He was going to have to kiss Ginny soon. It had been four days. She always got upset when it ticked over to day five. She had, like, some kind of in-built timer about it. It was uncanny, actually.
Harry idly ate a crisp. Seamus had bought a packet, ripped it open, and left it on the table so that everyone could have some. Harry admired Seamus for his casual little touches of generosity. Harry was generous when he thought about it, but so often he didn’t think about it.
Maybe it had only been three days. Didn’t he kiss her before bed on Tuesday? Or was that Monday.
It shouldn’t be this hard, he told himself sternly. Just man up and put your mouth on her mouth.
He winced at the table.
“All right, Harry?” asked Ron. Ginny, Hermione and Luna didn’t come to the pub on Fridays. It was Boys Night. Privately, Harry thought Boys Night was a bit embarrassing, but Ron liked it, so whatever. Harry just went along to make his friends happy. That was generous, right?
“Yeah,” said Harry, noticing that Ron was still looking at him with concern.
“I know what’ll cheer you up,” said Seamus, getting out his phone. They always went to muggle pubs, so that Harry and Ron wouldn’t be mobbed.
“What,” asked Harry, trying to sound absolutely not filled-with-dread. Seamus had a tendency to wildly misunderstand Harry on purpose. Last time Harry had been a bit spacey—last week—he was always spacey, maybe—Seamus had forced Harry to watch a nine-minute video of a naked woman farting into a cake. “I saw it and thought of you,” Seamus had said, which Harry found beyond mystifying. He had gone, apparently, from Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, to… cake farts guy? When had that happened? (“He’s just fucking with you, Harry,” said Ron, when Harry tried to subtly find out if there was a way he could give off a less cake-farty vibe. “Ignore him.”)
Seamus looked more than usually pleased with himself, now.
“Oh, boys,” he said. “Ohhhh, boys. Have I got good news for Gryffindor house today. Yes, I have, is the answer to that question. Ohhhhh, BOYS!”
“Stop being a prick,” said Ron, trying to grab Seamus’ phone from him.
“Shhhh,” said Seamus. “Quiet. Listen, and ye shall hear. I was on the internet last night, and I was having a nice, gay wank.”
Ron groaned. Harry stared intently at the crisps. He had come out as bi already, so people definitely weren’t looking at him, and wondering whether he went on the internet to have nice, gay wanks, and whether the fact that kissing Ginny was starting to feel like snogging a relative meant that he shouldn’t be with her anymore. Ginny was great, by the way. She was objectively hot. Harry knew that. People were always telling him. So it was not a big deal if Seamus had nice, gay wanks from time to time, because that had nothing to do with Harry and his own sex life.
“Now, to spice things up a bit,” said Seamus, “I decided to watch a little show. A camboy. And I was scrolling through my favourite purveyor of sexy young men, when who should I come across but one Draco Malfoy?”
“Fuck off,” said Harry, before he could stop himself. Seamus grinned.
“You want proof? I’ve got it right here, baby.” He held out his phone to Harry and Ron.
On the screen, wearing a crisp, unbuttoned white shirt and sucking provocatively on one finger, was most certainly Draco Malfoy.
“Holy shit,” said Ron, sounding as if Christmas, his birthday, and his anniversary had all come at once. “It’s really him!”
It had been four years since Harry saw Malfoy. Time had been good to him. As Harry watched, Malfoy took his finger out of his mouth and began to talk, sexily pushing his hand through his hair.
“Turn it up,” said Harry. But Ron didn’t hear him, and Harry didn’t ask again, in case someone was like, Hey, why are you so intent on hearing what Malfoy’s saying on his sex website?
“We have to do something about this. Fred would want me to do something about this,” Ron was saying.
“Like what?” asked Seamus. On the screen, Malfoy’s eyes went blank as he read something on his computer. Then he laughed, said something with a smirk, and shrugged one shoulder out of his shirt. It was live. Malfoy’s pale shoulder was poking out of his clothes right now.
Harry’s stomach lurched.
“I don’t know,” said Ron. “Something. To embarrass him. Does he do private shows?”
“I think so,” said Seamus. Ron’s face lit up.
“We’ll hire him to do a private show for us!”
Malfoy twisted his mouth into a playful sneer, bit his lip, and drew his shirt back onto his shoulder. He somehow managed to make this tiny movement look unspeakably dirty.
“Listen, I want to watch him take his clothes off as much as the next guy,” said Seamus, “but I don’t really see how us paying him to do his job will constitute revenge.”
Dean Thomas killed himself a year after the war. Seamus never spoke about it.
“We’ll make him do something really embarrassing,” said Ron.
“Seems a bit cruel,” said Harry.
“Oh, yeah, good point,” said Ron. “I wouldn’t want to be cruel to the fucker who tried to poison me and whose dad nearly got my sister and your girlfriend killed and who let a fucking rabid werewolf into the school to maul my brother’s face—”
“Okay, okay,” said Harry.
“Embarrassing like what?” asked Seamus.
“I don’t know. School girl outfit and a red dildo?” said Ron. Seamus cackled.
“You’re a genius,” he said.
On the screen, Malfoy looked suddenly delighted and started chattering away.
“Hermione wouldn’t like it,” said Harry.
“What Hermione doesn’t know won’t hurt her,” said Seamus. Ron looked a bit uncomfortable.
“She punched him in the face,” said Ron. “She doesn’t like him anymore than we do.”
“She’s never going to be into shaming people for their sexuality, though,” said Harry.
“Jesus, Harry, what are you, in love with him?” asked Seamus. Harry felt all the blood in his entire body rush to his face.
“What?” he spluttered. “No!”
“Look, we’re not going to send the video to the fucking Prophet,” said Ron. “I just want to know that the next time I see that stupid git in person, I’ll have something really nasty to hit him with.”
Harry was still trying to make his face look like that of a guy who was in love with Ginny Weasley.
“No, obviously we’re not going to share it,” said Seamus. “That’d be fucked up.”
“Imagine him a Gryffindor tie,” said Ron dreamily. “He would die. Imagine what his father would say. Do you think he knows?”
“We could tell him!” said Seamus. Ron dropped his eyes. His ears went pink.
“Oh, yeah, maybe,” he said.
“Hermione wouldn’t like it,” said Harry. Ron cast him a grateful look.
“Yeah, Hermione wouldn’t like it,” he said.
Seamus rolled his eyes.
“Fine, since you’re both whipped. Just the private show. Who’ll do it with him?”
“Me,” said Harry’s mouth, without Harry’s consent.
“Brilliant,” said Seamus, taking the phone back from Harry. He made Harry an account on the website. “What’ll your name be?”
“Er, James?” said Harry.
Seamus tapped away on his phone.
“Cool. Just sending him a message with some money for him to buy the schoolgirl outfit. Mate. Dean would have loved this.”
“Did Dean fancy Malfoy, then?” asked Harry, even though he knew that was a dick thing to ask. Seamus looked at him coldly.
“No,” he said. “He didn’t.”
Harry looked down at his pint.
“Sorry,” he said. “Was just a joke.”
“Funny,” said Seamus, not smiling.
A week later, they met at Harry’s flat instead of the pub. Harry was numbly amazed that this was really happening.
“Beer?” he offered Seamus and Ron. Seamus didn’t seem to hear. He was too busy setting up Harry’s new magic-compliant laptop in front of a neutral background.
“Yeah, thanks, Harry,” said Ron, although he clearly didn’t want a beer so much as he wanted to make Harry feel less like a knob. Harry went to his horrible kitchen and opened his fridge. It was empty except for some beer and a hunk of old cheese.
Ginny’s right, he thought. I am Bridget Jones.
He took out three bottles and reminded himself that he had killed Voldemort when he was 17. Most people hadn’t done anything like that. So what if he could never figure out what groceries to buy or how to make Ginny happy in bed. So what if he definitely only had his high-paying ministry job as a reward for stuff he’d done as a teenager. So what.
“Let me glamour you,” said Seamus, instead of thank you, when Harry gave him his beer.
“Do I have to be on camera? Couldn’t I just, like, type to him, or something?”
“Not for the private shows,” said Seamus. “Come here, I’ll fix you up.”
“No, er, that’s okay,” said Harry. He had a good idea of how Seamus would glamour him. It would probably involve eyebrow piercings. “I’ll do it.”
He went into his bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. Neville had given him a plant three months ago, and it was very much dead, but throwing it away felt like giving up. Harry held out hope that one day he would water it, and the plant would get a lustrous second wind.
He made his nose shorter and his jaw rounder and browned his eyes. He gave himself long hair, because he’d actually always sort of wanted long hair, like Sirius’ had been when he was young. He glamoured his voice, as well. The overall effect was good, he thought. He wasn’t in a different attractiveness bracket, he just looked not-like-Harry-Potter.
“I like the hair,” said Seamus. Harry smiled tightly. He was nervous.
“So he definitely bought the schoolgirl outfit?” Ron asked Seamus.
“Yeah,” said Seamus.
“What did he say when you asked him to buy it?” asked Harry.
“He was like, Can’t wait, winky face. It was fucking embarrassing,” said Seamus. “Remember how snooty he used to be? And now he ‘can’t wait’ to buy sex accessories for strangers on the internet.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
“Yeah, though, you know,” he said, “Hermione would tell us there’s nothing like, inherently degrading about sex work.”
This, he thought, was a clever workaround. Harry often used Hermione to voice his own opinions. It was easier, because then he could back out quickly if an argument started.
I used to like arguing, he thought. It wasn’t even that he disliked conflict; he could handle that. It was that he checked out of conversations quickly. Arguments were too much of a commitment.
“There’s nothing you can say to convince me that Draco Malfoy trying to get muggles off on the internet isn’t hilarious,” said Ron. “I’m sorry. It’s probably empowering or whatever when other people do it, but when he does, it is objectively funny.”
Seamus laughed, and Harry sort of smiled.
“You ready, Harry?” asked Seamus. It occurred to Harry that he definitely, definitely wasn’t ready, not even a little bit.
He had last seen Malfoy at his trial. Malfoy had sat, silent, red-eyed, chained to a chair, not looking at anyone. He had been condemned to six months in Azkaban, and that was the last anyone had heard of him. Lucius was still in Azkaban, and Harry had no idea what had happened to Narcissa.
Ron and Seamus put on the invisibility cloak and sat on the bed behind Harry. Harry took a deep breath, and clicked on the link.
There was a glitch. The page buffered. And then Draco Malfoy was on the screen, lounging in a desk chair, wearing a white shirt and red tie. Harry couldn’t see any more than that.
“Hey,” said Malfoy.
“Er, hey,” said Harry.
Malfoy tilted his head and bit his lip.
“You’re better looking than I thought you’d be,” he said.
“Oh, uh, you too,” said Harry, because that seemed polite. Malfoy laughed.
“Thank you,” he said. Then he leant forward slightly and licked his lips. “So, James, this is your show. From your message I gathered you’re a man who knows what he wants. What do you want?”
Harry froze. For one thing, there was nothing further from the truth than what Malfoy had just said. Harry barely knew what he wanted for dinner, let alone what he wanted Malfoy to do sexually.
Out of sight of the camera, Seamus reached out and poked him in the leg. Harry yelped.
“All right there, James?” asked Malfoy, sounding amused.
“Yeah. Yeah. Uh. Are you wearing…?”
Malfoy looked at him for a moment with a totally unreadable expression, then pushed back his chair so that more of his body was visible.
He was wearing a tiny pleated skirt.
Ron and Seamus tried to muffle their laughter, but Harry didn’t feel like laughing. It wasn’t exactly that he was turned on by the sight of a guy in a skirt (or was it…?)— it was more that it so obviously signalled that Malfoy would do whatever Harry told him to do.
“Did I buy the right things?” asked Malfoy.
“Er, yeah,” said Harry.
“What shall I do next?”
“So eloquent,” said Malfoy, sounding dizzyingly like himself.
“Fuck off,” said Harry. Malfoy laughed.
“Sorry,” he said, still smiling. “I’m sort of a brat. I assume that’s what you were looking for, it’s in my bio.”
“Why would I want a brat?” asked Harry. Malfoy’s smile became rather stilted.
“Why does anyone want anything?” He looked away, then nodded slightly to himself. When he looked back, he wore an expression Harry had never seen on him before. It made Harry uncomfortable, because it was so fake, so out of place. “But since you’re cute,” Malfoy said, “I’ll be obedient for you.”
“Obedient…?” said Harry, 1000% in over his head.
“Yes,” said Malfoy, with this awful new face. “I’ll be good. Tell me what to do, and I’ll be so good.”
The rest of the half hour passed like a nightmare. Malfoy was as good as word. He didn’t make snarky remarks. He didn’t smirk. He didn’t roll his eyes. He was saccharine and obedient. He promptly followed all of Harry’s instructions, and came ostentatiously while fucking himself with a red dildo. It was exceedingly hot, but also disturbing, because it felt like Malfoy’s body had been hijacked by this pliant interloper.
“Did you come?” Malfoy asked, sitting up on his bed.
“Er, yeah,” lied Harry. He would have, if Ron and Seamus hadn’t been there. Ron and Seamus, incidentally, had fallen awfully quiet since Malfoy got properly to work. “Thanks.”
Malfoy looked slightly puzzled, but he smiled.
“I hope I can help you out again,” he said politely.
“Er, yeah,” said Harry. “Good idea. Well, er, goodbye, then. Thank you for the, uh. So—yeah. Goodnight.”
Malfoy waved at him, then ended the session.
“That was less funny than I thought it would be,” said Seamus, emerging from the cloak.
“Yeah,” said Ron, who looked very pale and unhappy. “That was fucking awful.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, although he was pretty sure he had found it awful for different reasons. He had the strangest feeling that he had hurt Malfoy’s feelings. Also, he really wanted a nice, gay wank now, and that definitely wasn’t an option, because he was in love with Ginny, and also because Ron and Seamus were there, looking as if they’d just found shelter from a small-scale natural disaster.
“I mean, I thought it would be funny to see him… do that, but…” Ron was saying.
“It would have been, if he had seemed embarrassed,” said Seamus. “But he fucking wasn’t.”
“Maybe we should do it again to see if it’s funnier the next time,” said Harry, with his mouth but not his brain.
Ron shook his head and shuddered.
“Never again,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Seamus. “Once was enough. You got anymore beers, Harry? Only I want to drink myself onto another plane of existence.”
But Harry kept thinking about Malfoy. He thought about him as he and Ginny got into a huge fight.
“If you want to be a quidditch player, then just be a quidditch player! Stop resenting me for doing a job you could easily do yourself!” she shouted.
“You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” said Harry, wondering how many hours Malfoy worked; whether he enjoyed it. “I don’t want to be a quidditch player. I just can’t be bothered to go to every single one of your matches.”
“When was the last time you came to one of my matches?” asked Ginny.
“I don’t know, like a month ago?”
“February, Harry. Of last year.”
Harry ran his hand through his hair. That was pretty bad, in fairness.
“I’ve been busy with work,” he said, although he hadn’t been. Harry’s work consisted of him showing up every day at his large glamorous office and staring into thin air. Occasionally, his secretary would ask him to sign something, and he’d call in Hermione to check that he wasn’t condoning some Ministry bullshit, and sign it if she said it was okay. It was a stupid, useless job, but there wasn’t much else he was up to, so.
“No, you haven’t,” said Ginny. “And you haven’t kissed me in three days.”
This was an alarming development. He thought he had four days before she noticed.
“Come here, then,” he said.
“I don’t want you to kiss me because I’ve asked you to. I want you to kiss me because you want to,” said Ginny.
“I do want to,” said Harry, helplessly, because he did, he really wanted to want to kiss her.
They made up. They always did. They loved each other and respected each other and fought with kindness. But he knew she was still sad, and she knew he was still somewhere else in his head.
He lay awake and thought about Malfoy, who seemed so incredibly comfortable with sex, and with his body, and with talking to strangers. Even though he had clearly been acting all the way through, with his sickly sweet expressions and extravagantly loud orgasm, he had been comfortable acting.
And Harry did feel bad about making him go all sweet like that.
Maybe it would have been funny, if Malfoy had been more himself. Maybe it would be funnier the second time. Maybe, if Harry had another session with him, and figured out how it could be funny, he could then tell Seamus and Ron and it then they could book a third session with Malfoy and laugh at him properly.
That was mad, wasn’t it. Yeah. Definitely mad.
Still, the next day he found himself messaging Malfoy to arrange for another session.
Malfoy didn’t go by his real name online. He went, rather improbably, by the name Malcom. He was effusive in his replies to Harry, and said he couldn’t wait to meet again. He used emojis. When had Malfoy learnt to use emojis?
The page buffered, and then Malfoy was there. He looked tanned and handsome in a pale blue shirt.
“Hi, James,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. Malfoy looked taken aback.
“For last time. Telling you not to be a brat.”
Malfoy smiled, the same horribly vacant smile.
“I enjoyed it,” he said.
“Mal--com. Don’t. Just… don’t… pretend. Like last time.”
Malfoy flushed suddenly red.
“I wasn’t pretending.”
“No, I don’t mean about the sex, I mean— like. If you’re a dick, be a dick,” said Harry.
Malfoy smiled: his real smile, this time. Harry felt something in his chest loosen.
