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In Our Blood

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September

“Amsterdam? With Malfoy? For a bloody year?” Ron has an irritating habit of repeating pertinent points of a story back whenever he finds something particularly unbelievable.

Harry nods grimly. “They hired him to lift the blood curse on the Van Boer house.”

Ron whistles between his teeth. “Good luck there. You read about that place? Supposedly the curse is leaking, infecting the whole block—really nasty.” He takes a thoughtful sip of his pint, pushing a chunk of hair back behind his ear. He’s taken to wearing it cropped short on the sides and longer on top recently; Harry’s certain it’s Hermione’s doing, part of her gentle shove to get him back into the dating pool after their breakup last year. It suits him, softens his square jaw, highlights his straight nose. “Still don’t see what that’s got to do with you, mate.”

“It’s Malfoy’s probation, isn’t it?” Hermione interjects, just as enthusiastic as she’d ever been back at Hogwarts when she was rushing to answer a question, her hand waving frantically in the air. “He’s barred from leaving the country, right?”

Hermione is, of course, right. “Yup. They gave him seven years, so he’s still got a year to go.”

Ron scowls. “So instead of just telling the twat he has to stay in England, the bloody Ministry’s paying to send you along to babysit him?”

As much as it chafes Harry to hear it put so bluntly, that’s the long and short of it. Kingsley had called it, officially, a “security detail” when he’d offered Harry the contract, which is lipstick on the proverbial niffler if Harry’s ever seen it. There’s precious little security to be done, unless he’s wildly misunderstood the assignment. “Apparently the Dutch Minister called Kingsley personally, begging for the favor. The house is a disaster—public endangerment and all, I guess—and Malfoy’s the leading expert on pureblood home curses, so…”

“Leading expert on Dark Arts, more like,” Ron grumbles.

“Did you read the article the Prophet did about him last month?” Hermione’s eyes shine with the light of knowledge about to be imparted. “He got into the field after he cleaned up the Manor after the War. You can only imagine what kind of Dark residue was left after the Death Eaters had been there for all that time. It’s a very specific kind of curse-breaking, takes months, and those really old wizarding homes are practically sentient.”

“You think this is an effective use of Harry’s time, ‘Mione?” Hermione’s nickname on Ron’s lips sounds natural, easy, and Harry loves him for it. They’d both been so oddly formal with one another at first, after they’d split. They’re easing into something closer to friendship now, to Harry’s eternal relief. He hadn’t fancied the idea of falling victim to a joint custody arrangement between the two of them.

A funny expression crosses Hermione’s pretty features at Ron’s question, and she glances at Harry a moment too long. “I think Malfoy will be a prat, and I doubt there will be much for Harry to do,” she finally says. “But maybe that’s not a terrible thing.”

Harry bites back a sigh. She sounds like a softer, gentler version of Kingsley, who had expressed a similar sentiment when he’d offered Harry the job. Before he’d even gotten around to mentioning Amsterdam, he’d just leaned back in his chair and given Harry a long, searching look over his steepled fingers, fixing him with an expression that was 90% Minister of Magic, 10% Concerned Father, and 100% guilt-inducing. “How have you been?” he’d finally asked, and Harry hadn’t needed a translation charm to know that what he really meant was Hey, Harry, have you had any more bouts of uncontrolled, dangerous magic? Like when you botched your last raid and nearly killed two suspects? Remember?

And god, did Harry ever remember.

“I’m good,” he’d told Kingsley, because what else was there to say, really, and then Kingsley had nodded sagely and gone in for the kill, explaining the situation with Malfoy.

“It might be good for you, a little time away. Hell, Harry, relax a little,” he’d had the nerve to suggest.

Harry had, of course, questioned whether or not a year spent in exile with Draco Malfoy would be relaxing, and Kingsley had responded by fixing him with his most ministerial stare. “I think that you need a change of scenery.”

Apparently it’s a sentiment with which Hermione agrees, and doesn’t that just rankle?

“So when do you meet with Malfoy?” Ron asks, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

That had been the second phase of Kingsley’s assault, actually. “Already have done,” Harry admits. “Kingsley asked me to stay after our meeting, said Malfoy ‘just happened’ to have an appointment after mine.”

Hermione snorts. “Of course he did.” She’s been working for the Ministry for years now, some sort of medical research fellowship with the Department of Mysteries. Very hush-hush, probably something that straddles the line between groundbreaking and dead boring, the way research like that always seems to do. At any rate, Harry knows she’s well-versed in Ministry political maneuvering.

Of course, you don’t have to be a political genius to understand that after your errant magic nearly kills a few people on the Ministry’s watch, you probably owe the Minister a few favors, even if you are the Savior of All Wizardom. That had been remarkably clear when Kingsley had been eyeing him over his desk.

“So is Malfoy still a fuckface?” Ron asks pleasantly, waving a polite hand at the barmaid and gesturing for a second round.

“Course he is,” Harry says automatically. And it’s true, probably. Malfoy had walked into Kingsley’s office looking exactly as he’d always looked at Hogwarts: undeniably wealthy, stiff as a new broom, and one perceived slight away from doling out a nasty, underhanded hex to your back when you weren’t looking.

“Minister,” Malfoy had said politely, before jerking his still-pointy chin vaguely in Harry’s direction. “Potter.”

Kingsley had surveyed them both impassively, as if he had all the time in the world to observe two overgrown schoolboys sulking in his office.

In the end, Harry had broken first, because he’s not a complete prick. “So we’re going to Amsterdam,” he’d finally said.

“My very own escort,” Malfoy had drawled back at him. “I’m honored.”

“I don’t know how you’re gonna stand the berk for a whole year,” Ron says now, collecting his fresh pint from the barmaid, a pretty little blonde who looks fresh out of Hogwarts and giggles behind her hand when Ron winks at her.

“Maybe less than a year,” Harry says, trying to be optimistic. “Sometimes only six months, Malfoy says.”

“Let’s hope, mate.”

*

Two weeks later, Harry’s in Amsterdam.

The Portkey Authority at the train station had been a mess, crawling with witches and wizards from all over the world, shouting in a cacophonous mix of languages that had only gotten worse when they’d crossed the barrier into the Muggle area of the station. To make matters worse, Malfoy had been in top form, delivering a running commentary of complaints about everything from the weather to the company, and Harry had felt a headache coming on before they’d even stepped foot into the city proper. He’d had to admit, though, that once they’d gotten through the red tape of entering The Netherlands—which had included a lot of faffing about in a long line and having their wands weighed, measured, and scanned as if they were hardened criminals, a process for which Harry assumes Malfoy’s probationary status is to blame—he immediately liked the city.

Amsterdam is inherently charming, with its cobblestone streets and canals and brightly painted rows of tall houses, and the easy, friendly energy of the city goes a long way to soothing Harry’s mood after the long wait at Centraal Station. Of course, a good deal of that pleasantness disappears the moment they clap eyes on the Van Boer mansion, which looms over the block with a tangible miasma of Darkness that even Yvette, their determinedly cheerful Dutch embassy liaison, can’t dispel.

Yvette gives them a warm smile as they approach the house, as if she’s delivering them to a cozy bed and breakfast instead of a cursed national eyesore. “Here we are,” she says unnecessarily, gesturing toward the mansion with a long, lean arm. It’s not larger than any of the other houses on the block—they’re all Wizarding homes, all built in the mid-1600s by pure-blood families of impeccable bloodlines and wealth—but it feels bigger, somehow, as if it takes up more space than its neighbors, encroaching on the rest of the block, sucking up the available light and air like an architectural black hole. Its bricks are even painted black, an aesthetic choice that seems almost theatrically silly, at least to Harry.

When she leads them up the steps to the mansion’s front door and disables the security wards, Harry entertains, for a brief moment, the idea of simply turning around and Apparating back to London. The Dark Magic seeping out of the walls had been bad enough when they were standing on the street. Actually entering the threshold feels like stepping into a cold, unpleasant shower.

If Yvette and Malfoy notice the change in the atmosphere—and there’s no way they cannot—neither of them remark on it. Instead, Yvette just ushers them through the enormous front door and into a dusty, damp-smelling foyer, its walls littered with wizarding portraits who promptly begin to whisper behind their painted hands

“Let me show you around, Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter,” Yvette says immediately, tossing her long blond braid over her shoulder and getting down to business. In the brief time he’s spent in Amsterdam so far, all of the Dutch people Harry has met have had that similar, pragmatic quality to them. Polite, friendly, and straight-forward. It’s a likeable trait, even in a woman like Yvette, who’s pragmatically showing them around this nightmare of a house as if it’s perfectly normal.

Harry trails along behind Malfoy, listening with half an ear as Yvette leads them on a friendly tour of what is known, colloquially, as the most cursed wizarding house in Europe. So far, it’s living up to its reputation with scalp-crawling accuracy.

There are the probably-made-of-human-skin lampshades in the drawing room. The whirring, buzzing collection of Dark artefacts scattered throughout every available space, each one more vicious than the next. The carved snakes slithering around the ornately carved bannisters on each of the half-dozen staircases, all of whom have promptly hissed at Harry without waiting for him to address them at all. Harry, of course, has replied to each of them, because apparently politeness is a knee-jerk kind of trait, and Harry speaks when spoken to. He had, in fact, had a particularly enlightening and wretched conversation with a pair of cobras between the second and third floors who had happily informed him that they could “smell the half-blood stench” on him when he walked in the door.

Charming. It’s a charming bloody house.

“—and here we have the third formal parlor, which is the last part of the original structure on this floor,” she continues, and Malfoy nods quite seriously, crumpling his lanky body into a graceful crouch to peer at the minute differences in the marble flooring between this parlor and the next one, like it’s the most riveting thing he’s ever seen. Wanker. He can’t possibly be interested, can he? Although it looks genuine.

Yvette, apparently, seems to think it is, and she smiles, lapsing into a few sentences of Dutch. Malfoy answers in kind, and Harry barely resists rolling his eyes. Of course the arsehole speaks Dutch. Why wouldn’t he? Twat.

Fuck, this is going to be the longest bloody assignment Harry’s ever been on.

While Malfoy and Yvette yammer on in Dutch like old pals, Harry takes in the scenery of what he is quickly coming to realize is the most godawful creepy wizarding house that he’s ever seen—and he had been to Malfoy Manor during the War and still lives at Grimmauld Place. He’s decidedly well-versed in terrifying pure-blood dwellings.

*

After Yvette leaves, it starts to sink in that Harry and Malfoy are actually going to be living here. Together. In their very own private murder house. Their cursed, dark, private murder house. Harry doesn’t know how the fuck he gets himself into these situations, he really doesn’t. They just seem to coalesce around him.

In the absence of any real task at hand, Harry throws himself into the chore of unpacking—which is rather unsatisfying, really, since he’s brought only one trunk and it really doesn’t take all that long to deposit it in the least-horrifying bedroom he can find. It’s on the second floor, and the most offensive things about it are the huge nundu-skin rug on the floor and the stuffed and mounted hippogriff heads on the walls. It’s wretched, but practically welcoming next to the other options he’d found, including one room that was so heavy on the snake motif that all the furniture had begun writhing and hissing when he'd peered inside, and another that featured what appeared to be an actual human skeleton on permanent display.

The magical safari theme seems tame in comparison.

Malfoy selects the snake room, a choice which Harry first attributes to his Slytherin arsey-ness but then has to admit might simply be because, as Malfoy isn’t a Parseltongue, the snakes won’t be speaking to him.

Lucky bastard.

*

Being in one another’s presence is painfully awkward to both of them, clearly, so they resort to needling one another as if its suddenly 1995 again.

Harry wonders aloud what the fuck Malfoy needs five trunks for, and if he’s brought his entire poncy wardrobe along with him.

Malfoy responds in kind, asking Harry about his last mission, and didn’t he end up almost killing someone since he can’t control his own magic anymore? Only he seemed to recall something in the Prophet about it. Nasty business, a wizard who can’t control himself that way.

Harry examines his fingernails and speculates that perhaps it’ll happen again. Here. To Draco.

It’s not an auspicious beginning.

*

“You’re in a wizarding house, Potter, what the fuck are you trying to do?” Malfoy sniffs when he finds Harry pawing through cabinets in the dark, narrow kitchen.

“Make a bloody cup of tea, is what I’m trying to do. Is there some arsey pure-blood ritual for that, Malfoy?”

Malfoy snorts, lounging obnoxiously in the doorway. “Yes.” He snaps his fingers pointedly, and an ancient house elf pops into existence—and he is seriously, seriously ancient. Kreacher would look spritely next to this…specimen.

“Master Malfoy is needing something from Gruber?” The elf has a strong Dutch accent. “Or something for his…companion?” His emphasis on the last word makes it sound like an insult—but it’s not as insulting as the cobras on the stairway, so Harry figures it’s tolerable. Besides, he has years of experience with Kreacher under his belt. He’s no stranger to the scorn of house elves.

“Tea, please. For me and my companion.” Malfoy mimics Gruber’s emphasis on the word, and Harry grits his teeth.

“Can that bloody house elf tell that you’re a pure-blood and I’m not, then?” Harry demands as soon as they’ve been settled into one of the many fucking parlors, parked on a pair of ancient wingback chairs in front of a crumbling fireplace, paper-thin teacups in hand. Gruber had barely so much as glanced at Harry as he’d served them, opting instead to direct all of his attention to “Master Malfoy.”

Malfoy’s lips quirk, and he wraps long, pale fingers around his teacup and eyes Harry over the rim. “No,” he drawls, “but he can tell which one of us knows our way around an ancient wizarding house and which one of us was digging through the pantry looking for tea bags.” His amusement looks almost genuine, and Harry realizes, apropos of nothing at all, that Malfoy has a dimple in his left cheek.

It’s hard to look away from it, honestly, now he’s spotted it out.

Harry shakes his head, more to clear The Dimple from his thoughts than to indicate displeasure at Malfoy’s comment. “And so me wanting to make my own cup of tea means you’re automatically my better?”

The dimple—Where did it bloody come from? Has it always been there?—deepens. “Gruber has been serving wizards of quality for centuries, Potter, and I’ll venture to say that none of them made their own tea. With a tea bag.”

“Fucking snobs,” Harry says, but somehow it comes out without much bite.

“You also look like a Muggle,” Malfoy adds helpfully, gesturing toward Harry’s fuzzy gray jumper and his admittedly rather tatty jeans. “Most powerful wizard alive, and he looks like he’s never held a wand in his life.”

Harry inhales, nearly dropping his delicate little cup of tea. That was—in an admittedly insulting way—a compliment, he thinks. A debatable one, since he doesn’t really think he is the most powerful wizard alive, but still. A compliment. Sort of.

“I’ve held a wand,” he says stupidly.

“Have you? Salazar, Potter, I had no idea.” Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Held mine, too, if I recall.”

This time Harry does spill his tea. It’s just a little, splashing onto his jeans, but he flops around awkwardly anyway, flailing for his wand to cast a drying charm before just giving up and casting wandless. He usually tries to avoid casting wandless in public, but fuck it. Besides, Malfoy isn’t quite public. He’s Malfoy. He has his own category.

Fuck. He can’t even decide what it is about Malfoy’s words that have him wound up so tightly: the allusion to the war, or the fact that it’s hard not to interpret “holding Malfoy’s wand” as anything but a double entendre.Malfoy’s face, when he dares to peek up, is impassive, and Harry tries not to think about wands. Or wars. Or the expression he remembers so clearly on Malfoy’s face, the day he’d returned his wand. The way Malfoy’s lips tightened, thinning out to nothing, and then the way his voice had sounded when he’d said thank you, like it cost him dearly to choke out the words.

Christ, but there were a lot of things they couldn’t talk about.

“So what’s the curse?” Harry blurts out, seizing on a topic that might, perhaps, be suitable. And informative, at any rate. “On the house, I mean.”

Malfoy gives him a funny look. “Yes, Potter, I assumed.” He sets his cup down and smooths his already smooth robes, running his hands over the expensive-looking fabric. He’s all in black, a fashionably severe cut that Harry thinks makes him look a bit like Severus Snape, if Snape had been young and fine-boned instead of greasy and bitter.

“It’s more than one curse, obviously,” Malfoy begins, and Harry tries to focus. “The primary one, though, is a bastardized, much more pernicious version of a Sterilus blood curse.”

It’s obvious, from Malfoy’s tone, that he’s interested, even passionate, about his work. Amazingly, Harry is interested, too. He’s genuinely glad he asked. “Sterilus? As in barren?”

“Not exactly, but ten points to Gryffindor for the proper translation.” The Dimple appears briefly, and really, how did Harry not notice that for six years at Hogwarts? “The first documented case of the curse was 150 years ago. The eldest Van Boer son and his bride—a fresh-faced fifteen-year-old, according to the marriage license, by the way—were living here, and she lost four babies in four years. A stillbirth, a late miscarriage, and a pair of twins born with some ‘monstrous deformity,’ according to the medical records, who only lived a few months, apparently in agonizing pain.”

Harry feels his skin crawling. “Jesus Christ, that’s awful.”

“Oh, that’s nothing. Van Boer knocks her up four more times, desperate for an heir, and of course they all die. The last one’s born with a facial deformity, everything twisted up. The midwife calls it a demon and runs out of the room—and Elise Van Boer slits her wrists with a ceremonial dagger in the bath the next morning.”

Harry finds himself leaning forward, elbows on his knees, tea cooling on the table in front of them. “So he realizes he’s cursed, though?”

“You’d think so. But not Van Boer. He’s no quitter, see.” Something sharp flashes across Malfoy’s face, and he frowns. “Goes through two more wives—another suicide and one who hemorrhages to death in childbirth, and still no heir to show for it—until there’s not a pure-blood family in Holland who’s willing to give him one of their daughters. He ends up dying in a duel shortly after that, and the whole estate is inherited by his godson, Jan Icker.”

“Icker doesn’t move in here, does he?”

“Of course he does, Potter. Don’t underestimate the allure of old money. This is a huge step up for Icker, and everyone assumes the curse was on Van Boer himself and died with him. But, of course, you can guess what happens.”

“Icker’s heirs all die gruesome infant deaths.”

“Of course.”

By the time Gruber serves dinner—a wilted salad course, a forgettable roast and potatoes, surprisingly decent tarts and an excellent wine, served in the miserably formal dining room beneath a black chandelier that Harry finds eerily reminiscent of the one he remembers from Malfoy Manor—Malfoy has walked him through the Van Boer curse and all seven of the pureblood families it has decimated, step-by-generational-step.

Relaxed in the flush of his third glass of wine, Harry asks, “So…is it safe to be living here? Just up and moving into the most cursed house in Europe?”

“Well, the idea is that I remove the curses, Potter,” Malfoy says slowly, as if he’s explaining it to a troll.

Fucker. “Yeah, I know, you twat. I mean until then. Isn’t this supposed to take months?”

Malfoy shrugs. “Assuming you don’t move your wife in and set about breeding the next generation of Weasleys, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I don’t have a wife,” Harry snaps, feeling the familiar flush of irritation that drifts over him whenever anyone mentions Ginny, even obliquely. It hasn’t been him and Ginny, hasn’t been for years, but the wizarding public never quite let go of the idea that they were going to marry, settle into the happy ending that the Prophet had been envisioning for them since the war had ended.

Malfoy’s upper lip curls slightly, caught between a smirk and a sneer. He looks like his old self again, dimple nowhere to be seen. “No plans to wed Ginevra, then? I’d always assumed you’d have a houseful of little half-bloods running around by now, honestly.”

Harry doesn’t know what part of that statement to react to first—the dig at his blood status, or the strange admission that Malfoy had made any assumptions at all about Harry’s romantic life. “No,” he says shortly. He thinks of more things to say, like explaining that any plans to marry Gin had been scrapped years ago, or that the blood status of his non-existent children shouldn’t fucking matter, or that he won’t be having any children of his own, anyway, given that he’s bent as a broken wand, ta. But none of that is Malfoy’s business, of course, even if they’re going to be roommates in this fucking nightmarish old Dutch pile for the next year, and Harry clenches his mouth shut, glaring down at the table.

Malfoy just shrugs again, an annoyingly Gallic little lift of one narrow shoulder, and swallows the last bit of wine in his glass. “Well then, Potter, assuming you keep any sudden urges to procreate under control, I’d say you’re safe from the curse.”

*

It's his second night in Amsterdam when Draco wakes up to the bloodcurdling screams of one Harry Potter.

Their bedrooms are only a few doors apart, and the thin walls do little to muffle the sound. The first few shrieks are high-pitched and frantic, driven purely by fear. It's easy to recognize; Draco's woken making similar noises enough times himself, bedsheets soaked with sweat, images of Voldemort and his parents and the Manor all intertwined in his mind.

Before Draco can decide if the proper response to Potter's screaming is to go wake him up or to cast a Silencing charm, the shrieks give way to an entirely different vocalization—Potter yelling his name.

"Malfoy, what the fuck is this?" The fear of his first few screams has definitely ebbed, replaced by something teetering between anger and annoyance.

Fucking Potter. Draco casts a quick Tempus. It's three in the bloody morning.

"Malfoy!" Potter again, louder this time.

"What, you miserable fucking prick?" Draco's voice is scratchy from sleep, barely more than a whisper, and he knows Potter can't hear him.

He starts to cast a Lumos, but the wall sconces flare before he can do it. Huh. It's not entirely surprising; old wizarding houses are not alive, exactly, but they're sensitive to the needs of their inhabitants. Among other things. "Thanks," he mumbles to the house, and pulls a pair of silk pajama bottoms up over his hips. He glances around, looking for the matching top, but Potter bellows again. Merlin, but he has a set of lungs on him.

He grabs his wand and pads out of the room and down the hall, not bothering to knock when he gets to Potter's door. "What, you fucking arsehole?" he demands as he slams into the room.

What becomes obvious fairly quickly. Potter is sitting propped up against his headboard, wand gripped loosely in his hand, and the spectral outline of two small figures hover at the foot of his bed.

Draco opens his mouth to say something nasty, ask Potter why he's acting as if he's never seen a fucking ghost before, but Potter beats him to the conversational punch. "Baby ghosts, Malfoy. Why didn't you warn me there were fucking ghost babies in this shitty fucking house?" he demands, pointing his wand accusatorily at Draco—which, Draco thinks, is completely un-fucking-necessary and also a little disconcerting, given Potter's apparent magical instability as of late.

"Put that fucking thing away," he snaps, taking a few more steps into the room and peering down at the "ghost babies" Potter's yelling about.

Well. That's something Draco's never seen before. The ghosts are clearly twins, and while Draco's experience with infants is limited to basically none at all, these appear to be a few months old—however old babies are when they can crawl, apparently, since these two seem to have crawled right up onto Potter's bed. They also have the rather unpleasant misfortune to be severely deformed. Their skin is translucent, that spectral shade of grey unique to the spirit world, but their disfigured features are perfectly visible. The baby on the left has a severe cleft palate and a disconcerting absence where its right eye should be, the socket sunken and blank. The baby on the left has no nose to speak of, and its jaw bulges horribly on one side, pulling its mouth wide and letting its tongue loll nightmarishly forward. It lets out a wet sort of snuffle, and then the other opens its mouth and gives a few surprisingly loud sobs.

