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In Loved Ones Eyes

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“Are you here for redemption? In whose eyes? You god’s?”

‘No. In the eyes of the people I love.”

Kate Fuller & Amaru, From Dusk Til Dawn.

 

 

Honestly, if he weren’t lying on the bed with his right thigh shredded, blood soaking what remained of his jeans, and a shard of stained glass embedded (rather painfully) in his left shoulder, he might have found the looks on Granger and Weasley’s faces hilarious. As it was, his thigh was shredded, his shoulder had been stabbed and it was taking everything he had not to break down and sob.

 

The old Draco would have been crying hysterically over something a lot smaller. The old Draco hadn’t spent three months in Azkaban after living with the Dark Lord for over a year. Honestly what was a little flesh shredding and a stabbing compared to a prolonged Cruciatus at the hands of the Dark Lord himself?

 

Of course, the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts probably wasn’t the place to make such a comparison out loud. Especially with Granger and Weasley still standing by his bed staring like gormless idiots. Luna might have appreciated the comparison – Harry definitely would have – but he got the feeling if he mentioned it to this particular audience he’d be accused of trying to make out like he was a victim of the war when all he was in reality was a dirty evil Death Eater.

 

Fuck, where was Luna when he needed her?

 

As if she’d been summoned by his thoughts (and not McGonagall’s hasty note passed on by a terrified first year who’d had the misfortune of getting lost), Luna entered the Hospital Wing at a sedate pace, squeezing up beside Granger and Weasley (why were they even still there?) who were occupying the left side so Madam Pomfrey could work on his right thigh.

 

The hand he’d had clenched in a tight fist around the sheets (which didn’t help much as it caused a fresh wave of pain through his shoulder) relaxed long enough for her to grab hold and squeeze.

 

‘Is that the window from the fifth floor charms corridor?’ she asked, studying the glass in his shoulder curiously.

 

Draco glanced down at the shard sticking out of his shoulder, teeth clenched, and nodded. Madam Pomfrey had used her wand to vanish his t-shirt and the jumper he’d been wearing and now his naked arms and chest were on display for two-thirds of the Golden Trio. Draco could only lament the fact that he was in too much pain to appreciate the complete look of shock on their faces when they took in his Dark Mark, standing out in stark contrast to his pale skin. He’d have loved to appreciate their confusion over the tattoo that crept across his bicep and onto his chest.

 

It was honestly a wonder Granger had refrained from quenching her curiosity. Weasley seemed to be flabbergasted and unable to close his mouth, and yet neither of them had been able to voice the question. Neither of them had been able to ask him about the tattoo which could only possibly be about one person. He supposed being stabbed and shredded had its value.

 

And Merlin bless Luna for being completely unaffected by the revealing tattoo (she’d been there when he’d gotten it done) or his Dark Mark (she’d seen that many times before – he’d never felt the need to hide it from her like he did others).

 

Madam Pomfrey did something that had Draco shouting out in pain before he could lock his reaction down and Luna squeezed his hand in sympathy. ‘Fuck,’ he swore when he managed to unlock his jaw again.

 

Thankfully, no one tried to scold him for his language. He didn’t think anyone would hold it against him. With a swish of her wand, Madam Pomfrey vanished his jeans as well and the feeling of the cotton disappearing from the torn edges of his skin might not have hurt but it wasn’t a sensation he was keen to relive. Of course, lying in his pants didn’t really leave much mystery and the sharp inhale from Granger and Weasley didn’t come as a surprise.

 

He wondered what this one was about, the mess of his thigh now revealed to them or the scorching flames of the fiendfyre dragon that wound its way from calf to hip? Although, he supposed the dragon had likely taken refuge in a tight coil around his calf. He hoped so, he wasn’t game to brave a proper look at his right leg just then, but he dearly hoped the expensive and elaborate artwork had escaped the cutting curse that slashed his thigh open.

 

As if she could read his thoughts – and he might be the (somewhat) accomplished legilimens between them but he wouldn’t put it passed Luna to have something like that up her sleeve and just not have thought it worth mentioning – Luna peered down at his leg and hummed happily.

 

‘It’s alright, Draco, he’s wrapped around you calf and tickling your toes.’

 

Given that he could no longer feel the toes on his right foot – would that nerve damage ever heal? – he would have to take her word for it.

 

Madam Pomfrey, placed her wand down and snatched up a stone bowl. Using a pipette, she steadily dripped a foul-smelling liquid onto his thigh. The itch as skin and muscle rapidly started to knit itself back together was almost as bad as the wound itself had been.

 

‘Shouldn’t even scar,’ she informed him. ‘This was no Dark Curse.’

 

‘Cutting curse,’ Granger confirmed, like she hadn’t already been the one to tell Pomfrey when they brought him in what he’d been hit with. And he still couldn’t believe she and Weasley had bothered to help him up here at all, let alone stuck around.

 

It was pure chance that had them turning the corner into the corridor in time to witness the three seventh years launch their attack at Draco’s back. It was likely the only reason he was being treated as the victim in this situation and not the attacker. All those sessions with Harry had paid off and he’d instinctually ducked, the first of the curses going over his head to explode the window as it bounced off his hasty shield charm. He hadn’t wasted time before firing back spells of his own, and although the cutting curse had gotten through his shield when the glass fragment had been whipped into his shoulder, the entire encounter had ended with Draco bloody but standing while the other three flopped uselessly on the ground.

 

They were lucky Draco had left them jinxed and spelled. He could so easily have left them dead.

 

A soft warmth spread up and down his right leg and Madam Pomfrey made a satisfied sound before she brandished a hand at the two Gryffindors and Luna, making them scramble to get out of her way as she moved around the bed to get to his left shoulder. Luna reached out and took his right hand in her own, letting him squeeze it as Madam Pomfrey set about inspecting the glass in his shoulder.

 

Granger seemed unable to look away from the wound even though her face had drained of all its colour and she looked as though she might be sick. Weasley was flushed red, his eyes staring angrily in the same direction, but Draco could tell his look was aimed for the tattoo the glass had speared and not the wound.

 

Madam Pomfrey gave no warning this time either, a wave of her wand vanished the glass and Draco swore emphatically as a fresh flow of hot blood welled out of the wound and started to trail down his chest. He clenched his jaw tightly and turned his head away, locking eyes with Luna, he maintained the stare while Madam Pomfrey poked and probed at the wound with spells and fingers until she seemed satisfied.

 

‘You’ll have some pins and needles in your fingers for a day or two,’ she told him, ‘but there’ll be no lasting damage to the nerves or muscles.’

 

That didn’t bother him, he was used to pins and needles and weird sensations. Prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus curse hadn’t exactly left him in the peak of health and following it up with a three month stay in Azkaban hardly made for a safe and healing environment.

 

Pomfrey used a spell to clear away the blood, another to seal the wound and applied some dittany to ease the inflammation and scarring. When she stepped back Luna sighed sadly, fingers reaching out to trace over the tattoo now that there wasn’t a chunk of glass in the way.

 

‘You’ve lost one of my moons,’ she told him mournfully and he tried not to shiver at the feel of her fingers tracing over freshly healed skin. ‘And the tip of an antler.’

 

He chanced a glance down and saw that she was right, the freshly healed skin was clear of one moon phase, the full moon slipping directly into a crescent moon as it cycled across his skin. He’d have to have the missing piece replaced to restore the cycle. It didn’t look like any of the narcissus had been destroyed by the glass at least, but the stag over his left pectoral had definitely lost the tip of an antler. The loss of the moon phase annoyed him the most, the stag just looked like it had fought and won a fight.

 

Which he supposed it had.

 

‘I’ll have it redone,’ he told her, looking up. It seemed to take a lot of effort, that movement, the motion sluggish, and he became aware of how heavy his limbs were feeling. He knew Pomfrey hadn’t given him any potions to sleep just yet and it took him longer than it should have – a symptom of its own – to recognise that his body was free of the adrenalin that had kept him up and going and now he was quite likely about to pass out. He squeezed Luna’s hand tightly in alarm.

 

‘Sleep,’ she told him softly. ‘It’s okay, Draco.’  He heard all the things she wasn’t saying in those words. He knew she’d stay; knew she wouldn’t leave him alone and unconscious somewhere he didn’t feel truly safe. The Hospital Wing wasn’t his heavily warded room in the eighth-year dormitory, it didn’t have the protections McGonagall had placed around it, nor the additional ones he’d put up. He was at Hogwarts, he should be safe, but this attack had proved how untrue that was.

 

He felt his eyes grow heavy and took the potion Pomfrey held out for him. McGonagall came back just as he was sliding down in the bed to get more comfortable, Luna fussing with his pillow. She looked furious and it was satisfying to know her anger was on his behalf. He didn’t hear all the words she said to Pomfrey, but he did make out the way she asked Granger and Weasley to come to her office to discuss what had happened. He thought he heard her mention that an owl had been sent to the Ministry and possibly to his mother.

 

Something about that thought alarmed him but the potion was starting to take affect and he couldn’t think why his mother shouldn’t know what had happened. He was going to be fine, better she heard about it from McGonagall than in the papers because if the Ministry knew then it was sure to turn up in some newspaper. Everything about his life did, these days, well at least it had over the summer when he’d been with –

 

He lurched upright, gripping tightly to Luna when the motion made the world spin and Granger gasp.

 

‘Don’t you dare tell him,’ he hissed at Luna.

 

If the potion hadn’t claimed him then he might have been offended by the way she patted his head and smiled. He might have been annoyed by her eye roll and exasperated huff. He might even have caught the same eye roll from McGonagall and the confused look on Granger’s face (Weasley was still staring angrily at his tattoos).

 

But he didn’t and the next time he woke it was morning, he was stiff and a little achy, but everything seemed to be in working order just as Pomfrey had promised. Aside from the slight numbness where Luna had fallen asleep with her head pillowed on his good arm.

 

He gently extracted his arm and started to wiggle his fingers to get the feeling back. He tried the same on his left, but it seemed as though Madam Pomfrey’s prediction was accurate and those pins and needles didn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Gingerly, he slid the blankets off one side and had just succeeded in sliding one leg out of bed with the hope of acquiring some clothes and a bathroom when Pomfrey came bustling around the curtain and snapped at him to get back in bed until she’d finished her examination.

 

The fact that he had indeed healed overnight as she herself had predicted seemed to both satisfy and annoy her and although she tried to convince him to stay in bed and eat breakfast he staunchly refused. During the night one of the house elves had left a neat pile of his clothes by the bed and he’d already pulled on clean pants and jeans when Luna sat up and blinked at him.

 

She studied him while he tugged on his t-shirt and jumper but didn’t say a word until he’d pulled on his boots (Pomfrey, thankfully, had simply removed them the day before, rather than vanish them), propping a foot on the chair by the bed to do up the laces.

 

‘You want to have breakfast in the Great Hall.’

 

He nodded.

 

She didn’t question his decision, just stood up to straighten out her own clothes, picked up her bag and then held out his own. That surprised him because last he’d seen it, his bag had been lying on the floor of the charms corridor covered in his blood.

 

‘I asked Kreacher to get it,’ Luna murmured.

 

He moved to pull the strap over his head to rest on his right shoulder and across his chest and winced at the way his left shoulder twinged when he moved. After a couple of steps he felt the ache in his right leg. Both were dull aches he could – and would – ignore. He’d certainly had worse over the last couple of years and he refused to be the old Draco, moaning and wailing over an injury long healed.

 

He wanted no attention for this, wasn’t about to start spouting about how his father would hear about it. If he was lucky his father would never hear word of what had happened. He didn’t think he’d be so lucky as to avoid the entire school seeming to know about it all. Nothing stayed secret at Hogwarts for long and a rather public duel between an ex-Death Eater and three seventh years in broad daylight, in the middle of a corridor, wasn’t going to go without comment.

 

He couldn’t hide away from it – he wouldn’t – so he walked with Luna down to the Great Hall and let her lead the way to the Ravenclaw table without comment. It wasn’t the first time he’d sat there with her, but it was the first time he did so without comment. He could feel a lot of eyes on him as he walked the short distance to the table. He didn’t need to hear the words to know that the sudden hush and then explosion of whispers were about him. He didn’t think there was much of a chance those whispers were still surprise over his choice of table or friend. Although, once the excitement of the duel wore off, he imagined people would start talking about his new friendship with Luna again.

 

He put on the blank mask of arrogance his parents had helped him create and started on the food Luna piled on his plate with only a softly murmured, ‘Thank you.’

 

Luna filled breakfast with soft chatter and Draco let her voice wash over him. He had no idea what she was saying but he didn’t think she minded. In fact, he knew she appreciated the chance to just voice her thoughts and ideas aloud sometimes, she didn’t always need him to be paying attention. If she wanted more from him, she’d tell him so. Luna was blissfully straightforward in that respect. Talking to her, he’d learned over the last few months, could be as soothing as it was confounding.

 

She never asked anything more of him than he was willing to give, never held his past against him and had been nothing but supportive even when he knew he hadn’t deserved it. Honestly, some days he was sure he still didn’t deserve it, not after all she’d been through in his family home, but that hadn’t once stopped her from sitting beside him and just being his friend.

 

If it weren’t for Luna, this first week back at Hogwarts (and the last month of the summer holidays) would have been horrifyingly lonely. He’d told her so, tried (in his own way) to express how much it meant to him that she’d been there for him, that they’d both been there for him, through his trial and his imprisonment and even during the final weeks of his punishment when he’d been trapped in the house with his mother.

 

He didn’t think it would be a lie to say that Luna and Harry were the first true friends he’d ever had. He’d never had that kind of unconditional support from Crabbe or Goyle, they had always followed him around doing his bidding, more like servants than friends. Pansy had never tried to understand him. They’d known each other for years before Hogwarts in that way all the Pureblood families had. They’d stuck together at fancy parties and all the stupid events they’d been dragged to, but in sixth year she’d been as easily brushed off as the rest of them, hadn’t cared enough to stick with him beyond a perfunctory check to make sure he was okay.

 

He wasn’t and he thought she’d known that, but she’d never tried for more, never tried to reach him. Not that he’d have let her.

 

Luna hadn’t bought his lies and half-truths during the trials and his stay in Azkaban, but she’d also never pushed him for more than he was willing to tell. She’d just made sure she was always there when he needed her and arranged things so that when he wanted to tell someone something, when he wanted to let himself feel, Harry had been there. She seemed to always know when he needed to talk and, somehow, she was always knew what he needed.

 

She always made sure Harry was there.

 

It had been easier with Harry in many ways, harder in others. He and Luna had history, but it was nothing compared to what he had with Harry. Six years of rivalry, of fights and duels, insults traded back and forth and an unfortunate case of stalking (Harry) and choosing the wrong side (Draco) weren’t something they could just ignore. They’d saved each other’s lives, though, and that counted for something. What counted for more was the fact that they understood each other in a way no one else could never hope to understand him. In a way most times even Luna couldn’t understand.

 

And maybe it was that he was sore and tired and just feeling lonely and emotional, but when he finished breakfast and stood up to go back to his dormitory to collect the right books for his classes, he dropped a kiss on the top of Luna’s head and murmured around the sudden lump in his throat, ‘Don’t ever stop being you.’

 

He turned away then, before she could look up at him, but she caught his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. Letting him go after giving him a long searching look he didn’t want to see. He made his escape from the Great Hall and all the voices talking and whispering about him.

 

It took everything he had not to simply slide into bed and hide away from the world. But he refused to allow them to take away his life with their harsh words and their jinxes and curses. He’d paid his dues, done his time, was slowly but surely working toward making up for all the wrongs he’d committed. Hiding away from the world in his dormitory wouldn’t make the hate go away, it would just let them win.

 

He’d known before he even set foot on Platform 9 ¾ that coming back to Hogwarts would be hard. He’d known that so many of the things he’d done and was doing to redeem his name would go unnoticed by most of the wizarding world and he was okay with that. The choices he made now weren’t about anyone other than himself. They weren’t about living up to what his father expected of him or the things his mother had always wanted for him. He was no longer making choices based around the Malfoy name or what it meant to be a pureblood wizard.

 

He made choices based on his needs, his hopes, he made choices he could live with, ones he wasn’t ashamed to make, ones he could be proud to talk about with Harry and Luna or even with his Aunt Andromeda. It seemed silly that choices made for almost selfish reasons were the first ones he could be proud of.

 

Coming back to Hogwarts might have been part of his probation after his term in Azkaban but it was also an important step in reclaiming his life as his own. He needed to get decent NEWTs if he had even a hope of getting a decent job – something he’d never even considered before Voldemort. But more than that, this year would be a buffer of sorts, allowing him a foray into the wizarding world without actually stepping out into it. It was a year, where he could keep his head down and work on his studies, it was a year where he could show the changes he’d made to his life and his attitude, one more year to prepare himself for the harsh realities of life as an ex-Death Eater in the wizarding world.

 

And so, despite the very real desire to hide away in his room where no one but Luna would come looking for him, he gathered up the necessary books and made his way to Herbology. At least in that class he had Sprout.

 

Professor Sprout, much like McGonagall and Flitwick treated him no differently than they had before his role in the war became known. Sprout was inclined to favour him over some of the others if only because he appreciated what most of her plants could do once harvested for potions. Flitwick had always admired his charms work and McGonagall was one of the three people in the school who knew the true extent of what he’d been through during the war and its aftermath. She would never show favouritism, hadn’t ever even with her Gryffindors, but she was fair in her treatment of him and had shown her support for his efforts to redeem himself.

 

It was unfortunate that Herbology and Charms were the only two classes he could count on the professors to treat him fairly. Although, he thought the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was at least attempting to remain impartial, Draco could see his resolve slowly being chipped away by the rumours and comments he heard cast Draco’s way. Professor Joseph might be qualified to teach at any number of magical schools, but Draco didn’t think he was qualified to teach at Hogwarts where all but the first and second years had fought in the last battle. He’d been safely tucked away in the mountains in India researching something Draco hadn’t cared enough to learn about. Tucked away as he was, he hadn’t felt the effects of the war. By all accounts, he’d come back to England after ten years, surprised to find out how bad things had gotten.

 

This hardly endeared him to Draco and although it had only been a week, he couldn’t see Joseph being a successful teacher if he didn’t change how he viewed most of the students. So far, he hadn’t taught them anything Draco didn’t know. He didn’t know if that was a reflection of Joseph’s teaching or his own extensive studies, however, and it wasn’t like he was in a position to ask anyone. He hadn’t spoken to anyone other than Luna in the four days they’d been back at Hogwarts. He was making a point of keeping to himself and ignoring the insults and slurs the other students sent his way whenever they felt they could get away with it.

 

Alone in corridors was apparently the perfect spot to target him.

 

No one spoke to him during Herbology. They spoke plenty about him in whispers under their breath, acting as though he couldn’t possibly hear them, but no one was brave enough to speak up in front of Sprout. The murmurs and whispers increased throughout the day and he diligently ignored them. He even ignored the way Granger kept looking up and over at him during Ancient Runes and Arithmancy.

 

As much as he ignored it all, he couldn’t escape the whispers entirely. They’d been back at Hogwarts just four days and already the other students were gaining confidence, calling him a Death Eater and commenting on how he’d nearly killed three seventh years in an unprovoked attack. He had expected it to go like that, but it still stung that Granger – who’d witnessed the entire attack – never spoke a word to suggest it had been anything other than what the rumours speculated. He didn’t expect anything from Weasley, but he found, to his chagrin, that he’d expected a little more from Granger.

 

The fact he expected anything at all from her annoyed him greatly. He shouldn’t have expected any different, she hated him as much, if not more, than all the other students. But despite all that, he’d still expected to hear her, at least once, correct the assumptions the other students had made about the fight that had landed him in the Hospital Wing. He didn’t even have a single detention and yet the three students he’d apparently attacked had each been given two-months’ worth and an official write up from the Ministry for assault. When he’d learned that fact was being so easily ignored by the students, he’d snorted derisively which had earned him a sad smile and a hug from Luna.

 

He made it through the rest of the week; it wasn’t easy, but the classes helped keep him distracted and Luna tried her best not to leave him alone where another student might try to take advantage and hex him. She couldn’t be with him all the time, though, and he was hexed and jinxed and spelled numerous times by students who now seemed to think it was acceptable. He never said a word about it. He relied on his training with Harry and everything his father and Bellatrix had taught him to block, repel and counter everything thrown his way.

 

Over the weekend, he locked himself away in his dormitory, not even venturing out for food or library books. He chose instead to send Kreacher for what he needed. The house elf responded well to Draco, much better than he ever did Harry and Draco didn’t mind taking advantage of that fact if it meant he could have a weekend of peace where he didn’t have to watch his back.

 

It helped that his room was quite spacious, given he was the only eighth year Slytherin to return. Whereas the other boys had two or three beds in their rooms and had to share a bathroom, Draco had a large room and en suite bathroom to himself. McGonagall, perhaps foreseeing his desire to hide away, had provided him a comfortable couch, coffee table and a writing desk with a surprisingly comfortable chair. He had three large windows overlooking the Hogwarts grounds and columns of bookshelves between each one where he was slowly starting to store his books. He’d been calling on Kreacher and sometimes Winky to retrieve them from the Manor, it was easier than sitting in the library waiting for someone to hex him when his back was turned.

 

Luna, not wanting him to be alone, locked herself away with him. She wandered into his dormitory as though she had every right to be there first thing after breakfast Saturday morning, with an armful of her own textbooks and homework, her bag packed with everything she’d need to lock herself away with him, including a ridiculous Butterbeer necklace and an enormous hippogriff feather she’d brought for Harry’s kneazle kitten, Athena, to play with.

 

For two days, the outside world didn’t exist, and it almost felt like those first days after his release from Azkaban, when they’d sit out in the garden soaking up the sun (or at least the fresh air) and not even really talking.

 

Opening all the windows in his room to allow the soft warm breeze to fill his room wasn’t quite the same but he didn’t want to brave the lake and McGonagall had done the best she could in making sure his room was open and light – a far cry from his Azkaban cell. She’d created the safest space she could for him and he was immensely grateful. It was still uncomfortable for him to spend so much time in one room but knowing he could step outside whenever he wanted eased the pressure that threatened to suck him under and trap him in a panic attack.

 

With all the wards and spells on his door the other students never heard his screams or the whimpers from his nightmares that might have urged them to come see what all the fuss was about. Even if only to laugh and tell him he deserved them.

 

He didn’t even try to supress his smirk on Monday morning when he and Luna finally emerged from his dormitory. He hadn’t planned the timing, but he and Luna stepped out just as Weasley and Longbottom emerged from the room they’d share with Harry and the look of surprise (and confused horror) on their faces was well worth it.

 

Luna smiled brightly at the both of them and said, ‘Hello Ron! Hello Neville! Heading down to breakfast, too?’ and led the way to breakfast as though stepping out of Draco’s room first thing in the morning was perfectly normal.

 

If they’d realised how often she crawled into bed with him as a shield to her own nightmares and not just his, they’d realise it was perfectly normal. That didn’t mean he was going to offer an explanation, let them think what they wanted about his relationship with Luna, the two (three) of them knew the truth and it wasn’t anyone else’s business.

 

Luna led the way to the Gryffindor table and Draco broke off to the Slytherin table. He loved Luna dearly but not enough to follow her to that particular table. He wasn’t even sure he’d brave it for Harry, and he was still a week away from returning to Hogwarts.

 

When the post arrived, it was with a pleasant surprise for Draco in the form of a care package from his mother carried by his eagle owl and a less pleasant surprise in the form of a letter with the Ministry seal on it. This one was delivered by a friendly, if old, barn owl who didn’t seem impressed by the long journey and seemed quite content to take a rest on his shoulder before making the trip up to the owlery or back to the Ministry.

 

He didn’t open either at the table. He tucked the Ministry missive into the pocket of his robes and the letter and sweets from his mother into his bag. He was just finishing off his tea when a third owl arrived, this one dropped its letter on his head to flop down into his lap. He threw an annoyed glare up at the owl (likely hired from an Owl Post Office) and then glanced down to look at the letter. There was no formal address on the front of the envelope, just his first name, but Draco would recognise that untidy scrawl anywhere.

 

A perk of being so thoroughly hated by the entire student body, was the way they left a good chunk of space around him at the table, no one willing to sit close to him. It afforded him the privacy he needed to peek into the envelope and pull out the single sheet of parchment folded in half.

 

He was disappointed but not unsurprised that there was only a single sentence scribbled on the page.

 

            Stay safe, I’ll be home Thursday.

  • H

 

Draco frowned and then glanced across the Great Hall to the Gryffindor table. Luna was seated with her back to him but when she felt his eyes on her, she glanced over her shoulder and looked at him questioningly. He shook his head and dropped his gaze back to the note, stuffing the letter back into the envelope before slipping it into his bag with the care package from his mother.

 

Someone had told Harry he’d landed in the Hospital Wing. Draco rolled his eyes, he was lucky Harry hadn’t stormed the castle, wand in hand looking for justice. With a soft chuckle to himself at the image, he collected his bag and made for his first class of the day. He was hexed three times, jinxed once and tripped twice but he barely even noticed amid the warm glow that was rising within him.

 

Harry would be back soon and although Draco had no idea what would happen when he did return, just the knowledge that he would be back at Hogwarts lifted Draco’s mood exponentially. Luna had been doing everything she could to help ease the loneliness he’d been feeling but she could only do so much. She had her own friends in the Gryffindors who wouldn’t accept Draco, and her own classes separate from his. She lacked the influence to slow the onslaught of curses and slurs thrown his way, as much as she tried to by simply being his friend. He appreciated everything she was doing but he missed Harry.

 

He was dead asleep in the early hours of Thursday morning when a solid weight dropped onto the bed, startling him awake and dislodging Athena who made her displeasure known with a hiss before she fled for the couch. Groggy, half asleep and heart pounding in his chest, Draco reached for his wand only to stop when a soft voice mumbled a greeting into his pillow.

 

Draco relaxed, tension draining from his body and he slumped back into the warm cacoon of his bed covers. ‘You couldn’t have waited until morning?’ he asked testily, although there wasn’t much anger in his tone.

 

‘Nope,’ Harry informed him. ‘Shove over a bit.’

 

With an exaggerated sigh, Draco did as requested and shuffled across the bed. He hissed reproachfully when a cold foot slipped between his own but the arm across his hips mollified him somewhat as did the warm puff of breath against the side of his neck, a chin resting on his shoulder.

 

‘Go back to sleep,’ Harry murmured.

 

Draco grumbled something unintelligible in reply and was asleep in the next breath. When he woke up hours later at a much more respectable time, he’d have thought he imagined the whole thing if not for the scent left on his pillow and the steam left on the bathroom mirror.

 

He went down to breakfast with his mood lighter than it had been in weeks, not even disappointed when he glanced over at the Gryffindor table to see no sign of Harry. McGonagall wasn’t at the staff table either and Draco assumed (correctly) that the two were up in her office.

 

He only started to feel nervous when he took his usual seat in Potions, all the other students filing in – including Granger and Weasley – and there was still no sign of Harry. All sorts of thoughts were spinning wildly through his mind. What if when Harry returned to classes things between them changed? What if he didn’t want anyone to know they were (more than) friends? What if he heard all the horrible (and sometimes truthful) things people were saying about him and decided Draco wasn’t worth it?

 

So many what ifs swirling through his head that Draco started to feel sick. His hand clenched tightly around his quill on the bench and he felt the tell-tale racing of his heart, the sticking in his chest that he knew would have him struggling to breath. He closed his eyes, hoping no one was looking his way, and focused on his breathing, focused on the things he knew to be true.

 

Harry had been in his bed. He’d woken up with the smell of Harry on his sheets, to steam on his mirror and another toothbrush sitting beside his on the bathroom sink. That was real and true and if Harry could face dementors with him every day for three months then he wasn’t likely to let a few stupid rumours and whispers come between them.

 

Draco let out a long steady breath and felt his heart slow to a normal steady beat. He had nothing to worry about. They’d talked about this before making the decision together that Harry would come back. Draco didn’t have a choice, but Harry could have gone straight into the Auror corps, he was already receiving so much of the training and had proved multiple times that he knew a lot of the material they had to teach him. In the end, though, Harry had wanted to prove that he had earned the position just like any other Auror and that meant completing his NEWTs.

 

Kingsley and Robards had agreed to a condensed training program so Harry could join the corps straight after completing his NEWTs (assuming he got the results he needed – Draco had complete confidence he would) which would give Harry the chance to prove he had earned his place just like any other Auror but gave the Ministry their Chosen One and Voldemort Slayer to hold up and show the people of the wizarding world they were going to do better and that things were changing in the right ways.

 

Draco would have supported Harry no matter what he’d chosen to do but he couldn’t deny he’d been happy when Harry ultimately decided he wanted one more year, one chance to have a normal year as an ordinary student at Hogwarts. He and Luna had both laughed at that, but they’d promised to help Harry have as normal a year as possible.

 

Slughorn made it all the way through his pre-potion instructions and jovial blathering before Harry made an appearance.

 

‘Harry, my boy!’ Slughorn greeted brightly, slapping him on the back heartily.

 

He wasn’t the only one grinning broadly at Harry’s arrival, there were several excited exclamations and greetings from other students. Draco caught Harry’s barely restrained eye roll and forced himself not to smile when Harry met his gaze. He chanced a glance behind him at Granger and Weasley to see the pair of them gaping at Harry with delighted surprise.

 

Apparently, the other two members of the Golden Trio hadn’t even known Harry was back.

 

The warm feeling that had been blossoming in his chest since he’d received Harry’s note on Monday was back and larger than it had been before. It took great effort to keep his lips from twitching up into a smug smile. He watched the whole thing out of the corner of his eye as Slughorn welcomed Harry back with another vigorous shoulder slap and motioned him toward the side of the room where Granger and Weasley had set up their cauldron at the desk behind Draco.

 

The way the two were smiling and sitting up so straight made Draco think of an eager puppy waiting on its owner. It wasn’t an especially nice thought, but it was accurate. Draco at least had the decorum and self-respect to not show just how happy he was to see Harry back at Hogwarts.

 

‘We’re paired up already,’ Slughorn said jovially, ‘Odd numbers, though, so I won’t say no to the three of you working together.’ Slughorn gave Harry a gentle push in the direction of the two Gryffindors, clearly expecting Harry to scramble eagerly toward them.

 

Harry didn’t. Instead he turned and frowned at Slughorn for a moment before rolling his eyes again at the man and purposefully stalking across the room to drop into the available chair beside Draco. In the stunned silence that followed there was no doubt everyone heard Harry’s muttered “arsehole” though whether they realised it was directed at Slughorn, Draco couldn’t tell.

 

Still, Draco couldn’t help but drawl, ‘If you ruin my potion, I will force you to drink it.’

 

Harry rolled his eyes and kicked him under the table. ‘What are we making anyway?’

 

Draco slid his textbook across the desk, ignoring the way everyone in the room had to be staring at them.

 

Harry glanced down at the page and Draco saw the moment he realised there was no way he’d be able to make the potion with his (no longer totally) abysmal knowledge at Potions. Harry’s shoulders slumped and he dropped his head to bang it on the desk. He might have improved greatly over the summer with private lessons with his mother, but Harry still struggled with a lot of the basic concepts. The detriment of five years of antagonism between Harry Potter and Severus Snape was going to take more than two months’ worth of private tutoring with Narcissa Malfoy to overcome.

 

Draco grinned and nudged Harry’s thigh with a knee. ‘Do you think it’ll kill you?’ he asked, gleefully.

 

Raising his head, Harry stuck an arm out and shoved him in the side. ‘Oh, shut up,’ he grumbled with a slight grin.

 

Draco grinned, patted him on the shoulder in an intentionally patronising manner, and got up to go get the ingredients they’d need from the store cupboard. He was aware of all the stares following him but with Harry back and treating him like a friend and not a Death Eater, Draco didn’t much care. Harry had quashed any remaining fears Draco had about how things would be between them now that they were back at Hogwarts. Maybe he could finally start enjoying his lessons again.

 

Draco didn’t even care that when he returned to his desk, Harry was turned around talking earnestly to Granger and Weasley because it gave him the chance to start the base of their potion simmering in his cauldron without Harry trying (and failing) to help. Once that was done, he held out a piece of willow bark to Harry without looking up and demanded he shred it.

 

Harry took the bark without pausing in his conversation with Granger and Weasley and began to dutifully shred it. Draco felt his lips twitch into a smile. If he’d turned around then, he might have noticed the weird look Granger was shooting him. Draco was focused on his potion though, and it was easier to follow the instructions (making his own small changes along the way just as Severus had taught him), handing Harry things to shred or dice, than it was to deal with Granger and her Weasley on a high from seeing their best friend for the first time in four months.

 

The potion turned out perfectly, just as Draco knew it would and he derived a delicious pleasure from watching Slughorn struggle between his desire to praise Harry for a job well done and his desire to ignore Draco completely as he’d been doing since the start of term. Slughorn settled for a cheerful grin at the potion and another slap on Harry’s back and ignored Draco completely.

 

Draco could have kissed Harry for his casual shrug and his, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure it only turned out so well because he didn’t let me near it.’

 

The look on Slughorn’s face was priceless and the moment his back was turned he and Harry glanced at each other and shared a laugh.

 

When the bell rang and they’d put away the last of their things and collected up their bags, Harry twisted on his chair until his knees pressed against Draco’s thigh and rested his elbow on the work bench, his other hand reaching up to cover a sudden yawn as he stared at Draco.

 

Exasperated, Draco asked, ‘Why didn’t you wait and use the floo this morning?’

 

Harry shrugged. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’

 

Draco rolled his eyes but didn’t bother to hide his pleasure. Harry wasn’t all that good at expressing himself with words (he was terrible at it actually and Draco did not find it endearing. Really.) but he was excellent at showing what he felt and turning up horribly early and crawling into bed with him, told Draco exactly how much Harry was missing him and just why he hadn’t waited until morning.

 

Hoping to Merlin he wasn’t blushing, he turned his head around to look meaningfully at Granger and Weasley who were hovering by the door looking back at Harry, expressions eager as they waited for him to catch up. It would be weird having them back; the whole summer he’d had Harry to himself (mostly) while the two were in Australia trying to restore the memories of Granger’s parents. He’d never been good at sharing and he had no idea how this was going to play out. He was self-aware enough to know that he was possessive and jealous, and he’d had it far too good so far in that he only had to share Harry with Luna (and the Aurors but that didn’t really count).

 

It would take some adjusting, learning to share Harry when he’d never had to before. He couldn’t keep Harry from Granger and Weasley and even if he could he didn’t really want to. Keeping Harry from his friends would only drive him away in the end and Draco had no intention of ever letting Harry go.

 

‘What do you think my chances are of getting in a nap during my free period?’ Harry mused, not even bothering to look back over his shoulder at his two friends. His attention was all for Draco and it was doing pleasant things to Draco that he couldn’t act on in the Potions classroom.

 

‘Nonexistent,’ Draco answered without hesitation. They were the only two left in the classroom and the scrutiny from Harry’s friends in the doorway and Slughorn at his desk was making Draco’s skin itch. He sighed. ‘Go away, Potter, before Weasley makes a fool of himself and tries to curse me.’

 

Harry frowned and gave him a hard look.

 

Draco cut him off before he started asking questions and getting angry on his behalf. ‘Not now.’

 

‘Fine,’ Harry agreed. ‘But we will talk about it.’

 

‘Of course, we will.’ Draco rolled his eyes. ‘Now go.’

 

‘I’m going,’ Harry said. ‘Lunch?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Dinner?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Both it is.’

 

Draco made an annoyed sound and took the lead, getting to his feet and stalking out of the room with enough annoyance in his expression to ease the constipated look on Weasley’s face. Though it didn’t seem to make much of a dent on the narrowed gaze of Granger. He felt her eyes on his back until he turned the corner. He wondered how long it would be before she figured it out for herself. Draco certainly had no intention of telling her about his relationship with Harry.

 

That was another thing they’d talked about.

 

He should have known Harry wouldn’t let him get out of lunch and dinner together, especially not when they hadn’t seen each other in two weeks. Harry spent lunch at the Gryffindor table, shooting looks across the Great Hall at Draco more often than he probably should have but not nearly often enough to draw attention. It paid to have weird and creepy stalkerish tendencies. Apparently.

 

They had dinner in the kitchens. Luna joined them and for the first time since Harry slipped out of his bed on the 30th of August and disappeared on some auror mission, Draco truly felt at ease.

 

He went to bed alone but woke up in a tangle of limbs and even though he was jinxed on his way to breakfast, he smacked the spell away with a shield charm, the simple spell not enough to bring down his mood.

 

Friday morning meant double DADA with the Gryffindors. For the first time, he was looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

‘What?’ Draco asked, poking his head around the shower curtain to look at Harry who was standing in front of the sink brushing his teeth, dressed in nothing but a towel wrapped low around his hips.

 

Harry spat out a mouthful of toothpaste and met his gaze in the mirror. ‘What’s this new DADA professor like?’

 

Draco shrugged and went back to washing his hair. With his eyes shut and head tilted back under the spray he explained his impressions so far. ‘You’re probably better off asking Granger or Weasley,’ he finally admitted. ‘I know too much.’

 

That might have sounded like the old arrogant Draco if it didn’t hold so much truth. He did know too much. While the Hogwarts DADA professors had been an inconsistent mess in the past, Draco had studied the textbooks thoroughly after fourth year. Going back to learn everything he could from his old textbooks and raiding the library at the Manor. On top of that he’d had private lessons in Dark Arts for years and though he’d never taken them seriously until sixth year, he’d still learned a lot more than he’d realised, something that living with Voldemort and his Aunt Bella had driven home.

 

Not to mention how Harry had made a point of practicing duelling with him once he was free of Azkaban, taking the time to teach Draco everything the aurors were teaching him, everything he’d picked up along the way. He was a fast learner and it wasn’t like he’d had much else to do over the summer. He might not be as good at Defence as Harry, but he was damn close. He didn’t think there was much a Hogwarts professor could teach him in DADA even if it was NEWTs level.

 

‘I did,’ Harry told him. ‘They both think he’s good.’

 

Draco scoffed at that, rinsing himself off one last time before he turned off the taps and tugged the curtain back. Harry handed him a towel and then went back to rifling through the cabinet, looking for his potion. Draco took the towel and then stepped out of the bath onto the mat, swatting Harry’s hand out of the way before he reached past him to grab the correct potion. Still dripping water everywhere, he motioned for Harry to sit on the edge of the tub and tilt his head back. Harry did so without complaint and allowed Draco to carefully drop two drops of the potion into each eye.

 

Draco watched as Harry’s eyes turned milky white and started to smoke before they cleared up and were once more the beautiful green he was known for. Harry shook his head and pulled a face.

 

‘I hate this stuff.’

 

‘There was hardly any smoke,’ Draco dismissed. ‘Another month and you’ll only need to do it once a week not twice a day.’

 

‘How long before I never have to take it?’

 

Draco shrugged. ‘A year?’

 

Harry pulled a face but took the potion bottle from Draco so he could dry himself properly while Harry put it away. ‘Why did I think this was a good idea?’

 

Draco sniggered. ‘Because I kept stealing your glasses when we duelled.’

 

‘And they kept fogging up when you trained.’

 

Draco yelped, startled by the sudden intrusion into his bathroom and hastily clutched at the towel around his waist. ‘Damnit Luna!’

 

Luna looked at him calmly before her eyes travelled down to rove over his chest and down his legs before coming back up to meet his eyes with a satisfied smile. ‘You’ve healed.’

 

Draco rolled his eyes, ignoring the way Harry was trying to supress a laugh and failing miserably. ‘You knew that already.’

 

‘Oh no, I meant that all those potions Madam Pomfrey has been making you take have done a good job.’

 

‘Oh.’ Draco was taken aback but pleased by her words.

 

After his release from Azkaban he’d been so skinny and weak. Some of his bones had been broken and hadn’t healed right (again), he’d been malnourished, pale and he’d had a lot of trouble with his magic. No healer had wanted to treat him at home and his house arrest left him unable to try his luck at St Mungo’s. Harry had once again gone to Madam Pomfrey for help and Draco had been given a strict regimen of nutritional potions, orders to spend as much time outside as possible for the sunlight and fresh air and told to take up some muggle exercise to build back his physical strength. She’d told him it would help with his magic as well and she’d been right.

 

‘I came to see if you’re ready for breakfast,’ Luna informed them as she turned her back on them and went back into the bedroom. They both followed her out of the bathroom and she draped herself across the bed, gaze firmly locked on the ceiling to give them an illusion of privacy while they dressed.

 

Draco frowned at her. Why she hadn’t just gone down and met them in the Great Hall was anyone’s guess. Why Harry had come back to his room after he’d slipped out so early for a morning run was another mystery, though one he actually thought he’d enjoy the answer to. He suspected the reason Luna had come to him had something to do with forcing him into breakfasting with the two of them in the Great Hall.

 

‘Luna’s right, you know,’ Harry said suddenly.

 

Draco ignored Luna’s, ‘I usually am,’ and looked over at him. Apparently, instead of getting dressed, Harry had been staring at Draco as he pulled on his clothes. Not something Draco was opposed to, but Harry really needed to work on his timing. There wasn’t really time to act on Harry’s heated gaze and with Luna sprawled on the bed there wasn’t any privacy either.

 

‘Like what you see?’ Draco drawled.

 

Harry grinned, he closed the distance between them with slow languid steps and reached out to hook a finger through the belt loops of Draco’s jeans, tugging him close to shed the last bit of space between them. Draco’s own hands went to Harry’s chest, sliding up smooth skin until they reached his neck and slid into his hair. He leant in close until his breath ghosted over Harry’s lips, he could feel the way Harry’s breath hitched in anticipation and then he grinned. He dropped one hand back to Harry’s chest and shoved.

 

‘Get dressed, Potter, before your Weasel comes looking for you.’

 

Harry groaned, swooped in for a quick kiss and then stepped back. ‘For that,’ Harry grouched, ‘you can come running with me tomorrow.’

 

Draco shrugged. ‘I was planning to.’

 

He caught sight of Luna then and couldn’t help grinning. She was frowning at the both of them as though trying to puzzle something out. If Pansy had been there, she’d have been fanning herself and making lewd comments. Luna probably hadn’t even noticed. It made him love her more. And so, when she stood up, he took the robe she held out to him and tugged it on over his jeans and t-shirt and placed a kiss on her cheek.

 

‘Let’s go have breakfast.’

 

‘I think I’ll eat with you at the Slytherin table.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry said, and there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in his voice when he added, ‘let’s do that.’

 

‘Draco will like that,’ Luna pointed out – rather needlessly, Draco thought.

 

Huffing indignantly, he changed his mind, ‘And now I’ll be eating in the kitchens, thank you very much.’

 

Luna frowned and Harry threw his wet towel at him. Draco batted it carelessly aside before he slipped back into the bathroom to fix his hair. A quick and complicated wiggle with his wand had his hair dry and falling perfectly into place. Harry’s idea of styling his hair involved roughly rubbing it with a towel and then raking his fingers through it. Draco ran his own fingers through Harry’s hair until he was satisfied the mess had become more artful than lazy and ignored the way Harry rolled his eyes.

 

Harry had once tried to explain to him why he didn’t much care what his hair looked like or what clothes he was wearing. Draco couldn’t remember now exactly how the conversation had started or how it had turned into an argument, but it had ended with Draco spending an absolute fortune on clothing and accessories in muggle London and Harry having an entire new Slytherin approved wardrobe. Draco had one too because his commitment to fashion coupled with his commitment to sticking it to his pureblood father had sort of spiralled out of control.

 

He really didn’t remember how that argument had ended so well in his favour, but he thought it might have had something to do with the way Harry liked looking at his arse in muggle jeans.

 

Luna led the way down to breakfast. Harry was waylaid coming down the last staircase into the Entrance Hall by a group of fawning third years and Luna wasn’t much of a deterrent which was why an enterprising fourth year thought it a good time to hex him while his back was turned. Fortunately (for the fourth year) his aim was terrible. The hex skimmed over Draco’s shoulder, leaving an annoying ringing in his ear. He spun around, flicked his wrist to slip his wand down from its holster into his hand and locked eyes with the boy just in time to watch him, egged on by friends, fire another hex his way.

 

The hex bounced harmlessly off Draco’s quickly erected shield and he rolled his eyes. A wordless flick of his wand quickly disarmed the boy and Draco reached out a casual hand to snatch the wand out of the air before anyone else could get a hold of it.

 

Disarming the fourth year (a Hufflepuff Draco didn’t know) set his friends off and suddenly Draco found himself on the wrong end of six different wands, all held by angry looking midgets. Merlin, had he ever been so small? He’d gone through another growth spurt after Azkaban (thanks primarily to Pomfrey’s quick thinking) and he knew he was tall now, but he certainly hadn’t been tall in fourth year. But had he been that small?

 

Wayward as his thoughts were, they didn’t distract him from what was happening. He wasn’t going to start jinxing fourth years, they were beneath him.

 

‘Give me back my wand, Death Eater, or my friends will make you regret it,’ the boy hissed all pride and attitude and Merlin, Draco could remember being like that.

 

Draco rolled his eyes and pocketed the wand, suitably unimpressed. ‘Good luck with that.’

 

He turned around and walked away. Someone fired a jinx at his back. He waved a dismissive hand over his shoulder, blocking the jinx with little effort. He was perfectly happy to ignore them and move on, a little trip jinx was nothing compared to the curses he’d undergone during the war and the power and skill behind the fourth years’ spell wasn’t worth acknowledging.

 

He did wish he could have seen their faces when Harry finally extricated himself from his admirers and hurried to catch up to him. He imagined they’d been anticipating a good hexing but all they got was a cheerful, ‘Scored yourself a new wand?’

 

Draco drew the wand out of his pocket and showed it to Harry, wrinkling his nose at it in distaste. ‘It’s hardly worth keeping.’

 

Harry scrutinised the wand and then glanced over his shoulder at its owner. ‘Not very impressive.’

 

Draco sniggered, enjoying the outraged sputtering from the fourth year. It was slightly delayed as though it had taken him a moment to realise Harry hadn’t been talking about the wand at all.

 

It was quite pleasurable listening to the outraged shouting and ineffective threats being shouted his way as he walked into the Great Hall with Harry by his side. He didn’t even put up more than a token protest when Harry followed him to the Slytherin table, taking the seat across from him while Luna sat beside him. It was a little hard to protest with his feet tangled with Harry’s beneath the table and Luna telling them all about the trip she and her father were planning for their Christmas holidays.

 

‘Oh,’ Luna exclaimed suddenly, breaking off her story to gaze in bemusement at the doors. She waved at someone and Draco looked over to see who had caught her attention. Weasley had come to a startled halt in the doorway, blocking the flow of students as he gaped in horror at the sight of Harry seated at the Slytherin table with Draco Malfoy.

 

Draco smirked but Harry just looked up at his friends and smiled. He didn’t wave them over as Luna had, giving them the opportunity to make the decision for themselves. Draco didn’t know what Harry was expecting, there was only one possible way this could go.

 

Sure enough, Weasley broke from his stupor and started marching across the Hall toward Harry at the Slytherin table.

 

‘Harry,’ he said sharply when he was close enough to be heard.

 

Draco wasn’t sure why he’d bothered waiting, he was loud enough to be heard across the entire hall. As with anything that involved the Golden Trio, but especially Harry, they were drawing a crowd.

 

‘Morning,’ Harry replied. The bite of toast he took was rather pointed but Draco wasn’t sure Weasley noticed. He knew there was no way Granger missed it. Harry seemed determined not to make a thing of his sitting at the Slytherin table and Draco was perfectly content to let him.

 

‘Mate, what the fuck?’

 

Harry pretended not to have any idea what Weasley was talking about. He ignored the obvious rage and confusion Weasley was exuding and used his toast to indicate Luna. ‘You should hear what Luna has planned for Christmas.’

 

‘Are you under some kind of spell?’ Weasley demanded.

 

Draco thought that was hilarious, but his attention was drawn away from Weasley when he felt Granger’s eyes burning holes into him. He met her gaze and raised a brow, wordlessly issuing her a challenge. He knew what he was saying with his look, he knew he was daring her to make a thing of it, but he wasn’t sure she understood the full implications of the challenge he was issuing.

 

Spending the night with Harry, seeing the way he was making a point to keep up with how things had been between them before Hogwarts started back up again, Draco was feeling secure in his relationship. He knew the place he had in Harry’s life and he wouldn’t be the one losing out if this turned into something ugly.

 

While Harry was studiously engaged in downplaying his sitting at the Slytherin table and trying to placate his friend, his other friend was studying Draco. Her eyes darted all over his face, trying to make something of his expression. He saw the way they darted down to his chest and realised she was thinking about the tattoo she’d seen. She frowned, looking back at his face and he knew he needed to change the arrogant and distant expression he was giving her. He softened his look slightly and watched in satisfaction as she darted a look once more at Harry before she looked to Luna and then she made her decision.

 

‘Good morning, Malfoy,’ she said softly, still a touch wary, and sat down beside Harry.

 

‘Granger,’ he greeted in return. He was perfectly civil, though not what anyone would call friendly, when he offered her the tea pot. ‘Tea?’

 

‘Thank you.’

 

Their calm interaction stumped Weasley and he stood gaping at his girlfriend, words forgotten. Eventually he managed a garbled, ‘Hermione!’

 

‘Sit down, Ron, you’re making a scene.’

 

Weasley gaped unattractively at them and it seemed as though he was about to stomp off to the Gryffindor table alone when Granger arched a brow and he seemed to deflate. He sank down onto the bench beside his girlfriend and although he shot a glare at Malfoy, he didn’t speak another word about the morning’s seating arrangements.

 

An awkward silence fell over the table and Draco became very aware of how much attention was focused on their little corner of the Slytherin table. It was why he affected a perfectly casual air when he broke the silence with a question for Luna, though not about her holiday plans even though that’s what they’d been discussing before they’d been interrupted.

 

‘Do you think Joseph will be a good Defence instructor, Luna?’

 

Weasley flinched when he spoke but other than scowling down at his eggs he didn’t comment. Granger looked interested by the question and Draco could appreciate that, although she didn’t know all the facts, she recognised there was more going on than she knew and therefore was reserving judgement until she possessed those facts.

 

Luna pondered the question, chewing thoughtfully on a banana before she replied with a shrug. ‘He didn’t fight in the war.’

 

Harry made an annoyed sound and gestured at Draco with a sausage. ‘I hate when you’re right.’ This statement seemed to confuse Weasley and Granger, but Harry wasn’t done, he focused back on Luna and asked, ‘Did you learn anything new this past fortnight?’

 

‘In Defence,’ Draco hastily clarified because he knew the kind of response such an open question could elicit from Luna.

 

‘Yes,’ Harry agreed, ‘because I’m not going to have time to run the DA again just so people can get decent exam results and not die while there are still Death Eaters at large.’

 

Sidestepping the completely idiotic notion that it was somehow Harry’s responsibility to make sure the other students were prepared (which Draco appreciated), Luna nodded her head. ‘Oh yes, I learned all about Professor Joseph’s encounter with the Ichchadhari naags.’

 

Draco locked eyes with Harry across the table as the Gryffindor winced. Knowing exactly what was now running through the man’s head Draco pointed his fork rather aggressively at Harry and snapped, ‘No.’

 

Harry, rather predictably, rolled his eyes. ‘I didn’t even say anything!’

 

‘You were thinking it!’

 

‘I thought we had a no legilimency rule for the breakfast table?’ Although the words had come from Luna, they sounded so eerily like his mother that both he and Harry could only stare at her.

 

Of course, they didn’t have much of a chance to dwell on that creepy likeness because Ron heard the words and, knowing nothing of the sentiment behind them, sneered at Draco, ‘Stay out of Harry’s head, Death Eater.’

 

This time Draco rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t need to be in his head, it’s written all over his face.’

 

Hermione made a strange noise then, attracting all of their attention. The colour seemed to have drained from her face and she was staring at Draco with eyes wide, although he didn’t know that she was actually seeing him, she appeared to be looking through him. There was a beat where they all looked at her expectantly, waiting for some sort of explanation but then she shook her head and seemed to dismiss whatever notion had so distracted her.

 

‘Sorry,’ she said, not sounding sorry at all. ‘What was written all over Harry’s face?’

 

Draco didn’t get a chance to answer her because the fourth year seemed to have finally worked up the courage to confront Draco again, as he stomped up to the table, this time accompanied by just three friends, to stand behind Weasley to glare across the table at him.

 

‘Can I help you?’ Draco questioned, nonchalantly buttering some toast.

 

‘Give me back my wand, Death Eater!’ the midgety fourth year demanded.

 

Draco looked up at him and simply said, ‘No.’

 

Harry kicked him gently under the table, not in rebuke but to get his attention. When Draco glanced at him Harry gave him a look that rather clearly asked if Draco wanted him to intervene. Draco kicked him back to say not yet and turned his attention back to the fourth year who didn’t seem to know what to do now that his request (demand) hadn’t immediately been met.

 

With a deeply put-upon sigh Draco made to detail just why he wasn’t about to give back his wand but Weasley stood up, leaning over the table to glare right in his face. ‘What the fuck, Malfoy? You took his wand?’

 

Draco refused to flinch away even if getting such an up-close look at Weasley was disgusting. ‘Yes.’

 

Weasley turned red and looked as though he wanted to reach out and grab the front of Draco’s robes, but Harry had had enough. He stood up, shoved Weasley back into his seat with a firm hand on his shoulder and turned to look at the fourth year whose smug expression upon seeing Weasley stand up for him rapidly fell at the sudden and intimidating sight of the Boy Who Lived glaring down at him.

 

‘You want your wand back?’ Harry asked not waiting for a response before he offered the conditional (and perfectly reasonable), ‘You can have it back just as soon as you admit to McGonagall why Draco has it in the first place.’

 

‘It’s my wand!’ he protested and then, because he seemed to think it was explanation enough, he cried, ‘He’s a Death Eater.’

 

Harry’s expression hardened and he stepped closer forcing the fourth year boy to hastily take a couple of steps back. All the more humiliating for him, he tripped over the hem of his robes in his haste and had to be righted by one of his friends. Draco skilfully managed not to smirk, continuing to watch the whole exchange impassively as he sipped on his tea and enjoyed his toast.

 

‘Was a Death Eater.’ Harry’s voice was like ice and it sent a pleasant thrill down Draco’s spine.

 

‘He deserves to be in Azkaban!’ one of the friends chimed in. They were starting to draw a crowd now, all the students who had turned back to their breakfast earlier when a fight hadn’t broken out between him and Weasley were turning to look again. Some of them were standing up to get a better view.

 

Draco winced. His time in Azkaban was something of a sore spot for Harry, the prat seemed to see it as a personal failure. He seemed to think that he’d failed Draco when he didn’t fight hard enough to keep him out entirely. Draco disagreed, he knew he deserved that three-month stint, as hard as it had been. Some days, he wondered if he shouldn’t have been there longer. There were some mistakes Draco felt he would never be able to make up for.

 

If Harry’s tone had been ice before it was positively glacial now. ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.’

 

Luna and Draco shared a look, a silent battle over who would step in if Harry’s temper got the better of him. Draco lost. Luna’s pointed look very clearly stated that he was Draco’s problem. He dearly hoped he wouldn’t have to intervene; it was a lot more fun watching Harry tear people to shreds on his behalf.

 

‘I know what he did,’ the friend insisted. ‘Everyone knows what he did!’

 

It seemed Draco wasn’t going to get his wish. Although before he was forced to stand up and intervene someone else did.

 

‘Mister Carrel, I suggest you return to the Hufflepuff table immediately,’ McGonagall ordered. ‘You can retrieve your wand from me after you serve your detention. Perhaps by then you will have learned not to curse your fellow students.’

 

Carrel shot one last glare at Draco before he turned tail and scurried back to the Hufflepuff table. McGonagall didn’t watch him go. Not waiting to be asked, Draco withdrew the wand from his robes and handed it to McGonagall.  She took it from him and tucked it into her own robes.

 

‘An interesting tactic, Mister Malfoy, I approve.’

 

Surprised, Draco grinned. ‘Cursing him into a coma would violate my probation.’

 

McGonagall’s lips twitched in something that might have been a smile. ‘Perhaps,’ she acknowledged before sweeping away.

 

Weasley gaped after her as the rest of the Hall turned away, disappointed by the lack of a fight. Granger also looked at McGonagall’s retreating form, but it was once again with a deeply thoughtful look. He had the uncomfortable feeling that look was going to cause him trouble.

 

The morning post arrived then, bringing with it letters for Luna, Granger and Harry. Two copies of the Prophetalso landed on the table, one knocked his knife to the floor with a clatter, the other only just missing Granger’s glass of juice. Draco watched Harry picking up his letter with an annoyed look as he unrolled his newspaper. He glanced at the front page, only giving the photo on the front of Kingsley in the Ministry’s atrium a brief look before Harry tossed his letter into his lap. Draco placed the paper down and picked up the letter. He only had to glance at the now broken seal before he laughed.

 

Harry glared at him.

 

The glare did nothing to Draco who took the letter, still tucked in its envelope and slipped it into his bag without bothering to read it. He didn’t need to. Harry’s look told him everything he needed to know about just what the goblins at Gringotts had to say. They were hardly a forgiving lot and Harry wasn’t going to get anywhere with them by getting annoyed. He’d tried that once already and it had gotten him exactly nowhere. Draco felt he had a much better chance of wearing the goblins down than Harry did. They certainly had no issue with him accessing Harry’s vaults or even his own. They’d been perfectly accommodating when it came to taking control over the contents of the Lestrange vaults and had been all too happy allowing him to oversee the move of Sirius Black’s property to Harry’s control.

 

The goblins were perfectly content to continue doing business with Harry’s gold, but they were champions at holding grudges.

 

This exchange, however, was one too many for Weasley. He stood up suddenly, seized his bag and stormed away from the table. Harry watched him go with a sigh, but Granger was looking at Draco, rather than her angry boyfriend.

 

‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Harry,’ were her parting words.

 

When they arrived in the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, Granger and Weasley were sharing a table toward the back by the windows. Harry made straight for the table behind them, leaving Draco little choice but to follow. Weasley stiffened when Draco settled on the chair beside Harry but didn’t turn around to say anything. They sat in weighted silence as the rest of the eighth year and seventh year Gryffindors and Slytherins filed in.

 

The class was probably larger than any previous NEWTs class had been but remained small enough with the limited number of students returning to feel somewhat intimate. Still, everyone who came in cast surprised and suspicious looks at Draco seated beside Harry. Girl Weasley shot him a look of aggravation when she realised she wouldn’t be sitting beside Harry and dropped into a chair beside one of her friends instead. Draco remained unaffected by her look.

 

He’d been studiously ignoring her although she’d remained on the periphery of his awareness thanks to Luna. The two of them had a quiet bet going about how long it would take her before she made a move on Harry. Luna seemed to have a lot more faith in her friend than Draco did – unsurprisingly.

 

Professor Joseph arrived just after the last student settled in and Draco observed the way some of the students straightened up in their seats (Granger amongst them) and how Joseph’s eyes trailed over the class. He saw it the moment the man realised Harry was there because he did a double take and then tried to recover without anyone being the wiser. It was far from a smooth movement and Draco chuckled under his breath.

 

‘Ah, Mister Potter,’ Joseph managed to keep his voice even as he spoke, ‘please see me after class to go over everything you’ve missed.’

 

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry replied with a dubious expression on his face that had Draco smirking.

 

Things didn’t much improve from there. Joseph started off the class talking about the assigned chapter in the textbook (Draco had read it and decided it wasn’t at all worth the time it had taken) and then struck up a discussion about the particular theory it discussed on defensive shields. Draco’s mind wandered and the glazed expression on Harry’s face told him he was just as bored.

 

With a glance at the front of the room to check that Joseph was still engaged in the same boring topic, Draco slid his chair closer to Harry’s and bent his head down to his ear to speak softly. ‘Do you think you’ve missed anything?’

 

‘I heard he’s got an interesting story about shapeshifting serpents.’

 

Draco sniggered. ‘Do you think he meant to talk about that or did Luna interrupt one of his boring discussions to ask?’

 

Harry chuckled at that and Hermione turned around to give them a warning glare. It didn’t have much of an impact. They went from talking in whispers about Luna to discussing potions and a bunch of random other things. They were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn’t notice when Joseph trailed from his discussion of the shield charm to one about practical use in duels.

 

They did notice when he snapped, ‘Mister Malfoy, what is it you find so much more interesting than my class?’

 

‘Everything,’ slipped out before he could censure himself.

 

Harry sniggered.

 

Joseph’s expression hardened. ‘Given your history, Mister Malfoy, and the reason you are back at this school, I would have thought you would be taking your studies more seriously.’

 

Draco did nothing to hide the snide twist of his lips at that. ‘I assure you, Professor, I take my studies very seriously.’

 

‘Then pay attention,’ Joseph ordered. ‘And I’ll be taking ten points from Slytherin.’

 

Draco nodded, unconcerned. He made a point of looking studiously interested in what Joseph had to say after that, but it didn’t last long. He didn’t say anything of interest and after just two minutes, Draco dropped his head onto his arms and contemplated a nap. This had Harry sniggering again which drew Joseph’s attention once more.

 

‘Mister Potter,’ he snapped, ‘am I to understand you find something funny in our discussion on duels.’

 

‘Only that it’s a discussion.’

 

There were a couple of startled gasps and more than a few quiet sniggers at Harry’s retort. Most of the students in this classroom had fought in some way in the war. Draco was certain every one of them knew more about duelling than Joseph realised. It was a safe bet that most of the students in seventh and eighth year had been personally involved in duels with Death Eaters. Sitting around discussing duels was almost certainly a waste of their time.

 

Professor Joseph may have missed the war, but he hadn’t missed the rumours and the stories about Harry Potter. It was obvious Harry’s response had swung Joseph’s opinion of Harry firmly into the negative. It was easy to take Harry’s attitude and words and assume (if you didn’t know him) that he was arrogant, stuck up and relishing his fame. Draco knew how easy it was to believe that, he’d been one of those people for years and while Harry wasn’t exactly giving the best first impression, Draco had watched Joseph slowly starting to alter his opinion of him thanks to the rumours and tales of his exploits with the Death Eaters during the war. It didn’t surprise him in the least that he was quick to form an opinion of Harry. It wouldn’t surprise him if he was just as quick to change that opinion either.

 

‘Congratulations,’ Joseph told Harry sourly, ‘you’re our first volunteer.’

 

‘Volunteer?’ Harry repeated, nonplussed.

 

Joseph nodded and there was something about the way he was looking at Harry that suggested this was exactly the kind of moment he was looking for. He and Harry hadn’t been paying any attention to the lesson at all, Draco hadn’t heard more than a handful of words about the shield charm they would be using – he doubted Harry had either. Joseph was counting on it, Draco concluded. He was counting on the fact that Harry hadn’t been listening, he was hoping to use this moment as an opportunity to knock Harry down a peg or two and get him to listen in class while cementing the other students’ respect.

 

Snape had once used the same technique on Harry. It had been much more effective.

 

‘Yes,’ Joseph confirmed. ‘You can demonstrate how effective this particular shield charm is.’

 

Harry shrugged and got to his feet. ‘It’s not my favourite, but sure.’

 

The vicious smile on Joseph’s face faltered imperceptibly as he beckoned Harry to the front of the classroom. Draco exchanged a wry look with Harry as he started toward the front of the classroom. Poor Joseph had really chosen the wrong student and the wrong class to try and make his point.

 

(A small part of Draco acknowledged they’d brought this on themselves by disrespecting Joseph, but he couldn’t quite work up the energy to be guilty.)

 

‘The incantation is simple enough,’ Joseph began. He demonstrated to the class the basic wand movement and correct pronunciation. Draco was sure he was the only one who caught the narrowing of Joseph’s eyes when he realised Harry wasn’t paying any attention to him, rather he was rubbing at a smudge on his wand with the pad of his thumb.

 

‘I’m going to cast a simple jelly legs jinx, Mister Potter,’ Joseph informed him, then to the class he said, ‘If cast correctly this spell will deflect the jinx back at the caster.’ He turned back to Harry. ‘Ready, Mister Potter?’

 

‘Yes, sir.’

 

Joseph attempted to take Harry off guard by casting without warning. Harry deflected the jinx without effort, and it shot back at Joseph with such force that when it hit the man’s hastily erected shield, his feet slid back across the floor a few feet.

 

Draco was impressed he even managed to keep his footing.

 

The smile slid off Joseph’s face and he reluctantly congratulated Harry on his well-cast shield. Harry merely shrugged. His disinterested response seemed to annoy Joseph even more which was probably why he didn’t let it go, instead asking, ‘Have you used this spell before?’

 

‘Fourth year,’ Harry replied, ‘Triwizard Tournament.’ He probably could have left it at that but because he was Harry and Joseph had annoyed him, he added, ‘I taught it to my DA students in Fifth year.’ He motioned vaguely at the rest of the students.

 

Joseph’s eyebrows rose and he turned to study the class. ‘How many of you have successfully cast this spell?’

 

Draco calmly raised his hand. He wasn’t the only one. Every eighth-year student raised their hand as did a good portion of the seventh years.

 

Joseph looked more annoyed than anything else at the response and turned to Harry as though it were somehow his fault that their teacher wasn’t properly prepared to teach a class of war veterans. Granger, ever the teacher’s pet, took pity on him because she hesitantly spoke up into the resulting silence.

 

‘Sir,’ she started, ‘each and every one of us fought in the war against Voldemort. We do know a lot of these spells but we’re missing the theory behind them.’

 

‘Not all of us, Granger,’ one of the seventh year Slytherins contradicted with a dark look.

 

Draco rolled his eyes. ‘How terrible for you,’ he said snidely.

 

‘Shut up, Malfoy,’ another Slytherin snapped. ‘You fought on the wrong side of the war.’

 

‘True,’ he agreed easily enough. He might have regrets and guilt and a whole host of feelings about his choices, but he wasn’t about to show weakness to a bunch of seventh years who knew nothing about what had really happened. ‘But I still fought.’

 

Weasley snorted, turning around to glare at him. ‘You’re a coward Malfoy,’ he snapped. ‘You didn’t fight at all, you ran away.’

 

‘You have no idea what you’re talking about, Weasley,’ Draco returned mildly, refusing to rise to the bait.

 

‘You’d be dead if Harry hadn’t saved your life,’ Weasley spat.

 

Draco grinned. ‘What does that have to do with my ability to duel?’

 

‘I think we’ve gotten a little off topic,’ Granger tried to intervene.

 

‘No,’ Joseph announced, ‘I think this is exactly what we need.’

 

Silence fell at that and all eyes turned back to look at the professor.

 

‘What do you mean, sir?’ Longbottom asked.

 

‘Another demonstration,’ Joseph explained. ‘You insist on telling me you know what it’s like to be in a real duel, well now you’ll get to show me. Mister Potter, you may go first.’

 

‘Against you?’ Harry asked dubiously, brow wrinkled.

 

‘Another student,’ corrected Joseph, ‘so I can properly assess your skills.’ He looked around at the class. ‘Any volunteers?’

 

Draco knew exactly how this was going to go. He watched as every student turned to look at him, almost each and every one with a nasty look on their faces. Granger was the only exception, she looked interested in a way that was not purely academic. Draco thought the nasty look on Girl Weasley’s face was directed somewhere else entirely.

 

Draco rolled his eyes. ‘I’ll do it.’

 

With more enthusiasm than was warranted, Joseph had all the students stand up and with a wave of his wand he moved the desks and chairs into a neat stack at the back of the classroom, the students themselves pressed back against the stack. They weren’t keeping quiet either, booing him and calling out encouragements to Harry.

 

Draco ignored them all and met Harry in the middle of the newly cleared space. They shared a grin before both started to tug their robes over their heads. Draco neatly folded his and set them safely aside, leaving him in snug dark jeans, dragon hide boots and a Slytherin green V-necked t-shirt that did nothing to hide the Dark Mark on his left arm or the wand holster on his right. He knew from experience that the tips of the stag’s antlers showed at the neck of the t-shirt.

 

Harry didn’t bother to fold his robes, tossing them aside until he was left wearing the same blue jeans and grey t-shirt Draco had watched him pull on just an hour before. Draco scrunched up his nose at the trainers on Harry’s feet but made no comment about his treatment of his robes. He too had a leather wand holster strapped to his right forearm. Stripping off his robes also revealed the large grim tattooed on his left forearm, Harry’s own tribute to someone who meant a great deal to him – Sirius Black.

 

There were quite a few surprised (and pleased) gasps. Draco chanced a glance at Granger and was unsurprised to find her looking at them with satisfaction as though they’d just proven a theory of hers correct. He supposed they likely had. He pointedly failed to acknowledge the look of amusement on Girl Weasley’s face because he refused to give her the satisfaction.

 

‘Uh,’ Joseph stuttered before he seemed to realise he was the one in control and stepped up beside the two. ‘As you lot keep telling me you’ve fought in a war, I’m not going to insist on using proper duelling rules. I want an accurate demonstration of what you’re capable of. Show me why it is you find my class so boring.’

 

Draco raised an eyebrow at the obvious challenge and Harry grinned.

 

Joseph moved back to join the other students and offered one final instruction, ‘Don’t kill each other.’

 

Draco fired the first spell. Harry blocked it even as he whipped a spell of his own back at him. Draco swatted it aside and grinned. ‘Scared, Potter?’

 

Harry laughed. ‘You wish.’

 

What followed was fast. It was dirty. They traded spells back and forth faster than anyone watching could properly keep track of. They danced around each other, never staying still. Dodging and weaving as much as they used shield charms. Draco took a weakened cutting curse to the face that split open his right cheek. Harry took a scorching hex to the leg that burned a nasty flare up his leg before he managed to put it out.

 

One of Harry’s infamous disarming spells hit its target and Draco’s wand whipped out of his hand. He didn’t wait for it to land in Harry’s outstretched hand. He dove across the room, closing the space between them, dropping into a slide at the last minute to take out Harry’s legs. Harry dropped hard to the floor and Draco made use of his elbow and a rather inventive twist to free one of the wands from Harry’s grasp.

 

Hands scrabbled, wands were grabbed, and they were both on their feet again. Draco was no longer aware of the crowd of students watching them. He didn’t see the way the sniggers and snide remarks about his chances had given way to gaping mouths and stunned silence. He was back in the empty ballroom at the Manor, back in the last fleeting month of the summer when he was trying to regain his strength and spent hours in the late afternoon working with Harry.

 

It was just the two of them and the thrill of a good duel.

 

Draco tried knocking Harry off his feet again but the Gryffindor took control of the movement, seizing his chance to tangle their feet and drag Draco down with him. There was a brief fight to gain the upper hand which ended with both of them lying on the floor in a tangle of limbs, each with a wand held at the throat of the other.

 

For a long moment the only sound in the classroom was that of their heavy breathing. Draco could feel the quick rise and fall of Harry’s chest against his own, the comfortable warmth of one of his legs tangled between Harrys. Their eyes met and they both grinned. Harry’s eyes were like liquid fire and if they really had been in the Manor it wouldn’t have taken much to tip the scale from duel to sex.

 

Thankfully, before either of them did something they’d rather not do in public (Draco felt like his list of these things was ever shrinking, especially when Harry was looking at him like that), Longbottom broke the silence.

 

‘Fuck me,’ he exhaled on an impressed whistle.

 

Weasley followed this up with a croaked, ‘Bloody hell, Harry, where’d you learn to fight like that?’

 

‘Ah,’ was all Professor Joseph managed to say while Draco and Harry untangled themselves. Draco pushed to his feet first and held a hand out for Harry to haul him up and watched as he winced when he put pressure on his burnt leg. Draco aimed a quick healing charm at Harry’s leg at the same moment, Harry aimed one at his cheek.

 

It was only when they turned to face Joseph and their classmates that Draco realised at some point during the duel, they’d traded wands. Draco held Harry’s wand out for him and accepted his own hawthorn wand in return, stowing it back in his holster before he ran a hand through his sweaty hair.

 

He wrinkled his nose. He could do with another shower after that.

 

Joseph cleared his throat.  ‘Who’s next?’

Chapter Text

His cell had a window. He thought, rather mockingly, this made him one of the lucky ones. It wasn’t much of a window and it certainly didn’t make him lucky. If he lay flat on the freezing stone floor and hugged his body against the back wall of his cell, he could peer out the foot long, three-inch-high gap in the stonework and glimpse the sea. Even that tiny window had two narrow steel rods through it and his view of the sea did little but remind him that he was nothing. That there was nothing to see and no way of escape from this hell.

 

The tiny gap seemed to suck out what little warmth his cell managed to hold onto and if the wind was just right it was also big enough to fill up with wet salty spray from raging waves crashing into the side of the island.

 

But that tiny window was the only reminder he had that there was a world outside Azkaban. It was his only reminder that this would end, that if he was strong, if he just held on, he would be free of this place.

 

Positive thoughts were few and hard to come by, harder still with every passing day. Time in his cell was weird and hard to keep track of. It didn’t seem as simple as noting the rising and setting of the sun. The cold seeping into his bones crept into his soul and when the dementors came looking for him they fed that feeling, swelling the fear and the shame inside him until there was nothing left but the cold dead feeling.

 

Some days, when the horrible creatures finally moved on, he couldn’t remember his own name, couldn’t remember that it wasn’t permanent that there was an end in sight.

 

Some days he did remember. He wasn’t sure which was worse.

 

Shivers wracked his body, but he stayed pressed against the floor and wall, staring out at the sea. He didn’t really see it anymore; his eyes didn’t work as well as they once had. The constant near darkness of his cell making any amount of light harsh on his eyes. Would he end up like his aunt? She’d been crazy before being sentenced to Azkaban, he was sure of it, but the woman who had come out – he’d been told – barely even resembled the woman his mother had grown up with.

 

His father had changed when he’d returned from his short stay. He was quieter, gaunt, shadows constantly under his eyes and his loyalty hadn’t quite been the same.

 

Draco would never be the same. He could feel Azkaban leaving its cold cruel mark on his heart, etching helplessness into his very soul. Some days, he wondered why the dementors didn’t just take it. Why wouldn’t they put him out of his misery? It wasn’t as though he didn’t deserve it, not after all that he’d done.

 

People had died because of him. Some of them by his own hand, some because of actions he took or didn’t take. This was where he belonged, in this cell for the rest of his life, the guilt of his actions fuelling his thoughts and his soul, slowly draining him to madness until eventually there was nothing left. Until eventually, sleep would claim him, and he would simply not wake.

 

He didn’t hear the sound of the cell door opening but it must have. Warmth pressed against his back, wrapped tightly around him, lifting him from the stone floor and easing him onto the rickety cot. Soft light suffused his cell, searing against his closed eyelids. He let the warmth take him, drew closer as it wrapped in tight bands around his waist, as long lengths of heat encased his legs. He didn’t resist, pressing closer and closer to that warmth, that heat, until steadily he became aware that his ice-cold nose was pressed against warm flesh, that the bands around his waist were strong arms, the heat encasing his legs were just legs belonging to someone else.

 

He breathed in deeply and finally felt some of the cold release its grip on his chest. He let himself sleep, dropping into that warmth and letting it take him away, letting it ease the pain that went beyond his freshly broken bones and the hint of an illness that wouldn’t abate.

 

Harry was there. His body a shield against the cruelty of Azkaban, his patronus a shield against the dementors. Finally, he eased into sleep, one not marred by terror and memories.

 

He woke to blistering warmth, layers of warm blankets and the presence of a solid male body wrapped around his own. When he opened his eyes the soft sunlight didn’t burn, it didn’t come through a tiny window by the floor but a series of windows taking up two walls and the clear sight of sky and forest.

 

Draco wasn’t in Azkaban. That was behind him. This was Hogwarts.

 

‘You were dreaming of Azkaban again,’ the words were soft, almost a whisper, against the shell of his ear. Harry dropped a soft kiss to the nape of Draco’s neck and pulled him, if possible, tighter back against his chest.

 

Draco gave a tiny nod and felt the sob rising up in his throat. Once he would have held it back, once he would have been horrified by the weakness. Instead, he turned in Harry’s arm and buried himself against his boyfriend’s chest and just let the tears come.

 

He wasn’t in Azkaban. Never again.

 

They went down to breakfast together, Harry keeping close without touching him. He was too emotionally wrung out to be annoyed about the worried looks Harry kept shooting him. He knew he looked awful, he was pale, paler than normal, his eyes puffy in a way that thankfully suggested a late night and lack of sleep rather than tears (that had been about all his spell work could achieve). It helped that he had dark circles under his eyes.

 

For the first time, he let Harry lead him to the Gryffindor table. He didn’t complain when Harry sat close to him, he didn’t say much of anything. He was quiet and withdrawn and he simply let Harry fill his plate with buttered toast, his mug with strong black tea. He ignored the darting eyes that were trying to subtly glance their way, ignored those students who didn’t bother with subtlety, it took all he had in him to reach out and pick up his mug of tea.

 

Today was going to be a bad day. The first he’d had in the weeks he’d been back at Hogwarts. Harry let him be vulnerable, he didn’t have to hold so tightly to his old masks. He didn’t have to be strong right now, Harry could be strong for him.

 

He didn’t really taste the tea as he drank it slowly. The toast may well have been cardboard on his tongue. But Harry’s thigh was pressed solidly against his own beneath the table and that grounded him in the here and now. It was a reminder that this was real and the dream he’d had was nothing more than memory.

 

Because that’s what it was, a nightmare based on a memory, on the endless days he’d spent locked away, lost and afraid. Afraid that he would never get out, afraid that if – when – he did that there would be nothing left of him. In the quiet and the cold, the warmth of Harry’s touch was nothing but a phantom longing. The peace that the stag shaped patronus bought was little more than wistfulness.

 

Harry may have visited him every day but the hour he’d stayed never seemed like enough. The warmth and peace he brought, the comfort of words and smuggled healing potions did only so much to penetrate the hours and hours Draco was alone in his cell. His mother was never allowed to visit and even if she’d been able, Draco wouldn’t have wanted her to know just how bad it was. He would never have wanted her to see her only son like that.

 

It was the same reason he always pushed Harry to leave after his allotted hour. Being the Boy Who Lived may have given Harry the pull to visit Azkaban daily when even the most influential family members were allowed only monthly visits, but Draco hated that he had to experience Azkaban even for that hour.

 

He remembered that first morning when he’d still been in the Ministry holding cells. He’d woken up to find Harry sitting on the floor beside what passed for a bed, knees drawn up to his chest, wand clenched tightly in his fist. He hadn’t been looking at Draco, his eyes were held fiercely on the slight shimmer of the powerful ward that formed the door to Draco’s cell. It had taken him far longer than it should have to realise the agony he’d been feeling for days had been eased to a dull ache. He hadn’t understood then, honestly some days he still didn’t understand, what had driven Harry to help him.

 

His impression of Harry Potter didn’t mesh with the boy who had spent all night on the floor beside his bed in a Ministry cell. True, his understanding of what made Harry tick was different than it had been before Voldemort forced him to take the Mark and find a way to sneak his Death Eaters into Hogwarts. The boy he’d thought Harry was would never have turned back in a room on fire to rescue him. (The boy Draco thought he once was would never have lied to his family about recognising Harry). But there was a huge difference between not being able to stand by and watch someone fall to a flaming death when you could do something, and sitting guard over someone you’d never even liked in the bowels of the Ministry.

 

That had been the start.

 

It hadn’t been a smooth start, just because Harry had stood guard over him didn’t erase the six years of antagonism. It didn’t erase the things that either had been through in the year that followed. It didn’t erase the harsh words, the bullying or the fact that Harry had once hit Draco with a Dark curse that had almost killed him.

 

It didn’t erase seventeen years of pureblood upbringing that had made Draco’s first words to Harry that morning a snide remark. It didn’t erase the way he couldn’t just say thank you or the way Harry’s temper got the better of him and he’d stomped out before Draco could find a way around his own pride to apologise. Sheer stubbornness (and a little gentle shoving from Luna) had driven Harry back.

 

Draco always had been somewhat obsessed with Harry Potter and if the stalking Harry had performed in sixth year was anything to go by (and they both knew it was), Harry had been just as obsessive about Draco in return. His stupid saving people complex, the very one that Dumbledore had once called “moral fibre” hadn’t let him stand by and watch as Draco was abused by Aurors.

 

Draco understood how that could drive Harry to keep coming back, it was exactly the kind of thing one would expect from a brave and loyal Gryffindor. Not that Draco had ever expected that loyalty and bravery to be directed at him. At the time he’d been convinced it had nothing to do with him, brushed it off as Harry’s Gryffindor inability to let someone be treated unfairly. If not that, then certainly the debt incurred when his mother lied to Voldemort in the forest and saved Harry’s life was surely reason enough. They’d exchanged so many sharp words and insults in that holding cell that when Draco found himself chained to a chair in front of the Wizengamot he’d been fully prepared to face a lifetime in Azkaban.

 

Instead, Harry had spoken for him. Luna had spoken for him. Both of them talking about things that had happened during the year Voldemort occupied his ancestral home. In a way, he’d expected the kind words from Luna. The time she’d spent as a prisoner in the dungeon had forced Draco to make decisions he never thought he’d be able to make. He was a coward, after all. But during Luna’s captivity he’d made decisions that he would have to live with for the rest of his life, some he was sure he’d never be able to reconcile. Draco Malfoy was a coward. He wasn’t a killer. Dumbledore had said as much on the Astronomy Tower.

 

If only Draco had known then what the war would force him to become. If only then, he’d known just how much worse it would become. If only he’d known that night on the Astronomy Tower what it would mean for Voldemort to truly have power over him and not just the threat of death hanging over his parents. If only he’d known then what he was truly capable of.

 

If only he’d known then, the kind of man he could become.

 

If, if, if, so many possibilities, so many chances and moments where things could have gone so differently. There were moments of choice he remembered so clearly, moments like the Astronomy Tower, the night after fifth year when he’d been summoned to Voldemort and given an ultimatum in the form of a reward.

 

Moments that stretched back further to a broken nose on the Hogwarts express, words whispered to a beetle or the arrogant behaviour in third year that could have ruined Hagrid. What if he went all the way back? What if he thought about that moment in Madam Malkins’ with a young boy in ill-fitting clothes?

 

What if he made different choices then? Would he have been someone different? Would he have become the man he was now? Would he have been brave and strong instead of cowardly and weak? Would he still have found himself in a dungeon watching one of Greyback’s men try to rape Luna?

 

He could still remember the screams, the pleas and the sound of his spell hitting Goren in the back of the head. Draco could still remember the horrifying sound as the body slumped over. He frequently remembered (in his nightmares) the picture of that hulking figure tossing Luna to the cold flagstones. The way he’d tossed his head back and laughed as his clawed fingers tore at her clothes, the way his muscled thighs pinned her legs to the floor. Draco remembered the sound of Luna’s terrified breaths as she pushed and shoved the body from on top of her. He could remember her cries of relief when his spell hit its mark and the threat was gone.

 

He still remembered Luna’s tear stained face as she panted heavily, eyes looking up at him wide and terrified as she whispered out, ‘Thank you.’

 

He shuddered, pressing his thigh more firmly against Harry’s, only just resisting the urge to crumple against the solid weight of Harry’s shoulder and lose himself in the comfort of Harry’s embrace, never mind that they were in public, never mind that, to most of the students, their friendship was bizarre and wrong and made no sense given what they’d been like for the last seven years.

 

Four months should not have been enough to overcome the years of hate and hurt between them. It shouldn’t have been enough to turn loathing and spiteful words into soft smiles and tender exchanges. Harry should hate him for all he’d done and all he’d put him through. But he didn’t and Draco didn’t hate him either.

 

Luna said it had always been there between them, that the attention they’d had for each other had so often eclipsed everything else it was a wonder they’d not noticed sooner. Luna had painted their obsession in a way that created a whole different picture. She’d made Draco’s jealousy of Ron and Hermione apparent in so many of his past actions. She’d placed Harry’s obsessive notice of Draco into a whole other context.

 

She’d been the one to convince him that Harry really did want him. She’d been the one to point out it was real, even after Harry had tried to tell him. It made him smile now, that first kiss, how he’d pushed Harry away with a snarl and yelled at him.

 

It made Luna laugh to repeat his indignant, ‘I will not be your bi crisis!’

 

Harry’s rolled eyes and the indulgent, ‘You idiot. If that was all this was, I’d go shag Zabini,’ that followed had hardly been the most romantic declaration of feelings.

 

Nor had Draco’s reflexively snarky, ‘You probably should, Blaise knows exactly what he’s doing.’

 

It had been worth the jealous scowl on Harry’s face, the heated second kiss and the grumbled words against his lips, ‘I kind of want to kill Zabini now.’

 

Draco thought he might have laughed but it was all a bit of a dreamy haze after that. He didn’t remember Luna leaving the room or the way she’d quietly shut the door behind her. He’d been aware of nothing but Harry. The feel of him, the taste of him.

 

Draco was self-aware enough to know that he’d always found Harry attractive. Fifth year was probably when he’d truly become aware of it, but he’d been wrapped up in exploring his sexuality, in trysts with Pansy and Daphne, with exploring Blaise and stolen blow jobs from Theo in dark corners. He’d really hit his teenage stride in fifth year and realising he was attracted to the skinny spectacled git had just been interesting wank fodder and nothing more.

 

Sixth year had happened and then he’d spent seventh year trapped in the Manor with Voldemort and so many Death Eaters that it had taken those months of Harry’s friendship after the war for him to realise the basic attraction had flared dramatically until it had somehow, almost without his notice, become a raging inferno of attraction and feelings.

 

When he’d finally realised the truth, he’d been so desperate to keep Harry from finding out, so desperate not to ruin the friendship that had grown between them because he so desperately needed it, that he’d completely missed the signs that Harry was falling for him too.

 

Somehow, in realising his feelings for Harry, Draco had failed to remember that while Harry had been steadily helping Draco put himself back together, he’d been doing the same for Harry. While Draco had struggled to come back from Azkaban and the things he’d done in the war, Harry was drowning in loss and guilt for things he had no control over. While Harry taught Draco how to be a better man, strengthening the traits Luna had witnessed in the Manor’s dungeon, while he helped Draco build back the strength needed to stand on his own two feet, he’d been offering Harry something just as valuable in return.

 

Draco had given Harry someone to talk to, someone who understood he was Harry and not just the Chosen One or the Saviour. When Harry walked down Diagon Alley people wanted to touch him, to talk to him and thank him. When they saw him, they saw the teenage boy who ended Voldemort’s reign of terror.

 

When Draco looked at him on those first few visits, all he’d seen was that annoying git who always beat him at quidditch, who’d traded insults with him. He’d seen the boy who loved treacle tart, who excelled at Defence but was pants at Potions. He hadn’t seen the Saviour of the Wizarding World because he’d (more than) once seen Harry make a complete tit of himself, tripping over his feet to impress a girl or blowing up a cauldron with his complete lack of finesse with powdered ram’s horn.

 

Harry was just Harry; horrible hair, hideous glasses and finger smudged wand. He’d long stopped caring that Harry was famous, long stopped believing what being friends with the Boy Who Lived could do for him. That appeal had worn off with a spurned gesture of friendship.