“You’ve really got my number,” said Malfoy. He bit his lip. “Okay. So I can be a dick to you and you won’t mind. You might even like it?”
“Do you always do sex stuff, on private shows?” asked Harry.
“‘Sex stuff’? What are we, twelve?”
Harry knew he should go. He had assuaged his guilt, there wasn’t any other reason to stay, there wasn’t. Instead of ending the session, however, he said,
“Do you ever just talk to people?”
“Are you a journalist writing a think piece about cam boys? Because you guys are never as subtle as you think you are,” said Malfoy.
“Oh,” said Malfoy, and laughed. He laughed a lot. He seemed happy. “Not an aspiring screenwriter doing research into sex work?”
“No,” said Harry.
“Straight boy who had a confusing wet dream?”
“That’s closer,” said Harry. “I have a girlfriend.”
“Ahhh,” said Malfoy. “Now we have it. Well, James, first off, let me say that she’s a very lucky girl, because you’re sexy as hell. Secondly…” he trailed off.
“Secondly?” prompted Harry.
“Torn between giving you good advice or giving you the advice that best serves me,” said Malfoy.
“That must be hard for you.”
Malfoy’s eyes glinted.
“It is,” he said. “See, I’m a very selfish person…”
After he had glinted like that, there wasn’t really anything Harry could do. Malfoy slowly, slowly, slowly undressed, and described all the unspeakably filthy things he wanted to do to Harry, and Harry came in an embarrassingly short time.
“Cheap date,” said Malfoy.
“Sorry,” said Harry. “I know I booked in for an hour.”
“That was ambitious of you,” said Malfoy. “Or maybe you underestimated my charms. I’m offended, really.”
“Well, I’ve still paid for an hour,” said Harry.
“You have,” said Malfoy. “Here are your options. We can talk dirty for the next 45 minutes. I have a boundless imagination, you’d be surprised. We can play online geography quizzes. I could touch myself while you—”
“Hang on,” said Harry. “Online geography quizzes?”
“They’re great! You learn all the countries!” He sobered. “It’s just an option. While you recover. Before we go again.”
“Yeah, no, okay,” said Harry.
“Brilliant,” said Malfoy, leaning into his computer and sending Harry a link. “We’ll start with Europe. I’m going to fuck you up.”
And, in a truly bizarre twist, he absolutely did.
“North Macedonia?” cried Harry.
“Independent since 1991, so suck on that, motherfucker,” said Malfoy, who had apparently discovered muggle swear words, along with emojis and sex work.
“You’re really good at this,” said Harry.
“You’ve no idea. I know all the capitals, too.”
“You have too much time on your hands.”
Malfoy laughed, and if Harry hadn’t spent six years watching him, he wouldn’t have noticed that there was anything off about it.
“You ready to go again?” asked Malfoy.
“Uh,” said Harry.
“Your hesitation is suspect,” said Malfoy. “I think you’re ready.”
And, of course, he was right.
That night, Harry realised that it was probably cheating on Ginny. Almost certainly, in fact, because he hadn’t had sex with her in almost a year, yet he had just got off twice with Draco Malfoy online.
Malfoy would know if it was cheating. That was the solution. He’d ask Malfoy.
“Back so soon?” asked Malfoy, that evening, in their next session. “I must have impressed you with my geography knowledge.”
“Is this cheating?”
“I can’t answer that for you,” he said.
Harry put his head in his hands. When he and Ginny first started dating, she had said, “you don’t mind if I watch porn, do you?” and he had said no, that was fine, and there had been a sort of understanding that they loved and trusted each other enough to be playful with their sexuality.
But nowadays, he knew that Ginny no longer fully trusted him. No longer felt sure he loved her. Once, he might have told her, “Weirdly, I seem to want to get off with Malfoy on the internet” and she would have found it funny and maybe even a bit hot. Now, he was keeping it from her, because he knew how deeply it would wound her.
“Fuck,” said Harry.
“Having some realisations, are we?” asked Malfoy.
“I don’t think it’s cheating if we just talk,” said Harry.
Malfoy leant back in his chair.
“Is that weird?” asked Harry, although it definitely was, and Harry knew that. He wasn’t even sure why he was asking. Why he wasn’t just logging off. Except Malfoy was, as always, fascinating, and Harry hated that he didn’t know anything about his life.
He didn’t tell himself that this was for Ron and Seamus’ embarrass-Malfoy plan. It was so clearly nothing to do with that. Even Harry couldn’t delude himself to that extent.
“Lots of people just want to talk,” said Malfoy. “I’m cheaper than therapy, and much more attractive.”
“Right. Yeah. I can see that.”
“So, James, talk to me,” said Malfoy, with a flirtatious smile. “What makes you tick?”
“What’s the capital of Chad?”
“N’Djamena,” answered Malfoy automatically.
“Cool,” said Harry. “I thought you were lying about the capitals.”
“I never lie about geography,” said Malfoy. “But is this your plan? A chaste, hour-long capitals quiz?”
Harry put his head in his hands.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said, and the words tasted fresh on his tongue.
Malfoy was silent for a long while, and when he spoke, it was softly.
“Somehow I don’t think you just mean right now,” he said.
Harry shook his head.
“What’s going on?” asked Malfoy.
“I thought you said you were a dick,” said Harry.
“I am,” said Malfoy. “I’m awful. This is entirely self-serving; I’m curious about you.”
“I hate my life,” said Harry, realising it was true only as he said it.
Malfoy was silent, but when Harry glanced up at him, he looked pensive. He was waiting for Harry to go on.
“I don’t know how to fix it,” said Harry.
“Talk to me,” said Malfoy, with a laugh. “I’ll fix it.”
Harry laughed too.
“Hmm,” said Malfoy, “I’ll take off that horrible shirt you’ve inflicted on yourself, and draw you a bath, and give you a lovely massage…”
“No, I’m serious,” said Harry. “How do you change your life? How do you become happy?”
Malfoy stretched, his lithe body becoming long and lovely, and he knew how it looked. Harry could tell Malfoy knew what that stretch would do to him.
“Sex makes me happy,” said Draco.
“You seem happy,” said Harry, insistently. “Genuinely. And I know you weren’t always.”
Malfoy raised one eyebrow.
“You’ve got me all figured out, have you?”
“I just want to know how you did it,” said Harry. “I want to know how you’ve become all… confident and… I just…”
Malfoy appeared to take pity on him.
“Oh, James. Very well. As King and Emperor of Happiness, I’ll give you the highly coveted secret.” His face became rather somber. “You have to find something you’re good at and make people happy with it.”
Harry stared at him.
“I’m not good at anything,” he said.
“Well, clearly you’re bad at pep-talks, yeah,” said Malfoy.
“No, I mean, I used to be good for a lot of things—”
“That was a sneaky little preposition,” interrupted Malfoy.
“‘For’. You used to be good ‘for’ things. Implies a lack of agency.”
“Maybe you should do the therapy thing,” said Harry, after a moment of stunned silence.
“No, I’m serious,” said Harry.
“I like my job,” said Malfoy.
“Right,” said Harry. “Sorry. Not trying to imply—sorry.”
“You’re adorable. Okay. Mind if I take off my shirt?”
“It’s hot in my bedroom,” said Malfoy. He unbuttoned his shirt with quick, nimble fingers and shrugged it off.
“You’re really buff,” Harry could not help saying.
“I like working out,” said Malfoy. He gave a sly smile. “You can watch me do it on Mondays and Wednesdays.”
“Your job is weird,” said Harry. Malfoy smiled.
“Yeah,” he said. “All jobs are, though. You’re selling your life. At least in mine, I’m doing things I like doing anyway.”
“How many hours do you work a week?”
“You are writing a think piece. ‘Camboys: the hidden story!’”
“I’m not, I swear,” said Harry.
“About 20 hours a week,” said Malfoy. “I’m at uni, so I don’t have time to do more.”
Harry sat up.
“You’re at uni?”
“No need to sound so shocked. I was quite a good student, at school.”
“No, I know,” said Harry. “What are you studying? What uni?”
Malfoy stood, so that the camera could only see him from the waist down. He unbuckled his belt and slowly took off his trousers and boxers at the same time.
It was a lot.
“Er,” said Harry.
“Sorry,” said Malfoy, “it’s just hot in my bedroom. Mind if I move over to the bed?”
“Is this because I asked where you go to uni? Because I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” said Harry.
“You didn’t,” said Malfoy, although Harry didn’t believe him. Malfoy moved over to his bed and lay among the pillows, looking horribly debauched.
“I meant it, about talking,” said Harry.
“We’re talking,” said Malfoy.
“You’re so tightly wound,” said Malfoy. “Relax. Just watch me.”
And Harry did.
He booked the next session in order to tell Malfoy that he wouldn’t be booking anymore sessions.
“You’re breaking up with me?” asked Malfoy, holding his hand to his heart, looking aghast.
“No—I—fuck,” said Harry.
“James. Chill out. I was joking. I really think you’re overthinking this, anyway. So what if you get off on the internet from time to time? Why can’t you let yourself enjoy anything?”
“Because I never want to get off with her,” said Harry.
“Ohh,” said Malfoy. He looked off into the distance. “Unrelated, but I still have that schoolgirl outfit, if you want me to put it on.”
“Er, no,” said Harry. “That was—I sort of just wanted to see it once and—”
“Got it,” said Malfoy. “Mind if I take off my clothes? It’s hot—”
“Is it actually, or do you just say that?”
“That’d be telling.”
“Gi—Jill—my girlfriend, Jill,” said Harry, hastily inventing a new name for her, “she’s really great.”
“Yeah? Maybe you should get her to join us sometime.”
“No, I mean, I don’t deserve her. So…” I can’t break up with her, he didn’t say.
“James, darling, I’m very happy to talk about your self-esteem issues, because they seem wild. You’re hot, you’re sweet, what’s the problem?”
“I’m not—stop flattering me,” said Harry. Malfoy rolled his eyes and started touching himself.
“I love her,” said Harry.
“Of course you do,” said Malfoy. “No one thinks you don’t.”
“Fuck, you’re so hot.”
Malfoy smiled, showing all his white teeth.
“Thank you,” he said.
“I don’t want…” said Harry, then stopped, unsure how to go on. Malfoy moaned, then spoiled the effect by opening one eye to see if Harry was watching him.
“What don’t you want?” asked Malfoy.
“I don’t know. How do you know?”
“Work back from what you need,” said Malfoy, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. “Food, shelter, safety.”
“Do you have all those things?” asked Harry.
“Ohhh, God,” moaned Malfoy, redoubling his efforts. “Mmm, you’re so sexy, James.”
He managed not to look up Malfoy for a whole week. But his world felt colourless and limp, and Malfoy had made it bright. It had always been like this; or at least, it had been like this since the war, but he didn’t used to notice it so much. Malfoy seemed to throw it into sharp relief.
Finally, he decided to watch Malfoy’s public camshow.
Malfoy was on his bed, wearing nothing but boxers and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. He was reading from The Communist Manifesto, but he kept getting interrupted by the ringing sound his computer made when someone bought a token; which appeared to be connected to a device he had inside him that vibrated when people gave him money.
“‘…the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society’—ohhhh, you fucker, kickassboy1978, I’m trying to educate myself, fuck, that felt amazing, okay, where were we, ‘feudal society, At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged’—oh mother fucker I’m going to cum don’t you dare give me any more tokens you psychopaths—”
Another time, Harry checked in and Malfoy was naked on the floor of his room doing one-armed push-ups. His muscles were… nice.
Sometimes, Malfoy just wanked on camera. Other times, he ranted about books, getting more and more pissed off the more people bought tokens and made the thing inside him vibrate. No matter what, he was cheerful and bright and having a good time.
It drove Harry mad.
“I thought we’d broken up,” said Malfoy, when Harry finally cracked and booked another private session.
“What’s the capital of Moldova?” asked Harry.
“Chișinău,” said Malfoy.
“You’re a freak,” said Harry.
“It’s in Europe,” said Malfoy. “Of course I know all the capitals of Europe.”
“I watched your public shows,” said Harry.
“Yeah. You’re very good at this.”
“Thank you,” said Malfoy, looking smug in exactly the same way he used to when Snape praised his potion after having criticised Harry’s.
“Do you have a lot of private clients?” asked Harry.
“You want to talk about my other clients?”
“I’m just curious,” said Harry.
Malfoy stroked his lips with his finger, licking delicately at the tip.
“Do you like thinking of me with other people?” he asked.
“Christ. Forget I asked,” said Harry. Malfoy laughed.
“I missed you,” he said, and God he was good at this, because it made Harry feel great to be told that, even though he knew Malfoy probably said it to everyone.
“How long have you been doing this?” asked Harry.
Malfoy cocked his head.
“Little under two years,” he said.
“What did you do before then?”
Malfoy stretched and pulled off his t-shirt.
“I shouldn’t drink red wine, it makes me so slutty,” he said.
That night, after he had watched Malfoy come, and then come himself in the shower, Harry went over to Ginny’s flat and tried to have sex with her.
It was awful.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry, sitting on the bed, his head in his hands.
“This isn’t working,” he said.
It was a horrible break up. He had always known it would be. Ginny cried. Harry cried. Harry begged Ginny to promise to stay his friend. Ginny said she needed space. Ginny implied that Harry had been leading her on. Harry tried to explain that if anything, he had been leading himself on. Ginny got angry. Harry cried. Ginny cried. They cuddled, had the nicest sex they’d had since fucking sixth year, and promised to love each other as friends forever.
“I’m sorry,” Harry told Ron, when he went over to his and Hermione’s house afterwards to tell them what had happened.
“Mate, no, don’t be,” said Ron. “I’ve known for ages that it wasn’t…”
“I just thought, if we stuck it out…”
“Twenty-three is too young to be settling,” said Hermione. But Harry felt as if his life was emptier than ever. With Ginny as his girlfriend, he was at least theoretically not a loner. Now he was adrift. How the hell was he even supposed to date? He hadn’t been single since he was eighteen. Everyone in the Wizarding world knew his name and had his fucking Chocolate Frog card.
After he had drunk about a gallon of tea with Ron and Hermione, he went back to his shitty flat and opened his laptop.
“Kind of an emergency,” he messaged Malfoy. “You around?”
Ten minutes later, he was glamoured up and Malfoy was on screen.
“An emergency,” said Malfoy.
“I broke up with my girlfriend.”
Malfoy looked astonished.
“You’re joking,” he said.
“No. Last night. Sort of all night. Then I went to some friends to talk it out, and I just got home, and my flat is fucking miserable, and I’ve been with her since I was 18—before, really—and I just don’t know what to do.”
“You… James. That’s amazing. That’s great. I’m really happy for you.”
“No, it’s not. It’s shit, everything is so shit.”
Malfoy took a moment to reply.
“What do you want from me right now?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry, desperately. “I don’t know why I keep talking to you.”
“I do,” said Malfoy, his tone reassuring. “You just want it to be simple.”
“I… maybe. I don’t think so,” he said, because nothing about Malfoy was simple, and yet Harry wanted him more than anything.
“You haven’t got off with me without feeling guilty that you couldn’t get it up with your girlfriend. Am I right?”
Harry nodded. Malfoy tipped his head and smiled.
“Of course I’m right,” he said. “I’m always right. So, now you can finally relax. Let me show you a good time, yeah?”
Harry wished Malfoy would talk to him properly, and he didn’t even know where that wish had come from.
“Yeah, all right,” he said. And Malfoy was right, it was a hundred times better now that he wasn’t thinking about how little he wanted Ginny, and what a betrayal it was, to have promised her forever when he could barely give her five years. Malfoy was unbelievably hot, and Harry came incredibly hard.
“Better?” asked Malfoy softly, when Harry lifted his head.
“I don’t know,” said Harry.
“You should get some sleep,” said Malfoy. “Have you eaten?”
“Okay. Right now, you’re going to order in some food,” said Malfoy. He was looking at Harry so earnestly, as if all he wanted was to make sure Harry was all right.
“Yeah, I will,” said Harry, vaguely.
“No, I mean it. Now.”
Malfoy stayed on the screen as Harry ordered in a curry.
“We’ve got a few minutes left,” he said, when Harry put down the phone. “You want to go again?”
“No,” said Harry. “Thanks. That was brilliant, by the way.”
“Mal—” Harry caught himself. “—com. Malcom. You’re an English student, aren’t you?
Malfoy’s face went completely blank for a moment, then he smiled with half his mouth.
“You remind me of someone I used to know,” he said.
“Really? Who?” asked Harry, his heart hammering.
Malfoy wrapped his arms around himself as if he was cold.
“No one. Never mind. You’re just kind of an amateur detective, aren’t you?”
“Sorry,” said Harry. “I’m not trying to—I just figured, because you talk about books so much.”
“No, it’s fine, it’s not a secret. I don’t want people to know what uni I’m at, for obvious reasons, but yeah, I’m an English student.”
Harry wanted to ask him how that had happened. How he had gone from being a blood supremacist to someone who wrote literary criticism on muggle novels.
“Did you always want to study English?”
Malfoy laughed, for a long time.
“No,” he said, finally. “No, I wanted to be rich and universally adored.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. What would someone who had no idea about Malfoy say?
