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Burn The Witch

Chapter Text

January 2011

The knock at the door is heavy but hesitant, and Draco looks up from the stacks of papers on his desk. 

He pushes the binder to the side, the silver emblem embossed on it — a serpent wrapped around a sparkling wand — gleaming on the front page. Potiones sine corde Venenum est, reads the line underneath it.  

With a sigh, he gets himself ready. He’d been expecting this moment. It won’t be easy, but he won't lose his composure. He may be different from the boy he was twelve years ago, but he’s still a Malfoy.

“Enter,” he says.

The door opens with a slow creak. The lumbering frame of Greg Goyle appears, silhouetted in the light coming from the parlour. He seems to dither in the doorway, eyebrows drawn down against the relative darkness of Draco’s study, lit only by the fire crackling in the hearth and the small Muggle lamp on Draco’s desk. 

Draco’s scowl softens. “Hello, Greg. Take a seat.”

Greg stomps across the room and settles on the chair across from Draco’s desk. It’s a beautiful antique that Draco salvaged from the Manor years ago, upholstered with soft, satiny grey silk. Half of the seat and back are covered with drawings of dragons, unicorns, and stars, a reminder of Draco’s son’s first attempts at figurative art and all the more perfect for it.

Of course his oldest friend would pick that special seat for their last official meeting.

He steeples his fingers and focuses his attention on Greg. Greg’s steady brown eyes hold his gaze. Few people dare to these days. Then again, Greg is nothing if not stubbornly brave. He could have sorted Gryffindor, were it not for his pureblood ancestry and all the misinformed choices he would make as a teenager. 

With hindsight, Draco wonders if making bad choices is a Slytherin trait.

“You’re not changing your mind, then?” Draco finally breaks the silence.

“You know I’m not, Draco,” Greg tells him, his deep, rumbling voice soft as always. When he speaks, his lips barely move. It’s always been that way. Draco was one of the few people who could understand Greg’s poorly articulated words. He knows that to almost everyone else, it accentuated the impression of Greg being slightly dim; someone who’s only good enough to play one of Draco’s cronies.

Or Draco’s bodyguard. 

He frowns at the thought.

“It was your last day,” Draco reminds him. “You could have left already.”

“Not without saying goodbye.”

“This isn’t goodbye. We’re still going to see each other.”

“Not often. Not every day.”

“Yes,” Draco concedes. “It’ll take some time to get used to. You’ve been working for me since I came back to London.”

“Working for you, yes. I’ve been your bodyguard for far longer,” Greg responds, a small smile quirking his lips.

Draco exhales a soft laugh. “I would not have lived as long as I have without your help, that’s for sure.”

The memory of the third member of their trio, who hadn’t survived to live out the past twelve years with them tugs Draco’s heart. He can tell by Greg’s shadowed eyes that he’s thinking about him too.

But now is not the time for this kind of reminiscence. Now is the time to focus on the present, or more accurately, on the future.

Draco clears his throat and continues as lightly as he can. “Scorpius is going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss him too.” Greg looks down at his big hands. “I told him goodnight before he went to bed. I didn’t remind him that I won’t be here tomorrow.”

Draco sighs. “You know how well he deals with change. Thanks ever so much for that.” He smiles at the thought. “I still can’t believe you’re leaving.”

“It’s time for me to retire. I don’t want to sound ungrateful… I know I wouldn’t even have anywhere to retire to if it wasn’t for you. There’s no way I could have found a job after the war. And I don’t have the brains to do what you’ ve done.” Greg gives his shaggy head a shake. “And now I’m looking forward to… something quieter.”

“I know,” Draco says. He taps his fingers against the leather blotter on his desk. “I understand. I need to find someone to replace you, though. And trust me, that won't be an easy task.”

Greg lets out a rumbling laugh. “I’m flattered.”

“You should be. You were the best bodyguard — official or not — that I could have hoped for.”

“That’s because you trust me, and I trust you. That’s the kind of person you need to find,” Greg tells him, his earnest eyes trained on Draco’s.

Draco barks a laugh. It’s laced with bitterness, and he hates himself for it.

“Ah, yes, of course. And that’s easy, because there are so many people out there willing to do just that.”

Greg doesn’t bat an eye. “You’re trustworthy, Draco.”

“You say so, Greg. To the rest of the wizarding world, I’m nothing more than the ex-Death Eater who escaped a lifelong sentence in Azkaban to live a life of abundance thanks to his father’s vaults. No matter what I’ve done since I was eighteen. No matter what I do now.”

“You care too much about what other people think. You’re allowed to change. You’re a good person.”

Draco sighs, frustrated. “Let’s... talk about something else. Please.” He reaches for his raven feather quill across the desk and fiddles with it to avoid looking at his friend. He’s aware that he indulges himself when he lets his sullen moods take over. It’s a natural tendency of his, one he should learn to fight. 

That is part of the problem, though. After all these years, after all that he’d changed… he still isn’t entirely convinced that Greg is right.

“All right,” Greg says at length. “I’ve got to go. Millie must be waiting for me.”

Draco glances at the grandfather clock tucked between two bookcases in a corner of his office. His eyes widen when he realises it’s almost quarter to ten.

“Merlin, Greg, Millicent will have your head! And mine, when she finds out you stayed late talking to me.”

Greg laughs again. “Better go, then. She can be fearsome when she’s miffed.”

“That’s an accurate description of your wife." Draco smiles. "Give her my best. And good luck with the move.”

Greg pushes the chair back and stands. Last week, he’d moved his things out of the attic rooms he’d occupied while under Draco’s employ. The boxes are now crowding Millicent’s flat. If Draco knows her at all, she must be thoroughly annoyed. He pictures her tapping her toe, waiting for the moment she and Greg move to Australia. Millicent starts a teaching assistant job at the Wizarding University of Melbourne at the end of the month. She’s waited for this opportunity for years.

They are starting the next stage of their lives. 

A stage Draco’s already been through, and which passed in a flash so brief he sometimes can’t believe it happened at all.

Because really, never taking anything for granted is the only constant in Draco’s life.

When they reach the door, Draco turns to gaze at his friend. Greg holds himself still, waiting for Draco’s orders. Just like he’s always done since they first met at the age of five, two little pureblood wizards from neighbouring families in Wiltshire.

“Goodbye, Greg.” Draco smiles. “Best of luck on your Australian adventures.”

“Goodbye, Draco,” Greg says, and leaning forward with surprising agility for someone his size, he envelops Draco into a rib-cracking hug. Draco smiles against Greg’s shirt and pats his back. Then Greg lets him go, slightly awkward after this rare display of affection, and Draco laughs. He snaps his fingers and his house-elf, Ernestina, appears with a pop.

“Mistor?”

“Ernestina, would you like to escort Greg out?”

Greg waves his hand shyly. “There’s no need, Ernestina.”

“Oh, but I wants to, Mistor Greg,” Ernestina wrings her hands, her huge brown eyes already swimming with tears. “Ernestina is going to be missing Mistor Greg a lot.”

Draco gives Greg a meaningful look. “She told me she wanted to say goodbye too.”

Greg sighs, his mouth curling slightly. It’s almost unnoticeable, but Draco knows him well enough. Greg is moved. He holds out a hand as big as the house-elf’s head, and Ernestina wraps her long fingers around his and leads him out of Draco’s office.

“Follow me, Mistor Greg,” Draco hears her tell Greg, “I has a gift for Mistor before he leaves.”

Leaning against the doorframe, Draco smiles faintly. Ernestina has cooked all day and the kitchen is filled with containers of Greg’s favourite foods. Greg always jokes about how Ernestina’s cooking would be the thing he misses the most about working for Draco. 

Draco can’t blame him, even if he knows it’s far from the only one. Ernestina’s cooking is bloody phenomenal.

Draco pushes himself up and straightens his jacket.

Greg is officially gone, and he can't put off finding a replacement any longer.

 

*

 

Harry hates coming to the Ministry.

Ten years after the war and he still fights the beginning of a panic attack every time he has to cross that fucking Atrium to meet with Kingsley. 

It doesn’t help that so little has changed since the war; that same bloody fountain, the same whooshing sounds of Ministry employees coming in and out of the Floo, those same claustrophobic lifts that he avoids whenever possible. He prefers the exertion of walking several flights of stairs to the dreadful memories that the creaky lifts never fail to trigger.

He'd thought he’d have more time to rest after his last mission. He’d come in from Shanghai only yesterday. The task—infiltrating and exposing a network of Chinese spies who posed as interns and collected information on British Unspeakables’ experiments—had taken him half a year to complete. He missed London. He missed his bed. He still feels jet-lagged and woozy from the long Portkey trip. Kingsley, however, had been adamant. So Harry'd assumed he had no choice in the matter and left Grimmauld Place that morning, resolving to ask Kingsley for double the days off next time he wanted to take a holiday.

The bloody stairs are drafty and steep, and Harry has half a mind to abandon his ascent halfway through and go back home. He’s in good shape—his job requires him to be—but there’s something about this building that scrapes at his nerves and drains him of his energy. 

Constantly having to fight waves of terrible memories must do that, he thinks, as he powers through the rush of unease. He grabs the golden handrail and keeps climbing the stairs. 

A few years ago, Angelica, the Mind-Healer he was seeing at the time, had asked him why he insisted on working for the Ministry for Magic when the place always left him restless and anxious. He had told her the same thing that still holds true today: the Atrium, the lifts, the stairs, the bloody corridors and sodding offices and meeting rooms… they were all part of his history. He could either deny it all or accept it all, but he wasn’t going to pick and choose.

So he reaches the top, panting slightly, and heads for the Minister’s office.

The protective wards chime as they yield and let Harry pass.

“Hello, Mr Potter,” says Dewey, the Minister’s secretary. He looks up from the large diary on his desk, a golden curl falling on his forehead. 

Dewey has known Harry for years now, but he still calls him by his last name when the rest of the wizarding world thinks it’s perfectly okay to call him ‘Harry’ as though he’s their friend. Their family. Their Saviour. 

Harry appreciates Dewey’s respectful distance all the more for that.

“Good morning, Dewey,” he says. “I’ve a meeting with Kingsley. Ten o’clock?”

Dewey’s eyes skim the page of the diary open in front of him, so heavy with notes and writing in various ink colours that Harry’s head hurts just looking at it. He spots the time slot reserved for Harry’s meeting quickly, somewhere between a note flashing ‘IMPORTANT’ in red ink and an appointment that keeps slithering across the page, and he crosses it out with a sharp slash of his quill. Then he lifts his big blue eyes to Harry’s face and smiles.

“Minister Shacklebolt will be with you any minute.”

“Thanks,” Harry tells him, a lopsided little grin tugging at his lips.

It would be so easy, he thinks. Dewey is just a few years younger than Harry, with a tall, lean frame and a dimple in his right cheek when he smiles. Ron likes to tease Harry about his ‘thing for blondes’. He has to admit that Ron is right, no matter how much he pretends otherwise. Dewey is just his type. Or he would be, if Harry had any interest in romantic entanglements. His life and his job leave no room for dating, and while a casual shag is definitely a welcome option, there’s no way he’s going to have a fling with the Minister’s secretary. If Harry ever made Dewey feel like he was used for sex, the young man could make his life hell—and his visits to the Ministry ten times more unpleasant than they already are.

So Harry just walks to the bay windows lining the side of the waiting room that overlook the Atrium. 

From up here, the Atrium looks like an anthill, busy but innocuous — nothing like it does in the nightmares he sometimes still has — and he lets himself relax a fraction. 

“Harry,” Kingsley’s deep voice pulls him out of his listlessness. “Thank you for coming at short notice. If you’ll follow me?”

Harry turns around. The Minister is standing in his office doorway, tall and wide-shouldered and formidable-looking. He hasn’t changed much in all the years Harry’s known him. Except for the deep creases across his forehead and between his brows, Kingsley looks just as youthful, authoritative, and charismatic as he’s always done. The one time Harry had brought it up with him, the Minister had just laughed. “Thank you, Harry,” he’d said, “but you should know that’s how people describe you, not me. You could be the next Minister for Magic if you decided to run for office.”

Which Harry knows really means ‘if you ever pulled your head out of your arse’.

Harry doesn’t envy Kingsley’s job. He’s perfectly content with his own occupation: the fieldwork, the planning, the wait before a big strike. He enjoys his independence, and he enjoys occasionally working with Ron’s team of Aurors and Hermione’s army of Unspeakables.

This is the reason why he follows Kingsley into his office expecting to see both his friends there. 

When he only finds Ron waiting for him, he stops in his tracks. 

“Hey, mate,” Ron greets him. He stands as Kingsley and Harry walk in, his freckled face crinkling with a cautious smile. “Nice seeing you again.”

Harry nods, mind blank. Cautious is not something Ron ever is. Not with Harry, anyway. 

“Gentlemen,” Kingsley sits at his desk. He folds one large hand on top of the other. “Thank you for meeting me at such short notice, but as Ron already knows, this required some urgency. A case just opened that the Ministry has hoped to take on for a few years.”

“A case?” Harry leans forward in his chair, his curiosity piqued. “What’s it about?” 

The Minister usually sends him a few cases via owl whenever Harry’s in-between missions. The fact that he requested an appointment means it’s something important for Kingsley, or he wouldn’t be discussing this in person first.

Kingsley glances at Ron, who nods shortly. Their collusion feels distinctly odd, and Harry’s previous sense of unease strengthens, clawing at his gut. 

Then the Minister slides a folder across the desk. 

Harry takes it, leans back against the back of the chair, and opens it.

The folder contains several pages covered with columns of numbers. Financial statements, Harry guesses. Corporate information about a potions company whose name vaguely rings a bell. Everywhere the same ominous logo: a silver snake wrapped around a wand shooting sparks. Everywhere the same tagline in silver-lettered, pretentious Latin. Potiones sine corde Venenum est. He braces himself for refusing the case—he’s never been one for financial fraud cases, and he supposes that’s what this one is—when his eyes fall on the next page in the folder.

A blurry photograph taken across the street from an elegant London building.

The picture is slightly unfocused, a short, apparently uneventful moment captured on paper and running on a loop. Yet Harry would recognise that white-blond hair and those sharp, pointy features anywhere.

Draco Malfoy is photographed walking out of the building, the large silhouette of another man looming over him as he opens the door of a sleek black car parked a few feet away. The scene lasts for all but two seconds before the photograph loops back to Malfoy walking out of the building again.

Harry stares at it for a long moment, unable to tear his eyes away. 

His throat is tight all of a sudden, and his hands shake slightly when he rests the folder in his lap. He hasn’t seen Malfoy or heard anything about him in years. As far as he knows, Malfoy fled England shortly after the war. Harry has been abroad on missions most of the time. He’s kept away from the press. He’s never asked anyone about what happened with Malfoy. He just can’t comprehend where the visceral shock comes from, seeing Draco Malfoy’s picture among papers that clearly document a case where he’s considered the prime suspect by the Ministry.

Not looking at either Ron or Kingsley, he carefully turns the page. The next few ones are newspaper clippings—from The Daily Prophet, The New York Wizarding Post, Le Monde Magique, Ilvermorny Business Review —above-the-fold stories about Malfoy and a potions company called Caduceus. Malfoy looks slightly severe and threatening in the photographs, which Harry assumes were all chosen to enhance the content of the articles, full of mixed feelings and covert innuendos about Malfoy's success. That haughty scowl is a good look on him, though, Harry can’t help but think. Malfoy even made the cover of last year’s ‘30 under 30’ edition of The Wizarding Times. Except in that issue, unlike the one where Hermione was on the cover, they added a question mark next to the title, ‘Draco Malfoy, Man of the year?’ The newspaper clippings are followed by several bank statements, showing revenue streams from countries around the world. 

Harry takes a deep steadying breath and closes the folder.

“What is this about, Kingsley?” he asks bluntly, wariness inexplicably flaring in the pit of his stomach.

The Minister sighs and sits further back into his chair, surveying Harry with something akin to compassion.

“Draco Malfoy has been in the Ministry’s sights for quite some time now, Harry. As you may or may not be aware, the man has built a literal empire with Caduceus over the course of just a few years. That isn’t a problem in itself. What poses question, however, is the source of his initial assets. A company like Caduceus must have required a very substantial investment to get started. Our experts at the Ministry estimate the initial investment at around three million Galleons.”

Harry just stares back. “That’s a lot of money, but I’m not sure I understand why it’s a problem. The Malfoys have been wealthy for generations. That’s all Malfoy ever talked about in school. What he did with his family money is none of the Ministry’s business as long as it’s not illegal, is it?”

“That is the thing, though,” Kingsley says. “When Malfoy started his company, he was twenty-four, and he wasn’t supposed to have that kind of money. In reality, he wasn’t supposed to have any kind of money. The Malfoy vaults were entirely confiscated after their trials, along with the rest of their properties. Even the Manor was taken once Narcissa and Draco Malfoy finished their three-year house arrest. There was only a small vault left that guaranteed just enough income for Narcissa and her son to live for a few years until they both put their lives back together. Draco Malfoy should have had nothing to start a business with, let alone three million Galleons.”

“And how does that pertain to my job?” Harry demands. “Isn’t the Fraud and Finance Department on that case?”

Kingsley fixes him with a level look. “They’ve been on Malfoy’s case for years. Zacharias Smith leads the auditing team and swears they’ve never found any irregularities in Caduceus’ statements. In appearance at least, Malfoy is clean. Too clean. Not only does his company display impeccable financial records, but he also owns and runs several charities for which he donates substantial amounts of Caduceus’ profits. Still, there’s something about the way it all started that makes us suspect that Caduceus — and by extension, Malfoy — are not as guiltless as they seem to be.”

“Right now we’re considering several leads,” Ron chimes in, and Harry struggles to keep his expression neutral despite his growing wariness. “Old Death Eater ties, obviously. Dark artefacts contraband. Illegal potions and drugs. Money laundering, possibly.”

“Have any of these led to anything?” Harry asks.

“No, but the investigation has just taken a new turn. Smith believes legal financial audits won’t be enough to uncover whatever provided Malfoy with the starting assets for Caduceus. We need to send someone in. Undercover.” Ron’s eyes shift away from Harry’s, and Harry can tell Ron is not as comfortable with the topic as he appears to be. “Of course, Malfoy can’t be aware of it.”

 Slowly, Harry looks back at Kingsley, asking the question he must ask and dreading the answer.

“Why did you really call me in today, Kingsley?”

Kingsley contemplates him for a second. He sighs.

“We need our best agent on the case. We want you to infiltrate Malfoy’s inner circle and help us identify which lead we need to follow so we can be ready to strike and catch him in the act when he steps out of line.”

If he steps out of line,” Harry corrects.

If, ” Kingsley concedes. 

Harry frowns. “But see, there’s a slight flaw in your plans, Kingsley,” he tells him. “Malfoy notoriously disliked me back when we were at Hogwarts. And I can’t say I liked him much either.” Harry runs a hand through his messy hair. Kingsley’s eyes lift to the lightning scar on his forehead and Harry drops his hand, annoyed. His hair flops back into his eyes. “I don’t see Hermione here, nor anyone else from the Department of Mysteries, so I assume I’ll have to go as myself and not count on Polyjuice or a glamour to hide my identity like I usually do on cases. I can’t see things going well for me if I contact Malfoy after twelve years and ask to be his friend.”

Kingsley turns to Ron, who clears his throat.

“Sorry, mate. But you being Harry Potter is exactly why we think you’re the right agent to put on the case.”

Harry looks at him, appalled.

“Okay, first of all, this is a case for the DMLE, not a mission for a private investigator,” he argues. His tone is rising but he can’t bring himself to care. “Second, do you even have a plan, or is it as basic as ‘go to Malfoy’s house and make friends with him and have him spill all his dirty secrets even though you haven’t seen him in a decade and last time you did, he hated you with a passion?’ Because it’s not exactly what I call airtight.”

“Harry,” Kingsley interrupts with his deep, steady voice, “if Malfoy is involved in laundering Death Eater money or drug dealing on a massive scale, then yes, it becomes a matter of national wizarding security. Which is why we can’t just have the Aurors on this case. We need someone with more... power.”

Both Kingsley and Ron look pointedly at Harry, who feels the colour rising on his cheeks.

“To your second point,” Ron adds almost apologetically, “we have a way to get you started with Malfoy that we hope looks natural and unsuspicious.”

Harry lifts his eyebrows but is unable to stop the spark of curiosity that must show on his face.

Ron continues with a placating tone. “Remember Gregory Goyle, from school? He’s just resigned and moved away from London. Up until a couple of days ago, he was Malfoy’s bodyguard. A listing for a replacement was posted yesterday in all the main wizarding news sources.”

Harry suddenly remembers the tall, wide frame of the man standing beside Malfoy on the picture, and understanding hits him like a Bludger in the face.

“No,” he says. “No, I’m not doing this. No way.”

“Harry—” Ron starts.

“You can’t make me,” Harry’s eyes shifts from Kingsley to Ron. “I’m independent, and I’m free to choose my cases.”

“Harry.” There’s something in the Minister’s calm expression that makes Harry realise he knows the outcome of this discussion before it’s even finished. “You’re the only one we want on this case. You’re the only one who can crack Malfoy’s shell. And yes, your shared history, no matter how unpleasant, might make all the difference here. We believe Malfoy will be unable to resist the temptation to hire Harry Potter as his security detail, partly because of your reputation, and partly because, given your old antagonism, he might—well, appreciate an opportunity to have you working under him.”

Ron clears his throat, ears pink.

“Think about the outcome, mate,” he says. “Think about the good it could do if Malfoy turns out to be the bastard we suspect he is. Plus, you get to stay in London for a while, and we get to work together on another case,” Ron adds more cheerfully, elbowing him lightly in the side.

Harry folds his arms over his chest. He’s said no already. He wishes he could be as convinced as he sounded a minute ago. He glances down at his folded arms, his right hand resting on top. After all these years, the scar remains stark and white against his olive skin. I must not tell lies. His fists clench. Most days, he likes the job he’s chosen for himself. He likes the freedom, he likes the feeling of working towards something good, something bigger than him. He likes following in the footsteps of the people who shaped his view of the world, back when he was just a kid. 

But most of all, he likes that he got to choose it. It’s a precious, tenuous feeling, in a life that has always left him so little choice in everything.

A few other times — rare times, but still — it all feels like an interminable lie. Moving on from the lies he’s been told as a teenager, to lying for a living himself. There are times when he wants to tell the world — and the Minister — to shove it, and today is clearly shaping up to be a day that tests his resolve.

Because despite all his misgivings, there is something about seeing Malfoy’s face again, after all these years — after thinking that he’d left the memory of that scared, angry boy in the past — that makes him want to prod at the unexpected wave of emotion that rises in him. 

The way prodding at a neglected, painful muscle can feel oddly soothing.

“Come on, Harry,” Ron pokes, his voice softer than before. “What do you say?”

He knows he shouldn’t. But when has he ever been able to resist his curiosity, when it came to Malfoy?

So he changes his mind, and makes a decision.

“All right.” He slaps the folder on the Minister's desk. “I’m going to need all the information you have on Draco Malfoy.”

Chapter Text

A few days later, Harry Apparates to a Sloane Square alleyway two streets away from Malfoy’s house. 

It’s not the first time the Ministry has tried to give him this type of work. He’s always refused: he has no interest in financial cases. He likes action-oriented jobs, and sitting at a desk reviewing pages and pages of accounting records holds no interest for him. 

But for reasons that he doesn’t care to examine too closely, Harry feels compelled to take this one.

After his initial meeting with Ron and Kingsley, the DMLE gave Harry all the documentation they had in relation to Malfoy’s case. Four boxes full of folders; thousands of pages of information on Harry’s former nemesis. 

Ron had just patted Harry on the back in apology and left him alone. To Harry's own endless surprise, he’d thrown himself into the task, reading about Malfoy’s life with a hunger bordering on fascination.

Because Malfoy had lived a fascinating life the past twelve years, and Harry realises he really knows nothing about it.

After his three-year post-war house arrest, Malfoy had moved to France with his mother. Lucius Malfoy had died in Azkaban six months prior to their leaving the country. His funeral had been the only outing Draco and Narcissa had been allowed during their confinement. With no money, no property, and no Lucius, there was virtually nothing keeping the remaining Malfoys in England. The family owned a small flat in Paris, one that the British Ministry had not been able to confiscate for lack of a legal agreement with the other country, and that’s where Draco and his mother had stayed. 

While living in Paris, Malfoy had studied for a Potions Mastery.

He had graduated with flying colours after only two years — of course he had, the annoying swot. But Malfoy’s exceptionally early graduation had been brought on by a specific achievement. He had invented Juvence, a medical potion that subtly slowed signs of aging. Many a witch and wizard had tried to create anti-aging potions, always with limited, if not disastrous outcomes. Malfoy's potion was both a feat of inventiveness and skill. It was also a tremendous commercial hit. Juvence was the first product launched by Caduceus Corporation. According to the reports provided by Zacharias Smith’s team, Juvence remained the company’s bestseller and primary cash-cow years later. 

Meanwhile, Malfoy’s company had developed several other medical potions. 

Harry had gone through the list of potions sold by Caduceus, some of them even a potions novice could see were of groundbreaking importance:

Cardiarchy, a brew that restarts the heart of a victim of cardiac arrest. 

Aquaera, another potion that helps the systems of premature babies to adapt faster to life outside the womb.

Neo-Wolfsbane, a modified version of Wolfsbane that further reduces the worst of the symptoms of lycanthropy. 

Malfoy’s company kept the prices of those vital potions voluntarily low; on their own, none of them were commercially viable. Instead, the production and selling of those references were supported by Juvence and other non-essential, but extremely profitable, lines of anti-aging and beautifying products.

Caduceus’ massive profits had also allowed Malfoy to start various charities: rehabilitation of inmates fresh out of Azkaban; funds for war orphans; several charities that provided information and support for autistic wizarding children and their families.

Harry hadn’t been sure what to make of the Draco Malfoy he’d read about in the DMLE folders, especially as the files also contained more… personal information. Ears hot, curiosity and guilt swirling in equal measure in his chest, Harry had sifted through every one of them avidly.

It was like reading a Victorian novel. Malfoy had had quite a full personal life in his early twenties, the configuration of which had changed as swiftly as it had begun.

At the age of twenty-four, he had married a certain Astoria Greengrass, a witch a couple of years his junior whom he had met while they both lived in Paris. The young couple had moved to London two years later, when Malfoy was starting his company and Astoria was six months pregnant with their first child. They’d moved to a mainly Muggle neighbourhood, in the Sloane Square townhouse that Harry had seen in the pictures that the Minister had showed him.

Three months later, their son Scorpius had been born, and Astoria had died in childbirth.

There had been no documentation on how Malfoy had dealt with that tragedy. The Auror reports had remained factual to the point of clinical. They usually did. 

Harry felt sick. Fighting a wave of nausea and misplaced pity for a man he had once intensely disliked, he shut the folder he was browsing and stood to leave. After all, soon enough, he’d be spying on Malfoy’s secrets under the pretense of working for him — a thought that only sent another rush of guilt through him.

At the time, he still had hope. Perhaps Kingsley and Ron were wrong; perhaps Malfoy would refuse to meet Harry or interview him for a bodyguard job.

To no one’s surprise but his, Harry was contacted almost immediately after owling his CV to the address indicated in the job listing. 

The young woman who firecalled him had booked an interview for Harry two days later. She was professional and polite, and Harry could barely detect the faint tremble of awe he usually heard in people’s voices when they addressed him. With a smirk, he thought it was to be expected, coming from someone working for Malfoy: for all his faults, the man was one of the few people who had never grovelled in front of ‘Boy Who Lived’ Harry, so perhaps birds of a feather did flock together.

Now, here Harry is, standing in front of Malfoy’s home on a chilly January morning, wondering what the hell he’s doing. He has half a mind to turn on his heel and piss off somewhere sunny for a long, well-deserved holiday.

And yet. Harry’s never been more curious about a case in his life.

He lifts the heavy door knocker — a golden snake, for fuck’s sake, and he rolls his eyes at the cliché — then he steps back and waits. A few seconds go by, and he’s about to knock again when the door creaks open as though of its own accord.

Harry hesitates, then walks in.

Inside, there is a clear, bright foyer, all white marble and tasteful dark wood furniture. In the back, a beautiful stairwell twists around a wrought-iron banister. Tall vases full of white and grey hydrangeas frame the doors leading to the rest of the house on the right and left sides.

In the middle of the room stands a small, olive-skinned house-elf with long floppy ears and huge, inquisitive brown eyes. She’s dressed in actual clothes, not the tea towel or pillowcase house-elves usually wear. Her short-sleeved blouse and pale pink trousers are clean and meticulously pressed. Harry locks eyes with her and she stares at him for a second, an inscrutable expression on her face, her gaze flicking up and down the dark grey Muggle coat he’s wearing over a black suit and burgundy turtleneck jumper.

Then she bows a little, just enough to be courteous.

“Hello, Mistor Potter, sir,” she says with a light foreign accent that vaguely rings a bell, her r’s rolling and her vowels flowing. “Thank you for coming. Ernestina is bringing Mistor Potter to the waiting room, sir.”

Harry hears a fast, irregular tak tak tak coming from the corridor, like nails tapping on the marble floor, and a big, shaggy Bernese mountain dog appears. He's got beautiful black and white fur with rust-coloured patches above his eyes. He's missing a front leg, but it doesn't stop him from excitedly limping towards Harry. He looks up at him, tongue lolling, and shakes a friendly tail.

“Down, Balzac,” Ernestina tells him. “Leave Mistor Potter alone.”

Balzac the dog sits and lets out a soft, disgruntled ‘woof.’ Before Harry can speak, Ernestina bows again, then turns on her heel and disappears through the door on his right. Dumbstruck, he shakes his head at the dog sitting at his feet. “Later, mate,” he says with a shrug, then follows the house-elf along a corridor lined with windows overlooking the street on his right hand. Her head pops around the corner of the first door on the left. “Over here, Mistor,” she says. 

When Harry steps into the room after her, he finds it furnished with two black leather sofas facing one another across a round walnut table where a single white hydrangea sits in a vase. The room is filled with sunlight. It’s warm and quiet, with a view over an outdoor garden. It’s so unexpectedly peaceful that for a second, Harry forgets that he is in a house in the middle of London, a house that belongs to Draco Malfoy, whom he’s about to meet again for the first time in a decade.

The thought brings him back to the reality of it. It feels momentous, even though it shouldn’t be. 

It’s just a job. 

It doesn’t have to mean anything that Harry doesn’t want it to.

“Mistor wants to give me his coat, sir?” The house-elf asks courteously.

“Er, yes. Thank you.” Harry takes off his coat and hands it to her. She practically disappears behind the bulky cashmere as she’s holding it against her chest.

“Wait here, please, Mistor Potter. Ernestina is letting Mistor Draco know Mistor Potter is arrived, sir.” And with a crack, she Disapparates.

Harry takes a few steps around the waiting room. From the window, the garden looks still and silent in the cold winter air; a couple of blue tits fly from one branch of a black cherry tree to another. He walks to one of the sofas, unbuttons his jacket and sits down. The cushion is comfortable but firm, the leather soft and buttery; everything about it speaks of tasteful wealth. Not that Harry doesn’t have more money than he can hope to spend in a lifetime, himself. But he’s aware that when it comes to interior design and decoration, Grimmauld Place will forever remain the motley combination of old, antique furniture inherited from his godfather’s Black family, Harry’s Ikea acquisitions from his post-Hogwarts years, and the odd Chudley Cannons banner.

He exhales in an attempt to relax. His leg is jiggling and he makes a conscious effort to keep still, his fingers clasped tightly in his lap. God, he’s nervous. This is a first for him. He hasn’t felt nervous at the start of a job since his first case for the Ministry, when he’d wiretapped a Floo network connected to Death Eaters’ safehouses. Back then, he was barely a few months over twenty one.

But this is Malfoy. He’s never been on a case against a former classmate.

Former nemesis, he reminds himself.

Just when he’s about to start fidgeting again, a door he hadn’t noticed opens behind him, and he hears someone pronounce his name. 

The cut-glass accent is so familiar Harry’s heart aches with abrupt nostalgia.

“Potter.”

Harry stands and turns sharply.

Standing in the doorway, one hand on the doorknob, the other in his pocket, looking severe and tall and lean in a dark grey Muggle suit and white shirt, is Draco Malfoy. 

He’s as pale and strikingly blond as Harry remembers, but his hair now curls lightly around his ears and above his collar, more relaxed than the sleek style Harry had known him to favour at Hogwarts. He’s pointy and lanky but he’s obviously filled out in the last decade. He looks like a man, and no longer like the gaunt, desperate child Harry remembered from the last years of the war and the trials.

Malfoy looks confident, healthy, and rested. Not at all how Harry pictured him. He expected Malfoy to look more like… the founder of a business empire. A widower. The single father of a seven-year-old child.

Whatever such a person is supposed to look like.

Harry stares.

The moment seems to stretch and stretch, but in reality must not last for longer than a few seconds. Malfoy is studying Harry just as intently, an almost imperceptible smile playing on his lips.

Eventually, Harry replies: “Hello, Malfoy.”

Malfoy takes a step back towards the room behind him.

“Come in,” he says. 

The room they walk into is much larger. The atmosphere is warmer, darker; all dark wood panelling, thick rugs and a merry fire crackling in a huge fireplace on Harry’s right-hand side. There is a large, elegant mahogany desk in the middle of the room, facing two brown leather club chairs and a high-back, pearl-grey silk upholstered one; the desk and the floor around it are covered with piles and piles of sheets of parchment and leather-bound books.

Malfoy’s study. 

Harry had imagined something… colder? Greener? Neater and perhaps a bit minimalistic? Something to match Malfoy’s cool, severe persona. Or perhaps the Slytherin cliché Harry had in his mind. Nothing like the pleasant, attractive space he’s standing in at the moment.

He looks around, cataloguing every little detail: a few pictures scattered among wall-length shelves otherwise filled with books, a balanced mix between wizarding and Muggle from what Harry can tell; a gleaming, lacquered grand piano, lid closed. Several shelves on the wall in the back are filled with what looks like hundreds of vinyl records. 

Harry gives his head a slight shake. There’s no way Malfoy collects records. It’s just… darker in here, and Harry’s vision might need time to adjust.

“You've met Ernestina,” Malfoy says, almost to himself.

“And your dog,” Harry replies. 

Malfoy’s mouth lifts at the corner in acknowledgment. “My wife’s,” he says, but doesn't elaborate. He walks around his desk and sits, gesturing at Harry. “Take a seat.” 

Without a word, Harry sits across from Malfoy, choosing the grey silk chair. Malfoy follows his movements with a slight lift of his eyebrow. Then he pulls a piece of parchment from a pile on his desk and examines it.

Harry recognises his ‘CV.’ Every single line of it is fake, at least the ones that come after 1998. Nevertheless, he knows each one of them by heart, with a good story to share about each of them, and he knows he could discuss it with Malfoy without raising the slightest suspicion.

Harry watches as Malfoy’s eyes scan his CV and his eyebrow shoots up in a sarcastic curve. He points at a line.

“Krav maga, Potter?”

“Wandless self-defense. Trust me, it can come in handy.” 

Malfoy’s face is inscrutable. “I must say, of all the applications I expected to receive when I asked Jemima to publish this job listing, Harry Potter’s was possibly the last one I would have thought of.” He lifts his cool grey eyes to Harry’s. “I shall ask this only once, because I need to make sure, for my own peace of mind.” He drops the parchment on the desk. “What the actual fuck, Potter?”

Harry fights the slow smile that threatens to spread on his face. Oh, this is going to be easy. So easy. Verbal sparring with Malfoy is like riding a broom — you never forget how to fly, no matter how long you’ve gone without it.

“I needed a job, and this is my line of work.” Harry shrugs.

“You needed a job?" Malfoy sounds incredulous. "I thought you were rich.”

“So are you. Yet here we are, two professional adults meeting for an interview.”

“Did you even know who you’d be working for?”

“Not at first, but I did my research.”

“And you’re fine with working… for me?” Malfoy asks, looking uninterested and aloof but for the slight hesitation at the end of his question.

“I have no feelings, good or bad, about working for you,” Harry says, and he knows he sounds convincing by the way Malfoy’s eyes stay fixed on his, guarded but sincere. “As I said, this is what I do. Personal security.”

“I’ve never heard of you being anyone’s bodyguard. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never heard anything about you working. Up until two days ago, I thought you’d never worked a day in your life. Not that I care what you do with your life,” he hastens to add, “but it sounds like something the Daily Prophet would have picked up on, doesn’t it?”

Harry smirks.

“I enjoy my… anonymity, as you can very well imagine. I usually wear a glamour when I’m on a job. Having Harry Potter on one’s security team is a double-edged sword.” His rueful smile is perfectly practiced. “I’m… er. Extremely good at my job. But I tend to attract a lot of unwanted attention as well, which can be off-putting for many of my clients. So I don’t work often. Actually, most of the time, I don’t work at all. I pick my clients based on the type of security they require, on the kind of people they are… and on personal compatibility.”

At that, Malfoy snorts. “Personal compatibility? In that case, what are you even doing here, interviewing with me, Potter?”

Harry’s heart speeds up in his chest. He loves how fast Malfoy rises to his bait, how well he knows which of Malfoy’s buttons to push to get the reaction he needs, even after all these years.

“Malfoy, we may not have got on when we were teenagers, but I think I know you enough — more than most people in my profession do. I spent the best part of sixth year following your every move, after all.”

A light blush creeps up Malfoy’s neck at Harry’s words. If it wasn’t Malfoy, it would be charming.

“You nearly killed me in sixth year,” Malfoy averts his eyes and murmurs, as if hoping Harry won’t hear him.

Refusing to let his guilt take over, Harry leans back in his chair. He’s had ample time to examine his feelings about the fight he’d had with Malfoy in that dark, abandoned bathroom, and the blood-curdling realisation that Malfoy could have been the first person — the only person —  Harry ever killed. There’s only one thing to say that will get him where he wants.

“I did, and I’m sorry. You were a right bastard at sixteen, but maybe so was I.” Malfoy barely hides his surprise at Harry’s freely provided apology. Harry continues, buoyed by this small success. “And you saved me the year after, and I saved you too, and twelve years later, we’re both alive and well. Let’s call it even, shall we?”

“All right,” Malfoy scowls. He’s still unconvinced. “Is that why I should choose you, then? Because you could have killed me and I could have killed you, and we didn’t? Seems pretty thin an argument.”

“It’s not a bad start, is it? But here’s why, really.” Harry folds his hands in his lap and leans forward, looking into Malfoy’s eyes. “I might be the only person you can trust with your personal security. All the other applicants — you don’t know them, do you? I know the majority of the wizarding community is still distrustful of you, which I deplore, believe me. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t know for sure that someone you hire won’t have bad intentions. Except for the man who could have been your downfall when he had the opportunity, and wasn’t.” He points a finger to his face and adds: “I’m talking about me, by the way.”

Malfoy stares at him for a second, seemingly at a loss for words. Then his mouth twists in a small smile — the first one Harry’s seen on him.

“You have a point, Potter,” he says. His eyes crinkle for a second, before his expression turns completely serious once more. “Most people hate me.” He lifts a hand when Harry opens his mouth to interrupt — to protest. “They respect me, perhaps grudgingly. They respect the work I’ve done. But they still hate me.” He looks at Harry then, his gaze sharp and inquisitive. “And you don’t.”

It’s not phrased as a question, but Harry hears it nonetheless.

“I don’t,” Harry confesses, and he’s surprised to realise he doesn’t have to lie. “Or at least, not the way other people do.”

Malfoy’s mouth lifts at the corner. “I can live with that. Besides, this isn’t really about me. My security detail is here to protect me but also, mainly, my son, Scorpius.” He rests his elbows on the desk, pressing his fingertips together. “You explained to me why I should choose you, but I’m the one conducting this interview. So tell me, Potter. What’s in it for you? Why would you choose me?”

Harry takes a breath. This is the part where his made-up profession and motivation come in, and he hopes he can sound convincing.

“Like I said, I pick my clients based on affinity. Affinity for the job they offer, but also for who they are. I get a lot of offers. The jobs range from pop stars to politicians, from foreign dignitaries to arms dealers to terrorist groups… sometimes it’s just wealthy people — some of whom have very questionable backgrounds. I refuse most jobs. And I always refuse the ones that, er… clash with my values. I work intimately with my clients and their families. I become close to them, I even usually move in with them. Most of the time it’s a twenty-four hour, seven days a week job, so I want to be around all the time in case I’m needed. Which is why I obviously can’t work with people I don’t respect, people I don’t want to be around, even in a professional manner. And the thing is—” Harry pauses, fakes embarrassment. “I… respect you, Malfoy.”  

Harry looks at Malfoy then. Malfoy’s expression is unreadable. He surveys Harry in a manner that would be extremely unsettling, were Harry not playing a role.

Then Malfoy stands, buttoning his suit jacket as he slowly walks around the desk. He starts pacing the length of the room, not looking Harry’s way. 

Still sitting, Harry feels exposed, vulnerable—but he doesn’t move. 

He wants to know if he’s succeeded.

“You will be in charge,” Malfoy’s slow drawl resounds in the warmth of his office, and the quiet formality of his tone is all the answer Harry needs, “of planning my trips and escorting me to and from the Caduceus offices in the City, where I go to on a daily basis, but also to any place and event where I need to be. You will do the same for my son, Scorpius, who goes to school three mornings a week and has appointments with his therapist two afternoons a week. In addition, you will also check any incoming post or parcels for curses and poison.” He keeps pacing, his lithe, graceful silhouette stark against the flames in the fireplace. It makes his hair glow gold. “You are expected to work closely with the other personnel under me: Ernestina, who is Scorpius’s nanny, and who’s also in charge of the house’s logistics; Jemima, my assistant; Lux, my driver. You will be holding a position formerly occupied by Gregory Goyle, who — as you very well know — is a close friend of mine. He was also deeply appreciated by the rest of my team. The success of your trial period will greatly depend on how well you get on and coordinate with these people. I need a team who’s united; I have no time or patience for dealing with quarrels and tempers. Disruptive elements tend to get sacked pretty quickly.” He stops pacing and finally looks up at Harry. “Is everything clear?”

Yes, everything’s crystal clear, except for the one little detail that truly caught Harry’s attention. 

A detail that wasn’t mentioned in the DMLE files.

“Therapist?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“You said I would bring your son to his therapist appointments.”

Malfoy’s shoulders slump and he dramatically rolls his eyes, exasperated.

“I just explained the rough content of the job to you. Is it really the only thing you want to ask me?”

“Yes.” Harry holds Malfoy's gaze, unabashed.

Malfoy sighs, as though Harry is the densest human being he’s ever encountered.

“Scorpius is autistic,” he says. “He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome about three years ago. He has regular appointments with a special needs therapist. She helps him with reading social cues and communication, self-soothing skills, handling his magic, and so forth. He’s been doing much better since we were able to determine what made him... different.”

Harry’s expression softens, and Malfoy’s eyes flash when he mistakes it for something it’s not. Pity. Condescendance. Merlin only knows how people usually react to that sort of news.

“Scorpius is a clever, brilliant, endearing child,” Malfoy snaps. “And yes. It goes without saying that getting on with him and treating him with respect are requirements for the job, even more so than everything else.”

“I never implied they weren’t,” Harry tells him steadily. “But I’m still glad I asked. I think it’s relevant information for the job.”

“Would it make you turn it down?”

“No. Why would it?”

Malfoy’s defensiveness melts away.

“Well. It’s an honest question. Some people are… uncomfortable. Knowing that.” He glances at Harry. “If you need support or help working with him — just ask. It can often be difficult to judge if you're engaging with him the right way when you’re… new to it.”

“Okay,” Harry says simply. Under his collected façade, his heart is beating madly. He might have pulled this off. He might start working for Draco Malfoy.

Of course he's not worried about Scorpius Malfoy. 

He's more worried about where working with his father might lead.

Malfoy surveys him a moment longer, very still if for the fingers of his right hand, clenching against the fabric of his trousers.

Eventually, he nods.

It’s a simple acknowledgment. For a moment, silence surrounds them, only disturbed by the crackle of the fire and the birds chirping in the garden outside. The atmosphere shifts to something different, and Harry struggles to maintain eye contact with Malfoy.

So he clears his throat, and smiles slowly.

“When do I start?”

“As soon as you can move in,” Malfoy says. “The whole upper floor of the house will be yours for the duration of your employment.”

“So… does that mean I’ve got the job, Malfoy?”

Malfoy’s answering smirk sends a wave of warmth through Harry. Malfoy holds out a pale, elegant hand, and Harry takes it. 

Malfoy’s fingers wrap around his in a confident grip.

“Did you ever doubt it, Potter?”

Chapter Text

Merlin.

If twelve years ago, someone had told Draco he'd have the day he's just had… he would have thought them barmier than Professor Trelawney.

Yet there is no denying that Harry fucking Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World and Draco’s childhood nemesis, actually spent over an hour interviewing with him this morning and agreed to work as Draco’s bodyguard.

The thought leaves Draco giddy, in a way he hasn’t felt in years. He knows he shouldn’t let himself feel that way — not when he still needs to find out what Potter is really here for — but his heart is at a loss for a more appropriate response. Punching the air and thanking whatever higher power exists for this sheer — and possibly dangerous —  stroke of good fortune doesn’t seem to be one of them.

But that was to be expected, wasn’t it? Seeing Potter standing in his waiting room, looking like a bloody miracle… of course it would set his heart racing. Same old, exasperatingly destructive tendencies. Draco despairs of himself. He really hasn’t changed at all since he was sixteen. He can’t remember why he ever thought having Potter living under the same roof, following him around like a bloodhound, and occasionally protecting him from potential harm, was such a clever idea.

Or perhaps he can remember. When Potter turned those startling green eyes on him for the first time in twelve years, his heart skipped a beat. Skipped a fucking beat, like in a cheap romance novel. Damn Potter to the ends of hell, he looked bloody fit; the attractive sharpness of his features as a scrawny teenager simmering under the collected façade of adulthood. He was all dark curls falling around his face, strong nose and bright eyes and wide shoulders highlighted by a tasteful Muggle suit, and Draco felt weak in the knees for a second.

If Pansy could have seen him in that moment...

Draco did not know what to expect from an interview with Potter. Honestly, until he’d laid eyes on him, he’d thought that Potter’s application was the world’s cruelest joke. Someone, somewhere, wasn’t done humiliating him, making him pay for the mistakes of his past. They wanted to rub them in his face — remind him of what, or perhaps more accurately, who, he’d never have.

Potter had been his usual self: entitled, cocky, bullish. And for Draco, it’d felt like slipping into an old, comfortable relationship. Which made no sense at all, since he and Potter had never had anything that could have been called a relationship, let alone an easy one. Still, there was something truly delightful in talking to him — something that set Draco’s nerves sparkling. Despite his infuriating self-confidence, Potter had been funny, self-aware, respectful. He’d even made Draco smile, which Draco wasn’t sure was due to Potter’s surprising sense of humour as much as Draco’s embarrassing teenage feelings resurfacing after only ten minutes in his presence.

Potter had made an excellent case for himself, better than the other candidates Draco had already met. It would have been terribly annoying , if it didn’t fit Draco’s plans as well. The calculating Slytherin in Draco kept reminding him that having Harry Potter on his side — the bloody Golden Boy and Defeater of Dark Lords — could only be beneficial for his security and for his public image.

And so he had silenced the warning voices that had gone off at the sight of Potter, and he’d shaken his hand, sealing their employer and employee relationship.

The moment Potter leaves, after arranging his move into Draco’s house at the beginning of the following week, Draco throws himself back into work. Letting Potter rattle him is out of the question. Draco is soon going to be in the man’s vicinity almost all his waking hours, seven days a week. 

He has not raised an entire bloody multimillion-Galleon company from the ground up by letting his emotions run unchecked.

Not to mention that the vultures will be back soon. That fucking Department of Magical Taxes and Finances and fucking Zacharias Smith. Always so bloody delighted to ransack Draco’s offices under the pretense of conducting their annual audits of Caduceus’ accounts. Draco groans into his hands, raking his fingers into his hair. Merlin, he can’t stand Smith. The thought of having him and his team of self-important pricks roaming the corridors of Caduceus makes him sick. Just like every year, they will look for irregularities. Draco knows full well what they mean by that. What they mean is, anything dodgy or illegal because the firm is led by a former Slytherin, and a Malfoy to boot. And just like every year, they won’t find a thing. Because there is nothing to be found. Draco trusts his CFO, and the team of controllers and accountants under him, with his life. And even then, he still checks Caduceus accounts weekly to be sure. 

He wants to be above reproach.

He knows he is above reproach.

He doesn’t have a bloody choice but to be.

At noon, Ernestina pops into his office with a tray of sandwiches, a small plate of sliced apple, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. She places it on a corner of his desk after pushing a pile of parchment aside. Draco glances at it, uninterested.

“Don’t look so put out, Mistor Draco. You has to eats, sir,” Ernestina chides him lightly in that motherly tone she only uses with him and Scorpius. Draco turns a weary smile at her; he doesn’t think he’s ever heard his own mother use that tone. He’s grateful that parenting can take so many different forms.

“Don’t worry, Ernestina. I shall eat when I’m hungry. I just need to finish this.” He gestures at one of the reports from a Caduceus factory in Wales, covered in green annotations.

Ernestina crosses her arms on her chest.

“That Mistor Potter mess with your appetite?”

Draco rolls his eyes, secretly impressed by Ernestina’s perceptiveness.

“No,” he drawls. “I just have a lot of work.”

“Ernestina is not sure she likes Mistor Potter, sir.”

Draco looks up from his report. “Well, you shouldn’t. You’re supposed to follow him and find out. He didn’t apply here by coincidence, of that I’m sure.”

“That, Ernestina can deals with, Mistor Draco. If Mistor Potter is being shady, Ernestina is finding out. It’s not just Mistor Potter’s intentions that Ernestina is worrying about, though, sir. There is something else.”

“Something else?”

“Mistor Draco was very disquieted this morning when Mistor was waiting for the interview, sir.”

“I was not!” Draco objects, rather childishly. He narrows his eyes at the house-elf. She keeps staring at him with her big unblinking eyes. “Wait, you didn’t tell me how Potter was when he arrived at the house.”

“Mistor Potter looked everywhere, Mistor Draco, sir. He was very curious, sir. But Ernestina could tell, Mistor Potter was trying to hide it. He was trying to hide how interested he was, sir.”

“Huh,” Draco just says. There’s a pleased little spark in his chest. So Potter was just as curious about Draco as Draco was about him. He feels marginally less foolish for his reaction this morning.

And then Ernestina spoils it all by opening her mouth again.

“Be careful, Mistor Draco.”

“Careful about what?” Draco scoffs, pretending to go back to his report.

“Mistor Draco has a look in his eyes. Ernestina is never seen that look before. Mistor looks… hungry.” She narrows her eyes in concern. “Be careful about Mistor Potter, sir.”

Draco sighs. Here it goes, he thinks. He’s never going to hear the end of it, is he? And he hasn’t even told his mother, or Blaise and Pansy. The last two, especially, are going to tease him to no end about it.

Hiring Harry bloody Potter. 

As his bodyguard.

Oh, that is laughable.

“I’ll be careful, thank you, Ernestina. And you — I expect you to find out more about Potter soon. It is a matter of vital importance that we understand why Harry Potter reappeared in the public eye after being gone for years, only to put in for a position as Draco Malfoy’s bodyguard.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that was all there was to it. He shifts his eyes away from Ernestina, shaking his head. “Now, don’t let Scorpius be late to Dr. Dawson’s, all right?”

The house-elf bows, recognising she’s being dismissed, and Disapparates with a crack.

Later that afternoon, when Draco’s head is swimming with numbers, he comes out of his office and heads to his bedroom upstairs. He grabs one of his running outfits from the wardrobe, the dark blue one that keeps him warm even in the depth of winter — Muggle body heat technology combined with his own warming charms — and quickly changes into it. Looking at his reflection in the tall mirror sitting in his room, he hesitates for a second, Summons a black beanie with a flick of his fingers and covers his hair with it. Not that he’s at risk, going for a run in the middle of the week in a neighbourhood he knows by heart; but he knows his rather unique hair colour can be quite conspicuous and he’d rather avoid being spotted by paparazzi while he doesn’t have his security detail with him. Greg always followed him on his runs, after all. 

He wonders if Potter will, too.

Once outside the house, he starts jogging towards Knightsbridge. There are several smaller parks and squares around his house, but Hyde Park is his favourite, big enough to lose himself in it, lose track of time, and let the thoughts come freely to his brain.

Outside of Quidditch, Draco had never been one for sports. While at Hogwarts, Quidditch practice had been enough. More than enough. The training was intense: at fifteen, he already had the lean, lightly muscled body that Pansy had spent hours exploring that year.

But Astoria was the one who had got him into running.

After his three-year house arrest, Draco had moved to Paris with his mother, in the beautiful little Montmartre flat overlooking the roofs of the city that, to Draco, would forever be entwined with the feeling of finally being young and free. He was skinny and gaunt, having lost so much weight and muscle tone from sitting around in the cavernous, empty rooms of the Manor for so long. Meeting Astoria was like meeting life incarnated. She was warm, curious, quick-witted , and she loved life the way a fish loves water. Like she was in her element. She carried around a three-legged Bernese mountain dog — well, puppy, back then — that she’d rescued from a shelter she volunteered at in the outskirts of Paris. Draco’s Mother didn’t approve of Balzac much. He wasn’t a Crup, for one. He was maimed, for two. Aren’t we all, in a way? Draco had countered, feeling cheeky. Astoria has smiled at that, glancing at Draco.

She’d loved running, and she had introduced Draco to that new activity with enthusiasm. She would come and get him every morning, and they’d go for a run in the convoluted cobbled streets of Montmartre, down the hill towards the St Lazare train station, and all the way to the garden of Tuileries. At first, Draco would come back home exhausted, out of breath and sweaty, his mother horrified that a good pureblood witch like Astoria would teach a Muggle sport to her son. Draco was actually more surprised that Astoria had agreed to marry him after seeing him time and again in that disgusting sweaty state.

In any case, he was delighted by the strength he felt coming back to him, all the while pushing his limits and the parts of Paris he hadn’t yet explored further day after day. He’d taken on running with a passion, and he’d never stopped.

Astoria had run because it helped her clear her head, she used to say. But Draco runs because it’s always when he runs that inspiration strikes. It was on a run through a park that he had worked out the minutiae of the first business idea that had allowed him to come up with the initial investment for Caduceus; it was on a run along the Seine that he had also come up with the idea of Juvence, the potion that would become his biggest commercial success. He usually took the key decisions he needed to make in his life while he was running.

So when he finally steps through the gates of Hyde Park, he lets his mind freely sift through his thoughts.

His firecall with his financial team, who all keep a calm head despite the pressure they’re going to be under in the next few months; his HR’s passion for the new training programme she and Draco are designing for their R&D employees. His last check-in with Jemima who will send tomorrow’s agenda by owl later tonight. Potter’s green eyes, looking at him from under his dark brows. Potter, who’s going to be living under Draco’s roof in just a few days. Potter, who cannot be good news, and yet who Draco voluntarily let inside his house. Potter, who is already taking too much space in Draco’s head for Draco’s own good. Potter, whose name is drumming in Draco’s brain, in Draco’s heart, in every slap of his trainers on the wet pavement. 

Potter. Potter. Potter.

Draco stops abruptly, panting hard. He bends over and rests his hands on his thighs, trying to catch his breath. He didn’t even notice he’d pushed himself too far, lost in his thoughts as he was.

He shakes his head. 

Either Potter does the job Draco hired him to do, or he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, there is nothing in their agreement that says Draco can’t terminate it at will. Yes, he thinks, turning around and resuming his jog, this time heading back home. He can always fire Potter if he feels himself turning stupid for him.

At least, he hopes he can.

 

*

 

When Draco arrives home, deliciously tired and sweaty, night has fallen. He takes off his beanie, pushing his messy hair out of his eyes, and cringes when he sees the time. It’s almost half past seven, and Scorpius is probably already in bed.

He casts a quick refreshing charm on himself and steps into the foyer when he hears a little voice calling him from one floor up.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Scorpius?” he asks, relieved that he gets to see his son before bedtime. He climbs the first steps and bends over the banister to look up. Scorpius is in his striped blue pyjamas, his blond head hanging from above the banister, golden curls falling around his face. Next to him, Balzac is looking down the banister as well, tongue lolling out of his mouth.

“Nestine said you were out.”

“I was,” Draco tells him when he arrives on the first floor landing. Scorpius looks up at him with big brown eyes that quickly shift away from Draco’s face. Balzac pushes his shaggy head into Draco's palm and he scratches behind his dog’s ears with a smile. “I went for a run, like I always do.”

Scorpius nods.

“Did she read you a bedtime story already?”

“No, you read to me.”

“Okay.” Draco smiles. With a light hand between Scorpius’s shoulder blades, he walks him to his bedroom, Balzac limping happily at his side.

The little boy climbs up in his bed and lies on his back, very still. The dog settles in a heap at the foot of Scorpius’s bed. Draco carefully tucks the covers around his son — Scorpius likes to feel the blankets cocooned tight around him — and he sits in the chair next to the bedside table.

“Which one are we reading tonight?”

“The Chopin one.”

“Again?”

“Yes! Again! Chopin!” Scorpius huffs as if Draco is the densest dad in the world.

“Ah yes, of course. Sorry.” Draco smiles and bends to grab one of the books from the floor. Scorpius can be obsessively neat about certain aspects of his room, and completely careless about others. Books, it seems, fall into the latter category, and are strewn all over the floor and furniture of his bedroom. It used to drive Ernestina crazy, until Dr Dawson told her to let Scorpius be as messy or tidy as he felt like being because he was still such a young child, and she stopped fussing about it.

Draco finds it. The book cover has a picture of a man sitting in front of a grand piano, Greatest Classical Music written across it. It’s almost a documentary-like book and Scorpius is fascinated with the illustrations. Draco’s not entirely sure that it’s age-appropriate — the words used to talk about music make it sound a lot like the scientific potions textbooks he used to read for class — but he knows Scorpius can take it. He delights in learning and repeating complicated words which leave Ernestina mystified, something Draco finds endlessly funny.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Yes,” Scorpius mutters from underneath the blanket.

“Chopin, then,” Draco muses, and looks up the table of contents for Scorpius’s new favourite composer. When he finds the page, he takes a breath. He was obsessed with the Weird Sisters when he was Scorpius’ age. He’ll take Chopin over those shrill hags any day, now.

“Okay, so, Frederic Chopin,” he starts, using the soothing, quiet tone he takes for bedtime reading. “Frederic François Chopin was born in Poland in 1810. A leading musician of his time, he’s renowned for his solo piano compositions…”

When Scorpius finally falls asleep after hearing about Chopin three times in a row, Draco brushes golden curls away from his little face and drops a light kiss on his forehead. “Goodnight, Balzac,” he murmurs to the big dog, who blinks sleepily at him in acknowledgement. Draco waves a motion-sensing charm over his son and quietly walks out of the room, leaving the door ajar in case Scorpius wakes up during the night. It used to happen often, when Scorpius was younger. Almost every other night. Draco would find his son asleep in the strangest of places — the carpet in the middle of the first floor landing, Draco’s bathroom floor, in front of the cooling oven door in the kitchen — curled around himself like a dormouse in its nest, Balzac standing guard next to him. Draco would pick him up and carry him back into his bed, alarm and worry swirling in his chest. The motion-sensing charms he’d set over his son’s bed never seemed to work. A few months later, they’d met Dr. Dawson, and Scorpius’ strange behaviour had started to make sense. As did his ability to break through his father’s wards without Draco noticing. He looks for you, she’d explained. He just isn’t aware of the fact that you don’t know he is awake. Draco had clasped his hands in his lap, glanced over at Scorpius who was humming a classical tune in the play area of Dr. Dawson’s office. How come I don’t? I cast the motion-sensing charms every night, he’d told her, a feeling of inadequacy sinking in his stomach. Your son’s magic, she’d answered, her eyes kind, is special. It follows its own rules. It doesn’t connect to the magic of other people the way ours does. It sets him apart. She’d leaned in, reassuring, an answer to Draco’s concerned frown. I understand that it can be a source of stress. But it’s also a source of great power, focus, and independence. It’s not just Scorpius’ magic that’s special; it’s him.

