Actions

Work Header

Taking Chances

Chapter Text

Draco lay back on the padded bench in the empty waiting room, his stomach cramping with nerves. His jaw ached from how tightly it was clenched, and his fingers drummed a constant rhythm on his thigh. He hated that he couldn't seem to control his anxious ticks, but it wasn't as if there was any reason to at the moment; he was completely alone. Draco knew that wouldn't be the case for long, though. In his agitated state, Draco had shown up a full hour ahead of schedule, but that was forty minutes ago now. The rest of his group would be arriving any minute.

Josh chose that moment to come bursting through the metal door, the sound nearly toppling Draco off his bench in surprise. Josh was a big bloke, with light brown hair and intense, dark brown eyes. He was only a couple of inches taller than Draco, but almost twice as wide—all muscle. Josh could be intimidating at first glance, but he was one of the kindest people Draco had ever met. Still, he was a noisy fucker, and Draco was...on edge. He glared, and Josh grinned in response, though his eyes were assessing as he sat on one of the chairs next to Draco. A lot of people were quick to dismiss Josh as brawn over brain, but he was incredibly perceptive. He wouldn't be here if he wasn't.

"We don't have to do this you know," Josh said, his tone carefully casual. "You can still back out."

Draco scoffed. "At the last minute? And force everybody to stay behind with me and miss out on this opportunity? Or worse, stay behind alone while you all have a year of adventures without me?" Draco shook his head. "No thank you." He paused, biting his lip, before continuing in his own deceptively light tone, "Besides, it's not like we'll get Great Britain, is it?"

"Nah, 'course not," Josh said hastily, quick to reassure. "There're a ton of other countries taking part in the exchange. The chances of us getting sent to London are miniscule."

Draco tried to let Josh's words comfort him, but his stomach still bubbled and frothed with nerves. "And Madison met with Head Auror Davis?" Draco confirmed, unable to stop poking at the source of his discomfort. "She definitely requested that we not be sent to London?"

"You know she did, Dray. He said he didn't have any say in the placement, but that he would lodge the request. Stop worrying, it'll be fine." Josh spoke confidently.

"I'm not worried." Draco snapped. "And don't call me that." He glanced up, immediately feeling guilty for his harsh tone when Josh was only trying to be a good friend, "Sorry. Maybe I'm a bit...apprehensive. But that's to be expected with a move like this. I'm not any more concerned than you are." Of course, the problem was that Draco knew that Josh wasn't nearly as sanguine about the whole affair as he wanted to seem for Draco's sake. There wasn't any guarantee about where they'd be placed.

Draco's cohort was so excited to participate in the pilot of the Auror Trainee exchange programme. Countries all over the world had committed to participating, each of them sending a team of six Auror Trainees abroad, and accepting a team of six others in turn. A whole year spent in a foreign country, learning about the differences in magical law enforcement, and fostering a better working relationship between offices. Apparently the original idea had been to do the exchange with fully trained Aurors, but there was far too much hesitation at the idea of each country having to give up part of their Auror force in exchange for foreign replacements of uncertain ability. In the end, they'd all agreed that sending trainees instead was a much better solution, and would allow the program to work much like academic exchanges between the various magical schools. It really was was an amazing opportunity.

Of course, some cities and countries were considered more desirable than others, and to avoid any bias, none of the participating teams were to be told their destination before they arrived. It was all a little too cloak and dagger for Draco's tastes, and once he'd seen that London was taking part in the exchange, Draco had been determined not to participate.

Unfortunately, the rest of his cohort desperately wanted to go. The six of them had formed a strong bond over the past two years of training, and the fact that the programme was specifically requesting teams of six was clearly a sign from above. None of them wanted to leave Draco behind, and Draco was reluctant to force his friends to miss out on such an amazing opportunity because he was afraid. Part of the reason he'd decided to become an Auror in the first place was to prove to himself and the world that he wasn't a coward. That he'd changed.

Eventually he'd agreed, specifically after Madison had told him that she'd make sure to put in a request that they be sent anywhere but London if possible. London was considered a prime location, so surely there'd be no reason to send a team there that had specifically requested to go somewhere else, would there? There were twenty Auror divisions participating in the programme after all, and London was only one of those options. Of course, Seattle was another one of those options, which bought the odds down to one in nineteen—not as low as Draco would like, but he tried not to dwell on that fact.

"That's the spirit!" Josh grinned, clearly hoping some of his enthusiasm would rub off on Draco. He couldn't help but crack a smile. Draco didn't want to be the gloomy cloud that rained on everybody's parade. Of course, living in Seattle, they were well used to grey skies and damp weather.

"I'm actually quite excited to do some traveling again. It's been years since I've been outside the country," Draco ventured, hoping to bring a positive light back to their impending trip.

"Totally!" Josh enthused. "I'm definitely excited to get out of the States and—" the rest of Josh's sentence was lost in a cacophony of noise as the rest of their team came piling in through the loud metal doors.

Sarah was first through, balancing a loaded cardboard coffee tray carefully in one hand. She often kept her hair in tight cornrow braids—she said it was easier to keep it tightly bound while they were training—but today it was loose and circled her head like a dark, fuzzy halo. It must be raining outside, because water droplets clung to the corkscrew strands like fresh dew. Sarah made a face as some of the water slid down her temple. It wasn't like her to forget to cast a water repelling charm, but she must have had her hands full with the coffee. Or maybe she was nervous, too. She made her way over to Draco and Josh, dodging Zach and Matt as they dragged their luggage through the door. She smiled ruefully as she passed over a black coffee for Josh and a nonfat cappuccino for Draco.

"We thought we'd pick you guys up something on our way over."

"You are a goddess," Josh responded emphatically, taking a large gulp of the hot beverage.

Zach and Matt settled into the chairs across from them, arguing about something that Draco couldn't quite follow. Sarah joined them, half sitting on Zach's lap as she shrunk down all of their baggage with a wave of her hand. Draco took a sip of his cappuccino, grateful for her thoughtfulness as the beverage warmed him up.

Madison, her own hot coffee in hand, was last through the door, and she made like a Bludger straight for Draco, picking his feet up off the bench, before sliding in beneath them. Her blonde hair was pulled back up in a ponytail, and even though it was five in the morning and she was clearly tired, her tanned skin seemed to glow with health and vitality. Draco had always envied that about her. His own skin looked sickly and pale under the harsh fluorescent lights in the waiting room. Of course, it didn't help matters that he'd slept maybe two hours in total the night before.

"You ready?" she murmured, just loud enough for Draco and Josh to hear.

The three of them had met during their last year at Baesany, one of the American wizarding schools located high in the Cascade Mountain Range. Draco had transferred there after the war, and he, Josh, and Madison had all become fast friends. Possibly the first real friends Draco had ever had. Draco had told his entire cohort the basic details about his past, wanting to be as upfront and honest as possible. Josh and Madison were the ones who knew the most, though, the ones who knew all his dirty secrets. Well, most of them anyway.

"You know, I rather think I am," Draco replied, feeling much more relaxed than he had when he'd first arrived. Surrounded by his friends, Draco felt like he could take on the world. Besides, it was extremely improbable that they'd be sent to Britain. Much more likely was they would all be off for a year of fun and excitement abroad.

Josh grinned and raised his coffee cup. "To adventure!" he called out.

The six of them raised their cups in turn and bumped them together—delicately, of course, to avoid spills.

"To adventure!"


The Americans

Chapter Text

The room swirled into being around Draco, and he instinctively steadied himself as they landed. He'd always managed to handle Portkey travel fairly well, which was fortunate, because they had needed to take several of them in order to arrive at their final mystery destination. The whole ordeal of traveling was starting to wear, especially on Madison, Zach, and Matt, who could never seem to land on their feet and had taken a tumble with each Portkey.

Madison pulled herself unsteadily upright, brushing invisible dirt off of her yoga pants. "Please, dear God, tell me this is our final destination."

As if summoned by her plea, the door to the large room opened and a middle-aged witch of Middle Eastern descent walked over to them. "Welcome Auror Trainees!" she said cheerfully. "I'm sorry that there was nobody here to greet you immediately, but I'm afraid that there was a mix-up with your arrival times. Please, do not worry. The welcome committee should be here shortly."

"Welcome committee?"

"Yes. Six of our senior trainees have volunteered to partner with you for the following year. They'll be showing you the ropes, so to speak. You will also be sharing a room and working with your assigned partners throughout the upcoming year." She paused, then looked down at her watch, which had just emitted a rather alarming squawk. "I do hope you'll excuse me, but I have a meeting to rush off to. I'm terribly sorry about this, but your fellow trainees are on their way to escort you to orientation. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have."

She gave them a quick, genuine smile before swiftly exiting the room. They stood in silence for a moment, looking at one another with wide eyes.

"So...does anybody know where the hell we are?" Matt asked, tone, body, and expression radiating irritation and barely suppressed tension. Matt had a bit of a temper, especially when he was in poor spirits, and after a long day of traveling, he was clearly not in the mood to be kept waiting.

Josh, ever the peacekeeper, tried to prevent Matt from spiraling out. "I was trying to place her accent, but I didn't recognise it. There was a Middle Eastern country on the list, wasn't there?"

"Yes, Pakistan. Do you that's where we ended up?" Sarah asked.

"Not necessarily," Zach mused. "I don't think she was Pakistani."

They all continued to debate the possibilities while Draco took in their surroundings. They'd formed a tight circle in the centre of the room, and Draco fought the instinct to turn around so his back wasn't facing the door. He was perfectly safe here. There was no need to start acting paranoid. He tried to determine if there were any clues to their location around them, but the room was completely empty; the only object in the entire place was the innocuous quill they had used to Portkey in. The walls were barren and painted a generic taupe. It had to be the world's most bland and depressing room. Draco wondered if this was where they interrogated criminals. It certainly seemed a more apt location for interrogation than for welcoming.

He attempted to tune back into the conversation swirling around him, but his stomach was fluttering with anxiety. At this point, it wasn't so much worry over whether or not he was back in London, but the lack of knowing for sure either way. Salazar, he just wanted it all to be over with.

Madison caught his eye and crossed the circle, edging in next to him and throwing her left arm around his shoulder for a quick squeeze. He wrapped his right arm around her waist and squeezed back, grateful for the silent support.

"Well, wherever we are, I hope our training buddies hurry the fuck up. I want to get started," Matt said emphatically, practically vibrating with excitement and frustration.

"I know! The anticipation is killing me," Josh agreed, focusing on the positive, and the whole group nodded along.

The were all so caught up in wondering where they were, that they had apparently completely missed the sound of the door opening. Draco noted he wasn't the only one who jolted in surprise when a voice called out a welcome. A too-familiar voice. Even facing away from the welcoming party, Draco instantly placed the accent as British. Draco's stomach sank.

Draco's cohort was frozen—they had also clearly recognised the accent, judging from the way their eyes flicked between Draco and the trainees standing behind him.

There was a brief awkward pause, before the first voice started up again. "Erm...Welcome to London. My name is Harry. Harry Potter."

Draco tensed and he couldn't help letting out a strangled laugh as Josh breathed out an extremely appropriate, "Oh, shit."

***

Harry walked down the long corridor with five of his fellow Auror trainees, excitement so thick around them that Harry could practically taste it. There was a kind of frantic, palpable energy surrounding their group as they all rushed down the corridor. Apparently the incoming trainees had already arrived, an hour early and in a completely different room than planned. They'd actually ended up in one of the rooms the Aurors used for interrogations, which Harry hoped wasn't some kind of omen for the year to come. Still, Harry couldn't stop a smile from spreading across his face. After months of planning and waiting, the exchange trainees were finally here.

When Robards had announced the pilot programme for an international Auror trainee exchange, Harry had been fascinated. He'd never had a chance to travel much as a child, and he felt woefully ignorant when it came to the magical cultures and customs of other countries. To tell the truth, Harry barely felt competent when it came to the magical cultures and customs in Britain, but the idea that there was even more to learn about wizards abroad gave him a different kind of thrill. Finding out about Beauxbatons and Durmstrang during the Triwizard tournament had been an illuminating experience, and Harry couldn't help but think it would be exciting to be on the other side of the exchange this time.

Robards had announced that there would be twenty cities participating from all over the world, and that each one would be sending out and taking in a group of six students from one of the other locations.

Harry had immediately turned to Hermione and Ron, hoping that he would be able to convince them to sign up with him. But one look at their expressions had dashed those budding hopes. It was obvious Hermione wanted to participate, but her relationship with her parents was still fragile after the war. It had been two years since she'd brought them back to England and restored their memories, but their recovery was imperfect. When she wasn't studying or making time for her friends, she was with her parents, hoping time spent with her and a little more research might fully cure them. Despite her interest in the programme, Harry knew she wouldn't be able to leave them for a full year.

As for Ron, well, he had never been particularly interested in travel, and with Hermione set on remaining in London, Harry knew that trying to convince him to leave would be a lost cause.

With no small amount of regret, Harry resigned himself to staying in London. If he was honest with himself, even with Ron and Hermione committed to staying behind, Harry likely would have signed up...if it weren't for Ginny. Harry knew that she would support him if leaving was what he truly wanted, but she likely wouldn't be overly thrilled with the idea. They had only recently become engaged when the programme had first been announced—six months ago now—and leaving for a year was probably not the best move immediately after asking somebody to marry you.

He wasn't sure if he should be worried that Ginny hadn't been his first thought upon hearing about the programme, that he had only considered her after he had first talked with Ron and Hermione. But the engagement had still been new at the time, and Harry was only just getting used to having a true partner in every sense of the world. He pointedly ignored the fact that they'd been going out together for several years before he'd proposed, and consulting her when considering such a life-altering decision should have been second nature by that point.

He had brought it up with her later over dinner, and as he expected, she hadn't been enthusiastic about the idea of him being gone for so long. They had been talking about getting married as soon as he graduated from Auror training, and being gone for his entire last year would make planning a wedding nearly impossible. Not to mention it wasn't the most auspicious of ways to begin an engagement.

He'd been upset at first, particularly when six of his fellow trainees were chosen for the trip, but it didn't take long for him to overcome his disappointment. After all, the London office would also be receiving a team of exchange trainees. He didn't have to leave in order to participate, and he'd eagerly signed up to partner with one of the foreigners, along with Ron, Hermione, Padma, Dean, and Michael Corner. They'd all be moving into a new set of dorms, rooming and partnering with the exchange trainees for their final year. Harry couldn't wait.

Lately life had begun to feel...not boring exactly, but predictable. He had everything he'd ever wanted: amazing friends, a beautiful and loving fiancée, and a job he was passionate about. Despite the fact that he was ostensibly moving forward with his life, he couldn't help feeling like he was stagnating. There was no danger or excitement or adventure, and he hated himself a little for wanting something more. He was happy to experience peace for the first time in what felt like his entire life, for a chance to slow down and breathe without death looming over his shoulder, but sometimes it felt like something was missing. Was this what happiness was supposed to feel like, as if life was passing him by while he ambled slowly down a well-worn path towards his future?

Intellectually he knew that things were good and that he was just asking for trouble. Which was why he was so eager for this programme to get underway. This was something different, an infusion of new blood that would hopefully throw a welcome wrench into all their staid routines. He'd get to learn about another culture, make new friends, and hopefully satisfy the strange itch that had settled under his skin.

Checking the room numbers as he walked past various doors, he finally found E44, and halted, jolting as Ron continued walking and bumped into his shoulder.

"All right, mate?" Ron asked, steadying him.

Harry grinned over his shoulder. "Absolutely."

Harry opened the door to the room, his curiosity peaking as he finally got a look at the exchange students. There were four boys and two girls and they were all so absorbed in their conversation they didn't seem to notice their entrance.

He scanned over them. There was a slim dark-haired man in glasses holding hands with a short curvy girl with dark brown skin; a huge, muscled man taking to a hispanic man who gesticulated wildly, and facing away from him were a pair of blonds, one woman with dark blonde hair, and the other a man with pale hair that made Harry's stomach flip. Harry had only seen hair that colour in one family, but Harry knew the strange thrum in his belly was nonsense. There was no way that was Draco Malfoy...was it?

Whoever it was appeared to be a few inches taller than Harry, and a bit slimmer, but Harry could see the lean muscles of his arms, back, and thighs; he definitely had some power to him. The white blond hair was short and artfully tousled, and he was wearing a pair of expensive looking Muggle jeans paired with a tight-fitting grey t-shirt. His right arm was resting casually around the waist of the blond girl next to him, and her arm was slung around his shoulder.

No, Harry was just seeing things. This friendly, touchy-feely bloke definitely wasn't Malfoy. The thought filled him was unexpected disappointment. The Malfoys had left for France immediately after the trials, and nothing had been heard from any of them since. Harry hadn't expected to miss Malfoy at all, but he couldn't deny that it had been strange returning to Hogwarts and not seeing him there. Ron and Hermione teased him about his fixation, and he had tried to put Malfoy out of his head. Though he must not have been very successful if he was apparently seeing him in random strangers now.

Shaking himself, he moved towards the group, his friends walking with him. He could hear the voices of their visitors more clearly now, and judging by their accents, they were American, or maybe Canadian.

"Hello!" he called out during a pause in the conversation. The group froze and slowly lifted their eyes to Harry.

The exchange trainees were completely still, as if they'd received a bad shock, their eyes flicking around nervously. Harry glanced over at Ron and Hermione questioningly, but the both seemed just as puzzled as he did.

Inexplicably nervous, Harry stammered out, "Erm, welcome to London. I'm Harry. Harry Potter."

At his words, the handsome, bulky man facing him exclaimed, "Oh, shit," and the blond with his back to Harry let out a strangled—slightly hysterical—laugh.

Thoroughly bewildered, he turned to consult Hermione—his go-to move in times of confusion—but was momentarily distracted by the flash of movement in front of him as the tall blond drew his left hand up and through his tousled hair. Which might not have been particularly arresting, if it wasn't for the fact that it exposed his forearm. His marked forearm.

"Oh. My. God." Hermione stared, her eyes wide as Quaffles. Harry looked over at Ron, Padma, Michael, and Dean, wondering if they had caught the distinctive Dark Mark. Judging by their gobsmacked expressions, they definitely had.

Slowly, the man turned around, revealing the unmistakable face of Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Draco stared in resignation at the familiar faces from his childhood. Of course they were in bloody London. Wasn't that just Draco's luck? There was Saint Potter, naturally, and at his side were Granger and Weasley. No surprises there. Behind them was one of the Patil twins, though which one, Draco couldn't say, and next to her, a slight, black-haired bloke that Draco recognised but couldn't quite place—a Ravenclaw, maybe? Draco's stomach clenched as his gaze swept over the sixth member of their team, Dean Thomas. He'd never paid much attention to him at Hogwarts, but holding somebody prisoner in one's dungeons tended to leave an impression. Draco thought he might be sick.

"Dios mío, we're in England, aren't we?" Matt said into the shocked silence.

Madison huffed, her hand coming down to squeeze Draco's in reassurance. "Obviously."

"I'm sorry," said Weasley, looking not at all apologetic. "Can somebody please explain to me what the fuck Malfoy is doing here?"

"Malfoy?" Matt said in confusion. Right. Draco had started going by his mother's maiden name when he'd moved to the States. It had been easier to start over fresh that way. Of course, Matt and the rest of them knew it wasn't his true surname, but it appeared Matt had forgotten that detail.

"Shh," Madison hissed, turning to glare at him.

"I thought that would be obvious," Draco said disdainfully, doing his best to cover up the fact that inside he was well and truly panicking. "How lucky that London has attracted such bright minds for their Auror programme."

Weasley's face turned the colour of his hair, as he sputtered angrily. The rest of the expressions facing him turned dark, and Draco felt a flash of bitter satisfaction. He wasn't going to let them have the gratification of seeing him sweat.

"Draco!" Sarah gasped softly behind him, her voice full of reproach. Guilt crept across Draco's conscience. He generally tried to control his biting tongue, but it was much easier to do when he didn't feel like a cornered deer facing down a horde of slavering wolves. Draco shivered. Perhaps that wasn't the best metaphor to use. Draco didn't blame them, not really, but it didn't change the fact that any one of them would probably be more than happy to see Draco suffer.

"Shove it, Malfoy," Potter said forcefully. His eyes flashed behind his still-hideous glasses, and his gaze seemed to bore into Draco for a moment, right into his very soul, before Potter turned away, expression unreadable. His tone lightened somewhat as he addressed the rest of Malfoy's friends, though his eyes were still hard. "We're supposed to take you lot to Head Auror Robards."

Granger looked fretfully over at Draco. "Harry, do you really think we should…"

Harry shrugged, "Robards had to have known. I can't imagine he'd let six people into the heart of the Ministry without thoroughly vetting them first."

"But it's Malfoy," Ron whinged, as if that was reason enough to keep Draco out. He probably wasn't wrong. "Robards can't seriously mean to let him into training with us."

"You know we can hear you, right?" Madison said, her eyes flashing as her hand drifted down towards her wand. We are literally standing two feet away." Draco felt warm at her obvious desire to protect him, even as he grabbed her hand and stilled it. It really wasn't a good idea to get into a duel with the Saviour of Wizarding Britain in the middle of the Ministry of Magic.

Granger and Potter looked a little sheepish at the rebuke, but Weasley clearly gave zero fucks about Draco's tender feelings. It was almost comforting the way some things never changed. Except Draco had changed, and that was exactly why he hadn't wanted to be dragged back into this world that had already labeled him a villain.

"Why don't we take them the back way," the pale, dark-haired man suggested with a slight sneer in Draco's direction. "That way we won't be parading him through the Atrium before we've heard from Robards."

"Good idea, Corner." Potter nodded at the himCorner. Michael Corner. Draco's mind supplied—before heading out the door, clearly expecting them all to follow.

"Are you okay?" Madison whispered, as they hurried down narrow corridor after narrow corridor.

"I'm fine," Draco lied. Nothing about this was fine. The anxious bubbling in his stomach from earlier that morning had morphed into a full roiling boil. It had been years since he'd been back in London—not since right after the trials—and he'd sworn to himself he'd never come back. He had a life in Seattle, his own life formed by his own choices. Draco was a different person now, and this place belonged to the old him. Thoughts and feelings and emotions bounced around in him like a curse ricocheting around in a metal cauldron.

"Are you sure?" Madison pressed, obviously sensing Draco wasn't being entirely truthful.

"Just leave it," Draco snapped.

She opened her mouth, clearly not intending to "leave it", but she was prevented from pressing the issue by their arrival through a backdoor into a bustling office. Draco's heart began to thud. He recognised these offices. He'd been dragged through them as a seventeen-year-old boy, shaking and terrified on his way to sit before the Wizengamot for his crimes. Don't think about it, he told himself furiously. This was not the moment to get lost in painful memories.

"This is the Auror department," Granger explained to them. "We actually don't come up here all that often. The Auror Training Centre is on a different level, but Robards wanted to speak to us all in his office before we take you to the dorms."

Dorms. Oh Salazar, Draco had forgotten that he'd be staying here. At the London Ministry. With Harry Potter and his band of sainted heroes. Draco felt faint.

"Hi Shirley," Potter called out amiably as they entered a smaller room off the main offices. "We've got the exchanges here to see Robards."

"Oh, of course, go on in!" Shirley was a plump, kindly-looking witch in her fifties, and she held up a tray of delicious-looking chocolate biscuits. "And please, take a biscuit!"

"Biscuit?" Matt said, peering at the platter in confusion.

"Cookie," Draco clarified. "They call them biscuits here."

"Ahh." He shook his head. "Strange." But still, he grabbed a biscuit on his way into the office and began munching happily. Draco felt a stirring of envy as his own stomach grumbled with hunger, but he was worried he'd throw up if he ate anything now, and wouldn't that just be the mortifying cherry atop the horrendous cake of this day?

Head Auror Robards had a large office, but even so, with thirteen of them crammed in there, it was a tight fit. Robards was a big man, though it was clear most of his bulk had been muscle back in his prime. There was a bit of a belly on him now, but he was still imposing, and his eyes were shrewd and discerning. Draco tried not to quiver beneath his placid stare.

"Hello, and welcome to London. I'm Gawain Robards, Head of the Auror Office in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for the Ministry of Magic in Great Britain," he began, his booming voice a little too loud in the crowded room. "You won't be seeing much of me, as I don't have much to do with training these days, but I wanted to say hello before I sent you on your way.

"As you all know, this is the pilot of an exchange programme that has been trying to get off the ground since I was a trainee. I'm sure you can imagine the red tape it had to go to before twenty cities agreed to sign on. This is an unparalleled opportunity, and I trust that each of you is committed to making the most of your time together. You will all be working very closely with one another over the next year, and I hope you will do your best to learn from each other and set a shining example as representatives of your respective countries."

Head Auror Robards continued to drone on for another several minutes, extolling the virtues of teamwork and making it clear that he expected them all to be on their best behaviour. As he spoke, he looked each one of them in the eye, and Draco was surprised by the lack of anger or suspicion in his gaze when it landed on Draco. Somehow, he found himself calming somewhat, the gravelly baritone of Robards' voice soothing Draco's frayed nerves.

"That's all for now. I wish you all the best in the coming year. Now, if you could all wait outside my office for a moment, I'd like to have a word with young Malfoy before our trainees show you to where you'll all be living for the next year."

Draco's new calm evaporated in the blink of an eye. He felt Josh squeeze his shoulder as he passed in a gesture of support, but he was too numb to react. This was it. This was where Robards told him that a Malfoy in the Auror department was a security risk and would need to be sent home. His chest ached. As much as he desperately didn't want to be in London for the next year, even worse would be going home alone. He didn't know if he could stand the embarrassment, the loneliness.

"Calm down, boy, don't look so frightened," Robards chided after the door closed behind the others.

"I'm not frightened," Draco spat, before realising who he was talking to. He arranged his face into something more neutral, before adding on a, "Sir."

Robards laughed. "I can't say I wasn't surprised when I saw your name on the roster."

"Surprised, sir?"

"Surprised. Cautious. Wary. But I put in an International Floo call to your Division Head, and she had nothing but good things to say about you. She assured me that they had been well aware of your past when they recruited you—apparently it had even been a bit of a selling point with them."

"They don't have as many legacy bloodlines over there, sir, particularly on the west coast," Draco explained. "Their knowledge of the Dark Arts is...less robust than in Europe. They thought my...expertise in certain areas would prove beneficial."

"And it seems they were right. I hear you've even consulted a few times on open Auror investigations—impressive for a trainee."

Draco's cheeks flushed with pride. "Thank you, sir."

It had been an incredible honour and a sign of trust that he'd been allowed to consult on open investigations. Draco hadn't been exaggerating—compared to European wizards, the Americans had significantly less background and knowledge on dark arts and ancient rituals. Bloodlines and purity mattered less there, and without the tradition of families passing sacred knowledge down to their heirs, that aspect of their history had mostly faded. Draco wasn't sure it was such a bad thing on the whole, but it did mean that they had far fewer experts on Dark Arts in the Auror corp. Every once in awhile, a Dark Wizard popped onto the radar who'd clearly done their homework, and having a Dark Arts expert on hand could make all the difference. Draco already had a greater understanding of Dark Arts than he cared to when he'd been recruited, and since then, he'd picked Dark Arts (and the defense thereof) as his focus at the training academy. He was better equipped, more knowledgeable, and had more practical experience than many full-fledged Aurors in his division when it came to the Dark Arts, and that was without him even having finished with his training.

"I won't lie, not everybody is going to be happy that you're here, particularly that you're here in the heart of the Ministry training to be an Auror. It's going to be difficult, but if what your Division Chief had to say is the truth, then you're up for the challenge. I'm willing to give you a chance, if you want it."

Incredibly, Draco's heart began to beat even faster. "Yes, sir."

Robards nodded. "Excellent. Now, that brings us to a related piece of business. The media."

Draco winced. Daily Prophet headlines from the last time he'd been in Britain flashed through his mind. They had been less than flattering, to put it mildly. Not that he hadn't deserved it, and more besides.

Robards gave him a tired smile. "Yes, exactly. The longer we can put them off, the better. The exchange programme hasn't been advertised—everybody agreed that it would be best to wait until it was proven a success before shouting on about it. It means that the Prophet and all the rest of the papers have no reason to know that you're here. I'd recommend that you do your best to remain inconspicuous. For all our sakes."

It rankled, the thought of sneaking back into London and laying low like some common thief. But Draco saw the wisdom in Robards's words, and Draco was well aware who would suffer the most if word of his return got out.

"Of course, sir."

"Luckily, it's an election year, and the race is close and messy. The papers should have their hands full for the next few months, at least." He rubbed his hands together. "In the meantime, let's see if we can't stay out of trouble, shall we? I wish you the best of luck, Mr Malfoy. Please let the others know that they can show you all the dorms now."

It was a clear dismissal. Draco nodded and rose, a strange combination of relief and terror pumping through him.

He took a deep breath, and pushed through the door.

***

Harry and the rest of the group waited curiously outside Robards's office.

"What do you think Robards wants to talk to Malfoy about?" he whispered to Ron and Hermione.

"Maybe he's sending the git back to wherever he came from," Ron replied hopefully.

"Yeah," Harry murmured, but he couldn't muster the same enthusiasm for the possibility as Ron had. He couldn't deny that the idea of being around Malfoy for the next year sounded bloody awful, but it also sounded sort of...interesting. Malfoy had certainly never been boring, that was for sure. Not to mention, Harry was desperately curious about what had happened to him. How the hell did Malfoy end up as an Auror Trainee in America? No, Harry definitely didn't want Malfoy to leave until Harry worked through the fascinating puzzle of how he'd spent the past three years.

He glanced over at the group of American wizards huddled next to their group, looking wary and on guard. It was clear they considered Malfoy one of their own, and several of them had even seemed rather friendly with him. The interactions were completely different from the ones Harry had seen between Malfoy and his fellow Slytherins back at Hogwarts. These seemed more caring and genuine. How had Malfoy managed to win their trust and affection?

"You know," Hermione murmured, "We really should be a little more hospitable. We don't even know where they're from or what their names are."

"Yeah, but they're friends with Malfoy," Ron complained, clearly ready to write them all off on that alone. Frankly, Harry wasn't sure Ron had the wrong idea idea. "Besides, we already know they're from America."

Hermione rolled her eyes in a gesture of fond exasperation. "It's not their fault they happen to work with Malfoy, Ron. Besides, there are three American cities participating in the exchange."

"But—"

Padma sighed loudly besides them, clearly frustrated with the back and forth, before turning towards the other group with a genial smile. "So, what city are you all from?"

They looked at one another for a moment before the tanned blonde replied, "We grew up in different places, but we all live and work in Washington State. Seattle."

Harry nodded thoughtfully, though he really didn't have a clue where Seattle was. Somewhere in America, obviously. He'd have to ask Hermione if she had a map he could look at.

"Is that the place where it rains all the time?" Dean asked.

"Actually, compared to most U.S. cities, Seattle doesn't get that much rain," volunteered the man in glasses. "It ranks 44th in average annual rainfall among major cities in the United States. We get approximately thirty-eight inches of rain annually, but that rainfall is spread out over more days per year than the average major city in the States, leading to the misconception that Seattle receives more rain than it really does."

"Looks like we've got ourselves another Hermione," Ron murmured lowly. Harry agreed, but he was glad he kept quiet when Hermione elbowed Ron. "What? You know I love your big brain." He wrapped an arm around her and pressed a smacking kiss to her cheek. She rolled her eyes but smiled at him, her eyes sparkling with pleasure before turning back to their guests.

"That's really interesting," Hermione said, and Harry knew she actually meant it. "I'm afraid I don't know all that much about America. I mean, of course I've read loads about it, but it's just so big." Ron cleared his throat, and her cheeks heated before she pulled herself back on course. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've exchanged names yet. My name's Hermione. And these two are Harry and Ron. And then we've got Padma, Michael, and Dean."

"Thank you for the introductions. My name is Zach, and this is—"

"My name's Sarah," said the curvy black woman holding Zach's hand.

"Josh," offered the big, burly bloke.

"I'm Mateo, but you can call me Matt."

"And I'm Madison," finished the blonde woman. She looked at them intently for a moment, before continuing, a slight edge in her voice, "And, of course, you all already know—"

The door opened and Draco Malfoy stepped out looking tense but otherwise completely unreadable.

"Robards said you were to show us to our dorms now," he said flatly.

Harry glanced over at Ron, but he merely shrugged back at him. Ron may not want to work with Malfoy, but it was obvious he wasn't going to go against Robards. "Okay then, this way."

He kept his gaze straight ahead as he walked the now familiar path towards the Auror Training facility, ignoring the furious whispering of the Americans behind him. He wondered what Robards had told Malfoy. He wondered what the hell Malfoy was even doing here. Merlin, Harry hadn't even realised it was possible to exist with so many questions bouncing around in his skull. Was this what it was like for Hermione all of the time?

"What section are our quarters in again?" Harry asked, once they'd passed into the wing of the Ministry reserved for Auror training.

"We're in Alpha," Padma replied, steering them towards the section in question. She waved her wand over a stretch of solid concrete, and an archway appeared. "Looks like the wards have already been keyed to our magical signatures." She turned towards the rest of the group, "You just have to wave your wand in front of the wall and it'll open for you."

"Yes, you'll find that we have warded doorways in America as well," Malfoy said, disdain vibrating through his words. He stalked towards the wall and opened the archway with a vicious slash of his own wand before disappearing inside. Madison and Sarah frowned at the wall where he'd vanished, concern visible on their faces before they followed after him.

Harry felt anger begin to well up inside him. Padma was just being kind, and she'd never done anything to Malfoy. There was no reason for him to be such a prick. He'd been willing to give Malfoy a chance, but clearly that had been naïve of him. Malfoy hadn't changed at all. He was still just as rude, selfish, and arrogant as ever. Harry passed through the door after Ron, suddenly hoping that Malfoy wouldn't be staying for good. Besides, maybe some of these frustrating questions and curiosities taking up space in Harry's brain would disappear with their blond-haired, grey-eyed catalyst. The last thing Harry needed was to get thrown out for hexing a fellow trainee.

A likelihood that seemed to increase in probability when he saw the parchment hung up on the column at the entrance to their quarters.

Room Assignments


Witches Wizards
Hermione Granger/Madison Taylor Dean Thomas/Mateo Rivera
Padma Patil/Sarah Botha Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Ronald Weasley/Joshua Green
Michael Corner/Zachary Lee

"What do you mean I have to room with Malfoy?" Harry complained, perhaps a little louder than was strictly necessary, his stomach twisting into anxious knots.

Malfoy stiffened before stalking off towards the kitchen area, and Hermione looked at Harry apologetically. "Apparently Robards picked our room assignments personally. He wanted to pair us off with the Americans to increase our cross-cultural knowledge and understanding."

"But Malfoy isn't even an American!" Harry argued. "He's from bloody Britain, just like us." The whole point of signing up to partner with the exchange students was to learn more about another culture. Not to get stuck with a hateful git that he'd already had the displeasure of going to school with.

"I know," Hermione said, clearly upset as well. "I'm sorry, Harry. But I don't think there's anything we can do about it."

He looked forlornly back at the sheet, but it still told him the same thing. He'd be rooming with Draco sodding Malfoy for the next year. His stomach churned unpleasantly at the thought.

"He probably wants you to keep an eye on him, mate," Ron said, clapping a comforting hand on Harry's back. "Robards is no idiot, he's got to be a little suspicious. I mean, it's Malfoy."

"So you've said," Hermione replied dryly.

"How are you so calm about this? Tell me him being here isn't bloody weird. And now our best mate has to sleep in the same room as him."

Hermione sighed. "It is a little...strange. But if Robards has cleared him to be here, then we have to trust that. Honestly, life has been just fine without having to think about him for the past three years, and I don't see why him being here now has to change that. With any luck, Malfoy's presence will be like any other exchange student."

Ron and Harry exchanged a skeptical glance. There was no way in hell they would be able to completely ignore Malfoy's presence for the next year. Harry opened his mouth to say something to this effect, but he closed it when Ron shook his head. Getting over what happened during the war had been difficult for all of them, and they processed things in different ways. If Hermione needed to pretend for a while that Malfoy being back in their lives wouldn't affect them, then Harry could give her that.

The three of them joined the rest of the group where they were huddled around a large dining table, looking over several pieces of parchment. Dean passed three of them over.

"Our schedule for the next year."

Hermione grabbed hers eagerly. "Looks like we've got the core again, of course: Concealment & Disguise, Stealth & Tracking, Physical Combat, Defensive & Offensive Magic, and Wandless & Non-Verbal Casting. Ooo, and look! We get to take Magical Jurisprudence again."

"Yay," Ron said with all the enthusiasm of a dead Flobberworm. They'd taken the intro class in Year One, and Ron had been thrilled to discover it wasn't on the curriculum for Year Two. The class was all right, but it was pretty dry stuff. It was Hermione's favorite, of course.

"Let's see, we also have Memory Modification & Muggle Relations, Poisons & Antidotes, and Magical Signatures & Traces."

"Merlin, that's a lot of classes. How many are there, ten?"

"Nine," Dean said gloomily.

"Yeah, but some of them only meet once a week, like Physical Combat."

"But that's the best one! No homework."

"Magical Jurisprudence is only once a week as well," Padma said. She sounded a little disappointed, but Ron perked right up.

"Oh, that's all right then."

One of the Americans, Zach, Harry was pretty sure, let out a loud yawn, his eyelids drooping.

"Shall we go find our rooms?" Dean ventured.

Harry didn't particularly want to go find his room, the one he'd be sharing with Malfoy, but when he looked up, Dean glanced significantly over at the Americans. They looked tired and worn from a day of International Portkey travel, and Harry heaved a heavy sigh.

"Yeah, that sounds good. Malfoy, you're with me."

Malfoy bristled at the command and Harry felt a rush of sick satisfaction. But Malfoy stood silently and without complaint, before following Harry down the hall.

"Hey, Black, you forgot your jacket," the hispanic looking bloke—Matt—called out.

Malfoy turned, easily catching the tossed article of clothing.

"Wait, are we supposed to call you Malfoy now? Are you no longer going incognito?"

"I was never going incognito," Malfoy sighed.

"Really? Because I think moving countries and changing your last name is sort of the definition." Harry wondered if he was imaging the thread of tension beneath Matt's words. Maybe all wasn't as sunny between Malfoy and the Americans as it seemed.

Malfoy sighed tiredly. "Yes, fine, call me what you like. Anything—"

"Sounds good, Dray," Matt interrupted with an evil smile.

"—but Dray," Malfoy finished. Malfoy sighed even louder this time. "Ugh, whatever, I'm too tired to deal with you right now."

Matt gave him a broad, shit-eating grin as Malfoy turned away and stomped down the hallway.

"Night, Dray!" Several of them called out in unison. Harry snickered.

It wasn't until they reached their room, that Matt's earlier words began to sink in.

"What was it Matt called you?" Harry asked, his voice low as they both entered their room. It was clean and spartan, almost spacious, if Harry didn't think about the fact that he'd be sharing it with Malfoy. Harry wasn't sure the Great Hall would be enough space for the two of them to share.

"It's a stupid nickname," Malfoy said as he unshrunk his luggage with slow, almost sluggish movements. "Don't even think about calling me it, or I'll hex your nose off."

Harry shook his head. "No, before that. He said you changed your last name."

"Oh, that. My family thought it might be safer for me if I had a less...conspicuous last name. I went by Draco Black."

Hot wrath raged through Harry, so sudden and swift that it rendered him temporarily mute. Malfoy must have misinterpreted the anger on Harry's face because he added, "Don't worry, MACUSA was well aware of who I was when they took me on as an Auror Trainee, and my friends knew that I'd changed my name, but clearly some of them forgot about it."

"You—you—You have no right to use his name!" Harry shouted, feeling helpless against his sudden rising fury. Black was Sirius's last name, and Malfoy wasn't fit to wipe his boots. How dare Malfoy take his name and use it for his own.

Malfoy looked confused for a moment before realisation crossed his face, followed swiftly by his own bitter anger. "You forget, Potter, the legacy of the most Noble House of Black. My mother was a Black, and dear old Auntie Bella was as well. It was hardly a House of saints, and it certainly didn't belong to your godfather alone. Half my blood is from that House, and I have every right to the name. Certainly more right than you."

Harry's hand twitched towards his wand, and Draco's gaze narrowed on the gesture, his own posture altering into a defensive stance. Anger continued to pump through Harry's veins, hot and dark, but he did his best to tamp it down. Malfoy wasn't entirely wrong. Despite the actions of Sirius and Regulus, of Andromeda and countless others that had been burned off the tapestry, Harry knew there was plenty of darkness in the Black line. Slowly, his blood began to cool, though his throat still burned with the bitter aftertaste of his outrage. Let Malfoy have it, if he wanted the name so badly. Sirius had hated that name. He'd hated the name and the house and the bloodlines and all of the baggage that came with being a Black. It was stupid for Harry to get angry over it. He'd just been caught off guard, was all.

"Whatever, Malfoy," Harry finally muttered, before turning towards his bed, the one closest to the door, and enlarged his trunk.

He purposefully kept his back towards Malfoy, despite his instincts screaming at him not to turn his back on an enemy. A small, dark part of Harry almost wished Malfoy would try to hex him, that he'd make the first move. Nobody could blame Harry for defending himself, after all. But after a few tense moments, he heard Malfoy turn away and mutter a spell to help him unpack.

They worked in total silence, unpacking their bags and settling into their new home.

It was going to be a long year.

Chapter Text

"Do we really think this is a good idea?" Michael Corner whispered as they filed into their first class, Defensive & Offensive magic. "Do we seriously want to teach Malfoy advanced offensive spells?"

"Scared, Corner?" Ron scoffed. Harry was pretty sure Ron secretly agreed with Corner, but it was the principle of the thing. Even though it had been years since Corner and Ginny had dated, Ron had never managed to warm up to the bloke. To be fair, Harry wasn't wild about him either. It was hard to like somebody who had been with the only two women Harry had ever dated. Plus, he was a git.

"No, I'm not scared, Weasley. I just have a healthy amount of caution. I know most of you Gryffindors have never heard the word before, but—"

"Oh come off it, Michael," Padma sighed.

"If this year's class is anything like last year's, then I'm looking forward to it," Ron said, changing the subject before Corner could get going again.

"And why's that?"

"Because we'll get to practice duelling, which means there'll be a perfectly legitimate reason for one of us to knock Malfoy on his pasty arse."

"Think about my arse a lot, Weasley?" Malfoy said from behind them. His tone was pure acid. "Unfortunately for you, I don't—"

Harry interrupted him before he could finish his no-doubt hateful insult. "I'd think really carefully about whatever you're about to say next, Malfoy."

"Still playing the Saviour, I see."

Harry's blood began to boil. "Fuck off, Malfoy. Why are you even here?!"

Malfoy's smile was colder than the Arctic. "Why, just to drive you mad, of course. They Portkeyed me in specially, just for you. I mean, after all, the world does revolve around you, so—"

"Harry, don't!" Hermione cried, as Harry pulled out his wand. Hot anger pulsed through him, urging him to hex Malfoy's pointy face off. It had been years since somebody had got under Harry's skin so effectively, but he couldn't deny that Malfoy's words rankled.

"Well, it looks like we've got our first two participants," a loud voice boomed from the front of the classroom.

Instructor Manning was standing with his arms crossed, an unamused expression on his face. "Trainee Potter, Trainee Malfoy, how good of you to volunteer."

"Volunteer for what, sir?" Malfoy asked neutrally.

"For our first duel. To the front of the room, please. Time to show us all what you've got."

"Excellent," Ron whispered. "You can totally take him."

"Kick his arse, Harry," Dean added.

Harry nodded before walking to the front of the room, adrenaline pumping through his veins. Malfoy walked as far from him as the narrow aisle would allow, his back straight and expression stormy. Irritation surged in Harry's breast. It was their first class, and already Malfoy had managed to nark off their instructor and drag Harry down with him. Generally speaking, Harry tried to keep as low a profile as was possible—he didn't want to get any special treatment—but it was no surprise that Draco sodding Malfoy managed to ruin that. He glowered at Malfoy as they turned to face one another, before bowing stiffly. Harry was going to destroy him.

Except, Malfoy was faster than Harry had been expecting. He fired off a Jelly-Legs Jinx before Harry had even finished raising his wand. It was all he could do to cast Protego while he flopped to the ground, before Malfoy shot an Oppugno at the row of empty desks next to Harry's prone form. As one they came to life, turning towards Harry with alarming menace.

"Shit," Harry swore, racking his brain until he finally remembered how to counter the Jelly-Legs Jinx.

Legs free, he bellowed, "Confringo," at the stampeding desks, exploding them into a shower of splinters. He winced, hiding behind a Shield Charm, and hoped Instructor Manning wouldn't be too peeved about the destruction of Ministry property.

Some instinct told him to drop to the floor and he obeyed without question just in time to avoid the red burst of a Stunning Spell. He rolled over onto his belly, blindly casting a Trip Jinx in the direction the spell came from in an attempt to buy some time as he squinted around for his glasses, which he'd lost during the fall. Across the room, a body fell to the ground with a muttered curse, and Harry scooped up his glasses, shoving them onto his face, before scrambling to his feet and readying his wand.

Malfoy was already bouncing back up, his own wand at the ready, his stance as light and nimble as a Kneazle. Without missing a beat, he slashed his wand silently, and a volley of arrowheads came speeding towards Harry.

An Impedimenta slowed the arrows down long enough for Harry to brush them away with a gust of wind, but it quickly became clear that the arrows had been a distraction. Harry could tell that Draco was gathering energy to himself, preparing for a major strike.

"Flipendo," Harry shouted, hoping to knock Malfoy backwards and disrupt whatever spell he was preparing. It was partially successful, in that Malfoy faltered for a moment and had to use some of the energy to block Harry's spell, but it didn't deter him for long.

Giddy anxiety flooded Harry's senses as he filtered through possible spells to distract Malfoy from what Harry was sure would be a powerful attack. He reached down for focus as he whispered, "Igneus orbem."

A slender ring of fire trailed out of Harry's wand. The spell was meant to be nonverbal, and it was far stronger without the whispered words, but Harry's skill hadn't quite reached that level yet. Even so, it was an impressive spell to pull off, and Malfoy's eyes widened as he took in the circlet of fire. Harry swung it like a lasso towards Malfoy and the gathering magic, satisfaction coursing through him when Malfoy dove for cover, breaking his iron concentration and sending sparks of magic dissipating into the air.

Malfoy rose behind the desk, murder writ across his face, and Harry felt a savage smile cross his own. This was more like it. This was exactly what he needed, a work-sanctioned outlet for all his pent-up frustration, and a bona fide excuse to kick Draco Malfoy's arse.

They both opened their mouths, but before they had a chance to rattle off more hexes and curses, Instructor Manning stepped between them.

"Excellent work, you two. It's clear the both of you are well versed in Defensive and Offensive Magic. I always find it invigorating to start class off with a nice duel, don't you?" He chuckled good naturedly, as if he couldn't sense the tension pulsing between his two pupils. "Now if you all wouldn't mind taking your seats, we can discuss expectations for your final year of training."

Harry fumed as he stomped towards the empty seat next to Dean. He had been this close to winning!

Apparently Malfoy had a different take. "Lucky for you the duel was called when it was, Potter," Malfoy sneered. "I'm not sure your ego could have taken losing on the first day of class."

"As if, Malfoy," Harry responded hotly. "You're mental if you think you would have beaten me."

"Yeah," Ron added. "Harry was about two seconds away from blasting you into next week, you poncy git."

Malfoy bared his teeth in vicious grin. There was something almost predatory in the expression that sent a strange shiver up Harry's spine.

"Draco!" Madison hissed, something like panic in her tone. "Jesus, just drop it and get over here."

He turned his glare on her, but wilted after a few seconds of her pointed stare. Harry heard her whispering to him as he sat down, something about being more careful, and controlling his urges, but Dean pulled his focus.

"You all right, mate?" Dean whispered.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just pissed off that I didn't have a chance to finish the duel."

Dean gave him a commiserating smile. "Still, his face when you pulled off the fire whip...Priceless! I've been trying to work that one out for ages, and I can barely manage more than a candle flame."

Harry grinned. "It's never worked so well for me before, actually."

Dean snorted. "Maybe you just needed the proper motivation."

Harry glanced over to where Malfoy was sitting, his head bent next to Madison's. His stomach gave a peculiar lurch.

"Yeah, maybe."

***

Draco cast a tooth brushing spell with a little too much force, wincing as he bared his teeth at the mirror and took in his slightly swollen gums. Fuck, today was a disaster.

He fumed silently as he readied himself for bed, replaying the morning's class and his duel with Potter. It had been a long time since he'd felt himself lose control like that, though it shouldn't have come as such a surprise. Potter was always cocking things up for him.

Just the thought of Potter sent another bolt of rage through his stomach, tearing up his insides. He stomped into their room, despair gripping him at the knowledge that there was no escaping Potter and his chaos. The entire room was filled with him, from his unmade bed, to the collage of photos he'd hung haphazardly on the walls on his side of the room, to the earthy smell of him permeating the air. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant scent, but it set Draco on edge all the same.

Draco had spent the past several years getting himself and his emotions under control, working to temper his sometimes volatile instincts. But a few days in Potter's presence, and all that hard work went right out the window. Draco was furious at himself for letting Potter get under his skin so quickly, for so easily taking Draco back to the person he no longer was.

Seeing Potter, being forced to be around him 24/7, was like being made to constantly relive some of Draco's very worst memories. Potter was a living, breathing reminder of all the terrible choices that Draco had made, a physical embodiment of the bravery and strength and goodness that Draco had never possessed himself. He liked to think he was different now, that he'd grown and matured, but that didn't change the past. Potter had been valiant where Draco had been weak, and it rankled and chafed to be constantly reminded of all his shortcomings, to be confronted with the knowledge that he'd never entirely rid himself of the stains of his past. He looked down at the faded Dark Mark on his skin, and grimaced.

He got up from his bed and began to pace, a vibrating energy beneath his skin urging him to move. Draco wished he was back home in Seattle, that he could roam the familiar streets of Capitol Hill to burn off some of this excess energy. There wasn't anything stopping him from doing the same here, but he didn't know these streets as well, and he was nervous about the media and Robards's warning. Even if he stayed far away from the wizarding districts, it was no guarantee he wouldn't be sighted, and he wasn't willing to risk it so early on.

Though they were several floors underground, Draco knew that outside the moon hung full and heavy in the sky. Even here he could feel the pull of it, a gentle force that seemed to pulse around him like a heartbeat. He knew it hadn't been helping with his control issues, but that was hardly an excuse. Madison had called him out on it after the duel, reminding him that if women across the world could control their hormones going wild every month, then so could Draco.

He hated the resentment that had burned in his throat at her reprimand. She wasn't wrong, and though it stung a little, it was good of her to remind Draco of his...unique situation. It was one thing to be a little hungrier, a little moodier, when this time rolled around came, but it was another to let his instincts rule him, to let them feed his less positive attributes.

The moon may be heightening his emotions, but that was no excuse. Draco was better than an animal, and it was high time he started regaining some of his hard-earned control.

Potter walked into the room like he owned the place, barely looking in Draco's direction as he made his way to the loo. Some strange emotion welled up in Draco's chest, something like frustration and anger and indignation at being ignored. He tamped it down. Hadn't he just vowed to start controlling himself? How pathetic was he that three seconds of Potter just being in the same room, not even interacting with Draco, had his teeth on edge?

"Potter," he said frostily, nodding his head in what he hoped was a neutral acknowledgement.

Potter looked over at him, expression unreadable. "Malfoy."

"I trust you'll be turning in soon?"

Potter looked Draco over, no doubt taking in his silken pyjamas. His mouth twisted, and he looked like he wanted to say something biting, but he appeared to think better of it. It seemed Draco wasn't the only one working on control.

"Yes. After I shower."

"All right. Good night, then."

Draco turned his back on Potter and climbed into bed. He could practically feel Potter's perplexed stare, before he heard a soft huff of breath, and the sound of socked feet padding towards the loo.

He grinned to himself as he closed his eyes. If acting civilised threw Potter for a loop, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.

Chapter Text

"So, how's it going?" Ginny asked, curiosity heavy in her voice as they all settled into the booth with their drinks.

A group of them tried to meet up once a month at The Crooked Quill for beer and food and catching up. With everybody's varied schedules, it was rare that the whole lot of them could be there all at once, but there was a decent crowd today. Ginny, of course, was curled against Harry's side, and next to her was Luna, followed by Dean, Seamus and Parvati. Hermione and Ron were sat on the other side of Parvati, the only other couple that had made it that night.

"How's what going?" Harry asked, feigning ignorance. He knew exactly what she was asking about. She'd been away at a Harpies' training camp for the past three weeks, and they hadn't been able to exchange more than a hasty Floo call and a couple of letters while she'd been gone. She had only just flown in this morning, and with Harry in classes all day, they still hadn't really had a chance to talk. Ginny had tried to convince him to skip tonight so they could spend some quality alone time together, but he hadn't wanted to miss the monthly gathering. He knew it was a bit shit of him, but things were always a little...weird between them when they'd been apart for awhile, and he hadn't wanted to face that just yet. Luckily, she hadn't been too upset, and Harry felt a gentle warmth rush through him as she smiled at him. He couldn't fault her for being curious about his newest roommate, even if the last thing he wanted was for Malfoy to invade even this sacred tradition.

"Oh, don't be like that! I want to know everything. How are the Americans? How are your roommates? And for Merlin's sake, tell me about Malfoy!"

Harry laughed. "It's all very...weird."

Ron snorted into his beer. "You can say that again. Do you know my roommate gets up at five every morning? He does two hundred sit ups, and then goes off for a run. He's bloody mental, he is."

"Sounds like he's fit," Parvati said. "Is he the big one Padma mentioned? She said if she was into men she'd climb him like a tree."

"I suppose he's all right, if you like them big," Ron muttered.

"Poor Hermione," Ginny whispered into Harry's ear. Harry's beer went down the wrong pipe and he spent several seconds hacking.

"Now why'd you have to go and put that image into my head?"

She grinned at him sweetly before turning back towards the rest of the table. "Physical attributes aside, how are they?"

"I'm sharing with Matt, and he's definitely not an early riser," Dean offered. "He's very...talkative and outgoing. He kind of reminds me of Seamus." He smiled, bumping his shoulder against his best mate

"Ahh, so he's also drop-dead sexy then, is he?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "More like he's also got a bit of a temper on him."

Seamus grinned and shrugged. "It's my Irish blood. No helping it."

"So you saw that in Stealth and Tracking, too?" Harry asked, lowering his voice and leaning in a bit on instinct. What he really wanted to ask was if Dean had noticed the occasional undercurrent of weirdness between Matt and Malfoy, or if Harry was the only one who thought Matt's occasional temper seemed to be directed towards Malfoy more often than not. But he didn't want the others to think he was becoming too fixated on Malfoy, like it was some repeat of sixth year, so he kept his question vague.

Dean snorted. "Hard to miss."

"Saw what?" Ginny asked, the faintest trace of a whine in her voice. She hated being left out of things. Harry knew that had always been the case, but he wondered how much of it had been exacerbated by the war and her feeling like she was constantly being left behind. Guilt gnawed at him, even as annoyance prickled over his skin at the grating tone. Harry had found himself unfairly irritated by the smallest things of late, and he was starting to annoy himself with how often he was bothered by things Ginny did that he never used to notice or care about.

"We were doing a simulation and Matt tripped an alarm spell," Harry explained. "He was bloody furious. Ranted in Spanish for a good ten minutes at full volume, and then another ten under his breath."

"I think they're all just adjusting to the way we do things over here," Hermione said diplomatically. "It's got to be a bit of a challenge, learning in a different style, maybe even learning different content, from what they're used to." Harry supposed that was true, and it wasn't like all of them hadn't lost it after blowing an exercise at one time or another.

"How's your roommate, Hermione?"

"Madison is…" Hermione trailed off, as if trying to come up with the best combination of words. She'd drunk a fair bit already that night, and she always became a bit less eloquent when she was in her cups. "She seems nice, I suppose. We haven't talked too much. She doesn't spend a lot of time in our room."

"Josh neither. Though I reckon it's because they spend all their time with sodding Malfoy. The three of them are as thick as thieves," Ron said in between several handfuls of chips.

"Think they're...you know," Seamus asked with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows and several lewd gestures that left little doubt as to what he was referring to.

"Oi, mate, what is wrong with you!" Ron wailed, covering his eyes dramatically. "Merlin, the last thing I want to be thinking of is Malfoy having sex."

"Why not?" Luna asked. "He's very attractive."

"What!? No. No way." Ron turned towards Hermione. "You don't think he's fit, do you?"

Hermione hesitated, and Ron's eyes widened with betrayal. "But—but he's Malfoy!"

Hermione's cheeks darkened. "Well, I don't like him, but, I mean, objectively speaking, he's not completely horrible looking." She turned beseeching eyes onto Harry.

"Why are you looking at me?" Harry squeaked, feeling a strangely powerful sense of panic settle over him. It wasn't like Harry had any authority to speak on the attractiveness of men. And if he did, he certainly wouldn't be on the Malfoy-is-fit side of the fence, even if Malfoy was, maybe, kind of, sort of, not entirely terrible to look at.

"You're his roommate," Hermione said, her expression still begging for support.

"Fine," Harry grumbled. "I suppose he's not quite as...pointy as he used to be."

Ginny giggled. "Such a ringing endorsement."

"Well, I don't know! This isn't exactly a topic I spend a lot of time contemplating."

"I suppose I should be grateful for that," Ginny said with a grin, before leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek. Her nose bumped against his glasses, leaving a small smudge. Harry felt a flash of annoyance. "Anyway, weren't we talking about the rest of the Americans?"

"Yes," Hermione said emphatically while Harry rubbed his glasses with his shirt. "Excellent point, Ginny."

Ron snorted, but he seemed to have forgiven his girlfriend for her earlier faux pas. "I mean, they seem nice enough, but if they're that close to Malfoy, how decent can they be?"

"Maybe they don't know about his past?" Ginny suggested.

"A person's past doesn't define them." Luna spoke softly, but her sing-song voice carried over the crowd.

"Maybe," Ron said doubtfully.

"They do all seem nice. Very polite. Even Malfoy has mostly stopped snapping at people," Hermione ventured. Privately, Harry thought she was giving Malfoy a little more credit than he deserved. After their duel, he'd at least stopped being actively rude, but he'd been sullen and taciturn in public, and barely civil to Harry in private. Still, he hadn't called anybody a Mudblood, so Harry supposed that was progress.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. "And they're clearly all pretty close. We've all been keeping our distance from Malfoy—I mean, can you blame us?—and I think they've been feeling protective of him."

"If they're friends, that makes sense," Luna said.

"Yeah, he's basically an honorary American now. He even kind of sounds like one. Have you noticed? It's like he's picked up some of their accent."

Ron snorted. "Yeah, it's bloody weird, him not sounding quite so prim and posh. But whatever, if they want him so bad, they can have him. No skin off my nose."

"But are they any good?" Parvati interjected. "At classes and things? I'm sure their curriculum is different over there."

"It is, a little. The big difference is that they pick a speciality right away. Their core classes are fairly similar to ours, but each of them immediately takes additional classes in their chosen speciality. Here, it's not a requirement that Aurors specialise, and if they do, it's not until later in their careers, after they've had some experience."

"I wonder why they do it like that?"

Hermione pursed her lips. "Probably for lots of reasons. But one of the primary ones is that their Auror units are structured differently than ours. They have partners, of course, but they tend to work a lot in pods—three groups of partners for a total of six. They generally make sure the specialities are distributed throughout the pods so that each group has a mixture of talents."

"Yeah, but how do they stack up compared to you lot?" Seamus asked.

Hermione made a face. She wasn't used to all the additional competition in studies, and though she'd become better about not needing to be the absolute best in every single subject, some habits were hard to break. "Yes, they're all very good."

"Even Malfoy?" Ginny asked.

It was Harry's turn to make a face, but he couldn't deny it. "Yeah, Malfoy, too," he said reluctantly.

Even beyond their duel—which Malfoy had held his own in, though Harry maintained Malfoy would have lost in the end—Malfoy was pretty sharp. They had Physical Combat that morning, and Malfoy had done shockingly well. It had been the first time their instructor had them practice with one another, and out of all their classes, Combat was the one he expected Malfoy to do the worst in. Malfoy had definitely put on some muscle, but he was still fairly lean, and physical confrontation had never been his strong suit; he'd resorted to magic when challenged back at Hogwarts and relied on Crabbe and Goyle to do his dirty work when necessary. But to Harry's—and everybody else's—surprise, Malfoy had more than held his own, even when going up against Matt, who had a scrappy kind of resilience that made Harry sure he'd seen his fair share of physical fights growing up. Despite their different styles, Matt and Malfoy appeared to be evenly matched, even though their instructor had had them continue long past their allotted time.

"Did you see his scars?" Dean asked, surprisingly quiet.

Harry nodded, a bizarre frisson of annoyance flashing through him at Dean's words. It wasn't like Harry was the only one watching the sparring session, so of course other people would have noticed the scars. Then again, Harry supposed he was allowed to be a little sensitive when it came to scars. He was probably just irritated that Dean would bring something like that up. Harry had had dealt with more than enough scar-related whispering in his lifetime, and he didn't like it much better being on the other side of things, apparently not even when it was Malfoy.

"What scars?" Parvati asked, clearly intrigued.

"When Malfoy was fighting, his shirt rode up a little—" Seamus interrupted Dean to whistle suggestively, and Dean punched him lightly in the shoulder before continuing, "Don't be an idiot. Anyway, his shirt rode up and there were some scars along his back. Big, ropey ones."

"It's rare to see scars like that on a wizard," Parvati said, her expression twisted with sadness. "Whatever happened to him, it must have been awful." Harry's stomach clenched. He had a feeling Parvati's compassion was driven more by what had happened to Lavender during he Battle of Hogwarts than a real concern for Malfoy.

"Yes, I thought so, too," Hermione murmured thoughtfully. "I can't imagine the scars go very far up though. On a Muggle, at least, scars like that would seriously impact range of motion, and he didn't seem to have any problem moving when he and Matt were sparring."

"Much to Jennings's disappointment," Ron added in an undertone.

"Who's Jennings?"

"He's one of our instructors," Harry said.

"Yeah, and he's not fond of Malfoy, that's for sure," Ron added through a mouthful of beer. "He teaches a couple of our classes, and he was right narked off when Malfoy managed to stay on his feet in Combat today."

"He doesn't sound like a very fair teacher," Luna said plainly.

Ron shrugged. "He's all right. You can't blame him, really. His sister married a Muggle and their whole family was killed by Death Eaters during the war, including his two nieces. I reckon he's not thrilled to be teaching deadly combat to a marked Death Eater."

"Former Death Eater," Hermione corrected, though her face was wrinkled with distaste.

Ron scowled. "Whatever. All I'm saying is, I see his point. Malfoy made his bed, and now he has to lie in it, that's all."

Harry nodded along, and the conversation continued to flow, Ginny a warm and continuous presence at his side. He didn't disagree with Ron, not exactly. Malfoy had certainly made his fair share of bad decisions, and as far as Harry was concerned, he'd yet to make proper amends. Showing up three years later with a gang of friendly Americans was hardly enough evidence of redemption. But even so, there was something in Instructor Jennings's eyes when he looked at Malfoy that made Harry feel a little uncomfortable.

Ginny pressed her head against his shoulder, and the sweet scent of her jasmine shampoo filled his nose. Harry shook the strange thoughts away. He was out on a Friday night with his best friends and his fiancée, and the last thing he needed was his old Malfoy obsession to come back with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, Harry had a feeling it might already be too late for that.

***

Draco lay back on his bed in the dark, staring listlessly up at the ceiling. Every once in awhile he'd flick his wand and watch as animals made of silvery lines danced across his vision before fading into the darkness. His mother used to cast the spell for him as a child, and he'd laugh and clap as the pretty winged horses and adorable Snidgets danced around him in his own private parade. How incredible that this pure, innocent memory could belong to him, that there was a time when the Manor he'd grown up in had been a home instead of a prison.

He scowled as guilt, sadness, and helpless anger washed over him. Even in the dark of the room, Draco could still make out the blurry outlines of Potter's clothing and books and assorted crap scattered all across their room, cluttering up the space until Draco felt like he would suffocate from the chaos of it all. Yes, better to pretend it was the mess that was getting to him, instead of the man.

Their room was silent, and even if Draco strained his ears he couldn't hear a whisper of a sound coming from outside the walls. He knew that Potter and most of his crew had left for some pub, that they were probably out drinking and laughing and having a good time. The guilt crept over him, crawling across the back of his neck like some bug he couldn't see.

His friends should be out there with them. Zach and Sarah, Matt and Josh and Madison, all of them had signed up for this exchange so that they could make new friends and go on a fun adventure together. If it weren't for him, they'd probably be fast friends with the Gryffindor brigade, doing shots and telling crazy stories and competing to see who could cast the most realistic Bat-Bogey Hex.

His friends were too loyal. They cared about him too much, and Draco grew up hearing that selfless love was a weakness, so he was able to see what they wouldn't. Everybody was being perfectly polite, but Draco knew that the very fact that they were friends with Draco meant that his old school mates were keeping their distance. Draco couldn't exactly blame them. The company he'd kept at Hogwarts and during the war hadn't been exemplary.

Still, it chafed, not so much for Draco's sake, but for his mates'. He hated that their friendship with him was preventing them from getting the most out of their time here. And yet...he was far too selfish to give it up. There were times when he still couldn't believe it was real, that Draco Malfoy had friends, true friends that cared more about him than their own personal agenda. He didn't want to lose that.

Salazar, he was maudlin tonight, but Draco thought he'd earned a night or two of brooding. It was just so…difficult, being back in the U.K., back somewhere familiar and yet...not. He'd been to London frequently as a child, on trips to Diagon Alley or tagging along with his father on his important business at the Ministry, but it had never been his home. Home had been Wiltshire, in the grand and familiar corridors of his ancestors, where he had been safe and loved, until the Dark Lord had taken over and the warm cloak of comfort had turned to razors pressed against his flesh. And home had been Hogwarts, with its sturdy castle walls that vibrated with magic, and a common room that Draco had lorded over like a prince, until that, too, had fallen to the Dark Lord, aided by Draco's hand, so that shrieks of laughter and childish pranks morphed into screams of pain and horror.

Ragged pants filled the once-silent room, and Draco struggled to regain control. He was sensitive right now, his emotions closer to the surface, and composure harder to keep hold of. Draco knew better than to let himself indulge in painful memories when he was like this, but some things were easier said than done. Still, there was no need to get lost in the horror of those days. It was all firmly behind him. He hadn't set foot in the Manor in over three years, and as far as he knew, it stood silent and empty, a ghost of a memory. Draco was sure the house-elves kept it tidy, but his parents were in France, and going by his mother's letters, Draco gathered that they didn't plan on returning—not in this lifetime, at least.

It had been years since he'd seen them, either. Nearly as long as he'd been away from Britain. After they'd made their way to France, Draco had continued on to the United States, eager to put as much distance between himself and his past as he could. He exchanged regular letters with his mother, and twice a year—on his birthday and his mother's—they exchanged International Floo Calls. But despite her entreaties to visit or, even better, move to France, Draco couldn't bring himself to give in to her requests. So much had happened to them, between them, and Draco was no longer the scared and shaking boy they'd packed off to some obscure relative in the States. He loved his parents, even his father, but there was a deep well of anger inside of him, pain and rage and aching despair, feelings that he was afraid would burst out with prolonged contact. Draco was doing his best, but he wasn't sure he'd managed to forgive them yet for their choices, for what they had allowed to happen, what they'd helped happen. Not that he was blameless, he knew that well enough, but he was their son, they should have—

As always seemed to be the case whenever he thought of the past and the war, his mind filled with images of that night. The fear and the pain, the growls and jeering taunts, the slick, coppery smell of his own blood as he prayed for death to find him. But someone else had beat Death to him. He was grateful to Severus, now, for saving his life—again—though at the time it had felt like more bad luck.

Draco rolled over, pressing his face to his pillow as if he could block out the thoughts rushing through his head with feather down and cotton. He'd promised himself when they'd first arrived in London that he wouldn't fall down this rabbit hole, that he wouldn't let himself get trapped in a prison of memories that ate away at his sanity. He'd worked too damn hard to claw his way into the light, and he'd be damned if this blasted country stole away all his hard work.

He shivered, the cold of the room beginning to seep through his clothes. Grabbing his wand, he cast a hasty Warming Charm, his toes curling in pleasure at the sudden deluge of warmth. Draco still felt cold though, deep in his belly, and he wished he had something hot and sweet to heat his hands and his stomach. A sudden longing squeezed at his heart. What he wouldn't give to be back in Seattle, where there was a café on every corner selling a piping hot cup of delicious coffee.

He could picture it now, walking through the familiar streets with a large, foamy cappuccino and a flaky croissant. Maybe he'd Apparate to his favourite park and sit high up on the grassy hill that overlooked the water and the Seattle skyline as he ate, like he and Antonio used to do on warm spring mornings. Draco could almost taste the buttery crumb melting on his tongue, smell the rich espresso, feel the familiar warmth of Antonio's thigh pressed against his own. He groaned and turned back around, the pleasant image shivering out of focus like a mirage. It had been more than six months since he and Antonio had last rolled out of bed together and spent a peaceful morning in the park. What did it say about Draco that he missed the coffee and croissant more than the man he used to share them with?

Thankfully, before Draco could continue his sulk-fest by thinking about Antonio and their failed relationship, his thoughts were interrupted by the door to his room opening with a resounding BANG.

Draco jumped up out of bed in a flash, his wand in his hand and his body crouched low in a fighting stance before his eyes told his brain that it was only Josh and Madison.

"What the fuck! I almost hexed your arms off."

Josh laughed. "Sure you did."

Draco straightened up and scowled. "It's generally considered polite to knock before entering somebody's room. Instead of, you know, barging in like a bloody deranged Hippogriff."

Madison stalked forward, flipping her blonde hair behind her in a golden ripple. "If we'd knocked, you would have pretended to be sick or some other bullshit so you could continue to stew in your own misery."

Josh snorted, coming forward to wrap his arm around Madison's shoulder. "I see we've skipped right past gentle coaxing and straight into hard truths."

"It's Friday night and we're in mother-fucking London! I want to go out and have fun, maybe let a No-Maj with a sexy accent buy me a drink." She turned her face towards Draco, her expression stern. "Sarah said she found a cider bar, some hip new place in Chelsea—wherever the hell that is. So get your ass dressed, we're leaving in fifteen."

Draco opened his mouth to protest, but Madison cut him off. "No, Draco, you're coming with us." Her expression softened, and she stepped forward, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. "I know this hasn't turned out how you were expecting, but you're here, we're all here, and we should be making the most of it."

"I'm not sure I'll be very good company."

"Dude, you haven't exactly been a ray of sunshine these past few weeks either," Josh said. Madison turned and glared at him, and Josh held up his hands in surrender. "What? I thought we weren't sugar coating it." He sighed. "Seriously though, I miss my best friend. You've been acting like some stiff cardboard cut-out version of yourself ever since we arrived. When you're not looking like you've got a ten-foot wand shoved up your ass, you're moping around in your room."

"That's not—"

Madison cut him off, her voice gentle. "Yes, it is, Draco. I don't think I've heard you really laugh since we got here, and you've hardly spent time with us at all."

"We hung out all last weekend!" Draco protested.

"And you said all of ten words the entire time," Madison replied coolly.

"Hey now," Josh interrupted, ever the voice of reason. "We're just worried about you, that's all, no need to go snapping at us. It just sucks seeing you like this, especially with the London crew acting so shitty to you."

Draco sighed. "They're fine. Actually, they're being quite decent."

"Come on!" Madison exclaimed. "Even the instructors have it out for you. Jennings kept extending your spar session with Matt, hoping he'd take you out."

Draco grimaced. "Yeah, well, I'm sure me and mine did something suitably horrible to him to deserve it."

"Draco…"

"Leave it. I'll go out with you tonight. You're right. Some time with you all will be good for me. But drop the rest of it okay?"

"But why? The London trainees can barely look at you without curling their lips, and I don't see how we can expect to work together with all that animosity."

"I know I've told you about my past, about what I've done, but it's different when you've lived it," Draco said wearily. "You didn't know me before, and I'm not sure you'd be here now if you did. These people...they know some of the worst parts of me, the darkest parts. They have a right to their anger. Please, just leave it alone. They need time."

Josh and Madison gave him matching looks of incredulity, but they nodded in reluctant acquiescence.

Draco pushed down his melancholy and his bitterness and did his best to muster up a genuine grin. "Now, what's the dress code for this bar?"

Chapter Text

Harry's pulse thudded as he scoped out the cluttered warehouse. Wooden crates were piled high in the dull, grey space, creating a milion hiding spots for an enemy to lie in wait. In the centre of the room was a human form bound to a chair, their head drooping towards their chest as if sleeping or unconscious. Harry knew it was only a training exercise, and that it likely wasn't even a real person tied to that chair, just some construct, but the adrenaline pumping through his veins didn't seem to know or care.

He turned to his teammates, Michael and Padma next to him, and Malfoy, Madison, and Sarah huddled on the other side of the open archway. They all looked at him expectantly, and Harry's palms grew clammy with sweat. He'd been given point in this rescue simulation, which meant he was responsible for calling their approach.

"All right," he murmured in an undertone, before gesturing to Malfoy and Madison. "You two should enter first, and start making your way along the side of the room towards the back." He indicated the route he wanted them to take, each of them along the walls on opposite sides of the warehouse. "Disillusion yourselves, and if you see anybody, take them out—but only if you can do so quietly. If not, hit them with the Marking Spell Instructor Kenton taught us. That should give the four of us time to blueprint the warehouse and see where the active targets are. On my signal, I want you both to start working up from the back, while Padma and I go in for the rescue. Michael, Sarah, I want you two to stay here and cover us when we go in."

Michael looked disgruntled—likely at being told to stay behind—but they all nodded at Harry's instructions.

At first, everything went exactly according to plan; Malfoy and Madison prowled quickly and silently along the back walls, each a barely visible distortion of light against the cracked concrete. If he strained his eyes, Harry fancied he could just make out the occasional burst of the Marking Spell slicing quick and silent through the air. Of course, he knew that was ridiculous, as the spell was rather purposefully invisible.

Meanwhile, Padma and Michael helped him conjure up a magical blueprint of the warehouse while Sarah stood guard. They watched silently as little red dots began to glow amongst the shadowy maze of ghostly boxes as Madison and Malfoy lit up their targets. After about a minute two final dots appeared at the back of the room, both bright silver.

"All right, looks like Malfoy and Madison have marked themselves as friendlies and are in position. Got the targets committed to memory?"

Padma smiled at him grimly. "Absolutely."

Exhilaration lit Harry up as he began to prowl into the room, preparing himself to make the rescue. Suddenly, a flash of light flew out over their heads from behind them, seemingly from the archway they'd just crept out from. Across the room, Malfoy's form suddenly became visible as his tongue turned into a horn, literally trumpeting their arrival.

Chaos erupted in the warehouse, dark wizards popping up out of the maze of crates and flinging spells and curses. Harry and Padma darted out of harm's way, dodging the blasts of light and returning fire. Madison must have managed to cast the counter-spell to whatever had hit Malfoy, because moments later they had joined the fray from the opposite side, taking on their enemies from behind.

It took them longer than Harry would have liked, and they were all a little singed in the end, but eventually they managed to disarm the baddies and rescue their target. As Harry had suspected, the tied-up figure was not, in fact, a real person, and the moment Harry undid the rope, the form melted away into nothing. Harry was panting hard, his chest heaving and muscles screaming at the sudden relief of no longer being in battle. It couldn't have been more than ten minutes all told, but it had felt like a lifetime.

He stood up and turned around, jumping when he realised his instructor and the rest of their class had materialised behind him.

"Not bad, Mr Potter," Instructor Kenton said with a smile. "Not bad at all for a first try."

Harry grinned in relief, though he couldn't help the nagging feeling in his gut that it hadn't been perfect. Something had gone wrong, and though he'd managed to "save" the target, it hadn't been a clean run.

Kenton looked down at her watch, her mouth twitching into a frown. "I had hoped to debrief Potter's mission while it was still fresh, but it appears we're out of time for today. Please come prepared to discuss what went well, and what could be improved upon, first thing tomorrow before the other half of you get your turn to run the simulation."

Kenton nodded at them all, before turning on her heels and striding out of the room. The moment she was gone Madison was in Michael's face, her face twisted with anger.

"What the fuck was that!?"

"What?" Michael asked, his tone full of innocent confusion that even Harry didn't buy for a second.

"Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. I saw what you did."

"Mads," Draco said on a sigh while rubbing absently at his mouth, as if to reassure himself it had all come back the same. "It's fine."

"He hexed you," Sarah said softly, her voice full of quiet anger, and her eyes flashing fire.

"It was just a joke!" Michael said, hands help up in a gesture of peace, but his eyes dancing with laughter. "It's not like it hurt him or anything."

"Yes," Josh said, his voice dripping with disdain, "I'm sure having a body part transfigured against your will is completely painless."

