Later, Harry would wonder if Malfoy regretted that first, surprised mutter after three days of hard-pointed silence. Later, Harry would wonder about his own lack of regret over looking up when he heard Malfoy’s voice. But that would come after everything had already happened, the way events always seemed to, when even a Time-Turner couldn’t change things. The shape of a path, as Harry knew very well by then, once walked, was a lot like a paper crane — unfolded and pressed flat, you could try to fashion it into something different, but the original creases would always remain.
* * *
“What the bloody—?”
Harry startled and looked up. Malfoy, on his knees about thirty feet away, had stopped gathering moss to stare at a fallen branch — or whatever glinting thing was hidden beneath it. Dropping his handful of Leaping Toadstools into his basket, Harry stood up and went over, pulling his wand on the way. Malfoy stiffened but didn’t object as Harry levitated the branch away.
There was a bicycle in the Forbidden Forest.
The sparkle that had caught Harry’s eye from a distance came from a shaft of sunlight touching pretty much the only spot left unrusted, a few inches of shiny metal on the frame. And the rest of the bicycle was in just as bad shape: spokes were missing or bent from each flattened tyre, the handlebars were warped, the rim over the front wheel horribly dented. If the pathetic thing ever had a saddle, it had long been eaten away by the elements or carried off by the Creatures who lived deeper in the woods.
“It’s a bicycle,” Harry said, sort of fascinated, and Malfoy made a disgruntled noise.
“I know what it is, Potter,” he finally said.
Harry frowned and said, “You do?”, only realising how insulting it sounded when Malfoy shot him a sharp look of dislike, as if he couldn’t help it, before dropping his gaze just as swiftly. Malfoy tossed the moss he’d collected into his own basket and stood up, wordless again, which was nothing Harry should have felt bothered by, but did. He said, “Only because Neville didn’t know what they were called until third year.”
“Well, I’m not Longbottom.” Malfoy bent to brush the grass from the knees of his trousers, and Harry might have got angry over the derision in his voice — already felt it bubbling up from some internal cauldron, scalding as soup left too long on the hob — if he hadn’t caught the uncertain glance Malfoy darted at the bicycle as he straightened. Malfoy said, “Muggles use them to get places. Like automobiles.”
Automobiles, he pronounced carefully — the way Harry sometimes did when he first read a word he’d never heard spoken — if not quite correctly, Malfoy’s posh cadence hitting the last syllable with a little too much emphasis. He brushed his hair back from his face and sent a defiant gaze to Harry. A little blade of grass was stuck to his forehead and, in the narrow stream of sunlight that had spilled over the bicycle, his cold grey eyes took on the warm shimmer of melted silver.
“Are you almost done?” he asked. “Because I nearly am, and though everyone knows you’re going to get as many N.E.W.T.S as you want no matter how you botch the exams, the rest of us need to study.”
Harry’s squirming stomach clenched. “Yeah,” he said, turning back to the crop of Leaping Toadstools. “Yeah, I’m almost done.”
Harry didn’t volunteer why he brought his book bag, though Malfoy’s pursed-lipped glances at it weren’t exactly subtle; neither of them had so far brought anything beyond their wands and baskets, other than the occasional pair of gloves. And Malfoy didn’t ask, not until Harry requested a favour. Even then, Malfoy approached his curiosity in a roundabout fashion.
“Yes, and I won’t be strung up by the Wizengamot in five seconds flat when your dead body is found half-eaten by Acromantula tomorrow morning, will I?” He looked down at the basket Harry had handed him, filled to the brim with purple-blossomed aconite, as Harry removed his gloves.
“Don’t be stupid,” Harry said, tucking his gloves in his back pocket. “Maybe someone would find a partially digested shoe. Acromantula aren’t wasteful eaters.”
Malfoy started to smile, seemed to catch himself. His jaw knotted, squaring off a touch. Though Harry suspected he’d stay slender and pointy-faced, the weight Malfoy had gained back over the last year looked good on him. So did the sun he inevitably got in detention with Harry every day after classes, which soaked into the glossy strands of his pale hair and added a sort of glow to his complexion. Harry felt mostly okay noticing those kinds of things about guys now, even if noticing them about Malfoy had rattled him at the beginning of the year. The unexpected part was his own flush of pride over the half-twist of Malfoy’s smile before Malfoy schooled his expression.
“That’s comforting, I suppose,” Malfoy said, and turned an exaggerated squint in the direction of Hogwarts; they were just barely within the boundaries of the Forest, and could still clearly see the castle from their spot. Shadows dappled the lines of his face, shifting when a breeze tossed aside the leaves overhead. At length he shrugged and sighed. “Fine, whatever, I’ll take it back. When I’m finished.”
Harry nodded a thanks and grabbed his bag, pushing further into the trees. The air cooled quickly and the shadows grew dense the deeper he went, their footpath from the previous week already obscured by leaves and newly-grown moss. But Harry found the bicycle again, easily. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking of it, hadn’t been able to stop remembering how it looked — a broken thing, abandoned to the ravages of nature. Clashing with it, despite that.