Huh. Draco isn't afraid of ghosts. No wizard is, as common as they are. Old structures often have at least one or two ghosts, after all, and the Manor's handful of resident shades had been as much a part of Draco's childhood as his pet crup or the litters of kneazles he'd chased through the stables. Still, this is slightly different for several somewhat distasteful reasons. For one thing, the youngest ghost he's ever seen before is Moaning Myrtle, who is a far cry from an infant. He opens his mouth, and once again Potter manages to speak first.

"Are these Van Boer's twins?" Potter demands, and the twin on the left cries a little louder.

"Certainly looks like it," Draco says mildly, taking in the old-fashioned white gowns the little buggers are wearing.

"You didn't think you should let me know the house was going to be full of fucking baby ghosts?" Potter continues, gesturing once again to the foot of his bed.

"I didn't know it was." Which is true. Tongue-Out-Twin scrabbles forward, appearing to crawl a few inches above the bedding, moving steadily towards Potter.

Potter takes the opportunity to divest himself from bed, shoving off his blankets and springing to his feet. He's wearing nothing but a pair of black boxers, and Draco's somewhat treacherous brain takes a second off from watching the ghost babies to catalogue the ways in which Potter has grown up a bit of all right. His hair's a rat's nest, of course, and there's a crease on his cheek from where he must have been lying against his pillow, but his shoulders are surprisingly broad without the cover of one of his stupid jumpers, and his chest is obnoxiously muscular. As are his arms, actually. A trail of dark hair tapers down his flat belly and disappears below his waistband.

He looks golden in the dim light of the wall sconces that had flared to life in here, too, the moment Draco walked in the door. Which is odd.

"Malfoy, are you listening to me?" Potter looks tetchy, and Draco has to admit, at least to himself, that no, he is not listening.

Draco fixes his eyes firmly back on Tongue-Out-Twin, who is still making its way up the bed, looking determined. "What, Potter?"

"You're the fucking expert. How do you get rid of ghost babies?" Potter looks slightly put out to even be having to ask the question.

"How should I know? You shouldn't have ghost babies if you're not prepared to care for them, Potter."

To Draco's surprise, Potter snorts out something that might be a laugh. "Jesus, this is fucked up."

Draco looks from the crawling, gibbering infant hovering above the bed to Potter, mostly-naked and narked off. Yes, yes it is fucked up. Well-spotted.

"Can't we, er, put them back in the nursery or something?" Harry waves vaguely in the direction of the third floor.

Idiot. "Sure, pick one up, Potter," Draco suggests, pointing invitingly toward One Eye, who has stopped crying and is intently watching its sibling's progress up the bed. "Just nip up to the nursery with it and tuck it in, why don't you?"

Potter scowls. "Fuck off."

Draco rolls his eyes and then points his wand at first one twin, then the other, rattling off the lengthy spell he remembers his mother using on the Manor ghosts on the rare occasions that she wanted them out of a particular area. The air around the twins pulses with light, and then they both let out ear-splitting wails before disappearing.

"What was that?" Potter demands, hands on his stupidly fit hips.

"Temporary Banishing spell. Makes them non-corporeal for a day or so, maybe less."

Harry cocks his head, looking—impressed? "Would have been nice to know that spell at Hogwarts," he murmurs. "Would've done it at Moaning Myrtle a few times."

Draco grins. "Was handy when you wanted a wank in the Prefect's bath without her watching."

Even in the darkness, Harry appears to blush. He coughs behind his hand, looking awkward. "Um. Yeah. So—sorry, uh, for waking you up."

"Screaming the house down because of a ghost," Draco sniffs, but it's mostly just for something to say. Now that the twins are gone, he's uncomfortably aware of his own state of dishabille, not to mention Potter's. "Go to sleep, yeah? Some of us have actual work to do tomorrow."

Potter scowls at him, but Draco turns toward the door before he can catch more than a glimpse of it.

*

After the twins make their appearance, Potter is suddenly underfoot all the time.

Before Draco had arrived in Amsterdam, he'd expected Potter to stay more or less out of his hair during the day, while he was working. This kind of job is time-consuming and slow-going, and he hadn't expected Harry 'Wands-Out-We-Fight-Like-Gryffindors' Potter to take much of an interest in such methodical, cerebral labor. To his surprise, however, Potter inserts himself right into Draco's working environment, like the apprentice Draco never asked for.

When Draco moves around the perimeter of the house, casting diagnostic spells to see what kind of magic is threaded through the wards, Potter trots along behind him, watching and occasionally asking questions. He knows little to nothing about ancient pure-blood wards, but that doesn't stop him from simply smashing through them with sheer brute force. The first time he does it, effectively tearing a hole in the wards with a snap of his fingers, Draco can't help the quick inhale of his breath.

"What?" Potter looks genuinely concerned at Draco's reaction. "I thought you wanted to pull it apart?"

"I wanted to pull the threads apart and look at how the spells were wedded, Potter. I didn't want to blast a bloody hole in it." Draco does a good job sounding shirty, he thinks, but the truth is that he's mostly just stunned at Potter's casual display of magical power.

Potter ducks his head a little, and Draco realizes he looks almost chagrined. "Sorry," he offers, and Draco wonders if he's thinking about the headlines in the Prophet recently about Potter being out of control, his magic run amok.

It's what Draco's thinking about, to be bloody honest. It's not that he thinks Potter's out of control right this second. He doesn't, despite the gaping hole in the Van Boer wards. It's that Potter's the magical equivalent of a goddamn battering ram.

He shrugs, the closest he can bring himself to saying something comforting, and raises his wand to start exploring the spellwork that Potter's break in the wards has exposed. Dark magic seeps from the rend, a leak that Draco will have to spell shut for their own safety. It was stupid of Potter, smashing blindly into something he doesn't understand. But it was powerful, too. He cuts his eyes to Potter a few times, unable to resist it. All that power is heady, and Draco is self-aware enough to acknowledge that he's drawn to it. He was raised to value power, its possession or its proximity. And now here it is, standing right next to him. It's compelling, to say the least.

It's also fucking disconcerting. He's always seen Potter as the Ministry's golden boy, but now he's beginning to suspect that it's more like Potter's their dragon on a leash, trotted out of retirement and aimed in whatever particular direction suits the Ministry's fancy at the moment. Like a living, breathing weapon.

And the weapon got a little out hand last time, so now they've chucked him here with Malfoy to cool his heels for awhile, play probation officer until they need him again. The thought makes Draco's teeth clench, and he wonders, not for the first time, why Potter didn't tell Shacklebolt to fuck himself sideways when he offered him this shit gig.

*

"I think what creeps me out so much about them is that they can't talk," Potter says thoughtfully. He's sprawled out on the floor of the attic, completely unperturbed by the dust and grime beneath him, watching as Draco goes about the tedious business of digging through centuries of Van Boer junk, taking stock of magical residue and plucking out any particularly dangerous cursed objects.

"Hmm?" Draco's only half-listening, casting diagnostic spells on an enchanted mirror.

"The twins. The, er, ghost babies. They can't talk."

Draco glances over at Potter, studiously avoiding the long line of his body, the little strip of visible skin between the waistband of his jeans and the hem of his t-shirt. Fucking wanker. "Yeah well, they cry pretty well," he says, which is something of an understatement. They'd shown back up again last night, crawling through the dining room wall in the middle of the soup course and bawling their creepy little eyes out.

"Right, but—every other ghost I've met can talk. Loves to talk, in fact. God, Nearly Headless Nick wouldn't shut up sometimes—was the Bloody Baron like that?"

Draco snorts. "No, Potter, he was not. But I take your point."

"Right," Potter repeats, rolling gracefully into a sitting position, apparently warming to his subject. A streak of dust clings to his cheekbone. "The twins—I thought at first maybe I was just freaked out by them because they're—ah, you know—"

"Hideously deformed? Missing pertinent facial features? Abject terrors?"

Potter winces, like he wouldn't want to offend a pair of dead ghost babies. Of course. "Er—but I don't think that's it. It's because they can't communicate." He runs a hand absently through his hair, tugging on it until it stands on end. "You know, a lot of Muggles think they see ghosts. Believe in them or whatever."

"Can they see them?" Draco feels that familiar flicker of interest he gets whenever Muggles are discussed. He doesn't hate them, as he was raised to do, but they do still seem strangely illicit somehow, verboten and therefore thrilling.

Harry shrugs. "Must be that some of them can, at least. Not all Muggles, I don't think. But even when they can see a ghost, a lot of times it's just flashes. They can't, like, listen to Professor Binns give a lecture, you know? That's not possible."

"Lucky fucking Muggles, dodging that hex," Draco mutters, and Potter grins at him.

"No shit. But that's the point. They can't talk to ghosts, really, and that's why they're so scared of them, usually. They don't know what the ghosts want. And that's kind of how the twins feel to me." He looks over at Draco, his expression a little mulish, like he expects to be made fun of.

It's true, though. Draco finds the little buggers unsettling, too, and Potter's explanation makes as much sense as any. "The deformities don't help," he says anyway, just because he wants to yank Potter's chain a little.

Potter flips him two fingers without much heat, and then turns his attention to a box of Van Boer financial records, flipping through old ledgers like he's actually interested in it.

Draco goes back to the enchanted mirror, trying to ignore the odd feeling of camaraderie that has sprung up between them.

*

They've been living in the Van Boer house for a week when they really venture out for the first time, mostly at Potter's insistence.

"Don't you ever take a day off?" he asks, lounging on a somewhat grotty-smelling chaise and watching Draco fiddle with the warding spells on the Floo for what seems like the millionth time. There's something off about them, but damned if Draco can figure out how to unsnarl them.

Draco doesn't even look up from what he's doing. "Sometimes, Potter. Don't you ever take a day off from following me around like a poorly-dressed shadow?"

When they were boys, a comment like that would have been enough to get Potter's blood boiling, that familiar flash of rage igniting behind his glasses. Now, he doesn't even react to it at all. Draco can't decide if it's disappointing or not. "Well that's just it, Malfoy. As long as you're working, that means I have to work."

That stings a bit, the reminder that Potter's "work" here is to watch Draco, to keep an eye on him at all times, a safeguard against the possibility that Draco might incite the Dutch pure-blood community to fascism with his very presence in Amsterdam. "Sitting on your arse isn't working," Draco says, and it comes out a little sharper than he means it to.

"I help sometimes."

"You punched a hole through the wards and rooted around some paperwork."

"I also discovered the ghost babies."

"You screamed when the ghost babies discovered you, Potter." Draco sighs, sliding his wand into his sleeve and getting up from the hearth, where he's been kneeling. "What's it to you if I take a day off?"

Potter shrugs. "I'm bored. Let's go somewhere."

*

They walk out of the Van Boer house and into the city without much direction, just ambling in the sunshine, and even Draco has to admit, at least to himself, that getting out of the house for the afternoon was a good idea. The sun is warm on his shoulders, and the breeze—even when it kicks up the slightly fetid smell of the canals—feels good on his cheeks.

It's bizarre, walking through the streets with Potter as if the weight of their past isn't trailing along behind them—but in a way, it's not. Not here, outside of England, where no one recognizes them and does a double-take. If they were in Diagon Alley, they'd be mobbed, Draco thinks. They both tend to be followed by paparazzi—Harry, because he's famous, and Draco, because he's infamous. The sight of both of them together, apparently friendly, would drive the public wild. Here, though, no one cares who they are, no one bothers to look twice at them at all. It's as free as Draco has felt in so long that he can barely remember.

(Except that he can remember, exactly. The day he stopped feeling free was the day his father went to Azkaban in Draco's fifth year. The day his whole world had changed and nothing would ever, ever be the same.)

Draco's been to Amsterdam a few times, although the last time was the summer between his third and fourth year. Still, he remembers the city, all of the pertinent points about it: the way the city opens like a hinge from the train station, and how the Red Light District refuses to stay put in a few segregated areas, as if the scantily-clad girls in the windows, blowing kisses through the glass, are no more or less scandalous than any other storefront. The way wizarding shops butt right up against Muggle enterprises, a charmingly pragmatic arrangement that would be unthinkable in London. The way Muggles on bicycles terrorize the streets, and tourists stumble out of the coffee shops, high as hippogriffs, to cling to the ledges overlooking the canals, laughing too loudly in their flat American accents.

It's a simple, uncomplicated pleasure to see the city anew, through Potter's eyes, who freely confesses that the only travel he's done outside of the UK has been on the Ministry Sickle, and then usually only long enough to assist in whatever arrest the Aurors or Hit Wizards are up to. Draco courteously refrains from mentioning that the last time Harry had been abroad, he'd apparently lost control of his magic and nearly killed a few folks, suspect and Auror alike. In fact, it barely even occurs to him to say it, which is almost disconcerting.

"So they just…hang out in the windows?" Potter asks the moment they turn a corner and enter the Red Light District. His eyes are wide as he takes in the rows and rows of windows in the building, the prettiest girls on the ground floor, the older, more tired ones a few stories up.

"Mm," Draco confirms. Some of the girls are posing, but most appear a little bored, talking animatedly into their cell phones or smoking cigarettes. "Until someone hires them, that is." For illustration's sake, he blows a kiss at one of the women, who promptly snaps her phone shut and stands up straight, thrusting her breasts out and beckoning for them to come forward.

Draco expects Potter to blush bright red, but instead he waves cheerfully at the woman. "No thanks, darling," he says pleasantly, as if she can hear him through the glass. And maybe she can, because she promptly pouts at them—but she can't resist Potter's charms, apparently, since she does wave back, only a little grudgingly.

"Is it legal in wizarding Holland, too?" he asks, glancing over at Draco.

"Nope, but I've heard lots of witches work the windows here. Good money in it, especially if you're not opposed to casting a little sex magic." Draco frowns a little. "Why, do you want to pick up one of the girls? Does she have to be a witch? Doesn’t seem very equality-minded of you, I have to say, Potter. I thought you loved Muggles."

To his surprise, Potter shrugs. "I don't love Muggles, especially." Something hard to read crosses his face. "And no, I don't want to pick up one of the girls."

"Shall we get stoned instead, then?" Draco says it mostly as a joke, when he notices they're standing in front of a coffee shop.

Potter, though, continues to be full of surprises. "Sure," he says immediately.

*

The inside of the coffeeshop is dim but friendly-feeling, full of little scarred wooden tables and a few low, squashy chairs near the window. A menu written in rainbow chalk on one wall neatly lists a dozen varieties of marijuana, five different flavors of "space cake," and one kind of coffee. "No one comes here for coffee," Draco explains, and Harry waves him off. Know-it-all bastard. He looks around some more, acclimating himself. It's quiet, at this time of day, just a few people scattered about, smoking and reading and drinking coffee. A pair of fat kneazles lounge in a patch of sunshine, looking like they own the place.

Harry elbows Draco in the side without thinking about how strange it is to touch Malfoy casually. "Kneazles," he whispers, gesturing to the window.

"Yes, Potter, I see that."

Fucker. "Kneazles running around in Muggle Amsterdam?"

"The Dutch interpret the Statute a bit looser than we do." Draco shrugs. "Besides, everyone who comes in here gets stoned, thinks they're just really ugly cats."

Harry snorts, and Malfoy's dimple shows up again, like a goddamn bad Knut that just keeps turning up. For a millisecond, their eyes meet, and Harry decides they must already have contact highs. It's the only explanation for how friendly it feels.

They take a seat, and Draco slyly conjures a pipe from a drinking glass. By the time they've smoked a few bowls of the most expensive weed on the menu—because of course that's what Draco selected, ordering in his crisp accent and looking so posh that Harry had halfway expected him to demand to speak to a sommelier—Harry forgets that it's odd to feel friendly with Malfoy.

He forgets that he's stuck in Amsterdam because the Ministry doesn't trust him with any other job.

He just laughs, and laughs, and laughs a little more, until his mouth hurts from stretching into a smile that Draco returns ten-fold.

*

When they get back to the house, Harry thinks for a moment that the afternoon will be ruined—that the moment he crosses the threshold into the seething Darkness of the house, his buzz will fade, their easy camaraderie will disappear. It's a visceral feeling, stepping into the Van Boer house, as the heavy, chilling dampness of centuries of Dark magic press down onto your shoulders like a tangible weight. Harry hates it.

Oddly, Draco doesn't ever seem to notice it. He doesn't ever blanche when he steps into the house, or recoil when residual magic seeps from the wards. It's like he doesn't even feel it, Harry thinks as he follows Draco up the steps and through the wide front door.

As usual, Draco doesn't flinch when he steps inside. Harry steels himself, but this time the magic of the house barely registers. It's still there, of course, but it's muted, somehow—the same way that everything else feels muted, probably, courtesy of Amsterdam's finest homegrown.

At least, Harry guesses that's part of it. It's the lazy warmth of good marijuana, the kind that eases over your brain in soft tendrils, softening the edges of everything until the world is pleasantly hazy—but it's also something else, something that has nothing to do with the weed and has everything to do with Malfoy.

It's been slowly growing between them, a kind of edgy camaraderie. It's not exactly friendly—their interactions are too sharp-edged, too aggressive for that—but Harry has to admit, even just to himself, that being around Malfoy hasn't been entirely unpleasant. It's even, sometimes, been fun. Amusing, at the least.

And now, after a day spent roaming through Amsterdam in the sunshine, smoking exquisitely-grown Dutch herb until everything had seemed funny and warm? Now all the edges that had sprung up between them are filed down to softness, and it doesn't feel strange at all to be collapsed onto the sofa in the smallest downstairs parlor, the one that feels almost cozy even despite its ostentatious old furniture and dreary gloom.

"Stay here, Potter, I don't trust you to know your way around the wine cellar," Draco tells him imperiously, pushing himself up off the sofa by bracing a hand on Harry's thigh. "I'll find something decent."

Harry snorts, waving a hand at Draco's retreating back. "I didn't even know there was a wine cellar, you ponce."

"Philistine," Draco calls back, disappearing down the hallway.

Draco. That's what Harry had thought just now. Not Malfoy, but Draco.

That seems impossibly significant, but Harry can't quite decide if that's because it is, or because he's stoned.

Before he can figure it out, Draco returns, a bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other, and all Harry can think about is how natural it feels when Draco drops down onto the sofa next to him again.

Harry's warm and pleasantly loopy, and the press of Draco's body against his feels electric, addictive. Even just pressed side-by-side as they are, shoulders touching, Harry's bicep against Draco's ribcage, their thighs grazing, feels so good Harry can barely stand it. Draco is whippet-thin, bones as delicate as bird's wings, and it makes Harry want to reach over and grab him, pull him closer and closer.

So he does.

He reaches out carefully, lets one hand land on Draco's thigh. When Draco doesn't move, doesn't react at all except to inhale slowly and shift a little closer to Harry, Harry slides his hand higher, just a little, until he's tracing the fine wool of Draco's trousers, all of his energy focused on the slide of it beneath his fingers. Harry wonders, in that absurdly serious way he had forgotten always happens to him on the rare occasions that he gets high, if he'll focus so intently on the way Draco's slacks feel that they'll just incinerate on the spot, another victim of Harry's accidental magic.

If he catches Draco on fire the first time he touches him, Draco will never, ever let him forget it.

He keeps waiting for Draco to say something, to recoil or to make a joke, but he doesn’t do anything at all. He just lets Harry touch him gently, so gentle it's almost innocent, or it would be if it weren't for the way Harry's hand keeps drifting higher. Harry looks down at his own hand on Draco's achingly slender thigh, and for a moment he sees Draco in all the guises he has known him. Draco as the little princeling he'd been in Madame Malkin's all those years ago, demanding to know Harry's surname. Draco as the cocky, hippogriff-baiting boy he'd become in third year ,when the vestiges of childhood in his features had started to morph into something older, more masculine, hinting at the man he would become and making Harry hate him even more for all of that, for the way he was so goddamn beautiful that Harry couldn't look at him without aching. Draco as the furious, terrified teenager who'd broken Harry's nose. Draco as the boy sobbing over a sink as he realized his childhood had irrevocably ended, bartered away to a madman by his own father.

Harry blinks, looking up at Draco as he is right now, the adult that boy had become, and he thinks he should pull his hand back, stop this before it goes beyond a point where they can still turn back, blame whatever has happened between them on good wine and better weed. But Draco's watching him, grey eyes intent, and they're so close together that Harry can see the way Draco's eyelashes are darker at the root and golden blond at the tip, long enough to curl up at the ends.

It doesn't even feel like a conscious choice when Harry leans forward and presses his mouth to Draco's. It feels like something he should have seen coming since the day he'd been fitted for that first set of Hogwarts robes, standing next to Draco Malfoy and wondering what his life would be like, not realizing that all roads would somehow lead right back to the boy standing next to him. It feels as inevitable as nearly everything else about Harry's life, in fact. Like he can't pull away if he tries. And he doesn’t try.

And then it doesn't matter because Draco's kissing him back, his thin lips parting under Harry's just slightly, just enough for Harry to gently pull Draco's bottom lip between his own and suck until Draco groans, a soft, sweet sound that bears no relation at all to the posh, drawling words that usually slip from his mouth.

He does it again, that sweet little sound that gets caught in his throat, when Harry runs his tongue across Draco's lip and then into his mouth, and Harry realizes with that weird, secondary part of his brain—the part not fully enmeshed in kissing Draco Malfoy—that it's been a long time since he's just kissed another wizard, just concentrated on nothing but the feeling of pressing mouths and lips and tongues and teeth together.

He doesn't quite know when it happened, that kissing became a thing that you skipped, something relegated to adolescent fumbling and awkward endings to bad first dates that both parties know won't be repeated. Why would anyone want to skip over something so brilliant?

Of course, if anyone had asked him before right this moment, he'd have said that kissing was overrated, something he'd been bad at as a teenager and bored with as an adult.

He's not bored now.

Apparently Draco isn't, either, because he wraps his hand around the back of Harry's neck and tugs him closer, then abruptly shifts, raising one leg over Harry's lap until he's straddling Harry.

Draco Malfoy is in Harry's lap.

Harry drops his head to the back of the sofa with a thud, forcing himself to focus for a moment. Draco stares right back at him, hair trailing loose from the band at his nape, eyes sleepy and hooded, and fuck, he looks so goddamn beautiful, so fucking perfect even though he's stoned and half-drunk just like Harry, even though the fresh, expensive scent of his cologne can't quite hide the skunky smell of the coffee shop clinging to his jumper, even though he's rocking his hips just the slightest bit, like he can't quite resist the pull of pressing himself against Harry.

Christ, Harry wants to mess him up. He wants to pull at his perfect hair, yank it by the roots, and rip his expensive, perfectly tailored clothes. Harry wants, god help him, to fuck him till he screams, till he's wanton and slutty, till Harry's so far inside him he can't breathe, until those sleepy eyes are wide open and blind to everything except Harry.

