Actions

Work Header

Us, in Lieu

Work Text:

When Teddy was only eight he had something of a transformation and his left hand turned into a claw in the middle of the night. 

They hadn’t known, before, how the wolf would manifest. If the wolf would manifest, or when at all, and the hypotheses that floated around the household all seemed to insist on his thirteenth year as the year that he’d grow into it, or it into him, but really, really— they hadn’t known. 

Well, now we know, I suppose, was the only thing Bill had managed to say, his voice wrecked and thin in the St Mungo’s waiting room. He was too tall for the chair he was sat in, which made the whole thing look vaguely and horribly comical: a huge man in a tiny seat, holding his face in his big hands and probably thinking about his own children. His own girls. The things that he’d passed on to them, too. 

Teddy had been shaken, at first. For about a week he was very quiet and hesitant with everyone, but then, in the span of a night’s sleep and breakfast, seemed to forget about the incident altogether: was loud again, was a little strange again, hid under the table again and proclaimed he was a boat. 

Until the thing with the kneazle. Until Harry had to call Andromeda while she was visiting a friend because Teddy had been playing with the neighbour’s kneazle. Had been playing with it, and had then carried it to the kitchen, and had then attempted to shear its tail right off. 

“It’s just,” Teddy tried to explain, once the shock of it had died down. Once the commotion and the startled weeping at the adults’ reaction had settled. “It’s . . . I just thought . . .” 

“What, buddy?” Harry asked, soft, kneeling by his chair. They were in Harry’s kitchen. The scissors still lay on the counter. There was still a small, plucky heap of ginger fur in the sink. 

Teddy put his hands in front of his mouth and then whispered his answer, as though he could hold back what he said in this way. “Jojo’s too hairy,” he breathed, muffled to his fingers. 

They were all quiet for a moment. Then Harry looked up at Andromeda, said, “Jojo’s the cat.” 

“I gathered,” Andromeda said, and then took out a chair. Sat herself opposite her grandson. “Teddy,” she said, and took his hands from his mouth and held them for a moment, but he took them back. Made a face like a scowl. Held on to the edge of his seat instead. 

“Jojo’s not too hairy,” she said. “No one is.” 

“I know,” Teddy said, annoyed and sad. 

“My love,” she said, again. Softer this time. “Teddy. Let me tell you something. I—Listen. Are you listening?” 

He shrugged. He looked like he was about to cry again. 

“When I was your age, love, I wanted to cut off all my hair. I thought . . . One of my sisters had told me that if I’d cut it all off, it’d grow back all yellow and soft. Which is all I wanted. Hair like Cissy. Gosh, if only.” She sighed, putting on a show for him. 

“Your hair is white,” Teddy said. 

“Yes. But it used to be black. Black and curly and no one could ever comb it. Oh, I’d scream if they tried. Did I ever!” 

Teddy looked at her. The collar of his shirt had a stain from where he’d chewed and chewed on it when they’d first tried to get him to explain what’d happened. 

“And so, one day, when I was just a little older than you—the summer before I went to Hogwarts—I cut it off. All of it. I hoped it’d grow back beautiful, you see, right in time for school.” 

Teddy was kicking the heel of his shoe to the chair, nervous. He didn’t ask anything. Andromeda continued, “But it didn’t. If anything it grew back darker, thicker than before. And oh, my mother was so cross when she found me, Teddy. You won’t believe me if I told you how cross she was.” 

Harry put his hand to Teddy’s knee, briefly, to stop his nervous kicking. Teddy glanced at Harry, and Harry smiled soft, and Teddy slumped further into himself. 

“But she didn’t stay cross, you see,” Androma said into the quiet pause. She sounded something fierce trying to make itself softer. “And once I’d stopped crying, and once we’d cleaned the mess I’d made of the sink, she sat me down and she told me—Are you listening, Teddy?” 

Teddy shrugged again. 

“She said—she said: you cannot blame the ground for freezing. But what you can do, my love, is appreciate the flower growing through the season.” 

Andromeda had a way of speaking that made words feel like hard truths. A way of speaking that, at times, made Harry uncomfortable, made him want to reach for a smile or a joke to lighten the sentiment on her behalf. 

“Okay,” Teddy said. “I don’t know what that means.” 

“It means,” Andromeda said, then had to hold back a breath. “Oh, Teddy.” She held his face and kissed his forehead, and Harry looked down to the floor. 

“It means,” she repeated, while Harry stood up to get Teddy a glass of water. “It means that you’re perfect. That you’re absolutely perfect.” 

“Oh,” Teddy said, small and quiet and absolutely heartbreaking. “Okay.” 

Andromeda laughed: a single, wet chuckle. “All right,” she answered. 

“Okay,” Harry agreed with the both of them, and handed Teddy his drink.

When his and Hermione’s third funding application for the lab comes back in its original envelope—stuffed into a slightly larger envelope—with the words DENIED stamped across front, Harry proposes they join the Families for a season. 

The Families, he’d taken to calling them, mimicking Andromeda’s turn of phrase in referring to the small circle of old blood that had come out of the war bedraggled but richer than God. They were an eager club these days, had been for the past decade, with their charities and their balls and their seemingly endless petitions that were always printed in expansive fonts, pressed onto golden paper. 

Harry, as a rule, had never responded. He’d felt there to be something off about seeing the words War Orphan Fund glittering up from a parchment, flanked by two drawn cherubs, charmed to fly in loops around their own axis. 

“I’d sooner gag on a shoe, thanks,” is Hermione’s short answer to the idea, tired and annoyed and holding Hugo in her lap at the dinner table. 

“I’d rather you don’t,” says Ron, not looking up from his cooking, and Harry leans back in his chair. Scrubs his hands through his hair and then holds on, bundling it up in a bun. The baby is banging a toy onto the table and then stuffs it in his mouth. Hermione gently takes it out again. 

“What if I go with Andy?” Harry asks. 

“Andy?” is Ron’s response, a chortle, at the same time as Hermione’s, “Oh, good luck getting her as far as—”

And Harry tries to overrule them both with a, “Oh come on, she’d love it, it’s all gossip and drama there, you know she’d never pass up a good chance at—”

But then Rose runs into the room and insists on drawing a dragon on Harry’s arm with a sharpie. Harry obliges, offering himself as a canvas, and Rose doodles a nonsensical blur of lines all up his elbow. 

Wow, thank you, he says, and Rose says a lisping, Yes, and Hugo sicks up on the table and Ron’s spaghetti cooks over and the Wireless offers an upbeat Warbeck classic as a soundtrack to it all. 

Harry had done a season with the Families once before. It had been a very long time ago. It was before he knew himself for himself, before he knew anyone, really, before he knew what life was when it wasn’t war and what sleep felt like when you didn’t have to wake up every other hour to check whether the door was locked—whether the wards in still place. It was back when he wasn’t sure who’d died and who hadn’t, when they’d lost so many people the funerals were starting to blur together: speeches into speeches, wreaths into wreaths.  

One morning he woke up in the dark damp of Grimmauld place having dreamt Ron had died and was certain that was the reality he was living in, too. That was the day Shacklebolt had him accompany a small Ministry-appointed troop to a memorial event at the Fawley estate. It was something to do with Hogwarts, he’d been told. Something to do with the rebuilding of the west battlements. 

He’d been eighteen, that winter. The hall where the Fawleys entertained their party was large and high-ceilinged and crowded and hot. There was crystal everywhere—glasses, chandeliers, little tables with sweets that shook  in their bowls when people thundered by. The fires were stacked high in the hearths. Conversation was loud and it was impossible to hear any one person over the other. Most of the men wore wigs and were sweating from under them, leaning close to their conversation partners. 

Harry had sat himself on a corner sofa and blankly watched a gaunt-looking Draco Malfoy play the piano on the insistence of the hostess. He’d had his head shorn. The line of his hair was clear, like this: an arrow-point at his forehead, two curling whorls at the back of his neck. His eyes were sunken and bruised, bored, staring at some indeterminate point beyond the piano. His fingers flew over the keys without him paying them any attention. He was very talented, clearly so, and seemed bothered by this very fact. 

“How about some Bach, darling,” called Helen Fawley, holding a hand to the back of her hairdo. “A concerto, perhaps? Something in mineur! Kiss!” She blew the word at him rather than the kiss itself, over and across two chatting couples. 

Draco glanced at her and saw Harry by accident. He was slow to look away. He then closed his eyes and played the song. Sometimes he’d sway forward. 

Shacklebolt caught Harry’s eye from the other end of the room like he was worried. Harry closed his eyes, too. 

There was a speech, at some point. A few people got up on a dais and talked about Dumbledore. Someone then said, And our dear Harry Potter, of course, the one who— and then choked up, even though Harry hadn’t seen them before in his life. Everyone turned to look at him and he still wasn’t sure whether Ron had died or not. He murmured the names of those who’d died to himself, in order, surreptitiously counting them on his fingers by his thigh: Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Dobby, Moody, Remus, Tonks, Fred, Colin, Hannah, no not Hannah, not Hannah, Suzanne? Suzanne? Theo? Lavender. 

Will, Randall, Randall’s sister Lilah, Ron—Ron? Ron—

Narcissa was being held up by the courts, Shacklebolt told him that evening, over a generous helping of whisky. They were sitting in the thunderous silence of Grimmauld place. The Manor had been confiscated by the Ministry. The boy was not allowed to leave the country, was not allowed to live outside of supervision. And so he was staying with the Fawleys, for now. It had been the Attlee’s last month. It will probably be another family before the season’s end. 

“Is it because he’s a little shit?” Harry had asked, somewhat drunk and melancholy. “Is it because he’s a little shit and no one wants him?” 

Shacklebolt had smiled and said: “I believe it’s more of a bad name sort of ordeal, at the moment. Not a great association, these says. A Malfoy.” And then, a moment and a swirl of his whisky later, “Though perhaps he’s a little shit, too. What do I know.” 

*

Andromeda isn’t thrilled about the campaign but she doesn’t say no, either, and Andromeda has no issue saying no so Harry takes it as a good sign. They have tea in the conservatory and Teddy does an impromptu performance of all the small spells he’s learned on his practice wand: making a flower appear at the end of it; shooting out a shower of sparkles; making Harry’s cup hover a little above his hand. But then he brings it down too quickly and the cup slips from Harry’s grip and breaks on the hard tile. 

Teddy is horrified and ends up crying, which startles both the adults. Andromeda takes the shards to the kitchen and Harry laughs and hauls Teddy in for a hug and Teddy goes begrudgingly, face squashed sideways against Harry’s chest. 

His hair has gone a soft pink, embarrassed. Harry says, “You know what auntie Hermione says when Rose breaks something?” 

Teddy shrugs, sulking. 

“Mazel. Means luck. Means that sometimes it’s good luck for things to break.” 

Teddy gives him a look from under his brows. He’s ten, now, and is still soft and aching as a boy, tactile with adults. Wanting to be held, to be loved. But sometimes he sulks and looks and Harry thinks he can already see the turn in the distance, what he’ll be like as a teen. He hates the idea and tries not to think of it too often. 

“That makes like, no sense,” Teddy says, letting go of Harry, and Harry lets him go. Jostles him comically. 

“Sure it does, bud,” he says. “If nothing would ever break, we’d have too many things,” he emphasizes the word things, making a face. 

Teddy rolls his eyes but is smiling and looks less upset. He goes upstairs, later, and Andromeda worries over him, says in a low voice, “He’s too sensitive.” 

“He’s perfectly fine, Andy. It’s good that he cares.” And again, thoughtful, “It’s a good thing.” 

“His moods get worse at the end of a cycle.” 

Harry nods. Says, “Yeah. I know.” 

“Would the lab help with that?” she asks, taking a tin of leftover cake to the counter. “Would it look into that, too?” 

Harry waits a beat before answering. “Yeah, Andy. That’s the—Yes. It’d look into everything. Anything.” He gives her a small smile when she looks over. “That’d be the whole point, isn’t it?” 

“Right,” she says, smoothing a towel over the surface of the counter top. Folding it. Smoothing it out again. “All right, then. I’ll have to have my gowns readjusted, but all right. All right.” 

*

Then there was the charity at Selwyn’s. Most of it revolved around the hosts loudly and extensively denouncing their brother’s actions during the war, and emphasizing that surely this event greatly attested the goodness of their hearts. War is such a tedious affair, Harry heard them say upon passing, trying to get away from Shacklebolt and his fussy assistant, trying to find a quieter corner of the drawing room. Who would ever willingly participate, truly? 

Draco again sat at the piano and rattled off cheerful tunes upon request. Harry felt like he kept looking Harry’s way but each time he glanced Draco was looking at his own fingers, brows straight with a frown of concentration. 

Another speech was made. Several people wept silently. Another few wept less silently, and with somewhat more gusto. Harry counted his fingers against his thigh. Ron was alive but Fred wasn’t. Teddy was alive and was starting to walk. He called Andromeda Andy, usually twice in a row, Andy-Andy!, and he liked it when Harry picked him up and then pretended to drop him. 

The next event had been a winter-solstice wartime fundraiser at the Karsten’s. Draco had played a slow rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs while a crowd of sequined dress-robes stood around the piano, tipsily singing along. After that came the remembrance at the O’Dowds’, the tribute at the Collins’s, and a rather artless party at the Greengrasses’ where no one was even trying to pretend to have anything to do with the war anymore. 

But what of the orphans! Someone cried out halfway through the evening, drunk and giggling, and a crowd of people laughed. Harry was sitting by a ceiling-to-floor window, staring out at the snowy grounds, fingers tapping against his thigh. He felt nothing at the words, not even anger. He thought he might still be asleep. He thought he might not even be there at all. 

The piano music stopped, a short trailing-off. Harry looked around, vague, and saw the piano seat empty. Saw Draco weaving his way through the crowd.

Shacklebolt stood with his back to Harry, talking fast at the head of Magical Foreign Affairs, who was trying to pick a piece of something from between his teeth. Harry quietly stood, quietly waited for a passing ballgown to hide behind, and slinked into the crowd himself. 

The Greengrasses’ town house was grand and decked out for the season. With the door to the hall closed behind him everything was shadows and twinkling lights. There was a broad marble staircase with its balustrade wrapped in holly, little enchanted fairies playing in amongst the leaves. Harry’s footsteps sounded loudly as he went up, echoing. He welcomed the chill of the hallway, the quiet of it all. 

He found Draco three doors down on the first floor, in the library. The fire was crackling in the hearth, high and hot, and Draco was leaned against the mantle, head low. Harry thought he was maybe waiting for a firecall, but Draco didn’t move. He just stood there, held his hand to the fire. Stretched out his fingers like they ached. Like they were cold. 

He looked so small without his hair. So tall, too. It was starting to grow back. A short buzz of blond. 

Harry stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Draco cast him a look, slow and unsurprised, and Harry said, 

“Well at least everyone seems to be a great fan of your piano playing.” 

Draco swallowed, his throat moving in the firelight. His eyes moved over Harry, glinting. “Have you come spoiling for a fight?” He looked back into the fire. “Well you shan’t get it. I no longer engage in petty feuds. I’ve bored of them.” 

And he was right, of course. Harry was spoiling for a fight, felt oddly giddy with it, hands in his pockets and looking around at the library, at the ladders that led to the higher shelves. He said, “Is that what we have?” inspecting the wood of a stair. “A feud?” 

Draco turned his profile further away. He mumbled, “I haven’t time for this.” 

And Harry said, “No, I don’t imagine you do. Much more pressing things at hand, isn’t it? All the pretty ditties for Mrs. Greengrass, they would take up an awful lot of time, my greatest respect for all that you—”

“For crying out— would you leave it?” Draco turned to him sharply, said, “Aren’t we past this?” And, “Surely we’re past this. Surely it doesn’t even . . .” he trailed off, shrugged. His face was painfully familiar, suddenly, and it angered Harry even more. The fact he knew that face so well. The fact that Draco had ears, apparently, small blushing ears that stuck out slightly now his hair wasn’t tucked behind them. 

“How many homes has it been by now?” Harry picked up a book from a table, turned it over. Put it back down again. “Shipped around like that. Can’t be fun, is it?” 

“Potter,” Draco said, a hard statement. “You shan’t goad me. I’m not . . . I won’t . . .” He was watching Harry saunter closer. He leaned away, a minute, swaying motion. The fire sparked behind him. 

“Why not?” Harry asked. No one wanted to fight with him, these days. No one bickered, or pushed, or told him off for his sharp edges. No one seemed to have the energy. 

“D’you think you’ll get in trouble?” he added, was a few steps away now. He could feel the heat from the hearth, could see the shortness of Draco’s breath. “Will you get sent away again?” 

Last week Ron had given him a small machine with a button that glowed yellow when you pushed it, and would then chime and go blue when the person on the other end of the line pushed their button in reply. A way to say hello when they needed to say hello. 

Harry had spent the first night with the thing pushing his end of the button once every half hour, his heart going wild and his palms sweaty if the blue chime didn’t come through within a minute, indicating Ron had seen the hello. Had replied. He did this deep into the night. He fell asleep with the machine in hand and woke up with a mouth full of cotton. 

Ron said it was maybe not such a good idea after all. 

“What will you do then?” Harry asked, voice level, like he was genuinely interested. Said, “Not that many families with spare rooms left, is it?” like he wasn’t being awful. Like he wasn’t pushing for something, anything. Waiting for a response. He didn’t even know what kind. 

He stepped closer. 

Draco said, “Shut your mouth.” 

And Harry said,  “Or what? What’re you gonna do? Tell Mrs Greengrass? Tell Mrs Fawley? Write a sad little song about it, play it to them over luncheon like the good little—”

Neither of them had learned how to fight, not really. Not without wands, not like this. They’d gotten into the few odd fist fights at school but were always pulled apart quickly enough, dragged away from one another. There was no one to stop them, now. Here. Draco’s half-punch landed awkwardly into Harry’s shoulder and Harry shoved him, hard, and the fire grate wobbled. The hearth sparked. Draco tried to kick at him, and Harry jumped back, and then forward, landing a messy fist to Draco’s midriff, knocking a breath out of him. Draco’s response was a sort of slap, was to grab at Harry’s hair, and Harry squeezed at him, hard and painful so he’d let go but he didn’t, and they twisted around each other grunting and panting and Harry pushed Draco into a bookcase. 

