
Harry’s smile is decidedly confused, but he smiles nonetheless.
A warm spell hits the castle in late spring. The rain is ceaseless and puts a temporary halt to Draco and Harry’s Quidditch plans. Children slip and fall on the slippery floors. When he enters the Great Hall for mealtimes, Hagrid gives a great shake like a wet dog, and spatters innocent bystanders with water (Draco is used to this by now and has become remarkably adept at getting out of the way; Harry, less so).
On one dreary evening, Scorpius drags himself into Draco’s office, dripping a cloud’s worth of rain on his own.
“Scorpius,” says Draco, teasing, “did you forget how to do a drying charm, or are you lacking the good sense to use it?”
He expects the usual sarcastic response, but instead Scorpius’s face crumples, and he scrubs hard at his eyes to stem the flow of tears. No longer at the age where he cares to be hugged, he just moves to throw himself on the sofa in the corner of Draco’s office. Briefly, Draco frets for the state of his upholstery, but he shoves that thought aside.
“What happened?” he asks, setting down the ram’s horn he has been grinding into a powder.
It takes Scorpius a while to answer. Like Draco, he tends to clam up when something hurts – but unlike Draco, he hasn’t had Lucius to further ingrain the instinct. After a very long minute, he says, “It’s stupid. Promise you won’t laugh.”
“Under pain of death,” Draco promises.
Scorpius scrubs at his face again. Even soaking wet, his hair is shockingly blonde. “I crashed my broom again.”
“Oh,” says Draco. He moves to sit on the sofa across from his son. “Well, why were you flying in this weather in the first place?”
He realizes a moment too late that this might sound critical, but Scorpius only shrugs and says, “Quidditch practice. Ranjani says we only cancel if the pitch is closed.”
“I see,” says Draco.
Scorpius shows Draco his hands. The scrapes go all the way up to his elbows and a few are still bleeding. Wincing in sympathy, Draco moves to collect his healing supplies. He is no nurse, but it is important to him that he is able to care for his own son. Scorpius wipes his nose on his sleeve, leaving a streak of mud.
“I don’t want to play Quidditch anymore.”
Draco frowns. “Because you crashed?”
Scorpius shrugs again, which means the answer is more complicated. Draco sits down again and gets to work cleaning and patching his son’s wounds. They’re minor, nothing some salve and a healing draught won’t fix, but it feels good to be able to help.
“Albus was upset,” says Scorpius. “That’s not the reason, it’s just… I’m actually sort of bad at flying.”
“You made the team, though.”
“Yeah, but…” His face turns very red. “I was an alternate. Don’t be angry, but I didn’t tell you… I sort of crash a lot. Albus shouted at me. He called me a stupid thick idiot.”
It’s not appropriate to find that funny, so Draco pins his lips together tight and focuses on applying the last of the bandages.
“He said that if I can’t stop running into things, I shouldn’t be in the air, and that he can’t play if he’s always watching me to make sure I’m not dead. And then Ranjani said that even if I didn’t crash, I was still their weakest player.” The tears start afresh now. “So I quit the team. I’m sorry.”
Draco finishes the bandages, letting Scorpius’s arm go. Hands free now, he reaches to pull his son into a soggy hug. Scorpius resists only for a moment, still a little too proud to deliberately seek comfort in a hug, but then he sniffles into Draco’s shoulder and holds on tight.
Muffled, Scorpius says, “I wanted to be a Quidditch player like you.”
Draco shuts his eyes, heart aching. He’s never cared about anything as much as he cares about this ridiculous boy. And despite his best efforts to be a good father – as task for which he has no blueprints – he is still touched whenever Scorpius looks to him for guidance. “Thank you,” he says, “but I have only ever wanted you to do what makes you happy. And you should know that the example I set in school is hardly one you should follow. I was a bit of an ass.”
The anniversary of Astoria’s absence comes up on Draco unexpectedly. He might have forgotten entirely, if not for the way that Scorpius becomes sullen and reclusive this time of year, a fog that even Albus can’t shake him out of. It is for Scorpius that Draco hurts the most. The boy deserves to have his mother with him. Even unsatisfied with Draco, she does love her son – she sends him letters and gifts regularly, asking after his daily life all the time. She must know how much her boy misses her.
Draco does hurt for himself too, of course, but it was four years ago and she is far from the first person near to him that he has lost. There was no passion in their marriage – Draco has never been attracted to women, and she didn’t seem particularly inclined towards men herself – but she was always a good companion to him, capable and bright, and the contract they kept was necessary to keep their families afloat after the war. They shared the odd burden of a pureblood union together, and he could have asked for no better partner in it. Her dry humor had made it bearable.
Thinking of her too long makes him think of everyone else he misses. It compounds until it weighs down on his shoulders like a perching dragon.
When the day comes, he teaches classes as he normally would, and then shuts himself in his office to eat the cauldron cakes Harry has left behind for him.
He lets the food occupy his thoughts.
He listens to the hushed noises of the castle, the tap-tap of student’s walking up and down the halls, the whisper of old ghosts and portraits murmuring to each other, the pulsing roar of the lake outside of his window.
It isn’t about Astoria, not really. He knows that. He sits down on the rug in the middle of the room. It’s common, but it feels right and Draco’s mother isn’t here to harp at him, and he soaks in the quiet, remembering everyone who has left him.
Vincent Crabbe. Severus Snape. Uncounted housemates, family friends. And those who had simply abandoned Draco in life, his father and Pansy and the others. Astoria, brown-eyed darling, who had felt so bleak, so caged, that she had run away. Maybe she is happier now.
He is about a third of the way down into his pit of misery when a knock sounds at his door. Draco ignores it, but the knock comes again, and then again. Sighing, he drags himself to his feet, brushes the crumbs off of his trousers, and opens his office door.
It's Harry, of course. Of course it is.
“Fancy a walk?” he says, and the obnoxiously sympathetic look in his eyes tells Draco that he knows what’s going on. His face is a welcome sight, like a beam of sunlight.
He wants to tell Harry to mind his own business, to stop treating Draco like someone who needs protecting, to keep his mushy, saccharine friendship to himself.
Instead, Draco finds himself opening the door wider. “Okay,” he says. “Let me get my shoes.”
The summer break passes in a blur for Draco, as it always does. Without the rhythm of teaching to ground him, he finds that he spends most of his time alternating between reading old potions manuals and tawdry romance novels, puttering around the house, and eating an upsetting amount of custard. On the days Scorpius stays home, Draco will order something unhealthy that Scorpius loves, and they will spend hours playing wizarding chess or exploding snap. Scorpius has a little row of plants on the sill that he tends to and Draco talks to him about different useful herbs to grow for personal use.
But Scorpius spends most of his time at wizarding camps or visiting with friends, which makes the summer that much lonelier. Of course, Draco has his visits with Blaise, Millie, and the others, but there is only so much time that can fill. He notices that he has gotten fatter over the last few years from sitting around so much, his stomach going soft; it doesn’t bother him.
On occasion, Harry will send him silly little letters, asking how he is doing. Draco knows he should answer them, be friendly. He doesn’t.
The letters remind him just how alone he has been. It is a relief to return to Hogwarts in August.
After the threat of the war was sufficiently behind them, Hogwarts made some changes to its Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum. Much of the magic is focused on preventative measures, protection, healing, and noticing the signs and traps of dark magic. It had taken Harry a while to get his footing, since his own education had been so scattered by war and a rotating door of professors. Now that he has settled, he is a big fan of the change. He loves to discuss the philosophy of the subject with his students, explain the ethics of magic.
There is little need to have his students practice fighting, when he can have them practice defense. When they reach seventh year, he at last begins them on dueling. Harming others is a last-case scenario, says Harry, but sometimes it is necessary.
One morning, as Draco is walking to his classroom after breakfast, Harry chases him down. He still smells like maple syrup when he asks if Draco would help him teach basic attack and defense.
“I’m hardly a good choice, given our history. Why don’t you ask Neville?” says Draco.
“Because I’m asking you,” says Harry. “Will you help me?”
Recently, Harry has become very difficult to say no to.
While the first part of the lecture goes on, Draco stands aside to watch, noticing James Potter standing amongst his classmates with a serious expression on his face, and his cousin Dominique Weasley chewing gum with her arms folded. Both of them take after their Weasley side, but Draco can see a bit of Harry in James’s surly posture.
Harry’s classroom has been opened up, desks pushed against the walls to accommodate an appropriate space. There are neat rows of bare floor for students to practice against each other, lined with pillows and cushions of various shapes and colors. Something about it tugs at Draco’s heart; Harry has taken care that they won’t hurt themselves falling down.
“All right!” says Harry, clapping his hands. The sound startles Draco, but he eases when he sees Harry’s eager smile. “Shall we get started, Professor Black?”
“When did we stop?” says Draco, but he obediently steps into the center of the room, where a path is cleared through the cushions.
Harry loosens his tie and shrugs off his robes. His sleeves are already rolled up to his elbows, and Draco’s mouth goes dry. How acrobatic is Harry planning to be with this? It isn’t as though Draco stands a fighting chance, not with Harry’s experience as an Auror behind him in addition to his natural talent.
They bow to each other. To their mutual surprise, they do it properly, with respect.
The last time they were here, wands pointed at each other, it hadn’t gone well. Draco struggles to push those memories aside, the flash of pain, the panic at finding himself defenseless, hands empty, exposed.
They aren’t fighting, now.
Harry is obviously waiting for Draco to strike first so that he can show how to block, so Draco does, sending a simple hiccupping hex his way. Almost without having to move, Harry casts Protego, and the hex bounces off in a harmless shower of sparks. He then goes for a leg-locker curse, which Draco easily deflects. It goes on this way for another round before something crosses Harry’s face and he begins to smile.
“Get ready,” he says.
Draco wants to protest, but already Harry is sending a waterjet his way to hide another leg-locker right behind. The waterjet misses, but the leg-locker is dead on; Draco’s legs are yanked out from under him. He catches himself with levitation, and by the time he’s cancelled the curse out, there’s another barrage. Draco summons a flock of incorporeal birds to take the hits and they burst into an array of shimmering lights. The students gasp.
“Nice!” shouts Harry.
“Do you always banter?” asks Draco, still a bit out of sorts.
Harry ducks, which is cheating, frankly. Their Stupefys connect in the middle.
Harry is pulling punches, but his spells get meaner. They crackle and fizz against Draco’s Protegos and wards, pausing only when he retaliates with his own array of jinxes. This isn’t like school, Draco thinks. Firstly, nothing is hitting him. Secondly, he’s having fun.
Predictably, when he wants it to be over, Harry tries to disarm him. The first attempt ricochets off of Draco’s shield, but the second hits home. His wand snaps from his hand.
“Good match,” says Harry, just a touch smugly. He catches it, and the moment the wand disconnects from Draco’s magic, the wards he had set around himself go off in a concussive burst of blue smoke. There is a loud crack, like twenty people apparating at once, and Harry is punched backwards into the cushions. Both wands go sailing across the room.
The students cheer. Harry picks himself up off the pillows, laughing.
Draco retrieves their wands and hands Harry’s back to him. As pleased as Draco feels with himself, Harry looks just as delighted. Neither of them can help smiling. “Brilliant,” says Harry.
They bow again before Harry turns to his students. “You see how a good defense can be just as powerful as a strong attack. Get creative with your strategy. I want you to pair off and practice with the approved spell list. Dom, Ramona, split up.”
“Balls,” says Dominique.
Harry, despite looking a tad wind-blown, is grinning ear-to-ear. He has a goose feather stuck in his hair, and Draco reaches automatically to pluck it out.
“Thanks,” says Harry. The way he has to tip his head back to look at Draco makes him realize how close they are standing, so he takes a step back.
“Good match,” he says.
As the year passes, they continue to team up for dueling demonstrations, which never fail to dazzle. Later on, Harry drafts up a wonderful plan to combine their classrooms for a month, educating their students about the different kinds of poisons and how to avoid them. They team up for patrols more often than not, finding that their shared conversation makes the chore pass quickly.
Outside of work, Harry makes time for Draco. He tells Draco about his side of the war, his dreadful childhood, and the family he found in the Weasleys. Draco tells him about his stifling upbringing, his ostracization after the war, the blessing that was his second chance at Hogwarts. Even Neville (the wretch) starts to jokingly call them book-ends, never one without the other, and Draco is more than a little unsettled to discover that he doesn’t mind at all.
Not that he would ever say so to that smug git’s face.
It’s strange. Harry is, without a doubt, the same Harry he was in school – but Draco can’t seem to recall what he ever disliked about the man.
The man in question comes to his classroom as the last of his students exit, bearing strawberry tarts. “Ron baked these for me this weekend,” he says, depositing them on Draco’s desk. “I asked for a few extra for you. Itching powder-free, this time. I checked.”
“Goodness, going through all that trouble for my sake,” says Draco, which makes Harry bob his head with feigned humility.
“What sort of Gryffindor would I be without chivalry?”
“That’s my running joke. Find your own.” Wrinkling his nose, Draco plucks up one of the tarts and takes a bite. It’s as good as always. “Thank you, Harry,” he adds.
Harry beams and grooms himself. Ah, yes, Draco thinks – this is why he hated him, because of Potter’s big fat head. It’s difficult to stay mad, however, when that fat head remembers to bring him his favorite sweets each week.
“What are you working on?” asks Harry, sitting himself on the edge of Draco’s desk. Draco snaps his fingers at him and points at him to get down, which Harry does after a bout of foot-dragging and pouting.
“I’m assigning the third-years to brew vigor potions over the weekend. These are the instructions.”
“That’s so cruel. They’ve only been back from the summer break for a week.”
“And I do believe I’ve covered the pertinent information in that week.”
A knock at the door interrupts Draco’s continued string of reasoning, and the youngest Potter child sticks her head in. “Is my dad in here?” she asks, but she has already caught sight of him and is barging into the classroom.
No manners, Draco thinks without venom. How naïve of him to expect anything else.
Ever since he arrived at Hogwarts, Lily has become Harry’s shadow. She follows him about everywhere that he allows and talks ceaselessly about how she wants to teach when she grows up. Draco likes her. Had Lily Potter been around during the war, no Death Eater could have come within spitting distance of the Boy Who Lived without her knowing it.
“What makes you think I’d be in here?” asks Harry, apparently baffled.
To Draco’s glee, Lily just pins him with an ironic look and doesn’t answer. “Would you please fix my hair? Rose made a right mess of it, even though her hair is just like mine.”
“I can see that,” says Harry. “Come here.”
He pats the desk in front of him and she climbs atop it, sitting with her back to him as he works at taking apart the knots that Lily’s otherwise precocious cousin has managed to work into her hair. Aside from the ginger color, Lily’s hair is like Harry’s: wild and tightly curled. With skill and patience, Harry begins to separate her locks into thick twisted strands, twining them together in the back. Draco watches in fascination. Harry is so frequently a bumbling child himself, it’s easy to forget that he is a father, and a good one, too. The man is coming up on forty years old.
Even so, he looks good. Healthy. He is still a short, tiny thing, Harry Potter – but all of the exercise in the Auror program has broadened his shoulders and Draco’s nutritional potions have done him good, putting some heft back in his frame. Gray hair has begun to sprout and speckle about his temples. Draco thinks that, for someone who was such a scrawny and awkward teenager, Harry could have done much worse.
When he finishes with Lily’s hair, Harry stands back with a triumphant grin. “All done!”
Lily pats her new braids and, finding them satisfactory, grins back. “Thanks.”
“That looks lovely,” offers Draco. She smiles at him, too.
“Do you think so? Amethyst Crabapple says I should get it straightened because it’s ugly when it’s curly, but I like it like this.”
“Between you and me,” says Draco, “Amethyst Crabapple can fuck off.”
“Draco, you can’t say that, you’re a professor,” says Harry, delighted anyway.
“And I am, at that! So I’m trying to get work done before dinner, if you don’t mind. Don’t you have other people to harass for the next hour or two?”
“Hugo found out he can stuff seven whole chocolate frogs in his mouth,” says Lily. “Want to see, dad?”
“Come on. Goodbye, Professor Black.” She grabs Harry’s hands and steers him firmly towards the exit. Draco tries to snuff out the regret that blossoms in his stomach, watching them go; he really does have work to be doing, no matter how much he enjoys their banter. He makes a show of waving them off with an imperious gesture.
“Potter and Potter, you are dismissed.”
Harry huffs out a breath of a laugh that does something strange to Draco’s stomach. And then they’re gone.
The half-blank homework instructions on Draco’s desk stare up at him for an eternity, but he doesn’t feel like writing them anymore. These Potters have such a way of disrupting his hard work.
Winter comes and goes, marking Harry’s first year teaching at Hogwarts. The professors have a little celebration for him, opening some wine after staff meeting. Beaming, Neville hands him a little pot of begonias. Draco gifts him a vial of Dreamless Sleep, and Harry’s face flushes to realize that Draco remembered Harry complaining about his nightmares once a few weeks ago. From Hagrid, Harry receives some home-brewed alcohol that is highly suspicious and swirls with debris in the light.
“Thank you,” he says, a little overwhelmed.
“We hope it’s the beginning of many more years with us,” says McGonagall. He can hear that she means it.
An old, beloved feeling swallows him for a moment, the exact feeling of belonging and peace that he had felt his first year at Hogwarts, and on James’s first birthday, and every Christmas with his whole family together. He hugs everyone, even Draco, who laughs nervously but hugs him back nevertheless.
Later that evening, chatting with Neville about how to care for his begonias, Neville asks, “How does it compare to being an Auror?”
It’s a question he hadn’t considered. Like his marriage to Ginny, it had been the right thing, once. It had felt like the right thing, anyway, and had made sense. “I was never unhappy being an Auror,” says Harry, uncorking Hagrid’s concoction and taking a cautious sniff. “I was good at it.”
“You had a lot of practice,” says Neville with a sad smile.
“Yes. I did.” Harry steels himself and takes a sip. It tastes like apples and honey. “Oh!” he says, delighted. “Here.”
Neville puts his hands up. “That’s all right.”
Shrugging, Harry decides to enjoy himself. “Anyway, I liked being an Auror. But I love it here. I love teaching. I just… I love it. And it feels amazing, I never really thought about it, not to have to fight. You know?”
“Yeah,” says Neville, “I know.”
They sit together in silence for a moment, Harry balancing his flowers on his knees, Neville watching an arrow of birds move across the sky through Harry’s office window. It’s a cloudy day and the sun is setting, turning the whole sky a mottled shade of lavender. Harry can feel the faint chill radiating through the glass, but the room itself is warm.
After a moment, Neville stands and takes Harry’s begonias to put them by the window next to the flourishing emotional plant. He fondly fluffs the leaves. It adds something to the space – the room has been slowly filling with knick-knacks and artifacts since Harry arrived, but it’s still a touch bare. On the shelf above his desk is a hat Lily transfigured into a tea kettle and a photograph of his children (plus Scorpius) posing in their school uniforms. Draco’s weight gain potion, half-empty, sits on his desk.
Harry allows himself to sink back into his arm chair, shutting his eyes.
“I don’t think I’d ever want to go back,” Harry continues. He takes one last drink and corks the bottle again. A warm, fuzzy feeling flows through his veins. “I’m happy.”
Making it to the Burrow on Fridays has become less feasible for Harry. His duties at the castle often conflict, and he finds more and more that he enjoys eating in the Great Hall with his students and staff. The support system Friday dinners had been is no longer required. Instead, it is a valued reward, something he does perhaps once a month instead of every week. With most of the children off at school, the event has gotten a little bit quiet anyway; it’s only George’s children and Lucy left. Next year, it will be only Roxanne. She is already beginning to get spoiled from all of the attention.
However, when he can find the time, Harry makes it a point to go. It fortifies him to see Ron, Hermione, and Ginny again. And now that Victoire and Teddy have graduated, they are a frequent presence as well. Bill dotes on them while Fleur pretends to roll her eyes.
This evening, Victoire is on another diatribe about the lack of accurate information regarding the healthcare of non-human magical creatures, and how human-centrism nearly cost them the life of a harpy the other day. Teddy nods emphatically along with her. Their mutual connection to werewolves have made them stridently political on this subject and Harry suspects they will make great changes one day.
“All this goes over my head a bit,” confides Ron to Harry. Hermione frowns at him across the table.
“I talk about this all the time,” she says. She has been trying to decriminalize vampirism for years, Harry knows. Being a vampire is not in itself illegal, but using human blood for magical purposes is, and subsisting as a vampire is technically a magical purpose; it becomes quite a mess. But Hermione managed to abolish the servitude of house elves within her first six years of office, so Harry doesn’t doubt she’ll manage this, too.
“Hermione, I really do try to listen,” says Ron, “but it just doesn’t stick.”
Hermione sighs loudly. Lucy, who admires her, mimics her exasperation perfectly; Percy covers his smirk with his hand.
“Look,” says Hermione. “Even Lucy’s finished with you.”
“Oh, no, Lucy,” Ron laments.
Down the table, Victoire says, “And they were harvesting her feathers off the operating table! It’s disgusting!”
Roxanne is constructing some sort of sculpture out of her potato mash. George and Fred Junior watch raptly and give her suggestions. She decorates the windows with peas.
“Gravy moat,” says Fred Junior gravely.
“Yes,” says Roxanne.
George’s smile is so openly loving that it almost hurts. It had taken him a long time, but he seems to be more or less back to his old self. He’s gotten fat in his middle age and when he smiles he resembles Molly more than ever. Beside him, Angelina and Ginny are chatting sports, with Ginny making aggressive strangling motions that make Harry nervous.
Ron and Hermione’s joking argument is growing in volume, its tone becoming just a little dangerous, so Harry decides to change the subject.
“I read about the cursed socks bust,” he says. “Congratulations.”
Ron laughs, happy for the distraction. “Yeah, thank you. Such a barmy case to be so complicated. Had to Obliviate a whole village, you know. Our mediwizards had to regrow something like a hundred pairs of feet. Took a week. Stopped time and everything, thirty wizards, so much paperwork.”
“I know this is going to sound like I’ve been hexed, but I’d rather read essays.”
“You do sound hexed,” Ron agrees.
“I do hope Hugo and Rose are doing well,” Hermione adds.
“How could they not?” says Harry.
“So,” Ron adds, “how’s the git?”
“I like him,” says Harry without fuss. They often ask after Draco, still disbelieving that the two of them have not only avoided fighting but are actively getting along. Harry does his best not to go on about how much he enjoys Draco’s company, but the others are beginning to tease him about it, so he must not do a very good job.
“We know you like him,” says Hermione. Ron guffaws. “But how is he doing?”
“Oh,” says Harry. “He’s doing fine. He’s glad the winter holiday is over and everyone is back at the castle. I don’t think he’d admit it, but he gets lonely.”
“Maybe he misses you,” jokes Ron.
When Harry had run into Draco his first day back from Christmas, Draco had made a comment about lamenting the end of his peace and quiet, with that soft look on his face that said he meant the opposite. “Maybe,” says Harry. He shrugs, but he can feel himself smile.
It is on an otherwise typical evening, spent helping Draco prepare for their shared poisons unit, that Harry sees his Dark Mark for the first time. Normally, Draco is mindful of his arms at all times, wearing robes with close-cut sleeves even in warm weather (it is practical for potions-making, he claims, and prevents the fabric from dragging through ingredients or liquid). He is wearing a long-sleeved shirt today, no robes, because it has been unseasonably warm and the sun is beating through the drapes all the while he has several brewing fires going at once. Harry, sweating, has stripped down to his undershirt (“Nudist,” says Draco), but the only sign of Draco’s discomfort is the way his bangs cling damp to his forehead. The sight is very distracting.
Draco is in the finishing stages of distilling acromantula venom, a key ingredient in both Death Siphon potions and dialysis elixirs, depending on a handful of factors. The smell of the bubbling cauldrons is sour and astringent.
“I had a case with Death Siphon once,” says Harry. “Awful stuff.”
“Hmm,” says Draco, listening but frowning intently at a beaker of black fluid.
“A wizard had put it in the tea of several of his Muggle neighbors over the years. He was obsessed with divination and was convinced that if he had enough energy, he could break through and see the future. Didn’t work, of course. What he got was a lot of neighbors who were suddenly aging at three times the normal speed, dropping dead without warning. And all of the energy was trapped around his house and it made the street so uneasy, it caught that miasma, you know? The kind that gathers round Dementors.”
“Well, Dementors are siphons,” says Draco. He removes his reading spectacles and sets the beaker down on the table again.
“I know, but I’ve never seen a potion draw so much energy. When you got within eyesight of the place, you could feel it trying to drain you.”
“Yeah, I suppose. That’s not my area. All I know is that the entire neighborhood had to be scrubbed. Don’t know how you can just kill people like that for your own gain.”
“I wonder what he was so concerned about in his future that he felt he needed to see it that badly,” muses Draco.
“Nothing good, I don’t think,” says Harry.
Draco motions for him to begin crushing the next ingredient, dried leeches, as Draco distributes the black fluid evenly amongst his cauldrons. “I don’t miss dark magic,” he says.
“I don’t either,” Harry agrees. “I think I’d gotten so used to it I didn’t realize how good it feels to be away from it.”
He can tell that bothers Draco from the way his nose scrunches, but neither of them say anything else. Once the leeches are stirred in, he puts the cauldrons on low heat and collects his mixing supplies to wash. When handling magical ingredients, it’s always a safer bet to wash by hand, at least to start. It’s difficult to predict what might react to a cleaning spell, when soap and water will do just as well. Harry follows Draco to the sink to help.
Without thinking, Draco rolls up his sleeves. They catch the shape of it at the same time, but Harry hardly has time to react before Draco yanks his sleeve back down. The glass in the sink clinks but doesn’t break.
“Sorry,” says Harry, though he isn’t sure what for.
He hadn’t thought about it – Draco had mentioned the Dark Mark before, was fairly frank about it, even – but he had been so adept at hiding it that Harry had forgotten all about it. Something about its physical presence changes things. Despite his bravado, Draco won’t look at him, frozen to the spot with one hand clutched over his forearm. He stares into the running sink.
Harry waits a beat before reaching to turn off the faucet. “Draco.”
Looking at him sidelong, Draco says, “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know why either of us is sorry,” Harry admits. He flicks some water at Draco’s hands and thrills in victory when the corners of Draco’s eyes crinkle a little.
“It’s a reminder for me.”
A reminder, Harry understands, of the things they wish had never happened. The evil that had been done and endured. Things they had no control over and could not change. He is trying very hard to avoid looking at it, instead keeping his gaze fixed on Draco’s face, but curiosity nibbles at him hard.
“What are you thinking?” murmurs Draco.
“It’s just a scar,” says Harry.
He expects a jab, but one doesn’t come.
“I thought that was an easy one.”
“It was,” says Draco. “But it isn’t funny.”
“I only meant –”
“No, I know, Harry. Thank you.” He hesitates. “Would you… do you want to see?”
Harry nods. Gingerly, Draco lets go and rolls up his sleeve again, up over his elbow. There, stamped into his pale skin, is the familiar shape of the skull and serpent, but its color is gone, dulled into the an ashen color just a few shades darker than the surrounding flesh. There is no magic connected to it anymore, Harry knows. No pain.
“May I?” he asks, palm outstretched.
Draco meets his eyes. His face is carefully blank, almost a little irritable, but Harry recognizes his vulnerability. He looks right back, and whatever Draco sees in his eyes convinces him. “Okay.”
Harry touches with his fingertips first, just brushing them over the scar’s curves before turning them to gently grasp Draco’s arm. His thumb roves over the skin, feeling for the dips and grooves typical of a scar; he discovers that it is perfectly smooth to the touch, and warm. This time when he looks into Draco’s eyes, his expression is difficult to read. Draco pulls out of his grasp.
“Thanks,” says Harry. “For trusting me, I mean.”
Draco shoves his sleeve back down, some color rising to his cheeks. “Repay me the favor,” he says, “and let’s not mention it again.”
One of Harry’s favorite tasks, surprisingly, is patrols. The quiet is peaceful and the long walks help calm his racing thoughts. When they do come across something, it is usually just a ghost or a pair of star-crossed lovers from different houses trying to meet in the middle. More than once, he has come across James simply wandering the halls for no reason, and Harry retroactively empathizes with what his professors had to put up with when he was in school.
Most of the time, Draco accompanies him. He is satisfied with silence or with conversation, and no matter what he gets, Harry is never bored with Draco around. After all, when he isn’t talking, he is still very nice to look at. Harry is a fan of his cheekbones in particular, and the faint, smug curl to his upper lip – both features that were obnoxious on him once, but now tie Harry’s stomach up in knots.
“Why do you keep your hair short?” asks Harry, on accident.
Draco takes it in stride. “Why do you?”
“Sorry,” says Harry, and Draco gives him one of his crinkle-eyed sideways glances that mean he thinks Harry’s being endearing. “It’s just, you know. I always thought you’d grow it out for some reason.”
“I don’t like it long. I look too much like my father.”
“Don’t sulk. I’m not offended. Besides, I like it this way. Makes me look dashing.”