Annoyance scraped across Harry's skin as he realised that Michael had purposely sabotaged their simulation. He wasn't against hexing Malfoy on principle, and the Horn Tongue Hex was pretty hilarious as far as hexes went. But there was a time and a place for shit like that, and it certainly wasn't in the middle of a fucking training exercise. Michael's little prank almost cost them their hostage, and as their point person, Harry would have been the one on the line for it. He turned a stern expression onto Michael, and Michael's eyes widened.

"What? Seriously, it was harmless. Just a little prank."

"It was funny," Malfoy said, deadpan, before walking out of the room, his back stiff with tension. The rest of the Americans glared at Michael—Matt and Madison looked like they were ready to do a whole lot more than glare—before following Draco without another word.

Harry exchanged looks with Ron and Hermione, both of them looking a little unsure. Ron looked torn between laughter at the hilarity of seeing Malfoy with a horn tongue, and anger at Michael for almost costing Harry the simulation. Ron was a Weasley, and while they valued their jokes, they also understood the importance of timing. Even the twins had abided by a code of sorts, albeit loosely.

Things were tense back at the dorms. Usually there were always a couple of them hanging out and chatting in the common areas: having tea in the kitchen, studying together in the cushy lounge chairs, or playing exploding snap or wizarding chess at one of the tables. But that night it was ghostly silent, despite the fact that Harry knew everybody was present. The tension that had been building between all of them had clearly reached critical mass at the training exercise that afternoon, and it was only a matter of time before things boiled over.

Sure enough, not an hour later, Josh knocked on the door to his room, asking if Harry wouldn't mind coming out to the common area. He hadn't been rude about it or anything, but there was a heavy and serious undertone to his request, and Harry immediately followed him down the corridor.

When he got there, he saw most of the others had gathered as well. At the far end of the room, Malfoy and Madison were whispering back and forth furiously, Malfoy's face creased with anger. But whatever Madison was saying, she held her ground, until finally Malfoy threw up his hands and went to lean moodily against the far wall with a scowl.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why we called you here," Sarah began carefully. Harry noticed that the entire American cohort—with the exception of Malfoy—had banded together as they faced Harry and the rest of his fellow trainees. It was hard not to feel like they were facing off.

"I'm assuming it has something to do with what happened today," Padma said plainly.

Madison smiled, though something in it made Harry shiver. "Got it in one."

Josh shot her a warning glance before flashing the group a much more genial smile. "Look, we know that some bad shit happened during the war, and that you all have your reasons for disliking Draco. But surely you realise that this can't go on?"

"I didn't hurt him," Michael grumbled. "And it's far better than what he's done. Better than what he deserves."

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Madison said loudly, her words landing like darts in Harry's ears. "But I believe that he's already been judged for his crimes by your Wizengamot. He's paid his dues as mandated by your government. I think I'll take their opinion as to what he deserves over yours, if that's all right with you?" Her tone very clearly conveyed that she didn't give a single fuck if it was all right with Michael or not.

Michael scowled, but he remained silent.

"We need to know if you can at least be professional," said Zach, quietly. He didn't speak much, and for some reason it surprised Harry to hear him speaking in defense of Malfoy now. Which was clearly silly, as the Americans had all made it clear Malfoy was one of theirs. "All of us came here to learn, and it's difficult to do that when we've got to constantly be wondering if one of you is about to hex Draco and fuck everything up."

"We know Draco hasn't exactly been making it easy," Sarah added with a pointed look at Malfoy. "And he's agreed to be less...contrary and try harder to work more peaceably with all of you. Right, Draco?"

Malfoy sighed quietly and kept his eyes off to the side, but he nodded. Harry supposed that was something.

Michael looked like he was about to protest again, but Harry suddenly didn't want to hear it. He was sick of the tension and the general shittiness that had seemed to have taken over ever since Malfoy had arrived. If they had a chance to make things livable for the next year, they'd all be idiots to throw that away. Besides, even if Malfoy had been a bit distant and snappish, it was obvious he wasn't the same boy they'd all known. Maybe they all just needed to give him a chance to show them that, instead of expecting the worst. "You're right," Harry said. "If Malfoy can make an effort, than so can we. Agreed?"

Harry looked at all of his friends in turn, watching as they nodded their acquiescence. Ron looked a little affronted at Harry's statement, but he nodded in sullen agreement. As he looked around, Harry's eyes caught on Malfoy's and for a moment all of Malfoy's surprise was written across his face, before Malfoy coughed and turned away. Inexplicably, a blush rose to Harry's cheeks.

"Thank you," Madison said, her tone low and sincere.

There was a brief pause, and then Hermione broke the silence. "You know," she said, her voice calm and gaze hard as she stared at Malfoy, "It might be easier for us to all work together if you apologised."

Malfoy's eyes widened in shock, his pale cheeks colouring. Harry thought he looked a little sheepish and ashamed, but maybe that was just a trick of the light. He seemed to hunch in on himself, before suddenly straightening and nodding.

"You're right," Malfoy said, much to Hermione's obvious surprise. "I think if I were to apologise for all the ways in which I've wronged you all, we'd be here for a very long time, but I am deeply and sincerely sorry for the way that I acted towards all of you in school, and—" His voice wavered for a moment, and Harry's heart tightened. "And there are no words to express how genuinely sorry I am for my actions before and during the war. I don't offer any excuses, but I do want to say that I've done a lot of growing up over the last few years. I'd like to think that I'm a better person, the kind of man who wouldn't make those same mistakes again," Malfoy finished, his entire face flushed as he fidgeted and averted his eyes.

The silence afterwards was long and almost unbearably awkward.

"Right then," Dean said, finally. "Thanks for that, Malfoy. Are we free to get some dinner now?"

Matt snorted a laugh, and even Madison cracked a smile. "Yes, yes, you're all free to go. Thank you for meeting with us."

There was still a slight tension in the air, but it was less than it had been, and Harry hoped with time, even that would fade. Harry watched Malfoy as he let the Americans drag him towards the kitchen, and was surprised to realise as he looked at Malfoy, that the familiar anger and annoyance wasn't present. Instead, there was a strange glimmer of respect accompanied by the always burning curiosity, flaring hotter now as Harry wondered for the millionth time what exactly had happened to Malfoy that had apparently so changed him. Harry found he wanted to get to know this Malfoy, wanted to learn his secrets. Even so, he couldn't entirely let go of that lingering suspicion. He seemed different from the boy Harry had known. How was it possible for him to change so very much, while so many of the people around Harry seemed mostly unchanged?

He watched Malfoy disappear around the corner, and pondered.

***

Draco sat on of the stools surrounding the island in the kitchen, watching silently as Sarah and Zach cast a series of spells that set knives to chopping vegetables and sent rice soaring into a pot of bubbling water. Draco was pants at domestic spells, which meant he'd had to learn to cook the Muggle way. It had grated on him at first, but he'd come to enjoy the peacefulness of the activity, and he liked eating things that he'd made with his own two hands. He wasn't exactly a four-star chef, but he wasn't half bad. Tonight, though, he didn't feel like offering to help. He wasn't angry, not exactly, but he wasn't feel particularly charitable, either.

Josh came to sit down beside him, setting down a mug of steaming liquid and nudging it towards Draco. It was tea, with cream and sugar, and he sipped it gratefully, flashing Josh a tired smile. He didn't drink it much these days—coffee was generally his beverage of choice—but when he was upset, nothing soothed him like a hot cup of sugar-laden tea.

"I'm okay," Draco said, loud enough for them all to hear. "I'm not angry."

Josh nodded. "That's not true, but I know you'll get over it. Still, I'm sorry."

"We're sorry," Sarah added as she sent a cascade of veggies into the pot with the rice. "We know you didn't want us to say anything. We stayed out of it as long as we could."

"It was one thing when it was just the attitude, but it was escalating," Zach said earnestly. "I mean, we were in class."

"I know," Draco said, a little amused as he wondered how much of Zach's outrage was over the possibility of a disrupted learning environment. "It's fine, truly. I'm fine."

"Are you?" Matt asked, a thread of challenge in his voice. "Because you've been moody and stiff and acting exactly like the pure-blood dick they all think you are. I know you don't believe any of that purity crap anymore, but it's kind of freaky seeing you like this."

"We just miss you," Madison added softly.

Draco bit his lip, guilt swelling up inside him like some kind of terrible sore. "You're right. Being back here—it's been harder than I thought it would be. You really can't imagine how much I've changed since I was last here, and being back around all these people who only ever knew me at my worst…" Draco shuddered. "I'm sorry. I've been a shitty friend, and I've let myself fall back into some old habits." He paused and looked them all in the eye in turn, letting their open, honest affection wash away the bitterness and doubt. "I'll try to do better, okay?"

"Okay," Sarah said with a smile. "Now, come get some food. You haven't been eating enough since we've been here."

That was true enough, though he doubted he'd lost more than a pound or two. Still, he accepted Sarah's clucking and mothering with a smile, and he dug eagerly into the stew she'd prepared.

He couldn't help thinking, as he ate, how much he'd changed, and how much his relationships with the friends around him had been a part of that. Though part of his nature was to be a little guarded, compared to how he was as a child, he practically wore his heart on his sleeve these days. Draco knew that every person at this table cared for him, and that none of them were waiting for him to slip up or thinking of ways they could turn his words against him. He felt safe with them, and until now, he'd never really considered how open and relaxed he was with them in turn. Draco could be silly and stupid, he could laugh and tell dirty jokes, he could be whiny and petulant and dickish at times, and he knew that it would all be okay. In short, he could be himself.

It had happened slowly, gradually, because none of the people in his new life had known him before or come into their relationship with any preconceived notions. He had been free from expectation, and it had been a wonderful, blessed gift. How easy it had been to be himself around strangers.

But now, surrounded by people who only ever knew the selfish, hurtful boy he had been, Draco couldn't bring himself to be...himself. There was a vulnerability in it, in showing people who had every reason to hate him who he really was. Their opinions had already been formed, and they were far from flattering. Draco couldn't blame them. He'd been so scared and unsure back then, so desperate to be the perfect son, molded in the image of his father. Draco had done whatever Lucius has commanded, had done his very best to cloak himself in haughty disdain and graceless superiority. It had worked, a little too well, until Draco lost himself in it, lost his voice and his will and his purpose.

But the war was over now, and that ghost of a boy was long put to rest. Draco knew who he was now, and every day he became a little more sure, a little stronger. Seattle had been good for him, and not the least because of his friends, these warm, welcoming people who had forgiven him his past and granted him permission to exist with their genuine caring. He owed it to them, and most importantly, he owed it to himself, not to lose sight of that. Draco refused to lose himself again to fear and cowardice.

He thanked Sarah for the meal, and he fought off the sudden tightness in his throat when she pulled him into for a fierce hug. Her soft curves pressed against him, warm and comforting. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, his lips brushing against tightly plaited cornrows.

"Don't worry," she whispered, "It'll get better."

"Thanks, Sarah."

"Anytime."

He nodded at the others, and began to head down the hall towards his room, feeling bone-deep exhausted.

"Hey, wait up," Madison called out behind him.

Draco turned, waiting for her halfway down the darkened corridor.

"What's up?"

"I—" Her eyes darted back down the corridor on either side of them and she bit her lip. "I just wanted to ask how you're doing. Really doing."

"I told you, I'm fine. Things have been tough, but it's an adjustment is all."

Her eyes were large and luminous as she stared at him earnestly, expression creased with worry. "I know, but I didn't just mean…" She waved her hand around, as if to encompass the day's drama. "I know that things happened here, bad things," she continued in a rush. "And I know you probably don't want to talk about it, and I completely don't blame you, but if you ever did want to talk about it, you know I'm here for you, right?"

Out of all of his friends, Madison knew the most about past, even more than Josh, and she was the only one who knew about...He shook his head.

"It didn't happen here here, and I'm not going to let it ruin an entire country for me." He smiled at her, and she smiled back with doubtful eyes. "It was a long time ago, longer every day. There are a million reasons why it's been hard being back, and I won't lie and pretend that's not one of them. But it's only one."

"All right," she said thickly. "But you'll talk to me if you need to? God knows I've cried on your shoulder plenty, I'm more than happy to offer mine."

He pulled her into a hug, sensing that she needed one even more than he did. She'd clearly been worried about him, and he couldn't believe she'd lasted so long without talking to him about it. Madison wasn't always great with boundaries and personal space, and it must have killed her to try and let him work things out on his own.

"I promise. If it gets too difficult, I'll come straight to you. But I really am okay. I haven't even had any nightmares, and those were always the worst."

She shivered. "I remember."

"Thank you, for today, and for the past three years, really. I wouldn't have made it without you."

She pressed a wet kiss to his cheek before stepping back and smiling, this time more brightly.

"What are friends for?"

Chapter Text

Harry leaned against the smooth lacquered wood of the bar as he took in the noisy pub. It was just the kind of place he liked—dim, cosy, and a little divey. It was an out-of-the-way little place in Muggle Shoreditch, and Harry wondered how the Americans had found out about it. Madison had insisted that their first outing be somewhere neutral, where nobody had ever been before, and somehow they'd all ended up here.

"That'll be seventy-two pounds," the bartender said in a brisk tone that was just audible over the cheery din of the pub.

Harry pulled out his wallet and passed him enough Muggle money to cover it, plus a generous tip. The group had alternated rounds—it was easier than all twelve of them trying to split the bill or pay individually, especially the with currency conversion—and this shout was Harry's. If he had any say in the matter, it'd also be the last. The night had been more enjoyable than expected, but it was already gone midnight, and most everybody was fairly far along on the spectrum of drunkenness. Harry thought it was probably smart to stop while they were ahead, before liquor-loosened tongues sparked some of the old anger and bitterness that they hadn't entirely managed to put past them yet. Carefully, Harry pulled the round black tray with the drinks towards himself, and hefted it off the table, walking slowly towards the back corner where they'd crammed several tables together. He didn't want to spill a drop—he knew Ron and Dean would give him hell if he wasted good alcohol by being clumsy.

After their heart-to-heart last week and the promise to move forward with a semi-clean slate, Madison had announced that in order to facilitate the formation of a more cohesive unit, she was mandating a weekly team bonding night. She didn't care if it was out drinking at a bar, dancing in a club, or staying in and playing truth or dare like a bunch of teenagers, as long as they all started spending a little quality time together outside of classes each week.

Harry and Ron had both groaned heavily (as had Matt and Malfoy, for that matter), but Hermione had agreed that it sounded like a good idea, and, reluctantly, Harry had gone along with it.

Somebody had suggested a pub night for their inaugural gathering, and the Americans had whisked them off to this warm and cosy pub in the middle of Muggle London. So far, the night hadn't been half bad, and Harry could admit that it was nice getting to know the people he lived with. At the very least he hoped it would make classes less silent and awkward. He didn't have much hope for his roommate—things were still chilly and tense between them, and Harry wasn't sure that would ever change. But at least he could make an effort with the rest of the exchange trainees. That had been what he'd been looking forward to, after all.

Part of Harry felt a little guilty for being here, instead of having dinner with Ginny like they'd originally planned. This was one of the rare nights where they were both free, but instead he was hanging out with his Auror buddies. Understandably, she had not been happy when he'd told her he wouldn't be able to make it, but it was for a good cause, and she'd grudgingly accepted his reasoning. The bad part was that Harry wasn't entirely upset about having a valid excuse not to head over. Things were just so hard these days with Ginny, requiring so much effort when he wanted something simple. Harry knew he was being a dick, that real relationships required work, that they weren't always going to be easy. But between classes and studying and Malfoy and wedding pressure, he just hadn't been feeling up to dealing with the additional stress. He was sure it would pass.

"All right there, Harry?" Ron asked as Harry neared the table with slow, gentle steps, doing his level best not to spill his tray full of drinks. Ron's voice was full of unrestrained amusement, and if Harry hadn't had his hands full, he'd have flipped him right off.

"No thanks to you," he shot back.

"Oh come on, big scary defeater of Dark Lords like yourself can surely handle a couple of drinks." He laughed the overly loud and unrestrained laugh of the truly pissed. Harry cracked a smile as he rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You want your beer or not?"

Ron blinked up at him, face suddenly solemn and contrite. "You wouldn't keep a man's beer from him, would you Harry? That's just cruel." His words rounded out the longer he spoke, the alcohol slowing his tongue.

Harry set the tray down at the edge of the worn, wooden table, and passed Ron his beer with a silent look of faux consternation. Ron grinned. "Cheers, mate!"

He collapsed into his chair, before passing out the rest of the drinks, cold condensation chilling his hands as he passed glasses down the line. When he finally took a long pull of his own rich, pale ale, he let out a little sigh of contentment—it was damned good. It would be even better followed up with some crisp, salty chips, but when he reached for the basket, he noticed that they'd been finished in his absence.

"Anybody up for more chips."

"Merlin, yes," Ron say, emphatically.

"How can you possibly want more?" Padma asked, "You're the one who keeps eating them all."

"I'm hungry! It's been ages since dinner."

One of the bar staff paused at their table to collect their empty glasses. "Excuse me, could we get some more chips?" The man rolled his eyes at the group looking for table service but nodded, and Harry grinned happily—he hadn't felt like getting back up and going to bar again so soon. "So, what're we talking about?"

"We were talking about Auror Training."

Harry made a face. "Really, Hermione? Aren't we supposed to be having fun."

"We're supposed to be getting to know one another," Hermione corrected, before taking a not-so-prim gulp of her gin and tonic. "Zach was just telling us more about how training works over in America."

Zach smiled warmly. He was normally a little quiet and reserved, giving off the impression of somebody brainy, bookish, and introverted—which Harry thought was probably a fairly accurate representation. The alcohol seemed to have loosened him up somewhat, his cheeks rosy and his eyes bright. "From what I understand, we start specialising much earlier than you do over in the United Kingdom. It's actually quite fascinating. I wonder if any studies have been done comparing the different methods."

Padma's eyes gleamed as she leaned forward. "There have got to be reports on the overall efficacy of the Aurors in different cities and countries. Crime rates, solve rates, unit stats—stuff like that. The real question is whether there have been any studies or proposed correlation between those statistics and the different methods of training and deployment when comparing locations. I wonder if Robards would give us permission to investigate further. I'd be very interested to see how our current deployment was decided upon, and how our statistics compare with other countries."

Hermione's entire body seemed to vibrate with excitement. "And taking it even further, we'd need to determine how such a comparison could even be done, assuming it hasn't been attempted already. Even just comparing the United States with the U.K there are differences of size and demographics to consider. Would we look at U.K as a whole versus the entire United states? Or would we compare city by city?"

Zach turned to Padma and Hermione, his brow creased in thought. "I think it would have to be both…"

Thankfully it appeared that Michael was just as uninterested in the conversation as Harry was, and he took the opportunity while the three of them were distracted with the specifics of their theoretical plan to steer the rest of the group in a different direction. He nodded at Sarah who was sitting across from him. "What are your specialities?"

Sarah rubbed a hand across Zach's shoulder, who was still engrossed in his conversation with Padma and Hermione. "Well, it's probably not a shock to any of you that Zach here specialises in Arithmancy."

"Arithmancy?" Ron asked incredulously. "What's that got to do with Auroring?"

"Ron!" Hermione scolded. Apparently she could follow two conversations at once, even while tipsy. Harry chuckled into his beer. Arithmancy had been Hermione's favourite subject at Hogwarts, and if British Aurors specialised as early as the Americans, he'd have put his money on Hermione picking that one. "How can you say that? Arithmancy involves predicting the future with numbers! The applications in Auror work are endless."

"Ah, right, yeah, of course." Ron mumbled. He turned towards Harry and said more quietly, "I still don't see how it's all that different from Divination."

"If Hermione says so, it must be true," Harry replied.

Ron grinned. "I suppose we'll just have to take her word for it."

"Generally a good idea, I've found."

"So," Dean prompted when Sarah didn't continue, "What about the rest of you?"

"My specialty is wandless magic," Sarah replied. "Kind of a no-brainer, really."

"Oh?"

"My parents are immigrants," she explained. "My mother's Kenyan, and my father is South African. They moved to Seattle when I was three for their jobs—they're both magizoologists studying magical aquatic sea life, though they specialise in different branches. Anyway, wands aren't really used much in Africa, and even after they immigrated, they never really picked up the habit." She twirled her glass around in a slow circle on the table, leaving little rings of water on the weathered wood as she seemed to gather her thoughts. "They were actually really against me getting a wand at first. It's required, of course, for any American Wizarding school, and I desperately wanted to go to Baesany. I couldn't understand why they didn't want me to go, I mean, it was so close, and all my friends from Mage Elementary were going to be there." She sighed. "They wanted to send me to a good African school, where wizards didn't have to rely on such nonsense as a wooden stick to harness their magic." Sarah laughed, though there were so many conflicting emotions in the sound that it gave Harry a headache trying to figure her feelings out. Her shoulders lifted in a shrug and she smiled slightly. "Eventually I convinced them to let me go, but I was never allowed to use a wand at home. I fucking hated it as a kid, almost as much as the language lessons, but I'm really grateful to my parents for it now."

"Ahh, yes, the language lessons," Padma chimed in. "I actually always liked those, though my sister loathed them."

"Hindi?" Sarah asked.

Padma nodded. "And a bit of Marathi, though I can read and understand it much better than I can speak it. You?"

"Swahili, mostly. My mother was quite adamant that I be able to converse with my grandparents whenever we visited. She tried to get my father to teach me Afrikaans too, but my father's family all speak English, so he really didn't see the point."

Harry took another long drink, feeling a little embarrassed by his apparent and complete lack of cultural knowledge. He'd never even left the relatively tiny island they were on right now, let alone learned an entire other language or traveled somewhere with customs and history far different from his own. Harry hadn't even considered the possibility that there were entire countries out there with wizards who didn't believe in wands. What else didn't he know? And why hadn't he learned anything like that at Hogwarts? To be fair, he had a quite a lot of other things on his mind during his years at school, and his Magical History class was one of the most boring subjects he'd ever experienced, so maybe he had been taught some international history and he just hadn't been paying attention. He didn't really think that was the case, though. Harry may not remember much about the wildcat Gargoyle Strike of 1911, but he was pretty positive it had happened somewhere in Europe. Even if Harry had been paying attention, he wasn't sure Binns covered many historical events outside of Western Europe.

Come to think of it, it seemed a little irresponsible to offer such a limited perspective. Where were the class options to learn more about the wizarding history and culture in other lands? As impossible as it was for Harry to wrap his mind around, the terror of Voldemort and the most recent war was relatively contained to the United Kingdom. Of course, magical leaders across the world were probably aware of the situation, but they sure as shit hadn't sent in any of their own wizards to help out when things started getting hairy. The American trainees were aware, generally, of what went down, but Harry was willing to bet that had more to do with Malfoy telling them parts of his past than anything else. The average wizard in Hong Kong or Buenos Aires or New York City may never have even heard of Voldemort. Which made Harry wonder: how many Voldemorts had popped up in other countries throughout the centuries? How many magical wars and protests and revolutions had occurred that Harry didn't know about?

He was pulled out of his musings by a gentle shove of Ron's shoulder against his own. "You sure you're feeling all right?"

Harry pulled himself back into the present. He noticed that the plate of chips he'd ordered had appeared in front of him at some point, a sizable portion of them already missing. He glanced at Ron, snorting at the salt crystals dusting his lips and the front of his shirt. No mystery of who filched his chips.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired." He smiled reassuringly at Ron before picking up a couple of chips and shoving them in his mouth. They were still warm, and they tasted like pure heaven.

He ate a couple more, tuning back into the conversation just in time to hear Madison say, "I specialise in offensive magic."

She was sitting at the other end of the table next to Michael and Malfoy. Malfoy had been silent for most of the evening, and Harry thought that was probably best. He wondered just what Madison had threatened him with to get him to not only show up, but to keep his smart mouth shut as well. Harry believed Malfoy was trying to make an effort, and maybe he really was well and truly reformed, but that didn't mean he still wasn't a first rate arsehole.

But he was here, participating in the bonding (if barely), and drinking along with the rest of them. He been sipping on some kind of pale, dry cider all night long, the kind of thing that Harry might have ordered for himself if it weren't Malfoy's drink. His normally pale face was flushed a delicate peony-pink, and the sharp lines of him seemed a little less jagged. He certainly wasn't as relaxed as Dean, who looked about one goading comment away from dancing on the table, but Malfoy seemed more relaxed than Harry could ever remember seeing him. Harry felt a sudden yearning deep in his chest to see more of it, to see Malfoy when he was well and truly comfortable and relaxed, to see Malfoy when he was smiling and joking, his eyes sparkling with warmth and mirth instead of bitter anger or his now-common blank, unreadable mask. Harry looked at the half-full glass in his hand, before setting it carefully on the table and pushing it away. Clearly Harry had drunk enough for the night.

"I do defensive magic," Josh added after Madison.

"And you, Matt?"

Matt's face shimmered, his tanned skin and dark hair moving back and forth between shades of beige and alabaster and ebony, his features flickering through various combinations before settling back into place. His lips pulled into a cocky smirk. "Disguises." He nudged Malfoy, who rolled his eyes at Matt's display. "Our Draco is fucking terrible at disguises," he explained with a grin. "Guess it's a good thing you're our resident Dark Arts expert instead."

Malfoy stilled and the rest of the table went suddenly silent. It wasn't exactly surprising, Malfoy's speciality, but it provided an undeniable and unwelcome reminder of why they were there, why they all had to be forced into spending time together.

Josh laughed, a little too loudly after the tense silence. "Well, this was always going to be a little awkward. Might as well own it."

Dean snorted and raised his glass. "Cheers to that, mate."

They made their way back to their dorms not long after that, seeming to come to unanimous agreement that they'd bonded sufficiently for one night. Best not to push their luck.

Malfoy was silent as they entered their shared room, and despite the discomfort of the silence, Harry didn't feel the need to break it. He understood the need to start working more cooperatively with Malfoy, but it didn't mean they had to be friends.

And yet.

There was something about Malfoy that continued to draw Harry's eye and his mind. His gaze was pulled there now, against his better judgement. He was unable to tear his eyes away from Malfoy as he changed for bed, his back to Harry as he pulled his cashmere jumper up over his head. His undershirt got caught up in the fabric, and Harry saw with a kind of fascinated horror that the bumpy ridges of the scars at Malfoy's waist went up a lot further than he'd expected. There they were, four long lines bisecting Malfoy's back, starting just beneath his left shoulder blade and disappearing beneath the band of his trousers. The scarred skin was raised and white as bone, the texture uneven, like the grain of a rough-hewn rope. Harry's heart constricted, wondering what had happened to Malfoy that not even magic could fully heal his wounds. Malfoy may have done terrible things, but nobody deserved that.

The sudden need for Malfoy to turn around hit Harry full force. His stomach twisted into knots as he silently urged Malfoy to turn, needing to see if his chest was similarly marked. The alcohol from earlier threatened to make an unpleasant reappearance, as memories from that terrible moment bombarded him: the icy flood of water soaking his robes, the ear piercing shriek of Moaning Myrtle's screams, the nauseating scent of copper invading his nostrils as red bloomed like spilled ink across Malfoy's face and chest. Harry wrapped his arms around himself, a sudden chill crystallising beneath his skin.

Harry waited with baited breath for Malfoy to turn around, but he didn't. Instead, Malfoy dropped his trousers, and Harry looked away, face flushing with an unexpected heat. Though not before he caught a flash of something dark on Malfoy's thigh. He fought the urge to turn around and get a closer look. It was probably just a birthmark or a bit of his trousers that Harry mistook for skin.

Harry finally started changing himself, but the silence of the room was beginning to feel oppressive. He racked his brain for something to say, something innocent and innocuous that wouldn't manage to spark a fight.

"They seem nice," he finally said, as he struggled to pull on his sleep shirt.

"Hmm?"

Harry managed to tug the opening down over his head, and he ran a hand through his hair attempting to straighten out the chaos, though he knew it was a lost cause. "Your friends. They seem like good people."

Malfoy smiled up at the ceiling, the plain blue covers of his bed already pulled up around him. "They are. The best I could have asked for." He was silent as Harry climbed into his own bed, before continuing quietly, "I don't know that I ever had real friends before, back at Hogwarts. Or at least not ones I felt I could really trust and be myself around. I was always so scornful of you and your Gryffindor pals, all earnest trust and honesty. I understand the appeal now."

With that, Malfoy extinguished the lights with a flick of his wand, leaving them both in silent darkness.

Neither of them spoke again, but Harry knew he wasn't the only one who took a long time that night falling asleep.

***

Draco closed his eyes, doing his best to clear his mind and concentrate only on the image of the sandy-haired man he was trying to emulate. He waved his wand, reciting the familiar incantation and shivering as the icy magic washed over him, sliding down his back like a handful of ice cubes.

When he opened his eyes and looked into the mirror at his station, he cursed under his breath. He'd managed to get the features right at least, the crooked nose, square jaw, and heavy brow. The hairstyle was fairly accurate as well, loose wavy curls framing the heavy face. But instead of a dark, murky brown, his eyes remained a bright, clear grey. And the wavy curls, though they should have been sandy brown, remained a familiar white-blond. He shook his head, casting the counterspell and watching gratefully as his features melted back into his own. It was creepy, seeing his own eyes staring back at him from an unfamiliar face.

He grit his teeth, and closed his eyes again. He tried to focus once more on the image of the bloke's face, but failed utterly at clearing his mind. Matt had been right—Draco was pants at disguises. The physical component was bad enough, but he was even worse at the rest of it, at adopting the mannerisms, ticks, and tells of a new persona. Try as he might, Draco had never been great at slipping into somebody else's skin, at inhabiting a new body and living a different life.

Maybe because what he had now already was his new life, his fresh start. When he'd left Britain, Draco promised himself that he wouldn't let himself be controlled by another, that never again would he let somebody else dictate who he should be or what he should value. He opened his eyes, staring down at the dark grey ink peeking out from beneath his rolled up shirt sleeves, barely fighting off the urge to reach around and finger the ropey scars along his waist. For all the horror both the marks had brought him, Draco had grown to, if not like, then at least appreciate his scars and his mark. They reminded him of who he was, the choices he'd made and what they had led to. They represented the darkest time in his life, the very worst parts of his soul, and he had to wear them on his skin as constant reminders of what he'd done. He'd hated them, and himself, for a long while, but now he saw them differently. Draco had changed. He wasn't the same person who had made those choices, and he wore his marks as a reminder to never let himself become that person again.

Perhaps that was part of why he had such issues with disguises, with becoming a person who didn't have those reminders etched on his very skin. For all that Draco had grown and changed, he was still afraid: afraid of himself, afraid of the person he could become. It hadn't been so very long ago that he had been that hateful boy, the one who was terrified of Muggles and who let that terror present as hatred, who believed absolutely in his own superiority simply because of the supposed purity of his blood. He'd followed his father willingly, eagerly, and though he'd been horrified by the Dark Lord and his methods, Draco's own prejudices, the ones that had inspired his family to follow the Dark Lord in the first place, had taken longer to sicken him. Even now, he occasionally found himself instinctively curling his lip at some Muggle contraption or remedy, and he'd dated a Muggle for Merlin's sake!

Draco shook himself, his eyes catching on Potter's station across the aisle. It appeared that Potter wasn't that great at disguises, either. He watched as Potter tried again and again to morph into the sandy-haired man they were supposed to copy, but no matter how many times he tried, there was always something off—the slope of Potter's shoulders, his vivid green eyes, the scar on his forehead, or the cupid's bow of his lips.

He wondered if Potter struggled for the same reasons that Draco did, though he doubted it. It was more likely that Potter was so completely and utterly himself that squeezing his essence into somebody else's form was almost an impossibility. Harry Potter was too much, too good, too pure, too full of life to fit inside the ordinary box of somebody else's life. No matter how hard he tried, his light shined through, announcing his presence like a glorious beacon.

Potter turned and met Draco's eyes, his face almost entirely transformed except for the wild texture of his hair. His eyes were dull brown, entirely unspectacular, but Draco's breath caught against his will anyway. There was a fire there, blazing deep in the depths of those eyes, transforming the dullness into something glittering and captivating. Draco thought he would recognise that fire anywhere, and despite his best efforts, he couldn't tear his gaze away.

Potter eventually turned back around to face his mirror, leaving Draco shaking and shaken. He was being silly, imagining he knew Potter better than he did, letting his strange moods control him.

Draco closed his eyes again and did his best to clear his mind of sparkling green eyes.

Chapter Text

Spending their bonding night studying for tomorrow's Poisons and Antidotes exam was hardly Harry's idea of a good time. At least last week they'd gone out to a pub and had fun, even if things did end a little awkwardly. Harry could admit that the studying was probably necessary, and he always did do better revising in groups, but it was the principle of the thing. The twelve of them were scattered across the common area, books and parchments and scrolls covering every available surface. Harry was sharing one of the large sofas with Ron and Hermione, a fact he was now regretting, as Hermione seemed to be slowly edging Harry off the sofa with her steadily increasing pile of books. He glanced longingly to where Dean and Padma had managed to snag their own squashy-looking chairs as the pointed corner of a book dug into his lower spine.

"All right, I need a bit of a break," Harry announced to the silent room.

Hermione looked at him worryingly, before capitulating. "Oh, all right, but just a short one. I don't have to tell you how important this exam is."

"They're all important, Hermione."

"Exactly!"

Harry heard a laugh from the other sofa, and was surprised to see Madison looking at them warmly. She was sitting across from them, sharing her sofa with Malfoy and Josh.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said. "You three just remind me of me and my siblings sometimes. How long have you all known each other?"

Harry stared at her blankly for a moment. Sometimes he forgot that the Americans hadn't grown up here. They hadn't read the minute details of his life plastered across the headlines every morning. He supposed he'd assumed that Malfoy had told her all about him, which he now realised sounded completely daft and self-absorbed. Surely even Malfoy had better things to talk about than who Harry Potter was friends with.

"Err, since we were eleven—first year at Hogwarts."

"Yes, but we weren't all actually friends right away," Hermione corrected.

"No," Ron added before wrapping an arm around Hermione's shoulders and squeezing. "We thought you were a bit of a know-it-all."

Dean huffed a laugh from his corner chair as Hermione said primly, "Yes, well, it's come in handy, hasn't it?"

Ron's eyes turned soft, and he leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss. "That it has." He straightened with a grin. "I think I'll always have a bit of a soft spot for Trolls."

Madison's brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"

Harry snorted. "Don't ask." He looked over at Malfoy, who had been curiously silent throughout this exchange. His face was expressionless, and before he could think better of it, Harry found himself voicing a question of his own. "I've actually been curious about that myself."

"About what?"

"About how you all met. Did you all just meet on the first day of Auror Training?" Ron flashed him an amused glance. Clearly the fact that what Harry really wanted to know was how Malfoy had befriended all of these apparently normal people had not escaped Ron's notice.

"Actually," Malfoy replied, "I already knew Josh and Madison before that. We all decided to sign up for the Auror Academy together."

Josh grinned, throwing an arm around Malfoy's shoulders. "Draco and I were roommates at Baesany. He was the new guy, so naturally I volunteered to show him the ropes."

Malfoy rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. Harry couldn't help but notice how it seemed to brighten up his entire face. "You just wanted to get away from Clark."

"Can you blame me? The guy was like, allergic to showering or something. Four years I had to room with him, and I still can't smell boiled eggs without having flashbacks." He shuddered dramatically, before smiling winsomely at Draco. "Besides, I think it all worked out for the best, don't you?"

Malfoy's expression softened as he looked at Josh. "I supposed you weren't entirely horrible to live with."

"Aww, you guys," Josh said loudly, "Draco loves me. Did you hear that?"

"I said no such thing."

"Too late, Dray. We all heard it."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin, not that nickname again."

Josh opened his mouth, no doubt to continue tormenting Malfoy, but before he had a chance, Hermione interrupted. "So did you meet Malfoy at school as well?" she asked Madison.

Madison bit her lip, her eyes flicking to Malfoy, whose jaw had tightened almost imperceptibly, before she said, lightly, "We actually met before school started. The both of us were in Seattle over the summer, and we ran into each other in one of the wizarding shops. Fast friends, you know how that goes." There was something a little off about her tone, and he clearly wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Hermione glanced at Harry, as if to confirm that she wasn't hearing things. Harry knew she was considering whether to press it further, but Madison quickly continued on. "I was completely surprised to see Draco at Baesany—he thought he might be heading back to France after the summer was over. But there he was, first day of class, sitting with this fool in the back of Potions." She smacked Josh playfully on the back of the head, and he jostled her back. "Anyway, Josh and I hadn't ever been all that close, but it seemed we were just missing the perfect someone to complete us."

Malfoy snorted. "You make us sound like a throuple."

"What's wrong with that?" Josh asked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Three attractive persons such as ourselves…"

Malfoy sighed and Harry pressed on. "So then you all applied to become Aurors and met Matt, Sarah, and Zach there?"

"Yup," Madison confirmed. She tilted her head back and blew a bubble with her pink chewing gum. "There are a number of others in our program, of course, but the six of us just clicked right away, you know? It helps that we all have different specialities. They like to train us in pods, similar to how it'll work once we graduate."

"And you all became friends outside of training as well?"

Madison hummed in the affirmative. "Training's so intense, I'm sure you get that. It's important to blow off steam, and I don't know how I'd have made it through if I didn't like who I was training with. We started hanging out after classes pretty quickly, and once Draco met Tone—" Madison's sentence fell away, and she turned wide eyes on Draco. He waved away her implied apology, but Harry's curiosity was piqued.

"Who's Tone?"

"Antonio, my brother," Matt said evenly. He had settled on the ground next to one of the large ottomans nearby. Harry hadn't even realised he had been listening to their conversation. He looked at Matt now, noting how his expression twisted a little as he added, "Draco's ex." It was obvious that the fact wasn't exactly a positive one, but Harry's head was still processing the rest of Matt's words. Antonio. Brother. Malfoy. Was Malfoy gay?

Harry stared at him, at the stiff line of Malfoy's shoulders and the way he seemed braced for a fight. He wondered if Malfoy was worried about them all finding out about his sexuality, if he'd been hiding or ashamed. It was clear that his friends all knew about him and this Antonio bloke, but judging from the slightly too-interested expressions on Michael and Dean's faces, it hadn't been common knowledge at Hogwarts. Harry certainly didn't care, and he knew none of his friends would either, but he was aware that homosexuality was seen a little differently in pure-blood circles.

"But I thought you were Muggle-born," Hermione said to Matt, her tone tentative.

"I am," Matt said. "My brother's a No-Maj—a Muggle." He laughed, a little bitterly. "Only one in my family who still talks to me. Of course, he's gay, so he was disowned for an entirely different reason."

Muggle? Malfoy had dated a Muggle. A male Muggle. Harry blinked. He thought his brain might be broken. Despite all the strangeness he'd experienced these past two months with Malfoy being back, he still never would have expected this.

"Disowned?"

Matt hesitated. "My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico before they had kids. They're Catholic, very religious. They caught my brother with a guy when he was fifteen and threw him out when he refused to repent. When I got my letter from MACUSA a couple of years later, well…'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' or, at least not suffer one to live under your roof."

"Oh my god," Hermione breathed, her hand over her mouth. Harry didn't know why she was so surprised. It wasn't like either of them were unaware that there were some seriously shitty Muggles out in the world. Hell, the Dursleys wouldn't have hesitated to throw him out if it hadn't been for Dumbledore.

"Wait," Ron said, brow furrowed as he turned to look at Malfoy. "You're gay?"

"Seriously, Ron?" Hermione sighed. "That's what you focus on?" She sighed again and muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like "Emotional range of thimble, more like it."

Ron shrugged, unrepentant, his gaze staying on Malfoy's.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Not that it's any of your business, but no. I'm bi—I like men and women," he clarified, when Ron continued to look at him in confusion. "Though I have a preference for men."

"And thank god," Sarah said vehemently. "After Violet, I'd say your taste in women needs some serious improvement."

"Hey!" Madison exclaimed. Dean's eyebrows rose, and he and Harry shared a look of mutual surprise.

"You guys didn't date, you just fucked," Matt explained. "Totally different."

"I was experimenting," Malfoy said, looking defensive.

"We know!"

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it. He was more curious than ever and he desperately wanted to ask more questions, but with Malfoy sitting there, staring at him with those silver eyes, Harry felt his throat go suddenly dry. He looked at Hermione, helpless.

"Let's get back to studying, shall we?" Hermione suggested, a little too loudly.

There were some grumbles, but everybody reluctantly turned back to their books, and Harry shot Hermione a grateful look. He really did have the best friends.

The three of them studied for several more hours, even past when most of the others had headed in to bed. Harry watched them go with a pang of envy, wishing he, too, could call it a night. But he really was nervous about tomorrow's exam, and it was nice being around his two best mates. Zach and Sarah remained as well, moving to the large sofa when Madison, Malfoy, and Josh left.

"Tea?" a voice asked, pulling Harry from his vacant staring. He looked up into Sarah's kind face.

"Pardon?"

"Would you like some tea?"

"Oh, yes please."

She Summoned several tea cups from the kitchen, pouring boiling water over tea bags, before sending the steaming cup floating towards Harry. He caught it gratefully, allowing the warm ceramic to shock his senses awake. He sipped slowly, noticing as he did so that Ron and Hermione were also holding mugs.

"Thanks," he murmured.

"Of course. I thought we could all use a bit of a pick-me-up."

"Too right you are," Ron said emphatically, taking a generous gulp. "Though I could really go for some biscuits right now."

Hermione flicked her wand, and a package of chocolate biscuits came zooming out off the kitchen. Ron looked at her with worshipful eyes. "You always get hungry when we're studying," she explained, her cheeks a little pink.

"You are the best girlfriend," Ron said emphatically, before tearing open the package.

Hermione's blush intensified, and Harry caught Sarah's sweet smile at their interactions, her hand finding Zach's and squeezing. Harry nodded at their hands. "How long have you been together?"

"Coming up on two years now," Sarah said with a smile. "We started dating a couple of months after we started training. We just...clicked, you know?"

"Yeah, I think I do." Harry thought of Ginny, of the way things had suddenly shifted and fallen into place for him during sixth year. He missed that feeling, that thrill in his belly, that certainty that he wanted her all of the time.

"You're engaged, correct?" Zach asked.

Harry wasn't sure why the question made him feel so uncomfortable. It was a completely normal thing to ask. "Err, yeah, I am. We've been together off and on since I was sixteen. I asked her to marry me this past spring."

"Oh, that's so exciting!" Sarah enthused. "None of our friends are at the point where they're getting married or engaged. I don't think any of them are even in serious relationships anymore, now that Draco and Antonio broke up."

Harry couldn't pass up such a golden opportunity. "So…Antonio…" Harry said, not a little awkwardly. He was desperate to learn more, but completely unsure how to go about it without looking like a bumbling fool.

Sarah looked amused. "What about him?"

"Uh, err—"

Once again, Hermione came to Harry's rescue. "Were he and Malfoy together long?"

"Long enough. How long was it, Zach? A year?"

Zach nodded. "A little longer, I think. And they'd been fooling around for a bit before that I think."

"Yeah. Such a shame. They were really sweet together. Nobody saw it coming when they broke up."

"Oh?"

Sarah nodded. "It was sort of a thing, the break-up. One day, they're happy as ever, and the next, they're done!"

"That's too bad."

"It was. Neither Draco or Tone would tell anybody why they broke up, not even Matt. But Antonio was really upset about it. I mean, he told Matt that Draco didn't do anything wrong, and not to be pissed at him, but…"

"Things have been a little tense between Matt and Draco ever since," Zach continued for her "Matt and Tone are all the family they've got left, so they're really protective of one another. Plus, Matt has a bit of a temper."

Ron snorted softly at the understatement, and Harry suppressed a smile. "How long ago did they break up?"

"Hmm, it must have been about six months ago now? It was in the spring, but I can't remember exactly when."

How strange that Malfoy's relationship was coming to an end right when Harry's relationship was moving to the next level. Harry didn't know why that thought struck him so—relationships began and ended and changed every day, what did Malfoy's failed romance have to do with his engagement? Still, something about it stuck in Harry's jaw, a hard kernel of something he couldn't quite crack.

"But what about this Violet you were talking about?" Ron asked. "Sounds like you were less enthusiastic about her and Malfoy's relationship?"

Zach snorted as Sarah groaned theatrically. "Oh my god, don't even get me started on Violet."

"Was she really that bad?"

"Yes," Sarah said emphatically. "Draco met her at a pub during the first month of Auror Training, and they had a really...strange connection. I never understood what he saw in her."

Zach looked at Sarah with raised eyebrows and she laughed. "All right, yeah, I know exactly what he saw in her. She was kind of hot, I guess, in a rocker chick sort of way, with her shaggy black hair and those electric blue eyes. And god knows they were fucking enough to make the crazy worth it."

"God and everybody else," Zach said with a shudder.

Sarah turned back towards the others, her voice lowered in a conspiratorial whisper. "Zach walked in on them once in a...compromising position. Apparently there were props involved." She giggled. "He couldn't look Draco in the eyes for at least a month afterward."

"There are some things you just don't need to know about your friends."

Harry's face twisted in commiseration, and Hermione and Ron's faces reddened. Harry knew exactly what Zach meant, though thankfully there hadn't been any props involved any of the times he'd walked in on Ron and Hermione.

"Anyway," Hermione said, her voice squeaking as she hurried to change the subject. "What was wrong with Violet, exactly?"

"Oh, lots of things. She was possessive and jealous and totally didn't understand normal human interaction."

"Remember when Madison changed Draco's ringtone?" Zach asked, lips pulled in a small smile.

Sarah laughed again, a little too loudly, before covering her mouth with her hand.

"Ringtone?" Ron asked.

"For his cell."

Ron continued to look puzzled.

"It's a Muggle device, a portable telephone," Hermione chimed in, before explaining to Zach and Sarah, "Wizards over here don't use many Muggle devices."

"Right, sorry, I forgot about that. The magical community isn't as...isolated in America as it is here."

"But doesn't magic interfere with the electronics?"

"It can, especially if you're in a place with a large concentration of magical energies or where people are using a lot of magic," Zach explained. "We couldn't have used a cell phone at school, for example. But most younger American wizards buy warded phone cases that essentially protect the phone from going haywire when you're carrying it around magical areas. They're starting to encourage all the Aurors to get them, actually. There's really nothing like it for immediate contact, especially since Patronuses are a little high-profile if you're out in a non-wizarding area. Not to mention, witches and wizards generally grow up pretty integrated with No-Majes before they head off to school back home. They all have cell phones to keep in touch with their friends over vacations and such. These days, it would be really conspicuous to not have a cell phone in the No-Maj community."

"Fascinating," Hermione murmured. "I've noticed so many inefficiencies in our Ministry, and even at Hogwarts, that Muggle technology has already seemed to solve. I think we could greatly benefit from adapting some of their solutions to our work."

"Yes, yes, that's all very interesting," Ron said, rubbing Hermione's back to soften his words, "But can we get back to the ringtone thing?"

Zach jumped in. "A cell phone is a device that you can use to call other people, and, depending on who is calling you, you can change the ringtone. So, for example, I could have one tone play if Sarah is calling me, and another play if you were calling me."

"So you can immediately know who's contacting you by the sound."

"Yes, exactly," Sarah nodded. "Now, none of us liked Violet, but Madison hated her. Violet was really jealous of her and Draco's friendship and...well, let's just say things got a little heated a time or two. Anyway, Madison thought it would be really funny to change the ringtone on Draco's phone for Violet. When Violet found out, she freaked the fuck out."

"What did Madison change it to?"

"The song's called 'Crazy Bitch', it's this Muggle song, and it's pretty much exactly like it sounds."

Ron snorted. "So what did she do when she found out?"

"Violet broke into Madison's apartment, plucked all the strands out of her brand new broom, and scattered them all around her bedroom."

Harry's eyes widened, and his horrified expression was mirrored on Ron's face. Ruining a perfectly good broom was sacrilege. "Well, that seems excessive."

"No kidding. Thank god Draco broke things off with her after that. They were only together for a few months, but it was rough for all of us."

She sighed, taking a long gulp of tea, before vanishing it with a wave of her hand. Hermione watched her avidly, clearly impressed, and maybe a little jealous as well.

"I've always wanted to do wandless magic," she said, a little wistfully. "They're really strict about it here. You can't even take the classes until after you're a certified Auror."

Sarah looked at her a little shyly. "I could try teaching you, if you wanted? It's all about your connection to your magic. There are all kinds of books on the subject telling you that you have do it this way or that, but a lot of it is just Western garbage. At its core, wandless magic is an intensely personal experience."

Hermione looked a little troubled by this assessment. "Hermione doesn't really trust things you can't learn from books," Ron confided.

"That's not true!" Hermione protested, bristling a little. Ron gave her a softly incredulous look. She deflated, accepting Ron's point before looking earnestly at Sarah.

"I'm not good at not being good at things and books….books are easy. I can't promise I won't get frustrated, but I'd love to try if you're willing to teach me."

Harry felt a flash of pride for his friend. Books were something of a safety blanket for Hermione, and the fact that she was willing to leave them behind to try and find her inner self was definitely a sign of growth. He sighed. If only he could say the same about himself.

Instead, he found himself constantly having to pull his thoughts away from Malfoy. Harry wasn't moving forward, he was regressing, all the way back to sixth year. Only this time, his obsession with Draco Malfoy had nothing to do with suspecting him of being a Death Eater, and everything to do with a burning curiosity to know more about him. Every fact he learned about Malfoy seemed to spawn three new questions like some bizarre curiosity Hydra. And now this new revelation, that Malfoy liked men, that he'd dated a Muggle, for over a year.

Harry saw Malfoy every day: exchanged polite nods with him as they brushed their teeth in the morning, saw him smiling and laughing with his friends between classes, watched him be cordial, if stiff, to everybody he interacted with. Harry knew Malfoy had changed, but he still couldn't reconcile the bully and bigot he'd known with the attractive bloke who had crazy exes and friends who worried about him and a whole other life in America that Harry knew nothing about. It drove Harry mad thinking about how little he knew about Malfoy now, and how desperately he wanted to learn more. But it wasn't as if Harry had any real right to his curiosity, any grounds on which to ask questions and learn more from Malfoy. They still seemed to regard one another with a well-worn suspicion, and despite Harry's deeper desire, he couldn't seem to shake the pattern.

He wasn't sure why the name Antonio kept echoing in his ears. Harry supposed it was only natural to be curious about the Muggle bloke that was so captivating, that he made Malfoy forget all about his prejudices, that Malfoy fell in love with him. Okay, maybe Harry didn't know if it was love, but it had certainly been something if Sarah and Zach were to be believed. Harry just couldn't picture it.

Except, he sort of couldn't stop picturing it. Malfoy and some anonymous man, kissing and writhing together, Malfoy panting as masculine hands moved lower and lower.

He shook his head, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm and willing himself to focus on the text in front of him. It had been a long week, and the news had surprised Harry, was all. Nothing weird about picturing Malfoy and his mystery man—it was only natural. The same thing had happened when Padma had introduced her now ex-girlfriend, Cynthia, to the group a few years back. But, while certainly intriguing, Padma and Cynthia hadn't excited him quite the same way as picturing Malfoy did. The room felt a little hot, his clothes a little stifling, and he tried to think of something else, anything else.

It had nothing to do with Malfoy. Nothing at all. He hadn't seen Ginny in over a week, and they hadn't had any time alone together in almost twice as long. Harry was just a little frustrated. With Ginny's increased training schedule, now that she'd been moved off reserves, and the intensity of Harry's final year of Auror training, there'd been little time to connect. With Malfoy all up in his space, even Harry's daily wank time had gone out the window. He was still trying to find his balance, that was all.

Harry took a deep breath, and tried to focus once more on his textbook. There was nothing to worry about.

***

Draco sighed, loudly. The sound seemed to reverberate through the dark room, reminding him that it was empty, and there was nobody here to annoy. He wondered how much longer Potter planned on staying out there studying. Draco was not going to be happy if Potter woke Draco up with his clumsy shuffling at three in the morning.

He growled and turned onto his front, tossing and turning before flipping back over on his back, frustration coursing through his veins like acid. He'd been restless and irritable all day, barely keeping himself from snapping during their study session earlier when Madison started spilling all his secrets. Draco rolled his eyes at his own dramatics. They were hardly secrets, it was just...uncomfortable, having his recent past laid out for all to pick through.

Across the room, a heavy moon shone through the enchanted window, full and bright. Draco had become well-versed in the phases of the moon these past few years, and though he knew the moon he was staring at was just a facsimile, a pale reflection of the real moon shining down outside, he still felt the familiar bloom of emotion unfurl in his gut.

His cock twitched in his pyjama bottoms.

Fuck, it felt like it had been ages since he'd had a proper wank. He knew it hadn't really been that long—he'd got off quite satisfactorily in the showers just that morning—but his prick was telling a different story.

He glanced over at the door as his hand began to creep down beneath his pyjama bottoms. Did he have enough time? His fingertips brushed against the sensitive skin of his prick, sending a cascade of shivers across his skin. Fuck it. He could bloody well have a wank in his own room if he wanted. Besides, that was what locking charms were for.

This close to the full moon, every sense was in overdrive. He could hear the faint murmur of voices as the others talked together in the other room. He could smell the lingering scent of Potter's soap floating in the air. And he could feel the sure grip of his fist sliding over his prick with shudder-inducing intensity.

He'd never been one for fantasies while wanking, but when he got like this, all he wanted was to pin somebody down and take them. Draco thought of a slim, powerful form trapped beneath his own, the feeling of hot skin and flexing muscle as Draco drove into a warm and willing body again and again. He imagined the gripping heat, the way his partner would buck and moan and arch back into Draco's thrusts, how they'd bare their neck for him.

Draco dug his heels into his mattress, fucking frantically up into his fist as he thought of smooth, tan skin and a shock of dark, tangled hair.

He came with a low groan, erupting white and sticky all over his fist and chest. Draco gave himself a moment to come down from the dizzying high of his orgasm before grabbing his wand and casting a thorough Cleaning Charm. Thank god for magic. Antonio had always loved that particular spell and its various applications. Draco couldn't really blame him.

Draco slid his wand back onto his bedside table, realising as he did that he'd forgotten to cast that Locking Charm on the door. His heart began to race as he thought about the fact that Potter could have come in at any moment, could have seen Draco fucking his fist with wild abandon.

He was horrified and embarrassed by the possibility. Worse than that was the fact that there was a part of him that felt sickly pleased by it, a part that was maybe even a little disappointed that Potter hadn't walked in.

Draco groaned and flipped onto his stomach once more, trying his best to remind himself that nothing good would ever come from Harry Potter watching him wank.

His thoughts were interrupted by the soft click and whoosh of the opening door. Speak, or rather think, of the devil...

To Potter's credit, he was doing his best to stay quiet, but with Draco's moon-heightened senses, he could hear Potter's every movement with crystal clarity. That same small part of Draco that had wanted Potter to interrupt his wanking, urged him now to turn over, to watch as Potter slipped out of his baggy jeans and t-shirt to reveal the compact muscle Draco knew was hidden beneath. He ignored the devil on his shoulder urging him to look and pretended to be asleep instead, studiously staring at the blank patch of white wall in front of his face.

He heard Potter's jeans hit the floor, then his shirt, and a moment later Potter was sliding into bed, setting his glasses on his bedside table with a gentle snick. There was no whispered incantation or rush of magic, so Draco assumed he'd left his clothes lying in a heap on the floor. Again.

Minutes later, and Potter was snoring softly, oblivious to the world. Draco tried to focus on the sound, on the annoying rush of too-loud breaths, instead of the lingering effects of desire and arousal still coursing through him.

It was only because of the full moon, this weirdness with Potter. This time of the month always made him a little randy, and even he had to admit that Potter was a bit of all right.

But it didn't mean anything, not really. It was only natural that he'd feel a bit of an urge to look, especially given how things had begun to settle between the two of them. They may not really be friends, but the feeling of hostility had greatly diminished, and even the tension had felt kind of familiar lately...safe. Sometimes he even thought it might be worth it to try and officially clear the air, to see if they could move into something more.

None of that meant Draco wanted him or anything, though. Just because Draco could admit Potter was an attractive, not-entirely-terrible person, it didn't mean any deeper feelings had to be going on. That would be...well that would just be ridiculous. Ridiculous and stupid. These days Draco tried hard not to be either of those things if he could avoid it.

Draco nodded to himself, his eyelids beginning to droop as he smiled in weary satisfaction. Yes, he thought, there was nothing to worry about.

Chapter Text

The awkwardness was beginning to get to Harry. Sure, he was glad that there was no longer that underlying hostile tension between him and Malfoy—between Malfoy and all of them, really—but he wasn't sure this forced politeness was that much better. Something needed to give, to change, but Harry wasn't sure what to do about it. All he knew is that he was sick of walking on eggshells in his own bloody room, sick of worrying that at any moment he and Malfoy were going to backslide into old habits and end up fighting and hexing one another. Though at this point, that might be a welcome relief. Anything to have a chance to actually express some kind of emotion, instead of bottling everything up.

It appeared he wasn't the only one who felt it.

"Look, Potter," Malfoy said as the two of them were getting ready for bed. "I think we need to talk."

Harry paused and turned, his sleep shirt held loose in his hands. Malfoy's eyes flicked over Harry's bare chest, and Harry felt a strange ripple of self-consciousness. He'd filled out quite a bit since he started Auror training if Ginny was to be believed, but his muscles were more lean and tight than impressively bulky. Plus, there was that oval shaped scar that marred his chest, another legacy of Voldemort writ across his body. The embarrassment began to transform into defensive anger, but Harry did his best to beat it back. Snapping at Malfoy wouldn't do either of them any good. "Oh?" Harry said instead, doing his best to keep his tone politely inquiring.

"Yes. It's been two painfully awkward months, and since we're going to be living together for another ten or so, I'd like to see if we can maybe make the rest of the year a little better."

"And how do you propose we do that?" Harry asked, tugging on his shirt.

"By apologising." Harry opened his mouth—what the hell did he have to apologise to Malfoy for?—but Malfoy hastened to add, "Me, not you. I—I know I've given you plenty of valid reasons to despise me, and I don't blame you for that. I was...awful, worse than awful." Malfoy looked down, playing with the hem of his own shirt for a moment before looking back up, his eyes flashing with determination. "I'm sincerely sorry for my behaviour and my actions during our school years and the war. I can't undo anything that happened, but I wish I could. I'm not saying you have to like me or anything, but it would be...nice if we could be on more friendly terms. I have changed, however trite that might sound."

Harry studied him, the way his weight shifted from one foot to the other, how his eyes kept shifting, never settling in one place for long. He looked nervous and earnest, and Harry wasn't as surprised by that fact as he would have been two months ago. What was surprising, was how desperately Harry wanted to believe him. It was clear that whatever had happened in the three years since Malfoy's disappearance, it had definitely made an impact. From what he could tell, the Americans seemed like mostly decent people, and it was equally clear that they cared deeply for Malfoy, and they weren't entirely unaware of his past. It would take quite the long con to get people like that to become so loyal without having genuinely changed, and Harry was pretty sure Malfoy didn't have the ability to pull something like that off. He just wasn't that subtle.

But more than that, even, was the fact that Harry was sick of letting his past rule him. Some days it felt like the events of the war would haunt him forever. He was tired of feeling tired, of feeling angry, of feeling like there was nothing left to him but to rage against a world that would never change. Here was Draco Malfoy, saying that he had, convincingly enough that Harry believe him, or at least believed that Malfoy wanted to change, that he was trying. If the most hateful, bigoted boy Harry had had the displeasure of knowing was capable of seeing the error of his ways, then maybe there really was hope for the rest of the world.

"All right," Harry said slowly. "I believe you. Apology accepted." Malfoy's eyes went wide, as if he hadn't really expected Harry to forgive him. Harry smiled. "We were kids, and I know...I know you got in too deep, that in the end, you were just trying to keep yourself and your family alive. Life's too short to wallow in hatred. I'm not saying you get a free pass, but I refuse to be consumed by anger over what happened in the past. If you can work to become a better person, then I can work to accept that and forgive you."

"Okay, so…" Malfoy half-sighed, half laughed as he ran a hand through his hair. The white-blond strands looked soft and unimaginably touchable. "You know, I really didn't expect it to be so easy. I had a whole host of secondary arguments prepared."

Harry huffed a breath of laughter, his lips pulling into a small smile at the thought of Malfoy preparing his case for Harry to befriend him. "Well, I guess I'm just easy then."

Malfoy's expression went a little funny at that, his eyes darkening for a moment before he seemed to shake himself out of it. "Oh, Potter, I sincerely doubt that," he murmured lowly.

The words and his tone sent a dark little shiver down Harry's spine for some unknown reason that Harry wasn't all that keen to probe into. He focused instead on something else. "If we're going to become friends or whatever, you should probably call me Harry."

Malfoy assessed him for a moment before nodding. "All right, Harry. And, of course, you should call me Draco."

"Draco," Harry said aloud, just to see how the word would feel on his tongue. It felt good, the roll of the r, the hard occlusive of the c.

"I also realised I never thanked you for giving me back my wand."

Harry stared at him in surprise. Merlin, it had been so long ago now, Harry had almost forgotten he'd even returned it. The trials had just concluded, Malfoy—Draco—and his family had been pardoned, in part due to Harry's testimony. He hadn't been sure how to feel about that, particularly in Lucius's case, but he'd been gratified to hear that Draco and Narcissa had been spared Azkaban. Whatever Draco's sins, he hadn't deserved that. It had been during Draco and Narcissa's testimonies at the trials that Harry realised he'd still had possession of Draco's wand. With his own wand mended, he had no use for Draco's, so he'd decided to send it back to its owner. He'd sent it via owl without a note—there would have been little doubt who had sent it, and though Harry was glad Draco had escaped Azkaban, he wasn't sure he could think of anything nice to say in a note back then, either. Harry had never heard one way or another if the wand had reached Draco, and it hadn't even crossed his mind to see what wand Draco had been using since he'd returned, but a quick glance confirmed it was the familiar Hawthorn.

"Don't mention it," Harry said with a faint smile. "It was yours, after all."

Draco continued to stare at him for a moment longer, before flashing him a tentative smile and turning back towards his bed. The air between them was clearer than it had been...well, probably ever, but there was something different buzzing around them both now, a strange undercurrent that Harry couldn't quite place. Perhaps it was the novelty of it all, of their newly decided 'friendship' and the use of their given names. It would just take time, Harry thought, as he tried not to stare with sick fascination at the scars on Draco's back as he changed. It would all even out eventually.

He couldn't stop himself from continuing to glance over at Draco as he dressed for bed, though, catching flashes of his scars, and of something dark and black on his upper thigh. Harry felt a desperate, burning curiosity about both, but he kept his mouth firmly shut. He knew better than to poke somebody about their scars, and he could hardly admit that he'd been staring at Draco as he changed, could he?

Not that he was staring like that or anything. He'd just been looking. Innocent curiosity about how Draco had grown and changed over the years. He was undeniably fit, Harry had to give him that, not that it meant much to Harry either way. Harry had a fiancée, after all. A brilliant, gorgeous, wonderful fiancée that lately made Harry's stomach tie up into knots just thinking about her.

He didn't know what was wrong with him. Ginny was amazing. She was perfect for him—everybody said so. Harry could still remember the euphoria that had pumped through him with their first glorious kiss, the comforting warmth that had suffused his body when they'd got back together after the war. He should be elated by their engagement, should be counting down the days until they could finally be married. Instead, he felt like he was going to be eaten alive by doubts and nerves and insecurities.

They'd been together for three years now—longer, if you didn't count that little break in the middle during the war, which Harry did, but Ginny didn't. They knew each other so well, but lately it felt like they were never on the same page. Ginny was pushing for a family, and even though that was exactly what Harry had always wanted, it felt all wrong somehow. He didn't feel ready to be a father, didn't feel ready to be a husband. Sometimes he wondered if he was just going through the motions, doing what he thought he wanted instead of what he actually wanted.

But that wasn't quite right either. He loved Ginny, he knew he did, and nobody had pressured him into asking her to marry him. That had been entirely his idea, and he'd been so sure that it was what he wanted. And yet...it wasn't like he'd thought it would be. Back in the early days of their relationship, he used picture their future together, their three lovely children, their big house in the country, maybe a Crup and a Kneazle to round out the family. Harry had wanted it so much he could practically taste it. Now, when he tried to slip into that picture, it felt strange and uncomfortable, like an old jumper he'd outgrown.

Harry sighed. He was just being weird and maudlin. It was hard, was all, trying to sustain a relationship when you barely ever got to spend time with the person. He'd thought they'd grown used to the distance as they pursued their separate careers, but these past few months had been more difficult than ever. Their free time never seemed to align, and on top of that, there was a wedding to plan, and he was in his final year of training, which meant the pressure was really on. Harry was just tired and stressed, and it was understandable that he wasn't feeling as connected with Ginny lately, but it didn't mean they weren't meant to be together.

He climbed into bed and turned off the light on his side of the room. Lying on his side, he could see Draco illuminated by the lamp next to his bed as he flipped through the pages of some Muggle novel. His eyes were narrowed in thought, and the play of light and shadow over his face brought the sharp definition of his bone structure and elegant features into fine focus. It was a striking tableau, and Harry felt his body grow warm as he watched Draco, until eventually he tore his eyes away and turned around to face the wall.

He'd Floo Ginny tomorrow.

***

Draco flipped through the pages of his novel, the latest sequel in a series of Muggle thrillers that Draco thoroughly enjoyed, and tried his best to focus on the words dancing across the page. It shouldn't have been so difficult; he was halfway through, and he'd just started getting to the really exciting bits. But instead of focusing on the action-packed plot, his gaze kept sliding off the page and towards his roommate who was looking more put-together than Draco had ever seen him. He had on a pair of dark, tight jeans that looked more sexy than scruffy, and a soft-looking maroon jumper that made his skin glow. Potter, Harry, looked jittery, excited, and a little nervous as he walked into their ensuite and attempted to tame the riot that was his hair.

"Hot date?" Draco asked, unable to help himself.

Harry laughed a little before giving up on his hair, and coming back to sit on his bed. "Actually, yeah," he said as he reached for a pair of ratty trainers. "Ginny and I finally have a free night off at the same time. We're going out, just the two of us."

Draco coughed, and Harry looked up inquisitively. Draco looked pointedly at the shoes in disapproval. Harry looked between him and the trainers a couple of times, before sighing and sliding to the floor. He turned at rummaged under the bed for a bit, giving Draco an entirely too-welcome view of those tight jeans stretched across the curve of Harry's arse. It was a good arse. A really good arse.

Draco did his best to control his baser desires until Harry resurfaced again, holding up a pair of black dragonhide boots with a triumphant smile.

"Better?" he asked as he moved to sit back on his mattress.

Draco nodded. "'Better." Harry sat down on his bed and began to tug them on. "So, you must be excited."

"Hmm?" Harry asked as he struggled with the boots.

"You must be excited for your date. It doesn't seem like you get to spend a lot of time with one another. That must be hard."

A strange expression flickered across Harry's face, quick as a Snitch, before sliding away as he nodded. "Yeah. We used to see each other a lot more, but this year has been a bit mad. Between me being in the final year of Auror Training and her recent promotion to the starting line, it's been...difficult." Harry sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "And then there's the wedding to plan, and neither of us have a lot of time for that kind of thing, and to be honest, it's not exactly my forte anyway, you know? But she really wants to get married by the end of next year at the latest, which means we've got to be thinking about this stuff now, and as much as I love Molly, neither of us wants her to start planning the wedding, or it'll be a bloody nightmare." Harry took in a deep, shaky breath, his entire body tense. "But we never get to see one another any more, and the last thing I want to do with our time is spend it all talking about flower arrangements and guest lists, and I just know she's going to want to plan things tonight. I really don't want to fight about it and—"

"Woah, slow down," Draco said, his eyes a little wide as he took in the near-panicked expression on Harry's face. He looked about five seconds away from a nervous breakdown.

Harry looked up at him, his face suddenly pale as he no-doubt began to process what he'd just said aloud, and who he'd said it all to. "Shit, I'm sorry for dumping that all on you. Please ignore me."

"Hey, it's fine," Draco assured him in the calmest voice he could manage. "It sounds like you're both under a lot of stress right now, and it's perfectly normal for it to drive you a little mad."

Harry's laugh was amused and a little bitter. "You've got that right." He looked down at his watch, and then stood hurriedly, summoning his leather jacket from the hook next to the door. "I've got to get going," he said, shrugging the jacket on. "Sorry for all that," he continued, waving a hand to encompass his minor freak-out.

"Have a good time," Draco said to his retreating back. A flicker of appreciation went through him at the sight of those shoulders and forearms encased in black leather, and then Harry was gone.

Draco groaned, collapsing back against the bed, his book forgotten at his side. Annoyance prickled across his skin, furrowing his brow. He could make out the tiniest glimmers of resentment deep in his belly towards Harry's fiancée for dragging him away. Draco wanted to keep talking with him. He wanted to keep encouraging Harry's confidences and admire his fine form.

This was bad. Draco just barely managed to prevent himself from rolling over and beating his head against the wall. It was one thing to have an innocent appreciation for how well Harry had grown up, and it was two things to enjoy spending time with him and to desire his friendship—that desire was hardly new, he'd wanted that since he was eleven. But what he was feeling right now was another story altogether.

Draco knew exactly what the flutters of mad and conflicting emotions in his belly signified, and he wasn't having any of it. Falling for a straight boy never ended well for anybody. It had only happened to him once, but it had been painful enough to rob him of the desire to ever make that particular mistake again. Blaise and him had never really got over the awkwardness after Draco shattered the illusion that, for Draco anyway, what they had between them was more than just two straight blokes helping one another out. Maybe they would have got over it eventually, without Voldemort and the war, but he supposed they'd never know now. Draco wasn't sure there had ever been enough friendship between them to be worth salvaging anyway.

Draco didn't want that to happen with Harry. Even if he never spoke to or saw Harry again after the end of the programme, he didn't want to leave on a sour note. He'd reacted fine to discovering that Draco was attracted to men, but Draco knew well enough that tolerance and acceptance could change at a moment's notice. Of course, this was Harry Potter, and Draco certainly gave him more credit than he gave to the average wizard. Still, Draco didn't want to make him uncomfortable. More importantly, Draco didn't want to make himself uncomfortable. They'd only just recently come to an agreement to try and be something approaching friends, and the last thing Draco needed was an unrequited pash on somebody who was completely unavailable.

Harry was straight. He was engaged. He was utterly and completely off limits.

Nothing was ever going to happen between him and Harry, and the sooner Draco's brain and heart and libido all got on that same page, the better.

Chapter Text

The wind rushed through Harry's hair, likely turning it into an even more unmanageable mess, but Harry didn't care. It felt too good to be on a broom again, racing through the air, not a care in the world except finding the Snitch. Everytime he came up here, he promised himself he wouldn't wait so long until the next time, but between training and Ginny and his friends, time was not as plentiful as he'd like. He certainly planned on appreciating every precious moment of time he had now.

Across the pitch, the distant form of Draco Malfoy circled like a dragon, intent and predatory and undeniably graceful. Draco had always been a good flier, but now, without the undercurrent of bitter rivalry and rampant disdain colouring his perception, Harry could take the time to appreciate Draco's form. He flew with the ease and confidence of somebody who'd been flying for a long, long time, and Harry couldn't help but admire his grace as he swooped and dived. He looked so elegant astride his slim broom, and Harry felt a tiny prickle of what he could only assume was jealousy as he watched. Harry knew he was good, but he doubt he looked even half as put together as Draco did while flying.

They played several games of Catch the Snitch, the both of them more evenly matched than Harry had been anticipating. He'd been pleased to discover that Draco was even better now than when they were at Hogwarts, and Harry wondered how much of that was due to his new inner confidence, and the peace he seemed to have found within himself. It was clear that this Draco flew because he loved it, that he wasn't flying to impress or to prove anything to himself or anybody else. Something about the joy and freedom on Draco's face as he flew made Harry's insides feel hot and squirmy.

"All right, so that's two for you, and two for me," Draco said, a little breathlessly, the freshly-caught Snitch still fluttering in his fist. "Why don't we call it a day?"

Harry found himself grinning. "Afraid you can't beat me again?"

Draco grinned back and shrugged. "I have a 50/50 chance, but I prefer to play games with better odds."

Harry snorted, and his stomach gave a sudden growl. "All this flying has me starved. Want to grab a bite before we head back?"

A flash of surprise passed over Draco's face, before his expression softened into something quietly pleased. "I could eat."

Harry belly did a strange and ridiculous flip. He looked away from Draco as he began to descend. "All right. There's a Muggle place not to far away that has some really great fish and chips."

"Lead the way."

They changed quickly, shrinking their brooms and shoving their dirty clothing into their bags. It was only half past three, and the normally bustling chippy was emptier than Harry had ever seen it. Thankfully so, Harry thought, as his stomach let out another growl. They placed their order and took a seat at an empty table by the windows.

They sat there in slightly awkward silence as they waited for their food to arrive, until Harry couldn't take it any longer. "So, how did you end up in America?"

"What?"

"America," Harry said again. "Seems a bit of an odd choice that's all, particularly Seattle. I would have thought New York, if anything."

Draco smiled, clearly amused. "Thought about it a lot, have you?"

Harry's face heated. "Of course not! But you have to admit it's...unexpected. Last I heard, you and your parents had all packed off to France. Why didn't you stay there with them?"

Draco's mouth curled with distaste. "I was in France with them at first. But it got to be too...difficult, seeing my parents, the memories...My mother just wanted to forget it all entirely, pretend that the past several years had never happened, and my father…" Draco shook his head, as if to rid himself of unhappy thoughts. "I wanted to get as far away from Britain, from Europe, as possible, at least for a little while. My parents wanted me to attend Beauxbatons in the fall—well, my mother did at any rate—but I knew I couldn't spend a whole summer trapped in some French villa with them, pretending that we were all fine. I told my mother I wanted to travel for the summer, maybe visit America. That's when she told me about Auntie Cari."

"Auntie Cari?"

Draco's lips pulled into a fond, sincere smile, his eyes a little distant, as if he were recalling her from memory. "Carina, but she prefers to go by Cari. She's not really my Aunt. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how we're related. She's a Black, a third cousin twice removed or some such nonsense. I don't think my mother and her had ever even spoken, but my mother has always been good about keeping tabs on family. She wrote to Cari and asked if she wouldn't mind hosting me for a few weeks."

"And she said yes?"

"Mother had assumed she would, pure-bloods place a great deal of importance on familial obligation and decorum, even for distant relations. Cari doesn't give a toss for any of that, though. She's just a good person."

"Sounds like you got on."

"Yeah, we did." Draco laughed, as if recalling a happy memory. Something about the lightness of his expression made Harry's heart skip a beat. "She's a little out there though."

"Oh?"

"Think Luna Lovegood, only older, American, and with fewer mentions of imaginary creatures."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "That must have been...interesting."

"That's one word for it. She lives on an island near Seattle, in this sort of artist community. There are a bunch of them that all live in the same area, total creative hippy types. They're all incredibly kind, but...let's just say it was a far cry from the Manor. My parents never would have sent me there if they'd known what she was like."

Harry laughed. "No, I can't imagine they would. But I take it you enjoyed it? Though not enough to join up, judging from the lack of patchouli?"

Draco shuddered. "You joke, but it took me months to get the smell out of my clothes. Every time I visit I can practically feel the scent soaking into all of my things." He took a sip of water, suddenly pensive. "But yes, I did. Like it, I mean. I wasn't in a good place when I got there, and I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for Cari. In addition to her art, she's got a talent for reading auras and energies. I've never exactly been...the most expressive person when it comes to certain feelings, but she could tell I was in pain." He paused, clearly weighing his words. "I was a bit...numb to things. Definitely not myself, which is probably a good thing, because I think if I'd been in my right mind when I first arrived, I wouldn't have stayed long enough for her to make a difference." Draco shrugged and bit his lip. "She recommended I join a wizarding group that met once a week to work through issues similar to what I'd gone through. I really didn't want to go, but I thought it would be rude to tell her no, especially after she'd been so kind as to offer to let me stay with her for the summer. It ended up being one of the best things I've ever done."

Harry nodded supportively, not wanting to say the wrong thing and wake Draco up from whatever spell he was under that had him confiding in Harry. He was surprised that Draco had gone to a support group, but oddly proud of his willingness to get help and rely on others. He couldn't count the number of friends he knew who had gone to grief counseling or PTSD support groups in the aftermath of the war. Hermione had tried for a while to get Harry to go, too, but for some reason, Harry never could manage to make himself walk through the door.

The waiter brought over their steaming platters of fish and chips and Harry's stomach growled appreciatively. He was so hungry, he burned the roof of his mouth on a scalding piece of fish in his eagerness, but a sneaky healing spell took care of the damage. Draco seemed similarly famished, digging in with an enthusiasm that somehow managed to surprise Harry. The image of posh, pure-blood Draco Malfoy tearing into a piece of battered fish at a run-down Muggle chippy was not one that Harry would soon forget.

"So," Harry prompted, in between handfuls of vinegar-y chips. "That explains how you got to America, but not why you stayed."