“Not too late,” he tried, even though it was, of course, and he knew right away that he had said the wrong thing. Malfoy laughed again, bitterly this time, and said,
“Yeah, just waiting for my ship to come in.” He frowned, then straightened up. “Listen, time’s up. Seriously, you did the right thing, breaking up with Jill. I can’t tell you how many of my clients are in relationships that make them unhappy; it’s really great to see someone actually act on it. You should be proud of yourself.”
“Thanks,” said Harry, weakly. “And for making me get food.”
Malfoy had an expression Harry had never seen on his face before. He looked fond.
“Take a nap afterwards. Promise me,” he said.
“I promise,” said Harry.
Now there was no reason not to spend time with Malfoy, Harry found himself doing it more and more. Malfoy was somehow always available for private shows when Harry wanted them. Harry spoke to him three times a week, and watched Malfoy’s public shows, too. He grew more and more familiar with Malfoy’s bright, shiny camboy persona.
Malfoy never spoke about the past. He never had a session with Harry without making it sexual, even if Harry tried to guide them into more neutral territory (in fairness, Harry could never try that hard, because Malfoy was sex on legs). He got excited about geography and literature. The best way to get him to talk was to ask him what he was reading. He was inexorably cheerful, but sometimes Harry would say something that made him become abruptly guarded and distant, for instance, when Harry asked him about the Dark Mark.
“Your tattoo,” Harry said. Malfoy smiled brightly (slightly too brightly).
“Ah, yes, ‘the ship-wreck of my ill-adventured youth’,” said Malfoy.
“Samuel Daniel. Elizabethan poet. Understudied, in my opinion.”
“Right, but, the tattoo. What is it?”
Harry wanted to know what Malfoy told people. What he told muggles.
“A teenage mistake,” said Malfoy. “It’s hideous, isn’t it?”
He held up his arm to the screen. Harry shuddered.
“Yeah,” he said.
Malfoy jerked his arm back and twisted it so the forearm was no longer visible. He looked down for several long seconds, his face serious, and then seemed to collect himself. When he looked up, he was perfectly light and mischievous.
“I got drunk and ordered a bunch of sex toys online, want to see?”
After that, Malfoy took to wrapping up his arm with a tie before his private sessions with Harry.
“You don’t have to hide your arm,” said Harry, the second time it happened. Malfoy shrugged, changed the subject, and continued to wear the tie on his left forearm.
It was weird, because he sort of started telling Malfoy things he hadn’t told anyone else.
“Do you think I should do cam work?” he asked Malfoy.
“São Tomé and Principe,” said Malfoy, and Harry obediently typed it out into the online quiz. “Cam work? You?”
“Yeah,” said Harry.
“I don’t know,” said Malfoy, looking confused. “Don’t you have a lot of money?”
“Because frankly, James, if you haven’t got a lot of money, you’re spending it rather recklessly on me. Not that I’m complaining. Oh, we’ve forgotten Somalia. We never forget Somalia!”
Harry typed in Somalia.
“It’s no fun doing this with you, because you know them all,” he said.
“I’ll give you a clue for that big one on the West coast. It’s where Queen Nzinga was from.”
“You always give that clue,” said Harry, “and it never helps.”
“I can’t be held responsible for your ignorance. Why are you thinking of doing cam work, anyway, if you’re loaded?”
“I’m not, really. I just hate my job. And you seem to love your job.”
There was a long pause in which Malfoy chewed on the inside of his cheek. He looked as if he were deciding whether to say something. Harry could tell the moment Malfoy decided against it, because he put away his thoughtful look and pulled a smile on his face and said,
“Of course, I’m very lucky.”
“You do enjoy it, don’t you?” asked Harry uncertainly.
“Of course I do,” said Malfoy. Then he looked at Harry, and his voice dropped. “Not all my clients are as good at geography as you are, James. Anyway. It’s been fifteen minutes, I bet I could get you to come again.”
“Not until I get that Queen Nzinga one on the West coast.”
“It’s Angola; take off your shirt,” said Malfoy, because he was a cheat, just as he’d always been.
It wasn’t like a relationship, because they never talked about anything properly. They just chatted shit and played online quizzes and wanked.
It was very fun. So fun, in fact, that Harry accidentally mentioned Malfoy at pub night one week.
“Where is Luna now, anyway?” Seamus had asked.
“Iceland? Greenland? Some freezing North country,” said Ron.
“Malfoy’s always banging on about how Greenland’s a territory, not a country. Belongs to Denmark,” said Harry.
It took him several long seconds to realise that the looks of horrified shock on Ron and Seamus’ faces were not because of Denmark’s lingering imperialism, but because Harry had casually dropped name-dropped Malfoy.
“Malfoy?” said Seamus.
“Oh, uh,” said Harry, “I’ve been continuing our project.”
Ron frowned and took a long drink of his beer.
“Good on you, mate,” said Seamus. “You making him do embarrassing stuff?”
“Oh,” said Harry, wondering how he had made the life decisions that led to this conversation. “Yeah. Tons.”
“You’re recording it, right?” said Seamus.
Harry nodded, although he wasn’t. What would happen, he wondered, if he said, “Actually, he’s all I think about when I wank.” Or, more accurately, if Harry were to tell them that he and Malfoy talked three times a week, and he’d been really helpful about Ginny, and it kind of felt like they were mates even though Harry paid Malfoy to spend time with him.
But he knew what would happen. There would be questions, limitless questions, and arguments he wouldn’t be able to get out of, and Ron would be furious, and Seamus would smile coldly and not mention Dean Thomas, and then it would spread among their friend group; fuck, Ginny might hear about it and it would kill her…
So he just nodded, and they moved on to other, less fraught subjects, and Harry resolved never to mention Malfoy again.
The closer he felt to Draco, the more he wondered whether Draco felt the same, or whether Harry was just another client.
They seemed to get on so well. Draco laughed a lot when they spoke, and it seemed genuine, but maybe he laughed like that with everyone. Draco often came in their private sessions, but then who knew if he was using some kind of spell for that.
One day, after about two months of their regular meetings, Draco seemed slightly… off.
It wasn’t the first time Draco had been like this, Harry realised. It had happened a few times when they first started their private sessions, and with some frequency in Draco’s public ones: Harry just hadn’t known him well enough then to realise that something was wrong.
Draco came on screen at their appointed time and launched straight into sex. Harry came quickly, but instead of making some snarky remark, Draco just pushed his hair out of his eyes, smiled a tight smile, and said “Lovely, what shall we do next?”
It was completely joyless.
“Are you okay?” asked Harry.
“What? Yes, of course. Have a bit of a headache, that’s all. But in a sexy way.”
“You seem down.”
Draco’s smile became horribly false.
“I’m fine! I’m talking to you, so I’m great. Listen, I got some handcuffs, want to tell me what to do with them?”
“I’ll still find you hot if you’re unhappy,” said Harry. “I’m not, like, going to stop booking sessions with you because you’re not perfectly cheery 100% of the time.”
Draco looked slightly panicked.
“Did you not enjoy it? Just now? What’s making you think something’s wrong?”
“You just look like you need a hug, or something,” said Harry. Draco’s eyes widened, and then, a second later, so did his smile. He looked slightly deranged.
“Oh, I’d love a cuddle,” he said, clearly trying to make his voice sultry, “although I hope that’s code for something more exciting…”
“Draco, come on,” said Harry.
Draco went so still that Harry thought the screen had frozen. He didn’t even blink.
“Draco?” said Harry again, before realising what he had done. “Oh, shit.”
“You know who I am,” said Draco.
“Er,” said Harry. “Yeah.”
“How,” said Draco, tonelessly.
Harry decided there wasn’t anything for it but to lay some of his cards on the table.
“I’m a wizard,” he said.
Harry wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn’t for Draco to curl up in a small ball on his bed.
“Er, Draco? Are you all right?”
Draco didn’t answer for a few seconds, and when he did, he was crying.
“Which side were you for?” he gasped. “In the war?”
“Um,” said Harry. “The opposite from you.”
“Oh, thank God,” said Draco, which was confusing, and then Draco unfurled his body and wiped at his cheeks. “But…” he tried to say something, but clearly couldn’t think how to express himself. “I don’t understand,” he said, eventually.
“Why I didn’t say anything?” asked Harry.
“I—” Draco’s shoulder slumped. “I was… under the impression… don’t—” He closed his mouth, covered his eyes with his hands, and went on. “I was under the impression that you didn’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” said Harry, frowning.
“But you’re—you’re a wizard, and you—you know who I am, so—I just don’t understand.”
“I don’t hate you,” said Harry again, more firmly.
Had he hated Draco, at the beginning of all this? He didn’t think so. But he was very far from hating Draco now, in any case. He liked him. He liked him a lot.
“You don’t hate me,” said Draco, flatly.
“No. I wouldn’t keep talking with you, if I did.”
Draco suddenly cringed.
“Oh, God, no wonder,” he said. “The Mark. Fuck. No wonder.”
“You don’t have to hide it,” said Harry.
“I don’t understand how this is happening,” said Draco. “It was made very clear that I—that no one in the Wizarding world—is this a trick?”
“No,” said Harry.
Draco looked completely bewildered. He was naked except for the tie on his left arm. He didn’t seem to notice what he was doing as he grabbed a dressing gown from off-screen and wrapped it around himself.
“You don’t know what this means to me,” he said, sounding as if Harry had just given him a million galleons, or his first born child, or a whole new life.
“Are you okay?” asked Harry. Draco gave a small, disbelieving laugh.
“Okay?” he repeated. His gaze sharpened. “Is my mother—do you know—has there been anything about her in the papers? Is she all right?”
“Er,” said Harry. “I assume so? I haven’t seen anything about her.”
Draco nodded, looking miserably at his keyboard.
“That’s good,” he said. “Fuck. Fuck. I can’t believe you knew all this time. I—I’ll refund you for this session, by the way. I’m a mess. Oh, Christ, you won’t stop booking, will you?”
“Refreshing,” he said. “No one’s called me that in years.”
“You really go by Malcom?”
“Sounded like Malfoy. Figured it’d be easier.”
“But why not pick something that sounded like your first name? I don’t know, Drake, or something?”
“Oh,” said Draco, looking rather blank. “Because—that’s what people who liked me called me. It didn’t feel appropriate.”
Something twisted in Harry’s chest.
“I like you, Draco,” he said.
Draco rested his chin in his palm.
“It’s not a trick?” he asked again.
“No,” said Harry, wondering how often people had tricked Draco, lately. Draco closed his eyes.
“Fuck. I’m going to cry again,” he said, and he did, a few fat tears rolling down his cheeks. He shook them away. “You know, people usually pay extra for tears.”
“Happy to, if you like,” he said.
“No. God. I’m so embarrassed. Can we—I can touch myself, or…?”
“Can we do South America?” asked Harry, because Draco was still crying a little, and it filled Harry with more affection than sexual fervour. “I’ve been practicing.”
“South America’s easy,” said Draco.
But Harry somehow always forgot about Suriname.
When the hour was up, Draco looked shiftily down at his hands.
“James,” he said, and Harry felt a deep unease in his belly, along with a paralysing helplessness, because how could he tell Draco who he really was without Draco realising what that first session had meant? “James… I really appreciate this.”
“Appreciate what?” asked Harry. Draco’s eyes flicked up to meet his.
“You giving me a chance.”
“Of course,” said Harry, hoarsely. “It’s not exactly a hardship. You’re pretty good at your job.”
“I’ll refund you for today.”
“Don’t,” said Harry.
“I can’t let you pay me for having a mental breakdown on you. I should be paying you.”
“Draco. Seriously. I got off, remember? You still did your job. And…” Harry tried to put some fragment of the horrible, uncomfortable swelling in his heart into words. “…and you don’t have to be perfect all the time. I like you. I like seeing beneath that.”
Draco bit his lip and gave a weak laugh.
“Right,” he said. “Beneath. Okay.”
“I’m not trying to like. Be your real-life boyfriend,” said Harry hastily. “I know that’s creepy, when people do that. I saw it on a yahoo question.”
“A yahoo question?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to do any of the typical annoying shit that clients do,” said Harry. “So I did a bit of research. I’m not trying to pry into your personal life, I know people hate it when clients do that.”
“Oh,” said Draco, softly. “That’s. Thoughtful.” He frowned and shook his hair out of his eyes. “I don’t know that I’d mind that now, though.”
“Oh,” said Harry.
“Well, that’s time; see you Wednesday? And tomorrow I’m going to be reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in my public show, if you fancy.”
“You always tell me what book you’re going to read, as if that will be the reason I tune in,” said Harry.
“Forgive me for believing in your intellect,” said Draco, and ended the call with a grin.
“Narcissa Malfoy?” asked Hermione. “I don’t really know.”
As always when Harry felt morally confused, he had turned to Hermione, and, as always when he felt pretty sure he was doing something wrong, he hadn’t told her the details.
“The Ministry seized the manor and everything, right?” asked Harry.
“Yes. Is she even still in the country?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry.
Hermione cupped her hands around her mug of coffee.
“I hope you’re not getting hung up on the idea that Malfoy’s up to something again,” she said.
“He was up to something,” said Harry, because this was a point he felt people often forgot, and really, it changed the whole narrative.
“Fine. But I highly doubt he is now.”
“No, I know,” said Harry. “I just—I was wondering.”
He asked his accommodating secretary to bring him Draco Malfoy’s file.
Draco Malfoy had apparently served his time in Azkaban without any mishaps. Shortly after he was released, the aurors had been called to his flat in Knockturn Alley following reports of some sort of domestic quarrel, although Harry couldn’t tell who had been involved, only that Draco had “declined to press charges”.
The next, and final, time that Draco had interacted with aurors had been a month after his parole ended. St Mungo’s called them when Draco turned up at the hospital holding a severely injured Narcissa Malfoy. The staff at St Mungo’s suspected that Draco was responsible for beating his mother—after all, he was a Death Eater—and informed the authorities. Narcissa Malfoy did not press charges.
After that, nothing.
“I thought I might have scared you off,” said Draco.
“I don’t scare easily.”
“Ha,” said Draco, with a searching glance.
“I couldn’t find out anything about your mother.”
“You went looking?” asked Draco, sounding alarmed.
“No, I just asked a few friends, that sort of thing,” said Harry. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
“Please don’t,” said Draco. “She’s—I’m sure she’s trying to lie low.”
“You two don’t talk?”
Draco started unbuttoning his shirt.
“God, it’s hot in here,” he said.
“You don’t have to distract me, like a kid with a toy,” said Harry. “If I’m being nosy, just tell me.”
Draco put his face in his hands.
“I don’t talk to Mother. It was better for her, without me.”
“What do you mean, better?” asked Harry.
Draco took several deep breaths before lowering his hands.
“Just better,” he said. “You look hot, by the way.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“Really hot. Fuck, the things I would do to you…”
But after they had both come, Draco didn’t put on his usual, cheerful expression again. Instead, he propped himself up on his elbow and looked thoughtfully at Harry.
“Was that all right?”
“It was brilliant,” said Harry. “You’re always brilliant.”
“It feels really different, now.”
Harry used his wand to spell himself clean, because, why not. When he looked up, Draco was watching him hungrily.
“Different in a bad way?” asked Harry.
“No,” said Draco. “Just different. I was wondering; do you follow quidditch at all?”
Harry stared at him. It was surreal, these moments when he remembered that Draco didn’t know who he was, despite the fact that Harry was more himself with Draco than with anyone else.
“A bit,” he said.
“How’ve the Tornadoes been playing?” asked Draco.
They talked quidditch for the better part of an hour, when Harry suddenly realised they were 15 minutes over the arranged session length.
“Shit,” said Harry. “It’s nearly ten.”
“Oh, fuck,” said Draco. “Fuck.” He closed his eyes. “Marlon’s going to be impossible.”
“Uh,” said Draco, going red. “Next client. I’m late for him.” He put his head in his hands. “Ugh, he’s—okay, anyway, I’m sorry we didn’t go again.”
“Talking about quidditch is better than sex,” said Harry.
“God, it really is. See, I can have sex with anyone.”
But I can only talk about quidditch with you. The loneliness of that unsaid statement rumbled through Harry like a shockwave.
“See you Wednesday,” said Harry.
Before, Harry had spent a lot of time trying to convince himself that Draco treated him differently from his other clients. Now, he tried to tell himself the opposite. Because if Draco really was treating him differently, it made Harry’s deception all the more pressingly, urgently cruel.
He knew he had options.
- He could tell Draco who he really was. But:
Draco lounged on his bed, looking blissfully shagged out.
“Kyrgyzstan,” he said.
“How do you spell it?” asked Harry. Draco stretched happily.
“I don’t know. I swear the z moves around the word when I look away,” he said.
Harry got it on his third go.
“You know what’s nice about you?” said Draco.
“You weren’t in the war. It’s impossible for me to talk to people who were in it. The people on my side are fucking crazy, and the people on your side…”
Draco trailed off.
“I’m just glad, that’s all,” he finished.
“Azerbaijan,” said Harry.
“Oh, good one,” said Draco.
2. He could stop seeing Draco. But:
Draco started talking more about everything, after Harry called him by his real name. He talked about his university classes (“as far as I can tell, all women in the Middle Ages were completely mad. Have you ever read Margery Kempe?”), about his work outs (“This is going to sound like I’m showing off, but I’m telling you, when you’re this in shape you have to conceive of increasingly ridiculous ways to stay in shape”), and even about his other clients. Harry had to piece information about them together, because Draco never said their name at the same time as any identifying facts. But they came up enough that soon Harry had a decent idea of Draco’s regulars.
