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Soup-pocalypse and The Great Curry Cataclysm

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There were many things worth knowing about Draco Malfoy. He was a former Death Eater, for one. He still bore the twisted, scarred blemish of a Dark Mark on his left arm, for another. He had been raised and indoctrinated by incurable racists, espoused pureblood supremacy ideals, participated in torture and plots of murder, and followed a megalomaniacal nose-less madman to near doom. All true. All things worth knowing about Draco Malfoy.

 

But really, the most important thing to know about Draco Malfoy, the one fact that made him comprehensible and worth knowing at all, was this: that he had changed. Eleven years after the war, at age twenty-nine, Draco Malfoy was no longer a Death Eater. No longer a sniveling sycophant who couldn’t think for himself. No longer a racist pureblood supremist. Once, yes. But former! Changed.

 

It was the one fact about him that mattered.

 

It was also the one fact about him that no one particularly cared to notice, learn, or acknowledge.

 

And yet, much as the drudgery of it all pained and exhausted him, he was determined to put that essential part of himself on display nevertheless. As he did every weekday at noon on the dot, Draco heaved himself up from his stiff desk chair and set aside his quill and parchment forms. His lower back ached, so he stretched it, cracked his neck with a pop, and rubbed at his eyes. Bleary vision and a minor tension headache were common side effects of the long hours he spent studying tariffs and import fees, looking for discrepancies in taxes owed versus paid, as a collector for Her Majesty’s Magical Revenue and Customs.

 

He was a tax man. That was something worth knowing, too. Draco Malfoy, son and heir to the richest wizarding family this side of the Atlantic, brilliant prodigy child in Potions who excelled in all academic subjects, rebel with a dark and violent past, made his living as…a tax man. For the Ministry. Rather embarrassing, he had to admit. (More embarrassing, that he was quite good at his job. Most embarrassing, that he actually rather enjoyed it.)

 

After Draco pulled on his gray, thoroughly respectable work robes over his matching trousers and crisp white button-up shirt, he drew in a breath, straightened his spine, and readied himself for the quiet, humiliating battle he faced daily: reminding society at large of his own existence. With a flick of his wand to turn off the desk lamp, he strode out of his tidy little cubicle.

 

A low susurrus of murmured voices, whispers of shuffling parchment from enchanted memos that flew overhead, beeping from the message alert systems, and the click of heels on tile filled the Revenue and Customs work hall with a soft chaos of noise. Snippets of conversation from within each cubicle floated out to him as he walked past, his robes billowing gracefully behind him, his head held high. An older colleague walked past him in the other direction, eyes deliberately glued to the parchment form in front of him so he wouldn’t have to look at Draco, or, Merlin forbid, greet him in any way. A few steps onward and Lavender Brown popped her curly head out of her cubicle door, looked around for someone, and startled when she saw Draco. “Oh. Hey, Malfoy.”

 

Her tone was nasally and saccharine, too sweet to be sincere, but she was one of the few colleagues who pretended to be cordial to him, so Draco always made it a point to pretend to be cordial back. He smiled, nodded a greeting, and continued on his way.

 

In the lobby of the department, a few decorative potted plants made a valiant effort at cheer but ultimately fell short of their noble goal. With dusty old carpet, eggshell paint peeling off the walls, and failing enchantments in the window illusions, the office was less than welcoming. The only redeeming aesthetic detail was the photo and placard that hung on the wall beside the door: in golden embossed letters on dark wood, Employee of the Month – Draco Malfoy, and below that a copy of his Ministry photo ID picture. The Draco in the picture lifted his chin and gazed out at the room with regal detachment, severe and serene. The Draco in real life couldn’t help the proud little smile that tugged the corners of his mouth every day so far this month at seeing the display. Silly. Sentimental. But hard earned, by God. With perfect punctuality, long hours, and an unparalleled track record for identifying threads of tax abuse, Draco had earned this spot on the wall six times over his seven years working for the department.

 

The other aesthetically pleasing detail of the front office was Margery, their colorfully dressed octogenarian secretary who guarded entrance to the floor like a dragon wrapped around a precious horde. Her bright pink, bejeweled spectacles magnified her round eyes and gave her the appearance of a strange bird, some sort of owl-flamingo hybrid. As he did every day, he asked her, “Anything from the canteen today, Margery?”

 

He didn’t break stride on the way out the door because she, as always, said in her creaky old-lady voice, “Nothing today, Draco dear. Maybe tomorrow!”

 

She wouldn’t want anything tomorrow. She never wanted anything. Draco didn’t even entirely know how the exchange had started, but he knew that now it had gone on long enough to be tradition and so he kept at it. Malfoys loved a good tradition. That, and Margery was the one person in the office who seemed to actually like him a bit.

 

On his walk through the long, twisting Ministry hallways, people clipped past him, kept to the opposite side, kept their gaze down, avoided acknowledging him at all. For the most part. A few stared. In the lift, when Draco squeezed his way into the crowded car and reached to push the button for his floor, a large man in purple robes refused to budge out of the way. Instead, he stared at Draco, particularly at Draco’s left arm, with a sort of distant, brute hostility in his beady little eyes. Draco bit down a complaint, an insult, the rising snap of emotion he’d long ago learned to control, and smiled pleasantly while he contorted himself into a pretzel shape to reach the damn button without shoving anyone. 

 

No one said anything, though. No one had in years. Not to his face, anyway. Of course, there were still complaints behind his back but even those had faded to nothing more than malcontented grumblings. Draco was determined to keep them that way, and to lessen them if he could. He was determined to make something of himself in this world, to earn a place here. His father would have blasted and charmed his way up the rungs of the Ministry, bribing and blackmailing his way back to the top. But his father was in prison, so that told Draco more than enough about the efficacy and staying power of such a strategy.

 

That was another thing worth knowing about Draco Malfoy: he was a far smarter, more patient man than his father before him.

 

No, Draco knew that the only way to the top, the only path worth anything in the long run, was a slow, inexorable climb, with diligence and dues paid every step of the way. They might not like him. They might want an excuse to be rid of him. But they couldn’t stop him from doing that.

 

Which was the purpose of this daily charade, this unpleasant routine, this public self-martyring. His least favorite part of the day. The part that made him want to step out in front of the Knight Bus rather than face it once more.

 

Lunch.

 

A wave of sound blasted against Draco in a rush as he pushed open the cafeteria doors. At least a dozen pairs of eyes pinned on him and followed his deliberate steps up to the food queue. He fought down the urge to fidget and straighten the front of his robes. Perhaps he could just go out and get something different today. Or run home. Maybe, from now on, he should pack a lunch and eat at his desk. Or out front, with Margery. Or in the park across the street, with the pigeons. Or down in the sewers, with the rats. Literally anything would be better than this: subpar food eaten with the painful awareness that half the Ministry was staring at him, some with suspicion and some with hate.

 

These inner arguments were also part of Draco’s daily routine.

 

He joined the end of the queue, ordered a bowl of soup and a breadstick, and thanked the canteen staff. With his tray balanced in both hands, Draco turned and peered out over the wide room. Clusters of Ministry employees talked and laughed and ate together. A group of Unspeakables in their navy blue robes bent over a table full of notebooks and Shepherd’s Pie and murmured with each other. A gaggle of barristers and law clerks, a few of them still wearing their ridiculous wigs, argued back and forth over a stack of sandwiches. Very few tables remained open, but Draco snagged one near the front of the canteen, close to the queue. He set his tray down on the wooden surface with a thunk, and then sat himself down.

 

Alone.

 

Draco Malfoy: former Death Eater, tax man, and the only person out of hundreds who ate lunch alone. It shouldn’t bother him. He was a fully functioning adult, for goodness sake. But still, he felt the pressure of eyes on his solitary figure. It prickled the back of his neck, set his spine on edge as he dipped his spoon into the thick soup. Even now, as an adult, he felt the sting of embarrassment and loneliness that came with eating alone in a public space, like he was fourteen again and desperate for an audience to prove his worth in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. It was silly. Probably, he only felt this way because the ministry had a cafeteria, wide open and echoing with hundreds of loud conversations, with his table visible from every sight line. What he wouldn’t give for a proper restaurant. Awful.

 

Awful, rather like the soup. The thick, creamy orange concoction slopped in the bowl as he stirred his spoon through it and then took a bite. An attempt at some sort of spiced sweet potato. Not to his taste or standards, but…well. Some people liked it. Some people would call it their favorite thing on the menu. Some people looked forward to Tuesdays in particular, because this was the soup du jour. Some people had no taste, but still Draco found himself ordering this same bowl of gritty, under-seasoned slop every Tuesday in the hopes that it would improve with age. He forced another bite, though it was thick in his throat. Though half the Ministry watched and waited for him to dribble orange goop down the front of his white shirt.

 

Let them watch. He gulped another bite and patted the corner of his mouth with his napkin, his movements precise and deliberate. That was exactly why he forced himself through this public display every day: so people would watch.

 

It had been years since the war, years since the hunting torment, years since anyone had treated him badly or spit on him or attacked him for walking down the street. Years. But he still had an undeniable sense, an intuition, that insisted if ever he decided to hide, if ever he ducked his head too low, then the whispers behind his back would grow too loud. Draco had traveled a bit after the war, just for a while, just so he could teach himself how to breathe again. In America, hiking in the Pacific Northwest, he had read a survival guide with advice on what to do in the event that a hiker ran into a mountain lion. Stay still, it said. Maintain eye contact. Don’t turn around. Don’t run away. Because the second someone turned and ran, the mountain lion would seize that moment of fear, that moment of weakness, and rip out the hiker’s cowardly spine. Draco had grown rather fond of his spine in the years following the war, underused though it had been in his youth, and he could finally say with pride that he was no coward. Too many people wanted to rip him apart and see him bleed, see him rot. He would not give them the opening. He would not turn and bare his vulnerable spine for the tearing. Instead, he stayed locked in this quiet, subdued battle of eye contact. He let people watch him. See him. That was his approach to public life, the essence of his philosophy: that if he maintained a presence, a quiet and unblinking one, it would keep the rumors and the anger at bay. His entire life was balance. Careful. Considered. Constructed. Quiet. It had been that way for years. He had built that for himself, from the rubble of his broken reputation after the war. He was in control of his public image, and it had taken a lot of effort to get to that point.

 

So he sat in the crowded canteen every day and let suspicious Ministry employees watch him eat soup. And pity on any fool who thought for a second that he would dribble it on himself, because he was raised as a Malfoy, dammit, and that meant impeccable table manners!

 

“Fine, but you’re buying the first round of drinks at the pub this Friday, Potter!”

 

Draco inhaled the contents of his spoon and promptly choked. Coughed. Cleared his throat. His face burned with embarrassment and lack of oxygen, and he quietly sputtered to himself and tried not to make a scene while he asphyxiated.

 

A troupe of Aurors, all clad in glorious red regalia, thundered into the canteen. Messy and sweaty, the group of them looked to have just come in from morning field work. A successful mission, too, if their tired grins were any indication. Wisps of Chang’s long black hair pulled loose from her braid; Weasley had a smudge of dirt, or maybe a bruise, under his left eye; and Johnson-Weasley favored her left leg while she walked. But each of them smiled and laughed and clapped each other on the back, entirely too jovial and familiar with each other for the workplace, in Draco’s opinion. And at the head of them all, leading the charge, as always, was Harry Potter.

 

His grin was wide and bright, but he looked tired, with dark smudges under his eyes. And too thin. Always too thin, wiry, buzzing with energy like the core of a wand stripped of its wood casing. The look of him always sent a shiver up Draco’s spine.

 

Draco blinked and caught himself with a little shake. He was staring at Harry Potter. In the middle of the Ministry canteen. Again. He ducked his head before anyone could catch him in the shameful act.

 

Soup. Very, very interesting soup. Fascinating stuff, this soup. He stared at that instead and blinked a few times. Lifted his spoon. Forced a tasteless bite.

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Potter shook off Weasley’s attempts to muss up his already atrocious hair as the group made their way into the food queue. “I’ll get the first round if you get your paperwork in on time today.”

 

No, soup was no good. Perhaps if he kept his head down at an angle, he could lift his eyes alone. There! Perfect. The position strained the backs of his eyeballs a bit, but no one could tell he was watching Potter rock back and forth from foot to foot as he made his lunch selection.

 

Antsy. That was Potter. Always moving. He crossed his arms over his chest. Uncrossed them. Swung them back and forth. Maneuvered his head to peer at all the food on offer, even though it was Tuesday and he always got the same damn thing every Tuesday. Draco kept his head down and watched his endless movement, watched the sharp, edgy lines of him. His figure was cut in vibrant reds from his form-fitting uniform, and inky rich blacks in the soft, messy layers of his bit-too-long hair. Dramatic.

 

And thin. Too thin. Not dramatically so. Not starved. Nothing like the desiccated inferi look he’d sported by the end of the war, after months with no food. Potter worked out, kept himself in shape for Auroring. He looked good, some would say. The papers certainly seemed to think he looked good. But he had never quite lost that hungry glint, the one he’d had his whole life, even as a child. Potter looked like someone who worked just a few too many hours, skipped just a few too many meals, and smoked just a few too many cigarettes. Through the red fabric of his tight robes, Draco could see the knobs of Potter’s spine.

 

After a long moment of posturing and fidgeting and rocking back and forth, Potter said the same thing he always said on Tuesdays. “I’ll have the soup, please.”

 

Draco rolled his eyes. So predictable. Potter and his damn—

 

“I’m so sorry dear, we’re fresh out!”

 

“Oh.” Potter stilled. His shoulders slumped. Disappointment radiated off of him. “Then I’ll have…er…”

 

Draco grimaced and clamped his teeth in irritation, his eyes flitting back and forth between Potter and the lunch lady. How could they have run out of the soup of the day, not even halfway through the lunch service? That was poor logistical resource management, if Draco had ever seen it.

 

Give him yours. A little voice in the back of Draco’s head suggested it, but Draco shook it off. Ridiculous. He couldn’t go around giving bowls of half eaten soup to the childhood nemesis he’d barely spoken to in years.

 

“Um…could I get…” Potter bit his lip and scanned all the offerings again and again, though none of them seemed suitable. Some of the light had dimmed out of his eyes. He shook his head, frustrated, and waved Weasley forward. “You guys go ahead of me. I need a minute to decide.”

 

Give him yours. Give him your soup.

 

The lunch lady, with her white robes and the netted cap over her hair, at least had the decency to look apologetic. Potter chewed on the inside of his cheek and glared at the lunch options while Weasley stepped past him and advised, “The pasta’s pretty good, mate.”

 

Potter shrugged that suggestion off, as well he should, since it was terrible and thoughtless, showing a complete disregard for Potter’s preferences. Potter hated eating heavy meals midday. Didn’t Weasley know that? He always preferred to have something lighter, like soup or a sandwich.

 

Give him yours. Give it to him.

 

Draco flinched. Maybe he should. Maybe he should just offer—

 

He shut the idea down before it could take hold. No. He couldn’t, wouldn’t give Potter his half eaten lunch. That was an awful idea.

 

But…what if it wasn’t? What if it was the right thing to do? Some instinct inside him tugged at his gut and insisted it was probably the right thing to do. Maybe he—

 

No! Dear Merlin, no! Draco forced the thought down, cut it off completely.

 

In instant, vicious response, a wave of nausea swelled through him, a startling and greasy lurching that heaved his stomach and spun his head. An uncomfortable tightness clenched his skin, like his skin had shrunk and the outer layers no longer fit him right. He hunched in on himself while his head lowered towards the surface of the table. Sweat popped along his hairline. And the random, completely unacceptable idea that he share his lunch with Potter grew louder and more insistent in his mind. Give it to him. Give it to him. Draco argued with himself and struggled to shut the intrusive thought down, but the more it swirled through his head, the more it filled his whole core.

 

Those things couldn’t be connected. He couldn’t possibly be sick at the thought of denying Potter his lunch…

 

An angry knot twisted his stomach and saliva flooded his mouth as bile crept up his throat. He pressed a fist to his lips, gagged and swallowed it down. Quietly. Merlin, he hoped no one noticed. Under the zing of panic that seized him, the confusion over what was happening, Draco still maintained a desperate need for decorum. He struggled to keep his head down and remain unobtrusive, uninteresting, even while about to vomit all over the table.

 

All because, apparently, something in him desperately wanted to give Potter his food.

 

Maybe he should.

 

Draco sucked in a long breath as the nausea suddenly eased, like a grip unclenching. He sat up straighter.

 

“What sort of sandwiches do you have today?” Potter asked. The lunch lady gave him two completely unsatisfactory options: a tuna melt, which Potter hated, and a cucumber and watercress, which wouldn’t do at all since Potter had a mild allergy to cucumber. His red-clad shoulders, too thin-too thin, slumped further at the news.

 

Give it to him. Give it to him. Give it to him. Give it to him.

 

No! He would not! A headache burst behind his sinuses, sudden and stabbing. Draco grunted and pressed his thumb and forefinger against his eyes to ease the pressure. It did no good, and still the intrusive thought grew louder and stronger, commanding him. Give it to him! His hand twitched. His core tensed, ready to stand, entirely against his own will.

 

What in the name of Morgana’s saggy tits was happening to him?!

 

He fought. Or perhaps not. He was suddenly of two wills. On the one hand, he couldn’t give Potter a half-eaten bowl of soup. That simply was not a done thing! Ridiculous! Unseemly! But on the other hand…

 

It felt like, maybe…maybe he had to. Something in him, some deep and buried instinct that knew him best, swelled and took root. Something that insisted this was important, and perhaps it would be best if Draco went along with it. Draco’s instincts had rarely steered him wrong, so perhaps…

 

Dammit, no! He slammed his hand back down against the tabletop, and in response the headache flared with white spots at the edges of his vision. The crowded room swallowed up the noise of the impact, but it rattled his metal spoon against the porcelain bowl. Why was this happening?

 

Give it to him. Give it to him. Give it to him!

 

Really now! To be fair! This was all the lunch lady’s fault. Harry Potter was the hero of the wizarding world, and this soup was his favorite soup. They couldn’t save a bowl for the hero of the fucking universe? How hard was it to feed the savior a decent meal once in a while? Was that so much to ask, really? No! No it was not!

 

GIVE IT TO HIM. GIVE IT TO HIM.

 

Dejected, Potter ordered a limp, pathetic looking salad and trudged away from the counter. Though he tried to hide it from his friends, his eyes held such a sad, kicked-puppy look that Draco’s head nearly exploded with the surge of pain, of pity, of need. Another punch of nausea rocked Draco’s body and the insistent, demanding voice in his mind screeched in violent crescendo:

 

GIVE IT TO HIM GIVE IT TO HIM GIVE IT TO HIM GIVE IT TO HIM GIVEITTOHIMGIVEITTOHIMGIVEITTOHIM!!!!

 

It was right! Merlin, the instinct was right!

 

How could it be right? It was madness!

 

But Draco took one look at the silly little unspoken sadness in Potter’s eyes, and a fierce and burning need, stronger than anything he’d ever known, tensed every muscle in his body. It surged up from his heart, flared through his blood.

 

He had to give Potter his lunch. Had to! There was no other option, no other course in life, nothing left for him to do but obey the commands of the tyrannical impulse, the gut instinct, the burning need. He needed to feed Potter, needed to give him this bowl of soup like he had never needed anything in his entire life!

 

No! He screamed inside his own mind, which had been commandeered. What are you doing? This is insane!

 

But the need, the drive, the instinct was too strong. The feeling of warm, desperate empathy at seeing the disappointment Potter tried to deny, tried to hide, overwhelmed him. As if under imperius, his body filling the need while his mind panicked and struggled to catch up, Draco stood.

 

What was he doing?! Why was he doing this?! It didn’t matter! He needed to. Needed to! Needed to!

 

With a panicked, garbled cry that ripped from the swirling chaos in his brain, Draco grabbed the bowl, flailed his arms…

 

And threw soup all over Harry Potter, in the middle of the crowded Ministry cafeteria.

 

Draco and Potter both froze. The now-empty soup bowl, along with Potter’s tray and salad, clattered and crashed to the floor in a burst of noise that startled the cafeteria. Everyone looked. All around them, tables full of people fell silent and stared in horror, in confusion.

 

Draco’s mouth unhinged and flopped open while his eyes went wide. His heart stopped, skipped three beats, and then raced to catch up. Heat flooded his cheeks, shame flooded his chest…and soup flooded every inch of Harry Potter’s person.

 

What had he done? Jesus and Merlin, what had he just done?

 

Potter blinked and sputtered while heavy glops of orange sweet potato soup dripped out of his soaked hair. He lifted his arms out tense in front of him, his fingers clenched and twitching as if searching for something to throttle. A massive stain covered the front of his red robes, and a thick rivulet dripped down over the line of his black leather belt and inched towards his trousers. For that one moment, Potter paused, too stunned to react.

 

It didn’t last. Fury flamed in Potter’s eyes as he caught sight of Draco, pinned him in place with an awful look, and shouted, “What the fuck, Malfoy?!”

 

What the fuck, indeed. What the fuck had he done? What the fuck was wrong with his brain?

 

Mortified, Draco stared at his awful handiwork and did the only thing he could do in that moment. He laughed. “Ha! Haaaa…ha ha. Ha!” It came out deranged and too loud, too slow, an insane sound even to his clearly insane ears. Could an insane person know they were insane? Draco felt confident he had gone insane. But there was nothing for it but to drive ahead. Wide eyed, face locked in a grimace, throat and eyes burning with near-tears while he tried not to break down and cry right there in front of the entire Ministry, Draco forced a mocking tone. He let his inner fourteen year old rescue him in the only way he knew how, some other instinct, long buried. “How’d you like that, Potter? Got you good, I did!”

 

For a long moment, Potter stared at him with a look that concurred Draco was indeed completely fucking insane. Then, he scoffed and shook his head. “Whatever, Malfoy.” He shoved against Draco’s shoulder with his own as he stalked off, muttering obscenities under his breath and dripping soup with every step.

 

Whispers hissed to life all around him and then grew to murmurs. Before they could turn to shouts of rage, before Draco’s face set itself on fire, he fled the canteen. The whole long walk back to his office, Draco’s chest heaved with panicked breaths, his heart pounding. His stomach clenched tight enough to nearly double him over, all twisted up in a hot, heavy knot of shame and messy organs, while bile burned up the back of his throat. Somehow, he managed to make it back to his office even though all he wanted to do was run right out the door and never stop running.

 

***

 

Another thing worth knowing about Draco Malfoy: he loved Harry Potter. Had done all his life, from that first meeting with the scraggly, lost little green-eyed boy in Madam Malkin’s. That love got all twisted up in other things, of course. In rivalry. In jealousy. In hurt. And then, later, his love for Potter got twisted up with existential, passionate hatred, an opposition that built in Draco’s head until there was only him and Potter, and all the world must bend into submission behind one of these two diametrically opposed foes.

 

Then, old snake nose moved into his home and Draco’s delusions of grandeur shattered—Potter was grand and epic, while Draco had only ever been a side note. That was how it was.

 

After the war was done, with a few years’ distance, all the other things, all the hatred and jealousy and rivalry, all the fantasy and grandeur and grateful obsession untwisted. All that was left was a simple, plain, unassuming, really rather boring sort of love. An unrequited love, of course. But that was alright.

 

All of it was alright, really.

 

It was alright when Potter saved his life, grabbed him from fire and flew him to safety, Draco’s heart pounding for days afterward at the soaring sensation…and then, after giving Draco the most brilliant, painful, transformative moment of his life, he promptly forgot about him and never spoke to him again. That was alright. Because Draco was a side note. And that was alright. Potter never spoke to him, and that was alright. Potter would never love him back, and that was alright. Draco also loved going for long walks in fresh powdery snow. He loved the feeling of tedious, disciplined accomplishment that came when perfecting a potion. He loved his father, or the husk of him that remained after years in Azkaban. None of those things loved him back, but that was alright. Loving Potter was a bit like that.

 

But love Potter, he did. He loved the steady brightness of him, that competent, powerful brilliance that made him a hero even before the war. He loved that Potter never demanded respect, obedience, attention—but that he gained those things regardless simply because his aura, his presence, quietly insisted that he was a person worth respecting, obeying, paying attention to. It came effortlessly, so effortlessly that he didn’t quite know he had it, and Draco loved that. He loved Potter’s vibrant grin, his sharp white teeth that gleamed just on the right side of a bite too wild. He loved how Potter wore nearly every emotion on his sleeve, on his face—his love and passion and anger and joy and pride. But not every emotion, because his loneliness and his weariness he kept close to the chest, hidden, tucked in, difficult to recognize. Draco saw those once in a while, though, in moments when Potter thought no one was watching, and loved him more for it. Loved the glimpse at Potter’s tender imperfections, yes. But also loved seeing the shields lowered, because that meant Potter was not the loose, carefree, emotionally open person he portrayed, but that his openness was scripted and controlled, was situational and deliberate. A choice. He wore a mask and controlled his public persona. It was something they had in common. Draco wondered if anyone else got to see him in those quiet, unmasked moments, and he didn’t bother with impossible nonsense like wishing it could be him.

 

It didn’t affect his day-to-day much. It was rather like having a condition. A low level of chronic pain, perhaps, that he had learned to work around and live with.

 

Something Draco Malfoy would prefer no one know about him: he had occasional flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome. Most days were fine. But sometimes certain foods would mutiny against his stomach with such immediate and unseemly violence that he’d have to clench his arse cheeks together while running for the loo. Sometimes this was unpredictable. Other times, he could grasp the pattern and take measures to avoid foods likely to trigger his sensitive bowels into a state of irritation while out in public. He loved coffee, but never drank it at work, only saved it for weekends at home, because of the potential for shit-related emergencies.

 

It was embarrassing. Something he’d rather not talk about with anyone. Something to be handled in private. A condition that always lingered in the background, but only occasionally flared up and required attention. A pain in the arse. But, all in all, a simple fact of his life that he managed, mitigated, and dealt with quietly.

 

That was what it was like for Draco Malfoy to love Harry Potter.

 

At least it was, until the day he lost his fucking mind and threw a bowl of hot soup at him in the middle of the ministry cafeteria.

 

***

 

“What the fuck? What the actual fucking fuck? Fuck…what the…” Furious, Harry grumbled under his breath and ripped handfuls of his own hair as he leaned over the sink. His reflection in the mirror glared back at him, mouth snarling and severe, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. He dragged his fingers through his front fringe and sluiced out a glop of hot, orange soup. The creamy mess of it slathered his hand, and he glared at it before he flung his wrist in disgust. It slopped against the side of the sink. Still, there was an abundance of mother fucking soup all over his person. All in his hair, drenched down to his scalp, stained up and down his uniform. He snatched the sink tap and spun it around a few times. Water creaked through the old, outdated Ministry pipes and then gushed out in uneven, sputtering spurts. Harry wet his hands and leaned further over the basin.

 

Fucking Malfoy.

 

Fucking soup.

 

Fucking…fuck.

 

The door to the loo creaked as it swung open behind him, and a flurry of noise spilled in until Ron stepped inside and shut them up in solitude once more. Harry flinched, glared at him over his (soup covered) shoulder, and went back to scrubbing his hair in the sink. Glops of the stuff flopped out of his hair in clumps. The thick, orange goop mixed with the tap water and spun in lazy circles around the drain. A few chunks of sweet potato got stuck in the filter, and the whole basin slowly filled with a swirl of dirty, orange-tinted water.

 

“Alright, mate?”

 

Harry cursed and grumbled and swore under his breath. He’d gotten most of it out of his hair, but it left the locks all sticky, with a tacky sort of feel that would all clump together and crust as it dried. Disgusting. And he hadn’t even gotten started on his uniform. Furious, Harry scrubbed his fingers through his hair and groaned.

 

“You do remember you’re a wizard, right?”

 

Harry paused. Slumped. And shook his head. The frightful edge of frazzled anger receded a little with the reminder. He looked back over his shoulder at Ron, who tried to hide a smirk. “Yeah. Right. I…” He reached for his wand, but flinched and stopped himself at the last second. His hands were still sticky with sweet potato. “Could you…?”

 

“Yeah, sure!” Ron lifted his wand and hit Harry’s uniform with a scourgify, and then blasted at his hair with a startling and abrupt gust of wind. Harry blinked and righted his off-kilter glasses. When he glanced at the damage in the mirror, he had to shrug. No more soup. The stain had disappeared, and his hair was clean, despite looking like he’d come out of a hurricane. Everything was fine. Fine, even though the anger and confusion of the event still zinged in his veins.

 

Malfoy.

 

Harry glared at his own reflection, his nostrils flaring. As if the whole debacle wasn’t infuriating and confusing enough, that had been the particular soup he’d wanted to eat for lunch. Had Malfoy overheard? Did he know, and he threw it at Harry just to spite him? Just to have a laugh about how Harry couldn’t have the thing that he wanted? He grit his jaw and shook his head, forced himself to take a breath. “Fucking Malfoy.”

 

Ron clapped him on the back and nodded, sympathetic. “Yep.”

 

Harry hadn’t seen, spoken to, or interacted with Malfoy in years, other than the odd passing in the halls of the Ministry. He certainly hadn’t spent any time thinking in depth about the blond, pointy, Death Eater git in the years since the war. Not since he’d done his duty and spoken at the trials, at least. But now, in the aftermath of the bizarre and humiliating encounter, all of Harry’s old habits rose to the surface and came to his aid. He whipped his head around to look at Ron and asked, “Do you think he’s up to something?”

 

It was like an instinct. A pattern rusty and long buried, but still there when he suddenly needed it. In the old days, back when he cared, Malfoy breathed and Harry assumed the worst. Rightfully so, often enough. It wasn’t so absurd to think something was up with the bastard now, after the sudden public attack.

 

Ron rolled his eyes, though, and muttered, “Merlin help us, not this again.”  

 

“What?” Harry glared, eyes wide. “You saw what he did! He attacked me! Out of nowhere! In the middle of the…of the…” He cut himself off and shook his head to fight down the choke of anger that built in his throat.

 

“Yeah.” Ron nodded and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Also saw that he looked completely mortified about having done it.”

 

Harry rolled his eyes and scoffed. “So?”

 

“So? Mate, I think it was probably an accident.”

 

“An accident!” Harry huffed a laugh and nearly screeched, “Ron, he threw a bowl of soup at me! How could that possibly be an accident?”

 

Maybe it was a ploy. An attempt to lure Harry somewhere, to get him to try to chase after Malfoy and then get caught in…something. Somehow? It didn’t make sense yet, but Harry would figure it out. His brain spiraled through the possibilities, the steps. He had half a mind to march right down to wherever Malfoy worked and demand he answer for this right now. His hands balled into fists.

 

“Yes, Harry. An accident.” Ron shook his head. Slow and exasperated, the way he talked to Rosie and Hugo when they were throwing a tantrum, he said, “Probably, there was a spider on his bowl and he panicked. Didn’t want anyone to mock him for screaming about it like a little girl, so he pretended it was supposed to hit you all along.”

 

Harry grit his teeth and stared down at the dingy black and white checkered tiles on the floor. Ron stepped in closer and wrapped an arm around his shoulder to ease him out of the loo, and he dragged his feet against it.

 

“Come on, mate. Back to work.”

 

Harry glared out of the corner of his eye, his mouth pursed in a tight knot, new and old anger all hot inside him. His eye line was barely at the top of Ron’s shoulder. Ron had always been tall, but he’d filled out with meat and muscle, too, and wore it all with an air of settled, competent confidence. When they went out on weekends, Ron was the one people snuck a second glance at these days. It wasn’t just his looks, either. He was calm and patient, with an endless supply of wry humor and rational thought. Parenthood did that to him, Harry supposed. And in moments when his best friend, all six-fit-fucking-foot of him, towered over him and talked to him in a soothing tone about how he was being ridiculous...Harry grit his jaw.

 

Next to Ron, nearly-perfect Ron, he was short, and scrawny, and irrational, and buzzing with nervous energy, and unsure about where he fit in his own life, and prone to fits.

 

Sometimes it made Harry feel like he was one of Ron and Hermione’s kids. The ugly one, to boot. Because Rosie and Hugo were gorgeous. And were both bound to end up taller than him!

 

Fucking Malfoy! All this was because of him. He swallowed down his irritation at his best friend, because it really was misplaced. Why be mad at Ron when he had a perfectly good reason to be mad at Draco Malfoy? Annoyed, and confused, and hungry, dammit, because he didn’t get to eat any of his lunch, he let Ron drag him back to work.

 

“Just try to ignore him,” Ron said.

 

Harry nodded in agreement, but that was a joke if he’d ever heard one. Harry had learned to ignore a lot over the course of his life: the press, stares while out in public, the occasional times his employees skivved off an hour early from work, the leaky faucet in his downstairs loo that he probably should have fixed years ago, Teddy’s occasional use of bad words he’d learned from his godfather, Mrs. Weasley’s frequent hints that he should find someone nice and settle down, feeling lackluster compared to his brilliant best friends, an incessant nagging in the back of his mind that he should probably take better care of himself and his godson, the loneliness and despair that crept up on him some nights to insist that it didn’t matter if he took better care of either of them because soon Teddy would leave anyway and Harry was broken and unlovable and he would probably die alone…A lot! Harry Potter could ignore a lot of things!

 

The one thing in his life he had never been able to ignore was Draco Malfoy.

 

 

***

 

 

A knock on the flimsy wall of Draco’s cubicle made him flinch, his bones nearly spasming right out of his skin. Three hours after Soup-pocalypse, Soup-mageddon, Soup-tastrophe, whatever people were undoubtedly calling it behind his back, and Draco was still tense and shaky. An unusual number of colleagues had passed by his office and glanced in through the open doorway, and an unusual number of whispers hissed around the department floor. Now, knocking. A mob, come to kill him for assaulting their hero, most likely. Or a team of doctors from Saint Mungo’s, come to tell him he was to be Gilderoy Lockhart’s new roommate. He braced himself and turned his chair.

 

Lavender Brown stood in the doorway, one high-heeled shoe crossed over the line into his office, a forced polite smile on her face. She was the sort of girl who was effortlessly beautiful, with golden brown eyes and a tumble of lovely honey hair, flawless light brown skin, and pleasant curves. Even the scars on her face added to this, and made her look a bit dashing and mysterious. Yes, effortlessly beautiful. But then, on top of that, she put effort into her appearance. And that ruined it, in Draco’s opinion. Always, she wore stylish robes and a smart pencil skirt, with heavy make-up. Always, high heels. Always, it annoyed Draco, and he thought her rather pretentious and vapid.

 

“How can I help you, Ms. Brown?”

 

She tightened her smile, and it squinted her eyes. “Just came to see if you needed any help with the Slug & Jiggers file?”

 

And fake. Draco forced his polite, distant look to stay firmly in place. She was so transparently, painfully fake. For too long, Lavender had been waging a secret war against him. Oh, she played nice. But that was her tactic. She was out to take credit for Draco’s work, he had no doubt. Often, she dropped by his office just to see if he needed help with a file, or to ask his opinion about one of her own. It was a ploy so obvious, she might as well just announce that she planned to steal his work to make herself look good.

 

“No, thank you.” Draco gestured at the stacks of parchment open on his desk, the file in question. Slug & Jiggers was one of his accounts, and a tedious one. Line by line, Draco checked their records for inconsistencies or corners cut on international imports. Not today, of course. After Soup-pocalypse, he’d done nothing but sit and stare at the parchment, the awful incident replaying on a loop in his brain while he weighed the merits of drowning himself in the Thames. But other days! Other days, he could handle the account without any help. “I have it under control.”

 

“Okay, great! That’s a rough one. Just let me know if you need back-up!” Chipper and sweet, she continued to smile and stare at him, her eyes piercing. She did not move from his doorway.

 

Draco blinked and stared. “If that’s all, Ms. Brown…”

 

“There was something else, actually.” Her face fell and she took another step further into his office, her heels sinking into the small Persian rug he’d laid out to liven up the space. Voice low, she leaned in close and asked, “Malfoy, are you alright?”

 

A flush rushed into Draco’s cheeks and he turned away. It certainly didn’t take long for news to travel, did it? Nor for Lavender to come to gloat, the harpy. “I’m certain I don’t know what you mean, Ms. Brown. I’m perfectly fine. I don’t know what rumors or gossip you’ve heard, but--”

 

“Heard? No, no, nothing like that!” Lavender’s eyes went wide, and then narrow again as she tilted her head to one side in thoughtful pause. “Oh, you mean the gossip going around about how you threw your lunch at Harry Potter? That’s unfortunate, but also none of my business. No, I mean…”

 

Draco attempted to gulp with a dry throat, and he gave his head a little shake. Something else was wrong with him? Or was this just a ploy to get close to him, get some new details right from the source?

 

“I just mean…” Nervous, Lavender smudged her lipstick as she chewed on her bottom lip, but then seemed to come to some decision. She gathered up that rash, Gryffindor courage, leaned in close to Draco’s ear, and hissed a whisper. “You smell a bit odd.”

 

“I…” Draco sputtered and went red in the face, while he fought down an abrupt urge to sniff at his own underarms. “I…I beg your pardon!”

 

“No, no, no!” Lavender waved her hands. “I don’t mean like that, I don’t mean in a way anyone would notice. Or…that anyone other than me would notice, anyway.”

 

“Oh.” This did little to calm Draco. A relief, he supposed to hear he was not a smelly lunatic, and only a normal lunatic. But still, if Lavender’s werewolf senses noticed something strange…could it have something to do with that terrible sensation, that pressing and nauseating urge that came over him at lunch? “What do you mean?”

 

Lavender shrugged and sent a few curls bouncing. “I noticed this morning. Your scent is different, all of a sudden. Not bad. Just…strange. Normally, that only happens when someone falls ill, or if they get cursed. I just thought I’d check and make sure you were alright.”

 

So she could laugh at his misfortune and gossip about it if he wasn’t, no doubt. Draco lifted an eyebrow and considered it. He didn’t feel ill at the moment, and he hadn’t been cursed. None of this made any sense, but clearly something was wrong with him. He sighed and shrugged and let himself slump a little lower in his stiff chair. “I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a brain tumor.”

 

Lavender looked horrified. “Merlin, that’s awful! I’ve never scented someone with a brain tumor before, but if you’d like, I could go to the hospital and see if I can check any patients to get a comparison.”

 

“What?” Her earnest gushing knocked him off-kilter. Damn Gryffindors. No sense of appreciation for macabre humor. “No, Ms. Brown. It was a bad joke. That won’t be necessary. I’m sure everything’s fine.”

 

“Oh. Alright.” She studied him for another long moment while Draco fiddled with his quill and squirmed under the attention. “Do you think it might have something to do with your episode in the cafeteria?”

 

Draco blinked. “My…episode?”

 

“When you threw your food. All over Harry Potter. With everyone watching?”

 

“Yes, yes,” Draco hissed. “I am aware of the incident you refer to. I just hadn’t realized that’s what everyone was calling it.”

 

Although, to be fair, it had been an episode. Hopefully, a unique one. Draco dearly hoped that this was simply a freak occurrence, the result of stress or not enough sleep, that would never happen again.

 

He did not need to be the sort of person who had episodes, plural.

 

Lavender’s nose scrunched up as she faked sympathy. “Most people are calling it a plot, actually.”

 

“A plot?” Draco’s eyes narrowed and his forehead crinkled in unseemly lines, near wrinkles. This was the last thing he wanted to talk about, and nearly the last person he wanted to talk about it with, but the sliver of information proved too much to resist. “How could it be a plot?”

 

“Death Eater plot. You’re scheming, planning to tear down the new Ministry and wage a reign of terror as our new Dark Lord, and you’re starting by attacking Harry Potter and marking him as an enemy.” Lavender shrugged, and the corner of her mouth twitched in a hidden smile, the nasty little gossip. Draco completely ignored her, ignored his need for constant propriety and face-saving, and groaned as he hid his head in his hands.

 

All his hard work…all his years of careful presentation and reputation rebuilding…all of it undone in one absurd moment.

 

Hot, angry tears burned up the back of Draco’s throat and he gulped around the lump of emotion.

 

“You know how the Ministry is. All gossip, no sense.” Lavender’s sardonic, sympathetic little smile looked almost authentic. “If you were feeling bad or embarrassed about throwing food at Harry, it might help you to know that a lot of people aren’t even sharing that part of the story. Last version I heard, there was a battle and you shot a curse at him. Some people are even saying it was an AK.”

 

Just barely, with great effort, Draco managed to keep in the twisted, high pitched shriek of horror and wretched bemusement that wanted to rip from his throat. He nearly choked on it. “Oh, is that all?”

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure it will pass before the week’s done.” She gave a little flip of her hair. “Or lean into it! Embrace your new Dark Lord status.”

 

“I don’t want to be a Dark Lord,” Draco sighed miserably.

 

“Might not be the worst thing, to be honest. If you took over the Ministry, at least the government would stick to a budget for once. You would be a very fiscally responsible overlord.”

 

Draco sucked in a long breath and peered at her. Was his jealous, credit-stealing colleague actually trying to goad him down a path of violent government overthrow? Or, equally as bizarre, was she joking with him? Bewildering, in either case. It was a compliment of sorts, and Draco assumed he should perhaps say thank you? But he pulled his social armor back on just in time to recognize that whatever he said, Lavender would probably twist and whisper to anyone who would listen. So instead, he just stared at her and felt terribly confused and broken and desperately in need of a long nap.

 

With a shrug and a smile, bright canines flashing, Lavender pointed once more at the Slug & Jigger’s file open on his desk. “Let me know if you change your mind about wanting a hand with that. See you, Malfoy.”

 

Which left Draco alone to contemplate his shattered reputation, his deep humiliation, and the potential curse or brain tumor that had led him down this awful path.

 

He did not finish the file that day.

Chapter Text

When Draco walked into work two days later, something rather curious happened.

 

“Good morning, Margery.” He nodded to the receptionist on his way in, walking briskly in an attempt to avoid eye contact with anyone.

 

But instead of her usual, Good morning, Draco, Margery waved a hand, all of her finger nails lacquered in neon pink, and heaved herself up out of her chair. “Oh, Draco! Wait just a second, Draco, dear! I have something for you.”

 

Draco stopped dead in his tracks and turned around as the little old lady approached him on creaking knees. Wrapped in long, loose purple and teal robes that swayed in time with her slow, heavy steps, she looked like an elderly peacock swooping in to peck him blind. He tensed, his stomach a knot.

 

“Here you are, sweetheart.” Margery shoved a biscuit tin at him, navy blue and with a fluffy white bow on top. She gripped his wrist and gave his hand a gentle pat, her old, papery skin loose and soft and warm against his own. Draco stared at the action, bewildered, and then blinked and looked back to her face. Her smile was soft and sad, her round eyes watery behind her bejeweled glasses. “Made these for you—a little treat to lift you through hard times. I’m wishing the best for you, dear. I hope it turns out well.”

 

Then, she sniffed and turned away from him to waddle back to her desk.

 

What? What hard times? What was this about? Draco blinked a few more times, first down at the biscuit tin, and then up at Margery, before he remembered his manners and good breeding. “Thank you.”

 

Out in the long hall of office cubicles, Draco tried to put the strange encounter behind him. Margery had to be close to a hundred by now. Perhaps her age had caught up to her and she was confused. Nothing to worry about…

 

“Chin up, Draco!” A cluster of colleagues stood together in the hallway, discussing the form they held between them. But as Draco approached, all three of them looked up and peered at him. It wasn’t hate or horror in their eyes, which was exactly what Draco expected after his much-gossiped-about run-in with Potter the day before last. No, it was much worse. All three of them looked at him with pained expressions of sad, pitiful sympathy. The same woman flashed him a smile and said, “We know you’ll pull through!”

 

A sinking, knotted feeling tumbled around in Draco’s lower stomach. This was bad. Whatever this was, this was bad. “Thank you,” he murmured, and then kept his head down the rest of the way to his office.

 

Which is why he did not see his boss looming in the doorway, and nearly ran right into him.

 

“Morning, Malfoy!” his boss boomed. Mr. Caruthers was a portly man of sixty or so, with an impressive mustache and a penchant for wearing suspenders with every outfit. To Draco, he looked a bit like a very dapper walrus. He was friendly, but not overly so; had high expectations, but not overly so; and liked Draco, but not overly so. He certainly didn’t like Draco enough to clap him on the back and wrap a big, meaty arm around his shoulders, which is why it was such a shock when he did exactly that. All of Draco’s wind gushed out of him when Caruthers’ hand bashed into his spine, the brute, and he struggled to catch his breath, along with his lost sanity. Caruthers leaned in close enough for Draco to smell the black coffee on his breath and kept his arm firmly in place around Draco’s upper body. “Dreadful news, my boy. Just dreadful. How are you holding up?”

 

“Er…” Draco nearly squeaked indignation, but cleared his throat. What was happening? Was all this about the incident with Potter? Why such sympathy, when yesterday everyone had been ready to spit on him? “Fine, sir. Just fine.”

 

“Good for you, Malfoy, good for you! Resilient! That’s what you are, my boy. Steadfast. Always admired that about you, I have. I know you’ll weather this setback.” Draco’s teeth knocked together as Caruthers hit him with another violent clap on the back, and he blinked to keep his eyeballs from popping out of his head. While Draco was still reeling, Caruthers leaned in close and said in a quieter, gentler tone, “Anything you need, Malfoy. If you need to take some time off, extended leave? Your job will still be here. You’re our best tax analyst! Your wellbeing is very important to us.”

 

While he said all of this, Draco nodded along and tried to keep the expression of bafflement off his face. Failed, probably. He could feel the panic radiating off his own body, and no doubt Caruthers saw his comically wide eyes, the twitching vein in his forehead, the desperate grit of his jaw. “Thanks? Er…” Draco coughed and forced himself to say, in a rush, “Thanks very much sir.”

 

“Chin up, Malfoy!” Mr. Caruthers patted him on the shoulder and left. Alone, confusion and a pinch of anger crept up Draco’s spine. He hated feeling so out of the loop on something that clearly concerned him. What was everyone talking about? Why the sudden shift? He turned to set his briefcase and the tin of biscuits down on his desk, but stopped short.

 

Where the hell had those flowers come from?

 

A bright bouquet of flowers, cheery yellows and soft pinks, sat on his desk. Calla lilies, no less. Despite the friendly colors, they were flowers appropriate for a funeral. Who had left a bouquet of funeral flowers on his desk? Had he died? Was he dead? Was this death? It felt a bit like it might be death. A card with his name on it rested propped up against the glass vase. He snatched it and ripped it open.

 

Get well soon, Draco! With care, from your colleagues at the Revenue and Customs Department.

 

Draco scowled at the card. Not dead yet, apparently, but everyone seemed to think he was dreadfully ill.

 

“Morning, Malfoy!”

 

Startled, Draco whipped his head and turned to stare wide-eyed at the intruder. Please, Merlin, no more deluded well-wishers!

 

Lavender Brown, in signature pencil skirt-high heels combo, stood in his doorway.

 

He blinked a few times. Could he throw her out? Could he throw the biscuit tin at her head to get her out of here? No, that would be terribly uncouth, and he hardly needed to augment his reputation for throwing food. His voice scratched and squeaked as he asked, “How can I help you, Ms. Brown?”

 

She looked past him and spotted the flowers, the card, and the biscuit tin on his desk. “Oh, did you get biscuits? What sort? Mind if I steal one? I skipped breakfast today.” Without waiting for an answer, she strode into his office and popped the tin open. After a deep inhale, she groaned and announced, “Oats and raisin. Perfect! Want one?”

 

It was all too overwhelming and strange. The events of the past few days stacked up and made him feel a rush of juvenile sadness, like all he wanted to do was go home and have a nap and a cry, but he couldn’t, and that was unbearable. Draco shook his head and pouted.

 

Lavender shrugged and chomped an enormous bite. A few crumbs fell from the corner of her mouth and sprinkled onto her cobalt blue robes. Through a mouthful, she asked, “What’s wrong with you?” 

 

There truly was not enough time in the day for Draco to properly answer such an inquiry. What was wrong with him? Damn near everything, to be honest. His brain nearly shorted out while attempting to conceptualize the scope of just how much was wrong, but he shook his head and gestured to the flowers. “Nothing. I’m just trying to figure out why everyone seems to think I’ve taken ill.”

 

Low in the back of her throat, Lavender hummed while she nodded. “Probably because I told them all you might have a brain tumor.”

 

“What?” The question screeched out of him, too loud and too high. Pink flushed his cheeks and he ducked his head, instinctively hiding after the outburst. “You told…why would you…for what…?”

 

Lavender shrugged and crunched into another of Draco’s biscuits. “People were being rather awful behind your back, what with all the gossip about the Potter lunch incident. So yesterday, whenever I heard people sharing the story, I told them, Be nice to Malfoy! I heard he might have a brain tumor!” Incised, she gestured with the remnants of the biscuit and waved crumbs onto Draco’s expensive rug. “Which is true, mind you! You did say that. So what if I didn’t explain that it was a joke? Serves them right.”

 

Draco’s mouth fell open and he gaped at her while she chewed. The only thing he could ask was, “Why? Why would you do that? Why would you…” Help me…was the rest of the sentence he intended to speak, but the words caught in his throat, because he really wasn’t sure that this effort of Lavender’s was helpful in the slightest. “Why?”

 

“That didn’t seem fair, for people to go ripping you apart over something so silly.” The biscuit tin thunked and rattled as she wrested the lid back on and set it on Draco’s desk, beside the flowers. She turned and stared at him, her eyes sharp and unblinking, but not unkind. “And besides. I don’t like gossips.”

 

A rush of shame squeezed his throat shut as memories from Hogwarts snuck up on him unbidden. He had gossiped about her. Awful things, people used to say about her down in the Slytherin common room. He swallowed it down. Besides, that was incredibly hypocritical of her. She was a terrible gossip, always inviting Draco out for happy hour, no doubt so she could get him drunk and get him to confess embarrassing secrets, always offering to help with files just to make him look bad, always popping into Draco’s office at unexpected moments, trying to catch him in something so she could go…tell…everyone about it…

 

Wasn’t she?

 

Actually, now that Draco thought about it, he’d never actually seen or heard her spreading rumors. Not about him, or anyone else.

 

And when he stripped those assumptions away, he was left with this: a colleague who, for months, had offered help, invited him out to social events, and popped in to ask about his day.

 

Sweet Circe.

 

This realization left him with the horrifying notion that perhaps Lavender Brown was actually trying to…be nice to him. Too shocked to stop himself, he voiced this.

 

She snorted a laugh. “Of course I’m being nice to you, Malfoy! Am I ever anything else?”

 

“Yes, but why?” All of the hysteria of the past few days had knocked Draco’s social filters askew.

 

She took the rude question in stride. “Because you’re one of the only people around here who doesn’t treat me any differently for being a werewolf? Because you’re the only other person in this office under the age of fifty? Because you seem like a pretty decent person, despite what a shit you used to be in school?” She crossed her arms over her chest. The gesture lifted her bosom and more prominently displayed her cleavage, which was a seductive power move Draco imagined would work on people who were attracted to women. She quirked an eyebrow and flashed a smile. “Mostly, though, because you and I are the most competent, best dressed, baddest bitches around, and I have plans for us to take over as Director and Vice Director of Revenue and Customs before we hit age thirty-five.” 

 

Draco laughed. Laughed in her face. Not a friendly laugh. Closer to a deranged laugh, a broken laugh, the laugh of a man losing his mind.

 

Because if she was being authentic, if he could trust her…Draco suddenly realized that perhaps he had made a rather large mistake when assuming his colleague’s motives. It seemed, however improbable, that Lavender Brown had not been trying to steal credit for his work. She had been trying to be his…friend.

 

Draco did not have friends. He used to have friends. Not anymore. Not since the war. They all fled the country, or cut ties with him, or drifted apart. Some, he’d cut out of his life after his values changed and theirs did not. Draco was not the friendly, friend-having sort.

 

“Alright, Ms. Brown. That’s…fair. I suppose.” he said through weary, laughter. But his amusement stalled and he peered at her. “Wait, who would be director and who would be vice?”

 

“You would have to be director, and I’d be vice,” she said without missing a beat. “If you were vice, I don’t know that I could trust you not to poison me and steal my spot as director.”

 

He gaped at her. “I thought you just said you thought I was rather decent?”

 

“Sure, you are!” A wide smirk blossomed across her face. It made her look predatory and wild and gorgeous. “But you’re still a Slytherin.”

 

Draco decided in that exact moment that he rather liked Lavender Brown. Fuck it! Maybe he would give this potential friendship thing a try. Stranger things had happened.

 

He flashed her a smile, but felt awkward and wrong-footed all of a sudden, so he quickly ducked his head to hide it. “Yes, well.” He cleared his throat and looked up from the carpet. “I look forward to our eventual domination. Assuming, of course, I haven’t died of this brain tumor.”

 

She laughed. “You’re fine.”

 

“I don’t know…” He shook his head and stared at his desk, all the get well gifts piled up and taunting him. More sincere than he intended, he admitted, “I really don’t know what came over me the other day. And if you’ve noticed a change in my scent--”

 

She waved him off. “I have, but you don’t need to worry about that.”

 

“Why? Has it gone back to normal?”

 

“No. It’s gotten stronger, actually.” When Draco winced, she rushed to add, “But not in a bad way! I didn’t recognize it the other day. Now that it’s stronger, it smells…familiar. Not bad. Definitely not like you’re ill or like there’s something wrong with you. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but it doesn’t trigger any bad instincts. And my instincts are usually spot on.”

 

“Right, okay.” Draco sighed and pushed down against the trickle of fear that threatened to seize him. Her words were encouraging. But still, he wondered what was going on with him. Mostly, he wondered if it was a freak, one time occurrence, or if it was going to happen again. Draco stepped back and pulled his chair away from his desk. “I should get to it. But…thank you. For your very unorthodox, albeit effective help.”

 

“Sure,” Lavender said as she backed out of his office. “Want to get lunch with me today?”

 

“Merlin, no,” Draco snapped, but then winced at his own harsh tone. “Sorry. I just mean, I never intend to set foot in the Ministry canteen ever again.”

 

She left and let Draco get on with work. He meant it, that he would rather pluck out his own eye balls and use them as marbles than set foot in the Ministry canteen again, but he had also forgotten to pack himself something. And he didn’t know how Lavender knew that—something werewolf scent related, probably—but just when his hunger was getting really distracting, she wordlessly stepped into his office and dropped a roast beef sandwich on his desk. He didn’t even have time to properly thank her before she winked at him and sauntered out the door. It was a lovely, thoughtful gesture, and by the end of the day Draco was convinced that she would, in fact, make a pretty good friend. He’d not had one in years and had rather forgotten how to do it, but in between case files, he brain stormed ways he might go about making friends with her. Invite her over to show off his impressive house? Have his parents buy her expensive gifts? Gather dark secrets about her sexuality and preferences, and then blackmail her into never leaving his side for years? No. None of that really sounded right, and Draco was forced to admit that perhaps he had always been pretty bollocks at making friends. He could figure it out, though. Certainly, there must be a book on the subject.

 

When he left work at the end of that day, it was with a lighter heart than when he’d entered. All of the gossip had died down. Public opinion was now disastrously wrong about him, but at least wrong in his favor. And he might be making a friend! An unexpectedly positive outcome to all this nonsense. As Draco rode the lift downstairs, his arms laden with briefcase, biscuit tin, and flowers, he felt the way one did at the tail end of a bad storm. It hadn’t cleared completely—still the wind and rain raged. But the worst had passed without death or destruction, and Draco felt as if he could take a breath, loosen the knotted muscles in his core, and ride out the rest of it unscathed.

 

At least that’s how he felt right up until he found himself walking behind Potter and Weasley.

 

He gulped and looked frantically around for a corner or a hole to duck into, just to put some distance between him and them, but it was no use. Already, they were all out in the middle of the crowded atrium during rush hour. In the wide, clamoring hall, full of Ministry employees in a hurry to get home, there was nowhere for Draco to duck. His heart beat frantically against his rib cage. They hadn’t noticed him, so all Draco could do was keep some distance. Avoid detection. Avoid Potter.

 

But he couldn’t avoid overhearing part of their conversation.

 

“I’m starving,” Potter whined to Weasley, both of them tired and heavy on their feet. “What I wouldn’t give for a good curry tonight.”

 

Make it for him.

 

Fuck. Fuck, no! No, no, no. Not again! This could not be happening again! No! Draco squeezed his eyes shut and tried to set fire to himself with his mind. It was the only way to stop himself from doing something atrocious. Within a half second of his panicked refusal of his instincts, a furious headache threatened to split his skull wide open and a wave of nausea made him stumble.

 

“So?” Weasley scoffed at his friend. “Get a good curry tonight. The world is yours!”

 

“No, but I can’t!” Potter nudged his taller friend. “You know that really good place around the corner from my house? They closed down! And I’ve tried all the other curry shops in the area, but none of them are as good.”

 

Make it for him. Make it for him. Make it for him.

 

Draco sucked in a long, hissing breath that hitched with a sob. He pressed his free hand to his mouth to quiet the noise, and to keep in the gush of vomit he felt certain would soon erupt from his person. Dizzy, unsteady on his feet, he whirled and bumped into a witch who glared and shouted, “Watch it!”

 

He couldn’t watch it. Couldn’t watch anything but Potter, only Potter, always Potter, who deserved to have whatever he wanted to eat, so Draco should make it for him

 

Potter disappeared into one of the Ministry floos, and Draco pressed a balled up fist to his temple to alleviate the accompanying flare of white hot pain. It stabbed at him from within, and Draco half wondered if he was about to birth a spear-wielding goddess from his skull. His stomach lurched. Blindly, tripping over his feet, Draco ran and barely managed to dive into a floo and mutter his home address.

 

He fell out the other side and promptly collapsed onto the polished parquet of his foyer floor.

 

***

 

It wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t stop, and he was going to have to kill himself. That’s all there was to it. Six hours after his return home, six hours after that disastrous, deadly encounter with Potter in the Ministry atrium, invasive thoughts still trampled Draco’s brain.

 

Make it for him. Make him a meal. Make him the food he wants.

 

The idea nagged and prodded, built in intensity, and whenever he denied it or tried to ignore it, he was struck by debilitating nausea and pain. Guzzling three anti-nausea potions, a head ache potion, a Pepper-Up, and a half dozen other vials he’d grabbed from his potions stores in desperation, had done absolutely no good. He’d vomited four times so far. His head throbbed in agony. Wired, buzzing, and panicked, Draco did the only thing he could do: locked himself in his rooms, buried himself in pillows, turned out all the lights, draped a cool cloth over his eyes, and attempted sleep.

 

It didn’t come. In bed for an hour already, the headache had only gotten worse. He ripped the cloth off his forehead, now damp and sickly warm after an hour on his feverish skin, and threw it across the room. It landed on the wooden floor with a wet plop. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he stared up at the draped canopy above his bed.

 

Make it for him. Cook for him.

 

He drew in a long, shaky breath. Fought down a gulp of bile in the back of his throat.

 

Make it for him. Make it for him. Make it for him.

 

Right. Well, that was that, then. His options appeared to be either die a slow and painful death, or get out of bed and cook Harry Potter a plate of curry. He didn’t want to die, and couldn’t stand one more second of this all-consuming illness.

 

He shoved off his sweat-soaked covers and pulled his dressing gown on over his pajamas.

 

Something was seriously wrong with him. Very, very wrong. But for now, late at night after hours of agony, there was nothing to do about it but give in.

 

With light, quiet footsteps, careful not to wake his mother or any of the portraits, Draco crept through the dim manor and made his way to the kitchens.

 

Inside, he flicked his wand to turn on the lights. Bright white counters, rows of enchanted cabinets, and stainless steel appliances all gleamed and welcomed him, clean and ready for work. The large room had seen less use of late than in its glory days—long gone were the lavish parties and galas his mother and grandmother used to host in these halls. But still, it was a lovely, highly functional and up-to-date kitchen. It would serve him well. He looked it over, his headaches easing with every breath, and nodded his approval. “Right. To work, then.”

 

A few steps into the kitchen, his slippers slapping on the tile, and he stopped short for lack of direction. What sorts of things would he need to make curry, precisely? Chicken? Lamb? Potter hadn’t specified what he wanted. Those would be in the ice box, under cooling and preservation charms, presumably. But what about the other ingredients? There was normally some sort of sauce, wasn’t there? Did that come pre-prepared? Would they have a jar of it in one of the cupboards? And what about…pots? Pans? What did one use? Draco glared at all of the cabinets, his lips pursed in a thoughtful pinch. Either way, he didn’t know where pots or pans or anything else was around here. Malfoy Manor’s glory days might have faded, but they still employed house elves to do the cooking. Draco had never cooked a meal in his life.

 

He sniffed and rubbed at his hairline. This was a predicament. Perhaps this was a fool’s errand after all, and now that he had given it a good effort, he could go back to bed and—

 

“Gah!” Draco cried out at the headache stabbed a warning behind his eyes and doubled him over. “Alright! Alright! I’ll figure it out!”

 

“Sir?” A little voice squeaked as the side door opened. His house elf rubbed her sleepy eyes as she peered into the room. She, like Draco, was in her pajamas. “Is sir being alright?”

 

“Mipsy! Thank Merlin!” Draco beamed at her and then gently restrained his joy to something more sane. “I’m alright, but I could use your help.”

 

“Is sir needing something to eat?”

 

“No, actually--”

 

Mipsy ignored his protest and instead strode into the kitchen on confident little legs, sure of herself and comfortable in the territory. “Mistress Malfoy and Mipsy were worried when you skipped dinner this evening. Mipsy will fix you up now, though!”

 

“No, Mipsy, I--”

 

“Mipsy will heat you up a meal. It will take no time at all, Lord Malfoy. Please, sit down and--”

 

Draco bent down and gripped her by the shoulders, stopping her short. “Mipsy, I need your help with something else.”

 

Her wide, round eyes blinked up at him. “Something else?”

 

Draco straightened up and made a very serious attempt at Lordliness. “I require your assistance cooking a meal. A curry, in particular. For Mr. Harry Potter.”

 

At this, she blinked some more. “Lord Malfoy needs to cook curry for Mr. Harry Potter? At half past eleven at night?”

 

Well, of course it sounded ridiculous. It was ridiculous. Draco merely nodded and kept his face stoic.

 

“Alright.” She backed away a few steps and turned towards the cabinets. “Mipsy can be making a dish for you to give to Mr. Harry Potter in the middle of the night.”

 

The headache twinged at this and Draco rushed to get ahead of the onslaught. “No! No. It’s important, vitally important, that I be the one to do the cooking.”

 

At this, poor, tired Mipsy finally lost her patience. She turned around and stomped her foot. The little bunny slippers she wore bounced and grinned at Draco malevolently. “Lord Malfoy best not be making a mess of Mipsy’s kitchen! Mipsy and Dimple be working very hard to keep Malfoy Manor spotless for Lord Malfoy and Mistress Narcissa, and Lord Malfoy best not be coming into Mipsy’s very clean kitchen and messing everything up, only to leave all the cleanup for Mipsy and Dimple to do tomorrow at dawn!”