Transfiguring his robes into a blanket, Harry knelt atop it beside the bike and opened his bag, pulling out the books Arthur had been kind enough to Owl him: The Delicate Magics of Muggle Repair; Reversing the Clock of Decay; How Much Muggle Does a Muggle Thing Need, When The Muggles Are No Longer Muggling With It? He set the first and third aside, and was flipping the second to the page about rust removal when he heard the snap of a twig; he looked up, wand in hand.
Malfoy stood there, unease skittering across his face. The ball of his throat bobbed.
Harry made himself lower his wand, heart thumping erratically. It was hard not to be disappointed — though he hadn’t thought of the bicycle as a secret, really, he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else, either — and even embarrassed as Malfoy looked at the book in his hand, but then Malfoy’s gaze cut to the bike. He tilted his head, his eyebrows coming together, and something in Harry relaxed with the realisation that Malfoy had been there when Harry uncovered the thing.
Malfoy coughed and held up the baskets, one in each hand. “I remembered we have to turn them in together,” he said, which Harry thought was a reach; the only real dictate of their detention was that the two of them stayed within calling distance of one another while they made their daily collections. Their instructions were sort of vague about turning everything in, though it was possible, Harry supposed with bad grace, that Malfoy was right.
“Fine.” Harry grimaced and started to push to his feet, but paused when Malfoy took a step closer.
“Still in the habit of taking things that aren’t yours, I see,” he said with a sniff.
“What does that mean?”
“I’m the one who found it,” Malfoy said. “By any interpretation of wizarding law, that makes it mine.”
Harry sputtered. “That’s not even— I’m the one who— If anything, we both found it!”
“Fine, then it’s both of ours,” Malfoy conceded dismissively. “That doesn’t mean you just get to keep it without discussing it with me.”
A cynical laugh broke out of Harry’s throat. “You can’t tell me you actually want a bicycle, Malfoy,” he said. “I won’t believe you. You only want it because I do.”
Narrowing his eyes, Malfoy set down the baskets and strode forward. He stopped right in front of the bike to spend a moment examining it, and then crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his chin. His mouth quirked, sly and amused. “So. What.”
“You’re doing that wrong,” Malfoy said, interrupting the flow of Harry’s casting.
Harry glanced up warily. Malfoy hadn’t really bothered weighing in since they’d nearly drawn wands over the bike. The following day, he’d shown up to detention toting his own book bag, stubbornly followed Harry into the Forest when their baskets were full, and — once they were in the darkened clearing — proceeded to unpack some school books and a fuzzy green blanket. Spreading the blanket on a wide, flat topped rock and sitting down, he’d opened his Potions text to the middle with a private little smirk when Harry scoffed out loud.
“Can you keep it down?” he’d said, not looking up. “I’m trying to study.”
So, still a bit of a dick, although Harry had already known that about him. But afterwards, Malfoy never troubled himself interfering in Harry’s repairs; he seemed content in the knowledge that his claim over the bike irritated Harry to some degree.
“Can you shut up?” Harry asked sweetly, and bent his head back to task. “I’m trying to fix my bike.”
Malfoy snorted. Harry heard the rustle of papers, and then Malfoy was lowering himself next to Harry and trapping Harry’s wand against the metal frame of the bicycle with his own. “Well, I don’t want you to ruin my bicycle with your ineptitude.”
“I’ve done the research,” Harry said, frowning. “I—”
“No, here.” Malfoy tsked and raised his wand to Summon his Transfigurations textbook. “Look. Metalwork transfiguration is more complicated — Conjurative Substitution laws apply. You can stretch most metals to cover damaged bits, a bit like smelting, but there’s a limit to how thin it will go before the metal itself starts to disintegrate. Your book is probably referencing how to mend a small hole, not something eaten through in so many places.”
He smelled cheerful and amusing, like the Alihotsy leaves they spent their detention collecting, and brushed his hair back as he spoke, something he’d been doing a lot more lately. At the start of year, his hair had been shorn close to his scalp — a bristly buzzcut that didn’t wholly flatter him but nevertheless managed to underscore certain flattering things about him: the poise of his posture in the line of his neck, the dramatic cut of his cheekbones, the naturally wicked slant to his brow. All of which were impossible to unsee, once Harry had seen them, even though Malfoy had grown his hair back out to its original length, just above his ears. Sitting as close as he was, it looked really soft.
Harry blinked. His ears were hot, his breath coming a bit too fast. A quick scan of Malfoy’s face told him he’d already missed the opportunity to respond without sounding like an idiot — Malfoy was staring at him, wide-eyed, a pink stain spilling over those cheekbones. Harry cleared his throat. His voice cracked anyway.
“Wha—” Clearing his throat again, Harry looked back to the frame of the bike. The rust had been a bitch to spell off, but it gleamed silver now, except where the holes remained. “What’s the solution, then, if you’re so smart?”
From his periphery, he saw the excessive dip of Malfoy’s Adam’s apple. Malfoy said, “Your, uh, charmwork isn’t totally worthless, but,” he took a breath and shook his head; his voice went cool, if a little strained, “unless you’ve got something metal to Transfigure, you should stop for today. Honestly, Potter; they taught the basic physics of fusion magics back in fourth year. Have you forgotten everything you learned?
