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Ink (My Skin With Your Name)

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He gets the first one, gritting his teeth in an uncomfortable chair with his arm straight out to his side, two weeks to the day he wakes up to find that his Dark Mark has gone grey around the edges.  

It stings, but the bite of the tattoo needle is nothing like the feeling he gets when the muggle artist compliments him on the ink already marring his forearm.

“Just focus on the damn tree,” he says politely, and the muggle shrugs and goes back to her work. It takes three sessions to get the damn thing filled in and shaded the way he wants it, but the end result makes him look down at his body and not feel total disgust for once.

***

He’s back the month after his third appointment, his whomping willow tattoo not even fully healed. The muggle who tattoos a lightning bolt over his spine at the base of his neck – where it really bites – doesn’t make any comments this time, and he’s thankful.

***

He comes back. He learns the artist’s name is Desiree. She looks a little surprised when he thanks her for her work and makes another appointment there on the spot.

***

“You’re really creative,” Desiree tells him one day, glancing through his book of sketches. He keeps bringing her new ones, telling her what he wants done and asking what she thinks the timeline would be. She sets up several appointments in a row for the phoenix he wants on his back, and a couple for the dragon he’s turning into a sleeve on his left arm. “And a damn good artist, shit. You do this for a living?”

He shrugs, sitting on a stool next to her, and runs a hand through his hair. He debates telling her that he doesn’t do shit for a living – that he’s filthy rich and also so ostracized no one in their right mind would hire him even if he wanted a job – but she starts talking about a commission she’d pay him to do for her, and instead of telling her to fuck off, he gives her a tentative smile that she returns tenfold.

***

“Draco,” Desiree says, welcoming him into the shop. “You got the new one for me? I have the client in the back and she was hoping you’d make it in time to show her today.”

He shakes the rain out of his hair, scrapes his boots on the welcome mat, and holds out his sketchbook. It’s wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from the all-day drizzle. “Yeah,” he tells her. “Finished it two nights ago.”

“You’re an angel,” she sighs in relief, taking the book and pulling it out of the bag. She always goes over his work before showing it to clients. It would seem untrustworthy if she wasn’t continually impressed by his art, but instead he understands that she’s simply careful with her business. It seems smart. The client is hers, not his – he’s simply a third party.

“Pretty straightforward,” he says, shrugging.

“She’s gonna love it,” Desiree says, and she claps him on the shoulder. “Come back with me and say hi, then I’ll get started on your piece. We’re doing the snake, right?”

He nods. It’s probably a cliché, but he has a blank space on his wrist and he isn’t a jewelry person.

She leads him back. The customer is a fifty or sixty year old Chinese woman with a big smile and small hands. She shakes his and he sits down across from her. He lets Desiree show her the drawing, and the client says something about it complimenting the first one he drew her. It’s true; it does. He planned them that way, and gives her a small smile to show her he’s glad she likes them.

In the beginning, he’d been hesitant about working with muggles. It was a stupid leftover from the days when his hereditary prejudice mattered a whit, but it hadn’t taken him long to realize that the lack of magic had fuck all to do with what kind of person you were.

And after all, muggles have never sneered at him on the street just for existing. Being covered head to toe in tattoos, maybe, but never for being alive.

The client gives him a tip and a hug when she leaves, an appointment for next week under her belt. He accepts the latter with the small shiver of someone unused to being touched without the sting of a tattoo gun, and puts the former in Desiree’s tip jar. He doesn’t need it. He accepts payment from Desiree only because she’d torn him a new one the first time she’d found his commission back in her hands at the end of the day.

(He uses it for new tattoos. Getting it converted to galleons would require going to Gringotts in person, and he hasn’t stepped foot into Diagon Alley in two years.)

“You’re running out of skin,” Desiree tells him when she gets him sat in the chair. “We gonna do your prick sometime soon?”

“Always thought it’d be fun to poke my scrotum with a needle,” he says, eyes closed. She snorts. “Nah, I’ve got space. I have something planned out for my right thigh.”

“And your arse?”

“The prime minister’s face, obviously. Tells you what I think of his shoddy policy.” He doesn’t know shit about the prime minister, but he’s long since figured out what topics, what speech patterns, to use in order to seem normal to her.

“All’s fair when you’re so rich you could pay someone to wipe your arse, I always say,” she tells him conversationally. He hasn’t told her he’s loaded, though she must have some idea by how regularly he comes in for new tattoos.

They talk quietly, back and forth, until he’s got a gorgeous little mamba coiled around his wrist and it’s early morning. She yawns when she sees him out, and no one sees him duck into an alley to apparate home.

***

Within the span of three and a half years, Draco has managed to drown the dark mark – and his natural skin tone – in new ink. His mother, when she visits, turns her nose up at them because they are motionless muggle pieces, even if the art is wizarding. One day, he tells her that he can’t stand to see ink moving on his skin anymore, and she never says anything about it again, though she still looks displeased when anything below his jaw is shown.

He has a phoenix on his back in vibrant oranges and reds, a dragon on his arm, the Malfoy crest (small and unobtrusive, not proud but dear to him nonetheless) on his hip. He has snakes and the Hogwarts motto and a memorial piece for Vincent. Among many other things, he also has the words “free will is concrete” draped across his collarbone, one last reminder to never use the Imperius again and to never let someone else control him. The dark mark becomes the least important thing on his body. A blip in the artwork.

When he goes anywhere vaguely wizarding, he covers every inch of skin that isn’t on his head and keeps his eyes down. He doesn’t know what his old schoolmates would say if they saw him. He doesn’t want to know. He’s been contemplating muggle living for months, just to get away from the nagging feeling of being the snake in the grass.

A de-fanged snake, venom glans gouged out, but a snake nonetheless.

***

His comfortable life as a ghost comes to an abrupt and dizzying halt when he receives a letter from Gringotts demanding that he come deal with an account matter in person.

He’s not worried about his Vault; he knows that there’s more coin in there than he could spend in a lifetime, but the fact that the goblins are demanding he come in person for what is probably pointless paperwork – fucking audit season – rankles him to his core. The last thing he wants is to visit Diagon Alley, and he doesn’t have a choice.

He dresses in charcoal and black – leather gloves, leather boots, and a high collar. He also has a hood on, aware that it makes him look even more like a villain but unable to resist the compulsion to hide his face as much as possible. People stare when he goes by anyway, but he feels protected even though he’s totally vulnerable. He knows – and more importantly, they know – that if he ever raised his wand against another person he’d be thrown in Azkaban without a hope of release, self-defense or not.

The paperwork – because of course it really was a stack of paperwork waiting for him at the end of Gringott’s long entrance hall – takes forty five minutes to complete, and by the time he’s done he’s more than ready to get out. There are anti-apparition wards on Diagon Alley (strengthened and monitored since the end of the war), so he hurries to the nearest public floo, his steps quick as he descends the steps outside of the bank.

It’s just his luck that as he’s leaving with his head down and his eyes on his feet, he crashes into someone. That someone – in order – yelps, teeters backwards, and grabs Draco’s hand to stay steady. The end result is that they both go down with a second yelp and a hiss of pain, respectively.

It takes Draco a long moment to realize that his glove has been pulled clean off, held in the grip of a bronze-toned hand.

“I’m sorry, mate, I –“ An abrupt stop. Draco doesn’t even look up, beginning to get his bearings and stand. “Malfoy?”

His head snaps up, the voice clicking with the familiarity of his name.

Harry Potter sits in front of him, eyebrows raised and eyes wide. He’s holding Draco’s glove, and Draco watches as he glances from Draco’s face to the glove in his hand and then to Draco’s exposed hand. The letters spelling out “MERCY” stand out starkly on his pale fingers amidst tattooed patterns that go all the way down to the last knuckle of each finger.

“Apologies, Potter,” he says stiffly, pulling his hand close to his chest. With the other, he reaches out. “May I have my glove back?”

Potter just stares at him. When Draco curls and uncurls his fingers expectantly, waiting for Potter to hand over the glove, his eyes dart again between the slip of leather and his hand.

He starts, surprised, when Potter ignores his outstretched hand and reaches out for the other one, nearly yanking Draco toward him with the force of it. “I didn’t know you had tattoos,” Potter says, examining the ink. He reaches out, glove still clutched in his fist, to push his sleeve up with two fingers. They brush the snake around his wrist before Draco gets ahold of himself and jerks away.

Without waiting for Potter to hand it over, he reaches out and pulls the glove out of his fist. “I didn’t exactly put an ad in the Prophet when I started getting them,” Draco says coldly, slipping it back over his hand. He thinks to himself that he’s being unnecessarily harsh, but he doesn’t like being grabbed at. “Now, if you don’t mind.” He stands and brushes off his trousers. He doesn’t wait for Potter to join him on two feet before he begins to stalk toward the floo hub, dark mood made even darker.

“Malfoy, wait!”

He ignores him, but Potter jogs to catch up. “I didn’t know you had tattoos, Malfoy,” Potter repeats. “How many?”

“Enough,” Draco says, still pointedly walking away. He doesn’t understand why the floo hub needs to be on the opposite side of Diagon from the bank. It’s just illogical.

“I got one myself, last year,” Potter announces. It’s painfully obvious he’s trying to find some kind of common ground that will make Draco stop walking. He’s not going to find one.

“Bully for you, Potter.”

“I was thinking of getting another,” he adds, looking around at all the suspicious, watchful faces and grimacing. Draco appreciates that Potter seems to realize that Draco isn’t comfortable here, but he’d be much more appreciative if Potter stopped trying to talk to him all together. “C’mon, Malfoy –“

He finally stops with a sound of frustration. “Look, Potter. What do you want?”

Potter pauses for half a beat. “I sent you letters, trying to get in touch,” Potter tells him, expression painfully earnest.

Draco knows this. He turned them all away, figuring that Potter was attempting to return his wand. He has no interest in the wand that – for all intents and purposes – killed the dark lord. Perhaps it was childish to ignore Potter instead of tell him that, but by the time Draco got his head on straight enough to be a functioning member of society once more (at least enough to do things like order food for himself and contact people of his own volition) Potter had stopped writing.

“If it’s about the wand,” he begins haltingly, three years late. “I don’t want it. I got another from a very talented wandmaker in France and I’m very happy with it. Thank you, but no thank you.”

Potter sputters. “I –“ He takes a long breath. “… good to know.”

Draco nods, assuming that is that, and turns again. He’s nearly to the hub, thank god.

Potter speaks one more time. “Could I at least get the name of the parlor where you got your tattoos done? I like the look of them.” Draco stops again, turning with a raised eyebrow. He’s twitchy and he wants to get out of Diagon, but he’ll admit it – he’s surprised, and he’d never turn down business for Desiree. She’s one of few people who have done right by him in the past few years. Potter rubs a hand over the back of his neck, looking sheepish. “I mentioned I wanted to get another, right?”

“You barely saw any of my tattoos.”

“I still like the ones I saw,” Potter insists.

Draco spends half a beat thinking about it, ducking into the floo hub, but in the end all he really wants to do is leave. If Potter will let him leave, he’ll give him the name of eighty tattoo parlors. “Serendipity Tattoos,” he says, matter of fact.

He’s gone before Potter has a chance to reply or ask for a location, leaving only a quiet Malfoy Manor to resonate in the fireplace where he had stood.

***

He should have seen it coming, he thinks, when he walks into Desiree’s for an appointment days later only to find Harry Potter making to leave, looking ever so slightly disappointed in something. He plans to slip by unnoticed, but a soft, irritated tsh! comes out without him realizing it. Potter glances up, and then lights up.

By Circe, Draco groans inwardly. Is Potter trying to run into him on purpose?

“Malfoy,” Potter greets him. He waves a little. “Er. Long time no see?”

He sees Desiree out of the corner of his eye, poking her head out slowly to stare at them. She knows very little of his past, only that he has few friends, relatives, or acquaintances. She quite correctly thinks him a homebody.

“I saw you last week.”

Potter flushes. “Yes, well. I took your recommendation and came here for my new tattoo. I asked for your usual artist, since you didn’t tell me – she’s great, had loads of ideas for me. She said she’s going to talk to an artist she commissions for it, said his art style would suit my concept well.” He gives Draco a thumbs up, and looks like he immediately regrets it. Behind Potter’s back, Desiree gives a thumbs up of her own, and looks as though she does not regret it at all.

Merlin’s saggy pants.

“I didn’t recommend you anything, Potter,” Draco says slowly, resisting the urge to rub the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “I answered your question. Where do I get my tattoos? Here. That was the entire conversation.”

Potter seems to be hardly paying attention. His eyes wander over Draco’s shoulders and what’s exposed of his chest. The word fuck lights up in his mind like an alarm. He’s wearing a loose-fitting tank top – terribly convenient, casual muggle fashion. He’s almost always dressed like this when he comes to Serendipity; it’s easier to remove so Desiree has access to whatever part of his body he’s inking at the moment.