 

Draco saw no reason not to mock Harry’s horrible hand-me-downs or point out the impracticality of an Auror wearing glasses. Harry needed those things from him as much as Draco needed the warm smiles and lingering looks that reminded him Azkaban was his past, that Hogwarts was the here and now. That Harry was his future.

 

Drawing him from his introspection, Weasley dropped into the seat across from Harry as Granger took the seat across from Draco (with a lot more grace). While Weasley glared at him, Granger took in his appearance and offered him instead, a sympathetic smile. Neither of them had any idea what was going on but Granger, bless her – and Draco was feeling it was a blessing right then – was trying to be understanding. For Harry. Always for Harry.

 

It was that understanding that had him offering a soft, ‘Hello.’

 

She startled him in return with her own soft, ‘Good morning, Draco.’

 

He had to swallow around a sudden lump in his throat. No, despite his attempts to remember the positive outcomes of the summer, today was not going to be a good day for him. He thought he might just spend the day out in the grounds. He couldn’t stomach the thought of locking himself away in his room again this weekend. Even being in the Great Hall was causing a tightness in his chest.

 

Weasley wasn’t helping.

 

‘Draco?!’ he sputtered, almost spraying the table with chewed up sausage. His face went red as he gaped at his girlfriend for the unwarranted (and polite) use of Draco’s given name.

 

Granger ignored Weasley, instead addressing her next words to both Draco and Harry. ‘If you’re up to it,’ she spoke calmly, as though she wasn’t desperately curious, ‘I’d like to hear about your summer.’

 

Draco flinched. He tried not to, and he knew she didn’t mean what his mind had interpreted but everything was just so raw this morning and so he flinched. In spite of his earlier thoughts, Granger’s mention of the summer months was a sharp reminder that for most of the Wizarding World Draco’s summer meant Azkaban. It meant paying for his crimes. It didn’t mean lazy afternoons in the grounds with Luna or passionate afternoons with Harry – whether it was training or sex. Or training that turned into sex.

 

For most people, what they knew of Draco’s summer came from the Daily Prophet and its post war coverage. He sincerely doubted anyone had paid attention to the single photograph that had appeared in the Quibbler of the day his house arrest had ended where he, Harry and Luna were captured laughing and smiling over lunch. Luna had charmed the camera herself, making sure to capture the moment so she had something to remember the day by.

 

It was her father who had published the photo in an article about putting the war behind them and making positive steps to rebuild what was lost (“see above the wonderful balance of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, in a true show of setting aside the rivalries that characterised the war”).

 

Harry, pressed as close to him as he was, felt his flinch. He didn’t acknowledge it, though he did ask, ‘Can it wait?’

 

Granger hesitated, eyes darting between Draco and Harry before she said, ‘It can. But Harry, everyone is already talking about that duel yesterday, people are going to start asking questions.’

 

Draco laughed, a raw broken sound that he hated to hear coming from his own mouth, but Granger’s words were a drastic understatement. People were talking, yes, they were already asking questions as well.

 

If he’d thought people were looking at him and whispering about him before his duel with Harry, it was nothing compared to now. Before he’d been a Death Eater, yes, and students had thrown harsh words and curses his way but there’d been a lighter element to it. As though they’d been acknowledging him as a Death Eater while still viewing him as a kid, as just another student like them. The duel with Harry had altered that perception. Before, his being a Death Eater was an excuse to torment him, to curse him and jinx him for being a git and an ass who chose the wrong side. They’d treated him more as the son of a Death Eater than an actual follower of Voldemort and their spells and attitudes had matched that belief.

 

Now it was different. Now they thought they knew what he was capable of and it scared them. Now, he was a true Death Eater in their eyes and not just the son of one. Where before there’d been anger and righteousness, now there was true fear. Now they looked at him and they didn’t sneer and remember the boy who threatened to tell his father. The boy who played up an injury to get exactly what he wanted. They didn’t see the rich and arrogant git with the father who could buy anything he wanted, even the Minister for Magic.

 

When they looked at him now, eyes skittering away when caught looking too long, they saw his aunt. They saw the Carrows who had tortured them and Greyback who had a thing for kids and eating raw meat outside of the full moon.

 

The old Draco would have liked that, would have used it to his advantage. He would have seen a way to manipulate the students much like his father had always manipulated the people who owed him favours or had things he wanted. The old Draco would have seen that fear and seen all the ways it could bring him money, power and glory.

 

The Draco who had fought in and survived a war hated it, hated how hard it would make it for him to just live his life. Hated how far this pushed him from changing people’s perceptions and gaining acceptance. The Draco he was now hated how hard it would make things for Harry who was determinedly sticking by his side. If people feared him now, if they saw what he was capable of and it terrified them, then what chance was there that Harry’s easy acceptance of him would go unremarked.

 

The only thing the duel had done for Harry at the moment was increase the level of respect and hero-worship he was getting. Even Professor Joseph now believed all the stories about the Boy Who Lived. He’d spoken briefly with Harry after their Defence class and apologised for not understanding what Harry was capable of while also wondering exactly what it was he thought he was going to get out of the class.

 

Harry had only been able to shrug and admit he wasn’t sure, but he’d apologised for disrespecting Joseph and they’d parted on a more even footing.

 

How long would it take for people to start questioning Harry? How long before people wondered if he was under a spell or being blackmailed? The wizarding world had turned on Harry before, Draco could see it happening again, and all because now he was a real threat. All because the silly wannabe Death Eater had shown his true colours.

 

Draco hadn’t gotten the same kind of respect from Joseph that Harry had. Apparently, what was okay for Harry to do was not okay for a convicted Death Eater. When Harry showed off his knowledge and skills, it was a sign of how strong and powerful and good he was, how deserving he was of the Chosen One and Saviour titles, but when Draco did it, it was a sign of how much he knew. Of the horrible things he was capable of.

 

Draco didn’t think pointing out that he hadn’t been truly capable of most of that before Voldemort died would be helpful. Sure, he’d known all of those spells (and quite a few more) but he’d never been able to use them so effectively before he’d started training with Harry. There were advantages to spending hours every day for a month duelling with Harry Potter. They just weren’t advantages anyone else was likely to acknowledge let alone approve of.

 

Well, no, that wasn’t true, strictly speaking. The Ministry were perfectly happy to acknowledge it when it suited them, but he wasn’t going to dwell on that just yet. He didn’t want to dwell on anything right then, he didn’t want to be feeling so broken, he didn’t want to let the bad days win.

 

‘It’s alright,’ he spoke up, glancing at Harry before he looked at Granger. ‘I can talk about it.’

 

Because that was really where Harry’s hesitance came from and why Granger had acquiesced so quickly when Harry had shot her down. Weasley might have been an oblivious idiot but Granger wasn’t, and she was making an effort not to alienate her best friend before she had all the answers. Draco wondered if that meant she was willing to alienate him once she did have those answers. He’d always thought she’d keep on hating him, that even when she learned the truth about his relationship with Harry that she’d never trust him and focus all of her effort on getting Harry to see sense and break up with him.

 

The way Granger was looking at him, curious but kind, suggested he’d been so very wrong about her.

 

Both Harry and Granger looked at him, eyes searching for any sign he wasn’t alright and that this should wait and the very fact that Granger was looking at him that way truly drove home how important Harry was to her. She had every reason to distrust him, every reason to hate him for what he’d done to her and the people she loved but here she was being nice to him, showing understanding when rightfully she should have whipped out her wand and hexed him six ways from Sunday. All she had to go on was a tattoo, his friendship with Luna and Harry’s friendly behaviour, but it seemed that, for the moment, that was enough for her to reserve judgement.

 

Perhaps not so strangely then, it was Granger’s compassion that gave him the additional strength he needed to straighten up and pull on his mask. He watched her eyes widen and body stiffen at the abrupt change. In contrast, he felt Harry relax beside him. Draco smirked. It wasn’t a perfect mask, there were still signs in the puffiness of his eyes and the paleness of his cheeks that all wasn’t well, but anyone taking a quick glance at him wouldn’t notice, they’d be put off by the arrogant Malfoy smirk. They would only see the cold and aloof front he’d been putting on since term began.

 

‘That’s honestly quite disturbing,’ she muttered under her breath.

 

Harry laughed and warmth flared anew in Draco’s chest. He’d had so many fears for things to come once he’d returned to Hogwarts. He’d feared Harry changing his mind and turning his back on everything they’d built over the summer. He’d feared Granger and Weasley driving a wedge between them and forcing Harry to choose between his friends and his boyfriend. Draco didn’t know if Granger was recognising that choice, if she was seeing it standing there and had made a conscious effort not to put Harry through that. Or maybe there was no effort needed, maybe she was seeing what Andromeda saw in the way Harry’s shoulders were lighter, the weight of grief slowly lifting off his shoulders. The way somehow, despite history saying it should be otherwise, Draco managed to bring the light out in Harry. That despite the war and the losses, that Draco could make Harry smile and laugh. That maybe he really was the one to give Harry the love he deserved.

 

(That maybe Draco deserved that same love in return.)

 

He dearly hoped Granger could see all that because someone was likely going to have to explain it to Weasley. His ears were turning red and he kept glancing between the three of them as though one more look would make sense of it all. He might not have looked at Draco and Harry’s interactions and drawn the same conclusions as Granger, but he’d drawn some conclusions after their duel yesterday. As much as Draco would like to pretend otherwise, Ron Weasley was not an idiot. He was Harry’s best friend. He’d been through things by Harry’s side that Draco could never compete with. Things he’d never even want to, but they were things that Weasley had jumped into simply because it was Harry and his friend needed him.

 

Draco had never had friendship like that. Luna was the first person he’d ever stepped up and helped even when it could have gotten him killed.  Weasley wouldn’t have (and hadn’t) thought twice about doing those same things for Harry. Draco was confident he would step up now, that he wouldn’t hesitate to help Harry or Luna if the situation called for it, but he would never have helped Crabbe or Goyle that way. He would only have stepped in to help Pansy or Blaise if he’d seen some way for it to benefit himself. Until Harry and Luna, he’d only ever read about the kind of friendship that would inspire that level of loyalty. The relationship Harry had with Granger and Weasley wasn’t something he understood. He’d watched them over the years and been jealous and envious but at the same time he’d scoffed and mocked them for daring to have something he so desperately wanted.

 

It had taken becoming friends with Harry and more than a few sessions with a mind healer to realise that he’d had those opportunities in his own early life but hadn’t been able to recognise them or act on them because of the way his father had taught him to treat the people around him.

 

Just one more thing, on a list of many that he blamed his father for. Just another thing he blamed himself for. How different would life have been for him if he’d seen beyond his father’s teachings?

 

But there were those ifs again. Draco couldn’t change the past. Even if someone handed him the most powerful time turner in existence and offered him the chance to go back and change his own choices, he wouldn’t take those choices back. All the bad things in his past shaped him into the man he’d become. They’d shaped him into the man who could understand Harry, who could understand his dark days and his good ones. Those choices had shown him just how important the decisions he made were.

 

He might be Draco Malfoy, Death Eater, but he was also Draco Malfoy, survivor. He’d survived the war, survived Azkaban, survived beatings and breakdowns and the slow and steady erosion of his own self, first under Voldemort’s orders and then in the actions and hunger of the dementors of Azkaban. He’d taken those broken shattered pieces and he’d built something stronger. He’d built them into someone he could be proud of. Someone, Luna could call a friend.

 

Someone Harry Potter could love.

 

Of course, they never actually made it out to the grounds for that talk. McGonagall intercepted them on their way through the Entrance Hall, her expression hard. ‘Mister Malfoy, come with me.’

 

‘Headmistress?’ he questioned, already turning to follow her even as his heart sank and what little good feeling he’d managed to cobble together evaporated.

 

McGonagall’s expression softened allowing Draco to see the worry she was concealing.

 

‘Oh.’

 

‘No,’ Harry said firmly, grabbing hold of Draco’s arm to still him and staring hard at McGonagall. ‘He can’t.’

 

Draco tugged his arm free. ‘It’s fine.’ Draco started moving up the stairs toward McGonagall’s office. The Headmistress swept after him, lips pursed. Draco appreciated that this didn’t sit well with her but there wasn’t much she could do about it. There wasn’t much Harry could do about it either but that didn’t stop him from trying.

 

‘No,’ Harry disagreed sharply, hurrying to catch up. It sounded like a bewildered Granger and Weasley were following them. ‘You shouldn’t have to do this,’ he insisted.

 

Draco scoffed, he didn’t have a choice and they all knew it. He’d gotten off easy with three months in Azkaban and a month of house arrest. This was just the price he had to pay for his freedom. It wasn’t like it was a bad price, either, under other circumstances he would have quite enjoyed the work, but both McGonagall and Harry were right to be worried. If he were anyone else then being called on by the Ministry to offer his Dark Arts expertise following the clean up after the war would have been an honour, something he could have built a respectable career on.

 

But he wasn’t anyone else, he was a convicted Death Eater. Most of the aurors he was called to work with hated him, they didn’t care what kind of situation they dragged him into, they didn’t care if he was hurt or injured, they probably wouldn’t care if he was killed as long as he solved their problem for them first.

 

He’d only been called on three times in the two months since Azkaban but each time he’d returned weak, shaky and twice with curse injuries Madam Pomfrey had struggled to heal.

 

It was why the relief he felt when they reached the gargoyle and found Katarina Winthrop and old Abe Mendenhall waiting for them had him almost wilting. Winthrop was young but competent, she’d come through training with Tonks and although she’d never been part of Dumbledore’s Order, she was one of the good ones. She always treated him fairly, being of the belief that he’d done his time and that someone like Harry Potter wouldn’t have spoken up for him if he wasn’t somewhat deserving of a second chance.

 

Mendenhall on the other hand, was old, scarred and had been through both wars and, in his opinion, Draco made for a pathetic Death Eater. He could have been like so many other aurors, painting Draco with the same brush as his father but he wasn’t and that meant that Draco stood a chance of coming out of this alive and maybe even unharmed.

 

‘Malfoy,’ Mendenhall greeted, voice deep and husky from decades spent smoking. ‘Time to go.’

 

Winthrop at least had the curtesy to offer him an apologetic grimace as she held the restraints out to him. With a deep sigh he took the restraints she held out and snapped them onto his own wrists. The runes on the manacles glowed faintly, he wouldn’t be able to move more than a few feet from whichever of them they were tied to until they took them off him. They didn’t hurt, not really, but the pull on his magic was uncomfortable.

 

‘Is that really necessary?’ McGonagall demanded. ‘He’s cooperating.’

 

‘Yes,’ Mendenhall tersely replied.

 

Winthrop pulled a face behind him that might have made Draco smile under different circumstances. He offered Harry a wry smile as Winthrop gripped his bicep tightly and Mendenhall’s fingers dug into his shoulder. Harry’s outraged glare for Mendenhall was the last thing he saw before the portkey activated and he was swept away from Hogwarts.

 

When his feet next landed on solid ground he opened his eyes and found himself looking up at the burned-out shell of a seaside cottage. The image was blurred around the edges and he blinked his eyes a few times before his magic worked through the wards around the cottage and showed him that far from being a burned out shell, the cottage was well maintained, with a flourishing garden and gleaming windows that must have been spelled to protect them from the sea spray.

 

The smell of the sea threatened to drag him back to this morning’s nightmare and he had to swallow around a suddenly dry mouth. As he did, he became aware of the taste and feel of magic in the air. It wasn’t something he liked to think about, his new sensitivity to magic, he’d earned it the hard way through torture and pain and nothing good came of dwelling on it.

 

It did help him do the jobs the aurors demanded of him.

 

‘Know this place?’ Mendenhall growled at him.

 

Draco looked around and noticed for the first time they weren’t alone. A dozen members of the DMLE were ranged around the cottage just beyond the limits of the wards. They all had their wands in hand and were waiting on Mendenhall to give them the go ahead. Mendenhall for his part, was waiting on Draco.

 

‘No,’ Draco answered honestly. ‘I can feel the wards though.’

 

Winthrop nodded. It had become standard practice in the aftermath of the war to check any potential Death Eater properties for an ever-increasing number of Dark wards. Some of them could only be crossed or dismantled by someone bearing the Dark Mark. Some of the places the Ministry had been turning up lately were left over from the first war against Voldemort.

 

Draco truly was providing them with something they’d never had before.

 

After the first war, when Voldemort was little more than a bodiless spirit living off rats, the Dark Mark had faded from the arms of his followers, enough so that people like his father had been able to lie and pay to keep out of Azkaban. Voldemort hadn’t liked that, had made a point of favouring those who had gone to Azkaban rather than renounce him. As punishment he’d made changes to the spells on his Mark. The one Draco had on his arm would never fade. He would forever bear the mark of his terrible choices.

 

There was an upside, however. The presence of the Mark on the arm of a free Death Eater gave the recovering Ministry the chance to properly rid the world of all the threats Voldemort and his followers left behind. Oh, the Ministry’s curse breakers may have been able to break through eventually but doing so would likely have destroyed any evidence left behind. Draco provided a unique opportunity, and, in his position, he couldn’t say no.

 

With a grimace of distaste, he withdrew his wand and strode into the wards.

Chapter Text

The realisation had come to him on one of the many trips back from Azkaban. He’d had a lot of realisations like that over the summer since he’d started visiting Draco – and he was Draco now, not Malfoy. There was something about the despair of Azkaban, the dark horrors it made you contemplate, how the damp cold atmosphere could seep into your very soul thanks to the dementors, that brought about a certain amount of desperate soul searching and world-shattering realisations.

 

He wasn’t even sure what triggered this one. He’d been visiting Draco for a month, talking with him for an hour (or more if he got a sympathetic guard – Draco’s concept of time in Azkaban truly was woeful) every day and although it had been about clearing the air between them at first (the confrontations over their past had not been pleasant at all – his temper had gotten the better of him more than once), now they could talk about other things as well.

 

He couldn’t even remember how the conversation had come about, it hadn’t felt like one of those conversations that usually ended in snapped words and sharp apologies, but the more he talked to Draco the more he realised the guilt that he carried around over Dumbledore’s death. It had cost Harry nothing to ease that guilt for Draco, to tell him in whispers, as they huddled together for warmth and comfort beneath the calming light of his patronus, about horcruxes and the curse that Voldemort had used to protect the Gaunt ring.

 

Azkaban had wrought Draco bare. It had stripped him of his control over a lot of his emotions, taken away the masks and barriers he’d always hidden behind, the ones that came from his father and the arrogance he’d always been told would give him the power he needed. Without those masks, without that control, Draco had cried. A great weight had lifted from his chest and his heaving sobs had brought tears to Harry’s eyes.

 

The fault for Dumbledore’s death lay at Voldemort’s feet. At Dumbledore’s own, at Snape’s for being willing to enter into that bargain, but it did not lie at Draco’s.

 

He’d stayed with Draco until the sobs had trailed off into sleep – not a restful one because sleep in Azkaban was never restful – and then he’d called for the guard and slipped out of the cell.

 

The realisation hadn’t come until he was halfway across the water, back toward the dry warmth of the mainland. He’d taken that journey multiple times, possibly dozens of times, by then, and yet that was the first time he leant over the side and retched.

 

The Draco broken and crying in his cell had reminded Harry of the Draco he’d stumbled across in the bathroom in sixth year. He’d been so pale then, so tired and scared, so close to giving up – and Harry now knew what giving up would have meant, the death of his family, the loss of Draco’s own life – and Harry had seen only what he wanted to see, only what he thought confirmed the image of Draco in his head. He’d seen a Death Eater who deserved what he got, he’d seen sharp scathing words and the beginnings of an Unforgiveable.

 

He hadn’t seen a terrified boy. How could he have? When he looked in the mirror, he didn’t see one, why should he have seen one when he looked at a broken Draco? Especially with all the harsh words, the bullying and insults, between them. Harry was fighting a war and so was Draco, they were just on different sides. He’d stepped into that bathroom and the moment Draco opened his mouth to spill forth angry words, Harry had fallen right back into the same old trap because if he had to see Draco as the broken pawn then he had to see himself as one too.

 

Harry had heaved again, spilling what little remained in his stomach out into the sea. The wizard controlling the boat didn’t even bat an eye, he’d seen this before (was actually quite surprised Harry hadn’t done it before given how often he visited) but for Harry this trip was different. He’d thought when he first started visiting Draco that he owed it to Narcissa, he’d thought he was doing it out of some weird obligation because he hadn’t been able to keep Draco out of Azkaban the way he had his mother.

 

He’d not realised he was doing this for Draco. He’d not realised it had all been for Draco.

 

And he’d not realised just how little Dumbledore had cared about Draco’s life. Until that very moment, he hadn’t realised how much pain Dumbledore could have saved Draco from, how much he could have helped protect Draco. Harry hadn’t realised until that moment just how much of Draco’s life – like Harry’s – had been shaped by adults who didn’t protect their children.

 

Lucius Malfoy was a terrible man; nothing would ever change Harry’s mind on that. He’d made bad choices, had the wrong kind of beliefs when it came to the wizarding world and pureblood rights, but he loved his son. Harry knew now that he hadn’t been there when Voldemort summoned Draco and gave him the task of killing Dumbledore. As much as he hated the bastard, he had no doubt that Lucius Malfoy would have done everything in his power to protect his son from a task he was never meant to complete.

 

Narcissa had done what she could, enlisting Snape under the power of an Unbreakable Vow (and Merlin even Bellatrix had helped her with that – crazy insane Bellatrix had helped protect her nephew). In the end, when she’d finally seen a chance for it to all end, Narcissa had lied directly to Voldemort to save her son (and saved Harry and possibly the entire world – wizarding and muggle – in the process).

 

Merlin, even Harry – now – was doing everything he could to save Draco.

 

But Dumbledore hadn’t.

 

Dumbledore had known from the very beginning what Draco had been tasked with. He’d arranged it with Snape to finish the task so that Draco wouldn’t have to. Once, the knowledge that Dumbledore had asked Snape to kill him so Draco wouldn’t have to, had been enough. It wasn’t now. Now he saw the damage that year had done to Draco. Now he saw how a year under pressure from Voldemort had broken something in Draco. Now he could see how alone Draco had been, how scared, how hopeless. He saw that boy in the bathroom and compared him to the same excited (arogant) boy he’d met all those years ago in Madam Malkins’ and Harry cried.

 

Harry cried because he could see his own life in Draco’s. He could see years and years spent being abused and neglected at the Dursley’s. He could see summers locked in a room with bars on the window, and years of physical violence from Dudley that was overlooked by his aunt and uncle because they’d never liked him, because they’d never wanted him.

 

In his own years before Hogwarts and even the ones during his time there, Harry could see Dumbledore’s careful planning. He could see Dumbledore’s hand in every action. It was in the way Mrs Figg made his time with her torturous just so he could keep coming back, it was in the way Petunia’s resentment of him had festered. He saw it in the slow trickle of information he’d been given, and the way Dumbledore failed to explain anything of importance until it was too late.

 

How different would things have been if he hadn’t been forced back into that house after third year? How different would things have been if only Dumbledore had explained the reason he’d wanted Harry to learn Occlumency? If, if, if, so many different variables, so many different ways in which Dumbledore could have acted that would have saved Harry so much pain and loss. So many different conversations that could have led to the war ending sooner, that could have led to Harry understanding his role and being better prepared. How many months had they wasted traipsing across Britain and hiding from Voldemort because they didn’t know enough?

 

Dumbledore had left Hermione clues, but it had taken them months to decipher them.  How many more lives could have been saved with a simple conversation with the old headmaster about the Hallows? How many lives could have been saved if any of a million different actions had been taken? How many lives would have been saved if people had put less store in prophecy?

 

Because Harry had never needed to be the one to kill Voldemort. Hermione could have killed him. Luna could have killed him. Dumbledore could have. Once the horcruxes were destroyed (and yes, Harry knew this would have meant his death) anyone could have fired the killing curse that ended Voldemort. So many years had been wasted setting stock in prophecy. How different would things have been if Dumbledore had simply told him what he wanted from Slughorn? How differently would Harry have acted if he’d known all he needed from Slughorn was confirmation that Voldemort had divided his soul into seven pieces?

 

He’d barely even noticed when they arrived at the little dock. Barely noticed the way his legs shook beneath him or the way he’d brushed off the proffered hand and sympathetic smiles of the guards. He’d just had to get away. He’d apparated without any clear understanding of where he was going – which was terribly dangerous in its own way – but he hadn’t been able to clear that terrifying sickness that had come with the realisation that to Albus Dumbledore, Draco hadn’t meant enough to save him, not until the very end, not until it no longer mattered. He couldn’t shake the disgusting feeling that he’d been just as much a pawn to Dumbledore as Draco had been to Voldemort.

 

He couldn’t go to Ron and Hermione; they were still in Australia. He couldn’t go to the Burrow. He loved the Weasley’s dearly, but they’d kept so many truths from him on Dumbledore’s orders. He wouldn’t burden Luna with this, not when she and her father were still recovering. Everyone he might have gone to was dead. Sirius and Remus, his parents. Even Snape.

 

Maybe that was why he’d found himself in front of Malfoy Manor. Maybe that was why he’d gone to Narcissa. He hadn’t seen her since Draco’s trial (she’d been allowed to attend), had done little more than send her an owl telling her that he’d been to check on Draco, but when she’d opened the door she’d smiled at him (a little coldly, yes, but still a smile) and he remembered, now, how awkward and confusing he’d been, standing there blurting out his words.

 

But she’d taken hold of him and swept him inside and she’d listened as he babbled and ranted and sobbed and apologised. Merlin, he’d apologised again and again for not helping Draco sooner, for not stopping Voldemort sooner, for a lot of things, most of which he still doesn’t remember.

 

He’d seen a side of her no one but Draco got to see that day. (He still gets to see that side of her.)

 

About the only thing he could remember clearly from that evening was Narcissa softly saying, ‘Albus Dumbledore did not do right by my son or you, Mister Potter.’

 

McGonagall was supposed to do better.

 

Harry knew he wasn’t being fair, he’d paced agitated circles around her office while she had the politically polite, adult version, of a shouting match with Kingsley through the floo, after all. That didn’t stop him from being angry that she’d allowed two aurors into Hogwarts and just stood there with lips pursed as they whisked Draco away via portkey. It wasn’t Kingsley’s fault either, but Harry had already tried arguing with Robards and that hadn’t gotten him anywhere, which was when McGonagall had taken over and demanded to speak to Kingsley.

 

About the only consolation Harry had, was that Draco was at least with two aurors who took their job seriously and didn’t actively wish Draco harm. There’d been too much of that on the last one of these little tasks the Ministry had taken Draco on.

 

When he’d pointed that out to Robards, the gruff head auror scowled at him and snapped, ‘I know Potter. Why do you think I assigned Winthrop and Mendenhall?’

 

They’d traded a few more words back and forth but since Harry was effectively arguing with his boss, McGonagall had stepped in before Harry did something stupid that got him fired and booted from the auror program before he’d even gotten a proper start.

 

But that was an hour ago. Since then Harry had paced some more, angrily snapped at a group of giggling fifth years and jinxed two Ravenclaw fourth years more harshly than he’d intended when he’d overheard them gossiping about seeing Draco Malfoy in chains being arrested by the aurors and dragged back to Azkaban.

 

Hermione had sorted that one out and Sprout, who had witnessed the clean-up, suggested in a friendly tone that perhaps they shouldn’t be gossiping about things they didn’t understand. She’d patted Harry on the shoulder and told him Draco would be just fine, leaving him feeling rather fond of her but Ron rather confused.

 

He hadn’t given much thought to what his friends must be thinking. Being in a terrible rage over what the Ministry was doing hadn’t exactly left him calm and level-headed enough to have the long overdue conversation he really had been meaning to have with his two best friends.

 

How he’d managed to avoid it was honestly just a combination of his usual dumb luck and his trademark obliviousness.

 

He didn’t see how he could avoid it now, especially when Hermione had to take him by the arm and steer him away from the not-at-all repentant looking fourth years and back toward the relative safety of the eighth-year common room. Thankfully, as it was actually quite a nice day outside and, as the eighth years had the freedom to go into Hogsmeade whenever they felt the need, the common room was deserted. He stomped over to the large curved window seat and climbed up to rest his back against the wall, knees drawn up so that he could gaze moodily down at the forest.

 

It was the perfect kind of day they’d have taken advantage of back at the Manor during the summer. Draco didn’t much like being inside anymore and Luna was always happy to have a picnic and confuse the hell out of them talking about magical creatures and plants Harry still couldn’t be sure were real.

 

At the thought of Luna, Harry sat up, dropping one foot back to the floor and drawing his wand to cast a hasty patronus that would tell her what was happening before she overheard some snotty first year gossiping about it. The news about Draco being seen in restraints and with aurors would spread through the castle like fiendfyre. He didn’t want her finding out that way.

 

After his stag had cantered away through the wall into the castle, Harry drew his leg back up and settled in once again to stare moodily out over the grounds in an attempt to figure out just how he was supposed to explain everything to his friends who simply hadn’t been around. He didn’t begrudge them their trip to Australia. He understood how desperately Hermione had wanted to find her parents and restore their memory. Even if they would never have all of their memories back now, he didn’t hold her time with them against her. He didn’t hold it against Ron that in the wake of the war and Fred’s death he’d wanted to get away and that he’d not wanted Hermione to struggle with her parents alone.

 

A part of him thought it would have been so much easier to ignore Draco that first day, to ignore Slughorn’s obvious disdain for him and to join Ron and Hermione instead in Potions. He and Draco could have made a show, then, of putting the past behind them, of forming a tentative friendship that would happen in the open for everyone to see. They’d question it, question them, but it would have had a transparency that no one could argue with.

 

But Harry wouldn’t do that to Draco. He couldn’t. Coming back to Hogwarts was always going to be hard and Harry refused to make that harder on Draco than it had to be by denying him the friendship that had sustained him during his stay in Azkaban and that had flourished into something so much deeper and stronger that Harry still had trouble wrapping his head around.

 

And so he’d sat beside Draco, talked with him, laughed with him and it had been just as easy as it had been in those later summer months once they’d gotten to know each other, once Harry’s temper stopped getting the better of him (mostly) and once Draco had been stripped of the pureblood rhetoric that made him such a git. Although, honestly, he was still a bit of a git.

 

Harry loved him anyway.

 

Ron and Hermione had tried to ask him about his sudden lack of animosity toward Draco immediately after Potions that first day he’d been back. Harry had told them the truth when he said he and Draco had spoken over the summer about Hogwarts and that they were going to put the past behind them. Neither of them had seemed particularly inclined to believe him but then he’d asked about Australia and Hermione’s parents and they’d gotten (temporarily) distracted.

 

Well, Ron had. Hermione had that look on her face that said she was letting him put her off for now, but they would be talking about it later.

 

Then the duel in DADA happened and while Hermione looked desperate to ask questions, he’d been able to deflect them with the honest truth that he’d been doing some auror training over the summer and it had involved a lot of duelling. Then he’d mentioned the ridiculous amount of homework he had to catch up on and Hermione had been so torn between getting answers and not wanting him to fall behind that he’d managed to slip away and hide.

 

Ron’s, ‘I’m surprised the ferret could keep up with you,’ had been only a brief observation before he’d scowled and answered his own supposition with, ‘Suppose he learnt those spells being a Death Eater.’

 

Harry had automatically corrected him, saying, ‘Ex-Death Eater,’ but Ron had ignored him.

 

There’d been so many people clambering for his attention and so much homework to catch up on having missed almost two full weeks, that he’d managed to go two whole days without having to have theconversation with his friends.

 

But Ron was going to notice eventually, even if Hermione didn’t point it out to him, and he’d like to be able to control just how the story got out rather than have it be public and messy like so many other things in his life. He just wasn’t sure where to begin. Did he start from the very beginning when he’d snuck down to the holding cells and found Draco beaten and unconscious on the verge of death? Did he start with the trials? Or Azkaban? Or, Merlin, did he start with a boy in a robe shop on Diagon Alley and how that had turned into lazy days at the Manor and long mornings in bed?

 

Although, granted, he sincerely doubted either of them were ready for that last one. Thankfully, Hermione gave him an opening.

 

‘Why did the Ministry arrest Draco, Harry?’

 

Harry could appreciate that she made a point of using Draco’s name and not his surname, though he suspected she was doing it more to set him at ease before she launched into an interrogation than because she felt he was deserving of the familiarity. He might have smiled if he wasn’t so worried. He definitely wouldn’t be putting off explaining much longer, but perhaps this had given him the opening he needed?

 

‘They didn’t arrest him,’ he explained softly, gaze still firmly locked on the Hogwarts grounds and not his friends behind him so he didn’t have to look at Hermione’s shrewd and possibly knowing look.

 

‘It kind of looked that way, mate,’ Ron added when Harry waited a bit too long to explain more. He might not have had any idea what was going on, but it seemed four months in Hermione’s company had mellowed Ron a bit because he wasn’t angry or snarling rude things about Draco. Yet. He seemed to understand Harry would not be receptive to them just now. That didn’t mean Harry wasn’t expecting more sharp words and angry comments later.

 

‘Draco’s punishment for his crimes during the war was three months in Azkaban, a month on house arrest at Malfoy Manor and a probationary two year period, the first to be spent at Hogwarts getting his NEWTs and proving he was capable of being a productive member of society, the second with weekly Ministry check-ins and “services rendered to the Ministry”,’ Harry said that last bit with all the disdain he could manage.

 

He chanced a glance at his friends and saw Hermione’s eyebrows shoot up as she frowned at him. ‘What sort of services?’

 

Ron, at the same time, muttered, ‘He really spent three months in Azkaban?’

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry answered Ron’s question first, ‘Got the identifying tattoo and everything.’

 

‘I didn’t see that one,’ Ron frowned.

 

Harry looked over at him startled. ‘What do you mean?’

 

‘First week back Malfoy got attacked by three seventh years. Hermione and I took him to the Hospital Wing. He’s got some pretty wicked art,’ Ron admitted grudgingly.

 

Harry looked between his friends, expression grim. ‘Was it bad? Luna only told me he’d been hurt but that he’d be fine.’

 

Hermione looked a little sick at the memory, but she did tell him about the cutting curse he took to the leg and the glass from the window that was in his shoulder. ‘It was horrible, Harry, but Draco didn’t even seem to notice for the most part. He must have been in incredible pain.’

 

Harry nodded. He wished he’d been there. Wished he’d been there to curse those idiots right back. He wished he’d been the one to sit by Draco’s bedside. He knew Luna wouldn’t let anyone hurt Draco, she’d told him she’d sat awake for almost the whole night with him, but still, Harry should have been there.

 

He didn’t tell his friends that, though, what he said instead was, ‘He’s got permanent nerve damage down his right leg from being held under Cruciatus too long, everything is sort of dulled from the hip down, but his toes are almost completely numb. He gets sort of pins and needles sometimes but not much else.’

 

He wasn’t betraying Draco, telling his friends this, all this information was on record with the Wizengamot from Draco's trial. He was just saying it now because he wanted his friends to understand that what they knew about Draco was only the tip of the iceberg. He wondered if he’d ever get them to understand that what he’d thought he’d known all those years was only the beginning, that he’d seen what he expected to see, what he’d wanted to see, from an arrogant rich prat who swanned about like he owned everything and everyone was simply beneath him.

 

‘After what he’s been through, something like a bit of glass sticking out of his shoulder doesn’t really phase him,’ he concluded with a shrug.

 

‘That glass cut off the tip of an antler,’ Hermione informed him in a probing manner. Apparently questioning Draco’s tattoos was easier than addressing the larger issue of what exactly Harry meant about what he’d been through during the war. They’d need to talk about that though, eventually. Not all of it, not the details, they had no right to those, but there were some things they would need to know if they were to accept Harry’s acceptance of Draco.

 

Harry knew, of course, about the missing antler tip; he’d seen the evidence and kind of liked Draco’s view on it. He liked the idea that the stag had been through and won a fight. Again, he didn’t say that, what he did say was, ‘He got tired of other people marking him -  Voldemort with the Dark Mark, Gladys at prisoner intake in Azkaban (that one’s on his hip in case you were wondering) – he wanted something of his own. He chooses things and people that have meaning for him.’

 

He could have explained further, talked about what the fiendfyre dragon represented for Draco, about Luna’s lunar cycle and Narcissa’s flowers. He could have explained about the stag and second chances but those weren’t his stories to tell. And they were getting somewhat off track, this wasn’t about the tattoos Draco had chosen to represent the moments of change and forgiveness in his life, the ones about love and sorrow, this was about the Ministry and their ridiculous use of an eighteen year old wizard for tasks they hoped would get him killed.

 

‘Anyway, by the time he got out of Azkaban the Ministry had found a way he could work off that last part of his sentence. There are a lot of things Voldemort and his Death Eaters left behind. Cursed houses, objects, places, all sorts of things, some of them dating back to the first war. Draco’s the only Death Eater they can control who isn’t locked up or dead. He knows a lot about the Dark Arts, and he’s got the Mark on his arm that lets him just walk through a lot of Voldemort’s wards. When they find something really dark or that they think is too dangerous for the Ministry curse breakers, they take Draco.’

 

Hermione looked horrified, even Ron looked taken aback, possibly by the anger in Harry’s voice as he didn’t expect him to be concerned for Draco. Neither of them even knew just how bad it could get, but Harry was sure that was something else Draco didn’t want getting out. He didn’t like it, hated it even, that the Ministry could use him in such a way, but Draco still felt so guilty. He still had so much he wanted to make up for and he saw this as one opportunity to help erase some of the darkness Voldemort had put out there. Some of the darkness he felt he’d put out there.

 

‘And that’s where they took him?’ Ron asked, pale beneath his freckles. ‘To do something the Ministry thought was too dark and dangerous for their trained curse breakers?’

 

Harry nodded.

 

‘Oh, Harry,’ Hermione whispered, horrified. She might not like Draco but at least Harry could see she understood how incredibly wrong it was that the Ministry could just use Draco that way. Hermione would never want anyone to be used in such a way. Harry knew without asking that if she understood the kind of things that happened to prisoners in Azkaban, the things he had been fighting so hard to stop while she’d been away, that she’d be properly outraged.

 

‘Mate, that’s…that’s not right,’ Ron managed. His friend seemed sickened by the idea but also annoyed that he was feeling bad for a Malfoy.

 

‘Of course, it’s not right,’ Harry snapped, his anger flaring anew. It deflated pretty quickly when he saw Hermione’s hurt expression and Ron’s raised eyebrows. It wasn’t his friend’s fault and he shouldn’t be taking his anger out on them, but he couldn’t exactly take his anger out on the people truly responsible. He really had done everything he could to keep Draco from worse punishment. There were members of the Wizengamot who thought Draco should have been sentenced to life in Azkaban like his father. There were some who had raised the idea of the Dementor’s Kiss.

 

Thankfully, Kingsley had managed to shoot both of those down pretty quickly, using Draco’s age at the time of his “transgressions” to take them off the table. Harry’s testimony had been a huge factor in the reduced length of Draco’s sentence. Luna’s own testimony had shown Draco’s compassion and the struggle he’d undergone trying to survive Voldemort living in the Manor. Madam Pomfrey’s careful explanation of the lasting effects of torture had bought Draco a certain level of sympathy from some members and a sense that he’d already been punished from others.

 

To Harry, it would never be enough. It was just unfortunate that, what it came down to, what he knew deep down was necessary, was that Draco needed to be punished for his crimes. Even if only to show the wizarding world that the new Ministry Kingsley was trying to build took a firm stance on Death Eaters and Dark Wizards. Compared to all the other Death Eaters and supporters the Ministry had captured (although could you call it a capture when the Malfoys had all willingly surrendered?), Draco did have it easy.

 

On his bad days, Draco didn’t think he’d been punished enough. Today was a bad day. Draco would take risks and push himself further today, feeling that the punishment was deserved. The fear that Draco would push himself too hard and too far out of guilt and regret was terrifying. The fact there was little Harry could do about it was so much worse. He just had to hope that Draco came home and that whatever abuse he’d take on this job for the Ministry, that it wasn’t more than could be healed. At least physically. Mentally and emotionally, Draco had such a long way to go. His recovery was much slower than Harry’s, the guilt and remorse he felt weighed so much heavier than Harry’s own regrets did.

 

Harry still had nightmares, he’d had a few panic attacks, but what it boiled down to was that Harry had been on the right side, he’d fought as hard as he could. He’d lost people but slowly and surely, he was coming to understand that those he’d lost in that final battle had known the risks, they’d known what they were fighting for and they’d made that choice. His mind healer had spent weeks helping him understand that he couldn’t take that choice away from them, all he could do was remember them and live the life they would have wanted for him, the life they had fought for.

 

Harry may have regrets, he was allowed those, he was allowed to let those regrets shape some of his actions, but he couldn’t let them control him. Draco struggled with that. He struggled with the idea that he was allowed to have regrets and that not all of them were things he had to make up for. Sometimes it seemed as though Draco was getting better, that he was putting some of it behind him, but on the bad days they threatened to consume him.

 

He wished today wasn’t one of the bad days. He wished he could have gone with Draco. Maybe if he’d taken the Ministry’s offer, maybe if he’d stayed away from Hogwarts and instead gone straight to the Aurors, he would be the one escorting Draco on this task. At least then he would be there to help, to step in and help shield Draco when the curses and wards became too much.

 

Luna arrived then, drawing Harry briefly out of his melancholy thoughts, to smile weakly at her in greeting. She had Ginny with her. Ginny offered him a bright smile, if slightly weakened, but all he could offer back was a pale imitation. He didn’t want to deal with Ginny. Didn’t want a repeat of the conversation they’d had just before he left on that last training mission. Worried out of his mind about Draco, he just didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with Ginny and her honest words and gentle (but loving, she assured him) mocking.

 

‘Who took him?’ Luna asked, easing onto the window seat beside Harry and crossing her legs until she was sitting with one knee against the glass, her back against the wall.

 

‘Winthrop and Mendenhall,’ he answered her softly.

 

She nodded. ‘Did you contact his mother?’

 

Harry shook his head; he really didn’t want Narcissa worrying until they knew more. She was alone in the Manor save for the company of a single house elf and was in no position to help them. She wasn’t allowed to leave the Manor; Harry wasn’t even sure they’d let her out to visit Draco if something went wrong and he ended up in the hospital.

 

He turned his gaze back out the window and tried not to listen to Ron quickly explaining to Ginny what was going on. He didn’t know how much Ginny knew about his summer, not all the details. She knew he’d been visiting Draco, but he doubted she realised how often he’d been out to Azkaban although he suspected Arthur and Molly had some inkling. They’d all made a point of asking him what he was doing, and he’d been honest with them both when he’d first told them he was trying to understand, trying to be better.

 

The look of compassionate understanding in Molly’s eyes spoke volumes and he got the feeling she knew more about what was between him and Draco than she let on, long before she knew the truth. Harry had clearly underestimated Ginny (wouldn’t be the first time) because she frowned once Ron had finished his explanation and said, ‘I thought they weren’t allowed to start this until he’d finished at Hogwarts?’

 

Harry looked at her in surprise and Ginny rolled her eyes.

 

‘Do you think I don’t know what you look like when you’re obsessing over Draco Malfoy?’  she scoffed. ‘Harry, you stalked him all of sixth year, did you really think I wouldn’t notice this time and find out everything I could to help?’

 

Astonished, Harry could only ask, ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

 

Ginny shrugged. ‘You didn’t want to talk about it and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up. I just assumed you’d talk when you were ready. Or maybe get over it.’

 

‘Get over it?’ Harry repeated amused. The idea that he could ever get over Draco Malfoy seemed laughable. What of his life in the last eight years that hadn’t revolved around Voldemort, revolved around Draco. If he hadn’t gotten over it yet, he didn’t see that adding sex to the equation was going to help any.

 

Ginny grinned cheekily. ‘Of course, then we had that delightful conversation before you left on that mission and I had a great conversation with Mum right before school started back which made so much more sense when I saw the two of you in DADA.’

 

Harry gave a startled laugh and hoped like hell he wasn’t blushing.

 

 ‘It’s quite something, isn’t it?’ Luna mused. ‘Watching them duel?’

 

‘When did you see them duel?’ Ron asked, looking a bit confused by the sudden change in conversation and not having any idea, judging by the frown, what one had to do with the other, let alone a conversation Ginny had with Molly.

 

This amused Harry terribly and he wondered rather, idly, how long Ron would ignore the obvious truth of his relationship with Draco if no one actually said the words.

 

‘Over the summer of course,’ Luna answered, her gaze was all for the Hogwarts grounds, much as Harry’s had been earlier. He wondered if she saw the same things he did when he looked down or if she was thinking about things so confusing Harry didn’t stand a chance of following her train of thought.

 

‘I’m confused,’ Hermione admitted. ‘What happened over the summer? I feel like we’ve missed so much,’ she confessed.

 

In a way, Hermione was right, she and Ron had missed a lot, but they’d still been around for the six odd years before the summer and that was where this really started. Besides, Harry was sort of glad his friends had been away all summer. If they hadn’t, he doubted he’d have spent so much time with Draco. He doubted he’d have continued going back after that first time he’d snuck down to see Draco in the Ministry holding cells. He wouldn’t have had the chance. Both of them would likely have talked him out of it. Well, maybe. They’d never managed to talk him out of anything Draco related before.

 

Would he still have spoken up at Draco’s trial if they’d been there? He liked to think he would have. But he doubted he’d have become the source of strength and support that Draco had needed if Ron and Hermione were there questioning him every step of the way.

 

He’d missed them, but he was glad they’d not been around.

 

‘Harry visited Draco every day in Azkaban,’ Ginny answered promptly, not giving Harry time to dance around the point.

 

‘You what?’ Ron gaped.

 

Bewildered, Hermione asked, ‘Why?’

 

Harry shrugged helplessly. If he had any idea what had driven him to seek out Draco in the first place, he probably could have saved himself a lot of trouble. Not to mention confusion, exasperation, annoyance and a whole host of other things Draco seemed particularly skilled at bringing out of him. There were still days where Harry was just as inclined to hex him as he was to kiss him. He knew Draco felt the same. Although, Draco had a tendency to want to be around Harry while still being deeply annoyed at him. That had resulted in quite a few hours spent in angry silence when all Harry wanted to do was rage and be annoyed but it was really hard to do when it was clear that no matter how annoyed Draco was, he still liked being around Harry.

 

How else could he get the full force of Draco’s annoyance at him if he wasn’t there to see it?

 

He supposed, actually, that was pretty typical of their interactions on a whole. Drawn to each other even when dripping insults and firing hexes. Harry didn’t see why that should have changed just because they’d added deliciously satisfying sex to the equation.

 

Still, he didn’t want to talk about Azkaban and so he skipped over it to talk about the month Draco spent on house arrest. ‘It seemed stupid not to keep visiting him, by then,’ he explained with another shrug. ‘He was a mess. I think Luna and I spent most of that first week constantly reminding him to eat. Madam Pomfrey gave Narcissa this huge list of potions he needed to take and devised a rehab routine to help him get back his strength and his health. It seemed a good a way as any to help him get back proper control of his magic by training together, so I taught him everything I was learning from the Aurors.’

 

‘Bill taught him some things as well,’ Ginny supplied, surprising Harry again. Ginny rolled her eyes. ‘If you’d been home at all over the summer you might have noticed,’ she reprimanded. ‘Bill said he asked the curse breakers to explain what they were doing when they came to clear the Manor.’

 

Ron’s eyebrows shot up. ‘They’re clearing out the Manor?’

 

Harry, Luna and Ginny all nodded. Though, again, Ginny was the one to say, ‘It wasn’t part of the war reparations like the Prophet reported, but Dad says Mrs Malfoy put a request in to the Ministry to have them help clear out any Dark Artefacts.’

 

‘Not just the Dark ones,’ Harry murmured but didn’t elaborate. He thought if he laid out too much, Ron’s head might explode. He seemed to be having enough trouble wrapping his head around the idea that Harry was friends with Draco. Harry was sure the idea that Draco and Narcissa were contemplating clearing out the Manor of everything magical and selling it to some muggles would blow Ron’s mind. He was only just learning there was more to Draco than the pointy arrogant git, best not to push it with a wild story of redemption and muggle acceptance.

 

‘Harry,’ Hermione began slowly, voice gentle, as though it was her best hope of getting a proper explanation out of him, ‘if what you say is true, if you did teach Draco everything the Aurors have been teaching you and if Bill and the other curse breakers have been teaching him things, then I think you should believe that Draco’s going to be okay.’

 

Harry smiled tightly, appreciating her words even if he didn’t believe them. They hadn’t been there the last time when Draco had been returned to the Manor bleeding and feverish, gripped tightly by a strange sickness curse that Narcissa had thankfully recognised and been able to instruct Luna and Harry on how to counter.

 

They fell into a contemplative silence that was only broken when a restless Ron suggested they kill some time playing Exploding Snap. Harry was happy for the distraction and he and Ginny joined Ron while Hermione and Luna did some homework. Harry probably should have joined them instead, working to chip away at the enormous pile of his own homework, he still had so much to catch up on and Draco and Hermione’s notes could only get him so far, but he wasn’t in any state to concentrate on his schoolwork.

 

If Draco were there, he’d have raised an eyebrow and asked when exactly Harry had ever concentrated on his homework. Harry tried his best to ignore the deep ache of worry and concern and focused on the cards, lest Draco return to find Harry sans eyebrows. The arse would likely refuse to be seen with him until they grew back. It would be like the Great Wardrobe Argument of mid-August.

 

Not that Harry could complain, he did enjoy having clothes that fit properly and looked good on him and he had managed to bargain Draco into some incredible jeans that were probably a little tighter than strictly necessary but gave Harry a great view.

 

They’d been playing for about thirty minutes when Hermione looked up from her homework with a frown. ‘I’ve been meaning to ask Harry, did you get contacts?’ It was such a simple question for her to ask and not one that he’d been expecting. He’d expected any other question about his summer, about his friendship with Draco, pretty much anything but an ordinary question about his sudden lack of glasses.

 

‘What are contacts?’ Ginny asked.

 

‘Tiny lenses you put on your eyes instead of wearing glasses,’ Hermione explained.

 

‘I didn’t. Draco kept stealing my glasses during practice duels, said if he could do it while I was expecting it anyone could when I wasn’t. I’ve been taking this eyesight potion every day to correct my vision.’

 

‘Aren’t those expensive?’ Ron wondered.

 

‘And hideously complex,’ Hermione added thoughtfully, staring off into the distance as though she were mentally going through a potions textbook, considering all the steps and ingredients involved.

 

Harry knew what she meant; it was hideously complex. He’d looked it over when Draco had first presented him with the ancient potions book he’d found it in. The book had come from the Malfoy library and contained a few questionable ingredients and steps that, before the war, Harry would have never contemplated. Becoming friends with Draco had changed his perspective on a lot of things and one of those was what truly defined Dark Arts. He wasn’t about to deny Draco the pleasure of brewing this potion just because one of the ingredients had been banned because it was also the active ingredient in a well-known poison.

 

The fact he’d not even hesitated to let Draco try probably should have been a clue as to how much he’d come to trust and care for Draco. It had still taken him another three days to work it out.

 

‘Yeah but Draco brewed it, so I didn’t have to do more than supply the ingredients.’

 

‘He always was rather good at Potions,’ Hermione agreed, eyeing Harry with a look that suggested she would like to use this as an opening to ask more important, leading questions.

 

Harry gave a rueful grin in response, hoping she would take his surliness as it not being the time. ‘He gets that from his mother. Narcissa tutored me a bit over the summer. She was a good teacher but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be great at Potions.’

 

‘Narcissa Malfoy tutored you in Potions.’ Ron didn’t seem like he believed they were words coming out of his mouth. He shook his head. ‘Nope. Sorry, mate, I get that you’re friends with the git now – not that I understand that – but I just can’t picture that.’

 

‘She’s actually quite lovely,’ Luna contributed without looking up from her Care of Magical Creatures essay. ‘We often have tea when I visit the Manor.’

 

‘You have tea with Narcissa Malfoy?’ Ginny didn’t seem to know whether to laugh, the concept just so absurd.

 

‘Yes,’ Luna confirmed, not seeming to understand why her friends found that so weird.

 

They went back to playing after that. Every now and then Hermione would look up and pin Harry with a look that he steadfastly refused to acknowledge. Now was not the time to have it out about his relationship with Draco. He was on edge and could feel the edges of his temper threatening with every look she cast him. If she tried to talk to him now, he knew he’d blow up at her, possibly (probably) say things he’d regret, and he didn’t need that now. He needed to focus on Draco. Draco who was having a bad day and had been dragged off to who knew where to do Merlin knew what. Hopefully, not to get himself killed.

 

Fuck, he better not get himself killed.

 

It wasn’t long before the common room door opened, Harry’s heart leapt into his throat only to plummet when he saw it was only Neville and not Draco.

 

Neville was covered in dirt and looked as though he’d just spent the last few hours happily absorbed in the greenhouses. He smiled cheerfully at them all, not seeming to notice the subdued air in the room and made a beeline for the stairs and a quick shower.

 

Slowly, the eighth years started to trickle back into the common room as it got closer to dinner. Harry’s eyes darted over to the door every time, but it was never to find Draco coming through. His friends pretended they hadn’t noticed, made polite conversation with anyone who wanted to talk but they all made it clear they weren’t ready for dinner or up for nicking off to the pub.

 

They did have to coax him down to dinner eventually, which came and went with no sign of Draco. In fact there was still no sign of Draco late into the evening when people were starting to slip off to bed, some of them with the giggles and stumbles of the happily drunk. Harry had returned to the window seat to stare moodily out over the dark grounds and his friends seemed to have concluded they were better off letting him sit there and brood than try to get him to pay attention to their soft conversations. Even Hermione seemed to realise now wasn’t the time.

 

None of them showed any signs of going off to bed. It seemed even Luna and Ginny were settling in to wait with him as long as it took.

 

It was just after two when Draco finally came back. He walked unsteadily into the common room, pale and shaky and didn’t even seem to notice there were people in the room until Hermione’s horrified gasp drew his attention. Then his dazed eyes managed to focus on her face and he spoke her name in confusion.

 

Harry was already moving, sprinting across the common room, arriving beside Draco at the same time as Hermione even though she’d been much closer.

 

‘Harry,’ he whimpered, slumping against Harry’s side as he slid one of Draco arms over his shoulders to help prop him up.

 

‘I’m here.’

 

Draco turned to look at him, his eyes were unfocused and there was blood dribbling from his nose and his ears. He opened his mouth to speak but instead gave a wet cough. Something thick and warm splattered across Harry’s face and neck and Ginny let out an impressive snarl of profanity. Draco coughed again, more blood bubbling up to spill down his chin, some of it spattered Harry’s jumper.

 

‘Hi,’ Draco murmured before his eyes rolled back in his head and his entire weight dropped down onto Harry.

 

Terrified, Harry was momentarily frozen but then Ron was there, gently taking Draco’s other side and prompting Harry into action. Together they turned around, moving as quickly as they could to get Draco to the hospital wing.

 

Harry tried not to let the fear of Draco’s never waking up consume him. He tried not to let his rage at the Ministry take over.

 

Right then, Draco needed him. The Ministry could be dealt with later.

Chapter Text

The Hospital Wing always had a distinct smell. Harry had spent enough time there as a patient to recognise it anywhere. In those first moments of waking, head shrouded in fog and eyes cloudy because he wasn’t wearing his glasses, he would never call the smell comforting, but it was recognisable. He smelt it and he knew that even if he didn’t know how or why, he was safe and there was someone looking out for him. He’d woken slowly, he’d woken abruptly, he’d been shaken and jerked awake in the Hospital Wing, but each and every one of those memories had included a feeling of safety and the knowledge that, stern though she was, Madam Pomfrey was doing everything she could to help him.

 

She’d always done the same for Draco.

 

Harry never would understand just why he’d gone down to the holding cells. He would never really know what it was about the conversation he’d overheard that had him moving before he’d really decided that’s what needed to be done. But he would never regret that decision. He’d never regret that the decision saved Draco’s life.

 

When he’d reached the shimmery ward that served as a door to Draco’s cell he’d thought for a moment it was empty. There wasn’t much more than the dim glow of a weak lumos to provide light in there and certainly no window given how deep under London they were inside the Ministry. He remembered frowning, remembered squinting tired eyes into the gloom, and he remembered the first thing he saw wasn’t even Draco at all but the blood.

 

The cell wasn’t much. Eight by nine, maybe. A shelf built into the far wall held a thin mattress, no pillow or blanket. It was the way the blood dribbled down the side of the bed, forming a small pool on the floor, that he noticed first. He could remember the way his heart started pounding in his chest and the way his hearing played up. How for a horrible moment he wasn’t in the Ministry but back at Hogwarts. Another time when Draco’s blood spilled onto the floor and most of all he remembered the moment he forgot to breathe. Just a small moment, only as long as it took his eyes to adjust further, to pick out the figure who had been dumped so carelessly on the bed.

 

One of Draco’s legs had been bent on an angle that might have hurt terribly if he was in any shape to feel it. His hair was thick with blood, his jaw bruised and obviously dislocated. His clothes were wrinkled and damaged, his feet were bare. Most of the fingers Harry could see, hanging down off the bed, were broken and bloody.

 

It was the way his eyes stared unseeing at the ceiling above that drove Harry into action. He would never know how he did it. He’d never know if it was accidental magic or a simple case of the aurors not thinking Draco was in any shape to go anywhere, but he tore through the wards as though they were tissue paper, magic flaring out around him with a strength of emotion he didn’t think he’d ever be able to feel again.

 

Harry had never liked Draco Malfoy, never liked the attitude or the way he bullied Neville and called Hermione names. He was a selfish arrogant prat, but he’d saved Harry’s life once before, maybe even twice, and Harry had saved him. Sometimes in his dreams he smelled the smoke of the fiendfyre, felt the terrified squeeze of arms bound around him and the quick fearful breaths as Draco whimpered and pleaded with Harry to get them out.

 

He remembered an arrogant boy in a robe shop and a broken boy in his childhood home taken over by Death Eaters, and he had moved without thought, simply because Draco wasn’t nice and he wasn’t good but he was someone Harry knew, someone Harry had mocked and teased as he held his own and (alright, yes) stalked for most of a year. For all that he hated what the git stood for, Draco had been an enormous part of Harry’s life and there had been nothing, no thought or action that could have stopped him charging into that cell to press fingers to the side of his neck to check for a pulse.

 

He’d found one. Of course, he’d found one. But his hands had come away slick with blood and there didn’t seem to be any way for Harry to stop the bleeding – he didn’t even know how he would begin – and his rudimentary knowledge of episkey wouldn’t do more than mend one or two of Draco’s broken fingers. Draco needed help, he needed a healer, but Harry had been too afraid to leave, too afraid to move him.

 

He remembered shouting for Kreacher. Remembered demanding he get help, remembered the sharp crack of Kreacher leaving and the soft cry Madam Pomfrey gave that somehow sounded louder in the cell than the return crack of Kreacher’s apparation.

 

There’d been orders and instructions and more spellwork than Harry really understood, and he could freely admit that most of that night was a blur – he was happy to keep it that way. He’d fallen asleep on the floor, propped up against the side of Draco’s bed, wand clutched tightly in his hand, guarding his childhood nemesis from people who were supposed to be good, who were supposed to be better.

 

He’d spent so much time trying to make the Ministry better. So much time working with Kingsley and Robards, even Arthur and Percy, to try and cleanse the Ministry of the corruption Voldemort had only revealed, but it didn’t make a fucking difference. He could fight for what he believed, he could work with the whole DMLE and Kingsley’s new people, but nothing had changed.

 

He still fell asleep, wand in hand, as he protected Draco. This time at least, when he woke, it was to the familiar smell of the Hospital Wing and soft fingers trailing through his hair.

 

He opened his eyes but didn’t raise his head from where it was pillowed on his arms. He liked the feel of Draco’s heat where his arms pressed against Draco’s hip. It was a solid reminder he was alive. He saw Luna first, she was a mirror of Harry’s position on the other side of Draco, head pillowed on her arms, face turned toward him. Ginny was the one who had been stroking his hair.

 

‘Hey,’ he greeted, throat dry making his voice a croak. He didn’t think he’d been asleep that long. Madam Pomfrey had only stopped working on Draco as dawn broke. The weak sun streaming through clouds wasn’t offering much warmth in the Hospital Wing and it didn’t give him any idea what time it was, but he didn’t think it was early.

 

‘I bought you clean clothes,’ she murmured, nodding to the neatly folded stack she’d deposited on the next bed. ‘You should change. Have a shower.’

 

Harry shook his head, turning to look back at Draco. He’d always been pale growing up but the last few months he’d spent so much time outside he’d begun to look healthy again. Now, with the blood loss and the curses, his skin was back to looking grey, like he’d only just left Azkaban. His breathing was rough, a little shallow, but Madam Pomfrey had said that was normal, that his breathing would get easier as his lungs healed. They’d stripped him down to his pants, the blankets lying low by his hips to allow Madam Pomfrey to better monitor his chest and Harry’s eyes traced over the scars he’d given Draco. Traced over the tattoos he’d chosen to give himself.

 

The stag over Draco’s left pectoral – over his heart, they both knew it – was missing the tip of an antler but stood proud and strong. It might have been a representation of Harry and the way he’d helped shape so many of Draco’s choices but it was Draco too, in the way it stood amongst those it loved, shielding and protecting the flowers that were his mother even as it hovered in their warm embrace. The way Luna’s moons watched over him as she was doing in life now for both of them.

 

Harry had his own tattoo over his heart, because of course he did. He’d had it done during those two weeks Draco was at Hogwarts without him. The simple display of stars forming Draco’s constellation because he was exactly that much of a sap and he was okay with it.

 

But he wasn’t okay with this. He wasn’t okay knowing that the Ministry he worked for, the one that was supposed to be better, had let Draco get so badly hurt and then simply sent him on his way.

 

He should have fought harder, argued longer. Demanded to know where Draco had been taken and gone along anyway. He’d known the moment McGonagall had come for Draco that it would end badly. Draco was having a bad day, trapped in the aftermath of nightmares made from memories and he’d been dragged into something right out of one.

 

Harry didn’t know what they’d forced Draco to do, what he’d done out of some misguided sense of guilt and obligation, but Harry was done. He wouldn’t sit back and let this happen again and again because when would it end? Would Draco do his two years of probation and then be allowed to walk away? Or would the Ministry keep tugging on his guilt until there was nothing left but the empty shell of a man?

 

Harry wasn’t about to let that happen. He didn’t care about the Ministry about their laws and their rules. If he had to, he would take Draco away, hide them somewhere the Ministry would never find them and if they did, if they were found then he’d –

 

‘Harry,’ Ginny’s voice was quiet but sharp, her touch gentle but unforgiving. ‘You need to stop.’

 

He might have asked her what but as soon as he focused on her it was obvious. He’d been letting his emotions control his magic again and the temperature in the Hospital Wing was soaring with his fury, the water in the jug beside Draco’s bed was starting to bubble and hiss as it boiled. ‘Sorry.’

 

‘He’s going to be okay,’ Ginny reminded him, choosing not to comment on the uncontrolled magic. He was grateful, it wasn’t like he could explain Draco’s theory that the absence of Voldemort’s soul was finally giving his magic room to stretch. ‘It’s going to take some time but he’ll be okay, remember that.’

 

Harry nodded and at last lifted his head off his arms and pushed himself back from the bed. just enough that he could sit up straight but not far enough that he lost the contact with Draco’s flushed skin. ‘I’m tired of watching him get hurt.’

 

Ginny wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders and pulled him tight against her side. ‘I know.’ Ginny was quiet for a moment, just holding him and then she said, ‘You need to shower. You’re a mess.’

 

‘I can’t,’ he replied. ‘Not until he’s awake.’

 

Ginny released his shoulders and prodded him sharply. ‘You’re covered in blood and tears and it’s very unattractive. Draco would hate it.’

 

‘Liar,’ he was smiling softly as he said it. Draco wouldn’t care if he was bloody and broken, only that he’d sat all night by his bedside and fucking cried. That would make him smile. It made Harry choke up, laughter and tears mixing as he tried to hold them back.

 

‘You’re making it worse,’ Ginny chided with a soft smile. ‘Go. I’ll stay with him.’ She drew her wand when Harry still didn’t stand. ‘I’ll watch over him,’ she promised and the look she gave him was every inch the woman who had gone toe-to-toe with Bellatrix Lestrange and survived.

 

It was one of the quickest showers he’d ever taken. He stood under the spray just long enough to rinse away the drying flakes of Draco’s blood and the salty track of tears on his face. He had a moment as he was getting dressed when he thought he might cry again. Ginny had brought him his own joggers and t-shirt, but she’d made sure to grab one of Draco’s jumpers, one of the ones he’d intentionally bought a size too big because he’d liked the way he could pull the sleeves over his hands. All those protests about muggle clothes, Harry just knew Draco’s newfound love for them had nothing really to do with how good he thought Harry looked in proper fitting clothing and everything to do with how Draco thought he looked in the new clothes.

 

He managed not to start crying again and when he emerged from the bathroom, a mere five minutes after he went in, it was to find Luna had gone for her own shower and been replaced by Ron and Hermione who only looked confused as to why Ginny was seated beside Draco with her wand drawn.

 

He was glad he’d managed to hold off crying again. Between the shower and the lack of sleep, he could claim any wetness and redness as a result of exhaustion. He’d spent enough time talking with his friends the day before, trying to get them to understand that Draco wasn’t the same boy they’d known for years. He’d had enough of trying to explain to them how he’d forgiven him and why.

 

He thought – hoped, really – that Ginny’s explanation of how often he’d visited Draco, that her making light of his obsession, would help explain how they’d become friends. He wasn’t interested in giving them all the details. He didn’t want to have to tell them that Draco had changed, he wanted them to see it. See it in the way he treated people, in the small changes to his mannerism and the choices he made. He didn’t want them to just tolerate Draco because he loved him, he wanted them to see the man he’d fallen in love with.

 

He would never force them to forgive Draco, never force them to be his friend or even tolerate him, but he wouldn’t let them make their own opinions be the only ones that mattered. He wouldn’t let them destroy seven years of friendship by dismissing his judgement and failing to trust him. Draco needed him, wanted him, loved him. And Harry needed him and wanted him. He loved him just as much. Sometimes he didn’t know if he’d ever loved anyone as much as he loved Draco. It wasn’t a nice love or an easy one. It was all broken pieces placed carefully back together with Spell-O tape and tentative hopes. It was soft words and screamed expletives. Scars and shattered moments.

 

He and Draco had built something real out of pieces of their shattered lives and Harry didn’t want Ron and Hermione trying to call that into question. He didn’t want them giving him looks and asking about potential enchantments and suggesting he see a mind healer because he wasn’t acting like himself. Although, at least he could turn around and tell them he had seen a mind healer and despite her voiced concern over the choice of Draco, she had been happy with the way he’d been opening up and letting new people in.

 

The first day he’d come back they’d asked so many questions and he’d only been able to answer some of them. The easy ones. He’d told them they were friends, that they were trying to put the past behind them. Not forget – never forget – but they weren’t kids anymore and the war had shown them exactly the kind of people they were. Draco wasn’t a Death Eater; he didn’t want to be the kind of man his father had become and Harry – Harry didn’t want to be the Saviour or Chosen One when he could just be Harry.

 

He and Draco had both killed people, they’d tortured people and used spells they weren’t proud of, making the best decisions they could in the middle of a war. Harry understood Draco in ways he’d never understood Ginny and in turn Draco understood him in ways he never wanted Ron or Hermione to understand him.

 

He just wanted to fall into the chair beside Draco and watch him sleep until he was strong enough to open his eyes. He didn’t want to deal with his friends and their questions and the strange mix of pity and resentment they felt when they looked to Draco and saw a man who had been hurt, yes, but a man they (on some level) thought deserved what he got.

 

And possibly worst of all was that he couldn’t just tell them. He couldn’t give them a tired smile and tell them he just wanted to be alone with Draco. He couldn’t tell them that he didn’t want to answer their questions because once he did things would be different. He was tired and worried and for one horrible moment he wished it was summer again. That it was just him and Luna watching over Draco as he recovered from Azkaban. That Narcissa was there, showing Harry that, in spite of every bad choice she had made, she loved her son more than anything in the world.

 

Things had been so easy in those last weeks of the summer before Hogwarts and the outside world intruded. He wished he could go back, could have that easy feeling again where no one questioned what he was doing or feeling. Where he’d felt like he could finally breathe with the weight of the horcrux hunt no longer on his shoulders. With Voldemort finally, truly, dead and gone. It had been the first summer he could remember where he could just be.

 

And it was horrible that the return of his best friends had taken that feeling from him.

 

But they were his friends and they had stood by him through everything Voldemort and the world had thrown at him and so instead of cursing them or telling them to shove off, he said a rough, ‘Hey.’

 

‘How is he?’ Ron asked. It looked like the question cost him. Ron didn’t want to care; he didn’t want to feel for Draco but for the second time in less than a month he was looking at Draco in the Hospital Wing cursed and broken, and Harry could see it wasn’t sitting well with him. He could see how much Ron wanted to hate Draco, to lash out and be uncaring but he could also see that Ron believed his words from the day before, that he truly believed that what the Ministry was doing was wrong.

 

Ron might not care so much that Draco was the one being hurt but he cared that the Ministry could do this to anyone. And Harry could work with that.

 

‘Pomfrey is regrowing his lung,’ Harry answered, walking right by his horrified friends to take the chair Luna had left empty. He kept his eyes on Draco, watching the stuttering rise and fall of his chest as Pomfrey’s spells and Draco’s own magic worked tirelessly to repair the damage. ‘She thinks he managed to slow the spread of the curse and that’s why it only took one of his lungs.’

 

‘The Ministry let this happen?’ Hermione asked, eyes blazing with fury. She didn’t need to like Draco to be enraged by his horrifying treatment.

 

Harry nodded. ‘It’s not the first time.’

 

‘That’s barbaric!’ Hermione gasped. ‘He could have died.’

 

‘He’s a Death Eater,’ Harry replied harshly, turning to look at them finally, eyes blazing with fury. ‘It’s what he deserves,’ he added bitterly.

 

Ron paled beneath his freckles as Harry’s eyes locked on his before they flicked back to Draco. He didn’t have the energy to keep arguing, he just wanted Draco to be okay. It had been petty to throw Ron’s own words back at him and it didn’t make Harry feel better, but he wanted Ron to understand. He wanted his oldest friend to realise that he was wrong and that those words he’d said after Harry’s first lesson back had a real impact. That they were more than just words being bandied about because there were people out there with the influence to give a throwaway comment like Ron’s real and devastating power.

 

He thought about the other things Ron had said then too. It hadn’t been a good conversation, marking their reunion with questions and doubts and which had made it almost too easy to steer the conversation toward them, to what they’d been doing in Australia and if they’d been successful. But Harry remembered Ron’s scoffed words, his fervent belief that Death Eaters – Draco included – deserved what they got and more because they’d hurt and killed so many people. He thought about Bill, with his scars and his taste for rare meat. He thought about Fred, killed in the final battle, and it was so easy to feel as Ron did, so easy to think that all Death Eaters deserved much worse than a life sentence in Azkaban.

 

But not Draco. Not a kid who had chosen his family time and time again. Not a kid who had been raised on certain beliefs and never known they were wrong or that there were other views out there until he’d arrived at school and seen for himself the way the world treated blood and power and those he’d been taught to hate.

 

Not Draco who had served his time. Who had gone into Azkaban already broken and found himself shattered. His very self fractured and splintered until there was nothing left but hurt and pain, and the terrifying fear that came with realising everything you’d been taught to believe was wrong. That everything you’d been raised to think and feel was something that you should be ashamed of. That in order to live and be okay with the choices he made, that he needed to change his entire understanding of the world.

 

There was no way to put that feeling into words. His friends didn’t know Draco, they didn’t see him the way Harry did, the way Luna and even Ginny had come to. All they saw was the boy they’d all once hated, laughing and joking and receiving Harry’s trust and his affection when he’d done nothing they could see to deserve it.

 

He was almost waiting for one of them to say it, to make a comment about his “saving people thing”. He wanted one of them to ask again if he knew what he was doing, if he had any idea what his friendship with Draco could mean to the other students at school and the wider wizarding world. He wanted them to ask him why he cared and whether or not he was willing to risk everything for a man who had done nothing to deserve his faith and his trust.

 

He was tired and worried, and he didn’t want them to ask any of those things. He just wanted to be alone so he could hold Draco’s hand, so he could brush the hair from his eyes and trace the scars he’d left on his body with callused fingertips. He wanted to sit right in that chair until Draco woke, groggy and sore, and told him off for staring while he smiled happily with the knowledge that Harry had sat there with him, just waiting for him to come around.

 

It was a horrible feeling to realise that after four months of missing his friends, he wished they’d never come back.

 

‘You can go,’ he told them. They hadn’t come for Draco; they’d come to check on Harry and it grated on him. Luna was here for Draco, Merlin so was Ginny, but Ron and Hermione had only come for Harry and he didn’t want to deal with their questions or watch them trying to build up more than a passing concern for someone they still hated and didn’t trust.

 

He didn’t want Draco waking up with strangers around him. He didn’t want Draco experiencing that moment of fear and panic when he opened his eyes to find people he didn’t trust hovering around him.

 

‘We can stay,’ Hermione offered. She meant it, Harry knew, but it was an offer to keep him company while he waited and making conversation with his friends who didn’t understand why he cared so much would require more energy than he had.

 

He shook his head. ‘It would be better if you weren’t here when he wakes up.’

 

Hermione very clearly wanted to ask what he meant by that, but she changed her mind and instead nodded. Ron seemed relieved, like he didn’t know how to deal with Harry in this situation. Harry couldn’t help wondering if it was the lingering dislike he harboured for Draco or if it was watching Harry care so much about someone who wasn’t him or Hermione. It didn’t matter, not really, Harry was just in a dark mood and he was looking too deeply into things and creating feelings that weren’t there.

 

He watched Hermione hesitate for another moment before she took Ron’s hand and together, they started for the door. Before they could leave Luna returned. She had a strange look on her face, worried but determined. Somehow managing to look sad and distraught while her mind was set on something. She’d changed into clean clothes and her long blond hair hung loose and damp down the back of her dress. She smiled distractedly at Ron and Hermione but didn’t pay them any more attention as she walked steadily back to Draco’s bed.

 

Ron and Hermione stopped their retreat to look worriedly after her. Ginny stood quickly, freeing her chair for Luna but Luna waved her away and climbed onto the bed settling by Draco’s feet. As they watched, she kicked off her shoes and brought her feet up to tuck beneath her. She had her wand in hand, twirled it in steady patterns as she studied Draco. She was looking at him with a frown as though trying to puzzle something out.

 

‘Luna?’ Ginny asked. The look on Luna’s face was new, nothing like the expression she’d warn before Harry fell asleep and not like the one she’d worn when she left for her shower, Harry gathered, judging by the concern Ginny was showing her best friend. They both knew Draco would be okay, the look on Luna’s face must have been about something else entirely and that was more than Harry could handle right then.

 

‘I just spoke with Professor McGonagall,’ Luna said softly. She glanced away from Draco to lock eyes with Harry. ‘Astoria Greengrass is coming back to Hogwarts.’

 

‘No she’s not,’ Harry spoke without hesitation, sure in his words. Because there was simply no way Astoria would be returning to Hogwarts. How would she even manage it?

 

Luna gave him a soft knowing smile. ‘Professor McGonagall asked me to help interpret when Astoria needs it. She said St Mungo’s can’t do anything more for her and she wants to return. McGonagall said she wants things to be normal again.’

 

Harry swallowed hard; he didn’t know how she thought anything could be normal after all she’d been through but that wasn’t his call to make. Only Astoria and her family got to decide what was best for her and if she wanted back in the crush of Hogwarts then who was he to say otherwise?

 

‘How – how do we tell Draco?’ He glanced down at Draco, struggling to rebuild his fucking lung after the Ministry used and abused him, and imagined telling him that the girl he watched being tortured and raped, the one he’d been forced to stand and watch, as she had her throat ripped out, was coming back to Hogwarts.

 

Harry wouldn’t lie to him. He couldn’t. That didn’t mean he wanted one of the first things he said when Draco finally woke to be that Astoria was coming back.

 

‘We just do,’ Luna replied, as though she could read Harry’s thoughts on this.

 

‘I fucking hate this,’ Harry snarled. ‘I hate that they did this to him and that they’ll keep doing this to him and there’s nothing I can do about it.’

 

He scrubbed his hands over his face and tried not to let his frustration leak out in his magic. He felt all over the place, like he couldn’t get a lid on his power or his feelings. He felt like he was back in that little boat on the passage from Azkaban, being tossed about on the waves, never knowing when he was going to be up or down or if the next rough wave would send them over entirely. It was like he’d been cut adrift, left without anchor, and now all he could do was grab tight and hope he didn’t blow something up while he tried desperately not to show Ron or Hermione what he was thinking and feeling.

 

‘Can you just go?’ he asked tiredly, without managing the energy to look at any other them.

 

‘I don’t know if you should be alone,’ Hermione’s words were fuelled by genuine concern for Harry, but he just couldn’t deal with it.

 

‘Hermione,’ Harry said – pleaded this time. ‘I need you to go.’

 

This time, she nodded and left without trying again or asking any of the million questions she so clearly wanted to ask. Ginny went with them, pausing at the door to wait while Luna slipped off the bed and pulled her shoes back on. She brushed Draco’s hair off his face, placed a soft kiss to his cheek and gave Harry one final smile before she went after Ginny.

 

Harry reached out to take Draco’s hand in his own, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more than that small touch could offer. He needed Draco awake, needed him to smirk at him or call him a sap for crying when he was going to be just fine. He needed Draco to be safe and whole and curled up beside him in bed because it was Sunday and Sunday mornings were made for lazy lie-ins and breakfast in bed. They weren’t made for worry and fear and tears that Harry couldn’t have stopped if he tried, not now that he was finally alone with Draco.

 

Holding his hand wasn’t enough. Slowly, carefully, he slid Draco across the bed until he was far enough over that Harry could slide on beside him. He carefully kicked off his shoes – the ratty trainers Draco hated so much but Harry felt were too comfortable just to throw away – and eased onto the bed. He tried not to move too much, not wanting to bump Draco and risk hurting him. Eventually, he found the right spot, resting on his side with his chin on Draco’s shoulder and an arm draped low across Draco’s hips. He’d probably end up with the arm he tucked behind his head numb but it was worth it to be close enough not only to see the stuttering rise and fall of Draco’s chest but to feel it.

 

He breathed slowly and steadily, counting heartbeats and breaths until slowly but surely Draco’s breathing evened out. When Harry was twelve he’d spent a night here regrowing all the bones in his arm. He’d stayed for falls during quidditch, recovered from dementor attacks and hidden here after Voldemort had whisked him away via portkey and reclaimed a body. He’d watched Ron and Hermione heal after the Ministry debacle that got Sirius killed, visited the twins more than once after one of their experiments went wrong. He knew Madam Pomfrey was good, had seen her heal plenty of injuries from ordinary maladies to the weird and wonderful accidents that happened when kids were learning magic.

 

He’d watched her patch Draco up before, in third year and sixth. He’d seen her work to save him in his Ministry holding cell. He knew how good she was, that she’d seen a lot in her many years as Hogwarts’ Matron, but it didn’t matter how many times he reminded himself, didn’t matter how much evidence he had, he was still terrified that Draco wouldn’t wake. That something would go wrong and it would be too late.

 

He hated Voldemort for giving Draco his Mark. Hated the Ministry for seeing a boy who was forced to make the choices of a man and using those choices to unravel spells and curses they were afraid to let their well-trained curse breakers attempt. He wished he’d made Voldemort suffer in the end, wished the aberration of a man could have felt half as much of the pain and suffering that he inflicted on others.

 

He wished he could punish the Ministry for the wrongs they were committing. He wanted to show them he didn’t like the steps they were taking, that he didn’t like the way they treated Draco and all the other prisoners locked up tight in Azkaban. He wanted to rage to Kingsley until the man could promise changes would be made and that those changes stuck. He didn’t want to watch as slowly the old habits and corruption snuck back in, until the new Ministry looked much like the old and those in its employ were too jaded from failure to try anymore.

 

He didn’t know how to do any of that, wasn’t sure even the power he wielded as the Chosen One could attempt such a thing, but there was one thing he could do. Or rather there was one thing he could refuse to do.

 

He would no longer work for the Ministry. He’d drop out of training, stop taking the private lessons and going on raids to sweep up fleeing Death Eaters and the last of Voldemort’s sympathisers. He would turn his back on a Ministry making choices he didn’t like and risking the life of a teenager because they valued Draco less than they did the Mark on his arm. He didn’t know that it would make a difference to the Ministry, but it wasn’t about that. He wouldn’t be able to face Draco if he stood by and continued to work with the people who so easily put his life at risk. He couldn’t work with people who saw nothing wrong with shackling an eighteen-year-old man and dragging him off to Merlin knew where, just so they could force him to break through Death Eater wards and identify curses favoured by Voldemort and his followers.

 

No, if the Ministry could so viciously disregard the life of a broken boy trying to make amends while drowning in guilt, then Harry would not work for them or with them. How would that go, he wondered, when they were forced to acknowledge Harry’s refusal to work with them to the wizarding public? Would they listen then? Make the necessary changes? Take actions to safeguard Draco when he was out with the DMLE doing such vital work?

 

Would they listen to his other concerns? There’d been inquiries after Harry had found Draco in his holding cell, employees of the Ministry had been fired and some arrested, but it wasn’t enough. Sooner or later, if they kept on in this way, the new Ministry would be just as bad as the old and it would be like nothing had ever changed.

 

He’d be back at Dumbledore’s funeral refusing to be the Ministry’s poster boy and puppet.

 

No. He wouldn’t let that happen.

 

‘’Arry?’

 

The tired croak was the most beautiful sound Harry had heard. He lifted his head and as his eyes met Draco’s he felt the worry ease away. He’d known, of course, that Draco would be fine, but finally seeing his grey eyes made it real.

 

‘Hey,’ he murmured. ‘You’re okay.’

 

‘Don’ feel o-okay.’

 

‘Pomfrey had to regrow one of your lungs.’

 

‘Explains,’ Draco paused to take a ragged breath and winced sharply, ‘explains the…feeling like a-a giant…sitting…chest.’ His words were a wheeze, each one seemed to make it harder and harder for the next to come out.

 

‘Stop talking,’ Harry chastised. ‘Rest.’

 

Draco looked up at Harry and for a moment he looked fine, tired and sore but fine, and then his expression crumpled and he started to cry. Harry wriggled up the bed a bit until he could wrap Draco in his arms and simply held him, whispering nonsense words and stroking his hair, offering what comfort he could.

 

This was why Harry had wanted to be alone. This was why he’d sent even Luna and Ginny away. He’d known what waking up in the Hospital Wing broken and bruised would do to Draco and he’d known that if there’d been people around, he’d have kept a lid on his emotions, swallowing them down until he couldn’t feel them anymore. Burying them behind masks and pretences until he pushed himself too hard and broke.

 

But the two of them, just the two of them, Draco could be weak.

 

And so Harry held him tightly and whispered words of love and vowed that he’d never let the Ministry use Draco like this again.

Chapter Text

‘Look, I’m not saying it’s a good idea – ’

 

‘Because it’s a bloody stupid idea,’

 

Harry went on as if Draco hadn’t spoken, ‘I just think it’s something we should think about.’

 

‘I did think about it,’ Draco informed him rather tersely, ‘and that’s why I’m telling you it’s a bloody stupid idea.’

 

‘What’s a bloody stupid idea?’ Ron asked, dropping onto the bench beside Harry at the end of the Hufflepuff table.

 

He frowned at Harry and tilted his head – Harry took that to be about the choice of breakfast location – and Harry shrugged. The wrinkle of Ron’s nose that followed was definitely directed at Harry’s and Draco’s attire (which was directly linked to the eating at the Hufflepuff table, not that Ron needed to know Draco had pushed himself too far on his first run since he’d been injured and so they’d both just dropped down at the nearest table).

 

‘Nothing,’ Harry told Ron, wincing the moment he did because it was an obvious (and outright) lie.

 

Thankfully, Draco was quick on his feet and not pathetic at lying to Harry’s friends (or anyone for that matter). His, ‘Harry was suggesting blackmailing the goblins at Gringotts into letting him access his money,’ was a lot more believable when stated clearly in his matter of fact arrogant tone.

 

Loathe though he was admitting it (Harry could tell by the pained expression), Ron said, ‘Yeah, mate, I think Malfoy’s got a point.’

 

That probably would have been the end of the conversation if Hermione hadn’t slipped into the spot beside Ron and questioned, ‘You don’t have access to your money? How have you been buying things?’

 

Harry shrugged, fiddling with the leather chord Draco had tied around his wrist while he’d been asleep. ‘I had plenty of gold to get me through the summer and the goblins love Draco. I’m pretty sure they’d let him have all my money and all my vaults if he asked them nicely.’

 

Draco scoffed. ‘I don’t need to ask,’ he gave Harry a sly look. ‘You should really learn to read the things I make you sign.’

 

Ron and Hermione sputtered, outraged, but Harry just rolled his eyes. ‘Draco isn’t stealing my money,’ he told them, reaching for more bacon. Which was true, he wasn’t stealing Harry’s money, he just wasn’t going to tell them that Draco was free to access his gold and not just because the goblins did like a Malfoy and were still mad at Harry about the whole dragon thing.

 

Until they decided Harry was allowed to set foot in their bank again, he was relying on Draco fetching him gold when he needed it and any big purchases that might normally have been deducted directly from his vault were, for the time being, coming out of Draco’s because the goblins refused to process any request with his name on it. They were, for all intents and purposes, holding his gold hostage until they came to some sort of agreement. Harry had no idea what they wanted from him and from what Draco had managed to work out of them, the goblins were just enjoying watching Harry suffer. It had been a problem in the beginning but now he’d just continue to use Draco’s money until he and the goblins came to some sort of understanding and he could pay Draco back.

 

Not that Draco seemed to care, rather he’d waved the whole thing off. When Harry had pointed out he didn’t feel right spending money that wasn’t his. Draco had called the whole thing “disgustingly domestic” and said he wasn’t worried because Harry was just as rich as he was and that he was absolutely going to owe him a ridiculously extravagant Christmas/birthday/valentines gift when he had proper access to his money again. This had caused more worries than using Draco’s money had. One minor panic attack at having no idea what he was supposed to get his boyfriend had followed that pronouncement but Narcissa and Luna seemed to have the issue well in hand.

 

And there was just something truly terrifying about those two working together.

 

And it was easier to focus on the idea of paying Draco back in the form of an extravagant gift than it was to focus on the ever-growing feeling that what belonged to him belonged to Draco and vice versa. It all just hit a little too close to that whole marriage thing and the one time Narcissa bought that up, he and Draco had had to go and spend a few hours apart until the panic had subsided. Luna found the whole incident hilarious, she still enjoyed bringing it up when they got too sappy but Narcissa had only rolled her eyes. She did continue to talk about him as her son-in-law but strangely that didn’t set either him or Draco off.

 

Small steps.

