Every day, Harry is the first to arrive.
The Appleby stadium is surrounded by Muggle-repelling wards, so each morning he Apparates just to the south of the High Street and watches Muggles sitting glumly at the bus stop, ignoring one another on their way to work. Of course, all they see is an abandoned bit of land beside a council estate. It looks like it had playground equipment on it once, but now it’s overgrown, littered with rubbish, and best avoided. There’s nothing to reveal the soaring wooden Quidditch stands just metres away.
It’s starting to feel properly like autumn, and Harry notices the drop in temperature. A deep twinging ache begins in his hip and he has to catch his balance as he lands. He rubs at it fruitlessly while he struggles with the door. The wards unlock without effort, but the wood has sunk a little on its hinges and sticks in the frame until he gives it a sharp tug.
The clubhouse for the Appleby Arrows smells like broom polish and leather and Luna’s liniment potions. Harry’s pretty sure that if he brewed Amortentia today, it would smell like this. The corridor is lined with framed photos of teams going back decades, and Harry loves the way the players wave at him each day as he walks past. Their sepia-toned uniforms and outdated brooms look old fashioned, but the windswept glee evident on the face of every witch and wizard is timeless.
He passes the changing rooms and Luna’s little infirmary, then rounds the corner past Neville’s broom workshop and the training gym. Finally, at the very end of the corridor is the door to his own office, paint peeling and its little plaque listing to one side.
Harry Potter – Head Coach.
His office is cramped and on the wrong side of the building, so it gets basically no natural light, but Harry’s always insisted he doesn’t care. The important thing is that they use all of the wizarding space they have available to them for the players’ facilities. He only needs enough room for a giant blackboard to draw diagrams on and a television to watch game videos. He’s grateful the wizarding world adopted so much Muggle technology after the war. The idea of having to spend half his work days with his head in a Pensieve, the way coaches used to, has always seemed unappealing.
There’s a rap at the window and Harry shoves it up in its aging frame to let in his owl. It’s a copy of the Prophet and yet another letter from the Arrows’ owner, Bernard Balham, asking to meet. Harry tosses it on the growing pile.
Balham’s too polite to just turn up at the clubhouse, probably, but Harry knows he can’t put him off forever. It’s just that he also knows nothing about the meeting will be good news. The Prophet tables show the Arrows are still bottom of the League. The gate takings are down again on last quarter. The stadium is so empty some weeks he thinks they might as well just close the stands and let the few straggling fans they have left come up and watch from the VIP boxes. He feels like they’ve earned it through their sheer loyalty alone. Lifers, like old Jim Cranswick. He must be at least a hundred years old, but he buys the cheapest available season ticket every year and never misses a game, rain or shine.
It’s not entirely the team’s fault. They’re young, is all. Last season, the Arrows had several key retirements, and the fresh faces need time to learn how to play together properly. The sad reality is, it wouldn’t really matter if the team was winning. The Arrows played the top-of-the-league Tornadoes last month and their stadium may have been in much better condition, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near full.
Harry sighs, easing himself into his chair and trying to ignore the tug in his hip.
Balham knows as well as he does—Quidditch is simply dying out.
The League struggled to find its footing after the war. People were genuinely too nervous to be out in large crowds after what had happened at the ’94 World Cup—and everything after. Even Harry’s own signing to the starting lineup for Puddlemere wasn’t nearly the drawcard everyone predicted. And when he was injured too badly to play in his second season, it felt like the beginning of the end in more ways than one.
Harry’s endured endless meetings over the years. League briefings and owners’ dinners. He’s sat through flashy presentations from PR flaks and advertising firms about rebranding and sponsorships and competitions to attract the crowds. None of it has made a blind bit of difference. Young witches and wizards these days are just more interested in learning about Muggle sports and pastimes, and their parents are all too keen to support them, desperate to signal that they were on the “right side” during the war. The last time Harry met Hermione, while she was on duty chaperoning Third Years on a Hogsmeade weekend, half the students he saw were wearing Premier League football shirts. Hermione was a bit sheepish when she revealed that the school was even thinking about instituting a football cup.
Harry finds it all a bit hard to believe, really. He so vividly remembers the first time he saw Quidditch played at Hogwarts, and that ill-fated World Cup. He’ll never get over the sheer talent and determination and skill involved when great players take to the sky. Why anyone with access to magic would want to shuffle a ball around on the ground with their feet is utterly beyond him.
But the numbers don’t lie.
He picks up Balham’s message again, and scratches out a curt response agreeing to meet after training on Friday. He fetches his playbook and decides to go study it in Luna’s rooms. She might be able to give him something for his hip before it starts to lock up completely. Besides, she has an armchair upholstered in a bright yellow velvet that matches nothing else in the entire building, but remains the most comfortable piece of furniture he’s ever sat on. He likes to have the coffee ready before she and Neville arrive. Luna will always take a cup gratefully and begin talking to Harry as if she’s halfway through a conversation, chattering on about something they’ve literally never discussed before: the benefits of starflower in potions for muscle cramps, whether the Cannon’s Seeker is actually having an affair with that singer whose name Harry can never remember, how she’s considering repainting the changing rooms a sage green to improve player concentration.
It isn’t the worst way to start the day.
“I’m learning to sew like Muggles do,” Luna says as she walks in a few minutes later, unsurprised to see him and accepting a chipped enamel mug with a smile as she hangs her cloak. “Because it means you have to think about how the pieces of fabric fit together to become clothing. It’s much more intentional than using magic.”
Harry looks down at the clean but serviceable hoodie and jeans he's wearing as if seeing them for the first time. He’s not sure he’s ever applied the word “intentional” to clothing.
“The machine also makes a very soothing noise,” Luna carries on. “And it’s very affordable.”
She doesn’t mean anything by it, but the comment still makes Harry wince. Luna is a talented Healer and so curious about the way the body works. She’s an invaluable part of the squad—he’s acutely aware she could be earning much more working for almost any other team, and very grateful for her loyalty to the Arrows.
“Sodding cold out.”
Same with Neville, Harry thinks, watching him stomp into the room, shrug off his jacket, and reach for a mug. Harry’s tried several times to insist that the pair of them needn’t keep working here out of some misplaced dedication to him, but he’s gotten nowhere with it. The last time he brought it up, Neville just rolled his eyes and Luna started talking about replanting an area behind the visitors stand with wormwood, which Neville got far more excited about than Harry really thought was warranted for plants.
“All right, Harry?” Neville asks, taking in his hunched expression.
“Yeah. Balham wants a meeting, is all.”
Neville’s eyes light up. “You could ask him about the Firebolts. I’ve found a supplier in Denmark who would do us a deal on…”
He trails off as Harry gently shakes his head.
“I don’t imagine it’s going to be the sort of conversation where he agrees to pay for new brooms, Nev.”
“Oh. Well, we can make do with what we have at the moment, honestly. I have a line on replacement bristles out of Japan that are really good for precision turns.”
Harry is constantly inspired by Neville’s persistent optimism in the face of their shrinking budget.
Outside in the corridor he can hear the team arriving for practice—the noisy clang of locker doors being thrown back and the sound of a weight machine next door in the gym being pressed into service. He struggles a little getting back to his feet, pushing himself out of the comfy armchair. Luna eyes him with suspicion and hands him a small bottle of salve before he even asks.
Hours later, he sits astride his broom watching Oliver Wood bellowing at Maxwell, their newest Chaser, a fresh-faced signing straight out of Hogwarts who shows enormous potential but is literally becoming too terrified to try anything.
“Wood,” he chides the older man gently. “Give him a break.”
Oliver Wood had a vibrant career for Puddlemere. After he and Harry overlapped for the one season, he went on to lead the team to repeated victories for another eight years before retiring. Quidditch flows in Oliver’s blood though, and he was so bored as a sporting celebrity trotted out for charity dinners that it didn’t take much for Harry to convince him to come lead the Arrows for a season or two. The problem is that he’s impatient, driven, and used to winning. He seems to think the Arrows’ lack of success is simply down to them not working quite as hard as his former teammates. And he has a tendency to point that out a little too frequently.
Harry eyes the younger player, still quaking on his broom. It’s not that he disagrees with Wood’s lecture about fundamentals, it’s just not proving to be very productive in Maxwell’s case.
“Let’s take a break there,” he calls out to the team. “We’ll move in to the gym.”
Oliver frowns at him for a second before flying in to land.
Harry waits for the team to dismount below before he descends, self-conscious about how off his balance feels today. It’s just the cold weather, he figures, ignoring a nagging sense of dread. His hip will adjust.
Balham looks completely out of place in Harry’s cramped little office.
Harry usually only sees him on match day, when he sits in the Owner’s Box, his barrel chest puffed out, talking loudly to his friends. As if by doing so he can distract them from the faded velvet and fraying upholstery. As if—if he pours them enough drinks—they might not notice the scoreline.
Here, Balham fills up too much of the room. His face is florid and sweaty. Harry very much wants this meeting to be over, and it’s only just begun.
“The thing is…” Balham says, for the third time, wiping at his brow with the back of his hand. Harry feels a twinge of guilt, like he should leap in and finish the man’s sentence for him. Maybe put them both out of their misery.
The thing is, you’re fired.
“It was really the only way, last year. I was sure I’d be able to manage it, once the new concession stand opened.”
The new concession stand is a gleaming overindulgence that stocks Arrows-branded merchandise no one buys and snacks that all taste like apples. Harry could have done without knowing what apple-flavoured hotdogs taste like, to be honest. Even old Jim Cranswick couldn’t find anything good to say about those.
“But it turns out…the thing is…”
Harry lets the silence stretch awkwardly to fill the room. Balham can do his own dirty work—Harry’s not going to fall on his own sword.
“I borrowed a lot of money, Harry,” Balham finally says, quietly, so that Harry has to lean forward to hear clearly. “And I thought I’d have been able to pay it back by now.”
“Gringotts. And you know what the goblins are like. The loans are due and they’re not interested in discussing terms or agreeing to extensions. Believe me, I’ve tried.” Balham pulls a damp-looking handkerchief from his pocket and mops at his temple.
Harry does know. He knows all too well. It took months of Ministry-facilitated meetings and most of the contents of Harry’s vaults to make sure the goblins didn’t take any further action against him and Ron and Hermione after the war. Turns out a dragon can cause quite a lot of very expensive structural damage, and there’s only so far being the “saviour of the wizarding world” will get you. Harry’s never missed the money—he has Grimmauld Place to live in and enough to get by—but he remembers how completely intractable the bankers were.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks, sadly. “I might have been able to do something.”
Balham offers him a grim smile. “The problem is a little bigger than a bake sale, Harry.”
“So what happens now?”
“The goblins have exercised their security. They’re taking over—have taken over, I suppose. They’re appointing a new CEO to run things around here. You’ll meet them on Monday.”
God. That’s all Harry needs. A goblin-appointed bureaucrat breathing down his neck about how few apple-flavoured hotdogs are sold each week.
“So what does that mean for me? The staff? The team?”
Balham gives an embarrassed shrug. “It’s out of my hands, Harry. They’re not telling me anything anymore.”
He gets up out of the wobbly guest chair, once again taking up too much space. Harry feels tired and uncomfortable. He thinks he should probably be able to muster up some sympathy for Balham’s financial situation, but all he can think about are Luna and Nev and whether there will even be jobs for them come next week. For a second, Balham looks like he’s about to say something else, but then seems to decide better of it. He waddles out the door of Harry’s office without so much as a backward glance.
Harry slumps back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling where there’s a spider web he can’t bring himself to clean away. The ache in his leg twinges. He rubs at it with a sigh and gets up to gather his things.
He steps through Ron and Hermione’s Floo, startling Hugo tottering towards a pile of blocks on the floor. The toddler sits down abruptly and starts to wail, so Harry scoops him up on his good hip, alternately making silly faces and soothing noises at him as he heads into the kitchen.
Ron is dumping pasta into a strainer in the sink and Hermione’s surrounded by piles of student work. There’s a comfortable familiarity about Friday night dinners at their little house in Hogsmeade that makes the tension in Harry’s shoulders uncoil a little. It’s easy to get Hermione chatting about her Transfiguration students as she stacks the parchments she’s marking into neat piles. Harry bounces Hugo gently on his knee while Ron calls for Rose to come and help set the table. The bolognese is delicious, and for a while Harry manages to put the events of the afternoon out of his mind.
“How’s work, Harry?”
Not for long enough though, it seems.
He idly pushes the last of his dinner around the plate with his fork as he tells them both about Balham and his money woes.
“Will you get the chop, do you think?” Ron asks, never one for beating around the bush. Hermione frowns at him as if to say he could stand to be a little more polite, but Harry doesn’t care.
“No idea,” he sighs. “I guess I’ll need to wait and see what this new CEO wants to do. I get the feeling there’ll be a lot of cost-cutting involved.” Harry can’t see how there won’t be. He’s seen the accounts. He knows how bad it is.
Ron nods. “Ginny’s said even the Harpies are finding it tough getting sponsors to renew this year.”
Hermione makes a little noise in the back of her throat, like she wants to say something, but is holding back. Harry looks at her, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, it’s just—maybe this is a sign that it’s time to look at doing something else?”
It would be disappointing if it wasn’t so predictable. Hermione’s been subtly and not-so-subtly trying to get him to pursue a new career for years. She never understood why he chose to play professionally in the first place, and Harry didn’t really have the language in those first few months after the war to explain why his childhood ambition of becoming an Auror was suddenly the very last thing he wanted to do. That, in between the endless Ministry meetings and the trials before the Wizengamot and the speeches and public appearances, the only thing that kept him sane was taking to the pitch on a broom. That—once she moved in with Ron—the camaraderie he shared with his teammates was the only thing that filled the emptiness he felt, no longer always surrounded by school friends, dormmates, or the Order.
And then he was injured.
There was no one to blame. The Boy Who Lived had survived far worse. And the Auror team that had swept the stadium after the war for Dark curses were experienced and capable. They’d just missed this one. Just one Death Eater mine, left behind by wizards now long-dead or imprisoned. Just one curse, looped around a Quidditch hoop, waiting for someone unsuspecting to fly through it.
Harry remembers the shock of it, like electricity shooting through his leg, but not much else. The Healers did a very good job of treating him, but as Harry knew only too well, Dark magic leaves its scars. Rehabilitation helped, but he’ll never have the balance he needs to fly properly again. All he has left is coaching others.
And Hermione’s never quite been able to grasp that that’s enough for him. A quiet life with a doddery old house-elf who makes his breakfast, and a team of players who love the game almost as much as he does, and a Kneazle that curls against his damaged leg at the foot of his bed at night. He doesn’t want to found charities, or teach extra-curricular Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, or write a memoir. He doesn’t want to sit for his N.E.W.T.s by distance, or work with war orphans, or any of the other many, many careers Hermione’s gently suggested over the years. He just wants the sound of a Quaffle whistling through the air and the glint of a Snitch bobbing just out of reach.
He manages to give her what he hopes is a patient smile. He knows she means well.
“Let’s wait and see what the new boss has to say, first.”
Hermione seems mollified, helping Ron clear the plates while Harry is cajoled into reading Rose a bedtime story. Grimmauld Place feels cold and dark when he gets home, and Casper rubs back and forth against his legs as he brushes his teeth, impatient for Harry to get in bed so she can set to kneading and turning endless circles in the covers.
It takes him a long time to drift off to sleep.
Harry briefly considers dressing up a bit for his meeting but then decides there’s no point. If he’s getting fired, dress robes aren’t going to help. And if the new CEO is more interested in conscripting Harry into helping pore over spreadsheets to cut costs, then he might as well be comfortable while he does it.
He knows exactly the sort of person the goblins will have hired. Some number-cruncher who understands as much about Quidditch as a Muggle and cares even less. Someone who started wearing shiny suits straight after the war and was one of the first to get a mobile phone, as if by enthusiastically adopting all things non-wizarding they could pretend the whole conflict had never happened.
So Harry’s pretty sure, whoever it is, they’re not going to get along.
It’s only when he hears the distinctive clack of high heels striding down the corridor towards his office that he starts to rethink his assumptions. But when Pansy fucking Parkinson opens his door, he knows for sure they’re not going to get along.
“Close your mouth, Potter, you’ll catch Doxies.”
Harry thinks his shocked expression is fully justified, given the last time he saw Parkinson she was trying to hand him over to Voldemort. Ten years have passed and she doesn’t look any less dangerous, given her incredibly high heels, sharp haircut, and blood-red lipstick. Her suit looks like it cost more than Harry’s annual salary.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he asks, hoping against hope that he’s wrong and she’s just lost or took a wrong turn or something.
“I thought Balham told you I was coming.”
No such luck.
“Why would the goblins have appointed you, of all people?”
“Hmm, let’s see,” she muses, as if she’s giving the question serious consideration, tapping one perfectly-manicured red nail against her cheek. “Could it be the MBA from Harvard Business School? The four years working leveraged M&A for Morgan Stanley in New York? My restructure of the Arena Football League in the United States, or the two separate Quodpot franchises I’ve rescued from bankruptcy? Hard to say, Potter, hard to say.”
“You’ve been working as a Muggle?”
“Wizards don’t know the first fucking thing about business.” She eyes the rickety-looking guest chair on the other side of his desk with suspicion, before taking a seat and crossing her legs. She’d be attractive, probably, if she didn’t strongly resemble a walking nest of vipers.
Parkinson opens her leather satchel and withdraws a folder full of paperwork.
“And you, it seems, are no exception.”
Harry bristles defensively. “Now hold on—”
“No, I don’t think I will. We have a limited runway here, Potter. Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to cooperate or not. I am authorised to pay you a month’s severance if you’d like to leave today.”
A month’s pay is insulting. He’d be okay for a while, it’s not like he needs to pay rent. But if he takes her offer then he’s leaving the team and the rest of the staff in the hands of a piranha, and he obviously can’t do that.
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” he sneers.
Parkinson looks up from her notes, and raises one eyebrow. “I don’t want to get rid of you at all, Potter. Your fading starpower is one of the few assets this club has.”
Harry grimaces. He doubts that’s even true, and if it is, then the Arrows’ financial position is probably more precarious than he’d thought.
She slides a spreadsheet across the desk to him.
“Here are the first round of redundancies.”
Harry scans down the list in horror. It’s unbelievably long.
“All of concessions goes—we’ll outsource that to contractors. We’re cutting the groundskeeping staff in half. The development players are all being released from their contracts.”
Harry’s heart sinks. So many people. He thinks about the excited young players straight out of Hogwarts who’d been so delighted to be signed professionally, even for a team as poorly-ranked as the Arrows.
“And of course there’s absolutely no need for in-house broom maintenance or medical.”
Parkinson gives him an appraising look. “Excuse me?”
“Neville and Luna stay. I can…I can handle the rest of this list, but you fire the two of them and I’m gone as well.”
Her mouth curls in just the faintest imitation of a smile and Harry feels as though a trap has snapped shut somewhere and he missed it. Sodding Slytherins.
“Very well. Lovegood and Longbottom keep their jobs, if you sign a new magically-binding contract guaranteeing you’ll see out this season. I won’t have you threatening to quit in a fit of pique every time I need to make changes around here.”
She plucks a parchment from her satchel and produces an ornate-looking quill.
This is it, Harry supposes. He’s putting his job on the line—and, he suspects, his sanity—to make sure Luna and Neville still have wages. And he’s not even sure they’ll want them, when they see who the new boss is. But they’ve both turned up here, day after day, and he owes them this. He snatches the quill out of Parkinson’s hand and slashes his signature across the bottom of the parchment.
“Not even going to read it, Potter?” she smirks at him.
He shrugs. “Not much point, is there.”
She taps her wand to his signature and it lights up briefly before the parchment rolls itself tightly and she tucks it back in her bag.
“Quite. Now: show me around this dump.”
The ache in Harry’s hip throbs in time with a headache building high behind his eyes. The idea of an entire season with Parkinson sniping at him is more than he can contemplate. But, he bargains with himself mentally, at least he’s bought some time. He can get his athletes through this season and help Luna and Nev find jobs with better-performing clubs. He can even work out what he might want to do next, because trotting after Pansy Parkinson’s clacking stilettos certainly isn’t it.
She spends only minutes in the gymnasium, eyeing the slightly out-of-date equipment. She turns up her nose entirely at the changing rooms, and instead heads through the tunnel and out onto the pitch.
Graham, the aging Head Groundskeeper, set the mowing charms going yesterday, so at least it looks neat and tidy. But it was a long, hot summer, and the grass has died back in patches, leaving exposed areas of dry earth baked hard in the sun. Even to Harry’s loving, biased eyes, it looks a little dilapidated. Parkinson slides an expensive pair of sunglasses onto her nose as she glances up at the soaring hoops and takes in the empty stands. Her expression is inscrutable. Harry has no idea what she’s thinking.
“All right, Potter,” she says after a long pause. “I’ve got a full day of firing people ahead. You can stick around and hand out tissues, or you can leave me to it. Either way, you’re coming with me to a meeting of the League owners tomorrow at four.”
Harry’s startled by the offered reprieve and it must show on his face.
“You’re not the reason they’re losing their jobs,” she says. “You can let me be the villain, I’m used to it.”
For just a second, he recognises the Parkinson he last saw at school, before her face closes in again.
“I’m staying,” Harry insists, because it’s the right thing to do.
Later, after the bad news has been delivered and Parkinson’s left to wherever hags curl up at night, Neville convinces Harry to come with him and Luna to the local pub. Harry’s almost afraid they’ll find some of their now-former colleagues there drowning their sorrows, but the little bar is mostly empty. His first pint barely touches the sides.
“God that was awful,” he says morosely, poking at his empty crisp packet and thinking he should probably order some real food. “I’ve never been through anything that bad.”
Neville snorts. “No offence, mate, but I think the three of us have all been through a lot worse.”
Harry’s forced to chuckle.
“I think the hard part is over,” Luna says serenely. “Now we can just focus on the team we have left and playing the best season we can.” Neville gives her a winning smile.
One season, Harry thinks, heading to the bar to order another round. How hard can that be?
The Headquarters of the British and Irish Quidditch League is housed in an ancient wizarding building covered in ivy with Est. 1674 carved in stone over the door. Harry has only been here a couple of times. Once for some flashy fundraiser when he was a player, and then occasionally over the years when Balham insisted on meeting here for a drink while they discussed the team’s performance. It has a musty, closed-in smell, and virtually no sunlight makes its way in through the tall, narrow windows. There’s a stuffed dragon head mounted above the fireplace in the library that makes Harry feel ill every time he sees it.
The walls are covered with framed portraits of old wizards who always look a little askance at Harry, as if they wished he of all people hadn’t been the one to save the wizarding world. He can’t possibly imagine what they think of Pansy Parkinson striding through their hallowed halls, but he’s enjoying their pearl-clutching looks of disdain being aimed at someone other than him for a change.
Parkinson looks like she’s heading into battle armed only with a perfectly tailored suit, very high heels, and incredibly shiny hair. She doesn’t even look around to see if Harry’s keeping pace, and he wonders absently if that’s what the rest of the year is going to be like. Half-jogging to catch up with Parkinson everywhere she goes, always half a step behind. How things have changed since school.
The big double doors to the Cyprian Youdle Memorial Dining Room are closed, but Parkinson barely pauses, flicking her wand out of the sleeve of her jacket and casting so that they swing back dramatically on squeaking hinges. The twelve owners of the other teams in the League look up in unison, startled. Little fairy cakes and club sandwiches are piled high in the centre of the table, and they look almost comically out of place, as if the very old and very wealthy wizards were playing tea party.
At the head of the table, the owner of Puddlemere United, Archie Allsop, scowls at them both. Harry can’t stand him. He remembers all too well the way his coach at the time had wanted to keep Harry on another season—to give him a chance to work on his rehab—but Allsop had called Harry an “expensive disappointment” and released his contract immediately.
“I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Miss Parkinson,” he sneers, his voice dripping with condescension. “The League owners’ meeting happens every year in March. We are all extremely busy people.” A rumbling noise of agreement passes over the table as the other men nod, although Harry knows for a fact that the only thing the owner of the Kestrels does these days is totter from lunch at his club to drinks at his local. “For you to insist on this gathering, and to rope in the Ministry to ensure that it happened, is both irregular and inappropriate.”
Allsop directs his look of disapproval briefly at a nervous-looking young man in Ministry robes sitting in the corner who Harry vaguely recognises as being somehow involved in Games and Sports. He wonders how on earth Parkinson has influence in the Ministry of all places, and how she managed to leverage it to get all of these men here today.
If she’s affected by Allsop’s smug tone, she doesn’t show it.
“If we wait until March, you’ll all be out of business, like Balham.”
One or two of the men scoff, but there’s an uncomfortable silence from the remainder.
“As you know,” Parkinson goes on, snapping her wand in the direction of a huge velvet curtain that smooths itself out obediently and turns white, like a movie screen. “The Appleby Arrows are on the verge of bankruptcy. I have been appointed to ensure that doesn’t happen.” Another flick, and the screen fills with charts, all of them declining depressingly down and to the right.
There’s some mumbling around the table.
“As you can see, attendance, merchandise sales, listening and viewing figures have all been trending down for the last decade and show no signs of recovery.”
“Look, Miss…” Parkinson levels an icy stare at the interruption. The owner of the Tornadoes quails back in his seat a little, but then presses on. “The Arrows’ financial difficulties are obviously disappointing, but it’s hardly anything to do with the rest of us.”
“You misunderstand me, Mr Nightingale. These are not the Arrows’ results. These are the aggregate numbers for the League as a whole.”
The room falls silent. Several of the men around the table shift uncomfortably in their seats. One of them pulls out a pair of spectacles and squints more closely at Parkinson’s screen. None of them seem to want to make eye contact with any of the others.
“For the Arrows’ restructuring to proceed, I need a successful, profitable league for them to compete in. The British and Irish Quidditch League is a catastrophic failure.”
“Even if you have these numbers correct, and I doubt that you do,” Allsop spits out, his face colouring with anger. “What exactly is it that you’ve dragged us here to propose?”
“That we completely reinvent the sport of Quidditch.”
Harry would almost be able to enjoy the looks of horrified shock on the owners’ faces, but he suspects his own expression mirrors theirs.
“You what?” he coughs. She ignores him.
Parkinson strides around the long mahogany table, sliding folders in front of each attendee. One by one they open them warily, as if there’s something inside that might bite.
“You don’t need to digest the details in full today, you can take these away with you. The changes are all aimed at making games shorter, higher scoring, and much more exciting to watch. Limited game times, the introduction of permitted magic on brooms, and the ability for players to cast in flight are the key differences.”
The Catapults’ owner—Greathill, Harry thinks his name is—starts to sputter in outrage. “This is ridiculous. The rules of Quidditch have remained unchanged—”
“For far too long,” Parkinson cuts him off. She flicks her wand at the screen and the depressing downward graphs are replaced with bouncing upward ones.
“Muggles are, once again, well ahead of us in this regard. These are the comparative figures for the Muggle sport of cricket, after the introduction of the shorter, faster Twenty20 game.” Flick. “And here’s the revenue figures for Rugby Sevens, a fast-paced version of the game played by a half-sized team.”
Harry watches in horror as the owners close their mouths and start to stare at the graphs in interest. He can practically see their eyeballs turn into Galleons right in front of him.
The screen changes to video, a very clever spell that Harry thinks for a second he should get Parkinson to teach him for team briefings before he manages to shake himself out of it. She’s a predator. Who, it seems, is not only trying to ruin his life, but also the sport in general. He’s not going to ask her for magic tutorials.
The video is a shaky, handheld thing, probably filmed from Omnioculars. It’s hard to work out where it’s taking place—the players aren’t in a proper stadium, and it doesn’t look like they’re in England—but nevertheless it’s impossible to look away. The players are fast, faster than Harry’s seen on brooms in a long time, and the manoeuvres they’re attempting look like something straight out of Muggle acrobatics. At first Harry thinks it’s some sort of exhibition match, where stunt players show off tricks and so on, but then he realises with an involuntary hiss that actually the players are forced to move so quickly and evasively because they’re firing hexes at one another. A Beater narrowly misses a glowing red spell, flipping upside down with seconds to spare and still, miraculously, managing to bat away the Bludger. The crowd lets up a cheer in a language Harry doesn’t recognise, and the cheer quickly turns to excited yells as another hex goes wide, striking a wooden sign at the edge of the pitch and causing it to splinter and smoke. The screen goes black.