"Look at you," Harry breathes out, not even knowing he's going to speak at all until the words are already out, tripping off his tongue and into the ether.

Draco curls his lip, a lazy lift of the left side of his mouth. It's the kind of expression that Harry remembers seeing on Draco's haughty face a thousand times at Hogwarts, something that's more sneer than smile. Now, when it's being directed down at him as Draco grinds softly, gently, into him, his eyes hazy-soft and locked on Harry's, it's like seeing it for the first time.

"You like looking at me," Draco says, running his hand lightly across Harry's jaw.

"I—yes," Harry says helplessly.

Draco rolls his hips again, a sinuous little dip that presses his cock right into Harry's.

"Oh, fuck."

"What do you want?" Draco's eyes are so, so grey, treacherous as the sea. Harry could drown in them.

"What do you want, Harry?"

It's the sound of his name that does it. "Fuck, Draco. I want—I want you." He reaches up, tangles his hands into Malfoy's hair and yanks, tugging until the tie at the back loosens and it all pulls free.

It must hurt, but Draco just makes that sound again, that noise low in his throat, and lets Harry tug him down for another kiss.

"How do you want me?" The words are a filthy murmur against Harry's open mouth.

Everything—the weed and the wine and the pulsing influence of the whole fucking house, Draco and his sleepy bedroom eyes and his slutty, wanton body pressed into Harry's lap—coalesces and somehow Harry can't stop himself from blurting out the truth, as easily as if Draco had Accio-ed the words from his mouth. "Rough," Harry says, and it comes harsh, his voice like sandpaper. "I want you rough, I want to—fuck, Malfoy, I want to mess you up, hold you down, I want—oh, god, I want to be so rough with you."

It seems a stupid thing to say, and Harry almost regrets it, almost tries to walk it back, but Draco just shudders and tips his head to the side, exposing the long, delicate expanse of his throat. "Do it then, Potter."

There's something about having permission—and more than permission, even, but that exposed column of Malfoy's neck that looks like submission—that works like a spell, and Harry lets himself reach out and take what he wants. His hands clench on Malfoy, one on his narrow shoulder and the other on his hipbone, clutching his angular body and pulling him forward, smashing their mouths together in something that is less like kissing than just a messy gnash of lips and teeth and tongue.

Kissing isn't enough anymore, no matter how Harry had been waxing philosophical about its merits moments before.

He doesn't give Draco any warning. He just rolls him over, hard, until he's pinned beneath Harry on the sofa—and Draco just takes it, lets Harry pin him down and grind against him, like he was born to fall on his back and open his long, slender thighs for Harry to slide between.

The buttons of Draco's finely-made shirt snap under Harry's fingers, and he doesn't even bother trying to undo his trousers. Harry just snaps his fingers and they disappear, leaving Draco in a pair of black pants and an unbuttoned white shirt, hair in disarray, already looking fucked out and slaggy, and also weirdly at ease, like he really was born to take it. Like there's nowhere he'd rather be than under Harry.

"You too," Draco says, his voice raspy as he tugs on Harry's jumper. It takes entirely too long to pull it over his head, and Harry feels like an awkward teenager, shimmying out of his jeans and tugging his pants down with them. His cock springs free, obnoxiously eager, and Harry cringes. Before he can even really react, though, Draco's skinny pale hand is wrapped around the head of his prick, toying lightly with his foreskin.

"Oh, Jesus, fuck," Harry mumbles, because even just the feel of Draco's hand on his prick, toying with him, is almost more than he can take. "No," he blurts, knocking Draco's hand away. "Not—wait." He grabs Draco tightly, arms on his shoulders, chests pressed together, and Apparates them both to his bed.

Harry tries not to let himself think too much, tries to just let himself enjoy the feeling of Draco's thin body beneath his, the way his collarbones are sharp and fine as bird's wings under Harry's hands, the way Draco's heart flutters in his chest so hard that Harry can feel it racing beneath his palms. It's almost too much, seeing Draco like this, flush and sharp, too angular and pale to quite seem real—like a wild thing, fragile and a little alien. Beautiful.

Harry wants to protect him, hold him safe and secret—but god, he also wants to take him apart, piece by piece, just because he can. Mine, mine, mine, his brain chants helpfully, and Harry knows, even through the fog his arousal and intoxication, that he's so fucked.

Draco comes apart beautifully for him, just like Harry had known he would, and when Draco pulls his long legs up, wide and high so that he's entirely exposed, Harry thinks he might die before he can conjure any lube.

"Fuck, Potter, just like that," Draco hisses when Harry finally presses one slick finger just barely inside him, toying with his rim. "More. I know—oh—I know you want to give me more."

"I want—Christ." I want to give you so much you can't stand it. Want to shove my whole fucking fist inside you, Jesus weeping Christ. Harry's never, ever wanted like this before, like he's overcome, like slipping into the other person's skin entirely might, just might finally be enough. "I want to give you more," Harry grits out, because it's the closest to the truth that he can come, and then he presses in to the second knuckle, pushing harder, wrapping his free hand around Draco's pale, pretty cock and gently stroking him.

"Do it. Do it, Potter," Draco says, biting the words out on a groan and pressing his hips up, pushing back against Harry's hand. "More."

"I don't want to hurt you," Harry says, even though it's sort of a lie. And then he works a second finger into Draco's arse even though it's too soon, probably, even though it has to hurt.

"Just do it," Draco mumbles, eyes drifting shut, and so Harry does. He works his fingers slow and then fast, crooks them until he finds the spot that makes Draco tense and moan. Harry conjures lube again and again, until they're both sloppy with it, until his third finger slides perfectly inside, too, like Draco was born to writhe on Harry's thick, blunt fingers and pant like a whore, moaning words like please and more and oh, oh, oh, beautiful and undone.

By the time Harry pulls his fingers free and slicks his cock, he thinks he'll die if he doesn't get inside Draco soon.

Harry hesitates a second, looking down at Draco spread beneath him, pale and debauched, his normally cold beauty grown messy and warm. It's shocking, seeing him like that.

"Fuck, Potter, fuck me," Draco says, his sharp accent heightening all the consonants. He means it as a command, Harry knows, but his eyes are wide and desperate-looking, and Harry thinks he might be close to begging.

"Yeah—shh, here, let me," Harry mumbles nonsensically, lining up his cock. "Shh, I got you."

Even now, after fingering him senseless, Draco still feels shockingly narrow as Harry presses into him, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth to push past his rim. "Christ, you're so tight, sweetheart."

Draco's response is to roll his hips up, forcing Harry another inch inside. Harry tries to take his time, let Draco adjust—and he knows it hurts, can tell by the sparkly-intense quality of Draco's eyes on his, by the beads of sweat that have cropped up suddenly on his temples—but god, it's hard. All he wants to do is shove himself inside, split Draco open on his cock, make him cry and shudder and beg for more.

It's never, ever felt like this before with anyone, like Harry's completely undone with only the first three inches of his dick wet.

"Just fuck me, Potter." Draco's voice is a raspy, slaggy purr. "Just do it. Fuck me."

Harry slams his dick the rest of the way home, not even attempting anything like subtlety. Or skill. He just rams in, and Draco gasps, long fingers digging into Harry's arms hard enough to bruise.

"Yes. Yes, yes, yes," Draco chants, his whole body shaking. "That's—yes. Fuck me."

Harry snaps his hips, a couple of quick pumps, and then sets a brutal rhythm. Not exactly fast, just hard, a series of deep, thudding thrusts that make him feel like he's burying himself inside Draco.

He's never, ever fucked someone like this, like he's too desperate to ever stop, like his hips are moving on their own.

"You're fucking beautiful," he says, because apparently in addition to having no control over his thrusts, his mouth is also out of his control. "Look at you, taking my cock so well, such a gorgeous little slag."

Draco doesn't say anything, just moans a little at the words, eyelids fluttering shut, and Harry can't even begin to keep his mouth shut. "God. Look at you, you're so fucking delicate, you look like you'll break apart under me, but—oh, god—you won't, will you?"

He stares down at Draco, fucking him even harder. "Will you?"

"No!" Draco yelps, thrashing under him. He's been holding his own legs up and apart, and now he lifts them up, one after the other, and rests them on Harry's shoulders. It's weirdly graceful, the way he manages to maneuver them over Harry's shoulders while Harry's fucking into him like a jackhammer. The moment they're situated, Harry leans forward, more and more until Draco's nearly bent in half under him.

"Jesus, you feel so fucking good, oh god," Harry mumbles, his mouth once again reliably unreliable. "Look so good under me, Malfoy, god, I want to stuff you so full of my cock you can't fucking walk straight for a week—"

"Yes, just like that," Draco hisses, spasming a little as Harry manages to shove himself deeper. "Yes—you want to come inside me, don't you? Want to fill me up?"

It's like Draco knows the exact words to say to make Harry mindless, to make him cease to care about anything but his orgasm.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck—" He can feel it building in his spine, an unstoppable force, and he knows he can't stop it, can't still his hips or hold off coming. Draco must sense it, too, because he wraps his long fingers around his cock and jerks himself roughly, gray eyes staring right at Harry, until Harry can't keep his own open another moment.

"Coming," he gaps like an idiot, announcing the blatantly obvious. "Coming, coming inside you—"

The noise Draco makes might be Harry's name, or maybe just a wordless groan, but it goes straight to Harry's cock, wringing another burst of pleasure from him as Draco splatters come between them, forceful and hot and somehow filthy.

When Harry collapses on top of Draco, too undone to hold himself up, he mostly floats on the cloudy high of his orgasm—but somewhere deep in his mind, he takes note of the stark bones of the man beneath him, the way his hipbones jut against Harry, the way he feels almost breakable, almost fragile. The way it feels so good to cover his body with Harry's own.

*

When Harry wakes up the next morning, he expects to find his bed empty and Draco back in his own room. Instead, though, Draco is sprawled next to him, his left arm flung over his head, Dark Mark exposed and strangely vulnerable in the brittle morning light. Their legs are tangled together, solid and warm.

Draco stirs, and Harry clears his throat, trying desperately to think of something to say. As if there's a script for this, waking up in bed with the man who has been your enemy since before you were shaving?

Before he comes up with anything, Draco's voice, raspy and morning-rough, breaks the silence. "Don't say anything, Potter. Just let it be."

Harry blinks, realizing with something like shock that what Draco's just said—and the fact that he hasn't moved at all except to press his thigh a little closer to Harry's—is braver than anything Harry was going to offer up.

How is it possible, he thinks, to know someone so well and simultaneously not at all?

He rolls onto his side, facing Draco, and throws an arm over his pale torso, willing his hand not to shake as he gently tugs Draco closer. "Okay."

*

October

Harry doesn't know exactly what he expected to happen after he and Draco slept together. That first morning, he'd expected Draco to push him away. Then later, he'd expected their relationship—fraught at the best of times—to deteriorate, leaving them stuck in the house in tense and awkward silence. Then later still, he'd expected them to realize once again that they hated one another, that even the most shocking sexual compatibility couldn't make up for years of mutual hatred.

None of those things had happened, though. Instead, they'd just—carried on. They'd spent three hedonistic days locked in Harry's chosen bedroom, letting Gruber deliver haphazard meals, breakfast at 2:00 in the afternoon, dinner at midnight, existing in a miasma of sex that only dissipated on the fourth morning, when Draco had squinted into the morning sunlight streaming through the window and stretched lazily, long arms over his head. "I suppose at some point I should go back to work," he'd said, shaking his hair out of his eyes.

Harry had frozen. "You—yeah, I guess," he'd mumbled, waiting for the wall to come down between them.

But Draco had just nodded, shoving the duvet down and rising lithely to his feet. "Come shower with me first," he'd said imperiously. "You're filthy."

And so Harry had, and then he'd followed Draco down to the first floor, where they'd slipped right back into their routine of Draco working and Harry tagging along behind—only now they occasionally stopped to snog, or shag, or argue about whether to get takeaway for dinner or let Gruber cook.

If Harry allows himself to think about it, he wonders if this is only possible here, in the relative isolation of Amsterdam, locked in the Van Boer mansion away from the realities of the world, where they are and will always be, first and foremost, a Potter and a Malfoy.

So mostly, he doesn't let himself think about it.

*

"Why don't you take the silencing spell off the portraits?" Harry asks one morning, drinking tea and watching Draco work. He's in pajama bottoms and a worn t-shirt that clings to his shoulders, and looking at him for too long makes Draco dizzy with wanting him, even if he can still feel a twinge with every step he takes from having been fucked the night before.

"It's not a silencing spell," he says, turning his attention back to the massive oak desk in the library. He's sorting through an egregious stack of papers, probably none of which are relevant to anything.

Harry, the obtuse bastard, fires a wandless Finite Incantatem at the nearest portrait, a couple in turn-of-the-century wizarding dress. They're holding hands, the wizard looking proud of himself, the witch holding one hand over her distended belly and smiling up at her husband like he hung the moon. Like she has no idea they're cursed.

The spell dissipates without result, as Draco had known it would.

"I told you, you shit."

Harry scowls pleasantly. "So what's the deal, then? Dutch portraits don't talk?"

"Of course they do. Van Boer portraits don’t." It's actually surprising that it's taken Harry so long to ask about this.

"Why?"

Draco shrugs. "Part of the curse. The literature suggests they stopped talking around 1920 or so, and no attempt to charm or spell them out of it has worked."

Harry frowns. "How?"

"The house."

After a few beats of silence, Harry snaps his fingers obnoxiously, like he's flagging down an errant waiter. "Well? Care to explain, Oh Expert on Nasty Pure-Blood Nonsense?"

It's hard not to flinch, on the occasions when something like this comes out of Harry's mouth. It's not the tone Draco objects to—if anything, he likes when Harry gets mouthy with him. It's the casual reminder of Draco's past, the ceaseless reality of his surname and the baggage that comes with it, that hits him like a hex. Being a Malfoy—it's the root of all of his failures, certainly, but it's at the heart of his successes, too; his career, as Harry bluntly pointed out, is based on being a Malfoy, an expert on all things nasty and pure-blood.

No matter what he does, he is always a Malfoy first.

Draco sighs. "All magic is residual, right?"

Harry cocks his head, shrugging carelessly. "Is it?"

"Good god, Potter. Sometimes it baffles me that you're you, and yet you have no knowledge of magical theory at all. What the fuck did you do in school?"

"Fought evil. Tried not to die. Beat you at Quidditch." It's obnoxious, and Draco wants to be irritated, but Harry's grin is warm, his eyes lit up. Stupid green eyes. Like a toad. Repulsive.

(Green is Draco's favorite color.)

He clears his throat, glaring a little and pressing on. "Residual. It leaks, it leaves elements behind, it's traceable. Magic, any kind of magic, is extremely hard to contain, but Dark magic is particularly prone to what Muggles call viral behavior. It mutates. Changes. Moves."

Harry's watching him intently, like it's suddenly the most enthralling subject he's ever heard. It's unnerving, a bit, having Potter's full attention when they're not fucking.

"So—a cursed house like this, the way the curse manifests often mutates. Like the silenced paintings." There. A quick, tidy wrap-up, simple enough that even Potter should grasp it.

"But that's—huh. If they're silenced, they can't tell the current occupants anything about the curse." Harry isn't stupid, no matter what he did or didn't learn in school.

"Ten points to Gryffindor, Golden Boy redeems himself," Draco drawls.

Harry's silent for a moment, pondering. "That's fucking terrifying," he finally says.

"Terrifying?" Of all the responses Draco might have assumed Harry would have, this one is a surprise.

Harry shrugs. "The house can do what it wants. Fucking creepy, Draco."

The sound of his given name on Harry's lips sends a little thrill up Draco's spine. "Old wizarding houses are powerful. Centuries of magic in one spot. Do you think Hogwarts is creepy?"

"Hogwarts is my home," Harry says immediately, with the annoying self-assurance of the righteous.

"And Malfoy Manor is mine," Draco mutters under his breath.

*

In the evenings, they sit too close together on the sofa in the small parlor. Sometimes they read, and sometimes they drink wine, and sometimes Harry plies Draco with earnest questions about curse-breaking. Sometimes the ghost babies wander in from the third floor and crawl around at their feet, looking so pathetic that Harry has taken to talking softly to them, as if the little nightmares are sentient enough to appreciate his kindness.

It annoys and charms Draco in equal measure when he realizes that they do, in fact, seem to respond to Harry, seeking him out much more often than Draco. Leave it to Potter to make friends with the little aberrations. There is, Draco realizes, no apparent limit to his charms.

And Draco himself is not immune; more often than not, these quiet evenings end with Draco in Harry's lap, running his fingers over Harry's soft gray joggers and threadbare t-shirts that cling to his broad shoulders and strong chest.

Draco doesn't even berate himself when they fall into bed together anymore.

Or when they wake up together.

It's nothing that should be happening, of course. There's no way this can end well. But there's something about being here, so far from England, that makes it seem—safe, somehow.

Tonight, Harry's flipping idly through a Quidditch magazine, sprawled across the sofa, his legs tangled comfortably with Draco's. It feels far more natural than it should.

Draco dips his quill for the tenth time and glances down at his parchment, where he's trying rather unsuccessfully to write to Pansy.

Darling,

Of course I'm sorry not to have written sooner—there's no reason to rant about it, you cow.

(Pansy's last missive had included several lines of all caps, underlined, informing Draco that he needed to send a bloody Owl, lest Pansy start to think Potter had drowned him in a canal.)

I've been busy. The house is a disaster; the curse lives up to its reputation.

Potter isn't so bad.

(God, what an understatement. Potter isn't so bad at shagging Draco senseless, more like it.)

Potter isn't so bad. He's incredibly powerful—he can break through the Van Boer wards without a fucking wand, honestly. I'd say his incessant righteousness was annoying, but I'm starting to think we should all be grateful for it. If he were less obsessed with doing the right thing, he'd probably already have risen as another Dark Lord. Voldemort never came close to this kind of power.

Draco considers the paragraph. It's a little gushy, probably, but it's true, is the rub. Potter's sheer magical prowess is stunning.

I wonder if the house is making him more powerful.

Draco does wonder this, but he's not ready to share it with Pans, and he strikes it out. He's barely ready to face it himself—just like he's not ready to face the fact that he's fairly certain the house wants him to fuck Potter. The wards ease when he sleeps in Potter's bed. It's a subtle change, a little ebb and flow that he's almost certain Potter doesn’t even notice—but Draco does.

All in all, it's not nearly the disaster I was anticipating, so quit worrying. You're as bad as mother. Surely you've got other things to keep yourself occupied with. Tell me about the witch you met in Paris—have you got into her knickers yet? And say hello to Blaise for me.

All my love,


DLM

*

The last week of October turns surprisingly cold, and the grotty old mansion is miserably damp. To make matters worse, Draco contracts some sort of potion-resistant bug that has him sicking up nearly every day. Potter, to his credit, acquits himself admirably as a nursemaid, going so far as to hold Draco's hair back one particularly terrible morning, when Draco can barely hold his head up over the toilet.

"Go, leave me to die in peace," Draco says, only half-joking. He's mortified that Harry should see him so weak, but he can't quite muster up the energy to forcibly kick him out of the loo.

"You're not going to die," Harry says, obstinately staying put and wiping Draco's sweaty forehead with a damp flannel. "You do look like shit, though."

"Fuck you very much, Potter."

"Mmhmm." Harry waves his hand and the glass on the basin fills with water. "Drink this."

*

November

"You need to see a Healer, Draco."

"It's fine, Potter."

Harry watches as Draco lifts his water glass and takes a careful sip. His hand is shaking. He's pale—too pale, not his normal porcelain tone but a washed-out, sickly white—and the bones of his jaw and his cheekbones have graduated from sharp to painful.

He looks like shit.

"You look like shit."

"I'm fucking fine," Draco snaps, not sounding fine at all.

Harry inhales, weighing his options. Fuck it. "No, Draco, you're clearly not. This has been going on for weeks. You're sick all the time, you barely eat—and your magic is wonky. I can see it, when you're working."

There's a beat or two of silence, and then Draco seems to collect himself. His shoulders square, his jaw tightens, and then he aims a smile at Harry. It's not quite right—it's manufactured, obviously—but it's close enough to his real smile, the one that Harry has grown unaccountably, alarmingly fond of since they've been in Amsterdam, that Harry can't help but warm to it. "Quit worrying so much, Potter. Isn't there something you'd rather be doing than harassing me about a case of wizard flu?"

It's not wizard flu. Harry's not fucking stupid. But Draco's dimple makes an appearance, and his hand is on Harry's thigh, and somehow it's remarkably easy to let the conversation die in favor of leaning forward, catching Draco's lips in a kiss that turns heated on a Sickle.

"I don't know why you're too stubborn to see a healer," Harry mutters, the words blurring between their lips. His hands are already running up beneath Draco's shirt, skating over his ribcage, sliding over his chest.

"Shh. Wouldn't you rather fuck me than argue?"

Harry doesn't even bother to answer the question, just grips Draco by his narrow hips and tugs him gracelessly onto his lap. "Right here," he says. "Ride me."

Later, when they're curled together on the spelled-clean sofa, Harry leans his forehead against Draco's shoulder, breathing in the familiar cologne-and-soap-and-sweat-and-sex smell of him, clean and dirty all at once. "Is this what you thought you'd be doing, when you took this job?"

Draco snorts. "The top notch curse removal was a given. Shagging Harry Potter was slightly less expected."

"Is it going well? Top notch and all?" Harry feels somewhat stupid, asking about how the job is going seeing as he spends every day with Draco, but the truth is that he still doesn’t understand everything about Draco's work—and that there's something undeniably sexy about listening to Draco talk about it. Harry doesn’t admit it much, even to himself, but there's something intrinsically attractive to him about Draco's prowess in the Dark Arts.

"Mm, very well. It's slow going, but the Van Boer wards are weakening, and mine are stabilizing. It's coming together." He goes on a bit, something about the cumulative effects of Dark magic produced by multiple wizards, his posh voice drawling over Harry, his thin fingers tracing patterns on Harry's chest and down his abdomen, toying with the crisp hairs at his crotch. It's mesmerizing.

"Why aren't more wizards trained to do this?" Harry asks when Draco trails off. "Like curse-breakers—why don't they do these types of jobs?"

Draco shifts, looking carefully at Harry, like he's considering what to say. "Dark Arts are only partially teachable, I think."

Harry waits, and Draco eventually continues. "Anyone can learn them, sure, but there's—there's something about pure-blood estate magic, particularly, that seems ingrained. Hereditary, perhaps. Not that I've ever advertised that theory, mind you. The Ministry'd have every former Death Eater sterilized, I'm sure." His voice is snarky, but Harry hears the real concern behind it.

"So you're genetically good at this, is what you're saying?" Harry wrinkles his nose, feeling an automatic desire to disagree with a theory that feels perilously close to notions of blood purity. "But—I was able to break a hole through the wards, too. Explain that."