“Let go,” Draco ground out, one arm twisted behind his back. His free hand was clutching at Harry’s hair, his grip a painful vice. It was tilting Harry’s face at an angle. He could feel Draco’s breath on his chin, could smell the sweat from their scuffle. From the fire, from the thrill. He was pressed close and wondered, idly, when he’d last been this close to a person: all their body touching all of his. The hugs he got were fleeting, momentary things. 

No one held him, these days. No one pressed up against him and stayed there. 

Last night he’d dreamt he hadn’t been able to get Draco out of the fire and woke up thinking he lived in a reality where Draco, too, had died. He could almost remember how it happened. He could almost see his face disappearing in the flames. In the dream, his hair had been shorn short, just like this. Just like now. 

Harry pulled against Draco’s grip on his hair and said, through clenched teeth, “I saved your life.”

As though that made them something. As though that made Draco something to him. 

Draco’s answering swallow sounded loud in the quiet around them. Harry loosened his grip on Draco’s wrist. Draco loosened his hold on Harry’s hair. And then they moved quickly, some sort of agreement: Draco’s now free hand coming up to Harry’s face, sliding into his hair, Harry’s arms wrapping around Draco’s waist and pulling in, leaning in. Draco held Harry’s cheek to his, moved like it was the drag of skin that he wanted. The scratch of stubble, their noses bumping. They were breathing into each other and Harry thought perhaps they’d both gone crazy, just then. Perhaps they were both still asleep, somewhere else, and this was another dream. Not as bad, not a nightmare. Just a dream. 

But then their lips brushed and Draco made a sound like pain and kissed him. And kissed him, and kissed him, and swayed into him, one hand slipping below the collar of his dress robes and down his back, clutching on to his shirt. He moaned, muffled, and Harry thought, Those are the sweetest lips I’ve ever kissed, full and slow and unrelenting. He sucked on them and Draco gasped, fell back into the shelves a little—pulled Harry with him, Harry’s body into him. Harry balanced himself with a hand to a shelf, the other low, lower on the small of Draco’s back, clenching and unclenching. Inching lower still. He let Draco make the kiss louder, wetter between them, Draco humming when he liked it. And he liked all of it. 

“Cor,” Draco breathed, mouth slipping off Harry’s, and Harry kissed his jaw instead. Bit at his neck. Draco keened, arching into the bow of his back, and the bottom of Harry’s stomach dropped out. Desire, this was. His head swam with it, couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt it, and everything went blurry and hot and heavy hands until Draco shoved at him. Sudden and hard, making him stumble away—drunken. 

He stood there, at an arm’s distance, swaying and panting, staring. Draco’s mouth was a swollen mess. His chin blazing red with stubble burn. 

Harry licked his lips. Draco came for him. Shoved at him again, and again, until he bumped against the back of a high armchair and couldn’t go any further. Then Draco held Harry’s face in his hands for a moment, pressed their foreheads together and bared his teeth and made a sound that wasn’t words but that still said you drive me mad and then he kissed Harry again. Once, twice on the mouth. Kissed his chin. Fell to his knees, pushed aside Harry’s robes, pressed his face to Harry’s groin. 

Harry sobbed a surprised, “Ah! ”, bucking, and Draco started on the mechanics of his belt. His flies. No one had ever done this for Harry. Ginny had only sat in his lap while they kissed. Once, in the shade of a tree out by the lake, she’d put her hand to his crotch over his trousers and rubbed, and rubbed. He’d almost come, then, but in the end had been too nervous about them being seen, about someone walking by. Spoilsport, was what she’d called him, smiling into his neck. He’d taken a while in catching his breath. Washed his face with the water from the lake. She’d laughed, sweet and teasing, blushing at his dramatics. 

Watching his cock slip into Draco Malfoy’s slack mouth felt like it took place in a different universe to that memory. The light from the fireplace jumped shadows over Draco’s face as he hollowed out his cheeks, lips tight over his teeth, meeting the circle of his hand at the base of Harry’s cock. It was easily the hottest thing Harry had ever seen, or felt, or had dared to imagine. He thought he might cry, but instead he just went silent. Mouth open, staring down. 

He’d never thought of how loud a blowjob would be. How wet the sounds, the sucking, the saliva. Draco had a rhythm going but Harry couldn’t keep to it, hips stuttering, overwhelmed. He tried to find purchase somehow, somewhere, but Draco’s shoulders were too far away, and so he just put his hands to the buzzed surface of Draco’s head. Felt the shape of it as it bobbed up and down, up and down. Draco moaned around him, glanced up. His eyes were all pupil, bright and heated. Harry thought, If this is what it’s like to fuck someone, and his eyes rolled back into his head. 

He thought, If this is what it’s like, the heat and soft and wet, and said, 

“Oh fuck, ah—Draco, ah—” 

And came. In the shock of it all the only coherent thoughts he had flitted back and forth between the continued and devastating existence of Draco’s mouth, and the knowledge that he’d never felt happier in his life. Everything else was horrible and he was not doing well at all but a pretty boy just made him come with his mouth and for a few floating seconds nothing else mattered in the least. 

Draco scrambled his way back up, out of breath and clinging on to Harry like he might fall over otherwise. His flies were undone, and Harry didn’t know when that had happened. Then Draco took Harry’s hand and shoved it down the front of his own pants. He held Harry’s hand in place, pressed tight and awkward against Draco’s leaking cock. He ground into Harry’s palm. It was wet and strange and the angle off, but Draco sobbed and moaned into Harry’s neck and said yes so many times the word itself became nonsensical.

Harry tried to tighten his grip. Held Draco in place with a hand to the globe of his bottom. 

“Yeah fuck me,” Draco gasped out at that, and Harry wasn’t fucking him, not even close, but saying the words did something to the air between them, made it thicker and slower and instead of saying yes or no Harry bit Draco’s earlobe into his mouth and sucked on it. Draco’s grip tightened over Harry’s knuckles, over the hand that wanked him, and that’s how he came—wet and hot into Harry’s palm, biting hard on the jut of Harry’s jaw. 

Draco didn’t let him move for a good while after. They were both catching their breaths. Draco said, “Stars and snakes,” quietly to himself, which Harry thought he’d never heard anyone say, ever. Eventually Draco let Harry take his hand out of his pants. Let him wipe it on a trouser leg. But he still leaned into Harry, head on his shoulder, breathing into his neck. 

It went on for a long time. Reality was edging along the margins, creeping back in. Harry fidgeted and Draco said, “No , just— Cor, just . . .” He took Harry’s arms and wrapped them around his own waist again. “Hold me. Like this. Like you did before. Like . . .” He pressed his eyes over Harry’s collarbone, the meat of his shoulder. His voice was muffled when he added, “Just for a little while. Just hold me.” 

He was warm and alive all down Harry’s front. He held Harry by the nape of his neck, under the fall of his hair, stroking. 

Harry kissed his cheek and immediately felt embarrassed for it. After everything, that’s what he blushed for. But Draco just closed in on him, a vice, arms tightening, not letting go. 

After Teddy’s first transformation, there was a half-year period where nothing happened at all. Nothing. And then when something did happen it was just his left foot.  Just that. Just his foot. They’d all stayed calm enough while taking him to St Mungo’s this time, trying not to make an all too big deal out of it, trying to crack jokes in the waiting room and say things like, Hey now you’ll outrun me everywhere, I won’t even stand a chance, but Teddy’s laugh was forced and thin and he cried quietly, sat between Hermione and Andromeda while waiting for the Healer. 

And then after the Healer did come, and after she spoke with Teddy in her office for quite a while, after samples had been taken and charms had been cast and potions had been given—after all of that, after all of that, the answer had still been: 

Truthfully? We just don’t know. 

What the fuck do you mean, was what Hermione had to say in response to that, shouting a whisper in the corner. You don’t know? What’s your job if not to know? What the fuck is your job if not to know? 

Ron gave her a wide-eyed look. She didn’t swear very often. 

And then a while after that Bill went to Australia and apparently jetlag was also a moon thing and so he transformed in the middle of the day, in the bathroom of a municipal building. He then had a baby and the stress and love and emotions of it all somehow made it so that he went through two cycles in one moon. Then none at all for three months. Once, while at the Ministry—arguing with someone from administration over the accessibility and dissemination of Wolfsbane—his fangs popped. It was early in the morning, a day of a waxing moon. It made his point for him, though. 

And then Teddy turned nine and grew a thick patch of hair down his belly and he locked himself in the bathroom. Bill was called in to calm him down but ended up having his own breakdown— Is this what her life’s gonna be like? Is this gonna be it for Vicky too?— and no one could tell him for sure.

“Well with all due respect,” was Hermione’s reaction to Harry’s tight-voiced speech, retelling what it’d been like to see Bill weep in Andromeda’s kitchen table. “To hell with that.” 

It had startled a chuckle out of him. Ron was gloomy next to her, rubbing her back. She, however, was on fire: that energy she got when decisions needed to be made, like she suddenly became the very hot centre of the room. 

“Research,” she said, looking up at Ron, now speaking only at him. Beseeching. “We need research. A lab. We need a team, experts, this needs to be—I can’t believe there isn’t—”

“Honey,” Ron said, quiet and private. Harry looked down at this, away, as he usually did when they got soft at each other. 

It had been the fifth day of Hannukah. They’d let Rose light the candles, earlier that evening, Hermione holding her chubby hand from behind. They were still burning low in their holders, left on the window pane. 

“Okay,” Ron told her, then. A whisper. Harry inspected a whorl in the wood of the table. 

“Okay,” she said back. 

“Okay,” said Harry, a little louder. Knocking on the table to underline it all. 

After that night at the Greengrass Manor, Harry told Shacklebolt he wouldn’t join in for any of the balls or charities or memorial services. He felt brave while declaring this—and bravado had always been his strong suit—but at the end of that day, alone in the clammy silence of his bedroom, he knew it hadn’t been bravery so much as he was frightened. He didn’t want to have to see Draco again. He wanted to desperately, too, and didn’t want it at all, and those two desires warred at a constant speed and scared him even more. 

It didn’t matter either way, in the end. It wouldn’t even be a fortnight before he saw Draco again: over Christmas, at Andromeda’s. Harry came by on the morning of the twenty-sixth, as per agreement, to have breakfast with the Lupins. He was tired and a little hungover from the night before, which made him maudlin to begin with. He was dusting snow off his coat in the hallway while Teddy pulled on his jeans, saying, Arryarryarryarry, demanding to be picked up. 

“Yes, yes,” Harry said, slow in hanging up his wear, then picked up the babe and made his way into the living room, Teddy sitting in the cradle of his arm, on his hip. 

Draco was standing by the Wireless, playing with the dials, looking for a station. He didn’t say hello, but Harry could see a furious blush up the back of his neck. 

In the kitchen, Andromeda herded Harry to the pantry where she asked him to help her look for a spice, and then whispered, “His mother wrote to me. Asked if he could stay here until she was let out.” Andromeda sounded small, hesitant in a way that was new to Harry. “I hadn’t heard from Cissa in . . . years. In years. I . . .” She shook her head, took a breath. “He was being carted around the Families. They kept bouncing him back and forth between them, like some unwanted pup. It’s best, like this. Until she . . . Yes. For now.” 

Harry nodded and nodded to her story, saying nothing in return. His mouth was dry. His heart in his throat. 

Draco stayed quiet over breakfast. He ate his crumpet with a knife and fork and kept patting his napkin to his mouth. Andromeda peppered Harry with questions. Teddy kept wanting Draco to feed him his pieces of fruit. Draco complied, docile enough, and it distracted Harry from what was being said, what he’d been asked. 

After breakfast, wanting to break the awkward silence, Andromeda happily exclaimed, “Oh, but my nephew is an excellent pianist. Perhaps you’d want to play us a piece, Draco?” 

And Draco looked up at Harry, eyes so grey, so light in the bright of the room—his lashes catching the winter’s sun coming in through the parlor windows. He was pale and his mouth was a pinched red, dry like he’d maybe been ill recently. Like he’d maybe been worrying it with his teeth. 

“I—” Harry started, offered Andromeda a smile. “I actually have a bit of a headache. Sorry, I’m sure. . .” he trailed off. 

Draco asked politely if he could show Harry something in his room. Andromeda said, of course, not asking what it was that Draco could possibly have brought with him that warranted showing. Draco lead him up the stairs, and Harry followed, heart wild in his ears. He’d barely been here an hour and he already felt sick with longing, with muddled desire. 

Draco’s room had a narrow bed with a turned-down quilt. It had a writing desk with a half-written letter. The curtains were neatly drawn. 

They stood in silence for a moment, not looking at each other. Harry wondered, frantically, whether there actually was something Draco wanted to show him, and so he said, “So what did you—?”

But then Draco crowded in on him and Harry fell still. His breath smelled like porridge and cinnamon and the sleeves of his jumper were wool, scratchy when Draco wound them around Harry’s neck, pressed him to the door. Kissed him. The room didn’t have a fireplace and was cold around them. The tip of Draco’s nose was a touch of ice to his cheek, and his mouth a hot contrast. Harry sighed into the kiss, into the roiling want of it, put his hands under Draco’s shirt and on the bare skin of his waist. 

Draco kissed him harder. Pulled away only to say, “Let’s do it on the bed.” 

Harry didn’t know what the doing would be, what it would be, but he knew the bed, and knew he was good with any of it, all of it. He nodded, dazed, and let Draco tug him where he wanted him to go: out of his shoes, take off his shirt, crawl under the quilt, shaking in the chill of the morning. Shaking, shaking. 

It was clear that neither of them had much of an idea of where to go, where to take this, and so at first they just moved together. Draco’s hands were everywhere: over his back, in his hair, touching his face. Harry couldn’t help the pitch of his breaths as he rutted into the cradle of Draco’s hips under him, the stuttering heat of it, thrilled at how hard Draco was, too. They kissed, messily, the bed creaking. They both still had their trousers on. Harry remembered how Draco had put his mouth on him and almost came again. He was frantic in pushing down enough of Draco’s trousers, his pants, then his own. Draco buried his face in Harry’s neck, muffling a quiet sound, pushing his wet cock up to slide along Harry’s. 

“Oh god,” Harry whispered, his mind flooding with it. He had one elbow on the mattress. One hand bruising on Draco’s hip. “Oh god.” 

Yes,” Draco gasped, and came, and dragged Harry right down with him, finding his mouth with a half kiss. 

Then Draco wanted to be held again. In the narrow bed he arranged them just so: on their sides, Harry behind him, comma’d together. He took Harry’s hand and pulled it to rest on his belly. Draco was shaking, lightly, and Harry put his forehead to the cropped back of Draco’s head. 

Somewhere outside, a pack of snow fell from a branch with a hollow thud. There was the flutter of a flock of birds taking flight all at once. 

Draco had a light pink birthmark in the soft dip on the back of his neck. It was the shape of a crooked heart. “You have a mark, here,” Harry whispered, and put the cold tip of his nose to it. 

Draco shuddered. It took him a long while to reply. When he did, it was so quiet Harry had a hard time hearing, close as he was. “When I was very young, my mother used to . . .” he began, paused. Fidgeted. “When I was cross with her she would put her hand to it and say, there, now I have got back into your heart and you shan’t be cross any longer.” 

Harry took his face away. Put his cheek to Draco’s shoulder instead. 

He lingered for the rest of that afternoon and played with Teddy and helped Andromeda prepare supper. Draco eventually did play the piano, and Harry couldn’t look away. 

“Ah,” said Andromeda, leaning against the doorway and drying her hands on a towel. “Debussy. La plus que lente.” Then, translating for Harry, “Slower than slow.” 

Harry nodded in thanks for the information and tried not to be too quick in looking back to Draco. To the movement of his long fingers over the keys. 

Harry got ready to leave after supper and while Andromeda was in the kitchen packing up the leftovers Draco huddled close to Harry in the hallway and put his scarf on for him and used it to pull him in and kiss him quick and sound on the mouth. Harry left for home with enough food for a week and a storm in his belly. 

He went back on the first day of the new year to give Draco his wand back. Andromeda put on the kettle and Harry sat with Teddy in his lap, asking him what things around the room were: what’s this? What’s this? And Teddy would say, Table, and, Horse, and only one of the two were correct, and Harry tickled him while he screeched and laughed. 

Draco sat in silence and turned his wand over in his hands, again and again. Transfixed. 

Up in his room after lunch he taught Harry how to put his fingers in him. How to work him open. Everything was wet and slippery and the lube got everywhere. They kissed throughout it all, shaky in their breaths, and then Draco turned over and shoved a pillow under his hips and told Harry to go on and then hissed when Harry did. He made him pause, made him wait before saying, All right, yes, all right. 

Harry was awed and silent and sweaty under the sheets. He was eighteen and for most of his life sex wasn’t a thing he’d thought he’d get to have and now he did, was, and Draco was flushed all over, under him—his face and neck and back and chest: all splotchy with colour. He was saying, “Oh my,” and, “Oh goodness,” and moaned softly. 

He was impossibly tight, all clenching heat. Harry put his face to the back of his neck and kissed it and bit it and came in under a minute. He was embarrassed about it, apologised in a babble, but Draco was too turned on to care, made Harry wank and finger him until he came, too, muffling a wide-mouthed shout into the pillow. 

Harry stayed for supper again, was quiet and distracted through the evening. He kept on thinking, I’ve had sex, and remembered the feel of it, how it smelled in the bedroom, after. It made him blush to have done it in Andromeda’s home, but apparently the feeling was not so bad that he couldn’t stay for a nightcap after dinner, then ask if he might’n’t stay the night, that it was so dark out already. 

Andromeda made up a guest room for him, next door to Draco’s. She gave him some clothes to sleep in. Said how lovely it was to have so many people about the house again. Teddy was thrilled Harry was staying and made him read him a bedtime story. Harry did, his mind elsewhere, distracted. 

He didn’t wait very long after the house had quieted to sneak into Draco’s room. Draco was hard in his pyjamas when Harry joined him under the sheets, all hands, and Harry laughed into his mouth, nervous. 

“Isn’t it weird to be doing this with your aunt next door?” Harry whispered, in between kisses, and Draco said, 

“Ugh, that’s the least weird thing about this all,” and pushed Harry’s sleep shirt up so that he could put his mouth to a Harry’s chest. Harry laughed again, breathless, then said, “Fuck,” and held Draco’s head where it was so that he would keep doing exactly what he was doing. 