He folds his bare arms and hunches inward, unable to hide but desperately wanting to. The tattoo on his collar – free will is concrete – is visible. He wishes he’d grown his hair out longer to hide the laurel around his throat. So many of his tattoos are out in the open, obvious in a way he rarely allows them to be. His movement seems to snap Potter out of it, because he shrugs and says “Well, the end result is the same. I’m here, I like the place, and I’m going to get that new tattoo. So… thanks?”

Draco has never heard him sound so awkward, and knew the man when he was thirteen. He’s got to end this here.

“You’re welcome. Bye now.”

Potter makes some kind of sound, but Draco disappears into the back before he gets the chance to speak again.

Desiree follows him, eyebrows practically merging with her hairline. “What was all that about?”

He doesn’t know how to explain Potter, but Desiree’s gossip-hungry expression becomes concerned when he just sighs and leans against her desk. He’s not supposed to be back here, strictly speaking, but she’s never stopped him.

“Hey,” she says, gentler. “You can tell me if you want, or just start on the new piece if you don’t. No big either way.”

He nods, and lets her shuffle him out to get tatted. Potter is gone when they emerge from the back.

“I was involved in a really bad group back in school,” he tells her once he’s settled and she’s getting the needle ready.

It’s simplified, but… she’s his only real friend. He wants her to know, even if she can’t know all of it. He’s also aware that he can’t mention the near-death experiences or the violence of it all – how real it all was. For muggles, the Dark Lord’s second reign was an inexplicably bad year or two. For the magical community, it was war. He knows firsthand how barbaric war gets, and she would never understand without that context.

“I almost went to prison for the stuff we did,” he adds instead of getting deeper into it. “I didn’t want to join, but my parents pressured me to, and I got a reputation for being a bad guy. Can’t show my face most places anymore, even if I’ve turned my shit around.”

“Like organized crime stuff?” Desiree asks, nonjudgmental but curious. Empathetic.

He nods. It’s easier than explaining that no, he was actually in a group of murderous psychopaths with superiority complexes. Magical Nazis. He doesn’t know a lot about Muggle history, but even pureblood wizards had a hard time missing the Blitz.

“Been there, done that,” she says, though he doesn’t think she has. “So who’s the bloke?”

Draco flushes a little, looking away. “He’s… that’s Potter. He’s no one, really, except that he knows too much about me. I think he’s been trying to reconnect, but I don’t need his pity.”

“Went to school with him?”

“Yeah.” He shrugs again, and winces in apology when she glares, needle in hand. He hadn’t even realized she was about to start. “We have a complicated relationship.” He doesn’t know how to explain that Potter was the one fixing his screw ups.

“Want me to kick him out if I see him again?” she asks. He waits to respond when he hears Nathan, Desiree’s old protégé and current colleague, call out a goodbye. She replies before turning back to him.

He takes a deep breath. “Nah. He’s loaded. If he keeps coming back, let him give you his money.” Though it pains him to say it, he adds, “And he can basically do no wrong, so he won’t give you any trouble. Bloody do-gooder.”

She laughs and lets the conversation drop.

***

It’s not even a week later when he runs into Potter at Serendipity again.

He waves awkwardly. Again.

“You’re going to make this a habit, aren’t you,” Draco says flatly. It’s not a question. Potter makes a pinched expression, like he knows he’s being called out but still doesn’t want to admit to it. It gets an eye roll before Draco moves past him.

“Don’t you want to know what I’m getting?” Potter asks, getting up to follow him to his usual chair. He pads behind Draco like a puppy. “I just figure, since you have so many, and –“

He whirls around. Potter starts and his eyes go wide. “Potter. What are you doing here?”

He looks pathetic when he shrugs. “Getting tattoos?”

Draco groans. “Fine. Be obtuse.”

Potter leaves a few minutes later, after Draco puts a subtle muffliato on him without even removing his wand from the sleeve of his jacket. Probably straight to Granger to get it removed.

 ***

Potter keeps coming back.

After the muffliato incident, he stops trying to make conversation, but Draco’s sure he’s taken a peek at the schedule book because he’s nearly always there when Draco arrives, and only leaves when Desiree kicks him out. She’s gotten fond of him, the traitor, but Draco can’t even get mad about it because Potter really is devastatingly earnest. He’s hard to be angry at, now that Draco isn’t a hormonal teenage boy.

“Morning, Malfoy,” he says.

“Good afternoon, Malfoy.”

“Hey, Malfoy, you’re here late.”

He’s determined to be friends – acquaintances, at the very least – and the longer it goes on the more Draco resigns himself to it. He nods hello and never starts conversations if he can help it, hoping that if he plays along to the bare minimum, Potter will get bored and move on. Draco’s not a charity case. He doesn’t need Potter’s friendship or good will or what have you now, not years after the fact.

He starts working the front desk when Desiree’s secretary, Beth, goes on maternity leave. He’s not there every day, because usually Desiree’s sister is around to help out, but eventually he’s there three or four days out of six. When this happens, Potter begins helping out as well – Draco can’t fathom why, but Potter likes puttering about the place, and apparently he hasn’t figured out what he wants to do now that he’s quit the aurors.

He’d never known this before, but Potter likes to babble. Draco is waiting for him to get arrested for breaking the Statute, because he doesn’t seem to particularly care if he’s talking about magic around muggles. The customers think he’s eclectic; Desiree thinks he’s quaint. The end result is that Potter becomes a regular part of Draco’s working and personal life.

***

One day, perhaps a month into Draco working side-by-side with Potter in the shop, Desiree asks him to design Potter’s tattoo.

“He asked ages ago, and you were so tense every time his name came up that I didn’t want to ask… but he mentioned it again and you don’t seem quite so bothered by him anymore, so I figured I’d give you the choice,” she explains when he makes a face. She and Nathan are sitting side by side, organizing inventory, and Draco glares Nate’s curious expression. He just shrugs unrepentantly. “He loves your tattoos, but I never told him they were your design, so he doesn’t understand why I’ve been avoiding commissioning from the same artist for him.” She rolls her eyes. “He’s a persistent fucker; I’ll give him that.”

Draco eyes her after a long moment of silence. “… what does he want?”

“A phoenix,” Desiree says after a beat. “Like the one you have on your back. He’s seen glimpses, and he told me that he’s wanted one for ages but could never find an illustration he liked enough to get inked.”

Draco pinches the bridge of his nose, but instead of the intense dislike he’s used to, he feels only resignation. He’s resigned a lot nowadays. “I don’t want matching tattoos with Harry Potter, Desiree.” Nate snorts then.

“It’s not like he’s not half in love with you,” Nathan says, cheesing a grin. “It’d be fitting.”

Desiree stamps down a smirk and shrugs delicately as if to say not my problem. “I can tell him no, but if he wants to know why the artist refused I’m sending him straight to you. You have a couple of days to make your decision.”

Draco grits his teeth.

***

He comes in three and a half days later with his sketchbook under his arm and an impressive scowl on his face. He tosses it onto the table in front of Desiree, who’s grinning smugly at him. “He’s hard to say no to, huh?” she asks, and he growls. She just laughs. She’s never known the version him who tortured people, who threatened and bullied and walked in the dark. His growls are like a kitten’s in her eyes – cute, ineffectual. He doesn’t dissuade her of the notion.

“I just don’t want to deal with his whining,” Draco tells her, and it’s true enough. He doesn’t have any warm fuzzies for Potter, outside of a lingering and stupid sense that he owes him something. He didn’t even bother to talk to Potter before giving up and drawing the damn thing.

Potter comes in half an hour later, and he nearly jumps up and down when she pulls out the sketchbook.

“It’s beautiful,” Potter murmurs to himself, in awe. Draco doesn’t flush behind the counter, but it’s a near thing. “But it’s different from the one Draco has.” Stop calling me Draco, damn it – we’re not friends, he thinks irritably. “Was the first one Draco’s design – is that why the artist made a different one for me?”

Draco rolls his eyes and decides he doesn’t have anything to lose. “No, Potter – I just don’t want to have matching tattoos with you. Our relationship isn’t quite there yet,” he deadpans. He doesn’t look up from his copy of Carmilla immediately, but after a moment of silence, he glances up to see that Potter’s mouth has dropped open, putting the pieces together.

Typical.

“You’re the artist?” he chokes out. Draco rolls his eyes again, more exaggeratedly this time.

“You’ve seen my drawings from school,” Draco says. “I don’t know why you’re surprised.”

“They were always of me getting struck by lightning!” Potter protests, and without meaning to Draco actually huffs a short chuckle. Desiree is looking between them like they’re aliens, a smile creeping across her face.

“And they were fantastic,” Draco agrees knowingly, ignoring Desiree’s shit-eating grin. “Just because you can’t appreciate art –“

“There is a huge difference between cartoon drawings of me getting struck by lightning or being handcuffed to Snape and this,” he continues to object, gesturing to the sketchbook in his hand. “Draco, you’ve got a real talent! I’d pay money for these!”

“You are.”

That stops Potter up short. He glances down at the book and then up at Draco. “Okay, fair. But my point stands.” He gives Draco a crooked grin, but it comes out a little shy. “You’re really good, Malfoy. Thank you for drawing this.”

Draco’s cheeks turn pink this time. He hates himself for it, and feigns returning to his book, though all of his senses except for sight are still trained on Potter. “Well. I figured it wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

Potter seems to realize that he’s out of his comfort zone and backs off, but he’s still grinning when Draco glances furtively at him twenty minutes later.

***

They settle into a truce, and by the time July comes around they’ve got an easy sort of proximal relationship. They’re not friends, and Draco tries not to engage him in conversation, but they’re comfortable around one another.

Then, one day, Potter comes in looking like a thundercloud. Nathan sees him, raises an eyebrow, and then darts into the back with a wordless I’m not dealing with that look aimed in Draco’s direction.

He’s used to an irritated Potter, and a frustrated Potter, and an angry Potter. God knows those emotions defined his understanding of Harry Potter for the first fifteen years of their acquaintance, but this is different.

There’s frustration, for sure, but he looks on the verge of angry tears, like he’s been personally attacked. Draco’s rarely seen Potter like this, personally hurt.

He waits nearly an hour while Potter angrily organizes new inventory, and then when the quick, watery breaths mostly die out he asks in as neutral a tone as he can, “… everything alright, Potter?”

Potter’s back is to him, but he watches as the line of his shoulders tenses. “Thought you didn’t care about me. Or want to be my friend. Or acknowledge my existence.” Ouch. Here Draco was, thinking they’d reached an agreement about their coexistence, when clearly Potter is still holding onto a grudge or two.

“I’m not the one huffing and puffing in someone else’s workspace,” he says primly. When Potter’s shoulders’ tense even further and rise towards his ears, however, he sighs and stands. Draco makes his way to the counter where Potter’s organizing and rests his ass against it, facing the opposite direction but standing close enough that their shoulders brush. “What’s going on?”

He knows Potter won’t hold out on him for long. He’s the one who so desperately wants to be friends. After three or four minutes, he’s proven right.

Potter slumps a little, letting the tension go. “You sure you want to listen to me whine?”

Draco’s lips purse into a tiny, unwilling smile. “I’ll suffer through it.”

Potter’s green eyes dart over to meet his. “I feel stupid for being so upset about it,” he mutters. Draco makes a minute go on gesture. “It’s just… you know I quit the aurors right?”

“I do get the Prophet, rubbish though it may be, so yes.”

“Well, Ron isn’t quite over it, as he told me today. And Ginny thinks I’m making the biggest mistake of my life – not to mention the fact that Seamus and Dean have decided that I’m betraying them by not being part of the Gryffindors 2.0…” He rolls his eyes, but it’s not humorous. “Even Molly and Arthur are acting like this is just a hissy fit that I’ll get over, and the fact that I disappear every day to come here doesn’t help. I’m just really sick of everyone I know thinking I’m making a mistake when I’m just doing what’s right for me.”

Draco takes a minute to process. The thing is, he understands why Potter’s frustrated. He would be too – he’s been there before, held in place by everyone else’s expectations of him. He knows it’s different, but he can still relate.

Hesitantly, he asks, “Why exactly did you quit? What made you come to the conclusion that you needed to?”

He doesn’t seem to feel any qualms about replying in spite of the fact that Draco has no right to the answer. “I was sick of fighting,” he explains, uncharacteristically soft. “I want to help people, but there was a lot of pressure on me to always make the right choice, and every time I wound up in a fight, I went right back to feeling like a scared teenager just trying to survive.” He pause, then almost at a whisper, he admits, “I was having panic attacks, flashbacks – I went to see a healer about it, and they sent me to a mind-healer who diagnosed me with PTSD.”

Draco’s eyebrows raise. “PTSD?”

Potter looks embarrassed, but he still elaborates. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s more common in muggles, but it happens when someone goes through –“

“Traumatic events?”

“Exactly,” Potter says, giving Draco a little eye roll for the raised eyebrow Draco gives him. Whether he realizes it or not, the line between Potter’s eyes eases ever so slightly. “When I’m in similar situations to, y’know, the war, I react really badly.” He shrugs, looking down. He’s not quite ashamed, but he’s not proud of it either. “I couldn’t keep doing auror work. It was dangerous for me, my team, and my partners, not to mention that when it was bad, I couldn’t really do my job properly at all. Even now, I don’t sleep well and get tense out in public.” He huffs a laugh without humor. “I couldn’t even go to the Ministry without my hands shaking. Eventually, I realized I had to take steps for my own good, and step one was quitting.”