That same curious, searching expression crosses Draco's face, like he's looking for something in Harry. "I didn't say you had to have a family history to do it—just that it seems to help. A predisposition. And you're hardly a representative example, anyway."

"I'm not that special," Harry grumbles, thinking automatically of how the Ministry responds to him, how they fear and praise him at once for powers that he never asked for.

"It's nice to know you're aware of your own mediocrity, Potter, but that's not what I meant."

Harry raises a brow and waits.

"It's in our blood." Draco shrugs. "Mine was bred into me, and yours was left behind after being Voldemort's horcrux for years, I'd imagine."

Harry recoils, physically pulling away from Draco. "I'm not—he's gone."

"And magic is residual."

"I don't—I don't want any piece of him in me."

Draco smiles softly, more gently than he usually does. "That's the trouble with blood lines. You don't get to pick them."

Harry doesn't think it's true—doesn't want it to be true—but Draco's words ring in his ears long after they've settled into bed that night. It's in our blood.

He pulls Draco closer before he finally falls asleep, burying his nose in Draco's nape.

*

December

The light filtering through the ancient, gauzy curtains in Harry's bedroom is cold and sharp, frigid December sunshine that does little to warm and less to flatter. Draco keeps his eyes shut tight against it, allowing himself the simple pleasure of enjoying the feeling of Harry's body against his own.

They've been sleeping like this—wrapped around each other, sated and lazy, sprawling together in bedsheets spelled clean after marathon sex the night before—for months now. It still makes his heart pound a little, if he thinks about it too much. There's no way for this to end well, he knows. No way for this to continue past the expiry date of this Van Boer project.

But still—today, he is warm and comfortable and sprawled next to his unlikely lover, and that is all he wants to consider. He lets himself drift, nearly back into sleep but not quite—which is why he doesn’t even notice when Harry starts to stir, or when Harry's warm palm slides down from his rib to land firmly on his lower belly.

"You're getting soft," Harry murmurs, his voice morning-rough, as he obnoxiously slides his hand over Draco's belly.

It takes a moment for Draco to process the words. "I'm what?"

Harry laughs softly, a sweet little huff. "Your belly—it sticks out a little now. It's cute." He scoots closer, peering over at Draco and frowning as Draco's whole body stiffens. "Ah, don't get mad—I meant it. I like it."

Draco swallows hard, then swats Harry's hand away and rolls over onto his side, curling around his tummy, barely resisting the absurd desire to wrap his arms around his middle. "Stop molesting me," he says in his haughtiest voice, mostly because he doesn't know what else to say to terminate this conversation as quickly as possible.

Harry, the bastard, doesn't let it go. "Don't hide," he whispers, like he thinks Draco's embarrassed, maybe, like he thinks Draco's some shy witch in need of cajoling. The thought makes Draco's wand-hand tingle with uncast hexes.

The truth, though, is much, much worse than shyness. It's not that he's embarrassed of the soft little curve of his belly, at least not in the way Harry thinks. It's that he's protective of it. It's that he wants—for reasons he cannot, or will not, articulate, even to himself—to keep it secret, keep it safe, hidden away even from Harry, whose hands roam every inch of his body as if Draco is his to annex.

It's hard to breathe, suddenly, and the renewed urge to wrap his arms around his abdomen, to hide himself from Harry, is so strong it's nearly impossible not to jerk out of bed and pull on his clothes.

The house, it's the house. It wants me to keep it a secret.

Draco inhales slowly, forcing himself to fill his lungs. To calm himself. To stay put. He reaches down to where Harry's hand has wormed back onto his belly, and he manages to keep from shaking too badly as he pushes it away once again. "Fuck off, Potter. Didn't you ever learn manners? It's hideously impolite to tell your lover they've gotten fat."

For whatever annoying reasons, Harry warms at this, lips twitching into a smile that is too soft by half, easing the hard-drawn lines of his face into something beyond handsome and passing lovely. Before Draco can dissuade him, Harry's tugging Draco into his arms, kissing him gently. "Shut up. You're ridiculous." Harry's voice is a low murmur against Draco's lips, a lover's voice, and Draco thinks again that it sounds—it feels—like Harry's cajoling him like he's a witch in need of attention. Like he'd seen his father do with his mother so many times when he was growing up, a well-choreographed dance between the two of them that always ended in his father lavishing his mother with compliments and jewelry, and his mother returning the favor with laughter and kisses, whatever perceived slight Lucius was atoning for discarded easily. As a child, watching these predictable exchanges between his parents had been almost unconsciously comforting, a barely-acknowledged bit of evidence that all was right with the world. Seeing Harry and himself in similar roles is a concept that makes Draco both furious and disconcertingly pleased, and when Harry pulls Draco on top of him, arranging him like a doll until Draco's straddling Harry's erection, he allows it.

"So goddamn beautiful," Harry whispers, reverent and careless at once. "Christ, Draco."

It's a testament to Draco's essential nature as a Malfoy that he preens under the praise, lets it wash over him like it's his due. It's enough, even, that he puts any thought of his belly—the shameful and vulnerable curve of it, too visible by half right now as he's naked and perched above Harry—out of his mind, pushing down a mental curtain as deliberate as any Occlumens. When Harry kisses him again, he parts his lips and closes his eyes, lets himself float on the sensation of Harry's mouth and tongue on his, Harry's strong hands gripping his own bony shoulders.

"I want you," Harry says gracelessly, shoving his hips forward, grinding his cock roughly against Draco.

"Then have me."

Draco doesn't even flinch when he feels his body go suddenly wet and open, conjured lube sloppy against his hole. Harry's wandless, wordless magic had ceased to be a surprise months ago; now it is just an agonizing turn-on, all that power directed so blithely at Draco.

That's the thing about Potter. He wields his power as casually as if it were nothing, an afterthought.

If he knew the truth about what Draco suspects is happening between them, the secret in his belly, he'd probably just shrug as if it were his due. Just one more way in which he was the exception to every rule in wizardom, biology included.

Except, of course, that he won't want it to be happening here. Won't want it to be happening with Draco.

And that's a path down which Draco refuses to tread. Not right now. Not today.

"Fuck me," he hisses, pulling away from Harry's questing fingers at his hole. "Just fuck me, now."

"Shh, shh, shh," Harry whispers, like he's soothing a child, like Draco had begged instead of demanded. He lifts Draco gently up by the hips and positions him over his cock so that Draco can fuck himself on it at his leisure. "Here, sweetheart. Here."

*

The facts, as Draco sees them, are thus:

He has been fucking Harry Potter—most powerful wizard alive—for months.

Said fucking has occurred in a house plagued by what is rumored to be the most powerful fertility curse in the wizarding world.

He had suffered through an inexplicable illness for much of the fall.

He is now seemingly recovered, the incessant nausea of October and November having been replaced by a gentle abdominal bloat that seems to grow more taut by the day.

It is not a list that inspires confidence. Nor is it one that Draco can easily dismiss, no matter what ridiculous and far-fetched conclusions he keeps drawing from it.

He glances over at Harry, who is leaned over a piece of a parchment and scribbling a letter to Granger. Draco regularly sees the lengthy missives that she sends to Harry, page after page in her neat script; Harry's return efforts are a match in neither length nor neatness, but there's something earnest about it anyway, watching Harry frown over his parchment and occasionally suck the end of his quill in terribly distracting fashion. He frowns, looking back down at the dusty copy of From Heir to Despair: A Short History of Pure-Blood Fertility Hexes, Reproductive Jinxes, and Blood Curses he has open in his lap.

There's only a short section that's relevant to his situation, but Draco can't stop reading it.

The first documented case of male pregnancy potion dates to 1775, when French wizard Michel Bouvier attempted to alter his male lover's internal organs in order to produce an heir together and avoid what his journal scathingly referred to as "the marriage trap." The potion, according to both Bouvier's private journals and the family healer who attended Bouvier and his lover, was initially successful, resulting in what appeared to be a viable pregnancy. This assumption was swiftly proven inaccurate when Bouvier's lover died in the latter stages of the pregnancy, drained of magic and unresponsive to healer attempts to remove the disfigured and malformed child from the magical womb.

Since Bouvier's early attempt, several other wizards have altered and tested similar potions, none of which have been able to sustain a pregnancy long enough to produce a viable child. By the mid-nineteenth century, the potion had been colloquially termed Sins' Wages—a reference both to the homosexuality of its users and the gruesome outcomes it yielded.

The last known attempt to utilize the potion was recorded in Amsterdam in 1853.

It's not much to go on. Almost nothing, in fact. It's not even, strictly speaking, relevant. Draco hasn't used anything more exotic than a headache potion since arriving in Amsterdam, first of all, and Harry barely touches even those.

Still.

He glances up at Harry again, wonders what he might say if he knew what Draco suspects—what he more than suspects. What he feels, in a bone-deep way, is true, even though it flies in the face of what he knows is logical. So, Potter, you've knocked me up. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm fairly certain it's just a combination of this fucking house and your ridiculous magic.

Christ. It sounds ridiculous, even in his own head.

He runs a hand over his jumper, smoothing it over the slight curve of his abdomen, the softness that every instinct in him is screaming to keep secret, and taps his wand against the book in his lap, sending it zooming up to "his" room, the one he'd selected when they'd first arrived and then promptly abandoned in favor of sleeping pressed tightly up against Harry every night.

Like his belly, Draco prefers to keep the book well away from Harry's curious eyes.

*

Life with Draco is both orderly and unpredictable, a mixture of comforting routine and nearly shocking unexpectedness.

There's a rhythm to their days in the Van Boer house, an easy pattern that reminds Harry of the happiest days at Hogwarts, before things had got really bad, back when he could count on the simple predictability of classes and spellwork and Quidditch practice. Draco checks the wards in the mornings, explaining things as Harry tags along. It's a long process, dismantling this sort of magic, and Draco is surprisingly patient as he explains how his own spells will slowly dismantle the Van Boer wards, like a slow-moving poison that quietly seeps into the Dark spells over weeks and months, until they can be safely removed altogether.

"At least, that's the hope," Draco had admitted rather cheerfully at one point. "Some of the Malfoy wards still won't budge. I'm half-convinced that the only reason the Ministry didn't try to seize it after the war is because they knew the spellwork was impossible to remove." His smile had slipped then, just slightly, and he'd added, "they could have torched the whole pile; the ground itself would still be cursed."

As he'd spoken, Harry had realized that was probably why Draco didn't ever flinch when he walked into the oozing darkness of the Van Boer house. Hell, it probably felt like coming home.

Their afternoons are lazy, but mostly as predictable as their morning routines. There are long hours spent reading—Draco studying some tome or another, Harry flipping through novels or magazines or old Van Boer paperwork—or they go and explore the city, huddled into thick scarves and warming charms. It is these afternoons that Harry likes best, walking through the charming old city and pretending, for a moment, that he and Draco are more than whatever they are to each other. Pretending that this might be real.

Sometimes, the sun filters through a cloud just so and Draco's hair gleams silver-white, and all Harry can do is stare at him. All he can see is how Draco's pale skin looks nearly translucent in the harsh winter light, blue veins visible under his skin like a roadmap, or how Draco's knuckles protrude, knobby and chapped, when he grips the railing and leans out over the canal just for the pleasure of it. And in those moments that rise up unexpectedly, jagged and sharp as cut glass, Harry thinks that he would give nearly anything for the chance to stay in Amsterdam forever.

*

A week before Christmas, Draco drags harry into a wizarding shop and insists that they purchase the largest, most ostentatious Christmas tree on display, along with several enormous boxes of blown glass bulbs, garlands, and—to Harry's definite surprise—a tiny, ornately crafted nativity scene whose figures are charmed to move.

"I didn't know you were religious—but does anyone really need a magical nativity scene?" Harry wrinkles his nose. "My god, it's not charmed to make us watch Mary deliver that kid over and over, is it?"

"Don't be crass, Potter," Draco snaps cheerfully. He points to the box. "They just admire the baby and the animals move. We had one like it when I was a child and I loved it."

"Ah." Harry considers for a moment, trying and failing to imagine the Malfoys adhering to the Church of England. He opens his mouth to inquire further, but Draco beats him to the punch.

"Jesus was really just a wizard, you know," he says absently, stacking up his pile of purchase and neatly shrinking them to a manageable size.

That's more like it. "As was Copernicus, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, and Cleopatra, according to you," Harry snorts, and Draco shrugs regally, muttering about water into wine. Still, there's something curiously gentle in his handling of the box with the nativity figures inside, and Harry quietly adds it to the list of things about Draco that he didn't expect to be true.

He has to add yet another item to the same list later than evening when they're decorating their obscenely large tree. The twins, apparently interested in the goings-on, drift eerily out of the parlor wall and crawl-float over to the tree, settling on the floor beneath it. Harry watches, his heart giving a strange sort of clench, as Draco aims his wand at the tree's lowest branches and charms a set of fairy lights to twinkle out right in front of the babies. One-Eye, especially, appears pleased.

"That was nice," Harry murmurs.

"I've no idea what you're talking about," Draco says, surreptitiously flicking his wand again and making the fairy lights near One-Eye flash green and red in time with the carols playing over the wireless.

"Course not."

*

It snows on Christmas morning, and they end up in the street, tossing snowballs at one another until their warming charms fail and their fingers grow stiff with the cold. On their way back inside, Draco delivers a final blow, dropping a handful of snow down the back of Harry's robes with a satisfied smile, competitive to the end. It's far more endearing than it should be.

That afternoon, stuffed on the very passable turkey that Gruber had presented them with, they curl up together on the sofa. Harry suggests a bottle of wine, but Draco dismisses the idea with an airy wave of his skinny wrist. "It's Christmas, Potter. I want cocoa."

It's an imperious command; Harry suspects it would have made his teeth grind six months ago. Now, however, it seems more charming than demanding, and Harry acquiesces to it like he does most of Draco's suggestions.

Later, when he tugs Draco into his lap and kisses him, he tastes rich Belgian cocoa and the sweet spice of gingerbread, so achingly domestic that Harry nearly chokes on it, on an unexpected wave of longing that has nothing to do with fucking and everything to do with larger, messier, infinitely more embarrassing desires.

Love. You're messing around and falling in love with him.

He can't think about it right now. "Let's go to bed." He stands up abruptly, so that Draco's forced to either cling to him—his arms around Harry's shoulders, his legs around Harry's waist—or topple gracelessly to the floor.

"You fucking caveman," Draco drawls, his bony fingers sharp little talons in Harry's shoulders.

"Are you complaining?" They're already on the staircase, and the lamps along the wall flare to life as soon as they ascend.

"Did you light those lamps or did the house?" Draco asks, ignoring Harry's question.

"I did."

Draco rolls his eyes, but his legs lock a little tighter around Harry's waist. "You fucking showoff. You're intolerable."

"Mmm."

When they get upstairs, Draco lets Harry run his hands all over him, lets him take his time and touch him everywhere, even lets Harry drop kisses down his chest, over that intoxicating little curve of his no-longer-flat tummy that Harry can't decide why he likes so much. It's nothing, really, just the absence of a six pack, the plane of his tummy no longer flat, but it looks so fucking domestic, soft in a way that Draco Malfoy has never, ever allowed himself to look, and Harry loves it in ways that he can't really define—and it drives him crazy, makes him want to protect and fuck and overpower, like some biological imperative that defies understanding.

It's frightening, how much Harry likes it, how animalistic and right it feels when he finally buries his cock inside Draco and fucks him in long, hard thrusts that make them both groan. Harry nearly screams when he orgasms, pressing his cock as far inside as he can, wanting Draco full of his come, dripping with it, filthy and filled, and Draco does scream, a long wailing keen as he comes without so much as a hand on his own cock.

Around them, the house seems to settle on its foundations.

*

January

It's New Year's Day when Harry finds out that Draco's pregnant. Maybe.

He doesn't even know what possesses him to walk into Draco's bedroom—the room that Draco never uses except as a convenient place to stack up whatever books he's currently poring over, whatever neat pile of scrolls and parchment he's been carefully scribbling away on. It's an office, really.

Harry doesn't plan to go into Draco's room. He just…finds himself there, ignoring the hissing of a dozen carved snakes writhing on the heavy furniture. It's strange, being in Draco's space without Draco, almost like trespassing, although he'd had no such motive when he'd walked through the slightly open door. He hadn't had a motive at all.

It smells a little like Draco, like expensive cologne and old, equally expensive parchment, and Harry doesn't so much tell his feet to walk across the room to Draco's desk as they just move of their own accord. There's a text propped open, two scrolls unwound and carefully spelled open next to it, and when Harry peers down he can see Draco's spidery old-man script littering the margins.

He skims over the words, his eyes catching first on things like pregnancy and male lover, then hooking fast and painful on the phrase Sin's Wages. The word precedence is inked into the margin beside the first paragraph in Draco's shaky hand, and it's been underlined twice. He's written Harry's magic? along the bottom.

The scrolls are both piecemeal collections, magical copies of various other texts that Draco has arranged onto the parchment via sticking charms. There are two snippets about pure-blood magic and its shifting nature, what Draco had explained to Harry as viral behavior. Draco has written the words curse?? beside the copies.

With the brutal clarity of a lightning strike, images flare to life in Harry's mind, a series of sudden flashes that come to him unbidden and sharp as blades. Draco, stretched beneath him on one of those warm, lazy afternoons in early fall, when this had all been new and Harry had been inside him more than out. Draco, head hung over the toilet and a string of sickly spittle still trailing from the corner of his mouth, the bags under his eyes a vicious shade of purple. Draco, curled protectively over the little rise of his belly.

It should seem utterly stupid—and it does, really, it does seem fucking stupid—but mostly all Harry can think is he's pregnant, pregnant, I got Draco pregnant.

The laughter that bubbles up from his throat is completely inappropriate. There's nothing—nothing—about this that's funny. And yet Harry can't swallow down his choking, desperate laughter. I knocked up Draco Malfoy. Ron's never gonna believe this.

He sits down abruptly, his knees seeming to give way right around the same moment that his eyes lock on the rickety old chair in front of the desk, and he tries to pull his shit together, sitting there and staring at the evidence spread out before him.

It hits him, after a minute or two, that Draco has been hiding this from him. The coyness about his swollen little belly, the way he'd smack Harry's hands away from it, keep his shirt on lately when they fucked. The subterfuge annoys him—it hurts his feelings, probably, although Harry is in no mood for such introspection—but it also frightens him. Draco wouldn't have left these documents out like this, would he? Neat, fastidious, secretive Draco?

The house. It's the house. The house left them out so I could find it.

He doesn't know what spurs the thought, but once it occurs to him, he can't unthink it. And once he's thought about the house, he can't not draw the obvious conclusion: if Draco is pregnant (and god, what a ridiculous thing to even think), it's a curse. It's a disaster.

It's a death sentence—for the baby, at least and maybe for Draco, too.

*

"When were you going to tell me?" Harry can hear how he sounds—accusatory, angry. Like a spurned lover instead of a concerned..whatever they are.

Draco reverts back to type with alarming ease. "What the fuck are you on about?" His accent magnifies, the dangerous spike of each consonant a dagger between his lips.

"You know—you know exactly what I'm talking about. I was just in your room, saw your little research project. The curse." Harry can't quite bring himself to make a full accusation. You're pregnant. It's too asinine to speak it into existence.

"The fuck were you doing going through my things?" It's an obfuscation tactic, just a distraction, and they both know it.

"Sin's Wages, Draco. What the fuck is going on?"

Harry thinks that if he didn't know Draco as well as he does, he wouldn't even notice the way the blood drains away from his pale face, leaving him colorless as death. But he does know Draco—now, he does. And he knows the way his cheeks usually carry the slightest hint of a flush, the way his lips are a warm pink, the way a couple of tiny freckles dot his nose in sunshine.

He knows how scared Draco is right now.

"You think you're pregnant," he says, because suddenly it doesn't matter that it sounds ridiculous. He just wants it out in the open.

Draco raises his hand and pinches the bridge of his nose, a tired gesture that seems decades too old for him. "It's fucking ridiculous."

"But is it true?"

Draco opens one eye and peers up at Harry, who realizes belatedly that he's still standing, looming over Draco like this is an interrogation. He plops stupidly down beside him on the couch, not breaking eye contact.

Draco shrugs, gradually opening the other eye. "Cast the spell and see."

"What spell?"

"Gravidus Revelare." Draco frowns lightly, an expression Harry recognizes as one that indicates Draco thinking he's massively ignorant, and possibly a wanker. He sees the expression a lot, so it's easy to recognize.

"How would I know a spell to reveal a pregnancy?" Harry rolls his eyes. "I don't mean to be a smartass, but you're the first person who's accused me of, er, knocking them up."

Draco's frown eases into something closer to incredulity. "But you have friends, yes? What the fuck did you Gryffindors do at school? My god, half the girls in Slytherin House were casting these on a monthly basis there for awhile, just to double check." His dimple pops briefly into existence, and Harry's stupid heart lurches. "Then again, Nott was notoriously bad at contraception charms, and he was a terrible slut. It's probably only dumb luck he didn't have half a dozen brats running around by our seventh year."

Harry considers this, and Draco grins at him. "Gryffindors too uptight for all that, I suppose?"

Harry shrugs, then smiles a little. "I can't imagine Hermione letting Ron be the one who cast the contraception charms in the first place." The smile fades when he glances down at Draco's belly, though, the slightest little curve visible under his jumper. "I—ah. I guess I should have been casting them for us. Jesus."

Draco doesn't say anything, just picks up his wand and twirls it between his fingers for a moment before pointing it directly at his own midsection. "Gravidus Revalare," he murmurs, and a soft yellow light emerges from the tip of his wand to hover gently over his belly.

Harry stares, then looks up. "So that means…"

Draco nods. "That means."

"It can't be," Harry says, without much conviction. "Sin's Wages was a potion." It's a weak argument, one he doesn't even really mean. It just feels like he should raise the issue. He's not stupid; he's already figured out Draco's hypothesis. The Van Boer Curse—the dark magic with its nearly endless capabilities for transference—had simply mutated, like a virus. Without a pair of breeding Van Boer heirs in the house, it had simply latched onto the next best thing—which, in this case, had been Harry and Draco.

"The curse shifted." Draco shrugs. "And here we are."

For the second time, Harry bursts into inappropriate laughter. "Jesus weeping Christ. You're pregnant. Holy shit, Draco—I'm so"—he stops, gasping for breath and laughing some more—"I'm so fucking sorry."

Draco scowls, although he doesn’t look particularly put out. It's a perfunctory sort of scowl, the kind he can produce at will. A gift of Malfoy genetics, probably. "Save it, Potter. You've been ruining my life since I met you. I don't know why I imagined grabbing my ankles for you would be any fucking different."

Harry coughs out a few last, gaspy giggles, and makes a real effort at composure. He should probably say something else, but nothing comes to mind, so he finally just reaches over and grabs Draco by the arm, tugging until he slumps limply against Harry's shoulder, letting Harry run a hand through his hair.