They fucked again and this time Harry lasted much longer, slowing them down each time he was close. Draco started chanting his name in a whisper, Harry, Harry. He was on his back, legs wrapped around Harry’s waist, heels digging into his back. They were trying to be quiet but the bed’s creaking was impossible to hide, and Harry said, 

“Cast a silencing,” panting against his mouth, and Draco said, 

You do it,” and then, “Oh god, yeah, fuck, ah, Harry, ah—!” and in the end it was Harry who cast it, messily, using Draco’s wand, and for the last sprint of their coupling they fell apart, going hard and loud and graceless. 

“I never thought,” Draco said, after, facing Harry on the bed. Touching him, slow. His chest, his shoulders, his arms. “I never thought . . . it’d be you.” 

Harry’s hands couldn’t part with the muscle of Draco’s buttocks. He squeezed, let go. Squeezed again. “Be me what?” he asked. 

“That I’d . . . that I’d do these things with.” 

Harry couldn’t help the smiling. The breathy laughing that got Draco laughing, too. “Who’d you have in mind, then?” 

“Oh, an Italian, for sure. Handsome. We’d meet at a—a dinner, or, I’d be visiting mother’s friends in the south, where they have a summer home, and he’d be there, perhaps, a . . .” He trailed off for a moment when Harry’s fingers wandered, when Harry’s mouth found the dip of his throat. Draco’s heartbeat was there, right there, wild under his tongue. 

“Yes?” Harry murmured. 

“A . . . local . . . ah, villager. And he’d . . . mmm , he’d be a—a gardener, but so, ah, so impressed with my Italian, and he’d tell . . . fuck, Harry, y—”

“And he’d tell you what?” 

Draco didn’t answer. Writhed, eyes closed, mouth open, riding Harry’s fingers. 

Harry rolled them over, had Draco flat on his back. 

“And he’d tell you what?” 

Draco panted up at him, unfocused. Then focused, then smiling, leaning up for a kiss. Harry let him have one. 

“He’d be a poet, in secret,” Draco continued, private between them. “But he wouldn’t have told anyone, of course. But he’d tell me, because he’d feel like I might appreciate the art. And I would. And he’d find me, one day, when our hostess would be out. In my bedroom. To read me his poems, of course.” 

“Of course,” Harry said. They’d begun to move together again, small grinding movements. 

“And they’d be— ungh, they’d be good enough, the poems,” Draco whispered. “But not as beautiful as him. And I’d tell him as much. And then he’d, ah, he’d have me. Right there, on the bedroom floor.” 

“Right there?” Harry asked, lifting up a little. He wrapped Draco’s legs around him again. Took Draco’s wrists and put them up over his head, held them down into the pillow. 

Draco arched into it, a smile like bliss, and said, “Right there. On the floor.”

“I’ll show you poetry,” Harry said, and Draco laughed, and Harry muffled it with a kiss. 

He left reluctantly the next afternoon and spent a few days with his friends driving himself crazy thinking about Draco. He kept on wanting to bring him up. He did, once, in the way of, Did you know Malfoy’s staying with Andy? and everyone made a face and Ginny made a gagging sound and Neville said, I keep on forgetting she’s a Malfoy, and Ron corrected him with a, She’s a Black, and Neville said, Oh, right, and that was that. 

It wasn’t enough. 

Harry was sure, though, it was written all over him. The fact that he’d had sex, that he’d laid in bed with someone for hours, that he’d made someone laugh when naked. He was sure everything about him had to be different now, and that his friends would give in and ask soon—would say, All right out with it Harry, tells us, tell us who it is! 

But they didn’t. They went for hot toddies in the pub up in Ottery St Catchpole. Harry tried to imagine what it’d be like if Draco had joined them but couldn’t. He tried to remember what Draco was like at school, and how much Harry had hated him, but all that came to mind was how much he wanted to watch him do stuff back then, too. How he’d wanted him around, keep an eye on him. To know what he was doing. How he’d wanted to put his hands on him. 

Harry flushed into his drink, remembering a moment from the other night and how bold he’d been. How bold they’d both been with each other’s bodies. He went quiet in the chatter of the group, huddled in on his cup. 

He went back the next day with a flimsy excuse, something about having left his jumper in the bedroom, and he and Andromeda went looking and couldn’t find it. Oh well, he’d said, and stayed for lunch. Draco kept on looking at him and smiling something awful, a secret. Under the table he put his foot on top of Harry’s and kept it there. He was more animated, that day, and spoke at great length on how Warbeck was a hack and no good music had been written after the year of our lord 1921. Teddy tried to climb onto Draco’s back as he spoke and he let him, then continued his rant while giving the boy a piggy back ride around the room. 

Harry suggested they go for a walk in the snow. Andromeda said, Oh, wonderful idea!, and said they should take Teddy. Harry said they probably shouldn’t—he wanted to go up to see the cliffs, and it would be awfully dangerous. 

It took them a long time to get to the cliffs. First they got into a snow fight, rolled around in the cold, and then Draco complained he was too cold and Harry—who was always over heating, always ran too hot for his own skin—took off his jacket and wrapped it around Draco’s bony frame. They kissed up against a tree, warming charms lovely and dry around them. 

“Have you always been like this?” Harry asked him, body bowed into Draco’s, Draco’s back against the bark. He sounded wondrous. He supposed he was. 

Draco asked, “Like what?”, with a line of a frown under his widow’s peak. 

“Like this,” Harry said, and grinned at him. Let his eyes flicker down to his mouth, to all of him. 

“Yes.” Draco sounded annoyed and defiant. His hands were fists in Harry’s collar. “Have you?” 

“No.” Harry laughed a little, leaned in. Rested his forehead to Draco’s, nipped at the skin of his cheek. “I was angry,” he said. “Angrier.” 

Draco’s fingers slid into his hair again, found home in a grip. “Yeah,” he agreed, a moment later. “I suppose me too.”

“Are you angry now?” Harry asked, teasing, his thigh between Draco’s legs. 

“Ugh, Harry, not in the snow,” but he was laughing, wriggling, trying to get away with a screech when Harry put his cold hands under his jumper. 

When they did get to the cliffs, the wind was wild and whipping around them. Harry’s hair was longer than he’d ever let it get before, nearly to his shoulders, and it got in his face and in his mouth. The peaks of the rocks were snowy and the beach below white, but the sea was a deep grey with a fine mist obscuring the isles in the distance. The gales sounded like giants humming beyond the hills. 

Back at the house they were warming themselves by the big fire in the parlor when Draco leaned into him and said, voice low even though there was no one else in the room, 

“I need your help with something.” 

“Yeah,” Harry said. He felt stupidly excited to do something for him. 

“I’m trying to get back the Manor,” he said. “They don’t want me to have it. I need—I need someone to—to talk to someone, to get to—”

Harry leaned away from him. “What d’you want that place for?” 

Draco at him, and instantly the mood had shifted. “It’s my home,” he said, sharp. 

“It’s a house,” was Harry’s counter argument. “Where bad things happened. Why would you—?” 

“Bad things happen everywhere. At Hogwarts, all the time, and we all kept going back there, didn’t we?” He held Harry’s gaze for a moment, frowning, then turned to the fire. “It’s my home,” he added, again. “And I want it back.” 

He sounded so petty. So childish. Harry could only remember the sound of Hermione’s screams in the ballroom, in that moment. The chill of the basement. The smell of death and rotten magic. He wondered how much of Tom was still lingering in the shadows, in the broken floors. How could anyone want to go back there, he couldn’t imagine. 

“You should leave it,” he said, and held his fingers to the fire. “You’re better off finding somewhere new.” 

Draco said, “It’s my home,” teeth clenched, shoulders tight. 

“It’s a bad home,” Harry shot back. It was how he felt. He didn’t know how else to reply. 

Draco was up on his feet in a fussy shuffled. He seemed like he was going to walk away, but then didn’t: instead shoved at Harry, made him tumble back onto his elbows. He was flushed with anger, and while his mouth was pinched in a grimace his eyes were glossy. 

“You’re a—!” he started, stopped. Spit out: “An orphan.” 

Harry looked up at him. Licked his lips. He said, “Yeah.” 

Draco stormed off to his room, footsteps heavy on the stairs. Harry left not too long after that, still smarting from the fight, still red and angry with it—but sore beneath. He wanted to sit by himself for a moment. Be alone. Andromeda asked, 

“Is Draco not coming down to say goodbye?” 

Harry shook his head, wrapping his scarf around his neck. Said, “Dunno.” 

Andromeda looked at him as he put on his coat and didn’t say anything after that. She kissed him on the cheek right before he left, however: a rarity, usually reserved for birthdays and Christmas eves only. 

“Take care, my love,” she told him, and Harry, quite unsure why, suddenly couldn’t speak for the lump in his throat. He nodded in reply, one beat too long, and swallowed several times over. 

He stayed away for a week and then couldn’t quite recall why he was upset. Or rather: he remembered the words but not the feeling. Not the irritation or the quick words. All that was left was a tender spot and a nagging sense of missing, of having misplaced something. Several times an hour he’d have to shake away the memory of how it felt when Draco would put his face close to Harry’s, breathing against his cheek. 

But Draco was no longer with Andromeda when Harry arrived. Narcissa had been let go, had been given permission to come collect her son. Harry was still half in his coat when Andromeda told him, calling out the information from the parlor. 

Harry walked into the room, one sleeve in his coat, and asked, 

“But when will he be back?” 

Andromeda looked at him, slowing in righting a mess Teddy had made of the coffee table. “Harry,” she said. She sounded firm and worried. “He’s not coming back here. He’s with his mother.”  

“Right,” Harry said, a good two beats later. “Right,” he repeated, and stared, and the coat slipped off his shoulder. 

He wrote three letters, after that. The first two came back undelivered, unopened. The third had been opened, and across Harry’s short handwriting was written an answer in cursive green: 

Best to forget. 

And nothing else.  

Andromeda’s gowns come back washed and fitted and she’s still not happy with the hem stitching so she sends them back a fourth time. They miss the first two events of the season and Harry says, 

“Next time I’m dragging you with me and I don’t care if you’re dressed in a sackcloth and a tiara.” 

Teddy laughs exaggeratedly and loud and pretends to roll off the table chair and onto the floor with how hard he’s laughing. Andromeda gives him a tight-lipped look and says, 

“Threaten me again, Harry James Potter, and you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a boils hex, I tell you now.” 

She’s so serious and Teddy goes so quiet so suddenly that Harry can’t help but startle out a laugh, diffusing the tension, and soon Andromeda’s smiling too, and Teddy is making dinosaur noises from under the table. 

But the stitching on the gowns is now satisfactory, and Harry’s shot a soddy cleaning charm at his official robes, and so they are good to go: their first attendance, a private feast in early November in the Michaels’ recent addition of a conservatory.

Andromeda fusses and complains until the moment they get there, saying she hates that world, doesn’t know why she’s agreed to return to it, that the parties are stuffy and the conversation doll and the company in bad taste. And for all of her dramatics, she goes calm and smiling the moment they arrive, arm looped through Harry’s. 

“Uncle Bernhard!” she greets the first man they meet, a small curtsy, and he says, “Oh blimey, someone call the cook,” and he laughs and she laughs and wags her finger at him as though to say, I’ll get you later, and pulls Harry along to the next odd familiar. He has no idea who anyone is.

The ceilings are impossibly tall, all glass and metal structures. It’s hot in the conservatory. There’s palm and ficus trees potted along clever paths, reaching high. There’s pretty flowering things below them, ferns spilling over onto the cobbled lanes. There’s lights and benches and sparkling gowns everywhere; laughing witches disappearing around corners, champagne glasses, and the distant melody of someone playing the piano. 

He hadn’t even thought it and then he thinks it and then he can’t stop thinking it. It halts him, seizes up his body. He has to halt mid-step. 

“Harry?” Andromeda turns to him, realising he’s fallen behind. She was in conversation with an old school friend. 

He looks around him, somewhat bewildered. 

“Harry?” she repeats. “Is everything all right?” 

“Will . . .” he starts. Swallows. Still looks around. “Is your nephew here, do you think?” 

She’s silent for a moment, as though considering her answer. When she decides on a tone, however, it’s very light, like the topic is barely of importance. “Draco you mean? Oh, he might.” She walks back to him, takes his arm again. Says, “Will that be a problem, Harry?” 

“No,” he says, unfocused. “Of course not.” 

He expects to see Draco at every turn. By the hibiscus bush, drinking from a tall glass; by the puffing magenta bougainvillea, dwarfed by its flowers; by the cacti corner, perhaps, inspecting a prickly arm. He realises he doesn’t know who to expect, what Draco might look like now, a decade and then some years later. He keeps an eye out for blond, then wonders whether Draco has kept his hair short. Then keeps an eye out for that. He thinks he sees him a few times, but is wrong on every account. 

An hour or so later, Andromeda is still holding court. 

“Speaking of underappreciated skills,” she tells someone who Harry believes is another uncle of hers, though it might be that she addresses all old men with the same title. Uncle. “Did you know that Wolfsbane has some fascinating effects on other liquid-based lunar potions? Though research is scarce to come by, you know. What with the stigma around it, you know. It’s association. With . . .” She leans in and whispers, dramatically, “Lycanthropy.” 

“Oh my!” says the uncle, quivering under his moustache, and Harry looks away from the conversation, bored. 

He sees Astoria first, picking a glass from a passing floating tray. She looks lovely and striking and rather short, rather nervous to be there, speaking calmly to Draco but not looking at him. Next to her, Draco towers in all his height, tall and slim and with long hair that he twisted and plaited into half a crown. The rest of it tumbles over his shoulders, down his back. His silver robes pinch sharply at his waist. His mouth is still the same. His eyes are still the same. Greyer than Harry remembers. Quicker. 

He looks up and sees Harry. Pauses mid-sentence. Harry looks away, breathes. When he looks back Draco is walking their way. Harry is suddenly eleven again. Eleven and twelve and righteous, and then thirteen, on the quidditch pitch, holding Draco down. And then sixteen, unable to think of anyone else. And then eighteen, naked and under the sheets, consumed by him. Wanting to crawl into him, seeking out his mouth and his hands and his touch. 

He’d been Harry’s first. For the smallest of moments, never shared with anyone and safely locked away, he’d felt like Harry’s very beating heart: sprawled out beside him, breathing in tandem.  

“Andy,” Draco says, interrupting the conversation, voice low, and leans in to kiss his aunt: once on each cheek. 

“Darling,” Andromeda says, putting a brief hand to his arm. 

“Harry,” he says, turning, and does the same: leans down, tall as he is, to give Harry two kisses. One, two. His hair falls forward and he smells of thick cologne. He’s put something to his lips, something that has them shine, and the edge of Draco’s mouth momentarily sticks to the skin of Harry’s cheek. 

“Draco,” Harry says, and it comes out croaked. He swallows. 

Draco pulls away. He looks healthy. An attractive man. His skin is clear, pinked over his cheekbones. His eyes catch the lights dancing about the room. 

Harry thinks, I’ve touched him. 

“Oh I’ve meant to say—” says Andromeda. “Congratulations on the Manor.” 

The uncle has taken the pause in conversation to mumble his way away from the group. 

“Thank you. The renovations are well underway, we should open for public at—oh, what will it be? December at the latest, I’m sure. I will name the date once it is certain, naturally you shall be invited, dear aunt.” 

“Looking forward to it,” she says, and Harry cannot tell whether it’s genuine or not. 

Draco glances around, holds his hands behind his back. Says, “How’s my little cousin? Is he well? I’ve heard of the, ah . . .” The quickest look at Harry, a bare twitch of his eyes. “The undertaking.” 

“Have you, now?” She gives him a flat smile, and Harry holds his breath. But nothing happens, no further words, she only says: “He’s well, yes, quite so. Hogwarts, next year, we hope. And you, then, nephew? All well? Astoria?” 

“Yes, quite so, quite so. Astoria is in good health, yes. Yes.” He nods. “Yes.” 

“Excellent,” says Andromeda. 

“Yes,” says Draco, and then they’re quiet for a moment. Harry’s heart is in his throat. The rain patters on the glass dome of the solarium. Someone laughs loudly at a joke, then tries to hold it back when they’ve realised how it’s startled the room. 

“Well,” Draco says, and bends in a straight curtsy. He says, “Lovely to catch up. I shall see you all soon, I’m sure,” and leaves. 

After a few silent, heavy heartbeats, Andromeda puts a hand to Harry’s elbow and tells him, “You may breathe now, love.” 

And Harry, who’d indeed forgotten to breathe, inhales suddenly—exhales with a shudder. 

Andromeda keeps her arm on him for a while. 

They don’t run into Draco again, not like that. Harry is distracted for the rest of the night,not quite in his body. On edge. But when Andromeda declares that they’ve done all they could for this party, and that she’d like to be taken home now, thank you, Harry tells her yes and then tells her he would be right back—that he needs to use the restrooms first. 

Instead he walks nervous circles about the party until he finds him: in the parlor, a lazy drink in hand, inspecting the keys of the piano. He keeps his touch light—they don’t make a sound. Most everyone is in the conservatory. The room has been left behind large and empty. 

“You needn’t worry,” Draco says, glancing up, wry with humour. “I won’t bore you with my playing, this time.” 

Harry is stood at a short distance. His collar is done up starched and high, buttoned against his throat. He moves his neck and says nothing. Looks. He opens his mouth on a breath, but there’s nothing to say. 

“Well?” says Draco. He takes a sip of his drink. 

Harry licks his lips. He doesn’t know. 

“No? Nothing?” 

Harry makes as though to move but then doesn’t. He’s rooted to the spot. 

Draco closes the piano and says, “Right, lovely,” and leaves, all long legs and clipped steps. His hair brushes his back, sways. 

Back at Andromeda’s, Harry sits by a sleeping Teddy on the couch, the boy’s feet in his lap. He’s unbuttoned his collar and then down to his chest, feeling suffocated, feeling overheated. He sits with his head tilted back, one hand over his face. 

“Well,” says Andromeda, walking into the room. She taps the bottom of a whiskey glass to his shoulder. He takes it from her. “We didn’t account for that, did we?” 

“There’s nothing to account for,” Harry says, quiet and gruff. 

“No, you’re right, you’re doing splendidly.” 