“What on earth was that?” Allsop sneers at Parkinson.
“An unsanctioned match filmed in Kyiv last week. Part of an underground league on the continent.”
“You cannot possibly be suggesting we start allowing players to blow things up. If we wanted to play Quodpot we’d move to the New World.”
Parkinson levels an even look at Allsop and then around the table at each of them in turn. Harry’s quick to note the others don’t seem remotely as horrified, some even turning the pages of Parkinson’s proposal with interest.
“I like money,” she concludes simply, waving her wand at the screen and reverting it to its original state as a curtain. “If you don’t like money, you can keep playing village Quidditch until you die on a broom. But you’ll be doing it on your own. That’s the proposal. You have a week to decide.”
Parkinson picks up her bag and spins on her heel, striding out of the room. Once again, Harry’s forced to jog to catch up.
“It’s preposterous,” he says, for maybe the third or fourth time since they’ve returned to the Appleby stadium. Like the word is stuck in his throat. Like he can’t think of another one.
“What is, saving the League?” Parkinson pours herself a cup of coffee, but her face twists in disgust when she tastes it. Harry hopes it’s cold. And still there from yesterday. It would serve her right.
“You’re not saving it, you’re destroying it. What you’re proposing goes against the very spirit of the game.”
She discards the cup back on the worktop, leaning against it and crossing her arms in defiance.
“Really? Rules unchanged since the 1600s and blah blah blah history? What about the Arrows old habit of shooting actual arrows into the air to celebrate a goal? Took that poor ref taking one to the nose in 1894 before that was banned, didn’t it? Or the introduction of the Pennifold Quaffle. Would you prefer to go back to the days when your Chasers had to keep nose-diving to the ground to get the damn things back? Would that be more authentic? The game has evolved beyond all recognition from its earliest incarnations. The game has to continue to evolve, Potter, or it dies.”
“The game evolved to become safer. You’re proposing to make it more dangerous.”
“Rubbish. I’m proposing to make it faster and more interesting.”
“It’s already fast,” Harry feels his voice rising to a yell. “It’s already interesting.” He thinks back to that first World Cup he’d attended, when the players had been so swift on their brooms he’d tried to watch the game at half-speed on his Omnioculars and wound up missing a goal. Anyone who thinks Quidditch is boring needs their head read, and he says as much.
“The last Puddlemere game lasted sixteen hours, Potter. It’s tedious. No one cares.”
That game had gone on a little long, he’ll concede. But that doesn’t happen often. Or not all that often, at any rate. Regardless, he doesn’t want anything to do with this.
“You can make all the changes you like, I’m not interested. You can find a new coach.”
Parkinson arches one carefully-shaped eyebrow at him.
“Interesting idea, Potter, but no, I don’t think I will. You signed a new, binding contract with me for the whole season.”
Harry can feel his anger like a physical thing, roiling under his skin and making his magic waver and flex. “You misled me,” he spits out, trying to keep himself under control. He should have known she’d do something like this, Slytherin to the bloody core.
“Cry about it in court, Potter. I’ve been sued more times than you’ve lost games. If you walk away now, you’ll feel the effects of the contract immediately. And you won’t enjoy them.”
He suspects she’s probably right. Plus it’s not like he can afford to sue her, or the goblins she represents. He feels his heightened emotions deflate rapidly into defeat.
“I’m not going to teach players to fly upside down and fling hexes at one another,” he protests mulishly. “You may have bound me to coach for a season, but all you’ll be getting out of me is a team that’s good at traditional Quidditch with strong broomwork.”
She sniggers. Harry glares at her.
“I’m not going to do it, Parkinson. I won’t teach people to play like that.”
“No, you won’t. I don’t expect you to—you’d be terrible at it. I’ve hired a new coach to make sure the Arrows will be fit to compete.”
Harry feels his mouth fall open again, an irritatingly default facial expression around Parkinson, he’s finding.
“Excuse me? Why on earth would you bind me to this sodding team, if you already have someone else in mind?”
“I need you both. Half of those daft old bastards only listened to me today because you were standing at my side and they’re forced to respect you. I need you for your name, your dedication, and the way you will get up in front of the press and vouch for the new League.”
Harry sputters in indignation. Parkinson seems not to notice.
“And I need another coach who can teach the team how to win under the new rules. That’s obviously not you.”
“And where do you propose to find a coach who can do that, when you’ve just invented the new bloody rules?”
“That game you saw on the screen today, Potter? He was the captain of the winning side. He’s won and lost more money in underground league games in the last five years than your vaults could possibly hold. He’s widely considered to be one of the most dangerous and successful unsanctioned Quidditch players in all of Europe.”
Harry hears the sound of someone walking down the corridor towards them.
“And that will be him now.” Parkinson looks unaccountably smug.
The door to Harry’s office opens, and Harry’s not sure who is wearing the more outraged expression, himself or Draco Malfoy.
“Bloody buggering fuck Pansy, what have you done?”
Harry hasn’t seen Malfoy in a decade. Not since he fled to Europe with his parents after the final battle. And with a wand to his head, Harry couldn’t have described the man standing in front of him now.
The blond hair is the same, though it’s now shaved sharply up the sides and long on top. His features are still pointy, but he’s grown into them somehow. Harry’s horrified to realise that Malfoy’s become ridiculously, outrageously attractive. He’s tall and powerful-looking, clearly in incredible physical condition. He looks like he could run rings around Harry’s Chasers without even leaving the ground. Everything about him leaves Harry hot under the collar, from the pierced ears to the scar running down the side of his throat to the tattoos covering both of his forearms. His jeans are torn in a way Harry supposes is meant to be fashionable, but exposes a thin stretch of muscled thigh that Harry thinks is mostly just inappropriate. Or at least is causing Harry to react to him in completely inappropriate ways.
“No, absolutely not,” Malfoy says to Parkinson, his voice now bored and matter-of-fact, and Harry shakes his head abruptly in agreement, tearing his eyes away from Malfoy to scowl darkly at her.
She looks from one to the other with just the faintest hint of a smile.
“Just like old times.” She gathers her things, ignoring the pair of them. “Neither of you have a choice. You’ve both signed binding magical contracts. You have to work together for one season. Then you can do whatever the fuck you like.”
She pats Malfoy on the arm as she slips past him to the door.
“I’ll leave you two to get reacquainted.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
Harry sags, as if standing up for traditional Quidditch has exhausted the last of his resources. His hip aches, Parkinson’s only been around two days and has already upended his entire world, and literally the last thing he needs is this impossibly-handsome alternate universe version of Draco Malfoy taking up space in his office.
“Working with you, apparently,” Malfoy says dryly, sinking into Harry’s wobbly guest chair. He somehow manages to make it look stable. Harry’s the one who feels completely off-balance.
“Is this some kind of practical joke? Did you two have some sort of Slytherin class reunion and cook this up?” They probably had a great laugh, predicting Harry’s reaction—first to Parkinson’s arrival, and now this.
Malfoy, though, doesn’t seem ready to enjoy the joke. He gives Harry a puzzled glance. “When would you imagine we’d have done that? Before or after I became an exile? Have you seen the rest of our classmates recently? Because I certainly haven’t.”
Harry doesn’t have an ounce of sympathy for whatever Malfoy’s been through since the war. He didn’t wind up in Azkaban, and as far as Harry’s concerned, that was mercy enough. Harry hasn’t thought about him since.
“I honestly don’t know what you and Parkinson think you’re playing at. But I’m not getting involved. She’s tied my hands for a season, but there’s nothing in that sodding contract that says I have to work with you.”
Malfoy ignores his outburst completely and looks around Harry’s little office, which just annoys Harry even further. This is his private space, and he doesn’t want Malfoy staring at the Weasleys waving from their framed family photo, or Rose’s slightly wrinkled finger painting Spellotaped to the wall, or the vibrant fern sitting on top of his rusting filing cabinet that only thrives because Neville takes care of it. It feels so invasive.
“Suits me,” Malfoy says eventually, with an indifferent shrug. “I don’t imagine our coaching styles will be very…compatible…in any event. You can just sit on the bench.”
“You mean you’re sticking around?” Harry hates how incredulous he sounds. He hates everything about this day so far. He needs to get a copy of the bloody contract he signed so he can get Hermione to read it. Surely the penalty for breaking it can’t be as bad as putting up with this.
“I don’t have any more choice than you do. Pansy gets what Pansy wants.” Malfoy sounds almost philosophical about it, giving Harry a disinterested shrug.
“A winning team, apparently. Look—I’ve literally just come from an International Portkey. I’m tired. All I know is that she wants me to take a bunch of professional losers and teach them to play properly. She didn’t tell me you’d be in the mix.” He lets out a humourless chuckle. “But somehow that seems completely unsurprising.”
“You’re really trying to tell me you didn’t know I’d be here.”
“They don’t deliver the Daily Prophet in Prague, Potter. And even if they did, I wouldn’t be inclined to read it. I had no idea you’d washed up as coach of a failing Quidditch team.”
“Then why are you here?” It’s exasperating how Malfoy can still flood his veins with irritation, even after all this time.
“That’s one hundred percent none of your business. I’m going to go to my hotel, shower, unpack, sleep, and I’ll be back here tomorrow morning to meet the team. If you want to be childish, that’s obviously your prerogative. Otherwise, I’d appreciate whatever information you can give me about the players’ relative merits.”
Harry looks down at his desk at the binder full of notes on each of his starting seven. He looks back at Malfoy with a scowl. “If you’re so talented, I’m sure it won’t take you long to form your own opinions.”
Malfoy gives him another bored shrug. “Suit yourself.”
He stands up again, towering over Harry, who has to resist the urge to get to his feet himself in some sort of weird stand-off. Malfoy’s so tall, and it really shouldn’t make Harry’s mouth as dry as it does. Malfoy shoves his hands in his jeans pockets and turns on his heel, gone before Harry can even formulate a smart retort.
It’s only just lunchtime but Harry’s so furious and out of sorts he tells Luna she can have the team for pilates and Floos straight to Ron and Hermione’s. One of the advantages of having a best mate who’s a stay-at-home dad is that he’s around for Harry to rant at in the middle of the day. He finds Ron in the sitting room. Hugo’s crawling around with a stuffed dragon and Ron is poking intermittently at a charmed pair of knitting needles.
“Scarves. I have to get them to drop stitches occasionally,” he admits, flushing a little with embarrassment. “Or mum will realise mine aren’t quite as lumpy as hers.”
Ron Weasley, it turns out, is the true heir to Molly’s legacy. It’s just that he doesn’t want her to know his gravy usually turns out smoother and more flavourful than hers. Or that Rosie prefers her dad’s cupcakes to her gran’s.
Ron makes them both sandwiches with thick slices of homemade bread and an onion chutney Harry would happily eat straight from the jar, while Harry gets him up to speed.
“It’s a sodding outrage,” Harry concludes, around a mouthful of sharp white cheddar. Ron always has the best cheese. “And you’d think the owners would tell Parkinson where to go, but I swear they’re only interested in the money. Quidditch is more than that.”
Ron looks like he’s about to speak, but Harry’s not quite done after all.
“I mean, just think about your beloved Cannons—imagine if in that game last week, Benson had been able to throw a bloody hex before that last feint. Outrageous. That’s not what Quidditch is about!”
Ron shifts in his seat. “I didn’t actually get to listen to that one.”
Harry looks up in surprise. “Busy with the kids?”
“No I just…forgot it was on.”
“You what?” Ron’s obsession with the Cannons never faded after school, even as Harry signed with a rival team. Harry’s always been half-convinced that if he ever ventured into their bedroom, he’d find that Ron had persuaded Hermione to still have orange bedsheets and a team poster on the wall.
Now, though, he just looks a little sheepish.
“I mean, the last couple of games have been so slow. That one they played in the fog in Ireland? When they eventually had to call it off after three days because even the ref couldn’t summon the Snitch? And then that one earlier this year, when the Wigtown Wanderers beat us inside of five minutes. Not very satisfying either way, mate.”
Harry can’t believe his ears. Ron’s always been a dyed-in-the-wool Quidditch fan, and he’s obviously not someone who’s remotely swayed by the post-war trend towards all things Muggle. But even he seems to be giving the game away.
“Maybe Parkinson’s right,” Ron muses, poking at his knitting needles again, which stumble briefly and then right themselves. “A few changes might be good overall? Dean talks about those unsanctioned games all the time. Reckons they’re dead exciting. He’s made money off them too.”
Harry picks at his sandwich crust, unable to work out what to say. He’d been sure Ron would be his ally. Ron’s unbridled enthusiasm for Quidditch is one of Harry’s happiest memories from their early friendship.
“It gets worse,” he says, knowing for certain Ron will have his back in this, at least. “She’s hired Malfoy on as a coach.”
Ron lets out a roar of laughter so loud he startles Hugo, who immediately starts to cry. Ron’s still laughing, practically tearing up with it, as he picks up the little boy to settle him.
“It’s not that funny,” Harry mumbles, awkwardly, feeling his face heat.
“Oh come on,” Ron goads him, still chuckling, bouncing Hugo back into smiles. “You have to admit Parkinson forcing the two of you—of all people—to work together is pretty hilarious.”
“She might be able to force me to stay on as coach, but she can’t make me work with that traitorous bastard.” It comes out a little more venomous than he intends, and the broad grin slips a little on Ron’s face. He seems surprised by the strength of Harry’s reaction.
“It’s been a decade, mate. You can’t tell me he’s the same git he was in school. None of us are.”
Malfoy certainly seems pretty different from outward appearances, but Harry’s not going to admit that to Ron. He’s not sure he trusts himself to describe Malfoy without using words like athletic and dangerous-looking and utterly shaggable, which is frankly just embarrassing.
“I’m saying I’m not going to find out,” Harry says stubbornly. “I’m going to coach the Arrows to be the best flyers they can be. He can scuttle around teaching them to throw sneaky hexes like a bloody Slytherin if he wants, it’s nothing to do with me.”
Ron seems like he’s biting his tongue. He studies Harry intently for a second, and then shrugs.
“We’re going to walk along and collect Rosie from nursery in a bit. Want to come?”
Harry glances up at the clock.
“Better head back,” he says with a sigh. “Before Malfoy manages to make my team forget there are any rules to Quidditch at all.”
Malfoy’s first practice with the Arrows goes about as well as Harry expects.
Harry lets Malfoy and the rest of the team lift into the air ahead of him as he takes it slowly, ascending by the stands. Malfoy seems distracted at first, looking around at the dimensions of the pitch and rapidly circling the hoops a few times, getting his bearings, before swooping in to hover beside Harry.
Harry hates it. He’s immediately incredibly conscious of his own precarious balance: the way his injured leg doesn’t bend quite right, the stiffness in his joints. He doesn’t think about it often, and his team are used to it, but there’s something about the kinetic energy of Malfoy lifting and lowering constantly beside him that’s making Harry acutely aware of his own limitations. Besides, Malfoy’s flying gear is made from some sort of Muggle technical fabric and is very…form-fitting.
“Right,” he calls out, desperate for something to distract himself. “Let’s fly a Kazinsky pattern to warm up.”
The team is a little awkward getting into formation. Maxwell inadvertently cuts Wood off, and Oliver starts in on a rousing lecture that, as ever, begins with Back in my day… The younger player almost slips from his broom. Harry sighs.
The players start to fly the drill, and Harry has to be honest: it’s a little clumsy. The Chasers seem stiff and slow, and Wood shouting at anyone who'll listen about how the 1993 Gryffindor starting lineup could do this better definitely isn’t helping. Harry keeps biting his lip to stop himself from turning to Malfoy to try and make excuses. It’s cold this morning. And they need a little more time to play together. And—
“Wood! Cut that out at once!” Malfoy uses Sonorus and his voice echoes eerily off the stands in all directions. The players are brought up short. Maxwell nearly slips off his broom again.
Oliver Wood stares at Malfoy in disbelief.
“You heard me,” Malfoy says evenly, his voice ricocheting unnecessarily to every corner of the pitch. “Barking at everyone is achieving exactly nothing. Start the pattern over.”
Wood’s mouth drops open, and he looks at Harry for back up. The thing is, Harry usually looks the other way when Oliver gets a bit exuberant with the team. He’s the captain, after all, and he’s extremely experienced, and he cares about the game as much as Harry does, so it seems weird for Harry to chastise him.
Malfoy clearly doesn’t feel the same way.
“Don’t look at Potter, you heard exactly what I said,” Malfoy continues, his tone cold. “Start the pattern over.”
The other players are already resetting themselves in position, but Wood continues to glare at Malfoy.
“Or if you prefer, you can hit the showers early,” Malfoy goes on.
Wood is staring at Harry now, his lips a thin, angry line, waiting for him to intercede.
Harry feels uncomfortable. He turns to Malfoy. “Look, perhaps…”
All of sudden, he’s addressing thin air, Malfoy shooting several feet above him to where the team are forming up again.
“Showers it is, then, Wood. The rest of you, I’ll fly the Keeper position. Let’s go.”
Oliver gives Harry an exasperated look, muttering under his breath as the team begins to fly again and swooping down to the changing rooms with a thunderous expression and several very choice words that Harry can only barely make out.
Harry’s torn between going after him to smooth things over and staying put, but as Malfoy sweeps cleanly above him leaning forward in his stirrups, Harry figures he’s better off staying where he is and keeping an eye on Malfoy. Merlin knows what he’ll do next. Harry can talk to Oliver once he’s calmed down.
The players take a couple of tries to get the formation smooth, but soon they’re flying the drill more neatly than Harry’s seen them do it in a while, passing the Quaffle back and forth with ease. Eventually Malfoy blows a whistle and the team circles in to land.
Harry joins them on the ground.
“We’ll start with these,” Malfoy says, tossing leather straps to each player. They stare at them blankly. “They’re wrist holsters,” he explains patiently, pushing back the sleeve of his jacket and extending one tattooed forearm. His own holster is fastened neatly around the neck of an inked green dragon. Harry stares at it, fascinated. The dragon breathes a little puff of smoke towards Malfoy’s palm.
“For matches, ideally you’ll be able to fly one-handed so you have full range with your wand, but that will take time and training. In the meantime, these holsters will let you draw quickly and stow your wand when you need to grip your broom properly again.”
Malfoy gestures with his wrist and his wand slips easily into his hand. He casts Lumos in demonstration, and with another flick, his wand is back in its holster.
Wands have always been allowed on the Quidditch pitch, but most of the younger players don’t bother carrying them, preferring not to have to think about protecting a stowed wand from falls, collisions, or stray Bludgers. Now that Harry thinks about it, Wood is the only Arrow who still routinely flies with his. It’s really only those players who saw the war up close who can’t bear the thought of being unarmed, even for the length of a single game.
Harry always flies with his wand, but everything about the idea of using it during a game feels wrong to him—employing magic against your opponents goes against everything he believes in. It makes him think of Quirrell messing with his broom in First Year, the tampered Bludger in Second Year, Dementors on the pitch in Third Year.
Underhanded, is what it is.
He realises with a start that he must have said that bit out loud, judging from the confused looks his team are giving him.
“I thought you said the new rules—” Maxwell stutters out nervously.
“Potter’s talking about an underhand cast,” Malfoy lies, cutting him off smoothly and directing an icy glare in Harry’s direction. “We’ll go into overhand and underhand casting once you get the hang of flying with your wand. Let’s start with some basic drills.”
He’s swept back up into the air before Harry can think what to say, and Harry’s forced again to watch the sleek and efficient power with which Malfoy flies. As a boy, Harry remembers him being fast, but rash. Always with a point to prove and always overextending. Now there’s nothing but pent-up momentum, waiting to be unleashed at the right time. It’s extraordinary to watch. Harry wishes he could convince himself that he’s just attracted to Malfoy’s talent, but as he leans into a dive, quads flexing, Harry has to admit he’d be lying. It’s very frustrating.
Harry thinks about joining them aloft again, but as he sees the team begin to practice unholstering their wands in flight the idea sours in his mouth.
He takes his broom and goes inside instead.
Harry hears Wood slamming weights around in the gym and briefly considers going in to placate him, but he’s not sure he’s got it in him. They’ll just wind up squabbling about Malfoy, and honestly that’s not going to get either of them very far.
When he gets back to his office there’s an owl from Parkinson. The owners have signed off on her changes to the League rules.
Harry sits down at his desk with a sigh. It’s not that he thought they wouldn’t, he supposes. After all, that’s why his team is outside practising with their wands. He saw the owners’ greedy expressions—Parkinson had certainly done her homework in terms of presenting them with a compelling case. It’s just that it has an awful sort of finality about it. The first game is now only weeks away, and it seems he’s stuck with Malfoy for an entire season. And if this is what Quidditch is now, Harry’s not sure what that means for him. It’s just not the game he knows and loves.
The rest of the week is a bit of a shambles. Malfoy and Wood continue to butt heads over even the smallest things, leaving Harry caught between a rock and a hard place. While it pains Harry to admit it, about half the time Wood is being a bit unreasonable, but Harry will be damned if he’s going to side with Draco Malfoy against the captain he specifically hired and has played with since he was eleven. And that leaves Harry feuding with Malfoy over everything from what the players should wear for their training practices to whether it’s appropriate to punish tardiness with flying laps.
It’s exhausting, is what it is.
Malfoy is mean and focussed as a coach. Nothing at all like Harry’s own more encouraging, convivial style. He barks orders and yells corrections, swooping into the sky like a maniac and diving down alongside players to demonstrate all the myriad ways they’re doing something wrong.
It’s a lot like having Snape for a flying instructor. Harry shudders at the thought.
A week later, Parkinson insists that Harry attend the public launch of the revamped League.
“And don’t even think about dressing yourself,” she snaps at him through the Floo. “I’m sending over your clothes.”
Harry is fully prepared to immediately return whatever ridiculous get-up she has delivered and damn the consequences, but he finds himself staring at the contents of the garment bag in confused appreciation. The dark trousers are cut to fit perfectly. The shirt is made from a rich black fabric and has a parchment note pinned to it saying “leave open at the collar”, an instruction Harry’s only too relieved to follow given he was expecting something starchy and trussed-up. And somehow the bomber jacket in the Arrows’ blue and silver manages to look dashing rather than ridiculous. A little American, perhaps, but Harry can’t argue that Parkinson has an eye. It’s better than literally anything in their current merchandise range, that’s for sure.
The press conference is splashy and well-attended, with an open bar and loud music reverberating off the walls, where silent videos of Quidditch players showing off impossible trick manoeuvres play on a loop. Harry helps himself to one of the event’s signature cocktails: some sort of frothy gold concoction with a tiny Quidditch figure firing little sparks from the stirrer. He stands against a wall trying to work out how to drink it without the sparks striking his lip, and eventually gives up, taking the stirrer out and sticking it in a nearby plant.
The Head of Magical Games and Sports, Orion Cribbe, gives the opening remarks. Harry sees Parkinson hovering over his right shoulder, dressed inconspicuously in a dark suit, and wonders how much of her hand is in all of this. Cribbe stutters through a carefully prepared speech about a new era of the ancient game, and receives only a smattering of applause, but then the room goes dark and a video screen descends behind him. The soundtrack is deafening—MIA’s Paper Planes, a song Harry only recognises because Luna has it playing in the gym a lot—and on the screen shiny, sleek Quidditch players swoop and dive, dodge spells and fire ostentatious hexes that explode into fireworks across the screen in time with the music. By the time the commercial ends and the words British and Irish Quidditch League: Established 1674, Reborn 2008 flash across the screen, the crowd in the room is cheering and clapping.
Somehow Parkinson has appeared behind Harry like a spectre, and is now nudging him firmly towards the podium, taking his empty glass and replacing it with a piece of parchment.
“You’re up, Potter. Just read this, and you’re done.”
Harry blinks a little at the flash of several cameras. He never gives interviews after Arrows games, and he supposes it’s a while since the press has been interested in capturing him out and about in public. He’d forgotten how uncomfortable this makes him feel and tugs awkwardly at his collar.
“Read,” Parkinson hisses, and he glances down at the notes clutched in his clammy hand.
The speech is blessedly short. A few inspiring paragraphs about the long history of the game and its importance to the wizarding world that Harry actually believes, followed by an exhortation to support the new, vital, necessary changes, which of course Harry doesn’t.
The cameras flash again.
When he comes down off the stage he catches sight of Malfoy leaning against the bar. His pale blue Arrows’ sweater looks impossibly soft and clashes outrageously with the inches of dark ink on display over his muscled forearms where he’s pushed up the sleeves. Harry’s tempted to say to the reporters, Why aren’t you reporting on that? But somehow handing over even someone like Malfoy to their hungry maws feels unfair. He gives a few curt remarks to the journalist from the Prophet, poses for yet more photos under a banner, and then strides away to the bar as quickly as he can. Malfoy gives him an appraising look as he reaches for another one of the silly gold drinks.
“You clean up nice,” he drawls.
Harry blushes, and he forgets about the stupid drink stirrer, which immediately strikes his lip with a spark. The problem is that the Arrows’ signature colours suit Malfoy to a truly unreasonable degree. And he’s clever enough to be drinking a beer from the bottle instead of being attacked by a sentient cocktail, so Harry feels distinctly on the back foot and can’t think what to say.
“Duty calls,” Malfoy says, indicating where Parkinson is beckoning from the other side of the room, surrounded by goblins. Harry abandons his drink and goes to join her with a defeated sigh. The next time he looks around, Malfoy’s gone. Harry tries not to identify the feeling he’s experiencing as disappointment.
By the following week, Harry’s arriving at work each morning with his headache already firmly installed. He sits astride his broom, watching Malfoy force the Beaters into ever-escalating patterns, slinging enchanted training Bludgers at them left and right at an outrageous pace.
“No, no, no!” Malfoy yells, finally, blowing a whistle and gesturing for the whole team to circle in.
“Here, I’ll show you. Potter, fly an Annenbaum Feint for me so I can demonstrate.”
Harry feels the back of his neck heat. The rest of the team is silent, but he avoids looking at them.
“Are you deaf, Potter? Fly an Annenbaum, so I can show him this manoeuvre.”
Malfoy may not read the Prophet, but there’s no way Parkinson doesn’t know the full extent of Harry’s injury. Nothing else has escaped her immaculately manicured notice. So Harry doesn’t believe for a second that Malfoy doesn’t know he can’t fly an Annenbaum any more than he can transform into a cat or survive a Mandrake scream. Harry grits his teeth. Malfoy’s just trying to get a rise out of him.
“What, you don’t want to help, is that it?” Malfoy goads him, a smug look on his face.
Harry’s blood starts to heat. His anger feels coiled tight in his muscles, making his hip throb and his heart pound. Malfoy’s obviously determined to embarrass him in front of the team, which seems like a new low, even for him.
“I have trouble believing you don’t know what an Annenbaum Feint is, Potter. You’ve got more classical Quidditch texts in that poky little office of yours than I knew were in print. Do you need me to refresh your memory?”
The team starts to fidget on their brooms uncomfortably. Harry’s face feels flaming.
“Fuck you, Malfoy,” he manages. “If you can’t keep a civil tongue, we’ll conduct separate practices from now on.”
He turns and descends quickly to the pitch, letting the pain scream in his leg in order to be gone as quickly as he can. He’s still fuming when Malfoy crashes into his office hot on his heels a few minutes later.
“What the fuck was that, Potter?”
Malfoy’s hair is wild and there’s colour high on his cheeks from flying all morning in the cold wind. He’s yanked open his Quidditch jacket as he’s walked inside, and Harry can see sweat soaking through his white undershirt, revealing the dark outlines of what must be yet more tattoos across his chest. Harry very much wants to see them. It’s outrageous how good Malfoy looks, even when he’s mad as hell. Particularly when he’s mad as hell.
Harry swallows, focussing his own rage.
“Why don’t you tell me, you shit-stirring bastard?! Did you think that was funny?”
Malfoy looks incredulous. “Funny? Asking you to do your job? In what way is that supposed to be amusing, exactly?”
Harry snorts in disbelief.