 

Which wasn’t actually the point because he and Draco hadn’t been talking about Gringotts at all. They’d been arguing about visiting Draco’s father in Azkaban to tell him about their relationship. Harry didn’t want it getting out before Lucius was made aware in case the press got a hold of it and he had to hear about it that way. Harry hated the man, loathed him, but as much as Draco tried to hate the man, he was still his father and Harry had to respect that. That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to attempt to stem any opportunity the man had to use Harry’s relationship with his son to his advantage. If they were up front about it, Harry had hopes that it would make it harder for Lucius to try and manipulate the situation to somehow benefit him.

 

But he would not be telling Ron or Hermione, that, not yet at least.

 

Before the conversation about Gringotts could work its way back around to just how Harry was planning on regaining access to his money (at this point he was feeling like never but Draco was absurdly optimistic – it should be noted Bill was not), a tiny, nervous looking first year approached them at the table.

 

Given that it had only just gone seven (what Ron was doing up so early, even on a Monday, Harry didn’t know, though were he to hazard a guess he thought it might have something to do with him not spending the night in his bed and Hermione’s own alarm), the Great Hall was mostly empty, barring some studious fifth years and an odd spattering of other students. Harry and Draco were the only two not wearing their school robes and perhaps sitting at the Hufflepuff table had made them seem more approachable because Harry couldn’t imagine any other time a nervous looking first year – even a Slytherin – would come up to him while Draco was around.

 

Only, the tiny little girl (who looked far too young to possibly be at Hogwarts) wasn’t after Harry. She twisted her dark hair around her finger nervously and had to take a deep breath to steel herself before she said, ‘Erm, Mister Malfoy?’

 

Startled at being addressed so politely (and formally), Draco’s eyebrows shot up and he looked at the girl with his usual cold expression until Harry kicked him under the table.

 

‘What?’ he asked, not as nicely as Harry would have liked but then if he had sounded nice Harry would have worried that the run had been an even worse idea than he’d first realised. Draco was still feeling like shit, Harry knew, but he was doing his best to ignore it, Harry knew that too.

 

Getting Draco to acknowledge when he was hurt was about as easy as petting a dragon. In fact, the entire reason (Harry had furiously discovered) that Draco had ended up in the Hospital Wing was because he’d leapt in front of a curse meant for Auror Winthrop and then lied about having known the counter-curse. Harry had done his fair share of hiding injuries, especially when there was still fighting to be done, but never to the extent that he’d lost an entire fucking lung.

 

Honestly, sometimes Harry wished Draco still had the pain tolerance of his thirteen-year-old self, at least then Harry would know when he was hurt the moment it happened and not have to worry that he was hiding the true extent of injuries out of guilt and a need to make amends. Or worse, some sense that the punishment was deserved.

 

But he wasn’t going to think about that, all it did was make him mad at Draco, mad at the Ministry, and the tiny first year did not need to be even more twitchy than she was. Struggling with an obvious bout of nerves, eyes darting from Draco to Harry and over to Hermione and Ron before they slipped once more back to Draco, it was a moment before she managed to speak again.

 

‘I need help with Potions and Transfiguration. Professor - Professor McGonagall said you might be able to help.’

 

‘She what?’ Draco blinked, nonplussed, at the shy first year.

 

‘It’s not just me!’ she added in a hurry, as though that somehow made it less bizarre that a first year was approaching the ex-Death Eater for tutoring. ‘Some of the second years missed a lot last year!’

 

Draco stared at her for a long moment before he turned to glare at Harry. Harry snickered, raising his hands in defence. ‘Don’t look at me.’

 

The Slytherin girl, who, by now, was starting to flush red and sweat under the gobsmacked scrutiny of two Gryffindors (Ron and Hermione) and Harry’s amused grin, started backing away. ‘Sorry, it was – it was a stupid idea. I’ll just...’ she spun around to scurry off and Draco let out an annoyed breath.

 

‘Oh, get back here,’ he snapped. Once the girl had spun back around with a startled “eep” and taken a few steps back toward Draco and the table, he said, ‘What’s your name?’

 

‘Felicia,’ she stammered, ‘Felicia Appleby.’

 

Draco didn’t seem to know what to say next and Harry nudged him (gently this time) under the table. In response, Draco kicked him sharply in the shin. Harry’s pained grunt was swallowed up by barely concealed mirth.

 

‘Never call me “Mister Malfoy” again, Felicia,’ Draco said, scrutinising the girl. ‘You’re muggleborn.’ It wasn’t a question, but Felicia nodded in response all the same, nerves heightened because even young as she was – even Slytherin as she was – she’d just admitted to being muggleborn to an ex-Death Eater.

 

Draco sighed; Harry knew why he’d asked. A first year muggleborn would only have heard stories about Draco, she wouldn’t have seen anything herself to suggest she should be properly afraid of him. She wouldn’t know anything about the war and Death Eaters other than stories and whispers of her fellow students, most of which, Harry bet, sounded ridiculous and heavily embellished to a kid who’d been living obliviously in the muggle world. When McGonagall had told her to ask Draco for help, that had been enough to trust that she could approach him.

 

Harry did wonder if she’d mentioned to any of her friends who she was asking before she’d approached Draco because he didn’t imagine they’d have thought that a good idea, let alone a good idea to do alone.

 

‘I’ll be in the library after classes finish for the day.’

 

That was all Draco had to say and so Harry, with another roll of his eyes, smiled kindly at the girl and translated for his cold boyfriend. ‘That means he’ll help you,’ he told her. ‘Just bring your friends who need help but, uh, probably don’t make it more than four of you.’

 

Felicia nodded and scurried away.

 

‘Don’t make it more than four?’ Draco repeated, shooting Harry a look.

 

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ he said. ‘Any more than four of them and you’d bloody curse the lot of them – or start swearing at them – and I don’t need McGonagall asking me where a bunch of first years learnt how to swear so creatively.’

 

Draco grinned smugly. ‘I can be quite creative. And let’s be honest, I’m going to curse at least one of them. I can’t believe McGonagall would send her to me.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Ron butted in, agreeing heartily with the sentiment. ‘She could have sent them to Hermione. She’d be a much better choice.’

 

Hermione turned pink at the compliment but said with a shake of her head, ‘I’m surprised she didn’t suggest Harry. Your Transfiguration skills are quite good and it would look good if you were the one helping the Slytherins.’ She looked at them, thoughtfully. ‘It would be a good opportunity to strengthen interhouse unity and stop some of the behaviour directed at the Slytherins. That girl wasn’t even here last year, she didn’t even know magic existed, she shouldn’t be punished for prejudices coming out of the war – she’s muggleborn, for heaven’s sake.’

 

‘No,’ Draco said, more vehemently than he likely intended. ‘Harry’s got enough on his plate.’

 

‘No, I don’t,’ Harry countered, crossing his arms. ‘I’ve got the time.’ And Hermione had a good point about interhouse unity and erasing prejudice.

 

‘You don’t.’ This time Draco’s words were snapped, and Harry could feel the same argument they’d been having for days returning for round four.

 

‘Yes, I do.’

 

Draco placed his teacup down on the table with enough force to slosh tea over the rim. ‘You’re being stupid.’

 

‘I’m not.’

 

‘You are.’

 

Trying to out stubborn Draco was no easy feat, but Harry was determined this time. He did have plenty of time on his hands because he would not be going back to the Ministry for his Auror training like he’d originally planned. He’d already missed two weeks’ worth of training sessions in the time he’d been back and ignored multiple owls from both Robards (the head auror) and Kingsley. He knew how Draco felt about the whole thing, knew Draco thought he was throwing away his career and even his future on something that wasn’t even worth the fuss. But to Harry, Draco was worth all the fuss. He refused to work for a Ministry that treated anyone the way they treated Draco when they forced him to perform those jobs. He didn’t want to be a part of even Kingsley’s reformed Ministry if they were still willing to treat Draco as nothing more than Death Eater scum. Until they recognised the danger that they were putting Draco in, and at least tried to protect him, Harry would have nothing to do with the Ministry.

 

He hadn’t come right out and said it to either the Head Auror or the Minister, but he figured the shouting he’d done through the floo and the argument McGonagall had had with Kingsley was evidence enough.

 

They’d been arguing about it all week, Draco had made his opinion known, he didn’t want Harry throwing away his future over something Draco deserved. Harry had pointed out Draco was his future and that had softened Draco enough to end the argument that time. This time, that argument wouldn’t work. Especially not with Ron and Hermione looking between them, waiting for someone to start explaining Draco’s vehemence against the idea of Harry helping with interhouse unity.

 

‘I don’t like it any more than you do,’ Draco said softly. ‘But I made the wrong choices and I have to pay for those decisions. Getting pissed off and turning your back on the Ministry because of me is not something I want on my conscience. I have enough guilt weighing me down.’

 

It was a low blow and Harry flinched as Draco’s words hit home.

 

‘Besides,’ Draco added, with a smirk. ‘I slipped a portkey onto your wrist when you weren’t looking.’

 

‘You – what?’ Harry looked down in alarm at the leather wrapped around his wrist. He’d thought it was an odd token for Draco to give him, but it matched his wand holster and Draco was prone to doing odd things when it came to his wardrobe choices. He hadn’t thought anything more than that Draco had felt like giving him something. He’d assumed it would be some sort of accessory to clothing Draco wanted him to wear (it wouldn’t be the first time).

 

Harry reached to untie the knot, but he was too late, he had only enough time to shoot Draco a betrayed, ‘You bastard,’ before the tugging behind his navel tore him away from Hogwarts and straight to the atrium at the Ministry.

 

Arthur Weasley was waiting for him. He offered Harry a cheerful smile which turned to a chuckle when he noticed Harry’s expression. ‘Ah. Well, Draco did say he’d trick you if he had to.’ Arthur sounded wholly unperturbed that Draco Malfoy had tricked Harry Potter into wearing a portkey which told Harry several things, most of which just made him more annoyed.

 

‘He slipped it on while I was asleep,’ he told his best friend’s father. He smirked at a sudden thought. ‘Jokes on him, I left him having breakfast with Ron and Hermione.’

 

Arthur smiled, clapped him on the back. ‘It’ll do Ron some good to get to know him. Come on, Robards wants a word before you start with Smith.’

 

Harry groaned but as he was at the Ministry, he didn’t see how he was going to get around it. He’d just have to make sure Robards knew where he stood and just why he’d ignored the owls and then skipped out on his training sessions. He couldn’t avoid the whole Ministry forever, but it was time he had it out with Robards (and possibly Kingsley) because, as much as Harry hated to admit it, Draco was right. This was his future and as much as he knew Draco was a huge part of that future, being an auror was something he’d wanted for a long time. He owed it to himself to have it out with the people who could make changes, owed it to himself to give them the chance to right their wrongs before he officially turned his back on them.

 

That didn’t mean he was happy about following Arthur to the lifts. He settled in the rickety cage with a grumpy expression on his face that, unfortunately, didn’t deter a number of witches and wizards from trying to talk to him or shake his hand. As such, he was in an even worse mood when Arthur prodded him into Robards’ office and so he slouched into the visitor’s chair across from the head auror with all the dark moodiness of his fifteen-year-old self.

 

Robards regarded him in silence for a moment, taking in the sweaty hair, ratty trainers, the joggers and t-shirt and grunted. ‘Malfoy tricked you then.’

 

Some of Harry’s annoyance gave way to embarrassment. ‘Was everybody in on this?’ he grouched.

 

‘Sorry, Harry,’ Arthur patted his shoulder, sounding not at all sorry. ‘It’s for the best,’ he assured him, before bidding goodbye to Robards and leaving Harry alone with the Head Auror. Free to leave now that he’d played his part in tricking me, Harry couldn’t help thinking.

 

‘You’re being an idiot,’ Robards informed him tersely.

 

Harry glared but didn’t speak because Robards held up a hand stopping him before he could say something he’d likely regret later. Maybe. Probably not.

 

‘I’m not unaware of the nature of your relationship with Mister Malfoy,’ Robards’ tone was gruff, annoyed, but there was no hint he was disgusted by Harry’s relationship – beyond the fact that it had prevented Harry from doing the job he’d promised to do. Homosexuality was still frowned upon by a large chunk of the wizarding world and Robards’ straight forward acknowledgement tried to thaw Harry’s attitude. Although he wondered how far that acceptance went and if he could bandy the words queer or bi around too.

 

‘I know you don’t like the tasks he’s being given. I don’t care. If you can’t set your feelings for Malfoy aside then you won’t make it as an auror. And Potter, you make a damn fine auror.’

 

‘Uh, thank you?’ He refused to let the compliment thaw him even more than he’d let the open acceptance of his relationship with Draco thaw it. He had perfectly legitimate reasons to be annoyed, damn it.

 

Robards rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t like sending an untrained kid out in the field when even our trained curse breakers would struggle any more than you like me sending your boyfriend off to get killed – but this is something that needs to be done and whether you acknowledge it or not, I’m going to keep sending him out. I have to. That Mark of his has saved a lot of lives – it’s about damn time something good came from it.’

 

That was one of the arguments Draco had tried to use. Harry hadn’t listened then and he didn’t want to listen now, but again, Robards wasn’t finished.

 

‘I know you’ve been teaching him everything you learn, and I want you to keep doing that.’

 

‘I was planning to,’ Harry said crisply, well he’d been aiming for crisp, but he thought he might have hit petulant instead, judging from the look Robards gave him.

 

Robards once again spoke as though Harry hadn’t said anything. ‘Bill Weasley has volunteered to work with Malfoy.’

 

That took Harry by surprise. He sat up straight and stared at Robards. ‘What?’

 

‘We need Malfoy,’ Robards explained, leaning back in his chair and watching Harry closely. ‘I read the reports of his work. He’ll only be going with Mendenhall and Winthrop from here on out. I can trust those two not to get him killed – if they can help it.’

 

He bestowed on Harry a sharp look that somehow suggested he expected him to make Draco tell them when he was hurt. Harry gave him an incredulous look back that suggested he’d have a better chance resurrecting Voldemort and getting him to change his ways.

 

After staring each other down Robards conceded defeat and said, ‘Weasley will work with him twice a week at Hogwarts. I don’t need word of this getting out to the public. As far as they’re concerned Malfoy is a Death Eater and this is his punishment.’

 

‘Ex-Death Eater,’ Harry said automatically, ‘and he didn’t want to be.’ At least he hadn’t, not in the end.

 

‘He was a bloody useless Death Eater,’ Robards acknowledged. ‘I was part of the Greengrass girls’ rescue.’ They both winced. ‘I saw that firsthand. But he’s not stupid. He knows more about the Dark Arts than some of my best Aurors.’

 

That, Harry knew, was true. Draco had been raised on the Dark Arts, surrounded by artefacts and hearing stories that painted certain magics in a positive and powerful light as though they were an ordinary part of life as a wizard – they certainly were an ordinary part of life as a pureblood Malfoy, heir to both the Black and Malfoy lines. But just because Draco ad extensive knowledge of the Dark Arts (which was already being put to use by the Ministry) Harry didn’t see why Robards was talking about offering him training.

 

They were already making use of him and he had no choice, it was court mandated, not to mention there were plenty of people at the Ministry happy to see him being used in such a way, they were even happier to know he was being hurt in the process. Giving him additional training didn’t mesh with the idea this was all part of his punishment for each and every one of his poor choices and Harry said as much to Robards.

 

‘He’s got skills and he’s smart, with some proper training he might survive and prove himself useful.’

 

‘He’s already useful,’ Harry snapped, but the anger he’d been feeling had subsided somewhat in the face of Robards concern and his obvious regard (and respect) for Draco.

 

Robards was definitely concerned. Harry had come to know the gruff head Auror well enough in the last five months to read that into what he was saying. He felt a little bad for all the shouting he’d done but not bad enough to go so far as to apologise – it had needed to be said.

 

‘Potter,’ Robards barked, his patience fraying, ‘the Ministry is a mess. We need you. We need Malfoy. If we train him up, keep him alive, he’ll keep being a benefit to the Ministry.’

 

Harry was sweaty, annoyed and usually a little on the daft side when it came to this sort of thing. He wasn’t like Draco who’d been raised to manipulate the people at the Ministry from a young age by his father or Hermione who was clever enough to read between the lines of the political two-step, but it finally clicked what Robards was saying.

 

Bill might have volunteered to train Draco up as a curse breaker because he was important to Harry but Robards had given it approval because the Ministry needed a properly trained curse breaker, someone who would be around to help for longer than just the next two years. If Draco got the proper training and continued to work with the Ministry – making it look like Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater, was doing everything he could to erase the damage Voldemort had done – he’d be building back his own reputation. Draco would be taking the punishment, but he’d also be showing the wizarding world that he wasn’t like his father, that he wanted to help, that he was willingly risking himself not just being forced to.

 

That he was a useful and productive member of society.

 

He’d be meeting the terms of his parole, yes, but he’d also be gaining skills to be used once his parole was over. Robards was suggesting he had a proper – paid – place for Draco within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the end of his release. And if Robards was suggesting it then Kingsley no doubt knew about it.

 

Harry wondered, rather nastily, if this had all come about because the Ministry desperately needed to keep Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, in their good graces or if this was something they’d been considering and it was just a happy coincidence that it would get Harry back for training.

 

‘It was Winthrop’s idea,’ Robards admitted, because Harry had to ask. ‘She seems to think he’ll be a good fit.’

 

Given how badly hurt Draco had been when he’d returned from that last job, Harry was surprised but he’d take it. If Winthrop was feeling guilty for standing by and not realising Draco had been hurt saving her life, then who was he to argue? Anything that gave Draco some hope of a respectable future was worth grabbing with both hands. Under other circumstances, Harry had no trouble believing Draco would enjoy being a curse breaker. He liked unravelling spells and curses, he liked getting to play with them and learn about them as he tried to counter them. He’d been planning to do the work clearing out the Manor even before Narcissa’s request had garnered Ministry aid.

 

No, Harry had no trouble believing that under different circumstances Draco would have loved the idea that he could be a highly skilled and highly sought after (paid) employee – or at least an over-priced consultant – of the Ministry. Harry thought that being a consultant would probably work best as it gave the public the impression the Ministry was still calling on Draco when they saw fit and not welcoming him into the fold with open arms – and vaults. If he spun it right, and Harry had no doubt Draco could spin it right, he could have the whole thing looking – rightfully – as though he was invaluable and highly sought after in the public’s eye and not just secretly in the Ministry’s.

 

Something in his thoughts must have shown on his face because Robards’ scowl deepened. ‘Get out of my office, Potter,’ he commanded. ‘You’re late for your session with Smith.’

 

Harry scrambled to his feet, lips quirking in a smile at the abrupt end of the discussion. He paused with his hand on the doorknob to turn back and pin Robards with a hard look. ‘You’ll tell Draco?’

 

Robards glared back at him. ‘I’ve sent him an owl.’ After a pause he added. ‘Kingsley’s got an aide working to adjust the terms of his parole given he’s already working on supplying services to the Ministry.’

 

Harry smiled. A proper smile that made Robards glare at him for being too damn cheerful. While the changes being made wouldn’t keep Draco completely out of harm’s way, they were a start, a sign that Robards (and Winthrop at the very least) saw Draco as more than just a nasty Death Eater tool to be used. A sign that if two people who’d never known Draco as anything other than a Death Eater (and Winthrop had never seen evidence of how crap a Death Eater he made) then the wizarding world at large might someday see it too.

 

‘Thank you, sir.’

 

‘Out, Potter.’

 

But Harry wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. ‘I’ll be going with him any time he goes out,’ he informed Robards. ‘You do still want the man who killed Voldemort working with you, right?’

 

Robards turned an interesting shade of purple. ‘Potter,’ he growled.

 

‘No,’ Harry said firmly. ‘You want me to set aside my personal feelings in the field, sir, and I will, I can because I trust Draco with my life – I just don’t trust anyone with his.’

 

‘You know that’s not always possible.’

 

‘You’re going to make it possible, sir,’ Harry managed to channel all of the disrespect he’d once aimed at Snape into that single word. ‘If I have to, I’ll take him away somewhere you’ll never find him and we’ll sit back and watch the whole fucking wizarding world crumble down around this shambles you call a Ministry.’

 

Robards couldn’t stop his mouth from falling open and it occurred to Harry how few people, even knowing he killed Voldemort, saw him as an actual threat.

 

‘Is that a threat?’

 

‘It’s a promise,’ Harry assured him. ‘If you get him killed, I’ll burn this whole fucking place down myself.’

 

It wasn’t intentional, but as he’d been talking, he’d been getting angrier and angrier and his magic had reacted accordingly. The air in the room warmed as he spoke until a bead of sweat formed on Robards’ forehead and the paint on the wall behind Harry started to crack and bubble. He didn’t once take his eyes off the man who wanted to be his boss. It wasn’t something he was proud to show off, and it certainly wasn’t something the old Harry would have done, but this Harry would do anything in his power to protect the man he loved.

 

And he had a lot of power.

 

He had to give Robards some credit, though, the man didn’t cower, although he did ease back, sliding his chair away from the desk to put as much extra space between him and the heat coming off Harry as he could.

 

‘Do you know the best part, Head Auror Robards?’ Harry asked conversationally. ‘All this power you’re feeling? That pounding in your heart that says you know exactly how easy it would be for me to do it? To make the Ministry burn? All that power belongs to Draco too.’

 

Harry took a step closer to the door, put his back to Robards finally, as though he’d said his piece. As though he didn’t have anything to worry about, turning his back on a man people considered quite powerful and adept in the field. He had one last thing to say as he passed through the door though.

 

‘I have no love for the Ministry, Robards, no respect, but I love Draco more than anything and he needs this. But don’t think for a moment that you control him. Voldemort couldn’t in the end, what makes you think you could?’

 

Harry shut the door behind him softly, slamming it seemed like something moody fifteen-year-old Harry would do. Besides, as he walked away the paint on the walls bubbled and blistered in his wake causing a number of people to leap aside. Only when he was in the lift – alone because no one had been game to join him – did he even try to rein his power back in. He slumped back against the wall of the lift and tried not to shake in the wake of his display of power. He’d never done something like that before, never even considered using his own power like that.

 

But he was done dealing with a Ministry who claimed to be different and then made the same bad choices it had always done. If that meant he had to show off his power, make threats and demands, then so be it. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to do it again. Hopefully, he’d never have to follow through on his threats. Although, he didn’t necessarily hate the idea of taking Draco somewhere far away where the Ministry could never find them. Harry was done fighting other people’s wars and if this administration wasn’t careful, there’d be another one.

 

The lift jerked to a stop on one of the lower levels – the same one that housed the holding cells where he’d first found Draco. Instead of turning left when he exited, Harry turned right toward the training rooms. He hadn’t been down here in two weeks and in spite of the display of power he’d just pulled off upstairs he had no doubt he was about to get his arse kicked down here.

 

He wasn’t disappointed.

 

The last of Harry’s bad mood was whipped into shape quite thoroughly during the next hour of training with Geraldine Smith, an old – though surprisingly spry – witch Kingsley had begged out of retirement to help clean up the Auror department before she’d seen how bad things had truly gotten and imposed herself on the entire Ministry. So far, she’d been responsible for the dismissal of thirty-nine employees, the suspension of ninety-four more and had, by this point, arrested twenty-three and sent another fifteen off to St Mungo’s for treatment of suspected Imperius and other spells.

 

If you’d passed her on the street you wouldn’t have looked twice at her, being that she was five foot nothing, had short curly grey hair and walked with a severe limp owing to the fact that she didn’t have any toes on her right foot and had a fused left hip from an incident with – according to rumour – three hags and a vampire.

 

She was no-nonsense, treated Kingsley like he was still the fresh-faced eighteen-year-old who’d turned up for his first day at the Auror academy, and had proven time and time again that, despite being on the wrong side of eighty, she could still tackle Dark Wizards (and Chosen Ones) in her sleep.

 

She was even more terrifying than Mad-Eye Moody (whom she’d helped train) had ever been and consensus in the DMLE was that a great many people had only survived the war because of her. She reminded Harry a lot of Neville’s grandmother (a close friend, he’d been unsurprised to learn), though he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

 

What it boiled down to, though, was that she worked him hard, taught him a lot and that by the time he’d stepped through the floo back into McGonagall’s empty office, made for his (Draco’s) room, tripped over Draco’s bloody kneazle, showered, dressed and made for Potions at a dead run, he was too tired to even attempt to keep his temper (which it turned out Smith had not as thoroughly tempered as he’d thought) in check when he arrived in the dungeons to find Draco being verbally abused by a seventh year Ravenclaw while everyone else (even Ron and Hermione) stood watching without trying to step in.

 

‘Is that how you did it, then?’ the Ravenclaw sneered, voice carrying in the corridor. The silence of his audience, eagerly waiting to see what would happen next, offered the perfect atmosphere for his words. ‘Go on then Malfoy, tell us the truth, who’d you let fuck you to get you out of Azkaban?’

 

Harry’s stinging hex might have had a bit more power behind it than he’d intended when it slammed into the Ravenclaw’s back, judging by the pained scream he gave as his whole body jerked forward with the impact. Startled, the audience of NEWTs students drew back, some of them reaching for wands (some of them already had wands in hand) as they looked at Draco in alarm.

 

Draco raised a brow at Harry over the Ravenclaw’s shoulder, the only reaction he displayed on his otherwise impassive face. He seemed to have been the only one to realise just what had happened as Harry was still far enough away and his spell had been non-verbal. Everyone in the corridor was looking at Draco expecting to see his wand out as he moved to cast another spell.

 

The Ravenclaw smiled, eyes flashing viciously as he glared up at Draco, still hunched over. ‘They’ll send you back to Azkaban for that,’ he declared, in a pained sputter. ‘Maybe this time they’ll give you a Kiss.’

 

Harry hit him again with another hex but this time he was close enough that people noticed he was there. Noticed and looked to him, eager to see what he would do. None of them could possibly have failed to notice how friendly he’d been with Draco since his return, but he could read on their faces how they expected this to go. They thought he’d see the Ravenclaw hunched over in pain, staring down a Death Eater and let the scene speak for itself. He could see the eagerness in the way they were waiting for his reaction.

 

He could see the way Ron and Hermione were waiting for it too and that threatened to tip his anger into rage. His words, when he spoke, were sharp, dripping with power. ‘Say that again.’

 

His words were misinterpreted by everyone but Draco and Hermione. Hermione’s eyes widened as she realised he’d been the one to curse the Ravenclaw’s back, Draco’s impassive expression had morphed into a smirk, as though he was going to enjoy what was about to happen.

 

Harry wasn’t going to enjoy it. That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to do it. He’d stood by and watched people curse Draco before, little things that Draco refused to let him do anything about. He’d stood by when Draco’s guilt made him think he deserved to be cursed and attacked but he would not stand by and witness this.

 

‘Malfoy cursed me,’ the Ravenclaw spat out. ‘He’ll be back in Azkaban where he belongs.’ He tried to straighten to his full height, despite the pain and turned slightly to face Harry as he finally reached them. ‘He’ll finally get what he deserves.’

 

‘Draco didn’t touch you,’ Harry told him hotly, and barely even noticed the heat that was pouring off him, obliterating the chill of the gloomy dungeon corridor and pressing oppressively down on his classmates like heat from a roaring fire – not Draco, though Harry was too distracted to notice the way the heat eddied around Draco, teasingly warm. ‘That pain you’re feeling across your back? The sharp hot burn screaming fire into your skin? That was me.’

 

He crowded closer to the Ravenclaw, herding him back against the stone wall beside the door to the classroom, scattering the students who’d been leaning there. Harry didn’t stop until the boy’s back hit the wall. He didn’t smile at the pained yelp he made as the welts from Harry’s hex hit the stone, but he knew if he glanced over his shoulder, he’d see Draco’s lips tic up in the beginnings of a satisfied smile. Harry took no satisfaction from the boy’s pain, he just wanted him to understand how serious this was.

 

‘Talk to Draco like that again and it’ll be a hundred times worse.’

 

‘Harry!’ Hermione reprimanded, her voice sharp in the heavy silence that followed his threat.

 

‘He’s got you under some sort of spell,’ the Ravenclaw said, eyes widening as though he’d come to a startling realisation. There were mutterings as the other students suggested this made sense and started eyeing Draco even more warily.

 

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t need to be under a spell to tell you not to do that again.’

 

Someone else piped up then, ‘You hated Malfoy. Chris’ right, he’s got you under some sort of spell.’

 

‘What’s this?’ Slughorn chortled cheerfully, as he opened the classroom door. His happy expression slipped when he caught sight of Harry crowding the Ravenclaw – Chris – against the wall and the uneasy way all his classmates were eyeing Draco. ‘Oho,’ he sputtered. ‘What is going on here boys?’

 

‘Malfoy has Potter under some sort of spell,’ the Ravenclaw hurried to say. ‘Made him curse me behind my back.’

 

No one spoke and the temperature in the corridor spiked sharply as Harry shoved Chris in the chest.

 

‘Harry, my boy, are you alright? What’s this about a spell?’

 

‘There’s no spell,’ Harry said, and he was quite happy with how calm and reassuring he sounded.

 

‘You hit him in the back with a stinging hex,’ someone spoke up. ‘Professor, Chris needs to go to the Hospital Wing.’

 

‘Of course, of course, off you go.’

 

Chris didn’t move immediately, eyeing Harry warily for a moment before he realised Harry wasn’t about to move and tried to slide sideways away from him. Harry made sure he locked eyes with him as he edged away before he turned his attention to Slughorn who looked confused and off balance.

 

‘Are you sure you’re alright, Harry?’

 

‘I’m fine,’ he replied curtly.

 

Slughorn nodded reluctantly. ‘Perhaps it would be best if you found a different partner for today.’

 

‘I’m not under a spell,’ Harry snapped.

 

‘Right, right,’ Slughorn agreed genially. ‘Inside everybody, let’s not dilly dally.’

 

They dutifully filed into the classroom, everyone giving Draco a wide berth and they might then have settled in for an ordinary class if Ron hadn’t hissed in Harry’s ear as he followed him to a table at the back of the classroom, ‘You sure he hasn’t got you under some sort of spell?’

 

Something crunched, something else shattered, people yelped and jumped in surprise as cauldrons twisted and empty glassware exploded. ‘There’s no fucking spell,’ Harry snarled.

 

‘You’re not acting like yourself,’ Ron insisted.

 

‘Settle down, settle down,’ Slughorn called, trying for calm and failing to achieve it.

 

Draco placed a hand on Harry’s elbow and murmured a soft litany of calming words in his ear which did nothing to improve the suspicions of the class but at least served to calm Harry enough to get a lid on all that power leaking out of him.

 

‘See!’ someone declared, reminding Harry with a jolt that they had an audience of more than just Ron and Hermione. ‘He has got you under some sort of spell.’

 

‘Mate,’ Ron spoke softly, words calm but firm, ‘I think you should go see Madam Pomfrey, get her to look you over.’

 

‘Ron’s right,’ Hermione added. ‘This isn’t like you.’

 

What was so absurd about that statement was how wrong it was. Harry had lost his temper plenty of times before, let his anger and rage boil inside him until he broke things (although usually that was with his hands) there was nothing out of the ordinary about Harry, tired and cranky – and so full of worry and fear for Draco after a fortnight spent defiantly ignoring the Ministry for putting him in danger – blowing things up. He’d done it to Aunt Marge once before, after all.

 

‘How would you know?’ Harry demanded, hotly. ‘You were gone for months.’

 

Hermione gave a hurt gasp and Ron frowned. ‘Mate.’

 

Harry scrubbed a hand over his face, shoulders slumping. ‘I can’t do this right now,’ he muttered. ‘There’s no fucking spell.’ He turned to Draco. ‘Let’s go.’

 

Draco studied him for a brief moment and then nodded. He let Harry lead the way out of the classroom and Harry didn’t miss the way people moved out of their way or the fact that Slughorn didn’t try to stop them. Once they were out in the corridor, Harry reached back a hand and glanced over his shoulder expectantly at Draco. Draco smiled softly, any tension remaining slithered away as he slid his hand into Harry’s.

 

Harry tugged him close and raised their clasped hands to press a kiss to the back of Draco’s hand before he asked, ‘You okay?’

 

Draco smirked. ‘After that display of power?’ The look he gave Harry positively burned.

 

Harry grinned, a little sheepishly, but he met Draco’s look with a heat of his own. ‘Take me to bed?’

 

‘Oh well if you insist.’

 

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Git.’ He tugged on Draco’s hand to get him moving again.

 

‘You didn’t have to do that,’ Draco’s voice was soft, some of the heat from his gaze melting away as they navigated the empty corridors.

 

‘Course I did,’ Harry returned quickly.

 

Draco made a soft sound of disagreement. ‘You can’t stop everyone from hating me, Harry.’

 

‘No,’ Harry agreed. ‘But I can make them think twice about hurting you.’

 

He could almost feel Draco roll his eyes; he didn’t need to turn to see him do it. He slowed his pace for a moment, waiting for Draco to step into place beside him before he lifted their joined hands and draped his arm across Draco’s shoulders until he could pull him close and press a kiss to his temple.

 

‘I love you,’ he reminded Draco. ‘I’ll do a lot worse than a stinging hex to anyone who tries to hurt you.’

 

Draco sighed. ‘I suppose I love you too.’

 

‘Such a fucking git.’

 

Draco winked.

Chapter Text

It was in the quiet moments when Draco knew he and Harry had a future. They might not talk about marriage and kids, not exactly, but the times they’d skirted around the idea of their future it had been unspoken between them. Draco wanted the husband and the kids. He might not have brought it up since he and Harry started dating but he knew he’d brought it up before, back in Azkaban during one of his bad days when all he could think about was how he wouldn’t survive. He could remember huddling in the corner of his cell, on the bed for once and not the floor, seeking warmth from Harry’s touch even if at the time they were still pretending those moments cuddled together meant nothing.

 

He’d been tired and sad, and he remembered telling Harry about his fantasy, about the wife or husband he’d have, about the kids – always more than one because he was an only child and he’d hated it. About the warm house he wanted. Even then he’d been able to admit the Manor would never be home again, not the way it once had been. The Dark Lord had ruined most of his childhood memories associated with those great sweeping halls and lush gardens.

 

He’d told Harry all the things he thought he’d never have, and Harry had shared his own. How he wanted a wife and kids, how he wanted a warm home with mess and chaos like the Weasley’s. How he wanted the kind of life he’d never had growing up.

 

It made Draco smile now, to think about that conversation, to think that although they wanted the same things it had never occurred to them it might be with each other. Well, maybe it had occurred to Draco once or twice – in fourth year and maybe fifth – but it had never been a serious fantasy, more like sticking the current crush’s face on a longstanding desire.

 

But now he got the kind of quiet moment he’d always longed for. It was a simple thing. Wednesday night, he’d already finished his homework and he’d come up to his room to avoid dealing with the other eighth years in the common room. He didn’t sit there alone anymore, not now that Harry was back and Granger and Weasley (mostly Granger) were making an effort to be friendly – especially after Harry had torn into them for not stepping up and helping him during the Potions incident. Not that they really understood why either of them was trying, even if it was Harry doing the asking.

 

Sometimes he didn’t want to deal with the curious looks of the other eighth years, didn’t want to deal with the whispers and the questions – although it wasn’t so bad from the eighth years really. It seemed like, to a lot of them, this was just the continuation of the Draco/Harry relationship that had seen so many fights and insults and that, much like before the war, they were content to just ignore the stupid drama of it all and get on with things.

 

Sometimes though, Draco just wanted the quiet of his room. He’d already been in bed when Harry came in and he’d sat propped up in bed, sketchbook on his bent knees, and watched Harry kick off his boots (Draco preferred them over his hideous trainers) and shirk his jeans and t-shirt. He watched quietly as Harry tugged on a pair of cotton sleep pants, the ones in soft grey that Draco had bought him as a joke – they were covered in broomsticks – before he slipped into the bathroom in bare feet. He listened to him brush his teeth, go about his normal night-time routine (it contained at least four steps less than Draco’s) and once he was done, he whispered a soft spell to extinguish the bathroom light and then slipped into bed.

 

He dropped a soft kiss on Draco’s naked shoulder as he did, before wrapping his arms around his pillow, lying on his front with his head turned toward Draco. Harry’s nose was practically buried in Draco’s hip and while it wasn’t the first time, Draco felt his chest swell and a lump form in his throat because this – Harry – was all his, it was the first time he looked at Harry and truly understood.

 

‘We’re not having a big wedding and I want at least two children.’

 

Harry didn’t open his eyes, but his lips tugged up into a smile when he replied. ‘Tiny wedding,’ he agreed, voice soft and filled with affection, ‘just family. We should have four kids.’

 

‘Adoption?’

 

‘Surrogacy,’ Harry countered, and Draco was glad. He wanted children of his own blood, not because of any stupid pureblood rhetoric but because he simply wanted children of his own. He wanted a small version of himself, he wanted small versions of Harry’s ridiculous hair and his startling green eyes.

 

‘It would mean a lot to Mother,’ Draco murmured.

 

‘It would mean more to your father,’ added Harry.

 

With his eyes closed, Harry couldn’t see Draco’s face as he scrunched his nose and his mouth twisted. It would mean a lot to his father. ‘I don’t want you doing something because of my father.’

 

Harry pulled one of his hands out from under his pillow and snaked it around Draco’s hips. He slouched down further onto the bed to make it easier for Harry.

 

‘I hate your father,’ Harry assured him. ‘I’m never going to like him, but Draco, he loves you more than anything.’

 

Draco might have argued with him but their weekend visit to Azkaban was still (unfortunately) fresh in his mind.

 

He hadn’t been able to deny Harry’s words any longer, especially not when his mother weighed in with her own thoughts on the matter. His father needed to hear about his relationship with Harry from him and not from some guard or auror visiting Azkaban who thought to torment him with the knowledge that his son was in a relationship with Harry Potter. Draco hadn’t been able to deny that if he wasn’t the one to tell his father then the rumours that might reach him first could turn into something much worse than learning that his only son and heir was desperately in love with Harry Potter.

 

Draco would never bend over just to get his life and his reputation back. He’d never get on his knees for a man just to escape a worse punishment. He didn’t want his father hearing those crude suggestions and taking them as truth. He might not have the love and adoration bordering on worship he’d once held for his father, but he didn’t want the man thinking his son the kind of man who would hand over his pride for a quick fuck. Or that said fuck could somehow be turned to his own advantage.

 

Of course, it was his father, he should have known the encounter wouldn’t go as either of them expected.

 

One of the things Harry had taught him once he was free of Azkaban, was the Patronus charm. It had taken him weeks of practicing every day and there’d been plenty of frustration, but in the end, with a memory of an afternoon spent with Harry and Luna in the Manor gardens and soft whispered words of love, Draco had been able to conjure a fully corporeal patronus.

 

Honestly, he had been expecting it to be a stag when the creature finally emerged, but Draco thought he liked the shape that did emerge more. It was a giant dog. The kind that Harry had tattooed up his left wrist to represent his godfather. He’d been surprised – as had Harry – but his mother had cried, startling them both. She’d been the one to explain what it meant, what it represented. Sirius had done what Draco wished he’d done. When the time came, and the choice had to be made, Sirius had turned his back on the Black family, on his own family, and sought refuge with the Potters. He was the child of a pureblood family in support of Voldemort who had made the right choices, all the choices Draco wished he’d been strong enough to make.

 

‘You’re making those choices now, darling,’ she’d told him with tears in her eyes and pride in her voice.

 

His father had looked long and hard at the large dog stalking the edges of his cell and nodded just once, as though he too understood what he was seeing. At the time, Draco hadn’t paid much attention to the reaction because Harry had stepped through the cell door moments later and his father had looked just once between the two of them before he’d sighed deeply. It had sounded so much like exasperation that, in his confusion, he’d almost missed his father’s annoyed words entirely.

 

‘Honestly Draco, could you not have waited another year? Your mother is going to be insufferable.’

 

Even more confused, Draco had only been able to stare at his father, searching his face for any hint of what his father could possibly mean. Eventually he’d blurted out, ‘What?’

 

His father had sighed and, if Draco hadn’t known his father so well, he would never have seen the frayed edges to his aggrieved expression. He would never have noticed the tired and broken pieces his father was desperately trying to hide behind his pride and a decent Malfoy mask. He would never have noticed the cracks in his mind growing wider than they’d been when he’d first returned from Azkaban.

 

‘I thought it would take you at least another year to work through all this childish tugging of pigtails with Potter. Now I owe your mother a villa in Tuscany.’

 

‘What?’ Draco was fully aware he’d sounded bemused that time but when he’d turned to look over his shoulder to exchange a look with Harry, he’d seen his boyfriend looking just as confused as he was, only he thought Harry was blushing a little.

 

His father raised both eyebrows. ‘Maybe I do have a chance,’ he murmured. ‘Why are you here?’

 

Draco had felt the heat rushing to his cheeks and he’d fought the urge to fidget. He couldn’t stop his eyes from darting to Harry again and when he’d looked back at his father, he’d opened his mouth but couldn’t quite get the words out. The whole encounter wasn’t going at all how he’d expected it. He’d assumed they’d make pathetic small talk; he’d ask how his father was, they’d talk over his studies and his mother and completely ignore the Harry shaped hippogriff lurking awkwardly in front of the cell door. Although, he’d perhaps thought his father might shoot Harry dark annoyed looks as though he blamed him for his imprisonment.

 

Of course, things couldn’t go as planned and so the small speech Draco had painstakingly prepared (and practiced at least once in front of Harry) was for nought because his father acted nothing like the father he’d been expecting. He wasn’t standing in a cell talking to a man full of airs and stiff manners so sharp that nothing could be gleaned of his true meaning. The stiff Malfoy mask they’d all learned to put on was nowhere to be seen in that moment. No, instead he’d gotten his dad, the one he’d so rarely seen in the last few years once the war really kicked off. Instead he’d found the man he’d loved and admired, the one he’d thought so deeply buried or even just a half-imagined memory from when he was a very young child.

 

It had been alarming, if Draco was honest. If his father hadn’t spoke up again, eyes rolling as though he’d expected exactly the exchange they were having, Draco might have feared his father was getting ready to end it all, the nice throwback to the man he’d admired a complicated form of goodbye.

 

‘I expect a proper marriage and grandchildren,’ his father had informed them crisply. ‘From both of you,’ he’d added, sharp look tossed to Harry to make sure they understood exactly what he meant. He looked back to Draco, eyes shining with a fierceness, Draco hadn’t expected. ‘Have your mother start looking into appropriate surrogates, there’ll need to be a proper contract.’

 

Draco had stared at his father, flabbergasted. Harry, though he hadn’t been much better, did manage to ask a question. ‘You know about me and Draco?’

 

‘Potter,’ his father had sneered. The sneering had helped Draco get a grip back on the reality where he was standing in his father’s cell being told he must marry Harry and they both better supply the man with grandchildren. Never mind the fact he’d likely never see any children Draco might have. ‘My son has done nothing but talk about you for seven years and by all accounts, you’ve been no better. It is safe to say, Narcissa and I saw this coming.’

 

‘The villa in Tuscany,’ Draco had whispered, remembering his father’s earlier words. ‘You both bet on when Harry and I would get together?’ he’d demanded incredulously.

 

His father had raised an eyebrow and given Draco a look that had conveyed several thoughts, most of them telling Draco he was a bit dim. ‘It was an inevitable conclusion. Though I thought it would take you at least another year. Your mother seemed sure that once your seventh year was completed there’d be pining and an inability to stay away from each other.’

 

Behind Draco, Harry had made some sort of noise, but Draco hadn’t wanted to turn and look, knowing he’d likely see Harry looking bright red and rubbing an awkward hand through the back of his hair.

 

‘There was very little pining,’ Draco had attempted to assure his father. He hadn’t been especially successful; the eyebrow had made a reappearance and Draco and deflated a little under his father’s scepticism. ‘Well, there wasn’t much pining,’ he reiterated. ‘Mostly I had to wait for Harry to realise he was attracted to me and we all know how oblivious he can be.’

 

‘Oi!’

 

Draco hadn’t looked back; they all knew that was true. ‘I wanted to tell you in person before it gets out and people start accusing me of slipping him potions or blowing him for my freedom.’

 

His father had pulled a face at the crude words, but he’d nodded his head once in understanding. His words had been wry when he said, ‘I don’t think anyone who has ever seen the two of you together would think anything other than you’re both besotted idiots.’

 

Draco hadn’t been offended. Neither had Harry.

 

He’d found himself wanting to stay, to talk some more to this version of his father that he hadn’t seen in so long, but they were out of time and honestly, his father had looked exhausted just from their short exchange. He’d walked away from his father’s cell wondering how much longer the man could survive in there. At least he’d walked away with the knowledge that his father didn’t disapprove of his choice of partner. Although he still didn’t know if his father approved or was just resigned to the fact that this was the way things would be.

 

Now, in bed with Harry and talking about the sort of future they would have together, Draco could acknowledge that his father did love him and that he didn’t mind so much that what he wanted for himself was also what his father wanted for him. Because for the first time in a long time, what he knew his father wanted was simply for him to be happy.

 

Draco hadn’t felt that way in years. He hadn’t known his father could still love and care for him. He hadn’t realised the man he half-remembered from his childhood still existed after the darkness that Voldemort had brought back into their lives. He hadn’t realised the man who loved and cherished his son and wanted only what was best for him could still exist, not after the scheming and plotting and so much death. It was humbling and annoying as fuck because now he couldn’t just hate and resent his father, he had to love him too.

 

‘I’m going to send a letter to Pansy,’ he decided, changing the subject. ‘I’d like her to hear it from me, not the papers. Although,’ he grinned, ‘the look on her face might be worth the surprise.’

 

Harry snorted into his pillow and shifted around to get more comfortable. A sudden soft thump at the foot of the bed announced Athena had decided to join them for the night. For something so small she certainly weighed enough, as she stalked across Draco’s feet to squish herself into the small gap between them. Being only half kneazle didn’t seem to be slowing down her growth and Draco expected that, given time, she’d grow to be just as big – if not bigger – than Granger’s grumpy looking mess of fur. Merlin knew what kind of pedigree Crookshanks had but Athena came from a proper breeder and a lineage to be proud of.

 

Draco had once witnessed her take down a fox in the Manor gardens despite her small size and her relative youth. If Crookshanks was known to bring Granger mice and spiders, then Draco had genuine concerns he’d wake up one day to find a slaughtered sheep in his bed – or possibly a small child.

 

Harry thought he was overreacting which just guaranteed that when Athena did bring something home Harry would be the one to deal with it.

 

‘Do you want me to turn out the light?’ Draco asked.

 

‘Nah,’ Harry mumbled into his pillow. ‘Keep drawing.’

 

Draco ran a hand through Harry’s hair a few times until his breathing evened out and he was asleep. The picture Harry presented gave Draco an amusing idea and he soon got lost in his work. It was a rough sketch, nothing spectacular and he thought the angle might have made it a little funny, but it was a moment Draco had seen time and again over the last few months. An image, he could recall without the aid of Harry sprawled next to him. He’d spent years memorising Harry’s features from a distance and months doing it up close, it was easy for his fingers to sketch out Harry, eyes closed and relaxed in sleep.

 

He made sure the Harry in his sketch was shirtless, pushed the covers down low on his waist to tease at hips and the curve of his arse. Pansy would appreciate the hint of a view that Draco could see any time. The mussed hair, the lightning bolt scar, they gave away the man’s identity. The soft look on his face in sleep gave away the comfort and ease with which he slept beside Draco. He needed Pansy to see that. They might not be close but he was beginning to think that was on him, that he’d been so driven to be the spitting image of his father that he hadn’t realised how little he knew about being a good friend.

 

He’d treated Pansy terribly at times. Now, with a new perspective, he didn’t blame her for the distance between them that grew throughout sixth and seventh year as he once had. Lying in bed beside Harry, knowing what he did now about friendship because of Luna – from watching Harry interact with Granger and Weasley – Draco understood he’d been a truly shite friend to her in the end. He didn’t blame her for not standing by him during his trial, for not visiting him or writing to him once he was out.

 

That didn’t mean he couldn’t reach out to her now and telling her about his relationship with Harry seemed as good a start as any. Crabbe and Goyle had never much cared who he was sleeping with or crushing on, he hadn’t much cared who they’d been crushing on either, but he’d done a lot of experimenting with Pansy (and Pansy and Blaise and Pansy and Daphne and that one time with Blaise and Theo – which wasn’t actually relevant to his thoughts but a nice memory all the same) and she’d been the one person he hadn’t managed to lie to about his infatuation with Harry Potter.

 

Sending her this letter, with a sketch that could have been suggestive but was instead soft and warm, would intrigue her enough to respond, even if she wanted to hate his guts.

 

When the sketch was finished, he added a quick note on the bottom and signed it. He thought she’d appreciate the fairy tale euphoria of his simple words. The soft emotion he was conveying would say more than if he started with an apology, with rambled (though heartfelt) words and excuses. This was different, it was an olive branch in the form of a truth and one he knew she’d never be able to resist asking questions about.

 

He slipped out of bed murmuring soft words to Harry when he made a disgruntled sound in his sleep. Quiet as he could he stepped his feet into the boots he’d left by the door, scooping up Harry’s jumper on the way. He’d send the letter to Pansy now, while he was feeling hopeful about her response.

 

He didn’t know what time it was but the fire in the common room was burning low and there were still two or three people dotted about doing their homework or – in the case of Weasley – sleeping while his girlfriend read over and fixed his homework. Draco offered her a small smile when she looked at him questioningly.

 

‘Owlery,’ he mouthed and she nodded but he felt her gaze on him the whole way out of the common room and when he glanced back at her over his shoulder right before he slipped out the door, she was wearing a soft expression on her face as she looked down at Weasley. It was such an unguarded look from her, one she clearly didn’t mind him seeing, that he was only saved from stumbling out the door by years and years of training and instruction from his mother in etiquette and grace.

 

The common room was empty when he came back and that saved him having to stop and talk to Granger or the Weasel. It meant he got to quietly slip back into bed beside Harry and drift off without any kind of interrogation. He did have to shuffle Athena a bit to make room. She’d decided in his absence to stretch her body as long as she could across the warm space he’d left.

 

Once she’d consented to being stretched across both of their feet, Draco was asleep within moments.

 

Harry’s nightmare jerked him out of a deep sleep just a few short hours later.

 

In the dark, it took Draco a few moments to realise what had woken him, but the soft whimpering was heartbreakingly familiar. He rolled quickly onto his side facing Harry and pressed up close against him. Reaching out, he started to run soft fingers through Harry’s hair, humming soft nonsense words to form a soothing calm that would bring Harry out of his nightmare as gently as possible. It didn’t always work, and it had taken him more than a few attempts before he found what did work, but the soft soothing sound and motion were best. Jerking Harry awake tended the give the nightmare time to linger.

 

Harry’s whimpering softened but he didn’t drift back into an easy sleep as Draco would have preferred. His eyes snapped open and when he looked at Draco, they were watery with unshed tears.

 

There wouldn’t be any more sleep for Draco that night.

 

For a while he just held Harry, hoping that the warmth of his body and soothing touch would be enough, but his boyfriend’s heart was racing, his breathing becoming more ragged the longer he was awake and thinking about the nightmare. He started to move restlessly and Draco gave up on any lingering hopes of more sleep and slipped quietly from the bed.

 

‘Come on,’ he coaxed softly. He scooped up the same jumper he’d slipped on for his trip to the owlery and found another for Harry and some warm socks for both of them. He helped Harry into the jumper and the socks and took his hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing tightly before he led the way out of the room and down to the deserted common room.

 

Draco restored the fire in the grate with a quick twitch of his fingers and settled onto the couch as close to the fire as they could get, pulling Harry down with him until they were stretched out together, Draco on his back, Harry wedged half on him, between him and the back of the couch. With arms wrapped tight around Harry, Draco asked about the dream.

 

Words muffled from where he’d pressed his face into the crook of Draco’s neck, Harry murmured, ‘It was Sirius.’

 

‘You dreamt of the night he died?’ Draco sought clarification.

 

‘Not really,’ Harry replied. ‘Bellatrix wasn’t there but I was and this time it was my fault.’

 

Harry’s guilt of all he’d lost manifesting in blame within his own nightmare. It wasn’t unusual, Draco knew that. Some days Harry did nothing but blame himself for all the losses he’d suffered during the war. It wasn’t the first time he’d dreamed himself responsible in such a manner and it wouldn’t be the last. Harry had broached the topic once with his mind healer but as far as Draco knew her advice had been accepted by Harry in as much as Harry accepted any of her advice, and so the dreams had calmed somewhat but he didn’t know that they’d ever stop.

 

It certainly felt like his own would never stop.

 

‘His death wasn’t your fault,’ Draco firmly reminded him, his voice soft but clear in the empty common room, leaving no chance to be misunderstood.

 

‘It was,’ Harry disagreed anyway. Before Draco could argue further, he added, ‘But it shouldn’t have been.’

 

This Draco could one hundred percent agree with. The circumstances surrounding Sirius Black’s death were tragic but avoidable. It hurt to admit because that gave Harry reason to believe his death was somewhat Harry’s fault, but Draco couldn’t deny the whole thing was handled very, very badly.

 

At the time, it had worked to his advantage, even with his father put away in Azkaban, he’d still believed the Dark Lord was right and the loss of such a strong member of the Order had been good for Voldemort and his followers. The feeling hadn’t lasted long of course, it had been mere weeks before Draco’s whole world came crashing down around him but for those few short weeks, he’d shared the horrible belief that Sirius’ death was a fortunate outcome of the debacle at the Ministry.

 

It wasn’t, and he knew that now, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt to realise how wrong he was, how complicit he’d been in an event that robbed Harry of the one true family member he’d had.

 

‘When I dream about the Department of Mysteries, I hate Dumbledore,’ Harry admitted into the soft glow of the firelight. ‘I was at the Ministry at the beginning of the year, I could have slipped in and destroyed the prophecy. Anyone could have.’

 

‘What would that have changed, Harry?’ Draco asked. ‘Voldemort would still have wanted it; he’d still have wanted you.’ He didn’t mention (again) the reasoning that with Voldemort’s focus on the Ministry it gave the Order some control over the situation.

 

Harry made an annoyed sound that tickled the sensitive slope of Draco’s neck and he shivered at the pleasant sensation. Harry’s hand slipped under his jumper and started to stroke the bare skin of his stomach. If not for the nature of their conversation, it might have started a soft heat that got his blood flowing south.

 

But the mood was far from amorous and Draco knew the touch was a source of comfort for Harry who hadn’t had a loft of soft touches and the soft pleasure of warm contact growing up.

 

If Draco ever met the Dursleys he was sure he’d curse them bad enough to land himself back in Azkaban. It might be worth it. Of course, some of the blame – perhaps a lot of the blame – with the loneliness and despair of Harry’s childhood could be placed in Dumbledore’s hands. The old man was someone else Draco wished he could curse. Some days, listening to the things Harry had to put up with because of the old man’s plots and schemes, Draco seriously regretted not killing him on the Astronomy Tower. It wouldn’t change things for Harry, couldn’t change the way he grew up a pawn in Dumbledore’s long and protracted war against Voldemort, but for that fleeting moment as he imagined the satisfaction of ending a life that had caused Harry so much pain, it was almost worth it.

 

Almost.

 

‘I hate that there were so many different choices I could have made.’

 

Draco hummed, he had a few of those of his own. There were a lot of things he thought he could have done differently but how many of them would have landed him here in the common room with Harry Potter in his arms?

 

‘We’d have ended up here, anyway,’ Harry mused, unintentionally responding to Draco’s thoughts. There was a lightness in the observation, an assurance, that warmed Draco, that told him Harry was losing the last grips the nightmare had on him. ‘What if I’d taken your hand on the train? What if I’d hugged you instead of cutting you open?’ Harry’s fingers traced lower, dipping under the elastic waistband of his pyjama pants. ‘Every what-if I think of always leads me right back here to you.’

 

Touched by his words, Draco found himself smirking, offering the rejoinder, ‘You’re a sap, Potter.’

 

‘It’s the sleep deprivation,’ Harry assured him. ‘It won’t last.’

 

‘I best take advantage then,’ Draco chuckled. ‘Go on then, tell me how all those what-ifs would have led us right back here.’

 

Almost ruining the mood entirely, Harry started with, ‘I had a weird dream after Fred’s funeral about marrying Ginny.’

 

Draco pulled a face. ‘That’s a nightmare, Harry, and also has nothing to do with me. Try again.’

 

He could almost feel Harry roll his eyes. ‘Shut up, prat, listen.’

 

Draco pinched Harry’s side but stayed dutifully quiet.

 

‘I had this dream about what the future would look like, me and Ginny married, with three kids and it looked like the perfect life, just what everyone expected, but there were we on the platform saying goodbye to our kids and it was awful because I don’t know if I was dreaming about me and Ginny or my parents and what could have been because one minute I was me and then I was my dad and Ginny was Mum and,’ Harry broke off with a shudder and Draco tried very hard not to snigger.

 

He failed.

 

‘Oh, shut up,’ Harry snapped but it was half-hearted. ‘There’s my first what-if, really, what if my parents had lived and it looks a lot like that weird dream I had about mine and Ginny’s future.’

 

‘I’m not in that one,’ Draco complained. ‘I thought the point of this whole thing was how we’d always end up together.’

 

‘I’m getting there,’ Harry told him with a soft laugh. ‘What if you hadn’t been such a git in Madam Malkin’s?’

 

‘Not possible,’ Draco admitted, ‘but carry on.’

 

‘You were the first wizard my age I’d met, the first properly magical person. We could have spent the whole day with you showing me Diagon Alley.’

 

Draco pulled a face. ‘With my parents? Nope. Next.’

 

‘What if I’d realised how hurt you were by Ron making fun of your name and taken your hand?’

 

‘Slightly more plausible but you were an idiot back then.’

 

Harry laughed but didn’t disagree. He also didn’t point out again, that Draco had been just as much of an idiot.

 

‘What if I’d listened to you and not lied about Norbert the dragon?’

 

Draco scoffed. ‘We’d still have gotten detention and you’d have even more reason to have hated me when I left you alone to face Quirrell sucking down unicorn blood.’

 

‘You wouldn’t have left me,’ Harry informed him, which Draco thought was terrible naïve of Harry. Eleven-year-old Draco would absolutely have left Harry. ‘You are braver than you give yourself credit for,’ Harry loyally defended.

 

This time, Draco kissed the top of Harry’s head. ‘It’s easier to be brave now,’ he explained truthfully. ‘You give me a reason to be brave.’

 

‘I’d have given you a reason back then.’

 

‘You wouldn’t have,’ Draco told him truthfully but without the self-recrimination. ‘I wasn’t ready for the truths you’d have offered me.’

 

‘That you were gay for my scrawny arse?’

 

Draco snorted. ‘Believe it or not, that was not something I was worried about. Next one.’

 

Harry made a disbelieving noise but went on anyway. ‘What if in third year I’d realised how badly you were actually hurt?’

 

‘How would that have changed anything?’ Draco wondered softly, thinking about all the smirks and teasing he’d done to cover up the hours and hours of physiotherapy he’d had to put in with Madam Pomfrey. No to mention the ointments to prevent scarring and the fiery feeling of spending almost a week in the Hospital Wing having his nerves regrown and tendons reattached.

 

‘I don’t know,’ Harry admitted. ‘I think if I’d realised how much you weren’t playing up your injuries, I might have better understood everything that came after.’

 

‘I don’t know how Granger didn’t ever put it together,’ Draco offered into the thoughtful silence that fell over them. He thought part of him might have been disappointed all those years ago when she failed to point out the danger of creature inflicted wounds or even the limits of magical healing.

 

How funny to think that even then, he’d hoped that Granger’s desire to know everything would have led to her stepping in when everyone else laughed and mocked him behind his back. Because he’d never told anyone the truth of what had happened when Buckbeak had slashed his arm. His mother had been informed, of course, and was it any wonder his father had gone out of his way to have the creature killed? He hadn’t realised it at the time, but permanent injury and any sort of disfigurement that came with it would have lessened his prospects for a good marriage contract. It had likely been on his father’s mind at the time, though Draco had healed as well as Pomfrey had promised and so the topic had not come up.

 

But that was another of those conversations they’d had in the quiet moments in his Azkaban cell and Draco didn’t want to bring it up again. ‘I think you’d have been sorry you made so many wrong assumptions but I’d have hated the pity.’

 

Harry pressed warm lips against Draco’s collarbone in silent agreement. ‘What if I’d come to apologise after I nearly killed you in sixth year,’ Harry whispered softly, ‘do you think that would have changed things?’

 

This one hurt. For so many reasons but Draco was used to the hurt that came with this memory and it was something he’d addressed with Harry just not recently and not since they’d started dating. They could talk about the scars and Harry could apologise again and again even if Draco had long forgiven him but this one still hurt – in ways he didn’t think Harry had even realised.

 

‘Would you still have kissed Ginny?’ Draco wondered.

 

Harry gave the question some serious thought before he answered with an honest ‘Yes.’

 

‘Then no,’ Draco admitted. ‘I was broken then Harry, I’d have needed all of you.’

 

Harry squeezed him. ‘I’m sorry I never noticed you were broken.’

 

The words elicited a choked sound from Draco that he would never have wanted to make in front of Harry back then. ‘You were broken too.’

 

‘Yeah,’ he agreed. ‘But I didn’t know that then.’

 

The point of this conversation had been to lighten Harry’s mood after his nightmare about Sirius and so Draco changed the subject to a what-if that was lighter, funnier. ‘What if Granger and Weasley had realised how much time you spent watching me before sixth year?’

 

Harry laughed. Somewhere between the ninth and tenth what-if Harry fell asleep, his soft, even breaths puffing against Draco’s neck. He continued to trace his fingers up and down Harry’s side until dawn light started to creep into the common room. He wanted to give Harry as long as possible to sleep and moving him seemed like it would only wake him and keep him awake, so they were still snuggled together on the couch, Harry’s hand beneath his jumper, his own tracing lazy and familiar patterns on Harry’s side, when the first footsteps sounded on the stairs, breaking the silence of the common room.

 

Draco didn’t move, didn’t jerk upward afraid of being caught. He and Harry weren’t hiding their relationship, they never had been. They’d just never felt the need to make a huge public spectacle of it.

 

His parents knew, Luna and most of the Weasleys too, he had a feeling Granger suspected more between them than just friendship and, although neither of them was big on public displays of affection, there wasaffection between them. They always sat just that little bit too close, they exchanged easy smiles and knowing grins. Anyone properly looking at them had to know there was more between them than just a grudging growing friendship.

 

Whatever worry Draco had had when Harry first returned to Hogwarts, that brief fear that he would ignore what had developed between them over the summer away from the prying eyes of his friends and their returned scrutiny, had vanished the moment Harry had teased and joked with him that day in Potions. Those worries and fears had vanished the moment he’d continued with the easy smiles and inside jokes, the small touches.

 

Draco didn’t much care if the first person creeping out of the dormitories at the crack of dawn saw them, he had nothing to hide. Harry wasn’t ashamed of him and he wasn’t ashamed of Harry. He loved Harry and it didn’t matter if whoever it was thought he didn’t deserve it or considered it to be a spell or potion, it wasn’t any of their business.

 

The footsteps belonged to Longbottom.

 

Draco watched his gaze roam around the room with troubled eyes until he spotted Draco and Harry curled together on the couch. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth fell open in surprise, but he kept quiet as he made his way across the room and slipped into the armchair across from the couch.

 

‘Morning,’ he murmured in greeting, eyes still wide.

 

‘Longbottom,’ Draco greeted softly (civilly) in return. Up close, Draco could see a shadow in the man’s eyes. ‘Couldn’t sleep?’

 

Longbottom shook his head, the surprise finally leaving his face. For a moment he looked thoughtful and then he smiled akwardly. ‘How long?’

 

‘Three months,’ Draco answered.

 

Longbottom nodded. ‘Couldn’t sleep either?’

 

It was nice that Longbottom moved on, accepted his relationship with Harry and that was it. ‘Harry had a nightmare.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Longbottom sighed heavily, shifting uncomfortably in the chair. ‘Me too.’

 

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Draco asked, already doubting the answer would be yes but feeling obliged to ask all the same. He wanted to keep this peace between them, wanted to show he was willing to move on from the war and his past behaviour in regard to everyone and not just Harry.

 

‘Not really,’ Longbottom shrugged. ‘But thanks.’

 

They sat in (shockingly) companionable silence for a while before Draco said, ‘I’m sorry for treating you the way I did growing up.’

 

‘You made my life hell.’

 

Draco winced. ‘I know. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.’

 

‘I didn’t,’ Longbottom agreed. ‘Harry loves you?’

 

‘Very much,’ Draco assured him, looking down at the sleeping man with such a soft expression that even if he didn’t think Longbottom was a good man, he’d likely have earned some forgiveness.

 

‘Then I know you’re not the same arrogant git.’

 

‘I’m still arrogant,’ Draco admitted.

 

‘And he’s still a git,’ Harry murmured.

 

Draco made an offended sound, but Longbottom laughed, ‘I don’t think we’ll ever be friends but thank you for apologising.’

 

‘What time is it?’ Harry asked, sitting up and rubbing at his gritty eyes.

 

‘Just after six,’ Longbottom replied.

 

Harry nodded before he looked down at Draco. ‘Run?’

 

Draco nodded, sitting up and untangling himself from Harry.

 

‘Want to come, Neville?’ Harry asked as he stood and stretched.

 

Draco unabashedly watched Harry’s jumper rise, revealing smooth tanned skin and then turned to find Longbottom watching him in amusement.

 

‘Nah,’ he replied, ‘maybe some other time.’

 

Draco followed Harry back across the common room but paused with his foot on the first step when Longbottom called out to them.

 

‘When was the last time you slept in our room?’ he asked.

 

Harry turned back, shrugged with a sheepish grin. ‘I haven’t.’

 

Longbottom gave a startled laugh. ‘Does Ron know?’

 

Harry shrugged again. ‘I haven’t outright said anything.’

 

‘That’s a no then.’ Longbottom looked thoughtful. ‘I’ll keep your secret.’

 

Harry grinned. ‘Thanks, but it’s not a secret. You can shout it from the Astronomy Tower if you want to.’

 

Longbottom pulled a face. ‘I think I’ll let you be the one to tell Ron, thanks.’

 

This time Harry laughed. ‘I think I’m just going to see how long it takes him to figure it out.’

 

‘Oh, so we’re waiting until he’s standing up as best man at our wedding?’ Draco quipped.

 

Longbottom’s eyes went wide. ‘Wedding?’ he asked incredulously.

 

‘Small wedding, just family,’ Harry answered easily. ‘We decided on four kids.’

 

‘Fuck, Harry,’ Longbottom exhaled a loud whistle. ‘You’re not even joking.’

 

Harry just raised his eyebrows. ‘Come on, Nev, we both know he’s my biggest obsession.’

 

Longbottom snorted. ‘I can’t really argue with that.’

 

Harry grinned. ‘I tried killing him, but it didn’t really stick. I think I’ll try loving him for a while.’

 

Harry practically skipped up the stairs leaving Longbottom sputtering with surprised laughter in the common room and Draco to trail bemusedly after him. It wasn’t like he could argue with anything Harry had said.

 

‘You’re an idiot,’ he told him as he followed him into their room and shut the door.

 

‘Only for you,’ Harry assured him.

 

‘You’re a cheesy idiot,’ Draco clarified.

 

‘I still love you.’

 

Draco couldn’t help but laugh, the solemn mood of Harry’s nightmare completely erased by the light-hearted exchange with Longbottom. ‘I love you too.’

Chapter Text

The next time, when the aurors came for him, he was deep in discussion with Granger about a new article in the Prophet detailing the sweeping changes Smith and Kingsley had been working toward at the Ministry. Granger was fascinated by the moves the Ministry was making in the post-Voldemort world, Draco was just impressed the woman who wrote the article seemed to know what she was talking about. As far as he (and Harry) could tell, everything had been reported truthfully, without bias and, in a manner that seemingly targeted the loss of its credence during the war, somewhat self-deprecating.

 

The Daily Prophet had been making sweeping changes, much like the Ministry had, according to Granger’s analysis and Luna’s comments. New reporters, a new promise to report accurate and unbiased truth. Apparently, the owner and editors had decided that in the wake of the war, what the wizarding world needed, was a reliable newspaper.

 

‘Yes, well,’ Draco had cracked, ‘they can’t have the Quibbler become the leading source of accurate news, can they?’

 

The first in the series of articles had already dealt with Smith’s return and in what capacity, disclosing all that they knew of her role – and that was a lot more than Draco would ever have suspected – in cleansing the Ministry. The article had made specific mention of the ruthless manner in which she was cleaning the Ministry and made a point of highlighting the corruption that had existed before Voldemort swept in and took over. In fact, the article about Smith hailed her as exactly what the Ministry needed in the wake of Voldemort, claiming her ruthless approach heralded a new era for wizarding Britain.

 

The following article had been about the Wizengamot’s decision to give proper trials to all captured Death Eaters. He’d made an appearance in that article, as had his mother and father. What had been most interesting about the article was that it had drawn on evidence from Death Eater “trials” from the previous war, citing the complete farce that had been a number of the trials (Sirius had been mentioned here too for the astounding lack of a trial he’d received). Again, the Prophet had made a point of highlighting the flaws in the Wizengamot and spoke of change on the horizon.

 

Given Draco had some idea of what those sweeping changes would be, he didn’t think the Prophet or Granger would be all that happy. Kingsley hadn’t exactly been happy but the beauty of being forced to work for the Ministry as an ex-Death Eater was that when it inevitably blew up in their faces he would be safely out of the way. He’d make damn sure Harry didn’t get caught up in the fallout as well.

 

Luna had smiled brightly at his words though Granger merely smiled awkwardly. Draco was well aware that even after years of friendship, Granger thought the Quibbler was a waste of perfectly good paper. She nodded her head approvingly at the article, though she didn’t even have to open her mouth to talk at length about the muggle justice system, and the importance of a fair and unbiased trial. Draco was well aware of her thoughts on the Wizarding World’s system of law. The fact the Wizengamot had agreed to hold proper trials was about the most she could ask for at this stage, he did not want to be around when she learned about the next plan Kingsley’s new administration was intending to put in place.

 

He didn’t say any of this to her, of course, he didn’t want to be dragged into a long-winded conversation about the need to restructure the entire Wizengamot over breakfast. He wasn’t sure there was ever any time of day he wanted to be dragged into that discussion. He was just happy that for once, wizarding law had worked in his favour.

 

The article printed in the day’s Prophet talked about Kingsley’s role. The front page of the paper gave over to a large picture of Kingsley standing in the Ministry Atrium holding a Ministry-wide meeting. Draco had (thankfully) not been forced to attend that (perks of technically being a tool of the Ministry and not a paid employee) but Arthur had and somehow, in the midst of their arranging the portkey to trick Harry into returning to his auror training, Draco had found himself discussing the changes at the Ministry and offering suggestions. Something he would absolutely never be telling Granger.

 

It was bad enough some of those changes had made their way to Kingsley’s office, although not so bad that the interim Minister seemed to have considered them worthwhile. He supposed it was good that something positive could come of all those years of forced lessons in Ministry politics from his father. He’d also never be telling his father that some of the training he’d received proved useful in making positive changes at the Ministry. Merlin knew his father didn’t need the ego boost or the belief that in doing so Draco was restoring the Malfoy name.

 

That had been an interesting conversation with his mother over the summer. They’d both come to the conclusion that the Malfoy name was just a name and that it would be “ill advised” of them to think that restoring the reputation of a name that neither of them really believed in anymore, could fix all of their problems. A few well-placed donations and whispers in some easily bought ears was not how he or his mother wanted to go about things. That was his father’s way and look how well that had turned out for him. He was the one rotting in a cell, he was the one who had brought the Malfoy name he’d so prided, to its knees.

 

No, he and his mother wouldn’t be doing things that way. In a quiet and frank discussion (perhaps the first they’d ever really had) they’d decided to simply live. His mother’s first step had been to reach out to the Ministry for assistance clearing the Manor. She’d followed it up by reaching out to her sister. Draco really was just trying to live his life, no matter how much he struggled not to drown in the guilt and let his past win. That new way of accepting his fate had brought Harry into his life, had given him the chance to know his aunt and his cousin, it was all for the better. He was all the happier for it. His mother was certainly flourishing. Despite being on house arrest Draco was sure he’d never known his mother to be so simply happy.

 

He could have done without her sudden need to entertain Molly Weasley, though. He’d learned about that rather inexplicable development from Bill during their last lesson.

 

‘I think she’s trying to learn from her mistakes,’ Bill had said, eyes locked on where Draco had been struggling to break through a ward he’d set around an ordinary chair. They were working together in the classroom McGonagall had set aside for their use.

 

Draco had only managed to grunt in acknowledgment of Bill’s words, somehow managing to convey a desire for an explanation while trying not to end up cursed. He liked his fingers exactly where they were and didn’t fancy having to allow Pomfrey or Bill to reattach them. It might have been a mild curse he’d been set to dismantle but he was struggling to use the new diagnostic spell Bill was teaching him because it required so much attention to detail in a type of magic Draco had never used before.

 

‘It took her two years to warm up to the idea of me and Fleur enough to meet with her parents – four months is an improvement.’

 

Ward successfully dismantled, Draco had looked up at the eldest Weasley and frowned. ‘And this is a good thing? My mother and yours taking tea?’

 

‘It’s terrifying,’ Bill had acknowledged. ‘But, yeah, it’s a good thing.’

 

Draco wasn’t sure he believed Bill then and he was even less sure now after a letter from his mother expressing how much she enjoyed getting to know Harry’s chosen family. She’d delighted in telling him about their discussion and how Molly had spoken rather highly of Draco’s role in improving Harry’s mood and his grief. There’d been no mention of the fact that Molly had killed Aunt Bella, no mention of any topics at all that might have put strain on their relationship.

 

The suspicious look Draco cast that particular letter from home had Longbottom asking him if everything was okay. Not seeing any reason not to, he’d explained just what the letter from his mother had been about and Longbottom had enjoyed a laugh at Draco and Harry’s expense.

 

Draco hadn’t been offended, rather he’d felt warm at the idea that Longbottom really was as accepting as he’d seemed of his relationship with Harry.

 

‘The next one is going to talk about the restructure of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, with follow ups to cover the legal changes and eventual restructure of the entire Ministry of Magic in the wake of Voldemort’s rather telling take over,’ Granger paraphrased drawing Draco out of his thoughts.

 

Granger was deeply intrigued; Draco didn’t much care, if he were honest. The implications that this new Ministry would serve him better were already showing in the lessons he was having with Bill and Head Auror Robards’ open acceptance of his place in Harry’s life. He’d already received an owl from the Minister himself talking about the changes that would be made, assuming Wizengamot approval, to the terms of his parole. According to the formal letter sent “from the desk of the Minister for Magic”, Draco could look forward to just a year of parole assuming he continued to prove himself a lawful citizen eager to prove how much he’d changed. Not to mention the actual offer of employment at the termination of his parole period.

 

As though merely thinking about the terms of his parole had brought them about, Sprout hurried into the Great Hall toward him, face stormy and worried. When she reached him, she placed a warm hand on his shoulder and murmured the news that Winthrop and Mendenhall were here for him. He looked past her to see both Ministry aurors waiting in the Entrance Hall. Winthrop looked resigned while Mendenhall looked annoyed as ever.

 

Draco nodded before turning to Granger. ‘You’ll tell Harry where I am?’ he asked of her. Harry hadn’t returned from his early morning auror training yet and Draco had been having a surprisingly comfortable morning at the Ravenclaw table without him. Chatting away with Granger with occasional asides from a grumpy Weasley and a thoughtful Luna, hadn’t turned out nearly as painful as he’d been expecting.

 

‘Of course,’ Granger nodded. Surprisingly, she looked just as worried as Sprout. ‘Be careful.’

 

Draco snorted. ‘Not much chance of that.’

 

‘Don’t die,’ Luna ordered him firmly. ‘I’d miss you terribly.’

 

Draco laughed, dropping a kiss on top of Luna’s head and breathing in the soft scent of her shampoo as he did, some sort of flower he’d never heard of that was almost like a rich coffee with hints of mint. As he stood and turned toward the Entrance Hall, he missed the way Weasley’s eyebrows shot up at the easy affection.

 

Mendenhall was dressed in his usual tired looking auror robes, but Winthrop seemed to be making an effort to make hers more functional. She had a strange mix of muggle fashions on beneath the open scarlet robe – somehow, he thought Harry had a hand in that.

 

He was pleasantly surprised when neither auror pulled out the rune covered shackles.

 

‘We won’t be needing them,’ Mendenhall growled, when he asked about them. ‘Hold tight.’

 

Both Mendenhall and Winthrop took hold of an arm with a firm grip and he placed a hand on the short length of rope presented to him. The familiar pull behind his navel deposited him, rather unexpectedly, in the middle of a battle. He reacted faster than both aurors, twisting in their grips and yanking them down as three separate spells shot overheard from two different directions.

 

‘Bloody hell,’ he snapped. ‘A little warning might have been nice.’ Deeply grateful he’d chosen not to wear his robes to breakfast (and that he’d put on his dragon hide boots and not his muggle ones), Draco flicked his wand into his hand, snapped out a shield charm and assessed the scene they’d just portkeyed into.

 

It was a muggle neighbourhood. Ordinarily it might have been a quiet street with family homes and large front gardens where kids could play. He imagined, on a normal morning, there might be people out tending to their gardens or walking their dogs. Perhaps on an ordinary day it would have been filled with muggles in their cars heading off to work.

 

Today it wasn’t. The street was in chaos. Aurors in their hideously impractical scarlet robes were snapping spells back at a group of four witches standing on the lawn of an apparently ordinary muggle house that looked the same as every other house on the street. Another two wizards were attempting to fire spells at the aurors’ backs from the other side of the street, where they’d hidden behind a car parked at the curb.

 

It was from those two wizards that the initial spells aimed at them had come, the third Draco guessed, had slipped through the line of aurors. Months and months living with Voldemort and his Death Eaters at both the Manor and at Hogwarts under the Carrows’ regime had given Draco excellent reflexes. He’d ducked out of instinct before he’d even thought about it.

 

While he’d been assessing the situation, Mendenhall and Winthrop had too, the older auror appeared to be even more annoyed now, whereas Winthrop had a calm expression on her face. Draco had seen that look on her once before, she’d sunk into the same calm right before she’d launched a counterattack against a supporter who had been hiding in the last house Draco had been sent to clear of Voldemort’s wards. Of course, he also knew how that ended so he wasn’t all that confident in her calm demeanour.

 

It was Mendenhall’s obvious and deep annoyance that tamped down Draco’s rage. Mendenhall’s expression spoke clearly to his own surprise. When the two had come to collect Draco, there’d been no fight being waged. He’d didn’t think it had been going for long either. As far as he could tell everyone was still accounted for, there were no obvious signs of spell damage or that tang of blood and magic in the air that had been burned into Draco after months of witnessing torture and death.

 

‘Right, then,’ he said, and stood up before either of his minders could stop him.

 

The first spell fired at him came from one of the wizards behind the car and was easy to deflect. He simply smacked it casually away with an air of bored indifference. He jabbed his wand carelessly back and didn’t waste time watching the way the soft purple light slid under the car to wrap around both of the hiding wizards. It wasn’t a nice spell, quite a nasty one actually, there was a good chance he’d get yelled at for using it if no one knew the counter-spell but it was exactly the sort of spell he needed right then.

 

He took the opportunity to glance quickly to the other side of the street to see the aurors were still holding their own against the witches, although they didn’t seem to have made it any closer to the house. The aurors were clearly stood on the road, firing their spells toward the witches on the lawn, leaving a sizeable gap between the two that no one seemed willing to breach.

 

Mendenhall stomped across the short stretch of road to assist them; Draco’s brief glance didn’t tell him where Winthrop had gone when he looked back to check on his spell. Both wizards were jerked beneath the car when his spell took hold and dragged toward him, one of them was firing spells at the purple bands around his legs, the other, more sensibly, fired them at Draco. They weren’t complex spells and they bounced harmlessly off a lazily erected shield charm.

 

‘Down.’

 

The shouted command came from behind and although there was no reason to think it was meant for him, the voice was deliciously familiar, and his body reacted without much input from his brain. Draco ducked and a spell shot through the air where his head had been only moments before. The sickly yellow spell tore straight through the parked car, gouging deep grooves into the metal. The impact had all the windows exploding outward and Draco turned his head to avoid the shower of glass.

 

The two captured wizards weren’t so lucky. Still crouched in the road, Draco snapped a powerful stunner at the one trying to curse him and slapped a more traditional body bind on the other. As it wasn’t normally his job to capture dark wizards – or anyone for that matter – he didn’t have any of the portkeys aurors and members of the MLE often used to tag and transport suspects. He’d just have to hope his spells held until someone else came along to scoop them up.

 

Just as Draco was preparing to stand, spinning around in his crouch to keep his eye on the fight still happening behind him, Winthrop grabbed him and shoved him sideways. He hit the road with a grunt of annoyance, glaring at her as she stood over him. Her stance was protective, shield held firmly in place. He didn’t know why she was protecting him all of a sudden. It wasn’t like he’d needed the help. Or that she’d ever put on such a display of protecting him before.

 

It was only the last time he’d been out with her that he’d returned bloody and broken. He could appreciate that what happened to the both of them after that incident might have earned him her respect, perhaps even changed her mind about him – she had been the one to suggest they properly train him up because they could have a place for him, after all. But that didn’t explain why the hell she chose that moment to protect him and it limited Draco’s ability to keep himself alive. Winthrop might not hate him, and she’d certainly never openly shown a wish for him to drop dead like some of the aurors he’d been forced to work with, but that didn’t mean Draco trusted her to watch his back. There were only three people Draco trusted to do that and the last of them was still at the Ravenclaw table having her breakfast. The second was his mother.

 

The first was across the street.

 

The three aurors in their hideous robes had been joined by another two and Harry’s familiar head of messy black hair stood with them. More annoyed than ever about being shoved out of the way, Draco snapped off a spell Harry had taught him and watched in satisfaction as it collided with one of the witches busy trying to shield herself from the aurors expected attack. It slammed her back into the side of the house with more force than he’d intended. A beat later another spell collided with her, this one manipulating the garden hose to tie her up and keep her out of the fight.

 

Draco shoved to his feet and with a sharp glare directed at Winthrop (lest she try again to stop him), he stalked toward the other aurors. As he got closer, he realised why they were still standing in the road and firing back from a distance. The wards around the muggle house screamed for Draco’s attention with every step closer he took. They were strong wards meant to keep all but a select few out.

 

Draco had come to hate these particular wards. They were the main reason he’d become so useful to the Ministry.

 

He didn’t recognise any of the witches on the lawn but that didn’t mean they weren’t some of Voldemort’s followers. It just meant they weren’t part of his inner circle. Draco was familiar with all of those faces. They’d certainly paraded through his home often enough over that last year of Voldemort’s reign of terror.

 

He reached the line of Aurors, ignored the way Mendenhall swore and made a grab for him while another barked out an order for him to stop. He acted unconcerned by the spells the three remaining witches were firing back and simply walked ahead, pausing only to glance back over his shoulder and arch a brow at Harry.

 

‘Coming?’

 

Harry huffed out a disgruntled, ‘Oh, it’s going to be one of those days, then?’ but he was already moving toward Draco and the edge of the ward as he spoke.

 

Draco held back his grin.

 

Harry stepped up hurriedly to follow in Draco’s footsteps, pausing on the very edge of the ward (impressing a couple of the aurors with how easily he located its boundaries, Draco would later learn) as Draco paused in the threshold of the ward. He could feel its push and pull just a half step inside the open front gate. He assumed the others could only feel the push, the gentle shove to move away, to avoid trespassing. It was subtler than Draco had come to expect from Voldemort’s protected houses, he didn’t think this one was going to be concealing anything too exciting.

 

It might have been subtly trying to push away unwanted visitors, but it wasn’t doing a particularly effective job of it. The aurors were aware of it and, as he knew Harry’s strength and power well enough to judge how easily his boyfriend could sense the ward, Draco wouldn’t be surprised if Harry could taste it on the air, the same way he could.

 

It was something he’d never had to consider, what it meant to be a powerful wizard, and standing in the threshold of a house warded by a Death Eater was hardly the time to be thinking about it, but he couldn’t help musing that, for all the elitist pureblood rhetoric his father had fed him as a child, he hadn’t been wrong about Draco’s magical strength. The more time he spent around aurors and curse breakers, the more it was occurring to Draco that he could keep up with Harry. That he could match Harry in a fight, hold his own, even (on occasion) win a duel.

 

There were very few people who could match Harry Potter for power and Draco was only now realising that was true and not just drivel the likes of the Prophet had been feeding the wider wizarding world. But there were better times and places to have that kind of conversation with Harry.

 

With his wand still gripped in his hand, he reached down and pulled up the sleeve of his jumper, baring the Dark Mark for all to see. In the split second all eyes darted down to look, Draco saw the flicker of fear and uncertainty in the eyes of the three witches and that quiver of fear told him he’d been right to think none of them bore the Mark. They might have been followers of Voldemort – must have been to be in a house guarded by such wards – but they weren’t Death Eaters and that made things more interesting.

 

More interesting and potentially much easier to deal with.

 

Harry used the moment of distraction to incapacitate one of the witches. Winthrop and Mendenhall, who were used to Draco’s presence (and his Mark) each got the other two. Draco barely spared the fallen women a glance, he simply dropped his sleeve and strode through the final layer of wards. Once inside, he sliced open his palm and shoved the bloody appendage back out of the ward. Harry took it without hesitation and stepped right through after him.

 

Once he was inside, Draco released his hand but took a moment before he healed the cut to use his blood to paint two quick runes on the side of Harry’s neck. It was the largest patch of bare skin he could get to without asking him to remove some clothing and it certainly wasn’t the time for that. He clamped his wand between his teeth and carefully tipped Harry’s head to the side with the fingertips of his bloody hand, baring the stretch of Harry’s neck. He dipped a finger into the cut, taking a thick smear of blood and quickly sketched out the two runes that would mark Harry safe from the wards while he took the time needed to dismantle them.

 

‘Kinky,’ was Harry’s only response.

 

‘Blood play, Potter?’ Draco quirked a brow with a grin, eyes darting away from his work to lock with Harry’s.

 

Harry shrugged, unconcerned. ‘It’s good to try new things.’

 

Draco winked and released him. Harry stepped backwards through the wards with a salacious grin and turned to deal with the aurors. The blood runes were crude but effective; they wouldn’t last long but they would last long enough that Harry could come and go across the wards. By their nature, they were easy to remove, the power left behind in Draco’s blood wouldn’t last long. It would probably last longer on Harry than on most, what with the way their magic danced and entwined whenever they were together.

 

(And wouldn’t Granger have a field day with that.)

 

Most importantly, Harry would be able to cross the wards in a heartbeat to help Draco if something went wrong but until then, he could go back to dealing with the aurors and the witches incapacitated on the lawn. Keeping the muggles from figuring out what was happening was, thankfully, not Draco’s problem, either. He could see some of the neighbours starting to poke out of their homes now that the fighting was done. He blocked out all of that and with a deep, calming breath, he set about identifying and pulling down the first of the wards.