“It does,” Harry agrees; Draco shoots him another sideways look.
As they enter into the east wing, a clatter thunders down the empty corridor. Someone hisses, “Merlin’s piss!”
“Oh dear,” says Draco blandly, and together they follow the noise.
When they round the corner, the source of the commotion becomes painfully clear: it’s Hugo and Louis, sprawled on the floor amongst the remains of a suit of armor. Louis appears to be partially dressed in it, the feather atop the helmet bobbing and flapping as he struggles with his chest plate. Every time they move, more armor goes clanking down the hall.
“Fantastic,” groans Hugo, spotting Harry and Draco coming up the hall.
“What?” asks Louis. He lifts the visor out of his eyes. “Oh.”
“We were just having a laugh!” says Hugo.
Louis says, “I think there’s spiders inside this thing.”
There’s a momentary cacophony as Louis scrambles to get himself out of the suit of armor, flinging his pauldrons against the wall in his panic. Hugo’s face has crumpled in on itself like a dying star. He sits motionless as bits of metal go zipping past him. Harry doesn’t know what to do; Draco allows it to go on for several more seconds before he lazily takes out his wand. In an instant, the armor pieces snap back together and reconstitute themselves against the wall. Louis, red-faced and tousle-haired, pats himself as if to make sure he’s all there.
“Blimey,” says Hugo, echoing Ron. He tries to smooth Louis’s hair.
Harry is too confused to be angry. Louis and Hugo are inclined towards stunts like this, but most of their brand of mischief includes some form of glitter or funny hats. “What was your plan, exactly?”
Louis mutters something. Hugo says, “It was my idea. Stand on each other’s shoulders. Walk into the common room and scare everyone.”
“Wasn’t a very good plan,” Louis admits.
“You’d have been better off enchanting it,” says Harry.
“Ooh, that’s an idea!”
Sighing, Draco cuts off the conversation with a brusque, “Twenty points from Hufflepuff.”
“Sorry,” says Hugo. He is the less prideful of the two; Louis is putting on an act as though he has been mortally wounded, but does not want to alarm anyone. The two of them have been inseparable almost since birth and have always been odd. Harry sees shades of Luna Lovegood in them.
They help each other to their feet. Louis stands tall and blonde, Hugo stout and ginger.
“We’ll just go back to bed, then, shall we?” guesses Louis.
“That would be wise,” intones Draco. His face is carefully cold, but Harry can see the way he is trying not to laugh.
“Goodnight,” says Harry.
“Putain de citrouille,” mutters Louis, giving Hugo a small shove.
“Oi!” complains Hugo. His laughter echoes all the way down the corridor, even after they are out of sight.
Looking at the suit of armor, Harry can see a sizeable dent in the pauldrons, but he decides to hold his tongue. After taking a moment to collect themselves, they continue on their patrol. All around them, the paintings are excitedly whispering amongst themselves.
“You’ll notice it’s always your lot we find hanging from chandeliers and stealing from the kitchens,” Draco remarks.
“I’m about to say something controversial,” says Harry, “but I think your son is part of ‘my lot.’”
For a moment, Draco does a very good job of looking offended, but his mouth just opens and closes without speaking. “You’re right,” he sighs.
There are no other students out tonight, however – at least not where Draco and Harry manage to find them. The rest of the walk is spent in companionable conversation, mostly with Draco complaining about the quality of the toadstools he has been growing in Neville’s garden, and how his hair is turning gray, and how annoyed he is that bloodroot is so hard to come by. Harry talks about his upcoming lesson plans and the kittens that have been living under Hagrid’s hut.
“It’s been an excellent year so far,” says Harry.
“Do you ever get tired of your own optimism?” asks Draco. He doesn’t mean to criticize, so Harry takes it at face value.
“Not really. I don’t have much to be negative about these days, which is a miracle, to say the least.”
“I don’t know what it is, but I feel calmer. More confident.”
“Ah, yes. That’s what you need. More confidence. Heaven knows you haven’t got enough of that.”
“You must have noticed, though,” says Harry. Surely he had. When Harry first got here, he was a stammering mess, always pulling at his hair, but he hasn’t done that in a long time. Being here at Hogwarts, safe and surrounded by family, was a big help – but Draco completes the puzzle. When Draco is around, something about him soothes.
The thought makes Harry’s heart race. Maybe he has said too much.
Draco slows his pace as they approach his office door, coming to a stop in the doorway. He leans casually against the wall, and Harry can’t help himself staring. Draco meets his gaze.
“You’ve always been a bit ridiculous,” he says.
“That’s not helpful.”
“When have I ever been helpful?” Draco grins. “Really, though, Harry. You do seem more comfortable lately, but I don’t believe it has anything to do with me. I think that some rest and autonomy were what you needed. And I can see how much you love your family.”
“Thank you,” says Harry. “But you should know that you’re part of it. I’m glad to call you my friend.”
“Friends, are we?”
Draco considers him for a long moment, his fingers toying absently with a button on his robe. “I may be going mad, but I like the sound of that.”
“Oh,” says Harry, trying to resist grinning like a lunatic. “Good.”
Come summer, as he packs his lesson plans into a box in his office, Harry casually says, “You know, I’ve never seen where you live.”
“Of course you have,” says Draco. “It’s just down the hall.”
Any other time, that might make him smile, but Harry is focused. “I meant, where you live during the summer.”
“I knew what you meant.”
“Well what? Why are you asking?”
Harry tries not to be annoyed and fails only a little bit. “I’m just curious. It must be very different from the Manor.”
Draco looks at him now like he is trying to solve a very important puzzle. In his arms, he holds a bundle of Harry’s scrolls; he hands them over and Harry puts them in the box. “You’re welcome to visit for tea,” says Draco finally. “But there shall be no slumber parties.”
“What’s the point, then,” jokes Harry.
He is trying to hide it, but Draco can’t disguise his nerves. For the life of him, Harry can’t sort out the root of it. Embarrassment, maybe? Shame?
“I’m sure it’s a very nice place,” Harry offers. “And you know Albus would love to see where Scorpius grew up. And, you know, I’d like to know more about you.”
“You know plenty,” says Draco, a little brusquely. They both hear it. He has gotten better at managing his temper, but he will always be a bit prickly. He pauses to rein himself in. “I’ll be honest with you, Harry. It’s rather unimpressive, and drafty, and I’m never there so things tend to get a bit dusty. I only keep it for Scorpius’s sake. If he was locked in the castle all summer by himself, he would go mad – and we Blacks go proper mad.”
That makes Harry smile.
“So if you would like to see it, you may,” says Draco. “I’d be glad to have you. But there’s really nothing to see.”
“Next weekend?” asks Harry, sealing the box shut.
Draco laughs, just a quiet little noise that makes Harry’s heart soar. “I look forward to it.”
The next week, Ginny stops by to have dinner with the kids and catch up with Harry. She’s about to leave for the international Quidditch tournament, which is in South America this year. Lily very seriously warns her to be careful of sunburn (“You’re just so white, mum,” she had fretted, and Ginny had laughed herself to tears).
Once the children are in bed – or at least up in their rooms – Harry and Ginny have a pint by the fireplace. When it’s like this, the two of them alone together and enjoying the silence, it feels almost exactly as it did when they were married. It reminds Harry that they did the right thing. Their relationship was not the kind for marriage.
“I visited Draco’s flat yesterday,” he says, leaning back against the sofa. They both decided to sit on the floor, letting the shadows close in.
Ginny takes a long drink. “What was that like?”
“I was surprised. I expected a lot of old things, heirlooms and all of that, but it’s rather empty. He really wants to let go of his parents, I think. Most everything is new. It’s nice, posh, you know – but he doesn’t have money. Not like he used to. And he has a wall with all of Scorpius’s childhood drawings on them. I love that idea.”
“You should do that,” Ginny agrees.
“Yeah. Right above the mantle, maybe.”
“You had a good time, then?”
“’Course. It’s always nice to see him.” When he talks to Ginny, the words just flow. There’s no reason to be dishonest.
Ginny takes a minute to finish her drink, but the way her eyebrows are bunched together tells Harry that she’s thinking something. She sets down her mug on the carpet and wipes her mouth on her sleeve. “I’m sorry, Harry, I just can’t understand why you would want to be friends with someone like Draco Malfoy.”
“Black,” says Harry.
Ginny stares at him. Absently, she begins to chew on a fingernail.
Harry flails in the silence. “He changed his name to Black,” he says.
He can tell he’s doing something wrong, can feel her disquiet in the way she looks at him, but he doesn’t know how to fix it. He tugs anxiously at his hair, then stops himself. “I don’t know, Gin, it’s… He’s different now. He’s – well, he’s not nice, exactly. But he’s – he’s funny. The kids love him. He’s a great teacher. And he’s really trying to be a better person. Ginny, I admire what he’s done. He’s changed everything.”
She makes a thoughtful noise, shifting into a cross-legged position on the floor. “He’s still a git, though, isn’t he?”
“Sometimes,” says Harry. “But when I got here, he didn’t want to fight with me. It seems like the more I talk to him, the more we… I suppose, the more we understand each other. He’s so unafraid of everything. And he makes me laugh, all the time.” He can feel himself smile just by remembering. “When I stopped by yesterday, he had treacle tart out for me. He pretended it was a coincidence.”
Ginny’s expression softens. “It sounds like he’s a good friend to you,” she says.
“Yeah,” says Harry. “He is.”
They chat a little while longer, mostly about Ginny’s latest Quidditch match and the injuries to their star seeker, who they will have to replace with an alternate who isn’t as good and tends to fly into the center of the pitch where she can be easily unseated. “It’s going to be a massacre, Harry,” says Ginny.
They also chat about Teddy, who is apprenticing at St. Mungo’s and is doing wonderfully. He loves to do impressions and make his patients laugh, and he has a memory for strange and unusual medical conditions. Recently he has begun regaling the family with descriptions of exotic diseases over the dinner table, much to Molly’s alarm. Last week, he treated a woman who was cursed so that every time she sneezed, bees would shoot out of her nose.
Eventually, Ginny and Harry say goodnight. They stopped saying “I love you” several months ago, when Ginny started dating; it had made her feel uncomfortable, like she was cheating. He is still her Harry, though – platonic, fraternal, or whatever he is. He always will be.
Chapter 6: Jingle Bells, Draco Fell, Potter Saved the Day
Chapter Six: Jingle Bells, Draco Fell, Potter Saved the Day
October passes, and November brings with it the first snowfall of the season. Draco enjoys looking out the windows and watching the students run hither and thither, throwing snowballs or kissing for warmth. Sometimes they dare each other to jump into the icy lake, which results in a great deal of screeching and flailing. Now and then, Draco can spy Scorpius, always with Albus, building little sculptures out of snow. A dragon, a woman, a pyramid. He is always pushing Albus around, Albus pressing in close for warmth and shivering. Such melodrama from a Potter, naturally.
Professor Sinistra comes across him one afternoon and decides to join him. She is not so much older than him, and they get along well enough; while he disliked her when he was her student, he now finds her to be a good conversationalist, and remarkably witty.
“You are such a voyeur,” she says to him.
Draco laughs. “Ever since I was a boy.”
“It’s important to have hobbies, I suppose.”
It’s nice to have these conversations now. It had taken Draco a very long time to get used to it. As a student, nearly everything he said was self-preservation, or simply hot air. Through the war, he found that he had very little to say after all. And when that was over, there were few people to talk to anyway, of course. No one wanted to be around an ex-Death Eater, and most of his friends were gone. Blaise, Millicent, and Greg hung around, but all at once they had nothing in common but regret.
Since then, Draco has been developing sincerity like a muscle he’s never used before. It gets better year by year. Teaching has helped enormously. When his potions work attracted the attention of McGonagall and she invited him back to Hogwarts, it had been the greatest gift of his life.
Except, naturally, for Scorpius.
Down below in the courtyard, Scorpius is on his way back inside, tailed by a chatty Albus. Two Hufflepuff boys are leaving tracks in the snow in a spiral pattern. Professor Singh arrives, followed by a string of first years in a perfect row, like ducklings. He has always had a way with children. If Draco remembers right, Singh sheltered Muggleborn and halfblood orphans during the war, and though many were able to live with relatives afterwards, he raised several as his own. The last of them graduated not too long ago.
Guilt strikes Draco quite suddenly, but he powers through. Most everyone else has forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.
“Are you all right?” asks Sinistra. “Am I interrupting something?”
“No, that’s okay. I was just… thinking.”
“Well,” she says, reaching out to adjust Draco’s tie without asking as if she were his mother, “you have been in such a better mood lately. We all hope it will last.”
“You people talk about me when I’m not around?”
She picks at some lint on her sleeve, nose scrunched with guilt. “Anyway, how have your classes been going?” she says. It’s not a denial.
He’ll need to play his cards a little closer to the chest from now on.
“The other staff are spreading gossip about me,” says Draco the moment he has Harry’s ear. Harry gives him the same look Sinistra gave him earlier, and Draco gasps. “And you’re in on it, aren’t you!”
Laughing, Harry turns his broom into a pretty roll that brings him right beside Draco. It’s Wednesday, and they should be looking for the snitch, but they gave up a while ago to settle on flying a few laps. One student sits in the stands, bundled to the chin and reading a book, but otherwise they are alone. It’s simply too cold for the students to be out practicing right now.
“Am I in trouble now?” asks Harry.
The impish look Harry is throwing his way is nearly enough to break Draco’s artificial outrage. “Stuff it. I ought to knock you off your broom.”
“You’d have to catch me, first.”
“Oh, please,” says Draco. “As if I could be rid of you long enough to chase you.”
Beside him, Harry smiles an odd, rueful smile and pulls away. He zooms to the other end of the pitch, where he performs a few tricks that are frankly getting dangerous at his age. Draco watches, prepared to rescue him if he slips and falls. Affection and annoyance engage in a small tug-of-war in his gut. What a buffoon, he thinks, but there’s no bite to it. Not anymore.
In good time, Harry comes back to him. Draco tucks into a few rolls to amuse him, and Harry applauds just enough to stroke Draco’s ego.
“You’re better than you were in school, I think!” says Harry.
“Flatterer,” says Draco, pretending that he isn’t preening at the compliment.
“You know, they do talk about you, just a tad,” Harry admits. Draco shoots him a glare. “Don’t frown like that. I was going to say, mostly they talk about how impressed they are with you. Most of them knew you in school, if you remember.”
“How I try to forget.”
“They say that you’ve come a long way. And everyone expected us to fight, and we didn’t, and you… deal with the students well. You’re nice to be around. That’s all.” Harry sits back on his broom and removes his spectacles to clean them on his sleeve. There’s a touch of redness to his cheeks, from the cold and acrobatics or something else, Draco isn’t sure.
“They say that?” says Draco. “Or you say that?”
In a flash, Harry disappears. At first, Draco worries that he’s fallen off of his broom, but then he spots the bastard dashing alongside the stands, hand outstretched. Of course, Draco realizes: he’s noticed the snitch. Draco hadn’t been looking for it for a while, now.
He watches Harry fishtail and peter out, empty-handed. It got away, then. A minute later, Harry’s back at Draco’s side and out of breath.
“I thought I had it,” he says.
Harry doesn’t talk again until they’ve touched down and he’s summoned the snitch back with his wand. It’s not the first time their friendly matches have ended this way. Sometimes the conversation is more fun than the competition – although neither would be pleased to confess it.
“What are your plans for the holidays?”
“I’ll stay at the castle, as usual.” Draco scowls down at his shoe, where his laces have come undone.
“All right,” says Harry, putting the snitch to sleep, “but what about Christmas itself?”
“I’ll give Scorpius his gifts and stuff myself full of as many pastries as I can get hold of, I should think. Just like every year. You know that.”
The shoelace issue is not going to resolve itself. Draco can’t remember the charm to do it without bending. Groaning a little at his sore muscles, he kneels and ties them. For pity’s sake, it’s not like he’s 100. This shouldn’t be so difficult.
Harry’s not paying him any mind, instead staring out into the Forbidden Forest beyond the pitch. He rolls the snitch between his fingertips in a thoughtless gesture. “Scorpius stays here in the castle with you, doesn’t he?”
“Why don’t you go to your flat?” asks Harry.
The question is innocent, but it makes Draco bristle nonetheless. Why can’t Harry grasp that Draco is alone? “He has friends who stay here, too. I try to do what’s best for him.”
Harry looks at him with those depthless eyes, his lips parted in sudden understanding. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean –”
“Please don’t apologize. It was a reasonable question, though I can’t imagine why you want to know now, after two years.”
“Um… To be honest, I…” Harry coughs abruptly into his fist, acting even shiftier than before. “I always spend Christmas Eve at the Weasley’s. It a big tradition in the family and everyone comes. There’s always lots of food and since Albus and Scorpius are so close, I thought…”
“You want to induct my son into your Weasley cult, is that it?”
“What? No. No, I… Er, I was going to invite you, too. I’d be happy to have you there, if you want to come.”
This is unexpected. A colorful assortment of snappy retorts come to mind, but all at once Draco doesn’t want to say any of them. He can’t imagine how awful it would be, to be crowded into that Weasley house with all of those Weasley kin, surrounded by drunks and singing and probably hugging, if his observations of their children are anything to go by. It sounds like torture.
But Scorpius would love it. Draco knows that instinctively. Scorpius would love to spend the holiday with his best friend, to celebrate the season the way it’s meant to be celebrated.
And Harry will be there. Strangely, where that idea would once have put Draco off completely, it is now a comfort. Harry would watch over him, Harry would know how uncomfortable it would be for Draco, Harry would be his friend and familiar in a tide of people who have every reason to hate Draco’s guts. And Harry must believe that they will be civil, if not welcoming, to Draco if he’s inviting him in the first place.
Draco doesn’t want to analyze when or why he began to place so much faith in Harry, but he does. Without a doubt, he does.
He is dimly aware that Harry is waiting for an answer. Draco says, “Ask me properly, first.”
Harry’s mouth twitches with the start of a smile. “Draco, would you please do me the honor of attending my family’s Christmas Eve celebration with me?”
He’s sweet. With mock nonchalance, Draco checks his nails. “Oh,” he says, surprising even himself, “very well, then.”
Scorpius nearly dies with happiness when he finds out, and Draco decides then and there that it’s all worth it. Whatever trauma Draco suffers at the hands of the Weasleys is nothing compared to this. All he wants is for his son to have a happy childhood, something Draco had never been afforded himself.
He won’t question what went wrong with his parenting style that his child considers spending an evening with Potters and Weasleys to be an ideal Christmas Eve. If he thinks on it too hard, it’ll give him a headache.
“Do you think he’ll let me stay over at his house?” asks Scorpius.
“I don’t trust you not to wear out your welcome,” says Draco, then with a sly smile adds, “But if you pretend to cry a bit when you ask, he might give in.”
When he arrives just outside the wards surrounding the Weasley home on Christmas Eve, he decides he really must be dreaming.
From the outside, the place seems almost innocuous. It is obviously a wizard building, teetering and ridiculous and added onto over time, the garden and rooftops bedazzled with outlandish whirring doo-dads, flowers of various types blooming wild. All of the windows glimmer with inviting orange light, but there’s not a soul outside.
Gripping his sleeve hard, Scorpius is grinning from ear-to-ear. He had to side-along the whole way, and he’s probably feeling it. They would have Flooed in, but Draco didn’t feel comfortable with that. He suspects that the Weasleys don’t feel comfortable with that, either.
“Should we knock?” asks Scorpius.
“Just give me a minute,” says Draco. His stomach has been rolling over and over since breakfast, and it’s still going now. He turns to survey his son, making sure that he looks presentable, pausing to adjust the knot on the silver tie that vanishes underneath his jumper. Scorpius wrinkles his nose but doesn’t fight him, sensing that Draco needs to fuss or risk exploding. Then, Draco turns to himself, fixing the cuff of his sleeve, smoothing his shirt, checking his buttons. He dusts imaginary dirt off of the small gift clutched in his hand. Nerves fortified, he takes one last deep breath and says, “All right. Let’s knock.”
But before either of them can so much as move, the front door swings open, and there’s Harry. Relief rushes through Draco at once. Harry’s smiling at him like Draco is an idiot, and it’s the best thing he’s ever seen.
“What are you two doing standing out here in the cold?” Harry demands. From the flush in his cheeks, he might be slightly tipsy already.
“Excellent question,” says Draco. “Why don’t you remedy that and invite us in?”
“You’re already invited.” Harry stands aside, allowing Draco and Scorpius to step through. In the doorframe, he leans in to speak into Draco’s ear, his breath a hot blast against Draco’s chilled skin. “Just relax.”
With that, Harry ushers him in with a hand against his back.
It is immediately overwhelming. There must be thirty people here, if not more, and that’s not including the animals. The animals roaming about freely, stealing snacks right out of people’s hands. People standing around talking and laughing, sitting and eating, kissing, hugging, jinxing each other, gesticulating wildly as they recount some story or another, hefting children onto hips, onto shoulders, catching drinks as they fall, feeding each other bites of things, hollering back and forth across the room, ducking under arms and between bodies, singing and singing at the top of their lungs.
Everything smells of cinnamon and alcohol and vanilla and roasted chicken, and magic, and burning wood and the fresh Christmas tree, and the faint odor of sweat and dust, but it’s all very pleasant, a homey smell that Draco isn’t used to but falls in love with at once. All around there are bells twinkling, sparks flying, something clattering as it is moved from one table to another. He spots enchanted mistletoe in the corner, catching one set of Weasley brothers, who good-naturedly peck each other on the cheek before moving on, and then a child and George Weasley, who kisses the sprout’s nose and cheeks until it squeals. The room is warm and crowded, and everyone is happy. Draco can feel his breath quickening.
This is going to be an utter nightmare.
It’s only his recent practice with catching the snitch that allows him to snag his son before he dashes off into the mob. “Your scarf,” he says, and Scorpius hands it to him. “Thank you.”
“I’ll take that,” says Harry, hanging it up beside the door.
The lad vanishes as if he had never been, lost in the tide of bodies, and panic seizes Draco.
A gentle hand closes around his wrist. He starts, but, looking around, he realizes it’s only Harry, watching him. “Are you okay?”
His touch scalds and Draco pulls away. “Don’t mother hen me.”
“You’re cross tonight, aren’t you?”
“Look, though,” says Harry, “no one’s even looking at you.”
Draco does look. Everyone is too busy talking to people they care about to pay attention to someone as petty as Draco Black, ex-Death Eater, and something unknots in his spine that had been so tight he thinks he might just spill onto the floor. He clears his throat. “Damn. After all that effort I put into this outfit.”
He is enormously pleased when Harry laughs. “It is a very good outfit.”
“Nice try. I know you can’t tell a half-Windsor from a four-in-hand.”
“A what and a what?”
“Here,” says Draco, shoving the parcel he has been carrying into Harry’s hand. “I brought a hostess gift.”
“That’s very thoughtful. Molly will love it,” Harry assures him.
A toothless urchin with no shoes parades right by them, carrying a tray full of drinks, and Harry stops her with his foot. “Roxanne, what are you doing with that?”
Draco can tell the child is a Weasley just by looking at her, the freckles and long nose and broad shoulders. He wonders who she belongs to.
“I don’t know. Lucy was in charge of it, but then she went to help in the kitchen, and the cat drank out of this one… and this one. So I took it.” She blinks up at Harry earnestly, tonguing at the gap between her teeth, and then at Draco. “Is this your friend?”
“Yes, this is Draco. He works with me at Hogwarts as the potions instructor,” says Harry. “Say hello.”
“Hullo,” says the child, all at once very shy. She drops her gaze to the floor and twists the toe of her shoe into the rug.
“This is Roxanne, George’s youngest,” Harry explains.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Roxanne,” says Draco, throwing in a dramatic little bow that delights her and makes Harry beam at him. Rich rewards.
“Do you mind if I take that tray from you? I don’t want you spilling,” says Harry.
“I want to help,” says Roxanne, and bolts, tray held aloft.
Harry shrugs. “Oh well. And look out, Draco. You’ve been noticed.”
Lifting his head, Draco can see several sets of eyes on him, each more inquisitive than the last. At least it isn’t disgust or anger, he thinks wearily, and braces himself as Granger and her husband break off from the crowd to greet him, followed by, nightmare of nightmares, Molly Weasley herself.
The matriarch hangs back, pretending to groom one of her many grandchildren, but Draco can still sense her eyes on him all the while that Granger hesitantly shakes his hand. He saw them all just last spring for graduation, but kept his distance, and now he knows he’ll have to actually introduce himself at long last, Merlin help him.
“Don’t you dare abandon me,” he hisses when Harry steps back.
“I’m right here. You’ll be fine.”
“You look well, Draco,” says Granger. “Rose and Hugo tell us that you’re a wonderful teacher. It’s good to finally… well, to see you in person.”
It’s a stilted greeting, but the gesture is one that Draco can appreciate. They can’t help being pedestrian, he supposes, and he admittedly doesn’t have a much better track record for maintaining composure in unsettling situations. Weasley, for his part, doesn’t seem able to stop staring.
“I’m glad we’re able to speak under more agreeable circumstances,” says Draco. “And you as well, Ronald.”
“Ronald?” the Weasley breathes, face flushing an impressive burgundy. His wife elbows him hard.
The words come tumbling out of her now in an avalanche. Draco supposes that some people never really change. She says, “I have to be honest. I don’t know what to make of you. All of the kids say that you’re a fantastic teacher, and Harry talks about you all the time –”
“Does he, now?” says Draco mildly, and for once Harry won’t look at him.
“But,” says Granger, “every time I see you I can’t forget what a dreadful, slimy, pretentious, underhanded, loathsome boy you used to be, and I can’t forget about that terrible place where you used to live and what your people did to me and how you did nothing, and I know it’s really not your fault and that in a way you were just as caught up in it as we were, plus you have obviously been trying to change since then and I believe you when you say you are different, so I really want to be able to move past all that, and if Harry can do it I guess I can give it a try, and he threatened us just a little to be nice to you. So this is me, giving it a shot.”
“Merlin’s pants, Hermione,” mutters Weasley, quite fondly. He takes a sip out of the massive glass mug he is carrying with him. When Harry shoots him a look, he adds, “That goes for me, too.”
“All of that is fair,” says Draco. “Though I think I’m not the only one guilty of being pretentious in my school days.”
Granger blushes, and in that moment he decides that he likes her. He will make this work, for Harry’s sake as well as his own.
“I don’t know if we will ever be friends, but I value your candor,” he says. “Let’s start over, shall we? Hello. I’m Draco. Thank you very much for welcoming me into your lovely, very busy home.”
They shake hands all over again, but this time the expressions on their faces are just a touch warmer. Harry gives him an encouraging smile. It’s good enough.
Once that little episode is passed, Molly Weasley swoops in like a great bat, eyes full of thunder.
This is the woman who killed Draco’s aunt, and they both know it. Not that Bellatrix didn’t deserve it, but that’s beside the point. As deferentially as he can, Draco bows his head to her, but before he can speak, Harry passes her the gift in his hands.
“Draco brought this for you.”
Molly takes it, but her expression remains stony. She looks Draco up and down.
“You’re looking a little queasy, dear,” she says, and Draco blinks. “Are you quite all right? Is there anything you need?”
“Um,” says Draco (who never says “um”).
“You should have something to drink. I’ll send someone over, I insist you have some cocoa at the very least.” She fixes her predator stare on Harry next. “And you, too, Harry.”
“Stay right here, it should be by in a moment. Oh, and Draco, it’s a pleasure to see you at last. I’m so glad you two are doing better. Thank you for the gift.” Just like that, she’s gone as abruptly as she came, easing between the people in the room with incredible speed and competency.
Draco is so shaken he can barely move. He can’t feel his feet. “My life flashed before my eyes,” he says, and Harry laughs.
“She has that effect on people.”
“Seriously. Potter. Am I still alive?”
“She likes you,” says Harry simply. “She’s not only focused on feeding everyone, you know, but she’s been obsessed with making me fat ever since she caught wind that you’re giving me nutrition potions. And I know, before you say it. I need them.”
“If you would remember to eat every now and again, you might stop blowing away in the breeze,” Draco starts in anyway, but Harry just smiles. The man seems stubbornly happy to be here.
He says, “So, is this everything you feared?”
“No,” says Draco, surprised. “Not at all.”
Three hours later, everything is going swimmingly. Draco has captivated all of the younger children with a fearsome story about blast-ended skrewts, navigated a conversation with Fleur Weasley without being murdered, eaten his weight in holiday pastries, and kissed the hands of two different Weasley brothers – twice. Also, he is drunk.
As promised, Harry hasn’t left his side all evening, intervening when necessary but content to let Draco roam. Draco suspects that it is his constant presence that spares Draco the worst of the Weasleys’ wrath, though George does get a bit rowdy after his third glass of firewhiskey and calls Draco a few stinging insults before his wife and Harry can distract him. All told, it’s better than Draco expected.
There is no expectation of propriety here. Half of the urchins are wandering about with no shoes. When Draco loosens his tie in the heat of the dining room, no one says a word – except Harry, who raises his eyebrows and says, “Saucy,” which makes Draco want to hit him.