*

It feels, for a brief moment, like a relief for Harry to know Draco's secret. Sharing the weight of such a monumental clusterfuck is surprisingly comforting, and Draco can't quite believe how calmly Potter's taking the news. Except, of course, that his life has been a series of ridiculous impossibilities, so Draco supposes that maybe this is just one more in a long line of them.

The relief doesn't last long, though. "We need to find a healer," Harry says the next morning, and they're promptly at odds.

"You must be joking."

Harry's brow furrows, and he sets his tea cup down. "You don't think this is a situation that requires medical attention?"

Draco takes a breath, trying to decide how to approach this. "Potter, think about it. How quickly would this get out? Can you even imagine the headlines? I'd be ruined—"

"You're worried about what people will say?" Harry bristles, fluffing up with what Draco immediately recognizes as righteous indignation.

"Of course I fucking am. You have no idea how hard I've had to work to pull my name even slightly out of the mud. Can you imagine what this would do?"

"You're ashamed?"

"Oh, for Merlin's fucking sake—are you making this about you?" Draco scowls, remembering viscerally why he'd hated Potter for so many years. "I'm not ashamed of you, you utter twat. Not that getting knocked up with Gryffindor spawn was high on my list of life goals, but no, that's not it. You—Christ, you're so thick, Potter. Do you know what people would say if this came out? No one would believe this was an accident. No one would believe it for a second. They'd think I Imperiused you into bed with me and tricked you into—into this."

Harry winces, and Draco plows ahead. "Do you have any idea how hard I've had to work, just to drag myself out of the gutter after the war? The last thing I need is the wizarding world thinking I've trapped you into giving me an heir—and that's what they'd say, isn't it? Pathetic queer ex-Death Eater trapping you with a baby." It sounds ugly, even to Draco's own ears, but it's true—it's exactly what the public would say. He can imagine the Prophet headlines now.

He expects Harry to deny it, to say something about how of course people wouldn't think any such thing, blah blah, something stupidly naïve about people's basic decency, blah blah. Instead, Harry just stares at him for a moment, his eyes unreadable. "You think—you think we're going to have a baby?"

This time it's Draco's turn for incredulity. "Potter, have you not been fucking listening?"

Harry waves a dismissive hand, cutting Draco off before he can work into a good rant. "Yes, I know you're—you're pregnant." He says the word in a whisper, like it's a particularly juicy swear and he's a scandalized first year. "But you can't have this baby. You know that, right?"

Draco can feel his eyebrows lifting of their own volition, and Harry—that fucking prick—actually bursts out laughing, although there's precious little humor in it. "I mean, literally, Draco, you can't. How does it even—Christ, I can't believe I'm saying any of this, but how the fuck does it even come out? How?" He runs his hands through his hair and pulls it straight up, tugging it into wild snarls. "Sin's Wages—I read the article, Draco. It's a fucking death sentence. And even if it weren't, look around!" He gestures wildly around them, a flap of his hands that encompasses the parlor specifically, and the Van Boer house generally, and the seven generations of cursed bloodlines most particularly. "This doesn't have a happy fucking ending!"

There's a moment of silence, and Draco feels his hands drifting to his stomach, cradling it protectively in a gesture that he's powerless to control. It's an impulse he can't resist, a desire so overwhelming it's instinctual, like breathing.

Harry's eyes drift down to Draco's belly, and his expression flickers into pity. That soft sympathy on Harry's face burns like a knife, and Draco's emotions coalesce around the hot blade of it. He knows, on some level, that Harry's right, that everything he's said is a valid point, but in the face of Harry's pity, Draco can ignore everything but his own outrage. "Oh, fuck you, Potter," he spits. "So what, your suggestion is a healer and an abortive potion? That's the Savior's brave solution?"

Harry winces, and Draco can't tell if it's at being called by the name Draco knows he hates, or if it's the dull, thudding finality of the word 'abortion.' He doesn't much care, either.

"It's my solution that doesn’t end with you dead," Harry says softly, all the fight seeming to drain out of him. "I don't—I don't know why this happened. I can't believe it has happened, really. But I—I—" he falters, waving around at the house again in a flailing sort of gesture. "I don't want to end up another statistic in this fucking nightmare of a house."

"Too late," Draco says cruelly.

"So what—you don't want to see a healer? You just want to…what, wait? Wait and see what happens?" Harry snorts. "Everything else aside, we literally don't even know how to get it out of you." He pauses, looking bewilderingly down at their untouched breakfast spread across the table, and then abruptly cradles his head in his hands. "Christ, how did this happen?"

A million snappy retorts are on Draco's lips, each one crueler than the next, but he can't quite summon any of them into words.

"I don't fucking know," he finally mumbles, pushing up from the table and retreating to the stairs.

*

In the end, it's a compromise: Draco owls Pansy to come and examine him, as she's the only healer he trusts to do it quietly, and Harry sends a similar missive to Granger, requesting her to assist and offer her opinion in terms of the magical theory.

*

"What the fuck do you mean, you're knocked up?" Pansy demands when she appears on their doorstep a few days later, having arranged for a Portkey from Paris as soon as she'd received Draco's owl. She steps inside the foyer before Draco can even invite her inside, tugging her cloak off and thrusting it in Harry's direction, as if he might be a house elf instead of the Savior of the Wizarding World—whom she had once tried to sell out to the Dark Lord. She casts a quick, appraising glance around the house. "Circe's fucking cunt, this house is atrocious. I thought you were supposed to be breaking the curses, darling. Have you made any progress at all?"

Harry puffs up, looking affronted, and Draco breaks into a smile—the first genuine one that has graced his face in days. "A lot, actually, you shrill bitch."

Harry blanches, unused to Slytherin displays of affection, but Pansy rolls her eyes fondly, leaning forward and dropping twin air-kisses next to each of Draco's cheeks. It's an obnoxiously French affectation, and Draco loves her for it. "Well I can't imagine how vile it must have been if this is an improvement." She waves her hand around. "You can practically scoop up the dark residue with a spoon."

Without waiting for a reply, she steps around them, her high heels clacking on the floorboards as she makes her down the large entrance hall and into the first formal parlor. "What a nightmare," she says absently, taking in the horsehair chairs and the dusty Chesterfield, the eerily silent portraits and the humming artefacts that still litter the built-in shelves along one wall. "I don't know how you two have stood it. But apparently you decided to pass the time by fucking?"

God, Draco's happy to see her. She's one of his oldest friends, and he's loved her in all her guises. The simpering pure-blood witch she'd been at Hogwarts, playing the role she'd been coached into all of her life, hunting for the wealthiest husband she could snare. The fearful, desperate girl she'd been during the war when she'd watched all of that training turn out to be not only worthless, but actively and horrifically bad advice. The determined and unbroken woman she'd become after the war, when she'd gone to the continent and put herself through healer training in Vienna, far away from anyone who would remember the little girl she'd been. And now, the poised and powerful healer she's become, beholden to no one and scared of nothing.

It almost makes him wish he'd married her after all, back when she'd wanted that. It would have been a perfect match, his bone-deep queerness and her tendre for beautiful witches notwithstanding. They could have run off to Europe together and never looked back.

Except, of course, that Draco could never have left England, no matter how much he might have wanted to. He'd had to stay at Malfoy Manor just as much as she'd had to leave the Parkinson estate. Wiltshire was in his bones, a thousand years of dead Malfoys tying him to the place as securely as any spell or curse.

He looks up, realizing Pansy is watching him expectantly. She runs a hand through her short, sleek hair and frowns at him. "Well? Shall we go see just how up the duff Potter's gotten you?"

Harry clears his throat to speak for basically the first time since she's walked through the door, and Pansy turns an appraising eye on him. "Actually, can we wait just a moment?" He looks earnest and a little flustered. It's annoyingly charming. "Hermione should be here any moment. She's a medical researcher at the Ministry, so…"

He trails off, and Pansy fills the silence with a haughty sniff. "Wonderful, more Gryffindors. A surefire way to improve any situation." She turns to Draco and smiles toothily. "You didn't mention that I'd be getting an assistant. What a lark this is turning out to be, darling."

Yes, Draco definitely loves her.

*

Harry hadn't expected Hermione and Pansy to get along. In fact, he'd expected them to flare and spark at one another immediately, each squaring up and taking sides according to old loyalties.

Instead, it had taken less than fifteen minutes of slightly awkward tea drinking before the women had started exchanging sly, long-suffering glances, as if each of them were saying, yes, I know, this is the sort of shit he gets up to all the time, and I'm not surprised in the least. Yours is routinely this much trouble, too? Of course.

It had been almost alarming, how well the pair had worked together, casting sterilization spells on the unused bed in Draco's "bedroom," transfiguring a sheet into a hospital gown, and shooing Draco off into the bathroom to get changed.

"

So you deal primarily with theoretical research?" Pansy asks Hermione, as she opens a healer's bag with various tools and bottles arranged inside.

"In large part, yes," Hermione replies, tucking her wild curls into a neat poof on the top of her head and aiming a charm at it to keep it all in place. "I went through healer's training, but I was never really interested in a daily practice. The goal was always research, particularly looking at the overlap between magical and Muggle practices, and how we can incorporate both for better outcomes." She lifts her chin the slightest bit, like she thinks maybe Pansy won't value this approach. Many wizards don’t, Harry knows. He's surprised that Hermione seems to care whether Pansy appreciates her research, though.

To his surprise, Pansy nods, rolling up her sleeves and tugging on a pair of latex gloves like any other Muggle doctor. "England's terribly behind the times in that regard. Italian healers do at least a semester or two studying in Muggle medical universities." She tosses a pair of gloves to Hermione. "I learned a lot, going through that process—medicine was just the beginning."

It's not exactly an apology or even an acknowledgment, on Pansy's part, that she had been in the wrong in the past, but it's something. An olive branch of sorts, tucked neatly into the conversation without drawing undue attention to it. Hermione nods, smiling, and promptly begins asking questions. They're deep in conversation, ignoring Harry completely, when Draco appears from the loo, clad in the transfigured gown and looking harassed, holding the two sides firmly shut in front of him.

"Was the gown necessary, Pansy?" He scowls at her, making his way over to the bed and perching on the edge.

"Yes, darling. Don't be difficult. Just because we're not in hospital doesn’t mean I don't have the same requirements."

Draco had told Harry a little bit about Pansy's career—about how she's made a living as traveling healer, treating patients who either can't or won't seek treatment at major medical institutions. "Ex-Death Eaters, mostly," Draco had said matter-of-factly, as if it had been common knowledge that anyone who, rightly or wrongly, had been perceived to be a Voldemort supporter wouldn't receive fair treatment—or treatment at all—at an institution like St. Mungo's. Harry had been shocked; Draco had been annoyed at Harry's naiveté.

"You don't go to St. Mungo's?" Harry had asked, thinking it was a nosy question but unable to resist knowing the answer. Was Draco afraid of being treated badly because of his name?

"Why would I, when my best friend is a healer?" Draco had replied, an answer that wasn't quite an answer.

Now, watching Pansy examine Draco, it's obvious that she's a good healer, whether he sees her out of loyalty or necessity or both. She runs through a series of diagnostic spells, standard medical procedure, then eases him back into a prone position on the bed, parting his gown with gentle efficiency.

"Well, let's see what you've done to him, Potter," she says briskly. If she or Hermione are surprised at the sight of the little curve of Draco's belly, undeniable now even though he's lying flat on his back, neither of them visibly react at all.

"I didn't mean to," Harry begins, trailing off as he realizes how ridiculous it probably sounds.

The spell Pansy casts is more complicated than the one Draco had cast to show Harry that he was pregnant, but the wandwork looks similar. The incantation is much longer, though, and the end result isn't just a warm yellow light but an image that floats into hazy clarity over Draco's belly. There's a somewhat lumpy oval, and within it is the clear outline of a baby.

A baby. Harry takes a step back, sitting down hard on the desk behind him. There's no denying it, looking at the little gray outline of what is clearly a fetus. He can see the baby's profile. A hand.

It had been, up until this point, something of an abstraction. Living in a cursed house, ex-arch-enemy-current-lover suffering from magical and seemingly impossible pregnancy symptoms and growing increasingly protective of his little pot belly? It was weird, sure. Disconcerting, absolutely. But up until this moment, it hadn't been quite something Harry could grasp as reality.

"Oh," he breathes out stupidly, and Pansy and Hermione both look over at him as if he's a class-A moron.

"Yes, oh," Pansy says, waving her wand a little and rotating the image. A pair of feet swim into view.

Harry drags his eyes away from the floating image and looks at Draco. He's not sure what he's expecting to see—fright, maybe, or disbelief. Shock. A low-level horror at his own body having deceived him in this way, harboring a fugitive in organs that shouldn't exist. That's how Harry thinks he might feel, were the situations reversed. What he actually sees on Draco's face is much, much worse.

He looks awed, his harsh features gentled in a way that Harry has never really seen before. He's seen Draco smile, certainly, seen the corners of his eyes crinkle softly and his cruel thin lips ease with kindness or laughter. He's seen, nearly from the moment he arrived in Amsterdam, the dimple appear in Draco's cheek with charming regularity. He's even seen Draco's head thrown back in moments of pleasure, undone by lust and rendered incapable of subterfuge. But he's never seen this kind of soul-deep awe and love writ across his pale, haughty face before.

It's a transformative expression, one that takes Draco's slightly cold beauty and elevates it, Harry thinks, into something ethereal and almost otherworldly, as if Draco has been lit from the inside out.

He looks beatific, the way martyrs are depicted in Renaissance paintings in the moments before they sacrifice themselves to a cause much greater than themselves.

It's beautiful, but it's also fucking terrifying.

Pansy and Hermione are both still wearing their professional faces, expressions carefully neutral. Pansy lets the spell fall, and the image slowly dissolves.

The room is silent for a moment, and then Hermione clears her throat. "Perhaps Parkinson and I could step out and look at some of the diagnostics," she says, her eyes not quite meeting Harry's. "And you two could meet us downstairs when you're ready."

*

The conversation that ensues when Harry and Draco make their way down to the parlor is not a promising one.

"We can start the abortificant potion as early as this evening," Pansy informs them both, wrapping her professional healer's tones around them all like a cloak. "Normally in these cases the least invasive option is a potion that causes spontaneous miscarriage, but in this case, we don't know exactly how that would work physiologically. A better choice is a potion that dissolves the entire contents of the womb and eradicates them magically."

"The assumption is that the womb will dissolve as well," Hermione chimes in, "but since it's never been tested before, we can keep monitoring spells on you for a full 48 hours. The Dark nature of the curse is also a factor, and I would advise putting you under a light stasis and several protective spells, as well. "

Pansy nods, looking not the least perturbed to have Hermione participating in the conversation. "Probably just a precaution, but—" she cuts off, frowning, as if she's casting about for a better solution and is unable to find one. "But we don't actually know how much influence the house is having on any of this, once conception occurred. And we don't know how much influence it's continuing to have over your body and your magic. I'm not inclined to remove you from the house for the procedure, in case the Van Boer magic is stabilizing your body and the magical womb, but—some precautionary protection spells wouldn't go amiss."

Harry swallows, his tongue feeling too big for his mouth. He'd never really imagined this pregnancy was possible; even when he'd known Pansy and Hermione were coming, some part of him hadn't been able to believe this was happening. And even in the moments when he'd accepted that the pregnancy might be real, he'd assumed it would be a matter of a quick potion, maybe some wand-waving, to undo the damage.

"So just a few days, and then it's all taken care of?" Harry asks, looking to the women and seeking reassurance.

"No," Draco says before either of them can speak. "I'm not taking the potion."

Hermione's eyes widen, but Pansy's narrow. "You must certainly fucking are, Draco. I read up on the Van Boer curse before I got here. I don't know the ins and outs of how the curse was transferred to you, but we know how it works. At best, we would end up cutting you open like some Muggle butcher—sorry, Granger, I've read the literature on C-section deliveries, and doing that without magic gives me the goddamn shakes just thinking about it—and pull some doomed baby out, cursed to die slow after months of suffering. Worst case scenario, you bleed out on the table as we try to figure out how to get the damn thing out of you." She leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and stares right at Draco, ignoring Harry completely. "It's not viable. You cannot do it, darling."

"But I am." Draco's hands are curled around the little globe of his belly again, and Harry's own stomach drops a little at the sight of it. There's something ominous about the gesture, some latent mania that Harry typically associates with martyrs and saints and madness—and, perhaps, with the maternal. He thinks nauseatingly of his own mother, of how he's lived from age eleven onward with the knowledge that she had died for him. He'd always accepted it as a fact of life, if not exactly his due then just the way of the world. The sun rises in the east, the sky is blue, and mothers sacrifice themselves for their babies. It had always seemed pure, some essential and incontrovertible rightness about a particular kind of love. Now, seeing Draco's hands gripped around his middle, his eyes wide and stormy with conviction, Harry has to reconsider everything he's ever held to be true about maternal sacrifice. Now, seeing such martyrdom across Draco's face, it looks less like beauty and more like horror.

Less love than suicide.

"Draco—" he says, but Draco cuts him off with a shake of his head.

"Don't, Harry. Don't you fucking say a word. This is not your choice."

Harry opens his mouth, a million counter-arguments springing to his lips. It is his choice, it's his baby, isn't it? He's the one who put it there, he's the one who buried himself deep in Draco's body and poured some essential part of himself there. Hell, if Pansy and Hermione are right, it's his magic that even made it possible, his own fucking stupid magic that seems to come at such a deadly price. Survive Voldemort, but your mother dies. Transcend biology to make a baby, but kill the man you love.

He wants to scream all of that and more, rail about the unfairness of it, how he has never asked for any of this, but Draco's jaw is clenched tight, his gaze hard on Harry, and Harry finally closes his mouth. Draco is wrong. Wrong for wanting to try to do this, for ignoring the realities, for letting the house bewitch him this way—and it is the fucking house, the house wants Draco to have this baby, Harry knows it is on some gut-level instinct that he can't explain—but none of that matters much when it's stacked up against the fact that Draco is right about one thing: it's his body. Ultimately, that's all that matters.

Harry thinks about the things Draco has told him—brief, mostly inconsequential—about his time spent under Voldemort, and the creeping horror of shuffling forward on his knees to receive his Mark. Harry knows without being explicitly told that Draco's Marking had been, on some level, the ultimate bodily violation. Draco had tried to be flip about it, recounting a bit of the story in bed once, in that strange time of day which is either very late at night or very early in the morning. But he hadn't been able to prevent his body from shuddering as he'd whispered the story to Harry in the darkness, a physical reaction too strong to deny even now, years after the fact.

There is nothing Harry wants more than to force that potion down Draco's throat. Nothing. But he won't do it. He loves him too much to do it.

*

Pansy and Hermione stay for two more days, each mounting their own campaigns to convince Draco to take the potion. Harry finds himself in the awkward position of being Draco's defender, protecting him from both of them even though Harry desperately agrees with them.

"I'll be back in two weeks," Pansy says as she and Hermione say their goodbyes, preparing to Apparate to the Portkey Authority together. It had been Pansy's idea that she and Hermione share a Portkey as far as London, blithely mentioned over dinner the night before. Draco had raised his eyebrows at the suggestion, a funny look crossing his face, but Harry hadn't had much of a chance to analyze it because he'd been so taken aback by Hermione's oddly bashful smile as she agreed to the suggestion.

"I think I can get away then, too," Hermione says now, a little flush crossing her cheeks. She quickly throws her arms around Harry's shoulders, smothering him in a mass of her hair. "Talk him out of it," she whispers. "If you love him, talk him out of it."

Harry pulls back abruptly, preparing some sort of defense, but Hermione shakes her head, cutting him off before he can start. "Shh, Harry. You heard me."

Pansy and Draco don't hug. Pansy holds him at arm's length, eyeing him critically for a second. "You dumb shit," she mumbles, almost too low for Harry to hear it.

"Fuck you too," Draco says without missing a beat, and Pansy rolls her eyes, leaning in and dropping air kisses on either side of his face again, just as she had when she'd arrived.

When they've Apparated away, the house seems emptier than it should, and Harry finds himself oddly pleased to feel something cool against his leg and look down to discover One Eye, the more adventurous of the ghost twins, crawling eerily around his feet.

*

Draco starts to look pregnant—really, visibly pregnant—almost overnight. That's not possible, Harry doesn't think, but somehow, after having seen such tangible proof of the child inside him at the end of Pansy's wand, Harry can't stop noticing oh, look, Draco's pregnant now. His jumpers aren't particularly tight, but the curve of his belly is still visible, a little suggestion of extra weight under soft cashmere or finely woven wool, a curve where before there had been nothing but straight lines. Harry had, he realizes, been ignoring it up until now.

"You're pregnant," he says stupidly one morning, when they're sprawled together in bed and Draco's bump is pressed against Harry's hip.

"Keen eye," Draco says. "No wonder Kingsley gives you all the best assignments."

Harry frowns. "I just—it seems more real now, is all."

Draco flops onto his back and runs his palm over the curve of his stomach, something Harry's noticed him doing more and more. "It's a boy," he says. "I made Pansy owl me and tell me."

Harry is silent for a long minute, unsure of how to respond to the news that the baby that he will lose—and will perhaps kill Draco—is a son.

"Albus is a very nice name for a boy," he finally says, finding Draco's hand and squeezing.

"Over my dead body," Draco retorts pleasantly, resting their entwined fingers on the rise of his belly.

Harry's heart does a funny clench inside his chest, like a sponge wrung so tightly that the hurt drips out like water, and he closes his eyes against the darkness. Please, not that. Don't let it come to that.

*

February

Amsterdam is blanketed in a deep snow during the first week of February, and all of the canals freeze. There's a special sort of silence that seems to come with it, the regular sounds of traffic and commerce muffled under a deep layer of coldness. It's something Draco has always liked, that deep and isolating quality to a winter storm. It's something he associates with Hogwarts, with the warmth of the Manor when he was a child and the elves would blanket his room in warming charms to keep the drafty cold out.

The deep quietness of the storm is probably one of the reasons that it's so noticeable when the wards fall. It's late, well past midnight, when it happens, and it's not exactly a sound. It's more like the feeling of a stack of china being shattered onto the floor. All of that cacophonous crashing translated into a sharp, splintery feeling that reverberates through the entire Van Boer house.

Draco, who has made a career out of bringing down these types of wards, wakes with a start but recognizes the feeling immediately. Harry, on the other hand, does not.

They'd been sleeping wrapped together, Harry's shaggy head tucked against Draco's chest, but the moment the wards fall, Harry disentangles himself from Draco's arms with an uncanny quickness. He's on his feet instantly, and his magic hits the bedroom door like a battering ram, the magic heavy and visible in the darkness, sparking with the force of Harry's wandless, wordless spell. It seals them in the bedroom instantly, and Harry positions himself between Draco and the doorway, lean and beautiful in his pants and nothing else, legs spread wide in a dueling stance, no wand in sight.