He downs the drink. Tells her, “It was just a shock. It’s been—a while.” 

“Yes,” she says, takes a breath to say something, then changes tracks. Repeats, “Yes,” and then they sit in silence. Teddy sleeps, sweaty at his nape, a fraying quilt weighting him down. 

He found Ginny again the summer of his twenty-first birthday. It had been warm and he’d felt good and she was all life, all jokes, and suddenly they remembered their banter. Their sarcasm bounced off each other, caught onlookers by accident, had people going, 

Wait are you—wait, are you kidding? You’re kidding, right? 

And had Harry going, No, and Ginny going, Yes, both at once, both straight-faced. 

That night Ron said, Ugh I’d forgot what you two were like when you’re in that mood, and it hearing you two and feeling Ginny’s arm warm against his made him flush with pride and love. Ginny put her arm around him. Bought him drinks. To the birthday boy! she cheered, and then took his shot from his hand. Me , she said. I’m the birthday boy. 

They got back together that night, drunk and messy and hilarious. Nothing about it was hushed or heavy or so thick that he couldn’t breathe. The only shadow that crept in was when Ginny got him out of his pants and then said, Wait wait wait, have you—have you—? And he nodded and fumbled and she said, Oh good for you, good for me, okay, okay, c’mon, c’mon, c’m—

Harry was better. They were better. Every time he wanted to check the lock for a second time she’d take him by the wrist and lead him to somewhere in the house and he’d ask, Why are we here? And she’d say, I’m sure we’ll come up with a reason, and then make them stare out the window. 

The news of Narcissa’s death came by way of Luna, not Andromeda. None of them knew what to do about the fact that Andy hadn’t mentioned it. Harry didn’t ask questions, and offered to have Teddy stay with him for a week, and she agreed, stiffly, and then he pretended not to hear her cry in the other room. 

For that week, reading to Teddy before bed, falling asleep with him in his narrow kid’s bed, Harry felt his heart to be several sizes smaller than usual. It ached, and didn’t seem right, and every day he thought of how the last thing Draco had called him was an orphan. 

The Ron dreams stopped. Ginny accidentally called him George once, when telling him to stop drumming on the pans, and they both went quiet, and then that never happened again. They got engaged the same month Ron and Hermione got engaged and then didn’t get married the same month Ron and Hermione got married. Or that year, or the year after, and sometimes someone they didn’t see very often would jokingly ask if there was any progress on the nuptials and Harry would say, 

Ah yes they’re marinating at the moment. 

But in the privacy of their apartment he wasn’t so funny about it. He’d be gentle about it, for the most part, or perhaps a bit sharp at times, but Ginny on her turn was brilliant at shifting topics and even better at saying things like, 

Oh but can’t we wait until we know for sure Charlie’s in the country when we do? While opening and closing cupboard doors, and, 

He’s just signed for the half year project in Belize, you know how he falls off the face of the earth when there’s a new—damn it, Harry, where’s that goddamned blue mug? Did I leave it in the bedroom? Is it in the—could you—could you check if it’s—?

They’d been engaged for four years when they had the fight. The one where Harry wouldn’t back down and she kept on trying to make a joke out of it, and then when she couldn’t do that anymore, she went blank-faced and morose and Harry got so angry that he left the apartment. For two days he slept in Andy’s spare room, the one Draco had once stayed in, a small century ago. 

And then Ginny came for him and they sat in the garden and she said, 

You have to be patient with me, Harry. I need you to be patient with me. 

And Harry was. They moved out of their apartment and into a house in sleepy village nestled in the valley between Godric’s Hollow and Ottery St. Catchpole. Ron had a low-voiced conversation with him a few days after they’d moved in, surrounded by boxes and cans of paint, asking him if this was really what he wanted and Harry couldn’t be adamant enough, couldn’t put it into words how this was exactly what he wanted. This is just the start, he’d thought at the time. Just the tip of the iceberg. 

He was so ready for a home. A home, their home. Any home, at this point. Somewhere where the familiarity could sink into his bones. 

Ginny’s training was tough and tiring for the both of them. It was long hours and long distance and all of it making them tetchy in the fact that they missed each other and felt hurt in it, in the resentment that then festered. Harry suggested they talk about it more. They did. Harry suggested they plan in dates. They did. Harry grew his hair out past his shoulders. Harry developed a small crush on one of his new colleagues, the sharp one, and went out for drinks with him one evening and was found himself tipsy in the bathroom, afraid he might do something stupid. Like kiss the man. 

He didn’t. He told Ginny about it. Ginny went for a very long furious walk and came back and they had an honest conversation, a god-honest conversation, one that more or less ended with Harry saying he felt like he was waiting for something but he didn’t know what. He said, 

I’ve chosen, Gin. I’ve chosen you. Us. A long time ago. And I feel . . . like, I feel like I’m still waiting for you to choose. And I don’t know how to wait any longer. I don’t—I don’t know how—

They were in their kitchen. Their teal-tiled kitchen with the giant cauldron in the hearth and the fridge that hummed until you kicked it and the ancient oak table that Harry had taken from Grimmauld. If you crawled under it and laid on your back you could find Sirius’ name scratched, Regulus’ next to it. And someone called Hilius, and in some corner a Paulus, and then Bella, and Cissi, and bizarrely, a Ginny, too. 

Draco Malfoy’s and Astoria Greengrass’ engagement was a small little square of an announcement in the Daily, no date forthcoming but the many well wishes from both families to the happy couple. 

Harry hadn’t known Draco was back in the country. Last he’d heard it had been of Narcissa’s death. They’d lived in Switzerland. He always imagined a house in the Alps, right on the Italian border. Draco in a heavily knitted jumper, out on the porch, holding on to a cup of coffee. Breathing clouds into the cold air. His Italian lover beckoning him back inside for breakfast. 

Ginny left and then came back for one night and then left for good. And Harry— 

Harry had a house. Harry had a house and a godson and a pregnant best friend. The drain in the shower needed unclogging to and the crack in the back wall of the pantry needed some looking after. Teddy wasn’t always doing well and Bill would often come by to talk, just talk, and Hermione had some cramps in her third trimester that had them worried but in the end it was all fine. 

The Wireless stayed off on days that the Holyhead Harpies were playing. Harry went on a date Dean had set him up on and it made him feel awful, just awful. He couldn’t recall being fun with people. He couldn’t remember having things to say. He just wanted to go home. He didn’t even want the food, he just wanted to go home. 

He realised then, in a wild flurry of emotions, that he didn’t know where home was. That his house sat like a toothache in his mind. A stand-in for something he didn’t have. 

His date said, Not a fan of onions? , when she saw he’d pushed the onions to the side of his plate. She said it in a nice way. Like she’d run out of things to ask him way. 

He said, Excuse me , and went outside only to come back and fake an emergency. So sorry, my friend just went into labour, I have to—I just have to—

He scoured the papers for a mention of the wedding. He asked Andy, but Andy would just say, Oh, I haven’t been kept informed, I’m sure, in that vague way of hers, and Teddy picked up on the words and the tension like the smart little kid that he was and asked, 

“Who’s getting married?”

And Andromeda said, “Your cousin Draco.” 

And Teddy said, “I have a cousin? Is he my age? Why’s he getting married? Do I need to get married?”

“No no no no,” Harry said to that. Laughed, passed the jam across the table. “He’s—he’s my age, Ted. I—We used to go to school together.” 

And Teddy accepted the jam. Asked, “Does he have kids my age then?” 

“No,” said Andromeda, a hard line of a word. 

“No,” said Harry, just a little softer in tone. 

There’s a ball at the Greengrasses and Harry doesn’t think he can go. 

“What’s this nonsense?” Andromeda asks him, putting in her earrings. She’s looking at him through the mirror. He’s sitting at her writing desk, in her bedroom. 

He scrubs his nails through his hair, shaking it out. “I just don’t—I just don’t know if I can—” 

“You’re being dramatic about things that needn’t be dramatic at all,” she says, turns to him, head still cocked for her other earring. “It’s been ten years.” 

Harry grumbles, “I know how long it’s been.” He collects his hair in a tail and twists it and rolls it up in a bun. Ties it. Teddy slides into the room on his socks, in his pyjamas but with a cape and top hat on. 

“Pick a card!” he roars at Harry, and holds out a messily spread out deck. “Any card!” 

They go to the Greengrasses’ ball. Harry thinks he wouldn’t remember what the town house looked like but he catches one glimpse of the large marble staircase and the wreaths around the balustrade and he remembers. He remembers all of it. 

It’s less like a gathering and more like an actual ball this time around. The guests are received in the parlor and then guided through to a larger room where the chairs have been pushed to the side and the floor has been opened up for dancing. The band plays on a small balcony above it all. Candles float over everyone’s heads, and it all looks rather like school for a moment, like the Great Hall in fourth year.

Andromeda demands a dance and Harry says, Oh, no, not me. She insists, however, but changes her mind about one painful minute into a graceless waltz and Harry is excused. 

“But don’t mope!” she tells him. “And find, you know. People to talk to. Remember what we’re here for.” 

“Of course,” he nods, already walking off the dance floor. Eager to leave it. Eager to leave the hall. He doesn’t particularly want to see the moment Draco might appear, might have his fiancée on his arm. Might ask her for a dance and act coy about it, and she’d laugh and take his hand and—

He feels foolish and impossibly young again. Jealous and sad over things that have nothing to do with him. Things he has no say over, that don’t touch him, that aren’t a reflection on him and his life in the least. He remembers being jealous of Ron and his family, sometimes. He’s still jealous of him and Hermione, of the unit they’ve made, and incredulous as to why he hasn’t been able to do the same. Hadn’t he followed the same steps? Made the same decisions? Sang the same songs? 

He wanders through rooms and catches snatches of conversations and picks flutes of champagne from by-passing trays and drains them. He wonders how Draco found his love in the end. Whether it was a coincidence, friends reconnecting after years of superficial contact—of letters back and forth. Did Astoria receive a letter out of the blue one afternoon, asking her for recommendations for eateries in the vicinity of Lake Geneva? Did she reply with a list of places and a witty remark? There would have been a witty remark there, for sure. Draco would put a grave deal of importance on wit. 

And in response to that thought Harry tells himself, sour and leaning toward maudlin, We’d have never worked. 

He passes through the dance hall again and feels woozy. He sees Andromeda, fanning herself after the end of a dance, laughing with a woman he doesn’t know. No Draco, no Astoria Greengrass. 

He walks out again. Puts his hand to a doorpost, the marble of a mantelpiece. Has Astoria helped Draco in getting back the Manor, he wonders. Was how they’d fallen in love? 

Harry puts his hand in his pocket and finds fluff. He wonders if the couple has been living here, with Astoria’s parents, waiting for the Manor’s renovation; if they’d made a home of this place, if they’ve kissed in these rooms, against these walls. Had each other on these floors. 

His mind brushes the question and images come to him and he realises he’s rather drunk. He thinks about going home and then quite quickly finds Draco in the parlor. He’s sitting by the piano, as seems to be his centre of gravity. Its lid is closed and he’s writing something on a piece of paper, a long cigarette held in between two knuckles. He then puts the cigarette in his mouth, glances around, gives the note to a passing young man in a smart tux and says around the cigarette, “Here, now, give this to Benny, will you? Tell her it’s all fine, all fixed, yes? And don’t let her fuss over it! I won’t have her fuss!” 

The young man looks at the note, then up. Nods, a little confused, and goes to find someone to give the message to. 

Draco, quite unlike Harry, seems to be in jovial sort of mood, loud and upbeat. He spots Harry and calls out, “Oh, it’s Harry Potter!” like he’s perhaps being mean about it, though there’s no saying for sure. His hair is done up in a tight ponytail, this time, tied together with a black ribbon. It makes him look roguish, young.  He takes a drag of his cigarette, beckons Harry over with it, continues, “Come, Harry Potter, I shall play you a tune. What tune is good for you, do you think?” He opens the piano, runs a ladder, searching for inspiration. He starts up a tune. It slows and rambles. “Chopin, I have chosen for you,” he says over the music, grandly leaning back. His ponytail swings between his shoulder blades.

“A waltz!” he says, grinning, all tooth now. His cheeks have lines where he smiles, now. Somehow he manages to hold on to his cigarette between his knuckles, one hand taking over the task of the other as he puts it back between his lips. “In A-Flat Major, my friend, for you are a major flat. Opus sixty-nine! Ha!” His fingers chase each other over the keys, a babbling sound. “Also known as L’Adieu.” He explains, “The Goodbye.” 

Harry puts his half drunk glass down on a table. He raises his voice over the music, says, “I meant—I meant to say. The other time, I meant to say . . .” He puts his hand to the lacquered wood of the piano. Feels the vibrations. “Congratulations. On your engagement.” 

Draco puffs out out a smoke-filled laugh, races his hands back to a lower register. “Why thank you,” he says. “Which engagement are you referring to, if I might ask? I have many engagements, you see. Breakfast, lunch. The bank.” 

Harry isn’t sure what game is being played with him, or what mood this is. He fears he’s being made fun of. He’s not sure he cares. “In marriage,” he clarifies. “To Astoria Greengrass.” 

“Stars and snakes , that old thing? We called that one off ages ago, and we’re marvelously good friends now and oh, how long has it been? Since we called the sham to an end, Astoria, ‘ Tia !” He calls out around the cigarette, still playing, looking around him for answer. “Ah, never there when you need her! Ah well! Off! It is off!” He switches from a waltz to a funny ditty, sings along to his playing: “Off, off, the wedding is off!” 

The smoke smells like vanilla. Draco takes it out of his mouth again, playing one-handed for a moment, and Harry says, rattled, 

“I’m sorry to hear.” 

“Oh, posh,” Draco waves it away, and in an instant his whiles turn sour and he plays something that sounds like someone’s falling down some stairs and then he says, “Ach, blast this,” and closes the piano with a bang. The instrument reverberates with it still when he reaches for his glass of whiskey, says around a drink, “So anyway how’s married life treating you? Are you utterly blissful? Each day is a daze of happiness?” He gestures with his cigarette, mocking. He turns to Harry on the piano stool. Eyebrow cocked like a challenge. 

“I—” The champagne has left a dry taste in his mouth. He flits between expressions, startled by the question. “I’m not married? If you mean—? Ginny?” 

Draco’s other brow lifts to join the other. 

“Ginny’s left. Two years ago.” 

Draco’s chin goes down. Then he clucks his tongue, annoyed, turns further in his seat to lean back against the piano and accounts to the world, “Oh, my aunt is a—oh! I knew, I knew she was—Oh, all her little evasive: I’m sure I don’t know, when I—” He glances at Harry, mid-sentence, amends a thought with a, “The one time I’d asked about it, mind, of course I didn’t . . . It hasn’t occupied my mind, or, well. All the same.” He downs all of his drink, makes a face swallowing. His voice is still rough with it when he adds, “I’m sure you’ll get her back, Harry Potter. What is it they say? Fail and try again, or . . . get up and . . .” he trails off, dismissing himself with a wave of smoke. 

He takes a drag. 

Harry says, “I don’t want to get her back.” And, “Why did you and Astoria . . .? Why didn’t you—?”

Draco’s eyes are very bright on him. He is, truly, devastatingly handsome. Harry holds his gaze, thinking that he might be drunk but also would probably drop to his knees at the slightest command. He wants to declare things, stupid things. He has no regulation on this. His love is always either set to too quiet or dialed up so high he can hardly breathe. There’d never been an in between. 

And they haven’t even spoken in years. 

Draco looks away, down, uncharacteristically abashed. He smiles as though to himself, a thumb to the lip of his glass. He answers, “Surely you needn’t a reminder,” and licks his lips, not looking up. 

Someone calls him from across the room. Information is relayed in a bit of a panic, something about Benny and a fur coat. Draco folds himself to his feet, long and lithe. He holds out the empty glass for Harry to take. 

Harry takes it. 

Draco puts out his cigarette in the shallow pool of liquid, then pushes his robes back to put his hands in his trouser pockets and wanders away toward the commotion. 

Harry looks down at the glass. He puts a finger to the lip, to the oily print of Draco’s mouth. 

Best to forget, had been Draco’s only response to his letters, and Harry had folded the parchment so small it was a little paper square the size of his thumbnail. He put it in an envelope with some photographs and addresses and a pin and put the envelope in a box and the box in a vanishing drawer of a cabinet. 

It is there, still. On the second floor study, between the bookshelves. Harry knows its presence in his house. He feels it like a pinprick throughout each day. 

The day after Draco’d left Andromeda’s he couldn’t get himself warm enough to sleep. He took a shower and put on socks and two jumpers, and found an old duvet and shook the moths out of it and piled it on top of the sheets and still he couldn’t keep the warmth. It leaked out of him. Out of his toes and then climbing up, his legs, his body. He shook under the blankets for an hour and then cast a warming spell.  

It held for a while and then began to leak, too. Slipped off of him in the night. 

Two weeks after Draco had left, after Harry went back for him and found him gone, Harry had a moment of intense clarity where he’d realised he’d slept with possibly the worst person he knew and seemed to be inconsolable over the fact that he’d gone. He got angry with himself, then. It should’ve been Ginny, he told himself. It should’ve been anyone. He suddenly had no idea how it had happened, any of it, and in trying to reconstruct the course of events he ended up confused and blurry—the library? The piano? Which house had it been, whose library, whose piano? 

Whose rug when Harry had pressed himself back against an armchair and Draco, sweetly on his knees, bobbed his head to take him deeper? 

He wanted to tell Ron and Hermione in the hope that it would lessen the guilt but couldn’t. He sat with them at the cafe and Ron was describing how his dad was repairing a new car and how the carburetor nearly exploded and Harry cut in with a frantic—

“Actually I wanted to—”

And stopped. And swallowed as Ron looked at him, expectant, hands paused in his mimic of an explosion. 

“You wanted to?” Hermione urged, and Harry took a breath. Exhaled. Shook his head, again and again, and went quiet for the rest of the date.  

A year after it all happened it got hard to remember if Draco had existed at all. 

For all of school Draco had been there, right on the periphery, making faces and spitting venom and putting his hands on Harry. The summers were an interlude, winter holidays a reprieve in which to scheme, and even through the war he’d woven in and out of the story of it all: bad side, good side, skirting death. Near. 