 

Dimple was Mipsy’s husband, and the only other house elf under Malfoy employ. After the war, once dear old Lucius was imprisoned, Draco freed most of their elves. Well, actually, he freed all of the elves, thanks to the recent Elvish Act for Rights, Treatment, and Health. Which he had voted for, so he wasn’t complaining. He’d only hired back Mipsy and Dimple, an elderly married elvish couple who had been with the Malfoy family for generations. Mipsy handled the kitchens and housekeeping while Dimple kept the grounds. Both of them helped him manage the household in the early years, back when he was too green and nervy to do it himself. Draco treated them well, paid them a handsome salary, negotiated a fair contract with a reasonable balance for their working hours and personal time, and had grown quite fond of them.

 

And, apparently, this convinced Mipsy she had leave to scold him and boss him around.

 

His father would have ironed her ears for it.

 

Draco was not his father. He glared at her for a long moment, both of them unblinking and tense, both of them unwilling to cede the battle for the kitchen.

 

Draco broke first. With a weary sigh, he shook his head. “Mipsy, how many times must I ask that you please call me Draco? For goodness sake, you’ve seen me in my nappies.”

 

“Seen you in them, and changed them, too.” She turned around and snapped her long, bony fingers. A high cabinet swung open, and a stack of cookbooks floated down to land in her waiting arms while she grumbled under her breath, “And if Master Draco gets his hands on Mipsy’s kitchen, he’s going to make a bigger mess than anything that used to be in his nappies.”

 

Disgusted, Draco blushed and scoffed at the uncouth comment, but decided to ignore it since she seemed to be amenable to helping him after all.

 

She stepped up onto a stool and dropped the books on the counter, where Draco studied them. “Right. I’ll just get started with this then. I’m sure I’ll be fine without you, but if you could just point me in the direction of the pots? And perhaps the pans? Maybe knives?”

 

Mipsy glared at him, but the look softened the longer she stared. “Is young Draco alright?”

 

“I don’t know,” he told her. “I…” The truth of it all caught in his throat. “I don’t know. But I know I’ll be better once I do this.”

 

“Fine.” Mipsy nodded and turned back to the mess of books all over the counter. “But Mipsy is helping. Not cooking! Draco can be doing the cooking. Mipsy will be sous chef.”

 

Draco considered this, and when no pain or nausea attacked him, he nodded. “Fair enough.”

 

Together, they flipped through book after book. Mipsy marked a few recipes and left them open for him to consider. There were several options, and the grubby little itch of instinct in Draco’s mind left him eager to get started. Potter had asked for this hours ago, after all. But which one did he want?

 

As Draco peered at all of the recipes, he was struck the sudden realization that his palate was terribly limited. Awfully Anglo-Saxon. Embarrassingly English. Woefully white. He’d have to ask Mipsy to start rotating a few international dishes into their dinner options. Not now. She’d smack him with a spoon for asking now.

 

For now, he would cook. Curry. It was only just that he’d never realized there were so many different sorts of curry.

 

It baffled him. Overwhelmed him. A different sort of anxiety swirled busy circles in his brain. This was important, after all. Potter had saved his life, saved everyone’s lives. The least Draco could do for him was cook him the right curry!

 

If only he knew what part of India Potter’s immigrant ancestors came from. Perhaps there was a local specialty. Or were they from Pakistan? Draco didn’t even know that much, let alone what recipes might be dear to his family tree.

 

As panic threatened to grip him, Draco hissed a few breaths in through his nose and glared at all of the options. How was he supposed to choose? It would be awful if he chose wrong! Just awful! It would make this whole thing pointless! He stopped the chaos in its tracks with a firm, unquestionable decision. “Right. We’re just going to have to make multiple. I’ve narrowed it down to these six, here.”

 

“Six?” Mipsy screeched. She caught herself before she reeled and fell back off the stool, but just barely. “Draco is going to make six curries and deliver them to Mr. Harry Potter in the middle of the night?”

 

“Yes.” It sounded more confident than Draco felt. He picked up the nearest book and read the ingredients he would need for chicken vindaloo. “Now could you please pass me the…ghee? J-hee?” He tried both a soft and hard G, but had to admit ignorance. “The clarified butter, please.”

 

“We is not having that ingredient, sir.”

 

“Oh.” Fine. There were other options. Draco reached for a book open to a Thai recipe. “How about the coconut milk?”

 

Mipsy shook her head.

 

Draco’s heart sank. “And I’m assuming we don’t have tamarind or fresh ginger or powdered garam masala, then?”

 

Mipsy sighed and shook her head.

 

It took a moment of back and forth battle in his head, but only a moment. He had to do this. Had to. It was, for the moment, his life’s purpose. He chewed on his lip and said, “Mipsy, I’m going to need you to run--”

 

She cut him off with a sharp glare and sharper tongue. “Don’t say it.”

 

A long stream of grumbled complaints accompanied her path through the kitchen and back to her private quarters. She returned a few minutes later, fully dressed (in a very lovely summer blouse, and loose trousers—Mipsy and Dimple’s daughter was a fashion designer and ran an elvish clothing boutique in Diagon Alley. Draco had invested in the business.) The grumbling continued on. And on. Right up until the moment she apparated out of the kitchen with a loud pop that left Draco’s ears ringing. All he could do was shake his head and sigh.

 

While Mipsy was out searching for a late night grocery, Draco attempted to make himself useful by gathering all of the tools and utensils he would need. Several cabinets yielded nothing helpful. Why did they have so many cabinets? Why did he not know where anything was in his own kitchen? In a fit of frustration, he flicked his wand and cast accio to summon all of his pots. Then, while doubled over and rubbing at new bruises, ears ringing from the clanging cacophony caused by fifteen pots barreling into his body and then falling to the tile floor, he acknowledged the flaw in his plan. Thank Merlin he’d decided to start by accio-ing the pots instead of the knives. Though it took more time, the rest of the equipment he found by hand.

 

When she returned with bushels of groceries, the two of them got to work. All of his potions experience meant Draco was good at chopping, slicing, and mincing. He was less good at things like sautéing, searing, and seasoning, but Mipsy guided him. A few times, when he was about to make an error, she smacked his hands away and corrected him. The entire time, she twitched and flinched and offered up a constant stream of advice on how Draco was doing fine, but really Mipsy herself could do so much better, if only Draco would get out of the way and let her…Draco resisted.

 

And by two am, they had six different curries, beautifully plated on fine China. Sweaty and rumpled, the kitchen a mess behind him, Draco stood with hands on hips and surveyed his creations. “Alright, then. That wasn’t so hard.”

 

He ignored Mipsy’s grumbling.

 

“Would you please contact the Potter household’s elf? We’ll need his assistance to deliver these.”

 

She popped out of the room and popped back in a few minutes later with a decrepit little creature, ancient and bent, who seemed strangely eager to help. Perhaps he, too thought Potter didn’t eat enough.

 

Since there were six plates and each of the elves only had two hands, the proceedings stalled while Mipsy went to wake her husband. The three of them loaded up the plates and apparated away.

 

And it was done! He had done it. Draco stood alone in the kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and chicken carcasses and jars of spice, sauce smeared across the countertops. It was all a riotous mess. Total chaos. But, with his task well accomplished, Draco felt at peace.

 

That peace cracked and splintered a bit when he thought more rationally about what he had just done. How would Potter take it? He would not react well, that was for certain. From all perspectives, this act made Draco look like an utter looney, and it would draw Potter’s ire. Negative attention from Potter was worse than no attention at all. On top of the damage this would do to his reputation, Draco didn’t know if his heart could handle the pain of Potter’s angry rejection.

 

“Can’t worry about that right now,” Draco said to himself. “Can’t. Simply cannot.” 

 

So he stopped thinking about Potter and got to work on the dishes.

 

 

***

 

 

Out of a deep and dreamless sleep, something pulled Harry towards consciousness. Rustling. Whispered voices. Strange scents. He vaguely registered these things as he clawed to wakefulness. Slowly.

 

He blinked a few times and smacked his dry tongue against the roof of his mouth. What was that smell? Spicy. Like…

 

He sniffed as he lifted his face out of the fluffy pillow where it was buried, and blinked his foggy eyes as he peered into the darkness of his bedroom.

 

A pair of eyes blinked back at him from the foot of the bed, their owner just barely at height with the mattress, so all Harry saw was a set of glowing orb-like eyes, and long pointed ears.

 

“Kreacher?” Harry croaked. “What are you doing?”

 

The responding voice came not from the foot of the bed, but to his right. It whispered, “A gift, for Mr. Harry Potter, sir.”

 

Harry whipped his head towards the voice, no longer drowsy at all but suddenly, vividly awake. Another set of eyes, house elf eyes, stared unblinkingly at him from just under the edge of the bed.

 

“Big fans of yours, we are, Mr. Harry Potter!” That was a third voice. On his left. Harry wheeled towards it and snatched his wand out from under his pillow on the way, heart racing. A third pair of eyes, house elf again, peered up at him on the other side of the bed. While Harry watched, disoriented and baffled, the little elf, a nicely dressed older gentleman, reached up to place two…disks? Plates. Plates of hot, spicy smelling food. Onto the edge of his mattress. “Harry Potter is a hero to house elves everywhere!”

 

Harry’s head jerked back and forth, ripped by movement on every side of him, while Kreacher and the other elf each placed their own offering of two plates of food onto the edges of his bed.

 

“What?” He sat bolt upright and gaped. “Why? A gift? Why did you need to bring me a gift at…” He shoved his glasses on and glanced at the clock on his bedside table. “At two in the morning!”

 

Synchronized, all three of them took a step back from the edge of the bed. One of them, the woman, nodded and curtsied. “A gift from Lord Malfoy, sir.”

 

That stopped Harry’s heart dead.

 

But before he could ask further questions, before he could react at all, all three of the house elves popped out of his bedroom.

 

“What the fuck?” Harry asked himself in the darkness. With his wand, he flicked on all the lights. Six plates of food surrounded him. All of them appeared to be various types of curry.

 

Harry lost it. “Malfoy! What the actual fuck?”

 

He knew it. He fucking knew it. Malfoy was up to something with that soup throwing! Ron had tried to convince him otherwise, but this just proved it. This was…deranged, it was uncanny, it was…evil? Probably! Probably evil!

 

Mostly, though, it was just really fucking weird.

 

Harry pressed a fist to his mouth and glared at the plates of curry. Had Malfoy heard him in the atrium, talking about wanting curry? Was Malfoy spying on him? Following him? Listening in on his conversations?

 

Down the hall, a door creaked open and footsteps ran to his door. Shit. Harry shook his head and chastised himself. He shouldn’t have yelled. He should have been able to control his anger, his confusion better than that.

 

He sighed as Teddy knocked and opened the door, his pajamas all wrinkled, a pillow crease marking a red line across his face. “Harry?”

 

“Yeah, mate. It’s alright. You can come in.”

 

The nervous look on Teddy’s little face, the anxious trembling of his lower lip, caught Harry’s heart and squeezed it till it ached. “Is everything alright? I thought I heard you yelling.”

 

Harry felt like the biggest prick on the planet. His shoulders sagged and he sat forward a little, still trapped under the blankets by the plates of food. “Everything’s fine. I did yell, but it’s okay. Just something weird. I’m sorry, though. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

 

Teddy nodded and relaxed a little. “Weird, like…something to do with why you’re in bed with a bunch of plates of food?”

 

“Yep. That was the weird thing.” That, and the fact that apparently Malfoy was responsible for this. That was weirder.

 

As he looked at the plates, Teddy’s eyes brightened and shifted from his normal brown to a bright green. “Is that tikka masala? Smells good! Can I eat some?”

 

“No! Definitely not.” Knowing Malfoy, there was far more to this than what it appeared to be, and Harry remembered well the time he’d had to shove a bezoar down Ron’s throat during that awful incident with Malfoy’s mead during sixth year. He scoffed and shook his head, bitter with the memory, with any thought of Malfoy. “It’s probably poisoned.”

 

“Poisoned?” Teddy’s eyes went wide and his lower lip quivered again. His voice shook and he huffed for air as his breath went short when he said, “Is someone trying to hurt you? Should we report them? Should we get the other aurors? I don’t want you to…to…”

 

He choked on the words as tears built up behind his eyes, and Harry burned with shame. “No, no, no! Mate, I’m sorry!” He scrambled to get out from under the blankets, to comfort his godson, who he had woken up and worried in the middle of the night, and now made cry. But the damn plates of curry kept him trapped. In a fit, he waved his wand and vanished them all at once, and then leapt out of bed. Teddy sniffled while Harry bent down and grabbed him by the shoulders. “No one is trying to poison me. Okay? It was a dumb thing to say.”

 

“Okay.” Teddy gulped and steadied his breathing, backed away from the edge of fear he’d been close to tumbling over.

 

Teddy Lupin was a nervous child. In all fairness, there was little chance for him to be anything else, what with his parents and his grandmother all dying before he turned eight. All his life had been upheaval, adults who loved him dying tragically before their time, constant change and heartache. He had been through too much in his short life.

 

When Andromeda passed away suddenly, her heart giving out without warning after years of strain from old curse damage, Harry took Teddy in immediately. He adored his godson and poured all his broken love into giving the boy a proper home. He did his best. But Teddy needed a lot of support, structure, and reassurance. He needed the security of a proper adult. And Harry…well. Harry often felt like he fell short of proper adulthood.

 

He often felt like he fell short of proper personhood.

 

They were bonded. Loved each other. Needed each other, even. But both were wounded in ways that were difficult to fix. Often, Teddy got caught up in spirals of anxiety, afraid something would happen to Harry.

 

And Harry, like a fucking idiot, had just claimed someone was breaking into their home at night to poison him. He rubbed a thumb over his godson’s cheekbone and wondered if he was, quite possibly, the world’s worst parental figure. “It was a bad joke, mate. I’m sorry. Nothing bad is going to happen to me.” His voice cracked a little, unable to stop himself from thinking about all the people who had already left this kid. He promised, “I’m not going to leave you.”

 

Eyes bright and sincere, Teddy met his gaze and nodded. His godson’s belief in him knocked Harry sideways sometimes. He wanted to give him everything he deserved in life. “I’m not going anywhere.” With a lighter, teasing tone that hid a deep, crushing sadness, Harry poked Teddy’s shoulder. “You’re the one who’s going to be leaving me!”

 

He hated himself for saying it. Hated the awful, desperate loneliness that crept up his spine and burned at his throat, even though he said the words with a laugh.

 

“Not yet, Harry!” Teddy pushed back, and then pushed his flop of soft brown hair off his forehead. His tone was lighter, the panic gone. “Not for two months and fifteen days. That’s ages away.”

 

Harry stood and smirked at him, but felt his own tingle of panic. Two months and fifteen days? That was all? That couldn’t be all they had left! “Oh, you’re counting down the days, are you? Can’t wait to get out of here?”

 

Teddy rolled his eyes. “Can’t wait to get to Hogwarts, more like. When do you think I’ll get my letter?”

 

“You have a few more weeks.” Harry climbed back into bed and set himself on the edge of it with his hands between his knees. “They go out at the beginning of July.”

 

“July’s not so far away. That’s brill.” He stared down at the floor for a moment and shifted his feet back and forth, like he was in thought. Or like he was trying to come up with an excuse to stay and talk to Harry for a while longer, still on edge. With a serious look, Teddy asked, “Do they have tikka masala at Hogwarts? Or korma? Or anything like that?”

 

Harry snorted a laugh. “No. Nothing like that.”

 

Disappointment pinched Teddy’s eyebrows together. “How about pad thai?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Pizza?” The sliver of hope in Teddy’s voice was precious.

 

Harry crushed it. “Not a chance.”

 

“Well, what do they even have to eat, then?”

 

Teddy sounded truly aghast, like he could not conceive of what foods existed in the world other than those staples. Probably because that was all he ate. Since Kreacher was too old to be trusted to cook without burning the place down these days, Harry fed his godson a steady diet of takeout and instant noodles. Fantastic. Great parenting. Ten out of ten for Harry Potter!

 

He rolled his eyes at himself and shook his head, but answered Teddy. “It’s good food. Mostly meat and potatoes. The house elves make it.”

 

Although, apparently, house elves were perfectly capable of making curry, if tonight’s delivery was any indication. Damn Malfoy. What the hell was he thinking? What was he planning?

 

Teddy stalled for another few minutes, his bare feet antsy on the creaky hardwood floors, while Harry’s eyes grew heavy. He had to wake up in four hours, get Teddy to the Weasley house, and then go to work for the day. He needed sleep. “Alright. It’s two thirty in the morning. It might be summer break for you, but I have to work tomorrow. Time to go back to bed.”

 

“Yeah, alright,” Teddy said, but he looked away and stayed put. “I’ll just…see you tomorrow, then.”

 

Oh. He was still nervous and scared. He didn’t want to be alone. The realization hit Harry like a bucket of ice water thrown at him, and the empathy he felt for this child swelled up so tender and hurting in his chest, he could barely breathe through it.

 

Also suffocating was the guilt he felt for being the one to cause this fear. The stupid comment about poison had rattled Teddy more than he’d thought.

 

“Come on, cub.” Harry threw back the corner of the blanket on the other side of the bed. “You can climb in with me for the rest of the night.”

 

Teddy chewed on his lip and looked small and guilty. “Really? You don’t mind?”

 

“Of course not.” Never. He never minded. It didn’t happen as often these days, so that made him mind even less. When Teddy had first moved in with him, he’d had to sleep in Harry’s bed the entire first year. Alone, he had awful nightmares. So did Harry, for that matter. Staying close helped. Once, Harry had woken up in the middle of the night to the touch of a hand hovering over his nose and mouth, and for one freaky second thought that his godson was trying to suffocate him. It had turned out to be the exact opposite. Teddy had been checking to make sure Harry was still breathing. Harry really did not know how to help soothe anxiety like that, so he did the only things he could do: loved him, kept him close, and tried not to make it worse. That last one, he often fucked up. While Teddy crossed the room to his side of the bed, Harry teased and asked, “Are you going to kick me all night?”

 

“No!”

 

“Yeah, right.” Harry grinned. When they both got settled under a light summer blanket, he turned off the lights.

 

A few minutes later, with the sound of his godson’s steady breaths alive and safe beside him, Harry let go of his tension over the Malfoy incident and drifted back to sleep.

 

Only to be snapped awake a second later by Teddy whispering, “Harry? Are you asleep?”

 

“No,” Harry mumbled into his pillow. “What’s wrong?”

 

He was silent for a second. And then said, “All that curry kind of made me really hungry.”

 

Harry sighed. He should tell Teddy to go back to sleep. It was nearly three in the morning, and he needed to be a good parental figure. He needed to do things like enforce bedtimes, discourage unhealthy snacking, and set boundaries. Hermione often told him all of that. He knew she was right. All the parenting books said so. And besides: Hermione was a good mum.

 

But he had hurt Teddy’s feelings and scared him, and Harry didn’t know how to be a disciplinarian or a proper parent. All he knew how to be was loving, and all he knew how to do was try to give his godson the affection he wished he’d had as a child. So, defeated, for the moment willing to be the worst parental figure in the world, Harry mumbled into the pillow, “Alright. Let’s go get some hot chocolate, then.”

 

“Hot chocolate? In the middle of summer?”

 

Harry turned himself over and sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Chocolate ice cream.”

 

“Wicked!”

 

Maybe this weird night had turned out alright. Still, he wasn’t about to thank Malfoy anytime soon. Not for anything. After all, it was his fault, due to his bizarre, inappropriate invasion that Teddy ended up scared in the first place. Yes, Harry thought to himself as he and Teddy sat at the kitchen table and ate spoonfuls of chocolate ice cream right out of the carton. This was all Malfoy’s fault.

Chapter Text

Trouble, strange and awful, did not take long to hunt Draco down the next morning. The Ministry atrium was nearly empty at the early hour, which Draco chose, in spite of his late and near-sleepless night, so as to avoid running into Potter. He stepped through the floo and out onto the polished floor, dusting off his robes and trousers as he went. A furtive glance around the wide hall confirmed Potter was nowhere in sight. Only a few early morning workers in drab suits, each minding their own business. Nothing to fear. Draco shook away his unease and set off across the atrium, his dress shoes clipping a pace that echoed pleasantly off the cavernous ceilings far above.

 

Echoing too much, now that he noticed it. The echo had an echo. Almost like…

 

By the time Draco reached the fountain, he knew someone was following him.

 

He stopped. The following footsteps stopped a second behind his own. Now he was in for it. Potter. Or one of his followers. Someone who wanted to teach him a lesson, no doubt. A lesson that would certainly involve fists, hexes, or both. Heart racing, Draco straightened up to his full height and attempted to project calm, proud certainty. He would be attacked. And he would be fine. He would be fine, and he would not let anyone see how badly this wounded him. He would not let anyone see him fall apart or show fear. He would keep his spine. Mouth pinched, brow aloft in a patented look of cool Malfoy disdain, Draco looked over his shoulder to see his attacker…

 

Was a lone middle aged witch? Who didn’t have her wand out?

 

Draco blinked. The woman, caught in the act of following him, blushed and ducked her head. With a dainty little hand, she wiggled her fingers to wave a greeting, and then glanced up at him and giggled. Caught off guard, Draco peered at the strange display and lifted a hand to wave a hello back. This caused her to squeal and to run off in the opposite direction, her heels clacking across the floor as she wobbled away.

 

Odd. Terribly odd. What was that about? Had Lavender spread some new rumor about him in an attempt to “help”?

 

No matter. He had other things to concern his mind and time. He shook off the strange, unsettled unease the encounter had draped over him and continued on.

 

No, that was no good. No good at all. Because by the time he crossed the other half of the atrium and approached the tall doors that led to the lifts and office hallways, he heard the echo again. But louder. And more disjointed. As if, perhaps, there were now several people following him. And the footsteps were accompanied by whispers and quiet, stifled giggles.

 

Draco stopped just short of the doors. The footsteps all stopped behind him. He gulped and slowly turned around.

 

A gaggle of onlookers, including that first witch, stood poised several feet behind him. They clustered together and whispered while they watched him. And all of them watched him. The middle-aged witch who hadn’t mastered running in heels, along with another witch and wizard about the same age, one elderly wizard wearing a monocle and plaid robes, a young auror recruit who couldn’t have been more than a year out of Hogwarts, and a rather pompous-looking barrister. All of them stared at him with wide eyes, and soft, adoring, and even bashful looks on their faces.

 

With staggering immediacy and fear that trembled the breath in his lungs, Draco suddenly recalled everything he had read in that survival guide about mountain lions.

 

Of all of them, only the young auror spoke. His voice cracked when he said, “Good morning, Draco!”

 

All of them inhaled and paused, hanging on to Draco’s every movement, his every heartbeat.

 

He managed to respond, “Hello.”

 

And that sent them all aflutter. A trill of juvenile, girlish giggling rippled through the blushing, staring group, and the barrister took a step forward.

 

Which Draco took as his cue to flee. It went against everything the guide said about mountain lions, but this was not a mountain lion. This was a pack of lunatics. He panicked, turned, and shoved his way through the doors before they could grab him. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed to refrain from full-on sprinting, but he power-walked as fast as his legs would carry him to the lifts. He pushed the button to summon the car.

 

Behind him, the atrium door swung open.

 

“Draco! Please come back!”

 

Dear Merlin, they’d followed him. Draco’s heart jumped up into his throat, and he jammed his finger against the lift button a few more times.

 

“Why did you run off, Draco?”

 

“You’re looking very handsome today, Draco! That color is so lovely on you.”

 

“What do you think about my robes today, Draco? I could change them if they’re not to your liking!”

 

Frantic, while the horde closed in on him from behind, Draco jabbed the lift button a dozen times in quick succession, as fast as his own heart was beating. It dinged!

 

“Have you eaten breakfast yet, Draco? I could buy you something!”

 

The tone here turned nasty. “He doesn’t want you to buy him something! He has me for that!”

 

“Why would he want you?”

 

A scuffle broke out and muffled grunts and thuds alarmed Draco, but he refused to turn around. He pushed the button again. Why wouldn’t the bloody doors open?!

 

“Why would he want anyone else but me? I’m going to take him on a date!”

 

“Well, I’m going to take him on a holiday!”

 

“Well, I’m going to take him--”

 

“He doesn’t want you!”

 

“—more class than that!”

 

“—pureblood courting custom dictates that he should be with--”

 

“I can change! Draco, if you hate my robes so much, I’ll change them right now!”

 

“You stay back!”

 

“—hands off my future husband!”

 

Oh, thank Jesus, Buddha, and Zeus, the doors slid open! His escape! Draco tumbled into the lift and dove to smack the button that would close the door. As it slid shut, he panted to catch his breath and stared, horrified, at the scene in the lobby. One of the witches in a brawl with the barrister, the young auror with his wand out looking for someone to hex, and the old man with the monocle stripped down halfway to his drawers. All of them, too much in a frenzy to notice he had escaped.

 

He had escaped! Thank Merlin, he had—

 

“Good morning.” A low, sultry voice on the other side of the lift jolted Draco. He flinched and tumbled into panic once more, and when he whipped around he came face to face with a young wizard he vaguely recognized from the Department of International Magical Cooperation. With nicely tailored robes and a chiseled jaw, he would have been handsome if not for the sleazy, lustful haze that clouded his features. He took a step toward Draco. “And might I just say, Mr. Malfoy, that you look absolutely exquisite this morning.”

 

“What the fuck?” Draco hissed, either to the universe or himself. Neither seemed to have any answers, though, and the wizard crowded towards him with his hands outstretched. Draco snapped. “No! You get back to the other side of the lift this instant.”

 

The wizard laughed. “Draco, darling, I do love how commanding you are. How have I never seen it before? Won’t you let me show you how I feel?”

 

Back against the wall, quite literally, Draco jabbed his wand into the man’s throat and growled, “You do any feeling, and you’ll find yourself short a pair of hands. Now back up, scum.”

 

The wizard pressed his palm to his chest, but he did take a step back. “Sweetheart, you wound me! But I’ll win your heart. You’ll see, in time!”

 

While he waxed eloquently about how he would charm Draco with his many virtues, which he then went on to list, Draco dodged and darted to the other side of the lift to press the emergency stop button. As the car shuddered to a halt, the magical telecom voice politely announced, Magical Games and Sports, which was two levels off from where Draco needed to be. He dove off the elevator anyway and ran, this time really ran, away from the creep.

 

“Good morning, gorgeous!”

 

“Well, don’t you look fit?”

 

“Where are you running off to? You’ve been running through my mind all night!”

 

This hall was no better. Every doorway he passed, onlookers popped out to admire him and pay him awful, lusty compliments. He groaned to himself, ripped at his own hair, and kept running until he reached the stairs at the other end of the building. Up two levels, panting all the way, Draco was too focused on catching his breath to cry, even though he really rather wanted to. A morning of non-stop sexual harassment and near-assault did that to a person. Still, he took a breath, put his armor back on, and stepped through the door into the lobby of Revenue and Customs.

 

Now, if only he could just sit at his desk and bury himself in paperwork, perhaps this would all fade. He could do what he always did, what he had done for years: keep his head down, stay quiet, and do good work. No one would bother him. Everything would just go back to normal, like it was before…before he started obsessing over Harry Potter’s eating habits, before he started having intrusive thoughts about feeding Potter so strong they made him sick, before he started cooking elaborate meals just to please Potter and his own haywire instincts, before his new werewolf friend told him his scent had changed, before people started trying to grope him in the lifts, before crowds of people started chasing him with love-struck delusions like he was the most beautiful…alluring…alluring…allure…

 

A sob ripped from Draco’s chest.

 

No. No, no, no.

 

All of it, all of the strange and awful happenings of the past few days, coalesced into something heavy and dense with meaning, and that meaning slammed into him all at once. It knocked the breath out of him. In the Revenue and Customs lobby, while his Employee of the Month photo sneered down at him in cool, detached judgement, Draco gasped for air. He couldn’t breathe. The office spun around him while his stomach lurched, his vision went spotted and hazy. He couldn’t do this. This…this…

 

“Draco? Are you alright?” Margery stood from her desk and waddled over to him, the shape of her a peacock blue blob through the burn of tears that built up in Draco’s traitor eyes. She reached out for him.

 

He turned and fled.

 

 

***

 

 

Another thing to know about Draco Malfoy, a thing that he had quite forgotten and had never really thought much about to begin with: his great, great grandmother had been a veela.

 

 

***

 

 

The bones in Draco’s arse ached, and his back was stiff after an hour and a half sitting on the cold, dirty floor of a broom closet. Tucked back in amongst the mops and buckets, under a shelf of cleaning supplies, Draco sat with his legs bent up in front of him, arms wrapped around his knees. His eyes were fuzzy and his head ached with a low thrum of pressure. He’d had himself a bit of a cry. Was the awful feeling, the horror of his recent discovery, out of his system? No. Far from it. But he didn’t have much energy left to think it through at the moment, and so he sat, alone, aching, cold, and terrified to leave the cupboard.

 

There were people outside the cupboard. All he wanted was to go home, and for the first time in years he decided to skip work for the day. But how could he get home without walking past dozens, maybe hundreds, of other people? People who would be drawn in by his...his…

 

He shuddered and wouldn’t let himself think it. It was too awful.

 

Footsteps approached the closet door, and Draco tensed until they went past, just like he had with all the other sounds of life out in the hallway. Except this time the footsteps didn’t go past. They stopped right outside the door.

 

Oh no. Someone had found him! Draco scooted back and pressed his spine more firmly against the wall.

 

The person knocked, two quick raps of knuckles against the wood door, and then stepped inside. “Draco? I know you’re in here.”

 

Lavender. Dammit. That was the last thing he needed. Well, maybe not the last thing. But he’d been rather excited about the prospect of a new friend, and now…she’d try to molest him against her own will, he’d have to fight her off, it would be terribly awkward. They’d never be able to speak again, and Draco would have to flush that potential friendship right down the toilet. Quietly, filled with uncomfortable regret, Draco reached for his wand. Perhaps he should grab a mop, too, just to have something else to defend himself.

 

“Are you alright? I heard what happened this morning.” She shut the door behind her, trapping them in the small space. A tumble of hair preceded her as she leaned down to peek at Draco, hiding under the shelving. Her smile was kind and sympathetic. Not at all lascivious or lustful or heart-eyed. “Hi. How’s it going down there?”

 

“That depends.” Draco studied her, his apprehension fading into simple petulant grumpiness and woe. “Are you here to jump my bones and declare your undying love?”

 

“No force on this planet is strong enough to get me to do that.” She sat down across from him and folded her legs under her so she looked rather like a mermaid sunbathing on a rock. A pretty one. “I think you’re awful.”

 

Draco snorted and huffed. “Everyone else usually does, too. Hasn’t stopped them.”

 

She patted his knee, a little too rough. More like a slap than a pat, really. But it was somewhat comforting nevertheless. “So. You finally figured out that you have a creature inheritance, then?”

 

With a long, soul-sucking sigh, Draco flopped his head down, buried it in his knees, and nodded. But then the odd specificity of her wording sunk in and he sat right back up again to glare at her. “You knew?”

 

She nodded. “I figured it out yesterday.”

 

Draco threw his head back and shouted, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“I didn’t think it was any of my business.”

 

“Any of your business,” Draco muttered as he tucked his knees in tighter, an attempt to make his body as surly and pointy and untouchable as possible. “Well, it certainly was my business! Would have been nice if someone had bothered to inform me!”

 

“You really didn’t know?”

 

Draco stared at her for a long second, his mouth hanging open. “Do I appear to be in the know? Do I look like a man who was well-prepared for this?”

 

Lavender pursed her lips. “No, you look like a man who’s hiding in a broom closet.”

 

“Indeed. I look very much like a man who is hiding in a broom closet.” Draco glared at her. “Probably because, I am, in fact, a man who is hiding in a broom closet.”

 

Before he could continue on with a sob story, Lavender cut him off. “I’m sorry, Malfoy. I thought you knew. When I figured out what was going on, I thought I must have noticed the change because you’d been on suppressants and decided to stop taking them. Which would have been none of my business! I didn’t imagine until the chaos this morning that you really didn’t know what was going on.”

 

Irritable, Draco pouted and shrugged. He stared at a crack in the flooring.

 

Lavender pressed on. “How could you not know? I mean, I know it’s different with werewolves, because we usually get bit. But I’ve never heard of someone having creature abilities and not knowing anything about them. How is that possible?”

 

“I don’t know!” Draco snapped, and a rush of embarrassment heated his cheeks. More calmly, he said, “I don’t know. I knew that I had an ancestor, a great-great grandmother, who was a veela. But we didn’t talk about her. During the war especially, with all of the…values…”

 

Smug and amused, Lavender nodded. “It is a bit ironic, isn’t it? Lucius Malfoy, one of the biggest pureblood supremists in the world, wasn’t actually pureblood.”

 

It was probably not the moment to explain that up until recently, until the ideological fervor leading to the first wizarding war, pureblood had meant purely magical blood. Nearly every pureblood family had veela, or mermaid, or goblin blood in their line! It was nothing to be ashamed of…until He Who Must Not Be Questioned came along and declared it shameful.

 

“We didn’t talk about it. Kept it secret. I didn’t know much about it at all. I especially didn’t know that I…” The words caught in his throat. He forced out a gentler version. “That I, myself, someday might display those traits.”

 

“I’m sorry. But now you know. There are ways to manage it.” She stretched out her legs and splayed them in front of her, much less lady-like than before. Draco didn’t blame her. This floor was awful. She grinned, raised her eyebrows, and poked his leg. “And hey! On the plus side! Now you’ll never have to worry about finding a date ever again. You can pick anyone you’d like for a shag!”

 

Even though Draco knew she was teasing, he was far too grumpy and busy drowning in self-sorrow to be amused. And anyway, the idea rather horrified him for a multitude of reasons. He pouted and said, “I’m asexual. Or, grey, anyway. Demisexual, I suppose. And also, that would be wildly unethical!”

 

“Oh.” Lavender thought for a moment and then bounced back with another suggestion. “Well, then you can pick anyone you want and have someone to go to the zoo with!”

 

At this earnest attempt to make him smile, Draco actually did laugh a bit and roll his eyes. “Is that what you like to do for fun? Go to the zoo?”

 

“Nah.” She shuddered and wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Makes me too hungry.”

 

While Draco laughed at the image that evoked, werewolf Lavender drooling and slavering as she stared at the penguin exhibit, he groaned and buried his head in his knees once more. He did not want to be amused right now! He wanted to be miserable! Friends were awful.

 

“Does you being a veela have something to do with Harry Potter and you throwing food at him? Or was that unrelated?”

 

Awful. Simply awful. Draco didn’t know why he’d ever thought he wanted a friend in the first place. Especially since he knew the answer, and it was a very uncomfortable truth he’d come to while sitting here alone and questioning everything he’d ever done in his life. It was the only thing that made sense. The sickness, the instincts, the uncontrollable urge to feed Potter, to serve him, to care for him…All of that could only mean one thing. He sighed and grumbled into his kneecaps, “He’s my mate.”

 

Lavender gasped. “That’s awful!”

 

“I know! Trust me, I know.”

 

“These instincts are all of a sudden making you attracted to someone you’re not even interested in? Like fate deciding for you? That’s terrible.”

 

“No…not quite.” Alright, so maybe it was not as awful as that. That would have been truly unbearable. No, it was awful for different reasons. He should stop himself from saying any more. They really didn’t need to talk about this. He really didn’t need to pour all this out after years of carrying it. Really, now. It was good judgement to keep some things a secret. It was the way he had always protected himself, and no good could come of anyone knowing—“The feelings were already there.”

 

Now why in Merlin’s good name had he just said that? Against his smarter nature, he kept talking.

 

“The veela awakening didn’t make this happen. I already had feelings for him. When the veela instincts kicked in, they just…” Draco shrugged. He wasn’t actually sure, to be fair. All he knew was what he felt, what he had felt for years before all this nonsense started. “Recognized him. I suppose.”

 

“Oh.” That got Lavender to be quiet, for once. In sympathy, completely sentimental and awful, she looked at him. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Yeah.” There was nothing more to say on it, really. Draco sat up and stretched some of the ache out of his back, adjusted his arse on the cold stone floor.

 

Lavender only let the quiet of the cramped cupboard linger for another second. “Wait, so what does that thing mean that you said? Demisexual? Does that mean you’re attracted to…demigods? And that’s why you like Harry Potter?”

 

Draco sputtered and shook his head. “Harry Potter isn’t a demigod!”

 

“He might be!” Lavender grinned and kicked at him with a spiked heel, her slim pencil skirt riding up her thigh. “He did survive the killing curse twice!”

 

“No!” Huffy and annoyed, mostly annoyed that she was actually getting him to laugh, but also still annoyed that she was here, Draco rolled his eyes. “No. It just means that I don’t experience sexual attraction until I already have feelings for someone. An emotional connection.”

 

Deep in her throat, Lavender hummed. “So, if you were going to go to the zoo--”

 

“Why the zoo? I’ll remind you that I never said anything about the zoo!”

 

She ignored him and said, thoughtfully, while she stared up at a bottle of Mrs. Marigold’s Spotless Floor Cleanser, “You might enjoy going to the zoo with all sorts of people as friends. But you’d have to go to the zoo with someone a few times, and on picnics, and to an amusement park, and a holiday at the shore before you started getting hot for them and feeling like you really wanted to shag them?”

 

“Yes. I suppose.” Draco blinked. “Dear Merlin, is that really what dating looks like these days? Or do you just have the romantic sensibilities of a second year?”

 

“Or, I suppose since you’re attracted to Harry Potter, your idea of ways to build an emotional connection is more…get into fights, argue, kick each other’s arse in Quidditch games, fight each other in a war.” She laughed to herself and Draco considered hitting her with a mop. Why did he tell her this? She pulled herself out of her amusement long enough to ask him, “Wait, you don’t date?”

 

“Of course I don’t date. I’m socially ostracized! I also don’t have friends, if you hadn’t noticed.”

 

“Oi!” She kicked him. “You have me!”

 

“Ow!” Draco rubbed at his shin. “Yes, as of three days ago! At most!”

 

“Draco!” Lavender gasped and pressed a hand to her heart. All of her fingernails were painted a soft, pale pink. She lifted up onto her knees and towered over him, imposing and feminine with her blazer and her curls. “Six years we’ve worked together! All these years we’ve been friends, and you say something like that? We’ve only been friends for three days, my arse.”

 

“It might have been nice if, rather like knowing I was a veela, you had…oh, I don’t know.” Draco glared at her and waved his hands in a distinctly un-posh manner. “Told me!”

 

Lavender cackled laughter while she sat back down and leaned against a large, yellow bucket, her legs invading Draco’s personal space.

 

The sight of her so rumpled, so amused, was heartwarming. So, too, was the fact that she’d hunted him down and come to sit with him on the dirty floor of a closet while he had a breakdown. He’d not had a friend like that since… He gulped and swallowed down emotion. He’d never had a friend like that. Crabbe and Goyle had the emotional acuity of flobberworms. Pansy had tried sometimes, but her affection was always performative—fawning and doting when it looked good, void of any real support. But here was Lavender, someone he’d disdained three days ago, sitting on the floor with her skirt rumpled up, one shoe hanging off her foot, her hair caught on a dustpan…trying to make him laugh on a bad day.

 

It worked. He hid his face and laughed. Only a little. But it helped.

 

They laughed themselves out and sat together in the quiet. After a moment, Lavender nudged Draco’s foot with her own. “How long?”

 

His mouth went dry and his heart picked up speed, nervous, because he knew what she was asking. How long had he loved Harry Potter? How long had he had these feelings? Simply, he whispered, “Years.”

 

“Have you ever told him?”

 

He snorted and shook his head. “Hell no.”

 

She chewed on her lower lip and said softly, “Maybe Harry Potter would want to go to the zoo with you sometime.”

 

At this, Draco stilled and blinked. “You think?” When she shrugged, he quirked an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should go throw another bowl of soup at him while I issue the invitation?”

 

Lavender winced. “That was not ideal.”

 

“Or! I know how to win him over! Maybe I should make him six different curries and have a team of house elves deliver them directly into his bed at two in the morning.”

 

“Definitely don’t do that.”

 

Draco shrugged and felt completely miserable again. “Too late.”

 

“Oh no! Draco, you didn’t!” She scooted closer, and before Draco knew what was happening, he’d been yanked into a sideways hug. He was rather taken aback by this, but allowed it, even when Lavender flopped her head over and rested it on his shoulder, her curls fluffy in his face. “You beautiful idiot.”

 

Draco blinked a few times before he realized why, and then he quite abruptly noticed he was crying again. He sniffled and got a strong whiff of Lavender’s styling products, and then slowly lowered his own head to the side so it rested on top of hers. This was strange. And rather nice. His voice came out shakier than he’d expected it to when he said, “Thank you for sitting with me. And thank you for telling everyone I have a brain tumor, even though that was an objectively terrible thing to do.”

 

“That’s what friends are for.” She grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let him pull away. Her palms were a bit sweaty, soft and very warm. “Want me to keep that rumor going?”

 

“No.” Draco sighed. “It’s very kind of you, but inevitably, people will be annoyed when I don’t die.”

 

“Fake your death and move to Australia?”

 

“Tempting. Especially after Soup-pocalypse and The Great Curry Cataclysm.”

 

Lavender laughed but then smacked his shoulder. “Come on.” She stood up and dusted off her skirt. “You can’t sit in here until closing.”

 

Draco winced, because that was exactly what he had planned to do. “I can’t exactly walk through the crowds right now, what with my…veela allure.” He shuddered. “Acting up.”

 

“True.” Lavender held out her hand and Draco allowed her to heave him to his feet. “But I’m immune. And no one will bother you if you have a badass werewolf body guard. I’ll get you to the floos, and you can go home for the rest of the day. I’ll cover for you.”

 

“You’re a saint,” he said while she brushed dust off his shoulder.

 

“And don’t you forget it.” She took a step back and gestured at herself. “Do I look alright? Everything in place? I swear, people around here are vicious. I had one bad hair day, one time, and people started whispering about how the wolf was taking over and I wasn’t fit to work in an office.”

 

Draco winced and tried not to think of all the times he’d thought of Lavender as vapid or too appearance-obsessed, and he pushed one of her stray curls back into place. “Perfect.”

 

Together, they stepped out into the hall, just outside the entrance to Revenue and Customs. It was deserted, thank Merlin. Now, if they could just get down to the atrium unassaulted—

 


“Get back in! Get back in!” Lavender hissed as she shoved him back into the cupboard and slammed the door shut.

 

Draco had enough time to sputter and blink like a bewildered fish, before he heard a second set of footsteps out in the hall.

 

Someone swung open the door and left the Revenue and Customs offices in a hurry, their gait stomping and agitated. 

 

“Oh, hi, Harry!” Lavender’s voice was chipper and friendly, although muffled through the walls of the closet. “Fancy seeing you around here. What brings you to Revenue and Customs today?”

 

“Lavender. Hi.” Potter sounded flustered. Annoyed. “You work here?”

 

“Sure do! Does the auror department need some assistance?”

 

“No, no. I’m here on a personal matter. Have you seen Draco Malfoy around?”

 

Draco’s heart stopped.

 

“Malfoy? Is he not at his desk?” Sweet and saccharine, Lavender painted the lie on thick. “Well, I can’t imagine where he’d be. He’s such a great co-worker! So diligent. Our best employee, really. And funny, too!”

 

Was she trying to talk him up? To Potter? Who was probably looking to strangle him for all the curries? Draco winced and hid his head in his hands.

 

She kept going, though. “You know, he hasn’t been feeling well lately, though. Perhaps he’s at home sick. You know, I heard the most tragic news. People are saying that he might have a--”

 

“Yeah, fine Lavender.” Potter cut her off before she could announce his impending death by brain tumor. “If you see him, tell him I’m looking for him, alright?”

 

“Alright, I’ll let him know!” She chirped pleasantries while Potter stomped down the hall. “Bye, Harry! Enjoy the rest of your day!”

 

A few seconds of tense, hesitant silence, and then Lavender opened the closet door.

 

“Thank you,” Draco said while she dragged him out and looped her arm through his. Too drained and weary to do anything else, he let her guide him through twisting hallways. Along the way, she used her keen senses of smell and hearing to avoid anyone who might try to rip Draco’s pants off.

 

“No problem,” she said. “You can make it up to me next week. Once you get the allure under control, we’re having a pub night, and you’re going to buy all my drinks!”

 

Draco huffed a laugh. “For this? I’ll buy you the pub.”

 

 

***

 

 

On the floor, surrounded by every book on veela and creature inheritance the Manor housed, Draco glared and admitted defeat. He’d read relevant passages in dozens of tomes during his day off work and the weekend that followed. Skipping tomorrow was not an option. Yet, there were things he could not find the answers to. With no other option left to him, he grit his teeth and forced himself to knock on the door to his mother’s sitting room.

 

Golden summer sunlight poured in through the high windows and set the room aglow. His mother had redecorated a few years back, and the room was done in rich jewel tones and clean ivory, a sophisticated but colorful change from the ornate and bloody décor in the old days. In a winged arm chair, Narcissa Malfoy sat reading and thinking, with her heels politely crossed under the layers of her robes and skirts. She looked up from her book, her face serene, elegant, and unreadable. “Yes, darling?”

 

“I need to speak to you about a rather urgent matter.”

 

She blinked, the only indication of her surprise and trepidation. Draco had learned the delicate art of mask-wearing from his expert mother. With a polite smile, she welcomed him to sit in the chair across from her own. “I’ll call for tea.”

 

In stiff silence, they sat and waited for Mipsy to bring the tea service. Draco leaned forward in his chair and twisted his fingers in knots while the elf set the platter and its clinking cups and spoons onto the small table. He fidgeted and taped his foot while his mother thanked Mipsy and then set to work adding sugar and milk to her own tea cup. He twitched and sweated through the back of his dress shirt while she lifted her cup and took a dainty sip. It was only then, with her tea cup poised in one elegant hand, that she looked at Draco. “What seems to be troubling you?”

 

He announced it without preamble. “I’m a veela.”

 

Narcissa coughed and sputtered her sip of tea.

 

Draco tried not to delight in the breach of etiquette.

 

“You are not a veela.” Deliberate and with a bit too much force, she set the cup down and dabbed at her mouth with a silk napkin.

 

Draco rolled his eyes. “Mother, I quite assure you--”

 

“You are a wizard,” she insisted. “Who has a small amount of veela ancestry, and who has inherited some unique veela traits.”

 

“That doesn’t feel like a particularly important distinction right now.”

 

She lifted one eyebrow and pinned him with a quelling look. “Draco, I assure you, you don’t have nearly enough feathers to consider yourself a full veela.”

 

Thank Merlin for that.

 

Draco sighed and slumped in his chair until she cleared her throat and, on instinct, like a naughty child, he straightened up. While his mother lifted her cup once more and traced her finger lovingly over the purple floral pattern on the ancient bone china cup, Draco attempted to reign in his annoyance. He sighed and tried again. “I appear to have inherited some veela traits, which are now, quite unexpectedly, manifesting.”

 

She looked up from her tea cup. Polite and sincere, she said, “That is quite unexpected news, darling, and I can only imagine how distressful the experience must be for you. Please, tell me more about it.”

 

With great restraint, Draco kept from rolling his eyes again, but he did launch into a simple telling of the past week’s events. With names redacted, of course.

 

At the end of it, Draco asked, “Did you know?”

 

Delicate, and thoughtful, she nodded a little. “I knew it was a possibility, yes. Your father also inherited a few veela characteristics, you know.”

 

Draco flinched and startled because no, he did not know. He very much did not know. Should he be angry such a thing had been kept from him? He shook his head and looked away, focused for a moment on the potted fern against the wall. Probably not. It was typical of his parents to keep unsavory things secret, to lie and spin false narratives, to hide weak spots. To protect him. To protect themselves. A Slytherin trait. The Malfoy way.

 

Narcissa set her cup down once more so she could make better use of her hands while she spoke. “We always knew there was the possibility that you would have veela traits, too. Back in the old days, it would have been seen as a blessing. A mark of good magical fortune. But then, as attitudes changed and pureblood tradition narrowed, we kept it quiet. Most—not all, but most—people with veela traits start to manifest them during puberty. Your father and I always said that if you started to develop them, we’d get you on suppressants right away, and no one ever need know.”

 

Draco nodded along and chewed on the inside of his cheek as the information his mother shared painted an awful, devastating, terrifying picture. Bad as this was, Draco thanked Merlin and Salazar and all of his wizarding forefathers that he had not suddenly developed a lust-inducing creature inheritance while surrounded by the wrong sort in the middle of a war.

 

His mother reached out and placed a hand on his knee. With full sincerity, unguarded, she said, “What is it you need to know, dear? I’ll share with you anything I can, anything I learned from your father.”

 

His mother rarely did anything unguarded. Speaking about his father was especially difficult for her, even now. They had loved each other dearly, once. Draco knew that much. The first war tested their marriage. The second war cracked it and nearly broke it apart. And then, Lucius had been imprisoned and kissed by dementors before they’d ever had a chance to repair the damage done between them. It was a difficult subject for her to talk about, and Draco was grateful that her love and care for him was strong enough to overcome the pain of discussing it.

 

“The allure,” he said, “seems to be the most pressing issue.”

 

She sat back in her chair and nodded once. “That, you will learn to control in time. It is something you can release or hold back at will, as you choose to use or contain it. In the meantime, it will be tied to your emotional states. To keep it in check, make sure you get enough sleep, eat proper meals, and avoid any activities that might illicit strong emotional responses.”

 

“Got it.” Draco nodded. Discouraging that there was no immediate fix, but at least now he knew why it had flared the other morning. He’d not gotten any sleep the night before. If there was one thing Draco Malfoy could do well, it was control himself, recent Potter-food incidents notwithstanding. This, he could achieve. “And the issues with the…mate…related…activities?”

 

“Mating rituals.” She said it simply and without shame, as if she hadn’t just compared her son to some wild beast. Only bears and lions and peacocks and things had mating rituals.

 

“Right. Those.” One other thing Draco hadn’t been able to confirm came to mind. “This… person. The person my veela instincts seem to recognize as my mate. That’s not chosen at random, is it? That’s not something that the veela nature forced? It’s not fate or destiny or an unbreakable bond or any of that tripe, is it?”

 

“No. Your veela instincts would only recognize someone as a mate once you had already developed feelings for them.”

 

Exactly as he had suspected. Thank goodness. It was a comfort to know there was no mystical, magical bond tying him to Potter. Just his own stupid heart, which was easily ignored.

 

“And I won’t…I don’t know.” He threw his hands up and glared up at the gold crown molding around the ceiling. “Die? If this person doesn’t agree that we’re mates?”

 

His mother’s laugh was the chime of a tinkling bell. “No, dear. Don’t be silly. And it is perfectly possible to end a relationship with one mate, move on, fall in love with someone else, and have your instincts recognize that next person as just as legitimate a mate. You are not a djinn, trapped in a lamp and enslaved to someone else’s whims, Draco. You have a choice in this.”

 

He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “It really doesn’t feel like I have much choice, though! When the urges hit, I mean.”

 

“Well. Those?” She looked away and busied herself with her teacup again. “No, those you don’t have much choice in at all, I’m afraid.”

 

“Mother!”

 

“At first, darling! Only at first.” She took a breath while he pouted. “When your instincts first wake, when they first recognize someone as your mate, they can be very overpowering. In the beginning, it’s best to just follow along with them. Resist, and you end up following through anyway, albeit in rather ridiculous and extreme forms. And besides, your instincts know best how to care for this particular person, how to provide what they need. Let those instincts guide you through the beginning of the courting process.”

 

Pensive, Draco considered this. Why had his instincts chosen so strongly to feed Potter? Why was that the thing he needed most? And why now, why not years earlier? He didn’t know. He did know, however, that it didn’t matter. There was no way in hell Harry Potter would ever want to be courted by him. In a small voice, scared to disappoint her, he asked, “And if I choose not to court this person or pursue a relationship with them at all?”

 

She hid her surprise, though it strained her voice. “Well, then I suspect you’re going to have a few weeks of awkward encounters. The instincts to feed them will continue, and if you want to avoid any more outbursts it would be best if you don’t fight the urges. Which, if you’re not courting this person, will look…” She cleared her throat. “Odd. Quite odd, indeed. Who is it, if you don’t mind my asking?”

 

“Harry Potter.”

 

“Oh dear.” She pursed her lips. “You threw a bowl of soup all over the savior of the wizarding world?”

 

Dismal, Draco nodded.

 

She pressed finger to her mouth in thought, and then tilted her head, considering. One of her shoulders, wrapped in periwinkle blue silk, lifted in a shrug. “To be fair, that’s hardly the worst thing you’ve ever done to him.”

 

What was she thinking of, the time he stomped on Potter’s nose and broke it? All the times he’d mocked him for having no family? How about all the times he said horrible things about Potter’s friends? Or the time he tried to crucio him? Or the time he nearly murdered Potter’s mentor? Or how about that time he sided against him in a war? That should make Draco feel better about his courting chances! There were just so many incidents to choose from that were worse than the soup throwing! Draco glared at her, a bit dumbstruck. “Yes, Mother. That’s precisely the point.”

 

“I can see how that will make your courtship a bit of a challenge.”

 

Of course, she spoke as if it would happen anyway. He shouldn’t have told her anything. Now, she’d be planning for his eventual marriage to Harry Potter! Before he could nip that notion in the bud, though, she brought up the worst of it.

 

“Awful for your public image, too. I can’t imagine the soup incident was well-received.”

 

All the fight and argument drained out of him at the painful, pointed understatement. He’d worked so hard for so long. And now, his stupid, foolish veela traits had ruined it all. No one would ever respect him or take him seriously again. Once everyone found out he was courting Potter, even unrequited, they’d drive him out of town.

 

His mother saw the distress on his face and reached out to take his hand in both of her own. Voice and eyes steely, she told him, “Draco. You are more resilient and admirable than anyone gives you credit for. You will get through this.”

 

It felt more like an order than a reassurance or comfort.

 

She patted him on the hand and pulled away when he nodded.

 

And maybe she was right. Maybe he could just ride it out, feed Potter a few more ridiculous meals and then go back to his quiet, unassuming life. But at this point, he rather wished he actually had that brain tumor everyone kept talking about.

Chapter Text

Two hours into Monday, and a commotion of noise out in the hall had Draco tensed and ready to flee his desk.

 

Mr. Caruthers, all pleasant and booming, said, “This way, Mr. Potter. I’m happy to escort you--”

 

“Yeah, thanks.” Quick and clipped, accompanied by stomping footsteps and rustling robes, Potter cut him off. “I can handle it from here.”

 

“Well, if you’re sure…” Caruthers called after Potter as he brute-force smashed his way down the office hall. “Malfoy is one of our best analysts! Anything the auror department needs, I’m sure he’ll be happy to help!”

 

Which meant Draco had just enough time to panic, but not enough time to flee, before an irate, snarling Harry Potter thundered into his office. Tension and power radiated off his wiry, compact figure, and his red robes whipped behind him like he was some avenging angel, out for justice. Out for blood.

 

Draco’s.

 

He gulped.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Malfoy?” Without preamble, Potter marched right up to his desk. The heavy footsteps of his shiny dragon hide boots were muffled on Draco’s plush decorative rug.

 

And those boots. Damn, those boots. The way they hugged his calves just so…

 

No! Not the time. Not the moment. Draco jerked his head up to look at Potter, towering over him with a scowl, all lean and sparking energy. The soft fly-aways of his messy black hair looked near-electric.

 

Draco cleared his throat and glanced down at the forms on his desk. “Tax analysis?”

 

“Tax analysis?” Potter snarled a laugh and shifted from foot to foot, antsy and itching. “You know what I’m talking about!”

 

Did he? Draco, suddenly flushed and nervously breathless, wasn’t so sure. Potter was close to him. Very close. And very angry. Potter angry had always been such an invigorating sight. Like a caged tiger. Like a dragon bolted down in chains. There was a sense about him that something, some restraint, was forcibly containing all of his raw, glorious power, and God help them all if that restraint snapped. It was intoxicating, to stand so close to something capable of eating you alive, knowing that it wanted to, but that it wouldn’t.

 

Potter angry had always been a tantalizing dance on a knife’s edge. Safe danger. No less thrilling now than when he’d been fourteen and determined to rile, to challenge.  

 

There were other things he loved about Potter, other qualities he loved him for, some of them much finer and more admirable. But damn, it was a surprise to find he had rather missed this dance of theirs.

 

Would he kiss with raw power like this? Go to bed? Was he always a jumble of pent up, barely contained energy? Did he ever uncage it? Did he ever calm? Would kissing him set him more on fire, or would it soothe him?

 

Wait. Potter had asked him a question. And Draco, like a complete imbecile, had been staring at the curling sneer on Potter’s upper lip and panting.

 

“Ah! Yes. The…” Draco cleared his throat and dragged his eyes away from the line of Potter’s jaw. “Unfortunate incident. In the canteen last week. I do apologize for that. It was a freak accident.”

 

Even as he said the words, Draco knew they wouldn’t work. There was no way Potter would believe him.

 

“That was an accident?” Potter glared, his eyes unbelievably green behind his glasses. “Fine! I might be able to believe that was an accident! But the--”

 

Calm and rational, Draco took over the ending to that sentence. “The curry I delivered to your home was my way of apologizing. For the aforementioned canteen incident. Which was an accident, as I said.”

 

Tense, furious, Potter glared at him for a long, heavy moment. Then, he leaned in close and braced a hand on the desk. Draco sat pinned to his chair while Potter loomed over him and trapped him.

 

His heart threatened to burst. His breath rushed in and out of him in shaky, thin hisses. But he kept eye contact.

 

Mountain lion.

 

“Listen to me very carefully, Malfoy.” Potter growled the warning, his eyes burning. On the desk, his hand balled into a tight fist, the veins and tendons straining against his skin. And Draco gulped. Potter was so close, he could feel his breath, could feel the wild heat radiating off of him. Voice low and deep, he said, “You might have all of these people fooled. You might have everyone thinking you’re alright these days, that you’re respectable and harmless. But I know what sort of person you really are. I know you’re up to something. I will find out what it is.”

 

Potter stared at him, sized him up.

 

And Draco squirmed in his chair. It was too much. The dragon straining against its chain. Mere inches away from total annihilation. So close. Intimidating. Thrilling. His blood rushed through him, hot and singing. His neck flushed. Arousal unfurled deep in his groin and shivered up and down his spine.

 

This. How could he have forgotten this?

 

He was wrong, he realized. He had been wrong. He’d thought Potter’s anger, his negative attention, his rejection would all be worse than no attention at all. It was how he’d treated the affliction of his love, his desire, for all these long years. Head down. Quiet. Out of sight. Don’t draw attention to it.

 

He had forgotten. He had forgotten this terrible, brilliant, burning thing that he had known so well at age twelve, at thirteen, at fifteen. As Potter loomed over him, threatened him, pinned him with the full force of his attention, Draco felt, for the first time in years, viciously, wildly alive.

 

And why shouldn’t he? There was no way to cover this, no lie he could tell that would make his strange behavior seem reasonable. More than that, it was going to continue. He’d already trashed his reputation, and things would only get worse as his veela awakening settled. Why not have some fun with it?

 

Instinct took over. Cruel and cunning, Draco let his face twist with a mean look as he leaned in even closer to Potter. He whispered, “You’re right. I am up to something.”

 

Potter fell back, but his anger did not. As he stood to his full height and stepped away, his eyes narrowed with barely-contained fury. “I knew it. You haven’t changed at all, Malfoy.”

 

Draco smirked as he stood up from his chair. He gave a pointed look that swept up and down Potter’s body, appraising, and then lifted one sharp brow. Damn, he was fit. Fully outfitted in those red robes and high black boots, with his wiry strong frame, and the proud jut of his jaw… Gorgeous.

 

But Potter didn’t squirm under the attention. He only continued to seethe.

 

Draco cocked his head, considering. The full uniform meant he was about to go out on field work, some brave and daring mission, no doubt.

 

He also knew, in a sudden and simple realization, that Potter hadn’t eaten anything yet this morning.

 

Feed him. Get him something to eat.

 

Oh perfect! His veela bits were acting up again. The timing was wonderful enough that Draco nearly laughed. Why not make this encounter as unsettling and memorable as possible?

 

Draco took a step forward. “Should I tell you what it is? Want to know what’s going on?”

 

Potter stood his ground. “You’ll tell me, if you know what’s good for you. What are you up to, Malfoy?”

 

Draco leaned in close, grinned, and murmured, “That’s for me to know…” He trailed a fingertip along the strip of leather at Potter’s shoulder, and the space between them was too narrow, too hot, too close. “And you to drive yourself mad obsessing over.”

 

Draco stepped back, and the sudden space between them was dizzying, a breath. It seemed to have knocked Potter off-kilter, and he glared in confusion. Draco’s own head whirled, with heat, with excitement, with fear. An insistent beat of Feed him. Feed him. Feed him, matched paced with his heart.

 

But he held tight to his composure and his purpose. Voice low and breathy, smirking, Draco wove a mystery that would taunt Potter to no end. “You won’t be able to stop thinking about it, will you? You never have been able to stop thinking about me, once I get into your head. You’re going to think about me all day long. I bet you’ll fall asleep thinking about me tonight. Or maybe you won’t be able to sleep, because you won’t be able to get me out of your head.” He laughed, quiet and husky.

 

And Potter flushed. The most gorgeous, perfect rush of red crept up the back of his neck, onto his bronze cheeks. The furrow between his brows deepened, and his confusion and anger turned to disgust and fury. “Fuck you, Malfoy.”

 

That only made Draco laugh more. He had done it! Eleven years—more than that!—since the last time Draco had tried to get a rise out of Potter, but look at that! He still had it. Of course, he hadn’t intended for his threats to come out sounding quite so sexually suggestive, but he couldn’t deny the results.

 

With one last angry glare, his nostrils flaring, Potter pointed at him and snarled, “I’ll find out what you’re up to, Malfoy. And I won’t hesitate to put you in your place.”

 

“Oh, I’m really scared, big hero!” Draco crossed his arms over his chest and drew himself up to his full height, which was taller than Potter by a few inches. Not as strong. Not as powerful. But confident. “Good luck.”

 

The long tail of Potter’s red uniform whipped as he whirled and stomped to the door of Draco’s small office.

 

At this, a twinge of nausea made him light headed. Although, it could have just been nerves.

 

Feed him. Feed him. Don’t let him go out into the field on an empty stomach. This time, Draco didn’t ignore the urge, didn’t push it down, didn’t fight it.