Teddy approaches him sometime around his second round of dessert. Draco knows of him, in a vague sense, so he is relieved to finally meet Harry’s unofficial eldest child. He is short, shorter than Draco expected, with a shock of turquoise hair and a face that alarmingly resembles Draco’s aunt Andromeda. According to Harry, this is his usual look, when he’s not a girl.
“You’re technically like my second cousin, right?” says Teddy without preamble. He’s chewing on a straw from a glass of melting ice. There’s glitter on his eyelids.
“If we get technical, we’re all cousins,” says Draco.
“Yeah,” laughs Teddy. “’S why we’re all fucked up, probably.”
Draco isn’t sure what to make of this conversation. He looks sideways at Harry.
“It’s weird to have you here,” Teddy continues. “Not, like, you specifically. We just don’t usually have non-family over. Last was – what?” He turns to Harry. “Was it Luna?”
“Alicia,” says Harry.
“They look nothing alike. Don’t know why I got that confused.” Teddy refocuses on Draco again. “Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for being a good friend to Harry. I wasn’t alive for most of what you did before, and the parts I was alive for, I don’t remember. So all I know about you is that my Da likes you. ‘S good enough for me.”
“Thank you,” says Draco haltingly. Harry pats his shoulder.
“What made you decide to switch sides, anyway?” asks Teddy. “After the war, I mean.”
It’s an insensitive question, but not one Draco is unfamiliar with. He’s well prepared for it. “I made poor decisions because I was stupid and young and afraid. I’ve got a second chance that I didn’t earn, so I want to do right this time,” he says. “Plus, you know, you’re not allowed to wear pastels when you’re evil.”
Teddy looks up at Harry with a grin. “He’s all right.”
He’s halfway through a very tasty mug of something alcoholic and topped with whipped cream when Charlie Weasley clambers atop a chair and shouts, “It’s time for Quidditch!” A ragged but enthusiastic cheer erupts around the house and everyone pours outside.
“We’re going to a match?” says Draco. “At this hour?”
“No, you silly lush,” says Hermione, just as drunk as he is. She waves a hand in the vague direction of the back garden. “They play Quidditch out there every year, all of them who can fly.”
“It’s all good fun,” says Harry, watching Hermione lean on Draco and Draco lean back. The two have become fast friends somewhere over dinner, bonding in their mutual hatred of a conservative columnist in the Daily Prophet and their shared love of being the smartest person in the room. They also both happen to be charged with tending to bumbling, hopeless Gryffindors, and Hermione has already told him enough embarrassing stories about Ron to last Draco the winter.
“Ginny and Angelina always win at Quidditch, so it gets a mite boring,” says Hermione.
“They shan’t win this year,” declares Draco, “because I’m going to play!”
“I think not,” says Harry.
But Draco is nothing if not dedicated, once he puts his mind to it. “Yes! I will!”
And he does. The Weasleys lend him a broom and put him on Angelina Johnson’s team. She presses in close to him and says, in a menacing voice that would curdle even Lucius’s blood, “If you make me lose, I’ll have your pointy little nose.”
It is at this point that Draco decides not to let on that he can barely stay on his broom. It just doesn’t seem like the appropriate time, and plus he thinks he may throw up.
The air out here is bracing, especially biting now that the sun has gone down, but it feels good. Down below, Draco can see the sparkling lights spilling out the windows of the Burrow, and Harry’s face peering up at him, lips quirked in an uncertain smile as he carries on a conversation with Hermione. Then, the ground seems very far away indeed, and Draco is dizzy so he looks away.
The game is vicious, even by Hogwarts standards. Draco guesses it’s because they’re family and don’t care if they break each other’s noses. Ginny and Angelina are both professional-grade players after all, and Ron, Bill, and Charlie are nothing to scoff at, either. Little Molly, a fourth-year now, is the most impressive upstart, pulling into skids and tumbles that make Draco’s stomach flip just to watch. He hopes she tries out for the Ravenclaw team next year. Louis and Hugo, a great beater duo, have a jolly time trying to knock her from her broom. From the ground, Fleur yells, “Get ‘er, Louis! Put your arm into eet!”
Draco is impressed by her bloodthirstiness.
Beyond that, he stays well out of the fray. He has come too far in life to die via Weasley Quidditch match. When the quaffle comes his way, he handles it well enough, and he can hear Hermione giving him verbal support every now and then.
He holds together and does not, in fact, cost Angelina her victory – but that’s the extent of his contribution. Perhaps he’s a touch more soaked than he first thought.
As everyone moves to dismount, he finds himself struggling to point his broom in the right direction. To his alcohol-addled mind, the answer to this problem is speed.
The broom yaws sickeningly right, and then left, and then he’s jetting across the sky towards the snow-thickened boughs of a very tall tree.
Someone yells, “Draco!” and he manages to pull into a stop, but the momentum carries, throwing Draco and the broom into a series of otherwise impressive somersaults before spilling him right over the handle and onto the ground.
It’s a long way down. His graceless landing jars him so hard that his teeth feel it, and he decides that he can just lie here on the ground until sensation comes back to his fingertips. The world is spinning everywhere, round and round.
“He’s drunk,” says Ron. His voice sounds blurry, distant.
Harry’s voice is right up close, warm breath on Draco’s face. “Not dead yet, are you?”
Groaning, Draco picks himself up. “Oh,” says Ron.
“Do you think anyone saw that?” says Draco wryly. He squints up at them, but he’s having trouble making them out.
There’s something in his eyes. He brings up a hand to wipe it away and it comes back bloody.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he says.
“That’s not great,” comments Fred Junior solemnly, peeking around Harry’s shoulder. A small crowd seems to have gathered round, and Draco knows he should feel ashamed, but mostly he just feels tipsy and in pain.
“You’d better take care of him, Harry,” says Charlie.
Draco keeps swiping at his face, but there’s just more and more blood. It’s dripping onto his nice robes. Scorpius asks, “Is he okay? Is my dad okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” Ron assures him, moving him to a safe distance as Harry hefts Draco onto his feet. A headache immediately erupts right between his eyes, and for a second everything goes black. “It’s just a cut, I think.”
“You’re so stupid, dad,” says Scorpius, worked up and worried. Guilt punches Draco hard, harder than his fall, and he feels a lot more sober now.
“I’ve got you,” says Harry.
Draco doesn’t care for all of this fuss the way he once would have, preferring nowadays to lick his wounds in private, but he allows himself to be led across the grass and away from the crowd. He can hear Ron saying, “The broom’s stuck in the bloody tree.”
A calm and steady presence, Harry guides him to the bathroom. The door clicks shut behind him, leaving them alone in the quiet, and the high-pitched ringing in Draco’s skull dies down. He leans up on the sink, sniffling and sore.
“Hang on,” says Harry. He undoes the clasps on Draco’s thick winter robe to hang it over the back of the toilet. Under any other circumstances, Draco would complain, but Harry’s touch feels good.
Harry wipes at Draco’s face with a damp towel and murmurs something about not using a spell to clear the blood until he knows where it’s coming from. Slow and gentle, Harry cleans him up and disinfects the truly brutal gash that Draco has inflicted upon himself just above his right eyebrow. Everything hurts. Draco wonders what the others must be saying out there, after the old enemy Harry brought with him drunkenly crashed his broom into the ground. And Scorpius – the poor thing!
“Are you crying?” gasps Harry, aghast.
“I’ve ruined Scorpius’s Christmas,” says Draco. Everything is wet. His tears and blood are wet. “I made a mess of myself in front of your family. I only wanted to make a good impression for you. I’m fucking drunk. I’m a disgrace.”
He sobs, which hurts the parts of his body that aren’t bleeding, but to his great frustration, Harry doesn’t commiserate. No, Harry is smiling.
“It’s not as bad as all that,” he says. “I think everyone will love you loads more after this. Now they know you’re not all… uptight.”
“That’s one way to look at it,” grumbles Draco.
“I’m sure they’re talking about something else already. And as for your son, he’ll forgive you. He adores you more than anything. Now, hold still.”
Keeping Draco’s head motionless with one hand on his chin, Harry points his wand at the injury and stitches it together. It stings terribly. Draco winces and breathes in sharp through his teeth.
“I know,” says Harry softly. “I’m sorry. I’m not a Healer, but it should heal neatly, no scarring. I promise.”
Draco watches him, entranced by the cool focus in those green eyes, the way that Harry purses his lips together when he concentrates. The corners of Draco’s eyes still sting with tears, but the spell of grief is over. He can’t recall anyone treating him so kindly, except maybe his mother. And Harry’s so close, sharing the warmth of his body. Harry is almost close enough to kiss.
After a moment, he lowers his wand with a triumphant sigh. “There. All done.”
“Thank you,” says Draco, attempting to blink himself back into reality.
“You had me worried for a second out there,” Harry says. “But you’re a very good patient.”
The sternness in his face softening now, Harry smooths Draco’s blood-soaked hair off of his forehead. The touch is almost tender, and Draco shuts his eyes, pressing into it.
“Let’s wash that out,” says Harry. He murmurs a quick charm that makes Draco’s hair feel straw-like, but clean. Harry pushes his fingers through it again, and again, and it feels nice – really nice. Then, remembering himself, he pulls away. “Are you ready to go back out there?”
Something in Draco tells him that something very important has just happened, but he doesn’t understand it.
“Give me a minute,” he mumbles, and Harry does, letting Draco lean into his shoulder for several long seconds. He smells like everything else in the house smells, and he’s warm, and so short that Draco practically has to stoop. “My word,” says Draco suddenly, “you’re dark!”
Astonished, Harry laughs. “Draco, I’m black.”
“No,” says Draco, frowning. “I’m Black.”
“Oh, I see. You’re funny.”
“Now I understand. Why you look so… swarthy.”
“Watch your mouth around Hermione, saying things like that,” says Harry, but his mouth has gone screwy. “She’s not as tolerant as I am, you know.”
Draco goggles. “And she’s black as well!”
Harry heaves a massive sigh, searching Draco’s face with such a warm light in his eyes that something in Draco breaks, flooding him with affection for this man, so deep that it aches. It almost floors him. “You really are pissed, aren’t you?” says Harry.
Hauling himself to his own two feet, Draco says proudly, “Yes, I am.”
Scorpius goes off to spend the night with Harry’s family, and everyone thumps Draco on the back for his heroic display of acrobatics. Even George Weasley, who hated him earlier tonight, gives him a crooked smile and says, “Good show, mate.” Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, gives him a hug – and Hermione does, too. Best of all, Molly Weasley gives him a roll of bandages, apparently convinced that he is often this clumsy, and tells him that there’s no need to thank her (he thanks her anyway).
Draco nearly makes it out the door unscathed, making the whole evening more or less a success, but just as he collects his gloves, he claps eyes with Ginny Weasley.
He has been avoiding her since he arrived, and her interest in him is nothing to write home about. But now she comes to him in a handful of swift strides, and despite her being such a bitty thing, Draco quails.
“That was some display you put on tonight,” she says, not unkindly.
“That’s me,” says Draco. It comes out a bit weak. “Always had a flair for the dramatic.”
He isn’t sure why he is so nervous – it’s only Harry’s wife (ex-wife), who he has praised highly and never said a word against. Perhaps it’s because Harry isn’t here to run interference for him anymore.
It could also be because of the intense, analytical look she is giving him, as though all of the answers to her life’s questions are written on his face in very, very tiny print. It makes him feel like prey. He wants to run. It takes all of his effort to keep his feet planted firmly on the floor and not to turn his face away.
“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been… a nice surprise, today,” she says. “Harry built you up so much, we weren’t sure if he’d gone spotty on us. Said you’d changed and that you’re his good friend, pleaded with us to give you a chance, which we have.”
Everything in Draco screams to find out more, always thirsty for gossip, but he reigns it in. “Am I everything you hoped and dreamed, madam?”
“You’re certainly interesting, I’ll give you that. And a complete riot when you’re smashed.”
“Ah, that was a pun.”
“It was.” She grins, and despite himself Draco can see why Harry chose her. She’s wicked. Draco can relate to that. “Listen, I don’t know if I can ever forgive you entirely for what you’ve put my family through.”
“You wouldn’t be the first, nor would I blame you.”
“See, and it’s that lovely attitude that makes it so difficult to hold a grudge. So, to make it square, I owe you one punch to the face. ‘Mione got one, Harry got one, it’s only fair that I get one. Since your father sold me to the Dark Lord when I was eleven years old.”
“That’s more than fair,” says Draco readily. “Rain check on that, though. My face is still in delicate condition. And as for my father…” He pauses to search for the right phrase, checking his bloodstained sleeves and noting with dismay that there will be no restoring them. “I share your sentiments.”
Ginny Weasley’s eyes are practically aflame. “Good,” she says, voice rough. “Damn good. I’ll hold you to that, Draco.”
“I expect nothing less.”
“And one other thing,” she says. “Being at Hogwarts has made Harry happier and more alive than I have seen him in ages. I can’t remember the last time I saw him smile like that.”
“He loves being near his family, I think.”
She makes a forlorn sort of noise that makes Draco wonder. “Just keep looking after him, won’t you?” she asks. “For me.”
“Naturally. Can’t leave that fool alone for five minutes without him getting into trouble. Someone’s got to keep an eye on him, and it may as well be me.”
If she doesn’t fall for his façade of cool, she doesn’t show it, and it seems to be enough. They shake hands and part ways as tentative allies. Draco is glad for it, though by the time he arrives at the inn where he is staying over the break, a dark cloud has come over him. He hangs up his tie and hat, shuts the door behind him, and then collapses on the bed.
He feels sick, and not just from the tremendous amount of wine he put away tonight, nor from the splitting headache he earned in his spectacular fall. Laying face-down on the quilt, he takes several shuddering breaths until all of the anxiety that has built up in his body at last begins to ease.
That was one of the most difficult nights he has ever experienced. He can’t remember the last time he had to be so careful with every word, every gesture, so terrified of offending or making one misstep.
No, that isn’t accurate. He can remember, but he doesn’t want to.
He knows he cannot compare that experience to this. This was of his own volition. This was worth the pain, if only just.
He doesn’t want to question when it became true in his life that he wants to make Harry Potter happy with him, but there it is. His teenage self would roll over in his grave.
Still trembling, bone-tired, Draco drags himself upright, shoves off as much outerwear as he can manage, and flattens himself under the covers. Sleep for now, he thinks, and mend the damage tomorrow.
He dreams, but it’s vague. Rose-colored light, the clink of bottles, his mouth caught in a friendly kiss. When he wakes, he feels as though he’s been hit by the Hogwarts Express, and then a stampede of hippogriffs, and then perhaps a band of centaurs for good measure.
He is too old for this.
Reality comes back in layers, first with light and then with color, and finally with sound. He can identify what has awoken him: the insistent tap-tap-tap of an owl at his window, bearing a small parcel and a letter. Every muscle screams in protest as Draco tumbles out of bed and opens the window to receive the bird. With the post comes a blast of crisp, frozen air, and the sound of bells. It’s Christmas.
The letter is from Harry, short and sweet. Draco, Scorpius has asked to stay with us today. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought you might need some rest. Here’s your Christmas gift. See you tomorrow? Yours, Harry. Direct, but never cold. It’s a skill Draco is still working on.
The thought of spending all day at the inn is a welcome one. All Draco wants to do is lay his head down and not get up again until New Years. And his room is cozy enough, full of pillows and with a steaming tea set brought in by the house elves that work here. Draco winces as he reaches for his parcel, knowing without looking that he has a nasty bruise on his right shoulder.
The present from Harry, at first glance, is modest. A bundle of beautiful white flowers, dried and bunched together by a mustard yellow ribbon, and a stone on a string, carved into the shape of a coiling dragon. But when he sniffs the bundle, he realizes that they are the bloodroot flowers from the Canadian coven that he has been trying to attain for months, and he recognizes the pendent as a kind of warding magic, meant to turn hot when the giver is thinking kindly of the wearer.
With hardly a beat of hesitation, he puts it on. The stone settles cool, and then blood-warm against his skin. The sensation of its magic is comforting. He smiles in disbelief – all he got Harry, when he handed it to him before the break, was a repair kit for his broom bristles and a set of tie pins. Nothing so thoughtful as these things.
He owes the man an apology. Probably more than one apology, looking back on yesterday’s fiasco. And some thanks are in order too, Draco thinks. He reaches up to feel the skin on his forehead, where he had been bleeding the night before, and remembers the way that Harry had so patiently fixed him up.
Harry, whose stubbornness has softened into patience, who is kind and good and sometimes oblivious, who cares so much and is so grateful for all that he has. Who is warm and strong and handsome. Who Draco knows that he can count on.
And then, for no discernable reason, it hits him all at once. He has to sit down.
“God,” he says, borrowing from Harry’s Muggle vocabulary, “I’m in love with him.”
The room doesn’t answer back. The delivery owl gives up on waiting for a treat and swoops out the still-open window. Carrying up from the street is the persistent, cheerful sound of bells.
“Something is wrong with Draco.”
“You’re just now realizing this?” says Hermione. She licks the blade of her thumb and flips through the documents in her hand one last time to be sure that they are alphabetized the correct way.
“Yeah!” yells Ron from the kitchen, where he has been shuffling about for the last hour. “When has anything ever been right with that git?”
Harry can’t stop the way his face falls, and Hermione at once leaps to his defense. “You have your moments, too, Ron. You agreed with us that he deserves a second chance just as much as anyone else. And stop yelling.”
Poking his head out of the kitchen door, flour smeared across his nose, Ron shows them the giant shrug he couldn’t keep to himself. “Not arguing. He’s a fine bloke now. Just saying he’s never been all-together, has he?”
“Hmm,” says Hermione, frowning at her papers. “You have a point.”
Harry shakes his head. “That’s not fair. You saw him at Christmas Eve and everything was fine. He got rather… toasted, by the end, but he… he looked all right, didn’t he? Not miserable, or anything.”
“Please, drink your tea,” says Hermione.
He does. Ron ducks back into the kitchen when something dings at him.
At last, Hermione sets down her paperwork; she tends to bring her work back home with her, so that she has something to do. The house feels empty to her with her children at Hogwarts, just like Harry’s did, so he doesn’t begrudge her for it. She leans forward and asks indulgently, “What’s the matter with Draco, then?”
“He was good at Christmas Eve, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. He was wonderful.”
Harry purses his lips and stares into the fireplace. Draco never lights his fireplace at the castle – he doesn’t like fire bigger than a candle flame. Ron and Hermione almost always have it going, prepared for visitors and family, and whenever Harry stops by he enjoys how inviting their home feels because of it. He stops by for tea less frequently now that he is gone most of the year, but he treasures this time, just him and the two greatest friends he has ever had.
So, why is it difficult to be honest?
He hasn’t told them anything yet, nothing about the growing certainty that he is enamored with Draco, a man, and all of the questions that reality brings. He has carried these concerns with him for two years. This secret is starting to feel comfortable to him.
He wants to ask them what to do. Instead, he groans and pushes a hand through his hair, saying, “It’s daft, now that I think about it. He’s just been acting strangely. He never wants to talk or play Quidditch anymore.”
“You sound like a little boy. Perhaps he’s just taken ill.”
“For a month, without mention? It’s just strange. If something has happened to him, he would… Hermione, he would tell me.”
There was a time when Hermione would have found such a statement odd, but now she nods. “You think that he’s cross with you.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Apologize,” Ron calls from the kitchen. “First thing is to apologize. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I get him trained a little better every day,” says Hermione to Harry with a smile. She reaches into a bag by her feet and roots around for some bottles, placing them into his palm. “Those are Pepperup, for Hugo. He always gets sick just after the holidays, poor thing.”
Here comes Ron from the kitchen. “It’s his own fault, getting into Hufflepuff like that. Bunch of weirdos, staying in, spreading their germs.”
“Well, your son is one of those weirdos, so you’d best get used to it,” says Hermione cheerfully. She knows that he doesn’t mean it – the Hufflepuffs were among their best supporters in the war, and Hermione regularly meets with several of them for tea even nowadays.
“And Harry’s replacing me as his best mate with a blond ferret,” complains Ron.
“I’m not,” says Harry, mortified, but Hermione snorts.
“Ignore him. Ron, you’re just upset because you’re having kitchen troubles.”
Ron scowls. “Bah.”
“Ron’s been trying to learn how to make baklava, but they won’t turn out right,” she explains.
Harry says, “Oh.”
“It’s the damned oven,” Ron mutters darkly, and vanishes into the kitchen once more.
Hermione presses her hand to Harry’s knee. “It will work out, Harry. Just talk to him.”
Draco is around like always, present at meetings, only a few seats down at the staff table at dinner, but he is distant. It’s almost as if they were never friends, still the near-strangers with a rocky past they had been upon meeting two years ago. Actually, he has become so proficient at dodging Harry’s attempts to get closer that Harry marvels that they ever managed to become friends at all.
In due time, though, he gets his chance, stopping by the washroom to splash water on his face after some (rather strong) tea with Hagrid. Draco is there, staring fiercely in the mirror at his own reflection, and for a moment it feels so much like a memory that Harry stops dead.
“Oh,” says Draco, “it’s you.”
“Ah, but is it?” jokes Harry. “Maybe I’m a spy in Polyjuice. You ever think of that?”
“Okay.” Defeated, Harry steps up to the sinks and shoves his head under the faucet. Beside him, Draco makes a soft sound of disgust. Harry ignores it, splashing the cool water onto his face and relaxing as the smells of Hagrid’s cabin, still a little rank after he kept a flock of pheasants in it for a week, is washed away. When he comes up for air, he asks, “What are you up to?”
“I’m not ‘up to’ anything,” says Draco. “I’m checking that butchery you called healing, back from Christmas.”
He pushes back his hair, and Harry obligingly squints at his exposed forehead.
“Looks fine to me.”
“I hope you’re joking! Look, there. I’ve got a scar.”
Pushing himself up off of the sink basin, Harry leans in close to get a good look. His heart flutters a wild beat in his chest, being this near to him. There on Draco’s face, so faint as to be almost invisible, is a tiny crescent scar.
“Huh, there it is,” says Harry.
Draco huffs, stepping back from him, cheeks colored with anger. “Well?”
“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself? For maiming me? Now we bloody well match. Scarhead and Scarhead.”
“It’s not so bad,” says Harry. He reaches out, but Draco moves out of reach. Sighing, Harry lets his hands fall to his sides and stay there. “Is that why you’re so upset with me?”
“Upset with you?” repeats Draco, frowning.
Harry shrugs his shoulders and speaks to the floor. “I don’t know what I did, but it’s clear that I’ve, er, offended you somehow, and I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I just want to fix it.”
“Look at you. Harry Potter, apologizing.” But Draco looks stricken.
“I’m practicing to get better at it,” says Harry with a faint smile, and Draco looks off somewhere in the distance, not at his face. “Do you forgive me?”
“Harry, don’t be any more ridiculous than you already are. You’ve done nothing wrong,” says Draco, adding for good measure, “For pity’s sake.”
That really provides Harry with no more answers than he started with. Draco has always, in Harry’s memory, been inclined to be as opaque as possible, but this is above and beyond. It’s obvious that something is the matter, and if Harry can’t get to the bottom of it, the least Draco could do is meet him halfway. Having Draco angry with him is nearly as bad as having Ron mad at him – like a limb that’s gone suddenly and painfully numb.
Perhaps sensing Harry’s frustration, and perhaps just as bored with playing hard to get, Draco says, “Honestly. You’re a good friend and I’m sorry if I made you think differently. I just want to be left alone.”
“That’s all?” wheedles Harry.
Draco cocks his head in a noncommittal kind of gesture. “For now.”
He turns to leave, but Harry follows doggedly down the corridor.
“Bugger off, or I’ll hex you,” says Draco over his shoulder.
“Not if I hex you first.”
“It’s your funeral, Potter. Last warning.”
Draco’s face is flushed, eyes furtive, and Harry knows something is going on. He can sense it in his gut. He tries to pull alongside Draco, whose stride is much longer and faster than Harry’s, but it’s a difficult feat.
“Why won’t you just –”
A nasty bout of jelly-legs strikes him and he goes down with a clatter, spilling face-first onto the floor. Shock outweighs any discomfort Harry feels as he pulls himself to his forearms to gape at Draco, who capers out of reach.
“You jinxed me!” he yelps.
Draco looks better for it, his mouth twisted into a wincing smile. “I didn’t think you’d fall down like that! Merlin, Harry. Sorry.”
“You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
Harry still can’t get up. It was a good shot.
“I warned you! Where was your shield charm? Sloppy work,” says Draco. He stoops to help Harry to his feet when he decides there is no threat of revenge. “Some Defense professor you are.” With an absent-minded look that Harry has gotten used to, he dusts off Harry’s robes and plucks a few dust bunnies from his sleeves. “It was pretty funny,” he admits.
“You’re a public menace,” says Harry with hopeless affection.
Draco lets go of him, and they stand together in near silence, except for the excited whispering of the portraits, who always enjoy a little skirmish when it happens in front of them. Taking a deep breath, Draco looks into his eyes and Harry is alarmed to see something like sadness there.
“Harry,” he says, “please just leave me alone.”
“Maybe you should respect his personal boundaries,” suggests Lily, in a voice far too wise for someone who is just thirteen years old. “It doesn’t exactly scream ‘caring friend’ when you keep badgering him even though he asked you not to.”
Hefting a large wooden box onto his desk, Harry glowers at her. “I don’t remember telling you any of this,” he says.
“I heard it from Scorpius,” says Lily.
“And where’d Scorpius hear it?”
“Sometimes I worry about you,” he says solemnly, and goes back to his task of pushing the desks and chairs aside. His daughter helps for a while before she grows bored of it and stands at the front of the room, poking at the box that he has placed up off the floor.
“Is it a real boggart, dad?”
“Afraid so,” says Harry. “Though I don’t think I’ll do it like I did last year, having everyone face their fear in public. I’ll have everyone wait in a line, with a curtain in front. That way everyone has a bit of privacy, but they can all see me do it first. What do you think?”
“I like that plan,” she says. “Mellie says that one of the Gryffindor boys found out that his friend is frightened of lizards, so he put an iguana in his pillowcase.”
“Another good reason for the curtain.”
They work together and with a few sticky charms and a touch of transfiguration, Harry has the room how he wants it. He scrounges up some candy to give Lily as a show of gratitude. She sits on his desk beside the boggart box and eats it merrily.
“So you think I should give him space?” asks Harry.
“One time Albus and Scorpius had a big row and didn’t talk for a week. Don’t remember what about. I think Cory started dating someone that Al didn’t like… or maybe he ate the last of Scorpius’s caramels. The man loves his sweets.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Harry supposes.
“Anyway,” says Lily, “what I’m saying is, Cory got more upset when Albus wouldn’t listen than he was about the fight.”
Pretending to look sage and considering, Harry says, “That sounds like very good advice.”
She brightens at that, and he feels a rush of pride. “I hope you make up soon,” she says. “You’ve been really pathetic lately.”
“All right, all right,” grumbles Harry, but he can’t fault her for telling the truth.
Classes absorb all of Harry’s focus for the next few days, to keep his mind off of the way Draco refuses to look up when he’s in the room, the effort it takes not to say anything to him, turning the memory of Christmas Eve over and over and wondering if maybe he overstepped his bounds somewhere. Things had been going so well until then.
The Ravenclaws, especially, take a good chunk of Harry’s energy. Little Molly is a perfectionist and often becomes frustrated when she doesn’t perform a spell flawlessly on the first go. Dean and Seamus’s daughter, Felicity, lends a helping hand now and then, but she can’t do the spellwork for Molly. As a result, Felicity lags behind the others and sometimes has to stay behind to practice with Harry after class. He doesn’t mind. It’s a good way to get to know his students, and she fills him in on what his old classmates are up to.
Albus and Scorpius always make a big production whenever the fifth-year Slytherins have the classroom. Colin and Carol Creevey, twins, have picked up a disturbing habit of turning in one assignment for the both of them, and Harry will have to sort that out quickly. Amethyst Crabapple gets into a fight with Maleficent Pendeghast in the hall outside of his classroom, sending them both to the infirmary and forcing Harry to spend an afternoon writing an incident report. And one Gryffindor boy, known only as “Tweedy,” kisses Rose Weasley flat on the mouth and makes her cry.
He receives letters from James, too, once a week. He’s broken up with his most recent girlfriend, a petite thing named Judy, and is despondent. It will pass. Harry wonders what it must be like, to date casually.
Hermione has gently asked if he’s considered meeting other women, since Ginny has branched out quite well and is seeing some Quidditch player from Ireland (he has heard it’s a fleeting sort of venture, something that he doesn’t think he would enjoy). Harry hasn’t told Hermione that he’s already set his heart on someone who isn’t even speaking to him. He thinks that particular bit of news might not go over well.
Valentine’s Day comes and goes, with Harry only slightly missing Draco’s usual acerbic remarks. He does purchase a nice bottle of wine for him, though, and leaves it at Draco’s desk with no note.