And then everything was quiet and they’d snagged on each other and kissed and then slept together. He got to see Draco naked. He got to see how those ribs pressed up against his skin, thin scars stretched taught across his chest, spiderwebs. Hold me, Draco would say after each time, petulant, and wriggle and arrange the two of them how he wanted them to be. 

And Harry would hold him, tight, occasionally restless: his hands moving, travelling, the parchment sound of dry palms to bare skin. There had a time he’d desperately wanted to hurt this boy. Had he known, back then, how easy it would’ve been? How tender the flesh of Draco’s body, how easily bruised? How soft he got and how quickly hurt at the smallest words, at a hint of reproach.

In the years after Draco had left and disappeared into the world and Andromeda refused to say a single word about it Harry wondered whether he’d dreamt it all up. A hallucination brought on by the war and the hunger and the sleepless nights. 

“I saw Draco a few times,” he told Luna, once, at the end of a long dinner. She’d followed Neville’s cat into the kitchen and he’d followed her. 

She’d replied with a distracted, “Oh?” She was kneeling, petting the cat, and it walked in figure eights under her hand, butting its head up, enjoying the attention.

“When he was staying with Andromeda last year,” he said, if only to see if she could confirm the fact. If anyone else had remembered. 

“How’d he seem?” 

“Wordy,” was Harry’s answer, trying to make light of it. And then, a quiet beat later, “Lonely.” 

“Yeah,” Luna had said, nodding, hand a loose circle around the cat’s tail. “Sounds like him.” 

He follows Draco around at a respectable distance. He follows him to the other room, then to the dance floor, then watches him dance with a few small, older ladies and also Andromeda. He laughs and claps at the end of each song. He accepts drinks with an air of, Oh don’t mind if I do! He dabs a napkin to his sweaty upper lip. 

He looks at Harry and then looks at all of him, gaze moving, his ponytail draped over one shoulder. Someone, a tall young man, walks toward Draco with great purpose and leans in to inform him of something. He has a hand on Draco’s shoulder and the other hand gestures, explaining. 

Draco drags his gaze away and nods, rolls his eyes. He leaves the conversation mid-sentence, by the looks of it, digs into his pocket for his cigarette box as he goes. Fishes one out, lights it, leaves the room in a trail of smoke and vanilla. 

Harry finds him ten minutes later, alone in the library. The room is still the same. The fires still banked high. The ladders are rolled to other ends of the shelves, and perhaps one sofa has been pushed from the one angle to the other, but beside that it’s as though everything has been preserved: the floor, the chill, Draco’s silhouette as he’s stood by the fire. 

He’s paging through a book. His cigarette is burning out. 

Harry softly closes the door behind him. Draco throws the last of the smoke into the hearth and closes the book, runs a hand over its cover. He says, “Not a moment of peace,” and glances over his shoulder, eyes low. “Oh,” he says when he sees it’s Harry. Then, 

“Needed a reminder after all?” 

“I—” Harry tries, but his voice comes out warped and strange, far too low by half. “I haven’t forgot,” he says, takes a step into the room, stops. 

Draco makes a sound like humour. It comes out flat. He says, “What a privilege that would be. To forget.” He puts the book on the mantelpiece and turns around. He’s left his formal robes over the back of an arm chair, stands there only in his wingtip collar dress shirt, only the top button undone. 

He was once small and scrawny, in that very room. On that very spot. Shaky like a shorn lamb in spring, startled at the chill of the world around him. 

Now, with his wet mouth gleaming in the firelight, his broad shoulders taking up the room like a horizon, there is nothing startled about him. Even Harry’s gaze on him is met with expectation. With calm. 

“Oh well,” he says, straightening a cufflink. “A youthful indiscretion should be permitted, surely, once or twice, lord knows I’ve had a fair share of them. Most of them involving you, were they not, if we’re entirely honest with ourselves and—” He quirks a wry smile, “Ah well!”, and lets his cufflink go. “Don’t get too bogged down by it, really, I don’t, and it was really just barely a few days, if you think of it, in the end, was it not, a flash in the pan, a—”

“I wanted—!” Harry raises his voice over Draco’s ramble, and it echoes out loud as Draco immediately stops. Harry catches a breath on the edge of it. He tries again, says, “I wanted to apologise. For how I’d—for what I’d—” 

“—Oh, please, the statue of limitations on that has surely passed at least t—”

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Harry cuts him off, harsher this time. “What I said. About . . . your home, and, I hadn’t meant for you to leave, I just, I just . . .” 

“It doesn’t matter, Harry. It’s a very long time ago. And really the least loaded part of our histories that we should . . . that we need to . . .” His words can’t find an ending, and he just shakes his head at himself. Turns and casts a soft look to his right, his profile sharp in the shadows. “And you weren’t wrong, precisely, were you? And I shouldn’t have asked you. I don’t know what I thought you’d be able to do. We were very young and politics has clearly never been your strong suit and . . . I was simply desperate, you see.” He’s looking away, lost in it for a moment. “And alone.” 

Harry wants him to look up. The fire glints off the polished floor, the fishbone pattern of the wood. They’re both standing on opposite ends of a woven rug. In the middle of it was where Draco had dropped to his knees, all those years ago. Had asked Harry to hold him. 

Harry says, “You were my first, you know.” 

Draco’s attention snaps to him. “I know,” he says, quiet. His face gives away nothing. 

“I—” Harry starts and wants and walks to him and Draco responds by turning, a sharp half circle on the spot, giving Harry his back. 

Harry halts. The flames crackle, and a loud dance from downstairs has the crowd all clapping to the same beat. It sounds impossibly distant behind the closed doors. 

Draco speaks to the mantelpiece, voice steady as though nothing had just happened. As though he hadn’t turned from Harry’s advance at all, and was only picking up the conversation where it ended and saying, “Incredibly noble, of course, what you’re doing for cousin Edward. And very clever to call in Andy, you’re absolutely no good at talk, small or any other kind, and wouldn’t have managed to wrangle a single Knut from . . .” the speed of his words dwindles down and then he quiets altogether as Harry steps in behind him. He’s not touching Draco, but the distance is a whisper, a hair. He can feel the heat coming off of Draco. He smells like cigarettes and vanilla and sweet alcohol. Like sweat and cologne. 

Harry’s heart thumps heavily in his throat. 

Draco murmurs, “This is ridiculous,” glancing down over his shoulder. His hair moves and brushes Harry’s cheek. 

“What is,” Harry asks, voice low. His eyes are heavy, fixed on the blond whorl at the nape of Draco’s neck. The strands that have escaped the high ponytail. The flushed skin below. 

“It’s been years, not . . . Not days, not . . .” He sways a little and Harry catches him with a hand to his hip. Draco leans back into him with a breath. Harry leans in reply, pushes into him, closes his eyes and puts his cheek to the side of Draco’s hair, swallows thickly. 

Draco shivers, says, “Cor, I haven’t . . . Now it’ll look like I’ve, like I’ve pined, which I haven’t, at all, I haven’t—”

“I have.” Harry’s lips are to the shell of his ear. “I’ve thought of you.” 

He can feel and then hear Draco’s smile when he whispers, “You’re lying.” 

“Did you live in Italy?” he asks, moves his hand over the Draco’s waist, around him, laying it to the soft of his belly. Muscles jump under Harry’s fingers. “Have you found your poet?” 

“Oh,” Draco says, barely audible. “So many poets.” 

“And were you very cross with me?” 

“I didn’t think of you enough to be cross with you.”

“Good,” Harry says. He lowers his mouth to the side of Draco’s neck, adds, “You mustn’t be,” and kisses the warm skin there. Draco makes a sound, a shuddering, breathy thing, tilts his neck and Harry kisses it again, kisses the soft spot at the line of his hair. Kisses the birthmark, half hidden now, the warped little heart, a faded pink. He says, “Don’t be cross with me,” feeling wild and nonsensical and kisses it once more. 

Draco’s whole body presses into his with a shiver, a hand coming up to clutch at Harry’s where it lay on his stomach, two fingers between the buttons of Draco’s shirt. 

“That’s not fair,” Draco says, and then a held back, “Harry,” when Harry’s other arm comes around him, too, to hold him over his chest, to pull him warm and close and Draco’s head turns. His mouth is open, the pink of his tongue glinting, and he tilts his chin up for Harry. Gives his lips as an offer. 

The kiss barely happens. Harry hovers and feels the puff of Draco’s breath on his upper lip. He presses his mouth to Draco’s in a brush, wound too tight to know how to go slow once he’d lean in and so he waits, just waits. Draco keens in impatience and Harry’s hand clenches on his stomach and the knock on the door is the worst sound he’s ever heard. 

Draco doesn’t startle. Instead he moves in one, smooth step, moves out of the bracket of Harry’s arms and rightens his shirt and Harry—undone—tumbles forward and catches himself on the mantel. He grunts. Draco clears his throat and calls, 

“Yes?” 

The door opens and someone says, rather far away, “Sir, it’s lady Bennet, ah, again, sir. She’s—the coat, I’m afraid, it’s—”

“Yes. Right. Very well.” Draco sounds clipped and strained and Harry, still calming his breathing, leaning against the fireplace, is only a little pleased at that. He gives him a sideways glance. Draco is smoothing down sides of his hair. 

“Right,” Draco says once more, clears his throat, and waits a small beat. Harry can feel the question mark of the messenger, floating in from the doorway. Then Draco closes his eyes for a second, is about to walk, and Harry pushes off and catches him by the wrist. Holds him back. 

Draco looks at the hold Harry has on him. His heartbeat is wild under Harry’s thumb. 

There’s a pause of apprehension. Of questions, of request, of decisions that no one knows how to make.

“I shall— I will send you an invitation,” Draco offers him, then, an affected distance in his voice. “I must . . .” he says, swallows it down, and pulls away. 

*

There was a moment, about a year ago, when Hermione looked at him and seemed to see right through him. 

Teddy was visiting him for a few days. Harry had been upstairs to wish him goodnight, to talk to him a bit, to go over the day’s events: there’d been a scene that afternoon where Teddy had a bit of a panic, thinking he’d grown a patch of hair down his back but it turned out to have been a tassel from a throw that’d got stuck down his shirt. Teddy had been shaken and embarrassed. Harry had sat by his bed and said, 

“Give me a high five,” and held his hand up until Teddy did. 

And when he came downstairs Hermione—very pregnant on the sofa—took in his face and his hair half in a bun and the slouch of his shoulders. She saw something and said, 

“Teddy is important,” like there was a but coming, and Harry cut in with a, 

“He’s the most important.” 

And Hermione nodded and watched him take a seat in the lounger opposite her and said, “Yes. And you’re also the most important.” 

He made a face, eyelids low like he was about to roll his eyes. She said, “You don’t think you’re neglecting yourself a little, lately?” 

He sighed. Tilted his head up. “Neglect is a strong word.” 

“So you’re happy? You’re happy in your life right now?” 

He thought about it. “Happy is a strong word.” 

“Harry.” 

It had been a short while after that disastrous date. His friends were still discussing it, sometimes in jest. Sometimes with worry. “Are we talking about general happiness,” he said, not a question, “or is this about you thinking I should date?” 

“I mean, both, sort of. I just think that if you’d—”

And he said all in a rush, “I like men, too. I like men too. I like . . .” He swallowed. “Yeah,” he said, and kept his eyes closed for a little bit, heart racing. But when he opened them Hermione had this slow smile, this wondrous grin, and Harry added, 

“Oh, no, don’t—Hermione, please, don’t look at me like—”

“But that’s wonderful. Harry! That’s—! I’m so—!” 

“Could we not?” 

“I—is, is this new? Have you—when did you? Harry, oh. That’s . . . Oh I hope you’ve felt like you could always—”

“Before Ginny,” he said, perhaps a little harsh. Perhaps because he didn’t want this to be a joyous occasion on this long and dreary Sunday night, and the fact that the truth came tumbling out of him so suddenly. Pained and raw and held back for a very long time. “After the war.” 

Hermione went quiet. The fact, That’s a long time, hung in her silence. She looked at him, one elbow hooked over the back of the back of the couch. Her legs were spread for her belly’s weight. 

“There’s never been a reason to mention it,” he mumbled, a little chastened. 

When she spoke again, she was demonstratively softer. Quieter. “Was there someone?” 

Harry huffed a laugh, dry. “Who could there have possibly been?” 

“I don’t know. Who?” 

He was annoyed with himself, with the fact he’d opened up and now had to follow up. He pulled the elastic from his hair and shook it out and then gathered it up again, twisted it. Let his hair stretch at the skin of his temples. “Just someone,” he said, gruff. 

“But you think of it?” she asked, watching him still. 

He was quiet for a long time at that. Hermione didn’t try to fill the silence. Eventually he said, voice thin and whispered, “Sometimes.” And then, with a short sigh and another laugh, “Yeah. Often. I think about it often.” 

“Him,” Hermione corrected, more or less in question. 

“Him,” Harry said, and the syllable broke in his throat. 

By the time Draco Malfoy’s invitation arrived Harry and Andromeda hadn’t been on speaking terms for a week. 

They got into an argument the night after the Greengrass party, after Harry had accompanied her back to the cottage. She’d been taking off her dress robes and pulling the pins from her hair and Harry said, head still swimming with it, 

“You didn’t tell me his engagement was off.” 

And she gave him a grave look and continued with her earrings. “In what capacity,” she asked him then, steeling herself for his temper, “should I have told you?”

“I asked you!” He started loud then dropped it back to a whisper, mindful of Teddy. “I asked you. I asked you, literally, if you’d—if you’d known anything of—and you said, you said that you weren’t informed, or something, that . . . that you . . .”

She let her hair tumble down her back. Stepped out of her shoes, making her so much shorter suddenly. Not any less intimidating. “I will not,” she said, voice calm and quiet, “be held responsible for your own personal affairs, Harry.”

“What affairs!” He laughed, mean, then stopped. Ground his teeth together. Kept his mouth shut.  

“Do not make a fool of me, Harry James Potter. Or of yourself, for that matter, you know perfectly well what I’m—”

“Surely,” he said. “Surely any and all responsibility for my own affairs should rest on me: an adult capable making my own decisions. Why would you—what makes you think I’d—!” 

“You are not an island,” she interrupted him, firm, taking a step toward him. They were in the dark parlor, the light in the fireplace burning low. “Your decisions affect everyone around you, Harry. And you are not—” She exhaled a quick breath, haughty in her manners. She reminded him so much of Draco, in that moment. “When my nephew is concerned, you are not always capable of making the—!”

Harry hadn’t stayed for the rest of the sentence. He’d growled his frustration at the very suggestion, kept a tight hold of his anger, and stormed out of the house. 

Back home he was still in his coat, snow still melting in his hair, when he sat down at the table and wrote a note to the weak light of a Lumos. 

Can’t wait, it read. Must see you now. 

He rolled it up and whistled for Tambourine with his thumb and finger under his tongue. The owl came flying in through the transom, and Harry was very much in the middle of his anger when he fumbled for a piece of thread, when he tied the note to her leg. 

“Bring this to . . .” he said, and trailed, and Andromeda’s voice echoed in his mind. When my nephew is concerned. When my nephew is concerned. When my nephew is . . . 

He put his forehead to the bird’s feathery back. Breathed. Pet her. She made a rumbling, clicking sound, softly nipped at his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he said, and unwound the thread from her leg. “I need . . . I need to think.” 

He put the note in his pocket. Tambourine blinked at him. “No letter,” he explained, letting her off his arm again. “Not today.” 

And what followed was an odd week broken up into frustration and anger and then hot flashes of lust at the memory of Draco’s mouth, open, waiting. And then guilt, seas of it, and the question of whether or not Andromeda was right. Whether he was too blind. Too stubborn, too quick to act. 

On Harry’s request, Bill dropped Teddy off on Friday evening. He did it pointedly, the two of them coming in through the floo, and while Teddy almost immediately ran off to find Tambourine to pet, Bill lingered by the fireplace, dusting himself off, saying, “Your delivery has arrived.” 

And Harry said, tired and patience worn thin, “Give me a break, Bill.” 

“I asked Andy what this was about.” Bill took off his coat, left it on an armchair. Let himself into Harry’s kitchen. “She said you’d accused her of meddling or something.” 

“I didn’t accuse her of anything.” He followed Bill, stood by the counter as Bill took a beer from the fridge, then another, passing one on to Harry. Harry shook his head, and Bill shrugged like, fair enough , and opened the bottle on the edge of the table. 

“I just,” Harry continued, unprompted. Upstairs, Teddy was talking loudly to the owl. Harry lowered his voice. “You know how she can get, how—she just has these ideas, about, about Teddy, and about everything, and—”

“She said you fought over her nephew,” Bill interrupted. Took a swig of his drink. He said it level, no emotion. He read the label of his bottle. “Malfoy. The boy.” 

In the silence that followed Harry could only hear his own breathing. He didn’t quite move for a moment. His face felt hot. 

“I’m not,” he started, eventually, and his voice sounded papery and thin, “It’s not,” and then Tambourine flew into the kitchen trailing feathers and Teddy ran after her saying, 

“No no no I’m sorry come back I didn’t mean to I didn’t—!”  and the day quickly morphed into an extended lecture on how to handle pets and whether or not birds like to be combed. Bill left not too long into the commotion, did so with a strong hand to Harry’s shoulder and a low-voiced, “Talk to her.” 

And Harry nodded, saying, yeah, knowing he had to, not knowing how to untangle the guilt from regret from desire. 

The next day was when Draco’s invitation came. Official and impersonal and stamped in gold. Grand Opening Malfoy Manor , the title read, flanked by delicate illustrations of two white peacocks, bowing intermittently. 

On the bottom right side someone had written, hurried and in green ink, Don’t forget. 

Harry brought Teddy back home himself on Saturday. He and Andromeda had a quiet tea in the drawing room, and Harry said, 

“You were right. I should . . . I should be able to . . .” He was looking down at his cup. It felt heavy in his hands though he’d drank it almost to its bottom. He didn’t want to look up when he said this, and so he kept his gaze lowered and added, “We need to focus. Be focused. I—I need . . .” He put the cup on the coffee table. “I need to focus. On what’s important.” 

“Harry,” she said, and reached her hand out. He took it, his stomach in knots, and she told him: “You’re such a wonderful man. So many people who would—oh, Harry. You will find someone who will make so very happy. And will support you, and your family, I know it. I just know it.” 

Someone, she said, by which she meant: someone else. 