"Doesn't it?" Draco took another long drink of water, his throat bobbing as he gulped, before smiling. "When it came time to go back to France, I just...didn't want to go. I was happy there, for the first time since I could remember. There was nobody to impress, nobody to intimidate….Nobody even knew who I was. Of course, I had changed my last name, but that was more for me than anything else. I don't think anyone would have blinked twice at the name Malfoy, which was...incredible really." He gave Harry a slightly nervous look, clearly remembering Harry's reaction to learning Draco had been using Sirius's last name. But that anger had quickly faded, and Harry just smiled and nodded at Draco to continue.

"The thought of going back to France...I know it wasn't England, but it still felt like walking back into a cage. Cari ended up pulling a few strings and got me into the closest Wizarding school to Seattle, Baesany. It's way up in the nearby mountain range, a couple of hours away by train, and the Headmaster has several pieces of Cari's work—he's a big fan. And that was it. I made friends with Josh and Madison, and visited Cari whenever we had a free weekend, let her drag me along to her yoga classes and meditation circles. It's really beautiful there. All lush greenery and breathtaking mountains and clear, cool lakes."

Harry couldn't tear his gaze away from Draco's face as he spoke, the way his eyes seemed to come alive, the animation in his expression and the excitement in his voice. Harry didn't think he'd ever heard Draco talk with such enthusiasm. He felt an entirely unwelcome sliver of jealousy that something so utterly disconnected from Harry and their shared past could make Draco look and sound like that. It was ridiculous. Their history had hardly been a positive one. Of course Draco had found solace elsewhere. Still, Harry couldn't suppress the tiny little voice in his head that whispered that he wanted to make Draco look like that. He tried to ignore it. It probably didn't have anything to do with Draco, really. Harry just wanted to make anybody look as radiant as Draco did at that moment. He thought of Ginny, of his fiancée, and tried to recall if she had ever seemed so happy, so content and sunny and elated. He could think of a handful of times, but none of the recent ones seemed to have involved Harry. The only time she looked like that these days was when she was flying or talking about Quidditch.

"I can't imagine your parents were happy about that," Harry finally managed to choke out, trying to distract himself from his uncomfortable thoughts.

Draco snorted. "That's an understatement. My mother did everything short of Portkeying out herself and dragging me back to France. But I was an adult, and they really couldn't do anything to stop me. Things haven't really been right between us since, but…" he trailed off, his eyes sad. "They hadn't been right for a long time before that, if I'm honest." He shrugged painting on an insincere smile. "But enough about me, what about you?"

"What about me?"

"Anything exciting happen to you these past three years?"

"Nothing that topped defeating Voldemort."

Draco shivered a little at the name, and his eyes narrowed, just a bit. "I'd have thought getting engaged would top it. Certainly not as flashy, but I always thought that marriage seemed like quite the adventure."

Harry nodded, fidgeting in his seat and looking quite pointedly at the salt shaker on the table. "Yeah, I guess you're right." When he finally looked back up, Draco was gazing at him intently, and Harry had the uncomfortable feeling that Draco was looking right into his soul. Draco opened his mouth, and a frisson of panic cracked through him at the thought of Draco continuing to ask about Ginny. Harry didn't know why, but the last thing he wanted to discuss right now was his upcoming nuptials.

Harry decided to beat him to it. "What about you? You ever think about getting married?"

***

Ahh, such a loaded question, that one, though Draco didn't imagine Harry had been thinking much past changing the subject from his own relationship. He'd seemed strangely uncomfortable when talking about his fiancée, and Draco did his best not to read too much into it, despite the burning ember of curiosity begging him to probe further.

"I suppose so. I used to dread it when I was younger, knowing that I'd be expected to marry whatever pure-blooded witch my parents deemed most suitable."

"Like an arranged marriage?"

Draco nodded. "More or less. It worked out fine for my parents, but the prospect never really appealed."

"I can imagine."

"There's this old superstition, about the Blacks. Or, not a superstition, really, but perhaps a family trait." Harry looked at him curiously, and Draco wondered if he was thinking of his godfather. "You see, they only love once."

"Once?"

"Yes. I'm sure it's not really true, but it certainly seems to apply to all the Blacks I've known. My mother, my grandfather, even Bellatrix, in her own fucked up way. Blacks give their hearts once, fully and completely, but it's hard won." Draco had always been very loyal and monogamous, valuing fidelity and trust above all else. So it was no surprise that he had always found the mythology romantic when he was younger. Even now, beneath the layers of jaded cynicism, there was still a small kernel of curious hope that one day he'd find the person he was meant to be with.

"You've never been in love, then?"

Draco smiled sadly. "I don't think so, not really. I thought once, maybe, but...it wasn't meant to be."

"Antonio?"

"Yes," Draco admitted. It still hurt a little, thinking of that failed relationship. "I cared for him deeply. And at times I thought that maybe he could be the one. I think I wanted him to be so badly that I let things go on longer than I should have. Maybe it was love, but even if it was, it wasn't the kind that lasts."

Harry nodded sympathetically, something curious and unidentifiable glittering in his eyes. Draco wondered if the bloke thing freaked him out, but he'd seemed fine with it all so far. Draco was probably just seeing things.

Either way, Draco thought it was time to steer the conversation towards safer waters. "But enough about love and romance, eh? I've missed out on three years of Quidditch. They play it over in America, but they're much more keen on Quodpot." Draco gave a mock shudder, and Harry laughed. "It's all right, but it's nothing on Quidditch. So, you've got to get me up to speed. Are the Cannons still dreadful? Is Gwenog still doing her level best to crush all the other teams beneath her well-made boot?"

Harry followed the change in topic with gusto, and the updates on three years worth of Quidditch managed to carry them all the way back to their dorms.

"We should do this again sometime," Harry blurted out as Draco started towards the common area to where Madison was waving him over.

Draco turned back to look at Harry, a smile lighting up his face at Harry's earnest expression. "Anytime," Draco murmured, with far too much sincerity. "You know where to find me."

Chapter Text

"I want to get a tattoo," Josh announced one evening, completely unprompted. There were a group of them in the common area, and though they probably should have been preparing for the exams they would no doubt have to take before heading off for December holidays in a few weeks, they'd all seem to come to a mutual decision to relax for the evening, even Hermione.

Harry looked up the wizarding chessboard, grateful for a distraction from his terrible performance. He knew better than to think he could ever actually beat Ron, but the going theory was that people were supposed to improve the more they played, right? Ten years of friendship and chess games, and Harry had yet to see any actual evidence of that theory applied to his own abilities, but he could hold out hope.

Josh was laying on the sofa nearby, his feet propped up on Madison's lap. He looked around the room, gesturing towards the rest of the room's occupants: Harry and Ron next to the chessboard, Hermione in the corner with her colour-coded scheduler, and Dean, sketching next to the lamp. "Any of you know a good magical tattoo parlour?"

Hermione snorted, before flipping another page of her scheduler. "Hardly."

"Sorry, mate," Ron added with surprisingly lightness, "We're not much for tattoos. My brother has loads, but he got them all abroad." He turned towards Dean. "Didn't Seamus get a tattoo last year?"

Dean's brow furrowed as he nodded slowly. "Yeah. I can't remember what shop he got it at, but I can check."

Josh grinned. "That would be awesome. Thanks!"

Harry wondered if he would ever want to get a tattoo. He'd thought about it once or twice over the years, his mind returning to the sparkle in Ginny's eyes as she joked about him having a Hungarian Horntail on his chest, but something had always held him back. It just seemed so...permanent.

"Draco," Josh called out, bringing Draco into the room from the kitchen. "Come get another tattoo with me."

"Another?" Hermione asked, her interest piqued enough to draw her out from filling out her schedule—probably several months in advance. Her face suddenly coloured as she realised what Josh might be referring to. "You mean, in addition to…"

Draco's expression pinched, his spine stiff and straight. "No," he said tightly. "I think calling the Dark Mark a tattoo is a bit of a misnomer, don't you? Josh is referring to the actual tattoo I got with him a few years ago."

Madison laughed. "Yeah, except yours is awesome and badass, and Josh is a loser and got our fucking school crest."

"Hey!" Josh said, half playful, half affronted. "That place meant a lot to me." He fluttered his eyelashes at her. "It's where I met you, after all."

Madison rolled her eyes, but her mouth twitched into a fond smile. "Okay, sure, but you have to admit, Draco's is a little cooler."

"Fine, fine. But I'm admitting it under protest."

"If that's all…?" Draco said, making as if to step back into the kitchen.

"Hey now," Dean called out. "You've got to tell us what it is now. Don't leave us hanging."

Draco sighed the sigh of the long suffering. "It's a dragon. On my right thigh. Though he likes to move around a bit."

Harry had seen glimpses of something dark on Draco's thigh as he changed at night, but he'd never got a good look. He'd assumed tattoo, but now that he knew exactly what it was, the desire to see it fully reached a near fever pitch of intensity.

"A dragon?" Hermione asked. "Isn't that a little on the nose, Draco."

Draco smiled at her, genuine and amused. "Maybe a little," he conceded. "But I wanted a mark on me that was entirely my own. It felt like I couldn't get more me than a dragon."

Hermione breathed a surprised laugh, though her eyes were assessing and almost soft as she looked at him. "Can't argue with that."

"So, are you going to show us?" Harry asked boldly, a flush filling his cheeks the moment the words left his mouth.

Hermione gave him an odd look, but luckily Harry wasn't the only who wanted to see. "Yeah," Madison added slyly, "Why don't you show us."

"I don't know…"

"I wouldn't mind seeing it," Dean added, amusement creasing his face.

"Yeah, Malfoy," Ron goaded. "Show us what you got."

Malfoy flung his head back and stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "Fine," he said on a heavy sigh. His hands moved to his jeans and began to undo his flies.

"Oh, honestly!" Hermione huffed from the corner, but Harry ignored her. He was too mesmerised by Draco's slim fingers moving over the buttons of his jeans, captivated by the way the heavy denim seemed to cling to his hips before Draco pushed it down to the floor. Harry's throat went dry, and his eyes widened as his insides began to flutter with something like panic.

With a huff, Draco turned to the side, reaching down to push the tight material of his briefs up the pale skin of his right thigh, displaying a large black dragon.

The dragon seemed to know he was on display, because he tossed his snout, his wings fluttering and shifting as jet black flames curled around the side of Draco's thigh. It was beautiful, and Harry's finger twitched the desire to reach out and touch. He wondered if the skin felt different beneath the black patches, if the flickering fire would feel hot beneath his fingertips.

"Woah," Dean said. "That's pretty impressive."

"Yeah," Ron agreed, clearly admiring, albeit reluctantly.

Harry stayed silent, worried about what might come out of his mouth if he opened it. He shifted in his seat, unable to tear his eyes away as an uncomfortable heat spread through body.

"Happy now?" Draco asked, bending down to pick up his jeans. Draco's eyes caught Harry's, and a jolt went through Harry's entire frame. He couldn't look away, not until Draco coughed and looked down, seemingly fascinated with his flies.

"Right, well," Draco said a little awkwardly. "Glad that's done."

He walked back to the kitchen, and Harry watched him go as Josh called out, "Think about the tattoo!"

Harry wasn't sure he'd be able to think about anything else.

***

Draco couldn't stop thinking about it.

Water poured out of the shower head above him, soaking his hair into a golden sheet, encasing his head and warming the slight chill of his skin. He went through familiar motions: soaping his body, shampooing his hair, letting the hot stream of water work out the faint aches and pains from that day's combat class. And all the while, his mind whirred.

Over and over it replayed in his head, that avid, hungry look in Harry's eyes as he stared at Draco's dragon tattoo earlier that night. It was...Draco shivered. It was a bit of rush, feeling all of that focus on him, the intensity of that naked want.

Draco wasn't blind, he'd seen that look before, and he knew what it meant. But he had to be missing something with Harry. Harry was engaged to be married and straight besides. Not to mention, there was far too much bad history between them for Harry to ever be attracted to him. Draco knew that they were something resembling friends these days, but that didn't mean Harry could ever want more.

Maybe Harry just had a thing for ink? Yes, that was much more likely, that the idea of tattoos did something for him. Because surely, surely Harry wasn't attracted to him. That was patently ridiculous. All the same, Draco's blood ran hot as he imagined that look in Harry's eye, thought about what might have happened if they'd been alone, if they'd been different people.

He growled, the sound muffled beneath the rush of the water. This was getting ridiculous. Draco couldn't keep doing this, fighting the burn of attraction every time the moon grew heavy in the sky. It was getting worse with each month, the desire to fuck, to take. It was clearly getting out of control, if he was imagining that Harry was attracted to him.

Maybe it was time for him to go out and pull. The thought was mildly distasteful—Draco had never been one for one-night stands with strangers. It set him on edge, being so open and vulnerable with somebody he didn't know. Still, his right hand was becoming increasingly insufficient.

For a half second he considered Madison. They'd spent a weekend together, once, when an unexpected snowstorm trapped them in Draco's tiny flat with a bottle of scotch and too much time on their hands. It had never gone any further than that—the both of them knew they weren't suited as anything more than friends—but it had been an enjoyable weekend, and he had a feeling if he approached her now, she wouldn't say no.

Draco ran his fingers through his soaking hair and sighed. He wouldn't go to Madison. They were friends, and it would be better for them both if he kept that door firmly closed.

It didn't help him with his more immediate problem, though. He growled softly as his erection demanded attention.

He wrapped a hand around his prick, bringing himself off with quick efficiency, and doing his best not to think of green eyes filled with hunger.

Chapter Text

Harry surveyed his room critically, trying to see if he'd missed anything necessary in his haste to pack for the holidays. It wasn't as if he couldn't come back and get anything he'd left behind if needed, but it was the principle of the thing. Besides, he knew Ginny was looking forward to spending some quality time together, and he was sure she wouldn't be impressed if he ducked out to grab a forgotten pair of socks.

Satisfied, he shut his trunk with a heavy thud, before spelling it out into the common room where Ron and Hermione were already waiting. Most of the others were long gone: Padma had left that morning for a trip to India with her family to visit her grandparents, Dean and Seamus were off for a wild vacation in Ibiza, and Michael...well, who the hell knew where Michael was going. Harry thought he'd heard him mention family, and he'd been gone by the time Harry had got up that morning.

"All set, Harry?" Ron asked genially. "I told mum to expect us by three. She promised to make steak and kidney pie for dinner." His eyes glazed a little as he imagined it, and Harry's own stomach rumbled appreciatively. He was most definitely excited for a week of Molly Weasley's cooking.

"Okay, I'm off," Hermione announced, looking at her watch with a frown. "My Portkey leaves in thirty minutes, and I don't want to get bumped again like last year."

Ron hopped up off the sofa. "I'll walk you over."

"Oh, that's fine, Ron, it's just across the Ministry."

Ron grabbed her hand and tugged her until she was pressed up against him. His eyes shone as he looked down at her, and she smiled helplessly back. Harry's heart ached a little as he watched them, though he wasn't quite sure why, other than it felt like he was intruding on something personal. "I know," Ron murmured. "But let me do it anyway. We already have to spend a whole week apart."

Hermione blushed, and Harry tried his best not to imagine what she was thinking about. "All right," she said on a breathy exhale.

Ron took Hermione's hand before turning back around. "Harry?"

"Nah. You two go on ahead. I had something I wanted to finish up here before we head to the Burrow," Harry lied, waving them on. He knew they'd prefer to sneak in a few more minutes alone, even if they'd never say so.

Ron shrugged and turned back towards the door, and Hermione smiled at him gratefully before spelling her luggage to follow them as they left. His heart twinged again with some strange mixture of happiness and jealousy. Harry thought it was probably best not to read too much into it.

He was sitting in ponderous silence when a loud bang sounded down the hall, followed by a riot of helpless giggling and the clatter of feet as Madison, Josh, and Matt stumbled into the common room followed by a parade of bags. The three of them collapsed onto the sofa across from Harry, followed soon after by Zach and Sarah, looking a little harried and harassed. Harry realised with a start that he had no clue what any of the Americans were doing for the holidays. It hadn't even occurred to him to ask or offer, and he felt his cheeks heat with shame.

"Going back home for the holidays?"

"No," Zach said. "Arranging an International Portkey for such a short period of time was too much of a hassle, especially accounting for the time difference and travel time."

"Oh. So where're you all going then?"

"To the Manor," Draco said from the archway, his own trunk floating easily beside him. He hadn't been in their room when Harry had finished packing up; he must have worked quickly.

"Oh," Harry said, a little stunned. "I didn't think anybody lived there anymore."

Draco shrugged. "They don't. It's been empty since my parents and I left. But it still belongs to our family, and there are a few house-elves that maintain it."

"Don't let Hermione hear you say that," Harry advised.

"I remember," Draco said dryly. "Splat, was it?"

Harry choked back a laugh. "S.P.E.W. actually."

"What's S.P.E.W.?"

"One of Granger's pet projects in school. Don't ask. Not if you don't want a thirty minute lecture on house-elf rights."

Harry turned away to hide a smile. He felt a twinge of guilt at his amusement, like he was betraying Hermione somehow, but Draco wasn't wrong.

"Won't it be a little….weird being back there?" Harry thought weird was probably an understatement, but he figured using the phrase bloody disturbing might start something he didn't feel like dealing with just then.

Draco took in a deep breath before releasing it with a too-casual smile. "Probably. But this lot has been pestering me about my family for years—"

"Hey!" Sarah protested, though her lips were quirked up at the corners.

He looked at her pointedly before continuing, "And I figured, what better way to piss off all my ancestors than to bring a bunch of half-blood, Muggle-born, uncouth Americans traipsing through our hallowed halls."

That surprised a laugh out of Harry. He couldn't help but picture Lucius Malfoy's face when he heard who his son had invited over. It was a far-too-amusing thought.

"Well, they certainly seem like a better choice than your last houseguests." Ah shit, and Harry had been doing so well up to that point. Still, it wasn't untrue, and it wasn't undeserved. Harry could admit that Draco had changed, but he wasn't going to tiptoe around their past to protect his delicate feelings—and he didn't think Draco would want him to.

Draco's eyes clouded over for a split-second before he inclined his head. "No argument here." A frisson of something slid down Harry's spine as their eyes locked, a sensation that was becoming all too familiar—and entirely more welcome that it probably should be.

"Ready to go, Harry?" Ron called out at he burst through the door. He froze as every person in the room turned to stare at him. "Err, all right everyone?"

"Yup," Harry said, standing quickly and levitating his trunk once more.

"Off to the Weasleys?" Draco asked without a trace of the malice that would have been there back at Hogwarts.

Harry watched Ron analyse Draco's words, searching for any hidden trace of derision and coming up empty. He nodded warily. "Yeah, Harry's staying with me at the Burrow."

"Ah, well, then I hope you both have a Merry Christmas."

Ron's brow wrinkled with confusion, as if a seemingly genuine Draco Malfoy was too bizarre for his brain to handle. Harry knew the feeling. "Thanks," he said slowly. "You, too I guess. All of you."

"See you next year," Madison called out as Harry and Ron disappeared out into the hall and headed towards the Atrium Floos.

Time to go home.

***

Draco hadn't wanted to arrange a Portkey to the Manor. It would have been the easiest solution to transport a group of their size, since the Floos at the Manor had been deactivated years ago, but Draco had a feeling it wouldn't have fit Robards's definition of lying low.

The Knight Bus was out for a similar reason (also, it was the Knight Bus) and Sarah wasn't great on a broom over long distances, which meant flying was right out as well. It would have to be Apparition, which was a pain in the arse, considering Draco was the only one who knew where the Manor even was. Trying to Side-Along more than two people at once could be tricky, and he really didn't want to spend the holidays dealing with missing body parts.

"All right, I'll take Zach and Sarah first, then Matt and Madison, and then Josh. Sound good?"

"Why do I have to go last?" Josh whinged, though Draco knew it was more to give him a hard time then because he actually gave a flying Flobberworm about the order they left in.

"Because he thinks it'll be too difficult to Apparate your fat ass with somebody else," Matt said with a wicked grin. Matt was short and wiry, and he was forever ribbing Josh about his large frame and bulky muscles.

Josh flipped him off merrily, but Draco interrupted before he had a chance to go any further. If he didn't, it was likely to end with a wrestling match. "Everybody's luggage shrunk?"

"Yes," Sarah confirmed. "We're ready to go."

"Excellent," Draco said, taking one of Zach and Sarah's arms in each of his own. "Madison, make sure these two don't kill each other while I'm gone, will you?"

She gave him a salute. "I'm on it, Chief."

Draco rolled his eyes and thought of home. No, not home—Malfoy Manor. It hadn't been home for a long time.

They landed with a stomach squeezing rush at the Manor's gates. Draco stared at the familiar crest twisted into the imposing wrought iron, an unexpected tightness squeezing his throat. He gave himself a moment before checking on Sarah and Zach who were staring at the gate in shocked surprise. Draco didn't let himself linger over it.

"I'll be back in a moment with the others."

Thankfully, Matt and Josh appeared to both be in one piece when Draco returned and a few trips later, the six of them were standing outside the Manor's gates, shivering in the stark winter air. It wasn't raining or snowing, but the air was cold and the grounds were covered in a faint mist, the light fog obscuring the far reaches of the property.

Draco stepped towards the gate and laid his hand on the crest, shuddering as a warm wave of magic rippled over him. A part of him had been worried that the wards wouldn't recognise him after so long, but they seemed to welcome him back with open arms, wards and gates both opening to beckon him inside.

"Shall we?"

He started down the lane bordered on both sides by high, perfectly squared off hedges. In the distance Draco could make out the familiar chestnut trees that he'd loved climbing as a child before Lucius had made it clear that the behaviour was unbecoming of a Malfoy. The trees had clearly been there for ages, and though they were mostly bare, a few stubborn leaves still clung to the uppermost branches. Outside, it was utterly silent but for their footsteps crunching along the gravel road. It was winter, and it was only natural for the air to be still, but a shiver slid across Draco's neck at the eerie quiet all the same. He tugged his cloak more tightly about his frame as the damp, misty air wrapped around him. They turned around a bend in the path, and suddenly the Manor began to emerge from the fog, large and grand, and quiet as the grave.

"Holy shit," Matt breathed beside him.

"What?"

"Look at the size of this fucking thing!" Matt gestured at the curved steps leading up to the entrance, flanked on either side large serpentine statues.

"I did call it a Manor," Draco said, a little defensively.

"Well, yeah, but I thought you were just being pretentious."

"Ta ever-so," Draco said dryly.

"It is a little...grander than I'd been expecting," Sarah ventured. "I knew you came from money, but I didn't know you came from this much money."

Draco bit his lip as apprehension took root inside him. He'd long since realised that growing up in a manor was not considered normal, but for the longest time, this had simply been home. Money had been such an intrinsic part of his upbringing, that even now he still had to force himself to remember that not everybody was able to take things like costs and expenses for granted.

"Don't worry," said Josh, flinging an arm around Draco's shoulder. "It doesn't change how we see you." He looked at Draco slyly. "But you can cover the next few rounds at the bar, eh?"

"In your dreams. You lot would drink me out of house and home in a week."

"Ah, but what a glorious week it would be," Matt sighed as the reached the front steps. He tipped his head back, looking up at the intricate stonework and detailing with obvious awe. Draco felt equal parts proud and embarrassed.

Before they had a chance to ascend, two house-elves appeared on the landing with a sudden crack that startled Zach on his arse. Josh and Madison almost joined him with the force of their laughter.

"Master Draco, we have been expecting you."

"Hello Jipsy, Voffy. These are my friends. They'll be staying with us for the week."

"Welcome. Please follow us, sirs and madams. Jipsy and Voffy will show you to your rooms."

The others climbed the steps and disappeared inside, but Draco stayed behind. This was the first time he'd been this close to his childhood home in over three years. There were so many happy memories here, but they felt far away and distant, as if they belonged to somebody else. All the recent memories were black as pitch and coated in poison. He felt as if he were on the edge of something momentous, as if time might stop or the earth might implode the second he stepped inside.

He shuddered, then jumped, as a smooth hand slipped into his own. Madison gave him an understanding smile and squeezed his hand in solidarity.

"You okay?" she asked softly. Draco nodded, though his stomach was still in knots. "This is your first time back, isn't it? Since it happened."

"I didn't leave right away, after, but...essentially yes."

"I'm glad you didn't come back alone."

"Me too."

She wrapped one of his arms around her shoulder, nestling into his side. Her body was warm and comforting, and the weight of it started to thaw some of the ice that had begun to frost his insides. When Madison spoke again, her voice was soft. "You know how hard it was for me, confronting…" She trailed off and sighed. "I know I could have done it without you, but I'm glad I didn't have to. I'm here—we all are—if you need us."

Had it only been this past summer that he'd gone with Madison to visit her parents in California? It felt like a lifetime ago that Madison had asked for his support in facing her own demons, and though Draco hadn't done much, he knew sometimes just being there was the important part. Draco's heart swelled with sudden affection. "I know, Mads."

"You guys coming or what?"

Draco looked up to where Josh had stuck his head out of the front door. His expression was genial, but his eyes were quietly assessing. He knew that something was up, but he didn't press, and Draco was endlessly grateful to him for that.

"Yeah, we're coming," Draco said, lacing his fingers through Madison's and tugging her up the steps. He braced himself, knowing that his friends were just beyond the door, that there was nothing in there that could hurt him, not anymore. He was safe, and even if he wasn't, he had friends with him who had his back.

They walked through the front door, and the world continued to turn.

Chapter Text

Harry sat on the back porch of the Burrow, his hands wrapped around a hot cup of mulled wine as he peered out into the glittering night. It was snowing lightly, and he watched as the soft flakes gently glided down before landing with soundless grace. Behind him, the Weasleys' New Year's Eve party was in full swing as the hour crept closer and closer to midnight. He'd go back inside in a minute, in time for the countdown and the traditional kiss with his bride-to-be, but for now, he wanted a brief moment of solitude.

He looked out on the backyard, on what would be a silent, frozen landscape if it weren't for the pulse of music, laughter, and endless chatter vibrating out from the bustling house in a faint echo of its true volume. Bright light spilled out in narrow beams around hastily closed curtains, striping the snowy ground in rays of gold. The air was crisp and frigid, stinging his nose, the tips of his ears, and the apples of his cheeks. Harry took another long sip of the wine, letting the warmth and the hot buzz of alcohol heat his chilling blood, the steam from the cup briefly fogging up his glasses. He could feel himself freezing on this stoop, his joints and limbs locking into place as he hunched down on the top step. Inside the Burrow, he knew it was warm and merry, but he couldn't bring himself to move.

Harry had been looking forward to coming back to the Burrow, to the only place, after Hogwarts, that had ever felt like home. Arthur and Molly had been as kind and selfless as ever, the tilted house hadn't lost any of its cosy charm, and he hadn't eaten so well since the last time he'd stayed with the Weasleys. And yet, something felt different. Off. There were times over the past week, like right now, where he felt like he'd go crazy if he didn't get some space. One moment he'd be fine, and the next it was as if all of the air had been sucked from the room, and he was sure to suffocate if he stayed there a moment longer. Harry found himself annoyed by little things that never used to frustrate him: Ron's heavy breathing as he slept, Molly hovering around with second helpings even after Harry was full, George's constant product testing on everybody he came into contact with. It bothered Harry, the fact that he was suddenly so bothered. It wasn't as if he had a problem being around people or sharing a room—he handled both just fine during Auror training. Now, though, there was a strange sense of being out of place, of wrongness, that Harry couldn't explain or understand, and it was driving him mad.

The only time he'd felt at all settled the past week had been the days he'd spent playing with Teddy over at Andromeda's house. He adored Teddy, and he appreciated being able to spend more time with him, as opposed to the single dinner every couple of weeks that he barely managed when training was in session. Even still, though time with his godson had been the best part of his holiday, he couldn't deny that it had also been tinged with guilt over whether he was doing enough as a godfather the rest of the year. It seemed no matter what he did, guilt was bound to follow him. The thought of it now only reminded Harry of the awkwardness with Ginny.

He should be ecstatic right now, over the moon, really. Harry had seen more of Ginny in the past week than he had in the past four months combined. They'd spent practically every waking moment together, planning the wedding and talking about their future. Those conversations used to excite him, but now they filled him with a sense of foreboding. He knew he was worrying her with his muted enthusiasm and pathetic conversational skills, but picking china patterns and floral arrangements seemed far beyond him. Truthfully, he was aware it wasn't exactly Ginny's idea of a good time either, and he knew it was terrible of him to put it all on her when it was something they should be shouldering together. They hadn't even settled on a date for the wedding, a fact that had spawned more than a few spats. The both of them had agreed to wait until after Harry had become a full fledged Auror, but when Ginny pushed him to commit to a late summer or early fall wedding—less than a year away—panic would start to claw at Harry's throat.

Even the sex between them had been lackluster this past week, the few times they'd managed to sneak away for a quick romp. Harry had always felt a little uncomfortable having sex with Ginny at the Burrow—something about it seemed dirty and wrong, and not in the hot way. It felt disrespectful to Arthur and Molly, but Ginny was a grown woman now and she'd made it clear how unimpressed she was with his apparently old-fashioned sensibilities. It had been great when she'd lived in her small flat in London, where they could make love whenever they felt like it without Harry feeling guilty. But she'd moved back in with her parents last year, realising it was cheaper and easier to live with them than renting some shitty flat, especially since she and Harry planned on moving in together once he'd finished with training.

He'd visited her enough here now that he was used to getting off quietly, even with an extra-strength Silencing Spell cast at the door. Harry had never stopped feeling awkward about fucking her in her parents' house, but even so, sex had never felt so stilted between them before. Even when they argued or sniped or felt a little distant from one another, the sex had been one thing that had always been great. Ginny was beautiful, fiery and passionate, and Harry loved everything about her body and the way they moved together. She was his first, and he'd never once felt unsatisfied at the idea of her being his only.

But it was different, this past week. For one, it had been over a month since they'd last slept together, and though Harry had been more than excited to slide into her welcoming warmth, he thought it should be harder to go so long between having sex. He was a twenty-one year old bloke, for fuck's sake! He should be thinking of nothing but sex.

It wasn't like he didn't want it, didn't crave it, but the need for Ginny that had burned hot and bright and desperate throughout the beginning of their relationship, the ardour he thought would last forever, seemed to have cooled. That wasn't so bad or unexpected, Harry told himself, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something else between them had shifted. The sex was still good, still more than enjoyable, but it didn't feel as easy and effortless as before, like the two of them were made to fit together in delightful and delicious ways. Weren't things supposed to become more intuitive the longer they were together?

A rustle of movement across the yard caught his notice, and his lips twitched into a smile as a disgruntled looking garden gnome began to wade through the snow. The little fellow looked so determined and cross, and though the resemblance was minimal, Harry's mind instinctively thought of Draco. He recalled the aggrieved expression that graced Draco's face each morning until he stumbled towards the kitchen for his first cup of coffee, the exasperation whenever one of his friends called him 'Dray', the obvious indignation when he missed a question on one of their exams. Harry realised his smile had grown wider as he thought of Draco, a pleasant heat working through him, banish the ever-encroaching cold of the night.

Harry drank his hot wine on the chilly porch and tried very hard not to think about why thoughts of Draco warmed his blood when thinking of Ginny hadn't.

***

The cellar was dark and damp, uncomfortably musty, but Draco was on a mission. He dragged his fingers along dusty bottles, wiping clear the aged, fading labels in search of the best vintage of champagne.

He smiled triumphantly when he revealed several bottles of Hiedsieck 1907 Diamant Bleu cuvée. Perfect. The bottles weren't priceless, but the price they had was pretty damn high. His parents would lose it if they knew Draco was breaking them out for himself and his friends, but the cellar was so packed that they likely wouldn't miss these bottles, at least not for several years. Especially as they were living abroad now, and the only time they dipped into their stores was when they sent one of their house-elves over to pick a wine for dinner. Besides good champagne was meant to be shared.

He lingered a little over the bottles, thoughts of his parents crowding into his mind. It was no surprise that being back at the Manor had brought all kinds of memories to the surface. Draco fingered the smooth, dusty curves, as images of his parents—dressed up and glamorous, with glasses of sparkling champagne in their hands—danced across his mind's eye. They used to have parties all the time when he was a boy, and even though he was supposed to be tucked into bed, he would always sneak down the corridor and sit at the top of the stairs, stealing glimpses of his parents and their friends as they gossiped, talked politics, and danced the night away. There was a darker caste to the memories at present, as with so many of Draco's childhood recollections, now that Draco realised just what his parents had probably been discussing at their fashionable parties with the right kind of witches and wizards.

He grabbed his wand, vanishing the dust with a flick, before levitating his chosen bottles behind him as he climbed the stairs out the cellar.

Draco still hadn't told his parents that he was back in England. He still exchanged brief monthly letters with his mother, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to tell her he'd returned to Great Britain. He knew that if he did, she would insist on him visiting her and his father in France, and Draco could hardly use distance as an excuse when they were both in Europe. Draco knew he should visit, that three years was far too long for a dutiful son to go without seeing his parents. The problem was, Draco wasn't a dutiful son, not anymore.

Draco knew they loved him, but he couldn't go back and pretend nothing had happened, couldn't be the prodigal son, returned. He was well aware of what they wanted from him, the type of life they had planned for him to lead, and he knew he couldn't give it to them. It would kill him.

Pausing at the glass cabinet in the bar area, he snagged six champagne flutes, making sure to levitate them in front so they wouldn't accidentally smash into the heavy bottles floating behind him.

He couldn't be what they wanted, and yet, he couldn't bear to see their disappointment when they realised that fact for themselves. If he never had to confront their image and dreams for him, then he didn't have to break their hearts. Bizarrely, it reminded Draco of a Muggle thought experiment Zach had told him about once.

"Zach," he called as he stepped into the living room where all of his friends had made themselves comfortable on pale grey sofas and off-white chaise lounges. "What's that thing called, with the cat?"

"Ooo, champagne!" Madison squealed, bouncing up off of the sofa and snagging one of the bottles out of the air. She looked critically at the bottle before continuing with relish, "Looks expensive."

"It is."

Madison grinned. "Cheers, then."

He grabbed one of the other floating bottles, sliding his wand along the neck and uncorking it was a fizzy POP. Sarah let out a little squeak of surprise, before bursting out into giggles.

"I'm going to need more information than that, Draco," Zach prompted Draco as he gazed adoringly at Sarah, sitting bright-cheeked on his lap.

"You know," Draco continued as he began to pour. "The thing with the cat and the poison. There was a box?"

"Oh! " Zach brightened—he loved knowing the answers to obscure questions. "The paradox of Schrödinger's cat."

"Yes. That's the one where the cat is both alive and dead, right? Until you open the box."

"Yup," Zach confirmed, drunk enough already that he didn't press for more information on why Draco was asking about something so random.

Yes, Draco thought as he passed out glasses of champagne, that exactly defined his relationship with his parents. Without confirmation, he could be both the perfect son, and the disappointment, he could be whatever his parents wanted to think of him. But a flesh and blood visit...Draco wouldn't be able to control himself, wouldn't be able to pretend that the anger and the bitterness and the shame wasn't there, and they'd all have to confront what their choices had done to their family. He wasn't ready to deny his parents, or himself, their illusions. Not yet, at least.

"Stop brooding and come get drunk with us, Dray," Sarah called, her words already soft and blurred—she was a well-known lightweight.

Draco frowned at the nickname, but didn't bother with a reprimand. Saying something at this point in their drinking would all but guarantee that the lot of them would be calling him by that horrible nickname for the rest of the night just to fuck with him.

The last of the filled champagne flutes knocked gently against his arm, and he grabbed it out of the air with a grin. Sarah was right. He was brooding, and it was hardly the time. He was surrounded by friends who genuinely cared about him, and he had zero responsibilities for the immediate future. A night of low-stress fun was exactly what the Healer ordered.

The six of them spent the night getting drunk off fine champagne, eating canapés prepared by the house-elves, and playing drinking games with a pack of magical cards Matt had brought with him from home. When midnight struck, they shot confetti out of their wands and Josh pulled Draco close for a messy, exuberant kiss on the mouth.

"Waited a long time for that, eh?" Draco teased.

"All my life," Josh said solemnly, before bursting out in a fit of giggles and grabbing Madison to plant a kiss on her lips as well.

It was a little past one when Draco went to refill his glass and realised they'd run out of champagne. He considered getting some more from the cellar downstairs, but the thought of that narrow staircase into the dank earth made his head spin.

He turned back towards the rest of the room, noticing Matt had fallen asleep on one of the lounges. On the sofa across from him, Madison and Josh had their heads together, talking in what they probably thought were whispers about what lewd thing they should spell across Matt's forehead.

"Where're Sarah and Zach?"

"Upstairs," Josh said.

"They wanted to start the new year with a bang," Madison added, before dissolving into hiccuping laughter

"That was terrible," Draco said, doing his best to keep a straight face as Madison and Josh continued to laugh. "Come help me get Matt up to bed."

Madison groaned theatrically as she pulled herself off the sofa, the motion tumbling Josh to the floor. He rolled off with drunken grace, before stumbling to his feet.

"Let's do this," he announced grandly, sweeping his arm out and knocking over the (thankfully) empty bottle of champagne. Draco pulled his wand out and tried to vanish the bottle, but performing magic when drunk was inconsistent at best, and the bottle remained glaringly present. He shrugged. He could take care of it tomorrow if the house-elves didn't get to it first.

The three of them managed to get Matt up the stairs and into bed, throwing the covers over him before heading back down the hall. Draco made it all the way to his old bedroom, before his heart began to pound uncontrollably. He tried to push open the door, but his body felt paralysed, unable to obey the simple command. Draco had forgotten that he'd been staying in a old guest room the past week, his drunken feet instinctively taking him back to his childhood bedroom instead.

He hadn't realised that he had been holding Madison and Josh's hands, squeezing them tight, until Josh squeezed back. Draco looked over at him, feeling helpless and terrified and miserable.

"Come on," Josh said. "The bed in my room's big enough to sleep an army."

Draco followed Josh down the corridor a little further to one of the lavish guest bedrooms. His mind instinctively started rifling through old Death Eaters, trying to remember which one of their horrible guests had violated this room with their presence.

"Tell me something. Anything," he gasped out desperately, wanting to block the torrent of evil memories.

Josh, wonderful human being that he was, didn't stop to ask why, he just launched into a humorous, if slightly slurred, recounting of the first time he'd got drunk and ended up streaking down his street. It was a story Draco had heard before—it was one of Josh's favourites—but Draco found the familiarity comforting. They climbed into bed, Draco sandwiched between Josh and Madison, letting their chatter envelope him like a warm blanket.

It wasn't long before Josh nodded off, his body curled around Draco's back like some kind of protective shield. Draco couldn't help but feel reassured and calmed by his warm presence, though his mind wouldn't stop whirring. Madison was still awake, her head next to Draco's on the pillow as she stared into his eyes. The room was dark and warm, the sounds of Josh's steady breathing marking the seconds. It was the kind of atmosphere that begged for sharing secrets.

"I couldn't go inside," Draco whispered when he couldn't bear the oppressive silence a moment longer.

"Go inside where?"

Draco's chest tightened. "My room. The room."

Madison's eyes widened in understanding. "Is that where…"

Draco nodded. "I thought I could. I mean, I came back to England. To the Manor. And I can't go into one little room?"

"Don't beat yourself up over it, Draco. You made it this far, that's more than enough. You don't have to do everything all at once."

"I know. It's just...it's a lot. I thought I was over it."

"I know. But it doesn't mean you're weak for being affected by it," she said simply, before brushing some of Draco's hair back off his forehead. "I'm proud of you."

A fluttery warmth spread out through his veins as he flashed her a tired smile. "Thanks, Mads. I'm glad you're here with me. "

"Anytime. You know I'll always be there for you if you need me, right?"

"Yeah, I know. I still don't entirely understand it sometimes, but I know."

Her smile was happy, if a little tired, before her expression melted into something more serious. "If you want to talk about it, you can. I'm a good listener. You never said all that much about what happened during our group sessions."

Did he want to talk about it? She was right, he hadn't said much more than the bare bones of what had happened to him during those early meetings, back when everything had still felt raw and exposed. But here in the quiet hush of the night, surrounded by love and steady support, he felt the words begin to bubble out of him.

"I've told you, about the war, the role my parents and I played, how—how the Dark Lord used our home as his headquarters."

Madison nodded solemnly, her pale blue eyes eyes luminous in the dark. "It had been close to two years since he'd...conscripted me into service, and I—" Draco shivered, though he knew his body had to be toasty warm under the blankets. "I'd been so angry when I got the mark, so sure of my and my family's superiority, so eager to make up for my father's blunder and secure our rightful place in the Dark Lord's circle.

"I was such an idiot. I had no real clue of what I'd be expected to do, no idea of the true cost of purity, the price we were expected to extract from Muggles and Muggle-borns in terror and pain. It didn't take long for me to realise I was in over my head, that I didn't have the stomach for the Dark Lord's mission, but by then it was far too late." He shuddered. "You can't imagine how terrifying he and his followers were, and bravery isn't something that comes naturally to me, you know. So I did the best that I could to keep myself and my family alive, and I buried everything inside of me that told me it was wrong, stuffed it down as deep as I could. I couldn't afford a conscience, and...it was easier than it probably should have been, shutting off my emotions. Probably didn't hurt that I've always been a good Occlumens—made it easier to hide my feelings and thoughts, even from myself."

He looked down at his hands, shaking on the bed in front of his chest. Madison reached out and clasped them between her own. Her touch soothed him, calming his racing heart, grounding him in the now while his memories fought to drag him back into the past.

"My family fucked up. The Dark Lord was gone on some mission, and…" Draco took in a shaky breath before continuing, "And we got a prisoner...somebody he wanted." Images of Harry's swollen features filled his mind, his green eyes filled with fire, unmistakable even in the hexed ruin of his face. "They needed me to identify him, and I...I didn't want the Dark Lord to win, but I was too afraid to be caught in an outright lie against him, so I said I wasn't sure. But my Auntie Bella called the Dark Lord to us anyway. Before he arrived, though, there was a fight and the prisoners escaped with our wands.

"He was so furious," Draco whispered, his blood chilling as he remember the terrible look on the Dark Lord's face, the way his malevolent magic seemed to curl out towards them, wrapping around their throats in a violent caress. "He used Crucio on us all, of course, but when Bella told him that it was my fault for not recognising the prisoners sooner...Honestly, I'm lucky that he just thought I was stupid instead of treasonous."

"Did he...?" Madison asked, face pale.

Draco shook his head. "No. Honestly, I'm not sure he was even interested in sex. The only thing that ever seemed to move him was power." He took a deep breath. "There was a werewolf in his employ. Not a full Death Eater, he wasn't worthy enough for that, being a filthy half-breed and all, but the Dark Lord did like his pets. He was the one who'd captured the prisoners, and he had a thing for children. I was...a little old for his tastes, but young enough. He'd made insinuations before, but I had a wand and wards on my room. I had protection."

"But your wand was taken."

"Yes, and the Dark Lord removed the wards from my room as part of his punishment. He didn't officially gift me to Greyback, but his intentions were clear enough."

"The marks on your back," Madison said in realisation. "You mentioned that you were attacked by an unturned werewolf, and that's why your senses and emotions are more heightened around the full moon, but I didn't know it was..."

Draco nodded. "He wasn't transformed at the time, otherwise I'd probably be dead. As it was, it was a close call." Shivers slid over his skin as flashes of memory crept in: an inferno of pain radiating out from his back and wrists and arse, the rank smell of sweat and blood and wet dog, his ears filled with snarling pants interspersed with Draco's ragged cries, the salt of his tears and blood filling his mouth. He'd thought he was going to die. For awhile afterwards, he'd wished he had, especially when things started happening to him around the full moon—the heightened senses, the craving for rare meat, the hunger and the irritability. Draco had been terrified that somehow Fenrir had actually managed to turn him, but it appeared that wasn't quite the case. He was mostly used to the side effects now, and Draco supposed he deserved them. After all, he was the one that had let Fenrir into Hogwarts back in sixth year, was responsible for him mauling the oldest Weasley's face off. Fenrir hadn't been turned then, either, and sometimes he wondered if that Weasley had similar issues as Draco, but Draco knew that was something he didn't deserve to know.

"How did you survive?" Madison whispered, pulling Draco from his thoughts.

"My godfather found me. He was one of the Dark Lord's trusted advisors—though it turned out he was a double agent in the end—and he was a skilled wizard. It wasn't the first time he'd brought me back from a near-fatal injury, though I'm not sure how he convinced the Dark Lord to let him heal me this time around."

"Oh, Draco." She shuffled closer, until their bodies were flush, her heated skin warming Draco's seemingly frozen form.

"It was a long time ago."

"Not that long."

Draco laughed softly and without humour. "Yes, I suppose you're right. But I feel...better, having told you."

Madison smiled. "I'm glad. I'm so sorry that happened to you, but I'm always here if you need to get something off your chest. And if you ever feel like you need to confront that room, I'll be right there by your side if you don't want to do it alone."

Draco's eyes began to well up with tears, and he closed them in order to keep them at bay. He didn't deserve friends like this, friends who would walk through hell for him, that could hear stories of his suffering and not experience even a tiny bit of glee.

"You're a brilliant friend, Mads. I don't deserve you."

"Sure you do," Madison said, leaning forward to kiss him on the forehead. "We all deserve each other. Now scooch up and cuddle me, I'm about ready to pass out."

Draco rolled his eyes, but did as she requested, settling more firmly back against Josh as Madison nestled into the crook of his arms.

"If you're worried about it, though," Madison began with a yawn, "You could make sure there're blueberry pancakes and bacon tomorrow morning."

He huffed a laugh into her hair. "Your wish is my command. Though I still think I'm getting the better end of the deal here."

Draco could practically hear her drowsy smile. "I guess that'll depend on how good the pancakes are."

Chapter Text

Harry's heart seemed to beat faster with every step towards the dorms. He'd enjoyed his holiday, no doubt, but he couldn't pretend he wasn't excited to be coming back to training. From the moment he stepped out of the Floo and into the busy Ministry Atrium, some tension he'd been carrying with him for the past week began to melt away. The closer he got to the dorms, the more relaxed he felt. For the first time in days, he was starting to feel completely like himself again.

He knew it was a little odd, being so excited to come back to training, but it wasn't like this was a new concept for Harry. Every summer since he turned eleven he would count down the days until his return to school, to Hogwarts, to his friends and to magic and to a world where he felt like he belonged. Harry told himself the excitement buzzing beneath his skin was no different than his childhood longing for Hogwarts, though even in his head the excuse sounded thin. The Ministry hardly had the same appeal as Hogwarts had, and though Harry enjoyed learning well enough, he wasn't exactly Hermione with her never-ending thirst for knowledge.

The corridor to their dorms seemed unendingly long, the rough-hewn stone stretching for what felt like miles in front of them. But then, they were there; Ron stepped forward and revealed the archway with a wave of his wand.

Harry's stomach quivered and fluttered as he stepped through the archway, and he looked instinctively around the common room. It was empty, and disappointment wilted the edges of his enthusiasm, though only for a second. Everybody would be back soon enough. Besides, it wasn't like he was excited to see anybody in particular.

Ron smiled at him, vibrating with his own enthusiasm. "Hermione should be here any minute."

Oh, yes, Hermione. He was excited to see Hermione again. Harry sighed in relief, glad to have a name to connect to the strange urge to grin. Ron looked down at his shirt, brushing some biscuit crumbs from his jumper and running a hand through his hair.

"How do I look?"

"You look fine," Harry replied, barely keeping himself from rolling his eyes.

"No dirt smudges?" Ron persisted.

"Why don't you go check a mirror?"

"I want to be here when she walks in. It's been eight days since I've seen her. At least you got to spend the week with Gin, even if my parents didn't let you sleep in the same room."

That hadn't exactly stopped them from having sex, but Harry thought it was best for everybody if he didn't point that fact out to Ron. He sighed. The anticipation sparkling through his veins like champagne bubbles began to fizzle out at Ron's mention of Ginny. Harry couldn't help but compare his and Ginny's relationship to Ron and Hermione's and feel that something was wanting. Ron had been apart from Hermione for barely a week, and he was practically jumping out of his skin with the need to see her again. Harry, on the other hand, could go weeks with hardly more than a single Floo call with Ginny, and not even notice.

Mood well on its way to being thoroughly shot, Harry prepared to head towards his room, but before he made it a single step, Draco Malfoy stepped into the common room from the kitchen. His jeans hung low off the jut of his hip bones, and Harry thought surely it wasn't decent to wear such tight t-shirts for anything other than a night out on the town. Harry tried to ignore the way his outlook seemed to perk right up at Draco's sudden appearance, tried to pretend that the way his heart leapt up into his throat when Draco smiled hello was entirely coincidental.

Draco seemed lighter somehow, more settled. Harry wondered what had happened over break to give him such an air of quiet contentment.

"Hello," Draco said. "I hope you had a good holiday."

"Err, it was great. You?"

"It was...enjoyable."

Ron snorted a laugh. "Yeah, looks like it. Someone got some action, eh?"

Draco scoffed, but his cheeks glowed pink. Harry wondered if that was it, if the reason why Draco seemed so refreshed was because he'd got laid over the break. It shouldn't matter to Harry, it didn't matter, but his stomach still roiled all the same with an uncomfortable kind of jealousy. If he was upset at all, it was only because Draco's ease after blowing off some steam further highlighted Harry's opposite reaction to a week with the woman he was supposed to love. Did love. There wasn't anything else to read into there.

Ron opened his mouth, possibly for some more ribbing, but Hermione chose that moment to burst through the archway. Ron was at her side so quickly, Harry wasn't entirely sure he didn't Apparate there. He coughed and turned away when Ron pulled her into his arms and proceeded to practically eat her face off—not that she seemed to have any complaints. They'd be at it for awhile if their past separations were anything to go by; Harry could say hi to her later.

He started a little when he looked up to see Draco still standing there. He'd completely forgotten about his presence—as had Ron and Hermione, apparently.

Draco was looking at Harry with a fond kind of amusement. Harry wasn't sure why his heart seemed to stumble and stutter at the expression.

***

Even before he'd walked out of the kitchen, Draco knew who the voices in the common room belonged to. It hit him right as he was finishing up a packet of crisps, the scent so sudden and overwhelming he crushed the bag in his fist, the last few crisps pulverised to powder inside the bright plastic wrapping. Harry.

Entirely against his will, his legs began to move, carrying him into the common room where, sure enough, Harry and Weasley were talking. Draco smiled at Harry, his lips curving upward instinctively at the sight of Harry standing there, looking rumpled and adorable in jeans and a dark grey hoodie. Harry smiled back at Draco, his grin wide and so fucking pleased, his green eyes sparkling with genuine happiness at seeing Draco again. Want slithered down his spine, hot and insidious as it snaked its way around Draco's insides and squeezed. It was all he could do to say hello instead of the flashing neon "FUCK" that was broadcasting inside his brain.

Draco thought he had this under control, that his attraction to Harry was just a passing fancy born of their tentative friendship, a friendship Draco had desired since he was eleven. But it seemed that seeing Harry everyday had helped Draco build up a resistance to his charms, a resistance that had apparently completely crumbled sometime during the past week. Draco's knees felt wobbly and his heart was racing and he couldn't seem to think through the sudden fuzziness clouding up his brain.

This wasn't happening.

Except, it most definitely was.

Draco couldn't deny that he was attracted to Harry, clearly more than was advisable or sane. Particularly because nothing was ever going to happen between them. For one thing, Harry was purportedly straight, if his past liaisons were anything to judge by. It wasn't like Draco had a detailed list of Harry's sexual and romantic history, but Draco assumed Harry's heterosexuality was probably a safe bet. "Like yours was?" a persistent voice whispered inside his head. Bisexuality is a thing you know. Surely you of all people are aware of that? But no, Draco didn't want to let himself go down that road; Harry's sexuality was the least of the reasons why they would never happen. There was still the issue of their past, and, oh, yes, and the teensy little matter of Harry's engagement.

Weasley made a joke about Draco getting laid, and the insinuation did little to stifle the lust threatening to choke him. He knew the past week had changed him, had lessened the burden he'd been carrying beneath his breast. Draco hadn't realised that his lighter outlook was so visible. It might have amused him that Weasley had jumped straight to Draco having had sex, if it weren't for the fact that the bloke he currently wanted to jump was biting his full bottom lip and looking at Draco with inscrutable eyes.

The emotion inside him swelled, reaching out to Harry with desperate yearning. Draco grit his teeth, and yanked the feeling back. He imagined a tiny box deep in the recesses of his mind, before shoving the inappropriate feelings inside and slamming the lid shut with a definitive bang. Draco was not going down that road.

Thankfully, before things could become too painfully awkward, Granger arrived, distracting Weasley. He began giving her an extremely thorough welcome, and Harry turned away quickly, jumping a little when his gaze landed on Draco.

"Granger didn't spend the holidays with you, I take it?" Draco asked, his tone amused.

"Not as such, no. What gave it away?" Harry replied with a slightly embarrassed grin.

Draco returned it, his chest tingling. "Well, I hope they manage to make it to a bedroom before they move on to the next phase of their happy reunion."

Harry made a face. "Just be glad you're not rooming with either of them. For such a methodical person, Hermione can be really forgetful about locking charms in the heat of the moment."

Draco blanched, picturing things he did not want to be picturing, and Harry laughed at the expression on his face. "Perhaps it'd be best if I retreated to the safety of our room."

"I'll join you," Harry said. "I've got to start unpacking anyway."

Draco's was half thrilled, half despairing as Harry followed him down the hall. He knew he needed some space to get his head on straight, so to speak, and work on shoring up his defenses now that he'd be sleeping in the same room as Harry once again. Still, he hadn't seen Harry in a week, and it was a little shocking just how much he missed seeing Harry's face, missed talking with him. He wanted to be around Harry, and as foolish as he knew it was, given his out-of-control feelings, he couldn't force himself to keep his distance.

Draco was probably overreacting anyway. This wasn't the first time his feelings had got the best of him, and it wouldn't be the last. He had self-control now, and Harry was as good and honest as they came. Feelings, thoughts, emotions, none of those were the same as actions. Draco wasn't a beast ruled by instinct, and he was perfectly capable of controlling himself. With time, these inappropriate feelings would fade, like they always had.

It would be fine. There was no other option.

Chapter Text

Death Eater Draco Malfoy Back in England?

The headline glared up at Harry from that morning's Daily Prophet, lying discarded on the kitchen table next to a still and silent Draco. Harry barely restrained himself from banishing it in disgust. It had been less than a week since the story had broken that Draco Malfoy had returned to London. Somebody had managed to snap a grainy photo of Draco and his friends walking up the long drive to the Manor, and the caption beneath seemed to heavily imply that Draco had returned to his ancestral home to pick up where Voldemort had left off. There had been a lengthy article to go with it, speculating on Draco's companions, on where Draco had been for the past few years, and if he'd returned for good, or rather, for bad.

Since then, the Prophet had run a story every day, and the headlines had become more and more ridiculous the longer the actual facts evaded them.

"It's only a matter of time before they figure it out," Draco sighed, exhaustion marring his fine features as he took a sip of his steaming tea. "Robards can't keep them from figuring out why I'm here forever."

"Why would he want to?"

"He asked me to...keep a low profile when I first arrived. He seemed to think the last thing the exchange programme and the Auror Department needed was some big controversy regarding my involvement. I can't say I disagree. Can you?"

No, Harry couldn't, but he felt helpless with anger all the same. The invasiveness of the media was hardly a novel concept in Harry's world, but it had been a while since he'd been exposed to the vitriolic side of the papers. It was all total bullshit, but Harry knew the stress was taking its toll. The Americans had clearly been shocked at the vicious explosion, and Matt had been spoiling to go down to the Prophet's office and give them what for. Draco had talked him down, clearly accepting of, if not happy with, his fate. Harry wasn't sure why he was so affected by Draco's apathy, but he knew that he hated seeing Draco without that familiar spark in his eyes.

"Would it really be so bad if they found out?" Harry asked as he sat down next to Draco at the table. "You know all the mystery is just working them into a frenzy. In the absence of information, people will just make stuff up." He nodded at the headline. "And it's never good."

"I know," Draco said tiredly. "I have a meeting with Robards tomorrow to talk about all this hullabaloo, and I'm hoping I can convince him to give a statement, but we'll see how it works out. In the meantime…" He sighed before running a hand through his hair.

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "It sucks, doesn't it?"

As Harry had hoped, the comment brought a small smile to Draco's face. "Salazar, I was such a shit to you about all this, wasn't I."

"Just about this?"

"Oh, stuff it. I'm trying to apologise for accusing you of being a fame-whore."

"Aww, you say the sweetest things." Harry grinned at him. "But yeah, you were bloody awful. The Prophet was pretty much the bane of my existence." His mind flashed to some of their recent articles, the ones that were becoming increasingly invasive regarding when Harry and Ginny would finally tie the knot. "Still is, come to think about it."

"Worse than the Dark Lord?"

"Oh, definitely worse," Harry said, only half joking.

"Well, you have my sympathy, and my sincere apologies for the part I played in drumming up all that rubbish about you."

"I appreciate that," Harry said honestly. Draco's tattling to Skeeter had hardly been the worst thing that he'd done, but he was grateful for Draco's acknowledgement that he'd been wrong to do it. "And I have a way you can make it up to me."

Draco's eyebrows rose and something dark flashed in his eyes, something that made Harry's stomach flip. "And what might that be?" Draco asked, voice low.

Harry fought off a shiver, keeping his tone light as he replied, "You can come and join us for our bonding night. It's the first one since we got back, and you shouldn't miss it." Draco's expression creased with reluctance, and Harry pressed on. "Come on, it'll be fun. We're playing truth or dare and drinking beer."

Draco snorted. "What are we, fifteen?"

"Oh, don't be like that, it's not so bad." Harry leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially. "And if you play your cards right, you can get drunk and horribly embarrass your closest friends. What's not to love?"

Draco's lips quirked upwards. "That does sound tempting."

"Please, Draco? Your friends are worried about you."

"My friends?"

Harry's heart raced, and he looked away. "I'm worried about you. Come on, yeah? Stop moping around and let yourself have some fun. Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to make them stop printing shit about you. I would know."

Draco snorted, before his expression smoothed into something pensive. He was quiet for a long moment before nodding.

"All right, I'll go and have fun." He smiled and gestured with his hand. "Lead the way."

***

The entire group was set up in the common room, chairs and sofas rearranged in a sort of haphazard circle. Madison smiled at Draco when he walked in and waved him over, scooching towards the sofa arm to make room for him between her and Matt. He looked over at Harry, who flashed him an encouraging smile, before taking a seat on the floor next to Thomas. Draco hated that a tiny nugget of disappointment took root in his stomach when he realised he wouldn't be sitting next to Harry, that the private camaraderie they'd just shared had already dissipated.

"All right, Draco, since you're late to the party, truth or dare," Sarah said in a truly appalling imitation of what Draco could only assume was supposed to be a British accent.

"Sweet Salazar why are you speaking like that and what do I need to do to get it to stop?"

"Sorry, mate," she said with a maniacal grin, her accent slipping towards something vaguely Australian. "Ron here dared me to speak in a British accent for the rest of the night."

"And does Weasley really hate everybody here that much?"

Weasley flashed him a razor sharp grin. "Not everybody," he said, a little pointedly. "To be fair, I didn't realise it was possible for somebody to muck up an accent so terribly. But it kind of grows on you."

"Yes, so does Flesh-Eating Moss, but I'd hardly plant some in my backyard."

"Stop stalling," called Josh, in passable cockney.

"What, were you dared, too?" Draco asked, wondering what he'd got himself into.

"Nah," Josh said, before talked a long draught from his beer can and belching loudly. "Just thought it was fun."

"Oh, somebody please save me."

"Here," Zach said, sending an icy can of beer zooming towards him. "Drink this, and then pick one."

Draco cracked open the can with a familiar hiss. Matt opened his mouth, but Draco turned to glare at him before he could get a word out. "Do not even think about chanting chug."

Matt pouted. "Why are you trying to take away everything that's important to me?"

"Can we get back to the game?" Padma asked. '"My buzz is starting to wear off."

"Have another," Zach suggested. There was a large, partially open box of beer next to him, and he'd clearly put himself in charge of beverage distribution. He sent a can flying over to Padma, and she grinned her thanks.

"I'm waiting, Draco," Sarah sing-songed, her accent even more jarring. "I'm just going to keep talking until you—"

"All right, all right, no need to torture me. I'll go with...dare." Sarah's eyes flashed with devilish triumph and he faltered. "No, wait, truth."

She slumped a little, and Draco's insides danced a little victory jig, spurred on, no doubt, by the half-can of beer already sloshing around his empty stomach.

"Hmm, okay...uh, tell us about the first person you slept with. Boy and girl."

It was relatively tame as far as questions went, but Draco felt his cheeks heating up all the same. The first people he'd slept with were back when he was at Hogwarts, and talking about it now, surrounded by people who knew him back then made him feel exposed. Particularly because both incidents weren't exactly associated with good times in his life. He glanced over at Harry, was was looking over at Draco with openly curious eyes. Draco sighed.

"Okay. I was fifteen the first time I had sex with a girl, towards the ends of fifth year at Hogwarts."

"Was it Pansy?" Granger asked, sounding more intrigued than Draco would have imagined.

Draco quirked a wry smile. "How did you guess?" Weasley snorted a laugh. Pansy must have been even more obvious than Draco had realised for Weasley to guess her feelings for Draco. "Pansy Parkinson was a girl in my year at Hogwarts, we were in the same house and our families had been friends for ages," Draco explained for his friends. He'd told Josh and Madison about her, briefly, but he wasn't sure if she'd ever come up with the others. "Anyway, I was angry and upset about something, and we just…" Draco trailed off, thinking of that night at the end of fifth year, the pure rage he'd felt towards Potter and his merry band of Gryffindors upon learning that his father had been sent to Azkaban, the helpless fear and sadness and anger. Pansy had been a welcome distraction. Not quite a comfort, but something close to it. "She'd been trying to seduce me for years, but I never really saw her as more than a friend. I think she saw her chance and jumped at it." He'd always felt a bit guilty about that, about the fact that she wanted him so much more than he'd ever wanted her. But even though he liked women well enough, she'd never been his type. They'd only had sex the few times at the end of fifth year, and it had been good enough as far as sex went—more than good for a horny fifteen-year-old boy—but he couldn't keep leading her on after that. It wasn't fair. She'd taken it better than he'd been expecting, and he always wondered if she'd thought the break was only temporary, that they'd end up together eventually. Clearly that hadn't been the case.

"And your first time with a bloke?" Harry asked, eyes gleaming strangely in the lamplight.

"Sixteen, the next year. Blaise Zabini. He was also in my house and year at Hogwarts." He smiled a little at the surprise on several of the faces looking over at him.

"I thought he was straight," Corner said, something pointed in his tone.

Draco's smile was brittle. "He was. Is. But he was also sixteen and horny, and getting off with a roommate was better than his right hand. Sixth year was...difficult. We had an arrangement to help us work off some of the stress." Draco saw the realisation in Harry and Granger's eyes. It was there in Weasley's, too, followed swiftly by anger, swirling all-too-close to the surface. Draco's stomach clenched with guilt. He was well aware that one of Weasley's brothers had been attacked by the monster he'd let into Hogwarts. Bile began to rise up Draco's throat, threatening to choke him. He didn't want to think about that. Didn't want to think about him, not now.

"Whatever happened to Zabini and Parkinson?" Harry asked, his voice a little too loud. Draco looked at him with desperate gratitude, and nodded at Draco in turn.

"Last I heard, Blaise moved back to Italy with his mother after the war. I'm not sure about Pansy. I suppose she's still here somewhere."

"She is," Padma said, quietly. Sometimes Draco forgot that the Patils used to be a part of their circle at one point. They'd grown apart when the twins weren't sorted into Slytherin and their parents didn't join up with the Dark Lord, but they'd all been friends of a sort, before Hogwarts. "She's getting married soon, to Theodore Nott."

That familiar pang of guilt again, reverberating through him like the bang of a gong. They may not have been friends in the traditional sense, but they'd been each other's peers and allies growing up. Slytherin house was a tricky place to navigate, and none of them had made it any easier for any of the others, but it had still been home. When Draco left, he'd cut off all ties with his old life, but perhaps he'd been overly hasty. Maybe keeping in contact wouldn't be the worst idea. He vowed to write Pansy a letter before he left, congratulating her on her upcoming nuptials.

"Draco, it's your turn," Matt prompted.

"My turn?"

Matt rolled his eyes. "To ask somebody truth or dare."

"Oh, yes, right. Madison, truth or dare?"

"Truth."

Fuck, he always hated this part of the game. He could never think of anything interesting to ask or exciting to dare. "Err, where's the craziest place you've had sex?"

"Ooo, that's a tough one," she said with a saucy grin. Draco rolled his eyes. "The summer I turned sixteen, I dated this No-Maj for like, half a second. God, he was gorgeous." She paused, her expression far-away in dreamy remembrance before she seemed to come back to herself. "Anyway, he had this No-Maj contraption in his backyard called a trampoline."

"Oh, god," Thomas exclaimed, looking scandalised and impressed.

"You know what they are, then?" Madison asked with a gleam in her eyes. "Freaking bizarre things. It's like this giant circular frame that's a couple of feet off the ground, and they stretch this bouncy material over the top. And then you jump up and down on the material and it flings you up into the air. It's kind of insane, but it's actually a lot of fun. Anyway, we slept out on this trampoline during the summer once, and, well, you know." She waggled her eyebrows.

"Huh," Matt said, "I thought for sure you were going to go with the time you hooked up with that dude on the dance floor at that gay club."

"Oo, yeah, I completely forgot about him. How do you even remember that?"

Matt rolled his eyes. "Because that was the first night we all went out together after Tone and Draco met. I was pretty much trying to focus on anything that wasn't my friend and my brother dry-humping on the dance floor."

Draco scoffed. "At least we weren't actually fucking, unlike some people that night," he said, laughing when Madison merely grinned and held up her beer in salute. "And it's called dancing, Matt. You should try it sometime." He turned towards the others, alcohol already humming through his blood, heating his cheeks and loosening his lips. "Matt can't dance for shit," Draco informed them, feeling an odd spike of pleasure when Granger and Padma laughed, their own cheeks ruddy. "He's always talking big about his latino hips, but the dancing gene must have skipped right over him. It's a little embarrassing actually."

"Fuck off. I could dance you under the table!" Matt boasted, clearly well into his cups.

"Only if you 'danced' straight into the table and knocked yourself out," Zach said.

"Yeah, dude, you really can't dance," Josh added. "You've got two left feet."

"So does Harry," Granger said with a grin.

"I'm not that bad!" Harry protested.

"Yeah, you really are, mate," Thomas said, patting his leg consolingly. "I, on the other hand, am an excellent dancer."

Madison looked at him appraisingly, interest glimmering in her eyes. "We'll have to put that to the test one of these nights. I'm sure there's a club around here worth going to, yeah?"

Thomas's lips broadened into a wide grin. "There is at that."

"Do we have to go to a club?" Harry asked. He was only half being petulant. Clubbing had never been a priority before the war and though he'd been a time or two after, he often found them a little overwhelming. All the people and noise and flashing lights were sometimes too much to process.

Madison's smile turned sly, and Draco shivered. Nothing good ever came from that look. "Don't worry, Harry. We'll make sure you don't make a fool of yourself."

Weasley laughed. "Good luck with that." Harry shot a stinging hex at his foot, and Weasley yelped, causing the whole group to laugh.

"Well, to get back to the game, I believe it's my turn," Madison announced.

She scanned the lot of them, eyes assessing before she grinned at Draco. "Truth or Dare?"

"What? You can't choose me again," Draco protested. "I just went!"

"Yeah, but you got a late start. The rest of us are already a round ahead of you."

"But—"

"No buts, just choose."

Draco weighed his options. Madison had a devious streak, especially when she'd been drinking, and neither of his options looked particularly bright. But he'd chosen truth last time, and he just knew the lot of them would never stop taking the piss if he chose it again.

"Fine. Dare."

Madison clapped her hands together. "Excellent! I dare you to teach Harry to dance."

"Good one!" Sarah enthused, her accent, if possible, even worse than before.

Draco's eyes widened, and a quick glance at Harry showed him a similar expression. "What? Why?"

"Because you actually are a good dancer, and it sounds like dear Harry here could use all the help he can get."

"I—uh—now?"

"No, don't be silly! We'll go out to a club for one of our bonding nights in the next couple of weeks and you can teach him then."

"Err, and do I get a say in this?" Harry interjected, his eyes still wide and shocked.

"Nope," Madison said happily. "Besides, why wouldn't you want to become a better dancer? I bet your fiancée would appreciate it."

Draco half hoped and half feared Harry would argue against it. Teaching Harry to dance in a crowded club, his lips against Harry's ear so he could better hear him, his hands on Harry's hips to guide him into the beat….it was enough to make Draco's heart race and his cock twitch. Which was exactly why it would be a very bad idea.

Harry looked to Weasley helplessly, but he only shrugged and grinned. "You are pretty terrible. Who knows, maybe the ferret's a good teacher? Either way, it's bound to be entertaining."

Harry sighed heavily, but he flashed a tentative smile Draco's way. "All right, sign me up."

"Perfect!" Madison exclaimed.

"Wait, Ferret?" Matt asked at the same time.

Weasley's grin grew impossibly wider as Harry hastened to say. "It's a long story."

"We're not going anywhere."

Draco guessed fighting it would be like fighting the tide. "Oh, go on then."

Weasley gave him a look that bordered on approving, before beginning, "We were all in Hogwarts, fourth year, and..."

Chapter Text

Harry wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers, hoping the dark material would cover any wet spots. This was ridiculous. It was only a date for Merlin's sake, a casual dinner with his bloody fiancée. There was no need for the jitters and anxiety buzzing under his skin, even if he was running a little late. Ginny knew he had a crazy schedule these days, and for that matter, so did she. It wasn't like this was the first time either of them had been late to one of their date nights, but something still sat uneasy in his breast. Their date nights also used to be a lot more frequent, once or twice a week instead of the barely once or twice a month they were managing these days. Harry knew that was mostly his fault. As much as he blamed both of their schedules, he was the one, more often than not, that ended up cancelling at the last minute. He knew Ginny was getting frustrated and feeling neglected, and he couldn't say he blamed her. Harry wasn't sure what was going on with him, if he was suffering from the world's earliest case of cold feet, or if something else was at play, but he knew he needed to get his shit together and figure it out. In the meantime, he braced himself for his upcoming date as he entered the restaurant, hating himself a little for the fact that he was treating this opportunity to spend time with the woman he loved, the woman he was going to marry, as a chore.

The restaurant was one of the several restaurants they rotated between, this one a tiny Indian place that they'd discovered during that long summer after the war. When the grief in the Weasley home became to much to bear, he and Ginny would sneak out to Muggle London and spend their days together exploring different neighborhoods in a world untouched by the horrors of the wizarding war. Harry had fallen in love with Ginny that summer, something realer and truer than the puppy love they'd shared when they'd first got together. He could still remember how wonderful it had been to eat ice cream under the summer sun, Ginny's hair gleaming in the daylight like a cleansing fire through his tattered soul.

It had been years since they'd gone for a stroll through Chelsea or Primrose Hill or Hyde Park, years since Harry felt alight with possibility when looking into Ginny's beaming face. It wasn't just that he missed the giddy flush of falling in love with somebody—he knew it was normal for relationships to settle after years together, and part of Harry had always looked forward to that part, to knowing somebody so well and being known in return. It was just that sometimes he wondered if they had settled a little too much.

Ginny was sitting at one of the rickety tables in the far corner of the restaurant, looking bored and faintly annoyed. Her lips pulled into a small frown when she caught sight of Harry weaving through the tightly packed chairs, but the expression quickly morphed into something more genial and pleased as Harry bent down to press a kiss to her cheek.

"I'm sorry I'm late," Harry said as he took a seat across from her. "Draco was helping me with my Poisons and Antidotes work, and we lost track of time."

Ginny's eye twitched as she forced a smile. "That's fine. I'm glad you're here now."

It wasn't like Ginny to suppress her feelings. She was normally all blaze and fire. Something about her strained demeanor prickled at Harry's skin. "Gin..."

"Don't, Harry," she said sharply, before taking in a deep, shaky breath. "Look, I understand how important becoming an Auror is to you, and I am trying to be supportive of all the extra hours you've been putting in, even though it means we hardly ever see each other anymore. And since this is the first time in over two weeks that I'm getting you for more than fifteen minutes, I'd really prefer not to spend that time arguing, wouldn't you?"

"Yeah, of course."

Ginny smiled again, and this time it was more genuine, relief gathering in the corners of her eyes. "Great. So why don't you tell me what's new?"

They talked about their respective lives, Harry updating her on his classes and the happenings of his fellow trainees, and Ginny getting him up to speed on the latest drama between teammates. It was a nice meal, good food and better company, the perfect evening spent catching up with a mate. But Ginny wasn't just a mate. She was his goddamned fiancée, and he should enjoy spending time with her as more than a friend. He should miss her as more than a friend.

It wasn't until they were winding down with dinner, picking over the last pieces of naan and butter chicken, that Ginny brought up the topic Harry had been quietly dreading.

"I know we talked about this at Christmas, but have you given any more thought to setting a date for the wedding?"

Harry's heart began to pound, his blood rushing through his ears with a deafening roar. He blinked. Swallowed.

"I thought we decided to wait until after I left training."

"Yes, of course. But, if we want to get married this year, we really need to start looking into locations."

"I—"

"I'm not trying to pressure you, Harry, but haven't we waited long enough? Aren't you ready for us to live together, to start our lives together? We've talked about starting a family, and I think we should be married for at least a year before we have any children, don't you?"

"Err...yeah, yes," Harry stammered, feeling completely blindsided by the sudden mention of children. They used to talk about the future more often, about having kids, starting a family. But now that Harry really thought of it, they hadn't discussed anything like that in months. The thought of the future used to fill him with steady purpose, but lately that feeling had morphed into something a lot like panic.

The waiter thankfully chose that moment to come over with their bill, which Harry gratefully paid. He didn't know why any mention of their wedding made his entire body feel weighed down. Harry tried to shake it off. He was just tired from all the Auror training, was all.

"I don't want to put things off much longer. I want us to start our life together. Just promise me you'll think about it, okay?" Ginny said as she followed him out of the restaurant. She turned to face him on the street. Her long red hair was woven into the dark green Harpies' scarf wrapped tight around her neck, and her fair cheeks were already pink from the cold. She looked undeniably lovely.

"I will."

"Really think about it."

"Yes, Gin, I promise."

"Wonderful. Now, I don't suppose I can convince you to come back to the Burrow with me for the night?"

Harry hesitated. "I can't stay the night—I've got an early morning class." Ginny's face fell, and Harry hastened to add, "But I could come over, for a little while at least."

Ginny's face brightened, and she pulled Harry close, her grin wicked. "Yeah?"

"Though...can we Apparate straight to your room?"

Ginny laughed. "My parents know we're having sex, Harry."

"Yeah, but they don't need to know exactly when we're having it."

"Okay, okay, we'll Apparate straight into my room, and you can cast as many Silencing Charms as you'd like."

Ginny held her arm out and Harry took hold, letting her Apparate them both away. The twist in his stomach was to be expected.

***

It was late when Harry got back from his date with Ginny. Draco had been in bed for an hour, staring at the ceiling and pretending he wasn't painfully aware of every second that passed, when Harry stumbled through the door. He was clearly trying to be quiet, but Harry hadn't seemed to have mastered the art of walking in the dark, and he didn't last ten seconds before stumbling into something and swearing under his breath.

Draco took pity on him. "It's fine, I'm awake."

"Oh, thank god," Harry muttered, before the tip of his wand lit up.

Draco turned, the shadows on his half of the room masking him as he watched Harry get ready for bed. Even in the sparse lighting, Draco could make out the tension along Harry's spine and shoulders, the sort of nervous energy that trembled throughout his frame. In Draco's experience, going on a date with somebody you loved, and spending the kind of quality time with them that coming back so late implied...well, it should leave you feeling happy and relaxed and rejuvenated, not strung tighter than a bow. Harry always seemed to come back from his dates with Ginny tense and unnerved, and it made Draco want to reach out, to offer his support to Harry, since something was clearly bothering him.

Draco knew it wasn't any of his business, and that getting involved in the personal affairs of the Chosen One was a bad idea all around. Not only because he and Draco were just barely friends, and up till recently, there'd been a fair amount of animosity between them. There was also the tiny little insignificant matter of Draco's feelings for Harry. The ones that had moved past friendly platonic acquaintances and straight into alarmingly inappropriate crush. Maybe Draco was just imagining Harry's discomfort after his dates with Ginny, projecting some of his own feelings and desires onto Harry instead of reading what was truly there.

Draco didn't think that was the case. He liked Harry, was attracted to him, and he couldn't deny that there was a small part of him that wanted Harry to like him back, to reciprocate Draco's feelings—that was only natural. Draco had long since resigned himself to the unrequited nature of his feelings though, and Harry was hardly the first straight boy that Draco had made the mistake of falling for. Not that he had fallen for Harry or anything. This was just a simple infatuation, one that would pass with time, Draco was sure of it.