"Relax," Draco says softly, scooting up into a sit and leaning back against the headboard. It's still surprising, when he moves and is forcibly reminded of his growing belly. It seems to have swollen overnight, not just a little curve now but a full-blown bump, just big enough to throw off his balance and make every movement feel a bit off-kilter. "Some of the wards fell, that's all."

Harry turns back to look at him. His face is mostly in shadow, but the line of his shoulders, the tautness of his belly, look like concern. Draco hates himself a little for how much he revels in it.

"The wards," he repeats. "I told you some of them were weakening, the counter spells were working. That's the way it feels when some of them start to come down. Probably the ones in the parlor." He grabs for his wand on the beside table and casts a Lumos, smiling. "Told you they were ready to fall."

A little of the tension bleeds from Harry's stance, and the waves of magic pulsing from him lessen somewhat, but he doesn't bring down the magicked barrier at the door. "So what does that mean, exactly?"

Draco slides his feet over the edge of the bed. "It means the Van Boer spells are weakening. Once the first wards start to fall, things move much faster. Come on, we can go down and look. Tomorrow I'll put up a new set of counter spells, and this one should work more quickly – weeks instead of months. It's like unraveling a tapestry, sort of. Once you loosen the first thread, it starts to unwind faster."

As Draco gets to his feet, there's a rolling, shifting sensation in his abdomen, one he's never felt before, and he freezes, both hands falling to his stomach.

Harry's at his side instantly. "Draco?"

"The—the baby moved. Just now." It's an alien sensation in a very literal sense, feeling something moving inside himself. Foreign.

It's not unwelcome, for all that.

He glances up at Harry, who looks stricken in the wandlight. "What?"

Harry is silent, shaking his head once. "I don't—nothing."

"What?"

"The curse weakens at the same moment that the ba—that you feel it moving?" He shrugs, looking uneasy.

"I told you the first of the wards were ready to fall," Draco says, shrugging on his dressing gown and knotting the belt loosely over his abdomen. "What does it have to do with feeling him?"

Harry's silent for another long minute, and when Draco looks up he's tugging his hands nervously through his hair, still wearing nothing but his pants. "The curse and the—the pregnancy?" Saying the word, saying much of anything related to the baby, still makes Harry stutter sometimes. It never fails to make Draco feel mean. "They have everything to do with each other."

"Go back to bed," Draco says, sharper than he intends. Harry doesn't, though, following Draco down the stairs and watching as he casts over the diminished parlor wards, never more than a few steps behind him.

*

"Have you told your mother?" Pansy eyes Draco with a slight frown, taking advantage of the relative strength and weakness of their positions as Draco lies on the makeshift exam bed yet and Pansy leans over him, hands on his distended belly. She—and often Granger, who's currently taking tea with Harry after grudgingly agreeing that Draco didn’t always require a full audience for an exam—have settled into a routine, visiting every other week. While they're here, Pansy examines Draco, yells at him about being stupid, and tries with no degree of subtlety to get him to take an abortive potion.

This track—asking about his mother—is new. "No," Draco says shortly.

Pansy waves her wand and a tape measure whips around over Draco's belly, measuring the length of it from his pubic bone up to around his belly button. "20 centimeters, right where you'd expect it to be," she informs him, as if such a number means anything to him at all. "And you should—tell your mother. She deserves to know."

Pansy waves her wand a few more times, doing Merlin-knows-what. "She'll just worry," Draco says finally.

"Yes, I imagine she will. We all fucking worry, Draco. Please, join the goddamned party." Pansy scowls at him, returning her wand to her pocket.

"She'll want to come visit, and she can't leave England. It'll just upset her."

Pansy spells his hospital gown—accursed fucking thing that it is, and Draco has no idea why Pansy can't just do these godawful exams while Draco's wearing regular clothing, the utter cow—closed over his abdomen and offers her hand to him, tugging him into a sitting position even though he's been very clear about the fact that he doesn't need the help. He's not that goddamned big.

"She deserves to know, Draco." Her expression is serious, something too stoic for sadness crossing her face. Draco knows what it means, can read all the unspoken things in her eyes as clearly as if she'd announced them with a Sonorus: You're going to die in a few months, probably, and she deserves to know so that she can prepare for it. She's lost so much in the last five years, and she deserves to know that another blow is coming. It's the least you can do, you selfish fucking twat.

Draco slides to the edge of the bed and stands, eager to end the conversation and get dressed.

"What the fuck do you even tell her, when you write to her? Oh, just hanging out in Amsterdam, absolutely nothing remarkable going on, definitely not pregnant with a cursed child?" Pansy's expression has grown mulish, and Draco silently waves goodbye the possibility of a quick escape from the conversation.

"I tell her about the house, and you fucking barging in all the time, and the goddamned weather, all the usual shit that goes into a very appropriate Owl to your mother," Draco snaps. "What, you'd have me tell her, Oh, by the way, I've been arse-up for Potter for months and he's knocked me up. Please tell Father to add this to my long list of monumental failures."

"Fuck your father."

"I'm going to get dressed."

"Tell her, Draco." Pansy pauses. "I bet Harry could get permission for her to come to Amsterdam to see you."

"Because there's nothing I love more than Potter being an exception to the rule."

Pansy glances down at his midsection. "You seem awfully attached to the most recent example of Potter's exceptionalism."

"Maybe this is my exceptionalism," Draco says, although he doesn't believe it. His being a pure-blood, a powerful Dark wizard in his own right, may have played a role in the way the curse manifested, but he knows, without question, that it's Harry's unprecedented magical power that made the difference. He can even feel it, sometimes, when he concentrates on the thrum of magic around his belly. The weird sense of otherness inside him. It feels, on some level, like Potter. Not that he's told anyone that—not even Harry himself.

Pansy just raises her eyebrows. Draco thinks she might be getting ready to speak, but then Harry bellows up the stairs that they should hurry up and come down, shouldn't they, before Hermione gets the itch to come up and start taking notes.

"Fuck, anything but Granger and her goddamn journal," Draco mutters. Pansy smiles just a little, uncharacteristic and telling. "Have you fucked her yet, by the way?" Draco demands, happy to have a chance to change the subject. "It's obvious you're panting after her, insufferable swot that she is."

Pansy flicks two fingers at him and whirls away toward the door. "Don't be crass. And you're one to talk, knocked up with Gryffindor spawn."

Draco shrugs, although Pansy can't see him. "Is she even queer? Granger, I mean? Will you be the first witch to go bravely where only Weaselby has dared to tread?"

"Fuck off." A pause. "And I don't fucking know."

*

When a letter from Narcissa arrives just a few days after Pansy and Hermione's visit, it's immediately apparent what has happened. "That utter bitch went to see Mother," Draco says, waving the letter in Harry's direction. The movement wafts his mother's perfume into his nostrils, expensive and French. It stirs up a twinge of homesickness and he scowls, feeling suddenly a bit overwrought.

Harry raises his eyebrows and waits, everything about his expression indicating that he's choosing to tread lightly. Draco frowns harder. It's clear that Harry also thinks he's overemotional, like being pregnant—with a magical Dark curse baby, his brain helpfully adds, as if he could ever forget—means that he's made of fucking glass, ready to shatter at any moment.

The most annoying thing is that Draco does sort of feel that way. Which makes him furious. He picks up the last croissant on the breakfast platter and takes a vicious bite, as if it's purposely offended him. And it has, a little—god, he's eaten a full half dozen of them this morning, and it barely feels like he's eaten anything at all. He'd thought getting past the nausea was the most pressing concern of being pregnant, but now he's wondering if the real worry should be how fucking fat he'll be by the time it's over.

"Pansy," Draco finally says, forcing his voice into something approaching evenness. "She was harping on me to tell Mother about the baby, and I said I wasn't going to." He waves the letter in Harry's direction again. "And now I get a letter from Mother saying that she 'must insist' that I firecall as soon as possible, so that we can 'catch up appropriately.'"

"Maybe she just misses you," Harry says, his face going slightly wistful, the way it always does when the conversation turns to parents, particularly mothers. Sometimes Draco wonders if half the appeal of Harry Potter is that intrinsic whiff of the orphan that clings to him, that little hint of vulnerability that he wears like a cloak. It's a sharp contrast to his raw power, that enticing suggestion of yearning that he doesn’t seem to bother to hide.

"It's not—that's not Mother's style," Draco says shortly. What he means is that it's not a Malfoy style, period. Of course his mother misses him, and he her; that is a given. That doesn't mean that the formality of weekly correspondence is unacceptable. "Pansy stopped at the Manor and told her she should check on me." As he says it, he knows it's true. He can picture the scene perfectly: Pansy and his mother sharing pleasantries over tea, going through at least half an hour of polite conversation as his mother waits for Pansy to get to the point of her visit, as Pansy waits for the right moment to slip into the conversation a deft suggestion that Draco should be checked up on.

"She told you that?" Harry asks, pointing to the letter.

"No, of course not. But it's obvious that's what happened."

Harry sips his tea, blowing on it like the heathen that he is and then dunking another sugar cube into it. "Are you going to tell her?"

Draco smooths the stationary in his hand, tracing the embossed Malfoy crest on the top, running his fingers over the expensive vellum sheet. "I suppose I'll have to—a lie won't suffice, now that she's got the scent of something. I'll try to put her off as long as I can, but she's not easily distractable." That's a bit of an understatement. Narcissa Malfoy plays the part of the reserved pure-blood wife to perfection—as she was raised to do—but she's no pushover.

*

In the end, Draco's delaying tactics work for less than a week, and Friday evening finds him kneeling awkwardly in front of the parlor fireplace, pushing his head into the flames. He's nervous to begin with, and it doesn't help that he feels ungainly and awkward like this, the growing bump of his belly brushing lightly against his thighs as he leans forward. It's not uncomfortable, exactly, but it's hard to imagine that he still has four months to go before—before what? Before you have no idea how to give birth to this child? Before you sacrifice yourself to the curse, just another in a long line? He shakes his head, as if the movement can dislodge the concerns his brain keeps shouting at him. Most days, he can ignore it. Most days, he does a lovely job pretending his situation is normal. But the bigger he gets, the harder it is to ignore the realities of what's happening, of how ill-prepared he is to face what is coming.

He's saved from a spiral into the maudlin as his mother's private salon comes into view. Draco had always loved this room as a child, forever following Narcissa into her suite and dragging his toys out onto the carpet to play while she sat at her writing desk or read at her settee. On the very best days, when she wasn't entertaining any other guests, she would order tea to be served there, just for the two of them, at the sunny little table near the windows overlooking the gardens. She would ask him seriously about his day, about the new litter of kneazles in the barns or the latest episode of Wiz Kid, his favorite children's program on the wireless, and listen as carefully and thoughtfully as if he were an adult. He'd always thought his mother was beautiful—he suspects that most children do—but he'd always found her most lovely in this room, where she seemed to belong only to him.

The salon looks exactly as it has always looked, tastefully decorated in greys and blues, cool but somehow never cold. Narcissa is at her desk when she hears the floo chime, and she looks as elegant and regal as ever when she rises and moves to take a seat at one of the wingbacks near the hearth. "Hello, darling."

"Hello, Mother." He doesn't want to have this conversation, but he has to admit that it's nice to see her, even through the slight greenish haze of the flames. Her gown is immaculate and formal, but her hair is loose around her shoulders, and she looks younger than she is.

They exchange well-bred pleasantries, commenting on the weather (shit in both countries, as of late); the current state of the Wizengamot (both overreaching and ineffectual, an impressive combination of failings); and the latest gossip (Blaise Zabini's mother is marrying again, this time to a Muggleborn Greek shipping magnate only a few years older than Blaise himself).

"You heard that last bit from Pansy, I presume?"

"Yes, she joined me for tea earlier this week." As if Draco hadn't already known; as if Narcissa doesn't know that Draco already knows.

"Oh, how nice." Draco knows that this sort of veiled approach to communication frustrates Harry, that he views it as needless subterfuge. But for Draco it's comforting, a familiar dance across a well-worn ballroom.

The trouble, of course, is that there's no subtle way to inform his mother that he's pregnant. Not even a lifetime of training in the most elite echelon of the Sacred Twenty-Eight prepares a person to impart that kind of news.

"Mother, I should tell you why Pansy has been visiting Amsterdam so frequently," Draco finally says, framing the conversation as if Pansy, rather than himself, is the focus. "They haven't entirely been social calls."

"I would have been surprised if they were, given the annoyances of international Portkey travel," Narcissa says lightly, a subtle reminder that his mother is no fool.

Draco clears his throat, willing himself not to stammer like an imbecile. "I'm pregnant, you see, so obviously a Dutch healer wouldn't do. I needed her discretion."

There is a moment where Narcissa's hands tighten in her lap, and she inhales visibly, her décolletage rising sharply over the perfect tailoring of her gown. Draco waits.

"The Van Boer curse," she says, and the only indication of her shock is a slight flaring of her nostrils. "I had not imagined that you would be susceptible to it." She pauses briefly. "Although the connection with Mr. Potter is not entirely unexpected."

Draco spares a moment to be annoyed that his mother sees nothing surprising about his fucking Potter. It bloody well is unexpected. It is, goddamn it.

He tries to think of a response—some kind of an explanation for how this happened besides oops, spent my whole life getting fucked by Harry Potter, so what's one more turn at it? Anyway, everyone's begging me to terminate the pregnancy but for some reason I can't stand even the thought of it, so anyway, here I am, fucking up everything once again.

Narcissa, with the same grace under pressure that had rendered her capable of hosting Voldemort's inner circle without so much as a shudder during the darkest days of the war, sidesteps the necessity for any of those possible explanations. Instead, she moves directly to what she clearly sees as the most salient point, as if the question of how it happened or whether or not to accept it is moot. "Is Pansy the best choice, darling? I know you'll want her involved, of course, and she's a wonderful healer, but you'll require specialized care."

It's stunning, how close Draco comes to sobbing with relief at his mother's casual acceptance, the seamless way she'd transferred some of his fear and grief to her own narrow shoulders.

*

March

The Dursleys had never been much for church, beyond seeing and being seen for the high holidays: Christmas and Easter, mostly, and even then it had been less about any particular commitment to the faith and more about Petunia showing off a new Easter dress or delighting in shoving Dudley into an ill-fitting suit jacket and crowing over him. Given the lack of Christian charity motivating these occasional forays into the church, it's unsurprising that Harry was typically left at home to his own devices on these occasions. When he was very small, he'd been allowed to accompany them, and Petunia had pinched him, hard, if he'd so much as wiggled on the uncomfortable pew. There had also been one memorable year when Harry was perhaps eight, when Uncle Vernon had decided that he was too young to stay at home alone but old enough to be left in the car unsupervised. It had been a particularly raw night, snowy and sharp, and by the time the Dursleys had returned to their vehicle after the Christmas Eve services, Harry had curled himself into a ball on the backseat floorboards, shivering with cold.

For Harry, those had been his only experiences with organized religion, and he hadn't been particularly impressed. Instead, the closest he'd come to the divine was the feeling he got when he walked into the Great Hall on a feast day, when magic and warmth radiated over the tables, or when he stood at the owlery and looked out over the Hogwarts grounds late at night and felt both small and secure, perfectly at home in his tiny corner of the universe. Or when he was flying, which had been a religious experience from the first.

It surprises Harry the first time Draco wants to stop into a church on one of their walks through Amsterdam. It had become a routine with them, ambling down the streets through the bitter late-winter dampness most afternoons. One particularly nasty day, the wind bitter enough to cut through whatever warming charms they cast, they end up in front of the massive stone structure of Oude Kerk, the oldest church in the city. It's located incongruously in the middle of the red light district, its stately old façade sharing canal space with buildings housing window after window of prostitutes, dancing in the dim daylight glow of red neon tubing.

"Let's go inside," Draco says, and Harry agrees without hesitation, perfectly willing to step in out of the cold.

Draco smooths his perfectly tailored coat as they climb the stone steps, his gloved fingers adjusting his scarf just so in what Harry knows is an attempt to disguise his growing belly.

It's partially successful: the fall of his scarf and the lines of his overcoat do disguise the globe of his belly somewhat, making it look less like he's smuggling a crystal ball under his clothes and more like he's just chubby, grown thick through the middle but not so obviously pregnant. Not that anyone, either wizard or Muggle, would see him and assume he was pregnant. It's too unbelievable; they'd just marvel at how such a small-framed man could acquire such an insistent pot belly. Harry had pointed this out to Draco a few days prior, when he'd been standing in front of the mirror and fussing with his clothes, trying to disguise his belly. Draco had glared daggers at him, hissing something about how comforting it was to be told he looked fat rather than pregnant, and Harry had immediately dropped the subject.

Harry had expected that they would just look around, gazing at the enormous organ that dominates the sanctuary, but instead Draco slips into one of the backrow benches and sits down, easing into the pew with a careful kind of grace that Harry has started to notice about his movements as he grows heavier with the baby. It's alarming and fascinating at once, the way the pregnancy is making itself known.

To Harry's surprise, Draco sits quietly for nearly half an hour, one hand resting gently on the side of his belly. Tourists come and go around them, taking pictures and exclaiming over the building in numerous languages, but Draco looks almost peaceful, the sharpness of his features easing just a bit in the warmth of the church. He's beautiful, his face filled out slightly with the weight he's gained, and Harry thinks blasphemously that he looks like an angel, ethereal and miraculously soft around the edges.

Harry wonders, as he sits there with Draco, if perhaps the way that he instinctively associated Hogwarts with the divine is sort of similar to the way Draco feels about this Muggle church, somehow. Harry had been awed by the magical, otherworldly quality of Hogwarts; likewise, he wonders if Draco marvels at the strange beauty of Muggle religion.

"Why do you think wizards pretty much quit attending church after the Statute?" Harry asks later, as they're getting up to leave the sanctuary.

Draco smiles a little. "Muggles needed it more than we did, of course," but Harry wonders if that's true.

*

When more of the wards fall, Harry recognizes the feeling and tries not to panic—but to his surprise, it's Draco that jumps up, looking startled, hands clutching his belly.

"What?" Harry's on his feet instantly, his hand on Draco's elbow. "What?"

Draco shakes his head. "Cramp," he says, hands still pressed to his belly.

"Is that bad? Is that normal?"

Draco reaches out and takes Harry's hand, placing it on the round ball of his tummy. The curve of it is not just taut but hard, tense like a flexed muscle, and Harry almost recoils at the strangeness of it.

"I think it's a contraction."

"Oh my god, should I—"

"There," Draco interrupts, pressing Harry's hand against his tummy again. "It passed, see?"

"Will it come back?"

Draco shrugs, easing himself back down onto the sofa. "Firecall Pansy, would you?"

Harry scrambles to the Floo, gritting his teeth as he sticks his head in. Draco has been working on the weird magic surrounding it since they arrived in Amsterdam, but it hasn't budged yet. The Floo works, but sticking your head into it feels a bit like sinking into a pit of oozing magic.

Parkinson, bless her, takes an emergency Portkey and arrives within the hour, but the contractions have passed by the time she gets there.

"It's not uncommon to have false contractions," she says, but her expression looks worried.

A chill works its way up Harry's spine as Draco flashes that beatific smile at her. "I think it's because some more of the wards fell. The baby doesn’t like it, the house's magic being disturbed." He shrugs again, as if all of this is just business-as-usual. "I should remove the counter curses until after the baby comes, I think."

Pansy meets Harry's gaze over Draco's shoulder, and she looks as terrified as Harry feels.

*

As the last gasps of winter start to fade, brittle March sunshine gradually streaming through the dirty Van Boer windows, Harry finds himself embracing his own kind of faith. It's not rooted in any sort of religion, and yet he can feel himself making the intellectual leap, the decision to believe in something when no evidence seems to suggest that doing so is logical or even sane. Draco's belly continues to swell, his body growing less and less familiar with each passing day, and Harry allows himself to be sucked into the undertow of Draco's unshakable belief in the viability of the pregnancy. It feels a little sickening, a little like a fatal game of make-believe, but he begins to let himself buy into the idea that they will have a son.

Harry lets himself believe it even though some nights he can't sleep and ends up walking the halls, looking at the silenced portraits, the unnerving pregnant bellies that show up in the paintings more frequently than it seems they should, as if some force compelled generations of Van Boers to commission portraits right before disaster struck, documenting their last moments of happiness. He pushes his magic against them, harder and harder until he worries that he'll splinter the frames, strip the paint from the canvas, as he tries to lift the silencing spell that hangs immovable over all the portraits. As he walks, sometimes the twins drift through the walls to join him, a disturbing reminder of what happens to babies born in the Van Boer home.

It's one of these nights, as Harry returns from an insomnia walk to see Draco sprawled in their shared bed, curled on his side with his rounded belly exposed, vulnerable and alien and beautiful, that he's forced to admit to himself what he's known for some time: he's in love with him. Painfully and irrevocably and against all good judgment.

It is bitterly comforting, as he lies down and rests his hand on Draco's distended belly, to think that maybe it is simply Harry's lot for his dearest loved ones to stay in his life only briefly. He had his parents for eighteen months, Sirius and Lupin for only a little more. If he has Draco—and this baby, although he doesn’t know yet if he loves it, certainly not the way that Draco apparently does—only until June, perhaps that's just the way it is. The terrible price that Harry has always paid for love.

*

April

"It all looks the way it should?"

Pansy glares at him. "Sure, if men are supposed to have a magical uterus, then yes, it all looks fucking marvelous, Potter."

Harry rolls his eyes. He has grown to grudgingly like Pansy, but she's still a bit of a bitch. "Yes, I'm aware of that. I'm saying—what I mean is, it doesn't look—" He pauses, trying to find the right words. He thinks of the ghost twins, the way they'd crept along at his feet earlier this morning, apparently just for the camaraderie of it. "The baby doesn't look deformed, or—or hurt?"

Pansy's expression softens slightly. "It looks exactly as a baby should look at this stage. But Potter—you know the curse. You know the history. This isn't viable, no matter how healthy that fetus looks."

Harry thinks of Draco's face whenever Pansy casts the spell that shows them the baby, the way that deep, terrifying love etches itself across his pregnancy-softened features. "What do you think is going to happen?" He hates to ask the question, but he needs to know the answer.

Pansy looks away, and for a moment her sharp façade—the blunt, masculine angle of her cropped hair, the perfect tailoring of her Muggle clothes—fades away, and he sees the girl she had once been, scared and with her back against the wall. "We'll try to do the C-section through a combination of magical and Muggle means," she says, adopting what he recognizes as a professional detachment. "I don't know how it will work, exactly—his anatomy is all fucked up right now, god knows. We'll remove the womb and child together, and Granger will deal with it while I—while I patch Draco up." She looks up at Harry. "The baby will die. If we can save Draco, that's all that matters."

*

The long, sweeping drive to Malfoy Manor is impeccably manicured, not a single paving stone out of place. The knot of dread in Harry's stomach seems to tighten a bit with every step he takes toward the house itself, which somehow manages to be even larger than he remembered. It's an impressive house, he supposes, but he can't imagine why anyone would choose to live in a place like this, where its primary construction materials are stone and glass. It looks like the least welcoming place Harry can imagine, and he's currently residing in the most cursed house in the wizarding world.