Harry actually did recall all of that with Malfoy’s reminder, but he sent Malfoy a blank look anyway. “Sorry,” he said, “I guess I was a little busy defending my right to smell as badly as I want and raising Voldemort from the dead to remember very much.”
Malfoy froze, mouth popping open, breath catching on a sharp inhale. With something like panic, he scanned Harry’s eyes, and then, like plaster cracking, an incredulous smile broke over his face. He exhaled a whooping laugh and dropped his head forward, one hand coming up to clutch his stomach. “Oh my god, Potter, how the bloody—” was all Harry could understand between Malfoy’s breathless, pitching laughter. “What’s wrong with— Oh Merlin, that’s—”
And really, Harry didn’t think his comment had been that amusing, but Malfoy had lost the plot and couldn’t draw a breath, was red-cheeked and watery-eyed, his shoulders shaking with each guffaw, and that was sort of funny, so Harry didn’t stop himself from laughing too.
Harry brought along some scrap metal Ron and Hermione had Owled him overnight.
Malfoy wore a Potter Stinks badge.
That day, Harry laughed first.
Malfoy could make him laugh. Who would have thought?
Harry sat back, hands flat against Malfoy’s fuzzy blanket, and looked at the bike as he thought it over. They’d propped it carefully against the gnarled trunk of the tree it rested under for who-knew-how long. Clean and shiny, the frame and handlebars looked good, but they had to wait for the Muggle things Harry had ordered before they could do much else to it; apparently, it was a bad idea to Transfigure moving parts when you actually hoped to use something long-term.
“I simply thought she would have shown more—” Malfoy said casually, but Harry could see that he’d dug his fingers into his robes. Was holding onto them. Then Malfoy sighed. “Never mind, forget I mentioned it.”
That, too, had been said with an overly-casual air: Strange of the Headmistress to assign the Forest for your detention. I didn’t actually expect you to get punished at all. It’s been obvious for years you were one of her favourites, even before the... He’d flapped away the rest with a studied, careless wave of his hand.
“No, I’m just thinking,” Harry said. He took off his glasses and pulled his t-shirt free from his jeans to clean them. His wand worked better, of course, but cleaning them manually tended to buy him a minute when he needed one, and he did — Malfoy’s questions were more involved than he realised. Or maybe he realised it, and just thought Harry wouldn’t understand the depth of his curiosity. Either way, it was one of those moments that made Harry grateful for the convenience of having glasses to clean. Finished, he put them back on and said, “I am one of her favourites.” Harry smiled and shrugged at Malfoy’s snort. “But she meant it, at the beginning of the year — that thing she said about zero tolerance for fighting. Only I made it clear that you’d been defending yourself against that sixth year, before we…”
Harry executed his own hand flap, because every variation of “turned on each other” felt weird to say, sitting beside Malfoy the cool quiet of the Forest. He still had no idea what had prompted the jab of Malfoy’s elbow into his stomach when he’d only been trying to help, but acknowledging that didn’t seem very wise in the moment.
As if reading his mind, Malfoy said, “I didn’t ask for your help. I didn’t want it.” He looked sideways at Harry, lips twisting down into a sour little bow. “I never have.”
“Well, I learned my lesson, didn’t I?” Harry said, exasperated. He’d probably never understand how Malfoy could be so contradictory. Wasn’t sure if he wanted to, even if the idea that he and Malfoy could be friendly occasionally gave him a warm feeling inside. “I thought I demonstrated that well enough by breaking your nose.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Well, she was never going to expel you, regardless.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Harry shook his head. “She was pretty angry. But I suppose there was a witness who told her I’d only stepped in to offer help—”
“It wasn’t me,” Malfoy broke in. Harry blinked and shot him another look, and Malfoy swallowed hard, his gaze sliding away.
Warmed again, Harry hid a smile and said, “So anyway, she said that we had to perform detention together, that part was non-negotiable, but she gave me a list of things we could pick from while you were in the infirmary. Things like washing dishes after every meal, and cleaning out the Owlery.” He grimaced. “This was at the top, but she’d crossed it out. It seemed a better option than anything else, so I asked for it.”
“But why?” Malfoy blurted. “When—”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Harry said. “Being here.” He struggled to explain it; Merlin, he’d been struggling for weeks to explain it to himself. “I was— scared, that night, walking in. But I came back out. And we’re not really in any danger from Acromantula; they moved to the opposite end of the forest after the battle. The Centaurs aren’t very friendly, but Firenze talked to them and they’ve agreed to go back to ignoring humans, so long as we don’t disturb their sacred spaces. Besides, it’s sort of peaceful here, doing this. Picking plants. Being useful, but in a small way.”
There were other reasons, ones Harry couldn’t quite bring himself to elaborate: how it felt sort of like a fuck you to Death every time he walked past the treeline, the moments he felt a cold breeze on the back of his neck and thought he might see his mum when he turned, those eerie howls he heard coming from deep in the forest sometimes, that probably sounded nothing like Padfoot had, but made Harry smile all the same. But Malfoy didn’t seem to expect a more involved answer than Harry had already given — seemed a bit overwhelmed by what Harry had said, actually, continuing his thoughtful nod until Harry started to feel self-conscious.