In the meantime, it was obvious that something wasn't quite right with Harry's relationship, and though Draco didn't want to pry, he also knew all too well how isolating it could be to experience problems in a relationship and feel like you had nobody objective you could speak to. Of course, Draco wasn't entirely sure he was objective, which meant he probably shouldn't get involved.

"Harry?" Draco whispered, half hoping that Harry would already be asleep. It would probably be for the best if he was.

No such luck. Draco heard the rustle of bedsheets from the other side of the room. "Yeah, Draco?" Harry's voice didn't sound the least bit sleepy.

"I—" Draco faltered, feeling ridiculous as he tried to find the right words now that he'd gone and opened his big mouth. "You know that I don't hate you right? I mean, we're sort of friends, and I don't spend my time wishing for you to lead a miserable life or anything." He paused. "Well, not anymore, at least."

Harry laughed, a low smoky tone that sent unwilling shivers up Draco's spine. "Yeah. Yeah, I know that. I suppose I don't want you to be miserable either."

It wasn't even a real compliment, but it still made Draco's stomach flip. It made him even more determined to press on, to offer his ear if Harry wanted it, but the words kept getting twisted and mixed up in his throat. "It's just—Merlin—how do people do this?"

"Do what?"

"Open up and talk about their emotions" Draco sighed. He'd had plenty of practice over the past few years, suppressing his cattier instincts in an attempt to better himself, and it'd become easier over time. Now, though, with Harry and the others, it was like starting from scratch, the urge to lash out and protect himself still his first instinct. "It's awful."

Harry laughed. "Well, don't strain yourself or anything."

Draco paused, running his hands through his hair and trying to organise his racing thoughts. "I know that it can be...difficult, being involved with a close friend's sibling," he said slowly. He could practically feel Harry's sudden stillness, but he continued on. "Matt and Tone are more or less each other's only family, and our entire friend group became very close. Everybody was very supportive, but we were all in one another's pockets, and it was hard sometimes, trying to have a relationship in the midst of all that." He took a moment to let the wave of nostalgia, bitter and sweet, rush over him, before continuing on. "It was great, at the beginning, but when I started having my doubts...I didn't feel like there was anybody to talk to." Draco paused for a moment, trying to gauge Potter's reaction, to determine if if he was overstepping his bounds, but it was impossible to tell in the silent darkness.

"I'm not exactly the type to talk about my feelings, so I'm sure that played a role, but...I'm trying to say that I know that it can be difficult." There were a lot of reasons why Draco had kept the relationship going far past its expiration date, but it hadn't helped that he there wasn't anybody he felt he could confide. Even Madison and Josh were too close to the issue to give any helpful advice. They wanted what was best for him, and Draco knew they would support him no matter what, but sometimes Draco wasn't sure if they really understood why he had to end things. Not to mention, there was so much about his past that they would never truly be able to comprehend, and despite Draco's best efforts to distance himself from the boy he'd been, he'd never fully escape the influences of his childhood. There were elements there that would always be at play, and it was almost impossible to explain them to somebody who hadn't ever experienced anything similar. Draco shivered and tried to focus. This wasn't about him.

"It's probably worse for you," Draco continued. "Because your group of friends have known each other for even longer than mine. It's hard for people to remain objective when they have a stake in the matter. So...if you need to talk, if you just want to vent about things to somebody who doesn't really care one way or another, or if you want to discuss things that are bothering you without kicking up a whole fuss, I'm here."

"What makes you think I need to talk?" Potter's voice was quiet, but not angry. Draco took that as a good sign.

"I'm not saying that you do. And I'm certainly not saying that you two should break up or that your relationship is anything like my relationship with Tone. But…" Draco braced himself, knowing that he was very possibly about to step over a line. "I'm also not blind. I can see how tense you are whenever you meet up with her, and how you always seem to drag your feet when you've got a date. It's none of my business and perhaps I'm reading too much into things, and maybe you're already handling whatever has been on your mind. I just wanted to let you know, that you could talk to me, if you needed to."

"Thanks, Malfoy."

Draco sighed quietly into the dark of the room, grateful that he'd survived the painfully awkward conversation. He fully expected that to be it. His offer was on the table, and though he couldn't imagine Harry would actually take him up on it, at least it was there if Harry ever felt like talking.

Which was why he nearly jumped right out of the bed when Harry spoke several minutes later.

"I'm just not sure I'm ready to start a family."

Draco's eyes widened as he tried to calm his racing heart. "That's understandable. You're not even twenty-two yet. Getting married doesn't mean you have to start popping out babies right away."

"Yeah, I know that. But...I've always wanted a family, and now. At dinner tonight, Ginny mentioned that we'd want to be married for a year before we start thinking about having kids and I just...froze. I mean, it's not like she said she wants one right now, but all I could think about was the fact that I'm not even a full bloody Auror yet, and she's just getting started in her Quidditch career. Is there ever going to be a good time for us to have children? I feel like I'm going to need more than just a year."

Draco winced. This was far outside his area of expertise, particularly given that he wasn't entirely sure he ever wanted children for himself. "There is plenty of time for you to have children down the line if you want. Most Quidditch players don't actually remain players for long, and there are plenty of desk jobs in the Auror department if you need to take things slow for your family." Draco could practically feel Harry's grimace and he tried to keep the laughter out of his voice as he continued. "And not everybody wants or needs children to be happy. It's understandable that you'd want family, but that doesn't necessarily mean procreation. It is perfectly okay for you to never have kids."

"I'm not sure Ginny would agree," Harry sighed. "And that surprises me, coming from you. Aren't pure-bloods supposed to be all about carrying on the blood line?

"I thought we'd covered the fact that I've changed."

"Yeah, but…" Harry trailed off and Draco sighed.

"I'm…" Draco let out a slightly bitter laugh. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure my blood line should be carried on."

"Draco—"

"Don't. You know better than anybody what my family has done, what I've done. And given the example of my parents, I don't know that I trust myself to raise a child and not completely fuck them up. I mean, I fully reserve the right to change my mind, Salazar knows I've got plenty of time for it, but like I said earlier, not everybody needs children to feel complete. I don't think I need children to be happy, that's all."

"I suppose. But…"

"Besides," Draco interrupted, trying to cut Harry off before they went too far down a topic Draco had no interest in discussing. "We were talking about you, not me. Is the baby issue the only thing that's been bothering you."

Harry sighed, a heavy sound that seemed to reverberate through the still room. "No, that's just part of it. The problem is I don't know what the problem is. I love Ginny."

"But?"

"But everything seems so much harder with her than I thought it would be. I know that relationships take work, but sometimes it feels like that's all it ever is. Things between us used to be so easy, effortless, and it's not like I'm against putting effort into our relationship, but…" Harry growled, and Draco could hear him tossing about in his bed. He was probably running his hands through that chaotic nest he called hair, running his full bottom lip between his teeth like he always did when he was frustrated. "Maybe this is just what relationships are like, what life is like, and I'm holding us up to some unattainable fantasy in my head. But I thought I would feel different when we got to this place, that we would feel different. And I see Ron and Hermione, and they're so in sync with everything, they get each other so well. I feel like Gin and I used to have that, but we've lost it along the way, and I'm worried we're never going to get it back.

"I feel so restless, and I thought the change of pace this year with the exchange programme would help with that, but it's just getting worse. And it probably doesn't help that Gin and I have barely had more than a couple of hours together at a time the past six months."

Harry fell silent, though Draco could still hear his heavy breaths in the aftermath of his outburst. "Well…" Draco began slowly. "There's certainly a lot to unpack there."

Harry laughed, the sound high and slightly hysterical. "Oh god, please just ignore that. I didn't mean to just unload on you. I think between training and Gin and the pressure of picking a wedding date, I'm a little bit stressed. Things are off right now, but I'm sure once we are actually able to spend time together again, it'll all level out."

"Of course," Draco said, though he was sure his skepticism was audible in his tone. He tried to switch to something lighter, mindful that pushing Harry right now was probably not was he needed. "Leave it to Harry Potter to fearlessly face down dragons and Dark Lords, only to be cowed by the idea of settling down and becoming an adult."

Harry chuckled, warm and genuine with the faintest undercurrent of relief, no doubt at Draco not probing into his confession.

"Yeah, well, I guess we all have to grow up sometime."

Draco sighed softly, his chest feeling strangely tight. "Indeed we do."

Chapter Text

Lights flashed, music pulsed, and the heady smell of sweat and alcohol filled Harry's nostrils. Normally, it would all be enough to send discomfort prickling over Harry's skin. Not this time. No, this time the discomfort was due to an entirely different reason. Harry tried not to focus on the fact that discomfort felt a lot like exhilaration.

"Salazar, Harry, you need to feel the music," Draco said for what seemed like the hundredth time, before stepping even closer to Harry and sliding his hands over Harry hips. He moved his hands, guiding Harry into a swaying rhythm, their bodies just inches apart. Harry tried not to have heart palpitations. Every place that Draco touched on Harry's body seemed to bloom with heated shivers that cascaded out over his skin. It was probably just the overstimulation from the club causing him to react more strongly than usual to Draco's touch along Harry's waist, his wrist, the inside of his elbow.

Harry stumbled over Draco's feet, and a roar of laughter went up from a table at the edge of the dance floor, where the rest of their group was busy drinking and watching Harry make a fool of himself. They seemed to find Harry's pathetic attempts hilarious, and Harry just prayed they couldn't see his inappropriate reactions to Draco's proximity, that they didn't assign any kind of meaning to it that clearly wasn't there.

He focused back on Draco, realising that he'd said something that had been lost in the blare of music.

"What?" Harry shouted.

Draco leaned in, his top lip brushing against the outer shell of Harry's ear. "Your fiancée. I'm guessing she'll be happy to hear you won't be treading all over her feet at your wedding. Assuming we manage to make any progress."

Draco's voice was warm, light, his hot breath sending shivers skittering through Harry, even as a cold weight settled in Harry's stomach. He hadn't thought of Ginny once since Draco put his hands on him in the low light of the club. For a split second, when Draco mentioned fiancée and wedding, Harry didn't know what he was talking about. He was the worst, the actual worst. Things were weird with Ginny, but that was no excuse to forget about their relationship entirely. Harry needed to do better, needed not to let himself get distracted by the feeling of somebody else's hands on his body. No matter how innocent.

He looked away, trying to focus on anything other than Draco's lavender-bergamot scent that seemed to overpower everything else. Harry's gaze caught on the table with their friends, snagging on the tall, tanned, dark haired man walking towards them. The man was seriously attractive, and Harry wondered if he was going over to hit on one of the occupants until half the table erupted into excited shouts and squeals. Apparently the Americans recognised him. Weird.

"Do you know who that is?"

"What?"

Harry leaned in, the smell of Draco intoxicating and overwhelming. "That man over by the table. Do you know who he is? All your friends seem to recognise him."

Draco turned and froze in Harry's arms, his entire body going tight as a drum. Somehow, Harry knew what Draco was going to say before the words were even out of his mouth.

"Yes, I do," he murmured. "That's Antonio. My ex."

***

Draco's entire body vibrated with tension as he stared at Antonio's smooth, broad back, the silken fabric of his no doubt expensive shirt clinging to him like a second skin. He blinked, but Antonio was still there, sliding into the booth and chatting amiably with his brother. His brother. Matt, that dirty fucking rat. He had to have known that Antonio would be in town. In fact, he had to have told Antonio that they would be out at this particular club tonight, and the fucker hadn't bothered to give Draco a heads up. Frustration and annoyance seethed beneath Draco's skin. He didn't think a little advance notice was too much to ask.

Harry let out a small inquiring sound, somehow audible even over the roar of the club, and Draco's focus snapped back to the man in his arms. As if Draco didn't have enough on his plate with teaching Harry to dance, with trying to stay friendly and appropriate while his hands guided Harry's body into moving with the music. The past ten minutes had been nothing short of ecstatic torture, his mind and his emotions going haywire at the undeniable intimacy of his and Harry's bodies moving as one. Draco knew it couldn't ever be anything more than this, but Draco was enjoying riding the very edge of their limits, enjoying this one opportunity where it was okay for him to slide a hand down Harry's waist and press in close. But Antonio was here now, his eyes widening a little when they finally landed on Harry and Draco, still partially entwined, and the moment was broken.

"Err, should we go say hello, then?" Harry ventured, when Draco remained still and silent.

"Yes, I suppose so."

Antonio pretended not to notice them as they approached, but he'd always been a wretched liar. "Tone, what a pleasant surprise. I didn't expect to see you on this side of the pond."

Antonio's cheeks flushed and he shot Matt an angry glare. Ah, so Matt's silence wasn't at Antonio's behest then. "Sorry, I thought you knew. Matt said you were cool with it. I can leave if you're uncomfortable."

Matt opened his mouth to object, but Draco beat him to it. "Don't be silly, you're more than welcome here. I take it they've all introduced you to our colleagues?"

"Yup, all except…" he trailed off, looking towards Harry.

"Harry Potter," Harry said, leaning forward to shake Antonio's hand. Antonio's eyes widened, and he gave Harry another assessing look. Antonio knew enough of Draco's past to have heard the name before.

"Antonio. But you can call me Tone. I'm Matt's brother."

"Nice to meet you." Harry slid into the booth next to Weasley, before picking up a full pint and taking a long pull. "What brings you to London?" he asked after he'd drained a third of the glass.

"I'm here on assignment, actually."

"Ooo, are you a spy?" said Padma asked with a dramatic wink, clearly deep into her cups.

"Ignore her," Hermione said with a laugh. "She's been reading too many Muggle romance novels."

"Muggle?"

"No-Maj," Zach translated.

"Ah, figures they'd have a different word for it over here."

"Psh, you're the ones that have the funny names for things," countered Weasley.

Hermione patted Weasley's head. "Sorry, we got off track. What is it you do, Antonio?"

Antonio hesitated, his cheeks flushing. "I'm a model, actually." Draco knew he felt self-conscious about his profession, particularly around Aurors, who were not only wizards, but wizards who'd committed themselves to fighting crime and evil. Draco had found it charming, Antonio's lack of self-importance—he still did, truth be told. What Antonio did was art, and there was importance in that, in bringing beauty into the world. He didn't have anything to be ashamed of, especially since he kept his humble attitude. Draco had met several of Antonio's modeling friends during their time together, and they had been a little too absorbed in what they did and the industry, to the exclusion of everything else.

"You're a model!?" Weasley shouted, loud enough to turn a few heads. "You never said he was a model." Draco wasn't sure who, exactly, Weasley was talking to, but it was clear he felt wronged.

Matt shrugged. "Didn't come up."

Draco looked across the table at Harry, who was looking seriously into his now nearly-empty mug of beer. He had a strange expression on his face, something that made Draco want to reach out and touch him, hold him. It made Draco want to take him somewhere a little quieter, a little more private.

"Draco." The word was low, whispered almost directly in Draco's ear. He looked over at Antonio, really looking at his face for the first time that night. Antonio looked good, better than good. His hair was perfectly coiffed, his light brown skin flawless over high cheekbones and a sharp jaw. He looked at Draco with soft eyes, eyes that brimmed with feeling and emotion, and Draco remembered how he used to get lost in them. "Dance with me?"

Draco knew he probably shouldn't. The look in Antonio's eyes wasn't exactly platonic, and though their relationship was firmly over for Draco, he couldn't deny that it felt good to have somebody look at him like that again. He still cared for Antonio, he still found him attractive, and the flame of desire that had licked across his skin while he and Harry had been dancing hadn't entirely dissipated. It might be nice to use up some of that energy with somebody who actually wanted him. Still, it wasn't a good idea, and Draco opened his mouth to say so.

"All right," came out instead.

Antonio led him onto the dance floor, though not before Draco caught the looks on several faces at the table. Amusement for Madison and Josh, wariness for Matt, and something Draco would have called jealousy on Harry, if he didn't know better. Maybe it was indigestion.

The bass thudded through the floor in a steady boom, boom, boom, and Draco and Antonio picked up the rhythm. Draco would say this about Antonio, he was a damn fine dancer. It seemed he got all the natural talent that Matt lacked. Antonio's dancing had actually been part of the initial attraction, beyond his striking good looks of course, when they'd first met at a raucous New Year's Eve party a few years back. They'd ended up dancing together, Draco couldn't quite remember how, but what he did remember was the way their bodies seemed to move in perfect sensual synchronicity. It had made Draco wonder if their bodies would fit as well together in other situations—a fact he'd joyfully confirmed just hours later. Dancing with Antonio again now reminded Draco of just how long it had been since he'd had the pleasure of another body so willingly plastered against his own.

"You and Harry Potter seemed awfully chummy," Antonio murmured into Draco's ear, his breath causing an involuntary shiver to skitter down Draco's spine. Draco heard the implication in Antonio's words clear as day, and it nettled at him.

"Don't be ridiculous," Draco said with forced amusement. "We're just friends. I was teaching him how to dance."

"Oh?" Antonio clearly didn't buy it, despite the fact that his hands had drifted progressively lower without a word of protest from Draco.

"He's engaged. To a woman."

"Oh." Antonio understood better than most Draco's feelings on fidelity. "Still, you never told me he was hot."

Draco's stomach flipped, but he ignored it as he shrugged. "He wasn't."

They continued dancing with a mindless kind of abandon that Draco hadn't experienced in ages. It was nice, losing himself in the music, in the sway of bodies, in the familiar press and pull of Antonio's fit form. The music changed, something a little more electronic and discordant, and Draco made to separate and work his way back to the table.

"Wait," Antonio called, tugging Draco back to him. "Can we talk?" Draco hesitated. "Please? My hotel isn't far from here. You could walk me home."

"I don't know…"

"Just to talk," Antonio insisted. "The way things ended...it was so abrupt. I know that we're over, and I'm okay with that, really, but I feel like I never really got any closure."

Draco thought that was probably true enough. Generally speaking, Draco had been relatively unemotional about their break-up. Definitely less emotional than he probably should have been at the conclusion of a serious relationship. Draco's more...wolfish characteristics, however, were a little more unpredictable, and Draco had thought it would probably be safer if they had a little space. He hadn't intended for it to go so long, but then the exchange happened, and it was sort of hard to have a heart to heart when they were separated by an ocean and the length of an entire continent.

"All right," Draco said, stepping towards the exit. "Let's go."

"Shouldn't we say goodbye?"

"If we do that, I'll come to my senses."

Antonio smiled wryly and nodded. Draco let him lead the way, pointedly ignoring the sudden hoots and hollers emanating from the direction of their table. Children, all of them. Draco turned at the door, his gaze drawn back to the table entirely against his will and catching on Harry's burning gaze. Harry didn't look away, his eyes smoldering with some intense, unknown emotion that had Draco shivering. He broke first, turning away from Harry and the confusing thrum of attraction between them that Draco was trying desperately to tell himself was all in his head.

The early February air was biting and cold, washing away the lingering heat from Harry's gaze and grounding Draco firmly in the here and now. He followed Antonio past the crowd of people lingering at the door to the club and down the lamplit street. Antonio turned back to look at him with a nervous smile, and Draco noticed he was shivering in the winter night without a coat. Draco glanced around, before surreptitiously casting a Warming Charm. Antonio's smile shifted into something more sincere, and he looked at Draco with soft eyes.

"I do miss that," Antonio sighed. "It's such a pain trying to remember to bring my coat everywhere now."

"And deprive the world of seeing your body? Never." Antonio snorted, and they walked in silence for a block, before the quiet got to him. "You wanted to talk?"

Antonio's cheeks darkened. "Oh, yes, um. I just…" He ran a hand through his dark, perfectly tousled hair. "I...I wanted to say I'm sorry, for what happened. I know I said it then, but I think you were a little distracted, and rightfully so. I totally fucked everything up. I was such an idiot."

Draco shook his head. Antonio had made a mistake, that was undeniable, but he hadn't been the only one at fault. From Draco's point of view, Draco was far guilter. "I know you are, Antonio. But it wasn't your fault. I'm the one who lost control. I almost hurt you."

"But you didn't," Antonio protested. "And you warned me. You told me about your condition, I could see how you were different around the full moon. But I didn't take it seriously. I wasn't thinking. I was so...I felt so terrible afterward, so guilty. All I could think about was coming clean and begging for your forgiveness."

Draco shuddered as he remembered that night. They'd had another fight, something that had been becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence between them. Antonio wanted to move in together, but Draco had been reluctant, and when Antonio had found out that Draco had applied for the Auror Exchange Programme without talking to him first...well, he'd been understandably upset. He'd gone out with some friends to try and cheer himself up, and had ended up exchanging drunken hand jobs with some bloke he'd met in the club. It would have been difficult enough for Draco to get over that on a normal night—fidelity was extremely important to him—but it just so happened to occur during the full moon. When Antonio had barged into Draco's flat smelling like desperation and booze and another man's come...Draco's frayed instincts had snapped. He'd managed to pull himself together before he'd done anything more than scare Antonio, but Draco had been horrified at what he'd almost done. Draco had ended things then and there.

"I do. Forgive you, I mean," Draco murmured. "I don't blame you for what happened. I care for you deeply, but I'd already started working through the realisation that we weren't meant to be together. I didn't want it to be true, but I was pulling away."

Antonio looked over at him, his brown eyes warm and sad. "Yeah, I figured. I just, I had to know. I had to know if that night…if I was the one who ruined everything."

"No, you weren't. I won't lie, that certainly didn't help matters, but all it really did was speed up the inevitable." That was true enough. Things had been off between them for several months before the incident, but Draco had been content to bury his head in the sand. Antonio was wonderful, sexy, and brilliant in bed, but there had always been something missing. At first, Draco had thought it was some terrible remnant of his childhood prejudices rearing its ugly head. He tried to squash it, refusing to revert to his bigoted past. He didn't want to be the condescending pure-blood wizard he'd been raised to be, who would have never lowered himself to dating a mere Muggle. Antonio wasn't any less than Draco. It had taken him nearly twenty years to realise that seemingly obvious fact, and he didn't plan on forgetting it anytime soon.

But despite his best efforts, the fact that Draco was a wizard and Antonio was not did put strain on their relationship. He knew about the magical world—anything less than that would have been a deal breaker—but he wasn't immersed in it, wasn't involved in it. There was a cultural divide that continued to surface, no matter how much Draco tried to ignore it. They saw the world differently. How could they not, when Draco could travel anywhere in the blink of an eye, when he could heal scrapes and broken bones with a murmured word? The night Draco had lost control had finally drummed the idea home. He was still human, but the marks on his back had changed him, altered him to the point where he wasn't always in complete control. A witch or wizard could put him in a body-bind, or block him with a Shield Charm, or cast a good Incarcerous to keep him tied up if it really came to that, but all Antonio could do was run. He'd managed to get ahold of himself in time, and Antonio seemed convinced that Draco never would have actually hurt him, but Draco wasn't so sure. If Draco ever lost control again and did hurt Antonio, he'd never forgive himself.

"I'm moving to New York," Antonio said abruptly. "I thought you should know."

"Oh? When?"

"Next month," Antonio said, his cheeks flushed and voice full of excitement. "That's actually part of why I took the job over here. I wanted a chance to tell Matt in person. We're getting brunch tomorrow before I leave."

"You told me first?" Draco was flattered. He hoped that meant they could be something like friends, eventually.

"Yeah. I've been wanting to tell you since I decided. I know Matt's going to be upset about me leaving Seattle, but I knew you'd get it."

"I do," Draco said, softly. Antonio had talked about moving to New York a number of times while they were together. He'd planned to move there back when he was seventeen and first breaking into modeling, barely getting by and living in a house with eight other people. But then Matt got his letter from Baesany and their parents had thrown him out, too, and Antonio couldn't abandon his baby brother. Antonio had never said anything outright while they were together, but Draco suspected that he had hoped Draco would move there with him, once he'd completed his training. "I always thought you were wasted in Seattle. They're not exactly known for their high fashion. You'll have so many more opportunities in New York."

"Yeah," Antonio sighed. "I think it's finally time. Matt's all grown up and…" He flashed Draco a sad smile. "Well, there's nothing else tying me to Seattle anymore." His smile grew now, turning into something full of excitement. "I think it's going to be good."

Draco smiled back. "I'm happy for you, Tone."

"This is me," Antonio murmured, nodding his head up at the lavish hotel that they'd stopped in front of while Draco had been lost in his thoughts. "Would you like to come up for a drink? I have wine."

Draco bit his lip. "I'm not sure that's a very good idea."

"I know it's over," Antonio asserted. "But the best part about breaking up is the break-up sex, and we skipped that part." Antonio stepped closer to Draco, running his hands over Draco's chest. "You can walk away if you want, but I know how much you hate one offs, and I'm guessing you haven't had many opportunities to blow off some steam since we broke up."

Draco wavered. Sexual compatibility had never been an issue between the two of them, and Antonio was right, it had been a while. "That's...not untrue."

Antonio's brown eyes seemed to glow in the bright lights from the lobby streaming out onto the street. "You can fuck me, if you want. I know how much you love that." His hands slid to Draco's waist, and Draco couldn't suppress a shiver. "Or I could fuck you, if you're in the mood. I know you crave that sometimes, and I'm guessing you haven't let anybody have you since we were together."

Both of those things were also true, and Draco couldn't ignore the thud of his heart as it pumped desire through his veins. He hadn't had sex in over six months, and here Antonio was, looking every inch the model he was and offering Draco a night of no-strings attached break-up sex. Draco would have to be a fool to turn that offer down, and Draco tried very hard not to make foolish decisions these days.

"Why don't we start with a glass of wine," Draco capitulated. "You can tell me what you've been up to the past few months."

Antonio grinned and turned to walk into the bright lights of his hotel. Draco drew in a deep breath of cold winter air, and followed.

Chapter Text

Harry flipped onto his stomach and wrapped his sheets tight around his body. He closed his eyes, doing his level best to force sleep, but his body quickly began to overheat in the close cocoon of his blankets. He turned over onto his back, kicking the covers off and breathing in deep. Seconds later, a chill set over his flesh, and he sighed in frustration as he grabbed at the blankets and covered most of his body, leaving one leg sticking awkwardly out into the cool air in an effort to help him regulate his temperature. Drowsiness weighed down his limbs, but despite his best efforts, Harry couldn't manage to fall asleep. He was too hot or too cold or there was a crick in his neck or his leg started to cramp up. It was maddening.

Grabbing for his wand, he cast Tempus, frowning up at the glowing numbers that told him it was four in the morning.

Something hot and uncomfortable had taken root in his chest. His skin felt too tight, and a restless, frustrated not-quite-anger prickled over his flesh. Normally a night of drinking and laughing and hanging out with his friends should have left him happy and pleasantly exhausted, and even the flashing lights and heavy base of the club hadn't been as unsettling as it sometimes was. Still, there was an awareness inside him that kept him up, kept him waiting.

Where the fuck was Draco?

Harry rolled over onto his front and suppressed the urge to scream into his pillow. He knew exactly where Draco was. He was with Antonio, his ex-boyfriend. His ridiculously, insanely attractive model of an ex-boyfriend. They were probably still together right now, perhaps literally, their limbs entwined on some big, lavish bed as they kissed and thrust and…

It burned, the thought of them together. It shouldn't, there was no reason that Harry should care about what Draco was up to, or who he was sleeping with. He was an adult, perfectly capable of making his own decisions, and it wasn't like Harry was jealous or anything. That would be...that would be crazy. Harry was engaged, he was in love with Ginny. And sure, maybe Harry had been experiencing some feelings lately that he didn't quite understand, but that didn't have to mean anything. It didn't mean he was attracted to Draco Malfoy, or that he wanted anything from him at all. He certainly didn't any kind of claim on him.

Maybe he was just feeling...protective. After all, Draco and Antonio had broken up for a reason, and though Harry didn't know all the specifics, he did know it had been hard on Draco. He just didn't want Draco getting hurt again, that was all. It was perfectly understandable that the thought of Draco and Antonio together would make his chest hurt and his vision blur, even as an uneasy arousal began to pump sluggishly through his veins.

Perhaps getting off was just what was needed here. It had been nearly two weeks now since he'd last seen Ginny, and other than the occasional wank in the shower, his prick had been sadly neglected of late. If he was feeling any jealousy right now, it was probably just because Draco was likely out there having sex right now, while Harry was in bed all alone.

He flipped back over on his back, his hand rucking up his shirt before shoving his pants down to his thighs. His stomach clenched with arousal as he exposed himself to the room. Sure, it was empty now, but Draco could come back at any minute, could barge in and see Harry sprawled out across his bed, his hard dick in hand. Just the thought made his cock twitch against his thigh.

Harry grabbed hold of himself, closing his eyes as he pumped his prick to full hardness. Images of Ginny flashed across his vision: the sounds she made when he went down on her, the bounce of her modest breasts when she rode him, the bright red of her hair fanned across her pillows as he took her. Sex with Ginny had always been good, and remembering their past liaisons never failed to set him off.

He stroked faster, harder as the images came to life. Harry was kissing her now, his hands buried in her hair as she writhed on top of him. Fuck, he was so close, so damn close. He reached a hand down to cup her arse and urge her on, but the skin felt different beneath his palm. Harry looked at his other hand, but instead of long, red hair, his fingers were tangled up in short, pale locks, just long enough for him to take hold of. Harry gasped, eyes widening as he saw the face hovering above his own. Cool grey eyes sparkled down at him and an all-too-familiar mouth twisted into a dirty grin. With a shocked moan, Harry came, spilling over his fist and painting his chest with streaks of white.

Panting, Harry opened his eyes letting the empty darkness of the room wash away the images still imprinted on the backs of his eyelids. White spots danced across his vision as he acclimated to the pitch black around him, and his heart continued to gallop like he'd just run a marathon. He raised his shaking hands to his face, crossing his arms and covering his eyes as he tried to clear his mind completely.

It didn't work.

Over and over again his mind replayed that final vision, the unmistakable face of Draco Malfoy grinning down at him as Harry went off like a rocket. That was...unexpected. Unexpected and very, very wrong. He couldn't have...he shouldn't have...Harry didn't want Draco. He couldn't.

Surely it didn't have to mean anything. It didn't have to be a big deal. Men fantasised about people all the time, it didn't mean they actually wanted them, and it certainly didn't mean they were unfaithful, or that they loved their fiancées any less. It was just a freak accident that Draco had popped into his head anyway. Harry was in their room, after all, surrounded by the faint lavender undertones of Draco's favourite shampoo. And he'd just been thinking about Draco, and the fact that he was with Antonio, likely having sex right that moment. It wasn't such a stretch that when Harry started thinking about sex with Ginny, that some of his earlier thoughts would intrude on the fantasy. He'd been so close at that point, so far gone, that he couldn't have stopped even if the idea of being with Draco didn't turn him on. Which it didn't. Of course it didn't.

Of course it didn't.

***

Draco hadn't expected Harry to still be awake when he got back. It was gone four in the morning, and though he figured the others had stayed out after he and Antonio left, he'd been with Antonio for several hours now, and generally Harry crashed right away after coming back from such a late night of drinking. The room was dark and silent, but Draco could tell by Harry's breathing and the faint thrum of his heartbeat that he wasn't asleep.

"You have a good night?" Harry asked suddenly, breaking the quiet. His voice sounded a little strange, though maybe it was just the lateness of the hour.

Draco nodded as he changed out of his clothes, before realising that Harry probably couldn't see him. "Yes, I did. I haven't really talked to Antonio since we broke up. It was...nice to have a chance to clear the air a bit."

"What was the deal with your break-up anyway? Nobody seemed to know the story, just that it seemed really sudden, and Antonio was really torn up about it."

"It's...complicated."

"I'm training to be an Auror…I think I can keep up."

Draco snorted. "Yes, well. I know it seemed sudden to them, but it had been building for awhile. I told you before that I'd been feeling like maybe I wasn't as in love with Antonio as he was with me. But I wasn't sure if it was genuine or if...part of the issue was compatibility, the way we viewed things, and the way we approached the world, maybe because he's American, but mostly, I think, because he's a Muggle. Part of me was really worried that the Muggle thing was just my brain trying to make excuses for old prejudices that I hadn't managed to squash out."

"Was it?"

Draco sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "No, I don't think so. But who knows. Some...stuff happened, and it made it clear to me that I needed to be with somebody who truly understood our world, and that as much as I cared for Antonio, he wasn't right for me." Draco wasn't ready to go into the particulars, not with Harry. He was unbearably ashamed of how his instincts got the better of him, and how could he explain that he'd almost hurt Antonio? Draco would need to tell Harry why his control was so frayed that night, and that would lead to uncomfortable questions about how and when that Draco just wasn't ready to face. He shuddered.

"Did you have sex?"

The question wrenched Draco from the downward spiral his thoughts had threatened to pull him into, sending his brain reeling. "What?"

"Tonight, you and Antonio. It doesn't sound like you want him back, but you were gone an awful long time."

Draco's brow furrowed as he looked over at Harry, just barely visible in the glow of faux-moonlight from their enchanted window. He was lying motionless on his bed, staring fixedly at the ceiling, his mouth a hard line.

"Uh…" Draco stalled. He felt almost reluctant to admit that they had, though that was patently ridiculous. He had nothing to be ashamed of, and it wasn't as if anybody else had a claim on him. Draco was more than free to sleep with whomever he wanted. "Yes," Draco said slowly. "We slept together."

"Huh," Harry said flatly. He was acting utterly bizarre, and Draco felt almost guilty.

"We're not getting back together. It was just...one last hurrah. Closure. I haven't exactly had many opportunities to pull since we broke up. But we're definitely over. He's heading back to the States tomorrow after he talks with his brother. Or, well, later today I suppose."

"Yeah, that makes sense."

Again with that strange tone. If Draco didn't know better, he'd almost think that Harry was upset, maybe even jealous. But Draco did know better, and that certainly wasn't it. Maybe it was just strange for Harry, knowing that Draco had just had sex with a man. It was one thing for people to know in abstract terms that a person was attracted to the same gender, but it wouldn't be the first time a friend (and how strange that Draco really did consider Harry a friend) had reacted oddly at having Draco's sexuality confirmed in more concrete terms. Harry didn't seem homophobic, but that didn't mean he was one hundred percent comfortable with the idea of two men fucking.

Draco glanced over at Harry again, curled up on his side, his expression slack as he approached sleep. Draco shook his head. No, that didn't feel quite right. Maybe it was more the fact that it was Draco who was having the sex. They'd been childhood enemies, and it was probably just weird for Harry to think of Draco doing normal things like having sex with ex-boyfriends. Salazar knew there'd been plenty of weirdness these past few months of living together, brushing his teeth side by side with The Boy Who Lived.

Or maybe it was just that it was late, and Harry was tired. Not everything had to have some big hidden meaning behind it. Sometimes people were just strange for no reason, and Draco would quickly drive himself mad if he spent his time dissecting the intonation of every word Harry directed his way.

Draco closed his eyes and tried not to replay their conversation in his head.

Easier said than done.

Chapter Text

Harry took a deep breath and leaned back against his seat. The scent of beer and sweat and oil from the fryer, normally so overwhelming in a pub, faded to accent notes beneath the now achingly familiar scent of bergamot and lavender. Draco's thigh was a warm weight along Harry's own, and combined with the surprisingly intoxicating scent of him, and the steady thrum of alcohol running through Harry's veins, it made Harry feel giddy and invincible.

He took another gulp of his ale, smiling as he looked around the booth at the rest of his companions. Across from him, Ron and Dean were telling Zach, Madison, and Josh some story from their school days to the sounds of uproarious laughter. Hermione was huddled in the corner of the booth with Sarah, a flush to her cheeks and an intense look of concentration on her face as she stared at the flickering light cupped in Sarah's hands. Sarah had been meeting with Hermione for months now, trying to teach her wandless magic, but Hermione hadn't been all that successful to far, much to her very evident frustration.

When the group had decided on another pub night for their weekly bout of bonding, Sarah had suggested Hermione practice again after a couple of drinks. They were in a Muggle pub, and really shouldn't be doing magic of any kind, but they'd put up half a dozen spells to ensure nobody would see anything they shouldn't, and Sarah thought changing up their location and routine would help. Hermione had been skeptical, not that Harry could blame her—it was well known that alcohol often had a dampening effect on magic. Sarah had explained, however, that she thought part of Hermione's problem was a mental one—that she was overthinking things—and that perhaps a little bit of alcohol might help loosen Hermione up and allow her to more easily tap into her natural reserve of magic. Harry watched as Hermione cupped her own hands, looking nervous and exhilarated, before she closed her eyes and willed light to bloom in her hand.

Light flashed, just for a moment, but it was there. Harry grinned as Sarah cheered and pulled Hermione into a hug. It was nice, seeing his friends so happy, watching them bond with the other trainees and broaden their horizons.

"Thinking about learning some wandless magic yourself?" Draco asked, his voice liquor-lazy and silky smooth.

Harry turned towards Draco, his smile too-wide as his gaze slid over Draco's hair, just the faintest bit more mussed than usual. Draco's pale cheeks were flushed pink, and his teeth flashed white in the dim light of the pub as he smiled back at Harry. Harry's stomach flipped, and he tore his gaze away and took another drink, focusing on the bite of the carbonation against his tongue.

"Nah," he answered once he swallowed. "I like my wand." Draco's smile turned wicked, and Harry's cheeks burned. "Oh, get your mind out of the gutter."

Draco laughed. "I didn't say anything."

"You didn't have to. Your face said enough."

"I do have a very expressive face."

Harry snorted. That was true enough. Draco was better at hiding his emotions now than he'd been back at Hogwarts, but Draco was a lot more passionate and emotional than Harry had ever really realised. He supposed it made sense; emotionless ice princes didn't spend what had to be hours charming hundreds of Potter Stinks badges just to get one over on a nemesis, or crafting elaborate song lyrics to taunt their rivals with at Quidditch matches. The thought made Harry smile.

"What is it?" Draco asked, his own lips twitching into a smile as if he was responding instinctively to Harry. Harry didn't know why the idea of it sent his stomach bubbling merrily.

"Oh, nothing. Just thinking about your creative genius."

Draco's grin broadened. "Oh, I do love hearing about my genius. Tell me more."

"How long did it take you to make all those Potter Stinks badges in fourth year?"

Draco's eyes lit up. "Those were quite brilliant, weren't they? And I had to do practically all of them myself. I tried to get Crabbe and Goyle to pitch in, but they kept mucking up the charm. I don't think I slept for a week trying to get them all done."

Harry snorted. "Worth it?"

Draco's expression turned a little more pensive, his eyes going glassy as he lost himself in memory. "I thought so at the time. Things had begun to...heat up a bit at home." He looked down, face suddenly paler as he whispered, "After the World Cup. I—it was nice, in a weird sort of way, losing myself in such a stupid, childish rivalry."

Harry let the anger over that terrifying night after the World Cup wash over him for a moment, before letting it drain away just as quickly. He knew Draco hadn't been part of that awful group that night, and he was enjoying himself too much to get lost in the pain and anger of the past. Apparently Draco felt the same way, his lips twisting in a self-deprecating smile.

"Salazar, that took a dark turn, didn't it? Please save me before I bring up more horrifying events from our past. It's all death and doom and gloom with me, isn't it? Life of the party, me."

"We could talk about the time you broke my nose?" Harry suggested, not fully realising what he'd planned to say until he'd finished speaking.

Draco turned horrified eyes onto Harry. "Salazar, I did break your nose, didn't I? I completely forgot about that."

"Lucky you," Harry muttered, rubbing his fingers across the bridge of his nose, just to reassure himself that it was still there. Tonks had healed it all up just fine, but he could still remember the sickening crunch and blinding pain that had washed over him when Draco had stomped on his face. Draco continued to look at him in appalled shame, and somehow Harry could sense that he was moments away from a downward spiral that would ruin the rest of the night. "No, no, it's fine, Draco, really. I forgave you for all of that, remember? We can talk more about how brilliant you are."

Draco bit his lip, clearly still feeling guilty. "I just—"

"No. No depressing talk about our pasts tonight."

Draco's lips twitched, clearly against his will. "What about depressing talk about our futures?"

Harry shuddered, a discordant chime tingling in his head that was not unlike wedding bells. "None of that either."

"Hmm, that does rather limit our conversational topics, then. Doom and gloom, remember?"

Harry snorted and opened his mouth to retort before somebody tugged at his arm.

"Hey, Harry, Malfoy, come on, we're heading out."

"Huh?"

Dean rolled his eyes and smiled. "We're heading out to some hot new club in Soho, remember? Seamus and Neville are meeting us there."

"Oh? Is everybody going?" Harry asked as he followed the group out of the pub and into the cold night air.

"Yeah, it should be fun," Padma replied as she wound her scarf around her neck.

Harry drooped a little in disappointment. He'd been enjoying himself quite nicely at the pub, where it was warm and cosy and not so loud as to prevent a decent conversation. He'd never been much of a fan of clubs, with the loud music and flashing lights and crowds of people always pushing too close. It made his heart race and his palms sweat as memories of flashing spells, falling bodies, and deafening, crumbling stone threatened to overwhelm him. It wasn't always like that, and sometimes he even managed to enjoy himself, but Harry didn't feel like risking it tonight, especially after talking with Draco about some of the more unpleasant memories from their past. He didn't want to be the only one to bail on his mates, either.

"Actually," Draco said. "I don't think I'm going to go."

"What? No!" Josh objected.

"Come on, Draco!"

"I'm already drunk enough, and it's been a long week. Plus, I'm starving. I'd rather get some food and then head back early and get some sleep."

Harry's stomach grumbled loudly and Draco flashed him an amused glance. "Uh, food, yeah. Food sounds perfect actually. Want some company?"

"Company would be great."

"You sure you don't want to come with?" Hermione asked, twisting in Ron's arms to look back at Harry and Draco. Her eyes were bright and her smile wide, clearly in that perfect spot of drunken enjoyment. Harry smiled back at her.

"Yeah, I'm sure. I'm not really feeling up to clubbing tonight." Hermione's expression filled with understanding and she bit her lip, clearly feeling torn between going and staying with her friend. "I'll be fine with Draco. Go have fun."

"But—"

"C'mon, Hermione," Ron said, giving her shoulders a squeeze. "Harry'll be fine with Malfoy. I wanna dance with you." He leaned in to whisper something in Hermione's ear, and Hermione giggled and blushed, before turning to wave at Harry.

"We'll see you tomorrow."

"Have fun!" Harry called out as his friends slipped into a side alley and Disapparated away.

"So…" Draco said after a beat of silence. "Chips?"

Harry turned towards him and grinned. "Definitely. I know a place nearby that's open late."

"Lead the way."

The brisk walk through the chilly night air went a long way towards sobering Harry up, as did the hot plate of crispy, cheesy chips that he and Draco shared soon after. There was nothing like warm greasy food after a night of drinking, especially when shared with a friend, which Draco Malfoy had undeniably become. They spent nearly an hour talking and laughing and eating, heat expanding in Harry's chest like the best kind of Warming Charm. He found himself inordinately happy that he hadn't gone with the others to the club, much preferring the quiet intimacy of this moment with Draco.

"Shall we head back, then?" Draco asked when they'd finished cleaning their plate.

Harry smiled at him. "Yeah. You want to Apparate or walk?"

Draco looked outside pensively. "How far is it?"

"Maybe twenty minutes?"

"Let's walk. Burn off some more of this alcohol."

"Brilliant."

The night was cold and cloudy, but Draco's body radiated warmth every time their arms brushed together. Harry could still feel the steady thrum of liquor sloshing around in his stomach, just enough to make him feel happy and relaxed and utterly content. He looked over at Draco, his pale hair gleaming in the London lamplight, sharp cheekbones and aquiline nose lovely in light and shadow. Draco glanced back at Harry and smiled, the look in his eyes and the expression on his face sparking something inside Harry's stomach. His lips were a dark pink against the pale of his skin, and for the briefest of moments, Harry found himself wondering what they would taste like, if Draco's lips would be soft and smooth beneath his own. That wasn't too weird a thought, was it?

Harry had had the best time that night, one of the best times he'd had in ages, actually. It was one of those perfect, amazing nights you just wanted to live in forever. Harry found himself slowing down a bit, savouring the walk back home in quiet companionship with Draco by his side.

And then it began to rain.

One minute he and Draco were grinning at each other, and the next the skies were opening up above them, dumping buckets of water and soaking them in seconds. Draco shrieked in surprise, and Harry laughed as he whipped his head around looking for the closest cover.

"Over there!" Harry yelled over the cacophonous sound of the rain hitting cars and pavement, waving towards a small awning over the entrance to a closed café. He took off towards cover, half dragging Draco along with him as they picked their way over cobblestones and cracked sidewalks.

"Oof," Harry breathed, as Draco's body slammed into his own, propelled by the force of Harry's tugging. The awning was barely big enough for two people, and their bodies were pressed close together. The stone at Harry's back and the sheets of rain at Draco's gave the impression of somewhere close, intimate.

"You all right?" Draco asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Harry nodded, his throat dry. Each one of Draco's breaths was a hot puff against Harry's lips, fogging up his glasses. Draco must have noticed, because a moment later, his lenses were dry and clear, the spell small and localised enough that even if there were any Muggles around, they wouldn't have noticed it. Harry shivered.

"Cold?"

Harry took stock of his body, of his dripping wet clothes and his feverish skin, burning hot wherever Draco's body pressed against his own. His heart was galloping faster than a stampeding herd of Thestrals. Something wild and out of control wound its way through Harry's body as he stared into the liquid silver of Draco's eyes. He was so close, Harry could see the fine feathering of his eyebrows, noted a pale trio of freckles on Draco's left temple that he'd never noticed before.

"No," he finally whispered, his stomach leaping when Draco's eyes darted down to Harry's lips. Harry returned the favour, caressing Draco's mouth with his gaze for the briefest of moments. When he met Draco's eyes again, they were wide and dark, and Harry was half certain he could hear the frantic thud of their racing heartbeats, even over the beating rain.

"Harry…"

Harry tilted his head and Draco pressed forward and Harry wasn't entirely sure who made the first move, who turned the heated moment into a kiss, but at that very second, Harry found he couldn't care less. Draco's lips brushed against his once, twice, soft as a feather and then harder, more insistent. Harry's entire body went up in flames and he gasped as sparks of pleasure shot out from his lips, prickling over his skin. Somebody moaned, Harry didn't know who, but he did know that there was a hand carding through his damp hair and another pressed against the small of his back, large and sure and comforting, somehow. His belly flipped, his pulse raced, and everything that wasn't Draco's hands and lips and skin faded away, melted like chocolate on Harry's tongue as he kissed Draco back with everything he had. He closed his eyes, and let himself get carried away on the current of this moment, the outside world disappearing entirely as they kissed.

Around them, the rain continued to pour.

Chapter Text

Harry woke slowly, reluctantly, when the agonising force of his brutal headache finally grew too great to ignore. He blinked blearily into the dark grey of the room, alternating between burying his head in his pillow and gently easing open his eyes in an attempt to acclimate to the pale light and save his aching head the piercing pain that he knew was inevitable. He was grateful that the tiny charmed window in their underground room had opted to display a dark and drizzly day instead of bright, sunshiny one, but even the misty slate of an overcast day in London was too much for his hungover eyes.

He lay there in bed for far too long, unwilling to leave the warm cocoon of blankets as he tried to remember if he had anymore Hangover Potion. Harry knew he was running low, but he thought he might have at least one more bottle left. If not, maybe Draco would lend him one of his. Draco always had loads of potions handy.

Harry found himself smiling at the thought of Draco, a happy bubble in his gut as Harry remembered their conversations from the night before. They'd shared chips and talked for hours, before they'd walked home and—

Harry's brain short-circuited and the gentle warmth in his veins crystallised into shards of ice as the rest of the night's memories came crashing down on him. The rain. The feeling of Draco's body plastered against his own. The kiss. Oh god, the kiss.

Harry had kissed Draco. Or maybe Draco had kissed him. Fuck, it didn't really matter much one way or another, because they'd both kissed each other and it had been hot and amazing and Harry wasn't sure how he'd managed to forget it, not even for a few minutes, because he was pretty sure the memory was going to be seared into his brain for the rest of eternity. What happened afterwards was a bit of a blur, but his stomach seemed to remember the brutal twist of Apparition—Draco must have Side-Alonged him—and he'd barely managed to strip down to his pants before crawling into bed and passing out, thankfully alone.

He scowled. As if Harry deserved some kind of medal for not taking Draco to bed. He had a fiancée for fuck's sake. An amazing, wonderful, fantastic fiancée that was going to murder him when she found out what he'd done. The shards of ice in his veins began to splinter, thousands of pin pricks radiating out over his skin.

Ginny.

Merlin fuck, he was the worst boyfriend ever. No, worst fiancé ever. Bad enough that he'd been so shit at helping her with the wedding, now he was off snogging ex-Death Eaters, and male ones at that. Or, well, he'd only snogged just the one, but Harry thought that was bad enough all on its own. He'd cheated on her. He hadn't meant to, hadn't planned it, and it hadn't gone any farther than a kiss, but that didn't change the fact that he'd kissed somebody who wasn't her. Bile bubbled in his stomach, threatening to bring up the chips from the night before.

Harry lay in bed, quietly panicking, trying not to think about the kiss and unable to do anything but.

Should he tell Ginny?

He was all about honesty, but he also knew how much of a temper Ginny had, and he wasn't sure she wouldn't read more into what had happened then there was. Yes, he'd kissed somebody else, kissed a man, but that didn't mean that Harry didn't love Ginny. He'd been pissed and he was having such a nice time with Draco and it was just...there had been a moment, that was all. He could admit now that maybe, possibly, he was a little bit attracted to blokes, that the admiration he'd felt for various men over the years had been more than innocent appreciation. It was only natural that he'd feel a little curious considering how long he hadn't really acknowledge that part of him, but just because he'd let himself experiment in a drunken lapse of judgement, it didn't mean he had to blow up the life he'd been working toward, did it?

And Draco was...well, Draco was kind of brilliant, actually. He was so resilient and strong, so much better than Harry could have ever possibly thought he would become. Draco owned his mistakes, the atrocities of his past, was working to correct them, to be a person that wouldn't make those kinds of choices again. He was smart and witty and sharp and vibrant and Harry was glad to be getting to know this new Draco, to become his friend. Harry didn't want to ruin that all with something as small as a kiss, no matter how brilliant it had been. He knew Draco had been hard up since coming to London, and he'd been just as sloshed as Harry had been last night. It wasn't like it meant anything more. To either of them.

A rustling noise from across the room caught Harry's attention, and he froze, suddenly remembering that there was another occupant in the room. One who was apparently waking up.

Fuck.

***

The first thought that crossed Draco's mind as he clawed his way into wakefulness was that he was way too hungover to deal with everything that had happened last night. Every single moment with Harry, from shared chips and quiet conversation to the exhilarating brush of their lips, was on constant replay in vivid technicolour, and it was wreaking havoc with his headache. With a groan, he stumbled out of bed and towards the ensuite, rummaging in his cabinet for the familiar sludge green of a Hangover Potion. Bracing himself, he downed it in one go, fighting past the nausea to the clear head beyond.

He lingered in the bathroom for several moments, taking time to brush his teeth and rid his mouth of the dead Flobberworm taste and shoring himself up for whatever was about to happen when he walked back into their room. Draco could tell by the lack of gentle snoring that Harry was awake, and if Harry was awake, then he was probably panicking. Draco sure as fuck was.

He hesitated by his cabinet for a moment, before reaching in and grabbing another Hangover Potion. Maybe the offering would be enough to keep Harry from hating Draco for what happened last night. True, Harry had been a willing enough participant at the time, but Draco should have known better, should have had better control. Harry was engaged, was clearly going through a rough patch with his fiancée, and possibly experiencing some sort of sexuality crisis. The last thing he needed was to deal with Draco and his inappropriate crush.

"You up?" Draco asked softly as he came back into the room. Harry hesitated for a moment, but evidently realised that pretending to be asleep would only prolong the inevitable.

"Yeah," he replied, his voice gravel-rough as he reached for his glasses.

"Here," Draco said, before tossing the vial softly onto Harry's stomach. "Hangover Potion for you."

"You're the best." Harry sat up, and Draco pointedly averted his gaze, doing his level best not to stare at Harry's bare chest as the sheets pooled around his waist, and very much not thinking about the flutter in his stomach at Harry's grateful words.

"Fuck, I always forget how vile these are," Harry muttered a moment later, and Draco couldn't help but look over at him then. Harry looked back, a strained, too-wide smile stretching his face. He looked deranged.

"All right, there?" Draco asked, half dreading the answer.

"Yeah, fine!" Harry said, a little too cheerfully. "Better now that I've had the potion. Don't suppose you remember much about last night?"

"Hmm?"

"It's just, the last thing I remember is us saying goodbye to the group and wandering off for some food. Did we walk back? I mean, we must've, because we're here, and as far as I can tell, I have all my body parts, so I don't think I've splinched anything."

Ahh, so that's how Harry was going to play it. Draco wasn't fooled. He could see the desperation in Harry's eyes, the nervous way he kept wringing the sheets around his waist. A part of Draco was disappointed, but he couldn't blame Harry for wanting an easy way out of this mess. They'd been drunk and happy, and Draco was well aware that Harry had been having some problems with Ginny and his upcoming nuptials. Relationships were important to Draco, and he felt a little sick that he had taken advantage. If Harry wanted to pretend that last night had never happened, then Draco could do that. It was probably better for everybody if he did.

"Actually…" Draco said slowly. "I don't really remember much else after that either. I think we got food...chips, maybe? But after that, it's all a bit fuzzy."

Harry looked ridiculously relieved, and Draco wondered if he believed Draco, or if he was just grateful that Draco was going along with Harry's obvious falsehood.

"Well, at least we got back all right, yeah? We should probably check on the others to see if they can say the same."

"Yeah," Draco said faintly, collapsing back against his bed as his thoughts ricocheted around his head. He could hear Harry puttering about, pulling on clothes and getting ready for the day. Meanwhile, Draco never felt less prepared to face the world. His mind was racing a mile a minute, trying to determine the implications of what happened last night, of Harry's denial, trying not to remember the taste of Harry's mouth or the smell of his skin.

"I'm going to see if Ron and Hermione are in and then see about breakfast. You coming?"

"You go ahead," Draco replied, as he tried to make sense of all the feelings rolling around in his gut. "I'll catch up."

Chapter Text

Harry knew he needed to focus on his essay on Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Aftermath of the Second Wizarding War Against Voldemort, but he could not bring himself to concentrate. He'd even joined Hermione at the crack of dawn at the Great Magical Library of Britain to nab prime studying seats in Hermione's favourite alcove. Apparently it stayed the perfect temperature all day, had just enough natural light, contained plenty of space for all the books one could need, and was secluded enough to provide optimal focus. Harry supposed it was all right, but he figured it probably would have looked even better if he hadn't needed to get there before the birds had started chirping. All the same, Harry thought he could use some distance from his room and the Ministry, not that he was avoiding anything. Or anyone.

He looked down at the two lines he'd managed on his essay and tried to bring his mind back around to the task at hand, but the ink seemed to shift and blur in front of his eyes. Harry tried to recall whatever argument he'd been trying to make, but all his brain could come up with was an image of Draco Malfoy's smirking face, his blond hair hanging in damp tendrils against his cheeks, his breath hot as he…

Harry groaned and shoved his work to the side so that he could pillow his face in his arms against the table in hopeless agitation. Across him, Hermione let out a shocked puff of breath, and he could practically feel her concerned gaze boring into his skull. That's how Harry knew he was in trouble, when Hermione was more concerned for Harry's well-being than agitated at her study session being interrupted. He must truly be freaking her out if she wasn't scolding him for slacking off.

There was a faint sound of rustling and the clink of porcelain, and then the soft scent of tea wafted over him. He peeked up from his arms and saw Hermione slide a gently steaming cup his way, before she wrapped her hands around a mug of her own. He busied himself with cream and sugar for a moment, before looking nervously up at her.

"Are you going to tell me what's bothering you, Harry?" Hermione asked softly, her expression kind and concerned. Harry bit his lip.

"I—I don't know."

Hurt flashed across her face, and guilt twisted Harry's stomach into knots. "You know you can tell me anything, Harry. Anything at all."

Harry nodded, though he wasn't entirely sure that was true. Would she understand what he'd done? Ginny was one of her closest friends, after all. "I know. I want to tell you. But…" He sighed and looked down into his teacup. "I did something bad. And, fuck, I do need to talk about it, but you can't tell anybody."

"Of course not."

Harry grimaced. "I mean it, Hermione. Not even Ron...not yet, at least." He loved Ron, but there was no way he would be able to keep any kind of level head about this situation. Harry couldn't blame him. Ginny was his little sister, after all. Merlin, he used to think it was like a fairy tale, all of them pairing off the way they had, becoming family in a bigger, more concrete way. Of course, Harry hadn't expected this, hadn't expected how his feelings would shift and change, how the vision he used to have of the future could turn into something that felt more like a sentence than a gift.

Hermione hesitated at Harry's request. He knew he was asking a lot of her. Ron was her partner, and he wouldn't be happy to learn he'd been left in the dark, that the both of them had kept a secret from him. But Harry was feeling desperate, so mixed up and confused, and Hermione had always been the best at sorting him out, especially when it came to complex things like feelings and emotions.

She must have been able to tell how miserable it was making him, because her expression softened and she reached over to squeeze his hands. "Okay, Harry. I won't tell anybody, not even Ron. Not until you're ready."

Harry nodded and stared harder at the smooth, tranquil surface of his tea, steeling himself for what he was about to confess. He took a deep breath and whispered, "I kissed somebody."

Even though he wasn't looking at her, Harry could sense Hermione's sudden stillness. "Somebody who isn't Ginny?" Hermione asked, her words slow and careful.

Harry nodded jerkily, and Hermione let out a shocked gasp of breath. She was silent for a long moment and, unable to take it any longer, Harry finally looked up at her. Hermione's mouth was pursed, her face drawn in shock and confusion. She clearly hadn't been expecting that particular confession. Eventually she seemed to pull herself together, her expression evening out into something more neutral and unreadable.

"When? Who?" she finally asked.

Harry shrugged, cheeks burning. "Does it really matter?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't know, you tell me?"

"I…" He tore his eyes away to examine the worn edge of the wooden table. "I don't know either," he whispered.

"Oh, Harry, how could—" She broke off and took a deep breath. It was obvious that she was upset, but Harry appreciated that she was trying not to jump to judgement and conclusions. Once she mastered her emotions, she asked the question Harry had been trying to answer ever since the kiss: "Why?"

Harry gnawed on his lip, looking down at the desk, his gaze tracing the smooth grain. "I wasn't thinking, really. We were together and there was this moment, and then…" He trailed off, heat and shame blazing through him as he remembered.

"A moment," Hermione muttered, her left eye twitching, before seeming to snap back into the role of sternly supportive best friend. "Well, I'm guessing you wouldn't be telling me about it if a moment was all it was?"

"I dunno, I guess not." Hermione leveled him with an extremely unimpressed glare, and Harry took a hurried sip of tea. "It was different. Exciting. I was a bit pissed, but not so much that I didn't know what I was doing, and...I really liked it."

"So you have feelings for her?"

Harry's cheeks flushed darker, both at the implication of feelings and Hermione's assumption that the person Harry had those feelings for was a woman. A part of him wanted to clarify, wanted to acknowledge this other part of himself to one of his closest mates, but he couldn't do it. He was anxious enough talking about this as it was without bringing his newfound sexuality into it. Harry cleared his throat. "I think...I think maybe. Yeah."

"Do you want to do it again?" Hermione asked softly. Her jaw was clenched, but her tone was patient.

Harry hesitated. "I wouldn't, I won't. I mean, it was a mistake, obviously. I'm with Ginny."

"Yes, it was, and yes, you are," Hermione said sternly. She took a deep breath, as if stealing herself to say something she really didn't want to. "But, do you want to be?"

Harry flinched as Hermione's question brought up feelings inside of him that he'd been doing his best to suppress for the past several months. Because that was what it all came down to, wasn't it? Did Harry want to be with Ginny? The truth was...he just wasn't sure anymore. If somebody had asked him that question a year ago, the answer would have been unequivocally yes, hands down, no hesitation about it. But things had changed between them since the engagement, maybe even before that. Harry had been trying to ignore it, had been pretending he didn't feel the shift, but he was smart enough to know that ignoring problems didn't actually make them go away, and he knew that this was one question he needed to answer...and soon.

"I don't know," Harry finally said, something inside him breaking a little at the admission, at finally giving voice to the uncertainty he'd been feeling for so long.

Hermione nodded slowly, her eyes wide as she clearly tried to process everything that Harry was saying. "I'm not sure what you want me to say, Harry. I mean, you and Ginny seem so perfect for each other. I didn't even know you'd been having serious doubts. You seemed stressed out about planning the wedding, but...how long have you been feeling this way?"

"I'm not sure, really. I've been feeling kind of trapped, for awhile now, but I mostly attributed that to feeling bored with training and wanting to get started on real life, you know? But this is real life, right now, and it feels...off, somehow." He broke off and ran his fingers through his hair, frustration bubbling up in his gut. "I love Ginny, I do, but we just don't seem to be connected anymore. It feels like we're just going through the motions, and I don't know what went wrong or how to fix it, but somehow we got out of sync."

Hermione's expression was sad as she watched him, her fingers clutching tightly at her teacup. "You know I love you, Harry."

Harry's insides frothed. "But?"

Hermione shook her head. "No buts. I love you, no matter what happens. And I don't think you really need me to tell you that you have a lot of thinking to do. It's not something I can do for you. I know how much you care for Ginny, and you owe it to her, and yourself, to make absolutely sure she's the one for you before you marry her."

"I know," Harry whispered.

"And given what a mess you're starting to make of things, I think it's probably something you should figure out pretty quickly. It's okay to have doubts and get cold feet, but if Ginny isn't really who you want, you need to be honest about it. You both deserve that much at least." She reached out and gave his hand a gentle squeeze, her expression kind, but stern. "The fact that you're engaged to be married and you can't even tell me for sure that you want to be with her...that says a lot. Maybe you're just having a moment and need to sort yourself out before really committing to your future together, but you're too good a man to start a life with somebody that you're not absolutely, one hundred percent dedicated to."

"I know," Harry whispered. His throat began to swell and his eyes began to sting. He took a few grounding breaths. "You won't tell her?"

Hermione's lips twisted. "No, I won't tell her. That's between the two of you; it's not my place to get involved. But she's my friend too, Harry. Don't string her along."

"I'm not! I won't. That's not—"

"No, I know that. But promise me you really will think about it. If you need to talk more, I'm always here for you, but I can't tell you what's in your heart."

Harry's mouth pulled into a wry smile. "If only it were that easy."

Hermione snorted. "Indeed."

The conversation with Hermione hadn't been easy. In fact, it had brought up a lot of uncomfortable, painful truths that Harry had been doing a good job of ignoring for far too long. But that was what Harry had needed. He'd needed a kick in the pants, needed somebody to set him straight and remind him that this wasn't just his life he was dealing with. Ginny was amazing, and she deserved somebody who was devoted to her, who couldn't imagine their future without her in it. If Harry wasn't that guy, he needed to step aside and let her go.

As necessary as talking things over with Hermione had been, it had left him feeling shaky and raw. He needed a change in topic, wanted to switch subjects for just a little while and give himself time to process.

"How are your parents doing?" he finally asked, realising that it had been awhile since Hermione had updated him on her progress with their memories.

Hermione grimaced. "Moving from one fraught topic to another, I see."

"Shit, I'm sorry. We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"No, no, it's fine, it's just hard. Most of their memories have come back now, I think. It's hard to tell for sure. They're still...they're angry, of course they are. I took away their choice, their agency." She looked at him, her expression full of pain and guilt. "I know it was to protect them, and I'm not sure I could have made a different choice, but it was...it was horrible of me, wasn't it?"

Hermione's eyes shone with unshed tears, her lower lip wobbling, and Harry shook his head vehemently before circling the table to pull her into his arms. "Of course not. Voldemort was killing people, and I'm sure your parents would have been on his list. He knew you were a Muggle-born, that you were important to me. He wouldn't have hesitated to come after them. They weren't safe, and they didn't have any magic to protect them."

"But maybe I could have got them into magical custody, like they did for the Dursleys?"

"You know that wouldn't have happened. For one thing, it would have been idiotic to trust the Ministry, given what happened, and they wouldn't have helped anyway. And the Order didn't have enough manpower to watch over everybody's loved ones. You never would have forgiven yourself if anything had happened to them. I know it's awful, but it could be worse. A lot of people didn't make it. You saved their lives."

Hermione sniffled against his neck. "Yes, I know. You're right." She coughed and straightened. "The worst part are the fake memories and personalities I gave them. We think all their old memories have been restored, but I haven't been able to get rid of all the fake ones. It's disorienting, having memories that aren't your own. I think it's harder for them than they even let on." She shook herself and her expression hardened into determination. "But I'm going to find a way to fix it. Ron's been helping me research, and it is getting better. I'll find a way to cure them."

Harry smiled at her. "I know you will. Brightest witch of your age, after all."

Some of the weariness seemed to melt away from her. "Yes," she said decisively as she opened up one of the books on the table. "Yes, I am." She smiled at him softly. "Thanks, Harry."

"Anytime."

***

"Yo! Earth to Draco!"

A small projectile hit Draco in the side of his face, pulling him from his thoughts. Thoughts that definitely had nothing to do with Harry Potter and the fact that they'd kissed and the undeniable realisation that Harry had been avoiding him ever since. Definitely not any of that.

"Oi, what is it?" he growled at Josh. They were in Josh and Weasley's room, though thankfully they were alone at the moment, listening to the Quodpot match between the Fitchberg Finches and the Sweetwater All-Stars. There was only one channel in England that covered the American matches, and the announcers were bloody awful and incompetent, but Josh insisted on listening to every single match he could. Draco maintained that Quidditch was a far superior sport, but he had to admit that Quodpot had started to grow on him.

"Don't what is it me," Josh replied indignantly. "I've been providing you with quality commentary on the game and you've been off in space somewhere the whole time. I called your name three times before I had to resort to more childish measures."

Draco grimaced. "Sorry. I guess I'm just distracted."

Josh's grin turned sly. "Oh? Pining away, are we?" Draco froze. He couldn't possibly...there was no way Josh knew about his feelings, right? Surely he hadn't been so embarrassingly obvious? "I was wondering if that might happen after Tone went back home. You guys definitely hooked up, right? Are you getting back together, or..."

Draco sighed in relief. Not obvious then. "Yeah, we had sex, but we're definitely not getting back together and I'm most certainly not pining."

"Are you sure?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Positive. I am actually capable of understanding my own emotions you know."

Josh flashed him an unimpressed look. "It's not always that easy, and you know it. And if you're not pining over Tone, then it's got to be something else that's got you all twisted into knots. Care to share?"

"Not particularly," Draco said primly, pointedly turning the page of Witch Weekly to underscore his point.

Josh snorted. "Okay, okay, no emotional heart-to-hearts on the docket for today. Just—" His voice turned serious, and Draco looked up at from his magazine. "I want you to know that we can have emotional heart-to-hearts if you wanted. I mean, Mads is way better at that kind of thing, obviously, but like, if you needed to talk about anything, you know I'm here, right?"

Embarrassingly, Draco's eyes began to sting, and he looked away, scoffing to cover up the swell of emotion. "Yes, well, don't strain anything. I'd hate for you to injure yourself."

Josh laughed. "I love you, too, Draco. Now shut up, I'm trying to listen to the game."

Draco pretended to listen to the match as he continued absently flipping through his magazine, his eyes on Josh as he lay back on the floor, tossing a non-explosive Quod up into the air as he listened. It still blew Draco's mind, how wonderful and kind and sincere these friends of his were, how different they were from the "friendships" he'd had as a child. A part of Draco wondered how much of that was because Draco was different. In America, Draco had allowed himself to show who he truly was, instead of hiding behind a mask of disdain and derision. Could he really blame his fellow Slytherins for offering alliances instead of friendship?

It wasn't as if they weren't loyal to each other, in their way. Draco thought of Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, his stomach churning as he remembered their interactions, how he'd treated them more like his subjects than his friends. And yet, they were his closest companions throughout school, eagerly following whatever ridiculous scheme Draco had come up with, parroting Draco's dogmatic drivel, always there when Draco needed to not feel so alone. He wasn't deluded enough to think they were real friends, but Greg and Vincent were the closest to it that Draco had had back then, and sometimes he wondered what might have happened if they been the sort that could confide in one another. Maybe then, Draco could have voiced some of his fears, his doubts. Maybe he could have made them see the madness of the Dark Lord's plans.

Maybe Vincent would still be alive.

That one still hurt, an aching scab that hadn't quite managed to fade into a scar. Draco couldn't help but feel responsible for his death, for the foolish choices he'd made that had set them on that dark path. He'd been out of his mind with fear that night. He'd known his parents were with the Dark Lord, and he'd been terrified that he might take his anger out on them. By then, he'd learned first-hand the things the Dark Lord could take from his followers when he was angry.

Draco had panicked, had lashed out in an attempt to do anything he could to save them, to save himself. He still wasn't quite sure what he'd thought he was doing in the Room of Requirement. Draco hadn't wanted the Dark Lord to win, not really, and if the Diadem was what he now suspected it had been, handing it over likely would have sealed their fate. He was grateful he hadn't been successful, but the cost…

Draco still had nightmares about that night, about that room. The unstoppable flames, the heat licking across his skin, the knowledge that this was it, that he was going to die. And then Potter, swooping down like the Saviour he was, rescuing Draco from the fiery pits of hell while Vincent burned in the enchanted fire he shouldn't have known how to create in the first place. He'd been a fool, but he'd been Draco's fool. His responsibility.

Vincent was the reason that Draco had chosen to reach out to Pansy, instead of Greg, once news of his return had been leaked to the press. He'd been far closer to Greg, of course, but that would just make it all the harder to bear his outrage and anger. Draco hadn't spoken to him since that dreadful night, but he was certain Greg must blame him for what happened, must hate him for surviving when Vincent hadn't. For all of Pansy's poisonous barbs, Draco trusted her to at least maintain the coolly polite pure-blood facade if ever they should meet. He wasn't entirely sure Greg wouldn't deck him.

He wasn't entirely sure he didn't deserve it.

Draco blinked, realising that he was crushing the edges of his magazine in tight fists. Carefully, he relaxed his hands, glancing over at Josh and sighing in relief when he saw that he was still occupied. The last thing he needed was Josh mother-henning him and getting properly worried, but it was hard to think about his childhood relationships without some kind of reaction. Draco's mind drifted to the letter sitting on his desk in his room from Pansy.

Draco had written to her over a month ago now, once the news of his return had broken and he'd known he couldn't avoid it any longer. He wasn't sure what he'd expected in response, but not a week later a majestic looking owl had delivered an elegant cream envelope made of fine, heavy paper. Inside was a polite request for Draco to join Pansy for tea when he had some time off, and thus far, Draco had put off responding. He pretended that it was because he was simply too busy, but he apparently had time to flip through Witch Weekly as he tried desperately not to think about Harry, so it wasn't as if that was the best of excuses.

The truth was, Draco wasn't sure he was ready. It was hard enough being back in England and surrounded by his old rivals, but it would be another thing entirely to spend time with the people who used to pass for his friends. He knew the kinds of expectations they would have of him, the kind of niceties he'd be expected to observe and the games he would need to play. Draco honestly wasn't sure if he had it in him. It was exhausting, all of it, but Draco wasn't sure he wanted to expose his real and vulnerable self to them, either. Though Draco couldn't deny that part of him was curious. It had been years since he'd seen Pansy or any of the others, and he wondered if the years had changed them as they'd changed Draco.

Josh let out a cheer, and Draco tried to focus back on the match. He was spending time with his friend, and he needed to prioritise living in the moment and enjoying the life he'd made for himself. Draco knew from experience that it was all too easy to get sucked back into the dark memories of his past, but letting himself wallow there wouldn't do anybody any good.

Josh looked over at him and grinned when he saw Draco watching. "All good, man?"

Draco exhaled and smiled. "Yeah. All good."

Chapter Text

Harry was eating dinner at a pub, surrounded by a group of his friends, when he realised what he needed to do.

It was their monthly (mostly) Gryffindor get-together, but Harry hadn't originally planned on attending. It was supposed to be one of his and Ginny's rare nights off together, and he had planned on taking her out to dinner and maybe a Muggle movie, before she inevitably would attempt to convince him to sneak back to the Burrow. He'd been disappointed about missing pub night, especially since he'd had to miss the last couple, but he hadn't wanted to start a row by suggesting they ditch their intimate date night for a crowded pub. So when Ginny had Flooed a couple of hours earlier looking lovely and contrite, begging off their date so that she could go to some girls-only event with a few of her teammates, Harry had been nothing but relieved. He'd waved off her apologies with a genial smile, and went to the pub with his mates, feeling inexplicably light.

Despite his relative cheer, he'd been mostly silent all night, watching happily as his friends joked and laughed. Harry watched as Ron tucked one of Hermione's stray curls behind her ear as she blushed. He saw Lavender sigh dreamily as her latest boyfriend—some ridiculously pretentious artist type—waxed poetic about the light reflecting off the empty glasses on the table. He listened as Seamus flirted shamelessly with the busty bartender, who was clearly not unreceptive to his advances. Love and lust were in the air and all his friends fairly glowed with it.

Harry felt rather dull in comparison.

As Hermione and Harry's own conscience had demanded, Harry had been thinking about what to do about his relationship with Ginny and the future almost non-stop lately with little success. He'd been tied up in knots over it, completely unsure what the right choice was. It was a huge deal, and he didn't want to rush it, didn't want to make the wrong decision. Though maybe, deep down, he'd known all along what his decision needed to be, and he had simply been putting off making it. Because faced with all these couples in various states of their relationships, Harry couldn't deny his own feelings any longer.

He wasn't in love with Ginny.

Given everything that had been happening over the past few months, the thought probably shouldn't have hit him as hard as it did, like a Bludger to the chest, fairly knocking the wind out of him as he sat there on the pub bench. He blinked, his eyes stinging and his chest tight as he faced the undeniable truth, the truth that had building for such a long time now, the truth that he could no longer ignore. Harry loved Ginny, of that there was no doubt. She was amazing and funny and fierce and one of his best mates, but somewhere along the way, he stopped being in love with her, and that could only mean one thing.

They couldn't get married.

How could he marry Ginny, knowing he wasn't in love with her? She deserved so much better than that, so much better than him. Fuck, he felt terrible and guilty as hell—he'd been the one to ask her to marry him after all, but that didn't change the truth. Something had changed between them without Harry even noticing, and what they had now wasn't something that could sustain them, not for the rest of their lives, not for forever.

He wondered how it had been long since this change had first started, how long had he kept himself blind to the truth, how long had this secret been poisoning them both? Harry used to love spending time with Ginny. They had loads in common, and could spend hours talking and laughing and joking around. When was the last time they had that? Somewhere along the way, Harry had let himself forget how much he genuinely enjoyed Ginny's company, had let the wedding and their failing relationship sour their time together. Would they ever get that back? Or would Harry's confession destroy everything good that was still left between them?

Fuck, how was he going to tell her? How was he going to break her heart? Knowing Ginny, she'd be more likely to hex his nose off than to burst into tears, but that was only because she was too proud to let people see her hurting, to see anything that could be perceived as weakness. Harry was the one she used to be able to turn to when she was vulnerable, but he knew she couldn't turn to him now, not for this. He'd have to let Hermione know, as soon as it was done, make sure the she was there for Ginny, no matter what.

Oh god, and Ron? What would Ron think? Ron had been conflicted when Harry and Ginny had first started dating, but he'd quickly warmed up to the idea, and when Harry had asked Ginny to marry him, Ron had been over the moon. Harry might be Ron's best mate, but Ginny was his little sister. Sure, Ginny could more than take care of herself, but things like that didn't matter to big brothers. All Ron would care about is that Harry had hurt her, and Harry just had to hope their relationship would survive the fallout. With Ron, and the rest of the Weasleys, too.

Ron leaned in and pressed a kiss to Hermione's mouth. Hermione grinned into it, clearly so fucking happy to be kissing the man she loved in a pub surrounded by friends. Harry wanted that again. He'd had it with Ginny, for a time, and the memory of that feeling of happiness and love and belonging was one that he missed so much that it ached.

Against his will, his thoughts drifted to Draco. Harry wondered if he was back at the dorms, maybe laying on his bed in their room, his long legs crossed at the ankle as he flipped through one of those Muggle thrillers he loved so much. His heart gave a little lurch as he imagined the way Draco might be biting his lip as he read and the annoyed huffs of breath he'd let out whenever one of the characters did something ridiculous. Things had been going so well between them. They'd been getting along, and Harry had been surprised to realise just how much he enjoyed Draco's company. But for the past few weeks their interactions had been stilted and strange, and it didn't take a genius to figure out when the weirdness began. It all came back to the night that neither of them claimed to remember.

Only, Harry very much remembered. He remembered the warm hum of alcohol buzzing through his body. He remembered the hot salt of chips on his tongue and smiling so much his cheeks began to ache. He remembered running through the rain, Draco's soaked body pressed against him, the cool, confident slide of Draco's lips as they devoured Harry whole…

So, no, Harry most definitely hadn't forgotten their kiss in the rain, and he was almost entirely positive that Draco hadn't either.

He supposed it was decent of Draco, to go along with Harry's flimsy excuse of amnesia. They'd both been drinking, sure, but they'd hardly reached blackout levels of drunkenness. It would have been easy for Draco to call Harry's bluff, but instead he'd followed Harry's lead, letting them both pretend that nothing had changed between them.