It almost never happens anymore, Draco finding Scorpius asleep in improbable places in the middle of the night. He’s discovered, since then, that waking up to a ray of lamplight coming into his room makes it easier for Scorpius to fall back asleep.

And so Draco sighs and walks back downstairs to his office, after changing out of his running clothes and taking a quick shower. Ready to work, as he does almost every day, well into the small hours of the night.

Chapter Text

Harry had a good feeling about Malfoy’s house when he came in for his interview. And ten minutes after moving in that Monday are enough to confirm that he actually likes the place quite a lot. 

The thought of it hits him as he’s arranging his things into the wardrobe and chest of drawers. The two attic rooms are going to be his home for the duration of his employment — or, more truthfully, the duration of his mission.

The rooms are sunny and light, like the rest of the house. It’s probably a coincidence that Harry has come here during the only two sunny days of January in London. He takes it as a… sign. 

A sign of what?

In truth, Grimmauld Place never feels light and sunny. It never feels warm, even in the middle of the August dog days. Harry doesn’t begrudge his godfather’s house for it, not really. It’s a bloody ancient house, its windows a bit too small for the sunlight to properly get in, its tapestries a bit too dark for the rooms to ever feel sunny, its old radiators and pipes a bit too slow to conduct the warmth of the heater (which isn’t top-of-the-line, either — Harry remembers Mundungus Fletcher, disheveled and sweaty, helping an intensely disgruntled Severus Snape install the creaky old heater in the kitchen, back when he spent his summer in the Order’s headquarters). He knows Number Twelve, Grimmauld place isn’t cold and unwelcoming just to displease him. It’s just a house… but he can’t deny that being away from it is always a welcome change.

And being here — being at Malfoy’s house instead — definitely is. Morning sunlight floods the rooms, pouring from large skylights; the light pine hardwood floors are smooth under the soles of Harry’s shoes. The air smells clean, warm, the scent of fresh laundry and dust motes floating in the rays of sun coming from the windows. 

He’s on the third and last floor of the house. His first room is a small, cosy study. It’s furnished with a desk, a comfortable chair, a squashy green sofa — some green, fucking finally, Harry thinks wryly — a shaggy brown rug, and a bookshelf containing a mismatched collection of Muggle and wizarding fiction.

The study leads to another room. Bedroom, Harry thinks with an odd twist in his gut when he sees the inviting queen-sized bed sitting in the middle of the room, flanked by two bedside tables and a round Muggle lamp that looks vintage. Across the room, there’s a beautiful carved pine wardrobe and a chest of drawers topped with a vase containing— of course — a grey hydrangea. The room is minimalistic but bright and warm. There is no trace of its previous occupant, to Harry’s relief. The place looks both lived-in and completely blank, the perfect combination for someone to adopt it, to feel instantly at home in.

The last room is a light grey-and-blue tiled bathroom with a double sink, a large bathtub and a shower cubicle big enough for Harry to fit lying down on the floor of it. There’s a single bar of soap, white and appealingly round, placed in a shallow bowl next to the sink. It fills the bathroom with the scent of honeysuckle, and Harry takes a deep breath, absorbs it, relaxes.

“Not bad, Malfoy,” he says out loud with a sigh, his hands on his hips.

“Glad you like it,” Malfoy answers from behind him.

The calm shatters. Harry whips around. Malfoy is leaning against the doorframe of the bedroom, a small smile on his lips. He’s wearing one of those Muggle suits of his, his white-blond hair catching the sunlight pouring into the room and gleaming, clean and soft-looking. Harry feels his face heating and he has no idea why: Malfoy should be the one who’s embarrassed, coming to Harry’s room uninvited.

As if reading Harry’s thoughts, Malfoy has the decency to turn his expression sheepish. He straightens and brushes his suit jacket, pretending to look around.

“My apologies. I was joking. I shouldn’t even be here. I assure you, this floor is yours. No one shall disturb you when you’re here.” Malfoy meets Harry’s eyes again. “I just wanted to check that you’re… settling in okay.”

“It's fine,” Harry nods. “I wasn’t expecting anyone after Ernestina let me in. She said you were busy.”

“I’m always busy,” Malfoy says, his tone sharp, then seems to catch himself. “Merlin, that sounded awfully self-important.” He looks oddly flustered, exhales, annoyed with himself. “Anyway, it’s your first day, I can take the time to help you get started.”

Harry leaves the bathroom door and walks back into the bedroom, towards Malfoy. “I really like it here, you know.”

Malfoy lifts a perplexed eyebrow. “You do?”

“Yeah. My own place never feels this... warm.”

“Oh,” Malfoy just says.

For a moment, they just look. The silence stretches on, and still Harry can’t tear his gaze away from Malfoy’s. His brain desperately searches for a topic of conversation. Which is ridiculous, because Malfoy hired Harry to be his bodyguard. Not his conversation partner. 

And there are a ton of work-related topics to pick from.

“Will you show me the rest of the house? If I’m going to be living here… and I’m protecting you… it makes sense to know the place.”

An odd look crosses Malfoy’s face at Harry’s words. He nods, rather formally. “Yes, of course. Follow me.”

They come out on the third floor landing and Harry leans over the banister to look down at the stairwell and the other floors, all the way down to the foyer.

“The house has four stories,” Malfoy starts telling him in that drawling, posh voice of his. He seems more at ease now that he has control over the subject. “The ground floor, with access to the street on the east side and a private garden on the west side. The garden is protected by Muggle and magic anti-trespassing equipment both. We’ve never had any issue with it.”

They walk down the stairs. “The second floor is mine,” Malfoy continues. “The layout is fairly similar to your own quarters, except that this one has a guest room across the landing.” At Harry’s questioning look, Malfoy rolls his eyes, “My ‘guests’ are no one to worry about, Potter. More often than not, it’s just my mother visiting from France.”

“I haven’t said anything,” Harry says with a small smile, “and anyway, I would imagine other kinds of ‘guests’ might not need a guest room.”

Malfoy stops with one hand on the handle of the door leading to his rooms. He turns around to survey Harry with another lift of his eyebrow. “Really, Potter? Making innuendos about my personal life on your first half-hour of employment?”

Harry shrugs, refusing to blush. “Am I wrong, though?”

“Yes,” Malfoy says, his eyes cold. “You are.” 

And he pushes the door open.

“These are my rooms,” he tells Harry, the neutral, tour-guide tone back on, as if he hadn’t shut him down a second ago. “Study, bedroom, bathroom,” he enumerates. “You can go have a look. I’ll wait for you here.” He turns to look at Harry expectantly. Adds, “I have nothing to hide.” The words send a zing of disquiet through Harry, but he decides to ignore it, instead stepping inside the study. 

The second level has darker wood on the floors, with matching furniture. Unlike the study upstairs, this one has a wall covered from floor to ceiling in shelves of vinyl records. So the ones he thought he saw in Malfoy’s office weren’t a trick of the eyes, then. Harry walks to the shelves, pulls out one of the records. It’s a copy of Janis Joplin’s Pearl, and when Harry turns it over in his hands, he finds out it’s an original first edition. He gingerly puts it back and selects another one a few rows over, a recording of the 2002 performance of The Marriage of Figaro at the Paris Opera. He turns around to review the room once more. It looks like a small, less-used version of Malfoy’s office downstairs, but Harry’s trained eye doesn’t spot anything out of the ordinary. He walks over to Malfoy’s bedroom, feeling oddly guilty, like he’s snooping around. Which, to be fair, is exactly what he’s doing.

The actual sight of it does nothing to alleviate the feeling. Almost shy, he steps into the sunlit room, eyeing the beautiful four-poster bed that wouldn’t look out of place in their Hogwarts dormitories, if only for the size of it. With what he guesses are king-sized dimensions, Malfoy’s bed is a far cry from the single beds all of them had in school.

There’s a door on the side, opening onto a huge walk-in wardrobe with neat rows of suits, shirts, coats, wizarding dress robes, and perfectly spaced piles of jumpers and shirts on the shelves. Underneath the shelves, along the wardrobe walls, is a collection of shoes that would make a shoe shop pale in comparison. And, interestingly, a couple of pairs of rather muddy trainers. So Malfoy’s a runner, then. Not that Harry couldn’t have guessed — he certainly has the body of one, all lean muscle and supple gait.

Pushing thoughts of Malfoy’s body away with a contrite shudder, Harry finishes his inspection with the bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary there either, except the counters and floors are white marble instead of tiles.

With a sigh, Harry walks back towards the landing.

Malfoy is waiting for him patiently, arms folded over his chest. “So?” He tilts his chin when he sees Harry.

“Any secret traps or passageways I should know about?” Harry asks.

“No, Potter. No more than in any normal person’s house.”

“You’d make a very disappointing Bond villain,” Harry mutters.

“Yes, I’m sure I would,” Malfoy smirks, and there’s a sardonic glint in his eye. “Is that what you think of me?”

“I don’t… think of you,” Harry retorts. Oh God. Lame. Fortunately Malfoy doesn’t seem to hear him. They walk down another flight of stairs.

“This is Scorpius’s and Ernestina’s floor,” he tells Harry. “They’re out at the moment, so you can take your time if you want to look around. It’s a rare opportunity — neither of them like having uninvited strangers in their rooms.”

In size and location, Ernestina’s room is the same as the guest room above. Other than that, it has nothing of the blank, hotel-like quality of its second-floor counterpart. It can only be described as… well, a house-elf’s room, for lack of a better adjective. It’s neat, lively, and house-elf-sized. There’s a small bed tucked in the corner, along the wall where a large window overlooks the garden. Red-and-white checkered curtains hang on either side of the window, matching the bed covers and the thick burgundy rug covering the floor almost entirely. On the other side of the room, there’s a bulky chest of drawers that Harry can tell is almost full to bursting, a squashy armchair, and a small coffee table stained with old condensation rings. 

Harry walks back out on the landing, nodding at Malfoy as he heads for Scorpius’s room.

Which is a big surprise.

Seeing the rest of the house, Harry would have surmised that the Malfoy heir’s private space would be as neat and tidy as his father’s. But there’s no other way to put it: Scorpius’s room looks exactly like any other kid’s room Harry has ever seen.

Granted, the space is larger than many kids’ rooms; it’s the size of his father’s bedroom and study combined. Yet it’s divided into little areas that look both cosy and very specific in their purpose. Near the entrance of the room, there’s a pyramidal white tent; when Harry bends to look inside, he sees piles and piles of cushions and a few books. The other side is occupied by a reading nook that wouldn’t be out of place in a public library. The end of the room contains a single four-poster bed with soft green bedding, an armchair and a bedside table next to it. On the west side, underneath the window, a large rug is strewn with Muggle Lego. Paper maché unicorns and dragons and garlands of golden stars hang from the ceiling, and at least thirty books are scattered across the floor, all over the room.

Harry walks towards the bed. On the bedside table, there’s a plastic lamp shaped like a treble clef, a heavy book about classical music, and a framed wizarding photograph. Harry lifts the frame from the table to examine it. The photograph shows Malfoy, a few years younger, standing next to a woman the same age. She’s got shiny, dark blond hair, a round, pretty face, and doe-like brown eyes; she’s also clearly very pregnant — seven, eight months in. Astoria, he realises. As Harry stares at the picture, photograph-Malfoy winds an arm around his wife’s shoulders, pulling her closer to him with a fond smile as she laughs. They look bright, carefree. Happy. The photograph loops again and Harry snaps out of it. He puts the frame back where he picked it up and quickly walks out of Scorpius’s room.

“All done?” Malfoy asks him in a bored drawl when he steps back onto the landing.

“It seems neither your house-elf nor your son have the potential to be Bond villains, either,” Harry tells him.

The corner of Malfoy’s mouth twitches. “You’re disappointed. I can tell.”

“We spent years living in a castle where every other step was trapped and every other door lead to secret passageways. Can you blame me?”

“I shall try to do better in my next home, then.”

Harry nods towards the stairs. “You haven’t shown me the ground floor… there’s still hope.”

Malfoy shakes his head with a disbelieving half-smile. “Merlin, Potter. I’m regretting my decision to hire you already.”

“I know,” Harry teases, following Malfoy down the last flight of stairs. “I’m a terrible employee. Insubordination, insolence, tardiness… you should see my recommendations.”

“I highly doubt anyone in their right mind would dare make a bad recommendation about bloody Harry Potter,” Malfoy mutters. Before Harry can respond, Malfoy is leading him into the corridor that he saw the morning of his interview.

“You’ve already been here — the parlour, a waiting room for my personal appointments,” Malfoy tells him, gesturing towards the beautiful sunlit room that was Harry’s first impression of the house. The vase on the table has been refilled with a fresh white hydrangea. “Otherwise, most of my professional meetings take place in my office at Caduceus. You’ll notice a lot of people coming and going into Caduceus in the next few months. Financial auditors from the Ministry. However… unpleasant those people are, it’s a necessary process for big companies.” Malfoy turns to look at Harry. “Don’t let their official stance fool you. They’re only allowed access to designated areas of Caduceus offices, and they’re of course not allowed to bother me or the company’s personnel more than their official duties permit. Any stepping out of line, and you, as security, are definitely welcome to push back.”

“Okay,” Harry nods. He remembers Zacharias Smith’s reports in the boxes of evidence the Auror team gave him to read. Smith was a pompous prick when they were all in Hogwarts. If he’s still half as annoying as he was at sixteen, Harry won’t have any problem playing the part of the unimpressed bodyguard.

“You’ve seen my main study already. Let me show you the rest of the floor, and then there’s the kitchen and wine cellar in the basement.”

Across the foyer, Malfoy shows Harry a simple and attractive dining room space furnished with a two-metre-long table and eight wooden designer chairs, with bow windows overlooking the hedges of the front yard and the street, and a modern chandelier hanging from the ceiling. At the back of the room, a door leads to the basement, where Harry finds a large and fully-equipped kitchen with a fire crackling happily in the hearth. With a pang of nostalgia, he’s reminded of the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, the only room of the house where he’s ever truly felt at home. 

Just when they’re walking back up from the kitchen, the front door opens and closes, a flutter of footsteps, gentle murmurs and Balzac’s soft, happy barks. 

“Daddy!” Harry hears a child’s voice cry from the foyer. 

Upstairs, in the foyer, Ernestina stands next to a small, blond child. The boy is holding a plastic toy against his chest, some sort of dragon — a Norwegian Ridgeback, Harry thinks — and his eyes are fixed on it. Balzac is curled at his feet, tail swishing on the marble floor. Malfoy’s house-elf gazes at the boy, then at Malfoy, with a proud look on her face.

“Scorpius was very good today, Mistor Draco, sir. The teacher is saying Scorpius made a friend.”

“You did?” Malfoy asks his son. He sounds softer than Harry has ever heard him. “That’s brilliant, Scorpius.”

Harry watches the scene for a moment, unsure if he should interrupt. Ask Malfoy if he needs him, or go back to his rooms. He feels the house-elf’s wary eyes on him, and he clears his throat. 

“Malfoy was giving me a tour of the house.”

Ernestina nods. “Welcome to the team, Mistor Potter.”

“Thank you, Ernestina.” All the while, Malfoy’s appraising gaze follows his movements. At last, the little boy seems to notice Harry’s presence in the room. Eyes widening, he wraps his arms around his father’s leg and scurries around him as if to hide.

“And this is Scorpius,” Malfoy drawls, and Harry doesn’t miss the note of pride in his voice. “Scorpius, this is Harry Potter.”

Harry leans slightly to better look at the child. He’s small and skinny, dressed in practical Muggle little-boy clothes. His face has the tell-tale pointy quality that he obviously inherited from his father, but his hair curls more than Malfoy’s, its golden colour a few shades darker than his father’s. His big brown eyes, so unlike Malfoy’s, are fixed on the hem of his father’s trousers. “Hello, Scorpius. I’m going to work here.”

“Hello, Harry,” the boy tells him, not meeting his eyes.

“Ah — Scorpius. It’s not Harry, it’s Mister Potter,” Malfoy corrects, a little embarrassed.

“But he’s calling me Scorpius, Daddy. Why can’t I call him by his given name?”

“It’s fine, Malfoy,” Harry says, waving a placatory hand at Malfoy. Malfoy shrugs.

“All right. You win, Potter.”

“Daddy?” Scorpius asks, pulling at Malfoy’s trousers fabric. Malfoy turns to look at him and the boy meets his father’s eyes briefly before looking at his shoes. “Why do you not call him Harry?”

“Well...” Malfoy hesitates. Harry stifles a snort, and Malfoy turns to him with a baleful lift of his eyebrow. “I’ve always called him ‘Potter,’” he finishes weakly, and even Harry knows he’s not going to get away with that one.

“But he said he’s going to work here,” Scorpius insists with surprising persistence. “Like Uncle Greg. You should call him Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry. Please, Daddy.”

“Ah.” Malfoy glances at Harry. Malfoy under a little child’s thumb is just too good a sight. Harry has no intention of helping him out in the least.

“Fine by me… Draco, ” he tells him with a grin.

“Fine,” Malfoy throws his hands up in mock-defeat. “Perfect. So we’ve established the use of given names then. Harry.

His name sounds good spoken in Malfoy’s posh accent, and Harry notes, surprised and a little pleased, that Malfoy’s cheeks are pinker.     

Malfoy hastily clears his throat. “Is lunch ready, Ernestina?”

“Yes, Mistor Draco,” the house-elf says. “Mistor wants to come and see?”

“Yes,” he tells her. Then, turning to Scorpius, “I’m going to the kitchen with Ernestina. Can you stay with Balzac and — erm, Harry — for a minute?”

The boy nods, never looking away from his trainers.

“Alright.” Malfoy straightens up and nods to Harry. “I’ll be right back.”

Harry stays in the foyer with a quiet Scorpius. Balzac sprawls on the floor next to Scorpius and blinks at Harry, as if assessing what Harry's going to do next. In the midday sunlight, the room suddenly feels hushed, and Harry battles with a nonsensical urge to fill the silence. He searches his head for something to say, something to tell Scorpius. Other than Teddy, who is a few years older than Scorpius, and Ron and Hermione’s daughter who’s only a couple of years younger but strikes him as radically different, he can’t say he’s around children a lot. What do kids like these days? What does a kid like Scorpius like? He thinks back to Scorpius’s room, the treble-shaped lamp and the big book by his bedside table. Making him talk about the things he’s interested in seems like a reasonable way to start a conversation with a socially awkward seven-year-old.

“So… your dad said you liked music,” Harry ventures. “I like music, too. When I was your age, I really liked, er…” Scorpius hasn’t so much as batted an eye at Harry’s words. It’s like Harry hasn’t even spoken. He scratches the back of his neck. “I really liked The Cure.” He feels foolish. As if Scorpius would have any idea who The Cure were. Or the other bands Harry liked. The Pretenders. Nirvana. R.E.M. “I don’t know if you know them... What kind of music do you like?”

A beat, and then:

“Chopin.”

“Ah. I’m not sure I remember who that is,” Harry says, relieved that he’s making contact with the child and unable to pinpoint why.

Without answering Harry, Scorpius turns on his heels and heads towards the corridor on the right. Balzac leaps to his feet and runs after him with a soft whine.

“Scorp—” Harry calls. Malfoy hasn’t come back from the kitchen. He’s supposed to stay with Scorpius.

He jogs down the corridor after the little boy.

He finds Scorpius in Malfoy’s study, climbing on the stool in front of the closed grand piano, Balzac wagging his tail and watching him expectantly. 

Scorpius lifts his hand, and the lid of the piano slowly creaks open. Harry stops on the threshold of the room. Watches in stunned silence. Wandless magic so controlled and effortless, even a grown wizard couldn’t have achieved it.

Then Scorpius puts his hands on the keyboard, holds them there for a second, and starts playing.

He’s playing a classical piano piece that sounds vaguely familiar… It’s soft, sad, and hauntingly tender. Melancholy in a way that shuts the air inside Harry’s lungs, keeps his next exhale trapped in his throat.

He walks closer.

Scorpius’ fingers run across the keys with a dexterity and smoothness that can only come from hours upon hours of ruthless practice and a well of innate talent. His little face is scrunched up in concentration, and he doesn’t notice Harry standing next to him, stunned into speechlessness. There’s sheet music resting on the stand, so crammed with notes Harry can barely decipher them. Nocturne in E-flat major, says the title at the top. Below it: Frederic Chopin.

Ah, Harry thinks, and he points at the sheet music.

“Is that what you’re playing?”

Scorpius’ hands stop abruptly on the keys. His eyebrows still drawn, his eyes still fixed on the keyboard. He taps his fingers to the keys, a soundless tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. He takes a breath, and the pages of sheet music flip back to the beginning, as if on their own accord. Then Scorpius starts playing again.

All the piece, from the very start.

This time, Harry stays quiet, and listens. 

The piece is a long one — Scorpius is maybe playing for a full five minutes — but Harry loses track of time. The music ends in a flourish of triplets, Scorpius hunched over the keyboard, tongue poking out in concentration, a sheen of sweat brimming along his hairline. 

When he finishes, he stays like that, leaning slightly over the keyboard, fingers caressing the white keys. Harry swallows. There’s a lump in his throat that wasn’t there before. The sweet poignancy of the music lingers in the air.

“I had no idea,” he murmurs, “that this piece was Chopin. It was — beautiful. Truly.” 

Scorpius doesn’t move, except for the lateral movement of his fingers on the keys, back and forth, back and forth, as if he’s trying to rub them clean. There’s a frightening intensity in him, his magic rolling off him in waves like an overflowing pool. Harry wonders if this is what he looked to his aunt Petunia when he was seven — this vast unknown of a child, magic spilling around him with so little control that even Muggles felt it. Then again, he wasn’t like Scorpius… he wasn’t autistic, and he wasn’t freakishly gifted— 

“I should explain,” he hears Scorpius speak up.

Startled, he asks, “Explain what?”

“I can’t look people in the eye,” Scorpius tells him and stares at his fingers on the keys —  back and forth, back and forth — as if to stress his point. “Dr. Dawson says I should explain. Because it can make people uncomfortable. And when they’re uncomfortable, they don’t like it. So they expect me to apologise. But she says it’s not my fault.”

“It’s not,” Harry tells him, heart jumping in his chest. Jesus, he did not expect to have that kind of talk with a child when he woke up today. He did not expect — anything to go the way the day is going. Harry steps closer, Balzac moving aside to make room for him next to Scorpius’ seat. “And it doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all. So you don’t have to worry about it.”

Scorpius just nods quietly, and Harry is seized with a sudden inspiration.

“But if you want to, I’ll tell you a trick. Do you want to hear it?”

Scorpius nods again, more eagerly this time.

“You don’t have to look people in the eye. You can just… look somewhere close to their eyes. Most people can’t even tell that you’re not looking into their eyes if you do that. You can look at their neck, or hair… or their glasses.” He points at his own spectacles, crouching down at Scorpius’s height, still keeping his distance. The little boy turns his head his way, casting a tentative look. Harry’s heart speeds up and he forces himself to stay very still, to speak very gently.

“And if you want to try, you can even look at my scar,” Harry says, pushing his hair away from his forehead. “I’ve this very cool scar, see? It’s close to my eyes.” Scorpius’s soft brown eyes lift to his forehead and Harry grins. “You can try it on me, and I’ll tell you if it works, yeah?” Scorpius nods, eyes trained on Harry’s lightning scar, and Harry adds, “But only if you want to. You don’t have to look at me at all, and I promise you it won’t bother me at all.”

“Okay, Harry,” Scorpius tells him, and Harry is suffused with warmth. He wants to ruffle Scorpius’s hair like he would do with Teddy, but it might not be well received.

So he straightens up, and turns around.

Malfoy is standing in the doorway. How long has he been listening, Harry doesn’t know. They look into each other’s eyes for a long moment, and Harry is about to say something, to explain. 

“Tea’s ready, Scorpius,” Malfoy says, his eyes still on Harry’s. 

Scorpius rises from his seat and runs — “Nestine!” he calls, — past Malfoy, and out of the room. Balzac barks and dashes after him.

Harry and Malfoy stare at each other in the muffled quiet of the study. The grandfather clock mirrors the beat of Harry’s heart in his ears. There’s a pop in the fireplace. Birds chirp in the garden. 

“Your kid… you didn’t tell me,” Harry says.

“Tell you what?”

“How did you make him learn to play that way?”

Malfoy rises to his full height. The light is dim, but Harry doesn’t miss the flash in his eyes. “Make him? I didn’t make him do anything,” Malfoy’s voice is low, almost a growl. “Does Scorpius strike you as the kind of child that I can force to do something? Do I look like the kind of parent who would force his child to do something?”

“No. Malfoy — Draco, that’s not what I mea—”

“Scorpius sat at the piano one day, and started playing. He taught himself, with a little help from me. That’s all he does. He plays the piano, he goes to school, he goes to his therapist appointments. Sometimes we go for a walk in the park. Most of the time though — he’s here, with me. Playing, always playing. For us it seems — unbelievable. For him, learning music is like learning another language. At this age, he can still do it seamlessly.”

“Draco—”

“What I mean to say,” Malfoy interrupts him, voice harsh, “is that if you ever imply that I wanted my child to be some kind of a piano prodigy, and I made him train day in and day out, I will be supremely unimpressed, Potter.”

“For God’s sake, Malfoy, will you listen? That wasn’t what I meant. I was — I am just. Baffled. Moved. I wasn’t expecting this and… and your son is really something, isn’t he? Taking his piano skills into consideration or not. You’re going to have to stop being so on edge, and actually listen to what I’m saying before you jump down my throat.”

Malfoy bristles, but doesn’t make a sound. Nice change from twelve years ago, Harry thinks with petty satisfaction. He watches Draco as he clenches his fists, then deliberately unclenches them. Takes a deep breath. Looks at Harry with a weary tilt of his brow.

“Fine. I’ll try not to be so… sensitive. About the topic. Around you. But you —” Malfoy lifts his chin, and it’s like he’s marching on Harry without moving from his spot, "—you’re going to have to watch what you say… the things you say about me. About Scorpius.”

Harry feels his stomach drop. The words had sounded like an accusation. Then he remembers: Malfoy doesn’t know about his mission. Of course not. That would be absurd. Who would Harry tell about Scorpius?

So he just says, “Fine. I’ll try to be more careful with my choice of words.”

“That’ll be a first, Potter.”

“And you, in turn, could stop second-guessing my every word. For the sake of our collaboration. We’re on the same team, after all.”

At that, Malfoy huffs a humourless laugh, eyebrows raised as though he can’t believe Harry’s nerve.

“Same team?” Malfoy asks, then he repeats, “Same team.” Rubs his fingers along his jaw. He takes a breath, and something settles in his face. He gives Harry an almost imperceptible nod. Once.

“Right. All right. You’re — absolutely right, Potter—”

“—Harry.”

“Harry. Antagonising you is… force of habit. I can work against my inner fifteen-year-old self. Can you?”

“I believe I just told you I can.”

In the silence that follows, Harry holds Malfoy’s cool gaze, the grey of his irises reflecting the gold and red glow of the fire. The grandfather clock ticks the passing seconds. Harry’s heart slows down. In the distance, a car drives past the house, the sound of the engine muffled by the hedges and windows.

“If you want to join us,” Malfoy speaks, at length, “tea’s ready. And…” He hesitates, just a fraction of a second. Harry sees the moment he changes his mind in his eyes. “...you’re welcome to it.”

“Thanks,” Harry murmurs. Malfoy’s invitation should register as a small victory. Instead it feels like mutual surrender. 

The ghost of little fingers running on piano keys lingers in the air, and Harry follows Malfoy out of the room.

Chapter Text

Harry’s plan for his first week of employment is to create a set of habits for himself.

By experience, that’s a surefire way to make him look like he belongs, like he’s a normal person just going about his job. It’s always worked brilliantly in making him look inconspicuous.

And in turn, it makes it much easier to observe the habits of the people he’s missioned to spy on. In this case, Draco and everyone in his orbit.

Harry wakes up every morning at six. He gets up, showers, gets dressed for the day based on Draco’s instructions from the day before — suit and tie if they’re going to the Caduceus offices; a casual jeans-and-jumper outfit on the days when Harry brings Scorpius to his therapy appointments, or when Draco plans to work from home. Then he quietly goes downstairs to the kitchen and fixes himself a cuppa and a quick bacon sandwich, which he eats standing, hip propped against the kitchen counter. By the time he’s done, he can hear Draco coming out of his bedroom and down the stairs to go wake up his son.

These first days breeze by, busy with learning to think of Draco as a real person rather than an abstract concept. Malfoy has been a distant memory for so long. As much as his presence used to drive Harry off the wall back at Hogwarts, Draco’s nastiness had quickly faded away in the face of Voldemort’s pure evil. Then… he’d covered for Harry at the Manor, a pivotal moment of truth — grey eyes, defeated and scared, boring into Harry's — and Harry had altogether stopped thinking of Draco as a thorn in his side. 

He remembers how he used to wonder about Draco, back then. What did he do when no one was looking? Who were the first people he talked to in the morning? What would it be like to be his friend? What was the meaning of the emptiness Harry’d felt in sixth year, when Malfoy had stopped paying Harry the kind of unrelenting attention he’d given him since they’d met? Harry sometimes wondered if he’d ever been the focus of someone’s attention the way he’d been for Malfoy all those years. He wondered why, instead of ignoring him — when surely, Harry not raising to the bait would have driven Malfoy away after a while — Malfoy had sought Harry out, again and again, always throwing wordless challenges Harry’s way, like one throws tinder into fire.

Harry wonders at the source of it all, as he watches Malfoy — Draco — take a more human shape in his mind as the days go by. What he sees leaves him strangely torn, in a way he’s never felt about suspects in a case: everything about Draco’s habits and demeanour speaks of honesty, and Harry’s at a loss to find loose ends to investigate. Despite the notes he makes for the case, there is nothing yet that lets Harry suspect dodgy activities. All Draco seems to do is work, and spend whatever free time he has with Scorpius. Harry doesn’t think there are enough hours left in the day for Draco to conduct additional business, whatever its nature. All of Draco’s trips, meetings and work hours seem devoted to Caduceus and nothing else. 

At the end of that first week, Harry sends Ron and Kingsley a precise timetable of Draco’s activities and of those of everyone working closely with Draco. Given that nothing suspicious has come forth yet, he imagines that, should worst come to worst and Draco is proven clean, the timetables will be a possible exhibit of innocence.

Because…. Well, it’s only been a week, but Harry knows that Draco has nothing to hide. He feels it in his bones. He knows the Ministry has identified Draco as a suspect — and wouldn’t it be nice if he was, Harry thinks ruefully. What a nice pack of Galleons the Ministry could confiscate to add some extra padding to its vaults — and from an ex Death Eater, no less. But Harry also has enough experience in the field to trust his instincts. And his instincts are screaming to him that the Ministry is wasting everyone’s time with this case.

He won’t get out of it unless he closes it, however; and that means he has to prove Malfoy is clean, not by showing there is no proof of guilt, but by showing proof of innocence.

He doesn’t know how he’ll do that yet, but he’s determined to figure it out.

As expected, the press is a nightmare. Within hours of being spotted in Draco’s company, a day after starting work for him, their pictures were splashed across the front page of every wizarding newspaper and magazine in existence. Photographs of Harry in his dark Muggle suit, standing protectively next to Draco as they both walk the short distance between the car and the Caduceus lobby, were suddenly everywhere. In the days following this “groundbreaking revelation”, as Draco liked to call it with a sarcastic eye roll, red Howlers were flying into Draco’s office almost every ten minutes. Harry Vanished them with a slash of his wand, a handy little spell that the Unspeakables had taught him years before, after the news of his break-up with Ginny had hit the front pages of the wizarding papers.

Fortunately, the area around Draco’s house is mainly Muggle, which keeps it under the wizarding journalists’ radar. It’s heavily protected by repellent spells and charms in case the Muggle parameter wasn’t enough, which means Harry can come and go without being bothered.

It’s particularly helpful since he needs to discreetly report to Kingsley every few days.

On Saturday morning, when Harry steps into the kitchen, he finds Draco’s house-elf already busy cooking breakfast, the kitchen table and countertops a mess of pans, wooden spoons, whisks, coffee grounds and cracked eggshells.

It’s the first time he’s seen Ernestina here at this hour.

She looks up at him with a start when he comes into the kitchen.

“Aye, Mistor Potter, sir!” Her hands fly to her dirty apron, dropping her whisk. It hits the floor with a clatter, splattering egg batter everywhere. “Ernestina is not expecting Mistor! Breakfast is not ready yet, sir!”

“It’s all right, Ernestina,” Harry tells her in what he hopes is a placating tone. He bends down to pick up the whisk and hands it to her. She takes it with a nod.

“Mistor Potter is too kind. Sorry the kitchen is a mess, sir!”

She turns to rinse the whisk in the sink.

“I usually come down at this time and I never see you here,” Harry muses.

Ernestina throws him a look over her shoulder.

“Weekend breakfasts are big tradition in this house, Mistor,” she says. “It’s family time for Mistor Draco and bebé Scorpius.”

Harry clasps a hand to his mouth before a snorts escapes. He’s fairly certain a seven-year-old Scorpius would object to being called a 'bebé.’ He doesn’t want to offend Ernestina though, especially since it’s the first time that he’s alone with her. The house-elf could have a wealth of information on her master — and besides, there’s something intriguing about her confident demeanour, so different from most of the house-elves Harry’s met in his life. It brings back bittersweet memories of Dobby, and Harry wants to find out more about her. 

“Do you eat breakfast with them?” He asks instead, eyeing the large quantities of food being prepared.

“Only on weekends, Mistor,” she says. “Weekends are for family.”

“And I assume you’re family, too?” Harry says.

He realises too late that the remark might have been insensitive, because Ernestina throws him a bristling look.

“Of course, Mistor!”

“Sorry,” he tells her quickly. “I don’t doubt it. It’s just… most house-elves I’ve known didn’t share much with their masters.”

“Yes, but Ernestina is not most house-elves, Mistor Potter. Ernestina is a free elf, sir,” she announces, straightening her back. Harry’s heart sinks. The words have a painful echo to them.

“I had no idea, Ernestina.”

She doesn’t respond for a while, immersed in her task of scrambling eggs in a pan. Before long, she sets the pan of golden scrambled eggs aside, waves her hand over it as a stasis charm settles, and she turns back to Harry, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Most house-elves in England are owned, sir,” she explains with a sigh. “But not where Ernestina comes from, no. Ernestina is an employee of Mistor Draco, sir, just like Mistor Potter.”

“You’re getting paid?” Harry can’t hide his surprise.

“Yes,” she says patiently, as though Harry is being a little thick.

“Okay,” Harry says, rubbing the back of his neck. Whatever he was expecting to find in the kitchen this morning, it sure wasn’t a free house-elf, paid by Draco Malfoy to take care of his son and make a huge breakfast for three because, apparently, she’s also part of Malfoy’s family. So he points at the pan of eggs instead. “Can I use some of these for a sandwich?”

Ernestina is already busy with her next task, which apparently involves brewing several tins of tea in litres of boiling water.

“Mistor Greg used to have breakfast with us, Mistor Potter,” she muses.

“He did?”

“Mistor Greg is also family.”

Harry thinks about his own best friends, and how he would share Saturday breakfast at home with them without a second thought. They’re his family, regardless of whether they’re related by blood. He supposes even someone like Malfoy has best friends. And, knowing him a little bit better, he’s not as surprised as he might have been a week ago.

“That’s… lovely,” he tells Ernestina,” but can I have some eggs, still?”

“Mistor Potter should have breakfast upstairs with us, sir,” Ernestina says, turning unblinking brown eyes towards him.

“Oh,” Harry hesitates. “I— I don’t know if I should… it’s— it’s family time, after all.”

Ernestina still stares, her unsettling eyes fixed on him. If only she would blink. “Maybe Mistor Potter will be part of the family.”

“I seriously doubt it.”

Ernestina’s face falls a bit. There’s something flinty gleaming under her steady gaze. “Vale, Mistor Potter. Ernestina is only saying.” Then she turns her back to him and continues her preparations.

Harry watches her for a moment, mind whirring. She’s a free elf; she seems to think the enslavement of elves is a preposterous idea; her delightfully melodic accent reminds Harry that he still doesn’t know much about her.

He decides to ask.

“Where are you from, Ernestina?”

She pours water into a massive green teapot on the table. “Spain, Mistor Potter.” The ‘r’ of his name rolls off her tongue like a song.

“Oh, of course. Is that where you met…” Given name, given name. “...er, Draco?” 

“No, Mistor Potter,” Ernestina shakes her head with a half smile. “We met in Paris. Ernestina was working for another wizarding family but they were moving to Japan. And Ernestina was recommended to Mistress Narcissa who offered to hire her.”

“So you work for — Draco’s mother?”

“Not anymore, Mistor Potter. Ernestina started working for Mistor Draco when he got married.”

Harry’s mind provides him with the memory of the photograph on Scorpius’s bedside table, the pretty woman with a hand on her round belly, Draco pulling her close. The pang of unexpected sadness brings him back to the moment: Ernestina is staring at him again.

“So you’ve been working for Draco for a long time, then. You stayed, even when they moved back to London?”

“There was bebé Scorpius coming, Mistor Potter. Ernestina would not miss him for anything.” She smiles at the thought of her charge, and her whole expression changes from wary to fond. “Bebé Scorpius is the best thing that happened to Ernestina. Ernestina is very lucky that Mistor Draco keeps her employed.”

Harry frowns. “Why wouldn't he?”

“When Dr Dawson first met Scorpius, she was saying, ‘Scorpius needs a trained nanny, a special nanny who is knowing how to work with niños such as Scorpius,’” she explains. “Ernestina cried and cried, but she did not show it to Mistor Draco, no. But Mistor Draco knew anyway. He told Ernestina, he did not want another nanny for bebé Scorpius. That he was trusting Ernestina to be a good nanny for Scorpius. And Ernestina is, Mistor Potter,” she adds, nodding vehemently, “Ernestina is!”

Harry nods, too, moved by the tale of the elf’s loyalty and Malfoy’s perceptiveness. He clears his throat, a thousand pressing questions in his mind.

Malfoy’s voice interrupts Harry just as he’s about to ask them one by one.

“Good morning, Ernestina. Good morning, Harry.”

Harry and Ernestina turn around at the same time to find Malfoy standing at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the kitchen.

“Good morning, Mistor Draco,” Ernestina says with a bow. “Mistor wants a cup of tea?”

“Thank you, Ernestina,” he tells her, and she bustles past Harry to fill a mug of bergamot-scented amber liquid.

“Hi, Draco,” Harry says, meeting Malfoy’s eyes. After a week of calling him by his given name, it still has a strange flavour on his tongue. It’s still a small, furtive intimacy that somehow feels important, significant, and forbidden at the same time. It’s unsettling, when Harry’s used to calling almost everyone he knows by their given names without a second thought.

Ernestina hands a steaming mug to Malfoy, and then another one to Harry. Malfoy walks around the table and takes a seat across from Harry.

“Have you been here long?” Malfoy asks.

Harry studies him while pretending to be absorbed in the swirling patterns of steam rising from his mug.

Malfoy wasn’t in his office this morning when Harry walked downstairs. His hair is lightly mussed, his eyes soft, and he’s wearing well-worn, nicely fitting jeans and a dark blue jumper that looks as soft as a kitten’s paw. He looks like he woke up just a few minutes ago. He looks… normal. Human.

“Just about ten minutes,” he tells him. “Ernestina and I were getting to know each other.”

“Not that we got very far, Mistor Draco!” Ernestina hurries to interject from the other side of the kitchen, pouring a can of baked beans into a pan over the stove.

Harry turns to look at Malfoy, one eyebrow raised in mute inquiry. Malfoy is watching Ernestina, eyes narrowed.

“You’re allowed to talk, Ernestina.” The words pour out of Malfoy's mouth with a slow deliberation. 

“She was just telling me how you met,” Harry says. “I was wondering… why did you decide to come back to London?” 

“Oh.” Malfoy turns his attention to Harry. “I was getting fed up with all the delicious French food, cheese and wine, obviously.”

“You were?”

“No, Harry, that was a joke.” At Harry’s blank expression, Malfoy gives his head an amused shake. “Look at you. I never imagined you as the high-strung type. You can ask me personal questions sometimes. I don’t bite.”

Although Draco looks exactly like he would bite Harry’s head off if he went too far with the personal questions, Harry feels like he’s been issued a challenge.

“All right, then tell me why you left Paris. And be honest,” he adds, hoping to sound casual and playful.

“When we were expecting Scorpius…” Malfoy lets his eyes fall away from Harry’s. “It changes things, knowing you’re going to have a child. It changes your perspective. I apologise if it sounds awfully cliché. You realise things are not going to be about you anymore. That’s how Astoria and I felt. Even after living in Paris for years, we still felt very English. We wanted to raise our child in our home country. And… I don’t know. Having a child brought back all sorts of values I didn’t know I cared about anymore. I wanted to be real, for him. No more hiding behind the seemingly enchanted life I had built, away from my roots, away from who I really was.”

He lifts one hand from his lap to fiddle with the handle of his mug of tea without looking at Harry. Harry isn’t sure what to say next, or even if he should say anything. Draco looks almost lost in thought, a swathe of blond hair falling across his eyes, obscuring his face. Eventually, Harry leans forward, touching Malfoy’s shoulder with the tips of his fingers.

“I think you’re doing a pretty good job of it,” he tells him. “Being real. Being a father.” He’s not even lying, and he doesn’t know where the impulse came from.

Malfoy looks up at Harry, follows the movement of his hand when he brings it back to his cup of tea. His grey eyes are still, but there’s no distrust in them.

A small part of Harry, the undercover agent part, the part that he’s slowly starting to regret, awards him a gold star for this sudden surge of sincerity that serves to build trust with his main suspect.

The rest of Harry is starting to ache for this man, this hardworking and patient and… kind man. 

Yes, kind. This is Draco Malfoy he’s thinking about. Jesus, who’d have thought? 

He pushes himself up from his chair before he does or says anything stupid — or worse, sentimental.

“I’m going to make myself breakfast. Do you need me for the day? Jemima didn’t send me an agenda yesterday.”

“For Circe’s sake, Potter. Have breakfast with us. Who do you think Ernestina is cooking this massive meal for, just a seven-year-old child and me?” He stands, smiling in mock disbelief. “Just wait here. I’ll wake Scorpius up and we can all eat.”

With that, he heads for the stairs and disappears up the stairwell.

When Harry turns, Ernestina is staring at him with large, unblinking eyes. She shakes her head ever so slightly.

“Ernestina is told Mistor Potter, sir,” she sighs. “You can be family… if only you want to.”

 

*

 

It’s only been a week since Potter started working as Draco’s bodyguard, and Draco is already feeling comfortable around him. Too comfortable, a little voice that sounds like a cross between Pansy and Ernestina keeps telling him.

It’s true, though. Scorpius establishing the use of given names was the first step towards a more personal relationship than Draco would have initiated. 

Calling Potter ‘Potter’ had always come naturally to him. In his youth, he used to spit it out like an insult; he used it to keep a distance, consciously at least. His unconscious had other ideas, and had started teasing him about it when puberty hit around third year. He’d had the misfortune to confess his inconvenient wanking fantasies to Pansy the year after, following which he had to suffer her knowing eyes every time she heard him spitefully mention Potter.

Fortunately, the idea didn’t seem too off-putting to her. It was what brought them together the summer before fifth year, when she, in turn, admitted she found the idea of Draco wanking to thoughts of the Chosen One disturbingly hot. She and Draco spent fifth year sneaking into broom cupboards and into each other’s beds. The first time was, retrospectively, disastrous — in the moments when his brain likes to replay the most mortifying moments of his life, Draco still has flashes of it, him coming in Pansy’s hand after three brief pumps of her fist — but they quickly got better at sex the way they did everything else: fast, and determined to be the best. Pansy moved against Draco with the same pent-up anger that he constantly felt for everything and everyone — except her, except her — and he wondered if that was why they were so good at it together. 

He didn’t know he was demisexual, back then.

He never had reason to question his sexual needs. He was attracted to Potter because… well, because he’d spent his teenage years dreaming about him. Because he was obsessed with him. Because he was in love with him. In the hopeless, fatalistic, all-consuming way of unrequited teenage love. And he was attracted to Pansy because — who in their right mind wouldn’t? She was beautiful, cheeky, vivacious. They’d been friends forever. He trusted her with his life before he’d even touched her like a lover. He was deeply, irrevocably attached to her.

He never realised the way he approached sex wasn’t the way most of his classmates did, perhaps because, unlike his classmates, he had it — he had his daydreams about Potter, and after that he actually had Pansy — when people his age were still hoping for as much as a heated look from their crushes.

Retrospectively, those few years of adolescent passions and frantic lovemaking felt like the pinnacle of carefreeness. Then it all went to hell.

Draco still thinks of the summer before sixth year as the time when shit really hit the fan for him. He didn’t owl Pansy at all during the summer holidays. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. The Dark Mark was still burning under his skin like a cattle brand. He was too afraid of her reaction when she’d find out he’d been Marked; he was too afraid for her to be associated with him in that way. 

After the Hogwarts Express had left them in Hogsmeade, after he had stomped on Potter’s face for being a nosy bastard, he’d found her on the platform. He felt like a raft floating to shore after the Flood. She took him in her arms and squeezed. “You never answered my owls,” she said against his jumper. “I thought it was over.”

Draco wondered if his heart was past the point of breaking. Dazed, numb, he listened to her tell him about Blaise, the way he’d reached out during the summer, the way he’d comforted her. The way they’d fallen in love while Draco was shut away, an inexorable series of events and choices he hadn’t made pulling him closer to a darkness he despised. They’d fallen in love. Perhaps it was why he didn’t react to the news in any other way than, “Am I allowed to see you still?”

This was where Draco had sought refuge that year, when Snape's harsh support wasn’t enough to keep the nightmares at bay, when he was so scared to die that the mere thought of falling asleep gave him panic attacks: Pansy’s bed. She was so patient with him, and so was Blaise, his dark eyes glinting in the darkness of the closed drapes around Pansy’s four-poster bed. Pressed between the bodies of his lovers, Draco could forget about the rest of his life for a few moments. The cabinet that refused to be fixed; that room, that room full of forgotten things that made Draco wish he could disappear and be forgotten too; Potter’s eyes always on him, always — unrelenting, no trace of mercy in them. Draco slipped under the covers of Pansy’s bed, burrowed against her and Blaise’s warm bodies, let them touch him and kiss him and fuck him until his mind was blank — just for a few moments. 

He was in love with them both, then, just for a few moments.

It was only after Easter, when he came back to Hogwarts after his brief but earth-shattering encounter with Potter at the Manor, that he fell out of his relationship with Pansy and Blaise. Nothing they did could Obliviate the memory of those unmistakable, bright green eyes from his mind, Potter’s body struggling against his in a fight for life where Draco had all but given up his wand to the Chosen One. 

Draco carried on alone. 

Blaise and Pansy stayed together. 

They got married a few years later.

Draco knew he’d always remain a little bit in love with both of them, and that was fine, too. Potter was seared in his brain back then, and there was nothing he could do.

Life in the years after the war served to clear Draco’s head of any remaining fantasies of green eyes, lean, compact bodies and strong fingers twined in Draco’s hair; for which he was neither thankful nor resentful. He just didn’t think about Potter anymore, not in the obsessive, bitter way he used to.

He didn’t think of anyone in a remotely sexual way for years. After yet another polite, but very obvious offer for sex he’d received and rejected — a golden-haired young man met in a Parisian jazz club, who’d eyed him all evening and had asked Draco if he’d like to come to his flat for a drink — Draco finally realised that maybe… he wasn’t wired like everyone else.

Sex just didn’t appeal to him. Not in the way it did for that young man. Not in the way it did for Pansy or Blaise. Not in the way it did for everyone around him, young and less young, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. Everyone seemed to be chasing after sex like it was the Snitch at the final match of the Quidditch World Cup. And Draco felt like he was the one watching from the stands.

And now… Well. It’s not like he has to think about Potter, really. Potter is literally with him everywhere he goes; even if he didn’t want to think about him, it’d be impossible not to. And it’s not as if Draco’s ever been any good at refusing himself thoughts of Potter.

When he had written to his mother to let her know the news, she’d responded with a very nice, polite missive that told him she was happy he’d replaced his former bodyguard so quickly and efficiently. Draco had been able to read his mother’s delicate eyebrow lift between the lines.

Pansy, on the other hand, had been another kettle of fish. She’d already known why Draco was firecalling her, as she had reminded him by brandishing a copy of the Daily Prophet through the green flames and right under his nose. “DRACO!” she’d cackled, “I can’t believe you hired Potter to be your live-in wet dream!”

“Live-in bodyguard, Pansy,” Draco had said through gritted teeth. Pansy had ignored him, as was her habit when Draco said ludicrous things about Potter — which he had to admit was probably the case in that moment — and had turned to call out for her husband with a shrill, “Blaise! Come over here, chéri! Do you know who’s firecalling us?”

“Let me guess,” Draco had heard Blaise’s voice in the distance of their Parisian flat, “The most ridiculous man on earth?”

Draco had sighed. “Precisely.”

He knows he’s ridiculous. Not even the hiring Potter who’s most certainly hiding something from him part. Just the hiring Harry Potter to be around him 24/7 part. That's idiotic enough. That cannot end well, one way or another. He thinks about stopping it. Actually, he thinks about it too many times a day. It’s hindering his productivity, honestly. Another excellent reason to fire the impossible prat.

But then Harry looks at him with those eyes, those fucking eyes Draco’s spent so long thinking about in the depths of his Hogwarts bed, and Harry smiles at him, the bright, open smile he used to save for his closest friends... something warms in Draco’s chest. Something he’d long thought would never warm again. 

He can’t let this go. 

He can’t let Harry go.

He hates himself for being so weak, but he can’t help himself.

And getting to know Harry — really know him — does nothing to change that fact.

Every Saturday now, Harry has breakfast with him, Scorpius and Ernestina. The four of them share comforting, hearty food and cups of hot tea while planning the day ahead. Ernestina throws appraising glances between him and Harry, and Draco guiltily hopes the house-elf has no Legilimency powers, or he’s in for the dressing-down of his life. Harry patiently listens to Scorpius tell him about the new Chopin piece he’s practicing — this month’s new favourite — and nods in all the right places even though he obviously doesn’t know the first thing about classical music.

If Draco didn’t already like Harry a little, seeing him with his son would be the final push. But he’s self-aware enough to know that, however foolish it is of him, he does like Harry, now that he gets to actually know him.

It no longer feels like a revelation.

It feels like… sharing the same space. Becoming friends. 

It's incredibly ill-advised, dangerous, and exhilarating all at once.

Draco has a few hours free on a Sunday afternoon. Draco, Harry and Scorpius take Balzac for a long walk in Hyde Park. It’s a cold, overcast, calm February day. Enough that Scorpius doesn’t get sensory overload. Draco and Ernestina learned about the value of this kind of weather for Scorpius through trial and error and Dr Dawson’s directions, but Harry seems to understand it instinctively, suggests they go out. 

Draco falls into step with Harry when Scorpius breaks into a run to go see the ducks, followed by Balzac limping by his side. They walk to the pond in companionable silence.

“You know, I always thought you were terribly obnoxious when we were kids.” Draco doesn’t know where the desire to confess this comes from. They’re standing near the water, watching Scorpius and Balzac observe the ducks paddling across the pond.

Harry clutches his chest and deadpans. “Wow, thank you. What a heartwarming compliment.” 

“Isn’t it?” Draco gives him a wry little smile. “I do mean it as a compliment, though. I sometimes wonder if you changed, or if I did.”

Harry barks out a laugh. “Maybe we both did. I hope you did, at least. Remember how you were at Hogwarts?”

Draco watches Harry smile from the corner of his eye. The winter light catches in his dark curls and on the round lenses of his spectacles. He looks soft and at ease. Something squeezes in Draco’s chest, painful. He wishes he could trust Harry fully, the way his idiotic heart seems to be yearning for, the way he knows full well he can’t let happen.

He’s noticed the way Harry’s eyes always scan the rooms they’re in. He’s listened to Ernestina telling him about Harry’s coming and going at odd times of the day. He’s hiding something, the nagging voice in his head hisses.

“I remember,” Draco pretends to concede with good grace. “I was bigoted, prejudiced, and spouting out whatever fucking horrible worldviews my father had fed me since I was born.”

“Are you allowed to say the F-word?” Harry looks at Scorpius in alarm. Draco’s son is about thirty feet away and there’s no way he could have heard Draco, but Harry doesn’t seem to care about technicalities such as sound-traveling distance and the fact that an autistic child absorbed in an activity will be deaf to the rest of the world. And it makes Draco want to lean in and hug Harry for it; he stops himself at the last moment, unsettled by the impulse.

“I’m only allowed to when Scorpius is out of hearing distance, which he is,” Draco tells him, and there must be something in his voice that makes Harry turn to him with a soft look in his eyes. Draco shifts his eyes away, clearing his throat. “My point is, I may have been a clever child, but I was also easily influenced, terribly close-minded, and a bully to boot. Sometimes… sometimes I think about the child I was. What I would have done to a child like Scorpius, if there’d been one like him at Hogwarts.  And now I’m never allowed to forget about it.”

Harry doesn’t say anything for a while. Draco watches Scorpius, crouched along the bank as ducks come and go on the water. He’s pointing at one of the ducks, the more daring one that paddled close to the bank, and he’s pulling Balzac’s collar to show him. Blond curls escape his bobble hat, Draco’s Hogwarts green and silver Slytherin scarf wrapped so many times around his neck he can barely move his head. Draco never wears this scarf anymore, but it’s become Scorpius’s favourite ever since he saw it hanging from the coat-peg in Draco’s room and Draco explained to him what the scarf meant. He doubts Scorpius will sort Slytherin if he ever goes to Hogwarts, and it’s okay. Draco’s House pride only applies to himself.

“I don’t think there’s anything like that,” Harry says at last, so quietly that Draco almost misses it. “It’s only what we do with the cards we were dealt, you know?” He turns his earnest green eyes to Draco, which has the same heart-speeding, breath-stealing effect as always. “And you… you were either dealt a wonderful hand, or a terrible one, depending on how you choose to look at it. I think… when you were younger, you thought you had it brilliant. And then you realised it wasn’t as it seemed, and you worked to change it.” Eyes still fixed on Draco, he lifts his chin as if challenging him to disagree. “Am I wrong?”

“No,” Draco tells him, feeling a little faint. It’s cold, and the low winter sun seems to turn the world hazy and weird, narrowing it down to Harry’s bright emerald gaze and the lip he’s worrying between his teeth, waiting for Draco’s response. “No, that’s exactly what happened,” he admits.

“And Scorpius will be fine," Harry says, "because we can only hope kids today are better than we were. He’s a brilliant kid, too, and he’ll make friends and be happy like all of us were back then — however occasionally.”

Draco mulls over what Harry said for a while.

“I used to think you were the luckiest bastard on earth, you know?” Draco tells Harry when he thinks he can speak with a steady voice again. “Being Harry Potter sounded so fucking brilliant. I was almost resentful that you didn’t take more advantage of it.”

“Because you would have, in my place?” Harry asks him, amused.

“Oh, God yes.” Draco rolls his eyes. “Are you kidding? I would have made sure I never had to lift a fucking finger in my life.”

Harry bursts out laughing. “Yeah, you would have been the worst.”

“I would have, wouldn’t I?” Draco starts laughing too, taken by the outrageous idea and by Harry’s dazzling grin. “I would have been so utterly insufferable, I bet the wizarding world would have collectively agreed to murder me in my sleep.”

Scorpius eventually looks up from his intense duck-watching and frowns when he sees his dad laughing with Harry. As the boy walks over to them, followed by his dog, Draco’s heart leaps when he catches Harry’s expression, a warm, almost fond smile playing on the corner of his mouth.

Scorpius wraps his little fingers around Draco’s hand and tugs him towards the path they came from, and Harry follows them, hands in his coat pockets, looking like he’s always been a part of their lives.

And Draco wonders, not for the first time since Harry Potter showed up in his life again, exactly how worth it is playing this game against Harry, at the cost of endangering his heart.

Chapter Text

Harry,

Thank you for your latest update, even though it certainly wasn’t encouraging. I’m looking forward to discussing the details of what you’ve found so far. Dewey has put you down for a meeting with me mid-May. He’s scheduled it to match your next off-time. 

Also: Zacharias Smith will be at Caduceus soon. The auditing starts in a few weeks. He doesn’t know about your mission… but remember: ultimately, you two are on the same side.

— Kingsley

 

Harry,

How are you holding up, mate? Kingsley told me you weren’t making any progress on the case. I told him to shove off trust you — you set the trap, get your suspect all relaxed and confident around you until they lower their guard and bam! That’s when you strike. Haha. I almost feel bad for Malfoy. He doesn’t stand a chance.

But seriously though, are you making progress? The Minister is getting restless.

Owl me if you want to chat, all right?

 — Ron

 

Harry crumples the pieces of parchment in his fist and sets them aflame with a furious Incendio. The ashes scatter across the floor of the lift of Caduceus and he Vanishes them with another sharp swish of his wand. He puts his hand on the wall of the lift, exhaling harshly. Under the fluorescent light of the lift, the scar on the back of his hand glows an angry, blotchy white. 

I must not tell lies.

He hits the wall with his fist. 

Fucking—

Fuck.

He found the owls waiting for him when he brought Scorpius back from school that afternoon. The messages rattled him to the point where even Scorpius noticed. ‘You keep biting your lip,’ Scorpius drawled in his flat, observing tone, as Ernestina appeared to take him upstairs. ‘It’s very unhygienic.’  

Jesus. He needs to get a grip. He’s been on the case for almost two months now. He keeps telling himself he’s taking his time, weaving his web, letting Draco feel comfortable around him until he lets something — anything — slip. 

This, too, feels like a lie.

There have already been too many times where he forgot his purpose. Too many times where his conversations with Draco started from an entirely genuine place. Too many open, unguarded looks exchanged between them. Too many reasons to care far too much about what happens to Draco…

But this is just a job. Harry lets out a quiet, rueful snort. This is just a job has become his mantra ever since he started this mission. Nothing about it feels like a job, and every look, every word, every little change in Draco’s mercurial moods hits Harry in a very real, very personal manner. Maybe he’s overthinking this. Maybe he’s just on edge after reading Kingsley’s and Ron’s notes. Maybe he feels like he’s failing them — he’s failing this, whatever this is. Most of all, though, he’s starting to think he’s failing Draco.

The lift doors ding open, and Harry straightens. He walks out on the top floor of Caduceus , the light from the massive windows hitting his eyes, the overcast London sky altogether blinding despite the late afternoon hour.

“Hello, Mr Potter,” Draco’s assistant greets him. Jemima is always so nice to Harry, all bright smiles and friendly words, and Harry feels doubly like shit for deceiving her as well.

“‘Afternoon, Jemima. Is he in?” Harry asks, nodding towards the door to Draco’s office.

“I haven’t seen him come out since lunch…” Jemima’s golden earrings clink when she turns to check the security camera screens behind her desk. “... but it doesn’t look like he’s in there, either.”

“Could he have Apparated out?”