It’s the closest he comes to breaking his promise to give Draco breathing room. He hopes it isn’t too much.
Amongst all of this, he takes his typical free hours with Neville, Hagrid, Singh, and Hooch. They love all of his classroom horror stories, and have more than a few of their own. Hagrid makes sure to tell Harry how skilled Lily is with the magical creatures.
Draco and Harry do not cross paths. The snow melts and the rains come. It’s March. Harry starts finding mud in unexpected places.
Every now and then, he will look up at staff meeting or in the Great Hall and find Draco looking at him from across the room. But when their eyes meet, Draco always makes himself busy with something else. It twists something low in Harry’s stomach that he didn’t even know could twist, and it hurts.
It hurts, but he waits.
At last, on an otherwise uneventful night, Draco comes by Harry’s office.
He’s wearing his pajamas already, his robes thrown casually over them. In his hand, he clutches the bottle of wine Harry gave him almost a month ago. For a second, Harry thinks that Draco’s been drinking it, but the vacant look in his eyes is something else; the bottle is still corked and full.
“You sent this to me, didn’t you?” says Draco.
“It’s awful. Ludicrously expensive, but this company hasn’t made a good drink in seventy years. Look at this vintage. The grapes were practically picked this afternoon. You had no idea what you were doing when you bought this, did you?”
Crestfallen, Harry stares at the offending bottle. “No,” he admits.
Draco’s voice cracks a little when he says, “That’s just like you.”
Without hesitation, he invites himself into Harry’s office, flinging himself into one of the three plush armchairs Harry keeps for his students. He remembers how it feels to sit on a hard wooden stool, trying to talk to an intimidating professor, and he imagines that the students are grateful for the small touch of comfort when they visit him.
Even lounging, legs sprawled and wine bottle in one hand, Draco looks somehow elegant sitting there. Harry’s throat tightens and he pretends to finish marking up the essay he has been poring over for the last few minutes.
“I saw this sitting on my desk like it ended up there on accident,” Draco continues. “No note. And I thought, of course it’s Potter, plying me with alcohol. I was surprised it wasn’t strawberry tarts.”
“I can’t cater to your sweet tooth all the time. You’d get spoiled,” says Harry, and to his great relief, Draco snickers.
“Did you think I was never going to come talk to you?” he asks.
Harry smiles ruefully. “I knew you’d have to talk to me eventually. We still have that shared unit on poisons next month.”
“Ah, damn. I forgot about that. I was going to ask if you’d like to cover amortentia this time.”
“May as well,” says Harry, trying not to let on how unreal this conversation feels, like they were never apart to begin with.
Pointing his wand at the cork and flicking his wrist, Draco pops open the wine. “Let’s take a crack at this,” he says.
“You go ahead.”
Draco drinks straight from the bottle and pulls a hilarious face. “Horrid.”
He takes another sip anyway. “Horrid,” he says again.
The man seems determined to get drunk off it, though, and keeps on taking swigs. Harry silently resolves to try harder to get him something decent next time, if there is a next time. He believes that there will be – both Draco and Harry love teaching too much to leave Hogwarts, at least for a very long time.
“You know,” says Draco, voice low and pensive, “you’ve saved my life more times than I can count.”
“Listen, I know that the cut on your head wasn’t pretty, but it was hardly life-threatening –”
“No, not that. From before.”
“That’s all in the past,” says Harry.
“Is it, though?” breathes Draco.
Something isn’t right here. He looks wild, exhausted, the flesh around his eyes stained red from lack of sleep. But he doesn’t seem to be enchanted, so Harry sits quietly and lets him speak. A chill comes through the window, followed by the patter of rain. Desperate for something to do, Harry gets up and pulls the window shut.
Draco mumbles on. “Do you think I’m friends with you because I feel indebted to you somehow? Do you think other people think that? Do you think I owe you for looking after me? I never asked you to. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Draco,” says Harry, “what in Merlin’s name is the matter?”
Draco drops the bottle with a cringe-inducing clunk. It’s charmed not to break, and as it rolls away, spilling all over the rug, the smell of hot plastic fills the room. It really is a bad wine, Harry thinks regretfully.
“I don’t want to fight with you,” says Draco. He sounds absolutely miserable about it. “Merlin help me, I came all the way here in the middle of the night to apologize to you. I couldn’t sleep. I miss you.”
“I don’t want to fight with you, either.”
“You’re a big pushover nowadays. You never fight with me, even when I deserve it.”
“I spent half my life fighting. I’m tired of it,” says Harry. “Aren’t you?”
“Yes,” sighs Draco. “Yes.”
With a grunt, he hefts himself out of the chair and paces about Harry’s office, meandering towards the bookcase and veering towards the window; he leans against it, pressing his forehead to the cool glass to watch the rain.
“Whatever happened to me?” he says, and Harry doesn’t think he was supposed to hear it.
In his best Draco impression, Harry says, “Quit being so melodramatic.”
At first, Draco has the wherewithal to look shocked, but then the corners of his eyes crinkle and Harry knows he’s won. They both laugh out loud. Just like that, the tension of the last few weeks evaporates as if it had never been.
“I’m being a tit,” says Draco.
“Only a little.”
“You’re not supposed to agree with me. You tit.”
Harry grins helplessly. He opens his mouth to retort, but just then, Draco finally notices Harry’s emotional windowsill plant and makes a sound of interest. Tilting his head this way and that, he turns it in his hands.
“What in heaven’s name is wrong with your plant?” he asks. He reaches out to prod the brown, shriveled leaves.
“It’s still alive, I think,” says Harry, his stomach sinking at the realization that this tiff with Draco may have finally killed it. “It just doesn’t handle emotional stress very well.”
“A feeling plant,” says Draco thoughtfully. “Poor potted creature.”
Harry watches as Draco begins to stroke the plant instead, and his heart swells at the sight. He’s trying to comfort the thing. This man is taciturn and unpredictable, prickly and snide, but here he is expressing deep tenderness to a plant. He is a capable father, a formidable Quidditch player, a reliable teacher, and a brat. Harry adores every inch of him.
He clenches his hands on the table and then drops them into his lap. Their friendship matters more.
Draco turns to him and clears his throat, eyes dropping to the floor, and they’re back where they started. “Well,” he mumbles, “goodnight, Harry.”
Perhaps not all the way back to where they started.
Harry says, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Fancy a game after classes?”
A beat of hesitation that makes Harry instantly regret asking, but then Draco nods. His eyes are bright. “No. Something better.”
“Better?” echoes Harry.
“I’m taking you out to dinner.”
Professors are expected, typically, to be at the staff table during mealtimes. For both Draco and Harry to be absent would be suspicious, even alarming to the students, so they bide their time until another Hogsmeade trip arrives. Draco promises to take him somewhere nice, and Harry tries not to think on it too much; it gives him an embarrassing case of butterflies, and he’s far too grown up for that.
Otherwise, things return to normal between them, to his great relief. They play Quidditch and board games, mark up essays side-by-side in Draco’s office, and they are back to sharing snacks, their most time-honored ritual. It is as natural as ever, to be Draco’s constant companion again.
Of course, Harry also spends time with Lily and Albus when they stop by, and he still has regular tea with the other professors.
“I’m glad everything has worked out with you and Draco, Harry,” says Neville one afternoon as Harry helps him strip the tough outer shells of some kind of bulbous root. It’s a tedious task, and Neville has said forebodingly never to touch the fresh root beneath with his bare skin, but the threat is minimal and so Harry is relaxed.
“So am I. I was going spare,” he says without really thinking.
Neville’s silence draws his attention, but then Neville says, “Did Singh tell you he’s a grandfather now?”
“Yes,” says Harry. “I was surprised. He’s not that much older than us.”
“As for me, Violet and Daisy are still young yet. Won’t be starting school for a while. But you, Harry, watch out. You’ll get your second round of little Potters pretty soon, I reckon. Don’t cut your glove.”
They work for a few minutes without speaking, Harry stripping each root with great care and replanting them. He doesn’t know what purpose this activity serves, but if he asks, Neville will talk about it for hours. Instead, they mostly spend time complaining about work, and every now and then Neville fills him in on how well Albus and Scorpius are doing. They his best students, apparently.
Harry says, “I always wanted another little girl. I would have named her Ruby – after Hagrid, you know? Ruby Minerva.”
“It’s never too late,” says Neville.
“Lily would be jealous. And anyway I don’t think it would be possible, even if I wanted to.”
Realizing that he may have said too much, Harry shuts his mouth. He focuses on the motion of his blade, and beside him Neville makes a pensive little noise, dirt in his neat, dark beard.
“You know…” says Neville, frowning, and then seems to think better of it. “If you can’t cut the roots without turning the knife into your glove, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I only have so many of them, and they cost.”
Smiling, Harry does his best not to push Neville into a foul mood; he can get very particular about his plants.
Easter arrives faster than Harry expected. Albus goes to Hogsmeade, but Lily prefers to stay close to her father and stays at the castle with him. Harry passes time playing board games with her and allowing her to organize his bookshelf. Draco enjoys leaning on various surfaces around Harry’s office, watching them and firing off wry commentary. Harry appreciates his presence more than ever.
He has very nearly forgotten Draco’s promise to take him to dinner until, later that evening, Draco approaches him outside the Great Hall, his robes stylishly cut short around the knee and his hair swept handsomely back, and says, “Potter, would you please follow me? We’re going out.”
“You look nice,” Harry offers, and is astonished to see an almost bashful look cross Draco’s face.
“I don’t know what you mean. I always look nice,” he says with a sniff.
Harry can’t help but smile.
With an endearingly imperious gesture, Draco leads Harry back through the castle and up the stairs. It’s not the direction Harry was anticipating, but he dares not ask any questions. At any rate, the route becomes familiar very quickly, and he realizes that they are not going out at all. Instead, they are heading directly for Draco’s office. It had taken Harry ages to remember where it was, since Draco had moved it from its original place, to an area he claimed had better lighting. He follows anyway and doesn’t speak.
When they arrive at the door, Draco gives Harry an almost anxious kind of look. When Harry just looks back, he rolls his eyes and says, “Go on, then.”
Nodding, Harry moves forward and pushes open the door, steps through into the empty office. It looks much the same as usual, though the drapes are pulled back from the windows to show the coming dusk. It actually does have better lighting, Harry has to admit. From here, he can see the sky, still fading lavender with the setting sun and dotted with emerging stars, and the lake, endless and still as glass.
Spread precariously across Draco’s desk is what looks like a complete dinner spread from the Great Hall, cutlery and all. Harry realizes that Draco must have asked the house elves in the kitchens to help him. Beside the platter of chicken sits a bottle of what Harry assumes to be actual, quality wine. It’s nothing flashy, but it’s still quite clear that Draco has spent a lot of time coming up with this. Harry surveys the whole magnificent scene, speechless.
Then he says, “It’s brilliant, but I have to point out it’s not exactly ‘out’ to dinner.”
“You think I want to be seen with you in a public restaurant? Do you think I have a death wish?” Draco clutches a hand to his heart. “Have you any idea what the press would say, Harry? Merlin help me.”
“All right, all right,” says Harry, trying not to laugh. “Calm down. You’re right.”
“My stars. Out to a restaurant. Do you want to have me killed? Sit down and eat. Good god.”
Harry obeys and sits on the sofa in the corner once he has filled his plate. Part of him expects Draco to sit behind his desk, but instead he comes around and sits beside him, with the cushion between.
“This is better. I wouldn’t have liked all the fuss of a restaurant anyway,” says Harry. Draco’s lips quirk into a faint smile.
That resolved, the two of them lapse into companionable conversation. More than once, Draco scolds Harry for eating too fast and with his fingers, but it seems less and less like he really means it. He even teaches him a handy charm for cracking nuts, and Harry laments the years lost cracking them with his teeth (Draco has a few choice words for that, too). It’s the best meal Harry has had in recent memory, and he knows his smile is a little bit giddy, but there’s no one to judge him for it but Draco – and he suspects that Draco doesn’t mind.
Harry is moving onto his second bowl of soup while Draco is moving onto his second round of dessert, when Draco makes a soft noise to call his attention.
“I meant to ask you something.”
“All right. Have at.”
“This.” Draco reaches into his jumper and pulls out the stone pendant Harry gifted him almost half a year ago, the coiling dragon. “It’s meant to heat up when someone is thinking kindly of me, isn’t it?”
“Oh,” says Harry. “Is it really?”
He had known that the necklace is charmed, but not the specifics of it. The man at the shop had said it was a token longtime friends or lovers often shared, but Harry isn’t going to mention that part. He also isn’t going to mention how much it pleases him that Draco is still wearing it.
“It’s a popular pureblood kind of bonding magic. Syncs the giver’s magical signature to the item and powers it. It’s related to the sort used in the making of the Dark Mark.” Draco taps his covered forearm for emphasis, and Harry’s blood turns cold.
“God,” he says. “I didn’t know.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to. It’s quite all right. I’m just telling you how I know about it, I don’t associate the two. If I did, I wouldn’t wear it.”
“Okay,” mumbles Harry, still furious with himself nevertheless.
Perhaps seeing it on his face, Draco says to him, gently, “It is a very thoughtful gift, Harry.”
“I believe you. But then… what did you want to ask about it?”
“The damned thing is like a personal furnace. It’s always warm.”
“Always?” Harry frowns. “All the time?”
“Well, not constantly, but yes, more often than not.”
“Er… I don’t know. Is that irregular?”
If Draco is annoyed by Harry’s ignorance, he doesn’t show it. He stares at the pendant, cradling it in his palms. “Perhaps not, but it should only be keyed in to the giver. So unless you’re always feeling friendly towards me, the thing is broken.”
All at once, Harry is aware of just how alone they are in here. Because this is Draco’s office, there is no fire to crackle in the hearth, and all of the remaining students are in their common rooms, tucked into bed or studying, so the usual clatter in the corridor outside is gone. Draco is looking at him with sharp, searching eyes, and Harry can hardly believe that this is happening to him. It wasn’t that long ago that he was married and an Auror, content never to see Draco Malfoy again. And here he is now.
“Draco,” he says, and is impressed that he keeps his voice level, “what are you asking me?”
Draco’s eyes narrow. “You tell me.”
In for a penny, Harry thinks, and resigns himself to it. “I do,” he admits. “Think about you all the time, I mean. Does it bother you?”
“No,” answers Draco readily, but then silence follows. It drags on for an eternity. Draco continues to fondle the pendant in his hands, stroking over its miniature scales, and Harry watches with cold apprehension spreading through his belly. He remembers how it felt when Draco pulled away, and here he is risking it again already. Draco says, “I thought you were… hmm. You were married to Ginny, and you said you were happy.”
It’s an out if Harry has ever seen one, but it’s too late to take it. He swallows thickly. “I was. But you’re different.”
“I should hope so,” laughs Draco.
“I don’t know another word for it.”
“Are you trying to say you like me, Potter?”
“Does it bother you?” Harry presses, and something in Draco’s expression crumbles.
“You’re such an idiot,” he sighs, sounding very tired with Harry. “May I kiss you?”
“It’s impolite to call people idiots,” says Harry, “and yes.” So Draco does.
It’s not quite like he imagined. He had pictured a lot more firmness, more teeth, whatever kissing a man is meant to be. But Draco is achingly gentle, slow – maybe nervous. It feels right. When Harry kisses back, Draco’s mouth tugs into a smile against his, and that’s it. Harry’s ruined.
When it’s over, he says out loud, ridiculously, “Wow.”
It kills the mood at once, and Draco has to pull back to giggle into Harry’s shoulder. After a little bit, they try it again, and this time Draco’s fingers play in the sensitive curls at the base of Harry’s skull, which nearly makes his head explode. It’s never felt like this before. Why hadn’t anyone told him it could be like this?
“I want to be with you,” Harry says.
Draco’s ears are very red. He presses a palm to Harry’s chest but doesn’t speak.
They stay that way for a while, curled close and looking at each other. Harry supposes that he should have known they’d end up stuck together. They had escaped each other’s orbits only briefly, and now they are on a collision course.
Harry understands then. “This is why you’ve been avoiding me for weeks and weeks. This is the reason.”
“Did you know you’re missing the top button on your shirt?” says Draco mildly.
“Am I?” asks Harry, deciding to let it go.
“You always look a mess.” Draco brushes his thumb over the exposed triangle of skin where his lapels fail to meet, and Harry shivers. Draco is taking him apart. “I can fix it for you.”
“If you like.”
With a quick spell, Draco summons a button, which stitches itself neatly to Harry’s shirt. Harry watches, patient, still unsure about where to put his hands. The last thing he wants is to scare him off, and Draco has always been twitchy.
Carefully, Draco buttons Harry’s shirt closed at the throat and then tightens up his tie. He licks his lips, a nervous gesture.
“I have to warn you. This is going to change a few things,” he says.
“You know,” says Harry, “I’ve always liked a little bit of change.”
“That’s rich, coming from the man who wears the same style of spectacles he wore when he was eleven years old.”
Draco laughs, and Harry thinks he could never get bored of that sound. It’s different than the one he used in school. That laugh was cruel, defensive. This one is genuine, always sounding just a little bit startled, like he isn’t expecting it. Harry wants to make him laugh all the time.
“Let me see those,” says Draco, voice low and warm, and Harry lets him pluck the glasses from his face. It leaves him feeling exposed, and even this close up, Draco’s face is slightly blurry, the wrinkles around his eyes blotted out. Draco sets them aside, reaching up to smooth his fingers over Harry’s brows, his lashes, sweep his thumbs over Harry’s cheeks. No one’s ever touched him that way, such a secret place, protected by his spectacles. Then, up on his knees, Draco kisses him there, once on either side, and Harry sighs.
“Every single day,” murmurs Draco. “I could feel you thinking about me, but I couldn't believe it. I was thinking of you, too."
He pushes his hands up to Harry’s temples, into his hair. He kisses his mouth. He kisses him again and again and again.
Mature content in this chapter.
It wasn’t as though Draco was expecting sunshine and roses - he’s experienced enough rejection in life to keep his hopes just on the pessimistic side of reasonable - but he’d been expecting something, at the very least. After a long (stupid, wonderful) evening of kissing in Draco’s office, there should have naturally been a change between them. Draco had said so, and Harry had said so, but it simply didn’t happen. Harry is still just Harry.
Actually, Draco supposes, one thing is different. An important thing.
It is the way that Harry looks at him. His eyes are full of warmth and adoration, and perhaps they have always looked like that, but Draco had never noticed before, and now it knocks him flat. It takes his breath away.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he’ll say, but he doesn’t mean it, and laughing, Harry will say, “You first.”
Patrols are a different beast altogether now. They still walk together, talking politics and classroom antics, but they are not as vigilant as they used to be. Draco insists that they remain professional – he has worked too hard to get here and he’ll be damned if he gets fired for making out with Harry Potter in the corridors at night instead of doing his job. That would be some kind of poetic irony, he supposes. Harry manages to get him into trouble whether he hates him or loves him.
“Can I ask you something?” asks Harry as they begin their return trip to their offices. The Astronomy Tower always has them holding their breath, so Harry likes to fill the silence as soon as they leave.
“It’s not as though I could stop you,” says Draco, “so go ahead.”
“Do you remember that case I told you about, with the Death Siphon? How he wanted to see his future?” Draco nods. “Wizards live a long time. Have you ever thought about what your life might look like in thirty years?”
Harry is always asking odd questions like these. Draco mulls it over.
“No,” he says at length. “If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that trying to predict the future is a fool’s errand. If you had told me anything about my life today when I was younger, I’d have been furious.”
“Furious?” laughs Harry.
“Oh, yes. Getting fat, fraternizing with Weasleys, carrying a torch for The Boy Who Lived. I’d have gone mad. So I tend to think of it this way: I can build my future for myself. I will make my own choices. And I will choose to keep making up for what I’ve done. I will be the best professor I can be, until they come to their senses and kick me out. I will be a good father to Scorpius. That is all I can say for certain.”
As usual, Harry listens; he gets a befuddled expression on his face when he is really thinking things over, which Draco finds charming. When Draco is finished, Harry says, “I never thought of it like that.”
“How did you think of it?”
“I thought of it like growing a plant. Like building and building upon my roots.”
“Interesting. What does your plant look like, then?”
“Dunno,” says Harry with a shrug. He puts a hand through his hair. “I like to teach, so I’d keep doing that. I’ll have grandchildren, probably. I hope I’ll see them often. I’d hope that… I’d like it if you were there.”
He looks a bit sheepish at that, and Draco can’t resist taking his hand. “You’ll be sick of me yet, just you see.”
“I’ve been sick of you before, but here you are anyway.”
As they draw closer to Draco’s office, their pace slows almost to a stop. Neither of them wants to say goodbye, but at the same time Draco would never allow Harry to stay the night; he can’t even begin to imagine the sheer insanity that would result if anyone found out. Harry, who has seen all of the ugly faces the press has to offer, can understand that.
“This is where we part ways, Professor Potter,” says Draco, opening his door.
Harry hesitates. He won’t ask, but it’s written all over his face. When Draco reaches for him, Harry’s hands move to hold Draco’s face and guide him in for a kiss. Warmth floods Draco’s senses and makes him dizzy.
Draco can feel his breath coming shorter as they move apart. Harry’s thumbs stroke over his cheekbones and Draco can’t help making a quiet little noise of want. Harry kisses him again, and then again. They linger like that for a long while (Draco can tell that this is going to become a bad habit), never building heat but instead just stoking a low and steady flame.
Finally, Draco groans in frustration. “Please,” he sighs, “you really should go.”
“Yeah,” says Harry. He nips and then sucks at Draco’s lower lip. Fuck.
Draco isn’t sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed when Harry pulls away. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says.
“As always,” Draco replies. Something in him pulls tight when he realizes that his lips feel bitten tender.
Stupid, he thinks. They’re acting like teenagers. He knows that he should have more dignity than this, to pine as Harry turns and walks away, but nevertheless he finds that he is rooted to his doorway, watching him go.
Harry has managed several paces before he suddenly turns and doubles back, running flat out. Draco can feel himself grinning like a lunatic as Harry slams into him – almost hard enough to hurt, but not quite – and presses a final, bruising kiss to his lips. Harry’s laughter is muffled.
The joy of a relationship is new to Draco. He can’t remember the last time he kissed someone because he wanted to. And the way Harry kisses him is intoxicating. Deep, and sweet, and long.
Harry groans when they part, as though it physically pains him. “I could kiss you forever, I think,” he says.
“I think not,” says Draco, slightly giddy. “I have classes to teach.”
He really does leave this time. Draco smiles to himself, helpless, even after Harry is long out of sight.
“You’re looking pleased with yourself,” says Neville over breakfast. He is spooning a concerningly large amount of eggs onto his plate.
The light, tranquil feeling inside Draco’s chest won’t allow him to worry about it; if Neville knows anything, he’s hardly the worst place to start. Draco smirks as he smears jam onto his toast. “I am pleased with myself, thank you.”
Down the table, Singh is telling some sort of story, hands up in the air and then down again, and Harry is doing a very good job of appearing interested. Draco can see the way his eyes keep wandering, attempting to make contact, but Draco keeps himself focused on his plate. They are always being watched, especially by the Weasley children, and they will pounce if they sense anything is amiss, like a school of piranha at the scent of blood.
“What have you done?” asks Neville with playful suspicion.
“I don’t need to do anything to be pleased with myself,” says Draco. “I am exquisite as I am.”
He takes a bite of toast while Neville chuckles to himself. “Fine, keep your secrets.”
“I always do.”
Harry manages to make eye contact and immediately upends the milk, sending it spilling over the table. Flitwick is promptly on top of it and charms the mess away, and Neville mutters, “It never ends, does it?” Singh cackles loud enough that Draco can hear it on the opposite end.
He’s never going to make it out of this alive, he realizes. He reaches for a Danish instead.
The weather is forgiving, so Draco takes a walk to clear his mind. Many of the students are out in the grass, enjoying the sunlight while it lasts. At the lake’s edge, Scorpius is sitting with Rose, Hugo, and Little Molly. They all have their shoes off with their feet in the water. To an uninformed eye, they would look like any group of friends. But they are a miracle to Draco. One from each house – it’s something that would not have been common, once. That the son of a Death Eater would be friends with the children of the enemy. That there is peace in the world.
Draco knows the world is different. He wonders if it will ever stop surprising him.
Passing by the greenhouses, he spies Neville, who waves at him. Albus and two other students are with him, helping him transfer bulbs into bigger pots. Albus looks up and waves at Draco, too.
A paternal feeling hits Draco in a rush. He circles around to go back to the castle.
He loves all of his students, of course. But somehow his affection for Harry has rubbed off onto his kin, and he has never had so many people to care about in his entire life. He’s never had so many people care about him in return, either.
He’s never fallen in love with a friend.
All of this time, he had thought that he would be content to live alone, grateful at having the chance to live at all. Now, suddenly, he doesn’t want to be alone. He doesn’t have to be.
As is his habit, Harry stops by Draco’s office after classes. He has Lily and Lucy tailing behind him. Lucy’s hair has been cut in a boyish mop about her ears and recently she has begun wearing boy’s uniforms. Though technically against the rules, no one is inclined to say anything about it.
“Hello, Weasleys,” Draco intones. He does not look up from where he is slicing his ingredients into perfectly even slices. It isn’t that he means to be rude – the potion is highly time-sensitive. Any small error will have it completely wrong.
“What are you working on, Professor Black?” asks Lily in her bright, chipper voice. She goes straight for Draco’s snack drawer, the only person aside from Draco himself who is allowed to access it. She takes two chocolate frogs, one for herself and one for Lucy.
“This is a commission, not for class. It’s to undo some curse damage. More details are outside of your purview.”
Lucy immediately bites the legs off her frog and makes a show of letting them hang, kicking, out of her mouth. Harry snorts.
“Stop that,” scolds Lily. “That’s cruel.”
“They don’t feel it,” says Draco. “But that is disgusting, Lucy dear.”
The way Lucy rolls her eyes is classic Weasley. She sucks the legs back into her mouth. Lily nibbles at her own frog, perched on top of a desk, while Harry comes around to Draco’s desk and peers into his cauldron.
“If you so much as cough near this potion I’ll hit you,” warns Draco. He catches the way Harry’s eyes flicker. Insufferable. “So, is there a reason for this visit?”
“No,” says Harry.
Lily says, “Chocolate, mostly.”
The Tempus Draco had set goes off. He promptly slides his ingredients off the cutting board into the bubbling cauldron. A musty smell like wet earth fills the room, a good sign. Draco has a moment before the next step, so he finally looks up. “Happy to be of service, Miss Potter.”
The girls chatter about Quidditch as they finish off their frogs and compare their cards. Once finished, they bound up the aisle and out the door.
“They’re using you,” says Harry.
“Hmm. Don’t know where they learned that,” teases Draco. He leans in to be kissed and is instantly pulled in too deep when Harry’s lips part invitingly for him. Harry makes a soft noise as if he has been waiting for this all day.
“Are you very busy?” he murmurs.
“Yes, unfortunately – this potion is complicated. I have a moment, though.”
“Never mind, then. I was hoping for a quick game to burn off some energy. I’ve been cooped up in my office all day preparing for next week and I’m going mad.”
“That’s your fault for putting it off.”
“Oh, funny. I should hope you don’t kiss Hermione like that, or you and Weasley have a lot to talk about.”
Harry’s mouth twists with a delightful mix of hilarity and horror.
“Don’t despair too badly, darling. The first stage of this potion requires I stir it for ten minutes uninterrupted. After that, I’m all yours.”
“Did you call me darling?” laughs Harry.
Draco hums, checking the clock. “I also said I’m all yours. I can meet you at the pitch, if you like.”
There is no answer. Harry is looking at him thoughtfully, his brows knitted that way he does when he’s feeling particularly fond. When Draco frowns, Harry lifts his hands to cradle Draco’s face, thumbs smoothing at the corners of his mouth until he smiles again.
“What are you doing?”
“Tell me if you think I’m being, you know, whatever clever word you have for it… But I’d really like it if we could… There are no classes tomorrow, and I… If you want to…” Harry struggles with the words, but luckily for him, Draco doesn’t need nearly as much shepherding as Harry does.
“I’d like that very much.”
Harry gives a relieved, surprised laugh. “Yeah?”
Harry’s hand moves to the back of Draco’s neck, pulls him in until their lips meet. The Tempus chimes.
“I need to stir,” says Draco. “Go ahead and I’ll see you in ten minutes.”
Harry makes an effort to wait, but when he realizes that Draco is actually focused on stirring, he wanders further into Draco’s quarters, to the bedroom. Draco can hear him enthusing; he hasn’t seen it before.
The minutes pass with molten slowness once he is left alone. Upon investigation, Draco finds that he isn’t nervous at all, only filled with electric anticipation. He purses his lips, still tasting Harry on them. As soon as ten minutes has passed, he kills the heat beneath the cauldron and spells the door to his office shut and locked.