“What, actually demonstrating a move is beneath the great coach Harry Potter? How the fuck do you teach them anything new? I just needed you to fly one simple manoeuvre, but even that’s too much if it means assisting me—is that it?”
Harry feels like throwing something.
“It’s nothing to do with you, you self-centred prick,” he spits out.
“I can’t fly like that any more!” Harry finds himself yelling, far too loud for the small room.
Malfoy falls silent. Harry can hear his own breathing, shockingly loud in his ears.
“What do you mean?”
Harry studies Malfoy’s face carefully, looking for any sign that this is a joke or a trap. Some new way for Malfoy to mock or humiliate him. But he finds only confusion. It brings Harry up short.
“Do you really not know?”
“Know what?” Malfoy asks, sounding tired and exasperated. “What the fuck is going on?” He shrugs off his jacket and tosses it on the chair, leaving him wearing only the damp white undershirt. Harry stares at the faded lines of his Dark Mark, inked in all around with other tattoos. Geometric designs. Flowers. Magical creatures. Like it’s possible to surround such evil with other things and suddenly no one will notice it’s there.
The tattoos are goddamned attractive, but Harry still knows it’s there.
“I…” Harry falters. Everyone in wizarding Britain knows about his bloody leg. He’s never had to explain it to anyone. “I was injured. In my second season.”
“That was eight years ago, Potter.”
“It was Dark magic,” he says quietly.
Malfoy sucks in a sharp breath and scrubs his hand through his hair. “What…How did it…” He trails off as if he doesn’t even know how to ask.
But Harry doesn’t know how to say anything else about it. Especially not to Malfoy. He has no idea how to talk about those first weeks and months of rebuilding after the war. Scrubbing the Dark magic from Diagon Alley; restoring the wards at Hogwarts. How it had felt like the Death Eaters had poisoned everything—that the magical world might never be clean. How hard it was for people to feel safe again. Even Harry.
Maybe especially Harry.
“Tripped a latent Death Eater curse,” he mutters, his fingers gripping the edge of his desk, knuckles white. He doesn’t want to look up. He thinks if he sees an ounce of pity or even regret on Draco Malfoy’s pale face he’ll be forced to punch it bloody. But eventually the silence has gone on too long and he can’t do anything else.
He doesn’t expect to see Malfoy eyeing him with studied concentration.
“What’s your range of motion?” he asks. His tone seems serious rather than prurient. Any hint of antagonism has vanished.
About the same as Neville in first year, Harry normally jokes. But not with Malfoy.
“I can go up, down, fly in a straight line, make a basic turn. That’s about it.”
Malfoy gives a curt nod and gathers his jacket, stuffing his arms back into the sleeves.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, I genuinely didn’t know,” he says gruffly. “But we can continue with separate practices. It probably makes sense.”
Harry feels off-kilter. Malfoy’s not apologising—not exactly. But now Harry somehow feels like he’s the one who’s overreacted, and he’ll be damned if he’s saying sorry.
“Fine,” he mutters at Malfoy’s retreating back.
They don’t discuss it again.
At first, practising separately seems like a dream come true. Harry no longer has to be self-conscious about the speed and ease with which Malfoy’s able to fling himself about the stadium. He doesn’t have to listen to Malfoy’s instructions bellowed every few minutes, echoing off the stands and hurting Harry’s ears. And he doesn’t have to school himself to stop staring at Malfoy’s arse. He can go back to what he loves: sitting comfortably astride his broom ten feet or so above the team, watching them run their plays. Creating an environment that is encouraging and positive, not at all like the last few days have been.
It brings out the very best in him. He’s able to get Iyer working on a Pharvesh Pattern, something he learned about in a dusty old book written in India around the turn of the century, which lets her cover the stadium much more quickly in her search for the Snitch. And Darby and Maxwell are starting to work so much better together, passing the Quaffle cleanly and confidently with ease.
One morning he suggests that the team fly a set of dip-and-pass drills to warm up, and there’s a moment of hesitation as they glance at one another before Wood clears his throat and says that Draco had them come in early—they’ve already been flying for an hour.
And then later in the week, he can’t work out why the Beaters keep overshooting the charmed training Bludgers, until Morgan admits that Harry has them flying too slow.
“Draco’s had us working at one-and-a-half speed for two days now,” she says with an embarrassed shrug.
Worst of all, it doesn’t matter what Harry has them do, all of the players have adopted an infuriating habit of taking one hand off their broom every few minutes, touching their lower back and then returning to their grip.
“What in Merlin’s balls are they doing?” he finally shouts at Wood, who is circling near the hoops while the Chasers fly a swift end-to-end pattern.
“It’s an exercise to get us ready for casting in flight,” Oliver shrugs. “Malfoy insists we do it whenever we’re playing, so it becomes second nature.”
The players look ridiculous. The very idea that they’re constantly sacrificing grip just to be ready to wave their wands around is preposterous.
Harry never ordinarily bothers with Sonorus during training, but now he can’t help himself.
“Stop that at once!” he calls, his voice ringing out around the pitch. “During practice with me there will be no magic. You will maintain a standard two-handed Hanaka grip at all times.”
His players falter, slowing down and hovering to stare at him.
“That’s going to make it awkward, Potter,” Wood points out from somewhere behind him. “We don’t have long to get ready for the first game.”
Harry spins around, and the motion is too much. He nearly slips and has to pause for a horrible moment to regain his equilibrium.
“I don’t care what you do in Malfoy’s practices,” he snaps, once he’s sure he’s not about to fall. “But no Quidditch player has ever suffered from maintaining a proper regulation grip, and you don’t need your sodding wands when you’re playing for me. I expect both hands on the broom unless they’re holding a Quaffle or a club.”
Harry feels a bit ashamed of himself. He knows the team are trying their best, and they do have to learn the new skills, but still. It won’t hurt them to stick to the fundamentals when they’re in his practices.
But it only really gets worse from there.
On the days Malfoy has the team, Harry keeps entirely out of their way. He helps Luna inventory her potions cabinet, chatting to Neville, who pokes his head in frequently, but never sticks around long when Harry’s there. And he spends a quiet couple of hours in Nev’s workshop while he fiddles with a broom with wonky steering. But when Harry gets the team back on alternate days, it’s like starting over with virtual strangers. It’s clear they’ve been working hard. They’re fast and unified in their warm-up drills. But they’re already deploying moves Harry’s never seen before and setting themselves up in patterns he doesn’t recognise. It makes his playbook feel useless and out of date.
He finds himself turning to give instructions to a player only to find them at the other end of the ruddy pitch. He suggests combinations that no longer work because the corresponding players are yards ahead or above or below where he expects them to be.
And when he does see Malfoy, Malfoy…more or less ignores him. He beats Harry to the stadium most mornings, which disrupts Harry’s entire routine. Instead of being able to calmly get a headstart on the day, Harry often arrives to find Malfoy already pounding out miles on the charmed treadmill, or sweating through his workout clothes lifting weights, a brutally hot sight that Harry could definitely do without having etched into his brain. And it’s not that Harry wants to use the gym at that time, or that Malfoy’s stopping him from putting on the coffee and greeting Luna the way he likes to and so on. It’s just that when Harry knows he’s just through the wall—skin glistening, muscles straining—it’s very hard to think about anything else. Harry even finds him cross-legged on his own office floor sometimes watching old game videos, and is dismissed with a casual, “You don’t mind, do you?”
Harry does mind, actually.
But he doesn’t have any basis to object. It’s not like he can tell Draco to look less attractive. Hermione read over every inch of the stupid sodding contract Harry signed, gave him a very disapproving look when he conceded he hadn’t read it in advance, and said his hands were tied. “It’s not as bad as it could have been,” she said, with a scowl. “If you broke it, you’d only have to live as an outcast for a year.” Harry tuned out her explanation of the finer points of wizarding contracts—outcast was specific enough, really. So he’s forced to just keep working around Malfoy’s incessant, annoying, heart rate-elevating presence.
It really doesn’t help that the team isn’t annoyed by Malfoy at all. Wood doesn’t hate him, but certainly clashes with him almost constantly, as if they're still competing for the House Cup. But the rest of the team seem attentive and interested any time Malfoy is working with them. Their Seeker, Isha Iyer, is particularly smitten.
“He’s so fast,” Harry overhears her saying dreamily to Belinda Morgan as they head in from the pitch to get changed one afternoon. “I’ve never seen anyone fly like that.”
Malfoy is fast, but so are plenty of other players. He’s not that special.
“He was always pretty quick at school,” Ron is annoyingly swift to point out, ladling seconds of a particularly delicious creamy leek and potato soup into Harry’s bowl at dinner on Friday. “I mean he was a cheating bastard, but he was fast.”
“Still a cheating bastard, as far as I can tell,” Harry complains, thinking about the elaborate set of charmed manoeuvres he’d seen Malfoy fly by himself that afternoon. Not that Harry was watching. Or rather, he wasn’t intending to watch, but it was hard to look away when Malfoy was flaunting his nonsense like that. Moves that are still illegal even under Parkinson’s rules, but which had him flitting around the stadium like an actual Snitch. It was incredible.
“I’m surprised the goblins signed off on hiring him,” Hermione muses. “It’s been incredibly difficult for anyone with the Mark to get work legally. McGonagall wanted to take pity on Gregory Goyle’s father and let him do a bit of groundskeeping at Hogwarts. The Trustees weren’t having a bar of it.”
Harry tries to imagine Gregory Goyle’s father pushing a rake and can’t.
“I expect Parkinson made them both a package deal. The goblins don’t care about much if they’re going to get paid. You’re really sure there’s no way out of this for me?”
Hermione shakes her head. “And even if there were, would you want to leave the team now?”
Harry thinks about that. About the idea of just walking away and letting Draco Malfoy yell and snipe at his players, teaching them deceitful tricks and probably encouraging them all to get tattoos. Harry’s in this now, he realises. He needs to stay for his team, if nothing else.
Their first game, against the Kestrels, is a disaster.
The League sends in a fleet of people to Appleby to install flashy new light-up scoreboards and pyrotechnic charms that go off when there’s a goal. A DJ sets herself up in a booth alongside the Owner’s Box and projects pounding dance breaks around the stadium every time there’s a pause in play. The whole thing is ridiculous, and extremely confusing to the handful of stalwart Arrows fans who have turned up to watch their favourite team. Even with all the advertising in advance about the new League, ticket sales haven’t really been affected. Only the diehards are in attendance.
“Bit noisy, innit?” Jim Cranswick shouts to Harry, as he gets himself another lager before the game starts. It feels a bit like the two of them are in an empty nightclub, all strobe lights and smoke machines, and music far too loud for the room. Harry looks around at the concession stand with no one queuing for it and the piles of match programmes with no one to take them.
“I’m just here for the game, Jim,” Harry says sadly, as he heads for the pitch.
“Aye,” he hears behind him. “So am I, son.”
He makes his way up to the coach’s bench, where Malfoy is already ensconced. It feels like an affront to Harry, to have even this little sanctuary invaded. It’s not that he hadn’t thought Malfoy would be at the game, but he’d somehow imagined he’d find a perch somewhere else in the stadium instead of encroaching on Harry’s space. On the contrary, Malfoy’s lounging back to rest on his elbows while they wait for the game to start, expression impassive behind his sunglasses in the bright autumn light, looking like he owns the place. He’s like one of those bored-looking models in Luna’s fashion magazines—the ones Harry pretends not to like looking at—indolently reclining in expensive clothes for some fragrance advertisement. Harry decides to focus all his attention on his Omnioculars and pretend Malfoy isn’t there at all.
The Kestrels have always been quick, but now with their players casting assists on one another’s brooms in play, they’re electric. They don’t even bother taking time to hex the Arrows, because they simply don’t need to—they’re flying rings around Harry’s players, who look confused and disorganised.
At half time, the Arrows still haven’t managed to get a single point on the board. The atmosphere in the changing room is glum.
“They’re fast,” Harry concedes. “But we can pick up the pace. You need to concentrate on flying the three-two-three pattern we worked on this week, it will give you an extra—”
“Bollocks,” Malfoy says curtly, cutting Harry off. “We can’t take them on speed yet, Morgan’s assists aren’t clean enough and they were faster than us to begin with. You’re to focus on hexing their rear Chaser, number four. He’s the key to—”
“Rubbish,” Harry snaps back. “The Kestrels haven’t been hexing us at all, why would we start now? Just because it’s permitted doesn’t mean—”
“That’s exactly what it means, Potter. Hexes are now one of the tools available to this team, legitimately, under the rules of the game. Not using them is akin to flying with your hands tied behind your back.”
Wood interrupts cautiously. “Look, maybe we could—”
“Fly the three-two-three…”
“Hex the fuck out of number four…”
Harry and Malfoy glare at each other. The whistle sounds to call the players back to the pitch.
“I've played Quidditch for over twenty years and that's the best half-time pep talk I've ever had.” Wood laughs sarcastically, picking up his broom and rolling his eyes at them both as he leaves.
Harry rounds on Malfoy, determined to give him a piece of his mind, but Malfoy literally holds his palm up to Harry’s face to silence him. “Save it, Potter,” he snaps. “I’m going to watch the game.”
He leaves Harry spluttering indignantly as he stalks away.
The team fares no better in the second half. It’s as if some of the players are following Harry’s instructions and some of them are following Malfoy’s. What little coordination they had in the beginning completely falls apart, and it begins to look like seven individuals flying around randomly, occasionally hexing a Kestrel in the ankle. The Arrows are nothing more than an inconsequential irritant. When the final whistle sounds, the score is 112-0.
Parkinson stomps out of the Owner’s Box, glares at the pair of them, and clacks away on her heels without saying a word.
Unbelievably, their second game, against the Wasps, shapes up to be worse.
During the week, the separate practices become less and less useful. Wood seems to be under a perpetual thundercloud, and Harry starts to worry that he might quit. It’s not like Parkinson’s tied his hands with a binding contract, and the way Malfoy and Wood grate on each other’s nerves seems like it can only go on for so long. Morgan and their other Beater, Aiden North, spend so long getting to grips with switching between clubs and wands that they no longer seem able to complete basic drills, meaning their Chasers have been hit with more Bludgers in a week than in the rest of their professional careers. They’re not happy about it.
On match day, the Wasps’ stadium DJ takes to playing some ridiculous song called Waspman during every break in play, causing the home fans to chant “Sting Sting Sting!”
“What the fuck is that racket?” Harry grouses, the third time the bars of the stupid tune sound out across the pitch.
“The Who,” Malfoy replies disinterestedly.
Harry knows just enough Muggle music to know that’s a band, but finds himself shocked that Malfoy, of all people, would be able to identify it.
“It’s a distraction,” Harry complains.
Malfoy runs a hand through his hair in frustration as the Wasps score again. “I don’t think it’s the music that’s the problem.”
It isn’t hard to identify what the problem is. The Arrows are actually flying brilliantly, Harry is really impressed. But every time it looks like they’ll have an opportunity to score, a Wasp is there with a Stinging Hex, the Quaffle is lost, and the sodding stadium starts up that wretched chant again.
The Arrows lose.
Malfoy disappears somewhere after the game, leaving Harry to try and console a very gloomy team.
“That last passage of play was really swift. Honestly, Morgan and North, you were really quick out there and it showed.”
None of the players say anything, stripping out of their leathers and stowing their equipment in their travel bags.
“And Wood, those last three saves were really something. You definitely—”
Oliver slams his locker door closed with a ringing clang, glaring at Harry. The rest of the team freeze in shocked silence.
“Harry, don’t you see? For the first time in a while, that team didn’t outfly us. We were just as fast and just as in unison. But we weren’t as good with our wands.”
Harry bristles. He wants the team to be proud of their flying, not frustrated that the Wasps were better at sneaky hexes.
“But that’s not the point. The point is—”
“Not any more it’s not,” Wood cuts him off with a defeated sigh. “The point is, we’re only going to win games when we’re good at the actual game that is being played.”
He gestures to the rest of the team to grab their gear and head out. They follow him dejectedly, not one of them looking back at Harry. Harry feels shocked and saddened by the strength of Wood’s reaction. He’d expected the team to feel encouraged by how well they’d been playing together. Under the old rules, they’d have won that game handily. They really have improved a great deal in a very short space of time.
He picks up a cloth and starts to wipe the play diagrams off the chalkboard. He’s fairly sure everyone has left the stadium, so it gives him a start when Malfoy comes stomping into the changing room. He looks like he’s just come in from outside, still in his coat and pale blue team scarf. Harry wonders absently what he’s been doing.
“This is your fault,” Malfoy says, his tone cold. “They could have won that game.”
It’s such a stupid thing to say Harry can’t even muster up any outrage. He’s tired and disappointed, and he doesn’t know what to do next.
He tosses the cloth down and turns to face Malfoy. Unbearably, the pale blue and silver of the Arrows jumper he’s wearing really suits him. The dark jeans and the expensive-looking boots make him look like some dashing recently-signed international player, rather than a reluctant coach and persistent thorn in Harry’s side.
“How do you figure that?” Harry scoffs.
“Because you’re teaching them to fly like you: conservative, cowardly, without risk or reward.”
If Harry lives a thousand years he doesn’t think he’ll be ready to hear Draco fucking Malfoy call him a coward.
“You’re going to stand there,” Harry sneers in disbelief, “with that Mark on your arm, and lecture me about courage.”
“I absolutely am,” Malfoy spits back. “Because you’ve given up, Potter. One curse to the hip and your drive, your determination, your ambition, everything that made you reckless and confident when we were young. Everything that made you a rule-breaker. It’s all gone.”
Harry rocks back on his heels as if he’s been physically slapped.
“You sit on your broom like a middle-aged lump of lead,” Malfoy steams on, undeterred. “You coach Quidditch the way Binns used to teach History of Magic. Like a droning, out-of-touch, dead-before-your-time—”
“Fuck you, Malfoy,” Harry shouts, rage flooding his bloodstream, causing his fingers to twitch and want to reach for his wand. “You play Quidditch exactly the way I’d expect from someone who’s spent a lifetime cheating. Daddy had to buy your way onto your first team, you’ve had to resort to underhanded tricks and deception ever since.”
Harry hates how bitter he sounds, even to his own ears. Hates how Malfoy can still get a rise out of him, even after all this time, but he can’t seem to stop.
“It’s no different now. Parkinson drags you in here from some backdoor league, and you want to start teaching upstanding, reputable players your illegal fucking nonsense.”
Harry’s anger blows itself out, and he sags back against a locker. He glances up at Draco, who has fallen quiet.
“Wow,” Harry mutters. “That was…a lot.”
Draco sighs. “You’re right. I was a spoiled little shit when I was young. And the truth is, your more conservative approach worked well today in places. The way you managed to get Morgan and North to pick up the pace in the second half was really something.”
Harry feels taken aback at Draco being so conciliatory. He tries to accept the olive branch for what it is. “They played really well today. They were so fast. And the way you’ve gotten Maxwell’s feints to come along. He’s so much better than even a couple of weeks ago.”
Malfoy gives him a startled smile. “He was good, wasn’t he?”
Harry returns a small smile.
“They need to get better at casting though, Potter,” Malfoy says, with a warning edge to his tone. He rebuttons his coat, and heads towards the door, calling over his shoulder, “It’s not optional.”
Harry feels some of his goodwill drain back out again.
Three weeks in and the press starts to pay attention to the new League.
The Prophet prints a weekend cover profile of Puddlemere, still at the top of the League, in which their coach talks about how effortlessly the team has adapted to the new rules. “We’re here for our fans,” Henderson says, “and they love how the new rules really let our players show off their true skill. It’s clear to see that some clubs are taking longer to adjust than others, but I really think this is just going to sort the wheat from the chaff. If you can’t fly a broom and cast a hex at the same time, you really have no business being a professional player.”
Buried further back on page twelve, there’s a letter to the editor from a stalwart fan defending traditional Quidditch and decrying the changes. A few weeks ago, Harry would have been buoyed to read it, but now phrases like “purity of the game” and “fine English wizarding traditions” and “talentless hacks from the continent” leave him uneasy. There’s nothing talentless about the way Malfoy flies.
It’s true that the coverage is raising public interest, just a little. The tickets sales slowly start to tick up, and when Harry looks at the radio and television numbers, they’re also improving gradually.
Malfoy seems to be avoiding Harry completely after their row, which suits him just fine. If they didn’t both want to attend matches, Harry could probably pretend he didn’t exist at all.
In their third game the Arrows limp to a draw against the Catapults. Harry would consider the result fantastic progress, but actually, Caerphilly seems to be struggling to adjust to the new rules even more than Appleby is. Their ostentatious owner equipped them all with what he’d described as state-of-the-art wand holsters, but the contraptions protrude awkwardly from the players’ thighs, and they have to reach down each time when want to cast. Harry would probably be the last to admit it, but the one thing Malfoy has managed to drill into the Arrows is the ability to draw their wands seamlessly when they need them. Maxwell’s Stinging Hexes go completely unanswered, and the scoreboard stays level to the final whistle.
“So, that was a great result,” Harry says cheerily in the changing rooms, the players slumped morosely around him.
Draco lets out a derisive snort.
He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Harry’s unreasonably annoyed that he never seems to stand on his own two feet like a normal person. He’s always propping himself up against doorways and leaning over guardrails, and draping his long legs over the arms of chairs.
“Something to add, Coach Malfoy?” he enquires, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I mean if you want to keep telling them fairy stories, be my guest.” Malfoy feigns disinterest, examining his nails.
“A draw is—”
“A draw is not a win,” Malfoy cuts him off, speaking loudly and slowly as if to a small child. Harry very much wants to punch him in the face, a feeling he hasn’t fully embraced since they were both teenagers, but is definitely rushing back with an easy familiarity.
Malfoy pushes off the wall and stalks into the centre of the room, glaring around at the team.
“Darby, your acceleration assists were woeful. We practised that spell a hundred times last week and today it was like you couldn’t cast it at all. I don’t know what the fuck happened.”
The Chaser looks affronted at being singled out. “But Harry didn’t—”
Malfoy isn’t even listening, pivoting to a new target.
“North, what’s the point of knocking a Bludger away if you don’t follow it up with Retargeto to send it in the opposition’s direction? We’ve been over this and over this.”
Aiden North’s jaw falls open, and he stares at Harry as if looking for back-up. And it’s true that Harry had stopped him from doing that just yesterday, because it might be permitted by the rules but it still feels like cheating. The whole point of being a Beater is skillfully knocking the Bludgers away, not turning them into magical opponent-seeking missiles. But again, there’s no chance to object before Malfoy moves on.
“And as for you, Maxwell—”
A locker slams. “You know what? That’s enough.”
Harry turns to see Wood glaring at Malfoy, his face an ugly puce colour. Good. At least someone else is as outraged by Malfoy’s underhanded suggestions as Harry is.
“The pair of you are a sodding disgrace,” Wood spits out, and Harry realises to his horror that he’s apparently one of the pair Wood’s referring to.
“Now look here—”
“No,” Wood thunders at him. “The two of you don’t get to come in here and carry on your fucking schoolboy rivalry at our expense. We have been fighting tooth and nail to get to grips with the new rules and you two idiots do nothing but contradict each other.”
Wood isn’t giving an inch. “You’re too childish to coach together, and so we get Malfoy here telling us to use magic and new manoeuvres at every opportunity. Then we turn up to practice with you and you prohibit magic and make us fly traditional drills. Then we’re back with him and he’s furious we’re flying patterns from the eighteenth century and punishes us, and we have to start all over again.”
Harry glances at Malfoy, whose mouth is set in an even line, his eyes flashing.
“And you wonder why, come game day, we’re playing cack-handed.” Wood gestures around at the rest of the team, who all nod, some with more enthusiasm than others. Maxwell just looks terrified.
“I’ve a good mind,” Wood carries on, yanking the neck of his flying jacket open and tugging off his gloves. “To just go to the League as Captain and say that we’re forfeiting the rest of the season.”
“What?” Harry yelps. “You can’t—”
“I can,” Wood shrugs, reaching for a towel. “There’s no point in us playing when we’re not even a team. If you two can’t get your shit together, I don’t see why we should keep trying.”
He walks away to the showers, the sound of the water turning on loud in the sudden, awkward silence.
Harry doesn’t know what to say. The team is all staring uncomfortably at the ground.
“Clean up, the rest of you,” Malfoy finally mutters. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow.”
The rest of the players shuffle around silently, stowing their gear.
Suddenly the situation gets significantly worse.
“You two, Potter’s office, now.”
The voice sends ice down Harry’s spine. He turns slowly to find the nightmare vision of Pansy Parkinson standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, glaring daggers at them both.
Harry hadn’t even known she was at the game.
She doesn’t wait for either of them, spinning on her heel and striding off down the corridor. Harry looks at Malfoy, who just seems tired all of a sudden. Deflated. Like he’s disappointed a parent or favourite teacher, and not just the incredibly vicious former schoolmate who pays their wages.
They follow her in silence. When they get to his office, Harry’s wholly unsurprised to find Parkinson sitting in his chair, leaving the two of them standing there on the other side of the desk like they’re about to get detention.
“How much of that did you hear?” Malfoy asks cautiously.
“Enough,” she snaps, scowling at him. “I don’t know what the pair of you are playing at. It was vaguely amusing to think you might niggle at each other a bit at first, but if I’d thought for one second you’d still be behaving like school children after six sodding weeks.”
“Do not,” she seethes, pointing a silencing finger at him. “Is this some sort of game to you two? If this team doesn’t start performing, it’s over. Not at the end of the season, immediately. Do you get that? Everyone is out of a job. The stadium will be sold. Probably demolished and turned into apartments. A four-hundred-year history, brought to a halt by a pair of idiots who couldn’t stop tugging each others’ pigtails.”
“Come on, Parkinson,” Harry finally splutters out. “It’s not like we’re squabbling over house points. I disagree on a fundamental level with the way he plays the game, the way he teaches the game, even the way he communicates with the players.”
Draco snorts. “Potter’s trapped in a vision of the wizarding world that didn’t exist before the war and certainly doesn’t exist now. You can’t expect me to—”
“Salazar’s sac,” Parkinson curses, slapping a palm on the desk loudly. Her rage is the most emotion Harry’s ever seen her express, and it’s pretty intimidating. “Listen to the pair of you. If this restructuring fails, I will be fine. I will return to my very nice apartment in a brownstone on the Upper West Side. I will enjoy excellent Mexican food delivered to me any hour of any day. I will walk in Central Park on the weekends and attend the opening of Broadway shows and sleep with the extremely attractive pitcher for the Yankees who has been texting me for months. You on the other hand,” she points at Malfoy, “will be forced back to Europe and a life in grey areas, gambling with your winnings and your continued ability to play. And you,” she turns her beady eyes on Harry. “What exactly is it you think you will do? A man with no qualifications whose only career has literally left him behind?”
Harry swallows thickly.
“Sort this out,” she snaps. “At once. Or I’m calling time and locking the doors. I don’t need this shit.”
She gets to her feet and straightens her skirt.
“I can’t stand England,” she hisses at Malfoy as she leaves. “Never forget that I’m doing this for you.”
Malfoy slumps into the guest chair with a tired sigh. Harry rounds his desk and sits down heavily in his own seat. He feels bruised, both by Wood’s rebellion and Parkinson’s anger. He wants to blame Malfoy for it all—none of this would be happening if Harry was just coaching the Arrows on his own—but now he feels like he’s only operating with half the facts.
“What did she mean by that, that she’s doing this for you?”
Malfoy rubs at his eyes. He says nothing for a long minute. For once, Harry’s curiosity overpowers his irritation at Draco and he waits.
“As always with Pans, it’s a bit of an exaggeration with a kernel of truth.”
“Which is the true part?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?” Malfoy says with a shrug. “If we managed to shape this cast of misfits into a winning team, there’d be a path to legitimacy for me here back in England.”
Harry stares at him blankly.
“Oh, don’t be dense, Potter. How the fuck do you think I wound up playing unsanctioned games in the first place? You think I left here after the war and just thought that would be a fun thing to try my hand at?” He gives Harry an incredulous expression, as if Harry’s deliberately messing with him.
Harry realises he genuinely hasn’t given any thought at all to how Malfoy ended up here and says as much.