“He doesn’t, usually. But he could have, yes. If he’s not in his office.”

“Fine.” Harry walks to Draco’s door, puts his hand on the handle. Hesitates. “Can I go in? I need to…” Lies, lies, lies, “...get something for him.”

“Of course,” Jemima tells him, her trustful eyes smiling. The merits of being Harry Potter: people trust him with what would look slightly suspicious on anyone else.

Harry steps inside. The office is indeed empty. The space is tidy, airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a breathtaking view of the skyline. It looks cool, professional, befitting of the founder of an international company. It also feels like the opposite of Draco’s study at home, warm and dimly lit and cosy. Absently, fingers touching the piles of parchment on Draco’s large glass-top desk, Harry wonders what these differences say about Draco. There's the tireless inventor and ruthless businessman he is inside these walls, when Harry escorts him to Caduceus and stands guard in front of his office; there’s the warmer version of Malfoy he becomes in the safety of his study at home, Harry sitting on the sofa and watching him work while Scorpius practices at the grand piano. Harry witnesses the transformation every day: it’s in the way Draco’s jaw sets when he’s about to unfold himself from the black Mercedes and walk to the Caduceus building; the way he straightens the lapels of his jacket in the lift; the way his voice becomes more clipped, posher, when he’s in his role. 

Harry's eyes scan the documents strewn across Draco’s desk, hoping something will pop up, catch his attention in a meaningful way. Most of them are papers and parchments embossed with the Caduceus logo, tables covered with numbers and pound signs, legal documents regarding the opening of a Caduceus factory in Romania Harry’s vaguely heard Draco mention during firecalls with his legal team. As he walks towards the filing cabinets behind Draco’s desk, his sleeve catches on a pile of parchment rolls that fall to the floor. One of them unrolls, and he almost steps on it. Harry notices it: the grain of paper is different from the one Caduceus uses; it’s written in a foreign language; and the logo, a calligraphed slew of French, is decidedly not the wand and serpent he’s become so familiar with in the past month. He picks it up and reads. Nesting, the logo spells, and the rest of the parchment is written in official-looking French.

Harry doesn’t know why he does it. Intuition, probably. One of the instincts he’s learned to follow in his line of work — since he was a child, more accurately. He taps the roll with a Reducto and stuffs it in his pocket.

The creaking of a door to his left makes him jump.

“Jemima?” comes Draco’s voice from behind it. There’s an office supplies storage cupboard, door ajar, previously hidden by a perfect blending charm. He hears Draco rummaging for something inside it, like he’s rattling boxes of quills in there.

“It’s Harry.”Harry stands still, careful to keep his tone neutral. He pats his pocket once more and closes his jacket over it, just to be safe. 

“Harry.” The movement stops inside the cupboard.

“Are you all right?” Harry asks.

“I wasn’t expecting you. Is Scorpius home?”

“Yeah, I dropped him off after his appointment. Ernestina is with him.” Harry comes nearer. “I… er. Came by to see if you needed me. The agenda for the afternoon wasn’t clear on that, I thought maybe you wanted me to be with you on your way home.” Another rattling sound, softer this time. Definitely a box of quills, Harry thinks. “You sound like you might need a hand.”

“Part of me wishes I didn’t.” Draco lets out a rueful laugh. “But this might actually go faster if you’re here to help.”

Harry pushes the door open. The storage cupboard is small: barely more than ten feet deep, with tall shelves on each side, and enough room between them for a grown man to stand long enough to grab the supplies he needs and get out before it becomes claustrophobic. At least, it’s the kind of space that would feel that way to Harry, were it not for Draco’s presence in it. Draco is standing with his back turned on Harry, jacket discarded somewhere — on the back of his desk chair, Harry remembers in a flash, stupid of him not to have paid attention — shirt sleeves rolled up and lean forearms on display. He lifts his wand to wave it at a box on the highest shelf, the fabric of his trousers stretched across his arse and his long legs. Harry swallows dryly and mindlessly shuts the door behind him.

Draco's head snaps around to look at him over his shoulder. His eyes are cool, gleaming in the pale light of a Lumos floating above them. He raises an eyebrow in response to the closed door.

“So,” Harry says, hands in his pockets, more casual than he feels. “What are we here for?”

“I need a special type of quill to sign the legal agreements for the Romania plant, but I can’t seem to find it,” he drawls. Despite his clear annoyance, he has a bored expression carefully in place. Harry knows it can only mean one thing: that Draco Malfoy’s been in this cupboard for far too long and is coming at his wit’s end.

“I suppose you tried to Accio it already?”

That earns him an eye roll. “You need to know the name of the thing you want to Accio for the spell to work.”

“Is ‘special quill for Romanian legal agreements’ too specific, or not enough?”

“Ha, ha, Potter. I never noticed how hilarious you are.” Draco drops his arm and turns to face Harry. The cupboard feels like a padded alcove, and Harry can hear the puffs of breath every time Draco exhales. “I can’t recall the bloody things’ proper name, all right? So now I’m opening every box in this storage room until I find them.”

“You could have asked Jemima,” Harry ventures with a half-smile.

“She’s my assistant, not my personal quill-fetcher.”

“And I am?”

Draco watches him, his tongue pushing at the inside of his cheek.

“Or…” Harry continues and takes a step closer, “you’ve spent too much time in here already, and you’re worried she’ll make fun of you. Which she will, when you admit you could have asked her right away instead of wasting half an hour looking for a quill.”

The corner of Draco’s mouth twitches. “Shut up, Potter.”

“Not when you’re about to lose your mind over that bloody quill you can’t find, and I’m your only hope of finding it.” Harry narrows his eyes, mock-thoughtful, ignoring Draco's disgruntled expression. “Hmm. So. Tell me everything you know about the missing quills.”

Draco does. Then he and Harry set to work, taking boxes from the shelves, opening them with mild Diffindos, peering inside to check at the contents. It’s diligent, methodical work, and the cupboard is quiet save for the occasional words they exchange, voices low, the rummaging of hands in boxes of parchment clips and inkwells, and their muffled giggles when one thinks he’s found the box and brandishes it under the other’s nose only to realise it wasn’t the right one to begin with. At first, Harry doesn’t notice how slowly he works. He remembers helping George Weasley to store boxes in the back of his jokes shop, a few months after the war — the way they moved through the storage room, crossing each other’s paths and laughing, the bracing, fast and steady physical work lifting their spirits — and this feels nothing like it. Harry’s never been as aware of his own movements as he is now — slow and deliberate, calibrating each motion so that it looks natural, casual, like he couldn’t be less bothered by Draco standing feet away from him in the soft light of a Lumos. He’s aware of every inch of space Draco’s body takes up. He’s aware of the shape of it, lean and solid and real. He’s aware that he should probably put more space between them. He can hear a weird sort of thrumming in the back of his skull. The air of the cupboard is saturated with tense silence, and Harry can’t tell if he’s imagining it, or if Draco can feel it, too. 

The cupboard floor is strewn with office supplies and half-open boxes by the time Harry finally opens one to find the quill Draco was looking for. Long, black and white quills. “Stork feathers. Symbol of good luck. Not my idea — my solicitor's,” Draco had explained earlier with a wry shake of his head, as if the thought of using items for what they symbolised was more preposterous than the existence of magic.

Harry picks a quill from the box, lifts it up for Draco to see.

“That what you’re looking for?” he asks.

Draco’s eyes light up for a second, and he comes closer to Harry. They’re so close, Harry can almost feel Draco’s body heat. Or maybe it’s getting hot in here… is it? Draco takes the feather between his fingers, the pads brushing against Harry’s palm as he does. The air swishes around the quill as Draco rolls the stem between his fingers, examining it.“Yes,” he says, thoughtful. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Harry says before he realises how it sounds and feels his cheeks go hot.

“You’re even more skillful than your CV led me to believe.” There’s a glint in Draco’s eyes, and his mouth twists into a playful half-smile. 

“Personal quill-fetcher, remember?”

“I do. Clearly, you’re living up to the high expectations.”

Harry snorts. “Oh, shove off, Malfoy.”

“Shove off yourself, Potter,” Draco outright laughs and puts a hand on Harry’s chest, pushing lightly. 

“Oi!” Harry grins and grabs him by the shoulders on instinct, “what are you doing here? Trying to fight me wandless? Forgot I know Krav Maga?”

“You think you’re stronger than me, do you?” Draco pushes harder. He’s smiling, too. It looks slightly strained, though, a bit dangerous, and Harry can detect something like resentment underneath. “Just because you’re a big, bad, burly bodyguard?” 

“Burly? How dare you.”

They grip at each other, pushing each other in the small space of the cupboard, groaning and grinning like school kids. Until Harry’s back hits the door with a dull thunk, and Draco stops, hands fisted in his shirt, panting lightly. He looks at Harry, eyes suddenly wide — then lets go of him and takes a step back. “Merlin,” he says, rubbing his jaw. “Sorry. I don’t know what got into me. I’m — out of line, sorry—”

“It’s fine,” Harry catches his breath. “It’s… it’s all fine.”

He wishes it was. It’s like someone cast a sudden Silencio in the room. It’s quiet, after the closeness of a few moments ago. Harry can feel and hear everything with frightening accuracy. The sound of Draco’s slowing breath. The thunderous thudding of his own heart in his skull.

In the pale light, Draco’s skin is flushed prettily, the sharp planes of his face seem softer, his cool eyes almost tender. There’s a hint of stubble across his jaw, and Harry is filled with the urge to press his lips to it before his heart jumps at the realisation. He shifts his eyes away from Draco’s face under the pretense of looking at the boxes laid open on the floor, his eyes trailing along Draco’s shoulder, the curve of his biceps through the sleeves of his rolled-up shirt… 

That’s when Harry sees it.

Nestled inside Draco’s left forearm. Faded black and gnarled. A shock of ugliness, branded on Draco’s otherwise spotless skin.

The Dark Mark.

 

*

 

Draco shouldn’t be enjoying Harry’s proximity as much as he does. He shouldn’t be. You don’t know why he’s here — you don’t really know him, he thinks — forces himself to think — because Harry’s eyes are hot and dark on Draco as he hands him the stork quill.

He wants to push him, yell at him — and he also wants to throw himself at Harry and kiss him. Kiss his face, his lips, until Harry’s hidden motives melt in the background. Instead, he gives in to the childish urge to shove him, and they end up teasing, laughing together — hands on each other — like they never did when they were teenagers.

That’s the trouble with Harry. That’s been the trouble since the beginning: he doesn’t look like someone who could be trouble. He looks like he belongs here, with Draco. For all the times in his life when Draco’s wanted to run away from people looking at him like that, in the fond, heated way Harry’s looking at him now, he’s never once wanted to reciprocate so badly.

Until Harry’s eyes stop on Draco’s left forearm resting against his side, the pale skin and faded Dark Mark exposed by his rolled-up sleeves. Draco hears Harry’s sharp intake of breath and freezes.

He didn't mean for Harry to see it. He’d forgotten about it. These days, he never has to hide it. His team knows him. They know everything there is to know about who he used to be. Most of the time, the Mark is hidden under his long-sleeved shirts, just so he doesn’t have to think of it.

Well. Harry’s still standing motionless near him, and there’s no avoiding the topic anymore.

“Harry,” Draco tells him. Harry’s head snaps up to meet Draco’s gaze. His expression is back to carefully neutral. The moment they were having is gone, and Draco feels a pang in his gut. He let out a controlled exhale. “Does this—” he tilts his head towards his arm, “—bother you?”

“No,” Harry says, shaking his head.

As if Harry hadn’t spoken at all, Draco continues. “I’m sorry if it does. But… this is my office. I’m not going to hide, and I’m not going to police how I behave and what I wear—”

“Hey. Hey, Draco—” Harry interrupts him with a lifted hand. “Draco… It’s okay.”

Draco stops, startled. “Is it?”

“Yeah.” Harry rubs his hair. It now looks even messier than before. “I mean… I knew that you had… that. I was just — I haven’t seen one in a long time. It’s always a bit of a shocker, you know? The Mark.” He smiles, a small, wry thing. “You’re right. It’s your office. And even if it wasn’t… it’s not my place to judge you. I’m sorry I… reacted.”

Draco stares at him, unable to decide what he should feel. Part of him is seething. You think I need your blessing? he wants to snap. And another, smaller part of him wants to roll at Harry’s feet. Relief. He feels sharp, abject relief at Potter’s approval.

Merlin. The unfair power this man has over him.

He stands straighter, and Harry backs away a step, as if caught. Draco lifts an eyebrow. A rush of pleased, petty satisfaction runs through him. Being able to fluster Harry Potter will never lose its charm. 

“I appreciate your honesty,” Draco says, forcing his voice to remain cold. 

“I mean it.”

“Yes, I'm sure you do.” With one glance at Harry, Draco reaches around him and opens the cupboard door, pushing past him and stomping out. In the office, the light of day hits his eyes. He’s forgotten — it’s afternoon. It’s a normal day. A few minutes in a cupboard with Harry Potter, and he loses track of time.

Draco takes a breath, head spinning. He can handle this. He can — 

He stands in the middle of his office, hands in his hair, breathing hard. Now, why was he looking for a box of quills again…? Ah, yes. Draco slides his hands down his neck, shakes himself out of the emotions swirling in his head. He’d broken the tip of his quill and needed it for — 

He leans over the desk and grabs the legal documents he was about to sign. The permit for the building of Caduceus’ Romanian factory. He notices the rolls of parchment strewn around his desk. Odd. He doesn’t remember them falling down before going to find the quill. With a perplexed frown, he Summons the parchments into a tidy pile again.

He sets the quill in its case just as he hears movement in the cupboard. He puts a hand on his desk, lets the cool glass steady him. Then he looks up, and finds Harry on the threshold of the room, standing still, watching Draco.

“You don’t have to do this,” Harry says. His voice is low, placating,  and Draco bristles again.

“Do what?” Draco snaps, unable to keep the defensiveness out of his tone.

“Pretend that the Mark doesn’t exist. That it didn’t happen.”

“It did happen, though, didn’t it? And maybe it was for the best. It’s the one single thing that forced me to face the choices I’d made. Forced me to make new ones.”

“Yes,” Harry says in earnest. “Better choices.”

“Enough with the righteous Saviour act, Potter. You know as well as I do that this mistake will mark me forever.”

“No. You’ve said it: a mistake. It was a mistake. I know that it is, you know that it is, the people who care about you know that it is. Fuck everyone else.”

Draco laughs. “The people who care—?” When Harry takes a step towards him, Draco flinches. “The public’s never seen my Mark. Even during the trial… I refused to show it.”

“I remember,” Harry says. The softness in his voice makes Draco ache. Makes him want to spill everything he’s been holding inside to Harry.

“Only my close employees know about it. My family. My friends.”

“Then maybe it’s about time you realise that’s what we are, Draco.”

“And what is it?” Draco lifts his chin, tries to inject challenge in his voice. Probably fails miserably, judging by the way Harry’s expression turns compassionate.

“Friends.” Harry casts the word like a Stupefy , and it has the same heart-stopping effect on Draco. “Jesus, Draco, how thick are you? We’re friends, for God’s sake.” After Draco’s stared at him for a long moment, blinking and stunned, Harry rolls his eyes and marches up to him. “I don’t care about your mistakes. I don’t care about your fucking Mark, Malfoy,” Harry says, and he engulfs Draco in a hug.

Draco thinks of being eleven, holding out his hand, hoping for the best — and seeing his offer for friendship turned down in the most humiliating way.

He thinks of being eighteen, surrounded by the sweltering inferno swallowing the hidden things, reaching out in supplication — and feeling Harry's hand closing around his, lifting him up, saving him.

He thinks of being thirty, Harry Potter on his doorstep, offering his personal security services in a bloody suspicious series of circumstances, and being unable to send him away.

He thinks of Harry’s arms around him, Harry’s chin on his shoulder, Harry’s body against his… and he decides not much else matters.

“Friends,” Draco says, to no one in particular, over Harry’s shoulder.

Harry holds him tighter, snorts a small laugh that reverberates through Draco’s chest. “Yes, you bloody great moron. Friends.”

Draco nods, the movement stifled by the awkward angle of his chin on Harry’s shoulder. And gives in to Harry’s embrace.

Chapter Text

The hug at Draco’s office doesn’t become a habit. It’s for the best, perhaps. Draco’s not certain he wouldn’t combust if Harry decided hugging each other was something they did on a regular basis.

Spring rolls in slowly that year, a succession of incrementally warmer rainy days until the dull fog of winter dissipates and the sun starts shining for good. The ponds in Hyde Park fill with tiny brown ducklings paddling after their mothers. Scorpius spends hours watching them, sitting on the side under a sun protection charm with Balzac wagging his tail next to him, while Ernestina passes him cucumber sandwich halves and a flask of lemonade and Harry stands guard nearby. The garden in the back of Draco’s house seems to heave a great, relieved sigh when the sunny weather finally settles over London, and it sprouts more greenery in thanks. The grass, left dry and brittle after a long winter, turns thick again, a luxurious, fresh-looking green. The branches of the cherry tree disappear under the weight of thousands of pale pink flowers, waving gently in the spring breeze. The blue tits nest in the hedges, and soon the garden is filled with the enthusiastic song of fluffy fledglings. The entire city seems to stretch its sore muscles and drop its heavy coat, and Draco finds himself avoiding the air conditioned drive to Caduceus . He walks to work most mornings, the way he occasionally did with Greg in the spring, except now it’s Harry walking alongside him, and their early morning strolls are laced with aimless conversations about the city, the weather, Draco’s plans for the day, and how Scorpius is doing at school. It’s comfortable and oddly thoughtful. 

April comes and goes. Life goes on as it always has, save for minute changes in the way Draco acts around Harry. Changes he can’t help but wonder how he didn’t notice before. 

What he should have noticed before, though, is that the word friends doesn’t exactly describe how he feels about Harry anymore.

The first time Draco realises it, it catches him unawares. It happens one early morning down in the kitchen. It’s the kind of day where he knows he’s barely going to have time to stop and eat a proper lunch, so he might as well make an early start of it. He’s come to fix himself a cup of tea and maybe a piece of toast, but Harry’s already there, his back turned on the door, humming softly as he rummages in the drawer next to the sink.

Draco stops short on the threshold.

He’s so rarely given an opportunity to watch Harry without him noticing. Usually, it’s Harry watching him — it’s the underlying requirement of his job description, after all. Not that Draco dislikes it… but for once, the tables are turned, and he stays quiet while Harry moves around his kitchen. He looks so different in the grey light of dawn, just the small light over the stove turned on. He’s not wearing his day clothes yet — the faded red t-shirt looks soft and rumpled from sleep, the grey joggers have the comfortable, softened shape of clothes worn indoors only. With a dull pang, Draco notices Harry is barefoot on the tiled floor, his feet shuffling soundlessly as he busies himself over the kettle. He opens a cupboard and stretches to grab a mug, and the fabric of his t-shirt stretches along with the movement, shoulder blades and muscles tight underneath, and Draco’s eyes trail down his back to the sliver of olive skin showing between his t-shirt riding up and his joggers riding low… 

Draco shakes himself out of his contemplation.

“Ahem. Hello.”

Harry’s head snaps around. His smile is bright and instant. Draco’s stomach quietly plummets then jumps back up.

“Hi," Draco manages to say. "You’re up.”

“So are you.”

“So am I.” The seconds tick away, excruciatingly slow. Draco clears his throat. “It’s only six in the morning.”

“I never really… sleep much longer.” Harry shrugs as if he didn’t say anything of importance, and turns his eyes back on the kettle. “I’m making tea. D’you want a cuppa?”

“Sure,” Draco says, coming around the table to stand on Harry’s side of the kitchen. “Do you need help?”

“I found everything I needed… unless you want something to eat as well?” It might be breaking dawn, but Harry’s eyes are almost unbearably green and bright, and Draco curses himself for not turning around and leaving the kitchen when there was still time to go unnoticed. 

“I’ll make toast,” he says, an excuse to tear his gaze away from Harry’s. 

They stand in the kitchen in amicable silence, Harry setting two mugs on the bench and pouring hot water over fragrant tea bags, Draco Levitating the hot pieces of toast onto plates and buttering them. Harry takes one, hums his approval at the first mouthful, licks the melted butter off his thumb absently. 

“I’ll go shower and get dressed,” he says when he’s finished. 

Draco takes the plates from the bench and places them in the sink. 

“Excellent,” he says, overly chipper, and bites his lip. He leans over the sink, pretending to rearrange the dirty plates in it. “Meet me in the foyer at half past seven? I’ve an early start today.”

“All right,” Harry says, and suddenly he’s standing right next to Draco, so close Draco swears he can feel the heat of his body against his side —“Sorry, just finished my tea, do you mind—?” He touches his palm to the small of Draco’s back, leans around Draco and puts his empty mug in the sink. When he turns to look at Draco, he’s awfully near. Draco could count every one of his long eyelashes, if his brain could summon the clarity to count anything at all. Harry’s hand, hot through Draco’s shirt, is like a brand to his skin. The corner of Harry’s mouth twitches like he’s about to do something — smile, tease him, taunt Draco to move — but in the end he just drops his hand and takes a step back.Draco can't tear his eyes away from Harry's face. His throat feels painful, tight. 

Harry's lips curl in the tiniest of smiles. 

“See you later,” he says.

After he’s gone, Draco stays with his hands on the side of the sink, frozen to the spot, catching his breath, the ghost of Harry's touch still lingering in the small of his back. His joggers are tented, and when he finally manages to move and palm at the front, he’s surprised to find himself hard.

“Fuck,” Draco mutters under his breath. He slides his hand under the fastening of his joggers, under the elastic of his pants, his cock hot and hard and already leaking into his hand. “Fuck,” he repeats, a plaintive whine that echoes in the mercifully empty kitchen. “Harry fucking Potter.”

Harry fucking Potter will be the death of him, he thinks in the shower, a few minutes later, as hot water pounds his shoulders and he moves his fist over his erection frantically, chasing relief, his breathy moans barely covered by the sound of the water running against the tiles. He comes so hard… knees almost buckling, head in the crook of his elbow to muffle his cry. Fucking wanking in the shower… he hasn’t done it in ages. Draco watches the water wash his come away, panting. Harry fucking Potter. And he stands naked under the spray for long minutes, lets his breathing slow down while his mind goes over the feeling of Harry's hand on him, over and over and over. It's a long, stunned moment before he thinks he can be ready to face the day. 

He hasn’t felt that way since he was fifteen, and he’s not entirely sure he’s ready for the feeling to be back.

The second time it happens, Draco is, technically, more prepared. It’s the end of the day on a Sunday. It rained earlier, and Scorpius wanted to practice a new piece on the piano. Draco settled at his desk with a financial report draft and a red-ink Self-Inking Quill, listening distractedly to Scorpius playing scales.

A soft knock on his study door pulls him out of his thoughts. It’s Harry, looking at him from behind the door.

“Hello,” he says. 

“Harry. Hi. Is there anything wrong—?”

“Oh, no.” Harry shakes his head and steps inside. Balzac slips inside in Harry’s wake, and Harry lets out a little laugh. “Sneaky dog,” he says. Balzac turns and barks like he played Harry a good trick. Harry is holding two steaming mugs, one in each hand. He gestures carefully at Draco’s inquiring look. “I… I made tea. D’you want some?”

Well, if Harry’s already made the tea…

“It would be rude to say I don’t, wouldn’t it?”

“Nah. I’d give it to Scorpius.” Harry nods to Scorpius, absorbed in his scales at the piano. Balzac went to sit next to the piano, watching his little master. “Since his dad can’t appreciate a good brew when he sees it,” he adds, playful.

“Fine. Give it,” Draco says, rolling his eyes. He can’t help his smile. Sundays are usually quieter days — Draco doesn’t go to the office, Scorpius doesn’t have school or appointments. Sometimes Draco goes for a run and asks Harry to come along, but all in all, they’re off-duty days for everyone. Yet here Harry is, thinking of Draco in the little moments that make up daily life. Making two mugs of tea. Bringing them to Draco’s study. Placing one of them on the corner of Draco’s desk, the scent of the hot beverage awakening Draco’s senses. He takes the mug between his hands, feeling the tension in his shoulders fade away as warmth seeps through his palms. He takes a sip and lifts his eyebrows.

“Good?” Harry ventures, the corner of his lips barely raised. 

“Yes,” Draco says, studying him. Harry’s standing by Draco’s desk, a slight stiffness in his posture, as if waiting for Draco to confirm he’s not overstaying his welcome. Draco gestures for him to take a seat, and Harry settles. The unicorn and dragon chair, Draco notes with a dull jolt. Always the unicorn and dragon chair. He clears his throat. “Darjeeling?”

“The good one from the back of your cupboard.” Harry shrugs and shifts his eyes, his smug, pleased expression warming Draco.

“It’s the one I like on rainy days.”

“I noticed.”

Harry holds his gaze, and Draco wishes there was a spell to dull eye contact. Luckily, Scorpius finishes his scales, and Harry turns to watch the little boy as he sets his new sheet music on the piano stand.

“Hello, Scorp,” he tells him. “That sounded really nice.”

Scorpius doesn’t answer. 

“He’s not going to notice you when he’s this focussed,” Draco reminds him.

“I know,” Harry says. He turns his attention back to Draco, and it’s like being under a bright spotlight again. “I noticed that, too. But he’s here, isn’t he?” He shrugs again. Shrugging is Harry’s form of punctuation. “It’s just polite.”

They drink their tea in silence, the first bars of a mazurka rising from the piano, from Scorpius’ diligent fingers. Having Harry here, in his study, sharing a cup of tea and a few amicable words… it’s warm and calm, easy and comfortable. Better than solitude. Something twists and writhes in Draco’s chest at the realisation, attraction and suspicion, fondness and distrust, still. The feelings battle in him, and it’s just so easy to eventually give in to the one Draco wants to follow — the one that Draco is weak enough to follow — and he smiles as he sets his empty mug on his desk.

“Thank you,” he says, “for the tea.”

Harry seems to realise just then that Draco was in the middle of work. “I didn’t mean to impose my company.”

“Your company is fine, Potter.” Draco grabs the report he’d set aside, makes a show of sliding it in front of him on the leather blotter. He eyes Harry from under his brows. “It’s more than fine,” he admits, worrying that the warmth in his voice will betray how affected he was by Harry’s simple care. “You’re welcome to stay, as long as I can finish reviewing this—” he points at the stack of parchment, “— delightful document for the auditors’ upcoming visit.”

Harry grabs one of the day’s newspapers and opens it on the crossword page with a laugh. After a while Scorpius takes a break from the piano and stalks over to Harry. “Hello, Harry,” he tells him, and Harry looks at Draco with a lifted eyebrow and a smug little smile, one that seems to say, See? Harry asks Scorpius if he wants to help him solve the crossword puzzle, and they argue about twelve down until Draco gives in and joins them and does an enthusiastic little shimmy — that has Harry in stitches — when he solves the crossword clue. 

And Draco catches himself imagining a life where every one of his Sundays would be like this — him and Scorpius and Harry, sharing their time with mutual enjoyment. Catches Harry throwing him surreptitious glances when he thinks he’s not looking, his gaze loaded like a wand a split second before a spell — and wonders.

Draco thought he was technically more prepared the second time around. Turns out being technically more prepared is still not prepared enough.

The third time Draco is hit with the realisation of how he feels about Harry is in the morning of the day that changes everything.

It’s eight o’clock, and Draco has been upstairs in his room, getting ready for the day. It’s shaping up to be a long one: meetings with his financial and accounting teams to prepare for the upcoming audit; discussions about the finer points of the Romanian plant blueprints; and at the end of the day, a one-on-one with his head of R&D to roadmap the launches of new potions for Caduceus . The whole day is a low-level headache in the making, so Draco spends an extra five minutes picking his suit and a tie — silver with a print of tiny, dark green snakes that remind him of his Slytherin years — his sartorial choices an armour and a pick-me-up all at once.

Draco is coming down the stairs when he hears the voices of Harry and Scorpius in the foyer, one floor below. Intrigued, he crouches down, peers through the wrought-iron loops of the baluster.

From where he is, the foyer looks clean and bright, the white marble shining, dust motes glimmering in the morning sun falling from the skylights. Ernestina refreshed the hydrangeas yesterday, and the tall stems are proudly peeking out of their vases at each side of the room.

And in the middle of it, one knee on the tiles, Harry is helping Scorpius button his jacket.

Draco’s breath catches. Scorpius is letting Harry help him with his clothes. Besides Draco and Ernestina — and Balzac, of course — Scorpius never lets anyone approach him or help him, let alone touch him. Not even Greg was able to do that. And here Harry is, buttoning his son’s overcoat and chatting away with him as if nothing of significance is happening.

“So school is going okay?” he hears Harry say. Despite the fact that he and Scorpius are alone in the foyer, he keeps his voice lower than usual, as if he’s sharing a secret. Draco realises Harry often talks to Scorpius like that — not quite whispering, but not quite in the same tone that he uses with everyone else — and wonders if that particular habit is what gets Scorpius’ attention. Draco pricks up his ears and listens. “The mean kids are leaving you alone?”

“Most of the time,” Scorpius answers, and from where Draco’s watching, he swears he’s looking Harry in the eye.

“Most of the time, huh? Better than a little bit of the time.”

“Yes.”

“The scar advice worked, then?” Harry asks.

And then Scorpius does something that has Draco nearly gasping in shock: he holds out his index finger and pokes at Harry’s forehead, right on the famous thunderbolt scar. Harry didn’t expect it, Draco can tell: as soon as Scorpius’ finger lands on his forehead, he freezes, eyes wide, and keeps very still — as if he’s waiting for the fact to process. Nobody ever touches Harry there, probably; the realisation sends an odd little flutter down Draco’s stomach. He feels equally guilty and awed to witness that conversation.

Scorpius’ finger is still on Harry’s scar when he says, “It worked. People think I’m looking them in the eye.”

“I’m glad.”

“Most people are dumb.”

“Are they?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you mean I’m dumb, too? Since I’m the initiator of the scar trick?”

Scorpius seems to consider Harry’s words for a moment.

“No. It’s very clever.” He drops his hand, starts wrapping Draco’s Slytherin scarf around his neck even though it’s a mild spring day outside and there’s no real need for it. “But some people started noticing.”

“It’s possible. It works best as a one-shot trick.”

“One-shot?” Scorpius twists his fingers in the tassels of the scarf.

“Yeah. Something you do once, twice to the same person before they notice. It’s all right, though. Not everybody does.”

Scorpius considers. “The mean kids will notice, I think.”

“Eventually, yes.” Harry unfolds himself, stands in front of Scorpius. “But by the time they do, you’ll be a better wizard… or you’ll have learned how to run away really fast.”

“I should learn how to run,” Scorpius muses practically, and Harry laughs. It’s such a pure, unbridled sound, echoing in the marble foyer, up the grand wrought-iron staircase. That’s when Draco realises — Harry is every shade of perfect, everything he’s always wished for the person who’d share his life to be, and Draco’s supremely fucked because… he knows Harry’s not perfect. At all. He still doesn’t know the precise truth about Harry, why he’s really here, the damage he’s no doubt bound to make. Despite her best efforts, Ernestina hasn’t been able to intercept any potential owls coming for Harry, nor copy the memos they delivered — almost as if Harry never received any post. As if he was doing his level best for his correspondence never to be caught. Ever. 

If you can’t trust him, a little voice that sounds a lot like his mother whispers, maybe this time… Why not confront him about it? Why not face up to it and ask him?

Because I’m a coward, is Draco’s first thought, always a Pavlovian response.

Because I may rationally know Harry’s up to something, but there’s still something in me that trusts him.

That wants to trust him.

“Running.” Harry pretends to think. Then he nods and smiles. “In the short term, that’s definitely a wise option.” 

“Take me with you the next time you go for a run with Daddy.”

“You’ll have to ask your daddy about this, but why not.” 

Harry smiles down at Scorpius as he picks up the cooling-charm lunch box filled with cucumber sandwiches and vinegar crisps, and Draco takes his cue and quietly steps away and back upstairs. Harry will drop Scorpius off at school and will be back in twenty minutes — just enough time for Draco to ponder the swirling thoughts in his head and regain some of his composure.

He watches Harry’s and Scorpius’ retreating forms, a low-level yearning thrumming in his chest. Tonight, he thinks, a resolution. Tonight, I’ll talk to Harry. Be open. Get to the bottom of this.

Tonight seems an eternity from now.

 

*

 

Despite his better efforts, Draco spends his morning daydreaming of the conversation he’ll have with Harry tonight. He’ll invite Harry to join him in his study. Maybe pour him a glass of Scotch. He wonders if Harry likes whisky — he’s surprised to realise he doesn’t know that little detail about Harry, even though they’ve been living under the same roof for months. He wonders how much more he doesn’t know — well, that’s the point of confronting Harry, isn’t it? Confronting might be a strong word. He’s hoping all he’ll have to do is prod Harry in the right direction, and Harry will give in and tell him. 

Draco’s emotions go up and down in waves all day — it’s impossible to focus on anything. He lets the finance team go over the records, flicking their wands at Caduceus’ ledgers, while he presides at the head of the table, hoping to project calm confidence when his stomach is doing alternatively elated and terrified backflips. What if his intuition was wrong, what if Ernestina’s suspicions were unfounded, and Harry turned out to be completely trustworthy? Or… what if Harry had something to hide, something terrible and unforgivable and everything they’d been building since the beginning of their collaboration was a lie?

Draco wants to spend the day pulling his hair out and boucing his leg in frustrated anticipation, but he can’t, so he smiles and nods politely as his finance and accounting teams leave the meeting room and Jemima slips her head in the door, announcing his next meeting with the team from legal. Draco abstains from sighing by sheer willpower, and gestures them in.

Tonight, he thinks again. Harry, tonight. Both to give himself strength and to remind himself of the reward awaiting at the end of his work day.

But Draco’s decision to talk to Harry falls through. It’s his fault, really, for thinking he has any say in the way his personal life unfolds, when no element of it has ever gone according to plan. All thoughts of sharing an intimate moment of soul-baring and bittersweet confessions with Harry disappear when Draco sees Jemima’s face as she interrupts his meeting.

“Sir,” she says, her face stoical but a few shades paler, “if you don’t mind stepping out for a moment? There’s an urgent firecall for you.”

Draco excuses himself and follows her out of the room.

“What is it?” he asks, only a bit annoyed, as soon as the door is closed behind them. Jemima walks around her desk, leading the way to Draco’s office, and she only needs two words for him to catch up.

“St Mungo’s.”

Draco’s step almost falters. “What is it?” he repeats, dumbly, a feeling like lead in his gut.

“It’s Ernestina, sir,” Jemima tells him, and for the first time since she went to fetch him from his meeting, her expression softens, compassionate. It only makes Draco worry more. “She called to say Scorpius is in St Mungo’s.”

The dreadful feeling in Draco’s gut explodes into a thousand piercing shards.

“Is she there with him? Now?”

“Yes. She’s waiting for you.”

“Where?” Draco asks, a formality. He already knows where they’ve sent his son.

“The Janus Thickey Ward, sir,” Jemima says, shaking her head slightly. They’re in front of the fireplace in Draco’s office. With numb gratitude, Draco notes that she lit a fire. “I’m so sorry—”

“Thank you for coming to get me, Jemima,” Draco mumbles, hurriedly, absently. “Could you please let legal know I’ve been called away on an emergency?” When Jemima nods, he takes a pinch of Floo powder from the jar. Just saying the name of this place makes him sick— 

When he steps out of the fireplace on the other side, he’s in a nook of the waiting room of the ward, and Ernestina is here, pacing restlessly in front of the hearth. 

“Mistor!” She practically throws herself at him when she sees him. “¡Dios mío! Thank goodness you is come, Mistor!” She has her hands fisted in the bottom of his shirt, and he gently extricates her fingers, calmer than he feels by far.

“Ernestina,” Draco cuts her off, “no drama. Give me facts.” Facts, he can handle. It’s his son they’re talking about. It’s his son they took to the looney ward…

Ernestina takes a big, steadying breath, and launches into a rapid fire explanation.

“It was the bullies at school, sir,” she says. “The mean kids Scorpius talks about. He tells me about them, I tells the teachers, they tells me they did not see proof of aggression in the past but they will pays attention… And it happened at the end of the school day, sir. It was three of them, Mistor. They push bebé Scorpius, call him names, mock his scarf, sir. One of the bullies tries to pull Scorpius’ scarf off… Scorpius don’t like it. Not at all.”

Draco fears the answer as much as he needs it confirmed.

“What happened?”

“Accidental magic flare, sir,” Ernestina tells him, her big brown eyes steady, a mirror for their shared helplessness, for their indefectible bond to Scorpius. “There was witnesses. It manifested as a low-level explosion. The mean kids were shocked more than hurt. Just one of them hit his head on the bonnet of a car parked on the street,” she added harshly, her eyebrows drawing in, “but it is different for Scorpius… the explosion… the Healers says it was more of an implosion, Mistor.”

“Fuck.” Draco sways on his feet. The part of him that’s weak, still young, wants to fall on his knees and cry. He places fingers on his temples instead, massages small circles — anything to distract him from his anguish, not here, not when there are other people in the waiting room, eyeing him, no doubt whispering about Scorpius… “Fuck,” he says again, a hard exhale. “The damage?”

“Scorpius was found unconscious, Mistor.” Ernestina’s composure starts to crack. She’s blinking, her eyes moist. “Nose bleed, possible concussion from falling flat on his back on the pavement. The Healers was making checks earlier, says there is no internal bleeding that they can find. Just lots of bruises. Bruises on this inside. Maybe on his magic. Says he will need a few weeks for his magic to stabilise.”

“Can I see him?” Draco sounds like he’s pleading, and it’s ridiculous. He’s Scorpius’ father. But they’ve kept him out of his son’s room before, and he clenches his fists at the memory. Special precautions, sir, the Healers had said, with children like your son.

“He’s sleeping now,” Ernestina sighs, wiping at her eyes with the back of a trembling hand. “Ernestina thinks they will.” She probably waited for Draco to be here so she could cry. Good elf, Draco thinks, and strides towards the welcome desk.

They let him into Scorpius’ room five minutes later. Draco doesn’t thank them, doesn’t say anything. He keeps his face impassive as he walks into the room, hiding the heart-stopping wave of relief he felt when the Healers said he could visit his son. It can’t be as bad as last time if they don’t make his life harder, Draco thinks.

Scorpius looks smaller than he is, lying under the white sheet of the big hospital bed, a galaxy of healing charms glimmering over him. Draco approaches the bed with careful steps, mindful not to disturb the hush. He drinks in the sight of his son’s face, pale but calm, no trace of the hurt he’s sustained; he scans the shape of his tiny body, instinctively checking all his son’s limbs are still in place. Even though he rationally knows internal magical damage rarely leaves visible traces — he checks, still. He lets himself drop into the nearest seat. Takes Scorpius’ hand between his, the one that lies above the cover on his side of the bed. Presses a kiss to it, rests his forehead to it. His breath is shaky, half sheer terror, half unfathomable, directionless, impotent rage. He can’t believe it has happened again — he thought Scorpius’ school more vigilant on aggressive bullying behaviours; he thought Scorpius was doing better, supported by Dr Dawson’s patient help. He hoped the wizarding mindset would stop sending Scorpius’ underage magical flares to the Thickey Ward, when the other, normal kids were sent to the main Pediatrics Ward. He could already picture the headline of the next memos the Wizarding Parents Association would send to the entire magical primary school — that they’ve let Scorpius in long enough, that clearly he’s not adapting, improving, whatever ignorant bollocks they always serve Draco when they see him…

“He’s going to be fine.” The voice behind Draco carries a cautious, reassuring smile. When he turns, he sees a Mediwitch, holding a tray with fluorescent vials of potions. Her kindly face, its softness enhanced by her pale pink robes, turns even gentler at the sight of Draco. He wonders what she sees written in his expression.

“Is he?” Draco asks offhandedly, because he feels caught and vulnerable and doesn’t mind responding with just a little bit of rudeness.

“He just needs rest. Attention. Love.” She sets the tray on the table beside Scorpius’ bed. “I’ve no doubt he’s going to get all of it.” She watches Scorpius’ sleeping form with kindness, with sadness. “And I know not all children are so lucky.”

Draco relaxes, just enough to lower his guard a bit. “Thank you,” he mutters, unsure he wants to give that to anyone in this hospital. “I’m his dad.”

“I know who you are,” the witch says. Draco braces himself for what comes next. He’s not in the mood to tolerate any of the usual insinuations and name-calling. But instead, she says: “I’m a big admirer of your work, Mr Malfoy.” When he turns, she’s smiling, looking at him with kind brown eyes. Taken aback, he thanks her again. “I mean it,” she laughs, a soft sound, dismissing him with a wave of her hand. “Caduceus has changed so many things in the way we work with patients. It’s wonderful.”

Draco considers her words for a moment, lets them float in the air, warm him, before the cold dread of his son’s situation rushes back in.

“When can he come home?” he asks, because nobody has told him yet.

“Tomorrow or the day after, I suppose,” the Mediwitch says, and she’s busy sorting the potions for Scorpius. She doesn’t look at Draco. “You’ll have to ask the Healers but… in my experience, that’s the recommendation.”

Draco tears his eyes away from the fluorescent vials — some of which he recognises as Caduceus potions, and he thanks Merlin that he’s always kept track of the ingredients and every new potion launch of the past years when they're about to be given to his son  — and watches Scorpius instead. He might wake up soon. Draco wants to be here for it.

“It’s fortunate,” the Mediwitch is talking, and Draco only seems to notice after she’s been on a while, “that the magic flare was shielded in time, or the damage would have been far worse — for your son as well as the other children around him. I mean, I’m not surprised — he’s always been a brilliant wizard, I believe, the press always raving about him, you know? But to see it confirmed is quite something else.”

“What…?” Draco mumbles, trying to make sense of a monologue he only caught the tail end of.

“Harry Potter,” the Mediwitch glances at Draco, her smile turned slightly dreamy at the mention. “He was there with Scorpius, wasn’t he?”

“I don’t know…” Draco trails, but the witch is not really listening to him.

“So brave. I heard he knew exactly what spell to cast in that situation. Not even a spell — it was wandless, non-verbal, the full deal, Mr Malfoy. Harry Potter saved lives once again. I was so sad to hear he was injured, but maybe I can ask my colleagues from the main floors to let me go and say hello to him later…”

“Harry was injured?” Draco asks, another pang in his gut. With the events of the past hour, he’s totally forgotten about Harry… but of course Harry was there when it happened. Picking up Scorpius from school was part of his daily duties. Draco curses himself for not remembering sooner. And to think Harry got hurt in the process… “Where is he staying?” Draco asks, urgent, straightening in his chair. “Are visitors allowed?”

“For authorised people only, I’m afraid, Mr Malfoy.” the Mediwitch lifts her eyebrows in sympathy. “It was a shallow injury, from what I’ve heard, though. It won’t take long for him to be discharged.”

Scorpius sighs in his sleep, and Draco’s focus turns back to him. Behind the anger and the hurt and the fright of it all, his thoughts wander back to Harry. He saved Draco’s son’s life… Whatever it is he’s hiding, he might not be out to hurt Draco after all. He might have ulterior motives working as Draco’s bodyguard… but he’s also become Scorpius’ protector, unequivocally so, as he so selflessly proved today.

And Draco is still determined to talk to Harry.

If not to confront him… at least to thank him, from the bottom of his heart, for doing the job Draco hired him for when the situation required it from him the most.

Chapter Text

The Mediwitch is putting the last touches to the bandage around his left wrist when there’s a knock on Harry’s door. The Mediwitch looks at him with raised eyebrows, a question. Hermione and Ron have already been around, as have Molly and Arthur. Ginny sent an owl. Kingsley sent a memo that Ron handed Harry, a piece of parchment in a nondescript brown envelope. He read it when his friends were gone. ‘Your dedication to your mission is highly appreciated, Harry,’ the note read. ‘Hopefully taking this hit in the course of your bodyguard duty will consolidate your role in the eyes of the suspect. Meanwhile, do get well soon, Harry.’ 

Harry returns the Mediwitch’s silent question as she gathers the pieces of gauze and empty vials of potions on a silver tray, ready to let Harry get some rest. He’s already had a long visit from his friends and family today. The Healers usually don’t knock and wait. “Come in,” he says out loud, and stops short when he sees Draco walk in.

“Hello, Harry,” Draco says, his expression contained, cautious. 

“Hi.” Harry’s word comes out in a breath. He watches as the Mediwitch scutters away and Draco makes his way towards his hospital bed, the same circumspect stance in his body as in the tone of his voice. He settles in the chair at the foot of Harry’s bed, and Harry swings his legs back onto the bed and under the covers so he faces him. He hates that he looks tired and vulnerable in his pale green patient robes, with his left arm wrapped close to his chest. He hates that Kingsley sees it as an opportunity… something for Harry to use in order to strengthen his bond with the suspect. He shakes his head at the anger flaring at the thought. 

He remembers what landed him in St Mungo’s in the first place. Not that the thought really left his mind.

“How is Scorpius?” he asks, trying to sit upright. Draco moves the chair to the side of Harry’s bed, a frown on his face. His features are gaunt, deep, dark circles under his eyes. He looks like he’s been through agony and back.

“He’s fine… He’s resting. He’s going to be okay.”

Harry drops back against the pillows, weak with exhaustion and relief. “Thank God.” 

Draco is watching him, guarded but expectant, waiting for Harry to speak again. So Harry smiles at him, a wry, encouraging little thing.

“You found me, huh?”

“Yes, you absolute berk, you brilliant idiot, I did.” Draco runs a hand through the hair at the back of his neck, his wan cheeks tinting with a light flush. “I’m authorised people, apparently.”

Harry’s stomach flips at Draco’s affectionate outburst. He'd forgotten about that… He had added Draco’s name to his St Mungo’s records the Monday after their walk in Hyde Park, Draco, Scorpius and him. He’d felt so close to Draco then… like they could perhaps actually be something besides ex-childhood enemies, besides employer and employee. He’d thought, Why the fuck not? I spend my days with him, that might come in useful someday.

And now that Draco’s here, bathed in the soft afternoon glow, turning the dreary hospital room brighter, Harry can’t bring himself to regret it.

“How did you know where to find me?” Harry asks. He smiles, and Draco smiles back at him. They seem unable to look away from each other.

“The Mediwitches at the Ward told me — Ernestina was too upset to think of mentioning anyone but Scorpius.”

“God, Draco.” Harry exhales, his breath stuck in his throat. “As she should be. It was… quite frightening, actually. I’m sorry, maybe you don’t want to hear it—” But Draco shakes his head, wide-eyed, and waves at him to continue. “It was like... like too much magic contained in too small a place… ready to explode. I’ve seen accidental magic before. Hell, I’ve done accidental underage magic before… but that was something else.”

“Yet you had the presence of mind to shield everyone from it.” Draco’s eyes are a bright burn on Harry. Harry turns to face him fully. Draco is leaning forward in his chair, elbows on his knees. The fingers of his right hand are resting on the sheet, tentative, as if he held out his hand for Harry and decided against it at the last moment. Harry wants to take Draco’s hand in his. “Thank you, Harry. There was damage, to him, to you. I mean… Merlin, Harry, you were injured.”

“It’s nothing… It’s just a magical sprain,” Harry says weakly. “With the bandage and potions they gave me, it’s only going to be a matter of days.”

Draco’s eyes are shining when he looks at him. “Harry. Please. It’s not nothing. And it would have been so much worse if you hadn’t been there… Scorpius would have been in so much trouble. Thank you,” he says again.

Draco’s gratitude, after Kingsley’s letter, is like being stabbed with a dull knife. 

“It’s my job,” Harry says, but his voice catches in his throat. He’s exhausted, and shaken, and he wants to pull Draco closer and take him in his arms and tell him it’ll all be fine in the end… 

And the end depends on him. Depends all on him, Harry.

“It’s your job…” Draco repeats. Almost a question. The way he’s gazing at Harry… like something isn’t quite right, like he wants Harry to tell him something, like maybe he knows…

Imperceptible details, flashes of conversations, stunted gestures file past his brain. Draco’s strained, sometimes overtly suspicious demeanour at the beginning of Harry’s employment. ‘You’re allowed to talk, Ernestina,’ sharp as a warning. The mercurial ebb and flow of his warmth towards Harry,  like he had to continually stop himself from getting too familiar and comfortable around him. The constant glances when Draco thought Harry wasn’t looking. And now… Draco’s eyes on him, almost supplicant.

“It’s your job,” Draco says again, “isn’t it?”

“Yes…” Harry says. He lowers his eyes. The Mediwitch tied his arm so close to his chest… “... and no.”

“No?”

The atmosphere, hushed and intimate a moment ago, changes abruptly. The room feels several degrees colder, and Draco’s expression shifts from open to narrow-eyed focus. Harry has the sense to give a minute shake of his head. His heart is hammering in his chest, his body is cold, frozen on the spot. His mind rifles through the emergency instructions of the Ministry, In case your real identity is revealed… In case your cover is blown… Should you find yourself in danger… but he comes up short. This has never happened before. You’ve never faced a suspect you weren’t ready to dispose of if need be, his mind provides, unhelpfully, as Harry locks eyes with Draco. 

“Don’t tell me you don’t know,” he says quietly.

Draco lifts his chin. 

“Then tell me why you’re here.”

“You’ve been wary around me for so long…”

“I had Ernestina follow you ever since I received your application.”

“Ernestina—?”

“You thought she was nothing but a house-elf, didn’t you?” Draco lifts an eyebrow, and it’s not a kind expression. “Most people do. They fail to remember house-elves have magic we humans can’t fathom or detect. Ernestina’s never entirely trusted you, and she convinced me I should do a little investigating of my own.”

“Then if you already know…”

“I don’t already know. I want to hear you say it.”

Harry swallows. In the hush of the hospital room, it’s damningly loud. He could still back out of this… but Draco is staring at him, something frantic simmering in his eyes, and Harry wants to give in. 

He glances down at his right hand on the sheets. The scar left on the back of it by Umbridge’s punishment in fifth year seems to mock him.

A lifetime of lies… for this.

“The Ministry sent me.” The words fall from his mouth, inexorable. Draco stills, eyes fixed on him, and it’s too late to take it back. “I don’t work for the Ministry… not really. I’m hired as an external consultant.”

“For what exactly, Potter?” Draco’s tone is several degrees colder than Harry's ever heard it. He’s sitting very still, and the use of his last name is worse than if he’d slapped Harry in the face. Harry represses a shiver.

“They’ve identified you as a suspect for illegal activities conducted through your company.”

“But there are no illegal activities conducted through my companies,” Draco counters, and it’s so fast and spontaneous any remaining doubts Harry could have on Draco’s innocence vanish into thin air.

“I know that. Believe me, I know. But the Ministry doesn’t. And I have to prove it to them.”

“And that’s your job.”

“I’m also your bodyguard. And Scorpius’.”

“Right.” Draco exhales a humourless little laugh.

“When have I ever made you feel like I wasn’t?”

Draco laughs louder now, throwing his head back, baring his teeth. It sounds almost deranged, because there’s nothing funny about the situation at all. Then he shuts his mouth and the laughing stops. He stands and closes the gap with Harry’s bed, and it’s all Harry can do not to cower. Draco’s towering over him, and Harry’s hand itches for his wand.

“Give me,” Draco says through clenched teeth, leaning in, “one reason. One reason not to kill you. Or worse, send you back to your precious Ministry to carry on with your pitiful life.”

“What—?”

“You come into my house, you pretend to be someone who’s trained for personal protection, you make a case for yourself and I give you the job. I put my safety in your hands. I put my son’s life in your hands…” Draco’s head is shaking, more fury than disbelief. “I put what’s most precious to me under your fucking care, and you have the absolute nerve to come and tell me you’re none of the things you said you were?”

“I would have never accepted this mission if I couldn’t protect you and your son the way you needed me to.”

“Oh, you would have declined your dear Minister’s request, then? How noble of you.”

“I would have, because I actually care, Malfoy,” Harry growls back. Care about my job. Care about you. All of it implied. And it only serves to infuriate Draco more.

“One reason, Potter,” he snarls, grabbing Harry by the front of his hospital robes and yanking. “I asked for one reason.”

“You need me,” Harry breathes in response, and Draco’s trembling hand stills on the fabric of his robes. “Trust me when I say how much you’re going to need me.”

“In what world could I possibly need you, Potter?”

“I told you the truth about me — I’m the spy. I’m only supposed to find information. I’m not the instigator — I’m the Trojan horse.” 

“And that’s supposed to make me trust you?”

“I’m the least of all possible evils, Draco.” 

“Then who—”

“The Ministry is trying to build a case against you. They have for years. The supposed illegal business under the cover of Caduceus… They think the initial funds came from criminal activity, which you could possibly be the source of.”

Harry can swear Draco is a few shades paler now, his skin tinged grey. 

“Have they found anything?”

“No,” Harry counters. “Have you got anything to hide?” Draco presses his lips into a thin line. He doesn’t answer. Harry wants to shake him. “Have you got anything to hide that I should know of, Draco? This is serious. Think about your business. Your employees. Think about Scorpius—”

Draco glares at him, his eyes narrowed. “You keep my son out of this, Potter, or I’ll follow through with my desire to murder you.”

“Listen to me," Harry says, his voice low, desperate. “I can stay. I can protect you. Only you and I know… the truth about me. If you killed me,” Draco huffs a derisive laugh, “or if you fired me, the Ministry would find other ways to pursue their investigation. As long as I’m here… they can’t touch you, they can’t touch Scorpius, they can’t touch Caduceus . Do you understand?”

“They’re not going to notice you’re not returning their memos?”

“I’ll keep returning their memos. I’ll keep sending them information. I’ve been gathering proof of your innocence and I’ll keep building your case… if you actually are innocent, Malfoy.”

“Would you trust me if I said I am?”

The rosy glow of late afternoon is turning Draco’s face softer. It’s almost dusk — Harry didn’t notice the sun starting to set over the line of the buildings beyond his window. The sky is fading to a pale red, Draco is offering him something in this response — a yearning for trust, an admission of some sort — and Harry suddenly feels so relieved he could choke. He considers his answer for a moment. 

But in the end, there was only ever one answer he could give. So he does.

“Draco…” he says, “I trust you.”

“But…?”

“But you’re going to have to help me out a bit.” At that, Draco takes a step back, a deep frown on his face. His hand is still on Harry, fingers clenched around the handful of fabric. Harry exhales a steadying breath and continues. “You’re going to have to tell me what you’re hiding from the Ministry.”

Draco’s face shutters again. 

“What makes you think I’m hiding something?”

Harry rolls his eyes, frustrated.

“It’s the reason they sent me here, isn’t it? I’m not saying you did anything wrong. I’m just saying there’s no smoke without fire, and if the Ministry thinks there’s smoke, then there’s a high probability you’re hiding a fire somewhere.”

“If I was hiding a fire, Potter, Caduceus wouldn’t be the company it is today. You don’t build a successful business on ashes.”

“Are you telling me there’s no fire?”

“There might be… embers.”

“But you’re not going to tell me where they’re hidden.”

Draco keeps his eyes on Harry, steady, as he shakes his head. He looks cornered. Frightened. Yet unwavering. He closes his eyes, and he’s still in Harry’s space, and Harry can see the way his long eyelashes fan over his cheekbones. There’s something painful in the pit of Harry’s stomach, and he has the sudden urge to reach out and run his thumb across those cheekbones, across the jut of Draco’s bottom lip. “I can’t…” Draco admits, barely a whisper in the hush of the room. “I can’t tell you.” He opens his eyes again, and his expression changes: no longer pained, but defiant, seeking Harry’s eyes. “Can you accept that?”

They stare at each other, Harry looking for any sign that Draco might be lying — hiding something from him. He doesn’t find it. He never expected to.

“I can,” Harry says finally. “I might be making the worst mistake of my career, but I trust you. Whatever goddamned intuition it is… I trust you. Just — let me stay with you.”

“What’s in it for you, Harry?” Draco asks. Harry is reminded of their first meeting, months ago. It felt like a different life, yet it all suddenly makes sense. The wariness. The suspicion. The questions. Tell me, Potter. What’s in it for you? Why would you choose me? 

Because I’m getting to know you. Because I’m starting to like you. Because my instincts scream at me that you’re innocent, and my instincts have almost never been wrong. 

Because I’m done with lies. 

“Because I believe you,” Harry says out loud, “but I don’t have concrete proof yet. And if I drop out of the investigation now, they will replace me with someone else. Someone who’ll likely be less scrupulous, and likely resort to any means to please the Minister.”

“Someone like Zacharias Smith,” Draco all but spits.

“You’ve met him, haven’t you?" Harry asks. "He’s audited Caduceus’ accounts for years without finding a breach. He’s certain that you’re a fraud. He’s made it his mission to expose you. The Aurors tell me he’s never recovered from what he thinks is a personal failure.”

“And the Minister?”

“The Minister has so many reasons for coming after Caduceus — after you. Catching an ex-Death Eater. Adding a new catch to his wall of fame. Reminding wizarding Britain of his glory days as an Auror. Replenishing the Ministry vaults with your confiscated wealth.”

Draco's mouth thins. “Shacklebolt never forgave me for avoiding a sentence in Azkaban, did he?”

“Shacklebolt listens to his advisors. And one of them is Smith.”

“And you?”

Harry shrugs. “He listens to me, too.”

Draco looks away, pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “And that’s why I should keep you around.”

“You decide, Draco. If you think I should go… I’ll go. I’ll listen. But… I want to stay and help.”

“Always the righteous hero.”

“Can you blame me?”

Draco studies him for a long moment, the light of the day’s sun slowly fading from red to a pale blue. Harry holds his breath and waits, hoping, wondering. Draco nods eventually, but the glint in his eyes doesn’t soften. “I’m starting to understand you.” His mouth is a harsh, defeated line. He shifts his eyes away, towards the door. “But I need to think.”

“Draco…”

“I need to look after my son. The Healers say it’s going to take weeks for his magic to recover.” He glances at Harry. “And I need… I need time to recover, myself. I need time to ponder my options. I don’t know what to make of your honesty, Potter.”

“What do you need from me now?” Harry all but whispers.

“I need you to not be there when I get home.” Draco’s words have an unarguable finality to them. Harry’s stomach sinks.

“But I told you—” 

Draco lifts his hand to cut him off.

“Temporarily. Give me… three days. Enough to bring Scorpius home, get things sorted. Enough for me to think.” He looks back at Harry, and it’s almost pleading. “Can you do that?”

Harry’s gut feels like ice, but he nods. He has no other choice.

“I can,” he says.

“In three days… come back to my house. I’ll know… what to do with you then.”

Harry nods slowly, and Draco finally lowers his hand. He takes a step back, walks around Harry’s bed to leave but pauses at the last moment, hand ghosting on the side of the bed, fingering the hospital corner loose. Not looking at Harry, he murmurs, more to himself than to anyone else, “I could never refuse you anything, could I?” 

After Draco’s left, the light of the sun fades entirely. Night settles; Harry forgets to cast a Lumos, his back against the covers, his mind reeling, reeling, with worry and threadbare hope.

Chapter Text

Harry’s mind is still spinning the next day, when he knocks on the door of Ron and Hermione’s cottage in the countryside near Ottery St Catchpole.

The door opens, and the inside is, predictably, a complete mess.

“It's like a toy shop exploded in here,” Harry muses, looking around as he steps over an overthrown box of puzzle pieces and avoids losing balance, his left arm still held tight against his chest with a splint.

“Don't remind me!” He hears Hermione’s irritated voice before he sees her. She holds a stuffed unicorn and a miniature Knight Bus that rumbles and smokes like the real thing in one hand, and pushes her bushy curls out of her face with the other.