There was Dan, whom Draco had a disorienting habit of mentioning as “My friend—I mean, shit, my client—”. Dan, from what Harry had figured out, was married and in his fifties. He had recently realised he was bisexual, and his wife had enthusiastically encouraged him to explore his sexuality on the internet. Enter, Draco.
“Sometimes she comes in and brings him a cup of tea while we’re in session and waves hello to me. They’re fucking adorable.”
There was Marlon, who was stingy and always felt hard done-by— “But he’s got a really high-paying, high-stress job, and he came from a working class background, so he’s just a bit winded, still. I don’t know, I get it.” (Draco seemed to have limitless empathy for his regulars.)
There was Arthur, and Haroun, and Tom. He mentioned them in passing, relating funny things they had said.
He never mentioned his actual friends. It eventually became clear to Harry that that was because he didn’t have any.
Harry’s third option was inevitably both the worst and the easiest:
3. Continue to develop a relationship built on deception with Draco Malfoy.
Maybe Harry had made too many sacrifices when he was younger. Maybe all that was left in him was selfishness. Maybe it was just that he had grown to care deeply about Draco, and he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting him actively either by leaving or by telling him the truth. Whatever the reason, Harry did not leave, and he continued to answer to “James”.
Harry had forgotten about the tickets Ron and Seamus had got to go see the Chudley Canons. All day he was looking forward to seeing Draco, and at the last minute, Ron showed up in his office, dressed in orange, and said, “you ready?”
So it wasn’t until the following day that he saw Draco.
“He’s alive!” said Draco, although his smile was rather strained.
“I’m really sorry about yesterday,” said Harry. “I forgot I was going to see the Canons.”
“From bad to worse,” said Draco, but he lightened up when he saw how repentant Harry was.
After they’d both come, they ended up getting into a strange conversation about insect stings.
“I was stung on the eyelid once. By a wasp,” said Draco.
“I don’t believe you,” said Harry. Draco shook his head.
“I’ll prove it,” he said, looking through his phone. “Hang on, can I text this to you? It’ll be easier. And then you can tell me next time you plan on leaving me languishing like a maiden in a castle.”
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. Draco waved him off.
“It was fine.”
Harry had a sudden flash of Draco, waiting by his laptop to talk to him, and eventually realising he wasn’t going to show.
The wasp sting picture arrived on Harry’s phone seconds later, a miserable, swollen-faced Draco staring off into the distance.
“You look so grumpy,” said Harry, laughing. Draco laughed too.
“It was awful. I had to cam looking like that; and all the creeps crawled out of the woodwork with their strange insect-bite-related sexual suggestions, and Dan and Haroun spent like three days putting arseholes in their place in the public chat until I looked normal again.”
“Couldn’t you just have glamoured it?”
Draco went very still. He was wearing the shirt Harry loved so much, the one that made his eyes tilt over from grey to blue. He fiddled with the cuff, looking as if he were trying to decide to tell Harry something.
“I don’t have a wand,” said Draco.
“What? But I—” returned it to you, he had almost said. He had sent it to Draco’s lawyers, at least, and they had assured him it had been returned. “I thought prisoners had their wands returned to them upon release,” he said.
“They do,” said Draco. “It was afterwards.”
“That it was broken,” said Draco.
“You broke it?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Draco… did someone break your wand?”
Draco shrugged, looking at his hands.
“Can’t you buy a new one?” asked Harry.
“What, from Ollivander?” said Draco.
“No, it’s not even that.” He paused. “It sounds so dramatic. They, uh, suggested, they implied, that I would be safer in the muggle world than the wizarding. Which has so far proven true. So.”
Harry was too angry to form a full sentence.
“…they?” he asked.
“Miscellaneous,” said Draco. “You know. Vigilantes. The Harry Potter brigade.”
Harry sank back into his chair, winded.
“What do you mean? Are you claiming Harry Potter broke your wand and exiled you?”
“No,” said Draco, frowning. “He wouldn’t do something like that. He’s insufferable, but…” he drifted off into thought. “Decent. He’s very decent. At least, he was, I don’t know what he’s like now. War does funny things to people.”
Harry thought of his complete inability to engage with his friends. His shitty, well-paid job and his habit of floating through conversations without really being there.
He thought of what he was doing to Draco, and was not at all sure he was still decent.
“But…” he said, dragging himself back to the present, “what do you mean by the Harry Potter brigade, then?”
Draco waved his hand.
“Oh, you know. ‘The Chosen One didn’t sacrifice himself so that scum like you could live happily ever after.’ They make a bit of a religion of it. You must know what I mean.”
Harry shook his head.
“I don’t really keep up with that sort of thing,” he said.
“One of your more lovable qualities,” said Draco.
Harry tried to laugh. He felt sick.
“James?” said Draco. “You all right? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to complain.”
“You didn’t deserve that.”
Draco gave a little twitch of his shoulders and smiled, clearly not saying what he was thinking.
“It’s not like you killed anyone,” said Harry. “You weren’t exactly into being a Death Eater.”
“I got this very exciting cock ring in the post, shall I show it to you? It lights up,” said Draco, effectively ending the conversation.
Harry took a picture of the Daily Prophet quidditch section the next morning and texted it to Draco. The response was immediate.
DM: you are
DM: an absolute legend
DM: real MVP over here
HP: don’t thank me
HP: I only sent it
HP: as further proof that your hopes for the Tornadoes are delusional
DM: true fans are there when the going is bad
DM: /when the seeker accidentally confunds herself and ends up wandering the deserts of Kuwait
HP: There’s never been a good time for the Tornadoes
DM: Excuse you
DM: they did all right during my fifth year
DM: can’t speak to you when you’re like this
HP: u in class?
DM: writing a Thomas Hardy essay
DM: it’s bleak as hell
HP: never read him
DM: I’ll give you the précis
DM: rape is bad
HP: oh good to know
DM: you heard it first here, folks
HP: I’m just at my bullshit job
HP: peddling bullshit
DM: but you do it so well
HP: yeh I guess
DM: was that a serious moment
DM: did I misjudge
HP: in my experience
HP: you don’t misjudge, anymore
DM: that was
“Do you have many friends?” asked Draco. He had been quiet and preoccupied all session, and they hadn’t done anything sexual yet. Actually, they’d been having sex less and less, which made Harry feel all sorts of things. Principally, it made him feel as if he was getting through to the hidden parts of Draco. Draco had a pronounced tendency to deflect using sex. The idea that Draco was allowing Harry in beneath his armour made Harry feel a strange, guilty sort of rapture.
“Er, yeah, I think so,” said Harry. “Quite a few.”
“That makes sense,” he said.
“How about you?” asked Harry. “Met anyone nice at uni?”
Draco frowned, fiddling with the tie around his arm. Harry had several times mentioned that he didn’t mind about the Mark, but this only made Draco change the subject, not the habit.
“Oh,” said Draco. “Yeah, I guess.” He twisted his mouth. Harry was visited by an intense desire to jump through the screen and hug him.
“Hard to make friends?” said Harry.
“Well, I’m older than them,” said Draco.
“Yeah, but you’re also incredibly attractive.”
Draco flushed red.
“I get anxious around muggles,” he said. “And wizards. Just people, really; I get anxious around people. Since the war.”
“But you’re the most sociable person I know,” said Harry. “You talk to, like, 200 people at once on your public shows, and you’re so relaxed.”
“Internet people,” said Draco. “It’s different. I can shut my laptop anytime. Like closing your eyes as a child, remember? How it used to feel as if people would disappear if you shut your eyes?”
“I don’t really think about my childhood all that much,” he said.
“Oh,” said Draco. “I think I knew that. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.” He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Are you wishing me away?” asked Harry. Draco shook his head.
“Sorry,” he said. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“Are you okay?” asked Harry.
“Do you know that you’re the only person who ever asks me that?”
“What about Dan?” asked Harry.
Draco made a non-committal gesture and didn’t answer.
“What about…” said Harry, “…your friends from Hogwarts?”
Draco looked up sharply.
“What about them?”
“Don’t you ever see them?”
Draco fiddled with the buttons of his shirt.
“You don’t tell people about me, do you?” he asked.
“Er, no,” said Harry.
Draco nodded to himself.
“That’s good,” he said. “Although maybe you’d be fine, I don’t know.”
“Draco… did those people who broke your wand tell you you couldn’t see your friends anymore?”
Draco didn’t answer.
“They did, didn’t they? Draco, that’s fucked up!”
Draco was silent and wouldn’t meet his eye.
“Yeah,” said Draco. “We should really get to the dick-touching part of the session.”
He was lonely, Harry realised. Draco was crushingly lonely, so lonely that some days, it seemed to radiate through the screen; his desperation to talk to Harry, to hear about magic, to reminisce about the world he clearly still loved more than anything.
But it was increasingly obvious that he also saw his loneliness as something he deserved. If Harry ever tried to tell him that the people who had broken his wand had done something wrong, Draco shut down completely and wouldn’t talk about anything but sex for the rest of the session.
In his massive office, Harry started researching the vigilantes who had come after Draco.
It was very hard to find a lead. The trail had been cold for so long. He couldn’t find so much as a trace of Narcissa Malfoy. The Slytherins in general seemed to have vanished into nothingness. After a few weeks of searching, he had to accept that unless Draco gave him more information, there was no chance that Harry would be able to find them. And Draco never spoke about them for long enough for there to be any stray details.
HP: everything ok??
DM: [blurry picture of a shaggy-haired lecturer]
DM: my lecturer’s hot
DM: what should I do
HP: you scared me
DM: lol sry
DM: it was an aesthetic emergency
DM: his voice sounds like velvet
HP: feel like you’re breaking some of the camboy rules here
HP: aren’t you supposed to make me feel like I’m the only man in the world
DM: you can handle it
DM: he knows SO MUCH about Thomas Malory
HP: is that a book
DM: why do I bother with you
HP: bc you like my dick, I’m pretty sure
DM: oh yeah good point
DM: do you think if I “accidentally” turned in some erotica instead of my Tristram and Isode essay he would think I was pretty
HP: yeah that’s a great idea, do that
DM: you give bad advice
HP: meanwhile, in my life
HP: my secretary is having phone sex and thinks I can’t hear her
DM: she has a phone?
DM: you have a SECRETARY?
HP: they’re using patronuses
DM: I HATE that
HP: what’s your patronus
DM: never cast one
HP: oh right sorry
DM: what’s yours?
HP: oh god I will never be able to unhear the things they’re saying to each other
DM: please relate
DM: actually don’t
DM: if I come in the lecture hall ppl will think I’m weird(er)
HP: trust me, they don’t do dirty talk like you do
DM: is there a compliment somewhere in there
HP: you’re the hottest fucking thing in the world
DM: smiling like an idiot at my phone
HP: that’s smart
HP: make the lecturer jealous
DM: so you srsly have a secretary huh
DM: that’s hot
DM: do you ever think about shagging her
HP: lol no
HP: I pretty much only think about shagging you
DM: but I’m not a secretary
DM: also I am in love with Professor Gneiss
HP: love! This is progressing
DM: he just quoted a long passage from the Prose Tristan in Old French. from memory
DM: I would die for this man
HP: ok I think they’re done
HP: that was anticlimactic
HP: you should give them tips
DM: “hello! Your employer hired me to improve your patronus sex life”
HP: that would literally be the most productive thing I’d have done all year
DM: not to be all
DM: your mum
HP: she’s dead, so
DM: oh shit sorry
DM: I didn’t know
HP: what mum-like advice was heading my way?
DM: the classic…. have you considered quitting your job that you hate?
HP: ahh that old chestnut
DM: lol yeah
DM: is that an overstep
HP: it’s a good point
HP: idk the money’s good and it’s easy and there’s nothing else I want to do
DM: yeah ok you’ve convinced me
DM: in fact I would also like this job, now
HP: cool cool
HP: what are your skills
DM: I’m really cute
HP: you’re hired!
DM: lol ok I should probably start taking notes on Thomas Malory
DM: /writing this lecturer a love poem in rhyme royal
HP: what’s rhyme royal
DM: O James thy hair is long and inky black
Thine browning eyes do gaze and make me squirm
Too good, I wonder—can he like me back
Although most think I’m but a lowly worm
Who cannot change and certainly can’t learn?
Dost thou like my poem in royal rhyme?
Dost thou find my poetry sublime?
HP: …did you just write that
DM: I fucked up the iambic pentameter
HP: you’re not a lowly worm
DM: it rhymed with squirm!!
DM: ok I have to go Professor Gneiss just looked at me with his glowing amber eyes
HP: sounds creepy but ok
DM: it was sexy you’re just jealous
HP: oh I’m definitely jealous
HP: but let’s never forget I got the first rhyme royal love poem
DM: first draft, though
DM: HIS will be a work of Chaucerian art
HP: you’re such a nerd
Harry loved texting Draco, but it saddened him, how often Draco reached out. Harry knew it was only because Draco had no one else to talk to, which was criminal, because Draco was brilliant at being a friend. Harry couldn’t understand how the people on his course hadn’t noticed.
DM: are you there
HP: yeah just busy doing my extremely essential work
HP: oh wait
HP: everything ok?
DM: I’m in a park
HP: picnicking, or…?
HP: what’s wrong
DM: can’t breathe
HP: can I call
DM: no no you don’t need to do that
HP: I’m calling
Draco picked up on the first ring.
“What happened?” asked Harry.
“Fucking nothing,” said Draco, his voice light and trembling. “Some girl asked if I wanted to come to the pub and I freaked out.”
“What do you mean, freaked out?”
“I just, I, fuck, why can’t I just be normal…”
“Draco, hey, breathe,” said Harry, because Draco sounded as if he was breaking down into tears. But when Draco spoke again, his voice was steady and firm.
“Sorry,” he said. “Of course I know why I can’t be normal. That was a stupid thing to say.”
“No, it wasn’t,” said Harry. “You just want to have friends.”
There was such a long pause that Harry thought the line had broken.
“Just checking you’re still there,” said Harry.
“I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” said Draco.
Harry wished, more than anything, that he could go find Draco and hold him.
“You’re doing an English degree,” said Harry. “You have a job you love.”
Another long silence.
“I’m sorry I’m wasting your time.”
“You’re not. Draco.”
Draco took several deep breaths.
“I haven’t heard from Marlon in two weeks,” he said.
“Oh,” said Harry. “Isn’t he one of your main clients?”
Draco laughed. It sounded fragile.
“I thought so, yeah.”
“So you… miss him?” asked Harry delicately. The seconds passed. “Draco?”
“No,” said Draco. He made a small sound. “I just don’t know how I got here.”
Harry wanted so badly to help, but he didn’t know how to.
“You’re fun,” said Harry. “You know? You’re very lovable. I feel like you’re going to figure everything out, because you’ve become so—”
“Fun,” said Draco, and Harry realised he had said the wrong thing.
“Not just fun.”
“I have to go,” said Draco.
“Draco. I don’t just like you because you’re fun.”
Draco laughed, lightly this time; Harry could feel him slipping away.
“No, I’m also very sexy. Speaking of which, same time tomorrow for our private session?”
“Uh, sure,” said Harry.
“Marvellous. Right, I’d best be off.”
Draco hung up.
HP: ciao is a wanky thing to say
HP: I think you know that
DM: yeah ok
HP: I’m sorry I called you fun
HP: I meant it as a compliment
DM: I think I just need a nap
DM: I’m like a baby
HP: I’m sorry you had a panic attack
DM: it wasn’t a panic attack
DM: those are very legitimate
DM: what I had was
DM: just me being a fucking idiot
DM: just like fucking always, Jesus Christ
HP: you’re being very hard on yourself
DM: you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about
DM: “hard on myself” what fucking nonsense
DM: James? I’m sorry
HP: no you’re right
HP: my life is a shambles
HP: I’m not in a position to give you advice
HP: I’m just sorry to see you unhappy.
But in their next session, Draco was cheerful and charming and sexy, and never mentioned their phone call at all.
The cheerful sessions stopped being as frequent, however. There was definitely something up with Draco (and wasn’t that a familiar feeling, for Harry). For one thing, Draco was working out too much. All of his public sessions were him sweating away on his bedroom floor. He didn’t have to talk as much, when he did that.
With Harry, he started prolonging the sex. He didn’t laugh as much. He was distracted when Harry asked him personal questions.
“What are you reading?” asked Harry, finally, in desperation. Draco was wanking with a glint in his eyes that seemed less like arousal than determination.
Draco’s hand paused.
“I’m not,” he said.
“You’re always reading something,” said Harry.
Draco lowered his eyebrows, as if he was just realising that what Harry had said was true.
“Haven’t had the time, I suppose,” he said. “Mmm. If you were here, do you know what I’d do?”
“You’ve seemed off, lately,” said Harry. “Is everything okay?”
“I think I’d take it slow. Well, slow-ish. I’d straddle you in that chair, and just kiss you, to begin with; my hands in your hair. I like the look of your hair. I bet you’d let me tug on it, if I asked nicely.”
“I’m just worried about you,” said Harry.