“You could have picked something else for us,” Harry pointed out with an uneasy roll of his shoulders. “She would have understood you having problems doing this one.”
“Probably.” Malfoy leaned back, a mirror of Harry’s pose, and tipped his face up. It had rained off and on all day, though very little had slipped through the dense tree cover. But just then, a droplet fell from the leaves above to splash against the corner of Malfoy’s mouth. Harry watched the rise of Malfoy’s chest as he inhaled slowly; a flash of pink caught Harry’s eye — Malfoy’s tongue peeking out, to lick the rain away. He gave Harry another sidelong glance, damp lips curling upward, and in a curiously soft voice said, “And yet, for some reason, I didn’t.”
The tyres were in place. The chain, the pedals. The white covers on the handlebars. The bike looked just like the one Harry had seen his mum riding in the single photograph Petunia kept of her — or, more accurately, the single photo Lily hadn’t been cropped from. Petunia probably hadn’t seen the need; the camera was focused on her posing with a similar bicycle in the centre of the picture, Harry’s mum a blurry streak behind her, riding out of frame. She would have been about fourteen then, was Harry’s best guess, and Harry felt proud restoring something that he thought she would have liked.
Well, he had. Still did, he supposed, though after snogging with Malfoy for so long, Harry was starting to feel a little blurry too.
Malfoy sucked Harry’s bottom lip between his teeth, bit down on it, licked it. Released it and sealed his mouth against Harry’s again. Harry shuddered, pushing him harder against the tree — rucking up Malfoy’s untucked shirt from his trousers, running his hands over the ridges of Malfoy’s ribs — and Malfoy looped a leg around the backs of Harry’s knees. As ‘congratulations on a job well done’ went, it was probably the best Harry had ever got. Malfoy seemed to know it, too, gasping a laugh when Harry wrenched out the kiss to trail small bites along the line of Malfoy’s pulse, all the way to his clavicle, and back up. Malfoy’s next gasp held no amusement, a fact which filled Harry with a fierce sort of satisfaction; he dared another rock of his hips into Malfoy’s, seeking the hard, fascinating bulge of Malfoy’s stiff dick again. Finding it, Harry angled his own to better rub against it. Did it again when Malfoy’s fingers slipped under his t-shirt and dug into the muscles of his back.
“The—” Malfoy gulped, then groaned and sagged as Harry kissed a spot just under his jaw, so Harry paused there with a pulling suck that made another one of those gasps issue from Malfoy’s throat. When he could force himself to lift his head, there was a deep violet mark left behind, like a target Harry could aim for to make Malfoy go weak-kneed again if he wanted, and Malfoy’s face was wrecked: slender lips swollen, complexion blotchy with heat, his eyes glassy and pupils shot dark. His hair was a mess too, the easy quiff Malfoy styled it in every day undone by Harry’s fingers, and filled with little bits of tree bark. Malfoy turned his face away, closed his eyes, and bit his own lip. Nudging his hips forward, he roughly said, “The— The blanket.”
Harry glanced over his shoulder, the chaos of want building in him at those two words, at what they implied. But it would mean detaching from Malfoy, at least long enough to walk a few steps from the tree to Malfoy’s flat rock, and he was hit with a flash of worry that in the time it took, one or both of them would change their mind. Harry couldn’t even remember making up his mind to begin with, just that course of heat from his scalp to his toes flushing through him when Malfoy went to investigate the bicycle, then turned on Harry with a grin that looked like Christmas morning.
“Potter,” Malfoy said, dropping his leg from around Harry’s knees. He slid his hands out from under Harry’s shirt and, with a touch light enough to tickle, up Harry’s sides around to his chest. He flicked a bunched nipple through Harry’s shirt with the pad of his index finger, and Harry hissed in surprise at the bolt of electricity it sent to his dick. Malfoy smiled. “The blanket,” he said, more seriously. Harry swallowed and let go of him.
They walked over to the rock. Malfoy stripped his open robes from his shoulders and took a deep breath as Harry waited beside him, aroused and uncertain. Then Malfoy spread his robes on the mossy ground and bent to put aside the row of origami creatures he’d been working on when Harry had announced the bike was finished; Malfoy liked having something to do with his hands, he’d grudgingly explained a few days ago when Harry finally asked about them. And it did seem to diminish some of Malfoy’s nervous energy, Harry noted, Malfoy’s constantly- jittering leg at rest while his hands worked, each of his defensive responses less spiteful — though when Harry joked that he should take up knitting, he got a mild Stinging jinx to the shoulder and a haughty “I already do,” for his efforts. But he had let Harry take a couple of the birds he made, a crane out of creamy parchment, and a tiny owl, crisp and snowy-white — delicate and deceptively simple things, art really, that Harry liked looking at before he went to sleep at night.
Done moving his creations, Malfoy sat on the rock. Harry swallowed again, abruptly aware of how much spit was in his mouth; there was a lot. His lips still tingled.