 

“Oh, and Potter?” Draco called while he reached into his own bag and pulled out an apple he’d intended to eat for lunch. When Potter stopped and looked back, only a quarter turn, Draco tossed it. Seeker reflexes still strong, Potter snatched it from the air and it smacked against his hand with a loud thwack. “You really should eat something before you go out for field work.”

 

Bewildered and furious, Potter glared at Draco over his shoulder. His fingertips dug into the shiny green skin of the apple and left indentations in the fruit, like he was trying to crush it.

 

Without another word, without a smart retort, Potter stalked out of his office.

 

Three more seconds, Draco managed to hold it together. Then, his shaking knees clacked together and gave out, and he sank back into his chair. It sent him spinning in a lazy circle while he pressed a hand to his mouth and breathed laughter.

 

Oh, that was good. That was glorious. That was delicious. That was… well, it was awful. No way around that. This couldn’t end well for him. But Merlin, that was fun! All these years of keeping his head down, of caring so much what everyone thought of him, and he’d forgotten how to have fun! He dug one foot into the carpet and kicked off, sent the chair spinning faster as he silently giggled to himself. His office whirled around him, a whoosh of desk and filing cabinets and potted plants, and then—

 

“Have you gone mad?”

 

Lavender Brown! His friend! She stood in the doorway, and he caught a glimpse of her, lovely and fashionable in a smart red pencil skirt, but she vanished as the chair spun past.

 

With his toes, he caught the ground and skidded to a stop. He laughed, nodded, and waved a hand in front of his face. “Maybe.”

 

“Are you alright?” Amusement tinged her voice, but so did concern. She stepped inside and leaned against the edge of his desk. “I heard a bit of that, with you and Harry. He did not look pleased when he left.”

 

“No. No, he was not pleased at all.”

 

Lavender smacked him upside the head. Scandalized, he startled and glared at her, but it did nothing to intimidate her. “Well, why did you go after him like that, then? You loon! You didn’t have to antagonize him so much!”

 

Draco pouted and shrugged. “Because he was looking at me?”

 

Properly, his mind added. For the first time in years. And it felt beyond good, strange as it was.

 

With a huff, she rolled her eyes. “Draco!”

 

“It’s true! That was the first time in a very long time that I have been the recipient of his full attention, or his anger. It was a bit…” Arousing. Invigorating. Intoxicating. He cleared his throat. “Startling. I wasn’t prepared for it, and I don’t entirely know what came over me. And besides, it’s not like there was a better alternative. These urges are going to keep happening for a while. There’s no way to hide it. It’s going to look strange, no matter what I do.”

 

Lavender pursed her lips and nodded. “So might as well have a bit of fun with it.”

 

“Yes.” Draco agreed. But a bit of the sparking, furious joy had seeped out of him after Potter left. Oh, right. This part. He’d also forgotten this part, the crash and disappointment that inevitably came after every toe-to-toe. The anger and clawing struggle was fun, yes, twisted though he must be to think so. It was, in its own way, better than no attention at all. But really, positive attention from Potter, approval or kindness or connection…that would be the best of all. No matter! He would never have those things. He nodded. “Yes, might as well have a bit of fun with it.”

 

Did she see the disappointment on his face? He thought he’d hidden it perfectly, but she looked him over with a sad, pouting little smile that screamed sympathy. Quiet and soft, she said, “Even though this will make Harry less likely to want to go to the zoo with you?”

 

With a sad, quiet smile of his own, Draco shook his head. “He was never going to want to go to the zoo with me, in any case.”  

 

A bitter truth that he had swallowed long ago. No use letting himself get twisted up about it now.

 

With a heave, Lavender hoisted herself up so she could sit fully on the edge of Draco’s desk, her ankles crossed delicately. For half a second, he considered yelling at her and shooing her off.

 

“Fair enough.” She tilted her head out towards the rest of the office. “You know this isn’t going to help your reputation at all.”

 

True. But he thought about how this woman had turned office opinion of him from scandal to sympathy in a matter of hours. He thought about his own Slytherin cunning, his survival instincts. And he didn’t worry. He leaned back in his chair. “Want to come to the pub with me tonight and help me devise a very clever strategy for mitigating the backlash?”

 

Pretty and flirty, Lavender pressed her fingertips to her collar bone and fluttered her long eyelashes. “I thought you’d never ask!”

 

 

***

 

 

As Draco’s veela awakening strengthened throughout the week, he discovered that he didn’t actually need to be anywhere near Potter for the urges to strike. He didn’t see Potter again after that Monday morning confrontation, but he didn’t need to. From a distance, without any interaction or discussion at all, Draco was struck by occasional moments of intense knowing. Without understand how, he knew what Potter needed when he needed it.

 

Early Wednesday morning, just after he’d arrived in his office, he’d been struck by a thought. Tea. Potter needs tea. Get him tea. Without ever hearing a word about it, as if an owl had swooped in and delivered the information directly to his brain, Draco knew Potter had run out of his home brew. He also knew that Potter had to work late and wouldn’t be able to make it to the store before it closed for the night. Instead of fighting, Draco acknowledged the urge and agreed to serve it. Later. Not immediately. It thrummed in the back of his mind all day, like a song stuck in his head, but brought no nausea or headaches.

 

And that was why, when he left work, he walked a few blocks up to get to the local Tesco.

 

Muggle grocery shops were other worldly. Often, he had ventured into the muggle world. At first, after the war, to challenge himself and learn, and also because it seemed foolish and cowardly to continue on avoiding 99% of places in the world. Later, he made regular trips into the muggle world because he found parts of it he genuinely appreciated. Tesco was not one of those parts. The automatic door slid and granted him entrance, like magic, always jarring in such a muggle locale. He stepped inside. Looked around.

 

Such a strange mix of riotous color and bland uniformity. The static quality of the artificial electric lights, the scuffy tile, the jaunty background music, the stationary cartoon characters on all of the packages, the neatly stacked produce. Odd. He shivered.

 

“Can I help you find something?” a teenage girl with a nose ring and a store uniform asked.  

 

“Could you point me in the direction of your tea selection, please?”

 

Armed with instructions, Draco set off at a confident clip towards aisle two. All sorts of boxes of loose leaf and bagged tea arrayed before him, he flexed his new instincts and let them guide him to the style Potter preferred. When it came to brand, he selected an option that was not too pretentious, but also perhaps a bit nicer quality than Potter would typically buy for himself.

 

He paid with a few muggle bills, and then walked back to the Ministry to take the floo home.

 

It was so ordinary.

 

As he walked back along the sidewalk, briefcase in hand and box of tea tucked under his arm, he was struck by a different sort of urge then the veela tendencies, but still strong. Strong enough to catch his breath, to fill his chest with emotions, strange and wholesome and fragile. It was deep, a pure sort of longing, wrapped in warmth and lined with sadness.

 

This was the sort of thing lovers did for one another.

 

The sort of thing two people did for each other, casually and without pretense, without bravado. Ah, my lover has run out of tea, one might think. I’ll pick up a box for them on my way home from work. And it was as simple as that. It was the sort of thoughtfulness that took no thought at all, because it was so ingrained as to become second nature. Instinct. To notice what the lover needed and to care for them.

 

Out in the heat of the summer sunlight, on the busy streets of London, Draco ran his thumb over the edge of the box of tea and let himself imagine, just for the briefest moment, that such sweet tenderness belonged to him.

 

He carried that bit of whimsy with him until it grew thick in his throat, until it clouded his eyes. And then he shook it away.

 

Because his instincts might tell him to care for Potter. But they were not the same sort of instincts. And Potter would never be his lover.

 

Back home, he dusted himself off and headed for his office. To bring himself back to reality, to keep his game of torment going with Potter, Draco arranged a few other gifts to go along with the tea delivery. It took a bit of thought and some conjuring to get all the pieces right, but when it was done, Draco was sure this would serve both of his goals: to appease the veela instinct to care for Potter, and also to serve his own twisted desire to irk Potter to no end. As he sent the package off, he felt satisfied.

 

Lonely.

 

But satisfied.

 

 

***

 

 

 

“Alright. Bed time.” Weary and dull, Harry nudged Teddy in through the front door and into the foyer of Grimmauld Place. It was late, nearly midnight, and Harry had been working non-stop since eight that morning. Every muscle in his back seized in protest of the long hours spent on a fruitless stakeout. “Go brush your teeth.”

 

Teddy, eyes heavy, grumbled, “But we just got home. Can’t we--”

 

“No, mate. Not today.” Harry cut him off before he could suggest anything. Normally, when he worked such long hours, his godson was able to guilt him into a card game or some time in front of the telly. All Teddy had to do was whine about how he hadn’t seen Harry all day, and Harry would fold like a soggy newspaper. Softer, while he unlaced his boots and tugged them off, he said, “Sorry, Teddy. I’m too tired today. We’ll do something fun together this weekend, okay?”

 

“Yeah, alright.” As Teddy marched upstairs, more tired than he would admit after a long day playing with all the Weasley cousins, Harry watched him go with an exhausted smile, his eyes drooping. Even though Teddy had spent most of the day out in the fields, blasting about on brooms with Bill and Fleur’s daughter, Victoire, he came home clean and washed, in a fresh change of clothes, with his teal hair neatly brushed. Thank Merlin for Molly Weasley and her willingness to babysit. Teddy looked back over his shoulder and waved. “Goodnight, Harry.”

 

For a long moment, Harry stood in the foyer in his sweaty robe and his socks, too tired to move, too weary to take the steps that would get him into bed. His head ached, dull and empty.

 

He needed to go to sleep. It wasn’t so hard. Walk up the stairs. Go to bed. If he went to bed now, he could get maybe five hours of sleep before he had to wake back up and go to work again.

 

Should probably eat first.

 

No. Too much effort.

 

No food in the house anyway. With the late hours, he hadn’t even had time to pick up the tea he had run out of. Fantastic. So he was in for a sleepless night and a tealess morning, followed by another long day of…

 

Harry’s eyes narrowed. What was that? Why was there a package on the sideboard? Deliveries weren’t supposed to be able to get through without his approval. Suddenly awake, heart pounding, he stomped to the little table where he normally dropped his keys and wallet, and he glared down at the little box. Small, wrapped in shiny silver gift paper, with a white ribbon tied around it.

 

Suspicious.

 

“Kreacher?” His summons echoed out into the rafters and dusty corners of the big old house.

 

A few seconds later, Kreacher trudged into the foyer, as droopy and creaky as ever. “Yes, Master Harry Potter?”

 

He pointed at the mysterious box. “What is this?”

 

“Kreacher is not knowing.” He shrugged. “It is a gift, brought by the nice elves of Lord Malfoy Who Is Also a Black.”

 

Harry startled, sputtered for words, and glared at Kreacher. Yes, the elderly elf was essentialy retired these days, but still Harry thought the little brat was supposed to have some loyalty to him. Not to Malfoy! Malfoy and his strange, unsettling gifts! Malfoy, who had openly admitted to Harry’s face the other day that he was, in fact, up to something!

 

“Kreacher! You can’t just let Malfoy send whatever he pleases into my house! This could be dangerous.” He jabbed a finger at the loathsome silver box, which lurked unassumingly, probably lying in wait for him to open it. “This could be putting Teddy and me in danger.”

 

This suggestion seemed to bore Kreacher. He scoffed, shrugged off the idea, and then turned his back on Harry. While he shuffled along out of the room, he muttered under his breath, “Danger? A Black would never endanger this most noble and ancient home. Master Harry Potter has no appreciation for what is danger. Master Harry Potter rid this home of all its most glorious keepings because the weak half-blood thought they were dangerous…”

 

Abashed and a little embarrassed, Harry stood rooted to the spot while his elf insulted him and walked away. When the door shut behind him, Harry glared after the tiny, crooked bastard and shook his head.

 

Then he snatched the awful silver gift box off the table and ripped off the paper.

 

And nearly choked on the shock and anger that clenched his throat.

 

Tea. Malfoy had sent him a tin of tea.

 

“What the fuck?” Harry snarled as his fingers squeezed tight. The metal box made little clanking noises as he crushed and dented it. “Malfoy! You son of a…”

 

How had he known Harry was out of tea? How had he known what sort Harry preferred? Harry hadn’t said that out loud to anyone at work. Had Malfoy planted listening charms in his house? Was Kreacher in on it, spying for him?

 

He tore the envelope and opened the card. A pretty floral watercolor greeted him, but he scoffed and ignored it. As he opened the fold, a few more papers and a wad of string fell into his hand, but he held these to the side for a moment to read the message. In Malfoy’s neat, elegant script, it said:

 

Potter -

Thought you could use this. Enjoy a cuppa, on me.

Oh, and I presume, after our delightful little chat on Monday morning, that you are deep into your investigation of me. Here are a few things to help you decorate your crazy-person board. Hope they help.

-DLM

 

Crazy-person board? What? He didn’t have a crazy-person board. What was…?

 

He looked down at the extras that had fallen out of the card. A black and white photo of Malfoy. A perp sheet with known intel, written in Malfoy’s own hand: Subject’s name: Draco Lucius Malfoy; Age: 29; Modus Operandi: Giving food to Harry Potter; Strengths: Fabulously wealthy, snazzy dresser, gorgeous, perfect hair, charming and witty. Weaknesses: Unknown. On it went like this, more and more ridiculous and self-aggrandizing, with Malfoy boasting and making absurd claims on every line.

 

The last in the pile of papers was a note card, which read: Theory #1: Malfoy has founded a philanthropic group, “Save the Speccy, Bad Haired Gits” and has taken Harry Potter on as his charity case.

 

All of these papers were the beginnings of a very bad, horribly inaccurate case file. And the wad of red string that sat in Harry’s palm…

 

He grimaced, scrunched his eyes shut, and shook his head. With a long, hissing sigh, he forced himself to unclench all of his built up tension before it exploded out of him.

 

The note cards, photo, and subject profile were meant to be tacked up onto a board, and the threads between evidence marked with lines of red string, like he was an unhinged, conspiracy theorist detective in a muggle crime show.

 

Malfoy was taunting him. Mocking him. Laughing at him.

 

Harry stalked towards the living room fireplace, set to throw all of this nonsense into the flame and blast it with a forceful incendio.

 

He stopped himself and looked down at the papers clenched and rumpled in his hand. They were evidence. Ridiculous, and not evidence in the way Malfoy intended, no. But they were evidence that Malfoy was up to something. Fine. He would keep all of them. Not on a board with string, no, but in an informational file, ready to be turned into an active case the second Malfoy stepped a toe over the line. Harry would get to the bottom of this. He would be ready. He slipped the papers and string into a folder and slid them into the drawer of his desk.

 

The tea, he chucked in the bin.

 

 

***

 

 

Saturday morning, Draco awoke with a start, sudden and jarring. He jolted upright in bed, his eyes bleary but wide and blinking. Dim morning light crept through the curtains and filled his bedroom with soft shadows. He coughed and gasped a breath while the beginnings of a headache pricked his temples.

 

Breakfast. Potter needs breakfast. Make it for him.

 

Breakfast? The sun was barely up. Potter needed breakfast now? Right now? At…groggy and disoriented, Draco rooted around the mound of pillows, sheets, and duvet that swarmed his bed to find his wand and check the time. Five in the morning. Draco rubbed at his eyes and groaned to himself. Why was Potter up and in need of breakfast at five in the morning on a Saturday? Did Draco’s suffering have no limits?

 

MAKE IT FOR HIM. MAKE HIM BREAKFAST.

 

“Gah!” Draco cried out and pressed a hand to his stomach as nausea threatened him. He threw the blankets back and swung his legs over the side of the bed, feet searching the cold wood floor for his slippers. “Alright, alright. I’ll make him breakfast. Calm down.”

 

As Draco wrapped himself up in his dressing gown and trudged to the kitchen, he remembered: Potter played quidditch on Saturdays. The Ministry had an interdepartmental league with friendly games. Potter played seeker for the auror team.

 

In the quiet, empty kitchen, Draco yanked open the ice box and surveyed the possibilities.

 

Well, if the idiot was up at five in the morning to go play sports all day, he’d need some protein to get him through the match. Draco grabbed a carton of eggs and a few rashers of bacon, and then got to work assembling all of his tools.

 

He cracked three eggs into a bowl for a scramble, and then spent a few minutes picking bits of eggshell out with his fingernail before he remembered—Potter usually dragged his godson off to these games. The poor child probably would prefer to sleep in on a Saturday, but the few times Draco had gone to a match he’d seen little Teddy Lupin in the stands. Usually seated with Granger or an assorted Weasley contingent, his hair bright purple or green or some other garish color, the boy was always there cheering his godfather on.

 

Draco closed his eyes and sighed long and low. Tired, his vision blurred as he stared down into the bowl at the three sloppy yellow yolks. Then, he shook his head and cracked a few more eggs.

 

Really now, this was a waste of food. Potter wouldn’t eat it. He hadn’t eaten anything Draco had given him. That was an unexpected sore spot, a bruise on his veela pride. Maybe also just his regular pride. But a fact. Potter wouldn’t eat this breakfast, and he certainly wouldn’t let his godson eat it.

 

But that didn’t matter. Draco risked burns and battled cutlery to cook a damn good fry up.

 

Maybe even good enough for Potter to eat. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to resist. Draco studied the plates he’d put together, two of them piled high with eggs and bacon and sausages, crisp brown toast dripping melted butter. They were missing something. He went back to the ice box and dug through the drawers. Aha! Fresh fruit. That’s what it needed. Something light and sweet. He chopped up melon and strawberry and made a lovely little bowl of fruit salad, topped with a cherry. Then, fingers twitching and deliberate, he adjusted the toast so it was plated at the perfect angle, wiped a bit of grease off the fine white china, and nodded at his work.

 

There. Two perfect plates of breakfast for Potter and his godson, before their quidditch match. This would set them off right for a long day out in the heat.

 

Not that they would eat it.

 

A lump rose in Draco’s throat and his eyes watered.

 

“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Draco chastised himself and shook his head, shrewd and decisive. So what if Potter never ate anything Draco made for him? That didn’t matter. That shouldn’t hurt his feelings. That was not the point of this. The point was to fulfill the urges of his veela instincts, and to have a bit of fun tormenting Potter while doing it. He shook off the silly sentimentality, the raw little burr of sadness, and summoned a quill and notecard to put the finishing touch on his gift.

 

 

***

 

 

They were late. As usual. Teddy was up and moving without trouble; it was Harry who was the problem. He’d had too many late nights, too many stakeouts this past week to relish getting up so early on his day off. But that was what they were doing, and so he stuffed his uniform and quidditch pads into his duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder as he thundered down the stairs. “Come on, Teddy!” His shout rang out through the whole house. “Time to go!”

 

His godson called back from downstairs, near the kitchen, “Aren’t you going to eat first?”

 

“Grab me something, will you?”

 

“But Harry, we…”

 

“One of those granola bars. Whatever. Just not the kind with raisins.” At the foot of the stairs, Harry dropped his bag and grabbed his shoes from the messy pile by the door. He balanced on one foot and yanked on a trainer. “Now come on, mate! We have to get going.”

 

“But Harry! What do you want to do about all this food?”

 

“All what fo—Teddy!” Harry’s heart jumped up into his throat and he broke into a run, stumbling over his half-on shoe and nearly falling against the bannister. Another step and he tripped over his laces. He caught himself on the wall and smashed his way into the kitchen, shouting in a panic all the while, “Teddy, no! Don’t touch that! Whatever that is, don’t eat any of it!”

 

He slammed the door open. It banged against the wall and bounced back, nearly catching Harry as he stalked through it into the kitchen, where his godson stood beside the table, a worried tremble quivering his lower lip.

 

“Why not?” Teddy looked from Harry over to the table, which was set with two plates of mysterious, un-asked for food. Two plates. Harry seethed and simmered with rage, but pent it up so he didn’t scare the kid. Two plates. Malfoy had gone so far as to actually loop Teddy into this charade of his. Harry grit his teeth so tight his ears popped, while Teddy looked more nervous and shaken by the second. “Is there something wrong with it? Like the curry? Is it poisoned? Is someone trying to hurt you? Harry--”

 

“It’s just a prank, mate.” Harry took a breath and forced himself to calm down. He gestured to the plates of food with a dismissive wave and tried to put on a smile. It felt more like a grimace. “It’s a stupid prank that an old school mate is playing on me. It’s not dangerous. But if any mystery food shows up here, you can’t eat it because it’s part of the prank.”

 

Teddy chewed on his lower lip, skeptical.

 

Harry crossed the kitchen and loomed over the table to study the plates. Each dish was piled high with eggs and bacon, perfect triangles of toast, loads of fresh fruit, all of it artfully arranged on fine china, like something out of Modern Witch’s Housekeeping magazine. Tempting as hell, if he was being honest. And it smelled good, too, rich and greasy. Harry’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t had a proper meal in…two days? Maybe longer?

 

Damn Malfoy.

 

As he mouth watered, he glared at the food and continued on with the lie, to sooth Teddy. “He’s a real jerk, this prankster. Probably, he’s loaded the food up with stuff from Uncle George’s shop. You take one bite of those sausages, and you’ll be farting bubbles for the rest of the day.”

 

At this, Teddy laughed a little, shy and quiet.

 

That was encouraging. Harry nudged him and egged him on. “Eat that toast, and you’ll probably end up squawking like a parrot for hours. You’ll have slugs crawling out of your ears. Your face will turn into a…I dunno. A ferret. You’ll have a ferret face.”

 

Teddy chuckled and admitted, “I’d rather not go to the quidditch match with a ferret face.”

 

Harry shook his head and laughed to himself, bitter and mean. Malfoy still had a ferret-y look to him, after all these years. He never had grown into that pointy chin and nose, and that brought Harry a certain sense of smug satisfaction. “Yeah, I’d bet,” he said to Teddy. “Especially not since Victoire’s going to be there today.”

 

And that was enough teasing to distract Teddy fully, anxiety forgotten. He shouted, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“I dunno…” Harry shrugged, rather pleased with himself for handling this unexpected morning delivery with a cool head. Unlike last time, with the late night curries, when he’d scared his godson half to death. He tried a little harder to annoy Teddy, to make him blush and laugh. “You two seem to be getting on awfully well this summer.”

 

“She’s my friend. Don’t be weird. Boys and girls can be friends with each other without it being weird! Aunt Hermione says to think otherwise is just unenlightened and backwards.”

 

“Oh, so I’m unenlightened and backwards for thinking you might fancy Victoire?”

 

Teddy scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah. You are. Really, really backwards.”

 

“Alright, fine. I take it back.” Harry raised his hands in mock surrender, but his teasing smile hadn’t fully faded.

 

Teddy changed the subject. “Are you sure we can’t eat any of that breakfast? It looks really good. Maybe the prank is just this old mate of yours is trying to drive you crazy and get you to throw away perfectly good food!”

 

Harry glared at the plates and crossed his arms over his chest. “Nah. That can’t be it. And yeah, I’m sure we can’t eat any of it.”

 

He waved his wand and banished the food before Teddy could put up another argument. The scent of fried bacon and warm bread lingered in the kitchen, taunting him.

 

“Come on, mate. Let’s go. We’re going to be late.”

 

“But I haven’t eaten yet,” Teddy whined.

 

Snippy, Harry asked, “Why didn’t you have cereal when you got up?”

 

“Because we’re out of cereal! And we don’t have any milk, either.”

 

“Well…” Harry rubbed at his eyes under his glasses. Fuck, he was a rubbish parent. He never had managed to get to the grocery store this week. “Well, then, grab a banana. And a granola bar or something. We’ll stop and get something proper to eat after the match, alright?”

 

“Yeah, alright.” Teddy grumbled while Harry waved his hand to hustle him along. Snacks in hand, they made their way out to the foyer. While Teddy was pulling on his shoes, banana tucked beneath his chin while he did up the laces of his trainers, he said, “You know. This old mate of yours who keeps sending you food? Maybe you should end this prank war, make friends with him, and invite him over for dinner.”

 

Harry picked up his duffel bag. “Literally never going to happen.”

 

“I’m just saying. If he’s a good cook, and he wants to cook meals for us, that doesn’t seem like a bad person to have as a friend.” Teddy shrugged and grumbled through a mouthful of mushy banana while he made his way over to the floo. Just before they stepped through, he stopped and reached into his pocket. “Oh, I forgot! He sent you a note.”

 

Antsy and agitated over how this morning had gone, over how it was still dragging on, Harry grabbed the envelope his godson held out. He ripped it open and found another card, watercolor flowers, very prim and polite. Inside waited a note card, just like the first. In Malfoy’s perfect script, it said:

 

Theory #2: Malfoy is just a pawn, trying to distract Potter from Minerva McGonagall’s salacious and unseemly plot to take over as a new, improved, and sexier Dark Lord.

 

Harry crumpled it up and threw it on the floor, but made a note to find it later and add it to his growing file, documenting Malfoy’s insanity. “Come on!” Too cheerful, on edge, he nudged Teddy into the floo. “Let’s go, let’s go!”

Chapter Text

On and on it went. Nearly every day the next week, Draco’s veela instincts kicked up and had him send food to Potter. Each time, he felt what Potter needed when he needed it.

 

And it started to wear on him in unexpected ways.

 

He’d known Potter was too thin, had seen that for a while. He hadn’t quite known, until the veela awakening, just how many meals Potter skipped. He rarely ate breakfast. Lunch, he would eat with his friends and co-workers. Dinner, he would eat…but only if he had to feed Teddy, too. If he worked late, if he was alone, if he didn’t have his friends around to share the meal with him or if he didn’t have his godson to consider, he would skip the meal. Grab a handful of crisps. Drink more tea. Go to bed hungry.

 

It disturbed Draco in deep and unconsidered ways to find out just how many nights Harry Potter went to bed hungry.

 

And it disturbed him in other ways, the sadness and disappointment that crept up over him each time Potter banished one of his food offerings. It was a hit to his pride, yes. His veela instincts suffered at rejection from his mate, true. But more than that…

 

Draco actually did care about the git. Cared that he didn’t eat.

 

He dipped his quill in ink and scratched a few more numbers onto the form he was working on.

 

It would have been nice. That was all. If Potter had trouble keeping up with it all, if he didn’t want to cook for himself, it just could have been nice. Nice, if there was kindness between them. Nice, if Draco could cook for him, and make him curry and fry ups, and buy him tea when he couldn’t get to the grocery store… Nice, if things were different and those actions were honest and caring and accepted between them, if Potter would accept Draco’s gestures and see the affection they contained. If Draco could give that affection freely, without having to hide it and wrap it all up in games and tricks and taunts.

 

Draco knew it wasn’t possible, it just would have been nice, was all.

 

Instead, he kept up with the game.

 

And it was amusing. Potter had come by to yell at him twice more, and goodness, that was a bit of a thrill. His veela mating ritual seemed to be in full swing now, and alerted him to Potter’s food needs a few times a week. Each time, Draco met the urge without complaint and sent along little note cards and theories to further torture poor Potter and drive him up the wall. With a cup of coffee one afternoon, Draco offered up, Theory #3: Malfoy lost a bet. Simple, yet evocative. He chuckled to himself while writing that one down, picturing Potter, face all red and scrunched up in anger as he tried to muddle through what sort of bet it could have been. When Potter worked late and went home with no plans to eat dinner the next day, Draco sent over a rich, hearty shepherd’s pie with Theory #4: Malfoy has invented a new method for incorporating potions into food and needs a test subject. With the batch of biscuits he sent over when Potter needed some to go with his afternoon tea, he suggested, Theory #5: Malfoy has been taken captive and is under imperius, but he is sending secret, coded messages for help through food. Save him, Potter! Save him! And then, this afternoon when Potter’s whole auror team was kept out in the field too long to make it to lunch and Draco sent a basket of sandwiches out to their location, the note read, Theory #6: This is actually just a nice gesture, but you’re too paranoid and emotionally stunted to recognize it, you prick.

 

That one might have been a bit too forward, if he was honest. He’d scribbled the note in a fit of frustration and sent it off half an hour ago. The thought of Potter ignoring the note, banishing the meal, twisted his stomach in uncomfortable ways and made it difficult to focus on his work.

 

A knock sounded at his door and then Lavender stepped in without waiting for a greeting. “You look glum. What’s going on?”

 

“Nothing,” Draco insisted, perhaps too quickly. At her skeptical look, he shrugged and amended, “Nothing serious.”

 

She perched her arse on the edge of his desk, the spot she had claimed as her own, and stretched out her long legs. “Potter thing?”

 

Draco avoided her eye and nodded while he chewed on the inside of his cheek. It’s not that he wanted to tell her, or talk about it at all. It was only just that…well. She knew all about it, didn’t she? He didn’t quite know how to stop himself from spilling it out. Quiet and prim, he said, “He’s not actually eating any of the food I send him. It’s upsetting to my veela instincts, to be rejected by my…by him.”

 

Soft and knowing, Lavender studied him. “Upsetting to the veela, or upsetting to you?”

 

He stared down at her desktop and lifted one careful shoulder. “Maybe both.”

 

“Oh, Draco!” Her voice was sweet and warm and sympathetic, and she reached out to squeeze his arm. Affectionate.

 

And that was nice, and it squeezed his throat shut, and he couldn’t possibly allow it to go on for a second longer. “I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, how’s everything going with you? How’s Operation Public Opinion?”

 

“Good!” She let him change the subject. “Seems to be working. I’ve been whispering it to everyone who asks about you, and it’s spread through the whole department. You know how gossip works around here.”

 

He did, and lucky for him, Lavender was quite clever at manipulating it. At the pub last week, the two of them talked and laughed and drank rather a lot of wine for a work night, but they’d come up with a rather brilliant story. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Potter was promoted to Head Auror. Everyone also knew that Potter had a somewhat tenuous and complicated relationship with the press. So the story Lavender came up with was this: that Potter was nearly ready for the job, but some of the Ministry higher-ups had doubts about Potter’s ability to keep his cool when confronted with annoying members of the public, and so Kingsley Shacklebolt himself had recruited Draco to test Potter’s patience. Publicly. And, apparently, with food. Now, rather than a nuisance, Draco was a public servant.

 

“You’re brilliant,” he told Lavender, and she looked a bit smug at that.

 

Then, a thoughtful look crossed her features, and she said, “You know, it is a real shame, Potter not eating any of the food you’ve made for him.”

 

Back to this again. Draco schooled his expression and hid his disappointment. “Yes, well…”

 

“You’re quite the cook, Draco! I wouldn’t have guessed it.” She nudged his leg with the pointed toe of her high heeled shoe. “When did you learn to cook?”

 

Draco laughed. “Two weeks ago? I’ve been learning as this nonsense goes on.”

 

She pinned him with a pointed look and asked, “Do you like doing it? Cooking?”

 

He blinked and sat back while he considered the question. His own answer surprised him. “I do, actually. It’s a lot like potions, but with more warmth to it. I do enjoy it.”

 

“With all that work you’re doing, someone should eat the food you make.” She clapped and grinned, terribly pretty and wolfish all at once, her golden brown eyes shining. “You should host a dinner party! This weekend! Come on, Malfoy. Invite me over and cook for me.”

 

He scoffed and stared at her, bewildered and taken aback. “Excuse me? Did you just order me to host you at a dinner party?”

 

She nodded. “Me and a few friends.”

 

Before he could argue, she waved her hand to shush him.

 

“I know, I know, you don’t have friends other than me. But I have friends, and I don’t mind sharing them with you. Remember the twins, Parvati and Padma, from school? I’m still good friends with them. You’ll like them! They’re both clever and fashionable, you’ll get on splendidly.” She clapped her hands and charged on, enthused and determined. “They’re both married, so they could bring their spouses, too. Parvati’s married to Anthony Goldstein. Nice bloke! Remember him? And Padma married a Slytherin, so you’ll have something in common! Astoria Greengrass? Well, Greengrass-Patil these days. She was a few years behind us, so you might not know her. Anyway, great girl! Sassy. You'll like her. So we’ll all be at your house around six, let’s say? On Saturday?”

 

This was utterly ridiculous. For a long second, Draco stared in silence and tried to absorb the full onslaught of information Lavender had just thrown onto him. A dinner party? With guests? Multiple? In his home? And people from school, no less! And what? He was just supposed to…to, what? Have them over? Cook for them? Laugh and talk and have a nice evening, like they were…what? Friends? He didn’t know how to do that! He’d never done such a thing in his life! What would they even talk about? What could they possibly have in common? No, he couldn’t do it. It would go terribly, they’d all hate him for who he was back in the old days, and it would be tense, and painful, and…

 

The bright, kind hope on Lavender’s face stopped him in his tracks. All the fight drained out of him. “Alright.”

 

“Really?”

 

Draco nodded.

 

“Oh, Draco, this is going to be so much fun!” She threw herself on him and squished him in a hug, but pulled away before he had a chance to react. He sat there stunned and a little amused while she went on. “Right, so the twins don’t eat beef. Anthony doesn’t eat pork. Astoria doesn’t eat anything that died as a baby, so no veal or duckling or lamb or anything. Random, I know. She’s an odd girl. So fish? Maybe fish?”

 

Draco nodded along. Swept up in this strange current, he decided the best way forward was to just go along with it. “I can do fish.”

 

“Brill.” Cheeky, too cheeky, Lavender grinned and popped a hand on her hip. “Want to invite Potter?”

 

“Oh, do you think he’d come? After I’ve spent the past two weeks taunting him and throwing food in his general direction?”

 

“Nope. Probably not.” She leaned back against the desk once more. “Sent him anything weird today?”

 

Draco turned his chair away from her, back to the pile of parchment forms stacked on his desk. “Sandwiches.”

 

“That’s not so bad. Pretty normal.”

 

He winced. “Sent enough for his whole team. And with a rather rude note, on the side.”

 

“Oh dear.” Lavender shook her head. “Well, that was nice! A bit over the top, but very thoughtful.”

 

He somehow thought Potter would not see it that way. When Lavender left, he got back to his forms and tried not to think about how Potter would soon be throwing the whole basket of food into the rubbish bin.

 

 

***

 

 

Crate by crate, Harry sorted through the contents of the warehouse and catalogued items, though his lower back screamed for a break. After a few weeks on their trail, the dark wizards they’d been tracking led them to their stash of dangerous artifacts. These guys had put a bunch of killer potions, cursed amulets, and bloody weapons out onto the streets, not to mention all of their pro-Voldemort paraphernalia. But they had trafficked everything through a legitimate shop, with a massive warehouse of stock.

 

And now it fell to Harry and his team to clear the whole site and confiscate any illegal materials as evidence.

 

“We’re going to be at this for three more days, at least,” Ron grumbled from a few rows over.

 

With a sigh, Harry stood and stretched and looked out over all they still had left. The tall, open floor plan was packed tight, jammed full of boxes and wooden crates, all stacked in haphazard piles. Not three days. But six or eight more hours, for sure.

 

Ron scanned potions one by one and lined them up on the concrete floor as he determined the contents of the bottles matched the labels. “Can’t believe I didn’t think to pack a lunch.”

 

At the other end of the warehouse, Cho and Angelina worked through their own section, heads low and backs bent. Harry pushed his damp, sweaty hair off his forehead and turned back to the crate in front of him, which was full of heavy mirrors in elaborate frames. His initial scans showed at least one of them was cursed, so he lifted and checked each one slowly.

 

He didn’t dignify Ron’s complaint with a response. When he was focused on his work, deep in a task, he tended not to notice things like hunger or discomfort, or if he did notice them he pushed through anyway. It wasn’t the first time he had worked through lunch, and it wouldn’t be the last. He had a job to do, a task to complete. He could eat when it was done. He could eat when he had earned it.

 

“Should probably get a message to ‘Mione,” he said. “We’ll be working late again tonight.”

 

Ron stood up straight and cracked his back. “I need a holiday.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry huffed a laugh, but didn’t look up from his own task. In each mirror he picked up and scanned, his reflection peered back, sweaty and weary, dark circles under his too-sharp eyes. “Don’t we all.”

 

He didn’t though. A holiday was the last thing he needed. In just over a month, Teddy would leave for Hogwarts. And Harry would be alone.

 

A holiday? That was a joke. Just the thought of it made him cringe and work a little faster, his expression more determined in each mirror he checked. Once Teddy was gone, who would he even go on a holiday with? No one. His friends were all married with little kids. No, he would have to go alone. And then, what? He would sit and relax on a beach somewhere, completely alone with himself, with nothing to do but think? No. His mind started to slip and spiral into fear, into dark places just at the suggestion of it.

 

No, no holidays for him. What he needed was more work. To keep busy.  

 

“Oi!” Ron reached out and thwacked his arm to get his attention and pointed to the high windows at the far end of the warehouse. “Owl, coming in.”

 

Harry stood and watched the large brown barn owl swoop in towards them, a small basket clutched in its talons. Odd. Who would have sent an owl? Everyone in the auror department used patronuses to communicate.

 

The bird soared in low and beat its wings to catch itself just in front of Harry. With a soft rustle of feathers, it dropped the basket and landed on a crate, where it perched and blinked at him a few times.

 

“Thank you,” Harry said. 

 

Eyes golden and questioning, the bird tilted its head back and forth, very intent.

 

“I don’t have any treats,” Harry told it, feeling rather guilty. “Sorry?”

 

The owl clacked its beak and took off back out the window. Harry reached for the basket and couldn’t help but feel as if he had just been scolded by a bird.

 

Which might have been amusing, if he hadn’t noticed the note.

 

Malfoy.

 

His hand paused, tense and outstretched. The delivery was a small basket with a package wrapped in a linen napkin, a note clearly visible where it was tucked in on the side. He should throw it all away. He should just banish the whole thing.

 

But he wanted the note. It was foolish, an unhealthy obsession, but he needed to read it. To save it, just in case these strange deliveries escalated into something more insidious. Bitter, he snatched the note out of the basket.

 

“What is it?” Ron asked.

 

Harry shook his head and muttered, “Nothing,” while he tore into the paper envelope. Another card, just like the first five, with a different floral water color. Malfoy must have bought a pack of stationary just for this. He flipped the card open.

 

“Hey! Sandwiches! Thanks, mate!”

 

Harry jolted. “Ron! No!”

 

But it was too late.

 

“What?” Ron asked through a giant mouthful of bread and cheese. “What’s wrong? Were these not for us to share? Mate, you’ve got eight sandwiches in here, and you don’t want to share with your team? That’s not on.”

 

“No! That’s not it! That’s… those are…” Harry stared in horror as his best friend chomped another bite of the sandwich. A bit of yellow mustard oozed out over the top of the paper wrapper and Ron caught it with his thumb. He chewed happily, oblivious to his own impending doom. Probably, he would drop dead or turn into a toad at any second. “Those are from Malfoy.”

 

Ron paused and swallowed hard. “Oh.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry braced his hands on his hips and let his head hang, too weary to deal with this. How much longer was Malfoy going to keep this up?

 

“Did you ever figure out what was up with that? Is he doing something weird with the food?”

 

“I don’t know. I haven’t tried eating any of it.”

 

Thoughtful, Ron hummed and considered the sandwich in his hand. Then he shrugged and lifted it to his mouth once more. “Tastes fine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.” He took another bite and sprayed crumbs as he called out to Angelina and Cho, “Oi, you lot hungry? We got lunch delivered!”

 

“Oh my God.” Harry ran both hands back through his hair. “You really should not be eating any of that.”

 

“Why not?” Angelina asked as she looked over the sandwiches and plucked one out of the basket. She passed it to Cho and then took another for herself. “Thanks, Harry.”

 

At least Cho was sensible enough to think before unwrapping the food. While Angelina and Ron ate, she inspected the paper wrappings and asked Harry, “Is there something wrong with it?”

 

“It’s from Malfoy,” Harry explained. It was too late for Ron and Angelina, but maybe he’d at least be able to save one member of his team from certain poisonous doom. “He’s doing this weird thing where he keeps sending me food, and I don’t know why. I don’t know if there’s something in it, I don’t know if it’s a trick. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not going to eat any of it, and you probably shouldn’t either.”

 

Defiant, Angelina took that moment to groan around a mouthful of roast beef. “So good. Gotta make sure we send Malfoy a thank you when we get back.”

 

“Good thought, yeah.” Ron nodded. “Tastes normal, right? I don’t taste anything weird in there.”

 

“No, totally normal.” Angelina took another bite and then used the sandwich to gesture at Ron. “And you and I would know, right? If this was meant to be a prank? You and I tend to be George’s favorite test subjects for new Wheezes products, so our prank detectors are pretty finely tuned.”

 

They were trying to annoy him, and it would serve them right if they had to go to the hospital after this. Harry sneered and bit down so he didn’t snap a retort.

 

Cho looked back from forth from her treasonous team mates, to Harry, to the sandwich she cradled in her hands. She chewed on her lip. “We’re going to be working late today? We can’t leave to go get something else to eat?”

 

Harry sighed and shook his head. “There’s no one else available today to come out and help us secure the site. We need to clear it before we can leave.”

 

Sincere and serious, she asked, “And you’ll avenge us all if we die?”

 

That was it, then. His whole squad had betrayed him, sold him out for a couple of ruddy, soggy sandwiches. He rolled his eyes, but said, “Yeah. I will.”

 

“Thanks, Harry.” She wasted no time in unwrapping her own lunch and chomping a bite.

 

He turned back to the crate he’d been working on before the interruption, but Angelina stopped him. “You really should eat something. We’ve still got a long while to go before we can get out of here.”

 

“I’m fine,” Harry snapped without looking up.

 

“What if you wait an hour?” Ron asked. “If nothing’s happened to us, then you’ll know--”

 

“No, Ron!” Harry cut himself off and took a breath. This was stupid. He didn’t need to be fighting with his friends and co-workers over sandwiches. Over Malfoy. He didn’t need anyone babying him and telling him when and what to eat. “I don’t want anything from him, alright? And I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

 

They all fell quiet, and Harry felt their silent stares as a heavy press against his back.

 

“Okay,” Ron finally said. “It is weird, what he’s doing. I’m with you there.”

 

Cho and Angelina both hummed their agreement, and Angelina asked, “Is that a note? Did he send you a note with the food? Does he always do that?”

 

“Yeah.” He’d forgotten the thick paper card, clenched in his tight fist. “Yeah, he sends them every time. They’re theories, really ridiculous ones, about why he’s doing all this. Lost a bet, charity effort, that sort of thing.”

 

Angelina wadded up the empty sandwich paper. As she pushed fly-aways of her dark hair back off her high forehead, she asked, “So what’s this one say?”

 

Good question. Whatever it was, it was probably ridiculous and irrelevant. He flipped open the card and read aloud, “Theory #6: This is actually just a nice gesture, but you’re too paranoid and emotionally stunted to recognize it, you prick.”

 

Annoyed, frustrated heat burned up the back of his neck. That was just too much. All of the notes were ridiculous, a waste of Harry’s time, but this one really rubbed him the wrong way, and it twisted a sick, sour feeling in his stomach. All of this was Malfoy’s doing, Malfoy’s fault. All of this was Malfoy choosing to be invasive, intrusive, annoying. And now, with this note, he had the audacity to try to turn it around on Harry? To imply that it was Harry’s own fault that he found this upsetting? That Harry was paranoid? That he was some sad, broken, lonely, prickly man who was too cynical to recognize a nice gesture when he saw one…?

 

That wasn’t fair.

 

His eyes had gone blurry and hot. He blinked a few times.

 

That hit too close to home. And Harry also knew it wasn’t the truth, there was something more going on, but the fact that this stupid note made him feel…No. Was supposed to make him feel like maybe this was his fault? That was just cruel.

 

He crumpled up the note card and stuffed it in the pocket of his robes.

 

Ron sneered and shook his head. “What a git.”

 

The simple gesture, the reminder that Ron was always on his side, loosened the knot in this chest. “Right? Yeah. He really is.”

 

“And none of that’s true,” Cho said, but then caught herself. “Well, maybe the paranoid bit. But that’s just because you’re an auror. We’re all paranoid. I personally think everyone I meet is probably about to murder me.”

 

“Same,” Angelina said. “And you’re not emotionally stunted at all. Emotionally guarded, yes. But not stunted.”

 

“Oh.” Harry wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. That wasn’t true, was it? Of course, he didn’t trust or let people in easily. And he had always had trouble letting his friends know when he was having a hard time. But he was very loving. He’d always shared the good things. Just because he tried to shield his loved ones from the bad things…the anger and grief and despair…Harry had rather a lot more bad things than most people wanted to know about. He didn’t keep those things away from people because he was guarded, he kept them away from people because he cared about them. That didn’t make him guarded. “Thanks. I think.”

 

With the three of them sated and full of evil sandwiches, they got back to their searching and cataloguing. As Harry checked the contents of crate after crate, repetitive and careful, his mind wandered.

 

He wasn’t guarded. Was he?

 

Wonderful. Now he was going to worry about it for the rest of the night, in the moments when he wasn’t obsessively worrying over Malfoy. 

 

And wasn’t that just the kicker? Malfoy himself had said that first morning, when Harry confronted him, that Harry was doomed to think about him. To think about him morning, noon, and night. To think about him in bed. It had turned out to be true, like a fairy tale curse.

 

Maybe he should go yell at him again.

 

Though that had just seemed to egg Malfoy on. The way he’d taunted Harry, the glint in his silvery eyes, the brazen nature of his suggestive comments…

 

It made his blood boil, fighting with him like that, getting up in his face. Like the old days. He hated it.

 

Or maybe he hated the fact that he…didn’t quite hate it. He hated the torment, hated Malfoy invading his private life and sending over food, hated that he didn’t know why.

 

But standing toe to toe with him, shouting, snarling, snapping at each other, with Malfoy fighting back? That had made the blood pump through his veins, wild and rushing. The adrenaline was better than flying. That, he didn’t quite hate. That was the thing that fulfilled Malfoy’s awful curse, his prophecy, that Harry was now doomed to think about him.

 

Because each night, hours after every delivery, Harry would lie awake angry, sizzling with pent up aggression, blood throbbing through his head and chest and cock, thinking about nothing but Draco sodding Malfoy.

 

It was yet another thing to hate himself for.

Chapter Text

Tinkling of glasses, clinking of silverware on dishes, and polite conversation filled the dining room at Malfoy Manor for the first time in well over a decade.

 

It was bizarre.

 

Draco sat at the head of the table but felt out of his body, perhaps above it, watching from a detached distance as his hands fumbled through the motions of hospitality, as he played at being a host. Each movement felt overly thoughtful and deliberate, shaky, uncertain.

 

“This is really delicious,” Parvati said as she tapped the corner of her mouth with her linen napkin. “What seasoning did you use to marinade the fish?”

 

“Oh.” Draco blinked and stared for a half a second too long before he remembered how to respond. “Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy it. And it’s honey, garlic, some lemon, a lot of butter…nothing too exciting.”

 

She nodded. “It’s very good.”

 

A few more words exchanged over the table, a lot more clinking.

 

Lavender tilted her head back to take a swig from her wine glass, draining it. Her eye caught on the high ceiling, the glittering crystal chandelier above the long table. “It’s pretty in here,” she said as she sat her glass back down on the white tablecloth with a muffled thunk. She gestured out at the elegant room, the eggshell white walls and teal accents, the gauzy curtains swaying in the breeze around the tall open windows. Late evening light poured orange sunset into the room. “Not how I imagined. I always pictured Malfoy Manor looking all gothic and dark.”

 

A flash of memory burst behind his eyes at her comment: a very different sort of meeting in this room, long ago, the old table permanently stained with blood and scarred by venom and curses. He forced a smile and fought to keep the moment of distress from showing on his face. “It used to look very different. Mother and I redecorated.”

 

It took him longer than it should have to notice Lavender’s wine glass was empty, and his hands were quite unsure of themselves as he reached for the bottle. “Another?”

 

“Keep it coming, love.”

 

More chatter. All polite. Very polite.

 

It was only a little bit obvious that all of Lavender’s friends detested him. They hid it rather well, and he was grateful for that. This was fine. Draco could play along with this. He was doing a rusty but perfectly reasonable job at acting like a normal person with friends and a social life. Commendable, really.

 

“So Draco, Lavender tells us you’ve just recently taken up cooking as a hobby.” Anthony Goldstein had a wonderfully earnest face. Kind eyes. As he asked, Draco almost believed he was truly interested in the topic, interested in Draco’s cooking adventures rather than just being polite. “Where did you learn to cook? Have you been taking classes?”

 

“No, actually. A friend is teaching me. Well. Friend? She’s my house elf. Not that a house elf can’t be a friend. She’s both, I suppose. House elf and friend.” His cheeks heated as he rambled and tripped his way through the answer. The other guests all nodded politely, but Lavender studied him with a funny little smile. “Anyway, her name is Mipsy. She’s been teaching me.”

 

Goldstein turned back to Parvati and Padma spoke to Astoria, and while all of them were wrapped up with each other, politely ignoring Draco, Lavender slid her hand across the table and squeezed his wrist.

 

“This is really nice,” she whispered, and her eyes were bright and smiling with kind sincerity. “You’re doing fine, and everyone is having a lovely time.”

 

Now why the fuck did that bring a lump to his throat? Damn, but he was a sentimental fool!

 

He did appreciate it, though. Her support. Her friendship. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispered back. He took a breath and let himself stare at nothing but her for a second. Her hair was down and natural, tumbles of loose curl, and she wore a flowing, spring green summer dress that gave her ample curves a soft and gentle femininity. With flats. Shocking. But lovely. “You look beautiful, by the way. I’m sorry, I should have mentioned earlier.”

 

“You’re sweet.” She pouted, her lower lip thick and pink and shiny with lipstick, and reached out to pat his cheek. “Don’t be nervous.”

 

Still in a low voice, private, he insisted, “I’m not nervous!” Even though he was, just a bit. “I just--”

 

“Alright, that’s it! I can’t stand it anymore!” Astoria slammed both of her palms down flat on the tabletop. Every dish and serving platter rattled, and Draco and Goldstein both flinched. Everyone turned to stare at her. With a deep breath and great gravitas, she straightened her posture and brushed her long cascade of silky chestnut brown hair back off her pale shoulder. “I have a confession to make. I cannot sit at this table with this company for another second without getting this out into the open.”

 

Oh. Draco’s heart raced, nervous. Was this to be it, then? He’d half expected them to all turn on him and reject him outright. He hadn’t thought it would come from the one fellow Slytherin…

 

“Draco Malfoy.” Serious and intense, her brown eyes very round and doe-ish, she pinned him with a look.

 

Spine. Mask. Mountain lion. Draco schooled his features, hid his nerves, and set down his wine glass. “Yes, Astoria?”

 

“I had…” She closed her eyes and took a long, bracing breath. “The world’s biggest crush on you back at school!”

 

A shocked laugh barked from Draco’s throat at her shouted confession. “Oh. Oh, dear.”

 

“It’s true!” She slumped and collapsed bodily onto the table, her willowy arms flailing. A bright grin lit her delicate face. Laughing, she said, “It was so embarrassing! For a few years, I was completely obsessed with you. I paid two galleons to someone to take a photo of you during a quidditch game, and then I attached it to the front of my Charms notebook!”

 

Lavender squealed, “No you did not! Story, that’s too good!”

 

“It’s true, I swear it!” She lifted her hand as if swearing an oath. “From ages eleven to fourteen or so, I had a giant crush on you, Draco.”

 

Parvati and Anthony laughed, Lavender looked far too amused for her own good, and Draco nodded politely while his cheeks heated. But Padma slammed her own hands down flat on the table and sent the silverware chattering again. As she jolted forward to glare menacingly at her wife, her long black braid swung forward and nearly brushed across her plate. “Babe! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this!”

 

“What?” Astoria laughed and fluttered her eyelashes. “It’s hardly scandalous now! Just embarrassing. But it was a long time ago! You don’t need to get jealous!”

 

“No, babe.” Padma rolled her eyes and grabbed Astoria’s thin wrist. “When we were kids, I also had a giant crush on Draco Malfoy.”

 

Astoria’s pretty, delicate mouth opened into a wide, obscene oh, delighted and grinning, her jaw nearly unhinged. Lavender screamed while tears leaked from her eyes. Goldstein chuckled and looked around the table, bemused. Parvati wadded up her teal linen napkin and threw it across the table at her twin with a shout of, “You traitorous bint! You did not! Why didn’t you tell me? You can’t be serious!”

 

And Draco, face burning, hid his head in his hands. Completely against his will, silent, surprised laughter shook his chest. While Parvati and Padma laughed and shouted at each other across the table, Astoria standing up and pointing to add her commentary throughout, Draco caught his breath and put himself together, though the little beam of amusement didn’t go away. It was bizarre. Unexpected. Otherworldly. And so much better than anything he could have predicted. When their shouting died down, at the moment of lull, Draco perked up and faked sincerity. To the table, with a magnanimous wave of his hand, he asked, “Anyone else? Goldstein, perhaps?”

 

Anthony winced, good natured and bashful. “No, no. Sorry, mate.”

 

“Stop fishing for compliments.” Lavender laughed and smacked him with her napkin. “For a while, half our class fancied you.”

 

That was certainly news to Draco, and he scoffed and brushed it off, but everyone else at the table nodded. Parvati hummed and said, “Right. And the other half fancied Harry Potter. But you were absolutely not allowed to fancy both of them. That was not done. You had to have your Potter phase or your Malfoy phase, and then that was it. No switching.”

 

“You had the lock on all the Slytherins,” Astoria assured him. “We all worshiped you.”

 

Padma ducked her head. “Quite a few of the Ravenclaws, too. Basically, anyone who was into the tormented bad boy who just needed a soft touch to redeem him-type fancied you.”

 

“Wait, so tell me more about this, love.” Astoria slid a little closer to her wife. “I gave embarrassing details. You need to get on my level with the humiliating stories.” She nodded in Draco’s direction. “Plus, we’re making him blush something awful, and that’s a charming little bit of fun, isn’t it?”

 

Draco wanted to argue, but it was no use, so he sat straight-backed in his chair and continued blushing.

 

Padma scrunched her nose up and pouted. “It’s not even that embarrassing, really. I never did anything too ridiculous.” She looked at Draco and said, “Honestly, I think I fancied you because deep down I knew you were gay! Something in my little queer heart saw likeness in you, and so as a child forced to perform compulsory heterosexuality, I somehow recognized you as a safe boy to fancy. Plus, you were very cute and posh.”

 

“Ugh.” Astoria groaned and reached for her wine glass. “So cute. You were such a prince.”

 

With all of his might, Draco forced himself not to giggle. This was so far from anything he had expected, so far from how he’d imagined any of his old school mates remembered him from childhood, and it tickled him absolutely pink. It was sweet. Kind, even. And very unexpected. “Thank you,” he managed to say through the tightly held laughter that clenched his throat. “Really, thank you. I’m quite certain most of our classmates remember me as a nasty little shit stain. It’s heartwarming to know you remember me a bit more fondly.”

 

Laughing, Padma and Astoria both raised their wine glasses.

 

And then so did Parvati, as she added, “Well, I personally remember you as a nasty little shit stain.”

 

Lavender said, “Me too!”

 

“Well. Me three, and cheers to that!” Draco raised his own glass. “And cheers to Anthony Goldstein! Anthony Goldstein, the only one of you who hasn’t tried to embarrass me horribly at my own dining table! He’s the real MVP of this evening!”

 

Assorted cheers and cries of, “To Anthony!” rallied around the table and everyone laughed and drank while Goldstein patted himself on the back and bashfully accepted the praise.

 

The night took an incredible turn from there.

 

Everyone relaxed. Opened up. Drank more wine. Told more stories. It was fun. As the group sat around his dining table, ate the food he had cooked, and laughed together, Draco was shocked to discover that he was having fun.

 

Which was why it was so unfortunate that his veela instincts kicked in, just at the moment when things started to go well.

 

Feed him. Potter needs food. Send him something.

 

Draco pushed it to the back of his mind for a moment, just until he could find a decent excuse to disappear from the table. But it persisted. A headache twinged in his temples.

 

“Who was the girl equivalent, though?” Parvati propped an elbow on the table, and her gold bangles shimmered as they slid down her wrist. “If everyone who fancied boys had to have a crush on either Harry or Draco, was there a pairing you had to choose if you fancied girls?”

 

Feed him. Feed him.

 

Draco grabbed his glass and gulped wine too fast while he tried to look as if nothing was amiss.

 

“Not really, no,” Goldstein said, and he looked to Padma and Astoria for back-up. “The feminine-admiring among us were pretty diverse in who we fancied.”

 

Feed him. Get up. Send him food. He needs it now.

 

But he couldn’t escape from the table yet. He could say he needed to grab the dessert course, but no one was finished with the entrée yet! Everyone spoke through mouthfuls of food, and a few reached for spoonfuls of seconds, roast vegetables and saffron rice piled on silver serving platters in the middle of the table. No. Draco grimaced a smile and followed the conversation while he flaked a small bite of fish off with his fork. It would have to wait.

 

His headache grew and throbbed.

 

Goldstein continued on, “The only thing similar I can think of is that you absolutely had to have a strong opinion about Hermione Granger. You had to be in love with her, or you had to think she was awful. No in between.”

 

Everyone nodded knowingly. “Gorgeous,” Astoria said, and Padma nodded her agreement. “Definitely gorgeous.”

 

“Oh, so gorgeous!” Lavender announced. “And I’m so glad she finally realized it. She seems a lot more secure now, like she has less to prove. Probably a bit easier for her now that she doesn’t have us vapid, emotional brats as roommates.”

 

Feed him. Feed him. Feed him.

 

Discreetly, Draco pressed a few fingers against his temple to relieve the pressure.

 

Parvati glared at Lavender. “We were fine. She was the one who could be a real brat.”

 

“We were all brats. And really, we were three of the only brown witches in the whole school, all rooming together for years. By rights, we should have joined forces to become the most badass, melanin-blessed girl gang Hogwarts had ever seen. But instead, she judged us for embracing our femininity. We judged her for not properly performing hers. It was all internalized misogyny and patriarchal nonsense.” She lifted her glass and grinned, and slipped Draco a quick, sweet wink. “Cheers to confronting all our internalized prejudices and becoming better people than we were when we were teenagers!”

 

That flash of a wink, that clearly-pointed message, brought another lump to his throat. It strained him as much as the headache did, though for better reasons. No one had ever acknowledged his transformation outright like that. He’d fought for personal growth long and hard, and still kept his head down in a struggle to drive forward, to work hard, to prove how much he had changed. No one ever seemed to notice. No one seemed to believe in it. But she did.

 

He didn’t have a chance to respond properly. Nauseous bile burned up the back of his throat, and by the time he’d swallowed it down, the moment passed.

 

Feed him. Feed him. Feed him.

 

Conversation continued on as his guests finished what was on their plates, but Draco sat tense and waiting for the moment he could run to the kitchen without causing a scene. His head pounded. He only vaguely followed the flow of talk around him, since he was too busy hiding his discomfort and forcing himself to appear fine.

 

The urge pounded through him steady and sure, like a heartbeat: Feed him. Feed him.

 

And then, as he sucked in air and quietly looked out over the laughing, happy group in his dining room, a strong insistent thought soured his stomach: Potter should be here. He should be enjoying this meal.

 

It brought with it such an uncommon wave of bittersweet melancholy that Draco felt suddenly very heavy, drifting and lost while the party clattered and glimmered on around him in slow motion. Everyone all together, dressed up in nice clothes, laughing and reminiscing over wine and a good meal of his own making… It wasn’t right. It felt deeply wrong, in a sad and panging way, that Potter was not here to enjoy the warmth and comfort of the evening.

 

And strangest of all was that he couldn’t quite tell if the thought had come from the veela instincts or from his own mind. His own heart.

 

Something burned his eyes, like the onions he’d chopped earlier, and he blinked to clear it.

 

“Draco?” Lavender laid her hand on his arm. “Are you alright?”

 

“Yes!” He snapped his response, too quickly, and that was that. He couldn’t wait any longer, couldn’t put it off. They would all think him mad. So be it. His chair scraped against the floor as he shoved back from the table and stood, his napkin falling right off his lap. Everyone looked startled, except for Lavender, who looked worried. “I’m so sorry. Something’s just suddenly come up. Nothing to worry about. I just need to check on something.”

 

And he ignored their confused looks while he hurried out of the dining room.

 

As soon as he made it into the hallway, his headache eased and his nausea passed. This was right. Potter needed something. Draco would provide. It wasn’t enough, but it was fine. Head clearing, he marched up the hall towards the kitchens, focused on his mission.

 

“Draco!” Lavender ran after him, her hair bouncing as she hurried out of the dining room. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”

 

“Fine! I’m fine. It’s a…” He glanced behind her at the firmly closed door to the dining room and lowered his voice. “Veela thing. Just have to…”

 

Her face brightened. “Send food to Harry?”

 

He nodded. “I tried to put it off until a more convenient moment, but if I waited much longer I would have sicked up all over the table.”

 

“Gross.” She grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hall. “Alright then, let me help you. We’ll get it done faster that way. Plus, I am a bit curious about this whole thing.”

 

Draco sighed and resigned himself to her bubbly, bossy assistance. 

 

 In the kitchen, messy pots and pans oozed sauce and butter, discarded knives and utensils scattered the scene, and mounds of left-over food crowded the countertops. Piles of food. Miles of food. A platter with a huge stack of gorgeous salmon filets, mountains of rice, several bowls of vegetables. Not to mention the two dozen mini soufflé dishes of crème brûlée, which hadn’t been served yet. Lavender startled to a halt and blinked out at the chaos, her eyes narrowed and judgmental. “You did know how many people I was bringing tonight, right? I did tell you there would be five of us?”

 

Draco sniffed and refused to acknowledge that she might have a point. “You did. Yes.”

 

With a flailing arm, she gestured out at the catastrophic mess of the kitchen and squealed, “Why in Merlin’s name did you make so much food? Draco, this is ridiculous!”

 

“I--” He balled his fists and fidgeted, fought the urge to stamp his foot. “I didn’t want to run out!”

 

“Didn’t want to run out?” Lavender sashayed up to the counter for a closer look at all the leftovers, which were perfectly preserved under warming charms. “Did you think maybe the whole Ministry would drop by unannounced?”

 

“I’ve never hosted anything before, and I am very new to cooking.” Part of Draco acknowledged that yes, he had gone overboard. Yes, he had made an absurd amount of food. No, he hadn’t needed to spend eight hours in the kitchen preparing for this dinner. And yes, Mipsy had been right that this was too much, which she had told him at least seventeen times while she instructed and oversaw his work. But, in his defense, he had been very nervous in the lead-up to the evening, and he had needed everything to be perfect. Better to make too much than too little. Looking out at all the food, he could see the absurdity, but it had made perfect sense at the time. Careful and strained, he said, “I just wanted it to be nice.”