“No,” Malfoy snorts. “Well, why would you?”
Harry’s about to object, but there’s something in Malfoy’s expression that makes him pause. Malfoy extends his long legs out in front of him and looks up at the ceiling, staring at the spider-web Harry still hasn’t done anything about. The moment stretches between them, a fragile thing Harry finds himself equally unwilling to disturb.
“I fled with my family after the war,” Malfoy eventually says, still not looking at Harry. “Because I was a teenager and I had no other choice. Because, on some level, I’ll always be beholden to the truly terrible decisions my father made when I was too young to know better, and this was no exception. It took the Aurors six months to find him in Vienna. And he wasn’t going to Azkaban, so there was only ever one way that was going to end.”
Malfoy rubs at his eyes again. His voice gets quieter and more serious. “My mother never recovered from his death. I don’t know if the overdose was accidental or not, but let’s just say she was overdue her rest.”
Harry swallows hard. He doesn’t give a shit about Lucius Malfoy, but Narcissa…it occurs to him he might have wondered before now what had happened to her.
“And so then, what? I was a coddled pureblood child who didn’t know the first thing about looking after myself. The Mark meant I couldn’t get legitimate employment, even on the continent where they like to pretend the war was just a localised conflict. Let’s just say I had to employ some unsavoury means to put food on the table.”
Malfoy looks down at his arm, one finger idly tracing a tattoo of an anatomical heart. The design is lush and red and Harry stares at it, wondering if it hurt to get. He has a wildly inappropriate desire to reach out and touch it himself.
“Pans wasn’t faring much better in the beginning,” Malfoy says quietly. “So I sent her what money I could, and once she got on her feet after studying, she did the same for me. We’ve had each others backs ever since.”
Harry thinks about Parkinson’s sleek, confident demeanor. He tries to picture her out of her depth and unable to support herself and can’t. It’s simply too hard to imagine.
“When she was offered the opportunity to take on this role, she didn’t want to come back. Unlike me, she’s never had any interest in returning to England or reestablishing herself here. But she could see that if I could make a go of it, then there’d be no arguing with my moving home. Successful coach of an ancient club at the top of a revitalised League? No one would be paying any attention to my Mark then.”
Harry wonders why coming back is so important to Malfoy, but he suspects he understands on some level. If something forced Harry away from England he’d fight tooth and nail to come back. And Malfoy’s even more proud than he is.
“Then why did she make you sign a binding contract, if she knew this was something you wanted?”
Draco laughs abruptly, as if Harry’s told him a very funny joke. Harry waits for an explanation.
“Because she knew you were here, Potter,” Malfoy says finally, a small smile on his face.
Harry supposes that makes perfect sense—that Malfoy would need to be bound to spend any time around him—but it still makes him feel odd.
“So what are we going to do?” Regardless of Malfoy’s motivations, the reality is that they still have a dysfunctional team and no ability to work together. Harry’s not sure there’s any sensible way to change that.
Malfoy looks out Harry’s narrow window, twisting one little silver hoop in his earlobe while he thinks.
“I have an idea.”
As he outlines his plan, Harry finds himself distracted by the long lock of blond hair that falls over his forehead. Malfoy’s haircut is so much more severe than the way he wore it at school, and yet without all the potions in it, it seems so much softer.
He realises absently that Malfoy is waiting for Harry to say something.
“Let’s try it,” Harry says. “I think we might wind up stronger working together than we are apart.” He sticks out his hand in offered truce. Malfoy looks at it in shock, as if he can’t believe Harry’s agreed so readily. Harry’s almost surprised himself, but as Malfoy takes his hand—warm and dry and as covered with broom callouses as Harry’s own—he thinks he might actually mean it.
The team is nothing but skeptical the next morning when Malfoy announces they are going away. Harry’s not sure whether agreeing to this was the best plan, but he definitely doesn’t have a better one.
“Pack for a week,” Malfoy says abruptly, making no reference to the blow-out with Wood just the day before and certainly offering no words of reassurance or encouragement. “We’re going to go and fix this.”
“Where are we going?” Sanders asks.
“Pack warm,” Malfoy says, ignoring the question and striding off to find Luna to ask her to come with them.
The team looks to Harry for explanations, which he doesn’t really have. It made sense, last night in the fading light in his office, when Malfoy suggested they take the team to Prague and show them his old squad in play. It seemed like a good idea, that they should spend some time together, all of them out of their usual routines, working out the places where Harry and Malfoy’s coaching styles worked well together and where they clashed horribly. To try and chart a path forward. But now, in the cold morning and with Malfoy suddenly nowhere to be seen, it’s harder to remember why he agreed.
“A training camp, of sorts,” Harry answers gamely, hoping that if he professes it with enough confidence, the squad will believe him. “We’re going to embed ourselves with Malfoy’s team in Prague. Learn more about new Quidditch firsthand, from the experts.”
The team look a little startled by Harry’s apparent change of heart, exchanging curious looks with one another.
“I’m not doing trust falls,” Wood snorts, gathering his gear bag and leaving immediately, which Harry supposes isn’t exactly an objection. The others seem to take this as a broad approval for the proposal, fetching their own equipment and following him out.
Which is how they now find themselves at the International Portkey Station, duffles and training bags looped over their arms, clutching at a battered-looking Muggle hockey stick. Harry stands next to Luna, who’s wearing a bright pink peacoat and a clashing orange knitted hat he’s pretty sure Ron must have made her.
“This is a bit exciting, isn’t it? I’ve never been to Prague,” she whispers, reaching for the stick beside him. Harry’s not sure that “exciting” is the word he’d use—”harebrained” feels more accurate—but then he feels the familiar and ugly hook behind his navel and doesn’t have time to answer.
The Portkey Station is right in the centre of the wizarding district, just off the Old Town Square. It’s crowded and noisy and much colder than Harry was expecting, even given Malfoy’s warning. He tugs his scarf tighter around his neck. Malfoy strides off into the throng of people, apparently just expecting the team to follow behind him like obedient little ducklings. Harry rolls his eyes and brings up the rear.
Their hotel is small and spartan—it’s not like the club can afford much—but it’s clean and well-kept. Malfoy fetches and passes out brass room keys to the team. “There’s a ground we can use to start practising tomorrow, but tonight I want to take you to see my old squad play. Stow your gear and get cleaned up, we’ll meet back down here in an hour.”
Harry’s a little miffed that Malfoy’s just organised all this without consulting him once, but given their fragile new partnership, he bites his tongue.
He’s trying to think positive, and is considering how nice it will be to share a room with Luna for a couple of days, when he realises she’s wandered off upstairs with Belinda Morgan, leaving Harry behind in the lobby with Malfoy. And the one remaining key.
“I’ll pay for another room,” Harry says quickly, turning for the desk. Sharing a room with Malfoy’s not going to do anything for the unholy attraction he’s developing to the man.
“Gods Potter, it’s a couple of nights. Are you really so bloody immature?” Malfoy doesn’t even sound goading, just exasperated. Harry gives up. There’s actually no way to explain why he doesn’t want to share, particularly when the rest of the squad is happy to. He shrugs awkwardly and picks up his bag.
“I thought staying here would be beneath you,” he teases, trying to regain some semblance of an equal footing as he follows Malfoy up the narrow, carpeted steps. “Don’t you have some elaborate apartment here in the city with house-elves to do your every bidding?”
He actually has no idea what Malfoy’s living situation is like. Would he have rented here while playing in Prague, or does he own a home? Did he sell up to move to London? Harry realises with a start that he’s not even sure where Malfoy is staying in England, and thinks uneasily about the day the Ministry declared the Manor off-limits and the Aurors burned it to the ground.
Malfoy looks back, eyes narrow, as if he’s about to say something cutting. But then he rolls his shoulders and seems to relax again. “This is supposed to help us work together as a team, Potter. Not much opportunity for bonding if I’m off somewhere soaking in a room-sized bath.”
Harry concentrates quite hard on not picturing that in his mind. He decides he’s probably better off not asking any more questions, sarcastically or otherwise.
Fortunately, the hotel room takes advantage of wizarding space, stretching out expansively with two large beds, an ornate desk and chair between them, and a roomy ensuite. It won’t be so bad, Harry tries to reassure himself. It’s only a couple of nights.
Back out in the brisk evening air they walk through the throngs of Muggle tourists, over the bridge to Letná Park. Harry feels the strong flex of the Muggle-repelling wards as they approach a copse of tall trees, and then it’s as if they push through a magical veil as the soundproofing charms lift from their ears and they can all hear the whoop and holler of a large crowd. Soaring in front of them, several storeys into the air, are stands thrown together from a motley assortment of Muggle scaffolding, wood, bamboo, and rope. It reminds Harry a little of the Burrow: a feat of magical architecture that leans in all directions at once and somehow manages to stay standing.
Malfoy seems to know his way around, ducking under a cross-beam and disappearing. The other players are quick to follow. Luna is still craning her neck up to look at the rickety structure. “Our stands don’t quite seem so bad by comparison, do they?” she giggles, before taking Harry’s wrist and tugging him forward.
Once inside the playing area—to call it a stadium seems like something of an overstatement—the noise becomes absolutely deafening. The stands are packed with fans jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, their collective breath fogging the chilly night air. Enormous spotlights illuminate the pitch, and Harry can smell grilled meat and mulled wine from vendors plying their trade up and down the tiered steps. Malfoy leads them up and up, winding around in spirals and eventually out onto an exposed area of seating where there’s space for the team to squeeze in, pressed together on benches that seem to be made of nothing more than planks and concrete blocks.
A whistle echoes around the ground and the players swoop into the air. Harry realises the shaky video Parkinson showed him and the owners of the League weeks ago barely did this game justice. In fact, he half wonders if it might have been filmed at a slower-than-normal speed. The players are so quick they’re almost a blur, and he finds himself constantly glancing at the giant replay screens to properly appreciate a feint or pass. The teams seem to fly almost without patterns, players appearing right where needed to catch a Quaffle and then gone again before a hex can catch them off guard.
Harry’s just glad there are seven Arrows players and Luna sat between him and Malfoy, so that Malfoy doesn’t get the satisfaction of seeing Harry’s jaw drop open in awe.
The game feels frenetic—just on the edge of being extremely dangerous for both the players and the crowd. An almighty cheer goes up when a hex goes wide, catching a spectator in the hand and causing him to drop his drink. But he looks excited, waving his briefly-injured hand wildly and hollering, as if he’d just caught a tennis ball off a serve at Wimbledon.
The hectic pace of the game doesn’t let up for the full ninety minutes, which pass so quickly Harry’s dumbstruck to hear the final whistle blow and has to glance at his watch for confirmation.
“That was amazing,” sighs Luna happily. And Harry’s forced to admit that she’s right.
“Incredible,” he agrees. “It’s hard to believe just how good they are.”
She tucks her hand in his elbow as they follow Malfoy back down the stairs again, and then against the flow of the exiting crowd, ducking and weaving around drunken fans loudly recounting their favourite moments. They’re all so happy and excited. It’s an energy Harry recognises, with a pang, that he hasn’t been surrounded by for a long time.
The players don’t seem to have proper changing rooms or even much of a clubhouse, choosing instead to gather around a lit bonfire, passing bottles of Firewhiskey and mugs of warm cider between them. They seem absolutely delighted to have Malfoy back in their midst, letting up a chant when they see him, hugging him and clapping him on the back. He looks at home here. The Keeper, an absolute mountain of a man covered in tattoos on every inch of exposed skin, including his face, actually picks Malfoy up and swings him around. Harry expects Malfoy to hex him blind in protest, but he just laughs. The Beaters, a pair of wiry blonde twins, their long hair braided up over the tops of their heads, alternate in embracing Malfoy and punching him in the arm.
Finally one of them looks over at the Arrows players, gathered together by the fire.
“So this is the team you go straight for, Draco?” one of the twins asks, in heavily accented English.
“Draco? Straight?” the other teases, trailing off into a language that Harry doesn’t understand to say something that causes the other players to burst out in ribald laughter. Malfoy grins indulgently at them. Harry realises that Draco finally looks completely at ease, and wonders what it would take for him to look this happy in England.
Malfoy hugs the Chaser who Harry had admired being so nimble in the sky, a petite bronze-skinned woman with long hair in tight blue braids. Harry sees with a start that she only has one leg. The other is a complicated-looking prosthetic, nothing at all like old Mad Eye’s clunky, cumbersome thing. This is sleek and metallic and looks like the kind Muggle athletes wear at the Paralympics.
“Leila, this is Harry Potter,” Malfoy says, as he approaches. She eyes him with measured interest and a small smile.
“Nice to meet you, Harry Potter.” She sounds French. Leila extends her hand for Harry to shake. Under her glove, Harry can feel that it too is artificial.
“Our Leila's part-cyborg,” Malfoy explains with a teasing tone that prompts the young woman to jab him with her elbow.
“Meningitis when I was a baby in Morocco,” she says to Harry, her smile open. “Nothing magic could do about it even once I found out I was a witch. Can you imagine what they thought of me first year at Beauxbatons?”
Harry’s speechless. The idea that Leila was able to fly like that with artificial limbs is more than he can get his head around.
“How on earth do you have that amount of balance on a broom?” he blurts out, before wondering if he’s being rude, but Leila seems unfazed. She glances at Malfoy, and they seem to have a brief, unspoken conversation using only their eyebrows.
“It’s not as difficult as you might think, Harry Potter,” she says with a smile, before tugging Malfoy away to get a drink.
Sport, it seems, is a universal language. And it doesn’t take long before the Arrows are mingling happily with Malfoy’s old teammates, quizzing them about plays and complimenting them on the game. Luna seems swept up in it all too, chatting energetically with Leila about her prostheses and the charms she uses during a game, leaving Harry to hang back awkwardly.
“You’re a long way from home, Harry.” He hears a familiar voice behind him and spins around with a start. Emerging from under the stands nearby in the dark is none other than Viktor Krum. Harry catches his breath.
The last time he saw Viktor was years ago now. Before his injury, when Puddlemere had been playing an exhibition match in Bulgaria. Harry had been coming to terms with his sexuality, and Viktor had been very…instructive. So much so, Harry had missed his Portkey home with the team and spent a long, extremely hot weekend in Sofia, learning things about himself that he’s never been able to forget.
Viktor had owled, a lot, after the news of Harry’s accident had spread. But Harry had been depressed and insular and hadn’t wanted to see anyone, really. Least of all someone whose athleticism just reminded Harry of everything he wasn’t going to be able to do ever again. Seeing him now, though, after so much time has past, is a delightful and unexpected surprise.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asks, startled, stepping into a brief hug. Viktor retired from professional play a couple of years ago, and last Harry heard was coaching a top-tier team in Romania. He remembers Charlie talking about it one Christmas. Viktor still looks incredibly fit.
“I heard the dragon was back in town,” Viktor says, with a dark smile, looking over Harry’s shoulder at Malfoy. There’s something so heated in Viktor’s gaze that Harry feels too envious to be shocked. “Good of you not to keep him all to yourself, Harry.”
Viktor pats Harry on the shoulder before Harry can protest that he’s not keeping any of Malfoy to himself, and walks towards the fire. Harry watches as Viktor tugs Malfoy into a hug by the waist, grabbing his arse as he does so. It’s all suddenly more than Harry can take. The whole day has been overwhelming. To be in a foreign city, to watch such an extraordinary game, surrounded by such passionate fans. To realise Malfoy has a whole life here, a found family, Viktor Krum, and that despite all that he’s still trying to find a way home. It leaves Harry confused and wistful and a little short of breath.
He makes his excuses to Luna and walks back to the hotel, feeling the icy night air burn in his lungs and clear his head.
Harry expects that Malfoy will be out all night, carousing with his teammates, or celebrating more personally with Viktor, so he’s surprised when he hears his key in the lock an hour later.
Harry’s already changed into his pyjamas and is propped up in bed with his playbook. Malfoy stares at him for a long minute before chuckling to himself as he kicks off his boots. Harry adjusts his glasses self-consciously.
He feels like he needs to say something, but he has no idea what. Malfoy ignores him as he sheds his coat and sweater and rummages around in his bag.
“So, you and Viktor…” Harry finds himself blurting out, which is not at all where he intended to start. He trails off. He doesn’t even know what he wants to ask. How long Krum has been in Prague, how long he and Malfoy have been an item, why Malfoy was prepared to leave him behind?
“Has it unsettled you to discover we have someone in common, Potter?” Malfoy says with another laugh, not even looking up from his bag. It clearly hadn’t been news to him that Harry and Viktor had history, which makes it all the more remarkable he hasn’t wielded that information like a weapon before now.
“I don’t care who you’ve slept with, Malfoy,” Harry mumbles, which might be one of the more outrageous lies he’s ever told. It’s not that he’s envious, exactly. Or rather, he is, but the problem with thinking about Viktor and Malfoy together isn’t anything to do with Viktor. It’s that then he’s forced to think about Malfoy in ways he’d rather not think about. At all.
“I’m just appreciating your good taste,” he manages as a retort.
Malfoy disappears into the ensuite with a snort that sounds disbelieving and suspiciously smug.
Harry decides the conversation is straying into territory that makes it far too dangerous to continue and closes his playbook, putting it on his nightstand and extinguishing the lamp. He hears Malfoy come out of the bathroom a while later, moving around and fiddling with his duffle again, drawing back the covers and sliding into bed.
“It’s not what I imagined,” Harry says softly, into the dark of the hotel room.
There’s a long pause, like maybe Malfoy hasn’t heard him—or is pretending he hasn’t. Or maybe he’s drifted off to sleep.
“What is? Prague?” he hears finally, barely louder than a confused whisper.
“The game. The way your team play.” Harry’s not sure how to give voice to it. His appreciation for the skill and talent and sheer bloody-mindedness of the players. The energy in the stands. The passion and love for the sport.
He’s expecting some sort of sneering I told you so, but Malfoy doesn’t say anything at all.
Eventually his breathing evens out, and Harry falls asleep listening to him.
The next day, Malfoy takes the group to an empty pitch at a nearby school. When Harry asks if they’re allowed to use it, Malfoy gives him a dismissive wave and says, “Krum,” which stops Harry from considering any further questions, even though Viktor is nowhere to be seen. Instead Leila and the two Beaters, Mina and Irina, are waiting for them, with crates of training equipment.
“Today we play!” Irina announces, and Harry glances around for the rest of Draco’s old team, but it’s just the three of them out here stomping their boots on the frosty grass to keep warm.
The Arrows look at each other uncomfortably and Harry can practically hear what they’re thinking.
“Do you want us to play three-on-three?” Oliver finally asks, and the twins dissolve into peals of laughter.
“No need,” Mina calls out as she mounts and rockets skyward so quickly it’s as if she’s Apparated away.
“Quaffles only, to start,” Malfoy announces, passing the balls to the Arrows’ Chasers, and gesturing at the air above them. “Let’s go.”
In theory, seven professional Quidditch players ought to be able to absolutely destroy three unsigned, unsanctioned rogues, but Draco’s friends leave the Arrows in their wake on the very first play.
“This was supposed to build the team up,” Harry hisses at Malfoy, who is leaning nonchalantly against a hoop, face half-buried against the cold in a thick green roll-neck sweater. He watches the Arrows circle each other in confusion, helpless as Leila tosses the Quaffle cleanly through the unguarded hoop to score. “It wasn’t supposed to ruin them.”
Malfoy ignores him, emerging from his stupid sweater like a turtle to blow his whistle and call the team down. “Just trust me,” he says quietly.
The Arrows look shaken and seem to be steeling themselves for a lecture, but Malfoy just casts a spell to project the recording from his Omnioculars into the air. It’s Leila who addresses the team.
“See, here,” she says, using her wand to freeze the footage. “This is where we took the upper hand.” She launches into a detailed explanation of the moves she and the twins had used, pausing and replaying the clip over and over. The Arrows stare in rapt attention.
“Ready?” she announces cheerily with a little clap. “Let’s go again!”
The Arrows gamely follow the trio back into the air, but it’s only minutes before they’re back on the ground, watching another replay.
“This assist here,” Irina says, pointing out carefully where she’d cast a spell on her sister’s broom, “is how we overtook you.” Again, they patiently break down the moves, answering questions and explaining the spells cast in detail. Even Harry finds himself leaning forward in interest.
This time the Arrows hold out for a lot longer, and are fairly bursting with questions when they come in to land.
“Why cast the hex from under the broom like that?” Morgan asks.
“Harder for the Beaters to see and deflect,” Mina shrugs.
“Why are you flying in an open V instead of an arrowhead?”
“Less drag on the rear Chaser,” Leila replies.
Wood scoffs. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does,” Malfoy gives an annoyed huff in response, starting to draw a diagram on a blank page in his playbook, but Leila just laughs and bats it closed.
“Nevermind pictures, trust us it works. We’ll show you.”
Malfoy gives up on the whistle, watching with a pleased smile as the team begins to work twice as hard, breaking apart the passes, learning from where they go wrong and picking up new and unorthodox skills.
“I have no idea how you did that,” Wood groans, after Mina manages to appear almost out of nowhere behind him to score.
“Actually, I think I saw it,” Harry offers tentatively, pausing the footage. “That was really impressive.” Mina gives him a pleased smile. As he explains to the team how she’d leveraged the speed from a conventional feint with the assist from her sister in a kind of slingshot manoeuvre around Wood, Harry starts to feel the warm satisfaction of learning something exciting and new himself.
As the day wears on, Harry can’t tear his eyes away from Leila, who seems more agile on a broom than even Malfoy, her blue braids whipping in the wind as she ducks and weaves overhead.
“Isn’t she something?” he hears beside him and turns to find Luna’s arrived, wrapped up warm in a fluffy white sweater and fur-lined boots, looking like a little cloud.
Harry feels instantly awkward, like he’s been caught staring inappropriately. “I mean, she’s very talented. It’s not that I think she’s—”
Luna laughs delightedly. “Oh, Leila's not interested in men, Harry,” she says, giving him a consoling pat on the arm. And then Harry finds himself sputtering even more indignantly, protesting far too much and tripping over his tongue as he tries to defend his interest in Leila as a player, and only a player.
Luna, as is often the case, doesn’t even appear to be listening. He feels bad for dragging her all this way, when the most the team is likely to suffer is a mild sprain, but she seems to be genuinely enjoying the trip.
“Leila's using a metronomic charm series for balance that’s really fascinating,” she says. “I’ve asked her to send me her Healer’s details in Paris so I can write him for more information.”
Harry clenches his fist and releases it repeatedly as he tries to think of what to say in response, but he pauses a beat too long and suddenly the team is back on the ground again, chatting animatedly around them about the last pattern flown. Harry chooses to throw himself into that discussion instead.
They spend two full days this way, working with a rotating cast of Malfoy’s friends and former teammates, who open up a whole new world of positions, wandholds, passes, and plays. The unsanctioned players balk at the rules the Arrows have to follow governing which spells they can and can’t use in the League, and Harry finds himself having to be the fun police more than once when they try and teach moves that would be firmly out of bounds. But in general he’s delighted. The team seem happy and motivated, and if he’s being honest, playing better together than they ever have.
Even Malfoy seems far less annoying, presumably because he’s here in his element, surrounded by people who like him. And Viktor. Who seems to like him a lot.
The final night, the team goes to a local wizarding bar. Everyone is in high spirits, but Harry finds himself in an odd mood. He’s glad the trip has been a success, of course. But he feels anxious and out of sorts and it’s hard to put a finger on why. He finds himself thinking again and again about Leila, flying with ease despite her disability. And he wants to ask her a great many more questions about it but at the same time he doesn’t, because to do that would be to entertain the idea that he’s still wishing for something he can’t have. And he’s not. He’s content with the way things are. Or he was content, before Parkinson tipped everything on its head and Draco Malfoy showed up.
Harry finishes his first drink far too quickly and fetches another.
His thoughts keep returning to Malfoy—who is currently holding court at the bar, handing out shots and telling jokes in Czech that Harry’s translation charm is too slow to catch. He looks so happy and relaxed, and Harry knows now that here, surrounded by his old teammates, Malfoy has that close camaraderie Harry used to have with his squad at Puddlemere and hasn’t experienced since. It’s different when you’re the coach. Far less like family.
It’s different when you can’t play.
He orders another drink. And another.
Mina hands him a glass with something in it that tastes like the worst parts of ginger and cinnamon combined, but is somehow weirdly compelling. “What is this?”
“I hate it. Can I have some more?”
She laughs delightedly, fetching the bottle.
The spicy concoction at least takes Harry’s mind off the very possessive hand Viktor has on Malfoy’s arse. And Mina is flirtatious and entertaining, telling tall tales of games won and lost. High-stakes gambles and after-game brawls. In a different time and place, her attention would be gratifying. Interesting, even. But not tonight. Not with Malfoy just over there, looking all…tall. And…blond.
Harry suddenly feels like his head is swimming, and he needs to lie down. He grabs his coat and heads to the door, but the floor tilts a little, and his hip wrenches. He feels a horrible sinking sensation like he’s falling, but then there’s strong arms around him helping him to get his balance again.
“I’ve got you,” Malfoy says, far too close to his ear.
“I’m going back to the hotel,” Harry replies, proud of the even, not-at-all slurred way the words come out.
“Why don’t I come with you?” Malfoy says smoothly, in that slightly condescending tone sober people use to talk to drunk people, which makes Harry want to insist that he doesn’t need help, thank you very much, and the hotel is quite close, and he knows exactly how to get there.
Besides, Malfoy should stay and snuggle up in Viktor Krum’s overdeveloped arms. Harry would, if he could. Probably. Although Malfoy’s arms—
But then Harry’s out on the street and the cobble-stones are a bit uneven and it does help a little to have Malfoy’s strong grip to keep him upright. Plus he has a very vibrant clutch of lilies tattooed on his wrist peeking out from under the cuff of his coat, right there where he’s holding Harry around the waist, and Harry very much wants to ask him about them and—
“Do you want me to sober you up?” Malfoy asks quietly, steering Harry around another corner, and it’s true that maybe he would have struggled a little to find the hotel only because these windy little streets all look a bit the same, and also because he’s not sure what colour door the hotel has, because who even looks at the outside of your hotel door as you’re leaving in the morning? Was he supposed to have done that? No one told him he should—
“Harry?” Malfoy says again.
“No, that spell feels worse than vomiting.” Harry’s sure of that much. Hermione did it to him and Ron once, and Harry’s never forgotten the intense and unwelcome vertigo and nausea as every drop of alcohol was magically syphoned from his body. Horrific. That’s why Hangover Potions exist, so that you don’t have to—
“We’re here,” Malfoy says, pointing out the obvious, because this is their hotel room, and bugger Harry forgot to notice the colour of the front door again. Really, who thinks to look? At least the bed is right there, and—
“Drink some water, you’ll hate yourself a little less in the morning.” Malfoy passes him a glass.
“Are you going back?” Harry doesn’t like how small his voice sounds. He concentrates on taking little sips of water. On not thinking about Malfoy’s lilies clutching at Viktor’s—
“Just to round up the team, we have a Portkey in the morning.”
He takes Harry’s glass from him and puts it on the nightstand. Harry collapses back against his pillow a little too quickly and has to close his eyes to stop the room from spinning.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” he mumbles.
“Draco,” Malfoy says, which Harry thinks is weird because that’s his name. Harry’s name is Harry. Not Draco.
“I thought we were starting over. If we’re going to actually try to work together, the least you can do is use my name.”
“Draco,” Harry murmurs into his pillow. He doesn’t hear the door close.
Harry wakes to an absolute thundering noise in his ears that he’s distressed to realise is just his head pounding. He groans, rolling over to find a small vial of Hangover Potion sitting on the nightstand. Malfoy is nowhere to be seen.
Harry swallows it gratefully and, as his head clears, he sees a note saying that the team is at breakfast and Harry should pack and join them. Malfoy’s side of the hotel room is neat and empty, his duffle zipped up on the bed.
The team are crammed around a couple of small tables in the little café downstairs, stuffing their faces with pastry and talking far too loudly for Harry’s delicate constitution. He heads straight for the coffee machine and fetches himself a sizeable mug.