They’re both quiet for a while. Draco tries very hard not to think about his own trauma. “I think,” Draco says slowly. “That your friends and family will come around. They’re being selfish now, but they need to get their heads around the idea. Have you told them about your disorder?” Potter shakes his head. “There’s your first problem. You don’t need to tell them specifics if you don’t want to, but if you’re not telling them anything about why you quit, they probably think you’re going through some kind of boy-hero crisis.”

“Shouldn’t some kind of boy-hero crisis be enough of a reason?” Potter asks pathetically. He gives Draco puppy eyes that only half work, but they tell Draco that he’s feeling better, and that’s enough.

“Maybe for you, boy-hero, but the rest of us mere mortals can’t relate,” he teases gently, and Potter gives him a real, though small, grin.

“Thanks, Draco,” he says, heartfelt, and though Draco wants to recoil at the warm familiarity in his tone, he bobs his head gently.

“Don’t think of it, Potter.” He pushes off from the counter to go back to his desk.

“Harry.”

He pauses, then glances over his shoulder. Potter is looking at him imploringly. He sighs. “Harry,” he agrees.

They go back to working silently, but the mood is different. Draco can’t – or won’t – put a finger on why.

***

Their truce – in spite of Draco’s resistance – becomes a sense of companionship. It’s not that they spend time together outside of Serendipity, but when they are there they chat idly as they work, and Draco takes some of Harry’s tattoo ideas and designs them for him begrudgingly.

Draco watches as Harry goes the way he did, years ago. Harry’s arms slowly start to fill up, then his back, topped off with a truly impressive piece on his ribcage that Draco didn’t design but advised Desiree on. He’s got a talent for pulling together pieces that Harry loves. He chooses not to think too hard on it.

***

They get comfortable. Too comfortable.

They’re lounging after hours, waiting for Desiree to finish with a customer so she can tattoo a new piece over Harry’s ankle. Draco’s reading and Harry’s brainstorming for his own next tattoo. When Desiree comes in, waving at Harry to follow her, Draco automatically goes with. He has nothing else to do, and there’s something soothing about watching Desiree work.

Desiree busies herself with setting up the ink and needle while Harry settles into the chair. He knows the drill, has already shaved his ankle, and waits patiently while Desiree hums to herself.

Then, she asks Draco to go grab her iPod from the staff room.

It isn’t until he’s accio’d the damn thing, only to be met with dead silence, that he realizes what he’s done.

Harry’s head snaps up, looking at Draco in shock and something like horror. Desiree is staring at where her iPod sits in Draco’s hand with her mouth dropped open. He feels the blood leave his face – can’t imagine how ghostlike he appears – and he drops the device onto the floor next to him. He can’t speak.

“Did my iPod just fly?” Desiree asks him, dumbfounded. “You said something and it flew. What did you say?”

“… nothing?” Harry tries to help, shifting and standing next to the table. It looks defensive, which it is – like he’s moving to protect Draco. “Sounds like he was muttering to himself to me.”

“And then my iPod flew into the room.” She gestures to where it’s laying on the floor like proof. “What did you do? Was that an actual spell?” She looks bewildered. “Are you Wiccan? Like, a witch?” It’s quite the leap, especially since he hadn’t even pulled his wand out of his sleeve to give him away, but he supposes that flying muggle devices are enough.

“I’m not Wiccan,” Draco says dumbly. He doesn’t know how else to react. He can’t believe himself. The idea that he’d gotten so comfortable around a muggle that he’d forget to keep his magic a secret is absurd, and yet… “I didn’t do anything,” he manages. It’s not convincing.

“You’re a filthy liar,” she says accusingly, calling him on it. “How did you do that?” He struggles with what to say. He feels like he can’t breathe.

“Desiree,” Harry says, interjecting with a concerned expression. “I’m not sure you –“

She turns on him, sharp eyes gleaming. “You’re in on it.” She looks back at Draco, putting things together. Merlin, she’s smart. Draco has always admired that about her. “You knew each other in school, right? So you know, too, and you’re trying to keep the secret?”

Harry winces, giving himself away, and she makes a little “ah-hah” sort of sound. “Desiree, it’s not what you think.”

“Then tell me what it is, then,” she says, challenging, and Draco makes up his mind. She looks calm in the face, but her hands are trembling.

It’s just like him to ruin his own happiness.

In a minute he’s standing, wand in his fist. Harry jumps up, reaching out, but Draco shakes his hands away. “I’m sorry, Desiree,” he says, and means it. He isn’t sure what kind of wretched expression he’s making. “I didn’t mean to cause problems, or give anything away – I just didn’t think.” He’s genuinely conflicted, wanting to protect himself and hating the idea of erasing the truth about himself from her mind. “I won’t hurt you, so don’t be scared – I’ll just do a little memory charm so you forget. You can’t know about magic. There’s a law.”

She yells in outrage – not afraid, but defiant – and Harry steps between them, holding a hand out in both directions. “Draco, blast the Statute. She’s our friend, right? She’s not going to tell anyone!”

Draco growls. “Potter, she’s my friend, you lout. Besides, it’s not your mistake! I get to figure out how to fix it!”

“Maybe it doesn’t need fixed!” Harry insists, a palm on Draco’s chest. He hadn’t realized they were close enough to touch. He doesn’t know why he’s hesitating, why he’s listening to Potter. He never has before. Then again, not listening to Potter is what led to him self-destructing sixth year, so maybe he should.

Draco lowers his wand, but his grip is still tight.

Desiree makes a frustrated sound. “I’m not going to tell anyone, you prick – just tell me what’s going on!”

He wraps his free hand around Potter’s wrist, meeting his gaze imploringly. “Potter,” he says in a low voice. “It’s not your head on the chopping block if the Ministry finds out that I’m telling muggles about magic. You’re the fucking Savior, you’ll get away with it, but me? Straight to Azkaban. That’s what one fuckup does to an ex-Death Eater.”

“The fuck?” he hears Desiree say. Neither of them pay her any mind.

“I’ll say it was me, then,” Harry argues, defiant. “They’ve no proof.”

“They’re tracking my wand!”

“I’ll say I borrowed it,” he says, determined. “If they connect the spell to Desiree finding out – which they won’t – I’ll just say it was me. I borrowed your wand because I left mine in my jacket pocket in the other room… who knows, they won’t question it.”

He closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. “Harry…” He sounds weak, even to his own ears.

“I’ll defend you,” Harry swears lowly. “You won’t go to Azkaban for this. I won’t even let them fine you, I swear, if they find out.” He glances back at Desiree. “It’s Desiree.”

Draco is pale and trembling himself, but he finally nods shortly and lets his wand hand drop entirely. “Do you want to explain, or shall I?” he asks, voice tight, and Harry bites his lip. Harry probably knows that if things go badly he’s going to retreat back to the memory charm idea, but he still moves aside and slowly makes to sit down.

“She was your friend first,” he says, not calling him out on his possessive act moments before, and Draco just nods again. He feels tired, but he just gestures for Desiree to take a seat in the armchair Harry vacated. He sits in the other armchair and lets Harry stand behind him in solidarity.

There’s a long silence while he and Desiree just stare at each other. Desiree is still staring her iPod.

“I’m a wizard,” he admits on an exhale, no buildup. Just facts. “Harry is, too. We went to school together at a wizarding school, and we have entire communities worldwide that non-magical people don’t even know exist. There are magical creatures, like dragons, as well as magical plants and other natural materials.”

More silence.

“My iPod?” she asks, hesitant.

“It’s just a charm,” he tells her, pulling the words through clenched teeth. “A summoning spell. I should have just gotten up to get it, but I acted on reflex. I didn’t think. Clearly.”

“I don’t even know what to say. I… you use a magic wand, like in stories,” Desiree says slowly, nodding toward where his hand is still clutched around it. It’s like he can’t let it go.

“Everyone does,” Harry shrugs, and he pulls out his own – holly monstrosity that it is, in need of a polish and marked with what looked suspiciously like bites. Just like Potter to chew on his wand instead of a quill. “They help focus our magic. Wandless magic is possible but difficult for most people.”

Desiree nods like this makes perfect sense to her. “So magic exists.”

“Yes,” Draco responds.

“And normal people aren’t supposed to know about it?” she asks, then winces herself. “Sorry. Non-magical people.” Draco nods anyway. In all honesty, he’s surprised that she would correct herself. He probably wouldn’t have, if he were talking about muggles.

“Sometimes things get out,” Harry offers. “A lot of mysteries or weird happenstances in your news tend to be magic related. I once accidentally blew up my aunt and she floated around like a balloon for a couple hours.” Draco manages to restrain himself to shooting Harry a look at that one. “I got in big trouble for it, and our government had to use memory spells on a lot of mug – er. Non-magical people.”

Desiree processes this. When she speaks again, it’s not at all what Draco had thought she would say. He feels his heart sink into his stomach.

“A few years ago,” she says. He stills completely. Behind him, Harry’s hand on his shoulder tightens. “Shit, longer – five or six, now. There was a lot of weird stuff happening in London… dark shapes, crazy accidents, murders. No one could explain it then, but was it magic?”

Draco swallows, but can’t make himself speak. Desiree zeros in on his discomfort, but Harry answers before she can interrogate him.

“Yes,” he admits. “We were in the middle of the war – a war bad enough that it spilled over into the muggle world. Like anything else, magic can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and even more destructive.” Harry sounds so much older than he is when he talks like that, a serious expression on his face. Draco wonders if he’s emulating Dumbledore. “It’s over and taken care of now, though,” he adds as an afterthought.

She blinks. “A war.”

“Think supervillains,” Draco tells her bitterly before Harry can respond. “Immortality-seeking pure evil with a lot of magical racism all in one demonic package, with a group of idiots and monsters as his followers.” He pointedly does not look at Harry and adds what he’d thought months ago: “Magical Nazis.”

Desiree’s mouth is a straight line. “Explain.”

 

The relocate to Desiree’s upstairs apartment. It takes two hours and quite a lot of rum to finish the whole story, and by the end of it, Draco has cried twice – though he’ll never admit it and had kept it hidden the best he could – and Harry is uncharacteristically solemn. Desiree is staring at them with wide eyes.

She’d had a lot of questions about Harry being the Boy-Who-Lived, but she’d been suspiciously silent when Harry had quietly explained what a Death Eater was. He could see the cogs turning in her head – connecting their conversation about organized crime from months ago to the truth.

He’d never wanted her to know the truth about him, in all honesty. It’s too late.

“It’s interesting that the two of you are friends now… although, it does explain a lot about the first month or so after Harry started coming to the shop,” is all she says. He doesn’t know how to read her expression.

“I’ve always wanted to fix things with Draco,” Harry offers. He spares Draco half a glance, a flutter of eyelashes, before fixing his gaze back on Desiree. “But he’s hard to get close to. He’s been hurt a lot; he keeps things close to his chest.”

“I’ve noticed that,” she agrees. Draco pretends that they’re not talking about him as though he isn’t there.

They make small talk for another twenty minutes before Harry excuses himself. He gives Desiree a little wink before disapparating from the living room, right in front of her eyes, and she jumps a little when he does, eyes huge again. Draco doesn’t even react, long used to the sound. He wonders if Desiree sees the entire world between them – the things he can do, the things he’s used to, that are foreign to her. He wonders if she thinks he’s a monster.

After Harry leaves, things get awkward between them. Desiree calms down, but Draco still can’t look at her.

He, surprisingly, gathers the courage to break the silence. “If you’d rather I not come back, I’d understand.”

Desiree just looks at him. “Because you were a Death Eater?” she asks, and he nods. She sighs. “Draco, I’ve known you for almost four years now. I know you’re not evil.” Then, gentler, she adds, “I remember what you told me back when Harry started hanging around. About the crime stuff? I get now that it wasn’t really a gang or mob or anything, but… you weren’t lying about being forced into it, were you?”

He shakes his head. “By the time the war started in earnest, I was already disillusioned by my father’s ideals. I never wanted anyone dead, but with the Dark Lord, it was kill or be killed.” He looks down. “I never wanted to hurt anyone. I was raised to think being a pureblood meant I was better than other people, sure, but by the time the war started… I just wanted it all to be over. I didn’t care anymore.”

He rolls his rum glass between his hands and exhales slowly.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m denying responsibility,” he forces himself to add. “Or that I’m denying how bad the things I did are. I’m not. I’ve hurt people, Desiree, but… I never wanted to. I hate the things I’ve done.” It’s the most candid he’s been with anyone about his actions during the war. “I used to be a fucking prick, but I grew up. The war made me grow up.”