 

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but a smile blossomed over her whole face and lit it up. “Fine.” She snatched a crème brûlée off the dessert tray and cracked the sugary crust with a spoon. “I won’t tell everyone how much food you made or how nervous you were about this. And you don’t tell anyone that I gobbled down three of these little puddings in five minutes.” She took a bite and moaned, her eyes rolling back in her head. Through a mouthful of custard, she declared, “That is incredible. Now. Do you have to make something else, or can you just send Harry some of this?”

 

“This.” The answer came easily. “I think maybe that’s part of why I made so much in the first place. Veela thing, acting up.”

 

“Good. That makes it easier.” She pulled the spoon from her mouth with a pop. “Let’s make a plate for him, then.”

 

More. Feast. Feed him more.

 

Draco did not fight the instinct. “We’ll need more than a plate.”

 

“You can’t sent him all of this.”

 

“Not all of it,” Draco said as he rifled through a few cabinets and found the right platters, dishes, and utensils. “But he’s not alone right now, I think.”

 

Lavender got started moving servings of salmon from the massive first tray onto a smaller second tray while Draco called for reinforcements.

 

Mipsy crossed her arms over her chest and glared when she walked into the kitchen. The cold fury on her wrinkled old face was rather terrifying.

 

Draco feigned innocence as he scooped rice into a bowl. “Could you help with this please? I have another delivery for Harry Potter.”

 

“Perhaps.” Mipsy planted both hands on her hips, and her long ears stood at strict attention. “Is Mipsy ever going to see her countertops again?”

 

“Of course you will. I promised you I would clean everything, didn’t I? You won’t have to lift a finger. I’ll have it good as new before the end of the night.” The assurances seemed to work because her glare softened. While he stacked plates and added to the feast, Lavender arranged the salmon filets into a nice presentation and watched the back and forth between him and Mipsy with a faint smirk. Draco asked, “Did you and Dimple eat?”

 

Mipsy padded further into the big room, her sensible black shoes tapping on the tile with each little-legged step. “Mipsy and Dimple took dinner with Mistress Narcissa in her sitting room.”

 

Draco’s hands paused, a serving spoon full of rice held precariously aloft. “How was it?”

 

Her grumpy expression slowly turned into a reluctant smile. “Lord Malfoy is becoming a very good cook. Will make a husband very happy someday, and then Mipsy can retire in peace.”

 

“Thank you.” He tried not to show it, but that was rather pleasing. Mipsy was a tough critic.

 

It took only a moment to gather up the rest of the food and arrange it nicely. Food that wouldn’t be eaten, on dishes that would be banished, yes. But Draco wouldn’t put in half effort. So what if Potter never ate any of the gifts he sent? So what if it was all for nothing? If it all went to waste? That was fine. Draco would carry on anyway.

 

Because it was an opportunity to annoy Potter. Right. That was…

 

Fine.

 

He cleared his throat, gave himself a little shake, and decided not to think about it. About any of it.

 

Don’t think about how Potter will never appreciate this, will always see it as a threat. Don’t think about how he wants nothing to do with you. Don’t think about how you’re learning to cook for a man who will never eat any of your food. Don’t think. Just send it.

 

He summoned a note card and a quill, but hesitated over what to write, because thinking about anything meant sad and weary thoughts of disappointment, of loneliness, could creep in. He asked Lavender, “What’s a theory I could put on the card this time? Something clever.”

 

She leaned against the countertop with one hip and stared him down, one eyebrow raised.

 

“What?” he asked.

 

“I have one. But you won’t like it.”

 

“What is it?”

 

She shrugged. “The truth.”

 

“No. Absolutely not.”

 

“Not the whole truth,” she said. “Just the important part. That you love him.”

 

At that, Draco had to laugh. He stared at her, slack jawed, and shook with ridiculous humor. “Very funny.”

 

“I’m being serious.”

 

Draco paused, saw the earnest and heartfelt expression on her face, the touch of sadness in her eyes, and knew she meant it. “Lavender, why on earth would I do that? Why would I humiliate myself like that?”

 

She sighed and pushed her hair back off her forehead. “When else are you ever going to tell him? Wouldn’t you like to say it? Just once? I know you think he’ll never have feelings for you back, that you are not interested in pursuing something more with him, and I get that. I respect that. But Draco…” With a soft, pouting smile that glistened in her eyes, she stepped in closer and took one of his hands in her own. Her grip was warm and strong. “You’ve carried these feelings for so long. You’ll probably carry them all your life. Don’t you want to say it? To tell him? Just once in your life, even if he won’t really listen to it? You’re playing this game with him now, so he won’t believe it anyway. It’s a perfect opportunity. What harm could it do?”

 

Something wild and terrified, like a wounded deer, threatened to break free from within Draco’s chest. At the thought, at the mere hint of what she was suggesting, his heart dove into panic and his body trembled with sickly tension. “I can’t.” The whisper nearly caught in his throat. “Lavender, I’ve never told anyone but you how I feel for him. I can’t say that!”

 

“I know.” She squeezed his hand tighter and refused to let him look away, even though he desperately wanted to run and hide, to change the subject, to lash out, to insult her, to pretend they had never become friends. She held onto his hand, and he held her gaze. “I just think that at the end of your life, you’re going to feel better knowing that you were brave enough to say it to him, at least once.”

 

Dammit. Damn Lavender Brown. Damn the day they became friends. Damn this veela bullshit. Damn Harry Potter.

 

But most of all…damn him. Damn him for being a coward, when he had sworn for years he never would again. Not when he could help it. For so long, he had practiced facing the world head-on, even when it frightened him, even when it threatened him. Head up. Eyes open. Perhaps he had been a coward about his own feelings. Perhaps, just once, he should face them head-on.

 

He took a breath. Closed his eyes.

 

And found his goddamn spine.

 

In a rush of quick, stilted movement, he turned, grabbed the quill, and jotted down a message. In script shaky enough to show his nerves, the card read: Theory #7: Draco Malfoy is in love with Harry Potter.

 

He shoved it off to Lavender, who handed it to Mipsy, who collected all the trays and vanished with a pop.

 

The two of them alone together in the wide, silent kitchen, Draco trembled in silent panic for a long moment. A love note. He had just sent a love note to Harry Potter. He had just confessed his feelings to Harry Potter.

 

Then, a laugh snorted out of his nose, and he lost it. Lavender joined him, and the two of them slid to the floor and laughed. His blue suit jacket crumpled and his pants creased, and he didn’t care. He had lost his mind! He had utterly lost his mind. “What did I just do? I can’t believe you convinced me to do that!”

 

Lavender grabbed his shoulder and gave it a firm shake so that his back thunked against the wooden cabinet behind him. “I’m proud of you!”

 

“Proud of me!” Draco squeaked, rather more high pitched than he would have preferred, but he seemed to have lost control over his voice and actions. “You’re proud of me for sending a love note! Like a silly little twelve year old girl!”

 

Together, they sat there on the cold tile floor giggling and gasping for air until tears ran down Draco’s face.

 

Until the rest of the party guests found them.

 

“What are you doing?” Astoria asked as she pushed open the kitchen door and tottered into the room in her slinky black dress and glittery spiked heels. “Is everything okay?”

 

Mortified, Draco’s face flushed hot and red, but he had lost his mind so he laughed harder.

 

“Come in!” Lavender shouted with good cheer. “Grab me one of those crème brûlées, would you? It’s time for dessert!”

 

Through laughter, barely able to catch his breath, Draco announced to the group, “Yes, dessert will be served on the kitchen floor this evening. We’re very avant garde here!”

 

Both of the twins looked at the mountain of leftovers with shocked expressions, and Padma said, “Wow. You cooked a lot of food, didn’t you?”

 

But Anthony, who was turning out to be one of Draco’s favorite people, said nothing and hid his reaction rather admirably. His eyes widened a bit, but he otherwise did not outwardly show that he thought Draco was an utter loony, and Draco appreciated that. “Nice kitchen. You have a lovely home.”

 

“Yes,” Astoria said as she peered around. “But where do you keep the wine?”

 

He summoned another bottle while Lavender grabbed the tray of crème brûlées. A bit hesitant at first, everyone joined them on the floor. Hesitation quickly turned to amusement, and as they ate dessert and drank a lot of wine, amusement turned to raucous laughter. For long hours into the night, they got drunk on the floor of the kitchen and gossiped and laughed and told stories. It was warm enough, fun enough, to keep Draco’s mind largely distracted from the awful mistake he’d made.  

 

 

***

 

 

Inside their pop-up tent, the summer night air hung heavy and stagnant. Much like this stakeout. Ron and Harry had pulled weekend, after-hours duty once again, and sat together in a small, open-front tent across the street from another warehouse. Under heavy disillusionment and wards, they were invisible to anyone outside and could settle in for a long night of watching, waiting, and probably not much else.

 

Eyes heavy, Harry sat on his folding camp chair and stared across the dimly lit street at the long windowless building. Two entrances. Both on this side. No sign of movement yet, but a source suggested one of the dark wizards they were tracking would show up to accept a delivery sometime over the weekend.

 

“Should have brought a deck of cards or something,” Ron grumbled, beside Harry on his own folding chair. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back to stretch his legs out long.

 

Harry laughed. “You say that every time, and you never do bring them.”

 

“Yeah. That’s because you’re better at poker than I am. I don’t want to lose all my money to you.” Ron cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, stiff after a few hours camped out. “But after a while of this? My smarter nature gets restless and I start thinking it wouldn’t be so bad.”

 

“I wouldn’t make you play with real money.” He scoffed and rolled his eyes, laughing, but turned back to watch the doors on their target. “Honestly, what sort of monster do you think I am, that I’d steal money from my godchildren’s Christmas and birthday funds like that?”

 

“Oh, like you wouldn’t turn around and spend it all on them anyway. You spoil them worse than I do.”

 

They fell silent and watched the road for a while. No one passed. No one came.

 

“Alright.” Ron stood with a mighty sigh and stretched out his arms. “I have to eat something. I’ve got shitty crumbled up biscuits and a pack of stale pretzels. Want to share?”

 

“Oh.” Harry shook his head. “I didn’t bring anything.”

 

“I know you didn’t bring anything.” Ron scooted behind their chairs to grab a few cups off the little shelf behind them, and filled both with an aguamenti. As water flowed from his wand into glasses he balanced in one hand, he said, “I know you. You never bring anything. I’m asking if you want anything I’ve got.”

 

“No thanks.” Harry didn’t turn around. If he thought about it, his stomach ached with hunger, but he couldn’t eat yet. His shoulders and spine tensed. “I’m okay.”

 

“Harry.” Ron passed him a cool glass of water and rifled through his pockets for whatever snacks he had squirreled away. “You have to eat something.”

 

“Well, cheers, mate.” He lifted his water glass and took a sip, for no other reason than to appease his friend. “But I don’t really want to snack on pretzels that have been hanging out near your arse crack for the past three hours.”

 

Lofty and posh, Ron said as he sat back down, “It adds nuance to the flavor.”

 

“Ew.”

 

They sat in silence within nothing but the sound of Ron’s crunching for a moment. Empty street. Empty stomach. Harry would eat when he got home. Or tomorrow morning, more likely.

 

“Mum says you’ve been skipping meals.”

 

Taken aback, Harry turned and stared at his friend. “How the hell would your mum know that?”

 

Ron stared straight ahead, kept his eyes on the warehouse door across the street. A pool of half-hearted streetlight pointed at the rickety entrance, but nothing moved within. “Teddy told her.”

 

“Teddy?” Annoyance clenched his stomach. Not at his godson, but at his meddling friends and family, and at the conversation he knew would come. “Why would Teddy be talking about my eating habits?”

 

“Mum asked him,” Ron said as he spun a pretzel around on his pinky finger, crumbs and salt snowing down onto his dragon hide auror boots. “We’ve had a lot of stake-outs lately, and I noticed you haven’t been eating. So I asked mum, and she asked Teddy, and she said he told her that you eat when the two of you are together. But when you work late, sometimes you eat leftovers, but sometimes you just grab a handful of popcorn or crisps, and sometimes you don’t eat anything at all.”

 

Traitors. All of them. Defensive, a little too loud, Harry argued, “I’m busy! I don’t have time to sit down for a full meal, what with all the hours we’ve been working. I just--”

 

“I know, mate. I know. I’m not trying to argue with you. It’s just…” While Ron paused, Harry braced himself for another attack into his business. “It’s not just that. We’re a little worried about you.”

 

Harry huffed and turned away, shook his head. “Please. Tell me more about what I’m doing wrong.”

 

“Okay,” Ron said slowly, carefully. “Since you bring it up like that… You’ve been really defensive lately. Kind of snappish and irritable.”

 

“I have not!”

 

“You snapped at Rosie the other day.”

 

The accusation stopped Harry dead. Instantly, all the fight drained out of him and a lump rose up the back of his throat. That couldn’t be true. Could it? He wouldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t have done something unkind like that to his little baby goddaughter, whom he loved more than his own life. Unless, maybe…

 

“It wasn’t that bad,” Ron rushed to say when he saw the horror and pain manifest on Harry’s face. “She tried to show you a picture she’d drawn and you brushed her off and told her to go play. Of all the crimes anyone could commit against a child, it was harmless. She’s not traumatized. I think I noticed it more than she did. But it just wasn’t like you. You’ve never snapped at her like that. Not even when she was born and screamed her head off for three days straight. Remember that?”

 

Harry nodded but couldn’t look at Ron. Shame burned too hot in his chest, and if he looked at his friend right now, he’d feel even worse.

 

“You moved in to help us because Hermione needed to recover from the surgery, and even when I was ready to pull all my hair out, you seemed to love every second of it. You’ve always had endless patience for her, and for Hugo, and for Teddy. I know you’re not the most patient person generally, but you’ve always been with the kids. I had to learn it, but it came naturally to you.” Ron paused, and out of the corner of his eye Harry saw his arm move like he was going to reach out. He stopped himself and said, awkwardly, “Anyway. That’s just something we’ve noticed. You know? I’m not saying you’re not allowed to have a bad day sometimes, and I’m not telling you to stop being irritable, or to eat more. That’s not what I’m trying to say. You know?”

 

As he sucked in a shaky breath, Harry turned further away so he could discreetly wipe at his eyes under his glasses. This burned. Hurt. A lot. It made him feel emptier. Lonelier. He’d known for years that he was broken in some ways, that he failed in a lot of his relationships, that he would never be a great role model or parental figure. But the one thing he’d always been good at was loving his godchildren. Loving his friends and family. Even that, he had fucked up. “What are you trying to say, exactly?”

 

“I don’t know. Hermione’s better at this than I am.” Ron needed a long pause, and they both spent the quiet time staring out at the streetlights, the dark and looming warehouse. When he spoke, he was unsure but steady. “I guess I just mean…you’re acting a bit like you did after the war. A bit like you did a few years ago, when things got hard for you again. I know you had trouble taking care of yourself for a while.”

 

Broken and lonelier than he’d felt in a long while, lonelier than he’d admitted to feeling in a long while, Harry slouched forward and hung his head in his hands. That period of time in his life was a wretched thing to be reminded of, and he could kick Ron for bringing it up.

 

He stopped himself, some other part of him more reasonable.

 

Was it really a reminder?  No. No, that time in his life, when he had felt so empty and broken and despairing, had lingered in the back of his mind for a while. Creeping. Because Ron was right, that he had been acting like that again. All those months after the war, and then again a few years ago, when he’d felt too empty to do anything but breathe, and even that he probably couldn’t have managed if he’d had to think about it. When he walked through the motions of his own life in a haze, barely able to remember any of it once it cleared. When the simple act of making himself something to eat, of taking a shower, of brushing his teeth, felt completely insurmountable. Crushing. Impossible. Exhausting. Because what was the point? He was messed up inside, broken in ways that couldn’t be fixed. Wrong. He put up a good front, chased it away as best he could, but it was a tiring effort. And someday, it would catch up with him again.

 

No, Ron’s comment wasn’t a reminder that made him think of that dark period. It was always in the back of his mind, and lately moving ever closer.

 

“I’m not trying to scold you and tell you to fix it. You know? It’s okay. I’m just trying to let you know that it’s okay for you to talk to us, if you’re struggling.”

 

Harry sniffed and cleared his throat and nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

 

But he wouldn’t. He’d never told them the worst of it, the root cause, the thing that made him feel empty. He’d never told anyone. He didn’t think he ever would.

 

How could anyone ever understand that he had died and come back wrong? How could he ever put that secret on anyone without terrifying them, without driving them away?

 

He had talked to Ron and Hermione about other things, but not that.

 

“’Mione thinks you having a hard time right now might have something to do with Teddy.” Ron shifted in his seat and followed the path of a lone pedestrian as he walked in front of the tent but then hurried on. “Going to Hogwarts soon.”

 

Shocked, Harry looked at Ron and readied himself to argue, to deny. But the insight startled him, and it was too sudden to hide. His face scrunched in pain and he squeezed his eyes shut, the same look he wore when pushing through an injury. Hoarse and thick, the words clawed out of his throat before he could stop them. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”


At that, Ron did reach out. With one big, meaty paw of a hand, he clapped Harry on the shoulder and jostled the bones all up and down Harry’s spine. “You’re going to spend a lot of time at my place, and you’re going to borrow my kids whenever you need. You’re going to be okay.”

 

Harry nodded. Took a breath. Stared down at the light shining off his polished black shoes. Avoided eye contact.

 

“And you are going to let us help you if you need it.” Ron leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees. “You have a lot of people who care about you. Who need you. Not just Teddy. Rosie and Hugo, for a start. Me. I hope you can remember that, when it starts getting hard to remember why you should take care of yourself.”

 

He fell quiet then and left Harry alone with his thoughts. Thoughts that swirled dangerously towards something dark and lonely. But Ron’s words cut through, like a lumos through fog. It was too raw. But there was something real in what he said, something Harry could agree with and hold onto. When Harry slipped like this, he scared his friends.

 

That was part of why he never told them just how deep the problem ran. If this was enough to scare them, what would that do?

 

But he didn’t want to bother them or disappoint them or let them down. He wanted to be a good friend to them.

 

Frustrated and worn-out, Harry hid his face in his hands for a long minute, and Ron let him. He pressed against his head and rubbed at his eyes. Angelina was right: he was emotionally guarded. He was. It was hard to admit. He’d never seen himself like that. But it was true, and Ron was asking him not to be, was telling him that guard was frightening, was asking him to open up in a more meaningful way. It felt like a lot, what Ron was asking.  But Harry would do anything for his friends, his family. He could try to do this: to be more open, to share when he was hurting, to try and take care of himself. Annoyed but determined, he shot out his hand and grumbled, “Alright. Fine. Give me an arse pretzel.”

 

Ron snorted a laugh as he dropped a pretzel into Harry’s palm. “Would you like a biscuit?”

 

“No. I would not like a biscuit.” The pretzel was challenge enough. Dry and dusty in his mouth, it took forever to chew, and all he tasted was salt. It felt wrong. He hadn’t earned it yet. There were still hours left in the stake-out, and he hadn’t done anything worthy of note or reward, hadn’t accomplished anything, hadn’t even finished the task he’d been assigned. But Ron looked pleased, so Harry swallowed it down with a swig of water.

 

“What I would really like,” Ron said as he leaned back in the creaky folding chair and popped another pretzel in his mouth, “Is a steak. I’m so sick of stake-out food. I would give anything for a real meal. What are you doing tomorrow evening? Want to go to dinner with me and ‘Mione? Bring the kiddos?”

 

“Yeah. Alright.” A car drove past on the street, its headlights filling in every dark and shadowy crevice, its tires grinding over gravel and grime and bits of broken glass. “That would be fun.”

 

“It would, wouldn’t it?” With his mouth full, Ron asked, “Harry do you like food? Like, eating? Do you enjoy it?”

 

“I…What?” Harry scoffed at the strange question. “I mean…in general, no? But it’s just something you do, right? It’s not like it’s a hobby anyone enjoys.”

 

“I do!”

 

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, we all know you like to eat, Ron.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” Ron brushed him off. “But it’s more than that. I like cooking, like sitting down for a meal. It was family time growing up, yeah? It still is now. I enjoy it because it’s nice and relaxing and brings all the people I love together. Maybe you should do that.”

 

“Do what? Crash all of your family dinners?”

 

“You could, you know. We wouldn’t mind that.” Harry brushed off the suggestion, but Ron was earnest and serious, and it made something uncomfortable twist in Harry’s guts. He continued on, “No, I just mean…you don’t forget to do something if you’re looking forward to it. If you enjoy it. Like, take me and ‘Mione’s sex life, for example!”

 

“I’d really rather not.”

 

Ron charged on, unperturbed. “We don’t have sex anymore because we have two small children and really terrible work-life balance. But not because I forget about it! You know? It’s too good to forget about. So maybe you should do that. If food was like that for you, maybe you wouldn’t forget to eat sometimes.”

 

Harry blinked and stared at his friend. Deadpan, he said, “So you think I should strive to make every meal like sex with Hermione?”

 

“Yes.” Ron also stared back, serious and poker-faced. “You should make every meal exactly like having sex with Hermione.”

 

Harry cracked first and snorted laughter. “You’re awful. I’m telling her you said that.”

 

“You fucking traitor! You would do that to me after--”

 

A loud, sudden pop cut him off. Harry and Ron both jolted and leapt out of their chairs, ready. Wands gripped in their hands, they flew into defensive positions and pointed them at…

 

A house elf.

 

Harry blinked and surveilled her. An older house elf woman with very round eyes, she wore trousers and a nice silk blouse in paisley print. She looked vaguely familiar. And she carried a tray stacked with food.

 

Oh no.

 

All around her floated more trays of vegetables and rice, dishes and silverware.

 

“No way,” Harry snapped. He lowered his wand but took a step towards her. “This better not be--”

 

She cut him off. “A gift, sir.”

 

His wand creaked as he clenched his fist around the handle, nearly hard enough to snap the wood. Dammit, Malfoy! Not again!

 

Ron approached the elf woman with wide eyes and an open mouth. He leaned down to sniff at the tray she held. Dreamy, he asked, “Are you an angel?”

 

“No sir.” She looked startled by this question. “Mipsy is an elf.”

 

“I was just talking about how hungry I was! I was just wishing for a good meal!” Ron grinned and pointed at her. “And now here you are. Like an angel.”

 

Voice firm and tight, Harry said, “Mipsy thank you, but we don’t want--”

 

She ignored him and announced loud enough to drown him out, “A gift for Mr. Harry Potter, sir.”

 

“Mipsy, I do not--”

 

“From Lord Malfoy. He has cooked a magnificent feast for your enjoyment this evening.”

 

“Mipsy!”

 

She lifted one hand.

 

Harry panicked. “Mipsy, don’t you dare!”

 

She dared. With a snap of her long, bony fingers, all of the dishes and platters floated into position and arrayed themselves on a conjured dining table. In less than three seconds, the places were set, the dishes were arranged, the food was ready…

 

And Mipsy was gone.

 

“That little--!” Harry snarled and squeezed his eyes shut to rein in his rage. He wanted to punch something. Instead, he just clenched his fists tighter and held them at his sides as he hissed breath through his nose. “Ugh!”

 

“So…” Ron shifted from foot to foot and looked down at the elegantly set table, the piles of gorgeous looking food. It smelled incredible, and a sweet tangy aroma filled the whole tent. “Not trying to be an insensitive jerk or anything, but…”

 

“Eat. Just… Don’t talk about it. Just eat.”

 

They both sat back down in their folding chairs, which now lined one side of the new table. Harry pushed his plate away empty and avoided looking at the food. Instead, he stared out over it at the warehouse beyond.

 

Where a witch appeared. She apparated in. He tensed. Watched.

 

But relaxed as she approached. Harry could tell from the familiar curls, figure, and confident steps that it was Hermione. He hopped up while she peered around the sidewalk, looking for a tell-tale glimmer of a ward or disillusionment spell. “Hello?” she asked, and her eyes pinned to a spot very close to where they actually were. “Are you two around here somewhere?”

 

He popped out of the tent and waved her in through the guarded entrance.

 

“Hey!” Her arms full of file folders and a thermos, she juggled everything she was holding so she could hug him. She kissed his cheek as she stepped back and looked at him with a bright, brilliant smile. “How’s it going? Thought I’d bring you two…some…”

 

The table full of food caught her eye. So did her husband bent over a plate with a forkful of fish on the way to his mouth.

 

Confused, she shook her head and looked to Harry. “Did you call a caterer? What is all this?”

 

“Compliments of Malfoy,” Ron said.

 

“Oh.” She winced. “That’s still going on, is it? Well, I know you boys are in for a long night, so I thought you could use some coffee.”

 

“Thanks, ‘Mione,” Harry said as he took the thermos from her. She seemed rushed, harried, but pleased to see them. Her hair frizzed out in electric curls, bigger than normal, which was always a sign she’d been poring over some old book or legal document, shoving her hair back out of her face or twisting it up into a knot with her wand to hold it in place. Her business robes were smart charcoal gray, but rumpled at the elbows and creased along the back from a long day of sitting in an office chair. “Were you working the weekend too?”

 

She nodded as she crossed the tent floor and bent down to pop a kiss on the side of Ron’s head. “Had to, unfortunately. My new centaur legislation is going to committee next week. Lots still to do.”

 

“And yet you still thought of us and stopped by to bring us coffee?” Ron smiled warmly up at her while she leaned against the arm of his camp chair and propped her elbow on his shoulder. “You’re a gem, love.”

 

And it was so stupid—so out of nowhere, so unnecessary…but it burned emotion up and down the back of Harry’s throat. That simple gesture of Hermione working long hours but bringing coffee to her spouse because he was working longer hours made him want to cry, and he had to look away from them. It was the sort of thing people did when they were in love, when they had a partner in life, and the sudden awareness of his lack hit him with bitter, lonely melancholy.

 

They loved him, of course. But it wasn’t the same. They had each other, for everything. All Harry had was Teddy, and soon Teddy would leave.

 

While they caught each other up on their days, Harry grabbed mugs off the back shelf and unfolded another camp chair for Hermione.

 

“Is it any good?” she asked Ron when he went back to his dinner.

 

Harry could tell from the pensive, skeptical look on her face that he was about to lose another friend to Malfoy’s cooking adventures.

 

“Really good, actually.” To Harry, he asked, “Are you sure you don’t want any of this?”

 

“I don’t want anything from him.” Heavy, he plopped back down in his own chair, a mug of warm coffee tight in his hands. “But if you want to eat it, you should eat it.”

 

Hermione pursed her lips and peered at the vegetables. “I haven’t eaten dinner yet…”

 

Ron grabbed Harry’s unused plate and set it down with a thunk in front of Hermione’s chair. The two of them ate, their silverware tinkling delicately on the fine china Malfoy kept sending over, and Harry stared straight ahead out at the warehouse. No one moved. Nothing changed. But still, he kept his eyes locked on the dilapidated dark building.

 

After a few minutes, Ron handed him the rest of the little bag of pretzels, which Harry accepted with a half-smile. And he did force himself to eat a few of the stale, bland things so no one would worry about him.

 

“Harry was just telling me about how he’s having a bit of a hard time of things right now.” Ron took a sip of water and nodded in his direction while he spoke to Hermione. “Because of Teddy getting ready to go off to Hogwarts.”

 

He wanted to be annoyed, but he quickly realized he should have expected this. Ron had chiseled out an opening into Harry’s feelings, and so of course he would share that with Hermione. Together, they’d go at him with a crowbar and pry him open. He sighed, but nodded.

 

“Oh. I can’t even imagine how hard that’s going to be. I had lunch with Minerva a few days ago, and she was working on the letters. They’re going out this week.” Sympathetic, but not too sweet—Hermione was never too sweet—she smiled at him. Her brown eyes looked distant and sad, her full mouth a thoughtful pout. “Getting that letter was the best thing when we were kids. I couldn’t wait to get to Hogwarts, and I know you both felt the same. But now, as parents?” She took a deep breath and shook her head, clicked her tongue. “I don’t know.”

 

“Right. Just thinking about sending Rosie off on the train gets me choked up. I’m going to be a wreck when it happens.” Ron smiled, rueful and weary. “Take notes on how you get through it, okay mate? We’re going to be coming to you for advice and crying on your shoulder a few years from now.”

 

And Harry stayed quiet, because that was… odd. They were worried about sending Rosie and Hugo to school? Emotional about it? Dreading it? But… he’d thought…

 

“Is it hard for everyone, you think?” he asked.

 

“Probably.” Ron shrugged. “Mom cried on the way home from the train station, every year without fail.”

 

“You know we…” Hermione started to say something but cut herself off, hesitant. She lowered her voice. No one was around to hear, but the confession she had to share still made her nervous. Harry allowed himself a moment to look away from the warehouse, and he saw the anxiety on her face. “We’ve actually talked before, about not sending Rose and Hugo to Hogwarts at all.”

 

“What?” He didn’t know how else to react to that. “Really?”

 

She and Ron both nodded, and she explained, “It was so wonderful going as children, but to think about it as a parent is a totally different experience. It’s hard for me to imagine handing my children off at age eleven, not living with them for three-quarters of the year, not being around to help them with homework or talk about their friends and their classes, or to help them through all the hard emotional stuff that happens when you’re a teenager. You essentially stop parenting them when they’re eleven. Eleven! That’s too young! I would never dream of sending my kids off to boarding school under any other circumstance.” She ran a hand back through her hair, and it sprung in tight curls between her fingers. Defeated, she said, “But if you want them to have a good quality magical education in this country, Hogwarts is the only option.”

 

Yes. That. All of that. Why did he not know they felt like that too? There was more, in his case. More worries about his own resilience, his own survival with Teddy gone. But all of that, too. He had thought he was the only one, the only parent who was so worried and sad at the prospect of sending his kid off to boarding school. And he wasn’t even a proper parent, so he didn’t know how much of a right he had to complain, especially when Teddy was so looking forward to it. Knowing that his friends were going through it too, would have years to prepare for the inevitability, helped a little bit. Some knot in his chest loosened, still present but not so crushingly tight.

 

“We thought about moving to France,” Ron said. He scraped stray grains of rice together into a mound on his plate and stared out at the empty street. “Beauxbatons has a program where the kids stay at school during the week but they go home on the weekends. But we can’t, with our jobs.”

 

 Well, that was just too much. How did he not know any of this? Why hadn’t they told him? Why hadn’t he told them? But most of all, he asked, “Why don’t we have a weekend program? We should have a weekend program!”

 

“We really should,” Hermione said primly, around a bite of salmon. “There’s a lot of things Hogwarts should be doing differently with regards to parental involvement.”

 

“Maybe I should join the board of governors for the school,” Harry said. “Get a weekend program. I don’t know. I think probably Teddy would want to come spend weekends with me. Sometimes.”

 

“He would,” Hermione said firmly and without hesitation, and her confidence in this warmed Harry’s tired heart. “Of course he would. I know it was different for you, because going to Hogwarts was such a reprieve from your awful situation. And Ron at least had a bunch of his siblings at school with him. But I missed my parents a lot. I missed my family. I would have loved to go home to them more often. Every single time someone called me a know-it-all or made fun of my hair or teeth, I would hide in bed and wish I could go home and cry to my mum.”

 

Harry’s lip quivered and his breath caught. “You don’t think anyone is going to make fun of his hair or teeth, do you?”

 

Sad and kind, Hermione laughed. “No, Harry, I don’t think that. And even if they did, he changes his hair color every day.”

 

“Merlin, this is awful!” Harry pressed his hands to his head and groaned. It was probably true that no one would make fun of Teddy for his hair. But what about his nightmares? How would he handle those? What about his anxiety and the little worry spirals he got trapped in sometimes? How would he deal with all that if he didn’t have Harry there to care for him? And other kids could be cruel. Anxiety and big emotions were the sorts of things kids might pick on him for. “I’m so worried about him! I’m so worried about me! I want it to be magical and amazing for him, but it’s fucking awful for me! I don’t know what to do!”

 

“I wish I could tell you. Like Ron said, we’re going to need your advice on this in a few years.” And that was odd, because Hermione had never asked for or needed parenting advice from him. Always it was the other way around, sometimes unsolicited. “It’s going to be harder for you because that’s how it goes, I’m afraid. But he will be fine. And he’ll always know he has you. You’ve done a brilliant job with him, Harry, and I know you’ve done everything you can to give him the family he needs. You’re just going to be lonely, I think.”

 

Eyes blurry and unfocused, he nodded.

 

Hermione patted her mouth with a linen napkin and stared at him, thoughtful. “You’re already lonely.”

 

It was so sudden and direct, Harry couldn’t do anything to prepare or defend against it. The astute, clear-sighted accusation hit him like a punch to the gut, and he keeled over with the impact. Like the breath knocked out of him, a hitching sob tore up from his stomach, and he whipped off his glasses so he could press a hand to his eyes. To keep the tears in. To hide them.

 

“Oh, Harry!” Hermione sounded worried, sympathetic.

 

Ron too, and chastising and parental on top of that. “’Mione, why’d you have to go and do that? We finally got him to open up about what he’s going through, to talk to us properly. You didn’t have to go so hard at him like that!”

 

“No, it’s okay. She’s right.” Harry sniffed and wiped his face dry. “I am lonely. It’s worse with Teddy leaving. I just feel so… useless and sad. And lonely. Yeah.” A dark panic itched up his spine as he spoke, and it kept him from saying anything too deep, too raw, but he did admit, “I’m worried I’m going to slip once he’s gone. You guys know I’m a complete waste of a person when I don’t have someone to take care of.”

 

“That’s not true,” Hermione said. “But I know what you mean. Love has always been your greatest gift and greatest strength. You are at your best when that can shine through.”

 

He nodded and stopped himself from saying more. Teddy had saved him. Those years back, when he had felt so broken and empty, Teddy came into his life and gave him purpose again, gave him meaning, gave him something to work for, gave him someone to love even on days when he didn’t feel like he could love himself. But now he would be alone again.

 

“When was the last time you tried dating? Maybe it’s time for you to try and get back out there--”

 

Harry shook his head and sharply cut her off. No. Not that. He couldn’t do that. The last few times he tried…

 

He and Ginny never got back together, once everything was said and done. In the years after the war, he tried dating. Over a few years, he attempted to start up serious relationships with three people. He’d cared for them. Wanted to build something with them. And one by one, all three of them took him to bed…and then took details to the Daily Prophet. None of them had ever actually cared about him. 

 

And that was all, since the war. Ginny. And then he died. And after that, no one could love him. People who tried to only ended up wanting to hurt him, to use him.

 

Because he died. And then he came back wrong. Broken. Something made inherently unlovable.

 

“I can’t. I just can’t. Not after everything I went through the last few times I tried.”

 

“How will you ever find someone if you don’t try?” They both pushed aside their plates and Ron pulled the pudding tray closer. He picked up one of the little custards and passed it to Hermione while she said, “I know you want to fall in love, Harry. I sort of think that’s what you were made for. I know you want a partner and more family.”

 

“I do. I really do.” It hurt to say it. Hurt to think about it. “I want that…a lot. Really, a lot. I want…” This was hard to talk about. He normally didn’t have conversations like this with Ron and Hermione unless he was drunk. Certainly not in the middle of a stake-out, while surrounded by piles of food cooked by Draco Malfoy. The confession itched, and his words trembled too quick and tripping with strange uncertainty, but he said them anyway. “I just want what you guys have. I want that life partner, you know? Someone to pour all of my love into. Someone who would understand being with me might be kind of intense sometimes, and who would want all of that attention and focus. Someone to be there in all of the little, scary, quiet moments. Someone to think of me, and to do nice little thoughtful things for me, like you did for Ron this evening, bringing him coffee. That’s what I want. Someone in my life I can do all those nice, thoughtful little things for, remind them they’re important, take care of them. And then they could do the same sort of thing back, like bring me food when I forget to eat. I want that. I want that so much. I really do. I just…”

 

He trailed off, emotional and embarrassed and wrung out. As he took a deep breath, the warm and heavy air outside the tent pressed on them and smothered all of the night’s sounds. It was quiet. Dark. Harry wasn’t sure how to finish the thought.

 

His friends both sat quietly and stared out at the empty street, at the weakly glowing beams of the street lamps, and gave him some space.

 

Until Ron, pensive, huffed a small laugh. “Huh.”

 

“What?” Harry asked him.

 

“Nothing.” He brushed it off and glanced at Hermione for back-up. “It’s nothing. Not important.”

 

“Come on.” Harry nudged him. “What?”

 

“It’s just…” Ron glared thoughtfully down at the little dish of half-eaten custard on the table before him. “Well. All that stuff you want is kind of what Malfoy’s been doing for you already, isn’t it?”

 

“I…what? No.” Harry instantly rejected the ridiculous notion. “No, Malfoy has been harassing and tormenting me, and trying his hardest to drive me up the wall.”

 

“Sure. Yeah. But… He has also been sending you food when you forget to eat, or when you’re feeling down on yourself.  He’s been learning to cook, for you apparently.”

 

“Oh, goodness,” Hermione said, thick through a bite of custard. “That’s interesting, isn’t it?”

 

“No! It’s not interesting!” Harry insisted, angry, even though it was. It was interesting. More interesting? That the food deliveries always seemed to come when Harry most needed them—when he had planned to skip a meal, it showed up in front of his face and demanded he slow down and eat. When he was hungry for something in particular, Malfoy sent that dish over. Harry still didn’t understand how Malfoy knew, how he could possibly know. But…it was interesting. How had he not noticed before?

 

“What did the note say this time?” Ron asked.

 

At first, Harry didn’t understand what he was saying, since his mind was suddenly tumbling through the details of every delivery Malfoy had ever sent. Each of them was…thoughtful. If Malfoy weren’t so combative and weird, they would have been nice gestures.

 

Or maybe, if Harry hadn’t been such a paranoid prick, he would have recognized them as nice gestures…

 

Fuck.

 

“What? Sorry?”

 

“The note!” He stood and searched the table, and sure enough, he found a card half-way tucked under the rice bowl. He passed it to Harry. “What does that one say? What’s the theory this time?”

 

Harry ripped open the envelope. Another card. Another note with another theory. He read it, just like all the others. This one didn’t anger him, though. It didn’t send him into a rage. It didn’t make him want to throttle anyone, Malfoy in particular.

 

But it did quicken his pulse. It did get his blood pounding.

 

Shaky, disbelieving, Harry read the card. That couldn’t be right. He read it again and still didn’t believe it. This had to be a joke. Had to be part of the prank. It couldn’t be true.

 

But if it was true... If it was true, it would change everything. All of the food, all of the deliveries, all of the notes and teasing and insults shone with new meaning, strange and awful and maybe even a little brilliant, in the new light this note provided.

 

If it was true.

 

It couldn’t be.

 

Even if it was, Harry couldn’t comprehend it, couldn’t wrap his mind around it, couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t. He read it twice more.

 

“What does it say?” Hermione asked.

 

Harry gulped. And then shaky, confused, and reeling with staggering possibility, he read the note out loud. “Theory #7: Draco Malfoy is in love with Harry Potter.”

 

Hermione gasped and grinned, wild and disbelieving, but Ron sat back and folded his arms across his chest. While Harry’s mind deteriorated in shock and crisis, Ron stared out at the warehouse and looked awfully, terribly smug.

 

It couldn’t be true. Harry shook his head and repeated the thought over and over again in his mind. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be true. I had to be part of the prank, part of the scheme.

 

But…

 

He couldn’t think about it. Couldn’t consider it as a possibility. Not right now, not with Ron and Hermione right here, next to him. If it turned out that it was true… Harry’s mind reeled in dizzy circles at the possibility. He didn’t know how he would feel about that, how he should feel about it. He didn’t know how to find out for sure, didn’t know if he even wanted to know. He didn’t know.

 

But maybe, later, alone, he should think on it…

Chapter Text

Hungover and nervous, Draco spent most of the day Sunday wrapped up in a mess of quiet, fidgety anxiety. He had sent Potter a love note. Potter would likely take it as a joke or a taunt. But still. He had sent Potter a bloody love note!

 

Any moment, Potter would come storming up the drive. All day, Draco kept turning again and again to peer out the windows, half expecting to see the electric, glorious shape of Potter, his hair and cloak billowing behind him, storming through the gates, come to confront him.

 

Or to kiss him. Swept up in passionate awareness he’d never before realized before reading Draco’s note, his declaration, perhaps Potter would be overcome. Perhaps he would burst into the room like some pirate king in a romance novel, perhaps he would grab Draco and…

 

No. No, that was utterly ridiculous. Must be the bottle of wine still saturating his brain, making him stupid. More likely, Potter would punch him. Or maybe mock him.

 

But as the day wore on, Potter didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t do anything. While Draco paced lines in his library rug and sipped on tea and hangover potions, half expecting an attack at any moment, Potter stayed away. The day passed quietly, and all of Draco’s rigid, trembling stress was for naught.

 

That evening, though, Mipsy arrived with a package. “This was just delivered through the floo, sir.”

 

Draco gulped down his nerves and leapt on the package, a brown cardboard box. Very muggle looking. Something Potter might send! He ripped open the flaps and found inside a neat stack of all of his dishes and cutlery, spotlessly cleaned and returned to him.

 

Not banished.

 

That was certainly a change.

 

“Mipsy, who delivered this?” Draco asked.

 

“It was Mrs. Hermione Granger-Weasley.” Mipsy looked pleased by this, a little star-struck. Granger had earned herself a lot of popularity with house elves, as the champion for a lot of legislation on their behalf. “She was very kind, sir. She also asked Mipsy to pass on this note.”

 

He took the page from her, a simple slip of plain parchment, and distractedly thanked her while he read it.

 

Malfoy-

 

Thanks for dinner this evening. Harry didn’t feel much like eating, but he shared with Ron and me. The food was great. We brought some of the leftovers home and now my five year old can’t stop talking about “the little puddings with the sugar”.

 

Thought you might like to have all your dishes back.

 

Thanks.

 

-Hermione Granger-Weasley

 

P.S. It is really odd, what you’re doing. Perhaps Harry is right and you are just trying to drive him mad. If so, job well done. But I would like to think better of you. Are you trying to be kind? If so, a bit of advice: perhaps consider changing tactics to a more sincere approach. Harry is not having fun with this.

 

P.P.S. If I’m wrong and you actually are just trying to torment him, perhaps you should consider stopping altogether. I’m very protective of my family, and I have a mean right hook. Or have you forgotten?

 

His cheek tingled with the ghostly memory of pain at that threatening reminder, and he brushed his fingers against it. No, he had not forgotten the time Granger had decked him in third year. He rather imagined she could do quite a bit more damage now.

 

But she shouldn’t have to. Because she was right. He was trying to be kind. None of this was meant to hurt Potter, it was all meant to help him, to give him something he needed.

 

He stared down at the parchment in his hands and read it twice more.

 

It made him uncomfortable.

 

All of his actions, veela-driven though they were, were intended to care for Potter. Kindness.

 

But sending Potter things he didn’t want, with notes that made him suspicious and angry, was not giving Potter anything he needed. That wasn’t kind. Draco had started the taunting game for his own amusement, but it had quickly lost its luster even for him. As Granger said, Potter wasn’t having fun with it.

 

Draco wasn’t either.

 

Teasing was fine. But not if Potter wasn’t teasing back. Not if Potter was genuinely disturbed by Draco’s teasing. Not if the teasing meant that Potter was constantly upset and angry. Not if the teasing meant that Potter would never eat any of the damn food Draco gave him. That wasn’t meeting Potter’s needs at all, wasn’t taking care of him, wasn’t helping him.

 

He didn’t quite know what to do. He had to think on it.

 

And so he did. With his head down and quiet all day at work on Monday and Tuesday, over peaceful meals with Mother at home. He thought about it.

 

Until Wednesday morning.

 

Early, the sun fresh and golden in the windows of his bedroom, Draco awoke from sleep with a wretched, awful sob. Painful and wrecking, it tore from some place deep in his chest, in his heart, and he threw the blankets off as he lurched upright, gasping for air. Face screwed up, he pressed a hand to his eyes and wept. Fat, heavy tears leaked from his eyes, and he whined and shook with a sudden agony. Bittersweet. Sorrowful. The grief swelled through him, and he didn’t know precisely why.

 

All he knew was something was wrong with Potter. Potter was feeling this. Potter was feeling this. His wail of mourning echoed in Draco.

 

The wellspring of sympathy, of affection, of love that swelled up within him in response was warm and overwhelming. It made him want to cry all over again. Draco pulled his knees to his chest and sat against his pillows, while Potter’s deep and wrenching sadness broke his heart. He sent waves and thoughts of comfort, of love out and hoped somehow they might touch him, somehow they might sooth him. But it wasn’t enough.

 

He had to do something. Potter needed him—really, deeply needed him. He had to try.

 

 

***

 

 

While he stood over the sink and ran a razor carefully over his jawline, the moment Harry had been dreading finally arrived.

 

“HARRY!!!” Teddy’s shout was loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood at this early hour, and the unrestrained, childlike joy in his voice made Harry smile against his own self-interest. “It’s here! It’s finally here!”

 

He dropped the razor, and it hit the counter with a clack. For a second, Harry gripped the cold porcelain sink basin with both hands and bent his head forward. Something in him tore. His breath huffed shaky and emotional, and each exhale left puffs of fog on the mirror.

 

And then he pulled himself together.

 

No matter how devastated, how scared he felt, he absolutely would not ruin this moment for his godson. He would not put his own grief and dysfunction on the kid he loved more than his own heart.

 

Teddy shouted for him again, impatient. “Harry!”

 

He drew himself up, nodded at his reflection in the mirror, and pushed a grin onto his face. As he grabbed a hand towel and hurried out of the bathroom, he shouted, “Is it your letter?”

 

“Yes! It’s my letter! Come and see!”

 

In boxers and an undershirt, while he toweled shaving cream off the unfinished half of his face, Harry thundered out into the hall in an excited flurry. Teddy stood in his own doorway, still in his pajamas. Too excited to contain himself, his hair flashed in a riotous celebration of shifting rainbows, and he danced back and forth from foot to foot while he clutched the parchment sheets in one fist.

 

“Well come on! Let me see! What’s it say?”

 

Teddy shoved the letter at Harry and grinned, a glorious sunbeam of pure happiness. With the flashing colors of his hair, the big sunshine smile, he looked so much like a little version of his mum that for half a second Harry’s heart caught in his throat. He cleared it and read aloud, with great fuss and a booming voice,

 

“Mr. Edward Lupin, 12 Grimmauld Place, Bedroom at the top of the stairs, Islington, London

 

Dear Mr. Lupin,

 

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress”

 

While Teddy grinned and jumped up and down and shouted, a flash of memory came to Harry unbidden. Inside a dark, cold little cottage, while a stormy sea churned outside, a massive-hearted giant gave him a cake and a letter and changed his life forever. It was one of the best moments of his life. A clear and glowing light, after a lot of darkness.

 

Harry channeled that, channeled all of that wonder and happiness he had felt at eleven when Hagrid brought him his letter, and pulled it forth from that moment in the long ago past to this one, right here and now. It chased away the darkness in him like a patronus. “Yes!” He let out a laugh and a jubilant roar, and then swept down and crushed his godson in an enormous hug. “You’re a wizard, Teddy!”

 

Teddy laughed while Harry squished him and bopped a loud, smacking kiss to the side of his head. “We already knew I was a wizard!

 

“Yes, but now you get to be a proper one! You get to go to school! You get a wand!”

 

Teddy gasped. “A wand! When can we go get my wand?” He rifled through his parchments and held out the list of school supplies. “It says I need a cauldron, and all of these books, and I also need a cat or an owl or a toad.”

 

“No.” Harry laughed at the kid’s attempt to be sneaky. “It says you are permitted a cat, owl, or toad. Not that you need one!”

 

“Oh, but--”

 

“We’ll see,” Harry said. But it was a bluff. As this morning unfolded, as his world changed once more, he realized that Hagrid had prepared him well for this part. Step by step, Harry knew what to do. He would take Teddy to Diagon, and while he was getting fitted for robes, Harry would sneak off and surprise him with an owl. This, he could do. He could make this part magical. Special. What he didn’t know how to do, what Hagrid had not prepared him for, was how to survive when the preparations were done and the train pulled away. “Next week. I’ll take a day off work and we’ll go get everything, just the two of us. Okay?”

 

Teddy nodded, happy.

 

Just the two of them, even though Remus should be here. And Tonks. And Andromeda. It wasn’t fair that this kid’s entire happiness and emotional wellbeing fell to Harry, who was too fucked up to carry it.

 

“Okay, go get dressed!” He nudged Teddy back into his messy bedroom, the floor scattered with action figures and books and dirty laundry. “Take your letter with you to Mrs. Weasley’s house today so you can show everyone!”

 

“Yes!” Teddy bounced his way across the room to the closet. “Victoire’s going to be so jealous! She doesn’t get hers until next year!”

 

Harry shut the door. Walked down the dusty wood floor of the hall. Back into his own bedroom. Shut his own door.

 

He managed to hold it together until then.

 

Safely tucked away in his own dim and quiet room, he braced himself against his dresser. But it was too much.

 

This was it. The end of it. Teddy leaving, leaving Harry alone, felt more real than it ever had. All of it crushed Harry down. Too many feelings. Fear for his godson, who was brilliant and kind and delicate. Sorrow at being left alone. Unspeakable terror that when left alone, without Teddy to hold him together, all the rotten, broken parts inside him would finally collapse, and he would crack apart and crumble like dust. Grief, because there were so many people who would have loved to see this day and be part of it.

 

And under it all, swirling through it all, because no feeling was ever purely one thing, was happiness. Pride. Excitement.

 

Too much to hold, too much to stand against, Harry’s knees buckled and he let himself slide down the wall to the bedroom floor. While his godson joyously celebrated just a few steps down the hall, Harry sat alone on the ground, hid his face in his hands, and quietly wept.

 

 

***

 

 

As Draco walked the long, labyrinthine Ministry hallways from Revenue and Customs to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, it took every ounce of self-control he possessed to hold onto his spine.

 

He kept his head high, his shoulders set, and he gazed coolly out at everyone he passed. His stomach roiled with nausea, but this time it was not a command from his veela instincts. No, this time he was sick with plain, good old fashioned nerves.

 

This was probably a terrible idea. His life philosophy was bravery in the face of mountain lions, staring down the predators with calm and sure poise. No hiking guide had ever advised anyone to run right into the mountain lion’s den and throw themselves at it or try to hug it! Yet, with a small travel tin clutched carefully in both hands, that’s essentially what he was doing.

 

Foolish. Not brave. Foolish.

 

But every time he considered backing down, chickening out, sending the offering along through less personal means, he remembered the heartbreaking sorrow Potter had felt that morning and he recommitted. This was a sad, silly little gesture. It wouldn’t do much to help sooth Potter’s anguish. But it certainly wouldn’t do anything at all if Potter didn’t eat it.

 

Probably, he still wouldn’t eat it.

 

Didn’t matter. He had to try.

 

As he stepped into the auror offices, several employees in red uniforms peered at him with skeptical, suspicious looks. He removed any sign of nerves from his face and tried his best to look like he belonged there as he strode between desks, across the open floor, to Potter’s office.

 

Halfway down a short hallway, he found it: a plain wooden door with a frosted glass window pane, the same as every other in this stretch, but for the name. Displayed across the glass panel in proud golden lettering was, Detective Chief Inspector, Harry J. Potter. Draco paused and stared at the door for a long moment. An impressive title, though not as impressive as the one he would someday hold. Everyone knew Potter was on a path to be head of the aurors, and then the DMLE. For now, though, Detective Chief Inspector. An officer with command of his own team of detectives, and with authority to lead serious criminal investigations.

 

Impressive. Dignified. Powerful.

 

Potter had always been these things and more.

 

Rapid, before he could talk himself out of it, Draco lifted his hand and rapped his knuckles on the office door.

 

“Come in,” Potter shouted from within.

 

Dear Merlin. Draco hissed two steadying breaths through his nose and then grabbed the brass handle and pushed open the door.

 

Behind his desk, which was piled with stacks of paperwork and case files, Potter looked grim. His eyes were bloodshot, red-rimmed. Heavy creases framed his mouth, and a muscle twitched in his cheek where he was clenching his jaw. When he saw Draco, his eyes flashed and his upper lip lifted in a sneer.

 

Draco raised one hand in defense and surrender. “I’m not here to pick a fight.”

 

For a few frightening seconds, Potter continued to snarl and fume as he stared Draco down, his gaze unblinking and blazingly green. But then, it was like all the fight drained out of him, like a tire punctured by a nail, and he sank back in his chair. Dull and defeated, he asked, “Why are you here then? Let me guess. It involves food.”

 

“Yes. It does.” That broken, hollow tone was worse than any anger Potter had shouted in his direction during their other meetings. Draco hurt for him, sympathetic and with tender bruising. Once he’d reached the office, colleagues all over the Ministry couldn’t stop chattering, excited about Hogwarts letters. They’d gone out that morning. And while other parents bragged about their children’s academic achievements and worked themselves into a tizzy together with back-to-school talk, Potter felt overwhelming sadness. His godson was set to start this year. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out, nor to realize that this was why Potter had been skipping meals for weeks. Draco stepped further into the office, up to the edge of Potter’s heavy mahogany desk, and set down the little tin. “I know you’re having a hard day, and I thought you might appreciate some comfort food. That’s all.”

 

Potter’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know that?”

 

“Hogwarts letters went out today. With your godson starting this year, I figured…” Draco shrugged and feigned innocence. “It was just a feeling. But judging by your woeful expression, I was right.”

 

A battle raged across Potter’s facial features, in his eyes and mouth, as if he wasn’t sure whether to be angry or accepting of this explanation. To Draco’s great surprise, Potter chose acceptance. Stiff and quiet, he said simply, “Yeah. You were.”

 

It took Draco so by surprise that the farewell he’d intended to say caught in his throat. Potter admitted Draco was right. Potter admitted he was having a bad day. In that moment, the whole world turned upside down.

 

Before Draco could right himself, Potter asked, gruff and just a hint combative, “So what did you bring me this time?”

 

Suddenly, Draco was more nervous than he had been when he’d walked in. He’d expected anger. Rejection. A fight. But Potter gave him none of those things. Instead, he seemed on a precipice. Something had changed. Draco didn’t know what or why, but he did know that maybe, just maybe, Potter would actually accept his offer of comfort, of support, of food. Quietly, he said, “Treacle tart.”

 

Shock widened Potter’s eyes and he slapped his palms down flat on the surface of his desk, knocking a few parchment forms askew. “How? How do you know? How do you know all of these things, Malfoy?”

 

“How do I know what? That treacle tart is your favorite dessert?” Draco laughed a little, bewildered. Potter had just handed him the perfect opening, the perfect excuse, and Draco took full advantage. His voice livened and he hit his stride, confident as he answered. “I don’t know. Perhaps because you have said it in every interview you’ve given for the past fifteen years? You hate sharing anything real about yourself, so you give the press all of the same meaningless platitudes and factoids, and now all the teeming masses gossip about your favorite dessert like it’s some grand secret you’ve shared with them. For goodness sake, Potter, Witch Weekly did a whole ten page Christmas spread a few years back, where they had you sample a bunch of different treacle tart recipes and crown your winner! How did I know your favorite dessert? Please.” He scoffed. And then, as a more honest side note, he rolled his eyes, waved a dismissive hand, and quickly added, “Oh, and there was that matter of how I spent six years obsessively studying you, trying to one up your every move.” He leaned in a little closer and whispered, “I might have noticed a few things.”

 

Potter laughed.

 

Laughed.

 

Not a big laugh. Not even really a happy laugh. More than anything, it was just a huff of air out his nose. Maybe a little amused, in a mocking sort of way, and maybe a little annoyed too. But a laugh, nevertheless.

 

It did strange and wondrous things to Draco’s hopeful heart.

 

“Okay, you noticed I like treacle tart.” Potter folded his hands together and peered up at Draco like he was interrogating a suspect. “How did you also notice that I had run out of tea? That I was working through dinner?”

 

Draco shrugged one shoulder, very French and blasé. “Could be a coincidence.”

 

“Could be.” Potter snapped, “But it’s not.”

 

A slow, thoughtful smile turned up one corner of Draco’s mouth. “No. It’s not.”

 

For a long and burning moment, Potter held his gaze unblinking. Then, something about Potter’s expression softened. Defrosted. Just a little. He held out a hand, stretched over the piles of folders and the scattered quills on his desk, and asked, “Well, where’s the card? What weird theory are you going to propose today?”

 

“Oh, I’ve grown weary of handing you theories.” Draco shook his head and stepped as close to Potter as he dared. He stopped at the chairs across from Potter, set across the desk from him for meetings, and he perched himself on the arm of one of them. Attempting a languid, nonchalant air that he didn’t quite feel, he shrugged and said, “Really, I’ve been doing all the work for you, and that’s hardly fair. You’re supposed to be the investigator. If you haven’t figured it out by now… Well.” He pointed at the dessert tin on the desk. “You’re denser than that tart.”

 

Potter blinked. “Are you calling me a tart? That’s rude. And inaccurate.”

 

It brought a little smirk to Draco’s face, the insinuation as well as the lighter tone. With fake sympathy, Draco pouted. “In a dry spell, are you? You used to be quite the tart, if any of those exposés in the Prophet are to be believed.”

 

That shut Potter down. Cold, he clenched his jaw and grit out, “Nothing in the Prophet is to be believed.”

 

Draco was on a roll, making more progress towards civil conversation with Potter than he had in years. And so, of course, he had to push it too far. He was a mess, a complete bastard, and when it came right down to it, he just couldn’t resist pushing a little bit past Potter’s walls and defenses. Plus, the unintended reference to those old Prophet articles about Potter’s love life thrilled him more than he’d prefer to admit. They were infuriating, angering, humiliating. On the one hand, Draco wanted to track down and beat the shit out of those former lovers who had taken Potter to bed and then sold secrets about his prowess and preferences to the Prophet for their five minutes of fame. It was disgusting, what they had done, an awful breach of Potter’s privacy and trust, and they deserved to be flogged for it.

 

But on the other hand… Draco had read each of the titillating articles more than once.

 

And really, if Potter couldn’t laugh about it now, four years later, perhaps he was handling himself all wrong.

 

So Draco, fucking demon spawn that he was, clapped his hands and grinned. “Oh, I finally understand why you haven’t eaten any of the food I’ve brought you! Because none of them were your true favorite thing to eat! Nothing will satisfy you but arse!

 

A vein throbbed in Potter’s forehead and he stared down at his desktop. “Shut the fuck up, Malfoy.”

 

Draco did not shut the fuck up. Cheerful, he scooted closer on the arm of the chair and gesticulated with broad, sweeping movements of his hands and arms to paint a glorious picture. “I know! Next time I will bring you a cake! A delicious cake. Perfectly decorated in the shape of a man’s arse!”

 

“Malfoy!”

 

“Maybe some candy floss, or not if you prefer them hairless. Little gumdrops for the hole. What do you think?”

 

Potter didn’t move, didn’t say anything. But something about the tight, pursed set of his mouth was strange.

 

“Oh, come on.” Draco leaned back. “That was funny. It’s alright. You’re allowed to think I’m funny.”

 

“That is not funny.” Potter shook his head and still refused to make eye contact. “And I don’t think you’re funny, I think you’re a lunatic who is fucked in the head.”

 

Equal parts smug and nervous, Draco pushed his luck just a little more, pushed Potter just a little more. Because he had to. Because no one pushed Potter like this, no one else could do this for him. “Then why are you smiling?”

 

A muscle in Potter’s cheek twitched. His mouth pursed tighter. And Draco was sure he was amused, no matter how hard he fought against it.

 

It made his own heart, stomach, and every other organ in his abdomen do a flip.

 

Instead of responding properly, Potter glared and barked threats and orders. “Malfoy, if you bring me an arse cake, I’ll throw it back in your fucking face.”

 

“Worth it,” Draco said immediately, and rather meant it, too. “Besides, I owe you that anyway, after the soup.”

 

Potter tried very hard to sound threatening, but the little quirk of his mouth, the little glimmer of light in his eyes, ruined the attempt. “I’ll arrest you.”

 

“Please.” Draco scoffed, leaned back, and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’d buy my way out. And besides, it would be worth it.”

 

Potter looked away. Composed himself. And all of the tiny, fragile shards of amusement slipped out of him. Antsy, always moving, his thumb fidgeted back and forth over the soft edge of a quill. Sincere and a little desperate, he asked, “There is a reason though, isn’t there? There’s a reason why you’re doing this. It’s not just you being weird or trying to bother me. I’m not wrong about that. There’s something more.”

 

In that second, he desperately wanted to confess. To scream it all out. To break down and admit everything.

 

He couldn’t.

 

I’m a veela and you’re my mate was too much. Destiny had no place in this, no right to string them to one another any longer, and yet the truth would sound like fate. Unless Draco was also willing to admit his years of hidden love and longing, and face endless pity and ridicule from someone who would never feel the same.

 

It all caught in his throat, and he opened his mouth but spoke no words. All he could do was nod.

 

Potter considered this for a moment, considered how Draco was obviously holding back and refusing to say more. It bothered him. Draco could see that. But he didn’t push too hard for answers. He sniffed, rubbed at his eyes behind his glasses, and asked, “You’re not…I don’t know. Fattening me up? Like a witch in those old fairy tales? So I’m nice and plump when you throw me in a pot and cook me?”

 

“Good lord, no!” Disgusted, Draco winced at the notion. “Malfoys have not feasted on half bloods for over three centuries. I am certainly not about to be the one who brings that back into vogue.”

 

Eyes wide, mouth hanging open in bewildered shock, Potter glared at him. “That was less of a condemnation than I would have liked, Malfoy!”

 

“No! Alright? What I am up to does not in any way, shape, or form involve cannibalism!” He paused for a second, and added, more sincerely, “It doesn’t involve harm to you of any kind.”

 

Lines creased Potter’s forehead as he stared down at his desk and considered this. “You’re not… cursed? Are you? You’re not in trouble?” He looked up, caught Draco’s eye in a fleeting flicker of contact, but then looked away and stared at the framed photographs and certificates on his walls. “Because if you need help…”

 

Draco had to smile at that, sweetly and without mocking. Potter thought he was in trouble and wanted to help him. He was rather tickled by that. Of course it was probably just the auror living up to his legal duties, but still. It was rather nice to be the recipient of Harry Potter’s selfless heroism. “No. I’m not cursed. I’m alright. This is…” He chose his words carefully. “A complication. But it won’t last long.”

 

He hoped that was true. No one, none of the books, not even Mother had been able to give him an answer on how long this flare of veela instinct would last.

 

“Are you sure it’s not a curse?” Potter asked. “Because from where I’m sitting, it kind of feels like a curse.”

 

“Yes, well.” Draco pursed his mouth and looked posh and unaffected. “That’s because you see my entire existence as a cursed blight on humanity, sent to this earth to vex you. But in actuality, this is just an expression of my deeply caring and nurturing nature.”    

 

Potter huffed again. Might have even been a snort. Definitely amused, though.