“You’re probably spending too much time at Malfoy’s,” Ron’s voice, equally harassed, comes from the kitchen. He must be the one cooking dinner tonight. “I bet his brat has his room meticulously tidy and organised, hasn’t he?”

Harry bristles for a second, taken aback by the force of the protectiveness he feels for Scorpius. Ron doesn’t know Scorpius, he reminds himself. He still thinks of Draco as the boy they knew at Hogwarts — not the most positive image one could have of him.

“Hey, don't say that,” he still tells Ron once his flash of irrational anger ebbs away.

“Why not?” Ron’s head pops out of the kitchen door. “Oh, sorry. Because he got hurt at school? He also hurt you.” Ron nods at Harry’s bandaged arm. He's munching on a piece of cheddar, a smear of tomato sauce across his forehead, and the sight of his best friend cooking dinner for all of them, looking all soft and domestic, is too endearing for Harry to stay cross. Ron means well, after all.

“Scorpius is a good kid,” he says. “And his dad is a good person now, it seems.”

Ron’s eyebrows disappear under his fringe, and even Hermione carefully drops the toys she's holding into the toy box before straightening up, gazing at Harry with that pointed, knowing look.

“Uh oh,” she says.

“What now?” Harry asks, knowing full well there’s no escaping the questioning that’s going to follow. He rolls his eyes in preemptive defense.

Instead, Ron holds out his hand to Hermione and wiggles his fingers.

“Pay up the ten Galleons, love.”

“Hold on,” Hermione lifts a finger at him. “Harry, before I give any of my hard-earned money to my dear husband, can you please confirm what's going on between you and Malfoy?”

“Why would anything be going on between me and Malfoy?”

“Harry,” Hermione warns.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry deflects, sitting gingerly on the corner of the sofa not taken up by Rose and Hugo’s toy Quidditch team and levitating wooden cubes. There’s a merry fire burning in the hearth across the room. Harry feels simultaneously cold and feverishly hot. “I’m just there all the time, doing my bloody job, as you very well know.” He eyes Ron pointedly. “I’m getting closer to Draco, but that’s what I’m supposed to do in this situation, aren’t I?”

“Ha!” Ron points at him. “There! I knew it!”

Hermione rummages in her jeans’ pocket and takes out a couple of gold coins. She hands them to Ron. “Here you go. I’ll give you the rest when I get my hands on my purse.”

Harry looks between his two friends, irritated. “What the hell is this about? What did I just say? I just told you I’m getting to know Draco as part of the mission, and you act like you just heard some kind of great revelation.”

“Mate, you just did it again,” Ron grins, shaking his head. “Since when do you call Malfoy ‘Draco’?”

Harry feels the blush creep up the back of his neck. “Since… since — well his son started calling me Harry right off the bat and asking me why I didn’t call his dad by his given name and—     and that’s it!”

Hermione swishes her wand and the toys on the sofa fly into the toy box. She goes to sit next to him, looking exactly like she did when she was flipping through books at the Hogwarts library in search for an answer to her questions.

“That’s not it, though, is it?” She touches Harry’s elbow with gentle fingers. “Is there anything you’re not telling us, Harry?”

Harry sighs, dropping himself back into the soft cushions of the sofa.

“Yeah,” he concedes. It’s not like he intended to hide what transpired between him and Draco from his best friends, but — it’s still so new and raw, and there’s still so much he’s struggling to unravel, still so many feelings battling for dominance in his head. Guilt. Desire. Affection. Curiosity. It looks like he’s going to have to explain this to Ron and Hermione, though he wishes he could have kept everything to himself for just a while longer. He glances at Ron. “You’re not going to be happy about it.”

Ron casts a stasis charm towards the kitchen and sits across from Harry on the coffee table. Hermione doesn’t seem to mind. Since they’ve become parents, she’s grown a lot more tolerant of the mess and people sitting and standing where they shouldn’t.

“What is it?” Ron asks, concerned.

Harry braces himself and says: “He’s figured it out.”

There’s a stunned pause, during which Harry can practically hear the gears switching in his friends’ brains. Hermione sits very still, anxiety rolling off her. Ron leans back, a shade paler, his freckles stark against his white skin.

“How…?” he says. “How much does he know?”

“Everything,” Harry admits. “I didn’t mean to tell him at first—”

“You told him?”

“Not exactly. Look, he had me followed since even before I started working for him. He was getting suspicious.”

“Followed? Harry, that’s illegal. How did he—?”

“His house-elf. Ernestina. And I hardly think we can hold the legality of it against him. What we’re doing is barely legal itself.”

“It’s true,” Hermione says, a placating hand on Ron’s knee. She turns to Harry. “I assume you did what you thought was best in those circumstances, Harry. But it sounds dangerous to carry on with your mission, if Malfoy knows why you’re there.”

“Yeah… how did he take it?” Ron asks.

“Not great… which is to be expected,” Harry adds quickly, seeing his friends’ worried faces. “But… I made a case for myself, I think.”

“How so?”

Harry grimaces. “I told him I was the best case scenario for his predicament?”

“Oh, Harry...” Hermione holds her own face, staring at Harry in disbelief.

“And what did he say?” Ron prods.

“He said he was going to think about it.”

Ron shakes his head minutely. “Merlin. You’re lucky he didn’t hex your other arm off.”

“Harry, you can’t make a deal with a suspect,” Hermione says.

“I don’t think normal rules apply here, Hermione.” Harry tries to keep the rising irritation from his voice, but fails. Don’t they see? He’d do anything to wrap up the case. No, a little voice at the back of his head whispers. You’d do anything to wrap up the case by proving Draco’s not guilty. “Besides, he’s only a suspect on paper. Because Kingsley and Smith said so. He’s not… I think he’s innocent.”

Ron is watching him, eyes narrowed. Always the Auror, even off duty. “I don’t think you’re telling us everything, though.” Harry’s reactions aren’t fast enough for him to avoid looking caught. Ron leans closer, intent. “Spill it. There’s something else, isn’t it?”

Harry debates it for a second, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

“There’s something else.”

Ron sighs. “What’s going on, mate?” 

Harry looks at the frame above the fireplace, an enlarged wizarding photograph of the Granger-Weasley family, all bright smiles and happy waves, to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes. “I think I like him.”

There’s silence for a long while, then he hears Ron shift where he sits. He asks in a careful voice: “You like him, like… you would a good friend? …or…”

Harry lets out a rueful little laugh. “You know what I mean, Ron.”

“Oh.”

More silence, and Hermione’s hand comes to pat Harry on the knee. “Harry… Between this and what you told us before… Does it affect your ability to carry out your mission? Because if it does, you should probably let Kingsl—”

“No!” Harry says, forceful. “It’s fine. I’m making good progress. I just need more time to… to—”

“Hey, I read the memos you send to Kingsley every week," Ron says. "It looks like Malfoy is either clean or much better at hiding criminal activity than anyone has any right to be. You could close the case tomorrow if you wanted.”

Harry has thought about it. But he’s also read Kingsley’s reactions to his memos, each one of them proving that Draco’s main activities are working for Caduceus, going for his daily run and spending time with his son — as well as his occasional conversations with Harry, but Harry never mentions them. It’s been more than four months now, and Kingsley keeps asking Harry for more of his time, more information, more details. Harry reads between the lines and knows that the Minister is still not convinced of Draco’s innocence. He’ll probably never be. Yet as long as Harry’s there, learning as much as he can about Draco and sharing information with the Ministry and the DMLE, he knows Draco’s safer than with any other agent of the Ministry.

“No. I need more time,” he tells Ron. “I’m not — compromised, or anything. I can tell the difference between my work and my— my feelings,” he adds, heat creeping up his face. “Draco doesn’t know about this.”

“Oh,” Hermione says. She looks almost sad. 

“You’ve got to trust me, though. Both of you. I’ve seen him. He’s… no longer the person we used to know. He’s clever and funny and passionate about his job and a brilliant father for his little boy and he… God.” Harry gives his head a shake. Thinking of Draco is painful and bittersweet. “He’d probably kill me if he heard me say that, but he’s gone above and beyond to atone for the stupid, dangerous shit he did when he was a kid. Which is crazy, right? It’s bloody Malfoy I’m talking about.” He glances up at his friends then, almost pleading. “It’s just... it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about someone.”

Ron and Hermione exchange a look.

“Seriously, what happened with him, mate?” Ron prods.

“We… we just talk a lot, you know? And spend so much time together… It makes it harder not to see all the good things about someone. Until he found out the truth about me, of course.”

Ron’s jaw works as if he’s about to say something, but he stays quiet.

“Do you…” Hermione tries, then seems to change her mind. “Are you… in love with him?”

Harry’s eyes snap to hers. He’s surprised that he never thought about his feelings for Draco in those terms. “I— maybe,” he tells her, as honestly as he can. “Maybe… I could be.”

Ron groans in his hands. “I knew assigning you to this case was a mistake.”

Harry frowns. “It doesn’t affect my ability to work, Ron.”

Ron looks up at him wearily. “Mate, I’m not questioning your bloody competence. I just— We always knew you were weirdly fascinated with Malfoy, didn’t we? You were obsessed with him at Hogwarts. And I reckon he wasn’t much better. To just go and put the two of you together in close quarters for so long… I knew you’d end up either killing each other or shagging each other. I didn’t know Malfoy was into blokes like you are, but hey. I’m not judging.” He waves his hand towards Harry. “And now you’ve gone and — and fallen for him or something. Merlin, this cannot end well.”

“Why not?” Harry asks, suddenly distressed. Ron may not be Malfoy’s biggest fan, but his repeated doubts are disturbing. His friends have always been on his side when it mattered. And this situation matters to Harry. Draco matters to Harry. Even more so than he realised before setting foot in his friends’ living room.

Before Ron can answer, Hermione chimes in.

“Harry, regardless… if you were to act on it, you’d be starting a relationship with your prime suspect. Who knows you’re working on the case. And would have to either be stupid not to mind, or have ulterior motives. Ethically speaking… it’s a nightmare.”

Suddenly, Harry can’t stand it, his friends ganging up on him to tell him he’s making a mistake. He fucking knows it, for God’s sake. He doesn’t need to be reminded that there’s nothing about this whole plight that doesn’t scream giant fucking disaster in waiting.

And yet — the thought of being with Draco is anything but.

Harry craves Draco like he’s never craved anyone else, and they’re not even together. They’re so far from being anything close to together. He’s spent so many years not knowing that that person existed, not knowing that he’s already met them, that they were within his reach. Just because he’s realised it under more than shifty circumstances doesn’t make it any less real.

He stands, brushing clammy palms against his jeans.

“I know what I’m doing. And if all you’re going to do is make me feel shitty about it, then maybe I shouldn’t be here.” He sounds childish and petulant, and maybe that’s just what he is. That’s exactly how he feels when he stomps over to his friends’ fireplace, grabs a pinch of Floo powder and looks over his shoulder. “I’ll see you when either of you is ready to be less of an arse to me.”

He sees Hermione open her mouth just before the fire flashes green and he steps into it, disappearing into the whirling void of the Floo network.

 

*

 

The doorbell of number twelve, Grimmauld Place rings early the next day, just when Harry is groggily pulling himself out of bed, trying to pull a t-shirt over his bandaged arm.

The house is as grim as ever, probably even more so now that he has the contrast with Draco’s house so clearly imprinted in his mind. He’d found his emergency stash of Dreamless Sleep when he’d stumbled back home the night before, fuming and disappointed and guilty. As he’d practically poured a vial down his throat and fallen into bed, the heavy potion-induced slumber slowly drowning his friends’ concerned reservations, he realised he hadn’t needed Dreamless in weeks… not since he’d last been here, not since he’d moved to Draco’s home.

The bell rings again, more insistent, and Harry groans a mumbled, “Comin’!” He can guess who it is just by the stubborn press of the button. He stumbles down the stairs, barefoot, trying not to lose his balance, dressed in joggers and an old Aladdin Sane t-shirt with a rip along the left seam. He hasn’t shaved since his last morning at Draco’s house. Hermione is going to take one look at him and decide that he needs an intervention.

She’s the one waiting at the door, indeed, and she does look him up and down when he opens the door. Her pinched, judgmental expression only softens when she sees Harry’s sheepish air, bottom lip caught between his teeth. Next to her, the tiny pushchair she and Ron bought when Rose was born shakes with one sharp little cry, and a miniscule hand appears from between the swaddles.

“Hello, Hermione. Hello, Hugo.” Harry greets them both. “Left Ron at home with Rosie, then?”

“They’ve gone to visit Grandma Molly and Grandpa Arthur, actually,” Hermione tells him. “And I wanted to see you.”

“Okay,” Harry says with good grace. He steps aside. “Come on in.”

Hermione walks into the foyer, pushing the pushchair in front of her. It’s a light, compact little thing, but it’s actually indestructible. He’s seen Ron and Hermione push it around the streets of London and the dirt roads near their house alike.

“Will you make me a cup of tea?” Hermione asks him when she’s inside.

“Sure. Need help carrying this downstairs?”

“I’ll Levitate him,” she says, and murmurs ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ under her breath. The pushchair lifts a few inches above the floor, barely disturbing the baby who gives Harry a placid look as his mother carries his pushchair to the kitchen.

Harry fusses with the kettle and mugs while Hermione takes a seat at the table, pulls Hugo out of his pushchair and just folds the thing in two clicks and a pull of her hand. Harry whistles.

“That pushchair is a bloody feat of engineering,” he says.

Hermione lets out a little laugh.

“Oh, you should see Arthur whenever I bring it to their house,” she says. “It’s the height of technology, honestly.”

“You talk about it like it’s a car, you’re so proud.” Harry smiles.

“Hey! Don’t laugh," Hermione says. "I have a four-year-old girl and a six-month-old baby and my brain has basically turned to mush. Everyone has this pushchair here. It was designed for parents living in big cities, apparently — I can manoeuvre it everywhere in London, no matter how much dog poo or rubbish bags are blocking the pavement.”

“Okay.” Despite Hermione's admonishment, Harry laughs. “You do talk about it like it’s a car.” The pushchair sits folded against the leg of the kitchen table, and little Hugo bats his arm, trying to reach it. Hermione laughs, a soft, domestic sound, and ruffles her son’s hair as the baby squeals in delight. Something about the scene tugs at the corner of Harry’s subconscious, but he can’t pinpoint it. The kettle whistles, and he loses track of his thoughts.

“Here you go,” he hands her a steaming mug of tea, sitting across from her at the big table. They look at each other for a moment, the easy, familiar gaze of long-time friends who know one another inside and out. In Hermione’s arms, baby Hugo waves his little hands in front of his face like he’s just discovered them. Then again, maybe he has.

“So,” Harry says. He doesn’t know if he should smile or scowl, so he settles on watching  Hugo play with his fingers.

“So.” Hermione smiles, tentative. Harry sighs and shakes his head.

“Fine,” he says, happy to give up his callow grudge already. “I’m sorry I left in a huff yesterday. That was very childish of me, and I felt like an arse afterwards. I know you and Ron mean well, and… you’re probably not wrong.”

She nods, her smile widening. “Probably not.”

“You’re right about it being a shitty, unsolvable situation. No matter what angle you choose to look at it from, I let it go too far. I made it personal.”

“Harry… I think it was personal before you even started on the case.”

“Yeah…" Harry admits.  "And now I’ve gone and messed things up beyond belief. If word of what happened between me and Draco gets out… it’s over, Hermione. He’s done. The Ministry is waiting for a reason to launch a full-on attack. And I’m the only thing preventing it for now.”

“But that’s too much responsibility!” Hermione jumps in her seat, clearly wanting to throw her hands up or thump on the table. Hugo squeals happily, and she makes an effort to calm down. “You can’t carry the future of Malfoy, his family, his entire company on your shoulders alone, Harry. What’s in it for you?”

“Nothing. Everything. I don’t know anymore. Two days ago, I thought —” He exhales a frustrated laugh. “I thought it was going somewhere. Draco and I. I was… forgetting myself, clearly. Forgetting what my job was.” He meets Hermione’s gaze again and forces himself to hold it. “But it was all lies. And I was tired of it, Hermione. I could tell he knew something was off about me, so when he confronted me about it…” 

He lifts his right hand, shows her the back of it. She nods, a slow formality to it.

“Do you think he might feel the same about you?”

Harry gives her a wry smile. “Before the truth exploded all over our lovely little friendship? Yes. Yeah, I thought he might.”

“That’s… madness.”

“That’s madness, I know. I’d be getting involved with my purported ‘employer,’ with the main suspect of an ongoing investigation. And,” Harry lifts a finger when Hermione opens her mouth, wanting to finish first, “even if Draco was neither of these, I would still be getting involved with… with Draco Malfoy. An ex-Death Eater, my former school nemesis, if that’s not crazy enough. You can imagine how amazingly that would go for both the Saviour of the Wizarding World and the ex-Death Eater in question.”

Hermione tilts her head to the side. “But…?” she prods.

“You may be right about everything you told me yesterday, but you’re wrong about — about Draco.” Harry rubs his jaw, turning the words that come next over in his head before saying them. “He’s still the same in so many ways — all sharp edges and dry wit — but he’s changed. He’s genuinely made amends. He’s trying to be the best person he can. If you saw him with his little boy… With his employees… you wouldn’t believe your eyes at first. Still… when we talk, Hermione, it’s so easy. It’s like the walls drop between us. And the mix of the old Draco Malfoy, who used to drive me round the bend just by existing, and the new one, who’s clever and good and who’s my friend… it’s making me crazy for him. I want to be with him. I want him. I know it might jeopardise this case. Possibly my whole future. I feel so… laughable.” He lifts his eyes to his friend, almost in apology. “Do you think I am?”

Hermione sets her cup on the table and holds out her free hand to cover Harry’s on the table.

“No, Harry. You’re not laughable. You’re not ridiculous. I can’t say I understand, but then again… you look very much infatuated. And believe it or not, I trust you not to fall in love with a complete arse.”

“I’m not— I’m not in love with him.” At Hermione’s raised eyebrow, Harry waves his hand with a grin. Even his ears feel hot. “Ah, forget it. Is that why you’ve come to see me?”

“Actually, no.” It’s Hermione’s turn to look slightly guilty, and Harry’s intrigued. “It does concern Draco Malfoy, but not exactly in the way that you think.”

“All right. So what is it?”

“I was wondering if you could introduce me. In a professional manner. For a… work collaboration.” At Harry’s raised eyebrows, she explains. “The work he’s doing with Caduceus is truly groundbreaking. He’s really changing the way the wizarding world is approaching science and medicine. I’d like to offer him to work with me on a project.”

“A project with you?” Harry's astounded.

“Yes. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’d like to work with him and his R&D team to test joint wizarding and Muggle cures. There are still so many diseases that Muggles and magical people have not yet managed to tackle on their own. Until recently, the Unspeakables were not open to the idea of taking inspiration in Muggle science in general, or in the field of medicine and magical maladies specifically. But I think it would be an incredible opportunity. No other company in the wizarding world has the R&D power that Caduceus has. Or reputation, or morals. Potiones sine corde Venenum est,” she says, thoughtful, and Harry realises he never thought to ask.

“That’s Caduceus’ slogan.”

“Yes,” Hermione says. “Potions without heart is Poison.” She gives him a crooked smile. “You didn’t know that, did you?”

When Harry shakes his head, she laughs, incredulous. It’s like being back at Hogwarts again. She brushes a curl out of her eyes and continues, the excited look back on her face. “It’s funny, because I had the idea watching Arthur try to fold my children’s pushchair using magic. It looked so tedious and complicated, when it’s the easiest thing in the world when you do it the Muggle way… I figured, everything about magic or Muggle life is a little bit like this; sometimes it’s best to do things with magic, and sometimes it’s more efficient to do things like a Muggle. Except as witches and wizards, we tend to overlook that Muggles have a depth of knowledge, resourcefulness and practical minds that some magic people lack.”

For some reason, Harry is reminded of Draco, and the way he seamlessly mixes magic and Muggle influences in his daily life.

“I think Draco would love to discuss this with you,” he tells her earnestly. 

She leans back in her chair, looking relieved.

“You do? Oh, Harry, that would be brilliant if he did!”

“You can ask him,” Harry smiles. Then considers, and adds with a rueful shrug, “You should ask him about it, even if he tosses me out in a couple of days.” Perhaps something useful will come out of his bloody assignment on Draco’s case after all.

“Thank you, Harry,” Hermione watches him with her deep brown eyes. Then gives him a small half-smile, almost lewd. “That way, I can check that he looks as fit in person as he does on the cover of the Wizarding Times .”

“Hermione!” Harry gapes at her, and she cackles.

“I’m just watching out for you, Harry.”

“You don’t need to,” Harry says. “He really is quite fit,” he grumbles under his breath, and Hermione’s giggles redouble.

“Is he, now?”

“Shut up,” Harry hides his flaming face into his hands and groans.

Still laughing, Hermione unfolds the pushchair in one click and sits a babbling, smiling Hugo in it.

“All right, Harry, I’m done bothering you.” She stands straighter and gazes at him thoughtfully. “Ron is perfectly fine with you seeing whomever you like, you know. He’s like me; he trusts you to choose someone who’s good for you.”

Feeling uncomfortably moved, Harry fiddles with the handle of his tea mug and doesn’t say a word. Hermione makes a tiny noise in the back of her throat, as if she still cannot quite believe it’s happening — Harry wordlessly admitting that Draco is good for him.

“And… Ron wanted me to tell you it’ll be fine if you find Draco is innocent. He’ll work with you to see it through, if that’s your conclusion. However, he asked me to remind you that you still don’t have any information on the origin of Draco’s wealth, and that might be the only thing that could satisfy the Minister.”

Harry doesn’t need to be reminded of it. In the months he’s worked as Draco’s bodyguard, he’s never once come across the financial aspects of Draco’s earlier life. He remembers Draco’s desperate whisper in a hospital room — I can’t tell you. Can you accept that? — and feels something painful twist in his gut. Draco is still holding on to that piece of information, hiding it even from people he considers his friends.

The thought rankles. It’s irrational, but it does.

“I’ll look into it. Tell Ron I will.”

“Okay.” Hermione Levitates the pushchair as she walks back upstairs. On the black metal frame of it, a brand name stands out in white cursive. Harry’s mind flashes back to a parchment rolling from Draco’s glass-top desk, Harry nearly stepping on it. Words written in a foreign language, topped with calligraphed words. Draco’s gaze as he gripped Harry’s shirt and pushed him up against the shelves of a supplies cupboard, teeth bared on a laugh.

Harry frowns.

It seems that everything reminds him of Draco these days.

“Harry?” Hermione calls from the top of the stairs.

“Yeah?”

He sees her bushy head lean above the banister. She has that concerned expression on her face again.

“Please be careful.”

Harry’s heart squeezes in his chest, but he smiles and winks in response. “I doubt that Draco can hurt me. He might be a clever bastard, but I’m still stronger than him.”

Hermione’s eyes turn sad, just for a second, before her previous concern takes over again.  “I wasn’t just talking about Draco hurting you. You could— you could both end up getting hurt.”

Harry stares at her, at a loss for words. He continues to stare long after the front door has opened and closed behind his friend.

Chapter Text

Three days later, Harry’s at the doorstep of Draco’s Sloane Square townhouse, standing under the rain and an umbrella charm, a pathetic echo of the same morning, four months before.

This time, he’s nervous for entirely different reasons. The first time he was here, he’d half expected Draco to turn him down — to bring him in for an interview as a joke, then send him away laughing — and secretly he’d hoped it would be the case. I don’t do financial fraud cases, Harry from four months ago had repeated, ad nauseam it seems. The Ministry mole doth protest too much. He should have been honest with himself and admitted it: from the moment he’d seen Draco’s form on that blurry photograph amidst a stack of Ministry papers documenting his case, there had been no other outcome than the one he was facing today. This time, it was all in Draco’s hands.

Harry lifts his hand and knocks on the heavy door, the golden serpent hitting the wood too loudly in the morning-quiet street. The door opens. Ernestina is inside, hands clasped in front of her, her clothes — a floral blouse, a pair of navy capris — perfectly pressed as always. The hydrangeas in the vases look fresh and dewy. Grey daylight is falling from the skylights, bathing Draco’s foyer in soft, welcoming light. The yearning in Harry’s chest rears its head, claws at his ribs. 

A happy bark, and Balzac barges into the foyer, skidding to a halt in front of Ernestina and wagging his tail excitedly. He runs towards Harry and jumps on him, barking some more. Harry ignores Ernestina’s disapproving scowl and laughs, scratching the dog’s ears.

“Hi Balzac. Good boy. How’ve you been?”

Balzac barks and wags his tail and lets go of Harry, settling at his feet and looking up at him with soft brown eyes.

Harry reaches behind himself to shut the front  door, then nods at Ernestina.

“Mistor Draco was expecting you laters, sir,” Ernestina tells him. A stark contrast with Balzac’s merry welcome, there’s no effusion in her tone — it’s cold and practical, all the goodwill Harry built with her in the past months gone up in smoke. Draco must have told her, then. 

“I know. Late morning, right? Half past eleven. But I was in the neighbourhood and…” And it’s lame. Harry just couldn’t stand pacing around his living room at Grimmauld Place, so he came here two hours earlier on the off chance Draco would be available to see him.

“Mistor Draco has a schedule.” Ernestina sniffs, the unspoken ‘Unlike you’ ringing loud and clear in the foyer.

“I know,” Harry repeats. “I can wait for him—” he gestures in the direction of the parlour, drops his hand at Ernestina’s raised brow, “—or I can come back later.”

Ernestina looks like she’s trying very hard not to scowl. Reluctantly, she sets towards Draco’s study.

“You waits here, Mistor Potter,” she says, in a tone that makes it clear the favour she’s doing him isn’t for her benefit. “Ernestina is letting Mistor Draco know.”

“Ernestina—” Harry stops her. She’s turned her back on him and she doesn’t look.

“Yes?”

“How is Scorpius?”

The question has been nagging him since he left St Mungo’s, but he didn’t dare bother anyone about it. Draco had told him it would take weeks for Scorpius to recover, and the little boy’s family was probably too busy taking care of him to indulge Harry’s concerns. That was when Harry had realised, truly and definitely realised, how much he’d come to care for Draco and everyone around him. How much more than a simple case was at stake for him, if Draco decided to discharge him.

“Scorpius is… better,” Ernestina admits, glancing at Harry over her shoulder. Then, as if she’s sensing Harry’s wish to know more: “The Mind Healer was here yesterday, and Dr Dawson, too. Scorpius is recovering faster than the Healers thinks.”

“I’m really glad. Thank you, Ernestina,” Harry says. He makes an effort to stand tall and upright as he is hit by contradicting waves of sadness and relief. And underneath, dread — that Draco’s made his decision about Harry, that he’s meeting him one final time before sending him away, discarding him along with the memories of their disastrous shared past. 

Ernestina goes, and Harry is left alone in the bright foyer, a large, friendly Bernese wagging his tail against his ankles.

He squares his shoulders, and waits.

 

*

 

The days following Draco’s emergency visit to the Thickey Ward have sludged by in a listless, bitter sort of stupor. 

Ernestina casts Draco concerned gazes every time they cross paths in the house, which is too often, now that Draco would rather be left alone with his sullen thoughts. He lets Jemima make an announcement at work, informing the Caduceus employees their boss will be taking a couple of days off to care for his son, who is indisposed. He spends most of the next few days and nights by Scorpius’ bedside, Balzac lying quietly at the foot of the bed, and they watch the Healing spells shimmer around Scorpius’ sleeping form. Whenever he’s awake, Scorpius wants to be close to his father. He’s always touching him — holding the bottom of his cuff, rubbing his thumb over the back of Draco’s hand over and over, twirling a short lock of Draco’s hair around his finger when they’re lying side by side on Scorpius’ bed and Draco tells him stories about famous pianists off the top of his head — like the little boy can’t get enough of his father’s physical presence. His magic, as powerful as always, feels unsettled, like a deep sea rolling in the storm. It prickles against Draco’s skin. Draco longs for the time Scorpius’ magic will feel like a calm ocean again, soft waves of it lapping against his own. 

And underneath all this, the image of Harry remains, lying in a hospital bed with an arm he’d sprained while protecting Draco’s son. Draco’s heart leaps and twists in his chest, his emotions shifting too fast between hurt, anger, sadness, fatalism. Scorpius doesn’t notice the change in atmosphere. Draco is thankful for his son’s obliviousness, even if remembering the circumstances that prevent Scorpius from noticing Harry is gone is like taking a blunt hit in the gut.

When Scorpius sleeps, Draco goes on runs, hoping to outrun the nauseated dread. He runs for miles, alone, sweat prickling between his shoulder blades. He runs until his breath becomes a stabbing pain in his lungs; he runs until his thighs and calves burn and he has to walk home on shaking legs. He runs, Harry’s words hammering in his brain.

He runs until he’s sure running away is vain.

I want to stay and help, Harry had told him, his green eyes wide, dismayed and earnest, and Draco, weak as he was, had believed him. Had wanted to believe him. And now he has to choose whether to keep Harry around or not. 

Draco wouldn’t be a Slytherin if he wasn’t carefully weighing his options. He wonders what Harry can do to help him — to prevent a full investigation against Caduceus and Draco, to prevent the Ministry from framing Draco just because they ran out of criminals to catch. He wonders why Harry wants to help him. That thought especially hurts. Ernestina looks at him with pleading eyes every time she brings him lunch in his study, or when she finds him standing alone, late at night in the kitchen, a half-drunk mug of tea in hand. 

Harry said he’d stay and help, and Draco wants to wait and see if Harry’s going to prove it — prove his trustworthiness, prove that he is actually on Draco’s side. Perhaps it’s even less rational… Draco wants to know if he can trust Harry again. Because he realises, in spite of their history, in spite of years of angry jabs and bullying and antagonism… Harry has always been there. He’s the best person Draco has ever known. Harry Potter, despite everything, has always been one of the good people. To picture him living this duplicitous life for a job… it makes no sense. It drives Draco mad.

It’s not the Harry Potter he’s always pictured in his head.

Not the person he’s got to know in the past months.

Finding out the truth about Harry’s presence in his life feels like a double betrayal: like Draco’s own heart betrayed him, just as much as Harry did. It’s a truth Draco’s mind can’t reconcile. 

Half past eleven, three days after St Mungo’s, was the time slot Jemima has suggested per Draco’s request, based on his work schedule and Scorpius’ recovering sleep cycles. It was supposed to give Draco enough time to go on his morning run, give him one last opportunity to work out his feelings before meeting with Harry again.

Seeing Ernestina show up in his study as early as — Draco glances at the grandfather clock — quarter to nine, cannot bode well. It’s either Scorpius or—

“It’s Mistor Potter, sir,” Ernestina tells him as soon as she sees his panicked expression. “ Bebé Scorpius is reading his book upstairs.”

“Potter…? Why is he already here?”

“Mistor Potter says he is in the neighbourhood, sir,” Ernestina rolls her eyes, clearly not fooled. “If Mistor Draco wants to sees him now.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Ernestina can send Mistor Potter away until half past eleven.”

Draco sighs. He had hoped for more time… He thought he could at least go for a run, take a shower, feel blissfully empty by the time he’d meet Harry. On the other hand, Harry’s here right now. Might as well pull the metaphorical bandage, see where that takes them.

He stands.

“Thanks, Ernestina. I’ll go see him now.”

“Mistor Draco is sure…?”

“Thank you,” he places a hand on her shoulder as he walks past her. She looks up at him, still not convinced he can handle himself. Perhaps I can’t, he thinks wryly. “Thank you for worrying about me, my dear Ernestina.”

“Mistor promise Ernestina he will not make rash decisions?” she asks, her hand coming up to cover the one resting on her shoulder.

“I will not. Ernestina, you know that you, Scorpius, Caduceus… you all come first. And I come second. I’ve always made my decisions in that order.”

Ernestina nods slowly. “Good luck, Mistor,” she says.

When he comes out in the foyer, Harry Potter is, indeed, waiting for him. Balzac beat Draco to it: he’s sitting at Harry’s feet, a big doggy grin on his face, and Merlin… Draco is not ready for it. Might never be ready for it. His damned dog is not helping him hate Harry, either. Once more, he wishes he’d had time to go for that morning run — sweat out all the nervous energy, all the adrenaline, and meet Harry when he’s feeling peaceful and strong.

But peaceful and strong might never happen… and Draco makes an impulse decision. Fuck it. Fuck him.

“Potter,” he says, his natural drawl loaded with a showy nonchalance. “I was just about to go for a run. If you’d like to join me…?”

Harry’s eyes widen — his only concession to surprise. Draco has to admire his guts: the man isn’t thrown by much. “Sure,” he says, voice trailing. “I just… don’t have running clothes here.”

“I can lend you some of mine,” Draco says, avoiding Harry’s eyes as he does. Just the thought of Harry Potter wearing his clothes… his mouth waters. He curses himself for his weakness. 

“We’re not the same size, Draco,” Harry says. Something in his tone rankles. It’s soft, placating, like he’s talking to an unreasonable, unstable child. Draco wants to wipe that sanctimonious expression from Harry’s face.

He lifts his chin.

“We’re wizards, though. You can use a quick fitting charm on my clothes, and it’ll be like brand new running gear.”

“Okay,” Harry raises his eyebrows. “I thought you wanted to… talk. So you really want to go now, or—?”

“Yes.” Draco adjusts his jacket lapels with deliberate meticulousness. His mind is reeling, rifling through images of supply cupboards filled with half-open boxes, fallen rolls of parchment, Harry’s eyes soft on him, then wide and shocked as they take in the Mark on his arm. The hurt, the shame, and the comfort of Harry’s proffered friendship. Harry’s terrible, earth-shattering confession in a dim hospital room, just when Draco was starting to let himself feel something for the man. He straightens, turns, nods at Harry. “You’re early. We’ll talk later. Now. Let’s go now.”

Ernestina pops her head around the corner of the corridor.

“Mistor—?”

“Going for a run,” Draco tells her, not stopping on his way upstairs. Harry’s on his heels, probably giving Balzac and Ernestina one of his charming, apologetic smiles. Seducing his way into Draco’s entire household. Worming his way into everyone’s hearts.

Draco clenches his fists as he reaches the second floor, practically marching inside his bedroom. He takes a long, deep breath. He hears Harry’s footsteps behind him, stopping on the threshold.

Draco looks at Harry over his shoulder. Just here to get some running clothes and go change in his rooms. He looks expectant, slightly puzzled, like it’s Draco who’s lost the plot. Like he hasn’t torn Draco’s world apart, turned it on its head. Always reminding Draco of the harsh reality of their situations, the unbridgeable gap between the Golden boy and the ex-Death Eater, the spy and the suspect, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.

And Draco suddenly feels the urge to catch Harry off guard. To rough him up.

He unbuttons the top buttons of his shirt as he walks to the wardrobe, and pulls it up and over his head, throwing it on the floor. He grabs a long-sleeved t-shirt and turns, bare skin exposed to the cool air and to Harry’s appalled gaze.

He knows what he looks like. The long, raised scars of Harry’s Sectumsempra criss-cross his white chest. They’re freakish and shocking, unlike anything anyone would expect to find marking the body of an aristocratic pureblood. Purebloods didn’t fight — at least never in a way that left physical marks. Purebloods never left a wound unattended long enough for it to scar. Despite this — or perhaps because of this — Draco’s come to like them. A reluctant, disgusted and grudging sort of appreciation, but appreciation nonetheless. A reminder, if he ever needed one, of all the things that set him apart from the witches and wizards who used to be his peers. He relishes the sudden paleness of Harry’s face, those green eyes trying to avoid the scars and helplessly drawn back to them. Oh, Merlin does he relish it. Draco lets a small, wry smile twist his lips. Showing him the way he maimed Draco for life is painful, but also just this side of pleasurable. He never thought he would get that tiny little revenge over the former bane of his existence.

But Harry is not the bane of his existence anymore.

The realisation hits Draco like a spell. Harry has somehow managed to truly and decisively feel like a friend, despite him being the last person Draco should trust. Surely, the feelings he’s harboured for Harry for years are muddling his judgment… Against all odds, Draco's started to think of Harry as someone he cares about. And if that’s how he feels for him, then there’s a painful irony in reminding him of how much they used to not be friends.

No matter the outcome of this day. No matter if Harry is still here tomorrow… This is his last cruelty to him. The malice ends now.

Draco straightens his shoulders, tilts his head back. 

“Catch,” he says, and throws the balled-up t-shirt in Harry’s direction. Harry reflexively grabs it and holds it against his chest, his mouth hanging open a bit in a way that makes Draco’s face heat. “And stop gawking, for fuck’s sake,” Draco snaps. It sounds an awful lot like teasing. “It’s like you’ve never seen a topless man before.”

Harry makes a sound like ‘urmm’ in the back of his throat, blankly eyeing the t-shirt in his hands. His throat is working and he looks like he’s about to say something. Draco picks another t-shirt from a shelf and quickly pulls it on, hiding his scarred chest and stomach from view. He gets a pair of joggers and trainers for Harry. When he looks back at Harry, the man is still staring. Draco snaps his fingers in front of him.

“Oi! Potter! I’m about to change into my joggers. Unless you want to stay for that, too?”

It’s clearly meant as a joke, but Harry’s face turns pink. With one last flustered look at Draco, he grabs the remaining clothes from Draco’s hands, turns on his heels and scurries away. Feeling contrite and annoyed with himself, Draco sighs. It was so unlike him to act on impulse… but the way Harry had looked, waiting in the foyer like there was still hope for them… it grated on his nerves. It made Draco want to punish him for it. Rub the marks of his teenage mistake in his face. And he’s gone and made things bloody worse between them. If that is even possible.

He shakes his head, chasing the thoughts away, and reaches for his joggers and his favourite Nike trainers. He’ll need to talk to Harry eventually, soon. Without breaking down.

He’s a Slytherin. He’s Draco Malfoy. Keeping the façade is how he made it this far in life.

After months near Harry, though… Draco’s starting to wonder how long he can keep up with his side of the game.

 

*

 

It’s cold and drizzling when Harry and Draco reach the gates of Hyde Park. They’ve jogged through the Sloane Square streets at a mild pace, so neither of them is particularly affected by the run yet. Except Draco’s cheeks and ears are pinker now, after the effort. Touch-sensitive skin, Harry thinks, unbidden, and bites his lip.

Draco slides him a glance then claps him on the shoulder. It doesn't feel friendly. It feels… almost sarcastic.

“Here we are, Potter,” he says. “It’s every man for himself now.” And he sets off at a faster pace.

Harry watches him move away, the toned lines of his back and arse shifting under his tight running clothes. If Draco was a stranger whom Harry ran into while on his daily jog…

But he’s not. He’s not a stranger. He’s Draco fucking Malfoy. He’s supposed to be Harry’s employer. He’s supposed to be Harry’s main suspect.

He’s not supposed to have slowly become Harry’s friend. He’s not supposed to be someone Harry is starting to have feelings for, he who hasn’t felt that way for anyone in years.

All the people Draco is supposed to be are mixed and jumbled in Harry’s head, and he can’t tell which one he’s supposed to hate and which one he’s supposed to like anymore.

Please be careful, Hermione’s words still echo in his mind, but he’s not sure he cares about careful. He never did.

His head is swimming with the shock of Draco, his shirt off and on the floor of his bedroom, his nakedness equally defiant and vulnerable, all the marks from the war exposed for Harry to see. The scars… Jesus. Harry hadn’t—he hadn’t known. If he had… If he’d even had the image of Draco’s scars in mind when he was going over that moment of his life with his therapist (over and over and over, analysing every one of his thoughts, motives, gestures, the feel of Draco’s hot blood gushing out of the wounds and the freezing water seeping through his trousers... he’d talked about it for weeks before he even started to get a sense of closure) — if he’d had that image in mind, he’d still be sitting in Angelica’s office, tearing his hair out over his own stupidity and blindness.

Harry's brought back weeks ago when he’d been faced with another one of Draco’s scars, when he had dismissed Draco’s explanation — Draco’s apology — about the Dark Mark with a benevolent wave of his hand… God, he’d really been an arse. Draco deserved better. Draco deserves better. He deserves someone who’ll listen. Who will know when Draco needs to lay out his guilt, when he needs to let himself hurt for it, without being told his guilt and hurt are not important enough to dwell on. And he deserves someone who, in turn, will take Draco’s scars face on, and not run away as if burned… as if Draco was the freak, and not Harry, for putting those scars on Draco’s body in the first place.

He deserves someone who’ll stand by him, stand up for him, and not just do the reluctant, half-arsed job Harry’s been doing since January.

The rain is falling harder and Draco is already yards ahead when Harry breaks into a run. Draco is a faster runner, but Harry’s determined to catch up with him, spurred by the need to see his face. To touch him. To say…

What do you want to say, Harry?

He taps on Draco’s arm when he finally reaches him. Draco whirls around instantly, as if he’d been expecting Harry to do exactly that. He gives his shoulder a sharp jerk, away from Harry’s touch. They’ve stopped running. They’re facing each other, panting. Rain plasters Draco’s hair to his head, his fringe to his forehead, droplets of water running down his long nose. His eyes are no longer cold — they’re blazing, furious, and the thought crosses Harry’s mind that maybe he should have let this one slide. He distantly registers that he’s getting cold and wet, too. Yet he’s burning up, lungs and legs and heart on fire. And Draco is just staring daggers at him, and he won’t be the first to speak. For all the stunned anguish Harry’s feeling, he’s glad that Draco’s reacting with anger and not his usual distant coolness.

“I’m sorry.” The words burst out of Harry between two panting breaths. “Draco, I’m sorry.” He lifts his hand, tries to touch Draco’s arm again, but Draco takes a step back and snarls.

“I don’t need apologies from you. I’m well over it.”

“I know you don’t need it.” Harry lets his arm fall to his side. “I’m still doing it. I didn’t know… I don’t know how to make amends for it.”

“Who asked you to make amends, Potter?” Draco’s eyes flash, and he takes a step closer, teeth clenched. “Listen to me. Listen. I like them. I like the scars. Fucking twisted, am I? I like them, because they’re real. They’re the public’s opinion, materialised on my skin. It’s always going to be there. I look at them and I remember… everything I used to believe in, all the past I’ll never be able to erase, no matter what I do, no matter the good I do. I’ll always be a monster. A freak. And that’s all right, because I’m never allowed to forget about it. Thanks to you.”

“You’re not — a monster. It’s fucking unfair. Draco, this whole situation is fucking unfair. You deserve… God, you deserve so much better than what you’re getting.”

“Do you see me complaining?” Draco lifts a defiant eyebrow. “I know why you did it. I know you didn’t know what the spell did. Fucking let it go now.”

“No.” Harry comes closer, tries to put his hand on Draco’s arm again. He wants to touch him — needs to touch him. Make him see. “You listen to me. This is me apologising. This is me promising you, I’ll never hurt you again. Ever.”

“Ever?” Draco pulls back sharply. “Is this why you’re here, then? Not hurting me? Protecting me?” There’s a dangerous undercurrent of sarcasm to his words, and for a second Harry’s certain Draco is done with him for good. Then the mocking glint shifts in his eyes and they turn flinty once again. “I don’t need you, Potter. I’ve never needed you. Not when I was bleeding out on the tile of that horrible bathroom, not when I was facing trial at the Wizengamot, not when I was grieving my wife and raising my child, not when the Ministry fucking decided I was the next man to bring down, not now. I can take care of myself just fine without you.”

Every single one of Draco’s words is like a blow to the face, and Harry wants to shake him. “I know. I know you don’t need me. But walking away from you now would be as good as giving up, when I know that the Ministry is waiting for the slightest hint I could drop to justify an investigation.”

“Oh, so you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart? Do I look like a charity case to you?”

“For fuck’s sake, Draco — do you seriously think you’re not a worthy cause?”

Draco lets out a frustrated growl. “Will you stop — being so bloody Gryffindor about everything?” he asks through gritted teeth.

“Only if you stop shutting me out!”

“Shutting you out? You’re a fucking Ministry mole, Potter. Not my confidente. Not my therapist.”

“I’m your friend!” Harry shouts.

That shuts Draco up for a second. Then he hisses:

“A right friend you are. A friend that’s being paid to be my friend.”

Harry's mouth tightens. “Take your friendships where you can, Draco. Unlikely as it is, that’s what I am, and you need one right now. You know it. It’s not going to get easier, and you need someone by your side.” He hammers the next words, eyebrows drawn together against the sheets of rain falling from the sky. “Stop. Shutting. Me. Out.”

“You’re fifteen years too late.” Draco gives his head a dismissive shake, water dripping from his hair. “Apologising. Being my friend.”

Harry can't argue that fact. “I am. I’m a lifetime too late.”

“I needed you as much, if not more, back then.”

“But you still need me now.”

“I’m not sure you don’t need me more,” Draco says, eyeing Harry with an odd mixture of wariness and provocation. Harry’s heart feels full to bursting.

“Maybe I do.”

Draco watches him, Harry’s words having seemingly stunned him into momentary silence. Then he makes to leave. “Maybe this has gone too far.”

Harry throws himself in his path. “No! Draco, no. Please — just listen. You have to trust me. I made a promise. I’ll never deliberately hurt you again. Tell me you’ve heard this. Tell me you understand.”

Draco puts his hands to Harry’s chest, ready to push him back. He doesn’t, though. “Because you said I’m your friend?”

“I — that’s not all there is to it.”

“What?” Draco hisses, eyes narrowed. His hands fist Harry’s soaked shirt, and he doesn’t seem to notice. “What are you saying, Harry?”

“I’m saying I’ve been with you, watching you, getting to know you… and maybe I’ll never be the most impartial person when it comes to you, but…” Harry takes a breath, feels the heat of Draco’s hands through the fabric of his shirt, against his chest, and lets the confession pour out of him like rain. “I’ve made no secret about the fact that I care about you. A lot. I know I’m paid to be around you, to supposedly spy on you… but this has nothing to do with it. I wake up every morning looking forward to the day I’m going to spend with you. That’s how much I’ve come to care. You’re — you're clever, you’re bloody brilliant, and you’re a good man. You’re a good man, Draco Malfoy, and if you don’t believe me, then I’m stubborn enough to believe it for the both of us.”

Draco blinks, mouth gaping. His hands slip away from Harry’s chest.

“What do you want?” Draco says, a raw note in his voice.

“Let me stay, and I'll work until the Ministry gets off your back.”

“You'd switch sides... for me?”

“It's not switching sides when I'm only vindicating an innocent man.”

“What if I'm not?”

Harry feels like laughing. Like crying. “You are, you ridiculous wanker. Stop pushing me away.”

“Wanker?” Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Nice show of respect for someone who's supposed to be your boss.”

“Shut up.”

“I will not. Keep in character, or don't play at all.”

“I'm not playing.”

“You’re fucking impossible, Harry Potter.”

“That’s what you like about me.”

“I’ve never said anything about liking you.”

This time, Harry laughs. He throws his head back, barely feeling the cold rain. “Fine. Don’t say it. I don’t need you to tell me, I just needed you to know.”

For a fraction of second, Draco’s eyes travel down his face, down his neck. When he looks back up to meet Harry’s eyes, it’s shockingly intense.

“I do trust you, you know that,” he murmurs. “Quite possibly against my better judgment…”

“And…?”

Draco shakes his head. “...And, Salazar, eleven-year-old Draco Malfoy is doing a happy dance as we speak. I’m friends with Harry Potter. Harry Potter is actually taking my side. Un-fucking-believable.”

Harry grins at him. “Should I expect an announcement in the post soon?”

“Shut it, Potter, or I’m taking my offer for friendship back.”

“No take backs, Malfoy.”

Draco snorts, rivulets of rain falling from his hair, running down his nose. “Time to head back. I’ve no plans to freeze my arse off in the rain just to listen to Harry Potter wax lyrical about me.”

“Oh, because you’re not enjoying it?” Harry teases.

“I am. Tremendously. But I’m not sure I’m equipped to take much more of it for now.” Draco must see the question in Harry’s expression, and he shakes his head again, a minute sideways nod. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m… indebted to you. For everything you’ve told me. I’m not going to expand on my feelings about—” He waves his hand between them, cuts himself off, hesitant, but Harry’s heart sets off racing all the same. “I’ll take your promise for protection, still. If not for me, then for Scorpius. Because Merlin knows you’ve made a connection with my child, and that’s more than enough for me. For now.”

Harry eyes him through rain-soaked hair falling in his eyes, hoping Draco will say more. But Draco simply smiles, a small, crooked smile that makes his cool eyes sparkle, and takes Harry by the shoulder.

“Come on,” he says with a cheeky half-smile. “I need my bodyguard with me when I run.” And together they jog down the wet pavement towards the entrance of the park.

When they get back to the townhouse, Scorpius’ piano scales are echoing in the foyer, more sluggish than a week ago, but still clear and precise like birdsong. Ernestina looks around the corner of the corridor when they walk in.

“Mistor?” she asks, and it could be about anything if not for her shrewd eyes on Harry.

“Harry is staying,” Draco tells her, climbing up the steps.

And so Harry stays.

Chapter Text

Harry is standing guard in front of Draco’s office on a clear May morning when the lift doors ding open and a group of briefcase-carrying witches and wizards in formal grey robes comes out. Some look familiar, probably from Harry’s year or around it, he thinks, unable to instantly place any of them.

A tall, blond, pompous-looking wizard who appears to be their leader stops in front of Jemima’s desk. His eyes flit to Harry and widen for a fraction of a second. He keeps them fixed on Harry as he slowly says, without looking at the secretary: “Mr Zacharias Smith, Financial Auditing Director at the Ministry for Magic, here to see Mr Malfoy.”

Ah. Here we go. The auditors Draco’s warned him about. Harry was surprised to hear so much animosity in Draco’s tone when he’d told him about them; these days, Draco seemed to be much less vehement about people and things that didn’t go his way than he was at Hogwarts. After all, the auditors were only doing their job, reviewing Caduceus’ accounts before publication, and it was Draco’s legal obligation to let them do it.

Harry’s not worried about the audit. There isn’t anything unsavoury to be found in Caduceus’ accounts. He’s been with Draco day in and day out for months. If there were suspicious activities going on, he would have noticed them by now. Even if he hadn’t become close to Draco — even if he didn’t know what he knew now, he’d be confident that Draco is safe in that regard. The auditors coming back empty-handed won’t put a stop to the investigation, but it will at least appease the Ministry for a while, until Harry’s ready to see the case through.

Harry meets Smith’s eyes again and sees the tiny, contemptuous flick of his eyebrow. He has to consciously remind himself that they’re supposed to both work for the same side. Smith doesn’t know Harry does — no one knows except Kingsley, Ron and Hermione — but the truth of it grates all the same.

Especially when Smith walks over to him looking more delighted than anyone should have any right to be when meeting an old classmate.

“Hullo, Harry,” Smith says with a slow smile. He holds out a long-fingered hand and Harry takes it, reluctant but not wanting to make a scene. Smith’s palm is clammy. Harry holds it for as little as necessary to seem polite, then lets go. “I thought I read something about you working… here,” Smith sniffs, making ‘here’ sound like he’d rather be trudging across Hagrid’s Flobberworm pen. “I honestly could not believe it until — well, now. The Great Harry Potter working as a bodyguard for Malfoy? Never thought I’d see the day.” He still has that derisive smile on his face and Harry is almost overcome with the urge to punch it off.

Harry takes a deep breath, willing the impulse to pass. When he thinks he can keep a straight face and speak calmly again, Harry gives Smith an equally fake smile.

“Well. I am not surprised to see you here, Zacharias. Financial auditing seems right up your alley. Judging other people’s work without lifting a finger yourself has always been your thing, right?”

Jemima snorts softly behind her desk, and Harry sees the group of auditors shift, watching their boss, unsure how to react to Harry’s jab. All eyes are on him and Smith, who shakes himself to his full height, bristling.

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” he tells Harry, lifting his upturned nose even further. “With people like Malfoy, my job certainly isn’t about sitting around.” His smile returns, more disdainful than before. He leans close to Harry in an attempt to use his height advantage to intimidate him, but Harry simply stares, impassive. “The snakes never sleep,” Smith hisses close to Harry’s face, “and neither do we.” Straightening, he turns and nods to his team of auditors. “Come on, people. Let’s get to work.”

And without even a knock, he unceremoniously opens the door to Draco’s office.

Harry swiftly slides himself in front of him, all but baring his teeth. He knows that’s what he’s supposed to do, that he’s supposed to play Draco’s bodyguard, but in that moment his real job as a spy is only a distant memory; there is no way in hell he’s letting Draco alone with these people. Smith has stopped on the threshold, red-faced and trembling with outrage, but it’s worth it — all that matters is Draco. From the corner of his eye, Harry sees Draco lift his head from his papers when Harry and Smith burst through the door; he sees the jolt of shock in his eyes, half a second before his features are rearranged into a neutral, businesslike expression.

But that doesn’t happen before Harry also catches the almost imperceptible flick of grey eyes up and down his body as he blocks the way to Draco’s office. If Harry’s heart wasn’t already in his throat, it would jump right up. He lifts an eyebrow, and is rewarded with the loveliest of blushes rising up Draco’s cheeks. 

Ever since that morning run under a pouring rain, ever since that heart-to-heart when Draco asked him to stay and Harry all but confessed his feelings for him, they haven’t had another moment like that. Instead… since then, every moment near Draco has felt loaded with meaning. Every shared cup of tea. Every ride in the black Mercedes, Lux’s friendly chatter providing a welcome excuse not to talk. For Harry not to reach out across the seat and cover Draco’s hand with his. Every nod, every beginning of a smile, every soft conversation about Scorpius’ day and Draco’s schedule and how Harry would fit into them. And Harry has watched Draco, watched his fences melt away slowly as Harry’s every word and gesture confirmed what Harry'd promised him — to be on his side, to work towards the resolution of Draco’s case — as Draco’s warmth returned, more obvious than before. 

But Draco giving him a once-over — however involuntarily — and blushing about it… Harry never thought Draco would feel that way about him. It’s disconcerting, a new piece of information Harry doesn’t know what to do with.

Until Smith tries to shoulder past Harry as he blocks the door to the office, and Harry turns baleful eyes on him. Smith stops in his tracks but doesn’t relent.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Smith asks, the haughtiness in his voice scraping at Harry’s rapidly rising temper.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Harry challenges. “Did no one teach you to knock on doors and ask for permission to enter before barging in?”

“I barge in if I want to, Harry,” Smith growls. “My team and I are allowed unlimited access to this place for the duration of our mandate.”

“Not unlimited access, no,” Harry answers with a sweet smile, aiming to infuriate Smith. It works. Smith glares even more. “There are rules, and you know it. In case I need to remind you and your team of them, though, and for your future reference, here they are.” Harry lifts his hand right in Smith’s face and makes a show of counting the list off his fingers. It’s something he heard Draco rant about so many times, he knows the legal implications of the audit as well as if he’d written them himself. “You’re allowed access to locations relevant to your mission. These are the accounting office and the Caduceus archives — last three years only. Any other office you wish to inspect, you will have to make an appointment with Draco’s assistant, Jemima. You’d know who that is, if you’d deigned look at her when you spoke to her earlier. You are, legally, only allowed to make copies of the documents necessary to the audit. And finally…” He lets his mouth twist in a mocking little smile, “you will knock and wait before you open any door in this building, or I… will knock you.” He takes a step back, closer to Draco’s desk, and admires Smith’s expression of spluttering, impotent rage for a second. Then he adds with a feral smile, “And please drop the ‘Harry,’ Smith. It’s ‘Mr Potter’ to you.”

He hears a snicker behind him, and turns to find Draco’s eyes on him. Again. They sparkle with humour. He’s trying — and failing — to hide a grin behind his hand. And if it wasn’t clear enough for Harry before, it suddenly is, right here in the middle of Draco’s tall glass office, with the auditors looking over his shoulder. He loves this man. This ridiculous, funny, clever man. Harry's chest is bursting with adrenaline and affection for him.

And it’s all he can do to stop himself from closing the five feet separating him from Draco, and kissing him senseless.

 

*

 

Draco wishes he didn’t find Harry Potter defending his personal space so bloody hot, but he does, and there’s nothing surprising about it. Draco knows he’s going to wank for weeks to the image of Harry bodily blocking Zacharias Smith’s access to his office and shutting him up with a few choice words. Perhaps those aren't the kind of thoughts someone should harbour for the people they call their friends, but… it was possibly the single hottest thing Draco had witnessed in recent memory. Harry had moved so swiftly, all compact force, and Smith hadn’t been able to do anything but tremble and squawk like an impotent chicken. There was an aura of magic Draco could feel emanating from Harry — soothing like a balm from Draco’s side of it but probably hard like a brick wall on the other — and when had strong, frank magic not been a turn-on for Draco? Merlin, when Harry turned and threw that look and that smile at Draco from over his shoulder… it was the final blow. If it weren’t for the audience of ten Ministry auditors and the composure he had worked so hard to achieve, Draco could have melted then and there in his office chair.

Harry’s little show of protectiveness had the funny side effect of enraging the auditors, who were even more brusque and rude than usual. It was all worth it. With the image of Harry’s strong shoulders blocking Zacharias Smith from entering his office in mind, Draco suffered their nosiness with good grace for the rest of the day. It certainly helped that Harry stayed in the office with him while Smith and his team rummaged in his files and cabinets, unceremoniously pulling rolls of parchment to duplicate and classify into the Department of Finance folders. Harry, meanwhile, sat on the sofa near the window overlooking the Thames, legs spread apart wide, looking utterly at ease, brazenly so. Draco occasionally caught his eye. Every time he did, Harry gave him a cheeky lift of his eyebrows, and Draco had to stifle his own mischievous grin.

That’s my bodyguard, he thought. For real, this time.

And for the first time in weeks, something settled in Draco’s chest at the thought.

 

*

 

When night finally falls over London, Smith gathers his team with a bark and they all leave with their noses turned up. They don’t even turn to say goodbye, and the door bangs shut behind them.

“Well, that was rude,” Harry says matter-of-factly, brushing his palms down his trousers and rising from the sofa where he spent most of the afternoon.

“Nothing out of the ordinary, then.” Draco shrugs, and they meet each other’s eyes, grinning like schoolboys who just played a good prank.

“Are you staying here?” Harry asks. Draco watches him shift on his feet, uncharacteristically tentative. Now that everybody else is gone and it’s only Harry and Draco, there’s a change in the atmosphere of the office. With only the lamp on Draco’s desk on, and a soft hush settling after the commotion of the auditors’ visit, the space feels smaller, more intimate. Harry is looking at Draco, an unsettling mixture of fondness and appraisal that leaves Draco flustered and exhilarated at the same time. 

It’s funny how Draco is no longer tripping over Harry’s given name: he’s Harry now, firmly, definitely so; and Draco can’t think of him as Potter anymore, even if he tries.

“I could still work some more,” Draco says. He hears himself — hears the vague reluctance of his words. His eyes linger on Harry, and he knows he’s not convincing anyone.

“Do you want to go home? You can work from there,” Harry offers, gently.

Draco shakes his head. “No. I don’t want to go home just yet. It’s too late to see Scorpius anyway; Ernestina must have put him to bed already. I’ll just —”

He waves toward a pile of parchments. Rakes restless fingers through his hair. It’s a gesture few people ever see him do, and yet here he is, doing it in front of Harry. Draco has let his guard down around Harry, and he’s not sure he could raise it back up if he tried.

Harry’s fingers tap against the glass-top desk.

“Come on, let’s go to the pub.”

Draco’s head snaps up.

“The pub?” he asks as if Harry’s lost the plot. Harry laughs.

“Yeah. You know, where normal people go to have a pint and relax at the end of a busy work day?”

“Are you implying we are normal?”

“Oh, nothing so crass,” Harry says with a grin. “But you said you didn’t want to go home just yet, and you don’t look like you really want to work, so I went for the third option.”