“Yeah,” he said. Inhaled. She squeezed his hand. 

“I just honestly believe that—this, this match, or, however you’d call it, I just am concerned that—”

“I know,” he said it quickly. “I know, I agree, I—It’s not . . .” He took his hand from hers. “It’s a memory. Only that. I know this. And now that I know, it’ll . . . It’ll be fine. Easier.” 

Andromeda leaned back into her end of the loveseat. Folded her hands together in her lap. “Precisely,” she said, though doubt had crept into her voice. 

Harry had still not looked at her. 

He’d spent that day running over panicked scenarios of what if Bill had connected the dots somehow and had gone home and had started that rumour mill going. Then felt badly about thinking that way of Bill, but not enough to stop the cycle of anxiety, of fear: of what it would be like to have to tell Hermione, or Ron, or Mrs Weasley. Or George. The words he’d have to use, the bashful history he’d have to share, a secret that had seemed so small and private all those years ago and that now seemed to inflect everything he’d done since then: every decision, every misstep. All the little details peppered over the past ten years. The breakup, the house, how he’d once drunkenly admitted—when being asked about his type—that he liked them sharp.  

“We should go to the opening,” he told her. He looked over at a vase. At the ceiling. At the fabric of the sofa. “I will—I will focus. It will be fine.” 

“Yes,” she said, though it came out slow, almost like a question. Then again, her voice further away: she, too, had turned from him. “Yes.” 

When Harry had told Draco, You should leave it, eighteen and sour, hunched over by Andromeda’s fireplace, what he saw in his mind’s eye was a bloody marble floor and how fear narrowed his vision into fragments: how Hermione’s arm had bent the wrong way, how Bellatrix’s boots had been laced up, the way that crystal shattered and scattered across the ballroom. He recalled the acid smell of death, of boarded up windows. He remembered the dungeons, the chill of the dirt floor, Luna’s soft voice. Bad things, no foundation for a home. 

You’re better off finding somewhere new, he’d said, and was perhaps speaking mostly to himself. Had perhaps tried to convince himself of something that had little to do with a house, a home. 

“Most importantly,” Andromeda continues, quietly, leaning into him—arm hooked through his as they enter the grand foyer. “Most importantly we must get a word in with Fawley junior, tonight. Senior was not a soft heart, I’ll tell you that, but junior I’ve been told is carved of gentler stuff and has recently come into his inheritance and is quite possibly richer than Merlin and Morgana put together. He’s only but several years your senior, so I do believe you’ll find ample topics for conversation. Vivienne tells me he’s not too fond of Quidditch but is rather taken with equestrian sport, so perhaps start there, mention how you’d always . . .” 

Evening has not fallen in full yet and the sun lingers over the snow-heavy woods surrounding Malfoy estate. It slants in through the tall windows, casting everything in fantastic pinks: the ceiling roses, the warm wood of the banisters, the darkened mosaic of the marble floor—three hares in a circle, chasing one another. Holly hangs over every passageway, over the mantelpieces, draped up and along the expansive winding stairway. There are three large fireplaces burning a constant green, and couples keep on stepping out onto the foyer, pink-cheeked and excitable. Their faces going up and around, up and around, trying to take in the magnitude of the hall. 

“Wow,” Harry says, a whisper over Andromeda’s chattering, and she trails off, considers him for a moment. 

“You’ve never seen it,” she concludes, curious. They follow the herd of fur shawls and lace hems toward the ballroom. 

“I’ve seen it,” he says, a little distracted by the room opening up before of them: the balconies, the river blue-glass of the low-hanging chandeliers; the handkerchiefs, the harp band on a dais; the ornamented plaster in-laid cherubs in the dome of the ceiling, dancing in tune with the music. 

“No, you haven’t,” Andromeda tells him, right before the noise of the party overtakes the conversation. 

“It’s so—!” Harry starts, but has to shout as the music reaches a crescendo. “It’s big! Has it always been this—!” 

“I can’t hear!” Andromeda replies, drowned, and laughs. He laughs too, laughs and shakes his head, looking around. His heart is pounding and he expected recognition and dark memories and expected that fear to guide him through the night: remind him of right and wrong and resolutions made. But in the maelstrom of couples twirling onto the floor for a joyous, skipping dance, it’s hard to think of much at all. Hard to do anything other than laugh and step aside, duck under enchanted branches, a pergola placed indoors under which couples might wander—an intimate three steps. 

Andromeda holds on to his hand as they manoeuvre their way toward a quieter corner. There’s a seat, and Andromeda takes it, fanning herself. There’s a flush over her chest and she’s smiling, breathless. Harry gets her a drink, gets himself one too. 

“Everyone and their uncle and their uncle’s uncle is here tonight,” she says, baffled and proud somehow, still. She sounds young suddenly, giddy. Harry laughs and says, “True!” and rests his back to the wall. Couples twirl by, and twirl by, and on the next it’s Draco and his partner who’s a young girl: fifteen perhaps, or sixteen, Hogwarts age. She barely comes up to his shoulder and so he has to stoop a little to hold her. They pass in a blur and then the song ends and they come to a stop not too far away, out of breath with laughter, clapping for the band. 

She has a short bob of a hair and large teeth. She’s blushing, and Draco shakes her hand for a job well done, his cheeks folded and folded in on his smile, eyes pinched with mirth. His hair is collected loosely, today, held together with pins, golden laurel leaves. Strands have fallen out during his dance and he tucks them back in with long fingers, breath still high in his chest as the band starts up a new song. He excuses himself for the dance, and his young partner is still thankful, flushed. Draco walks and scans the room and sees Harry and pauses in his step.

And smiles. 

Brilliantly, broadly. Like someone’s startled it out of him. Like he’s helpless to it. All the room’s shine seems to centre in on him in that moment. All the crystal, the sparkling lights, all blur and blend and bound together to make Draco, stood ruffled and flustered under an arch, look as though he’s made of silver. 

Andromeda’s hand on Harry’s arm brings him back. He blinks down, then up, then clears his throat and desperately tries to gather his senses as Draco approaches. 

“You’ve made it!” is the first thing Draco says to them, unable to tamper his smile, and then bends to kiss his aunt hello: two kisses, one on each cheek. He says, “Aunt,” and when he rises and turns to Harry the moment slows down. Suddenly he’s so close, and so bright, and he says, “Harry,” with the smile still in his voice. He leans in, tilted as though to kiss Harry on the lips but he won’t, he leans in further and kisses him once—on the cheek. Pressed close and warm and rasping against Harry’s beard. Harry wavers into it, hapless, intoxicated: he holds on Draco’s shoulder, kisses Draco’s cheek in return, briefly. 

Draco steps back. Harry’s hand falls to his side. Andromeda says, tight and from a great distance, 

“Phenomenal, what you’ve done with the place. How long has it taken, truly? It must’ve been in a great state, when you got it, which, how long ago is it, now?” 

Draco’s eyes are a fraction slower in turning from Harry than his face. “Eight—eighteen months, now, I think? Oh, you should have seen it, or—well, really it’s a good thing you hadn’t, it was a horror. Barely a husk, just a few walls and a memory of a roof, really. A tree was growing out of the middle of the staircase. Can you believe it? A tree!” he laughs, all teeth, glancing to Harry several times in quick succession. His eyes drawn back each time. Harry laughs in reply, and Andromeda says, a little louder than before, 

“Who was the young lady you were dancing with, dear?” 

“Who was the—?” He blinks back to her. “Oh! Parkinson. Marigold, the youngest. Pansy’s sister,” he said this last to Harry, a humorous frown. “A Gryffindor, of all things. Can you imagine—?” 

Harry is laughing still, saying, “Pansy’s reaction, oh god, did she ever recover?” 

“It’s been five years now and it’s hard to tell, to be honest, I think she’s still in shock.” 

“Sounds about right,” Harry says, eyes scanning Draco’s face, taking it in, each darling detail of it, and he aches and they’ve barely even talked and none of this is good, or according to plan, and he’d made resolutions and Andromeda’s hand is on his wrist and he knows, he knows, and—

“I was actually wondering,” Draco interjects just as Andromeda takes a breath to speak. He continues, “I was wondering if I, ah. Could I borrow Harry for a moment? I wanted to—I was speaking to Bastion, before, you see. Bastion Fawley, and he’s mentioned an interest in charity, now that he’s, you know,” Draco gestures, a flurry of fingers that means, richer than the heavens. “And I thought, perhaps I could introduce him to our Harry here? He’s quite a sportsman, you see, and fan of horses, and naturally Harry’s predilection for all things equestrian might—”

“I’ve never even seen a horse up close,” is Harry’s strangled interruption, and Draco looks at him, puzzled, laughs and says, 

“You haven’t? Oh dear. I’ve told him you own several.” 

Harry then says, “You’re rather mad, aren’t you,” and Draco answers, “Forward thinking, I’d call it,” and Harry says, “Thinking is a strong word,” and Draco gasps a scandalised laugh and is about to reply and then the party and the room and the universe at large snap back into existence: Andromeda rises from her seat, using Harry’s arm for leverage, speaking louder than their banter. 

“Perhaps,” she says, “I might be introduced to young Fawley? I’m very well versed in all matters pertaining, ah. Horses.” 

She is lying. Harry tenses. Draco, tripped up, his mouth working for a second before he tells her, “I—Well. Naturally, aunt, only . . . Only I’d promised Bastion, you see, I’d . . .” he trails off. Andromeda stands, unspeaking, and Draco glances to Harry and then back. 

Harry puts his hand over Andromeda’s, on his arm, and says, “I can speak to him, Andy.” 

Andromeda looks at him. It’s a heavy look, an edge of danger there. “Harry. It’s of the highest importance that we— focus, that we—”

“Oh, I won’t let him really speak, of course,” Draco adds, carefully jovial again. “Just babble about horses for a second. Trust me, aunt, I—” He pauses, lowers his voice a little. “I know the Families. I know Bas. He just wants to see old Harry’s face, here, if you’d just—”

“Hey,” Harry says, softly, but Draco continues one, saying, 

“—let me, I’ll do the talk. You know I know how to.” 

Andromeda takes him in. Takes him in, then looks to Harry, then back to Draco. Her exhale is a short puff of air, a giving in. “Very well,” she says, but says this to Harry. Says this with a strong grip to his arm and a searching gaze and a, “Remember. Please. Focus.” 

“I know,” Harry says, feeling like he doesn’t know at all. Like he’s already hip-deep in the mire, already being taken out to sea. “Don’t worry,” he tells her, but worries himself, his heart dropping down a foot as Draco leads him away—a gentle hand to his elbow, then to his spine, and then, as they step to avoid the traffic of the dance floor, to the small of his back, warm and firm and guiding him ahead. 

Bastion Fawley, it turns out, is a very excitable young man. An excitable man who either does not realise or does not care that the hubbub of people surrounding him resemble a flock of vultures, fluttering about him asking if he wants a drink, if he’s comfortable, if he’d like a dance or something to eat or—

“So kind, really, everyone is!” he says, surprised, when Draco has managed to get in through the crowd. Two people hand Bastion a drink at once and he accepts both with a thanks, considers the excess, then offers one to Draco. Draco takes it, passes it on to Harry, and says, his hand still steady on Harry’s back, 

“Say, Bas, have you met our Harry here?” 

Bastion is thrilled to meet Harry. Shakes his hand for several minutes too long and has many questions to ask about Polo. Harry has not enough answers, and so then Bastion asks about Hermione, who he calls Lady Granger— pronounced grahndure , for some reason—and the Weasley’s toy empire, and whether Harry is familiar with Slughorn ( Good man, good man!) and whether he thought Ginny’s chances were good this season. 

Harry can barely reply to the one question when the other is barreled out. Draco lets it happen at first, watching with a soft smile. Then he steps in, finding a perfectly natural pause in breaths and saying, Well listen, Bas, Harry here had a question for you, actually, you see—

Draco talks as if he’s playing an instrument. Light and quick and switching hands, chasing notes from here to there, no effort whatsoever. You look from his hands to his face and lose the action, look back down again and find a trick has been played on you, that now he’s playing a different song, only you have no idea how, or when, or why. 

He says, “And so you see, Bas, Harry here is really just orienting, to see who might be interested, you see, in the opportunity but it’s purely about gauging interest, naturally, and we must be very selective, of course, it’s really ground-breaking work and not the kind any Jim, Sam and Bob might be expected to understand, see, so—”

“I’m interested,” Bastion says, all in hurry, wide-eyed and a little red in the face. “Very interested, Harry. Very.” 

“Oh,” is what Harry has to say to that, a little dazzled himself. “Okay?” 

“Brilliant,” Bastion says, and Draco sighs and says, 

“Oh I apologise I see we must—be on our way, see, I spot Paulus the elder, and we did promise him we’d—”

“Owl me, Harry!” Bastion calls over the crowd as they retreat, waving his drink over people’s heads. 

“Why’d we—?” Harry asks, confused, as Draco pulls him along through the throng. “He was, he was just about to—!” 

“Oh, he will,” Draco says, still smiling, still brighter than the sun, and Harry tries to catch his fingers. He gets a brief hold, and then Draco turns them into a circle of people, an expansively dressed crowd with monocles and tall glasses of drink. 

Draco leans in quickly to whisper, “Play along, now,” his breath warm on Harry’s neck, and then he addresses the circle, pushing Harry a step forward with a hand to his shoulder: “Good ‘eve! Have you met our Harry, here? Harry, say hello.” 

“Hello,” says Harry, dry about the throat, and Draco’s torso is a long line of heat to his left, pressed close. Draco starts up the spiel again. His, Have you heard ? His, Ground-breaking research, his, Very exclusive, really, championed currently by Bastion Fawley, if you’d believe, but very secret, of course, hush hush, must’n’t want to get the word out too—

They do a round about the room. Harry’s introduced and introduced and retains no information, no names, no memory of the people’s reactions other than murmured appreciations and the way Draco, occasionally, cuts himself off to sip from his drink. He makes a small sound to go with it, as though to indicate the pause in conversation, a small, Mmm. People approach him and he says, No not now, darling, all while holding on to Harry somehow: a hand to his elbow, his back, his hip. It’s his party, his grand party, and he’s spending all of it parading Harry about the ballroom floor, talking at high speed and confusing elderly people into a spot of charity. 

And he’s doing it for Harry. With Harry. Unwilling to stop, unwilling to let go. 

“Can we—?” Harry starts, holding Draco back midway through a determined march across the room. Draco stops, turns back to Harry, his whole body bending toward him—bending close. Harry sways, a little, says, “Can we take a break?” 

Draco looks at him, eyes scanning. He nods, then, a jerky movement, murmurs an, of course, and continues his march in the opposite direction—holding Harry by his wrist. They move and duck and are spat out by the crowd into the corridor. Draco lets Harry’s wrist go, leads him down a hall. The music grows dimmer behind them. Harry is half a step slower and finds himself wanting to speed up, to be closer again. To reach out, take Draco’s wrist himself, this time. They’re walking with such purpose but Harry isn’t sure why, or where to. He’d just wanted a moment. He’s just wanted—

They take a right. There’s less torches, here. The corridor is dark and the ceiling low. Draco opens a door, lets Harry step in first. It’s a reading room of sorts, an office. The windows are panelled and the only source of light is the full moon, glinting off the snow-covered grounds. 

Draco closes the door behind them, walks a few aimless steps, half turned away. It’s silence, here. Total silence. They stand in it for a moment, not looking at each other. 

Harry can hear Draco’s uneven breaths. He licks his lips, starts with a quiet, “So what did you—?”

But then Draco looks at him, eyes glinting in the dark, and all the pomp and purpose from before is gone. All that’s left is want. Shaped like a question, like uncertainty. And then Harry makes a sound and Draco is moving, crowding in on him, pushing him back against a wall. He smells like sweet champagne and the party and like the very heart of Harry’s desire. Their faces are messy and close and Draco pulls at Harry’s robes like he’s trying to undo them, tear at them, but he’s only pushing them aside so he can get at Harry’s waist, wrapping his hands around Harry—folding his body into Harry’s with a groan, a tortured little sound. And Harry, for his part, Harry grabs at him, grabs him close and closer, fingers in Draco’s hair and down his back, restlessly moving against him, tilting his head when Draco buries his face in his neck. 

The room has no fire going and is cold around them. Draco’s mouth is hot on the skin of his throat when he says, “Lord, tell me I’m not alone in this.” 

“What?” Harry breathes, turns, seeking him out. His mouth. 

Draco opens into the gesture, brushes their lips, then tilts away and presses his forehead to Harry and says, “I want you. I—Tell me, tell me I’m not—”

“I can barely breathe,” Harry whispers, dizzy. “I can barely breathe around you.” 

Draco groans and crumples, his hands fists on the back of Harry’s shirt. Harry holds him with an arm around his shoulders, a hand in his neck, a hand woven in between the laurel pins. Draco’s nose is to Harry’s jaw and Harry, mad with it, bites his cheek, the jut of bone below his ear. Draco answers with a wet, messy kiss to Harry’s beard, his throat, and Harry’s never been quite so foolish about another person’s body, so clumsy in his hold, his desire. But Draco seems just as frazzled about it, inhaling, nuzzling, saying, 

“I wanted—I wanted to, to owl you, to—but—”

“Me too,” Harry tells him, quick. “Me too, me too, me too.” 

Draco pulls back a fraction. Extricates an arm from around Harry’s waist to bring up, to cradle Harry’s face. He has a thumb to Harry’s cheekbone, is moving it back and forth. 

“Can we?” he whispers, his words breaths on Harry’s lips. His gaze jump between Harry’s mouth and his eyes. “This time? Can we?” 

And Harry’s ready to say Yes, emphatically, has the word roiling in the pit of his stomach but something gets stuck in his throat and he hesitates. Draco notices. He inches back to look at Harry, scanning him. Frowning. He says, “What?”

“I—” Harry starts, and there’s enough in that syllable that Draco pulls away altogether. Harry wants him back, immediately, and so he amends with a, “No, Draco, I—it’s not—!” reaching out and catching his wrist on retreat. Draco lets him, startled, says, again, 

“What?” 

“It’s only—Teddy, you see. And the project. And—”

“My aunt.” 

“She just—”

“Doesn’t approve of me.”

“She loves you,” Harry says, voice warping around the word love. 