The problem was, things had changed, and it was evident in their overly polite interactions and the fact that somehow they'd managed to avoid being alone together ever since. A seriously impressive feat, considering they shared a bedroom.

Harry sighed and drained his beer. How fucked up was it that he felt crazy after a couple of weeks of weirdness with Draco, but he'd managed to go months without really thinking about his changing relationship with Ginny? Thinking about it like that, Harry was even more sure that he was making the right choice in ending things between them. It was going to awkward and horrible and painful as hell, but Harry was no stranger to tackling unwanted tasks, and in the long term, this would be best for them both.

"All right, Harry?" Hermione asked softly. Her eyes were gently assessing as she looked him over. There was a question there, one that he finally knew how to answer, though she shouldn't be the first to hear it.

Harry smiled, pained, but still genuine. "Not really," he said honestly. "But I think I will be."

***

Draco paused outside the doorway to what he vaguely remembered from his childhood as a grandly decorated sitting room, perfect for entertaining. He took a deep breath, pushing all the nervousness and apprehension he felt deep down inside where it wouldn't betray him. Rolling his shoulders, he cloaked himself in a cooly polite blankness. It was alarmingly easy to put on that old mask, reminding Draco that his childhood lessons would never truly be forgotten. It came in handy at times like this, but mostly the knowledge just depressed him. Would he never truly be free?

Realising he'd spent too long stalling, he pushed open the doors to the sitting room. It was just as grand as he remembered, practically unchanged, really. If he looked closely, he could see the signs of age in the fading of the tapestries and the wear of the furniture. The signs of a wealthy family fallen on hard times, but reluctant to part with appearances. On the far sofa next to the window, sat the woman he was meeting, looking as still and immaculate as a statue. There was a pot of tea and a tray of sandwiches on the table in front of her, and she gave Draco a cool smile.

"Hello, Draco. So good of you to finally pay me a visit."

Draco suppressed a sigh. "Hello, Pansy. It's lovely to see you again. It's been too long." She offered him her hand as he drew near, and he brought it up to his lips for a kiss. Her skin was shockingly warm to the touch. He'd expected her to be as chilly as her demeanor.

"It has been too long, hasn't it," Pansy replied placidly. "Though I suppose you've been too busy to stay in touch. Tea?"

"Please," he confirmed, choosing to ignore her barb. There wasn't much he could say, really. She levitated the teapot with a flick of her wand, pouring in just the right amount of tea. Yet another sign that the Parkinson family had fallen on hard times—tea pouring would normally fall to the house-elves. You didn't become so skilled at such a menial charm without lots of practice, which meant they must have long since parted with such luxuries.

"Anyway," Draco continued when Pansy seemed content to let the conversation drop off into an uncomfortable silence. "We have so much to catch up on. What are you doing these days? I hear you're to be married."

Pansy brought up her cup as took a delicate sip of her tea. "Yes, to Theodore Nott. You remember him, of course. Our parents are still working out the finer details of the arrangement, but I expect it'll be finalised any day now. Theo's done quite well for himself. He's in exports, terribly common, I know. You can imagine how my parents felt about that." She gave a delicate snort, her lips twisting into a smug smile. "But he's filthy rich, so they can't afford to turn up their nose at him."

"And you?" Draco asked quietly. "How do you feel about him?"

The look she gave him was incredulous. "Whatever does that matter?"

"Surely you want to marry someone you at least care for."

A flicker of anger distorted her features before her expression smoothed back out into a polite mask. "How...romantic of you. I'm certain that when you get married, it'll be for love, no? Dear Lucius and Narcissa will be thrilled, I'm sure. But some of us aren't so keen to abandon our families and traditions. Your concern is noted, but unnecessary. Theo will make a fine husband."

Draco's jaw clenched and he took a fortifying sip of tea. This was exactly why he'd put off this little reunion until the last possible second. There was no way for him to be himself. Even his genuine concern was seen as condescension, and he couldn't blame Pansy for her prickliness. She was a product of her upbringing as much as he had been, seemingly content with the status quo. Draco knew he should probably cut his losses and move on, acknowledge that they weren't the same children who'd been something like friends all those years ago. Yet he couldn't quite bring himself to give up on her. She'd been important to him, once, and he knew that, despite her thorny attitude, there was good in her, too.

"I apologise. It sounds like a good match. I wish you every happiness." She inclined her head in haughty superiority, and Draco gave her a thin smile. "What are our other school mates up to these days?" Draco asked, hoping a change of topic might lighten the mood. "I'm afraid I'm quite out of the loop."

"Yes, you would be. Hmm, let's see. Blaise is in Italy, running a vineyard or three. He visits on occasion, though he claims the Italian weather suits him much better than the English rain. Gregory is still around, of course. He's a shop assistant at Borgin & Burkes, I believe." Draco's chest tightened at the mention of Greg, guilt and sadness lancing through him. By the narrowing of Pansy's eyes, Draco guessed some of his feeling must have shown on his face, and he quickly locked his expression down. No need to give her any more leverage.

"And the others? Daphne? Millicent?"

"Daphne married some Norwegian prince or something," Pansy said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "She was insufferable about it, of course, but at least she's Norway's problem now." Pansy had never got on much with Daphne. "Millicent's become a Crup breeder, if you can believe it." There was genuine amusement on Pansy's face, but it was more fond than spiteful. Draco didn't remember her and Millicent ever being particularly close, but there was a softness to her now, just visible beneath her marble exterior. It surprised Draco, but also gave him hope that she wasn't as far gone as she appeared. "She inherited that big place out in the country from her parents, if you remember, and she's got quite the operation going. Apparently she's been thinking about expanding into some other animals, Abraxans, maybe. She always was more comfortable around animals than people."

"Who wouldn't be, growing up in Slytherin?" Draco said, remembering too late that he wasn't supposed to be so honest, not here.

Pansy gave him a sharp, appraising look, but, surprisingly, chose not to remark. "And what about you?" she asked sweetly. "Becoming an Auror. How…noble." She said noble with the same sneer she likely used to say common.

"You know me," Draco said lightly. "Always looking to help others."

She gave another snort, this one significantly less delicate than before, and much more genuine. There was something like real amusement in her eyes before she carefully tucked it away. "If you think it'll fool them into forgetting your past, you're mistaken," she said quietly. "There's no point in pandering to them, in trying to play by their rules. When they look at you, all they'll see is that mark on your arm."

Draco suppressed a wince. She wasn't wrong, and her own way, she was trying to comfort him, to give him permission to come back into the fold and play the parts that had been asked of them since birth. "I know that, Pans," he replied, the old familiar nickname rolling off his tongue with surprising ease. "I'm not doing it for them, no matter how it looks. I'm doing it for me." He shrugged. "Besides, I'm only here for a few more months. I head back to America at the end of July. I never planned to stay for good."

Her expression twisted with sudden bitterness. "How kind of you to drop by before you left. I'm surprised you were able to fit me in at all, really."

"Pansy…"

Anger flashed in her eyes. "I thought we were friends, Draco. And then you just left, without a word. No goodbye, not even a letter."

The extent of her hurt surprised him; he hadn't thought she would care. "None of us were friends, Pansy. Not really. We didn't know the meaning of the word."

Her jaw tightened. "We could have been, if only you would have let us in!"

"Don't act like I was the only one playing the game, Pans. We all were, and each of us wanted to be the one to win. You can't build a friendship on that, on examining everybody around you for weaknesses to exploit if needed. It would have been suicide to trust anybody, don't pretend it was something different than it was."

Pansy pressed her lips together and looked away, and it struck Draco then that she really was genuinely upset by his leaving. He wasn't wrong when he said that they hadn't been friends, not compared to the friendships he had now, based on trust and affection. But for years and years, they'd been all one another had, and though it wasn't quite friendship, it was as close as their upbringing and environment would allow. Draco had needed to cut out the past to move on, but he hadn't considered how it might feel to those he left behind. Honestly, he'd assumed that they'd all be glad to see the back of him. He never thought anyone would be hurt, that maybe they'd even miss him. It made his throat grow tight to see proud Pansy turned away from him, fighting to get her emotions under control so Draco wouldn't see the depth of her hurt. Draco knew better than most that the best defense was a good offense, that snapping and snarling was as effective as any tactic to distract your opponent when you felt exposed and vulnerable.

"I missed you, you know," he said into the quiet, sure as he spoke that it wasn't entirely a lie. He hadn't thought of her much, because thinking of the past was painful, and he'd wanted so badly not to wallow in darkness. But they'd had good times, too. She'd been his first everything, really, and they'd known each other since they were in diapers. It hadn't all been bad, and pretending otherwise did them both a disservice, no matter how much the past had been tainted.

She looked at him in shock, clearly not expecting him to be so candid. "You did?" she asked, her voice small and unsure, revealing in a way she was sure to hate when she reflected on it later.

He nodded. "Yeah, Pans. I'm sorry I didn't keep in touch. It was…" He swallowed. "It was difficult, after the war. Everything we went through….the only way I could get past it was to cut myself off completely. But I don't need that anymore, and not everything here was so bad."

A smile ghosted across her lips. "We had some good times, didn't we?"

Draco nodded, returning her smile. "I'm going back to America after this exchange is up, but maybe this time we could keep in touch?"

"You know where to reach me."

Another reminder that he was the one who chose not to write, but Draco didn't mind the pointed remark. She wasn't wrong, and despite the prickliness, already Draco could sense a softening in her, a thawing in her feelings towards him. He was happy, hopeful at the thought of remaking some of the connections he'd lost when he cut himself off from his past. There was so much for them to learn about each other, and maybe, in the end, he'd realise that they really were too different, that she still held onto all the hateful beliefs instilled in them from birth, that all that tied them together was their shared past. But maybe that was reason enough, for now. Perhaps nostalgia could sustain them until they found new common ground. Only time would tell.

"Yes," Draco said, draining the last of his tea. "I do."

Chapter Text

It was more than a week before Harry finally got a chance to meet with Ginny, just the two of them. It wasn't exactly a surprise, considering how difficult it had been for them to see one another the past few months, but now that he had a mission to complete, Harry found the delay excruciating. He'd been a mess ever since he'd decided, his stomach a writhing pit of anxiety. That fact that something was up was so obvious that Ron had taken to fussing over him like a mother hen. Harry could tell Hermione was concerned as well, though she'd mostly left him alone, the knowing and faintly sad look in her eye confirming she was well aware of what had Harry in such a state. Even Draco was beginning to appear concerned about him, and a little guilty as well, as if maybe he thought that Harry's distressed behaviour was due to what had happened between them. Of course, he wasn't entirely wrong about that, and as much as Harry wanted to set him at ease, he knew he wouldn't be able to. Not yet, at least. Ginny needed to be the first person he talked to. She deserved that much.

When they finally were able to grab dinner on Friday, Harry thought he might actually pass out with the force of his vibrating nerves. He barely tasted the rich butter chicken and fluffy rice, eating with a mechanical necessity as he tried not to throw up right there on the linen. Ginny was no idiot, and it was clear she could sense that something was wrong. There was no mention of the wedding as they ate, and every word seemed cautious and carefully chosen, as if she was perfectly aware they were standing on a precipice and Harry was moments away from flinging them over the side.

"Did you—" Harry's voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "Did you maybe want to go on a walk?" Harry asked when they'd finished with their food.

Ginny looked at him strangely, but nodded. "Sure, I'm game. Where were you thinking?"

"I thought maybe we could go up to Hampstead Heath."

She smiled softly, perhaps lingering on the same memory as Harry, the two of them lying on their backs in the soft grass, fingers entwined as they pointed out increasingly absurd shapes in the fluffy white clouds above them. It had been a wonderful day, one of those glorious sun-soaked memories from that summer after the war. Harry had turned his head to look at Ginny as she laughed up at the sky, her head thrown back and the bright red of her hair burning against the vivid green of the grass beneath her. God, Harry had loved her, then, so fucking much he could hardly stand it, each one of her smiles warming him to his very soul.

Her smile now was no less beautiful, but all Harry felt was an aching emptiness. Empty and tired and weighed down with by what he was about to do.

"That sounds great, Harry," Ginny murmured, before taking his offered arm.

They walked through the park in silence as Harry worked up the nerve to speak. Apparently, Ginny had been doing the same thing, and she always had worked faster than Harry.

"You know," she said quietly. "It's been almost a year since you proposed, and we still haven't set a date."

Harry stomach dropped. This was not how he wanted to start this conversation. "Ginny…" He trailed off, unsure how to even continue that sentence.

She took a breath as if to brace herself, the sound shockingly loud in the stillness of the night. "Do you even want to marry me, Harry?"

Harry's insides froze even as he continued their slow and measured pace. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. Merlin, Ginny was so brave, every ounce the fearless Gryffindor, charging ahead when this time Harry was the one who didn't know how to proceed. He was terrified.

Ginny stopped when the silence lasted a beat too long, tugging her hand out of Harry's to pull her coat more securely around her body. "Oh," she said softly, her voice high and pained, so unlike her usual low, cheerful tones. Harry turned to face her, hurt lancing through him at the realisation stealing over her face. She looked back at him, and something in his expression must have driven home the point, because her eyes widened, and her lip began to tremble. "Oh," she said again, shocked and devastated. Harry had never realised how much heartbreak could be heard in a single syllable.

"I—I'm so sorry, Gin. I never meant for this to happen."

"What exactly is happening? I don't…" She trailed off, shaking her head. "I don't understand. Why are you doing this?"

"Ginny...come on. You can't—you can't tell me this has come out of nowhere. Things haven't been right between us for ages now. Haven't you felt it?"

She bit her lip, looking away into the darkness. "We've both been busy. I thought things would settle once you finished with training and I established myself more on the team..."

"I told myself the same thing, but do you really think it's going to get any easier? I'm pretty sure being an actual Junior Auror is going to be way more stressful and time consuming than just training for it, and you're on your way to being a proper Quidditch star. The bigger you get, the more responsibility you're going to have to take on for the team, not less." Harry ran his hands through his hair, tugging on the strands, the sharp bite of pain helping to ground himself. "The truth is, if we were really meant to be together, then we'd be doing whatever we needed to in order to make it work, to make sure we saw each other. That's what we did when I first started training and you were in the reserves. But somewhere along the way, we stopped making our relationship a priority."

Ginny bit her lip, before whipping around and staring at him fiercely. "Then we start now! We've realised what the problem is, so we fix it."

Harry hesitated. It was tempting to let Ginny's determination and confidence sway him, but deep down, he knew that wouldn't be enough to make things right between them. All it would do is delay the inevitable. He blinked, his throat scratchy and tight. "I think it's too late for that, Gin."

Her eyes flashed fire. "So what, you just give up then? Things get tough and you run away? That's not like the Harry Potter I know and love."

Harry grimaced. "Well that's the problem, isn't it? I don't think I am that boy you fell in love with, not anymore. I'm not running away, Ginny, and you know it. If I thought there was a chance that we could fix whatever it is that's broken between us, don't you think I would?" He began to reach for her, before thinking better of it, his hand dropping uselessly at his side. "I love you, and you're one of my best friends. I'd be stupid to throw that away if there was a chance I could keep it."

"So why can't you?" she asked, her voice wavering and eyes glimmering with tears.

"Don't you feel the way we don't fit together anymore? It's not just me, is it?"

She was silent for a long moment, before shaking her head and whispering, "No, it's not just you."

A strange feeling of relief swept through him at that. "And then, with the pressure of the wedding, and that's all we'd ever talk about, and…"

"We don't have to get married, you know," Ginny interjected. "If that's what's got you so spooked, we can cancel the whole thing. I don't care about all of that, not really."

"It's not just that. It's everything. I'm not—I'm not ready for any of it, for marriage and settling down and starting a family—"

"Do you think I am?" Ginny asked, her voice raising in frustration. "My career is just starting to take off, you know. Do you think I want to start popping out babies before I've even hit my peak as a Chaser? I know my mum was happy to stay at home and raise us, but that's never been what I wanted for myself."

Harry's brow furrowed. "But you said..."

Her cheeks flushed and she looked away. When she spoke, her voice was low and rough. "I thought that's what you wanted. You were always talking about having a big family, and I thought…" She laughed bitterly. "I'm not sure what I thought."

Harry's heart ached. "Don't you see how that's a problem? You shouldn't have to sacrifice your dreams and force yourself to want the things you think I want. That's not how that should work." He wrapped his arms around his middle, suddenly feeling the chill of the night in his very bones. Ginny stood a few feet away, but it might as well have been an entire ocean with how it felt. "We don't fit right. Not anymore."

His voice wavered, and he felt sick as tears began to trickle silently down Ginny's face, the translucent tracks glistening in the moonlight. His own eyes welled, unshed tears pooling at the corners of his eyes. When she spoke, her voice was barely more than a whisper. "I know."

"Gin…"

He reached out, wanting to comfort her, himself, anything to make ease the ache of the throbbing bruise of his heart. She shook her head and shuffled away, turning her face to hide her tears. "No. No, I think I need to go now, Harry."

"Are we—" His voice broke and his eyes burned. "Are we okay?"

She wouldn't look at him. "I don't know. This is...it's a lot to process. I need some time, and I need to not be around you right now. Maybe not for awhile."

Harry felt numb. "Okay. Okay, yeah, whatever you need."

"I—" Ginny hesitated, before taking a deep breath. "We'll get through this, Harry. You're one of my best friends, too. I just need some space for a while, okay?"

"Of course."

She turned and gave him a watery smile over her shoulder that looked a lot like a grimace. With that, she Disapparated with a crack, leaving Harry alone in the dark.

***

It wasn't late when Draco headed in for bed, but they had Magical Jurisprudence at eight in the morning, and Draco always did better in that class when he had a good night's sleep. To his surprise, the room wasn't empty when he came in. Harry was there, already in his pyjamas and lying on his mattress, staring listlessly at the ceiling. Draco winced and bit his lip.

Harry had been acting weird the past couple of days. Weirder, even, than he had the past couple of weeks, ever since the night they both pretended not to remember. After that, he'd been awkward and skittish, a bit distant, even. Draco had hated it, but he'd understood, and he'd tried his best to give Harry his space.

But for the past two days, it had been different. There'd been a sad, distressed undertone to Harry's awkwardness, and Draco had been somewhat concerned to note that it seemed to be affecting not just Draco, but Harry's interactions with his friends as well. They'd had a big group dinner that night as their team bonding activity, and the interactions between Harry and Weasley had been positively baffling. Weasley had alternated between glowering at Harry and giving him commiserating glances, and their conversation had been stiff and infrequent. Draco knew it was none of his business, but something inside him twinged at the sight of Harry suffering. Part of him worried he might be the cause, but he was almost sure that wasn't the case. If Draco and the unplanned kiss were the problem between Harry and Weasley, Draco was certain Weasley would have let Draco know his thoughts on the matter. Probably with a well timed hex.

Slowly, Draco made his way to his side of the room, pulling out his pyjamas before heading to the bathroom. He changed and got ready for bed quickly, wondering if he should say something, and half sure that he wouldn't be able to avoid it. He hated the strange shell of a person that Harry was becoming, and he hated not knowing why even more. Draco always had been too curious for his own good.

"All right there, Harry?" Draco asked when he came back into their room. Harry turned his head towards Draco, blinking once.

"I'm fine."

Draco's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure? Because you don't seem all that fine to me."

Harry bristled, and something in Draco relaxed at the sight. There was some of that fire he'd been missing. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, really. You're just not really doing a great job of masking that something's wrong. You know that, don't you?" Harry winced, and Draco pushed on. "I mean, what was that between you and Weasley tonight? That was downright painful, and I'm not exactly Weasey's biggest fan."

Harry sighed, a large, gusty breath that seemed to carry the weight of the world with it. "Yeah, well, it's not Ron's fault. He's trying. Can't blame him for being conflicted."

"Conflicted?"

Harry's eyes caught Draco's and, ridiculously, Draco's stomach gave a small flutter. "Ginny and I broke up. Or, well, I broke up with her."

Draco stared at Harry as shock, then elation, then horror at being elated washed over him. His brain tried to process Harry's words, the implications of what he'd admitted, but his mind kept replaying that sentence over and over again. Harry was a free man. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Just because Harry and Ginny broke up didn't mean that anything between him and Harry had changed. They might have shared that one, incendiary kiss, but he was still Harry Bloody Potter, and all the other reasons they would never work hadn't gone away. Not to mention, he was still clearly raw and reeling from his break-up, and the last thing he needed was his very male ex-enemy taking advantage.

"I'm...sorry to hear that. I know you cared a great deal for her." Draco hesitated. "How are you feeling?"

Harry turned back towards the ceiling and rubbed at his eyes and forehead with his fingertips, a bitter laugh grating out of his throat. "Bloody brilliant, can't you tell?"

"Harry…" Draco didn't know what else to say. He'd never been all that great at offering comfort.

They shared a moment of silence, and then, "Have you ever broken someone's heart?"

Draco's mind flashed to Antonio, to that last night in Draco's flat, the anguish on Antonio's face as Draco called things off for good. He shuddered, and when he spoke, his voice was low and rough. "Yeah. Yes, I have."

Harry rolled onto his side to face him, his eyes relieved and filled with understanding. "It's fucking awful, isn't it?"

Draco's mouth twisted as he remembered those horrible days right after the break-up, replaying the scene over and over in his mind, reliving their relationship, trying to figure out what he could have changed to prevent them from getting to that point. "No arguments here."

"I've never liked hurting people, you know," Harry said. "Not that you do. I mean, I think most decent people try to avoid it. But just…fuck, I never really thought about how awful it would feel to have to hurt somebody I love. I know it was the right thing to do, but…"

"But it doesn't make it any easier," Draco finished for him. He grimaced, Harry's questions stirring up feelings inside of him that he'd prefer not to deal with. "Salazar, relationships are the worst."

Harry laughed, but his expression was soft as he looked at Draco. "And the best. It's all worth it, in the end. I think the good outweighs the bad, overall."

Draco thought of those first brilliant months of happiness with Antonio, of the early exhilaration with Violet, of the joy and steady strength he got from his friends. "I suppose you have a point."

Harry grinned. "I usually do. Glad you're finally catching on."

Draco rolled his eyes. He wanted to go along this lighter train of thought and banter with Harry the way they had B.K. before kiss, but something stuck in his teeth. He cleared his throat. "So you and Ginny are really done for good then?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. It was a long time coming, I just didn't want to see it."

"So it wasn't because—" Draco cut himself off just in time, remembering at the last minute that he and Harry were pretending that they didn't remember the shared kiss in the rain.

Harry's brow furrowed. "Wasn't because…"

"Wasn't because of something...small or unimportant," Draco said carefully. "I just wanted to make sure it wasn't just some spur of the moment decision that you'll regret later on." What he wanted to ask, was if they'd broken up because of the kiss, if Draco had come between Harry and the woman he'd loved. Draco was long past denying that he wanted Harry, but he'd hate to think that Harry had uprooted his life just over a drunken kiss. As flattering as that might be, if that was the only reason Harry had split with Ginny, he'd come to regret it, regret Draco, and that was the last thing Draco wanted.

Harry's eyes widened, clearly catching Draco's meaning. Draco wondered how long the two of them were going to keep pretending that they had no memory of that night.

"No, it's not going to be something I regret," Harry said slowly. His eyes were clear and bright and so fucking green that they stole Draco's breath away. There was something in them, something dark and hot and wanting that made Draco's pulse race and his toes curl against the wooden floor. "Ginny and I...we didn't fit together anymore, hadn't for awhile. I wanted her to be the one, so I kept forcing it, but we both deserve better."

"Oh," Draco said, feeling bizarrely breathless. "Well, I suppose that's good then. That you...erm...figured that out."

"Yeah," Harry said, the conflict and hesitance and determination in his eyes pinning Draco where he stood. "But that wasn't the only reason."

"No?" Draco squeaked.

"Lately I've been feeling things for...for somebody else."

Draco's mouth went dry. "Things?"

Harry bit his lip, and Draco watched with rapt attention as his sharp, white teeth slid over the red meat of his bottom lip. "Yeah, things. Attraction things."

Draco's heart seemed unable to decide if it was going to beat itself to death or just stop working all together. Was Harry talking about him? He had to be, right? They had kissed, after all. Though maybe Harry went around kissing all his mates, maybe it hadn't been anything special. But no, Draco remembered every detail of that kiss, and he knew that he hadn't been the only one to feel the chemistry sparking between them. Had he?

"That must be...must be confusing for you," Draco finally replied.

Harry snorted. "You have no idea." Draco was pretty sure he did, actually, but he didn't want to press.

"Well, I hope you manage to sort it out, whatever it is."

Harry's lips pulled into a small smile, and despite the riot of emotions in Draco's breast, he couldn't help but feel pleased at the fact that Harry seemed more like himself now than he had the past few days.

"Thanks, Draco. I hope I do, too."

Chapter Text

"Hello everybody," Instructor Jennings called out. "We're going to be doing something a little different for the next few weeks in our Poisons & Antidotes class."

Next to Harry, Hermione perked up and leaned forward in her seat. Harry suppressed a snort of amusement.

"We're going to be working with Veritaserum, first as an occasionally permissible means of questioning, with a specific focus on the best ways to ensure its effectiveness. We'll then discuss how to mitigate the effects of Veritaserum on one's person, should it be used on you in an attempt to extract Ministry secrets in the event of capture and interrogation."

Harry frowned. He knew, of course, that Veritaserum was used by the Ministry, but the idea of it had always left a bad taste in his mouth. Harry couldn't help but think of Umbridge's eager face as she encouraged him to drink spiked tea in fifth year, to Fudge sentencing Barty Crouch Jr. to the Dementor's Kiss based on his eerie testimony. Something about it felt wrong.

"Now I'm certain, of course, that you're all well aware of what Veritaserum does, but as a refresher, would any of you mind sharing with the class some basic information about the potion?"

To nobody's surprise, Hermione's hand shot into the hair, and Jennings gestured to her with an amused smile. "Veritaserum forces the drinker to tell the complete truth to any question put to them, according to what the drinker perceives as true. It's a clear, colourless, and odourless potion that is almost indistinguishable from water. It can be mixed with pretty much any drink undetected, and as few as three drops are a sufficient dose."

"Exactly correct, of course," Jennings replied. "And can anybody speak to the limitations of Veritaserum?"

This time, Zach's hand was the first up, and Jennings nodded at him to answer. "Well, as Hermione said, it forces the drinker to state what they perceive to be true, which is not always the actual truth. They might not have all the information, might have made incorrect assumptions, or their sanity or perception of reality might be skewed. Additionally, much like the Imperio curse, some witches and wizards are better able to counter the effects of the potion, particularly if they're aware that they've been given it. This could lead to them giving false testimony despite the fact that they've been given the truth serum."

"Yes, yes, very good. Unfortunately, Veritaserum is at its most effective when administered unknowingly to the drinker. This prevents them from adequately preparing their defenses. Of course, at the Ministry, it is illegal to give a suspect or witness Veritaserum without their knowledge, which means that testimony under Veritaserum alone is not permissible." Jennings seemed disconcertingly disappointed by that fact. "However, when combined with other facts and evidence in a case, it can be a powerful tool.

"As I've always found hands-on learning to be the most effective approach, today I thought we'd have a little demonstration of what an interrogation under Veritaserum might look like. I'll need one of you to volunteer." With a flourish, Jennings produced a slim vial full of clear liquid from his pocket, holding it up for the class, before setting it down next to a goblet on the table next to him.

Predictably, nobody volunteered. Of course they didn't. It wasn't like any of them were keen to drink a truth potion in front of their friends and expose themselves to who-knew-what questions. Jennings's mouth twisted in disappointment, though Harry thought he saw a faint glimmer of satisfaction sparkling in the depths of his eyes.

"Nobody? Oh, bother, I concerned that might happen. Well, not to worry, I'll just have to volunteer one of you myself." Harry's blood ran cold, and somehow he knew what was going to happen before Jennings finished speaking. "Draco Malfoy, why don't you come on up to the front of the class," Jennings said with entirely too much pleasure.

Harry turned to look at Draco, who'd gone stock still, his normally pale face even more devoid of colour than usual. "I'd really rather not," Draco said stiffly.

Jennings's lip curled. "Unfortunately, Malfoy, this is a classroom, not a democracy. You'll come up here, or you can fail this segment. Your choice."

Harry's stomach bubbled with anger, and he opened his mouth—to say what, he wasn't sure—but Josh beat him to it. "Why don't I do it, Instructor Jennings. I'd be happy to—"

"I'm sorry, Mr Green, but you already had your opportunity to volunteer. Malfoy, I suggest you don't keep the class waiting any longer."

"Instructor Jennings," Harry said, no longer able to stay silent. "I really don't think—" Jennings turned towards Harry, his expression severe.

"What you think, Trainee Potter, is irrelevant. I'm sure you're quite used to getting your way, but in my classroom, you're here to learn. From me."

Harry jerked as if slapped, unable to respond. He'd never liked Jennings much, but he'd never seen him like this. A hot flush prickled across his neck and cheeks. Harry didn't want to be treated differently because of who he was, but what Jennings was trying to do...something about it didn't feel right. He cast his gaze to the side, taking in Ron and Dean's outraged expressions at Jennings's words, the worried furrow of Hermione's brow.

When he looked back towards Draco, he saw Madison open her mouth, but Draco waved her off and stood. His face was a perfectly blank mask as he walked slowly towards the front of the room. Jennings's smile sent a shiver down Harry's spine.

"I don't like this," Harry whispered to Hermione. She looked over at him, brow furrowed. "Me neither, but I'm sure it will be fine. They must do this all the time. I'm sure it'll just be some harmless questions to demonstrate how the potion works." She didn't sounds all that convinced.

Instructor Jennings picked up the goblet and carefully tilted the vial of clear liquid over it. Harry watched as three fat droplets splashed into the cup. Jennings stoppered the vial and slipped it back in his pocket before offering the goblet to Draco.

"If you would be so kind."

"May I ask what else is in the goblet?" Draco asked stiffly.

"Pumpkin juice," Jennings said blithely, his expression hawk-eyed as he watched Draco tilt the goblet back and drain it in a few gulps. "And, of course, a bit of Distractibility Potion."

Draco's eyes went wide and he dropped the empty goblet onto the table with a heavy thunk. "What?" He seemed horrified, and Harry wondered what he was missing.

"Can anybody tell me why I included some Distractibility Potion? Yes, Ms Parvati."

"Because," Padma answered, her tone wary, "in addition to the Veritaserum antidote and one's natural ability to overcome the potion's effects, Occlumency is the most effective method for resisting Veritaserum. One of the effects of the Distractibility Potion is that it makes it difficult for the drinker to concentrate on anything for a sustained period of time, such as maintaining your Occlumency Shields."

"Very good," Jennings said amiably. "Such a bright group of Aurors we have this year." He turned towards Draco with a smile. "I believe you're an Occlumens, Malfoy?"

Rage flickered over Draco's face, before he managed to stuff it behind his expressionless mask. "I am."

"Well, then, it's a good thing I added that potion, now isn't it? Of course, it wouldn't be permissible to combine these potions for a legitimate interrogation, but I'd hate for the demonstration to be ineffective." Jennings flashed a chill smile.

That felt like a step too far in a demonstration that already made the hair stand up along the back of Harry's neck. "That's not fair. What's the point of this demonstration then, if your stripping him of his ability to try and fight the potion? Isn't that what we're supposed to try and do?"

Jennings's eye twitched. "Yes, of course, but as I stated at the beginning of the lesson—" He said the last bit with an emphasis that clearly indicated his opinion on Harry's ability to retain information, "—learning about combating the effects of Veritaserum is the second half of this module. The first is focused on how to conduct an interrogation of a suspect, which will be more effective as a demonstration if Malfoy is actually under its influence."

"But the laws around Veritaserum are really strict," Hermione replied. "If we wanted testimony to be admissible in court, we'd never be able to—"

"How fortuitous then," Instructor Jennings interrupted, his voice hard, "that this is not a real interrogation, and that we don't need Mr Malfoy's testimony to use as evidence."

"But—" Harry started, a tense feeling cramping up his insides.

"That's quite enough Mr Potter." Jennings cut him off, his mouth a tight line of disapproval. "I understand many of you might feel uncomfortable with the use of Veritaserum, but it's time you got used to it. Being an Auror is hard work, and sometimes you'll have to make difficult calls and listen to your superiors." He gave them all a pointed look, before his lips twisted into a parody of a genial smile. "Now, this is a standard part of training, a demonstration that's conducted every year. However, if Mr Malfoy feels like he has something to hide, he's of course welcome to end this exercise at any time."

Draco stared at Jennings for a long moment, no doubt remembering Jennings's earlier statement about failing the module if he were to leave. Harry didn't think that condition had changed.

Draco's cheek twitched, before he nodded slowly. "Of course not. I'm fine to continue."

"Draco!" Madison protested, but he cut her off with a sharp look. "I'm fine." He cast his resolute gaze at the rest of the class. "Please, stop interrupting. Let's just continue and get this over with." He held Harry's gaze the longest, perhaps seeing the anger and rebellious desire coursing through Harry's veins. Eventually, Harry nodded, accepting Draco's choice, even if he really didn't want to.

"Wonderful," Jennings said, his voice light. "So glad we could clear that up." He sat and gestured at the chair across from him. "Now Draco, please, sit."

For a moment, it looked like Draco would protest, but he clearly thought better of it, sitting stiffly in the chair.

"That last question I asked you," Jennings began, "about being an Occlumens. Did you answer it of your own volition, or was the potion starting to compel you?"

"Both, I think," Draco answered quickly, as if on instinct. He blinked, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment or anger, Harry wasn't sure. Jennings smiled.

"Excellent, excellent. Now we just need to decide on a topic for me to question you about. Let's start with something easy, shall we? What is your full name?"

"Draco Lucius Malfoy."

"What is your date of birth?"

"The fifth of June, 1980."

"What are the names of your parents?"

"Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy."

"Do you have the Dark Mark?"

For the first time, Draco hesitated. "Yes."

"Did you get it willingly?"

Another hesitation. "Yes." Draco paused, before continuing tightly, "You should have record of all of this in your files."

"We do," Jennings said lightly. "I'm just warming you up with answers I can confirm. There was something I've noticed, however, that wasn't included in your file." It was clear Jennings was waiting for a response from Draco, and he scowled when Draco remained silent.

"I'm sorry, was there a question in there?"

"How did you get the scars on your back?" Instructor Jennings's voice was cool and deliberate, his gaze hard and unforgiving.

Draco's eyes widened, and the nervous fear in them was unmistakable. Harry felt something uncomfortable take root at the base of his spine. "I was attacked."

"By what?"

"A beast."

There was a scuffle in the next row over, and Madison looked like she was about to try and take down Instructor Jennings herself. Her face was contorted with fury, and the discomfort in Harry's gut intensified, twisting his stomach into knots. Josh whispered furiously with Madison, his arms like iron bars around her chest, holding her in place. She shook her head, her lips unmoving and tears glittering in her eyes as she stared helplessly at Draco. Harry exchanged an uneasy glance with Hermione who was gnawing her lip nervously as she flicked her gaze anxiously between Madison and Josh and Draco. Madison had been angry before, but it wasn't until Jennings started poking Draco about his scars that she started losing it. Draco looked over at her and shook his head minutely, clearly telling her to stay out of it. She sagged against Josh, and the feeling of dread in Harry's stomach grew stronger. Harry opened his mouth, but quickly closed it again. Draco had made it clear that he wouldn't welcome their continued interference. Harry wanted to respect his choice, even if it didn't sit well, especially not now that the questioning had taken a more personal turn.

"What kind of beast?"

Draco hesitated, clearly trying to resist the pull of Veritaserum before eventually responding, "A werewolf."

Harry's eyes widened, and he looked over at Hermione to see if she'd realised—she'd been the first to put together Remus's condition back at Hogwarts, after all—but she shook her head. Instructor Jennings also looked surprised, but there was an unmistakable edge of gleeful malice in his gaze. "Are you a werewolf?"

Draco's eyes practically spit fire as his lips twisted into a sneer. "No."

Instructor Jennings was obviously disappointed. "You were scratched hard enough by a werewolf to scar?"

"Yes?"

"But you are not a werewolf?"

"Correct."

"How is that possible?" Jennings seemed almost angry at the fallacy.

"The werewolf wasn't turned at the time," Draco said through clenched teeth.

"And yet they were still able to scratch you deep enough to leave such visible scars?"

Draco shuddered, and his voice was thick when he replied, lowly, "Yes. Clearly."

"That must have hurt."

Draco was silent, and Instructor Jennings realised his mistake, his cheeks flushing and eyes narrowing as he rephrased. "Did it hurt?"

Draco looked murderous. "Obviously it hurt. It fucking scarred." The you moron went unsaid, but Draco's eyes practically screamed it at him.

"Who was it?"

"A werewolf."

Instructor Jennings huffed angrily. "What was the werewolf's name."

Draco couldn't wiggle his way out of that one. "Fenrir Greyback."

Last Harry had heard, Greyback was in Azkaban. He'd been caught and tried after the Battle of Hogwarts. Apparently Instructor Jennings had arrived at the same question that Harry had. "When were you attacked?"

"A long time ago."

Instructor Jennings's eyes narrowed. "What date did it happen?"

Draco grimaced. "March 28, 1998." Harry's mind raced, trying to place the date.

"You were on the same side. Why would he attack you?"

Draco took a ragged breath, and Harry's heart clenched. "I had—displeased the—Dark Lord."

"How?" Jennings probed.

"I lost something he wanted." Draco's face was pale, a faint sheen of sweat glistening on his upper lip. It was obvious he was fighting hard against the serum, and Harry wondered if it was working at all, if there was anything Draco was managing to keep back for all his struggle.

"So he made Fenrir attack you as punishment?" Harry's heart pounded, foreboding prickling across the back of his neck.

"No."

Jennings huffed in frustration. "If that wasn't it, what was your punishment?"

"The wards were—were removed from my rooms," Draco said, clearly attempting detachment, though the shakiness of his voice gave him away.

"How was that a punishment?"

"Because," Draco said, his voice low and rough, "they protected me from Fenrir and the rest of the Dark Lord's psychotic followers."

Instructor Jennings look skeptical. "Why couldn't you protect yourself?"

Draco hesitated, his body shaking as he fought off his answer

"Why couldn't you protect yourself?" Jennings repeated more forcefully. "You're clearly a competent wizard." He seemed annoyed to have to acknowledge that fact.

"I did not have a wand." Harry's blood froze, the implications of Draco's words and Harry's sense of unease finally snapping into place.

"Ahh, yes," Jennings said, sounding almost satisfied, clearly coming to the same conclusion Harry had done. "So, you were trapped in your room with Fenrir and no protection?"

"Yes."

"And that's when he scratched your back?"

"Yes."

"Is that all he did?" Instructor Jennings asked, a cruel tilt to his mouth that made Harry want to punch him in the jaw.

Draco's hands were visibly shaking, and his expression twisted into a something furious and pained, before turning vacant and dull. "What do you think?" he asked flatly.

"I think that's not much of an answer. What else did he do to you?"

Draco smiled, brittle and mean. "I think the Veritaserum has worn off now, sir, which means this demonstration is over." He stood, and even from this distance Harry could see he was shaken. He swayed slightly, but managed to steady himself. "If you don't mind, I think I'll go get a glass of water. All this talking has left my throat a little dry."

With that, he stalked out of the room, his back straight and his expression surprisingly placid. Only his eyes showed the fury within.

"Well, class, I think that's all for today," Instructor Jennings mumbled absently. "Yes, yes, I hope you all found that useful. I must...I must be off, but we'll discuss Veritaserum in greater detail next time." He left through the opposite door that Draco had taken, leaving the rest of them in stunned silence.

"Oh my god," Michael breathed.

"That was horrible," Hermione added, her eyes glimmering with tears. "I can't believe we let him do that."

"It's not like we could have done anything about it. He's our teacher and an Auror," Ron said, rubbing a hand down her back.

"That doesn't make it right. We're supposed to be doing this to help people not...not do whatever that was."

"I know, I know," Ron murmured, his expression troubled. "But you heard Malfoy. He didn't want us to interfere. He wouldn't have thanked us for ignoring his wishes."

"Is that what all of your Aurors are like over here?" Matt spat. "Spiteful and vindictive? Abusing their powers and—"

"You know we're not," Ron countered, holding up his hands against his venomous glare. "That was fucked up, but the war—"

"No," Sarah jumped in. "You all don't just get a free pass because—"

"Hey now," Dean interrupted, raising his voice. "None of us is saying that, but you weren't here and you didn't live through it. I'm not saying what Jennings did was right, but I understand how he could have got there. It's not as black and white as you're trying to make it out."

"We should report him," Padma said quietly.

"Do you think?" Harry whispered back. He felt shaky and off kilter, his mind barely able to process what had just happened. Like Hermione, he kept asking himself why he hadn't done something to stop it, why he'd just let it happen right in front of him. He felt sick.

She nodded. "If Robards doesn't know, he should. That kind of bias isn't good for anybody in an Auror. He needs help. A Mind Healer, maybe."

"I should go check on Draco," Madison said suddenly. With her arms wrapped tight around herself she seemed smaller, somehow.

Josh looked down at her, his expression pained. "Mads, did you...did you know? About...I mean, he was so...that night, when he couldn't go into his room..."

Harry had no idea what Josh was on about, but it was clear Madison did. She nodded jerkily. "Yeah, I...yeah." She shivered, sighed. "That's how we knew each other, before Baesany. It was a support group for people who, uh—" She broke off and looked towards the door that Draco had disappeared through. "I really need to…" Madison trailed off as she began jogging through the door to find Draco and hopefully offer him the comfort he was no doubt in desperate need of.

Harry wanted to find Draco himself, had an almost painful urge to wrap Draco in his arms. It wasn't exactly a new desire. He couldn't stop thinking about Draco's scars, about what must have happened to him that night. While Harry was off in the woods, marvelling that somehow Draco's wand was the one that felt best in his hand, Draco was at the mercy of that monster. Guilt prickled at his conscience. Maybe if he hadn't taken those wands from Draco, none of that would have happened. Even if Voldemort had dropped the wards around Draco's room, he still would have had his wand, would have had some protection. Draco was good at magic, he could have fought Fenrir off, instead of…

"It's not your fault, Harry," Ron said gruffly. Harry looked around the room, surprised to note that he, Hermione, and Ron were the last ones there. "We needed to get out of there, and you couldn't have known what would happen."

"Didn't I? Maybe not that, exactly, but I knew Voldemort would be angry, that he'd punish them."

"And that's not your fault. You didn't make them choose to be on his side, you didn't make Bellatrix call him. You can't blame yourself for that."

Harry sighed. "I know. It's just...he didn't identify me. He could have, we all know that."

"I don't know wasn't exactly signing up to join our cause."

"Fuck, I know, okay, I know. It doesn't make what happened right. Fenrir was...he was a monster and for all Draco's faults, he was still just a kid."

Hermione wrapped an arm around him. "I know, Harry, I know. We were all kids, and we all had to make terrible choices. I'm sorry about happened to Draco."

"I'm not saying he deserved it, mate. After what Fenrir did to Bill, you know I get how evil he is. But I just don't want you to blame yourself, is all. Terrible things happen in a war. We all made the best choices we could for ourselves, and all we can do now is live with the consequences." He smiled ruefully. "I hate to say it, but I actually think that's something Malfoy understands."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, you're right."

Ron grinned. "Always right, me. Gonna start giving Hermione a run for her money."

Hermione smiled and pulled him in, so they were all hugging in the middle of the empty classroom.

"I think Padma's right, though," Harry said against Hermione's hair. "I think we need to report him. Jennings has been after Draco all year, and that was way too far."

To Harry's surprise, Ron was the first to nod his agreement. "I can't pretend I don't understand his motivations, but I agree that was over the line, especially for an instructor. We—" He looked down, his expression ashamed and embarrassed. "We should have stopped it."

Hermione pulled away and straightened. "Yes, we should have. I think we've wanted so badly to move forward and forget all of the awfulness of the war that we've let ourselves become too comfortable." Her eyes flashed with determination, and something powerful and hopeful swelled in Harry's breast. "But we didn't join the Ministry just to follow the status quo that allowed people like Umbridge to flourish. We're here to change things, and it's time we started acting like it. Just because we're not full Aurors yet, it doesn't mean we can't start making a difference."

"Your right, 'Mione," Harry agreed. It felt like that was an all-too-common realisation for him these days, how complacent he'd become in his life, how easily he let things lie when before he would have fought. That wasn't who he wanted to be anymore. He didn't want to be the kind of person who stayed with a woman he no longer loved without questioning his feelings. He didn't want to be somebody who allowed bad things to happen under his nose without speaking up. "So what do we do?"

Hermione looked down at her watch and grimaced. "We skip Memory Modification & Muggle Relations, and go talk to Head Auror Robards."

***

After the events of the day, Draco was left shaken and raw. He felt exposed and vulnerable and he hated it with a passion that wasn't exactly surprising. By the time Madison found him pacing the common room, his hands shaking and breath ragged, he was a complete wreck. His emotions were out of control, and he oscillated between wanting to scream and break things and wanting to curl up in a ball under the covers and never come out again. Madison pulled him into a hug, then, holding him for ages, until he finally pulled away with a ragged sigh.

"Come, on," Madison said simply, before dragging him to the room she shared with Granger.

She didn't press him to talk, didn't pry or ask questions that Draco didn't feel like answering. Instead, once they entered her room, she locked the door and pulled out a pair of yoga mats. It had been awhile since Draco had done yoga or meditation, but that first summer and the following year at Baesany he and Madison had done it constantly. It had been one of the suggested methods for coping with trauma, and though Madison found it more helpful than Draco had, he had to admit that it wasn't a bad way to calm himself whenever his memories overwhelmed him. Thankfully, that didn't happen too much anymore, at least not as severely as it used to, but Jennings's malicious questioning had brought a whole host of memories rushing to the surface, and with his weakened Occlumency shields, Draco was finding it difficult to process.

Draco was feeling more like himself by the time they finished. He'd let his mind wander as he'd focused on his breathing, welcoming his thoughts as they flitted from memory to memory, before releasing each one on an exhale. By the time he cleaned off his borrowed mat with a flick of his wand, Draco no longer felt ruled by his emotions, by the pain and terror of his past. He'd done and experienced horrible, terrible things, but he was no longer that person, and though his experiences had scarred him—in some cases, literally—in the end, that trauma had helped to shape him into the person he was today. More often than not, Draco liked this person he'd become, and though he could be ashamed of his choices and pained by the things that had happened, he wouldn't let that pain and anger and shame rule him. Not anymore.

Madison was keen to continue hanging out, after, but as much as Draco appreciated it, what he really wanted at that moment was a bit of alone time.

"Are you sure?" Madison asked. "We can—"

"I'm sure, Mads. I think I just need some space to process. But this really helped, thank you. I would've just worked myself up even more if you didn't help bring me down."

"Of course!" She pulled him into another hug. "Let me know if you need anything, okay? What just happened...it was really awful, and I just—"

"I know. I love you, too. But you should head back. You've missed just about all of Memory Modification & Muggle Relations, but if you hurry, you can make it in time for Stealth & Tracking."

She hesitated, but nodded after seeing the resolute look on his face. "Okay. We'll catch you up on what you've missed at lunch tomorrow."

"Sounds perfect."

Draco spent the rest of the day wandering through London. He walked around Camden Market and lost himself in the Muggle crowds, strolled through Regent's Park and watched dogs frolic on the lawn, hiked up Primrose Hill and breathed deep as he marvelled at the beauty of the London skyline. It was late by the time he made his way back towards the Ministry. He wasn't entirely settled, and he didn't feel up to seeing and talking with everybody, though the walk and relative solitude had done wonders. His Occlumency shields were almost entirely restored, and though the crawling feeling under his skin hadn't completely dissipated, it had faded to a manageable itch.

Thankfully, he was able to make it to his room without running into anybody, though he almost jumped out of his skin when he turned to see Harry lounging on his bed. Somehow, Draco had managed to completely forget about Harry—no easy feat, considering how much he'd been occupying Draco's mind of late.

"Hi," Harry said, after a beat of silence.

"Hello."

Harry looked down at his lap, where his hands were twisting and pulling at the sheets bunched there. "Err...how are you doing?" Draco just looked at him, and Harry flushed. Draco tried not to think about how attractive it was. "Right. Stupid question." He bit his lip, before blurting out, "I'm sorry. For what happened. Instructor Jennings is an arse, and we shouldn't have let it go so far."

"It's fine," Draco replied, his body growing tense with discomfort.

"No, it's not fine," Harry said emphatically.

Draco smiled humourlessly. "Okay, it's not fine then. But it's not your fault. Jennings has had it out for me from the beginning. I'm sure he has his reasons. There wasn't anything you or any of the others could have done to stop it."

"We should have—" Harry broke off and shook his head in frustration. "Well, we should have done something at the time, but at least we did something after."

Draco looked at him warily. "What did you do?"

"We went to Robards and told him what happened. Me, Hermione, and Ron."

Draco sighed and did his best to beat back the instinctive wave of anger. The last thing he wanted was to get embroiled in some Auror Department drama. He just wanted to keep his head down and get through the rest of the program, but he appreciated that Harry and his friends had stuck up for him. "I suppose I'll be hearing from Robards soon, then?"

Harry winced, and Draco gathered he hadn't quite managed to suppress the undercurrent of frustration in his voice. "Yeah. Sorry about that. But he needed to know about Jennings. Telling him was the least we could do after—"

"Just stop, Harry. Don't worry about it. I don't need your pity, okay? Don't feel guilty on my account. I told you all to stop fighting Jennings on it, and I meant it. It was my choice."

Harry opened his mouth to retort before shutting it, as if he thought better of his response. When he did speak, his voice was soft. "It wasn't much of a choice; we all know he backed you into a corner." Draco tried to interrupt, but Harry gave him a forceful look. "And it's not pity. I know what it's like to have your private business made public, and it's not something I'd wish on anybody."

Draco managed a more genuine smile at that. He supposed that was true enough. The press had certainly done their best to pry into every facet of Harry's life. "I appreciate that. Those weren't...they weren't memories I would choose to share or talk about with others. They're painful and private. But I'm not ashamed of what happened." Draco sighed. "Or at least, I'm trying not to be."

Harry nodded, his expression earnest. "Good, that's, that's good, Draco. And I—I know it's not my fault, but I am sorry, for the part I played in things. I know you recognised me, that day at the Manor, but you didn't give me up. And I've always suspected that you let those wands go too easily." He licked his lips, and let out a nervous laugh. "Well, you know the role your wand played, in the end. I'm not sorry I took it, but I'm sorry for what you suffered because of it."

Draco scoffed as he changed into his pyjamas. Normally he would have turned his back to Harry to do so, but tonight he was feeling self-conscious about his scars, wondering what Harry would think of the marks now that he knew how Draco got them. Instead, he stayed facing Harry, gratified when Harry's eyes slid appreciatively across his arms.

"You're making it seem like I was some hero, helping you with your noble cause. I did the bare minimum I could—it's not like I said it wasn't you or anything. I just said I couldn't be sure."

"You would have been stupid to say otherwise. If we hadn't managed to escape before Voldemort—" Draco hated himself for his subconscious flinch, but Harry either didn't notice or didn't care to make issue of it, "—had got there and he'd caught you in your lie, who knows what he would have done. You did the best you could."

Draco looked at him suspiciously. Harry's reasoning was true enough, but it was far more generous an assessment than he would have expected from Harry, given the circumstances. "That reasoning is awfully Slytherin of you."

Harry smirked, as if privy to some inside joke. "Well, you are a Slytherin, aren't you?"

"Still, I think you're giving me too much credit with the wands. I was startled, and terrified, but it's not like I just handed them over to you."

"Whatever you say, Draco." Harry's expression was indulgent, clearly indicating that he thought he knew better than Draco his own actions, and something about it raked across Draco's skin like sharp nails.

"Yes," Draco snapped, a petty part of him relishing the shocked widening of Harry's eyes. "Whatever I say. I think I'd know my mind and my actions better than you. Don't go around making me better than I was because you found out I was raped. Just because something terrible happened to me, it doesn't excuse everything else I did."

"Fuck, Draco. That wasn't what I meant. I—"

"Or maybe it's easier for you to justify our friendship to yourself if you pretend I wasn't so bad, really back during the war. Well, I hate to break it to you, Harry, but I most definitely was that bad, and acting like I wasn't doesn't do anybody any good." It wasn't like Draco wasn't aware that he wasn't good enough for Harry, but it hurt, thinking that Harry thought so, too, that he had to cast Draco's past in a rosier light to justify their friendship to himself.

"I know that, Draco, if you'll just—"

But Draco couldn't just anything. "Perhaps you've forgotten the final battle and the Room of Requirement? Not exactly the actions of a reformed—"

"Draco!" Harry shouted, loud enough that it pulled Draco from his outraged spiral. He stared at Harry, his heart racing and his breath ragged.

"Jesus Christ, Draco, I wasn't doing any of that. Trust me, I'm well aware of how terrible you were, and I'm not trying to erase the past or pardon you because of what happened." He ran his fingers through his hair, and Draco noted with a bit of guilt that his hands were shaking. Harry seemed to be waiting for Draco to respond, but he felt empty. Harry exhaled in a loud gust. "Merlin, you're hard work. I was just trying to say that, for all that you made terrible choices and believed horrible things, I also know that the choices you had to make weren't so black and white. I know by the end you'd started realising you'd made a mistake, that you didn't want Voldemort to win." Harry hesitated. "Even before Fenrir."

"You can't know that."

Harry's gaze was unreadable. "You'd be surprised."

Draco bit his lip, hard enough that he was surprised he didn't draw blood. He looked away. "Fine, I suppose that's true enough. Though thankfully I was a talented enough Occlumens that the Dark Lord didn't realise the depth of my doubt. He'd...threatened certain punishments, before, but I don't think I'd ever thought it would happen. Even then, I thought myself invulnerable." Draco chuckled darkly as he climbed onto his bed and crossed his legs. "I'm fairly certain the only reason he didn't flat out kill me was because he just thought I was stupid in not recognising you, not treasonous." He shuddered. "I almost died anyway."

Harry made a soft, wounded noise, and ridiculously, the sound of it warmed Draco down to his toes. "The claw marks?" Harry asked.

Draco tilted his head. "Among...other injuries. Those weren't the only marks, but they were the only ones deep enough that they scarred. I only survived because of Severus."

"He healed you?"

"Yes." Draco smiled wryly. "He'd had a lot of practice." Harry's gaze went guiltily to Draco's chest, but Draco waved away his questions. He didn't have the energy to deal with more of Harry's guilt over their past, not tonight. "He found me in my room, torn up and half-dead. I'm not sure how he convinced the Dark Lord to allow him to heal me, but he took me to his private chambers and kept me there for at least a week, until I'd healed enough to manage on my own." His mother had insisted that Draco take her wand to protect himself once he left the Manor, though Draco had been reluctant. With the Dark Lord using his father's wand, and Draco's wand gone, his mother's wand was their last line of defense. Draco hated the idea of leaving the both of them alone in the Manor without protection, but his mother could hardly let her only son walk into Hogwarts as it had been that year without a wand. In the end, his mother had come up with another wand to use—Draco's didn't ask how; he didn't want to know—and Draco had left with hers. It had worked well enough for him, though it hadn't responded nearly as well as the Hawthorne. He'd been embarrassingly grateful when he'd received that package from Harry after the trials with his wand and no note.

"Well, I'm glad he helped you."

"As much as he could, yes. And the rest...well, Cari made sure I got the help I needed."

Draco would forever be grateful to her, grateful to the support group that had managed to pierce through the numb fog he'd been living in after the war, to Madison who'd become his confidant. It had been painful, confronting his past, but he'd needed to do it to heal. Still, Draco knew that for all his work, he'd never truly get over what had happened; today had proven that fact. Sometimes he could go days, weeks, without it ever crossing his mind, and some days he couldn't seem to wash the shame from his skin. Draco hated it, hated that everybody around him now knew, that they would look at him differently. He hated that he cared, when intellectually he knew Fenrir's violation wasn't something he should be embarrassed by.

He looked at Harry, with his strong jaw and messy hair and kind, brilliant eyes, and wondered if he saw Draco differently now, too. Draco had no clue where they stood, no firm idea of Harry's heart, but he'd been beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, Harry had begun to develop feelings for Draco, too. There'd been appraising looks and flirtatious banter and the one, brilliant, unforgettable kiss….And then Harry had broken up with his fiancée and confessed to having feelings for somebody else, and Draco didn't think it was a stretch to suppose that person might be him, as ridiculous as it might sound.

But if Harry had wanted Draco, would he want him still, possessed of all the facts? Or would he see Draco as a victim, as somebody that need the Saviour's protection, instead of a partner, an equal?

Harry looked like he wanted to say more, but Draco was suddenly very tired. He just wanted to hide under his blankets and forget about the world, if only for a little while.

"It's been a long day, so I think I'm going to get some sleep," Draco said before Harry had a chance to continue their conversation.

Harry seemed a little disappointed, but he nodded. "Yeah, sure, 'course. You should get some rest."

"Goodnight," Draco said as he crawled under his blankets and turned towards the wall.

"Goodnight, Draco." Harry's voice was soft, though it still managed to send a little shiver down Draco's spine.

He knew he wasn't being fair to Harry. Harry was good, truly good, all the way to his core. He wasn't the type to judge somebody harshly for being sexually assaulted. No, if Harry was going to judge Draco harshly, it was going to be for any of the numerous terrible, horrible things Draco had done or said himself. If the past several months were any indication, it seemed that Harry had already forgiven Draco for his past transgressions, or at least he wasn't holding them against the person that Draco was trying to become. Draco doubted anything would ever come from his inappropriate feelings and Harry's ill-advised crush, but if nothing came to pass, it wouldn't be because of what had happened today, that much, Draco could be sure of.

That was a good thing, wasn’t it?

Chapter Text

Draco looked like he was about to explode.

Not that Harry could blame him, really. It had been a couple of days since the Veritaserum incident and everybody had been walking on eggshells around him ever since. Everything was all polite smiles and cordial words and barely concealed sympathy. Even Draco's mates seemed to be suffering from the weirdness, trying a little too hard to be normal around him. Harry could tell it was driving Draco mad, but he hadn't reached his breaking point. Yet.

For his part, Harry had been trying to treat Draco like nothing had changed, but the problem was that Harry wasn't really sure what normal between him and Draco even looked like anymore. Something had shifted between them over the past few months, hell, over the past few days, even. There was a closeness between them that hadn't been there before, and though it didn't really have anything to do with Draco's forced admission, the connection between them had grown stronger with Draco's confidences after the fact. It made Harry want to confide in him in turn. Made him want to do a lot of other things, too.

Lately, it was all Harry could do to not think about kissing Draco. It had been bad enough before, right after their drunken snog, but these days it was near on an obsession. He found himself drifting off in class, his gaze glued to the curve of Draco's upper lip, found himself waking up in the night, breathless and hard, the ghost of Draco's mouth still lingering against his own. It had only been a couple of weeks since Harry had split with Ginny, and though Harry felt guilty about how quickly he'd apparently moved on, he also couldn't deny that it had been building for months. Honestly, Harry still half-expected himself to freak out about the fact that he had the horn for a bloke, let alone that the bloke was Draco Malfoy, but apparently his subconscious had had plenty of time to come to terms with it over the past several months. There wasn't any panic or fear, only the persistent build of want and anticipation.

He thought back to that night last month, a few days after the break-up, when Draco asked what was wrong. Harry didn't know what possessed him to admit that he had begun to develop feelings for somebody else. In fact, it had been on the tip of his tongue to tell Draco that it was him Harry was talking about, but he managed to grab hold of his senses just in time. It was still all so new and different, and Harry wasn't sure if he was ready to come out and admit it so boldly. At least not yet.

Still, Draco was a smart guy, and Harry had a feeling Draco at least suspected that he was the object of Harry's current affections. Harry was ninety-nine percent sure that Draco remembered their drunken kiss and was still pretending otherwise for Harry's benefit.

Harry watched as Draco took down another opponent in Physical Combat. Dean, this time. It was the fourth person in a row that Draco had handily defeated, and though he was, surprisingly, one of the best in the class, these matches had been almost embarrassingly easy. It was clear that the others had been going easy on Draco out of some misplaced sense of...well, Harry wasn't sure what, exactly, but it was clear that Draco was frustrated. He slammed Dean to the mat with a bit more force than was probably necessary, his lips drawn into a snarl.

Harry really shouldn't have found it as attractive as he did.

Draco was just so much stronger than Harry would have expected. His posh clothing made him look elegant and refined, but beneath the cashmere and silk were hard lines of lean, flexible muscle. Harry couldn't stop staring at Draco, dressed down as he was for training in a pair of soft grey joggers and a tight black shirt. The outfit emphasised the sharp jut of his shoulders, the fabric of his shirt twisting and bunching as his body moved with his usual fluidity. Harry had always been attracted to strength, to lean, Quidditch-toned bodies and muscle-thick thighs and athletic grace. He used to think that attraction only applied to women, but it was clear the same aesthetic held true true for men as well.

Which wasn't really a surprise when Harry thought about it. The boys he'd found himself drawn to back when he was younger—Oliver Wood and Cedric Diggory and Bill Weasley—had all possessed a similar physicality. Back then, Harry had thought it was simple admiration, but he was starting to suspect that wasn't the full story. He'd been thinking a lot about his sexuality lately, wondering if this newfound attraction to men was really as sudden as it seemed. Harry was a bit shocked to realise just how far back it went, and a bit sad, too, that it had taken him so long to recognise it for what it was. Though, again, that wasn't really a surprise, either.

Growing up, the Dursleys hadn't had very nice things to say about people who were attracted to the same sex. "Perverts! Deviants!" his uncle would rage whenever some news story came on the telly that so much as hinted at homosexuality. Harry hated to think that he'd internalised any of the vile rubbish the Dursleys had spouted, but he knew it wasn't as simple as all that. Queer witches and wizards might be more accepted in the wizarding world than in the Muggle one, but there was still prejudice and bigotry beyond the purity of blood, even here. There hadn't been many out students back at Hogwarts when Harry had been there, not that Harry knew of, at least, and even if there had been, it wasn't as if Harry had much time to think about things like identity and sexuality when Voldemort was running about. All he knew was that he liked girls, and with all the other chaos in his life, he'd never really stopped to consider if that was all he liked. Why would he, when it was so much simpler to just ignore it? Harry hadn't even realised that was what he'd been doing, that he'd taken the safe, accepted road in front of him without even looking around to see if there were other pathways he might be interested in.

Regardless of what had happened in the past, Harry was well aware of his attraction to men now, and he didn't plan on ignoring it again. He didn't think he could even if he wanted to, not with Draco Fucking Malfoy looking like sex on legs and sharing his bloody room. Harry couldn't stop thinking about how Draco would react if Harry told him now that he had feelings for him. If he'd brush him off with a "thanks, but no thanks" or if maybe he'd slide his hands into Harry's hair and tug Harry into another toe-curling kiss…

"Harry Potter."

Harry blinked. "Uhh, what?"

Instructor Lowel frowned. She was filling in for Instructor Jennings, who had recently gone on leave. Given that they'd reported him to Robards, Harry had a feeling the leave wasn't optional. Lowel clearly wasn't happy about having to cover Jennings' classes on top of the ones she was already teaching.

"You're up against Malfoy, Potter."

Harry's stomach gave an eager flip as he stepped forward into the makeshift ring and faced Malfoy. There was a faint sheen of sweat along his upper lip and forehead, though he wasn't breathing hard at all. His white-blond hair was as elegant as ever as his lips twisted into a sneer and his eyes burned.

"You better actually fight me, Potter," Draco whispered furiously.

Harry snorted. "As if I'd go easy on you, Malfoy."

Draco nodded, mollified. "Good. It's so much more satisfying to kick your arse when you're actually trying."

Giddy exhilaration took off in Harry's breast and he couldn't help but grin. "Dream on."

Lowel blew her whistle and they were off, eyes assessing and calculating as they circled each other slowly, before Draco finally made the first move, lunging forward to grab for Harry's middle. Harry sidestepped him just in time, but Draco recovered and spun before Harry had a chance to counter. They moved like that for awhile, bobbing, weaving, dodging, striking, and blocking. Harry was managing to keep pace with Draco, but he feared he was on the losing end of this battle. His gaze never wavered, never strayed from Draco's pacing form for a second, but instead of analysing his opponent, he found himself distracted by the flush of Draco's skin, the sound of his ragged breaths, and the smell of his sweat.

It was just...Harry had never really stopped to consider just how intimate hand-to-hand combat could be. Every time Draco's bare skin brushed against his own, Harry shivered and fought against the urge to press into the sensation. Harry tried to force himself to concentrate, and he certainly didn't go easy on Draco, but every second that passed he could feel Draco gaining a little more ground. Harry was fairly certain he wouldn't be coming out on top this round. Something inside him really, really didn't mind.

Sure enough, a few short minutes later Draco had Harry pinned to the mat, his strong, lean body holding Harry down. Harry stared up at Draco, his wrists trapped in Draco's grip and his heart thumping madly. Draco's eyes were storm-grey, his gaze fierce and intense, and his blond hair was damp with sweat as it hung around his face. Harry could feel every single place where their bodies touched with an almost painful potency, and Harry's brain couldn't help but supply images of other activities this positioning might suggest. Embarrassingly, Harry felt himself begin to stiffen up in his pants, turned on by the friction and the adrenaline, and by Draco himself.

He coughed and squirmed, doing his best to angle his lower half away from where Draco was plastered along his front. Draco blinked, the faintest flush dusting his cheeks before he pushed himself off Harry and freed him. Harry scrambled away with considerably less grace, thankful that his jogging bottoms were loose enough to hide the unfortunate situation developing within.

"Well done, Malfoy," Lowel said. "You certainly seem to be on a winning streak today."

"Thank, you," Draco replied. His cheeks were still stained a pale pink, and he was looking at Harry with a curious expression on his face that Harry couldn't quite place. Harry bit his lip and looked away while the blood rushed through his ears, making him dizzy and dazed.

Thank god the class was almost over. Harry really, really need a wank.

***

Draco could practically feel Harry's gaze upon his back as he looked at Draco's scars.

With anybody else, that knowledge would have made him angry and defensive, but with Harry, it was different. He could tell Harry was curious, but he'd kept most of his questions to himself, letting Draco lead their conversations about what had happened. He appreciate the courtesy, but he found himself strangely willing—eager, even—to share his past with Harry. Perhaps because Harry had been right in the thick of things during the war and already knew all about the horrible things that Draco had done. It gave him perspective and context that his friends just couldn't have, no matter how hard he tried to explain it to them.

"You can ask me questions about it, if you want."

Harry jumped and looked away guiltily. "What do you mean?"

Draco snorted. "I don't mind you looking." He really, really didn't, though that was a problem for another day. "And I can tell there's something on your mind. Just spit it out, yeah? If I'm offended, I'll just hex you."

He flashed Harry a sharp grin, and Harry huffed a small laugh. "Is that supposed to make me feel safer?"

Draco shrugged. "Not much of an Auror if you can't even block a hex you know is coming your way."

"I suppose that's true enough." Draco just stared at him until Harry finally caved. "Okay, okay. It wasn't anything, really. I was just thinking about when we got lunch a couple months ago, after we went flying? You mentioned that your Aunt had recommended you attend a support group. I'd sort of assumed it was just a general support group for getting past traumatic events, but something Madison said made me think that wasn't the case."

Draco nodded, surprised by the direction Harry's question went but not unwilling to talk more about it. "Yes. The group was specifically for victims of sexual assault. I actually thought the same thing you did when I first turned up. I was mortified when I realised it was a little more specific." His brow furrowed as he slipped on his sleep shirt. "Honestly, I have no clue how Cari figured out what had happened to me. I certainly didn't tell her, and I can't imagine my mother would have mentioned anything so scandalous when she sent the letter asking if I could stay with her."

Draco could still recall the hot flush of realisation when he first walked into the meeting and understood what exactly it was for. He'd felt so vulnerable and ashamed and humiliated, knowing everybody in there would know just by his presence how he'd been violated. He'd almost turned around and walked right out. But then he realised that the reason that everybody in that room knew how he'd suffered was because they'd gone through something similar, and that nobody there would be judging him. As distasteful as it felt for him to stay and wallow in that terrible moment, he felt he owed it to Cari and her generous hospitality to at least stick out the first meeting. He was beyond grateful for that, now. Those group session had helped him work through so much, had helped him to feel again, even if those feelings weren't always good ones.

"And that's where you met Madison?" Draco hesitated, and Harry hastened to add. "She mentioned it, before she ran off to find you."

Draco nodded. "Yes, Madison was in the group, too. Though that's not my story to tell."

"Fair enough."

God, he'd never stop being grateful for Madison. Draco credited the group for bringing him back to life, but it was Madison more than anybody else who'd done the heavy lifting. They'd gone through everything together, experienced the rage and the pain, mixed with the strange joy of being alive, of making it through another day. They'd both gone a little wild with it, especially Draco. Afterall, he hadn't been trying to heal from an isolated traumatic event. He had an entire adolescence to make up for, and once he fully realised that he was safe, that he was somewhere untouched by war and pure-blood supremacy and stifling society rules, Draco had wanted to experience everything.

And experience it he had. Him and Madison would go back to Seattle almost every other weekend on special dispensation from Baesany. Ostensibly to visit their Mind Healers and work through their trauma, but mostly so they could go out and live. At night, they'd sneak into Muggle clubs—Madison had a Muggle friend who supplied them with fake identification, since in America, you had to be twenty-one to get into most establishments. If Josh had managed to come with, they usually went to a regular club, Madison glued to Josh like a protective shield while Draco danced with pretty women in high heels and short skirts. But more often than not they went to gay bars like R Place or Neighbors or Purr, where Draco would revel in the desire he was finally fully allowed to feel, not as something dirty and secret, but something glorious and sexy and proud. He refused to let Fenrir take that from him, to let his violation rob Draco of his desire.

He couldn't count how many fit blokes he'd danced with and grinded on and kissed beneath flashing, pulsing lights. For the first year or so, that was all it was, somewhere public and relatively safe for him to explore what he wanted without getting in too deep, somewhere to relearn his body and what he craved. They'd been careful to never go out near the full moon, when Draco's emotions danced dangerously close to the surface, but the rest of the nights had been fair game. It had been amazing, allowing himself to dance and blow off steam, to flirt and snog and get a bit worked up without the pressure of sex in the mix. It was heady, realising how okay it was to want men, that Draco could want a man for more than just a quick shag on that side before going home to his pure-blood wife. He could date a man and love him and probably have mind-blowing sex with him, and all of it was perfectly, totally all right.

Draco had always known he liked both men and women growing up, and though he tended to prefer men, he'd long since resigned himself to settling down with whatever pure-blood witch his parents deemed most appropriate. He'd hardly been happy about it, but he'd been grateful that at least he wouldn't be forced to live a complete lie, and he'd held out hope that whatever witch he ended up with would be somebody whom he could truly love. But things were different now, and Draco had vowed to start living life for himself, to make his own choices to determine the course his life would take. He'd revelled in a chance to fully explore his sexuality, in finding something that had been taken from him in the war and his restrictive upbringing.

He and Madison had both mellowed out since that first wild year, or perhaps healed was a better term. Draco still loved clubbing, still loved the pulse of music vibrating beneath his skin and the feeling of a firm body plastered against his own, but he also knew that he was much more suited to serious, long-term relationships. He'd never been great at casual. Draco was greedy and needy and possessive—he just wanted too damn much. He wanted to be the centre of somebody's attention and wanted to lavish a partner with his own adoration.

His gaze slid to Harry, whose focus had returned to the chapter they were currently reading for Memory Modification & Muggle Relations. He looked so adorably focused, and Draco's mind couldn't help but wander back to their Combat class earlier that day. It had felt fantastic to have Harry come at him like an equal, instead of treating him like something breakable, the way so many of the others had. Harry had smelled so fucking good, and his skin had been hot and muscle-firm beneath Draco's hands when he'd pinned Harry to the mat. He'd bared his neck to Draco at the end there, a tiny, unconscious gesture that had made Draco want to bite and take. Draco had distanced himself instead, trying not breath in deep lungfuls of Harry's scent and the soft tang of arousal that he was almost certain was coming from Harry.

He looked at the faux window and the full moon hanging heavy in the sky. No surprise that he'd been so sensitive to Harry's...well, everything. They'd been dancing around whatever this was now for weeks, ever since the kiss, and Draco knew they wouldn't be able to hold it off forever. Draco figured they probably needed to have an actual conversation about it all, and soon. They could get everything out in the open, clear the air, as it were, and decide that, obviously, nothing was going to happen. Everything about Harry and him screamed BAD IDEA, and Draco was sure that Harry would agree.

Still, it was clear that they wouldn't last much longer without talking things through. The sexual tension was thick enough to choke on, and for both their sakes, it needed to be dealt with.

Sooner or later, something had to give.

Chapter Text

Combat had quickly become Harry's favourite and most dreaded class. Seeing Draco in all his raw physicality, facing him, having an excuse to touch him...it was glorious torture. Thank god it was only once a week.

Today's session had been particularly grueling, with Harry managing to summon every last ounce of his focus to come out on top. After what felt like an eternity, he finally managed to pin Draco face first against the mat, his arm twisted behind his back and Harry pressed up against him. He'd felt himself reacting, once again, to Draco's proximity and their intimate position, and it had taken just a fraction of a second too long before he finally managed to pull away. Draco had pushed himself up slowly, breathing hard, and tension vibrated between them like a plucked guitar string, low and sweet.

Harry swallowed and turned away, his heart thumping wildly.

"The lecture on Muggle Technologies and their potential application in Magical Law Enforcement starts in thirty minutes. We should have just enough time to change and head over," Hermione said when Lowel dismissed them a few minutes later.

Ron groaned. "I thought classes were over for the day!"

"They are," Dean volunteered. "The lecture is optional."

"Excellent."

"I think it sounds really interesting," Sarah enthused. "Muggle and magical technologies are much more closely linked in America than they are over here. I'm really curious to see where Britain is interested in integrating."

"Exactly," Hermione agreed. "Plus, we get extra credit in Memory Modification & Muggle Relations for attending," she added pointedly.

Ron perked up. "Extra credit just for showing up? Well, why didn't you start with that?"

Hermione rolled her eyes affectionatly, and linked her arm through Ron's as they all headed towards their dorms. "Shall we all meet back in the common room in say, ten minutes?"

Everybody nodded except for Draco. He was still practically vibrating with energy, and even though Harry was actively not looking at him, he could almost feel Draco's eyes hot upon his skin. "Actually, Granger, I think I'm going to sit this one out. This last combat session took a lot out of me. I think I need to rest for a bit."

Hermione nodded. "Of course. You do seem a bit flushed."

"Actually, Hermione, I think I'm going to skip this one, too," Harry said, trying not to think about the reason for his sudden change in heart.

Hermione frowned. "I thought you'd be really interested in this topic."

"I am, but we've got that test in Concealment and Disguises tomorrow, and I really think I need to practice a bit more. You'll fill me in, won't you?"

She nodded. "Of course! I'll let you look over my notes."

He grinned. "Thanks, 'Mione. Have fun, yeah?"

"Mate, it's a lecture," Ron said. "Of course, Hermione's going to have fun."

Padma waved their way into the common room, and they all split up towards their rooms. Draco walked silently next to Harry, and now, away from the others, Harry couldn't ignore the tension still humming between them. It had been been building for ages now, but normally it had a kind of ebb and flow, making it easier to push away and ignore. Not now. Now it felt like it built with each step towards their room, until all Harry could focus on was Draco, Draco, Draco.

Draco opened the door to their room silently, and Harry followed, his hands shaking as he closed the door behind him with a soft snick. It was dark and quiet, but neither of them made any move to turn on the lights. Harry watched Draco's back, saw the shift of his muscles as he took a slow, uneven breath, unbearably loud in the still silence between them. He wanted to move, to break this tension that was making his heart race and his stomach wriggle, but he felt trapped, caught on the edge of a cliff, waiting with bated breath to see what Draco would do next.

When Draco turned to face him, it was with a slow and careful movements, as if he was holding himself back. And suddenly, it hit Harry, how much he didn't want Draco's restraint. How much he wanted Draco, all of him. He met Draco's eyes, saw the burning want he could no longer deny reflected back at him, and Harry couldn't help the tiny sound that escaped his throat at the sight. Apparently that was all that was needed to push Draco into action.

Two steps, and Draco was on him, crowding him back again the door and kissing Harry like the world was about to end. Maybe it was, because Harry met Draco's lips with the same desperate urgency, every suppressed thought and desire he'd had towards Draco over the past several months rushing to the surface in a dizzying rush.