But it was impossible to get Draco to talk when he didn’t want to.
“You all right?” asked Ron at the pub.
“Yeah,” said Harry. Then, when he saw that Ron wasn’t satisfied: “Bit worried about something at work,” he added.
“How’s it all going with Malfoy?” asked Ron.
“Are you still, you know… camming with him?”
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said, and it wasn’t until much later that he realised Ron hadn’t pursued that line of questioning, despite it clearly being a fucking weird thing that ought be questioned.
Harry made sure to have a session on Draco’s birthday. Draco didn’t say that the day was anything special, and cringed when Harry mentioned it.
“What?” asked Harry. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who hates birthdays.”
“I hate getting older.”
“Pretty sure you’re going to be hot well into your eighties,” said Harry. “You’ve got good bone structure.”
But Draco folded his arms over himself, looking suddenly slight and small.
“I’m a twink. Nothing good happens to twinks when they age.”
“You’re not a twink,” said Harry.
“It’s literally my category on the fucking site,” said Draco. He unfolded his arms to rub his temples. “It’s fine. It’s just an occupational hazard of having a job where my looks are important.”
“You’re twenty-three. I’d say you have a second before you need to worry about ageing.”
“I know,” said Draco, but he still seemed stressed and unhappy; although he cheered up enormously when Harry gave him a birthday tip.
Draco seemed so off-kilter that it was particularly annoying that the next few weeks were, for some mysterious reason, the busiest Harry had been in years. There were weddings and stag parties and picnics and drinks parties and Hermione’s book launch party and Ron suddenly wanted to “catch up, just the two of them” and before he knew it, three weeks had passed without Harry seeing Draco once.
They texted, but it wasn’t the same. Anyway, Harry was too busy to do more than perfunctorily answer Draco’s messages about his lecturers. As Harry’s answers grew shorter, Draco stopped texting as often.
When Harry’s life finally emptied, Draco was scheduled to do a public session. Harry opened his laptop, looking forward to hearing Draco’s voice. He often treated Draco’s public sessions as a sort of foul-mouthed radio-program, and laughed along to Draco’s jokes as he did chores.
But Draco wasn’t online.
Draco had never missed a public session. He was regular as clockwork.
HP: you’re not online
HP: how am I supposed to fold laundry
HP: if you’re not reading the communist manifesto, wearing only a thong
Draco didn’t answer for several hours.
DM: felt a bit under the weather
HP: you’re ill?
DM: no no
DM: I’m fine
DM: just a cold
HP: bc I booked in to see you tomorrow but
HP: happy to postpone?
DM: no no I’m fine really
DM: just needed a bit of extra sleep
DM: excited to see you
HP: I missed you
All day, Harry waited with breathless anticipation to see Draco. He hadn’t exaggerated; he really had missed him. So much, in fact, that somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that the situation was unsustainable. He wanted so much more than video chats on a laptop. He wanted to cook Draco dinner. He wanted to go to quidditch matches with him. He wanted Draco to put his hand on Harry’s thigh under the table at pub nights.
He tried not to think about any of that, and to focus instead on the fact that he would be seeing Draco soon. They would touch themselves. He would make Draco laugh. Draco would mock him for never remembering Suriname.
But when Draco came on the screen, it was immediately apparent that none of that was going to happen.
Draco looked haggard. His red-rimmed eyes were too big for his face. His cheeks seemed to have withered into his skull. He lay in his bed, but it wasn’t sexy. It was all too obvious that he was there because he couldn’t get up.
“Hey,” he said. His voice sounded like gravel.
“Draco,” said Harry. “What happened?”
Draco blinked slowly, as if he didn’t understand the question. Even through the filters Harry knew Draco used to hide blemishes, Harry could see that his lips were flaking with dry skin.
“What do you want to do,” said Draco, mostly whispering. His eyes were glassy and unfocused.
“What’s your address?” said Harry.
If Harry hadn’t been worried before, the fact that Draco simply told him would have been enough to let him know that something was seriously wrong.
He apparated to Draco’s building in Deptford. It was a shabby, derelict sort of place. The front door didn’t shut properly, and the stairwell stank of urine.
HP: I’m outside
Draco didn’t text back, or pick up when Harry called. He hesitated to apparate inside. He decided to knock first.
The door was opened immediately by a young woman with a pinched face.
“Is Dra— Malcolm here?” asked Harry.
The woman’s face grew even more pinched, which Harry would not have thought possible upon first seeing her. She had a face like a laundry peg.
“Oh, no,” she said, starting to close the door. “No, absolutely not. I tolerated the sex cam stuff, but he is not setting up a brothel in here. No.”
Harry stuck his foot in the door, preventing her from closing it.
“He’s my friend!”
The woman stopped trying to close the door on Harry’s foot to give him a suspicious look.
“He doesn’t have any friends,” she said.
“From school,” said Harry.
She looked at him for a second, as if trying to decide how Harry would brutally murder her, if she were to let him in.
“Fine,” she said, and stepped aside. “Actually, this is perfect. He owes me rent. I’m not covering for him again.”
“He’s sick,” said Harry, following her into the flat.
“Yeah, and he’ll be sicker if he gets us evicted. I’m Tracy, by the way.”
“Ha--James,” said Harry.
Draco’s room always seemed quite nice, on screen. The rest of the flat, however, was not. The front hall was cramped. There was mould on the walls. It was like the worst kind of student accommodation.
“Well, James, I’d appreciate it if you could get him to pay up.”
“How much is it?”
She gave him a number that was so small it made Harry’s heart constrict. He had spent more than that on shoes. Granted, only once, and it had been because Ginny said he needed to get over his “chronic inability to do things for himself”. But still.
“I’ll pay it,” said Harry.
Tracy’s pinched face relaxed instantly, and suddenly she seemed almost pretty.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Uh, is there a cashpoint nearby?”
Ten minutes later he was back. He handed her double what she had asked for.
“Next month’s, as well,” he said.
She looked at the money in her hand, clearly wrestling with some moral quandary.
“And… he’s not paying you back with…”
“No! Jesus,” said Harry. “I told you. We’re friends.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said. She really looked completely different, now that she had the rent money. “He’s through there.”
Harry knocked on the door she had pointed towards. When no one answered, Harry pushed it open.
It was dark, except for a studio light on the bedside table that served as a lamp. Draco lay in the rumpled bed, cheeks flushed, eyelids fluttering, a sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Draco,” said Harry, kneeling next to him, and tilting the studio light so that it no longer glared into Draco’s eyes.
Draco made a soft, heartbreaking sound, but did not wake up.
Harry locked the door, then set about trying to make him more comfortable. He turned out the studio light altogether, casting several small balls of glowing light, instead. He cast a cooling charm on Draco, and a cleaning charm on the bedsheets, which were soaked in sweat.
Draco tossed and turned. Occasionally he would open his eyes, stare at Harry, and say, “Pansy?”
Harry couldn’t answer him, when he did that. It felt too wrong to correct him with a name that wasn’t his own.
He transfigured a cushion into a lumpy mattress and stayed the night.
At about two in the morning, Harry was woken up by Draco’s rasping voice.
“James? Is that really you?”
Harry sat up. Draco lay shivering in his blankets, staring at him in confusion.
“Hey,” said Harry.
“You’re here,” said Draco.
“You needed looking after,” said Harry.
Draco closed his eyes and smiled, although it was quickly replaced by a grimace.
“You didn’t have to,” he said.
Harry filled up a glass of water and handed it to Draco, who promptly spilt it all over himself and looked aggrieved.
“Sit up,” said Harry, casting a drying spell and refilling the glass. He put his hand on the back of Draco’s hot head and held the glass to his lips.
“Magic’s convenient,” said Draco, when he had drunk his fill.
“It is,” said Harry, helping Draco settle himself back into the covers. He knelt at the bedside and stroked Draco’s soft, damp hair out of his face.
“Mother,” said Draco, fading out of lucidity.
He grew so hot that Harry worried he should take him to the hospital. But when he called 111, the NHS non-emergency number, the patient woman on the phone told Harry that Draco just needed fluids and rest.
So Harry lay back on his makeshift mattress, and gave Draco water whenever he woke, in fitful bursts, throughout the night.
In the morning, Harry went to the kitchen to rummage for food. There was nothing but frozen chicken breasts and tins of beans.
Tracy was making coffee.
“Is there, like, soup?” asked Harry.
Tracy shook her head.
“He only eats three things,” she said.
Harry waited for her to go to work, then summoned Kreacher so he could make soup. When Draco was awake, he spooned the soup carefully into his mouth. Draco leant against him, falling asleep in between mouthfuls.
“How long have you been ill?” asked Harry.
“‘m not ill,” said Draco, and passed out.
Harry called in sick at work. He watched movies on Draco’s laptop. Sometimes Draco would wake up and call for his mother or for Pansy; sometimes he would just smile and say, “you’re still here.”
The following night, his fever broke. He sank into a deep, untroubled sleep. His temperature cooled, and Harry fell asleep listening to his slow, soft breathing.
Harry sat up. It was light. Harry’s back ached from the lumpy mattress. Draco lay on his side, his expression open and focused.
“Hey,” said Harry, rubbing his eyes. “You want some water?”
“You came,” said Draco.
Harry filled up the water glass, but when he held it to Draco’s face, Draco sat up and took it in his own hands.
“I feel better,” he said, although his voice still sounded cracked and hacking.
“I was worried about you,” said Harry.
Draco smiled and lay back, setting the glass on his bedside table.
“I think I’m falling in love with you,” he said, before closing his eyes and going to sleep.
Harry was filled with a growing sense of horror. For the first time, the full meaning of his behaviour dawned on him. Draco loved him. Draco trusted him. Draco lived a life in exile, unloved and unwanted, and trusted no one, and Harry had forced his way through his defences; made Draco reliant on him.
Now, Harry was faced with the fact that there were only two options ahead: tell Draco the truth, and shatter Draco’s fragile self-belief, or disappear, and break his heart.
Draco was so much handsomer in person than he was on camera, even though his skin was blotchy and his nose was red. He was solid, and Harry wanted to cling to him, to use him as a rudder with which to guide his own meaningless, drifting existence.
He went to the cash point and took out another two months’ worth of rent. He left the money on Draco’s bedside table, and disapparated.
Hermione listened in grave silence as Harry told her the entire story.
“But he’s fallen in love with me, and I don’t know what to do, I can’t tell him, I mean—can I?”
Hermione toyed with the tag of her teabag. They were in a small coffee shop, but she had cast privacy spells so they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Tell him that you’ve been lying to him for months?” she said.
“Yeah. God, and he’ll know that the first session was meant to humiliate him, and it will, it will make him feel awful…”
“Say you tell him, and he forgives you,” said Hermione, frowning. She seemed rather dazed. “What then? This is Malfoy you’re talking about, Harry.”
“I don’t know, I guess I’d—”
Hermione shrugged off her coat and rolled up her sleeves as she listened.
She never rolled up her sleeves. The dreadful scar on her arm was still there, livid and ugly; mudblood. The words in Harry’s throat dried up; words like “I’d still want to be with him” and “he’s different now”. Because it didn’t matter if he was different. It mattered that his friends were the same people he had once hurt, and that their hurt had lasted.
Hermione noticed where he was looking. She blushed and quickly rolled down her sleeves.
“You should do what you think is right,” she said.
“I… I can’t date him,” said Harry.
“Would you want to?” asked Hermione.
“It would remind Seamus of Dean, and Ron of Fred, and you of the worst day in your life,” said Harry.
“It would,” agreed Hermione. “Is he worth all that? Can you be sure?”
Harry put his head in his hands.
“Oh, God,” he said. “I’ve done an evil thing.”
“If you want to be with him, you should be with him,” said Hermione, but she was just saying that, and she knew as well as he did that he couldn’t do that to his friends; to his family. He had grown so used to seeing Draco as separate from Malfoy that he had forgotten they were still the same person to everyone else, and always would be.
He remembered what Draco had said, about Harry Potter being a decent person, at least before the war.
There was no way he could be a decent person, going forward. He could fuck over Draco, or he could fuck over his friends.
And his friends were more numerous, and had never done anything to deserve being hurt by him.
“How do I… should I tell him, all the same?”
Hermione looked sympathetic.
“That seems as if it would cause him needless pain,” she said.
“So I’ll just… I’ll just stop seeing him,” said Harry blankly. It sounded so simple, put like that. Stop seeing him. But those three words entailed a million different things, all of them painful. Not getting to make Draco laugh. Not getting into stupid arguments about geography or literature. Not having anyone to care for or worry about. Not getting to see Draco’s lovely face grow taut with arousal.
When he got home, Draco had texted.
DM: you’re Florence Nightingale
DM: I shall build a statue in your honour
DM: also, did you mean to leave a small fortune in muggle money on my bedside table?
The texts went blurry as Harry stared at them. He blinked until they were clear.
DM: did we shag…?
DM: I wasn’t drunk I swear; I just was a bit out of it and can’t remember?
DM: ah good good
HP: you were like on the verge of death
DM: right right
DM: I forgot
DM: so the money…?
HP: just thought it might help
DM: oh, that’s
DM: it does help. A lot. Thank you. For everything. I woke up feeling
DM: idk I don’t want to be embarrassing
DM: but I’ve been feeling a bit hopeless for a while now
DM: since I was 16 haha
DM: (i wonder WHY)
DM: having someone take care of me like that; it was just really unexpected and
DM: oh what sorry
DM: sry I’m monologuing
HP: I’m going to be too busy to see you
DM: right ok
DM: that’s good! Work picking up
DM: that’s good; I hope
Harry smashed his phone several times against his kitchen counter, but it was a Nokia, and indestructible.
DM: anyway I just wanted to say thank you
DM: how long, btw?
DM: do you think you’ll be busy, I mean
HP: a while
DM: ah ok np
HP: I have to go
DM: yeah of course
Harry put the phone under his mattress and threw his laptop in the bin.
He wasn’t decent, he realised. If he had been decent, none of this would have happened, because he would have stood up to Ron and Seamus at the pub. He had allowed his post-war exhaustion to turn into laziness, and eventually that had melted into cowardice. He was ashamed of himself. Draco had spent years trying to make something of himself, but Harry had just deteriorated.
Luna agreed to meet Harry the next day. He went to her flat and drank her weird elderberry tea.
“It’s nice to see you,” she told him.
“It’s nice to see you, too,” said Harry. “How was Greenland?”
Her face fell.
“It’s terrible what’s happening to the ice caps,” she said.
Harry put down his elderberry tea.
“That’s actually what I’ve come about,” he said.
“The ice caps?”
“I want to help. To do something worthwhile. How can I help?”
Luna observed him for a moment.
“We all have to play to our strengths,” she said. Harry nodded.
“I know,” he said. “I’m happy to go on expeditions, I can fly, I can carry things, whatever.”
Luna shook her head.
“No, Harry,” she said. “Your strength is that people listen to you. They look up to you and admire you.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“If you really want to help, you’ll go into politics.”
Harry looked at the ceiling.
“Fuck,” he said.
“You hate that idea,” she said.
“No, it’s not that. I mean, yes. It’s that you’re right,” said Harry.
He had thought it, briefly, the summer after the war. The world had been in chaos, and the people in power were there for the wrong reasons. Freshly eighteen, exhausted, mourning, Harry had looked around and told himself, soon— after a break— I’ll start again.
But instead, he had just… floated.
It wasn’t difficult for him to get into politics. He quit his job. He was elected for the first position he tried for, by a landslide. Hermione was delighted, and helped him with the reading. The first chance he got, he convinced the deputy-head auror to reopen Draco’s case-file, and see if he couldn’t find out anything about the people who had beaten up Draco and his mother.
“Domestic violence,” said Roseveare, the deputy-head auror.
“You really think Narcissa Malfoy and Draco Malfoy were beating each other up?” asked Harry. Roseveare frowned.
“No, that doesn’t seem right,” he agreed. “I’ll look into it.”
The papers talked about Harry’s return to the world’s stage. People said he was destined to be the youngest Minister for Magic in centuries. (Hard to beat the Earl of Masserene, who was elected Minister for Magic in the 16th century at the tender age of eight.)
“Are you all right, though?” asked Ron, at the pub.
“Course,” said Harry.
Ron frowned at his drink.
“You’d tell me, if something was up, yeah?”
“How’s it going with the Malfoy thing?” asked Ron.
“Stopped doing that,” said Harry.
Ron nodded, still frowning.
“You seemed a bit better, recently. But now you’re…”
“What? I’m what?” asked Harry.
“I don’t know,” said Ron. “You just don’t laugh much anymore, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m sorry if I’m not fun enough for you. I’m trying to be an adult.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Ron, and they didn’t talk about Harry’s emotional state any more, although Ron sometimes watched him with a funny, thoughtful expression.
Occasionally, Harry would take his phone out from under his mattress.
DM: ok I know you’re busy but I have to update you on Professor Gneiss
DM: we just had a private tutorial
DM: and he called me, I QUOTE
DM: “very clever”
DM: if that’s not love, James, then what is
DM: saw a woman on the tube who looked like Umbridge
DM: but she was wearing a shirt that said “pussy power”
DM: and I had to tell someone
DM: how’s work going??