 

As he worked to dismantle them from the inside, which was always much easier than doing so from the outside (and formed half the reason the Ministry was so eager to make use of Draco) he was vaguely aware of Harry crossing back and forth. The nature of the wards being what they were, on each trip he dragged another of the witches free of the ward and into auror custody. Once he was finished, he moved to stand beside Draco. Although he had his own eyes closed, Draco could feel the way Harry kept a careful eye on him and the house. They didn’t know yet if there were more waiting for them inside and, as deep in his mind and the magic as he was, trying to take down the wards, Draco’s reactions would be just moments too slow to stop anything truly bad from reaching him.

 

Bill had once described the way he experienced wards as a spiderweb of spellwork that he needed to carefully disassemble. It wasn’t tangible to him, not really, a ward for Bill was just a feeling, the web a way for his mind to interpret the magic he was working with. Draco wasn’t so lucky. His newly developed sensitivity to magic (prolonged torture had such fascinating repercussions) meant that he didn’t just provide his own image to work with but was given smell and taste and feel as well. The wards for him were tangible. In this state, he could reach out and touch them, smooth his hands over the soft curves where they guarded the property. There was no spiderweb for Draco, not this time.

 

Wards built with magic that recognised the Dark Mark were always the easiest to dismantle. It might have been crafted from the Dark Arts but that sort of magic recognised him and was almost too happy to do his bidding. While Draco might not have the same fear of Dark Arts as most people, rather he had a healthy respect for what those spells could do, he didn’t always like the way they felt. The Dark Mark ward was oily.  When he’d described them to Harry once, he’d said it reminded him of Snape. Dark and unmoving but not something you could ever quite grasp the truth of. Draco thought the comparison was a bit unfair at the time, but it stuck with him now because the wards never reminded Draco of the Dark Lord. It had taken him a while to figure out why but once he had, he’d recognised the same problem in a lot of the Dark spells he was called on to break down.

 

The Dark Arts had a place in magic and the wizarding world, Voldemort and, for that matter, Grindelwald before him, had twisted and broken those spells – the art itself – into something almost unrecognisable. The ward created to recognise the Dark Mark was a poorly corrupted version of a Dark blood ward, one Draco suspected had existed in its pure – uncorrupted – form around the Manor before Voldemort soaked the place in blood and ruin.

 

The ward wanted to be dispelled and Draco simply gave it the nudge it needed.

 

‘I felt that,’ Harry murmured, low enough that only Draco would hear.

 

Draco hummed in acknowledgment but didn’t open his eyes. There were another two wards he needed to bring down first before they could let the aurors in to explore the house. Of course, even then, he thought they’d probably send him in with Mendenhall and Winthrop first, just to check there weren’t any more Voldemort related cruses for him to break.

 

Another ward came down and Draco could see it perfectly, in his mind, the way Harry’s nose wrinkled as he complained, ‘Why did that one smell like something died?’

 

‘Something did to create it,’ he explained softly.

 

‘Please don’t tell me it was a person,’ Harry’s voice was just as soft despite the disgust in his tone.

 

‘No,’ Draco assured him. ‘I think it was a goat.’

 

‘That poor goat.’

 

Draco sniggered. He hadn’t lost his concentration though and the last of the wards came down, this one with a rather pretty opalescent shimmer that even the least sensitive of the aurors could see.

 

Draco turned to look at Harry who said, ‘The house?’

 

Draco nodded. He glanced back over his shoulder and nodded to Mendenhall before he looked back at the house and strode forward. The front door was open, the witches had obviously been inside when the aurors arrived and sometime between them arriving and deciding they’d need Draco, the witches had come outside to investigate and started the fight.

 

As he approached the door, Draco cast a series of diagnostic charms Bill had taught him while Harry cast a few he’d been taught. There didn’t seem to be anything worrying about the house itself now that the initial wards had come down and so he simply walked in through the open door, Harry a step behind him. They both paused on a shudder inside and immediately whipped back around in alarm.

 

‘Stop!’ Draco snapped the order while Harry moved to block Mendenhall from stepping into the house, making sure the movement took him outside as well. The old auror paused sharply, one foot raised to drop onto the doormat.

 

That first step into the house might very well have killed him. It might have killed Harry, if not for the blood runes still smeared on his neck.

 

‘Out. Now,’ he snapped, the idea he might just have lost Harry hadn’t taken root yet, he’d be appropriately terrified later, at home, when they were both safe and cuddled up close in bed with as much skin-on-skin contact as possible as a deliciously warm reminder that he hadn’t almost gotten Harry killed the first time they were in the field working together.

 

Unconcerned by the sharpness in his tone, Harry did as he’d requested, stepping fully outside to stand in front of Mendenhall and Winthrop. He might have been happy to stand outside and wait but he still felt the need to to casually lean back in – head poking through the bloody ward – just to observe Draco work.

 

‘What is it?’ Mendenhall gruffly demanded.

 

‘It felt like I stepped through a ghost,’ Harry explained.

 

‘I haven’t seen warding of this type before,’ Draco murmured.

 

‘I’ll send word to the Ministry for a curse breaker,’ Winthrop said.

 

Draco, who didn’t see why they’d bother now after they’d already deemed this a case for the Ministry’s pet Death Eater, objected scathingly with, ‘Don’t be stupid, they wouldn’t have any idea what to do with this.’

 

And they wouldn’t. Draco had no idea what he was dealing with specifically but he knew enough to recognise the type of ward and unless they were going to let Marcus Gustafsson (the only Ministry curse breaker who might have enough knowledge about Dark Arts) out of Azkaban, then Draco was still their best chance of safely bringing the ward down. He didn’t say that part out loud, though, no need to remind them all just yet that a good chunk of his summer before seventh year had been spent hiding in his room or the Manor library learning everything he could from those horrible Dark texts to please the Dark Lord or, more accurately, to survive him.

 

After some careful probing and some unsuccessful spellwork, Draco was left with little choice but to perform a controlled break of the wards.

 

One of the first things he’d learned from the curse breakers who were in and out of the Manor over the summer was that a lot of curse breaking had very little to do with actually breaking curses. Much more accurately, what curse breakers did, was dismantle them. Breaking implied throwing something at them or tearing them down but the best curse breakers slipped into wards and curses and pulled them apart in slow controlled steps, dismantling each layer as they went.

 

Actually breaking curses was reserved for the worst (and sometimes just the oldest) when the counter curse wasn’t known or wasn’t possible. Some blood curses fell into the category of impossible to dismantle as not many curse breakers were willing to perform their own sacrifices just to safely take down a curse. Most of the broken curses were simply so old the correct charms and counter curses weren’t known.

 

That was an element of curse breaking Draco truly enjoyed. In the Manor he’d had access to some truly old and Dark books (protected from the curse breakers and grabby Ministry hands by familial wards) and in those books there had been plenty of spells, curses and blood rites that Bill had never even heard of. Those books Draco had safely tucked away in Harry’s Gringotts vault. One day, he’d have a proper warded study of his own where he could keep those books and learn all there was to learn from them.

 

Unlike the curse breakers trained by Gringotts and the Ministry, Draco wasn’t (deeply) afraid of the Dark Arts. Unlike Gustafsson, he wasn’t fascinated by the way they could give him power and control. No, Draco had learned to be afraid of the people who incorrectly wielded them, he had a healthy respect for what they could do when used as initially intended and not in the corrupted form so many people used them now.

 

Like this ward. He might not know exactly which one it was but he recognised the style and purpose. The fact the witches – and possibly the two wizards – had been in and out of the house told Draco there was a way to key the wards to certain people (like those with Voldemort’s Mark) but he didn’t know how, and he didn’t have time to figure it out, he’d like to at least attempt to make it to some of his classes for the day and he felt that if he kept the Ministry waiting too long they would send for one of their curse breakers and then people would end up dead.

 

Draco didn’t need that on his conscience, so a controlled break it was.

 

‘Shields,’ he ordered. ‘Strong as you can.’

 

Behind him, Harry straightened and offered a single nod.

 

This was going to hurt but it was a necessary hurt. Crouching to the floor, Draco sliced open his palm again, figuring the quickest and dirtiest break would be best for this kind of ward. The way it seeped into every bit of the house suggested the wards had been set further in the past than the Dark Mark ward had led them to believe. That was something they could deal with later. For now, Draco slapped his hand against the ugly brown carpet and snapped out a spell – another that wouldn’t reflect well on him, he was sure.

 

It was as if the ward itself detonated. Heat flared around Draco, seeming to crawl up his arm through his very veins. He gritted his teeth against a snarl of pain and focused his power down into the ward, fuelling the crude spell as it tore the ward apart. Somewhere deeper in the house he heard glass breaking and a moment later a pipe exploded, filling the house with the added sounded of rushing water.

 

Good, the flow of fresh water would help cleanse away the Dark stain left behind by the ward.

 

Behind him, Winthrop and Mendenhall cried out in alarm and Draco chanced a glance over his shoulder to see that the force of the ward coming down had blown them clear off their feet and back out onto the lawn. Harry remained unmoved. Feet planted firmly, wand raised to hold his shield in place. It was fascinating the way the blast flowed around him. His shield held, much like Winthrop and Mendenhall’s had but unlike them, the ward flowed around and over Harry, the bloodied runes on his neck doing their job.

 

There was definitely more at play there. Those runes on anyone else wouldn’t have withstood something nearly so powerful as the ward coming down. They’d have to talk about that later, finally have a proper conversation with someone who might be able to give them answers. Someone who could explain why he and Harry could exchange wands without trouble, why their magic blended so seamlessly. Why a couple of crude and basic ward runes painted in blood should have such lasting protection when by all rights they should have burned away the moment the ward came crashing down on top of them.

 

But that was future Draco’s problem, present Draco quite happily could have passed out. The flow of magic from the broken ward stopped just as suddenly as it had started, the burning sensation crawling up his arm didn’t, of course. That would have been far too easy. There weren’t any outward signs of damage to his arm and he could still move all his fingers and joints as they were supposed to, so he hoped he’d caused no more lasting damage than if he’d dismantled it slowly and safely.

 

Draco wanted to tumble back onto his back and take a nap. He didn’t. He forced himself to stand gracefully, pretending not to notice his stiff knees or the burning ache in his arm, and turned to peer out onto the lawn where Mendenhall and Winthrop were struggling to their feet.

 

Harry tried to smile at him, but it was more of a grimace. ‘Okay?’

 

‘I’d very much like to sleep now,’ Draco murmured honestly, allowing Harry a brief glimpse at how he truly felt before he turned around and swept into the house when all he wanted was to collapse into Harry’s arms and let him take them home.

 

Harry followed him easily into the house, Winthrop and Mendenhall were much slower and a lot more cautious. Both had their wands in hand and shields at the ready. They stepped where Harry or Draco stepped and kept their pace slow and steady to match his. It seemed they were finally learning. Perhaps he could look forward to a future in which they didn’t just let him go about getting himself killed for them. He wondered if this meant that he’d earned their respect. Just because Winthrop had broached the idea of him working for the Ministry didn’t mean she respected him as a wizard or a curse breaker, it just meant she knew how much easier it would be to make use of him if he became compliant.

 

He hoped that wasn’t all this was.

 

For the most part, the house held nothing of interest, nothing that should require such a deadly ward. Winthrop and Mendenhall were about ready to call it safe and call in the other aurors when Harry found the house’s secret.

 

‘What is it?’ he asked once they’d all joined him in the small mudroom off the kitchen and were looking down at the metal box installed where Draco thought there’d once been a muggle clothes washing contraption.

 

Draco studied the smooth surface of the box and, after all four of them had tried every diagnostic charm they could think of, shrugged. ‘I haven’t a clue.’

 

‘We’ll get Artefacts and Objects in to have a look at it before we move it,’ Mendenhall declared. He glared up at Harry and then at Draco. ‘Go outside and catch a portkey back to school before this becomes even more of a circus.’

 

Harry looked as though he wanted to protest but Draco nodded easily and turned to walk out of the house. Harry hesitated a moment before he turned to follow. ‘We could stick around and help.’

 

‘I don’t want to do the paperwork,’ Draco informed him.

 

There was a beat of silence as they reached the front door and then Harry said, ‘Wait, you don’t have to do paperwork?’

 

Draco looked over at him with a smirk, ‘They haven’t made me yet.’

 

‘You lucky bastard,’ Harry laughed fondly, perhaps a tinge jealously.

 

Out on the lawn there was no sign of any muggle neighbours. New wards had been set up by MLE anti-muggle officers and a small crowd of magical onlookers had gathered at the edge of the new wards. They seemed to be debating with one of the MLE officers and it didn’t take much to figure out they were reporters.

 

Harry had obviously come to the same conclusion because he made a beeline for a break in the wards in the opposite direction. ‘Bugger waiting on a portkey,’ he muttered, ‘I don’t fancy waiting around for that lot to notice we’re here.’

 

‘Hogsmeade?’ Draco suggested.

 

‘See you there,’ Harry agreed.

 

The moment they’d both stepped free of the Ministry regulation anti-apparition wards, they turned on the spot and left the muggle neighbourhood and all that paperwork behind.

 

They wouldn’t realise until the next morning that they hadn’t been quite as lucky as they’d hoped in avoiding the press but by then both he and Harry had other things on their minds.

 

Like Astoria’s return.

 

And the truly epic howler from Pansy.

Chapter Text

Sprawled as he was, half on and half off the bed, Draco could only snigger a laugh as Harry stumbled off the bed, hopping naked around the room as he tried to stretch out the cramp in his calf. He deserved the pillow to his face, he’d admit, but what else was he supposed to do? At least they’d both gotten off before the cramp had set Harry stumbling around in pain.

 

Draco sniggered again, moving back properly onto the bed and shoving the pillow under his head. He turned so he could watch Harry limp around as he felt around for the duvet, suddenly all too aware that the late October air was more than just a bit chilly even with the fire crackling gently away and filling the room with soft a soft amber glow.

 

‘Fuck! Fuck. Fuck,’ Harry hissed. ‘Merlin, it’s cold. Shove over.’

 

Harry dove back onto the bed and wriggled up under the covers to press icy skin against Draco’s warm side. Draco yelped and tried to shove him away but it was as though Harry had grown extra limbs as he tangled around him and refused to let go.

 

‘Salazar, you arse, you’re freezing!’

 

‘Yeah, but you’re warm.’

 

‘I was!’ Draco complained. ‘Fuck, put some socks on, your feet are like ice!’

 

Harry started laughing into Draco’s shoulder, sticking his hand out from beneath the covers to grope about for his wand. When he didn’t find it, he flicked his hand impatiently and wandlessly (silently) summoned some socks. He disappeared under the covers, groping around a bit until he re-emerged, slightly breathless, with hair even messier than usual. Draco felt socked feet slip back between his own.

 

‘Not my finest look,’ Harry admitted, lifting the duvet for a quick peek.

 

Draco looked down too and let out a soft laugh at the sight of the ugly socks Dobby had once gifted Harry. They were the only thing he was wearing. ‘Oh yes, that’s incredibly sexy.’

 

‘Shut up,’ Harry said but his words dissolved into a soft huff of laughter.

 

‘Should we go for a run?’ Draco asked after they’d snuggled in silence for a while.

 

Harry grunted, ‘Already got a workout in this morning.’

 

Draco rolled his eyes. ‘If sex counted, we’d never have to run.’

 

Harry grinned. Draco felt the way his lips tugged up into a smile where they were pressed against his bare shoulder, just above the tattoo of the stag and Luna’s moons.

 

‘Pomfrey said you’re healing well, even with all the damage those jobs for the Ministry cause you,’ Harry murmured, voice suddenly sober.

 

Draco hummed. ‘I am,’ he agreed.

 

‘The running helps.’ It wasn’t a question.

 

‘It all helps,’ Draco replied honestly. ‘The running, the potions. You.’

 

‘I’m not sure how much help I’ve really been.’

 

‘You’d be surprised.’

 

Harry hummed disbelievingly but he didn’t argue. Draco glanced down at him to see he’d closed his eyes and looked to be drifting off. He was wondering if he should get up and run, leave Harry to sleep, when he noticed the runes were standing out clearly on Harry’s skin. Which was odd because they hadn’t been there when they went to bed. They hadn’t even been there by the time they returned to Hogwarts. Draco had assumed Harry had washed the off with a quick charm before anyone could see them.

 

Clearly, he hadn’t.

 

Intrigued, Draco sat up a little, dislodging Harry so that he could turn and get a better look at the runes which were clearly still painted against Harry’s neck. Although, upon closer inspection, they were no longer red and glistening. Instead they’d become a soft earthy brown, just a few shades darker than Harry’s own tanned skin. Even as he watched, they faded until it was as though they’d never been there. Stroking them with soft fingers didn’t bring them back.

 

‘What are you doing?’ Harry questioned.

 

‘The runes are still on your neck. They’ve changed.’

 

Harry didn’t open his eyes. ‘I thought they’d faded yesterday.’

 

Draco raised his brows. ‘They’re not supposed to fade. They’re blood runes. They’re supposed to dry and flake once the magic wears off and then you just wash away the rest.’

 

Harry shrugged. ‘I didn’t wash them off.’

 

Draco studied the naked skin of Harry’s neck and then, on a whim, leant down and traced a line up the side of it with his tongue. Harry shivered pleasantly but Draco hardly noticed. He was too fascinated with the way the runes seemed to bleed back up to the surface of Harry’s skin.

 

‘Huh.’

 

‘What?’

 

Draco gave him a quick thump across the chest. Not particularly hard but with enough oomph that Harry’s eyes jerked open and he pushed up onto his elbows.

 

‘What was that for?’

 

‘Magic behaves very strangely between us,’ Draco observed. ‘I think it’s time we talked to someone about it.’

 

Harry looked at him blankly. ‘What?’

 

Just because he could, Draco traced lazy fingers over Harry’s chest, taking the time to trace lines between the points of the constellation tattooed across his heart. Anyone who didn’t know them might think them to be horribly cheesy and romantic, tattooed as they were, with designs specific to each other. Anyone who did know them might think the same, but they’d also understand how much more those tattoos meant. How much this relationship – the antagonism between them, especially – had shaped them both over the years. There would be no Harry and Draco without all the years of Potter and Malfoy, without all the years of name calling and picked fights. Who would they be without all the pain and hurt and the chance to heal?

 

That was what the stag represented to Draco. It was what the dragon constellation meant to Harry. Who would they be without those things?

 

Ordinarily, that would be the only thing those tattoos would mean but now, tracing the dragon of stars and thinking about the runes on Harry’s neck, Draco was starting to think there was a lot more between them than either of them had realised. Instead of the magic running out and the blood flaking, Harry’s own magic seemed to be powering the runes. His magic had accepted Draco’s, welcomed it even, to the point where it was working to power the marks Draco had placed on Harry’s skin with his blood – a possibly permanent protection against certain wards.

 

The runes had come out of one of the books Harry brought him out of the Black Library at Grimmauld Place. He’d read the book cover to cover and nothing in there had talked about such a reaction. He’d have to go and fetch it from Harry’s vault at Gringotts and give it another read. Not that he expected to find anything, not about this.

 

Draco had been keeping a list of the weird ways his and Harry’s magic interacted, starting with the way they could switch wands at a whim building up to the way Harry’s accidental magic could shield him and now it would need to include the way his magic latched on to Harry’s, was welcomed by Harry’s, until it could exist with his in such a way as the runes on his neck.

 

‘Our magic is almost intertwined,’ he murmured, explaining his thoughts as best he could. ‘It’s like your magic just accepts mine, it reaches out and takes without ever needing to think about it.’

 

‘It’s not just mine,’ Harry added thoughtfully. ‘Sometimes I can feel the way your magic reaches out to mine.’

 

‘Really?’

 

Harry nodded.

 

‘I don’t think I realised that,’ he admitted.

 

Harry shrugged. ‘I didn’t. Luna did.’

 

‘Luna did,’ Draco repeated dubiously.

 

Harry nodded. ‘She said she could see it.’

 

‘Of course, she can.’ He rolled his eyes.

 

Harry laughed lightly at that. ‘She said it’s like soft tendrils reaching out between us and tangling together.’

 

Draco nodded slowly, thoughtfully. ‘That makes sense. As much as anything Luna says can.’

 

Harry dropped back onto his pillow, snuggling deeper into the duvet. ‘She said it was beautiful, how tangled we are with each other.’

 

‘When did she say that?’

 

Harry, much to Draco’s surprise, blushed bright red. ‘Um…’

 

Draco’s mouth stretched wide into a smirk. ‘When did she say that?’ he asked again, prodding a finger into Harry’s ribs.

 

‘That time she came with me to visit you in Azkaban.’

 

Draco snorted. ‘I’d have loved to have seen that.’ He laughed with genuine delight. ‘Your face must have been hilarious.’

 

Luna accompanied Harry to Azkaban exactly once, three weeks into his sentence. At that point in time, he and Harry were still struggling with their new bonds of friendship and were frequently prone to sharp bitter words and moody silences. Harry would not have been nearly as receptive to the observation then as he was now.

 

Draco wondered how he would have felt about it. He’d made no secret of his feelings for Harry over the years, the truth of his feelings that is, once he and Harry had truly begun to get along. He might have thought he was a power-hungry, attention-starved, fame-seeker once upon a time but the impression had been born from hurt and arrogance. He hadn’t much believed his own words by third year but by then it was the only way he knew to get Harry’s attention and he’d always liked having Harry’s attention.

 

Of course, the beauty of the self-awareness that was the discovery and acceptance of his own sexuality painted a lot of his own interactions with Harry differently. So used to the open way he talked to his housemates – and desperately needing the reassurance of someone listening and talking to him – he’d made an offhand comment once amidst a lot of other remarks about their past and Harry had turned such an interesting shade of red and sputtered all of his words before he’d made a hasty exit from Draco’s cell a full twenty minutes earlier than normal.

 

He couldn’t even have said how they’d gotten on the topic; it might have been talk about Harry’s many admirers post-war, that sounded like something that would have triggered a conversation about sex. He did remember he’d been laughing (as much as he ever did while locked in that cell – it was easier in the beginning) about Pansy’s embarrassing fantasy about the much (much) taller Dean Thomas and how Blaise had developed a bit of a thing for Ginny and the fantasies they’d come up with when the two Gryffindors started dating, and his words had just sort of slipped out.

 

‘I never saw the appeal in either of them,’ he’d admitted. ‘I was never one for a Gryffindor fantasy – although Blaise and I did once catch a glimpse of you in the quidditch showers and I’m pretty sure that fuelled all of my fantasies for most of fifth year.’

 

Harry had dealt with that revelation the same way he dealt with everything he didn’t know how to comprehend and simply pretended it never happened. Draco supposed that revelation had probably made it easier for Harry to be the bold Gryffindor and finally make a move when he realised he wasn’t as straight as he’d always imagined, but that had been months later.

 

Draco was sort of sad he’d missed that whole enlightening process – Luna assured him it had been quite entertaining, trying to make sense of all Harry’s awkward questions and trailed off sentences that ended in blushes and more stammering. Without Granger to do his thinking for him, Harry had been forced to make his own assessment of certain actions.

 

‘What are you thinking about?’ he mumbled, startling Draco out of his musings.

 

‘Oh, I’m bemoaning the fact I missed your sexuality crisis.’

 

Harry snorted. ‘It wasn’t much of a crisis to be honest. It was two solid months of thinking about you all the time, of dreaming about you. And a lot of revelations about our past.’

 

Draco’s eyebrows shot up; he’d not heard that before. ‘Two months of sex dreams?’ Draco asked slyly.

 

He felt Harry shrug against him. ‘I don’t know, probably. I didn’t really remember them at first, I still don’t really remember them, I was just really grateful Ron was away and I had my room to myself. I’d remember flashes, glimpses really, but that was about it. When you got out and we started seeing more of each other, that’s when I realised, I’d been dreaming about you. I think they started as nightmares but honestly, there were probably some sex ones in there too.’

 

Amused by the admission, Draco kept the conversation light by asking, ‘Did the dreams start before or after I told you about catching you in the quidditch showers?’

 

Harry was quiet for a long time before finally he said, not taking the out Draco had offered, ‘I’ve dreamt about you regularly since we met. There’s a good chance a few of those dreams where I only remember a flash of blonde were more than just wondering what evil thing you were getting up to next.’

 

Draco felt rather smug. It must have shown on his face because Harry prodded him sharply and hissed a reprimand to which Draco only laughed and said, ‘Well I suppose we can’t all have our sexuality sorted at fourteen.’

 

Harry laughed. ‘I don’t know that I’d call your overactive sex drive having your sexuality sorted.’

 

Draco scoffed. ‘I was raised to appreciate beautiful things.’

 

‘You were young and horny and you took sex where you could get it.’

 

‘That sounds like jealousy.’

 

There was a beat and then Harry moaned, ‘Fucking hell, of course its jealousy. I had a mad man trying to kill me, I didn’t have time to think about sex.’

 

Draco couldn’t help but laugh at Harry’s affronted tone. He liked that Harry hadn’t had time for all that, though. He’d slept with exactly one person before Draco and that meant Draco got to teach him a lot of things about sex – most of them really. His one attempt with Ginny had (they’d both freely admitted) been a bit of a letdown. It was nice being able to rub it in Ginny’s face that Harry was now rather good in bed and that it had nothing to do with Ginny.

 

Which was a terribly weird headspace to be in when Longbottom knocked on their door with a heavy fist and a mumbled. ‘Oi, you two awake?’

 

‘But not wearing pants!’ Draco shouted back.

 

Harry elbowed him sharply and then they both scrambled around a bit trying to find something that resembled clothes. Harry was still hopping about trying to get his joggers over one of Dobby’s hideous socks when Draco went to open the door. He hadn’t bothered to do more than put on pants before he’d wrapped himself in a blanket and made for the door. No need to leave Longbottom lurking out in the hallway raising all sorts of awkward questions it was far too early in the morning to answer.

 

‘It’s early, Longbottom,’ Draco grumped as he tugged the door open. ‘What do you want?’

 

Longbottom turned a brilliant shade of red and fidgeted, apparently deeply regretting banging on their door and possibly seeking them out in the first place. That didn’t stop him from scurrying awkwardly inside with a quick, nervous look over his shoulder.

 

Somewhat bemused – how was this his life now? – Draco shut the door behind him and then scuttled back to bed because he, unlike Harry, was not wearing socks and the stone floor was positively icy. Huddled in the blankets, perched on his bed, Draco raised an expectant eyebrow at Longbottom while Harry finally managed to get his joggers up passed his knees and started digging through the wardrobe for a jumper.

 

‘Spit it out,’ Draco snapped.

 

‘What’s up, Nev?’ Harry asked much more kindly, rolling his eyes at Draco.

 

Longbottom might have developed some confidence since killing Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor, but he seemed to have reverted back to the nervous round kid, Draco had so much fun tormenting.

 

He sighed. ‘Do you need me to leave?’ he asked, hoping the answer was no because it was bloody fucking cold and he wasn’t wearing much of anything but he asked all the same because he could be understanding on occasion and whatever Longbottom had come to say he was obviously struggling to get it out and if slipping at high speed into the bathroom and a scolding hot shower could speed the process along then Draco was willing to make the sacrifice.

 

‘There’s this girl,’ Longbottom blurted out.

 

On second thoughts, leaving would be a terrible idea because Merlin knew Harry was horrendously unqualified for this conversation.

 

Harry started to grin. ‘Really?’

 

‘No.’ Draco pointed a sharp finger at Harry. ‘Sweet Salazar, you keep your mouth shut,’ Draco cautioned him. He gave his full attention to Longbottom. ‘Are you looking for advice?’ Draco thought Harry should be proud he’d asked that without biting sarcasm or any sort of derision.

 

‘Maybe?’ Longbottom didn’t seem particularly sure. ‘I just – I mean – I know you’re g-gay but I hoped you’d…’ he trailed off in hopeless embarrassment and darted a glance at Harry as though looking for help.

 

And he was definitely barking up the wrong tree with that one.

 

‘Not gay,’ Draco started off correcting, ‘bi. Let’s not get into Harry’s orientation, it starts and ends with me.’

 

Harry scoffed indignantly. ‘Excuse me, I’ve had girlfriends before.’

 

‘You had one girlfriend and a disaster of a crush,’ Draco corrected, dismissively. ‘Maybe if you’d just taken my hand all those years ago, we could have skipped both of those and gone straight to the finish.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry drawled, ‘I’m not touching on that one.’ He shook his head, apparently marvelling at Draco’s nerve, before he turned his attention to Longbottom who seemed to have lost some of his nerves in the face of his and Harry’s (admittedly) pointless squabbling. ‘Also, bi. Probably.’

 

Draco snorted, the “probably” was telling. He bet he could amuse himself and Ginny for ages getting Harry to admit that it didn’t much matter which way he swung if his entire focus always had, and likely always would be, on Draco. Although, he supposed, for clarity, it wasn’t a bad thing if Harry felt the need to label himself – Draco never normally did.

 

‘You shouldn’t touch this one either,’ Draco told him, choosing not to mock Harry for his minor concession. ‘Alright, Longbottom, what’s this about a girl?’

 

Longbottom opened and closed his mouth a few times, still seeming unable to actually voice the words he’d planned to say. ‘Rebecca Kemp,’ he eventually blurted out, cheeks such a deep shade of red they were verging on purple.

 

Draco wrinkled his brow in thought, exchanging a quick look with Harry who had a blank look on his face. Draco wanted to shake his head but settled for rolling his eyes. Honestly, Harry’s observation skills before auror training were seriously lacking. Draco was aware Harry had more important things on his mind than memorising the names of all their fellow students in the first six years of his schooling but the fact that he’d paid so little attention to anyone who wasn’t a Gryffindor (or associated with Draco himself) was astounding.

 

‘Seventh year Ravenclaw,’ Draco supplied, which didn’t clear up Harry’s confusion at all.

 

This time, Draco gave him such a pitying look, one that suggested his fondness somehow encompassed Harry in all his completely stupid glory. For some reason the look made Harry grin goofily which had Draco raising a sharp brow before turning his attention back to Longbottom who seemed to be watching them with poorly disguised longing.

 

‘She asked me to go with her to Hogsmeade,’ Neville admitted with a blush when he realised both Draco and Harry were looking at him again.

 

‘Good for you?’ And yes, Draco was aware that was more question than congratulations but what else did the man want from him? ‘I’m not sure I understand the problem.’

 

The problem, it turned out, was that Neville had never been on a date before and that he was having serious doubts about why someone as nice and pretty as Rebecca Kemp would want to go out with him. Draco let Harry field that one because, well, Draco had no idea why anyone would want to go out with Longbottom – he certainly didn’t see any kind of appeal.

 

Of course, letting Harry field that question left him room to offer advice about other things and Draco didn’t know whether to be amused or not that Harry’s most helpful piece of advice was to simply be himself because she obviously liked that person and that made for a great start.

 

It wasn’t unsound advice and – frankly – Draco was astonished it had come from Harry. ‘That’s not terrible advice.’

 

‘You don’t need to sound so surprised,’ Harry grouched.

 

‘You’ve met you, right?’ Draco joked. ‘You fell into a relationship with Ginny after your jealousy and (possibly) idiocy caused you to snog her in public without warning and the disaster that was Cho Chang really speaks for itself.’

 

‘At least I’ve had a relationship,’ Harry pointed out.

 

If Harry had been aiming to hurt, his comment fell very short of the mark. Amused, Draco said, ‘I much preferred all the sex, thanks.’

 

Harry, mature person that he was, stuck his tongue out. He turned back to Longbottom. ‘Seriously Neville, what’s the worst that could happen? Just take her into Hogsmeade, go for a bit of a walk and then take her for a drink at the Three Broomsticks.’

 

Draco pulled a face. Not at Longbottom or even Harry’s advice but at the mention of the Three Broomsticks. He still owed Madam Rosmerta an apology, one he wasn’t all that confident in giving and one he knew for certain would be poorly received. He’d be steering clear of the Three Broomsticks for the foreseeable future. His plans to meet up with a visiting Pansy were to be at the Hog’s Head. At least he was sure of his welcome there.

 

With a grimace, Draco tuned back into the conversation with Longbottom in time to see the man looking nervous but resolute as he slipped out the door. ‘Shower?’ he asked Harry.

 

‘Thought you wanted to go for a run?’

 

Draco shrugged off the blanket and darted on quick toes across the icy floor. He paused to call back over his shoulder, ‘I’m sure we can get another workout in while we shower.’

 

Harry grinned. ‘Yeah, alright.’

 

After a longer than strictly necessary shower, he and Harry dressed (Draco took control of that because Harry would be meeting with Pansy) and headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

 

Granger was the only eighth year at breakfast and she’d taken her seat at the Gryffindor table. Draco reluctantly – though not nearly as reluctantly as he pretended – followed Harry to join her. He cast a forlorn look at the Slytherin table, eyes pausing on Astoria for a moment before he followed after Harry. She was sitting with a friend, chewing thoughtfully on some toast while she tried to teach her friend a few signs. They were some of the few Draco already new – thanks to Luna – and so he could recognise Astoria’s own name and Luna’s as well.

 

As he sank down onto the bench beside Harry, Draco couldn’t help thinking, somewhat ruefully, that Astoria’s return to Hogwarts had been just as dramatic as his own, if for entirely different reasons. She’d slipped into the flow of students without fuss, joining her housemates for dinner the night before, keeping quietly to herself and only giving nods or hand gestures in response to questions asked of her. No mention of her return or the special requirements she needed were mentioned, her return a quiet subtle affair.

 

That had lasted about an hour.

 

Luna had slipped down onto the bench beside her and started up a conversation quickly, introducing herself and explaining she would be happy to talk any time Astoria needed to speak to someone and didn’t want the bother of writing it down.

 

He’d no idea why, but Astoria had requested Luna help her talk to him straight after dinner. He hadn’t known what to think when Luna made a beeline for him (and Harry) but he’d listened as Luna carefully translated Astoria’s rapid signs until he’d gained a lump in his throat and tears were threatening to fall.

 

She’d told him she didn’t forgive him for his part in what happened to her because there was nothing to forgive. He’d been a victim of Voldemort just as she had, though certainly not to the same extent. She’d simply wanted to clear the air between them and to thank him for his part in the capture and sentencing of Rowle.

 

She’d clasped his hand tightly, squeezing just once before smiling, nodding her head in thanks to Luna and drifting out of the classroom they’d slipped into for privacy.

 

Draco didn’t know what to think. He and Astoria had never talked much before, she was two years below him and as such he knew her as well as he knew every other pureblood family. There’d been no reason for her to seek him out, no reason for her to smile at him when she caught him looking at her over breakfast.

 

He smiled back and was loading some eggs and bacon onto his plate when Granger unravelled her freshly delivered copy of the Prophet and promptly choked on her juice.

 

Once she was done coughing and spluttering, she spun the paper around and dropped it right on top of Harry’s jam toast. ‘Hey!’ he complained.

 

‘You two made the front page,’ she told them and there was something in her tone of voice, something in the way she looked between the two of them that had Draco looking down sharply, alarm tightening his mouth.

 

Harry stood on the garden path, just inside the gate, muggle pants, dragon-hide boots and a simple t-shirt. His hair was a mess (as usual), his wand held in a loose grip by his side. He had a grin on his face, carefree, somewhat bemused. He looked happy. Draco stood before him, in his own muggle pants (the snug dark jeans), heavily spelled dragon-hide boots, a jumper he realised he’d stolen from Harry (one of the new ones he’d bought him) with his wand clenched in his teeth. He had one hand pressed against Harry’s chin, tilting his head to the side, while the other painted blood runes on his neck.

 

Clearly, one of the reporters had arrived on scene earlier than the aurors had realised. The picture had perfectly captured the moment Harry had teasingly joked about it being kinky. They’d gotten Draco’s smirk clearly despite the grip he had on his wand with his teeth. They’d captured the wink too.

 

Draco’s alarm disappeared and he felt his lips tug up into a smirk. He read the caption under the photo before he trailed eyes up to the bold headline. He nudged Harry in the ribs with his elbow, ‘You’re still the dashing hero, I see.’

 

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Really? “Painted in blood: Death Eater performs Dark Arts on Wizarding Saviour”.’

 

‘It’s not a bad photo really,’ Draco mused, ‘I look fucking fit.’

 

Harry snorted. ‘Of course, you do.’ He shook his head, obviously amused. Then he read the caption under the photo sounding incredulous as he read. ‘Oh. This is better…? “Trainee auror Harry Potter, 18, pictured with ex-Death Eater Draco Malfoy, also 18”. Huh.’

 

Draco found himself sniggering. He couldn’t help but find it hilarious. The article itself was as well written as every other piece the Prophet had been publishing recently. It was light on embellishment, contained only basic details that the public should know and – and this is what truly impressed Draco – was stunningly accurate in detail and the conclusions drawn.

 

‘I am genuinely impressed,’ he admitted.

 

‘Impressed,’ Granger repeated, her voice strained, eyes darting between the two of them. ‘Harry, you let Malfoy write on you in blood!’

 

Draco raised an eyebrow, apparently, he was back to being Malfoy.

 

Harry looked up at her, expression still amused over the words of the article. ‘Hermione, this article isn’t actually half bad. Look, it talks about the auror raid and the wards around the house. They talk about bringing Draco in as an expert as part of his parole. The two of us are barely mentioned. Honestly, did you even read the article? That headline is all about grabbing attention.’ Harry traced fingers over the headline and then down over the photo. ‘This is the most honest article that’s ever been written about me or Draco – it’s brilliant.’

 

Granger made a sound like an angry cat and snatched back the paper. ‘You let him paint runes on you in blood, Harry! I know you have no idea what those runes mean. He could have been doing anything.’

 

Confused at this sudden change in behaviour, Harry frowned at his friend. By all accounts, Granger had been doing her best to be friendly and accepting of Draco since she’d realised Harry was serious about giving him a chance. Draco didn’t understand why now was any different to all the other times Harry had stood by him when everyone else was calling him Death Eater and accusing him of enchanting the Chosen One.

 

‘The wards around the house wouldn’t let anyone without a Dark Mark just walk through,’ Harry easily explained. ‘Draco painted the runes in blood so the wards would temporarily recognise me.’

 

‘Did you know that’s what he was doing?’ Granger demanded. ‘Did you even check the meaning of the runes?’ Her tone told them both how very much she doubted that. As Harry’s friend, she knew for a fact he didn’t know anything about runes.

 

‘I trust him,’ Harry replied firmly. ‘Not like I had time to check anyway.’

 

Granger’s mouth twisted in another frown of disapproval. ‘I know I don’t know what went on during the summer to have you and Malfoy so friendly – but Harry that was incredibly dangerous.’ She locked her eyes on Harry’s willing him to understand. ‘Blood magic is dangerous. There are so many things about it we don’t understand.’

 

‘You,’ Draco corrected.

 

‘What?’

 

‘There are so many things you don’t understand,’ he told Granger. ‘I knew exactly what I was doing. Those runes did exactly what I expected of them.’

 

Which was not at all a lie. Not exactly. The runes had worked exactly how he’d expected them to, it was hardly his fault his and Harry’s magic was – according to Luna – so deeply entwined that he’d simply soaked in the protection Draco’s blood and magic had been offering until it was simply a part of him. Clearly, Granger would not be a good place to start researching just what their magic was doing, wrapping so tightly together. If she thought a simple protective rune of blood was a bad sign, then he didn’t think he wanted to sit through the lecture about the unexplainable and intangible ties between them.

 

He’d likely have to broach the topic with Bill and McGonagall. And wouldn’t that be a fun conversation?

 

‘Blood magic has consequences,’ Granger insisted. ‘It’s terribly dark magic.’

 

Draco shook his head while Harry narrowed his eyes and implored her to, ‘Let it go.’

 

‘Harry,’ Granger tried, but Harry wasn’t interested in listening.

 

‘No, Hermione, you need to trust me.’

 

Granger seemed to deflate at his words. ‘I do, Harry, it’s just…’ she trailed off.

 

‘You don’t trust me.’ Draco said the words calmly, without censure. He hadn’t expected or believed otherwise, but the words still left an ache in his chest. He knew a month of tentative friendship wasn’t enough to overcome seven years of insults and bullying, not like it had with Harry or Luna, but he’d thought he was getting somewhere with Granger at the very least. She’d certainly seemed more understanding – or at least her understanding – of his place in Harry’s life.

 

If this reaction had come from Weasley he’d have understood. Weasley’s hatred of him ran hotter and longer than even Harry’s but coming from Granger, it was different. It cast doubt, not only on Draco, but on Harry and the complete faith and trust he had in Draco. He honestly didn’t mind so much that Granger had her doubts about him, that was to be expected, but he was disappointed that she had so little faith in Harry. After all this time, shouldn’t she trust him explicitly?

 

Granger gave him a somewhat apologetic look which did nothing to make up for her blatant distrust rearing its ugly head and making Draco’s stomach clench uncomfortably with what he thought might be shame. She turned, her next words for Harry. ‘I trust you Harry, you know I do, but when it comes to Draco Malfoy, you never could think straight.’

 

And it was probably a completely inappropriate reaction given the importance of the conversation, but Draco couldn’t help it, he smirked. Harry grinned sheepishly, eyes sliding sideways to look at Draco, eyes lit with mirth.

 

Granger’s eyes narrowed as she looked between them before she huffed out an exasperated breath. ‘You’re not going to listen to anything I have to say about this, are you?’

 

‘Hermione, I know you’re just looking out for me, but I really do trust Draco and you have to trust that when it comes to this sort of thing, he really does know what he’s doing. Blood Magic and the Dark Arts are exactly the kind of thing the Ministry wants from him.’ Harry pointed down at the article, waiting until Granger followed his very pointed look before he continued. ‘They talk about what he did here, not exactly because they don’t know any more about the blood runes than you do, but the Ministry curse breaker who arrived after Draco and I left, supports what Draco did. The two aurors assigned to work with Draco, did too.’

 

Having said his piece, Harry got to his feet, snatching another two pieces of toast and bacon off his plate as he did. He offered his friend a tight smile and told her she should think on what he’d said before he squeezed Draco’s shoulder.

 

‘Come on, I’ll buy you some proper tea in Hogsmeade.’

 

Draco scrunched up his nose. ‘I’m not setting foot in that atrocity of a tea house.’ But he got to his feet all the same, taking an apple with him.

 

Harry laughed, ‘One of those fancy hot chocolates you like so much from Honeydukes, then.’

 

‘I expect proper chocolate to go with them,’ Draco informed him. ‘I owe you some new Quidditch gear by the way.’

 

Harry pulled a face but didn’t ask why, instead he said, ‘We both need new kit. I swear Pomfrey fed us a growth potion.’

 

Draco grinned. ‘Oh, are you finally growing up?’ he teased.

 

‘Git.’ Harry playfully shoved him.

 

He wasn’t wrong though. Draco hadn’t been there when the Hogwarts matron ran the first proper diagnostic on Harry, but he’d seen the aftermath. Madam Pomfrey had been adamant about dosing Harry with potions to treat the malnutrition of not only the year he’d been camping on the run but the many years of his childhood when he hadn’t had access to food or any kind of nurturing and healthy (emotional and otherwise) environment. Salazar, Draco wished he could curse those muggles Harry was forced to call family.

 

‘See you around, Hermione.’ Harry didn’t bother looking back at her, something Draco knew he’d done intentionally because he was hurt that Granger didn’t believe in his ability to be objective or smart when it came to Draco. He couldn’t, not really, but surely his own friend should have enough trust and faith in him to believe he wouldn’t let anyone perform magic on him without trusting it wouldn’t harm him?

 

‘Bye, Granger.’ Draco made sure he locked eyes with her before he left, he wanted her to see the silly mistake she was making. He wanted to enjoy the look on her face when she realised that she’d hurt her friend, that she’d shown him she didn’t trust him to make his own (sensible) decisions.

 

Draco might have come a long way from the arrogant prat he’d been before the war but that didn’t mean he didn’t relish an opportunity to be the one Harry chose. He might be becoming a better person, but he still had a long way to go before he stopped taking advantage of something like that. He wasn’t sure he’d ever have it in him. Especially when it came to Harry. He’d spent years watching the way Harry was with his friends, he’d worried for weeks over whether or not Harry would change his mind about him once confronted with his friends’ disapproval.

 

Funnily enough, Draco had been more worried about the influence Granger and Weasley would have on Harry than he had the entire wizarding world through the lens of the Daily Prophet or trashy magazines like Witch Weekly. It didn’t seem to matter that almost all the Weasleys were friendly and supportive, watching Harry turn away from Granger cemented his belief that Harry would choose him, no matter what the circumstances.

 

Of course, he hadn’t been subjected to lunch with Pansy yet. That might somewhat sway Harry in a different direction.

 

Draco didn’t believe that for a moment, not really, he was just a touch nervous about meeting with Pansy. He hadn’t seen her since the final battle of the war and before that he’d been a right shit friend to her. He was using his new relationship, his newfound happiness, to give him the strength to reach out, to try and be the kind of friend he only just now realised she’d been trying to be all along.

 

He hoped he wasn’t too late. He hoped she was one more person who would forgive him the sins of the past. Even if he didn’t deserve it.

Chapter Text

When Pansy arrived, he and Harry were curled up in one of the grubby booths that optimistically offered a view of the quiet street – out of an incredibly dirty window. The dim sunlight that did make it through the grime on the window worked with the low torches to create an effect that in a restaurant (or any other bar) one might have called romantic. In the Hog’s Head it just leant an air of shadow and concealment that let most of the patrons go about their business without fear of being watched too closely.

 

Draco sat pressed back against the cracked leather, head tilted back to rest on Harry’s outstretched arm, enjoying the way calloused fingers stroked slowly through his hair. Harry had his back to most of the bar patrons (what few there were), curled inward, almost protectively around Draco. Their legs were pressed together and the hand that wasn’t threading through Draco’s hair had a steadying grip on Draco’s free hand. Draco’s other hand was occupied with a tumbler of firewhiskey.

 

He’d asked Aberforth to leave the bottle and another glass.

 

They weren’t talking, just sitting in comfortable silence while Draco tried not to panic over his upcoming reunion with his – well he didn’t know what Pansy was. He’d once called her a friend, but he didn’t think that was ever really true. Harry did his best to comfort him despite both of them knowing he was being ridiculous. Pansy wouldn’t have asked for this meeting if she didn’t want to reach out to Draco, if she weren’t at least willing to listen to his explanations. If she wasn’t at least somewhat willing to repair or even build their friendship.

 

Her footfalls were quiet, she dropped into the booth across from them without warning with a soft, ‘Sweet fucking Salazar, it’s true.’

 

Draco felt the corner of his mouth tic up and he opened his eyes and lifted his head off Harry’s arm so he could look at her. She was growing her hair out, he saw. It reached past her shoulders now, in soft black waves he knew were natural. She’d always prided herself on her hair charms, always spent long minutes in the mornings using potions and charms to take away the natural wave of her hair. The waves softened her face, made her features less severe, more attractive. He’d once heard Harry describe her nose as pug-like when they were younger, he didn’t think that description quite fit anymore.

 

Her lips were painted a deep red, makeup immaculate but again she’d softened it. She didn’t look like the poised arrogant pureblood she’d spent so many of their years at school crafting. She’d softened, as though she’d gotten more comfortable with who she was. She was even wearing muggle clothes, although her choice of a long tight dress and simple white trainers wouldn’t have been enough to rile up a pureblood matriarch.

 

She was looking back at him with the same appraising look, eyes sweeping over him, assessing the cut of his own muggle clothes, his hair that was starting to darken away from the striking silver-blonde into a more natural looking, healthier blonde. He had a theory the change had something to do with his time in Azkaban and his own desire to no longer look like a younger version of his father. He suspected his magic was at play, but he liked the change, felt the darker blonde colour looked more natural and didn’t leave him feeling washed out and corpse-like as he had when he’d first been released.

 

He caught the way Pansy’s eyes snagged on his cheeks, no longer hollowed out and gaunt as they’d been when they last saw each other, and the way she noticed the healthier colour he’d managed to push into his skin with all the time spent outdoors per Pomfrey’s recommendations. Even in the abysmal British summer, he’d managed to put some life back into his skin until it was pale but not grey.

 

He watched the way her eyes flitted aside to study Harry, who had turned at her arrival and was now facing her, giving her his own once over. He kept his arm along the back of the bench, his fingers still threaded in Draco’s hair. Draco knew he looked good. He’d made a point of handing him clothes he knew would impress Pansy that morning (after their highly enjoyable shower). He looked like Harry Potter, but with clothes that fit, in colours that brought out his eyes and the soft golden colour of his skin.

 

Harry likely looked a lot healthier than the last time Pansy had seen him too, when she’d tried to hand him over to the Dark Lord. Months of running and hiding in a tent with no proper food and a constant thrum of fear were almost as detrimental to Harry as Draco’s Azkaban stay. Although with a lot less physical maiming.

 

‘Hi,’ Draco greeted softly.

 

‘Parkinson,’ Harry greeted, mildly. Draco knew he didn’t hold Pansy’s actions before the final battle against her – it probably helped that he’d done the exact thing she’d tried to do himself not long after. It also helped that Harry didn’t know Pansy, he’d never known much about her, he’d always just associated her with Draco and Slytherin and harsh words spoken about other students. Harry didn’t have years of personal grudge against Pansy.

 

Harry hadn’t needed to come with him, though Draco desperately appreciated the support and comfort Harry unwaveringly offered.

 

Pansy smiled at Draco. It was a soft expression he’d never seen directed at him before, but she turned her attention to Harry first. ‘Do I need to apologise for trying to hand you over to the Dark Lord?’ she bluntly asked.

 

‘No,’ Harry informed her. ‘I don’t blame you for trying to save yourself and the other students.’

 

‘I honestly didn’t care about most of the other students,’ Pansy told them with a shrug.

 

Harry nodded, as though he’d suspected as much. ‘Fair enough. Do you care about Draco?’

 

Pansy’s delicate eyebrows shot up and she looked Harry over with a shrewd expression. ‘Enough to ask for this meeting,’ Pansy answered. ‘Do you care about Draco?’

 

Draco wasn’t sure he liked being spoken of as though he wasn’t even there, but he let it go in the interest of keeping the peace. Besides, he always liked to hear how Harry answered the question. It seemed to vary depending on who they were talking to. When his mother had asked the question of Harry, she’d given him such a stern look Harry had alarmingly stuttered out a declaration of love. When he’d had a rather ill-timed encounter with Bill (sans clothing, with a plate stacked high with food), he’d turned so red Draco had been regaled with a delightful description that had included various fruits and the phrase “love of my life”.

 

He’d sworn never to let Harry live that one down.

 

For Pansy, Harry smiled. This smile had teeth. ‘Yes,’ was all he said. The word was sharp and contained a lot of threat for something so small. It made Draco warm all over. He’d blame the slight flush to his cheeks on the one drink he’d already had.

 

Pansy nodded. She looked between them once more and the soft expression she’d held since taking a good look at him, slipped into a devilish smirk. ‘I don’t think fifteen-year-old me, listening to all your Potter fantasies, ever thought we’d wind up here.’

 

Draco pulled a face, but Harry grinned. ‘You know, this is the second time I’m hearing about these fantasies,’ he teased.

 

Draco rolled his eyes but the tension he’d been feeling since they first sat down was gone and he thought he might be able to do this. He leant over, gripped Harry’s chin and drew him into a quick kiss. ‘Go away. Pansy and I have some catching up to do.’

 

Face turning serious, Harry asked, ‘You sure?’

 

Draco nodded and Harry, after eyeing Pansy carefully, slipped out of the booth. He and Pansy remained quiet for a moment, both watching Harry’s path across the pub and out the door – he didn’t pause to look back, the trust he had in Draco implicit in the sureness of his steps.

 

Once he was gone, Draco turned to face Pansy and found her watching him, again with that strange soft expression he’d never seen on her before. ‘You’ve changed,’ he found himself saying.

 

She nodded. Reaching for the firewhiskey, she unscrewed the cap and poured a healthy splash into the second tumbler. ‘Are we really doing this, Draco?’ Despite the confidence she’d displayed since the moment she sat down, at her words she seemed to sink in on herself.

 

He lifted his other hand up so that he was gripping his glass with both, twisting it and turning it, in a thoughtful if nervous manner. He turned to look out the window, taking in the blurred shadows that were people walking on the street outside and he thought about what he wanted, about why he’d sent her that sketch and why he’d agreed to meet.

 

Pansy waited him out, it wasn’t something she’d have ever done before. She’d have gotten bored or annoyed and deemed his silence not worth her time. Now she sat with him in silence and waited for him to marshal his thoughts, waited for him to give her some sign that she wasn’t wasting her time.

 

‘Were we ever friends?’ he wondered, turning away from the window to look at her. He wasn’t being mean, wasn’t trying to hurt her, he just genuinely didn’t know the answer to that question. Knowing what he knew now about friendship thanks to Luna, thanks to actually spending time with Harry around his friends, he didn’t think he could call what he’d had with any of the Slytherins friendship, not really. He was interested to hear how Pansy thought about their past.

 

‘I don’t know,’ she admitted. ‘I don’t think you knew how to be friends, Draco.’

 

The words hurt, more so because they were something he’d been considering for a while. Something he’d had to come to terms with when he started building friendships with Harry and Luna – even grudgingly with Ginny and with Bill through their work.

 

‘I didn’t,’ he admitted.

 

The admission startled her. Clearly Pansy hadn’t been expecting the truth. The old Draco certainly wouldn’t have admitted to such a failing. The old Draco wouldn’t have realised he didn’t have friends, wouldn’t have realised the relationships he cultivated out of manipulation and casual sex were anything less than proper bonds of friendship. He would never have realised how his own arrogance, his own desire to emulate his father, would limit his ability to trust the people around him, would limit his understanding of people and relationships until he had no one he could truly trust, no one he could turn to.

 

No one who would visit him in Azkaban or care that he was there.

 

‘You’ve changed,’ Pansy softly repeated his earlier words. She took a steadying gulp of firewhiskey, the tumbler snapping down onto the table with a distinct rap when she was done.

 

‘I lived in a house with Voldemort,’ Draco replied, ignoring Pansy’s flinch at his use of the name. ‘I was tortured and broken. I spent three months in Azkaban. Of course, I’ve changed.’

 

Pansy froze. Whether at his blunt admission or the open acknowledgment of the things he’d been through he didn’t know, but her hand tightened on her glass, the other spasmed into a fist on the sticky tabletop. There were plenty of ways she could respond, plenty of sharp words about how he deserved what he got or soft ones of sympathy.

 

Instead she said, ‘I wanted to marry you when we were five.’

 

It was so completely unexpected that he was startled into laughter. Sputtering, he managed to say, ‘What?’

 

Pansy smiled at him softly. ‘We could take this slow, spend weeks and months dancing around all the shitty things you did, all the ways you hurt me and how we just gave up on you, but that’s not really my style. We’re going to order lunch, we’re going to drink this entire bottle, and we’re going to sit in this shitty booth until we’ve sorted this out.’

 

Draco looked at Pansy, looked at her properly for perhaps the first time in the entire fourteen years they’d been acquainted, and he realised what he’d been missing out on. He’d known for a while how distant and aloof he’d been as a child and a teenager, how the way his father acted and the lessons he’d been taught shaped his beliefs and his mannerisms but it wasn’t until that moment, face-to-face with someone who had likely witnessed it all, that he realised just how much he’d missed what was right in front of him.

 

He’d used Pansy in so many different ways and he’d never realised. He’d assumed that she understood what he was doing and that she was doing the same in return. Harry and Luna had taught him what real friendship looked like and they’d been able because he’d been willing to listen, open to tearing apart his past and his behaviour with the knowledge that so many things he’d been taught and trained to do were wrong. He could look back now and see that while he’d been encouraged to manipulate and hold himself above his peers, Pansy and so many of his housemates hadn’t been – not to the same extent.

 

They must have thought they were getting real friendship, must have been so worried and afraid for him and hurt and confused when he dropped them as though they meant nothing. Because they had meant nothing. He’d watched Crabbe die in the fiendfyre and while he was sad, he didn’t mourn. Not like he should have been mourning, not like he’d lost a friend, someone he loved and treasured. Because he hadn’t, hadn’t been capable of it.

 

He wished he could blame the firewhiskey for the sick feeling swelling within him.

 

He straightened up, took a grasp of the bottle and refilled his and Pansy’s glasses. He downed the contents of his in one fiery swallow and then refilled it. ‘You wanted to marry me when you were five?’

 

It was the only thing he could think to say, the only way he could think to tell her he was in.

 

She smiled at him, a genuine smile that reached her eyes and said, ‘Oh, I had the biggest crush on you.’

 

Draco could only laugh, Pansy’s tone was so resigned, so enraged by her younger self. It was strange, talking about his past with someone other than Harry or his mind healer. He’d begun to understand just how lonely his childhood was in some of those first sessions with the healer but listening to Pansy’s take on their childhood, it truly hit home how isolated he’d been.

 

Growing up an only child in a huge manor house with only his parents and the house elves for company hadn’t taught him anything about friendship. Fuck, he’d missed out on the basic decency of learning how to share. He’d been a spoilt brat given everything he could ever want and plenty he’d never need. He’d taken people the same way he’d taken the toys his parents bought him. He’d taken them, played with them until they no longer held a use or a thrill and tossed them aside.

 

Four-year-old Pansy had thought him a prince, sixteen-year-old Pansy had thought him a cruel bastard.

 

‘You were this ridiculously handsome boy in fancy robes who spoke eloquently and only ever seemed to be around for fancy balls and garden parties,’ Pansy told him. ‘You were like something out of a fairy tale and my parents used to talk about yours in hushed whispers like you were some big elegant secret. You’d come to those things and you’d talk to us and play with us but you never really seemed to be one of us and for so long I just thought that was because you were this dashing fairy tale prince and I told Mother I was going to marry you and live in your castle.’

 

‘I’m not sure what to think about that,’ Draco admitted. ‘I don’t really remember much of that.’

 

Pansy shrugged. ‘I got over it once I got old enough to really understand pureblood society.’

 

‘In all its arrogance and cruelty,’ Draco murmured bitterly, raising his glass in mock salute.

 

Pansy nodded, tilting her own glass. ‘When did you figure it out?’

 

Draco considered the question. He’d never tried to pin down an exact moment before. As strange as it might seem, Harry had been so present for so many of the important moments in Draco’s life that he hadn’t had to sit down and really hammer out an exact moment. He certainly hadn’t done so with his mind healer; she’d been much more interested in helping him through the trauma of Azkaban before diving too deep into his formative years. Really, his sessions with her had been a bit hit and miss, he didn’t think he’d gotten as much out of his sessions as Harry had.

 

Pinning down an exact moment to give Pansy was difficult but he managed something he thought might have been the right answer. ‘End of fifth year,’ he went with. ‘When I got home from school and Voldemort was holding court at the dining room table.’

 

It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth either. He didn’t owe her more than that though. Maybe one day he’d tell her in detail, it wouldn’t be there at the Hog’s Head though.

 

Talking about their childhood was easy, giving their different experiences of those early years, of the hours spent catching brief glimpses of each other at society functions or the short hours of play in sprawling gardens. Even talking about the first few years at Hogwarts was easy enough, although hearing about some of the things he’d done from Pansy’s perspective certainly changed his own understanding of certain things.

 

‘I think that was the first time I ever really understood you might have a thing for boys as well,’ Pansy said of the Yule Ball in fourth year.

 

Draco, who couldn’t think what had happened then to make her think that, wrinkled his nose in thought as he chewed on a greasy, too-salty chip. Eventually he simply asked her what had given her that impression.

 

‘You snogged me in the bushes and then ditched me for that bloke from Durmstrang.’

 

‘I had completely forgotten about that,’ Draco mused with a soft chuckle. ‘Merlin he was fit.’

 

‘He really was,’ Pansy agreed. ‘Still, you ditched me in the courtyard to get caught out by Snape.’

 

Draco sniggered at that; he could perfectly picture the arched brow of their late Potions professor. The snide look he’d have given her after discovering Pansy sat alone in some bushes. He much preferred that than Snape stumbling across him with his hand down some boy’s pants. Although the sour expression on his face might have been worth it.

 

‘I got my first hand job that night,’ Draco told her, eyes distant as he thought back to a time when life had been easy and he hadn’t yet been forced to understand.

 

‘I forgave you,’ Pansy informed him archly, ‘because Daphne got dumped for a Gryffindor and was up for some revenge exploration. That girl may have decided she was straight, but we sure had some fun while she figured it out.’

 

That conversation brought up all the tangled arrangements they’d had with their housemates in fifth year. With Umbridge on her rampage to ban any kind of fun, they’d had little to do but hide in their common room or dormitories. If you lock a bunch of curious teenagers away with little else to do, sex is going to become their main focus. It was certainly the focus of their conversation for a while, rehashing all the different things they’d got up to with Blaise, Theo and Daphne.

 

‘Do you still speak to them?’ Draco wondered, thoughts still on that first time he and Blaise had perfected the lubricant charm and had some fun with Daphne.

 

Pansy shook her head. ‘You know Daphne’s parents married her off to that German wizard?’

 

‘I thought he was Swedish?’

 

‘Norwegian?’

 

‘Swiss?’

 

Pansy flapped her hand, as though it didn’t really matter, Draco supposed it didn’t. Daphne had done as her parents asked, like a good little pureblood witch.

 

‘Theo fucked off to America. Blaise is Blaise. Last I heard from him, he was sunning himself in Greece and sleeping with the entire muggle population.’

 

‘That sounds like Blaise,’ Draco agreed. He frowned though, realising that if she wasn’t talking to any of their old Slytherin classmates then he had no idea who she’d been talking to.

 

‘Muggles,’ Pansy answered when he asked. ‘I got a flat in Muggle London and I’ve been working at a bar.’

 

Draco took in the words, waiting for them to make some kind of sense and then realised that he could picture it perfectly. Pansy was the girl who offered to hand Harry over to Voldemort, she’d have just as tough a time in the wizarding world as he did. Well, perhaps not as tough, but he’d been locked up in Azkaban almost immediately after the war, he hadn’t been around for the aftermath.

 

‘It wasn’t as bad as I expected, honestly,’ Pansy muttered. ‘I just couldn’t be around for it. Mother was trying to smooth things over with all her friends, clinging to that edge of respectability and I couldn’t take it anymore.’

 

Draco nodded thoughtfully, sipping on some water. He and Pansy were taking a break from the firewhiskey. Despite Pansy’s suggestion they consume the whole bottle, there were some things Draco wanted to be sober for when he talked about them.

 

Sixth year was one of them.

 

‘That’s when we gave up on you, you know.’ Pansy said it bluntly, as though that would somehow take the edge of hurt off the revelation. Not that it was much of a revelation.

 

‘I know. Sixth year…’ he trailed off, not really knowing how to explain. He didn’t want to explain, not really, not in detail.

 

‘I don’t want details,’ Pansy assured him. ‘I don’t need to know everything. I think it’s better if I don’t.’

 

He had to agree with her. There were things about sixth year he never wanted anyone to know. There were things he wished Harry didn’t know. But of course, Harry did. It really did seem as though every big, horrible moment of Draco’s life was one he could share with Harry.

 

It was one of the reasons he loved him so much. They could talk about these things without having to try and explain feelings and thoughts and extenuating circumstances. He’d told Harry rather sharply, while still in that Ministry holding cell, that everything he’d done in sixth year had been to protect his parents. That he’d been terrified of failure and knowing he was the reason Voldemort killed his family. Harry had taken that knowledge – knowledge he’d already suspected – and put it together with everything else he’d known about sixth year from his not-at-all-subtle stalking and he’d understood. Made connections between the little things he’d noticed, and he’d understood.

 

He didn’t want Pansy to understand, not like that.

 

‘I’m glad you gave up on me,’ he told her. ‘Either I would have succeeded, and Voldemort would have breached the wards to get into a Hogwarts where I’d murdered Dumbledore, or I’d have failed and Voldemort would have killed me and my parents.’

 

Pansy reached across the table and took one of his hands in her own. ‘You were only sixteen.’

 

Draco shrugged, squeezing her fingers. ‘It didn’t matter to him. It didn’t matter to anybody. Fuck, Pansy, I was just a kid and I was a puppet. Voldemort and Dumbledore pulling my strings in their little power play.’

 

‘Dumbledore?’ Pansy looked confused. He didn’t blame her. All the reports about Dumbledore were positive – glowing even. Merlin, Rita Skeeter was the only person who didn’t paint Dumbledore to be a saint and nobody liked having to give Rita Skeeter any credit. He’d actually gotten Harry to agree with him after some of the more ridiculous biographies and tall tales of Dumbledore’s life had surfaced. Skeeter might have been way off the mark with some of her details, but she hadn’t been afraid to paint Dumbledore as a human man who made mistakes.

 

Draco gave a dark, humourless chuckle. ‘We were right to think he was a senile old fool,’ he told her. ‘He never cared if I lived or died as long as I played my part.’

 

‘Because you weren’t Potter?’

 

Draco snorted. ‘I’m not sure he cared if Harry lived either.’

 

Harry hadn’t lived. Pansy – no one – ever needed to know that. It was a secret he and Harry would take to their graves. The mystery behind the Deathly Hallows needed to stay a mystery. The connection Harry had once harboured with Voldemort needed to stay one too. There were some magics beyond Dark, some that should never have come to be. The horcruxes Voldemort created were one such magic, the control over Death gifted by the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak was another.

 

Harry’s blood protection leftover from his mother’s sacrifice might have been something else they had to conceal but after talking it through with Harry, Draco wasn’t sure it had ever existed outside of that first encounter with a possessed Quirrell. Dumbledore’s insistence that Lily Potter’s sacrifice was tied to her blood didn’t really hold with the fact that the moment Harry left the Dursley’s, that first September, he’d stopped considering Privet Drive home. Petunia Dursley had never sheltered Harry with love, she’d never given Harry a safe and nurturing home. Why shouldn’t Harry have turned that feeling on Hogwarts itself and then later on the Burrow where the Weasley’s cared for and loved him as one of their own?

 

No, Draco knew a bit about blood magic and protection, he’d read up on it, marked Harry with a type of it. He didn’t believe Dumbledore’s claims and he wasn’t sure Harry did now either. Harry’s trust and belief in Dumbledore had been shaken over the last year and a half. Too many truths had come to light, too many questions he now had to consider that had answers he didn’t trust or like. Harry would never be able to ask Dumbledore the questions he’d like to, he’d never be able to get the closure he needed, and, in that absence, he was drawing his own conclusions and those weren’t painting Dumbledore in the best light.

 

Draco was okay with that. To him, Dumbledore really had been a manipulative, power-hungry old man who could only see Voldemort and the war. What he wasn’t okay with was that, in considering these questions and looking back on the past and the old Headmaster’s actions, Harry was losing his mentor.

 

‘Potter nearly killed you in sixth year,’ Pansy murmured, words hesitant. The exact details of what went down in that bathroom had stayed between he and Harry – and perhaps Snape – but that didn’t mean it hadn’t been all over Slytherin that something had happened. It didn’t mean a lot of people didn’t know something serious had happened between Draco and Harry and that Draco had nearly died.

 

Draco smiled ruefully. ‘He did.’ He snorted. ‘Back then, I almost wished he had.’

 

Pansy flinched. Clearly, she had no idea what she was supposed to say in response to that. Perhaps, had they been friends, she might have been there after it happened to comfort him. Perhaps, if he’d been better at caring and understanding people rather than using and manipulating them, he wouldn’t have been left hiding behind Crabbe and Goyle, as though they could possibly shield him from the world and his own stupid mistakes.

 

‘Have you spoken to Greg?’ Pansy asked, as though her own thoughts had mirrored his.

 

Draco wished she hadn’t. He nodded once before taking a healthy swallow of the whiskey. ‘Snapped his own wand,’ Draco informed her. ‘He’s living like a muggle somewhere down in Wales. He’s got a squib relative down there his family never talked about.’

 

Pansy frowned. ‘That’s hard to imagine.’

 

Draco shrugged. ‘He doesn’t know anything about magic anymore.’

 

Pansy’s tumbler hit the table with a crack, and she stared at him, hoping he’d elaborate. He wasn’t sure he knew how. How did he explain how it had all gone so completely wrong for Goyle? How did he make her understand the lengths he’d gone to just to be able to live without people spitting on him or sneering at him?

 

His old bodyguard should have been in Azkaban. He’d been a willing participant in so many of the horrible things the Carrows had been up to in that last year. He and Crabbe had both taken pleasure in the things they were learning; in the new ways they could cause pain and suffering. It was only the backfiring of a spell that had saved him. It was only his own stupidity that had him attempting a spell he’d never had the brains to even contemplate before. One he’d never have tried before the Carrows and Voldemort made him think it was okay.

 

He supposed that meant the world was better off without the man he was. He didn’t know anything about the man he’d become, living as a muggle without his memories. The Ministry kept tabs on him, Draco knew that much, he didn’t want to know more than that. Goyle wasn’t his problem anymore. He never should have been.

 

‘I thought about it, you know.’ Pansy spoke softly, as though admitting the words were a sign of failure, of weakness. ‘Giving up magic and hiding away in the muggle world.’

 

‘Why didn’t you?’

 

‘I love magic. And I’m not about to let them win. Why should I be ashamed of being a Slytherin? Why should I be ashamed that I made a choice to save myself and my friends?’ Pansy shrugged. ‘I might regret it, but I wouldn’t take it back. I can’t take it back.’

 

‘So instead you live in between both?’

 

‘I get to keep my magic, and no one knows who I am in the muggle world. Wouldn’t you like your anonymity?’

 

Draco pondered her question. It wasn’t as though he’d never thought about it before. There’d been plenty of times during his stay in Azkaban when he’d wondered if he wouldn’t be better off hiding himself away in the muggle world. There’d been the occasional moment after Azkaban when he’d thought about it too. But he was done being a coward, done running away from his problems.

 

He’d experienced the muggle world. Spent three days with Harry exploring muggle London, learning things he’d never considered before, all in the name of fixing Harry’s wardrobe and showing the Ministry he was willing to change. He’d enjoyed the ability to walk around without being spat on or without fear of being cursed but it hadn’t been the same. It really was just running away, and Draco refused to be the kind of man who ran from his problems.

 

Of course, shopping in Diagon Alley with Harry and Luna had almost had him reconsidering. The stares and name-calling, the threats and hands reaching for wands, made collecting his school supplies somewhat daunting. He’d stuck it out, though, walked side-by-side with Harry and Luna as they went from shop to shop. He’d heard the sharp words and the hatred; he’d done his best not to let it get to him.

 

He’d had Harry Potter by his side, it had been hard but not impossible.

 

He’d done far worse things to Harry than anyone else he might have walked past on the street. It might have been tough reminding himself of that, might have been hard to see that things could have been worse, but he’d managed, because Harry grabbed his arm, or used a hand at his back to steer him in a particular direction. Because Harry had smiled at him and grinned and shown the wizarding world that he saw Draco and not a Death Eater.

 

So no, Draco might have thought about it, but he would never turn his back on magic and this life he was creating from the ruins of his old just because he’d done some stupid things in the past. He had way too much to live for to let Voldemort win one more time.

 

To Pansy, he simply said, ‘No.’

 

They fell into an awkward silence after that. For a while there it had been easy to forget why they were here, what they were doing, and just get swept away by the memories and the events. It had almost felt like they’d been catching each other up on missed moments. As though he were telling Pansy about something Blaise said in a class she’d missed or an exchange he’d missed because of an ill-time bathroom break.

 

Eventually, when the tension had begun to rise and Draco felt like it might suffocate him if he didn’t say something, Pansy broke the silence. ‘I don’t want to talk about seventh year.’

 

Draco raised his glass in a toast and Pansy clinked her own against his. He didn’t want to talk about that either. They might not have been talking all that much during the last year of Voldemort’s reign, but they’d been side-by-side for most of the horrible events at Hogwarts and there were things about the final battle Draco didn’t want to rehash. There were things he didn’t owe Pansy, answers and explanations she had no right to, even in a conversation meant to mend their friendship – or create one.

 

‘I think I wanted to be your friend once,’ he mused and his words were slightly slurred now, that last swallow of firewhiskey probably a swallow too many.

 

‘Did you?’ She sounded amused and not nearly as drunk as he did but that was Pansy. She’d always been able to drink them all under the table. She suffered the worst hangovers for it though, so none of them had ever minded.

 

The alcohol was dredging up a few memories he thought he’d forgotten, helped by the talk of their past and the things that had driven them together and apart.

 

‘Merlin, I’d forgotten,’ he groaned, dropping his head back against the back of the leather booth. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying without Harry there to card his fingers through his hair. Which was probably why he muttered, ‘I want Harry,’ before he closed his eyes and told an amused looking Pansy, ‘When we first met I remember I wanted to impress you, wanted to be friends with all of you, but I’d never met anyone my age before. I didn’t know how to talk to other children, I didn’t know how to be anything other than what my father tried to make me.’

 

It was a sobering thought. He remembered another moment in a robe shop when he’d so desperately wanted to impress a messy-haired boy in too-big clothing and promptly screwed it up spectacularly by letting his own embarrassment and hurt get in the way.

 

He sniffed. Realised with some horror that he was crying. Not big ugly tears, but quiet weepy ones for lost chances and the boy he could have been.

 

Merlin, why couldn’t he be a happy drunk? Why did he have to wallow in melancholy and the past? ‘I want to hate him so much, Pans,’ he whispered and then, ‘Why can’t I hate him?’

 

Pansy reached across the table and took his hand again. The fact she missed on the first try was a good indication she’d had just as much to drink as he had. ‘He’s your father Draco,’ she sympathised. ‘I can’t hate my mother either.’

 

‘We went to see him,’ he found himself telling her, though he rolled his head to the side to look out the grimy window. ‘Wanted him to know the truth so he couldn’t use it – or have it used against him.’

 

‘You and Potter?’

 

Draco nodded once, eyes on a sight further away from the quiet and gloomy street of Hogsmeade. ‘He was happy for us, can you believe that? Said he’d always known it would end up this way and that he expected grandchildren – from both of us.’

 

Of all the things they’d spoken of throughout the afternoon, this was the thing that had Pansy choking on a mouthful of whiskey. She coughed and sputtered trying to clear her throat as she gaped at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. He nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly with her sentiment.

 

‘After everything he put me through, after everything he brought down on our family with his stupid beliefs and his hunger for power and letting the fucking Dark Lord into our home, he just sat there and smiled exast-esac,’ Draco stumbled over the word before he finally managed to spit it out, ‘exasperatedly. He had the fucking audacity to sit there calmly and tell me he’d expected nothing less after seeing the two of us together, about hearing us talk about each other – like he ever heard Harry talk about me!

 

‘I want to hate him so much, Pansy, but he loves me and I don’t even know what to do with that.’ He looked at her beseechingly. ‘What am I supposed to do with that?’

 

Pansy, perhaps for the first time ever, offered up a piece of wisdom he could actually respect. ‘You live your life exactly as you want to because you want to. Just because he didn’t belittle your choices and attempt to disown you for daring to be with another man – and Harry Potter to boot – doesn’t mean you have to feel like the choices you make are for him.’

 

‘Small wedding. Four children. Surrogate,’ he stated, not really to her but just aloud so he could hear himself say the words and remember that feeling of lying in bed with Harry before everything could sink down and drag him under.

 

Pansy chuckled. ‘What?’

 

‘Harry and I talked about getting married the other day,’ he told her quietly, thoughtfully.

 

‘Salazar you’re serious,’ Pansy said when the silence stretched and he didn’t crack a smile and laugh it off.

 

Draco nodded. ‘Just family and close friends, we decided. We talked about kids too.’

 

‘You really love him.’ It was a statement not a question. ‘How did that even happen?’

 

At this Draco finally turned to look at her and grinned. ‘I’m his greatest obsession, Pansy, surely you knew that?’

 

Taken aback, Pansy laughed. ‘Sweet Merlin, Draco, you have to know you were obsessed with him too.’

 

Draco’s grin didn’t falter. ‘I was,’ he acknowledged. His smile dropped when he thought about her question though. ‘He was at the Ministry meeting with the Minister and the head auror and he overheard a couple of aurors talking about beating me up, about giving me what I deserved.’

 

He got that far away look again as he thought back to the terror of that moment, of realising the people who were supposed to be the good guys were just the same as the Death Eaters. He remembered being helpless to stop them, of bones breaking, blood flowing and his screams going unheard until his throat was raw and he couldn’t hold the darkness at bay.

 

And he remembered waking up to the sight of a messy head of hair and angry green eyes and he’d felt safe for the first time in a long time.

 

It didn’t last, of course it couldn’t, but for that brief moment before he’d opened his mouth and let his pride get in the way, he’d felt properly safe for the first time in such a long time.

 

‘I woke up to him watching over me,’ he told her, voice awe-filled because he certainly hadn’t deserved to have Harry Potter staying awake all night to watch over him. He hadn’t deserved the care and medical attention he’d sought for him. ‘He spoke at my trial and visited me every day in Azkaban.’

 

‘Wow,’ Pansy whispered, impressed. Then, to counter the seriousness of the conversation – and probably because she wanted the answer – she asked, ‘What’s he like in bed?’

 

Draco grinned.

Chapter Text

The next time they made the front page of the Daily Prophet was the first day of November. Draco couldn’t help feeling smug about it. Not because he and Harry were on the front page but because, again, it was a good shot of the both of them.

 

‘All you can see is your back,’ Weasley pointed out, mouth full of food.

 

‘I have an exceptionally good arse,’ Draco replied, unapologetically.

 

‘It is a bloody good shot of your arse,’ Ginny assured him helpfully, sending her brother into a coughing fit which helped him completely miss Harry’s nod of agreement with Ginny, who then added, ‘Yours is hidden by your coat Harry but I have it on pretty good authority you have a nice arse too.’

 

This, Draco was confident, she only said to rile her brother up further. Weasley had started to turn an unfortunate shade of purple, his ears looked like they were on fire. Granger, it seemed, did not approve, something she managed to convey with a soft sound and the tip of her forehead which was about all Draco could see of her behind the paper she held. She seemed intent on studying the photo carefully.

 

It was a great photo. He and Harry stood shoulder to shoulder with their heads bowed slightly as they paid their respects to James and Lily Potter. He almost wished the paper was printing in colour because the effect had been quite beautiful with the changing colour of the leaves and the soft breeze moving the lush grass and the petals on the flowers they’d left. The angle of the photo was just enough that you couldn’t see the way his pinky was hooked around Harry’s.

 

He’d have to see if he could get a copy of the original photo. And perhaps one of their last appearance on the front page too.

 

‘Why didn’t you ask us to go with you?’ Granger questioned, lowering her own copy of the paper to look at Harry with a hurt expression.

 

Harry, idiotic and susceptible to guilt that he was, looked briefly sheepish before he rallied and gave her a shrug. ‘I didn’t know I was going to go until about five minutes before we left.’

 

‘You still could have come and got us mate,’ Weasley pouted, this time at least his mouth was free of food.

 

Harry shrugged again which seemed to be enough for Weasley. If Harry wasn’t worried or upset, it seemed that Weasley was happy to let it go and not think on it too hard. Personally, Draco wasn’t sure Weasley had ever thought on anything too hard and certainly nothing about Harry. If he had, Harry might have spent less time at the Dursley’s being abused and more time in a loving and supportive environment where he actually got things he needed like food and proper medical care. Given that Harry was fond of putting on a front and lying through his teeth when he was a mess, it wasn’t exactly a good thing that Weasley wasn’t one to pry.

 

Yet somehow it was worse that Granger was the type to pry. She wasn’t so easily shrugged off by Harry’s answer, even if it was the truth, but the manner in which she demanded answers was equally as unlikely to get a truthful response. Draco didn’t blame Harry, he’d actually been interrogated by aurors and once the right people started asking the questions (and not simply attempting to beat answers out of him), he thought the experience much like watching Granger try to get answers out of Harry.

 

‘We would have like to be there for you, Harry,’ she told him, still sounding wounded.

 

‘Look,’ Harry sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. ‘It’s not like I thought about you and just didn’t invite you, we were at Gringotts looking through the Lestrange vaults and then we went to find something in one of the Potter vaults and Draco found the deed to the house in Godric’s Hollow and it just sort of happened.’

 

That was not…inaccurate. They hadn’t actually started the day with any plans. Through sheer force of will (and a dubious amount of sleep), Draco had managed to get on top of all his homework and with the application of some bribery (sex, lots of sex) he’d also managed to make sure Harry had done all of his, leaving them an entire weekend just to relax for the first time since the summer. The plan was to have a very leisurely breakfast and to simply spend the day together, possibly with Luna if she could get away from her Care of Magical Creatures project.

 

Draco had only just started on his tea and was unabashedly staring at Harry as he piled pancakes high on his plate with berries and maple syrup, when the post turned up and dropped an official looking letter in Harry’s lap. He picked it up, gave it an annoyed look and then tossed it straight to Draco, telling him without needing to look who it was from.

 

Draco set his tea aside, picked up the envelope and cracked the wax bearing the elaborate Gringotts seal. He read the letter with growing amusement, nudging Harry with a booted foot under the table to get his attention when he was finished.

 

‘They’re ready to let you back into Gringotts,’ Draco informed him.

 

Harry frowned at him. ‘Why are you looking so amused?’

 

‘Because they insist they’ll only let you return with an escort – they named me as a preferred choice as I have conducted business honestly with them on your behalf.’

 

Harry grinned, ‘Well, that’s easy enough.’

 

‘Oh, it gets better,’ Draco assured him. ‘They’re requesting we come for a visit today to sign off on the paperwork for the Lestrange vaults and finalise the arrangement on your trust vault.’

 

Harry’s shoulders slumped and his head dropped back until he was glaring up at the enchanted ceiling. ‘I still don’t even know what I’m supposed to do with all this.’

 

‘I’ve actually had an idea about that.’ Draco folded the letter and tucked it into the breast pocket of his coat which was draped across the bench beside him. ‘Remember how I planned for us to live with Mother for a year to finish the renovations to the Manor?’

 

‘I remember you forgetting to tell me you wanted me to live with you,’ Harry teased.

 

Draco smirked, Harry had been so terribly put out when he’d thought Draco was making plans for the future that didn’t involve him and then turned a delightful shade of pink when Draco called him an idiot for ever thinking he’d move anywhere without Harry. Honestly, Draco hadn’t realised Harry still had any insecurities when it came to their relationship and so he’d explained his idea offhandedly while Harry showered and he brushed his teeth. It was only when Harry got all quiet and stopped participating in the conversation that Draco had properly looked at him and worked out what the problem was.

 

It had been easy enough to set him straight and delightfully pleasant to reassure Harry of how much Draco wanted him in his life – that he was the biggest part of Draco’s future.

 

Draco didn’t mention any of that, he just said, ‘You know we originally planned to sell off the Manor to muggles – given the history of the place I’m not sure any wizarding family would want to buy it.’

 

‘It’s honestly not so bad now,’ Harry assured him.

 

‘Yes, I know,’ Draco agreed, because it had come a long way from the dark looming mess it had become under Voldemort’s control. ‘But that’s my point. Mother and I have discussed it and we’ve come up with something else – something better.’

 

‘Like what?’ Harry asked, smoothing a bit of pancake around his plate to soak up some extra syrup.

 

‘A primary school for magical children.’

 

Harry froze, all that extra syrup dripping off the piece of pancake now hovering above his plate. ‘A what?’ he asked, face blank, not at all clear on what he’d just heard Draco say.

 

‘A primary school for magical children,’ Draco repeated. ‘And I do mean all magical children,’ he clarified. ‘Muggleborn as well. I got trapped in a conversation with Granger not long ago about pureblood culture and its erasure in the wake of Voldemort.’

 

‘Merlin,’ Harry shook his head. ‘And you’re still alive?’

 

Draco grinned. ‘Weirdly enough, Ginny got involved and there were so many things Ginny as a blood-traitor Weasley took for granted that I managed to get out of there before anyone remembered I was a Death Eater.’

 

Harry laughed. ‘Remind me to thank Ginny.’

 

‘Anyway,’ Draco went on, ‘Andromeda was talking about how she was going to school Teddy because she wanted to send him to a muggle primary school but if he doesn’t get a proper grip on his metamorphmagus abilities it’s going to be a bit of a moot point. She can’t afford a governess and while she could teach him herself, she’s worried about his social skills.’

 

Draco gave Harry a moment to think on that. Wondered if he’d end up trying to explain his early years learning from a governess or how Molly taught all her children the basics but that there were serious gaps in all wizarding children’s learning. Harry probably knew more about history as it pertained to the world as a whole – not to mention maths and muggle science (some of which was relevant even to wizards) – than most magical children. Draco had been rather lucky in that his governess had been very thorough, some wizarding children weren’t so lucky.

 

‘There isn’t really any sort of standard for magical education before you come to Hogwarts and – honestly Harry, our education here at Hogwarts has been a complete mess and that was before the war even started.’

 

‘I…can’t actually argue with that even without knowing how other wizarding schools do it. I’m betting they didn’t have a different teacher every year for one of their classes and – don’t tell Hagrid I said this – but they probably have properly qualified teachers. And definitely not someone as terrible as Trelawney.’

 

‘They do,’ Draco said, ‘Father checked.’

 

Harry quirked a brow but then answered his own question with, ‘Merlin, your dad wanted you to go to a different school because this one is terrible and nearly got you killed.’ He seemed to sink in on himself. ‘Having an adult perspective sucks,’ he told Draco glumly. ‘Hogwarts was the first home I ever had.’

 

‘Yes, but that was the people,’ Draco pointed out. ‘Anyway, my whole point was that I thought we could use all that Lestrange money to build a primary school for children. Mother’s got it in her head now and I think once her house arrest is over, she’s going to start campaigning for education reforms. There needs to be a standard for all magical education and that has to include all the things we don’t learn because they’re considered too muggle and all those pureblood traditions that are being erased by people like Dumbledore who removed them from the curriculum.’

 

‘Dumbledore did that?’

 

Draco shrugged. ‘They voted on it, but he had a lot of influence and he wanted to start every student off on an even footing and that meant not forcing magical traditions on muggleborn students.’

 

Harry frowned. ‘Hermione would have loved a class like that.’

 

‘I know.’ And Draco did know, because part of that conversation he’d gotten stuck in with Granger had included her expressing a desire to understand the traditions purebloods were so afraid of losing. ‘I also think having proper Muggle Studies classes in necessary.’

 

Maybe if he’d been forced to sit through a Muggle Studies class as a child, he would have seen how much of what his father was pushing him to believe was complete dragon dung.

 

‘I think I’d like to know some of the traditions of my ancestors,’ Harry said thoughtfully, then he sharpened his gaze and gave Draco a look. ‘You definitely needed some Muggle Studies.’

 

Draco nodded, accepting the censure. ‘I think a magical primary school would be the best way to do that,’ he admitted. ‘Mother does too. We could introduce both cultures side-by-side so that by the time children reach Hogwarts they see it as normal. Maybe then we won’t have to worry about another Voldemort.’ Draco looked down at his plate. ‘Maybe then there won’t be others like me, forced to become a Death Eater at sixteen.’