Merlin, he wanted him. Wanted him so much more than he'd allowed himself to even realise, every pulse of his heart sending white-hot desire shooting through his veins. Was this really only their second kiss? And their first kiss completely sober, their first where Harry didn't need to feel guilty afterwards, wouldn't have to pretend he couldn't remember. Fuck, as if he could have ever forgotten this, could have forgotten Draco's tongue sliding skillfully into his mouth, could have forgotten the shudder-inducing intensity of Draco's strong hands gripping his waist and cradling his cheek, his knuckles bumping against Harry's glasses. Harry could feel Draco's hardness nestled right up against his own, and he would've thought it might make him nervous, but all it did was make him burn. He'd never been with a man before, never been this close to an erection, but fuck if he didn't want it. Harry wanted to see Draco naked, wanted to touch him all over. He also didn't want to stop kissing Draco, not ever, so he arched against him instead, grinding their groins together as pleasure sparkled across his skin.

Draco growled, low and rough and unmistakably masculine. It made Harry shudder, made him want to press even closer, until he couldn't tell where he ended and Draco began. Instead, Draco took a step back, his hands fisted in Harry's shirt as he dragged Harry along after him with stumbling steps, their lips never parting. Somehow they ended up horizontal, crashing onto a bed—Harry's probably, it was closer to the door—Draco's body hot and hard on top of Harry's own.

Everything was even more intense like this, gravity pressing Draco's body down on top of Harry, the soft mattress at his back providing more comfort as he arched and wriggled. Draco's hands slid down Harry's sides, sliding up under his shirt and resting against the sensitive skin of his waist as he delivered a particularly devastating grind of his hips that had Harry seeing stars. Harry's stomach tightened at the touch, his insides shaking as Draco's fingers danced towards the button of his jeans.

Draco pulled his mouth away from Harry's lips, his eyes glassy and his breath heavy. He looked gorgeous and debauched already, and it took all of Harry's effort not to drag him back in for another kiss.

"We can keep doing this, if you want," Draco said, his voice low and rough. "Until we come in our pants like teenagers."

Harry grinned. It didn't seem like such a bad plan to him, but he had a feeling Draco had something else in mind, and he really wanted to find out what it was. "Or…?"

Draco bit his lip, a flicker of nervousness crossing his face. "Or…" He fingered Harry's fly with purpose. "Or, I could take off these jeans, and whatever else you've got on beneath them, and get my hands on you."

Lust blazed through Harry, leaving him momentarily speechless, but his head had no problem nodding eagerly. "Yeah, yes, let's do that." He paused and looked up into Draco's eyes. "But only if I get to do the same to you."

Draco seemed momentarily surprised, before his mouth stretched in a grin. "I'm more than okay with that. But first, why don't you take off your shirt?"

Harry ignored the instinctive shiver of self-consciousness and ripped his shirt off quick as a plaster. He'd filled out since he started Auror Training, and he knew he no longer looked as scrawny and underfed as he had as a kid, but some insecurities were harder to break than others. Harry forced himself to meet Draco's eyes, something hot and shivery exploding through him at the obvious appreciation in them.

"I believe you said something about taking off my jeans?" Harry murmured suggestively, Draco's clear desire making him bold

Draco huffed an amused, breathy laugh. "So I did."

Harry's stomach tightened as Draco sat back on his heels and hooked his fingers into the waistband of Harry's jeans. He unbuttoned them slowly, his eyes on Harry's face, clearly giving Harry plenty of time to object. Stopping was the last thing on Harry's mind. Instead, he helpfully arched his hips off the mattress as Draco undid the last button, making it easier for Draco to drag them off, leaving Harry only in his plain grey pants. Without the coarse denim in the way, his erection looked obscene as it distended the soft fabric of his pants, a small wet patch beginning to form at the leaking tip. He felt himself beginning to flush, not only at the exposure, but at the pleased, hungry look on Draco's face as he stared.

"Can I—" Draco's voice was rough and he broke off to clear his throat. "Can I take off your pants?"

Harry just managed to suppress the ridiculously childish urge to retort I don't know, can you?. He was clearly feeling a little hysterical as it really sunk in that he was about to be naked in front of another man, in front of Draco, for the first time. It was frightening, sure, but mostly it was thrilling and hot. He settled for nodding his head in response, instead. His throat was too dry to speak, anyway.

Draco peeled back his pants with torturous slowness, somehow managing to avoid touching Harry's achining cock as he slid the fabric down and off. Harry throbbed with need, with the desperate desire to touch and be touched. He'd never been with anybody but Ginny, and he'd been with her so long that he'd almost forgotten about this part, when the newness and nerves mixed with anticipation and exhilaration until he could hardly breath for wanting so much. He wanted Draco to put his hands on him like he promised, but first, he wanted Draco to be just as naked as Harry was.

"Your turn," Harry managed to croak out, his voice lower and raspier than he'd been expecting. Draco's eyes flared with heat, and he nodded and smiled.

"Of course."

With enviable grace Draco pushed himself to his knees and removed his shirt in one sinuous movement, revealing a firm stomach and trim waist. Harry had always appreciated a nice pair of breasts, but he'd never have thought that he'd have such a visceral reaction to a bare, male chest. And yet here he was, heart racing and cock twitching at the sight of a shirtless Draco Malfoy looming above him. This was the first time he'd really had a chance to see Draco like this, and he found himself scanning Draco's pecs for scars, wondering if Harry had left his mark on Draco's skin with that foolish curse. Harry fancied he could see pale, silvery lines across his chest, nearly imperceptible against Draco's fair skin, though maybe that was just a trick of the light. Either way, this wasn't the time to bring up old history and wallow in guilt. Draco had already made it clear he didn't need Harry's apologies.

Once Harry had taken his fill of Draco's chest, his eyes began to drift lower and lower, lingering on the prominent bulge of Draco's groin. He watched breathlessly as Draco's slim fingers undid his flies, before pushing both his trousers and pants down to mid-thigh in one fell swoop. Surprisingly, it was the black dragon on Draco's thigh that first caught Harry's attention, the dark ink such a stark contrast to the rest of Draco's pale skin. The dragon stretched, and Harry would swear it was looking straight at him, but then Draco wrapped a hand around his cock, and Harry was thoroughly distracted.

Harry focused in on the sight, and his heart skipped several beats before kicking into high gear, leaving him dizzy and breathless. He'd never seen another erection so close before, and he found himself mesmerised at the sight of Draco's hand wanking himself off, nice and easy. Draco looked big, maybe even bigger than Harry, but he couldn't find it in himself to be jealous. All he felt was desire. Desire to touch him, to taste him. Harry couldn't believe how much he wanted to suck Draco's cock, how much he wanted to feel the heavy weight of him on his tongue.

Harry's need must have been obvious, because Draco's eyes darkened, and suddenly he was on him, his mouth hot on Harry's own as their naked bodies pressed together. Harry shuddered, and Draco groaned, and every molecule in Harry's body felt like it was vibrating with lust and want as Draco kissed him with toe-curling intensity. He could feel the burning brand of Draco's erection nestled against his hip, and Harry arched up against it, wanting to feel more, wanting some relief for his own aching cock pressed up against the flat plane of Draco's stomach. It all felt so good, so wonderfully, fantastically good, but it wasn't enough. Harry was mindless with want, with the frantic impulse to come right the fuck now. It had been ages since he'd felt so out of control during sex. Normally he quite enjoyed the foreplay, the build-up, but right now he felt like he'd die if Draco didn't make him come as quickly as he possibly could.

Thankfully, Draco seemed to be on a similar page, his eyes wild and dark when he pulled back from Harry's lips a moment later. Harry growled when Draco lifted himself up a few inches, not willing to give up the feeling of Draco's body on top of his own, but then Draco's hand was wrapping tight around Harry's cock, and all possible objections flew right out the window. His eyes fluttered closed as Draco wanked him, his breath speeding up as pleasure coiled tight within him. Draco's pace began to falter, and Harry opened his eyes to see Draco adjusting himself, before the slide of Draco's erection against his own sent shocks straight down Harry's spine. He gasped, and Draco grinned wickedly, before reaching over with his free hand to grab Harry's wrist.

Slowly, Draco brought Harry's hand over to where Draco was holding both their pricks loosely in his fingers. He dropped Harry's wrist before he got all the way there, clearly not wanting to force anything on Harry before he was ready. Harry felt equal parts touched at the thoughtfulness and annoyed that Draco thought he was so delicate. Lifting his chin defiantly, Harry ran his fingertips along the length of Draco's cock, marvelling at the surprising softness and the enticing way Draco shivered at the touch. Growing bolder, he laced his fingers with Draco's around their pricks, suppressing a moan at the pleasurable friction it created.

"Keep your hand just like that, nice and tight. I'm going to…" Draco breathed, before he began to flex his hips. The motion had his prick dragging right up against Harry's own, and that, combined with the hot pressure of their combined grip, had Harry seeing stars. His own hips began to twitch upwards, wanting more, and somehow they managed to fall into their own kind of rhythm. Harry reached up with his free hand and tugged Draco back down, their lips crashing together with a fierce desperation as Harry's climax began to build.

It was brilliant, magnificent, so much better than Harry ever would have imagined simple rutting could feel. His entire body was alight with sensation, and every grind of Draco's hips sent him closer and closer to the edge.

Harry bit down on Draco's lip when he came, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough that Draco clearly felt it. Draco didn't seem to mind. He let out a strange, rumbling growl and began to fuck against Harry with greater intensity, the way now made slick with Harry's release. Harry felt simultaneously completely relaxed and unbearably keyed up as he watched Draco move. The desperation he felt to see Draco come was a little shocking in its intensity, and the skin-shivery feeling of Draco moving against his over-sensitive cock wasn't exactly helping Harry keep a clear head.

Harry was watching Draco's face like a hawk as he panted above him, so he saw the exact moment when he came. Hot liquid coated Harry's hand and prick and stomach as Draco's lashes fluttered, and his mouth dropped open in a silent moan. He looked so gone on pleasure, so completely taken over by the strength of his orgasm, and Harry fairly certain he'd never seen anything hotter.

Before Draco even had a chance to recover, Harry was pulling him down again, giving in to the urge to kiss Draco. He wasn't sure he'd ever want to stop.

***

Draco stared up at the ceiling in a daze as his breath began to slow and the sweat on his skin began to cool. He was laying on his back next to Harry, which was a seriously impressive feat, considering it was a single bed. His brain decided to focus on that small, random detail, because otherwise it might explode as he tried to process the fact that he'd just had sex with Harry Potter. And not just any sex, but really, really good sex. The kind of sex that promised that this was just the tip of the iceberg, the kind of sex that confirmed some serious sexual compatibility. Draco shivered as he remembered the feeling of Harry grinding his prick against his own, the unabashed desire in Harry's gaze as he looked at him.

Harry must have assumed the shiver was from the cold, because a moment later, a Cleaning Charm was scraping across his skin, following swiftly by the comforting embrace of a Warming Charm. He turned his head to look at Harry who was still gloriously naked and apparently unconcerned about it. A smile graced his face as he looked up at the ceiling and stretched, his toes curling and back arching in a way that had Draco's spent cock twitching in appreciation.

Fuck, Draco was so screwed.

"Freaking out?" Harry asked as he turned his head slowly to face Draco.

"Nope," Draco lied. "You?"

"Can't say that I am."

"Even though it was your first time with a man?" Draco pressed.

Harry's lips quirked in amusement. "Even then. I thought it was pretty brilliant, personally."

There was an undercurrent of nervousness at the last bit, and something inside Draco went soft at the tone. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Brilliant works."

He looked back up at the ceiling, trying to stop himself from asking Harry what the hell they thought they were doing. This was so clearly a very bad idea. If all the world's bad ideas got together and elected a leader, then this one would be in the running for their commander. Harry was just coming out of a long-term relationship and feeling out his newly discovered bisexuality, or whatever it was that he identified as now, they hadn't really discussed that yet. They were roommates, friends of a sort, and getting to that point with their shared history had been difficult enough. But adding sex into the mix? There was no way it wouldn't end badly. Especially because Draco was only going to be in England for another four months or so before the exchange was over and he went back to his real life in Seattle.

And maybe, maybe, it could work as something casual, an easy no-strings-attached way for Harry to experiment and Draco to get his rocks off without anybody getting hurt. The problem with that plan was that Draco had never been good at casual, and as much as he wanted to claim otherwise, Draco knew his feelings for Harry were far stronger than they should be. He was already in too deep, already far too captivated by Harry, and the mind-blowing sex they'd just had wasn't exactly an incentive to cool things off.

There might not be much he could do about his stupid feelings, but he could put a stop to whatever it was that had just happened between them, nip the sex thing in the bud before it spiraled out of control. Draco knew that was the smart thing to do. The logical thing. The safe thing.

He turned back over and looked at Harry, preparing himself to create some distance. His stomach flipped at the peaceful look on Harry's face as he clearly began to drift into sleep. Something squeezed at Draco insides at the trust Harry continued to show him, at the unbelievable thought that Harry could think somebody like Draco, somebody who'd done the terrible things that Draco had done, was worthy of that kind of trust.

It looked like he wouldn't be saying anything after all. Draco bit his lip and sighed. He'd never been good about making smart choices anyway.

Chapter Text

"I'm glad we finally made time to do this," Hermione said as she tore into a piece of naan. "It's been way too long since we've had time to hang out, just the three of us." Harry knew she wasn't accusing him of anything, but he still felt a prickle of guilt. He'd knew he'd been distancing himself from them in the wake of his and Ginny's break-up, and ever since he and Draco had started...whatever it was they'd started a few weeks back, he'd been avoiding his best mates even more. He wasn't ready to tell them what was going on, but he really hated keeping things from them.

"Me too," Harry said, finding that he meant it even with the discomfort of the secret between them. "We've all been really busy lately."

Ron nodded in agreement. Harry tried not to read too much into his relative silence. They had just been served their food, after all, and Ron was digging into his meal with his customary gusto.

A bright flash popped across their vision and Hermione let out a disgusted scoff. "Well, that ought to be flattering," she sighed as she tore the remaining bit of naan in her hands into tiny pieces. "Always lovely to have a picture of yourself shoveling bread into your face on the front page of the paper."

"You always look good," Ron said staunchly, beaming when Hermione shot him a pleased smile.

"Sorry about that," Harry said glumly, doing his best not to glare at the photographers standing outside the window across the restaurant from them. "We should have gone somewhere Muggle."

"No, it's fine," Hermione said. "You haven't been seen out since..." She trailed off and Harry's mind helpfully supplied the rest of the sentence, since the break-up "Anyway," Hermione continued, "You know they just get more invasive the longer you stay away. And after Ginny's statement last week...well, they're pretty eager to see you. Putting it off would have just made them desperate."

"I know," Harry said with a sigh. It wasn't like he could keep his and Ginny's split a secret forever, and he knew it wasn't Ginny's fault that she'd been forced to say something after a photo of her talking amiably with an attractive Beater from another team started a swathe of infidelity rumours. Frankly, he should have made a statement sooner and not left it all up to her, but he'd wanted to hold on to some semblance of peace for a little while longer.

"Yeah, besides, we're famous too, you know," Ron added. "They're probably all here for 'Mione and I anyway, just wondering who this nobody is that we decided to get lunch with."

Hermione snorted, and Harry found his lips stretching into a smile. "You think so?"

Ron laughed. "Nah. Ten Galleons says the headline tomorrow reads Broken-hearted Savior cries into curry."

"Ugh," was all the response Harry could manage before his head hit the table with a thunk.

"Why don't we change the subject?" Hermione said, and the careful casualness of her tone immediately set Harry on edge. Harry raised his head and nodded slowly. She stared at him a moment before saying, "Seems like you've been spending more time with Draco lately."

Harry's face began to heat and he shoveled in another mouthful of curry, hoping if they noticed his flush they'd blame it on the spiciness of the food. She wasn't wrong, of course, he had been spending more time with Draco over the past few months, and even more over the past few weeks, ever since things finally came to head between them that one explosive evening in their room. Harry hadn't been sure what to expect after he and Draco had finally given in to the desire pulsing between them, but he'd desperately wanted to explore more, and it seemed like Draco felt similarly. Every day had Harry counting down the minutes until classes and responsibilities would be done with and he could escape back to their room without suspicion.

In those last few months with Ginny, Harry had been starting to think that perhaps his sex drive was slowing down, given his cooling desire for her, but it was clear now that hadn't been the case. He couldn't get enough of Draco, enough of his hands and lips and body. Harry's insides went hot and shuddery as his thoughts inescapably flashed to the previous night, when he'd finally worked up the courage to go down on Draco for the first time. It had been just as hot as he'd imagined it would be, and even the mortification of gagging at first, when he tried to take Draco in too deep, couldn't override the deep feeling of pride and satisfaction he'd felt as Draco slowly fell apart beneath his mouth and tongue. Embarrassingly, his cock began to twitch in his jeans, and he did his best to banish the naughty thoughts and focus on the conversation at hand. He took his time, chewing slowly, before saying carefully, "I suppose. I mean, he is my roommate."

Ron let out a derisive snort next to him. "Yeah, but it doesn't mean you have to be friends with the git or anything."

A strangely protective instinct welled up inside Harry, strange because he never could have imagined feeling protective of Draco Malfoy, but he couldn't deny that's what was happening. "Hey, he's not so bad. You've even said so yourself," Harry argued. "He's actually...well, he's pretty all right actually."

Ron looked at him sceptically, and Harry willed his face not to flush any further. He felt ridiculously exposed around these two people who knew him better than anybody else. Harry was half-certain they already knew all about him and Draco and were just waiting him out. The only thing reassuring him that they were still in the dark was the knowledge that Hermione was patently incapable of showing off how smart she was once she'd discovered something. It wasn't her best characteristic, but it was reliable at least. And Ron, loyal though he was, wouldn't have been able to hide his feelings on the subject, and Harry couldn't imagine they'd be particularly favourable.

"You're right, Harry," Hermione said in a soothing tone that just served to make Harry more jittery. She'd only be using it if she suspected he was more worked up than he wanted to let on. "Draco's not so bad now," she continued. "I mean, I'm not going to throw him a parade anytime soon, and I'm not particularly keen to spend time with him myself. But he did apologise, and he does legitimately seem to regret his past actions. I really like all his friends, too, which I think says a lot about a person."

"Yeah, but they don't really know about everything, do they?" Ron pushed back. He had that stubborn set to his jaw that he got whenever he was feeling particularly contrary.

Hermione clearly picked up on that as well, because she stared at him, unimpressed. "You don't have to like him, Ron, but you can't deny that he's been tolerable the past few months. Plus, he's clearly quite capable." She paused to take a prim bite of her chicken tikka masala. "You know, I never would have thought being an Auror would suit somebody like Draco Malfoy. He was such a bully and a coward back at Hogwarts…" She shrugged. "More proof that he's changed, I guess."

"If you say so, 'Mione," Ron capitulated, before digging into the last bit of his lamb biryani. "He's not my favourite bloke, but I guess you both are right. Hell, I think I might even like him better than Corner."

Harry snorted, a bizarre lightness filling his chest at the sentiment. "That's hardly saying much, mate. You bloody hate Corner."

Ron grinned over at him, and Harry hadn't realised just how much he'd missed seeing that conspiratorial smile aimed his way until just that moment. Ever since his and Ginny's break-up, things had been a bit stilted with Ron, as if Ron wasn't quite sure how he felt about it all and wasn't sure how to act around Harry, if he was the protective older brother or the sympathetic best mate. Harry understood Ron was in a difficult place and was doing his best, but it didn't make it any easier to bear.

"Like I said, he's still not my favourite."

Harry nodded. "Fair enough." And it was, of course it was, but even so, his stomach still twisted into knots at the knowledge that his friends hadn't entirely moved past the Draco they'd all known as children. Harry couldn't blame them for it, not at all, but it made the burden of his secret liasons with Draco that much heavier. Would he ever be able to tell them the truth and have them be okay with it? Or would this thing with Draco be over with long before the need to tell Ron and Hermione ever became critical? Both possibilities had Harry's mood souring, and he spent the rest of the meal faking cheerfulness and pushing the remainder of his curry around his plate to hide his sudden loss of appetite.

They decided to walk back to their Ministry dorms instead of Apparating, wandering through the spring-warmed Diagon alley as Harry filled them in on Teddy's latest antic during his last dinner with Andromeda, and Hermione updated them on the most recent progress with her parents. Apparently Zach had done some work with memory magic back home and had offered to help Hermione out. They'd made some progress on removing some of the false memories that had stubbornly stuck around. Harry was glad to hear things were progressing and grateful that she had somebody else to help her. He felt like shit for not being more present for her the past few months, even though they'd all agreed that Harry and Ron probably wouldn't be much use when it came to the kind of intricate work and research that she needed. Still, he could support her more, and he vowed to be better at asking about her life instead of getting so tangled up in the drama of his own.

The paparazzi followed them as they walked, but thankfully they kept a mostly respectful distance. It still made Harry want to growl in frustration, but he understood the logic of letting himself be seen, especially in the wake of his break-up. It fucking sucked that something so intensely personal had to be made public fodder, but Harry had grown...if not used to it, than at least wearily accepting of it. It wasn't like anything short of disappearing from the wizarding world entirely would change it. His only option was to hope that with time, wizarding Britain's obsession with him would begin to fade. So he made an effort to smile and appear happy and pleased with life and not at all like he was mourning the loss of his relationship, knowing that a photo of a single frown would be misinterpreted and blown out of proportion.

When they finally got to the Ministry, Hermione begged off to the library, leaving Ron and Harry to walk back to their dorm alone. Harry hated that the silence between them was tinged with awkwardness, and before he thought better of it, he stopped and turned to face Ron.

"Are we okay?"

Ron paused and looked over at him. "What?"

"Are we—" Harry broke off and ran a hand through his hair. "Are we okay? I mean...Am I just imagining the weirdness?"

Ron's mouth twisted and he shook his head. "No, you're not imagining it, but yeah, of course we're okay. The whole Ginny thing kind of threw me for a loop. I didn't even know anything was off between you guys. I never thought you'd break up."

"I didn't want you to know. I didn't want myself to know. I was in denial about it for awhile and, well, you're my best mate, but you're also her brother."

Ron sighed. "Yeah, I know. That's what's made it so weird. I always thought I'd marry Hermione and you'd marry Ginny and the four of us would go through life together, you know? We'd be brothers."

Harry quirked a smile. "Don't have enough of those?"

"You know what I mean," Ron said with a grin. "But you're already my brother, even if you're clearly mental if you think you'll ever find anybody better than my sister."

Harry's chest tightened as his thoughts flashed to Draco, but he quickly buried them, definitely not prepared to go down that avenue quite yet. "Trust me, I know. Gin's amazing. But we just weren't working anymore. I think we'll be better as friends."

Ron nodded. "Yeah, Ginny said the same thing when I talked to her about it at the last Sunday brunch at the Burrow." Ron looked at Harry in sudden disapproval. "You've been missed, you know. You're still a part of the family even if you and Ginny aren't together. I think you've hurt Mum's feelings staying away so long."

Harry looked down at his shoes. "I didn't mean to hurt Molly. I'll try and stop by soon. I don't plan to stay away forever, but I wanted to give Gin and I some time to process things."

"I get it," Ron said as he clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Ginny told mum the same thing. Just don't stay away too long, yeah?"

Harry nodded, something easing inside of him at the way they both slipped into their familiar easy camaraderie. Ron looked more relaxed as well, as if their conversation had lifted some burden off his shoulders, too.

"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I don't plan to."

***

"Hello, Earth to Draco?" Matt called out, his tanned hand suddenly appearing above Draco's face. Draco blinked and turned his head to look over at his friends, who were all looking back at him in amusement. The gang was all there, with the exception of Zach, who was catching up with his family that afternoon via International Floo call.

"What? What did I miss."

Madison rolled her eyes. "Nothing. Sarah was just asking if you wanted the last brownie."

"Yeah," Matt added with a laugh. "And since you never turn down sweets, we started to get concerned."

Draco perked up. "Brownie?"

Sarah looked at him apologetically. "Sorry, you took too long to respond and…"

"Just trying to help you keep your trim figure," Josh said through a mouthful of chocolate.

Draco scowled and threw the football next to him at Josh's head. Josh grinned as he caught it. "It's your own fault, bro. You're the one lost in your head."

"I was looking at cloud formations," Draco said loftily, grinning when his friends laughed.

"Ooo, I haven't done that in ages," Sarah sighed, before crawling to the big blanket Draco was laying on. "Budge over."

"Ow," somebody groaned as Sarah trod on an unlucky appendage, before flopping down next to Draco.

"Well, as exciting as it is to watch clouds move," Matt said slowly, making it very clear just how truly exciting he thought it was, "I thought we were going to play a bit of soccer?"

"I'm game," Madison said.

"Me, too," added Josh. "Got to work off that extra brownie," he said with a wink at Draco.

"Fucker," Draco shouted after him as the three of them bounded away.

"You don't want to join them?" Sarah asked softly. "I figured…"

Draco knew what she figured. With the full moon approaching, Draco had plenty of excess energy to spare, and working it off and tiring himself out was generally a good way to help stabilise his emotions and mood swings. He figured that had been part of the reason Sarah had suggested they have a picnic in Clapham Common—a lovely Muggle park with plenty of open, green lawn—and kick around a Muggle football, despite the fact that she wasn't personally all that interested in sports. Of course, she didn't know that Draco had been expending his energy in more pleasurable ways the past few days. Nobody knew that, nobody except for him and Harry.

A flush began to creep up his neck as he shook his head. "Nah. I think your delicious lunch put me into a food coma. If you ever decide being an Auror isn't for you, I seriously think you could make it as a chef."

Draco saw Sarah's cheek plump with a smile from the corner of his eye, and could practically feel her quite contentment at the praise. She'd been keeping the group of them fed for going on three years now, always bringing baked goods to study sessions and whipping up amazing and hearty meals whenever any of them visited her and Zach's apartment back home.

"Thanks, Draco," she replied, before pointing up at the sky. "Oh, look, that one kind of looks like a lion, don't you think?"

"Mmm, yeah," Draco agreed absently, the mention of lion causing his mind drift back to thoughts of Harry. Merlin, as if Draco wasn't thinking about Harry enough already, now vaguely lion-shaped clouds were enough to turn his thoughts towards him.

Of course, it wasn't like Draco could really be blamed for thinking of Harry so much, especially now that they were...whatever they were. Friends? Lovers? Roommates who occasionally touched each other's dicks? Salazar, the whole thing was stupid and ridiculous, but no matter how many times Draco told himself that, no matter how many times he vowed that he'd put an end to it, all his good intentions flew right out the window the second Harry so much as looked at him.

It had only been a few weeks, but already Draco was addicted. He couldn't get enough of Harry, and every time they touched Draco wanted more and more and more. The first time he'd got his mouth on Harry he was half-convinced he was going to come on the spot, to say nothing of the first time Harry returned the favour. They hadn't gone much further than that, than handjobs and blow jobs and mind-melting rutting against pretty much every flat surface in their shared room. Draco was content with that, more than content. He didn't want to push Harry too far, too soon, and taking things slow had reminded him just how much he enjoyed the other stuff, how devastating a supposedly simple hand job could be in the right, well, hand. But the full moon was coming, and his emotions were becoming stronger, more potent.

It wasn't like Draco didn't think he could control himself, he wasn't an animal, but his hunger for Harry had only been growing, and the full moon really didn't help keep things in check. He couldn't stop himself from thinking about the obvious enjoyment on Harry's face last night when he'd sucked Draco's cock for the first time, how clearly he liked getting on his knees for Draco. And then, when Draco had returned the favour, the way Harry had gasped and come down Draco's throat when Draco ghosted his fingers over the furled bud of his arsehole. There'd been something curious and wanting in Harry's gaze, after, that made Draco think Harry wouldn't be entirely opposed to exploring all the other things their bodies could do together, and it was getting harder and harder for Draco to sit back let Harry set the pace.

He knew from past experience how the full moon could get under his skin and into his veins, his blood humming with the desire to take and claim. It wasn't like it ruled him—he'd gone through plenty of full moons with nothing but his right hand for company—but it'd be harder to abstain with such a willing partner sleeping in the same room. Still, penetration was far from the only way to satisfy the beast inside him, and it wasn't as if Harry was really his to claim anyway. They'd never talked about what was going on between them, seeming to come to a mutual understanding that they were friends who occasionally (read, every night) got off together in dazzling, spectacular ways and who didn't tell a single soul they were doing it. It didn't matter. Draco was leaving in a few months and Harry was the freaking saviour of the wizarding world. Harry had got flack enough from his adoring public when Draco's return and participation in the Auror Exchange Programme had finally been found out. He'd given a generic statement on his support of Draco being there, and even that had been controversial. The media would have a field day if they found out they were on friendly terms, let alone more.

This was just a fling, something fun and sexy and casual, and just because some possessive and feral instinct rose up in Draco and balked at the thought, it didn't make it any less true. He'd control his body this week just like he was controlling his emotions now, and everything would be fine.

Absolutely fine.

Chapter Text

Harry gasped as Draco's tongue slid across seam of his lips, and Draco didn't lose a moment before he licked into Harry's mouth like a man possessed. Harry shuddered, shivered, arched into the hot press of Draco's body where he had Harry pinned to Draco's bed. Harry's entire body felt like it was on fire, want pulsing through him sticky and sweet and irresistible. It was always like that with Draco, but today, something felt different, more urgent and insistent, an itch deep inside that was begging to be scratched.

It was obvious Draco felt it, too, or more accurately, maybe it was Draco's hunger and desperation that was influencing Harry, some seductive cocktail of pheromones that made Harry's head fuzzy and his pulse pound. They'd been fooling around for weeks now, exploring and experimenting with glorious result, but today a new kind of awareness vibrated beneath Harry's skin, a sort of giddy, reckless knowledge that made his stomach wriggle in nervous anticipation.

Draco had been restless all night, quiet and fidgety at their weekly bonding night at the pub. The others hadn't seemed to notice, or perhaps they just weren't overly concerned, but lately every sense in Harry's body seemed finely tuned to Draco's frequency, and despite his best efforts to stay involved in the flowing conversation, he found himself paying more attention to Draco than the others around them. He tried not to be obvious, but he felt like moth to a flame, his eyes helplessly drawn to the fine bones in Draco's wrist as rotated his hands as if working out some kink, to the graceful curve of his neck as he turned his head to listen to one of Josh's jokes, to the way the muscles in his face flexed and tightened as he clenched his jaw or narrowed his eyes. Harry found his ears straining in the noisy pub, trying to find the low, melodious thread of Draco's voice whenever he spoke, his belly jumping in pleasure whenever Draco's timbre warmed into a laugh.

His gaze had snagged on Draco's and desire had welled up in him, strong and vast and impossible to ignore. Heat rushed to his face and he'd broken their stare before quickly making his excuses to their friends. Ron had waved him off with an absent smile, too caught up in whatever story Matt was telling to pay him much mind. Small mercies.

The cool night air had had surprisingly little effect on dampening the arousal still churning through him, and he'd proceeded to the nearest alleyway and Apparated back to the Ministry entrance as quickly as possible. When he'd finally returned to their room, Harry found himself suddenly at a loss. He stood in the middle of their room, adrenaline coursing through him, his body keyed up and waiting for something, an attack, or…

The tension mounted as the door behind him swung open. This was what he was waiting for, this was what his body had been expecting, even if his mind hadn't fully processed it. He turned, and Draco was on him and they were stumbling towards Draco's bed, all heat and desire. And now they were there, half-naked and panting together, Draco's body cradling him, anchoring him, and Harry wanted more, wanted it with a fierce desperation that would have surprised him if he were in any state to really think.

"Want you," Harry gasped between slick kisses, his hands sweeping down Draco's bare back.

Draco's chest rumbled and he nipped at Harry's bottom lip before sliding down to lick and kiss Harry neck. "Want you, too," Draco murmured against Harry's feverish skin.

Harry's insides jangled, nerves pinging as he shook his head. "No," he said, voice shaky. "No, I mean…" He licked his lips. "I want you. Want you to…" Harry arched his back, causing Draco's hips to shift down, his pants-covered erection brushing against Harry's balls, towards his arse. Harry moaned. Yes, that was exactly what he wanted.

Draco pulled back, his eyes black and hot as he stared down at Harry. Surprise was evident in his expression, but it was nearly overshadowed by the raw lust. Harry shivered.

"Are you sure?" Draco managed to grit out, though it looked like it took all of his control to do it. He'd never pushed, though Harry knew it was something he wanted, and now that it was on the table, it seemed like it was taking every ounce of effort Draco possessed not to flip Harry over and take what was being offered. That honest desire, the way that Draco wanted him so desperately, it made Harry's entire body flash hot and cold, made him want to give Draco whatever he wanted. He'd been dreaming of this for weeks, imagining what it might feel like, if he'd enjoy it as much as he thought he would. He'd experienced so many firsts with Draco already, and Harry wasn't the kind of person who let fear of the unknown hold him back. So yeah, Harry was sure.

Harry nodded, and when he spoke, his voice was rough. "How do you want me?"

Draco closed his eyes and took a deep shuddering breath, as if trying to calm himself. When he spoke, his voice was surprisingly even, but Harry could hear the rumbling undercurrent of lust beneath his words. The fact that he knew Draco so well should have given Harry pause, but right at that moment it was hard to focus on anything other than what was about to happen. Draco leaned down and kissed him, hard and deep and unbelievably thorough. Harry's cock twitched in his pants, more than on board with whatever Draco had planned.

"Just like this, for now," Draco murmured against Harry's jaw as his lips slipped lower and lower. "Stay just like this and let me…" He trailed off and focused his attentions on Harry's right nipple. Harry's nipples had never been particularly sensitive, though he could admit that whatever Draco was doing felt nice. Nice enough that he let out an embarrassing whine when Draco moved away, his tongue laving broad strokes down his sternum, causing his belly to tighten as Draco nuzzled against Harry's treasure trail.

When Draco's fingers tugged at the waistband of Harry's pants he arched his hips obediently, allowing Draco to pull them off and toss them onto the floor. Harry fought the bizarre urge to cover up his nakedness as Draco looked at him with blatant want, his gaze like a physical touch against his aching prick. And then he was actually touching Harry, looking up at him with mercury eyes as he took Harry in hand and licked along the underside of his cock.

Fuck Draco was good at this, at taking Harry apart with nothing but his mouth. Draco knew it, too, the smug fucker. Harry wouldn't have thought it possible to smirk with a cock stretching your mouth wide, but somehow Draco managed, and his self-satisfied expression as he swallowed Harry down only served to make Harry hotter. Draco pulled off, muttering a spell against the side of Harry's prick before sucking at the head and taking him back in. A moment later, a slick finger ghosted along his perineum, back towards his arse, and Harry gasped for breath, feeling desperate and overwhelmed all at once.

A careful finger pet at the furled skin of his arsehole, stimulating nerve endings Harry had only recently realised he had. He felt himself clench up instinctively at the pressure, his body automatically protesting the potential intrusion, but Draco didn't let it deter him. Draco continued to roll the pad of his finger against Harry's entrance as he bobbed his head along Harry's erection, and slowly, Harry felt himself relax into the pleasure coursing through him. The rigidity of his muscles eased, and Draco's probing finger grew more insistent, the fingertip pressing in and out of Harry's arse with shallow, teasing motions.

The subtle teasing only served to make Harry crave more, his body hungry for something harder, deeper. He growled and wriggled his hips back against the press of Draco's finger, and he felt more than heard Draco's amused chuckle as it vibrated against his cock. Thankfully, Draco seemed inclined to give Harry what he wanted, his finger pressing in and in until he was buried all the way to the knuckle. Harry's insides jolted at the sensation, at the fact that he could already feel Draco so deep as he slowly began to thrust, and it was only a single finger. Harry could barely begin to fathom what it would feel like when it was Draco's prick. Apprehension coalesced with eagerness and determination, and when Draco pulled off to ask if Harry was ready for a second finger, he nodded and spread his legs wider, opening himself up to it, to Draco.

The second one stung more than he expected, his breath stuttering as he tried to will himself not to tense up against the additional pressure. A particularly devastating sweep of Draco's tongue against his cock head served as sufficient distraction, and it wasn't long until he acclimated to the sensation. It was odd, but not entirely unpleasant, and the knowledge that it was Draco, that Draco had his fingers inside of Harry, that he was preparing Harry's arse for his cock...well, that only made it all the hotter. Then Draco's fingers curled, brushing against what Harry could only assume was his prostate, and suddenly things were so much better than not entirely unpleasant.

"Oh, God," Harry moaned, his thighs twitching and hips arching, desperately chasing the feeling of Draco's fingers rubbing inside of him. "Fuck, don't stop."

Draco pressed a chuckle against the crease where Harry's thigh met his groin. "I really don't intend to."

"G—good," Harry stuttered. It was hard to focus on silly things like words and speaking when pleasure was ricocheting through his body, annihilating all rational thought.

"You're sensitive," Draco mused as he corkscrewed his fingers in and out, brushing against Harry's prostate as he thrust. The pleasure was evident in his tone and Harry felt a ridiculous frisson of pride slide down his spine. The pleased note in Draco's voice made Harry think that maybe not everybody enjoyed this as much as Harry clearly did.

"Is it not like this for you?"

Draco hummed, mouth quirked in amusement as he looked up at Harry through heavy lashes. "I don't think I'm quite as sensitive as you are. But if you're asking if I enjoy being fucked, then the answer is yes."

"Oh," Harry breathed. "That's...that's good to know." It hadn't been what he'd been asking, but now that Draco had mentioned it, his brain seemed quite content to supply all kinds of potential possibilities. A particularly focused thrust of Draco's fingers brought Harry out of his distracted daydream, and he flushed as he looked down at Draco's exasperated expression.

"Perhaps you could focus on this sexual encounter before you start thinking of the next?"

Harry opened his mouth to snark back, but Draco curled his fingers again and a shuddering moan escaped his throat instead. He laughed, breathy and giddy. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Though maybe I wouldn't be so distracted if you'd move a little faster." He met Draco's eyes, stomach swooping in a free fall. "I think I'm ready now."

"Ready for what?" Draco asked innocently, his fingers sliding out of Harry's slick hole to tease at his rim. Harry's arse clenched, already feeling strangely empty. Merlin, Draco was driving him mad. Harry wasn't sure what he wanted more, to fight him or fuck him. Well, no, that was a lie. Right now, Harry very much knew which he wanted more.

"You know for what," Harry challenged.

Draco's smile was knife-sharp and his voice, when he spoke, was a shockingly low rumble that vibrated across Harry's skin like the best kind of shiver. "Maybe I just want to hear you say it."

Harry's lips twitched into a smile. He could do that. He could most definitely do that. "Draco," he murmured, doing his best to make his voice low and sultry as he looked Draco dead in the eye. "I think I'd really like you to fuck me now."

The sound Draco made was practically inhuman, something between a growl and snarl, as he surged up to kiss Harry breathless. Harry instinctively wrapped his legs around the back of Draco's calves, arching up to meet him as his body undulated down on top of Harry's, their mouths moving in hungry desperation.

"First time—easier—hands and knees," Draco bit out between savage kisses, his right hand leaving fingerprints of lube along Harry's hip as his left clutched at Harry's hair.

Somehow Harry managed to process Draco's choppy words through the haze in his brain, and he shook his head. "No. Wanna see you."

Draco pulled back, brow furrowed. "You sure? It's supposed to more comfortable for your first time if—"

"I'm perfectly comfortable where I am, thanks."

Draco snorted as he settling onto his knees, muttering something derogatory about reckless Gryffindors under his breath. Harry grinned and sprawled back against the mattress, anticipation and the thrill of the unknown lighting up his blood.

"Okay, I'm ready," he said with a magnanimous gesture at his leaking cock. "Have at me."

Amusement broke through the feverish lust on Draco's face and he rolled his eyes. "Such a romantic. Here, throw me that pillow next to you."

Harry did so dubiously, seriously hoping Draco wasn't planning to whack him with it. Thankfully, he didn't, commanding Harry to lift his hips instead, before shoving it beneath his arse. Harry didn't know why such an innocent gesture made his face heat, but he couldn't pretend he didn't know why Draco had done it. He was adjusting Harry's arse so it would be that much more comfortable when Draco was fucking him. Draco murmured the lubrication charm again, this time stroking the oil along his erection, and Harry's stomach tensed with anticipation.

Draco seemed to notice some of Harry's apprehension. "Are you sure you want this? We really don't have to if—"

"I'm sure," Harry said, cutting him off. "I'm not going to pretend I'm not a little nervous, but that doesn't mean I don't want it."

Draco nodded, and Harry stifled a smile at his poorly concealed eagerness as he shuffled closer. His prick was hot and slick as it brushed against his left arsecheek, before sliding into his crease and rubbing against his rim. Harry's breath caught, muscles clenching completely against his will. But Draco didn't press inside, didn't force his way in. He just kept rubbing the head of his dick against Harry in a maddening caress, pushing against him before backing off, making every nerve ending in the vicinity light up and take notice. Little by little, the tension in Harry's body bled away, leaving only hunger in its wake and when Draco pressed forward again, Harry arched up to meet him.

"Ready?" Draco asked breathlessly.

"Yeah," Harry sighed.

"Okay. It's probably going to be a bit uncomfortable at first, but let me know if it's too much, all right?"

Harry nodded, unable to muster a snarky response. There was pressure, and Harry focused on keeping himself loose and relaxed, and then Draco was there, the hard line of his cock slowly easing its way inside Harry's body.

Uncomfortable was a bit of an understatement. Harry threw his head back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling, panting through the pain as Draco split him in two. Draco's prick felt gargantuan as he eased his way inside with slow and gentle thrusts, shocks of pain radiating out from Harry's arse with every inch. He fisted his hands in the bedsheets and blinked away the tears that had begun to gather at the corners of his eyes from the shock and burn of it all. Some small part of Harry wanted to throw in the towel and tell Draco it was too much, that they should stop, but he stubbornly held on. He remembered how good it felt when Draco's fingers were inside him, and he'd heard enough about this act to know that the beginning was the worst of it, that it would get better from here, if only he could hold on.

"Salazar you're tight," Draco muttered. He still wasn't all the way in yet, and Harry wasn't sure if it was a complaint or a compliment.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Draco breathed. "You—You should push out against me. It'll make it easier."

Harry hesitated, but did as Draco instructed. The feeling was disconcerting to say the least, but some of the pain lessened, and it wasn't long before Draco's hips finally nestled themselves in the cradle of Harry's groin.

"Oh, fuck," Harry gasped, his entire body trembling with the knowledge that the full length of Draco's cock was buried inside him. It felt like it too, a hot heavy weight rearranging his insides, aftershocks of pain sparking through him.

"You can say that again."

He blinked and brought his gaze back to Draco who was still and silent above him. Draco's eyes were dark and glassy, his hands shaking against Harry's hips as his thumbs rubbed soothing circles along Harry's hip bones.

"How does it feel?" Harry asked, his voice cracking at the end of the sentence.

Some undefinable emotion flashed across Draco face. "Hot. Tight." One of his hands slid from Harry's hip to wrap around his half-hard cock. Pleasure pumped through Harry's blood as Draco brought him to full-mast with a few flicks of his talented wrist. "Like I really want to bloody move and fuck you through this mattress."

Harry's insides went molten, and his mouth ran dry. "So why don't you?"

"I'm trying to be a decent human being by giving you some time to adjust to the feeling of a cock in your arse for the first time," Draco replied, the tension of holding back evident in his voice. "Fingers can't really compare, and I know it can be...a lot. Especially the first time."

Harry couldn't deny that he'd needed a moment or five to get used to the sensation, but taking stock of his body now, he realised that the discomfort had faded to a dull ache—not exactly pleasant, but not unpleasant either. "Well then," Harry said, flashing a sunny smile up at Draco. "I think you're in luck. Seems I'm all adjusted." He gave an experimental clench of his arse, his inner muscles rippling along the erection buried inside of him. The flare of pain was sharp, but short, and it was entirely worth it for the involuntary gasp that left Draco's throat and the way his face softened in pleasure.

Harry's word seemed to be good enough for Draco, because a moment later his hands tightened on Harry's hips as he began to thrust, slow and shallow. It was strange, the feeling of Draco's cock moving within him, stimulating nerve-endings that had never before been touched. The ache that had settled at the base of Harry's spine seemed to lessen the more Draco moved, and it wasn't long before Harry came to enjoy the sensation of being full, of giving himself over to Draco. He found himself captivated by the rapturous look in Draco's eyes, in the obvious pleasure Draco found in Harry's body. He'd missed this, the connection that came with having sex with another person, the intensity and the intimacy that came with being tied to somebody in such a personal way. With each press of Draco's cock into Harry's arse Harry settled more into his feeling of pleasure and contentment, his body lazily buzzing with endorphins. And then Draco shifted the angle so his cock brushed against Harry's prostate as he thrust, and Harry lost his goddamn mind.

"Wha—Oh, oh fuck," Harry half yelled, half moaned. "Don't—Don't stop. Don't—don't—"

"Don't...plan...on...stopping," Draco panted between thrusts. If anything he began to fuck Harry faster and harder, bracing his hands against the mattress on either side of Harry's head to give him greater leverage as he plunged in and out of Harry's arse.

If Harry thought it was nice before, it was nothing on how it felt now that Draco was fucking him in earnest. Harry felt like his very blood was on fire, burning everything he was down to need and desire and a blazing pleasure that all but consumed him. Mindless, he brought his hands up and tugged Draco down for a passionate kiss, needing more of Draco to anchor him in place. He ran his palms down the smooth, sweat-slick planes of Draco's back before settling on Draco's perfect arse, squeezing and urging him on, tacitly begging Draco to fuck him harder, to keep hitting that spot that made the world dissolve into nothing but feeling and colour and sound. Draco didn't seem to have any issue with the request. In a seriously impressive display of coordination, he reached down and gripped Harry's right thigh, hiking it up to give Draco better access, allowing him sink even deeper inside. Harry moaned at the additional stimulation, panting into Draco's mouth as pleasure coiled hot and tight in his belly.

His cock was a hard, twitching line against his stomach, precome pooling along his navel in a steady drip. Harry desperately wanted to touch himself, wanted to provide that little bit of extra friction that he knew would push him over the edge, but he couldn't bring himself to stop touching Draco long enough to make it happen. Occasionally Draco would lean down close enough that his stomach would brush against Harry's heated flesh, but it wasn't nearly enough to be anything other than a tease. Draco was proving to be just as good at fucking Harry's brains out as he was at everything else they'd done so far, though, and it wasn't long before slim, dexterous fingers were wrapping themselves around Harry's length, wanking him hard and fast in time with Draco's devastating thrusts.

Euphoria exploded through him as his climax hit him fast and hard. His arse clamped down on the firm cock still lodged deep inside as his own cock emptied itself all over his stomach and Draco's hand. Draco's thrusts didn't stop as Harry came. If anything, the fucking grew more frenzied and intense as Draco clearly chased after his own release. Harry didn't mind. He'd already come to love the full feeling of Draco inside him, and the extra sensitivity in the wake of his orgasm only heightened his pleasure as Draco took his fill.

Harry lay there, boneless and sated, watching with rapt attention as Draco fucked him. As caught up as he'd been in his own pleasure, he hadn't had a chance to really take Draco in, but he took advantage of his languor now. By this point, Harry was well acquainted with what Draco's face looked like in the throws of passion, but the Draco above him at that moment was something else entirely. Sweat beaded along his upper lip and the edges of his forehead, dampening the roots of his fair hair to gold. His entire body moved with sinuous grace, every muscle tensing and releasing in perfect harmony as he thrust. Draco was always beautiful, but there was something more about him now, his every molecule focused on chasing pleasure, all his carefully refined artifice stripped away, revealing the raw, animal desire underneath that took Harry's breath away. Harry could tell Draco was losing control in the way his fingers dug in a little too tightly to the firm muscle of Harry's thigh, how his thrusts grew more erratic, losing the gentle edge Harry hadn't realised had been there before. And his eyes...the dark intensity there threatened to consume Harry, pinning Harry to the mattress just as effectively as Draco's hard body.

Harry was watching Draco's expression when he finally found his release, his mouth dropping open in a satisfied snarl as he pressed his hips snug against Harry's arse. He couldn't resist tugging Draco's face back towards his own, licking into Draco's mouth and kissing him senseless as Draco shuddered his way through the aftershocks. Everything felt soft and quiet in the aftermath of their frenzied coupling, and Harry luxuriated in the sated feeling suffusing his body, making him feel like he was glowing from the inside out.

By the time Draco slowly eased out of Harry's arse and rolled over to lay next to Harry on the small mattress, Harry's body was the one that was trembling, his system overloaded with endorphins and adrenaline. Fuck, that had been intense. Amazing. So much more than Harry could have ever imagined. Giving himself to Draco, opening up his body like he had...it had been indescribably powerful. He'd been excited and curious about what it would be like, but he hadn't anticipated how deeply it would affect him. It had been a revelation, the way he went wild with it, the fact that, even with his body aching in strange new ways, he couldn't wait to do it again. Harry probably should have expected taking things to the next level with Draco would have such an impact—everything with Draco was so much more intense than it had any right to be.

It was exhilarating and disconcerting both, how quickly things had progressed between them. After all, it hadn't even been two full months since he broke up with his Ginny, his fiancée, the woman that he'd loved and dated for years. The woman he had planned to marry. And here he was now, having the most intensely spectacular sexual experience of his life with somebody else. With a man. With Draco Malfoy. And yet, Harry couldn't bring himself to regret it, couldn't bring himself to feel guilty over the pleasure he felt with Draco. Hell, if he was really being honest with himself, he knew this thing with Draco was more than just sex. Harry genuinely enjoyed his company. He liked Draco's sharp commentary, his quick wit, the way he seemed to really know who he was. There was something magnetic about Draco, something fascinating and captivating.

Harry knew he had a tendency to move too fast, to look before he leapt, and he really needed to get his emotions under control before they threatened to derail him. This thing with Draco was just supposed to be a bit of fun. In a couple of months Draco would be gone, back to his new home in America, and Harry...well, Harry would be here.

An actual relationship between the two of them was never going to be in the cards, and Harry would be smart to remember that before he got too attached.

***

"How are you feeling?" Draco asked when it appeared that Harry wasn't going to break the silence himself. He was pleased his voice wasn't shaking, despite the nervousness he felt. Draco had lost himself a little at the end, taken Harry more roughly than he'd planned, especially considering it was Harry's first time. He'd managed to mostly control himself at the start, but with the full moon upon them, and Harry pinned beneath him looking good enough to eat...well, his control hadn't lasted long, and he'd fully lost himself to the rut by the end of it.

Harry swung his head lazily around to look at Draco, his eyes hooded and soft with satisfaction. His smile was indulgent, pleased, and something in Draco's stomach began to flutter at the sight of it. "I feel brilliant," Harry said with clear conviction.

Draco hesitated. "Are you sure? I know I got a little rough there, towards the end."

Harry's eyes glowed with fondness. "Yes, Draco, I'm sure. That was…" He broke off, eyes glazing over before he shook his head, cheeks flushed. "I think that might have been the best sex I've ever had, honestly."

Draco's eyes widened and his chest warmed with possessive pride. It made Draco want to claim Harry all over again, get him on his hands and knees and mount him from behind until Harry screamed for him. He tamped down his inappropriate reaction and grinned instead. "Careful. You'll give me a big head," he teased, keepings things in light, shallow waters.

Truth be told, it was probably the best sex of Draco's life, too, which was more than a little terrifying. He'd never connected with somebody so intensely and passionately before. Of course he'd had fantastic sex, but there had always been a barrier with his partners before that he'd never been able to breach. Maybe it was because Harry really knew him, the good, along with all the dark, shameful parts of himself he could never really escape. There was no need for pretense, no need to hide, and it was clear that Harry felt the same. Which was the really shocking part of their whole liaison, really, the fact that Harry gave himself so freely, the trust he placed in Draco's hands. It was humbling and thrilling, being held in such high regard by somebody he'd wronged so greatly in the past. It made Draco even more determined to be worthy of it, made him want to reciprocate in turn. Draco knew this kind of connection went so much farther than simple friendship, than the easygoing friends with benefits arrangement he and Harry had tacitly agreed to but never really discussed.

"It's the full moon tonight, isn't it?" Harry asked softly, pulling Draco from his thoughts.

He blinked, his mind taking a few seconds to process Harry's question. "Yes, it is."

"Is that why you were worried about the roughness? Does it affect you like that?" Harry's voice carried no derision or censure, just simple curiosity.

Draco nodded. "My emotions and senses are heightened around the full moon. I'm...hungrier, in ever sense of the word. With sex, it's easier for me to get carried away and give in to my...baser instincts."

"Ahh," Harry said, his expression thoughtful. "That makes sense. Bill's kind of like that, too. I mean, I don't know about the sex thing, but Fleur—his wife—mentioned that he seems to eat his weight in rare steaks around the full moon, and that he's a bit more sensitive and irritable."

Harry's tone held no accusation but Draco couldn't help but infer it all the same. It was Draco's fault the eldest Weasley had been marred, Draco's fault for letting the Death Eaters in, for allowing that monster to enter Hogwarts. He hadn't known Fenrir would be with the intruders, but that hardly absolved him of his sins. The others he had known about weren't that much better.

"I suppose it's fitting," Draco said hollowly, guilt churning in his belly, "that I was similarly marked. A suitable penance for my sins."

Harry's expression clouded over and he propped himself up on his elbow, looking earnestly into Draco's eyes. "That's bullshit, Draco. What happened to Bill was awful, and I'm not denying that you had a role in that. But you weren't the one who attacked him, and whatever your transgressions, you didn't deserve what Fenrir did to you."

Draco nodded absently. "Yes, of course you're right," Draco said. He knew that, he did, but sometimes...sometimes it was hard to really believe it. Madison would tell him he was victim blaming, but Draco hadn't been your typical victim. He'd hardly been innocent during the war.. He had, in fact, done terrible things in order to survive and to ensure his family's survival. In the end, the Malfoys had walked away from the devastation of the war nearly scot-free. Not only had they avoided Azkaban, but they'd kept their money and their properties and their wands. Sure, their reputation was in tatters, but it had been their choice to leave Britain and try their luck abroad. Perhaps what happened to Draco had been some kind of divine intervention, some way of evening the score in a game that always seemed stacked in the Malfoy's favour.

"Draco," Harry said, his voice soft but firm. "I'm serious. You have to know that what happened to you wasn't your fault. You didn't deserve it. The war was awful and fucked up and we all did shit we aren't proud of, that we regret. But you stood trial for your crimes, and you were a bloody child. Again, I'm not excusing it, I'm not trying to minimise all the shit Voldemort and his followers did, but come on...please tell me you know what Fenrir did to you was wrong. That you didn't deserve it."

Harry reached for his hand and warmth flooded through Draco as he linked their fingers together. He sighed. "No, I do know that. Really, I do," he assured Harry as the dubious look on his face. "Being back here, in England...it's difficult. It's reopened a lot of old wounds and proved that I'm definitely not as over things as I thought. I should probably start seeing a Mind Healer again, when I get back to Seattle."

"Again? I thought you just did the group therapy thing."

"No. I did the group thing to start, and it was really helpful, seeing that I wasn't alone. But there were a lot of things I didn't feel comfortable sharing with everybody. The war, my role in it...I saw a separate Mind Healer just about every week for the first two years. I hardly saw her at all the year before we came here, though. I was doing a lot better, but I think it may be time to start things up again when I get back home."

"That seems...very mature of you."

Draco flashed him a wry smile. He'd come to appreciate the wonders of therapy, but that didn't mean he had to like it. It was still a struggle for him to open up and make himself vulnerable, particularly with strangers. But as much as he wanted to say he could work through everything on his own, he knew that just wasn't true. Years of Malfoy training to be strong and independent, to trust and rely on nobody, were a hard habit to break, but he knew there was nothing shameful in seeking help, and he'd long since decided not to allow his fears to hold him back from being the kind of person he wanted to be.

"What about you?" Draco asked, ready to move the spotlight off of himself. "You ever see a Mind Healer?"

Harry's brow furrowed. "No...why?"

Draco shrugged. "I'm not the only one who had traumatic experiences during the war."

Harry's mouth tightened for a moment before relaxing. He nodded. "Fair enough. Hermione used to bug me about it a lot, that first year, but eventually she gave up trying. I don't know if I'd feel...comfortable, talking to anybody in Britain. I know there's supposed to be patient confidentiality, but I'd always worry about the things I talked about ending up on the front page of the Prophet the next morning. And I can't exactly talk to a Muggle about it, so…"

Draco couldn't fault his logic there. "Yeah, I see your point. I was actually just thinking the same thing. How I'd rather wait until I got back to Seattle and could see my regular Mind Healer, even though it would probably help to see somebody sooner. Even if I could find a Mind Healer here that would meet with me, I'd never feel comfortable enough to actually open up."

"Exactly," Harry sighed. "But I've got my friends to help get me through. It's not so bad."

Personally, Draco thought there were probably a lot more issues buried under the surface that Harry needed to deal with. A part of him wanted to force the topic, fully aware of how much confronting his own demons had done for his own happiness, but something told him now wasn't the time to push. Harry seemed to be doing all right, and Draco knew that, until somebody was ready, all the nagging in the world wouldn't do a thing. They'd barely had a chance to linger in the afterglow of their spectacular shag, and Draco wasn't eager to weigh things down by continuing such a fraught discussion. Still, he didn't plan on leaving the matter alone entirely, resolving to bring it up again when the opportunity arose.

Shaking off his thoughts, Draco reached out and rubbed his thumb over Harry's left nipple, pinching at it when it hardened beneath his caress. "Speaking of not bad," Draco said as Harry smoldered up at him. "What do you say to round two."

Harry grinned. "Do your worst."

Chapter Text

Harry looked down at his watch and frowned. He'd hoped that Ron, Hermione, and Draco would be back from their simulation by now so he could find out how it went, since the three of them had all been partnered together, but they still hadn't returned. If he didn't leave for Andromeda's now, he'd be late for dinner.

He stood, checking out his appearance in the mirror and straightening his collar, before heading out to the group Floos. Harry was sure the simulation had gone fine, and he'd be able to ask Draco when he got back later that night. He knew his desire for his best mates and his...Draco...to get along was probably a pipe dream, but hopefully they'd at least managed to be civil. They'd all done fine so far, but the three of them also hadn't yet had a reason to be alone together. Harry sighed. Best to push it out of his head for now, so he wasn't preoccupied all through dinner worrying about it. He felt like a subpar godfather already with how long it'd been since the last time he visited Teddy, the least he could do was be fully present tonight.

He headed straight for the kitchen when he got to Andromeda's, knowing from past experience that it was the most likely place to find her. Sure enough, she was putting the finishing touches on some kind of pasta dish while Teddy sat in his high chair, intensely focused on the paper and crayons in front of him.

"Harry!" Teddy squealed the second Harry walked into the kitchen. His hair instantly melted from light brown to dark, mimicking Harry's locks as he held up his arms in a blatant plea to be held. Harry grinned, his mood lifting as it always did around his merry godson.

"Hiya Teddy," Harry cooed as he scooped Teddy up into his arms.

"Harry," Andromeda said pleasantly as she turned to greet him. "I'm so glad you could make it."

Harry suppressed a wince. He knew she didn't mean anything by it, but Harry knew he probably wasn't coming around as often as he should. Guilt over leaving Teddy's care completely up to her and shirking his godfatherly duties plagued him. He knew first hand how hard it was, growing up without parents, and he clearly remembered how thrilled he'd been when he met Sirius and realised he had a godfather of his own who cared for him. What kind of message was it sending to Teddy that Harry could barely manage to spare a single evening a month to visit him?

"Of course," Harry replied. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Andromeda smiled, though there was something assessing in her gaze as she looked him over before returning to her cooking. "Dinner will be ready in just a moment. If you want to get Teddy settled in the dining room, I'll bring everything out when it's finished."

"No problem."

He carried Teddy out to the dining room, sitting down and keeping Teddy on his lap as Teddy babbled in his adorable half-gibberish about everything that had happened to him and his toys over the past month. Occasionally he'd pause mid-stream, a sweet look of concentration furrowing his brow as he changed something about his appearance, always looking to Harry for approval before continuing on with his story. It made something in Harry ache, the use of his abilities and his endless enthusiasm reminding him so strongly of Teddy's mother. He remembered how effortlessly Tonks had changed her form, and he wondered at what age she became so proficient. Was it something that would come to Teddy with time, or did Teddy's abilities work slightly differently than hers? He hated that she wouldn't be here to guide him through it, that she and Remus would miss out on raising this beautiful little boy. Harry loved Teddy, loved being with him and talking with him, but there was an unavoidable tinge of sadness that crept over him whenever he held Teddy in his arms, like pressing over the bruise of Remus and Tonks's deaths, of the deaths of Harry's own parents. He couldn't help but feel guilty about that, too, that he should feel anything but joy when playing with Teddy.

Dinner was simple, but delicious, buttered noodles for Teddy and pasta carbonara and a light salad for the adults. Harry tried not to dwell too much on his failings and instead tried to focus on catching up with Teddy and Andromeda, listening as Andromeda outlined her plan for Teddy's pre-Hogwarts schooling. He was grateful that she included him in the decisions, though it was clear she had everything covered. She clearly adored Teddy and seemed to genuinely enjoy raising him, but Harry wondered if there was a part of her that resented the fact that she had to handle it all on her own.

"I'm sorry for not being around more," Harry finally blurted out after they'd finished eating. "I know it's asking a lot of you, having you do all the heavy lifting with Teddy. I'm his godfather, I should be doing more to help you."

Andromeda's expression was gentle but stern as she stared him down. "You are doing just the right amount, Harry. You should be kinder to yourself, and you should give me more credit. You didn't foist Teddy off on to me, I offered to raise him. You're practically still a child yourself, and after everything you've been through...you deserve to have some time to yourself to figure out what you want out of life without having to raise a newborn child." Harry opened his mouth to interrupt, but she held up a hand. "I wanted this, Harry. After...after losing Ted and Dora both…" She broke off and looked away, blinking rapidly before clearing her throat. "I don't know how I would have made it through without Teddy. He's given my life purpose, gave me a reason to keep going and see the beauty in life when it would have been so easy to get lost in darkness. I can't tell you how much joy it brings me to see my Dora and Ted living on in this sweet boy." She ran a hand through Teddy's candyfloss pink locks, and Harry throat tightened. "It's my pleasure to raise him, Harry. Now, if you want to be more involved, all you have to do is say so, but please don't feel guilty on my account, nor on Teddy's. He knows how much you love him. What you're doing is more than enough." She looked at him kindly and patted his hand on the table. "You take on too much, you know. You don't have to do everything yourself."

Harry swallowed, his throat dry and eyes tingling. He managed a smile, overwhelmed with love and gratitude and that same undercurrent of loss that none of them would ever fully escape. But maybe that was okay. Sometimes it was painful to remember, but it was good, too, to think about the people they'd loved and lost, the people that would always stay with them, in one way or another. "Thanks, Andromeda. You're doing an amazing job with him, I hope you know that. I just want to make sure he knows that I love him, and that I'm here for him, always. You, too."

She smiled. "He knows that, Harry, I promise. We both do." Harry sniffed, and Andromeda clapped her hands together briskly. "Now, why don't we clean-up and put the dishes away, yes? You can tell Teddy and I all about how your Auror Training is going while we work."

He filled her in as they cleaned the kitchen, Teddy playing merrily with the soap bubbles while Harry and Andromeda did most of the actual cleaning with magic.

"And how are things with your roommate?" Andromeda asked carefully, once they'd finished with the kitchen.

She knew, of course, that her nephew was rooming with Harry, though she'd been mostly silent on the matter thus far. Harry had actually mentioned this dinner to Draco earlier in the week, trying to convince him to come along, to meet his aunt and his cousin, but Draco had declined. Harry could sense that a part of Draco wanted to come with, that he longed for that connection, but Harry understood his reluctance, given the history between Andromeda and Draco's family. He could acknowledge that maybe ambushing Andromeda with Draco probably wouldn't have been the smartest move, but he hated to think of Draco missing out on knowing such wonderful people, and he was sure Andromeda would see the good in him, how he'd changed, if only she had a chance to get to know him.

"Draco's good. Really good, actually. I know things were rocky between us at first, but he's really different than the boy I used to know. He's changed a lot."

Andromeda nodded, her expression skeptical. "That's good to hear. I can't say what I know of the boy is all that pleasant, but if you tell me he's changed, then I trust your judgement." Harry could sense the wariness in her tone, but he appreciated that she was trying to keep an open mind.

"It's hard for him, being back here, but he really is making an effort. I wonder…" He hesitated. Draco hadn't asked him to do this, and he worried he might be overstepping his bounds, but Harry knew how devastating it was to be without family who loved you, and if he could help Draco reconnect with his, then consequences be damned. "How would you feel if he wrote to you sometime? I understand if you want to be cautious with Teddy, and Draco might not be ready for an in-person meeting anytime soon. But would it be okay if he sent you a letter sometime?"

Andromeda looked surprised, though not displeased. "He asked if he could write?"

Harry flashed her a sheepish smile. "Not exactly. To be honest, I think he's already convinced himself that you'll want nothing to do with him. But if you'd be open to it, I think it would be good for both of you to get to know one another."

Andromeda nodded thoughtfully, a small smile on your face. "Yes, well...I suppose, if he's really changed, then it can't hurt to start a dialogue. Tell him that if he'd like to write me, I'd be happy to hear from him. Truly."

Harry grinned. "Thank you, Andromeda. I think that will mean a lot to him."

She arched an eyebrow, but said nothing more on the subject. "It looks like it's time for somebody's bath," she sing-songed, before reaching down to tickle Teddy and scooping him up. He shrieked with laughter and began to clap. Harry knew how much he loved bath time.

"Need any help?"

"Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, I plan on leaving things entirely up to you," she said with a wink. "You know he'll demand you read him at least three bedtime stories afterward, so you might as well handle the whole bedtime operation."

He laughed. "That's very thoughtful of you. And you'll be…"

"Relaxing in a bath of my own with a good book. Of course, let me know if you need anything, dear, but I imagine you'll be fine."

He nodded. This wasn't the first time he'd put Teddy to bed, and he appreciated Andromeda's not-so-subtle attempt to give him and Teddy some bonding time together.

"Sounds good. Here, let me take him."

Andromeda deftly passed him over to Harry, before pulling Harry and Teddy both in for a hug. She pressed a kiss to Harry's cheek. "You're a good boy, Harry. I'm glad you were able to come tonight."

He squeezed her back, tight enough that Teddy made a disgruntled sound between them and Harry pulled off. "Thank you, Andromeda. For everything. Have a good night."

"You, too, Harry." She headed up the stairs with a quick kiss goodnight to Teddy, and Harry stared after her for a moment, before Teddy's wriggling brought him back to the task at hand.

"All right, Champ. Let's go see about giving you a bath."

Teddy chattered non-stop as Harry helped him with his bath and bedtime routine, this time about his future career as a space Auror, his sweet face turning to Harry for enthusiastic encouragement whenever he paused to take a breath. Every time Harry visited, Teddy had a new obsession, a new idea about what he wanted to be when he grew up that he enthused about with unmistakable passion. Harry grinned and nodded in all the right places, but for some reason, Teddy's newest calling struck Harry differently than before. It wasn't that he thought Teddy was anymore serious about this idea than the last, but as Teddy rambled about interplanetary criminals and star travel and space brooms, it suddenly hit Harry, how much he wanted Teddy to be able to do whatever it was that he wanted. When Teddy grew up and discovered what his true calling was, Harry didn't want Teddy to have a single doubt in his mind that he could achieve his dreams. That sudden, desperate longing made Harry wonder about the kind of example he was setting for his godson, if he'd really been living the kind of full, happy life that he wanted for Teddy. What were his own dreams? His passions? Harry knew he enjoyed his work so far, training to be an Auror, but if he were honest with himself, he'd never thought much about if it was what he truly wanted to do with his life. He thought it was, but had he ever considered other options?

Even beyond his career, what else was Harry doing to get what he wanted out of life? Hell, what did he want out of life? There was a time not so long ago that he would have said he wanted Ginny. Ginny and a quiet life in a happy house, three kids, and maybe even a Crup or two to round things out. But that dream had quickly crumbled, revealing its paper thin walls, and now Harry was left wondering what came next. He'd been happy lately, happier than he'd been in a long while, and Harry knew Draco was a big part of that, but, as much as the thought pained him, Draco was only temporary, and even if he weren't, Harry didn't want to make the same mistakes he'd made with Ginny. He couldn't put all his hopes and happiness on another person. Harry wanted to be the kind of person that Teddy could look up to and emulate, somebody happy and healthy and confident, somebody who knew themselves and who wasn't afraid to take risks to achieve their dreams, even if they were as fantastical as becoming the first Auror in space.

It was time for Harry to really figure out what he wanted out of life, and start doing whatever it took to make it happen.

***

Draco cursed as he checked his watch, debating on if he had enough time to run up and take a quick shower before his meeting with Robards in thirty minutes. The training simulation he'd just finished had run long and had left him predictably grimy. He was certain somebody like the Head Auror would understand, but meeting with someone so important while looking anything less than his best would immediately put Draco on guard. It was bound to be uncomfortable enough without Draco worrying about the impression he was leaving. His course decided, Draco rushed down the corridor towards his and Harry's room.

Despite being in a hurry, a part of Draco hoped Harry would be still be there, but the room was empty. That wasn't a surprise. Draco knew Harry was eating dinner with his godson that night, Harry had even awkwardly invited Draco along before he quickly put a stop to that line of thinking. Draco wasn't ready to face the Aunt he'd never known, let alone baby Teddy, and he'd hardly thought Andromeda would be all that keen to see him, either. Thankfully, Harry had been willing to let the matter rest. Harry might have had plans that night, but Draco also knew that, based on the intensely curious glance Harry had sent his way when the team participating in that afternoon's simulation had been announced, Harry had probably lingered in their shared room for as long as possible before finally leaving for his dinner. Harry would definitely be expecting a full debriefing of how the exercise had gone, and Draco...well, he wasn't really sure what to tell him.

He hopped into the shower and scrubbed down quickly, reflecting on the several hours he'd just spent in the middle of Merlin-knew-where with two of the last people Draco would have expected to be stranded with. When Instructor Kenton had first announced their latest training simulation earlier that day, a strange sense of foreboding had immediately filled Draco's stomach. They were to be dropped into the wilderness in groups of three, pretending that one of their 'partners' had already been incapacitated, putting them at a disadvantage. Draco wasn't sure why he'd felt so hesitant—he normally quite enjoyed their simulation trainings—but the reason for his unnatural unease had become clear a moment later when Kenton called out the first group to tackle the scenario.

"Granger, Malfoy, and Weasley, you're up first," Kenton had said, and Draco had barely managed to suppress his wince. Damn his intuition.

Weasley hadn't managed such tact, turning a whinging face to his girlfriend in obvious displeasure. Draco hadn't been able to hear Granger's words, but he'd decided to assume good intentions when Weasley's face had smoothed out into resigned determination, Granger turning to flash a tentative smile his way.

It had been the first time he'd been alone with Harry's friends since...well, since he'd returned, really. He'd never been overly keen on either of them if he was being perfectly honest, and his sense of shame and guilt over his actions during their childhood and the war made facing them both all the more difficult. Ever since he and Harry started hooking up, Draco's casual avoidance had become significantly more purposeful. He knew Harry told them pretty much everything, but he had no idea if their liaisons fell under that umbrella. Draco really wasn't eager to find out.

He'd been filled with the urge to apologise to them, but he hadn't been able to make himself do it. Draco told himself it was because the middle of an intensive training exercise was hardly the time to bring up such a sensitive topic, but part of Draco worried that was just an excuse. There was a strange sense of worry in the pit of his stomach whenever he thought about it, a bizarre desire for them to like him, and a part of him didn't want to reach out just to have his olive branch denied. He pointedly didn't think about why he was suddenly so concerned with what Granger and Weasley thought of him, or why he might want to clear the air for the future. It wasn't as if Draco was planning to stick around much longer, after all.

Things had been fine, if a little awkward, in the end. Weasley had a surprisingly good head for strategy, and Draco already knew that Granger had talent to spare. The both of them were cordial and polite, willing to work with Draco to make it through their assessment, much to Draco's relief. The whole thing had been more painless than expected, even if it did take them a while to make it to their final destination. A part of Draco had wondered if Harry had anything to do with it, if maybe the reason Granger and Weasley were so accommodating was because they knew about Draco and Harry's involvement. As soon as the thought had come to him though, he'd immediately dismissed it. If they had known about his and Harry's pseudo-relationship, Draco imagined the simulation that afternoon would have gone very differently. It was one thing to try and move beyond their shared past, to become something like respectful colleagues. It was another thing entirely to be okay with their best mate shagging their former enemy.

A sliver of melancholy had pierced through him at the thought, wiggling its way under Draco's skin as he dried himself off and got dressed for his meeting. It was ridiculous to be upset at the knowledge that Harry's best mates would never be okay with a relationship between Harry and Draco. After all, this thing between them was only ever going to be temporary. It wasn't as if Draco had told any of his friends about their relationship, either. Harry and him had never officially discussed keeping things a secret, but it almost seemed a given, really, considering their pasts. Draco wasn't even sure if Harry had told any of his friends that he liked men, and the last thing Draco wanted to do was out Harry before he was ready.

Truth be told, Draco didn't really mind that nobody knew about them. He liked that they had something together that was theirs alone, liked knowing this part of Harry that nobody else did. Draco wanted Harry, wanted to keep him all to himself for as long as he possibly could. A part of Draco knew that the moment people started finding out, that others started getting involved, it would signal the beginning of the end. Draco wasn't ready for things to end. Not yet.

Looking at himself in the mirror one final time and confirming he was presentable, Draco checked his watch and sighed. It was time to meet with Head Auror Robards.

The flying memo Draco had received yesterday morning with his summons had not indicated what this meeting was about, and Draco's stomach clenched with nerves. All of Draco's interactions with him so far had been perfectly civil. Robards had been quite sympathetic when he'd interviewed Draco about what had happened with Instructor Jennings last month, even going so far as to offer Draco an apology on behalf of the Auror Department. One that Draco was sure the rest of the Auror Department wouldn't have actually endorsed, had they known about it, but it was the gesture that counted. Still, a mysterious request to meet with the boss, and after-hours no less, would make anybody nervous.

Given that it was over well past when most Ministry employees would have already gone home for the evening, Draco wasn't surprised that the normally bustling Auror offices were mostly empty. The Ministry, of course, had Aurors working 'round the clock, but whoever was currently on shift didn't appear to be in the main offices. He could hear the sound of clinking and laughter echoing down one of the corridors off the main hall. Perhaps the ones that weren't on patrol were in the break room.

The lights in the outer waiting room leading to Robards's office were dim, the desk where his assistant, Shirley, usually sat, empty. The door to his office was closed, but a thin bar of light crept out onto the carpet along the bottom edge of his door, indicating that somebody was likely inside. Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Draco knocked.

"Come in," Robards called out, his voice impossibly loud even through the thick wooden door. Draco entered, and Robards gestured towards a wooden chair opposite his desk. "Please, sit," he said in a quieter tone. Draco sat obediently, shifting against the hard seat. Something told Draco the uncomfortable nature of the chair was not an oversight.

Robards stared at him silently for a long moment, his shrewd eyes likely observing far more than Draco wanted him to. Draco clenched his hands against his thighs and fought the urge to fidget beneath Robards's placid gaze. Robards seemed content to stare at him, and eventually Draco gave in, unable to bear the awkward quiet any longer.

"You wanted to see me sir?"

Robards eyes twinkled with restrained amusement. "I did, yes."

When, once again, Robards didn't seem to feel the need to share further information, Draco pressed, "May I ask what about?"

"You may."

Draco had a feeling Robards had been a damned good interrogator back in his day. Given his unusual conversational style, he clearly missed it and was keen to show off his skills whenever possible. Draco was impressed, even if he didn't much fancy having those skills used on him. Draco couldn't help but let some of his exasperation show, and Robards face cracked into a smile, before his expression slid into something more serious. He cleared his throat.

"I thought you should be aware that Auror Jennings will be returning to work soon. His one month mandatory probationary leave will be up next week."

"I see," Draco said neutrally. He honestly hadn't thought all that much about Jennings the past several weeks, doing his best to put him and that awful incident behind him after he'd made his official statement to Robards.

"Of course, he won't be returning to his post as Instructor, nor will he be cleared for active duty right away. I'm not at liberty to discuss his performance plan with you, but I want you to be assured we take the actions of all our Aurors very seriously, and he won't be allowed back out into the field until I'm satisfied that he's able to act objectively."

"And if that never happens?" Draco asked before he could think better of it.

Robards grimaced. "Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that. Losing his sister and her family during the war did a number on him, but he's a good man. He needs help, and I'll make sure he gets it, but if he can't learn to leave his personal grudges at home, then he doesn't have any business being an Auror."

Draco nodded stiffly. He supposed he should be comforted by Robards's assurances, but all he felt was empty. Robards seemed like a fair man, and Draco appreciated that he clearly cared about the witches and wizards working under him. Draco wasn't upset about Jennings getting to come back to work, not really. Frankly, Draco had been shocked that Jennings had been disciplined so harshly in the first place, a thought that was plainly shared with a number of Jennings's colleagues. Most of Draco's instructors, the Aurors he saw daily, had the appearance of neutrality, but the regular Aurors that Draco occasionally ran into in the hallways, or when summoned to the Auror offices, never seemed to bother with appearances. It was clear that many of them were just as distrustful of Draco as Jennings had been, and clearer still that few of them disagreed with Jennings actions. Oh, there were several that had likely been uncomfortable with it, the ones that averted their eyes guiltily whenever Draco passed, but for the most part, Draco was fairly certain the consensus was that Draco had deserved everything that had happened, and worse besides. He wondered how many of them knew what, exactly, he'd been forced to reveal while under the potion's effects. Knowing what a shameless bunch of gossips the Aurors were, it was probably all of them.