Draco huffs, takes his hand from Harry’s. He puts two shaky fingers to his forehead, says, “You can love awful things. You can love things you don’t want.” 

“No,” Harry says. Softly at first, and then again, firmer, “No. It’s not—I just. I just meant that—that I need some time. That I need to, to think, to—”

“Time?” Draco’s smile is empty, now. A hollow thing. “A decade wasn’t quite enough, was it? How much more would you like? Two decades? Half a century? What?” 

“It’s not—! It’s not that, it’s—I want to, Draco, I want, I—”

“But not enough,” Draco says. He doesn’t look at Harry. It sounds like he’s saying it to himself. He glances up, then. “But not enough, right? Not enough to tell Andromeda. Not enough to tell your friends. Not enough to—” He cuts himself off with a strangled laugh, a sob-like thing, walks away and then back and says, “You came to me! You—you came to me. I left you alone. For years, Harry, and even back then, even back then! You . . . you came to me , you sought me out, you . . .” 

“I know.” And he’s right, too: Harry’s never been able to stay away, not from the very beginning. Not from the moment they’ve met. He can’t stay away and then he can’t stay around, too. Leaving Draco in fields, in bathrooms, in libraries. In bed. He says: “I know. But I—”

“You know,” Draco still has that awful smile. He nods at the ceiling. His hair had come mostly undone under Harry’s fingers, before. “You know, how I got back the house? Because I—Lucius, the loving father he was, locked my vault under several preconditions. One of them was marriage. He’s never trusted me with money, you see. He had this idea that—that—” He laughs. “That if I’d marry, someone he’d approve of, that my wife would ensure the rightful spending of the . . . well. He certainly didn’t count on me being,” he gestures with flourish, indicating himself. The glitter, the glamour. “For years, living with mother, for years I was certain I would never—that I’d find another way. That all it would take was the right solicitor, and the right paperwork, and I’d get back the house then I’d fall in love with a gorgeous man and we’d live here and everything would be—and that it’d all be—” the words strangle him. The sharp edge of his sarcasm falls off and then he’s just sad. “I almost did it, you know. With Astoria. We thought, the both of us, we thought . . . But I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I’m foolhardy, Harry. A romantic, still, somehow. After everything. I . . . I just couldn’t . . .” 

Draco’s eyes are cast down, now, trained on the carpeting. Everything looks grey and blue in the shade of the moon, of the night. Harry can’t look away from him, the beauty of him. Even in his sadness. He can’t imagine that this man shouldn’t be allowed love. It seems preposterous, even in knowing that he, Harry himself, has brought Draco here, has laid the road for this misery. 

“The Families got it back for me,” he tells Harry, tilting his chin up proudly. “I solicited. I talked and talked my way into every Knut, every Galleon. Everything. Everything you see here, everything is paid for by old, prejudiced, pompous people and I am forever indebted to them. Forever, that is, until I marry. Marry or die. All the same,” he adds, dramatically. Casts a glance toward the windows, the snowy grounds. “It’s earned me a reputation, you see, these past couple of years. One I can imagine my aunt . . . my aunt wouldn’t . . .” His chin works, trembles. “Approve of, of course. She’s never been a fan of the Families, has she, even though she’s now been roped into—Well. All the same.” He looks to Harry again, and it’s pleading and angry and contained all at once. He says, “I had to do it. It’s all I have, you see. I haven’t anyone. Just . . . this.” He puts his fingers to the surface of a writing desk. He means: his house. His home. “Just this.” 

You should leave it, was what Harry had told him of the Manor, all those years ago. He’d been living at Grimmauld place at the time and was drowned by the sadness of it, the memories of it. The absences. He couldn’t go to the Burrow, too, couldn’t face the jolly patchwork of it now that it was covered by a film of mourning. Hogwarts was in pieces, Godric’s Hollow was a ruin upon a ruin, and Privet Drive was as close to hell as he could ever imagine getting. Homes changed, in his experience. Homes stopped being homes once something bad happened within them. And then you left, and you found something new, and you started again, and you hoped for the better. 

He hadn’t known, at the time. Hadn’t known how homes were made, how they could be as horribly flighty as love itself: you could wake up one morning and find yourself a stranger to your own life. Your own four walls, your own bed. 

You’re better off finding somewhere new, he’d told Draco, and Draco had pushed at him, and wept, and called him an orphan. 

They were both talking to and about themselves, that day. They were so close and yet they could only talk to themselves. 

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, quietly, a horribly inadequate word. 

“Yes,” Draco says. He takes his hand from the table. He rights his robes, his ruffled shirt. His waistcoat. “Aren’t we all,” he adds, and gently takes his leave. 

Harry finds Andromeda in conversation and doesn’t care if he’s being impolite: he holds her by the elbow and implores they leave, immediately. At first she’s laughing about it, saying, Surely, Harry, you don’t mean to—! But then she sees Harry’s face, and there must be something there that convinces her for him. 

She says, Very well, and puts her half-eaten canape on her napkin, the napkin on the table. She bids her good-bye to her conversation partner. Harry puts in a strong stride toward the foyer, and hears Andromeda’s heels click on the marble as she hurries after him. 

“Harry,” she says, alarmed when he won’t slow down. “Harry!” 

And he just shakes his head, throat thick, his head hurting and his heart a mess, a painful aching mess. He takes the Floo to the cottage on his own, stumbles into the drawing room on unsteady legs. The house is cool and empty. Teddy is staying with Bill’s family, this weekend. Harry’s sat on the couch, face in hands, when the fireplace sputters in green and Andromeda comes through—both their coats in hand. 

She drops them on the floor and says, again, “Harry,” true worry in her voice as she comes and kneels before him. She takes his hands from his hair, holds them in her own. “What’s the matter? What happened? It seemed—I thought it was—”

He huffs a wet sound. Says, strangled, “It went—Good. Draco’s very good,” he says. “At talking.” 

Her breath is high in her throat. Her dress pools around her. “Harry,” she repeats, softly. A question. 

“I can’t be who you want, Andy. I can’t leave him alone,” Harry tells her, directs it at their hands, at her hands cradling his. “I can’t leave him.” 

“My darling,” she starts in reply, and Harry can already hear the argument, the conversation in her voice, and he cuts it off with a, 

“No. No. Do you truly think so badly of him? Can you not see how he—? How hard he—?” 

“Harry,” once more, a quiet, careful step. “What is it that you feel for him?” 

Harry laughs, a single, hollow thing. 

Andromeda lets go of his hands, holds on to his knees. When she speaks she sounds halting, unsure. “I thought . . .” she starts, stops. And again, “I thought—! My Harry, I thought it an infatuation. I hadn’t known that—I didn’t know that—”

“Would you think badly of me,” he asks, voice raw, “if I were to love him?” 

She says, “Oh,” as though it is her whose heart is breaking. 

“Would Ron and Hermione—? Would everyone . . . Would . . . Teddy, would you still let me see—?” 

“Oh Harry.” She takes his hands again and kisses his fingers. She says, “My love, I’m so sorry,” and she’s wavering, tearful, and she says, “Of course, of course , I—I hadn’t known, I’m . . . We’ll always—love you, darling, all of us, we’ll always—”

“You can love awful things,” Harry says, remembering Draco. Remembering those words. “You can love things and not want them around.” 

“Oh, no.” She sits back down on her haunches, into her skirts. “That’s not love, darling. That’s not love.” She reaches to brush the back of her hand to his cheek. “You know what love is, Harry.” 

Harry has to swallow several times over. “I know I’m not,” he begins, needs to start over, “I know I’m not an island, and that my choices are—”

“And neither do you live for the sole benefit of others. You . . . your happiness, Harry, your happiness is of the . . . of the highest importance, to all of us, to—” 

“But you said—”

“I misspoke,” she tells him, proud as ever. Chin up, ever so much a Black. “I misspoke. I was—I was worried. For the wrong reasons, it appears, now, but I . . . I was . . .” she trails off. The silence is damning, and they’re both miserable within it. His confession hasn’t made him feel any better. Her apology has only tightened his heart on its own axis. 

Harry looks at her. Looks, and swallows, and says, “Well. That can’t have been easy.” 

She deflates. Puts her head down and chuckles, says, “I don’t believe I’ve ever said that, before.” 

“No,” Harry agrees, rather shaky. “I don’t imagine you have.” 

They share a nightcap. Andromeda asks him a few questions, moving from and then towards the subject at hand, going from smalltalk to the sore points and back again. Harry, cotton-headed and a blur of a heart, can barely answer any of them. He hums, and shrugs, and finishes his drink. She tells him to go home, to go to sleep. We’ll talk more later, she says, in the way posh people do when they mean they’ll probably never will. 

She hugs him farewell: another rarity. He accepts it, dazed, and floos home, his coat heavily draped over his arm. 

The house feels like he hasn’t been there in years. Like everything is different. He’d only just left that afternoon: there’s still the dinner on the stove, there’s still his slippers by the couch. He’s left these things behind like this and yet can’t remember having done so. 

He walks up the stairs to his bedroom and sheds his dress robes along the way: the starched collar, the jacket. He takes the elastic from his hair and ruffles it out, head cocked. His scalp hurts from the strain. He scratches over his head, then into his beard. He trails down, over his chest, his shirt unbuttoned, and puts his hand over his heart. Feels for it, as though to ask if it’s still there. Ask what it thinks it’s doing. 

“Ten years,” he tells it, admonishing, and his heart skips a heavy beat in reply, as if to say: ten years. 

He takes a shower and feels his body like a new, foreign thing. The night runs in a loop in his mind. Draco’s arms around him saying, tell me I’m not alone in this. Draco’s mouth, his eyes, how he’d shone and became the centre of every room he’d walked into, every conversation he commanded. How he’d said, our Harry. How his fingers had slipped from Harry’s, how he’d called himself foolhardy for wanting to find love. How he’d called himself a romantic, still, somehow. 

After everything. 

“After everything,” Harry mumbles to himself, in the hot steam, under the weight of the shower.

He bangs around his room, drying himself off. As if he doesn’t know where the chair is, the corner of the bed. He puts on jeans and a jumper and then realises he’s going to bed. He wants to change, but adrenaline and also a different kind of high are running through him and his fingers shake and he can’t, can’t focus, can’t stand still. 

He goes downstairs. Throws powder through the grate of the fire and announces his intentions. The fire glows green, and green, and the seconds take centuries and then the fire clears: a calm orange, a room. Walls with paintings, pictures, frames in every which shape. A desk with a mess of papers, dress robes over a settee, an expansive bed with the sheets turned down. 

Draco, stood with an elbow over the mantlepiece, in trousers and waistcoat, the leather of his shoes glinting in the firelight. His hair is undone, completely undone. It tumbles over his face, his shoulders, brushes his waist. He ducks his head to peer into the Floo connection. He says, 

“Hullo.” 

And Harry, on his knees by his own fireplace, is dry-mouthed and so besotted he can barely speak. “Hi,” he croaks. Clears his throat. Says, “Where are you?” 

“My room,” Draco tells him, level. “Why are you calling?” 

“Has—Is the party? Has it ended? I don’t mean to—I don’t want to keep you from—”

“They’ve left,” Draco says. He sounds so mild, still. “What is it?” 

“Was it—Good? A good party, you think? Happy with—?”

“Yes, grand, excellent all around. What is it, Harry?” 

“I . . .” The words jumble in his mouth. His hair is still mostly wet in his neck. He should’ve shaved. He should’ve cleaned his glasses. He should’ve— “I do want you.” And, “Enough,” he adds, then decides no , decides, “Not just enough. More than. More than that.” He licks his lips. “So much more than that.” 

Draco is quiet for a moment. He then pushes off the mantlepiece with a sigh, walks away and runs his hands through his hair, getting it out of his face. He pulls it sideways over a shoulder, picks up a paper from his desk, inspects it, puts it down. “If—!” he starts, not facing Harry, stops. Turns, walks back, says, flat and acidic, “But you need time.” 

“No,” Harry says, and means it. “No. No but. Just . . . You. I want you.” 

Draco stares into the fire. Then down, away, flushing deeply before putting his hands over his face. “Lord, Harry Potter,” he says, muffled. He runs his fingers into his hairline, looking panicked for a flash of a second and then not at all. Then he drops his hands and steps to the fireplace with an annoyed, “Well!” 

Harry looks up at him. His mouth works, unsure. He says, “What?” 

“Well what are you doing kneeling there? Cor, Harry, come through.” 

“What?” Harry says again, and Draco reaches out, a hand into the fire, materialising right there in Harry’s living room—long fingers and dry winter skin, palm up. Beckoning. 

He says, again, voice warped in the flames, “Come through, you madman.” 

Harry stumbles to stand. He takes Draco’s hand, takes it into his. It’s a bit distorted, all of it, the moment, what’s about to happen—half in Harry’s room, half in Draco’s. For a moment they stand there, just like that: Draco’s warm palm in his, the cold heat of the Floo flames between them. 

Harry turns their hold so he can look down at the back of Draco’s hand. Red knuckles. A mole near the wrist, a small scar from a burn. His skin is cast in the glow of green. 

Draco says, “Come,” and tugs, and Harry steps through. Draco’s tug turns into a pull, and Harry instantly feels the urge of it, feels it as a tight clench in his throat. The way Draco hauls him in isn’t so that Harry can step into the room. It’s meant to grab at him, to get a hold of him, and Harry isn’t even fully there and Draco’s got a hand at his neck and the other clutches into Harry’s hair and he’s kissing him. 

Draco’s kissing him, and holding on, mouth quick and slanted over Harry’s, and it’s all Harry can do to just hold him back: a hand to his back, the other slipping down, a firm grip to the muscle, down the back pocket of his trousers. 

They stagger into the room and Draco won’t stop kissing him. Those lips, those stuttering breaths Harry knows down to his core. The puffing sound he makes when Harry opens the kiss, makes it wider. Wetter. Draco sucks Harry’s bottom lip into his mouth Harry chases his tongue and Draco rolls his body up and Harry burns with it, dizzy with desire, says, Draco, into Draco’s mouth. Pulls at him, not knowing what to do with him, puts his hands on the swell of his ass and squeezes. Draco’s hips jerk at this, and this pulls a broken sound from Harry, and the frenzy is not yet over. So very far from being over. 

“Come—” Harry starts, pushes the back of Draco’s knees into the edge of the settee. He’s panting into Draco’s neck and leans down to get a hooking hold of him, tumbles the two of them into the seat, and Draco startles with a laugh and then a moan when he finds himself on his back—finds Harry between his legs, unbuttoning the top of his shirt, trying to get at the skin below. 

“Fuck,” Draco says, the word all crisp in his posh mouth, and he’s running his hands through Harry’s hair, again and again. “I love—I love this—” He gasps at the feel of teeth, hiccups, grinds up, still says, “—hair, you don’t, don’t know how—”

“God.” Harry pants, sucks at the soft skin under Draco’s chin. Bites, gently, kisses him on the mouth again. Disappears into that hot hell for a while, the both of them slow and wet and graceless. Harry tries to open the rest of Draco’s shirt without pulling away. With one hand. He manages only in untucking it from the band of his trousers, to put his hand to the warm skin of Draco’s stomach, and Draco gasps into the kiss. Breaks it to pant up at the ceiling, muscles jumping under Harry’s fingers. 

Harry pulls his head back a fraction to look at him. To see him. Draco’s mouth is swollen and he looks like how Harry’s always remembered him to look after being kissed: pupils blown and skin a blazing red from Harry’s beard, his tongue moving behind his lips like he’s still remembering Harry’s against his. Like he can’t wait for the kiss to continue.

“Lord,” Draco groans, then, and closes his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s worse when you look at me like that.” 

“Like what,” Harry asks, and it comes out so low and affectionate that he’s almost embarrassed at himself. Almost, not quite, and then Draco pulls him down for another kiss, that tongue sliding hotly against his, a moan and then another and then Draco’s legs coming up to hook over the backs of Harry’s thighs. And then Draco’s hands are up under his jumper, peeling it up at first and then getting lost across the skin of his back, feeling. Feeling. And what a wild thing, Harry thinks, vaguely. To want and to be wanted. To want madly and to be wanted, madly. 

He reaches down between them to feel Draco through his trousers and Draco bucks up into the touch, hard and hot against him. Harry rubs him and kisses in the same rhythm, feels Draco’s moans reverberate in his own chest, and his heart is racing through it, terrified and thrilled all at once. He moves and nips at Draco’s cheek, sucks at his earlobe, whispers, “Can I touch you?” and Draco groans, grinds up, nods and nods.

Harry’s hands are clammy, unsteady as he unbuttons Draco’s flies—the heat of Draco’s erection brushing his knuckles. Draco’s legs shake and slip and one he perches on the seat, one he dangles down to the floor. 

Draco’s slung an arm over his eyes. He’s breathing heavily, a rumble through his exhale. Harry has his ruddy cock in hand, has gone down to his knees on the worn rug. Has taken off his glasses and left them on the floor. He kisses the thin skin where Draco’s thigh folds into his hip. He kisses the dip of his belly. Draco’s cock twitches leaks over his fingers and Harry is nervous, keeps his face hidden in the V of Draco’s hips for a moment, and waits for the swell of the moment to ebb. 

Harry,” Draco says, molten, and Harry pushes a hand up Draco’s shirt, rests it over the centre of his chest. Draco covers it with his. Harry lifts up, drags his lips over the head of Draco’s cock, lets the wet inside of his lip catch on it. His foreskin is tight over his glans. Harry pulls it down, licks, pouts and sucks and covers his teeth and goes down and Draco sobs and stutters up, helpless, hissing when Harry holds him down. 

Please,” Draco croaks, trying badly to hold back the movement of his hips. He wants it faster. Harry remembers now he always wants it faster. The memory barrels through him, a hot flash of lust, and he moans, and Draco moans in reply, arm slipping back off his face and he lifts a little to look down at Harry. Says, “Fuck Merlin shit fuck,” voice breaking, and Harry starts sucking him in earnest. Puts the flat of his tongue to his shaft, curls it, hollows out his cheeks. Draco whimpers, looks down again, collapses back onto the settee, then pushes two hands in Harry’s hair—collects it off his face. Holds it softly, then lets it go. Combs his fingers through it, collects it again. 

Harry pulls lightly against it, liking the strain. 