 

“Alright. Well.” Potter hung his head and nodded down to his desk. “You’re right. I am having a bad day. And I still think it might be a disastrous idea, but I actually would like to eat this treacle tart you brought me. However, your deeply caring and nurturing nature forgot to bring me a fucking fork. So…”

 

“I didn’t forget!” In a flurry of emotion and panic and nerves, Draco grabbed his wand and conjured a fork, which he then handed across the desk to Potter. It wasn’t a particularly pretty fork. Plain and unadorned. But perfectly functional, and with tines in the right places, so Draco counted that as a success. Whatever. It didn’t matter. Anything, whatever Potter needed, whatever he asked for, Draco would produce, just so long as it meant he actually ate the food! Low and grumbling, he muttered, “Forgive me for assuming you would remember you’re a fucking wizard who can conjure his own cutlery…”

 

That little muscle in Potter’s cheek twitched again, and his mouth and the lines around his eyes tightened. Not anger. Amusement, reluctant and well hidden. That tiny twitch made Draco’s heart soar and he would do everything he could to make it happen again.

 

The dessert tin hissed as Potter dragged it across the surface of his desk and cleared a spot for it, and the metal crumpled and thunked while he popped off the lid. Draco stood and froze, every muscle in his body tense with fervent, worshipful anticipation. His heart beat a wild rhythm, and he pressed a finger to his lips in an effort to keep them closed. He didn’t trust himself not to shout in victory or in fear.

 

Potter stabbed the fork into the dessert…

 

Brought it to his mouth…

 

Draco couldn’t breathe. Dizzy and lightheaded, he watched…

 

As, finally, Potter took a bite.

 

Fireworks exploded in Draco’s chest and behind his eyes. It took all of his will to keep his face plain and unaffected, though a marching band and choir of angels and the Beatles and the Stones and the Weird Sisters and a whole host of acrobats and jugglers sang and pranced a parade across his rib cage. Potter had eaten his food! Potter had actually eaten something he had cooked! On purpose!

 

“It’s good,” Potter said as he chewed, his tone quiet, as if he didn’t want to admit it. Then, he swallowed and nodded and looked at Draco. “It’s really good, actually. Did you make that?”

 

Draco couldn’t speak, didn’t trust himself not to scream out incomprehensible and frightening pterodactyl noises if he opened his mouth. Instead, he fluttered and nodded and squeaked an embarrassing affirmative sound.

 

“Alright.” Fork in hand, Potter paused and stared at the wall behind Draco’s head, considering something. “I want to do something to celebrate Teddy getting his Hogwarts letter. He’s really excited.”

 

Draco did not fail to notice the wording, or the way the words clung tight to Potter’s throat. Teddy was excited. Potter was not.

 

“I’m going to get his favorite dinner for tonight, but I’m a pretty rubbish cook. Even worse at baking. If you wanted to help me out and send over a dessert for him…” Potter shrugged. “I wouldn’t say no.”

 

It took Draco a few sputtering, blinking seconds to process and fully understand what Potter was saying. Potter was asking for his help? His food? “Of course!” The agreement burst forth from Draco’s chest in a thin, breathy whisper. “Any requests?”

 

“He likes anything chocolate.” Potter paused, unsure what else to say, while Draco paused, unsure whether or not this was real or a grand and lovely imagining. He lifted his fork in a half wave and gestured back to the dessert tin. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

 

Draco wasn’t sure if he responded. Probably, he did. Probably he managed to say farewell and leave without making an utter fool of himself. But he wasn’t entirely certain, and he drifted out of Potter’s office in a dreamy fog.

 

He managed to make it all the way back to his own office, smiling to himself all the way, before the victory and excitement and sympathy all caught up with him in a tense and bubbling rush. “Yes!” He hissed to himself as he jumped—literally, jumped—up and down inside his cubicle, his dress shoes springing off the decorative rug. He pressed both hands to his face and grinned, allowing himself a quick and private moment of joy, before he sent an owl off to Mipsy asking her to look through their cookbooks and preselect a few chocolate-y options for him to review when he got home.

 

 

***

 

 

Late that night, after Teddy had gone to bed happy, still clutching his Hogwarts letter, and with a belly full of chocolate cake, Harry sat at his desk in the library of the house on Grimmauld Place.

 

Before him, arrayed out in neat displays, were all of the cards, letters, and theories Malfoy had sent over so far.

 

Elbows perched on the desk, Harry folded his hands together and rested his chin on them as he stared down at each piece of evidence. Because, remarkably, for at least part of the day, he had managed to think about something other than how sad and twisted up he was over Teddy leaving. For part of the day, he’d thought about Malfoy.

 

Their interaction at work that morning had been strange. Stranger, for how not actually strange it was. The theory delivered with dinner the other night was still fresh in his mind. Plus, Malfoy had caught him at a moment when he’d been too overwhelmed, too downtrodden to put up a fight. With those factors, his own curiosity got the better of him. In every other encounter, he’d gone in with a strong and uncompromising offensive. This morning, he’d chosen a more careful strategy. He listened. He considered. And he engaged.

 

What he found was a Malfoy who seemed, for all his inappropriate jokes and taunts and teasing, for all his evasive not-quite answers, sincere. Sincerely concerned for his well-being. Sincerely interested in doing something to help take the sharp, violent edge off his pain.

 

Strange.

 

So now Harry sighed over his desk and stared at all the theories, all the evidence. Tired, his eyes blurred. He pointed his wand at the hanging light fixtures and urged them to glow brighter. They better illuminated rows of battered old books on shelves, the threadbare rug guarding the floor, a few wooden filing cabinets, and of course his desk.

 

Diligent, methodical, he got to work.

 

He attached each theory card to an evidence sheet and added notes about the delivery—what had been delivered and when, who else had been around, what was going on at the time, Harry’s own emotional state that day, whether or not he’d needed the particular delivery, and so on.

 

It didn’t take long to see the pattern.

 

He tapped the tip of his quill against the desk and sighed.

 

Well, now. That was interesting, wasn’t it?

 

Every single time Malfoy gave him food, he had either wanted it, needed it, or specifically requested it.

 

Most times Malfoy brought him food, he’d been upset about something, or distracted, or working late, or feeling overwhelmed. Several of those had been deliveries during long working hours, when he had been set to skip the meal until the job was done.

 

He ran out of tea? Malfoy sent some to his house.

 

He didn’t think to make breakfast before a big quidditch match? Malfoy made him a hearty fry up.

 

He worked too much, skipped meals, and neglected to take care of himself when he got home? Malfoy sent over shepherd’s pie and fish dinners and sandwiches, and sent enough to feed his friends, too.

 

He started to lag and feel tired during a work day? Malfoy made him a cup of coffee.

 

He was heartbroken and emotional when Teddy got his letter and Harry was confronted with his rapidly approaching lonesome doom? Malfoy brought him his favorite dessert…and stayed to talk and tease, and tried to get Harry to laugh.

 

He was craving curry? Malfoy…well. There was no denying that he came through on the curry. He overdid himself on the curry, and in completely bizarre fashion, but he certainly made sure Harry had curry!

 

The only one that didn’t fit the pattern was the first one. The soup. Although, if he was being generous, it did sort of fit the pattern, didn’t it? Harry’s brows scrunched together as he thought back to that day, that bizarre incident in the canteen. He had wanted that particular soup and couldn’t have it because the lunch service had run out? Malfoy gave it to him. Threw it all over him. But definitely gave it to him.

 

Tired, with the beginnings of a headache, Harry dropped his quill and rubbed at his face with both hands.

 

That one was weird. The soup thing. That was weird. The curry one was also pretty weird.

 

The other ones, though? Once he looked at them all arranged in a pattern like this, once he removed his own bias and emotional frustration from the equation, he was forced to admit that none of the other deliveries were particularly weird. It was weird that Malfoy seemed to be so tuned in to Harry’s emotional state and work schedule, weird that he could know what Harry needed and when. But that was the only weird part of it all.

 

Over all, the deliveries were…

 

Thoughtful. Kind. Something a friend would do.

 

Something a lover would do.

 

That thought struck a sad and lonesome chord in Harry, and he cleared his throat to chase away the sudden press of cloudy emotion. No one had ever done things like this for him. Lover things. His friends were brilliant, of course, and cared for him. The Weasleys always made sure he felt at home when he was with them, well-fed and well-loved. And Teddy was a thoughtful little, wonderful child who made him feel loved and needed and adored.

 

But it was different, wasn’t it? It was different to be chosen. To be the first thought in someone’s mind.

 

Harry had always wanted that, had always wanted to fall in love with someone and be loved in return, to be someone’s person. To have a lover who was attentive, and thoughtful, and who did little things just because they cared. He’d never had someone like that in his life. All of the people who wanted him in the past just…wanted him. Wanted his fame. Wanted something from him. For a long while, he had feared the problem wasn’t with those other people, but with him. Something in him was wrong and broken and fundamentally unlovable. It had to be, for so many people he cared about to want to hurt him the way they had in the past.

 

But this… with Malfoy…

 

He’d never had this. But he knew what it was.

 

Because Harry had never been in love, but he quite wanted to be. He’d never had a life partner, but he quite wanted one. And he knew himself. He knew what sort of person he was, he knew how he liked to show affection. Most people who didn’t know him well saw Harry as some grand and towering figure, some glorious hero, and perhaps those people would expect big sweeping, passionate declarations from him were he to fall in love. But Harry had seen enough big, sweeping, passionate declarations in his life—loving ones, and hateful ones. What he had not seen enough of was small, thoughtful, every day, ordinary affection. The little things that were so much bigger than they seemed. The sort of affection Harry had been denied throughout his childhood, the sort he tried so hard to give to Teddy. That was what love was. Love was his mother dying for him, yes, of course. But love was also Mrs. Weasley knitting a jumper for him every Christmas, and worrying over him skipping meals, and helping him with Teddy every day.  

 

His friends and adopted family helped fill the jagged holes his awful childhood had dug out of him. But still, the damage done by a decade without a single thought, or word, or moment of care from another person ran deep. If he had a lover, if he was ever lucky enough, whole enough, to fall in love with someone and have those feelings returned, he knew how he would want to treat them. He would want to shower them with a thousand, soft and ordinary daily reminders of that love, respect, and affection. He would bring them coffee when they had to work late, and do their laundry, and spoil them with gifts and surprises, and feed them soup when they were sick, and kiss them in exactly the right spot when they needed to forget a bad day… He would feed them a meal when they forgot to take care of themselves, and would pick up a nice box of tea for them when they ran out. And he would tuck I love you’s into every one of those ordinary, daily actions. He would fold them into every jumper he laundered, stir them into every cup of tea, so the person he loved could never have any doubt, not one second of doubt.

 

It choked him. Blurred his eyes. Emotion shivered through him, sad and strange and heavy. Because when he thought about it, when he looked at the pattern, he recognized exactly what Draco Malfoy was up to. He recognized it, because it was exactly the same sort of thing he would do himself.

 

Harry sucked in a deep breath and nodded out to his quiet, empty library. Well. Perhaps he wasn’t as dense as Malfoy thought. He had figured it out. He was fairly sure. What he wasn’t sure of was how he felt about it. How he should feel about it.

 

But the evidence was all there in front of him. He’d had several theories about why Malfoy was doing all this, about what he was up to, but all of them fell away in the face of this new theory. It was quite probable, so much so that Harry was sure of it.

 

All of the evidence seemed to strongly suggest that Draco Malfoy was in love with him.

 

 

***

 

Late that night, when Draco was already in bed, a message came through the floo. Mipsy, in her pajamas and bunny slippers, carried it into his room, snapped on the lights, and announced, “Mr. Harry Potter has sent this to Lord Malfoy, at this most indecent hour.”

 

His heart exploded as he threw back the blankets and leapt out of bed, not even bothering to pull on his dressing gown or slippers. In his pale blue pajamas, messy hair, and bare feet, Draco sprinted across the room to grab the parchment note Mipsy held out.

 

“Thank you, Mipsy, that will be all,” he said, distracted, as he unfolded the single parchment sheet. “Good night.”

 

She grumbled while she left, probably still complaining about the chocolate-y mess he’d made of her kitchen earlier that evening while making and then decorating a cake for Potter’s godson, but he ignored her.

 

Shaky and eager, he read every word, written in Potter’s thin, lilting script.

 

Malfoy-

 

The cake was great.

 

Teddy really liked the chocolate and that you decorated it with the Hogwarts crest.

 

I really liked that it did not look like a man’s arse.

 

Thanks. For the cake, and for the treacle tart, and for making me feel a little better on a rough day.

 

-HP

 

Smiling, with a rush of fond warmth, Draco read the note three more times and then, torn between either laughing or crying with sweet, perfect joy, he pressed the parchment to his chest and did both.

Chapter Text

On Tuesday, Harry skipped a day of work and took Teddy to Diagon Alley to shop for all of his school supplies. He had three goals for the day. One: to give Teddy an amazing, memorable day while loading him up with everything he’d need for his first year at Hogwarts. Two: to get through the day without breaking down and crying. And three, strange as it was: to find Draco Malfoy a gift.

 

He was still hesitant and unsure about that third one. He didn’t know how he felt about his revelation that Malfoy maybe, probably loved him. He didn’t know if he wanted that love, or if there was any universe in which he might be able to return it. But he did know that…well. It felt a bit rude, didn’t it? To accept all of Malfoy’s gifts and offerings, but give nothing back? That wasn’t very nice. What Malfoy was doing, if he was doing it for the reasons Harry suspected, was very weird but also rather…Harry hesitated to admit it. But it was heartwarming. Charming. No one had ever treated Harry like that. Harry didn’t know what he felt or what Malfoy felt or what the hell was going on between them, but he did know that he didn’t hate it, and also it shouldn’t be completely one-sided. After all, half the joy of having a relationship was being able to do all those silly, nice, thoughtful things back. He’d never had a chance before, so maybe he sort of wanted to give it a try.

 

Maybe.

 

He was not one hundred percent convinced.

 

And anyway, that was third priority on his list of goals for the day. The other two were more important, and he kept slipping the Malfoy thing to the back of his mind in order to better focus on the first two.

 

They started the day the same way Hagrid had started them on Harry’s first school shopping trip all those years ago: with a trip to Gringotts. As they rode the wild, rollercoaster-like mine carts down to the vaults, Teddy whooped and laughed, and Harry remembered how fun this had been as a kid when as an adult the whole debacle usually seemed like an unnecessary complication to what should be a simple errand. As they looped around wicked-fast curves and plunged down high drops, Harry laughed and hollered along with Teddy, much to the chagrin of their goblin guide.

 

The goblins still didn’t like him much, after the whole break-in.

 

First, they stopped at Harry’s vault and he took out all the money they’d need for a perfect day of shopping. Then, they made a second stop to the Lupin family vault.

 

It wasn’t necessary. Harry was wealthy and he could afford anything Teddy needed, a million times over. Every bit of money he had, he was glad to share with his godson.

 

This trip was special, though. Remus should be here. Tonks should be here. Andromeda should be here. They weren’t.

 

But they would be in spirit.

 

Harry guided Teddy through using his little bank key to open the vault his parents had left him and to which all of his grandmother’s assets had been added after she passed on. It wasn’t much, but every knut they had left behind was held safe in the bank for Teddy, untouched. They took seven galleons exactly, and left the rest.

 

Then, they went on to their first stop: Ollivander’s. It was the most exciting part, the most memorable, the most special, so Harry decided to start them off big. Mr. Ollivander, a bit slower and more bent than he used to be, but otherwise just the same, brought Teddy several wands. He sampled them each, and some did nothing while some did the wrong sort of thing. A few boxes collapsed onto their heads with the swish of an elm and phoenix feather. A lightbulb exploded and rained sparks thanks to a pine and dragon heartstring. Harry chewed on his nails and paced around behind Teddy, nervous and eager.

 

Finally, he waved a holly and unicorn wand, and a bright burst of teal and yellow fireworks snapped and fizzed in a vibrant display. Teddy grinned and shifted his hair to match the colors, and then turned around and threw himself at Harry for a hug.

 

“Well done, Mr. Lupin, well done indeed.” Ollivander leaned in too close and peered at Teddy with his pale, piercing eyes. “A fine wand. Ten inches. Flexible. With a unicorn hair core, like both your mother and your father before you. But the wood is holly, like your godfather.”

 

When Harry guided him, Teddy pulled out the little satchel of seven galleons they’d taken from the Lupin vault. Teddy passed the money across the counter, where Ollivander sorted it into the register. Harry stood back and tried not to look too visibly choked up while Remus and Tonks bought their son his first wand.

 

“Alright!” Harry shouted, cheerful though he was quite sure his eyes were watery and maybe—just maybe, not to give that old harpy any credit—glistening with a few ghosts of his past. “Onward!”

 

Together, they strode through the crowds and popped into nearly every shop on the street. Slowly but surely, they made all of their purchases and filled up Harry’s enchanted mokeskin pouch, which could just barely hold everything.

 

Another birthday gift from Hagrid, that had been. Not quite as lovely and perfect as Hedwig, but still dear to him.

 

And in each shop, while Teddy excitedly searched for the supplies on his list and tried (often successfully) to talk Harry into adding a few other non-essentials, Harry studied the offerings and wondered if any of them might make a good gift for Malfoy. Nothing too ostentatious. Nothing that sent too big or too brash a message. Just…something small. Thoughtful. But not too thoughtful! Nothing seemed quite right, and Harry was a bit too nervous about the whole thing to really search properly.

 

A highlight of the day was their stop to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. When they stepped inside, underneath the glaring cacophony of a display, George took one look at them and leapt over the counter. “Hey! There’s my favorite Hogwarts first year!”

 

He hugged Teddy and then Harry. His face was gaunt, his cheekbones too hollow, but his smile was bright and real. It had been a long, hard path for George, and Harry felt a pang of sorrow every time he saw the solitary twin, even after all these years. But Angelina had brought him back from the brink, and the two little kids they had together were his pride and joy.

 

They chatted, caught up, and Harry asked after the little ones, Freddie and Roxanne. It only took a minute of this for George to get antsy. He pulled his long red hair back in a ponytail and sized Teddy up with an appraising look. He glanced at Harry. “So. He’s off to Hogwarts. Should we load him up?”

 

Teddy grinned and nodded. “Please?”

 

“I don’t know,” Harry bluffed. “Are you going to take the punishment that McGonagall doles out when he gets caught with a pile of contraband in his first week, or is that going to all fall on me?”

 

“I’ll take the blame for you.” He clapped Harry hard on the shoulder and winked at Teddy. “After all. This is the son of a Marauder! I need to do right by him.”

 

“Now, listen here little Lupin.” George leaned in close and murmured exciting conspiracy to Teddy. “Now that you are of age, I’ll let you in on a top secret policy. In honor of the greats who made my pranking possible, I offer you the top secret, very exclusive Marauder’s discount. This is a special deal that only offspring of the original Marauders get to use, so of all the people in the world it is literally only available to you and Harry. Do you want it?”

 

Wide-eyed, mouth hanging open in wonder and anticipation, Teddy nodded. “What is it? What’s the deal, Uncle George?”

 

Harry stood back and smirked, brimming with nostalgia both happy and sad, feeling everything they had lost but also everything they still had, and watched as George hyped Teddy into an excited mess.

 

He wrapped an arm around Teddy’s shoulder and leaned in close. With a dramatic, showman sweep of his arm, he said, “Anything in the store. For free. Forever.”

 

Teddy’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head and he screeched, “Really?!”

 

George nodded. “Really. But! Only if you solemnly swear that you’re up to no good.”

 

“I solemnly swear!”

 

“Well then go on, kid!” George gave Teddy a shove and set him loose in the store.

 

He took off like a shot, and he turned his hair ginger as he searched for the perfect implements of mischief.

 

“You’re going to get him expelled his first week,” Harry said good-naturedly.

 

George scoffed and waved a dismissive hand. “No way. Minnie McG loves me, and you, and him. You know, after all the chaos and pain they have caused her over the years, she still has not had the heart to fully ban Wheezes products?”

 

Harry laughed and caught up with George for a while, until Teddy, arms full of dung bombs and fireworks and skiving snackboxes, was ready to go. Harry stuffed everything into his pouch and hoped no stray dung bombs detonated while he was carrying them.

 

And though he casually perused, he didn’t think Malfoy would particularly appreciate a prank gift, so he did not take advantage of his own Marauder discount.

 

The day wore on, with Teddy’s excitement levels staying high and mighty the whole while. They shared ice cream outside on the patio of Fortescue’s and laughed and told silly stories. Teddy asked endless questions about Hogwarts, about what it was like for Harry, about what it was like for his mum and dad, and Harry actually managed to reminisce with a smile. There were good times for him at Hogwarts. Very good. Bad too, but they didn’t negate the wonderful memories he had, and he found he was more glad than he’d expected to share them.

 

With only a few stops left, Harry enacted his other big present-buying scheme of the day. He dropped Teddy off at Madam Malkin’s, all too aware that this was the exact spot where he and Draco Malfoy had met. Would Teddy meet someone important here? Someone who would have enormous influence over his life as an adversary, a nemesis, maybe a friend? Maybe something else? Probably not. But the nostalgia did resonate loud and clear in Harry’s mind as he escorted his godson into the shop.

 

“I just need to check on something real quick, mate,” he told Teddy. “Boring. An errand. I’ll be back before you’re done.”

 

And while Teddy stood on a lighted dais with enchanted tape measures floating around him, Harry snuck off. This, he was excited for. This, he had to do right. This had been a great day for the two of them, especially for Teddy, but this was what had the potential to make the day absolutely perfect. His steps were quick, nearly a run, as he hurried up to Eeylop’s Owl Emporium.

 

Inside the dim shop, the soft rustling and gentle hooting of dozens of owls brought a sad smile to his face. Bright eyes, yellow and green and gold, stared at him and watched his movements across the worn floor boards. Some were calculating and clever, some were curious and friendly. All were beautiful. A few stray feathers floated down from the rafters, and when he looked up into the shadowed heights of the ceiling, yet more owls watched him.

 

Right. Time to pick one. He only had a few minutes to find the perfect friend for Teddy.

 

But how? How could he choose? How would he know which one was the right companion for his godson? His godson, who had nightmares, who worried, who was leaving his loving home. He would need a good friend, a pet. A pet would be able to comfort him when Harry could not.

 

He walked along the rows of owls, smiled at the birds. A few of them allowed him to reach out and stroke their soft feathers. Large, regal barn owls. Enthusiastic little scops owls. There was one beautiful, pure white snowy owl, and Harry couldn’t even look at him, the grief that suddenly overtook him was so strong. He ducked his head and muttered an apology to the bird, who studied him kindly as he hurried past.

 

All of them were perfect. But none of them seemed quite right.

 

Really, what Harry wanted was to pack up and follow Teddy to Hogwarts. An owl would be a good friend and companion, would be a comfort in hard times. Harry knew that from experience, and Hedwig had been all of that and more to him. But an owl couldn’t snuggle Teddy after a nightmare. An owl couldn’t keep him company during the night, when his fears and anxieties needed the most soothing. An owl would have to live in the owlery. An owl wouldn’t even see Teddy in the day-to-day.

 

The solution hit him quite abruptly, and Harry smiled to himself and shook his head while the owls all watched.

 

Hagrid had gotten him an owl. Hedwig had been the perfect pet for Harry, so that’s what he had wanted to do for his godson.

 

But that didn’t mean an owl would be the perfect pet for Teddy. The more he thought about it, actually thought about what Teddy would want and need, the more he realized that an owl was not quite the right fit for this exact moment in his life.

 

Hogwarts rules stipulated that a student could bring an owl…or a cat or a toad.

 

“There’s no way in hell I’m getting him a toad,” Harry said to a nearby screech owl, which raised its severe eyebrow feathers as if to agree that a toad was, indeed, a subpar pet. If not an owl, Harry imagined it saying, aloof and proud, then you really only have one satisfactory option left to you. “Yep. You’re right. Sorry guys. Looks like I’m getting a cat.”

 

He waved a goodbye to all the beautiful birds and ran back up the street to the Magical Menagerie.    

 

The shop clerk was a bit taken aback when Harry Potter, panting and out of breath, ran through the door and announced, “Hello! I need your cuddliest cat, please! And quickly!” But she came to her senses and briskly guided him along the meandering pathways of the crowded, stuffy store. The air was thick and stale with animal scents, and dozens of parrots, lizards, ferrets, and weird, exotic creatures Harry had no names for squawked and chirped and watched him. In the cat section, the clerk showed him a basket of kittens, which were adorable, but Harry didn’t think Teddy would really have the time required to take care of a needy kitten, so he looked at all of the adult cats…

 

And accidentally fell in love with a scrawny, three-legged calico, who pressed her face to the bars of her cage and meowed until Harry stuck his finger in. The cat grabbed it gently with the claws of her one front paw, held it in place, and nuzzled like her fluffy little life depended on it.

 

“That’s Fiona! She’s three years old. We found her as a stray out in the muggle part of the city. She got hit by a car. We couldn’t save her leg, unfortunately, but she doesn’t seem to suffer for it. She had never been around magic before now, as far as we can tell, but she’s taken to it alright.”

 

Utterly, embarrassingly charmed, Harry chuckled while the cat purred her little head off and accepted chin scratches. “Oh, so you’re a muggle born cat, are you?”

 

“If you’re looking for a lap cat, and you don’t mind one who’s a little older and who wobbles a bit, she’s the one for you.”

 

“I’ll take her! And…” Harry peered around the store at all of the supplies. What else would he need? His only cat experience was with Crookshanks. “Everything she needs.”

 

A few harried, rushing minutes later, he left the shop with his pouch full of bowls and food and toys and litter box, and his arms full of frenetically purring cat. She stuck her little head out of the carrier and looked around at all the shops and people, her nose twitching, while Harry hurried her back to Madam Malkin’s.

 

He stood outside the shop window and waited a few more minutes for Teddy to finish up. When he came out carrying a garment bag full of school robes, he smiled at Harry…

 

And then his eyes bugged out of his head.

 

“Harry.” He pointed one finger at the carrier. “What is that?”

 

In that moment, Harry felt enormously proud of himself, pleased with his parenting instincts. He’d done well. The dreamy, emotional shock on Teddy’s face was proof. “This is Fiona. I thought you could use a friend, to go with you to Hogwarts.”

 

Teddy’s lower lip quivered while he grinned and approached the carrier. Fiona popped her head out and blinked at him. And when Harry lifted the furry loaf out of her basket, she reached out long for Teddy, went right into his arms, and began to assault his face with nuzzles.

 

He had absolutely picked the right pet.  

 

“She’s so cute!” Teddy said while the cat lovingly attacked his face, and his excitement grew to squeaking, uninhibited levels. “Does she only have three legs? That’s so cute! She’s so cute! I can’t stand it!” Very serious, he paused and asked, “Harry, can I swear?”

 

Harry rolled his eyes and snorted a laugh, but he was the sort of man who believed there were certain moments that could only be described with a good swear word, and he didn’t believe in limiting his godson unnecessarily, so he said, “If you must.”

 

While his bottom lip quivered with emotion, the sweet little eleven year old stared Harry dead in the eye, cradled the cat, and announced, “She’s the cutest fucking thing I have ever seen in my whole life.”

 

Right for an f-bomb, huh? Harry nodded and swallowed down laughter. That was… Well. Harry couldn’t complain. The kid had asked permission, after all, and it’s not like he learned it from anyone but Harry.

 

Teddy approached and leaned forward until his head thunked against Harry’s chest. It was the closest thing he could give to a hug while his arms were full of purring feline. Muffled in Harry’s shirt, Teddy said, “Thanks, Harry. You’re the best godfather ever.” 

 

That wasn’t true. Even if Harry had been better, even if he had been healthy and whole and not so messed up inside, it still wouldn’t be true. Harry knew best godfather ever would always go to Sirius, the man who broke out of an inescapable prison to come to his rescue, the man who gave him everything he had even when he had close to nothing himself. Sirius hadn’t been healthy or whole either, but he’d still done everything he could for Harry.

 

That Teddy thought Harry came anywhere close to the very high bar of best godfather ever was a victory.

 

It filled Harry’s heart, which already was so full of love for this kid he felt it might overflow and spill out of him any second. “Come on, mate.” Harry tousled and petted Teddy’s hair, while Teddy petted the cat. “Let’s go get the last of your things so we can take Fiona back and show her her new home.”

 

He kept a protective, fond arm around Teddy’s shoulders while they walked, and he was close enough to hear Teddy murmur to Fiona, “We’re going to be best friends. I love you already.”

 

In front of Flourish and Blotts, Fiona reluctantly went back into her carrier for the trip inside. It was their last stop of the day, the only store they had left to visit.

 

And he still hadn’t found a gift for Malfoy.

 

To be honest, he’d been scared to properly look, intimidated by the challenge and terrified of what it might mean.

 

While they worked through the narrow shelves and grabbed all of the hardcover textbooks Teddy would need for his first year, Fiona meowed a few times, as if to announce her presence in case they had forgotten and to suggest that perhaps their time could be better spent petting her. Each time, Teddy giggled and poked his finger into the carrier to scratch at her cheek. It was adorable. And it gave Harry the confidence he needed.

 

He’d done really well with his big, majorly important gift-giving venture for the day. Surely, if he could find Teddy the perfect companion to comfort and love him while he was away from home, then he could find a small, reasonable gift for Draco Malfoy.

 

A book. A book was fine. A book could even be good.

 

Harry adjusted the stack of textbooks in his arm for a better hold on them, and said, “Just a second, mate. I need one more thing,” He set off at random through the rows of bookshelves, and Teddy followed behind him. He checked the signs for each section and rejected them. Fiction could be good, but he had no sense of Malfoy’s taste. Historical? No. Malfoy already knew way more about magical history than Harry did, and anything he chose would likely show off his own ignorance.

 

Cook books. Harry stopped in front of the sign while a smile grew across his face, tight and considering.

 

Better than good. Perfect. He wanted a gift that was thoughtful, but not too thoughtful. Something he could give without it seeming like a big deal. Something careful. This could work.

 

It only took a moment to pick out a good one, and then Harry paid for their whole stack.

 

And that was it. Done. Teddy had everything he needed to go to Hogwarts.

 

Everything he needed to leave Harry.

 

Harry tried not to think on it too much. Not right now. He’d sworn to himself he would get through this day without breaking down, and he’d done pretty damn well so far. He wasn’t about to slip into melancholy and ruin everything for Teddy now, at the very end.

 

It had been a good day. A brilliant day. A day Teddy would remember fondly forever, and Harry took comfort in his certainty of that. In spite of everything he was feeling, he had done well by his godson. Now, they could go home and enjoy the afternoon and evening. Harry would need to think of something to do for dinner. He wished he had planned ahead and maybe picked up groceries. It wasn’t like they could pop into Tesco on their way home, what with Fiona shouting for attention in her carrier. Damn.

 

It was alright. He could just order something, or run back out after they got home.

 

Outside the Leak Cauldron, Harry hired a muggle taxi to get them back to Grimmauld Place, since he wasn’t quite sure how safe apparating or the floo network would be for a cat.

 

Traffic was heavy and it took a while to get home, but Teddy didn’t seem to mind. They talked to each other, cooed at Fiona, and watched out the windows. And when they finally got home, forty-five minutes later, Harry pushed open the door, stepped inside, looked up…

 

And found a lasagna waiting on the sideboard.

 

Malfoy. He had to laugh. He didn’t know how it was possible for Malfoy to have known, but now that he knew it was harmless, it all felt a bit whimsical.

 

Maybe a bit…

 

He wasn’t sure if he was ready to admit it to himself or not.

 

But maybe it even felt a bit romantic.

 

“Oh no,” Teddy said as he shut the door and set down Fiona’s carrier. Curious, she hopped out and whipped her tail back and forth as she studied her new surroundings. “More mystery prank food?”

 

“Yeah.” There was a note. Another card. “But we can eat this one. I talked to him, and it’s okay.”

 

“Brill!” Teddy opened the door into the parlor and living room, and beckoned for the cat, ready to give her the grand tour. “Come on Fiona. I’ll show you your new house. This room is where we watch telly…”

 

As Teddy led the way, Fiona followed along, calm and intrigued, and moving much better than Harry would have guessed on three legs. When they were gone, he ripped open the envelope and read the note.

 

No teasing. No taunts. No ridiculous theories.

 

Just simple, plain, unassuming care.

 

Potter-

 

When you’re ready to eat, bake this for 45 minutes. Hope it’s alright. I admit, I rather rushed the sauce.

 

Enjoy.

 

-DLM

 

Warm and a bit giddy, Harry rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, stared at the card, and smiled to himself.

 

 

***

 

 

When Draco arrived at work the next day, a package sat on his desk, waiting for him.

 

Brow raised, lips pursed in disdain, he stared at it for a long second. Should he throw it out? Most likely, it was another well-wishing gift from the contingent of co-workers who still believed he was dying of a brain tumor. He didn’t need any more flowers or chocolates or biscuits or get well soon cards, thanks very much. How much longer would it be before that rumor faded?

 

Oh, alright, he supposed he should at least open it.

 

He set himself up for the work day first, removed the files he needed from his briefcase and positioned them in the center of his workspace. Tidied up his ink pots and tray of quills. Watered his plant. Got himself a cup of tea from the break room.

 

By the time he sat down at his desk, the package seemed to be just another step in his morning routine. Nothing too exciting, just something to get on with so he could get to work.

 

A card in an envelope lay on top, and the package itself was wrapped in a simple brown paper bag. He tore open the envelope, opened the card—

 

And nearly dropped it.

 

That was Potter’s handwriting.

 

Heart quick, he scanned the lines.

 

Malfoy-

 

I got you a gift, but don’t think this means I like you, or anything. Really, this gift is selfish. I’m particularly interested in page 48.

 

Thanks for the lasagna.

 

-HP

 

Once he was done reading, he had to set the letter down on his desk and stare at the wall for a long while.

 

Potter had sent him a gift.

 

He pursed his lips and bit his mouth in tighter, because if he didn’t he was quite sure his abandoned, glorious grin would crack his face right open.

 

His hands twitched, nervous, as he started to reach for the brown paper bag but then pulled back. He tried again. Still couldn’t do it.

 

Finally, he grabbed the package and ripped off the paper.

 

A cook book. Draco laughed. Magical Eating Cookbook: Imaginative and Modern Recipes, Sure to Enchant Your Taste Buds!

 

He flipped to page forty-eight and found a decadent picture under the heading, Salted Caramel Sticky Buns. The little cakes were golden, dripping with ooey, gooey caramel and topped with pecans. He huffed quiet laughter and chewed on his lip. So that’s how it was to be then, now that Potter was actually eating his food? Potter would order him around, submit his requests for Draco to fulfill, let Draco serve as nothing more than a personal chef?

 

No, that wasn’t it.

 

Eyes narrow and shrewd, Draco smiled as he flipped through the book and considered other recipes. Potter could play coy and casual if he wanted, but Draco knew there was more to this than his little note let on. Draco knew better. The actual content wasn’t as important as the symbol of the act itself. A gift from Potter, any gift, signified acceptance. Approval. It was a coded message that said to Draco, I’m curious, so carry on.

 

It was more than Draco ever could have imagined. He didn’t know where it would lead, didn’t know if he was even brave enough to think about it.

 

What he did know was that somewhere along the way, in the middle of this whole veela mess, everything between him and Potter had changed.

 

He wrote a memo and chose his words carefully, all too conscious of how he would be perceived. He didn’t want to be too forward, too sincere, too mocking, too eager, too anything.

 

Potter-

 

Thanks for the book! However did you know about my newfound interest in the culinary arts? As it so happens, I have recently taken up cooking as a hobby, so your gift is aptly timed.

 

Regarding page 48, did you imagine this as a dessert or a breakfast?

 

-DLM

 

An hour later, an inter-departmental memo floated over the wall of Draco’s cubicle and landed on his desk. He unfolded the bright green paper and found Potter’s unmistakable script. The note read, simply: Both?

 

Draco rolled his eyes and laughed, and then made two dozen of the sticky buns when he went home that evening, and his veela instincts had nothing to do with it.

Chapter Text

Harry heard from Malfoy a few more times over the next week. Two food deliveries, plus several notes. With each food delivery, Harry had gotten into the habit of sending a thank you note, mostly sincere but sometimes snarky or funny or teasing. Malfoy had gotten into the habit of responding. And then, well, after a week they were writing notes back and forth to each other a few times a day.

 

Which wasn’t weird.

 

Alright, it was weird.

 

But it was also kind of nice. Malfoy was witty and sharp and a little rude. The notes made Harry laugh.

 

On Saturday morning, Harry was still in bed, lazy and only half awake, when Kreacher brought a new note in.

 

I’m bored, it said in Malfoy’s elegant handwriting. Any requests?

 

Harry laughed. For himself, the answer was no. He didn’t care much about breakfast and often skipped it entirely, so he heaved out of bed. While he shoved on his glasses and tried not to trip over his sagging pajama bottoms, he made his way down the hall and knocked on Teddy’s door.

 

Groggy and mucky, Teddy made a sound that might have been a greeting, so Harry stepped inside. Weary, through squinting eyes, his godson blinked and peered at him, his hair a fluffy mess. Next to him on the bed, Fiona slept comfortably curled up against his chest, on her back and with her little paws all akimbo in the air.

 

“Want anything special for breakfast?” Harry asked, and his voice came out croaking and dry.

 

Teddy blinked skeptically a few more times, looked around the room like he was trying to remember what breakfast was, and then grunted, “Waffles,” before promptly collapsing back onto the pillow.

 

So they had waffles that morning. Teddy declared them the best waffles he’d ever eaten in his whole life. Fiona snuck up onto the table, and when it became clear that Harry didn’t have the heart or the discipline to force her back down, she spent half an hour begging and trying to sneak bits of bacon. (Which Harry gave her.) And Harry enjoyed the slow, sweet Saturday morning breakfast with his godson and wondered all the while whether he should have invited Malfoy to join them.

 

He had never thought about it before, but it was strange, wasn’t it? Malfoy offered to cook them breakfast, sent it over…and then stayed at home by himself while Harry and Teddy (and Fiona) ate the food he made them? That was strange. A little rude, on Harry’s part. He didn’t exactly want to invite Draco Malfoy into his house for a meal…but he also didn’t exactly not want that. The oddity weighed on him all through breakfast, until his stomach ached, uncomfortably full with fluffy waffles drenched in rich maple syrup.

 

He also thought about it while Teddy held Fiona still so Harry could gently scrub and scourgify syrup off her front paw, after she grabbed a waffle and tried to drag it off of Teddy’s plate. Briefly, while she wiggled and whined for freedom from the cleaning, Harry considered instituting a no-cats-on-the-dining-table rule for the house, but could never. What was he, a dictator?

 

In the end, he didn’t invite Malfoy over, but the feeling that maybe he should have lingered uncomfortably for the rest of the morning. He washed all the dishes, packaged them up, and then went to the living room with a notepad and quill. While Teddy played with Fiona and watched television, Harry joined them on the sofa and worked on a note to Malfoy. A nice one, and a bit longer than normal, to make up for how awkward and worried he felt about whether he should have invited Malfoy over for breakfast.

 

It took several attempts, a few drafts, and a lot of cross-outs to get something that sounded nice, but not too nice, friendly but not too friendly, and interested but not too interested.

 

Malfoy,

 

Thanks for breakfast. Teddy said the waffles were the best he’s ever had, and I agree. Our cat also tried to sample them. We got a cat, by the way. Did I mention that we have a cat now? Her name is Fiona, and she’s She wasn’t allowed, but she did appreciate the bacon.

 

Are you ever going to tell me what this is all about? Now that I don’t think you’re trying to kill me, I like the food you send me don’t mind the food, so I don’t want to complain too much. But you know me—I like to solve a mystery. Any hints?

 

Where did you even learn to cook, anyway ? Have you always liked to cook? Am I the only one you make these weird deliveries to, or do you have a whole host of people you send curry to in the middle of the night?

 

Hope you have a good day.

 

-HP

 

He rewrote a clean version and sent the note off with Kreacher, who also returned all of Malfoy’s breakfast dishes.

 

A few hours later, an owl pecked at his window to deliver a letter, which was sealed with the Malfoy crest. So pretentious and formal. Harry quietly laughed to himself as he opened it.

 

Potter,

 

I’m pleased you and your godson and your cat enjoyed the meal, although I do think waffles are a quite pedestrian breakfast option. Next time, I shall re-interpret the requests of your peasant-like palate and make you crepes, which are essentially pancakes, but French, and therefore automatically more sophisticated.

 

You have a cat? When did you get a cat? Will she accompany young Teddy to Hogwarts? I do hope so, as life under your rule seems unjustly restrictive for the poor, suffering feline. You didn’t allow her a waffle? That was very rude of you. There were plenty to share, and yet you denied her. It’s a travesty! A tragedy! Cats everywhere should rise up in defiance of your tyrannical rule! Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite! Viva la revolucion! (That means “let the cat eat a waffle, you bastard!” in French.)

 

I did only recently take up cooking as a hobby, and I have found that I quite enjoy it. It’s not so different from potions, which you know I always liked. I like experimenting with recipes. I like creating things that people can enjoy. I have been getting help and private instruction from my friend and house elf, Mipsy. She says hello, by the way. She’s a big fan of yours.

 

Am I detecting a hint of jealousy in your note, Potter? A bit of possessiveness? Perhaps just a smidge of insecurity? Why Potter, I had no idea you cared so much about being the only object of my culinary affections! Well, let me assure you, Potter. When it comes to cooking, you are my one and only. Oh, I will admit that I have hosted the odd dinner party or two, but it didn’t matter, Potter, it was meaningless, it fulfilled a physical hunger only, and I thought of you the whole time. See? Nothing to be jealous of. 

 

As for why I am doing this… Perhaps someday I might tell you. But not this day!

 

For now, I remain your most dashing and elusive mystery,

 

Draco Malfoy

 

Harry read through it twice more, all while blushing at the sexual innuendos and laughing at the teasing. This was different than anything Malfoy had ever sent him, ever said to him. It was a little funny, a little clever, a little cheeky, a little sincere…

 

Fuck, Harry was getting in too deep. Too deep, too fast. He chewed on the inside of his cheek and thought about not answering. Perhaps it would be best to just ignore this, to nip this back-and-forth in the bud, before it could develop into something he wasn’t sure he wanted.

 

But he couldn’t help himself. Every word from Malfoy was a tantalizing pull, a little tickle of interest that he never had been able to ignore. And besides, they had been lightly roasting and teasing each other through notes ever since the morning of the treacle tart. Harry had enjoyed that, and had given back as good as he got. Now, though, with the sexual tone he’d taken when describing their exchange, Malfoy had upped the ante. Harry couldn’t just let that go, couldn’t just let him win.

 

Plus, the knowledge that he really was the only person Malfoy did this for just reinforced his belief that Malfoy was in love with him. It was endearing. Safe. And he also half wondered why he hadn’t been invited to those dinner parties, before he remembered that he had been screaming threats at Malfoy until two weeks ago.

 

He wrote back:

 

To My Most Dashing and Elusive Mystery, aka My Most Annoying Yet Amusing Pain in the Arse,

 

Of course you would think waffles and pancakes are pedestrian. Of course you would. If you ever send me crepes, I should utterly reject them on principle, just to protest your snobbish-ness. But I won’t. Please send crepes next time. Also, Malfoy, obviously I know what a bloody crepe is. You didn’t have to explain it.

 

Thank you for the fascinating French lesson. I never knew that the motto of France was such an oddly specific reference to feline consumption of breakfast foods.

 

And yes, I do have a cat. Her name is Fiona, she is a snuggly, three-legged menace, and we just adopted her this week. She is going to Hogwarts with Teddy, yes. I was worried he’d have a difficult time adjusting, so I thought a pet might help, though that was probably just me projecting my own issues onto him. You will be pleased to hear that Fiona has recovered from the devastation of being denied a waffle of her very own.

 

I had never thought much about the similarity between cooking and potions until now. Interesting. I wonder if that’s why I hate doing both of them, because they remind me of each other. Which came first, I wonder? Do I hate potions because I hate cooking? Or do I hate cooking because I hate potions? I’m glad you were able to find something you enjoyed in both of them, though. You were always good at potions. You’re also a good cook. 

 

Mipsy is teaching you to cook? That’s nice. At first, I thought she must be the one doing the cooking, until she told me otherwise. I have met Mipsy a few times. She’s the one who usually makes your deliveries, right? The lovely older lady elf, who is always so nicely dressed? Yes, she comes to my house and bosses me around and pretends she can’t hear me when I tell her I don’t want anything from you. Very persistent, you and Mipsy both. Tell her I say hi back.

 

I do admit, yes, that I might have asked about other objects of your culinary efforts out of a sense of possessiveness. You should know that I’m monogamous at heart. I don’t particularly like to share food. Glad to hear you’re cooking only for me, although I am a little hurt I wasn’t invited to any of your dinner parties. Thought of me the whole time, did you? And it was only physical? Do you often think of me when you’re with other people? When you’re filling your physical needs?

 

-H

 

There. That would make him blush, no doubt. He sent it back with the owl, and went on with his day. He and Teddy played a game of gobstones. Harry got caught up on his bills and the payments he needed to make. He sat down and wrote out a grocery list, for once. All of it antsy and half-distracted, wondering whether or not he would hear from Malfoy again.

 

That evening, Kreacher brought him another letter, along with a plate with the single weirdest looking waffle Harry had ever seen. It was lumpy. A bit gray. And it smelled sort of fishy. Not appetizing at all.

 

Fiona trotted into the hall, lifted her head, sniffed and meowed while Harry stared at the frankly disgusting-looking plate. “Kreacher, what is that?”

 

“A delivery, from the elves of the Malfoy household, sir.”

 

“Right. Okay.” Harry took the plate and the accompanying letter, and ignored Fiona, who stood up on her hind legs and pawed at Harry’s knee. “Thanks.”

 

He unfolded the parchment and read:

 

Potter,

 

Don’t laugh.

 

But I made a waffle for Fiona the cat.

 

Harry laughed. Rather a lot. He shook his head and looked more closely at the lumpy, unappealing food, and then at the cat who was considering climbing his leg to get to it. He placed the little dish on the floor for her, and she chirped and purred while she ate.

 

It took a little while to adjust the recipe so it was cat friendly, and also to figure out how to make it waffle-shaped without all of the fish sticking to the griddle pan. Completely disgusting. But here, I present to you a tuna fish waffle.

 

Please don’t think this was me being nice. I simply have an overwhelming and debilitating need to one-up you whenever possible. I saw an opportunity to gain Fiona’s affections while she was still suffering from your rejection, and I took advantage. Also, you mentioned that she only had three legs, and that is just stupidly adorable. I couldn’t resist. I sincerely hope now that Fiona will like me better than you.

 

I also hope she does well at Hogwarts. Though I am sure your godson will be just fine, I don’t think it’s uncommon for some children to have a bit of difficulty with the transition in first year. I know I did. A cat for him was a nice idea, and I’m sure they will take good care of each other.

 

If you ask me (which you did) I imagine that your hatred of cooking was born out of your hatred of potions. You began potions lessons at such a young age, and the negative experience likely tainted anything similar for you. Unless you did a lot of cooking when you were a small child, before Hogwarts?

 

Ah, Mipsy. I’m so pleased to hear she has been bossing you around with each delivery. She is an elf who knows her own mind, that Mipsy, and a loyal friend to me. Has she shouted at you? I should give her a raise. She is the nicely dressed older lady who makes all of the deliveries, yes. I will pass on your hello, and also your compliment about her clothes. Her daughter is a clothing designer who runs the Elvish Fashions boutique on Diagon Alley, and Mipsy is very proud.

 

Why Potter, I had no idea you’d even want to attend one of my dinner parties. Next time I host one, you will be the first to get an invitation. I must admit that I don’t often have occasion to think of you while I’m eating with other people, as it is not an experience that happens with any regularity. I do, however, think of you frequently while giving solo attention to my physical needs—hunger, of course. Every time I play with a banana in the shower, or whenever I bring a nice, firm courgette to bed with me, I think of you and wonder if you’re hungry, too.

 

Yours,

 

Draco Malfoy

 

P.S. I couldn’t even write that last bit with a straight face, and I do apologize for it.

 

Harry sputtered, coughed, and nearly choked on his own tongue. Embarrassed, flushed, he glanced up the hall to make sure Teddy was still in the other room. He really did not need to explain to his godson why he was blushing.

 

Not to mention the fact that the weird, bizarrely sexy innuendos in Malfoy’s letter had gone straight to Harry’s cock. A vision of Draco Malfoy naked in bed and fucking himself with a courgette was quite possibly the strangest cause of an erection Harry had ever had, but still, his cock strained thick and half-hard against the zip of his jeans.

 

Right. Alright. So, he was half-hard and thinking about Malfoy. He had spent the day sending flirty letters back and forth with Malfoy. That was alright.

 

Wasn’t it?

 

He still wasn’t sure, but every letter made him beam and glow with happiness, made him feel alive. Every tease and taunt and compliment-wrapped-in-an-insult made him laugh. Malfoy got through to him in bursts of bizarre and authentic connection, riled him and excited him in a way that few other people did. Harry liked talking with him. He liked flirting with him.

 

He paused and gripped the latest letter in both hands.

 

Malfoy loved him. Harry was nearly sure of it. Malfoy had started all of this because he loved Harry and wanted his attention. He had it now, and Harry didn’t mind.

 

But if Harry was going to push this any further, he needed to be sure that he wanted what could come with it. It wouldn’t be fair, to lead Malfoy on and let him think something more could develop between them, when Harry was actually just flirting back for his own impulsive amusement.

 

So Harry sat down on the bottom step of the stair case, the bannister hard and pressing against his back, and he thought.

 

He thought about the person Malfoy had been, all that had passed between them at school and in the war.

 

He thought about how fucking angry all of the food deliveries had made him at first, and about how it was still invasive and mysterious that Malfoy always knew when he needed something.

 

Yes. He thought about those things.

 

But mostly, he thought about treacle tart on a bad day, and home-cooked meals when he forgot to eat. He thought about thoughtful, gentle gestures, like tins of tea and chocolate cakes with I love you’s tucked inside them. About wicked teasing that made him laugh even when he didn’t think he could. About pale hair and paler eyes that came alive and sparked with stormy energy when they locked onto his own.

 

And he knew.

 

Malfoy back then, all those years ago, was the sort of person who would join the wrong side of the war. Who was selfish and mean.

 

Malfoy today, now, was the sort of person who would create an elaborate and long-running plan to care for the object of his affections when that person was having a hard time. He was the sort of person who would make cake for a kid and fish waffles for a cat. He was the sort of person who noticed and saw and gave, and who didn’t expect anything back. The sort of person who was thoughtful and giving and witty and clever and kind.

 

He was the sort of person Harry might—might—be able to fall in love with.

 

Harry took in a long, steadying breath and stared at his bare toes on the hardwood floor.

 

Alright.

 

He was going to go for it.

 

Oh God, was that insane? It felt a little insane, and his stomach flipped around with nerves.

 

But he was going to do it.

 

Slowly. Carefully. He still wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted, what he was ready for, what he could give. But he wanted to find love, and he gave himself permission to see if it could be with Malfoy.

 

So with that settled, the decision flapping brave and frightened wings in his chest, he responded to the letter.

 

Malfoy,

 

I’m sorry to do this all out of order, but I absolutely have to respond to the last part of your letter first.

 

Malfoy. You are a grown man. I cannot believe I have to tell you this. But please, please do not deep throat bananas while in the shower. A banana is already too soft to try to fellate anyway. But in the shower, Malfoy? Really? It would get way too mushy, so much so that it could put you in danger. Danger, Malfoy! What would happen to you if you were going to town, sucking off a banana under the spray of a hot, steamy shower, and then it broke apart in your throat? You’d choke, is what would happen, Malfoy. You’d choke on soggy, wet banana while alone in the shower, and no one would be around to save you. It would be an utterly stupid and humiliating way to die. Although I will admit that I find the idea of you sucking off a banana in the shower bizarrely arousing, I cannot in good conscience condone you doing this any longer, especially not in my name. Next time you are in the shower and you want to meet your physical needs while thinking of me, just take your cock in hand and wank like a normal person. Leave the bananas out of it.

 

Your courgette adventures, on the other hand, I see no problem with. Carry on.

 

Thank you very much for the disgusting fish waffle, which Fiona greatly appreciated, you absolute bastard. There was only one flaw in your brilliant plan to steal my cat’s affections away from me, which is this: you might have made the food, but I gave her the plate. So in her little kitty mind, I was the generous soul behind the fish waffle! Ha!

 

Also thank you for the kind words about Teddy. I am worried about him. It was different for me, going to Hogwarts, and I just want to make it as good an experience for him as it can be.

 

As far as hating cooking and potions, the cooking actually came first. When I was little, I used to do a lot of the cooking at my aunt and uncle’s house. I didn’t like it much. But I also never made the connection between the two, and I hated potions all on its own, so who knows.

 

Really? Mipsy’s daughter runs that elvish clothing store in Diagon? I’ve seen that shop before. It’s really cool. I should pop in and say hi, maybe get something new for Kreacher.   

 

Yours,

 

H

 

On it went for the rest of the weekend, with teasing and flirting and the occasional bit of emotional sharing or vulnerability.

 

By Sunday morning, Harry knew he wanted to get Malfoy another gift. The letters were a sure sign that something was happening between them, something with potential. And if that was the case, then Harry had a lot of catching up to do. Malfoy had given him so many meals, had sent over so many thoughtful gestures, and Harry wanted to reciprocate. But how? He didn’t know what Malfoy would want or appreciate. He didn’t know what he needed.

 

That afternoon, he and Teddy went shopping in Diagon for a while, just long enough to get frustrated by the nosy crowds and the lack of any good gift options. There were too many people on the weekends, too many families shopping for school supplies. This was precisely why Harry had scheduled their own school outing for a weekday, to avoid the people who stopped and stared, who crowded him, who ran up to ask for an autograph.

 

Awful. And even though Teddy tried very hard to help find Harry a good gift, nothing they came up with seemed quite right.

 

True to his word, though, he did stop into the Elvish Fashions boutique, which had a small corner shop off the main high street. When they stepped inside the shop, rows and racks of dresses and trousers, towers of hats, and shelves of accessories greeted him. All were diminutive in size, but bright and bold in color and print. A whole wall of socks brought a sad smile to his face, as he thought about just how much Dobby would have loved this store. It was jolly. Brilliant. Fun and exciting clothes for the elves who had been so long banned from wearing them.

 

“Mr. Harry Potter.” An elf woman stepped out from behind the counter. Her dress was stylish and fashionable, a draped summery sheath in sky blue, paired with bright make-up and lots of little hoop earrings that ran in a silvery line up the outsides of her long ears. “Welcome to my shop. My name is Twinkle, and I am the owner of this business and designer of these clothes. How can I help you?”

 

“Actually, I’m just checking the place out.” Harry held out a hand and she shook it, and then Teddy did the same. “I’m friends with Draco Malfoy, and I know your mum, Mipsy. So I just wanted to say hi, maybe get a gift for my house elf.”

 

“Oh! Lord Malfoy has been very kind to my business. Any friend of Lord Malfoy is a friend to Twinkle.” She gestured out at the shop floor. “Please feel free to look around.”

 

He nodded, but her enthusiastic support of Malfoy intrigued him. “He’s been kind to the business? How so?”

 

“Why, Lord Malfoy invested in this business so Twinkle could open a store here in Diagon Alley.”

 

Harry blinked and peered at her. “Really?”

 

She told him how it was still difficult for elves to get business loans, and how Malfoy invested enough for her to start when she was denied by the bank. Harry wasn’t sure why this surprised him, but it did. He knew Malfoy had changed, he just…

 

Deep down, Harry had feared that maybe Malfoy still had some of his old prejudices. If it had turned out that he did, Harry didn’t see how a relationship with him could possibly work. But this new revelation, that he was promoting elvish equality by investing in an elf-run business…

 

He really had changed. Somewhere in him, Harry felt another wall, another hesitation, another barrier crumble.

 

Dammit, he was really going to do it, wasn’t he? He was really going to fall in love with the bastard.

 

He and Teddy picked out a nice plaid bow tie for Kreacher and went home with nothing for Malfoy. For that, Harry would need to enlist expert help.

 

 

***

 

 

By the time Lavender entered his office on Tuesday afternoon, half an hour after he’d sent the memo asking her to stop by, Harry was fidgeting and convinced she wasn’t going to show up.

 

“Hi, Harry,” she said, skeptical and on the defensive as she stepped into his office. She looked professional and intimidating, in her shiny high heels with the werewolf scars cut across her pretty face. She carried herself with a steel backbone she’d not had at Hogwarts. It was a good look on her. “What’s this about?”

 

“Hi Lavender. Please come in, shut the door.” When she did, he said, “I wanted to talk to you about Draco.”

 

Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “What about Draco?”

 

“I need your help.” All of Monday, Harry had researched and asked around to find out who Malfoy hung out with these days. Most of his old Slytherin clique were gone from the country, and he quickly found that Malfoy no longer associated with the few who remained. No one seemed to know much about Malfoy’s social life or who he spent his time with. Finally, after a lot of questioning, he heard from Cho that Padma and Parvati had gone to a dinner party at Draco’s a few weeks ago. And then Parvati confirmed that yes, they had, and that it had been very nice, and also the invitation had actually come from Lavender Brown, who was Malfoy’s colleague… and apparently, his one friend. His one very protective, very scary-looking friend. Harry raised both hands in defensive surrender and assured her, “With a gift. I want to get him a gift, but I don’t know what. I was hoping you might have some inside intel.”

 

“Oh!” All of the aggression melted right off of Lavender’s face, and she wiggled a happy little dance that made her honey brown curls bounce. She pulled out a chair and sat across the desk from him. “Oh, that’s wonderful! He will be so excited! Yes, of course I’ll help!”

 

They talked for a few minutes about what sort of things Draco liked, what his interests were, what he might appreciate. But Lavender waved off all of his suggestions. “Honesty, Harry, he’s richer than God, so there’s really nothing you can buy him that would impress. Your best bet is to either do something or make something, or get him something that’s really sentimental.”

 

Harry sighed. “Yeah, I kind of had that thought already. But I don’t know what he needs. He’s been so great at giving me things I need, and making these nice little gestures. I don’t know what the equivalent would be for him.”

 

“What does he need?” Lavender shrugged, looked away, and hesitated. Too blunt, she said, “Friends.”

 

“Really?” It confirmed what he had already suspected, after his long search yesterday, and the news that Malfoy didn’t actually have any friends made him feel sad and protective. “I kind of thought that might be the case. I asked around for friends of his, and you were the only person anyone mentioned.”

 

“Yeah, he really doesn’t have friends or a social life at all. I’ve been trying to push him out of his comfort zone a bit, because he’s really such a great guy! I adore him. But he’s scared, I think. He still thinks everyone will hate him, for who he was when we were kids.” She rolled her eyes and added, “Well, some people still do. Some people can’t see that he’s changed.”

 

Harry nodded and considered this. “Is he treated badly? Are people hostile?”

 

Lavender shook her head. “Not so much, no. It did get a bit bad for him after the incident with you and the soup, but it calmed down pretty quickly.”

 

The soup. That damn soup thing would haunt him for the rest of his life. “Do you know what that was about? Why the hell did he do that?”

 

Dripping fake innocence, Lavender shrugged and picked at her painted fingernails.

 

Harry rolled his eyes.

 

“What did he say it was about?”

 

“He told me it was an accident.”

 

“Oh.” Lavender tilted her head to the side and considered this. “Actually, he told you the truth. It was an accident. And I am sure, when he’s ready for you to know, he will tell you more.”

 

More about everything, about all of it, Harry inferred from her deliberate tone.

 

He thanked her for her help and then spent some time thinking about what he could do for Draco. The things lacking in Harry’s life were concern for himself, time, and energy. Food was a perfect way for Draco to show he cared, and to help with something Harry needed. According to Lavender, the things lacking in Draco’s life were friends, a social life, and public respect. So what could he do that would show that he cared and help meet those needs?

 

Thoughtful, Harry rested his chin on his folded hands, elbows pressed to the desk, and stared at the frames on the walls as he considered. He was Harry Potter. Like it or not, he did actually have a lot of power to turn public opinion. Slowly, piece by piece, an idea coalesced and came to him.   

 

He had burned bridges with and made enemies out of many people in the press, but screw the Daily Prophet anyway. Everyone knew they were old and conservative and traditional, that they cared more about making money than journalistic integrity. No, anyone who was anyone these days, anyone left-leaning and young, anyway, got their news from the Quibbler. Under new leadership for several years now, it had earned a reputation for balanced reporting, inclusivity, integrity, and thorough but fascinating investigation into topics most people wouldn’t think about.

 

Not only did Harry know the editor-in-chief very, very well, but he also had an idea for a story that she would love to write.

 

 

***

 

 

Early morning, Mipsy burst into Draco’s room with an excited squeal that startled him out of sleep. “Has young Draco seen the article in the Quibbler this morning?”

 

“Wha—huh? What?” Eyes fuzzy with morning gunk, he rubbed at his face and sat up in bed, his heart thundering after the sudden and terrifying awakening. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Twinkle’s store was featured in the paper!” Mipsy bounced up and down and danced in a gleeful little circle around Draco’s room while she waved the rusting pages of a newspaper. “Her picture is on the front page! Look!”

 

She bounded across the room and hopped up to sit on the edge of his bed. The newspaper was enormous for her to hold, and stretched the whole height and width of her body, but she proudly shoved it in Draco’s face and pointed. “There! See!”

 

And there, indeed, she was. Mipsy and Dimple’s daughter, Draco’s business partner, Twinkle, smiled up at him from the front page of the newspaper. Standing amongst her merchandise in her bright and cheery shop, she looked chic and elegant. Draco barked a laugh as Mipsy’s quivering excitement radiated off of her and infected him. “Mipsy, that’s fantastic! And about time, really. She never has gotten the press coverage she deserved. How’s the article?”

 

“Very positive! It is sure to get Twinkle lots of new business. Here, read for yourself!”

 

He blinked a few more times until his morning-drowsy eyes focused. Damn, he was getting old, and yet he firmly refused to get himself a pair of reading glasses. He scanned the headline: Elvish Entrepreneur Revolutionizes Business and Fashion. Written by Luna Lovegood herself. A good sign. Lovegood was now editor-in-chief for the paper, and wrote some of the deeper investigative pieces. She’d done a lot to build up the reputation of the publication, and to bring it up to high standards. People trusted her articles.

 

It was a good article! The piece was very favorable to Twinkle and talked about her clothing line and business inspiration, but it also spoke to the broader scope of how difficult it was for freed elves to open businesses. Several quotes from Twinkle showed off her entrepreneurial know-how, and Draco grinned when he read the quote that gave a little shout-out to Mipsy and Dimple for supporting her dreams.