 

Harry reached across the table and took Draco’s hand. ‘It’s a good idea,’ he assured him. ‘And it’s things like this that prove how much you’ve changed. You’re not that bigoted kid anymore.’

 

‘I want to include housing for students who don’t have safe homes to return to,’ Draco told him softly. ‘I don’t think what happened to you should happen to anyone else either.’

 

Harry froze, stunned. It was a long moment before he managed to say, ‘You could do that?’

 

‘I don’t see why not. There are plenty of muggleborns and even magical students who don’t have the best homes and just as many families who would happily take in those students. You never had to live the way you did Harry; I hope you know that Dumbledore was wrong to leave you there and a lot of other people were wrong for standing back and letting it happen.’

 

Harry seemed to be struggling to find the words to express just how much that meant to him – or possibly to try and defend Dumbledore, in which case he was coming up empty. Draco didn’t need him to say anything, Harry might have been the reason he pitched that addition to the plan to his mother, but Tom Riddle was another. How would things have been different if a young Tom Riddle had been with other children like himself. Would being with other magical children have changed things for the better or worse? Would it have changed things if there were competent and knowledgeable adults around who could recognise what young Tom had done?

 

‘Mother has done a lot of research; she’s been in contact with a few people in France she knows, discussing their schools and education systems and spoken at length with Andromeda about her experiences with Dora. I think this is her way of making up for the past, for not stopping Father when she had the chance,’ he admitted.

 

‘I think it’s a brilliant idea,’ Harry promised. ‘You should really talk to Hermione about it.’

 

Draco wrinkled his nose. ‘Perhaps when McGonagall has had a chance to look over the proposal.’ He didn’t fancy being caught in another conversation with Granger and this one he knew she’d have very firm opinions on. Lots and lots of very firm opinions.

 

They fell into a thoughtful silence, Harry seemed to be thinking it all over, though whether he was focusing on the good use of the Lestrange money or the idea of his mother taking on the ministry and demanding better education for future generations of witches and wizards, Draco couldn’t be sure. Still, whatever he was thinking, something else suddenly occurred to him because he sat up straight and glared into the distance.

 

‘Hang on, the goblins want us to audit all our vaults, don’t they?’

 

Draco smiled winningly, not even bothering to lie. ‘Yes.’

 

‘Ugh. Fine.’ He pointed his fork sharply in Draco’s direction. ‘But I want it noted I’m not happy about this.’

 

‘I would never have thought otherwise,’ Draco assured him, trying to not to grin at the annoyance on Harry’s face now that he’d realised Draco had been attempting to soften the blow with talk of his plans for the Manor.

 

‘We were going to have such a nice day,’ Harry bemoaned.

 

Draco smirked. ‘I’m about to spend the day playing with piles of gold – it’s going to be a lovely day.’

 

An hour later, looking at the complete mess Harry and his friends had made of Bella’s vault, Draco had to revise that statement.

 

‘I hate you,’ he told Harry when just opening the door of Bella’s vault had resulted in a cascade of ugly magical knockoffs that almost knocked their goblin escort clean off his feet.

 

Harry grimaced, kicking at a few cups. ‘I sort of thought the spell would have ended by now.’

 

‘It did,’ the goblin declared in a short snap. ‘Not our job to deal with the aftermath.’

 

‘I don’t suppose you have any sort of itemised contents?’ Draco asked, somewhat hopefully.

 

‘No,’ the goblin informed him nastily.

 

Draco was going to blame the tone on Harry, they were usually more friendly with Draco, yet when they’d first arrived in the bank, Harry had been surrounded by angry looking security goblins and given a list of rules he had to abide by while he was in the bank if he ever wanted access to his gold again. One such rule was that Draco was to be in possession of Harry’s wand. Harry had handed it over easy enough and let the goblins do their search to make sure he wasn’t carrying any sort of artefact or concealing any form of enchantments he might use to break into other vaults.

 

Draco had been terribly amused but now, looking at what Harry had done to Bella’s vault, he couldn’t help feeling his boyfriend had gotten off easy. ‘This is going to take more than one or two visits.’

 

‘Sorry,’ Harry offered, looking and sounding genuinely apologetic, which Draco assumed was due to the prospect of spending days and weeks (Merlin, don’t let it take months) cleaning up and sorting through the Lestrange vaults.

 

Draco ignored him and turned to the goblin. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘We’re going to need the paperwork to place the Potter Trust Vault in trust for our children, we’ll need parchment for cataloguing and I’d like additional paperwork to get started on merging the Black, Malfoy and Potter vaults as well as the three Lestrange vaults and I want to declare them as the start-up capital for Burbage Hall – which I’m going to need paperwork for as well.’ Draco wrinkled his nose. ‘I think we’ll need to make some charitable donations too,’ he admitted. ‘But I refuse to just hand the Ministry money – they’ll waste it.’

 

‘Of course, Mister Malfoy.’ The goblin bowed and stepped back toward the cart to make it happen.

 

‘I am strangely turned on right now,’ Harry admitted.

 

Draco gave him an amused look. ‘Not surprising, there’s a lot of money here.’

 

‘Not the money, you git,’ Harry laughed. He shook his head and said, in a much more serious tone, ‘Where do we start?’

 

They’d started, of course, with clearing the mess created by Harry’s horcrux hunt and didn’t honestly get much beyond that. The goblins could provide Draco with a total of the money stashed away in the vault but they couldn’t give even an estimate of the worth of the magical items Bella had stored in there or the precious stones. Most of their time, Draco knew, would be taken up clearing out and having the items valued. They were definitely (unfortunately) looking at months of work and Draco had a feeling he knew exactly how he’d be spending whatever time he wasn’t working with the Ministry or readying the Manor to become the Charity Burbage School for Young Witches and Wizards – definitely sticking with Burbage Hall for short.

 

While digging through Bella’s vault had not been fun it had been somewhat informative. Beneath the gold and many (many) knockoffs, Draco found a number of books on the Dark Arts that he and Harry set aside to be transferred to the Potter vault where Harry had stashed a lot of the books he’d emptied out of Grimmauld Place when he’d learned the wards would need to be rebuilt.

 

Kreacher had been responsible for delivery of the books (what with Draco being in Azkaban and Harry not allowed to set foot in the bank) and whatever Draco had been expecting when they entered the Potter vault it had not been the absolute chaos that was several teetering stacks of books, boxes overflowing with parchment and a mountain of gold that made Draco all warm inside but gave Harry an itchy feeling that if Draco wasn’t careful, would see Harry donating a good half of his money just to ease the guilt of having too much.

 

Because Draco’s guilt and future plans might have designated a use for all the money the Lestranges had acquired through decades (possibly centuries even) of dirty dealings and questionably legal exploits, but he’d be damned if he let Harry toss away all that money when there were so many better things it could be used for.

 

While Harry poked around the towers of books looking for the one on blood runes that Draco had used and promised to lend to Bill, Draco picked a box of parchment at random and started to leaf through its contents. What he found made him snort a laugh.

 

‘What?’ Harry asked, glancing over at him distractedly, not wanting to take too much of his attention off the books lest he end up buried alive beneath an avalanche of questionable magic texts.

 

‘You still own twenty percent of Sleekeasy’s,’ Draco informed him. ‘I don’t know that even that could…’ he trailed off when he realised Harry was staring back at him blankly.

 

‘I own what?’

 

Draco opened his mouth, an insult about Harry obviously not knowing, being a great advertisement for his own company what with that hair, but immediately shut it again when he realised Harry had no idea what he was talking about and why would he?

 

‘Your Grandfather developed Sleekeasy’s,’ Draco explained softly. He gestured around at the piles of gold. ‘He took your family’s money and tripled it. He sold it when he retired but you still retain twenty percent interest. I don’t know how much that works out to be annually but the goblins will be able to tell you how much you received last financial quarter at least.’

 

‘I didn’t know that,’ Harry murmured, looking around the vault as though seeing it for the first time. ‘I don’t know anything about my family,’ he admitted in a mournful whisper.

 

Well, that sorted Harry’s Christmas present then. Draco knew a lot about the old wizarding family’s, even those who didn’t make it into the Sacred Twenty-Eight. He was sure he could put some of that knowledge to use to help Harry reclaim his past.

 

Of course, the fact that he even had to be the one to help Harry infuriated him but reminding Harry how much he missed out on wasn’t what he needed right then. Draco knew that Harry had never viewed Halloween as a day of mourning. Until he was eleven Harry hadn’t even known when exactly his parents died and making that day about them now was something Draco was hesitant to do. Harry had enough people he was mourning; Draco didn’t know how to make him see that mourning his parents wasn’t the same as mourning all those lost during the war.

 

‘I’ll answer any questions I can,’ Draco offered. ‘Whatever I can’t answer we’ll find out, okay?’

 

Harry nodded and went back to searching for the book to give Bill. Draco went back to searching through the box and was brought up short when he found the deed to a cottage in Godric’s Hollow. He debated mentioning it but, in the end, he knew Harry would want to know about that too.

 

‘You still own the house in Godric’s Hollow.’

 

‘I’ve been there,’ Harry told him, making a soft sound of triumph when he finally located the book. ‘The night I got bitten by Nagini. There’s a memorial there now, it’s kind of nice.’

 

Draco made a split-second decision. ‘Take me there.’

 

Startled, Harry frowned over at him. ‘What? Take you where?’

 

‘Godric’s Hollow,’ Draco replied promptly. ‘Let’s get dinner and we can visit your parents and I can see this memorial.’

 

‘Why?’ Harry seemed genuinely taken aback by his suggestion.

 

‘This is your history,’ Draco pointed out. ‘But it’s also history you can show me.’ He stood up, shoved the box aside, and moved to Harry’s side, wrapping an arm around his waist and drawing him close. ‘There’s nothing more we can do here today,’ Draco assured him. ‘So take me to dinner.’

 

In retrospect, Draco was genuinely surprised the photo on the front page of the Prophet was from the cemetery and not their dinner date or the visit to the house where Harry would have grown up if not for Voldemort. Draco had the distinct memory of wrapping and arm around Harry’s shoulders and holding him close as they studied all the messages left behind by visiting witches and wizards and he was positive he’d kissed Harry on the street outside the restaurant.

 

Either they’d been incredibly lucky with their timing or – and honestly Draco thought this seemed (astonishingly) more likely – the Prophet photographer had chosen the least incriminating photo intentionally. This one was soft and intimate, true, but it didn’t make the focus of the photo their relationship, rather it made it about Harry’s loss and the grief of living through a war, grief that would hopefully begin to heal now that Voldemort was gone.

 

‘You still own the house in Godric’s Hollow?’ Granger said with surprise, although Draco didn’t know why she was surprised. Harry was the last living Potter, who else was going to sell off the property?

 

…Salazar that was an alarming thought. Draco had no doubt Harry had never even seen his parents will, let alone considered the ramifications of its contents. Another thing Dumbledore and the adults in his life had kept from him which meant more paperwork that Draco just knew he was going to end up wading through. This was why he liked curse breaking, there wasn’t any bloody paperwork. Research and dry old magical texts, yes, but they were interesting, financial paperwork the goblins handed him was dull even when it meant more gold in his accounts.

 

‘I still own everything my parents had,’ Harry admitted. ‘It’s going to take months just to sort it all out.’

 

Draco gave him a dry look. ‘I do so love how you made that sound like it will be you in those vaults sorting through paperwork and having artefacts evaluated.’

 

Harry dramatically dropped his head onto Draco’s shoulder and attempted to give him puppy dog eyes. The effect was quite ruined when he grinned and gave a soft laugh. ‘Draco, sitting in the middle of a pile of gold and shiny jewels is your idea of fun.’

 

Draco sighed with exaggerated dreaminess. ‘So much gold,’ he murmured. ‘So very many shiny things.’

 

Ginny snorted and Draco thought he saw the corners of Granger’s lips twitch but Weasley had gone a funny colour beneath all those hideous freckles and Draco just knew whatever he was about to say would be awkward for all of them but especially Harry.

 

‘You’ve got shiny jewels?’

 

Harry stopped grinning, sitting up straight to look across the table at his friend. ‘I think most of it’s jewellery passed down through the family,’ he explained awkwardly.

 

Awkward silence fell over the breakfast table which Luna broke when she sat gracefully down on Draco’s other side and leant her head against his arm – she was just a bit short to flop it dramatically onto Draco’s shoulder as Harry had done. Glancing down at her, Draco could see she was exhausted, he didn’t need the enormous yawn to tell him, the dark circles under her eyes were a dead giveaway.

 

He moved his arm around her and pulled her in to tuck her close against his side and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. Harry peered around him to get a good look at her and was unimpressed by what he saw.

 

‘Did you sleep at all last night?’ Draco asked softly.

 

Luna shook her head.

 

‘Nightmares?’ Ginny asked from across the table, looking her friend over in concern.

 

Luna shook her head again before explaining all about her NEWT project for Care of Magical Creatures. She tapered off a bit in the middle when her words started to slur and that was enough for Draco and Ginny who gave Draco a pleading look which he didn’t need because he was already adjusting his grip on Luna to slide her into his arms where he cradled her against his chest before he stood up. Harry placed a steadying hand on his hips as he stepped over the bench.

 

‘You’re very warm,’ Luna murmured against his chest. She showed zero signs of protesting his manhandling, in fact she easily placed her arms around his neck to help him.

 

‘I’m going to take her up to bed.’ He offered the unnecessary explanation to the table. ‘Gin,’ he said, ‘grab her bag, please.’

 

Ginny was already on her feet and she took the bag Harry handed her and mirrored Draco’s path along the other side of the table until they met near the doors. Without saying a word she followed him all the way up to Ravenclaw Tower. The question to get in stumped them for a moment until Ginny remembered a conversation she’d had with Luna and the statue let them pass. It didn’t seem to matter they were a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, just that they were bringing a Ravenclaw – an obviously exhausted Ravenclaw – back to her bed.

 

It was very much a team effort to get her into bed, with Draco pulling her coat off while Ginny tackled her shoes and then the bulky carrot earrings she was wearing. There was genuine affection in both their actions which Draco was glad for. He had been just one of many who treated Luna horribly in the past, it was nice to know she had Ginny in her corner.

 

Once they were finished, and Luna was snuggled deep in the warmth of her quilts, they headed back down to the Entrance Hall. As soon as they stepped out of the Ravenclaw common room, Ginny threaded her arm through Draco’s and gave it a gentle squeeze that he couldn’t mistake for anything but genuine affection. Despite knowing her relationship with Harry had ended long before he and Harry had become a couple, he’d still been somewhat wary of her when he’d arrived at Hogwarts. In fact, when she’d finally sought him out in the library, he’d been well prepared to be on the receiving end of her famous Bat Bogey Hex.

 

She hadn’t hexed him, instead, she’d sat down with him and asked for his help with a problem she was having with her DADA essay. He’d helped her because he couldn’t not and then they’d fallen into silence which had been excruciatingly uncomfortable for him but didn’t seem to bother her. When he’d finally just blurted out the question of why she was sitting with him – talking to him – she’d smiled at him with a soft expression.

 

‘You know the entire time we were dating he was obsessed with you,’ she’d said.

 

Draco had winced, feeling a twinge of unwanted sympathy for her. He was perfectly aware how unhealthily obsessive he and Harry could be about each other. At least he’d never proclaimed to be in love with any of the people he’d been sleeping with before Harry. His obsession with the Boy Who Lived hadn’t gotten in the way of any of his relationships simply because he didn’t think anything he’d had with any of the other Slytherins came remotely close to being a relationship. They were certainly nothing like what he and Harry had now. Or what Harry had once had with Ginny.

 

‘He stalked you for an entire year and then almost killed you,’ she’d pointed out as though he needed the reminder.

 

He still had the scars across his chest to remember that lovely little moment. They were a part of him now, a reminder of what war could do and all that he’d survived. Harry hated them, hated that he’d left such a permanent mark on Draco when he’d never even known what the spell did. Draco had forgiven him long before they’d even become friends, but he wasn’t sure Harry would ever forgive himself, not truly.

 

He accepted them now, saw them as his own reminder of what he was capable of. There were some mornings Draco would wake to find Harry staring at them, fingers tracing the barely visible white lines across his chest with a dark brooding look. Draco had learned lots of fun ways to make Harry forget on those mornings. He couldn’t make Harry forgive himself, not fully, not always, but he could show him again and again that he’d already been forgiven.

 

‘He went to Azkaban to visit you every single day.’ She’d leaned in closer to him then. ‘Do you know what dementors do to him?’

 

Of course, Draco knew what happened to Harry when he was near dementors. She’d had him wondering if anyone else knew, truly knew, what it was like now that the piece of Voldemort’s soul wasn’t living in Harry. If they knew what it was like now, after he’d died.

 

Draco didn’t even know if anyone other than he and Harry understood what had truly happened that night in the forest. He couldn’t remember if Harry had ever told Granger and Weasley the full story. He’d gotten a proper explanation as a whispered confession during one of his better nights in Azkaban when Harry was the one struggling to come to terms with his fate.

 

‘I know what it cost him,’ Draco had told her quietly, no trace of anger in his tone. He had allowed a little of the awe he felt to creep in, he’d thought she’d appreciate seeing that he did understand and appreciate just what those visits cost Harry.

 

‘If you were anyone else,’ she’d told him and she was just as quiet then, words serious, gaze searching his for signs that he understood exactly what she was trying to tell him, ‘I would be threatening you and telling you exactly what would happen if you hurt him.’

 

Draco had frowned at her words, but before he could enquire into what in the name of Merlin that was supposed to mean, she went on.

 

‘But you’re Draco Malfoy and he’s Harry Potter and whatever this thing is between you, I think it’s been brewing since the day you met on the train and there is no way I’m going to get in the way of that. He nearly killed you. You were a Death Eater. There’s seven years of bad blood between you but he looks at you like you’re his whole world and he has no idea how he got so lucky and, ugh, the way you look at him.’ She’d shuddered theatrically. ‘You two are going to kill each other before the year is out or you’re going to be disgustingly happy for the rest of your lives. Either way, if Voldemort himself couldn’t come between you, I don’t think any of us are going to manage to talk some sense into him. Or you.’

 

Draco had stared at her agog. He’d floundered. His mother had trained him to always know how to react in any social setting but none of her training could have prepared him for that. In her own way, Ginny Weasley had both given them her blessing and likened what they had to some sort of epic romance from one of those novels his mother pretended not to like. Or a tragedy, it was a little hard to tell.

 

Draco had been astonished. He’d been touched. He, Merlin forbid, had actually wanted to hug her. Her words hadn’t exactly been nice, she may not have meant them as an encouragement to his relationship with Harry, not exactly, but at the same time that’s exactly what they were. She’d somehow managed to sum up his entire history with Harry – much like Luna had, although more concisely and without reference to mythical creatures – and made it sound both horrifyingly destructive and epic, as though they were the stuff of legends.

 

Still floundering, Draco had managed a very hoarse correction, ‘We didn’t meet on the train.’

 

‘What?’ she’d asked, bemused.

 

Draco had coughed to clear his throat and straightened up, grateful the urge to hug her had passed and now he was just left scrambling madly to pull himself back together. Correcting her was about the only thing holding him together then because he’d been rather in the mood to go and find Harry wherever he was, drag him back to his (what would absolutely become their) room and fuck him into the mattress. Or potentially up against a wall. He wasn’t too picky right in that moment. Someone he never thought in a million years would accept their relationship had literally just given her blessing and it was weird. He’d needed something to ground him and spin everything back to normal.

 

‘We met on his eleventh birthday in Madam Malkin’s,’ he’d told her. His lips had twitched into a wry grin. ‘I was an arrogant git.’

 

Ginny had snorted. ‘Yeah, that sounds like you.’

 

And Draco had smiled. He’d felt much more like himself, much more in control. Enough so that he’d managed to say, ‘Thank you.’ Although, he wasn’t sure how much of himself he’d recovered because he’d also offered an olive branch in the form of, ‘Sorry Harry was an atrocious boyfriend.’

 

Ginny could only shrug. ‘I wouldn’t say he was atrocious. But looking back I’m pretty sure there were a few times he was thinking about you while we were snogging.’

 

Draco had laughed then in the library and now he took her affection with good humour, not even feeling remotely disturbed to realise he was happy to return her affection. He liked Ginny, had watched her enough over the years as she hovered on the periphery of the Golden Trio that, now that he was with Harry, he could view those moments of observation objectively to see how strong Ginny was. Who else could have fought off Voldemort at the tender age of eleven?

 

You’re not going to let Harry donate all his money, are you?’ she checked with him, breaking the comfortable silence.

 

‘Merlin, no.’

 

Ginny snorted. ‘Can I have a broom for Christmas.’

 

‘Definitely not.’

 

She laughed this time. ‘What are you going to do with all that extra money?’

 

‘Mother and I are turning the Manor into a primary school and a temporary home for magical children.’

 

‘That’s a brilliant idea, Draco.’

 

‘Yes, it is,’ he agreed without even a hint of arrogance because it really was a good idea.

 

‘Anything I can do to help?’

 

‘Become a famous quidditch player so I can shamelessly take advantage of your love for Harry and make you come and run some quidditch lessons in the off season.’

 

Ginny grinned. ‘Done.’

 

They went their separate ways once they reached the Entrance Hall, Draco went back into the Great Hall in the hopes of finishing his breakfast while Ginny made for the quidditch pitch and what was sure to be a gruelling training session. Quite unfortunately for Draco, Granger and Weasley were still seated at the table with Harry. His boyfriend had the strangest look on his face, one that seemed to be part amusement, part horror, with a healthy dose of incredulity.

 

‘What’s that face for?’ he demanded, picking up his tea only to find it had gone cold. He started to make himself a fresh one, warming charms always messed with the taste.

 

‘Ron just asked me if you and Luna were dating.’

 

‘Absolutely not,’ Draco replied with a wrinkle of his nose. That would be like dating a sister, which explained the horror in Harry’s expression, he too would see dating Luna the same way.

 

Granger looked at Draco steadily, a strange quirk to her lips as she said, ‘Not your type?’

 

‘No.’ He didn’t feel the need to elaborate but the way Granger’s eyes darted quickly over to Harry made him think she suspected as such and even thought she knew why.

 

Weasley made a sound of disbelief. ‘You could have fooled me,’ he said. ‘You’re always hugging her and kissing her.’

 

Draco looked at Weasley for a moment and then to Granger, brow wrinkled in a frown that was only partly genuine consternation. ‘Aren’t you and Granger together?’

 

‘Yes,’ Weasley snapped sharply, almost possessively.

 

Draco made a point of giving Granger a pitying look. ‘And you think the way I touch and kiss Luna is romantic?’ He deliberately did not look at Harry when he said, ‘My condolences, Granger.’

 

Harry sniggered, even Granger looked amused, although she was trying to hide it.

 

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Weasley demanded.

 

‘I think I’ll let you figure it out.’ Draco took a bite of toast and deliberately changed the subject.

Chapter Text

‘Perhaps we should start running inside the castle,’ Draco suggested, rubbing his icy nose with gloved fingers in a futile attempt to warm it up. ‘My nose is bloody freezing.’

 

Harry crowded in close, one hand easing around Draco’s waist to tug him as close as possible while he batted Draco’s hand gently away with the other. He stretched up just a touch on his toes to place a soft lingering kiss on the tip of Draco’s nose.

 

‘I can’t feel my cheeks either,’ Draco told him petulantly but there was a soft smile threatening at the corners of his mouth.

 

With a soft chuckle, Harry traced kisses across one side of Draco’s face, tracing the arch of one defined cheekbone before he switched to tracing across the other one. ‘Better?’ he murmured.

 

‘My hands are cold too,’ Draco informed him but those he slipped up into Harry’s hair before he bent down to capture his lips. He regretted not taking his gloves off first, he did so love the feel of running his fingers through Harry’s soft hair.

 

He’d barely had time to sink into the kiss, lips pressing against Harry’s, before there was a startled squeak and they both froze, lips parted, breath mingling in the sliver of air between them. Harry tried to pull back with an annoyed sigh, but Draco swooped back in and planted another kiss on his lips before he released his grip on Harry’s hair and turned to face whoever had discovered them.

 

It was Granger. Of course, it was. The gobsmacked look on her face as she stared at them did little to detract from the shadows beneath her eyes and the ashen cast of her skin. She looked dreadful. Her eyes were bloodshot and the shimmer of tears stained her pale cheeks. She was also still dressed in her pyjamas, with an oversized knit cardigan hastily pulled on over the top and ridiculous pink slippers.

 

Possibly it was the shadows under hers eyes and the tear stained cheeks but it could have been the ugly slippers and state of dress that had Harry blurting out, ‘Fuck, Hermione, are you alright?’ rather than address the fact he’d just been caught kissing Draco in the middle of the Entrance Hall at six in the morning.

 

In response, Granger let out a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob and Harry was by her side in an instant wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close. He made soothing noises, nonsense tumbling from his mouth as he tried – and seemingly failed – to calm her down.

 

Draco thought longingly of the hot shower he’d been planning to have. The delicious glide of soapy wet skin against his own and sighed. He couldn’t – wouldn’t – ask Harry to abandon his friend when she was so upset.

 

It was just before six, far too early for anyone else to be awake on a Monday, far too early for Draco to be awake, if he were honest, but he’d had a nightmare and then Harry had had one (possibly brought on by Draco’s) and there’d been no getting back to sleep. They’d decided on a run and while it probably hadn’t been the best decision – it was bloody fucking cold and dark outside – the fresh autumn air had been exactly the thing to clear their minds.

 

They’d hardly expected Granger to be awake, hardly expected anyone to be, but it worked in their favour. There was no one around to witness Granger’s breakdown. He didn’t much care who caught him snogging Harry, but he thought both Harry and Granger would prefer no one had the chance to see her tears and obvious pain.

 

Over Granger’s unruly hair, Harry mouthed, ‘Common room?’

 

Draco shook his head. ‘Kitchens,’ he countered. They were closer and the house elves were far less likely to talk about anything they’d seen or overheard.

 

Harry nodded and, with gentle prodding, managed to steer Granger in the direction of the dungeon kitchens. Draco led the way, trying his best to ignore the sniffles and choked back sobs Granger was still making. He paused briefly to tickle the pear before he held the painting open for Harry to steer a strangely docile and compliant Granger inside. He’d seen Granger upset before, but he’d never seen her docile. He took that to mean whatever had her so upset was worse than normal.

 

Should he be concerned he felt there was a normal level of upset?

 

Draco didn’t imagine their detour to the kitchens with Granger meant he’d be getting that shower with Harry any time soon. He supposed he could always leave Harry to deal with Granger, but he didn’t think Harry would let him just leave and he certainly didn’t think Granger would let him slip away without some sort of explanation for what she’d seen.

 

Kreacher was by his elbow in an instant. ‘Master Draco is needing breakfast.’ It wasn’t a question.

 

‘Tea, please, Kreacher, just for now,’ Draco requested, tugging his gloves off and tucking them into the pocket of his jacket. He was once again wearing muggle clothing, but he could hardly argue they didn’t make more appropriate clothing for exercise. The wizarding world was truly lacking in certain areas. Mostly common sense, Draco was coming to see.

 

He almost snorted at the thought. If only his father could see him now. He might have been supportive of his choice in partner but he sincerely doubted Lucius Malfoy had been stripped of all his prejudice after just six months in Azkaban. It hadn’t worked the first time, just because his precious Dark Lord was dead didn’t mean he would suddenly change his ways.

 

While he’d been talking with Kreacher, Harry had guided Granger to the end of one of the tables and got her seated before he’d slipped around to sit across from her. Draco sat beside Harry and folded his arms on the table as Harry reached out to take both of Granger’s hands in his.

 

‘Can you tell me what happened?’ Harry asked quietly.

 

Granger’s sniffles were subsiding into hiccups as she focused watery eyes on Harry.

 

Distracting Draco, Kreacher appeared once more beside them at the table. He was laden down with a tray heavy with more than tea. He served the tea, hesitating before he placed a cup before Granger, and laid a plate with crumpets and jam between them. Draco was happy to nibble on a crumpet as well despite asking only for tea. Asking Kreacher to settle for tea alone was asking too much, especially after so many months spent closely monitoring his and Harry’s food intake. Not that Draco was about to complain, he enjoyed the way Kreacher fawned all over him as a proper Black heir, even if he was alarmingly progressive for one (at least as far as Kreacher was concerned). He still had manners and knew what all the different settings on a table were for and that seemed to set something at ease in Kreacher.

 

It set Winky at ease too, he swore it was half the reason she’d asked to serve his mother at the Manor when she’d gotten wind they were looking for an elf.

 

All this devotion also had the delicious bonus of annoying Harry. It made allowing Kreacher to essentially worship him a delightful way to make Harry frown and grumble endearingly. And Draco did so love the way Harry looked when he was annoyed. Although it was probably a good thing that Granger was too upset to notice Kreacher’s behaviour. It was far too early in the day for a rendition of SPEW.

 

Any time of day was too early for that.

 

Granger flapped her hands dismissively, in response to Harry’s steady gaze and soft words. ‘Nightmare. I’m just being silly.’

 

‘That was more than just a nightmare,’ Harry countered.

 

Draco gave Harry a wry look, letting him know just how stupid a thing that was to say. They both knew that nightmares could be terrible. How many times had Draco woken Harry with screams and tears? How many times had it been the other way around?

 

Harry tilted his head, conceding Draco’s point but almost immediately his attention was back on Granger. ‘Come on, Hermione, talk to me.’

 

Granger’s watery eyes darted from Harry to Draco and Draco could see it in the way she took a deep breath, as though his presence there made it necessary for her to suck in all her emotion and bury any weakness. He wanted to roll his eyes. It was a bit late for that. She could hardly pretend he hadn’t seen her breaking down. Much the way he wasn’t about to pretend she hadn’t just watched him being horribly sappy with Harry.

 

Harry’s expression lost the tenderness and he pulled his hands away from hers abruptly. ‘I have no secrets from Draco,’ he stated, reiterating with that one sentence how much he trusted Draco. As though he hadn’t spent the last two weeks alternating between dodging his friend and stubbornly stating the same fact over and over again just in case the next time he said it, she actually believed him.

 

Granger glanced between the two of them and then said, in a watery voice that was so quiet Draco almost didn’t hear it over the sound of the elves preparing breakfast, ‘You really don’t, do you?’

 

Harry glanced at him and Draco winked at him over the rim of his mug. Harry might have taken his hand, but Draco had both firmly wrapped around his tea, allowing the hot contents to warm his hands. Draco’s mother would have been horrified to know both of his elbows rested on the table (Kreacher had already given him a disapproving glare). Harry had to settle for wrapping an arm around Draco’s waist and drawing him tight against his side.

 

He dropped a kiss on Draco’s shoulder that spread a heat Draco swore he could still feel through the multiple layers of his clothing and turned to Granger. ‘I’ve been trying to tell you,’ Harry told her, ‘but you kept doubting me.’

 

‘I still think blood magic is terribly dangerous,’ Granger sternly informed them, as though neither of them had quite worked it out for themselves already. As though she hadn’t been dogging Harry with questions about his blasé attitude to Draco’s Dark Arts use for weeks, constantly attempting to call him on his easy forgiveness of a man who still saw nothing wrong with using terrible illegal magic.

 

Also, the effect was somewhat ruined by the nasally sound of her voice and the tears still making her eyes shimmer. And the weeks she’d spent fuming over it while Harry had avoided any kind of serious conversation with her. He’d gotten spectacularly good at avoiding talking to Granger and Weasley about anything of importance, although he hadn’t bothered to conceal any actions of importance. It was hardly Harry’s fault (or Draco’s) that the two Gryffindors had been stubbornly ignoring all the signs Harry had made no effort to conceal that they were in a relationship.

 

The sappy exchange Granger had only just witnessed was a prime example. Although, to be fair, it was also probably the first one that was so startlingly demonstrative. Everything else so far had been soft touches and a constant invasion of personal space. But Draco quite liked getting up close and inside Harry’s personal space and frankly, Harry had never once considered how close he got or that personal space existed when it came to Draco.

 

Draco could admit it was one of his favourite things about their relationship.

 

‘It is dangerous,’ Draco conceded, acknowledging Granger’s words and not for the first time. ‘If you don’t know what you’re doing,’ he clarified. Again. Because he had already had this conversation with Granger before. Well, mostly. He’d been very firm on his stance and taken to distracting her with other things. The most successful of course, being the conversation about the loss of pureblood culture.

 

It was probably a good thing they were about to have this out because Draco didn’t think he could keep distracting her for much longer without her recognising what he was doing and calling him on it. She was brilliant, after all, and though he could keep up with her intelligence, he could not – would not – try and out stubborn a Gryffindor. It never ended well for him.

 

‘And you know what you’re doing.’ It was a statement, not a question but Draco couldn’t treat it as such. Not if he wanted to end this nonsense of Granger dogging Harry’s every move and constantly second guessing his choices. Not if he finally wanted to be done fending off her lectures about redemption and how escaping his past as a Death Eater meant he really shouldn’t be using Dark magic.

 

Although, not having it out could lead to Draco not having to share Harry with his friends and that was hardly an unpleasant concept. He really had liked having Harry mostly to himself over the summer. Luna was easy to share him with, she seemed to understand Draco was selfish and possessive and never got in the way. Given Harry could be just as possessive and selfish in return she’d gotten very good at working with the both of them and letting them be just as possessive as needed.

 

Ginny was much the same, although when she thought they were being idiots, or she wanted attention, she was perfectly willing to both call them on it and demand the attention she desired. Pansy never bothered to call them on it. She was very upfront about her need for attention in her letters and on the few times they’d caught up in person. In fact, the last time she’d written she’d declared she needed to talk with Harry about something muggle and he could bloody well leave Draco behind so she could get her answers without distraction.

 

Weasley and Granger, on the other hand, took up a lot of Harry’s time. They always had. Draco had spent years watching the Golden Trio strut around Hogwarts as though they owned the place. Never one far from the other two (as long as you didn’t count Weasley’s imbecilic behaviour during fourth year or the ridiculous and petty spats of third year). It was only the fact they now took up a lot of each other’s time that they hadn’t noticed Harry was no longer as isolated as he’d been throughout the first six years at Hogwarts.

 

Oh, he suspected Granger had noticed Harry paying more attention, spending more time, with other people but he didn’t think she understood exactly what she was seeing, distracted as she was with her studies and her new relationship with the Weasel.

 

‘My magical education has been very different to yours, Granger,’ Draco stated plainly, attempting to keep his mind on the here and now. ‘Not just because you’re muggleborn,’ he clarified and then paused to consider the implications of being raised as a muggle until the age of eleven. ‘No, I gather some of it is because of that.’ She shot him a watery glare which he ignored, they’d talked about this before and her glare had had a lot more force then. ‘Purebloods have traditions and a good deal of them, like blood magic, are considered Dark now. Perhaps one day, we’ll show you our library and you’ll begin to understand.’

 

Granger’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Library? You have a library?’

 

‘Of course, we’ve got a library,’ he dismissed, with a roll of his eyes. ‘Mind you, it’s in complete shambles right now,’ he grumbled. ‘It’s ended up spread all throughout our Gringotts vaults, Grimmauld Place and our dorm upstairs.’

 

Given this was something he’d complained about multiple times before – even before they’d had to go to Gringotts to get the book on blood runes – Draco really should have expected the way Harry rolled his eyes fondly and said, ‘I’ll build you a bloody library when you can settle on somewhere you want to live.’

 

Draco opened his mouth to point out he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t decide on that and then closed it before he nodded, acknowledging now wasn’t exactly the time to get into the debate again. They’d gotten as far in their plans for the future as to agree they’d live in the Manor for a year with his mother while they got settled into their careers. Well Harry did and Draco just did whatever he wanted while the Ministry sorted out exactly what he was allowed to do. The plan was to finish stripping the Manor of harmful magic and further the renovations to make it into a suitable school for young children.

 

They’d live in the Manor for the year while they made the final preparations before all three of them moved into Grimmauld Place where they’d begin the entire process anew. Mother seemed rather enamoured with the idea of renovating a Black home and had hinted that perhaps she might like to stay there when they’d finished clearing out anything Dark and dangerous and – because Draco had been there, and it was horrible – brightening the place up a bit.

 

So that was the next two years sorted but both he and Harry had readily agreed they didn’t want to live in the Manor or Grimmauld Place permanently and so were still debating just where they were planning to go after all the renovations were finished.

 

But that was a problem for the future and not right now. Now, they had enough things to be worrying about.

 

Like Granger. Because Harry’s casual promise had elicited a strangled sound from her, and she was looking at the two of them wide-eyed. ‘Oh my god,’ she gasped, ‘you’re serious.’

 

‘About the library?’ Draco asked, confused. He’d have thought Granger, of all people, would appreciate just how serious a library was.

 

‘No,’ Granger shook her head. She waved a hand between the two of them and made another strangled sound. At least her tears had dried up and she no longer looked like a watery and snotty disaster. Well, not as much of one. Helplessly she said, ‘Harry, I didn’t even know you were gay!’

 

‘I’m not,’ Harry told her, somewhat bewildered. ‘And, of course I’m serious about Draco, if that’s what you meant.’

 

‘Bi?’ She tilted her head and he nodded but that didn’t seem to make her feel better. ‘How could you not tell us?’ she demanded.

 

‘That I’m bi?’ Harry frowned.

 

There was a tiny part of Draco that wanted to interrupt with a crack about Harry’s orientation having more to do with him than any particular awareness of either sex but Ginny would likely have been the only one to properly appreciate such a teasing comment, especially in the current situation.

 

Granger snapped, ‘About everything!’ Granger’s own nightmare seemed to have been forgotten in face of her hurt (and not a little anger) that her best friend had hidden such a significant development from her. ‘How could you not tell us about this?’

 

Not that they’d really done much in the way of hiding their relationship, Draco could not reiterate that enough.

 

Because he could, and he liked to get his enjoyment where he could take it, Draco casually offered, ‘He told Longbottom he was going to marry me.’ Because why shouldn’t he enjoy rubbing in the fact that other people knew more about Harry’s life than she did?

 

Harry glared at him while Granger sputtered.

 

Unrepentant, Draco grinned. ‘Well, it’s true.’

 

‘Sometimes I don’t think I like you.’

 

Draco smirked. ‘Ah but you love me and that’s so much better.’

 

Harry opened his mouth, couldn’t come up with a rebuttal and growled. ‘Merlin knows why,’ he settled for muttering.

 

This time, Draco turned to place a kiss on Harry’s cheek. ‘I look very good naked.’

 

At this Harry nodded. ‘You really do.’

 

Granger’s hands came up to cover her face and it took them both a moment to realise it was in an attempt to smother giggles. That was a failure. Her whole body was shaking. Although the slightly hysterical sound suggested this wasn’t a healthy laugh.

 

Draco looked at Harry who just shrugged and picked up the pot to pour himself and Granger some tea while they waited out her hysterical giggle fit.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, when she’d managed to get herself under control. ‘This is just nothing like what I was expecting.’

 

‘What were you expecting?’ Draco wondered. He and Harry had talked about all the little signs they’d seen that suggested Granger suspected more between them, but the fact they were in a relationship seemed to have taken her completely by surprise.

 

‘I knew you were friends,’ she told them, which was obvious, Harry had point blank told her that. ‘And I suspected Draco wanted more but – oh Harry, you really are hopeless when it comes to this sort of thing, I honestly didn’t think you’d even noticed.’

 

Draco laughed. He couldn’t help it. Harry glared at him, but Draco was unable to contain his mirth. When he got himself under control he said to Granger, ‘He’s gotten a lot better.’ He had, after all, made the first move.

 

Harry’s offended glare melted away and he smiled, somewhat sheepishly and admitted, ‘I have.’ With a shrug he added, ‘It’s easier with Draco. I’ve always known how to read him.’

 

‘Because you spent so much time stalking him and watching him and obsessing over him,’ Granger remembered. ‘Well, so much of your past behaviour makes sense now.’

 

‘Doesn’t it?’

 

Harry elbowed him in the ribs for that comment but given that Draco had spent a lot of his own time goading Harry into fights just for his attention he didn’t really have much of a leg to stand on.

 

‘How did this even happen?’ Granger wondered, sipping at her tea and studying them over the rim of her cup. Draco couldn’t decide whether he liked her look or if he should fear it. It was shrewd and curious and if given enough time and incentive he thought she might learn to read his soul, if only so she could burn it. She still didn’t have a reason to like him. Just because Harry loved him didn’t mean Granger had to like him. Or even tolerate him.

 

‘I couldn’t let him go.’

 

Harry’s choice of words startled Draco and he turned to look at his boyfriend, lowering his mug to the table. ‘What?’

 

Harry looked back at him with a shrug. ‘I know I said I don’t know why I went down to your holding cell, and I really didn’t at the time. I mean, I know why I went down there, I was furious at the idea that those aurors had hurt you, but I didn’t know why I kept going back, why I spent that whole first night with you even after Pomfrey and Kreacher had left. I think – Draco you were the first wizard I ever met, you got under my skin and I just don’t think I know how to be in a world where you aren’t constantly here.’ Harry looked up at him helplessly and repeated, ‘I couldn’t let you go.’

 

Into the stunned silence that followed Harry’s words Draco placed his mug carefully onto the tabletop and uttered, ‘Granger, I do hope you’re not averse to a little voyeurism.’ Then he shoved both hands into Harry’s hair, tugged his head toward him and thoroughly snogged him.

 

Granger was flushed a brilliant red when they broke apart and she didn’t seem to know where to put her eyes. ‘Um.’

 

Harry, who had made a disappointed keening sound when Draco pulled away, had to shake his head to put himself back in the kitchen and seated with his friend rather than, as Draco glimpsed in his glazed eyes, take Draco by the hand and drag him all the way back up to their bed.

 

‘Not about me,’ Harry croaked the reminder to himself. He coughed, shook his head once more and stared pointedly at Granger. ‘Right. Sorry. Er…’

 

‘Oh, for the love of Merlin,’ Draco muttered. ‘Granger, please do tell us what had you so upset so we can go upstairs and have sex before breakfast.’

 

Harry turned just as red as Granger at Draco’s words, but he didn’t exactly protest them either. Which Granger seemed very aware of because she shot Harry a very knowing, if bemused, look.

 

‘Oh, shut up,’ Harry snapped sheepishly. ‘But seriously, Hermione, are you alright?’

 

The colour drained out of Granger’s face and her eyes welled up again, but she managed not to tumble into another full-blown sob which Draco was grateful for, there was only so much sympathy he could fake and although Harry wouldn’t judge him for what might seem like cold words and indifference, Granger certainly would.

 

‘I got an owl from the healer assigned to my parents last night.’

 

‘It’s not good news,’ Harry hazarded to guess.

 

‘The treatment didn’t work,’ she whispered brokenly. ‘Every time it looks like they’re making progress and starting to remember, the memories start to slip away.’

 

‘Oh.’ Harry reached across the table again to take his friend’s hand. ‘I’m so sorry, Hermione.’

 

Draco on the other hand, was confused. ‘I’m sorry, isn’t this a good thing? You didn’t want them to know about our world because it was dangerous.’

 

Harry winced at his words, but Draco didn’t think he was wrong and clearly Harry had thoughts about this as well. He just didn’t seem willing to voice them to his upset friend.

 

Granger scowled at him. ‘I did this to protect them from Voldemort,’ she told him shortly. ‘He’s dead, the war is over. They can come back now.’

 

Draco considered this. Yes, Voldemort was dead, and the war was over but that didn’t erase the reasons Granger had chosen to obliviate her parents. Magic was dangerous and they had no way of protecting themselves, but erasing their memories didn’t erase the danger, it just erased their knowledge of the danger. Moving them to Australia had been the main reason they were safe during the war. Voldemort’s reach didn’t extend that far.

 

‘Are they still in Australia?’ he asked carefully.

 

Granger shook her head. ‘When the memories started coming back, I thought it would be best to bring them somewhere familiar.’

 

Draco nodded thoughtfully. ‘There’s nothing to say those memories won’t ever come back, Granger,’ he offered, he did, after all, have a better understanding of magic and its limitations than Granger might ever have. ‘But bringing those memories back doesn’t change the reasons you erased them in the first place.’

 

‘Of course, it does,’ Granger snapped.

 

‘No, I don’t think you understand.’ Draco kept his voice calm; he wasn’t trying to be a bastard about this (for once) but he did think she was overlooking something rather obvious here. ‘Your parents were never going to fit into your world. No matter how accepting of magic, they were always going to be held apart from you. It would have been harder and harder for you to interact with them. Granger, when you took away their memories, that did shit to protect them from Voldemort, it just made them more vulnerable. Moving them to Australia saved them. Putting so much distance between them and the world they can’t understand saved them.’

 

Granger looked devastated, as if he’d just slapped her rather than drop a few truths that he didn’t understand how she could have overlooked. As though none of the things he’d brought up were things she’d considered when making her decisions, even though Harry was looking distinctly uncomfortable next to him which suggested these were things he’d considered. How could he not? He might not like his muggle relatives, but the Order had chosen to hide them, not erase their memories. Hiding them kept them safe, no matter how undeserving. Wiping their memories would have made them ripe for Voldemort’s taking and as much as Harry hated his relatives, he wouldn’t have stood by and let them get hurt.

 

How had Granger thought simply wiping her parents’ memories would keep them safe? Why then had she taken the added step of moving them to Australia? And why now was she so upset that her memory charm couldn’t be erased. Why did she think anything had changed? Just because Voldemort was dead didn’t mean all the other things weren’t still a factor.

 

‘Do you know why most squibs leave the wizarding world?’ he asked, although he didn’t know why he was still bothering to try and explain.

 

Granger had gone horribly pale, her blush from earlier fading to leave her looking sick and hurt. She made a dismissive sound at his question. Ready and willing to dismiss his words because they were coming from him, no doubt. ‘The Wizarding world is prejudiced,’ she snapped coldly.

 

‘No,’ the fact it was Harry who disagreed surprised Granger. She looked betrayed. She was looking at Harry as though she couldn’t believe he’d ever say something so wretched in defence of a society that had only just come out the other side of a war. A war that had only gained momentum in the first place because of the wizarding world’s prejudices.

 

‘How can you stay in a world full of magic and wonder and never be able to experience it truly?’ Harry put to her softly. ‘How do you look at something so wonderful and know of its existence but never truly get to experience it? How do you let something like that go? How do you watch as the children you grew up with – your friends – go off to Hogwarts and learn magic while you have to go off and live in the muggle world?’

 

Draco had no idea if Harry had ever explained to Granger (or Weasley for that matter) just how often he’d feared being left behind by his magical friends. Had he ever told his friends just how many summers he’d spent having to convince himself he could go back, that it was all still there just waiting for his return? Had they never noticed how different Harry was when he returned each year?

 

Salazar, hadn’t Weasley and the twins once had to rescue him from a locked and barred room? How were these things taken so easily in stride?

 

He couldn’t say all that in front of Granger though, it wasn’t his place to question just why none of them had thought to question the years of abuse and neglect Harry had suffered. It was his place to make sure Harry knew he was loved and that nothing like that would ever happen to him again.

 

‘You don’t ever have to worry about that again,’ Draco murmured to him, squeezing his hand and bringing it to his mouth to brush a kiss across Harry’s knuckles. His right hand, where he bore the scars of Umbridge and her hatred. He wanted to give Harry a solid reminder that he was there and unlike all those summers and all those months spent isolated, Draco would never let Harry go back to that place, that feeling.

 

Harry smiled at him but turned back to Granger to gently inquire, ‘Why did you choose to erase their memories?’

 

As clearly as he could see Granger wanted to be angry, that she wanted to defend her actions, the quiet and calm way Harry asked her, Draco’s own careful questioning, caused her to think before she spoke. ‘I didn’t want them worrying about me,’ she eventually said, and it was clear she realised as she was saying it that her confession somewhat validated Draco’s argument.

 

‘How often did you see you parents after third year?’ Harry asked softly.

 

Draco didn’t know the exact reason Harry had asked that question, had phrased in that way but he didn’t need to in order to pick up his line of thinking. ‘How many times did you lie to them about the things you got up to? How much did you really tell your parents about what Hogwarts was really like? Did they understand second year when you botched a Polyjuice transformation? Did you talk to them about being petrified for months?’ He looked at her steadily. ‘Did you even tell them about Voldemort?’

 

Granger’s expression was stricken, she was looking at him like she’d never seen him before. Which he thought was probably quite accurate. She didn’t know him, not really, neither did Weasley, but judging by the look she was giving him, he thought he might have just done something that was forcing her to consider he was more than just the arrogant pureblood she’d still sometimes assumed he was. He hoped forcing her to view him differently might make her understand what Harry saw in him, might give her a chance to see that he wasn’t that kid anymore and that Harry was right to see more in him.

 

Other than an exceptionally fit body.

 

At least, he hoped she was beginning to understand. She’d been good about being friendly with him over the weeks since Harry had returned to Hogwarts and shown they were friends. She’d given him the benefit of the doubt on multiple occasions and gone so far as to defend him at least twice, but that, he’d always known, came from her desire to see people treated fairly. It came from a desire to see the war put behind them and those who needed to be punished, done so in a manner that fit their crimes. As far as she was concerned, he had served his time and his punishment was fair. She’d hadn’t liked him, hadn’t shown treated him with anything that could be called genuine friendship, but she was respectful, and she had treated him as any other person – when she wasn’t doggedly demanding he explain why he was using dangerous and illegal magic.

 

Only now, sitting across from him in the kitchens, she was considering that he truly had been changed by his experiences, only now was she seeing that maybe those changes were real and not just a ploy to clear the Malfoy name or gain favour with Harry.

 

It certainly helped that the shrewd look she was now giving Harry suggested she was realising there were things she didn’t know about her friend that Draco did. She was studying Harry as she might have studied an interesting problem in Ancient Runes. She didn’t like that Draco was forcing her to consider her own actions and she didn’t like that she was hearing evidence that Harry and Draco talked about everything – how else could he have known about the Polyjuice incident? – and she’d had no idea that their relationship, whatever she’d thought it had been, was something she hadn’t seen or understood.

 

She wasn’t the kind of person to just let that misunderstanding, the missed observations, go.

 

But Harry was entitled to his secrets, he was entitled to have things he kept from his friends. He was entitled to have them from Draco too, it was just that he didn’t. Possibly one of the healthier aspects of their relationship was how they’d taken to sharing pieces of themselves. He supposed they should thank their respective mind healers for that. And Luna and his mother, too.

 

Possibly Molly Weasley, now he was thinking about it. He was sure she’d given Harry some rather sound life advice over the summer and although he would never admit it, Arthur Weasley had given him some advice as well. That was almost worth telling his father about. The very idea that Arthur Weasley was offering fatherly advice to Draco Malfoy would surely kill him.

 

‘Do you think they’re happy now?’ Harry asked Granger, once more reaching out for her hand to give it a reassuring squeeze.

 

Granger let out another sound that bordered on a sob and Draco winced. It didn’t stop him from posing the same question in another way. ‘Do you think they’re happier now than they would be, exposed to magic and the dangers of your life?’ Because, honestly, there was no way Granger was going to sit back and have a quiet life as the wife of a Weasley raising too many redheaded children. Granger was going to work for the Ministry, championing creature rights and trying to rewrite all the laws that were outdated and just plain stupid.

 

There would be plenty of people who objected to her plans and ideals and would be more than willing to take action to prevent her making those sweeping changes that threatened their way of life. Her parents would always be an easy way to threaten her and keep her in line. Just like any family she did have would be. The difference, of course, being that any magical family she had would be protected by wards and magic. She couldn’t give her parents that. As muggles, they relied on their own technology and that wouldn’t work with magic. Granger couldn’t give them the same magical protections she and Weasley would have, she couldn’t protect them.

 

He had no qualms about telling her all of this. He still didn’t think Granger quite understood what he was saying. He couldn’t blame her, he was talking about her never being able to talk to her parents again, but he thought she was beginning to consider he might have a point. That didn’t make it easier to hear and it certainly didn’t mean she was just going to accept it, but he thought she understood where he was coming from at least.

 

And that wasn’t from a place of muggle-hating pureblood bullshit.

 

‘I – thank you, Draco,’ Granger murmured eventually, after the silence had dragged on almost painfully long.

 

His eyebrows rose and he asked, ‘For what?’

 

She smiled a watery smile at him, which was better than the slap he would have expected. ‘For making this seem like a better option for my parents.’ She paused. ‘Also, the strangely encouraging support of my future career.’

 

Draco snorted then shrugged. He was a little thrown by her words because he certainly hadn’t been expecting them. ‘You’re welcome, Granger.’

 

‘Hermione.’

 

‘What?’

 

‘My name is Hermione.’

 

Draco wrinkled his nose but inclined his head, ‘Hermione.’

 

Amusement sparked in her eyes and with a mischievous grin she said, ‘You can go have sex now.’

 

Draco shrugged, unconcerned. ‘I’m not really in the mood now.’

 

Harry looked at him as though that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. ‘I’ll blow you in the shower.’

 

‘Oh. Well, if you’re going to insist.’

 

‘Fuck off,’ Harry couldn’t help but laugh. ‘You can shower on your own then.’

 

‘It’s a good look on you,’ Granger spoke suddenly, voice soft but serious. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy and relaxed.’

 

For some inexplicable reason, her words made Harry blush. ‘Er, thanks.’

 

‘You’re good for him,’ she told Draco. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see it before, but I just thought he was repressing all of his feelings and pretending they didn’t exist.’ She frowned at Harry. ‘And I thought this was some weird saviour thing.’

 

Amused but understanding the seriousness of her words, Draco smiled softly at her in return, grateful of the change in topic. ‘We’re good for each other. This isn’t just about sex, Gr-Hermione.’ Her name felt weird on his tongue, but he pushed on, ‘We were friends before he decided he wanted to get me naked. For months all we did was talk. This isn’t something we’ve jumped into and it isn’t something that’s going to end any time soon. I do love him, very much, even if I don’t always show it.’

 

‘Yes,’ she murmured in return, ‘I’m beginning to see that.’ She pushed to her feet then, a determined look on her face. ‘Come on then, let’s go back upstairs and get ready for breakfast.’

 

They didn’t speak again until they reached the door to the common room, Granger somehow refraining from giving their joined hands a comment even if he caught her looking at them from time to time.

 

‘I really am happy for you, Harry,’ Granger – Hermione – told her friend. ‘It’s good to see you happy.’

 

‘Thanks, Hermione.’ Harry hesitated and then he rushed on to say, ‘You know I’m happy for you and Ron, too, yeah?’

 

Hermione smiled and then her lips turned down, her eyes widening in horror. ‘Oh. Oh dear. Ron has no idea, does he?’

 

‘Not a clue,’ Harry confirmed. ‘I’ve no bloody clue how he hasn’t noticed. I’ve never once slept in the dorm with him and Neville.’

 

Hermione snorted and Draco wasn’t the only one to take note of the ferocious blush that flooded her cheeks, telling them both exactly why Weasley hadn’t noticed, but her tone was serious when she said, ‘I won’t tell anyone until your ready.’

 

Harry shook his head. ‘Hermione, it’s not a secret. All the Weasleys know, some of the teachers too. Neville knows, Kingsley and Robards know.’

 

‘My parents know,’ Draco added softly, noting the way this definitely surprised Granger.

 

‘If so many people know, why didn’t you ever say anything to me or to Ron?’ There was hurt in her tone now and Draco wanted to roll his eyes at the constant back and forth of emotion she’d been displaying all morning.

 

‘You weren’t here,’ he explained. ‘You needed to get to know Draco before I just sprang it on you. If you’d come back and I told you straight off, you’d never have been supportive. But now,’ he sighed, running a wary hand through his hair, ‘now I’d like to think you know Draco better and can see that he’s not the complete git he used to be. That all that pureblood crap he had drilled into his head isn’t there anymore.’

 

Hermione nodded in understanding. ‘I’m still not telling Ron, that’s something you’re going to have to do.’ She pondered his words a little more before she added, ‘He’s going to need more time.’

 

‘I know that,’ Harry assured her, ‘and I will tell him.’

 

Granger nodded her head just once and then turned sharp eyes on Draco. ‘I want to know more about the runes you used on Harry.’

 

Draco winced. He debated the wisdom of it for a moment before he decided that this had been a morning for revelations and Granger really was likely to be of some help, so he simply leant against Harry and licked a quick stripe up the side of his neck. There was a beat of silence in which Granger made a startled noise and Harry shivered pleasantly against him before the runes rose again to the surface of Harry’s skin.

 

‘They never dried and flaked off as they were supposed to,’ he informed her, without a hint of the wariness he’d felt when he first realised. ‘You and I need to have an interesting conversation about mine and Harry’s magic and the way it works together but we really don’t have time for it now.’

 

Granger’s eyes were glued to the runes on Harry’s neck and she stepped forward to get a better look at them. She hesitated for a moment, hand paused in the air in front of Harry, as though waiting for permission, before she reached out and touched one of the runes with her finger.

 

‘I’d really like to know how this is something you’re not worried about,’ was her crisp response.

 

‘Shall I tease you with a hint before our full day of classes?’ Draco asked but he didn’t wait for a response because he quite liked the idea of torturing her throughout the day. ‘Our magic and blood are all bound together, resting in protection runes absorbed into his very skin.’

 

‘That’s not possible,’ she murmured, disbelieving eyes darting up to meet Draco’s.

 

He smirked at her. ‘Oh, I assure you, it is.’ She opened her mouth, no doubt to ask a ridiculous number of questions but Draco cut her off. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse us, I believe I was promised a blow job.’ And he dragged Harry inside and up to their room, making sure to lock the door behind them before she could catch up. He did hear her frustrated shout following them up the stairs.

 

‘That was a bit mean,’ Harry informed him lightly, but Draco noticed he wasn’t doing anything to break from his hold, nor to prevent Draco from locking the door on his friend.

 

‘I never said I was nice.’

 

‘You’re nice to me.’

 

‘Take off your clothes,’ Draco snapped, just to be contrary. ‘And get on your knees.’

 

Harry smirked. ‘I kind of like it when you’re mean.’

 

Draco’s smirk was a little nasty, but it was well satisfied by the time he was sitting at the Ravenclaw table across from Granger, who took one look at him and didn’t seem to know whether to laugh or duck her head in embarrassment.

Chapter Text

Hermione caught him by surprise in the library and had already erected enough privacy charms to wipe the distant corner of the library off any map of Hogwarts before he’d even had a chance to glance up from the book he was studying. A book on Dark curses Draco had found lurking in the depths of one of the Lestrange vaults and which Harry seemed only to be able to hold because of the strange connection he and Draco shared.

 

They could add that to the list of questions they had. Although, perhaps not one they would ask Hermione to research as he wasn’t sure he’d be able to explain to her why there was a book she couldn’t touch let alone read.

 

‘Uh…hi?’ he ventured, frowning at her when she dropped enthusiastically into the chair opposite him and then just looked at him.

 

‘You “couldn’t let him go”?’ she demanded, when he failed to answer whatever unasked question she was attempting to throw at him with her look alone.

 

‘Ah.’ So, this was going to be that conversation. Honestly, he was impressed she’d waited as long as she had. Although he did suppose that between classes, homework, auror training and Draco, cornering him alone was a little hard to do these days.

 

Oh, and Ron, of course. He did wonder how she’d gotten rid of Ron, though perhaps she’d just told him she was planning to study in the library, and he wasn’t to disturb her. It wasn’t as though Ron could be expected to know that it was where Harry had taken refuge while Draco ditched him to supervise some sort of Potions tutorial with the first year Slytherins.

 

First night they’d both had free of extra training and homework and he was being ditched for a bunch of firsties and the Potions classroom.

 

Not that he was bitter about that, not at all.

 

‘Seriously?’ Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘That’s all you’re going to say? “Ah”?’

 

Harry studied her expression, trying to discern whether she was angry, hurt or amused – she seemed to be all three. ‘Are you mad?’ he ventured.

 

‘Of course, I’m mad,’ she replied, matter of fact. ‘You lied to me – to us – for months.’

 

‘I didn’t lie – not really.’

 

Hermione gave him a deeply unimpressed look. ‘You kept a very important part of your life from us!’

 

Harry shrugged, unrepentant. His reasons for keeping this from her hadn’t changed. They didn’t know Draco, not this Draco, and Harry hadn’t wanted to risk losing them because he loved Draco.

 

And he would have lost them, he knows that. If they’d come home to find him in bed with Draco Malfoy (Slytherin, Death Eater, absolute git) they’d have thought he was drugged or spelled and fought against the relationship until it tore them apart. Because Harry wouldn’t have left Draco, not then, not after months of getting to know him – the real him – and seeing the man Draco could always have been if not for the ways his father had pushed and shaped him. This Draco, so fresh out of Azkaban, needed Harry. And Harry needed him. They were healing each other and, Harry hated the thought, but at this moment in time – or even just two months ago when he’d returned to Hogwarts – Harry would choose Draco over his friends.

 

He would choose Draco over just about anyone and he wasn’t sure how to explain that to a Hermione and Ron who hadn’t seen what he’d seen. How did he explain it to friends who hadn’t been there to witness it?

 

Honestly, telling Molly, the only mother he’d ever really known, had been so much easier. Although, that might have had something to do with the fact that he hadn’t been planning on saying anything, it had just burst out of him over a strange lazy breakfast at the Burrow.

 

It hadn’t been the first time he’d found himself eating at the table with Molly and Arthur without any of the other Weasley children as a buffer. Before that morning, grief had hung so heavy over the table that Harry had always found excuses to leave and scurry up to his room. Over the weeks and months, as he’d spent more and more time with them, he’d grown comfortable with the idea that they really did consider him family and with Ron off in Australia, George finally starting to spend time at the shop with the gentle encouragement and support of his friends, and Ginny off at a quidditch training camp (trying to make a name for herself before the scouts came looking), Harry had found himself as the only one home for breakfast that morning.

 

Arthur had been reading the paper, Molly putting the finishing touches on the mountain of eggs and toast she’d expect him to eat, and he’d been sat there, thinking about the way Draco had smiled at him, the way his eyes cleared after Harry’s stag had filled the cell with light and warmth and the hope that always seemed to fade when Harry was gone. He’d been lost in thought, thinking about the smirk that used to draw Draco’s mouth up, the way his eyes crinkled, and he’d always have a smart remark or sharp bitter words. He’d been thinking about the conversation he’d had with Luna, about his plans for the next week when Draco was due to be released, and he’d just realised with startling clarity that he loved Draco.

 

He loved Draco and he didn’t know how to tell him, knew that even if he could tell him that Draco was in no way ready to hear it because he’d assume it was pity and his “saviour complex” and that he needed to give Draco the time to grow and heal outside of Azkaban but he’d needed to tell someone and he’d never had to do that before.

 

Luna had known before he did that he wasn’t as straight as he’d assumed. She’d known before he had that he fancied Draco and with the other Weasley children off doing what they were doing and Ron and Hermione in Australia, he’d never had to come out and say it before.

 

He’d never had to come out before.

 

There’d been something in that moment, though, something in the easy way Molly and Arthur included him in their family that had brought the words bubbling up out of him and he’d just sort of blurted it all out.

 

‘I fancy Draco.’

 

Looking back at it, Harry could laugh. He could find amusement in the way Arthur had dropped a corner of the paper to look at him, eyebrows raised and looking as though he must have misheard. He could see the fun in the way Molly had frozen, half into her chair, with a look of complete astonishment on her face.

 

At the time, he’d been gripped with a sudden terror, horrified that he’d just blurted it out.

 

After a long tense moment, Molly eased herself completely into her chair and Arthur put his paper down. They exchanged a look, heavy with meaning and unspoken words, and Harry had been just seconds from bolting out of the house and never coming back when Arthur had cleared his throat and broken the silence.

 

‘I see.’

 

Harry hadn’t known where to look, he’d just known that he couldn’t look at either of them. He hadn’t liked the heavy silence, though, and he wasn’t normally one for babbling but he could feel the urge to talk climbing up his throat and he’d known if neither of them managed to say anything more, then he was going to start telling them things he didn’t think he was ready to say.

 

Although, it turned out they were things he needed to say.

 

‘I think I have for a long time,’ he’d admitted quietly. Then he’d laughed nervously, ‘At least that’s what Luna says.’ He’d darted a look up at the two of them and then back down to the table. They still hadn’t said anything more and he’d felt the urge to fill the silence building and building and then, just when he was sure he was going to explode out of his chair and run, Molly had finally broken her silence.

 

He’d only managed to look up because of the kindness in her voice, even though it was filled with hesitation. ‘Does he make you happy?’

 

Harry had, without meaning to, choked out a laugh and explained, ‘Half the time I think I want to kill him.’

 

They’d both frowned at that and Molly seemed to be rethinking her supportive stance when he’d glanced up at her, but he’d skittered his gaze away and went on before she could ask him any awkward questions or make unwanted suggestions.

 

‘He makes me crazy,’ he’d said in a soft voice and he’d been aware as he was saying it just how terribly fond he sounded. ‘He argues with me just because he can and he always has to be right and sometimes he gets this look, like I’ve said something so stupid he can’t figure out how I manage to walk, but then he’ll say something sweet or curious about Sirius or Tonks and he’ll ask about Teddy and his mother or he’ll tell me some stupid story from when we were at school that I never even realised was happening and it’s like everything else just fades away and it’s just me and him and the stupid smirk he has and I want to do everything I can to get him to keep looking at me like that.’

 

He’d looked at the both of them helplessly, not knowing how to interpret the expressions on their faces.

 

Imploringly he’d said, ‘He doesn’t see Harry Potter, the Chosen One, Saviour of the Wizarding World, he just sees Harry.’ He’d looked helplessly at Molly then and he’d been so startled by the tears forming in her eyes that he’d flinched back from the table.

 

‘Oh Harry.’ Molly had sniffled once before she’d sprung out of her chair and practically launched herself around the table to envelop him in a tight hug.

 

Smothered in a tight motherly embrace, he’d only been able to squint at Arthur over her shoulder, his nose squished into the knot of her apron string. Arthur had still looked a bit stunned, but he’d managed to pull it together long enough to offer Harry a soft smile.

 

‘That sounds a lot like love to me.’ His words had been awkward and, given the history between Arthur and the Malfoys, Harry hardly blamed him, but he hadn’t been disapproving. He hadn’t been angry or dismissive of the person Harry clearly cared deeply for.

 

His voice had been muffled by Molly’s shoulder, but Harry had managed to sound deeply annoyed when he admitted, ‘I know.’

 

Something about the way he’d said it, about the clear way the simple fact of his feelings (and who they were directed at) annoyed him, caused Arthur to chuckle and Molly had finally released him to smooth back his hair and brush some imaginary lint from the shoulders of the old t-shirt he’d been sleeping in.

 

‘We just want you to be happy, dear, and if that happiness is another boy, we’re going to support you just the same.’

 

‘Even if that boy is a Malfoy,’ Arthur had added.

 

For some reason, it had not actually occurred to Harry until that moment that Draco Malfoy was a boy. He’d been so wrapped up in the unfortunate idea that he fancied Draco Malfoy of all people, that he found the stupid arrogant git attractive and fantasised about him with alarming frequency, that he’d not actually considered the fact that Draco was another boy.

 

‘Merlin,’ he’d breathed, stunned by the revelation. ‘I fancy a bloke.’ He’d been a little preoccupied by the reality of the situation hitting him and so he’d completely missed the bemused look Arthur shot his wife but then he’d dropped his head onto the table with heavy thunk and moaned, ‘Why does he have to be so fit?’

 

And he was just really fucking grateful Ginny hadn’t been home and that neither Molly nor Arthur had found the time to mention that little outburst to Draco. He’d never – NEVER – live that down.

 

In the end, telling Molly and Arthur had been easy and all the other Weasley’s after that had just sort of happened. Bill, because he’d been at the Manor working on a tricky curse they’d unearthed in the dungeon and had walked in on Harry and Draco snogging in the kitchen. George had found out when Harry and Luna had dragged Draco into the joke shop and something about their interaction had twigged for George and rather than be angry or hurt – or, fuck, even betrayed because Draco had done some terrible things with people who had gotten Fred killed – he’d laughed himself silly for a solid three minutes.

 

Ginny had been warned gently by Molly (not that she’d needed the warning) whereas Percy had arched a brow and simply said, ‘Harry, I’ve seen the visitor logs for Azkaban – I think I’d gotten that one worked out.’

 

Charlie was probably the most hilarious one, honestly, because he’d received a somewhat strange letter from Molly suggesting that if there was something he wanted to tell them then it was okay and they were fully supportive of his choices – had he heard about Harry finding a nice boyfriend?

 

He’d had to come back from Romania just to ask what the hell his mother was talking about and there’d been a spectacular row between them that Harry (thankfully) had not been around for, but from what he understood it had involved a lot of shouting, a lot complaints about being very happy being single (‘Thank you, very much Mum!’) and one last shouted complaint about how he’d be perfectly happy waiting a bit longer for the right guy if it was all the same, he wasn’t in any hurry to settle down.

 

The way Bill told it, Molly had looked triumphant after that last bit and Arthur had been pinching his nose, glasses held in one hand. By all accounts, Molly had then calmly said, ‘Well as long as you’re looking, that’s all I ask.’

 

And Charlie had been left floundering, wondering what had just happened until Bill had cracked up laughing, too amused to properly explain he’d just given their mother hope he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life obsessing and loving nothing but his dragons.

 

George, later that night, had cackled, ‘Well, we had been wondering – you do love those dragons an awful lot, brother.’

 

In all honestly, coming out to the Weasleys had been easy. They’d been supportive, loving, and most importantly, they’d been around for it. They’d been there when he raged about the unfairness of the Death Eaters not receiving proper trials. They’d been around to watch Harry disappear off to Azkaban every day and they’d seen him testify for Draco and Narcissa. They might not have known what was happening at first but once he’d laid it out for them, they’d understood (mostly) and been very accepting.

 

Telling Ron and Hermione was something else altogether.

 

And now, here she was, cornering him in the library, spelling them into privacy and demanding explanations he wasn’t even sure he owed her.

 

He took a deep breath and he said, a little sharper than he intended, ‘You weren’t here.’

 

She reared back like she’d been slapped, and he wanted to roll his eyes, but he could admit that had been a bit harsh. He hadn’t meant it to be, he didn’t blame her for going, but the simple truth was, she and Ron hadn’t been around and so much of what happened over those months happened because they weren’t. He hated to think what might have happened to Draco – to himself even – if he hadn’t gone down into those holding cells, if he hadn’t kept going back.

 

When Hermione had first proposed going to Australia, four months had seemed like no time at all. With all the things going on at the Ministry, with all the Death Eaters still to be rounded up and the repairs needed at Hogwarts, there’d been so much to do that four months had seemed just a blink. A mere moment before they’d be back and starting their futures together.

 

But four months had turned out to be a lot longer than he’d anticipated, than Hermione and Ron had too, and, in the aftermath of the war, Harry hadn’t realised how much he needed – how much he wanted – to change. To grow and find himself now that he wasn’t being hunted by a madman. Now that he didn’t have a dirty tainted piece of a soul shoved inside of him.

 

For Ron and Hermione, who had been on the other side of the world, the war had ended with the death of Voldemort and the funerals to lay their loved ones to rest. But, for Harry and the rest who had been here, who had been dealing with the aftermath, the war dragged on longer. There were trials and repairs, there was a school to rebuild and a Ministry to clean up. There were Death Eaters to still hunt down and people who needed healing. There were broken people and pieces that needed to be picked up and sometimes it was dark and painful and other times it was beautiful – like new growth in spring.

 

A lot had happened in those four months and Harry wasn’t the same person he’d been. How could he be? How could he stay the same after a war that had seen him hunted and killed? How could he be the same boy he’d been before all that? Why shouldn’t he change and grow and become a man shaped by war and a shit childhood? He was different and that was okay, that was what it meant to grow and change with the experiences you gained in life.

 

Sometimes, he thought Hermione and Ron were the same. Unchanged from the kids they were during the war, slowly piecing themselves back into the people they’d once been without all the damage and the hard choices. Sometimes, glancing over at them in the common room, it seemed like they were back before the war really kicked off, when they were just struggling to grasp the realities of what a war might mean but still not quite knowing. It was like being fifteen all over again.

 

Ron had matured since the war broke out, but he was still the same boy who had run when things got tough and he’d realised that war wasn’t going to be pretty or easy. His friend had grown a little in the time since he’d returned to them, he’d certainly changed since he’d started a relationship with Hermione – as though he was surer of himself now that they’d sorted themselves out. But he was still Ron, there were still moments of jealousy and moments where he got funny about the amount of money or celebrity Harry had.

 

He was still Ron, just older and a bit wiser.

 

Hermione was a little broken, but he could see the edges of her old self pulling back together. He could see her putting the war behind her as she slowly built herself back into the woman she’d been on her way to becoming before the war broke out. Just like Ron, she was older and wiser, somewhat more comfortable in her skin.

 

In comparison, Harry felt so different.

 

The war for him had been an extremely different experience. His whole life until Voldemort finally died had been so different and he didn’t know how to tell Hermione and Ron that without having to tell them all the things they thought they already knew. He didn’t want to sit down and tell them about his childhood at length, about the things he’d felt and experienced growing up in that cupboard under the stairs.

 

(There was a part of him that resented them for knowing his home situation was so bad and never doing anything about it.)

 

He didn’t know how to explain to them how hard his summers had been because even after all the shouting and the hurt and anger of the summer before his fifth year, he didn’t think they really understood. He didn’t know how to put into words the things he felt and experienced in those quiet dark moments in Privet Drive when he’d never known for sure if he was going back to Hogwarts. In those dark terrifying moments on the edge of dreams when he never quite knew if any of it was real.

 

They’d been there for all of it and yet none of it and Harry didn’t know how to bring it up now when he could have brought it up then.

 

There were so many things he’d experienced that they had no hope of understanding. They didn’t know what it was like to be hated and abused by the only family they had; they didn’t know what it was like to be constantly teetering on the brink. To be hovering over the edge, terrified it would all be taken away with the simple snap of a lock or bars on his window. He didn’t know how to talk to them about it without being angry at them for not asking questions before.

 

How did he tell them about his childhood and the things he’d experienced here at Hogwarts when he never told them before? For some of it they’d been right here with him, supporting him and encouraging him.

 

But Ron had once rescued him from a room with bars on the windows and multiple locks on the door. They’d both spent a summer (or two) sending him care packages because he wasn’t being fed – as though Dudley being on a diet suddenly changed things when he’d never been properly fed before. How did he bring that up now when they’d never wanted to know before?

 

How did he talk to them about these things when for seven years they’d swept it aside the moment they were back at Hogwarts as though it didn’t even matter because those summers weren’t the real world, Hogwarts and magic was?

 

Because that’s what it felt like, Harry could see that now. When he was back at Hogwarts, he didn’t have to think about the Dursley’s and just how horrible things were, but Ron and Hermione didn’t either. He shouldn’t be hurt or mad or even angry at them for not asking questions because they were just kids. But he was. He’d had time now, to think about things, to actually feel it all, and he was struggling to understand how he could have gone so many years with no one stepping in to help. With no one asking questions.

 

He didn’t know how to talk about the truth of Dumbledore’s plans, not the full extent of them. How did he talk about the way his life had been carefully planned out from the very beginning? How did he talk about Dumbledore’s plans without the bitterness he now felt? When he still didn’t know how to properly connect the man he thought he’d known with the cold man who had planned out his own death – and Harry’s too?

 

He didn’t know how to tell them he’d died.

 

He didn’t know how to talk to them now, not when there was so much pain and hurt and anger roiling around inside him waiting to be let out.

 

He didn’t know how to tell Hermione that he could tell Draco all of this.

 

Because he didn’t have secrets from Draco. He could turn to Draco in the middle of the night and prod him awake and complain about something stupid he’d only just remembered happening in second year or explain the origin of a scar on his right big toe without worrying that Draco would pity him, or that it would somehow change the way Draco saw him.

 

Because Draco did the same. He’d drop his book onto the nightstand with a thoughtful thump and explain to him in halting words about the time he’d realised his father would rather buy him things than sit and talk to him. He could kick him under the dinner table and profess a deep loathing for lemon tarts but that he ate them anyway because they were his mother’s favourite and he wanted to share that with her.

 

He could lie in Harry’s arms and talk in broken whispers about the terror of hiding behind wards in his own bedroom because the house was full of Death Eaters.

 

Draco had scars and stories of his own. Like Harry, the war had changed him, broken him and rebuilt him in ways not many people could understand. He understood Harry in a way Ron and Hermione never would and he in turn could understand Draco in a way Pansy never could.

 

The war had broken them but, in the aftermath, they’d pieced each other back together, sharing all those broken parts and learning how they fit together to make a stronger whole. Draco knew and understood Harry in ways Hermione and Ron would never be able to. In a way Harry was beginning to realise, he didn’t want to them to.

 

And that was perfectly fine, he knew that. But Hermione didn’t. She didn’t understand how in just four months Harry had changed so much that he was a completely different boy than she’d left behind.

 

She didn’t understand that he wasn’t.

 

And he didn’t know how to explain that to her when he didn’t want to explain it at all. There were pieces of himself he owed nobody, ones that he’d chosen to share with Draco because, it turned out, once he started talking to Draco he didn’t know how to stop. Everything with Draco was easy, even when it was hard. There were moments in those early days, when all he wanted to do was punch Draco in the face or hex him, but he kept going back. He kept seeking Draco out and Draco always welcomed him.

 

He’d had moments of doubt, wondering whether Draco would be that happy to see anyone and Harry was just the only one willing to come, but those doubts never lasted long. Never lasted beyond the first words out of Draco’s mouth, even if those words were a scathing remark because Harry was always happy to snap something back.

 

At least that part of their relationship should be familiar to Hermione, Harry couldn’t help thinking wryly.

 

‘I just want to understand,’ Hermione said softly, trying not to let the pain of his words linger. ‘You hated Draco for years, Harry, and then we were away for four months and suddenly your friends? More than friends?’

 

Harry shrugged, he felt like an arse doing it but how was he supposed to make sense of those four months for her when he needed to explain so much more? He and Draco weren’t just those four months Hermione and Ron had been gone. They were the seven years before, as well. Every snide comment and demand for attention, every interaction between them over the last seven years had been building toward this and he didn’t know how to explain that to Hermione when she’d been there for so much of it but never really seen it.

 

‘I don’t understand how you “couldn’t let him go”,’ her voice was soft, curious, she wasn’t pleading with him now, she just wanted to understand, and it softened his annoyance with her some.

 

Despite the way she’d charged into his quiet space in the back of the library and warded the area so heavily he felt a bit like a prisoner being prepped for interrogation (he almost expected her to bring out some veritaserum or cast a dubiously legal legilimens), she was his friend and he loved her and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t comfortable sharing all this with her – not the deep dark bits of himself – because he had to remind himself that she loved him too and she just wanted to understand.

 

She wanted to be happy for him. He had to remember that when he was feeling as though all she was doing was poking and prodding at his secrets. Hermione loved him and had been by his side for some of the worst moments of his life and all she wanted to do was understand. To make sure he was safe and that he wasn’t making stupid decisions in the grip of the new freedoms he had in a world free of Voldemort and his horcruxes.

 

He felt his anger and annoyance deflate and he sighed tiredly. ‘Sorry,’ he told her, scrubbing a hand over his face.

 

‘Don’t apologise,’ she told him softly, shrugging off his words as though they were unnecessary – he felt they were. ‘I’m not trying to tell you what you feel is wrong,’ she murmured, ‘I’m just trying to understand how it happened.’

 

She studied him quietly for a long moment, but he didn’t speak to answer her question, she seemed to be on the brink of saying more and he was happy to wait her out.

 

‘He makes you happy,’ she eventually said, repeating words she’d told him just days before in the kitchens. ‘Harry, he makes you happy in a way I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen you laugh and smile and when you were with Ginny you seemed lighter, but when you’re with Draco – Harry the way you look at him, the way you look just being around him. You never looked like that before and I – I don’t know what to think. I missed this great big moment in your life! When you fell in love! I don’t even know how it happened. I missed those little moments, with the small smiles and the way you act like a complete idiot and I wasn’t here for you when you realised you liked a boy,’ she blurted out this last bit with exasperation and a twinge of something that might have been jealousy.

 

Harry snorted. But her words were softening him up, making him realise that most of his annoyance and frustration with her was stupid and misplaced because she wasn’t asking him all those tough questions – she was mourning the moments of his life she’d missed out on. She was his best friend and she was sad and upset and hurt because she hadn’t been there for him when he’d been feeling all of this. She was hurting because she was worried that he hadn’t had the support he needed while he was going through all of this.

 

He hadn’t helped by throwing her absence in her face.

 

And he realised, quite abruptly, that he’d been an idiot. Draco – and Ginny for that matter – would hardly be surprised. Hermione wasn’t demanding answers to questions that weren’t hers to know, she wasn’t demanding pieces of him he wasn’t willing to give her – she didn’t even know those moments and answers were things that drew him closer to Draco. She was just sad to think that her best friend couldn’t talk to her, that he’d been afraid to write to her or ask questions or seek comfort when he learned something about himself that must have been surprising and uncomfortable and all she wanted to do was support him and be there for him and he wouldn’t even let her.

 

That was why she was hurt. That was why she was asking. He’d been right to give her time to get to know Draco, to give her time to realise he and Draco were friends and that he was worth being friends with. But he’d dismissed her and shut her out when she’d only been worried and concerned that he was making dangerous decisions that could get him hurt. And then, instead of sitting down and calmly explaining it to her, explaining that he’d known what Draco was doing, that he’d seen the runes and the wards, and that Draco was knowledgeable about all these things that were new and scary to her, he’d simply avoided her. He’d told her she wouldn’t understand.

 

Hermione and Ron had grown and changed after the war even while they’d stayed the same, just as Harry had. Hermione wasn’t prying (exactly), she wasn’t judging, she was just asking. She wanted to know these things because she was his friend and she loved him, and she saw now how much he loved Draco and she wanted to know that what she was seeing was real and true and that Harry really was happy and safe – loved in a way he’d never been loved before.

 

And maybe he’d been scared that she would make him choose, that he would lay it all out for her and she’d be horrified and disappointed in him and make him choose. Because he’d choose Draco, he knew that, and he thought she might know that too and that made it worse. Because she didn’t understand how he could. Didn’t understand how something so fundamental had changed between them.

 

But she wanted to know, wanted to understand what it was about Draco Malfoy that Harry Potter loved so deeply.

 

She just wanted to be his friend.

 

And he could give her that.

 

He just had no idea where to start. He hesitated for a moment, trying to sort out the best way to do this, to explain to her how the rivalry between them, all that hate and pain, had turned into something completely different. He didn’t want to give her all the details, didn’t want to spend all day (and probably night) tucked away in the back corner of the library disclosing all his secrets and the truths he’d buried for so long, but he wanted to give her something. He wanted to give her pieces that would help her understand that this thing with Draco was a long time coming and that it was something they’d been building toward – not a facet of his saviour complex.

 

Which actually gave him a pretty good place to start.

 

‘I don’t think you and Ron ever realised just how much attention I paid to Draco,’ he started off slowly, thoughtfully. ‘I know things in sixth year were a bit of an eye opener for you, but didn’t it ever occur to you to wonder how I knew something was up? How I knew he was up to something that first day in Diagon Alley?’

 

Hermione seemed surprised by the questions and she frowned thoughtfully before slowly admitting, ‘No, I – we – just thought you were fixating because he was there.’

 

Harry snorted. ‘I wasn’t. Hermione, by the time we were fourteen, I knew all of Draco’s favourite foods, what days he got post from home, and I could tell you whether or not he’d stayed up all night studying just from the number of sugars he put in his tea.’

 

Hermione sputtered, taken aback. ‘I’m sorry – what?!’

 

Sheepishly, Harry rubbed at the back of his neck, but he didn’t explain that to her, he merely went on. ‘I noticed him, noticed the way light hit his hair and the colour of his eyes and the stupid way he would swagger around like he owned the place. Merlin, fuck, I think I got jealous whenever I saw Pansy all over him.’ And if that wasn’t a horrible realisation to be having…

 

Hermione, unexpectedly giggled. ‘Oh Harry.’

 

‘Shut up,’ he said, good naturedly. ‘You know I’m rubbish at this.’

 

Hermione giggled some more. ‘Why didn’t you ever say anything?’

 

‘What was I supposed to say?’ Harry mused. ‘I didn’t even know I fancied him.’ He considered that. ‘I mean, I didn’t fancy him, not then, but bloody hell Hermione, he took up a lot of my time.’

 

Hermione managed to compose herself long enough to say, ‘I think you took up plenty of his time too.’

 

Harry grinned. The mood so different from how it had been after she’d first sat down that he had no trouble telling her, ‘I don’t think I want to admit how many nights I stayed up watching his dot on the Marauder’s Map.’

 

This set Hermione off again, but it was nice, seeing her smile and watching her start to understand just how long this thing between he and Draco had been building.

 

‘Draco has been such an intrinsic part of my life since I first found out about magic so when I overheard the aurors talking about what they’d done to him I didn’t think – I just went looking for him and it sort of spiralled from there.’

 

‘That’s it?’ Hermione mused. ‘It just “spiralled”?’

 

Harry could only shrug helplessly. How else could he explain it? Some days, this thing between them felt so inevitable that it didn’t need explaining. He was exactly where he was supposed to be, it was just a pity they hadn’t found their way to each other sooner.

 

He wouldn’t be telling Hermione that, though, and he sure as hell would never tell Ron. He could just imagine how insecure that would make his best friend. Ron would probably spend a good few days brooding over the idea that Harry regretted not taking Draco’s hand that day on the train, that he regretted not choosing Draco over Ron back when they were eleven. Which was ridiculous because Harry loved Ron, treasured the friendship they’d built over the last seven years.

 

But that didn’t mean he didn’t regret all the lost chances for he and Draco to get to know one another earlier. All the lost chances they’d had to potentially change the animosity between them. Would Narcissa have changed sides earlier? Would Lucius have stood by his son? Would Draco have spent the year camping with them while they hunted for horcruxes?

 

Harry couldn’t help smiling at that thought. Draco in a tent. He’d have done it, Harry was sure, for him at least, but his boyfriend was a little too fond of proper amenities to be happy and quiet about it.

 

‘There really isn’t a lot you can do in a cell in Azkaban and so we talked – about everything. Draco and I have always known a lot of things about each other – all those stupid things you can’t help learning about someone when you spend all of your time staring at them.’ He ignored Hermione’s amused laugh and carried on talking. ‘But there was a lot we didn’t know and so much I wanted to know. I don’t know how it started exactly but once we started talking it was really hard to stop. Like I wanted to know everything about Draco – and he wanted to know everything about me.

 

‘The man I talked to everyday in Azkaban – that man is worth loving.’

 

Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. ‘He really has changed.’

 

‘Of course, he has,’ Harry agreed. ‘We all have.’

 

Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘I see the changes in him,’ she tried again. ‘And I can see how maybe you might like this new Draco – because I can start to forgive him and I think we could be friends – but I don’t understand how you got there,’ she paused for a moment and then finished, ‘but I think that’s okay. I don’t have to understand it, I just have to appreciate that he makes you happy and trust that you know what you’re doing.’

 

Harry laughed at this. ‘I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, Hermione, but as long as I’m doing it with Draco, then I think I’ll be okay.’