This wasn’t how he was planning on spending his evening, but he has to admit this is far from the worst change in plans. Most Fridays, Harry has something else taking up his time. It will be nice to have this time with him, the long and decadent stretch into the weekend with nowhere they need to be – time to learn each other properly, to find out exactly what takes Harry Potter apart.
Coming into the room, Draco sees Harry sitting on the bed. He is naked but for a pair of loudly colored boxers, patterned with prancing gryphons.
Draco bursts into laughter. He can’t stop himself.
Harry scowls, pulling his knees up defensively. “What?”
“Nothing,” snuffles Draco. “Nothing.” He goes in for a placating kiss, but Harry stubbornly pulls away. Fine, then. “I just wasn’t expecting you to jump so far ahead. And your boxers are ridiculous.”
“Yeah?” says Harry. He’s back to smiling. Draco loves his smile, the way the wrinkles deepen at the corners of his mouth. To his surprise, it has become even more familiar than his teenage scowl, and infinitely more welcome. “You like them?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Maybe you’d like them better if it was serpents.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Harry’s eyes are bright. He doesn’t have to say “make me.” They meet in the middle, hard at first and then not at all, so gentle it makes Draco sigh. No one has ever kissed him like that. He’s fast becoming addicted.
He sets himself to his favorite bit, when it comes to Harry, fingers playing through the curls of his hair. Harry’s mouth is curved into an irresistible smile against his. When Draco steps closer, into the bracket of Harry’s thighs, he feels those familiar hands at his hips again and each soft, open-mouthed kiss begins to blur into the next one. Harry slides his hands up under Draco’s shirt, so Draco rids himself of it. His dragon pendant snags, then falls against his chest. Its warmth is piercing as an arrow. Harry pauses.
“Do you wear that all of the time?” he asks with wide eyes.
There’s no reason to lie. “Yes.”
Harry’s fingertips stroke over the curling stone. “Draco…”
“Your friendship has meant a lot to me, Harry. More than I can say.”
The stunned look on Harry’s face softens, his hands returning to Draco’s hips. “We’re good together, aren’t we?”
He’s impossible. Draco swallows hard. For once, he can’t think of what to say, so he tugs Harry into another slow-burning kiss, deeper now.
In Draco’s younger years, there was no time to take it slow. He’s never had it like this, unhurried, comfortable, familiar. Whatever he is feeling when Harry mouths reverently down his sternum, like the tug of a portkey behind his navel, only everywhere, and honey-sweet.
“I’ve been thinking about this for ages,” whispers Harry.
Harry laughs. In a sudden burst of exuberance, he rolls them over and pins him to the mattress. Draco bounces, air leaving him in a whoosh, a surprised laugh caught in his throat.
“And a brute, too,” he says.
The laughter feels good, bubbling inside like seltzer. He feels so good, and it’s all too ridiculous not to laugh. He can’t stop, even when Harry kisses him again, but it seems Harry can’t stop either. Their teeth catch; Draco apologizes by sucking soothingly at Harry’s lower lip instead, and he feels Harry’s whole body relax. One of them hums, it’s hard to tell who.
Harry starts to lathe a path down the column of Draco’s throat. His hands are everywhere, leg parting Draco’s thighs to press against him. Draco tips his head back against the pillows and shuts his eyes. He is in love with the sound of their breathing, of Harry’s wandering kisses.
“Tell me what you want,” says Harry.
“It doesn’t matter,” Draco says, and is surprised to hear it come out hoarse. “It doesn’t matter.”
“’Course it matters.”
Harry kisses the little fat roll beneath his chin affectionately. After a moment, he goes still, and Draco opens his eyes again to look at him. Harry’s body is spread out over him, pressing him down, his head resting in the center of Draco’s chest. He’s waiting. He’s waiting for instruction, for Draco’s go-ahead, and now that they’ve stopped, Draco can take a breath. Of course it matters.
“All right,” says Draco. “Come back up here.”
“First thing, turn over. I am always on top.”
Laughing again, he rolls away; Draco takes a moment to wriggle out of his trousers, kicking them towards the foot of the bed, and then, in a burst of bravery, his underpants also. That done, he turns to straddle over Harry’s hips. Already, he can feel his knees giving faint protest as he settles his weight on them, but it’s easy to ignore. Harry sprawls, starfished with arms akimbo, and when he grins up at Draco he looks so comfortable and content that it makes Draco’s heart ache.
“May I?” asks Draco, tugging again at the elastic on Harry’s boxers.
With only the barest hint of nerves, Harry nods. He lifts up helpfully for Draco to pull them off. There is something he loves about undressing a partner, he thinks. Hopefully next time he can have more to do. He leaves the boxers dangling from one of Harry’s feet because it makes him smile.
There. They catch each other staring, and Harry starts to laugh self-consciously. They both laugh. It’s late afternoon, the sun filtering through the window, lighting up the swirling dust motes in the air. They can see each other completely.
Spread out like this, he’s just Harry. Just his friend, maybe his best friend. The one who brings him desserts and makes fun of his accent and sometimes, but not always, beats him at Quidditch.
Who treats Draco like a person. Like someone who matters.
Harry reaches for him and Draco lays down into the circle of his arms to kiss him. They are happy to stay there a while, shifting until their legs are slotted together and there is a little bit of leverage to rock against each other, Harry’s hands cupping Draco’s face as he licks into his mouth in a hot, wet slide. Heat builds up slowly inside of him, more and more.
Draco had had more complicated plans, but it’s impossible to pull away, even for a moment. He leans his weight onto one arm, free hand skating down the shape of Harry’s ribs, his stomach, feeling the way he ticklishly jumps. “All right?” he asks.
Harry breathlessly nods. “Yeah.”
“I want just this, I think,” says Draco against his lips. He moves to mouth at the line of Harry’s jaw as he finally takes him in hand.
“Simple,” says Harry. “I like that.”
So Draco does, working Harry’s shaft in slow, firm strokes. Harry’s arms go tight around him, pulling him impossibly closer. For a while, they move together this way, warming up to the feeling of each other and trading kisses. When the tension in Harry’s body loosens, Draco jerks him in hard pulls until Harry is gasping, and then Draco eases him back again. Harry moans quietly into his shoulder.
“Hang on, come here,” he says, and Draco gets an idea of what he means. It takes a little arranging to settle down against him (he clocks Harry accidentally with is elbow, but Harry laughs it off), just the slow drag and pressure of their bodies together. “Yes. Like that.”
As Harry drags him down for another drugging kiss, his hands are trembling. He is making wonderful little noises, a catalogue Draco can’t wait to memorize. He lets himself sink deep. Everything he can feel is Harry now, the smell of his sweat and soap, the salty taste of his skin, the bite of his nails at Draco’s shoulder blades back as he rocks against him, the way his breath is catching. Out of practice, caught up in each other, it doesn’t look like they’ll be lasting long, but that’s all right. Quietly, Harry is gasping, “Ah, ah, ah…!”
Draco's rhythm falters; he's close. He kisses Harry, can't get enough of kissing Harry, and for a moment it hangs in time, Draco's hands against Harry's sides, Harry's delicious little whimpers like he can't help himself. It's so much, almost too much.
Harry gasps against his mouth as he comes, fingers digging hard into Draco’s hair. He’s incredible, Draco thinks, watching the way his brows draw together, his glasses misted up and crooked. Draco kisses him through it, not stopping until Harry stops shivering, until he sighs Draco’s name. It’s only a moment for Draco to follow after, cradled in his arms.
“Oh, my God,” says Harry, and Draco laughs.
“We’ll have to do that again, I think.” His knees are really complaining now as he finally lets his weight sink onto the bed. Perhaps being on top is overrated.
They curl close together, their kisses soft and lazy in the afterglow. Harry’s touch is soothing enough that it nearly sends Draco to sleep. As he starts to drift off, he puts a hand on his dragon pendant, still laying against his chest, still a little beacon of warmth.
They are up late marking papers. It’s a typical weekday routine for them, but this time, Harry’s legs are up in Draco’s lap, and reading poorly-researched, badly-written essays feels just a touch more comfortable than it ever has before. The last few hours have passed this way. It’s taking longer than usual, as the school year is drawing to a close and these are final exams. Outside, the sky is dark, a hardy rain battering the glass.
“I’m getting the suspicion that your Albus is helping Scorpius with his writing,” says Draco. “And by ‘helping,’ I mean ‘writing his papers for him.’”
“You finally noticed,” says Harry.
Smirking, Harry pretends to mark something down. “He doesn’t want to disappoint you.”
“The only disappointment is that he picked Albus to help him,” sniffs Draco. “His marks aren’t exactly stunning, either.”
Harry snickers. “Better than Scorpius’s, though.”
It’s true, but that doesn’t stop Draco glowering at him.
“What?” laughs Harry. “No comeback?”
“Oh, go on, have a laugh. You’ll get it later.” Annoyingly, that just makes Harry laugh more. He has been more upbeat than usual lately. Petulant, Draco adds, “We’ll see how smug you are when I go home and you spend the next three months without me.”
Harry peters out; Draco supposes he hadn’t thought about the summer holiday at all. For his own part, Draco is trying not to think about it, trying not to admit to himself that he’ll miss Harry. And not just Harry, but his children, too. They’ll visit each other, but their nightly visits will have to be put on hold.
“I have an idea,” says Harry.
Smirking, Draco shuffles his stack of parchment into straight lines. “I quake with fear.”
“Why don’t you and Scorpius come stay with us for the summer?”
Draco pauses. He tugs on his pendant, confirming that it still burns hot against his palm. “That’s presumptuous of you,” he says.
Harry just meets his gaze steadily, propping himself up on his arms on the sofa where they have been working all night. “Well, you’re always complaining about how drafty and depressing your flat is after you’re gone all year, and it’s difficult finding time to spend with you, and I know the boys would love it. So why not?”
Draco frowns, fiddling with the pendant. Why not?
Admittedly, the thought of being cooped up in a house with the Potter clan is a bit daunting, no matter how much he likes them. It’s one thing to be Harry’s friend, to kiss him privately in his office after hours or in empty corridors with the paintings giggling at them – but it’s quite another to be shacked up with him.
With anyone else, it would be too soon. But for Harry, family will always come first, and if Draco wants to be around him, he will need to work with that. For Draco, whose own family left much to be desired, it’s hardly the worst compromise. Besides, it’s only Harry. They’ve seen each other at their worst already.
“I don’t know. I’m still cross with you,” says Draco at last. Harry grins.
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“Yes, you will. And you’ll have to tell your kids, you know, about us. I won’t be sneaking around with you all summer. And I daresay the rest of your little clan will find out as well.”
Harry isn’t bothered. “That’s all right.”
“And you know the press will likely find out, too.”
“I doubt it. Anyway, they don’t know where I live.”
“Unplottable? Are you sure I’m trustworthy?”
“Draco,” says Harry, putting on a good facsimile of his intimidating Auror face, ruined just a tad by his smile, “stop trying to get out of this and say you’ll stay with us.”
He’s been found out. Smiling, Draco says, “You’ll have to ask me properly first.”
Harry knows the drill. “Draco, would you please do me the honor of staying with my family in our home this summer?”
“If you insist.”
“You’ll be eaten alive, you know,” says Blaise, too cheerily. The absolute wretch has found this entire situation hilarious. Draco learned this when he made the mistake of calling on Blaise for advice after Christmas and was practically laughed out of his office.
“Yes,” says Draco. He rubs at his temples, feeling a headache coming on. “I know.”
“So what will you do? You don’t actually plan on going, do you?” asks Millie. She has invited herself along to Draco and Blaise’s usual Sunday tea, which is fine by them. It’s a pleasure to see her.
“Of course he is!” laughs Blaise. “He’s done for, aren’t you, you old sap?”
Millie snorts. “Done for? Over Potter?”
“He is though.”
Draco’s pursed-lipped silence is answer enough. Millie shakes her head as though he has gravely disappointed her.
The sound of clinking spoons and teacups fills the gap in their conversation. It’s a Muggle establishment, which would have been untenable to Draco once, but after the war he found that he was recognized in most places. There is no fuss in Muggle restaurants. He can put his guard down.
Blaise takes the last bit of his scone, uses it to dab the last of the sugar from his little yellow saucer, and pops it in his mouth. His next words are muffled as he chews. “This is great news, I think. He’s bloody rich. And he’s got all sorts of political ties, famous people. You could do a lot with the ear of someone like that.”
“I’m not using my relationship for nepotism,” says Draco.
“Yeah,” says Millie sarcastically. “He’s not doing that anymore, remember? He’s rehabilitated.”
“How boring,” drawls Blaise.
As much as their banter means to him, Draco is feeling worn thin. He wants advice, but it is occurring to him that neither of them have experience with something like this, wanting to make a good impression. Blaise believes he always makes a good impression, and Millie could care less. The best advice they have given him so far is to avoid holding any infants or eating anything that comes out of a tin. This visit has gone very far off the rails very quickly.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” says Millie. “Have you even fucked yet?”
Very, very far off the rails.
Blaise makes an enthused sound, eyes wide. “Oh! Oh! Have you, Draco darling?”
Draco feels like his soul has divorced his body. “That’s not relevant to this discussion.”
“That means yes,” says Millie.
“I bet he fucks like a lunatic,” says Blaise. “Does he, Draco?”
“I bet he goes just mad,” says Millie. “I bet he likes to play Auror and Prisoner, doesn’t he, Draco?”
Draco lets himself collapse in his seat with his head in his hands. No one in the little shop is paying them any mind; if they were, he’s sure he would properly drop dead. “No. He doesn’t.”
"Ah," says Blaise. "Just boring old people sex, then?"
"Of course," says Millie. "A goody-two-shoes. Bet he only likes it face-to-face, in the dark, holding hands."
Draco looks at them desperately. "Can we talk about something else?"
"That's another yes," says Millie.
“Then it’s worse than I thought,” says Blaise, frowning. “He’s besotted, Millie. Truly.”
“If that’s the case, I do actually have some advice,” says Millie. Draco and Blaise both look at her now, wearing twin expressions of skepticism. While she has a great mind for numbers, the interpersonal is a touch beyond her usual skillset. However, the look on her face suggests she is not kidding this time.
Defeated, Draco heaves a sigh. “All right, then. What’s your advice?”
“Just be yourself.”
Harry calls a meeting the evening before they leave for the summer. Draco complains that it’s an ill-conceived plan, but Harry can tell that he isn’t sure what he’s doing either. Although Draco gets on with the Weasleys now, he is still cautious around them, fearful that they’ll change their minds about him. When Harry promises to defend him, Draco gives in. “Gryffindor,” he mutters.
After they have packed their bags, Albus, Lily, and Scorpius come to Harry’s classroom and sit atop the front row of desks. It isn’t yet after hours, but Lily is already in her floral pajamas with a cap over her hair. Scorpius has a bag of Bertie Bott’s that he is snacking on, his face going through a fantastic spectrum of emotions. Draco situates himself behind Harry’s desk, where he will be better protected from any unforeseen hexes.
“Everyone,” says Harry, “I’ve got some news.”
Lily says, “You’re shagging.”
Scorpius hacks and coughs on a bean.
“I knew it!” shouts Albus.
“Quiet down,” says Harry, at the same time Draco says, “That is none of your business.” They look at each other and Draco’s face is ghostly.
“You are?” squeaks Scorpius.
“For how long?” asks Albus.
“You’re gay?” says Lily.
Harry flounders. This is not the script he had practiced. It serves him right, he guesses, for assuming that anything would ever go as planned when his children are involved; at least, that’s what Draco would say. “Not gay,” he says, choosing the most complicated place to start, “more like, um…”
“Bisexual,” supplies Albus helpfully.
“Maybe,” Harry agrees. It seems the most apt word, considering his history.
Scorpius, who is generally unruffled no matter the situation, dazedly puts a handful of beans in his mouth and immediately turns green. He spits them out into the bag and sets it aside, presumably for good.
“We are together, yes,” says Draco, and pauses until the reaction noises (“Finally!” from Lily, groaning from Scorpius) settle down. “So we were planning that Scorpius and I would stay with you lot for the summer.”
Scorpius’s mouth hangs open, but when Albus roughly puts an arm around him, Harry is relieved to see a faint smile on his face. It matters to him that Scorpius likes him, and he’s harder to please than Draco.
“This is wicked!” says Albus.
Lily claps with delight. “This is so romantic! Hugo’s been rooting for you two for ages and ages. I can’t wait to tell him.”
“Wait,” says Harry at once. “You’ve got to hang on until I can tell everyone first. Otherwise I’ll get fifteen howlers and twenty firecalls and I would rather avoid that. You know how your aunts get.”
Draco gives Harry a worried look. To be fair, the Weasleys have a streak of fearsome women among them. Harry has nothing to offer him but a sympathetic wince.
“Top secret,” says Lily, crossing her heart. She has always been a little spot of sunshine.
“I’m not sure I believe it,” says Albus slyly. “Have a kiss for us.”
Scorpius squawks. “Albus! Merlin’s beard!”
“I think not,” says Draco while Harry snickers. “Perhaps tomorrow.”
As the two Potter children pepper them with questions (and as Scorpius makes a face like he is trying to swallow all of the Bertie Bott’s at once), Harry can’t help but think about the fact that they’ll have to do this all over again tomorrow with the rest of his family. He doesn’t think they’ll kill them, probably, but he supposes he’ll find out either way.
Traveling from the castle to Harry’s home goes about as smoothly as can be expected. By the time they step through the door, the sun is beginning to set and everyone is so hungry that they simply grab whatever is edible and disperse. Scorpius and Albus play video games in the next room while Draco helps Harry draft a letter in the kitchen. It’s the letter he’ll be sending off to his relatives to tell them that he’s taken up with his childhood bully and enemy in the war, and that they shouldn’t murder him if they come across him unexpectedly (Draco is very insistent on this point).
“Please,” says Draco, “sell my good qualities to them. Remind them how I crashed my broom like a fool at Christmas, they’ll like that.”
“I don’t think they’ll be upset that it’s you. They all like you well enough,” says Harry. “Honestly, I’m more worried for myself. They’ll probably think I’ve been lying to them, and either way I’ve kept this to myself long enough that they will be upset. And I didn’t know I liked men until I ran into you again.”
“Oh, good. Do tell them that I turned you gay, to boot.”
Harry sighs, pushing his hands through his hair. He taps his finger at the sheet of parchment they’ve been staring at for the last half hour, quill and ink scattered across the breakfast table. “I’m serious. Do you think this letter’s good enough? I’m not sure what to tell them. Everything was so much simpler when I started dating Ginny. No offense.”
“If I was offended every time you stuck your foot in your mouth, we’d be back in first year, now, wouldn’t we?”
“Don’t remind me.” Harry lifts his head. He feels exhausted.
Draco pats the tabletop. “I think this is good enough. They’re your family, after all. I think they’ve worked far too hard to keep you alive to kill you now, don’t you?”
“I think it’s been a long day,” Draco continues. “And you should show me to bed.”
At last, Harry smiles. “That’s a good idea.”
He spells the letter to copy itself, and attaches them in a bundle to his owl’s leg. She waits until he feeds her a treat and opens the window for her. “You know what to do, Cupcake.”
The owl swoops into the night.
They wake up in the same bed for the first time. Harry loves it. Draco, for all that he complains that Harry is “squid-like” and “a million degrees,” doesn’t pull out of Harry’s grasp until Lily knocks on their door and says, “I’m starved. Are you awake or what?”
“They eat their weight in sweets,” Draco comments.
“So do you,” says Harry. “Plus, they’re growing.”
“You’re raising a family of giants, if they’re growing that much. And fuck off.”
He doesn’t mean it. He’s laughing when Harry kisses him. He is sleep-soft, sleep-warm, and smells a little sweaty and stale. “Good morning, by the way,” says Harry.
Lily knocks again. “I’ll come in there,” she says. “I’m warning you.”
Groaning, they drag themselves out of bed.
The next day starts well enough. They spend the better part of the morning flying around the yard, not quite playing Quidditch, tossing a quaffle about. Harry sets a snitch loose for several rounds of search-and-find; Lily does best at it, finding it almost half the time. For his part, Scorpius sits on the grass and watches. He eats handfuls of cereal from the box.
After a minute, Harry comes to land beside him. It’s not often that he has a chance to talk to Scorpius alone and, if things continue the way they are, they’re going to be seeing a lot more of each other.
“You all right?” he asks, sitting down beside him.
Scorpius doesn’t look at him. “Yeah.”
“Not feeling like flying today?”
“It’s not my thing. Never was any good at it.”
“You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it,” says Harry. Sometimes he catches himself saying things like this and remembers how much of a dad he has become.
“Easy for you to say,” says Scorpius. “You’re good at everything.”
Harry laughs. “I don’t think so, but thank you.”
The conversation lulls as Albus flies low and slaps Scorpius’s foot. Scorpius kicks at the air where Albus once was, more of a gesture of defiance than an actual attempt to fight back. Further away, Lily is laughing as Draco pretends to eat the golden snitch. Seeing them together like that makes something stop up in Harry’s chest.
“Are you feeling all right about your father and I?” he asks at last. Being direct has usually served him better.
Scorpius heaves a sigh, as if he knew the question was coming. “I don’t know. I mean, I know that you make him happy. Merlin, don’t – don’t smile about it. I don’t want to think about it.”
“Because he’s your dad.”
“But he deserves to be happy, don’t you think?”
Scorpius thinks on it for a tick, watching Albus and Lily circle about just below the tree line, out of sight of Muggles. “Yeah,” he says eventually. “I guess you’re right. I just miss Mother, is all. And it’s weird because Al’s my best mate and now his dad’s dating my dad. And what does that make us?”
“Still just best mates, I think.”
“Best mates,” echoes Scorpius, “in-law.”
Everything is going very well indeed, until they come back from a trip out to lunch, when, upon opening the front door, Draco is tackled by Ginny and slammed against a wall. She must have been waiting for them, and Harry thinks irrationally that he’s sorry to have kept her waiting.
“I’m collecting on my punch to the face,” she says, and although she has thrown all of her weight into him, her voice is steady.
“What punch to the face?” frets Harry.
“Not in front of my son,” says Draco sternly.
Ginny nods. “Fine.”
“Hang on,” says Harry, panicked. He moves to stand between them, but Draco bats him off.
Harry blinks at him, not comprehending. Behind him, Lily pipes up, “What’s going on in there, dad?”
Draco’s expression is serious, steeled in that stubborn way that means he plans to go through with whatever is happening. Wanting to keep to his promise to protect him, Harry turns to the children still standing on the doorstep and says, “Wait here for a moment.” He shuts the door.
As soon as it clicks home, Ginny socks Draco hard in the mouth. Draco shrieks. Harry swears, instinctively lurching towards them, but he manages to hold himself back when Draco waves him away again. Ginny shakes out her hand.
“Merlin,” she growls, “your head is just as hard as it looks.”
Draco touches his mouth gingerly, as if to test that it’s still there. “Are you satisfied?” he asks, slurring a little.
“Well… I think I deserve another one. You know.”
Draco glares at her, and Harry expects him to protest, but instead he shrugs. “Yeah,” he says, “you’re right.”
“Wait,” says Harry, but they ignore him.
Draco puts his hands down, opening himself to another blow, this one to the stomach and hard enough that they both stagger into the banister of the stairs. The wind is knocked from him and he stands doubled over, wheezing, Ginny panting right beside him. After a moment to catch her breath, she pats him on the shoulder.
“You’re a good sport,” she says.
“Thanks,” he gasps.
Now that it’s over, Harry’s not positive that he can believe it actually happened.
“Here, let me help you.” With one hand, she stands Draco up, and uses the other to draw her wand. Harry watches as she heals the pain and the early bruising, motions quick and efficient. “Better?” she asks.
“I don’t know. How about you?”
“I feel loads better.”
“Oh,” says Draco, still winded. “Good.”
They take a moment to grin at each other.
“What is going on?” complains Harry.
“I’ll explain later.”
Ginny goes to open the door again. “Mum!” cries Lily, running to her. Albus follows, pretending to be disinterested before he, too, envelops her in an enthusiastic hug. She kisses their heads and ruffles their hair.
Letting them get reacquainted, Harry comes to Draco’s side. He searches Draco’s face, but it seems that he is still in one piece. “All right?” he whispers, and Draco smiles fondly.
“I’m sparkling, thanks for asking.”
“Ron’s on his way,” says Ginny. “Boys, why don’t you take Lily out back and play Quidditch for a bit? Mal… Draco, would you go with them?”
Draco gathers up the babbling children and steers them towards the back garden. Through the window, Harry watches him pull the brooms out of the trunk in back. Though they already played earlier, the Potters rarely say no to the chance to fly. Within seconds, they are in the air, Scorpius balanced on Albus’s broom, Draco watching from the ground with his hands in his pockets. Harry wishes he could call him back in and face this conversation together, but he also knows it’s best for everyone that he stays out of it.
So, pulling himself together, Harry follows Ginny into the kitchen.
Already, she has busied herself with making tea. From the way she doesn’t turn around to face him, Harry knows there’s going to be a lot to talk about. Rather than bother her, he hoists himself up onto a countertop and sits in silence. Ginny watches the teapot steam.
“Are you angry?” asks Harry at length. He can’t stop himself.
Ginny glances at him. In the next room, Harry hears the fireplace flare to life; that would be Ron. “No,” she says.
Ron comes into the kitchen, making a concerning amount of noise. “Oi,” he says, “what the fuck, Harry?”
Grimacing, Harry puts his hands up in a gesture of appeasement. “All right, all right. Where do you want me to start?”
“From the fucking top,” says Ron, but Ginny shakes her head.
“When you brought him to meet us, I thought something might be happening,” she says.
“We weren’t… it wasn’t happening then.”
“No, I know.” She begins to chew on her nails again. The teapot whistles, and they all take a moment to breathe as she takes it off the heat and pours some cups to steep. She puts some milk in hers and turns back to face him. “What I want to know, before we talk about anything else, is whether he treats you well.”
“Yeah,” says Harry. He can feel himself starting to smile despite the gravity of the situation.
Ginny nods. Ron scratches at his nose. “Do you love him?” she asks.
“Fucking hell,” mutters Ron.
Harry hesitates only for a moment. “I think so,” he says. “Yes. I do.”
Once Harry’s dressing-down is over, Ginny and Ron stay for dinner, with Hermione and her children also arriving just as the sun begins to set. As Lily gives Rose and Hugo a crushing hug, Hugo says over her shoulder to Harry, “I knew it. I knew it the whole time.”
“No you didn’t,” says Rose at once, scowling.
“That’s not the same thing.”
“It’s really not,” says Albus. He and Rose tend to gang up on their younger siblings, both being a bit of a know-it-all when they’re at their worst.
“Plus, everyone suspected,” adds Lily.
“Everyone?” says Draco, frowning. Lily gives him a sarcastic look and Harry can feel his face heating. They haven’t been the most subtle, he has to admit; it’s a miracle they haven’t been found out before now.
Scorpius groans and stares at the ceiling. “Help me.”
Just then, the fireplace flares again with a rush of heat, and James and Teddy step into the room. Although Harry is glad to see them, some distant, parental part of his brain begins doing math to make sure they have enough food prepared for everyone. James moves to give him a one-armed hug. Draco, standing next to him, gets a courteous nod, which is more than Harry had expected, really.
Teddy, on the other hand, throws her arms around Draco at once. “So glad to see you, cousin!” she gushes.
Draco, startled, pats Teddy’s back and throws Harry a wild-eyed look. When she finishes with him, she moves on to Harry. They hug each other tight. Every time, Harry remembers when she was small enough to pick up and carry on his shoulders. It’s been more than a decade since then.
“Missed you, Harry,” says Teddy. “Good catch, there, good work. Have you been keeping him off of brooms since I saw him last?”
“No, I haven’t,” says Harry. “But he’s been practicing.”
“Uncle Harry,” says Rose, “your plant is so pretty!”
Looking over, Harry sees that the emotional plant on the window sill is flowering in pinwheel puffs of yellow. “I didn’t even know it could do that,” he says, surprised.
“I need help in the kitchen,” announces Ginny. A handful of children break off and follow her out of the room. Though she doesn’t live here anymore, she makes herself at home. Her cooking has always been better than Harry’s, anyway. With her talent and the help of extra hands, dinner is set up in short order.
Once everyone has sat, Hermione sets her eyes on Draco with her usual tenacious laser focus. He gets along well with her (a pleasant surprise), and soon they’re engaged in an intense debate about the governmental role of humanoid magical creatures like centaurs, both of them gesticulating eagerly until Harry, laughing, asks them if they want to take it outside.
Everyone else adapts well, too. Teddy smiles at Draco and makes a few jokes. James compliments his robes. Even Ginny seems to have warmed to him, occasionally sending some gossip his way.
It’s Ron who seems to be struggling.
“I guess I should have known,” he says. “What with your poncy hair.”
“Ron,” sighs Hermione.
“Oh, Weasley,” says Draco. “Nothing gets past you.”
“And you,” says Ron without missing a beat, gesturing at Harry with his spoon, “always making eyes at Bill.”
Harry chokes quite spectacularly on his drink. Ginny tuts and pats his shoulder.