 

And then he read his own name and his heart caught in his throat. “When the bank refused to give her a loan to start her business, Twinkle found an investor in an independent source, Mr. Draco Malfoy. ‘Lord Malfoy invested when no one else would,’ Twinkle says. ‘He is not like his father. He is a true friend to elves.’”

 

His mouth fell open in shock. No. That couldn’t be right.

 

But there it was, in black and white newsprint, his name right there on the front page. Above the fold, too.

 

Would this help or hurt him? Would it help or hurt Twinkle?

 

The article was so favorable, so supportive, that Draco couldn’t imagine it would be anything but good for her business. They had kept his name and involvement quiet for a reason, that reason being too many people would shun a business if they knew Draco Malfoy had anything to do with it. But this mention was small enough, and in such a positive context, that Draco didn’t think it would lose her any customers.

 

How would it affect opinion of him, though? Would anyone notice or care? Probably not. And if they did…

 

This might actually help. It painted him in a good light, but also in the right amount of light. The article didn’t focus on him much at all, which it shouldn’t, because this was Twinkle’s success and story. It was such a small mention of him, such an aside to the rest of the article, that it couldn’t be misinterpreted as a desperate ploy to buy favor. The more Draco thought about it, the more he realized that this could actually be very good for his reputation. It was not his intent. He’d had nothing to do with the article, and he’d not invested in Twinkle’s business for reputation-building purposes. He certainly didn’t have any pull with the Quibbler—

 

Oh, son of a bitch. He didn’t have any pull with the Quibbler. But Harry did. Harry, who was warming to him faster than Draco could have ever dreamed. Harry, who had spent the whole week sending him letters, talking and teasing and flirting with him. Harry, who just found out from one of Draco’s letters that Mipsy’s daughter ran a clothing store. That timing was certainly suspicious.

 

His breathing hitched in his chest, and he felt emotional and full and wondrous. Harry had done this for him.

 

“This is brilliant, Mipsy,” Draco said, voice thick with several different versions of pride and happiness.

 

When she left in a flurry, eager to run off and show the paper to Narcissa, Draco got up and dressed for work. On his way into the office, he stopped and bought a few more copies of the day’s Quibbler.

 

“Hello, Draco!” someone greeted him in the atrium, and he waved back before he paused, considering how strange that was. But no, when he glanced back at the witch, her eyes were clear and sharp. It wasn’t his allure acting up again, thank Merlin.

 

Three more people stopped to greet him on his way up to Revenue and Customs.

 

Several more nodded polite hellos.

 

No one blocked his way or glared at him. No one stared at his left arm. No one whispered behind his back. No one stared at the ground ahead of them and pretended he didn’t exist.

 

Everyone just treated him normally. Maybe even with a touch of friendly cheer.

 

In the lift, an older member of the Wizengamot nodded to him. “Good morning, Malfoy. What floor?”

 

Taken aback, Draco told him. It was so strange, so different from his typical interactions. And he knew exactly why it was happening.

 

By the time he reached Revenue and Customs, Draco couldn’t keep the tight, pleased little smile off his face.

 

“Morning, Margery!” he said as he walked through the lobby.

 

“Hello, Draco!” she chirped. “Nice article in the paper this morning, dear!”

 

On his desk, a package waited for him, along with a few letters. His heart skipped a beat, because at first he thought it might have been from Potter, but the handwriting wasn’t his. He went through his routine, watered his plant, settled into his chair, and opened his mail.

 

All of the letters were from house elves. Saw the article. Thank you for investing in elvish businesses. Need more wizards like you… All of them along that vein. Very kind. Giving him way more credit than he deserved. But still heartening. Then, the package, which was a thick folder. He opened the flap and slid out a stack of papers. On top, a letter read, Dear Mr. Malfoy, Figgy has just read the article in the Quibbler about Twinkle’s Elvish Fashions boutique, which mentions you as her investor. Figgy has tried for years to obtain a business loan through Gringotts with no success and much discrimination. Please find enclosed a business plan, very sound, which may be of interest to you as a savvy wizard who invests in elf entrepreneurship. The rest of the papers were, indeed, a business plan. It was a nice gesture and Draco could certainly appreciate the elf’s entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to chase down leads, but he was not an investor. He had given Twinkle her start-up money because she was a family friend and because her business sense was excellent. But really, Draco had no plans to invest in other businesses, elf-run or otherwise.

 

He should at least read it, though. So he did. And the more Draco read of it, the angrier he got on this elf’s behalf. It was a sound plan! Very well researched, with thorough market analysis. Figgy wanted to manufacture a line of brooms and flying equipment for elves, and then distribute the products through established quidditch and broom shops. It was a solid concept. Gringotts wouldn’t invest in this? Really? But it was so sure to be successful! This elf would have the market absolutely cornered; there literally was no competition. He’d make a killing in profit!

 

Well, Gringotts could go suck it, now couldn’t they? The discriminatory bastards could go straight to hell! Draco scribbled a note saying he would be thrilled to partner and invest money into the venture, and to please let him know when they might be able to meet and discuss it further. And oh, dammit, he was going to do this with every single elf who came to him with a half-way decent proposal, wasn’t he? Damn Potter, for getting him into this.

 

Next, he wrote a nice note to Twinkle congratulating her on the article and sent it off. With that settled, he bundled up one of his extra copies of the Quibbler and attached a note to it asking, Did you have something to do with this? He sent it to Harry.

 

Half an hour later, while Draco was deep in a line-by-line records check, a bright green memo floated over his cubicle wall. Potter. It read: No idea what you’re talking about. Want to get lunch with me today?

 

Draco nearly broke his quill in his rush to scribble back a response. Yes.

 

 

***

 

When lunch ended, Draco floated out of the canteen on legs that felt like marshmallows, so dreamy and soft that Lavender had to grab him by the elbow and guide him so he didn’t crash into any walls.

 

“Merlin, you are such a sap, Draco,” she muttered, and Draco couldn’t even argue, because it was true. He was the world’s biggest sap, but he didn’t care.

 

Because he had just had lunch with Harry Potter. Harry Potter and all of his coworkers, in the Ministry canteen. Draco had been terribly nervous at first, but it had gone better than he ever could have hoped. They talked, they laughed, they had a nice time. Everyone had nice things to say about the article in the Quibbler, which Harry finally, reluctantly, admitted he might have tipped off Lovegood to write. The confirmation that Harry had done that, had used his influence to help make Draco’s world a little kinder, was almost too much to bear. And Harry had touched him once! And not with a fist to the face! While Lavender hyped him up and told the whole table about what a great host he was, and about how she had had such a wonderful time at his last dinner party, Harry had leaned in close, brushed his hand against Draco’s thigh, and murmured, “You’d better invite me to the next one.”

 

Then, when they were leaving, all of the aurors tightening their gear and readying to go back out on patrol, Harry handed Draco a small brown paper bag and said, “I saw this and thought of you. See you later, Malfoy.”

 

“What did he give you?” Lavender asked as they stepped out of the lifts and headed towards Revenue and Customs. “The gift? Are you going to open it?”

 

“Oh!” Draco had been too stunned that there even was another gift in the first place, not to mention bamboozled and dopey over the whole lunch experience, that he had quite forgotten he was supposed to open it. “Right.”

 

While they walked, he opened the bag and pulled out a mug, decorated with a silly cartoon drawing of a purple dragon that smiled up at him. It wore a pair of glasses and held a quill like a sword in its front talon. Above and below it, in thick black script, a message proclaimed, TAX DRAGON.

 

Draco couldn’t stop the giggle that snuck out of him. “Look, it’s me! Isn’t that sweet? He said he saw this and thought of me.”

 

Skeptical and shrewd, Lavender snatched the mug out of his hands. “Bull shit, he saw this and thought of you! Draco, who on this planet would just sell mugs that say Tax Dragon? That is incredibly specific. No way.” With a smirk, she handed it back. “He had that custom made, I’d bet anything.”

 

Draco stopped dead in the hallway, just outside the door to their office. His mouth fell open in a gawking grin as he stared at the gift. “Sweet Merlin, you’re right, aren’t you? No one would sell this! It’s too ridiculous! He must have customized it.”

 

Lavender laughed. Her hair swished in a soft and lovely cascade of curls as she shook her head and peered at him. “I can’t believe you did it. I don’t know how you did it. But you really did it.”

 

“Did what?”

 

She crossed her arms over her chest and sized him up. “Somehow, through the world’s absolute weirdest courting effort, you managed to get Harry Potter to fall madly in love with you.”

 

Draco sputtered and stuttered over his response, all in a tripping, nervous rush. “Well…that’s a bit presumptuous. Really, I don’t know that. We can’t assume anything. This is all perfectly friendly. It’s very possible, probable even, that he just wants to be friends. And really, friends is a significant improvement! I’d certainly be happy as friends! I--”

 

He stopped himself when Lavender continued to do nothing but stare at him and raise one skeptical eyebrow higher and higher, until it was about ready to pop off her forehead and float away.

 

Small and happy and secretive, Draco chewed on his lower lip and whispered, “He might be falling in love with me.”

Chapter Text

“Okay. So. I know you probably don’t want to talk about this, but it’s coming up and we need to make some plans.” All business, Hermione leaned across the table at the casual little neighborhood Italian place they’d all gone to for dinner. “What do you want to do for your birthday?”

 

“Oh. Er…” A little knot of tension untangled in Harry, because that was not what he was expecting this conversation to be about. He glanced at Teddy, who was making broom noises and giving quidditch commentary as he spoon-fed baby Hugo mouthfuls of buttery pasta. Across from them, next to Ron and Hermione, little Rose ignored everyone and diligently scribbled crayon pictures onto the paper placemats. Harry took a bite of his chicken parmesan and shrugged. “I dunno. Nothing special.”

 

Over the radio, a jolly Italian man sang That’s Amore. Their waitress walked by and glanced at their table. The kids kept eating and playing with each other, off in their own little worlds.

 

And Ron and Hermione stared at him, unblinking.

 

He swallowed the mouthful of food and glanced at Teddy once more. He had changed his hair back to his natural sandy brown since they had gone to a muggle restaurant, and he looked very much like Remus must have looked at that age. Eleven. When he went off to Hogwarts for the first time, when he met James and Sirius. When everything changed for him. It was all so close to Teddy now, too, the train barreling towards them, the days flying away. “Seriously. We don’t need to do anything this year.”

 

Ron shrugged and glanced at his wife, conspiracy twinkling in his blue eyes. “Told you that’s what he’d say.”

 

“You did, yes,” Hermione agreed.

 

“Okay.” Harry took another bite of his food and tried to ignore the weird looks his friends were giving him. The pasta was good. Fine. Okay, really. He couldn’t help but think, with every bite, that it would have been better if Malfoy had made it. “So, that’s settled then.”

 

“Right.” Hermione sighed as she twirled spaghetti with her fork. “Except it’s not, because we already went ahead and planned a big birthday bash at the shore.”

 

 Harry startled and exclaimed, “What? Why would you--”

 

“We’re going to the shore?” Teddy perked up and beamed. “Really? For Harry’s birthday?”

 

Ron and Hermione both looked very pleased with themselves while they nodded. “We are! Won’t that be fun?” Hermione said. “And everyone’s coming. Victoire, Dominique, and Louis. And Freddie and Roxie. And of course Rose and Hugo.”

 

“Brill!” Teddy said. “That sounds like wicked fun! Doesn’t it, Harry?”

 

Reluctant, Harry softened at his godson’s excitement. He didn’t want to make a fuss of his birthday—never did, really. But this year especially, he hadn’t wanted to do anything for it. He felt too glum to even acknowledge it, let alone celebrate. But if it would make Teddy happy, if it would give them one last hurrah to end the summer, before he left for school, then maybe it was a good idea. Maybe it would be nice. “Yeah,” he said while Ron and Hermione smirked. “It does sound like fun.”

 

Ron winked at him.

 

“So everyone’s coming, huh?” Harry sipped his glass and winced. The three of them had gotten a bottle of red wine to share, and it was cheap and vinegary. “Meaning everyone already knows?”

 

At that, Hermione managed to look a little bashful. Primly, she sipped her own wine glass. “Yes. Everyone already knows.”

 

“We just wanted to do something nice for your birthday,” Ron said. He glanced at Teddy, who was too excited and chattering with Hugo to notice the look. “You know. Since you’ve had a lot on your mind lately. Thought it would do you good to have a little celebration with everyone.”

 

With everyone who loved him. With everyone who cared about him. It was a lot of people, and Harry was simultaneously annoyed by the nosy planning behind his back, and touched by the reason for it. They wanted to shove in his face just how many people cared about him, and would continue to care about him even when Teddy went away.

 

It was nice. Harry didn’t think it would be enough to keep him from slipping into despair on September first. But it was nice, and he appreciated it. “Thanks.”

 

“We were going to surprise you with it,” Hermione said. “But Ron didn’t think you’d appreciate that. So instead, we took care of all the planning, and all you have to do is bring your swim trunks and get excited.”

 

“I can do that.” Harry nodded and flashed a knowing, grateful smile at Ron. He could picture the discussion, the lead-up to this whole thing. Hermione tended to get caught up in a whirlwind of efficient energy when she set herself to the task of planning something. It meant everything she planned, from the kids’ birthday parties to charity fundraising galas, was perfect and amazing, with every detail considered. But Harry was glad she had Ron to tug her back to Earth and ground her when she spun off in a flurry of activity like that. For his own sake, in this instance, and also for her sake. They balanced each other well. “Any other big things I should know about?”

 

“No,” Ron assured him. “Just a classic, fun-filled romp at the sea shore.”

 

“It will be really fun. I think it will be exactly what you need.” Hermione reached out and squeezed his wrist, accompanied by her own surreptitious glance at Teddy with soft, sympathetic eyes. “We’re going to Brighton, to the wizarding section of the town. And everyone’s helping! We’ve got it all covered. Ginny and Luna are in charge of games. Ron is securing all of the portkeys to get us there. Neville and Hannah reserved us a private section of the beach, so no one will bother you. Molly and Arthur have found and enchanted lots of beach umbrellas and pop-tents. George is putting together some big fireworks-water show thing, and Angelina is keeping an eye on him so he doesn’t go too crazy with it.” She laughed. “It will be really fun.”

 

“Okay.” Harry nodded along and smiled. “Yeah. That actually sounds really fun.”

 

“Good. I’m glad.” Hermione paused and glanced at Ron. He braced his arm behind her shoulders on the red vinyl booth and nodded to encourage her. “There’s actually one last task we need someone to take on, and I had an idea I wanted to run by you.”

 

Harry’s fork paused on the way to his mouth. “What? What is it?”

 

“Well…” Hermione spoke delicately and matter-of-factly, but her brown eyes were clever and sparkling with amusement. “I was wondering if you might want me to invite Malfoy, and to ask him to be in charge of food.”

 

A laugh burst out of Harry’s chest, embarrassed and put on the spot, and he looked away from her too-seeing gaze. She knew. He hadn’t told Ron or Hermione that something was happening between him and Malfoy, just that they were trying to be friendly, but of course she knew it was more than that. Hermione knew everything.

 

Before Harry could pull himself together and respond, Teddy jumped in. “He would definitely want you to invite Malfoy. They’ve been writing so many letters to each other for the past two weeks! And every time Harry gets a letter from him, he—hey!”

 

“Stop! You brat!” Harry laughed and shoved Teddy’s head sideways.

 

“He blushes!” Teddy shouted, muffled, because Harry’s hand squished over his whole face. He pushed his way out from under Harry’s palm while Ron and Hermione laughed and watched, eyes wide.

 

“He blushes? Really? Do tell us more, Teddy!” Ron leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. “What else does he do when he gets the letters?”

 

Teddy, laughing and on a roll, announced, “He gets all dopey and stupid looking! And he thinks I don’t notice, but sometimes he leaves the room because he doesn’t want me around when he reads them!” He leaned further across the table and hissed in a conspirator’s whisper, “I think that means they’re talking about--”

 

“Alright, that’s enough!” Harry wrapped his arm around Teddy’s head and yanked him into his armpit. While Teddy struggled and laughed and tried to push away, Harry trapped him in a headlock and ruffled his hair. “Some confidant you are! You were supposed to keep that a secret for me, not go selling me out like that! Now you behave yourself or I’m going to tell them who you fancy!”

 

“I don’t fancy anyone!” Teddy laughed and pushed at Harry’s chest, but Harry heard the thin, childlike desperation in his voice, the desperation that only an eleven year old boy with a crush could feel. “Harry! Stop, I don’t fancy anyone! I’m sorry!”

 

“It’s okay, cub.” Harry petted his head one last time and set him loose. “And besides. You might be a little bit right. I might fancy Malfoy.”

 

He watched Ron and Hermione’s reactions carefully, but they only smiled, warm, but a little smug and knowing too.

 

It was such a relief, such a weight lifted off his shoulders that he didn’t know he’d been carrying, and he felt yet another wall crumble. Bit by bit, all of the hesitations that held him back from pursuing something with Malfoy, with Draco, broke down and faded away.

 

“Fine by us,” Ron said. “He was funny at lunch the other day. I think he’d be good for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Harry mumbled as he shoved another bite of food in his mouth in an attempt to avoid having to talk about it too much.

 

“Well anyway!” Teddy said. “Whether he fancies him or not, Malfoy and Harry are friends, so he should be there. And Malfoy is a really good cook, so you should definitely ask him to bring the food.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry said. Somehow, Harry suspected Malfoy would be over the moon with the chance to cook for Harry’s birthday. “You should ask him.”

 

 

***

 

 

Draco nodded along in a daze while Hermione Granger—Granger-Weasley, he had to keep correcting himself—instructed him on what he’d need to bring to the beach for Harry Potter’s birthday, which he had, apparently, just agreed to cater.

 

“We’ve got a big group coming, nearly thirty people, and ten of them are children. Think you can handle that? If it’s too much to ask--”

 

“No, no!” Draco rushed to cut her off and kill any doubts or concerns she had. He had no idea what he had gotten himself into, but no one else was going to cook for that party. No way. His own pride demanded it, and the very thought of handing off some of the cooking sent his veela instincts buzzing uncomfortably. “I can definitely handle it. Any requests?”

 

“Nothing in particular. Actually, you seem to know Harry’s tastes pretty well.” She lifted an eyebrow and peered at him, no doubt considering a deep probe into just how, exactly, he had managed to figure out so much about Potter’s food preferences. Draco could keep the secret from Potter, at least for a while longer until it felt safe and right to tell him. He did not think he could stand up to a full interrogation from Hermione Granger. She let it pass unspoken, though, and added, “Something casual, something people can eat with their hands. We’ll be out in the sun all day, too, so preferably nothing too heavy.”

 

“Alright.” Draco nodded, though he had absolutely no idea where to even start. “I have several ideas. I’d be happy to prepare food for the event.”

 

“Great.” Her smile was bright, her teeth shockingly straight and white, especially against her dark brown skin. The brilliance of that smile and the brilliance of the woman behind it were intimidating. Everything about her, her energy and her competent aura, seemed to insist that she was pleased he was on board, but if he did anything to mess up and hurt Harry she would eat him alive. “Can’t wait. Let me know if you have any questions!”

 

When she left, Draco stood alone in his office and wondered what the hell had just happened. He had just scored himself an invite to Harry Potter’s beachy, birthday bash. From Hermione Granger. And he was going to cook for a whole army of Weasleys and other assorted Potter friends.

 

He took a very deep breath.

 

Carefully, he wrote a memo to Potter and sent it along through the interdepartmental system. Hermione Granger just invited me to your birthday party. Were you aware? Is that alright?

 

He sat down at his desk and got some work done, though his mind kept drifting back to the unexpected invitation. He was so sure Potter would send back a memo that the knock on his office entrance startled him. “Hey.”

 

Abruptly, he dropped his quill and spun his chair to find Potter, looking bashful and pleased, standing in his doorway. “Hi.”

 

“Yeah, so, I thought about telling you,” Harry said as he stepped inside Draco’s office and held up the memo. “But I didn’t actually know about any of this until two days ago. Ron and Hermione planned the whole thing, so I figured I’d let them give you the invite.”

 

“Oh.” Draco nodded. “Right.”

 

“But I do really want you there. If the whole cooking thing is too much, don’t even worry about that. I’d just like for you to come.” From his eyes, to his voice, to the hunched and nervous bend of his shoulders, everything about Potter was so sincere, so earnest, so hopeful, it set fireworks off in Draco’s chest. “And I was thinking, actually. The party is supposed to wrap up late afternoon. Maybe, if you wanted, you could stick around after everyone else leaves? Maybe you could get dinner with me and Teddy? Just the three of us?”

 

“I would love to,” Draco said. He gazed up at Harry from his chair, stared into those vibrant green eyes, and wondered what it would be like to stand up, cross the small room, and throw himself into Potter’s arms. He did not. He remained seated. Casual. But he stared at Potter with heavy meaning, with deep longing, as he said, “That sounds perfect.”

 

He knew Potter could feel it. He was hyper aware of every little movement of Potter’s body, every little hitch in his breathing, every little twitch of his mouth. Potter smiled at him, intense and happy, the cupid’s bow of his upper lip bending in a perfect pink curve, and Draco flushed hot.

 

“Okay, good,” Potter said.

 

When he left, Draco’s whole body zinged and sang, and he felt like he might float right up to the ceiling. He was going to Potter’s birthday party. He was going to dinner with Potter after that.

 

And he was going to make the best goddam food anyone had ever tasted for Potter and his friends and family.

 

For the next week and a half, in the lead-up to the party, Draco scoured every cookbook Mipsy had. Then, finding nothing satisfactory in them, he searched several bookstores and bought new ones. Still, nothing caught his attention. Nothing seemed right! Nothing seemed good enough! He dragged Lavender with him to muggle book stores and searched their recipes. He even journeyed to a muggle library in East London and sat with a very patient girl while she taught him how to use the internet. He used a web page called The Google (and honesty, muggles gave things the silliest names) to find a bunch of American food blogs with recipe ideas, and then he ordered two beach-specific cook books from an online store called www.Amazon.com and had them rush delivered to Lavender’s flat.

 

The day before the party, he took off work early so he could go home and practice. For hours, frustrated and dissatisfied, he tested recipes, attempted new combinations, and experimented with a variety of flavor profiles. Finally, late at night and with the kitchen a horrible mess behind him, Mipsy snapped at him. “Young Draco is overthinking this. All of these are perfectly nice foods! Harry Potter will be happy to eat any of this!”

 

She was right. He caught himself, stopped, took a few breaths, and rested his fists on his hips. With his shirtsleeves rolled up, his top few buttons undone, his chest and neck and hairline glistening with sweat, he looked a wreck. And so did the kitchen.

 

Everything he had made so far was perfectly nice, and beach appropriate. It all fit the theme, it all looked and tasted good. And even his veela instincts agreed! Though they had urged him on in the beginning, thrumming and tense, they had quieted hours ago. All of this more than satisfied his veela need to care for Harry, to provide for him. So why was he still fussing and fighting with everything in the kitchen?

 

Well, the answer to that was simple. It was because Harry had asked him on a date. No, of course he hadn’t called it that. But Draco knew. They both did. It was unspoken, and brilliant, and terrifying. Harry had invited Draco into his core group, asked him to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. That was more than Draco could have ever hoped for. But then the private dinner invitation on top of that? This had to be perfect. It had to be. He had to impress Potter. He had to impress all of Potter’s friends and family. This was a test, a practice run for Potter to decide it he was ready for more. Draco had to earn this and be worthy of it.

 

“I’m sorry, Mipsy,” Draco said, tight and weary. “I’m just so nervous.”

 

“Mipsy knows. It’s alright.” She patted his arm. “Now, take stock. See what to keep, and build the meal around the best parts you already have. Yes?”

 

“Yes.” He nodded. “Alright. Yes.”

 

It only took two more hours to finalize the menu, prepare everything, and pack it all up in cases and coolers, safe under preservation charms. And when he stood back and surveyed it all, even he had to admit that the array of food looked perfect. He’d made two fruit salads: one with spinach and figs, and one with watermelon and feta. He was particularly proud of the fish tacos, which he’d gotten a recipe for off California Mom’s Sun, Sand, and Snacks Blog. The bright, citrusy fish could be tossed into a tortilla (which Draco had learned how to make from scratch) and topped with tomato and onion for a meal everyone could eat with one hand. Fried chicken tenders, which several websites told him should be served cold at the beach, and Draco didn’t quite believe that but he decided to trust it anyway. A wide assortment of fruits and vegetables with homemade hummus, tzatziki, and red pepper dips. Plenty of drinks, including lots of water and juices, and a few big pitchers of fruity, white wine sangria. And of course, cake. Cupcakes. It was a birthday after all.

 

“Perfect.” Mipsy patted Draco’s shoulder. “Now go to sleep.”

 

Weary, but feeling satisfied and accomplished, Draco looked out over the disastrous kitchen. It looked like a great flood had swept through and dislocated every pot, pan, dish, and utensil in the room. “But I need to clean up.”

 

Mipsy scoffed and waved him off, and though she sounded exasperated, the look in her big round eyes was affectionate. “Go, Draco. Draco must get good sleep so he looks refreshed and handsome in swim trunks to impress Harry Potter. Otherwise, Draco will never get a husband.”

 

Draco laughed and felt guilty, but he did let her shoo him out of the kitchen. After all, he did, in fact, want to look good in his swim trunks to impress Harry Potter.

 

 

***

 

 

On a sunny, perfect day by the shore, Harry sat in the sand, stared out at the glittering blue ocean, and felt nearly at peace for the first time in a long time. Ron and Hermione sat beside him on a towel, Ron relaxing under a big shade hat, Hermione with her toes buried in the sand. All around them, Harry’s dearest friends and family sunbathed, splashed in the cool water, played games, and laughed. The kids ran laps up and down their isolated corner of the beach, screeching and shouting. The wind blew off the water, salty and sticky, and ruffled Harry’s hair. The sun warmed his skin. It was perfect. Relaxing. Soothing.

 

The only thing keeping him from perfect peace was the fact that, in spite of everything else going on around him, he couldn’t stop obsessing over Draco Malfoy.

 

Even in a crowd full of pale and freckled Weasleys, Malfoy stuck out like a luminescent star. His skin was incredibly pale, and there was ever so much of it on display. Malfoy had shucked off his shirt and wore nothing but a pair of skimpy, near-indecent navy blue swim trunks that stopped at his mid-thigh. And dear lord, the man had legs for days. Muscled and lean, and covered in fine, silvery hair, his legs were out of control. Not to mention his strong back, his firm chest, his elegant neck. The wind caught his white blond hair and toyed with the soft locks, which he kept coiffed in an effortless and trendy style, short on the sides but a bit longer on the top. But even while ruffled, with his perfect hair out of place and his cheeks pink from the heat, Malfoy looked poised and perfect.

 

And the best part?

 

He and Teddy were bonding.

 

When Malfoy had arrived with cooled crates full of a smorgasbord of food, Teddy had wasted no time zeroing in on him. For a moment, Harry regretted admitting to his godson that he fancied the man, worried that Teddy would say something to embarrass him. But it turned out Teddy was genuinely enchanted by Malfoy, who spoke to him plainly and like a young adult. As the oldest of the kids, it was sometimes frustrating for Teddy to be lumped in with the younger children, and Malfoy seemed to get how to talk to him on an instinctive level. Now, the two of them were standing together in the foam of the surf, heads bent, searching the water’s edge for sharks’ teeth.

 

Seeming the two of them like that, smiling and talking while on a serious quest, did wretched, unspeakable things to Harry’s heart.

 

And the view of Malfoy’s arse in those tight blue trunks whenever he bent down to pick up a shell wasn’t half bad, either.

 

“You’re not listening to a word I’m saying, are you?” Hermione asked.

 

“What?” Harry blinked and tore his eyes away from Malfoy. “Sorry. I got distracted.”

 

“Give him a break, Hermione,” Ron said as he laid down on the towel and stretched out long to sun his broad, freckled chest. “It’s his birthday, and he is very busy staring at Malfoy’s arse.”

 

“I am not!” Harry squeaked, defensive and abrupt.

 

“Of course you are.” Hermione scoffed. She turned, gazed out, and gave an appraising look as she studied Malfoy’s ghostly white figure down by the water. “And I don’t even blame you. It is quite the arse.”

 

“Quite the arse,” Ron grunted, his eyes closed and the big round hat covering most of his face.

 

Harry snorted a laugh. “Alright fine, so long as we’re all in agreement.”

 

“And besides,” Hermione said. “He’s so pale, he’s practically glowing. He’s hard to miss. Did he put sunscreen on? He’s definitely going to burn.”

 

“He said he used charms.”

 

Hermione looked skeptical. “The charms wear off pretty fast. I’ve got some muggle sun cream he can borrow. Do you need any, speaking of?”

 

“I put some on already,” Harry said as he watched Ginny and Luna jump and toss a big, colorful beach ball back and forth to each other. Both of them looked sporty and beautiful in their bikinis, and Luna’s long blonde hair was striking next to Ginny’s short, choppy red. “Ron got me with it as soon as we got here. He put me in line with the other kids and did Rosie, then Hugo, then me.”

 

Ron grinned and said, a little apologetically, “Can’t help myself, mate. It’s instinct. You know like those dogs who can’t help themselves, the shepherds, who just round up and herd anything they can get their paws on? That’s what being a parent has done to me. I’m like one of those dogs, but with childcare.” He lifted the brim of his hat to peer at Harry. “You need anything by the way? A snack? Some water? Need to go to the loo?”

 

Harry rolled his eyes, laughed, and dropped a fistful of sand onto Ron’s stomach.

 

A squeal of laughter, abandoned and high-pitched, pulled Harry’s attention up the beach, and he turned to watch George lift up his little daughter, Roxanne, up by her ankles and swing her around upside down. Angelina sat nearby, under a rainbow umbrella with Cho and Percy’s wife, Audrey, and watched adoringly.

 

“He is being very sweet with Teddy, isn’t he?” Hermione commented.

 

And Harry turned his attention back to Malfoy once more. “Yeah, he really is.”

 

When Rosie ran up to them, excited and bouncing in her little yellow beach tutu, a smattering of dark freckles popping on her light brown nose and cheeks, she kicked sand all over Ron’s towel. “Mummy, daddy, can we please go in the water now?”

 

Bill and Fleur’s youngest, Louis, and George and Angelina’s son, Freddie, crowded behind Rose, their leader, and eagerly awaited the verdict. The three of them were close in age, at four, five, and six, and they tended to group together. Already, they had spent an hour in the water, and Ron and Hermione were not interested in going back in.

 

Hermione said, “I don’t want to right now, sweetie. I ate too many tacos. But why don’t you go ask Mr. Malfoy if he’ll go in with you? He looks like he could use a chance to cool off.”

 

Harry grinned at the thought of Malfoy, completely overwhelmed while trying to keep a gaggle of small and enthusiastic children from drowning, and then hopped up and dusted sand off his legs. He took off his glasses and left them on the towel by Ron. “I’ll come with you too, Rosie. Let’s go!”

 

“Thanks, Uncle Harry!” Very sure of herself, she smiled and grabbed his hand and dragged him down the beach.

 

“Don’t go in too deep! Only to your knees!” Hermione shouted after them.

 

Harry knew the warning was for Rosie, but he laughed as he turned and shouted over his shoulder, “I know, mum! I know how to swim!”

 

Victoire and Dominique saw what was happening and ran to join in, both of them with smiles and suntans and long blond hair that was made crisp and wavy from the salt water as it dried.

 

Harry braced himself and tried not to look too eager, too charmed, as he approached Malfoy and Teddy with five young children in tow. “How’s it going? You two find anything cool?”

 

“Harry!” Teddy pounced on him immediately, his cupped hands outstretched in front of him. “Look what we found!”

 

“Whoa!” Harry leaned in and looked appreciatively at the three sharp, black shark teeth they had found amongst the shells. “Cool! Those are pretty small for a shark, though.”

 

“Maybe they’re from a baby shark!” Victoire said as she stepped in close to Teddy to look at the treasures. “I think they’re brill, Teddy!”

 

“Want to go give them to Hermione to hang on to?” Harry asked. “We’re going to go in the water for a while.”

 

While Teddy ran up the beach, Harry stood side by side with Malfoy and dipped his feet in the cold rush of water. They looked at each other. Harry’s heartbeat quickened as they both stared a second too long, shy and happy, and then Harry laughed and looked away. He asked, “Fancy a swim? The kids want to go in, and I could use some help keeping them all alive.”

 

Draco looked taken-aback, bewildered, but amused. His cheeks were pink, and Harry wasn’t sure if it was the beginnings of a sunburn or a blush. “That’s a tall order, but of course! I would be happy to help you keep all of your nieces and nephews from being swept out to sea.”

 

“Excuse me, are you Mr. Malfoy?” Rosie looked up and asked. With her tight curls stuck in puffy pigtails and her yellow tutu bathing suit, she looked like a precious little princess.

 

It was an illusion, and Malfoy fell for it. Kind and proper, he said, “Why yes I am. And you must be Rose. It’s very nice to meet you.”

 

“Yes. It is.” Her little hand shot out and reached for Malfoy’s. “My mum says you’re to take me in the water now, so come along.”

 

“Oh! Er…yes, alright!” Malfoy’s silver eyes went wide, and he looked at Harry, shocked and laughing, while Rose tugged him along into the surf. “If you mum says so, then I suppose I must.”

 

When Teddy ran back down the beach and caught up, Harry took the rest of the kids in and joined Malfoy. Together, laughing and hollering while the cold waves crashed into them, they stood side by side and watched over the little ones. Teddy, Victoire, and Dominique were old enough, and strong enough swimmers to handle themselves in the waves, especially since the currents weren’t too strong today. Rose, Freddie, and Louis needed more attention and oversight.

 

Especially Rose.

 

Which Malfoy quickly learned, to his great and obvious horror.

 

While Harry focused on Freddie and Louis, laughing and splashing with the boys, it took every bit of effort and attention Malfoy possessed to keep little Rosie from certain doom. Wave after wave, she leapt into the water full-bodied, completely ignoring Hermione’s up-to-her-knees-only rule. Big waves knocked her flat and sent her crashing and tumbling back to shore, but she giggled the whole time, up until the currents shifted and swept her back out again in a crazy ride. Malfoy chased her, dragged her up for air when a wave caught her, dove after her and pulled her back in when the current tried to suck her out, and looked very harried about the whole thing. Eyes wide and mouth open in terror, Malfoy kept up with a constant stream of politely voiced fears. “Perhaps we shouldn’t go out so far, Rose? Let’s move back towards the shore a bit, yes?”

 

Harry watched and laughed the whole time.

 

This continued until one particularly brutal wave knocked Rosie down and sent her careening into Malfoy’s legs. The impact of her whole body and the wave at once took out Malfoy, and they both tumbled into the water. Rosie popped up with a grin while Malfoy sputtered and shook the water out of his eyes. She ran right back in.

 

“Harry, please help me.” Malfoy pinned him with a desperate, beseeching look. “She has absolutely no fear. I can’t handle her. Can we trade?”

 

Harry grinned while he held Freddie by both wrists and lifted him to let him leap over a wave. “You just called me Harry.”

 

“You focus on that?” Malfoy—Draco—screeched and ran with wide, splashing steps through the surf to catch up to Rosie before she slipped away from him. “Now is not the time, Potter! Harry! Whoever you are!”

 

Barely able to breathe through his quiet, shaking laughter, Harry nodded. “Hey Rosie! How about you go back in and ask your grandpa if he’ll build a sand castle with you?”

 

Enthusiastic, Rose agreed and led the two little boys back in with her. Teddy, Victoire, and Dominique had drifted off to splash and talk in deeper water, and seemed wrapped up in their conversation.

 

Which meant he and Draco were now alone together, hip deep in the cold and sparkling ocean, under a glorious sun. And they were apparently now on a first name basis.

 

They shared a long, heavy look, both of them nervous and unsure, both of them hesitant and hopeful. It was such a tender thing, this feeling between them, and it burned with as much warmth as the sun in the sky above them.

 

“Are you having fun?” Harry asked.

 

“I am.” Draco pushed his hair back off his high, smooth forehead. It was darker when wet, with almost a yellow tint. Gorgeous. “I admit, I was a little nervous. But everyone has been very kind and welcoming, especially Teddy. What about you, birthday boy? Is it everything you hoped and dreamed?”

 

All of the words he might speak caught in Harry’s throat. It was a perfect day. And right now, his hopes and dreams were soaring in high, swooping circles like gulls, filled with the thought of more days like this. With Draco. He nodded.

 

And then, feeling very scared and very brave, he stretched out an arm into the space between them and wriggled his fingers. Expectant and sweet, he looked at Draco.

 

Draco stared down at his hand for a second before he realized what Harry was asking for. He smiled, a contained and blinding thing, and turned to gaze out at the blue-on-blue line of the horizon. But he also stretched out his own arm and took Harry’s hand.

 

Warm. Soft. They let their arms relax, and their fingers interlocked together just under the surface of the water. In the crisp cool of the swirling sea, Draco’s skin was achingly warm against his own.

 

They stood like that, watching the waves come in, watching a white sailboat as it cut its way across the water, watching a few fluffy clouds drift by, while the ebb and flow of the current tugged gently at their legs. It felt like the beginning of a world.

 

When Harry was too shaky, too full of wild, joyous, brave feelings all clambering to get out, he squeezed Draco’s fingers once and dropped his hand. With a nod to the kids further out in the water, Harry issued a challenge. “Race you to Teddy.”

 

Draco looked calm, confident, and cocky when he responded, but Harry saw the hitch in his breathing, noticed the beat of pause he took to collect himself. “You’re on, Potter. In three, two--”

 

Of course Draco dove into the water and started swimming on two, the damn cheater! “Hey! You bastard!” Harry cackled laughter and ran after him. He managed to grab Draco’s ankle and drag him back to get ahold of the lead, but Draco countered with a sharp, very pointy elbow to Harry’s rib cage, and they both went down. Laughing, shouting at each other, they fought the whole way to Teddy.

 

When they made it, still laughing and shoving at each other in the chest-deep water, Harry asked Teddy, “Who won that race? And do remember that it’s my birthday.”

 

“Cheater!” Draco splashed water at his face, and Harry raised both arms to guard against the onslaught. “You can’t win on a sympathy vote!”

 

Teddy looked back and forth between the two grown men, who were laughing and scrapping with each other like idiots, and winced. “It was a tie?”

 

They stayed and talked and laughed with Teddy and the girls for a while, and then all went in to grab more food. In the shady pop-tent where they’d set up coolers and tables with all of the food Draco had prepared, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley beckoned them in. “Come in, get some water!” Mrs. Weasley greeted them as they trudged through the sand. She peered at Draco, then leaned in close and patted him on the cheek. “You look a bit pink, dear. Better get some of that cream from Hermione. The food is just incredible, by the way! You’ll have to share your recipes! And that sangria! We can’t get enough of it!”

 

Draco looked taken-aback but pleased, and responded to the compliments.

 

Hermione approached, a loose t-shirt on over her bathing suit. She glared at Malfoy while she held a half-finished taco in one hand. “I think I’ve eaten thirty of these. They’re incredible. Do you want sunscreen, by the way? You do look pink.”

 

“Oh, thank you,” Draco said. “And no, I’m sure I’m alright. I used sun shield charms.”

 

Over her shoulder, while she poured a few glasses of sangria, she said, “Those never last very long. Best re-apply. Let me know if you want the cream.” With a genuine, kind smile, she turned and pushed a glass of sangria into Draco’s hand and took another for herself. “Glad you’re here, Malfoy. And thanks for all the food.”

 

She winked at Harry while she walked back out of the tent.

 

Draco didn’t quite know what to do, and Harry found his hesitant happiness endearing. He got himself a glass of the sweet, fruit-filled wine and clinked it against Draco’s. “Cheers.”

 

And then, even though he had eaten a full plate of everything already, he made himself another full plate and devoured all of the snacks Draco had brought. All of it was perfect, from the fresh fruit, to the salads, to the acidic tacos with pops of lime and tomato and fresh coriander. Even though a few bites were gritty with the sand on his hands, he couldn’t stop eating any of it. Harry sat between Draco and Teddy while the sun dried salt water on his bronzed skin, and thought it was the best meal he’d ever had in his life.

 

He told Draco that. And then delighted in watching Draco try to hide how very pleased he looked.

 

When Ginny and Luna came over to sit with them, he and Ginny and Teddy talked about quidditch while Draco and Luna discussed the elvish entrepreneurship article in the Quibbler. Harry didn’t pay close attention, but one corner of his mouth lifted in a smile as he heard Draco gush and thank Luna for the wonderful coverage, which had done wonders to bring business to Twinkle and to bring attention to an important issue.

 

“Alright, come on.” Ginny threw a beach ball at Harry, and it smacked him in the chest before he caught it. He might have been a little distracted. “Let’s have a game. You in?”

 

Harry scoffed. “You know I am. You’re going down, Weasley.”

 

Ginny hopped up and dusted sand off her lean legs, her muscled stomach. Every inch of her looked like a compact and powerful athlete, and whichever team she was on, no matter what the sport, always won. While the rest of them stood, Ginny shouted up and down the beach to gather anyone else who wanted to join, and soon they had a crowd.

 

Draco took one look at the group and quickly declared himself captain of the Alliance of Blonds, which included him, Luna, Fleur, Victoire, Dominique, and Hannah. The other team was Harry, Ginny, Teddy, Bill, Neville, and Ron. What started off as friendly competition quickly devolved into a no-holds-barred, lawless, and completely absurd game that only vaguely resembled beach volleyball. Neville threw like it was a dodgeball and shouted that people were out whenever they got hit—even though no one left the game. Fleur grabbed ahold of the ball and refused to let go of it, hiding behind Hannah while Ron and Bill tried to catch her. Luna enchanted the ball so it sparkled every time someone hit it, and anyone who got green sparkles had to quack like a duck or else face banishment, so Teddy used the opportunity to morph his face into an actual duck beak. Ginny announced points at random, and also took them away at random.

 

And Draco and Harry spent most of their time staring across the court at each other and smiling.

 

In the end, no one won, and they all left the court laughing when Hermione came to fetch them. “George is ready to do the fireworks!”

 

Harry, feeling jubilant and unconquerable, his happiness a ball of sunshine in his chest, roared and ran and lifted Hermione in a massive, crushing hug. She cackled laughter and smacked at him while he swung her around, her toes dragging in the sand. The humidity had fluffed her hair out so her tight curls looked full and gorgeous. She shrieked, “Put me down, you beast!”

 

Harry did put her down, but he didn’t let go of her. The soft curves of her body pressed tight against him as he hugged her and rested his head in her hair. She squeezed him tight and held onto him, her arms around his waist and back. Together they stayed still and breathed and felt grateful for one another. Each inhale was sweet with the coconut scent of her lotion. “Thank you,” he murmured into her hair. He released her and took a step back, only to be caught by Ron, who stepped in and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Harry leaned into it and pressed against one best friend while the other kept ahold of his hand. Both of them watched him with kind smiles that wrinkled the corners of their eyes. “Thank you both so much for this. For everything.”

 

On the walk back up the beach, Harry fell back and found Draco once more.

 

With Draco and Teddy beside him, Ron and Hermione just beyond that, and everyone he loved in a crowd all around him, Harry sat and watched George’s fireworks display. Ever the showman, he put on a great production and had them laughing and ooh-ing and aah-ing. Firework dragons and phoenixes sparked against the blue sky and splashed as they dove into the water. Everyone clapped…except for Harry and Draco, because halfway through the show, Draco’s hand crept through the sand and found his again.

 

And then, it was done. A perfect day, come to a close. The sun would set in an hour or so. All of the kids were worn out, and some of them were cranky and whining after a long, exhausting day running and swimming in the sun. A few of the adults, too. But Harry felt perfectly, brilliantly happy and alive and energetic. It was a great birthday.

 

But it wasn’t done yet.

 

While they helped pack up the umbrellas and pop-tents, the chairs and towels, and the left-over food, Harry kept glancing over at Draco, and he felt a thrill of anticipation for the next part of the celebration. He watched the smooth flex and stretch of muscles in the elegant planes of Draco’s stomach, watched the way his hair ruffled as he pulled a white t-shirt on, and smiled. “Should have listened to Hermione.”

 

“Probably,” Draco said while he stacked platters and serving trays. “About what?”

 

Harry tried not to laugh at him, but Draco Malfoy with angry pink cheeks and nose was too adorable. “You got quite the sunburn.”

 

“Ah.” Draco paused, straightened, and looked thoughtful. “That would explain why I feel as if I am on fire, and the touch of every single grain of sand against my skin is agony.”

 

Harry winced. “Sorry. I’ve got burn salve back at my place. It should clear it right up.”

 

It took some time for Harry to say goodbye to everyone, to thank everyone for coming, but when he was done he joined Teddy and Draco. They stood together by the wooden stairs leading up to the boardwalk and looked animated and friendly as they talked. Harry approached and presented their portkey home, a dinged up old license plate. “You two ready to go?”

 

Draco smiled at him. “Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

Back at home, Fiona ran up to greet Harry and Teddy and to scream about how she hadn’t eaten any food in at least thirty years. She paused when she saw Draco, but when he bent down and held out a finger for her to sniff, she quickly made a friend of him and walked back and forth nuzzling his legs.

 

Which were very sunburned. After a little bit of time out of the sun, the burn fully settled into Draco’s sensitive skin. It was not just pink. It was lobster red, and painful looking.

 

“Alright.” Harry clapped his hands together and pointed at Draco. “You go take a shower so you can get all the sand off and put burn salve on.”

 

Draco said nothing, but nodded and looked grateful.

 

He sent Teddy off to get washed up too, and then led Draco up to his bedroom.

 

Not for anything too forward or exciting. Although his mouth did go dry as they walked together into the room and stood facing Harry’s bed.

 

No, he just wanted to offer Draco use of his bathroom, which was the nicest one in the house. He handed Draco a towel. “Soap and shampoo and everything is already in there. Need anything else?” He couldn’t stop himself. “A banana, maybe?”

 

Draco snorted and squeezed his eyes shut, clearly embarrassed, but then he faked an attitude. “Do make up your mind, Potter. I thought I was strictly forbidden from any more shower bananas?”

 

“Hey, remember when you called me Harry today?” Cheeky, Harry pushed Draco towards the bathroom door. “I liked that. Maybe do that again?”

 

“Alright. Harry.” Draco’s eyelashes were very long, Harry noticed as they locked eyes, standing incredibly close together. Long and silvery, like delicate strands of spider silk. Beautiful. “But only if you--”

 

Harry smiled. “Call you Draco?”

 

“No.” Draco scoffed. “Only if you bring me a fucking banana. Really, Harry, how is a man supposed to properly shower without one?”

 

Taken-aback, delighted, spinning with happiness, Harry cackled and left Draco alone to shower. He gathered his own clothes and took them downstairs, where he jumped in the shower down there even though the pressure was bad and the water never heated. Once he was scrubbed clean, with all of the sand out of his hair, he found the jar of burn salve and went to the kitchen to wait.

 

Teddy, already washed up and changed too, sat at the table.

 

“Hey.” Harry pulled out the chair beside him. “You have fun today?”

 

“Yeah. A lot of fun. How about you? Did you have a good birthday?”

 

Harry nodded. “It was perfect.”

 

Sentimental and soft, he reached out and ruffled Teddy’s hair, which was his natural brown. He must have been worn out from the long day if he didn’t have the energy for teal.

 

In the golden hour of sunset, they sat together in the quiet kitchen and listened to the sound of water running through the old pipes. They talked lightly. Teddy recounted his favorite parts of the day. “Did you see when Uncle Ron fell during the volleyball game?” Teddy laughed. “He probably got a whole arse full of sand.”

 

And Harry laughed, but a wince of guilt triggered in the back of his mind. Teddy was a little too free with the bad language. Harry didn’t mind, couldn’t care less, really. But he would be at Hogwarts soon, and Professor McGonagall would definitely mind. And if she caught Teddy swearing, she wouldn’t give him detention. Oh, no. She would turn up on the doorstep of Grimmauld Place to dole out punishment directly to Harry. “You know you can’t talk like that when you get to Hogwarts, right?”

 

Teddy rolled his eyes. “I know. I’m not stupid. I don’t say words like that in front of real adults.”

 

Harry’s mouth fell open, offended. “Real adults? What the hell am I?”

 

“I don’t know.” Teddy shrugged and kicked the backs of his feet against the chair legs. “A fun adult? Not a real one.”

 

Probably, Harry had to admit to himself. At least Teddy thought he was fun. He was disappointed in himself for so noticeably failing at proper adulthood, though, and the old familiar insecurity and shame threatened to grip him. He pushed it down. Not today. He wouldn’t let himself drown in it today. Instead, he laughed and demanded to know, “Who’s a real adult?”

 

 “Mr. and Mrs. Weasley,” Teddy said right away, and alright, Harry had to agree there. But then he added, “Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione.”

 

“They’re the same age as me!”

 

“Yeah, but you treat me different!” Teddy was amused, not offended, by Harry’s squawking, but explained anyway. “You don’t talk to me like I’m a baby, or boss me around. You say shit in front of me. You don’t make me have a bedtime. You call a dick a dick instead of calling it a wee-wee.”

 

A long, hissing snort escaped Harry’s nose. “Who calls it a wee-wee?”

 

Scandalous, like it was a secret he shouldn’t be confessing, he muttered to the tabletop, “Aunt Hermione.”

 

“No!” Harry smacked the table and laughed fully. That couldn’t be true. He knew Hermione Granger-Weasley better than just about anyone in the world, and he knew her to possess a fine, filthy mind and a healthy sexual appetite, along with an appreciation for medically accurate terminology. That couldn’t be right. “No way! She does not!”

 

Riled up and on the defensive, Teddy lifted in his seat and shouted, “That’s what she says to Hugo every time she changes his nappy!” In a mocking voice that sounded nothing like Hermione, he mimed changing a baby and said, “Let’s clean up your little wee-wee!”

 

Harry threw his head back and cackled laughter. “Okay. To be fair to Aunt Hermione! Hugo is a baby!”

 

Bashful, Teddy laughed and ducked his head.

 

“I bet if I had raised you from the time you were a baby, if I had been the one changing all your nappies, I would have called it a wee-wee too! In fact, I did change rather a lot of your nappies, and I definitely never called it a dick back then!” While Teddy hid his face and giggled, squinting and until tears clung to the corners of his eyes, Harry kept teasing. “Come on, baby Teddy! Let me wipe your shitty arse hole and your tiny, little baby dick!”

 

Teddy snorted and wheezed and tucked his head down to the table while he tried to stop laughing, but couldn’t.

 

The sight of his godson doubled over laughing, tears in his eyes, might have been the best part of the whole day, and laughter shook deep in Harry’s belly. He reached out and ruffled the kid’s hair, and Teddy shoved his hand away but kept laughing. “Come on, cub! Give me some credit!”

 

When the laughter faded and Teddy caught his breath, he said, “I know you’re a grown up. I know! It’s just that you treat me like you’re my friend.”

 

It was so sweet. So loving. It filled a little bubble of love and affection in Harry’s chest, and he pouted a smile. “Thanks, mate. All the books say I’m not supposed to be your friend, though. They say I’m supposed to set boundaries so you can learn and grow in a place you know is safe and secure.”

 

Teddy considered this for a long, quiet moment. And then he shrugged and looked at Harry, his little face so dear and thoughtful. “Why can’t you do both?”

 

“Yeah.” Harry nodded while he asked himself the same question and couldn’t really come up with a good answer. He knew he had flaws. He knew he’d never be a perfect parent. But Teddy was a damn good kid, and they loved each other. He must be doing something right. “Yeah, why can’t I do both? Anyway, here’s a boundary for you: no swearing at Hogwarts.”

 

Teddy nodded and then fell quiet. The smile faded from his eyes. “Harry. Are you going to be okay?”

 

He rushed to say, “Of course I am!” even though the question punched a sad rush of emotion through him. Had Teddy noticed? Harry had tried to be careful. “Of course I am. I know I might not seem like much of a grown up, but I can get on alright without you.”

 

“I know. I just worry sometimes.” Teddy chewed on the inside of his cheek and looked away. “That you’re going to be sad and lonely.”

 

His godson’s worry touched him, and with a painful stab, he thought of Sirius.

 

Sirius had been so sad, so lonely, the whole time Harry knew him. But Harry hadn’t seen it—definitely hadn’t seen the depth of it. Harry was a teenager, and busy, and constantly caught up in drama. He didn’t stop to think about it, didn’t notice it, until it was too late. He didn’t really think about it, about how fucking sad and lonely Sirius must have been, until he was an adult, out of the war, with the freedom to sit and think and reflect and introspect. Jesus, Sirius had moved into a cave outside Hogsmeade just so he could be nearby if Harry needed him, and Harry had visited him…what? Twice? Sent a few packages of sweets. And that was all? Harry had thought about it often in his adult years. It was one of his biggest regrets in life, that he had been too selfish and wrapped up in his own problems to notice how much Sirius was suffering, that he hadn’t reached out to him more.

 

But.

 

As an adult with his own damage that he struggled to contain, as a parental figure to a child who needed him, he could appreciate what Sirius had done. No matter how much he had been hurting, he had never, ever put that weight on Harry, he never made his own trauma and healing a burden for him.

 

Harry wished with all of his heart that he had, wished that Sirius had told him so he could better be there for him.

 

But at the same time, he knew Sirius had done the right thing by keeping all that awful weight off of Harry’s shoulders. He knew he needed to do the same for his own godson. In this, though Harry regretted it, Sirius had been a good role model.

 

And Teddy. Teddy was a better, kinder, more thoughtful kid than Harry had been in every way. He loved that Teddy was the sort of person who would notice someone having a hard time, would worry someone was lonely.

 

 “I’m going to miss you.” Harry said, and he choked up a little bit as he reached out to squeeze Teddy’s shoulder. “I’m going to miss you so much. But I’ll be alright. I have lots of friends.”

 

Good ones, too. The sort of friends who throw him a massive birthday party just to remind him how much he was loved.

 

Teddy pushed back, though. “But you never see them! You only work, and then come home to me. But I won’t be here. And you don’t eat when I’m not around, and sometimes you seem really sad!”

 

“Yeah. You’re right. You’re right. And I’m sorry if that has scared you or worried you. But I’ll be better about it,” he promised. Even though he wasn’t sure if it was true. Even though he feared that with Teddy gone, he’d have no will, no drive to seek out his friends and let them comfort him. Mostly, he feared that he would whither up and die. “I don’t want you to worry about me, mate. I want you to go to Hogwarts and have an amazing time. So if it will make you feel better, I’ll make an effort to see everyone more. I still have Ron and Hermione, and Ginny and Luna, and all of the Weasleys.” He paused. “And Draco Malfoy, apparently.”

 

Teddy smiled a little at that and announced, “I like Draco. You should hang out with him more.” In a lower voice, he added, “And besides, if you fancy him, I’m pretty sure he fancies you back. He was making googly eyes at you all day.”

 

Harry snorted. “Yeah, he kind of was, wasn’t he?”

 

Teddy nodded. “It was gross. You should ask him on a date.”

 

He sounded so matter of fact, Harry had to laugh. And the day had been perfect enough, bright enough, that the happiness of it chased away the sharpest edges of his worry and despair. Later. He could worry later. For now, he would enjoy the rest of the time he had with his godson.

 

And he would get to know Draco.

 

Draco, who made his heart skip beats every time they looked at each other. Draco, who did all of that weird food stuff just to get his attention. Draco, who tried so hard to show Harry how much he cared.

 

Draco, who liked him. Just…liked him. Maybe loved him.

 

No one ever felt that way about Harry. Romance for him was never that simple, that unassuming.

 

He was still getting used to it.

 

Someone like that…a person who cared so much, who liked him so much, who made him laugh and feel and smile and breathe so easily…

 

Harry still didn’t know how he would get through Teddy leaving. But knowing that he had Draco might change things. Maybe he wouldn’t mind reaching out, asking for help, trying to get better, when he had someone who loved him like that. If Draco wasn’t scared away by the intensity, that was.

 

As Harry ran his fingertip in a whorl and traced the woodgrains in the tabletop, the water continued to rush and creak through pipes in the walls above them. Quietly, he asked Teddy, “You think I should? Ask him on a date? Would that be okay with you?”

 

“Of course!” Teddy didn’t hesitate to answer. “Mrs. Weasley says you’re not getting any younger, and if you don’t put yourself out there and go on some dates, all the good ones will be taken. Plus, I like Draco. I think he’s a good one.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry laughed and nodded. “I think he is too.”

 

“Go on some dates, and then maybe he should move in.” Teddy touched Harry’s shoulder and said matter-of-factly, “You’re going to need someone to help take care of you when you have nightmares, once I go to Hogwarts.”

 

Harry smiled, once more reminded of how incredibly kind and thoughtful his godson was. Both of them had nightmares once in a while. Of course, Harry always comforted Teddy when he had one, petted his hair and let him climb in his bed. But Teddy had taken to doing the same for Harry. Whenever he heard Harry screaming bloody murder in his sleep, he’d get him a glass of water and sit with him, pet his hair and tell him it would be okay. Merlin, but he was a sweet kid. Harry didn’t know what he had done to deserve such a perfect kid in his life. “You know, I took care of myself before you moved in.”

 

Teddy just shrugged, like he was skeptical of this. Maybe he was right.

 

Above them, the clanking pipes quieted and the water stopped. Draco was done with his shower. Harry wasn’t sure what had taken him so long; either the pain required a lot of slow and careful movement, or the water felt too good on the burn to rush out of it. “Alright.” He sighed and reached for the jar of burn salve. “I’m going to go check on Draco and bring him this.”

 

“Are you going to put it on him?”

 

“What?” Harry asked as he pushed back his chair. “No?”

 

“No, but you should! Like…” Teddy squinted in an eleven year old boy’s approximation of sexy bedroom eyes, which was horrifying, and then proceeded to mime the most gropey, awful version of a massage Harry had ever seen. His fingers wiggled as he waved his hands up and down, and he said, in a ridiculous voice, “Like, oh, Draco! Let me help you!”

 

Mortified, Harry covered his eyes and laughed. “No! I’m not going to do that!”

 

“Harry!” Teddy slammed his hands on the table and chastised him. “If you’re ever going to get a boyfriend, you’re going to have to flirt! Bat your eyes and shake your arse and all that! Like…” He did the weird, breathy voice again, “Oh, Draco, you’re so sunburned! Let me get that for you!” He wiggled his hands around in the massage pantomime, and Harry half covered his face, too horrified to watch, too amused to look away. “It’s the perfect opportunity to seduce him!”

 

“No!” Harry covered his ears and shook with laughter as he stood up from the table. “Stop it! You’re not supposed to talk like that! Why do you know about seduction? And I don’t like that weird face you’re making. Stop it. You’re a tiny baby!”

 

Teddy threw his hands in the air. “Well, then you probably shouldn’t be going around saying arse, shit, and dick around me, now should you?”

 

Harry glared and slowly backed away.

 

Teddy, the little brat, just kept laughing and carrying on, worse and worse every second. “You know, with me going away to school, it’s probably about time for you to give me a sex talk. It’s what my dad would have done. He was very responsible, I’ve heard!”

 

Harry groaned and ran out of the room, and Teddy’s giggling laughter followed him all the way up the stairs. As he made his way up, he couldn’t help but think to himself that Remus Lupin would be so proud of his clever, kind, funny, secretly-a-bit-wicked son…and also so horrified with how Harry was raising him.

 

Oh well. The two of them were alone in the world together, and they did what worked for them.

 

Harry shook his head and knocked on the door to his bedroom. When Draco called out, he stepped inside.

 

In a pair of clean trousers and nothing else, Draco stood in the doorway to the bathroom and rubbed at his wet hair with a towel. The burn was still vibrant red across most of his whole body, but a few random white patches on his chest and sides stood out.

 

“How was your shower? Do you feel any better?”

 

“Eh.” Draco shrugged. “After seeing myself in the mirror, the only thing I feel is embarrassed at how red I am. I’m sure I’ll be fine with the salve, though.”

 

“Right.” Harry held out the jar. And then surprised himself as he said, “Here, let me help you put it on. I can get your back, at least.”

 

Dammit, Teddy.

 

“Thank you.” Draco nodded, a little nervous, and turned around to present his burned back. He glanced over his shoulder at Harry and then quickly looked away.

 

Harry gulped, more nervous than he should have been, and stepped in close. He was too aware, too conscious of what this was. The cool scents of mint and eucalyptus filled the room, fresh and tingling, when he opened the jar. He took a deep breath… Dipped his fingers into the gel to coat them… 

 

And then did his damn best to seduce Draco Malfoy.

 

With long, gentle strokes, he rubbed the salve onto the smooth, soft skin of Draco’s back. A little shiver ran through Draco at every touch of Harry’s fingers. He massaged more firmly as the burn began to fade, and Draco pressed back into his touch. A little moan escaped Draco’s throat, tiny and breathy.

 

And Harry’s breath quickened as the long, slow strokes of his hands on Draco’s skin had him thinking about touching this man in all sorts of other ways.

 

“So.” Draco asked, quiet and shaky. “How did I do? Did I pass your test?”

 

For a moment, Harry forgot what words were and how to form them. He scooped another finger-full of the cool salve. “What test?”

 

“Oh, come on Harry. With all your loved ones there, I know today wasn’t just a friendly invitation. You were testing me in some way, looking for something.” He paused, hesitant. “How did I do?”

 

Was he testing him? He didn’t think so. Not in so strict a sentiment. But still, he had been looking all day and he had liked what he had seen. A lot. Draco was gorgeous, and generous, and funny. He got along well with Teddy, and was sweet with all of the kids. The way he always tried to stay proper or cutting, the way he tried to hide his giddy happiness at being with Harry and failed badly, was beyond endearing. Harry hadn’t been testing him, exactly. But he had seen a lot of good. And he had no more walls or hesitations holding him back from this.

 

Dizzy, very warm, Harry gripped Draco by one hip and maneuvered him around to turn him. Face to face, they stood and quivered and shared warm breaths in the thin space between them. Harry dipped his fingers in the jar and began a slow and gentle stroking up and down Draco’s chest. Red burn soothed to pale skin under his touch, under the magic of the salve. His head spun. His heart raced. Heat pooled in his groin. As he touched and explored all of Draco’s chest, his taught stomach, along the lines of his ribs, he couldn’t think. He could only feel. And this, with Draco’s skin hot beneath his hands, with their bodies close together, felt so right. He wanted to dig his fingers into Draco’s waist and tug him onto the bed, pin him in place, suck and bite and claim every inch of him.

 

“Let’s just say,” Harry said carefully, avoiding Draco’s eyes. “That I’m glad you got sunburned.”

 

“Oh.” Shaken, but determined to be sharp and unaffected, Draco said, “So I didn’t do well then? Fell short of your high and mighty expectations?”