 

She gave him this wide, happy smile then and Harry thought there might have been tears threatening to build but rather than saying something emotional or about how she loved him and wanted him to be happy again, she just sighed and said, ‘Oh, Harry, you’re such a sap.’

 

‘Oi!’

Chapter Text

Draco didn’t remember the explosion. One moment he’d been walking with some of the second years he was tutoring – escorting them back from the library to the relative safety of the Slytherin common room – the next he was being slammed forcefully into and then through the wall into one of the disused Muggle Studies classrooms. He was sure he’d blacked out when his head slammed into stone, but it didn’t seem as though he’d been out for long when his vision cleared, and the world formed back into a haze of dust and debris and screaming children.

 

 Slick blood was sliding down the side of his face and he just knew he was going to have one hell of a headache in the morning, but he couldn’t worry about that now. Not when there were other – younger – students crying out in pain and fear. Both of his arms seemed unharmed, for which he was grateful, and it didn’t seem like he was stuck under anything too heavy or damaging. It was easy enough to shove the lighter debris clear so that he could sit up and flick his wand free of its holster.

 

‘Lumos,’ he murmured and a moment later held his wand aloft, casting a soft glow over the mess.

 

Mess might have been a bit of an understatement. The entire wall they’d been walking by had been blown into the Muggle Studies classroom by the explosion, forming an uncomfortable bed of stonework and broken furniture for him to land on. In the dim wand light, it looked like the floor had blown beneath them, sending all of them in different directions.

 

He had to cast a lightening charm before he could ease the large chunk of floor off his legs. Thankfully, it seemed to have been balancing over his leg rather than squishing it into a paste. He was very lucky it had fallen wedged against another piece of floor and not directly on his leg. Wedged as it was it had still torn his leg up enough to have him wincing and glancing away.

 

He didn’t fancy spending a few nights in the hospital wing having his leg regrown, but he’d certainly be spending a few hours having some bones and muscles mended.

 

‘Fuck,’ he hissed.

 

After a moment just breathing through the new pain, he tossed his wand tip at the ceiling to detach the soft glow of the lumos and set it hovering above his head. Then he cast a patronus and sent the huge dog bounding off through the castle to find Harry and then McGonagall – although perhaps he should have done that the other way around? Blood dripped into his eye and he wiped it away in annoyance before he forced himself to ignore the pain in his leg and staggered to his feet.

 

He had to stifle a yelp of pain as, when he took a small step, the bones in his legs ground together. If he didn’t have other students to worry about, he might very well have collapsed back onto the debris and passed out while he waited for rescue. A couple of years ago, he’d likely have done that anyway. He was honest enough to know that about himself. He’d been an absolute twat as a kid. At least the war and its repercussions had been good for something.

 

There was no way, Harry would have come to love the boy he’d been.

 

Which wasn’t at all what he needed to be focusing on. He tugged down the sleeve of his jumper – Harry’s jumper, he realised belatedly, as he used it to wipe more blood from his eye. The idea that he’d been wandering around with a bunch of Slytherins wearing a Gryffindor jumper caused a twinge of amusement, but he forced his thoughts to focus, even as he felt them slipping and sliding as his body tried to shut down and his mind tried to hide away from what was happening.

 

He found Harriet beneath a desk. The legs had collapsed under the weight of the stone that had been blasted into the room. If he’d only looked at her face, he might have thought her merely asleep, perhaps he’d have thought her perfectly unharmed. But she was stuck under a chunk of floor that had pressed her beneath one of the desks and her breathing was uneven, coming in pained gasps that sounded wet. Removing the desk seemed like a priority but he didn’t know what sort of damage lifting that sort of pressure would do.

 

He wasn’t a healer, but he had been taught the same field medi-spells as Harry during one of his earlier assignments with the aurors. The first spell he cast told him removing the pressure would be a terrible idea but leaving her would be an even worse one. He wished he had an emergency med-evac portkey, but the Ministry only issued those to his auror handlers and while he thought Harry might have one somewhere, he doubted it was on his person. And Harry wasn’t exactly there with him, either.

 

His thoughts were wandering again, and it took a moment for him to focus back on Harriet. She was the youngest of his little study group, the only one not in Slytherin and muggleborn as well. He didn’t want this to be her impression of magic. He didn’t want to be the one telling her parents that he’d messed up and gotten her killed. She had a little brother who was showing signs of magic, he remembered, a little brother who would never get to know the joy and wonder of magic and Hogwarts if his sister died and her parents found magic to be the cause.

 

Magic wasn’t the cause of this, not exactly, someone had set a trap in the floor, one that had been missed during the repairs, one that he and the second years had triggered simply by walking by.

 

‘Focus!’ he ordered himself. He snapped his wand in a complicated spiral, casting the rough kind of stasis spell hated by proper healers but taught to every auror because it was the one thing that might keep them alive long enough to get proper help.

 

It wouldn’t last long but he didn’t need it to. He just needed time to get the debris off her and whisk her away to the Hospital Wing and Madam Pomfrey.

 

It took some careful, steady spellwork, but he managed to get Harriet out from under the desk by lifting it just enough to slide her out. He winced with every movement, but he thought he’d succeeded in doing it without causing her any further harm or sending more of the debris cascading down on himself. He cast a few spells to check her over and, satisfied he’d done what he could for her, scrambled over the debris and back into the hallway to look for the others.

 

There wasn’t much hallway left. He wasn’t sure what they’d triggered but it had blown apart more than just the floor and the wall when it had gone off. He stood at the edge of a gaping hole in the floor and glanced, first down through the hole to the floor below, and then up where the ceiling used to be. Draco could see the ceiling of the floor above had cracks in it as though it had taken considerable force despite there being an entire floor between it and the initial explosion.

 

He could also see a bloody hand hanging over the edge of the hole.

 

‘Fuck,’ he hissed. He searched around for some way to get out of the classroom, some way to help the other students and came up with the only response he could. He leant out over the gaping hole as far as he dared, one hand gripping tight to the jagged edge of the wall and peered up, trying to get a better angle as he cast another diagnostic spell.

 

Whoever the hand belonged to was alive and didn’t seem to be badly hurt, which was lucky. Much luckier than whoever belonged to the mangled foot he could see sticking out from beneath the debris on the other side of the corridor. Draco could do nothing for them, he had no way of reaching them, no way of stabilising them as he had done for Harriet.

 

What he could do was check for anymore traps and curses that might be waiting to be triggered. With his wand held firm, he cast one of the most basic detection spells his mother had taught him, one he’d learned long before he’d found he actually like the idea of becoming a curse breaker. It didn’t show him anything but that didn’t deter him. Whoever had set the trap had been good, especially if it had lain dormant for months, so many students and teachers passing over it daily.

 

Of course, there was every chance it hadn’t been quietly waiting for someone or something to trigger it. But Draco was not about to think about that possibility just now. Much better to assume it was left over from the battle and the Death Eater occupation and then build up to other more worrying possibilities.

 

Harry, Hermione and Weasley skidded to a halt at the end of the corridor, beating McGonagall who was only moments behind – though she arrived at the other end from Harry and with Professor Sinistra at her side.

 

‘Draco!’ Harry shouted, edging as close to the gaping hole in the floor as he could and stumbling when he misjudged just how close that actually was. Hermione and Weasley grabbed onto the back of his jumper to keep him steady.

 

‘I haven’t checked for secondary spells!’ Draco snapped back. ‘I’m missing four students who were with me and at least one student on the floor above has been injured.’

 

He pointed his wand sharply upward to indicate the bloody hand hanging through the hole in the ceiling and then he ignored the new arrivals in favour of making sweeping gestures with his wand, casting hasty (but thorough) checks for spells that might be triggered by any sort of rescue operation.

 

He didn’t find any. Not on his first check anyway, but the second series of spells he ran through flared an alarming purple and he fought the instinct to leap backward for the relative safety of the damaged Muggle Studies classroom.

 

He swore. Loudly and creatively.

 

He wasn’t the only one. ‘Merlin, fuck,’ Harry swore. ‘Is that what I think it is?’

 

‘Yes,’ Draco replied shortly.

 

‘And for those of us without curse breaker training, Mister Malfoy?’ McGonagall asked of him sharply.

 

‘Blood curse,’ Harry answered. ‘The nasty kind.’

 

‘Aren’t they all nasty?’ Weasley pointed out but the colour had drained from his face and that told Draco that he had some idea of just how bad blood curses could be.

 

‘Draco,’ Harry asked, sudden and urgent. ‘Did you trigger it?’

 

Draco looked at him and shook his head and he found his heart swelling at the way Harry’s shoulders slumped in relief. ‘I can’t undo this,’ he informed them, shortly and he swayed as he said it.

 

‘Draco?’ Harry was back to sounding alarmed.

 

‘I’m going to need Fleur,’ he said, instead of addressing Harry’s worry.

 

‘Fleur?’ McGonagall’s lips pursed. ‘Not Bill?’

 

Draco shook his head. ‘Not for this.’

 

She nodded sharply and a moment later her patronus was darting off through the wall of the castle.

 

‘Now what?’ Weasley demanded.

 

‘We wait,’ Draco replied grimly.

 

This didn’t seem to sit well with Weasley but Harry (not one for standing around) was showing remarkable restraint, especially when Draco knew he looked terrible and was swaying dangerously on his feet.

 

‘Can we access the other floors?’ Sinistra questioned, peering up at the floor above only to be met with Flitwick peering down at her. ‘Hello, Filius,’ she called up quietly, ‘please be wary of the blood curse.’

 

Flitwick jerked back with a startled squeak and then they all heard him issuing orders for students to stand back before his small head appeared again and he reported, ‘I’ve sent Miss Goshawk along to the Hospital Wing, she should be just fine.’

 

That was somewhat a relief. ‘Who’s on the floor below?’ Draco questioned.

 

‘Me,’ Ginny’s voice called up at him. When he looked down between his feet, he saw her moving cautiously through the rubble below, still in her quidditch leathers, wet from the rain. ‘Demelza is turning people back,’ she called up to him. ‘No one down here was hurt.’ She had her broom over her shoulder. ‘Want me to come get you?’

 

He shook his head, regretted it immediately when the world went white, but managed to croak down to her, ‘Blood curse. Waiting on Fleur.’

 

Ginny made a face at that but she too scuttled back out of the way of anything especially lethal.

 

‘How sensitive is this curse?’ McGonagall asked. ‘Can you see its limitations?’

 

‘I wouldn’t try to get closer and I wouldn’t move anything,’ Draco advised and was it just him or had his voice sounded a little rough? He coughed suddenly and felt the (by now) familiar feeling of blood filling his mouth. He wanted to roll his eyes. He couldn’t even feel what was causing that and that should have been alarming.

 

It should have been alarming.

 

This time, he swore in French. Hermione’s eyebrows shot up and he thought he caught Sinistra’s lips twitching in amusement, but Harry was suddenly looking at him, eyes sharp and concerned because he was very familiar with how Draco liked to swear and more than familiar with his tendency to use French when things were bad.

 

McGonagall wasn’t as familiar with Draco’s propensity to swear in foreign languages when things got bad, but she was familiar enough with Draco to know that something wasn’t right. She pointed her wand at her own throat and when she next spoke her words echoed sharply around the castle. He wondered if it would reach every corner, known and unknown.

 

‘All students must return to their common rooms immediately,’ she said. ‘Students must return to their common rooms immediately.’ As soon as she was finished speaking, she removed the charm from her throat and returned her stern gaze to Draco. ‘I need to meet with the other professors, I trust you won’t do anything stupid before Mrs Weasley arrives?’

 

‘I really feel you should be giving Harry that look,’ Draco returned, quite offended. When had he ever done anything stupid and life endangering?

 

McGonagall turned a sharp glare on Harry which had Draco sniggering (which was a mistake because it hurt) but Harry merely rolled his eyes.

 

‘Aurora, please go meet Mrs Weasley in my office and escort her down.’

 

Sinistra took off at a run – Draco’s mind, slippery as it currently was, couldn’t help but admire her speed. McGonagall offered one last sharp look and the suggestion that Hermione and Weasley return to their common rooms (pointlessly, of course) before she hurried away to meet the staff and start issuing orders to keep the rest of the school safe.

 

Comically, she almost collided with Madam Pomfrey, as they tried to take the corner at the same time. Pomfrey only offered a vague apology as she scuttled around the headmistress to get to the gaping hole and her buried patients.

 

Draco wasted no time. ‘I’ve got Harriet under field stasis,’ he said. ‘It’s been nine minutes. I can’t find Xiu Mei, Archie, Delilah or Peter.’ He gave the mangled foot he could see a sharp look, directing Pomfrey’s gaze there. ‘I can’t be sure who that belongs to.’

 

Pomfrey, as predicted, didn’t look very happy with the news he’d put a student under emergency field stasis, but he also thought he detected a hint of approval. But that might have been the head wound talking. Or the blood loss. Or whatever the fuck he’d done this time that had him wanting to cough up more blood. He had to fight down another urge to cough, sure that doing so would only make this hurt more and he really needed Harry worrying about the cursed debris and not him.

 

Well, he could worry about both. Draco liked knowing that Harry worried about him. He liked knowing that anybody cared enough about him to worry.

 

‘Draco!’

 

He didn’t not like it when Harry snapped his name like that. Although, he preferred it when Harry would snap “Malfoy” like when they were younger and still thought they hated each other. It sent a pleasant shiver down his spine that was wholly inappropriate because he’d been a horrible human being and Harry had no reason to find that version of him in any way attractive or nice to be around.

 

Still, sometimes it was fun to –

 

‘Draco!’ Harry shouted his name again, this time he sounded alarmed. ‘Shit, fuck, damnit! I can’t get to you.’

 

Draco shifted slightly, the pain that shot up his leg sent a burst of adrenalin through him and suddenly he could focus again. He swore again, rather emphatically, causing all of them to stare at him in surprise (though not Harry, Harry just looked relieved).

 

‘I’m okay,’ he tried to reassure them, although he wasn’t sure he was all that successful because his mouth went on spewing words he hadn’t intended to say. ‘I have recently become aware that I might have a thing for that tone you get when you’re mad at me.’

 

He looked up just in time to see Hermione’s lips twitch in amusement, Weasley looked repulsed and Harry was rolling his eyes in exasperation. ‘That’s not news,’ Harry informed him.

 

‘It’s news to me,’ he replied, somewhat petulantly and perhaps it was the tone of his own voice that shook him out of it – because he refused to sound like a simpering fool in front of anyone – and made him say, ‘It’s possible I have a concussion.’

 

‘Yes,’ agreed Harry (and Pomfrey). ‘Can you get Harriet out?’

 

Draco thought about it for a moment and then shook his head – and immediately regretted it when the world swam strange colours and he felt the urge to vomit surge within him. He dry-heaved for a moment before he managed to say. ‘Not focused enough.’

 

‘Can Kreacher get her out?’

 

There was a beat while they all considered that and then Pomfrey knocked down the suggestion. ‘Any form of apparition will do more harm than good. The stasis can hold her another thirteen minutes by my count.’

 

‘Eighteen,’ Harry contradicted. ‘Draco’s medi-spells are brilliant.’

 

‘They are,’ Draco agreed, finding the energy to be smug when he couldn’t even focus his eyes anymore. The world was taking on a strange shade of grey. ‘I’m losing colour,’ he mused.

 

‘Harry no!’ Hermione’s sharp reprimand had his gaze darting over to see Harry being held back from another attempt to scramble the very small amount of floor left along the wall to get to him.

 

‘Think of the children!’ Draco snapped, which would have been funnier if anyone other than Hermione was paying enough attention to get the full impact of his meaning. She actually snorted so he supposed that wasn’t too bad. Merlin, he must really be hurt if he was scolding Harry for endangering children they didn’t even have yet with a blood curse just because he was swaying on his feet.

 

Oh. He was swaying again.

 

He really hoped the piece of wall he was using to prop himself up wasn’t cursed. He didn’t think it was, but he sure hoped he wasn’t making himself a hypocrite, that would be dreadful.

 

He heard movement behind him and spun around in alarm. The alarm didn’t fade (neither did the blinding, world spinning nausea) when he realised Ginny had flown her broom up to the window outside with Demelza. He did sort of sag in relief because the classroom itself wasn’t cursed and he just stood blinking stupidly at the two of them as they carefully manoeuvred the window open and Ginny shot inside on her broom. It seemed Demelza was holding an umbrella charm over the window so as not to let the rain in.

 

‘Flitwick is outside,’ Ginny told him. ‘All I need to do is get her out the window and he’ll do the rest.’

 

‘That makes me feel better,’ Draco said.

 

Behind him, Harry called, ‘What’s going on?’

 

‘Ginny and Demelza are getting Harriet out through the window,’ he called back over his shoulder.

 

He watched the whole thing, strangely detached. He heard Pomfrey behind him scuttling away to meet the girls in the Hospital Wing, but he didn’t really understand what was happening until Ginny’s hand dropped softly on his shoulder and she asked him if he needed her to get him out too.

 

He started to shake his head but finally remembered how terrible an idea that was and settled for voicing his disagreement instead. ‘Can’t. Waiting on Fleur.’

 

Her parting words were, ‘You’re an idiot,’ but she didn’t fight him. Which he appreciated. He did not appreciate the way the world tried to slip out from under him when he turned around again. He must have lost some time because he blinked and Fleur was there. Bill had come with her.

 

It was Bill who said, ‘Okay, Draco, you can let the protections drop now, I’ve got them.’

 

Draco blinked at him for a moment in incomprehension, simply staring at him and trying to make sense of what the man with the dragonhide protective clothing was trying to tell him. Fleur was dressed for work too, although she looked as though she’d slipped her heavily warded work jacket on over a set of boring cotton pyjamas.

 

He liked her boots.

 

‘Draco!’ she snapped at him and followed it up with a sharp tirade in French.

 

It was enough though, her words finally forced meaning into her husband’s and with a short sharp snap of his wand he released the protections he’d put up without thought. It was just unfortunate they were apparently what had been keeping him upright. He hadn’t even realised he was holding them in place, he’d done it instinctually. Now that he’d cut the burden of holding them in place from his own magic all of his injuries were making themselves known in vibrant technicolour and some of them came with blinding agony.

 

Honestly, why couldn’t he have attempted to squish the foot that hardly felt anything? That would have been a lot nicer.

 

And, ah, his legs couldn’t hold him anymore and he slid, boneless, to the floor. There was a chunk of stone under his arse that was going to leave a bruise – maybe Harry would kiss it better?

 

He wanted to focus on what Fleur was doing. She’d promised to teach him what she knew about blood curses when he’d finished working with Bill but every time he blinked it seemed as though minutes were passing and not just seconds and then Harry was there, lifting him gently into his arms with an arm beneath his knees and another supporting his back and Draco draped his arms automatically around his neck.

 

‘This is much more impressive now I’m not half dead in Azkaban,’ he slurred. He didn’t know how much of that Harry even understood but the soft puff of air that hit the top of his head might have been a laugh. He wouldn’t know. Nose pressed into the delightfully soft skin of Harry’s neck he finally let go and allowed his body the dark emptiness it had been craving.

 

He woke up to the distinctly unpleasant sight of Weasley.

 

Draco shut his eyes again in the hopes that when he opened them Harry would be there instead. It didn’t work. When he again opened his eyes, the figure in the chair beside his bed was still definitely Ron Weasley.

 

‘Why are you here?’ he demanded. Well he tried to. His tongue felt like a lead weight and seemed to have grown a coating of sand to boot. What actually came out was a garbled string of nonsense, but it jerked Weasley out of his doze and Draco supposed that could be considered a success.

 

‘You’re awake,’ Weasley stated, pointing out the obvious.

 

Draco, it seemed, was well enough to roll his eyes. The action only caused a slight sting of pain in his head, so he considered it worth it. He tried to speak again but this time Weasley seemed to cotton on to the problem and, in a rather uncharacteristic gesture of kindness, got up to fetch some water and even helped Draco drink it. The ability to snark at Weasley with words outweighed his dislike of having need of Weasley’s help, and soon the glass was on the table beside his bed, Weasley was back in the chair looking exceedingly uncomfortable and Draco was back in possession of a voice with which to annoy.

 

‘Why are you here?’

 

Weasley shifted awkwardly in his seat before he said, ‘Hermione didn’t want to miss class and Harry really needed to take a shower.’

 

‘Not an answer.’

 

‘Luna said you wouldn’t like being alone when you woke up.’

 

True, but also didn’t answer the question. There were other people he’d rather wake to find by his bed, Ron Weasley was so far down the list he may as well not even be on it. The fact he probably was on the list of people Draco would trust to watch over him in the hospital, frankly, came down to stubborn Gryffindor loyalty. Draco might like to suggest Weasley was unintelligent, but he’d have to be a complete and utter moron not to realise Harry cared for him and that hurting Draco would hurt Harry. So, while waking up to the horrible sight of Weasley was a bit of a letdown, it didn’t come with the mind-numbing moment of terror of not knowing where he was and if he was safe.

 

And, ugh, the idea that he’d just thought the words “safe” and “Weasley” in the same sentence was almost as horrifying as the man’s face.

 

‘Where’s Luna?’ he asked.

 

Weasley pulled a face and Draco just knew he wasn’t going to like the next words out of the Gryffindor’s mouth. ‘She said we needed to spend some time getting to know each other.’

 

Draco pulled a face that definitely did not match Weasley’s. ‘No. You’re dismissed. Run along.’

 

He thought, for one optimistic moment, that Weasley was going to say something bratty and leave, but he took a slow breath, winced, and said, ‘No. Not until Harry comes back.’

 

‘Suit yourself,’ Draco shrugged it off and settled back against the covers, closing his eyes as though he were about to drop back off to sleep.

 

Of course, Weasley couldn’t just leave it at that. ‘You’re a right git, you know that?’

 

‘It’s one of my better qualities,’ Draco replied without missing a beat or bothering to open his eyes. It was very bright in the Hospital Wing anyway, all that horrible stark white.

 

‘It’s really not,’ Weasley grumbled. After a moment of what Draco considered deep thought for Weasley, he added, ‘Harry’s very loyal to his friends. He’d do anything for them.’

 

‘Tragically so,’ Draco agreed, opening his eyes at this just so he could give Weasley a look that spoke volumes.

 

He was very good at loaded looks and this one brought up every time Weasley had been a complete berk and abandoned Harry for some slight that was hardly Harry’s fault at all. Given enough time and enough eye contact, he thought he could have Weasley regretting every wrongdoing and betrayal he’d ever committed against Harry.

 

‘I think I’m on some very good potions,’ he mused.

 

Confused (as usual), Weasley said, ‘Er, yeah.’ He shook his head. ‘Hermione reckons now that you and Harry are friends, he’s not about to toss you aside just because you’re a git.’

 

Given Harry actually liked that Draco could be a right git, he had to agree with Hermione on this one. That didn’t stop him from observing, ‘And I suppose you let Hermione do all of your thinking.’

 

Weasley turned red but it seemed he was determined not to let his temper get the best of him (such a pity) because he took another deep breath (that had Draco thinking he’d perhaps sought out a mind healer while in Australia) and said, ‘Would you just shut up and listen?’

 

‘Unlikely. But carry on.’

 

‘I don’t like you, I don’t think I’m ever going to like you, but Harry does and Hermione seems to be coming around and – bloody hell, you’re friendly with Bill and Ginny and Luna adores you…’ he trailed off seeming confused by his own words. ‘You let Greyback into the castle and nearly got Bill killed but he thinks you’re alright. Fleur can hold a grudge like the best of them and she doesn’t hate you for what you did to Bill. I guess what I’m saying is – what I mean is – ugh why do you have to be such a slimy Slytherin?!’

 

‘Ron!’ Harry snapped with such perfect timing Draco grinned.

 

Draco glanced over to see him striding across the room looking annoyed. His hair was still damp – because he never bothered to do anything more than run a towel through it – and he’d put on a fresh set of joggers and a quidditch jersey that Draco thought he’d lost to Luna over the summer (proving his favourite Ravenclaw had much better taste than he’d given her credit for). Hermione was right behind him, fresh out of class and looking exasperated.

 

‘Honestly, Ron!’ she snapped.

 

Weasley tried to defend himself but gave it up as a lost cause. Which was definitely for the best, Draco was in no mood to entertain Weasley extending an olive branch. His head still hurt far too much for that sort of change to the status quo.

 

‘You said you were going to give him a chance,’ Hermione muttered angrily, swatting her boyfriend (ugh) on the shoulder before perching on the arm of his chair.

 

Harry didn’t bother with a chair, instead he climbed up onto the end of the bed, carefully lifting Draco’s damaged foot into his lap. Only it wasn’t damaged anymore, rather it was completely healed. And Hermione had been in class. The sun was up, and it had stopped raining.

 

Draco wrinkled his nose. ‘How long have I been here?’

 

‘All night,’ Harry answered.

 

‘It’s almost lunch,’ Hermione added.

 

Belatedly, Draco looked around the Hospital Wing and with alarm he realised his was the only occupied bed.

 

Reading his alarm, Harry squeezed his foot gently, drawing his attention. ‘They took Harriet to St Mungo’s last night,’ he explained. ‘She’s going to be fine. It was Archie’s foot you could see and Madam Pomfrey mended that easily. We found Xia Mei in the broom closet across from the muggle studies classroom. She hit her head when she fell – got knocked out – but she was fine. She didn’t even have to spend the night here. The others got thrown clear – knocked about a bit but they’re fine.’

 

Draco slumped against his pillows in relief and then made a face that had Harry rolling his eyes and summoning more pillows from the next bed. He poked and prodded them into position behind Draco until they were perfect and then settled back down at the end of the bed, this time taking both feet into his lap. The way they were sticking out from the blankets suggested Madam Pomfrey had left them uncovered for observation.

 

He watched as Harry, without seemingly aware, started to rub the tops of his feet with his thumbs. It was weird how different it felt to him. One foot, the feeling was distant and soft, almost the ghost of a touch but the other was warm, the pressure soft but sure, sending tendrils of heat radiating warmth through his whole body.

 

If Harry hadn’t continued talking, explaining about Fleur dismantling the blood curse and the subsequent request for a Ministry investigation, Draco might have drifted right back off to sleep. Which would have been a pity because he would have missed the look on Weasley’s face when he noticed his best friend absently stroking his bare feet.

 

Harry didn’t notice the look on Weasley’s face, but Hermione did, just in time to whack her boyfriend for a second time before he could do something stupid like call attention to Harry’s actions.

 

‘It wasn’t left by Death Eaters during the war,’ Draco murmured, Harry’s explanation of Fleur’s spellwork making that clear to Draco.

 

‘No,’ Harry confirmed. ‘Someone laid it down during the rebuild.’

 

‘Over the summer?’ Draco asked because at least over the summer was a better possibility. There had been plenty of people traipsing in and out of the castle then. It would have been easy for someone to slip in and set their own curse down. If it had been done later, during the new term, it limited the possibilities drastically and not in a good way.

 

The people still working on the castle now were all Ministry employed or contracted and had been through vigorous checks before they’d been allowed to continue working with students around. They might have been house elves with how little Draco had seen of the final restoration team. Actually, there was a good chance some of them were house elves. An old wizarding building like Hogwarts was bound to have certain levels of sentient magic only an elf bound to work within her would understand.

 

‘Over the summer,’ Harry confirmed.

 

‘Good.’

 

‘How is that good?’ Weasley demanded, attention drawn away from Draco’s feet and his best friend’s hands – which were working a magic of their own, though Draco wasn’t about to voice that out loud. ‘There were a hundred people in and out of the castle over the summer – McGonagall mentioned it to Bill.’

 

‘It won’t be easy locating the witch or wizard responsible,’ Hermione pointed out, needlessly.

 

‘There aren’t that many people who could work that kind of curse,’ Draco explained. ‘Better it be someone from the summer, someone that might have had only the one opportunity to sneak in and lay a single curse than the restorataion team set up by the Ministry who is here every day with access to the whole castle.’

 

‘Oh.’ A beat later Weasley muttered, ‘Bloody hell. Yeah, right, okay, I can see why you’re glad it happened over the summer.’

 

‘We wouldn’t be able to run classes at all,’ Hermione realised with horror.

 

Draco snorted in amusement. ‘I’m surprised they’re running them now.’

 

‘Bill called in a team from the Ministry overnight,’ Harry explained. ‘They cleared set pathways between classrooms and highly frequented places like the library and the Great Hall. McGonagall has the prefects escorting the younger years to and from their classes – it’s like being back in second year with the basilisk on the loose.’

 

This time Draco wrinkled his nose, ‘Well better that than cursing your entire family for six generations to always die slowly and painfully once they reach the delightful age of seventeen.’

 

Hermione and Weasley both flinch at that, it being news to them. Harry didn’t look surprised at all which was all the confirmation Draco needed that he was right about the type of curse he’d been looking at.

 

Probably not the time to say, ‘I’m going to make an excellent curse breaker,’ but he said it anyway, tone smug.

 

Harry laughed but it was Hermione who said, ‘That was very impressive work last night. I didn’t even see the shield you were holding in place.’

 

Harry stopped laughing, face immediately dropping into a dark frown. ‘You could have died.’

 

Draco waved his hand dismissively, ignoring Hermione’s startled gasp. ‘It was fine.’

 

‘It wasn’t,’ Harry disagreed. ‘You should have let me take it over.’

 

‘You don’t have the attention to detail needed to hold that kind of spell.’

 

‘Draco,’ Harry said slowly, squeezing his good foot just so that the emphasis got through to him, ‘you could have used me.’

 

You could have used my magic, was what he didn’t say, and Draco realised, rather stupidly, that the thought had never occurred to him. He and Harry didn’t need to be touching to draw on each other, they just sort of hovered at the edge of each other’s awareness, always there, always waiting for the connection to be pulled or pushed in a certain direction. It had never occurred to him to draw on that magic and even if it had of occurred to Harry, Draco still would have needed to shape the magic Harry pushed his way.

 

But he’d been in too much pain to realise the connection – the help – was even there.

 

‘I didn’t think of that,’ he admitted.

 

Harry shook his head ruefully. ‘We can work on it.’

 

He nodded his head because that did seem like a good idea. What did not seem like a good idea was ignoring the potion Madam Pomfrey bustled out of her office to give him once she noticed he was awake. It tasted like piss and knocked him back into sleep before he’d even had time to complain about the taste.

 

At least when he next woke up he was looking at Harry and not Weasley.

Chapter Text

McGonagall looked tired in a way she hadn’t since the war ended. Draco wouldn’t be telling her that, of course, but he made the observation in a quiet whisper to Harry who gave her a quick (not at all subtle) look and nodded his agreement. It wasn’t just McGonagall though, all the teachers seated at the long table behind her were looking tired and a touch defeated. The war was supposed to be over, their expressions said. He could read it in the tightness of shoulders, the sagging smiles, the way they’d each hoped the terror of Voldemort had been placed firmly behind them.

 

At 7am on a Saturday morning the Great Hall should be quiet, the only people up so early the unfortunate quidditch team who drew the early morning training slot or some of the OWL and NEWT students already beginning to stress. Instead, every prefect, all the eighth years and teachers were gathered together. The restoration team had joined them, and Draco was unsurprised to find he recognised none of them. There were a dozen house-elves as well.

 

The students would be served breakfast in their common rooms for the weekend while Hogwarts was to be swept for any lingering curses, any newly laid traps. It would be long and tedious work and if not for the fact the building being swept was Hogwarts herself, Draco would have been delighted by the opportunity to do some real proper curse breaking.

 

Arrayed to the side of the Great Hall were six curse breakers the Ministry had sent out. Standing with them, both Bill and Fleur looked sombre but up for the challenge. As though he’d felt his assessing gaze, Bill glanced over at him. He said something to one of the curse breakers – Mustafa, Draco knew him by reputation more than he did from seeing him at the sites the Ministry dragged him to – and the gruff looking man with the thick beard pinned Draco with a sharp and assessing look.

 

Draco didn’t flinch away, merely nodding his head in acknowledgement before he turned his attention back to McGonagall who was waiting for the last of the prefects to arrive with Filch before she started this meeting.

 

‘Malfoy,’ the call was sharp and commanding and Draco turned to look back at the huddle of curse breakers to find Mustafa’s eyes firmly on him still. ‘With us,’ he commanded.

 

Startled, though pleasantly surprised, Draco rose from his position at the end of the Slytherin table and moved to join them just as Althea Jordan hurried into the Great Hall with Filch limping along in her wake. Draco met the eyes of the Ministry curse breakers and was once again pleasantly surprised by what he saw. None of them were giving him dark looks of suspicion, there wasn’t the usual murmured undercurrent of distrust, the not-at-all subtle suggestion he’d been released from prison too soon. In fact, it was quite the opposite, he saw respect in those eyes, a welcome he’d hardly have expected from people who didn’t know him any way other than through his reputation as a Death Eater, his name splashed across headlines and whispered about in Ministry corridors.

 

‘That was impressive work you did on Thursday,’ Mustafa informed him. ‘That was a nasty blood curse and not one person was hit with it.’

 

Taken aback by the praise, Draco couldn’t have held back the (small) proud smile if he’d tried, not that he wanted to try. ‘Thank you, sir.’

 

Mustafa nodded. ‘You’ll be coordinating with us today.’

 

‘Of course, sir.’

 

Mustafa gave him another nod and turned his attention to McGonagall as she began to speak. Draco glanced at Bill and Fleur and was amused when they both winked at him. He rolled his eyes, but he knew his lips had curved into a smirk when he glanced back toward the Slytherin table to find Harry grinning at him with a stupidly proud look on his face. Luna was pressed against his side giving Draco a look that suggested pride, fondness and oddly enough (though it was Luna) a sense of exasperation that it had taken people so long to see Draco’s worth.

 

Just in case he was starting to feel like the day might not be so bad if everyone was treating him with decency, Ginny caught his eye and flipped him off. He narrowed his eyes at her and mouthed, ‘Why are you even here?’

 

Ginny gave him a look, shot another at Harry and Luna seated at the Slytherin table before pointedly casting her eyes to Ron sat with her at the Gryffindor table and then back in his direction to Bill and Fleur stood beside him. When her eyes flicked back to Draco, she raised her eyebrow as though to say, ‘You’re all here, where the fuck else would I be?’

 

And that was probably fair. Luna hadn’t been called to attend this meeting either but when he and Harry had emerged from their bathroom just thirty minutes before, Luna had been curled up on their couch munching on some toast and announced she planned to help. McGonagall had given her a disapproving look, but she hadn’t sent Luna (or Ginny) right back out again. They were both of age and perfectly capable of identifying and not springing a trap or setting off curses – more so than the fifth-year prefects in any case.

 

‘We’ll be sweeping the entire castle,’ McGonagall informed them. ‘There was a great deal of damage done during the war and not a part of this castle was left untouched by the destruction Voldemort and his Death Eaters left in their wake. Although there was a thorough sweep of the castle and grounds before reconstruction began, after Thursday’s attack on students it has become necessary that we sweep the castle again. We will search and assess every room, every corridor, the staircases and walls, furniture – everything must be cleared before we can resume full use of the castle.’

 

Given they didn’t actually use most of the castle, Draco raised his eyebrows, happening to catch McGonagall’s eye as she glanced over them all. She gave him a strange look he didn’t quite understand but her gaze had moved on before he could think much more on it and then she was laying out instructions.

 

Fifth and sixth-year prefects were to patrol the safe corridors and monitor their houses to make sure the students stayed inside their common room where it was safe. Seventh years would be paired up with a teacher – judging by the sharp look this seemed to include the uninvited Luna and Ginny – while the eighth years would pair up amongst themselves. A house-elf would be assigned to each pair to assist with the intrinsic magic of the castle while the curse breakers were to respond to anything they found, asses it and clear it.

 

‘Potter,’ McGonagall said when she was done splitting everyone off into pairs, ‘work with the curse breakers.’

 

‘Sure,’ Harry replied easily, there was no silly grin on his face, nothing smug about being chosen to work with the curse breakers. He, Draco knew, didn’t need to be smug. No one was about to question Harry’s training or his right to stand with the Ministry elite.

 

‘Right,’ McGonagall said, with a sharp jab of her wand.

 

Out of the air materialised a large sheet of parchment which she carefully manoeuvred until it was hanging from the wall behind the teacher’s table like a big ugly tapestry. On it was a map of Hogwarts. One more detailed than he’d have expected but one that didn’t have anything on the intricate spellwork of the Marauder’s Map. Another wave of her wand set some of the corridors and rooms on the map in a soft golden light – the rooms and pathways the Ministry curse breakers had already cleared. All the corridors and pathways the students needed to use every day. The library was bathed in gold, the Great Hall, all four of the house commons and the Hospital Wing. It was, looking at the map, only a tiny portion of the castle to have been declared safe but it was also a large portion of the areas the students used.

 

Draco considered that. Considered how few students Hogwarts really had – even before the war broke out and people were afraid to return, the castle was filled with empty classrooms and corridors gathering dust. Well as much dust as the house-elves would allow at any rate. He’d never understood that, never understood why so much of the castle stood empty when –

 

Draco’s whole body stiffened and his eyes flew to McGonagall taking new meaning from the look she’d given him earlier. She was deep in discussion with Ginny and Hagrid, tasking them with clearing the quidditch pitch and stands by the sound of it and, if she felt his gaze burning into her back, she didn’t acknowledge it.

 

Something to think about then. Something else to ask her about when he finally presented her with his finished proposal for the new wizarding primary school.

 

‘We’ll split the floors,’ Mustafa declared, watching McGonagall dispatch teams throughout the castle – though not before she checked that they had a firm grasp on the detection spells they would need. ‘Weasley, you’re used to working in dark tombs – you and the missus can take the dungeon to start. Sweep them, map them, and move on up to the ground floor.’

 

Bill snorted at the suggestion the Hogwarts dungeons were anything like the tombs he’d frequently explored during his time in Egypt, but he didn’t argue with the task, striding off with Fleur by his side, head bent as the pair worked over a strategy.

 

Katherine Delaney, a short witch, fresh from training, was paired up with a stooped and elderly black man who was missing an ear and had a massive scar slicing through the white scruffy beard on the left side of his face. Mustafa sent them up to sweep through the first and second floors while he said he and his partner, a tall, delightfully curvy Samoan woman who Draco honestly thought could take him down in a fight with her eyes closed (and who he found startlingly attractive – so did Harry judging by the way he glanced at her as he walked up to them, clocking her curves and the dangerous glint in her eye with considerable appreciation) were set to take the third and fourth.

 

‘You two are more familiar with the castle,’ Mustafa pointed out to Draco and Harry. ‘Start with the fifth and sixth floors. We won’t get it all done today. We’ll worry about the seventh floor and towers tomorrow.’

 

‘There hasn’t been much need to use the sixth or seventh floors,’ Harry observed. ‘I think the only ones who go up there are the Gryffindors.’

 

‘Good,’ Mustafa replied, Draco heard him address the final pair of curse breakers as he and Harry started out of the Hall. ‘Wen, Gareth, take the greenhouses, the grounds. Sweep all the courtyards and the external walls of the castle.’

 

‘Did you bring the Map?’ Draco asked.

 

‘Yeah, of course,’ Harry replied. ‘Not really sure how much help it’ll be though.’

 

Hermione and Weasley approached them as they were leaving the Great Hall. Hermione looked serious, her hair tamed back in a very practical ponytail and she was wearing a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes jumper which, given what he knew of George’s practical wear, seemed rather a good choice. Weasley looked serious and determined but he hadn’t made any clothing choices with curse breaking in mind.

 

Given both he and Harry had chosen to dress in the heavily warded and protected clothing they wore when out in the field, Draco wondered if Weasley would feel underdressed – assuming he even noticed. He might just think Harry was showing off some more of his new wardrobe in the black cargo pants, boots and leather jacket he was wearing. Similarly, Draco was wearing the jeans Harry had asked Molly to heavily spell and the boots and dragonhide jacket he was wearing were heavily layered in more than just the Ministry standard spells all curse breakers were required to place on their clothing.

 

‘Where’re they sending you?’ Weasley demanded.

 

Hermione rolled her eyes at his tone, but she looked just as interested to learn the answer. ‘McGonagall wants us to check all the staircases,’ she informed them.

 

Draco grimaced, that was going to be a long and tedious task. Especially given the way the stairs moved around.

 

‘We’re set to do the entire fifth and sixth floors,’ Harry answered.

 

‘That’s rough,’ Longbottom chimed in, coming up behind them with Hannah Abbot. He clapped a hand on Draco’s back in sympathy. ‘Hannah and I are doing the greenhouses.’

 

‘Of course, you are,’ Draco replied with an eye roll.

 

Longbottom grinned. ‘Don’t die,’ he offered cheerfully before he started off across the Entrance Hall.

 

‘Don’t get eaten by your precious plants!’ Draco shouted after them. ‘Hannah’s far too pretty to get chewed up by your overgrown weeds!’

 

Hannah offered him a wink over her shoulder while Longbottom looked somewhat torn between offense and amusement. When he turned back, he found Harry and Hermione watching him with amusement and Weasley a grimace.

 

‘You think Hannah Abbot is pretty?’ Weasley asked.

 

Draco raised his eyebrows. ‘Yes,’ he didn’t hesitate to respond to that.

 

‘But she’s…’ he trailed off when he realised Hermione was now glaring at him sharply.

 

‘She’s what?’ Hermione demanded hotly. ‘Blonde?’ She raised her brows. ‘Short?’ She gave Weasley a sharp look. ‘Or did you mean fat?’

 

Weasley paled beneath his freckles, the tips of his ears turned pink and he floundered for a moment before he hurried to say, ‘I mean she’s not exactly…’ he trailed off clearly aware there was no hope of recovering from this.

 

Especially when Harry and Draco were both looking at him and waiting for a response too. Draco thought Harry was just interested to see how his friend would rescue himself from the situation whereas Draco was pettily enjoying watching him crash and burn.

 

‘She’s very curvy,’ Weasley lamely attempted to recover.

 

His attempt at some form of diplomacy drew a snort of derision from Hermione. ‘Yes, Ron, they’re called boobs.’

 

‘That’s not – I didn’t mean,’ Weasley sputtered.

 

‘Mate,’ Harry said with a shake of his head, ‘shut it before she curses you.’

 

‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way Hannah looks,’ Hermione informed Ron hotly, shooting Harry a look for good measure.

 

Harry raised his hands in defence. ‘Hey,’ he said softly, ‘I’m agreeing with Draco here. Hannah’s great.’

 

‘She is great,’ Draco reiterated. ‘She’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet.’

 

‘When did you ever talk to Hannah Abbott?’ Weasley demanded.

 

At this, Draco had to roll his eyes. ‘Unlike you, Weasley, I used to talk to people outside of my own house.’

 

At this Harry gave him an incredulous look.

 

‘Yes, yes, I was a horrible person,’ Draco waved a hand dismissively. ‘That was mostly to Gryffindors, though,’ he conceded. ‘I had no problem with Hannah and the rest of the Hufflepuffs.’ He glared at Weasley. ‘She ispretty,’ he stressed. ‘Keep making comments like this and you’ll get in trouble.’

 

Weasley snorted. ‘What? Are you going to curse me, Malfoy?’

 

‘Definitely not,’ Draco assured him, that would hardly serve to make Weasley regret the way he was shaming a teenage girl. ‘I’ll talk to your mother.’

 

Draco swept past Weasley, pausing to plant a kiss on Hermione’s cheek and wish her luck stuck with her idiotic boyfriend all day. Harry strolled after him, chuckling at Weasley who was left sputtering in their wake.

 

‘Since when do you care what anyone thinks about Hannah?’ Harry asked, once they were safely away from Weasley and any other nosy ears.

 

Draco hesitated for a moment before he admitted, ‘I don’t. But she is terribly sweet, and I do think she’s pretty.’ He paused for another moment before he added quietly, ‘Last year I had to torture her for the Carrows.’

 

‘And she doesn’t wish you were dead?’ Harry sounded impressed rather than incredulous which was nice if a little bewildering. Mostly because Draco was just impressed by Hannah’s nature and not a little confused by it.

 

‘No,’ Draco answered softly. He still didn’t understand that either, but he would forever be grateful. ‘She wants to be a healer, but her Potions grade isn’t all that great. I used to help her – before the war. I think…I think she looks at me and tries to see the boy she knew before the war.’ He gave a Harry a wry look. ‘It really was mostly Gryffindors who hated Slytherins. At least at first.’

 

They continued up the stairs in silence, Draco not realising it was a thoughtful one until Harry spoke. ‘I know you joke about it – about my isolation – but I don’t think I ever realised how cut off I was from the rest of the school.’

 

Draco frowned over at him. Somewhat amused, he said, ‘No offense, Potter, but you were a very self-involved teenager.’

 

Harry tried to look offended, but he ended up laughing. ‘The fact you’re the one saying that – and meaning it – should be stranger than it is.’

 

Draco shrugged. ‘You had a lot going on,’ he conceded. ‘That doesn’t mean the fact you can’t even identify the four other prefects in your own house doesn’t baffle me.’ He gave a shudder. ‘I couldn’t forget any of them after the sexual education fiasco that came about in third year.’

 

Harry stopped dead. ‘The what?’

 

‘Would you stop getting distracted,’ Draco grumbled, grabbing Harry’s arm to start him up the next set of stairs. ‘Mary Avery was mid-breakdown when she gave her lecture on preventative charmwork – from what I remember Albert O’Keefe had just broken her heart and NEWTs were a real struggle for her. She wasn’t in the mood to give a proper educational speech about safe sex.’ Draco considered the terrifying hour-long lesson he and his classmates had been subjected to in one of the dungeon classrooms and felt his lips twitch with amusement. ‘Looking back, the whole thing is actually quite hilarious – though not nearly as fun as the year Daphne and I had to do it.’

 

‘I’m sorry – WHAT?’ Harry squeaked. ‘Draco what the fuck are you talking about?’

 

This actually had Draco turning around as he stepped off the stairs onto the fifth-floor landing. Looking at Harry he was confused to see genuine bafflement. ‘Didn’t you have to sit through the lecture on safe sex in third year?’

 

‘No!’

 

‘Who taught you the protective charms then?’ Draco wondered – not that Harry had had much need for them before him.

 

‘Ginny,’ Harry answered, flushing red which was an absolute delight for Draco to witness. Given how adventurous Harry could be when it came to sex, watching him get all flustered just talking about learning the basic protections was adorable.

 

Draco considered that with a tilt of his head before he conceded with a sly grin, ‘You know, I can see Ginny teaching you the lube spell.’

 

Harry actually rolled his eyes but he still seemed embarrassed when he said, ‘Fred taught me that one, summer before fourth year.’

 

An exchange which, judging by the way Harry was starting to squirm, had been mortifying. That still didn’t explain the other spells Harry knew – or anything Harry knew about gay sex for that matter. He’d been awkward and nervous but he’d understood the basic mechanics of it all. He couldn’t imagine Fred had gone over that before he’d died – how would he have known it was needed? He could absolutely imagine George sitting Harry down and making the process as humiliating as possible just because he could, but George hadn’t even known about their relationship until they’d visited him at the shop with –

 

‘Oh Merlin,’ Draco giggled – and it was a giggle because this was just hilarious. ‘Luna! Luna taught you all the proper spells!’

 

Harry attempted to shove him down the stairs.

 

Draco clutched onto his arms to prevent the half-hearted attempt and then slid his hands up Harry’s arms until they were cupping his jaw. He dropped teasing kisses on Harry’s lips in apology, soft quick touches that didn’t stop the curve of a grin tracing his mouth or still the laughter in his voice when he spoke against Harry’s lips. ‘Can I have the memory?’

 

Harry huffed a laugh of his own. ‘Not a chance.’

 

‘So unfair,’ Draco murmured but he pulled away from Harry, drew his wand and set his mind back on the task at hand.

 

Someone had pulled a rope across the corridor cutting off further passage onto the fifth floor. Before they crossed the barrier, Draco cast a series of spells to detect any protective charms that might have been placed on the rope. Hogwarts was full of curious and stupid teenagers. Harry had dragged him into enough dark corners and cosy alcoves to know that teenagers would ignore a rope for some healthy snogging.

 

Just as he’d expected there were subtle charms on the rope to push students away from the corridor. They weren’t strong enough to deter anyone who wanted to specifically walk down that corridor, but they were plenty strong enough to subtly guide horny teenagers away to safer places.

 

He and Harry stepped over the rope but didn’t go much further than that. ‘How do you want to do this?’ Draco asked.

 

‘Standard detection spells and follow it up with a painstaking walk through?’ he suggested.

 

Draco nodded. ‘Give me your hand. I think if I use you to boost the spell I can send it through the entire corridor.’

 

Harry offered up his hand without question and Draco easily laced their fingers together. He closed his eyes for a moment, tried to think about the connection he had with Harry. It didn’t suddenly flare into being, it didn’t suddenly make itself known as a pulsing entity tying them together. It was so much subtler than that. Even knowing it was there Draco could only feel the warm wash of it on the edge of his awareness. It wasn’t something he could point to and identify, it was just there, a part of him and a part of Harry all tied together.

 

He opened his eyes and looked at Harry thoughtfully. ‘Is it alarming that I feel certain we’re always using each other’s magic?’

 

Harry turned to look at him. ‘What?’

 

‘I thought if I reached out, I could pull on this connection between us,’ Draco explained. ‘I thought I could use some of your power as you suggested after the blood curse, but I think I’m always using your power. I think you’ve been using mine too.’ Draco held up their connected hands and studied them with wonder – if a little alarm.

 

‘I have no idea what that means,’ Harry informed him, with the kind of patience he’d had to develop listening to Draco explain things that he found fascinating and Harry very much did not.

 

Draco appreciated that Harry still tried to pay attention when he went on a rant about Potions or something he discovered in one of the books he’d rescued from Grimmauld Place. ‘Magically speaking, we aren’t two people anymore.’

 

Harry stared at him blankly.

 

Draco smiled winningly. ‘Probably a good thing you love me so much.’

 

Harry snorted. ‘Is this something we should be worried about?’

 

‘Oh definitely.’

 

‘Great.’ Harry waited a beat and then said, ‘We really need to talk to Bill about this.’

 

‘Yes,’ Draco agreed.

 

‘Probably Madam Pomfrey, too.’

 

‘She hasn’t seemed worried so far.’

 

‘She hasn’t looked before.’

 

Draco conceded the point. ‘McGonagall?’

 

‘Hermione?’

 

Draco wrinkled his nose. ‘You can answer those four thousand questions.’

 

Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Cast the detection charms, Malfoy.’

 

Draco started to pull his hand from Harry’s, but Harry tightened his grip. ‘Can I have my hand back?’

 

‘Do you need it?’

 

‘Well, no.’

 

‘Then no.’

 

Draco tried to look annoyed, but it came off looking pleased, so he gave up on that idea and drew his wand to cast the first of many (many) spells for the day. ‘Close your eyes, focus on our connection and tell me if you notice anything.’

 

Harry did as instructed but Draco still gave him a couple of extra seconds to focus. Harry may have received more training in occlumency when he started with the aurors, but he was still terrible at it. Draco didn’t know if it was something about having a piece of Voldemort lodged so firmly inside him or just the way Harry’s brain and magic worked but occlumency was a branch of magic Harry was never going to excel at. He had enough power and will to put behind the magic but none of the finer control needed to properly sink into himself and build up shields. The same skill was needed to locate the ties between them. Draco could find it now, easily sink into the depths of them and find the soft flow, but Harry would need more time.

 

If Draco were the sort of person likely to sit down and discuss the brain and learning with Hermione, the difficulties Harry had with certain concepts and the ways in which he learned would probably be an all-day conversation. He’d had it with Harry before, they’d talked over the trouble he had with certain subjects and his complete loathing for essay writing despite finding the subjects fascinating. What was fascinating now was how much easier Harry found certain things without the piece of Voldemort lodged in him. Mind magic was still a struggle, but Draco’s mother had remarked that he was a fast learner when he connected with a subject.

 

Harry had soaked in almost a year’s worth of auror training in just a handful of months, after all. It was something to consider when they were writing their proposal for McGonagall, the different ways people could learn –

 

‘What are you thinking about?’

 

‘You,’ Draco answered honestly. ‘Learning techniques. Have you ever wondered why there are so many empty classrooms in the castle?’ Draco didn’t look at Harry, instead, he cast the detection charm and watched the silver light pulse from his wand, spread wide until it was a massive shimmering wall that swept the width of the corridor. The light of the spell clung to the walls, washing over portraits and suits of armour as flowed down the length of the corridor, right to the very end.

 

‘I don’t think I ever really thought about it,’ Harry answered slowly, clearly wondering at the question. ‘I can feel that,’ he added. ‘It doesn’t feel any different to when I use my own magic.’

 

They both watched the spell do its work. ‘Do you remember how many families were camped at the quidditch world cup?’ Draco found himself asking. ‘Suit of armour has a lust spell attached to it.’

 

‘Muffling charm in the alcove,’ Harry noted. ‘Yeah, it was the first time I ever really thought about magical children, why?’

 

‘There were eight Gryffindors in our year, nine Slytherins,’ Draco watched amused as Harry tried to think of who those nine could be. ‘About the same in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.’ He frowned. ‘Does that look like a gentle compulsion charm to you?’

 

‘Some of those are more than gentle. Are they on all the portraits?’ Harry frowned down the length of the corridor, gaze following where Draco’s had been just moments before, tracing the path of the portraits along the walls. Each of them was pulsing with a soft pink glow that was indeed, after a second glance, a compulsion charm.

 

‘All of them,’ Draco confirmed. ‘I really hope this isn’t what I think it is.’

 

Draco’s initial detection charm faded as it reached the end of the corridor and he and Harry started cautiously forward, Harry dropping Draco’s hand finally so they could give the spells revealed their full attention. They both paused in front of the first portrait, a cheery looking nursemaid with a toddler on her knee. Her smile looked strangely brittle as Draco cast a fresh detection spell over her.

 

‘The compulsion charm is old – twenty years, perhaps?’ Draco studied what he was seeing, cast another spell, his frown deepening. ‘There are other spells here too.’ He turned away from the portrait and looked at the other paintings. ‘Why aren’t any of them speaking? None of them look empty either.’

 

Draco turned back around, his stomach twisting. Harry reached out and lay a hand on the portrait’s frame. Draco watched him send a pulse of magic into it, not much but enough that it tore through the spells on the frame. ‘Hello,’ he said softly. ‘Who’re you?’

 

The nursemaid seemed startled but rather than reply, she stuck her arm out of frame and seemed surprised when it left the confines of her portrait. She promptly burst into tears.

 

‘Fuck,’ Harry breathed.

 

Draco didn’t blame him. ‘We’ll need to report this.’

 

‘This is sick,’ Harry muttered. ‘Twenty years? How the hell has no one noticed? How have we not noticed?’

 

‘When was the last time you came up here?’

 

Harry shrugged. ‘Fifth year, maybe?’ Harry studied the corridor. ‘There haven’t been any classes held up here in the entire time we’ve been at Hogwarts.’

 

‘There’s no need,’ Draco murmured. ‘Hogwarts has fourteen subjects at the most – and that’s when they run Alchemy which they haven’t done in years.’

 

Harry nodded. ‘Yeah, okay, and most of those are held on the first couple of floors. Not much foot traffic to notice someone turned this corridor into a fucking sex trap.’

 

Draco moved further down the corridor until he reached the suit of armour. ‘It’s dead,’ he announced, before reaching up and tracing his hands softly down the gauntlet. He felt it, the soft heat that threatened to drive attraction he already felt into overdrive. If he didn’t know what he was looking at, if he hadn’t cast the spells first, he might just have thought he was in the mood for some healthy snogging with Harry now that they were in a quiet corridor and away from prying eyes.

 

It wouldn’t be the first time. He dearly hoped it was the first time the idea had been brought about by a suit of armour charmed to incite lust.

 

He snatched his hand away. Harry caught it and brought it to his chest with both hands. ‘I love you,’ he said, firmly. ‘I’d snog you in any alcove in this castle and all the broom closets. Don’t let yourself think about this. You’re shields are too good to get caught up in this kind of magic.’

 

‘What a pretty lie.’

 

Harry smiled tenderly, reaching past Draco to tough the gauntlet, right where Draco had been moments before. ‘This feeling? You make me feel more than that just sitting next to me in class taking notes. This spell could not make you do anything you didn’t want to do.’

 

‘You’re right,’ Draco agreed. ‘But most of the students here, it could make them do plenty.’ Draco shook his head. ‘Report it to McGonagall, the other students will need to know what to look for. The curse breakers and teachers should be experienced enough to spot it, but they should know too, just in case.’ He turned back to the suit of armour and cast a quick and simple spell, breaking the enchantment and noticing as he did so that it had been refreshed in the last year.

 

‘We’ll need a house elf to repair the armour,’ Harry realised and sent off another patronus, this one to the kitchens. ‘Are there more subjects that could be taught?’ Harry asked as he started to work his way along the portraits on one side of the corridor while Draco took the other.

 

‘I imagine so.’ Draco considered it, thought about the culture class that had been stopped when Grindelwald was vying for power and then he thought about all the other things he wanted to learn. ‘Hannah would have liked a pre-Healer program.’

 

‘Ginny would like something more active to help with her quidditch,’ Harry pointed out.

 

‘Do you mean to tell me, those half a dozen flying lessons in first year weren’t enough?’ Draco teased.

 

Harry grinned. Then he sobered, looking darkly down the corridor at the alcove just beyond the suit of armour. ‘Proper sex ed.’

 

‘I’m not sure that would have helped,’ Draco admitted. ‘A focus on mind magic, might have.’

 

‘A fucking mind healer on staff, too.’

 

‘I think I’ll see if Pansy and Blaise want to donate to Hogwarts,’ Draco murmured.

 

‘Turn educational reform into a proper Slytherin endeavour?’ teased Harry.

 

‘Yes,’ Draco replied smartly. ‘There’ll be a lot of fucking conditions attached to any money they donate, though.’

 

The soft sound of paws racing toward them had them both falling silent and turning to face the stairs just as a large cat loped onto the landing and shifted to become a slightly out of breath McGonagall. Clutching at an apparent stitch in her side McGonagall strode toward them, lips pursed, eyes ablaze with fury.

 

‘Show me.’

 

Draco had never seen McGonagall so furious, he suspected even Harry had never managed to garner this level of fury from the woman. They walked her through what they’d discovered and then set about freeing the rest of the portraits while she slowly made her way along the corridor speaking with each of the portrait’s occupants until the picture she’d gathered had her almost shaking in her rage.

 

‘Never,’ she snarled. ‘Never, in all my time at Hogwarts…’ her anger had her trailing off, struggling to find the words she was looking for because this had been happening in her time at Hogwarts and Draco could see how hard she struggled with that knowledge. ‘Get rid of this spell,’ she ordered, rather unnecessarily. ‘I want this floor thoroughly cleared of any spell work that is not of the castle, I want everything that is not of the castle cleared,’ her words were an angry hiss as she lunged forward, falling gracefully to the floor in cat form. She shot them both a final sharp look before she sprinted away.

 

Minutes later McGonagall’s fury was palpable as her magically enhanced voice boomed throughout the castle, calling back all of the teams spread throughout the castle and the grounds.

 

‘We’re going to be sleeping in shifts tonight,’ Harry observed, not bothering to heed McGonagall’s demands given they were fully aware of what she was about to pass on to the other teams.

 

‘I don’t know that any of us will be sleeping tonight.’

 

Harry sighed, looking around at his beloved castle as though mourning what it had once been. ‘Probably not.’

 

Hogwarts was over a thousand years old. She had magic of her own that was woven carefully and lovingly into her very walls and floors and they found evidence of that everywhere they went on the fifth floor. Several times, Draco got distracted by the spellwork, Harry another couple. It took them hours to carefully sweep through the corridors and classrooms of the fifth floor, marking spells and enchantments they would need to come back to undo. They didn’t find any more lust spells, thank Merlin, but they did find a boggart lurking in a dusty cabinet in what, judging by the motif painted on the walls, had once been an astronomy classroom.

 

Draco found the tattered remnants of a spell on the ceiling similar to the one in the Great Hall but on a much smaller scale. ‘I think they used to teach Astronomy in here during the day,’ he murmured. ‘I wonder why they don’t anymore?’

 

Harry looked up at the ceiling and around at the large open classroom which was empty of chairs and desks but contained a stack of mouldy cushions in one corner. ‘This reminds me of Firenze’s Divination classroom.’

 

Draco, who had been smart enough not to waste his time in a stuffy tower with the barmy seer, had never had cause to set foot in the centaur’s ground floor classroom. ‘Better than forcing eleven-year-olds to stay up until past one just to learn the constellations.’

 

Harry looked around again, viewing the room with new – sad – eyes. ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever realised this, Draco Malfoy – pureblood that you are – but magic is fucking ridiculous sometimes.’

 

Draco nodded, amused. ‘I’m aware.’

 

‘Our kids are never going to know this Hogwarts,’ Harry went on, still sounding sad but now there was an edge of determination to his words.

 

‘I hope they’ll know a Hogwarts that’s never been tainted by war.’

 

The shake and lurch of the cabinet in the corner drew them away from their thoughts and for a long moment they both stood before the cabinet watching it quiver and not really knowing what to do. Draco hadn’t faced a boggart since sixth year when he’d come across one in the Room of Hidden Things. That one had turned into a series of corpses until he’d been forced to watch all of his loved ones die. He didn’t know what it would be now, not since he’d faced most of his fears head on.

 

He didn’t want to know.

 

Would Harry’s still be a dementor? Draco glanced at him and saw that Harry wasn’t any more eager to find out than Draco was. ‘Did Luna give you her boggart speech?’ he asked Harry.

 

‘Yep.’

 

‘Did you believe her?’

 

‘Nope.’

 

‘Want to try it anyway?’

 

‘Yes, yes I do.’

 

There was a beat and neither of them moved. Draco gave Harry a look. Harry stared back at him, unmoved. Draco raised a brow. Harry narrowed his eyes. Draco tilted his head and Harry smiled.

 

It was the smile that got him. Draco rolled his eyes. ‘Ugh. Fine.’ He slid his wand back into the holster on his thigh, made sure with a glance that Harry had his wand out (just in case) and then he moved toward the cabinet with slow cautious steps.

 

The closer he got to the cabinet the faster the rattling until the cabinet fairly vibrated. Draco reached out a hand, hesitated and then reached that little bit further until he could press his palm flat against the cabinet door.

 

Then he started to hum.

 

He hadn’t thought about the song in years, but recently, the more time he spent with Teddy, the more he found himself humming the tune. It was a lullaby, something soft and old his mother used to sing to him of a night before bed. In French. He’d long forgotten most of the words, but he still faithfully remembered the tune and so, feeling like a complete idiot, he stood there, hand on a cabinet full of boggart and he hummed.

 

Ten minutes later, exiting the classroom he and Harry were quiet, their footsteps awkward.

 

‘We shall never speak of this,’ Draco said.

 

‘Right,’ Harry agreed. He grunted and his hands shifted as he tried to keep a grip on the cabinet between them.

 

‘I can’t believe that fucking worked.’

 

‘I know.’

 

‘We probably should tell McGonagall.’

 

‘Yeah.’

 

They both sniggered and the cabinet gave a frightened rattle.

 

‘Do you ever get the feeling Luna is the scariest person we know?’

 

‘Salazar, yes.’

 

They called Kreacher to come and get the cabinet and after ordering him to take the cabinet out into the Forbidden Forest and release the boggart, they turned their attention to the next classroom. And the one after that, and the one after that. Hours and hours of tedious combing through classrooms and corridors, alcoves, and hidden rooms. They passed Hermione and Weasley at one point who were climbing a rarely used spiral staircase painstakingly sweeping every stone step for spells and jinxes and frequently came across the house elf who was restoring the castle’s connection to the armour, statues and portraits they’d already cleared of spells.

 

Harry’s prediction about sleeping in shifts proved true. No one complained.

Chapter Text

‘Draco, here, look at this and cross off all the texts you’ve already checked.’ Hermione shoved a roll of parchment under his nose, coming dangerously close to smudging the fresh ink of his Potions essay.

‘Watch it,’ he hissed.

‘Sorry,’ she offered, not sounding sorry at all.

Draco glared at her and she took that as invitation to take the empty seat across from him. She stared back at him until curiosity got the better of him and he picked up the roll of parchment and started on the (extensive) list she’d created.

‘Just this one,’ he told her, after checking over the list twice. ‘I’ve read all the rest.’ No need to explain he’d read most of them long before he’d needed answers to this particular bond. He spun the parchment around and pointed to a text two thirds of the way down the list. ‘I don’t even know what this says. Is it Gobbledegook?’

Hermione’s expression, which Draco thought might have fallen in the face of his thorough research, instead twisted into something that looked satisfied. She nodded. ‘It’s one Bill sent me. He had the appropriate passages translated.’

Hermione, as he’d suspected she would, found his bond with Harry fascinating. Draco, as expected, found her enthusiasm irritating. But he’d found McGonagall’s astonished look amusing and Bill’s gobsmacked expression somewhat delightful. Madam Pomfrey had only sighed after he and Harry had explained it all and promptly run a series of diagnostics on his and Harry’s magic while Bill and Hermione were still firing questions at them. The fact Madam Pomfrey could find nothing wrong with either of them and no real evidence of such a bond had only spurned Hermione’s fascination and had Bill calling on Fleur because he thought her understanding of blood magic might help.

For twenty glorious minutes, this pronouncement about Fleur’s speciality – which seemed to have passed Hermione by when Draco had almost gotten blown up – distracted Hermione and served to allay some of her fears about Draco’s use of blood magic.

Only some, of course, because Fleur studied it from a curse breaker’s perspective and wasn’t likely to do something as crazy as paint runes on her husband’s neck.

‘It was one time!’ Harry had protested, deeply exasperated with Hermione’s stubborn refusal to let it go. ‘I’m fine!’

‘You have blood runes permanently spelled into your skin!’ Hermione had hissed back.

‘Well, they haven’t killed me yet,’ Harry had pointed out but then Draco had been forced to demonstrate how the blood runes could be made to rise to the surface of Harry’s skin and he took some pleasure in making everyone uncomfortable by licking the side of Harry’s neck right there in McGonagall’s office.

Well, everyone but Fleur. She’d given Draco an approving look he didn’t know what to do with.

Which was all well and good but three weeks later, Hermione was like a dog with a bone, constantly accosting him in the hall or bursting into his and Harry’s room with questions and new tests she wanted to run, and Draco was absolutely sick of it. He respected the academic pride Hermione took in her work, he honestly didn’t think there was anyone with more tenacity who would tear the library (and any other source she could find and make use of) apart looking for answers (and probably succeed) but the heavy study of his bond with Harry was taking something Luna had made sound beautiful and turning it into a dry clinical experiment that was doing his head in. His bond with Harry just was and after having it confirmed by Pomfrey that it wasn’t doing either he or Harry harm, Draco was inclined to just enjoy it.

It was quite the opposite of harm, Madam Pomfrey in fact discovered, after dragging them both back in for some more tests. After she’d left McGonagall’s office, Pomfrey had gone off and done as much research into spells that identified magical bonds as she could and whatever those news spells had told her they’d left her well satisfied neither he nor Harry were about to drop dead. In fact, she’d used words like “thriving” and “restorative” – in one memorable yet alarming moment she’d gotten misty eyed and called it “beautiful”.

Madam Pomfrey, satisfied neither of them were about to fall over dead or lose their magic, let it go. McGonagall had pursed her lips, raised her eyes to the ceiling and seemed to be wondering what on earth it was she had done to have deserved the two of them. She trusted Madam Pomfrey’s judgement, though, and she trusted Bill’s. Bill seemed to find the bond more of a stubborn puzzle to be solved than a fascination as Hermione did. Bill was intrigued but he was working under the assumption that nobody was dropping dead and, given Pomfrey’s use of the words “thriving” and “healing”, Bill didn’t seem to think it was anything more than a curious connection between Draco and Harry.

Draco didn’t know that his own fascination with the bonds creation and its limits could withstand Hermione’s deep scrutiny, however. He loved Harry. He was bonded to Harry by soul and magic and the pureblood he’d been raised to be accepted the magic without needing to analyse it to death. Raw magic, which was what he was beginning to suspect had brought this bond about, wasn’t easily studied or quantified and while he could accept that, while Harry could accept that, Hermione was taking a very muggle scientific approach to something that wasn’t scientific at all.

Briefly, he toyed with the idea of bringing that up, of making this into a muggle versus magical debate just for a change of pace but the idea didn’t last long. He enjoyed being friendly with Hermione, actually enjoyed talking with her about their homework and he didn’t want to jeopardise the burgeoning friendship between them just because he was currently annoyed with her choice of research focus.

If he was lucky, Bill would come up with the answers they needed and Hermione could finally turn her attention back to something worth breaking apart into quantifiable pieces. Like the Arithmancy homework that was currently causing him a tiny bit of consternation. Tiny. Hardly worth mentioning unless Hermione brought it up first and happened to know exactly how he was supposed to be getting from this one step to the next because his numbers weren’t quite adding up. It was why he’d been finishing off his Potions essay even though it wasn’t due for another week. That he knew he’d gotten as close to perfect as it was possible to get.

‘According to Bill, the goblins don’t even question your bond with Harry,’ Hermione said.

Draco tried to think of a response that didn’t just draw back to his point about wild and raw magic and how easily he accepted its nature because he was a pureblood. He was saved having to do so by Astoria who slid into the chair at the end of the table, thumping her book to make her presence known. He thought she might have done that with a bit more force than strictly necessary but the scowl on her face gave Draco some clue as to her mood.

Need homework help.

In the time Astoria had been back at Hogwarts, there’d been a pleasant upswing in the number of students interested in learning to sign. Draco had, of course, taken Luna up on her offer of private lessons – Harry had too – but that didn’t mean he could always keep up with her rapid hand movements. Hermione, who was fascinated at the addition of a language club, hadn’t joined citing too much work to be done.

Draco had raised his eyebrows at that, but Harry had elbowed him in the side before he could point out that both he and Harry had far less room in their schedules but were still managing the added commitment. Although, their lessons were sporadic and usually impromptu, most of the time they were more a result of the growing friendship between Astoria and Luna.

‘With what?’ he asked, trying not to make his relief at the distraction obvious.

He didn’t quite succeed judging by Hermione’s tetchy noise and rolled eyes.

Charms.

‘Essay or non-verbal spellwork?’ Draco inquired.

Astoria gave him a frustrated look and her fingers sharply signed out an answer. Her frustration was bleeding through her signs, in the way she jerked her hands and fingers rather than the smooth fluidity she normally demonstrated.

Spellwork. Could write essay in sleep.

Draco had no doubt of that. Where Astoria struggled these days was in proving the focus and concentration required to perform the trickier spells non-verbally. It was lucky, in a way, that she was attempting to begin non-verbal casting in her sixth year when it was introduced to the curriculum. What wasn’t so lucky was that she had to learn to cast every spell she’d learnt up until this point non-verbally. She was tough and certainly motivated to learn but it was frustrating her to struggle with spells she’d once found easy.

But getting frustrated and croaking out a verbal spell didn’t work for her. The damage to her throat was too severe, often forcing cracks and breaks into words she didn’t intend and with spellwork that was a serious problem. Draco, like most students, had never forgotten Flitwick’s first year lecture about the buffalo.

Astoria knew Draco had never had a problem with non-verbal spells. Most of Slytherin had known, certainly there’d been plenty of Death Eaters who had learned of his talent through his aunt’s crowing. It was an unexpected, though useful, side effect of being taught occlumency by Bellatrix Lestrange, something she took pride in claiming as her own teaching skills – and the pure blood they shared. Although he hated being grateful to his psychotic aunt, she had cared for him in her own twisted way and she’d taught him a few valuable skills. More than a few, if he were being honest, but not a lot that he wanted to ever have cause to use again.

Not that Hermione or Astoria needed to know any of that. It was bad enough he’d told Harry some of the stories, bad enough that Harry had witnessed some of them through his connection with Voldemort. Bad enough Draco had to remember some of those moments and couldn’t just have a Ministry Obliviator erase them.

He’d thought about it.

But who would he be without those horrible experiences? Who would Astoria be without everything she’d experienced?

‘Which spell?’ he asked, giving Astoria his full attention and pointedly not giving any to Hermione.

This did not deter the Gryffindor at all, she just sat quietly and listened as he gave Astoria advice on visualisation for her spellwork and helped correct her wand movements where needed. By the time they were done, Astoria was flushed pink and a little sweaty, but she had the spell down and was more than happy to leave him alone at the table with Hermione in favour of seeking out her bed and a nap.

‘You’re really very good at that,’ Hermione observed.

‘Good at what?’ Draco asked, glancing at her distractedly. Working with Astoria had taken up more time than he would have liked and now he was running late to meet with Harry and Luna for dinner. Such a shame he’d run out of time to drag out his Arithmancy homework. Not that the two of them wouldn’t understand, but he’d skipped lunch in favour of completing his Ancient Runes homework (he’d eaten a sandwich tucked away in the library to avoid Madam Pomfrey’s wrath and Pince’s should she have found him), he wasn’t about to skip out on dinner too, especially when they were heading out of the castle for once, rather than hiding away in the kitchens or taking up a corner of the Slytherin or Ravenclaw tables.

‘Teaching,’ Hermione answered. ‘Non-verbal spells, specifically.’

Draco’s teaching style involved doing the complete opposite of what his Aunt Bella had done and it seemed to be working out just fine. He did the same when he was tutoring students. He started patiently with the basics, made sure everyone had a firm grasp on them and then slowly showed why those skills were necessary and how they translated to Potions or Transfiguration – or in the case of Astoria, Charms. Essentially, he did the complete opposite of how Snape had taught them too, it seemed to be working out alright. No one had complained yet and they all seemed to be picking things up relatively quickly.

Luna, who had picked up a few third-year students who wanted help with Care of Magical Creatures, seemed to be using the same tactic. Whatever Hagrid did, Luna did somewhat the opposite. She’d taken to supplementing their lessons with her own knowledge and a good healthy reviewing of the textbook (the one that had been assigned before the Monster Book of Monsters and which could be found in the library) so as to prepare the students for their OWLs and NEWTs. No one had failed yet, so they were considering the tactic a win.

They were also deliberately not telling Harry. About Hagrid. Draco knew Harry took secret delight in knowing that Draco’s successful teaching methods were completely different to Snapes. The fact they were more aligned with Slughorn’s was something Draco didn’t like to think about. He chose to believe he’d taken everything he’d ever learned and noticed about McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout and combined those methods as effectively as an untrained teenager could.

‘It may have escaped your notice, all these years, but I am an excellent student.’

‘It didn’t escape my notice,’ Hermione answered with a roll of her eyes. ‘It certainly didn’t escape Harry’s,’ this she added with a touch of amusement.

Hermione may not understand his relationship with Harry, why Harry would want anything to do with him or even why he’d been able to forgive Draco all his past sins, but she understood that she didn’t need to understand it to know that they were good for each other. Draco also thought she was looking back on their time at Hogwarts in a new light and finding certain interactions suddenly questionable and most definitely full of subtext.

Draco had yet to point out he wasn’t sure subtext had really been his thing. He wasn’t especially subtle. There were plenty of people who had always known he’d fuck Harry Potter if he could. There were just less who knew of the times when he wanted more than a quick and dirty fuck. Well until now, obviously.

According to Pansy, Blaise had spent a good five minutes laughing hysterically when she told him (via international floo) about his relationship with Harry. Daphne, by all accounts, had gotten a good giggle out of it and honestly, Draco didn’t mind that his old housemates were finding amusement in his relationship. It had given Pansy a reason to reach out to them and for that, Draco was more than happy to be the butt of a few jokes. He didn’t like thinking she was isolating herself in the muggle world. Oh, he knew she was friendly with the people she worked with and that she’d struck up some sort of friendship with a woman at the kebab place around the corner, but he didn’t like thinking he was the only one she could talk to about magic.

Well, and Harry. That was a friendship he hadn’t seen coming but definitely supported. Much like Harry supported any friendly and positive interaction between him and Hermione. Which was why Draco hadn’t stood up and walked away now that Astoria was gone, and he was woefully aware he would soon be missing dinner. Not that he thought Harry and Luna would leave without him until they knew for sure he wasn’t coming to meet them. He actually suspected Harry would come looking for him shortly if he didn’t turn up and he contemplated sending a patronus, but he wanted to go out and eat and he did not want to be stuck in the library discussing his skills as a student or teacher with Hermione Granger.

She’d absolutely turn it around again until they were talking about his bond and he was having none of that.

She surprised him by saying, ‘Being a good student doesn’t necessarily mean you’d make a good teacher.’ She studied him thoughtfully. ‘Is that what you want to do? Teach?’

‘Sweet Salazar, no,’ Draco answered quickly. ‘Absolutely not.’ He shuddered. ‘I couldn’t think of anything worse.’

This time Hermione was definitely amused, her lips twitching in a smile. ‘What are you planning on doing then? Curse breaking? I thought that was just something you did for the Ministry as part of your probation?’

Draco considered her question. She wasn’t the first person to ask him about his career options. Obviously, that had been Snape as his head of house back in fifth year – the answer then had been something purely academic and somewhat lazy as he’d been a rich coward back then. Hermione was the first person to ask him about the curse breaking without seeming to think he owed the Ministry his time.

Harry had never bothered to ask. He’d listened to Draco wax poetic about a curse he’d come across in a book from the Manor library and after he’d lost the will to do anything more than gaze at Draco with a glazed (though adoring) expression, there’d really been no question Draco found the subject fascinating. It was unexpectedly thoughtful of Hermione to ask. Which was probably why he gave her a straight and honest answer promptly, rather than being vague and fluttering a dismissive hand.

‘I adore curse breaking,’ Draco told her, and he hoped he didn’t have that fervent look in his eyes that Harry usually took as a sign to get comfortable for the incoming lecture/ramble or as a good time to kiss that one spot on Draco’s neck that turned his legs liquid and distracted him right quick.

If Hermione noticed the look, she might actually enjoy the lecture and as much as Draco would probably get a kick out of it too – dinner.

‘I may not have realised it without the unfortunate need to fix the Vanishing Cabinet and all the trauma that ensued, but I do find it fascinating.’

At the mention of the Vanishing Cabinet Hermione’s expression became strained. Draco hadn’t mentioned it to drive her away, though he wasn’t opposed to taking advantage of the way her expression closed off and she stiffened in her seat.

He underestimated her. Because of course he did.

‘How did you even know that would work?’ she asked him. He could only assume it was the magic itself and his knowledge of the cabinets rather than the Death Eater aspect she was questioning. Which she confirmed when she added, ‘How did you even know they were there?’

‘I listen,’ Draco answered. ‘I observe.’ His stomach rumbled. ‘I am late to meet Harry and Luna for dinner.’

The fact his stomach rumbled loud enough for Hermione to hear in the quiet of the library gave him an excellent excuse to gather his things and make a quick exit before she could threaten to join him. It was why he urged Harry to turn around and hurried him back to the Entrance Hall when they met coming down the corridor. The last thing he needed was for Hermione to start asking Harry questions, they’d definitely never get to dinner. Or worse, she’d join them and then the entire evening would become about answering her questions rather than just spending time with Harry and Luna.

‘Why are we running away?’ Luna questioned when he and Harry joined her in the Entrance Hall and Draco started hustling her out the front doors as well.

‘Hermione cornered me about our bond again,’ explained Draco. ‘Somehow the conversation circled around to the Vanishing Cabinets and sixth year.’

‘What does that have to do with our bond?’ Harry wondered, shooting him an amused look when he breathed a sigh of relief as the castle doors closed behind them.

‘Nothing really, Astoria interrupted us – thank Merlin – and then somehow we were talking about my future career and whether I actually wanted to be a curse breaker which – why have you never asked me if it’s what I really want to do?’

Harry’s eyebrows shot up and rather than be offended he laughed. ‘Draco, you’ve turned down sex to study curses before – you love curse breaking.’

‘When have I ever turned down sex for curse breaking?’ he scoffed.

‘Multiple times, trust me,’ Harry assured him, sliding an arm around Draco’s waist to pull him snug against Harry’s side. ‘I could give you a list.’

In defence against the December chill, Luna snuggled up against Draco’s other side, wrapping her arms around his arm and pressing her cheek against his bicep and trapping Harry’s arm between them. ‘You do love curse breaking, Draco.’

‘Of course, I do.’

‘Then why are we having this bloody conversation?’ Harry queried.

Draco shrugged. ‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘It just struck me that Hermione was the first person to ask me if it’s what I really want to do and not just something the Ministry is forcing.’

Harry considered this but it was Luna who provided the answer. ‘I think that’s probably because she’s the only one who hasn’t been in a position to see you work – or watch you lecture Harry,’ she added, amused.

‘We crossed paths plenty of times when we were clearing the castle,’ Draco reminded them both. ‘She saw me work then.’

Remembering the weekend spent cleansing the castle wasn’t especially pleasant. They hadn’t been the only ones to turn up a creepy sex trap and there’d been plenty of other things turned up during the extensive sweep. Spells and enchantments that had been in place for decades – some had been around working softly for centuries. Not all of them were harmful but they were all additions to the castle that shouldn’t have been there and had been overlooked during the summer’s initial sweep. Some had been overlooked by the restoration team who had been tasked with repairing the castle as they were not strictly checking for unwanted additional enchantments.

They’d only turned up one more curse like the one Draco and his second years had triggered – Bill and Fleur had found that one in the dungeon. It had been another blood curse with a much sturdier trigger and even after careful study, neither of the curse breaking Weasleys had been able to identify just what was set to trigger it. It had the same magical signature though, so there was some comfort to be taken in the knowledge that just one witch or wizard had been responsible.

There was no comfort to be taken from having to completely cleanse the castle and the house elves could still be found coaxing castle magic back into certain places within the castle now that all the unnecessary spells and enchantments had been removed. Draco had never been especially attuned to the castle before, most of his magic seemed to focus on Malfoy and Black properties but Harry and Luna sensed the difference in the castle now that the centuries of interfering magic had been removed.

Apparently, the castle felt calmer, content. One of the oldest house elves had been overheard speaking with McGonagall about the feel of the castle being much as it was meant to when originally built.

‘What, even with the secret Slytherin chamber and a dirty great Basilisk?’ Weasley had muttered when Hermione had brought it up.

‘The castle didn’t even have plumbing a thousand years ago,’ Hermione had pointed out. ‘I think there’s probably a lot of things about the castle that have been changed over the centuries and I don’t think it was all harmless.’

It wasn’t something that had occurred to Draco, but he had noticed the general sense of the castle was lighter, more hopeful, in a way it hadn’t been even before the war. He hoped the investigation into the harmless charms and spells placed around the castle wouldn’t bring that sense down and darken it again. He suspected there was no avoiding the chill that would fall over the castle once the investigation into the harmful spells and enchantments had turned up what answers they could.

They’d reached the castle gates now and as they stepped through, they separated for apparation. Harry had the strength to take all three of them but not the skill to make their arrival as a group unnoticed in a muggle area.

‘Know where we’re going?’ Harry checked.

Draco and Luna nodded.

‘Right, meet you there.’ He turned on the spot and was gone with a soft pop.

Luna and Draco followed a moment later (Draco also with a soft pop, though Luna managed near silence), arriving in a surprisingly clean ally down the street from the takeaway Pansy had recommended. He debated for a moment going and seeing if she was home and wanted to join them but then he remembered she was working and wouldn’t be home until late. He’d make it up to her later.

Inside the shop was warm and smelled amazing, Draco took a quick look at the menu but had zero idea what he was looking at. ‘I’m going next door,’ Draco said, indicating the off licence. ‘Order whatever you think I’ll eat.’

‘I’m in the mood for wine,’ Luna informed him.

‘I can do that.’

And he could. It was strange, stepping back out onto the street and then inside the muggle off license knowing that he knew what he was looking for and even how to go about paying with the strange muggle money. And it was also strange to think that now that he knew how it all worked that he actually preferred muggle money. It was so much easier carrying around a few folded pieces of paper than a heavy bag of gold. You had to spell a bag of galleons not to ruin the line of an outfit, but you could jam a few “pounds” into the pocket of a pair of jeans and be done with it.

Wizards, Draco was coming to understand, were not at all a practical lot.

He spent longer than was strictly necessary browsing through the aisles and ended up buying more than the beer and bottle he’d gone in for but that just meant he didn’t have as long to wait, standing around with his stomach rumbling amidst all the good smells.

‘I don’t know what I’m eating but it tastes incredible,’ Harry moaned when they were sitting around digging into the containers of rich and spicy food.

Amused, Draco asked, ‘Didn’t you read the menu?’

‘Nope,’ Harry replied. ‘I told the guy behind the counter to choose something he thought I’d like.’

Even more amused now, Draco asked, ‘Harry did you flirt with the man at the counter to get us decent food?’

‘Not intentionally,’ Harry assured him, but he dug around in the plastic takeaway bag until he produced a receipt with what Draco eventually recognised as a telephone number written on it.

Luna giggled. ‘He’d already handed it over before you came back and he realised he didn’t have a chance.’

Draco grinned smugly.

‘Git,’ Harry said fondly, leaning closer to give Draco a kiss that was spicy and made Draco’s lips tingle. When he pulled back, he motioned around the room with his fork. ‘I still don’t get why we’re eating here.’

Draco looked around the empty conservatory, one of the many rooms that had only unsealed itself in Grimmauld Place when Draco stepped foot inside. It had mostly been full of dead plants and rotting furniture when Draco had first seen it but since then Kreacher had removed all the dead and rotting things and swept the place somewhat clean. Through the glass ceiling they had a spectacular view of the clear night sky. Draco assumed it was some sort of enchantment because he’d never known the sky to be so clear in London. Also, because the rest of the glass walls and windows were nothing close to sparkling clean.

‘We haven’t spent any time here in a while.’

‘Yes,’ Harry agreed. ‘That was intentional.’

‘Harry,’ Luna scolded, reaching out behind her to gently stroke the peeling atrocity of wallpaper on the internal wall. ‘He didn’t mean that,’ she crooned.

Harry looked to Draco for an explanation and then raised his eyebrows when he realised Draco was patting the floor beside him. ‘Old magical house,’ he explained. ‘Do you remember what this house looked like when the Order moved in?’ Not that Draco had seen it, but he could only assume it had been even worse than when Harry had first brought him to visit.

Harry’s mouth twisted into a grimace. ‘Yeah, it was a fucking mess.’

Draco pointed to himself. ‘Black heir.’ He motioned around to the house. ‘Black ancestral home.’ He made an exaggerated patting motion on the floor. ‘Lots and lots of family magic.’

Harry gave him a sour look. Draco grinned.

‘My house likes you better than me.’

‘Well, you did insult it, Harry,’ Luna pointed out. She was still patting the wall. ‘It’s a beautiful house.’ She looked at him strangely. ‘I thought you were planning on living here?’

‘Not yet,’ Harry answered. ‘We’re finishing the renovations on the Manor first. Then we’ll move in here when the school opens.’ He looked to Draco. ‘Does your mum still want to live here when we’re done?’