Draco leans back in his chair. “Tempting as it is, Harry, I hardly imagine that showing up in a wizarding pub with the Chosen One would lead to a relaxing evening. I swear, it’s like the paparazzi can sniff you out. If I can avoid having my photograph splashed across the wizarding newspapers for the umpteenth time in four months, I would appreciate it. Merlin, I can see the headlines from here: ‘An Ex Death Eater’s Attempt To Bring Our Saviour Down The Spiral Of Alcoholism.’ Or something equally garish and extravagant.”

“I wasn’t suggesting a wizarding pub,” Harry smiles slowly. “You do know that the majority of pubs in this city are Muggle. Pubs where wizarding journalists will never find us.”

Draco barks out a laugh. “Well, if anyone knows about them, it’s you. All right, I’ll come with you.” He stands, buttoning his suit jacket. “You insist so much, it’s like you can’t wait to get drunk. Or get me drunk,” he adds, his tone lower, unsure he wants Harry to hear.

“Maybe a little bit of both,” Harry tells him, and it barely sounds like a joke.

Draco snorts. “You’re not supposed to be drinking when you’re on duty.”

Harry casts a Tempus with a flourish. “Actually, it’s past eight. I’m off the clock now.” He looks at Draco in entreaty. “Come on. Let’s go. As friends, okay?”

Draco meets his eyes with a smile, trying to ignore the flip of his stomach at the sight of Harry’s answering grin.

They walk out of Draco’s office. Jemima’s gone for the day. Her desk is empty, the entire floor is dark and quiet. Night has come, and the glimmering lights of London spread out as far as Draco can see through the wide bay windows surrounding the floor.

A galaxy of possibilities that he can pick from, for the first time in years.

“Are you coming, then?” Harry calls from the lifts.

“Coming,” Draco answers, mostly to himself, and follows him into the lift.

 

*

 

Harry Apparates them to an alley next to a pub in Islington, on a nondescript residential street that puts Draco immediately at ease. He can’t pick a trace of magic except Harry’s and his own, so there is no way anyone from the Daily Prophet has ever set foot in this area. The pub serves a lovely selection of craft beers on tap and is filled with local Muggles who’ve stopped in on their way home from work for a pint. Just like Harry and Draco have, incidentally.

Feeling slightly out of place and overdressed in his Muggle suit, Draco makes a beeline for the back of the pub where he finds two empty stools next to the bar. Harry follows him, a small smile playing on his lips. Draco drinks him in as he walks towards him.

He looks like every single daydream Draco’s ever had of him, charming and dark and powerful and absolutely fucking fit in his grey suit, his green eyes sparkling with good humour. Draco’s friend. Draco, who spent years of his childhood hating Harry because he’d refused to be his friend at eleven. Draco, who tried to push him away when he found out why Harry had really come back into his life, and couldn’t, in the end.

And in this moment, Draco knows he’s completely and utterly gone for Harry. He knows he likes Harry. He knows his crush on Harry never really faded away. But he just now realises how much he actually likes him. Likes the real Harry, not the one from his childhood, not the one from his daydreams. He likes him more than one should like their bodyguard. More than one should like their friend. More than one should like someone who originally set out to bring their downfall.

It’s as if all the want he’s kept bottled up for years is flooding him, bursting out of him.

He’s falling in love with Harry.

It’s an unstoppable, headlong, reckless feeling, like staring into the most alluring abyss and gladly diving in.

“What are you drinking?” Harry asks Draco lightly as he sits next to him, shattering the flailing thoughts in Draco's head.

Flustered, Draco glances at the taps to check what beers are on.

“A pint of Camden Hells, I suppose.”

“All right,” Harry says, and he gestures to the barmaid with a polite click of his fingers. The girl takes their orders and leaves them alone again.

Unsettled by his moment of insight, Draco doesn’t know how to fill the silence. He turns to watch the crowd around him, the bartenders moving about behind the bar, pouring drinks and washing glasses with agility.

“Are you okay?” he hears Harry ask him, and when he turns, he finds him with an elbow resting on the bar, his body angled toward Draco. Draco shivers a little.

“Yes, thank you for asking.” Draco cards his fingers through his hair. He’s done it so many times since this morning that it's probably beyond fixing by now. There’s no one to judge him for being nervous, though; and Harry doesn’t need to know what he’s nervous about. “It’s just been a long day.”

“Is it like this every year?”

“Yes,” Draco exhales a laugh. “Every bloody year. It’s a legal obligation. I have no issue with that part. I just suspect Caduceus is the only company the auditors act so fucking entitled around. And I can’t help but wonder if I’m the cause of it.” He shakes his head, fiddles with the cardboard coasters. “Well, that’s probably naive of me, knowing what I know now. I was the cause of it all along.”

“Hey.” Harry touches his fingers to Draco’s hand resting on the bar. It’s a small gesture. It looks like asking permission. Draco stands very still, waiting for Harry to decide what to do next. When he doesn’t move, Harry’s hand slides over the back of Draco’s, covering it. “You have nothing to feel guilty about. Zacharias Smith was born a smarmy arsehole. Trust me, the Minister didn’t order him to be extra unpleasant at Caduceus . That’s probably his modus operandi no matter the company he’s auditing. Okay?” He waits for Draco to nod, then asks, his tone gentler: “Do you… want to talk about it, still?”

Harry’s hand is heavy and warm over his, his skin several shades darker than Draco’s paleness. In this moment, there’s nothing Draco wants to talk about less than fucking Zacharias Smith and the fucking Ministry breathing down his neck every single year.

“No. I don’t want to talk about it,” he admits, praying that Harry won’t move.

Harry doesn’t.

“What do you want to talk about?” Harry’s voice is low despite the surrounding buzz of conversations and clinking glasses.

“Whatever you’d like.” Draco glances at him, wondering if his offer sounds like a come-on.

Harry smiles. “Okay… Then — tell me about your records,” he says.

Startled, Draco sits back, and Harry’s hand falls away. “My records?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods, his smile crinkling the corners of his beautiful eyes. “You have those vinyl records everywhere in the house. I’ve wanted to ask you about them since that first day, but I never had the chance.”

“I didn’t even know you’d noticed.”

“Draco, my job is to notice things. I know your house like the back of my hand, remember? And those records are right under my nose.” Harry's smile turns apologetic this time, a small tug of the lips. But sheepish never suits Harry for long. “It’s a very Muggle thing to do, collecting vinyl records. Kind of snobbish, in a hipster-music-lover kind of way. I don’t know why I’m surprised that you do.”

“Wanker.” Draco laughs, and so does Harry, a clear sound that makes Draco’s insides turn liquid.

“I’m right, though.”

“Yes,” Draco admits. “I got into Muggle music after the war. That’s when I started gathering records.”

“Okay, now I’m genuinely curious. What led you to it?”

Draco sighs. That part of his history is both dark and weirdly joyful, and it’s not something he ever enjoys sharing. But he’s safe with Harry. Harry knows dark and light. He knows the shades in between, too. He’s been through it all at the same age as Draco.

So Draco takes a breath, and tells him.

“At the start of my three-year house arrest, the Ministry gave me a Muggle computer and a set of CD-ROMs with a rehabilitation programme for people like me. You know — those who found themselves on the wrong side of the war without being actively dangerous criminals. The reluctant Death Eaters.” He shrugs, hoping Harry will get it. “I guess it was a test: use a complicated Muggle device, get out of your bigoted pureblood comfort zone. My mother never got around learning how to use the computer, but I did. It was… surprisingly easy. Instinctual, almost — and fun. I finished the course in a matter of weeks, and then I had all this free time on my hands… so I started spending my days on the Internet.”

Harry gazes at him, grinning widely like it’s the best thing he’s ever heard. The barmaid brings them their pints, and Harry pays her with a Muggle banknote before Draco even has time to reach for his wallet. They clink their glasses together, each taking a long gulp of bitter, frothy liquid.

“Let me make sure I understand,” Harry says then, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “You — Draco Malfoy — became addicted to the Internet at age nineteen?”

Draco laughs. “If you put it that way, it does sound ridiculous. But honestly, Harry. Do you have any idea how narrow-minded the world I grew up in was? Even magic — magic was something that was always there, something I took for granted. There was nothing… magical about it at all. At least the Muggleborn wizards and witches were lucky enough to have had a taste of the world outside of the wizarding community before coming to Hogwarts. Someone like you, for example. You were magic, but you were still aware there was a bigger, wider world out there, outside of magic. For me, when the world my parents had built around me collapsed, there was nothing left in its wake.” Draco lifts a hand to run it through his hair, catches himself. Sighs. “I knew nothing about a world where pureblood wizarding families didn’t rule, where our money and ancestry didn’t make us supposedly superior to everyone else. I had to revise my entire world views — which I did gladly,” he adds, lifting a hand in admission, “and while on house arrest, the Internet was the only window I had to the outside world. It happened to be a Muggle window, but I took what I could get at this point. And Merlin, was it a heady feeling.”

Harry just looks at him. His eyes are so green behind his glasses, and Draco realises his own heart has started beating faster.

“How was it then?" Harry asks, picking up his pint. "Your house arrest?”

“The worst and the best thing that could have happened to me after the war.” Draco sighs. “It was… the cruelest punishment the Wizengamot could have dealt us. Being stuck in the place that was once my home, that had become the stage of so much horror. I wanted nothing more than to escape the reality of my past, and instead, I was forced to look it in the eye and reckon with it.” Without looking at Harry, he undoes the cuffs of his shirtsleeves, rolls the sleeves up a few inches. He notices while doing so that he’s exposing an inch or two of his Mark, and isn’t it fitting for the story he’s telling? He takes another gulp of his beer, and finally looks back at Harry when he continues. “That’s why it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to think about what I’d done, what the ideology I’d grown up with had almost achieved. And I discovered everything the world had to offer through the small window of my computer screen. Every day of those three bloody horrible years, I swore to myself that once I was free, I’d seize every opportunity I’d get to learn new things and to live a different life than the one I had been raised to live.” He looks at Harry in apology. “I’m sorry, you asked me about the vinyl records in my home, and I’ve told you the story of my life instead. I didn’t even answer your question in the process.”

“I liked it,” Harry says quickly and then he blushes, and it’s the most gorgeous, endearing thing. “Er… I mean, I like that you’re telling me this. It’s interesting. You’re — interesting.” Harry’s blush turns a deeper shade of red and Draco is fairly sure his own cheeks are bright pink. Harry finds him interesting. He wants to punch the air. “But I’d still like to hear about the records,” Harry adds. They both take a few steadying sips of their drinks, and it helps Draco recover from that sweetly awkward moment.

“All right.” Draco smiles. “So the Internet. It was 1999, and I had just opened an email address.”

Harry bursts out laughing. “Oh god, I bet your handle was something utterly ridiculous, wasn’t it?”

Draco blushes again. “I’m taking this secret to my grave, Potter. Unless you don’t want me to finish that story?”

Harry waves at him between two fits of giggles. “Please continue.”

“Hmm, thought so. All right, so my friend Blaise — remember Blaise Zabini? Tall, black, good-looking bloke from our year?”

“Slytherin?”

“Yes. Does it matter?” Draco can't keep the archness from his voice.

“Not at all," Harry says easily. He pauses a moment, then adds, "So, Blaise…?”

Draco shifts in his chair. “He had moved to Paris with Pansy at the time. He’d always been the most exposed to Muggle culture among my friends — his mum was quite the cosmopolitan lady, and he’d seen much more of the world than the rest of us had at the same age. So he was living in Paris, and going out a lot, and finding out about all those Muggle musicians and bands and concerts and operas… He would send me links to download the music, and once I’d listened to it we would discuss it via email. It was… quite an experience. Imagine having never heard anything other than wizarding music until your late teens, Harry. Growing up with Celestina bloody Warbeck and the Weird Sisters, and suddenly discovering Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Malher, The Beatles, Nirvana, Patti Smith, and even the fucking Spice Girls, all at the same time. It was… mind-blowing. It was such a shock. I was in a trance for weeks, manically listening to all that music on repeat, trying to make sense of what it meant, what it was telling me.”

It’s very quiet inside their little bubble of intimacy when Harry asks, “What did it tell you?”

“That the world was immense. And I had only seen the tiny tip of the iceberg.”

Harry’s eyes are wide and thoughtful. He takes a sip of his beer, pensively swishing the golden liquid in his glass. “That must have been hard to comprehend.”

“Retrospectively, I think I handled it much better than I had any right to. And even then, I was bordering on obsessed. I made Blaise swear that he’d take me to record shops and concerts and bars with live music when I was released. When I joined him and Pansy in Paris two years later, he kept his promise. Obsessed as I was, whenever I could afford it, I’d buy a record. And as soon as I started making money, I started collecting records of all the music I had listened to during my house arrest, and every single artist and concert I went to afterwards.”

“Okay, that’s a good enough explanation for the insane amount of records you have at home,” Harry says. “Although, actually, ‘because Draco Malfoy is mental’ would have sufficed.”

Draco laughs and pushes him playfully. “Shut up, Potter.”

Harry snorts and raises a finger. “Wait, wait! So these records... do you, like, dust each of them with a tiny brush every day? Alphabetise them? Rank them in some sort of anally-retentive system only you can understand?”

“I thought I told you to shut up.” Draco is giggling now, too.

“I’ll never shut up about it. Seriously, though. When do you find time to listen to them?”

“I don’t anymore. At least, not as much as I’d like to,” Draco tells him. “Sometimes Scorpius will ask me to play one of them, but at his age he’s more interested in the cover than the music. And anything other than classical tends to overload him, so for now I mostly stick to piano pieces by Chopin or Satie with him.”

“Meh, could be worse. Ron and Hermione’s daughter will only listen to her ‘Best of Disney’ CD. You should hear Ron sing both Aladdin and Jasmine’s voices in ‘A Whole New World.’”

For some reason, the mental image of Weasley singing Disney songs is bloody hilarious, and Draco bursts out laughing. Harry laughs with him, open and unguarded.

Draco likes him so fucking much, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

“Will you play one for me someday?” Harry asks him eventually.

“A record? Yes — of course.” Draco runs a nervous hand through his hair — stop it, he chastises himself, but it’s too late, he’s done it again. He drops his hands to his lap. “Which one would you like to listen to?”

“Whichever one you like best.”

“I like them all.”

“All right, then,” Harry says with a slow smile, eyes warm on Draco. “Let’s just pick one at random.”

And then he does the most unexpected, amazing thing.

He holds out his hand and touches the tips of Draco’s fingers with his own.

It’s a small, tentative caress, but Harry’s not asking for permission this time. It’s so purposeful that it leaves no room for interpretation.

It’s fond, and flirtatious. The most romantic touch Draco’s received — allowed — in years.

Draco’s breath catches as he watches Harry’s fingertips linger on his. His hand trembles slightly against his knee before he can think clearly enough to do something about it. He slowly turns it over, palm up, back resting against the soft grey wool of his trousers, and Harry’s fingers slide along his lifeline and back, featherlight but unhesitating.

His throat feels tight, his heart rising up in it. When he gathers the courage to look up at Harry again, Harry’s eyes are on their joined hands. His beautiful green eyes, darker and half-obscured by his thick black lashes. His bottom lip caught between his teeth.

Draco crooks his fingers and they catch on Harry’s lightly, and then Harry looks at him. They maintain eye contact for a moment that seems to last and last, joined by the tiny, earth-shattering touch of fingertips on fingertips.

Draco mirrors Harry’s small, crooked smile.

“All right?” he asks. It comes out as a whisper.

“Yeah…” Harry answers, hesitant. “Can I do this?”

“Why couldn’t you?”

“Seems… presumptuous of me.”

A new wave of warmth washes over Draco at Harry’s unexpected gentleness.

“Harry… if anything, I should be the one to stop. You said you’re working for me, and I —”

Harry shakes his head. His eyes, so soft a second ago, turn harder. “No. You’re doing nothing wrong. Nothing.” His gaze slides away. “I just can’t seem to help it…”

“All right,” Draco says, slowly, placatingly. “Then why…?”

Harry looks back at their hands. He takes Draco’s other hand in his, gently tugging until he’s facing Harry.

“Do you even — like men?” He asks him, not meeting Draco’s eyes.

Draco lets out a soft huff of laughter. Frees his hand from Harry’s to slide a finger under Harry’s chin and make him look up at him.

“I like all sorts of people.”

Harry smiles cautiously. “But have you ever been with people... like me?”

“There’s no one like you,” Draco says, and he wishes it could come out as sarcastic instead of quivering and pathetically earnest.

“You know what I mean.” Harry rolls his eyes but still blushes attractively.

“You mean, have I been with men?” Draco returns his hand to Harry’s. Their fingers twine, slow strokes of palm against palm. “Yes. Not… in recent years. I haven’t been with anyone in recent years.”

Harry looks faintly alarmed. “Why not?”

“I haven’t felt the need. Haven’t missed it. Astoria used to tease me a lot about it. Said it was as if I had a switch. I would meet someone I really cared about, and the switch would go on. The feelings part… that’s what matters. What sparks the attraction. What turns the switch on… Most of the time, my switch is just off, and it’s not a problem.”

“Oh,” Harry whispers. He slides his fingers between Draco’s, and Draco suppresses a shiver of want so powerful it leaves him a little bit faint. “And with me?” Harry prompts, eyes on Draco. Those fucking green eyes Draco’s spent years seeing in his dreams.

“On,” Draco whispers back. “Definitely on.” He swallows, thickly. “It’s always been on with you, Harry.”

Harry looks stunned, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down his throat. Then his grin turns bright, jubilant. “Good. Because, Draco… I’ve been pretty open about it with you. I think I might like you. A lot.”

Draco’s answering grin is so wide it hurts. “Yes… I seem to recall you’ve already said that.”

Harry lifts a brow. “I have. And you left me hanging.”

Draco wants to roll his eyes. Wants to grin like an idiot. “I might like you too, Potter.”

“You might like me…?”

“Yes. I might.”

Fingers slide away then back, in a caress more evocative than most sex Draco’s had in his life. He’s hard, he knows, his erection pressing almost painfully against the tight fabric of his trousers, but he barely notices. He leans in, his lips brushing against Harry’s ear, his jaw, the faint stubble catching against his skin like a promise.

“I might… but not tonight,” he murmurs.

When he pulls back, he finds Harry with his eyes closed. He blinks them open at the sudden loss of Draco’s body heat against him.

“Oh,” Harry just says, not pushing.

“I want— “ Draco swallows around his dry throat. “I can’t— I’d like to take this slow. Wait a little longer.” He looks back at their joined hands. He doesn’t think he’ll ever want not to see them entwined like that. “Can you?”

Harry nods, solemn. “I’ll wait until you say the wait is over. I’ll wait as long as you need.”

“It’s not something I need,” Draco says. “It’s something I want.” I’ve wanted you for so long, and it is so complicated, and I want to feel like I can sort my feelings about this first, he wants to add, but doesn’t.

“I can do that,” Harry says.

He stands, lifts his hands from Draco’s. Slides them up his sides, the side of his neck, his face, into his hair. Harry leans in, close, his breath on Draco’s face. He waits, and when Draco doesn’t move away, doesn’t do anything but blink his assent, he presses his lips against Draco’s, once, lightly, achingly sweet.

His emerald eyes are scorching when they part.

“That was quite an eventful pub night,” Harry murmurs, teasing. “I’m so glad I suggested it.”

“Wanker,” Draco grins. “You’re lucky you’re so fit.”

Harry’s face turns a light pink. “Yes. I really, really like you. You tosser.”

Draco laughs and unrolls his sleeves before standing to put on his jacket again. “Come on, Potter. Let’s go home.”

The back of Harry’s hand bumps against his as they walk side by side out of the pub. When they’re safely out of sight. Harry catches his fingers, one last time, and they Apparate home like this.

 

*

 

When Harry finally shuts the door to his bedroom behind him that night, his whole body is buzzing with frustration and excitement and guilt and exhilaration.

He feels more alive than he has in years.

He leans against the closed door, letting his eyes fall shut and a low groan escapes him. He’s so turned on he can’t believe he found the strength to leave Draco to go to sleep alone one floor down, when he’d have given all the gold in his vault to follow him into his room.

They’d Apparated from the pub a few streets away from Draco’s house, and walked in together, still holding hands like smitten teenagers. Maybe that’s exactly what they were in that moment. Harry certainly feels like a teenager right now, just thinking about it, his heart beating painfully hard in his chest, butterflies bursting in his stomach.

Because Draco’s hands stroking his had felt exactly like he’d imagined — better, actually. His strong, elegant fingers; the warmth and softness of his skin against Harry’s. Harry had often fantasised about his first touch with Draco — hell, he was old enough to admit that some of his fantasies dated back to sixth year; he was old enough to understand where his infamous ‘thing for blondes’ stemmed from — but nothing could have prepared him for this. Just the tiniest of touches had been enough to set his heart and body on fire. Enough to make him wonder, vividly, what sex would feel like, if Draco’s fingers caressing his own felt already more erotic than most of his past sexual escapades.

He groans, hitting his head against the wooden door. Don’t think about sex, you fucking wanker, he scolds himself.

Once they'd made it inside the house, Draco had walked around a sleeping Balzac, curled in a heap of black, white and rust shaggy fur in the foyer. He’d gently tugged Harry towards the kitchen, where he’d set the kettle to boil. Then, without warning, he’d crowded Harry against the counter and pressed his entire body against his front.

“I thought you wanted to wait,” Harry had gasped helplessly against Draco’s neck, Draco palming his sides and nuzzling his hair and sighing with satisfaction.

“I do,” Draco had murmured. “I’m just… getting a taste of you.”

“Okay,” Harry had agreed incoherently, feeling himself melt against the countertop at the press of Draco’s erection against his thigh.

And just when Harry had been sure Draco would begin to rut up against him, the wonderful bastard had pushed away to attend to the whistling kettle, and had left him trembling with want.

“You’re such a tease,” Harry had whimpered in complaint.

Draco had glanced at him over his shoulder, looking unbearably smug. “I’m not. I’m just… giving you a taste, too.”

“Like hell you are,” Harry had groaned, but Draco had pushed a steaming mug of tea into his hands with an air of finality that reminded Harry of his earlier promise.

They’d sipped their tea in companionable silence, only interrupting the quiet to discuss tomorrow’s orders of business in low voices, socked feet touching, shoulders brushing.

Then they’d gone up the stairs, Draco stopping on the first floor to check on Scorpius, then joining Harry on the landing, taking his hand as though this was something normal, something they did without a second thought. In front of Draco’s room, Draco had pulled Harry close to him, pressing a light, bergamot-scented kiss against his lips.

“Thank you for tonight,” Draco'd whispered before giving Harry a small, secret smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He’d disappeared into his room.

It had felt like sneaking around. Harry wonders if this is how it would have been fifteen years ago, if instead of wasting his time obsessing over Draco, he’d understood the intense attraction his obsession was covering. If he’d found a way around their years-long animosity and had become Draco’s boyfriend. His nighttime wanderings along the drafty corridors of Hogwarts would have taken a far more interesting colour if that had been the case.

Harry hits his head against the door again. “Stop it,” he tells himself out loud, and heads for the bathroom. A shower. He needs a shower. Preferably very cold. So he can sleep and be clear-headed and ready and fucking calm when tomorrow comes. He turns the water on with a swish of his wand and dutifully ignores his hard prick as he undresses and steps into the shower cabin.

The water pounding his shoulders and back is not cold, however; it’s deliciously warm, relaxing his taut muscles but doing nothing to quell his erection.

“Like master, like house,” he growls through gritted teeth. “Are you both going to tease me until I give in?”

At Harry’s words, the shower head spurts a cloud of steam and honeysuckle-scented bubbles, and Harry can’t help but laugh, shaking his head in disbelief.

“You’re fucking testing me, aren’t you?” More bubbles, and the scent is so evocative that he only has to close his eyes for the smell of Draco’s skin to invade his senses, the touch of his warm hands on his to overwhelm him. His own right hand wraps around his erection on its own accord, and before he knows it he’s stroking himself slowly, leisurely, images of Draco’s messy hair and warm grey eyes and teasing smile flooding his head.

“Fuck it,” Harry moans, letting the day’s emotions run through him, the adrenaline of protecting Draco’s space from Smith’s greedy curiosity, the grief and empathy of hearing Draco’s story, the tenderness and honesty of Draco’s admission.

That Draco hadn’t found anyone attractive for years, until Harry had come along.

That Harry had turned Draco’s switch on.

“Oh, fuck,” he grits again, and his cock jerks in his fist. He runs his fingertips over the head, palming his balls with his other hand. They’re already tight against his body, and he knows he’s not going to last long.

The guilt, though… The guilt had been there, too. No matter how much Harry might like Draco, no matter how good his intentions might be, he’s still breaking all the rules of moral and professional conduct: he’s starting a relationship with someone who’s supposed to be his employer; he’s starting a relationship with someone he’s being paid to spy on; someone he’s agreed to protect against the institution that pays him in the first place. He hates himself for it, the double act, the inextricable mess of it all, and he wanks himself all the more furiously, remembering Draco’s touch, Draco’s body against his, Draco’s lips, soft and sure. The wait, the headlong attempt, and the relief of Draco’s fingers curling around his in unspoken agreement… and Harry shudders and spills into his fist, biting down a sob and squeezing his pulsing cock until he sees stars. Panting hard, he rests his sweaty forehead on the tiles, watching the water wash his come away, willing his heart to slow down.

Thinking of Draco and feeling impossibly torn, and equally incapable of backing out.

Shaking the water out of his hair, Harry grabs the bar of soap and washes himself thoroughly, before rinsing the suds and stepping out of the shower. He wraps a towel around his waist and pads to his bedroom, leaving wet footprints on the floorboards. Naked, not even bothering to dry off properly, he climbs under the covers of his bed with a sigh.

Tomorrow. He’ll sort everything out tomorrow.

And with that promise in mind, he lets himself fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Cold sweat prickles in the small of Harry’s back. There’s a ringing in his ears — every one of his breaths echoes, loud inside his skull. The air in the Ministry staircase feels thick, rarefied. 

He grabs the golden handrail, his legs trembling. He knows what’s coming. It’s happened many times before, when he was younger, especially in the months after the war. He knows what to do. He sits on a step, head between his knees. Breathe. In. Out. Take your mind off the task at hand. A shiver zings down his back. Will it away. Don’t let it happen here, of all places. He can hear Angelica’s voice in his head, strong and soothing. It’s a feeling close to a Dementor approaching, isn’t it? she used to say. She had a slow, soft smile on, almost always. It was sometimes so at odds with the words that came out of her mouth. What did you use to do when a Dementor attacked you, Harry? Harry liked her. Liked her choice of words. Liked to think that if Dementors used to attack, it implied it wouldn’t happen again. I cast a Patronus, he’d answer, feeling very young, very small. Angelica would smile on, like she was proud. Then when this happens, she’d say, pretend you cast a Patronus in your mind. Think of the happy memories, Harry.

He thinks of the happy memories now, breathing deep like he can push the panic attack out with every exhale. Hermione, gently teasing him in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place. Ron, grinning, a smear of tomato sauce on his forehead. The sound of Scorpius’ piano, ringing in the marble staircase of Draco’s house. Balzac’s soft black fur, his happy dog smile when Harry scratches behind his ears, the way he always comes running to greet Harry when he comes in. Draco’s tiny smile, the one he can’t seem to help, whenever Harry appears on the threshold of his study. Like Harry has finally come home.

He thinks of home before the meaning of it becomes clear. Before he realises that home feels like the sunlit Sloane Square townhouse, more than any other place has ever felt like.

Harry lifts his head, slow and stunned. He was sifting through happy memories. What he’d found was this new, not quite comfortable piece of knowledge. He wipes the cold sweat off his forehead. A testimony to the benefits of years of Mind Healing therapy: he’s become better at skirting round a panic attack. This one ebbs away on its own. He rises, and resumes his climbing the stairs.

The walk up to the Minister’s office floor is as awful as ever. Perhaps even more than usual. It’s early in the morning and Harry's already had to dodge a personal crisis, for one. For two, Kingsley expects a progress report, and Harry has no new information to give him.

Hi, Kingsley. Turns out I went and fell in love with our suspect. Other than that, same old, same old.

Dewey lifts his head from the heavy diary on his desk when he hears the wards chime. He gives Harry a polite nod, and the dimple in his cheek appears as he smiles.

“Good morning, Mr Potter. So nice to see you again.”

Harry still finds Dewey charming, but the thought only registers dimly, and his mind settles on thoughts of Draco instead.

“Hello, Dewey,” he mumbles absently. “I’ve a meeting with the Minister.”

“Indeed, Mr Potter. The nine o’clock. The Minister must have been eager to see you.”

That he is, Harry almost says, catches himself just before he can speak. He nods, a cautious little tilt of his head, and walks over to the bay windows. If this was a regular mission, he would be buzzing with tension and excitement right now, bursting with all the information and hypotheses he couldn’t wait to share. That’s how he always felt before progress report meetings with Kingsley.

This time, he feels numb and tense, like he’s trapped in a dream where he has to run, but can’t. Like he’s moving through a haze in slow motion, as the trap is about to close around him. He wishes he could be anywhere but here. He just has to get through the meeting with Kingsley — just has to convince the Minister that he’s on track to have the case solved, that he just needs a little more time… Then he’ll go back to Draco’s townhouse, and find the answers this time.

Figuring out the case should be so easy — especially when Draco is the only thing in his mind. The truth is, though, the Minister is probably far from imagining how Harry thinks about Draco most of the time… thank God and Merlin, really.

In the week preceding his meeting with Kingsley, Harry has all but gone crazy with it. It’s not the waiting part that’s difficult — it’s the fact that now, their mutual attraction is out in the open. Suddenly every word, every smile, every look that lingers a second too long, every light graze of their hands as they walk together to Caduceus becomes a teasing torture. The auditors are still there every day, rummaging through cupboards and filing cabinets and making appointments left and right with Jemima, and Draco just watches them with disinterest, a placid smile on his face. What he does, however, is play with Harry. He drops flirtatious little innuendos in front of the auditors. Sucks at the tip of a quill for a moment too long, with a little more enthusiasm than the act warrants. Even if he wanted to, Harry couldn’t forget Draco’s eyes, full of promise, on the night he touched him for the first time. 

Because Draco is like a cat teasing a bird before going in for the kill, and Harry feels like he’s waiting in anxious, exquisite surrender for the day Draco will say he’s ready.

Maybe those are things Draco’s always done, and Harry is only noticing them now that Draco has told him, unequivocally so, that he likes Harry, that he’s attracted to him. 

Maybe Ron was right, and the whole case was a disaster in waiting, Harry and Draco colliding for a final moment of truth.

Last night, before Apparating to Grimmauld Place, Harry had knocked on the door of Draco’s study. Just Draco’s soft ‘Come in!’ had made Harry smile. Draco had been at his desk, leaning over accounting records that the auditors would review the next day. The room had been bathed in the dim, warm light of the fire and the Muggle lamp on the desk; it’d smelled like firewood and leather and dust and the clean, masculine scent of Draco’s skin.

This. This was why this house — this room — this man felt like home.

Draco had looked up at him. He’d only given him a small, reserved smile, but it had lit up his face all the same.

“Are you leaving?” 

“For two days,” Harry had told him, walking around the desk and standing a few inches away from Draco’s chair. 

A shadow had fallen across Draco’s face. “Ministry meeting?” he’d asked, his tone even. Harry could read the underlying guardedness in the stiff hold of Draco’s shoulders.

There had been no point in lying.

“Yes.”

“And you’re going to tell them…”

“Nothing more than you already know.”

“You can safely assume I know nothing about what goes on inside that wretched building,” Draco had said, the dull point of hurt finally surfacing in his voice.

“Draco…” Harry had taken a step closer. “I’m going to tell them, again, that I believe your business is conducted according to the law and that I didn’t notice any illegal activity…” At Draco’s lifted brow, he’d added, “...and that’s all I’ll tell them.”

Draco’s shoulders had fallen a bit. He’d fiddled with a raven quill, twirling it around his fingers. 

“Fine,” he’d sighed. “I don’t like it… but I suppose it’s part of the deal.”

Harry had brushed his fingertips to the side of Draco’s hand, resting on the desk. “The deal between me and the Ministry. There’s no deal — that’s not how it works between you and me.”

Draco had slid him a glance. He’d bitten at his bottom lip, exasperated — something he did when the topic was uncomfortably emotional and he wanted to avoid it.

Not that Harry liked the predicament they were in, either. So he could give Draco that.

The fire had popped, and he’d let his mouth twist in a playful smile. “Two days… are you going to survive without me?”

“Probably not,” Draco had replied, following Harry’s attempt to change the mood, “or your job would be utterly useless, wouldn’t it?”

Harry had snorted. “Please don’t die. I might miss your sorry arse if you did.”

A faint pink shade had coloured Draco’s cheeks. “You might miss my arse?”

Harry had reached out. Hesitated a second, then when Draco hadn’t moved away, slid his fingers into Draco’s hair. Draco’s eyelids had fallen at half-mast, a low hum in his throat like he couldn’t help it. Harry had pushed a swathe of golden hair behind his ear, the gesture far too intimate and tender to be purely friendly. “No, you idiot. I’m going to miss you. There’s nothing conditional about it.”

“Okay,” Draco’d smiled slowly, his grey eyes still half closed, following the movement of Harry’s hand as he’d returned it to his lap. “I might miss your sorry arse, too.”

Sensing it was all Draco was going to give him, Harry had taken his hand and tugged lightly, pulling up on his feet.

“I remember you once promised me we’d listen to one of your records. I’m about to leave… perhaps now would be a good time?”

Draco had laughed in answer, as if he couldn’t believe Harry’s nerve and spontaneity. He had walked to the shelves lining the back of the study. After a minute, he’d slid a sleeve off the shelf, pulled a round, black vinyl out and sent it flying with a light flick of his fingers, the disk landing delicately on the record player set at the end of the coffee table.

A few notes of guitar had dropped in the air, turned warmer and thicker now that Draco’s eyes were back on Harry, a shade darker than before.

“Shall we dance, then?” he’d asked, casually. Despite his tone, there was nothing light about it. Harry had felt his throat contract in a swallow.

“Sure.”

He’d met Draco halfway through the room, his hands wrapping around Draco’s strong, slim waist as Draco had rested his hands on Harry’s shoulders.

“I’m leading?” Harry had teased.

“I don’t think that’s how it works, Potter,” Draco’d told him. He was a couple of inches taller, and from that close angle his smirk had looked almost baleful. The kind that never failed to send an excited little thrill through Harry.

A deep, sad, gentle voice had sung something in Spanish, and Harry had moved closer in, his chest against Draco’s chest, his cheek resting against Draco’s jaw, his fingers splayed across his lower back, possessive.

“This song is lovely,” Harry'd murmured, aiming for Draco’s ear. He’d felt Draco shiver.

“Ernestina’s idea,” Draco had said, softly, his voice rumbling through Harry’s chest. “A gift for my thirtieth.”

“Old man.”

“Yes, Potter,” Draco had deadpanned, but he’d pressed his face into Harry’s hair and inhaled, and Harry had forgotten how to draw breath. “All those weeks older than you.”

Harry had smiled against his jaw. “So much wiser than me.”

“So much.”

They’d moved together, a slow dance by the record player. Harry had held his breath, afraid that the slightest sound might disturb this moment. They’d moved until Harry had forgotten everything except Draco, Draco all around him, Draco surrounding him. Until all that was left was the warmth of Draco’s body underneath the cotton of his shirt, the smell of his skin, the taste of his breath bathing Harry’s face. Until the song had ended on the melancholy conclusion of guitar chords. They’d stopped moving then. Harry’s hands had lingered on the small of Draco’s back, slid up slowly to rest on the back of his neck, light, fingers skimming the line of his hair. When he’d pulled back, Draco had been watching him, eyes dark and soft and inscrutable.

“I might like you, Potter,” Draco'd told him, an echo of earlier words, whispered in a pub, not a few days before.

“I might like you, too,” Harry had whispered back, unable to look away.

Shifting, Draco had lifted his hands to cup Harry’s face, twining his fingers into his hair. He’d made a sound like a strangled sigh, nuzzled his ear, his neck, brushing hot breaths against Harry’s lips. He’d kissed Harry then, a light, closed-mouthed kiss. Harry had felt like his lungs were on fire. 

“Enjoy your time off,” Draco had told him when he’d pulled back. He’d looked so reluctant to let Harry go… “When you come back…” he’d trailed off, swallowing, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh softly.

“Yeah. When I come back.”

Draco had nodded, and Harry had taken a step back, away from the tantalising heat of Draco.

“Goodnight, Draco,” he’d said.

Draco’s mouth had lifted at the corner.

“Goodnight, Harry.”

By the time Harry had reached the door, Draco had already gone back to his parchments, the feathery end of a quill stuck between his teeth. Harry’d closed the door behind him and Apparated away.

 

*

 

“Mr Potter?” Dewey’s polite voice jolts Harry out of his thoughts. When he turns, Dewey nods his curly blond head towards the Minister’s office, his friendly smile in place. “Minister Shacklebolt is ready to see you now.” 

Kingsley is in his office, indeed, but he’s not the only one. Zacharias Smith snaps his head around when Harry walks in and immediately turns beetroot red.

“You?!” Smith gasps. The look of shock and outrage on his face is almost too good. Harry contains a feral smile.

“Hello, Zacharias,” he tells him, his tone even and pleasant. “Long time, no see.”

Smith splutters in his chair, and Harry takes the seat next to him, smiling politely at Kingsley across the large oak desk.

“Hi, Kingsley.”

“Harry.” Kingsley’s intelligent dark eyes flick to Harry’s forehead and back to his eyes. It’s something he always does, involuntarily so. It never fails to make Harry feel… like an asset. Like a weapon. It makes him feel used. As much as he appreciates Kingsley as a person, he hates this. Pulling his lips into a tight line, he nods at Kingsley to carry on.

Kingsley’s eyes leave Harry’s face to watch Smith instead. 

“Gentlemen, I brought the both of you here today as you are equally involved in Draco Malfoy’s case. Yes, Zacharias,” he adds, perhaps in response to another of Smith’s outraged glares, “Harry here has worked with the Ministry since January. We kept it a secret until now, so as not to interfere with or distract you from your own work. As you know, verifying the conformity of Caduceus’ accounts is key to the process.”

“It’s much harder to charge a man with something that never happened, for sure,” Harry says offhandedly. Something hard flickers on Kingsley’s expression, too fast for Harry to catch.

“Indeed, this is what we’re all trying to do here. Confirm whether or not Malfoy is using the cover of Caduceus for illegal business.”

“We’ve been actively working the case for months,” Harry interjects again. He tries hard to keep his tone calm and even. Too much depends on his ability to control his own temper. His very participation in the case, for one. “Don’t you think if there was illegal activity to report, between me and Smith, we’d have found it already?” He crosses his arms over his chest. 

“Malfoy is a Slytherin,” Smith spits. “Whatever he’s hiding, he’s doing a better job at it than we thought. I’ve wasted years auditing Caduceus only to find everything in order.” He turns an accusatory glare at Harry, as if it was all his fault. His teeth grit when he adds, “On the surface, at least.”

“Maybe there isn’t anything below the surface, have you considered that?” Harry tells him with a benevolent smile. Smith turns even redder than before. Harry swears his retort caused a vein to pop in Smith’s eye.

“Kingsley! He’s biased!” Smith bursts, and actually points a finger at Harry like a child telling on another in front of a school teacher. “I told you a mole was a bad idea! He’s spent too much time with the suspect!”

Kingsley steeples his fingers and levels a glare at Smith from across his desk. Harry almost shudders in misplaced sympathy. 

“Are you implying I made the wrong choice, Zacharias?” Kingsley asks, his tone calm, even, all the power of the Ministry and Kingsley’s natural charisma filling his words. The hammer never quavers before putting the nail in the coffin, Harry thinks wryly.

Smith shrivels in his chair. “Sir, I — I never —”

“Good.” Kingsley places a hand on his desk. “I’m glad we made that clear. I shall not stand for my decisions to be questioned.” He reaches for a folder underneath a pile of parchment. Harry recognizes it from a few months before, his first meeting here regarding Draco’s case. When Kingsley opens it, Harry catches glimpses of the weekly memos he’s sent the Minister, proof of his progress — or, more accurately, lack thereof. Kingsley points at the square, inconspicuous bits of paper. “Harry,” he asks. “Any progress you want to report in addition to these?”

Harry weighs his next words. “Sir,” he says, “I have found no proof of Malfoy acting in any way other than in observance of the law. I have sent Malfoy’s schedule on a weekly basis since January. To my current knowledge, none of the time I’ve been able to spend with him could have been devoted to other activities than the ones known and listed. The suspect seems to lead a very orderly, uneventful life.”

Smith snorts derisively next to him. “So uneventful that it sent you to St Mungo’s not a month ago?”

Harry bites his cheek and clenches his teeth. Promise me, Draco had said. Leave Scorpius out of this.

“I’m a bodyguard, Smith, or have you forgotten?” he asks, the exasperated edge finally skimming his tone. “Ending up with minor injuries is a hazard of the trade.”

“Is this a request to be taken off the case, Harry?” Kingsley asks. His voice is soft, understanding. “Or do you need more time?”

“More time.” Harry waves his thumb in Smith’s direction. “I need to be around until the audit ends, at least.” He can feel Smith vibrate in frustration, and decides to extend him an olive branch — however self-serving it really is. “Smith’s team might uncover something that requires closer investigation, and I want to be on site if that happens.”

At that, Smith stills, unsure what to do with Harry’s sudden consideration for his job.

“All right,” Kingsley agrees. He closes the folder, and Harry knows their meeting is about to be dismissed. He barely dares to breathe. “Harry, you’ll keep reporting progress. I can hear Malfoy is abiding by the law, but I want proof, or the case can’t be closed. You’ll stay on duty until the audit is over. July, I think, Zacharias…?” Smith nods stiffly, and Kingsley continues. “Zacharias, you’ll ask your auditors to think out of the box for once. It would be a shame if Harry found something that you’d missed for years, while you’ve always had carte blanche when it comes to searching Caduceus’ accounts.”

Harry doesn’t wait to see Zacharias Smith blanch at the implication. He barely waits to see Kingsley return his parting nod and his mumbled, ‘All right, thanks Kingsley, will be in touch.’

He leaves the Ministry with the Minister’s words ringing in his ears. 

I want proof, or the case can’t be closed. 

 

*

 

For Draco, life goes on, despite the massiveness of what is happening with Harry. Between him and Harry. He has to keep going, business as usual, or he’ll go mental from trying to figure out what he wants. What it could mean for him and Harry. What the implications could be for Scorpius, for his family, for his business. For himself.

He can’t tell anyone about Harry’s real reason for being in Draco’s house, but the wound of that revelation is healing, the pain of it dull in the background of his rekindled feelings.

Draco had called Pansy and Blaise, of course, because keeping the series of overwhelming moments spent with Harry to himself seemed too much to bear. He’d braced himself for Pansy’s screech of delight, rightly so: she'd clapped, literally clapped her hands with an ecstatic squeal, the cow. Still, neither of his friends had seemed as surprised as Draco by the turn of events. ‘I'm more astonished that it didn't happen in the first three days of him living in  your house,’ Pansy had said. ‘It was either that or one of you killing the other,’ Blaise had added. Draco wanted to be pissed off about how matter-of-fact his friends had sounded, but he had to admit they weren't wrong.

One thing he knows for sure: he’s falling for Harry, and there’s nothing he can do to avoid it. Falling has never been easy. As a Quidditch Seeker, he’d trained to control his flight, not freefall… but this is exactly how it feels now. And he realises: the key is not to fight it.

Harry’s warm smile and his bright eyes that Draco sometimes catches lingering on him; his strong hand that sometimes finds Draco’s when they’re both sitting in the back of the car and Lux drives them to Caduceus; the little words they exchange throughout the day, sharing opinions about wizarding and Muggle news, teasing each other about old Hogwarts stuff, snickering whenever Zacharias Smith says or does something particularly obnoxious in their vicinity. Harry follows him on his runs every day before going back home; running with him is exhilarating, as much as the race for the Snitch was when they were playing against each other at Hogwarts. Only this time the pressure and the antagonism and the bitterness that always came with losing to Potter are gone. And there’s always the memory of that run in the rain, days after Harry had revealed the truth about him to Draco:  the sincerity, the desperation in Harry’s eyes; the heat of Harry’s skin through his soaked shirt, against Draco’s white knuckled fist.

It’s always been Harry. The circumstances of their reconciliation can’t change that fact. 

Harry, who had made the first move and reached for Draco, touched Draco that night — something that seemed so impossible Draco had never let himself dream of it. Harry, who’d said he liked Draco, who’d said he’d wait for him as long as Draco needed.

And Draco doesn’t know how much longer he can make it last before he lets it happen. Some days, he’s not even sure why he’s holding out, if not for the very Slytherin, and perhaps a bit masochistic, feeling of delayed gratification. He tells himself that he hasn’t been in a relationship in such a long time; that his last relationship — his marriage to Astoria — was so different from what a relationship with Harry Potter might be. That he might not know how to handle this — this feeling he has that whatever happens with Harry will be significant, committed, life-changing.

He knows himself well enough now to recognise his uncertainty for what it actually is: he wants Harry. He wants him like he’s never wanted anyone else, like he’s burning with it, like nothing will ease the feeling but Harry, naked and wanting, in his bed.

And he’s scared shitless with the force of it.

Draco swallows the fear down. And occasionally, when he’s feeling like teasing Harry, he gives in to the tension and holds his gaze a moment longer than necessary, or brushes against him on his way to his office, or twines his fingers with Harry’s when he finds him in the kitchen late at night, making a cup of tea.

He’s also taken to wanking every day just to be able to function at work. He’s both slightly ashamed and wonderfully smug about it.

Ernestina throws him stern looks when she catches him staring at Harry’s fit form, but she doesn’t comment on Draco behaving like a lovesick teenager, for which Draco’s grateful.

Draco's still trying to decide what he's going to do about him and Harry when Harry comes back. It’s late on a Friday night. Draco had put Scorpius to bed an hour before. It wasn’t easy this time — in fact, it hadn’t been for the few days since Harry had gone. Scorpius dealt with change the same way that Draco dealt with his feelings: he kept everything in, unable or unwilling to put them into words, but the emotions always found a way out. Scorpius was reacting just as he had when Greg had left. Then Harry had come into their lives, and Scorpius’ focus had shifted to him. Each night, Draco had found things rearranged differently in Scorpius’s room, in ways he was fairly certain his son had not consciously intended. The tent in the left corner had filled with throw pillows and plush toys as if to become even more welcoming of a child in need of a hiding space. The fourth page of Wednesday’s Daily Prophet, a large picture of Draco and Harry walking side by side toward the Caduceus offices, had found its way on Scorpius’s bedside table.

Scorpius had cried and clung to Draco after he’d read to him, when he was about to turn off the lights and say goodnight. He’d held him for a long time, letting him rock his little body back and forth like Dr Dawson had told him it was okay to do when he was upset. The rocking and Draco’s deep breaths, inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale to remind Scorpius that he was supposed to do the same, had eventually tired Scorpius enough for him to fall asleep in Draco's arms. Draco had tucked him in under the blankets and set the usual motion-sensing charms before quietly returning to his office.

Draco's in the middle of a report when Harry knocks. He knows it’s him before he even hears his voice. His heart speeds up in his chest, almost painfully. Even in the middle of his mildly obsessive thoughts about Harry, he hadn’t realised how much he’s actually missed the infuriating prat.

“Enter,” Draco says, hoping his voice sounds more detached than he feels.

The door opens, and Harry walks in. He looks tired, like there’s something on his mind he doesn’t want to be thinking about. His vivid green eyes, as startling as ever, are shadowed and careful. He stands close to the door, like he’s unsure whether Draco has time for him or not. Unsure whether Draco will ask him to stay.

And suddenly Draco knows. Knows it down to the marrow of his bones.

He wants Harry to stay.

He wants Harry.

“Hi.” Draco smiles at Harry, unbidden, suddenly shy. “Welcome home.”

Something breaks in Harry’s guarded expression. He strides over to Draco in five quick steps.

Draco is on his feet—he didn’t realise he was no longer sitting.

He walks around his desk and closes the remaining distance.

Harry’s eyes are so wide and green. His arms are reaching for Draco.

So Draco slides his hands in Harry’s hair.

And kisses him.

Chapter Text

The kiss is nothing like the chaste brushes of lips they’ve shared until now.

With his eyes closed, all Draco can do is feel. He holds Harry’s face between his hands and kisses him, fiercely. He kisses him open-mouthed and hungry, the slide of Harry’s lips opening under his like a lightning bolt down his spine. He licks the inside of Harry’s bottom lip, holds his tongue there, waits.

The most glorious thing is when Harry kisses him back with a desperate sound.

Hands in each other’s hair, Harry licking hot and wet and soft inside Draco’s mouth, they stumble back a few steps. Draco feels it all with frightening clarity — the intimate light of his study, filtering through his closed eyelids; Harry’s hands, sliding down, cupping the sides of his neck; the taste of his lips, the heat of his breath hitting his face as he pulls back a second just to look at Draco’s face. 

“Draco…” Harry breathes, pressing his forehead against Draco’s, and Draco pulls him in and kisses him more.

The back of Draco's knees hit the sofa. When he opens his eyes, he has a hand tangled in Harry’s hair and another unconsciously fingering Harry’s belt. His face feels hot, and he somehow manages to blush some more.

“Do you wanna…” Harry asks, trailing off. His eyes are so green and so desperate from this close. His breath is coming out ragged and rushed. And yes. Draco wants. He forgot how it felt to want someone that way. He doesn’t know what to do with it — how to ask for it.

And so Draco folds himself onto the sofa, pulls Harry by the belt until he’s standing between Draco’s open legs. He shivers when he looks up at Harry. There’s something overwhelmed, almost painful in Harry’s face. When he reaches down to cup Draco’s cheek, slide his thumb over a cheekbone, Draco closes his eyes.

“Draco. Do you want this?”

In response, Draco pushes his face into Harry’s palm, breathes him in. Licks along his lifeline, and Harry’s breath hitches.

“Yes,” Draco says quietly. He looks up at Harry from under his lashes, his face still in Harry’s palm. “We said that when you come back…” He swallows, looks for his next words. “I’m done waiting. I’m ready. ” He wraps his fingers around Harry’s wrist, nuzzles at his palm. “I want you,” he confesses, eyes shut.

“God, Draco…” Harry’s fingers close around a fistful of hair. “I want you so much.”

“Me too,” Draco tells him mindlessly, arching his neck into Harry’s touch. “Me too,” he says again, just because he can.

Harry wants him.

Harry wants him, and he can’t quite believe his luck.

Draco tugs at Harry’s belt and opens his eyes. Harry’s staring at him, heavy-lidded and slack-jawed, and when Draco undoes the buckle and pulls it open, he lets out a strangled, surprised little whine that goes straight to Draco’s cock. He pulls Harry’s jeans down and Harry wiggles to help, pushing down his boxers, letting his half-hard cock hang free as he bends to toe off his trainers and socks, stands again to roughly pull his t-shirt off.

And just like that, Harry is standing in front of him naked, with only his round glasses on, and Draco’s throat has gone dry. He lets his gaze travel Harry’s body, his broad shoulders and the graceful wings of his collarbones, his strong chest and flat belly and the dark hair trailing down from his navel to the thatch of curls surrounding his cock. It’s dark and thick and it twitches slightly as it fills under Draco’s gaze, and Draco swallows down an embarrassing sound of want. He looks back at Harry’s face. He wants to smile at him, but it feels forced. He curses his lack of experience — his lack of spontaneity. How do other people do this? Draco wants — oh, how he wants — but knowing where to start is elusive and overwhelming.

Harry makes the decision for him. He strokes Draco’s hair out of his face, tucks it behind his ear with warm, featherlight knuckles. There’s a raw, reverent tenderness in the way he touches Draco, and Draco is helpless and unreserved in his hands. Harry’s fingers trail along the collar of Draco’s shirt. They stop against his pulse point, a question.

“You could take this off,” Harry suggests, but doesn’t push. Draco shivers and nods, never taking his eyes off Harry’s. And then in all his glorious nakedness, Harry kneels between Draco’s legs.

“Harry…” Draco murmurs, not knowing what else to say, as Harry lifts up on his knees, kisses his neck, licks into the dip above his collarbones as he unbuttons Draco's shirt. Harry’s fingers trace light lines along the patches of naked skin that he reveals with each button he undoes, sliding against the light hair scattered on Draco’s chest, catching on his nipples, on the ropey ridges of his scars. Draco whimpers, sinks his teeth into his bottom lip. Harry’s touch is lighting him on fire. It’s good — so good. And it shouldn’t be. Merlin, it shouldn’t be. Nobody has ever touched him there — touched him this way. His scars were still healing when he laid naked in Pansy’s and Blaise’s bed, all those years ago, and just brushing against them hurt. Astoria had loved him so much, but somehow she’d never managed to fall in love with that particular disfigurement of his. 

And Harry… 

Harry has seen him shirtless. He knows what’s under Draco’s clothes: the scars, the Mark. It shouldn’t matter. And yet Draco wants to hide. He doesn’t feel defiant like he did that first time he let Harry see his chest; he feels freakish, unattractive. He wishes he could keep his clothes on just for that, and he feels his breathing come faster and laboured, his eyes screwed shut, his senses shutting down. Just the sensation of too fast, too fast, too much, on a loop in his brain.

He’s not sure what Harry sees in his expression. His eyes are closed, and he starts when Harry’s hands come to rest on the dip of his waist.

“Look at me, Draco.”

Draco does.

Harry’s here, still kneeling, patient and waiting, and he’s just… Harry. His body is warm between Draco’s legs, his skin inviting in the dim light of the study. His face is bathed in the glow of the lamp on Draco’s desk and he looks younger, artless, and somehow that’s what crumbles Draco’s last walls. They’re the same, he and Harry. Despite everything — despite life taking them in opposite directions then bringing them back together in the most improbable way — they match, inevitable. Draco holds Harry’s gaze, focusses on the feel of Harry’s hands sliding up and down his sides, soothing him, grounding him. Harry touches him, an awed expression on his face, as if he can’t quite believe it’s happening. A mirror to Draco’s feelings. He touches him like every one of his scars is beautiful, sensitive, erotic. He should know — he’s the one who put them on Draco’s body. Marked him as his. With a soft whine, Draco reaches for Harry’s face, pulls him close, kisses him. Harry melts into the kiss, melts against him with a soft, encouraging moan. And just like that, with the slide of Harry’s hands on the fabric of his shirt, on the flies of his trousers, with their hands desperately grabbing at one another, with their tongues sliding hot and hungry together…  

Draco lets go.

Harry gets Draco naked and pressed down into the sofa cushions and Draco barely notices how it happens. Harry buries his head in Draco’s neck, trailing slow kisses, biting, licking. Everything about it is slow, attentive, like Harry is listening, waiting for Draco’s cues to continue or stop. Draco is so entranced with the thought of Harry — impulsive, headstrong Harry — holding back for his sake, that he forgets about everything else. When the hard length of Harry’s cock slides against his thigh, hot and maddening, Draco’s breath catches. Oh, yes, he’d forgotten… about this. The truth of what they’re doing, of what they’re about to do. He blushes again, hides his face into the cushions, embarrassed by his own innocence. On top of him, Harry holds still, his lips against Draco’s shoulder, trying to control his breath. God, the feel of Harry’s body covering his is like a revelation. The pliant weight of him is like water to a man dying of thirst. Draco is suddenly glad for his years of chastity; suddenly glad Harry gets to be the first one in such a long time. The last person he got to touch like that was Astoria… he lets his mind rest on the thought for a second, wonders if she'd be happy for him, if she'd poke good-natured fun about Harry — finally, someone else found the switch, about time, she’d probably say with her teasing smile. But it's been so long, and Harry's the one with him now. So he holds Harry’s head in his hands, thumbs bracketing his face. Harry’s cheeks are pink, his eyebrows drawn, his eyes gleaming in the soft half-light.

“More,” Draco whispers. Harry gives a tentative thrust of the hips, his cock sliding between Draco’s thighs. Draco arches his neck with a hiss. “Yes.”

Harry lifts his hands to cup his face, brings their lips together, halfway between a kiss and a devouring hunger. He rocks his hips forward and his cock aligns with Draco’s, so desperately hard they both moan into each other’s mouth.

“You feel so good,” Harry mumbles when their lips part, hungry, incoherent. He’s still holding back. He lifts his head to bite at Draco’s shoulder, follows the bite with an open-mouthed kiss. His whole body is trembling, his shoulder blades damp and shivering under Draco’s palms.

“You can give me more,” Draco whispers. “I’m not going to break.”

Harry gasps, rocking against Draco again. “God, Draco. That voice of yours – you drive me wild.”

“Do I?” Draco grins into Harry’s hair. Their movements are more purposeful now, Harry’s body perfectly slotted against his, his own legs wrapped around Harry’s thighs, their dripping pricks trapped between their bellies. Draco’s wanking fantasies flash blurily in his mind as Harry slides a lubed hand between their bodies and takes both their cocks into his fist. Draco lets out a moan so loud and wanton he’d be embarrassed by it, if Harry’s gaze wasn’t on his all this time, glasses a little fogged up, eyes glazed with desire, mouth open in a silent gasp. Draco smiles and lifts his hand to Harry’s face, takes off his spectacles, lets them drop on the floor on top of their clothes.

“Thanks,” Harry laughs shakily, and starts pumping his fist. Draco’s head falls against the cushions. He closes his eyes, giving himself over to the sensation, the heat coursing through his body like magic.

“Talk to me,” Harry’s voice reaches him. He sounds strained. Wrecked. It’s all Draco’s doing. “Tell me how it feels…”

“Feels so good, Harry. You feel amazing. This—” Draco starts. Has to stop when Harry twists his fist to squeeze them tighter. “This is even better than what I imagined it would be.”

“Yeah? Did you imagine it? You and me?” Harry asks, panting, rocking into his own fist and bringing Draco closer to the edge with each pump, each question. “Naked, fucking on your sofa like a pair of randy teenagers?”

“Fuck, yes,” Draco says through gritted teeth, opening his eyes to find Harry staring hungrily at his face, pupils blown so wide the green has almost disappeared. “I spent — ah! — the last fortnight wanking to thoughts of you, you beautiful bastard.” Harry lets a strangled moan and Draco continues, spurred on by the effect his words have on Harry. “I could barely function – almost ran my company to the ground for you.” He slides his hands to Harry’s arse for good measure, grabs so hard he’s sure he’s leaving bruises.

“Fuck,” Harry moans, bucking his hips, his hand redoubling in speed over their erections. They’re both panting, gasping for release, lost in the slide of their bodies, the heat of their eyes and lips on each other. Draco’s hands slide further down, the fingers of his right hand finding their way to Harry’s crease. Harry lets out a growl and Draco feels a fresh wash of precome drip onto his belly. He almost laughs, exhilarated by the effect he has on the man who reduces him to a babbling, sweating mess himself.

“Like that, do you?” he whispers against Harry’s neck, nipping at his earlobe. Harry nods frantically into his shoulder. 

“Draco –” Harry's voice comes out strangled, pleading. His black hair is sticking to his sweaty forehead, and Draco feels incredibly sexy, powerful, wanted. He pushes up into Harry’s fist and gasps.

“Make me come first,” Draco says, and now he sounds like he’s begging too, “Please. Please, Harry — I want to watch you as you come.”

With a groan, Harry lets go of their cocks, lifts off from Draco’s body, sits back on his heels. From where Draco is lying on the sofa, he gets an unimpeded view of Harry’s body, slick with sweat, his hard, ruddy cock jutting forward, untouched. And then Harry smiles at him slowly — smirks at him, like he’s about to pull the rug from under him — and leans forward. He lowers his head over Draco’s cock, keeps his eyes on Draco for a heart-stopping moment, before licking a long stripe from root to tip. Then he takes him into his mouth, and Draco’s vision goes white around the edges.