DM: I thought you should know that I just accidentally touched a squid
DM: don’t ask me how
DM: I don’t want to go into it
DM: how’s your day been
DM: you are now looking at the newly instated LIBRARIAN’S ASSISTANT
DM: that’s right, baby, I got myself a part-time job
DM: pay is shite but BOOKS
DM: (and consistency, consistency is good)
DM: so I won’t be doing public shows anymore, or taking on new clients
DM: but I’ll have time to see you when you’re more free, obvi
DM: are you coming back?
DM: you’re not coming back, are you.
DM: did you meet someone else?
DM: we could still be friends
DM: fuck that was pathetic
DM: I feel so stupid when I think about you
DM: because I thought it was real
Harry smoked a lot of weed, on days when he checked his phone. Actually, he smoked a lot of weed, point blank. He gave speeches about elf rights and prison conditions and Muggleborn opportunities, he gave interviews and posed for photographs, and then he went home to his pitiless, empty flat, smoked weed, and tried not to think about Draco.
Hermione and Ron staged an intervention, at one point; or tried to.
“It’s one thing to smoke on weekends,” said Hermione. “But it feels like you’re escaping something.”
Harry held her gaze.
“Obviously I’m escaping something,” he said, and lit up another spliff.
They didn’t mention his smoking again.
It was Boys Night at the pub. Seamus did that thing where he bought a packet of crisps for the table, and Harry ate them without much enthusiasm.
Things were getting better. Harry’s unexpected shift into politics was an improvement. It felt good—it was unpleasant, but it felt good. Like eating vegetables, or working out, or washing his hair when he was tired. He felt as if he were exercising a muscle that had grown flabby over the years.
But then he would think of something he wanted to tell Draco, and he would be struck once more by the bitter fragility of his principles. Or else, he would think of something Draco had said, and laugh, before remembering that he had given Draco up, or lost him, or never had him in the first place.
He tried not to think about it. He was very bad at not thinking about it.
Seamus and Ron were talking about quidditch when it happened. The door to the pub opened, and Draco Malfoy walked in.
It was a muggle pub, as always. It was pouring with rain outside, and Draco wore only a pair of jeans and a sodden cable knit jumper. Water trickled into his eyes, and he shivered at the barman.
“‘Should have brought an umbrella,” Harry heard him say. “Is it all right if I stay until this passes?”
The barman was just answering in the affirmative, when Seamus stood. Harry felt Seamus’ body move, but, as in a nightmare, seemed perfectly unable to do anything about it. Seamus’ face had that blazing, rigid expression it got whenever Dean came up.
“Oi, Malfoy,” he said. Draco looked up. He froze when he saw who it was who had addressed him. “You don’t look as good as last time I saw you, wearing a little school girl outfit and fucking yourself with a Gryffindor dildo.”
Malfoy did not react. He simply stared, wide-eyed, at Seamus, as if he thought he might have misheard.
“Sorry?” he said, a small crease appearing between his eyebrows.
“Seamus,” said Ron, tugging at Seamus’ arm. “Let it go, mate.”
Harry still couldn’t move.
“You heard me,” said Seamus. “Pretty little camboy you made for us. Bet your dad’s real proud of you, huh, Malfoy?”
“Is he bothering you?” the barman asked Draco. But horrible, monstrous understanding was dawning in Draco’s face as he turned to Harry.
“James,” he said. Not a question. A realisation.
“Draco, wait,” said Harry, belatedly regaining the use of his faculties. Draco turned jerkily on his heel and fled into the driving rain.
Harry knocked over a chair trying to get after him. Ron moved his pint out of the way so that Harry wouldn’t spill it, and forced Seamus to sit down.
“Now you’ve done it,” said Ron to Seamus. Harry didn’t pause to wonder what that meant. He chased after Draco, looking both ways at the pub door. He spotted Draco speeding, hunch-shouldered, down the street.
Draco did not stop. Harry ran to catch him, and although Draco was walking quickly, he evidently didn’t want to resort to a flat-out run. In a minute, Harry was beside him.
“Draco,” he said. When Draco didn’t stop, Harry grabbed his arm.
“Let go of me,” said Draco, shaking Harry off. He turned to face Harry. “What do you want?”
He was so much handsomer than Harry had remembered.
“God, I mean, of course,” said Draco, with a huge swallow. The rain fell so hard that it was all Harry could hear; the rain, and Draco’s panicked, anguished words. “Of course it was just… just a fucking prank… you broke my heart for a laugh…”
“No,” said Harry. “No, the first session was supposed to be a joke, but—”
“Did you really need to punish me?” asked Draco. His eyes met Harry’s, naked and sincere.
“No, listen to me, Draco, you have no idea how awful I feel--” Draco made a strange, breathy noise of outrage, but Harry plunged on. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it started as--as a terrible, cruel joke, and I should have told Seamus to stop, I was such a bloody coward, and the whole thing was so fucked up--”
“I don’t know, was it?” asked Draco, his voice rising wildly. “I don’t even know, maybe it was about right, I don’t know… God, I loved you, and you—you—you spat on my soul…!”
“I love you too,” said Harry. “I’m in love with you, I couldn’t figure out how not to hurt you--”
Draco covered his face with his hands.
“I know you think I deserve this,” he said, “but you don’t understand how much it… aches; if you did, you’d stop, wouldn’t you? You’re not so changed that you would keep going, if you knew—if you knew how much it had meant to me, and how awful it was when you—or maybe you do know? And that’s why you did it.”
“Draco, please, listen to me, I fucked up, obviously, but it was real for me too, okay? I love you!”
Draco lowered his hands.
“Then why did you leave?”
“Because I couldn’t do that to my friends!”
Draco bit his lip and squinted at the sky, clearly trying not to break into tears.
“Oh, God,” he said. “I believed you for a second, there. Look, can you just accept your victory and leave me alone? I feel more stupid and worthless than you could ever have hoped. You win, completely and utterly.”
“That’s not what I—”
Draco looked at his feet, scrunching up his face.
“Please let me go, Harry,” he said quietly, as if he didn’t have much hope that Harry would relent.
“I love you,” said Harry. Draco covered his ears with his hands and gave a soft sob.
The desperate pain in Harry’s chest made things so much clearer, because fuck his friends, fuck everybody, no decision of Harry’s that made Draco look like that could possibly have been the right call.
“Please stop,” said Draco.
“Okay,” whispered Harry.
Draco swallowed once more, turned around, and walked away.
Ten minutes later, Ron found Harry standing in the rain.
“C’mon,” said Ron. “Let’s go home.”
Harry nodded and let Ron apparate him back to his terrible, loveless flat. He stood still, dripping water onto the ugly brown carpet that had come with his living room as Ron fetched a towel. He said nothing when Ron rubbed his head vigorously with the towel and then wrapped it around his shoulders, using the pretence of drying Harry to give him a long, tight hug.
“Are you going to tell me about it, then?” he said, when Harry wasn’t quite so sopping wet.
“I broke his heart,” said Harry.
“I thought he’d broken yours,” said Ron.
Harry shook his head.
“No, that was me, too. I broke his heart, and my own.”
Ron nodded as if he understood, and ordered in take-out. They ended up slouched on the sofa, heads leaning against each other. Ron fed him bits of garlic naan.
“How long have you known?” asked Harry.
“Since you said you were still seeing him,” said Ron. “You were pretty obvious.”
“I told Hermione everything,” said Harry.
“What did she say?”
“That I should do what I thought was right.”
“And this was you doing what you thought was right? Ghosting him and lying to him and making yourself miserable?”
Harry turned his head to look at Ron. He was so fiercely grateful for him he could have kissed him.
“It’s Malfoy,” he said. “He poisoned you.”
“Not very well,” said Ron. “Didn’t even take.”
Harry laughed and reached for the naan.
“Anyway, I’ve fucked it completely,” he said. “I betrayed him. Even if everyone else feels the way you do—”
“Screw everyone else,” said Ron. “You were happy when you were talking to him. Anyone who tells you that you can’t have that can fuck right off.”
“Hermione doesn’t agree with you,” said Harry.
“Yeah, well, she’s cleverer than I am, and dating Malfoy’s not exactly clever.”
“You really think I could date him?” asked Harry. “It felt as if the world would end if I tried. As if I had to pick between him and everyone else I loved.”
“Mate. You could date Lucius Malfoy and I would stand by you. I mean, I’d judge you, for sure. But it’s really not anyone else’s business who you fall in love with.”
Harry shook his head into Ron’s shoulder, and Ron put an arm around him.
“‘love you,” mumbled Harry.
“Love you too,” said Ron, squeezing him. “Now, what are you going to do to get him back?”
Ron stayed the night.
“Mind if I tell Hermione?” he asked, as he left for work the next day.
“Go for it,” said Harry. He did not expect Hermione to show up, guilt-ridden, at lunchtime.
“Harry,” she said, twisting her hands.
“D’you want lunch? I was just going to eat this cucumber with some hummus, but we could split it?”
“Kreacher would cook for you, you know,” said Hermione. Harry looked at his depressing lunch.
“I was going to add salt to the cucumber,” he said. “It’s not bad.”
“That day you told me about Malfoy,” said Hermione. “I did something I shouldn’t have.”
“What do you mean?”
Hermione hoisted herself onto the kitchen counter and leant her head against the cabinets.
“I showed you my scar on purpose,” she said.
“I knew if you saw my arm, you would be reminded of all the reasons not to give things a shot with him.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Harry! I had no idea how much you liked him, and then you stopped seeing him, and at first you seemed better—I mean, quitting your job—”
“I quit my job because of him,” said Harry, unable to focus on what she was saying. “I don’t understand. You could have just said you didn’t want me to be with him.”
“I didn’t want to tell you what to do,” said Hermione. “I’m sorry. It’s Malfoy, you’ve always been weird about him, it just seemed like such a bad idea; I mean, I was worried about you, but then I saw how miserable you were without him, and I hoped you’d get over it, but you just didn’t, and then this morning Ron told me about the pub… Harry, I’m sorry, I should have just…”
“No,” said Harry. “No, I should have stood up for him. This is on me.”
Hermione took a deep breath.
“I want to help,” she said. “And when you get him back, I will do everything I can to make it easy for both of you. I promise. I love you, Harry.”
Harry nodded and let her pull him into a hug.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. Thank you. Love you too, obviously.”
That evening, Harry, Ron and Hermione met at the pub to talk about how to get Draco back.
“I sent him a text,” said Harry, “but it says it’s unread. And when I call him it’s busy.”
“He’s blocked you,” said Hermione, looking at Harry’s phone.
“You should go to his house,” said Ron.
“Bit creepy,” said Harry. “Draco’s freaked out about being found by enemies, isn’t he? Seems like playing into his worst fears. I just…” Harry fell silent as a shadow fell across their table.
“Er,” said Harry to the woman who loomed over him. “Can I help you?”
“You know where Draco is,” said the woman, and as she spoke she leant into their table, so that light fell across her face. Her small, pug-like face. It was Pansy Parkinson.
Ron gave an unintentionally comical gasp.
“Parkinson?” he said. His shock was not entirely unreasonable. Pansy did look rather the worse for wear. Her hair was streaked with grey already, and she wore black jersey leggings and a long sleeved black t-shirt covered in cat fur.
“Well?” she said, looking at Harry. “Do you?”
Harry remembered Draco, delirious with fever, calling repeatedly for Pansy through the night. He nodded.
Pansy glanced around for a chair, took one from a nearby table without asking the other people sitting there (they grumbled), and sat next to Harry.
“How is he?” she asked.
“Hang on, how come you don’t know?” asked Ron. “Weren’t you two engaged or something, at Hogwarts?”
Pansy sneered at him.
“We weren’t engaged. Potter, are you going to answer my question, or not?”
“He’s all right,” said Harry. “Lonely.”
“Well, pretty easy solution to that one, wasn’t there? He could have not fucked off without so much as a goodbye,” she said.
“How’ve you been?” asked Harry. The question seemed to surprise Pansy so much that she forgot to look at him as if he was a piece of shit.
“Me?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Things have been a bit rough on Slytherins.”
“It’s so short-sighted, how the Ministry allowed you to be treated,” said Hermione. Pansy blinked.
“It’s not been great, no,” she said. She crossed her arms. A vulnerable expression flickered across her face. “It’s not been great,” she said, again.
“Draco left because people were after him,” said Harry. “They threatened to hurt you if he stayed.”
Pansy frowned at the table.
“And when did you discover all this?”
“I’m in love with him,” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Harry. “Laugh away, it’s a huge clusterfuck.”
“You’re serious,” said Pansy.
“I think we can help each other, Pansy,” said Hermione. “You want to know where Draco is, and Harry wants to know how he can get Draco back.”
“‘Back’?” said Pansy. “Did you fuck up, Potter?”
Harry sighed and rested his forehead on the sticky tabletop.
“He fucked up,” confirmed Ron.
“So,” said Hermione. “What do you say?”
Pansy surveyed them.
“I want to hear what he did, first. I’m not helping him get Draco back if he doesn’t deserve him.”
“I definitely don’t deserve him,” said Harry.
“I’ll be the judge of that. And I want a drink.”
So Ron bought her a lager, and Harry told her the whole sorry story. She looked slightly taken aback when Harry told her Draco had been camming, but less so than he might have expected.
“He always was a show-off,” she said.
She listened without saying anything else as Harry related the whole, shameful tale.
“…then he told me to leave him alone, and now he’s blocked me, and I don’t even know if trying to get him back is fair to him,” said Harry. “I just can’t stand the idea of him thinking I was faking it the whole time.”
“So, will you help?” asked Hermione.
Pansy broke into a sudden laugh.
“Yes, all right,” she said.
“Really?” asked Harry.
“Yes. I think you can work your way back from here. But you’re not going to like my idea.”
“I wish I could do it under a glamour,” said Harry, sitting in front of his new laptop. (His old one had not recovered from the bin juice.)
“The point is to do it as you,” said Pansy, trying to style his hair.
“I know,” said Harry.
“Harry, I really don’t think you should do this,” said Hermione. “The internet is written in ink. People will find out.”
“Again,” said Pansy, “that’s the point.”
“There’s got to be some other way,” said Hermione.
“Potter humiliated Draco, made him feel worthless and cheap. Draco’s not going to accept anything less than an equivalent act of vulnerability,” said Pansy. She turned to Harry. “Have you sent him the link?”
Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then opened them again. He copy and pasted the link to his first (and only) public show into an email, and sent it to Draco.
“Done,” he said. He was sweating like crazy. “Fuck, I’m nervous. Where’s Ron?”
“I think that’s him,” said Hermione, and sure enough, Ron came storming into Harry’s flat a moment later. He looked out-of-breath and frazzled.
“I just went to see Draco,” he said.
Harry turned around in his chair.
“You mentioned he got a job at his uni library. It was easy, I just went in and asked for the blond librarian,” said Ron.
“He’s a librarian?” asked Pansy. She winced and touched her head. “Salazar, I miss him.”
Harry had too many questions to know what to ask first.
“How—what did you—did he—is he okay?”
“He wasn’t too pleased to see me,” said Ron. “But I threatened to hex him if he didn’t listen to me, so—”
“Ron!” said Hermione. “He is unarmed!”
“He came outside with me, and I told him you were serious about him, and also that you and Pansy had gone completely mad.”
“What did he say?”
“Went a bit funny when I mentioned Pansy,” said Ron. “Had to sit down. Then he told me to fuck off, so I told him you were in love with him, and had been for ages.”
“Bet he loved that,” said Harry gloomily.
“Yeah, he didn’t,” said Ron. “Think he thought it was all part of some elaborate form of torture. Said it was a low blow to mention Pansy and told me he’d hit me if I didn’t fuck off. Seemed pretty sincere about it, so I came back.”
“I can’t believe you did that,” said Harry, seized once more by the impulse to pull Ron close and squeeze him.
“I was sort of hoping we could avoid the whole you-wanking-on-camera thing,” said Ron.
“No, that’s still happening,” said Pansy. “Soon, in fact. Potter, drink this.” She handed him a shot. Harry downed it.
“I’m so nervous,” he said.
“That’s cute,” said Pansy. “I bet it was a piece of cake for Draco, doing it without any friends or family or financial safety net.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Harry.
“Harry, please,” said Hermione. “This is going to be found. It could ruin your career!”
“I killed Voldemort,” said Harry. “Nothing’s ruining my career.”
Ron and Hermione both looked unconvinced.
“Listen, unless you want to watch me have a wank, you’d better leave now,” said Harry.
“No fear,” said Ron. He took Hermione’s arm and led her out to the living room.
“Don’t chicken out,” said Pansy, before following them.
Harry squared his shoulders, turned on his camera, and went live.
It was incredibly awkward. No one in his online room was saying anything, although he quickly had a lot of viewers. He tried to smile, and someone paid for him to take off his shirt.
“Right,” he said. “Are you ready?” He felt as if he was talking to himself. “Off it goes.”
Off it goes. He was the most embarrassing thing to ever grace the internet. He could feel his face grow hot as he clumsily unbuttoned his shirt and took it off.
It was a bit chilly now that he was topless. He shivered.
His phone lit up with a text.
DM: have you gone fucking INSANE
DM: what are you DOING
Harry grinned and checked inside his room. Sure enough, a new person had just joined: Malcom_Magic.