“Don’t be so sour, Ron,” says Hermione, her voice just patient enough to be on this side of alarming. “Everyone makes eyes at Bill.”
He grumbles something under his breath but doesn’t say anything else. He stays silent for several long minutes before he meekly mutters, “I didn’t mean it like that. Didn’t say anything about Dean and Seamus, did I? I was just wondering.”
With a graciousness Harry greatly appreciates, Draco says, “It’s all right.”
Harry smiles at him and has to look away when Draco makes a face.
Other than that, there are few hiccups. Dinner passes with happy conversation and a good amount of laughter. Draco does his best to be congenial, but he is out of his depth. According to him, family dinners at the Malfoy household were a much more muted affair. Even so, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione leave without any further violence, taking Lily to spend the night at their home. Ron stops on his way out to pull Harry into a hug.
“We’re brothers, right?” he says.
“’Course,” says Harry. “Always.”
After that, Draco, Harry, and the boys play a few rounds of cards, and then Draco makes tea and goes to bed. It isn’t long until Harry joins him. He flops down beside Draco, who is reading one of his novels with a shirtless wizard on the cover.
“Ron thought I divorced Ginny because I was gay the whole time,” says Harry to the ceiling. “Called me selfish and a liar. Ginny defended my honor.”
“Did she hit him?” asks Draco, turning the page.
“What a shame.”
“We got it sorted out. But there’s a taste for you of what the press will say.” Harry rolls over to peer up at him. Draco lowers his book. “And Ginny. She didn’t hurt you too badly, did she? I wanted to step in.”
Draco rolls his eyes and resumes reading. He’s come a long way, not to milk Harry’s sympathy for all it’s worth. “No,” he says, “it wasn’t so bad. I promised her at Christmas that she could get a few hits in, you understand. It was only fair. All told, today could have gone a lot worse. In fact, I think I like her.”
Harry doesn’t know what to make of that.
“Only thing, I wish they hadn’t been staring at me the whole time like that, at dinner. I know I’m an oddity, but they have no manners. Like they thought I was going to put a dark curse on you right in front of them, as if I would ever be that careless.”
“Oh?” says Harry, amused.
“Really. I’m no child. I know how to ensorcel my men in private.”
“Ah, that would explain it, then.”
Draco smiles. “You jest only because you have no idea how truly deep under my thrall you are.”
“I am, you know,” says Harry, enjoying the way Draco shuts his eyes to stop himself giving too much away.
“Stop being silly,” murmurs Draco, “and go to sleep.”
Some mature content in this chapter.
The days pass slow and lazy in the summer, the long hours spent roaming with the children or sending them off someplace else and staying in. It’s much the same as it would be at Draco’s home, only this is much nicer. The food is good, and it’s a happy change to have company. Especially company like the Potters, who are spirited and funny and make Scorpius smile.
Some nights, there are twenty of them packed into Harry’s house – usually family stopping to visit and have a gawk at Harry’s new live-in, or other classmates like Luna Lovegood catching up, and one afternoon Neville even pops over for a drink (he doesn’t seem at all surprised to see Draco, and Draco doesn’t press his luck). Other nights, it’s just the five of them.
It’s a long while before it’s just Harry and Draco, alone with the house to themselves, and it only came to fruition with some very serious orchestration. After sending the kids off to Teddy’s, Harry puts in a Muggle movie and starts dinner. Draco loves movies, he’s found. He loves to watch pretty people make mistakes. Why don’t wizards have televisions, he laments. How many years wasted without his soaps?
From the kitchen comes the faint sound of music and the clatter of pans. Draco watches a young woman enter a haunted house alone. He wonders why she doesn’t just get out her wand and cast lumos, but then remembers that she can’t. How unfortunate.
“I’m making oodles of cheese,” calls Harry.
“Good, yes,” Draco agrees, eyes glued to the screen. “That’s a good idea.”
It’s another fifteen minutes before Draco realizes that he’s quite lonely and cold out here by himself. This poor Muggle girl isn’t going to survive, anyhow. He gets up and creeps in his stocking feet to the kitchen door, peering in.
Harry Potter is standing over the stove, stirring a bubbling pot of pasta, and dancing.
He lacks rhythm and skill, but he’s dancing nevertheless. Over the music machine comes the sound of some kind of pop music. Draco doesn’t recognize it.
Leaning against the doorframe, Draco watches his fill. What an absurd, endearing man, he thinks. It’s a part of him he hasn’t yet had a chance to see. Harry shimmies here and shuffles there, slicing vegetables and measuring butter – Draco doesn’t understand the mechanics of it all. He resolves then and there to learn.
“There are spells to do this for you, did you know?” he says, keeping his voice low so that he doesn’t startle Harry so near to an active fire. Harry startles anyway.
“Hullo,” says Harry happily, so Draco moves into the room. “I know, I just… I’m used to doing it this way. It’s kind of soothing.”
“Is the dancing part of that?”
Harry laughs, still slightly bobbing to the beat as he dumps a spoonful of white powder into the orange mix he’s creating. “It’s fun.”
“Will you teach me?” asks Draco. “I mean really teach me, not just let me make a mess of the eggs.”
“I’d like that,” says Harry. “Then you can start pulling your own weight around here.”
“Excuse me,” says Draco with feigned indignance, “I am your guest.”
Harry snorts, but is smart enough to keep his council. He returns to his bubbling stovetop.
“I’d still like to learn, though,” Draco adds.
“It will have to be another night. I’m almost done with this. What do you want to make?”
“How about ginger biscuits to start?”
“Don’t patronize me,” sighs Draco. “Ginger biscuits sound lovely.”
Harry smiles and kills the stove fire. A knot of tension Draco hadn’t realized he was carrying suddenly unknots. “It’s a date.”
The next day, Harry follows through on his promise. He has Draco measure ingredients and mix them into dough, then shows him how to heat the oven and flour the baking sheet. Together, they roll the dough into little balls and lay them out to be baked. Now and then, Harry pops a piece of raw mixture into his mouth, much to Draco’s horror. When they’re finished, he licks the spoon too.
“That’s disgusting,” says Draco blandly.
“It tastes good,” says Harry.
Draco can’t summon an argument to that, so he gives up. He sits in front of the oven to watch the biscuits rise and doesn’t move no matter how much Harry whines. He is fully prepared to watch them cool as well when a familiar set of hands settle on his hips.
“They look perfect,” Harry murmurs into Draco’s shoulder. He drops a kiss against the nape of his neck. Draco shuts his eyes. “You’re a quick study.”
“It’s true. I’m a genius.”
He feels more than hears Harry’s laughter. It makes him smile.
“Let me wash up,” says Harry, “and we can try them.”
Draco watches him gather up the bowl to rinse in the sink, filled with a feeling that is altogether unusual but not unwelcome, something like peace. Like he could live suspended in this moment forever, in the smell of ginger and cinnamon, with the lingering warmth of Harry’s body next to him.
The warmth is penetrating, spearing straight into his heart. No, he realizes – he reaches for the dragon pendant around his neck. It’s radiating heat. Draco looks at it to see the faint glow beneath its scales, and sees beyond it that Harry has left faint white handprints in flour on his hips. He grips the countertop.
Harry flicks water at him, making him jump. Draco pulls a face. Harry grins, and – oh.
He’s close enough for Draco to reach for him, to gather a handful of his shirt and haul him closer, and Harry does not resist, soapy hands pressed damp against Draco’s waist as he kisses him, long and deep. He tastes of ginger biscuits, of course, and the pumpkin juice he drank this morning, but the combination isn’t unpleasant. The way that he yields, lips parting, sets a flame of want racing up Draco’s spine.
When he pulls back, Harry’s expression is endearingly absurd. His spectacles are knocked askew, and Draco absent-mindedly fixes them. He leans in again to nip at Harry’s mouth and Harry groans.
The sound undoes Draco completely, but then Harry moves away, just enough to breathe, forehead to forehead.
“Hey,” he says, softly, “you all right?”
Their eyes meet, breath mingling in the quiet space between them. Draco aches to kiss him.
The kids, he realizes. The kids are still here, gathered around the television, playing video games. He can hear them laughing and shouting just around the corner.
“Go upstairs,” says Draco, thinking quickly. “And I’ll be there in a minute.”
It takes a second, but realization dawns on Harry’s face at last. “Oh,” he says.
That gives Draco pause. “Is that all right?”
“Oh,” says Harry again, then seems to get a grip. “Oh! Yeah. Yes, I mean – yes, very much.”
And he’s gone, clomping up the stairs; the children chorus greetings as he passes, and Draco has to take a moment to collect himself. It feels childish, sneaking around. He hasn’t had to sneak around since his school days. His nights with Astoria were hardly spontaneous, after all, and ended as soon as Scorpius was conceived. It suited them both just fine.
But this – he doesn’t know what to do with this.
He gives it five minutes, then brings a plate of ginger biscuits out of the kitchen. That should serve as enough distraction, he supposes. Scorpius gives an encouraging thumbs-up on his first baking attempt. Normally, Draco would care very much about this opinion, wanting to improve, but baking has rather taken a back seat for now.
Draco detects no suspicion as he makes his way up the stairs. The hallway seems to extend forever, listing like the deck of a sailboat, and all he knows when he reaches the bedroom door is the static rush of anticipation in his skin, narrowing his focus to a fuzzy spotlight.
As soon as he’s through the door, Harry has him pinned against it.
“Ouch,” he grumbles, just to be contrary.
Harry is smiling as he kisses him, half teeth, holding Draco’s face in his hands and guiding him just where he wants him. Sometimes he gets like this, exuberant and joyful. Draco doesn’t particularly care for it, but he also doesn’t particularly mind. These kisses are rough, loud, nearly suffocating.
“You’re in a mood,” says Draco once he has a moment, Harry having deviated to bite at his jaw, his neck.
“You have no idea,” Harry groans, “how good you look. In my house, with my family, my kids. Licking batter off a spoon. Wearing my shirt, fuck…”
“Noticed that, did you?” laughs Draco, a little overwhelmed. He tugs Harry into another kiss, this one gentler than the last. It slows everything down. For a moment, they breathe together.
“I have… I want to…” Harry slides his hands down Draco’s body, settling on his hips, and the rest of him follows until he’s down on his knees. He grins up at Draco like he can’t contain himself, and there’s something stupidly endearing about it.
“Oh,” says Draco, understanding. “Please.”
Harry wastes no time and unzips him, bunching Draco’s trousers around his thighs and not bothering to move them any further. “This is doing something for me,” he says, “having you mostly dressed.”
“Noted.” That’s an idea for later.
He’s worked up, but not quite there yet. Harry pays no mind and takes him half-hard into his mouth. They’ve only done this once or twice, so Harry is a bit clumsy to start, but after a minute he sets a comfortable pace. His hands come to rest on Draco’s hips; the touch sends a flare of pleasure up his spine. It’s become a signature of Harry’s. Draco loves that.
It isn’t long before Draco feels his breath coming up short, hips rocking into Harry’s hands as the pressure builds. Harry pulls back to press a desperate kiss to Draco’s thigh.
“My hair,” he says. Draco understands. He tangles his fingers into Harry’s curls and gives a gentle tug. Harry moans softly.
When he takes Draco into his mouth again, he takes him deep – and gags. The hazy cloud in Draco’s mind clears a moment, checking in. Harry’s brow furrows in determination. After a few moments at his usual pace, he tries again. Tears start up in the corners of his eyes. An icy feeling fills Draco’s stomach.
“Don’t – wait. Wait.”
Harry coughs a little, sitting back on his heels. “What’s wrong?”
“That…” He can’t bring himself to say it, exactly. “I don’t like that. Pain, even like this...”
Harry’s eyes widen with understanding. “I’m sorry.”
Sighing, Draco lets his head fall back against the door. “I should apologize. I forgot to mention it.” He can feel Harry’s hands sliding comfortingly up and down his flanks, as if soothing a nervous horse, and shame flares anew. “Is that going to be a dealbreaker for you?”
Laughing, Harry presses another kiss to Draco’s hip bone. “You’ll have to try harder than that to get rid of me. So, only good feelings, yeah?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
The whole thing has Draco flagging a bit, so Harry takes him in hand until Draco is squirming again, hands back in Harry’s hair. This time, Harry takes it slow and never too deep. That seems to be better for both of them, since the look of concentration on Harry’s face has eased. He sucks in long, even strokes that quickly have Draco’s knees buckling.
“Harry,” he gasps, “fuck, oh – fuck, Harry.”
Harry makes an approving noise. Praise generally makes him uncomfortable, but here he thrives on it. His tempo builds, faster and noisier, and Draco has to bite himself not to get too loud.
“Y-You’re going to make me come,” he says, wrecked, shaking.
With fair warning, Harry pulls away and replaces his mouth with his hand, pumping Draco in the quick rhythm that always takes him over. Draco can hear himself gasping, but he can’t stop it, toppling over the edge with a whimper. Harry shushes him, which is ridiculous enough to make them both laugh.
“I think you’re trying to kill me,” says Draco once he catches his breath.
Harry stands and quickly ducks into the bathroom to clean his hands. The satisfied look on his face would be annoying if he hadn’t earned it. When he comes back, he hauls Draco down for a kiss, soft and deep and slow. Draco sighs.
“Your turn,” he says, walking Harry backwards towards the bed. Harry sprawls as soon as the back of his knees hit the mattress, and Draco follows him down. He licks into Harry’s mouth as his fingers work on undoing the buttons of his shirt, one-by-one.
They’ve established a rhythm together, finding out what they enjoy. Harry is biddable as Draco undresses him, allowing each new expanse of exposed skin to be kissed as Draco works his way down, until there is nothing left. Once his socks are off, Draco mouths at the arch of his foot, his ankle, working up to the inside of his knee, then his inner thigh with a series of languid, lingering kisses. Harry’s breath comes in unsteady gasps.
“How would you like it?” asks Draco.
Harry covers his face with his hands, trembling. “Just… come here, just…”
Draco slides up his body and Harry clutches at him, kisses him hungrily. His knee pushes Draco to roll over, so he does, lying so that they are face-to-face.
“I just want to kiss you,” whispers Harry. “Please.”
Reaching to run his fingers through his hair again, Draco leans in to nibble at Harry’s lower lip. Harry makes a quiet, devastated sort of noise. After a moment, Draco can feel him moving, bringing them closer together, and then – oh, he realizes. Harry is jerking himself. The thought blots out everything with a wave of heat and want, but Draco’s body has nothing left to give for now. “Yes,” he murmurs, and Harry huffs a quiet laugh.
Sex with Harry is always like this. Friendly, and so good.
Harry pumps himself fast and hard, too fired up to take his usual indulgent pace. His kisses grow clumsy. He is far gone. Draco bites gently at his slackening lips, slides his tongue inside to taste Harry’s hitching moans. When he’s close like this, his breath is ragged against Draco’s mouth, crying, “Ah, ah…!”
He gasps hard when he comes, smearing against Draco’s stomach; Draco frets for a split second before remembering it’s Harrys shirt he’s ruining. At the apex of it, Harry whispers Draco’s name – almost always, and certainly tonight. That makes Draco’s heart ache. He kisses Harry’s stunned mouth until Harry comes back enough to kiss him back.
After they’ve cleaned up, Harry provides them both a pair of sweatpants, and Draco allows himself to be manhandled under the covers. They lie tangled together, Harry the big spoon with his hand resting against Draco’s navel. He presses his face against Draco’s skin with a drowsy sigh.
“I love you so much,” he says, so quietly Draco almost misses it.
No one has ever loved Draco before.
By the end of July, Draco is deft hand at baking. He’s turning out cakes, pies, and biscuits of all kinds. Harry teases him, calling him a domestic, but Draco doesn’t mind. It’s rewarding to make something with his own two hands, and the process isn’t so far removed from brewing potions. It’s also an efficient way to get the sweets he wants when he wants them.
So, it isn’t a stretch to creep down in the middle of the night and bake Harry a birthday cake.
He has sent letters for Harry’s previous birthdays since they became friends, but because it takes place during the summer, he hasn’t had the opportunity to celebrate it with him in person. He wasn’t sure he was supposed to, as he knows that the Weasleys often fill that role for him.
If things continue the way they have, Draco believes, it might not stay that way for long.
It’s foolish of him, he knows. But he is in love with the man. In love with the way he cares for his family, flounders when he’s caught off guard, and doesn’t mind Draco’s nagging. And Harry’s problems, his single-minded stubbornness and his unexpected self-doubt, don’t bother Draco as much anymore. With time, he is beginning to value those pieces of Harry, too.
He won’t say so. This cake will have to say it for him.
When he’s finished with it, he sneaks back upstairs and slips back into bed. At once, Harry rolls over him, crushing the breath from him, and somehow that’s comforting. He doesn’t want to think about the ease with which they fell into this, each other. It feels right.
“Where’d you go? You’re cold,” mumbles Harry, voice sleep-fuzzy into Draco’s neck. He hums when Draco gently scratches at the base of his skull, fingers playing in his hair.
“You’re imaging things,” whispers Draco.
“Okay,” says Harry, and in an instant he falls back to sleep. Draco wonders how Ginny could have ever given this up.
“You have a habit of doing incredible, thoughtful things when no one is looking, don’t you?” says Harry, and Draco would probably kiss him, but the children are all gawking at him and it would be unbecoming.
“That way, it doesn’t ruin my reputation,” says Draco.
“I’m glad to see you’re using all that practice sneaking around at Hogwarts for the forces of good.”
“It helps that you don’t stalk me everywhere I go anymore. Although… I sort of miss that.”
A mischievous look flickers in Harry’s eyes, and they both grin. “It can be arranged.”
“Oh my god, please stop,” says Albus, slumped over the kitchen table. “Please.”
Lily kicks her brother hard under the table. “Shut up, Al. I think they’re sweet.”
“Cake would be sweeter,” says Scorpius hopefully. Harry laughs.
“Draco, would you like to cut it?”
Harry’s being polite. He probably doesn’t know where to start cutting it. Draco certainly doesn’t. Though his baking has improved by leaps and bounds, his skills are still developing, and the poor cake is lopsided, sagging, the icing uneven and sparse in places. It was a mistake to try and take it out of the pan. He knows that once he tries to pick up a slice, it will crumble all to pieces. And the Potters, ever easily impressed, look keen for a taste nonetheless.
“It looks like the one Hagrid made me the night he told me I had magic,” says Harry as Draco bravely gets out a knife. He’s doing everything by hand nowadays – Harry’s a terrible influence that way.
“He made you a cake for that?” asks Draco.
“It was my birthday at the time.”
“Oh. Was it good?”
“A bit squashed,” admits Harry, “but no one had ever made me a birthday cake before.”
Draco almost drops the knife. It clatters off of the countertop, but he catches it up before it hits the floor. All of those pickup Quidditch matches are starting to pay off. “That’s wretched,” he says. Then, remembering himself, decides to change the subject. “I did what I could, but did you know, we’re running out of sugar again.”
“Again?” says Harry.
“Professor Black is the best cook,” says Lily, “because he only makes dessert. Are we keeping him?”
Before anyone can answer, there comes a clatter from the fireplace, and a veritable flood of Weasleys flow from the mantle until the room is nearly full. Draco can tell straight away that it isn’t everyone (and feels the way his stomach flips at the realization that he is so familiar with each individual Weasley), but it’s still more people than have been in the house at one time before. Beyond the array of relatives, he also spies Teddy, whose hair is set to match Harry’s black springy curls, and Luna in a pair of pink sunglasses. The mob pays little attention to Draco, instead chattering amongst themselves as they emerge one-by-one from the flames.
“What’s all this?” asks Draco.
“Oh,” says Harry, “I forgot. We do this every year.”
The room is getting decidedly crowded now. Weasleys are spilling out into the back garden. Something pops loudly and there’s a minor commotion, but it’s not clear what’s happened.
“You forgot,” says Draco.
“Happy birthday!” someone shouts. Everyone starts yelling.
In no time at all, Harry is swallowed in a sea of red hair, and the party moves outside. Tables pop up in the grass, summoned from somewhere, with colorful, jaunty umbrellas leaning dangerously this way or that. Draco watches from the kitchen window, where it is safe. Scorpius hangs back with him.
“This is just like Christmas,” he says. He sounds happy.
Food is being distributed amongst the tables. Harry is visible in brief flashes; he sits beside Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and their sprogs. They chatter with each other, arms moving in animated circles. Rose appears to be doing a very intricate impression of the giant squid.
It occurs to Draco, not for the first time, that Harry is much happier now than he was in school. He has everything he wanted. He is safe and loved and at peace.
Draco wonders what would happen if the Blacks, formerly Malfoys, were to disappear. Surely the Weasleys would not miss him. Would they even notice?
He hears the door open and someone come round the corner. It’s James. Of the three Potter children, he is the most inscrutable to Draco, and because he does not live at home anymore, it’s difficult to get a read on him. From the stories Harry tells, James is generally moody but also playful and sociable, but most of what Draco sees is surly. He gets the impression that James is still hurt over his parents’ divorce and that he doesn’t trust Draco with Harry. He can’t blame him for that.
They stand looking at each other. James’s expression is thoughtful, and with his brows so drawn and serious, he looks strikingly like his father did as a boy. When neither of them speak, he moves around Draco and collects the cake still sitting on the countertop, and Draco is privately amused to see the way his nose wrinkles at its lopsided appearance.
At the doorframe, James turns to him again. “I was told to come get this,” he says. He tilts his chin at the cake for emphasis. “And you.”
Scorpius looks between them. No one moves. At length, he ambles around them and wanders off into the garden to find some more to eat.
“I didn’t expect I’d be missed,” says Draco finally.
To his great relief, that almost makes James smile. “You’re not so bright as you let on, then.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, rather than an insult.”
“You shouldn’t,” laughs James. He leads Draco out of the kitchen. “Everyone really does like you, you know. Even Uncle Ron. But don’t tell him I told you.”
Draco can’t think about that; it’s like the sun, and if he looks at it directly it will be too much. It has never been like that, never in his life. He has never been wanted just as he is, not because of what he can provide, but for no particular reason at all.
Trying to sound casual, Draco asks, “What about you?”
James looks up at him. Like all of the Potter line, he is wonderfully short. “You’ve always been all right to me, Professor Black.”
There is a tight feeling in Draco’s throat that keeps him from speaking. He follows James to the table where Harry is sitting, flanked by his best friends, his ex-wife, and his children. The moment she spots the cake, Rose laughs out loud.
“What is that?” she cackles. Albus shoots her a quelling look.
“Professor Black made it,” says Lily loudly. “He’s really good at baking.”
“Looks like you’ve got competition, Ron,” says Ginny. Her grin is bordering on vicious.
Draco puts his hands up. “I don’t think I have enough practice to take on the great Ronald Weasley just yet.”
“Ronald,” mutters Ron, but he looks pleased.
Harry gives Draco an approving look. He looks very attractive when he is around family, as if lit from within.
There is already a cake going around, but Harry divides Draco’s as well for the table to share. He has Ron and Hermione on his left, Scorpius and Albus on his right. He motions Albus and Scorpius to move down and let Draco in.
Hugo, wearing two party hats, reaches up to put one on top of Ron’s head. He patiently sits still as Hugo tilts it artistically to one side. “Chic,” he says. One table over, Louis and Teddy are wearing theirs in front of their faces like polka-dotted beaks. Roxanne and Fred Junior are having a massive fight over something frivolous, as children do.
“I’ve heard that this happens every year,” says Draco.
“Harry never had very many proper birthdays,” says Hermione. She loves an opportunity to explain something. “Once the war was over, it was a good way to get everyone together and connect, so we’ve been doing it ever since. It almost doesn’t have to do with his birthday anymore – no offense, Harry.”
Harry just laughs and has a drink. They all know he’d prefer not to have a fuss made about him anyway.
Around this time, Ron gets a bite of Draco’s cake. His face goes very red.
“That bad, is it?” asks Draco, struggling not to laugh.
“No,” lies Ron. Draco thinks this is very diplomatic of him.
“Well, I like it,” says Harry reassuringly.
Draco turns up his hand for Harry to take. The touch grounds him in a heartbeat. “I suppose that’s good enough, then.”
The conversation swings over to the children, who are very excited to go to Diagon Alley pick up their school supplies. Apparently it is tradition among them to go shopping on Harry’s birthday, and Draco doesn’t bother to ask why. No time like the present, and all that.
Scorpius doesn’t speak much, too busy shoveling cake into his gob. It makes Albus scold him for being messy, even as he snickers. Were they anyone else, Draco would feel embarrassed of his son behaving in such an uncivilized manner, but the Weasleys have never been known for their table manners anyway.
To the credit of the Weasleys, they polish off Draco’s cake to the last, and he’s grateful for that. He knows it was a tad dry.
The moment they step into Diagon Alley, the children run loose. Draco barely has time to catch Scorpius and hand him his spending money before the boy has dashed around the corner after Albus and out of sight. It’s not as organized as he would prefer to do it, but Harry insists that after watching James shop for school for seven years, they can handle themselves just fine.
“I hate to tell you this, but you do realize your son is just a year shy of adulthood,” says Harry.
“I hate to inform you, but you’re forty,” says Draco. “You’re an old man. In your twilight years. Your life force slowly ebbing away.”
“God, you’re awful.”
“Happy birthday. You codger.”
They’re in public amongst other wizards, but Harry isn’t moving away. He ought to, Draco thinks, but his own feet are rooted to the spot. Since they are both Hogwarts professors, it won’t be news if they’re seen together, but it will be if Harry keeps on looking up at him like that. And yet, Draco wonders, what’s the worst that can happen?
He knows the worst that can happen. Murder is a possibility wherever Harry Potter is involved. His son’s safety is another concern.
But Harry said he would watch over him. He said he wouldn’t let anyone touch Draco or Scorpius. And if anyone has the power to back up such a claim, it’s Harry.
Harry’s reaching for his hand. Draco is about to take it, and then he sees her, weaving through the crowd in the street. His first thought, outrageous and immediate, is that she is so much more tan than he saw her last. She must have spent some time in the sun these last few years. But she wears her hair exactly as she wore it before. And she’s looking right at him.
He pulls his hand away as if burned. Harry gives him a confused frown.
“Better not,” explains Draco. “Here comes my wife.”
“Your wife?” asks Harry, shellshocked, but Draco won’t even look at him now. “I thought she left!”
Draco heaves a heavy sigh, eyes fixed on the approaching figure of the woman Harry takes to be Astoria. “Oh, where to start… We never got properly divorced, you see. It isn’t done. But she hasn’t communicated with me since she left, so I assumed she wasn’t coming back, and I didn’t want to worry you with the minutia of the whole fiasco.”
It’s a lot to process with not a lot of time to do it. But Harry has a lot of practice. “That makes things rather more complicated.”
“I should have told you, but you and I haven’t been together long and I didn’t think it mattered yet.”
“Obviously it matters.”
All at once, like a door slamming shut, Draco’s expression turns steely and cold. Harry doesn’t know what error he’s made, but it’s a serious one. “Is that so?” he says, but before Harry can answer, Astoria has made her way to them. Draco greets her, kissing her on each cheek and saying, “Hello, darling,” as though she’s only been away for an evening and not for years.
Harry watches her. She is beautiful, he has to admit, in a birdlike way – thin and sharp, her dark hair pulled back tight from her face. All of her clothing and jewelry look very expensive. More expensive than anything Harry has seen Draco wear in recent memory. It explains a few things, but introduces more questions than it answers.
“Draco, I didn’t expect to see you here. I arrived home to find it empty. I waited all week, but you didn’t come home,” says Astoria. “Where have you been?”
“Astoria dear, it isn’t as though I expected you would be back anytime soon. Regardless, you know how busy I am this time of year preparing for school to begin,” says Draco reproachfully.
“It was just a simple question. Don’t make a scene in public,” she chides him, and Harry doesn’t like that.
Draco, however, doesn’t bat an eyelash. “So, what brings you back to Britain?”
“Why don’t we go have a drink and I’ll tell you all about it?”
“Fine,” says Draco. He turns to meet Harry’s gaze at last, lashes dropping the way they do when he’s too nervous to look him in the eye. “Harry, I’ll find you later.”
Irrational jealousy hits Harry, boiling hot, in the chest. “Okay.”
Just then, Astoria pretends to notice Harry for the first time, one hand flying to her throat in feigned surprise. “Harry Potter! Is that the Harry Potter? Draco, don’t say you’re rubbing elbows with Harry Potter.”
“He started teaching at Hogwarts a few years ago,” says Draco, eyes darting between them. “We’re here on the same errand, believe it or not.”
“Yes,” says Draco.
“I apologize for my rudeness, but I’m afraid we must do introductions another time,” says Astoria. “I must steal my husband away.”
The molten feeling in Harry’s stomach grows. He gives a stilted nod, and just like that Draco moves into the crowd with Astoria’s hand at his elbow, leaving Harry alone in the street. Taking a moment to work out this abrupt turn of events, Harry checks his watch.
Originally, he had planned something to do with Draco, but now that seems to be out of the question. He does have some errands to run before the school year ends, though. With no distractions, he may just get them done in record time.