“Fuck,” he says, almost a sob, and fists his hands in Harry’s hair.

Harry sucks him, standing on all fours above Draco’s spread legs, arse in the air. Draco desperately wants to touch him, yet all he seems to be able to do is pull Harry’s hair tighter, listen to Harry’s soft moans reverberate through his body. Harry sucks him so good, and Draco forgets about his misgivings, fights not to push deeper into Harry’s mouth, so hot and soft. He slides his hands down Harry's neck, rests his palms each side of Harry's face, feeling his own cock bump inside Harry's cheek. His orgasm catches him unawares, steals his breath, too fast. He feels it happen a split second before he can warn Harry, and then he comes. And comes... It’s a long moment, suspended in time, where all he can think of is white-out bliss. Then his arched back falls against the sofa cushions, his pulsing cock still in Harry’s mouth, his hips pushing up in a few last exquisite thrusts.

Harry lifts his head up, panting. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, throat working. His face is red and shiny. There’s something thrilling in his eyes — feral yet contained — and Draco reaches for his hand, pulls.

“Come here,” Draco whispers, out of breath. “Come for me.”

Harry falls forward, his legs still bracketing Draco’s, one hand braced next to Draco’s face, his cock hard and heavy as it hangs between his legs. He takes it in his hand and starts fisting it. His frantic breath hits Draco’s face, a soft whine on each exhale. He’s not holding back anymore, and he’s so fucking hot, Draco almost regrets coming first as he lies there, surrounded by Harry, mad with the feel of him, waiting for Harry’s orgasm to mark his body again. He turns his head, nuzzles Harry’s hand next to him. Licks the soft skin between thumb and forefinger, touches his lips to Harry’s thumb, sucks it into his mouth. Harry gasps, the strength of this breath hitting Draco’s cheek, and then his entire body goes still and he comes, the heat of it splashing across Draco’s soft cock and heaving chest, his slick fist moving over his prick for a few long seconds. Draco drinks him in, the sounds escaping Harry’s mouth, the look on his face, the tension in his shoulders just before it releases, the pumps of Harry’s hand still enclosing his spent cock. When he feels like he can move again, Draco reaches up. Wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders and brings him down against him, Harry’s trembling body covering his.

They lie like this for a while, their sweat and the mess between them cooling in the darkened study. Harry lifts his head slightly, nudges Draco’s nose with his. It’s soft and intimate, and Draco’s heart swells in his chest, painful. He just had sex with Harry Potter. He just had sex with Harry. They just had sex and it was slow and heated and nearly delirious and already more perfect than Draco remembers sex to ever have been.

He’d felt so cared for.

So loved.

He knew he was falling for Harry. He just hadn’t realised it had already happened. He holds onto the man in his arms, and knows that no matter what, he’s already lost.

“That was…” Harry’s voice is a lazy murmur. His hot breath caresses Draco’s cheek.

“Yes,” Draco says, running the flat of his palm down Harry’s back. His skin is still damp, shivering in the wake of Draco’s touch.

“Worth the wait?” Harry asks, and Draco can hear his smile.

“Harry…” Draco tells him, lifting his hand to his lover’s black curls, twining his fingers in it, relishing the fact that he can. “Even waiting for you was bloody fantastic.”

Harry exhales a small laugh. Draco wonders if Harry is as relieved as he feels. Harry rolls off him. He slides a palm down Draco’s belly, traces the rivulets of come on Draco’s skin, down along the inside of his thigh. Draco squirms under his touch. When Harry looks up at him again, the question clear in his eyes, Draco can do nothing but nod. 

“I wouldn’t mind,” he tells Harry, softly.

“Give me a couple of minutes to recover,” Harry says with a crooked smile. “And then we can try… We can do whatever you want.”

Draco feels his face heat with anticipation. Harry waves his hand and casts a wordless, wandless cleaning spell over their spent bodies. It tickles, warm and pleasant, and Draco lifts his head to look at him. Harry is studying him now, the serious, guarded, almost guilty expression from earlier tonight back on his face. His hand comes to rest on Draco’s chest and he traces light, thoughtless patterns on his skin.

“We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” Harry asks in a low voice, his eyes on his hand stroking Draco’s skin.

“I think we are,” Draco tells him. Worry suddenly gnaws at the back of his mind. “Do you… not want to?”

Harry’s green eyes lift to his. They're so bloody beautiful.

“I do. I want to be with you. So fucking much.”

“Okay,” Draco says, cautious. “So we're doing this.”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles shyly at him. Draco lifts his hand, runs his thumb across his cheekbone.

“Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Merlin, I can see the headlines from miles away.”

Harry shrugs one shoulder. “Let’s keep it to ourselves for now.”

“We’re going to have to, anyway.”

A heavy silence falls after Draco’s words. They’re going to have to. If they want to keep up appearances — if they want to buy time, give Harry enough to convince the Ministry of Draco’s innocence… 

“Yeah… I’m sorry it has to be this way. I wish—” Harry sits with his back against the sofa and sighs. He reaches for Draco’s hand, and Draco twines their fingers together. They let them slide slowly, back and forth. The study is warm and dark and intimate, and Draco wishes… wishes this could be the whole truth. Nothing between them but this feeling of kinship and overflowing want. Nothing preventing Draco from letting himself fall in love with Harry, fully and irrevocably.

Instead… instead, if this is all he’s ever going to get, he’ll take it. For as long as it lasts.

“Harry,” Draco says after a moment. “I’d prefer things to be simple and straightforward. Of course I would. Merlin, I… Given the circumstances, I don’t see another way.”

Harry shakes his head. “I could have stayed away from you.”

“No.” The word comes out forceful. Harry throws him a look, and Draco’s face softens. “No. I’m… glad you didn’t.”

Harry turns his face towards the fire. His profile is half in shadows.

“I’ve wanted you for a long time,” he confesses, soft, almost to himself. 

Draco doesn’t tell him he’s wanted him forever, too.

Harry must take Draco’s silence for reproach — wariness. He turns his gaze back at him. His eyes are wistful, like he knows something Draco doesn’t.

“I’m not betraying you,” Harry murmurs. His fingers slide between Draco’s, back and forth, a reminder of their first touch.

“I know,” Draco whispers back.

“Do you?”

Draco shifts his eyes away. “Yes.” His throat feels tight. He wants Harry to take him in his arms again. To take him, and make him forget. “Just… promise me.”

Harry moves. He slides up Draco’s body. His weight feels so good. An anchor, a truth, in a sea of shifting, faceless threats. He takes Draco’s face between warm hands.

“I promise you.”

Draco reaches up, hand in Harry’s hair, and brings his face down to kiss him.

Chapter Text

Harry wakes up just before sunrise in an unfamiliar bed that still feels strangely safe. In the dark, he can make out the shape of the man sleeping quietly by his side, curled under the sheets, facing Harry in an unconscious display of trust.

Draco.

His chest swells with almost unbearable affection. There’s also guilt in there, hidden in the shadows. He ignores it.

Last night was… Harry is at a loss for comparisons. He’s never had anything like it. He studies Draco’s calm, sleeping face as his eyes adjust to the darkness. They had honest-to-god made love until the fire had died in the hearth of Draco’s study. Until Harry had felt like he’d shown Draco all the overflowing desire he felt for him, and then reached within himself to find more. Yeah, he’d always find more. He doesn’t think he can ever reach the bottom of it. He sees it now: it’s been there since he was a teenager — dormant under layers of antagonism too intense for comfort. 

Draco had taken Harry’s wrist and guided his hand between his legs, all the while watching Harry with eyes dark with lust, and Harry had let him. He’d known, instinctively, to let Draco take charge of it. Draco had spread his legs further, fingers on Harry’s pulse point, until the tip of Harry’s middle finger had grazed the slicked skin of his rim. He’d taken a hissing inhale, and Harry had pressed inside, feeling Draco flutter and open around him. 

Watching Draco — cool, collected, intimidatingly gorgeous Draco — respond to his touch was intoxicating.

Harry had held himself over him, sliding his erection between Draco’s arsecheeks until Draco was trembling, grasping at his neck and asking — begging — him to finally fuck him. Harry had grabbed his leg and lifted it over his shoulder and pushed in, slow, slow and deep. He’d fucked him and kissed him and held him until he’d come, until Harry had come with him. It was only after his orgasm had ebbed away that he’d realised he’d murmured whispered endearments into Draco’s neck the whole time, and Draco had answered every one of them.

Later, Draco had taken the cushions from the sofa and laid them on the carpet in front of the fire, explaining that he was getting cold. He’d laid Harry on his back and straddled him, his hair a wild, golden halo around his face, his eyes indecently dark. He’d taken Harry’s cock and frotted against him until Harry was hard again. Then he’d guided Harry inside him, still loose from their previous fucking. Harry’d watched Draco as he’d ridden Harry, sinking down on his cock again and again. It had been late, and the fire had been dying, and Harry had felt so in love he could have died there, too.

Eventually they’d lifted themselves off the floor. Draco had grumbled he was too old for those kinds of antics, and Harry had laughed. Draco’d slid him a look and a pleased little half-smile, and had led him back to his bedroom, to his bed.

The grey light of dawn is filtering through the curtains now. Harry’s senses are still full of Draco — the taste of Draco’s skin, his lips, his sweat, the inside of his thighs, the long length of his cock, lingering on his tongue. He’d been careful with Draco last night like he hadn’t been with a lover since his first times with Ginny, and later, the first time he’d had sex with a man. There was something about this particular first time, about what Draco had revealed to Harry a few weeks before, that made Harry want to commit his every touch, his every move to memory. Draco had felt exquisitely vulnerable last night, open and trusting in a way Harry would have never expected from him if he didn’t know him so well already.

Harry rolls over, debating whether he should get up and leave Draco’s room. He mutters a quiet Tempus: it's six o’clock. Everyone in the house will be up soon. With a sigh, he swings his legs over the edge of the mattress and pats the bedside table for his glasses. His muscles are just sore enough to remind him all day of the night he’s just had. With anyone else, he’d perform a Numbing charm. With Draco… Well. Harry loves the feeling of having fucked so much he can barely walk. He doesn’t want to erase the proof of it lingering in his body.

He stands, picks up the clothes he’s dropped in a bundle near the bed. Draco hasn’t stirred yet. His closed eyelids and peaceful face are begging to be kissed. Would Draco object to being woken up for a round of slow morning sex? Not wanting to try his luck so early in the day, Harry decides to come back with a cup of coffee as enticement — shower, fresh clothes, then coffee. He pads out of Draco’s bedroom as quietly as he can. Rushing up the stairs naked, he’s suddenly more grateful than ever that Draco’s room is just a floor below his. At least there’s no risk of running into an unsuspecting child or house-elf in his state of love-bite-covered undress.

The shower Harry takes does nothing to remove the nagging presence of Draco in his mind — images of him, exquisitely dishevelled, eyes rolling back as he rode Harry’s cock in a slow, teasing rhythm; his long fingers smearing his own come across his lean, scarred belly. Harry considers having a wank right then and there, but in the end cuts that train of thought short with a spray of freezing water and a quick shaving charm to his face.

It might be the weekend, but Harry's still supposed to be presentable. It won’t do to be late just because he can’t keep his prick in check.

Neither Draco nor Scorpius seem to be awake when Harry walks down the stairs, barefoot and dressed in clean jeans and a soft grey t-shirt. The house is quiet, the soft hush of early morning only disturbed by the chirping of blue tits in the garden and the distant clanks of pots and pans in the kitchen — Ernestina getting breakfast ready, no doubt. On the landing of the first floor, Balzac limps out of Scorpius’ room to meet him, tail wagging.

“Hi, Balzac.” Harry pets the dog’s head, and is rewarded with a big doggy grin and a soft yap. “You didn’t wake Scorpius. Good boy.”

He walks down the stairs, Balzac on his heels. The dog sits in the middle of the foyer, his tail excitedly swishing back and forth on the white marble, and yaps some more. 

“What is it?” Harry smiles at him. “You want me to get you a rasher of bacon from the kitchen, is that it?” The dog lets out a soft woof, lifting his ears. Harry laughs, hand on the dining room door handle. “All right, let me see if Ernestina would be okay with it.”

He steps into the dining room, pushing a hand through his wet, messy curls, hoping last night’s activities aren’t too obvious on his ridiculously contented face, when movement across the room makes him stop short. Instinctively, he holds his breath, draws his wand and points it—

—right into the face of a formidable, stock-still Narcissa Malfoy.

Narcissa Malfoy who is here. In Draco’s house. In Draco’s dining room.

Of course she is. She’s his mother, isn’t she?

His new lover’s mother, who he is currently holding at wandpoint. While looking thoroughly well-shagged by her son.

He swallows and lowers his wand.

“I’m sorry, Narci—erm, Mrs Malfoy. Hi.” Harry aims for the most normal, casual tone he can muster. “I didn’t know you were visiting.”

As if she hadn’t just had Harry’s wand pointed at her a second ago, Narcissa holds herself straighter and nods with impressively polite dignity.

“Oh, this is a spur-of-the-moment visit, Mr Potter, I assure you. Draco doesn’t know I’m here. I couldn’t resist surprising him on his birthday.”

“Right,” Harry says, shoving his wand in his back pocket. It’s June fifth. Of course. He’s totally forgotten about the date and what it means. Great way to start a new relationship, surely. He works very hard not to fidget under the piercing blue gaze of Draco’s mother. “Sorry I pointed my wand at you.”

“You are only doing your job, Mr Potter, I believe,” she says evenly. Harry blinks and stares. It’s been over ten years since he last saw Narcissa Malfoy, but she barely looks a day older than forty. A regular user of Juvence, Harry thinks wryly. It’s funny how easily he can spot those who overdo Caduceus’ youth potion after working only a few months for Draco. Not fooled by Harry’s discreet scrutiny, Narcissa lifts an eyebrow. “It’s actually reassuring for a mother to witness the skills of her son’s bodyguard firsthand,” she says. And she then proceeds with giving him a once-over, quick but blatant. Harry blushes hard when her eyes come to a stop on the side of his neck. The largest, purplest of the love bites Draco gave him yesterday is there — he forgot to heal it after his shower, and there’s no way to hide it now. He desperately wants the earth to open beneath his feet and swallow him, especially when Narcissa’s thin lips curl into a knowing, almost-salacious smile. “But now I don’t see why I ever doubted your competence, Mr Potter. It looks like you’re quite… capable.”

Harry’s face must be bright red by now. Still, he politely smiles back at her and holds her gaze.

“It’s not my place to tell, Mrs Malfoy. Draco is the most likely to give you an objective evaluation of my performance.”

Narcissa stares at him for a second, as though she can’t quite believe he dared say the words he did. Then she lets out a surprised, delighted little laugh and shakes her head.

“Very well, Mr Potter. I shall,” she tells him with a sharp smile that doesn’t bode well for Harry. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”

Harry opens his mouth to respond when Balzac’s enthusiastic bark resonates in the foyer and Draco’s purring drawl reaches them from the bottom of the staircase.

“I should have known your bad manners extended to bed, Potter,” he’s saying. Across from Harry, Narcissa’s smile widens like the Cheshire Cat’s while Harry fights the urge to hide his face in his hands. “There’s nothing I fancy more than a morning sha—ah. Mother.”

A wonderfully debauched-looking Draco appears on the threshold, his jaw dropping and his face turning two shades pinker. If Harry had any hope of hiding what they’d been up to the night before, the sight of Draco with messy hair, rumpled t-shirt and jeans and his chin almost scratched raw from stubble burn sends it flying through the window.

Harry’s eyes flit to Narcissa. Draco’s mother is taking in her son’s appearance with barely concealed glee.

“Good morning, darling.”

Draco recovers from his obvious shock in an instant, standing straight and brushing a crease on his t-shirt as he walks into the dining room.

“And to you too, Mother. To what do I owe the… ah, unexpected yet scintillating pleasure of your visit?”

Draco doesn’t come closer to his mother, and she doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe the Malfoys are always like that, Harry thinks — or maybe Draco knows he’s already given too much away without his mother noticing the smell of Harry all over him, too.

Draco smelling like him.

Maybe the first encounter with his boyfriend’s mother — is Draco his boyfriend now? — isn’t the best time to be suddenly madly turned on by the reality of their new situation. Harry wills his cock to behave.

“As I was telling Mr Potter just before you arrived, Draco, I came here for your birthday,” she says. “I wanted to see you — and my darling Scorpius, of course. However, I can book a room at the Dorchester if my presence is going to be of any inconvenience.”

Harry cringes at the innuendo, but Draco gives his mother a benign smile.

“Please, Mother, your presence never is. Scorpius is going to be delighted, and so am I. In fact, Ernestina will go wake him up in a second, as soon as she’s finished putting breakfast together. Let me check on her.”

Marvelling at Draco’s impeccable composure in the face of embarrassment, Harry watches him disappear down the kitchen staircase. He is, once again, left to face Narcissa Malfoy alone. Her thin lips are still curved into an unsettling smile, but her eyes, now stone-cold, have lost the gleeful shine they had a minute ago.

Harry wants to fidget with the hem of his t-shirt.

“Look…” Harry starts, wanting to avoid Narcissa’s eyes and unable to do so. “It’s not… what you think.”

“No?” Narcissa’s tone is soft but deadly. A snake among high grass. “Are you going to stand here and insist that you are not actually involved with my son, Mr Potter?”

“No— I—”

“Are you telling me this is just a fling? Or worse, that you’re using him?”

Harry’s eyes widen. “What? No! Of course not.”

Narcissa nods. “Draco owes you his life, Mr Potter, perhaps on more than one level,” she says. “However, do not forget than you owe me yours.”

Harry opens his mouth to speak, but Narcissa raises a pale, long-fingered hand and continues as if he hadn’t moved. “I love my son more than anything and anyone in this world. You, of all people, know how much. We are both intelligent adults. I suppose I don’t need to specify all the ways I could make the Dark Lord’s curses feel like a sweet summer breeze to you if you ever hurt Draco.”

Harry swallows. The room is so quiet he can hear Balzac’s tail swishing against the marble floor in the foyer, Draco’s quiet exchange with Ernestina down in the kitchen. He can hear the rustle of Narcissa’s brocade robes when she moves to clutch her hands in front of her. He nods, slowly, and Narcissa’s expression softens.

“Breakfast shall be ready in a few minutes,” they hear Draco say as he climbs the stairs back into the dining room. He flicks narrowed eyes from Harry to Narcissa, taking in the tense atmosphere. “Merlin, Mother. Did you just give Harry the ‘hurt my son and I shall hunt you down and skin you alive’ talk?”

Narcissa turns a mild smile at him. “Well, yes, darling.”

“Mother,” Draco whines, shoulders slumping. Despite the unsettling effect the words of Draco’s mother had on him, Harry hide a fond smile behind his hand. Draco looks so much younger, like he’s about to throw a fit and call Narcissa Mummy. “I’m a grown man, and this is ridiculous.”

Narcissa walks closer to him and pats his cheek. “I know, darling. I can’t help it. I’m your mother… I’m just looking out for you.”

She flashes Harry one last look, somewhere between sternness and amusement, and glides out of the room.

Harry catches Draco’s eye. He feels like he can breathe again, Draco’s presence matching the brightness of the morning sunshine. They smile at each other for a long, cautiously sweet moment.

There’s a fair chance at least one of them will get hurt in whatever it is that they started, but in this moment, it’s a chance Harry is willing to take.

“Happy birthday,” he tells Draco. He must look like a lovesick idiot, and doesn’t care one bit. 

“Indeed,” Draco says. His smile grows wider.

 

*

 

That’s how Harry ends up in Draco’s study that evening, with a glass of champagne in one hand, a canape in the other, and the most improbable assortment of people he could imagine around him: Draco, his mother, Pansy and Blaise Parkinson-Zabini, Ron and Hermione. There’s also Ernestina and Scorpius, adding their slightly perplexing presence to the mix. Next to the sofa, on the lookout for fallen crumbs of canapes, Balzac lies on the floor, tail wagging.

“It was in the agenda,” Draco had rolled his eyes and reminded Harry half an hour before the first guests were due. He’d been standing in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom, fixing his tie — the silver one with green snakes, the one Harry secretly favoured for bringing out the silver hues of Draco’s eyes. 

Harry’d been sitting on Draco’s bed, hands between his knees, watching him.

“I wasn’t here the last few days, remember?”

“I do.” Draco had met his eyes through the mirror. “I haven’t asked you about it.”

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Oh, but I think we do.”

“There’s really nothing to be said about it…” Harry had shaken his head at Draco’s frown. “Not tonight, anyway.”

“Fine.” Draco had given his tie one last tug. Walking up to Harry, he’d slid a hand around Harry’s chin, lifting his head up for a possessive kiss. “Let’s go have dinner.”

“Wait.” Harry had grabbed his wrist, his lips a breath away from Draco’s. He’d gazed at him through half-closed eyes and grinned. “I got you a birthday gift.”

“Did you?” Draco had pulled back in surprise.

“Yes… It’s your birthday, isn’t it?”

“You’d forgotten about it until my mother caught you walking around looking thoroughly debauched this morning.”

Harry’d cringed. “That was an unexpected surprise.” He’d taken the Disillusioned bag hidden behind him on the bed. “But I still have a gift for you.” The spell had faded away instantly, and he’d handed it to Draco. “Here.”

Draco had taken the bag, turned it around in his hands. “It’s from Rough Trade,” he’d said flatly.

“An astute observation, Malfoy.”

Draco’d flashed him a look, but had peered inside the bag nonetheless. He’d stopped still for a speechless moment, then pulled the old vinyl from inside.

“Edith Piaf? What—?”

“I thought a new record might be a safe idea… so I went there and asked if they had French music.”

“And they gave you an Edith Piaf record?”

“That’s what the clerk suggested. What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing. Just that there might be more… contemporary artists to choose from.”

Harry had just shrugged. “I wanted to buy you something French.” Draco had huffed a laugh at that. “It’s true! And it’s also something you didn’t already have. I checked.”

“You checked?” 

“Fine. I didn’t. You have too many of them! I asked Scorpius. He seems to know them all.”

Draco had looked down at the album cover with a crooked smile. The blush on his cheekbones was all the validation Harry’d needed.  “And it’s Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

“Is it not a good song?”

“It’s a great song.”

“So?”

Draco had leaned in and kissed Harry some more. “So who’d have known you were such a massive sap, Harry Potter?”

Harry had laughed. “Happy birthday, you git.”

Draco’d stalked away, shaking his head and smiling, only stopping before he’d reached the threshold. He’d turned to study Harry, an impish glint in his eyes.

“What?” Harry had asked.

“Your friends Granger and Weasley will be joining us tonight,” Draco had said, resting his back against the door jamb, casual as you please. 

“Granger and—” Harry had stood up from the bed. “How—?”

“Oh, don’t play coy, Potter.” Draco had lifted an eyebrow, clearly amused. “You know what it’s about. Granger contacted me several weeks ago. Well. Officially, she contacted Caduceus. On behalf of the Department of Mysteries. It was all very formal, if that worries you. No breach of protocol that would impact the case against my company. At least until I answered personally and she… got rather enthusiastic about the prospect of our working together on her project.”

“Okay… You do know Ron is the Auror in charge of the Caduceus investigation, do you? You’re taking advantage of this.”

Draco had given him a wide-eyed, innocent look. “If I can’t be a bit Slytherin about it, what’s the point?”

Harry was standing in the middle of Draco’s bedroom now, torn between exasperation and laughter. “Is this how Ron and Hermione ended up with an invitation to your small, subdued, friends-only dinner party?”

Draco’s mouth had quirked at the corner.

“Let’s say there was enough room for another couple of small, subdued friends tonight.”

As if there was anything small and subdued about their present company.

Pansy and Blaise are the first to arrive in a flourish of stylish fashion, expensive perfumes and intricately wrapped gifts. Blaise looks dashing in a perfectly cut sky blue suit; Pansy looks like a caricature of a Parisian, all red lipstick, fashionable high heels, and sophisticated black bob. They make a show of stopping short when Harry appears in the doorway.

“Well hello, Mr Potter,” Pansy drawls, her dark eyes flicking up and down Harry’s body. He’s worn dress trousers and a crisp white shirt for the occasion. He supposes Pansy’s sharp fashion sense approves of his outfit, if the appreciative tilt of her head is anything to go by. There is no trace of contrition in her tone or posture. It’s as if her last words in Harry’s presence hadn’t been to hand him over to Voldemort. She holds out a red-nailed hand. “Delighted to meet you again. And for our dear Draco’s birthday, no less.”

“Call me Harry,” he tells her weakly, shaking her hand. He’s rendered momentarily tongue-tied by her blatant confidence.

Pansy saunters forward on impressively thin high heels, taking off the shawl around her shoulders. “Draco, chéri!” she calls out in the foyer. She sounds like the type of person whose speech needs every other word stressed and italicized. “Your favourite friends are here!”

“Don’t mind my wife, Harry,” Blaise says genially, following her into the house and clapping a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “She’s scared shitless that you’ll still hate her. Acting like an entitled diva is her way of avoiding uncomfortable silences.”

“Excuse you, chéri,” Pansy rounds on her husband, her black patent leather heels clicking on the marble floor. “I am, quite literally, the prima donna of Draco’s life. So rude of you to imply I’m only acting like one.” She turns her sharp eyes to Harry, and they soften a fraction. “And yes. I am terribly sorry, Potter. You may not have the best memories of me.”

Harry lifts a non committal shoulder. He’s not sure he has the strength for that kind of conversation. Pansy lowers her eyes, a faint tremble of her hand. 

“It wasn’t anything against you. I just… wanted to live.”

In the tense silence that follows, the clicking of nails in the marble corridor is unmistakable. Balzac appears in the foyer with a friendly ‘woof,’ and jumps on Blaise first, wagging his tail and slobbering over his jacket. Harry and Pansy snap out of their strained moment and exchange a quick glance.

“Down, Balzac,” Blaise is laughing, all the while holding the dog’s paw in his hand and patting his head. “I can’t believe Narcissa hasn’t found a way to poison you yet.” The dog barks and lets go of Blaise to pounce on Pansy, who lifts her hands with a screech.

“Oh my god! Fuck off, you mad beast! I don’t want your dirty paws on my fucking dress!”

The dog barks happily before bouncing down the corridor again. Pansy swipes a hand down her dress — a lovely, fitted striped thing that looks like it cost a fortune and, quite luckily, remains unmarred by Balzac’s enthusiastic attention — and shakes her head at Harry. “It’s Jean Paul Gaultier,” she hisses at him with a meaningful look, as if he could commiserate.

Ron and Hermione are next, and Ernestina gets the door before Harry can get there. Harry’s friends greet the house-elf politely while she takes Ron’s jacket and Hermione’s cardigan. They both have their noses up in the air, taking in the beautiful foyer and the majestic grand staircase. Ron whistles softly.

“Not bad, Malfoy,” he mutters under his breath, an echo to Harry’s first thought, months ago. 

“Hi Harry,” Hermione smiles when she sees him. Her grin turns teasing. “Are you the butler, in addition to being the bodyguard?”

“Oh, ha ha, Hermione," Harry says. “Very funny.” She snickers at his disgruntled expression but he hugs her anyway. “The birthday boy is already entertaining his other guests in his study. I was merely fetching you.”

Ron is leaning over a vase of grey hydrangeas, sniffing with a suspicious air. Ernestina watches him with a nonplussed frown, and Harry swiftly catches his friend by the elbow and leads him to the study, nodding at Hermione to follow them.

“I was enjoying the smell of the flowers!” Ron protests when Harry glares.

“Please drop the Auror mode for tonight?” Harry pleads. “It’s Draco’s birthday, and you’re his guests… I would appreciate if you’d acted like it.”

“Harry,” Hermione intervenes, hand on his arm. They’re standing in the middle of the corridor leading to Draco’s study. Harry can hear warm voices, laughter and piano notes escaping from behind the door. “Don’t you know? We can’t do anything here that the house would consider ill-intentioned.” At Harry’s and Ron’s blank looks, she rolls her eyes. “It’s standard house magic! It’s such fascinating magical theory, I can’t believe you never knew that!”

“Is it something we’re supposed to learn in books like Hogwarts, A History? Because if it is, then no wonder,” Ron says.

“Maybe that’s why Harry hasn’t managed to make a meaningful break in the case,” Hermione muses. “Maybe the house is diverting his attention.”

Ron leans closer to Harry. He lifts an eyebrow and nods at Harry’s neck. “Honey. I think someone else is diverting Harry’s attention…”

Hermione grabs Harry’s chin and turns his head before he can protest, exposing the side of his neck and the unmistakable love bite on it. Her jaw drops.

“Harry!” she hisses. She lets go of his chin, and he rubs a hand across his jaw.

“Fucking warn a bloke?” Harry says, a bit petulantly.

“Did… did something happen?” Hermione asks him, eyes wide. “With Draco?”

Harry looks from one friend’s concerned, expectant face to the other. His shoulders slump. “Yes.”

Hermione covers her mouth.

“Is it serious between you two?” Ron asks. Harry expected Ron to tease him or scold him. Instead, his expression is grave and earnest. 

“I think so,” Harry sighs. “Last night, we…” He feels his face heat. Ron and Hermione exchange a glance. “We’re definitely together. His mother knows… maybe even his friends.”

“Narcissa Malfoy is here?” Ron groans.

“Of course she’s here, Ron!” Hermione says. “She’s his mum!”

Ron scratches his cheek. “When you put it like that, it sounds almost sweet.”

“Anyway,” Harry clears his throat. “Can you please behave tonight? It would mean a lot.”

“Harry wants to make a good impression on his boyfriend’s mum,” Ron sings-songs under his breath.

“We’ll be nice, Harry.” Hermione pats his arm. “All I want to talk about with Draco is our project.”

“Mate, the ‘Project’ is all she’s been talking about for weeks,” Ron tells Harry.

“Draco hasn’t mentioned it until this afternoon,” Harry says.

“That’s Slytherin versus Gryffindor for you.” Ron shrugs. “I know which one I like best.”

“Aw, darling.” Hermione plants a kiss on her husband’s cheek. “All right, the kids are with Molly and Arthur until tomorrow afternoon. I intend to drink my weight in champagne.” She pushes the study door open and disappears inside. The sound of polite greetings reach the corridor as Harry regards Ron with a raised eyebrow, the question lingering in the air.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ron says, lifting his hands. “No Auror mode tonight. Which means I’ve a desperate need to get sloshed and eat a tray of canapés. I reckon it’s time we go celebrate your crush’s thirty first, yeah?”

 

*

 

Draco’s birthday dinner is surprisingly delightful despite the mismatched crowd. They all gather in Draco’s study, the wide open French doors letting the sounds and smells of a late spring evening drift inside. After a few minutes where everybody seems to stare stonily at one another, Scorpius interrupts the stilted conversations by announcing he’s going to play a piano piece for his father’s birthday. 

“Waltz in A Minor,” he says as he clambers on the stool in front of the grand piano. 

It’s only been a couple of weeks since Scorpius' accident. His magic is still unstable, sometimes rolling off him in waves that feel loud against Harry’s skin, sometimes going quiet for hours. He seems unaffected by the magical turmoil, though. Harry, as always, is utterly impressed with the boy’s resilience. Scorpius takes a breath, puts his hands on the keys, and a lilting, melancholy melody rises from the piano. The assembled guests fall silent. Even though Harry has heard it before — Scorpius has been practising ceaselessly for weeks — he still holds his breath while the child plays. Around him, the guests look on, equally mesmerised. Pansy squeezes Blaise’s hand between her own. Hermione has her mouth open. Ron holds a forgotten canapé between thumb and middle finger. Narcissa and Ernestina both discreetly dab at their eyes with handkerchiefs. And behind the sofa, Draco stands with his arms folded and an expression so proud Harry has to look away, like he’s witnessed something hidden, intimate.

Scorpius finishes and lays his hands on the keys, tap tap tap, in the hush of the study. Then he climbs down the stool, turns to the guests and bows. “Happy birthday, Daddy,” he says in his high, flat voice. Everybody claps, and Scorpius smiles — a small, cautious tug of lips. 

Harry feels like someone has lit a Lumos in his chest.

Later, Scorpius comes back to say goodnight. He’s in his dinosaur pyjamas, Ernestina waiting for him with a cup of cocoa in her hand. The only person Scorpius kisses goodnight in the room is his father. Pansy smiles toothily and Hermione’s mouth softens in a silent ‘aww’.

“Dinner is ready, Mistors and Misses,” Ernestina. says before following the little boy upstairs. “Mistor Draco ask Ernestina not to go out of my way,” she adds with an affronted tilt of her eyebrows. “Apologies if the Mistors and Misses don’t find dinner to their likings. It is Mistor Draco’s fault, sirs.”

“Still the sharp tongue, I see,” Narcissa comments to Draco with a lifted eyebrow when the house elf is gone and Draco leads them to the dining room. Harry can’t tell if her tone is disapproving or admiring.  

Unsurprisingly, despite Draco’s instructions, Ernestina positively cooked a feast. The table is sagging under delicious-smelling dishes. Harry spots some of his favourite English classics, but a few plates sport continental influences — French, Spanish, possibly Italian. There’s a tray of cheeses that’s larger than Harry’s coffee table at Grimmauld Place. His mouth waters.

“Circe,” Pansy exclaims as she drops in a chair by the cheeses. “I knew we were right to accept your invitation for Ernestina’s cooking alone!”

Draco clutches his chest, mock-offended. “You wound me, Pansy. Here I was, thinking you’d traveled from Paris for my pretty face and winning personality.”

“That, too,” Blaise gives a half-smile and starts pouring everyone wine.

They all take seats around the table — Harry ends up between Draco and his mother. From across the table, Blaise lifts an eyebrow as if to say, Tough luck, and Harry feels it. He hasn’t dared touch Draco since the guests arrived, and he’s itching to reach out under the table and wrap his hand around Draco’s bony knee. Perhaps sitting next to Narcissa Malfoy, who’s watching him like a hawk, isn’t ideal for that endeavour.

The conversation stays quiet and pleasant as everybody tucks in, helping themselves out of Ernestina’s rich selection. Harry is halfway through his first serving of mash and peas when he catches Draco’s conversation with Hermione. Draco’s leaning forward and listening intently as she catches him up on her department’s most recent findings.

“See,” Hermione's saying, gesturing so enthusiastically with her fork that Ron has to lean back. “I think the next step would be to have Caduceus approved as a supplier for the Ministry. That would help the exchange of information and research tremendously.”

Caduceus isn’t going to be anybody’s supplier, Granger,” Draco says, his crooked smile making it sound like a friendly jab rather than a rebuttal. “We can be partners, and that’s the best I can do.”

“Partners. Sure.”

“Don’t listen to her, mate,” Ron tells Draco. He’s got a mouthful of green beans and doesn’t seem to notice Narcissa’s slight scowl. “Anything to get you to say yes. She’s talked my ears off about this project.”

“What project?” Pansy asks.

“Well,” Hermione says. She leans back into her chair, glass of red in hand. 

“Careful… that’s her ‘about to give you a lecture’ face,” Harry mutters, and everyone giggles — except for Narcissa who’s trying to conceal her bewilderment behind the most neutral face Harry’s ever seen on her. Hermione rolls her eyes, undeterred, and launches in an explanation.

“I can’t give too many details about my job, but let’s just say I specialise in the field of Healing research for the Ministry.”

“Unspeakable,” Draco says to his mother over Harry’s shoulder, an explanation. Narcissa nods.

“When Harry started working here…" Hermione hesitates, then says, "I read more on Caduceus’ activities. Until then, I mainly knew Draco’s company for its biggest hit, shall we say...”

“To Juvence,” Pansy lifts her glass with a smirk, and Blaise clinks his glass to hers.

“Hear, hear!”

“But you do so much more!” Hermione sits straighter, an earnestness on her face that reminded Harry of her most determined library moments at Hogwarts. “Before Caduceus, the wizarding world had to rely on independent apothecaries and potion Masters. There were barely any standards in brewing potions, and quality and strength would vary widely from one potioneer to the next. It’s as if the entire Potions industry was freelance. And that wasn’t the only limitation!” Hermione points a finger up, and everybody around the table listens. “If everyone works in their own corners, there’s no confronting ideas. There’s no discussing about what works, what could work better, what others are doing that could inspire us. There’s no innovation!” She pushes her chair back and gets up, setting her glass on the table and gesturing to the other guests, tipsy and passionate. “Innovation! It’s the crux of the matter! The Muggle world has progressed in tremendous leaps over the last century, and where has the wizarding world stood in the meantime? Teaching children potions and spells that have not budged an inch since the Middle Ages, and never once looking beyond its meticulously groomed fences to take inspiration from the way other humans lived!”

Harry’s not sure Hermione’s standpoint speaks to someone like Narcissa Malfoy, but he supposes it doesn’t matter. Next to him, Draco’s face is pink, and he’s vehemently nodding his approval before he jumps on his feet, too.

“Exactly!” Draco exclaims. He and Hermione look like they’re about to invite everyone for a round dance. “That’s what Caduceus is about! You can’t have a potions company without a proper Research and Development department.”

Hermione beams at him. “And when I read that Draco’s company had started training its research teams in Muggle medicine and pharmacology… I just had to talk to him. Imagine putting the Unspeakables magical knowledge and Caduceus’ expertise into developing the future of wizarding and Muggle cures!”

Draco smiles back at her over the table, and Harry wonders how he didn’t notice Draco and his best friend becoming… friends. They must have been in touch for weeks. Hermione had clearly jumped on the opportunity to contact Draco as soon as Harry’d told her she could. But she’s not just here to talk business. She’s here because, from all appearances… Draco has come to like her. And she likes him.

“You never do anything half-heartedly, do you?” Pansy muses from behind her glass of wine. No one can tell if she’s talking about Draco or Hermione.

“Nope,” Draco says, stressing the ‘p’. He lifts his chin proudly. “Potiones sine corde Venenum est.”

“And I always put my heart into things too,” Hermione adds.

“Maybe you should consider changing your logo,” Harry suggests. As soon as the words are out, five pairs of eyes turn towards him. The only person who seems to have no idea what they’re talking about is Ron, who shrugs from the other side of the table. Harry squirms in his chair. “I mean… it’s rather ominous, isn’t it? The snake, the wand shooting sparks?...”

“But Harry,” Hermione sits back at the table, “it’s the caduceus. That’s the logo.”

“Have you never seen the sign on Muggle pharmacies, Potter?” Draco sits next to him. His expression is suddenly unreadable, and Harry’s not sure he likes it.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t know what they’re talking about, mate,” Ron announces, shrugging.

“Yes, but Harry grew up with Muggles,” Hermione explains patiently.

 Harry feels his temper rising for the first time in days. “Thanks? For the awkward situation? How was I supposed to know—”

Draco places his hand on Harry’s. On the table, where everyone can see. And Harry’s certain everyone around the table has their eyes fixed on their joined hands, but Draco is only looking at him.

“You were raised by utter dicks,” Draco says softly. “You had more important things to do than notice those signs. I, on the other hand, had never seen one until I’d decided what I wanted to do with my life. Of course the snakes and staff held a crucial meaning for me. I wanted to do with Caduceus what Muggles had done with medicine. Try to put everyone’s magical Healing knowledge and access on the same level.”

Harry looks at him. Takes in the passionate way Draco talks about his life’s work. He looks at his beautiful face, his eyes the colour of a cloudy sky, his mouth held in a serious line. Immerses himself in Draco’s single-minded focus, soothing like walking into a warming spell. He lifts his other hand and cups Draco’s cheek, thumb sliding across his sharp cheekbone.

“I’m so fucking proud of you,” Harry tells him, equally soft, but everyone can hear.

And everyone has heard: when Draco’s eyes flick to the other guests and Harry remembers they’re not alone, he finds his friends and Draco’s watching them, their eyes a fraction wider.

Someone clears their throat in the doorway, and all heads snap to Ernestina, her hands crossed in front of her neatly pressed pink blouse.

“That is all very lovely, Mistor Draco and Mistor Potter, sirs. But Ernestina sees all the food is gone. Shall Ernestina brings Mistor his birthday cake?”

Harry nods alongside Draco. Nobody can say no to birthday cake. 

Especially if it’s baked by Ernestina.

 

*

 

Dinner reaches its end in a more subdued atmosphere than it had started. Ernestina brings an enormous chocolate cake laden with small birthday candles. Someone makes a joke about it being bright enough that they don’t need the lights on. Good natured jabs about Draco’s ancient age ensue, and Draco laughs and gives his friends tit for tat. The cake disappears in less than ten minutes and is replaced with cups of tea, hot cocoa, and, in the case of Blaise, a glass of bas armagnac.

Narcissa stands and waves gracefully goodbye after taking a miniscule bite of cake and drinking verbena tea from a dainty golden teacup.

“I’ll leave you young people to help my son celebrate,” she says, retiring for the night. “I had a lovely time.” The word ‘lovely’ seems out of place in her mouth, like she’s at a loss for a more accurate description. Perhaps she is: Harry doubts dinners at Malfoy Manor were ever so… relaxed. There are smears of sauce and wine across the white tablecloth; Blaise is leaning his chair on two legs as he sips his drink with a contented air; Pansy licks the chocolate off her fingers; Hermione scribbles notes in a notepad she produced from Merlin knows where; and Ron’s eyes are slowly closing. Draco’s cheeks are pink, and Harry wouldn’t trade this evening for anything else.

Harry gets a whiff of Narcissa’s rose perfume as she leans over Draco. “Happy birthday, baby boy,” she whispers as she kisses him goodnight, but Harry catches it.

“Baby boy?” Harry elbows Draco once his mother has left.

“Shut it, or I shall hex you into a toad,” Draco answers from the side of his mouth.

The remaining guests shuffle back to the study, glasses in hand, the remainder of their bottle of red floating behind them with Pansy’s skilled Leviosa. The doors to the garden have been left open; the night is cool and fragrant, the solitary note of a nocturnal bird trilling in the hedges. Hermione conjures a blanket and lays it down on the dewy grass. The rest of their little group follows, except for Pansy who finds Draco’s newest vinyl record on his desk.

“Oooh, I love this song!” she says. She puts the record on and tipsily hums along, gliding out in the garden where they all greet her with hoots and cheers. She opens her arms, face lifted towards the black, starry sky, and roars, “Rien de rien! Non, je ne regrette rien!”. Blaise waves his arms like a conductor. Next to Harry, sitting on Hermione’s blanket, Draco holds his sides and collapses from laughter. They’re all pleasantly tipsy, laughing and smiling and finishing the little conversations they started over dinner, and Balzac goes from one friend to the other, begging for pats on the head and belly rubs. 

They sit outside for a while, until Blaise slaps the ground as he lifts himself from the blanket. 

“Well. I suppose we ought to get going as well,” he says. Then, flashing a smile at Draco and Harry, “Best leave Draco alone with his new conquest.”

Pansy snorts into her glass of wine. “Conquest? Blaise, you make Draco sound like a fucking Don Juan.”

“Well, he did manage to pull Harry Potter,” Blaise waggles his eyebrows and winks at Harry.

“I wouldn’t count him as a conquest,” Pansy says, waving her hand offhandedly. “As if Draco would ever sleep with someone for anything less than looooove.”

At Pansy’s thoughtless comment, Draco freezes next to Harry. Slowly, all eyes turn to him. Pansy’s hand lifts, as if in slow motion, to cover the quiet ‘oh’ formed by her mouth.

“Well, shit, Pansy,” Blaise murmurs in the stunned silence.

Harry turns to Draco.

“Is it… is it true?” he asks softly, still too loud. He can hear his breath in his ears.

Draco doesn’t look at him — flinches, his features tense like he’s in pain — then swiftly gets on his feet.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he says. He stalks inside before Harry can take his hand, and disappears through the French doors.

Everyone turns to Pansy.

“Fuck me,” she says, setting her glass of wine in the grass.

“I’ll go get him,” Harry says, and all but runs after Draco.

Inside, the house is quiet; all lights are out. Harry checks the dining room first. The table hasn’t been cleared. It’s still covered in chocolate-smeared dessert plates, half-empty cups of tea, unfolded napkins. The whole room has a forlorn air, something that resonates painfully inside Harry’s chest. He goes down to the kitchen, sticks his head in the wine cellar. He goes back to the dark, empty foyer. He climbs the stairs as quietly as he can. Ernestina’s door is closed. He feels the motion-sensing wards around Scorpius’ bedroom as he passes it on the landing — no light in there, either. It’s only when he’s about to reach the second floor that he sees the sliver of light escaping from inside Draco’s bedroom.

As quietly as he came up, he walks back downstairs. Balzac is waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. He lets out a soft, questioning whine.

“It’s okay, Balzac,” Harry tells him, staring into the big brown eyes. “He’s going to be okay.”

There are quiet murmurs coming from the garden.

“I think he wants to be alone,” Harry tells everyone when he steps out on the grass. Blaise and Pansy look like they sobered up in the last five minutes. Hermione and Ron look like they’d rather be anywhere but here.

“Party’s over,” Blaise shrugs.

Pansy puts her face in her hands. “I’m so sorry.” She looks more apologetic than Harry’s ever seen her — and that includes her apologising for trying to give him over Voldemort. “I feel like I ruined it.”

“Well…” Hermione starts.

Pansy groans dejectedly.

Blaise hugs his wife’s shoulders. “Yeah… you kinda did. But your incapacity to unstick your foot from your mouth is why we all love you.”

“Draco is going to hate me.” Pansy sniffs.

“That all depends on what Mr Potter decides to do with that information…” Blaise says. He lifts an eyebrow, and Harry wants to fidget under his stare.

“Later,” he just says, wishing everyone would have left already.

“We were going to go,” Hermione announces, standing and helping Ron up.

They all file back inside the study, and after shaking Harry’s hand and patting his back and assuring him Draco will get his knickers untwisted eventually, Blaise and Pansy leave through the front door.

Hermione and Ron linger in the foyer, Hermione taking an inordinately long time to put her jacket on. When she’s done, she nudges Ron. He starts as if he’d forgotten, and throws an abashed glance at Harry.

“Look, mate,” Ron says, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “I was honest, earlier. I… I had no intention of acting like the main Auror on the case tonight. Actually, I’m not going to be an Auror around Malfoy. Not anymore.”

Harry feels the breath catch in his throat. “What do you mean?”

“I withdrew from the case.” Ron lifts his big blue eyes to Harry. “I just wasn’t objective about it anymore. Assuming I ever was…” He huffs a rueful laugh. “I’ve seen the way Malfoy answered ‘Mione’s nagging for a meeting.”

“Hey!” Hermione chides softly.

“It’s true! You told me all about your plans and your big project. You both want to improve magical and Muggle cures and it’s… it’s good work, you know? What you’re working on… it shows heart, and passion. It’s not just all Hermione’s doing, also. Even though you’re absolutely brilliant,” Ron adds for Hermione’s benefit, and she beams. “It’s like Malfoy really wants to help create some kind of better future. I’ve been on the job for years, Harry. I can sniff out when someone isn’t genuine about something.”

“I know,” Harry says softly. “So can I.”

Ron nods. “Between ‘Mione working with Malfoy to save the world, and you falling for him… I suppose our suspicions were misplaced.” He gives Harry a little smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Our turn to be prejudiced pricks, eh?

“Yeah,” Harry says. “It’s not just the house preventing me from doing my job, no matter what you say, Hermione. I’ve had this gut feeling about Draco since I started on the case. And the fact that I’ve—” He swallows, slides his eyes away. He knows he’s blushing. “—that I’ve fallen for him doesn’t change that.”

Ron puts a hand on his shoulder. “Yeah. But it’s also been a big part of my decision to withdraw.”

“What happens now?” Harry asks. “Is Zacharias Smith the only one left on the case?”

“They’ll assign another team of Aurors on it, probably. Smith is the Financial Auditing Director. He holds no police power.”

“He can still do damage,” Harry points out.

Ron shakes his head. “Harry, Kingsley has a lot more faith in you than in Smith. In the end… I think he’ll listen to what you have to say.” 

At that, Hermione nods, her lip caught between her teeth. She touches Harry’s arm.

“Just… maybe don’t let the news of your relationship with Draco travel to the Ministry. Ron’s not on the case anymore. It’s officially no longer his responsibility. But if Kingsley finds out about it… you’ll be out on your arse in an instant. Possibly forever.”

Harry doesn’t tell her he couldn’t care less whether the Ministry gives him more assignments in the future. 

“I know. I can’t risk it,” Harry says. “It has to be me. Anyone else they put in my place would be Kingsley’s lap dog. Or worse, Smith’s.”

“Because you’re so unbiased when it comes to Malfoy?” Ron snorts softly.

Harry shrugs. “I’m trying to be. At least I’m giving him a chance to prove my initial bias wrong.”

Ron nods, as Hermione wraps her arms around him in a hug. 

“Goodnight, Harry. You’ve already spent too much time with us tonight.” She holds him by the shoulders and take a step back to give him a meaningful look. “Now go find your man.”

  

*

 

When they’re gone, Harry stares at the door for a long time, adjusting to the feeling of the big, silent house around him. Balzac has gone up to Scorpius’ room for the night, and there’s nothing to disturb the hush. He goes to the study, takes one last breath of the cool, night air, heavy with the smell of wet grass. He closes the French doors, lifts the needle from the record idling on the player, puts the record in its sleeve. Then he braces himself, and climbs the stairs to the second floor.

When Harry pushes the door open, Draco is sitting on his bed, fully dressed, hands between his knees and head hanging forward.

“Hey,” Harry says, his voice quiet.

“Hi,” Draco says without lifting his head. Like he knew Harry would come in eventually.

Harry walks to the bed, sits near Draco, just within reach. He doesn’t touch him, just lets him get used to his presence, to the sound of his breathing. Then he says, carefully, “You could have told me.”

Draco exhales a humourless laugh.

“Are you under the impression that I want to talk about any of it?”

“Draco… You told me you had a switch, not that you were in lo—”

“I’m demisexual, Potter,” Draco snaps, interrupting him as if Harry’s words could burn. His hands are twisted in his lap. “What did you think?”

“That I would have liked to know that, for one.”

“It’s not something I flaunt.”

“Who said anything about flaunting? If we’re in this together, then why not just — tell me where you stand?”

Draco turns to look at him.

“And then what?” His nostrils flare, like he’s forcing to maintain eye contact with Harry. “What would you have done with that information, Harry?”

“I don’t fucking know, okay? It just — it’s an important part of you, and I wish I’d known about it before I touched you.”

“I wanted you to touch me,” Draco snarls. His teeth gleam in the dark. “I gladly let you touch me. You knew I was attracted to you. You didn’t need to know why.”

Draco looks so cornered, so vulnerable, Harry desperately wants to take his face in his hands and kiss him. Instead, he wraps his hands around his knees, takes a breath.

“Why is important to me.”

“I wasn’t ready. Can you — understand that?”

“Yes. And I’m sorry I had to find out the way I did, but…” Harry glances at him. “Maybe I feel the same,” he admits, barely above a whisper.

Draco stares at him, blinking. His mouth twists in a sneer.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t,” he spits, and Harry’s blood goes cold. “You won’t even tell me what you’ve been up to the last few days, when you were no doubt sucking up to your dear Minister and his auditor cronies.” He shakes his head, the same disparaging half smile on his face. “Don’t forget who you are, and why you’re here.”

Harry stands on his feet. A step, and he’s facing Draco still sitting on the bed.

“I know who I am. I made it overly clear. I’m here for you.” Harry can feel his voice rising from a whisper, feels like he’s shouting in the quiet bedroom. “It might have not been the case months ago, but it is now. I’m… whatever you want me to be. Your lover. Your partner. Your goddamned boyfriend, if that’s what you want. And I’m here for you, you mad, infuriating bastard. I’m here. Only for you.”

Draco stares at him, eyes wide and dark.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Draco says again, quietly. “I refuse to talk about it while we’re still in this… this fucking situation, Harry—” 

Harry cups his cheek.

“We don’t have to,” he whispers, sliding his thumb across Draco’s cheekbone. “We don’t have to, Draco. I just wanted you to know.”

Draco reaches out, slides his hands into Harry’s hair. “Kiss me,” he says, “please…”

Harry does. His heart is overflowing, full to bursting, and he pours everything he feels into the kiss. Draco whimpers softly, pulls Harry closer, pulls him on top of him.

“You’re a bloody fool, Harry Potter,” Draco whispers against his lips.

And maybe Draco’s right, and that’s exactly what Harry is. But he undresses Draco still, his hands slow, deliberate, reverent, until Draco is shivering, naked across the sheets. And maybe Draco won’t allow him to say it with words, but Harry will make love to him all the same. Trailing kisses down his neck, down his chest, his hot breath lingering over each of Draco’s scars. Feeling Draco’s body arch into him in a wordless ‘more’ as Harry palms his ribs and his bony hips. Listening to Draco’s strained breath as Harry takes him in his mouth and sucks him slow and deep. Letting Draco’s release drip down his chin when he comes. Burrowing his head in the crook of Draco’s hip, inhaling the heady scent of him as he ruts against the mattress, sprawled between Draco’s open legs, Draco’s hands in his hair. Draco who’s petting him, encouraging him, whispering, mindless and sweet, ‘That’s it, love, you’re so good, you’re so fucking beautiful when you come.” Coming with a muffled sob, all over the sheets, letting his orgasm tear through him at the sound of Draco’s voice. Letting his breath slow down after, his cheek still resting on Draco’s hip. Draco’s fingers carding through his hair, soothing, lulling him to sleep. 

Before sleep takes him, the thought crosses Harry’s mind that it doesn’t matter what he’s allowed to tell Draco. He’ll keep proving it to him. Actions have always spoken louder than words.   

And actions, Harry can do.

Chapter Text

“Come on,” Draco says, pulling on Harry’s hand. He tries to stifle a burst of giggles and fails. “Get in the lift! I want to show you something.”

Harry stumbles inside beside him, bewildered but laughing along. It’s one of those rare evenings when Draco’d chosen not to work and instead let Ernestina watch Scorpius. He and Harry had gone to the pub together. It wasn’t anything anyone would ever consider exciting, but it’s not like Draco’d ever made a habit of it before Harry. After all, he was a single father and, in the words of Harry, grinning and poking his side, a complete workaholic, just take a bloody break once in a while, Malfoy.

They had two beers each, and now Draco is tipsy and giddy enough that he wants to celebrate. Up in his Caduceus office, where the cause for celebration awaits them.

He crowds Harry against the wall of the lift as they make their way up the building.

“Hello.” He smiles, very close to Harry’s face. Harry laughs some more.

“Tipsy Draco… never thought I’d see the day.”

Draco pouts. “You don’t like it?”

“I like every bloody version of you,” Harry growls, wrapping his arms around his waist and bringing him flush against him. “You damned fool,” he adds, a whisper in Draco’s ear.

They kiss, all tongues and hands and hips pushing into each other. Thank Merlin it’s past eight o’clock, because this kiss definitely isn’t the quick-little-kiss-in-a-work-lift kind. Draco has half a mind to hit the emergency button and stop the lift so he can ravage Harry’s face properly, but he remembers he has other plans upstairs. Which include ravaging Harry’s face, too, but also. Showing him the news. Celebrating. 

Right.

The lift doors ding open on the top floor. Draco pushes off Harry with a goofy grin. He does a little bow. “Après vous,” he says, showing Harry the door with a flourish. 

“You crazy sod,” Harry steps out of the lift, rolling his eyes with a smile. “Why do I ever follow you anywhere?”

“You’re my bloody bodyguard. That’s what you’re supposed to do.” Draco purrs by his side. He grabs his hand again. “Here,” he says. “In my office.”

When they step inside, the light mood from a few seconds ago dissipates, leaving a quiet solemnity in its wake. Draco’s office is as he left it in the evening before he joined Harry at the pub. It’s a mess of papers and cardboard boxes. The doors of the filing cabinets and the office supplies cupboard are still hanging open — the auditors apparently needed to check everything one last time. 

Night has come. The sky outside the tall windows has turned purple and dark blue. The lights of London are glimmering on the horizon, bright enough so that Draco doesn’t feel the need to switch on the lights. His desk is covered in stacks of papers and parchment rolls, quills tidily placed in their cases. On the desktop, Draco left a clear square of glass. There’s a sheet of parchment lying in the middle of it. Not letting go of Harry’s hand, he walks with him to the desk.

“I said I had news,” Draco says quietly. He waves at the parchment in silent suggestion. Harry casts a wordless Lumos , takes the sheet in his hands. He squints his eyes, the reflection of his spell turning the lenses of his glasses blue. He reads out loud, and a slow smile spreads across his face.

“I, undersigned Zacharias Smith, Financial Auditing Director, Ministry for Magic, certify that the 2010 accounts of Caduceus, Corp. were established in compliance with the Magical United Kingdom and international financial rules and regulations.” He looks up at Draco, caution giving way to delight. “Does that mean—”

“—that the audit is over and Caduceus was found clean once again? Yes.” 

Harry throws the parchment on the desk and closes the gap between them, pulling Draco in for a fierce kiss. Draco grins into it, his eyes closed, humming with pleasure. They part, forehead to forehead, eyes sparkling with joy.

“I thought they’d never leave,” Harry tells him. They both know who he’s referring to. “I don’t mind guarding your pretty arse, Malfoy, but keeping those snivelling quillpushers away from you for weeks was exhausting.”

“I do attract them like Doxies to an old, musty curtain.”

“I prefer to think of you as a jar of honey.”

“Merlin help us if I ever turn that sweet, Potter.” Harry lifts his brows, and Draco gives him a crooked smile. “I’m weirdly grateful for them, you know?” he confesses.

“Really? I don’t think there’s been one day when you haven’t complained about them and threatened to hex their bollocks to their nostrils.”

“What an image.”

Harry shrugs. “Your words, not mine.” 

“That’s true, but…” Draco closes his eyes, the next words leaving him in a rush. “It’s also thanks to them that you landed on my doorstep in the first place.”

Harry is quiet for a while, and eventually Draco dares open his eyes again. When he does, Harry nudges his nose with his.

“It is,” Harry says. “What a fucked-up piece of luck, right?”

“Convoluted, indeed.” Draco sighs and leans into him. “You wouldn’t even be here if Smith wasn’t so obsessed with me. If they weren’t all so obsessed with me.”

Harry hums against his lips. “Hmm. Maybe I would have been.” He kisses him, murmurs, “ I’m obsessed with you.”

Draco’s stomach flips at Harry’s words. It’s so intense sometimes… Draco struggles not to shove Harry away just so he can have a minute to catch his breath. Face heating, he scrambles for a change of topic. Back to the auditors.

“It’s done now. They won’t bother me again — until the next fiscal year, that is.” Draco grins. “I survived. We won!” 

“Congratulations, you amazing, law-abiding bastard.”

“Glad to know what turns you on.”

“I thought we had established you did,” Harry growls and kisses him again. Draco wraps his arms around Harry's neck and parts his lips, and Harry dives into the kiss, his tongue sending sparks down Draco’s spine. Harry takes Draco’s face in his hands and walks him back against the desk. He kisses down Draco’s chin, along his jawline, down the sensitive side of his neck, all the while murmuring, ‘Draco, Draco, Draco.’ Draco wants to melt into him. He opens his legs to let Harry slip a thigh between them. He pushes his hips forward, his cock hard and rubbing against Harry's leg, hoping Harry's as eager as he is—

“I never thought I’d find—” Harry's mumbling into his neck. “—anyone like you… All these years… you’re the best thing—”

Draco jerks his head away from Harry's mouth, shoves him back. Harsher than he intended, but he can't believe Harry's said something like this. The fierceness of Harry’s feelings is like an open fire sometimes. Draco’s only going to get burned and burned.    