He perches on the end of a bench and before he can look around for it, someone passes him the sugar bowl.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” he mumbles, taking in his neat appearance. Harry’s disgusted that Malfoy looks fresh and well put-together, clean shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, and not at all like he marinated in Becherovka for the evening. Malfoy arches an eyebrow at him with a smile, like he’s waiting expectantly for something. Harry racks his brains trying to think what. An apology? An explanation?
Then the last words they exchanged the previous night come back to Harry, and he feels his face heat a little.
“Thank you, Draco,” he manages, the name feeling thick and awkward in his mouth. Malfoy—Draco, he supposes now—gives him another small smile and a nod, and then returns to his conversation with Morgan.
Even having taken the Hangover Potion, the Portkey is almost more than Harry can bear, and he’s feeling distinctly unwell as they hand back the yardstick in London. He picks up a copy of the Prophet as they make their way through the Portkey Station and out towards the magical barriers into Kings Cross. The front page story is once again about the new League, with shiny swooping photos of Puddlemere players flying a charity exhibition match at Hogwarts against the Harpies.
Archie bloody Allsop is quoted throughout. “We could see that the way forward was to really let the skill and talent of our players come to the fore. The new rules were an obvious way for us to do that.”
Harry makes an outraged sound and tosses the paper on a bench in disgust. Draco scoops it up.
“I thought you’d be pleased,” he says, confused, after skimming the article. “It says here the viewing and attendance figures are up. Isn’t that what we’re after?”
Harry doesn’t want to start explaining to Draco his complicated feelings about Puddlemere and the way he was treated. Or about how much he still wants to punch Archie Allsop in the nose.
“He makes it sound like he came up with the changes. He’s taking all the sodding credit.”
Which is infuriating to Harry because Pansy Parkinson’s made his life a living hell, but this was her idea and if it’s a success they should say so. And also Allsop can get bent.
Draco seems unfazed, tossing the paper in a bin as they exit the station.
“Pans will be fine. She’s a big girl. She’ll take all the credit she wants when she needs to.”
As the team part ways on the street, Harry suddenly finds himself fighting an irrational desire to ask Draco where he’s going. Whether he’s still staying at a hotel, or if he’s found somewhere more permanent. It seems odd after sharing a room with him for several nights to not know. But then he reminds himself that Draco signed a binding contract, and that’s the only reason he’s putting up with Harry. He waits a beat too long trying to decide what to say, and finds himself watching Draco’s bright blond hair moving away through the crowd crossing Euston Road.
Casper, at least, is glad to have him back home at Grimmauld Place. Her purring is almost an adequate substitute for falling asleep listening to someone in the next bed.
The Prague trip manages to do exactly what they hoped it would. The team are working well together, and Harry has to finally reluctantly concede that the methods Draco’s brought with him are useful and important. Even his snappish coaching style suddenly seems more productive than it had before. Less like Snape yelling at Harry and more like Snape teaching Slytherins, he supposes. Still unrelenting and focussed, but at least underpinned with a real desire to find a way to help them win. Wood is back to being enthusiastic and encouraging, not yelling all the time. And, not unrelatedly, Maxwell seems to have regained his confidence.
Their next game, against the Tornadoes, turns into a nailbiter.
The Arrows’ newfound determination shows early, with Iyer catching the Snitch in the first few minutes. Of course, under the new rules, that no longer ends the ninety-minute game. It’s just that the points double every time she can catch it again. Morgan and North are playing together effortlessly, and even Harry’s forced to admit their retargeting spells on the Bludgers are swift and clever. The Chasers’ new open-V formation is very fast, and unusual enough that the Tornadoes are having trouble adjusting their own patterns to respond. By half-time, the Arrows are ahead, 312-302.
Both Harry and Draco are almost at a loss for words in the changing room, clapping the players on their backs proudly.
“More of that!” Harry eventually enthuses.
Wood rolls his eyes, but even Harry can tell that he’s very pleased.
The second half is even closer, with the Tornadoes beginning to adjust to the Arrows’ style, but having no answer for the rapid-fire hexes that keep catching them in their blindspots. When the final whistle blows, the Arrows have it, by a mere ten points.
Harry passes the Tornadoes coach on his way to the changing rooms. Cahill shakes his hand, congratulating Harry on an excellent game. “How the fuck did you teach them to play like that so quickly?” he asks, sounding gruff but impressed. “We absolutely cannot stand these new rules, they’re impossible.”
It’s the sort of thing Harry would have said himself only a week ago, but now he’s flushed with pride in his team and high on a rare win. He also feels distinctly uncomfortable taking the credit. “I stick to the fundamentals,” he shrugs. “It’s Draco who teaches them the flashy stuff.”
The next day the Prophet carries an article entitled The Hexiest Players in new Quidditch, profiling the teams who are already showcasing the cleverest tricks in the League and the manoeuvres to watch. Two Arrows plays from the Tornadoes game make the top twenty. Harry closes the paper with a smile.
Ron brings the kids to watch the next home game against the Chudley Cannons. Harry goes down to meet him at the gates and bring them up to the boxes. As always, Ron’s decked out for match day in head-to-toe bright orange, refusing to find the idea of turning up to Harry’s stadium to cheer on a rival team in any way awkward or inappropriate. Even baby Hugo is wearing orange dungarees. Harry just chuckles.
They have to push through a much bigger crowd than normal to reach the right staircase. Jim Cranswick tips his flat cap at Harry from his usual spot by the bar.
“Liked that final set of stinging hexes last week!” he yells, slopping his pint a little.
“Those are words I never thought I’d hear,” Harry laughs to Ron, giving the old man a little wave.
It’s only when they get to the upper levels that Harry realises his mistake.
“So, uh…You can sit in the Owner’s Box, but Pansy Parkinson is in there, and Merlin knows who else.”
Ron pulls a face.
“Seriously, mate? Why can’t we sit with you like usual?”
“Because Draco Malfoy is there,” Harry points out.
Ron’s face twists even further and the pair of them burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
“Sorry. There’s still plenty of seats, I can find you some down in the stands?”
“Nah,” Ron shrugs, “We’d rather hang out with you, even if it means sitting with the Ferret as well. Right kids?” He jiggles Hugo on his hip and gives Rose’s hand a squeeze.
“Ferrets do a dance to distract their prey,” Rose announces proudly, which sets Ron off in more peals of laughter.
“Rose has been learning animal facts at nursery,” he explains to Harry. “That’s a good one, Rosie.”
Harry tries to imagine Draco dancing to distract his prey and decides it would be very successful and that he’s definitely better off not picturing that at all.
He expects Draco to be a bit pissed off that Ron and the kids are joining them, but he seems too focussed on his Omnioculars, saying not much more than a passing greeting and then concentrating fully on the game.
Hugo mouths happily at some dried apple treats Harry found in the concession stand downstairs, and Rose bores of the game quickly and starts working on a colouring-in book on the ground behind them. Ron, on the other hand—Ron is transfixed.
“Bloody hell,” he whistles, as Iyer sets off a cascading pattern of hexes from her perch high above the other players, raining down on the Cannon’s Beaters and forcing them into evasive manoeuvres. Harry has to admit it’s certainly fun to watch them scatter.
“Blimey,” Ron yelps a minute later, as Morgan and North swoop through the middle of the field at a truly frightening pace, knocking Bludgers left and right, while casting assists on the Chasers’ brooms that send them rocketing towards the goal.
“Impressive, isn’t it,” Draco agrees, lowering his Omnioculars to take some notes, while the Cannon’s coach desperately calls his players in for a time-out.
There then unfolds what might be the weirdest ninety minutes of Harry’s life, as Ron slides up alongside Draco and starts peppering him with questions. He grills him about the rota of League-approved spells, how a player can stay balanced when they receive an assistance cast on their broom, what the advantage is of casting on the Bludgers, and how a Seeker decides when to look away from hunting the Snitch to hex the opposing team.
Harry expects Draco to get annoyed, but it’s as if he’s pleased to find someone finally really appreciating his specialist expertise, patiently explaining everything in more detail than he’s ever done for Harry, and practically basking in the attention. By the time the final whistle goes, Draco is the one bouncing Hugo distractedly on his knee, and Ron is making plans to come and watch a practice, something he’s never done in all Harry’s years of coaching.
“You won, mate,” Ron says, clapping Harry on the back as he gathers up the children’s toys and stuffs them in a tote bag. “Why’ve you got a face like a smacked bum?”
Harry’s far too embarrassed to explain that he’s just jealous. He shrugs and changes the subject to Rosie's upcoming school fair.
The following week the Prophet’s Quidditch coverage steps up a notch. On Monday, it’s Three Games You Shouldn’t Have Missed This Weekend, which Harry’s gratified to read includes the Arrows’ win over the Cannons. On Tuesday, it’s Quidditch Quties: The Wildest Wands in the Sky, and Harry skips right over that one. On Wednesday, he chokes on his toast. The Bad Boy and the Boy Who Lived screams at him from the front page of the sports section, right over a picture of Harry and Draco that he didn’t realise was being taken. They’re sitting in the coach’s box, and as ever, Draco’s got his ridiculously long legs kicked up on the guardrail, sunglasses pushed high in his blond hair, looking for all the world like he’s on a sodding holiday in the Riviera somewhere. Harry, with his wild mop of black hair, looks like a thundercloud, biting his fingernails and concentrating on the game.
The profile is exactly the sort of trash Harry’s come to expect from the Prophet over the years—utter tabloid nonsense—but he hasn’t had this kind of attention focussed on him in a long time so that part, at least, is a bit of a surprise. He keeps looking at the way Draco in the photo extends one tattooed arm to point at something, Harry following with his gaze with rapt attention.
The article even manages to quote Harry saying to the Tornadoes coach that he’s the one to focus on the fundamentals, while Draco—
“I didn’t know you were giving interviews,” Draco says drily, slapping another copy of the Prophet down on Harry’s desk.
“I didn’t,” Harry sighs. “She must have overheard me talking to Bill Cahill after the Tutshill game.”
“I’m the one who teaches them the flashy stuff, am I?” Draco smirks.
“Give over,” Harry groans.
“Rivals reunited,” Draco picks up his copy of the paper again and reads aloud in a sensationalist tone. “Setting aside their differences to cheer their team to victory.”
“The Death Eater’s offspring has clearly led a difficult life, if his scars and tattoos are anything to go by.” Even Draco pauses at this point to scoff. “But with those high cheekbones and eyes the colour of winter frost—”
“Hard to see what your eye colour has to do with Quidditch,” Harry snorts.
“It’s easy to see why he caught the attention of long-term bachelor, Harry Potter, who has hired him to assist—a highly controversial move from the Arrows’ head coach, given Malfoy’s Dark Mark.”
“Did nothing of the sort.” Harry knows exactly what the Prophet is suggesting, and it makes the back of his neck hot. If even the sodding Prophet has noticed, that’s pretty embarrassing. “Did Parkinson leak this nonsense?”
“Why, is it getting under your skin, Harry?” Draco chuckles, dropping the paper again. “You really don’t like being linked to me?”
It’s not that he doesn’t like it. It’s that he really doesn’t want to think about it. Draco Malfoy is a series of impossible contradictions, evading any box Harry’s mind has tried to store him in. Harry’s concluded he’s better off just not considering the problem at all.
The increased press coverage works, of course. Tickets to watch an Arrows game begin to sell like hotcakes. Parkinson insists they hold an open practice, which they’ve never done before, and Harry’s staggered to find the stands packed with school kids pointing out their favourite players and clapping wildly at the team’s more outrageous manoeuvres.
He’s walking through the concourse to the pitch and finds old Jim Cranswick talking animatedly to Draco, who, incredibly, has a broad smile on his face.
“Just the shake-up we needed around here, you are,” he hears Cranswick say, poking a skeletal finger at Draco’s chest. “Good for him, an’ all.”
Harry doesn’t bother to stop to find out who Cranswick means. He suspects he wouldn’t enjoy the answer.
After the practice ends, the players head inside to get changed and the crowds drift away, but Draco lifts off again, flying complicated loops of the pitch. It’s cold, and Harry knows he should go inside and warm up, but it’s hard to take his eyes off the bright streak sweeping back and forth above him in the gathering dark. He loves watching Draco fly. Harry’s so filled with envy his chest feels tight with it. He takes a deep breath and carries the training crate back to the gym.
Harry sits at the weight machine trying the new exercises Luna’s given him for his leg. They hurt, but he leans into the pain, waving his wand to increase the amount of weight every second set. It doesn’t take long before he’s beyond fatigued, sweat running down his back and his hip throbbing. He stares at himself in the mirror, face flushed with exertion and his black hair matted to his head. He grabs a clean towel from the pile by the door and heads to the showers. Usually he’d go straight home, but the team’s long gone and he feels clammy and disgusting and just wants to get under some hot water as soon as possible.
The very last thing he’s expecting is to be confronted with Draco Malfoy’s naked back. He’s just standing there, damp from the shower with a towel slung low on his hips, and far, far too much skin on display. Inked across Draco’s shoulder blades, tail feathers fanning down his spine, is a truly extraordinary peacock. The vibrant blues and greens are striking against his pale skin, and the bird seems at home in the lush foliage and colour of the tattoos in Draco’s sleeves. Harry had thought the art on his arms had just been an attempt to distract from the Mark, but now he can see that the beautiful designs are hiding a multitude of sins. A band of pale pink scar tissue extends over his ribcage. Three or four circular marks are grouped together at the base of his spine. Harry can’t help himself and lets out a strangled sort of noise. Draco turns around.
He doesn’t seem bothered by Harry’s presence, and he certainly doesn’t make any attempt to cover up. Harry tries to get out an apology for intruding, but he’s immediately distracted by the spidery white scars across Draco’s chest. The ones that he himself is responsible for. Even they’re dwarfed by the pink slash that runs from Draco’s throat down over one pec.
“What happened to you?” Harry whispers, horrified and awed and horribly turned on all at the same time.
Draco glances down at his chest, and then extends one arm out to study his Mark curiously as if he’s seeing it for the first time. Then he looks up at Harry.
“You’re the least of what happened to me,” he says, with a sad smile.
Harry suddenly wants to know all of Draco’s stories, every last one. He doesn’t know how to ask. He hates how quiet it is in this room and how he can hear the water dripping from the shower and his own breath loud in his ears.
The moment stretches between them and then snaps. Draco turns back to his locker, taking out a clean shirt and pulling it on, covering up his past. Shielding the things about himself that Harry doesn’t have access to. About which he doesn’t have any right to ask.
Showering now would be out of the question. Harry arrives home, embarrassed and half-hard, and realises he’s still clutching his unused towel.
Harry’s exhausted the next day, having tossed and turned all night thinking about Draco. What snatches of sleep he managed were filled with hand-drawn peacocks and smoke-filled Morsmordre.
Over breakfast, he resolves to put it out of his mind. Draco Malfoy is only here for his own ends, after all, and he disliked Harry enough that Parkinson had to tie his hands to make him do it. They may have a working truce now, but there’s no point in Harry even trying to unravel whatever complicated mess of feelings seems to have taken up residence in his subconscious. Another couple of months and he and Draco won’t even have to be in the same room. Harry can last that long. Either Parkinson’s plan works, and Draco can go off to play with or coach a team somewhere else in the League, or the plan fails and he goes back to Prague. Either way, it won’t be Harry’s problem any more.
As practice ends, Harry’s already working out how he can get through his exercises and get home without running the risk of stumbling across his half-naked colleague again. He’s pretty sure that if he just avoids the changing rooms at all costs, he should be fine, but he’s so busy thinking about it—or rather, trying not to think about it—that he doesn’t notice Draco dismissing the team and swooping in to hover right in front of him.
“I think you should start flying again,” Draco announces. As if that weren’t a bloody ridiculous thing to say, given they’re currently both about thirty feet off the ground. Harry gestures sarcastically at his broom as if to say as much.
Draco rolls his eyes. “I think you should start working on flying properly again,” he clarifies. “I can teach you some basic charms that will help.”
Irritation flares in Harry’s veins. He’s not a child. He knows there are spells he can cast on his broom that would improve his stability and temporarily increase his range of motion a little, but they’re slow and clumsy, and he doesn’t need to be up here riding around like a child on training twigs.
“It’s none of your business,” he snaps, turning to descend.
But of course Draco is faster and more nimble, zipping around to float in Harry’s way again.
“I know it’s not,” Draco says, palms up as if to calm a wild animal, which only infuriates Harry more, because he doesn’t need to have both hands on his broom. He doesn’t need to have even one hand on his broom. “But you miss it, I know you do. You must.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” Harry manages to get out, flying past Draco close enough to clip his elbow as he descends. Harry hopes it hurts. He’s a little embarrassed by his outsized reaction, but he finds it impossible to stop.
“Talk to Luna if you won’t talk to me,” Draco shouts after him, and that just sets Harry’s teeth on edge. Luna is Harry’s friend, not Draco’s. He’ll talk to her whenever he damn well pleases, about anything he likes, and certainly not because Draco tells him to. He knows he’s being childish, but he feels suddenly exposed. He doesn’t want Draco paying any attention to the way he can’t fly.
“What did he mean?” Harry says to Luna later, sounding sulky even to his own ears. He’s curled up in Luna’s armchair, watching while she mixes ingredients together for a muscle relaxant potion. It smells like juniper and woodsmoke, and has, at least, managed to restore Harry’s mood a little.
“We’ve been discussing the spells Leila uses to help her play,” Luna says with a shrug, and Harry’s stomach sours again. It must show on his face, because Luna gives him a mollifying look. “I told you I was going to contact her Healer,” she reminds him. “He sent me through the studies he’s been using. It’s fascinating work.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that,” Harry snits, feeling oddly betrayed.
“I didn’t do it for you, Harry,” Luna replies calmly. “This work can have all kinds of benefits in player rehabilitation and physical therapy. Kinesiological spellwork is very new, and this Healer is doing some cutting-edge research. I’m learning a lot.”
Harry feels a little guilty at that. Of course Luna would be interested from a professional standpoint. But still.
“I’m just tired of people suggesting I’d be better off somehow if I was cured,” he grumps, though to be fair only Draco has even hinted at that. What Harry actually means is that he doesn’t want to think about showing Draco Malfoy just how constrained he is. The idea of being that vulnerable in front of him is impossible to contemplate. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Luna appears to consider her words for a moment. “These spells aren’t a cure, Harry. They’re a way for you to have enough mobility on a broom to play again. And they’re not straightforward, or easy. Learning to use them would take time and practise and would hurt a lot to begin with. No one is saying you should do that if you don’t want to.”
Harry narrows his eyes at her. So far she’s given nothing of her own opinion away, but at this she cracks a little.
“Harry. Isn’t this the whole point of magic—achieving the seemingly impossible? And if it lets you do something you love?”
Harry doesn’t know what to say to that.
At Friday dinner, Ginny has managed to get away from practice in time to join them, which only happens infrequently. She gives Harry a warm hug and congratulates him on the Arrows’ recent results.
Harry asks the three of them what they think he should do. Or rather, he spends probably a little too long articulating how annoying Draco is, and then tells them about Leila, and then insists the whole thing is a waste of time.
Ron seems philosophical. “Up to you, isn’t it mate? You haven’t let anything hold you back these last few years. You don’t need to let Malfoy goad you into anything you don’t want to do.”
Harry thinks about Draco yelling at him when they fought weeks ago. You sit on your broom like a middle-aged lump of lead. It seems a long time ago now.
Hermione hums in a noncommittal way.
“You disagree?” Harry asks. He expected her to want to understand everything she can about the spells. Maybe Luna could share the academic work with her and the pair of them can nerd out over it together. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with him. He doesn’t have to play guinea pig.
“Harry,” Ginny interjects gently, reaching for her wine glass. “You’ve spent the better part of a decade assuring me that Quidditch is your first love. It certainly drove the pair of us apart.”
That’s not quite true, but she’s smiling as she says it, so Harry doesn’t bother correcting her.
“You’ve always told us that it’s all you want to do, even when you could do any number of things that paid better and offered you more prestige. Over and over again you’ve said that the game is the only thing that means anything to you, and I tried not to take offence, I really did, because it’s so patently true. You live in that old house by yourself. You don’t date. I can’t remember the last time you went on holiday. The club is basically your whole life.”
Harry’s trying to muster up an outraged defence. He’s here every Friday, after all. And he loves Ron and Hermione and their kids. He always remembers Teddy’s birthday. And he loves Christmas at the Burrow. It’s not just Quidditch that he cares about. Although he does care about it an awful lot.
“So what I don’t understand is,” Ginny goes on, “given that’s the case, why wouldn’t you want to try to be able to play again?”
“I did try,” he chokes out, feeling a sudden unexpected wave of anger crash over him.
He’s thrown instantly back to those agonising months after the injury, when he’d attacked his rehab with the same ferocity with which he’d fought Voldemort. He’d refused to accept any negative prognosis, seeking out Healers with increasingly fanciful ideas about how he might get better. He tried potions and salves and charms. He spent time with Muggle doctors, lying about the cause of his injury and submitting himself to X-rays and MRIs and acupuncture. He spent months in excruciating bouts of physical therapy, crying himself to sleep some nights in pain and fatigue.
Of course he had tried.
Even years later, he still occasionally fell victim to false hope, reading about some new miracle cure and thinking maybe, maybe this would be it.
It never was.
So what if he’s unwilling now to get his hopes up all over again? To show Draco Malfoy, of all bloody people, his weak underbelly—figuratively and literally?
Hermione’s looking at him with a wistful expression. She and Ron have been there for him through all of it. They’ve picked him up off the floor, sometimes physically, more times than he can count.
“Time’s moved on, Harry,” she says. “Maybe what we know about the magic involved has too. Don’t you want to find out?”
No, he thinks immediately. Because he built himself back up from rock bottom. He’s made a life for himself, even if Ginny doesn’t seem to think much of it. He’s happy. He packed his desire to play Quidditch away in his old school trunk with his Puddlemere uniform and his racing gloves, locked it and put it at the back of his closet. There’s nothing to be gained by getting it out again now.
Because you’ve given up, Potter, he hears Draco say in his mind, and hates him for it.
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Harry says finally, reaching for the wine bottle and changing the subject.
But just because he’s shut down any conversation on the topic, it doesn’t mean he’s able to stop thinking about it. Over the next few days it occupies almost all of his waking hours, distracting him during practices and leaving him tired and irritable, until he finds himself back in Luna’s yellow armchair.
“I should want to try, shouldn’t I,” he asks rhetorically.
Luna stops folding the pile of charmed bandages she uses for basic sprains. “I don’t think there’s any shoulds in this scenario.”
“Hypothetically, if I were to do this, would you be able to help me, rather than Draco?”
She tilts her head to one side, considering him carefully.
“I genuinely don’t know enough about it,” she says, and Harry’s heart sinks. “I’m still learning. But you know, Harry, if you don’t want to work with Draco on this, there might be someone else willing to help.”
“Does Draco know you’re here?” Harry asks, watching as Leila fastens her long blue braids up in a thick ponytail.
Her French accent makes her sound a little like Fleur, but that’s definitely where the similarity ends. Leila is compact and athletic, barely coming up to Harry’s shoulder but looking like she could take him easily in a fight. She told him she grew up on the outskirts of Paris: Muggle-born, her immigrant parents hoping for better. Magic brought her physical freedom; unsanctioned Quidditch gave her a means to provide for them.
She affects an indifferent shrug. “I ’aven’t seen him. But it is not a secret, no?”
He can’t ask her to keep this a secret, of course. Her loyalties will be to Draco first and foremost—she barely knows Harry. But he’s also not quite ready to talk about it with him, or with anyone really. Harry shrugs, uncomfortable, and Leila eyes him curiously. Luna was the one who’d written to her to see if she might be willing to come and stay for a few days, and Leila replied with enthusiasm. A series of serious snowstorms in Prague have cancelled her next two upcoming matches and she has a little time on her hands.
“Well,” Leila looks around at the empty public pitch. It’s far too cold for anyone else to be here in the middle of a weekday morning, a fact Harry was counting on when he chose not to wear a Glamour. He doesn’t want to begin working on this at the club, and it was hard to think where he could go that would have space and privacy. “This will do for now. We start.”
Leila is just as encouraging with Harry as she’d been with his team. She explains the difference between the spells she uses on her broom and the counterbalancing magic she uses on herself. At one point she pauses awkwardly.
“’Arry, these spells. They are not on your list.”
Harry frowns, confused, concentrating on his wand tracing another complicated pattern in the air. “My list?”
“Your list of spells that are yes, spells that are no,” she waves her hand back and forth, and it takes Harry a second to work out what she means.
“Do you mean the League rules?” They’d spent considerable time in Prague sorting out what magic Draco’s old teammates could teach the Arrows that would be allowed back in England.
“You’ll be able to play,” Leila nods, her expression cautious. “But you won’t be able to play.”
Harry realises suddenly that the idea of actually being able to compete again professionally hasn’t even crossed his mind. His only goal is to get back any part of the freedom he used to feel on a broom.
“It doesn’t seem to set you back,” he points out, and Leila laughs delightedly.
“Touché. Let’s begin.”
Luna said it would be difficult, but Harry really had no idea just how hard. The magic is complex to learn and even more difficult to maintain while simultaneously concentrating on the physical act of flying. Harry’s found flying easy and natural from the first time he mounted a broom. Even re-learning the basics after his injury wasn’t nearly as difficult as this. He feels like he’s trying to decipher a new skill that seems almost impossible.
After an hour he’s sweating buckets and completely shattered, but he’s the happiest he’s ever been. He feels like a remedial flying student in First Year, worse even than Neville had been, but he also feels an incredible sense of hope.
“Enough for today,” Leila says with a smile, patting him gently on the arm.
Harry starts to protest. It’s like he’s glimpsed a future for himself he long believed was no longer possible. He doesn’t want to stop.
“Just for today,” Leila laughs, shrugging back into her coat and picking up her bag. “Give your body time.”
When Harry wakes the next morning, he realises just how right she was. Every single muscle aches and his magical core feels completely depleted. He realises he hasn’t pushed himself so hard to do something since the early days of his recovery. And even so, Harry still can’t wipe the smile off his face. He limps awkwardly into the gym that morning with more energy and enthusiasm than he’s felt in a long time.
“What happened to you? You look like you got hit by a lorry.” Draco eyes him with concern.
Harry waves him away, reaching for a foam roller and stretching his tired muscles out on a mat, closing his eyes and imagining the feeling of wind fast in his face.
He continues in that vein for the rest of the week, making excuses about needing to meet with Parkinson to deal with some administrative matter or other, and dashing off to the park to meet Leila. She’s a diligent, careful coach, never letting him extend himself too far. Within a week, Harry can fly basic patterns again, though he’s sweating and red-faced and tired at the end of it. He comes in for a shaky landing and hears a slow clap behind him.
Draco is leaning against a tree.
Harry feels his face heat even more, this time with embarrassment rather than exertion. He’d known this wouldn’t stay a secret forever, but he’d naively hoped it would last a little longer.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, annoyed at how short of breath he sounds.
“Well, the second time you said you were meeting Pans when I know she’s currently in Paris, I started to wonder what was going on. The third time you did it, I thought I’d see what you were up to. I have to say, I’m disappointed. I was hoping for an illicit affair. This is much too wholesome.”
Draco gives him a wry smile. Leila lands behind Harry and darts past him. Draco wraps her up in a hug. “It’s good to see you, ma chérie.”
Harry’s sweat is cooling uncomfortably on his back, and he feels awkward, still waiting for some sort of reaction from Draco.
“You’re not mad I asked Leila to help me?”
Draco glances up sharply in surprise. “No, why would I be? She’s the expert.” Leila laughs in appreciation, jabbing Draco in the ribs playfully and muttering something unintelligible at him in French before walking away to pack up her things.
“I just thought…” Harry trails off. He’s not sure what he thought, really. Perhaps on some level that if Draco understood the full extent of Harry’s limitations he’d find a way to use it against him, the way he would have done when they were young. At the very least a smug I told you so, about Leila's magic.
“Is it helping?” Draco asks.
Harry’s not sure how to answer that. Some days, seeing the potential in the metronomic spellwork is worse than not knowing it was there at all. It’s gruelling, difficult magic, and it’s physically exhausting as well, working muscles Harry left to go soft a long time ago. But he’s determined and he’s making real progress. Even if he’s currently got a flying age of about eight years old. Some or all of that conflict must show on his face.