Briefly, Draco couldn't help but wonder how different his life would have been, had he stayed in England. Draco was certain that he wouldn't be here now, training to become an Auror. No matter how fair Robards seemed to be, it would have been mental to allow Draco into their training programme. The Aurors had taken a hit in the war, and though they certainly needed all the bodies they could recruit, Robards was no fool. To the rest of the force, letting Draco in would have been seen as letting a viper into the nest, destabilising the Aurors during a time when they most needed to cleave together. Head Auror Robards was smarter than that. No matter what his personal feelings on the matter, he would have seen Draco for what he was. A liability. It didn't matter how much he might have wanted to change, how much potential he had. In the end, he wouldn't have been worth what his mere presence would have cost the Aurors in a united front. Even now, with several years and distance from those horrors they'd all experienced, Draco was still treated with disdain and distrust. Robards interactions with him had been even and equitable, but Draco was certain he'd be quite pleased to see the back of him. It would mean less paperwork. After all, it would only be a matter of time before another one of his upstanding employees showed their true feelings towards Draco, the way Jennings had done, if Draco stuck around much longer.

"Is that everything, then?" Draco asked, a wave of exhaustion rolling over him. The training simulation had taken a lot out of him, and all he really wanted right then was a cheese toastie and a long night's sleep.

Robards stared at him, assessing, before nodding his head. "Yes, that's all. I didn't want you to be taken by surprise if you heard of Jennings return through the grapevine."

"Thank you, I appreciate it," Draco said diplomatically.

Robards quirked a smile. "If you experience any issues or if you have any concerns, please do let me know immediately. Otherwise, have a pleasant night Mr Malfoy."

Draco inclined his head, his mind already on dinner. "You too, Head Auror Robards."

Chapter Text

"Great job today, mate!" Harry said, clapping Neville on the back before passing him a beer.

"You think so?" Neville asked, quiet pride obvious in his voice. "I mean, obviously Sprout did all of the work, but I was really happy she brought me along to help out."

"Of course I do."

"Sprout may have done the presentation," Hermione interjected, "but it was obvious how highly she thinks of you. She trusted you to handle all the poisonous plants safely while she went over the various properties and how we can recognise the different varieties." Her brow furrowed. "I didn't realise how many of the really dangerous plants were left off the Hogwarts curriculum. I mean, I guess it makes sense from a safety perspective, but it seems like even children should know about them!"

"You're just upset that you missed out on some additional learning," Ron teased with a laugh. "Besides, all the plants Sprout went over today were non-native varieties, weren't you listening?"

"Ron!" Hermione said, clearly scandalised at the insinuation, though her cheeks tinged pink.

"Of course you were listening," Neville jumped in. Harry stifled a snort at his obvious attempt to sooth potentially ruffled feathers. "But you know we had a full course load in Hogwarts as it is. There just isn't time to cover all the magical plants in the world on the standard curriculum. It's why the Auror programme, among others, bring in Sprout and other herbology experts to go over some of the areas that aren't covered in general schooling."

"I never really thought of it, but it makes sense," Dean said with a slow nod. "It's actually pretty cool that you'll get to work on things beyond the standard Hogwarts curriculum. I guess I've never considered what all our professors got up to when they weren't teaching our classes."

Neville nodded, the bright enthusiasm in his eyes undeniable. It made Harry happy to see it, to know that his friend had truly found his passion in life. After everything they'd been through during the war, they all deserved to find some happiness. "Yeah, there are actually a lot of additional projects that Sprout has me helping with. It's been brilliant."

"Well, I'm glad you were able to come out with us after class today," Harry said with a grin. "All those extra projects Sprout has you working on must have kept you busy. It's been a while since we've seen you."

Neville's cheeks flushed and his eyes darted over to the bar, where Hannah Abbott was pouring drinks. Harry grinned and Dean let out a low whistle.

"So it's like that, is it? Throwing us over for a girl, Neville?" Dean said dramatically. "I'm wounded."

Neville's flush deepened. "It's just...It's still new, is all. I've been meaning to bring her 'round to one of our pub nights and introduce you all properly, but…"

"But we're a rowdy and intimidating bunch of war-hero Gryffindors and you don't want to scare her off?" Ron said with a grin.

Neville laughed. "Something like that."

"Don't listen to them, Neville," Hermione said, patting his hand affectionately. "I think it's sweet, wanting to keep her to yourself for awhile."

Impossibly, Neville's face turned redder still. "Yes, well, our schedules don't really sync up well, what with her working nights at the pub and me on days teaching with Sprout, plus I'm up at Hogwarts, and she's down here in London, so…"

"So when you get to see her you don't want to share her with your ridiculous friends."

"Exactly."

"Well," Harry said, before draining the last of his beer. "I just finished my drink and since I got the last round, I think it's your shout, yeah?"

Neville looked confused at the sudden turn in conversation, before he realised that buying Harry a beer meant he'd have a reason to go up and talk to Hannah. He hadn't exactly been avoiding her, but Harry hadn't seen them interact much all night, probably because Neville realised it had been a while since they'd hung out, and he'd been trying to be a good friend. He flashed Harry a shyly pleased smile as he slipped out of the booth and walked over to the bar.

"Sap," Ron muttered, nudging Harry's leg with his knee. Harry shrugged.

"It's nice to see everybody happy."

Instinctively, his eyes flicked to the table across the way, where the rest of their cohort was sitting. There hadn't been a big enough table for all thirteen of them, so all the old Gryffindors had grabbed a smaller table nearby to catch up with Neville, while the rest crammed themselves in a table meant for half their number. As was all too common these days, Harry felt his gaze drawn to Draco, who was practically sitting on Josh's lap, looking far more relaxed than Harry would have expected, considering they were in the Leaky Cauldron. Harry knew Draco hadn't really gone out in wizarding spaces since he'd been back, and Harry guessed that only the extra-strength privacy charms their group had put up allowed him to be as comfortable as he was. Even so, if Harry looked closely, he could see the tension in the straight line of his spine, in the tightness around his eyes and the firm clench of his jaw. Harry wondered if it should freak him out, how well he clearly knew Draco, knew his body and his tells. But instead it only filled him with a quiet warmth. It settled low in his belly, transmuting into something deeper, hotter, as Harry shifted in his seat, his mind flashing through images of their activities the night before. The tension in Draco's body then had been for an entirely different reason, his hands twisting in the sheets as Harry swallowed his prick and curled his fingers inside Draco's arse until he'd come down Harry's throat. It had been the first time they'd done that, and Harry's fingers still tingled as he recalled the tight warmth that had gripped him.

Thankfully, a dreamy sigh (not his own) dragged his gaze away from Draco before his memories got out of hand. He glanced over at Hermione, who was looking at the bar with soft eyes. "I'm glad Neville's found someone. You can tell Hannah really likes him."

"Well, why wouldn't she?" Ron said staunchly. "Neville's all right, isn't he?"

Hermione turned her soft eyes onto her boyfriend, but Harry's gaze stayed stuck on Hannah and Neville, talking quietly over the bar as if they were the only two people in the noisy pub. Hermione was right—Hannah's face as she listened to Neville speak made it perfectly clear just how smitten she was. Harry could only just make out the side of Neville's face, but even that much was enough for Harry to know his expression was just as adoring. Harry's face began to heat and he dragged his gaze away, feeling as if he was intruding on a private moment. His heart began to pound as he once again found himself looking at Draco, his eyes greedily taking in the fine bones of his wrist as he gestured to Madison, the way the few undone buttons at the top of his shirt revealed the tempting hollow of his throat, the sharp curve of his cheek as he quirked a smile. Harry could tell his own face was softening, slipping into something just as sweet and soppy as Neville and Hannah as they murmured sweet nothings over a sticky bar top.

He focused back on the empty glass in front of him, wishing Neville would return with his beer so he'd have something to distract from the buzzing thoughts pinging through his head. Things between him and Draco had clearly gone far beyond casual, at least for Harry, and he had absolutely no idea where to go from here. Harry knew the adult thing to do would probably involve some kind of conversation with Draco, but just the thought of it sent nervous jitters crawling across his skin. He already knew how that conversation would go, and Harry really didn't need to go courting anymore heartbreak.

Unfortunately for Harry, he had a feeling that it was already too late for that. At this point, heartbreak was pretty much unavoidable. He sighed. Heavily.

He really needed that drink.

***

Draco's stomach squirmed uncomfortably as half their group slid out of the booth to test out the Leaky's newly installed magical dartboards. He knew he was still firmly hidden behind several layers of concealment charms, but he couldn't help but feel exposed without the crush of people helping to hide him from view. A part of Draco wished he'd stayed back at the dorms instead of braving the wizarding world for the first time since he'd returned to London. But that would have been the cowardly thing to do, and Draco was doing his best to be brave these days, so he'd pasted on a smile and followed the lot of them to the Leaky.

From the corner of his eye, Draco registered the approach of several people, and tension tightened his frame before he realised it was just Granger and Longbottom moving to their table now that there were several vacated seats. A quick glance towards the dartboard showed that Weasley and Harry had decided to join in with most of the others. Draco allowed himself a few seconds to appreciate the curve of Harry's arse and the bright flash of his smile before he pulled his gaze away. It wouldn't do to be caught staring.

An arm jostled his own, and he looked over in surprise to see that Longbottom had apparently decided to brave the section of booth next to Draco while Granger fell into conversation with Zach. The squirming in his stomach intensified, reminding Draco that the location wasn't the only reason Draco had felt uncomfortable about tonight's outing.

Longbottom stared at him silently for a long moment, his gaze quiet and considering. There was none of the embarrassment or shame that Draco remembered seeing in his eyes as a child—only a steady self-possession that was completely at odds with the boy that Draco remembered. Draco supposed he shouldn't be so surprised. He'd tried so hard to forget the horrors of his final year at Hogwarts, but he knew Longbottom had been something of a leader among the students doing their best to survive the Carrows. Despite the fact that he and Longbottom had ostensibly been on different sides, there had been times during that awful year that Draco had been impressed and grateful for Longbottom's resistance, even if he thought it was futile. Longbottom didn't owe him anything, but sometimes when he'd looked at Draco there had been...if not kindness, then perhaps understanding, in his eyes. Draco had fancied that something in Longbottom's steady gaze promised that Draco was not beyond redemption, and after the war had ended, Draco had done his best to prove that unspoken faith was not misplaced.

"Longbottom," Draco said quietly, haltingly. He wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to say, only knew that he had to say something, had to try and find the words to apologise for all his many past transgressions. Apologising was always horrible and tense and awkward as fuck, but after years of therapy and working hard on himself to become a better person, Draco knew it was worth it, in the end, if only for the lifting of weight off his shoulders. Longbottom continued to stare, and perhaps some of Draco's thoughts came through his expression, because a moment later Longbottom was nodding, his body easing as if some kind of tension had been released.

"You're all right, Draco," he said decisively.

Draco blinked at him in surprise. "You don't even know me. We haven't spoken in over three years, and our last exchanges were hardly pleasant."

Longbottom shrugged, a carelessly dismissive motion considering all the bad blood between them. "I'm a good judge of character, and I can tell you're different now. You wouldn't have lasted so long in the Auror programme if you weren't."

Draco opened his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it again when he realised he didn't really have a response. It was a little shocking, just how much faith all these Gryffindors put into the judgement of their friends. All Longbottom had to go on was the words of his mates that Draco had changed. Yet somehow that was enough to overcome the years of Draco's truly horrifying behaviour. It was humbling, and a little bittersweet, seeing such clear evidence of the differences from Draco's own Hogwarts friendships. He thought maybe he'd found something a little like it with his American friends, but Draco couldn't help but feel a little wistful about what could have been, if only he and the rest of the Slytherins hadn't felt the need to be so guarded.

"All right then," Draco said slowly after a long pause. A part of him wanted to argue against this sudden forgiveness, to push things and see how resolved Longbottom really was. But Draco wasn't so stupid as to look a gift Abraxan in the mouth. If Longbottom said he was okay with Draco, then Draco was going to take him at his word.

He glanced down at the empty glass in his hand, and a sudden surge of gratefulness rushed through him. "Looks like I'm out. Why don't I get the next shout?"

Longbottom quirked a half smile, but nodded before draining his glass and sliding out of the booth to let Draco out. "Okay. I'll have another beer. Hannah knows the one."

Draco paused as he stood, raising a brow at Longbottom. "Hannah, eh? You on a first name basis with all the bartenders?"

Longbottom's face flushed even as he rolled his eyes. "She was in our year at Hogwarts, you know."

Draco snorted. "I know. But I don't recall you being in the same social circle back then."

"Paid a lot of attention to who I hung out with back at Hogwarts?"

"I'm observant," Draco said with a grin, though his mind was still having difficulty processing the fact that he was exchanging friendly, teasing banter with Longbottom of all people. Judging by he faintly bemused look on Longbottom's face, he wasn't the only one slightly off-balance by the encounter

"I suppose that's why you're training to be an Auror, then."

Draco nodded. "I suppose so. Among other reasons." He shuddered, pointedly not thinking about any of those other reasons, not now. "I'll be right back."

Hannah Abbott's soft smile when Draco mentioned Longbottom was enough to confirm his suspicions, though if it hadn't been, Longbottom's increasingly rapturous declarations of her beauty as they proceeded to get steadily drunker would have certainly been a big clue. It was actually a little impressive, how Longbottom managed to twist every conversation topic back to Hannah. Surprisingly, Draco found himself a little fascinated by the theme, though that might just have been because he was far from sober himself.

Or maybe it was because he recognised the smitten, giddy look on Longbottom's face whenever Hannah smiled over at him. Draco sincerely hoped he never appeared so blatantly gooey, but he couldn't deny that he knew the exact feeling expanding in Longbottom's chest like a balloon when his eyes went soft as he extolled Hannah's virtues. He imagined it was a lot like the emotion welling up inside him now, tingling out to the tips of his fingers and toes as he watched Harry's finger wrap around a dart and let it fly, his fine face breaking out into a sheepish grin when the throw went wide and the dart began berating his aim quite vociferously. It was fondness and affection, a steady desire sparking with lust and something warmer, deeper. An emotion Draco had been tiptoeing around for months, never letting himself think the words even as the feeling filled him up to the brim.

But drunk Draco didn't have the same willpower or sense of self-preservation as sober Draco, so he watched Harry smile and laugh with his friends as he faced the fact he could no longer deny.

Draco Malfoy was in love with Harry Potter.

And he was so, so fucked.

Chapter Text

"Hellooo ladies and gentlemen! It's so great to see so many beautiful faces with us today for the Grand Opening of the second Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes location, right here in Hogsmeade!" Lee Jordan's smooth baritone rolled into the bustling shop from where he and his crew had set up a radio booth beneath a vibrant green and orange awning on the lawn just outside. "George will be out in an hour to share a few words with us, and kick off our first round of prizes, so make sure you're here at eleven o'clock! Now let's listen to some music." Lee's voice faded away, replaced by the blare of the latest Weird Sisters' song. Harry suppressed a snort as a group of girls over by the love potion display let out happy shrieks, before dancing and singing along unselfconsciously to the lyrics.

"Oi, Harry," George called out from the register. "Would you mind restocking the Loonar Loop Luminators display? Looks like we're running low."

"Sure thing, boss," Harry said with a salute, before weaving through the packed crowd towards the storeroom in the back.

The place was even busier than Harry had been expecting, which was saying something, given how bustling he knew the Diagon Alley location always was. George clearly knew what to expect, because he had recruited all of the Weasleys (minus Charlie) plus Hermione and Harry to help out with the opening day crowd, and that was in addition to his paid staff. The fact that Lee had volunteered to DJ for the event had only helped draw the people in. He hosted one of the most popular late night segments on wizarding radio, and was particularly big with the younger crowd—the joke shop's key demographic. Harry had a feeling a large number of people had come just to see Lee in person, corroborated by the high number of moony-eyed girls (and boys) hanging around Lee's tent. Still, the publicity was great for business, and Harry was glad to see opening day going so well, not that he had any doubts, of course. He'd volunteered his services for anything George needed help with, which primarily seemed to be attempting to restock all of the product that kept flying off the shelves—sometimes literally.

They'd all been working now for nearly four hours, the group arriving at six in the morning to help set everything up. Molly, of course, had brought along several thermoses of hot coffee and tea, along with a hearty selection of homemade scones and jam. It wasn't exactly your standard Weasley brunch, but it was the closest Harry had got since he and Ginny had split, over three months ago now, and he'd been jittery with neves. He hadn't quite worked up the nerve yet to go to the Burrow, despite Ron's assurances that everything would be fine. Thankfully, the impending craziness of the day had been enough to smooth over any potential awkwardness, and though he hadn't been able to quite look Ginny in the eye, he was grateful that the rest of the Weasley's didn't seem to think of him any differently now that he and Ginny were no longer together.

After a bit of digging, Harry finally found the box of Loonar Loop Luminators wedged under a stack of Broom Broom kits. With a bit of wand work, he was able to extract the box with minimal casualties, and he quickly set about repopulating the display out front. After that it was finding the Fanged Frisbees, then Trick Wands, and finally cleaning up the fallen tower of Skiving Snackboxes, knocked over by one of their over-enthusiastic patrons, before Ron came and found him. Harry grinned in relief as Ron told him he should go out front and grab one of the sandwiches Molly brought for lunch before somebody ate his share.

Thankfully, there was still a thick ham and cheese bloomer left, and he quickly snagged it, before making his way to one of the benches in the small park across the way. He was still in full view of the shop, and he let the bubbly music and joyous atmosphere wash over him. Next to the entrance, he could make out Angelina, who'd also offered to come help out, chatting amiably with George, a sweet expression on her face. He wondered if they'd begun dating, or if they were still in the dancing-around-one-another stage. The thought made him smile, something soft and happy welling up inside of him. Despite the busyness of the day and the somewhat chaotic atmosphere, Harry was thoroughly enjoying himself. The joke shop was always a fun and happy place, but on a day like today, surrounded by his family and friends, and seeing so many other people enjoying the party-like festivities, well, everybody's good mood was more than infectious.

Still, there was something missing, some small part inside of him that ached with the absence of somebody he'd begun to care for with an intensity that still shocked him. Harry wondered what Draco was doing at that very moment, if he was enjoying his time with his friends as much as Harry was enjoying his. He wondered if Draco missed him like Harry missed Draco, if Harry was a constant underlying thread to all his waking thoughts, the way that Draco had become for him. But mostly he wondered what would have happened if Draco had come with him today, if Harry could publicly claim him as his, if they could ever be something more to each other than what they'd allowed so far. Deep down, Harry knew bringing Draco along with him today was never an option, that there was far too much bad blood between Draco and the Weasleys, hell, between Draco and the rest of the wizarding world, to allow him to take part in such a public event. Besides, Draco hadn't even felt comfortable enough walking through Diagon Alley without a glamour of some sort. There was no way he would have been open to attending the grand opening of a shop that half of wizarding Britain was planning to go to. The thought intensified the ache deep inside, turning it into something sad and bitter with the knowledge that he and Draco were always going to be just a fantasy. It wasn't as if Harry didn't know it already, wasn't aware that Draco was leaving in less than two months anyway. Still, Harry couldn't deny that he wanted more.

"Hey, Harry." A soft voice brought him out of his reverie, and he realised with a jolt that Ginny had managed to walk up to him while he'd been distracted. His stomach squirmed uncomfortably. Merlin, it had barely been three months since their break-up, and yet it felt like a lifetime. Already he was impossibly hung up on somebody new and the thought settled heavy in his chest.

"Hey, Gin. How are you?"

Ginny bit her lip before taking a seat next to him on the bench. "I'm good. Thought we should talk, if you have a moment?"

"Uh, sure," Harry said, looking down at the nearly finished bloomer in his hand. "I was just finishing up my lunch. I'm sure George won't miss me if I stay out a bit longer."

"Don't worry about George, I can handle him." Her lips quirked up into a faint grin, and a wistful remembrance of how it used to feel to have that grin directed at him swept through Harry. He smiled back.

"Of that, I have no doubt."

Her eyes sparkled, before her expression shifted into something more serious. "LIsten," she began, her fingers fidgeting in her lap. "This is probably a bit awkward, but I thought you should know, and I wanted you to hear it from me."

"What is it?" Harry asked, his heart beginning to beat faster at the intensity of her tone.

"I've started seeing somebody. It's—it's nothing serious, just a fling, really, but you know the Prophet has been foaming at the mouth to get more dirt on our split, and they'll distort anything they think they find out, so I wanted to tell you now in case it somehow gets leaked."

"Oh," Harry said softly. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it hadn't been that.

"Are you okay, Harry?" Ginny asked. "I know you broke up with me, but we haven't really talked much, and this might seem kind of—"

"No," Harry interrupted. "No, I'm fine. Really. I'm happy for you. That you've found someone." And he was. If he'd thought much about it, which he hadn't, but if he had, he might have thought he'd be a little jealous at the idea of Ginny moving on. They'd been together for so long and he once thought she was the person he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with. Even though he'd realised that wasn't what he wanted anymore, Harry supposed it wouldn't have been unfathomable to still mourn the death of that dream, just a little. Instead, all he felt with a gentle wash of relief. He'd felt so guilty for how he'd treated her in the months before their break-up, for not realising sooner what all his reluctance about the wedding had really meant, for leading her on and keeping them both in a relationship that wasn't going anywhere, for breaking her heart. Harry hadn't understood until just now how worried he'd been that she wouldn't move on and find her own happiness, especially when Harry himself had apparently moved on so damn quickly.

She huffed a laugh. "Well, it's not like we're soulmates or anything, but I'm having fun. It's...nice, letting loose a bit and enjoying myself. Not obsessing so much about the future and just enjoying the now."

"Yeah," Harry agreed, thinking of his own futureless relationship with Draco, and how, despite the pain he knew was coming, he still felt like it was worth it. "I know what you mean."

Ginny's brows rose. "Do you now?"

Harry felt his cheeks flush. "Uh, yeah. I, err, I'm actually seeing somebody, too."

Ginny's face spasmed, feelings flitting across the surface too quick for Harry to grasp before she flashed a wry smile. "Well, then, I'm glad for you, too." She stood up. "We probably should head back, but let's not go so long before talking again, yeah? I miss you."

She bent over and brushed a soft kiss against his cheek. The wind wafted the scent of her hair into his face as she turned to walk away, the familiar smell of jasmine shampoo hitting him like a Bludger. Merlin, he'd missed her, too. She'd been one of his best friends, and for all the awkwardness between them, some of his happiest memories had been with her, because of her. It would be difficult, but between the two of them, he knew they were stubborn enough to make sure their friendship made it through intact.

He watched her go, nostalgia mixing with relief that she hadn't grilled him about his new relationship. She'd said her liaison was just a fling, but despite the fact that his and Draco's own relationship had an expiration date, Harry couldn't claim their connection was casual, not for him, and he wouldn't have been able to lie to her about it if she'd asked. She might be genuinely happy that he was moving on as well, but that didn't mean she wouldn't be hurt to realise just how serious he was about his current lover, particularly given the fact that Harry knew the feelings he had for Draco had started building long before he and Ginny had broken up. That wasn't even considering how she might react if she discovered just who Harry was seeing, that not only was Harry seeing a man, but a Malfoy to boot.

Fuck, it was all such a mess, though Harry couldn't bring himself to regret it. There were decisions to be made and problems to figure out in the future, but all of that could wait for another day. He caught George's eye as he waved Harry over, another wave of customers gathering around the DJ booth and preparing to shop. Harry smiled.

For now, there was work to be done.

***

"So, are you finally going to tell us what's been going on with you for the past few months?"

Draco blinked, his hand freezing mid-motion for a split second, before he casually continued bringing several chips up to his mouth. He chewed slowly, trying to think of a response to Madison's sudden question. "What do you mean?"

Josh snorted around his burger, and Madison graced Draco with a seriously unimpressed expression. "We're not stupid, Draco. Something's been going on with you. I've been trying to give you some space, figuring you'd tell us when you were ready. I thought maybe that was the reason you suggested we get lunch together today, just the three of us, but apparently not."

No, confessing his latest secret hadn't been the reason he'd invited Madison and Josh out to lunch, some Muggle burger chain meant to satisfy Josh's craving for some classic American-style hamburgers, which he'd been going on about for weeks. Mostly Draco had been thinking that it had been awhile since they'd had a chance to catch up just the three of them, and he'd been in need of a bit of distraction, considering Harry was out at some Weasley function all day. He hadn't been invited, obviously, and wouldn't have gone even if Harry had asked him to attend, but the whole affair still rankled, highlighting the fact that he and Harry were never meant to be something real.

He looked helplessly at Madison and Josh, and was struck with the sudden urge to tell them everything. They were his best friends, and if anybody could help sort him out, it was the two of them. Their three years of friendship weren't always enough to overcome the ingrained instincts from his childhood, telling him to keep his secrets and weakness to himself, that relying on others was dangerous. But Draco knew they wouldn't judge him, not for this. Besides, he had a feeling he would be in serious need of friendly distraction to help him get past the heartbreak once they left Britain for home. It'd be easier for them to triage his post-relationship funk if they actually knew he had been in a relationship in the first place.

"I...may have started seeing somebody. Sort of. It's just sex, really," Draco said softly, looking studiously at his fingers as he pulled bits of cooled melted cheese off his cheesy chips.

"Told you it was about a boy," Madison said smugly, clearly speaking to Josh.

"Hey, it could be about a girl," Josh argued.

Draco sighed. "It's a boy."

Madison let out a triumphant sound in her throat, and Josh huffed. "Well, I'm guessing it's Harry then?" Josh asked.

Draco sputtered and looked up at them both in surprise.

Madison raised her brows. "Who else was it going to be? He's the person you spend the most time with, besides us."

"Maybe I'm sneaking off at night to meet some mystery lover," Draco argued weakly.

"There's also the fact that all this weirdness started around the time Harry broke things off with his fiancée. Quite sudden and surprising, from what I heard," Josh added helpfully, before reaching over to filch several of Draco's cheese-covered chips.

Draco winced. "That wasn't my fault." He paused. "Well, not entirely my fault anyway. I think maybe I helped speed the process along is all."

"We know, Draco. It's not like we think you're some homewrecker or anything. But clearly there's some kind of problem here or you wouldn't look so conflicted."

Draco's lips twisted bitterly. "You mean besides the fact that I'm a hated ex-Death Eater fucking the wizarding world's Golden Boy? Isn't that enough?"

Madison took a moment to down several sucks of coke through her straw, her gaze shrewd and assessing. "There wouldn't be much of a reason to care about any of that if you were just fucking around." Draco must not have done a good job at controlling his expression, because a moment later Madison was sighing sympathetically. "Oh, Draco. You went and fell in love with him, didn't you?"

Draco rolled his eyes, mostly at himself. "I know, I know. It's horribly cliché. The whole thing was just supposed to be a bit of fun, really. A way for me to blow of steam and Harry to experiment without feelings getting involved."

"Yeah, because that always works out well," Josh said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. Draco glared at him.

"So you don't think he feels the same?" Madison pressed.

Draco absently ate several chips, unsure how to answer. It wasn't as if he and Harry had ever discussed their feelings, but lately Draco had begun to suspect that perhaps he wasn't the only one affected. The knowledge made him feel simultaneously giddy and depressed. "I don't know for sure. But I think, maybe...maybe he feels something. It doesn't feel like it's just fucking for either of us. Not anymore. Hell, maybe not even at the start, if I'm being honest."

"You gonna tell him?"

Draco shook his head, though he felt a surprising flicker of hesitation as he did so. "What good would that do? Even if he did feel the same way, it's not like our relationship can go anywhere. Wouldn't it just make it worse, knowing we both want something we can never have?"

"Worse than never knowing for sure? God, that kind of what-if would eat me alive," Madison said with a shudder. "Besides, who's to say it couldn't work out?"

"We live on completely different continents, for a start."

"There's always long distance," Madison suggested.

"We'd never survive that."

"You seem quite sure of that. People manage it all the time," Josh countered. Draco stared at Josh blankly for a long moment, before he threw up his hands in aquiessence. "Okay, fine, you're right, it probably wouldn't work out. Happy?"

"No," Draco said glumly, pushing the ice chips around his empty glass with his straw.

Madison paused, something hesitant and reluctant crossing her face before she said tentatively, "Have you thought about staying?"

Draco froze. "What?"

"It's not such a crazy question, Draco," Josh replied softly. "I know you said you never wanted to come back to London, but we've been here ten months now and you seem to be doing fine."

"I mean, you grew up here," Madison added. "As much as I'd hate for you to live far away, it's obvious that Britain's important to you. Even your accent has become more pronounced the longer we've been here."

Draco shook his head. "No. No," he said more emphatically when it looked like Madison might interrupt. "I understand where you're coming from, and I can't deny that there's a part of me that has really enjoyed being back here again, but it's not my home, not anymore. I know things don't seem that bad, but I've also stayed almost entirely out of the public eye. That wouldn't be possible if I moved back, especially if I was to be part of the Auror force." If they would even take Draco, though he left that part upspoken. "To say nothing of the shitstorm that would rain down when the media inevitably caught wind of me and Harry." Draco shivered as he imagined the awful consequences of staying here for Harry. The media would tear them apart, and who even knew how Harry's friends and family would react. Granger and Weasley and Longbottom managed to tolerate him at the moment, but Draco wasn't foolish enough to think their forgiveness would extend so far as to them being perfectly all right with him fucking their best mate. No way would Harry and Draco survive pressure like that, and then Draco would be alone in a hostile country. He wasn't ready for that, wasn't ready to face what it would mean to come back to Britain for good. Maybe he never would be. "I have a life in Seattle, a life I worked fucking hard for, a life I enjoy, with friends who care about me, and work that I actually want to do. I'm not giving all of that up for a boy. And certainly not for a relationship as tenuous as mine and Harry's."

"Draco…"

"You wanted to know what was going on, so I told you. It doesn't mean there's anything you can do to fix it."

Madison sighed heavily. "Yeah, I know. I just wish there was."

"Well, if you really want to help, you and Josh can both buy me ice cream and wine and help me drown my sorrows in carbs and alcohol when we get back home."

Josh grinned, and Draco pretended not to see the pity in his eyes. "I can definitely do that."

"But what if—"

"Drop it, Mads," Josh told her firmly. She tossed him a dirty look, but capitulated, her shoulders slumping before she flashed Draco a weary smile.

"Yeah, we can definitely help with that."

"Thank you," Draco said, knowing that she'd understand it was for more than just the promise of taking on heartbroken Draco duty.

He knew she wasn't thrilled with the idea of Draco giving up, but despite what all the books would have them believe, Draco knew that sometimes relationships just weren't meant to be. Draco would be lying if he said there wasn't a part of him that wanted to fight for Harry, wanted to see if they could make a real go of things. He clicked with Harry in way that felt different from any of his previous relationships. Maybe it was because of their shared past—the very fact that Harry knew all of Draco's horrible actions and chose to be with him anyway, that he believed Draco really had changed...well, it was a level of intimacy and knowledge that Draco hadn't ever experienced before. He didn't know if Harry felt the same, but the way Harry looked at him sometimes, the way he touched Draco like he was something precious...it wasn't the way you treated a casual fuckbuddy.

But despite all that, Draco knew leaving was the right call, that he couldn't stay here in Britain. He'd only be staying for Harry, and that kind of decision was rife with opportunities for resentment, especially when he added in all the pressure of public opinion and their disparate friend groups. Draco would be entirely too dependant on Harry here, and that was hardly a recipe for a relationship of equals. No, staying would only poison them slowly, and Draco didn't think he could bare that.

Better to part now, as friends, and look back on their memories together with fondness.

Chapter Text

Harry stretched languidly, relishing the pull of his muscles as he arched his back. Warm sheets slid over his naked body, and he shivered as they brushed against his half-hard cock. He and Draco had snuck away for an afternoon quickie that had morphed into something slow and hot and unspeakably good. It had left Harry completely wrung out, boneless and sated, his legs barely functioning. He'd convinced Draco to skive off their afternoon Combat session so they could laze around in bed, and though he was sure he'd regret it once he was getting dressed down by their instructor, right now Harry couldn't imagine anywhere else he'd rather be.

He turned on his side, his heart thudding at the sight of Draco sprawled out on his stomach beside him. At first glance he appeared to be sleeping, quiet and peaceful and perfectly at ease. But then a single grey eye opened beneath the swoop of Draco's pale fringe, half a smile ghosting across his lips before he closed his eyes again and burrowed deeper into the pillow, radiating comfort.

Harry snorted a quiet laugh, before taking full advantage of this golden opportunity to admire Draco's body. The sheets were twisted up in his legs, revealing the strong length of his back and the barest hint of his arse. His skin was pale, and smooth as silk, but for the four scars bisecting the length of his back from his left shoulder to the top of his right arse cheek. They rose up in thick ropey ridges, bone white, each one nearly as wide as one of Harry's fingers. He ran those fingers over them now, marveling at the difference in texture between Draco's back and the scars, the sudden swell of the faint protuberance, the strange smoothness of each jagged line despite the uneven appearance. They stood out in sharp relief against the blank canvas of Draco's back, the winged shoulder blades and narrow waist and corded muscle. Harry's prick began to fully harden as he traced the striations, before his mouth joined in on the journey, starting with a kiss against Draco's shoulder and slowly nipping and licking his way across the expanse of Draco's back.

Beneath him Draco shifted and sighed, and Harry froze, suddenly worried he'd crossed some invisible line. Draco let out a small noise of dissatisfaction.

"Keep going," he commanded, his voice low and slow with drowsy lust.

"Yeah?"

"Mmm, feels good."

"Really?" Harry asked before licking a strip along the outermost scar. "I wasn't sure if you had much feeling in them."

"Quite a lot, actually. The end closest to my shoulder has less feeling—that's where the cuts were the deepest—but they're pretty sensitive the closer you get to my arse."

"Interesting," Harry hummed, scraping his teeth along one of the ridges, his stomach clenching at Draco's visible shudder.

"I suppose so. Especially when I have a partner who's so...preoccupied with them."

Harry paused, pushing back onto his side so he could look at Draco's face. "Does it bother you that I like them?"

Harry appreciated that Draco thought about it before answering, even if his stomach was all twisted up with nerves. The last thing he wanted to do was make Draco uncomfortable. "Not really, no," Draco said. "I already told you it felt nice. Although I don't really see what's so fascinating about them."

Harry shrugged, his face flushing. "I'm not really sure...why does anybody like anything? They're kind of...I don't know. Attractive, I suppose."

"Attractive?"

"Yeah. Which I know is completely fucked up, considering how you got them. I mean, scars in general aren't usually associated with positive memories."

"You would know," Draco said quietly. Harry grimaced and nodded, his hand coming up to absently rub at his forehead.

"I mean, it's not just that they're physically kind of hot, though that's definitely a big part of it. I really like your back, you know. It's so strong and…" He reached out and ran hand down the length of it, the firm muscle beneath his fingertips disrupting his train of thought.

"You're so strange," Draco said, his voice laced with amusement. "Out of all my numerous assets, I can't say my back has received many compliments."

"Well, then those people are idiots."

"Clearly."

"Anyway, as I was saying, it's not just the physical appeal of the scars, it's also what they...I don't know, what they symbolise. They show that you're tough. That you're a survivor."

Silence fell between them, comfortable and contemplative as Harry's thumb rubbed absently along the scar closest to the small of Draco's back. When Draco spoke, his voice was quiet. "You know, I hated the scars for the longest time. Severus was able to save me, but he couldn't remove the scars, though they would have been much worse without his help. I hated that I had yet another brand on me, another mark I could never get rid of, that I'd have to bear the shame of forever. Part of it was vanity, I can admit that much. I thought they were ugly, though I think a lot of that is indelibly tied up in the violation of what happened. It took a long time, but now I don't even realise they're there most of the time, and when I do notice them…" Draco's lips twisted into a wry smile. "It's like you said. I survived. Even when I didn't want to. Not everybody did. I'm grateful for that much, and if these scars are the price I paid, well, I don't know that I can say I'd go through it again, but…"

Harry nodded. "No, I get it."

Draco's smile softened into something warm and genuine. "I like that you like them. I like how you make me feel when you touch them, like something beautiful can come from all that pain." His expression turned wicked. "I think you should continue."

"Yeah?"

Draco's eyes smoldered. "Yes. And then I think you should fuck me." He paused. "If you want."

Harry's mouth went dry, his heart kicking into overdrive. "Yeah, I definitely want."

Draco grinned. "Good. I've been waiting for you to take me like some brash Gryffindor, but it hasn't happened yet, so I thought I'd try the direct approach."

"I like direct," Harry mumbled as he pushed himself to his knees, hovering over Draco's back. "I didn't want to push, and you know how much I like it when you fuck me." Harry clenched his arse reflexively, relishing the faint ache, a memory of Draco's cock inside him just hours earlier.

"Mmm, I know," Draco sighed dreamily. "I'm quite partial to that myself. I do generally like topping more, but it's nice to switch things up sometimes, too."

"No arguments here." His cock was already desperately hard at the promise of what was to come. He pressed a kiss to Draco's shoulder. "Is there anything I shouldn't do? Anything you don't like?"

"Nothing that's likely to come up this round. I don't like being called derogatory names. I'm not a fan of anything that would constitute pain play or really rough sex. I've got other limits, but nothing else that really applies for vanilla sex. I'll let you know if you do anything I don't like."

"Okay, good," Harry said, doing his best to quiet the small flutter of nerves in his belly. He wanted this to be good for Draco, wanted it to be amazing, the way Draco always made it for him.

There was a pause. "Do you need me to tell you what to do, or are you going to get started?"

Harry grinned, and he was sure it was audible in his voice even if Draco couldn't see him. "You telling me what to do could be hot. Is that what you want right now?"

Draco shrugged, a slightly awkward gesture given he was face down on the bed. "Right now? Not particularly. I'm feeling lazy."

Harry nosed at the top of the scars before sliding his lips mid-way down Draco's back, stopping to kiss and lick along the lines there. "I suppose that's fair," Harry breathed against the spit-damp skin. "You did do most of the work earlier."

Draco drew in a deep breath, his back expanding beneath Harry's lips before relaxing down towards the mattress. "I did, didn't I? Exhausted myself between your legs while you just lay there and took my cock."

Harry shivered at the memory, his breath escaping in a shaky exhale against the small of Draco's back. He nodded as his hands crept up to tug at the bedsheets still wrapped around Draco's lower half, tugging them free and tossing them over the side of the bed. "Yeah," Harry murmured, "But it's my turn now. Gonna take care of you." He focused his mouth on the ends of of the scars just over Draco's left arsecheek, kissing and licking where Draco said he was most sensitive. They were smoother, here, the scar tissue perfectly even with Draco's skin, though the texture was still unnaturally glossy beneath his tongue. Draco sighed, a small, pleasurable thing that made Harry's heart swell with satisfaction.

"Oh?" Draco asked, his voice breathier than usual. "You going to make me feel good, Harry? Gonna split me open on your cock?"

An unidentifiable noise left Harry's mouth, his cock throbbing as Draco spoke. Harry hadn't quite mastered the art of dirty talking yet, but he couldn't deny that there was something inarguably hot about Draco's filthy words. If he kept talking like that, Harry wouldn't last long enough to even make it to the fucking. Harry would just have to do his best to render Draco speechless.

He made a sound of assent against Draco's skin and continued kissing his way across the curve of Draco's arse, nuzzling at the smooth, peach-fuzz covered skin, licking at the crease between arse and thigh. Draco smelled so good, like salt and sex and musk. Harry wanted to devour him, wanted to eat him up. Draco was always going on to Harry about listening to his body and trusting his instincts when it came to sex, so he listened to them now, his hands reaching up to cup Draco's cheeks, squeezing the globes before parting the flesh to reveal Draco's entrance.

He'd fingered Draco a couple of times now, but it was usually when Harry was going down on him and never from this angle. It was mesmerising, the sight of Draco's arsehole, the puckered skin slightly darker than the rest of his pale complexion. It seemed impossibly small, delicate, like it couldn't possibly manage to accommodate the breadth of Harry's cock. But he knew now from experience just how much his own arse could take, how the burn and stretch of the intrusion could feel improbably, unthinkably good. He wanted to give that to Draco, and he wanted to experience the other side of that distinct pleasure.

His mouth began to water, saliva pooling on his tongue. It wasn't even a conscious decision, really, when he leaned forward, nosing along the cleft of Draco's arse before licking at him with a broad, messy stroke. He liked it (liked the shocked, shuddering exhale Draco made even more) so he did it again, and again, learning this secret place of Draco's with his tongue as he circled the fluttering rim.

"This okay?" Harry asked Draco's arse, fairly certain that it was, but wanting confirmation anyway.

Draco let out a strangled laugh. "Salazar, yes. Don't stop."

Harry didn't, and it wasn't long before the muscle relaxed beneath his ministrations, before Draco invited him in with his widening legs and the cant of his hips. Harry kept him spread, the better to get in close and deep, chasing the taste of Draco, the sound of his breathy moans, the shocking tightness that gripped Harry's tongue when he licked in as deep as he could. He wanted to do this forever, wanted to feel Draco shake apart as he rode back against Harry's face, but right now it wasn't enough, didn't quite fulfill the need building inside him. Still, the low whine Draco let out when Harry pulled away was endlessly satisfying. It made him want to know what it felt like to be on the other end of such an act, sure that Draco would drive Harry mad with that talented tongue of his. But that was an experiment for another day.

A burst of intent and concentration brought the bottle of lube beneath his bed soaring into his hand. The store-bought kind always had a better consistency than Harry's poor attempts at conjuring it. It worked well enough for wanking, in a pinch, but for something like this, Harry definitely wanted to use the good stuff. Or, well, the decent stuff, at least. He had a feeling there were entire tiers of lube quality that he was ignorant of. He was sure Draco would be up for teaching him all about them, later. Harry hoped there would be practical demonstrations.

He did his best to ignore his shaking hands as he fumbled with the flip cap and squirted a generous glob of viscous jelly in his hand. Harry was self-aware enough to realise he was stalling, nerves threatening to overwhelm his desire. But he hadn't been sorted into Gryffindor for nothing, and he trusted Draco to tell him if Harry did something wrong. Draco wouldn't let Harry hurt him, and it was clear from the impatient shifting of his hips that Draco wanted this.

Harry coated a finger and began to circle Draco's hole, before pressing inside with steady, gentle pressure. Draco was still loose and open from Harry's tongue, the muscle parting for Harry without resistance. Inside he was warm and silky smooth, clinging to Harry's finger as he pumped in and out. The feel of him was addictive, intoxicating, and it wasn't long before Harry was using two fingers, three, watching with glassy eyes as they disappeared into Draco's body. It was mesmerising, the way Draco fit him inside, his arse stretched wide around Harry's knuckles. He rotated his hand, trying to find that place inside, the one that always drove Harry wild whenever Draco pressed up against it. The pads of his fingers slid across a small, textured nub, and Draco's entire body twitched, a dreamy sigh escaping his lips as Harry circled the bundle of nerves.

"I think I'm ready," Draco finally breathed.

"Yeah?"

"Yes, Harry," Draco said, the faintest trace of impatience in his voice. "Give me your cock."

"So bossy," Harry reprimanded, though the spurt of precome leaking down his thigh from his dripping cock belied his words. He slid his fingers out of Draco's arse with a pang of regret, but he knew it would feel even better when he pushed in with his dick.

He sat back on his heels and and grabbed the lube again, and the feeling of his hand gliding along his cock as he slicked himself up was almost unbearably good. Harry had been so keyed up for so long now, he knew it wouldn't take much for him to come.

"I, err...I don't think this is going to last all that long," Harry warned Draco, his face heating with embarrassment.

Draco snorted, but the sound was fond, not derogatory. "Don't worry, after all that foreplay, I'm right there with you." He shimmied his hips, and Harry was so mesmerised by the way his arse jiggled as he moved that he barely noticed that Draco had placed his pillow beneath his groin, pushing his arse up attractively as he splayed out on the bed.

"Oh, good," Harry said absently, his fingers coming up to stroke along Draco's scars before resting along the plump curve of Draco's bum. His thumbs dug into the crease and he pulled, revealing Draco's rim, shiny with lube. Harry's prick ached and the wave of lust threatened to overwhelm him as he shuffled nearer. His heart raced and his hands shook as he released a cheek to take his erection in hand and line himself up. He rubbed the head up and down Draco's cleft, shivering at the brush of Draco's wrinkled arsehole against his frenulum.

"Come on, Harry," Draco groaned, his voice commanding and irresistible. "Do it. Merlin just give it to me."

"Yeah, okay," Harry breathed. "Anything you want."

The feeling as he pressed in was indescribable. Harry's mind went entirely blank, everything disappearing in the face of the white hot heat encircling his cock. He tried to go slow, to ease in gently, but time seemed to stop working linearly, jumping around in fits and starts, until suddenly he was buried all the way inside. Instinct urged him to pull back and slam in, to rut with abandon until he spilled his seed, but he did his best to suppress his more primitive side and held himself still, panting above Draco as he braced his arms against the bed.

"Are you okay?" Harry finally managed to get out, after several long moments spent remembering how to speak.

Draco hummed and nodded, turning his head to the side so he could catch Harry's eye and flash him a shaky, but genuine, smile. "Yeah, I'm brilliant. S'been awhile, but it feels…" He trailed off and swiveled his hips in a small circle, his lashes fluttering while pleasure shot through Harry's cock. "Hmm, yeah, feels good," Draco continued. "You can go ahead and move now. I know you're dying to."

"God, yes," Harry moaned. "Is there anything you like? Any way you want it?"

Harry could just see the edge of Draco's smile from where his face was pressed against the pillow. "You just want to be good for me, don't you?"

Something hot and shivery exploded across Harry's skin. He nodded, mouth dry. "Yeah, of course."

There was a strange gleam in Draco's eye that made Harry's belly clench, but it was gone in an instant. "We can get to that later. Just do whatever feels good to you."

Harry frowned. "But I want to make you feel good, too."

Draco's back rippled as his arse clenched around Harry's cock. Harry gasped, his fingers digging into the mattress. "Trust me, it'll feel perfect for me. We can go over all the ways I prefer to be fucked later, but this time I want it to be about you." He tossed a flirty smile over his shoulder. "Do what you want with me. I promise I'll tell you if I need you to stop."

Harry hesitated. Desire and the overwhelming urge to move right this damn second warring with his sense of fairness. Surely it was selfish to focus on only his own pleasure?

Draco's eyes narrowed. "This is what I want, Harry. Besides, it's your first time fucking somebody's arse. It's a bit different from fanny, isn't it? Once you start moving, I doubt you'll be able to focus much on me anyway. Stop trying to find a reason to feel guilty and just fuck me already."

A small contrary part of Harry wanted to continue arguing, but the larger part of him (spearheaded by his prick) was very much on board with doing exactly as Draco commanded. He pulled back, then pushed in, the slow slide almost painful in its pleasure as he finally got some of the friction he so desperately craved. It wasn't long until he was fucking Draco faster, harder, chasing the unbelievable tightness, the fantastic heat. Draco was right, it was a lot different from he'd fucked Ginny, though he hadn't realised it would be. It was tighter, especially at the start, but more than that, there was a surprising intimacy to this act, a closeness in knowing that Draco was giving him this, allowing him into a place that wasn't biologically meant for sex. Harry knew it wasn't entirely selfless on Draco's part, that he was getting something out of it, too, but he also knew Draco wasn't as sensitive as Harry was, that this didn't light him up in quite the same way. Even so, Draco wanted to share this with Harry, wanted Harry to chase his pleasure. The knowledge was heady, and Harry's thrusts grew more erratic, his breathing laboured and vision blurring as he raced towards his climax.

Draco arched and moaned, panting a steady stream of encouragement that made Harry's cheeks flush and pulse pound. Liquid pleasure licked up his spine, spilling through his veins, igniting the marrow of his bones. He came with a strangled sob, burying his face in the nape of Draco's neck, sucking at the salty skin as he shuddered through the aftershocks. Beneath him, Draco began to rock, encouraging Harry to thrust lazily as his cock began to soften while Draco ground his own cock into the softness of the pillow. His breath was already high and hitched, and before Harry could encourage him to turn so Harry could help finish him off, he was moaning, his body going limp against the mattress as he reached his own peak.

***

Draco felt like his body had become one with the mattress, his limbs loose and languid and tingling with aftershocks of pleasure. Salazar it had been ages since he'd been properly fucked, his body sore in new places, like working a muscle that had been dormant for far too long. His arse felt slick and hot, still loose from the memory of Harry's cock. It was beginning to become a little uncomfortable, but there was an undeniable thrill to it, too.

He grabbed his wand and cleaned himself off, casting a quick spell at Harry, sprawled next to him with a blissed-out expression and a still-heaving chest. Already Draco wanted to do everything all over again, wanted to spend days and days with Harry in bed until they knew each other inside and out, until Harry knew exactly the best way to fuck Draco, slow and deep until he couldn't remember his own name. Their stolen moments together over the past several months weren't nearly enough, and a pang went through Draco when he thought about the fact that they had less than two months left together before Draco went back home to Seattle. Draco wasn't ready for it. He wasn't ready for their time to come to an end.

Harry turned to face him, his gaze trailing lazily over Draco's naked, sweaty body with obvious satisfaction. He lingered on Draco's bared thigh, on the dragon curled up there, stretching in languid satisfaction, a faint plume of smoke trailing up towards his hip bone. Harry reached out and ran a fingertip across the dragon's head and down his back, grinning giddily when the dragon shivered and arched beneath Harry's touch, as if it could feel the stroke. Maybe he could. It was a magical tattoo, after all, woven into Draco's body and his magic. Draco could certainly feel the soft caress of Harry's fingers on his skin, and wanted to press into it just as much as his dragon clearly did.

"Draco," Harry whispered, his voice wavering as he finally pulled his attention away from Draco's tattoo.

"Yeah?" Draco looked over at Harry's face and was startled by the intensity of the emotion swimming in Harry's eyes. His heart leapt into his throat and he found himself holding his breath, unsure if he was ready for whatever Harry was about to say.

"I don't think I can keep pretending."

"Pretending?"

"Pretending that this is just about sex, that it's all casual between us. Pretending that I'm not fucking mad about you. That it's not driving me mental thinking about what's going to happen at the end of the exchange." Draco's breath caught and he stared, joy warring with despair as Harry's words fully sunk in. He opened his mouth, but Harry cut him off. "And don't try to pretend you don't feel the same way. I'm not an idiot, you know. I see the way you look at me."

Draco couldn't help but smile at Harry's contrariness, even when telling Draco he had feelings for him. "I wasn't going to. You're right. I...I care about you." He growled in frustration and rolled onto his back, running his hands through his hair. "I fucking want you, all the time. I can't stop thinking about you. It's driving me to distraction."

He caught the edge of Harry's pleased smile from the corner of his eye. "Yeah?"

Draco sighed. "Yes. Merlin help me."

Harry rolled half on top of Draco, folding his arms against Draco's chest, and propping his chin on top of his forearm so he could stare down at Draco's face. This close, Draco could see the flecks of gold in the brilliant green of Harry's eyes. He wanted to reach up and bury his hands in Harry's hair, pull him close and breath him in. It really was becoming a problem, how much Draco wanted him.

"So, what do we do?" Harry asked after it became clear that Draco was far too distracted by Harry's eyes and face and general attractiveness to move the conversation forward himself. Draco's chest constricted and he bit his lip.

"I don't know. I don't see what we can do, really. The exchange is over on the first of August and I…" He cleared his throat and forced himself to look into Harry's eyes. "I'm going back. I love Seattle, and I've got a life there. Friends, a job, hell, technically even family, even if Cari is a little crazy. Over there, I'm just Draco, the British wizard with a weird name, not Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater and Dark Wizard." He rolled his shoulders in something approximating a shrug and looked away from Harry's too-understanding gaze. "Maybe it's selfish, cowardly, not coming back to Britain and facing the consequences of what I did, but...I'm just not ready for it. I don't know how to be who I really am here, around people who don't expect anything from me but the worst."

"We forgave you, didn't we?" Harry said quietly. "I know I did. And the rest of us, Ron and Hermione. Neville and Dean."

"And Michael Corner? We've been working together for nearly a year and he can barely look me in the eye. What about Instructor Jennings? The rest of your Weasley family?" Draco pushed. "I'm not saying their anger isn't justified. But I've built a life for myself from scratch, and I'm not ready to give that up, not even for you. Do you really think we'd survive if I stayed? The media would tear us apart, and your friends might mostly be okay with my existence now, but that doesn't mean they're going to be okay with us being together. Bad enough that I'm a man and a former Death Eater, but given the timing of things, I'll also be cast in the role of homewrecker, the evil wizard who stole Harry Potter away from his fiancée. Not to mention, I'm not entirely sure that Robards allowing me on this exchange would extend to him formally offering me a position in his department, not with my past and the animosity the majority of the wizarding world feels for me."

He thought back to the image splashed across the front page of the Prophet earlier that month after the grand opening of the new Weasley Wizard Wheezes shop. The photo had played on a sickening loop, Ginny Weasley leaning close to press a sweet kiss to Harry's cheek and their exchange of soft smiles. Speculation had run wild about their impending reconciliation, and Draco had pretended he didn't care one way or another while his friends gossiped about if it were true, Josh and Madison givin him pitying smiles. Draco knew it wasn't—Harry would have told him if it were, and later, he'd been quick to reassure Draco that the papers were once again blowing things way out of proportion. It didn't make Draco feel much better. Beyond the annoying jealousy and the bitter voice in his head telling Draco that Ginny was clearly a much better match for somebody like Harry, there was the reminder that the media would never leave Harry alone. Ginny and Harry being next to one another had been enough to spark a firestorm of speculation, and Draco knew it would be worse if they ever caught even a hint of something happening between Harry and Draco.

"I know, you're right," Harry said with a defeated sigh. He'd clearly reached the same conclusions as Draco had and was grasping at straws. Draco understood the desire. "It makes sense that you'd go back. Hell, I want you to go back, to be somewhere that makes you happy. I'm just not ready for this to be over yet."

Draco gave in to his desire and ran a hand through Harry's hair, watching with satisfaction as Harry's eyelids fluttered closed and he leaned into the caress. "Hey, it's not over yet," Draco said, doing his best to sound upbeat and positive, which very much went against his natural inclinations. Usually Harry was more the optimist, but Draco supposed he could try it, just this once. "We've still got a little over a month left. Let's make the most of it, hmm?"

Harry managed a small smile, though Draco could see the strain of it, the sadness lurking underneath. "Yeah, I can do that. Though if you're looking for round three, you might have to wait a little longer. I think your arse broke me."

"It's been known to do that. You're hardly the first great man brought low by its magnificence."

Harry's smile widened into something happier as he leaned forward, his face just inches from Draco's. "So you think I'm a great man, huh?"

Draco rolled his eyes, annoyed at the blush he could feel staining his cheeks. "I thought we just went over that with our big declaration of feelings."

"I think you're pretty great, too."

Draco scoffed, sure that Harry would see through the gesture, see the way Harry's easy words sent a thrill to the very centre of him. The knowledge that their days were numbered meant that thrill was tinged with loss and regret, but he did his best to shove those feelings down. He didn't want to taint what little time they did have left together with bitterness.

He leaned forward that last inch and brought his lips to Harry's, pushing all his desire and longing to the surface, hoping Harry would understand all the things Draco couldn't bring himself to say. Harry kissed him back with matching fervour, and Draco clutched him close, luxuriating in the feeling of Harry's bare skin pressed tight against his own.

If their time together had an expiration date, then Draco intended to make every last moment count.

Chapter Text

"You sure you wouldn't rather have Gin here to help you with this?" Harry asked Ron as they made their way down the street towards the jewelers on the corner. "I'm guessing she'd be a lot more useful than I am."

Ron shrugged. "Ehh, you're probably right, but you're my best mate. Mine and Hermione's both, really." He grinned. "Besides, you actually already went through all of this before with Ginny's ring, yeah? So you're not completely useless."

Harry grinned back, mostly because Ron was able to reference Harry's previous engagement to his sister without looking constipated. It was a weight off of Harry's shoulders, knowing that he and Ron really were okay, that his break-up with Ginny hadn't irrevocably damaged things between them. He'd had faith that they'd get through it—they'd survived worse obstacles before—but it was nice to be on the other side of the awkwardness.

"Frankly, I'm surprised we were able to get away with sneaking off like this, considering our Auror exams are coming up so soon."

"Ugh, don't remind me," Ron groaned. "It's all Hermione's wanted to talk about for the past month! Thankfully once she starts studying she kind of tunes out everything else."

Harry grinned. "You spent the last month with Hermione in full-on study mode and you still want to marry her. I'd say that's true love right there."

Ron flushed, and a dreamy smile settled on his face. "Yeah, she's amazing."

"Wow, mate, you do have it bad," Harry said with a laugh. "I mean, I knew that already, but I still can't believe you and Hermione are going to get married!"

"Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, yeah? We have to get the ring first, and then I still have to ask her. And she has to say yes." He gave Harry a panicked look. "What if she doesn't say yes?"

"She's definitely going to say yes. She's mad about you."

Ron's smile turned dreamy. "Yeah, I don't doubt that. But she's got all these plans, you know? What if she decides I don't fit in them? She's going places, and I'm…"

"And you're going to be right there with her. You know Hermione, she'll work herself ragged without somebody to help keep her in check, to remind her to breathe and actually take a moment to enjoy life. You two are perfect together. You balance each other out."

"You think so?"

"Absolutely. Now let's go find her a ring. And you can tell me all about how you plan on proposing."

They spent over an hour in the jewelers, going through every single ring until Ron found the perfect one. It was beautiful, and Harry agreed that Hermione was sure to love it. Harry's heart was near full to bursting, beyond excited for his friends and this new adventure they were about to embark on. There had always been a synergy between his two best mates, an inextinguishable passion that made Harry think they had what it took to go the distance together.

"So," Ron began as they stopped off at a nearby shop for some coffee. "We've been talking about me all afternoon. Time to talk about you."

"What about me?"

"I get why maybe you haven't wanted to talk to me about it, what with Ginny being my sister and all, but I'm not a complete idiot. I know you've started seeing somebody."

Harry froze, staring at Ron in shock. "What? Did Ginny tell you?"

Ron smiled. "Nah, though I'm glad she knows about it. I just pay attention is all. I, err..." He flushed and rubbed the back of his neck, his expression sheepish. "Actually, I thought it might be Ginny, at first, that maybe you both were making another go of it. Especially after that photo in the Prophet last month."

"Mate…" Harry said, feeling sad and guilty for having to disabuse his friend of his hopeful thoughts. "I don't—"

Ron waved him off. "No, no, I get it. It was just wishful thinking on my part. Once I started paying attention, I realised pretty quickly it couldn't her. You're not the only one training to be an Auror, you know. It was kinda hard to miss the mood swings."

"Mood swings?"

Ron nodded and took a sip of his coffee. "Yeah. At first you were pretty much the definition of smitten, but it's changed the past few weeks. If you're not near-euphoric with giddiness, you've practically got a black cloud thundering about your head. I'm guessing it's because you're involved with one of the Americans, since they're leaving soon. And since Sarah's with Zach, that leaves Madison." He looked at Harry expectantly, and Harry swallowed. "So, how did I do?"

Harry cleared his throat. "Uh, pretty good, actually. I hadn't realised I'd been so obvious."

"Probably not to anybody who doesn't know you as well as I do. I figure Hermione's got her own suspicions, but I haven't asked her about it. I wanted to talk to you first." He paused, looking at Harry over the rim of his cup. "So what did I get wrong?"

Harry's palms began to sweat. "Uh, just who I'm involved with."

"Just that? So you're not upset because the person you're seeing is about to head back to America?"

Harry cleared his throat and focused on partially used sugar packet on the table between them, picking up the scatter crystals with the pad of his finger. "No, I am. But it's not Madison."

Ron's eyes widened. "Mate, tell me it's not Sarah."

He shook his head. "No, of course not! It's not her either," Harry took a deep breath before continuing, "You, uh, maybe weren't working with all of the relevant information when you narrowed down the options down to two."

Harry could tell when Ron had finally puzzled it out by the widening of his eyes. "Oh. Oh. Is that why things didn't work out with Ginny? Because you're…" He trailed off.

"Bent?" Harry said with a nervous laugh. "No, not that wasn't why. Turns out I like both. The Ginny thing was just me realising that as much as I love her, I wasn't in love with her. Not anymore. Realising I like blokes just sort of happened around the same time. I don't know, maybe it helped speed things along, but Gin and I never would have made it long term."

Ron nodded. "Yeah, she pretty much said the same. Does she know about you?"

"No. I…" Harry blinked. "I actually haven't told anybody yet." It hadn't exactly been intentional, keeping the realisation of his sexuality a secret. But he and Draco had come to the unspoken understanding that what was going on between them was just for them, and Harry guessed he'd sort of extended that secrecy to everything. He hadn't known that it had been weighing on him, never saying the words out loud to anybody other than Draco, but already he felt lighter, knowing his best mate finally knew. It felt so good, revealing his secret, that Harry couldn't seem to stop. "It's Draco," he blurted out, his eyes widening when he realised what he'd just admitted.

"What's Dra—oh." Ron blinked. "Err...wow, mate. I...really didn't see that one coming."

Harry winced. "Yeah, me neither."

"I...hmm, okay. Well…" Ron paused for another sip, brow furrowed. "The ferret, huh? Can't say I really get it, but he's...he's not so bad now, I guess. I mean, it was obvious you're really into this mystery person of yours, so if he makes you happy, then I suppose that's the important thing. It's just...Malfoy, mate?"

Harry smiled, relief rushing through him at Ron's awkward attempts to understand. He'd known Draco would be a hard sell, and he was fairly certain the shock of it all was making Ron a little more understanding than he might be normally, but Harry would take it.

"Yeah, Malfoy. I know, it surprised me, too. But he's changed so much, you've seen it. And when it's just us...I don't know. It's intense."

Ron nodded slowly, clearly still processing. "Yeah, I mean I guess that makes sense. With all the history between you two, well, I can't imagine things would ever be boring. But…" He hesitated. "It's just a fling, yeah? I mean, Malfoy's going back to Seattle at the end of July, and even if he wasn't...do you really see yourself having a future with him?"

Harry shrugged and looked away, watching the barista fiddle with the gleaming espresso machine as he tried to calm his racing thoughts. "I don't know. I mean, yeah, he's going back and I...well obviously I have to stay here. It was only supposed to be a bit of fun, but somehow it went beyond that. And it's not just me, Draco feels the same, but he's still got to leave, and I get that, I do. I just...I hate that it's this foregone conclusion that we'll never work, especially when I feel like this."

"And how do you feel?"

"Like I'm not ready to give him up."

Ron's gaze was unreadable as he stared at Harry, before looking down at the bag on the table, housing the ring he'd just purchased. "You know, I never thought Hermione would go for me." The sudden change in topic had Harry blinking in confusion. "I thought we were too different, that she'd be better off with somebody brainy like her, you know? But she makes me better, and I think I make her better, too. I can't imagine not being with her. I'd follow her to the ends of the earth, no matter what anybody else thought." He looked up at Harry, his gaze filled with surprising amount understanding. "I can't tell you what to do, mate. I won't lie and say I get it, or that I see a future for you two. I can't imagine him ever being good enough for you, honestly. But you'd know all that better than me, and I trust your judgement. You'll figure it out, whatever the answer is. I'm always here for you, no matter what happens."

Harry smiled, and despite the heaviness that continued to weigh on him as the date of Draco's departure grew closer, he felt lighter than he had in ages. He'd never liked keeping secrets from his friends, and his conversation with Ron just underlined how important they were to him, and how much they loved and supported him. Even if he didn't have an answer, he couldn't let himself forget that there were people who had his back, who'd help him pick himself up if he needed them to.

"Thanks, Ron. Hermione's lucky to have you, you know. She'd be a fool to say no, and the last thing Hermione is is a fool."

Ron smiled. "I think we're lucky to have each other. All three of us, really. I'm glad I chose your compartment that day on the Hogwarts Express. Life certainly hasn't been boring."

"Never that," Harry agreed. "Definitely never that."

***

Draco suppressed an uncomfortable shudder as he made his way through the lightly populated side street off Diagon Alley. He checked his reflection in a passing shop window, some of his tension easing as he confirmed that his glamour still held firm. It was disconcerting, looking at his reflection and seeing somebody else's face staring back, but given that he was in the middle of a British wizarding district, he'd take the mild discomfort over actually looking like himself. His friends had tried to convince him a time or two over the past few months to go out without a glamour, telling him that surely the reactions wouldn't be that bad, but Draco didn't feel brave enough to risk it. Besides, his friends meant well, but they didn't know what it could be like, not really. Draco thought it telling that none of the British wizards ever joined in with the American's assertions that Draco would be fine wearing his own face in public.

Nearly a year in London, and still, Draco didn't feel comfortable going out in public in wizarding spaces, not even when he was fully glamoured, and especially not when he was all by himself. He'd nearly talked himself out of going out today half a dozen times, but his determination had won in the end. He just had the one stop to make, after all. Surely Draco could manage an hour without having some kind of mental breakdown.

He almost sighed in relief when he rounded the corner and caught sight of the familiar Flourish and Blotts storefront. It had hardly changed at all since Draco was a child, and a rush of nostalgia ran through him as he remembered those giddy summer days before Hogwarts, his parents spoiling him rotten as they shopped for supplies. There were so many terrible memories in his past that sometimes it was hard to remember that there had been good times, too. For all the atrocities his parents committed, for all the terrible things they believed, they had truly loved him, did truly love him, even if they probably wouldn't recognise the person he was now.

He passed by Quality Quidditch Supplies, and remembered how many hours he'd spent there, how he'd beg and plead with his father to visit after they'd finished picking up the necessities. It was mid July now, which meant wizarding students all over Britain would probably be receiving their Hogwarts letters and lists any day now. Soon, the streets would be flooded with families preparing for the coming school year. The thought of those crowds sent a bolt of anxiety through him. Once, he'd been a part of that magic, but he doubted he'd be welcome anymore.

Sighing, Draco pushed open the door to Flourish and Blotts, exchanging a polite nod with the witch who was helping a customer at the register, before making straight for the International and Travel section. He had a vague idea of what he wanted to buy, and he hoped the selection would be broad enough to help Draco find the perfect gift.

Draco had been vaguely aware, of course, that both his and Harry's birthdays were during the summer, but he hadn't really been sure of what to expect. They weren't together, not officially, so Draco had been surprised when he'd come back to their room last month, after his friends had taken him out to a fancy dinner to celebrate his birthday, and found Harry waiting up for him, a poorly wrapped present on his lap. Draco had been touched by the thoughtful gift, by the fact that Harry had thought to get him a gift at all, really, and he wanted to reciprocate. Of course, it took a little longer for Draco to decide on what to get Harry than he would have liked, but Draco didn't want to settle. He wanted to get Harry something special.

It wasn't until Draco began to think back on a number of conversations they'd had over the past year that an idea began to form. Harry had always seemed fascinated by the differences in magical culture between Britain and America, constantly asking Draco questions about how life varied between the two countries. He'd admitted that when the exchange had first been announced, he'd actually wanted to be one of the trainees sent off to learn abroad, but in the end, he hadn't been able to leave his friends and his new fiancée. They didn't often talk in too much detail about their childhoods, but Harry was open about the fact that he'd never really travelled, had never left Great Britain at all, and that it was something he hoped to have the time to do someday. Once, as they lay spent and panting after a particularly vigorous shag, Harry had told Draco about how fantastic it had been to him as a boy of eleven, learning that he was a wizard and being exposed to this whole new secret world, rich with its own history and customs, and how amazing it was to him now that there was still so much of the world left to explore and uncover.

Draco briefly considered getting him a trip, some well-earned holiday to a far off land. He'd spent more time than he cared to admit, daydreaming of a naked, oiled Harry, sunning himself on a beach, beckoning Draco closer with a naughty smile. Money wasn't a concern for Draco, and even though he knew Harry could very well afford it himself, the fact that he'd so far yet to do so told Draco that perhaps Harry needed a bit of a nudge. He often talked of how he'd like to travel, and though he had the means to do so, it was always said with an air of wistfulness, as if it were something not quite within reach. Draco didn't quite understand it, wasn't sure what, exactly, was holding Harry back, but he couldn't deny that he liked the idea of being able to give Harry that, of being able to do something for Harry that he seemed unable—or unwilling—to do for himself.

Despite how appealing the idea was, Draco eventually dismissed it. He knew Harry would feel uncomfortable with the cost, and given the expiration date on their relationship, Draco didn't much fancy sending Harry on an exciting trip that Draco wouldn't be joining him on. It was a gift for a partner, and while Draco couldn't pretend that a part of him didn't wish that could be said of him and Harry, the fates did not appear to be in agreement. In the end, he did have to settle for a lesser gift, deciding a book would have to do, provided he could find one that suited his purpose. He might not be able to get Harry the trip he wanted to, but he was damn well going to find him the best book money could buy.

Thankfully, the International and Travel section at Flourish and Blotts was expansive, and after half an hour of browsing, Draco finally found what he'd been looking for. It was a large and expensive book that highlighted unique magical ceremonies, rituals, and traditions from different cities and countries across the world. Each entry was accompanied by brilliantly colourful drawings and photos that twirled and sashayed and marched somberly depending on the occasion. It was vivid and eye-catching, and when Draco looked up and realised he'd been standing there reading through it for nearly fifteen minutes, he decided that this was definitely the one. He knew Harry would enjoy it, and it would make for a lovely display in Harry's future home, something he could put out on his coffee table and remember Draco by every time he saw it.

Draco paid quickly, handing over several shiny Galleons to the witch manning the register, the back of his neck prickling with nerves. He'd spent more time than he'd planned to out at the shop, and though it really hadn't been all that long in total, the fact that he was alone made him feel even more uneasy than when he'd been out in wizarding spaces with the other trainees. The moment the witch handed him the bag with his purchase, he was out the door, walking briskly towards the Ministry, a feeling of relief beginning to trickle through him. Relief that was, unfortunately, premature.

"What are you doing here!" an angry voice called out, immediately sending tension shooting through Draco's spine. He tried to shake it off. Surely that wasn't directed at him, right? He kept walking, ignoring the anxiety cramping his stomach.

"Oi, Malfoy, I'm talking to you!" the voice called out again, the tone even nastier than before. "How dare you show your face out here!"

Well, there was no mistaking that. Draco's step faltered at the use of his name, but he pressed on, knowing that stopping now would only spell trouble. Draco's eyes slid furtively towards a passing shop window as he quickened his gait, noting with a complete lack of surprise that his glamour had all but disappeared. He swore, furious at himself for not ducking into the loo at Flourish and Blotts to refresh the spell. Draco had always been pants at glamours, and he usually had Matt cast them on him before they went out, as Matt's penchant for disguises meant his glamours were practically bulletproof. That morning though, Draco had cast it himself, not wanting to face Matt's inevitable questions about why he needed to go out in the first place. It had completely slipped Draco's mind that his own glamours broke down much more quickly.

Draco could hear the sound of heavy, booted footsteps following in his wake, the buzz of furious conversation trailing after him like a hoard of angry bees. He quickly changed course, heading instead of the nearest Apparition Point—it was closer, and he didn't want them to know he was going back to the Ministry; he didn't want them to be able to follow him inside.

"I heard he's trying to infiltrate the Auror ranks," a woman said loudly, her voice dripping venom. "Saying he's reformed. Hah! He doesn't fool me!"

"Word is they have Harry Potter himself keeping an eye on him," another woman chimed in.

"Weren't the whole lot of them banished? Shouldn't have let him back in England at all!"

"Practically got off scot-free, didn't they?" somebody else added, clearly disgusted. "Azkaban woulda been too good for them."

Draco's heart raced, the handles of his bag sliding against his sweaty palm. He gripped it tighter, not wanting to lose hold of his prize. The Apparition Point was just up ahead, less than twenty feet away. Draco kept his head down, as if that would help him disappear from the angry mob at his back. This was exactly what he'd always worried would happen if he went out in public, but a part of him had hoped he was being dramatic with his overblown fears. Apparently not. Sickness and shame flooded through him, as he made the last few steps towards the Apparition Point.

"My cousin died because of your lot," a man shouted, furious and broken, his voice far too close for Draco's liking. "You killed her!"

Draco wanted to shout back at him, wanted to yell that he'd never killed anybody, that he'd failed the only time he'd ever tried. But that wouldn't do any good. These people were beyond listening and reason, fueled only by fear and hurt and anger. There was nothing Draco could say to pacify them, nothing he could do to earn their forgiveness. It had been three years since the war, but apparently time had not yet been enough to heal all of their wounds.

He did his best to clear his mind of all his frustration and helpless anger as he pivoted, his body twisting as he focused only on his destination. A bolt of red light flashed towards him, but Draco could tell the shot was wide, the intended hex racing past and hitting the bricks behind him with a worrying crack. The blink of an eye, and Draco was already gone, his insides squeezing tight as he Apparated to an alley in Muggle London where he could regroup before returning to the Ministry.

Thankfully, the alley was empty—the last thing he needed right now was to accidentally break the International Statute of Secrecy— and he leaned against the shadow-cool wall, ignoring the rubbish bin next to him as he attempted to slow his breathing. His pulse pounded and his heart raced, and Draco closed his eyes, adrenaline coursing through him. He attempted to calm him frantic mind, but try as he might, he was unable to banish the final image of the watching crowd as he Disapparated, their expressions twisted with condemnation as they stared at him with hateful, accusatory eyes.

Chapter Text

Harry had always hated exams. The practical portions weren't so bad, really, but the written parts always made his head throb and his eyelids feel inexplicably heavy. He tried not to feel despair over the fact that this was only day one of their five straight days of comprehensive testing. Passing his Auror Certification Exams—or A.C.E.s, as they were more colloquially known as—was the final step to becoming a full blown Auror. He just hoped he survived to enjoy it.

Surprisingly, he'd managed to finish this portion of the test a full hour earlier than allotted. A little voice in his head that sounded an awful lot like Hermione urged him to use the rest of the time to go over his answers and double check his work, since nobody was allowed to leave the hall until their time was up. Harry made a half-hearted go of it, flipping back to the first page and attempting to read his scrawled out response, but his brain gave out part way through. After his fifth time rereading the same sentence, Harry gave it up as a lost cause. What he already had down would just have to do.

There were no windows—real or artificial—in the exam room, likely in an attempt to prevent distraction, so Harry contented himself with staring down at the unblemished surface of his desk, wiggling his quill around to look like he was still working. His mind drifted aimlessly for a while, before his thoughts caught and snagged, as they so frequently did these days, on Draco.

Harry's stomach fluttered with familiar sensation, that same combination of fear and want and exhilaration that always seemed to accompany thoughts of Draco. He was just so...so captivating, fascinating, waking up parts of Harry that had long laid dormant. The more time Harry spent with him, the more time Harry wanted to spend with him, a perpetual itch that he could never fully scratch. He wanted to open Draco up and see what made him tick, wanted to learn all of his secrets and dreams and fears. It amazed Harry how Draco had managed to pick himself up after the war and forge a better life for himself, one that anyone would be proud of. Sometimes, it was almost like Harry was looking at an entirely different person than the boy he'd known at Hogwarts, but Harry knew that wasn't fair. Draco never tried to pretend his past hadn't happened, never hid the things he'd done. It was obvious, how hard he'd worked to become better, the efforts he'd made to heal from his childhood and the war, to unlearn the bigotry and rhetoric he'd heard his entire life. It was impressive, his growth. Seeing how far Draco had come and how much he'd accomplished, Harry couldn't help but reflect on his own life and choices. It was something that had been happening more and more lately in the quiet moments of Harry's life, a creeping awareness that maybe he wasn't as okay as he'd thought.

The truth of the matter was, this thing with Draco terrified him. It was as if his reappearance in Harry's life triggered some kind of awareness and awakening in Harry, challenging all the things Harry had thoughtlessly accepted as true. Even back at the beginning of the exchange, when Harry had been suspicious and wary of Draco, it had still been something new and exciting, had still made his senses tingle and his heart race. And now...now, Harry was happier than he could remember being in a very long time. The past few months had been amazing, eye-opening, addictive in the way Harry couldn't get enough of Draco's hands and lips, of his cool voice and sharp wit. It freaked him out, and not because of the bloke thing, or even the Malfoy thing, so much as the fact that surely it was too soon after his break-up to be feeling so strongly about another person. Everybody knew that the first person you hooked up with after calling off such a long term relationship was just a fling, a rebound before you were ready to properly move on. That's what Harry had told himself he was doing with Draco at the start, exploring his newly discovered attraction to men with somebody he definitely wouldn't fall for, and yet...