“What?” he hisses. Harry’s staring at him, wide-eyes and blinking, like Draco wrenched him awake. His Lumos flickers, once, twice. Then the light dies out, leaving them in the dark.

“Fuck,” Harry lifts his hand, rubs his face. “I— wasn't thinking—”

“Clearly,” Draco says, his voice cold. He's panting. It's ridiculous. He should be… he should be punching the air, bursting with glee. He shouldn’t be feeling like his body's frozen over, a dull dread seeping through his veins. He pinches the bridge of his nose, exhaling shakily. “Harry… we’re not supposed to…”

Harry stares at him in the dark, chest rising and falling with his breath. “What? To say it? I don't care.”

Draco looks up. It’s as if all the tiny threads of tension they’ve both been trying to ignore ever since they realised they fancied each other, ever since they touched each other, are materialising into a sudden, crushing weight. It’s this feeling of being out of control — unable to control the outcome of the case the Ministry is building against him, the case he has to trust Harry with… and also unable to control how he feels about Harry. Reckless, insatiable. Like he’s running down a hill, gathering speed, unable to stop. There’s a low buzz in his head, and Draco wants it to end — to go back to the light, lovely kisses of a minute ago. 

“You don't care.” His question comes out flat. 

“No!” Harry throws his hands up. “Draco… we’ve been together for weeks. I told you, when we started, that we’d be in this together. I’m doing this together with you! And you won't even let me—” He rakes his hands in his hair, lets out a frustrated groan. “You're the one who made up that rule!”

“For both our sakes!” Draco seethes. “We’ve the plans of the entire Ministry to thwart, and we’re nowhere near done! Now is not the time for sentimentality, do you not see that?”

“Sentimentality.” Harry huffs a derisive snort. “Is that what you call it?”

“Yes,” Draco says. 

Harry regards him, catching his breath, his expression softening.

“I know you're lying, Draco,” he tells him quietly.

“Then if you do,” Draco casts his eyes down, “can you just please pretend?”

Harry takes two steps, takes Draco in his arms.

“Let me— let me show you,” he mumbles in Draco's hair. Draco arches into him with a whimper. Harry's hands are soft on his sides, his lips tender against the shell of his ear. Draco can feel his reverence. He understands the way Harry wishes they'd do it this time: slow, looking into Draco's eyes and stroking his hair as he comes. Like they've got all the time in the world. 

Like they're in love. 

He fists his hands in Harry's hair and pulls his head to the side, growling in his ear: “Fuck me.”

“Yeah,” Harry nods against his neck. “The sofa—?” Draco shakes his head. “Where?”

“Here,” Draco says, backing a step. “Against the desk.” Harry's expression falters, a split second of hesitation, and Draco bares his teeth. “Stop being so goddamn mushy, Potter. For fuck’s sake, just… just take me like a fucking man—”

Harry’s mouth crushes his before he can finish, and he’s being pushed back against the glass desktop, the side of it digging into his arse. Hazily, Draco ponders how taunting Harry never fails to work, as Harry works Draco’s trousers open with rough fingers and unzips his own jeans, a wild, desperate look on his face.

“Turn around,” he orders, and Draco complies, pulling his trousers and pants down his thighs as he does. Harry crowds behind him, his hard cock already out, sliding against Draco’s bare arse. He grips Draco’s hips with possessive hands and shoves them back against him. “I wanted to fuck you long and slow,” he groans into Draco’s ear, leaning over his back, “but I’m going to take you like an animal. ‘Cause that’s what you want, right?”

“Yes,” Draco grits out, choked. Anything to take the edge off. To make him forget how real this is. “I don’t want gentle. I want rough,” he adds, bracing his arms on the desk and leaning his head over them.

Harry mutters a lubricating charm and slides his slick fingers along Draco’s crease, slathering lube between his cheeks, unmindful of the mess dripping down Draco’s thighs. Draco feels him move away from him a fraction of a second, then, without a warning, the tip of Harry’s cock is pressing into him. Harry puts his hand on the back of Draco’s neck and keeps him down, face against the glass desktop, almost mean. He doesn’t give Draco time to adjust to it: with a grunt, he slides all the way in. Draco cries out, squirms under Harry’s hands, but Harry doesn’t relent. Draco asked him to fuck him rough, and Harry’s nothing if not a man of his word. Harry starts thrusting in and out, groaning, already lost in it. His cock feels so fucking fat, taking Draco from behind with barely any preparation, and Draco starts pushing back onto Harry with needy little whines. It hurts, just a bit — but that’s what he’d asked for, wasn’t it? He closes his eyes, his cheek hot against the cool glass, Harry’s hands sliding to grip his hips tighter and move him up and down his cock. It’s dirty and raw and unlike any of the sex they’ve had before, and when Harry comes, Draco’s still so tight he can feel the heat of Harry’s come as his cock throbs, filling Draco’s arse with it. Harry’s thrusts slow down then, his fingers loosening their grasp on Draco’s hips. He rocks into Draco, once, twice, leans over his back, his hot breath caressing Draco’s sweaty nape. Just when Draco’s certain Harry is going to try to kiss him again, start whispering sweet, mindless confessions of love again, Harry stands and pulls out so fast Draco gasps.

“Fuck,” Draco hisses into his arm. Harry’s panting behind him. Draco’s still bent over the desk, arse in the air. He feels the hot trickle of Harry’s come on his balls, the inside of his thigh, and wonders what a debauched spectacle he must make for Harry. His cock twitches again at the thought. He moves just a few inches back and away from the desk, enough room to wrap his fist around his own straining cock. He gives it a meaningful jerk, turns to look at Harry over his shoulder. “I’m not done here, Potter,” he says, teeth clenched.

“Oh my god,” Harry mutters. “You bossy dick.” He comes closer, slaps a hand on Draco’s arse cheek, caresses it slowly, close to the crease. Draco whines again, embarrassingly loud, and Harry slips his fingers in the mess there, rubbing come and lube across Draco’s arsehole. Then he pushes two fingers in and Draco cries out against the desk, eyes wide, hand stuttering over his cock.

“Fucking— fuck, Potter, you dirty bastard—” 

Behind him, Harry lets out a humourless laugh and pushes his fingers deeper. “You're even bossier up in your office, aren't you?” 

“Shut up. You — ah— you love it when I boss you around in bed.” 

“We’re clearly not in bed right now.” 

“Even better,” Draco growls, pumping his fist in time with Harry’s fingers sliding in and out of his arse, Harry’s come leaking out of him as his orgasm mounts. He writhes against the desk, overstimulated, chasing relief.  “I’m about to come, Harry, I’m—” he warns, not knowing why he does, and Harry wraps his other arm around Draco’s chest, lifts him off the desk. Held upright by Harry’s arm, Harry’s fingers still pumping inside him, Draco’s body goes taut. His orgasm hits him like that, and he comes with a strangled cry, his come splashing over his belly, Harry’s arm, his desk. He drops his head back against Harry’s shoulder and lets out a strangled sob as his fist works his spent cock, shivering with the last waves of his orgasm.

When he comes to, Harry’s humming softly against his cheek, his clean hand stroking Draco’s damp hair away from his face. They’ve had sex, quick and rough, loveless in everything but the soft touches of Harry’s hands in the aftermath. Things he can never allow himself to take for granted. Things he must never let Harry take for granted. Even though it might be too late, even as Harry rocks them together, as slow and tender as he was hard and possessive a minute before.

 

*

 

Harry holds Draco for a long time. He’s not sure why he does; he’s not sure the prickly, closed-off bastard deserves it. 

The sex was glorious — with Draco, it always has been, and Harry doesn’t mind a rough shag from time to time. At all.

But this was something else: it felt like hitting a wall, like something they wouldn't be able to move past. He’s spent half his life hating Draco; he’s spent the last months falling irrevocably in love with him. He never thought these two emotions could coexist until the moment Draco shut him down for being soft with him and ordered him to defile him on his office desk instead. As soon as Harry let his real feelings slip, Draco acted like those feelings never existed.

I fucking know you love me, Harry wants to yell at Draco, petulant and pointless. 

He places a hand in the small of Draco’s back, where his shirt sticks to his sweaty skin. He murmurs a negligent Scourgify , deliberately not caring whether it hits Draco as well as himself. He pulls his pants and jeans back on. The glittering lights of London and the sweet summer air of the evening seem to taunt him, mock him. He’s not sure he wants to stay here much longer.

Draco is quietly putting his clothes in order when Harry’s eyes fall on the parchments strewn across the floor, the rolls previously neatly stacked on the desk thrown off balance by their fucking. His mind flashes to a similar scene from months ago — Harry walking in the empty office, rolls of parchment falling to the floor, one of them catching his attention.

And then his breath hitches.

The parchment.

Nesting.

Eyes wide, he stumbles to the jacket he carelessly threw across the back of a chair when he walked in. It’s the one he was wearing that day — one he’d forgotten about, what with all the developments the case brought to his life, had left hanging in his cupboard for months. He slips his hand inside the inner pocket, feels around for a folded piece of parchment, finds it.

“Fuck,” he murmurs, looking down at it. “This is it.” 

Behind him, he can hear Draco tidying the mess they’ve made. He sounds distracted when he asks, “What?”

Harry turns. Waits for Draco to notice how quiet, how stock-still the hit of realisation has left him. When Draco does, his eyebrows draw down in a worried frown.

“Harry?” he asks, concerned. “Are you all right?”

“I think there’s something you need to explain,” Harry says, unfolding the parchment and holding it out for Draco to see, “about this.”

Even in the dim light, Harry can see Draco turn a shade paler.

“Where did you find this?” he asks, slowly, like the parchment is a bomb that could explode if he raises his voice.

“Here. Months ago. I’d picked it up because it looked so out of place… The font, the foreign language… I didn’t realise why until a minute ago.”

“You went snooping.”

“I went looking for information.”

“Isn’t it the same?”

“The intent isn’t.”

Draco’s fists clench against his sides, like he wants to reach out and grab the parchment, but forces himself to stand still. He still looks beautifully dishevelled, loose locks of pale gold hair falling in his eyes, and Harry’s heart skips a painful beat. 

“Remind me what your intent was?” Draco growls, low and baleful.

“To put a stop to this travesty of an investigation,” Harry says. Draco snorts, a bitter sound. “I’m serious,” Harry presses on. “What is this parchment for?”

“I wasn’t supposed to tell you about this,” Draco says, shaking his head. “Looks like I can’t even keep my own secrets safe anymore.”

“Fuck the secrets. It’s you that I’m trying to keep safe.” Draco glances at him, without lifting his head. Harry crumples the parchment in his hand as he continues. “Nesting. I’ve seen that name so many times before. It’s on all the kid paraphernalia I see, all over London. Hell, even Hermione raves about her Nesting pushchair...  How did I not see it before?” He drops his hand, and the parchment falls to the ground. “This has got something to do with you. Doesn’t it?” When Draco doesn’t reply, Harry lets out a frustrated exhale. “Draco… You’ve got to tell me. If it’s going to help your case at all… Tell me. What is the link?”

Draco stays quiet for a long time, his gaze down and away, his teeth worrying his bottom lip. Harry holds his breath and waits, while outside the office the night sky turns fully dark, yellow-grey clouds crossing it, the lights of the city reflecting on their rain-soaked edges.

Eventually, Draco crosses his arms. Lifts his head, considers Harry for a moment.

“It was Ernestina’s idea,” he says. Quietly, reluctantly. “It was her secret before it was mine.”

When Draco doesn’t elaborate, Harry takes a step towards him.

“Draco, god. You’re worrying me, here. What is it?”

“I’ve never told anyone outside the people who started it…” Draco shakes his head minutely. “I can’t drag Ernestina down with my own problems. It’s not her fault the Ministry decided my fortune was suspicious…”

“No, it’s not,” Harry says. “But she’s in it with you, if I can’t bring proof to the Ministry that we can solve the case.”

Draco looks at him, his eyes pained and piercing.

“You have to promise me—”

“I have. I have promised.”

“You have to promise me this secret stays between us.”

Harry’s taken aback. “I don’t know what it is… I don’t know if I can.”

“Then I can’t tell you.”

“Fine. Fine.” Harry pushes his tongue in his cheek, ponders his next words. “I think… I think I just need to know.”

“You said you trusted that I was innocent,” Draco says, quiet. Wounded.

“And I just found a new piece of evidence. I want to make sure it confirms my intuitions and what I know about you.” His eyes are pleading when he adds, “The rest… Having to keep yet another secret... I can work around that.”

Draco casts a weary glance at him. “Your single-mindedness wins.” He sighs.

“To be fair, it often does,” Harry says, softly, encouragingly.

Draco takes a breath, then starts talking again.

“When I met Ernestina… she and I were equally poor. She worked for us with the little wages my mother could spare her. I had no money to go out except when my friends paid for my drinks. Mother spent most of her time in her room. There really wasn’t much for me — or Ernestina — to do. So she and I spent entire days together, looking out the window of the flat. We watched people. Families — tourists, Parisians. We watched them walk past our building, their children stuck in impractical prams that were either too bulky for the narrow streets of our neighbourhood or so flimsy the wheels would get stuck between cobbles every few metres… Ernestina and I used to laugh and lament about it. I didn’t even notice when we started working on sketches for children’s things. I didn’t even notice when she started getting serious about it. Ernestina has always loved children. It was part of her professional plan all along. And me… Repairing things —  making existing things better — it’s something I always enjoyed. It helped me pass the time… it helped me survive.” He stops, giving Harry a meaningful look that sends him back to Hogwarts — to sixth year, and a seemingly broken Vanishing Cabinet that Draco had managed to repair against all odds. “I didn’t know, back then, that it would also help me get my life in check and back on track…” He runs his hand through his hair, pushes a damp lock behind his ear. “Ernestina needed money to start the business she had dreamt of. And she needed a human to embody her project. Obviously, it was impossible for a house elf to start a Muggle business: she would have had to meet with the entire production chain — patent authorities, suppliers, production sites, shops, advertising agencies — and you can imagine how things would have gone if she’d shown up at a meeting with non-magical folk. I was the original investor in Nesting — I gave Ernestina the little money I had left, convinced Pansy, Blaise, Astoria to invest as well — and I became the company’s spokesperson. And when the business launched… Merlin, Harry. It was an overnight success. I knew Ernestina had had a brilliant idea, and our designs were solid, but I never expected it to… boom. And it did. I remember the headline of a business review magazine a year after we started: ‘Nesting works like magic.’ ” He smiles, a mixture of nostalgic and rueful. “If only they’d known how magic it truly was.”

Harry takes a minute to comprehend what Draco just told him. Children’s equipment. A small venture that turned into an unexpected business hit. The hints Harry had caught for months of the unlikely friendship between Draco and his house-elf.

It all seems so simple and unthreatening, Harry wants to laugh with relief.

“Draco,” he says, placating. “Does it have to be a secret? It’s nothing shameful. It’s actually quite brilliant.”

Draco gives him a look like he’s as thick as it gets. “Despite what your dear Ministry says, Harry, not much has changed for house-elves in our country since the war. Ernestina is still an exception — she’s an employee, not a… a bloody slave. Not like so many elves working in wizarding families all over Britain. And even then… By law, she’s not allowed to make money out of anything not related to house-keeping. If the Ministry found out about Nesting, about the profits it still makes… She could be arrested for it.”

“Why did she come back here, then? Why didn’t she stay in France?”

“I told you. She loves children. It’s her vocation. When Astoria and I found out we were going to be parents… not having Ernestina alongside us to raise our child was out of the question for all of us. Nesting is a well-rounded affair. We don’t need to be on site. We barely need to keep an eye on it, these days. My mother takes care of the finances, with the help of a Muggle accountant.”

“That’s where you got the three million Galleons you invested in Caduceus.”

“Oh, what a canny sense of observation, Potter,” Draco says, sarcastic, and rolls his eyes. “Yes. Three years after the launch of Nesting, Ernestina was a rich elf… and as the primary investor, I was a rich wizard as well.”

Harry’s still bewildered. “Draco,” he says, holding his hands out. “Nesting is a company that sells children’s things… it’s so bloody harmless. You could easily have revealed the source of Caduceus’ starting funds. Who could possibly find fault with that?”

Drao gives him an incredulous look.“The company is under Ernestina’s name, for one. If I talk about it, she gets arrested. And secondly… I’m supposed to be a Potions master, remember? I’m supposed to represent Caduceus. I’m not… supposed to be the person who helped to create a cute, gadget-y pushchair that started a long-lasting fad. It’s a matter of company image for Caduceus… and I’ve worked so hard to build it, Harry.”

Harry rubs his hands on his face. Groans. “Fuck, Draco. You had me so worried you had some sort of skeleton in the wardrobe. I can't believe you have to hide this. You’ve kept this a secret for years. ”

“And now I’m paying for my discretion, clearly.”

“It’s ridiculous. The Ministry is investigating you. Sooner or later, they’ll find out… and what’s worse, they’ll find out when they’re extra pissed off about having been made to wait.”

“They haven’t found out for years. They won’t find out now.” Draco studies Harry with narrowed eyes. “Unless you snitch.”

“I’m not going to—” Harry throws his hands up. “God, Draco. This is crucial information! It’s enough to prove you haven’t committed some horrible action to get to where you are today! It’s enough to close the case!”

Draco backs away a step. “It may seem harmless to you, but this is serious, Harry. I'm keeping Ernestina's secret. I'm not risking her being on trial, getting sent Merlin knows where. We are not telling anyone about Nesting!”

“Then what do you suggest, Draco? That I keep going back to Kingsley, telling him that the only information I have on you is what an outstanding citizen you are and hoping he’ll take my word for it?”

Draco lifts an eyebrow. In the half-darkness, his sarcastic expression looks almost cruel. “An outstanding citizen? Is that what you call your shags?”

Harry gapes at Draco. “Why must you always go for the lowest blow. For fuck’s sake, Draco. We need to think about this together. It’s not you against me. I have as much to lose in it as you do.”

“Are you seriously comparing our situations?” Draco stops, runs a trembling hand through his hair. “You’ve got nothing to lose, Potter. Ernestina could lose her job, her freedom. I could lose my company. I wouldn’t be able to properly care for my son. You? You’d lose nothing.”

You, Harry wants to shout at him. I could lose you.

“You think I wouldn’t lose anything? Are you blind?” Harry feels a deranged, crooked smile twist his lips. “I changed sides to protect you, Draco. To be with you. Or did you forget?”

“So what? I changed sides for you when I was seventeen.”

“Is it a fucking competition? All the choices I’ve made in my life… I turned them on their head for you.”

“Choices you made years ago might not apply anymore.” Draco's expression softens, almost sympathetic. “You don’t owe them anything, Harry. You’re… you. You’re the bloody Saviour. Nobody could ever reproach you for changing your mind.”

“This is the life I chose for myself. I don't know how to do anything else.”

Draco straightens. Despite his debauched state, he suddenly looks so collected. So much stronger, so much more mature than Harry feels.

“Maybe it's time, Harry. Maybe it's time you lived for yourself, not for the faceless masses.”

Harry huffs a wry laugh. “Live for yourself. Is that what you do?”

Draco seems unphased by Harry's jab. “Yes, it is. I live for me. For Scorpius. For my mother, for Ernestina. I live to make Caduceus better.”

“And I’ve got no one, and my job is useless. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Your job consists in living lies. Do you even realise how lonely it has left you?”

Harry feels like he’s drowning. Suffocating. Draco’s words like the rocks tied around his neck.

“You don't need me at all, do you?” Harry asks, flatly.

“Shut up, you ridiculous man.”

“You make damn sure I feel like there’s no room for me in your life.”

“You could, you know. You could fit. I’d gladly make… all the room for you. But I can't live behind closed doors anymore, Harry. I've spent enough time living that way.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“That's not what I meant.”

“Then why do you refuse to even hear me say how I feel about you?” Harry bursts.

“Because—” Draco’s hands clench into fists. His eyes turn stormy. “It will only make it so much more difficult. Hearing it won’t change a thing. Not when we can't be open about who we are.”

“You know who I am. You know it better than anyone.”

“I'm the only one who knows who you are,” Draco says with a sneer. “That's not what I call being open about us.”

Harry staggers back, and all the words leave him. All the fight. He stares at Draco, and Draco stares back, chest rising and falling, the glimmering lights of the London night highlighting the dramatic planes of his face. Harry wants to hurt him — the way Draco can’t seem to stop hurting him, by holding back, by keeping his feelings so close to his chest, when Harry’s love for him only wants to spill and spill.

He walks to the desk. Zacharias Smith’s certificate is still there, slightly crumpled, the ink smeared with sweat. The feeling of being inside Draco only a few minutes ago, of holding him while he came, of rocking him as he rode the last of his pleasure, is nothing but a distant memory. 

“Well,” Harry says, eyes on the auditors’ certificate. His own voice sounds sour to his ears. “My job here is almost done. I hope you’re happy. I'll be out of your hair soon enough.”

The office is silent, save for his own heartbeat ringing through his skull. This can’t be happening — they can’t be fighting now, not over this— 

Harry turns towards the door. It only takes a few steps for him to reach it. He hopes, blankly, that Draco is going to try and stop him. 

Then Draco does. He’s next to him in an instant, a warm hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry.” 

Harry turns around, all fake bravado gone, and Draco opens his arms. Harry burrows against Draco’s body with a soft whimper, instinctive, like a small animal looking for warmth.

“Draco…” he says, strangled. Draco smells like clean sweat and sex and expensive honeysuckle soap and everything Harry’s come to love and depend upon. His arms wrap around Harry, sway him gently.

“Harry…” he whispers in his hair. “Harry. Please, don’t go.”

Harry shakes his head against Draco’s shirt. He knows he won’t go. He knows nothing he can do will make any of it easier.

“This is a fucking nightmare,” he whispers, half-hoping Draco won’t hear him. He clutches Draco’s back tighter, and Draco holds him, one hand cupping the back of his head. “Draco… it's fucking impossible.”

Draco holds him for a long time. Around them, outside the tall windows, the city lights glimmer in the night, an incessant race for life, as if Harry’s world wasn’t teetering on the edge of crumbling down.

Chapter Text

It’s too warm in Kingsley’s office this morning. The Ministry seems to have lost the battle against the mid-July heatwave, and the cooling charms throughout the building are patchy and weak.

Around Kingsley’s desk sit Harry, Zacharias Smith, and a woman Harry’s seen in the corridors of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement when he’s visited Ron there. Kingsley introduced her as Corie Boyle, the new Senior Auror on the case. Despite her title, she looks young, eager. Easily impressionable. It makes Harry uneasy. He’s not used to dealing with Aurors other than Ron anymore.

True to his word, the Minister had called in the team working on Draco’s case as soon as the audit was done. The company’s clean records had left everyone at a loss as to what the next steps should be — they proved Caduceus was compliant. On paper, Ron had told Harry when they’d spoken over the Floo the night before, but not in Kingsley’s mind. Judging by the twitch in Zacharias Smith’s jaw, his loud breathing, and the restless way he bounces his leg, he’s not convinced either.

Harry ignores the beverages Dewey had brought to Kingsley’s guests when the meeting started. Just seeing the steam rise from the cup of tea out of the corner of his eye makes Harry feel sweaty and hot. He pulls on the collar of his t-shirt, then remembers where he was earlier this morning. Panting against Draco’s soaped-up, slippery body in the shower, Draco fucking between his thighs, his open mouth latched on Draco’s shoulder. He lets go of his shirt. Face heating, he wonders if he healed the love bite Draco left in the crook of his neck. This morning, when he had left Draco at Caduceus after the usual routine — bring Scorpius to school, escort Draco to his office in the City — Draco had grabbed his wrist and pulled him in for a kiss. It was hard and dry, all lips, Draco’s eyebrows drawn down as if in pain. Draco never told Harry how he felt about him; but what Draco couldn’t tell, he showed. With so much passion and desperation that Harry wondered what Draco was hoping to protect with his stubborn demurral: his heart, or Harry’s. 

Harry wonders how anyone could look at him and not know how stupidly in love he feels, how out of control. There are days where he’s convinced his love affair with Draco is painted all over his face, obvious like fucking sunshine; he’s convinced Kingsley will take one look at him and just know. And today — Kingsley studying him over his steepled fingers, Smith twitching in his seat next to Harry, Auror Boyle sitting with her back ramrod straight — today feels like one of those days. 

Harry leans against the back of his chair, arms crossed, hoping to project calm confidence.

Kingsley places his hands on the desk, solemn. He looks down at the folder on his desk, opens it. The first page, Harry recognises right away: it’s the auditors’ certificate, the parchment Draco showed him in his office a few days before, the reason why the Minister gathered them today. Zacharias Smith rises in his seat, trying to get a closer look. Harry rolls his eyes. 

“It’s your handwriting, Smith,” he mutters through his teeth.

Smith rounds on him instantly. “Oh, you know my handwriting, do you?”

Caught, Harry has the presence of mind to still shrug with practiced nonchalance. “Nobody else’s could look this wanker-ish.”

“Gentlemen,” Kingsley warns them, his voice a gentle rumble. “Please. I think it’s time we talk about the next steps.” He turns to Harry. “Why don’t you start, Harry? The last memo you sent me was not… the most clear.”

Harry can hear the slight perplexity in Kingsley’s tone, the mild disappointment. Smith sits back, smug and breathing even louder than before. 

It’s true: Harry’s latest memo was the vaguest bollocks he could come up with to buy himself time. He was stuck; he’d promised Draco he would keep his and Ernestina’s secret; he’d promised Kingsley he would find the key to wrap this up. He couldn’t do one without ruining the other. Yet another case of ‘neither can live while the other survives’ in his life, apparently. He hasn’t found a way out of this predicament yet.

It seems that his nebulous report of Draco’s recent activities hasn’t fooled the Minister.

Zacharias Smith watches him like he’s waiting for Harry to misstep. Boyle has taken a notepad out of her robe pocket and has her quill in hand, ready to write down Harry’s account.

“With the auditors’ hard work,” Harry starts, nodding genially at Smith, who frowns, suspicious, “we’re certain Caduceus is currently clean. So the only missing piece that remains is the information on Malfoy’s initial investment in Caduceus, isn’t it?” He turns earnest eyes towards Kingsley, waiting for him to confirm, always buying more time. Saying ‘Malfoy’ so dismissively feels… dishonest. Harry’d murmured Draco’s given name against his skin not even three hours ago. He’s had Draco’s name on his mind and on his lips for months. He’s afraid of how much saying ‘Draco’ out loud would betray his inner turmoil. Yet calling him ‘Malfoy’ feels like the worst lie of all. So Harry forges on, and says: “If you want me to gather all the proof you need, Kingsley, I’m going to need more time. For now, as I’ve told you in all my memos, none of my on-site observations have revealed any suspicious activity. Not on behalf of Caduceus, nor conducted individually by Malfoy himself.” Technically, he’s being truthful. He clears his throat, raises his chin. “All I can tell you, from what I’ve seen, is that if there actually is an unknown original investment, the source of it must be clean as well.”

Next to him, Smith gasps. “That’s impossible!” 

“Harry, what makes you say this?” Kingsley asks, ignoring Smith’s outburst.

“I’ve come to know Draco Malfoy,” Harry says, “and he’s become the most hard-working, honest, scrupulous man. Trust me,” he adds with a half-smile, “I was the first to be flabbergasted by the news.”

“Care to elaborate?” Smith taunts, crossing his arms over his chest. “Your argument hardly passes a financial audit.”

Harry spares a thought for the fact that he’s about to lose the little faith Zacharias Smith had in him, finds he doesn’t care, and just says, “No.”

The room goes very quiet, save for Smith’s mouth-breaths.

“No?” Kingsley asks. He steeples his fingers again, his expression flat. 

Harry shakes his head. “No. I’ll gladly go back to my assignment if you need proof — if the proof, or lack of, I’ve given you until now, isn’t enough to convince you of the truth. Draco Malfoy is innocent. There’s no way he isn’t. You have my word for it.”

“Is that all we have to go on?” Kingsley prompts him. “Your word?”

Harry raises his right hand. All eyes are drawn to the scribbled scar there, etched on his skin. “Life advice,” he says, wryly. “Hard-earned.” He drops his hand in his lap, and everyone snaps out of their intense staring. “I do not tell lies.”

When Kingsley doesn’t move, Smith slaps a hand on his thigh. “Rubbish!” He turns to Harry, spittle flying from his mouth. “You lie for a living, Potter!”

“I don’t lie for a living! I’m an undercover investigator. I’m on the side of the law. And when my findings are inconclusive, I’ve a professional obligation to say it and draw the right conclusions!”

“What the fuck happened to you?” Smith blurts in disbelief. “Are you Imperiused? Did Malfoy give you something? I bet he could slip you any potion he wants, what with you living as his lap dog for months—”

“Enough.” Kingsley rises from his chair. Smith cowers under the force of his stare and sits back down. “Harry,” the Minister says, keeping his eyes fixed on Smith all the while, “do you swear you are not cursed or drugged?” His eyebrow twitches upwards, like he doesn’t believe for a minute Harry could be either of these things.

“He’s not, Minister Shacklebolt,” Auror Boyle pipes up. She clutches her notepad to her chest when Harry casts her a questioning glance. She adds in explanation: “The wards of your floor are programmed to detect malicious magic.” 

“I had to ask,” Kingsley says. “Standard protocol.” He sits back down. “Zacharias, the Caduceus’ accounts were certified for the fifth year in a row. Harry, you say that despite the lack of transparency, you haven’t found anything that could lead you to believe there is anything illegal in the company’s past.”

Smith can’t contain himself. “But… but Kingsley! Three millions Galleons!” He gestures wildly, his face gradually turning redder. “No trace of them in wizarding accounts until 2005, and then suddenly, here they are, feeding into Malfoy’s Potions business. It’s bloody common sense! That’s the most suspicious transaction I’ve ever seen in my career, and you’re going to take Potter’s word that Malfoy is clean?”

“Look, Zacharias—” the Minister starts.

“Wizarding accounts.” The words come from Boyle. She looks down at her notes, then up at the rest of them. “You said there was no trace of the three million Galleons in wizarding accounts.” The heat of the office is forgotten. Harry feels his body freeze as he realises what Boyle’s next words are going to be. She says, “What about Muggle ones?”

Next to Harry, Smith is equally still, shocked into silence by the notion that he might have missed a lead. Even his breathing has stopped. “I— I—” he stutters, strangled. “That never happens! British laws ensure wizarding businesses state their non-wizarding sources of income!”

“Again, Mr Smith, with all due respect,” Boyle says, “you’re talking about British laws. When he gave me the case, Auror Weasley left me a detailed account of our suspect’s life up to this year. And while Caduceus was established after Draco Malfoy came back to London, the idea of it — Juvence, the flagship potion — was born somewhere else.”

“Bugger,” Smith exhales, stunned. “In... France? Muggle sources? He woudn’t have—  it makes no sense— a bigoted pureblood wizard, dirtying his hands with Muggle money—”

“It’s a hypothesis,”  Boyle concedes, standing her ground, “but once we’ve explored all the obvious leads, whatever loophole we find must be checked as well.”

“Harry,” Kingsley’s voice snaps Harry out of his mute horror. “Do you think Auror Boyle’s assumption could be correct?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says, mind reeling. “It’s definitely a worthwhile trail to follow. Something I can hopefully dig out when I go back there.”

“Kingsley, this investigation has gone on long enough!” Smith rages. “Have the Aurors bring Malfoy in, interrogate him, save everyone time and money! Juvence wouldn’t have existed without significant investments — Caduceus wouldn’t even have a potion to sell if it wasn’t for that! Malfoy is hiding something, and clearly, the gentle method,” he eyes Harry with disdain, “isn’t working fast enough!”

Harry sees the flicker of conviction in Kingsley’s eye, and he remembers his first meeting with Kingsley and the way the Minister nearly had to force him to take the case. The auditors’ persistence with Caduceus’ finances so ham-fisted, Harry’d had to concede Draco hadn’t exaggerated about it. All his conversations with Ron, so wary of this case he had eventually withdrawn from it.

It all clicks into place. Dread dawns on him.

“This isn’t an investigation,” Harry says. “This is a witch hunt masquerading as law.”

Zacharias Smith snarls like an animal. 

“If it is — then burn the witch.” Smith shakes his fist, eyes bloodshot and mad. “We need to make an example of Malfoy! We let too many Death Eaters off the hook. Look at them now, living their happily ever after lives, gathering fortunes that should rightfully go to the Ministry—” 

“Smith! Enough!” Kingsley slaps his hand on the desk. Harry realises he has half lifted from his chair, and so has Smith. 

Kingsley almost never raises his voice. When he does… even Harry doesn’t feel like challenging him.

Kingsley surveys them all from under his brows. “You’re going to need to calm down. Both of you, gentlemen, but mainly you, Zacharias. I dislike your implication that the Ministry even thinks of conducting unfair trials. Those methods belong to the past. Those days, as you’re well aware, are dark, dishonourable, and above all, behind us.” Smith looks like he wishes the earth would open and swallow him. With one last meaningful glance at him, Kingsley turns to Harry. “And you, Harry. I can give you another fortnight. Two more weeks, and I expect to find a complete file with indisputable proof of Malfoy’s innocence on my desk by then. If you fail to do that, I’m afraid we will have to call Draco Malfoy in for an initial hearing. It might not be more conclusive that what you’ve told me so far, but it won’t be pleasant for him either, and we’d all rather avoid that, wouldn’t we?”

Harry nods, but Smith isn’t done. “Kingsley!— a fortnight— it will be too late by then! Our records show that Malfoy holidays in France every summer at the end of July! Do you really think he’s not starting to notice the noose closing around his neck? He’s a Slytherin, for Merlin’s sake, or have you forgotten? Who knows if he’ll come back for another year this time?” Smith looks so desperate, even Kingsley’s displeased frown doesn’t deter him. “You’re a fool, Kinglsey, if you think that couldn’t happen. That the opportunity couldn’t be missed.”

“I’ll decide whether I’m a fool or not myself, Smith,” Kingsley says cooly, enough that Smith finally seems to hear the finality in his tone. “If that’s what happens — if Draco Malfoy chooses to hide abroad when he knows the Ministry has called him in for a hearing, then we’ll have actual, solid grounds for suspicion. Evading a Ministry request is a serious offense. In the meantime, Harry,” he adds, rising from his chair, and they all look up at him, knowing they’re being dismissed, “I’ll be waiting for your final report. Dewey will schedule a date and time, two weeks from now. Is everything clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry says. He stands, nods at Auror Boyle. He feels powerless, aghast. He has two weeks to find a way to prove Draco innocent without giving away the secret he promised to keep.

Two weeks, or Harry loses Draco.

And Draco loses everything.

Chapter Text

“All right, we’re home,” Harry tells Scorpius as he slides the key into the lock and pushes the front door of the townhouse open. The little boy scampers inside behind him. “What are the next steps now?”

It’s become part of his routine with Scorpius: on the days they come back from school, Harry asks him about the ‘next steps’. Scorpius gives Harry a long-suffering look, like he can’t believe how forgetful Harry is, and launches into a detailed enumeration of his plans for the evening. They’re always the same, always in the same order: first, cuddling with Balzac in the foyer, going upstairs for his bath, putting on his pyjamas, coming back downstairs to work on his piano piece until supper, then going to sleep after a story that Draco usually reads him when he’s home. Harry knows the schedule by heart, of course. But he sees the way Scorpius relaxes when he lists everything, so he asks him all the same. For Scorpius, it’s all about knowing what to expect, and knowing he will be surrounded by the people he cares about — his father, his nanny, his dog. Harry’s grateful that he somehow also became part of the little boy’s routine.

That routine, or at least Harry’s role in it, might end soon. He feels a wave of nausea at the very thought.

Harry’d received the memo from Dewey almost as soon as he’d walked out of the Ministry ten days before. Now, after what feels like an instant, his meeting with Kingsley is in three days.

He only has three days left. 

Three days.

It’s all he can think about, his mind constantly going over options and schemes, scenarios and what ifs, painfully alternating between hopeful and hopeless. They only have the beginning of a solution, he and Draco — and Hermione, actually, as she jumped headfirst into their plans as soon as they gave her the opportunity. She often visited Caduceus’ laboratories these days; her and her small team of Unspeakables were there to evaluate the possibility that Caduceus premises could host the new branch of research Hermione and Draco had agreed on. A week before, as they were taking off their lab robes and goggles after a round of the labs, she’d snapped at Draco for being all jittery. 

“Merlin, Draco, you need to get more serious about your health!” she’d chided, staring pointedly at the dark circles under Draco’s eyes. “And you too, Harry,” she’d added, possibly because Harry’s state wasn’t much better. “I know you two are—” she made a vague gesture between Harry and Draco, lifting her eyebrows “— you know, but you still need to get some sleep!”

Harry and Draco had ended up telling her exactly why they weren’t getting enough sleep. Certainly, sex was to blame; Harry slept in Draco’s bed every night now, no questions asked, and Draco let Harry fuck him with helpless abandon, hands in Harry's hair, murmuring his name like he couldn’t get enough. Like he didn’t know how much longer he’d have Harry for himself. Harry had told him about Kingsley’s ultimatum — the reason that really kept them awake at night. Getting Hermione on board and putting her ruthlessly powerful mind to work along with theirs had been one of their best ideas. She’d taken on their deadlock like it was a puzzle to solve, like it didn’t carry the same weight of personal crisis it did for Harry and Draco. She’d meet with them at Draco’s townhouse at the end of her work day and force them to go over their options over and over again. Ron would tag along occasionally, sometimes bringing little Rosie and Hugo with him. Hugo’s Nesting pushchair would sit in the foyer, like it was defying Harry to find a solution. Rose had eyed Scorpius curiously the first few times, unable to decide if the quiet, unsmiling boy was worth making friends with. Until one evening Scorpius was sat in front of the grand piano to play a mazurka for her. She’d whispered, “Wow, cool,” and sat next to him on the piano bench. They’d become steady piano partners after that. With a fond smile, Ron’d told Harry that Rosie now wanted to learn the piano ‘when she was big like Scorpius.’

Hermione, meanwhile, was working with them on the best way to close the topic once and for all. She was certain that the only way the Ministry would ever drop the case against Draco was if Harry told Kingsley the truth about the three million Galleons from Nesting’s payout. The main hurdle was ensuring Ernestina wouldn’t be charged for her shares in the company, and that Draco wouldn’t be blamed for protecting her. Draco had dug his heels in at first, something Harry easily understood. He wondered if it had been the same for his aunt, once — if she’d been on the edge of telling Harry the truth for years, only to swallow it, keep it under wraps, until Hagrid had showed up and forced the Dursleys to reveal their secret with one swift, life-changing kick at their door. While Draco hadn’t hidden anything that unsavory, he’d never thought Nesting would come under the spotlight. From Harry’s standpoint, Draco’s secret seemed inoffensive, but Draco had spent years living with it, the once-small matter growing with time, becoming foundational to Draco’s present life, to Caduceus, to Draco’s friendship with Ernestina. Harry knew it: the older they got, the more it hurt when the secrets came out.

Hermione had spent nights reviewing all the wizarding law books she owned as well as the impressive collection at Draco’s house. She’d said wizarding laws regarding house-elves had evolved slightly since the war but remained full of loopholes. Magical folk still couldn’t be bothered thinking of house-elves like real people, she had ranted, her brow furrowing in a furious frown. Harry had half-expected her to take her old SPEW badges out of whatever box she’d put them away in and start wearing them again.

 “The company is based abroad,” Hermione'd insisted, “British rules may not apply. That could be a way to win the case.” She’d called a certain Ella DiCara — a Ravenclaw four years above them, now a civil rights solicitor — to confirm her intuitions, but Ella hadn’t had time to get back to her yet. Harry had tried not to worry. He’d tried to trust his instincts, Draco and Hermione’s intelligence, and the fact that what he knew of Kingsley painted him as fundamentally just.

But Harry only has three days left now, and he feels his hopes grow thinner by the minute. He waits until Scorpius has climbed the last front steps and closes the door behind them. 

As they step inside the foyer of Draco’s house, Harry notices it immediately: the faint burnt smell, the eerily unusual quiet. He stills, his senses on high alert. He waits for Balzac’s tell-tale limp, coming from the corridor to meet them. But the dog never comes, and Scorpius’ hand closes around Harry’s sleeve.

“Daddy,” the boy says. It’s not a question. 

It’s a warning.

That’s when Harry sees it.

The burnt hydrangea on his right hand side, its grey petals singed brown. The tall grey vase, a long crack running up its side as if hit by a spell…

“Daddy,” Scorpius says again, and without waiting for Harry to respond, breaks into a run towards Draco’s study.

“Fuck,” Harry curses, adrenaline flooding him, blood pumping through his skull, his entire body going hot. “Fuck.” He runs after Scorpius.

When he reaches the door to Draco’s study, his breath catches.

The room looks like… like it was hit by an Expulso . There are papers and parchments thrown everywhere; books and records fallen from the shelves; still-steaming burn holes in the carpets. The unicorn and dragons chair is lying on its side, upturned. Someone put out the fire in the hearth, and the study is plunged into half-darkness. The only source of light comes from the French doors that have been thrown open; they’re letting in rays of sun and a warm, gentle breeze, completely at odds with the scene.

Inside, standing close to the door, Harry counts two Aurors — Auror Corie Boyle, her Senior Auror golden shoulder pads gleaming in the dim light, and a young man Harry’s never seen before. They both have their wands drawn and pointed towards the back of the room. In front of them, a tall figure dressed in a nondescript suit is pacing, and Harry contains an outraged growl when he recognises Zacharias Smith. He’s going restlessly back and forth the width of the room, his hands behind his back, his face red, a disturbed glee shining on his features. 

Harry grabs Scorpius by the shoulder before he can go closer to the Aurors, and the boy lets out a strangled whine.

On the floor, on their left, Harry sees the immobile form of Balzac, eyes wide and terrified, trapped under a Petrificus Totalus .

At the end of the room stands Draco, his back against the record shelves, his wand drawn and pointed at Smith. His eyes are following Smith’s movements, haughtiness and contempt written all over his face. It’s only when he sees Harry and Scorpius on the threshold that his stance falters. Unnoticed by the Aurors and Smith, Harry takes his wand out, hoping Draco can hold his own, hoping Scorpius can stay quiet.  

Smith is talking, and Harry pricks his ears up to listen.

“...absurdly lucky, you’ve managed to slip through our net for so long, and now you’re resisting arrest?... Ah, Malfoy, Malfoy…” Smith shakes his head theatrically. “Malfoy… Such bad decisions. Such a way of making your case worse. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to just follow us nicely? Or did you really have to make us corner you like a hunted animal? What are the Aurors going to think now they’ve seen you fight?” Smith stops pacing, turns to Draco. Something on Smith's face makes Draco grimace. “That looked suspicious as hell, if you want my professional opinion.”

“Your professional opinion—?” Draco laughs mirthlessly. “You don’t even have a warrant.” It’s not the first time he’s said that, judging by his cold resignation. Harry sees the Auror fidget uncomfortably at that. By the looks of it, they didn’t know about it until they got here, either. “You don’t have anything on me. I don’t owe you anything.”

“Looks like you’re not going to have much of a choice in the end, Malfoy. You don’t even have your guard dog with you. And I’m not talking about the useless three-legged fluff ball over there,” Smith adds, throwing a disdainful look at Balzac. “It looks like your darling Potter has abandoned ship as well.”

Harry steps forward.

“Sorry to ruin the best line of your dramatic villain monologue, Smith,” Harry says, protectively pushing Scorpius behind him as he does. The Aurors round on him, their wand hands twitching when they realise who he is. “But this is the opposite of abandoning ship. What the fuck are you doing here?”

Smith’s face turns redder. “Potter—” he stutters. “I told Kingsley — this is our last chance to close the case! And I’m taking it! I don’t need a warrant for a friendly Ministry hearing!”

“Friendly?” Harry huffs a little laugh. It doesn’t sound conciliatory — it sounds dangerous. “Then why are you here with two Aurors?”

“We were told there was a warrant,” Auror Boyle explains. Her voice is thin — unconvinced. “Do you really not have one, Smith?”

“I don’t need one!” Smith roars, gesturing wildly at the study. For someone who knows the place as well as Harry does, the whole scene is blood-curdling; all its meticulous cosiness in utter disarray.  “Look at how the suspect reacted! Isn’t it enough? Aren’t the spells he fired at us enough not only to bypass a warrant, but to justify an arrest?”

“Spells fired in legitimate defense!” Draco bursts, and at the sound of his father’s voice, Scorpius whines louder, thrashes under Harry’s grip. 

When Draco hears his son, he turns mortally pale, his purple-ringed eyes fixed on Harry. There’s a plea in them, in the desperate tilt of his brows. Harry can read Draco’s thoughts as loud as if Draco had spoken them: don’t try anything rash, don’t do anything that might put Scorpius in danger. Please.

“Scorpius—” Draco says.

But he’s interrupted by a third Auror who bursts inside the study, pushing a small, bound figure in front of him. 

Ernestina.

“Got her, chief,” the Auror announces brightly. He takes in the state of the study before muttering: “She was almost feistier than her boss.”

“Mistor!” Ernestina cries. Her arms are bound to her body with thick, magical rope. Her left eye is purple and swollen, her nose is bleeding over her neat, pretty blouse. Harry gapes at her in horror. They didn’t… They couldn’t— “Mistor, Ernestina tries to break away! Auror threatens to get to Scorpius! Ernestina can’t! Won’t! Let it happen!”

Next to Harry, Scorpius is rocking under his hand, his face streaked with tears. “Nestine—!” he cries out once more. Auror Boyle’s mouth twist into a pained grimace, and her diverted attention seems to break one of the spells — the one holding Balzac down. Without the Aurors noticing, the dog scrambles to his feet, runs and pounces on the nearest Auror with a snarl and a bark. 

The Auror turns his wand on the dog with a yelp and fires a loud, “Stupefy!”

Then several things happen at once, as though in slow motion.

The red lightning bolt hits Balzac in the chest, and he flies backwards, hitting the coffee table that splits in half under his weight with a loud crack. Among the shards of wood, the shaggy black fur looks eerily unmoving, and Harry can’t tell if Balzac is still breathing.

What he knows is that his own breath is stuck in his throat.

Because Scorpius is crying out — a long, loud, uninterrupted sound, like an animal in pain — and the shelves are starting to shake. Everyone in the room has frozen in mute dread — and the little boy keeps crying, crying, crying, as the books and records on the shelves rattle ominously, as the lid of the grand piano bangs open, as the keys start to play all together, a discordant cacophony that barely covers Scorpius’s scream. Then the keys lift off the piano like a wave—

“Down!” Someone yells, and Harry isn’t sure if it was him or Draco, but he shoves Scorpius to the ground and rolls down alongside him, blindly casting a Protego around them as he does— 

And the piano keys explode in a blast of air, like a hundred bullets, all over the room, breaking shelves, shattering the glass of the windows, getting one of the Aurors — the one holding Ernestina — in the shoulder, blood splashing Harry and Scorpius’ faces and clothes.

Then time seems to stop.

There’s sudden, deafening silence in the study — Harry barely hears the wounded Auror’s curses and laboured breath, barely hears the broken pieces of glass clatter to the hardwood floors. His mind is blank, a loud buzzing in his ear. His eyes frantically roam the room, searching for casualties. At one end of the study, Draco is on the floor, on his stomach, his hands over the back of his head. His back rises and falls. Alive. He’s alive. Ernestina has been thrown to the ground as well, whether by the force of the explosion or by her own presence of mind, Harry can’t tell. Scorpius doesn’t seem physically hurt. He’s completely quiet now, though, his eyes wide and unresponsive, and Harry’s scared, scared and helpless— 

“What the fuck was that?!” Zacharias Smith is lifting himself off the ground on all fours. He rubs a hand on his face, stares back at Harry and Scorpius, a mixture of disbelief and dark hatred written on his face. Then he turns towards Draco. “Malfoy, is that your son?” He puts a foot on the floor and stands, staggering as he regains his balance. “Fuck me— I fucking knew there was something wrong with you, Malfoy. Of course there was. As though a Death Eater could spawn anything other than a bloody freak—”

The red flash hits Smith square in the chest, cutting him off and sending him stumbling backwards, limp body falling against the ravaged grand piano. 

In the back of the study, Draco rises from the ground, wand still pointed at Smith, his other hand rubbing his eye.

“Don’t you fucking dare call my son that word ever again, you miserable piece of shit,” Draco growls, paying no mind to the three Aurors pointing their wands at him.

“Draco Malfoy,” Auror Boyle’s words echo in the quiet study. Her voice is trembling, barely — but Harry hears it nonetheless. “You are under arrest for obstructing an investigation and attacking a Ministry official.” She takes a breath, casting a quick, apologetic glance at Harry and Scorpius. Then her eyes turn to Draco once more. “I’ll ask you to follow us without making more of a scene. You are entitled to a lawyer and a firecall once we arrive on Ministry premises.”

“What about this one?” The Auror who’s holding Ernestina’s bound wrists asks, shaking her slightly. She whimpers in fear.

“Right,” Auror Boyle says. She opens her mouth, the slight hesitation of those who’ve never had to arrest a house-elf before. When she finally speaks, though, it’s evident she’s at least checked some of her facts. “Ernestina Yolanda Maria Ramirez Granado, you are under arrest for obstructing an investigation and for failure to comply with Auror orders. You are also suspected of participating in a potentially illegal business.”

Ernestina nods and sobs quietly, unable to form a word. Draco stands still for so long, Harry starts to worry that he’s going to fight the Aurors again. 

Then he lets his wand hand drop. 

“All right,” he says, defeated. “All right.”

Draco walks up to the Aurors, who take his wand and cast a binding spell on his wrists while Harry watches, powerless and horrified. Auror Boyle flicks her wand at Zacharias Smith’s unconscious form and mutters, Wingardium Leviosa.” Smith’s body lifts up, and she brings him closer with another wave of her wand. They start marching Draco and a sobbing Ernestina out of the study, Smith floating limply behind them. Scorpius is still lying on the floor, his big brown eyes fixed on his father as he walks towards the door, and Harry wants to scream, wants to turn time and stop it all before it happened—

“Where are you taking him?” he asks, urgent.

“The DMLE, Mr Potter,” Boyle tells him as they leave. 

“For how long?”

“I’m not sure…" Boyle hesitates, then adds, "It will depend on how well they cooperate.” She nods towards Draco and his house-elf.

“His son—”

“Harry.” When Draco speaks, the Aurors stop for a second. Draco’s looking at him, his face a pale shade of grey, his eyes exhausted and hollow save for the imploring glint in them. “Please. Take care of Scorpius. Take care of him— until I’m back.” His shoulders slump and he shakes his head, looking empty again. His sneer is bitter and his tone is several degrees colder when he adds: “We’ll talk — we’ll finish this when I come back.”

When they leave, Harry kneels next to Scorpius, takes a look around the devastated study. He wipes the blood off his face with a dirty sleeve. He’s alone in a big, empty house, with a catatonic child and an unconscious dog. He’s certain the loud ringing in his skull can only mean one thing.

That his plans have all gone to hell, and that this is the end.

Chapter Text

When Draco arrives at the Ministry, escorted by the Aurors, they let him name a solicitor and make a firecall before they sit him down for an interrogation.

“Ella DiCara,” he says, for the solicitor part. He thinks about the one firecall he’s allowed to make. Thinks of Harry, alone with Scorpius and Balzac in the big townhouse. Thinks of the fireplace in his study, the way Smith put it out with a careless Aguamenti when he barged into the room. 

Thinks of Harry again, the way he’d looked at Draco from across the room, like his entire world was collapsing. 

“Hermione Granger,” Draco tells the Aurors when they ask him again whom he'd like to firecall.

Draco only leaves the Ministry when the Aurors give him his wand back and when he’s made sure Ernestina was released. “She went home an hour ago,” the DMLE assistant on duty assures him. That’s all the information Draco manages to get. The Aurors won’t tell him if she’d received proper medical care upon her arrival at the DMLE. He tries to think rationally about it, about the fact that Ernestina was brutalised in her own home, under a roof Draco’d sworn she would always be safe. About the fact that it’s common practice for the Aurors and they probably won’t be blamed for it. 

Thinking rationally is the best he can do to save whatever’s left to save. If he snaps now… 

Draco shakes his head, stepping out of the phone box at the entrance of the Ministry and into the London night. It’s past ten o’clock on a cool, rainy Wednesday night in July, but the streets of Charing Cross are still bustling with life. Draco shoves his hands in his trouser pockets and sets off at a brisk pace, his head lowered against the drizzle. A group of young Muggles walk by, laughing raucously and taking much of the space on the pavement. One of the boys pulls one of the girls by the shoulder and in for a kiss on the cheek. The girl squeals, giggles, cuts herself short when she catches Draco’s eyes. “Sorry, mate,” the young bloke says, making room for Draco to pass.

Draco sidesteps their group and walks faster. He wishes, idly, that he could have brought his running clothes. Lets out a rueful laugh at the thought. Running would help him think, for sure — but the streets are full of Muggles, and he can’t be arsed to hide and transfigure all his clothes for the half hour it would take to run home.

Smith’s words still ring in his ears, still make his hands itch for his wand. A bloody freak, he’d called Scorpius. Smith had deserved the Stunner he’d got in the chest. Merlin, he would have deserved a thousand more. Draco would have killed Smith if his son hadn’t been there, watching him. Draco can’t decide what the worst punishment for that absolute bastard could be. It was all a witch hunt, he thinks, the words on a wry, disillusioned loop. He’ll make sure Smith goes down in flames if it’s the last thing he does.

Draco had ended up telling the Aurors the truth, eventually. All these days spent strategising with Harry and Hermione, and it had all come down to this. Burst in, shake Draco’s world upside down, and watch all of Draco’s secrets spill out. 

Ella DiCara had sat with Draco while he told the Aurors about Nesting . About his life in Paris, laughing and sketching ideas for children’s equipment. Becoming friends with the most unlikely person he could have imagined — an older Spanish house-elf, smart as a whip and so ambitious, her faith in her own project was positively contagious. Things he’d always wanted to keep for himself, the piece of carefree youth he’d managed to scavenge from the ruins of war and the Malfoys’ fallen reputation. He’d ended up telling the Aurors about Nesting’s dividends and how he’d invested them in developing Juvence and the structure of Caduceus. The lawyer had sat next to him, her face grave, and hadn’t let the Aurors go until they’d promised Ernestina could be discharged for the night, considering the numerous holes Ella had poked in the current wizarding laws. She’d been able to dig out some obscure legal precedents from the European Wizarding Court that Draco hadn’t been aware of, and that could apply to his case. According to her, nowhere was it written, in fact, that Ernestina’s and Draco’s association was illegal. 

“Frowned upon, yes,” Ella'd conceded with a sneer. “A backwards way of thinking of other magical creatures, if you want my opinion. But not illegal.”

Draco had been less talkative with Hermione. He’d given her the big picture — arrested by the Aurors, Hermione’s lawyer friend sitting with him during the interrogation, the slight change of plans in the face of unexpected events — but hadn’t got into details. He couldn’t say it. He couldn’t talk about Ernestina’s bruised face, about Balzac lying in an unconscious heap on the floor, about Scorpius’ screams, about Harry’s desperate eyes and his last second Protego that had shielded Draco’s son from further harm once again. Not with the DMLE as his witnesses. 

“Is Harry okay?” Hermione had still asked, always the perspicacious one. 

“He will be,” Draco had told her. 

Eventually, he’d added in his head.

Draco walks around a gaggle of brightly-dressed tourists stationed on the pavement across from Westminster. The abbey is beautifully illuminated for the night, its tall roof poking out of sheets of rain. Draco’s heart squeezes in his chest. Maybe a walk wasn’t a good idea; the beauty of his city is almost too much to bear in his current state of dejection. He’s terrified for his son, for Ernestina, for what will happen tomorrow when the press gets the first whiff of his arrest. The scandal they’ll no doubt construct based on a blurry photograph and a bland, ‘no comment’ statement from the Aurors. He feels lonely and helpless, surrounded by crowds of people walking down the same streets as him, his own distress completely out of their reach. Thousands of thoughts race through his mind. He’s unable to stop them and equally unable to settle on one and dissect it. There are two thoughts he’s avoided since the Aurors bound him and took him to the Ministry, and he only allows himself to go back to them when the silhouette of Buckingham Palace is behind him and the trees of Eaton Square Gardens come into view.

The first one is Scorpius.

It's near impossible to dwell on Scorpius for long. The very thought of his son being hurt again steals Draco's breath — he has to stop, one hand on a tree trunk, another clutching the place where his heart beats painfully in his chest. He hopes Harry found a way to help Scorpius out of his fit, that he managed to tame his magic down enough to avoid another catastrophe. Draco can’t think of what tomorrow will be like, and the days after that. He can’t believe he let it happen — let those bastards force their way into his home, beat up his house-elf, hex his dog, and scare his little boy so badly he literally exploded the room and passed out. He takes a big, heaving gulp of air. Keep walking, he chastises himself. Go the fuck home. They’re waiting for you there.

He’s waiting for you there.

Harry.

His second thought.

He only now realises how much Harry has risked for him, how much he has given up. When Draco had seen him standing there, taking in the mess Smith and his Aurors had made… He had been convinced that one word, one lift of Harry’s eyebrow, would give what they were to each other away. Harry’d had that look on his face…. It was a look that Draco remembered seeing on Harry’s face many years ago — determined to do what he must to help his friends, to save the day — and for a second Draco’s mind had flashed back to his Hogwarts years... to how much he’d wished, back then, to be the centre of Harry’s undivided, bull-headed focus. And now that he was, Draco suddenly felt utterly unworthy of it. 

He’d recognised what Harry was doing, perhaps before Harry saw it himself. 

Because that was what Harry had always done. 

What he’d been programmed to do.

Harry, good, strong, kind-hearted Harry, was sacrificing his future for Draco. He was jeopardising the faith the Ministry was putting in him, all for Draco. If anyone other than their friends found out about their involvement… If anyone found out Harry was having a love affair with Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater and current suspect in a DMLE case… that he’d changed sides for Draco... then not even Harry’s Saviour goodwill would save him from public scorn. That was what Draco’s love could do to the reputation of even the best, most loved figure of the wizarding world. 

That’s all the good Draco’s love can do. 

He’d never thought he and Harry stood a chance, but Draco had wanted him anyway.

Merlin, does he want him, still.

With a resolute shake of his head, Draco pushes his wet hair away from his face, his mouth twisting in a self-loathing sneer. Certainly, if word of their relationship got out, Draco’s fate would be far worse than Harry’s — there would be no helping him in the investigation the Ministry would launch this time. But Harry… Harry had given too much. He’d suffered enough. Draco wouldn’t allow it to happen again. How presumptuous of him, really, to have assumed Draco Malfoy deserved a happy ending. His selfishness has caused enough damage. He can’t keep imposing it on Harry. There’s only one way to put a stop to it, and Draco knows what it is.

When he finally reaches the front door of his house and pushes it open, he knows what to do. 

And he’s ready to do it.

 

*

 

This day has been… the worst day.

The study still looks eviscerated by it.

In the middle of the wreckage, when everybody else had left, Harry had cast a gentle Renervate on Balzac, helping the poor dog up on his feet. Balzac’s limp had been worse than before, and Harry had worried about a broken limb before he’d realised Balzac had a long splinter of wood stuck in the paw of his hind leg. 

“Shhh, Balzac, good boy,” Harry'd soothed when Balzac had whined, trying to pull his paw away from Harry’s grip. He’d cast a quick Extracto to vanish the splinter. Balzac’s paw would probably still be painful for a day or two. His breathing had been laboured, the after-effect of the Stunning spell fired at him.

God, what a mess.