 

Harry gulped. He lifted his hand to rub burn salve against Draco’s cheekbone, and let his gaze follow the line of his arm until his eyes locked onto Draco’s. They were gray. Hint of blue. Perfect. “I’m glad you got sunburned,” Harry repeated as his fingers traced along the sharp lines of Draco’s jaw, his cheekbones, prickled by a hint of fine stubble at the end of a long day. “Because otherwise, I would be thinking about having sex with you, right here, right now.” A tiny, teasing smirk, full of wicked promises, quirked the corner of Harry’s mouth. “And I’m not quite ready for that yet.”

 

Draco’s mouth fell open. His lips parted, the bottom one quivering. He had a perfect mouth. Those lips... Harry stared, his breathing heavy. That bottom lip was full and pink and plump, and looked too damn good. He wanted to suck on it, to tease and bite it, and see just how pink it could get. Had he ever seen a more perfect mouth than the one on Draco Malfoy? He didn’t think so. Draco had a lush mouth and a sharp tongue. Harry liked that. A lot.

 

He looked down again. It was too intense to look Draco in the eye. He didn’t trust himself not to throw him to the bed and straddle him.

 

He finished applying the burn salve to Draco’s abdomen and face and shoulders with trembling hands, so tender it ached, and Draco’s chest hitched with quick, affected breaths under his touch.

 

“Harry…”  His name on Draco’s tongue was a longing whisper. He didn’t say more, and looked dazed and shaken. Aroused.

 

“You really like me, don’t you?” Harry asked in a rush, and his tone was somewhere between wonder and worry. This felt wondrous. But he needed a little more, needed reassurance. As he screwed the lid back on the jar and set it on his dresser, he asked, “All that nonsense with the food… It wasn’t a plot. There was nothing more to it than just that you really like me, and you wanted my attention. You wanted to be with me. Is that right?”

 

Draco blinked and focused himself. He whispered, “That was the vast majority of where it was coming from, yes.”

 

“What else was it?”

 

“I wanted to take care of you,” he said simply, and Harry could see the authenticity, the sincerity in his eyes, could hear it in his voice. It touched him. Draco reached out, took his hand, and held it. “I could see you’re going through a hard time. I wanted to give you something to help.”

 

“How?” Harry asked, his voice thick with emotion and wonder that someone would care for him like that, with such devotion. “How could you see that? No one else has. Ron and Hermione know. But no one else has seen as much as you have.”

 

Soft and raw, Draco murmured, “No one else looks as much as I do.”

 

But then he caught himself, heard what that sounded like, and realized what he had just confessed. His face scrunched up with embarrassed laughter. “Dear Merlin, that was painfully sappy.”

 

He tried to pull his hand away.

 

Harry wouldn’t let him, and only tugged him closer, until they stood hip to hip, chest to chest, with only a few breaths of space between them. “You like me,” Harry teased. He swayed and nudged Draco with his body while, in sing-song, laughing, he said, “You were staring because you like me. You really like me!”

 

“Yes, Potter!” Draco laughed and looked down at him. “I really like you.”

 

“Good.” Harry stilled and stopped the teasing, stopped doing anything but breathing and feeling the heat of Draco’s body pressed up against his own. He cradled Draco’s face in both hands and tugged him down. “In that case…”

 

He pressed their mouths together in a soft, firm kiss. Draco gasped at the shock of contact, a little groan in the back of his throat, and then melted into Harry’s touch, pliant and eager. His hands found purchase on Harry’s back and waist. His lips parted. Opened. Harry flicked in with his tongue, and then twisted his fingers through Draco’s hair while he sucked on that thick, lush bottom lip. They parted with a soft smack. Paused. Their noses nuzzled together. Harry pressed one more insistent, possessive kiss to Draco’s mouth before he pulled away.

 

Inches apart, still holding each other, they stood together and caught their breath. Slow and dreamy, Draco opened his eyes, his pupils blown wide and dark. He stared at Harry with such open, unhesitant adoration, such wonder, and Harry knew he reflected the look. He grinned, sweet and loving, and brushed his thumb over Draco’s cheekbone. “You’re pink again.”

 

“Oh, God.” Draco shuddered and winced and tried to cover his blush. “That’s humiliating.”

 

Harry laughed, “No it’s not. You’re gorgeous. Come here.”

 

And he pulled him in for another long, deep kiss. It burned steady, with the perfect amount of heat. Full of promises, their lips met and tongues twisted, but they were distant promises. Promises of yes, God, more…someday. Someday, this would escalate. For now, this deep and bruising kiss, with its hot and insistent promise of someday, was more than enough, and made richer by all the somedays it hinted. Harry’s head spun in lazy, whirling circles and he shifted to press his body tighter to Draco’s. His grip on Draco’s hip, on the back of his neck tightened. Possessive. Steady. Wanting. Draco clung to him, pressed to him just as tight, kissed him back with just as much slow, burning need.

 

They parted. Harry pulled back.

 

“Wait. Wait,” Draco whispered, and his hands scrabbled at Harry’s sides to tug him back in. Not for another kiss. Desperate, trembling, Draco braced one arm firm around Harry’s waist and wrapped the other around the back of his neck. With his palm to the back of Harry’s head, like a vine, his arms wrapped tight and pressed them together. He guided Harry’s head to rest on his shoulder, in the soft crook of his neck, and then leaned down to press his forehead and nose into Harry’s hair. With deep, shaky breaths, he whispered, “I’m sorry. I just… I need…”

 

“It’s okay.” Harry nestled further into Draco’s heat and wrapped his own arms tight around his waist. It was strange. Desperate. Overwhelmed. And Harry understood. He shushed Draco, soothed him, and let himself melt into the pleasure of being held. No one had ever held him like this. No one had ever clung to him like some deep instinct in them needed to be close, and then closer. It shook him. Because Draco wasn’t alone in it. He whispered, “I know. Me too.”

 

Draco drew one last deep breath and then dropped his arms and took a step back. With a shaky laugh, he fluttered a hand in front of his face and looked away. “I’m sorry. This is all a little overwhelming. I’m not used to…”

 

“I know what you mean,” Harry assured him. “This is intense. I’m not used to it either.”

 

“Shouldn’t have expected anything less, I suppose, what with it being the two of us,” Draco said with a clever little smile. “Although, I must admit that I never expected any of this.”

 

“No. Me either.” Harry grinned and laughed quietly. Feeling a little dizzy, a little off-balance, he leaned back against the footboard of the bed. “I like it though. I like you.”

 

“Yes, and we already established that I really like you.” Fluttery and sweet, though he tried to appear calm and prickly, he smirked and rolled his eyes. “Although, I worry that if I say it again, you’ll pounce once more and we’ll never get out of this room.”

 

“Tempting.” Harry lifted an eyebrow, considering this, and he pressed one last quick kiss to Draco’s mouth. “But we should get back to Teddy.”

 

“Yes.” It burst from Draco’s mouth in a whisper. More sure, he said, “Yes. Of course. Thank you, by the way. The salve. I feel much better.”

 

Harry nodded as Draco pulled a shirt on, and he wondered if it was the salve that had made Draco feel better, or all of the touching and kissing. As they left the room, Harry said, “I was thinking I could just order pizza for tonight, if that’s okay.”

 

“No!” The abrupt refusal, nearly shouted, was so startling that Harry flinched and turned around to find Draco looking a bit frantic. He lifted one hand and gestured to himself, but grabbed the bannister of the staircase with the other, and his grip was tense. “No, no, no, of course! That sounds perfectly lovely! I just meant that no, you shouldn’t do the ordering. It is your birthday, after all. I’ll order it. Please. I insist.”

 

Amused, touched, Harry looked at Draco fondly, and with a growing sense of you’re weird, but I like you anyway. “Yeah. Okay. That’s fine.”

 

“Right. Good.” Draco shook off his tension and followed Harry down the stairs. “It is food, after all. That’s kind of my thing, if you hadn’t noticed.”

 

“I had actually noticed that, yeah.” Harry reached back and took Draco’s hand to warn him about the trick step, and then just kept on holding it. “I do have to ask, though. Why food?”

 

Draco paused halfway down the stairs, but only for a moment. Hands linked, Harry tugged him along. “I feel as though I should be asking you that question, actually. I noticed. You were skipping meals. It’s probably not the time for this conversation, but from what I can tell, whenever you start to feel overworked, or anxious, or depressed, food is the first thing to slip for you. It’s sort of the canary in the coal mine for your emotional state.”

 

“Huh.” Now it was Harry’s turn to pause. A few steps from the bottom, he stopped and stood still. That was interesting. Interesting that Draco had noticed, definitely. But also just…interesting. Brief flashes of memory, of hungry nights in a cupboard and of hours preparing meals he wasn’t allowed to eat, circled the edges of his mind, but he shoved them away. For now. He looked over his shoulder and set off walking again. “Yeah. I might have a few theories about that, about why that is. But you’re right. That’s not a conversation for today. I’ll tell you some other time.”

 

And he meant it, surprisingly. This was new. But he did think, someday, he would want to tell Draco about those things, the things that helped break him, the things that made him hard to love. Because he suspected that someday he would want Draco to know. To stay. And if he was going to stay, he had to know.

 

Back in the kitchen, Teddy looked up at their arrival and said, “Oh, that looks much better, Draco. It looks like your sunburn is gone. Is your back alright? That seemed to be the worst.”

 

“It is,” Draco said, while Harry, suspicious, stood behind him and glared at Teddy in warning. “It’s all cleared up. Thank you.”

 

“Oh! That’s good!” The absolute picture of childish innocence, Teddy tilted his head to one side and asked, “But how did you reach?”

 

Eyes wide, Harry shook his head and crossed his arms in a giant X behind Draco’s back. Teddy glanced his way, but kept on unperturbed and amused, the cheeky little brat.

 

Unsuspecting, completely unaware that he was trapped between two scheming, teasing morons, Draco said, “Harry helped me apply it.”

 

A child had never looked so smug as Teddy did in that moment. He pinned Harry with a knowing, arrogant look, and then smiled sweetly at Draco while Harry pantomimed wringing someone’s neck. “Well, that was very nice of him.”

 

As agreed, Draco did order and pay for pizza. The three of them sat in the living room and ate and talked and laughed until after well after dark. Teddy had lots of questions about Hogwarts, and Draco had an exaggerated and precise way of answering, accurate while also teetering on ridiculous, which had Harry and Teddy both laughing.

 

After dinner, Draco dug through the crates of leftover food from the beach and pulled out a plate of butterbeer cupcakes he had made for the occasion. Golden, with swirls of creamy frosting, and a drizzle of butterscotch.

 

Harry was stuffed but couldn’t resist. 

 

When the night wound down, Draco reluctantly announced, “I should probably get going.” He said goodbye to Teddy and then turned to Harry.

 

“I’ll walk you to the floo.”

 

He led Draco through to the next room and held the door open for him. While Draco’s back was turned, Teddy caught Harry’s eye and made more obscene, weird kissy faces. Harry tried not to laugh and slammed the door shut with a flare of magic.

 

Draco startled.

 

“Don’t worry about it.” Harry put a hand on the small of his back and led him to the fireplace. “Thanks for coming today. This was really nice.”

 

“It was nice. Happy birthday, Harry.” So soft, so tender it could kill him, Draco brushed his thumb over Harry’s bottom lip and then leaned in to chase it with his mouth. They kissed in front of the fireplace, slow and sweet.

 

When they pulled apart, Draco blinked a few times and said in a low rush, “I’d very much like to see you again. Like this. A date. Would you perhaps like to go to the zoo with me?”

 

Draco swallowed hard and his eyes flicked away from Harry’s for a furtive second, and a hint of blush rose to his cheeks. As if, perhaps, he had meant to say a thing, but he didn’t quite know why he had said that precise thing in particular.

 

Confused, completely charmed, Harry snorted a laugh but kept his arms wrapped around Draco. “Yeah. I would. That’s pretty random, but it sounds like fun.”

 

“I just thought…” Draco shut his eyes and gave his head a little shake. Steadier, he explained, “I know Teddy leaves soon, and I’m sure you want to spend as much time with him as you can in these next few weeks. I suggested that in particular because it’s something the three of us could do together.”

 

It was too much. Too sweet. Too thoughtful. Full of warm and happy feelings, Harry pouted a smile and leaned in to give him another quick kiss. “That’s perfect. Next weekend? But maybe one day this week, if you can get away from the office for a while, I can take you to lunch? Just the two of us?”

 

“Yes. Yes to both. Yes to…all of it.” His eyes glittered with flecks of blue and a little smile as the firelight danced in them. “Everything.”

 

When Draco threw floo powder and declared, Malfoy Manor, Harry watched him vanish through the fireplace and stared after him. A broad smile grew across his whole face, and he laughed into his hand.

 

They were really doing this, then. Kissing. Dating.

 

It was perfect.

 

Teddy was waiting, eager and antsy, when Harry returned to the living room. As soon as he opened the door, Teddy jumped up from the sofa. “So? Did you kiss him?”

 

Harry glared and tried to look cross while an irresistible smile tugged up the corners of his mouth. Teddy watched him closely as he crossed the room and sat back down on their comfortable old couch. He leaned back. Took a breath. And then glanced at his godson, rolled his eyes, and nodded.

 

“Yes!” Teddy jumped and pumped both fists in the air. The tableside lamp rattled and the floorboards creaked when he landed. “Gross! That’s disgusting! I knew you had it in you! Well done, Harry!”

 

He held his hand up for a high-five, and Harry, laughing, gave him one.   

 

 

***

 

 

In a dreamy haze, pure energy sparkling through him, Draco passed through the fireplace and into his foyer. He stared at his feet on the parquet floor. When he lifted his head to look at the walls, it happened too slowly, with a few seconds of lag. He took one step forward. Another.

 

And then lost track of what he was doing. The floor looked nice. Perhaps he should just sit for a while. So he did.

 

“I say!” One of the portraits peered down at him. “Are you quite alright, my boy?”

 

Draco heard but the question didn’t seem important enough to answer. Only one thing seemed important, really. He stared at nothing in particular, soft and swirling, and thought about Harry.

 

Harry had kissed him.

 

They were falling in love.

 

It sent giddy, tingling thrills throughout his whole body, all of his nerve endings alight and vivid, and he glowed too warm. His skin burned again, from within this time. Perhaps he needed to go back to Harry and ask for more of that salve, more of his touch.

 

“Draco?” His mother’s voice was low and careful as she approached him. With a great rustling as all of her many layers of silk skirts and robes fluttered into place, she lowered herself to the floor and sat beside him. He didn’t move. Didn’t say anything. But her presence was pleasant and calming. She took one of his hands and placed it in her lap, held it lightly in her own, and stroked up and down his wrist with her fingernails. “How was the party?”

 

Slow and lazy, through syrup and clouds, Draco grinned. “It was wonderful. Harry. He’s wonderful.”

 

“I’m pleased to hear that.” Gently, she touched his cheek and guided his head down until it rested on her shoulder. Her fingers in his hair felt soothing and cool. Delicate, a kind whisper, she asked, “Should I begin preparations for the wedding? If we start now, we could have everything ready for the solstice. I think a Christmas wedding would be lovely for the two of you, don’t you?”

 

A wedding. Yes. With Harry. Of course. Harry in formal robes at Christmas, with ivy and mistletoe, white snow in his black hair… Perfect. Against his mother’s shoulder, Draco nodded.

 

And then snapped out of it.

 

“No!” He sat up abruptly and shook his head to clear the drowsy, romantic fog. “No, no! That’s ridiculous! Mother! It’s far too early for talk of that.”

 

Mother shrugged one elegant shoulder. “Veela bonds are strong and lasting. If you have these feelings for him, then it must be serious.”

 

“Yes.” Draco gave her hand a squeeze and then pulled his back to rest in his own lap. “But I am not the only one involved here. Harry certainly gets to have a say in how this goes.”

 

She sat back on her heels, and for a second the sight of his proper and poised mother on the floor like that was too strange to fathom. “But it is going well?”

 

“Yes. It is going well.”

 

“Have you told him yet?”

 

That dulled Draco’s shine a bit. He smiled sadly and shook his head. “I don’t quite know how. I never expected to have to tell him, never imagined there would be a need to have the conversation, so I find myself unprepared for it.”

 

Mother insisted, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And Harry is a very modern man. I can’t imagine he would hold your veela blood against you.”

 

“No.” Draco’s mouth went dry and he glanced away to study the landscape paintings on the walls, the thick green curtains on the windows. “But I have been lying to him this whole time, and he certainly won’t like that. And besides, I don’t know that he’ll appreciate the mating aspect. He’s not a fan of anything that remotely resembles destiny. As of right now, he thinks he’s figured it out. He thinks I started giving him food because I like him and care for him. That I wanted his attention.”

 

“Is that not the truth, though?”

 

Rueful, Draco smiled. “Yes. But it’s not the whole truth.”

 

As carefully and dignified as possible, she stood and held out a hand to help Draco up off the floor. “I understand why you need to be careful. It’s a private thing, and not easy to share. I know this has been difficult for you. But don’t keep the whole truth from him for too long.”

 

Draco agreed and knew she was right. But not yet. The thought of telling Harry now, just as things between them were taking root and starting to grow, filled him with a pit of anxiety. He would tell him. Just not yet. Not when things were still so new, so fragile, not when Draco could still scarcely believe they were happening at all. Not when his happiness was so pure and sweet and fresh inside him.

 

His head still swirled with it. His skin felt too raw, every inch of him thrumming and dizzy. “Merlin, I feel like I’m drunk,” he said as he allowed his mother to take his arm and lead him out of the foyer. “Am I always going to make such a damn fool of myself? I barely knew what I was saying half the time I was with him.”

 

“It can be like that in the beginning, until things settle. Get a good night’s sleep.” She smiled knowingly and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Very prim, in her posh and high society accent, she said, “A good shag with him will help, too.”

 

“Mother!” Draco screeched, torn between horror and hilarity. She never spoke that way. He didn’t know she even knew the word shag.

 

“Oh, Draco dear. Don’t be such a prude.” She patted his hand. “Especially if you plan on marrying Harry. He’s always been such a virile, passionate young man. I imagine he’ll be quite the lover.”

 

Draco couldn’t breathe. He was going to die. He was going to drop dead right here in the hallway, while his mother lifted her eyebrows and stared at him in disdain, as if she were not the cause. Bewildered, shocked laughter shook through him and nearly rocked him off his feet.

 

Even though this was the very last thing he ever wanted to discuss with her, he had to admit that she had a point. Harry was passionate. He’d always known that, had always been attracted to him, had always desired him. But kissing him today was on another level of sensuality, and it had flared through Draco in a strong and all-encompassing way. Sexual attraction had always been a calm and background appetite in Draco’s life, present and important to him, but never first priority. He didn’t experience it easily or often, and he’d never desired—truly, with fire and passion desired—anyone but Harry. And desire Harry, he did. He’d thought about him in that way, fantasized about how their bodies might fit together. Just as often, and with far greater longing, he’d fantasized about them going to the supermarket together, or snuggling on the couch, but still. The physical side of the relationship was something he had thought about, was something he wanted.

 

Never before had he realized just how badly he would want it once he’d gotten a taste.

 

Alone together, while heat built between them, he had been nearly overcome with it. He’d felt safe, and adored, and desired while the man he loved ran worshipful hands over every inch of his bare skin and kissed him like he was precious and delicious, and Draco had wanted. Badly. It had engaged his sexuality like nothing else ever had. Every caress of Harry’s hands had filled his chest with a whole garden full of wildflowers, and every kiss had set them all blooming. Still now, hours later, he was too warm and reeling from it.

 

Harry was passionate, yes. And Draco was pleasantly surprised to discover that, under these circumstances, he was too.

 

“Yes.” He managed to say, very prim and embarrassed while his mother smirked. “Yes, I imagine so.”

 

 

***

 

 

First thing Monday morning, Draco traversed the familiar halls of the Ministry with a pep in his step, his head held high. Once in the Revenue and Customs halls, he took a turn, strode down a row of cubicles, and marched right into Lavender’s office. As soon as she looked up from her desk, she could see all over his face that he had something to share, and she grinned. “What?”

 

He let the excitement build for a few seconds, and then announced, “Harry Potter wants to go to the zoo with me this weekend.”

 

In slow motion, her mouth fell open and she let out a high-pitched squealing whine. She jumped out of her chair and grabbed Draco’s hands. Bouncing, she dragged Draco into a giggling, ridiculous happy dance, and Draco did not mind one bit.

Chapter Text

“No way,” Draco said. “No fucking way, Teddy! I do not believe you for a second!”

 

Agitated and clearly hyped up, determined to prove himself, Teddy argued but kept his voice down so they didn’t draw attention from the crowd of muggles. “Yes I can!”

 

Harry just stood back and watched, too amused to intervene.

 

On a cool pathway inside the rainforest pavilion at the London zoo, the three of them stood clustered together in front of the glass wall of the slender loris exhibit. Inside the display, the lights kept dim and ghostly green for the nocturnal animals, the fuzzy little monkey-like creature watched them argue. It had a bashful appearance, strange and adorable.

 

And Teddy was trying to convince Draco that his metamorphmagus abilities were good enough that he could replicate the animal’s face.

 

Skeptical and challenging, with a competitive edge that Harry recognized all too well on him, Draco crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back, and peered at Teddy. “Prove it.”

 

“I can’t prove it right now!” Teddy insisted, but then paused and looked back over his shoulder at Harry. “Can I?”

 

Probably this was a bad idea. They risked breaking the statute of secrecy. But the playful back and forth between his godson and his almost-boyfriend, was too adorable, it was making Harry’s head go soft. Especially since he could tell that Draco knew full well Teddy could do it, and was just egging him on to give him a chance to show off and break out of his shell. Casual, Harry shrugged and nodded.

 

“Really?” He looked around, at the clusters of muggle families further up the path. A group of teenagers laughed and made faces at a sloth, and a young mother pushed a whining baby along in a pram. Lots of potential witnesses. “Here? You’re saying it’s okay?”

 

Discrete, Harry patted the side of his thigh, where his wand was tucked into a pocket along the seam of his jeans. “I’ll handle it. You show Draco what you’ve got. Prove him wrong.”

 

While Teddy considered this and psyched himself up, Harry winked at Draco, who sent a secretive little smile back. It tingled a thrill up his spine.

 

When the next group of muggle visitors passed by them, Harry cast a quiet notice-me-not charm around them and told Teddy it was safe to transform.

 

“You have to do the whole thing, though,” Draco insisted, stern. “You have to get your eyes that big and round and buggy, with that weird little pointy nose.”

 

Hands on his hips, Teddy shot back, “What will you give me if I do it?”

 

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Anything you want from the gift shop.”

 

“Anything?”

 

He nodded. “Anything.”

 

“Fine!” Teddy studied the little animal and concentrated. It only took him a few seconds to achieve an almost-exact likeness. It was grotesque and disturbing to watch, but his eyes grew perfectly round, the size of tea saucers, and his nose and mouth pinched together and elongated into a snout.

 

Harry stayed back and flipped rapidly back and forth between watching his godson’s hideous but impressive transformation, and Draco’s reaction.

 

Draco stared in horror and flinched back, a look of amazed disgust on his face. It wrinkled his nose and flared his nostrils. “Ugh.”

 

Abruptly, Teddy jumped toward him and let out a creepy, squeaking, chattering noise, his hands flailing.

 

“No!” Draco screamed laugher, screwed his eyes shut and jumped back. “No! I hate it! Stop! That’s awful!”

 

Teddy reversed the transformation and rearranged his face back to normal, sandy brown hair and normal-sized eyes. He snorted and bent over laughing at Draco’s reaction. “Told you! I told you I could do it!”

 

“Yes, good for you! You’re very talented!” A shiver ran up his spine, and Draco shook like a rather prissy, dramatic dog. “That was horrifying. But I stand corrected.”

 

Amused and full of energy, Teddy ran ahead of them to go hoot at the spider monkeys. Alone, he and Draco shared a small, private smile, full of gratitude and meaning. Harry really could not get over how good this made him feel. Brimming with feeling, with fondness, with affection, Harry threw an arm around Draco’s shoulders and held him close as they walked after Teddy. Draco looked pleased, and he leaned in a little closer as he reached up to squeeze Harry’s hand.

 

Together, the three of them had a brilliant, fun day at the zoo. They looked at all the animals, walked around in the sun, and ate ice cream and chips. They strolled through the butterfly garden, with all its tropical plants and enchanted atmosphere, and when six colorful butterflies with gently flapping wings all landed on Draco’s head and shoulders, Harry laughed and shook his head. “Merlin,” he scoffed. “Look at you. You look like some fairy tale prince.”

 

Draco looked very happy about that, and more than a little pleased with himself. He walked through the rest of the garden with his back a little straighter, a royal and romantic air about him that kept Harry chuckling to himself.

 

At the end of the adventure, after he was loaded up with a few prize winnings from the gift shop, it was Teddy who asked Draco, “Are you going to come back to our house?”

 

He looked to Harry, and when Harry nodded he said, “Absolutely! But only if we can stop for groceries first, so I can make dinner for us.”

 

Draco was very particular with his grocery selections, his face terribly serious as he considered minute differences in produce and gently placed each choice into the basket that Harry carried. “Alright, I think that’s everything. Wait!” He shook his head. “No it’s not. Of course. What am I, a Neanderthal? I forgot dessert!”

 

So then they had to do another full loop of the market, with Harry and Teddy trotting along behind and trying to keep up with Draco’s clipped, brisk steps. He grabbed strawberries, pretzels, and marshmallows, and Teddy and Harry stood behind him and shared a confused, skeptical look, as they wondered how those disparate ingredients would come together. In the aisle with the chocolate chips and melts, Draco studied the shelf and then beckoned for Teddy. “Come here, Tedward, I require your assistance.”

 

“My name isn’t Tedward! It’s Edward! And it’s not Edward, it’s Teddy!”

 

Draco stopped his very serious inspection of the shelf and turned around to blink doubtfully at Teddy. “Edward? No, that can’t be right. There’s no T in Edward. You must have misheard. I’m quite sure it’s Tedward.”

 

Teddy shook his head at Draco and then turned back to Harry with a look that seemed to ask, can you believe this guy? Harry just stood back out of their way and tried not to look like he was laughing.

 

Thoughtful, lines creased across his forehead, Draco listed off a few more options. “Tedwin? Teddathy? Tedville? I’m sure it’s one of those. Anyway, whoever you are, come here and pick out what sort of chocolate you’d prefer.”

 

Name confusion quickly brushed off and forgiven, Teddy stood next to Draco and surveyed his options. “What’s it for?”

 

“Fondue. Simple, chocolatey, doesn’t take long to cook. The berries and things are for dipping in the melted chocolate.”

 

Teddy’s eyes went wide. “Can I just dip my hand in?”

 

“Not if we’re sharing the bowl, you heathen!”

 

Teddy pointed at a bag of milk chocolate chips and Draco tossed them in the basket. “Alright, for real this time. That’s everything.”

 

Back at Grimmauld Place, Harry guided Draco into the kitchen and set him loose. Teddy went to his room to read and play with Fiona, but Harry stayed. “Can I help?”

 

“No!” Draco shooed him off and pointed at the table. “You sit there and keep me company, and also tell me where everything is. But don’t lift a finger!”

 

So Harry did. He pointed at cabinets and described where he kept his spatulas whenever asked, but mostly he was content to simply sit and watch Draco cook. It was fascinating and endearing. With his back to Harry at the stovetop, or turned in elegant profile while at the counter, Draco seemed very aware of Harry’s eyes following his every move. His hands were deliberate and contained in their movements, and he chopped vegetables with soft clacks of the knife on a wooden cutting board. His back was a tall, proud line, his legs long and lean as he moved across the room to fill pots with water, to carry ingredients to the stove. He never flustered. He never rushed. But Harry saw the hint of red blush creep up the back of his neck and knew that he was nervous, very aware of the attention.

 

Harry also thought, from the shy, quiet smile that kept tightening his eyes, that he enjoyed it.

 

It was so domestic. So warm. The definition of safe, and home, and cozy. The sight of Draco in his kitchen, confident and proud, nervous and hopeful, cooking him a meal, drifted into him and settled right in his heart. This was what love looked like. The glimpse of it, the little look into what his life could be, the thought that these could be his tomorrows, made him fall faster.

 

“Could you taste this?” Draco carried a spoon of sauce over to him. “I must admit, this is the first time I’ve cooked anything without Mipsy snapping orders over my shoulder.”

 

It was tangy, lemony, and perfect. Harry told him so.

 

“You’re sweet. And useless. I should have known you’d say that no matter what. I think it needs salt…” He trailed off and turned back to the stove.

 

When everything was nearly done, Harry popped downstairs to the wine cellar and searched the dusty old racks, much of it very expensive and left over from the Black family stock. He found a nice bottle of Chardonnay, brought it upstairs, and cooled it with a charm. While Draco put the finishing touches on the meal, Harry set the table with their nicer dishes and real linen napkins, none of the paper ones they normally used. He poured water into goblets, arranged silverware in a pattern that looked like it might be correct, and if it wasn’t correct at least it was consistent, and then, last but not least, poured the wine. 

 

 When Draco took a step back and wiped at his brow, Harry moved in close and pressed a cool crystal wine glass into Draco’s hand. “Cheers.”

 

Surprised and pleased, Draco clinked their glasses. “Cheers.”

 

They both sipped. Harry didn’t know a lot about wine, but he knew a bit, enough to know this particular bottle was a nice brand and vintage. Even more than that, he knew that the look on Draco’s face was brilliant. As the wine hit his tongue, Draco moaned a little and his eyes went half-lidded. “Wow, that is good. What is this?”

 

When Harry showed him the bottle, Draco blinked. In his white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a wine glass perched in one of his long-fingered hands, he really did look like some sort of prince. Gorgeous. He sized Harry up with a considering look, and Harry thought perhaps Draco was having similar thoughts about him.

 

“So.” Draco stepped in closer and rested his free hand on Harry’s chest, let Harry grip his waist and tug their hips together. “You just casually opened a seven hundred galleon bottle of wine for me?”

 

Earnest and sweet, Harry nodded. Of course. “I want to spoil you.”

 

Draco bared his white teeth, amused and hungry, and leaned in closer. “I’m already spoiled.”

 

“I want to spoil you more.”

 

They held their wine glasses carefully out to the side while they kissed.

 

Harry fetched Teddy and the three of them sat at the kitchen table and had a nice meal. Draco had made a linguini with grilled chicken and summer vegetables in a lemon-butter sauce, and Harry ate every delicious bite of it. After, he and Teddy did the dishes and put together a plate for Kreacher (who mostly preferred to keep to himself), while Draco prepped dessert. When he had a bowl of melted chocolate and a tray of artfully arranged snacks, Harry helped him carry everything into the living room. The three of them sat on the floor with the fondue between them and ate while they played exploding snap and laughed every time the cards popped. Fiona the cat joined in and weaved between them to beg for pets and to investigate, and she very nearly stole a marshmallow but Draco thwarted her naughty attempt.

 

It went on until after an hour or so Teddy began to yawn. Dramatically. Suspiciously. With a massive stretch, he said, “Oh, would you look at the time? I’m so tired. I really should be getting to bed.”

 

It was only eight o’clock. Harry watched him, quizzical and suspicious, as he said goodbye to Draco and scooped Fiona into his arms. Harry hopped up and followed him to the hall. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute? Is everything okay?”

 

Teddy looked innocent until Harry shut the door to the living room and separated them from Draco. Then, he dropped his cover and whispered, “I’m not actually tired.”

 

Obviously. The yawning act had not been convincing. Harry whispered back, “Yeah. I figured that. What’s up? You don’t feel uncomfortable with Draco here, do you?”

 

“No, no! Not at all! I just thought maybe you two would want some alone time. So you could… You know.” Again, with the creepy eyes and kissing pantomime, he wriggled around and made smoochy faces. Fiona, who was trapped in the middle, did not seem to appreciate the wiggling.

 

“Oh my God. Stop!” Harry whispered while he laughed. “Okay. That was nice, but you didn’t have to do that. I want to spend time with you. I like when it’s the three of us, and I know Draco does too. I don’t want you to feel like we don’t want you around.”

 

“I don’t feel that way, Harry. I promise. But you’ve been spending time with me all day. You live with me! You should have some time where it’s just you and Draco.” He paused. “You seem really happy.”

 

Harry sighed but gave in. “Alright. Thank you. And I promise, someday when you are much, much older, I will return the favor and wingman for you.” As Teddy made his way up the stairs, Harry, nervous, hissed again and whispered, “Hey. He’s not going to stay long, okay? And he’s definitely not going to stay the night. So if you need anything, don’t hesitate to come get me. Okay?”

 

“Okay, Harry.” Teddy rolled his eyes but didn’t actually look annoyed. He waved him off. “Now go snog your boyfriend!”

 

Well. Alright then. If Teddy insisted.

 

Back in the living room, alone with Draco, he shut the door. At the click of the latch in the quiet room, excited, nervous tension flooded him and pooled in his groin.

 

Draco sat on the floor with his knees bent up in front of him, wine glass in his hand and smirk on his face. “I’m sorry. But did your godson just fake being tired so we could snog?”

 

“Yep. He did. And I swear, I did not put him up to that.” Harry grimaced and rejoined Draco on the rug. “He’s a funny kid.”

 

“He is.” Draco nodded and sipped his wine. “He’s rather brilliant.”

 

“Thanks. I mean, I know that’s true. But thank you for saying it.” He reached out and ran a finger over the fine, delicate bones on the top of Draco’s bare feet. “It means a lot to me, that you’ve been so willing to get to know him.”

 

“I should have years ago, if I’m being honest. He is my cousin, after all. But he is wonderful, and I’m glad I’ve gotten the chance now.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry felt the heat of Draco’s stare, the intensity of everything between them, and gulped his wine. “Me too.”

 

“So.” Draco shrugged his shoulders and smirked, all coy and flirty. “We’re alone…”

 

“It would appear we are.” Harry put his glass down on the table behind him and reached to take Draco’s. “Whatever shall we do?”

 

“I can think of a few things.”

 

“Care to show me?”

 

“If you shut up long enough, Potter, I’d be more than happy to.”

 

Harry laughed as Draco kissed him. Seated on the floor, Harry braced himself with one arm out behind him, and cupped Draco’s cheek with the other. He hummed, a hungry little moan in the back of his throat, when Draco parted his lips and opened for him, and their tongues swirled together, lazy and exploring. The taste of him was sweeter than any chocolate, more intoxicating than any wine.

 

Harry sat up straighter and leaned forward, shifted to get his legs under him, so he could kiss with more fervor, so he could touch with both hands. Draco’s breath quickened as he matched the change, and they heated together fast.

 

Possibly too fast.

 

Harry pulled back, and Draco whined, a needy little whimper. His eyes fluttered open, dazed, when Harry whispered, “Wait. Just a second.”

 

Draco stroked his cheek. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing. Everything’s perfect,” Harry promised. “I just need you to know that I’m not quite ready for this to go past kissing.”

 

“Oh. Of course! Harry, of course, that’s fine. I have no expectations. And besides, the kissing is…” Flushed, he caught himself. “Well. The kissing is, for lack of a better word, extraordinary.”

 

Pleased, Harry nodded. “I agree.”

 

And Draco winced and said, a little disbelieving “Really? No, really. Is it actually alright for you? Because, I must admit, I don’t have much experience with it.”

 

Oh. That was unexpected. Harry couldn’t help but tease. “You don’t go around kissing people often?”

 

Draco looked away. “More like ever.”

 

At that, Harry fell back a little, startled. He sat back on his ankles and stared at Draco, watched the nervous grit of his jaw, watched the way his gray eyes searched the room for something else to focus on. No way. That couldn’t be right. How was it possible that someone that gorgeous, someone who kissed that well…

 

A slow smile spread across Harry’s face. “Draco?” Soft, he reached out and laid a hand on Draco’s thigh. “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter to me. But… Was I your first kiss?”

 

Draco stared straight ahead at the blank, dark screen of the television. “This is the most embarrassed I have ever been, but…” He nodded.

 

Harry considered this and rubbed his hand in small, reassuring circles. “More embarrassed than when you threw that soup all over me?”

 

“Oh, right! Forgot about that. Yeah, that was more embarrassing.”

 

Soft and insistent, Harry turned Draco’s face and kissed him once more. “I don’t believe you,” he murmured into Draco’s mouth in between presses of their lips, flicks of their tongues. “You’re too good at this. Did you practice on a pillow or something?”

 

Draco huffed laugher into Harry’s mouth.

 

“Alright. That sounds like a story.” Harry pulled back and cupped Draco’s face in both hands, gazed into his eyes. “How does someone as beautiful and brilliant as you make it to nearly thirty without kissing anyone?”

 

“Well, first of all, very few people would agree with you, that I am beautiful or brilliant. But really…” He paused and took a few shaky breaths. His eyes darted away, but then locked with Harry’s again. Voice full and real, dripping meaning with every word, he said simply, “I’ve never wanted to kiss anyone else. You’re it for me, Harry. You always have been.”

 

A rush of emotion caught in Harry’s throat, hot and thick, and his eyes blurred but he didn’t look away. “How?” His voice sounded jagged and thin. “How do you…?”

 

Make me feel this way? Know me so well? See me so clearly? Want me even though you know so much about me? Love me even though I’m wrong inside?

 

It all tangled.

 

“Sometimes, I can’t believe you’re real.” He shook his head and whispered, broken, “No one has ever loved me like this.”

 

Intense and unblinking, Draco tilted his head in closer and said in an insistent whisper, “Yes, they have, Harry. I always have. You just didn’t know.”

 

That opened a flood gate in Harry’s chest, a rush of too much feeling, and he lunged forward to wrap his arms around Draco, to be close to him, as close as possible. Draco met him. They both lifted up onto their knees so they could press more of their bodies together, and they held each other for a long, shaking moment. While Harry’s breath soothed, while his pulse calmed, while everything in his body and mind and heart felt perfectly right and aligned and awake.

 

They pulled apart. Sat back down.

 

“Anyway. Before we got distracted by first kisses and the unintended confession that I’m already madly in love with you…” Draco brushed his hand through his hair, grinned, and then pointed at Harry. “Don’t laugh.”

 

Harry was laughing.

 

“I do believe we were talking about how fast this was going, yes?” Draco held his hand. “Take all the time you need. Physically. Emotionally. Anything else. I am not in any rush.”

 

“Okay. Thank you.” It wouldn’t be long on either front. This was still new for him, and he had been hurt and betrayed too many times in the past to jump in too fast. But it wouldn’t be long at all, before he fell fully, before he was ready. “It’s not because I’m not serious about you. And it’s not because I don’t want you. I am, and I do. If I’m being completely honest, I want you right now, splayed out on the floor, naked and covered in that chocolate so I could lick it all off you. I’m just not quite ready, is all.”

 

He said it because it was true, and he wanted to reassure Draco. But he also said it to see if he would blush.

 

He did. Beautifully. But he didn’t duck his head or look away.

 

Draco hummed and reached for a red strawberry, dipped it in the bowl of melted chocolate. “I wonder if that fantasy is because you want me, or because you want more chocolate?”

 

“You.” Harry laughed while Draco crawled toward him with the fruit. “But I wouldn’t say no to either.”

 

With a sensual smirk, Draco lifted the berry and held it poised just beyond the curve of Harry’s lips. Then, he paused, looked at Harry, and quirked an eyebrow. It was a challenge. Draco wasn’t going to come any closer, and the thrill of the teasing little dare went straight to Harry’s cock. Draco going to make him beg for it, and fuck if that didn’t excite him. He leaned forward. Reached for it. Draco stared with parted lips, his breath hot and close, while Harry wrapped his mouth around the ripe fruit, sank his teeth into the flesh with a burst of juice. Rich, velvety chocolate coated his tongue while he chewed. Draco, breathing quickly, with hungry, glinting eyes, tossed the stem away and watched. He gripped Harry’s jaw in a firm, possessive hold, and rubbed his thumb to catch the bit of chocolate on his lip. Harry flicked out his tongue, seeking, asking, so Draco pushed his thumb in and let Harry suck it clean.

 

“Fuck.” Draco sat back and stared, studied Harry’s face, the arousal heavy in his voice, bright in his eyes. “You are going to absolutely wreck me.”

 

Harry smirked and reached for the bowl of chocolate, dipped his index finger in. “I have a feeling it will be mutual.”

 

Eyes heavy-lidded, Draco watched Harry’s finger. He tilted his head down and shifted his gaze up. Smirked. The effect was sharp and predatory. “What? I don’t warrant a berry?”

 

Harry shook his head and pressed his finger to Draco’s bottom lip, where it left a smear of chocolate. “Too selfish. I don’t want to share your mouth with anything right now.”

 

A huff of silent laughter, and then Draco parted his lips and sucked Harry’s finger all the way down. He kept eye contact while he swirled his tongue, while he tightened the suction with a pull that Harry could feel tugging from the tip of his finger all the way to his cock. Entranced, Harry watched as he slid his finger out, and Draco gave it one last suck so it left his mouth with a wet pop.

 

Draco smirked at him while he teased his own thick lower lip with his pink tongue and sharp teeth.

 

Fuck.

 

Fast and strong, Harry pounced and pinned Draco to the ground with a hard, bruising, desperate kiss. Open-mouthed, messy, panting, and chocolate-flavored, they groaned and clawed at each other and kissed like they were starving. Legs tangled, and hands groped and massaged. Cocks swollen and aching in their trousers, Harry rocked and thrust their hips together in a slow and crushing rhythm while Draco writhed and moaned beneath him. One of Draco’s bony ankles dug into the back of Harry’s thigh, urging him on, and Draco slid a hand down the full length of his back to reach and grab at his arse.

 

Burning with need, with passion, with a thousand other things, and safe within the boundary they’d set, they dry humped and snogged the lights out of each other until they’d worn themselves out.

 

“When can I see you again?” Harry asked in between slower kisses.

 

“Any time you’d like. Always.”

 

 

***

 

 

When Draco went home that night, he pulled himself off in the shower not to thoughts of Harry, but to memories of him. As he stroked himself, as he came, all of Harry’s fervent touches, his deep kisses, his teasing smiles replayed in his mind. He collapsed into bed naked, his skin too sensitive for clothes, and ran his fingers over the love bites Harry had left on his neck. It had been a perfect night, passionate and emotional and honest.

 

Which was why he could have kicked himself. This had been the perfect time to confess. To tell Harry he was a veela.

 

But he hadn’t. And he couldn’t be too upset with himself for it. Still, even now, even after he’d confessed his years of love, his complete devotion, the revelation of that one last secret scared him. In some ways, it was a foolish thing to keep quiet about because it hardly even mattered, and had no influence over how they felt for each other. But still. He hesitated. And that was alright. Harry needed time, needed to take things slow, needed to hold some parts of himself back. It was alright if, in this one thing, Draco did too.

Chapter Text

For a few weeks, through the middle of August, that was how it went. And somewhere in the middle of weekend adventures with Draco and Teddy, one-on-one lunch dates, piles of letters, and a few more surprise food deliveries, Harry fell completely, madly in love.

 

Which was brilliant.

 

But it was also frightening. Maybe even a little bit terrible.

 

The end of August was fast approaching, and even though he had found glowing, amazing happiness in this new relationship with Draco, still the dark and looming pain of Teddy’s departure chipped away at the ragged, broken parts inside him. Every day, he thought about it. Every day, he worried. The presence of Draco in his life didn’t make Teddy’s departure any easier to bear. Still, Harry feared, deep down, that when Teddy was gone, he would slip. He would lose his sense of purpose, would lose the person he loved most, and with that he would lose himself. Each day, unless he was with Draco or Teddy or his friends, he struggled to remember to eat. Each day, in moments when he was alone, he felt the ache of the hollow emptiness in him. Each day, he knew he would get worse on September first. The dark parts of him would creep out. The unloveable parts. The broken parts.

 

Draco was incredible, but he couldn’t drive those away and banish them entirely. No one could.

 

So even though every moment Harry spent with Draco was perfect and happy, he knew it couldn’t last. Not like this. Not without intervention and honesty.

 

Harry wanted it to last.

 

And more than that, Draco gave him hope. He knew Draco couldn’t fix what was wrong with him, couldn’t patch up the broken, rotted out bits the forest took from him. But he did make Harry want to be better, to try harder, to take care of himself. Hope for a future with Draco made him feel like maybe he did actually have a future. Like maybe he would slip and crumble when Teddy left, but that Draco’s love would make him want to fight harder to hold on.

 

They needed to talk. If they were going to last, if this was going to be real and deep, if this relationship was going to survive through the dark time that was inevitably coming, then Draco needed to know. So he could prepare himself, brace himself.

 

And so he could leave now, before it got too intense, if that was what he wanted.

 

God, Harry hoped that was not what he wanted. He hoped Draco could handle the dark in him. But it was so much, a deep and blinding dark, and Harry had never been able to share it for fear it would drive people away. Too frequently, the stinging edge of it had driven people away. Other lovers had glimpsed the surface of it and thought even that much made him unloveable, not worth it.

 

Draco was stronger. Draco loved him.

 

He just hoped he still would after he knew everything. And Harry did mean everything. Because if this relationship was going to survive, if Harry was going to survive, he could not afford to be emotionally guarded. He had to tell Draco about the forest.

 

 

***

 

 

Friday night after work, Draco stepped through the floo into Harry’s house with a pit of anxiety in his stomach. Something was wrong. His veela instincts could sense that something was troubling Harry, upsetting him, scaring him. Even without that, when Harry asked him to come over to talk, he had seemed nervous and sullen. A thousand possibilities raced through Draco’s mind.

 

When he saw Harry’s ashen face, the dark circles under his haunted eyes, he feared the worst. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing. Everything’s okay. I just need to talk to you.”

 

He looked around, listened but heard nothing from upstairs. “Where’s Teddy?”

 

“With the Weasleys. I sent him there for the night. All the kids are having an end of summer sleep over.”

 

Draco nodded, but his mouth went dry. Whatever this was, it was bad enough Harry had felt the need to get his godson away from it.

 

On egg shells, Draco followed him into the living room. His eyes caught on the spot in the middle of the rug where, just last week, they’d tumbled onto the floor and kissed each other with such desperate happiness that Draco thought he’d burst with it. That feeling was a far cry from this one. He set his briefcase down beside the sofa, undid the buttons of his robes, and shrugged out of them to his shirt and trousers.

 

All the while, Harry waited for him on the couch with his hands pinned between his knees, fidgeting.

 

Step by step. He would just take it step by step. Stay calm. Get them through this.

 

He sat down, turned to Harry, and tugged his hands free so he could hold them firm and steady in his own. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Okay.” Harry took a deep breath. “Well. The first thing I need to tell you is that I’m in love with you.”

 

“Alright.” Draco tried not to react until Harry felt safe to tell the whole story, but hearing those words lifted a sunrise in his chest. “I’m in love with you too. I hope that’s not what has you so upset? Loving me is not so terrible, is it?”

 

“No. No, it’s brilliant. I love you, Draco. I really love you.” The raw emotion in Harry’s voice cut straight to Draco’s heart. “But because I’m in love with you, there’s more I need to tell you.”

 

Draco nodded and shifted to get one leg up under him on the scratchy old couch so he could turn more fully towards Harry.

 

He pulled his hand away, and Draco let him, gave him space while he stared down at the rust-colored rug and collected his thoughts.

 

When Harry was ready, he spoke in a croaking, low voice. “I need to tell you about something that happened to me, something I’ve never told anyone. Because it’s been affecting me lately, and kind of messing me up, messing everything up. And I need you to know about it before it messes you up too.”

 

Draco said nothing. Just waited.

 

“During the war. The night that it ended. I went into the forbidden forest that night to hand myself over to him, to Voldemort. I went into the forest, and I…” His breathing hitched. He glanced at Draco and whispered, “I died. I died that night.”

 

Sympathy and pain and horror rushed through him, but so too did a hint of relief. He reached out and gripped Harry’s arm. “I know. Harry, I know that already. My mother told me.”

 

He nodded and wouldn’t look at Draco.

 

There was more. The realization sank heavy and dreading in his stomach.

 

“Not many people know that. But there’s more. What you don’t know, what I’ve never told anyone is…” His breath caught in a hiccupping gasp, and Draco froze with his hand outstretched, desperate to comfort him but determined to let this happen on Harry’s terms. His voice was thin and pained when he forced the words out. “I came back. But I came back wrong.”

 

It was, quite possibly, the most horrifying thing Draco had ever heard. With every bit of self-control he possessed, he did not let it show on his face. Though it ripped him apart, outwardly, he did not react. Quiet and soft, with a gentle touch to the back of Harry’s hand, he asked, “What do you mean by that?”

 

A little more lively, with less difficulty in the telling, Harry went on to share with him how ever since that night, he had felt empty inside, like he was slowly dying and rotting from the inside out. How he had nightmares about it and everything else. How his emotions had dulled, and happiness was always fleeting and difficult to feel, had to be dragged out of him by something extraordinary. But anger and shame and loneliness were always present, he was always suspicious, always irritated. How sometimes he had trouble taking care of himself, how when it got bad he didn’t eat or even bathe properly because he couldn’t muster up the energy. How he did it for Teddy, felt alive and okay when he was taking care of Teddy…

 

How, now that Teddy was leaving, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stave off the encroaching darkness inside him and keep it from swallowing him up.

 

Draco listened as he poured all of this out, all of his pain and anguish and fear, all of these awful feelings he had carried for so long. And he ached for him. Ached with such a deep and throbbing pain, it felt as if a bit of his own soul had been cut out in an attack. It clenched his heart, his lungs, until he felt like he couldn’t breathe, but still he listened and said nothing. He listened, and he stroked a firm hand up and down the line of Harry’s back while he talked.

 

He listened…and he understood.

 

Since that day in the canteen, when his veela instincts awoke and forced him to reach out to Harry, whenever he sent over a plate of food, he had wondered. Why this? Why now? Why this type of care at this moment?

 

He had always noticed Harry was too thin. He had always noticed Harry hid things, hid unpleasant feelings from the people who loved him. As it went on, Draco started to notice that Harry didn’t eat. He had started skipping meals. He was having trouble taking care of himself.

 

When he’d learned that Teddy was about to leave for Hogwarts and felt Harry’s anguish over it, Draco had put two and two together and realized Harry was sliding into depression, triggered and exacerbated by his godson leaving, and the first manifestation of that depression was his apathy about feeding himself.

 

He had known that. He had seen that.

 

But he had definitely not seen the depth of it, the desperation of it, the full and terrifying reality of it. This was more. This was worse than he’d feared.

 

And Harry… sweet, self-sacrificing Harry, who had always tried to be good above all other things… He didn’t recognize what was happening to him. He thought it was his own fault. He thought it was something bad in him, something broken in him, something corrupt in him.

 

Draco maintained his composure, blinked back the tears behind his eyes, and listened to Harry’s awful confession until he just could not take it anymore.

 

“Jesus, Harry.” The whisper burst out of him and he reached across the couch, wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders, and dragged them together. Harry shook with tears that he held in, that he squinted hard to keep from falling, and Draco petted his soft hair and pressed kisses to his temple. “It’s okay. Okay. Okay. It’s okay.”

 

It wasn’t okay. It was not okay that Harry Potter, the single kindest, bravest, most noble, most decent, most caring, most loving person he had ever known, maybe who had ever lived, felt like this. It wasn’t okay that this had gone on so long unchecked, that no one had noticed the truth and intervened to help him, that he had been allowed to carry these fears and feelings for so long.

 

But it would be okay. Harry would be okay. If Draco had to sit him down and spoon feed him every meal until he remembered why to eat, if he had to drag him to therapy himself, if that was what it would take, then dammit, Harry would be okay.

 

“I’m sorry, love. I’m so, so sorry you’re feeling this. It sounds awful. And what happened to you during the war, in the forest, is truly unimaginable. But Harry…” Draco braced himself and pulled back to look Harry in the eye. This was why he was here. This was why the veela instincts awoke, why they demanded he leave the security of his lonely life and tangle himself up with Harry: so finally, someone would be close enough, trusted enough to see the truth of this. Hesitant but sure, he asked, “Are you sure that all of this is because of what happened that night in the forest?”

 

Harry nodded.

 

Draco whispered, “I don’t know. That sounds… That doesn’t sound right to me.”

 

“What do you mean? What does it sound like?”

 

He paused, took a breath, and slowly, gently, said, “It sounds very much like undiagnosed depression and PTSD that have gone untreated for a decade.”

 

Harry froze. “No, that can’t be right. It has to be the forest. Me. I died, Draco. I died! That’s why I’m all wrong inside. I came back wrong, or maybe not all of me came back, or… or…”

 

“Maybe. Maybe. What happened that night was unbelievable. You might be the only person on this planet who has experienced that, so I won’t say for sure that you’re wrong.” He ran his fingers through Harry’s hair, lightly scraped his fingernails along his scalp. “But I really don’t think that’s right, my love. I really don’t. Everything you’re describing to me sounds very much like symptoms of depression and PTSD. I would know. I am very familiar with them and have been treated for them myself.”

 

Surprised, Harry turned to look at him for the first time since his confession began. “Really?”

 

Draco nodded. “The thing about depression is that if it goes on long enough, it starts to feel almost like a sentient thing. Think of it like…like being possessed. Depression wants to keep on living in your brain. So it has convinced you that you must feel this way because something is broken in you, something awful happened in that forest, and it’s a thing that can’t be fixed. Because it doesn’t want you think of it as a disease you can recover from. Then you’d go and get treatment.”

 

As Draco spoke, Harry seemed to shrink in on himself. His spine curled forward until he was nearly bent in half, and the unhappiness on his face was deep and painful. He listened with closed eyes, with gritted jaw.

 

“I’m sorry.” Draco was sure this was what he needed to do, needed to say. But he wasn’t sure the best way to say it. He didn’t want to make anything worse, or drive Harry away. “I really don’t mean to pry--”

 

In a surge of vivid emotion, Harry cut him off. “I want you to pry! I do. I told you because I want you to…” He choked on some emotion. “I want you to know me. Even the bad parts. Whether I can fix them or not, whether they’re a permanent part of me or not. And Draco, I still need you to understand that even if you’re right, even if these feelings are coming from something that can be treated…I am really fucked up. Like, really. In big ways, that most people don’t even want to know about.” He paused and took off his glasses so he could rub at his eyes. Tense, he sighed. “You want to know why food? I promised I would tell you someday. I have a really bad relationship with food, I think, because my aunt and uncle starved me when I was a kid. They did other things, too. That’s not even the half of it. So I don’t know if what you’re saying is right. Maybe it is. It’s hard to think about. It’s hard to think about, because…” He pressed his fists to his eyes.

 

“Because,” Draco said, “You spent so long thinking it was your fault.”

 

“Yes. Exactly. For so long, I’ve thought it was something wrong with me. It would be kind of awful to suddenly discover I had made that up and kept myself miserable. You know? But I will think about it. Maybe you’re right. I’ll think about. I promise. I will.”

 

When Harry’s hand twitched in aborted movement across the couch, Draco took it and held on.

 

He let Harry gather his thoughts.

 

“What I’m trying to say is that even if this fucked up thing in me is something that can get better someday, I am struggling with it right now and it’s only going to get worse when Teddy leaves. Probably, it will always be with me. And I want you to know. I want you to know because you deserve to know this if you’re going to be so important in my life. But also because…”

 

Harry stopped himself and cleared his throat. Careful and deliberate, as though he was unsure but doing it anyway, he turned to face Draco and held both of his hands. His eyes were brilliant green, the color of dew on shamrocks, the color of growth and living things, and little droplets of tears clung to the lace of his long, black eyelashes. He was beautiful. And Draco loved him so, so much.

 

Linked together, Harry said, “Because I’ve never felt this way before, about anyone. I want you to know me, and I want to know you.”

 

Draco nodded, and felt the truth of that reverberate and sing out from within him, too.

 

“But also…most people don’t…no one who meets me actually…ever since…ever since the forest.” Harry went on, tripping over himself, still scared, still unsure of all that was inside him, all that he had suffered. “I can’t…I try to connect with people, but no one…no one has liked me like you like me. At all. Since then. People see something broken in me, I think. And…I just…”

 

“Stop.” Draco pressed a hand to his cheek. “Harry, stop. I don’t know what other shitty people have come into your life since then, but I don’t think you’re broken. Not at all. I like you. I care for you. I feel connected to you. Genuinely.”

 

The tiny smile this brought to Harry’s face, to his eyes, was the purest, sweetest thing Draco had ever owned. “I know you do.”

 

A little steadier, Harry explained his dating history, how he would try to date people and a few times he thought things were going well, thought he could trust the person. And then, one by one, they turned around, dumped him, and sold details of his sex life and secret self to the newspapers for five minutes of fame. Everyone, it turned out, just wanted a bite of the famous Harry Potter. None of them wanted to connect with him in any real way. After it happened several times, after never being able to make a relationship stick, and with all the other insecurities and depressive tendencies he had, he started to think it was something wrong with him. That he must be unlovable, if that’s how people wanted to treat him. Draco ground his teeth and clenched his fists while he listened to this, and regretted ever reading any of those salacious old articles. He could kill the bastards who made Harry feel this way.  

 

And then Teddy came to live with him, needed him so much, and that changed everything. It gave him someone to pour all of his love into, gave him something to live for.

 

But now Teddy was leaving. And he was scared that once Draco found all of this out, he would leave too.

    

“Listen to me.” Draco took both of Harry’s hands in his and held on tight, refused to let him budge or pull away. “Listen. You’ve lived with this for years. I’m so sorry for that. I know it’s going to get worse. I know there will be damages that linger the rest of your life. And I know that I cannot save you. I cannot fix this for you. I do think you can save yourself and get some help. But the other thing that I know, that I’m quite sure of? I know all of this, and I like you. I know all of this, and I love you. I know all of this, and I want to be with you. I want to help you through this, if I can. I want to feed you when you forget to eat, and comfort you, and remind you how loved you are every day. Just like I know that someday I might slip again too, I might go through it again, and I know you would want to be by my side. I love you, Harry Potter, and I’m not going anywhere.”

 

A little smile lifted one corner of his mouth, and he chewed on his bottom lip. “You love me… even with all the dark bull shit?”

 

“Even with all the dark bull shit.” It was alright. Harry was alright. They’d gotten through the talk, Harry had shared what he needed to share, and Draco hoped his words would linger and grow meaningful to him. Now, on the edge of it, past the worst of the storm, Draco wanted to make him smile again. Smirking, he teased, “And do you think I can’t handle you with a bit of dark in you? You think I can’t handle your woeful past? Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? Sweetheart, you’ve got nothing on me. I’ll go toe to toe with you on that any day. I would take gold at the darkness Olympics.” With a careful nod, he gestured to the dark mark on his left arm.

 

A competition. That was what Harry needed now, to bring him up out of this despairing and hopeless mood.

 

“I don’t know,” Harry said.

 

So Draco launched. “My father used to lock me in the dungeons when I misbehaved as a child.”

 

 “Oh yeah?” Harry tilted his head to one side, rising to the challenge. “My aunt and uncle abused me. They locked me in a cupboard for years.”

 

Awful. And something they would talk about later. For now, Draco filed it away, stored the rage for another time, and said, “Once, I embarrassed my father so badly during a meeting that when we came home, he killed my favorite horse just to teach me a lesson.”

 

“My mentor manipulated me into being a child soldier and dying in a war.”

 

“Ooof. Yeah, that’s pretty messed up. But consider this: my parents recruited me into joining a terrorist group and sent me on a suicide mission. So…”

 

“At least you had parents! Mine died! And so did my godfather, Teddy’s parents, and a bunch of other people I cared about.”

 

Draco considered this, but argued, “My father got kissed by dementors, and that’s widely considered a fate worse than death.”

 

Some of the teasing faded from his voice on, “I’ve killed people. A few during the war. More after, as an auror.”

 

“I’ve tortured people.”

 

Soft, Harry said, “I once found a classmate crying in a bathroom and instead of helping him, I cut him open.”

 

Draco scoffed and brushed it off. “Bitch deserved it. I once tried to kill a professor, and poisoned and cursed a bunch of people in the process.”

 

Shocked, Harry laughed. “Did you just say bitch deserved it about yourself?”

 

Draco shrugged.

 

They both laughed and scooted closer together to hold each other. Comfortable on the couch in each other’s arms, they snuggled close, and Draco felt safe enough, loved enough, to add one last point. “I tried to kill myself. The year after the war. When the trials were over, I left England for a while. I needed to get away, so I went to America. Spent some time there. But it all followed me. Felt like it was chasing me, like I’d never get away from it. It caught up with me when I was in Washington, near Seattle. I went hiking, all alone, out in Mount Rainier National Park. With the mountains and the lakes. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I sat down under a pine tree and swallowed a bottle of pills. Would have died, but a couple of hikers found me and got me to the hospital. I spent a few weeks in an intensive inpatient therapy program, and then found a therapist and a trauma support group that I went to for almost a year while I lived there. I worry sometimes, that I’ll slip again. But I have been okay, better than okay, for a while now. Hard to believe.”

 

For a long moment that stretched while dust floated through the air in evening sunbeams all around them, Harry thought before he spoke. “I’ve never tried to kill myself. But for a while, a few years ago, I stopped doing all the things I needed to do to keep myself alive because I didn’t much see the point.” He glanced at Draco. “Therapy, huh?”

 

“Yep.” A glimmer of hope lighted in Draco’s chest at that look, at that question. Harry had heard him. Harry would get better and be okay. “You hungry? I’ll make you dinner.”

 

“I don’t think I have any food here.”

 

“You have a few cans of tomato soup. I’ll make you a very gourmet meal: soup, and a cheese toasty.”

 

He did, and they sat on the couch and ate, and then kept sitting there talking for hours, late into the night. They discussed the past, the war, things they had lived through, the state of the world now and how they felt about it, what they hoped for, what they feared.

 

The one thing they didn’t discuss was the fact that Draco was part veela.

 

He thought about saying it. A few times, it was on the tip of his tongue. Harry had shared everything with him, after all. Harry had trusted him and shared this awful secret with him. His secret was not nearly so traumatic, so scary. So why did it catch in his throat with claws every time he started to think about speaking it?

 

He was afraid. He didn’t know how to say it. And besides, this was not the time. This night was abut Harry, about giving him the space and the support he needed to share something important. Draco didn’t need to infringe on that with his own confessions. Especially since putting this secret on par with Harry’s was ineloquent and self-aggrandizing. Beside what Harry was going through, his veela instincts felt small and petty and foolish to worry about. He didn’t want to give them equal footing.

 

Later. He would tell Harry later. Soon.

 

When it was late, when they were tired and wrung out, Harry said, “I still don’t want to have sex with you just yet.”

 

It was so abrupt. Draco laughed. “Alright.”