She nods, like she understands. She doesn’t, but she’s trying, and that’s what matters. “I won’t pretend that I’m comfortable with finding out that someone I’ve been friends with for years was a war criminal,” she says slowly. “But I don’t know anything about what your war was like, and… I know you’re not like that now.” She takes a deep breath. “If the apparent savior of the wizarding world can forgive you, I think I can put it aside. For the sake of our friendship.”

He thinks she’s letting him off too lightly. He chooses not to call her out on it, especially considering that an entire world’s politics and history are more than she can unpack in one night. “Thanks, Des. It means a lot to me.” He gives her a wry smile back. “Besides, where would I get my tattoos if you stopped letting me spend all my money at Serendipity?”

She laughs, still tense but relaxing. “Lord knows.” Then, she cocks her head to the side. “Speaking of, do you not have tattoos in the magical community?” she asks, curious in spite of everything. “I only ask because you only had the one tattoo before you started coming to me.” She pauses when she sees the grimace he makes. “If it was because of the being-an-ex-death-eater thing, you don’t have to answer. Just ignore me.”

Draco swallowed. He could just ignore the question, use her get-out-of-jail-free card… or he could tell the truth.

He lifts his sleeve. “Part of it is because I’m not really welcomed in wizarding society,” he begins haltingly, rolling until the Dark Mark – or what’s still visible of it – is bared. “But that’s not reason the reason why I get muggle tattoos. Magical tattoos move, you see, and so did this.”

She glances down to the Mark. “I haven’t ever seen it move.”

He swallows. “That’s because the bastard who made it is dead.” Desiree freezes, slowly looking back up to meet his eyes. Draco winces under the weight of her gaze. “It’s called a Dark Mark. The Dark Lord gave it to all his followers and used it to contact them… or torture them. It could cause excruciating pain.” Draco grimaces and rolls his sleeve down. “I can’t bear to have wizarding tattoos now, and so I wound up here.”

She was silent for a moment. “And here I thought you liked my work.”

He smiles tightly. “That’s why I came back.” At that, she smiles again, and a little of his tension drains.

He stays the night. In the morning, Desiree makes him pancakes, and he tries not to get emotional over her unspoken I forgive you.

***

He and Harry become friends. Real ones, this time, without Draco’s protective wall of cynicism and Harry’s desperate, blind attempts to reach out to him. They settle further into the sort of easy friendship that Draco had wanted desperately when he was young.

It’s odd, to say the least. Draco hasn’t had anyone but his mother and Desiree for years, and in all honesty, neither felt real until recently. His mother, even now, only has access to a small portion of his life. Desiree had represented his muggle banishment, his exile, the scraps of a life he’d dug out for himself.

Now, he has a real relationship with her – or one that now feels real. She knows both parts of him and welcomes him. Even more surprising is that she doesn’t pretend he’s not magic – she accepts it, learns more about it. She comes to him with questions when there’s no customers or other artists in the shop, asks him to show her tricks. He performs for her with the same charms that his mother had used to entertain him as a child. Her sense of wonder sparks a new sense of amazement in himself, one he’d lost as he grew older and more used to living with magic.

He wonders if that is why so many wizards use their magic to hurt others – they’ve lost the appreciation, the love for it. Then again, he thinks bitterly, he doesn’t think the Dark Lord had ever had it. It had always been a tool for him.

Because of Harry, the gap between his past and present closes ever so slightly. Harry has always known more of Draco than he’d ever want to admit, but because of him Desiree now knows him, too. He doesn’t like feeling indebted to anyone, but he already owes Harry Potter a life debt. For some reason, he doesn’t mind owing him this, too.

He finds himself smiling at Harry without meaning to, laughing at his antics and welcoming his conversation. Harry is surprisingly touchy, and is always around with a pat or arm around the shoulders, tugging Draco by the sleeve to whatever he wants to show him. He remembers being casually affectionate with Blaise or Greg (or Vince, his mind whispers but refuses to say aloud), but he’d never been so welcoming of touches like the ones Harry gives him.

If he thinks about it too hard, he can admit to himself that they’re grounding. Harry reminds him that he’s a person – more importantly that he’s still the same Draco he’s always been, albeit less of a bigot. Better. Harry’s presence helps him take the parts of his past that he doesn’t hate and connect them to who he is now. He doesn’t necessarily open up to Harry, even though the man begins telling him more and more as the weeks go on.

Draco pretends he’s not getting attached. Maybe denial will save him when Harry eventually figures out what to do with his life and leaves Draco and Serendipity behind. He takes solace in knowing that Harry will have Draco’s art on his body forever, and tries not to think that means anything at all.

***

Draco begins dreaming about Harry – and Pansy, his mother, Greg and Vince and magic. He hasn’t wanted to be a part of the magical world again so badly since shortly after the war, when he’d realized how ostracized he was.

He wishes he could resent Harry for coming in and ruining the safe place he’s created for himself here with Desiree and the shop, but now that he’s stopped he can’t find it in him to start again.

He forces the feeling to go from being bitter to bittersweet, and for the first time, he feels like he’s not running away. Instead, he’s moving forward.

***

It makes sense that once he lowers his defenses, the universe takes an opportunity to get back at him for his mistakes once more.

It’s Harry’s fault, really, though Draco can’t feel anything except a weak sense of betrayal at first that he can’t name a reason for. He’s not angry immediately – just vaguely hurt that Harry would purposefully make him so vulnerable.

He can’t think of any other reason that Harry would bring Ron Weasley into Serendipity with no warning.

Weasley stops the second he sees Draco, halfway through the front door. His eyes widen and Draco realizes that Harry hasn’t told him about Draco, either. He doesn’t know how he feels about being Harry’s secret.

“Welcome to Serendipity,” he says, half-dumb, and Weasley turns to gape at Harry. Potter, oblivious git, just brushes past him with a cheerful Morning, Draco. “Morning,” he replies, trading dumbfounded looks with Weasley for an absurd moment.

“Is Des with a customer?” Harry asks, pressing forward as if nothing about this situation is odd. Draco isn’t sure if Harry is ignoring the tension for a reason or if he’s just genuinely unaware of it. He never can tell with him.

Draco looks down at the appointment book even though he already knows the answer. “No, she’s in between clients right now.” He glances back at Weasley who is still looking at Draco like he’s a zoo creature. Draco realizes with an uncomfortable pit in his stomach that once again his body has been exposed to someone he didn’t want it to be. His coat is in the closet, leaving him in a loose t-shirt, and instead shifts in place as if that will prevent Weasley from gawking at his tattoos.

“Ron’s been talking about getting tatted for a while,” Harry tells him, and Draco nods along, unsure of how to respond in any way other than why would you bring him here? “I want to introduce him to Des, see if we could set him up an appointment. I’m going to go grab her.” Then he reaches out, squeezes Draco’s shoulder like he always does, and disappears into the back.

It only helps slightly that Weasley doesn’t seem to know how to respond to this turn of events any more than Draco does.

“If you’d like,” Draco says evenly. “You may take a seat over there.” He nods toward the waiting area. “I could also get you a bottle of water.”

Weasley shakes his head, and finally steps forward. He only stands in front of the front desk and doesn’t make to sit. He looks around, bewildered. “You… work at a tattoo shop,” he says finally. His tone is very bland.

Draco nods. “I’m friends with the owner,” he answers slowly, unsure if he’s being interrogated. After all, Weasley is an auror. “I come to help out.”

“Regular customer, too, I see,” Weasley says, nodding toward Draco’s body. His arms and collar totally bared. He feels as though he might as well be naked. “This is where Harry’s been spending all his time?”

“Seems that way.” He glances toward the back and wonders why Harry is taking so long. When he sees no movement, he reluctantly turns back to Weasley. “Is this some daft plan of Harry’s, or do you really want a tattoo?” he asks finally, unable to hold the question in.

Weasley struggles with that one, anger flitting across his face before he visibly calms himself. Draco wonders if it’s because he used the words Harry and daft in the same sentence, or just because Harry’s given name had been used at all. “I’ve been looking into it,” Weasley tells him, though his tone is slightly clipped. “Thought the phoenix Harry got looks good, you know – got interested from there.”

Draco nods again, aware that he probably looks like an alien badly imitating a human being. He can’t seem to make his shoulders relax. He chooses not to tell Weasley who exactly designed the tattoo – nor that he has one as well. It’s bad enough that Harry’s been joking about them being couple tattoos; he doesn’t need Weasley to get in on the joke, too.

Ron looks around and then narrows his eyes at Draco. There it is. He’d been waiting for the vitriol, the hatred. Surprise could only keep Weasley calm for so long. “What’re you doing with Harry, Malfoy?” he asks in a low voice. He pins Draco with his stare, unfriendly and cold. “He quits his job, pulls this disappearing act, and I find out he’s hanging about a tattoo shop with you? It doesn’t make sense.”

Draco’s sure that if he stiffens up any more he’ll snap in two. “I don’t control what Harry does,” he says tersely. “All I know is that he asked me about my tattoos one day and started showing up. If you want to know why he does what he does, ask him.” He doesn’t try to tell Weasley that they’re friends; he thinks the man would punch him sooner than believe him.

“Don’t think for a second I trust you. You might have a bunch of fancy new ink, but prettying up the outside doesn’t change how rotten the inside is.” He darts an accusing glance down at the Dark Mark. “If there’s anything going here, I will find out.” Draco feels a sharp stab of self-loathing, a desire to hide himself at home away from the accusations. He almost retorts reflexively.

Luckily, Harry chooses that moment to emerge with Desiree in tow, grinning at the sight of them. Draco realizes that Weasley has smoothed out his expression, giving no evidence that he’d been two seconds from threatening Draco openly. To the outsider – to Harry – it must look like they’ve been getting along perfectly well.

Draco narrows his eyes, suspicious. Harry looks too pleased for this to be coincidence, and he realizes that this must be planned. Draco suddenly feels a surge of anger rise up his throat. He doesn’t need to know what Harry thought he would accomplish – all he knows is that Harry has violated a sacred place and now looks pleased about it. His only safe place, and Harry Potter has come in and obliterated it. Inconsiderate bastard, he thinks bitterly, and has to swallow it before it comes out of his mouth.

“Who’s this, then?” Desiree asks, raising an eyebrow. Her expression takes on a concerned edge when she sees the way Draco is holding himself, stiff and uncomfortable.

“Ron Weasley,” Draco introduces, nodding toward Weasley. “An old friend of Potter’s.” He steps away from the front desk and forces a strained smile to his face. “Excuse me. I’m going to take a break. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”

He pushes past them, ignoring the way Harry’s face shifts to confusion when Draco makes a quick exit.

He has to calm his breathing once he’s safely upstairs with the door locked behind him. He sits on Desiree’s couch and counts to ten and back down again with his head in his hands. He feels bad for it, but he places wards on the door to keep Harry out and doesn’t go back downstairs.

 

Desiree comes for him nearly an hour after the shop closes. He feels bad for leaving her to close up herself, but she doesn’t seem to be angry – just worried about him.

“They both left,” she tells him softly. He doesn’t say anything, and she adds even more quietly, “Do you want to talk about it, or would you like it if I left you alone?”

Draco swallows. He can’t decide.

“Are you going to tattoo him?” Draco asks instead. Desiree nods slowly.

“He was friendly enough with me, and Harry asked me to as a favor,” she answers, honest as always. He appreciates that about her. “We’ve got an appointment set up.”

“I don’t want to be here when you do.”

Her brows furrow even more. “That’s alright.” When Draco doesn’t look up, she pads over to him gently on stocking-covered feet and reaches out a hand to run her fingers through his hair. She’s become more tactile since he’d come clean about the magic, as though some barrier between them melted. In that moment, with her hands in his hair and her care so evident, she reminds him of his mother, trying to take care of him as the war broke him down.

Draco takes a deep breath but still doesn’t look up. He doesn’t know what Desiree will see in his eyes. “You know Harry and I didn’t get on in school,” he says, quietly. Desiree hums to let him know she’s listening. “Well, I didn’t get on with his friends either, and Weasley is less forgiving. He’s not my biggest fan.”

“Did he say something to you earlier?” Desiree’s quick. She’s also audibly upset.

“Nothing more than I can deal with,” he sighs, and finally lifts his head to meet her gaze. He wonders if he looks as old and weary as he feels. “I would rather not put myself in that place again, however much I probably deserve his vitriol.” He wrestles with what he says next, but must say it. He forces it out. “I need a few days off. Can your sister cover for me?”

She nods. They don’t talk about the fact that Beth never came back after having her baby, that Draco’s taken her place full-time without asking for the position.

“If you need me,” she says, looking at him with big brown eyes. “You know where you find me.”

He nods.

***

He rarely lets himself think about it, but he hates the Manor. It eats at him, but he can’t walk its halls without knowing whose footsteps he’s following. This was the place where he grew up, where he’d sat on a metaphorical throne and thought himself a prince for so many years.

He feels like a ghost now, trapped in a giant mausoleum.

His mother is overseas currently, and he has the house to himself and a team of four house elves who have known him since birth. They silently read his mood and prepare him his favorite dishes when he gets too much in his own head. They are his only companions for two days while he takes some time away from Potter to clear his head.