That decided, he starts to walk.
It’s several hours before Draco finds them again. Harry has taken his family for lunch, and then for sweets, and then shopping for new robes for good measure. Scorpius, upon receiving a fresh set of dress robes, seems so overcome that Albus has to pull him aside and whisper in his ear. Lily buys an outrageous red hat and wears it, unabashed, everywhere they go.
Seeing Draco, Scorpius wrinkles his nose (Merlin, but he looks so much like his father) and says, “All together at last. Did you get lost?”
Draco doesn’t look like he’s just had a harrowing conversation with his long-absent wife. Instead, the expression on his face is placid. “I’m sorry, but I had important business,” he says. “Did you find everything you need?”
“Yes. And Harry helped out heaps. What sort of business?” presses Scorpius.
Only the smallest beat of hesitation gives him away. “Scorpius, your mother has come back.”
“What?” Scorpius almost drops his bag of school supplies. “Did she really? When? Where is she?”
Harry spares a glance at Albus, whose face is dark and unreadable.
“She’s gone home to arrange some things, but she’s very much looking forward to seeing you. It looks like you’ll have your house back the way you like it, Harry,” says Draco.
Harry’s stomach drops.
“You’re leaving?” asks Lily, distraught.
“Is that what you want?” asks Harry. He tries not to let his confusion come through.
Strangely, Draco looks just as confused as Harry feels now. “Astoria is back. She’ll want to spend some time with her son. She hasn’t seen him since he was a first year. I don’t suppose you’d want me lingering about your home until school starts again, dashing back and forth from my house, cluttering up your affairs.”
“If you think it’s best,” says Harry, “but I want to talk to you before you go.”
“We’ll have to pack up anyway.”
“All right, then.”
Harry does his best not to despair. It was shortsighted of him to invest so much in this, but he had thought Draco was on board. Draco, who had made the first move, after all. Then again, it’s unfair to expect too much of him when they’ve only been seeing each other a few short months. It’s nothing compared to his years and years of amiable marriage, loveless or no.
“My mum’s back,” says Scorpius. He grabs Albus’s sleeve and tugs.
“That’s brilliant,” says Albus solemnly, and Draco gives him an approving smile.
The moment they’re through the door, Scorpius bolts upstairs to get a start on packing. Albus, mouth twisted into a frown, leads his sister over to the television, where they settle down to play video games and stay out of the way.
“Marvelous things, televisions,” says Draco as he follows Harry up to the bedroom, and Harry makes an absent-minded noise of agreement. He shuts the door behind them, and when he turns he is startled to see that Draco looks completely miserable.
“What is going on?” he wonders aloud.
Draco pinches the bridge of his nose as if to stem a headache, or a nosebleed. “I didn’t know she’d be there. I didn’t know.”
Harry shakes his head. “What? She didn’t write you or anything? She’s been gone that long and didn’t bother to send word when she came back?”
“No. No, of course not,” says Draco. He gives Harry a disappointed look that would make him snicker any other time. “What’s she meant to do? Firecall me, like a housewife? It would be… crass. I wasn’t home. It would be unbecoming to try and, I don’t know, hound me with letters when she doesn’t know where I am.”
“You have to admit it’s impolite. And you’re all about that.”
“Impolite? It’s her house. She can bloody well come and go as she pleases.”
“Fine,” says Harry, exasperated. “Okay.”
Draco searches Harry’s face again and again, hands stiff at his sides. He might look unaffected otherwise, but Harry isn’t about to say so. “Are you angry with me?” he asks.
“Of course not,” says Harry, and he means it. “Just wishing you had brought this up sooner.”
There it is again, the cold look shuttering Draco’s eyes. “Sorry to have wasted your time.”
“Wasted my time? Wait, wait. Don’t, come here.”
Draco has moved away and aims to dither about the room, gathering his things. Harry catches him the second time he picks up and sets down a pair of shoes he thinks belong to him, but in fact belong to Harry.
“I didn’t know it mattered to you,” says Draco in dangerously clipped tones. Harry has always been able to read his rising temper like a timepiece. “That we’re still married.”
“It doesn’t! I thought it mattered to you.”
“Obviously not! What do you take me for? It’s a contract, one we’ll both keep for Scorpius’s sake, but it isn’t as though – fucking hell. I thought that you… I thought you were breaking things off. I misheard you.”
“You did,” says Harry, and a smile breaks over his face before he can stop it. This conversation isn’t so unfamiliar to him. He’s had several like these with Ginny in the past. “I’m sorry,” he adds, since Draco isn’t fond of apologizing and someone needs to. “I didn’t mean to frighten you off.”
“I wasn’t frightened off,” mutters Draco, kicking the shoes across the room.
“I thought you wanted to go with her. She’s your wife and I’m just… well. Your man, I guess.”
“Partner,” offers Draco, and Harry snorts.
“Ron was my partner. My Auror partner, don’t look at me like that.”
“Good. One more scare like that today and I’ll surely drop dead.”
This time, Draco doesn’t step away when Harry moves closer. Some of the stiffness in his shoulders eases. “I don’t want to go, if you don’t want me to,” he says. “The boy can stay with her. She’ll look after him and it’s what he wants. Merlin, why on earth did she decide to come back now of all times? It would be best for me to go, I imagine – there’s so much we need to discuss. And I had planned to go, but…”
“I won’t tell you what to do.”
“No, you won’t. I hate being told what to do.” Very carefully, Draco reaches out to slide his arms around Harry’s shoulders, fingers playing through his hair. “You said that you love me.”
Harry smiles despite himself. “Yeah.”
“Did you mean that? I know you types tend to throw fuzzy feelings around like they’re nothing, and you, Harry, bond to people like epoxy.”
“That should tell you that I meant it, then.”
“But what if you only think you meant it? You realize who I am, don’t you?”
“We’re doing this again?” muses Harry. The wild look in Draco’s eyes implies that even playful criticism isn’t going to go down well, so he corrects course. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I need you to ask me to stay,” says Draco. “Ask me.”
“Will you please stay here with us?” asks Harry, and his heart lifts at the way the corners of Draco’s mouth twitch upwards.
“You know, I think I just might.”
Draco takes Scorpius home, with plans to be away until late in the evening. The lad leaves with significantly more luggage than he arrived with. Albus gives him a brisk hug and mumbles something about writing him, and Lily demands that he tell her all about his mother and whatever adventures she’s been up to. Harry, for his part, doesn’t want to imagine. From what Draco has described of her, it probably involves a lot of shrewd business meetings and flirting with women.
Alone as a family for the first time in a while, Harry enjoys sitting down with his children – not so much children, anymore – and putting together a puzzle. The picture on the box is that of an enormous sphinx, tail lashing and eyes witheringly intelligent, but the image won’t move until they’ve put all the pieces together. Always fastidious, Albus won’t allow them to start until all of the pieces face upright, with the corners picked out. After that, he’s a great help, if not a bit somber.
“Cheer up, Al. You’ll see him again when school starts,” says Lily, patting his knee, but it doesn’t seem to do much.
“You had a serious talk up there, didn’t you?” Albus asks Harry about half-way through the Sphinx’s flank.
“More or less,” says Harry. “We needed to sort out who was going where.”
“So you sent Scorpius to live with that woman, who has a history of just leaving whenever she feels like it? What if she leaves him alone?”
“Draco trusts her,” says Harry. “I imagine it’s more complicated than that.”
“I imagine it’s not,” says Albus. He scowls down at the puzzle as though it’s said something very rude. “Scorpius should know who’s on his side. It’s not fair that Professor Black stays with you and Scorpius doesn’t. You two haven’t even been together that long, but he knows where he’s wanted, doesn’t he?”
“Careful,” says Lily, and Albus clams up.
He doesn’t say anything as they finish the puzzle. He doesn’t say anything as he and Lily stomp upstairs to get ready for bed. Harry knows how that feels and knows not to press him. It won’t be long until Albus comes to understand where Scorpius is coming from. There is nothing quite like family.
Lily, in blinding pink pajamas and her hair wrapped tight, bellows down the stairs, “Goodnight, dad!”
“Goodnight!” calls Harry.
He waits, but there’s no answering shout from Albus. He waits a bit more, and then, mustering up his well-worn resilience, makes his way up the stairs to his younger son’s bedroom. At the door, he knocks. A tiny, morose voice on the other side says, “Come in.”
Lily pokes her head out of her own bedroom door across the hall. “Good luck,” she says, mouth twisted in sympathy.
“It’s all right,” says Harry, and opens up the door.
Albus, only half-dressed, lies flat on his stomach on the bed, face-down where his feet ought to be. It’s the same teenage melodrama that James liked to put on, and the image is so familiar that Harry can’t help but smile. Of course, he’s sure it feels real enough for Albus – but it will pass quickly.
Sitting up by the pillows, Harry gives his son’s ankle a friendly pat. “He’s still your best mate, no matter what.”
“I know,” says Albus morosely. “But Professor Black is staying. Cory has more people who care about him here than he will ever have from his mum.”
Harry knows it’s rather more complicated than that. Draco has been tight-lipped about Astoria and her history, unwilling to say much by way of criticism when it comes to his wife, and it’s his good faith that convinces Harry that there’s more to it than appearances would suggest. None of that will matter to Albus, though.
“You know your mum loves you, don’t you?” he says.
Albus sighs. “Yes.”
“I’m not positive that Scorpius knows that about his mum. He needs the chance to spend some time with her and find out for himself. And Draco wants him to choose his own path, find the people who value him for who he is, because I don’t think Draco had that growing up.”
Quietly, Albus rolls onto his side to look at Harry. They’re both a touch surprised by his insight.
“Do you understand?”
“Maybe,” says Albus. His lips are pinched together, like he has more to say, but Harry suspects that he won’t allow himself that vulnerability. It’s good enough, for now.
He gives Albus’s leg another pat and stands again. “We’ll be fine, just us four. You’ll be back in school with Scorpius before you know it.”
“What will happen if she leaves him again?”
“I… I don’t know. But he will always be welcome here. Okay?”
“Okay,” says Albus, picking at his comforter. “Do you think… Could I spend next week with mum? I want to spend some time with her.”
Relief washes through Harry, warming him. “I’ll bet she’d like that,” he says. “Now, get the right way round in bed and get some sleep.”
With what looks like an enormous degree of reluctance, Albus drags himself out of bed, turns around, and flops back down where he had been lying, only right side up. Satisfied, Harry turns out the light and closes the door behind him. It wasn’t a perfect conversation, not by a long shot, but he’ll rest easier tonight knowing that Albus feels better.
It has been an unusually long day, Harry thinks, managing everyone’s needs and feelings. It’s something he’s had a good deal of practice doing, but all he wants to do is lay his head down and put today’s events behind him, at least for now.
Starting for his own bedroom, he almost walks headfirst into Draco. Both of them start and leap back, and Harry just narrowly avoids falling down.
“You scared me half to death!” snaps Draco.
“When’d you get back?” asks Harry, trying to slow his racing heart. The man can sneak quiet as a cat when he feels like it.
“Not but a moment ago. I thought you’d already gone to bed.”
“Was going to.” Harry reaches for him and is still surprised at the way Draco leans right into his arms. “How did things go with Astoria?”
Draco groans. “I’m bone tired, but it was a pleasure to see her again.”
"Yes. I know it's hard to understand, but she's my friend. I'm glad that she is back." Draco rubs small circles at the base of Harry’s spine. It’s soothing. “However, I’m… happy that I am here tonight, and not there.”
Harry smiles into his hair. “Yeah. Me too.”
In the middle of the night, Draco wakes with a scream.
Harry is awake in one instant, reaching for his wand and springing to his feet in the next, but there’s nothing, just Draco gasping for breath, spread-eagled on the bed. His face is damp with tears and, as he realizes that Harry is watching him, he turns away to hide it.
Understanding sinks down heavy on Harry’s shoulders. Nightmares. He has a lifetime’s experience with nightmares.
“Do you have them often?” he asks, voice soft. He sets his wand back on the bedside stand and crawls into bed. Draco resists his touch only for a moment, rolling to face him and curling his body close. He is all over tense. Eyes dark and expressive, Draco touches Harry’s face, his mouth, as though to check that he is real.
“All the time,” he whispers back. Then, “Are you okay?”
“Don’t I look okay?”
“Yes. Thank Merlin.” More insistent now, Draco pushes his hands through Harry’s hair, again and again. His fingers snag in the curls. Even now, Harry can hardly believe this is happening. Sometimes it is easy to imagine that he is another person altogether from the Draco he knew in school, an uncanny lookalike; most of the time, he is so very much himself, so Draco from head to toe, that it’s impossible to forget. Harry is used to unpredictable changes in his life, large ones that upend everything. There was no way he could have prepared for Draco, but comforting him feels somehow familiar, as if they have been doing it all their lives. Harry leans in so that they are nose-to-nose.
“See? I’m right here.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Draco looks at him in the dark. The wrinkle between his brows tells Harry that he’s thinking, but his fingers don’t stop tugging and stroking through his hair. “You first,” says Draco.
Harry doesn’t mind and jumps right in. “The ones I have now aren’t so bad. Hermione convinced me to talk to a doctor and it’s better now, or at least I manage. Back when I was in school, I had the usual flashbacks. It’s silly in the scope of everything, but I dreamed about that stupid basilisk for years.” He doesn’t wait for Draco to tell him it’s not silly; it isn’t, of course, but also it really is. “That was nothing compared to later on. I got a lot of… visions and memories about Voldemort. It was horrible. I could see what he was doing, could remember as if we were the same person. And sometimes it was almost like he was… looking at me.”
He doesn’t say anything, but Draco’s face is grim.
“Once he was gone, I had nightmares about the war,” Harry continues. “I still do, now and then. I dream about everyone we lost. I dream that we lost even more. There’s one I have all the time, where I wake up and I’m the last man on earth. My children are gone. My family is gone. All of my friends. And then there’s the dream about green light. You know that one.”
“I do,” murmurs Draco. “I’ve had the same one.”
His touch becomes more gentle and less frantic. He brings his hands to rest against Harry’s chest.
“My dreams are myself,” he says. “Things that I’ve done. Things that are my fault. So I deserve them. Vincent. The Astronomy Tower. My own family, my own fucking house, the fucking – stench of evil magic in my childhood bedroom. Having him under my roof. Too afraid to sleep, to say something wrong, or say something right. Do you understand, Harry?”
It’s a heavy burden, far different from the one that Harry has to bear. There was a time he would not have felt sympathetic, would have been insulted to compare their experiences, would have told Draco his problems were his own fault. But they are more similar than they are different. They always have been.
It’s all he can do to clasp Draco’s restless hands in his own, there in his bed. “Listen. I don’t know how much this will help, but I think you are just… amazing.”
Draco makes a soft, disbelieving noise, but Harry keeps going.
“You turned your life around, all by yourself. It took me twenty years to learn how to do that. You teach children all day at Hogwarts, and you care about them. You are a spectacular father. You crept down into my kitchen last night and baked a birthday cake for me in secret. Those were all your decisions. Your choices. You are a good man.”
It’s quiet. Draco’s jaw is set with the stubborn determination to stay angry at himself and he doesn’t say anything. For the first time, Harry wonders what time it is – the night outside of his window is pitch black.
Then Draco says, “Is that all? Go on. Tell me more nice things about me.”
Harry breathes a startled laugh, and that makes Draco smile. “Careful. If your head gets any bigger, it’ll bust.”
“That’s incredibly rude.” But Draco closes the gap and kisses him anyway.
Draco finds his true calling about two weeks later, when he stumbles across an unopened bottle of rum that Harry had completely forgotten about. “What’s this?” he says aloud to himself, and promptly dumps half of it into the blender. Both, if Harry remembers right, were gifts from Arthur. It isn’t long before Draco is happily mixing cocktails by himself, half drunk and humming an upbeat little tune.
“I liked him better when he made dessert,” announces Lily. She turns to Albus for support, but he has both hands clasped around a mug of something fizzy that Draco had given him, and he is not her ally.
“This seems like a dangerous turn of events,” remarks Harry, which makes Draco shoot him a wicked grin.
“You have no idea, darling.”
It’s not appropriate how much that piques his interest. Harry decides to distract himself with sorting his lesson plans for the year. They’re drawing towards the end of August, and professors return to the grounds early, if they leave at all. It’s been more difficult this year to get his paperwork together than it has been in the past; Harry suspects that his new roommate may have something to do with that.
As he rifles through his files, he notices that they have been alphabetized and color-coded. It’s a toss-up who is responsible for that. The most likely culprits are Albus or Draco. The gratuitous use of purple suggests Albus. Harry smiles.
It isn’t long before the kids are reading over his shoulder, Albus still working on his drink. No matter where he goes, they eventually follow, dragging behind like the tail of a comet. It settles something in Harry to see his family safe and happy and loving him, an emotion like completing a puzzle or finishing a book. Now and then, it’s so much that he can hardly breathe.
“We’re going over vampires this year, dad?” asks Lily with wide eyes.
“It’s because Professor Black is an incubus,” deadpans Albus.
Harry opens his mouth to scold, but Draco’s voice sounds from the doorway of the kitchen. “That’s right,” he says, “so I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”
“Just because you’re dating my dad doesn’t mean you get to bully me,” says Albus, but he’s grinning.
“That’s exactly what it means. Isn’t that right, Harry?”
“Yes,” says Harry at once.
“Traitor,” says Albus. Lily snickers.
Harry is glad for it. Albus has been in better spirits over the last few days, having taken a while to recover from Scorpius’s absence. No one has mentioned it, not even Draco, whose only outward sign of worry is the little wrinkle between his brows when he thinks too much. As promised, Astoria has been taking good care of Scorpius, but reports have been few and far between. Harry feels that he understands, at last, what Draco means. She is as trapped by their marriage as he is. She has given him a son, a son who she loves. Harry still doesn’t like her, but the picture is becoming clearer. It reminds him, just a bit, of the way he feels about Ginny. Warm, and grateful, but lacking something – something important.
“An incubus,” says Lily thoughtfully.
Draco glances at Harry over the top of her head, eyes crinkled.
This is right, Harry thinks. This feels right.
“I don’t want to make a fuss when we get back,” says Draco as their carriage arrives in front of Hogwarts. It’s raining, miserable, but Draco carries a charmed umbrella that keeps them warm and dry.
“You love a fuss,” Harry replies.
“True. But not at my expense. I have no doubt the press will catch wind of us shortly. But I’d like for us to keep a low profile, if we can – none of your making cow eyes at me, or manhandling me in the halls. I don’t want to get nightshade poured in my tea or an exploding letter in the post. You should know I’m much more attractive alive than dead.”
“You don’t like my cow eyes?” deflects Harry.
“Did you not hear what I said? I will be murdered. Deceased. Gone forever.”
“I’ll protect you.”
“I don’t think you’re taking this very seriously.” Draco stops at the door to give him a stern look. Frustratingly, Harry looks as sanguine as usual, which means he’s being deliberately hard-headed and none of this is sinking in. “Maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like to fear for your life every day, Harry, but I have not.”
At last, Harry’s eyes soften. Good. “You’re right,” he says. “People will try to hurt you. They still try to hurt me, now and then. You’ve seen it. And I’m not dead yet.”
“A miracle, truly.”
“Yes, but after the war, when I had to reprioritize and rearrange my whole life, I decided the one thing I really wanted to do was protect my family. I couldn’t protect all of them, once. But I can now, and I do.”
“Except when they crash their broomsticks into trees.”
“I fixed you.”
Draco clucks his tongue, annoyed, but Harry isn’t going to let it go now.
It’s a silly thing to argue over, he thinks. He knows, he believes, that he can trust Harry. The proof is there, in the army of Weasleys, all healthy and alive under his watch, and Ginny, who despite the media firestorm received not one box of blast-ended skrewts when she divorced him. Yet Draco’s own experience tells him otherwise. Two potions labs burned down in the night tell him otherwise.
“I’ll protect you,” Harry says again. “I promise.”
Those words shouldn’t strike Draco so deeply, but they do. He has to look away before his mouth runs away with him, as it so often has these last few years.
“Fine,” he says, and then his mouth runs away with him anyway. “I love you, you know.”
Harry is knocked off his game a moment. He laughs. “What did I do?”
“You’re supposed to say it back. Fathead.”
“It back, fathead,” echoes Harry, and pulls him close for a kiss.
Harry was right.
It’s much the same as it was before. The insanity of the press is minimized by Harry’s strict family-only owl policy, and after a few hundred lost house points, the students fall back in line. They learned their lesson from Harry’s first Valentines three years ago. Now and again, Harry will get a frustrated letter from Ginny or James, who bear the brunt of the invasive questions by virtue of living off Hogwarts grounds. But they are well versed in managing the press and can handle themselves. Once the well of their information is tapped, the articles and speculations slow to a trickle. Going to Hogsmeade is a struggle, but that will pass too, in time.
Harry and Draco go about as they did before. They sleep apart. They patrol together on Mondays and play Quidditch on Wednesdays. They duel for their students, and Harry goes a little easy on him, so he ends up flat on his back in a body-bind. It’s a good thing they didn’t get along in school. Now and then, Harry delivers desserts to Draco’s desk, but Draco does not need to mix nutrition potions for him anymore. He’s looking better than ever. Even Molly has stopped commenting.
And, on very rare occasions, Harry snags him by the sleeve in the hallway and drags him into an empty classroom to kiss. In the winter, it fogs his spectacles. Draco loves that.
On the other hand, there are a few differences. Sometimes, across the dining hall or in a busy corridor, Harry will mouth “Love you.” On Fridays, they will often lie in bed together reading essays after sex. All of the time, the Weasley children make fun of them, pulling kissy faces or loudly asking if he’s baked anything lately. None of these changes are so bad.
The only thing is Hagrid’s new penchant for springing enormous, mushroom-y hugs on Draco when he least expects them. Every time, he thinks he’s about to disappear into layers of dusty fabric and become trapped in them forever.
When he mentions it to Harry, Harry only laughs and says, “Yeah, isn’t he great?” So Draco supposes he can tolerate it.
It’s nearly a week before Draco hears from Astoria. As is her way, he receives a crisp, impersonal letter through the post one morning, his name written in her tight, curly scrawl.
Draco, her letter says, I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to let you know that I am leaving for Italy tomorrow. I wish we had had more time to catch up while I was here, but we were both just so busy! If we had, I’d be less angry with you for letting me find out through the Prophet that you’re fucking Harry Potter. You didn’t even tell me that you two were living together.
Draco should have expected this. Part of him had believed that Scorpius had told her already; he’s surprised to find out that’s not true. In the whirlwind of living with a family, he had simply forgotten to tell Astoria. To be fair, she also hadn’t asked.
I know that I haven’t been the best of wives, or even a very good friend, but that is something I deserved to know, she continues. Draco thinks it’s a bit ridiculous, given that she’s been sleeping her way across Europe. The press has been dogging me everywhere I go, humiliating and mocking me for being your oblivious beard. So I am going out of country until the gossip settles down. You can imagine the outrage if they found out you were my beard, too!
I am glad I was able to see Scorpius before I left. He has grown so much. You have been doing a wonderful job with him, though when he gets tired he gets irritable just like you. I will be back for his graduation. I promise.
Draco, I know we don’t talk much. I wish I could have done a better job of it. However, I am thankful every day for our marriage. You saved my family and you gave me Scorpius. If having Harry Potter makes you happy, I want to support you. Whatever you need from me, I am prepared to do. Please know that.
I hope he treats you well. He will hear from me, otherwise. Love, Astoria.
Inside, Draco knows that their relationship is worse than imperfect. But reading her letter now, he feels overwhelmingly fond. She is doing well, he thinks, living the life that she wants to have. So is he.
Beside him, Neville is peering over at his letter.
“Mind your business, Abbott,” says Draco cheerily. He snaps the letter shut.
“You sound happy. That your wife?” asks Neville. “It’s been a long time.”
“Not that you need to know, but yes, it’s Astoria. She’s giving me a piece of her mind about the whole Potter fiasco.”
“Fiasco or not, you’ve been nothing but sunshine and rainbows since you got back. I hardly recognize you. I take it was a very good summer?”
Draco glances at Neville sidelong. If they weren’t friends, he might be insulted. “Careful, or I’ll hex your beard right off.”
“That’s better,” says Neville. Smiling, he turns back to his plate.
Draco is preparing for an early night when Scorpius stops by his office. His appearance is always a pleasant surprise, since he’s been growing more and more independent through the years. He is sixteen now, taller than Draco and just as pointy. He recently got a nose ring, which Draco hates with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, but he doesn’t say anything; it’s not as though it actually matters.
To Draco’s amusement, Scorpius is also dressed in his pajamas. They are starting to get a bit short in the legs.
“You should be going to bed,” says Draco. “It’s almost after hours.”
“Yeah,” says Scorpius. He crosses the room to sit cross-legged on an armchair. He’s close enough that Draco reaches out to brush is hair out of his face. One year left.
For a moment, it looks like Scorpius doesn’t plan on answering, which is par for the course, but then he says, “Got a letter from mum today.”
Draco sighs. “I did as well.”
“What did yours say?”
“You first. You spent more time with her this year than I did. I assume that means she had more to say.”
Scorpius shrugs, gaze lowered. “Maybe. I mean… I know she loves me. I remember how she would read to me when I was little and play games. But I don’t think she really knows who I am.”
Draco can feel a pit sinking in his chest, aching in sympathy for his son; he knows the void that Scorpius likely feels must be a thousand times worse. But beneath that, there is an undercurrent of anger – at himself, at Astoria. Draco’s own parents had turned on him in his teens. He had hoped to rewrite history with Scorpius. He had hoped to be a better father.
Words are insufficient for the emotions welling inside, so Draco says nothing. He just studies Scorpius’s face, his carefully blank expression (which is just as bad as Draco’s, transparent as tissue paper).
“She’ll be back for graduation,” Scorpius adds at length. The words are flat.
Sighing again, Draco presses a thumb to his own temple, where he can feel a headache growing. “I’m sorry, Scorpius. We really did mean better for you.”
“It’s not as though she hits me, or anything.”
“There are lots of ways to hurt people. You know that.”
Scorpius scrunches his nose at the floor. “I want you to know,” he says quietly, “I always appreciated what you did for me. You were always there, and I knew I could trust you, no matter what. She wasn’t there. Nothing can change that.”
Struggling to speak around the knot in his throat, Draco says, “Thank you. I’m proud of you.”
“Yeah, I know.” At last, there is a flicker of light in Scorpius’s eyes. “It’s embarrassing.”
That evening, like most evenings, Harry loafs about Draco’s quarters after hours. If allowed, he will stay until Draco falls asleep. The Headmistress has implied (politely) that they are welcome to share a bed through the night, but Draco still isn’t a fan of the idea. There is something flagrant about it, and anyway he enjoys having his own space at the end of the day. Perhaps one day in the future, he thinks, when they’re married, he might allow it. The thought catches and stalls out.
“All right?” asks Harry. He is dropping crickets into the tank of poisonous toads that Draco keeps for their slime.
“Marvelous as always,” Draco answers by rote. His mind still spins out until he can’t remember what had stopped him altogether.
Harry flashes him a doubtful look but doesn’t argue.
“We’ve got Astoria’s approval, by the way,” Draco adds.
“Thought we already had that. Did she not know you were staying with me this summer?” Harry puts the lid back on the crickets and sits back to watch the toads jump about. He likes their bright colors, he says, and the way they slap each other with their little webbed feet.
“Of course not. And before you start complaining, she didn’t ask. She knows now, though, thanks to you and your apparent need for attention.”
“That’s not true, and you know it.” Harry looks a little hurt. Sometimes they still miss the mark with their ribbing, poking at old injuries that are still a little sore.
“I apologize. I was joking.”
“Either way,” continues Draco, “that’s all. I thought you’d be relieved. I know it bothered you to know that you’re a homewrecker.”
Surprised, Harry laughs out loud.
Admittedly, Draco had hoped that the harrowing heart-to-hearts were over for the week (there is only so much he can manage before the limits of his empathy are worn thin), but of course nothing is ever simple now that the Potters are part of his life. It is becoming apparent that peace and quiet is a thing of the past, something that will soon become a distant memory.
The truth of this truly sinks in when, one afternoon after Draco wraps up his class of the day, Albus Potter lingers behind. Scorpius hangs back with him, the concerned frown on his face so patently Potter that it’s comical. Draco watches as Albus murmurs to him and sends him on his way with a gentle shove; Scorpius jogs to catch up with Rose on her way to dinner.
“Yes, Master Potter, I see you,” drawls Draco. Albus comes up to the front of the class.
“Can I talk to you?” he asks, hands twisting around his house scarf, eyes fixed somewhere by Draco’s elbow. “I know it’s weird, but it’s not really – I just can’t talk to my dad about it. I don’t think he’d know what to say.”
“He rarely does,” Draco agrees.
To his amusement, Albus nods emphatically. “Exactly. I mean, he’s great and all…”
“But he’s dense.”
“You knew you were gay in school, right?”