“Well?” Malfoy glanced up and gestured to the space beside him. Cheeks still pink, he dropped his chin to his chest and, with shaking fingers, unbuttoned his shirt, then slowly worked open the button of his trousers. Harry could see the shape of his erection through the expensive fabric, a long, heavy lean towards his left hip. Malfoy’s zipper slid down, and Harry was treated to a glimpse of black boxer briefs under the ashy-blond trail of hair on Malfoy’s stomach. Unsteadily, Malfoy said, “Were you expecting me to put on a show for you?”
A helpless sound tore from Harry’s throat as his dick gave an enthusiastic jump, the head rubbing against the damp spot leaked into his pants; Malfoy’s gaze shot up to Harry, unblinking, the shape of his mouth forming a small ‘o’. Harry put his hand tight against his dick through his jeans, pressing the base with the mound of his palm until the hard-edged ripple of desire working through him faded to a manageable level.
“A-another time, maybe.” Malfoy’s voice was breathless. He reached out, slipped his finger into the waistband of Harry’s jeans, crooked it, and tugged. “But this time, audience participation is preferred,” he said, and Harry let himself be pulled.
Harry found it amazing how quickly he and Malfoy could complete their work the next day, and how, even still, detention seemed to drag on forever; being stupidly horny and having a willing partner made gathering ingredients feel properly urgent, like a race or a contest where they could help each other to the finish line. Even the bike hadn’t given Harry the same level of incentive.
Suddenly twitchy with nerves once they reached the little grove filled with mushrooms and moss, Harry set down his basket and looked at the bike, shiny and new, propped against that same tree. He licked his lips. “So, uh. Did you want—”
“Yeah,” Malfoy said, and jerked him close, and kissed him. They shed their robes fumblingly on the way to the flat rock, and Malfoy didn’t seem to mind a bit when they tumbled too-hard onto it. That night Harry traced the fingerprint bruises Malfoy had left on his skin and touched himself, lost in the aching memories of how he got them.
The grove where they went after detention every day was rather perfect — fundamentally private and practically locked, considering its surroundings were cluttered with twigs and leaves that would warn them of anyone else’s arrival. But it eventually turned problematic in Potions, the day Slughorn assigned a brew of Wit-Sharpening Tonic. Jumping Toadstools were required in the base, which meant chopping them, and all it took was two seconds of their scent having settled thick in the classroom to drive Harry into a humiliatingly persistent arousal. He assumed, based on Malfoy’s disgruntled muttering a few tables over, that he wasn’t the only one conditioned to respond in such a fashion. So he had hoped for a different reception later than the one he ultimately received.
“Will you stop?” Harry shouted thirty minutes into detention, goaded, after yet another snide comment from Malfoy — about Harry’s hair again; he was clearly running out of material. Harry was disappointed, and angry at himself for having expected anything else just because Malfoy could be funny, and a little bit nice in his own way, and talked to Harry about things sometimes, and kissed like a demon. “You didn’t seem to mind holding onto it while I wanked you off yesterday.”
Malfoy went a deep, outraged red and, with a frustrated kick at a rock in his way, Harry started to turn back to the scrubby little bramble he’d been stripping of scurvy grass. But before he got half a step, Malfoy threw his basket to the ground and stalked over, grabbing Harry’s shirt to haul him into a deep, biting kiss. Tearing away when Harry began kissing him back, Malfoy stared at him, eyes burning, lips twisting into a scowl. “I like your ridiculous hair, Potter,” he spat, low and raw. “I like far too many ridiculous things about you, and far more than I should, more fool me. Why couldn’t you have been who I thought you were, you shit?” he added feelingly, and dropped to his knees.
Hagrid’s hut was visible through the trees but Harry went with it, clenching his fingers in Malfoy’s soft hair and fixing his eyes on the scatter of white-blossomed Asphodel spilling from Malfoy’s basket to the forest floor. Until then, they’d only kissed and used their hands on each other, or worked out a good rhythm to rub against one another, half-undressed and panting.
After, they had a new thing to do.
They didn’t talk about it with anyone.
Malfoy never acknowledged him in class or when they passed in the corridors of Hogwarts, and Harry was fine taking cues from him in that respect, relieved from the complicated responsibility of having to figure out what to say to anyone who asked. He mostly thought it was a good decision on Malfoy’s part — if also sort of confusing, and kind of surreal. He appreciated being able to finish the year without the trail of ugly conjecture at his heels, but Malfoy treating him like some version of a stranger never sat quite right, though Harry didn’t know why. The year before, he probably would have been glad for the blank look on Malfoy’s face as they passed each other in Hogwarts’ corridors, but he could never have imagined, then, being curious about Malfoy in a good way. Then, Harry hadn’t known the feel of Malfoy’s nose pushed into his neck as Malfoy shook in his arms, or had any concept of what it would be like to blink up at the trees as sweat cooled on his skin, Malfoy beside him sharing hushed snippets of his thoughts. Those things were nice, and Harry could easily picture more of them in his future, only it didn’t feel very fair for him to keep wanting them in the same way: concealed by the protective boughs of the Forest and left undamaged by gossip, or anyone’s expectations.