“It was never going to change overnight,” Draco says gently.
“You’re not who I thought you were,” Harry blurts out, startling Draco, who leans back in surprise. Harry’s not even sure why he said it, except that he needs Draco to know that he’s beginning to understand how much he’s changed.
“I need to go clean up,” Harry mumbles, not wanting to wait for a reaction and feeling a little mortified that he said it at all. “I’ll let you two catch up.”
He limps away as fast as he can before he can embarrass himself any further.
Harry’s not the only one who is starting to feel like he has a new lease on life. The team’s recent victories start to energise everyone in the Arrows squad. Luna devises new workouts with Leila and has the team drinking smoothies that look like cat vomit and don’t taste a lot better as far as Harry’s concerned.
Neville makes the players new wand-holsters, adapting a Brazilian pattern and forming it out of a thin supple leather that sits close to the forearm comfortably and lets them draw much faster. The team still doesn’t have any budget for new brooms, but he and Draco collaborate on advanced speed charms that eke every inch of performance out of the ones they have. Any time he’s not on the pitch, Draco seems to be perched on a bench in Neville’s workshop, poking at twigs with his wand and cursing under his breath.
“He’s really talented,” Nev enthuses to Harry one evening, over pints.
“He’s really something,” Harry mumbles, thinking about the tendency Draco’s fair hair has to fall across his face when he’s concentrating in a way that subsequently makes Harry’s own concentration impossible. Nev raves on and on about the spells Draco’s taught him, oblivious to Harry’s discomfort.
The truth is, Draco’s managed to dismantle basically every single one of Harry’s assumptions about him. He’s still sharp and aggressive with his tone, still snide with his humour and incredibly demanding of the team. He’s quick to cut Harry off in disagreement with a play or strategy, and far too prone to just flying away in a snit sometimes, knowing Harry can’t follow him. Draco bristles about the rules of the League and derides the other owners and frequently flings hexes into the empty stands out of sheer frustration.
But. He’s also an unending well of patience when the players are trying to learn new things. And, since Prague, his fights with Harry have been spirited but not mean-spirited. And, against all odds, he’s kept out of the way and let Harry work with Leila without teasing or prying. So it makes it very hard for Harry to keep a consistent sense of him in his head.
One afternoon he finds Draco and Neville levitating a broom in the middle of the workshop with metal blocks hanging off it, watching as the weights seem to spin effortlessly into the air, defying gravity.
“What is it?” Harry asks, leaning against the wall by the door and watching the weights move.
“A Volito charm,” Neville answers, scratching notes on a parchment in front of him. “Lifts the weight of the player and allows a much tighter corkscrew. The player can be upside down for longer without fearing that they’re going to slip or fall.”
Harry frowns in concentration, trying to recall the list of approved broom spells. He’s pretty sure Volito isn’t on it. He’s certainly never heard of it. It’s not even one of the things he’s been working on with Leila.
“Is that against the rules?”
Draco scoffs at him, flicking his wand at the broom. The charm ends and the weights crash to the floor with a noisy clatter.
“You know, for those of us who knew you in school, your newfound insistence on rule-following is truly extraordinary.” His tone is teasing and Neville laughs, but that just makes Harry more annoyed.
“I may not like these new bloody rules, but we’re at least going to follow them,” he insists. Neville’s smile disappears. Draco just rolls his eyes.
“Keep your ridiculous hair on, Harry,” he sighs, scooping up the weights and the broom and returning them carefully to Neville’s bench. “I was just showing Neville something we used to use in Europe, so he could understand a point I was making about weight distribution.”
“We’re not using Volito in play, Harry,” Neville is quick to reassure him.
“I’d love to know what I’ve done since arriving here that’s given you the impression I’d be willing to cheat.” Draco’s voice has a tired edge. He picks up his wand and leaves.
And that’s the thing. This version of Draco Malfoy hasn’t done anything to suggest Harry can’t trust him. But he seems to be forever knotted up in Harry’s mind with the version of Draco that Harry never could.
Harry sighs and heads after him, perhaps to apologise, he hasn’t decided yet. He finds Draco out on the pitch working on a move with Maxwell. They’re flying around obstacles set up on the ground, and Harry’s about to ask why they’re doing it down so low, when Maxwell slips from his broom and the reason becomes obvious. Draco must have charmed the grass spongy, because the young Chaser more or less bounces off one shoulder and gets back to his feet.
“I can’t do it,” he calls up to Draco, as he remounts his broom. “I’ve been trying all afternoon.”
Maxwell seems tired and discouraged, but Draco just waves him up to join him. “You can, come on.”
Harry takes a seat and watches as Maxwell attempts the feint another half a dozen times. Whatever Draco’s trying to get him to do is clearly beyond the young player, who loses his grip more and more frequently as he nears exhaustion. But Draco is patient and reassuring, even as they call it quits for the day, and Maxwell heads back inside, shoulders slumped.
“You’re really good with him,” Harry says, as Draco lands on the pitch in front of him.
Draco shrugs, “Not everyone learns the same way.” He proceeds to ignore Harry then, moving away across the pitch to uncharm the grass and stow the training obstacles beside the boundary.
Now that Harry’s not keeping his practicing with Leila to himself, he has her come to the club. They work together in the afternoons, once the team has moved inside to the gym. The days shorten with winter fast approaching, and increasingly by the time they finish, they’ve had to turn the stadium spotlights on to be able to even see each other from opposite ends of the pitch.
Harry’s so excited by his progress, able now to fly a swift zig-zag drill and to lift and dive with ease. The magic still utterly wears him out—he has no idea how Leila's able to keep it up for a full game—but the experience is amazing.
As the days pass, Harry starts to feel terrible that he’s keeping Leila in England longer than they’d planned, but selfishly he doesn’t want to say anything about it because he’s terrified she might confirm that she needs to go home.
He’s trying to work out how to sound her out on the subject as they land, but then Leila ducks up into the stands and kisses Luna soundly on the mouth and Harry realises with a start that he might not be the reason she’s sticking around after all.
“You kept that quiet,” he teases, sitting in Luna’s armchair the next morning.
“You didn’t ask me,” Luna points out, handing Harry three vials of anti-inflammatory potions. She’s been monitoring his health and fitness carefully and, like Leila, is insistent on him not pushing himself farther than his body can handle.
“Well, I’m glad. She’s lovely,” he says, as Neville pops in looking for castor oil.
“Who’s lovely?” he asks, rummaging around in Luna’s cabinet.
“Luna and Leila are dating,” Harry says. “Did you know that? Am I the only one in the dark?”
“What? Oh. No,” Neville mumbles, clearly uninterested in the topic, and then wanders out again without the oil he came in for. Harry shakes his head with a laugh.
“Everyone’s so distracted, thinking about the game,” Harry muses, leaving with his clutch of potions to round up the team.
That week, the Arrows’ win is narrow, but convincing. Even Oliver Wood seems overwhelmed, launching into an inspirational speech afterwards that goes on so long all the other players take turns at sneaking away to the showers while he continues to expound on the extraordinary evolution the venerable art of Quidditch has undertaken.
Harry just watches him with a long-sufferingly amused expression. At one point he looks up and sees Draco smiling at Harry from where he’s leaning against a bank of lockers. It’s very hard to look away.
Later that evening, Harry’s warming up some remarkably good stew that Kreacher has left him when he hears his Floo.
“Ron?” he mumbles around a spoon, walking towards his study.
Perhaps the last person he expects to see there is Draco.
“I’m sorry to intrude,” Draco says, sounding awkward, and thrusting the team playbook out in front of him. “I’ve finished with the patterns for next Saturday, and Luna said you’d just be here at home and wouldn’t mind and I…” He trails off, looking around the room.
Harry has slowly renovated most of the old house over the years, but this might be the room he’s most proud of. Once the old Black library, he’d had Aurors take every one of the musty books away after the war—unwilling to even try to ascertain which of them were cursed and which of them were just boring. Now the shelves are filled, floor to ceiling, with Quidditch memorabilia. Harry regularly scours estate sales and attends auctions to add to his collection. He has the Snitch from England’s last World Cup victory in 1978 and Carter Mayfield’s racing gloves from the 1990 season. He has the oldest racing broom in private hands. And a Quaffle signed by every member of the national team since 1999. Framed on the walls are photos of teams and moments from significant games, including a truly amazing wizarding photograph of the very first time Wronski flew his now-famous feint.
Draco turns slowly, taking in all four walls.
“This is amazing,” he breathes, staring at the framed cover of the Prophet announcing Harry’s own signing. “I knew you liked Quidditch, but I had no idea you had such a reverence for it.”
Harry feels oddly exposed. He feels like he needs to explain himself in some way, but he doesn’t know how. Draco continues to move slowly around the room, examining the books and photos and artifacts with unrestrained fascination. He comes to an abrupt stop at the shelf nearest the door.
“This is…” he trails off, confused.
“Leila gave it to me,” Harry says, and it comes out a little more defensive than he intended. The wand holster is a work of art. Supple Moroccan leather with runic designs and tiny wands and Snitches stitched into the bands.
Draco waits for a better explanation, but Harry’s not sure he has one.
“I mean, this is what Quidditch is now, too,” he says quietly. “It seemed right to put it here.”
Draco gives him an unidentifiable look, and then glances down with a start, where Casper has started to rub herself against his leg.
“You have a cat?”
“Kneazle,” Harry corrects.
Draco chuckles. He hands Harry the playbook he brought with him and reaches for the Floo powder.
“What?” Harry asks, wanting to be let in on the joke.
“You’re not who I thought you were either,” Draco says, as he steps back into the flames.
Draco usually keeps to himself on the weekends when there isn’t a game, so Harry’s surprised to find him leaning against a scoreboard watching Harry coach MiniQuidditch on Saturday morning, chatting to Hermione of all people. Harry’s been at it for about an hour, cheering the children on their little training brooms, flying back and forth a few feet off the ground. He’s freshly invested in it now that he’s flying at about the same level as his young charges, including Rose. He has no idea how long Draco’s been standing there and feels self-conscious again. Hermione watching is one thing, Draco watching is something else altogether.
“I didn’t know you did this,” Draco says curiously, as Harry chases the kids back through the tunnel to where the rest of the parents are waiting.
“It’s a school holiday programme.”
“Are these the same kids Luna had in the other week?”
Harry shakes his head. “No, that’s her Brownies troop. They’re all Muggle-born kids who are getting ready for Hogwarts.”
Draco arches an eyebrow at him, and Harry starts to feel defensive. He knows Appleby is a small, underappreciated club, but he also knows these programmes have a real impact in the local magical community and he’s genuinely proud of them.
Draco laughs. “Nothing, calm down. I just…when I turned up here I thought you were this washed-up failure coaching a losing team because you didn’t know what else to do with your life once no one needed you to save the world anymore. It’s nice to see I was wrong.”
Draco pushes off the scoreboard and eyes Harry up and down as he walks away.
“I can’t believe how much progress you’ve made,” Hermione enthuses, helping Rose into her coat and tucking her training broom under her arm.
“Er, thanks,” says Harry, still watching Draco disappear into the tunnel.
“I meant Rosie, Harry,” Hermione says with a startled giggle. “But you’re doing very well too.”
Harry bursts out laughing at his mistake, and offers to take them both for ice cream. Hermione, as expected, has an unending array of questions about Harry’s new spells, but as he eats an inadvisably large bowl of mint chocolate chip, he discovers he’s genuinely happy to answer them.
Now that Harry’s feeling stronger, and understands his own limitations a little more, Leila’s happy for him to fly on his own. Although it might also be that she’s happy to knock off early and head home with Luna, rather than carry on with endless remedial loops of the pitch as well. Either way, Harry finds himself working on his zig-zag on his own as night falls.
Or at least, he thought he was on his own, but as he turns for the home end, an all too familiar blond streak shoots across his path.
“What do you want?” he calls out, trying to feign irritation, when in truth he loves to watch Draco fly.
“I thought you might like some company.” Draco draws up alongside him, tossing and catching a training Snitch. “Seeker’s game?”
Harry’s forced to laugh. “Please. I can cover the pitch at about a quarter of your speed with a tenth of the manoeuvrability. Even you aren’t that desperate for a win.”
Draco just shrugs. “So we even the score.” He draws his wand and proceeds to cast a bunch of incomprehensible spells at his broom, and then attempts a pattern. His movements are excruciatingly clumsy and slow, and he pulls a face. “That ought to do it, no?”
Harry almost wants to protest. There’s something so objectionable about seeing Draco—usually so nimble and delicate in flight—suddenly as ungainly as Harry himself, even if it’s only temporary. But also, the idea of playing against him again, even in this artificially matched state…
“Let’s go,” he calls, and Draco sets off the Snitch with a delighted smile.
They play for over an hour, Draco letting out a stream of colourful epithets about the state of his now-useless broom. Harry feels the thrill of competition flow through him, causing his toes to curl and his breath to catch. They’re both laughing and shouting at each other, chasing each other from one end of the pitch to the other. Harry catches the first point, Draco the second.
On the third round, Harry’s starting to tire, but he can see the Snitch hovering just by the away goal, and leans into a swift sweep to get to it.
Behind him, he hears Draco swear. “Bugger this.” Harry chances a glance over his shoulder in time to see Draco casting to end the disabling charms on his broom, flexing his arms in relief and rocketing towards Harry. Harry’s too surprised to be outraged. Draco tucks his body tight to the broom, knees in close to his chest, and spirals forward, swinging upside down as he passes over Harry’s head like a Muggle fighter jet, overtaking him cleanly and grabbing the Snitch.
Harry can’t even be bothered he’s lost the point, he’s so in awe of the move.
“What was that?”
Draco laughs. “It’s the play I was trying to teach Maxwell last week. I call it a Maverick, after a Muggle movie about fighter pilots.”
Harry’s secretly delighted they’d come up with the same reference, but also a little gobsmacked. “You invented that?”
Draco gives a self-effacing shrug. “It’s a lot easier with Volito on your broom, but yes.”
Harry’s learned the hard way that even a broom absolutely drowning in magic is no substitute for sheer talent, and Draco has it in spades.
“It’s amazing,” he enthuses, and is gratified to see Draco flush a little with pride.
“One more point,” Draco suggests. “I’ll put the charms back on.”
Harry’s tired, but Draco’s a bright light in the dark stadium and he honestly can’t say no. They chase each other around for another ten minutes, the Snitch always tantalisingly out of reach. Harry’s arms and legs ache, and as he tries to put on one last burst of speed he finds himself slipping. He’s scrabbling for his wand to try and cushion himself when out of nowhere, Draco is there, strong arms around him, taking most of his weight.
“Too far, huh?” he asks gently, and Harry’s acutely aware of the way his exhausted muscles are trembling, as Draco guides them both in to land.
“Leila and Luna will murder me,” Harry agrees glumly, as Draco helps him dismount.
Draco twitches his wand at a training mat, which slides obediently over to them.
“Lie down, we’ll stretch it out.”
Harry’s on his back before he really thinks about it. Leila does this stretch with him all the time, and it’s never occurred to him to think anything of it, but now it’s Draco pushing his weaker leg firmly up towards his chest, leaning in to apply pressure, and suddenly Harry can’t quite breathe.
Draco’s so close, is the thing. And the position is suddenly not remotely therapeutic, it’s unbearably intimate. All Harry can think about is the tired ache in his limbs, and all of the blood in his head rushing south, and the way Draco’s bright blond hair is a couple of shades darker when it’s damp with sweat. And Harry’s suddenly mortified, because if Draco pushes into the stretch even a few centimetres more he’s going to know exactly how affected Harry is by him.
Harry can’t look away. He can’t do anything, really, except lie there pinned under Draco’s long limbs, staring into his eyes—which, Harry notes absurdly, the Prophet was unfortunately correct to describe as the colour of winter frost. And Draco must be able to tell, now. Must be able to see every outrageous, inappropriate emotion writ large over Harry’s face. He must be able to tell how thoroughly overwhelmed Harry feels. But instead of pulling away he seems to suddenly be impossibly closer, gently letting Harry’s aching leg slip from his grasp to the ground and instead leaning down to kiss him.
Every single one of Harry’s muscles feels on fire and yet they’re still not a match for the heat of Draco Malfoy’s mouth. Harry finds himself surging up, wrapping his hand around the back of Draco’s neck, responding enthusiastically to the kiss. He gets lost in it, ignoring his exhausted body until they have to part for breath and Harry finds himself collapsing back on the mat with a pained groan.
“I want you to come home with me, but I can’t move.”
Draco laughs, chasing Harry’s lips again for a quick peck. “We have a game tomorrow, and Leila’s going to hex us both blind for pushing you this far. We can pick this up again after we win.”
There’s something so exhilarating about the promise of that, it cancels out any disappointment Harry feels as Draco helps him up to his feet. Back at home, he takes a double dose of pain potions and falls into bed, completely exhausted and utterly euphoric.
The game the next day is unbelievably tense. The teams are so evenly matched that any time Harry thinks he knows what’s going to happen, the opposite turns out to be true. The Arrows are capable and confident, but their opponents seem to have an answer for every play. As the closing minutes of the game start to count down, the Arrows are very narrowly behind.
And then, out of nowhere, comes Henry Maxwell. The manoeuvre is amazing. Like nothing the crowd has ever seen. Maxwell is a flying feat of impossibility, slipping through the air upside down, above the heads of the astonished opposition. His knees are tucked and his grip is true—a flawlessly executed Maverick. He’s at the hoops before anyone can really work out what has happened. The whistle sounds. The Arrows have won.
Harry’s pulse is thundering in his ears.
Beside him Draco is cheering triumphantly, waving his Omnioculars back and forth at the team. He grabs his jacket and notepad and doesn’t even wait for Harry, presumably expecting him to follow him straight down to the changing rooms.
Harry’s finding it hard to catch a breath. He dashes to the tunnel, where the players are still shaking hands and posing for pictures. Maxwell is at the centre of an adoring clutch of fans, blushing and happy. When he catches sight of Harry, he extricates himself.
“Wasn’t it amazing, Coach?” the young Chaser gasps.
“Incredible,” Harry agrees, clapping him on the shoulder. “How on earth did you perfect it? It looked like you were a long way off on Thursday.”
Please be wrong, Harry thinks. Please, please be wrong.
“Coach Malfoy put a charm on my broom to help,” Maxwell enthuses, tugging off his gloves and pulling open his jacket. “Volare, or Volleyball, something, I forget the name. But it did the trick!”
He jogs off down the tunnel, leaving Harry frozen in place.
Harry feels crushed. The wave of disappointment is so strong that he thinks for a minute he might be sick. He’d been so sure, out there on his broom the night before, watching Draco tip his head back and laugh. Lying there, on the ground, the slick press of Draco’s mouth to his own. So sure that he’d changed and that Harry was the one at fault for dragging their past into the present all this time. But he’d been so very, very wrong.
He stumbles to the changing room, at a loss as to what he’s going to do or say.
He finds Draco dismissing the team, telling them to go celebrate.
“Our feedback can wait until Monday. Go enjoy yourselves, you’ve bloody earned it.” Draco’s grinning ear to ear and so is the rest of the team, and Harry feels outside of himself, utterly unable to comprehend it.
“Can I speak to you, please?” he says quietly, staggered that the words come out as evenly as they do.
Draco looks at him in surprise. “It’s okay for you to enjoy yourself for a minute too,” he teases, reaching out for Harry, as if he’s going to draw him into a hug, or something more. Harry smacks his hand away abruptly. Draco’s expression falls.
“Now, if you don’t mind,” Harry says, and leaves the room, striding around the corner to his office.
The disappointment has curdled into a simmering rage by the time Draco joins him.
“What’s got your knickers in a twist? We won, in case you missed the final score somehow working yourself into a snit.”
Harry’s magic boils over, slamming the office door closed behind Draco and causing the blinds over the windows to snap and roll up, spinning around and around on themselves.
“What the fuck, Harry?” Draco cries, startled.
“You’re a sodding cheat,” he seethes.
Draco doesn’t even have the good grace to look guilty or apologetic about it. He just looks confused and upset.
“I’ve made it clear time and again my position on this,” Harry yells. “And you make out to my face that you’re taking it seriously and behind my back you’re doing something completely different. You used an illegal spell.”
“Harry,” Draco says evenly, and he absolutely hates hearing his name from Draco like this. He wants Draco to call him Potter, with a sneer and a fist drawn back. Then at least he’d know where he stood. “I have followed every single one of Pansy’s bloody rules from the moment I got here.”
“Then you’re a cheat and a liar. Colour me wholly unsurprised.”
“You’re not even interested in letting me defend myself, are you?” Draco seems stunned. Harry doesn’t know where he gets off, playing the victim.
“Why don’t you run back to your team in Prague, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your deception.”
“My team? The Arrows are my fucking team, Potter.”
It actually doesn’t sound that good to hear him say his name that way after all. Harry scoffs.
“No. Don’t you dare,” Draco stabs a finger towards him, finally showing some emotion. “You don’t get to question my loyalty to this club. I’ve put everything I have on the line for these players. I’m the first one here in the morning and the last one to leave. I’ve improved the Chasers end-to-end times more in the last two months than they improved in the last two seasons. Did you know that old Jim Cranswick comes to every game because his son was an Arrow, and he died in the First War against Voldemort?”
Harry did not, in fact, know that.
“Well I did, because I sat with every one of the season ticketholders to reassure them about the new game. Did you know Iyer struggles with your play diagrams? She needs to be shown something in flight and she gets it like that,” Draco snaps his fingers. “But it makes no sense to her on the page.”
“Longbottom is one of the most talented people I’ve ever seen work on a broom. He is utterly, utterly wasted here. And do you know why he stays, Harry?”
Harry’s not sure what that’s got to do with anything. He’s tried and tried to get Neville to understand he doesn’t have to stay out of a sense of loyalty to Harry, and he—
“Because he’s in love with Luna. But he can’t work up the nerve to tell her.”
Harry’s mouth falls open.
“And do you know how I know these things? Because I’ve been all in. Turning up and finding you here at the beginning of the season was absolutely fucking catastrophic, but I was determined to make the most of it. I’ve done everything I can to turn this team around, and I thought that maybe, finally, you were starting to see me for who I am and not who I was ten years ago. But you’ve never trusted me, and I can see now that you never will. You’ll never know what it’s been like, out there. Never understand the ways in which I’ve had to pay for my father’s mistakes over and over again. But I’ll take making ends meet any way I can over being treated like a criminal by you. Fuck you, Harry.”
Before Harry can get out a word in response, Draco is out of his office, slamming the door behind him.
Harry sinks down into his seat, his mind reeling. He’s still wound tight with rage about Maxwell’s charmed broom, and it’s not like Draco denied that at all. But the rest of it…
Clearly the part about Nev and Luna is just bullshit. If that were true, Harry would know.
He lets out a heavy breath. Maybe.
No, in fact, all of it must be bullshit. Iyer has never said to Harry that she’s ever had any trouble with the playbooks, and if Cranswick’s son was an Arrow, he’d have told Harry that by now, Harry talks to him all the time.
Well, not really, the annoying voice in his mind continues. They mostly exchange pleasantries. He’s not sure he’s ever really had a proper conversation with the man.
But so what. Even if Draco has been running around befriending Arrows fans and players, it doesn’t change the fact that he cheated. That Harry thought he could trust him, when it turns out he couldn’t.
He shoves his chair back abruptly and storms back to the now-empty changing rooms, finding Maxwell’s locker and casting a viciously overpowered Alohomora at it. The metal door slams back noisily on its hinges. Harry grabs Maxwell’s broom.
He finds Neville in his workshop, bent over a piece of wood. He looks startled as Harry stalks into the room.
“I thought you’d be out celebrating,” he says, looking a little warily at the way Harry is brandishing the broom at him. “Is everything okay?”
“Take it off,” Harry insists, shoving the broom at Neville, who puts down his wand and takes it from Harry’s grasp, a confused expression on his face.
“The Volito charm. I know you didn’t have anything to do with it, Nev, but Draco put it on the broom anyway. I need you to remove it.”
Neville sucks his breath in through his teeth.
“Are you sure? That doesn’t sound like—”
“I’m sure,” Harry snaps, cutting him off. “Maxwell told me himself. I need you to take it off, in case we’re subject to a Games and Sports audit.”
Neville shakes his head as he mounts the broom carefully in a set of clasps on his workbench. “That won’t help, you know. They have a version of Prior Incantato that will show them all the magic that’s been used on this broom.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Harry sighs. “Take the charm off, and then I want you to check every other sodding broom in this building for illegal magic.”
Neville nods, ashen-faced, and raises his wand, casting a complex series of diagnostic spells. Harry watches as the coloured lights pass over the broom and shimmer and fade. Neville studies the glowing runes left in their place, and then looks up at Harry, frowning.
“What? What else has he done?”
“That’s just it, Harry,” Neville says with a shrug. “This broom is absolutely regulation, top to bottom. There isn’t a single charm on this that isn’t League-approved, and certainly no Volito.”
“Run it again,” Harry insists. And so Neville does, pointing out the results and explaining what each of the symbols mean.
“Look, I’ll show you,” he says, walking over to a set of selves and taking down an unused broom handle. He casts Volito at it, and then brings it back to the bench. “See what the diagnostics show now.”
And sure enough, the broom handle displays a final, purple rune that Maxwell’s broom does not.
“Then this isn’t the right broom,” Harry snaps, irritated. He’d assumed the one he’d plucked from Maxwell’s locker had been the one he’d flown in the game, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe that broom was still in the changing rooms, or lodged in the maintenance rack. “We’ll check them all.”
Neville gives Harry a strange look, but agrees quickly, and the pair of them spend a long hour opening all of the players lockers and checking all of the equipment. Neville teaches Harry the diagnostic spells, and they cast them over and over until even Harry’s wand hand is tired.
They don’t find a single non-regulation spell anywhere.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Harry sighs, kicking at a laundry hamper in frustration. It spins away on its wheels and crashes into the wall.
“Maybe you should talk to Draco,” Neville suggests diplomatically, carefully putting the last broom back in its place and refastening all of the lockers.
Harry scowls at him. He’s tired now, all of the adrenaline associated with his rage leaked out of him, and confused and upset. He’s going to have to apologise to the players for rifling through their things. And he’s going to have to work out how Draco pulled off his little trick. If he’s found a way to hide illegal magic from their diagnostic spells, then Merlin only knows what else he might have done.
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” Harry mutters, and Neville shrugs.
“Nev, if you…” Harry stumbles. He doesn’t want to give Draco’s absurd theory credit by actually putting voice to it, because it would feel like such a concession. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Neville’s eyebrows shoot up. “I’m not helping this team cheat, Harry, I swear.”
“No! Merlin, no. That’s not what I meant.” Harry runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “Never mind. Thanks for your help. I’ll talk to Draco tomorrow.”
Harry briefly considers going to the pub where the team will be to at least buy them a round in congratulations. But his stomach is in knots and he’s so agitated he doesn’t think he’d be able to keep a polite smile on his face, so he goes home and drinks half a bottle of Firewhiskey, Casper purring contentedly on his lap. He keeps thinking about Draco, laughing delightedly as Harry had managed to turn sharply in front of him as they flew together the night before in the dusk. The joy he’d felt then feels like poison.
Harry wakes the next morning, still on his couch. His mouth is dry and his head hurts, but mostly he just feels this ache in his chest like something’s been spoiled beyond repair. Disappointment and betrayal swirling together to create something ugly and sour.
He needs to speak to Draco. He showers and dresses quickly and heads straight to work to find him.
Except, Draco doesn’t come to the club that day. Or the next day.
Or the day after that.
Or the day after that.
The Arrows have a bye, and so Draco’s absence isn’t causing too many difficulties, but the players keep looking to Harry for explanations that he doesn’t have. Maxwell continues to insist that Draco charmed his broom before the game, and certainly has no reason to lie about it. And Harry’s frustrated because Draco owes him a bloody explanation himself, but is nowhere to be found and isn’t answering Harry’s owls. Which, if Harry was looking for more proof of his guilt, is frankly pretty compelling. He really should have seen this coming.