The enormous pair of oak doors are shut tight, but Harry gamely pounds the knocker, as if he doesn't know good and well that the Malfoy wards were triggered before he ever came through the wrought iron gate at the bottom of the drive. Half a year of living with Draco has made him at least somewhat more aware of the power of performative behavior—the Malfoys know he's there, and he knows that they know that he's there, but he's still supposed to pull the knocker. For some reason.

The doors swing open, revealing a wizened house elf. "We is welcoming you to the Manor," the elf says, sounding anything but. "To what is Master Lucius and Mistress Narcissa owing the pleasure?"

Harry blinks, parsing out the question and its weird blend of English butler formality and house elf patois. "I was hoping I could speak with, uh, Mistress Narcissa," Harry says, feeling like eight times a fool.

The elf nods once, then leads Harry into the Manor. The foyer is as enormous and awful as Harry remembers, dominated by a sweeping staircase, and he's relieved when the elf leads him through a few hallways and into a parlor that is enormous by regular standards but downright cozy by Malfoy standards. Narcissa Malfoy is seated on a low settee near the fireplace, clad in an impeccable blue gown with an actual piece of needlework in her hands. It's a bit like stepping into a painting from a few centuries ago.

"Mister Harry Potter to see you," the elf says, although Harry hasn't introduced himself.

Narcissa smiles lightly. "Hello, Mister Potter. Please join me for tea."

At the word "tea," the elf disappears with a crack, apparently off to do her bidding, and Harry is left to join her.

"I'm sorry to have come without Owling first," he begins.

Narcissa eyes him for a moment and then looks back down at the sewing in her hands, taking a few tiny, precise stitches before she speaks. "I assume Draco does not know you're here."

"No—I'm not sure he would have wanted me to come." That's an understatement. Draco thinks Harry is out to pick up a few items from the shop.

"You arranged a Portkey without him realizing?"

Harry ducks his head. "No, I just, um, I just Apparated, actually."

Narcissa's eyes widen slightly. It’s not normal, Harry knows, to Apparate such distances. Not normal at all—and it's not a skill that he tends to advertise. He had realized rather quickly after the war that the general public would appreciate his power when it was coming to their defense, but otherwise they would fear it at best—and hate it at worst.

"How convenient." The elf reappears with tea, and Narcissa presides over the service, pouring for Harry with a genteel skill that Harry immediately associates with Draco.

Harry forces himself to make polite conversation as they sip their tea, letting Narcissa lead him through a few pleasantries even though they both know there's more serious conversation to be had. His agitation must show, though, because she finally smiles at him again, that same light curving of her lips that she'd aimed at him when he'd arrived, as if nothing could ever rattle her.

She's a bit terrifying, honestly.

"Is there something in particular you wished to speak with me about, Mr. Potter?"

"Please call me Harry," Harry says automatically. "And yes, actually. You know that—you know about Draco."

Narcissa nods once.

Harry clears his throat, trying to imagine how Draco would navigate this conversation, the pure-blood protocols he would employ in order to sanitize such a difficult topic, but ultimately he doesn’t know how to do it—he's not a pure-blood, wasn't raised from birth to make aristocratic conversation, and so he just barges into it, opening his mouth and spilling out exactly what he's come for: namely, that he's terrified that Draco will die, and that this is his last-ditch effort to see if he can be talked out of having this baby.

"Time is running out," he finishes, knowing it sounds a bit melodramatic but also knowing that it's true. "I—I don't know how to get through to him. It's the house, you know—as long as he's living in it, he's just like all the other Van Boers, obsessed with an heir, thinking that it's going to work out this time, that everything will be fine, and I—" He stops, not knowing quite how to continue. "I don't want to lose him." Harry thinks that might be the hallmark of aristocratic communication—the art of the understatement. He's madly in love with this woman's son. Not wanting to lose him isn't the half of it.

He blinks up at Narcissa, who still looks very composed, and his voice shakes a little as he speaks. "You're his mother. Surely you know how to stop him."

She takes a few more careful stitches, as if they aren't discussing the life and death of her son. "We do not know one another very well, do we?" she begins. "I would like to know you better, of course." Harry wonders if this is true—and where she's going with this.

"I am on Draco's side about this," she says matter-of-factly. "It is, as you say, partly about the pure-blood desire to produce an heir, something that Draco has fretted about because of his predilections." Harry feels his cheeks heat at the mention of Draco's "predilections"—and his own implied involvement in them. If Narcissa notices his discomfort, however, she ignores it.

"You may be surprised to hear it, but Lucius and I would have given Draco a nursery full of brothers and sisters, if we could have. A child is a gift, you see—and Draco, of course, realizes that."

She says it like it's gospel, and Harry's teeth clack together so sharply the sound startles him. "You realize that this gift is a curse? That it might kill him? That it might drive him mad? That he's not even trying to break the curse anymore, because he thinks it's keeping the baby alive? He's relying on the curse he was hired to lift in order to keep this baby alive?" Harry takes a breath. "And it's sucking me in, too—he talks about this baby and I start to believe in it, and—"

"When you walked into the forest to meet the Dark Lord, did you believe that you would die?"

The change in subject is so brisk, so shocking, that Harry nearly drops his teacup. "What? Er—excuse me?"

"Did you believe that you would die?"

"Ah—yes."

"And you did it anyway."

Harry nods. She knows he did.

"And yet you lived—just as you did years earlier."

Harry nods again.

"It seems to me, Harry, that you of all people should understand that sometimes we must walk into unspeakable odds, simply because it is the lot we have been given." She sets her sewing down and looks at him sharply, her eyes gray as Draco's and twice as cool. "My son is the leading expert on Dark curses, and his child is sired by Harry Potter, the most powerful wizard of the age. You must excuse me if I do not wish to hear about the inevitability of this curse."

She sounds as genteel as ever, but somehow Harry is reminded, rather ridiculously, of Oliver Wood giving one of his fanatical pre-match speeches, exhorting the team to get their heads in the game and go win a bloody Quidditch match.

"I—thank you, Mrs. Malfoy." Harry coughs. "I should—I should be getting back to Draco. I just—thank you."

"What are mothers for?" Narcissa murmurs, her eyes already back on her embroidery. "And please, call me Narcissa."

*

When Harry gets home that afternoon, he heads straight to the parlor where Draco's sprawled on the couch, a book propped on his tummy. "Hey," he says softly.

Draco carefully sets the book down over the bulge of his belly and glances up, sleepy-soft and rumpled-looking. The pregnancy weight has filled in his cheeks, softened his hardest edges, and he looks pretty, Harry thinks, although he doesn't dare apply the adjective to Draco out loud. "Well, did you find whatever it was you just had to have?" He wrinkles his nose. "All that trouble for owl pellets, wasn't it? Couldn't have had that delivered?"

Harry tries his best not to look guilty. "Hedwig II is picky," he says, ducking his head. "And, uh—they were out." The truth is that he hadn't even bothered to swing past the shop after his visit with Narcissa; he'd Apparated straight back to the front steps of the Van Boer house. "Was a nice day, though. Took a walk."

If he sounds like he's lying, Draco doesn't seem to notice. He just drags himself into a sitting position, ungainly and awkward. His perfectly tailored jumper is stretched tightly over his middle, and as he moves he has to squirm a little, tugging it down over his distended abdomen. He's wearing the wool trousers he favors, unbuttoned and unzipped under his swollen belly and held in place with a sticking charm, Harry knows. He should probably look ridiculous. He does look ridiculous, sort of, his extraordinarily pregnant body shoved into the posh clothes he still insists on wearing, even though Harry has pointed out a hundred times that a pair of joggers and a t-shirt might be more comfortable. He doesn't look ridiculous to Harry, though. He looks strange and beautiful, soft and vulnerable in a way that makes Harry's heart clench.

"Feel okay?" Harry asks, his cheeks heating stupidly. It feels awkward, somehow, asking about the baby. Most of the time, he tries to pretend it's not happening, that he's not watching his lover swell up with his doomed child, a tangible symbol of coming misery. But Narcissa's words—a child is a gift, I'm on Draco's side—ring in his ears, and for whatever reason he suddenly wants, very desperately, not to let her down. Not to let her son down.

Draco gives him a funny look, then shrugs. "Not awful, I suppose."

"You need anything? Tea or something?"

"Potter, we have an elf for that. I may be too fat to get off the couch, but I don't need you prancing around waiting on me," Draco says haughtily, and Harry can't help but snort.

"As if you don't want to be waited on."

Draco sticks his nose in the air, but Harry can see the ghost of his dimple appearing in his cheek. "I'm accustomed to a certain standard of living, but I don't need my lover playing house elf, Potter."

"Ah." Harry slides over, picking up Draco's bare feet and propping them in his lap, gently rubbing each high, dainty arch. "And you don't need a lover to do this, either, I suppose? Shall I call Gruber in to rub your feet, too?"

Draco's expression is horrified. "Merlin, Potter, don't you dare. Continue."

Harry smiles. "I thought so." He falls silent, concentrating on the task at hand, before he clears his throat and speaks up once more. "Seems like the least I can do, seeing how you're the one doing all the work right now." He jerks his chin slightly toward Draco's very prominent bump.

Draco cocks his head to the side, watching Harry carefully. He's perceptive, and Harry wonders if he senses the sea change that Harry's trying to instill, the one that Narcissa had encouraged.

"Yes, well. You can spend the rest of your life thanking me for it," Draco says, his voice sharper than his eyes.

"Of course." And he will. He will, if they survive this.

*

May

The weeks slip past, and it's harder and harder for Draco to recognize himself in the mirror. His features, angular nearly since birth, are blurred by the pregnancy, a gift of water retention or weight gain or perhaps both. He looks softer, somehow, in a way that is wholly unfamiliar to him. He'd probably be more fussed about it, if he didn't feel so goddamn awful.

At her last visit, when he'd informed Pansy of the near-constant ache in his lower back, the stabbing pains shooting through his hips and against his pelvic bone, the bone-deep exhaustion that he can't seem to shake, she'd just rolled her eyes at him. "You're eight months pregnant, you twat. What did you expect?"

She'd said it with the same dismissively-loving tone she always uses with Draco, but he could see the fear in her expression, the concern she can't mask with their usual banter. Granger had been even worse, flat-out telling him that it wasn't too late to end things, that the pregnancy could be terminated with a combination of a potion and a few spells. She'd been wearing her most mulish Gryffindor expression, and Draco had been too tired to do much except tell her to fuck off. Luckily, Harry had stepped in, tactfully telling her to shut it. He'd been that way—protective, running interference for Draco—recently, even going so far as to stand in the doorway and basically bar Yvette, the Dutch embassy witch who'd come to check in on their progress, from entering the house. "Draco is in the middle of some complicated spellwork," he'd insisted, as if Draco weren't sprawled across the parlor sofa with a platter of scones resting on his enormous belly, his work abandoned completely for weeks.

Today, like always, Harry is at his side, one hand practically resting on his elbow, as if he's afraid Draco might topple over at any moment.

When Harry accompanies Draco from the sofa to the bookshelf, it's a bit more than Draco can bear. "Christ, Potter, if you get any closer to me you'll be up my arse."

"If only," Harry mutters under his breath.

"Excuse me?"

Harry runs a hand through his kneazle's nest of hair, looking sheepish. "I didn't—nothing, I just—"

"What? You just want to fuck?" Draco knows, on some level, that he might be overreacting. It's true that they haven't had sex much recently, but for Salazar's fucking sake, he's the approximate size of a beached whale, every part of his body hurts, and his only companions other than Potter are Pansy and Granger, both of whom like to pop by weekly to remind him that they're convinced he's going to die. He can’t even fit into his clothes anymore. Why the fuck would he be interested in a shag? And why would Potter be interested, given the way Draco looks like a caricature of himself, cartoonishly swollen and wretched?

"I just—I miss you, is all," Harry says, looking all cautious and gentle like he thinks Draco's made of glass. It makes Draco want to hex him to pieces.

"Miss me? Seems impossible, given that you're practically glued to my side."

Harry looks at him for a moment, and Draco can't quite read his expression—and then, suddenly, he can. Harry's lips turn down into a scowl, and his brows furrow. "Oh, fuck off, Malfoy." It's been forever since Harry's used his surname, and it sends a weird little tingle up Draco's spine. "Is it such a crime to want to touch you? Want to hold you, maybe yeah, to want to fuck you? Jesus Christ, it's not like I'm demanding it, but—" He breaks off, looking pained.

"But what?" Draco demands, warming to the subject with a weirdly frenetic energy. A good row with Potter suddenly seems like just the thing. "But you think you deserve it? I'm the one who's miserable, sick for months, but of course, Potter, I can only imagine the suffering you've experienced, having to resort to your hand for a week or two."

"More like a goddamn month or two, first of all, and no, you fucking shit, I don't care about that." Harry takes a couple of steps back, subconsciously assuming a dueling stance, like he's just as willing to fight as Draco is. "What I do care about is the fact that I have no idea what's going to happen to you in a month, you complete fucking aresehole, and so yes, maybe I do want to fuck, maybe I do want to be goddamn close to you." He inhales sharply, almost a gasp, and once again Draco can't read his expression. "If something happens—fuck. Never fucking mind, Malfoy. I'm so goddamn sorry you feel like shit, and Jesus bloody Christ, if something happens to you I will never, ever forgive myself for doing this to you, and—fuck you, just fuck you."

Draco stands still for a moment, hands resting under the dome of his belly. The baby squirms, kicking him hard in the ribs, like maybe he agrees with Harry, the half-Potter arsehole. Fucking Potter. Self-righteous arse, talking about never forgiving himself. "Oh, for Merlin's sake, Potter, spare me your guilt. You didn't knock me up on purpose, did you?"

Harry blinks stupidly. It shouldn't be charming. "Of course not."

"Then climb off the cross, you twat. I know martyrdom is your default setting, but there's no call for it here." Draco sighs. His back hurts, and he's tired, he's so bloody tired, but… "Shut the fuck up and come here."

Harry raises an eyebrow, looking skeptical.

"If you want to fuck so bad, I suppose I can acquiesce. I don't know how you're going to make it work with your enormous child in the way, but give it a go if you must." He's doing his best to sound disinterested, but there's something about the fight with Potter that feels familiar and exciting all at once, somehow.

Maybe it feels that way to Harry, too, because suddenly he's right there, wrapping his arms around Draco and pushing him gently toward the stairs. "Bed," he murmurs, and Draco wishes for the thousandth time that Apparition was allowed during the third trimester. Pansy had been very clear on the reasons behind the restriction, telling a few horror stories of splinched fetuses in order to drive the point home. Still, the idea of trudging his fat arse upstairs is nearly enough to kill the mood. Nearly.

Harry kisses him then, hard, the same kind of desperate longing Draco remembers so clearly from their first night together, when Harry had confessed that he wanted to be rough with Draco, that he wanted to hurt him, maybe. It's plenty of incentive to take the stairs, but before Draco can take a step, Harry breaks the kiss and sweeps Draco into his arms, bridal-style, like he weighs nothing.

"Potter! You can't carry me—"

"Shh, shut up," Harry says, tromping up the stairs with Draco forced to wrap his arms around Harry's neck. A whisper of magic tingles over Draco, and he snorts.

"You cast a lightening charm, didn't you?"

Harry grins down at him, his smile crooked and affectionate—more than affectionate. Adoring, maybe. Draco's stupid, hormonal heart beats double-time. "Of course not, you haven't gained an ounce."

"Liar." The word comes out in a whisper.

"Shh."

Upstairs, Harry lays him down on the bed so carefully, so gently, that Draco can't find it in himself to say anything snarky—to say anything at all. He just lies there, lets Harry prop pillows behind his back, kiss him slowly, slowly, slowly. He runs his hands all over Draco's body, tips his head back and kisses the length of his jaw, the puffy curve of his cheek, down the column of his throat. When he gets to the collar of Draco's t-shirt—an old one of Harry's that he's taken to wearing, even though it's stretched so tightly over his belly that the indent of his navel shows through the worn cotton—he gently tugs it over Draco's head, as carefully as if he thinks Draco might break into pieces.

"Christ, you're so goddamn beautiful," he mutters, staring down at Draco's belly. It doesn't look beautiful to Draco, the grotesquely swollen lump of his abdomen that renders his body unrecognizable, foreign and alien and almost frightening—but when he looks up at Harry's expression, there seems to be no question that Harry means it. "So fucking gorgeous, look at you, Draco, god."

He'd said that the first time they'd fucked, Draco recalls. Look at you. Then, Draco had wanted him to look, had preened under the attention. Now, he's less certain—but he swallows back his protests and lies still, let's Harry drink him in and run his hands over his belly and press kisses to his chest, his bump, his ribs.

Harry tugs Draco's joggers down almost as an afterthought, not even really paying attention as he slides his pants down with them. All of his attention is focused on Draco's belly, which makes Draco want to squirm, want to cry, want to confess stupid things to Harry about love and fear and joy. He swallows hard and clamps his mouth shut.

"Look at you," Harry repeats one more time, still sounding awed. "You—god, you're amazing." He cups Draco's belly in his palms, smiling a little as the baby rolls under his touch. "My son—you made me a son." He looks up at Draco, and his eyes are more vulnerable than Draco has ever seen them. "I never thought I'd do this with anyone, and—" he pauses, then shakes his head and barrels on, even though his voice is strained, almost shaking—"and I'm so fucking scared, Draco, if I could take it back, I would, but—but I'm glad, too. I'm glad I got to see you like this, big with my baby."

There's something terrifyingly final about Harry's words—like the high point of this whole mess is seeing Draco swelled up with Harry's son, as if this is the culminating point—as if Harry doesn't really believe that they'll survive this.

They will, though. Draco knows they will.

"Come here," he says, even though Harry can't really get much closer to him, with his belly in the way. "Fuck me." The words are crass, but Draco doesn't mean them to be—and Harry seems to get it, because his smile is perfectly, achingly gentle as he leans down and catches Draco's mouth in a deep, dirty kiss.

*

Parkinson's due to arrive in Amsterdam in just three days—planning to take up permanent residence until the birth—when Draco goes into labor.

It starts slow—more slowly than Harry recalls from the Muggle movies he's seen, or the vague recollections of birth stories he has, like the one Molly like to tell about racing in from the garden in the nick of time to deliver the twins on the living room floor at the Burrow. Then again, Molly is something of an expert at baby-having, and Draco definitely is not.

Draco wakes before dawn, restless and hot, complaining that his hips hurt, and Harry sleepily rubs his back, fetches tea that Draco doesn't touch and croissants that he picks apart into flaky little shreds.

By mid-morning, Draco is cranky, pacing the floor with his awkward, waddling gait and complaining of a stomachache. Still, it's nearly noon before the cramps begin in earnest, and suddenly things progress much, much faster.

Draco's standing in front of the fireplace in the small parlor, bracing himself on the mantle and leaning forward, huge belly jutting out in front of him and only partially covered by another of Harry's worn old t-shirts, when he gasps, his entire body going rigid.

Harry's on his feet immediately. "Malfoy?" It's stupid, reverting to his last name in a time like this, but it just slips out, a remnant of who they have been.

Draco doesn't even notice the slip, Harry doesn't think. "Hurts," Draco grits out. When his eyes meet Harry's, the panic in them is clear. "I think—I think this is it."

Stupidly, Harry stands there for a moment. This is what? he wants to ask, even though a part of him knows good and well what—labor, this is labor, this is the thing they've known was coming for so long that it almost started to seem like it would never happen. In fact, Harry's a little ashamed of how much he had let himself pretend that it would never come, that he and Draco might just stay here forever in this pleasant limbo. "You—you're in—er, the baby?"

Normally, Draco would at least make a face at such an ineloquent statement. Now, though, he just nods, finally straightening up from the mantle and facing Harry. "I think so. That—Christ, Potter, that bloody hurt."

A mild panic seizes Harry's bones. "It's too early, though—Pansy said another three weeks."

The contraction having passed, Draco's capacity for snark returns. "Oh, my mistake—I'll quit this at once, then."

Harry grimaces, starting to apologize, but almost immediately Draco's body seizes up again, his spine stiffening and his hands reaching out instinctively for the mantle. "Oh, fuck," he groans, his voice low.

"Again already?" Harry remembers clearly what Pansy had said about contractions in a regular pregnancy—that they would start off irregular and far apart and build up, becoming closer and more intense. It's not supposed to be this much, this fast. It's not.

"Yes, oh, god, Potter, it hurts." Feeling useless, Harry reaches out, putting his hands on Draco's lower back and just sort of holding on, not knowing what else to do, just rocking with Draco as he rides out the contraction, panting a little, his posh voice tight and twisted up with pain.

As soon as it eases, Harry steps back, trying to pull his shit together. "Sit down, sweetheart," he commands, not even noticing as the endearment slips past his lips, as if his subconscious is ricocheting between his old relationship with Draco and his new one without so much as a by-your-leave. "I'm going to Firecall Pansy, and she's got the Emergency Portkey at her office. She'll be here, and I'll call Hermione, too, and it's going to be fine, okay?"

To his horror, Draco doesn't even have time to answer before another contraction takes hold of his body, and this time it's Harry he reaches for, rather than the mantle. His long fingers curve like claws, hooking into Harry's shoulders, and his voice gives way to a low, agonizing keen that Harry doesn't think he'd recognize as human, if it weren't coming from the man standing in front of him. The worst part isn't the sound, though—it's the blank, empty gaze of Draco's pretty gray eyes, the way he's sucked so deeply into his own agony that he might as well be blind.

"I've got you, sweetheart, I've got you," Harry mumbles uselessly, taking most of Draco's weight against his shoulders.

"Potter," Draco whimpers, clutching a little harder, and Harry's struck again by how powerless he feels, by how helpless.

"I need you to sit down," Harry says, gently walking Draco back toward the sofa. "Just for a second, love, just so I can call Pansy, all right?"

Draco nods blankly, allowing Harry to ease him down onto the sofa. He grips his belly, eyes still a little wild, and Harry thinks again, in the back of his mind, about how wrong he'd always been about maternal love. It wasn't beautiful. It was crazed and terrifying; he hated this.

"Are you okay? Did it pass?"

"For now—just, just hurry." The look Draco gives him is one of desperate faith, like he knows Harry will do what he needs to do to help him, the way he always has.

It was easier, Harry thinks, walking into the forest to face Voldemort.

The moment he sticks his head in the Floo, he knows something's wrong. It's not just the usual icy rush of Dark spells that cling to it; it's as if that small pool of Dark magic has been replaced by a torrential downpour of it, swirling in a vortex around his head, immediately raising the hairs on the back of his neck, making him feel off-kilter and ill.

His first instinct is to recoil, but Harry tries to place the call anyway, doing his best to ignore the creeping Darkness around him.

He says Pansy's name into the void of the network, but it's lost in the whirling Van Boer spells, all of which seem to have suddenly come alive, frenetic and fearful.