‘I don’t know,’ Draco answered honestly. He’d finished soothing the house and was back to eating his curry. He had to swallow a mouthful of sticky coconut rice before he added, ‘I think it will depend on whether we can make this a proper home and whether she wants to live in the city.’

‘I thought Narcissa liked the gardens at the Manor,’ Luna mumbled through a mouthful of bread.

‘There’s a garden here,’ Draco answered. ‘Not as big obviously,’ he added at the same time Harry said, ‘What?’

Draco motioned out through the glass into the dark.

‘There’s not a garden out there.’

Draco motioned more forcefully through the glass and Harry got to his feet so that he could go and have a look through the grimy window. And promptly leapt back, startled, when something smacked against the windows.

‘What the fuck was that?’ he demanded, poking a tentative finger at the glass to test its durability. The thing – whatever it was – whacked up against the glass again.

‘We might need to hire someone to kill off whatever that is,’ Draco mused, unperturbed.

Harry wandered back over and sat down, slightly closer to Draco this time. ‘I’ve known about magic for more than seven years now, I like to think I’m harder to surprise but then stuff like that,’ he motioned out into the darkness and, as if on cue, the thumping came again, ‘happens and I still feel like I’m learning about it for the first time.’ He looked at Draco, eating calmly and at Luna who was now edging toward the windows looking fascinated. ‘You’re both mental.’

‘Purebloods,’ Draco answered. ‘You begin to expect these things.’

Harry scowled. ‘That’ll change, yeah? When you open up Burbage Hall?’

Draco nodded. It wasn’t something he’d ever had to think about growing up, but now, knowing Harry as well as he did – getting to know Hermione – he was beginning to see that there were some aspects of growing up a good little pureblood heir that had shaped the way he viewed the world. And that were things he didn’t have to be ashamed of, ones that he could be sad that Harry (and Hermione) hadn’t experienced.

Hadn’t he once tried to explain something like it to Hermione – and with Ginny’s help? But here in this moment it was something silly, something that was completely removed from the ridiculous pureblood ideology that had driven so many witches and wizards to join Voldemort. There was a very large somewhat sentient plant on the other side of the conservatory door and Draco and Luna took it as expected but Harry was caught off guard.

He and Luna had grown up in a world where magic just did things, often unexpected, terrifying and unpredictable things – some wondrous, some dangerous – and they just rolled with it. Possibly run away from it, you had to develop a decent instinct for these types of things. Harry, who grew up pruning boring rose bushes in a muggle garden and despite six years of Herbology, still hardly expected the plant life in a garden in muggle London to try and thump him through the glass.

It probably hadn’t even occurred to him that the plant might be lonely and just in need of some affection, either, though Draco thought he’d leave off pointing that out until they had an expert who’d checked.

‘Magic is always full of surprises,’ Draco reminded Harry. ‘But yes, I think that giving students a place to learn about magic from a young age will mean that muggle raised wizards like you don’t feel like an idiot for not knowing the plant life might eat you.’

Harry jabbed him with an elbow. ‘I didn’t feel like an idiot.’

‘It’s okay if you did,’ Luna reminded him softly. ‘Draco’s right, though, it must be hard constantly feeling like things that are new and wondrous are boring and ordinary to the rest of us.’ Coming from Luna, that was almost amusing. She could see joy and wonder in everything; it was one of the things he loved most about her.

Harry was quiet for a while, staring out the windows as though he could see into the garden. Draco and Luna ate quietly, giving him the time he needed to digest what they’d just said. Eventually though Harry gave voice to what was putting the strained (though thoughtful) look on his face.

‘I don’t think I ever really thought about it that way,’ he murmured. He saw that they were both looking confused and added, ‘No, I know I still see things differently to Ron and sometimes he’ll make a comment about something that seems completely strange to me and Hermione, but I never really thought about the fact that he must think we’re both daft sometimes for not knowing what he’s talking about.’

Draco snorted. He didn’t want to give Weasley any credit, but he had been friends with Harry and Hermione for years. ‘You don’t think he feels that way when you two spout off something completely muggle?’

Harry gave this more consideration than Draco thought it warranted. ‘I suppose.’ He shot Draco a sharp look. ‘I don’t make you feel that way, do I?’

Draco actually laughed at this. ‘Sometimes. Honestly, though, I expected muggle things to be completely alien to me, I’m always more surprised when I find out they do things just like we do.’

‘Something else Burbage Hall will change.’

‘I should hope so.’

They finished off the food talking about everything from Draco’s earlier observation about muggle money to whether or not the Canons had any chance in this year’s league. By the time they were done, they’d somehow moved closer to the dirty stained glass and were lying down with their heads directed out where the thumping against the glass had become what sounded – to Draco and Luna at least – like mournful pining.

That might have been the alcohol, talking.

‘Do you think we should head back?’ Harry wondered, lifting up an arm to check the time on the watch he’d gotten from the Weasleys when he’d turned seventeen.

‘Probably,’ Draco agreed. ‘Pretty sure my time limit away from the castle must be almost up.’

‘Eh,’ Harry murmured, dropping his arm back down, ‘you’re technically in the company of an auror.’

Draco snorted. ‘Not a fully qualified auror yet, Potter.’

‘Close enough.’ But Harry pushed to his feet and held his hands out to help them both up. ‘Better not risk it though. Kingsley and Robards won’t care but it won’t look good to the rest of them if you’re getting special treatment.’

‘Oh, I’m definitely getting special treatment.’ Draco let those words lie for a moment before he said, ‘I didn’t mean for that to sound suggestive.’

Luna laughed. ‘You do get special treatment,’ she pointed out, ‘for the right reasons, Draco.’

‘That’s true,’ Harry agreed. ‘You are the only Death Eater free and willing to work with the Ministry.’

‘Thanks to you two.’

‘We love you far too much to leave you in Azkaban, Draco Malfoy,’ Luna declared, throwing her arms around his middle and attempting to squeeze the life out of him. ‘Oh, I think I’m drunk.’

‘Just a bit,’ Draco agreed.

‘I’m going to have a terrible headache tomorrow,’ she realised.

‘Possibly,’ Harry agreed with a grin.

Luna waved her hand. ‘Did you know that being hungover is one of the only times you can see withering willow wasps?’

‘Really?’ Harry asked, sharing a fond smile with Draco over Luna’s head. ‘What are they, then?’

Draco listened to Luna’s rambling explanation about willow wasps that weren’t actually wasps at all but rather a type of ant as he and Harry guided her out of the conservatory and down into the basement kitchen to use the floo. None of them were sober enough to chance apparation and he didn’t think McGonagall would mind too much if they used her floo.

She didn’t. Didn’t offer them much more than a tight look as they guided Luna out of her office, but Draco felt the power of that look burning disapproval into his back and vowed promptly never to try that again.

‘I’m getting terribly fond of her,’ Draco murmured later, after they’d dumped Luna into her bed in Ravenclaw tower and were on their way back to the eighth-year dormitories.

‘Luna?’ Harry asked, confused.

‘No,’ Draco said, ‘McGonagall.’ He considered Harry’s question. ‘I love Luna, obviously. What’s not to love?’ He considered that. ‘Honestly, don’t have any idea what I did to deserve her but I’m not about to let her go.’

Harry took Draco’s soft rambling words far more seriously than Draco himself was taking them because he stopped walking in the middle of the common room and spun to face Draco.

‘Don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be loved,’ he said fiercely.

Draco blinked at Harry. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too, which was my point, idiot.’

Draco shrugged but he smiled at Harry’s words. ‘I’m not having a moment,’ he assured Harry. ‘Sometimes it just strikes me that I’m really fucking lucky to have Luna – and you – in my life.’

‘I’m really fucking lucky to have you,’ Harry agreed.

They stood staring at each other for a long moment which was only interrupted by Lisa Turpin announcing from a chair by the fire, ‘You are both disgustingly sappy. I think I just revisited my dinner.’

Draco, quite cheerfully, flipped her a couple of well-chosen fingers without looking in her direction. ‘Don’t be bitter, Turpin.’ He actually turned to look at her then, taking in her pyjamas and the blanket she had wrapped around her. ‘You know you could probably room in with Longbottom.’

‘Do you think he’d mind?’ she asked.

‘You could ask,’ Draco suggested. ‘It’s hardly fair you have to put up with Weasley tromping through your bedroom at all hours while he gets a nice quiet room to himself.’

Harry’s soft “oh” suggested he’d only just cottoned on to what they were talking about. ‘Hold on,’ he said, ‘Ron and Hermione are having sex?’

‘If only,’ Turpin grumbled with a roll of her eyes. ‘It’s worse, they’re all shy and smitten and working up to it.’

Draco made a disgusted sound in agreement, but Harry snorted a laugh. ‘Leave them alone.’

‘Easy for you to say, you’re having sex.’

‘Regularly and it is glorious,’ Draco agreed, smugly.

Harry rolled his eyes and started to tug Draco out of the room, before Turpin could act on the vengeful look that crossed her face at his teasing.

‘Night!’ he called cheerfully after her. Once they were in their room Draco made zero moves as though he were up for sex. ‘I’m way to tired,’ he told Harry.

‘Thank, Merlin,’ Harry agreed.

They were asleep within minutes.

Chapter Text

The last Thursday of term found Harry and Ron flopped around Hermione’s dormitory while they did their homework. In theory. Joseph was sick, giving them an unexpected free right before the end of the day and while Ron and Hermione were doing homework, Harry was reading a novel Pansy had gifted him – apparently for a laugh. The cover featured a rather innocuous looking storefront with a slumped figure in the poorly lit doorway and a pool of blood that swelled away from the figure. There was absolutely nothing on the dark and gritty cover that would suggest steamy sex and Harry was just glad he wasn’t reading one of those chapters while sitting around with his friends.

 

Nobody needed to be flushed and a little turned on while lying about trying to finish homework. Strange to think accidentally reading porn while sitting around with his friends was preferable to the other book he had stashed away in his bag – another book retrieved from the Lestrange vault that liked to burn the hands of anyone not allowed to read it. He made a concerted effort to keep those books away from Hermione, knowing how much she’d hate knowing there were books she couldn’t read.

 

‘Merlin, woman, I’m not the only one who left it until the last minute,’ Ron said, defensively breaking Harry’s concentration from wondering if there were ways to give Hermione permission to read the books – assuming that was something Harry wanted. ‘I don’t see you badgering Harry,’ he went on forcing Harry to acknowledge the argument brewing between his friends.

 

‘I have done the homework,’ he offered, without looking away from the pages of his book. If he didn’t look at either of them, he might not have to get involved.

 

‘You have not,’ Ron retorted, disbelieving. Harry understood his friend’s scepticism, in the years they’d been studying together Harry had never once rushed to finish his homework early. Which was weird, he’d found all of his subjects so fascinating when he’d first learned about magic. He remembered reading all of his textbooks before his first year, remembered how fascinating he’d found the History book – it was how he’d named Hedwig.

 

Huh. He felt that was something worth mentioning to Draco. He probably could have bought it up right there with Hermione and distracted her from being mad at Ron, but he was enjoying not having to think overly hard about anything and an in-depth conversation about what had turned him so against studying wasn’t anything close to fun. Also, it possibly had something to do with Ron?

 

Yeah, this was a conversation better suited to Draco or even Narcissa and certainly not one he wanted to have with either of his friends then and there.

 

Harry glanced up and looked over at his oldest friend. ‘Sorry, mate, I really have done it.’

 

‘What, all of it?’ Ron had a look of complete bewilderment on his face as though he’d never heard anything stranger.

 

Harry nodded. ‘And Draco checked over it, so I know I didn’t miss anything,’ Harry assured Hermione with a knowing look.

 

She snapped her mouth closed and instead of asking him about it, gave him an approving look. Which turned into a sharp look of disapproval when her gaze met Ron’s again. ‘See, if Harry’s managed to get all his homework done around all of his other commitments, you can certainly get yours done when you’ve nothing else to worry about.’

 

Harry didn’t wince in sympathy as he might once have done because Hermione had a point. Harry didn’t always like doing his homework, he always struggled with the research aspect of things which Draco had theories about. Draco had a lot of theories – and damn if he wasn’t right most of the time – that tied back to Harry’s time with the Dursleys and the woefully impractical nature of magical studies and sometimes derailed into a musing ramble about penmanship and ink drying.

 

Which wasn’t really Harry’s point, but he tended to get a little distracted when thinking about Draco. Besides, even if Draco had ways of making it very (very) enjoyable to complete his homework in a timely fashion, there were still times when facing down an essay had him regretting his choice to come back for NEWTs. Even then, he did have to acknowledge that getting it over and done with made it go a lot faster than a week’s worth of procrastinating ever did. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Draco’s pleasure in learning new things was almost infectious. Harry had never appreciated what it meant to study and learn before, it wasn’t something he’d ever gotten from just sitting around doing homework with Hermione, and certainly not something he could have garnered from any time spent with Ron, but watching Draco get invested in what he was studying never failed to make Harry go all soft and gooey.

 

There was just something in the way he got so engrossed in it, the excitement that had him babbling really fast at Harry as though he couldn’t wait to share what he’d just learned, that turned Harry to goo and made him appreciate his homework and what the teachers were doing a little bit more.

 

And Draco, Merlin, he appreciated Draco.

 

The fact that Draco had ways of making essay writing interesting said a lot about how much Harry loved the enormous git and he thought Hermione might appreciate knowing that even if he still didn’t get a thrill out of learning, Draco could almost make him see the thrill he and Hermione got.

 

‘Where is the slimy Slytherin git?’ Ron asked.

 

‘Don’t call him that,’ Harry snapped likely harsher than he intended but he’d been having really nice thoughts until Ron’s snide voice ruined it. It was alright for Harry to call Draco a git, he said it with genuine affection, but Ron meant it as an insult. Which was why he phrased his response the way he did. ‘He’s gone out with Ginny.’

 

Ron, who until then had been lounged across Lisa Turpin’s recently abandoned bed, shot up in horror. ‘He’s what?’ he sputtered.

 

‘He’s taken Ginny out,’ Harry said again, eyes flicking momentarily to Hermione who met his gaze with a quirked brow and lips twitching with amusement.

 

‘What?!’ Ron yelped.

 

Harry grinned. ‘He said something about Italian.’

 

‘What?’ This time Ron’s voice was a croak.

 

Hermione started to giggle. ‘Oh my god, Ron, your face!’ And she fell back against her pillows giggling helplessly.

 

‘What the bloody hell are you laughing about?’ Ron demanded. ‘Why is my sister on a date with Draco Malfoy?’ He rounded on Harry for that last bit as though this was entirely Harry’s fault for bringing a Slytherin menace into their lives.

 

Which, to be fair, it was.

 

‘It’s not a bloody date,’ Harry relented with a roll of his eyes. ‘There are professional scouts coming to the next match and Ginny wanted to train with Draco because he won’t go easy on her and is perfectly willing to list all her flaws.’ Harry considered that he probably wasn’t too far from the truth there and in fact he thought those might have been Ginny’s actual words when she’d asked him for help. ‘I think the Italian food was supposed to soften the blow after.’

 

Ron snorted, looking somewhat relieved, even if he still seemed confused. ‘Malfoy’s a crap player, why didn’t she just ask one of us?’

 

Irritated again, Harry said, more sharply than he intended (which seemed to be the theme this afternoon), ‘He’s not a crap player. He’s bloody brilliant.’

 

‘He never once beat you to the snitch, Harry,’ Ron pointed out as though that made his point.

 

It didn’t. It might have been true but there were things Harry was beginning to understand about their school quidditch matches that didn’t make him feel particularly generous to Madam Hooch. And weirdly made him respect the fact that Lucius had purchased seven Nimbus 2001s and not just given Draco one.

 

But he didn’t think Ron was looking to sit back and listen to Harry repeat Draco’s pointed rant about superior broom technology, reliable coaching techniques or fair play and certainly not the reminder that Draco had never lost a match to any of the other teams he’d gone up against in his time as Slytherin seeker.

 

‘We have seekers matches,’ Harry said instead. ‘We’re pretty evenly matched to be honest.’ That might be a bit of an understatement if Harry were being honest. They’d both taken to using the latest Cleansweep for their one-on-one games and it was painting all of Harry’s previous matches against the Slytherin team in a new light. Draco had never been able to match Harry’s speed, a Nimbus 2001 was no competition for a Firebolt, but he’d had the skill to put up a more than decent fight and that said a lot more about Draco’s skills on the pitch than anyone seemed to realise.

 

Except for Ginny who was now taking shameless advantage.

 

Ron looked gobsmacked but any response he might have had was overridden by Hermione asking (while sounding genuinely perplexed), ‘Harry, when do you sleep?’

 

‘What?’ he tilted his head back against her mattress to look at her with a laugh. ‘What do you mean?’

 

‘You’re doing so much,’ Hermione pointed out. ‘You’ve got private auror training, actual raids, you’ve got all your homework done, flown with Draco, you’re taking WSL lessons with Luna and I know you and Draco are trading auror and curse breaker spells – when do you sleep?’

 

‘I sleep just fine,’ Harry assured her, with a smile. ‘I mean, I’m not getting ten hours a night like some people,’ he shot Ron a pointed look, ‘but I do alright.’ He shrugged. ‘Besides, it’s only for another six months and then Draco and I can sit our exams – NEWTs first, but they’ve promised to rush our results so we can sit the rest right after.’

 

‘They’re going to let Draco sit the curse breaker exams?’ Hermione looked surprised but happily so.

 

Harry nodded. ‘Robards pushed for it, he and Kingsley went before the Wizengamot to have some of Draco’s sentence overturned.’

 

‘Why?’ asked Ron bluntly, managing to convey that even if he was softening somewhat towards Draco that he still thought he deserved what he got. It was a sentiment Draco shared. He’d been absolutely gobsmacked when Robards had handed him a copy of the new probation agreement. It had taken Percy explaining that Harry had nothing to do with the decision for Draco to accept that some very important people were very impressed with the man he was becoming and the work he was doing.

 

‘Did they really?’ Hermione was just as surprised as Ron but whereas Ron looked like this was a bloody stupid idea, Hermione looked thoughtful.

 

‘They stacked up his case files and reports, gave a detailed description of all the work he’s done when he was supposed to be restricted to Hogwarts and pointed out the good he was voluntarily doing – and then they pulled in Smith and a couple of aurors and arrested a bunch of the Wizengamot on corruption charges.’

 

‘They kept that quiet,’ Ron murmured, eyebrows shooting up.

 

Harry shrugged. ‘It hasn’t hit the papers yet because some of the charges being pinned on them are leaking confidential trial documents to the press, but it will. Draco got his second year of probation knocked off under the evidence that he’s serving both years of service to the Ministry concurrently. One of the conditions was that he sit and pass his exams.’

 

Hermione didn’t seem to know whether to be jealous or impressed, if Harry was reading her expression right. Ron, on the other hand, finally shook himself free of the horror of Draco and Ginny sharing a meal and training together, to stare at Harry in confusion.

 

‘Hold on, does this mean you’re not going to be going through training with me come August?’ he asked, frowning at Harry.

 

‘Well, yeah,’ Harry replied, trading a confused look with Hermione. ‘I thought you knew that’s what all these private lessons were about. Robards’ original plan was for me to be done with training and sit exams in October, but I didn’t want people to be able to say I only got the job because I’m the Chosen One.’ Harry made sure to put enough derision on the title to make it clear how much he hated it. ‘He agreed to training throughout the year and we settled on taking the exams right after my NEWTs.’

 

‘And Malfoy gets to sit his exams too,’ Ron raised his eyebrows at this.

 

Harry nodded. ‘Bill was first to bring it up but Robards and Kingsley pushed for it. If Draco sits the exams it’s another thing to show that he’s working hard to shed the title of Death Eater and that he’s earned his place working for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.’

 

‘Why is Bill even working with him?’ Ron demanded. ‘How did that even bloody come about?’

 

The shrug Harry gave was intentionally vague. ‘They worked together over the summer at the Manor.’ His words were the complete truth if a little light on the details. Bill had worked with Draco clearing the Manor, but he was one of many. The offer of lessons had almost certainly come about because Bill knew how deeply Harry loved Draco and he’d seen an opportunity for the man he was coming to know and respect to drag himself out from under the stigma of being a Malfoy and a Death Eater.

 

‘He must be a very good curse breaker,’ Hermione murmured, sounding impressed.

 

Harry smiled. ‘He’s bloody brilliant.’ Then he frowned, more amused than annoyed and added, ‘He knows it too.’

 

Hermione gave a soft laugh, probably more at the fondness she recognised in Harry’s expression than the words themselves. Ron was not amused, but he gave them both one more frown before Hermione prodded him back into focusing on his homework. He did as he was told but there was something in the frown on his face that told Harry his thoughts still weren’t really on his homework and although he could have asked, Harry let it slide. If Ron was frowning over thoughts of Draco, Harry didn’t want to know. If he was frowning over the realisation that he would be entering auror training without Harry then…well Harry wasn’t ready for that conversation either. How did he have the conversation with Ron about making the decision for his future based on what worked best for him (and Draco to a lesser extent) and that Ron had not even been a factor?

 

But Harry wasn’t ready to have that conversation with Ron, he didn’t seem to be ready to have any of the important conversations with Ron. Something Hermione was well-aware of because when Ron excused himself to the bathroom half a paragraph of his potions essay later, she practically pounced on Harry, sliding from her bed to sit with him on the floor and hissing, ‘You need to tell him!’

 

‘I know,’ Harry hissed back, wondering if he shouldn’t cast a muffliato just in case Ron came back out while they were still talking.

 

‘If you know, why haven’t you told him?’

 

That was a bit of a loaded question. It wasn’t that Harry didn’t want to talk to Ron, it felt bloody weird keeping such a huge part of his life from his best friend, but telling Ron meant telling Ron and every time Harry tried to find the right moment or the right words, something came up. It was a source of frustration for Harry but also relief, because as long as he didn’t have the conversation with Ron, he could tell himself that everything would be okay and that nothing had to change just because Ron knew Harry was dating Draco fucking Malfoy.

 

And that didn’t even touch on the whole bisexual thing. Harry had no idea where Ron stood on that. It wasn’t something they’d ever really talked about. No one they knew growing up in Gryffindor was gay (and Harry was perfectly aware this was on them and not an accurate take on the Hogwarts student population) and so it had just never been something talked about. Dean and Seamus had been the first to chime in talking girls, Neville always shy but willing to offer an opinion and Ron torn between being horrified by Dean’s relationship with his sister and the desire to proudly boast about his relationship with Lavender. Harry had been oblivious to his own desires, so he’d been just as willing – if terribly awkward – about talking about girls.

 

He would be the second to admit he was slow on the uptake – Ginny being the first, though closely tied with Draco if he were being honest.

 

‘I don’t know how to tell him,’ Harry answered honestly. ‘I haven’t had to tell anyone – it’s bloody hard Hermione!’

 

Hermione’s expression softened and she reached out to take his hand and give it a gentle squeeze. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t possibly imagine how hard this is for you.’

 

Harry nodded. ‘Thanks for accidentally stumbling across me and Draco snogging.’

 

Hermione giggled. ‘You’re welcome.’ She nudged him with her shoulder. ‘I honestly don’t know how I didn’t notice,’ she told him. ‘You touch him all the time. You two have no concept of personal space anymore.’

 

Harry smiled. ‘It’s sort of nice,’ he admitted. ‘I’ve never really had that before – someone I can just reach out and…’ he trailed of not sure how to properly explain the freedom that came with knowing he could reach out and that Draco would be there, always welcoming his touch. He didn’t know how to explain the reassurance of knowing Draco liked Harry constantly in his personal space.

 

Hermione wiggled closer to him so that their bodies were pressed together from hip to shoulder, knees bumping awkwardly too. ‘I know it’s not the same,’ she said, ‘but you have always been able to reach out to me.’

 

Harry knew that, he did, but that didn’t mean it was always easy to put into practice. Hermione had been his best friend for years but there’d never been the familiarity of just reaching out to hold her hand or tug on her hair. She’d always been the one to initiate hugs and touch unless they were in a life-or-death situation and Harry had only realised that when he’d realised he liked reaching out to Draco.

 

‘It’s different than it was with Ginny,’ Hermione observed, her voice a whisper as she darted cautious eyes back to the bathroom.

 

Harry laughed. ‘That’s confidence, I think,’ he tried to explain. ‘It was sort of a shock to know that I could touch Ginny and I’d only really started to get comfortable reaching for her when I broke things off. Draco needs the reassurance,’ he stated. ‘He needs the reminder I’m here that he’s not alone in Azkaban anymore or struggling with Voldemort and what it means to be a Death Eater.’

 

‘He does do a lot of the touching,’ Hermione smiled softly and the way she canted her head toward him and wiggled her eyebrows said she knew exactly how that sentence could be taken.

 

Harry laughed. ‘He’s really, really good with his hands,’ he murmured which made her blush a fantastic shade of pink and collapse against him in giggles.

 

She only just managed to get her giggles under control before Ron returned, sniffing at his hands thoughtfully. ‘What kind of soap is this?’ he asked dropping onto the floor as well so that the three of the were squeezed between the two beds. ‘It smells really nice.’

 

Harry snorted a laugh.

 

‘It does!’ Ron protested, shoving his hand toward Harry who was obliged to take a sniff at Ron’s extended hand.

 

‘Just smells like Hermione, mate,’ Harry offered with a teasing grin.

 

Hermione giggled again but Ron didn’t seem especially embarrassed. ‘Well, Hermione always smells nice,’ Ron said.

 

Hermione beamed at him, ‘Thank you, Ron.’

 

Amused by the sheer delight on her face and the way Harry couldn’t seem to contain his laugh, Ron replied, flushing slightly, ‘You’re welcome.’

 

They went back to trying to get homework done and Harry went back to his book only to be distracted minutes later by the way Hermione was trying to read over his shoulder. ‘What?’ he asked, lowering the book with his fingers between the pages to keep his place.

 

‘Harry, are you read a novel?’

 

‘Yeah, Pansy gave it to me for a laugh.’

 

‘Why?’ Hermione questioned, sounding intrigued.

 

‘It’s about a curse breaker and an auror solving crime and falling in love,’ he explained wryly.

 

Hermione snorted and made grabby hand motions until he passed it over. He watched her read the blurb on the back and then thoughtfully start to page through the first couple of pages. Her eyebrows rocketed up when she realised that, against all expectations, it was well written – Harry could tell as he’d had the same thoughts. He could also see the moment she realised just how explicit some of the book was because she flushed a brilliant red, her eyes darting up to Harry knowingly.

 

‘Can I borrow it when you’re done?’ she asked with a teasing grin.

 

‘Of course,’ Harry agreed.

 

‘Never mind Harry’s sudden interest in romance novels, Hermione,’ Ron complained, ‘I need help with this.’

 

Hermione was next to leave the room (her turn to get the snacks) and the moment she was through the door Ron did cast a muffliato that had Harry raising his brows and looking at his friend expectantly.

 

Ron fidgeted and refused to make eye contact and Harry was worried he was going to be having a conversation about his relationship with Draco right then and there only Ron finally blurted out, ‘You’ve had sex, yeah?’

 

Given the only person Ron knew Harry had been close enough to have sex with was his sister, Harry was immediately wary of answering. His silence forced Ron to look at him and he must have read the expression on Harry’s face – sheer horror at how the conversation could go – because Ron coughed and rubbed his hands nervously against the leg of his trousers.

 

‘I don’t want details!’ he hastily assured Harry. ‘Merlin, I do not want details.’

 

‘Good,’ Harry replied and knowing that, he was a little amused by the way Ron’s ears had turned a vibrant red. Harry found himself grinning at Ron’s obvious discomfort.

 

‘Just…how did you know it was the right time?’

 

Having sex with Ginny had nothing to do with the right time. They’d both been lost in grief and trying to gain back something Harry wasn’t sure they’d ever really had. He’d been perfectly happy to go along with Ginny when she started putting the moves on him because he liked Ginny and she was beautiful – and he was desperate to feel something other than grief.

 

Having penetrative sex that first time with Draco probably wasn’t really what Ron was angling at either. That had just sort of happened, too. There’d been no planning, no worrying about whether they should or shouldn’t and what it would mean for them. Harry had known he was in love with Draco, had been pretty fucking sure Draco was in love with him, and so they’d been right in the middle of some heavy frotting when Harry had demanded Draco fuck him. It had been hot and, despite the horrendously awkward conversation with Luna that had given him the basics, he’d been nervous and unsure but eager to learn and Draco had taken a lot of delight in teaching Harry just how good sex could be.

 

Both times, Harry had been with a more experienced partner. Ginny had taken control the first time and Draco had done much the same their first time too. That had taken some of the pressure off Harry – some but not all. Merlin, the first time he’d fucked Draco could have been a disaster, but it had been almost reassuring knowing that if Harry was doing a shite job of making Draco feel good that his boyfriend was perfectly willing – and capable – of rolling him over and just showing him exactly what he wanted.

 

Harry had had a lot of satisfying sex since his first time with Ginny and it was amusing to think of those first times and compare them to just that morning when he’d had Draco on his hands and knees –

 

And thinking about what he and Draco got up to was making his pants uncomfortably tight and would not at all make the impending conversation with Ron any less awkward. If he had to keep this conversation about that time with Ginny without making things awkward then Harry was going to be in for some conversational mine fields. He did want to be honest with Ron, honest and encouraging, without tipping too heavily into the fact that he and Ginny may as well have been drunk for all the thought and love that went into their first time.

 

‘I didn’t,’ he answered truthfully. He hesitated for a moment and then determinedly went on, hoping Ron never held this conversation against him. ‘Me and Gin, it wasn’t about timing,’ he admitted. ‘It was about needing that connection to block out the grief. I don’t regret it, but I do wish it hadn’t happened that way.’

 

Ron nodded, doing a lot of looking about to avoid eye contact and having to acknowledge that any part of their conversation included his sister. He didn’t say anything and Harry was left trying to pick up the conversation without stepping on one of those mines.

 

‘Are you and Hermione thinking about it?’ While thinking about Ron and Hermione having sex wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as thinking about Luna having sex (with anyone, though Astoria in particular at the moment because Draco seemed to think Luna was doing a bit of pining) it was still thinking about his best friends getting naked together and that was definitely enough to ruin any heat building from his thoughts about Draco.

 

Ron finally turned to look at him. ‘Every time I think we’re ready I start thinking “what if this changes things?” I can’t help worrying that this is something we can’t undo.’

 

Confused, Harry asked, ‘Why would you need to undo it?’

 

The look that came over Ron then was startlingly vulnerable. ‘What if she realises I’m not good enough for her?’ His voice was soft, nervous – Harry might have called it scared. ‘What if we do this and then she realises she can do better and we can’t go back?’

 

Harry’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Ron for a long minute, struggling to process the enormity of the words Ron had just laid on him. Finally, he managed to shake his head and snap his jaw closed. His first reflex was to call Ron an idiot – because he honestly didn’t see that happening – but Ron looked nervous and upset and he was genuinely worried about this and so Harry wouldn’t take it lightly. He didn’t think it was likely his friends would break up but that wasn’t to say he hadn’t worried a little about the same thing when he first started suspecting their romantic feelings for each other.

 

It had always been the three of them, could they survive the fallout of Ron and Hermione breaking up?

 

Finally, after giving Ron’s fears times to filter through his automatic rejection, Harry replied softly, ‘I think that’s a risk you have to take.’ He nudged Ron with his foot, making his friends knee twitch. ‘Worrying about what-ifs will make them come about,’ he offered. ‘This thing between you two has been building for years and I can sort of understand why you’re worried but if you don’t take this step then you’re letting that worry and fear rule your relationship. And that will ruin things.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Ron agreed softly, not sounding too sure about that.

 

Harry nudged Ron again. ‘Have you talked to Hermione about this?’

 

Ron shook his head. ‘I don’t want her to think I have doubts.’

 

‘Do you?’ Harry asked. ‘I mean, do you really have doubts or are you just nervous about having sex?’ Harry waited until Ron was looking at him before he said, ‘Cause mate, if it’s just the sex, I’m not gonna lie, it’s probably not going to be great for either of you first time.’

 

Ron flushed red and shifted uncomfortably, eventually blurting out a curious, ‘How’d you mean?’

 

Harry tipped his head back to rest against Hermione’s bed and looked at the ceiling. Thinking months back to that first time with Ginny he tried to remember all his awkward fumbling, tried to think about his nerves and the fact that if Ginny hadn’t been the one in control, if she hadn’t taken charge, she’d likely not have actually gotten off – he’d been too inexperienced and nervous to even think properly about making it good for her even if he’d wanted to. Things with Draco in the beginning had been more a problem of lasting – he’d wanted Draco so much and been so turned on by everything the git did.

 

…And he did not want to be thinking about that and his two oldest friends. He also did not need to be talking about Ginny’s past experience before him with her overprotective brother.

 

‘This is new for both of you,’ Harry hesitantly tried to explain. ‘It’s going to be awkward and it’s going to take practice,’ he waggled his eyebrows suggestively in an attempt to lighten the moment, ‘before you really get to experience how good and fun sex can be.’

 

Bloody hell, he hoped this conversation was just as awkward for Ron as it was for Harry. Why couldn’t they have been having this conversation about Lavender in sixth year? It would be so much easier if Harry was trying to dispense advice without both of them being forcibly reminded that Harry’s first experience was with Ron’s sister.

 

Or that Ron’s first time would be with Hermione.

 

‘I can’t exactly give you advice on making it good,’ Harry laughed uncomfortably. He could give Hermione plenty of advice, but he was not at all ready to have that conversation with Ron. Or Hermione for that matter because thinking about who she’d be using those tips on made his brain want to leak out of his ears.

 

But he did know someone who could give advice. Not that Ron would like hearing it, although Neville seemed to appreciate whatever Draco told him.

 

Harry cleared his throat. ‘You could talk to Draco.’

 

Ron’s whole demeanour went from awkward to horrified in a flash. ‘Why the bloody hell would I talk to Malfoy about this?’

 

Harry, in spite of the tension, found himself laughing. ‘Merlin, Ron, do you know how much sex he was having while we were worrying about other things and trying not to get killed?’

 

Ron made a face, expression sour. ‘No,’ he denied firmly, shaking his head in disbelief.

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry nodded, confirming what appeared to be Ron’s fears. ‘And oi, how come you never had to give the sex talk to the third years?’

 

‘What?!’ Ron’s eyes bugged out and he started sputtering, holding his sides in a wheezing laugh. ‘What?’

 

Hermione came back into the room then and Harry was quick to dispel the muffliato so she could properly appreciate Ron’s laughter.

 

She dropped her haul of snacks onto the floor between them and frowned at Ron, ‘What set him off?’

 

‘Did you know that the other houses were given a sexual education seminar in third year hosted by the prefects?’

 

‘I’m sorry what?’ Hermione said, staring at him in bewilderment.

 

‘No joke,’ Harry assured her. ‘Draco mentioned it to me a while ago and I honestly just thought it was some punishment Snape thought up, but I asked Luna and Hannah and they both said it was true.’

 

Harry was sort of glad he’d never had to sit through Percy trying to explain sex and the different spells you needed to know to have it safely. Judging from the expression on Hermione’s face, she was less horrified at the idea of sitting through a lecture hosted by Percy than she was at the notion she’d failed at one of her prefect duties. Once he’d assured her it was true and wasn’t at all her fault, she got to her feet and swept out of the room in search of the current Gryffindor prefects and possibly Professor McGonagall.

 

Harry and Ron waited a moment after the door shut behind her before they burst out laughing.

 

They were back to working quietly when Hermione returned again. Ron struggling through his essay while Harry had set aside his novel in favour of the other thing Pansy had sent him which was the latest copy of Witch Weekly. She’d stuck a muggle post-it to the cover directing him to what she felt were the interesting bits.

 

The interesting bits were three pages dedicated to Draco’s wardrobe.

 

With a snort, he tossed the magazine onto Hermione’s bed and ignored the way Hermione raised her eyebrows and reached back to pick it up. As she’d dropped right back onto the floor to sit beside him when she came back, he couldn’t avoid noticing the way she rolled her eyes as she looked through the glossy pages or the exasperated sound she made when she realised the detailed breakdown of Draco’s wardrobe and his new sense of fashion went on for four pages – one of which made a point of mentioning Harry’s new wardrobe (complete with a full-page spread) and crediting Draco for the new sense of style he was sporting.

 

‘Well, they’re not wrong,’ Hermione murmured.

 

Harry wanted to argue but he didn’t have a leg to stand on. If it wasn’t for Draco pointing out it was okay to spend his money on things for himself and not just school supplies that he needed, he’d still be sitting around in Dudley’s too-big cast-offs.

 

‘Who’s not wrong?’ Ron asked, breaking away from the passage of his textbook that seemed to be causing more frowns than relief if the wrinkles in his brow were anything to go by.

 

Hermione passed over the magazine. ‘Witch Weekly is crediting Draco with Harry’s sudden ability to dress fashionably.’

 

Ron frowned down at the pages and Harry hoped he didn’t read any of the little captions which added the details (“so you can dress like the Chosen One!”) of what he was wearing and how much it cost. Knowing how much money Harry had spent on a decent pair of boots probably wasn’t something Ron needed to know. Sometimes Harry wished he didn’t know, but they’d come with a decade of spell-refreshment from the company and weren’t likely to fall apart the first time he stepped in a potions spill.

 

‘What does Malfoy have to do with your clothes?’

 

Harry didn’t even hesitate, he dropped his head back against Hermione’s bed with a groan and answered, ‘Twelve very very long hours in London – muggle and wizarding – over the summer.’

 

‘What does that mean?’

 

‘It means, Weasley,’ announced Draco as he sailed into the room looking flushed and sweaty, still in his quidditch gear and a plastic bag full of takeaway in his hand, ‘that Harry needed clothes that were his and not rejects from his hideous cousin who was approximately the size of one of Hagrid’s Halloween pumpkins.’

 

‘I think he was probably bigger,’ Harry admitted, taking the bag from Draco as he slid down onto the floor with them. ‘What did you do with Ginny?’ The smell from the bag was amazing and seemed to completely derail any thought Ron had of further questioning Draco’s role in Harry’s new wardrobe.

 

Draco smirked as he started to unlace his bracers. ‘I killed her.’

 

‘What?!’ Ron leapt to his feet just as Ginny staggered dramatically into the room and collapsed face down on Hermione’s bed with a heartfelt groan.

 

Harry snorted. ‘Timed that well then.’

 

‘Why are there so many stairs?’ she moaned into the blankets as Ron rushed to make sure she was alright. ‘I’m fine,’ Ginny grumbled, shoving his hands away as he tried to roll her over to check. ‘Bloody hell, Ron, he didn’t actually kill me.’

 

Hermione rolled her eyes at the lot of them but took the plastic container Harry handed her with a smile. ‘Oh, this smells amazing,’ she moaned appreciatively, cracking the lid to peek inside.

 

Harry didn’t know what it was, but it was cheesy and warm and that was enough for him. it was clearly enough for Ron too, because he gave up checking on his sister to circle back to sit down again and take the container Harry offered to him. He had a mouth full of meat sauce before any of the others had even managed to open their containers properly.

 

As he chewed, he was studying Draco with a frown, eventually blurting out, ‘What are you wearing?’

 

Harry turned to look at Draco and felt Hermione lean around him to get a look too, trying to figure out why Ron was asking. It took Harry a moment to work it out because he’d seen Draco dressed that way almost every morning on their runs. He was wearing muggle joggers that were on the slim side and what looked to be about three different layers. Harry suspected he had a thermal under his t-shirt and jumper, all on under a muggle windbreaker with his bracers and shin guards strapped over the top. Harry was pretty sure when he got him alone later and had some fun stripping him off that Draco would be wearing long johns under those joggers. He figured Ginny was dressed about the same and that it was an honest miracle their noses weren’t sporting frostbite.

 

But none of that was the reason Ron was looking at him funny, the fact he was wearing Harry’s shin guards and gloves seemed to be the cause of Ron’s confusion. They were stylised with tiny little Gryffindor lions and if he remembered correctly, were a present from Fred and George from his first birthday after they’d opened the shop. Ron had seen them plenty of times in friendly games of quidditch at the Burrow, enough to recognise them.

 

It took Draco a moment to work it out as well and when he did, he merely shrugged, ‘I just grabbed these first.’

 

Ron frowned at Draco but before he could question Draco Malfoy wearing Gryffindor quidditch gear and why they’d been near enough his own that they could be grabbed first, Ginny crawled off the bed and made grabby hand motions for food.

 

‘I’m starving,’ she said. ‘I don’t know how the hell you did some of those moves,’ she informed Draco, ‘but you’re going to teach me.’

 

Draco nodded smugly but he was being perfectly honest when he said, ‘You should talk to Madam Pomfrey. She gave me a lot of exercises to do after Azkaban – and some back in third year – to strengthen certain muscles that’ll help you with your game.’

 

‘Why was she giving you exercises back in third year?’ Ron asked over the top of Hermione who was voicing interest in Madam Pomfrey’s knowledge because, and Harry was well aware of this, the quidditch training at Hogwarts didn’t follow any sort of physical strength training like you’d expect from sports in the muggle world.

 

Draco answered Ron’s question first with a pointed look. ‘I had my arm torn apart by a hippogriff, remember?’

 

Ron snorted dismissively. ‘Pomfrey fixed that in a second.’

 

Draco’s expression went cold, and Harry shifted closer to him until they were pressed together much closer than he’d been earlier with Hermione.

 

‘You have no idea what you’re talking about,’ Draco informed Ron with ice in his voice and turned his attention to Hermione telling her in a short-clipped tone how Pomfrey had taught him exercises to strengthen his muscles after he’d practically wasted away after Azkaban.

 

‘Like muggle physiotherapy,’ Hermione nodded, sounding impressed. ‘I didn’t even know Madam Pomfrey knew about that sort of thing. She certainly never did anything like that with Harry and you know he ended up in her care a lot.’

 

‘That was different,’ Harry answered. ‘None of my injuries were resistant to magic – they were all spells easily undone, or exhaustion. All it took was a potion or some chocolate and I was good to go. You don’t heal from a magical creature or even Dark curses that easily.

 

He rolled up his sleeve to show the scar from the basilisk fang which was all that remained after Fawkes had healed him. Then he tugged down his jumper to show what remained of the mark from the horcrux. It had faded some, with diligent work from Madam Pomfrey and even a salve Narcissa had given him but he would always have the scar. Just like Draco would always bear the scars from the bathroom in sixth year. And the hippogriff in third.

 

‘We didn’t know,’ Hermione murmured, sounding contrite for her thirteen-year-old self’s scathing scepticism.

 

‘I didn’t want anyone to know,’ Draco explained. ‘I played it up so that you’d all think I was faking.’ He shrugged. ‘Nobody needed to know how bad it really was. I’m not sure it would have mattered if they did.’

 

‘What if I’d known?’ Harry mused, smiling at Draco and eliciting a snort from Ginny who was familiar with their game of what-if.

 

‘The point is,’ Draco said with a wink at Harry, ‘that I have told Ginny to go talk to Madam Pomfrey about devising some sort of plan to help her strengthen certain muscles to help her play.’ He speared a piece of gnocchi on his fork and pointed at her. ‘You’re scary good but I think if you talk to Pomfrey you’ll be bloody terrifying. There’s no way those scouts will be able to ignore you.’

 

Ginny flushed pink but her voice was derisive when she said, ‘You just want me to become famous so you can shamelessly exploit me at your new school.’

 

‘Obviously.’

 

Ginny threw a bread roll at his head.

Chapter Text

Trying (and failing) to contain his amusement, Ron said, ‘You weren’t kidding about the goblins.’

 

Harry glared. ‘You were here too,’ he hissed. ‘You should be getting the same treatment!’

 

Ron laughed and Harry turned away from his friend to glare at the air above the goblin leading the way. Harry hadn’t been given the goblin’s name, he’d just been hustled off to the side the moment he’d set foot inside Gringotts, surrounded by angry looking security goblins and then been forced to wait while they ran through exactly what he was and wasn’t allowed to do while in the bank. Again. As though they hadn’t made it clear every other time he’d tried to set foot in Gringotts since they’d lifted his ban – conditionally, of course.

 

Honestly, at least when he came with Draco there was respect buried in the hatred. Draco was a blatant reminder that wizards banked a lot of gold and valuables with the goblins. Something about the way he carried himself and spoke knowledgably about his own investments resonated with the goblins and although they never showed any particular liking for any human, Draco didn’t annoy them as much as everyone else seemed to. Besides, Draco liked to claim that they were properly aware that pissing off the man the wizarding world’s saviour loved was likely to end badly for them if they wanted to continue doing business with wizards.

 

It wasn’t. At least not because of anything Harry would do. Draco might cause a fuss and throw his weight and titles around (because he fucking had those – and how ridiculous was that?) just to get what he wanted but Harry wasn’t likely to do it. Even if he was in the position to throw his weight around (which was unlikely because he wasn’t that kind of guy), he’d at least try to curtail any sort of pureblood, well-bred self-important rant Draco embarked on.

 

Mostly.

 

Sometimes he got a little distracted by how fucking fit Draco was when he was acting the stiff aristocrat – and honestly that probably said a few concerning things about Harry and his antagonistic history with Draco that even his mind healer hadn’t been ready to touch with a ten-foot broom.

 

Which was not the point, the point was that Harry had some of the same titles Draco did (plus a few more he’d prefer not to), had just as much money (although not quite) as Draco did invested in the bank and yet the goblins were still treating him like public enemy number one all because he (rightfully) freed a dragon. It wasn’t like he was the first person to break into Gringotts – Quirrell of all people had managed just fine back in July of ’91. He’d even apologised – formally and in writing! – and yet here he was, just wanting to visit one of the Black vaults and they were treating Ron like his bloody handler.

 

He didn’t mind so much when Draco was the one “handling” him. But Ron – Ron! – had bloody been there stealing that dragon too and yet they were perfectly willing to let him just wander on in and set up his very own vault. And really –

 

‘Did you have to fill out all that paperwork right now?’ Harry grumped because it had definitely not been necessary to fill out the application for a vault of his own (now that he was of age and not on the run) while Harry was stood in the corner of the foyer being a living breathing example of just why you shouldn’t break into a goblin-run bank. Well, you shouldn’t break into any bank – but there’d been extenuating circumstances!

 

Absurdly, while he’d been glaring daggers into Ron’s back, Harry had found himself wondering if, had he taken Draco’s hand that day on the train, if he’d seen the nerves and the hope behind the stiff words, they could have avoided the whole damn thing and just sent Draco waltzing into his aunt’s vault to fetch the damn cup. That hadn’t been on the list of what-ifs he and Draco had talked about but damnit, it should have been.

 

By the time Ron was done filling out his paper and had wandered over to fetch Harry, he’d been ready to thump his friend. The glare their goblin escort kept shooting back at him over his shoulder didn’t help improve his mood. They seemed to think because he wasn’t with Draco, he was there to cause trouble. Oh, they were still letting Ron act as his escort, but they were making clear they weren’t happy to have Harry wandering around the depths of their bank no matter how much gold he banked with them – or how much influence he had over Draco.

 

It wasn’t a quick journey down to his inherited vaults and by the time they’d reached the depths of the cavern and the Black heirloom vault Harry had gotten over his annoyance at Ron and was starting to feel a little bit of worry over how his best mate would feel once they’d started the arduous task of sorting through centuries worth of priceless junk just so that Harry could find the last piece of Draco’s bloody Christmas gift.

 

Because what did you buy the super-rich posh git who had everything (material) money could buy?

 

He’d found something eventually and, after consulting with Pansy and Narcissa, had gained confidence in the idea but the last piece he needed to really pull it off had been shoved to the depths of the Black vault by Sirius in a moment of sentimentality he’d rarely shown toward his inheritance. It had taken a bloody long conversation with Walburga (that he’d pawned off on Pansy) to get the information he needed and he’d been all set to drag Pansy into Gringotts with him (figuring she would be an acceptable watchdog in the goblins’ view) only Hermione had got wind of his plans and quite literally forced him into taking Ron.

 

How she thought taking the best friend who had always been sensitive about money on a trip to one of his many (many) vaults was anyone’s guess, but he’d extended the invitation to Ron with only minimal grumbling because Christmas was a week away and he still hadn’t found a good time to tell Ron he wasn’t going to the Burrow for the break. He’d be there for Christmas of course, he’d assured Molly multiple times that he and Draco would be there for Christmas dinner, but they’d be arriving on the day just as Bill and Fleur would be.

 

No, Harry would be spending the Christmas holidays with his boyfriend at the Manor keeping Narcissa company and, given that Harry still hadn’t managed to have that conversation with Ron, was it any wonder he’d failed (spectacularly) to bring up the other? By the beginning of December he’d realised he’d been putting it off for so long that it had become a thing and then a week after that it had sort of become a game because, honestly, Harry wasn’t doing a thing to hide his relationship – he hadn’t been the entire time they’d been at Hogwarts – and yet Ron had still stubbornly not noticed that maybe the relationship his best mate had with their childhood rival was (a lot) more than friendship.

 

Possibly because, although he was making a point to put up with Draco because Harry (and Hermione, Ginny, Luna and freaking Neville) were friendly with him, it was very obvious that Ron still didn’t like Draco and he was avoiding spending time with him when he could. Which was likely the only reason he’d not realised there was something going on because they’d had a bloody awkward conversation that might have led somewhere if Harry hadn’t been called away by the aurors just moments after Ron worked up the nerve to ask something that had been on his mind but had seemingly been forgotten in the weeks since.

 

It had honestly been the closest Ron had gotten to finding out. After the incident with the blood curse, Ron had started to ask, rather awkwardly, ‘Is it just me or was Malfoy flirting with you while he was high on those pain potions?’

 

Harry had just enough time to exchange an amused look with Hermione before their dinner (and conversation) was interrupted by a patronus from Robards and he’d had to leave the first proper opportunity he’d had to talk to Ron without having to pull him aside and start out with the whole not quite straight bit and lead on from there. Anytime since then, he would admit, had just been him avoiding the conversation in the hopes that Ron would do the hard part and bring it up. Because Harry was beginning to feel like talking to Ron was going to be a big deal when it hadn’t been for anyone else.

 

This was the first time he was really going to have to sit down and come out to someone without them first knowing – or at the very least having an inkling. He wasn’t really counting coming out to Molly and Arthur because he hadn’t thought about it beforehand, hadn’t worried about how the conversation would go and what they’d think because he – in typical Harry fashion – hadn’t been thinking, he’d just blurted it out.

 

He didn’t feel like he could do that with Ron, so he’d agreed when Hermione followed him into the corridor after they’d finished off their impromptu Italian dinner and “suggested” he take Ron with him to Gringotts. And now he was trying to think about every other possible reason Ron could have for getting annoyed at him just so he didn’t have to worry that his best mate would leave him the moment he realised Harry was sleeping with another man, let alone that the other man was Draco bloody Malfoy.

 

Watching Ron get jealous and storm away (as he’d done before) over just how much wealth Harry had inherited seemed an easier blow than losing his oldest friend because of who he chose to love.

 

Needless to say, he was slightly distracted when they reached the vault and managed to miss the way Ron’s eyes widened when he approached the vault and reached for the handle without any sort of ceremony and no key in sight. There was no key to the Black heirloom vault, Harry and Draco just needed to wrap his hand around the big – and very, very cursed – metal door handle, wait for it to take some blood with a sharp pin prick and then he could haul it open. The goblins, of course, kept the hinges on all the vaults properly oiled but that didn’t stop Harry from having to give a good firm pull to open the bloody heavy door.

 

Inside was just as much of a mess as he’d remembered. He pulled a face.

 

Ron peered over his shoulder to get a good look and whistled softly. ‘That’s a lot of junk.’

 

Harry sighed, dropped his chin to his chest and just took a moment to remember why he’d thought this was a good idea. With Draco’s smirk (not his smile – again, things about Harry that should probably be discussed with a mind healer) fixed firmly in his mind, Harry lifted his chin and stepped into the vault. Ron followed after him and immediately took a seat on the fancy looking loveseat right inside the door on the left. The thing was probably five hundred years old, if not older, and had clearly been placed in the vault by a wary spouse, fed up with just standing around while the other half got on with the poking about.

 

Given that Harry didn’t actually expect Ron to do much looking – half the bloody stuff in this vault was probably cursed – he didn’t hold it against his friend. It wasn’t like he’d been dragged along as another set of hands. If Pansy had been the one to come with him as he’d originally planned, she’d definitely have draped herself dramatically across the couch to shout criticisms at him from a safe distance.

 

‘What are you even looking for?’ Ron asked, as Harry stood surveying the many cabinets, shelves and careless teetering piles of jewellery, art and miscellaneous artefacts the Black family of generations past had thought valuable.

 

‘The last bit of Draco’s Christmas present,’ Harry answered honestly. With another sigh, he made for the first cabinet on the right and started opening drawers and poking about – with his wand (he was allowed to keep that now when he visited Gringotts) because he wasn’t an idiot. In theory, nothing in this vault could hurt him too badly but he was sure there were a few things in here that had blood protections on them, and Harry wasn’t sure how far his bond with Draco went when it came to ancient family curses.

 

Legally and magically Harry was a Black. Sirius had known what he was doing when he left everything to Harry, and the intricate bond he and Draco had linked them tighter than any magical marriage ever could. For all intents and purposes, Harry was a Black by soul and marriage and most of the protections should recognise that. That didn’t mean Harry was going to go blindly poking about, the Blacks had generations of magic soaking everything in this vault, there were bound to be some nasty surprises.

 

From his place on the loveseat, Ron grimaced. ‘You’re exchanging gifts with Malfoy?’

 

Harry nodded, most of his attention on his search. If he focused on that he could ignore the way his heart was racing at Ron’s tone and that he really did need to just come out and say the words. He could have said something about how Ron was getting Hermione something so why wouldn’t he get Draco a gift, but he didn’t. Months of thinking about and planning for this moment and he was still going to put it off as long as possible.

 

‘I know he’s got me something really good too, because when I was asking Pansy for advice, she told me nothing I could get him was going to beat what he got me so I shouldn’t be aiming too high.’

 

Because that hadn’t created a panic at all. Bloody Pansy. The worst part was he knew she was being truthful. Whatever Draco got him was bound to be amazing and was likely to put every other gift to shame and so Harry was scrambling to put together something that might vaguely measure up. Because they might not be rivals anymore but they hadn’t left their competitive natures behind.

 

Their last seekers game, just as an example, had been brutal.

 

‘You asked Pansy Parkinson for advice on what to get Malfoy for Christmas?’ Ron sounded incredulous and Harry glanced up to see his eyes were wide with surprise. ‘What the bloody hell for? Just get him some fancy chocolate or something.’

 

‘I buy him fancy chocolate all the time,’ Harry replied, returning his attention to a drawer that had tried to take a bite out of his fingers when he’d taken his attention off it. He gave it a stern poke before adding, ‘He’s fucking addicted to this raspberry cream thing they have at Honeydukes.’

 

Ron sputtered. ‘What? Harry, why?’

 

It occurred to Harry then that he had never seen any small romantic gestures between Ron and Hermione. He’d never seen Ron buy flowers just because he could or fetch her tea when she was too deep in an essay to remember to eat or drink. Admittedly he hadn’t been spending as much time with them as he used to and he assumed they spent plenty of time together when he wasn’t around, but he didn’t know that he’d ever witnessed that kind of moment between his friends.

 

It made him wonder if they’d ever noticed the little things he did for Draco or the ones Draco did in return. He thought Hermione must have, for her to be as unsurprised by their relationship as she had been. Although she’d still been quite surprised to learn he and Draco were together but that was mostly because she’d assumed he was an oblivious idiot. Which, fair enough, but she still must have watched all the little things? Draco fussed like a mother hen half the time, worrying over Harry’s clothes and his hair. Behind closed doors, perhaps, but he was just as openly bad about Harry’s homework. He bought tea when Harry was too tired to move, got him food when he was late back from auror training. Well, he called on Kreacher to arrange food, but it was the thought that counted. He’d even owl ordered half a dozen self-inking quills because he’d seen how much Harry still struggled after seven years of writing with the bloody things, and had Andromeda collect some ordinary muggle notebooks so he could easily take notes during his auror training.

 

Harry, in turn, did plenty of little things for Draco. Sometimes it was the same sort of thing, worrying about food, fetching tea (okay, yes, he called on Kreacher too), but it was never about overt displays of affection or romance, they were just little things they did for each other to show they cared and were there when needed. It was soft and quiet support, easy and gentle displays of love and a solid reminder that they weren’t alone.

 

Merlin, he really hoped Ron did some of those things for Hermione, hoped she did them in return. He wanted his friends’ relationship to last, he didn’t want it to implode over something so small and stupid as taking each other for granted. His thoughts merged with Ron’s own concerns from just the day before about sex and Hermione finding someone better and Harry couldn’t help feeling that Ron and Hermione were in for some shaky times if they didn’t start talking about these things.

 

He wasn’t about to say that to Ron just yet (though he made a note to bring it up later, preferably with Hermione so she could handle it) so he just shrugged and just answered Ron’s question. ‘Because he likes them.’

 

‘You’re mad,’ Ron informed him. ‘You never buy me or Hermione chocolate.’

 

Harry frowned. ‘I buy Hermione books sometimes.’ He looked over at Ron, waited for his friend to catch his eye and then said softly, ‘You’ve always been a bit weird about money, mate. I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable.’

 

Ron’s ears turned red and he nodded once before looking away. Harry worked in silence for a while and had made it halfway through the first cabinet when he realised he should have been doing something to catalogue everything he was finding. He made an annoyed sound that drew Ron’s attention.

 

‘What?’

 

‘I should be cataloguing all this as I go.’ He pulled a face. ‘Draco and I are going to have to come back over the summer to do it before we can consolidate all our vaults.’ He pulled another face.

 

‘Consolidate your vaults?’ Ron asked. ‘What do you mean?’

 

Harry very purposefully didn’t look at Ron as he explained. ‘We don’t need half a dozen vaults between us.’ He looked further into the depths of the heirloom vault, squinting into shadowy corners that probably held things waiting to chew on him. ‘We could probably put all the jewellery and art into a single vault and we’re both of age now, so we have access to our family vaults not just the trust ones anymore. Honestly, it would be nice to have one vault just so I don’t have to keep reading through all the paperwork the goblins send me.’

 

Ron’s awkwardness over Harry’s wealth was probably the only reason he didn’t think it was weird Harry was talking about his and Draco’s plans for their money together. Though, he probably didn’t even realise that’s what Harry was doing. He probably just thought two wealthy heirs were griping about having too much money in too many places.

 

Harry felt like a bit of a dick and he seriously wished he’d bought Pansy along. She wouldn’t have batted an eye at all the talk of money and fancy heirlooms. She might have tried to take a few, citing he still owed her a Christmas gift – he didn’t. He and Draco were going about Christmas in the manner of most established couples and were buying gifts together – and Draco had had Pansy’s gift ordered before November was even half done.

 

Draco, Harry had realised, enjoyed buying people things and now he did it because he liked the people he was buying for not because he enjoyed flaunting his wealth – although he did still enjoy that. He was allowed to be happy and proud of his money without tying it to blood purity. He was, after all, still a posh git.

 

But he was Harry’s posh git and who was he to stop Draco spending money on the people he cared about? Especially when it meant he only had to offer an opinion once Draco had offered up some ideas. Shopping with someone for other people was far easier than scrambling about trying to figure out what was an appropriate gift when he’d never even gotten a Christmas card before he went to Hogwarts.

 

But joint Christmas presents was another reason he really needed to talk to Ron.

 

Ron didn’t say anything more about the number of vaults Harry had, instead he started asking questions about the things Harry was finding. Harry didn’t mind, it was an amusing way to pass the time while he searched, coming up with more and more ridiculous stories behind the things he was finding.

 

Ron had just finished a rather grand tale about lost love and murder involving the truly hideous silver candlesticks Harry had found in the back of one armoire and they were both having a good laugh when Harry bit the bullet and broached the topic with Ron.

 

‘Hermione was the one to ask me to bring you today,’ he informed Ron, glancing quickly over at his friend and away again. ‘I actually had plans with Pansy.’

 

His words were met with silence and he chanced a glance at Ron to see that his friend had gone very pale beneath his freckles and was looking at Harry with a peculiar expression on his face. ‘You had plans with Pansy,’ Ron repeated. ‘Pansy Parkinson?’

 

Harry nodded. ‘She’s actually not so bad.’

 

That might have been an understatement. Now that she and Draco were trying to build an honest friendship, he (and Draco) were discovering that Pansy Parkinson was, frankly, amazing. She was sharp and scathing when she wanted to be, but she was also loving and supportive and she was so happy to be able to share her new experiences in the muggle world. More often than not, her letters to Draco had bits in them meant for Harry, witty commentary on her new life, scathing remarks about her old. She might have a dark sense of humour but she could be light and cheerful and she was good for Draco.

 

Honestly, Harry would have liked her for that alone, but she got along well with Luna, was another person who could check in on Narcissa and she was a part of Draco’s life from before that he could be proud to cling to. She was a relationship he didn’t have to be ashamed to still want. Not that he should be ashamed to want any connection to the people he’d once cared about. Because he had cared about them, in his own way. Rebuilding a proper – healthy – friendship with Pansy had shown him that, at the very least. Draco had never shied away from talking about the past with Harry, hard not to when most of their important conversations had taken place in his cell in Azkaban, but Harry had noticed that since becoming reacquainted with Pansy, Draco found it easier to talk about Crabbe and Goyle.

 

Draco had always found it easy to talk about the other people in Slytherin, the ones he’d gone through all his sexual adventures with, but Crabbe and Goyle were different. He’d talked about them, but it was easier now, like a weight had been lifted once he’d openly acknowledged to Pansy that he’d treated them all like shit and used them as a means to an end.

 

That he’d been one of the ones driving their behaviour.

 

‘She tried to hand you over to Voldemort,’ Ron needlessly pointed out.

 

Harry shrugged. ‘She was trying to save her family.’

 

Harry was still poking through a drawer full of rings (none of them the pair he was looking for) so he didn’t see the strange look come over Ron and therefore didn’t quite grasp his meaning when he said, ‘You like her.’

 

Harry shrugged, ‘Yeah, I guess I do.’

 

He shut the drawer and turned to the next one. Not realising until a moment later that Ron had gone strangely quiet. Or that he had taken entirely the wrong meaning from their conversation until his friend started talking, haltingly and with a somewhat strangled voice.

 

‘I always thought you and Ginny would end up together.’

 

Harry shrugged and, amused, replied, ‘Me and Gin are great on parchment.’

 

‘I guess I always thought, you know, after the war, that you two would get back together.’

 

Harry pulled a face that Ron couldn’t see. He’d prefer not to think about that awkward week after Fred’s funeral, all things considered. He and Ginny had tried so hard to bury their grief in each other which had culminated in (thankfully only) the one terrible sexual encounter between them that had had them both going their separate ways. If the war hadn’t come between them maybe they would have stayed together but Harry didn’t think it would have lasted.

 

For some reason, he imagined whatever relationship they had would have crumbled the next time he bumped into Draco. He knew himself well enough to know that he’d have spent the next week ranting and grumbling about the arrogant git until Ginny had enough of him and told him to just go and talk to Draco and he knew that would be the start of something they couldn’t come back from.

 

Draco and Ginny might mock him for it, but it had been seven months (more or less) and he was perfectly willing to admit that, for him, it was Draco and it would always be Draco.

 

To Ron, he said, ‘We tried. It was terrible. We’re much better off as friends.’

 

The vault was quiet while Ron mulled this over and then he surprised Harry by saying, ‘And now you like Pansy.’

 

‘She’s weirdly likeable,’ Harry replied before the whole conversation caught up with him and he turned to Ron with a confused, ‘Wait, what?’ and promptly had his hand swallowed buy a teapot that had grown fangs and a sandpapery tongue when he took his attention off it.

 

He yelped and tried to shake it off but, when that didn’t work, he resorted to stroking the spout which seemed to soothe it enough to let him go. Thank Merlin, he actually listened when Luna talked to him about temperamental family heirlooms. He shot it a reproachful glare which it couldn’t see because it was a teapot and had no eyes and turned his full attention back to Ron who was looking at him with wide eyes, raised half off the loveseat as though he’d been about to come to the rescue.

 

‘Hold on,’ he said, tone incredulous, ‘you think I fancy Pansy?’

 

‘You just said you like her,’ Ron defended. ‘You had plans with her!’

 

‘Of course, I had plans with her.’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘She’s Draco’s oldest friend and she knows a lot more about all this,’ he waved his sore hand around at the contents of the vault, idling noting as he did that the teapot hadn’t managed to draw blood but had left some very obvious teeth shaped bruises, ‘than I do. Honestly, why on earth would you think I fancy Pansy?’

 

‘Well I don’t know why else you’d be spending time with her.’

 

‘She’s Draco’s oldest friend,’ Harry repeated slowly but then he stopped to consider what he was saying and realised that meant absolutely nothing to Ron because Ron didn’t like Draco, didn’t know how much Harry loved Draco and honestly thought he was barmy for buying the bloke a Christmas present when he could have just owl ordered some chocolate and been done with it.

 

‘So, just because you’re friends with Draco now, means you have to like Parkinson?’

 

Harry was an idiot. He sighed, stepping away from the cabinet (and the teapot which despite not having eyes, he was sure was staring at him) and moved back toward Ron and the loveseat. He made a shooing motion with his hands and Ron slid over to one side, sitting up straight and making room for Harry. He perched as far away from his friend as he could because this was about to be a really awkward conversation and he didn’t want to feel the way Ron stiffened beside him when he finally got the words out.

 

‘I made the effort to get to know Pansy because she is Draco’s oldest friend,’ he conceded. ‘But now that I know her better, she is someone worth knowing and I would say we’re friends.’

 

‘I don’t get it,’ Ron mumbled. ‘I was in Australia for four months and suddenly you’re friends with Slytherins?’

 

Harry kept his eyes down, traced the teeth marks on one hand with the fingers of the other and thought about all the things he hadn’t said to Ron in the last eight months. All the things he’d meant to say and just hadn’t. All the words he’d put off because it wasn’t the right time, or he wasn’t sure his friend was ready to hear it.

 

There was never going to be the perfect time to have this conversation with Ron but the longer he put it off the harder it was going to be because Ron, like Hermione, would feel hurt that Harry hadn’t felt he could come to him with the truth. Harry had been right, in the beginning, wanting to give Ron and Hermione the chance to see that Draco had changed. He’d been right to give them time to get to know Draco properly and to see that he was someone worthy of Harry’s friendship. But they’d had that time and still he’d put off telling them. He’d put it off so long that even if Ron reacted well, even if he didn’t walk away in disgust, his best friend was still going to be hurt that Harry had hidden the truth from him for so long.

 

‘I don’t resent you for going with Hermione,’ Harry began, ‘so don’t think that’s why I’m saying this but, mate, you weren’t here.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Ron grumbled. ‘Missed four months of you visiting Malfoy every bloody day in Azkaban.’

 

Harry grinned but still didn’t raise his head to look at Ron. ‘You did miss that, yeah, and I’m sure if you’d been here I never would have kept going back to see him after that first night in the Ministry holding cell.’

 

‘I’d like to think ‘Mione and I could have talked you out of wasting all that time on some poncy Death Eater.’

 

Harry scowled. ‘I’m really glad you weren’t here.’ He said it sharply and wasn’t at all sorry about that. He ignored the way Ron turned to look at him, ignored the searching affronted look his best mate was likely giving him.

 

‘I know you don’t like it when people call him that.’ Ron shifted next to him, turning his body until his back was pressed against the armrest and Harry could feel his eyes burning into the side of his face.

 

Harry still didn’t turn around. He didn’t stop scowling either. ‘That’s not who he is anymore,’ he pushed. ‘Not who he ever really was.’

 

‘He was a Death Eater, Harry, got the Mark to prove it. He did some truly awful things and just because you’re friends now, doesn’t mean I can forget all the terrible things he’s done. Doesn’t mean you should either.’

 

This time Harry did turn to glare at him. ‘I haven’t forgotten what he did,’ he snapped. ‘Maybe I just know more about what really happened than you do.’

 

Ron’s eyebrows shot up at his vehemence and Harry sighed, shoulders slumping as he scrubbed both hands over his face – something that would have been awkward before and involved moving or smudging his glasses.

 

It had been Draco that made it possible for him to finally get rid of the bent and broken frames his horrible aunt had purchased him all those years ago. Draco who spent hours and hours brewing a horrendously tricky potion and Draco who helped Harry get the doses right in the beginning. It was Draco who had pointed out such a fundamental weakness given his chosen career and then helped him find a solution. Draco who had done so many simple things for Harry that no one had thought to do before. Replacing his whole wardrobe might have seemed like a controlling move but, in reality, it had honestly never occurred to Harry that was something he should – and could – spend his money on.

 

Molly made him jumpers at Christmas and she’d always made sure he had new robes that fit for the upcoming school year but he was the one who’d kept wearing Dudley’s old clothes, he was the one who, even with weeks spent on his own in Diagon Alley before third year, had never bothered to look for better fitting things. He’d never bought something for himself because he could, nothing big or even small, just because he wanted it. As far as Harry could remember, the Quidditch World Cup, when he’d bought them all omnioculars was the first time he’d ever just purchased something that wasn’t a necessity – and he’d gotten some for his friends too.

 

Draco pushed him to be selfish sometimes, showed him that it was okay to do the little things – taught him how to do the little things. And he never made a big deal of it. Sure, he’d caused a fuss over the wardrobe thing, but he’d made it about him. Of all the people in his life, Draco should have been the one to make him feel ridiculous for not knowing how to do basic things. The boy who’d reached out and used those things to torment him in the past should have made Harry feel small and ridiculous for not knowing what size jeans he would need. But he never felt like that with Draco.

 

Draco knew everything about Harry, what he didn’t know from observing him at school, he knew from their talks in his cell. He knew Harry inside and out and Harry knew him too. He knew exactly what had driven Draco to take the Mark, knew exactly when his thoughts on blood status had changed.

 

Ron didn’t know any of that, didn’t know what had really happened to Draco during the war and so he took the evidence of Draco’s words and his taunts and the Mark on his arm and he called him Death Eater still. Oh, he might have some suspicions, he’d been just as horrified by some of the things the Ministry had done to Draco, but he’d never quite settled on feeling as though Draco didn’t somehow deserve it.

 

It made Harry sad. And so damn tired of it all.

 

‘I’m not going to the Burrow over the break,’ he told Ron.

 

‘Mate – I’m sorry,’ Ron said, and he sounded tired, if perhaps resigned. ‘Don’t – ’

 

Harry cut him off. He didn’t need Ron going off on a worried rant thinking he’d offended him and that was why he was staying away. ‘I’m going home with Draco.’

 

‘What the fuck for?’ Ron asked. He sounded angry, frustrated, like he didn’t understand how this conversation was going so wrong or why they were even having it in the first place.

 

That was Harry’s fault. He should have talked to Ron sooner. He shouldn’t have let his worries and his fears over losing his best friend get in the way of being honest and open about his relationship with Draco.

 

Ron had left before. He’d probably leave again. It wasn’t Harry’s fault. It was never Harry’s fault and he was done caring that he might lose his oldest friend just because he loved Draco Malfoy. He didn’t want someone in his life who was just going to leave him over something that made him happy. He hoped Ron had come far enough since the war to see that, but it didn’t matter, not in the end.

 

‘Because I want to spend Christmas with my boyfriend.’ He watched his words register with Ron, watched as he recoiled as though Harry had struck him. His whole face turned red, the colour sweeping up his neck, ears burning, and he took a deep breath, opened his mouth, no doubt to start yelling, and Harry was braced for it, but it never came.

 

Ron deflated like an old balloon, shoulders dropping, colour draining back out of his face and he said, ‘Oh.’

 

Harry turned away then, couldn’t face the look on Ron’s face as he started to talk. He didn’t give an explanation, refused to justify his feelings, instead he said, softly – openly – with as much feeling as he could, ‘I love him.’

 

Ron made a strangled noise which Harry ignored.

 

‘We’re going to come over for Christmas dinner.’ He cleared his throat. ‘We promised your mum, you know she’d kill us if we didn’t at least come for that.’

 

‘She would.’ The words were automatic. Flat. Like he hadn’t even meant to say them but hadn’t known how to stop them. He wasn’t looking at Harry now, had turned to stare into the depths of the vault so he wouldn’t have to.

 

‘You don’t have to stay,’ he told Ron. ‘I’ll deal with the goblins.’

 

‘Right.’

 

Ron didn’t move. Harry was the one to get to his feet. ‘I’m – uh – I’m going to go back to looking for the rest of Draco’s present.’

 

Harry opened a cupboard at random. There was a tarnished silver jewellery box sitting on the shelf inside. He opened the lid, trying not to listen for the sound of Ron leaving. Tried not to let the lump in his throat become an ache in his chest. Tried to ignore the tears that were threatening to fall.

 

He had a pair of rings to find for the man he loved. It didn’t matter if his best friend left. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d gone; he should be used to it by now. It shouldn’t hurt so much when he’d been expecting it from the beginning. He shouldn’t have such a sick feeling in his stomach when he’d been waiting for it to happen all along. Shouldn’t let himself wait for the sound of Ron’s shoes on the stone floor as he stalked out of the vault.

 

Shouldn’t have let his heart break at the sound of the vault door opening and closing.

Chapter Text

The smallest bedroom at Number 4 Privet Drive looked the same as it always did in the summer. The small bed shoved in amongst Dudley’s broken toys, the wardrobe that contained the small amount of clothing Harry owned – none of which was in his size. It was hot and stuffy in the room, little breeze coming in through the window he’d pushed open a fraction. Harry lay on his bed, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

 

Last year, he’d been nervous and excited, so full of hope for what magic could bring into his life. Sure, there’d been that thing with Voldemort and Quirrell but there’d been classes and quidditch and Ron and Hermione.

 

At least he’d thought there’d been Ron and Hermione. Two months without a single word. Two months. Maybe he didn’t mean anything to them. Maybe they’d only hung around because he was Harry Potter – the Boy Who Loved – and not because he was someone worth knowing. It wasn’t as though he’d had friends before. Before Hogwarts he’d been a risk no one had been willing to take. Who would want to be friends with the weird skinny kid that Dudley liked to beat up? Who wanted to be friends with someone who made weird things happen and frequently was covered in bruises?

 

Why would anyone want to care about a strange little boy whose parents were dead and was obviously broken enough that his own relatives couldn’t stand the sight of him? Why should he have thought Hogwarts would be any different? Why should he have thought the wizarding world would be different just because there was magic and he was famous and there were no Dursleys to point out all his flaws?

 

The only words spoken on the trip to Kings Cross were threats. But Harry was used to threats and when he made it through the barrier and found people familiar and smiles welcoming, he thought for a moment that everything would be okay.

 

But it wasn’t okay because he didn’t find Ron or Hermione and so he sat alone in the compartment and waited, wondering if they were running late, if they’d come looking for him and he kept wondering that for hours and hours until he’d have welcomed even a confrontation with Malfoy but even he didn’t show his face and the deep gaping hole in Harry’s chest that had started in those first few weeks of summer, yawned bigger and bleaker than ever as he realised that last year was a lie and that he didn’t have friends who were worried about him or looking forward to seeing him again.

 

That he didn’t even have Draco Malfoy to –

 

There was blood everywhere, swelling between Harry’s fingers as he tried desperately to stem its flow. There were tears flowing down his cheeks just as freely as the warm thick blood flowed, and his throat ached from screaming, his ears ringing from Myrtle’s ghostly shouts as they both begged for someone, anyone, to come and help because this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. It wasn’t supposed to end like this because the colour was fading from Draco’s cheeks and he was mouthing silent words and terrified gasps and he couldn’t get any air because there was so much blood and the curse had taken root deep in Draco’s chest cutting bone and muscle until there was nothing but ribbons of flesh that Harry tried desperately – futilely – to hold together as his heart broke into a million pieces because he didn’t want this, he’d never wanted this. He just wanted it to stop, for someone to believe him and understand but he’d never considered this, he’d never thought he’d be here with Draco in the bathroom, watching his life slip away after a stupid mistake and he just wanted him to open his eyes and smirk and tell him it was okay and he was forgiven.

 

But he never would. There was no life in those eyes and the blood that flowed over Harry’s hands had slowed until it was spilling from an empty shell that was no longer Draco and all Harry could do was gather him close and rock back and forth keening over the loss of his greatest love if only there’d been time because this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It wasn’t. It –

 

Hermione’s expression was soft and sad, telling him her words weren’t to be happy ones, that he wasn’t going to like what she had to say, but the determined set of her shoulders said she was going to say it anyway. But Harry didn’t want to listen, he didn’t want to hear what he already knew and so he beat her to it, his own words empty and hollow because he was numb now, hurt and broken and too tired to fight against this anymore.

 

‘You’re going with him.’

 

Hermione bit her lip, eyes welling up with tears, but she was firm when she nodded. ‘I have to Harry. Ron’s right and you know it. This isn’t working. We’re going in circles and we have nothing to show for it. It’s been months. You should have found something by now.’

 

Anger flared within Harry, sharp and bitter, but it didn’t last long, he didn’t know how to hold onto it anymore when everything in him had been hollowed out. ‘I should have found something? We’re in this together! You’re the one who insisted on coming! And now that it’s hard, now that you’ve seen what it’s really like, what? You’re just going to run away?’

 

‘You’re going to lose this, Harry!’ Hermione shouted, voice thick with tears and regret. ‘We don’t know what we’re doing,’ her voice broke as she admitted the painful truth. ‘We can’t keep doing this, we need help and if you’re not willing to see that, then Ron’s right, it’s time for us to go.’

 

‘I can’t do this without you,’ Harry whispered, pleaded.

 

‘I think you have to,’ Hermione responded. ‘I can’t die for you, Harry, I won’t. All those people who believe in you, they don’t know you’ve got no idea what you’re really doing, and I can’t be a part of that. I can’t go on letting them think there’s some big plan when really it’s just the three of us in this terrible tent trying to survive on nuts and berries and horrible mushrooms.’ She looked at Harry, her gaze pitying. ‘I can’t see this war ending, Harry, not the way we want it to, not the way Dumbledore planned for. I’m going with Ron and then I’m going to find my parents. I’m not going to die for this stupid war, Harry, I’m just not.’

 

‘Hermione, please,’ Harry begged but Hermione had said her piece and she was done trying to explain herself, she just gave Harry one last look and apparated away with a very emotional crack.

 

Harry fell to his knees in the damp leaves a sob tearing through him. There was no one around to hear him fall apart, no one around to comfort him because there was never anyone, there’d never be anyone and Harry would lose this war and people would die and he would –

 

Sirius’ smile was bright and full of laughter. The laugh lines around his eyes crinkled in joy as he bounced around the room adding more and more decorations to the room, delighted to have company for Christmas. But Harry watched the joy fade and his godfather become quiet and moody, the light and life of Christmas fading away as the holidays ended and it came time to return to Hogwarts. He took the wrapped parcel and stowed it away knowing he would never use it, that he would never endanger Sirius and he smiled one last time at his godfather never realising it was the last.

 

The last smile, the last exchange, the last moment where he could have stopped it, where he could have said something, opened the parcel and used what was inside because then he would have Sirius and there’d be no Death Chamber, no cut off laugh and Bellatrix’s cackle. There’d never be –

 

Remus came on a quiet evening in February. Face sombre, eyes puffy with grief as he took Harry into McGonagall’s office and explained in a soft broken whisper that Sirius was gone. That the quiet solitude of Grimmauld, the horror of being trapped within the walls of his hated childhood home, had driven the darkness too deep and that he was gone. That Sirius had lost the light and his smiles and the ability to fight off the deep sadness the dementors created and that he had taken his own life.

 

‘There was a note,’ Remus told him, voice gentle even when he looked as though he wanted to wail and shout. ‘He doesn’t want us to worry. Not anymore.’

 

The guilt Harry felt welled inside him. What if he’d opened the parcel? What if he’d just talked to Sirius and given him that connection, that reason to keep fighting off the sadness and depression? What if he’d –

 

It took a moment for Harry to understand what Kingsley was saying. Even then, even once the words had trickled through Harry’s brain and some sort of connection had been made, he didn’t want to understand, he couldn’t because there was no sense to take from his words.

 

‘What?’ Harry’s eyes stared beyond Kingsley, the only one to break the silence in the conference room. ‘What did you say?’

 

‘The Malfoy boy is dead,’ Kingsley repeated and there was a strange undercurrent to his words that Harry might have mistaken for grief but that couldn’t be right, no, it must be anger because Malfoy was locked away in a holding cell and the only people who had access to him down there were…

 

‘Aurors,’ Harry said the word aloud. ‘Aurors,’ he repeated and this time the word was sharp on his tongue, bitten off with the swelling of a deep rage within him.

 

And a deep grief too, that he didn’t understand.

 

‘Yes,’ Kingsley confirmed. ‘Winthrop found him this morning.’ Kingsley looked greatly unsettled when he further explained, ‘He was beaten to death in his cell.’

 

Harry stood abruptly, sending his chair skittering away to crash into the wall behind him. The idea that Malfoy was gone, that he’d been alone and defenceless and the people who were supposed to be the good guys had hurt him and hurt him until he was gone was just sick and wrong and Harry’s stomach was churning, and it was all he could do to turn and stride out of the room. There wasn’t a bathroom close enough but there was a stupid ugly fern and Harry retched into the pot, emptying the contents of his stomach because Malfoy couldn’t be dead, he couldn’t, he was supposed to live a long time and be a constant thorn in Harry’s side with all of his snide comments and that stupid smirk and he was…he was…

 

Harry had never expected to cry over Malfoy, but he did that day and once those tears had dried up that was it. Sickened by what had occurred he turned his back on the Ministry, on Kingsley and the people who were trying to clean it up and he took comfort in Ginny and it was all wrong, but it was all either of them had in that moment and lost in their grief together they made choices that were all wrong and there were moments over the years when Harry would wonder about his life if he’d stuck around the Ministry. There were quiet moments when he would think about Malfoy and how trapped he was in a life he’d been forced into and although he never cried again there were times when he was sad.

 

There were times when he remembered a boy who had all the wrong choices forced on him and then had his hopes and second chances yanked away by people who were supposed to be good and if Harry was a little broken, if he was a little distant and cold then that was expected because he’d been forced to do a lot of bad things in the war and Ginny and the kids were maybe his only bright spot but sometimes it just felt so wrong and he couldn’t help wondering about the boy in the cell who would never have the chance to make the right choices, who would never have the chance to teach Harry how to love and laugh and –

 

‘You’re sick,’ Ron snarled. ‘I can’t believe I’ve been friends with you all these years and you’ve just been this disgusting fag, gagging for Death Eater cock.’

 

The words hit Harry hard. They were all wrong because the Ron he knew, the one who had been his friend for seven years would never say something like that. He would never use words or language like that and even if he didn’t like Harry’s choice in partner, he would never be so vicious and cruel.

 

But the words hung in the air and the look on Neville’s face, the horror at hearing those words come out of Ron’s mouth was so very real, and Harry felt sick. All he’d wanted when he came looking for Ron was to explain, to say all the things he wanted Ron to know and understand that he hadn’t been able to say in the vault because Ron had left.

 

He’d never thought Ron would be so cruel.

 

‘Merlin, is that what sixth year was all about?’ Ron sneered. ‘Your sick little fantasy about getting on your knees for Malfoy? Even then? I can’t believe all this time you’ve just been some shirt lifter pretending like you’re normal. Did you even care about my sister? Or did you just fuck her so no one would suspect how messed up you really are over your little pet Death Eater?’

 

‘Don’t call him that,’ Harry snapped but he couldn’t keep up with the hate that Ron was throwing at him. He couldn’t understand how the friend he loved so fiercely could believe the words he was saying. That he could even say them in the first place.

 

‘He’s a Death Eater, Harry,’ barked Ron, on a bitter laugh. ‘Do you think about that when he’s shoving his cock up your arse? Is that the appeal?’ He scoffed. ‘Or do you fuck him? Is that it? One more way to beat Voldemort?’ Ron made a disgusted sound. ‘What would people say if they knew, huh? What would the rest of the wizarding world think if they knew their sweet precious saviour was a fairy?’

 

‘That’s enough, Ron,’ Neville shouted, stepping close into Ron’s personal space and shoving him back with two strong arms.

 

He shoved him again when Ron made to push forward and then looked over his should at Harry, his expression more furious than Harry had ever seen it, even when he’d been slaying Nagini.

 

But his voice was soft when he spoke to Harry, saying, ‘You should go, you shouldn’t have to hear this.’

 

Harry nodded and fled, Ron’s shouts following him out of the room as he snarled harsh words at Harry’s retreating back. He bumped into Hannah on the stairs who took one look at his face and her own crumpled.

 

‘Merlin, fuck,’ she muttered, tugging on his arm, to pull him away from the boys’ stairs and toward the girls’. ‘Draco!’ she shouted as she pulled Harry along. ‘Hermione!’

 

She bundled Harry through a door into what he would later realise was her own bedroom, but he was numb as she pushed him gently back onto her bed and then he blinked and Draco was there, climbing up behind him and arms were wrapping around him and Harry simply broke. His whole body shook with sobs and he –

 

Green light slammed into white feathers and Hedwig was falling from the sky, a scream choking in Harry’s throat as he desperately tried to survive –

 

Fiendfyre surged around them but Harry didn’t look back, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t see what he was leaving behind even as screams filled his ears and he knew Malfoy would die. But he couldn’t look back, he wouldn’t. He –

 

Fred was laughing and joking even as the wall blew in and –

 

It was cold in the Chamber of Secrets. The basilisk was dead but the venom spreading through Harry was powerful, he wouldn’t survive this. He’d lost this fight and Ginny would be consumed by Riddle until there was nothing left of her and Voldemort would be young and powerful again, free to hunt down the piece of himself that lived out in the world and do – what? Harry didn’t know, but he wouldn’t be around to see it. He and Ginny would die down in the Chamber, and once Riddle was strong, once he’d taken proper form, he would leave the Chamber. He’d find Ron first and he’d kill him, him and Lockhart and then it would be a matter of time before everyone else in the castle died.

 

And for what? Harry’s own stupidity? Because Harry had thought he could do this on his own? Because he’d gone to a teacher he knew was useless instead of tracking down McGonagall? So many stupid mistakes and it would get him killed, would get all of them killed. Even stupid Malfoy with his sharp pointy face and that stupid snarl because Riddle was Voldemort but Harry wasn’t stupid enough to believe that meant people were safe just because of their blood status and now Harry had failed to save Ginny and he’d likely gotten Malfoy killed, Malfoy who could have been his…Harry didn’t know how to finish that thought because here in this moment he was twelve and he was dying and what did he know about the future and the love and hope and happiness that would come from knowing Draco Malfoy? What did he care to know (what did he care to dream?) about a future he would never –

 

It wasn’t the first time he’d arrived to find Draco asleep. It was hard to keep any kind of schedule in the gloom of Azkaban, and with the dementors hovering he knew Draco took whatever sleep he could get. It had become a habit now, to light the cell with the warmth of his patronus and to slide onto the horrible thing pretending to be a bed and to hold Draco close until he was warm enough and aware enough to talk.