Also, in retrospect, he should have seen Pansy Parkinson coming, instead of being so startled to find her in his office that he drops his coffee cup.
“I knew you were stupid, Potter, but I really didn’t take you for a complete fucking idiot.”
“Nice to see you too, Parkinson,” Harry sighs, waving his wand to clean up the mess. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You really think he’d cheat, given everything he has on the line?”
“Why would a player tell me Draco had charmed his broom if he hadn’t, Parkinson? What possible reason would he have for making that up?”
Parkinson rolls her eyes so hard Harry thinks she should be careful not to dislocate them.
“That imbecile Maxwell thinks Draco charmed his broom because Draco told him he’d charmed his broom.”
“Exactly,” Harry retorts in triumph.
Parkinson lets out a long suffering sigh.
“He didn’t actually charm it, you gormless prat!”
“Henry Maxwell has been trying to get that manoeuvre right for weeks. Draco’s been working with him on it after hours and on weekends, but Maxwell lacked confidence. Draco was sure he was capable of it. He was fit enough and had the technical skill, but he couldn’t get the kid to trust himself enough to pull it off.”
Harry leans back against the wall with a thud. Can that be right? He’d only seen Draco and Maxwell working together like that the once.
“Draco was sure that if Maxwell thought he had a spell helping him out he’d be able to do it. So he told Maxwell all about the amazing Volito charm that he was going to put on his broom.”
Harry feels his stomach sink. “But he never actually—”
“Of course he didn’t. Draco knows that sort of magic would light up like a signal flare in a routine audit. And he’s got far too much riding on restoring his reputation. Plus, for reasons passing understanding, he seems to have grown to like this team, and its truly brainless coach.”
Harry swallows hard.
“Where is he?” he asks quietly.
“I don’t know, Potter,” Parkinson barks. “He told me what happened, assured me he hadn’t broken any rules, and then he disappeared. He’s not in the hotel he’s been staying in. He’s not back at his place in Prague. I’ve tried his usual haunts and come up empty.”
Harry’s not sure what to say.
“Well, when he comes back—”
Parkinson slaps the desk hard. “I swear on Salazar’s mouldy fucking gravestone…for every day Draco is not here at work when he should be, the binding contract he signed is exacting its penalty. And trust me when I say it’s not a penalty you’d wish on Draco whether you currently consider him a friend or an enemy. He can’t cast spells and he’s physically branded a contract-breaker. No one in the magical world will have anything to do with him.”
The contract. Harry’s mouth drops open in horror. He had completely forgotten.
“To say nothing of the fact that this team’s turnaround is due in no small part to his gargantuanly oversized efforts. We are one week from a semi-final, something that would have been impossible to consider at the start of this season. We need him back.”
“What do you want me to do?” Harry asks, shaken.
“I want you to find him, and fix this.”
She storms out of his office in a cloud of perfume and righteous anger, leaving Harry reeling.
He’s not sure how long he’s been slumped there, replaying the events of the last few days, when he hears Ron through the Floo.
“Mate, this shepherd’s pie’s not going to be any good cold, and the kids are hungry.”
Harry startles, glancing at his watch.
“Fuck, sorry,” he calls out, grabbing his coat and bag and heading through the flames.
The little cottage smells so warm and inviting, and seeing Ron and Hermione’s friendly faces is such a relief, that Harry feels a little choked up. Hermione presses a large glass of red wine into his hand as she takes his coat, and steers him towards the table where Hugo is already up in his high chair, gumming at a piece of cheese.
The conversation passes easily without Harry needing to contribute too much, but he knows he’s not doing a very good job at pretending nothing is wrong, because Hermione keeps shooting Ron concerned looks over the top of Rose’s head.
Eventually, when the food is gone, the plates put away to wash themselves, and the kids tucked up in their room, Harry runs out of reasons not to talk about it.
He tells them about the progress he’s been making with Leila, and about how good Draco had been to work with since their trip to Prague, and tries to ignore the slightly smug look Ron and Hermione exchange, as if he isn’t right there and doesn’t know exactly what they’re thinking. He wants them to feel exactly as betrayed as he did when he tells them about the charm on the broom.
And of course, Hermione frowns disapprovingly, which is gratifying, but Ron—Ron seems to have developed superpowers or something.
“He didn’t though, did he?” Ron asks.
“Didn’t what?” Hermione asks in confusion.
“Draco didn’t charm the broom.”
“How did you—”
“Same as sixth year, when you pretended to give me Felix Felicis,” Ron laughs. “Sometimes you need a little something extra to believe in yourself.”
Harry’s heart sinks through the bottom of his stomach.
“Besides, Malfoy’s way too competitive to cheat. I know that sounds backwards, but he really wants the Arrows to win for real. He wouldn’t do something stupid like muck about with a broom.”
It’s awful to hear Ron express such casual confidence in Draco. Ron has just as many reasons to be suspicious of him as Harry does and yet he’s seen him much more clearly somehow.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione sighs. “You should go and find him.”
Harry feels defensive and more than a little foolish. “Whose side are you on?” he complains, but without any force behind it. “I thought you wanted me to do any job but this.”
“Harry, you’ve had more energy and vitality about you this season than I’ve seen since you were injured. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the Arrows are winning, or that you’re flying again, but I do know that Draco Malfoy is partly responsible for both.”
And isn’t that the slightly depressing truth.
“Go and get him back, mate,” Ron says.
The problem is, Harry’s not sure where to start. Leila has no idea where Draco would have gone. Harry owls Viktor, but gets no reply. In the end, he Portkeys to Prague, lacking any better suggestions. The weather is foul—thick snow on the ground and howling wind in his face—so he knows Draco’s team won’t be playing, but he manages to track the twins down where they’re working in the little bar the Arrows had celebrated in on their final night.
“You missed me?” Mina asks with a wink, waving a Becherovka bottle at Harry.
“Not a chance,” he laughs, and explains what’s happened.
Mina gives him a thoughtful look. “Viktor’s not answering my owls at the moment either, but if anyone knows where Draco is, it will be him.” She hands him a scrap of parchment with an address in Romania on it.
Two Portkeys and a very confused Muggle taxiride later, Harry finds himself on a expensive-looking tree-lined boulevard in Bucharest, outside the gates to a two-storey villa. Walking through the pristine snow-covered garden up to the front door, Harry feels acutely aware of his grimy travel clothes and tries to smooth down his hair.
A valet who speaks no English answers the bell, but when Harry just persists in repeating Viktor’s name and shows no signs of leaving, he shows Harry into a side room. The house is opulent, with high ceilings and ornate furniture. Viktor’s clearly had a very successful career. Harry tries to imagine himself spending any time here and simply can’t. It’s so far from Harry’s taste and so lacking in comfort. Draco, on the other hand—
“Why are you here?”
Harry had been expecting Viktor, and so turning to find Draco strolling into the room momentarily startles him stupid. He looks pale and tired, his hair limp, with dark shadows under his eyes. Even the clothes he’s wearing seem completely unlike him. A pair of soft-looking trackpants hang low on his hips and despite his tall frame, he’s almost drowning in one of Viktor’s old team sweaters. And yet even looking so hurt and defeated, he’s impossibly attractive.
Harry realises he’s staring.
“Are you okay?” he asks, abruptly grasping that it’s actually the only thing he cares about.
Draco lets out a low, humourless chuckle, reaching up to push his hair out of his face. The sleeve of Viktor’s oversized sweater slips back, revealing an angry-looking glowing red band around Draco’s wrist.
Harry sucks in his breath with a small gasp.
Draco lowers his hand and looks at it, as if he’s surprised by Harry’s reaction.
“What, you didn’t know?” he chuckles bitterly again. Harry hates the sound: raw and unhappy.
“I can’t use magic except to save my life or the life of another. And I get to wear this delightful advertisement that I’m not to be trusted. Just one more mark you’ve left on me, Harry. One more way in which I’m a pariah. It’s clever, really. Makes it very difficult to get by. I can’t live among wizards because they won’t deal with a contract-breaker, but the big glowing bracelet makes it pretty impossible to live with Muggles either.”
Draco glances around the sitting room. “I’m just lucky Viktor’s in Argentina and was happy for me to stay for a while.”
“Why would you do this to yourself?” Harry gets out, his voice sounding broken. Just the idea of it—of Draco choosing to hole up in this palace without magic, or company, or any prospects—is too awful for him to think about. “You can’t live like this!”
“Why would I stay in England?” Draco fires back. “I tried, Harry. I really did. But you’re never going to see me any differently than the way I was when we were boys. And that’s just a metaphor, really. If you can’t, no one else in that godforsaken community is going to be able to either.”
Draco scrubs a hand over his face. He looks exhausted.
“Anyway. I don’t have to stick around and put up with that. I don’t need your approval, or anyone else’s. The whole thing was a pipe dream. A waste of time. I was foolish to think otherwise.”
Harry glances back at Draco’s wrist, covered again by the sweater, but only just. Now that he knows it’s there, he can even make out the glow of the vicious red band through the fabric.
“But…” he gestures at Draco’s arm helplessly, repeating himself. “You can’t live like this!”
“Viktor’s Avocat assures me the penalty will only last a year.”
A memory tickles in Harry’s brain: Hermione explaining something similar to him so many months ago. He wishes he’d paid more attention.
“A year! Draco, be reasonable. What are you going to do, hide away here and let Viktor take care of you for all that time?”
“Still jealous, Harry?” Draco snorts. “There’s no need. Viktor and I haven’t been lovers since before he retired. He’s a dear friend, but nothing more. You’re welcome to have him back, if that’s why you’re here.”
Harry tugs at his hair in frustration. The conversation has gone off the rails so quickly he feels dizzy.
“That’s not why I’m here.”
“Well, I’m still waiting to hear the reason.”
“I’m sorry. That’s why I’m here. To explain how sorry I am. I was wrong, and I jumped to conclusions, and I hurt you, and I regret it.”
Draco seems brought up short by this, as if he wasn’t expecting Harry to confess so plainly. He eyes Harry cautiously, and then lowers himself to an uncomfortable looking chair, gesturing at Harry that he should do the same. But Harry’s full of pent-up frustration and it’s boiling over in all directions. He continues to pace back and forth in front of the fireplace as he goes on.
“When you first turned up in my office at the start of the season, I genuinely thought I was being pranked. You were just like my worst nightmare. Epitomising everything that made me furious about the changes to the game, wrapped up in a body an Oneiromancer must have plucked from my dreams,” Harry gestures helplessly at Draco, as if to indicate his entirely understandable difficulty with him looking like that. Draco just lifts his eyebrows in surprise.
“And at first it seemed like you were exactly the same annoying little fuck you were in school. You pressed every one of my buttons. You knew exactly how to get under my skin. Everything you did drove me absolutely bloody mental. But then, after we went to Prague, I started to realise that you probably weren’t some special punishment Pansy Parkinson had cooked up just to drive me insane. You were patient and clever and wildly talented.”
Harry pauses to draw breath, thinking about Draco spinning over him upside down in the sky.
“Wildly talented,” he murmurs again. Draco’s expression softens, but he says nothing.
“And you seemed too good to be true, you know? All of it did. Getting the chance to fly again. The Arrows winning. So of course I was too quick to assume it wasn’t true. It couldn't have all been real, that was too much to hope for. So of course you must have been a cheat and the victories must have been tainted…”
Draco’s expression falls again.
“But I was wrong,” Harry rushes on. “So very wrong. I think I’m still so caught up in my own issues with the past that it was hard for me to see how much distance you’d put between who you were then and who you are now. But I do see it, Draco. You’re nothing like you were when we were young.”
Harry approaches him tentatively, kneeling down in front of the stupid gilt chair and putting a tentative hand on Draco’s leg. Draco’s expression is so guarded it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking. Harry hates it. He wants to get back that open joy he’d seen on Draco’s face before he messed all this up.
“I want you to come back to London.”
“Is this about the team?” Draco asks, his jaw clenched and his tone defiant, his eyes fixed on Harry’s hand on his knee. “Do you want me to come back so they’ll win?”
Harry rocks back on his heels with a self-deprecating laugh. He thinks about Ginny accusing him of having no life outside of the club.
“No,” Harry assures him. “It’s a fair question—I haven’t cared about anything other than Quidditch since the war. Until now. I mean it’s amazing that the team is winning, obviously. But starting to fly again, that’s even more incredible. And you, you’re something else again.”
“Something else?” Draco asks, his mouth twisting into a wry smile.
“Something else,” Harry agrees, grinning back. “I’d like the chance to find out what. Come back to England, Draco. Let’s get this fucking thing off your arm, and win the Cup, and whatever comes next.”
Draco stares at him for a long moment and says nothing. Harry’s heart races. Maybe he needs more. Maybe Harry has to lay more of his heart bare and convince him. Draco looks away, glancing around the sitting room.
“I always hated this house,” he says finally, picking up Harry’s hand and giving it a squeeze.
Relief floods Harry’s veins. He stands up too quickly, dragging Draco up with him and almost losing his balance, but it doesn’t matter, because Draco is there, arms around his waist, leaning down to kiss him thoroughly. Harry thinks he’ll happily stay off-balance the rest of his life if it’s Draco who’s causing it.
The kiss becomes more heated, and Harry slides his hands under Draco’s shirt, seeking out his waistband. Draco extricates himself gently, holding Harry back by his biceps. His cheeks are pink and he’s smiling and Harry’s pretty sure no one has ever looked so devastatingly attractive. He tries to lean in again, but Draco continues to hold him at arm’s length with a laugh.
“Not here, Harry,” he says, tilting his jaw to indicate the room they’re in. “It would be a little tacky.”
Harry’s forced to concede that tearing Viktor’s clothes off Draco in Viktor’s house is a little much, even if that’s all he wants to do in this moment. He steps back and takes a breath and tries to get his body to understand that message.
“You’re right. Let’s go. I can Side-Along you to the Portkey station, I know where it is now.”
“So impatient,” Draco chides, but he looks pleased as he says it. “Let me get my things and tape up my wrist. We don’t need to draw any extra attention.”
Harry looks down at the angry glowing mark with concern.
“How do we get rid of it?” He hates that he caused it. He hates that he’s responsible for a single mark on Draco’s body, let alone the idea of having added to them.
“We just need to go back to the club. I need to demonstrate I’m back performing my obligations, and the penalty will abate.”
“Now then,” Harry urges. “Hurry up.”
Draco leans in and kisses him briefly on the forehead, squeezing his arms gently before breaking away and leaving the room.
Harry feels keyed up and desperate to get home as quickly as they can, but the Bucharest station is crowded and the travel wizard deeply unhelpful. The best they can manage is a Portkey through Paris with a two-hour wait.
“That will be fine,” Draco says smoothly, not even needing the translation charm. Which is probably just as well, because Harry’s not convinced the translation charm would cope with all the elaborate ways Harry can think of to say that he doesn’t think this is fine. And so they find themselves sitting together on an uncomfortable wooden bench in the Gare de Brocéliande in Paris, watching the minutes tick around on a giant clock. He has Draco’s hand clasped in his, tracing back and forth over the black fabric tape bound around his wrist. Draco assures him the magic will burn through it, but not before they get home. Harry’s still worried, though. If it gets reported in the magical press, Draco will never live it down. Whatever tentative credit they’ve started to give him over the Arrows’ victories will evaporate and his reputation will be destroyed, back to being nothing but his Mark.
“I thought Pansy was pranking me, as well,” Draco says quietly, not looking away from the clock.
It takes Harry a second to catch up.
“When she came to find me in Prague, she made this wretched contract sound like a formality. The whole proposal was brilliant. She had this useless club she had to turn around…”
Harry makes a wounded noise of complaint and Draco pats his hand gently.
“And all I had to do was get them to win a few games under new rules that I was uniquely qualified to coach, and that would be that. Feted and admired by English fans, I’d be able to come home. It was exactly what I wanted. So you can imagine my absolute horror when I got there and discovered who the existing coach was.”
Harry would object to this, but he hasn’t got any grounds.
“The thing is, Harry, I made a snap judgement about you in those first few weeks as well, and it wasn’t very flattering. I felt like you’d become so myopic, your whole world closed in to being nothing more than a middling coach of a passable team, your glory days long past.”
Harry goes to draw his hand back, but Draco takes it and holds it, looking him in the eyes. His expression is sincere and open.
“I was wrong too, you know. You weren’t even raised magical and yet you have such a devotion for the game, it shines through in everything you do. You’re a great coach precisely because you understand the history and the fundamentals, but you’re not trapped by them. The club isn’t some fading irrelevance, it’s the centre of a community and it matters—to those long-serving fans, to the kids who show up for MiniQuidditch, to the Brownies. You’ve built something important, Harry.”
Harry feels himself blush, and he wants to look away in embarrassment, but Draco’s not finished.
“When I saw the way you’d displayed Leila’s wand holster at home, I realised that you’re not just living in the past—you’re not like Binns at all. The way you’ve thrown yourself into learning to fly again, risking heartbreak and pain and failure to do something you love. The way you’ve opened yourself up to the idea of even giving me a second chance. It’s really something, Harry.”
Harry huffs out a wet laugh, his throat feeling a little choked up.
“Something?” he teases, nudging Draco’s knee with his own, and getting a shy smile in return.
Over the tannoy, their Portkey is finally called.
Harry refuses to let go of Draco’s hand as they push through the crowds at Kings Cross, finding a clear space to Apparate them both to the stadium. The moment they land, he starts tugging at the black bands around Draco’s forearm. Draco laughs at his impatience, untucking the end and unwinding the crepe bandage more carefully to reveal the clutch of lilies. The angry red mark is gone.
Harry lets out a sigh of relief, and Draco draws his wand swiftly, casting a raft of spells around the room that send brooms and Quaffles into the air, cascading down around them in a clattering racket.
“Gods that feels so good,” he groans, waving his wand arm around to set the room to rights. “Now all I need to do is check back into my hotel, shower for an unreasonable length of time, and—”
“Don’t,” Harry cuts him off.
“Don’t shower? I don’t know about your kinks, Harry, but Portkey stations leave me feeling—”
“Don’t check back into your hotel,” Harry interjects, suddenly sure of himself. “Come home with me. I want you to come home with me.”
Draco looks startled.
“I mean. You can have your own room, if you want. Merlin, you can have your own floor. I just. We’ve wasted enough time, don’t you think?”
If the extremely intense way Draco kisses him straight into one last Apparition is anything to go by, he very much agrees.
“You could have splinched me,” Harry complains much later, lying warm and content against Draco’s chest, tracing idle patterns over a tattooed vine.
“I’m really far too skilled a wizard for that,” Draco scoffs, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Besides, I wouldn’t risk losing any part of you, now that I know what you’re good for.” His hand slides around under the covers as if to prove a point. Harry thinks it won’t be too long before he’s ready for round two.
His finger slides up one of the thin white Sectumsempra lines, and then gently traces over the thicker, pink scar that heads up towards Draco’s throat.
“I want to know all your stories,” he murmurs, his mouth against Draco’s collarbone.
“They’re just stories,” Draco whispers back. “The past doesn’t have any hold on me any more, Harry. You have to let it go in order to claim your future.”
Harry thinks about all the things he’s letting go of: his misconceptions about the purity of Quidditch, his belief that he’d never fly again, absolutely all of his ideas about Draco. Maybe he has been a little trapped by the past. But now he’s definitely only thinking about the future.
The team is almost as delighted as Harry that Draco is back. He makes a big show of being offended by their sentimentality, immediately ordering them up into a truly punishing set of drills, yelling loudly that Harry has let them all go soft, but Harry can tell that underneath it all he’s secretly pleased.
They have only a week until their semi-final against the Harpies. Harry refuses to get his hopes up because the Harpies are a truly first-class squad, but the Arrows are really playing well together.
That evening, Neville suggests drinks to celebrate Draco’s return and Harry’s startled to hear Draco readily accept. Before Harry can object and drag Draco back to Grimmauld Place—and more importantly, back to bed—he finds himself at the pub with Neville, Luna, and Leila.
He’d forgotten to ask Draco whether he’d been winding him up about Neville and Luna, but now that he’s staring at the pair of them, it seems sort of obvious. And incredibly awkward. As the evening progresses, the conversation becomes increasingly forced, until they’re all discussing players and tactics again, lacking anything else to say to one another.
Draco finally slams his empty pint glass down a little too forcefully on the table, causing everyone to glance up in surprise.
“Right, I’ve had enough of this,” he announces, glaring at all of them. Harry’s stomach sinks. “Our little group has had too many misunderstandings of late, so we’re not going to have any more.”
“Draco—” Harry tries, but gets a silencing palm held up to his face in return.
“No. We’re doing this, now. Cards on the table. Neville, it’s time to man up.”
Poor Nev’s mouth falls open in horror.
“You love Luna, and you’re not going to scuttle around helping her plant herbs and asking to borrow her castor oil any more. You’re a very nice man with a lot to offer, and if I wasn’t unreasonably besotted with this idiot next to me I’d have tried it on with you already.”
Harry lets out a strangled sort of sound. Neville seems unable to say anything. Leila is giggling.
“And you,” Draco turns on his former teammate, who manages to stop laughing but is still smiling. “You need to go home. You know you don’t do relationships, and you’re only sticking around here because you think Luna’s lovely and you don’t want to break her heart by telling her as much.” Leila opens her mouth as if to object, but then closes it again and ducks her head with a smile.
“And you,” he spins to point at Luna, who doesn’t seem half as outraged as Harry thinks she should be about any of this. She just gives Draco a bemused expression. “You are lovely, but you need to put poor Neville out of his misery and tell him you have feelings for him too.”
Both Harry and Neville gasp at the same time.
Luna smiles serenely. “I was waiting for him to be ready, Draco. There’s no hurry.”
Draco gives an exasperated huff. “Everyone is ready.” He gets to his feet, tossing some Galleons on the table for their drinks. “No more waiting. For any of us,” he says pointedly, reaching out for Harry who is almost too surprised to take his hand as the yank of Apparition hits him.
“That was incredible,” Harry gasps, startled, as they land in his bedroom. Draco ignores him, unfastening Harry’s belt buckle with one hand and working the buttons of his coat open with the other. “How did you—”
“Focus, Harry,” Draco murmurs, kissing Harry’s neck in a way that causes him to immediately forget the rest of the question.
The entire team pushes themselves right to the edge getting ready for the semi-final. Even with the bookies predicting a romp home for the Harpies, no one in the Arrows squad is giving up, least of all Draco.
If Harry thought that them sleeping together would have softened Draco’s attitude towards him at all, he was sorely mistaken. Instead, the main change is that he’s now met with Draco’s intensity around the clock. He colonises a bedroom on the second floor for his own things, unpacking a far more extensive wardrobe than seems credible for the size of the bag he had with him, and filling every available flat surface with Quidditch books pilfered from Harry’s library. It fills Harry with an unaccountably warm feeling to see him making himself so at home, and also that he chooses to sleep in Harry’s room regardless. Although Harry’s not sure how much he’s actually sleeping, given he always wakes to find the bed empty and Draco sitting at the kitchen table hounding Kreacher for more coffee, buried in playbooks.
One morning he’s even more startled to find Ron sitting with Draco at the kitchen table.
“Brought you some meals,” Ron says, pointing at a neat stack of charmed containers. “I know Kreacher’s better at breakfast, and you lot will be working too hard this week to eat properly.”
“Thank you,” Harry gets out, self-conscious about being only in his underwear and trying to think how to explain the last few days and his abrupt change in living circumstances.
“You’re off the hook for Fridays until after you win.” Ron reaches around Draco for the marmalade. “But you both better be there the week after, or Rose will be unimpressed. She’s been learning more ferret facts.”
Draco arches an unimpressed eyebrow at him. Ron gives Harry a theatrical wink.
At practices, Harry constantly tries to get the team to appreciate how much they’ve achieved by even making the semi-final. It’s not that he doesn’t think they can win the next game, it’s just that he doesn’t want to lose sight of what a magnificent accomplishment the Arrows’ season so far has been. But anytime he tries to voice these more encouraging, positive sentiments, Draco cuts him off, calls him names, and forces the team into yet another grueling pattern.
After one particularly colourful tirade, Draco chases the team to the other end of the pitch far too quickly for Harry to keep up, and so he decides to descend for a break and some water. He finds Leila sitting in the stands, training bag at her feet.
“He wants this very badly,” she laughs, looking up at Draco dramatically waving his arms back and forth above them.
Harry smiles. “Yes, he does. Are you heading out?”
Leila shakes her head. “I am overdue back in Prague, but I want to see them play. Would you like to fly a little?”
Harry looks up at where Draco is haranguing the team excitedly. He takes Harry’s breath away.
“In a minute,” he says. “Let’s watch for a while.”
By Friday afternoon, Harry finally puts his foot down. “We’ve done enough,” he insists, catching Draco by the elbow before he can blow his whistle again. “Let’s not exhaust them before the game tomorrow.”
Draco gives a reluctant nod, and calls the team in. They decide to go out for dinner as a squad. There’s a little bistro off Diagon Alley that they all like and Wood is able to get them a big table towards the back. Their mood is buoyant, fuelled a little by nerves, but there’s also something freeing about being the underdogs. Harry feels like he should probably be offering something in the way of a team pep talk, but Wood more than has that covered, so instead he just sits back and relaxes, enjoying the warm line of Draco’s leg pressed gently against his own.
He falls asleep that night happy and optimistic.
It lasts about four hours.
The wave of nausea hits him so suddenly that he’s completely disoriented as he jolts from sleep. He lurches out of bed towards the ensuite, only to find the light already on and a very clammy-looking Draco clutching the toilet bowl. Draco groans and waves him away, and Harry has to dash down the stairs to the guest bathroom, making it just in time to empty the contents of his stomach immediately and repeatedly. He’s not sure how long he lies there, cramped and doubled over, before he hears the door open behind him. Draco looks pale and very ill, but he seems to be moving around under his own steam again. He passes Harry a glass of water and helps him to sit up, stroking the damp hair back off his forehead.
“I should have known that calamari wasn’t fresh,” Draco murmurs, lowering himself to sit gingerly beside Harry, their backs against the cabinets.
“How many of us had the calamari?” Harry groans, a fresh wave of cramps gripping his stomach.
Draco shakes his head. “All of us.”
And sure enough, it’s a very grim sight that greets them both in the Arrows’ changing rooms the next day. The team look like spectres: pale and tired and very weak. Oliver Wood does an amazing job of trying to muster up an enthusiastic speech, but a few minutes into his retelling of the Spattergroit bout that hit the English team in 2001, Iyer wretches and makes another run for the door.
“Should we forfeit?” Draco asks quietly.
There’s a long silence. It’s Henry Maxwell who breaks it.
“We’ve come this far,” he says gamely. “We owe it to our fans to do the best we can.”
The other players nod in agreement, grimly fastening their leathers and lacing up their boots. Luna gives them all double doses of rehydration and antiemetic potions, and they troop out to the pitch.
Harry leans heavily against Draco as they take their seats, no longer caring who in the crowd might take their photo. He feels so exhausted and ill and disappointed for the team. Draco seems even worse.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says, squeezing his knee.
“You didn’t poison us with expired seafood,” Draco sighs, but he seems even more bereft than Harry was expecting.
“It’s just a game,” he tries valiantly, but Draco groans.
“What is it?”
“I put money on the game,” he admits, rubbing tiredly at his forehead.
Harry’s surprised. It’s not as if he didn’t know that the bookies were doing a roaring trade on the new League, but most people are obviously betting against Appleby. It’s more that he didn’t realise Draco was that sure of the Arrows’ chances of success.
“How much money?”
Draco takes a long swig from his bottle of water, refusing to meet Harry’s eyes.
“How much, Draco?”
“Let’s just say it’s a good thing that I’m not having to pay for a hotel room at the moment,” Draco sighs.
The Harpies fans let up a deafening cheer as their team proceeds to score three times in a row.
The Arrows are limp and uninspired in the air. They’re all clearly unsteady and still suffering, easily beaten to the Quaffle over and over again. Morgan and North are doing the best they can, but the Bludgers get through repeatedly. And Iyer looks like she’s just clinging to her broom, doing the best she can to hang on. It’s devastating to watch. Harry feels like he needs to peer through his fingers as the Harpies score on them for the umpteenth time. Ginny swoops close to the stand as the teams reset, and gives Harry a very apologetic shrug.