“Why did you come back?” Malfoy asked, shifting against Harry and drawing him away from his thoughts. Harry turned to look at him. “You never go to the library to study like the rest of us.”
“Maybe Seamus and Neville are tutoring me in our room,” Harry suggested, and Malfoy laughed. He dug his elbow into Harry’s side.
“You’re not studying.”
“No,” Harry said. “Well, a bit, but not like everyone else. I expect my marks will be passable enough to qualify for a few N.E.W.T.s—”
“You should fail Defence on purpose,” Malfoy said, snickering. “Think of the shock value.”
Harry snorted and let Malfoy adjust his arm so he could lie back against it. Once he was settled, Harry admitted, “I didn’t really have to come back. I wanted to be an Auror; I still do, I think, and there will be a spot for me when I’m ready for it. I just wanted…”
“Some time for yourself.”
“Yeah.” Harry tilted his head. “That’s why you came back, too?”
Malfoy was quiet for a beat. He scratched the bridge of his nose. “There weren’t many places I could go, really.” It was matter-of-fact, but he didn’t meet Harry’s eyes. Harry curled his arm, clasped Malfoy’s shoulder, and Malfoy sighed and said, “It’s all right now, though. I’ll get at least six N.E.W.T.s, and I’ve lined up an internship in France this summer, after which I’ll be able to dedicate myself to getting my Potions Mastery.”
Harry probably should have felt happier for Malfoy. For having a plan, for taking charge of his life. But his mind stuck on the word France for a second, the way it had on the bicycle when he’d first seen it — turning a whole country into a curious oddity, and one he had no way of fixing.
“That’s good,” Harry said, and lifted his face up to the trees. He made himself smile. “I’m glad for you.” He took a breath. “So, then…”
“Potter,” Malfoy said, twisting to press his mouth to Harry’s ear. “Put your legs together.”
“Something I want to try,” Malfoy said. He was stroking himself with one languid hand when Harry glanced down, and halfway to hard again. Harry’s body stirred at the sight, flushing warm. He put his legs together, eager not to think about it anymore, and suddenly desperate for whatever Malfoy had in mind — up to and including the things he alternated between fantasising over and worrying about in bed every night. Malfoy hummed approvingly and murmured a charm to slicken his hand, then smoothed his palm down over his belly, and lower too, glistening skin left in its wake. He rolled atop Harry, and guided himself between the press of Harry’s thighs, pushing between them, flattening against Harry, and “Oh,” Harry gasped, finding Malfoy’s hips to grip, “Fuck, Malfoy, that’s good.”
“Yeah,” Malfoy said thickly. He balanced on his forearms and framed Harry’s face with his hands, lowering his mouth for a kiss. His hair brushing soft against Harry’s forehead, he kissed Harry again, deeper and more fervently, and moved faster over him. “Yeah, Potter, it really is.”
“It’s a really handsome piece of… machinery,” Malfoy said, sort of questioningly, as he ran his finger along the seat of the bicycle. Harry didn’t bother correcting him, wouldn’t have even if he could figure out what to say with the new, indistinct fear churning through him. He’d grown rather fond of Malfoy’s attempts to sound like he knew what he was talking about, regarding Muggle things. Was often charmed just by how frequently Malfoy made the effort. But it meant something — something Harry suspected he wouldn’t like — that Malfoy had walked past the rock where usually they sat to remove each other’s clothes, heading straight for the bike they’d barely looked at for over a week. “You did a really good job, Potter.”
“I want you to have it,” Harry surprised himself by saying. Malfoy jerked his head up to stare at him, and Harry took that second to think his words over, then nodded firmly because they felt inexplicably right. “You should have it. If you want. I don’t even know how to ride a bike.”
“And you think I do?” Malfoy asked, with a choke of laughter.
“You could learn,” Harry said.
“So could you.”
Harry met his eyes. “I want you to have it,” he said again.
“I’m not staying,” Malfoy said. The whole Forest seemed to shrink and go silent, everything from the leaves rustling in the heavy winds above to the distant, mournful chatter of birds. Malfoy swallowed hard. “For the End of Year feast, I’m not staying. My internship starts the day following my last exam, and I’ll be catching a Portkey directly afterwards.”
Harry looked around their little grove for a moment, absorbing that. In the last month, he had begun to imagine the environment had changed in numerous, telltale ways only he and Malfoy might ever be able to see or appreciate. But the truth was that they’d both probably forget how to find it, given a week or two away. The clearing would be shrouded by tangled underbrush once more; the moss Malfoy had torn from the sides of the flat rock would eventually creep back up. Maybe that was good, though — this thing between them, whatever it was, had no hope of lasting out here. The Forest may have accommodated them better than it generally did for unwelcome guests, but it would want its space back; no part of it had ever really belonged to them, and had been stupid of Harry to think otherwise.
“Oh,” Harry said. Malfoy went to visit his mother every weekend, and next week would be filled with exams. Harry quirked him a smile, but it felt strange, and broken. “Well, I’m pretty sure even people in France ride bikes. Take it with you.”
Malfoy pressed his lips together, a grim line. He nodded. “Yeah, all right. Thanks.”