He'd already admitted to himself and to Draco that what had developed between them was more than just sex. It was so much more to Harry, but was it healthy, moving on so quickly? Harry knew that the break-up with Ginny had been a long time coming. Even if he hadn't let himself become aware of it at the time, he'd been quietly mourning their relationship for months before he finally broke things off, which had probably played a part in how quickly he'd put their relationship to rest. He'd fucked up with Ginny, had let himself become lazy and complacent in their relationship. Harry had put so much stock into the kind of future, the kind of life, he thought he wanted, that he'd held onto the dream of what could be long after it had faded. He let himself focus on what everybody else wanted, what they were feeling, everyone but himself, at least, keeping himself blind to the fact that his desires had changed. Harry had stayed in a dying relationship for months, maybe even years, because he'd thought Ginny was who he should want, that she held the key to his future. If it hadn't been for Draco bursting into his life and inadvertently opening Harry's eyes to the truth, who knew what might have happened. He could have doomed Ginny and him both to a miserable marriage, cheated them out of happiness and true love. The last thing Harry wanted to do was make the same mistakes with Draco, to replace one bad relationship with another, falling too fast for the first person he latched onto to avoid dealing with his issues.

That didn't feel like that was what was happening, though. Draco wasn't some replacement, a stop-gap so that Harry didn't have to be alone with himself and his thoughts. Just because the timing was off, and just because their relationship was fated from the start to never go anywhere, it didn't mean that it wasn't important, that it wasn't good for Harry. Despite their differences and the many obstacles in their way, somehow he and Draco clicked. Harry wouldn't say it was easy—how could it be, when there was an expiration date on their time together?—but there was something there, something he didn't quite understand, something that felt real and true in a way Harry had never experienced before, not even with Ginny. Draco made him question himself and his life, in the best kind of way, made him look at the world and see nothing but possibility. When he was around Draco, Harry wanted to be better, wanted to be the kind of man that someone like Draco could depend on, could lean on. Harry wanted to be somebody comfortable and secure in themselves, the way Draco had so clearly grown to be. Harry used to think he'd had that surety of himself, but the more time he spent around Draco, the more he wondered if he truly did.

Draco had helped him reignite some fire inside of him that had burned down over the past several years, but soon, he'd be gone, and Harry would need to figure out how to ensure that light wasn't extinguished again. He remembered how staid life had felt before the exchange, how much he'd quietly yearned for some change of pace. Now that he'd experienced it, he was loathe to relinquish the feeling. Draco was inextricably tied to how bright the world seemed now, but Harry knew it wasn't healthy to rely too heavily on somebody else for his happiness. He'd spent so long living for other people, for Ginny and Teddy and his friends, letting his love for them fill him up, until there wasn't any room left for him to have to think about himself, for him to linger in his memories, for anxiety to grip him up as he thought of the past and the future. But Draco had shown him what living for yourself could do for a person. He had so clearly demonstrated the importance of knowing what you wanted and going for it, of confronting your demons, your fears, your past, so you could truly move forward. Draco wasn't living the life his parents had planned for him, the life he'd grown up believing he would lead. He'd done the hard work necessary to determine his own path, and had stuck with it, even when it meant living far away from everything he'd known, even when it had brought him back to a place he'd vowed never to return. Harry had always been a Gryffindor, determined and brave, even in the face of the unknown, even when it terrified him. Since the war, he'd let himself forget that, let himself settle for what was safe and and easy. It was time for that to change. It was time for Harry to start taking chances.

He'd been so tired after the war, so fucking tired, and all he'd wanted to do was rest, just for a little while. In the wake of all the violence and heartache, Harry thought peace, and a life free of complication, sounded pretty damn good. He wanted to lock up all the bad things that had happened to him in a box and bury it deep inside, down where it couldn't hurt him anymore, but he thought now that may have been a mistake. Perhaps he wasn't as unaffected as he'd wanted to believe. He hadn't been ready, before, to truly confront and let go of the past, so that he could accept and move into the future, but he thought maybe he was, now . Perhaps safe and easy wasn't all it was cracked up to be. An image danced across his mind, all white-blond hair and amused, grey eyes and a warm feeling that expanded through his chest.

Maybe a little complication wasn't such a bad thing.

***

"Can you believe we're going home in less than two weeks?" Sarah asked the group as they lounged around the common room. Classes had unofficially wrapped up last week, and the Americans now had a week of free time to fill while their British counterparts holed up to take their A.C.E.s. Of course, the time wasn't really free, as the lot of them had to study for their own exams that they'd be taking once they returned home.

"It's crazy to think we've been here for nearly a year," Matt agreed. "It went by so fast!"

Zach flipped through a textbook, flicking his wand periodically to transcribe highlighted portions of text onto the stack of index cards next to him. "I just hope that we're not surprised by anything that shows up on our final exams," he said, brow furrowed. "I've been exchanging regular owls with Instructor Marsters, and he said based on the syllabi I sent, we should be fine, but…" He trailed off, and Draco traded an amused grin with Sarah. Instructor Marsters had been in charge of their training back in Seattle, and Draco supposed he shouldn't be surprised that Zach had kept in touch with him to ensure they weren't missing any key learnings. Frankly, he was grateful for it. The last thing any of them wanted was to be taken by surprise during their exams with something that had been omitted from the British curriculum.

 

Sarah snorted fondly and ran a hand through Zach's hair. "We'll be fine, babe. Marsters would have let us know if there were any major gaps, and I know you were thorough in what you sent to him. Probably too thorough. We've got this."

"Exactly," Madison said with relish, moving to lean back against the sofa armrest and propping her feet up on Draco's lap. Draco shot her an unamused glare, but she merely dug her feet in more firmly and flashed him a grin. "Besides, we've got at least a week after we get back to study before our exams start. We should be out right now, taking advantage of our last few weeks in England."

"Well, I don't know about you," Matt said, "but my first week back is going to be pretty full. I don't want to spend the whole time stuck inside with a book. After I get over the jet-lag, I plan on catching up on all the things I missed back home. Plus, by that point, we'll only have another month or so left of summer, so we gotta soak up the Seattle sun while we can."

"Study session at Madrona Beach?" Josh suggested. "We can kill two birds with one stone."

Madison grinned. "And take plenty of swim breaks."

"But no alcohol this time," Zach said sternly, the smile in his eyes belying his tone. "The last time you all convinced me to turn studying into a drinking game, I slept through the exam."

"Agreed," Draco said with a laugh. Draco might have felt bad about that incident, but thankfully Zach was such a stellar student that he'd been able to convince their instructor to let him make up the test. In the end, he'd done better than all of them combined, considering the rest of them had all taken the test painfully hungover.

They pretended to study for a while, though mostly they chatted about what they were most looking forward to about returning to Seattle. Draco listened and occasionally chimed in with his own thoughts, though his heart wasn't quite as into the conversation as the others. He couldn't deny that he was looking forward to returning home, to settling back into the routine that had helped stabilise him after the war, but there was an unavoidable tinge of melancholy to his anticipation. Draco hadn't even left yet, and already he missed Harry, missed the almost-relationship they had stumbled into over the past several months. Every time one of his friends mentioned a favourite restaurant or bar or beach that they were looking forward to visiting, Draco's stupid brain couldn't help but imagine what it might be like to share those places with Harry. It was foolish and fanciful, but despite his best efforts to pretend otherwise, Draco wasn't quite ready to let go of Harry just yet. He didn't have a choice. Two more weeks. Two more weeks, and it would all be over.

"Speaking of things we still have to do in England before we go," Josh said, interrupting Draco's thoughts. "I still need to get a tattoo. Dean's friend gave me the name of the place that did his, and it looks pretty sweet. He said it's in Hogsmeade, which I guess is a magical town up in Scotland near the wizarding school. Who's coming with me?"

A shudder went through Draco at Josh's casual declaration, reminding him of another reason he'd stayed so silent while the others had talked about why they were excited to return home. Because one of the biggest reasons Draco couldn't wait to get back to Seattle was so that he could once again lose himself in anonymity. He desperately wanted to go back to being just another face in the crowd, indistinguishable from any other witch or wizard on the street. That was something America would always have over Britain, no matter how much Draco might wish differently.

"Draco, you in?" Josh asked, nudging him with his foot when Draco remained silent. Draco shook himself from his thoughts and gave Josh a smile that he hoped wasn't as uneasy as it felt. "Yeah, sure, maybe," he said casually, hoping Josh wouldn't hone in on the obvious non-committal slant of his response. "Depends on when."

The truth was, after the disaster of his solo excursion last week, Draco was hesitant to head back into any of the wizarding districts, even with a glamour on. He hadn't told anybody about what had happened, and shockingly, it hadn't made front page of any of the papers. Draco knew his friends would be outraged on his behalf, and though a part of him thought it might be nice to have that support, Draco wasn't sure if he could handle it right now. The whole thing had left him shaken and embarrassed, and all he wanted to do was forget it had happened. He felt ashamed of his persistent fear of going out again, but while there was certainly safety in numbers, Draco didn't think he could stand the humiliation if something similar were to occur while he was with his friends. They had so much faith in him, were so certain that the people who couldn't see the good in Draco now were wrong. He selfishly didn't want them to see the depth of people's animosity towards him. Draco didn't want them to realise how terrible he really must have been to inspire such blind hatred.

The whole incident underscored what an impossibility it would be for Draco to stay in Britain. He couldn't live his life under a glamour, constantly worrying if the spell would wear off at the wrong moment. Besides which, glamours might work visually, but they weren't sound proof. All it would take was one person to slip up and call him Draco or Malfoy (instead of Black, as they'd been referring to him all year the few times they'd gone out somewhere wizarding) and the jig would be up. Not for the first time, he cursed having such a distinctly unique name.

No, tension was still too high in the wizarding world here, the wounds of the war too fresh. Sure, most of the British trainees—Corner excluded—seemed to have accepted Draco well enough by now, but that had taken months of awkward tension before they'd even been able to settle into genial professionalism. Draco couldn't trust that the same would hold true for the rest of the wizarding Britain, especially given that most of them seemed to put blind faith in whatever drivel the Prophet decided to spoon feed them. Dastardly Death Eater Draco sold more papers than Draco as a reformed do-gooder. Not to mention the fact that the main reason Draco might even want to stay would be for Harry. When you added his super-star level fame to the mix, it was a recipe that clearly spelled disaster.

As much as Draco hated to stop this thing with Harry before it really had a chance to get started, there was no denying that staying just wasn't an option. In a few short weeks, he'd be going home. He looked around the room at his friends, and though a sense of sadness washed through him knowing that he'd be leaving Harry behind, Draco knew he'd get through it. Draco might not have Harry any longer, but at least he wouldn't be going home alone.

Chapter Text

When the rest of his group had suggested going out for a night of drinking and dancing to celebrate the end of their week-long A.C.E.s, Harry had only hesitated for a moment. Sure, clubs weren't his favourite place to hang out, but he was feeling the effects of finally being done with training just as much as the rest of them. They only had another week left of classes now, but it was more a formality than anything else since half their group had already sat their exams. Another week of training before the Americans went back home to take their own exams, and then a month long break for Harry and his colleagues, and then he would finally be an official Auror.

Another week, and Draco would be gone.

Harry wasn't letting himself think about that, right now. He'd finished his exams, and it was time to celebrate, not brood. A busy club would be just the thing. If the chaos became too much, he could always duck out early.

It was Friday night, so it was no surprise that the club was packed. They'd been there for less than an hour, and already Harry had lost track of most of their group. Harry wasn't too bothered. Draco was a steady presence at his side, and the few drinks he'd downed so far had left him with a pleasant buzz that made him loose-limbed and exuberant. He couldn't help but remember the last time he and Draco had been in a club together, Draco's hands on Harry's hips as he tried to teach Harry how to dance. Looking back on it now, Harry could recognise the feelings of lust and desire that he'd been unconsciously suppressing, how he'd pretended his heart wasn't jumping whenever Draco's fingers had grazed against his bare skin. Draco had left that night with his ex-boyfriend, and the emotions that had churned in Harry's stomach were definitely not the kind of things you felt for just a friend. He'd felt furious and possessive and jealous, a strange hurt he'd had no right to feel coursing through him and souring his mood. Now, though, Draco was his, even if it was only for another week. Tonight, Draco would be leaving with him.

"Dance with me," Harry murmured. Draco shivered as Harry's lips dragged against the whorl of his ear, and Harry grinned, before mouthing at the lobe.

"Harry…" Draco said on a shaky exhale. "Aren't you worried they might see?"

Harry shook his head. "Nobody's watching. Besides, we can always just say you're continuing your dance lessons."

Draco snorted. "I don't think that excuse is going to fly. Not with the way I plan on dancing with you."

Harry's belly flipped. "God, yeah."

Draco drained the rest of his drink, setting it down on a nearby table before turning to gaze at Harry with smoldering eyes. He looked like he wanted to devour Harry, and Harry was very much on board with that plan. "Please."

Draco's pupils dilated—Harry knew how much Draco liked it when Harry begged.

The made their way onto the dance floor, anticipation pumping through Harry's veins. Around them, people jumped and writhed, hundreds of strangers providing an illusion of anonymity. Harry knew his friends were around here somewhere, that they might see him and Draco entwined beneath the pulsing lights, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He only had another week left with Draco, and Harry didn't plan on missing out on a single moment. Besides, the most important people already knew about the two of them anyway, even if Harry suspected seeing him and Draco together would be a little bit different than just hearing about it. Honestly, the club was packed like a tin of sardines, and they'd all been drinking so much that Harry didn't think it would be an issue.

Draco pulled him close, their chests pressed flush, legs and groins slotting together as Draco guided the two of them into a dirty grind that matched the beat of the music pulsing around them. Harry hadn't improved all that much since the last time Draco took him out on the dance floor, but this wasn't so much about dancing, not really. Unlike last time, he could press as close as he wanted, could run his fingers through Draco's hair and down his back while Draco's squeezed his hips and slid his nose along the curve of Harry's jaw. It was more like sex than proper dancing, and sex with Draco was something Harry's body knew how to do.

They moved together, hot and close and filthy, desire building between them until Harry felt like he might actually die if he couldn't get his hands on Draco's bare skin as soon as possible. His erection throbbed against Draco's hip, and a gasp left his throat as Draco's hands grabbed his arse and pulled him even closer while Draco's tongue licked a line of fire up Harry's throat.

"Draco," Harry groaned, his lower half jerking forward, following the promising friction of Draco's gyrating hips.

"Yes, Harry?" Draco's voice was low and rich as chocolate, his hot breath curling around Harry's ear and making him shiver.

"It's time for us to go."

Harry could practically see the warring impulses in Draco's brain, the desire to tease Harry some more or give in to what they both clearly wanted. It was a close call, but in the end, lust won out.

"After you."

Harry turned around and tugged Draco with him towards the exit, not bothering to find the rest of their party to make their excuses. He pushed through the crowd, his eyes locking with Madison, who was dirty dancing with Dean just a few feet away. She grinned at him, sharp and suggestive, before her left eye closed in a saucy wink. Harry flushed with embarrassment at her obvious insinuation, but she turned away a moment later, focusing back on Dean. Thankfully, Dean was so preoccupied with his dance partner, he hadn't noticed Harry and Draco making their hasty retreat.

"Your place or mine?" Draco asked with an exaggerated leer as they stumbled towards a secluded alley.

Harry rolled his eyes and Draco grinned, a pleased laugh bubbling forth that made Harry's entire body feel light as air. Fuck, he really liked it when Draco smiled. When he laughed. Harry pulled on Draco's hand until their chests bumped together, bringing Draco close enough for a kiss. Draco was still chuckling, smiling against Harry's lips. That didn't last long though, the kiss quickly turning slick and suggestive, the hardness in their jeans demanding swift attention.

"Apparate us back, Harry," Draco commanded as he brushed hot kisses along the curve of Harry's cheek.

"Gonna—gonna splich us if you don't stop kissing me first."

"I thought all you Gryffindors got your rocks off on danger?"

Harry laughed, then groaned, as Draco ground his thigh against Harry's throbbing prick. "Not when there's a chance I might splinch off your cock," Harry retorted once he caught his breath. "I've got plans for it."

Draco pulled away, his expression hungry. "Oh? What kind of plans."

He'd stopped long enough for Harry's head to clear, and Harry thought of the Ministry and their shared room that had somehow become home over the past ten months.

"Hold tight and find out."

***

The second they got to their room, Harry was on him. Draco wasn't complaining. Their dirty dancing at the club had already sent all of Draco's blood flowing south, and he was more than on board with relieving some of the pressure. Draco was grateful Harry had foregone his usual spectacles at the club, using a vision charm instead. He couldn't deny that the hideous frames had managed to grow on him, but kissing like this was that much easier when wire frames weren't digging into his cheek. Draco let Harry press him up against the wall, met his hungry kisses with his own voracious appetite, and when Harry dropped gracelessly to his knees, Draco let out an eager groan, carding his fingers through Harry's hair as quick fingers undid his flies.

They'd done this quite a few times by now, but the sight of Harry on his knees before him still sent Draco's head spinning. It was almost beyond comprehension, how much honest enjoyment Harry got out of putting his mouth on Draco. His unadulterated pleasure in the act was undeniable in Harry's rapturous expression as he pressed hot kisses along Draco's prick. He still hadn't managed to take in Draco's full length yet, but he got close enough to it, pushing himself a little more each time he tried until he drove Draco half mad with the need to come. Draco watched him now, watched that perfect fucking mouth open wide and take him in. He tried so fucking hard not to think about how many more times they had left together, tried not to think about the fact that soon Harry would probably be practicing his deep-throating skills on some other lucky bloke, while Draco pathetically pined from half a world away.

Harry gazed up at him in glassy adoration, bobbing his head with messy, greedy force, clearly desperate to take in as much of Draco as he could. In the darkness, Draco could just make out the pale blur of Harry's arm, and it took a few seconds for the information to penetrate the fog of lust over Draco's brain, for him to realise that Harry was wanking, that he was so turned on by the act of giving Draco head that he couldn't wait to get off. The knowledge was beyond arousing, and the hands lying loose and gentle in Harry's hair tightened on reflex, Draco's hips jerking forward into the wet suction of Harry's mouth, bumping against Harry's soft palate. Harry gagged, then moaned, as Draco quickly pulled back, a low, guttural sound that vibrated around Draco's cock. Draco didn't even have a moment to feel guilty before Harry's expression went shocked and ecstatic before he came all over the floor at Draco's feet.

Harry shuddered and blinked up at Draco in a self-satisfied daze, and suddenly he seemed impossibly far away when all Draco wanted in that moment was to be pressed up against him. With a growl, he pulled Harry up off the ground, bringing him in for a brief possessive kiss before spinning them both and pinning Harry face first against the wall. Harry gasped and arched back against him, so sexy and eager for it, it was practically criminal. Draco vanished his clothing with a quick flick of his wand, baring miles of tanned skin and a smooth back that tapered pleasingly into the biteable curve of Harry's arse. Draco stepped in close, his hard cock nestling between firm cheeks as he slid his hands down to Harry's wrists and brought them up to the wall above Harry's head, stretching him out, putting him at Draco's mercy. Harry let Draco guide him, pliant and easy, tilting his head to give Draco better access to his throat. It hadn't taken long for Harry to catch on to Draco's mild preoccupation with his neck—whether that was all Draco or something inspired by his wolfier instincts, Draco wasn't quite sure—but instead of shying away from the predator in Draco, Harry opened himself up to it, offering up the vulnerable curve of his throat every time without blinking. It was almost infuriating, how well they fit together like this, how easily Harry gave Draco everything he wanted and more.

Draco pressed a gentle kiss to the nape of his neck, licking at the skin before dragging his teeth along his shoulder blade. Harry shuddered, and his voice was a low rasp when he spoke. "I wouldn't mind if you wanted to bite me a little. If you wanted."

Draco's entire body trembled, a ferocious lust rising up in him, urging him to take what was being so sweetly offered. How close was it to the full moon? Fuck, he didn't even know. He'd been so caught up in Harry and the fact that Draco would be leaving soon, that he'd completely lost track of the moon. That wasn't like him. In fact, it hadn't happened once, not since he'd first realised that he'd been affected by Fenrir's attack. Harry had a way of taking up all the room in his brain, absorbing all his focus and making him forget some of the darkness as he basked in Harry's warming light. He shook his head. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered right now except for the feeling of Harry's body against his, naked and blood-hot and so very alive.

He dragged the edge of his teeth along Harry's shoulder again, up towards the line of his throat, relishing Harry's shiver as Draco's hips began to grind against Harry's arse. Draco breathed against the skin there, damp and hot as he lost himself in the rut, his hands still wrapped around Harry's wrists up against the wall, his cock rubbing slickly between the globes of Harry's arse. Everything was close and hot and hunger and need as Draco thrust against him. Everything Draco was had narrowed down to the simple desire to come, to leave his mark on Harry's skin as surely as Harry'd left his mark on Draco's heart. He'd already been close enough from the blowjob, so it didn't take long for his climax to start building, winding up his muscles as they prepared for quick release.

He bit down, softly, more gently than his instincts wanted. It wasn't nearly enough to break skin, but it was enough for Harry to feel it. Harry's breath hitched and every last bit of tension in him melted away, his body turning to liquid against the wall and beneath Draco's hands. The sweetness of his surrender, that guileless trust, shocked the orgasm right out of Draco. He came against the small of Harry's back, his release dripping slow and sticky down the curves of Harry's arse, mesmerising in its pearlescent sheen. Draco allowed himself a moment to catch his breath, to press a lingering kiss to his already fading bite mark, before carefully lowering Harry's arms. He slid his hands up to Harry's shoulders, digging his thumbs into the joints that might be sore from holding that position.

"Are you okay?"

Harry nodded and looked at Draco over his shoulder, the truth of it shining in his expression. "I'm brilliant. I'd have stopped you if I didn't like it."

"I know."

Draco cleaned them off and tugged them over to his bed while Harry grinned at him. "For a second there, I actually thought I might get hard again, it was so fucking hot."

A flicker of smug pride pulled up the corners of Draco's lips. "Oh?"

Harry's smile turned wicked and self-satisfied. "Give me another ten minutes and we can go for round two."

"Honestly, with all the drinking we did earlier, I'm not sure I have another round in me. I'm impressed we got it up for round one, to be honest."

Harry laughed, and a sharp pain flared inside Draco, a small dagger wedged beneath his ribs. It had never felt like this before, not with Blaise or Pansy, not with Violet or even Antonio. Harry understood him in a way nobody else ever really had, and still he wanted him, wanted Draco in a way that defied all logic and reason. Perhaps he was making a mistake in leaving, in thinking Harry wasn't worth staying for, worth fighting for.

Maybe he should stay.

Should he stay?

Could he stay? Could he give up the life he'd built for himself, the career he'd worked so hard to earn, the friends he'd made, the people who taught him that love didn't have to have a price tag, that it could be given freely, without invisible strings and the constant threat of a wand always pointed at your back? Could Draco leave all that behind for a boy? A man, really. Not just a man, but the Saviour, the person he'd really only been seeing for four months now, even if it felt like longer. Even if it felt like the kind of relationship Draco would have dreamed of, if he'd ever been the type to dream of happily ever afters.

He looked down at his bare arm lying lax and loose against the rumpled sheets of the bed. The lines of his Dark Mark were no longer the crisp black or blood red that they'd been during the Dark Lord's reign, but the faded grey of the snake and skull was no less hateful. Shame flooded his veins, acrid and bitter, followed by a helpless rage, at his parents for setting him on that dark path, at British Wizarding Society and their miserly forgiveness, their inability to see him as anything other than his very worst mistakes. Most of all at himself, for having earned every bit of their censure, for the terrible choices he'd made. He knew that some things were too terrible to forgive, no matter how much Draco regretted them. The wizarding world didn't owe Draco its forgiveness, and the weight of that knowledge, the burden of knowing their hatred was justified no matter how hard Draco tried to make up for his sins...it would crush him if he stayed. He'd be ground to dust beneath their scorn and his own self-loathing, or else he'd harden, become the person they all thought he still was when fighting the inevitable became too much.

He couldn't stay.

Maybe it was cowardice, but Draco had tasted freedom, had learned in Seattle what it meant to be himself, to find love and acceptance and a place where he fit. Just the thought of leaving Harry behind fucking hurt, but there wasn't a future for Draco here. The person Harry had fallen for wouldn't exist if Draco stayed.

He turned his head to look at Harry, a jolt going through him when his eyes locked with electric green. Draco wondered how long Harry had been looking at him with those soft eyes, longing and desperation and determination shining through.

"I was thinking," Harry said, his voice soft and hesitant.

Draco managed a half smile, though his heart had begun to beat an uneven rhythm, sensing something in the tone of Harry's voice. "Should I be worried?"

Harry smiled, quicksilver, nervous. He looked down at Draco's chest, probably worried about Draco's heart, now beating violently enough that it was no-doubt visible to the naked eye. "No, I don't think so. I hope not. It's just…" He trailed off, flushed and fidgety.

"Harry?" Draco barely managed to keep his voice from cracking on the last syllable.

"I've got some time off, before I officially start working as a Junior Auror. About a month, actually. All of us do. And I was thinking…well, I don't really have any plans, so maybe..." He looked back at Draco then, his eyes clear and so, so green. Draco's racing heart stuttered to a stop. "Maybe I could come to Seattle with you? You could show me around this city you love so much."

Draco heart began to beat again as blood rushed through his ears, leaving him blinking and dizzy. "What?"

Harry's flush deepened and he looked away, pinching the blankets between his fingers and pulling them taught. "I've, uh...I've never actually left Great Britain. I always wanted to travel, but I guess I never really made it enough of a priority to follow through on it. America seems like as good a place as any to start." Draco thought of Harry's birthday gift stowed under this very bed, the one he'd bought because he knew he couldn't get Harry a trip for real. He'd never even considered this possibility. Indecision creased Harry's face as he stared at the fabric in his hands in apparent fascination. "But, err, I don't have to go. I just thought..." Harry shrugged. "Maybe it was a stupid idea. I guess I just don't want this to be over yet."

Draco's insides twisted. He wasn't ready for it to be over yet, either, but he didn't think it was going to be any easier if they waited an extra month. In the end, it was only putting off the inevitable. In fact, it would probably make everything even worse, getting to see Harry in the place where Draco had made his home, making memories with him there that would no-doubt haunt Draco long after Harry went back to England.

He opened his mouth, trying to find a way to soften his refusal, to make Harry understand why it was a terrible idea.

"Yeah, okay," Draco said instead, dread and giddy anticipation already at war in his gut. Draco knew it was weakness that urged him to accept Harry's suggestion, but there was no way Draco was ever going to be able to turn down an opportunity to spend more time with Harry, no matter what the future repercussions may be. It might just be a stay of execution, but it was something, at least. It was a little more time together. It was four more weeks with Harry.

Harry's entire face lit up like the fucking sun, and even knowing what lay ahead for him, Draco couldn't help but tempt fate and continue to fly nearer, drawn to Harry's brilliance.

Like Icarus, he'd inch closer and closer to Harry's warmth until the heat burned him up, but looking at Harry and his radiant smile, Draco couldn't bring himself to care. There were worse ways to go.

Chapter Text

Seattle was brilliant.

There was something about it that reminded Harry vaguely of London, similar enough so that he wasn't completely homesick, but different enough that exploring the city was endlessly exciting. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm without being blistering hot. He could see why Draco loved it there so much, and even Draco's attempts to put him off by telling him about the endless grey and drizzly winters weren't enough to change his mind. He lived in London, afterall.

Draco had let the lease on his old flat, no, apartment, expire when left for the exchange, so the both of them were staying with his 'Aunt' Cari on an island not far from the city while Draco looked for a new place to live. She was every bit as strange and eccentric as Draco had said she was, and Harry thought she was fantastic. She often greeted Harry each day with an update on the state of his aura, and though Harry wasn't quite sure he put much stock in such things, he couldn't deny that he did feel quite optimistic and hopeful, as his currently pale yellow aura apparently suggested. There was an idea percolating in the back of his mind, not yet fully formed. He tried not to dwell on it too much, not wanting to put all his eggs in such an uncertain basket, but still, it filled him with possibility. Then he remembered what day it was, and a ridiculous flush of nervousness rolled over him.

"Don't worry so much," Cari scolded gently from across the table. "You're starting to turn red."

"Sorry," Harry mumbled apologetically. "I can't help it."

"Draco is going to be fine. You won't be though, if you don't eat your breakfast." She gave him an arch look. "Or should I say lunch, given that it's past noon already.

He flashed her a grin, before taking pointed bite of the vegan smoothie bowl she'd prepared for him for breakfast. It wasn't something he'd normally make for himself, but it was good and surprisingly energising. "I'm on vacation, you know. That means I'm allowed to sleep in."

"Does it now?" she said, unimpressed. Harry had learned early on that Cari was very much a morning person. She'd probably been up for hours and hours already, but he knew that, despite her teasing, she didn't care much one way or the other.

Harry hummed in confirmation. "Did you know what time Draco is supposed to get back?"

"He only had one more practical left, and it was scheduled for earlier this morning. I believe they're supposed to get their final results soon after that. I'm guessing he'll be back shortly." Cari spoke absently while she stared intently at the assortment of multi-coloured glass laid out on the table in front of her. Her latest project was clearly already drawing her focus.

Harry took another bite of his breakfast bowl, the icy cool mixture sliding soothingly down his throat. "Unless he decided to go out with his friends to celebrate?"

Cari snorted. "You know perfectly well he'd come back for you first if that was the plan. In fact, you should probably get dressed for the day, hmm? That way he won't have to wait so long for you to get ready."

A ridiculous giddiness filled his belly as Cari's casual assumption that Draco wouldn't want to do anything without Harry. It coalesced with the strange energy humming through him, a nervousness he couldn't quite place. Maybe it was because he was already halfway through with his leave, that his time left with Draco could be counted on fingers and toes. He was eager to hear about Draco's results, sure that he'd passed with flying colours, but there was a melancholy mixed in, knowing that becoming an official Auror here was one more thing tying him to Seattle and away from Harry.

"Yeah, you're right," he said, shoveling down the rest of his food. "I'll wash up and then get ready."

Cari waved a distracted hand in acknowledgement, now fully absorbed in the task of selecting the perfect glass specimen for her newest piece. Harry left her to it.

He grabbed a clean shirt and a pair of shorts from his luggage and slipped into the loo to take a shower, wondering if Draco had any plans on deck for the afternoon. So far, the two of them had spent most of their days exploring the city, Draco showing him all the touristy bits, as well as his favourite off-the-beaten-path spots. What really surprised Harry was how many of the places were partially, or even entirely, Muggle. True, he'd heard that Muggle and magical communities were more closely integrated in the States, but it was a different thing entirely to actually see it. In the entire city, there was only one quarter that was entirely wizarding, with the rest of the shops and homes completely blended with the Muggle population. There were a few glamoured shops that catered exclusively to wizards—generally the ones that specialised in exclusively magical items, such as wand shops—but given how much space there was to spread out here, it didn't make much business sense for store owners to completely ignore the Muggles as such a large potential revenue source. It was incredible, seeing how seamlessly the two worlds intertwined.

They'd been busy, these past few weeks, spending their days exploring and their nights fucking. Harry thought it might be awkward, with Draco's Aunt just down the hall, but she'd made a point of emphasising how thick the walls of her home were when she first welcomed them, and besides, that's what Silencing Spells were for anyway, right?

Honestly, the past few weeks had been some of the happiest of Harry's life, and more and more he found himself wishing that their time together didn't have to end. The fact of that was more than a little terrifying. Instead of giving him the closure he'd hoped for, this trip had just served to make him fall for Draco even more. Harry could see the difference being out of England had on Draco, saw how much more open and relaxed he was, how his smiles and laughter seemed to come just a little easier than they had less than a month ago. It was addictive, being around Draco in his new natural habitat, and Harry couldn't help but fall a little in love with the people and the place that clearly gave Draco such peace.

Before he'd left, the Weasleys had thrown him a big party, half send-off, half birthday celebration. It had been great, having so many of his friends and family all in one place, Draco's absence the one flaw in what had otherwise been a lovely evening. He'd made a point of inviting Draco and the rest of the Americans, but they'd all begged off, ostensibly to pack for their return home, though Harry had a feeling it was more about Draco not wanting to crash a party at which he might not be entirely welcome. Harry had been frustrated, but he'd understood, especially when Draco, his voice low and filthy, had promised to make it up to Harry later that night when he got back.

Still, despite missing Draco's presence, Harry had enjoyed himself, especially as he'd been putting off returning to the Burrow for far too long in the wake of his and Ginny's break-up. Molly had given him a huge hug, making it clear how happy she was that he was there, and Arthur had pulled him aside a number of times, asking him to take note of all the Muggle things he was sure to see in America. Ron and Hermione had been great, clearly excited for him and his upcoming trip, though Harry could tell the both of them were holding their tongues. They were the only ones who knew that Harry was specifically going to Seattle to spend more time with Draco, and while it was obvious that they were concerned, the both of them had done their best to be supportive, and he loved them for it.

Never having left England, Harry had expected to be more homesick, to miss the familiarity of home, his friends and his family. Sure, it had only been a few weeks, and maybe the novelty of it all would wear off the longer he was away, but getting out and exploring, seeing what else the world had to offer...something about it felt good. Felt right. It wasn't as if he was alone here, either. He had Draco, of course, and they'd seen the rest of the American trainees, and Josh and Madison in particular, a number of times since they'd all come to Seattle. Harry had never really had to make new friends before, and though it was different than the effortless familiarity of being around Ron and Hermione and the people who'd grown up with him and knew so much about him, it was nice, too, in its own way. There was something freeing about flying away from the nest, from the comfort and safety of his best mates. He missed them, but he couldn't deny that it was nice to know that he could also exist without them, that even if life pulled them in different directions, it didn't mean that they cared for each other any less, or that their bond was any less secure. More and more, Harry found himself wondering if there was a possible alternative, if there was any way he could have his cake and eat it too?

Draco arrived just as Harry was getting out of the shower, the faint sound of his and Cari's voices carrying down the hall. Harry dried off quickly before slipping into his clothes. He flung open the door, eager to hear how Draco's exams had gone, and nearly knocked Draco over as he made his way to their room.

"Well?" Harry asked, breathless from his rush to get dressed, and not a little anticipation.

Draco just grinned at him, giddiness rolling off him in waves, before tugging Harry close and kissing him, hot and jubilant. By the time Draco finally pulled away, Harry felt dizzy and weightless, fairly overcome with the desire to pull Draco back into their room and remove all the clothes he'd just put on.

"I take it you passed, then?"

Draco laughed. "As if there was any doubt."

"Not a one."

Draco's fingers were still caught in Harry's belt loops, and his thumbs slid up to rub at the skin just above Harry's waistband. Harry shivered. "So we're all going out drinking tonight in Capitol Hill to celebrate," Draco said softly. "But I told Josh and Madison we'd meet them for dinner before pre-gaming over at Madison's place. I thought in the meantime we could go to the beach and take some windsurfing lessons. You seemed interested in learning when we were there last week."

Harry felt torn between the desire to ravish Draco and his curiosity about the bizarre Muggle sport. Draco seemed to be aware of Harry's internal struggle, going by his amused smirk. He took a step closer, brushing a kiss to Harry's cheek before breathing hot against Harry's ear. "You look a little tense, Harry. Maybe you'd rather stay in, instead?"

Harry shook his head, his mouth dry. "How about a compromise?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"How about we go back to our room and I give you a congratulations on passing all your exams blow job, and then we go to the beach?"

"You drive a hard bargain," Draco said with a laugh. "But I accept your terms."

***

"Tonight was fun," Harry mumbled into Draco's neck. The feeling of Harry's lips on Draco's skin made him shiver. Harry's body was still hot and heavy on top of his own, tiny tremors shuddering through him as he came down from his climax.

"More fun than this?" Draco asked, squeezing Harry's arse and grinding their softening pricks together. Harry's body quivered, and he rolled off onto his side, his body still a warm weight against Draco's arm and thigh.

"I was including this in my original statement. We haven't gone to sleep yet, so it all still counts as tonight." He grinned and rubbed his cheek against Draco's shoulder. "Drunk sex is the best."

Draco huffed a quiet laugh. "But we're not drunk anymore. That was just-a-little-bit-tipsy sex."

Harry sighed in obvious disappointment. "I know. I really, really wanted to have sex with you when I was still drunk, though. The Yell-A-Cabs here are so much less efficient than the Knight Bus. Stan would've got us home before we had a chance to blink."

"But not before we had a chance to hurl. Quite the mood setter, that."

Harry pressed a smile to Draco's bicep. "Yeah, I'll give you that. But still."

"Don't worry, we'll have plenty of other opportunities to have drunk sex in the future," Draco said lightly as he stared peacefully up at the darkened ceiling. Harry froze against him, and Draco's eyes widened as he fully processed his casual claim.

"Yeah, 'course," Harry said softly, after a moment's hesitation.

Their time together was slipping away faster than sand through an hourglass, and no matter how much Draco wished things were different, the truth of the matter was, their opportunities for drunk sex were dwindling by the minute. And yet, no matter how often he reminded himself that this wasn't forever, that Harry would be leaving soon, that Draco didn't get to keep him, his brain (and heart) stubbornly refused to hold on to that fact. Harry fit into his life here so perfectly, and Draco kept forgetting that he didn't actually belong here. Each time Draco remembered, it was like a Confringo straight to the chest, leaving him winded and shattered.

Draco possessed enough foresight to know that bringing Harry to Seattle had been a bad idea from the start, but even he couldn't have imagined how much and how quickly things between them would change. Intensify. Maybe it was the distance from their shared past, or maybe it was that, as the clock wound down, they felt they had nothing left to lose, but Draco knew he wasn't imagining how much closer they'd grown in just a few short weeks. They talked about things they'd never discussed before, staying up late into the night, sweaty and sated, spilling their secrets in the dark. Harry told him about being a Horcrux and how he'd seen Draco through Voldemort's eyes during the war, told him about growing up with his wretched family, confessed that he'd died that night in the Forbidden Forest during the Battle of Hogwarts. In return, Draco told him about his own experiences during the war, how quickly he'd realised he was in over his head and how, even then, all he cared about was saving himself and his family, not about the innocent people being tortured and killed. He admitted how ashamed he was of his actions, how worried he was that if he was faced with similar choice now, that he'd discover he was still that cowardly, selfish boy at heart, that maybe people could never really change, no matter how much they might want to. Draco wanted desperately to believe he was different now. He had become an Auror because he didn't want to be the kind of person that would allow evil to flourish as long as he got to survive. Draco wanted more for himself than just survival.

Somehow, impossibly, Harry understood. He didn't try and soften Draco's choices or excuse the terrible things that he'd done, but he believed in the person Draco was now, and Draco hadn't realised just how much he'd wanted, maybe even needed, that kind of support. Sure, his American friends had every faith in him, but they never knew who he was before, didn't have any memories of the terrible person he'd been to compete with the person he was trying to become. Harry did, though. He'd been the direct recipient of so much of Draco's nastiness, and the fact that Harry could know all he did about Draco's past choices, and still look at him with steady faith in his eyes was more than Draco felt like he deserved. It made him hunger to be worthy of it, made him determined to never do anything that would dim the light in Harry's eyes when he turned that gaze towards Draco.

But Harry wouldn't be looking at him for much longer. As much as Draco wanted to continue living inside this magical world that the two of them had created here together, he knew that it was only a fantasy. Sometimes, on nights like tonight, when Harry's drowsy body was curled up against his own, his own body still floating high on post-sex endorphins, he tried to convince himself that it really was for the best. Sure, he might feel happier and more at peace right now than he could ever remember being, but eventually the honeymoon glow would fade. Wasn't it better for them to part in fondness, instead of the bitter end that would no doubt come if they stayed together? Draco never could seem to make himself really believe it, though. Somehow, the certainty of their ultimate incompatibility didn't feel quite so certain now that they were no longer in London, no longer haunted by Harry's fame and Draco's notoriety.

"You're quiet," Harry murmured sleepily, pulling Draco from his thoughts. He always seemed to know when Draco was brooding, no matter how much Draco tried to keep his expression neutral.

Draco quirked his lip into half a smile. "It's gone three in the morning. That's generally what people do when they're tired and about to fall asleep."

Harry harrumphed against his chest and snuggled closer, clearly not buying Draco's excuse. "Well, I'm tired, and I can't seem to actually fall asleep, so you need to keep me entertained."

"Do I now?" Draco asked, amused. He was fairly certain Harry was forcing himself to stay awake in an effort to keep Draco from obsessing about their lack of a future, and he couldn't help but smile at the almost Slytherin craftiness of his solution. "All right then, let's see…" He paused, trying to think of something to say, before he realised he'd never told Harry about the message he'd received before he'd left for his final Auror exam earlier that day. "Oh, I forgot to tell you. Remember that flat I liked?"

"Which one? The one with the red door or the one with the balcony?"

"The one with the balcony."

"Ooo, yeah, I think that was my favourite of the bunch we saw. Good lighting."

"Mhmm, well, the landlord sent me a message today saying my credit check went through. If I want it, it's mine. I can move in September first."

Harry grinned. "That's great! I'm guessing you're going to take it, yeah? It was pretty perfect."

"Yes, I'm gonna reach out first thing tomorrow. I honestly thought it would take longer to find a place I liked so much, especially since I didn't want to touch my family's money."

"I'm happy for you."

"Thanks," Draco murmured. "Though…" He sighed and ran a hand through Harry's messy fringe. "It's going to be weird, having a room to myself again."

Harry blinked, frowning. He sighed. "Yeah, I didn't even think of that. I guess it'll be a pretty big adjustment." His arm around Draco's chest tightened, as if he could keep him there longer if only he held on tight enough. Draco knew how he felt, but Harry was right.

The both of them would just have to adjust. They didn't really have a choice.

Chapter Text

Harry watched in fascination as Draco poured a small river of syrup onto his french toast, already stacked high with fruit and whipped cream. He'd known Draco had quite the sweet tooth, and Harry was partial to sweet treats as well, but just seeing the sheer amount of sugar Draco's breakfast contained was enough to make Harry's teeth ache. Of course, he fully planned to sneak a bite or two of Draco's meal, to counterbalance the savouriness of his egg scramble, so he supposed he didn't really have room to judge.

Draco quirked a smile, his brow rising at Harry's wide-eyed stare, before taking a massive bite of his french toast and letting out a moan that was frankly far too obscene for the very public restaurant they were seated in. The table next to them—a group of girls about their age—broke out into muffled giggles, darting appreciative glances over at Draco as he chewed happily. Harry's face heated, but he couldn't blame the girls for their admiration—Draco was the most attractive bloke in there, and that was before the porn-star level moaning. If he didn't tone it down, half the restaurant would probably combust.

"Cut that out," Harry reprimanded, though he knew his tone was more fond than stern. Draco smiled at him innocently.

"I can't help it if the food is good. You know how much I like to show my...appreciation for the things I enjoy."

Harry's blush deepened and he busied himself with digging into his own meal, trying very hard not to think about how appreciative Draco and his moans had been last night when Harry had his lips wrapped tight around Draco's cock. He'd really like to enjoy breakfast without worrying about an inappropriate erection, thank you very much. Frankly, with all the sex they'd been having lately, particularly over the past few days, Harry was a little surprised he could even still get hard, but his cock was as ready and willing as ever.

They ate in relative silence, enjoying the food and one another's presence. Draco was putting on a brave face, but Harry could sense the sadness lurking beneath. Harry was supposed to be leaving in two days, and Harry knew Draco didn't want him to go. Well, he was pretty sure he knew it. Draco hadn't said it in so many words, but Draco wouldn't ask something so big of Harry, not when he thought the answer would be no. Nerves ran riot in Harry's stomach and he put down his fork, his hunger abruptly gone. This was the moment. It was a good thing, the best thing, but anxiety still gripped him as he prepared to tell Draco his plans, the ones he'd been working through while Draco sat his exams, the ones he'd officially put into motion last week when he'd finally realised that he was nowhere near ready to let go of Draco just yet. He'd vowed to start taking chances with his life, to stop playing things safe, and he was about to put his money where his mouth was.

"So, I heard from Head Auror Robards this morning."

Draco looked up at him sharply. "Is that what your International Floo call was about at the crack of dawn?"

Harry absently pushed a lone fried potato around his mostly empty plate and swallowed. "Yeah."

Something wild flashed in Draco's eyes. "Is everything all right? Do you—" He took a deep breath and seemed to calm himself, his jaw tight. "Do you need to go back early?"

"No!" Harry blurted out, silently cursing himself for already screwing things up. He was supposed to be sharing good news, not making Draco freak out. "Kind of the opposite actually. I, err...I sent him a proposal last week, something I was working on while you were sitting your exams, and he approved it. We were just going over all the details."

Draco's brow furrowed. "A proposal? For what?"

Harry pushed the potato around some more before setting down his fork with a solid clink. This wasn't the time for fidgeting and distractions. "Well," he said slowly, butterflies making a mess of his insides. "The exchange program was a really huge success, not just with our cities, but across the board. I think it really highlighted how much we all have to learn from each other, and how much stronger all of our Auror forces would be if we had better international connections and really started working to incorporate efficiencies beyond the scope of the exchange."

"That sounds like a good plan," Draco said steadily. "But why couldn't that have waited until you got back to Britain?"

"Because a key part of my proposal was that, right now, we don't really have those ties, and even though all the trainees learned a lot from one another, it wasn't really a formal exchange of knowledge. So I suggested to Robards that maybe we could capitalise off the success of the trainee exchange by stationing some fully qualified Aurors abroad with the idea of opening a dialogue and gaining some insight and perspective on how departments are run in other countries. The idea would be that these Aurors would live and work wherever they're stationed for the majority of the year, though they'd go back to Britain every few months or so to share what they'd learned and help build out the program for potentially incorporating things back home."

"Oh," Draco breathed, his eyes wide. "And Robards agreed?"

Harry nodded, his mouth dry. He licked his lips. "He did. Said he could spare a single Auror to start, as a trial run. Apparently they'd been kicking around a similar idea for a while and already had quite a few ideas on a framework. I guess it all fell into place when I volunteered."

"You volunteered," Draco said softly. He inhaled, his breath shaky, and when he spoke again, his voice was low, the thread of hope in it unmistakable. "And have you already determined where you'll be working?"

"Yeah," Harry said roughly, voice thick with emotion. "That's why he called. Since we already have a relationship with Seattle, I suggested that this would be a good place to start. Robards and your division head seemed to agree. I got my marching orders this morning." He smiled at Draco, his whole body feeling light as air as the reality of the situation finally began to sink in. "I'm staying here."

***

Draco's stomach swooped, filling him with the same exhilaration he felt whenever he made a particularly steep dive on his broom. His brain was slow and sluggish, still trying to process Harry's miraculous words, but his heart had already fully jumped on board, beating a frantic, joyous rhythm beneath his breast. He stared at Harry, breathless and unblinking, as caution tried to temper his elation. Harry fidgeted and bit his lip.

"Say something," Harry said, more plea than command.

"I—" It wasn't often that Draco was at a loss for words but this was...so very unexpected. Unbelievably welcome, true, so welcome that Draco half-feared he was still sleeping, that any sudden movement might jostle him awake to find this was all just an impossible dream.

Harry's expression wilted with sudden uncertainty. "Are you...are you not happy? I thought…"

"No!" Draco said, a little to loudly judging by the sudden glances from the nearby tables. "No, of course I'm happy. This is...it's brilliant. I never thought...But are you sure? What about your friends? Teddy? I mean, your whole life is in Britain. You shouldn't have to give it all up just to—"

"To be happy?" Harry interrupted, giving Draco a look that managed to be both stern and fond. "My life is wherever I make it, Draco, and right now I want that life to be with you." Harry looked at the table cloth, blushing, as if he'd said more than he intended. He cleared his throat before meeting Draco's eyes again, though the apples of his cheeks were still rosy. "Besides, it's not like I'm being banished. There are letters and International Floo calls, and I'll be going back for a few weeks at least every six months as part of the program we're putting together. I'll still be able to see Ron and Hermione and Teddy and all the rest of them."

"I don't want you to give up anything for me." I don't want you to regret this.

Harry's gaze softened. "I know, Draco. But sometimes, making a relationship work involves compromise, sacrifice." He held up a hand to stave off Draco's interruption. "I promise you, I've thought this through. I won't lie and say I won't miss my friends, but I'd miss you more. I think I'd regret it forever if I didn't stay and see where this relationship goes." He looked at Draco, his eyes perfectly clear and shouting his sincerity. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might have happened if I took a chance on us. How many times have I talked about wanting to travel, to get out and explore the world? But I never actually put in the effort to make it happen. I'm ready for a new adventure."

Draco hesitated, his heart urging him to accept what Harry was saying, but his brain unable to let things go so easily. "You say you've thought about this, but it's a big change. You broke off your engagement less than six months ago, and then immediately jumped into bed with me. Now you're uprooting your entire life and moving to a new continent? I'm not saying I don't want to be with you, but I don't want this to be something you're doing to run away from your problems. Trust me, they'll catch up to you." Draco winced, worried he'd gone too far, but Harry only nodded.

"Yeah, that's a fair point."

"It is?" Draco asked, suppressing a curse when it came out more a question than a statement. He tried again. "It is."

Harry grinned at him. "I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, re-evaluating my life and what I want. I know it seems like things between us are moving fast, but with our history, well, our relationship is a bit unique, you have to admit. We didn't come into this as strangers. And yeah, there are some issues I need to deal with, but that doesn't mean that what I feel for you isn't real. Being with you feels like the truest thing I've done in a long time."

Draco swallowed, throat tight. "Yeah," he said, his voice rough. "I know what you mean."

Harry's eyes seemed to light up at Draco's confession, and he rushed on. "But you're right that there's stuff I've been avoiding. I think that's part of why it took me so long to figure out things weren't right with Ginny, and I don't want to keep burying my head in the sand. I…" He cleared his throat, cheeks flushing. "I've been thinking a lot about what you told me, about how helpful it was for you to see a Mind Healer. I wasn't ready, before, and the idea of trying to find somebody impartial in Britain always made me really anxious. But I thought, maybe...maybe once I moved out here I could start seeing someone. I hadn't realised how little I've really talked about the war in the past several years, even with Ron and Hermione. I think a part of me was hoping if I ignored it, I'd get over it, but that's not a real plan. I want to start being more proactive."

Draco's breath caught. Embarrassingly, he felt the back of his eyes begin to prickle with the sudden deluge of emotion wreaking havoc inside his body. He wasn't sure why it hit him so strongly, but maybe it was because it showed that Harry really had been thinking about this. Draco wanted him here, but he also wanted it to be for the right reasons. Harry smiled, reassured by whatever he saw on Draco's face.

"I know you've got this idea in your head of Britain being where I belong," Harry continued. "And who knows, maybe you're right. It's the only home I've ever really known." He shrugged, lips twisting into a wry smile "It's not exactly a picnic for me over there though, you know. It's been years since the war, but the papers are still watching and reporting on my every move. I can't go out to any of the wizarding districts without being recognised by fans." Harry's emphasis made it clear just what he thought of those fans of his. Draco suppressed an amused smile.

"Do you think I could walk down Diagon Alley holding your hand the way we've been doing here?" Harry asked, a surprising sadness lurking in his gaze, and suddenly it wasn't quite so funny. Draco reached out impulsively, covering Harry's hand on the table with his own. Harry's lips lifted into a soft smile as he threaded their fingers together. "So easy," he murmured. "Can you imagine doing this back home? God, things were bad enough with Ginny; I'd never get a moment's rest once the papers caught wind of me being involved with a man."

Draco flashed a sardonic smile. "I think they'd also take issue with who that man was. With our history…" Draco shuddered. Harry's fame and Draco's infamy had always stood between them back in Britain.

"Exactly!" Harry agreed, stabbing his fork towards Draco for emphasis. "They'd have a field day with the bloke thing alone, but given that it's you…" He shook his head. "It would be a nightmare."

"No arguments here."

"I don't think I even really realised how much it got to me until I left," Harry continued, his voice soft. "I mean, I've always hated all the attention, but I've been around it so long now, it never really occurred to me that it could be different. And then I come here, and nobody knows who I am." He smiled, bright and happy, and Draco's breath caught at the look of freedom on Harry's face. "Nobody points and stares, I don't have to wonder if someone's watching my every move to sell me out to the papers." His eyes sparkled as he leaned over the table and murmured, "I can kiss you right now, surrounded by people, and nobody will even blink an eye."

Draco's hands were shaking, and he pressed them against his lap, trying to will his over-excited body into submission. Harry wanted him. He was here, and he wanted Draco, and he was staying, and Draco didn't feel like he deserved to feel as blissfully happy as he did at that moment, but he sure as hell was going to grab hold of it with both hands if that's what it took to keep it.

"So do it then," he challenged, his voice more breathless than he'd intended as he leaned in towards Harry.

Harry's eyes flashed, and then he pressed forward, his legs jostling the table as he brought their lips together in a soft kiss. It was sweet, relatively chaste, but it still made Draco's blood heat, made him want to lose himself in Harry's body and show Harry just how happy he was that Harry wasn't leaving.

"I think it's time for us to get the check," Draco said when they finally parted. Harry blinked at him, looking far too sex dazed and rumpled for such a mild kiss. It made Draco's burning blood flare hotter. "Now."

Harry smiled, all Kneazle-that-got-the-cream. "Why is that?"

"Because if we don't get back to Cari's right now, I'm going to fuck you right over this table. People might not care who you're kissing here, but I think they'll start paying attention when I've got my cock in your arse."

Harry pupils expanded, and he swallowed. "Right then." He caught the attention of a passing waitress, and they were out the door in less than five minutes. They were in the only entirely wizarding neighborhood in Seattle, so Draco didn't have to worry about breaking the statute. As soon as they stepped onto the sidewalk, he pulled Harry close and Apparated them to the room they were sharing at his Aunt's.

"Where's Cari?" Harry asked as Draco pushed him up against the wall. Draco's cock was already throbbing, arousal pumping steady and sweet through his veins.

"She does spin on Saturday mornings, remember? And then she hits up the farmer's market with her friends. We've got the place to ourselves for at least the next hour. Probably longer."

Harry grinned. "Excellent. I don't think I could manage a lasting Silencing Charm right now."

"No, me neither," Draco agreed, before tugging Harry close and kissing him with all the passion he'd held back at the restaurant. Harry met him with equal desire, his hands pulling at Draco's clothes as he pushed them both back towards the bed.

They'd become adept at undressing each other over the past few months, so it didn't take long before they were both rolling around naked on the bed. Harry's skin was hot and firm beneath Draco's hands, his lips soft and eager, and Draco wanted this forever, Harry's body and his mind and the thud-thump of his heart.

"Want to fuck you," Draco whispered against Harry's collarbone, licking at the divot before kissing his way up Harry's neck to breathe hot against Harry's ear. "Can I?"

Harry moaned. "God, yes. Please."

Draco Summoned the lube from the bedside table, pouring it out into his palm with shaking hands. He already felt completely undone, and they'd barely started. It almost felt like the first time, felt like they hadn't spent weeks and months together learning one another's bodies. Draco hadn't realised what a difference it would make, knowing that Harry was his, that this wasn't just temporary. He slid his fingers inside Harry's clutching warmth and for the first time since they started having sex, he wasn't wondering if this might be the last time, wasn't half-aching with the fear that Harry might slip through his fingers at any moment.

"Enough. I'm ready," Harry panted as Draco worked a third finger into his arse. Normally Harry loved Draco's fingers in him, could get off quite happily with Draco's digits pressed hard up against his prostate, but today he was clearly impatient. Draco understood where he was coming from, felt the same frantic energy buzzing in his chest. And yet, he couldn't seem to stop and move on to the main event, too captivated by the sight of Harry impaled on his fingers.

Apparently, Harry had no such reservations. He put all that Auror combat training to good use, hooking his strong legs around Draco's torso and twisting until they'd flipped positions, Draco flat on his back with Harry sitting astride his chest. Draco blinked dizzily up at him, disoriented by the unexpected shift. Harry grinned, looking far too pleased with himself.

"Impatient, are we?" Draco teased.

Harry's smile widened as he leveraged himself onto his knees. Draco hissed as Harry reached back and grabbed hold of Draco's erection. "You were taking too long," Harry said simply, before sinking down onto Draco's cock.

"Fuck," Draco groaned as Harry enveloped him. Harry always felt so fucking tight, so goddamned perfect around his cock, and that first moment of penetration was more than a little intense. Harry seemed to think so too, judging by the way his mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide and glassy as his arse settled into the cradle of Draco's groin.

"God, you feel big like this," Harry said, his voice already low and fucked-out. Draco wasn't sure if it was physically possible for his cock to get any harder right at that moment, but if it was, that tone would have done it.

"Do I not feel big normally?" he managed to tease, trying to focus on anything but the need to thrust and take.

Harry laughed, and his arse rippled along Draco's cock, making his breath catch. "Of course you do, Draco. Biggest dick I've ever taken," he said with a wink. "But it feels fucking huge like this, with me on top."

It seemed impossible to Draco that they hadn't tried this position yet, though he supposed that time on Cari's sofa had their positions reversed. The memory of it had him clenching his own arse, the motion driving his prick just a little bit deeper into Harry. Harry gasped, his lashes fluttering closed.

"Mmm, yeah, it's a bit intense like this, isn't it? Gravity and everything," Draco murmured. He paused, his eyes narrowing as he finally processed the rest of Harry's earlier words. "And mine is the only dick you've taken."

Harry opened his eyes and flashed Draco a filthy smile before bracing his palms on Draco's chest and rolling his hips. "Still the biggest," he said, his voice already a little breathless as he began to fuck himself on Draco's cock. His grin turned mischievous. "And the smallest, I suppose, if you want to get technical."

"I'll show you small," Draco grunted, not overly bothered by Harry's teasing, but more than willing to follow Harry's clear attempt to goad him into action. He thrust up, hard, meeting Harry's eager motions with equal force. The sounds coaxed out of Harry's throat by their frantic rhythm were some of the sexiest Draco had ever heard, and he braced his feet against the bed, desperate not to lose tempo.

Draco's eyes flit over Harry's body, unsure what he wanted to watch most: the powerful flex of Harry's thighs as he propelled himself up and down, the blissed out expression on his face as he chased his pleasure, his swaying erection that slapped against Draco's stomach with every thrust. But Draco didn't have to choose, didn't have to try and commit every single moment to memory, because they could do this again and again and again. They'd do this a hundred times, a thousand, until Draco knew every inch of Harry's body, every single one of his reactions, just as well as his own.

Harry's bouncing began to slow, and his eager moans turned into a growl of frustration. "Ow, fuck!"

"What's wrong?" Draco asked, stilling.

"Leg cramp," Harry growled, wincing as he shifted, trying to find relief.

"Here, let me—"

Draco sat up and slid onto his knees, coaxing Harry's legs around his waist, before tipping Harry's shoulders back against the bed, his arse firmly planted in Draco's lap. Harry arched and flexed his thighs and calves, grinning up at Draco before clenching down on Draco's cock.

"Much better," Harry sighed, before wrapping a hand around his leaking erection. "Now make me come, yeah?"

"Yeah," Draco breathed, before bracing his knees against the bed and fucking up into Harry, fast and hard. Harry groaned, his breath racing and his hand flying over his prick as he took everything Draco had for him and tacitly begged for more. Pleasure swirled through Draco's body, licking up his spine, tingling out to the tips of his toes, building hot and bright in his groin. He was going to come, any minute now he was going to blow, but he wanted to get Harry there first.

"Come on, Harry," Draco urged, staring deep into his eyes. "I want you to come for me. Want you to come all over yourself with my cock in your arse."

"Shiiiit," Harry moaned, drawing out the vowel as he came, painting his stomach and chest in stripes of white.

"Thank fuck," Draco gasped, finding his own release moments later, grateful he managed to hold off just long enough.

Draco always craved touch after sex, but this time it seemed more intense than usual. After he managed to catch his breath and clean the both of them off, he crawled up the bed and tugged Harry half on top of him, luxuriating in the smell of sex and Harry, in the feel of his fever-hot skin against his own. Maybe it was the fact that the full moon was only a few days away, but Draco thought Harry's recent revelation had a bit more to do with it. Thankfully, Harry liked a good cuddle as much as the next person, and he was always more than willing to indulge Draco's post-coital clinginess.

"So, uh—" Harry began, breaking their comfortable silence. "I just realised I maybe was a bit misleading at brunch earlier, about staying." Draco's entire body froze, his heart stuttering. "Fuck, no, that came out wrong," Harry corrected, seeming to realise his mistake as he pushed up on Draco's chest to look him in the eye. "I'm definitely staying. I just have to go back to Britain first. I'm still leaving in two days so I can settle things with Robards, pack my things, and say goodbye to everybody. But I promise I'm coming back."

Draco nodded slowly, his heart beginning to ease back into a normal rhythm. "Okay, that makes sense. How long do you think you'll be?"

"I'm thinking two weeks, maybe three. That should be enough time to get everything in order."

"And when you get back here?"

Harry's brow furrowed. "What about it?"

Draco looked at him expectantly. "Am I correct in assuming you're planning to move into my new flat with me?"

Harry's expression turned sheepish, his cheeks pink. "Err, yeah, I guess that was my plan, but we should probably actually talk about it, huh?"

"Probably," Draco said, not bothering to hide the amusement in his tone.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I mean, I want to live with you, but I can also get my own place if you think that would be best."

Draco shook his head. "Nah, I think we'll be okay. Normally I wouldn't move in with a bloke so soon into a relationship, but we just spent the last year living together, and it turned out pretty okay. Honestly, I really wasn't looking forward to being on my own again." Draco felt his own cheeks heating as he continued, "I'd miss you if you weren't there."

Harry's answering smile was dazzling, and Draco couldn't help but pull him down for a slow, thorough kiss. Salazar, he felt like a teenager again, giddy with excitement and possibility. Hell, he wasn't actually sure he'd ever even felt this way when he was a teenager, given all the other shit going on in his life at the time. He liked it, this incredible sense of possibility, but it was a little terrifying, too, knowing how much he wanted this to work out, how devastated he'd be if it didn't.

"Are you sure?" Draco whispered when they finally parted, his words brushed against Harry's lips. "I need you to be sure. I don't want this decision to be something you end up resenting me for."

He knew his fear was probably annoying, especially to such a Gryffindor, but Harry only smiled sweetly at him. "I'm sure," Harry said steadily, his sincerity ringing clear and true. "I meant what I said, before. I'm ready for this, for another adventure. I can't promise you we'll make it, or that I won't want to go back to Britain sometime in the future, but we can cross those bridges when we get to them." He leaned in, close enough to brush his nose against Draco's own, the pure green of his eyes holding entire worlds in their depths as Draco met his unshakable gaze. "I've never felt about anybody the way I feel about you, Draco. I want to see where this thing goes. I don't know what the future holds, but I don't want to look back and wonder if I missed a chance at something amazing. Who knows, maybe we'll both decide to move back to Britain someday, together." He smiled, his thumb caressing Draco's cheek. "I'm not in any rush."

"Okay, I believe you," Draco breathed. "I'm in. Let's do it."

Harry's grin was nothing short of triumphant as he closed that final inch and kissed Draco's breath away. Draco opened himself up to it, to Harry's lips and his desire and his love. Draco knew that's what this was, even if they hadn't said the words out loud yet.

Even as Draco's entire being rejoiced, there was a small part of him that couldn't help but worry. Harry had become so important so quickly, and maybe Draco was just setting himself up for future heartbreak by allowing this thing between them to deepen and grow, to dig its roots deep into the ground. He was certain if he and Harry didn't work out that it would devastate him, and Draco wasn't so sure he'd recover. But as Harry said, neither of them knew what the future held, and just because their relationship could fail, it didn't mean that it had to. Maybe Harry was it for him. Maybe this was the start of his very own happily ever after. The only way to find out was to take the plunge, to grab tight to Harry's hand and jump off the ledge into the unknown of their future. Together.

Whatever happened, Harry was right.

It was a chance worth taking.

Chapter Text

Three weeks later

"All right, Harry?" Draco asked as he stepped up next to Harry, the sharp scent of his familiar cologne filling Harry's nostrils. It was loud in their shared flat, so Draco had to lean in close. His lips brushed against Harry's ear, making him shiver.

"Yeah, 'course I am," Harry replied truthfully, turning to give Draco a sunny grin.

A little too sunny, apparently. "Drunk already?" Draco asked with a fond laugh.

Harry snorted. "Not hardly. This is only my second bottle," he replied, holding up his still half-full beer. "Just happy."

Draco huffed, clearly a bit flustered, but Harry caught the edge of his pleased smile. Harry knew a part of Draco still hadn't quite accepted that Harry was really here to stay, that some piece of him was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Harry understood where he was coming from, and Harry didn't mind waiting for Draco to fully trust that this was truly happening. If Harry had to make it extra clear for a little while longer that he was happy to be here, happy to be with Draco, then that was what he'd do.

"Well, I suppose it's just everybody else then who's determine to drink me out of house and home," Draco said with an exaggerated sigh. "I'm actually about to pop out to the store and pick up a few more bottles of alcohol before our lovely guests start a riot."

Across the living room, Matt chose that moment to curse loudly in Spanish, before shouting, "Who drank the last of the tequila?"

"Don't worry," Draco called out before Matt had a chance to work himself into a lather. "I'm going out now to get some more."

"Good, then you can get the good stuff this time, none of that bottom-shelf swill you were trying to poison us with earlier."

"With how you've all been drinking tonight, if I get the good stuff I'll be broke by the end of the night."

Matt laughed. "You can't fool me, Dray. I saw that Manor you grew up in. You can afford it."

Draco rolled his eyes, and Harry laughed. "Need a hand?"

"Nah, I've got it. Besides one of us needs to stay here to supervise. I don't trust this lot in our new flat. I'd like to wait at least a couple of months before I inevitably lose my deposit." A small flutter went through Harry's belly at Draco referring to it as 'our new flat' instead of just his. It was technically both of theirs now—they'd officially added Harry to the lease earlier that morning—but he liked how quickly Draco had made space for him in his life.

"Shall I remind you who it was that caused so much damage to Josh's last apartment that he was asked to immediately vacate the premises?" Madison cut in with a grin, slinging her arm around Draco's shoulders.

Draco flushed, and Harry's heart thumped audibly at the sight. Merlin, a simple blush shouldn't affect him so strongly. "I paid off those damages, and I let Josh sleep in my room while I had to kip on my own sofa for three months after that," Draco protested. "I think I've paid my penance."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Madison said with a dismissive wave of her hand, still smiling. "Don't you have alcohol to buy? Better hurry up, my buzz is starting to wear off."

"Then maybe you should take yourself to a pub and buy your own damn drinks," Draco said primly, the amusement in his eyes belying his reprimand. He turned to Harry, brushing a kiss across his cheek as he passed. "I'll be back in ten," he said quietly, before continuing in a louder voice as he walked towards the door, "Try not to burn down the building before I get back."

There were a number of rude gestures and teasing comments yelled at Draco's retreating form, and Harry laughed along with the others as he collapsed back into one of the comfortable sofa chairs Draco had bought, soaking in the atmosphere. Against all logic—and without the use of wizarding space, which was strictly controlled in America—there were at least twenty people crammed into their tiny flat that evening. The party had been more or less a surprise, with Draco's friends insisting that he throw a proper housewarming and 'Welcome to America, Harry' bash, before work officially started on Monday. Draco had resisted, but his mates had soundly ignored his protests, declaring that they'd be there at eight, and he'd better have snacks and drinks or he'd be sorry. The result was loud and chaotic, and though it was a little overwhelming, Harry couldn't deny that he was enjoying himself.

Harry had only been in Seattle for a couple of days now, arriving late Wednesday night with a much larger trunk of belongings and a plan to stay for the indefinite future. Draco had met him at the Portkey station and immediately whisked him off to the flat he'd officially moved into while Harry was away. Their flat. Harry had been exhausted after a long day of international travel, but that hadn't stopped them from immediately going at it, tearing into one another with all the passion they'd had to suppress during their three weeks apart. The next several days had passed in a similar fashion, the two of them fucking on every available surface. They hadn't left the flat once—food delivery was amazing—and this party was the first proper socialising Harry had done with anybody other than Draco, and one very surly Portkey official, since he'd left Britain. As brilliant and necessary as it had been to reacquaint himself with Draco's body after three weeks apart, it was nice to be around other people again. Growing up with the rowdy Gryffindor common room and the boisterous Weasleys had led Harry to associate loud social gatherings with friendship and family, and it was the perfect way to start off this new chapter of his life.

He drained the last of his beer as he looked around the room, taking in their various guests. The vast majority of the occupants were Harry's soon-to-be-colleagues; all of the Americans he'd got to know on the exchange were there, of course, plus a number of the trainees—now Junior Aurors—that had opted to stay in Seattle instead of leaving on the exchange. Draco had introduced him to everyone already, including a few of his other friends that had made it, people Draco had met during his year at Baesany, or out at pubs, or through mutual friends. The names and faces had blurred together in Harry's mind, but he knew he'd get to know them all, eventually. He had plenty of time here, after all.

The group of people around the kitchen bar counter gave a cheer, and Harry heard Josh command somebody to take a drink as the people around them laughed. Another group had begun to fiddle with the wireless, and soon some pop song Harry didn't recognise began to pump through the flat. It was noisy and disorganised, and Harry really hoped the extra-strength Silencing Charms he'd helped Draco cast several hours ago would hold. If not, Harry thought the bottle of wine and apologetic note Draco had preemptively left outside their neighbors' doors earlier that day would help to sooth any ruffled feathers. Honestly, Harry found the cheerful, jubilant energy surrounding him to be quite addictive himself. He couldn't help but be reminded of the last party he'd attended, the one the Weasleys had insisted on throwing for him when they'd realised he was leaving Britain, possibly for good.

If Harry had been nervous about telling his friends he was visiting Seattle for the several weeks after their training had concluded, it was nothing on how anxious he'd felt once he'd decided to move there for the foreseeable future. He'd told Ron and Hermione first, of course, the very same day he'd arrived back in London. They'd had him over for dinner and drinks, ostensibly to welcome him back home, though mainly to officially announce their engagement. Harry had been thrilled, and after heartily congratulating them both, and insisting on a play-by-play recounting of Ron's epic proposal, he'd finally moved on to his own news, admitting to them that he was going back to the States.

Neither of them had been as surprised as Harry was expecting—apparently Hermione had heard rumblings about the secret project Harry was working on with Robards and Kingsley, and had already started putting the pieces together, and Ron said he'd placed fifty/fifty odds on this outcome when Harry had first announced he'd be going to Seattle with Draco for a visit. The three of them had spent the entire night, and most of the morning, talking things over. Both Ron and Hermione clearly wanted to make sure that Harry had truly considered every angle, that he was positive moving abroad was the best choice for him. Harry understood their reluctance, and he appreciated that they did their best to reserve their judgement and hear him out, despite the fact that they weren't Draco's biggest fans. Over the past year, there had been a lot that Harry had held back from them, things he'd hadn't even admitted to himself, really, but that night he'd laid it all out on the line. He explained his struggles, his complacency, how staid and routine his life had become without him even realising it. It had taken Draco bursting into his life again to wake Harry up, and as extreme as the changes he was making might seem, Harry knew he couldn't let this opportunity to be happy, to take hold of his life, pass him by.

Like Draco, Hermione actually seemed most worried that Harry was using an exciting new relationship and a big move to a new country in order to run away from his problems and bury his head in the sand. Harry understood her concern, just like he'd understood Draco's, but Harry knew that wasn't what this was about. Maybe the timing wasn't perfect, but he wasn't going to pass up on being with the person he was pretty sure he loved just because he wasn't as mentally stable as he could be. She seemed mollified when he told her about his plan to find a Mind Healer over in Seattle, finally admitting what she'd been trying to get him to see for years—that maybe he wasn't quite as well-adjusted as he'd claimed to be. In the end, both Ron and Hermione had come around, and though Harry didn't think either of them were thrilled with his decision—both because they'd miss him, and because they didn't think his relationship with Draco was worth uprooting his life for—they were ultimately supportive. He was grateful that they trusted him enough to make his own choices, even if he could tell they weren't entirely convinced he was making the right one. Harry hoped, with time, they could get to a place where they saw how good Draco was for Harry, that they'd be able to fully accept Draco as a critical part of Harry's life. If Harry had any say in the matter, Draco would be around for a good, long while.

Harry had left them with promises to write every week, and that they'd be seeing one another again before they knew it. Harry was aware that prying Ron and Hermione away from their families in Britain during the winter holidays would likely be an impossibility, but he was hoping to convince them to come out and visit Seattle in November. Apparently it wasn't the city's most attractive time of year, but he remembered Josh going on about the American Thanksgiving holiday last year in Britain, and how the group of them usually hosted a 'Friendsgiving' to celebrate the holiday together, as all of their families were scattered across the States. That seemed like as good a time as any to have his two best mates in the whole world come and visit. There was nothing like food-centric holiday to win Ron over, and it might be a bit less awkward with all of Draco's friends around as a buffer.

Telling Ginny had been a little more complicated, but despite the discomfort, Harry had known he'd owed her some kind of explanation in person. His news had clearly shocked her, and she'd been biting at first, as was her instinct whenever she was caught off guard, but she'd seemed more or less okay by the time they'd finished talking. It was obvious that she didn't understand his choice in partner, that she felt hurt, and maybe even a little betrayed, that Harry had been able to look past all that Draco had done. Harry couldn't blame her for that. Ginny had more reason that most to hate the Malfoys, and easy forgiveness wasn't in her nature. He wouldn't ask that of her, and she didn't offer it, but she did wish him luck and happiness, in the end, and Harry knew that she truly meant it. When she asked Harry if him being bent had been why things hadn't worked out between them, a part of Harry wished he could have said yes. It would have been easier, neater, to be able to blame it on something so completely out of their control. But her being a woman had never been the issue, and he wouldn't lie to her, not about something like that. Her smile had been sad and a bit wistful as she'd hugged him goodbye, and the scent of her jasmine shampoo had lingered in the air long after she'd left.

Another cheer, this one even louder than the last, pulled Harry from his thoughts. He grinned when he saw that Draco had returned, his arms heavy with liquor bottles that their friends quickly relieved him of. Matt must have said something funny as he grabbed the bottle of silver tequila, because Draco threw back his head and laughed, loud and full bodied, exposing the long line of his throat. The sight of it did funny things to Harry's insides, love and lust and yearning desire all churning merrily in his gut. It kept hitting him, in these strange little moments, that he was really doing this. He and Draco were making a proper go of it, the two of them embarking on a whole new adventure together. Every moment was lush with possibility and potential, and Harry didn't intend on letting a single opportunity pass him by. He'd spent far too long sitting listlessly on the sidelines, watching life drift by in an easy, expected current. Harry wasn't going to be a passive participant in his life, not anymore.

Harry's gaze caught Draco's as his laugh faded out, and Draco's lips quirked up in a private smile. Harry loved that he understood the twitch of Draco's right eyebrow as Everything all right?, and Harry nodded back at him with a grin, letting his happiness shine through. Draco's gaze softened, before his eyes took on a wicked gleam, flicking down Harry's body with predatory intent. Harry swallowed and mouthed back, "Later," watching as Draco's lips spread into a filthy grin, chock full of dirty promise, before somebody pulled his attention elsewhere, and Harry was released.

"Having fun, Harry?" Sarah asked him, sitting down on the sofa next to his chair. Her eyes were a bit glassy and her grin was wide and toothy—she'd clearly been an enthusiastic participant in the draining of Draco's alcohol supply.

"I'm brilliant. I'm glad you all could make it."

"You mean you're glad we all forced you to throw this party in the first place," she teased.

Harry laughed. "Yes, exactly. It's nice to see everybody again."

"Well, we're all going to be working together come Monday. You'll be sick of us before long."

Harry smiled. "Nah, I don't think so. If I've got to be stuck with people, I reckon I could do much worse than you lot."

"Oh, Harry," she sighed, ducking her face as if to hide how touched she was by his comment. "I'm so glad you decided to stay," she continued after a moment. "We all are. And not just because Draco would have been a bloody inconsolable nightmare if you hadn't."

"That bad, huh?" Harry asked lightly. Privately, Harry thought he would have been just as bad, had things come to that.

"Worse," Sarah said with a grin. "But you're good for him." She looked at Harry intently, before nodding her head a little too forcefully. "And I think he's good for you, too."

Harry snuck another glance at Draco who was gesturing emphatically with Madison while several others watched on in amusement. Just looking at Draco made Harry feel lighter, somehow. Every time he did, it reaffirmed all over again that Harry had made the right choice in coming here. It was a risk, no doubt about it, but Harry could feel it deep in his bones: this was where he was meant to be. Here, in Seattle, in this cramped apartment he now shared with Draco, surrounded by new friends and happiness and laughter. He knew he still had shit to work through, he still had to fully process his childhood and the war, the people he'd lost and the things he'd seen...the things he'd done. But for the first time in ages, the thought of dealing with it all didn't seem so overwhelming that the only recourse was to ignore it completely. Draco had shown him the benefits of walking a difficult path, and Harry found himself almost eager to follow in his footsteps, to take control of himself and his destiny. Draco wasn't Harry's salvation—Harry couldn't look to anybody but himself for that—but he was an inspiration, and no matter what happened, Harry knew this was one chance he'd forever be glad he took.

"Yeah," Harry said softly. "He really is."

 

The End!