The sharp turn in topic doesn’t faze Draco, a sure sign that he is overexposed to Weasley mannerisms by this point. He takes it in stride, mulling the question over. “In a manner of speaking,” he says slowly. A creeping comprehension comes upon him, and he knows why Albus has asked. He would be touched if it wasn’t absolutely ridiculous. “I grew up during a war. Boys were hardly the center of my attention at the time.”
“But you knew you liked them.”
“I didn’t think about it, if I’m honest. You’ll pardon me if I don’t care to get into the details with you.”
Albus purses his lips tight, as if buttoning the answer inside.
“Albus,” says Draco, “I assume this is about you.”
To his credit, Albus already looked sick before the discussion began, so it’s hard to say if he’s feeling any worse. He stares at the floor, mouth screwed up sideways. He nods.
Draco doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing he really could say, anyway. Nothing that would help.
After a minute, Albus bunches his face up tight. There are tears in the corners of his eyes, but he is fighting them. “It’s so stupid,” he says. “I shouldn’t feel bad. I’ve got my dad and Teddy and Victoire and Charlie and Dominique and – maybe Louis or Hugo. I know that it’s okay, but I just…”
“It’s not what you were expecting. It’s something that happens to other people. Right?”
A large part of Draco wishes he weren’t having this discussion. Another part is grateful he’s here. He cannot even begin to imagine the mess that would have been, if Albus had gone to Harry instead. As it is, he will keep this secret for Albus for as long as Albus needs.
“It’s all right,” says Draco. “We all take our own time. Your daft father didn’t figure anything out until he was nearly forty. And look what a catch he ended up with.”
That makes Albus smile, and then bite his lip. “Um. And I love Scorpius.”
Of course he does, thinks Draco in a rush of exasperation. Who wouldn’t love Scorpius? Especially if it makes Draco’s life more of a farce than it already is. “That makes things a little more complicated,” he admits, and Albus grimaces in sympathy. “Have you told him?”
“That’s your own decision.”
“Okay.” Albus looks at him, an image of Harry in miniature, and Draco feels strangely paternal. “It’s just – he was so happy to go live with his mum. He still talks about it, and it’s been months. And I can’t help but think, you know, was our house not good enough? Did he not… love us enough?”
Draco takes a deep breath. He won’t say it, especially not to Harry’s son, but that fear is painfully familiar, the fear that he is not a good enough father to fill the gaps Astoria left behind. That fear may never go away completely. “Albus,” he says, “he hasn’t seen his mother in six years. Of course he loves us, but he has had time to get to know us. He needs time to get to know her, too.”
“We were here for him first.”
“It’s more complicated than that, I’m afraid.”
“That’s what dad said, too,” says Albus. He tugs at his scarf; he’ll be furious to realize he’s wrinkled it, Draco thinks. “So... what should I do?”
“I’m not giving you advice on how to be gay,” says Draco, trying not to laugh. But – something does strike him. “I can tell you one thing, however.”
Nodding, Albus finally unwinds his fingers from his scarf.
“Just be yourself.”
Albus rolls his eyes.
Before he knows it, it’s Valentine’s Day. The halls, as always, are bedecked with floating pink paper hearts, and the students are giggling and kissing and crying before breakfast, and Draco is developing a headache. As he stalks into the Great Hall, his grumpy expression makes Neville snicker at him.
“Why do you hate it so much?” he asks once Draco has sat down.
“It’s gaudy,” says Draco. “Gauche. Tacky.”
It’s also, typically, been very lonely – but that’s none of Neville’s business.
“As if you’re never tacky,” laughs Neville.
“I feel as though you’ve gotten meaner over the years, Professor.”
Here comes Harry, just a minute earlier than late. As he passes behind Draco, he swoops in to kiss the corner of his mouth; at once, Draco doesn’t feel quite so grumpy. He feels himself smile, but then catches Neville’s amused expression and pulls himself together.
“Didn’t say anything.” Neville reaches for some juice.
The post arrives in a flurry of pinks and reds, valentines raining down upon the students, a smattering of flowers. Draco focuses on his plate to tune out the eruption of noise, talk and laughter. Then, a letter lands squarely on his plate with a smack.
It’s rare that he receives mail. When he does, it’s usually Blaise, Greg, or Millie writing to set up a lunch with him. He used to correspond with his mother every so often, but that stopped once Astoria left, and she hadn’t even written when his relationship with Harry went public.
When he turns the envelope over, though, the handwriting is all Harry. For you, it says. He shoots a look down the table to see Harry grinning and unabashed.
“Asshole,” mutters Draco.
Neville laughs, but puts his hands up in appeasement when Draco scowls at him. He’s embarrassed – he hasn’t gotten a valentine since he was sixteen years old. But another part of him feels warm, secretly delighted. Trying to school his expression into something at least approaching neutral, Draco undoes the seal and opens the envelope.
It’s a simple piece of parchment, which is so classically Harry. The only embellishment is a little happy face scribbled in the corner. The letter reads: I’m not good at this sort of thing, and I know you would hate me to make a big deal of it in public, but it seemed right to send you something for Valentine’s. I thought a formal letter would be most appropriate.
Not a formal letter, Draco thinks. No proper greeting or return address. He puts a hand over his mouth, unable to fight with his face anymore.
The letter continues, I just want to say thank you for being my friend. You inspire me to try new things. I love you.
Expect sweets next year. That’s your incentive to keep me until then. Be mine? – H
“Oh, he is just going to have a fit,” says Draco to himself. Neville is doing a very good job of pretending not to listen.
Harry’s post arrives, a single letter. When he opens it, it explodes in a riot of red confetti. Draco knows what it says inside – Happy Valentine’s Day, Wanker. Harry is laughing as he brushes red sparkles out of his hair.
Draco supposes it’s the thought that counts.
Every few weeks, Harry goes to the Burrow for Friday dinner with his family. Now, by unspoken agreement, Draco is dragged along more often than not. Roxanne has taken a particular shine to him and insists that he watch her perform all of the new dance moves she has invented since he saw her last. George tells him that this is a great honor.
It’s less crowded on these Fridays than during the holidays, since most of the children are in school and work obligations sometimes stop people from coming. But on an average evening, Draco can expect to see all six of the original Weasley siblings, plus their spouses, and Teddy and Victoire. It’s never boring, to be sure.
One Friday, while Draco sits by the window and watches the rain before dinner, Molly Weasley calls for him from the kitchen. Word makes its way across the room like a game of telephone until it reaches him.
“I heard that you’ve been practicing your baking,” says Molly when he walks into the kitchen. Although she has been nothing but kind to him, he is still terrified of her – and although he stands much taller than her, she still makes him feel like a little boy.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says.
Her eyes are warm with approval. “Very good. Normally I have Teddy helping me, but he’s under the weather and I don’t want him getting everyone sick. Would you mind helping me with these biscuits?”
It’s a simple request, he knows, but all the same it feels like he is being given a very important responsibility. Like he must prove himself. “Of course,” he says.
So, Draco spends the next hour in the kitchen with Molly Weasley, mixing and rolling out dough for her to cut into cheerful shapes and send into the oven. They chat a little, but for the better part of the evening they simply work in companionable silence, listening to the sounds of familiar voices and familiar laughter in other parts of the house.
Over dinner, there are a lot of compliments thrown Draco’s way about his baking, though he isn’t responsible for it. Molly lets him take all of the praise with an indulgent look on her face. Draco wonders what it would be like to grow up in a place like this. All around, he hears conversations ebb and flow in waves, catching only snippets. Each one makes him smile.
Next to him, Harry finishes what he can of his dessert; he had gotten too ambitious with his portions, as usual. What he has left, he slides over to Draco without comment. It had bothered Draco once, made him feel like a rubbish bin, but now he likes it. It feels like being thought of. Draco takes Harry’s spoon and starts in.
“So you two are very serious, now, are you?” asks Arthur, almost conversationally.
Harry isn’t paying attention, his fingers absently stroking up and down the back of Draco’s hand on the table. Draco glances at him, to see if he can catch his gaze. He can’t, though – George and Charlie are having a competition to see who can hang the most spoons off of their face at the end of the table, and it’s drawing a crowd. Harry is grinning with affection. In this light, he’s almost golden. Beautiful. The silver in his hair catches and shines. The skin around his jaws is getting softer with age, and there are wrinkles beginning to show, especially when he beams like this, around his eyes and mouth. He looks comfortable. He looks happy.
Draco turns his palm up to capture Harry’s fingers and intertwine with them. He turns back to Arthur. They seem to be the only two people not watching the show.
“Yes,” says Draco. “Very much.”
About a minute later, George wins the spoon contest. “Not fair,” says Charlie, “you have a bigger face.”
“Not sure if that’s an insult,” says George.
Just then, Teddy stands up on her chair with her hands in the air. “Family!” she shouts.
“Yes, Teddy,” says Molly. “Get down off the furniture.”
Not at all put off, Teddy clambers back down. “I have an announcement.”
Victoire’s hands are clapped happily in front of her face in a weak attempt to hide her enormous grin. Draco has already put two-and-two together and gives Harry’s hand an excited squeeze.
Teddy throws her arms wide again, full blast and full volume, bright and happy as the sun. “We’re getting married!”
Comments always appreciated!
The end! I got tired of rewriting it so it is what it is.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
In the summer, Teddy and Victoire get married. The ceremony itself is forgivingly brief – neither Teddy nor Victoire care much for pomp and circumstance or needless formality. They do, however, both have an eye for beauty, and the decorations are extravagant. Even Draco, difficult to please as he is, whispers a few impressed comments into Harry’s ear before the whole thing starts. They part ways for Harry to walk Teddy down the aisle. When Bill does the same for Victoire, he and Harry make eye contact in silent, stunned commiseration.
He’s getting old, Harry realizes. He’s officially middle-aged, marrying off his godson, watching his children grow up. He looks out over the wedding crowd, mostly family in various shades of black and ginger, some of Victoire and Teddy’s school friends, Neville and Hannah and their daughters, Professor Singh, and Draco in a snappy gray suit. Beside Harry is James, in blue dress robes and bedecked in flowers, Teddy’s best man. Pride and love well up in Harry’s throat until he’s choked with it.
He doesn’t realize he’s teary-eyed until Lily hands him a handkerchief at dinner and pats his hand indulgently. “There there, dad,” she soothes.
“Oh, Harry,” sighs Draco, as if Harry is embarrassing him. “I didn’t think you were the type to cry at weddings.”
“I’m not,” says Harry, a bit thickly. He’s surprised at himself. They’re not proper tears, just a touch of watery eyes, but even so, he can’t remember the last time he cried at all.
“You’re getting soft,” teases Ron. The whole family is spread over a series of long tables, but as always, Ron and Hermione are within arm’s reach. “Maybe we ought to get you back out on the field.”
Harry laughs quietly, but Draco says, “Absolutely not.”
“I was joking.”
“I know that. I don’t like it.” Draco hesitates, and Harry can tell he’s considering whether or not to speak his mind. In the end, he chooses to leave it there, but his expression is sour. Harry knows what he is thinking, or probably thinking; that Harry has had enough hardship, had enough time in harm’s way. He’s only had a few years to finally take a breath.
Ron probably knows it too, from the way his ears flush. He doesn’t argue, either.
At the center of the table, Teddy is handing out the flowers in his hair. Hugo and Louis are stringing them together into crowns.
“When I get married, I’m going to wear trousers and boots,” says Lucy, a few seats down the table beside her father.
“I want a dress made all out of rainbows,” says Roxanne.
Hugo says, “Gucci or nothing.”
He dons his flower crown with a regal expression. Rose applauds.
Later that evening, as Charlie stacks a pyramid of fine china and Ron falls asleep on Hermione’s lap, Draco pulls Harry’s hand to lead him into a dance. Tipsy and tired, they only sway together, soaking in the warmth where their bodies touch. Harry rests his head against Draco’s shoulder. He breathes in the smell of him, so familiar now.
“Thank you,” he says.
Draco hums in acknowledgement. He doesn’t need to ask what he’s done. Teddy and Victoire have left, many of the families and older folks having begged off, leaving James and some of the other youths to tidy up around them. The night around them is dark, stars smudged out by clouds. They turn together in slow circles.
Nearby, Ron starts snoring, sending Hermione into a fit of giggles. She’s got Hugo’s flower crown perched atop her head. Settling back a moment, Harry takes in the mild carnage of the wedding, the frills and flowers and plates strewn about until they are charmed one-by-one into order. Draco tries to cover a yawn, fuzzy and silver in the dimming candlelight. His smart gray suit is rumpled from Harry’s wandering hands, his cheek red from one of Teddy’s enthusiastic familial kisses, his eyes sleepy and bloodshot from wine. Harry stares for longer than necessary, until Draco fondly flicks his ear.
He’d have to support Astoria, Harry knows, if Draco were to divorce her. He might refuse to. His relationship with her is one of mutual sacrifice, after all. But, Harry thinks, if it were to happen someday – he wants to be his husband.
Another year comes and goes. Harry tries out a new set of glasses, but they look so foreign on his face that he has to send them back. Teddy makes marks to become a healer, and picks up the habit of showing up in medical robes everywhere he goes, and announcing himself as Healer Teddy when he answers the Floo. Scorpius and Albus graduate with mutual plans to become herbologists, of all things (Neville is beside himself). When they stand for a class photograph, Scorpius keeps an arm around Albus’s waist.
With only Lily left in school, they have more time together. Draco spoils Lily shamelessly, taking her shopping or out for sweets, shepherding her to sleepovers with her cousins and school friends. Harry remembers when Draco had been terrified of her. Now, on rare occasion, she slips and calls him “Dad.”
When she is in her room at night, Draco and Harry spend long, idle evenings planning classes, or playfully arguing about something in the news, or playing aggressively competitive board games. Recently, Draco has eased up on his no-sleeping-over rule, and Harry takes full advantage of the opportunity to sleep beside him, arms around him tight.
“Do you like having a daughter?” Harry teases one evening when Draco discovers yet another one of Lily’s scarves thrown over the back of his sofa.
Draco, folding the scarf to set it neatly on his dresser, rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”
He always finds a way to be surprising.
Harry, sprawled atop the sheets of the bed, watches with mild interest as Draco wanders into the bathroom. Once he is out of sight, Harry lays flat again and stares at the ceiling, where a beam of moonlight leaves a pale wedge on the paint. He can hear the sounds of Draco preparing for bed, running water, the click of bottles.
“I always wanted at least two girls,” Harry says. “A big family.”
“I think you rather got a big family,” laughs Draco from the other room.
“Yeah, but I was always jealous of what Ron had. I wanted to give Lily a sister. It just never happened.”
Draco says, “There’s still time, Harry. If that’s what you really want.”
That makes Harry laugh, but when he turns to look Draco is standing at the bathroom door and his expression is pensive. He has changed into his pajamas. “What,” says Harry, “are you going to carry my child?”
“Ha! And give up this figure?”
“It’s just not possible, is all.”
“Have you never heard of surrogacy? Must I spell this out for you? With magic, it’s an especially easy feat.”
Harry frowns at the ceiling, thinking it over. “Would you ever want another child?” he asks.
“Mm. It seems I’ve already inherited three of yours,” says Draco. Harry glances over to see him grinning. “What’s one more?”
With that, he disappears around the corner. Harry does not move, listening to the splash of water, turning Draco’s words over and over. Sometimes his jokes sound the same as when he’s serious. The thought doesn’t have long to marinate, though, because soon Draco is back, crawling into bed, pinning him with hungry kisses. The pajamas come right back off.
When they’re finished, drifting off to sleep, Draco starts to laugh.
“What?” grumbles Harry.
“You’ve gotten really heavy,” Draco explains. “You’re crushing me.”
“Oh.” He’s never had to think about something like that before. “Sorry.”
“No, no,” chuckles Draco. He catches Harry as he tries to pull away, pressing him down on top of him again. “It’s nice.”
Upon returning to Hogwarts, Harry watches Lily prepare for her graduating exams. It fills him with wistfulness, makes him think of her childhood, the way she would boss Albus around even though she was younger, and the way Albus would placidly comply. Ginny guiding her about on her training broom, commentating as though she were at a professional Quidditch game. The long six months Lily spent pretending to be a thestral, eating without utensils and demanding that her brothers pretend they couldn’t see her.
Perhaps it would be nice to go around again.
Now isn’t the time to really think about it, though. Harry devotes his attention to his classes, to helping Hagrid with his creature wrangling and helping Neville with his gardening and helping Draco with his brewing, to his chats with Professor Singh and Headmistress McGonagall, to going over study plans with Lily. Recently, too, he has begun pruning the plant in his windowsill, which has doubled in size and produces beautiful flowers.
“Oh, dad, it’s just lovely,” says Lily. She praises him for it often, though he has little control over whether the plant flowers or not. “It must be so happy. Do you think it’s happy for you?”
“Are you happy?” asks Harry, surprising himself.
Lily is nothing if not cheerful. She gives him an enormous smile. “Always.”
“Then I am, too.”
Draco has become an expected presence at Christmas by now; last year, Molly gifted him his family sweater, which had rendered him speechless – and of course, once he had realized he was an honorary Weasley he had whined for weeks. He is wearing it today, dressed up with a collared shirt and a steel blue tie.
All of Harry’s family wears matching sweaters; the Potter troupe is designated by green stripes over gold, with red trim. Victoire’s siblings get blue, Percy’s family maroon, Ron’s orange, and George’s violet. Harry is secretly delighted that Teddy and Scorpius wear Potter green. Victoire used to wear blue, but she switched over to green last year. Harry watches as they mill around each other in a riot of chatter and waving hands, arguing over whose hat is whose before they head off to the Burrow for dinner.
It occurs to him suddenly that he wants a photograph.
“We need to photograph this,” he says.
James sighs. “We’re doing all the photography again, are we?”
“Again?” asks Scorpius.
“When James was born, Harry took about a million photos, didn’t you, Harry?” says Teddy. “For years and years. Was afraid to miss anything, I think. Finally eased off after James went to school.”
Embarrassed, Harry shrugs and turns to collect the enchanted camera from the shelf.
“There’s a load of albums somewhere,” says Albus. “If you ever want to see every hour of my life from birth to age nine.”
“I think I’d love that,” says Scorpius, grinning wickedly. Albus scowls.
“So annoying,” says James. Victoire cuffs him.
“You can stand still for one photograph, you demon.”
“All right, all right,” says Draco. He motions everyone to stand in front of the fireplace, arranging them by height and color. Teddy’s hair goes to its natural sandy brown. Draco tries to smooth Scorpius’s collar twice, to no avail. “You all know Harry has hardly any childhood photographs. You should be thankful he wants to keep these memories for you.”
James, properly chastised, looks down to clean his glasses.
Harry sets the camera to levitate and moves to stand with the group. He feels Draco’s hand at the small of his back, the tickle of Lily’s hair under his chin. In the corner of his vision, he sees Albus giving Scorpius bunny ears. The camera flashes twice, and Victoire says, “See? Painless.”
“I’ve got spots in my eyes,” says Albus.
“They’re called pupils,” says Lily.
Buoyant and beaming, Harry collects the newly created image and holds it up to see. The miniature version of his family waves back at him. The tiny Victoire and Teddy hold hands, crowded close. Lily makes a silly face. Scorpius slings a casual arm over Albus’s shoulders, gently clocking their heads together. The Harry in the photograph ignores him, though; he is smiling at Draco, instead.
“Ugh, my hair is awful,” says Scorpius over the real Harry’s shoulder.
“I told you that you needed it cut,” harps Albus. “But you never listen to me.”
“Oi! Did you give me bunny ears?”
Harry continues to study the photograph, heart full to bursting, listening to the clatter of his children, Draco calmly telling Lily to put her shoes back on. In the photograph, when the miniature Harry can’t take his eyes off him, the miniature Draco turns to share a chaste, smiling kiss. Even James puts on a grin for the camera.
Harry decides that this one needs to be framed.
The makeup of the Burrow on Christmas Eve is different now. There are fewer children climbing on furniture and weaving between people’s legs, and more teenagers and adults, slumped drunkenly over chairs or setting curses on random household objects. Charlie’s newest partner doesn’t realize that his ears are bright purple yet, but he has caught on that everyone is snickering at him. Lucy play wrestles with Bill’s new pet dog on the floor, shrieking with laughter. Angelina is showing off her newest tattoo of a topless mermaid who makes obscene gestures when people look at it.
As soon as they are through the fireplace, Harry’s children scatter, vanishing into the far rooms and out the back door to play in the snow. Again and again, he is reminded that he was their age when he was expected to become an adult. Seeing them act like such children does something to him, something painful, but nonetheless right. It had been taken from him, like most things, but it’s not lost.
Despite the rush, Draco doesn’t move from Harry’s side. He has grown more comfortable with the Weasleys, but he is most content to stay safely within arm’s reach. Harry doesn’t mind. It was only recently that Lily stopped being his shadow, too.
He is about to head for the kitchen when he hears his name being called.
“Harry!” shouts Ginny. “Hello!”
He can’t see her, but he waves broadly enough that it should intersect her. Draco points him to her; she is sitting right beside him.
“Thought I lost you for a minute,” she laughs.
“Sorry. Almost everyone here is taller than me now,” says Harry.
Since their divorce, Ginny has gotten a little thinner, her hair a little shorter, now cropped boyishly about her ears. According to her, Harry’s found what weight she’s lost, but it’s a good thing.
“Look at this,” says Harry, handing her the photograph from earlier.
Ginny stares at it for a long time with a funny, soft expression. “Oh, it’s just beautiful,” she says.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “It’s perfect.”
Something about that makes Draco clear his throat and excuse himself for a drink. Harry sits next to Ginny on the sofa, trying very carefully not to sit on top of Little Molly’s tabby cat. This close to her, they don’t have to shout over the general din, or the sound of Hugo and Louis’s spirited singing.
“I’m quite pleased with how things have turned out,” says Ginny. She turns up her hand for Harry to take, which he does. “Aren’t you?”
Draco is arguing with Roxanne, who keeps moving the tray of drinks out of his grasp just as he reaches for it. She’s done this six times. She does it a seventh. He could easily summon the stupid glass, but more and more he’s been doing things manually (Harry’s doing, he grouses). Ron laughs at him outright and Hermione covers her smirk with her hand.
Ginny takes a sip of her own drink and settles back. “Look at that idiot,” she says. “Can’t believe I like him.”
Draco manages to snatch a drink from the tray. He turns to show Harry, proud of himself, while Roxanne stalks away. Harry is drowned in fondness.
It isn’t much longer until dinner is announced. Somehow, everyone manages to fit at the table every year, no matter how many are added to their number. A chorus of praises go up for Molly Weasley. Arthur seems just as pleased as her, if not more, by the recognition of her accomplishments. They are the only adult relationship Harry has had to look up to. Seeing them now, happy and gray, makes him optimistic.
Draco sits beside Harry and strikes up a debate with Rose about something or other. Like her parents, her temper when she believes she is right is terrifying, and soon she is pointing at him and slapping her palm on the table. It’s all in good fun, Harry knows. Both of them love a good argument. But from the way Draco starts tutting and rolling his eyes, he’s losing.
Harry sits with Ron and Hermione. Everyone here is family, but they will always be his best and closest friends. They chat companionably about the little things – Ron’s most recent baking excursion, the newest book Hermione is reading, the upcoming election, and Quidditch drafts. Hermione tells Harry and Draco about her success in changing vampire regulations. She is onto werewolves next. “Then,” she says, “perhaps mermaids. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have a system of communication in place.”
“I knew you could do it, Hermione,” says Harry.
“Yes, well, I had a lot of help.” She smiles. “I had a team of actual vampires helping me write the laws. There are a lot of details I would have missed without them.”
“Lots of late night hours,” says Ron. Harry laughs.
“Oh! Harry,” says Hermione suddenly, “I talked to Dean and Seamus recently. They just got back from Australia.”
Harry doesn’t bother asking how this subject is connected to the previous one; Hermione’s thought process often works this way. “I’ll have to firecall them,” he says.
“Been chatting a lot lately, haven’t you?” asks Ron. “How have they been?”
Ever since Harry’s relationship with Draco went public, Dean and Seamus have been in regular contact with him. It is nice, Harry has to admit, to see them doing so well, to know that it’s possible. They’ve been married almost as long as Ron and Hermione. Watching them together, just the way they exchange glances that carry almost telepathic meaning, or how Seamus effortlessly calls Dean “love,” fills Harry with a kind of warm, safe feeling that he can’t explain.
“They’re doing great,” says Harry. “Felicity is apprenticing to be a wandmaker, so they’re over the moon.”
“They really do grow up too fast,” says Hermione.
“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “I miss having all of the kids around. We were talking about maybe having another one.”
Ron and Hermione both pause, as though time has briefly stopped. Ron covers his mouth, brows furrowed in a way that means he has a lot to think about at once. Beside Harry, hilariously, Hermione has the same expression; a lifetime together will do that.
“I mean,” stammers Harry, realizing what he’s just said, “it’s just an idea, but I thought… It would just…”
“That’s wonderful, Harry,” says Hermione quickly.
“You and Malfoy?” says Ron, as if to clarify.
Hearing his old name, Draco turns to them. “Black,” he says automatically. “What about me?”
“Nothing,” says Hermione.
“Stop eavesdropping and mind your own conversation,” says Ron, joking.
In typical Draco fashion, he tuts with feigned annoyance. “You lot were talking about me, not the other way around. You fucking carrot.”
The insult is too soft to sting, and actually makes Ron laugh in surprise. The sight of him comfortable and teasing amongst Harry’s family lights a soft, warm feeling in his chest.
After a minute, Hermione leans against his shoulder. She reaches over to steal a piece of ham from his plate. The warm feeling in Harry’s chest bubbles over and he can’t resist dropping a kiss into her hair, making her giggle. Together, they watch as Ron and Draco bicker (it quickly becomes an argument about something else, about which pub has better drinks and décor, Harry thinks).
Hermione mumbles, “Knobs, those two.” Harry grins.
“I love you, Hermione.”
She nudges him affectionately. “Oh, hush, you dear sap.”
“I told you,” says Draco, honing back in on them. “He’s a sentimentalist of the highest order.”
“Oh, he’s the worst,” Ron agrees. Harry feels a sense of inertia when he realizes that the two of them are ganging up on him. “Naming his son ‘Albus Severus.’ No offense.”
“What did I do to deserve this? I’m just trying to have a nice Christmas with my family,” complains Harry.
Hermione is giggling too hard to defend him.
“You’re one to talk, anyway,” says Harry to Draco. He pointedly taps his own chest, where Draco’s dragon pendant would be. Draco gives him a sarcastic look.
“And who got that for me?”
“I lost track of this conversation,” announces Ron. He gets up to grab more butterbeer from down the table, where Dominique is telling a dirty limerick that has Charlie in tears. Hermione turns back to her dessert, and Draco’s smile at Harry is a promise before he starts up another debate with Rose.
Later, they end up caught in the enchanted mistletoe, twice. The first time was an accident.
Draco and Harry usually sit out of the traditional Quidditch match. Harry enjoys watching, and the game tends to get a little too rough for Draco. They sit together in some conjured chairs. Lily makes a fuss about putting some holly sprigs in Harry’s hair before she wanders off to bother someone else. Calmly, Draco sets about plucking the sprigs back out.
Every now and then, a spare ball sails in Harry’s direction, and he sends it back with a grin. Louis, who had once been happy to smack a bludger around, now screams every time it heads for him, until he has to sit out and drink a cocoa. Meanwhile, Hugo is standing on his broom, despite Hermione shouting up at him to “be careful,” and Ron shouting down at him, “fuck’s sake.” It really had never been a good idea for Draco to try to play.
While the game rages overhead, Victoire and Teddy play in the snow, piling up shapes of snowmen and drawing hearts with their feet. Victoire spells out in enormous letters, VICTOIRE LUPIN, which makes Teddy hug her hard enough to lift her from the ground (a small feat, since Victoire is much taller).
There’s no reason not to ask. The decision is crystal clear to him. It has been for a while.
“I have a question,” says Harry.
Draco, bundled in a thick blanket and beginning to doze off, stirs enough to open his eyes. His nose and cheeks are flushed from the winter air. “Hmm?”
“What do you think our name would be? If we got married. I can’t give up Potter, and you chose Black. They’re both important.”
“Well, we could hyphenate,” says Draco absently. Then he realizes what he’s saying. “Not that it matters. Does it?”
Harry looks out over the snow, the shapes of his family whizzing back and forth on their brooms. He refuses to use warming charms, enjoying the chill on his skin, and he can see the little plumes of mist his breath makes. He could live in this moment, he thinks – pleasantly full and a little bit tipsy, surrounded by friends and family, warm and safe in the glow of the Burrow’s windows at night, and Draco right beside him.
Harry says, “I just think it would be nice. I liked my first marriage, but she couldn’t bake as well as you.”
“You’d marry me for biscuits?” asks Draco. The corners of his eyes are crinkling in a smile.
“Not at all! For cakes, too,” says Harry.
Draco laughs. “In that case,” he says, “I will need you to ask me properly.”
Thank you for reading! Comments with your thoughts are really appreciated. :)