He forces himself to sit in the drawing room – in short bursts only, but he will sit at the end of a long table and stare down at who he used to be, what his family was responsible for. He thinks about Weasley’s hatred of him, looks down at the after-images of a monster who had lived in his home – the after-images of what his family has done – and wonders if he deserves it.

The most difficult part for him is Harry. He doesn’t want to go back to demonizing the man, but he also can’t help but blame him for the way he is feeling. He knows, deep down, that Harry’s mean bone is limited to rude reporters and people who hurt others. There’s no way that Harry brought Weasley to Serendipity to hurt him, and he probably didn’t think Weasley would be openly hostile in public, when Harry has made it clear that they’re on friendly terms. He’s underestimated Weasley’s hostility, certainly.

He receives two owls from Harry. Ignores them. He spends most of his time drawing, planning out tattoos he probably doesn’t have room for. He finishes two commissions he’s been working on and otherwise does very little.

Naturally, on day three, Harry gets sick of his avoidance strategy and starts trying to break into the Manor. The wards ping ping ping at him until he growls in annoyance and lets the man in. He doesn’t go to fetch him. He’s still upset enough to let the man wander in the Manor until he gets lost.

Disappointingly, Potter manages to find him in something close to fifteen minutes. Draco steadfastly ignores him, focusing on his drawing table with narrow-minded focus. He is pretty sure the sketch he’s working on is too large to go on a human body, but it’s been a while since he’s done art for its own sake, and shifts his mindset from tattoo art to something he might paint later.

Harry doesn’t say anything for a while. Draco’s comfortable enough in his presence to not mind being watched, and he’s not going to break first. He waits.

“I talked to Desiree.”

Draco hums distantly. “I’m sure you did.”

Another long moment passes where Harry doesn’t know what to say – or maybe how to say it. Then, he sighs heavily and comes in to take a seat in the armchair to the side of his drawing table.

“Can we talk?” he asks quietly. He sounds guilty, and Draco swallows.

“I assumed that was why you came.”

“Will you put your pencil down to talk to me properly?”

His fingers tighten around the pencil. He almost says no. Instead, he sets it down and turns his chair with a stony expression on his face that lets nothing through. He’s heard it referred to as the Malfoy mask. He’s not as proud of that as he once was.

Once his attention is on Harry, the man takes in a deep breath. He’s wringing his hands ever so slightly. “I need to apologize to you,” he says. “Ron told me what he said, after you left. I made him because I saw how upset you looked.” He looks down. “He shouldn’t have said those things.”

“On the contrary,” Draco disagrees, voice bland. “I would expect Weasley to say exactly what he did, and he was probably right to.”

Harry clearly hadn’t expected that. He rears back his head a little bit, mouth opening and closing as his brain works its way through what Draco had said. “He shouldn’t have.”

He snorts a little and shakes his head, blonde hair falling over his brow before he sweeps it back out of his eyes. “Did you expect him to say anything else?”

Harry looks at him in confusion, like he can’t understand what prompted the question. “I expected him to be mature about it, yeah,” he answers slowly. “And I didn’t bring him to insult you – I brought him because I thought it was a good opportunity to reintroduce you.” He hesitates, and then adds, “We’re friends now, aren’t we? I didn’t want to keep you a secret from him, and I thought maybe if he could only see what I see when we’re at Serendipity, he’d… I don’t know.” He wrings his hands in his lap. “Clearly he didn’t, and I’m sorry.”

“Quit apologizing for Weasley,” Draco tells him, and the words might be kind, but they’re cold. Harry still looks lost, anxious, like he can’t understand why Draco hasn’t fallen over himself to accept the apology. “Why are you apologizing for him?” he asks. It’s a semi-rhetorical question – he knows the answer, but also knows that Harry doesn’t quite understand what he’s getting at.

Harry stumbles over an explanation. “I mean – he’s my friend, isn’t he? And he insulted you because I didn’t tell him properly that we were friends, and didn’t tell him to –“

“To be nice to me?” It was supposed to be calm, but it comes out incredulous and a little angry. He’s surprised. He thought it would take longer for his mask to break. Harry goes to say something, but Draco stops him, struggling to keep his tone even. “Weasley hates me, Potter. Of course he’s going to lash out at me – in fact, I would think there was something wrong with him if he hadn’t. You’re the one acting strange here.”

“Then why –“

“I’m not angry at you for what Weasley said,” he finally snaps. He stands, unable to stay still. “I’m angry at you for bringing him! You fucking… infiltrate the shop. You infiltrate a place that’s mine and then think it’s okay to bring more people without even telling me? You didn’t even think to ask?”

Harry rears back like Draco smacked him. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Draco! And yeah, maybe I should have told you, but I wanted to reintroduce you and I thought you’d refuse if I asked. If anything, I was trying to be a better friend, instead of keeping you on the side like a dirty secret!”

Draco’s face feels hot, his anger rising.

“I would have refused, and for good bloody reason!” Draco hisses. “Weasley is never going to like me! He will never forgive the things I’ve done, and neither will the wizarding world. And maybe they fucking shouldn’t, Merlin knows I probably deserve it, but I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I stay out of Diagon, I don’t ask others for forgiveness, and I certainly don’t bring my death eater friends around for shits and fucking giggles to ruin things for other people!” Harry chokes at that, but Draco presses onward. His voice wavers when he does, losing control of his emotions “So please. Explain to me why you didn’t think to even tell me you were bringing him to my shop.”

“You keep saying that,” Harry says, stuttering only slightly as he formulates an answer, beginning to go pink in the face. His hands are trembling now, turning to fists. “Your shop – you don’t own Serendipity, Draco; it’s Desiree’s shop and I wanted to bring my friend to a public place that I trust and like! Yeah, I wanted to introduce Ron to you because we’re friends and I didn’t want to have two wholly separate social lives, but I also just like Serendipity and wanted to recommend it! What’s bad about that?”

Harry opens his mouth to say something else, but stops short, looking up at Draco with an expression akin to horror. Draco realizes, shame sitting hot in his stomach, that tears are welling in his eyes.

“I don’t own it,” he chokes, and part of him wants to keep this hidden, but he can’t. The anger and pain and betrayal at Harry’s dismissal is too much. “But it was my place. Desiree was my only friend and nobody there saw me as Death Eater scum, or knew my family, or expected me to be anyone but myself. It was the one place I could go without feeling like a monster, where nobody hurled abuse at me, and you brought someone there who embodies everything that I was trying to avoid.”

By the end of his rant, tears are scalding his cheeks – oh, he’s always been an angry crier, though few people knew that. He gets it from his mother.

“I thought you got that,” he says, wiping at his cheeks in frustration. “You should have asked me, or told me at the very least, because your friend hates me and you wanted to bring him to the one place where I didn’t feel prosecuted for being alive. Instead, you show up with no warning and I…”

Harry has gone very still. Realization dawns in his eyes. “I was safe,” he says, slowly. His eyes are huge and understanding, but Draco immediately wishes that they weren’t. “You thought I was safe and that I didn’t want to hurt you, and I acted without considering your feelings and ended up doing it anyway.” He looks up at Draco, but averts his eyes shortly thereafter, ashamed.

“Fucking savior,” he says, half-incredulous. His voice is still shaking slightly. “Always making it about you.”

But he’s right. Draco hasn’t only come to like Harry – he’s come to trust him, to believe in the hand he’d finally reached back to Draco. To have him bring Weasley between them, to remind them of the past that stretched between them still, was like a betrayal in and of itself, never mind the violation of his safe place.

The silence between them stretched longer than Draco knew what to do with. He couldn’t phrase what he wanted to say, and Harry was clearly unsure of how to respond without stepping on another landmine. He probably knew he was right, but couldn’t find a way to phrase a response to Draco’s accusations.

It takes all of Draco’s hard-earned growth as a person to, instead of continuing to lash out, end the silence himself with a stony, “You should have told me, at least. Blindsiding me was cruel.” His eyes still sting slightly with the aftereffects of his anger.

Harry bobbed his head, all red-faced frustration drained out of him. “You’re right,” he agreed. “I didn’t realize how important Serendipity was to you.” He looked down at his hands. “It was probably stupid to think Ron would be friendly, or put the past aside. I never meant to make you feel…” He struggled to find the right word. “Alienated, in your own space.”

“Don’t pity me,” Draco says automatically. “This isn’t about that – it’s about you being inconsiderate.”

“I was,” he agrees. “And I won’t be again. I promise.”

He stares Harry down. After a long moment, he goes back to his drawing table and sits down with forced ease. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he says, faux casual.

“I’ll see you at the shop,” Harry says, taking the dismissal gracefully. Before he leaves the room, he apologizes again, softer and genuine.

Draco pretends not to hear him.

***

For the next week, Harry doesn’t quite tiptoe around him, but he moves with quiet deliberation, thinking carefully about the way Draco might respond to him. In a way, it’s reassuring to see that Harry does care enough to be so cautious.

Draco doesn’t push him away, per se, but he’s quiet when he responds to any questions and he doesn’t spend time after working hours drinking and drawing with Harry upstairs. He’s not necessarily redacting their friendship, but he’s still frustrated. His trust, while not entirely depleted, is shaken, even if he knows Harry hadn’t intentionally hurt him.

Harry promises to speak to Weasley, and he must, because the one time Weasley arrives before Draco can leave, he gives Draco a stiff nod and otherwise keeps his mouth shut. After that, Draco doesn’t go upstairs when he’s there. If they must be in the same room, they do so silently.

Eventually, though, they settle back into their pattern – noticeably more so after, a month later, Weasley’s tattoo gets finished.

“I won’t be bringing him around again,” Harry admits when asked. “At least not until he gets his head out of his arse.”

“Good call,” is all Draco has to say to that.

***

He’s not sure if Harry is trying to make up for the Weasley mess or just trying to be funny, but Harry makes them an odd sort of comedy duo at the shop. He tells customers he’s trying to woo Draco, and refers to their phoenix tattoos as couple’s tattoos even more than he did before. Desire encourages it, Nathan and the other tattoo artist Desiree employs think it’s hilarious, and Draco hates the fact that he gets caught up in it.

Harry makes his cheeks heat up when he gets close, and he touches Draco with gentle hands more than he ever has before. He settles his hands on Draco’s hips when moving past him (even in not-so-tight spaces) and drags Draco by hand to get lunch most days. He throws arms around his shoulders and, when putting on a show for customers or Desiree, will kiss Draco on the cheek when he says hello or goodbye. Draco would say it’s getting out of hand, but really he’s just overwhelmed and confused at the sudden turn of events.

He tells himself it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t feel that different, really, than how Harry’s been acting this whole time – he’s just more insistent about it, and the less Draco gets upset by it, the more Harry settles into casual affection. Draco can’t fathom what he gets out of it, but he can’t bring himself to make Harry stop.

(Harry makes jokes about their phoenix tattoos, but never makes a comment about the lightning bolt on his spine directly above it, though Draco knows he must see it. He won’t bring it up himself, and he wonders what Harry is waiting for.)

***

Weasley returns one day when Harry is out, doing something for Hagrid at Hogwarts. Draco tense up, but Weasley just makes a face and remains surprisingly civil.

“I was hoping to book another appointment,” Weasley tells him.

Draco nods tightly. “What would work for you?”

“Any weekend.”

Draco sets him up with a Saturday appointment, carefully not looking at Weasley, who seems to be examining him for Merlin knows what.

He gets his answer when Weasley says abruptly, “Harry wants us to all have dinner together.”

Draco freezes. He looks up at Weasley, as expressionless as humanly possible, and just stares at him. He doesn’t understand.

Weasley shifts uncomfortably. “In muggle London. To avoid wizarding publicity.” Nice cover, Potter, Draco thinks, though he’s sure there’s a grain of truth to it. Not that Weasley isn’t well aware of Draco’s reception in wizarding society, anyway. After another long silence, Weasley adds, “I’m not going to apologize for what I said, but I’m willing to give it a shot if you are, since you’re so important to him.”

Draco doesn’t know if he’d qualify himself as important to Harry, but he takes a deep breath and forces himself to be reasonable anyway. “Who all is us?”

Weasley shrugs, looking away. “You, me, Harry, and Hermione.” He doesn’t look too happy about what’s going on, but he does seem genuine in wanting to ‘give it a shot,’ and Draco isn’t going to give him a reason to continue the hostilities.

“If you and Granger are amendable,” Draco answers slowly. “I am also willing to put aside past differences.”

Weasley nods his head jerkily. “Don’t think I’m not still on my guard,” he warns. “If you hurt Harry, I’ll make sure you pay for it. But… for Harry’s sake.” The look he gives Draco is disdainful, distrusting, but not aggressive.

Weasley leaves shortly after. When he does, Draco asks himself what the fuck he’s doing, why he’s subjecting himself to this – and remembers Harry’s earnest, warm gaze. Neither he nor Weasley are going to enjoy this dinner, he’s sure, but yes. For Harry’s sake.

***

Draco tells Harry about Weasley’s visit.