“I guess we should…” Harry gestured to the baskets. Malfoy looked at him, brows knitting, and took a breath. Unpinned the cloak at his throat. He’d changed out of his school robes before joining Harry at the edge of the Forest; Harry should have known, then, that their last day of detention would also be an end to everything else. He watched Malfoy’s cloak drop from his shoulders to the ground, and then Malfoy stepped close, so they were chest-to-chest.
“We have a little time.” Malfoy dipped his head a touch to bring his mouth within kissing distance, but didn’t kiss him. He inhaled again — a big, nervous swig of air — and said, “We have a little time, Harry. If you don’t want to go yet.”
Harry didn’t. He kissed Malfoy hard instead, breathing into it — committing to memory what little time they had left.
* * *
They weren’t all bad. Muggles all, to ward a bit against the storm of the press, most of the people he went out with were nice, actually; healthy combinations of funny and kind, or smart and gorgeous, and in a particular case, a man named Caleb turned out to be all four of those things; essentially, everything Harry was looking for. But none of them moved Harry half so much as the sight of his paper birds, when he drew them from his trunk every night.
Curious about his own reaction, on one occasion he spent an hour unfolding the crane, fingers careful over parchment the same colour as Malfoy’s skin. He let himself wonder for the first time whether his interpretation of events had been wrong, whether it had been Malfoy taking his cues from Harry, rather than the reverse; he let himself wonder what Malfoy might have done if Harry had approached him in the corridors of Hogwarts, if he’d been bold enough to make such a declaration in front of everyone. Wondering, he smoothed the parchment flat and wrote a message on one side: Just wanted to check how the bike is doing. —HP. Following the creases, Harry tried to remake the crane; failing that, he made a few attempts to fold the parchment into one of the simpler sculptures he’d seen Malfoy make. Defeated, Harry folded it into neat thirds and put it back in his trunk. He had nowhere to send it, anyway.
Without much else to do, and because Hermione and Ron were sort of gross around each other sometimes, Harry redoubled his efforts to find a place of his own, and something to fill his days, come autumn.
There, at least, he found some luck in the form of a letter from Hagrid, who mentioned that Madam Hooch was taking a year-long sabbatical. Harry wrote to Professor McGonagall; not sure how to simply ask, he expressed interest in the position as well as he could, if she didn’t have anyone else yet, and if Hagrid was right in saying the position was temporary, and if she herself thought it might not be too disruptive to have him there, and… McGonagall’s return response the following day held a wordless, exasperated reprimand for his uncharacteristic reticence, but Harry smiled at her owl as he untied the heavy burden of paperwork she’d sent for Harry to fill out, along with her warning that any outbursts of temper or displays of partisanship would be dealt with immediately and severely. He completed the forms and sent them back within the hour, and gratefully called a halt to his search for a flat.
Hogwarts had always been his home, anyway.
* * *
There was a bicycle in Hogsmeade.
That by itself probably wouldn’t be considered very strange; though Harry couldn’t remember ever having seen a bicycle in Hogsmeade before, he knew some families lived in the area surrounding the village, which had to include children, and probably some whose parents were Muggle-born. A bike, alone, made perfect sense.
But his bike, the one he restored with his own hands, leaned against the outside of Madam Puddifoot’s — that would be unusual. Impossible, even. So anyone in their right mind wouldn’t even bother checking.
Cursing under his breath, Harry detoured onto Whimsy Lane from High Street.
The bike glowed at him like a talisman, shiny as metallic eyes, the leather covering its seat and handles pristine and pale. The tyres were worn, and the rims a bit scuffed, the bike’s condition less perfect than the last time Harry had seen it, but — still beautiful, it was undeniably his.
Harry banged into the tea shop, scanning everyone who looked up until he got to Malfoy, who lowered the paper he was reading, and then spat his sip of tea all over it when he spotted Harry. Malfoy half-rose from his chair, coughing and trying to shake the paper dry, one wary eye on Harry as he approached.
“McGonagall’s lecture about controlling my temper makes a bit more sense now,” Harry said, heart trying to batter its way from his chest. “I wondered, a bit, about her assumption that eleven and twelve year olds could get under my skin that badly.”
“I did,” Malfoy muttered, flicking Harry an uncertain glance when he laughed. His blind search of the table found him a napkin, and Malfoy began patting his shirt with it, his tie, the newspaper he’d been holding, then sighed and grabbed his wand, spelling it all dry with another mutter. He cleared his throat and stood up straight. “Hello, Potter.”
It was a polite greeting. Level, inoffensive. Harry frowned. “That’s not what you called me the last time we spoke.”
Malfoy darted a glance around the shop and swallowed, turning wide eyes back to Harry long enough for Harry’s head to flood with doubt. Then he dropped his voice to a murmur, so no one might overhear: “Yes, well, we weren’t being watched by a dozen people at the time.”
Harry exhaled a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. “But that’s not— I mean, you never really had a problem with other people—”
“Watching?” Malfoy’s eyebrows lifted. “One, maybe,” he said, giving Harry a significant, roving look, “but not, um. This.” He huffed another sigh and rolled his eyes. “Do you have plans to stare at me much longer, or can we discuss this elsewhere?”