He tries again, and again, but each attempted call seems to make it worse, until even the grates of the network are invisible, shrouded in a tangible miasma of Dark magic.

When he finally pulls his head back out of the fireplace, he's relieved—but only for a second. Free from the cursed Floo, he can hear Draco's agonized keening from behind him.

He scrambles to his feet, whirling to find Draco crouched on all fours on the floor, swollen belly nearly brushing the dusty old Turkish rug beneath him. He's rocking slightly, that same eerie pain-filled noise issuing from his throat.

"Malfoy, sweetheart, I'm right here—"

"Is she coming?" Draco grits out, his eyes still focused on a random spot on the carpet, not even looking up at Harry.

"Pansy?" Harry wants desperately to lie, wants to tell him that everything will be fine—anything to ease some of the awful, creeping fear on Draco's face.

"She's not, is she?"

Harry tugs at his hair, collapses onto his knees next to Draco. "No. I can't use the Floo—it won't work—"

"The curse," Draco says, nodding, still swaying lightly on his knees but appearing to relax a bit, as if the pain is ebbing. "It's active."

Harry blinks. "Active?"

Draco nods, but if he has any further explanation to offer, it's lost in another wave of pain.

This time, the keen becomes a wail, and Draco's eyes nearly roll back in his head, the whites visible all around.

Nearly two minutes pass—one hundred twenty agonizing seconds—before the contraction eases, leaving Draco sweaty and shaking, leaning against Harry on the floor.

"You have to do it," he says, curling over his belly.

"Do what?"

"The baby. You have to get it out."

Harry feels like he's been Stunned. "What? I'm not—how? How, Draco?" Tears build at the corners of his eyes, desperation washing over him.

Draco smiles, weak but earnest, and the dimple in his left cheek appears for the briefest of moments. "You're Harry Potter," he murmurs, pushing a damp chunk of hair from his forehead. "Do what you always do, will you?"

For a second, Harry is furious—furious that this has happened to them, furious that Draco would believe so blindly in Harry's innate ability to save people, furious that his lot in life is to be put into this position over and over. Furious, most of all, that this time it's not enough to be willing to sacrifice himself. Furious that this time he has no idea what to do.

Draco freezes, and Harry knows another contraction is beginning. "Your magic—use it. Just use it," Draco says, and then he's gone again, sucked under the black depths of pain, trapped in the sensations of his own body, his eyes blank, his body writhing.

Harry sits back on his heels, and now the tears that have been gathering in the corners of his eyes fall, leaking slowly down his cheeks. He can't do this—can't be the person Draco thinks he is, the person Narcissa commanded him to be. He doesn't know what to do.

*

Harry isn't sure how long he sits there. It can't be long, probably, but it feels like an eternity, watching in helpless silence while Draco wails and thrashes, his eyes blank with pain. Harry had thought, prior to this, that he'd seen suffering. He's seen Cruciatus performed; hell, he's experienced it himself. But nothing compares to this, to the way that Draco's whole body is taken hostage by the labor pains. They drag him under until he's little more than a husk, a grotesquely swollen reflection of himself, keening and rocking on the floor, every part of him reduced to pain.

It is the worst thing Harry's ever seen.

He thinks, finally, of Draco's words to him: Do what you always do. And of Narcissa's: My son's child is sired by Harry Potter. For reasons that he cannot fathom, they both truly seem to believe that he can, somehow, save them.

Ultimately, though, it's not Draco or Narcissa but Hermione that he conjures up in his mind, imagining her determined, pragmatic face in his mind, the stubborn tilt of her pointed chin. Focus, and do what you have to do.

He doesn't know what he needs to do, is the thing—and so in the end he relies on his magic to do it for him. My son, I need to get to my son, I need to get to him.

Without thinking, he reaches out and places a hand on Draco's belly, the clenched-tight swollen orb of it. He almost snatches his hand back at the touch; the same swirling Dark magic that had filled the Floo is seething from and around Draco's body, like he's been wrapped in the curse.

It's active.. That's what Draco had said, and fear unfurls itself in an endless spool in Harry's mind. This is what Draco had meant. The magic was acting on its own, acting on him, and it's as terrifying as Harry had imagined all those months ago, when Draco had first explained the concept to him.

Harry shudders, nearly panics. He does panic, for a moment, his mind wheeling away from him, wild and erratic as a broom without a rider.

He tries to think, to focus, to remember anything that might help him.

"It's in your blood," Draco had told him, months and months ago, when he was still slim and haughty, when they fucked by night and bickered by day.

At the time, Harry hadn't wanted to believe him, to believe that Voldemort had left some part of himself inside Harry, some quintessential capacity for the Dark Arts. Now, though, he clutches at the thought, grasps it like a lifeline.

It's in his blood, this deep and awful magic—his, and Draco's, and this baby's. He closes his eyes and concentrates.

My son, I need to get my son.

That's not quite right.

I need to bring my son to me, I need him, I need him with me. I need him out, out of Draco, he's hurting Draco—I need to deliver my son, I need to deliver Draco of my son.

He can feel his magic taking shape around him, that weird invisible force gathering into space the way it always does. The thought of wielding it makes him nervous, makes him think of all the times that his magic has been too much, too powerful, all the times that is has frightened people, frightened himself. But it's all he has left.

My son my son my son I need my son.

He imagines the threads of his own power weaving their way through the curse wrapped around Draco's swollen belly, digging into it, breaking through. There's a twist at his own navel, almost but not quite like the hook of Apparation, and then a strange, awful ripping noise, like the sound of flesh being torn from bone. A butcher shop sound. And then, with a rush of hot, wild magic, his arms will with the tiny, fragile weight of a curled infant.

The child is slick with fluid, curled and impossibly small, its little legs tucked up like a frog's. It looks almost unreal, and it is terrifyingly still—but warm, so warm, and Harry wonders in horror if that warmth is the child's own or if it's leftover heat from Draco's body.

At the thought, Harry's eyes dart to Draco, who's collapsed onto his side, lax and sprawling in a way that is somehow more terrifying than seeing him crouched in pain had been.

"Draco?" Harry's voice is a whisper, rough and broken-sounding, and Draco doesn't move. Harry's afraid to look, but he makes himself lean forward and peer down at the expanse of his belly, still exposed beneath the hem of his shirt. There's not a single mark—no line or wound to indicate that a child had been pulled from his flesh—and yet all Harry can hear is the echo of rending, tearing meat when he'd pulled—Apparated?—the baby free.

"Sweetheart, please." Harry can hear the desperation in his voice now, the creeping fear. Don't die, please oh god please don't die.

He glances back down at the baby in his arms, almost as an afterthought, and its eyes open slowly—and as he stares into them, a shudder runs through the entire house, a creaking and groaning convulsion that ends with that almost-audible clatter of wards falling, curses breaking, Dark magic falling in on itself and whirling into a dark, convulsing beam that hovers directly over the baby.

The baby's eyes are wide now, locked on Harry's, and Dark magic falls all around them, swirling faster and faster. Harry's frozen, staring at his son, as all that magical power coalesces into a whirling black vortex. Harry wonders if this was how it happened to the other babies born here, if they survived their traumatic births only to be casually destroyed by the house they'd had the misfortune of being born into. He tries, too late, to shield the baby, but he's powerless to move, powerless even to speak in the whirl of the magic.

The baby opens his mouth, letting out an ear-splitting wail, and the magic shatters in a stunning convulsion of energy, the tangle of spells splintering into shards over the baby's forehead and then dissolving in the air like mist.

"Mister Harry Potter!"

Harry starts, looking back over his shoulder. Gruber stands in the doorway, staring down at the three of them. "Gruber was trying to come in!"

Harry stares stupidly at the elf.

"To help Master Malfoy," Gruber clarifies, as if it should have been obvious. "But the house was not allowing it—the door was not being opened." Gruber sighs, as if it is beneath him to have to explain the situation any further to Harry, but he continues nonetheless. "The curse was not letting Gruber help."

"But now it is?"

Gruber shuffles forward, his long arms already reaching out to pluck the tiny naked child from Harry's tenuous grasp. "The curse is being gone now," he says. "Mister Malfoy's son broke it." He points to the baby's forehead, where an angry red burn-mark is visible just above his nearly translucent left eyebrow. It must hurt, Harry thinks wildly, his stomach clenching, because the baby is yowling indignantly. "You see?"

Harry stifles a bizarre impulse to snatch the tiny child back from Gruber, perhaps with the admonition that it is also his son, not just Draco's. "He broke it?"

Gruber glares at him, producing a tea towel from somewhere and swaddling the baby with it. He manages to do the swaddling with one bony hand while gripping the tiny babe with the other, a feat that Harry finds, frankly, more magical than anything else that has happened thus far. "You were not hearing the curse fall? You were not seeing it?"

"I was, but—"

Gruber shakes his head, as if Harry is too dumb to bother with. Instead, he turns and points a long finger at Draco's slumped, misshapen body. There's a crack, and a bolt of powerful elf magic surrounds Draco's body. "To hold him still," Gruber says by way of explanation, and Harry thinks that yes, he should have thought of that—Christ, he should have thought of something, anything, rather than ripping their son from Draco's body like a chunk of meat. His stomach roils at the thought, his head spinning.

Gruber glares at him, making it clear he has no time for theatrics. "Gruber will Floo for Mistress Parkinson," he says, still clutching the baby as if it's a small and friendly sack of potatoes. "Stay with Master Draco."

Harry scrambles closer to Draco, following orders without much thought and sparing only a slight bit of interest in the realization that the curse really must be lifted, because the Floo appears to be operating normally.

"Draco?" He crouches down, closer to Draco's body, afraid to move him even though seeing him slumped like this is terrifying. He looks lifeless. He looks dead.

"I—fuck." Harry leans even closer, fighting a desperate urge to wrap himself around Draco's still body. "You did so good, Malfoy, you were so brave, and I—oh, god, I don't know what I did." A sob rises in his throat, choking him, and all he can do for a moment is gasp, his brain conjuring words like internal bleeding and hemorrhage and death. "I got him out but I don't know what it did to you, sweetheart, and I'm so fucking sorry."

In Muggle movies, when someone pours their heart out to a character in a coma, that character might squeeze their hand or flutter their eyelids—something, anything, to indicate they're alive and aware. Draco, though, does none of that, just lies there, unnaturally still and pale, his skin waxy under Harry's careful touches.

"I love you. I love you, Draco, please don't leave me, don't, please—" There's a feeling very close to hysteria rising in Harry's chest. "Everyone leaves me, please Draco, please don't, please don't, I can't—"

There's a tap at his shoulder, and Harry tries to shake it off, but Gruber is insistent. "Mister Harry Potter, sit up now," he commands.

"I won't leave him—"

"No," Gruber agrees. "But you be holding the babe now."

Before Harry can protest, Gruber deposits the little bundle—now considerably less sticky and wrapped in a clean towel like a fresh loaf of bread, no longer crying—into his arms.

"Is he—" Harry can't bring himself to say it, can't bring himself to ask the question he needs to ask. "Is he—"

"He is having ten fingers and ten toes." Gruber is haughty, as if he's judging Harry for not checking earlier. He sniffs, looking down at the baby. "And white hair like Master Draco."

Harry runs a hand over the baby's head, realizing it's covered in soft, nearly invisible blond hair, soft as down. He squints, trying to see remnants of himself or Draco elsewhere in the child. His eyes keep being pulled back to the angry scar, the mark so like his own. It is the last thing he would have wanted to pass on to a child.

"Maybe he will be having green eyes like you," Gruber says grudgingly.

"Like me," Harry echoes.

Gruber nods. "I will be getting you a bottle. Mistress Parkinson's Portkey will arrive shortly. And Mistress Granger," he adds. Harry hadn't even known Gruber knew Hermione's name, frankly, and the fact that he'd arranged for her to come sends a bolt of warmth through his chest. "Oh, Gruber, thank—"

"Be holding his head better," Gruber interrupts, making a minute change to the positioning of Harry's elbow under the baby's neck and then stomping off to the kitchen, surly-and-bored expression firmly back in place across his wizened little features.

Harry stares down at his son, bewildered the reality of him, tiny and tangible in his arms, and tries to sort out the heavy feelings in his chest.

"I love you," he finally murmurs, tears dripping unnoticed down his cheeks. "But I can't pay for you with his life. I can't, it's too much, I can't." The baby mews, a noise approaching a little cry, and Harry rocks instinctively, an action that is as comforting to him as it is the baby. "Please—god, please let him live."

*

Draco swims into consciousness slowly, struggling against a dark, heavy wave of sleep that drags against his mind, pulls his eyelids shut.

He needs to wake up, needs to fight against sleeping. It's urgent, he knows, although he can't remember why. Can't remember what happened before he fell asleep.

"—here, Draco, can you hear me?"

It's Pansy's voice, he thinks, and he fights harder, pushing away the heavy blanket of sleep that keeps tugging at him.

"Morning, Draco," Pansy says, staring down at him. She's fuzzy, and he can't quite get his eyes to focus, but it's undeniably her. "Well, you did it, you arsehole."

Did what? He wants to ask, but his mouth won't quite work yet, either. His lips are cracked, dry and painful, when he tries to part them to speak. "What?" he tries to ask, but it comes out as little more than a croak.

"Here, darling." Pansy holds a water glass out, aiming the straw between his lips. "Drink this. Shall I tell you about your son?"

His son, oh, god, his son. Draco lifts a hand, pushing the glass away. "Where—the baby?" He blinks, trying to see more clearly, trying to see past Pansy. "Harry."

"Harry's in the shower," Pansy says. "He's been sitting here for 48 hours straight, begging you to wake up. Rather pathetic, really." Her voice is warm. "And the elf has the baby. He's quite loud, Draco, really. He broke the curse—your son, not the elf. Would you like to know how?"

Draco blinks, trying to focus on Pansy's voice. "—was a pure-blood curse, you know, so Hermione figures the baby must have broken it because he's a half-blood—which is hilarious, if you think about it, but leave it to Potter, I suppose, to—"

There's more, and Draco wants to know, desperately wants to know everything, but the darkness has him again, and it tugs him back down again and again, the murmur of Pansy's voice receding slowly. This time, he lets it happen.

*

It takes three more days before Draco wakes up fully, able to concentrate and hold a conversation—and his son.

"Isn't he beautiful?" Harry says for what is perhaps the hundredth time, peering over Draco's shoulder.

Draco nods, brushing a hand down his son's tiny cheek, over the scar above his brow that makes his heart clench. "Yes." The word feels too small in his mouth, but he can't find better ones to say what he means, to say how it feels to hold this impossible child that is both his and Harry's.

"I—I named him," Harry says, and Draco peels his gaze away from the baby.

"You what?"

Harry raises his hands in defense. "Well, you were unconscious for days! I didn't know what would happen"—his voice cracks a little at that, and he shakes his head roughly—"and it seemed like bad luck, not naming him."

"So help me god, Potter, if you named him after Dumbledore—"

"No, I—I named him after someone we both have a connection to. Sirius. Sirius James." He bites his lip, watching Draco carefully. "We haven't filed any paperwork yet, though, so I guess if you hate it…"

"I don't hate it." Draco looks back down at his son, trying out the name. "Sirius James." The baby blinks up at him placidly, as if he thinks it suits him fine.

Draco looks back up at Harry, and his voice is gravel when he speaks, each word a rough stone. "A baby named after two Gryffindors with a scar on its forehead. Christ, Potter. Remind me never to let you make decisions while I sleep ever again."

*

June

When Harry returns to England, it is with his son in his arms. Apparation with an infant-in-arms is unheard of, but Harry—in typical Harry fashion—had just shrugged, as if it surprised him that most wizards lacked such intrinsic power.

Draco is stuck to suffer the indignity of the Portkey Authority alone, although he does have to admit that it was nice to avoid the media blitz that would have happened if he and Harry had arrived at customs with a baby in their arms. Knowing what most wizards think of Draco, they'd probably suspect he'd stolen it.

His Portkey deposits him with a thump outside the grounds of Malfoy Manor, where Harry and Sirius are already standing, waiting.

"How was it?"

"A goddamn hassle, of course," Draco says, rolling his eyes and holding his hands out for his sleeping son. "Did he mind Apparation?"

Harry shakes his head. "Not a bit. I think he likes it—slept right through it."

"Come on, then."

*

His mother holds the baby immediately, taking him out of Draco's arms without so much as a by-your-leave. "He's gorgeous," she says reverently, easing back down onto the Chesterfield in the formal parlor with as much easy grace as if it were a nursery rocker. "He looks so much like you did, Draco."

Draco smiles at that, and Harry rolls his eyes. In the four weeks since the baby was born, there have been very few specifically Potter features that have shone through yet—other than the scar, which Draco never fails to give Harry shit about. Harry's holding out for green eyes, but so far they are still the vague gray-blue of infancy.

They make polite conversation about polite topics—how well the baby sleeps, how kind of Harry it was to have given the baby a constellation name—and Draco alternates between resisting the urge to snatch Sirius out of his mother's arms, tired of sharing him, and watching Harry, who seems weirdly comfortable being in the Manor.

"Pansy has been by several times since the birth," Narcissa adds. "She brought Ms. Granger with her, the most recent time."

Harry and Draco exchange a look. "Did she?" They have a bet about this. Harry thinks they'll announce they're dating by the end of the month, while Draco suspects it will take slightly longer, given their mutual stubbornness.

"She did. What a nice pair they make," Narcissa says lightly.

Lucius makes a snorting sound from his wingback in the corner, and Draco bites the inside of his cheek. His father has had to adjust to several unexpected occurrences recently. Hosting Hermione Granger—former occupant of the Malfoy dungeons—is just one of several indignities.

"You'll need to file the birth certificate within the week," Narcissa reminds them, stroking the baby's cheek gently.

Draco glances at Harry, who scowls back at him.

"Is there a problem?"

"Just ironing out the details of the name," Harry says sweetly, giving Narcissa a toothy smile. For reasons unknown to Draco, Harry has taken quite a shine to his mother. It may just be the orphan's natural inclination for a mother—anyone's mother—to approve of him. Draco remembers quite clearly how Molly Weasley had fussed over Harry at King's Cross every year before the start of the term, how it had inexplicably irritated him at the time. Now, watching his mother smile gently back at Harry, he's surprisingly glad that they're getting along.

The same cannot be said of Harry's relationship with Lucius, who is openly scowling at Harry.

"Sirius James is a lovely name," Narcissa says, apparently meaning it.

"Sirius James Malfoy," Draco's father intones, because he is incapable of minding his own business or passing up an opportunity to be an arsehole.

Harry's eyes flash. "Sirius James Potter."

Lucius' upper lip curls back. His mother ignores it all and coos to the baby. Draco watches Harry, who's staring defiantly at Lucius as if he'd like nothing more than to meet him over wands.

Harry is also an arsehole, sometimes.

"Regardless of the surname," Narcissa says smoothly, "you two must realize the fervor this will cause. The son of a Malfoy and a Potter. He'll be the most famous child the wizarding world has ever seen."

Harry winces. Draco knows how much he resented his own childhood celebrity. The fact that this child will be famous for something far less tragic hasn't done much to ease his concerns, and Draco deftly changes the subject, happy to deflect the issue for another day or two.

*

"I don't want him to grow up famous, you know," Harry says that night, as they're sprawled in Draco's huge bed. Draco had been a little surprised that Harry had agreed to stay overnight in the manor—or that Lucius had extended the invitation—but it feels right, somehow.

Draco glances to the cradle, where Sirius is sleeping quietly. "I don't see how we can avoid it. You're the Savior—any of your offspring would be famous. Add a Malfoy in and it just gets worse."

Harry leans over, running a hand down Draco's chest, trailing his fingers over the still-soft expanse of his belly. Draco fights the urge to push Harry's hand away, to cover the evidence of Sirius' residence in his body. "I'm not opposed to having added in the Malfoy," Harry says, smiling a little.

"Well then you'll just have to accept that our son is English wizarding royalty." Draco rolls his eyes. "Weirdly enough, this is probably the only way my parents would have been all right with me marrying outside of the Sacred Twenty-Eight."

Harry wrinkles his nose, looking stupidly cute. "By not marrying at all and letting Harry Potter knock you up?"

Draco lifts his chin a haughty inch. "By making a particularly promising match outside of the traditional strictures."

Harry snorts. "Uh-huh."

He's silent for a moment, his hands trailing all over Draco in that obnoxious-sexy way he has, as if he thinks that every inch of Draco's body belongs to him—and maybe it does. "I do hate it, though—the part where Sirius will be famous because of us. Sometimes I wish we could have just stayed in Amsterdam."

Draco smirks, remembering the conversation he'd had with his father earlier. "Actually, about that—my father bought you a gift."

The look on Harry's face is far from trusting. "A gift."

"To welcome you to the family, I suppose," Draco says lightly, although they've never talked explicitly about how committed they are to one another. Harry just nods, though, like of course they're family, and a tiny little knot of tension in Draco's stomach eases. "He's bought you a house," Draco says, enjoying drawing it out.

"A house? I have a house. I have Grimmauld, and Godric's Hollow, and—"

"Not in England," Draco interrupts, not bothering to point out that he has no intention of fixing up some tiny peasant cottage or moving into grotty old Grimmauld Place, which he remembers all too well from his childhood.

Harry cocks his head. "Where?"

"The Van Boer house was on the market, apparently, and most Dutch wizards weren't interested."

"You mean—he bought us the Van Boer house?"

Draco nods. "He did—and the deed lists two shades that survived the fall of the curse, as well as Gruber, of course."

"The twins?" Harry, ridiculously, looks pleased, as if he's thrilled by the prospect of a lifetime with two disfigured ghost babies underfoot.

"But of course."

Harry smiles, then frowns, then smiles again. He's so transparent Draco might as well be reading cue cards, but he waits for Harry to explain himself. "Did your dad buy it so he wouldn't have to see me? Because fuck it, that's okay with me. But—would you live there? In Amsterdam?"

Draco shrugs. "Not all the time, no. But I don't see why that couldn't be our primary residence."

"Hermione and Pansy are already used to making the trip," Harry says happily.

"Mmm."

"And once the Ministry realizes you've brought a Potter into the world, you'll be able to travel at will, I suspect." Harry grins.

"A Malfoy, you mean?"

"Malfoy-Potter, and it's my last offer. And you can't go dropping the Potter, the way people do."

Draco glances over to the cradle again, where their son rests on, blissfully unaware that his parents are negotiating the country where he'll be raised and the surnames he'll take. "Sirius James Malfoy-Potter."

"It sounds good," Harry says.

"It sounds abhorrently Gryffindor—but it'll do," Draco adds, heading off any further conversation by pushing himself lightly against Harry's chest until Harry gets the hint and pulls him in for a slow, dirty kiss. They have another day or two together here, a bit more time to hide away in his childhood bedroom before they announce the unlikely birth of their unlikely son to the world, before their solitude is destroyed by an invading army of media and Weasleys and well-wishers. Draco intends to take advantage of it.