Amusingly, Harry immediately looks contrite. “I was going to ask you!” he insists immediately, horrified at the prospect of Draco’s wrath. “I just brought it up to Hermione and Ron to see if there was even a point in trying, but Ron said he needed to think about it – I was going to ask once he’d told me one way or the other!”

Draco loses the little bit of tension he didn’t even realize he’d had. He gives Harry a wry grin. “I guessed something like that was the case,” he agrees. “I’m not angry. I just wanted you to know that we talked about it.”

Harry pauses at that. “And?”

“I said if he was willing to put the past aside, I would, too.”

Harry’s relief is obvious on his face. “We don’t need to do it immediately,” he says, calming. “But I really want you to get along. They’re my best friends, and you’re… you.” He grins a little abashedly and Draco rolls his eyes. Even now, with the flirting. He wonders when Harry will get bored of the game. It’s losing its humor.

“Well,” Draco says, nodding his head lightly. “When you want to, let me know. I already agreed.”

Harry’s grin could light up the sun.

***

Another month goes by relatively peacefully. Weasley gets busy with a case, and the dinner is postponed until things settle down, but Draco – surprising even himself – isn’t overly tense about it.

He gets a new tattoo, a moonflower vine that climbs up his leg. He gets the outline early in the month, gets it colored later, and in the middle of the process, receives a visit from his mother.

She floos in just as he’s about to leave for the shop, wearing a pair of straight-leg jeans and pullover with his sketchbook under his arm. The look she gives his outfit is downright disdainful, but he lets her expression just roll off of him.

“Hello, Mother,” he greets her politely, and leans in with a gentle hand on her elbow to kiss her cheek. “I hope you’ve been well.”

“I have,” she tells him, and softens ever so slightly. “You look less gaunt.” Delightful word, gaunt. Draco hates it.

“I’ve been doing better,” he tells her firmly. “Would you like tea?”

She looks him up and down. “I assumed you were leaving. I can always come back.” Draco shakes his head.

“I don’t have any set time that I need to be at the shop,” he says. Her face remains impassive, now carefully schooled, but he knows she hates the way he calls it the shop, so casual. With a touch of ownership, something he’s laying claim to. It’s too muggle for her, too low-class for a Malfoy to be involved in. “Did you want to visit for a while?”

“Only an hour or so,” his mother says, and he leads her into the kitchen. It’s been awhile since their last visit, one that had ended with Draco feeling insecure and angry at her dismissal of his tattoos and his work and his friends, and he wonders if she’s come to continue berating him or if she will pretend it didn’t happen. Merlin knows they both have wasted years avoiding things; it might as well be a Malfoy trait.

Draco makes the tea himself (it’s calming, and it doesn’t seem necessary to ask an elf to do what he can in a few minutes). Once he has the tea made, he serves his mother and sits next to her, legs crossed gracefully. They make small talk, catch up – Draco tells her nothing of consequence, and his mother tells him about Parisian politics, as if he’s ever going to move to France.

And then, after a long, awkward pause – “You look happier, Draco,” she says softly. He looks up from his tea to meet her eyes only to find a fond yet conflicted expression on her face. He doesn’t know what to say, but Narcissa only sighs gently and sets her tea down. “I’m not unaware of why we haven’t talked in months. I know I’m harsh on you – I don’t mean to belittle your lifestyle, necessarily, and the last thing I want is for you to think I don’t support you.”

This is a conversation that he has been putting off for too long, afraid of what he might say and of how much of his hurt he will allow to show. “You’re just ashamed that I don’t act like a pureblood should.” Try though he might, there is more bitterness in his voice than planned.

She makes a face. “Not ashamed - perhaps unhappy, but… I am not so arrogant to believe after everything that all of my ideas about the world are right. I am trying to give you a little grace.” She looks down into her teacup. “After all, you are the one with the courage to stay in Britain.”

“I’m not exactly carving a place for myself in wizarding society,” he snorts, but then meets her halfway and lets his guard down a little. “But I do like what I’m doing now. Maybe it’s not forever, but it’s good for me.” He wonders when they became the kind of family that did heart-to-hearts.

She wears a tight little smile, and he adds softly, “I never wanted us to be at odds,” because if he’s going to do this, he might as well do it right. “I love you, Mother. I never wanted to disappoint you, but I cannot live my life pretending I still value the things that led us to where we are now.” She looks down. Her fingers are white where they are pinching the handle of her teacup.

“Draco…”

“You don’t have to admit that you agree with me,” he says, and it startles her enough to meet his eyes. “But I know. If nothing else, the fact that you’ve been mending things with Aunt Andromeda says plenty.”

“I… was not aware you knew about our correspondence.”

It’s his turn to give her a small smile. “She sent me a letter. She wants me to get to know Theodore.”

Narcissa looks down, looking both more tired and less weary. “I think it would be good for you,” she tells him. “A chance to be a good role model. Your father and I always thought you would benefit from being an older brother, but it never worked out the way we hoped.”

That he knew. Pureblood “superiority” or not, it was notoriously difficult for pureblooded families to have children. It had always made him think of the history of inbreeding among royal families.

“I agree,” he tells her, and she finally relaxes enough to smile at him for real, the smile he remembered from his childhood.

“I want you to be happy,” his mother tells him. “If you are happy – if your muggle shop and your Harry Potter” - this she says with a gleam in her eye he chooses not to investigate further - “make you happy, then I will support you. I do not want to go months without seeing you again.”

“Me either.”

When he leads her to floo to say goodbye some time later, it is a significantly happier goodbye than it had been before.

***

After talking to his mother, he feels something give.

It takes Draco a long time to realize it, but he feels settled. He doesn’t know how else to describe it but that, like he’s finally come to peace with himself. According to Desiree, it shows – he moves about the shop fluidly and happily, interacting with customers and taking art commissions. He seems less hesitant to converse with those around him, and even goes out with Desiree and Nathan for drinks, though he had rarely taken them up on those offers before.

For the first time in a long time, Draco looks at his life and sees something other than stagnancy. Sure, Draco isn’t living the life he’d always expected he would, but he is living, and he might actually be happy. He enjoys working at the tattoo shop and practicing art, enjoys spending time with Desiree and Nathan and Harry. He could continue to feel sorry for himself, but he’d rather not.

Of anyone, Harry benefits the most from his new attitude, Draco thinks – the fall of the last of Draco’s walls has led to even greater closeness between them. It isn’t intentional, but the more comfortable Draco is with himself, the less he keeps Harry at arm’s length. When Harry slides an arm around his waist, he leans into it or hip checks him lightly. When Harry kisses him hello or goodbye on the cheek, he leans into it and hums a greeting of his own. Every day Harry looks more and more content, and he doesn’t talk about what he’s going to do in the future; like Draco, he seems to be perfectly happy with what he has, though Draco does doubt he’ll keep hanging around the shop forever.

It’s around the year anniversary of Harry’s friendship, a year of Harry gathering tattoos and puttering around Serendipity, that Draco realizes how much he’s changed.

When Draco gets to the shop, Harry is already there, chatting with Nathan and laughing at something he said. He looks happy already, but when he sees Draco his grin widens even further and he waves Draco over, calling a hello.

“Morning,” Harry greets him, knocking shoulders when Draco comes within distance. “I’m finishing up the siren today; are you excited?”

Draco smiles a little. “I’m looking forward to see how it looks when it’s done and the coloring is finished. It’s a totally different thing to see it on paper and how it looks on the skin.”

“It’s already gorgeous of course; all of the art you’ve done for me is.” But he looks down toward his arm excitedly. “Still, it’s like it’s about to come to life. This is my favorite part.”

“I agree,” Draco hums lightly, and goes to put his jacket away in the staff lounge. When he returns, he stations himself at the front desk and looks through the appointments for the day. Other than Harry, there aren’t many. That means he can focus on inventory and drawing, which makes for an easy, pleasant day.

It does actually prove to be an easy, pleasant day up until the afternoon. He’d half-expected something to muck it up – an angry customer, some annoying walk-in, but everything is right on schedule. Harry is in Desiree’s capable hands by 2:45, and by five he’s finished and happily demanding that Draco evaluate her work.

It’s a thrill, as always, to see his art on someone’s skin, but even more than that, it’s Harry’s skin. He has plenty of Desiree’s art as well, but there are many pieces that came from Draco’s sketchbook, and it sends a happy thrill through him to see it, a piece of himself on Harry Potter’s body.

Even when he leaves, when he puts Serendipity behind him, there will be a part of Draco imprinted on him. He’s not oblivious enough to continue to pretend he doesn’t know why that makes him feel so pleased, though he wishes he was.

Draco turns Harry’s arm so that he can see the entire piece, his hands gentle on Harry’s skin. It’s wrapped for now, but he can still see the vibrancy of the scales, the hair, the eyes – all exactly how he imagined it.

“I love it,” he murmurs. “She did an excellent job.”

“I think so, too,” Harry agreed with a blinding smile.

Draco smirked a little, mentally comparing the Harry Potter in front of him to the boy he’d spent so many years of his life circling. “Look at you, Potter. Where did the golden boy go?” He’d never imagined that Harry would get inked up like this, even after Harry had begun to frequent the shop. Then again, to be fair, he’d never thought of himself as someone who would get covered head-to-toe in tattoos either.

He runs a finger lightly over the wrapped siren. Harry blushes a little, but his smile stays in place, though softer than before. Harry really does have plenty of them – though he doesn’t have as much skin covered as Draco, his arms and much of his back are brightened by ink. His chest is clear except for a golden snitch, directly over his heart.

“I always thought tattoos were beautiful,” Harry says, thoughtfully, though his eyes flicker between Draco’s face and his hand still on Harry’s arm. “I didn’t intend to get this into it, though. The snitch was supposed to be a one-time thing, but then I saw some of yours that day on Diagon and… I don’t know.”

“I do,” Draco snorts, finally letting go of Harry’s arm. He steps back and puts some distance between them. “You stalked me and used tattoos as an excuse.”

Harry sputters. “I wasn’t stalking you! I just wanted to get to know you, you know, after the war and everything. I knew you were avoiding me, but… I don’t know, I couldn’t let it go. We’ve always had some kind of relationship; it was weird to not see you at all, or know what was going on with you. I was curious about you.”

“Haven’t you always been?” Draco says, rolling his eyes. “In school, it felt like you were always there when I turned around. For someone who claimed to hate me, you sure were curious.” It’s a tease, and he expects Harry to stutter a little and let it go.

Instead Harry smiles, to his surprise, blushing faintly but not ashamed. “Well, can you blame me? You’re fascinating.” Draco appreciates that he doesn’t bring up his very real and valid suspicions from Hogwarts. For a moment, Draco can pretend that they’re just a normal set of ex-rivals, pulling pigtails. When he realizes the implication of that thought, he turns away from Harry and starts flipping through the appointment book.

“Anyway,” he says, coughing a little and changing the subject. “I’m glad the siren came out well. I worked hard on it.”

Harry doesn’t seem to care that he’s putting distance between them – when Draco glances over, he’s watching Draco with that same fond smile. “I know you did. I appreciate it.”

He feels a smile of his own creeping across his face, but he lets it exist there without trying to suppress it. He turns to say something, but stops, something catching his attention in the corner of his eyes.

They’re interrupted by a flash.

Harry’s smile drops, head snapping sideways to take in the clearly wizarding photographer in the window with an expression of horror. Once Draco gets over the shock, he realizes that there’s another two or three reporters on the first one’s heels, cameras and greedy expressions in tow. He doesn’t know what the hell they think they’re doing, considering the fact that they’re on a muggle street wearing wizarding robes, or even how they found him. The cameras can pass for muggle, but they’re drawing a crowd. He can hear one of them calling Harry’s name.

When he looks back at Harry, he realizes he’s frozen stiff. It’s not like Harry to panic, but his huge eyes give him away. Harry clearly can’t process what’s going on, and he sucks in a sharp breath when one of the reporters call his name again. His face is ashen.

It probably surprises the both of them, how quickly Draco moves.

“Go upstairs,” he says tersely, pushing Harry behind him toward the stairs leading up to Desiree’s apartment. “Just go – I’ll take care of it.” He hears the shop door opening.

“But you –“ Harry tries to protest, in spite of the way his hands shake when he tries to stop Draco from shoving him. Draco’s look quells his argument immediately.

Go,” he repeats, stern, and when he turns back around the Malfoy Mask is in place. He gives the reporters barging in a sickeningly sweet smile. “Maybe send Weasley a patronus. I’d love to see him slap a few arbitrary fines on these fellows.”

He walks forward without waiting for Harry’s response and blocks the path by his desk, leading to the back of the shop. He hears the sound of Harry’s feet going upstairs.

“I’m afraid the shop is closed,” he tells the reporters, who all very clearly recognize him. He hears the door to the upstairs shut. Good. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Draco Malfoy,” the one in the back says, trying to push her way to the front. She looks like she’s got the scoop of the century, and probably does. “Any word on your involvement with Harry Potter?”

“I’m afraid the shop is closed,” he says again, voice tightening ever so slightly. He’s not going to say a damn word about Harry.