HP: like what you see
DM: stop it
DM: I’m serious
DM: the internet is written in ink
HP: that’s what Hermione said!
DM: I don’t know what you think you’re playing at
HP: want things to be more equal
HP: then I want to take you out to a restaurant
HP: and kiss you on the mouth
HP: after that idk, we can figure it out, thinking something along the lines of
HP: taking care of you for the rest of my life
HP: something like that
Someone paid enough tokens for Harry to take off his trousers. It was easier to take them off, knowing Draco was watching.
DM: I’m not joking
DM: you will regret this
DM: and you will blame me for it
HP: why, do you regret it?
DM: that’s not the point
HP: the added bonus of this
HP: is that if the press ever find out about you camming
HP: I can release this video
HP: and no one will care about you
HP: bc I’m very famous
HP: did you know
DM: it’s not too late
DM: you can close out now and it will only be mildly embarrassing if this is leaked
DM: before you do full frontal
The tokens pinged on the screen.
DM: oh good Christ
DM: you’re just doing it, aren’t you
DM: oh, fucking hell
DM: you look
HP: I look good?
HP: naked, you mean
HP: I look good naked
DM: you know this doesn’t prove anything
HP: surely it proves SOMETHING
HP: like that I look good naked
HP: even when I’m not glamoured
DM: you deliberately chose a glamour that was less hot than you are
HP: lol no I didn’t
HP: you just think I’m hot!
HP: tip me why don’t you
DM: this isn’t going to fix things
DM: if that’s why you’re doing it, you should stop. Now.
The tokens pinged again. Harry grinned at the camera. One of his viewers had just paid for him to start touching himself.
DM: oh Jesus Christ
DM: I cannot believe you’re doing this
HP: I’ve missed you so much
DM: it’s bad form to text while camming
HP: I’m only camming so you’ll text me
DM: again: that is a BAD REASON TO DO THIS
DM: fuck you’re hot
HP: thinking of you
HP: think it matters if this session runs short?
DM: Jesus Christ
HP: bc knowing you’re watching me is making it p hard to last
DM: Jesus Christ
HP: so cute when you use muggle words
HP: let me come over after
DM: come on
HP: just to talk I swear
HP: pls say I can come
HP: over, I mean
DM: oh God
HP: please, fuck, Draco, I can’t keep texting much longer
DM: fuck you’re gorgeous when you come
Harry ended the session.
He felt empty, tired, ebullient, tipsy. He cleaned up, dressed himself, and apparated to Draco’s flat.
Draco opened the door when Harry knocked. His pupils were wide, his cheeks flushed. He didn’t say anything, but turned around and went into his bedroom. Harry followed, closing the door behind him.
Draco stood straight as a rail in the centre of the room. Harry hovered by the door.
“You’re crazy,” said Draco, after a pause.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Maybe, a bit.”
Draco clenched and unclenched his jaw.
“What were you trying to prove?” he asked.
“That it was real,” said Harry. “Me falling for you. That it wasn’t a prank.”
Draco gave a quiet laugh.
“Yes, so Weasley told me. He accosted me at my workplace.”
“Sorry about that,” said Harry.
Draco turned away and went to stand by his desk, his hand resting on a small pile of Penguin Classics.
“All right,” he said. “So you really did fall for me. You also sought me out with the deliberate intention to humiliate me. You deceived me for months. You abandoned me with fucking money on the bedside table because you weren’t willing to be with me in public. Prank or no prank, you’ve been a shit from the beginning.”
Harry had drifted towards Draco as he spoke. Now he sank to the floor, half kneeling, half crouching, took Draco’s hand, and pressed his forehead to it. Draco made a small sound of surprise.
“I know,” said Harry.
“What are you doing?” asked Draco in a high voice.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “I love you so desperately, Draco. I’ve been a terrible coward. I’d do anything to go back and fix what I did. I’m so sorry.”
Draco’s other hand went tentatively to Harry’s hair.
“Please,” said Harry. His throat felt dry. It felt like struggling to breathe. “Please forgive me.”
Draco stroked his hair.
“I’m sorry,” said Draco, and he truly did sound it. “I don’t think I can.”
It took a moment for the finality of it to hit Harry, and when it did, he pressed himself closer to Draco’s leg, astonished by how much it hurt.
“I’m sorry,” said Draco, again.
“No,” gasped Harry. “No, of course, I understand.”
Draco removed both his hands from Harry, which Harry could see was his dismissal. Harry stood. Draco wouldn’t meet his eye. Harry cast about for something to say that wasn’t, Please, please, please, please…
“Will you see Pansy, at least?” he asked.
“I can’t,” said Draco.
“We’re going to catch them, you know. The people who broke your wand.”
“It’s too dangerous,” said Draco.
Harry nodded. Everything was vague and surreal.
“I’m having lunch with her at the Lebanese place across the street,” he said. “If you were to show up there, you’d see her. No one could blame you for that.”
“You’re having lunch with Pansy?”
“She’s fun,” said Harry.
Draco huffed a small laugh.
“Yeah. She is,” he said. He finally met Harry’s eyes.
“I love you,” said Harry.
Draco looked down.
“I won’t keep you,” he said, which was code for Fuck Off. Even Harry could see that.
“Thank you for letting me talk to you,” said Harry. “Oh, and—congratulations on the new job. I quit, too.”
“You did?” Draco sounded genuinely pleased.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “I’ve gone into politics.”
Draco massaged his eyebrows with his forefinger and thumb.
“You… you’ve gone into politics, and you just did a public cam show,” he said.
“Figured it seemed fair,” he said.
“I don’t follow your logic,” said Draco.
“I messed you up through your camming, now you can mess me up through mine, if you like. Wanted to give you the option to take revenge.”
Draco goggled at him.
“I’m not going to take revenge,” he said.
“Of course you’re not,” said Harry, and it was so hard not to reach for him, to take his lovely jaw in Harry’s hand and turn it this way and that, to be examined and studied and stored safely away.
There was an awkward silence.
“Well, goodbye,” said Harry.
Draco walked him to the front door.
“I’ll see you around,” said Draco, at the last moment. Then the door closed, and Harry couldn’t ask him if he was just being polite.
Pansy was unexpectedly sympathetic.
“I really thought it would work,” she said. “He was always gone on you, in school.”
“No, he wasn’t,” said Harry.
“Have it your way,” said Pansy.
They were almost done when Pansy froze, staring above Harry’s head. Harry turned around and saw Draco standing behind him, his eyes fixed on Pansy.
“Draco,” said Pansy.
Draco’s jaw twitched.
“Come sit,” said Pansy.
“I’ll go,” said Harry.
“No,” said Draco, sinking into the chair next to Pansy without taking his eyes off her. “No, if you go—it will look as if—”
“Okay,” said Harry, soothingly, because Draco sounded as if he was about to start panicking. Draco nodded. He still hadn’t looked at Harry.
“How’ve you been?” asked Pansy.
“Well,” said Draco. “How are you? How’re Blaise and Greg and Theo and—”
“We’re okay,” said Pansy. “I train cats.”
“You can’t train cats,” said Harry. Pansy gave him a disdainful look.
“Maybe you can’t,” she said. Draco laughed, his eyes combing over her face.
“It’s good to see you,” he said.
“I saw your mother last month.”
Draco grit his teeth, staring at her. Pansy waited for him to say something, but Draco was silent.
“She’s been seeing someone,” said Pansy.
“A man. He’s a healer. They seem happy.”
“But she’s married,” said Draco.
They continued in this vein for twenty minutes. Harry was silent as they caught up, not wanting to intrude. They seemed only to have barely got started when Draco stood.
“I should go,” he said.
“Please don’t cut me off again,” said Pansy.
“I have to,” said Draco.
“Draco,” said Pansy, and she grabbed his wrist. Draco looked at her hand, his eyes wide.
“I can’t,” he said.
“Contact me through Potter,” said Pansy. “Please.”
Draco shook her off, nodded at them both, and left the restaurant.
DM: thank you.
HP: she’s coming over for drinks on Thursday
HP: 45 Allerdale Lane
Draco didn’t answer, but on Thursday he appeared at eight on the dot, carrying a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine. Pansy wasn’t there yet.
“Hey,” said Harry.
“This is for you,” said Draco, handing him the wine.
“Thank you,” said Harry, taking it. Draco fiddled anxiously with the flower stems.
“Sit down,” said Harry. Draco shook his head.
“Maybe I should go,” he said.
“Don’t,” said Harry. Draco tried to nod, but he was also trying to breathe. Harry went into the kitchen and fetched him a glass of water.
“Thanks,” said Draco, but he was too stressed to drink it. “Sorry.”
“Sit down,” said Harry again, and this time, Draco obeyed him. He sat on the sofa and put his head in his hands, breathing in long, shuddery breaths.
“May I touch you?” asked Harry. Draco shook his head, so Harry took the flowers and put them in some water. When he returned to his sitting room, Pansy was sitting next to Draco, her arms around his shoulders, rocking him slowly side-to-side.
Harry went back into the kitchen and left them alone for an hour.
When he came back, Draco stood.
“Thank you,” he said, not looking at Harry.
“Any time,” said Harry.
They never spoke about it, but Draco started coming around to his flat to see Pansy once a week. Harry would leave them alone together, going over paperwork in the kitchen, listening to the muted sounds of their talk, and, increasingly, their laughter.
After the third week of this, Draco started texting him again.
DM: update on Professor Gneiss
HP: I’m all ears
DM: he thinks I should do a Masters
HP: ahh, young love
DM: fuck off, I’m very good at English
HP: lol I know
HP: so are you going to do one?
DM: what do you think
HP: I think you should
HP: fuck it, get a phd
HP: Dr Malfoy
DM: has a nice ring to it
HP: it does
HP: I love how clever you are
DM: did you know that the age of consent used to be 12
HP: I don’t want to know why you know this
DM: and then Queen Elizabeth I moved it
DM: to TEN
HP: I’m going to go out on a limb here:
HP: that’s too young
DM: apparently it was actually so that parents couldn’t marry off their 11-year-old daughters without their consent
HP: wait—so was it, or wasn’t it, sketchy
HP: I miss you
DM: Pansy says you’re doing a naked calendar
HP: it’s for charity
DM: you’re out of control
HP: I’ll send you one for Christmas
DM: you know me so well
HP: not as well as I’d like
Pansy brought some of the other Slytherins, from time to time. It didn’t feel unnatural to Harry, because he and Pansy had genuinely become friends. He couldn’t get over disliking Goyle, but Blaise was fun, and Daphne Greengrass was actively sweet, and all of them made him feel closer to Draco.
Harry was working on a piece of werewolf legislation when Roseveare came into his office.
“The Malfoy case,” he said.
Harry put down his quill.
“What have you found out?”
“Looks like it was four brothers. Vigilantes,” said Roseveare, passing Harry several photographs of burly, angry-looking men. “But they’re dead.”
“Six months ago. Weird case. They tried to break into a Pureblood house and were run down by some cows.”
“Well, they were fire cows,” said Roseveare.
“What the hell’s a fire cow?”
“Not something you want to run into, apparently,” said Roseveare. Harry stared at the photographs.
“They’re really dead?”
“Yes. And I looked around; seems as if they’d been causing trouble with quite a few ex-prisoners.”
“Thank you,” said Harry, handing back the photographs.
HP: I have good news
HP: can you come over later?
DM: so needy
HP: lol you’ve no idea
HP: See you later!
“Dead?” said Pansy. Harry had thought it wisest to have her present when he told Draco.
“Yeah. Look.” Harry handed her the autopsy report. Draco took one look at the morgue photographs and blanched.
“You okay?” asked Harry. Draco nodded and sat down.
“Draco,” said Pansy. “Draco, you know what this means? You can see your mother!”
Draco looked at Harry.
“I think she’s right,” said Harry.
“God,” said Draco.
“Let’s go now!” said Pansy.
“No,” said Draco. “No, I can’t—I need—can you go tell her? So she can prepare?”
“Of course,” said Pansy. “Draco! Welcome back to the world!”
She kissed him on the forehead, and disapparated.
Harry sat next to Draco. Draco instantly leant his head on Harry’s shoulder.
“You’re okay,” said Harry.
“Can we… I don’t know, can we do Europe?”
Harry summoned his laptop. He tried not to show how affected he was by Draco curling up closely to him on the sofa as Harry pulled up the geography quiz.
“San Marino,” said Draco. “Vatican City.”
“Who starts with San Marino?”
“Andorra,” said Draco. “Liechtenstein.”
They did Europe, then South America, then Africa. Then, Harry shut the laptop.
“Dinner,” he said. They ordered in. They talked about nothing, just as they used to when they cammed. They watched a stupid film. Draco stayed glued to Harry’s side.
It was getting late. Draco yawned.
“You should go to bed,” said Harry.
Draco glanced at him.
“Let me sleep over,” he said.
“Okay,” said Harry, his heart flipping over. What did it mean? Draco’s closeness, the way he kept looking at Harry, when he had spent weeks avoiding his eye? But to question it would be to risk losing it, so Harry lent Draco some clothes to sleep in without comment. They brushed their teeth together at the sink, and got into bed.
Draco lay on his side and stared at Harry. Harry stared back, itching to touch him, but determined not to make a move.
Draco reached out and touched Harry’s scar. Harry closed his eyes.
“I still see Dan and Haroun,” said Draco.
“I didn’t think you didn’t,” said Harry.
“I get off with them,” said Draco.
“I know,” said Harry. “That’s the job.”
“Yeah, but I enjoy it,” said Draco.
“Good,” said Harry. “Wouldn’t want you to do a job you didn’t like.”
“I’m not stopping, is what I’m saying.”
“I would never expect you to,” said Harry, and he meant it. He didn’t feel threatened by Draco’s relationships with his other clients. Draco had worked with them for longer than he had worked with Harry, and never fallen for them. Anyway, Harry was not about to make any of Draco’s precious few relationships more difficult. He didn’t want to contribute to Draco’s loneliness anymore than he already had.
Draco seemed to hesitate, then he climbed on top of Harry.
“I’m going to fuck you,” he said.
“Sounds good,” squeaked Harry.
Draco gave him a searching look, tilted his head down, and kissed him.
Harry ran his fingers through Draco’s hair. They had never kissed before. Harry couldn’t think for joy.
“I haven’t forgiven you,” said Draco, breaking away.
“Yeah, fair,” said Harry, reaching up for another kiss, because it had never occurred to him that Draco was over it.
“You really fucking hurt me,” said Draco.
“I know,” said Harry, slipping his hands under Draco’s t-shirt and feeling his way along the scars he had put on Draco’s chest. “I’m sorry.”
“You still want me to fuck you?” asked Draco.
“I want anything,” said Harry. “Anything you want.”
The sex was exactly as good as Draco had always promised it would be.
Afterwards, Harry cast cleaning spells at both of them. Draco sighed as the magic washed over him.
“How am I going to get a wand?” he asked. Harry kissed his eyelids shut.
“I’ll come with you to Ollivander’s,” he said. “If you want.”
“You can’t. People would see; it’d end up in the papers,” said Draco.
“I’d like it to be, to be honest,” said Harry. Draco opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows.
“Stuck-up little attention seeker, aren’t you?”
Harry lay his head on Draco’s shoulder. Draco wrapped his arms around him and kissed the top of his head.
“You were so good,” he whispered into Harry’s hair. Harry laughed.
“You did all the work.”
“Mmm, but you were very well-behaved,” said Draco.
“I wouldn’t mind the papers knowing we were…” said Harry.
“Friends,” finished Draco.
“Friends? Is that what we are?”
“I told you, Harry,” said Draco. “I haven’t forgiven you. I’m trying, but I’m not sure I can.”
“Friends,” said Harry. “I wouldn’t mind people knowing that. I’d like it, in fact.”
“Might hurt your re-election,” said Draco.
“Might,” agreed Harry.
There was a long pause, during which Draco drew his long fingers through Harry’s hair.
“Okay,” he said. “Come with me to get a new wand, then. That’d be… nice, I think.”
It wasn’t nice, really. It was stressful, venturing into Diagon Alley with Draco at his side. Harry had only grown in popularity since his turn to politics, and people crowded him everywhere he went. Draco was stiff and brittle, although he allowed Harry to tug him along through the crowded streets. Reporters took photographs of them, and begged to know why they were together.
“We’re friends,” said Harry, over and over. Draco said nothing. By the time they arrived at Ollivander’s, he looked as if he was about to pass out.
“Mr Malfoy,” said Ollivander. “I haven’t seen you since the war.”
Draco suddenly bolted out of the shop, only to run into a crowd of photographers. Harry grabbed him and drew him back inside.
“You’re okay,” he told Draco.
“Feels like someone’s choking me,” said Draco, putting his hands to his throat.
“You’re going to be just fine,” said Harry. “We’ll get you your wand, then go back to mine and watch a film, okay?” He had his hands on Draco’s shoulders. Draco reached up and touched Harry’s fingers.
“An old one,” said Draco.
“Okay,” said Harry, laughing.
Ollivander watched them with his unsettling, round eyes.
“Ah,” he said.
Harry gave Draco one last reassuring smile before letting go of him.
“Hello, Mr Ollivander,” said Harry. “Draco here needs a new wand.”
“Of course,” murmured Ollivander, looking quickly between the two of them. “Of course.”