At half-time, the team look so distressed, Harry wants to put them all out of their misery. They could call it quits now and all be home resting in their beds before the game is even scheduled to end.
He’s about to suggest it when Draco takes a hesitant step forward.
“We could stop now,” he says quietly, giving voice to what Harry’s thinking. “No one would fault us for that.”
Draco pauses, and the rest of the team look up, waiting for him to finish his thought.
“Or?” Wood prompts finally.
“The thing is, we’re over 300 points behind.”
Harry’s pretty sure none of them need reminding of that.
“That’s only four Snitches.”
Iyer looks at him curiously. “What are you suggesting?”
“Usually when we play, we’re focussed on all aspects of the game. I’m suggesting that we just work together to get you to the Snitch. Fuck the Bludgers. Fuck the Quaffle. Let them score as many goals as they can on Wood.”
Oliver opens his mouth as if he’s going to object, but then closes it again, giving a determined nod as if the idea of having all of the Harpies’ offence coming at him without assistance is the culmination of his life’s work.
“The rest of you, you’re going to do everything you can to open the field up for Isha. I want everyone looking for the Snitch.”
It’s an outrageous gamble, banking everything on the point-doubling effect of the new rules, but there’s no chance of catching the Harpies any other way. Oddly, the team seem slightly cheered by having a plan, as outlandish as it might be. They gather their gear and head back to the pitch exchanging ideas animatedly.
At first, the Arrows’ change in strategy just results in confusion. The Harpies can’t seem to believe their luck at finding basically no one between them and the hoops but a valiant, exhausted-looking Oliver Wood. He’s still an exceptional Keeper, even at half-strength, but he’s no match for the full Harpies line coming at him repeatedly. The scoreline starts to widen.
But above them, the rest of the Arrows have fanned out, hexing the Harpies’ Seeker repeatedly, and flying coverage patterns that have them comprehensively mapping the entire stadium. Iyer has the Snitch inside five minutes, putting fifty points on the board. The Harpies still haven’t worked out what the Arrows are up to when she catches it a second time, adding a further hundred to their total. But then it seems like Ginny starts to grasp a little of what’s happening, shouting rapid fire instructions to her team, who stop firing Quaffles at Wood and circle up. Too slow, though, to prevent Iyer’s third catch, adding two hundred to the total and bringing the Arrows back within one catch of a win.
But the Arrows are running out of steam, tired and sick, and suddenly facing the full onslaught of the Harpies defence firing hexes and flying interference. And the clock is running out, Harry realises with a start, glancing up to see only three minutes left.
Both Harry and Draco have lost any pretence of professionalism, screaming themselves hoarse in encouragement right along with the rest of the crowd. The Chasers form up in a final V, Beaters hot on their twigs, wildly casting hexes with the last of their energy, clear-cutting a path through the Harpies who are forced to dive away in all directions. Ninety seconds.
Wood abandons the goal hoops, surging forward to cast a last-ditch set of assists, giving Iyer a final unexpected burst of speed. Thirty seconds.
And then, so small and distant Harry’s sure he must be imagining it, a flash.
Iyer tucks and rolls and reaches and the whistle sounds. The replay screens light up, showing her clean catch.
Four hundred points and the win.
The Arrows stadium erupts.
Harry thinks he might cry, if only he had the energy.
Luna and Leila meet the team as they land, wrapping them in heated blankets and handing out potions. Harry hugs Isha tightly. “That was some of the bravest play I’ve ever seen.”
“From all of you,” Draco adds, clapping Wood on the back. “I’m so fucking proud.”
“I need to go home,” Maxwell says, in a very small voice. “I need to lie down for a long time.”
Harry laughs, and agrees. “We’ll keep the press conference very short, I promise.”
And he does, cutting off the more ridiculous questions about how it feels to achieve such an impossible underdog victory, and whether it’s satisfying to him to defeat his ex-girlfriend in such an important match. Harry is too unwell to even fire back, rolling his eyes at the journalists and pointing for the next question. It’s over before he can really think about it.
As he and Draco herd the team out to get changed, they find Parkinson waiting for them.
Draco leans heavily against the wall of the tunnel. “I’d do a victory dance with you, Pans, but I’m far too unwell and there’s nothing left inside me to come out.”
Parkinson screws up her nose in disgust, but she’s smiling.
“You’ve done extremely well, boys. Everything I wanted from you.”
“Does this mean we can have new brooms next season?” Harry asks, figuring now’s as good a time as any.
Parkinson gives him a strange look. “Turns out you’re not going to have to worry about that, Potter.”
“What do you mean?”
“The goblins have been made an offer to merge the club with Puddlemere. It looks like they’re going to take it.”
“What?” Draco sounds as shocked as Harry feels.
“The League has obviously been a runaway success, and Allsop wants a bigger slice of the action. He can fold the Arrows in to his club, maybe rebrand the Arrows stadium as a Puddlemere United development pitch. There are a lot of synergies.”
“Synergies,” Harry repeats disbelievingly. “So this has all been for nothing?”
Parkinson gives a shrug. “Not for nothing. You’ll all get job offers with Puddlemere. Maybe not in positions as senior as the ones you have now, and your players obviously won’t all be starting, but it’s an outcome that’s a good deal better than the alternative.”
“Pans,” Draco says, his tone pleading. “How much?”
Her mouth is a thin red line. She fixes him with a steely expression, before reaching into her bag and producing a folded piece of parchment. “This is what you wanted,” she warns, passing it to Draco. And Harry supposes that she’s right. Draco will have a job with the best club in the League. There’s no arguing with that when it comes to reestablishing his reputation.
Harry, on the other hand. Even if Parkinson’s right that there will be an offer for him, he can’t take it. He won’t work for Allsop again.
“Anyway, congratulations—on the game and…everything else,” Parkinson says, waving vaguely at the pair of them in a way that makes Harry wonder what she’s heard. As per usual, the conversation ends on her terms as she turns away.
Draco looks shell-shocked. Harry feels more like he’s been expecting this disappointment—or something like it—all along.
“Let’s go home.” He laces his fingers through Draco’s.
Kreacher makes them chicken soup and they eat it propped up in bed, exhausted.
“It will be okay,” Harry says finally, more to fill the silence than anything.
“It will be okay if we win,” Draco corrects, taking their empty bowls and casting to send them back to the kitchen. Casper curls up on his lap and he scratches behind her ears absently.
“We can’t beat Puddlemere,” Harry groans, turning in towards Draco, feeling a little like a Kneazle himself, resting his cheek against Draco’s chest.
“We have to,” he hears Draco murmur against his hair. He wants to protest, but he’s far too tired, so he just lets himself slip off to sleep.
Harry’s relieved to feel back to normal the next day. He finds Draco in the kitchen, poring over the press coverage of the game. The newspaper articles are all shouting in large capital letters about the Harpies unbelievable defeat, the Arrows’ extremely unconventional tactics, and at least one conspiracy theory that the Appleby squad were poisoned.
“Would the Weaselette hate us enough to do that?” Draco asks and Harry laughs.
“Occam’s Razor says it was the dodgy squid.”
“Quite,” Draco says, as if he’s unconvinced, but it’s clear that he’s joking. Harry spreads a thick slab of butter on his toast, relieved to have his appetite back.
“What do you want to do today?”
Draco looks at him like he’s lost his mind, or at least forgotten something important. Harry racks his brains trying to think what. A meeting? A birthday?
“The Puddlemere semi, of course,” Draco says slowly.
It honestly hadn’t occurred to Harry that they’d go. Frankly he’d rather have food poisoning again than venture into the Puddlemere stadium if he doesn’t have to, and says as much.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco snorts. “We’re playing one of these teams in two weeks, and we need all the information we can get. Pans offered to get us into one of the boxes, but I thought if you saw Allsop you’d probably hex him blind, so I’ve just bought us seats in the stands.”
Good seats, it turns out, and Harry’s delighted to find Luna and Neville joining them—even more so when he notices that they’re holding hands.
“These must have been expensive,” Neville whistles, as they sit down, enjoying the heated charms and plush cushioning.
Draco blushes and ducks his head. “I won a little on the last game,” he admits, and Harry suddenly remembers forgetting to ask him anything further about the bet. But before he can say anything, the whistle sounds and the teams sweep into flight.
Among the many reasons Harry didn’t want to come to the game, seeing just how ridiculously good Puddlemere are was certainly among the top ten. Their opponents, the Magpies, are a class act, but Puddlemere is in a league of their own. Disciplined, unrelenting, and utterly unforgiving of any mistakes. It would be depressing, except that Harry’s quickly swept up in the energy of the crowd cheering for Montrose at home, their black flags and banners flapping like Dementors all around the stadium. While Draco takes copious notes, Harry finds himself just enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by thousands of excited fans, united in their love for their teams and their love for the game. Parkinson really has achieved something remarkable, he realises.
As they make their way through the concourse after the game Harry convinces Draco to buy him a basket of magpie wings—thankfully actually made from chicken. The queue is long and they have to wait a little, so it’s nothing but bad luck that has them passing the stairs down from the VIP area just as Archie Allsop appears.
“Well, if it isn’t a pair of Appleby spies, here doing a little reconnaissance,” he slurs, clearly having had a celebratory drink too many. Harry opens his mouth to snap back, but he feels Draco’s hand warm on his wrist and manages to reel it in.
“We look forward to seeing you at the next game,” Draco says politely. Far more politely than Allsop deserves, as far as Harry’s concerned.
Allsop seems to find this hilarious, barking like a seal. “Seeing our twigs, maybe,” he laughs, far too pleased with himself. “It’s astounding that you’ve gotten this far, Malfoy.” He manages to make Draco’s name sound like it’s contagious in some way. “But luck and happenstance aren’t going to win you any trophies.”
Harry’s really feeling like it’s time to say something but Draco’s grip tightens and then Allsop turns his attention to Harry.
“And, Potter. It seems, despite my best efforts, you’ll wind up back on my payroll after all? Let’s hope it goes a little better this time.”
Rage flares across Harry’s vision and he’s pulling back his fist and reaching for his wand at the same time, unable to decide whether a punch or a hex is his best opening move, when he hears Draco spitting out a hurried “Excuse me” and tugging him into Side-Along Apparition, curses still raw on his tongue.
“He’s not worth it,” Draco soothes, as Harry kicks the leg of his sofa soundly, startling Casper, who gives him an extremely unimpressed yowl. “We’ll prove that when we win. And I’d really rather only Apparate you without asking when we’re about to do something a little more…fun.”
Draco tugs Harry towards him by his belt loops, as if to demonstrate. Harry’s suddenly in complete agreement.
Harry hasn’t experienced anything like the dedication and teamwork that the entire Arrows squad brings together in the days leading up to the final since, well…since the final days of the war.
Draco turns his endless notes and video from the Puddlemere match into detailed gameplans, with moves and counterplays and new combinations and formations. Luna has the team in the gym earlier and earlier every day, and has a boldly-coloured schedule tacked up on the wall showing when each player is due with her for massage, stretching, and something she’s calling “crystal therapy” that Harry steadfastly refuses to ask her about.
Neville’s found a way to splice in the Japanese bristles that manage to get an extra couple of seconds of speed out their brooms. When Draco times the Chasers and realises how fast they are, he plain tackles a startled Neville to the ground in joy. Even Leila helps out, devising a modification to one of her existing charms that will abide by all of the League regulations, and yet still lift some of the muscle strain players experience in their quads when they lean heavily into a turn.
The players are focussed and determined. Harry and Draco agree not to share anything of the Puddlemere plans with them until after the final, judging it to be too much of a distraction. Harry’s fairly bursting with pride as he watches them train. And so, it seems, is their erstwhile captain. Oliver is incapable of finishing a single day without yet another rousing rendition of his ode to the Agility and Ambition of the Appleby Arrows.
Harry and Draco are so busy and concentrating so hard that they’re more or less asleep as soon as they crawl under the covers at night. Harry drifts off with Draco’s arm warm around his waist and the long, lean lines of him pressed up against his back. And he wakes to find him cursing under his breath watching yet more Omniocular video. He knows that they need to talk: about the Puddlemere offer, about everything that happens next. But honestly, finding a minute in any day is difficult enough—there’s no way to set aside the time they need for that. Everything feels on hold until the season is over, one way or another.
So they grind it out: day after day, practice after practice. Until suddenly Harry’s standing in front of the mirror, fiddling with his Arrows tie, feeling ill at ease in the suit Parkinson’s sent him. Draco comes out of the ensuite in a cloud of rich-smelling steam, and Harry wants to immediately tug his dressy clothes back off and join Draco back in the shower instead. If the way Draco’s eyes darken are any indication, he’s thinking similar things.
“You clean up nice,” he murmurs, looking at Harry’s dark suit, which feels a little less like a straitjacket now that Draco’s eyeing him up like that. Harry thinks back to the last time he said the same words, a full season ago—although it feels like a lifetime—at the launch party. It’s hard to credit how much has changed since.
Harry gestures a little helplessly at his tie. “I can’t get the knot right.”
Draco smiles, stepping into his space and clouding Harry’s judgement by being clad only in a towel. But Draco’s all business, taking the errant blue silk and manhandling it swiftly and carefully into submission, pinning it in place with a silver arrow tie pin.
“Thank you,” Harry murmurs. For the tie, yes, but he also means for everything else. For forgiving Harry, for coming back to the team. For the weeks—months, now—of commitment and perseverance. For opening up the world to Harry again.
Draco presses a kiss to his forehead. “Let’s go win this thing.”
The honour of hosting the final goes to Puddlemere, ahead on points for the season. Harry longs for the comfort of the battered Appleby stands as he looks around at the shiny away changing rooms, haunted a little by the memories of playing here so long ago. He’d thought he’d reached the pinnacle back then—everything he’d wanted to achieve in Quidditch. But now, looking at the faces of his extremely nervous team, he realises how wrong he’d been.
“We started this season barely able to form up in a pyramid without banging into one another. Look how far we’ve come,” Harry says, remembering those early days with a smile. Maxwell lets out a laugh and everyone relaxes a little.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with this whole team, you know,” Harry goes on. He glances over at Draco, propped up against a broom rack. “You and all,” he says, and Draco’s cheeks go a gratifying pink.
“We’ve worked so hard. We’ve literally done all that we can. So now I just want you to go out there and enjoy it.”
He lets Wood launch into a history of underdog victories in the League from the year 1927 on, until the match steward comes to tell them it’s time.
Harry had thought he’d be stressed out, but as the starting whistle blows he finds he’s just excited and happy. The packed stadium is roaring their support of both teams, and seeing the away fans proudly swinging their pale blue and silver Appleby flags and banners in among the sea of Puddlemere navy and gold is more than he could have imagined.
The first half is incredibly tightly paced. Puddlemere United are every inch the finely-tuned machine they were in the semi-final. Every player’s face is a mask of fierce concentration. Their hexes are sharp and precisely targeted, and the Chasers’ patterns are unbelievably quick and difficult to predict.
Wood seems to be facing the Puddlemere offence right at the hoops with a truly frightening frequency despite the Arrows’ best efforts. But Appleby don’t let them get away with anything. Darby’s formations on the improved brooms are rapid, and Iyer seems to be matching the Puddlemere Seeker catch for catch. The scoreline narrows, and widens, and narrows again. The crowd screams as if they’ve never seen anything like it. By half time, Puddlemere are ahead, 675 to 612.
In the second half, the Arrows leave absolutely everything they have on the pitch. Every play they’ve practised is executed flawlessly. Every combination sings through the air. There’s a moment where it seems like Puddlemere will pull off a game-ending catch of the Snitch, when out of nowhere Maxwell pulls off an extraordinary Maverick, vaulting over the heads of the Puddlemere Beaters and hexing their Seeker to the stunned delight of the crowd.
Every single one of Inkwell’s catches are clean, and Morgan and North send away more Bludgers than Harry can count. Wood is so fast in goal he’s a blur. The whole team is swift and unified and incredibly beautiful to watch.
Puddlemere wins by a mere thirty points.
Harry feels his eyes well. His chest is tight to bursting with pride, watching the team circle in to shake the hands of their opponents. Draco pulls him in close, pressing a kiss to his temple.
“They were bloody brilliant, weren’t they?”
Harry can only nod, because he feels too overwhelmed to speak. They really, really were.
He feels in a bit of a daze all through Orion Cribbe bumbling through his speech from the podium. Through watching Wood lift the runner-up plate high into the air. Through the roar of the home fans as the trophy is presented to the Puddlemere captain. It’s so hard to believe the season is over, and so too, the four hundred-year history of the Appleby Arrows.
Draco is the one who steers him through the jubilant crowds, a careful palm at his lower back. He fields the bulk of the questions at the press conference, and holds Harry’s hand unabashedly as they pose for photos. Draco somehow manages to find detailed words of praise for the team, when all Harry can do his hug each of them and smile wetly and ramble at them about how amazing they are.
The League afterparty is enormous: a tribute to the overwhelming success of the season. The dance floor is packed, and the crowd at the bar several rows deep. Ron and Hermione fight their way through the throngs and return with several bottles of champagne, and they’re both filled with praise and enthusiasm about the game and how well the Arrows played. Harry enjoys several glasses with them before they beg off, needing to relieve Molly from babysitting duty.
Harry’s had enough champagne that Luna has to explain to him twice that yes, he has told her what an incredible job she’s done. And no, he needn’t track down each of the Arrows individually to tell them the same again, because they’re having a lovely time at the party and they know how proud he is of them already.
“I’m really proud,” Harry insists again sincerely, and she gives him an indulgent smile.
Neville appears at his elbow to whisk Luna back to the dancefloor. Harry’s doing his best not to think about Monday morning and having to tell them all that they belong to Puddlemere now. Maybe they’ll even be pleased, he thinks, glancing around the fancy function room. It is a very nice stadium.
“To the victor, the spoils—eh, Potter?” he hears an unwelcome voice boom and turns around to find Archie Allsop sneering at him.
“Congratulations on your win,” Harry manages through gritted teeth, trying to remind himself that Draco would not want him to lose his cool.
“Pity things didn’t work out,” Allsop says, his voice dripping with false magnanimity. “But there’s still a contract in it for you. I’m sure our Under-Seventeens could learn a little something from your coaching methods.”
Harry hears the insult for exactly what it is. He takes a deep, steadying breath.
“I can’t think of anything worse than working for you, and I died once, so that’s saying something.”
Allsop looks shocked, but Harry just takes his bottle of champagne by the neck and stalks away before his temper boils over. He tries to see where Draco has gotten to, eventually spotting his blond hair against the far wall, and pushes through the crowd towards him.
As Harry approaches, he realises Draco’s engaged in a serious-looking conversation with Parkinson. She passes Draco a clutch of parchment, which he presses up against the wall to sign. Harry swallows heavily, his good mood draining out of him. Something to do with Draco’s new contract, Harry supposes. He wishes she could have waited at least a day. He puts down his bottle, suddenly uninterested in finishing it.
“There you are,” Draco calls out, noticing Harry with a pleased smile. He hands the roll of papers back to Parkinson and reaches for Harry, pulling him into a warm kiss. She makes a show of faux retching until they separate.
“You needn’t get one of those for me,” Harry says to Parkinson, waving at the papers in her hand. He hasn’t discussed this with Draco, but it won’t come as a surprise after last week’s run in with Allsop. “I won’t take a contract from Puddlemere. I can’t.”
Parkinson glances down in confusion for a second and then frowns at Draco.
“You haven’t told him?”
Just then they’re interrupted by a whooping holler from behind them and Harry finds himself pushed aside as old Jim Cranswick comes barreling towards Draco and wraps both his thin arms around his middle. Draco gives a startled but delighted laugh, patting the little man on the back.
“I didn’t think you had it in you, son. I’ll say that now it’s done.”
“It was a great game,” Harry agrees.
“Not the game, lad,” Cranswick laughs, stepping back and turning his attention to Draco again. “I don’t care what anyone has to say about that Mark on your arm—you’re a credit to the Arrows.”
Draco’s cheeks pink up at the compliment, which Harry finds very distracting.
Cranswick extends a hand for Parkinson to shake. “I understand we have you to thank for a lot of this, young lady.”
Parkinson arches one eyebrow as she takes his hand. “It was my absolute pleasure. I’m delighted we reached such a good outcome.”
Harry starts to feel a little confused, which is probably partly the champagne, but also the fact that none of the three of them seem to be talking about today’s defeat.
She gives Draco a stern glare over Cranswick’s shoulder, as she takes the old man’s elbow. “Now, Mr Cranswick, I have some merchandise designs I would simply love your input on.” She steers him away into the crowd.
“Merchandise?” Harry says, feeling even more muddled. “Why would we need new merchandise when…” He trails off and looks at Draco, who is wearing a slightly smug expression. “What’s going on?”
“Puddlemere don’t own the Arrows, Harry.”
Harry blinks up at him. Draco’s shed his suit jacket somewhere along the line and loosened his tie. Harry notices he’s changed out one of his earrings for a stud with a pale agate stone in the team’s signature blue. He’s just so fucking beautiful it makes it hard for Harry to concentrate.
“What are you talking about? They backed out? What does that mean?”
Draco shakes his head, but he’s still smiling, so Harry figures the news can’t be all bad. “The goblins got a better offer.”
“From the Appleby club. I’ve been working on it for most of the season. The Puddlemere offer was a terrible shock because it accelerated the whole timeline, but at least it also put a number on the table.”
Harry thinks back to Parkinson breaking the news to them both. The way Draco had immediately asked, How much?
“I don’t understand.” Harry’s mind reels as he tries to put the pieces together.
“It’s a syndicate. A handful of lifetime fans who couldn’t think of anything better to spend their Galleons on, and, well, I won a little on the last game.”
Harry’s mouth falls open. “Enough to buy a Quidditch club?! How much did you bet?”
Draco gives him a dismissive wave. “The odds were long. Besides, I am very much a minority owner. Jim Cranswick and his friends are the ones we couldn’t do it without. That, together with today’s prize money for coming second. It was enough to put us over the edge and surpass Puddlemere’s offer.”
“Jim Cranswick buys the cheapest season ticket we have for sale every year!”
“Jim Cranswick received Ministry compensation for his son’s death and he hasn’t found anything he thought it appropriate to spend on, until now.”
It’s too good to be true. The idea of the Arrows being owned by the Appleby community. Able to be exactly the kind of club they want to be, heading into a new season as a top tier team who’ll be able to attract sponsors and advertisers. Harry feels as overwhelmed as he had been at the final whistle, his throat tight and tears pricking hotly at his eyes.
“Is this for real?” he asks, too afraid to believe it.
“Done, signed, the Galleons transferred. That’s what I was just executing when you walked over.”
Harry launches himself at Draco, pressing him back against the wall and kissing his startled face. Draco laughs, wrapping his arms tightly around Harry and pulling him close.
“I can’t believe you did this,” Harry murmurs in wonder, pushing his fingers into Draco’s soft hair, and then tugging him in for another kiss. “You have to tell me everything.”
Draco nods, smiling. “We have a lot to discuss.”
Harry presses him against the wall again with his hips.
“On second thought, it can wait.”
When Harry arrives at the Appleby stadium on Monday morning, he doesn’t pay any attention to the Muggles waiting for the bus across the street, looking up instead at the soaring stands that now have a new lease on life. The winter weather is slowly starting to improve, and as he heads inside he finds Neville crouched by the door, using his broom-mending tools to fix the stuck frame.
“New owners,” he says with a broad grin. “Got to spruce the place up a bit.”
Harry gives a delighted laugh, stepping past him to go and put on the coffee.
He finds Oliver Wood waiting for him in his office.
“You’ve got the week off, Wood,” Harry chides gently, as he shrugs out of his jacket and hangs it up. “What are you doing here?”
“Handing in my resignation,” Oliver says with a smile. Harry figured this would be coming—they’d agreed on only two seasons. But still, after the final, a small part of him had hoped. He nods sadly.
“It was a magnificent season, Harry, More than I could have hoped for.”
“What will you do now?” Harry asks, unable to picture Wood being any better at retirement than he was two years ago.
“Headmistress McGonagall has asked me to come coach at Hogwarts. Seems there’s significant renewed interest in the game and they want someone who can teach the new rules to children safely.”
Harry feels a burst of pleasure in his chest at the idea that all is not lost with the next generation when it comes to Quidditch, after all.
“I don’t know what we’ll do without you,” he admits. “None of the others are quite ready to step up.”
Wood gives him a knowing smile. “I think the new owners will have some ideas about that.”
It hadn’t occurred to Harry how involved the syndicate might want to be, or how on earth they’re going to manage that, but he can’t bring himself to worry about it right now. Anything is better than the alternative.
When he’s farewelled Wood he heads out to the pitch to find Leila flying some complicated laps. He summons his broom and soars up to join her.
“I’m just stretching out a little before my Portkey home,” she calls. “Fly with me.”
And so Harry does, feeling that renewed sense of joy and optimism wrap around him as the wind rushes through his hair and his fingers grip the smooth wood of the broom. Leila claps and cheers as he manages three simple 360 degree turns in a row, and whistles wildly as he manages a Morris turn with magnificent precision.
“I’m going to miss you,” he says, as he pulls alongside her, reaching across the space between their brooms for a hug—something that would have been unthinkable to him only a couple of months ago.
“We will keep in touch,” she promises.
“I’m going to petition the League to change the rules next season. There’s no reason why this kind of kinesiological magic should be prohibited. You should be able to play here professionally if you ever want to.”
She gives him a wry grin. “Do you want to play again, Harry Potter?”
Harry shakes his head. “I don’t think so, no. Coaching is what makes me really happy. But I should be able to play, if I wanted to.”
Leila gives him a fierce nod and a smile, before swooping in to gather her things.
Harry decides to fly another couple of circuits while he has the stadium to himself. He circles the hoops and leans hard into a turn, diving towards the ground and feeling the ache and strain in his legs and arms as he pulls out of the manoeuvre safely and soars back into the air. It feels amazing.
He hears a wolf-whistle from somewhere below him and is pleased to see Draco flying up to join him. They’d spent the weekend celebrating extensively, dividing their time between the bed and the bathtub and working their way through a case of very expensive wine that Parkinson owled over with a card that read “Off to Florida—the Yankees are in Spring Training. Get married somewhere else, I don’t want to come back here again.” From Pansy Parkinson, it seemed like a moving farewell.
Draco flies up alongside him, lobbing and catching a training Snitch in one hand.
“I just ran into Wood.”
Harry nods. “We’re going to have to have to recruit a new Keeper.”
Draco keeps throwing the little gold ball up and snatching it out of the air. “The thing is,” he says tentatively, not looking directly at Harry. “Darby could easily move to Keeper.”
Harry rolls his eyes. Draco’s not wrong, Darby’s an excellent Keeper, but it doesn’t exactly solve their problem given Parkinson sacked all their development players at the start of the season. “Okay then,” he sighs. “We’re going to have to recruit a new Chaser.”
Draco levels a look at him as if he’s being a bit dense and waits for Harry to catch up. Harry’s not sure what he’s getting at, unless, oh…
Draco suddenly seems less confident, some of the swagger slipping out of his posture. “I’ve said to the syndicate that I’ll try out, properly I mean. I’ll audition with anyone you want to put me up against. You can find impartial selectors to make the decision. I want to earn the spot, I don’t want to—”
Three months ago Harry had to be careful not to turn too quickly or he risked plummeting from his broom. Now he just flies straight at Draco until they’re a tangled mess of sticks and limbs and he can kiss him squarely on the mouth.
“Oh captain, my captain,” he murmurs against Draco’s lips as he casts rapidly to regain his balance before they both fall out of the air, snatching the Snitch from Draco’s pleased grasp and setting it free.
“First to three?”
Draco’s smile is absolutely blinding. He pushes his hair back out of his eyes and bites his lower lip, giving Harry a hungry stare before taking off down the pitch so fast it’s as if he was never there at all.
Harry bobs gently on his broom, watching him streak away across the sky, and he realises however much has changed he’ll never want for more than this: the sound of a Quaffle whistling through the air, the glint of a Snitch bobbing just out of reach, and Draco Malfoy chasing after it—swift and sure at his side.