Scorpius was a different kind of conundrum. Harry had had experience shielding Scorpius from his own magic on one occasion and Apparating him to St Mungo’s immediately afterwards. He’d never dealt with the actual aftermath of Scorpius’ flares — Draco had assured him they were extremely rare these days, and only triggered by extreme events unlikely to happen. Well, aren’t we lucky, Harry’d thought bitterly. He’d knelt near Scorpius, Balzac whining quietly on Scorpius’ other side, and checked his vitals as a precaution. He might not have to go to the hospital this time… 

“Scorpius, can you hear me?” Harry'd asked gently. Scorpius’ eyes had shifted to his — then immediately flitted up to his scar. Harry could have cried with relief. “Good, good,” he’d comforted him. “You’re brilliant, Scorpius. You’re doing really great.” He’d shown Scorpius his hand. “Can I touch you? To help you up.” Almost miraculously, the little boy had nodded. Harry had taken a skinny little shoulder in his hand and pulled Scorpius up in a sitting position. Scorpius had immediately lunged to grab a piano key that had fallen near him.

“Nooooo,” Scorpius had breathed, a long, hissing exhale, and started rocking back and forth. “Nononononononononononono...”

It had taken another half hour for Scorpius to calm down enough to be able to stand.

 “Next steps, Scorpius, what are the next steps?” Harry had asked, trying to keep the desperate edge out of his voice. Eventually, Harry, with the help of Balzac gently nuzzling Scorpius’ side, had managed to get Scorpius back on a semblance of a routine; they’d all walked upstairs after Harry had Accio’d some bread and cheese for a quick snack for Scorpius — he’d doubted anyone was in the mood to eat a proper dinner, let alone cook it. Up on the first floor, he’d helped Scorpius get undressed. The boy had refused to even touch water. Harry had cast a mild Scourgify on Scorpius' face and hands, vanishing the grime and dried blood there. A proper bath would be a battle for another day. Then the three of them had moved to Scorpius’ bedroom. Harry had tucked the sheets around Scorpius, the way Draco had told him he always did. The boy’s magic had felt like an immobile dark mass tonight, like Harry was standing on the shore of Hogwarts’ Great Lake, wondering when the giant squid would burst out of the water. Balzac had jumped on the bed, curling at Scorpius’ feet, his big brown eyes blinking at his little master, and Harry’s heart had felt threateningly full.

Harry had read the same few pages about Chopin on a loop, Scorpius gradually relaxing, his eyelids growing heavier with each new read of the story. “Frederic François Chopin was born in Poland in 1810…” By the time he’d managed to get Scorpius asleep, Harry could have recounted Chopin’s life by heart. He’d risen from his chair and cast the motion-sensing charms Draco had told him about. The magic had shimmered over Scorpius’ sleeping form, and Balzac had let a low rumble at the back of his throat.

“Good boy,” Harry had said with a tired smile. “You’ll keep an eye on him, will you?”

It’s nearly half past eleven now, judging by the hands on the grandfather clock in Draco’s study. It’s raining in earnest outside, the fresh, bracing scent of wet vegetation drifting inside. Harry closes the doors to the garden before puddles start forming on the hardwood floors. 

He’s about to attempt tidying up Draco’s study when he hears the front door close.

The next few seconds feel like an eternity. Harry considers reaching for his wand, feels idiotic for it. When Draco’s form finally appears in the doorway, Harry’s breath leaves him in a rush. He doesn't know how long he’d been holding it.

It’s dark. Nobody thought of building a new fire, or switching on the small lamp on Draco’s desk. And now nobody thinks of casting a Lumos. Draco’s face is in shadows, but his eyes gleam in the low light. They’re fixed on Harry, and Harry can’t move, can’t look away.

“How is Scorpius?” Draco sounds like he’s only had those three words in mind for hours.

“He’s fine… He’s good. He’s sleeping.”

“Not hurt?”

Harry’s not sure how to answer that. “I don’t think so… not that I could tell. It took him a while to settle.”

Draco nods. “Balzac?”

“Limping. Looks like his chest still hurts. But he’s with Scorpius now.” Harry watches Draco, the way he still seems to hesitate on the threshold. “How are you? Ernestina?”

“Ernestina Apparated home before I left the Ministry,” Draco says. Harry lifts his eyebrows. “She was… not in a good state. She must have gone straight to her rooms… she must have thought going to see Scorpius would only upset him more.”

Harry’s fists clench, something bitter like bile creeping up his throat. “That bad?”

Draco steps inside. He walks around the wrecked coffee table, the sofa with its cushions ripped open. Slow, deliberate paces. Like he’s taking it all in for the first time. He reaches out, lets his fingers linger along the ridge of the back on the sofa, the sound a soft, hissing slide. Then he sags to the ground, his back to the side of the sofa, his long legs stretched out in front of him. 

Harry sits down on the carpet, his legs crossed, a few careful feet away from Draco. “Draco…?” he prompts gently.

“It’s over,” Draco says, like the words are hurting to get out.

“What is?” Harry’s not sure why he’s keeping his voice down. A heavy hush falls over the room. The ticking of the grandfather clock is the only sound to disturb it.

“This,” Draco replies. He rubs his eye with the heel of his hand. “Us.”

The word is like a punch to the solar plexus. Like Harry’s ribs tighten around his lungs.

“What do you mean…?”

Draco lifts his head abruptly. His eyes are harsh, piercing.

“You promised you’d protect us.”

“I—”

“I agreed to it… as long as my son was kept out of this— this bloody mess. And you swore to me. Instead…” Draco casts a meaningful look around the study to make his point. “...instead your little friends barged in here, into my home, where my child lives.”

“They’re not my friends," Harry protests. "You know I’ve nothing to do with that shady raid. I would never put you or Scorpius on the line like that. You bloody well know it.”

“This wouldn’t have happened, though, would it?” Draco says. “If you hadn’t stayed here for so long. If you hadn’t let Zacharias Smith go rabid with the case, waiting for you to solve it.”

Harry stares at him in disbelief, unable to reconcile the image of his Draco, his clever, observant, logical Draco, with the walled-off man in front of him. 

“This is so fucking unfair, Draco. We discussed everything together. It was part of our plan. I stayed by mutual agreement.”

“You’re a liability,” Draco grinds out. “I didn’t see it soon enough… I was weak. Blinded by—” He gestures between him and Harry, and Harry’s throat tightens painfully, “—by this. Your attention. Your touch. Like an infatuated teenager.” His eyes go back to Harry. “It has to stop.”

“What are you talking about?” Harry forces his voice not to tremble. His entire body seems to have frozen on the spot, rooted to the carpet underneath his clenched fists. “Draco… you weren’t weak. You weren’t blind. You — we mean something. We care about each other. Fucking hell, Draco, we’re in l—”

“Dont! Say! It!” Draco barks, his cold composure finally cracking. “I told you not to say it! Not when this can’t be real!” 

“This is real!” Harry shouts back. “This is as real as it fucking gets!”

“It isn’t! Not on my terms!”

“Your terms.” Harry scoffs. “What about mine?”

“Oh, please." Draco turns away. " As if any of it matters now, Harry. This can’t go on. What do you expect? Us walking into the Ministry hand in hand, making a happy announcement? And what would that be? That you’ve been fucking me for months while pretending you were still Shacklebolt’s spy? Or that Draco Malfoy was stupid enough to spread his legs for a Ministry mole?” His lip curls in a sarcastic sneer. “Pray tell, Harry, which one sounds better to you?”

Harry gapes at Draco, his mind shocked into blankness. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do.” Draco lifts a hand to his face, rubs his eye again. It’s too dark for Harry to tell if he’s crying. “This is how I feel.”

“Draco... This isn’t like you. What are you even trying to do…?” Harry’s question ends in the back of his throat, high and strangled. He feels it coming before he knows to name it — the shortness of breath, the blood pumping so loudly through his skull he can’t hear anything else, the cold sweat spreading on his nape and the small of his back— 

Harry lifts up his knees, puts his face between them, forces himself to breathe, breathe, breathe, even though every breath is killing him. This is not my Draco, his mind keeps churning over and over. Not my Draco. This can’t be the end. Something happened. He’s trying to do something… He’s trying to do something, and I need to figure out what is going on in that Slytherin mind… He pushes the thoughts away. They won’t help him now. He shakes them off like an Imperius , and the crushing sensation slowly fades. He takes a big gulp of air, then another. It’s like resurfacing after a long dive, his lungs too tight for the intake of breath. He’s cold, shivering, but the feeling of the room closing up on him recedes. He might not break down. 

Not now, anyway.

Slowly, Harry manages to lift his head and gaze at Draco. 

Draco is watching him, his chest rising and falling with each of his quick, heavy breaths. The features of his beautiful face are twisted like he’s in agony, his hands clasped in his lap like he’s stopping himself from reaching out. Harry wants to crawl over to him on all fours, take Draco’s face between his hands, cradle it as he kisses him. And kisses him again.

This can’t be the last time Harry sees him— 

“What are you doing?” Harry whispers, a broken sound.

“You offered to protect me, all these months ago,” Draco says quietly. “This is me protecting you back.”

“I— I don’t need that from you—”

“Of course you’d say that.” Draco snorts a bitter laugh. “You’re… too good for your own good, Harry. The fact that you don’t even see that makes you even more special. I envied you so much for it — Merlin, I still do. I wish I was as good as you.”

“You are. You’re the best man, Draco—”

Draco gives his head a shake. “I’m not. But it’s time I followed in your footsteps. Being with me in the circumstances we’re in… it would ruin you, Harry. And I can’t—” His voice breaks slightly, and Harry watches him, mute dread spreading through him, as Draco takes a steadying breath. When he speaks again, it’s clear to Harry that he’s made his decision, and no amount of convincing will change it. “I can’t let that happen, Harry. I can’t live with myself, knowing I’m the cause of it.”   

There’s no coherent thought in Harry’s mind anymore. Only one word, spinning in vain.

“Please…”

Draco lets his head drop against the back of the sofa. “It’s over.” He sighs, a trembling exhale. “You’re the one who saw it first. You’re the one who said it. ‘This is a nightmare. This is fucking impossible.’ And guess what? You were right.” 

Harry’s chest hurts. His eyes are burning. He feels the wetness in his eyes start to spill over his cheeks. 

Draco’s eyes are shining in the darkness. “I can’t do this anymore, Harry,” he says, defeated. “It’s over.” 

There’s only the sound of the rain falling on the leaves of the cherry trees outside. Inside, the grandfather clock ticks the seconds away with grim finality. All around them, the disaster of the day remains — the upturned unicorn and dragon chair, the parchments everywhere, the ivory keys of the ruined grand piano gleaming on the floor like teeth.

Harry looks at Draco through blurry eyes. 

“Now what?” he whispers eventually.

“Now,” Draco says, eyes staring into the middle distance. His voice sounds thick. “Now I’m going to pick myself off the floor, make myself a cup of tea, and clean up this mess…” 

He looks at Harry. It’s a grief-stricken stare that goes through Harry’s heart, raw and sharp like a knife. 

“...and you… are going to leave.”

Chapter Text

The first time Harry lost someone he loved, he was fifteen, and he’d wanted to tear the world down.

This time, it’s like the world is crumbling down around him. And all he wants to do is fade away with it. 

He calls Angelica for the first time in years. “Harry?” says the therapist on the other side of the Floo. Her voice is as soft as Harry remembers. “Are you all right?”

He’s not.

He’s… not.

Harry goes to see her. He doesn’t really talk. 

“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s all right. Break-ups are hard. You’re allowed to grieve.”

He focusses on the softness of the cushion of the club armchair Angelica keeps for her patients; on the feel of the worn leather under the pads of his fingers. He tries not to focus on how losing Draco doesn’t feel like a break-up. He’s had break-ups before. He was disappointed, sad, angry — mundane emotions that passed after a couple of drinks with Ron at the pub and a couple of shags to fill the empty spot left in his bed. What he’s feeling now — this cresting wave of grief crushing his lungs, as real as physical pain — this monstrous thing doesn’t feel like a break-up.

It feels like Harry’s heart was torn out of his chest that night, and the world is asking him to learn to live without it.

He cries a little, sitting in Angelica’s club armchair, while she studies him with kind, keen eyes.

It’s the last time Harry cries.

He’d left Draco’s house that night, and hadn’t gone back. 

Harry’s got nowhere to go, nothing to do; he goes back to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He sends a memo to Kingsley — That was my last mission. Will be exploring new career options. Thank you for your trust throughout the years.  

Kingsley sends a memo back, saying he understands, that he wishes Harry the best in his future plans. Not that Harry has any. His job used to hold meaning for him — go in, figure out where the catch is, save the day yet again. Have the Minister pat his back, thank him for his service. You’ve this deeply internalised need for validation, Angelica had told him, years ago. Let’s work on it, shall we? Perhaps all the work done in therapy is only paying off now. Perhaps living alongside a suspect he was desperate to vindicate changed Harry’s perspective. The truth is, his job is nothing but an empty shell now. He can’t even think about it head-on — only look at it from the corner of his eye, like something rotting in an abandoned room, something he’d rather forget about.

He waits for the whole Caduceus case to blow over. Ron and Hermione visit him every once in a while. They bring food and news: Ella DiCara and a group of magical folk rights advocates have made the Caduceus and Nesting cases their standard flag and started meeting with the Minister and the Wizengamot regularly. 

“Ella’s argument is that the law is so outdated and irrelevant, it doesn’t even cover the possibility of anything like Nesting happening,” Hermione explains. “It doesn’t go past a society where house-elves are bound to their wizarding families. Free elves — someone like Ernestina, who’s lived abroad for years, who’s voluntarily chosen her employer, who is driven enough and ambitious enough not to think within those antiquated rules — never came into the equation. The DMLE and the Wizengamot might have very little to go on in a case against her and Draco, actually.”

“Kingsley has made this story his personal crusade,” Ron adds. “It’s a clever line to pick for the next election, as a liberal candidate. And I think he’s still bloody pissed off that Zacharias Smith goaded him into following his misled agenda. The taking down of an ex-Death Eater’s company would have been the crowning jewel of Smith’s career — and Kingsley failed to see that.” Ron lowers his head, abashed. “We all did, for a while.”

Harry finds out, upon flipping through the August issue of the Quibbler, that Draco is suing Zacharias Smith for harassment, abuse of power, and assault. The British Fraud and Finance Department is in complete disarray over the accusation and is already distancing itself from Smith, the Quibbler reporter writes. Draco’s going after those bastards with the same cold-blooded ruthlessness he’s poured into everything he’s ever achieved.

Harry’s burst of pride only serves to remind him of the hole Draco’s absence has left in his life.

The ‘Caduceus Scandal’ is all the wizarding press prints about for a solid month. At first, the tone of the articles is defamatory, as expected. ‘Former Death Eater starts company with foreign funds!’ prints the Daily Prophet the day after Draco’s and Ernestina’s arrests. The most shocking headline they can come up with is, ironically, the simple truth. Soon, even the newspapers realise there is little fault to be found in Draco’s decisions. The unlikely friendship between a man and a house-elf and their successful endeavour, against all odds and all rules, makes for a more epic, touching story — and that’s what ends up going into print and selling like hot cakes. Within a month, the opinion switches dramatically. 

“Draco is depicted as some kind of understated, unsung hero now,” Hermione sums it up one morning, weeks after the story broke, when she stops by Grimmauld on her way to the Ministry. “About time. With everything Caduceus has done to modernise healthcare in the wizarding world…”

Harry doesn’t ask about Hermione’s project with Draco. He finds he has no energy for new information. He wonders if Draco feels the same way; if it’s why he hasn’t reached out to Harry since that night. Because even casual updates feel like blades slipped between Harry’s ribs — and then he has to carry on with his day, ignoring the debilitating pain in his lungs.

Instead, he spends his days lying on the dusty sofa of his living room, staring at the cracks in the ceiling. His only trip outside is to Rough Trade, where he buys a copy of Edith Piaf’s record, the one he’d given Draco on his birthday. He puts the record on, goes back to the sofa, and plays the song at full volume for a good hour. It echoes eerily in the empty halls of his house, and he thinks of the contrast it makes with the night of Draco’s birthday, full of laughter and warmth and the promise of love. Grimmauld Place has lost the habit of having humans living inside its walls; it creaks and sighs around Harry, troubled like an introvert forced to keep company for days on end. Harry’s mind stays glumly blank, most of the time. When his anguish lifts long enough for other emotions to rear their heads, they’re always frustration and regret. That he’d listened to Draco, that he didn’t fight for him more. Action once was Harry’s response to the challenges life threw at him. He used to take the dragon by the metaphorical horns and dive into his issues until he solved them. But then… Harry remembers Draco’s shiny eyes that night, in the darkness of the study. He remembers the ruined room, the way Scorpius had held the piano key in his hand and cried. Draco had made his choice. He’d said that being with Harry put everyone in danger. It was the resolution in Draco’s tone, more than anything else, that had made Harry back down.

Knowing this doesn’t make anything easier. Harry misses the sunny townhouse filled with fresh white and grey hydrangeas; the sound of Scorpius’ piano floating up the stairs; the smells of Ernestina’s cooking; Balzac’s big eyes and wagging tail. He misses the lives he’d become a part of, where he’d found his proper place. It’s hard to breathe, sometimes, when he remembers.

And most of all, he misses Draco. 

God... 

He misses Draco like he’d miss air.

 

*

 

It’s dark inside the house when Harry hears the Floo flare in the kitchen and two sets of footsteps come up. He’s in his usual place — lying on the sofa in an old rock band t-shirt and faded joggers. Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien is blasting out of the speakers once again, and Harry’s blankly waving a hand around as the chorus swells and Ron and Hermione walk in the living room. Ron has his hands on his ears. Hermione’s brow is twisted in a disapproving frown.

“Oh, my god.” Hermione groans and flicks a spell at the record player. The vinyl record stops spinning abruptly, cutting the song off.

“Hey!” Harry objects weakly, lifting on an elbow. “I was listening to that.”

“Yes you were, you miserable sod,” Hermione grumbles. She walks to the windows, pulls the curtains open, lets the late August sunset pour in. “This has got to stop.”

Ron drops his hands and surveys the living room. His eyes linger on the clothes thrown carelessly over the chairs, the old bags of curry takeaways, the napkins on the floor. He takes in Harry’s dishevelled state and frowns.

“Mate, it’s eight o’clock. Have you been lying here all day?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, defensive. He doesn't see why that matters.

Ron shakes his head and Hermione gazes at Harry with sad eyes.

“Harry, this is getting pathetic,” she says after a moment.

Harry feels his throat heat with anger. Welcome change of emotion, he thinks idly, as he scrambles to a sitting position.

“It’s not!” he growls. Hermione still stares at him, unfazed by his irritation.

“You’re living like a recluse,” she says mildly, “listening to the same old love song all day…”

Ron sniffs. “When was the last time you shaved?”

Harry scratches his chin. To his surprise, his five o’clock shadow has turned into an actual beard.

“This isn’t the Harry I know,” Hermione presses on, determined to make him see her point. “You’re… you’re wallowing in this maudlin state—”

“I’m not wallowing—!”

“Then what do you call this?” she challenges, gesturing at the room.

“I’m heartbroken!” Harry shouts. He doesn’t know where the impulse comes from. His words ring in the silence of the living room, echo up the empty fireplace.

Hermione steps back, her mouth forming a little ‘o’ of shock. 

“Wow,” Ron breathes, his eyes wide. “Honestly, we thought you’d never say it.”

Harry closes his mouth, taken aback. “What?”

“Harry…” Hermione comes to sit on the sofa next to him. “It’s been over a month. You can’t carry on like this.”

“A month isn’t that long.” Harry crosses his arms, holding the sides of his ribs and eyeing Hermione and Ron from under his brows. “You guys have never been through this.” His throat aches. Ron and Hermione have always been the perfect couple, haven't they?

“Don’t even try to make this about us.” Hermione jabs her index finger in his chest. “We’re here to talk about you. We’re not going to stand on the side and watch you wither away.”

“I’m not withering away,” Harry mutters petulantly, though he knows it’s exactly what he’s been doing.

“Then are you doing anything about it?” Ron asks. He’s standing near the sofa, his hands in his pockets. He’s got his no-nonsense face on, the one he gives suspects during an interrogation. Just seeing it directed at him makes Harry want to smile. That’s another tiny shock: he hasn’t smiled since that night.

“I don’t know, do I?” Harry runs his hands through his hair. “There’s nothing I can do. Draco said he didn’t want me, and I’m— I’m not going to fight him on it, yeah? That’s not how it works.”

“Hmm,” Ron says, his mouth pursed in mock-thoughtfulness.

“What?”

“Who said...  he didn’t want you?” Hermione muses.

“Who said anything about a fight?” Ron adds.

Harry scowls at them both. “Any other suggestions?”

“Harry,” Hermione says, covering his hand with hers. “I can see Draco’s point. When he left, the Caduceus investigation wasn’t even officially closed yet. If the Ministry had as much as a whiff of you being involved with the main suspect… then Draco would have no hope of coming out of it looking clean. They would have made up the usual story — the manipulative Slytherin, seducing the righteous Gryffindor hero to meet his ends.”

Just thinking about it makes Harry’s stomach clench. Hermione’s argument sounds awfully accurate. Looking at it from a Ministry perspective, it would have been easy to twist Draco’s and Harry’s relationship into something ill-intentioned. But then…

“Then leaving me is still putting his own ends before — before ours,” Harry says with a frown.

“You can kill more than one bird with a stone,” Hermione says. “What did Draco tell you that night?”

Harry swallows hard. “That he was protecting me.”

“And that’s what he’s done, isn’t it?” Hermione insists. “Protecting himself. Protecting you. What you did — getting involved with Draco in the middle of the case — it was terribly ill-advised. It could have cost you Kingsley’s trust. Your reputation.”

“You really think I care about any of that?”

“No.” Hermione smiles a bit faintly at Harry, still looking sad. “You wouldn’t be you if you did.”

Ron leans forward. “But that also means — now that the case is closed…”

“It means things could be different for you and Draco. Have you considered it?” Hermione’s eyes are shining. “Harry… it could be real.”

It’s like Hermione’s word jolts Harry awake. Real. Draco had used the word repeatedly. When he cut off Harry’s declarations; when he kept Harry at arm’s length just enough to be able to pretend they could walk away from each other if they wanted to; when he told Harry they couldn’t stay together, in the end. What they’d felt for each other — what Harry still feels, wedged in his heart like a curse — it was real… But Harry has the abrupt vision of a future where Draco’s not the suspect, and Harry’s not the spy, and suddenly he sees what Draco had meant.

Harry turns to Hermione and Ron, feeling like the blood is pumping through his veins again. 

“Oh god. Why hasn’t he contacted me, then? Has he thought about that?     ” Harry sits straighter, startling his friends. “But he’s not in London anymore,” he realises, frantic. He takes Hermione’s hand in his. “He’s in Paris, isn’t he? Do you know where?”

Hermione exchanges a quick glance with Ron, bites her bottom lip, disconcerted. She shakes her head no.

“All my communications with him go through Jemima,” she admits. “She didn’t give me an address.”

“Then it means Jemima knows,” Harry insists.

“I don’t think it’s fair to drag her into this—”

“She can’t be the only one, can she?” Harry’s jiggling his leg, all nervous energy. He’s been spurred into action, finally. Not knowing where to turn is unacceptable. “There must be other people who know about Draco’s house there.”

“His mother, but you probably don’t want to go that route,” Ron says with a grimace.

“And we don’t know how to reach her, either,” Hermione adds. Harry’s about to suggest they Portkey to Paris this instant and just start knocking on every door in the city. Then Hermione’s face lights up, like she’s found the answer she was looking for in a Hogwarts library book. “Wait! Draco wasn’t alone in Paris, back when he was living there, was he?” she says, squeezing Harry’s hand in hers. “His mother was there, yes, but also…”

Realisation hits Harry like a spell.

“Ernestina.”  

“You reckon she’d tell us?” Ron asks, his expression so hopeful Harry wants to get up and hug him.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Harry says. 

And he leaps to his feet.

 

*

 

The front door of the Sloane Square townhouse is the same as Harry remembers it. He would feel silly for thinking this — of course a bloody door wasn’t going to change in a month — if he had any time to spare for disparaging his own thoughts. He knocks, the golden snake hitting the wood with three loud, solemn bangs.

A beat, then the door opens on Ernestina, wearing a pale pink apron over her neat, practical clothes. Harry notes, relieved, that her face doesn’t bear the after-effects of the Auror raid from a month ago. Her eyes widen when she takes them in — Harry, his face unshaved and his hair an absolute mess, still in his old t-shirt and joggers, flanked by Hermione and Ron. Then her expression shutters.

“Mistor Draco is not here, sir,” she says curtly, and makes to close the door.

Harry puts his foot in. “I’m here to see you, Ernestina,” he says.

Ernestina frowns but steps aside to let them in. “Ernestina is cleaning the kitchen, sirs,” she mutters sternly. “House-sitting for Mistor Draco is a busy job. Mistor Potter and his friends comes at an inconvenient time.”

“We won’t be here long,” Hermione assures her, and they follow her down to the kitchen.

Harry feels a pang being back here, the warm intimacy of the place flooding him with memories of Draco looking soft and at home, leaning against the bench with a cup of tea in his hand. He can almost sense Draco’s eyes on him, his amused little smile. Really, Potter? You’re that desperate to see me again? Ernestina must have been cleaning the silverware, as the table is buried under boxes of spoons, forks, and knives, each of them looking more refined and expensive than anything Harry owns. There’s a casserole dish bubbling on the stove — Ernestina’s dinner, Harry guesses — the delicious smell making his mouth water. And in the middle of the kitchen, Ernestina stands, arms crossed, staring down her nose at them.

“So?” she prompts. “Mistor Harry is telling me why he is here with his friends?”

Her harsh tone strikes Harry. Next to him, his friends move closer, as if getting ready to protect him.

“You don’t seem happy to see him,” Ron says.

“Why Ernestina would be happy to see Mistor Potter?” Ernestina scoffs. “Mistor Potter makes Mistor Draco very miserable.”

“I made Draco miserable?” Harry bursts, hand on his chest. “If anything, it’s mutually inflicted misery!”

Ernestina narrows her eyes, and Harry shivers. He’s seen her casual magic around the kitchen. He has no doubt she could easily take him on in a fight.

“Ernestina knows what Mistor Potter is,” she says.

“Was. What I was, Ernestina. I’m not here to spy on Draco anymore. I haven’t been for months.”

“Yet Mistor missed his chance to be family,” Ernestina grinds out, “and the chance might not come again.”

“Maybe it will,” Harry says. If only you’d help me, he stops himself from adding.

“Ernestina,” Hermione says, placating. “That’s why we’re here. We’d like to go and see Draco. Can you take us there?”

Ernestina shuffles on her feet. “Ernestina cannot do that, Mistress Granger.”

Harry takes a step, and Ernestina tenses again. “Why not?” he asks. The seconds are ticking away in his mind. It’s irrational, yet he worries he’s been away too long, that Draco’s forgotten about him — and he needs to get to Draco now.

“It is a secret,” Ernestina tells them. 

“A magic secret?” Hermione asks, thoughtful. “Are you a Secret Keeper?”

“No, no wizarding magic.” Ernestina shakes her head, wrings her hands. “Elvish magic. Ernestina cannot reveal if Mistor Draco said she can’t…”

“Oh god, we’re fucked,” Harry breathes. 

“Vale,” Ernestina lifts a reproachful eyebrow. Then, under her breath: “If Mistor Potter had not been such a cabrón…”

Harry gapes, offended. “I heard that, Ernestina. And I’m not a— whatever it is you just said! Look,” he crouches at her height, and she stands her ground, arms crossed, dark eyes on him. “I love him. Do you know that? Because maybe you don’t. I love Draco. All that talk about me being family… and now you’re going to keep me from trying?” He sounds like he’s begging, but he can’t bring himself to care. “Please, Ernestina. If not for me, then at least for him. Let me see him one more time. Let me — talk to him. That’s all I ask.”

Ernestina stares at him, her hard expression melting as she blinks back the moisture in her big brown eyes.

“Mistor Draco was so lonely. He is tough. Businessman. Always strong for bebé Scorpius,” Ernestina says, voice trembling. “But he was so alone, Mistor Potter, so alone since Mistress Astoria is gone. Ernestina thinks he was going to be lonely forever. And then Mistor Potter comes here, and finds how to turn on the light.”

Harry wants to take her hands, to shake her, to hug her. He feels the tears burning in the back of his throat and he swallows tightly. “I do, Ernestina,” he concurs. “I do.”

“Mistor Draco deserves that, sir,” she says emphatically. “And you makes it happen, so maybe Mistor Potter deserves it, too.”

“Then is there a way around that secret, Ernestina?” Ron asks behind Harry. “Can we get to Malfoy by other means?”

Ernestina lifts her wet eyes to Ron. Takes in the sight they make — earnest, determined, desperate. Like they want this as much as she does. 

Then she nods.

“Ernestina cannot tells that secret, sirs,” she says, the hint of a half-smile lifting the corner of her mouth, “but she knows the people who can.”

 

*

 

Whatever Harry expected before stepping out of the Floo, it certainly wasn’t the beautiful flat that’s in front of him, all solid oak floors, tall white walls and mouldings on the ceiling. Neither was the sight of Pansy and Blaise Parkinson-Zabini snuggled on their sofa, glasses of red wine in hand.

Hermione, Ron, and Ernestina stumble out of the fireplace behind him, sending a cloud of ashes and smoke onto the elegant rug in front of the hearth.

“Well, if it isn’t the Saviour of the wizarding world,” drawls Blaise, barely flinching as Harry steps forward, leaving a trail of soot on the floor. Next to her husband, Pansy barely bats an eye. Their complete lack of surprise makes Harry wonder whether they’d been waiting for him to burst out of their fireplace all along. He takes the place in. It’s a disorienting sensation. They’re definitely not in London — no wonder the Floo trip seemed interminable. The view out of the tall picture window shows a city Harry’s never been to, but that he recognises right away: the brightly lit boulevard, the cut stone buildings, the café terraces bustling with activity. 

“Blimey,” he hears Ron whisper next to him.

“Welcome to Paris, Harry chéri.” Pansy’s red lips pull up in a sharp smile. “Decided you couldn’t live without us, did you?”

“Well, not without you, exactly…”

“Ah, you wound me, dear friend,” Blaise says. “What brings you to our home this evening? Let me guess — you decided to expand your horizons by randomly stopping by the city of love?”

“Mistor Potter is in a hurry,” Ernestina pipes up. All eyes turn to her. She’s standing near the fireplace, dusting ashes from her blouse. When she notices the attention, she rolls her eyes. “Mistress Pansy and Mistor Blaise is wasting Mistor Potter’s time, being so sarcastic.”

“No consideration for our feelings whatsoever tonight, none of you,” Blaise deadpans, mock-wounded.

“Well, then, what can we do you for?” Pansy sets her glass on the coffee table and stands. She eyes Harry, her nose wrinkling when she notices his joggers. "Honestly, Potter, you might have cleaned up a bit."

“Oooh!” Hermione exclaims. Harry hadn’t noticed she’d moved to the window, checking out the surrounding area. “Ernestina couldn’t tell us where he is… but you can!”

“Clever,” Ron says, smiling down at the house-elf. Ernestina huffs impatiently, seemingly unmoved by the compliment.

“Vamos a llegar tarde,” Ernestina mutters under her breath.

“Where who is?” Pansy narrows her eyes.

Blaise touches her shoulder. “Come on, chérie. Don’t play dumb; it doesn’t suit you.”

Pansy rounds on their little group, her black sleeveless dress swishing around her. She crosses her arms over her chest. She hesitates, then says, “Before we take you to see Draco, you’re going to have to state your business, Potter.”

Harry studies her, biting his lip. He’s already spilled his heart out to his friends and Ernestina. He’s not certain he wants to do the same in front of a couple of intimidatingly fashionable Slytherins.

“You know exactly why I’m here,” Harry tells them, chin lifted. 

Pansy’s eyes travel up and down his body, appraising him again. “Well, as I said, you’re slightly underdressed for the occasion.”

Harry tamps down his irritation. “The occasion presented itself and I rushed through the Floo. Does that excuse my lack of suit and tie?”

“Always jumping in head first, Harry Potter,” she muses, shaking her head. “A shaving charm goes a long way. But yes. You are excused. By me, at least. Not that I care — I’m not the one you’re trying to woo, am I?”

Harry looks up at the ceiling, trying to rein in his fretful impatience. “Will you bloody take me there? Can we Apparate?”

“Paris is full of anti-Apparition wards,” Pansy says.

“A Ministère de la Magie decision,” Blaise explains when he sees Harry’s face fall. “Too many bloody tourists. It would be impossible to avoid constant breaks of the Statute of Secrecy.”

“What are the Floo coordinates, then?” Harry asks.

“The Floo?” Blaise bursts out laughing, and Pansy giggles in her hand. “We’re not taking the Floo. I doubt the wards will let you in, anyway. And even if they did, Narcissa would hex your bollocks off if you jumped unannounced out of her fireplace.”

“She’s there—?” Harry breaks off. Of course Narcissa is.

“When in trouble, run to Mummy,” Pansy says, overly sweet. “That’s our Draco’s motto.”

“I would never have thought,” Ron mutters, and Pansy lifts an eyebrow.

“All right.” Harry exhales slowly. “All right. Let’s go, then.”

Blaise takes him by the elbow. “Let’s go, indeed. Anything to help you rekindle the flame with our ex-lover and best friend.”

Harry stops short. Stares at Blaise, then Pansy, then Blaise again. “Your ex-lover?”

Pansy has an open-mouthed smile like she can’t believe Harry’s just finding out. Blaise leans towards him, grinning like a shark. “I’m afraid that will have to be a story for another time, Potter.”

Before Harry can make another sound, Blaise pulls him towards the door. Ron and Hermione exchange a glance, shrug, and follow them, Pansy and Ernestina on their heels.

They file out of Blaise and Pansy’s building and take to the street. Outside, it’s a warm, pleasant night, the air full of the scent of summer. They walk past excited tourists taking pictures of monuments, laid-back Parisians sharing bottles of wine and plates of cheese at cafés. The entire city smells like a holiday. Harry faintly wonders how the evening would feel if his stomach wasn’t in knots, if his legs weren’t itching to break into a run. Draco’s friends seem to be in no hurry to get to Draco’s house, though; Pansy chatting with Blaise in an incessant stream, Blaise pulling her in for a few waltz steps while they wait for a light to turn green. Even Hermione stops to read a plaque on the side of a building, then makes an abashed face when Ron pulls on her hand, nodding meaningfully towards Harry. Only Ernestina looks as invested as Harry feels. Though she can make herself invisible to Muggles, she keeps quiet, walking determinately by Harry’s side, an intent focus gleaming in her eyes. It’s only when they turn around a corner and the hill of Montmartre comes into view that she gasps, grasping Harry’s hand.

“Almost there, Mistor,” Ernestina whispers urgently. “Almost there.”

Pansy, Blaise, Ron, and Hermione gather around them on the pavement. They consider the illuminated Sacré Coeur cathedral towering over the city, as round and creamy-white as a wedding cake. 

“That’s the Malfoys for you, Potter,” Blaise sighs by Harry’s side. “Why live in a nice, practical place when you can live in a remote manor in the middle of bloody Wiltshire or a flat that’s only accessible up a thousand fucking stairs?”

“All the best things come with a little effort,” Harry says without waiting for a reply, and sets off up the sloping street.

They walk up the streets of Montmartre — Pansy wobbles on her high heels and gets her shoe stuck in a crack in the pavement when they cross a street, cursing mankind and men specifically for designing streets that are impracticable for women — until the street ends and they reach the first stairs of the hill.

Even perfectly pulled-together Blaise and Pansy are breaking a sweat by the time they stumble up a flight of stairs and into a quiet, quaint cobbled street. Ernestina puts a hand on her mouth, smothering a weird, strangled gasp.

“Oh, it is been so long,” Ernestina murmurs. Harry gets it. Even though it’s his first time here, he feels the same. Seeing the place Draco’s told him so much about — the place that welcomed him, sheltered him when he was still so young, the place where he got his life started — brings an embarrassing surge of wetness to Harry’s eyes.

“Nostalgic, are you?” Blaise pants next to Ernestina, hands on his knees. “Merlin, I did not miss those stairs.”

“You owe us, Potter,” Pansy adds, wiping her brow. “You owe us big time. I’m sweating in my dress.”

“Alexander McQueen?” Hermione asks, eyeing Pansy’s outfit.

“No,” Pansy says, but her hard black eyes soften in pleased surprise. “Stella McCartney.”

“Yes, yes, and Potter’s wearing whatever he found in the sales bin at the back of the second-hand shop.” Blaise rolls his eyes, pushes them forward with gentle hands on their shoulders. “Let’s go get this done.” 

"Wait," Pansy says, and she flicks her wand towards Harry. He feels the quick zing of a discreet freshening charm zipping across his skin. Pansy frowns at him. "There's nothing to be done about that dreadful outfit, but at least you've some semblance of hygiene now."

Harry rubs at his elbow. "Thanks," he says, warmth suffusing through him. 

Pansy just rolls her eyes and looks away. "Don't get maudlin, Potter."

Harry turns towards the house in front of them. Unlike Draco’s home in London, this building doesn’t look much. It’s a narrow three-storey house with red potted geraniums hanging from the windows. There are only three names on the intercom — the Malfoys own the top floor.

“And the rooftop deck,” Pansy answers Harry’s unspoken question. She sighs wistfully, adds, “Lucky bastards.”

Harry just stares at the intercom. N. et D. Malfoy, reads the tag next to it. The lump in his throat is back — the painful mixture of fear and anticipation.

“You ready, mate?” Ron asks him. Harry turns to look into his friend’s kind eyes, to look at the little group that followed him all the way here.

“I am,” Harry says. “Thank you.”

“Save your sentimentality for your man, Potter,” Pansy groans, but she still gives him a small smile and a gentle push.

Harry presses the button. Waits. Then there’s a crackling little sound like static, and he hears a voice.

“Hello?” It’s wary, a little cold, distinctly female. Narcissa Malfoy.  

Just the thought makes his mind whirl — Narcissa Malfoy living in a decidedly Muggle, decidedly un-aristocratic little flat.

“Mrs Malfoy,” Harry says into the intercom. “It’s Harry. I’m here to see Draco.”

There’s only static at the other end of the line for a second — then a buzz, and the door clicks open.

It’s a short climb up the stairs. Harry’s on the last landing before he even knows it.

And Narcissa Malfoy is standing in the doorway, her wand pointed at his face.

“You did not seem to heed my warning, Mr Potter,” she says, a cold gleam in her eye. “My son came here in quite a dismal state, and though he didn’t dwell on the details, I’m led to believe it is partly your fault.”

Expelliarmus’ing Draco’s mother would not bode well for the rest of Harry’s endeavour. He holds his hands up in surrender, just as the rest of his little group hurtles up the stairs.

“Hi —  Mrs Malfoy —” Pansy says, grabbing the railing and catching her breath. “—Harry’s here — to tell Draco — he wants — to marry him —”

Harry’s mouth falls open, and Narcissa lifts an eyebrow, almost amused. “Er... Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he says, feeling his face heat. “Mrs Malfoy. I’d like to see Draco — I'd like to talk to him. Is he here? Can I see him? Please?”

“Let Mistor Potter see Mistor Draco, Mistress Narcissa! Mistor Potter finally grew some cojones!” Ernestina announces. 

“Language, Ernestina,” Narcissa tuts, but slowly lowers her wand. Their mismatched, red-faced, panting little band must look unthreatening enough for her to drop her guard. “And calm down, Mr Potter,” she adds. “Yes, I suppose you can.”

They all come inside. There’s a tiny foyer and then a small, cosy living room overlooking the street. On one side, a narrow corridor that must lead to the rest of the flat. In the back of the room, a winding wooden stairwell draws Harry’s attention immediately.

“Where is Draco?” Harry asks again. He’s come all the way here from London. It must be past eleven. Scorpius must be asleep, he thinks with a pang. Balzac must be with him. He walks up to Narcissa, takes her hands in his. She flinches, but doesn’t pull away when he tells her, the words leaving him in a frantic rush: “It was partly my fault, yes — it had all started with an impossible situation. But I think I made it better. We all made it better, Ron and Hermione and I. Draco did, too. And I’m here to tell him that. That I’m ready to start again, for real. On his terms. Mrs Malfoy,” he says, holding her hands tighter, “I’m here to ask him — if that’s all right with him — I’d like to ask him if that’s good enough for him.”

Narcissa watches him, her blue eyes cold and unreadable. She grips Harry’s hands like she gripped his shirt that night, years ago, her hand feeling his heart, her nails piercing the skin of his chest, her words — Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle? — still echoing in Harry’s mind. Something passes between them in that moment. Draco’s still alive — they’re all still alive — and Harry never wants to miss another chance. 

Narcissa leans in, her eyes boring into Harry’s, and nods her chin towards the stairwell at the end of the room.

“Go get my boy, Mr Potter.”

 

*

 

The wind whips Harry’s curls out of his face when he opens the door. He sets foot on the wide wooden rooftop deck, looks around to take his bearings.

He’s overlooking the entire city, shimmering in front of him like millions of bright fairy lights. The vast silhouette of the Sacré Coeur looms behind him, so close it looks like he could reach out and touch it. In front of him, miles away, the beam of the Eiffel Tower swipes over the roofs of Paris. The whole scene looks surreal, like Harry stepped into someone else’s dream.

At the end of the deck, hands on the railing, shirt sleeves rolled up and white-blond hair blowing in the summer breeze, stands Draco.

As Harry waits, motionless, his heart stops for a second — before giving one, two painful beats, and starting again.

Harry opens his mouth. The deck creaks beneath his feet. “Draco,” he calls out. 

Draco slowly turns around. His eyes are wide when they meet Harry’s. Draco’s here, he’s here — it feels like it’s been so long since Harry has set eyes on him. He didn’t realise he’d begun to wonder if Draco had even been real. Harry could melt onto the wooden floor; he could float up to the bloody Sacré Coeur. Draco’s looking at Harry, and his gaze is hot and piercing like it always has been, and there’s no doubt in Harry’s mind.

Draco, Harry’s heart hammers madly in his chest. My Draco.

“I’m here,” Harry says, and it’s idiotic and hopeful and quite obvious, but he doesn’t care. 

“You are,” Draco says, like he can’t quite believe his eyes. “You didn’t listen to me.”

Harry bursts out laughing. He’s so overwhelmed his laughter sounds a bit disturbed to his ears. “I did. That’s why I’m here.”

Draco tilts his head a fraction of an inch — a minute giveaway, before he wraps his arms around his own rib cage as if to protect himself from a blow. “What are you doing? You can’t be— you can’t be here. This was lost before it even began. We— we were doomed from the start.” 

“How can you say that?”

Draco’s mouth tightens in a thin line. “I was the main suspect on your case, Harry, if I remember correctly. And you were one of the good guys, hunting for people like me.”

“I knew you were innocent after about two days of working with you,” Harry says. 

Draco narrows his eyes. “Then why didn’t you close the case faster?”

“I closed it as fast as I could, given the circumstances.” Harry takes a step closer. At Draco's frown, he stops, the gulf still wide between them. “It’s all over now, Draco. You’ve spoken to Hermione. She’s told me you followed the news. You know the whole case blew over. Ella is leading a campaign for elvish rights with the Wizengamot, and the Ministry is backing it. Thanks to you, Zacharias Smith is facing charges for abuse of power, misleading Auror forces, and assault. Ernestina can keep walking free… and the public opinion has latched onto your story and turned you into the figurehead of modern wizardkind.” Draco rolls his eyes at that, an expression so achingly familiar Harry wants to close the impossible distance between them and wrap him in his arms. “I know, I know… It’s mad. It’s more than I could have ever expected. But it is what it is, though,” Harry continues. “Nothing is like when we started… except perhaps one thing.”

“And what is that?” Draco asks, defiant.

“You know what it is.” Harry gives him a meaningful look. A completely fond, completely besotted look. Draco’s scowl melts into something else — astonished, and wary, and hopeful. 

“I told you not to say it,” Draco warns, but there’s no bite to it, no hard edge. Only regret.

Harry takes another step forward. “Draco… I shouldn't have listened to you. I shouldn't have held back. Being without you this past month… it was like trying to breathe underwater. Trying to live without a heart. I can't do it, Draco. I can’t carry on like this. And I should have told you right away that night. I should have.” At this, Draco makes a small sound, like he’s in pain. Harry takes yet one more step, and Draco backs against the railing. “But I was a coward, wasn’t I? I didn’t see what you were trying to do. I didn't understand why. I should have fought harder for you.”

“Always the pig-headed Gryffindor,” Draco says. “Fighting doesn’t solve everything.”

“Neither does chasing someone away, hoping to protect them, you sly Slytherin.”

“If you think you'll win me over by insulting my old house, you don't know me at all, Potter.” Draco glances away from Harry. His mouth is tight, his jaw clenched.

“But see, that's the thing. I'm not always brave, and you're not always sly. Since I’ve known you… I’ve realised you're one of the bravest men—” Harry’s words catch, and he swallows hard. “You’ve fought so hard for the life you have. Of course you’d want to protect it, no matter what it would cost you. You’re loving, and hard-working, and brave… and I've been a coward.”

Draco sighs and looks at Harry. Really looks at him, no scowl, no sneer on his face. Just him — Draco.  

“Harry, you voluntarily walked to your own death to save the wizarding world when you were eighteen. You turned your back on the Ministry for me. You— you kept Scorpius from harm, multiple times. You're not a coward, nor will you ever be.”

“But I haven’t been brave when it comes to you. Not brave enough. And I want to start now. Draco…” 

“Harry…” Draco says, a note of warning, of pleading in his voice. “If you say it, there's no turning back.”

They’re still standing so far away from each other — five feet of distance between them, and all the words Harry’s never been allowed to say out loud. So he decides it’s finally time. Finally time to be brave. Finally time to let Draco hear them. Harry gazes at Draco, the lights of Paris illuminating Draco’s blond hair like a halo, and he takes the leap. 

“I love you,” Harry confesses. Draco's eyes widen; his mouth falls open in stunned shock, and he grips the railing behind him with white-knuckled hands. “I'm in love with you.” Harry moves closer. “I fell in love with you so fast, and so hard, and so irrevocably, I can't even believe it took me all these years to find my way back to you. I heard what you told me, that night. You say I didn’t listen, but I did. You told me you wanted a relationship on your own terms… And you know what, Draco? Maybe your terms are mine too. Maybe we really, actually want the same thing.”

Draco’s voice catches in his throat when he says, “I couldn’t bear imposing the consequences of my desires on you.”

“The consequences of—” Harry shakes his head. “What desires? Wanting me? Having me? Draco, I don’t care about the consequences. Not anymore. Your case is closed. You’re a free man… and so am I. And I think I’ve just as much say in my future — our future — as you have.”

Draco runs a trembling hand in his windswept hair. “I wanted— I want to be with you,” he says, helpless. “Is that what you want, too?”

“Yes.” Harry laughs. “I want to be with you, you bloody idiot. I love you. And if you feel about me at least half the way I feel about you, then…” He smiles, slowly, fondly, at Draco’s overwhelmed expression,“...then let’s just do that.”

Draco gazes at him for what feels like forever. Then he shakes his head, a small, skeptical motion, like he can’t quite believe what he’s about to do— 

— and he takes two steps, closes the gap, throws himself into Harry’s open arms. And Harry’s breath catches, the solid weight of Draco against him, the soft scent of honeysuckle soap, the crisp fabric of his white shirt, and underneath, Draco’s body, warm and strong and alive. Alive.

Harry laughs and closes his eyes, swaying along with Draco, and Draco murmurs into his neck, over and over, like the words are pouring out of him, “I love you, I love you, I love you — I missed you so fucking much. Harry kisses Draco’s hair, the top of his head, so in love he can barely breathe. 

The sound of a door banging shut in the wind pulls them out of their moment. Draco’s head snaps up, his jaw falling slack. Harry turns his head in the direction of Draco’s gaze.

Six people are standing out on the deck, watching them, a gradient of thrilled expressions on their faces. Pansy is containing a high-pitched squeal, by the looks of her fists pressed against her mouth; Blaise and Ron are exchanging smug little glances; Hermione is grinning like a loon and waving at Harry. Narcissa hides a small, knowing smile behind her hand. It doesn't stop her from casting disapprovingly embarrassed glances at Ernestina, who is holding her face in her own hands and sobbing with joy. 

Draco lets out a delighted, unbelieving little laugh. “Did you call the entire wizarding world to witness our reunion?”

“They’re my emotional support group,” Harry tells him, straight-faced. “In case you rejected me one more time.”

Draco lowers his head, flustered. “Harry…”

“Look at me.” Harry slides two fingers under Draco’s chin, lifts his face up until their eyes meet. “It’s happening, yeah? This… this is real.”

“It’s real,” Draco breathes, and burrows his head in the crook of Harry’s neck, kissing him there, his neck, his jaw. “Merlin, it’s real.”

Their friends are positively cheering in the distance now, and Harry smiles and holds Draco, palms his shoulder blades, his ribs, reveling in the shape of him.

Draco nuzzles at his cheek, purring, “Were you so distraught that you forgot how to cast a shaving charm?”

“Shut up, you dolt,” Harry snorts. “How dare you make fun of my broken heart? Besides, I had better things to do than shave tonight.” He stops short, takes Draco by the shoulders, holds him at arm’s length. “Wait… you don’t like the beard?”

“Hmm,” Draco murmurs, an impish glint in his eyes. “The beard is the only good thing to come out of these bleak few weeks, Potter. Keep it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Draco grins, leans into Harry again. “It’s… manly.” He fingers the waistband of Harry’s old joggers, and adds: “Unlike these awful joggers that need to disappear as soon as possible.”

Harry lifts an eyebrow. “That can be arranged.”

Draco’s cheeks turn pink, and it’s as charming as it’s always been.

“I can’t believe they even let you out in the streets of Paris in this atrocious getup,” he mutters. But Harry pushes his shoulder playfully, and Draco wraps his arms around Harry’s waist again, all fashion objections forgotten.

Paris is glittering all around them — like someone else’s dream, Harry thinks again — and Draco looks down at him with a smile that leaves Harry breathless, weak with love.

Harry needs to make sure of one thing, though, before it all begins. 

He takes Draco’s face in his hands, his thumbs stroking along the sharp cheekbones.

“You broke my heart,” Harry whispers — confesses — his eyes half closed, his teeth bared on this one last admission, this one last vulnerability. “Please don’t fucking do that, ever again.”

“Never again,” Draco says. Twines his fingers in Harry’s curls, cradling the back of his head. His eyes are wet, like he’s about to cry, but he smiles and pulls Harry in for a kiss — a real one, a long awaited one, a kiss to seal the future. “Never, ever ever ever…”

Chapter Text

December 2011

 

Blink my eyes open. Pale, snowy daylight. Morning. Warm under the blankets.

Mattress shifts next to me, a friendly, protective weight. Big brown eyes. Dog smile. 

Balzac.

“Hello,” I whisper. “Hello, Balzac. Good boy.”

Balzac likes being called a good boy.

Wiggle out from under the covers, legs hanging on the side of the bed. Bedside table. Mummy and Daddy smile (at me) from inside the frame. They’re always the same, in the photograph. Daddy looks young. (His eyes joyous, bright.) (Sometimes I have to look away.) Mummy looks big, soft, happy. (Daddy says it’s because I was there, in her belly.)

“Hello Mummy,” I tell her. (She can't hear me.) (Of course, it's a photograph.) (Daddy says it doesn't matter. That I should say hello to her anyway. Only if I want to.) (That she’s proud of me.)

Balzac jumps down the bed, looks at me and wags his tail. Waiting. I jump down too. Piled rug under my feet, shaggy. I put my slippers on, then my green dressing gown (thick, warm, like the blankets in my bed). Garlands of tiny light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Fairy lights, though there aren’t really fairies. Turned off. I think about the lights, their flickering colours. I reach out to them — my magic does. And the lights go on. Too bright. Dimmer, please. They dim. (They listen to me.) Nestine and I put them up ten days ago. It's Christmas soon, bebé, she'd said. Look how pretty the lights is. (She's right.)

Christmas always falls on the same day. December 25th. Every year. I'm not sure I like it. Like birthdays. The kind of day that makes other people happy. A break in the routine, though. Loud. Sounds, smells, songs. Unusual. If I run my piano practice in my head I can tune most of it out.

Lots of people in the house last night (but I like them). Gran Narcissa is here. (Visiting. Sleeps in her rooms. They smell like Shalimar for days after she leaves. Brought me the chocolates I like from Paris, the ones with whole hazelnuts inside. Texture melty but not too much. Sweet. Crunchy, with a bitter aftertaste.) Uncle Greg is in London for a week, with his wife. (The tall, scary one.) (I really like her.) He asked me if I could draw him a unicorn, but I prefer the piano now. Unicorns when I was four. And dragons.

Pad out of my bedroom. Balzac follows me. I wave my hand, let my magic out, tell the motion-sensing charms not to chime. Don't wake him up don't wake him up. (Daddy casts them over my bed every night, still.) (They warn him when I get up.) (Daddy used to be worried. The tension around his eyes even when he smiled. Dr Dawson said it wasn't my fault. But if I wasn't there, Daddy wouldn't worry. Now I only cancel the charms when I don't want to wake him up.) (Today it's fine if he sleeps in.)

Harry spent the evening with us last night. Everybody likes him. (Even though Gran Narcissa goes after him every chance she gets.) (I think she’s testing him.) (Adults are weird.)

I think he likes us, too.

He was here last night, so odds are he still is. When we returned from Paris last summer, Daddy said Harry would go back to his own house for a while. We’re going back to the start, he told me. We’re going to date, properly. See where it goes. Well I don’t see much of a difference between now and before. Harry is here most days (and nights). Daddy is always beaming, even when he’s making his serious business face. (Even then. Behind it, he’s beaming).

It’s important that Daddy sleeps in and that Harry does as well. (So I send my magic to tell the motion-sensing charms to stay quiet.) (They listen.)

Daddy said the way things started with Harry was less than auspicious. (I had to go look up the word. Now I use auspicious all the time.) (An auspicious breakfast. An auspicious smile. An auspicious piano practice. An auspicious walk with Balzac.) I wonder why he’d say that. He was always so happy when Harry was around, from the beginning. He smiled a lot. I don't remember him smiling so much before. (Except in the photograph). Once (last year), before Harry came to work for us, I asked him if it was different when Mummy was alive. His face did a weird twisty thing, like Nestine’s does when she tries not to cry in front of me. He told me it was different. But it didn't matter, because he was happy and good with the way things were now, too. All is well, he told me. All is well, Scorpius. But he never smiled as much as he did when Harry moved in with us. I asked Nestine about it. Her forehead crinkled, like she knew something I didn’t. (I doubt it.) She told me, Maybe Mistor Potter found how to turn the light on. I don't like metaphors. (Dr Dawson said that’s what that type of sentence is called.) I think it's the adults’ way of keeping private the things they don't want to share.

Daddy is happy. He was happy before. (I know it.) He's different happy now.

Not just happy for everyone else.

Happy for himself.

Last Saturday, he took me out for a walk. We put big coats on. Mine was like a pillow. I wrapped my Slytherin scarf around my neck. Balzac wasn't there, so I knew it wasn't a normal walk. The streets were filled with people. Christmas shoppers. Lights. Smells. Too bright. We stopped in front of a shop. Window full of necklaces, earrings, watches. Jewelry store. Muted colours inside. Daddy crouched in front of me. I looked at the strand of hair poking out of his woolen hat. (Straighter, lighter than mine.) He said, I want to ask you something. I nodded. His face was pinker than usual. Pretty. Maybe the cold. I want to ask Harry to live with me. With us. For always. He looked embarrassed. But also excited. What do you think?

I said, Harry already lives with us.  

Daddy laughed. (I like it when he laughs, even when I don't know why he does.)

You're a very clever boy, Scorpius, he said. (I know that.) His eyes were sparkling.

The man at the store asked Daddy what kind of ring he wanted, and Daddy asked me again. For Harry, he said. The gold one, I told him. The gold one will look good on Harry's hand. (The left one. The other one has a cool scar. I keep finding new ones.) (He has lots of them. Like Daddy.) Daddy paid for the ring. Got a small, dark blue velvet box to put it in.

Then he asked me not to tell Harry. It's going to be a surprise, he said. 

When? I asked. 

Christmas day. Daddy smiled and smiled.

I don’t understand why Daddy would make it a surprise. (I dislike surprises. They break the routine. They give me little frights. But I noticed some people like them. It makes them feel ‘special’, Nestine once explained.) (I feel plenty special on my own, thank you very much.) Also. Isn't a surprise only when the other person doesn't know it’s coming? Harry must know. After all, last Wednesday, he took me to the same shop as Daddy did the Saturday before. (Bright. Loud. People. Why do they insist on taking me along with them?) (But the shop is muted. Low voices. Flitting gazes. I like it.) Harry looked at the rings. He asked me what colour Daddy would prefer. (The answer is silver.) 

Daddy and Harry both took me to the same jewelry store. (Five days apart.) They both want it to be a surprise for the other. Picked rings that match in shape and design. (One silver, one gold.)

I think coincidences are very unlikely. (But this is a case where facts defy logic.)

Walk down the stairs, quiet, careful. Balzac limps next to me. The house is very still. Sleeping. Magic like slumber. The light in the foyer is pale white. (Lovely. Cold. Soft in my eyes.) The green scent of the hydrangeas, freshly cut. No clatters and rattles from the kitchen yet. (Nestine still asleep.)

Meander down the corridor, push the door open. Daddy’s study. Bright. Warm. Thick rugs everywhere. Embers in the fireplace, glowing from last night. The dragon and unicorn chair, repaired. The sofa, new cushions, comfy throw pillows. Daddy and I put all the records back on the shelves in September, before school started (Daddy said he had a serious talk with the headmistress at school. Said the bullies received an official reprimand. I don’t know what it means (the dictionary wasn’t clear on that). The bullies leave me alone now, though. And the scary people will never come back.) The records are categorised by colour now. The back wall like a rainbow.

The Christmas tree near the grandfather clock is so tall. Taller than Daddy. Nestine Leviosa’d the golden star perched on the tallest branch. Fourteen (No.) (Fifteen.) gifts on the floor under it. Shiny, pretty paper. Garlands of lights wrapped around the tree. Turned off. I touch it. (Tiny lightbulb. Round, smooth under my fingers. Satisfying.) The lights flicker on. Magic is cool. (Sometimes.)

I sit down. Balzac lies on the rug next to me. Soft fur. Black, white, rust. He looks at me like he has a question. My thumbs trace the velvety edges of the boxes in my pockets. (Dressing gown. One in each pocket.) I pull the boxes out. Place them on top of the other presents, side by side. Dark blue. Matching. (They will wait here, until Daddy and Harry come downstairs. Until they find the boxes, and realise they had the same idea for a surprise.) 

And then.

Then Daddy will build a fire. It will be later in the morning. Golden light pouring in from the French doors, from the snowy garden. I will sit at the grand piano. (The one Daddy repaired). I will lift the lid, let my fingers run over the keys (new keys, shiny, pretty) and I will play. I will play (Ballade No 1 in G Minor, Op. 23.) and Daddy will dance with Harry. I will play, and Harry will take Daddy for a spin. (Like they do when they think I'm not looking.) Daddy will take Harry's face in his hands and kiss him like he does when he thinks I'm not looking. (On the lips. Eyes closed. Smiling.) (I'm looking a lot more often than they think.) They will dance together. (That slow, swaying hug they call dancing.) Balzac will bounce around them, will bark like he does when he's laughing. My magic will wrap around me like a sunny cloud. Like a blanket. I will play, and play, and play. (Adagio. Moderato.)

Like Daddy said. All will be well.  

And maybe.

Maybe even better than that.

 

* FIN *