“Death Eater Malfoy,” the reporter on the right says, and he grits his teeth on reflex. “Our sources say Mr. Potter is a regular of this shop – do his visits have anything to do with your presence?”

“What is your relationship with the Boy Who Lived?”

“I’m afraid –“ he attempts to say, and is cut off.

“Death Eater Malfoy, what is the meaning of your presence in this muggle shop?” the first reporter interjects again. “Is this because of public response to your war crimes? Have you been run out of wizarding society?”

“When did you get your tattoos?” another says. “And why?”

“Have you joined a muggle gang?”

What is your relationship with –“

He snaps.

Out!” he barks. “You are disrupting a muggle place of business and disturbing the peace. I demand you leave, and will take legal action if you do not exit this property at once!”

His words don’t seem to have any weight, but he does manage to crowd the group back out the door, using his height and long limbs to his advantage. It helps that they don’t seem to want to come into contact with him – death eater as he is. He slams the door in their faces, locks it, and throws a ward or two over it for good measure. Then, he reaches over to the open window, where the reporters – now pronouncedly more offended looking – are still snapping photos.

Leaning down to make eye contact with a camera through the window, he turns the sign to closed. He keeps his sweet smile up as one reporter takes a photo, presumably of him and the sign. He forces himself to push down his self-consciousness concerning the tattoos he’s worked so hard to keep to himself, and mentally sends an apology to Desiree and her customer in the back. Then, he closes the blinds, and takes a deep, shaky breath.

He hates the cameras. Since the war he’s come to despise reporters, and feels ill at the idea of appearing in the papers in the morning, but… he thinks of Harry’s wan face. As uncomfortable as he himself feels – the tightness in his chest, the way his hands are shaking – he’s sure Harry feels just as bad, if not worse.

He slips into Desiree’s work room. The customer waves at him with his free arm, a friendly enough regular Draco’s not quite on first-name basis with, but Desiree has already stopped tattooing, her eyebrows pulled together in concern.

“I’ve closed up the shop,” Draco tells her, no-nonsense. “I’d advise your customer leave through the back entrance. Apologies for the inconvenience.” The current customer is, if his memory serves, thankfully the last on the schedule for the day.

“Everything alright?” Desiree asks, eyebrow slowly raising. Draco shrugs delicately.

“That Potter, attention magnet,” he says, giving her the fakest laugh he’s ever uttered. “Got reporters at the door.”

Desiree’s eyes widen slightly.

“Don’t worry about it,” he manages, trying to sound soothing. “Just pushy bastards, the lot. I’ve got the door locked – I’d go ‘round the back and you’ll be fine.” He gives the customer a terse, apologetic smile. “’M going to go check on Potter. Holler if you need anything.”

He waits until Desiree waves him off, then warns Nate as well and follows Harry upstairs. He’d half expected Harry to be gone, apparated away, but he’s sitting on Desiree’s couch when Draco reaches the last step. He stands when Draco appears in the doorway, still pale but less shaky than he’d seemed before.

“They’re still outside,” he cautions. “The door is locked. Have you fetched Weasley?”

Harry nods. “I sent him a patronus.”

Draco gestures for Harry to sit down. Once he does, Draco drops down onto the couch next to him. “I imagine that’ll be a right nasty Prophet article in the morning,” he says, covering his face with his hands. He lets out a breath between his palms. “Should probably steer clear of the shop for a few.”

“If Ron gets down here in time, I’m sure they won’t think of showing up again,” Harry tells him quietly. In spite of the fact that Harry was the one who had reacted so badly to the reporters, he looks concerned about Draco now. With only slightly trembling hands, he maneuvers Draco facing away from him and digs his thumbs into the tense line of Draco’s shoulders. He groans a little in pain, but doesn’t move away. “Thank you, for taking care of them. I could hear some of the nasty things they said to you. It wasn’t right.” His voice is soft, coming over Draco’s shoulder.

“I expected it,” Draco says, shrugging. Harry tsks at him and swats at his shoulders to make him go still. “Are you okay?”

“’m fine. I mean, it could have been bad, with the flashing and the yelling,” he admits in a low voice. “But you dealt with it in time. Merlin, they wonder why I spend all my time here.” He can tell Harry is trying not to sound bitter, but he definitely does… rightfully so, Draco thinks. “I almost threw up once I got upstairs.”

Draco nods in understanding. “I felt a bit sick myself.” They don’t say anything else, but there’s an understanding between them, and Harry’s hands smooth gently over his shoulders. It’s more comforting than Draco wants to admit.

Within twenty minutes, Weasley’s patronus races up to them.

They’re gone, it says. Will someone lift the wards so I can come talk to you two?

Draco goes down and silently bring Weasley back upstairs with him. Harry gestures for him to sit on the floor between his legs, and Draco does, allowing Harry to continue massaging his shoulders. He refuses to look at Weasley, to take in Weasley’s expression at their closeness.

“They won’t be coming back,” Weasley tells them firmly. He sounds downright disgusted, but not at then. “Bloody vultures. Can’t do anything about the article they’ll publish, but the actual shop should be safe from them. I’ve also made it very clear that publishing the name of the shop would have consequences, so hopefully we’ll avoid random gawkers.”

“Thank you, Weasley,” Draco says on an exhale. He can handle that, though he knows that increased attention on him is inevitable. It will be unpleasant, but he’s finally in a place where can deal with it.

After a long pause, Weasley says, “No problem.”

Harry doesn’t let them stew in the awkwardness for too long. “Any idea how the found the shop?”

Weasley grimaces, shifting on his feet. “Apparently, someone saw you walk here from the Leaky the other day, and followed you here to figure out where you were going. They alerted the papers a few days ago, so the reporters have been coming by every day since to see if you were here.”

Draco winces himself. “How many pictures of me do you think they have, if they’ve been coming around for days?” he asks, then makes a face. “Nevermind. I don’t want to know. I’m just hoping they didn’t get any of Harry.”

Harry sweeps a finger gently up the side of his neck, next to the lightning bolt. Draco could be self-conscious about the tattoo, but he’s too tired to think that hard about it.

“I hope so, too,” Weasley agrees, choosing not to comment on his first question. After a moment, though, he sighs. “Alright, you two. Why don’t we find a muggle bar and eat?”

“And get drinks?” Harry asks hopefully, and Draco snorts a quiet laugh.

“Yeah, mate,” Weasley agrees, snickering a bit himself. “We’ll get drinks and food. I know of a place Seamus recommended vaguely in this area. You both in?”

Draco, still a little surprised to be included, nods, and Harry brushes his hands over Draco’s shoulder one more time before he stands. When they head down Desiree’s back staircase, which goes directly outside, Harry leaves a hand on his lower back. Even though Weasley doesn’t say anything about it, Draco can feel his eyes on them. He could move away but… though he’s loath to admit it, Harry’s touch is soothing.

Dinner is actually pleasant, though Draco had half expected more antagonism from Weasley. Instead, Weasley actually seems like he’s re-evaluating Draco, especially when Harry explains how Draco had gotten rid of the reporters for him. By the end of the night, Weasley is almost friendly, and Draco isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Harry hugs him goodbye when they decide to split up and go home, wrapping his arms tightly around Draco’s waist for what could be considered slightly too long. He whispers another thank you into Draco’s neck. He tries not to think too much into it.

 

In the morning, he skims the Prophet. He looks very different than his last gaunt appearance in the papers, post release from his holding cell in Azkaban. He looks even more different than his haughty appearances before the war. He looks down at the newspaper with a dumbfounded sort of peace washing over him. No masks, no pretenses – unsurprisingly, they used the photo of him with his tattoos out, his irritation plain on his fake-smiling face, protecting Harry Potter with a closed sign… and even though the article isn’t exactly flattering, he realizes that he doesn’t hate the photo.

As a matter of fact, it might be the first photo of him in a decade that actually looks like him. The Draco in the picture looks nothing like the haughty child or the coward he was.

He saves the clipping.

***

They have dinner with Granger and Weasley a couple weeks after the Prophet article comes out. They choose to stick to a muggle establishment – neither of them want more publicity, especially now that there are photos of them at the shop beginning to crop up. Draco doesn’t see many reporters – most of them prepare better now and dress in muggle clothing – but they’re there, he’s sure. He’s almost made his peace with it, but it rankles Harry.

The dinner happens on a quiet spring night, and he and Harry walk from the shop since it’s beginning to get nice enough to not freeze. Draco’s quiet but he refuses to let himself get aloof the way he sometimes does, and Harry chatters while they walk, perfectly happy to carry the conversation more or less on his own shoulders. He’s an awkward but pleasant conversationalist, so Draco lets him.

When they reach the restaurant, they find that Weasley and Granger are already there. Draco takes a deep breath, and pastes a very carefully neutral expression on his face.

To his surprise, Hermione Granger looks curious and affable as he walks up. She offers him a hand, and Draco takes it. The last time they’d talked had been Draco’s quiet, ashamed apology for his actions during and before the war. She’d looked unfriendly and aloof herself then, unimpressed by him, but it appears that Harry’s friendship with him has assured her that he’s genuine.

“Malfoy,” Weasley greets with a nod, and Draco nods back. At least Weasley is easy enough to predict, he thinks.

Still, in spite of his reservations, dinner is the last thing he’d expected it to be: pleasant. Weasley bitches about auror work and makes Harry laugh for a bit, while Granger interjects here and there about work at the Ministry. She startles a laugh out of Draco by referring to a new policy as same old Ministry bullshit, and it makes her purse her mouth to hide a smile of her own. Eventually, the conversation shifts to what Harry and Draco have been up to. Granger asks about his tattoos and the shop, and Weasley gets the shock of his life when he realizes half of Harry’s tattoos were designed by Draco.

“We have matching phoenixes,” Harry insists, grinning and nudging Draco in the side. “They’re couples’ tattoos.”

Used to it, Draco just rolls his eyes, but Granger grins back at Harry, amused and affectionate. Even Weasley looks like he’s a little entertained by Harry’s teasing. “How cute. How many couples’ tattoos do you have now?” Granger asks.

“Well,” Harry hums thoughtfully. “The phoenix, obviously, and I have a mamba that matches his –“ That’s true, though Draco didn’t find out about it until after it happened. Potter, the tattoo thief. “But that’s it, except for the lightning bolt on Draco’s neck,” Harry adds in a tone warmed by an emotion Draco refuses to put a name to.

Draco freezes. Of all the times to bring it up, now is the appropriate time? He’d honesty thought that Harry would politely ignore it for the rest of their acquaintance. After all, there’s no misunderstanding that his tattoo represents Harry’s scar – hell, there’s wizarding Potter merchandise all over with his scar shape depicted on it.

His face lights up scarlet, and both Weasley and Granger look surprised, if not downright shocked. Harry doesn’t seem to care, just caressing over Draco’s neck with his index finger, oddly intimate. When Draco meets his gaze, he finds that Harry is watching Draco’s expression with a smug little grin. Instead of saying anything further about it, however, he just leans in to press a kiss over Draco’s high cheekbone and turns back to Granger.

They continue to chat about the shop and what Harry does all day, though Draco’s participation is slightly strained. When they’ve all eaten and talked for longer than Draco had even planned, Granger expresses a desire to go out together again, and they plan on another group dinner a few weeks away. She shakes Draco’s hand again before they leave, and Weasley follows suit, going so far to give him a dry smile.

He finds himself standing outside the restaurant with Harry, who doesn’t leave, instead watching Draco with a conflicted expression. He assumes it’s because of Draco’s fisted hands, the uncomfortable look on his face. He wants to ask Harry about why he’d brought up Draco’s tattoo – why he seems so determined to wave Draco’s feelings in front of his face – but at the same time, he’s afraid that bringing it up will break the delicate bubble of their relationship.

“Do we need to talk?” Harry asks before he makes up his mind, half-curious. Draco swallows, but nods. “Alright. C’mon, we can side-apparate to the Manor and talk there, if you’re okay with letting me inside your home.”

Draco nods again and pulls him behind the building where Granger and Weasley had disappeared to. He takes Harry’s arm.

***

When they appear in the entrance hall of the Manor, Draco leads Harry into his study and pours them both a drink. He has a gut feeling he’ll need one.

To be honest, the only reason he’s so uncomfortable is because it’s awkward – he knows that Harry won’t end their friendship just because of a little confrontation, but it doesn’t stop the knot of anxiety in his stomach.

“I wasn’t trying to embarrass you at dinner,” Harry begins, his voice a little loud in the silence of the room. Draco throws a quick incendio at the fire to avoid replying, but Harry sees through him and approaches. He takes the drink Draco’d poured him from his hand and lets his fingers brush Draco’s when he does. “I wasn’t really making fun of your tattoo. You know that, right?”

He does know that. If anyone is going to understand that he didn’t get the tattoo for creepy reasons, it’s going to be Harry himself. However, he’s barely ready to admit to himself the depth of his very complicated emotions about Harry Potter, let alone say it aloud.