 

“I’m saying that because I’m about to ask you to stay.” Smiling, Harry stroked his cheek with the backs of his knuckles. “Will you stay the night tonight? We could snog for twenty minutes, and then just cuddle and go to sleep. I want to wake up holding you.”

 

And Draco’s pulse quickened, because to him, that sounded far more intimate than sex. He wanted it. “I would love to.”

 

Hand in hand, he followed Harry up the stairs to the bedroom.

 

 

***

 

 

The moment that Draco cracked his eyes open the next morning to find Harry, sleep rumpled and soft beside him, staring at him from his pillow with a look of enormous love, was the single most perfect moment of Draco’s entire life.

 

Morning light, summer gold and warm, greeted them through Harry’s wide, curtain-less windows, and it set Harry’s bronze skin glowing. As he stretched and blinked and rubbed sleep out of his eyes, Harry watched him with a smile that grew every second, that squinted and crinkled little lines around his green eyes. His hair was tousled and messy, the black locks sticking up and out every which way, and his face looked younger, more vulnerable without his glasses.

 

“Good morning,” Draco mumbled.

 

“Did you sleep okay?” Harry asked as he moved closer and wrapped his body loosely around Draco’s, an arm over his chest, a leg over his thigh. Latched on like a soft and cuddly koala bear, with their t-shirts crumpled and pulling up between them, he nuzzled and pressed tiny good-morning kisses to Draco’s chest and neck. Each quick press of Harry’s lips on his skin gave him a little shiver.

 

He hadn’t brushed his teeth yet and was conscious of that fact. His own hair, with its soft corn silk texture, would no doubt look atrocious, all sticking up in the back where it had rubbed against the pillow. Draco’s appearance took some effort and care to perfect, and he knew he never looked his best, never looked effortlessly nice, first thing in the morning. He was messy and gritty-eyed and probably, to be perfectly frank, a bit smelly. But somehow, none of that mattered to him, and he knew it wouldn’t matter to Harry either. Lazy and slow, too fuzzy to talk, he grunted and nudged Harry’s side until he got the message and kissed Draco properly.

 

The kiss was long and slow, a soft and curious tasting of each other’s unfamiliar morning self. As it went on, languid, Harry ran his hand across Draco’s chest, gripped handfuls of his t-shirt, and began to gently rut his morning hard-on against the side of Draco’s hip. His hand slid lower and slipped under the blankets, and his fingers dragged across Draco’s lower stomach until they stopped, paused, at the line of his boxers.

 

“Can I?” Harry asked, a whisper against Draco’s mouth. “I want to touch you.”

 

His whole body considered it and decided, quite firmly, yes, that would be lovely, but he asked, “I thought you weren’t ready for that?”

 

“I’m not quite ready for all of it,” Harry mumbled as he lifted up against the mattress and reached to kiss Draco more fully. “But I’m more than ready to fool around a bit, if you are too.”

 

“I am,” Draco said with a self-conscious smile as that garden Harry had planted in his chest bloomed open and reached for the sun of him. “But you should know that I’ve never done this before.”

 

“I know.” It was a nonjudgmental, unassuming reassurance. “I figured. What with me being your first kiss, and all.”

 

Draco laughed and spoke while Harry’s hand, eager but willing to wait, massaged his abdomen. “There’s a little more to it than just that. I actually identify as demisexual, which means I don’t experience sexual attraction quite the same way as most people.”

 

Harry listened, said nothing, but encouraged him to continue with bright, thoughtful eyes.

 

It was easy to talk about. Draco had no shame or embarrassment about this part of his identity, and any lingering unease he’d had over being a bit different as teenager had faded as his own sense of self-worth took root and grew throughout his twenties. This was who he was, simply.

 

Why was this so easy to say, to share, when he still froze and withheld the veela aspect of his identity? He should just say it now. I love you. I’m fairly inexperienced and might need a bit of guidance. I’m demisexual. Oh, and also, I’m a veela.

 

None of those things, not even the veela bit, were wrong.

 

Although, sometimes the veela bit felt a little wrong, unsettled and strange inside him. Uneasy. He hadn’t lived with it long enough to figure out how it fit into the shape of his identity. It was fine. But it was more difficult to talk about.

 

It tumbled in Draco’s head, and he tried to let the confession win. But no. This didn’t feel right, either. If he shared I’m demi and also I’m a veela in the same breath, it would be too easy for Harry to misunderstand and conflate the two things, when in fact, it was important to Draco that those were understood as two separate and distinct parts of him. He wasn’t demisexual because he was a veela and only wanted his mate, but that would be an easy jump to make based on stereotypes. Most veela, to his knowledge, based on his research, were hetero allosexual. That research had been especially frustrating, because it was terribly heteronormative and unhelpful for someone who was gay and demi. And also veela. Separately. And it just so happened that those parts of him collided and swirled together, reinforced each other, got tangled up with each other, when it came to Harry.

 

But that was too much to explain right now. He wanted to share, to be seen and known by Harry, but he wasn’t quite comfortable enough with it all himself to be able to properly articulate the differences, the distinctions, the significance. And also, of some import, was the fact that he really rather wanted Harry’s hand to be firmly and unequivocally touching, preferably stroking, his dicks and-or bollocks in the very immediate future. With every light, tantalizing brush of Harry’s fingertips along the elastic of his pants, he wanted it more.

 

So, for now, he skipped the veela part.

 

“It means that I don’t experience sexual attraction until I already have a deep emotional connection with someone. I’ve never been the sort of person who feels hot sexual chemistry right off the bat. I need the emotional foundation first. But I have also had trouble connecting with people, and so…” He shrugged. “It’s really just been you. I’ve loved you for a long time, so I have also wanted you for a long time, but it has recently intensified.”

 

“Meaning…” Harry smirked and teased his fingertip through the fine line of hair below Draco’s belly button, and the touch nearly made him squirm. “You are now feeling some hot sexual chemistry with me?”

 

Draco rolled his eyes and snorted a laugh at how smug, how pleased Harry looked. “Yes. I am now feeling some hot sexual chemistry with you.” He paused, a little nervous. “But it is new for me, and not only the act. Even just feeling it, this fully, is new for me. I just want to…I don’t know. Mitigate expectations, I suppose? I’ve always wanted you, but now that I’m actually with you, I feel…passionate. Sexy. When I’m with you, I don’t just want you; I want you desperately. But I don’t know much. I don’t know how it will affect me. I don’t know how it will be long term. I don’t know that my libido will ever quite match yours. I don’t know.”

 

At the end of it, all Harry said was, “Okay.” And then he pressed a kiss to Draco’s cheekbone. His hand stayed where it was.

 

“Okay? That’s all you have to say?”

 

“No, that’s not all I have to say. I was just giving you a minute, you brat.” He laughed and kissed Draco’s nose, and then chin, and then mouth. Then, he pulled back. Still sleepy and half desperate, Draco nearly chased him. “The first thing I should say is that we don’t have to have sex, ever at all. I shouldn’t have assumed you would want to.”

 

Tender and emotional, but also quite horny, Draco opened his mouth to protest.

 

“And I know that’s not what you’re telling me,” Harry said quickly, laughter in his eyes. His fingers trailed a little lower and plucked just barely under the elastic of Draco’s pants. “I know you’re telling me that you do want to. But all I mean is, there is no need for you to mitigate expectations.” He sat up a little higher, lifted himself on his other elbow, and he leaned over Draco with more of his weight. “But what I’m hearing you say is that you might not know everything, but you do know that you want me to touch you. To make you come. Is that right?”

 

Breathless and burning, Draco nodded.

 

Harry, the cheeky bastard, smirked and licked his lips. “Right now?”

 

In answer, Draco whined and rolled his hips to push the tip of his swollen cock against Harry’s clever fingers.

 

That was more than enough confirmation, and Harry took to the task with urgency and care. They kissed deeply, sweetly, while Harry’s hand slid inside his pants and wrapped around his length. Draco gasped at that first contact, that first tight grip and slide, but felt too good to be embarrassed. His whole body tensed and rocked into the touch, and his veela instincts sent extra little tingling bursts of pleasure up and down his spine that had him writhing and digging his heels into the mattress to get better leverage. He threw his head back, panted while he gazed up at Harry’s dusty ceiling, and laughed. “Fuck, that feels good.”

 

Chuckling, eyes bright and pupils blown wide, Harry squeezed tighter and released, pulsed his grip, as he rubbed his thumb in tight circles through the moisture leaking out of Draco’s tip. “Should I be offended that you sound so surprised?”

 

“No,” Draco groaned when Harry dipped the edge of his thumb into the slit. Heavy, disoriented, he urged his arms to move, move, dammit, and he scrambled to wiggle his own hand down between their bodies, where Harry’s stiff cock rocked against his leg. He wanted to get at Harry. Needed to. To return the favor. Only fair. Polite, really, and Malfoys were nothing without their good manners. But the tangle of sheets blocked him, thwarted him, and Harry’s body was pressed too tight to his. “You should fucking move, though.”

 

Harry laughed and stroked him quicker, his breath going thin. “Bossy.” He kissed Draco. “Should have known you’d be bossy.”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Draco gasped. “You like it.”    

 

“Yeah. I do.” Swiftly, Harry grabbed Draco’s far hip and heaved, yanked and rolled until he had flipped them both, and Draco tumbled on top of him. He kicked at the blankets and sheets to get them away and lifted his hips so they could tug his boxers down over the swell of his arse, of his cock. Harry did the same to his own, shucked them halfway off, got both of them to a state of partial undress, with shirts rucked up their chests and pants trapped halfway down their thighs, but that was more than enough for now. While Harry kissed him, gazed up at him with burning, needy love, and laughter, and joy all glinting in his eyes, Draco took his prick in hand and squeezed it.

 

Harry groaned low in his throat and shifted until he could get his own hand in between them. He pushed Draco’s out of the way and wrapped a loose fist around both of their cocks, pressed them together, and Draco nearly collapsed on top of him at that contact. The hot, silky slide of them against each other was too much, too perfect, and he rocked into Harry’s hand for more.

 

Harry kissed him and dug his other fingers into the meat of Draco’s arse to urge him on. “Fuck. Yeah. That’s it. Just like that.”

 

They rocked and rutted together, fucked against each other slow and languid, each stroke a warm and perfect good morning, kissing and breathing each other’s names.

 

Harry came first. With a groan that tore from deep within him, his face screwed up in gorgeous tension that yielded to surrender, his cock throbbed against Draco’s and shot hot come onto their stomachs. On top of him, watching it happen, Draco felt Harry’s orgasm everywhere. His hips rocked forward, his chest opened, his legs kicked. Harry Potter, sleepy and soft and wracked with whole-body pleasure beneath him, was the most perfect fucking thing Draco had ever seen.

 

He came too, right then, as Harry was finishing, his come gushing out of him in a heady rush, and he collapsed. Harry held him while they both caught their breath.

 

He was shaken. Dizzy with it. But in a normal way, his head clear. No weird veela fog, thank goodness. This morning was perfect, and he didn’t want to miss a second of it because his instincts were going too haywire to focus.

 

When he lifted up, supported himself, Harry beamed up at him, all squinty and happy. “Good morning.”

 

Draco rolled off of him, then took Harry’s hand and held it carefully in his own. With his cock hanging out and going soft, with Harry half naked and sleepy and covered in come beside him, he laid on his back, gazed up at the ceiling, and laughed.

Chapter Text

While Harry stood at the bottom of the stairs, clutching the bannister so tight he could snap it in two, feeling rather like he himself was about to be snapped in two, Teddy thundered around above him.

 

His footsteps were heavy and fast. Frantic. He ran from one side of his bedroom to the other. Tripped. Threw something to the floor with a crash that sent dust shaking through the ceiling below.

 

All Harry could think was how much he would miss the noise, the chaos of his godson. For years, they had shared space and home and lives. But today was the day. September first. After today, this house would be unbearably quiet.

 

If they made the train, that was.

 

Maybe he should just stand here, listen for a while, and let this fall apart. Maybe if Teddy missed the train…

 

Shame prickled the backs of his eyes, his throat. No. He couldn’t do that to Teddy, couldn’t change this, couldn’t steal a few more hours.

 

It was time.

 

“Come on, cub!” He shouted up the stairs, his voice echoing through the house. “We’re going to be late!”

 

Another thud. “I can’t find Fiona’s carrier!”

 

Harry glanced at the pile by the door. Teddy’s trunk was brand new and packed full of all of his school supplies, his clothes, his books, his Wheezes pranks, a few framed photos, a few toys, and stuck on top, a present from Harry: a giant box of assorted chocolates. Some for him to eat, and some to share with the new friends he would make.

 

For a while, he had thought about gifting Teddy the Marauder’s Map and his invisibility cloak. It seemed only right, after all, that the treasures their fathers had used together should carry on with Teddy. Hermione had talked him out of it, though, and he had to agree with her reasoning. Year one, day one was a bit too soon. He would give Teddy at least the first semester to get used to the castle and his classes before he started teaching him how to sneak through secret passages and spy on professors.

 

He had everything he needed. And Fiona’s carrier was right on top of the trunk.

 

“It’s down here!”

 

“Thank Merlin!” A moment later, Teddy came stomping down the stairs, Fiona dangling in his arms. He wore new clothes, a nice polo shirt with a smart little collar, and a stylish pair of jeans, with shiny new trainers. The shirt was teal, and it perfectly matched his hair. The outfit was very muggle, and he would soon switch to a uniform full time anyway, so it didn’t really matter. But Harry remembered how he had been sent off to school with nothing but a bunch of stained, baggy hand-me-downs, and he panicked and bought him a bunch of new things that he didn’t actually need.

 

Once Fiona was in her carrier, Harry hesitated. Everything inside him screamed, sobbed, shouted. He smiled and picked up Teddy’s trunk. “Come on! Let’s get you to Hogwarts!”

 

Step by step, one thing at a time, Harry got through it. The cab ride. The walk through the crowds at King’s Cross. Laughing and smiling fondly as Teddy pushed his luggage cart and ran through the wall to Platform 9¾ for the first time. And then, there it was. Dark red and looming, the Hogwarts Express stood in the station and billowed clouds of white, gauzy steam while it whistled and hissed. All around them, happy families and laughing children hugged and greeted each other, pushed their luggage, ran after their pets. Teddy grinned and watched it all with such a look of wide-eyed wonder that Harry couldn’t help but be happy for him.

 

Brimming with a strange and swirling mix of emotions, he wrapped an arm around Teddy’s shoulders and tugged him to his side. “You ready?”

 

Teddy smiled up at him. “I think so!”

 

“You are. You’re going to be brilliant.” Harry cleared his throat. He wouldn’t cry here. Not on the platform, not with all these people watching and trying to sneak glances at him. Not with Teddy beaming so happily.

 

He crouched down to check on Fiona, who peered out of the netting of her carrier with wide, round eyes as she watched all the activity. He stuck his finger in to give her a farewell chin scratch. “You take good care of him, yeah?” he murmured. As she nuzzled her cheeks against his finger, he thought she understood.

 

He stood, took a deep breath, and turned back to Teddy. “And you. You be safe. Be brave. Have fun. Work hard and do your homework.” Fuck, he couldn’t do this. He choked up. Tears rose to his eyes and shook and tightened his voice. He couldn’t help it. But he also didn’t stop, didn’t hide, didn’t turn away and pretend everything was ok, because Teddy’s eyes glistened too, and he sniffed even thought he was smiling. “Write to me, please. As often as you like. But most important, just…” He cleared his throat, but it didn’t help much. “Just always remember how much I love you.”

 

In a teal and teary flash, Teddy flung himself at Harry and threw his arms around him. Muffled and wet, into Harry’s shirt, he said, “I love you too, Harry. I’m going to miss you.”

 

“I’m going to miss you too. So much.” He hugged Teddy tighter and felt like he was clinging to a life raft in the middle of a deep and swallowing sea. “Your mum and dad and gran would be so happy for you, so proud of you. And I am too. Don’t forget it.”

 

Somehow, through the grace of some strength he didn’t think he possessed, Harry let go. He rubbed his thumb to wipe away the little bit of moisture on Teddy’s cheeks. And he smiled. “Alright, cub. I love you, but it’s time to go. You’ve got a sorting to get to.”

 

With the whole world ahead of him, happy and loved, Teddy got on the train.

 

Harry stood on the platform and waved until it pulled out of the station, until he was gone.

 

It was just school. I was a separation of just four months, and then Teddy would be home for Christmas.

 

But it didn’t feel like that. It felt the end of his world. It felt like the very heart of him had collapsed and tightened into a black hole, sucking and dark enough to destroy the whole universe around him.

 

If felt like maybe he should just run and jump in front of the fucking train, because that would surely be less painful than this.

 

Instead, he stayed rooted to the platform and choked back the fucking tears he swore he wouldn’t cry. They leaked from his eyes, and, angry at himself, he wiped them away. People all around him. Watching him. Judging him, when they couldn’t possibly understand. He needed to get out of here.

 

“First year is always the hardest.” A tall, thin witch, middle-aged and with a bit of gray at the temples of her black hair, smiled kindly and did not look at him as she handed him a handkerchief. Like him, she stared into the distance at the shrinking red line of the train, with tears caught in her eyelashes.

 

Hesitant, he took the handkerchief with a nod of thanks and used it to discretely wipe at his eyes under his glasses. He handed it back.

 

“Keep it, dear. You’ll need it for the rest of the day.” She glanced at him and raised an eyebrow, smiled ruefully. “This is my third first year drop off. I’m an old hat.”

 

He went home.

 

And just as he feared, the house was still and silent, oppressively quiet. The silence screamed that he was alone.

 

This must have been what it was like for Sirius. Alone with the dust. With the silence.

 

He should call someone. Ron and Hermione had offered to come with him. Draco had offered to meet him here after it was done. All of them had offered him a place to stay tonight.

 

He had turned them all down, brushed them all off, pushed them all away. This was his burden. He needed to deal with this. He needed to face the lonely quiet of it, the crushing emptiness in the house and in him. If he couldn’t get through one night, how could he possibly get through the next four months? Through the next seven years?

 

Empty, dull, aching, he trudged up the creaking steps and made his way to Teddy’s bedroom. He sank onto the edge of the bed and dug his fingers into the fabric of the quidditch-themed quilt, little snitches zooming around him.

 

It took a long time for the tears to even come. He was too dead inside. Thoughtless, drifting, he stared at the scattered action figures on the floor and saw nothing.

 

Almost.

 

One thought did cut through the fog. Like a patronus.

 

Draco.

 

He was aching, hurting, dying. And he wanted Draco.

 

When he realized it, when he allowed himself to think it, it breathed a little life back into him. Then he did cry. He felt.

 

It was happening. He was crumbling up inside, turning to dust, collapsing in on himself just like he knew he would. Just like he told Draco he would. Draco knew. Draco knew the dark parts that lurked inside him. And Draco still wanted him. Draco still wanted to be with him, beside him.

 

How would he get through this? The next four months? The next seven years? He wasn’t sure, but he suddenly knew with vicious, cutting certainty that it would not be by rotting alone in a rotting house. Ron and Hermione had both seen, had tried to encourage him to reach out to them. But he had to want to. He had to want to get better.

 

And for the first time in a while, he did. He remembered that he did. He remembered why.

 

He wanted to get better for Ron and Hermione, for Rosie and Hugo. For the Weasleys. For Teddy. For himself.

 

He had forgotten that he wanted that.

 

Draco had reminded him.

 

He wanted to get through this, and he would do it, not by sitting alone and miserable, but by letting Draco stand beside him through it.

 

He went to the loo and washed his face, splashed himself with cold water, and ignored the dirty towels Teddy had left on the floor. Then, calm and ready, he went to the floo.

 

Draco answered the call quickly, like maybe he’d been waiting near the fireplace just in case. “Harry. How are you?”

 

“Not great,” he said. “Listen, I was wrong when I said I didn’t want you with me today. I’m having a hard time, and I would really like to be next to you.”

 

“Of course.” Draco nodded. “I’ll come over right now.”

 

“Actually. This house is really fucking depressing right now. I need a little space from it. Would you mind if I spent the night with you tonight?”

 

Warm and sweet, Draco smiled. “Come through whenever you’re ready.”

 

“Okay.” As he stared at the lines of Draco’s sharp and lovely face, distorted by the flickering flames, he smiled too. “Let me grab some things, and then I’ll be right there.”

 

“I’ll be waiting.”

 

 

***

 

 

Wretched and anxious, Draco paced back and forth across the foyer, hands wringing, until finally Harry stepped through the floo.

 

He was on him in a second and pulled him into a hug, which Harry melted into and gratefully returned. “How are you?”

 

Harry paused and waited a long moment before he answered. “Not good. Could be worse, though. I’m glad I’m here. It doesn’t seem so impossible to get through when I’m with you.”

 

“That’s what I’m here for,” Draco said as he scratched his fingers through the hair at the nape of Harry’s neck. “I make the impossible possible. I’m quite magical like that.”

 

Silently, nothing but a shake of his chest against Draco’s, Harry laughed.

 

Draco pulled away just far enough to get a good look at Harry’s face. He looked beautiful and sad, worn thin by the heavy sadness he carried.

 

Feed him, the veela instincts whispered. He didn’t need them to tell him anything, though. Already, he knew.

 

“Have you eaten today? Anything?” Draco asked, even though he knew the answer was no.

 

Harry shook his head and looked disappointed with himself. “No. I couldn’t this morning. Sorry. I--”

 

“Don’t apologize. But now it’s almost dinner time, and you need to eat something.” He gripped Harry’s hand and guided him out of the foyer. “Come on, Potter. I’ll show you where the real magic happens around here.”

 

While they walked the long, carpeted hallways lined with portraits, across the banquet hall and parlor, Harry looked up and down the walls, curious. “It looks nothing like I remember.”

 

“Mother and I were about ready to burn the place down after the war,” Draco said matter-of-factly. “Instead, we undertook a massive redecorating effort. No room went unchanged. It’s nice now, isn’t it?”

 

Harry nodded and kept looking.

 

In the kitchen, Draco flung the door open with a dramatic sweep of his arm. “Here we are. This is where I made you all those fabulous meals you went and banished.”

 

Sheepish, Harry smiled. “I didn’t banish all of them.”

 

While Harry sat on a stool at the counter, Draco let Mipsy know that the two of them would make their own light meal and didn’t need her to do dinner. Then, she stayed to chat politely with Harry while Draco put something together for them.

 

What to make, though? Nothing too heavy. Something simple and clean. Something Harry wouldn’t struggle to eat. As he searched the pantry, with the sounds of Harry and Mipsy talking quietly behind him, his eye caught on a basket of sweet potatoes.

 

And he laughed.

 

Alright, yes, that would do it.

 

He grabbed a few, chopped them, threw them into a pot of boiling water, and cooked them until they were soft. Then he strained the water. Now, for spices. Lots of them. Good ones, too. Nice quality. None of the cheap, under-seasoned flavors they served at the Ministry. Fresh ginger, and cumin, and red pepper flakes. Then, some chopped onion, some garlic. Milk. Chicken stock. Maybe a bit more seasoning…

 

With his wand, he blasted the mixture and pureed it until it was smooth and creamy. No grit, no chunks. Perfect.

 

There it was: the sweet potato soup he had tried and failed to give Harry all the way back at the very beginning of this mess. This one would be much better than the version in the canteen. This one, Draco would not throw at him.

 

A terribly low bar, perhaps, but he still thought Harry would enjoy the meal.

 

He ladled it into bowls, toasted some bread, and set everything on a serving tray. “Mipsy, could you please get this to my room for us?”

 

She agreed, and wished Harry a nice evening before she disappeared with a pop.

 

“Come on,” Draco said as he took Harry’s hand once more. “Let’s go shut ourselves in my room and not talk to anyone else for the rest of the night.”

 

“Love that plan.”

 

In his bedroom, Harry again looked around like he was in a museum. Head tilted up and then down, he gave every corner an interested glance, and Draco stood to the side and gauged his reaction. Everything seemed to his liking. He considered the white walls, the high ceilings with their subtle crown molding, the dark shiny wood of the floors, the heavy four-poster bed with its gauzy hangings and silky blue blankets. “This is nice,” he said. “Really nice.”

 

It pleased Draco inexplicably, and he murmured, “I’m glad you like it. Make yourself at home.”

 

At the little table in his sitting area, the tray of food waited and filled the room with a spicy, sweet aroma. He guided Harry over to it and sat him down. “Bon appétit, love. And this time, I promise not to throw it at you.”

 

Harry stared at the bowl of soup Draco placed in front of him, and comprehension dawned on him slowly. He squished his eyes shut and shook with laughter. “Thanks. Are you ever going to tell me what the hell that was about?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Draco teased, coy, while he sat down. “I think you like me with a little mystery, don’t you? To keep you on your toes?”

 

“Fine.” Harry laughed and shook his head as he picked up a spoon. “Don’t tell me.”

 

“I will,” Draco promised. Not now, though. Sweet Circe, not now. Not today, not while Harry was going through this, not while he need Draco to focus on him and keep him steady. He didn’t need to bring up that nonsense today and detract from Harry’s pain. “Not today, though. It’s silly, really, and we don’t need be bothered with it right now.”

 

When Harry took his first bite, he closed his eyes and leaned back with a little grunt of approval. “Damn. That’s good. Way better than what they make at work.”

 

And that pleased Draco, too.

 

When they had finished—and Harry did finish, Draco noticed, he did eat the whole bowl—they sat side by side on the bed. For hours, they flopped around. Laid on their stomachs. Snuggled. Talked about any and every meandering thing that came to mind to keep Harry distracted. Draco teased him, but not too much, the right amount to get him laughing. Sharp, but not too sharp. Just the way Harry liked.

 

It was late evening when the owl pecked at his window, and he hopped up to let it in. A large brown owl swooped inside and bee-lined straight for Harry. Nervous, hands shaking, he untied the letter from the owl’s patient leg and ripped open the seal. Draco froze and watched his face while he read, hesitant and on edge, wondering if something had gone wrong.

 

As Harry read, a smile cracked his face. “It’s Teddy,” he said. “He sorted Hufflepuff.”

 

“Of course he did!” Draco clapped his hands dramatically, all at once happy and terribly relieved, and he shouted, “Of course! He’s the huffliest little huff who ever did puff! Well done, Teddy!”

 

He ran to his desk to get Harry parchment and a quill so he could write a letter back, while Harry read highlights from the letter. “He says the feast was amazing even though there was no curry, and that everyone has been really nice. He’s going to have tea with Hagrid after his morning classes on Monday. The boys in his dorm room seem great, and they all really like his hair. Fiona is doing well.” Loud and big, Harry laughed and pinned Draco with a bemused look. “He says he did his slender loris impression at the dinner table and made a bunch of new friends with it.”

 

“Ugh.” Draco shuddered and laughed. “That’s horrifying. But it sounds wonderful. Tell him congratulations for me.”

 

While Harry scribbled back a note, Draco took care of the owl and fed it a few treats from the box on his dresser. They tied the return letter to its leg and stood together in the warm breeze of the open window to watch it fly off into the velvety indigo of the night sky.

 

“He’ll be alright.” Draco kissed the side of his head. “And so will you.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry nodded. “I think maybe I will be.”

 

They stood that way, with their arms around each other and the stars bright above, for a long moment.

 

While the wind toyed with his dark hair, Harry turned and looked at Draco, drank in the sight of him, and the corner of his mouth lifted. He stroked Draco’s jaw with his knuckles, tugged gently at his bottom lip with this thumb. “I want you. Need you.”  

 

Draco’s lips parted and heat pooled in his core at the husky whisper. “Yes, I thought perhaps you might.”

 

“Can we?” Harry asked as he took Draco by the hips and tugged them together. “Would you be ready?”

 

“Definitely.” Draco nodded, but then lifted a finger to press against Harry’s lips and intercept his kiss. “On one condition. I know this is a bad day for you, and I know you need comforting. I want to give that to you. But I don’t want our first time to be about only that, about you using the physical to distract yourself. If that’s what it is, I would prefer to wait until you can be fully present with me.”

 

“That’s not what it’s about.” With both hands, Harry cupped his face and held him with great reverence and care. “I need to be close to you. As close as possible. And while we’re together, I know I’ll think of nothing but you. I don’t want to think of anything but you.”

 

“Well then. In that case…” As he slipped out of Harry’s loving hold and took a step back, he quirked an eyebrow and ran hungry eyes up and down his body. “Strip, Potter.”

 

Harry’s eyes glinted and glued to him, watching his every move, while he smirked and flicked open the top button of his shirt. Then the next one. And the next. Down in a line until it hung loose around his chest.

 

Still, Harry stared. His mouth fell open and he chewed on his lip.

 

He unbuckled his belt. Slid down the zip of his trousers. Untucked his shirt. And laughed to himself at Harry’s stunned and obvious appreciation. “Plan on joining me? Or should I expect to pleasure myself tonight?”

 

“I wouldn’t mind watching that. Want me to get you’re a courgette?”

 

He laughed as he took off his shirt, wadded it up, and threw it. “Fuck you, Harry.”

 

Quick on his feet, with those good reflexes, he snatched the shirt before it smacked him in the face and laid it down on the dresser. Then, while still watching Draco’s every move, he yanked his own t-shirt over his head.

 

Harry’s chest was a godly thing. Perfect bronze skin, perfect scattering of curly black hair, perfect dusky pink nipples, perfect lean muscles. Draco wanted all of it. He licked his lips. Harry noticed and matched his teasing with a smirk of his own as he unbuttoned his jeans. Each piece of clothing they stripped was a quiet, edgy dare. Nearly there, still teasing, waiting, letting the tension grow and linger, they stood six feet apart and shucked off their trousers. Harry’s cock stood tall and proud, tenting the front of his boxers. So did Draco’s. He pinned Harry with his eyes and slid his hands down the front of his body, slow and steady, as he slipped off his pants first.

 

Fully naked, he straightened up and reminded himself to breathe while Harry stared at him, ate him alive with his gaze. Then, finally, Harry took his own pants off and allowed Draco a moment to do the same. Electricity crackled between them, locked them together in a slow and mounting tension while they both stared, and smirked, and admired each other with hungry looks. Draco burned with it, sizzled. The attention from Harry was so heavy, so full, that every brush of his eyes felt like physical contact. Draco bit his lip, licked it, panting lightly, aware of Harry watching his tongue.

 

Then, he turned…

 

And walked away.

 

He laughed to himself as, behind him, he heard a tense huff of air leave Harry in a surprised rush. He could leap on him. Could grab him and touch him and kiss him senseless right away.

 

But it would be more fun to take their time. It would be more fun to keep Harry drooling, keep him guessing.

 

Eager, Harry followed him across the room and watched as he perched himself on the bed, arranged the pillows against the headboard, and then slid back to sit and recline against them. Draco patted the spot next to him with an air of innocence. “Care to join me?”

 

Harry’s eyes stayed locked on him as he climbed up and lounged beside him against the pillows.

 

“See something you like?” Draco asked.

 

Very sincere, lustful, Harry nodded.

 

“Would you care to touch?”

 

Thoughtful, Harry considered Draco’s body while he ran a single fingertip in a line along his sternum. The feather-light touch made him gasp. He shrugged and pouted. “I don’t know. I’m happy to wait for you to do that.”

 

“Oh, so you plan on letting the innocent virgin do all the work?” Draco laughed, but he rather liked the idea. A lot. It excited him. So before Harry could see it coming, he turned, threw his leg over, and straddled Harry’s lap while he stayed propped up against the headboard. “Like that?”

 

“Fuck,” was all Harry could say.

 

“That’s the idea.” He deepened the spread of his thighs, lowered himself more fully onto Harry’s lap, and shivered with heightened awareness at the sensitive brush of Harry’s hair on his bollocks. He rocked his hips. The hard rod of Harry’s cock fit snug and low in the crease of his arse, and it grazed against his hole as he worked it, as he rocked his own aching prick against the soft skin of Harry’s belly. With a curl of his spine, he braced his hands on either side of the pillow and leaned down to kiss Harry with hot, wet licks of tongue. Everywhere Harry’s hands wandered left comet trails of glittering heat on the surface of his skin. Draco moaned. Glowed. And shamelessly rubbed himself, rubbed Harry, in slow, deep rolls of his hips.

 

He could come like this. Just like this. Merlin, it wouldn’t even take long.

 

That would not do. So he whispered, “How do you want it?”

 

Fingers dug into his ribcage, hard enough to bruise, as Harry sat up a little higher and lifted him. Wrapped his strong arms around his back. Kissed him. Thrust up against him. “Like this. Just like this. But as deep inside of you as I can fucking get.”

 

God, yes. Yes, yes, yes. That. He wanted that. Fuck, he wanted that. He groaned and rocked and burned.

 

And then shook himself, because if he kept up like this he would spill before Harry even got so much as a finger in him, let alone a cock. He took a breath, slowed down, and leaned back to look at Harry. He looked just as affected, drowsy and dazed with arousal, but a smile played on his lips, in his eyes.

 

Good. Draco kissed him. “What are you waiting for, then?”

 

Wicked, with bite, Harry grinned. “There’s something else I want first.”

 

“Oh?”  

 

“Can you guess? Do you know?”

 

Draco shook his head.

 

“Come on now, Draco!” Harry tutted and clicked his tongue, teasing. “You’ve been so good at knowing exactly when I’m hungry, knowing exactly what I want to eat.”

 

Laugher and shock, a thrill, buzzed through him as he understood. “Ah! But of course! Your favorite meal.”

 

“Mm-hmm.” Harry nodded and licked his lips as he gripped and massaged Draco’s arse cheeks with both hands. “Before I fuck you, I’m going to devour your arse.” He gave it a playful little smack. “Wouldn’t mind getting a taste of your cock, either.”

 

Draco nodded. “Naturally. An appetizer is an important part of any formal meal.”

 

Amused, charmed by him, Harry laughed. And then he lifted up, heaved, and tossed Draco back on the mattress. With an undignified squawk, Draco landed on his back in a puddle of blankets and soft pillows. Cackling laugher, he shouted, “Dammit, Harry! You fucking brute!”

 

Harry, grinning, ignored him and set to work sucking messy kisses all down Draco’s chest and sides and stomach that quickly had him moaning. It was a rapid-fire attack, an onslaught of kisses and licks and sucking, gentle bites, and Draco was helpless to do anything but moan and lift into it. A moment later, when Harry went for his cock with that same unhesitating urgency, Draco threw his head back and did everything he could not to shove himself down the back of Harry’s hot, wet throat.

 

Once he had Draco boneless and writhing, he swirled his tongue a few more times, sucked, and pulled off of Draco’s cock with a wet pop. His lips were deep pink and swollen, and the look in his eye had gone from hungry to starving. It shivered through Draco, set his cock throbbing and his hole fluttering. Harry wiped at his chin with the back of his hand as he lifted up onto his knees. With a little smack on the meat of Draco’s thigh, he urged, “Turn over.”

 

Quivering, with his arms shaking under his weight, Draco did.

 

With demanding fingers, Harry grabbed him by the hips and tugged him into the position he wanted: Draco, with his legs bent and wide-spread beneath him, his arse perched up in the air. “Okay?” Harry asked.

 

“Merlin, yes.”

 

He wasted no time. After the quick blast of a cleaning charm tingled across his nether regions, hot breath caressed Draco’s skin. Harry kissed, sucked, bit at his cheeks, and then groaned as he pulled them apart and plunged his face into Draco’s crease.

 

“Oh, fuck! Oh, Christ, Harry!” He moaned and rocked to press back into the touch as Harry held his hips in place and licked hot, firm stripes up and over his hole.

 

As promised, Harry completely fucking devoured him. Wrecked him.

 

While Harry sucked and mouthed at his hole, teased his rim with little nips of teeth that he quickly soothed with the flat of his tongue, Draco sank into the mattress and moaned and cried and begged, though he wasn’t entirely sure what for. More. Just more. More of Harry. More of everything. And Harry gave it to him. He dug his face into Draco’s arse and ate hungrily, groaning with pleasure, like it was the best fucking meal of his life. When his tongue firmed to a point and pressed inside, licked and wriggled into Draco’s opening, Draco let out a high, keeling whine and rocked his hips to press his arse back onto Harry, his cock forward into the pillows. 

 

When he’d eaten his fill of Draco’s hole, Harry conjured lube and pressed in with his fingers, teased Draco open until he was loose and wet.  

 

Then, and only then, did he pause to let them both catch their breath.

 

And thank Merlin for that, because Draco was nearly out of his mind.

 

Considerate and gentle, Harry lifted Draco and helped him stretch his legs and back. He asked, with a kind smile, “Doing alright so far? Not too much?”

 

While Draco’s mind swirled in lazy, luxurious whirls, dizzy and warm and dreamy, he looked Harry’s body up and down and nodded. “I’m doing very well. How about yourself?”

 

“Good. Very good.” Harry laughed as he walked to Draco on his knees and pressed their bodies flat together. So perfectly, they fit together. He kissed him. Brushed his hair back off his forehead. “You are so incredible.”

 

“You’re not half bad yourself,” Draco said and kissed him again while he wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders and let them rest. “Did you get your fill?”

 

Smiling, smug, Harry nodded.

 

Curious, he asked, “Would you let me do that to you someday?”

 

“Oh, God yeah.” Harry gripped Draco’s waist tighter, rocked and swayed against him. “You promise to make those pretty little noises again, and you can do whatever the fuck you want to me.”

 

“Hm.” Draco considered this. “That’s a good bargain. But for now, I think your cock has somewhere to be.”

 

“Quite right.” Cool air shivered up Draco’s chest as Harry pulled away. He turned and sat at the top of the bed, his back relaxed against the headboard, his cock thick and dripping on his stomach. He conjured more lube and stroked it onto himself while Draco watched, pulse quickening again. “Come here.”

 

Draco straddled him, like before. Kissed him. Breathed.

 

He braced his arms on the headboard as Harry gripped the base of his own cock and lined it up with Draco’s entrance. “That’s it,” Draco whispered. “Right there.”

 

Tense and heady, Harry held himself still while Draco rocked and wriggled and worked his hips to take Harry in. He relaxed and lowered, let the spongy head of Harry’s cock press into him, and then took him all, took every thick, hot inch of him, in a slow, tight slide.

 

They both groaned.

 

Uncomfortably full, as his rim burned with stinging pain, Draco shut his eyes and breathed in deep to relax into the feeling. Harry stayed still, said nothing, just stared at Draco with wonder and held his ribs with loving, soothing hands.

 

Veela senses guided him and he listened to them, did as his instincts advised. He adjusted. His core unclenched. And within a moment, the unbearable stretch of Harry’s cock inside him shifted on a knife’s edge, from discomfort to intoxicating fullness.

 

Oh, fuck, that was good.

 

He shifted, grunted a little, and shook his head. “Goodness, this feels much different than a courgette.”

 

Disbelieving, Harry barked a laugh and dug his fingers tighter into Draco’s sides. “Are you okay?”

 

“Better than.” He rolled his hips. Oh, and that was better still. His eyes sank shut and his mouth dropped open, slack and panting. With strong arms, Harry helped lift and guide him as he worked himself up and down on his cock. His head fell forward against Harry’s forehead. “Fuck.”

 

They built a slow pace together, and Draco rocked his hips at an angle that let him rub his aching, leaking cock against Harry. Harry let him for a while, but then slid in between their bodies with his hand and stroked Draco in pace with their fucking.

 

He let Draco take the lead, let him set the pace, let him seek out and find his own pleasure. It was better, headier, more dizzying that Draco could have imagined. As he lifted and bounced and flexed, he wriggled and maneuvered and ground down in just the right way, so that Harry’s cock caught on his prostate and sent heat flaring through him. It was perfect. Mind-altering. Life-altering. And he was gone, lost to it, chasing after every burning, loving feeling Harry gave him.

 

“God, yes,” Harry whispered. “So good. That’s so good, Draco.”

 

Draco kissed him. Gazed into his eyes, and poured as much love and affection and promise as he could into the look, and saw it returned ten-fold.

 

“Fuck. So good, sweetheart. So good.”

 

He was close. All of it was building up in him, and he rocked a little faster, a little harder into Harry’s fist, onto Harry’s cock, as he reached for orgasm. It swelled. His eyes sank shut. His whole body was alive, alight, engaged. Every cell, every nerve, electrified. Nothing else existed, nothing else mattered, but the world of his body and Harry’s, golden and glowing. He moaned, his mouth gone slack, and he braced both hands on Harry’s shoulders.

 

“Draco.”

 

So close. He was so close, he could feel it everywhere. Barely even lifting anymore, whimpering with need, he ground his hips back and forth so Harry’s cock rubbed the inside of him until he got what he needed.

 

“Draco?”

 

Oh, fuck, yes! Yes, yes, there! That was it! His orgasm burned through his whole body, ripped at his spine and his shoulder blades, rocked every muscle in his stomach and legs and chest, and it was fire and heat and Harry, and perfect, fucking perfect. He cried out, let his whole body ride it, and shot spurts of come onto Harry’s damp, glistening chest, and—

 

“Draco! Jesus Christ! What the fuck?”

 

Dazed and reeling, too hot, too full, Draco fell still at the sound of panic in Harry’s voice. Panic, and anger.

 

No. That wasn’t right. Couldn’t be right. Not when they were like this.

 

He opened his eyes, blinked, and struggled to swallow down a throat that had suddenly gone bone dry. Careful, legs quivering, he leaned back to look at Harry.

 

His green eyes had gone cold with a glint of vicious, shaking rage. The line of his jaw, the muscles in his cheeks clenched tight. His whole body tensed and held very, painfully still. One of his hands remained wrapped around Draco’s softening cock, but he slowly loosened his grip and moved it away. And he stared, not at Draco, but at a spot just behind him. Just over his shoulder.

 

“Harry, what…? What’s wrong?” The words all caught in his throat, and the burn of his desire quickly extinguished when he shifted…and felt…something. Something heavy, unwieldy. Something that shouldn’t be there. On his back. Weighing down his back. His back, which burned. Hurt. A drop of something hot and wet slid down his spine. In his peripheral vision, he caught a glimpse of white that hadn’t been there a moment before. “No.”

 

He turned. And found wings.

 

Wings.

 

He had sprouted, quite suddenly and with no warning, a pair of mother fucking veela wings. Smooth arcs and longer than the span of his arms, they were covered in soft, ivory feathers.

 

“No. No, no, no!” Panic seized him, horror, fear. His hands shook. His whole body trembled. Tears burst from his eyes. He pressed a hand to his mouth and his core heaved, sickened and retching, as he twisted in a sob.

 

And still, Harry stared icy cold anger.

 

“I can explain. Harry, please, I--”

 

Low and dangerous, Harry whispered, “Get the fuck off of me.” 

 

He did, though his arse throbbed with the sudden emptiness, though his legs shook too hard to hold his weight; his weight, which was all wrong, wobbly, too heavy with the new wings. “Please. Harry, let me explain. Let me--”

 

Harry didn’t listen. Harry didn’t look at him. Harry didn’t even stop to put his clothes back on. While Draco kneeled on the bed and cried, shook, and panicked over what had happened, over what was happening to him, over what was happening to them, Harry grabbed his wand and ripped a sheet off the bed.

 

He wrapped it around himself as he stormed out of the room.

 

And left Draco. Alone. In tears. In pain.

 

Too shocked and scared to do anything else, Draco bent forward over his knees and sobbed while his new wings fluttered and oozed blood down his back.

 

 

***

 

 

That fucking bastard. That son of a bitch. Fucking, fuck, fuck, fuck!

 

Harry stopped and kicked hard against the wall of the hallway. The impact burst through him and might have broken his toes. Furious, shaking with it, he clenched his fists and hissed through his nose.

 

Fucking Malfoy.

 

He knew it. He had known it from the start, hadn’t he? Right from that first day in the canteen, he had known the sniveling little bastard was trying to hurt him, trying to do something to him. And he had fallen for it, had fallen right into the trap.

 

He could not fucking believe Draco had done this to him!

 

Blind and raging, he stormed down the hall in search of the fucking floo so he could get the fuck out of this house. So he could get the fuck away from Draco motherfucking Malfoy.

 

He made it about twenty steps away from Draco’s door before the shame crashed into him, hit him like a train and crushed his chest until he couldn’t breathe.

 

Oh no.

 

No, no, no, no, no.

 

“Oh my God. No.” As he panicked and covered his mouth with his hand, he whispered to himself, “What did I just do?”

 

Disgraced, disgusted with himself, a wave of awful nausea rose up from deep in his gut. His legs gave out, and he fell to his knees on the carpet of the long hallway, nothing but a sheet wrapped around his waist.

 

A sheet? He hadn’t even bothered to put on clothes before he stormed out. Like some kind of fucking animal, like some hateful, awful monster incapable of thought.

 

Draco had not done that—whatever that was—to him. Draco hadn’t done anything to him. Not to hurt him. Not deliberately. Draco loved him. Deeply, passionately, devotedly loved him.

 

Harry knew that. Knew it! And he loved Draco! Fuck, he loved Draco! Wanted to be with him, felt alive and cared for and cherished with him, admired him, liked him!

 

So why, why, Jesus and Merlin, why had he reacted like that? Why had his first instinct been to leap to mistrust, to vicious punishment? Why had the first thought in his mind been that Draco must have been up to something? Why, when confronted with a problem between them, had he so readily leapt back into that old, toxic pattern of always assuming the worst about Draco?

 

Did what they had shared these past weeks mean nothing to him?

 

He held his head in his hands and held back a sob. Of course not. It meant the world to him. Draco meant the world to him. But right now…

 

Harry thought back with a stabbing twist to the look of horror, of pain on Draco’s face. And he had left him. Had just snarled and raged and left him.

 

Draco had a secret. He had kept a secret from him. Maybe he had lied, too. But they were adults. They were in love. They were supposed to talk this sort of thing through, and not assume the worst about each other.

 

Head aching, he stared at the walls.

 

It was because he was wrong. Broken inside.

 

He snarled and shook his head, angry at himself.

 

No. That wasn’t right. That was a fucking cop-out. Maybe it was true. It didn’t give him one bit of excuse to hurt someone he loved like that, to treat them like that. He lashed out and assumed the worst from the very beginning with Draco. Things had improved. Draco had worked hard to get past his walls, to win his trust. And the second something had gone wrong, Harry had snapped back, lashed out, and assumed the worst.

 

And it wasn’t just with Draco.

 

He was suspicious and angry all the time, short tempered, frazzling with energy, prone to fits, lonely, empty, struggling.

 

That didn’t sound like a curse or a corruption. That didn’t sound like some mystical darkness put upon him in the forest.

 

It sounded like motherfucking depression and PTSD he had left untreated for an entire fucking decade.

 

While it ruined his life, while it sabotaged his happiness, while it dragged him into despair. While it made him hurt the people he loved.

 

No more. Burning, Harry grit his jaw and shook his head. No more. This stopped right now. This stopped this very second, so he could be kind and loving to Draco, so he could be healthy and supportive of Teddy. So he could be decent to himself.

 

He had to fix this. And he had to start by apologizing and comforting his lover.

 

Heavy and struggling, Harry fought through the pain, through the heartache, and stood up. Wracked with shame, with guilt, he stood outside Draco’s room with his hand shaking on the knob and worked up the courage to go in.

 

It wasn’t courage that got him through the door, though. It was love. Empathy. Draco was in pain, afraid, and heart broken. He didn’t need to be brave to go to him. He just needed to care about Draco more than he cared about his own pride. Easy, once he thought of it that way. He twisted the knob and stepped inside.

 

Draco was where he had left him moments before, on the bed, hunched over on himself, quivering and crying. The wings, massive and elegant, swooped out in an arc behind his shoulder blades. Thin lines of sticky red blood ran down Draco’s back.

 

Harry’s heart broke. He rushed to him.

 

“Hey. Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay. It’s alright.” In a rushed, needy whisper, he issued comfort and assurances as he sat down on the bed and crawled to Draco. “You’re alright. You’re alright.” 

 

Draco jerked up at the sound of his voice, his eyes teary and red-rimmed, his lower lip trembling. “Harry. You’re here?”

 

“Yeah.” Tentative, not sure he was worthy of it, he reached out and stroked Draco’s side. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I never should have run off like that and left you.”

 

Draco accepted this and cried harder while he nodded. He didn’t tell Harry it was okay. He did sob, “I’m a veela.”

 

“Yeah, babe,” Harry whispered as he scooted closed and gestured at the wings. “I could kind of tell that from the giant pair of wings that sprouted out of your back while we were fucking.”

 

Miserable, Draco wiped at his eyes and then shot a glare at the feathery menace attached to him. He sat up straighter and sniffed. Harry reached for his hand and felt gratitude and relief when Draco let him take it.

 

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

 

“Only my fucking pride,” Draco scoffed. He pouted, chewed on his lip, and said more softly, honestly, “Maybe my heart a bit too, when you ran out. But you’re back now, so that’s doing better.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry, too.” He looked fully at Harry. “I should have told you. I meant to tell you! But I was never brave enough, or it was never the right moment. I didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t want to scare you away.”

 

“I’m not scared of this. So tell me now.” Harry pressed a light kiss to the back of Draco’s hand and then set it down. He moved around so he was behind Draco, in between his wings, and looked at the damage. Red rivulets of blood ran down his back, and the skin looked sore and inflamed all around the places the wings had broken through. “You talk. I’m going to clean you up.”

 

Harry conjured a soft cloth and used an aguamenti to gently wash the blood off of Draco’s pale, slender back. He rubbed the cloth in soft little circles. When it was cleared, he chilled the water and wet the cloth again, and then pressed it carefully to the tender skin at the break site to soothe that ache.

 

And while he did all of this, with careful, loving hands, Draco told him everything.

 

About how he was a veela, and Harry was his mate.

 

“But it doesn’t mean what it sounds like,” Draco rushed to say, panicked and shaky and scared. “It’s not some bond of destiny, and it’s not artificially created. I have never once used the allure on you. All of this, everything I have felt for you, everything you have felt for me has been real, Harry. I swear it!”

 

“I know.” Harry paused in his cleaning, his hand still. And it was the honest truth. He did know. There was no way any of this, any of what they felt, could have been fake. When Draco turned to look at him over his shoulder, Harry softly kissed the nape of his neck. “I love you. And I know that’s real.”

 

It drained the fear, the tension right out of Draco. He calmed. Leaned into Harry’s careful touches on his back.

 

And explained more. About the food and the weird, demanding instincts that he could not ignore. About how he tried to have some fun with it, but quickly realized Harry was having a hard time and actually wanted to help him. About how the awakening had trigged because Harry needed him.

 

“And the soup?” he asked.

 

“I tried to fight the urge. I lost. Ended up flinging it all over you while trying to stop myself from doing it.”

 

Softly, Harry laughed. Draco joined him.

 

“I’m sorry, love. All of that must have been hard and confusing to go through.”

 

“It has been,” Draco admitted. He shifted to let Harry maneuver back around and under his wings, so they could face each other. “But it’s been an inconvenience, at most, and it led to something wonderful. And besides, it’s silly compared to what you’ve been going through.”

 

“It’s not silly. Not at all.” He paused. Took Draco’s hand. “And about that. What I’ve been going through. I thought about what you said last week. I’ve been thinking about it, but I just realized how right you were. I’m going to go to therapy.”

 

Stunned, Draco’s lips parted and he nodded.

 

“The way I reacted tonight…” Harry sniffed and tugged Draco’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and held it close. “I don’t ever want to treat you, or anyone else like that again. I don’t want to snap at my godchildren, I don’t want to scare my friends, I don’t want to feel like I’m going to give up and die because Teddy’s at school. I want to get better, and I want to be better to you.”

 

Draco said nothing. But he did kiss him. And that said everything Harry wanted to hear.

 

“Now. These.” He gestured at the wings, which fluttered and loomed with lovely feathers above them. “These are actually kind of horrifying for you, yeah? What do we do about them?”

 

Draco shrugged, defeated and resigned. “No idea. I didn’t read about this in any of my research. I didn’t know it could happen. I don’t know how to put them away.”

 

“Okay.” That was no good. “What can I do for you? Do you want a snack? I can get you something to eat. Or I could go find some books. Or floo Fleur, or wake your mum.”

 

Draco glared at him. “You do that last one, and I’ll kick you back out.”

 

Harry snorted and looked bashful. No, bringing Narcissa Malfoy in while the bed was a wreck and the scent of sex lingered heavy in the air would not be ideal.

 

So instead, they sat together quietly. Looked at each other.

 

The wings actually were rather pretty, if Harry was being honest. With Draco’s pale, naked skin, his petulant, his pouting mouth, his lithe body, and those big ivory feathers, he looked like some sort of fallen, grumpy angel. Gorgeous. “Can I touch them?” 

 

Draco considered it and shrugged.

 

Careful, tentative, Harry brushed his fingertips in the direction of the soft feathers…

 

And Draco whimpered and moaned, his mouth falling open in a perfect oh.

 

Startled, Harry froze. Amusement bubbled in him. “Really?”

 

“Apparently,” Draco said, breathy.

 

Probably, he shouldn’t. Now was not the moment. But Draco looked so damn gorgeous like this, and the noises he made…

 

Harry watched his reaction as he stroked the feathers again.

 

“Oh! Fuck.” Draco’s back arched. The wing flexed and stretched under Harry’s hand. Little whimpering moans slipped from the back of Draco’s throat as his head fell forward, as he chewed his bottom lip.

 

So Harry kept up with it, enthralled by how it was affecting Draco. Enthralled by the noises he made, by the red flush that blossomed on his chest.

 

“You know,” Draco said. “I’ve just suddenly remembered. Since we were so rudely interrupted by the arrival of these things, you did not get a chance to come.”

 

Harry smirked and brushed his thumb along the tips of the feathers at the bottom of the wing. “No. I didn’t.”

 

“Care to correct that?”

 

“Yes. Come here.” He stopped teasing and moved to kiss Draco, to hold him, to touch his face and chest. Loving. Reverent. He grinned and whispered against Draco’s neck while he kissed him there, “Don’t hold anything back. I want all of you. Go full veela on me. Give me everything.”

 

So Draco climbed onto his lap while Harry’s arms braced him, held him. He seated himself on Harry’s cock, enclosed them in his wings…

 

And gave him everything.

 

Everything.

Chapter Text

Laughter rang out loud and bright around the dinner table in the dining room at Malfoy Manor. Sprigs of green mistletoe, holly, and evergreen with red bows draped in hoops along the walls, and a giant, gold-glittering tree stood in one corner. All around the table, their friends and family laughed and talked and ate the delicious holiday meal until they were full to bursting.

 

The food had been better even than the feasts at Hogwarts, and Teddy would know, since he was in his third year and had attended several already. The rosemary roast beef, dripping with gravy, was tender and juicy, and he had eaten four slices of it himself. Plus, the creamy mashed potatoes, the golden brown Yorkshire puddings, the tangy cranberry sauce. Every bit of it was incredible! Even the bits that Harry had made. Draco was a better cook, but Harry had been making an effort to learn and he was catching up nicely.

 

There was only one course left: the dessert. And with it, a big surprise.

 

“What are you hiding?” Victoire leaned in and whispered to him, though no one could hear her over the loud conversations all around them. “You look like you’re up to mischief.”

 

He was. But it wasn’t time yet, and he had worked very hard to set this up. It took some sneaking, some creative planning, but Teddy was sure this would work. “You’ll see in a minute.”

 

On his other side, Harry squeezed his arm and asked, “Hey cub, want to help be bring in the dessert?”

 

“Sure!” They pushed their chairs back and left their napkins on the table beside their plates. All along the long rectangle-shaped table, Teddy and Harry’s favorite people celebrated the holiday. Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron, with Rose and Hugo. Aunt Ginny and Aunt Luna. Victoire and her family. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and all the other Weasleys. Aunt Narcissa. Ms. Lavender. Mipsy and the other elves. And, of course, Draco, who sat on Harry’s other side.

 

All of them were in for the surprise of a lifetime. Including Draco and Harry.

 

“Be right back,” Harry told him as he kissed the side of Draco’s head and squeezed his shoulder. Draco looked very festive in a green sweater, with Harry matching in red. They were stupidly cute. “We’re just going to go get the dessert.”

 

Out in the hallway, on their way to the kitchen, Harry hissed, “Is it all ready? Everything is in place?”

 

“It’s ready, Harry,” he assured him. “I’ve got your back. I’m not going to let you down.”

 

Harry smiled. “I know. I’m just nervous.”

 

“Don’t be.”

 

In the kitchen, which was a disaster area, they collected the dessert trays Teddy had arranged earlier.

 

For the past few years at Christmas, he and Harry and Draco had developed a sort of tradition. They all gathered together in the kitchen and helped each other cook the meal. Always, Draco was in charge. He did the big stuff and planned the menu, while Harry helped with side dishes and sauces and other things as Draco instructed. Teddy always, always did dessert.

 

And this year, that arrangement had led him to an incredible opportunity to surprise the absolute shite out of his godfather and his boyfriend.

 

Boyfriend…soon to be fiancé. One way or another.

 

A few weeks ago, Harry had come to visit him at Hogwarts. They’d gone out for lunch at the Three Broomsticks and drank butterbeers while Harry told him he wanted to propose to Draco. And he wanted to know if that was okay with Teddy, and if Teddy would be willing to help.

 

Of course, that was more than okay with him. Obviously. Harry and Draco were disgustingly happy together. Of course they should get married if they wanted.

 

When Harry said he wanted to propose to Draco over Christmas, with all of their friends and family there to celebrate and witness, Teddy had come up with a plan. He was in charge of dessert, right? So he would sneak the ring into Draco’s dessert. They’d hidden the ring inside a little enchanted sugar sphere, which Teddy had snuck into one of the chocolate and peppermint puddings he’d made. That one was carefully set to one side, with a candy cane on the plate so they would know it was for Draco.

 

But then! Oh, but then!

 

A few days later, Draco showed up at Hogwarts, took him to lunch at the Hogshead, bought him a butterbeer, and told him he wanted to propose to Harry!

 

Even now, with the brilliance of his deceit on the brink of pay-off, the ultimate and perfect Christmas prank/present nearly complete, he could barely keep from laughing. Oh, this was going to be so good.

 

When Draco said he, too, wanted to propose to Harry at Christmas and asked for his help coming up with ideas, Teddy saw his opportunity and pounced. Why not let him hide the ring in Harry’s dessert, he asked. It would be perfect!

 

Draco agreed. And so Teddy created a second little enchanted sugar orb with the ring for Harry tucked inside, buried under a layer of chocolate pudding. That one, he had marked with a few fresh mint leaves.

 

Neither one of them knew. Neither one of them suspected.

 

This was going to be hilarious.

 

Together, he and Harry carried the dessert trays back into the dining room.

 

“Yes! There they are!” Uncle Ron called out. “Our heroes! They bring chocolate!”

 

A few of the little kids shouted, “Chocolate!” and applauded.

 

As he and Harry went down the long sides of the table and placed a little dish in front of each guest, Harry announced, “Now, this is from Teddy! He made the dessert for all of us tonight.”

 

Across the table, Draco caught his eye and raised his eyebrows in silent question. Teddy winked. Draco smiled and winked back.

 

At last, he put the final pieces into place. He set the plate with the candy cane down in front of Draco, and the plate with the mint in front of Harry. Then, quite pleased with himself, he sat back down in his chair and got himself ready for a show.

 

This was going to be good.

 

Several people made appreciative noises and told him dessert was great, but he didn’t pay much attention. Not even when Victoire said, “This is very good, Teddy.”

 

“Thanks,” he whispered and quirked his head towards Harry. “Watch them.”

 

“Oh!” Understanding and excited, she settled in to watch, too.

 

Both Harry and Draco were quiet, hiding obvious smiles, and facing straight ahead while trying to sneak looks at each other out of the corner of their eyes. Both of them looked pleased with themselves, waiting for the other to discover what they knew was hidden.

 

Poor, sweet fools.

 

“Well, go on then,” Draco said to Harry. “Eat your dessert.”

 

“Okay!” Harry grinned. “You too!”

 

To placate each other, they both dug their spoons in.

 

And then both froze as they hit the hard sugar container hidden inside.

 

Teddy couldn’t help it. He bit his lips to keep from laughing.

 

Harry turned to him and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “Teddy, this is the wrong one!”

 

Teddy leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Is it? Is it really?”

 

Confused, Harry looked back to his dessert plate. And then looked at Draco’s, too.

 

From across the table, Teddy caught Aunt Hermione’s eye and he shushed her, pointed to indicate she should pay attention to Draco and Harry, and she immediately realized what was happening. Her mouth fell open, shocked, and she whispered it to Uncle Ron, who passed it on. A silence and hiss zipped all around the whole table, and by the time Harry and Draco realized there were engagement rings hidden in both of their desserts, everyone was watching.

 

“No!” Draco was the first to react, and his eyes went very wide. He clapped hand to his mouth to hide his wild grin. “No way! No you did not!”

 

“No you did not! Did you? Did we?” Harry looked frantically around the table and stared at everyone with his mouth hanging open. He looked to Teddy.

 

Teddy grinned and nodded. “Yeah. That just happened.”

 

Loud and jubilant, Harry barked a laugh with a smile that squinted his eyes nearly closed behind his glasses. He and Draco looked at each other, grabbed each other’s hands, and giggled themselves silly.

 

“You have to say it!” Aunt Hermione cried, happy tears shining in her eyes.

 

“Yeah, come on then!” Uncle Ron added. He looked just as emotional. “Make it official!”

 

Harry and Draco shared a look, and Harry said, “What do you think? Should we do this properly?”

 

“Definitely.”

 

Side by side, they dug the little sugar casings out of the chocolate and cracked them open with their spoons. Inside, each found a ring.

 

Draco took back Harry’s and held it, and Harry took back Draco’s.

 

Draco started crying, the absolute sap, which got Harry crying too. “You want to marry me?” Harry asked.

 

Draco pouted and nodded yes while Harry slipped the ring on his finger, and he asked, “Would you like to marry me?”

 

“God, yeah,” Harry said as he got his own ring put on him.     

 

Then, the whole table erupted in cheers and applause, everyone stood up and rushed to congratulate the couple.

 

Victoire high-fived him. “That was brilliant! Did you plan that?”

 

Teddy nodded just as Harry yanked him up from his chair and shouted, “You little brat! You cheeky little fucker!” and crushed him in a hug. “That was incredible.”

 

Teddy hugged back, and then opened his arms up wider to grab Draco and hug him too.

 

Laughing, the two of them shook their heads at Teddy. “Well done,” Draco said with a tone of admiration. “There is a bit of Slytherin in you after all!”

 

Together, the two of them went into the crowd of all their friends and family to receive hugs and kisses and congratulations. Teddy watched them for a while. His godfather and his soon to be…other godfather? He wasn’t really sure what Draco would be, other than family. Whatever. They both looked insanely, brilliantly happy.

 

Beside Victoire, Teddy sat back down and ate the rest of his pudding, feeling very accomplished and proud of himself. He was a damn genius.