“Elsewhere,” Harry said instantly, digging in his pocket. Malfoy waved him away and gestured to the Sickles he’d already left on the table.
Outside, there was a haze over the morning sun that turned the sky bright. Harry hadn’t paid much attention to the people in the tea shop staring at them but, heading back down to High Street, he felt conspicuous — aware of each head turning to follow his and Malfoy’s progress. Malfoy strolled along looking like he didn’t have a care in the world, pushing Harry’s bike between them.
“So you’re here too,” Malfoy said at last, pitching the words low, from the corner of his mouth. “Thought you’d save the world from the cosy stones of Hogwarts again?”
“What about you?” Face forward, Harry risked a sideways glance. “I thought you were supposed to be getting a Potions Mastery.”
“I am.” Malfoy sounded surprised and pulled to a stop. The edge of Hogsmeade was perhaps a few hundred feet away, but Harry stopped too, pulse picking up once more. Malfoy blinked a few times and said, “The Headmistress got Slughorn to agree to let me apprentice under him. How did you think I was going to get my accreditation?”
“Doing something in France, I suppose,” Harry said, though honestly he hadn’t really thought about it at all; it hadn’t seemed like something that mattered, with Malfoy so far out of reach. “How long does it take?”
“Two years, but—” Malfoy shook his head. “Why are you here?”
There was a ripple of suspicion in his voice that Harry didn’t like. “Hooch is taking a sabbatical, and I’m filling in. Ron needed to wait another year before entering the programme.”
Malfoy started walking again. “How very codependent of you,” he said, and Harry snorted.
“If I go in before him, I’ll automatically be his superior,” he explained. Malfoy ticked him an incredulous look, and Harry shrugged. “Yeah, I might end up getting promoted first, or he might, but whatever happens, it’s better to start from the same spot, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know, Potter.” Malfoy wore a little frown that Harry recognised from their time in the Forest, the one that usually followed a question from Harry that he didn’t want to answer. He looked down at his hand, long fingers splayed over the seat of the bicycle, and said, “Is it? ”
Harry took an uneven breath and brushed a light touch over the handlebars, warm from the sun. “You’ve been riding it. You took it with you?”
“You told me to.” Irritated lines appeared, bracketing Malfoy’s frown. He stopped again, stroking the seat posessively. “You transferred full ownership to me, so you’ll have a fight on your hands,” he said, as though Harry was going to take him in front of the Wizengamot over a bicycle, "if you want it back now."
“No,” Harry said, swallowing. He and Malfoy were far enough out that no one could overhear them, but Harry could feel people watching, a lot of them, their avid gazes like pinpricks covering his skin, and he knew someone was probably going from shop to shop, announcing a potential, impending duel. Ron and Hermione would undoubtedly Owl within a few hours. Still, Harry reached out; resting his fingertips on the back of Malfoy’s hand — creamy pale, silky as worn parchment — felt like one of the more courageous things he’d ever done. He said, “It's not the bike I want back.”
Malfoy didn’t move; for several seconds, Harry couldn’t even see him take a breath. Then Malfoy glanced back to High Street, a small sneer crossing his face. He swung a leg over the bike, balancing with one foot on the ground. Putting the other to the pedal, he smirked at Harry.
“Want to go for a ride?” Malfoy raised an eyebrow; that, and his smirk, implied a number of things.
Harry’s heart leapt. “Still haven’t learned how,” he admitted, trying not to smile too broadly.
“It’s only as easy or hard as you make it,” Malfoy said and jerked a nod to the top tube of the bike’s frame. “Get on, I can show you.”
They stood on the crest of the small hill that marked the outskirts of Hogsmeade, and the slope of the road to Hogwarts looked pocked and bumpy, comprised as it was of pebbles and hard-packed earth. Harry checked over his shoulder and found Hogmeade’s main street clogged with people, most of whom didn’t even pretend not to be watching. Ron and Hermione’s Owl would probably include a Special Edition of The Prophet, Harry thought, and climbed up.
The bar pressed uncomfortably against his arse. Holding onto Malfoy, Harry shifted until he found a position he could tolerate, wedged his feet on the downtube of the bike’s frame, and looked up.
Malfoy’s face was close, his eyes glittering at Harry from inches away, his breath tea-sweet. As Harry watched, Malfoy’s smirk faded, his expression transforming into one Harry had only seen a few times before — unguarded and warm and pink-tinged — and never out in the open, as they were.
“I saw people ride this way in Paris, but I’ve never personally tried it before.” Malfoy cleared his throat and steadied Harry with an arm around his waist. Indifferently, he added, “And the hill is fairly steep. We’ll probably die on the way down.”
“But we might not. We could make it.” Harry slid his hand up to the ball of Malfoy’s shoulder and gripped it firmly. “Let’s try it and see.”
“Then you really want me to go?” Malfoy said — dubiously, but with that spark of challenge that never failed to send a thrill through Harry.
“I placed Gryffindor for a reason,” Harry reminded him. He waved grandly towards the road with his free hand. “Come on, Draco.” Malfoy startled and Harry grinned. “I’m ready when you are.”