Harry had the feeling he wasn’t talking about Draco’s wand. In any case, Ollivander did not make any more uncomfortable remarks. He flew straight to a box on a shelf, stroked it eerily, then handed the wand inside to Draco.
The moment Draco touched it, Harry knew it was the right choice—not from the sparks it gave off, or the soft breeze that blew through Draco’s hair, but because of the expression of awe on Draco’s face.
“That was quick,” said Harry.
“Oh, for some wizards, it’s very clear,” said Ollivander. “Still unicorn hair, Mr Malfoy, but holly. Flexible.”
“That’s like mine,” said Harry. Ollivander turned his protuberant eyes to Harry.
“Yes,” he said. “It is.”
Harry paid for the wand. They had already arranged between them for Draco to pay Harry back in pounds, that they might avoid Gringotts and get out of Diagon Alley faster. Ollivander allowed them to use the floo, which they took back to Harry’s flat.
“How are—” started Harry, but Draco was on him, framing Harry’s face with his hands and pulling him into a frantic kiss. Harry wrapped his arms around him and drew him close.
“You’re okay,” said Harry. “Yeah? Safe and sound.”
Draco took out his wand.
“Lumos,” he said. He grinned at Harry when his wand lit up.
“I love you so much,” said Harry, by accident. It was inevitable, given that it was all he ever wanted to say to Draco, that it would slip out sometimes.
It seemed to sober Draco.
“Nox,” he said, and his wand went out. He turned to Harry. “A movie. Pre-Code.”
“I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what that means,” said Harry.
“Sexier, older, better,” said Draco.
“Like you,” said Harry. Draco rolled his eyes. He didn’t protest when Harry nestled under his arm on the sofa. He stroked Harry’s back, in fact, and paused the film at one point so he could kiss Harry more thoroughly.
He didn’t ask if he could sleep over. He just did.
“I’m not over it,” he told Harry, just as they were on the verge of having sex.
“I know,” panted Harry.
They fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Where before Harry’s life had been empty, it was suddenly bursting. Not only was his job intense and satisfying, but his social life had taken off. Most nights, when Harry came home, Draco and the Slytherins were already there, drinking his beer and eating his food. Of course, they didn’t need to meet in Harry’s flat, because there was no call for secrecy anymore. But neither Harry nor Draco mentioned this, and Harry grew used to the sight of Pansy Parkinson sprawled across his sofa, to the smell of Blaise’s French cooking, and the strange habit Daphne had of tidying everything.
“It helps her relax,” said Draco, as they lay bed together. (That was another thing Harry did not question: Draco in his bed.)
“I’m not complaining. She dusted behind the fridge this afternoon,” said Harry.
“I missed her,” said Draco. It was dark and warm in Harry’s bedroom.
“It seemed like you were lonely,” said Harry, carefully. Draco made a strained sound.
“Were you?” asked Harry, although he knew the answer. Draco nibbled at Harry’s eyebrows.
“Stop it,” said Harry. “I need those.”
Draco kissed them apologetically.
“I was so lonely it felt like a disease,” he said.
“Everything becomes rather meaningless when no one loves you,” he said.
“Your friends never stopped loving you,” said Harry.
“I suppose I didn’t know that,” said Draco.
“It seemed like camming was good for the loneliness,” said Harry.
“Better than some jobs would have been, probably,” said Draco. “I worked in a shop at first and just wanted to die. You’re invisible, in retail. Until someone wants something from you, and then, as you can imagine, I would very maturely stop breathing.”
“Well, of course,” said Harry. “Only natural.”
“So, I don’t know, I had heard about it somewhere, I don’t even remember where. And I was drunk in my bedroom. And I thought, fuck it.”
“And you liked it,” said Harry.
“It was nice being talked to,” said Draco. “Being wanted.” He flinched. “God. That sounds pathetic.”
“I don’t think so,” said Harry. “I think it makes sense.”
Draco pushed his nose into Harry’s neck.
“But it was still lonely,” said Draco.
“You would never speak to me properly. I used to wish you would.”
“You can’t be honest with someone who pays you to be charming,” said Draco. “Or at least— you can be as honest as is charming, and no more. It’s charming to be tipsy or clumsy or appreciative. It’s not charming to be paralysed by vast, unending dread. Anyway, half my fears were financial. I could hardly complain about that to you.”
“That’s why you were so upset when Marlon quit on you,” said Harry. “Money.”
“It brought home how unstable I was,” said Draco. “It was frightening.”
“Are you still lonely?” asked Harry. Draco kissed him.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry.
“Were you lonely?” asked Draco.
“I must have been,” said Harry. “But I didn’t realise until I lost you.”
“I know I don’t have you, Draco,” said Harry softly, and Draco relaxed.
“It’s late,” he said.
“Will you come to Ron and Hermione’s for dinner tomorrow?” asked Harry.
“Weasley’s seen rather more of me than makes me comfortable.”
“I know,” said Harry. “But he really wants you to come. He keeps bothering me about it.”
Draco was silent.
“I just want you to be friends with my friends,” said Harry.
“I will never be friends with Finnegan,” said Draco sharply.
“Fine,” said Harry. “I’d drop him, if you asked.”
This seemed to soothe Draco. He pressed closer to Harry under the bedclothes.
“No. I don’t want you to drop your friends,” said Draco. He paused. “I’ll come to dinner. But it will be terrible. You may not remember, but I poisoned Weasley, and Granger was tortured in my living room.”
“Did you? When?”
“Ha, ha,” said Draco.
“Thank you,” said Harry. “Really.”
For all Draco was clearly terrified, dinner with Ron and Hermione actually went remarkably well. Ron and Hermione were on their best behaviour, and Draco, who started out the evening with an impenetrable armour of etiquette, soon began to thaw. By dessert, he was telling them all about a particularly mad client he’d had, who had been the pampered boy toy of a South American shipping magnate.
“Whenever his sugar daddy came in, I had to start reading Dickens. He pretended he was taking a Victorian literature course.”
Harry squeezed Draco’s leg under the table from time to time, and whenever he did, Draco would find his hand and press it.
“So?” said Harry, once they were back at his flat.
“That composite orange butter sauce Hermione made ought to be illegal,” said Draco.
“But it was all right, wasn’t it?”
Draco glanced at him, then quickly looked away.
“It’s nice being able to talk about work properly,” he said. “It makes Pansy feel guilty when I bring up camming, I think. Like I lost my purity to protect her, or something.”
“Well, of course,” said Harry, seriously. “Your chastity was always of the utmost importance to your worth.”
Draco looked down, flushing pink. He was fiddling with some grapes on the kitchen counter, plucking them from their stalks and not eating them.
“I was quite pure, actually,” he said. “I was a virgin until rather recently.”
Harry stared at him.
“How… how recently?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “How long’s it been? About a month?”
Harry took a step forward.
“You should have said.”
“You would have read into it,” said Draco. “I wanted to sleep with you, not be your boyfriend.”
Harry’s chest ached with a sudden pang.
“Right. Yeah. Good point,” he said. “So. Glad dinner went well. D’you want to watch an episode of something, or…?”
Draco was looking at him oddly.
“I’m telling you now, though,” he said.
“That I hadn’t. Before you,” said Draco.
Harry wasn’t sure how to answer. Draco was looking at him with an inscrutable expression, and Harry couldn’t tell if he was being thrown a bone, or if this was Draco’s way of asking to be Harry’s boyfriend.
Draco pulled another grape off its stalk.
“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said. “There’s a sort of… award ceremony thing I’m supposed to go to this Saturday. I won a prize. My essay on Thomas Hardy.”
“I have a gala on Saturday,” said Harry.
Draco’s cheeks turned a bright red.
“I wasn’t asking you to come,” he said, his voice going sharp and cold.
“Oh,” said Harry. “Because I was going to say, I could cancel. The Society for the Preservation of Grindylow Habitats will be disappointed, but—I mean, I’d like to come.”
“You’d cancel? To come to my stupid thing?”
“Yeah, of course,” said Harry. “You won a prize.”
“It’s just a stupid essay prize.”
“I’d really like to come,” said Harry.
Draco looked at once hard and vulnerable.
“Well, I don’t care,” he said. “Come if you like.”
But at the award ceremony, Draco clung to Harry’s arm as if Harry were the only thing tethering him to the ground. His hands trembled for the half hour before he got up to collect his prize (“Book tokens!” he exclaimed with a joy that Harry was shocked to discover was sincere), and afterwards he got recklessly drunk on cheap wine. Several people from his course approached them and tried to talk to them, but Draco was so shy and non-responsive that they quickly left.
“Can we go home?” asked Draco, before long. So they apparated back to Harry’s flat, and Harry wondered when Draco had started calling it home.
Because the fact was, Draco still didn’t entirely trust him. Harry knew that. It was evident in the way Draco would sometimes grow still and then abruptly cheerful when Harry mentioned certain things—his work on prisoners’ rights, for instance, or Seamus Finnegan. (Who wasn’t speaking to Harry, anyway. When Harry had told him he was seeing Draco, Seamus had done exactly what Harry had always feared he would: become fierce and spoken around Dean Thomas. He refused to come to pub nights, now. Harry missed him. Ron said he would come around. Harry couldn’t separate his long-held fondness for Seamus from the pain it caused Draco to think of him.)
Draco didn’t speak about so many things: the war, his time in Azkaban, the scars on his chest. Nor would he let Harry come with him when he visited his mother. And while he was more open than he had ever been when they cammed, sometimes Harry still had the impression that he was on his best behaviour.
But he no longer prefaced sex by reminding Harry that he hadn’t forgiven him.
It was late, and they lay in bed. Draco fiddled idly with Harry’s fingers.
“It’s been a while since you went back to your flat,” said Harry. Draco’s hand paused.
“The lease was up,” he said.
A laugh welled up in Harry’s chest, and he stifled it in Draco’s shoulder. After a minute, Draco laughed too.
“But,” said Harry, “where do you cam?”
“Pansy’s,” said Draco. “I wouldn’t do it in your flat.”
“Ours,” corrected Harry. “And I don’t mind. You should do it here.”
Draco tilted Harry’s head up so that he could peer at Harry’s face.
“You mean it?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. Draco frowned. He seemed to be trying to find words.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “When did you start loving me so much?”
“What do you mean?” asked Harry, his heart beating faster because Draco had said the word “loving”, and it was so close to what he wished Draco would say.
“Before, you loved me, but not enough to choose me,” said Draco. “I don’t understand what changed.”
“I’m not sure anything did,” said Harry.
Draco turned away from Harry. He stared at the ceiling.
“I know what changed,” he said. “Ron and Hermione gave you their blessing.”
Harry traced Draco’s profile with his index finger, and Draco blinked rapidly, the way he did when he was trying not to cry.
“Well, that helped,” said Harry. “But also, I realised that I don’t need anyone’s blessing. Anyone who can’t accept someone who makes me so happy doesn’t deserve to be my friend.”
“So, if all of a sudden, all your friends told you they wouldn’t see you if you were with me…”
“I’d choose you,” said Harry.
Despite his blinking, a tear rolled down the side of Draco’s face.
“Greg and Vince would have been best man at each other’s weddings,” he said. His tone was light, conversational.
Harry wasn’t sure what this had to do with anything. He waited for Draco to go on.
“And my parents—it’s romantic, really,” said Draco, “how they always chose each other. Over me.”
“I feel as if you were made for me,” said Harry. “Everything about you. Even the fact that we hated each other for so long. I like that.”
“Do you,” said Draco, with a dry laugh.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Because it doesn’t feel, like. Destiny or whatever. I like that it’s not what I expected.”
Draco turned on his side again and gently touched Harry’s scar.
“That makes sense,” he said.
“So. I choose you,” said Harry.
“This is embarrassing now,” said Draco.
“You like it,” said Harry.
“Never. I’m very masculine and repressed.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Harry, laughing.
Harry helped Draco set up the guest bedroom for camming.
“I’ve always wanted a designated camming room,” said Draco. “It’s awful, working where you sleep.”
He put all of his books in the bookshelf (“I’m a class act. People like me for my brain,” he said, and Harry said “Yeah. Despite your looks,” and Draco shoved him.). Draco was obviously nervous the first time he cammed from within the flat, but Harry stayed in the living room, and when Draco came out after an hour, he was more affectionate than ever.
The third or fourth time Draco was set to cam, they had stayed up far too late the night before.
“Oh, I can’t be bothered,” said Draco, yawning.
“So cancel,” said Harry.
“No, it’s Dan, and I haven’t seen him in ages. All right, release me, I’m already late.”
“You haven’t had breakfast,” said Harry.
“I’ll manage. It’s only Dan, he knows I’m a brat.”
So Harry left. He went to the kitchen and made two cups of tea, then hovered near them, wondering if it would be overstepping to bring one to Draco. Draco had looked so tired.
Harry knocked on the guest bedroom door.
“One sec,” said Draco. Then, “come in!”
When Harry entered, Draco had just shrugged a dressing gown on. He looked thoroughly dishevelled, and had turned the computer screen so that Harry couldn’t see it.
“Thought you might like a cup of tea,” said Harry, putting the mug on the bedside table.
“Oh, you are a god among men,” said Draco. “Thank you.”
Harry smiled and backed out of the room. As he closed the door, he heard the man on the computer say “So, that’s the boyfriend?”
“Shh!” said Draco, smothering a laugh.
“The thing is, though,” said Harry, as if they were continuing a conversation they had already started, “you can’t keep punishing me like this.”
They were walking in the park to get away from the Slytherins, who had turned up that morning in varying states of intoxication and built a fort on their living room floor.
Draco pushed his fists further into his coat pockets.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“If you think you can’t ever forgive me, I can respect that,” said Harry. “But we’re dating. Aren’t we? I mean. We live together.”
“We’re dating,” conceded Draco.
“Okay. And I don’t need you to suddenly trust me completely. But I can’t be in a relationship with you if—” Harry was struck by the sharp fear that he should never have spoken, that he was in the process of giving an ultimatum he had not intended to set. “—if you’ll never be able to love me again.”
Draco stopped in his tracks.
“Again?” he said.
Harry’s heart sank. Was Draco going to deny ever having loved him at all?
“You used to, I thought?” said Harry.
Draco looked at him as if he was crazy.
“I never stopped,” he said.
“But,” said Harry. “You never say—”
Draco tugged his coat closer to him and started walking again.
“Yeah, well, it didn’t go over so well, last time I told you how I felt.”
“I was an idiot,” said Harry.
“Things have been good,” said Draco. “I didn’t want to fuck it up.”
“You won’t,” said Harry. He felt as if he had just taken a shot of Pepper-Up potion. Draco loved him. He had admitted it.
Draco cast him a sheepish look.
“I like you being nice to me,” he said.
“Draco… I’m not being nice to you because I feel guilty. This is just how I like treating you. It won’t change, if you forgive me.”
Draco frowned at the dirt path.
“I don’t pay rent. You tolerate my friends,” he said.
“I like your friends,” said Harry. “And I earn about 90 times more than you. When you make more money, I’ll happily charge you rent. You’re a student, you should get free rent, really.”
“Things have never been equal between us,” said Draco.
“So me feeling guilty is like. An equaliser?” asked Harry.
“That sounds bad, doesn’t it?”
“I’m never not going to regret how I treated you,” said Harry. “Anymore than you’ll ever stop regretting what you did in the war.”
If Harry had not known before that Draco felt remorse, the anguished expression that crossed his face now would have been enough for Harry to be sure of it.
“No,” said Draco. “I see what you mean.”
There was a long silence, and Harry didn’t know how to fill it. He wasn’t sure what he wanted Draco to say.
“What’s the capital of Montenegro?” he asked, to make Draco smile. And Draco did indeed smile, although he looked puzzled.
“I can’t remember,” he said.
Draco touched his head.
“Fuck, yeah, I don’t know. I used to spend hours and hours every day doing those quizzes, but I haven’t—” had the time, he didn’t say. He looked at Harry. They had stopped again, pausing by an old statue of a poet. “Of course I love you,” he said, his grey eyes uncertain.
That, realised Harry. That was what I wanted him to say. Draco licked his lips.
“I love you too,” said Harry, and they looked at each other in astonishment. Harry was struck by the fleeting recollection that they had once hated each other. It was bizarre to think about, to remember all the ways in which they had hurt each other, and to contrast that with all the days Harry intended for them to spend happy together. It seemed rather improbable, like the plot of a television show where the writers were desperate and underpaid.
“That’s it?” said Draco, apparently thinking along the same lines. “It’s just going to be easy like that? Happily ever after?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I think so.”
They looked at each other and laughed, as if they had both understood a joke at the same time.
“We should get home before Blaise sets fire to the kitchen,” said Draco. Harry wondered if this was what family felt like.
“Let’s stop at the market and get some asparagus,” he said. “Ron and Hermione are coming over for lunch.”
“Podgorica!” cried Draco.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The capital of Montenegro,” said Draco. “It’s Podgorica.”
Harry laced his arm through Draco’s. Their hips brushed together as they walked on.
“See,” said Harry, helplessly happy. “I knew I kept you around for a reason.”
Draco smiled, and it occurred to Harry that this was what had been worth dying for, all those years ago: a world in which going to the shops to buy asparagus could be so wonderful.