“Liar,” Draco replies sourly instead of voicing any of that. He’s being evasive and he knows it, but doesn’t care. He takes a sip of his whiskey.  “You absolutely wanted to embarrass me.”

The grin Harry gives him makes him want to blush. It’s only slightly bashful but mostly delighted. “Okay, so I did, but only because I like how flustered you get.” That is… obnoxiously Harry-esque flirting, and it makes Draco want to laugh for the half second it takes for him to realize Harry has distracted him.

Draco can’t take it anymore. “That’s the real reason why we need to talk, Potter. I can’t figure out what your aim is here.” His tone is even but stern.

Harry pauses, raising his eyebrow. “My aim?” He sounds legitimately confused.

“You say things like that, and touch me, and tell your friends about our matching tattoos, even though it’s not like that –“ He cuts himself off, takes a deep breath, and says, “You keep giving me the wrong idea. You’re giving everybody the wrong idea, and I think you’re taking it too far. It was funny at first but it’s becoming a problem. Harry, you have to stop.”

Harry’s mouth drops open. “I’m – you literally tattooed my scar on your neck. I’m taking it too far?”

“It wasn’t like that and you know it,” he snaps, repeating himself, but Harry just snorts.

“Maybe not entirely, but in part, it is like that,” Harry says, and there’s a weight to his voice that makes Draco come up short, though he’s already opened his mouth to argue. He has to close his mouth and swallow, his mouth suddenly dry. Harry’s expression turns knowing. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m important to you, in a lot of ways, and there’s no way you got that tattoo without thinking at least a little bit about me the same way I do you. Taking it too far, my arse.”

His eyes are frighteningly earnest and Draco has to swallow again before he can respond. “I don’t know what you mean.” When Harry opens his mouth to argue, he interrupts. “No, I’m being serious – I don’t have a single clue how you feel about me, because you’re always kidding around! That’s my whole point. I can’t figure you out, Potter. I don’t understand why you spend so much time at Serendipity, or why you were so determined to be my friend, and you’re not making it any easier by giving everyone the impression that we’re together.”

Harry sighs heavily, sets his drink down, and wrestles Draco’s out of his hand to set it on the table. Then he pulls Draco close by the hips, looking uncharacteristically put-upon. It surprises him enough to let it happen. “Well, my point is that I’m literally never kidding around about you.” Draco doesn’t know where to put his hands and almost misses what Harry says entirely because he’s too busy with his uncertainty. When his words register, however, Draco slowly looks up, letting his hands rest on Harry’s upper arms for lack of something else to do with them. “There you are.” He looks terribly fond, in spite of the fact that Draco has been slowly losing his composure for the past several minutes.

“What do you mean.” It’s too flat to be a question, but Harry doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m not kidding, Draco,” he repeats patiently. “I haven’t been making fun of you this whole time – I’ve been trying to warm you up to the idea of us being together. You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed that I think you’re fit, or that I spend almost all my time with you. You’re my friend, you berk, but I also fancy you.” He pauses. “I think I must’ve for a while, though I didn’t really get the nerve to do anything about it until I noticed your lightning tattoo.”

“It wasn’t meant to be anything like that,” he insists faintly.

Harry rolls his eyes. “Then how did you mean it? You have to admit it’s a little odd, considering that you used to claim you hated me.”

“I never hated you,” Draco says in a low voice, and Harry’s eyes focus on him again, his expression settling into something serious. Finally, he decides to answer Harry’s question. “I didn’t get the tattoo because I was pining for you, Potter, howevermuch I’m sure you’d like that. I got it as a reminder and a message to myself. Part of it was admiration, sure, and there’s no point in denying how much I care for you –“ He looks away, still uncomfortable with admitting it. “- but I got it because I was trying to figure out who I was, and the best person I could think to be like was you.”

Draco meets Harry’s eyes. He doesn’t seem to understand, and so Draco continues.

“You saved my life,” he reminds him, probably unnecessarily. “You saved my life, and spoke at mine and my mother’s trials, and I spent every moment of the war wishing I’d chosen the right side. I had a dark mark to show for the wrong choices I made, and the best thing I could think of afterward to represent the right choices was the shape of your scar.” He huffs a weak laugh. He wishes Harry would let him go, so that he didn’t have to stand so close. “I don’t know if you know this, but it became a resistance symbol among the kids at Hogwarts. They used to draw it on their hands and sign notes with it.”

“So your tattoo…” Harry says slowly, and Draco finishes for him.

“…Is my way of reminding myself that I should have – I should be on your side.” He has a lot of reminders on his skin, but sometimes he thinks that’s the most important one of all.

There’s a long silence between them, and Draco wonders if Harry is upset or disappointed or something else entirely. He doesn’t get a verbal answer to his question, but after several beats Harry tightens his arms around Draco. He looks down at where they connect, where their arms touch and their artwork overlaps.

“Do you want to know the real reason I wanted to reconnect with you?” Draco nods, not looking up. “I was curious about you – about whether or not you were the same person I’d thought you were in school, and about if you had changed. Or, really, if you could change.” He says all of this in a very matter-of-fact tone, and Draco can’t figure out what he’s getting at.

“Have I?” he asks, curious in spite of himself about Harry’s perspective. “Can I?” He thinks he has. He’s not sure, suddenly; Harry is so good at leaving him wrong-footed.

Harry smiles. It’s a soft smile, a little sad and warm and it betrays how much older Harry is than his years. He doesn’t answer Draco’s question immediately. “I felt like I didn’t change at all for a long time, you know. I always followed the path that was set up for me and did what I thought I was supposed to do, and everything just bottled up inside of me until I thought I’d explode. When I quit the aurors, it was the first time I’d ever really sat down and thought about why I was the way I was, and what I wanted to be. Then, I ran into you outside Gringotts and I saw your tattoos, and I realized that you were my opportunity to try something new.”

“I’m glad to be of service,” Draco says a little dryly, and Harry gives him a self-conscious little laugh.

“Selfish, I know, but that’s what it seemed like at first. I was curious about you and what your life was like, and you were just doing what you wanted to, fuck the rest of the world, so I just kept getting more and more curious. You worked at the shop and were friends with Desiree and you let me get swept up in your life. The tattoos were a bonus – they let me make choices about myself that I didn’t really ever feel like I’d been able to make before – but before I realized it I really was just enjoying hanging around you.” He sighs. “I didn’t feel like Harry the savior or Harry the auror or whoever everyone else wanted to be. You let me be just Harry.”

Draco can’t help himself. “You’re really not all that, you know.” Harry hiccups another laugh, a little choked up. He leans forward and pulls Draco’s neck forward so he can knock their foreheads together lightly. Draco, a warm glow beginning to settle inside his chest, lets it happen.

“I’m really not. I’m impulsive and sometimes selfish and I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” Harry admits. He says it very quietly like it’s a confession, but Draco knows all those things. He, stupidly, keeps them close to his heart along with all the other parts of Harry Potter. “I’ve always been indecisive… but I do know that I want to stay with you. Wherever you go.” He gives Draco a crooked smile, the one that sends warmth flooding through him. Draco goes a little cross-eyed trying to see it properly from so close up, but he doesn’t need to in order to feel it. “You help me be a person, and I want to help you be a person, too. Bigger than the sum of our mistakes and less than what everyone else expects from us.”

“You’re in love with me,” Draco realizes, and it sounds slightly like an accusation.

“You’re in love with me, too,” Harry shoots back, and Draco supposes that that’s true. He can’t really argue the point, and without meaning to, his lips begin to creep up at the corners. When they do, Harry breaks a little and laughs, bringing his hands up to cup Draco’s face. His lips are soft when they meet Draco’s for a quick peck. He leans into it and makes a disgruntled face when Harry leans back to meet his eyes. “Is that okay?” he asks.

Merlin, this man. Later, Draco will tell him how grateful he is that Harry pushed his way into his life and cared about him. He’ll tell Harry about how he much he’s helped Draco become a better person and get over himself and a million other things. For now, though, he just kisses him again.

He wants to laugh, a little bit, from how surreal it feels, but Harry’s hands are grounding on his face and he lets himself give into it. Harry Potter loves him. The same man that, a year ago, Draco had tried to push away so that he didn’t have to let him in – he wonders what the Draco of a year ago would say if he could see how that had worked out and how happy he is to have failed.

When the kiss ends, Draco lets it happen, but funnily enough, he feels like something is just getting started.

***

Desiree notices something has changed the second they walk into the shop together two days later, just like Draco knew she would. She and Nate are sitting in the chairs up front going over something financial, and when they come in her eyebrows climb into her hairline. Maybe it’s their clasped hands – Harry insists they have to make a statement – or the telling flush on Draco’s cheeks, but they don’t have to explain a thing.

“Fuckin’ finally,” she groans, and Nate cackles at her side.

“Nicely done, Harry. It only took you, what, half a year to get it through his thick head?” Nate snickers, and Draco pins him with a glare. He looks totally unrepentant, and after a moment Draco gives up and allows him a tiny grin in confirmation. It only makes him laugh louder, but Harry just swings their hands together once before they separate to help get ready for the shop to open.

It becomes immediately apparent that they’ve been betting on when Harry and Draco would get together, but Draco surprises even himself by not being mad about it. In retrospect, it was pretty obvious, and he thinks Desiree and Nate might have earned the opportunity to make fun of him at least a little bit, being his only friends for the last several years.

What matters is that they are happy for him, and as the day goes on, even a couple customers remark on how they’d thought they’d been together for a while already. It makes him and Harry feel like something inevitable, and considering all the other inevitable things about Draco, he’ll take it.

He thinks about the first time he’d come to Serendipity, alone and tired and weighed down by the knowledge of exactly what kind of person he’d turned out to be. He’d almost talked himself out of it at least three times on the way to the store, and in the end it wasn’t until Desiree had remarked on how gorgeous his sketch of the whomping willow was that it sunk it that he was really doing it.

He’d been very different then, desperate to become something other than the coward who’d signed his life away to a madman, the man who deserved every bit of scorn he got. It’s only now that he realizes he’s succeeded, at least a little, and it’s because he’s been lucky enough to find a place where he could do so.

He waits until Harry has given him a sweet kiss goodnight to pull Desiree aside and ask her to do another tattoo for him. She asks what he’s looking for.

“Surprise me,” he tells her.

She raises her eyebrow. “You, the ultimate control freak, want to let me design something for you without you micromanaging the entire thing?” He doesn’t think it’s unfair to want to know exactly what’s going on his body, but at the same time he understands what she means. It had taken a while for him to even entertain the idea of letting her design something original for him even with his input, but for the first time since the dark mark burned itself into his skin, he feels ready to give up a little control.

“I want something of you,” he says carefully – not from her, but of her – and the way her eyes soften shows him she understands what he’s getting at.

“I have an idea,” she says, and gives him an appraising look. “Feeling adventurous enough to let me do an impulse tattoo tonight?”

Funnily enough, he is.

She finds a little bit of blank space on his chest, over his heart, and he watches as she tattoos a little wand with sparks coming out of the tip. “Kind of a magic joke, but I really just want to remind you that you can do some amazing things,” she tells him. Another reminder – but another good reminder.

She pauses after she’s finished. She still needs to wipe it down and ready him to leave with it, but she sets her needle down and looks at him thoughtfully, like she was debating something. “Would you like to learn how to do this?”

He meets her eyes. “… how long have you been thinking about this?”

She shrugs delicately. “A while. If I was going to take another apprentice, it’d be you. You have the art skills. I trust you and like you. You’re here all the time anyway.” She nudges him a little at that, teasing, but her eyes are still serious. “You mentioned once that you don’t have something you want to do… well, I think this could be the job for you, if you’re interested in having one.”

He swallows, nodding. “I… I’ll think about it,” he promises, but in his heart, he’s made up his mind.

She gives him a sweet smile, like she already knows. “Good. What do you think?” She nods down at the new tattoo.

“I love it. I’d like Harry to do one, too,” he admits. “Maybe not tattoo it himself, but a design of his.”

“Harry’s a shit artist,” Desiree tells him gravely, and he laughs a little.

“I know,” he says conspiratorially. “But even if it’s bad.”

“Well, I’ll do it for you for free,” she sighs. “Even if it’s bad.” Then, she looks down at her lap and says quietly, “I’m… happy for you, Draco. And I love you. You know that, don’t you? I’m really grateful to have you around.”

Maybe the Draco of a year ago would have denied it, still trying to pretend that he was more or less on his own, or would have been too unfamiliar with genuine affection to respond. The Draco he is today just says, “I love you, too. And thank you.”

He doesn’t need to say it, but he does anyway. As expected, Desiree smiles a little wider, reflexively, but then she slaps her knee gently and says, “Okay, enough emotions. I’m going to wrap this cute tattoo, and we’re going to go upstairs and watch awful telly and get sloshed. Deal?”

Draco snorts and lets her pull him upright. “Alright. We can do that.”

As he follows Desiree upstairs, Draco pauses to turn the lights off in the shop. He sweeps one last glance over the darkness of Serendipity Tattoos, and goes upstairs finally feeling like he belongs somewhere.