Ah,” Draco says, tightening his hold, and Harry sucks him harder, and Draco begins to babble, and this is a memory too: the way his words turn disjointed and filthy as he’s about to come, layering desire upon desire, pretending they’re already doing all the things he wants to do—like saying fuck me when Harry isn’t fucking him yet. Like saying, God you’re so hard, even if he can’t see if Harry is. And of course Harry is, achingly hard, throbbing in his jeans as Draco comes with a loud moan, hands twisted in Harry’s hair, and Harry keeps him in his mouth, swallowing, letting it run down his chin, his neck. 

“Oh my god,” Draco breathes, hands unclenching. And again, “Oh my god,” and, “Oh,” and, “Oh,” and laughing, boneless, letting Harry undo the laces of his shoes. Letting him take them off. Letting Harry tug off his trousers, unbutton the rest of his shirt, push it off together with the open waistcoat. His body is familiar but new and Harry kisses him across the chest, kisses the wrinkled peaks of his nipples, the goosebumps over his collarbone. Draco laughs and gasps and shivers. He’s entirely naked under Harry, splayed out on the settee, and Harry can’t help grinding down into him, Draco’s bare thigh between his legs—rubbing up against his crotch, the heavy zip of his jeans. 

Harry blushes at the wet spot there, feeling it against the heat of Draco’s skin. He’s embarrassed—bizarrely so—and aroused because of it. He hides his face in Draco’s neck, ruts against him, whimpers. Draco holds him by the hair, and his mouth is wet against the shell of Harry’s ear when he tells him, slurred, “I love your mouth,” and Harry shudders, stutters, doesn’t know what to even do, turned on beyond thought. He murmurs, 

“Yeah?” 

And Draco says, “Yes,” and scratches his nails to Harry’s neck, and kisses his jaw. And kisses the corner of his mouth, and then his mouth, and in the close heat of it asks, “D’you want to come?” And Harry moans and rides his leg and nods, and Draco asks, “D’you want to fuck?” 

Jesus,” Harry whispers, holds on to Draco, both hands to the base of his neck, fingers at the line of his hair. He stills himself. He needs to calm down. 

“The bed is right here,” Draco says, a tilt of amusement to his voice. “Come on. Let’s fuck on the bed.” 

Harry’s responding groan is pained. Draco laughs, says, “A great burden, is it?” 

“You don’t know,” Harry mumbles, still to the dear dark nook of Draco’s throat, and Draco laughs again and pushes him off, gets him to sit up, though Harry careens and sways back into him as though drunk, as though he’s just made land and is still unsteady, expecting the rocking of open seas. 

Draco undresses him and Harry kisses him. Draco gets his jeans open and Harry kisses him. Draco tries to get them up over the footboard and into the bed but they both get distracted, Draco half in his lap, making out with Harry’s jeans half down his thighs and Draco wanking him—softly, slowly, his touch barely there. 

They never got to be this drawling about it, as teens. Never got to laugh and be lost it in, leaving doors unlocked and curtains open. It’s a small eternity before Draco gets him where he wants him: in bed, propped up against the pillows, the both of them sweaty and short of breath—the lube a mess over Harry’s thighs, his crotch, his belly. Draco is sat astride him, hovering, his thighs tense. Grinding over Harry’s hard cock—letting it slip and slide over and over, up and between the heat of his cheeks. They’re not fucking yet and Harry has lost his mind several times over. Has his hands on Draco’s undulating hips. Has his head tilted back, mouth open. 

“I’ve imagined you like this,” Draco says, leaned in close. Holding on to the headboard behind Harry. “A thousand times.” 

“Like what?” Harry asks, looking up, raw. “Stupid and turned on?” 

Draco pants a laugh to his chin, says, “No,” says, “Like this,” and touches Harry’s cheek. The tender skin under his eye. “Here,” he adds, quieter. Kisses Harry’s sore mouth, shallow and dry, then reaches behind him for Harry. Positions, lifts up, lips still a touch to Harry’s. “For me,” he says, and sinks down. His mouth is open, his jaw cocked. They’re breathing harshly into each other. For a while Harry hears nothing but the buzz of his blood in his ears, understands nothing but the heat and the closeness and the surety of Draco’s skin sliding against his, pleasure like pain everywhere they touch. 

At first there’s just that: the white noise of loving someone, of getting to be enveloped by them. And then Draco starts to fuck himself on Harry’s cock and the world rushes into high speed. Into colours and noises and Harry sucking on his neck, his shoulder, biting and soothing and Draco cradling his head close with two whole arms, riding him. There’s no more words, after that. Draco’s moans sound like hums, sometimes, and three times he manages to slow them down—reel them back from the edge. Drag it on. Three times he manages, and then Harry can’t, won’t, his mind swimming and eyes wet and he jerks Draco between them—puts his fingers to the stretch of Draco’s rim, feeling the heat of the two of them, mouth slack to the hollow dip of Draco’s throat.

“Oh,” Draco breathes the syllable, movements turning erratic, back arching. He’s still holding on to Harry’s neck, his head. “Harry,” he says, frighteningly tender. “My Harry.” 

And when the edge comes at them this time around they let themselves tumble, fall over it, allow for the ground to come for them and for gravity to pull them where it will. 

“Hold me,” Draco tells him, later, slumped over him, wrapped around him, as though Harry is in any position to let go. And so Harry holds him tighter, wrangles the sheets up over the both of them, and Draco dozes. Body loose and warm on top of Harry. He half wakes when Harry kisses the pink skin of his shut eyelids, gives a dozy kiss in reply, and then turns and arranges and aligns them the way he likes. 

The fire has settled into a low burn in the hearth. The hush of winter presses silence against the windows, wraps the room in a bubble. Harry matches his breaths to Draco’s and tries to consider the picture frames that hang above the mantelpiece. But it’s too dark now, and his sight too blurry without his glasses. And so he imagines the stills: a beach at winter, a rocky lake, Astoria rowing a boat. Narcissa looking prim at a tea party. Draco in a sunny garden with his arm around a stranger. Teddy six years ago, Teddy today, Hogwarts at a distance. Pansy with her sister, eating an apple. Draco, aged eighteen, head shorn like a lamb, standing straight and haughty next to a piano. His mouth is twisted in a squiggle. His hand on the high lacquer of the wing. 

He is real and warm under Harry’s hands. The full length of him tucked into Harry’s chest, bodies comma’d together. He’s gathered his hair and twisted it and pulled it over his shoulder, keeping it from Harry’s face. Harry looks for the faint shape of the pink mark, hidden by a hairline, and finds it in the dancing shadows of the fire. 

They both wake up at dawn. They have small conversations that trail off into the quiet of the morning. Draco has his head pillowed on Harry’s chest, tracing the shape of an old scar. 

“We’ve never been alone before, you know,” Draco says, voice small. “This is the first time we’re alone.” 

“We’ve been alone,” Harry answers. His knuckles are running a short line up and down Draco’s spine. He’s trying to make out the shapes of the outside world through the fogged-up windows. 

“We haven’t,” Draco tells him. “Not really.” 

Harry hums, on the verge of sleep again, and then Draco adds, “What if you decide you despise me again now that we’re alone?” He says it like it’s a joke but the humour is thin and the words tense. 

Harry smiles slow. Frowns slow. Says, “I didn’t despise you.” 

“No. You hated me.” 

“I didn’t,” Harry says, thick with affection, and Draco looks up at him, shifting in the sheets, his hair falling. He says, 

“I’m not sure why you’re trying to deny it, it’s all well enough, I wasn’t your biggest fan either and there’s no use in—”

“—I didn’t hate you,” Harry repeats, pushing Draco’s hair from his face. “I was sort of obsessed with you.” 

Draco’s expression is blurry in the morning, blurry without Harry’s glasses, but he can still see the twist of his mouth. Draco puts his head back down, holds his hair out of the way. “You’re lying,” he mutters. 

“I’m not,” Harry says, smiling. 

Draco considers this for a moment, arm slung over Harry’s waist. Hand at his hip. Then, “You’re lying.” 

“Why would I,” Harry states, and underlines this with a hand to the soft back of Draco’s neck. His thumb to the whorl of dusty hair, stroking. Outside, a flock of birds startles out of a tree, passes by the window in a great flurry. Harry’s nearly asleep again when Draco answers, a distant mumble, 

“To lower my defences, s’why.” 

Harry laughs, an honest and deep-felt belly laugh, and inhales—and on his exhale he rolls them both over and buries his face in Draco’s neck and bites because he doesn’t know where else to put his emotions. Draco hisses and laughs and wraps his legs around him and locks him in, says, sounding very pleased, 

“Now you can’t go anywhere.” 

They’re hungry but instead they fool around. It starts out sweet and laughing but ends up being one of the most daring experiences Harry’s had in bed, just like that—on a slow Sunday morning, in between a yawn and a joke about Berty Bott’s Every Flavoured Bean. Draco sucking him off, sitting astride his chest, the bony curve of his back to Harry—and Harry rockin up into him, pulling him closer by the hips, pulling him until Draco’s sat on his face, and Harry’s all wet and lips and tongue, eating Draco out and then coming into his mouth. 

“I’ve never . . .” Harry pants, right after, face still pressed to the damp crease of Draco’s thigh. He doesn’t know how to finish that sentence. There’s too many ways. 

It’s well past midday by the time Harry gets out of bed. He puts on his jeans and doesn’t bother doing them up. He finds his glasses and goes to the window to clear a circle of condensation. Yesterday’s snow has remained, and the grounds stretch ahead in a breadth of white. The woods carry the fallen snow like a heavy load, branches low under the weight. 

A hare jumps its way across the blanketed field, disappearing in and out of the snow. It stops, somewhere halfway to the safe line of the trees, and remains frozen: listening out for something, head twitching. 

Draco comes up behind him, bending close, long arms wrapping low around his waist. 

“There’s a hare,” Harry tells him. 

Draco hums in agreement. “There’s so many of them these days. On the grounds.” He presses a small kiss, offhanded, to Harry’s shoulder. “We used to have a lot of foxes, before. Not sure where they went.” 

The hare decides the danger has passed and hops the rest of its path toward the woods. They watch it go in silence, swaying gently into one another. 

Breakfast, that is lunch, is cobbled together by Draco waltzing through a walk-in pantry with a basket and collecting treasures. The house is freezing and none of the fires have been started and Harry realises, perhaps for the first time, that Draco runs the Manor by himself: that it’s just him, here,  in that castle of a house. That it’s just him and and his magic and the heap of money that he’s talked and talked and talked his way into. Poured back into the house. 

Traces of last night’s party are everywhere: sad looking holly, trampled wreaths, mistletoe berries scattered across the marble floors. Forgotten shawls draped over bannisters, canapés dropped to the ground and stomped over; feathers, glitter, broken glasses. A lost shoe. 

Draco herds them to a room he calls the ‘smallest lounge’, which is still rather large, but which heats up quickly once they get the fire started and keep the doors closed. It has a full wall covered by an old tapestry, one of a muse lounging under a tree with a harp. There’s a small piano in a corner that looks like perhaps it’s broken. The sofas are silk but the fabric’s worn, the mesh and straw beneath showing, their tassled ends fraying. 

With the glamour of the night gone it is now clear that the house has been patched together. Lovingly, carefully, and within the small means Draco was given. 

The room’s windows have the very same view as Draco’s bedroom, and Harry waits for another hare to hop along while Draco sets out their picnic meal out on the carpet by the hearth. And sure enough, two more come by before long, and Harry laughs, tells Draco there’s two more hares, and Draco says, 

“Truly now?” 

And Harry laughs some more and says, “Hey buddies,” and taps on the glass, and the hares stop and stare. And stare, breathing fast with their ears twitching, eyes wide. 

They eat and Draco cuts him pieces from a loaf of bread with his hands, cuts him a piece of cheese to go with it, as well as a slice of pear. Harry accepts, looking at him and then up at the ceiling and then back, smiling and unable to stop smiling. Unable to stop any of it. Draco starts out apologising for the mess of the house, saying he’d meant to clean it before, but then Harry showed up, and then, well, and that he’d also meant to regulate the heating, to connect the fires, but he hasn’t got around to it, and that Harry should come by again when it will be in a better state, that he could see it proper, then, get the right impression, could perhaps come to like it, could see that—

“But I do like it,” Harry says, accepting another slice of pear. 

Draco goes quiet at that. He looks at Harry. Outside, nearing the shortest day of the year, the light has already begun to fold in on itself. Reds and oranges edge along the far end of the snowy grounds. Draco says, “You do?” 

Harry looks up at the crumbling plaster coving. At the tapestry, at the soft light streaming in. The room is warm and he smells only the pear he’s eaten, the pear and also Draco, lying close to him, propped sideways on his elbow, looking up. Eyes so very bright, so uncertain, unsure of whether to trust. Whether he’s waiting for the bad news that’s to follow. 

“But—” Draco starts, stops himself. Puts down his pear. Looks at it. Chews, swallows the bite he had in his mouth. “Well are you quite sure you’re—”

“One time I heard Andy say—to Teddy, when he, when . . .” Harry shakes his head, decides the story doesn’t matter. He starts again: “She said, something like: you can’t blame the ground for freezing, but you can love . . . you can love the flower that grows from it.”

Draco picks up his pear again. Inspects it, puts it down, wipes his hand on a napkin. Swallows, looks up, tries to put on a self-important face and says, “Am I the flower in this construction?” 

Harry’s smile is slow. He says, voice low, “Yeah,” and leans in, one hand to the ground next to Draco, hovering over him. Draco blooms up into him, lifts his chin, offers his mouth as though he’s never done anything else in his life. Harry kisses him. Slowly, heavily, one hand to the back of Draco’s head, his thumb to the bone behind his ear. 

It’s dark when they slip out of the smallest lounge: Draco suggested they find some wine to warm themselves up and so they do, and then the wine’s too cold to drink, and so they decide to heat it up over the stove. The kitchen is too cold to stand in, too, though, and so Draco is in pyjamas and a scarf and a woolen jumper and a house robe over that, still. Shivering. Harry keeps himself warm by keeping close and tucking his hands under Draco’s shirt as they stand by the range, waiting over a copper pan of mulled wine. 

They pass the first steaming cup back and forth, laughing, breaths puffing and clouding between them. They then take the pan back with them, a plume of damped spices trailing through the chilly halls. 

They get a little drunk. Draco looks unreal to Harry, his hair gathered in a loose plait, a blush high and splotchy on his cheeks. His lips purple from the wine, swollen from their kissing, their ridiculous kissing, dopey and embarrassing and infatuated. He’s dressed like the embodiment of rich squalor: patched-over holes in his clothes, his skin warm and soft and loved under Harry’s hands. 

At some point, as their drinking nears the bottom of the pan, Draco produces one of last night’s found shawls, wraps it around his head and nicks Harry’s glasses and does an over-the-top impression of Trelawney: stumbling about the room, demanding the Gods to tell him where he put his glasses, pronouncing that he’d predicted he was going to lose his glasses. Harry is on the floor laughing. Dying , he says, crying with it. 

Later, a considerable while later, some good twenty minutes into a hot and heavy makeout, Harry decides to react to Draco’s hand under his jumper with his best imitation of Bastion, saying, Listen, good man, that’s all well and good, but I’ve been meaning to ask you about Polo, and Draco startling a laugh into his mouth. Then immediately demanding he stop it, that if Harry didn’t stop Draco was going to leave, and Harry saying, Why, good man, leave, from this comfortable position! Gesturing in Bastion’s grand manner, indicating to Draco’s perch in Harry’s lap, his knees wide on the floor. 

Draco groans and laughs and presses his face to Harry’s chest. 

And even later than that, when the pan is long empty, when only the dredges of cinnamon and slices of brown oranges remain at its bottom, when they’re both back on the floor in various states of undress—Harry still in his jumper but jeans entirely forgotten, lounging in his socks and pants, and Draco with his pyjama shirt unbuttoned and the trousers still pushed down over the swell of his buttocks—it’s then that Draco speaks quietly of his future. Of how scared he is. He’s on his back, and Harry’s propped over him, and he’s got the chilly tips of his fingers to Harry’s face. Tracing the lines of it. Of his eyes, his nose, his mouth. He says, 

“I should be fine for another year, in terms of funds, I think. But after that . . . I have no idea, to be honest. I only thought as far as this. As far as getting it back. I suppose my father was quite right, there. No fiscal responsibility. No . . . future vision.” 

“Just marry me,” Harry says, speaking under the touch of Draco’s fingers, drunk and in love. 

Draco laughs, loud and genuine, his whole body shaking with it. “Oh,” he says, and kisses Harry’s cheek. “You’re going to take that back when you’re sober.” 

“I’m not,” Harry says, because he can’t imagine ever feeling any different. Because the feeling itself seems to encompass everything, every past or any possible future. “I’m not,” he insists, and Draco’s still coming down from his laughter. He rolls out from under Harry, pushing him off, pulling up his trousers up and making his wobbly way across the room—to the piano.

“What’d you like to hear, husband dear?” he says. “I’ll take requests now!” 

“Anything,” Harry says, elbow on the carpet, chin in hand. “Anything you like.” 

“Anything I like,” Draco repeats, considering. He’s got a mottled flush down his chest—a trail laid by Harry’s beard—and tender bruises in his neck. His hair is frazzled, his swollen mouth wide over a smile, and his fingers slow over the keys at first: slow, and then slower than slow, and then quick again, hopping from a chord to a chord, a tune Harry’s surely heard before but cannot name for the life of him. 

“What’s this one called?” Harry asks, rolling onto his back. Pillowing his head over crossed arms. The heat from the fire is nice on his bare legs, and outside it’s started snowing again, the flakes blowing against the windows, tapping softly. 

“Nothing yet,” Draco says, chasing his fingers over the keys, seeming to enjoy himself. He looks down, and then up, “Shall I name it after us, then, in lieu of anything better?” 

“Yes!” Harry calls out, still quite drunk, pointing up at the ceiling in enthusiastic agreement. “Us! In lieu of anything better.” And then, a confused moment later, “What better?” 

Draco laughs and tampers the melody. He makes it sweet and lovely and then—as the joke settles between them, as the music is allowed to fill the room—he makes it smaller. Darling. Intimate. 

Harry hums along. Closes his eyes. The familiarity of it sinks into his bones. He says, “It’s good. I like it.” 

“Naturally,” Draco tells him, the smile in his voice a bright, clear thing, even from across the room.