 

But Draco wasn’t warm, and his skin was icy to the touch and no matter how hard Harry tried, he couldn’t wake him. He would never wake again. The stupid, too skinny, bony git who always had a snarky word and smug smile, the boy who was becoming a man that Harry loved above all others, but he’d never even gotten the chance to tell him, and now he was gone, and all Harry could do was wrap his arms around Draco and hold him close while he waited for the guard to come and take Draco away where Harry would never see him again.

 

Because Draco was gone. It didn’t matter that Harry loved him or that his sentence in Azkaban was just days from being over, Draco was gone and in that horrible grief filled moment, he took Harry with him, leaving behind a shell of himself, broken by the passing of a boy he should have hated but was instead the man he loved, when even Voldemort and the war and his own death hadn’t managed.

 

Strange to think there was no Harry without Draco. Strange to feel as though part of him had been ripped away and that he would never be whole again. Strange to think that this perfect broken boy had been Harry’s reason for everything, that he –

 

He was in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom and it was sixth year. He’d been following Malfoy all year and now he knew it was the moment, this was the one chance he would have to confront him and find out once and for all what he was up to. It was finally his chance to prove to everyone that he wasn’t just obsessing over nothing, that Malfoy really was up to something.

 

But it didn’t go like that and when Draco reacted violently, trying to curse Harry for seeing him in such a weak moment, for seeing him and being angry and sharp and not understanding, Harry struck back. He used a curse he didn’t know based solely on a little note without realising that Malfoy wasn’t his enemy. He wasn’t his nemesis or whatever childhood ridiculousness had blinded Harry to the truth of a broken boy, terrified of losing his family.

 

In that moment as he lay bleeding on the cold floor, blood mixing with the water spraying everywhere, he wasn’t Malfoy, he was just Draco and he was a mirror of Harry in all his fears and his terrors and instead of being noticed, instead of being reached in his darkness he’d been punished for it. Punished for loving his parents, punished for not understanding until it was too late that his views were wrong. He was punished for the hopelessness that Harry felt when confronted by his own reality and as he skidded to his knees on the floor, water and blood soaking his pants and his robes, he realised that it wasn’t Malfoy lying on the floor but Draco with old wounds freshly sliced open and a betrayed look on his face.

 

‘Why did you do this?’ Draco gasped, eyes betrayed and full of pain. ‘I loved you. How could you do this?’

 

Harry’s sobs rivalled Myrtle’s as he screamed for help. His voice rough and throat raw as he shouted and screamed and desperately tried to save the man he loved.

 

But there was no saving Draco because Harry was just a boy, just a confused boy convinced that someone he didn’t like was up to no good based on the fact that he knew Malfoy better than he would ever realise, than he would ever get the chance to realise, because his stupid mistake had taken the life of the boy who even now meant more to him than he realised but in two years’ time, in ten, would be the brightest light shining into Harry’s darkness and in this one horrifying moment he had taken that all away because he was young and scared and so stupid and Draco was bleeding and there was no coming back from this because Snape was –

 

He was lying on the floor of a train compartment with Draco hovering over him and there was a familiar vicious snarl on the boy’s face as he opened his mouth to shout the harsh words Harry knew he deserved because he would one day get him killed. Only the words didn’t come and there was a moment of confusion because the snarl on Malfoy’s face didn’t match the soft words that were making their way into Harry’s head.

 

‘I love you. I’m here. You’re safe. I love you. I love you.’

 

The words were wrong and strange coming from the snarling face of sixteen-year-old Draco, but they were soft and familiar, and they tugged at a part of Harry, pulling on a piece of his very soul until Malfoy was Draco and the figure hovering above him was crouching now and soft fingers were threading through Harry’s hair as whispered words of love and comfort dragged him out of –

 

Harry woke with a deep shuddering sob.

 

‘I’ve got you, I’m here, I’m here, you’re safe,’ the words were soft, a gentle refrain of patience and love and Harry flailed as he tried to make sense of the soft words, the gentle touch, after being trapped in an endless loop of nightmares that were still clawing at the edges of his mind trying to break free of the box he desperately shoved them into.

 

‘Draco?’ he croaked, squinting through tear-filled eyes into the darkness.

 

‘I’m here,’ Draco replied gently. He squeezed the arm wrapped tight around Harry’s back, keeping him pressed against Draco’s naked chest and kissed the top of his head. With his free hand Draco groped around in the dark for the blankets that Harry must have kicked loose in his sleep.

 

‘Oh Merlin,’ Harry breathed, burying his face into Draco’s chest hoping that the familiar warmth would force the lingering hooks of his nightmares to stay they hell out of his head.

 

‘I’ve got you, you’re safe.’

 

But Harry just cried. He was safe, he knew that. He knew where he was, wrapped in Draco’s arms in the bed they shared at Malfoy Manor. They’d been home three days. Three days of nightmares and broken sleep and Draco’s nerves starting to fray because he wasn’t getting any more sleep than Harry was, but he still managed to hold Harry, to comfort him and all Harry wanted to do was burrow into that warmth, that comfort and love, and hide away from the world because it was safe there in Draco’s arms where the world couldn’t touch him.

 

At least not when he was awake.

 

Every single time he closed his eyes and tried to sleep it was a different matter entirely. His brain was throwing up an endless loop of all the ways things could have been different. His stupid brain kept showing him all the times he’d feared he was alone and shaping them until they were the worst possible outcome. He’d laid in bed the summer before second year, worrying that he didn’t have any friends, nervous about going back to school and finding out that after everything they’d been through, the novelty had worn off and Hermione and Ron weren’t interested in being his friend.

 

It hadn’t happened that way, but it could have. Just like he might have failed Ginny in second year because he was a stupid kid who thought he could handle the world. Or all the ways he’d failed to understand Sirius, to just be with him while they had the chance. The way he could have killed Draco, or simply not saved him, they were all things that could have happened, that he’d feared would happen and his brain kept throwing them at him when all he wanted to do was sleep.

 

Sleep and nurse his hurts because so much of his dreams had been based off pointless what-ifs – not the fun kind he and Draco joked about – but it hadn’t all been a lie.

 

He wished it had been a lie.

 

As if Draco could hear his thoughts, he said, ‘I wish I could kill him.’

 

‘You can’t kill him,’ Harry murmured but it lacked any real conviction because Ron’s words and actions had hurt and Harry wasn’t feeling especially charitable right now, not with how those words and the feelings they’d spawned in Harry seemed to have triggered a never-ending storm of nightmares.

 

At least, that’s what his mind healer said.

 

‘There’s a common thread here, Harry,’ she’d pointed out softly. ‘Do you see what it is?’

 

Harry had looked to Draco for help, squeezed his hand so tightly it was a wonder Harry hadn’t broken something in the last few days with how tightly he’d taken to holding on to Draco. Another symptom, his mind healer prompted him, but one she was happy for him to take comfort and strength in for the moment. One that Draco was more than happy to accommodate, even if it had meant doing everything one handed.

 

If Harry was awake, some part of him was touching and holding onto Draco. He held his hand, sat pressed against him or curled against him, or looped an arm around his waist or his neck. At tables he hooked his foot around Draco’s ankle, rested a hand on his thigh, desperate for the reminder that Draco was there, that he wasn’t dead or gone or any of the things that his nightmares would have him believe.

 

And all because his best friend turned out to be a homophobic prick who left whenever things got hard.

 

So maybe there was a part of Harry that would happily let Draco kill Ron. But it was only a small part and it was fuelled mostly by the hurt and confusion because they’d all been expecting Ron to be angry. They’d honestly been expecting him to be furious that Harry was with Draco but none of them had expected the vicious onslaught of homophobic slurs. All Harry had wanted was a chance to explain how it had happened, how much Draco had shown that he’d changed not just said pretty words – hadn’t Ron seen for himself how much Draco had changed? – but all he’d gotten was anger and vitriol until Neville had stepped in and Harry had fled.

 

He’d likely never be able to look Hannah in the eye again, but he just didn’t understand.

 

‘I don’t think any of us do,’ Draco whispered into Harry’s hair. ‘We all expected him to be angry about it being me, but he loves you – his brother is bloody gay!’

 

Draco’s outrage tried to pull a smile out of Harry, but it was hard because he really didn’t understand how he’d so completely misjudged Ron, how any of them had. ‘I wish I’d been there to see Molly jinx his mouth shut.’

 

Draco sniggered. ‘We should ask Ginny for the memory.’

 

‘She’d give it to you.’ Harry had no doubt about that. She’d have shown it to Harry already if she didn’t think the moments surrounding it would hurt him more.

 

They fell into a comfortable silence. The constant warmth of Draco was slowing starting to seep into the cold cruelty of Harry’s nightmares and while he didn’t think he would be able to go back to sleep, he did think he’d be able to get up and face the day without as much of the anger as he’d been tossing around the day before.

 

Poor Pansy.

 

‘You look like shit,’ were the delightful words Pansy greeted them with when she’d opened the front door of her tiny London flat.

 

‘Hello to you, too,’ Draco had muttered, stalking past her without a smile or even an affectionate cheek kiss.

 

‘We don’t really sleep anymore,’ Harry had offered, by way of explanation, though he’d suspected his tired eyes and grumpy expression said as much.

 

Draco would have pointed out that it was a terrible explanation but they’d just had another row about his refusal to take some dreamless sleep so that they could both get some fucking sleep and he’d spectacularly lost (and was rather bitter about it, Harry would like to have pointed out) so they’d gone to Pansy for a change of scenery and possibly a buffer. It wasn’t like Draco would kill Harry – maim him maybe – but Salazar, he was bone tired and in the worst of moods and Draco was just as tired and in even worse a mood and while that had led to some deeply gratifying angry sex just that morning what Harry really (desperately) wanted, was some sleep.

 

And he didn’t want to have to get it, sleeping drugged and alone on the couch while Draco attempted to sleep without all the worried tossing and turning in their bed.

 

Draco didn’t see how that would fix anything. And so, they were grumpy, and sleep deprived together, and showing up on Pansy’s doorstep to be grumpy and sleep deprived at her had seemed like a better solution than putting Draco’s mother through it for another day and actually what Draco had declared he would really like to do was kill Ron but that would only result in a nice new cell in Azkaban and some truly horrible conjugal visits – no thank you.

 

‘Well, I guess that answers my question of how you’re doing,’ Pansy had quipped, with a healthy dose of sarcasm as she shut the door behind them.

 

They’d both slumped down on her fancy (though suspiciously comfortable) sofa – as far away from each other as it was possible to sit, for once Harry hadn’t wanted to be touching Draco – and offered her twin glares.

 

‘I don’t do couples counselling,’ she’d apparently felt the need to point out.

 

They’d glared at her some more. ‘We’ve already been to see the mind healer,’ Draco had then informed her crisply. ‘She gave us a prescription for some dreamless sleep, but Harry won’t take it.’

 

‘Why the fuck not?’

 

‘Because he’s an idiot,’ Draco had answered sharply. ‘I’m tired and I’m well aware how moody I’m being – it’s horrible – but he won’t fucking take the dreamless sleep and if the sleep deprivation doesn’t kill him I certainly will.’

 

‘You don’t have to stay with me,’ Harry had felt the need to snarl at him (again), feeling guilty and hurt and just generally irritable, if he were being honest. He’d quite liked to have smacked Draco or at least cursed him into the next week for being so stubborn. ‘I told you I’d go somewhere else.’

 

‘What good would that do?’ Draco had demanded, twisting his body on the sofa so he could look at Harry. ‘You need sleep too!’

 

‘It’s my faut you’re not getting any sleep!’

 

‘I’m well aware, thank you.’

 

Harry had twisted around so he was facing Draco, mirroring his position and pointed a finger at him. ‘Just because I’m struggling doesn’t mean you need to miss out on sleep,’ he’d insisted.

 

‘Of course, it does,’ Draco had snapped back. ‘I love you, why the fuck would I let you go through this alone?’

 

Harry had floundered at that and Pansy took the opportunity to rise from where she’d only just sunk into an armchair to watch them argue, and made for the kitchen, muttering something about making some tea – possibly with a healthy dose of firewhiskey even though it was only just gone ten.

 

‘Draco…’ Harry had trailed off not seeming to know how to finish that sentence. He’d stared at Draco with a soft confused look and all at once he seemed to collapse in on himself. Shoulders curling protectively inward, hands grabbing hold of the sofa cushion beneath him.

 

Obviously sensing that they might finally be getting somewhere, Draco had kicked off his shoes and shuffled across the short space between them to press into Harry’s side. He took Harry’s face in both hands, cupping his cheeks tenderly and forced him to look at him.

 

‘I love you,’ he’d reminded Harry. ‘And if that means we don’t sleep then I will deal with that but, Harry, torturing yourself isn’t going to make this go away, it isn’t going to change anything.’

 

Harry had tried to glare at him, but he was tired, and it took a lot of effort to deny words that Draco had heard the mind healer telling Harry just the day before. ‘I can’t exactly control my dreams, Draco.’

 

‘No,’ he’d agreed, ‘but you can put a stop to them for a night – just one – so that we can deal with what’s causing them.’

 

‘I don’t know what’s causing them,’ Harry had insisted stubbornly.

 

Draco had slid one hand down Harry’s neck, massaging the tense muscles there with a thumb. ‘Harry,’ he’d said softly, ‘you know what’s kicked them off again. You know why they’re worse than normal right now.’

 

Harry could only look away from him and when his gaze had flickered back there were tears in his eyes. He’d blinked rapidly, working to stop them from falling but he knew Draco didn’t care if he cried, Draco had just wanted him to do something. Anything. He’d been wanting him to yell and shout and be angry. He just wanted Harry to do something other than pretend that everything was fine and normal and that his oldest friend hadn’t just walked away from him after one of the hardest conversations of Harry’s life.

 

Draco wanted him to acknowledge the words Ron had shouted at him when Harry tried to talk to him the next morning before they left Hogwarts.

 

‘It’s alright to hate him for a little while,’ Draco had whispered. ‘It’s alright to be mad and hurt and angry, but Harry, please stop pretending you’re okay and that everything is fine.’

 

For just a moment Harry could see Draco thinking – worrying – this time would be just like all the others over the last four days, with Harry ignoring what Draco had to say and stubbornly holding onto the hope that everything was the same if only they gave it some time, but this time – whether it was Draco’s tone or the change of scenery, or just the sheer lack of sleep – Harry broke. He’d collapsed forward into Draco and sobbed, and all Draco had been able to do was wrap his arms around him and hold him while he cried tears for a man who had called him disgusting and wrong and a whole bunch of words that Harry had honestly never expected to hear from Ron Weasley.

 

Pansy had returned then, sans spiked tea, sliding into the tiniest of gaps between Harry and the arm of the sofa to wrap her arms around him from the other side until Harry was sandwiched in the arms of two people who loved him for exactly who he was now and had never once felt the need to judge him and call him names for loving who he wanted.

 

(They’d once judged him for a variety of things but never that.)

 

Now, in the cocoon of Draco’s arms, safe in their bed and knowing, despite all the stupid horrible things his brain tried to throw at him, that he was loved, it was hard to accept that the unconditional love and support he’d gotten from Pansy of all people, wasn’t something his own best friend could offer him.

 

It was hard to accept that he might be facing down a future without Ron Weasley.

Chapter Text

‘I thought it would hurt more.’

 

Knowing there wasn’t a chance those words were about the new line of moon phases Harry had only that day had tattooed down his ribs, Draco (on the verge of sleep) forced his eyes open in the darkness to frown at Harry. He’d only just resigned himself to being used by Athena as a source of heat and didn’t much fancy waking enough to have a proper conversation. With Athena draped along the length of his back like a furry living cape, he squinted through the darkness at Harry.

 

Harry was lying beside him, on his side facing Draco and, if he really tried, Draco thought he could see Harry’s frown through the gloom. This wasn’t going to be one of those times when he could tell him to shut it and wait until morning then.

 

Definitely not if Harry was finally ready to have the conversation that he’d been avoiding all week.

 

‘What?’ he asked, voice thick with the promise of sleep. He shook his head slightly to force the edges of sleep away in order to give Harry his full attention.

 

‘I thought watching Ron walk away would hurt more.’

 

Harry’s tone was thoughtful – hurt – but there was a sense of acceptance to it now that Draco was relieved to hear. He didn’t exactly mourn the loss of Weasley, but he was Harry’s oldest – and until this last week – best friend. Draco could be upset for Harry while also being thrilled not to have to deal with the Weasel. That didn’t mean he also hadn’t been expecting Harry to be more upset. Three nights of horrific nightmares notwithstanding, Harry had been remarkably calm about the actual departure of the Weasel.

 

He supposed they had all been expecting it. The walking away that is, none of them had predicted the homophobic onslaught, that was the real sticking point for all of them. How could they have so misjudged him? Draco didn’t even like him, but he’d certainly expected better.

 

That first night, when Harry had returned from his outing with Weasley, Draco had simply crawled into bed with Harry, the two of them hiding away from the world while Harry talked about his conversation with the Weasel – Harry had even managed to be amused by Weasley’s assumption that it was Pansy he’d been seeing. The fact the revelation about their relationship had gone pretty much exactly as they’d all been expecting, likely made the situation easier to deal with and they’d gone to sleep that night knowing it would be rough but fully expecting that, while he probably wouldn’t accept Draco, he’d come to see that he made Harry happy.

It was the confrontation the next morning that none of them had been expecting.

 

In between sobs, huddled on Hannah’s borrowed bed, he’d gotten the whole story out. How Harry had gone to tell Weasley the truth about their relationship in full, with the details he’d walked out without hearing, the ones that would hopefully have given him a chance to understand this wasn’t something they’d gone into lightly or a ploy by Draco. He’d pulled the details out of Harry bit by bit about Weasley’s words and his shameful actions.

 

There’d been real anger in Harry’s voice the night before when he talked about the way Weasley spoke of Draco and how Ron’s own refusal to accept that Draco was changing had been the drive Harry needed to confront his best friend with the truth. Lying on Hannah’s bed, there’d been nothing but pain and hurt and a bewildered sense of betrayal that Harry’s best friend could say such hateful things.

 

It had warmed Draco’s heart to know that Harry had so strongly defended him even if it meant watching his first friend walk away from him. It had not warmed his heart to hear the words that Weasley had thrown in his face when he’d gone looking to explain more, to hopefully help his friend understand. It hadn’t gone like any of them had been expecting.

 

There’d been a moment after Harry’s tears had finally subsided when Draco thought about sneaking away and cursing Weasley with something horrible (perhaps one of Ginny’s more vicious hexes?) but he’d known Harry wouldn’t want that and frankly, he didn’t want to risk leaving Harry alone.

 

Draco wouldn’t leave Harry. Not like Weasley always did.

 

They’d spoken with Ginny and Luna before slipping through McGonagall’s floo, heard briefly from Longbottom of the words Ron had thrown at him after Harry had left and received a letter from Hermione about her change in holiday plans. All the while Harry had been quiet and a little distant, but he had still been able to talk with them all. He’d still been able to smile, even if it didn’t quite reach his eyes. None of them had asked him how he was, not needing him to put on a brave face or find the words to express his pain.

 

None of them had attempted to make excuses for Weasley’s behaviour. There couldn’t be any excuses for that, and even if there were, they’d all been so completely blindsided by it there wasn’t much chance they’d have managed anything coherent.

 

Hermione had been hurt, Ginny furious and even Longbottom had made his displeasure known with a rare sign of anger and poor Hannah had been in tears having witnessed Harry break. Draco had heard her offering to curse Weasley in an undertone to Longbottom as she left the room and she’d never cursed anyone in her life – who wasn’t a Death Eater.

 

Luna, being Luna, had simply been disappointed. She’d crawled onto the bed with them and hugged Harry tightly and although Draco hadn’t heard the words she’d murmured softly to Harry, whatever she’d said had brought a proper smile to his face for the first time that morning, one that almost reached his eyes – even if those eyes had gotten a little watery again.

 

Days later and Draco had honestly thought the conversation he’d been preparing for would never come. They’d filled their days with friends and Teddy (lots of Teddy, Draco was wholly unopposed to Andromeda’s shamelessly throwing her grandson at his godfather) and after finally agreeing to a dose of Dreamless Sleep, Harry had gradually lost the sadness until his smile always reached his eyes and Draco didn’t think he was the only one to breathe a sigh of relief when he saw that.

 

They’d spoken with the mind healer again, after they’d had a good night’s rest and from all they’d discussed, Draco could agree that Weasley’s walking away had triggered long-held fears of abandonment and loneliness in Harry which had caused the nightmares and brought up all the things about the isolation in his past he hadn’t fully been able to deal with growing up.

 

Harry hadn’t disagreed. He also hadn’t really talked about the words the Weasel had thrown at him, choosing to focus on the feeling of abandonment over the concern he didn’t really know his friend if he could spout such awful hate. Privately, while Draco had never expected the Weasel to shout homophobic slurs at his best friend, he’d had seven years of Weasley matching his hateful words with hate of his own, so he couldn’t exactly say he didn’t know Weasley had it in him, just that he’d never expected that hate to be aimed at his best friend.

 

The venomous words had hit his girlfriend especially hard.

 

Hermione, who was risking life and limb by staying over the shop with George for the holidays, had visited the Manor more than once. She’d braved her own memories of the war and her torture at Bella’s hands to show her support for Harry. Ginny, who didn’t have any memories of the war regarding Malfoy Manor, had easily followed Luna through the floo every morning with the reasoning that she couldn’t stand looking at her brother’s mopey face every day.

 

Draco took this to mean that Molly had finally told Ginny off for hexing him, not that she’d actually released the jinx keeping his mouth shut. She seemed adamant in  forcing him to communicate through writing and therefore to actually think about the words he was saying.

 

Even Longbottom had visited once, the first time in living memory a Longbottom had set foot in Malfoy Manor. Draco had made a point of noting down the date and making a thing of it just to be a prat, but Longbottom had taken the dramatics with good humour and a playful shrug that Draco feared would soon have them on a first name basis. The horror.

 

He supposed, though, he should have realised that the night before they were due to make an appearance at the Burrow – and they were still going, Weasley be damned – would be when Harry was finally ready to talk about it. Nothing like leaving these things until the last possible moment.

 

‘Does thinking it would hurt more make it easier to accept?’ Draco questioned. One of his hands was under his pillow but the other was resting on the mattress between them. Draco reached out with that hand to trail soft patterns on the bare skin of Harry’s arm.

 

Draco had been told more than once that he radiated heat, that he was always, if you didn’t count those three months in Azkaban, running hotter than other people and Harry – who had always slept with layers before – now slept in a t-shirt and pants in the middle of winter. He complained about how hot Draco was but that didn’t stop him from draping himself all over Draco in the middle of the night.

 

Draco just enjoyed the bare skin his hands always easily found.

 

‘I don’t know. Maybe?’ Harry shifted onto his back and then wriggled across the bed until his side was pressed tightly against Draco’s front.

 

Draco, forced to stop tracing patterns on Harry’s arm, instead slipped his hand beneath Harry’s t-shirt to trace them on his stomach. He moved his head so that it nestled into the crook of Harry’s neck and got to enjoy it for only a moment before he felt Athena shift behind him, claiming the tiny bit of space he’d freed.

 

Sandwiched between Harry and a kneazle who took up far more space than seemed possible given her size, Draco felt content. His words to Harry were soft, not judging when he asked, ‘Is it easier to understand his behaviour because you were expecting it? We knew he’d walk, not that he’d be a homophobic prick.’

 

He felt Harry shake his head. ‘No,’ he slowly replied, thinking his words over carefully, ‘I still don’t really know what to think about that, but I think it’s easier to know he walked because he isn’t my whole world anymore.’

 

That sounded like something his mind healer might have said – or perhaps Andromeda.

 

‘Andy,’ Harry confirmed when he asked. ‘I don’t even know how we ended up talking about it.’ He sounded embarrassed now. As though talking about his feelings with someone who considered him family was something he should be ashamed of.

 

Draco felt a new surge of hatred for the Dursleys and all the things they had robbed Harry of as a child. Draco would not have hesitated to seek advice from his mother on such a problem. There would have been times when he would (and had) chosen his father to confide in – although he regretted many of those instances now. He saw no reason for Harry to be embarrassed about talking to someone who was fond of him, and who was older and certainly wiser.

 

He’d thought Harry had long gotten over his hesitation to share things as he found it so easy to share them with Draco and even Luna, but clearly, he was still struggling with the idea that there were adults out there who loved and cared for him – without fattening him up to sacrifice himself for the greater good and the end of a war.

 

Draco forced down the fresh anger wanting to surge through him. Dumbledore was dead. Snape was dead, and Harry would never have to see Petunia or her family again. It would take time for him to see it, but Harry did have adults in his life who he could trust to share his problems with and seek advice from. Hadn’t Molly and Arthur proved that time and again over the summer? Hadn’t his own mother in her patient teaching – and he was sure there’d been some sort of emotional breakdown early in the summer. Something about collapsing in a fit of tears into his mother’s arms? Draco had never gotten the full story about that one, but he did hope that his mother’s reaction had helped Harry to see he did have people he could talk to. Certainly, that there was no need to be embarrassed about it.

 

‘I told you how I’d never had friends before Ron.’ Harry was staring up at the ceiling, but his murmured words were for Draco rather than himself. ‘By fourth year I had Hermione and I guess Sirius, but I was still so alone. Losing Ron then was like losing the only family I had and in some ways it was the same last year. I had Hermione but half my family had just walked away and I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again.’

 

Draco hummed to show he was listening, kept up the soothing trace of fingers on bare skin.

 

‘I think being away from Ron and Hermione for all those months was good for me.’ The words were an admission – a revelation – but they didn’t sound hesitant or new. This was an idea Harry had come to terms with, something he’d been mulling over and concluded in the last week. Or perhaps it had been on his mind much longer?

 

They’d talked about it before, without this kind of certainty, and without ever really saying the words. Draco thought it was something Harry had started to consider over the summer when his life didn’t stop just because Hermione and Weasley were on the other side of the world, but not something he’d really stopped to think about until now when he was faced with a future without his childhood best friend.

 

Draco thought it was safe to comment here without risk of Harry taking his words the wrong way. ‘You didn’t get the chance to grow and form relationships while you were with the two of them,’ he offered up softly.

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry agreed. ‘It was always just us three, but with them gone, I started talking to other people. You know I talked with Luna – Ginny too, when she was home. I started talking to all the Weasley’s really – more than I’ve ever done and I just don’t know why I never did before. Why didn’t I see all these people who have been in my life that were on the fringes? Everything was always about the three of us – even when I was dating Ginny it was always me, Ron and Hermione.’

 

That was one of those things Draco had found himself talking with Ginny about. She’d said, quite without resentment and apropos of nothing, that Draco was lucky to have the Harry he was now. She’d told him he was lucky he got to be with a version of the man who understood his own needs and wants and didn’t wrap his whole world around his two best friends until everyone else was pushed to the wayside.

 

He’d been quite taken aback by her frankness, but she hadn’t said it to be mean or to gain his sympathy, she’d only said it to assure him that she saw exactly how strong his relationship with Harry had come to be. It had been this more than anything that allowed Draco to admit he and Ginny were genuinely friends and not simply faking it for Harry.

 

‘Ginny hated the way you wouldn’t talk to her about things,’ he offered into the darkness, feeling no guilt at sharing something Ginny had told him. If she hadn’t wanted Harry to know, she’d have told Draco so. Even then it wouldn’t have made much difference. He kept no secrets from Harry, not now, not after all they’d been through.

 

He felt Harry stiffen against him before he forced himself to relax, letting out a long breath, as if telling himself not to feel guilty for something he couldn’t change – another thing he’d been working on with his mind healer. ‘I got so used to only being able to tell them things, of it being the three of us against the world. I was told to tell nobody what I learned about Voldemort, that it was too important and dangerous for anyone else to know. Dumbledore insisted I could only trust Ron and Hermione with the information and I believed him.’

 

‘Of course, you did,’ said Draco, and he was quite happy he’d managed to keep his own feelings about their late headmaster out of his tone. ‘You trusted him.’

 

‘I did.’ They lay in silence for a while before Harry continued, ‘I told you everything.’

 

‘We promised each other no secrets.’

 

‘I told you I died three days after the war ended,’ Harry pointed out wryly, highlighting the contradiction in his behaviour with casual amusement.

 

Draco bit his lip to hide a grin. That had been a bad day for both of them, but it was hilarious looking back at it now. Harry had been a wreck that afternoon when he’d come down to Draco’s holding cell. The shadows under his eyes were enormous, something Draco had taken great pleasure in pointing out. He’d also taken joy in pointing out Harry’s clothes were a mess, his skin horribly pale and that, frankly, his hair had reached all new levels of unmanageable and that he’d be better off shaving it than attempting to fix whatever madness had occurred.

 

A lie, of course. Draco loved Harry’s hair, but he’d been stiff and sore and far from being alright, and that hadn’t stopped the two of them from arguing back and forth for twenty minutes before Harry had slumped down to the floor, dropped his head onto his knees and cried. It had been the first time Draco had offered him comfort and not received it and it had been awkward as fuck for the both of them. Neither of them knowing what to do or how to handle the unexpected confessions spilling out of Harry.

 

‘You hadn’t slept in two days,’ he murmured into the side of Harry’s neck, remembering the way he’d gingerly wrapped arms around Harry in that cell and the way Harry had stiffened before he couldn’t hold himself together anymore and the last threads had let go before he’d buried his face in Draco’s shoulder and sobbed.

 

‘You were a right sod,’ Harry reminded him with a soft smile.

 

‘I was,’ Draco agreed with his own small smile. ‘You fell asleep in my cell and Kingsley had to send Percy down to fetch you.’

 

Harry grinned. ‘I’ve never seen Percy look so annoyed.’ He sobered. ‘He’s the only reason you got a trial so quickly.’

 

Draco thought that was overstating things. Harry had been the one to kick up a storm, stomping around the Ministry yelling and throwing around his power as the Chosen One, but he supposed it had been Percy’s rather alarming understanding of the paperwork and all the Ministry laws and regulations that had given Harry the right leverage to demand action was taken. The fact that a Weasley had done that for Draco just because of Harry had made him extra snotty (he could admit it) but he’d had so little pride left after that final beating in his holding cell that he’d kept quiet and let a Weasley help save him.

 

The knowledge that Percy very likely had ulterior motives regarding prisoner rights and a better and fairer Ministry, had soothed the blow to his ego somewhat.

 

‘You’ve not lost the Weasleys,’ Draco reminded him.

 

‘No.’

 

‘They’re your family because they love you not because you’re the Weasel’s friend.’

 

‘I know.’

 

Draco thought that was rather Harry’s point with all this talk about finally letting people in, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t help drive it home. Despite all the history between them, the rest of the Weasley family had been very supportive of Harry and Draco. They hadn’t questioned Harry’s choices (they might have questioned his behaviour but that was mostly because no sane person visited Azkaban willingly every day) and they’d not tried to change his mind or make him feel bad or stupid for wanting to get to know Draco.

 

They could have hated Draco, could have held so many things he and his family had done in the war against him, but that wasn’t them. They’d taken Harry’s words and actions and looked to Draco’s own actions before they passed judgement. He hadn’t asked them for forgiveness, but he had written them all letters the moment he was free of Azkaban and allowed access to an owl, he’d written at length of his regrets and his hopes to someday be the kind of man they would be proud to have their son love.

 

And he had written it that way, he’d called Harry their son, because that was what he had become.

 

Harry had come to him and kept coming despite what others might have thought, and Draco had been (eventually) grateful for his stubbornness, but he would have given Harry up in a heartbeat if he thought the Weasleys would turn their back on him. He’d have hated it and it would have broken him more than those three months in Azkaban or the entire year he’d spent living with Death Eaters, but he’d have done it for Harry.

 

He’d never had to. Molly and Arthur Weasley had been hesitant but kind. They’d accepted his apologies and offered understanding in place of forgiveness. Perhaps the forgiveness would come – in some ways it already had – but Draco only needed them to support Harry, the rest would come or it wouldn’t, and that was okay, he would handle that.

 

Harry seemed to be feeling the same way.

 

‘I want my best friend in my life, but I don’t need him,’ Harry softly confessed to the darkness. ‘I don’t want him in my life if he’s going to be disgusted and horrified that I choose to love you. I don’t want him in my life if my choice to love a man disgusts him.’

 

Draco frowned, lifting his head off Harry’s shoulder to stare at him through the dark. ‘You know that it’s okay to walk away from him for that, yes? That it’s not giving up or being selfish to turn away from someone who used words to purposefully hurt you?’

 

Draco had been thinking about it a lot over the last week, listening to Ginny relay the things her brother had been saying and while he didn’t like what the Weasel had said, there was a part of him that couldn’t help wondering if he hadn’t specifically chosen those words to hurt. If Weasley hadn’t said the most hateful and hurtful things he could think of to make sure that Harry was feeling as bad as he was. He wasn’t sure if this made it better or worse that the things he had said didn’t truly reflect his beliefs – he’d still said them.

 

Harry tilted his head and smiled softly at him, the gentle tug of movement something Draco could sort of make out only because they were so close. ‘I know. Because that’s his problem and not mine.’

 

‘You have a lot more friends and family than you realise, you know.’ Draco settled his head back on Harry’s shoulder, nudging a sneaky paw out of the way with his chin as he did so. ‘You have Andromeda and Teddy, the Weasleys and Hermione and Luna and Longbottom – I’m certainly never letting you go and, as horrifying as it sounds, even my father would fight for you now.’

 

Harry snorted, his words caught between horror and fascination as he said, ‘Merlin, he would, wouldn’t he?’

 

Draco grinned into the darkness, remembering the exasperation on his father’s face when he’d last seen him, the way he’d looked resigned to having to be polite to Harry, to having to care for his wellbeing because it directly related to Draco’s own happiness. ‘I love you, so yes, yes he would fight for you.’

 

Harry gave a rather dramatic full body shudder. ‘That makes me feel so dirty.’

 

Draco sniggered. ‘You’re practically a Malfoy now.’

 

Harry pulled a face, Draco could feel it against his head, the play of muscles across Harry’s jaw as he worked out how to respond to that. Draco had almost fallen asleep when Harry finally did speak, and for a moment he thought he’d drifted into a dream, the words so surprising.

 

‘Potter-Malfoy,’ he whispered. ‘We’re definitely hyphenating.’

 

Half asleep, he said, ‘You know we could sign the paperwork tomorrow.’

 

He’d been joking, they could do that now, the terror of marriage had been somewhat negated by three more months in a relationship and the fact that their magic and souls were so tightly bound now that they were, for all intents and purposes, magically married anyway with no real way of separating even if they wanted to. Which they didn’t – Draco could not stress that enough. They might be young, but they’d been through a lot, forced to grow up much sooner than they should have been. Forced to face truths and make decisions that most adults would never have to make.

 

They’d fought a fucking war, a little thing like getting married young didn’t really seem big in comparison.

 

Bill, as Draco had hoped and predicted, had been the one to find the answer to their bond. He hadn’t even realised he’d found it at first, at least that was what he’d said when he’d come to visit the Manor two days ago and explained his theory behind the magic of the bond. He’d been missing a few key pieces of information because there were things Harry and Draco would never tell anyone, but when he’d shared his findings both Harry and Draco had known that he’d finally hit on the right answers.

 

Harry’s soul had been damaged in death and by the separation from Voldemort’s own soul when it was torn from his. Draco’s had been broken and torn through torture and pain, the cracks wrenched wide by exposure to dementors. In the aftermath, Harry’s soul had been healing, mending its cracks on its own and Draco’s might have done the same (once freed from Azkaban), but they’d spent so much time together, feeding each other secrets and truths and falling in love that they’d mended their souls together, binding them tight and seamlessly until one led directly to the other.

 

The bond had been formed naturally through love and friendship, a literal baring of their souls. They’d come together by shedding prejudice and old hatreds and, even in the middle of Azkaban, surrounded by dementors and despair, they had created something strong and so achingly beautiful that Molly had cried when they told her about it. So had his mother.

 

Molly had come over for her weekly tea with his mother and Andromeda (still such an uncomfortable arrangement for Draco) and Draco and Harry had sat them down and explained all that Bill had found. Eyes had welled up with soft tears and smiles so wide as all three witches expressed their feelings on the beauty of such raw and powerful magic. Draco thought this, more than anything, had been the final piece needed for Molly and Arthur to truly accept him in Harry’s life. How could anyone raised on magic not find beauty in two souls binding together in such a natural and gradual way? Although nothing had so far been said, there was something in the way Molly looked at him now, a softening in her eyes and her touch, that suggested she’d come to fully accept his place in Harry’s life – as a soon-to-be member of her family.

 

When they’d told Luna, she’d nodded and said that sounded exactly like what she saw when she looked at them, magic entwined beautifully and their souls shining as one. Just how it was Luna could see that – and without aid of a spell or charm – Draco hadn’t worked out, but he was perfectly willing to just accept that it was something special to Luna because there was no one more special than Luna Lovegood and he would spend many days over the rest of his life making sure that she knew how much he appreciated and treasured her as though that could ever truly make up for the things he had done to her in the past.

 

Pansy had snorted. Sprawled out on the rug in front of the fire and making silly faces at Teddy, she’d taken the news with great amusement. ‘This does not surprise me. At all,’ she’d said. ‘The way you two were pining over each other all through school – I’m honestly surprised this didn’t happen sooner.’

 

Draco hadn’t been offended like he once would have been. There really hadn’t been any pining then. Plenty of other things but he wouldn’t characterise it as pining. He’d been too much of a selfish prick to pine over Harry – romantically at least. He’d been a right sod over the whole scorned friendship thing, he would freely admit that. He had freely admitted that and more than once since he and Harry had gotten together. Pansy just liked to rub it in, making out as though she’d known this would happen all along – not entirely out of the realm of possibility but Draco didn’t like to give her more credit than necessary.

 

Ginny, draped over the sofa in an exhausted slump from an afternoon spent freezing her arse off training in the rain, had simply shaken her head and pointed a finger between them repeating her earlier assertion, ‘I have actual pity for those of us who came between you since the moment you met in Diagon Alley.’

 

Their magic, while not as firmly entwined as their souls, worked so perfectly together that it had been easy for Bill and Fleur to see why Draco had assumed that it was just as tightly woven. Their magic sought each other’s out, taking strength from what they found, flowing back and forth between them to such an extent that Fleur had wondered whether the magical flow between them would eventually bond as firmly as their souls and whether that would have them picking up magical talents from each another.

 

They’d shared that question with Hermione (reluctantly on Draco’s part), and she’d been so fascinated she’d made the both of them promise to tell her if they noticed anything of the sort. Strangely enough, her fascination with the bind and how it formed seemed to have eclipsed any sort of emotional response she might have had to the bond. Draco had no idea what she thought of it or its formation, only that she saw it as a fascinating diversion from her NEWTs studies. Judging by her enthusiasm, Draco didn’t see Hermione letting go of this bond anytime soon, even though they now had confirmation it had been formed by wild magic fuelled by loved and friendship and was perfectly natural.

 

So far, they hadn’t noticed any shared magical talents, but Draco couldn’t help but wonder if they would notice. He suspected the changes would come so naturally to the both of them that it would take someone observing to notice. And that would be dependent on who was paying close enough attention to notice and whether they’d pick up on the significance of what they were seeing.

 

Also, he supposed it would depend on the type of magical talent. About the only truly magical talent Harry had was the ability to speak parseltongue, Draco wasn’t aware of anything he possessed that might qualify.

 

Harry drew Draco back out of his sleepy musings with a quiet chuckle and the suggestion, ‘Maybe next year.’

 

Draco made a sleepy, content sound, and was out before he could worry on the implications of that.

 

When he woke up the next morning, he had other things to worry about and didn’t give Harry’s (or was it his?) potential marriage proposal much thought. They did have a tendency to discuss marriage in the quiet hours but neither of them was ready to make a thing of it. Their magic might have had its own ideas, but they were eighteen and there were a lot of things they wanted to do and think about before they bothered with all the dramatics of Harry Potter, Boy Who Lived, marrying Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater.

 

There were enough dramatics over Christmas dinner as it was.

 

It was the first Christmas Draco had ever had that he wasn’t forced to dress for breakfast or a party he didn’t want to attend. He and Harry crawled out of bed and after pulling on a dressing gown (both of them), pyjama bottoms (Harry) and slippers (both of them), they made their way downstairs to find his mother and Andromeda already up, though not dressed, and seated in the one room they’d bothered to properly refurnish.

 

Teddy was rolling about under the tree playing with Athena and a dislodged ornament.

 

He and Harry kissed both women on their cheeks in greeting before Harry flopped onto the floor to play with Teddy and Draco slid down beside the two, though he chose to reach for the tea laid out on the low coffee table rather than roll about on the floor. It seemed breakfast would be informal this year and Draco was thrilled not to bother with proper clothes so early in the day.

 

He talked softly with his mother and Andromeda as he sipped his tea and ate some toast until eventually Harry emerged from beneath the tree, Teddy held upside down in his hands with chubby fists clenching tight to a soft squishy package that Draco just knew, looking at it, came from Molly. Harry shuffled closer to Draco, flipped Teddy up the right way and deposited the giggling eight-month-old in Draco’s lap forcing Draco to shove the last bit of toast into his mouth so he could place a steadying hand on Teddy to support him before his enthusiasm for the present in his hands had him flopping face first onto the rug.

 

Draco didn’t mind. He’d come a long way from the hesitant way he’d first held Teddy, all caution and fear that he would drop him or break him. Now he was perfectly at ease manhandling the baby just as Harry did and well-practiced at quickly stabilising him. Balance was not something Teddy really had a grasp of yet, but he’d recently started to get good at shimmying his body along the floors in a pre-cursor to crawling that had poor Andromeda scrambling to baby-proof her small house.

 

Harry grabbed a piece of toast for himself, stole Draco’s tea and then stuck a hand back under the tree for a gift. The one he drew out was for Andromeda and had been put together by the two of them and his mother on behalf of Teddy. He knew she’d love it and was proved right by the soft smile that bloomed on her face as she gently went through the collection of photographs. It hadn’t been hard to collect them together, not once they’d started looking. It helped that his mother seemed to have taken it upon herself to take as many photos as she could of her sister as she played with Teddy or simply sat with him on her twice weekly visits.

 

The chintzy mug had been Harry’s idea, explained away as a muggle thing that he knew Andromeda would appreciate.

 

His mother was similarly enamoured by her gift. She smiled at them after unwrapping it and Draco found himself holding onto that moment, locking it away in his mind to remember for all his years to come. This moment was the first proper family moment they’d had in years and he wanted to remember what they had become in spite of all they’d been through. It was because of all they’d been through that he didn’t feel so much as a pang of regret that his father wasn’t there with them. This moment wouldn’t exist if he’d been home on house arrest like his wife.

 

Draco had no doubts that, as happy as his father was to go along with Draco’s relationship with Harry, there would not have been such a relaxed and warm atmosphere had he been present. He certainly didn’t imagine Andromeda would have come along with Teddy – let alone spent the night as she had done.

 

Teddy wasn’t the only one to receive a package from the Weasley matriarch. His mother and aunt both opened packages containing tea and homemade tarts. Teddy’s package contained a child-friendly Wheeze and a knitted hat and cardigan, while both Draco and Harry received the much vaunted Weasley jumpers. Harry put his on immediately and nudged Draco into doing the same before he came over all fidgety and handed Draco one final present in the form of a small box.

 

Draco smiled gleefully at him, not even pretending to be abashed by the number of presents Harry had already gifted him. He eagerly unwrapped the gift and promptly blinked in surprise when the wrapping paper revealed a small ring box. Heart hammering, thoughts racing back to the sleepy conversation they’d been having the night before, he lifted the lid on the box and found himself looking at a matching set of rings. The gold bands were simple but beautiful, both engraved with intricate runic designs in an old form that he thought was familiar but took him a while to identify.

 

As he tilted one of the rings this way and that to read the inscription in full, he realised the rings were old, very old. And familiar. He had to dig back through four years of Ancient Runes to translate the markings but when he did, he gasped, their meaning connecting to a story he’d heard his mother tell him as a child.

 

These were the Black bonding rings. The ones that had been in his mother’s family for centuries. The ones worn by generations of rare Black couples who married for love rather than power and influence. They’d been a prised heirloom until Voldemort had paved the way for the family to destroy themselves and they’d been thought lost.

 

‘Oh Harry,’ he breathed with such deep affection, when he finally drew his gaze away from the rings to stare at his boyfriend. ‘You great sap.’ His voice was thick with emotion that he did nothing to conceal.

 

Harry shifted uncomfortably, face a brilliant shade of red, but he was looking especially pleased as he reached to take the ring from Draco’s hand. He took Draco’s hand – the right, for now – in his and gently slid the ring up his finger. Draco had almost forgotten that his mother and aunt were there until the both of them let out soft gasps. He admired the way the ring (which automatically resized to fit his finger) looked on his long finger before he took the other ring from the box and slid it onto Harry’s finger, admiring the way the ring, once sized to fit, looked against Harry’s tanned skin.

 

His heart twinged with possessiveness – with a rightness that had him feeling smug and called back to the conversation they’d had the night before about marriage and names and a future that was becoming firmer and firmer in Draco’s mind. The one he’d never have thought he could have after everything he’d done as a kid and during the war.

 

‘I thought they’d been destroyed,’ Andromeda murmured, from the sofa. His aunt and mother were leaning forward to get a look, so Draco eagerly held his hand out toward them for their inspection.

 

‘Oh Harry,’ his mother whispered, ‘wherever did you find them?’

 

Harry’s voice was just as thick with embarrassment as Draco’s had been with affection when he looked over at the women on the sofa. ‘Sirius couldn’t bring himself to throw them away,’ he explained. To Draco he said, ‘Pansy told me about them when I was trying to think of what to get you. I just had to ask Walburga.’

 

‘You asked Aunt Walburga?’ Draco’s voice was soft and full of love, the knowledge that Harry had talked to that crazy old portrait made him feel so warm and even more loved, if that were even possible.

 

He’d heard about these rings, heard the family stories about them and assumed, like everyone else, they’d been lost when the Black family fell apart. They were old magic, very old. The runes etched into the band called on love and magic to allow the pair wearing them to always find a way back to each other. They didn’t work like portkeys, didn’t immediately take you where you needed to be, the magic in them was softer, subtler. Made for remembrance and longing, they used belief and faith and love to gently guide and steer you where you needed to be.

 

With this ring, Draco could find Harry if he was lost. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would take time, but it would act like a beacon drawing him nearer even if he didn’t realise it. It would work in reverse, too, that was the way of them. He would find Harry and Harry would find him. Much like they’d done after the war. Much like they’d done before it.

 

‘I suppose I best give you your final present then.’ Although, Draco had no idea how he was supposed to top the precious gift Harry had given him. A pair of ancient Black family rings, imbued with centuries of family magic and made for long lasting love. The kind of love that ran warm and long, always simmering even when passion came and went.

 

Honestly, how was anyone supposed to top that?

 

He got up awkwardly, passing Teddy to Andromeda before he stuck his hands under the tree and dragged a box out from the very back of its branches. He’d made the choice not to wrap it, choosing instead to put a bow on top with a small note. It wasn’t a small box, something around twenty inches wide and perhaps twenty-five long and another twenty deep again. It was a little on the heavy side. Harry eyed it curiously as Draco slid it across the floor to him, then reached out slow hesitant hands to take the note from atop.

 

His expression turned soft and confused as he read the words Draco had carefully written and then he was setting the short note aside and pulling the lid off the box.

 

‘Oh yes, that’s definitely Potter hair!’ cried a cheerful voice.

 

For a moment Harry looked stunned. He stared down at the box, face completely blank as he tried and failed to process what he was looking at. He turned to face Draco, eyes beginning to shine with tears and wonder. ‘Who?’ he asked, voice breaking. ‘How?’

 

Draco shuffled forward, threading an arm around Harry’s until he was pressed close, chin resting on Harry’s shoulder to peer down into the box. ‘This is Fleamont Potter,’ he introduced. ‘He’s you grandfather.’ He pressed a kiss to Harry’s shoulder before saying, ‘Mister Potter, may I introduce you to your grandson Harry.’

 

‘Hi,’ Harry choked out, voice thick with emotion and it was a wonder he could even see the portrait through the tears forming in his eyes. They threatened to spill over as he reached careful hands into the box to remove the heavy wooden frame containing the animated form of an older man in his late sixties, hair just as wild and dark as Harry’s with soft brown eyes and a wide grin Draco had seen time and time again on Harry’s own face.

 

The man in the portrait said softly, ‘You’ve grown quite a bit, since I last saw you crawling about with your father.’

 

When Draco had set out to reclaim some of Harry’s past for him, he’d had no idea what he would find. He’d gotten on Pansy’s last nerve dragging her through every bit of parchment he could find in their vaults and he’d even dragged her to the ruins of the house in Godric’s Hollow. He’d expected to put together a family tree, small anecdotes taken from history books or older witches and wizards who had known the Potters. He’d expected to find paperwork about their arrival in Britain, intermarrying with the Peverell family and all about the tradition of wayward hair and the creation of the best-selling hair potion on the market.

 

Finding the portrait of Fleamont Potter had been so much more than Draco expected. Damaged and lifeless, he’d found the portrait fallen behind a desk in what he thought must have been James Potter’s study. It had been pure chance he found it, he’d knocked a book off the desktop and when he’d bent to fetch it, sneezing at the amount of dust he’d dislodged, his hand had brushed, not against the book, but a painting. He’d known the moment he’d pulled it free that it was exactly what he would give Harry, even if he couldn’t restore it, it would have made a perfect addition to the already full box of family history he’d compiled.

 

He’d always known more about Harry’s family than Harry had – years and years of learning pureblood ties and histories had left him with a firm understanding of who was who in the wizarding world, but he’d gotten even more of an understanding since he’d started digging about for information for Harry and he’d known at once who he was looking at, even before he saw the tiny inscription on the back.

 

It had cost a small fortune to engage the restorer but it had been well worth it when the spells animating Fleamont Potter had come to life and Draco had been able to explain to the memory of the man who he was and what he’d been doing. It was probably the first time in history Fleamont Potter had looked approvingly at a Malfoy – or any Black other than Sirius – and it settled something within Draco to know that one of Harry’s blood relatives approved of him.

 

He’d gone about this whole thing hoping that he could help Harry learn about his family. He’d never imagined he’d be able to give Harry the chance to know his grandfather.

 

Harry couldn’t take his eyes off the portrait and the same was true for Fleamont Potter. The painting might only have captured the memory and personality of the man but that was so much more than Harry had ever had before and he stared at it in wonder, taking in every detail he could. Green eyes soaked in everything from the dark mess of hair to the thick brows and the small scar on the side of his grandfather’s nose and the older man did the same. Fleamont scrutinised hair and scar, seeing the man who’d grown from the tiny baby he’d watched over all those years ago.

 

‘I – yeah,’ Harry stammered, clearly having no idea what to say.

 

‘Your young man told me some of what you’ve been through,’ Fleamont said gently.

 

Harry’s watery smile widened, and although he didn’t know it in that moment, later, Draco would learn that it was the easy acceptance his grandfather’s portrait had shown of his relationship with Draco that had brought so much joy to Harry. But he wouldn’t know that until much later because now that Harry was looking at the portrait of his grandfather there wasn’t much chance of pulling him away.

 

They simply left him to it. Harry spent the rest of the morning sprawled on the carpet in front of the fire, chin on his folded arms as he talked with the portrait he’d propped against the side of the box. Draco brought him more tea at some point, but he was content to allow Harry time with his relative. Time to listen to stories about his own childhood that Fleamont had witnessed, stories about James and Lily, even about Sirius and Remus where he could remember them.

 

Draco’s research and his talks with the portrait had given him a rough idea of just when the portrait had been commissioned. It was a stroke of luck to find that there were only months of living memory missing from the portrait, that it had been finished just months before Fleamont had lost his life in the war. There would be blanks of course, information the portrait was missing, as it couldn’t possibly contain the entire memory of the man it had been modelled on, but those gaps seemed miniscule in the face of Harry’s near non-existent knowledge of his own family’s history.

 

So it was with considerable reluctance that he interrupted the pair when it was time for them to prepare to leave for the Burrow. Harry, still in his pyjamas, talked animatedly the whole way up the stairs, the portrait held in front of him as he took careful steps toward their bedroom. Draco kept a steady guiding hand on the small of his back, prepared to do some very fast moving should Harry trip.

 

Harry set the portrait on the mantle above the fire in their sitting room and continued to talk as he changed into the clothes Draco handed him, hardly seeming aware of what he was doing as it took him twice as long to dress as normal. His reluctance to part from the portrait created something soft and gooey inside Draco but he was used to Harry making him feel all soft and squishy by now and was therefore excellent at ignoring it.

 

‘He’ll be here when we get home, Potter,’ he promised, tone light with exasperation.

 

‘Yeah, okay, yeah.’ Harry smiled sheepishly. ‘By, Grandpa,’ he said it softly, voice filled with awe and he looked back over his shoulder multiple times as they left the room.

 

Draco smiled and refrained from commenting.

 

 As soon as they were out of the room, the door closed behind them, Harry shoved him up against the wall and snogged him breathless, forcing a knee between Draco’s legs that he couldn’t help but ride until he was hot and shivery and looked exactly like he’d just been shoved against a wall and thoroughly snogged.

 

Ginny, being Ginny, made a point of noting his hair and flushed cheeks when they arrived at the Burrow minutes later. Something about the satisfied smirk on his face and Harry’s obvious happiness tipping her off. Thankfully, Harry didn’t notice, but Draco winked at her as he was swept into a welcoming hug by Molly.

 

Ginny grinned. Weasley, stood beside her with a scowl, did not.

Chapter Text

Molly was attempting to feed him a third slice of pudding when the growl had all of the hairs on the back of his neck standing to attention. It was a deep warning growl that spoke of danger, one he felt echoing deep within his chest rather than heard with his ears. He froze, cutting himself off in the middle of a protest about being full (so full) and, confused, he glanced at Harry. Sat beside him, Harry had frozen too. For just a moment Harry sat completely still and then Draco watched, baffled, as Harry raised his left arm. After a long beat of staring in bewilderment at his arm, he tugged the sleeve down and boggled at the tattoo of the large dog.

 

Draco followed his gaze and could only stare in confusion at the tattoo of Sirius. The giant dog stood, hackles raised, and muzzle pulled back in a deep warning snarl. No sound issued from the ink on Harry’s arm but both he and Harry had heard it all the same. Harry looked up and they shared a bewildered look before Draco’s entire left arm burned hot and he couldn’t control the agonised cry that escaped him. The pain drove tears to his eyes, and he stumbled back from the table, almost knocking Molly off her feet and very nearly tripping over the chair legs as the chair toppled backward in his haste. He clutched his arm to his chest, trying not to shriek at the unexpected searing agony.

 

Harry scrambled away from the table after him, calling his name in a panic, almost violently kicking his own chair out of the way. Molly, recovered from nearly being knocked over, was not far behind him, her eyes wide with fear and concern. Draco just kept stumbling away from the table and the crowd of Weasleys, arm clutched to his chest as though that could somehow shield him from the pain, until Harry caught him around the waist and steadied him. It was Harry who managed to pry his arm away from his chest but Molly who pushed his sleeve up to reveal the writhing form of his Dark Mark.

 

‘Fuck,’ Draco hissed somewhat apologetically. He didn’t like the idea of swearing in front of Molly Weasley any more than he liked the idea of swearing in front of his own mother. It was disrespectful, but the pain was pure agony and the word needed to be said. A lot of words needed to be said but he managed to hiss most of them out in French which had Fleur making a surprised (possibly impressed) squeak at the table where she and all the others were awkwardly stood hovering out of their chairs and staring at the scene in confusion.

 

When Molly revealed the Dark Mark and they all got a look at the way it slithered in motion, there were a lot of fearful gasps. Bill practically vaulted over the table to get closer and offer help, but Harry pushed him away with one quick shove.

 

‘Are you being summoned?’ Harry hurriedly demanded. He hadn’t taken his arm from around Draco and Draco wished that made some sort of difference, that he could take comfort from the gesture, but tears were stinging his eyes and his arm burned.

 

Draco could only nod. He didn’t know how or why or, Salazar, even who, but someone had put wand to Dark Mark and the call was burning through Draco with a pain he had never before felt from the Mark. He could feel it tugging at him as it had once done, urging him to disappear from the warmth and welcome of the Burrow and reappear somewhere else, but never had it burned with such a ferocity that Draco feared his arm would soon catch fire, muscle and bone blackening to a charred mess.

 

‘I have to go,’ he choked out, not seeing any other way to stop the summons.

 

‘It could be a trap!’ Hermione’s worried voice was almost a shriek in the stunned horror of the kitchen. Hovering half out of her chair at the table like all the others, her eyes were wide with nothing but concern for Draco. Any other time he might have taken the time to appreciate that she was worried for him and not about him.

 

‘I have to go,’ Draco repeated, eyes turning to Harry and begging him to understand.

 

He did, thank Merlin. Harry nodded once, sharply, and with a snap of his fingers summoned Draco’s coat along with his own. He helped Draco into the garment, gently easing the fabric over Draco’s aching arm with Molly’s help. Then he was hastily tugging on his own coat, gently urging Molly to step back, to step away from what was about to happen. Once she was at a safe distance, Harry spun, putting his back to Draco and dropped into a crouch, wand slipping into his hand. Despite the burning pain, Draco dropped his left hand to rest on Harry’s shoulder. Harry raised a hand to briefly squeeze the hand reassuringly before he spoke a sharp command to the Weasleys.

 

‘Alert the Ministry.’

 

And then Draco could wait no longer. He held tightly to Harry’s shoulder and let the pull carry them both away. He had no idea where they were going, Hermione could very well have been right – in all likelihood she was right – but Draco had no choice but to follow the summons. The last glimpse he had of the warmth of the Burrow’s kitchen showed worried Weasleys and the shiny brightness of a patronus.

 

The feel of the magic on the Mark tearing at him and pulling him in a direction he didn’t want to go was a horror he’d never thought to revisit. He’d never liked it before, even when he’d half known what to expect, but this time, months and months out from the death of the Dark Lord, there was no way to know what he was apparating into. No way to know if it was battle or a gathering of Death Eaters or even a Ministry set trap. He hated that he was dragging Harry into this, hated that it really probably was a trap for escaped Death Eaters.

 

It wasn’t, it turned out, but that somehow made it worse.

 

What it was, was chaos. For a disorienting moment, Draco could only make out colour and sound in a kaleidoscope of impressions that made his stomach lurch and then reality snapped back around him, and he realised they were in the middle of a muggle town and the screams and chaos came from the magic and curses being thrown into a crowd of celebrating muggles.

 

They were in what seemed to be an open square, the muggle version of fairy lights were hanging around the area lighting up Christmas decorations and what looked like market stalls. The smell of warm fresh food was in the air accompanied by the crisp smell of fresh cut trees and Christmas. At one end of the square a small stage had been set up, instruments now lying abandoned as their players fled into the swarming crowd. Screams and terrified cries formed the backdrop now.

 

He had no idea where they were, couldn’t even narrow down the part of the country just by glancing around and there was hardly any time to stop and ask someone. He had no idea what exactly they’d interrupted, either. Some sort of winter festival perhaps? He could see, over the heads of the fleeing crowd, at least four figures stood in front of the empty stage. Figures dressed in robes and masks, firing spells into the backs of the fleeing muggles. That was all he needed to know. All Harry needed to know, as well.

 

Harry, who had stood from his crouch the moment they arrived on the edge of the square, dove forward into the crowd. Draco made for the nearest figure, another late arrival to the party it seemed, as they stood not far from where he and Harry had apparated in, wand held loosely in hand but not seeming to know what to do next. Draco got them with a sharp and powerful stunner that knocked them off their feet before they’d ever registered what was happening. He summoned ropes, tied them up from a safe distance and cast a quick expelliarmus, not especially concerned with the indignity of disarming a fallen and bound Death Eater.

 

Moving through the surging crowd of muggles, Harry pointed his wand into the air and shouted a Ministry spell that shot something that, to the muggles, probably looked like a glitter bomb, high into the air. The sparks shot high into the sky like a brilliant firework before dropping down with a woosh, latching single fine specks onto anyone in the area, marking them for tracking and obliviation later by Ministry officials. It wouldn’t get them all, would be a hell of a night’s work – possibly even longer – but depending on the size of the village it could help keep speculation from getting out into the wider muggle world.

 

Much like real glitter, these obliviation markers were near impossible to completely get rid of and could be passed around. Although unlike the muggle counterpart they didn’t just move from person to person, they copied themselves until a neat little new spark latched onto the new person. It wasn’t an infallible system – the spark couldn’t travel down a telephone line – but if they covered a wide enough area, deniability and disbelief would do the rest.

 

Draco shot an anchor charm at the felled Death Eater (possibly not-so-innocent bystander) to keep him from escaping should one of the others get past them and try to grab him and charged forward into the thinning crowd after Harry. The witch on the left spotted them making their way through the crowd and her gleeful laugh echoed hauntingly over the crowed. It reminded him of Bella – not a fond memory and probably why the spell he fired at her was so vicious. She didn’t try to avoid the spell, throwing up a shield charm when any sensible person would have ducked, and the spell tore through her shield and slammed into her. She slammed into the ground, limbs flailing as crystals of ice swept up her legs and the length of her body encasing her in a thick layer of ice before she even had the chance to prevent it.

 

If he got to her in time, she might live, if not, there would be one less witch tormenting muggles in the world.

 

The crowd had thinned out completely now, only those muggles too injured to escape were still in the square. Draco caught the flash of spellfire out of the corner of his eye. He was smart enough to duck and Harry caught the attacking wizard in the side with a violet light that knocked him off his feet and into the lamp post behind them. Thick chains shot from the end of Harry’s wand to wrap tightly around the robed attacker and Draco turned away so he could search the street for the rest of the robed figures. But the street was quiet, no longer surging with the bodies of muggles trying to flee and any hope he had of finding the other two cloaked figures was gone with them.

 

He swore.

 

Harry fired another Ministry spell into the air – a pacifying one – that slowly sank down over the street calming the remaining spell-affected muggles enough that their desperate attempts to crawl or stumble away were slowed and eventually they stopped moving at all. It was Draco who unleashed a barrier spell that roared away from him, wrapping tightly to the confines of the street, blocking any path that might let one of the muggles slip away or any new ones come to help. It would be up to the Ministry liaison to quiet things with the muggle authorities and especially any emergency services that responded to the square tonight.

 

They’d have missed some (probably more than some in the chaos) muggles who had run before he and Harry arrived but no one at the Ministry could argue they hadn’t done their best, that they hadn’t done exactly as they’d been trained to in a situation risking the Statute of Secrecy.

 

Barrier spell in place and with a sense of calm washing over the injured muggles, Harry skirted around the fallen muggles to climb onto the small stage at the end of the square. As Draco watched, the familiar white stag swept from the square to deliver a message to the Weasleys, Draco sent his own enormous dog off to the Ministry and then set off a beacon spell because he still didn’t have any idea where he was. Then he sent another call off for emergency medical aide because even just a quick glance told Draco there were some muggles set to spend at least the night in St Mungo’s secure muggle treatment ward.

 

The spells fired by Death Eaters weren’t typically the easy kind that could be fixed with a simple finite incantatem.

 

While Harry set about putting up wards around the area and carefully noting his surroundings for possible memory review later, Draco grabbed the frozen witch by the hood of her robe and began to drag her along the ground until he could chain her to the lamp post beside Harry’s catch. Only once she was secure did he cast the counter curse and a quick diagnostic charm showed she was now suffering the early stages of hypothermia. He wasn’t remotely sorry.

 

The process of stripping the two Death Eaters (confirmed when he slid their robes up to check for the presence of the Dark Mark) of their wands and any other dangerous objects was tedious. He couldn’t have anyone accusing him of improperly handling the suspects while in custody because, while they wouldn’t release two Death Eaters Harry Potter had witnessed committing a crime, there were still plenty of people within the MLE who would be happy to put him away too on even the smallest of infractions.

 

He hadn’t exactly been planning to stop an attack but given how much notice the Ministry liked to give him before they came to take him out for a job, he’d gotten very good at improvising when it came to evidence collection. Although, the MLE was well behind the muggle police when it came to that sort of thing. He’d read a couple of books on the subject after Harry had sat him down in front of a television and showed him a sampling of what the muggles liked to watch. The muggles used sealed plastic and paper envelopes and little plastic numbered cards but in the wizarding world, MLE officers tended to use random scraps of paper, stared long enough to form a solid memory and then the lot got scooped into a box – charmed of course, just in case anything in there was spelled.

 

He'd had similar thoughts before, but the more Draco knew about how the muggle world worked, about the advances in technology and culture they’d made, the more he was coming to realise that the magical world had stagnated in so many ways.

 

Draco cast the standard detection spells on both secured Death Eaters and then laid the two wands and a handful of pocket detritus – none of which had more than basic spellwork on it – out on the pavement far enough away from the two that they couldn’t somehow use them but close enough to identify which of them the pieces belonged to and then transfigured a muggle newspaper into little labels that he tucked under them. He didn’t recognise either of the Death Eaters so settled for labelling them Death Eater #1 and Death Eater #2.

 

While he moved on to deal with the third Death Eater, Harry used a combination of charm-speaking and sonorous to lull the remaining muggles into a trance which would make it easier for the aurors to interview them and for the obliviators to eventually do their jobs. Once they’d all been cleared of spells and curses by healers, of course. But making them pliant and susceptible would make healing them easier. He’d seen it before, how muggles would become agitated and terrified when healers tried to help them because all they’d known of magic until help arrived was pain and fear.

 

Harry was normally terrible at charm-speaking (it involved a certain subtlety and finesse he frankly lacked) and they probably should have switched roles, but Harry was the official auror – sort of – and Draco was merely an ex-Death Eater forced to work out his crimes as the Ministry’s spell fodder. It went without saying that it was better he handle the magical people than be seen to be manipulating muggles. Although his ex-Death Eater status probably meant he shouldn’t be touching their captives either, but he’d rather get reprimanded for removing objects from the pair than risk an emergency illegal portkey or one of them getting their hands on a wand.

 

Not that the woman he’d encased in ice was likely to do much, the fine layer that had clung close to her skin reached bone deep and she was well and truly hypothermic now. Her friend was putting up a good fight against the chains, but Draco wasn’t worried. He gave him an unimpressed looked and with a twist of his wand sent the chain slithering up his body like a snake until one end had wrapped around the wizard’s mouth acting like a gag. He pulled it as tight as he could, making sure the man was uncomfortable but unlikely to die.

 

He'd only just started to roll the sleeve of Death Eater #3’s robes up to check for the presence of a Dark Mark when the crack of apparition filled the square announcing the arrival of the Ministry team. With a sigh, Draco stowed his wand in its holster, raised his hands to show he was unarmed and took three large steps away from the chained Death Eaters.

 

Then he got to enjoy being arrested. Again.

 

It was just his luck that the first to reach him was an auror he didn’t recognise. Of course, that didn’t mean they didn’t recognise him. Draco wasn’t sure there was a witch or wizard living in Britain that wouldn’t recognise him thanks to the Daily Prophet. He’d always assumed before the war, when he was still a stupid impressionable and naïve kid, that he’d grow up to be a recognisable face simply because he was a Malfoy and Malfoy’s were powerful and influential and that meant most people would see his hair and maybe his face and know that he was the Malfoy heir.

 

Well, his hair was different now and he didn’t feel much like the sharp and angular child he’d been thanks to Madam Pomfrey and her constant hounding of his eating habits and exercise regimen. He was still easily recognisable now to the wizarding world at large because in the last nine months he’d graced the cover of the Daily Prophet an astonishing seventeen times and been featured more than once in both Witch Weekly and the Quibbler. What made him all the more newsworthy (apparently) was that so often these days, he was captured beside Harry and the wizarding world didn’t seem to know what to do with that.

 

Draco would have to track down this G.F. who was writing all those articles for the Prophet at some point, just to thank them for being objective and actually writing the truth. He liked the way they captioned their photos too, something about it amused Draco, to see the slow transition he’d been making from ex-Death Eater to Ministry curse breaker. Perhaps he’d offer up a donation if they could promise to continue writing fair and well researched articles – about everything of course, not just him. He knew how that would look.

 

Probably about as bad as it did now, what with him standing over three tied up Death Eaters at the scene of an attack on muggles. Draco made sure all of his movements were slow and careful and didn’t put up a fight when the wizard started barking orders at him to lace his fingers behind his head and get on his knees.

 

It could have been worse, he supposed. They could have taken his wand, shoved him face first into the pavement and shackled him like the other two Death Eaters. Instead, he wound up sat on the freezing cold curb, hands cuffed behind his back with the basic runed cuffs, and a twitchy looking junior auror he’d also never met before standing guard over him. Draco was getting the impression that all of his usual aurors had pulled New Year’s duty instead.

 

In the end, Draco’s only real complaint (which had gone completely ignored) was that his arse was freezing sitting on the ground without the decency of a warming charm – or even a cushioning charm. Still, he had a good view of the square from his position and as long as they didn’t whisk him away to the holding cells as they’d done with the two captured Death Eaters (the third needed medical attention and would be spending the night on the secure ward at St Mungo’s – Draco was still wholly unapologetic), then he could enjoy watching the DMLE attempt to interview and obliviate so many muggles.

 

Mostly he kept his eyes on Harry. Catching sight of him initially, talking to the auror-in-charge, he’d watched as Harry slowly made his way through giving his statement (twice) and then watched as he joined the other aurors to interview the muggles that had been cleared by the healers. Every now and then he’d get roped into talking with a few of the senior aurors who had been roused out of bed but as none of them were Robards, Draco stayed quietly on the fringe, just watching the mixture of competence and inadequacy that passed for the Department of Law Enforcement in a post-war world.

 

Before the war and Smith’s sweeping cleanse, Draco suspected it would have been more a case of incompetence and inadequacy. He felt deeply sorry for the aurors who had escaped Smith’s savage cleansing, they were in for a harsh new reality once Robards managed to implement the new training guidelines in May. Draco entertained himself for a long moment thinking about what would happen if he went to Hermione with his concerns about Magical methods of criminal investigation in a post-war world and then let her loose on Robards and the Ministry.

 

…actually, that probably wasn’t a bad idea. He’d already thought about asking her for help with reforming Azkaban because Salazar knew that coming from him it would be seen as nothing more than an ex-Death Eater trying to protect the rest of those remaining from Voldemort’s little army. He’d experienced Azkaban for himself, seen what it had done to his aunt (he was sure she hadn’t always been that mad) and what it was doing now to his father, not to mention what Harry had said about Sirius’ experience. He didn’t think that keeping Azkaban as it was fit with the changes the wizarding world needed to make in order to properly bring it away from the atmosphere that had created room for Voldemort in the first place.

 

But sitting on the freezing cold street in a random muggle village wasn’t really the place for having deep thoughts about all the work Kingsley and the rest had ahead of them. Cleansing the Ministry of corruption was one thing, establishing new laws and regulations to prevent it happening again was another thing entirely and one he suspected would be hit with a lot more resistance than they’d so far received. And there’d been plenty of that. No one was happy to be fired from their position, certainly the members of the Wizengamot hadn’t been impressed to be given the boot. He didn’t imagine any of them would be impressed when they saw where those seats and votes would now be assigned.

 

What a pleasure that as a Malfoy he would have a front row seat – quite literally.

 

And that was a conversation he didn’t look forward to. He wondered if Kingsley’s offer of her own Wizengamot seat would soften the blow when Hermione realised that in order to bring the wizarding world into the future, they were actually taking a bit of a step back and bringing in some of the old laws that had been overturned after Grindelwald came to power.

 

Definitely not a conversation he was looking forward to and he imagined there’d be quite a few people sending angry owls to the Ministry (because they could no longer send them to him – some poor Ministry sod got to deal with all of Draco’s hate mail now) when the list of seats was released after the new year and they realised that the Malfoy seat was to be claimed rightfully by Draco. If they were lucky, Harry’s place in the Peverell seat would create such a stir no one would notice.

 

Somehow, he doubted he’d be so lucky.

 

It wasn’t until the last of the muggles had been sent on their way, whether that was home to bed or to St Mungo’s for treatment, that Harry came looking for him. Draco braced himself for the rage. The poor junior auror did not.

 

‘Why the fuck is he in cuffs?’ he demanded, glaring at the junior auror – Draco had never bothered to get his name, but he did look vaguely familiar. They’d probably been at Hogwarts at the same time for a year or two.

 

‘He’s a Death Eater,’ the junior auror replied in a tone that suggested he was stating the obvious.

 

‘Take them off,’ Harry ordered. ‘Now.’

 

‘I can’t,’ the junior auror denied – making him all the more the fool for not realising it wasn’t a request and that he should absolutely be taking the cuffs of the apparent Death Eater because, in case he hadn’t noticed, the three that had been arrested on scene had already been transported and didn’t he think it odd that Draco hadn’t?

 

Draco was well aware he’d been left cuffed and seated on the freezing ground out of spite. He’d been left on the sidelines to remind him that he wasn’t an auror or a real member of the Ministry and the cold seeping into his arse was to serve as cruel reminder of his place in the world.

 

Pity (for them) they hadn’t factored in that his place was by Harry’s side.

 

The expression on Harry’s face went from annoyance to anger in an instant and he took a threatening step toward the auror. ‘Take. Them. Off.’

 

‘I can’t,’ the junior auror repeated. This time he said it with an apologetic shake as he tried to stare down the famous Boy Who Lived and found himself wondering if he was about to be cursed. Or die. Harry’s expression was rapidly traveling from anger to rage and while Draco wasn’t surprised when the streetlight above them blew in a shower of sparks and glass, he did wish Harry could have kept better control of his temper.

 

Okay. That might have been a lie. Maybe he was enjoying the power display a little, but no one was around to judge him for it and that meant no one was about to roll their eyes at him for enjoying Harry’s display of magic and power in his defence. He did so love the way Harry got all possessive and protective – even when it wasn’t actually necessary.

 

‘I don’t have the key,’ the junior auror explained in a nervous titter.

 

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath and when he opened them, he looked more tired than angry. Draco didn’t blame him. They’d been out here in the cold for hours when they were supposed to be warm and safe at the Burrow celebrating Christmas with family. And the Weasel. Actually, judging by the stars that he could see when the clouds moved on, they should have been home from the Borrow hours ago. They could have been snuggled together in the warmth of their bed at the Manor rather than freezing cold in a random muggle village.

 

Harry had spent hours on what should have been his day off, working to interview muggles, taking their statements before sending them on to the obliviators. He’d done a few rounds of knocking on doors and checking the closed-up businesses for people hiding from it all. Every muggle found needed to be interviewed and sent on to obliviators who erased any memory of the terrifying end their nice little Christmas festival had met. They’d no doubt replaced it with a warm fuzzy feeling and the implication the day had bled into night and it had all been a wonderful time.

 

Sometimes Draco wondered just how stupid the DMLE thought muggles were. He was sure they’d go home thinking they’d taken drugs. How else to explain away the deep sense of the warm fuzzies?

 

Either way, Harry looked to be ready to tear the poor junior auror to pieces for not being able to release him and Draco honestly just wanted to go home. He tuned out their conversation (if you could call Harry’s vicious dressing down a conversation) and concentrated on the cuffs behind his back. He was familiar with their design, both as a prisoner of the DMLE and as (in the loosest definition of the word) an employee. He knew exactly what runes had been used to build them, exactly what made them impervious to magic and consequently, exactly how to unmake them.

 

It was awkward as fuck but not impossible. One careful (painful) trace with his thumb later and the charms fell apart. The cuffs hit the pavement with a soft thunk and Draco shook his arms to get the feeling back in them. Then he stood, brushed himself down and handed the cuffs to the junior auror who gaped at him like a fish.

 

‘I’d very much like to go home now, Potter.’

 

Harry narrowed his eyes at him, exasperation positively bleeding through. ‘You could have done that in the beginning,’ he said sounding more resigned than properly angry.

 

‘Of course,’ Draco confirmed, didn’t Harry already know that? Draco was sure they’d had a conversation about the standard issue cuffs that most aurors used. They were a step up from the binding wards they used to use but not much of one when you were trying to contain a curse breaker – especially one who was both Ministry trained and self-educated.

 

This time Harry rolled his eyes, though Draco hoped he was smart enough to realise the very good reason Draco hadn’t used that little trick Fleur had taught him. Sometimes it was best to let the DMLE think they were in control.

 

‘You can’t leave!’ the junior auror blurted out, sounding horrified that his suspect was up and planning to simply stroll away. Draco could sympathise, it was hardly going to look good on any upcoming evaluations. Of course, the fact that he’d stood by and watched over Draco would hardly go over well when Robards received the evaluations for sign-off and saw what he’d been written up for. Robards was firmly of the opinion that Draco was very useful to the Ministry. But also very aware that Harry could and would burn the Ministry to the ground if he was mistreated.

 

Again, probably shouldn’t enjoy that so much but Harry oozing power and being destructively protective ticked all of Draco’s boxes. If he wasn’t so tired and sore from sitting in the cold, he might have shown Harry just how much when they got home. But he was really tired and stiff, and the best Harry was likely to get was a good cuddle and some half-hearted groping. Although Draco didn’t imagine Harry would be in much of a mood for sex either, given all the spellwork he’d been doing had probably left him feeling a bit drained.

 

‘Oh, we can,’ Harry assured the junior auror – Draco was starting to think his name might have been Mullens? Madigan? Merry? Eh, it wasn’t like it mattered. Draco was sure if he ever did need to know he could just find out from Harry who, because he would be sitting the new and revised auror exams come June, would likely end up outranking the junior auror from the get-go.

 

And it wouldn’t be, Draco would like to point out, because he was the Boy Who Lived, Slayer of Voldemort.

 

‘Don’t worry,’ Draco assured the worried looking auror – honestly, he couldn’t have been more than twenty. ‘I’ll stop by the office tomorrow to give my statement.’ He held his hand out for Harry who took it and let Draco apparate them away.

 

It wasn’t exactly the ending they’d planned for their day, but it was hardly surprising they’d have their plans scuppered by an inconsiderate former Death Eater or three. Although which one of them had sent the call out and why there hadn’t been more to respond was a question Draco would very much like the answer to. He wasn’t naïve, he didn’t believe for a second that the Ministry had captured all of Voldemort’s followers, but only the four of them responding to the summons seemed a little odd. There were certainly less marked Death Eaters on the loose than marked and, as he and Harry were getting ready for bed, he started to consider ways to capture those, like the snatchers, who had never been marked but would likely still be up for a bit of muggle-baiting fun.

 

There’d certainly been enough of them who were likely even now settling into their own beds and thinking they’d gotten away with murder.

 

Which was not a pleasant thought at all but there wasn’t much they could do about those people for now. They’d have to put their focus on finding the Death Eater who had put wand to Mark and managed to summon them all. As far as Draco knew, the Marks didn’t work that way. Voldemort had been the only one who could summon his Death Eaters, for the rest of them, putting wand to Mark would just summon Voldemort.

 

‘It wasn’t one of the three we captured?’ Harry asked, later when they were in bed and Draco let him in on his thoughts.

 

He took Draco’s arm and held it up before them, tracing rough fingers over the black ink of the Dark Mark. It wasn’t moving anymore, the snake resting still once again. Just the fact Harry could so easily trace his fingers over the snake and skull, that he looked at the Mark and didn’t feel disgust or anger, set warmth blooming in Draco’s chest.

 

But also, he really needed to get Harry a decent moisturiser. The cold had made his skin chapped and although the room was only lit by a couple of candles, Draco just knew if he looked closely, he’d see evidence Harry was skimping on his skincare routine. The fact he’d never had one before always alarmed Draco. Also made him slightly jealous, because there was no way he could have gone through puberty looking as effortlessly handsome as Harry had managed – the man had the mildest case of acne ever, the lucky prat.

 

 

Which wasn’t something to be thinking about just now. Draco focused back on the here and now and said, ‘I didn’t recognise either of them.’

 

‘That doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been the ones to call.’

 

‘Actually, it does,’ Draco informed him, it was something he’d been turning over since they got into bed – when not distracted by Harry’s unfair lack of teenage acne.

 

The two of them had talked plenty about Draco’s year spent living amongst Death Eaters both at the Manor and Hogwarts, but he wasn’t sure Harry understood the full implication of hosting the Dark Lord. He wasn’t sure that even the glimpses Harry had gotten inside Voldemort’s head when he was holding court over the dining table were enough to fully grasp what it was that Malfoy Manor had become under Voldemort’s control.

 

‘The only ones who might have the knowledge to use the Mark now that he’s gone would have been in his inner circle – perhaps one of his Unspeakables – and I know all of them. You likely know all of the inner circle, too. Most of them are dead or in Azkaban or their poster is hanging up in the DMLE with a very large wanted label. But not the Unspeakables. I think at least one of them probably got away. Voldemort liked to gather his inner circle here. He’d bring them here and force us to have dinner around the dining table as though he were the rightful head of this house. Usually, it was to show off his power and his reach, sometimes it was a threat to his followers, sometimes he brought in others to punish – like Professor Burbage.’

 

‘You think it was one of the Unspeakables he had working for him that did this?’ Harry asked, hopefully starting to understand what Draco was getting at.

 

Draco hummed noncommittally. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know of anyone else who might know enough about the way the Mark functions to use it this way. Voldemort wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to have that sort of power over his followers.’

 

‘Does it still hurt?’ Harry brought Draco’s arm closer and pressed a kiss to the Mark before letting go and allowing Draco to slide it beneath the covers.

 

Draco shook his head.

 

‘Hermione might know something about the Mark,’ Harry murmured, sleepily. ‘She used a similar charm on those coins we had for the DA.’

 

Draco snorted. ‘Of course, she did.’

 

‘We can ask her tomorrow.’

 

‘Tomorrow?’

 

‘She’ll want to make sure you’re okay.’

 

‘Me?’

 

‘Yeah,’ Harry smiled. ‘I think she actually likes you.’

 

Draco pulled a face but given his own softening feelings toward the muggleborn he wasn’t about to argue. Especially not with Harry, in the dark, after such a long day. He’d much prefer to be sleeping than thinking about the friendship that was forming between him and Hermione and how the things they had in common could have blossomed into a friendship long ago if he hadn’t been such a git.

 

Athena landed on the bed with a hefty thump, stalking up the bed until she could drape herself across them both. Harry ended up with a mouthful of fur and Draco fell asleep with an amused grin and laughter on his lips.

 

He woke up, not to Harry or Athena, but Hermione and Ginny.

Chapter Text

Draco wrinkled his nose. ‘Who let you in?’

 

He pushed up onto his elbows and eyed the two at the end of his bed suspiciously. Hermione was sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed, nose buried in a book while Ginny was building a house out of exploding snap cards. How long had they been there? He didn’t usually sleep so deeply that he’d have missed the warm comforting presence of his boyfriend being replaced by his best friend and ex.

 

‘What time is it?’ he grumped, flopping back onto his pillows to frown at the ceiling.

 

‘It’s just gone eight,’ Hermione replied distractedly.

 

‘Eight,’ Draco repeated, lifting his head enough to stare at her incredulously. ‘In the morning?’ he asked, seeking clarification because that seemed horrendously early to be barging into someone’s bedroom and for Salazar’s sake, Ginny had been there long enough to build a five-story card masterpiece that he was impressed hadn’t already exploded in her face.

 

As though his thoughts had triggered them, there was a loud bang and Ginny lurched backward while Hermione lifted the book in front of her face to protect her.

 

‘Still got both my eyebrows,’ Ginny declared with satisfaction after a quick grope of her own face to check.

 

‘Merlin, why are you here?’ he groaned. If he buried his face under a pillow, would they give up and go away?

 

‘Because we were worried about you, you prick.’ Ginny’s look was as sharp as her words. He did know her well enough to recognise that the sharpness covered genuine worry, however.

 

Draco, despite how nice it was to know they cared, did not think this justified taking up residence in his bed before eight o’clock in the bloody morning. ‘Where’s Harry?’ he asked instead of pointing that out because he knew exactly how far that would get him with Ginny Weasley.

 

‘He went with Dad to the Ministry this morning,’ Ginny informed him. She gave her attention to the new card castle she was building for a long moment before she turned to look at him, expression light. ‘Let’s go get breakfast and you can tell us what happened before you have to go and give your statement – Harry didn’t say much before he left with Dad this morning.’

 

‘You already had breakfast,’ Hermione pointed out, closing her book with a snap.

 

Ginny shrugged. ‘I’m a Weasley, I can always eat.’

 

Draco, who had seen the Weasel eat, could believe it. ‘I’m not even dressed,’ he protested – half-heartedly as he’d already starting to scramble out of bed. He was always up for an excuse to get some nice food away from the Manor. ‘Give me ten minutes.’

 

Ginny raised a sceptical brow.

 

Draco was unrepentant when he conceded, ‘Well, thirty.’

 

It took him twenty-five. They didn’t manage to leave for a full forty-five minutes, though, because on the way out of his bedroom he made the mistake of stopping to introduce them both to the portrait of Fleamont.

 

‘Oh, Draco,’ Hermione sounded unfairly impressed with his gift to Harry, but he didn’t have long to dwell on it before she was asking him questions in a rapid-fire fashion.

 

Instead of being a nice introduction to a version of Harry’s grandfather, the exchange became a discussion about magical portraiture which had both Draco and Ginny threatening to leave Hermione behind if she didn’t leave off. Neither of them much cared about the intricate spellwork behind the portrait, they were both quite happy it worked. Although maybe that was just another facet of being raised in the magical world? There were a lot of things like this that Draco accepted but felt no need to discover how they worked. All he needed to know was that it did and because of the restored magic in the portrait, Harry would have the chance to get to know at least one member of the Potter family.

 

Hermione could spend her own time delving into the spells that brought the memories to life.

 

Much like Hermione’s research into their bond, Draco feared knowing exactly how the enchantments and spells worked might ruin the (for lack of a better word) magic of the thing. Draco was positive Harry didn’t need to know the specifics, he just needed to be assured that the image of the man he was talking to had some of the memories of his real grandfather.

 

Ginny seemed to understand this too, because she grabbed Hermione by the arms and frog-marched her out of the sitting room, scolding, ‘Don’t ruin a beautiful thing with too much research.’

 

The suggestion of (a second) breakfast had clearly been on Ginny’s mind long before she’d voiced it because she had a café already in mind when she led them through the floo to the Leaky and out into the wintry chill of a snow covered Diagon Alley. A bleary-eyed Tom offered them a half-hearted wave and then a raised eyebrow as they passed through and he clocked who he was actually waving at. He wasn’t the only one. Draco hadn’t been back to Diagon Alley since the summer before school started and that time he’d been with Harry. There was a lot of protection to be taken from just standing beside Harry Potter and Draco was surprised to learn that walking with Hermione Granger and a Weasley had much the same affect.

 

‘I think the Prophet articles are helping too,’ Hermione murmured when Draco voiced this observation. ‘You’re always with Harry and always doing something for the Ministry to help stop dark magic.’

 

‘The one of you licking Harry’s neck is still my favourite,’ Ginny grinned.

 

Startled, Draco said, ‘What? There was no photo of me licking Harry.’ He couldn’t say when he would even have licked Harry’s neck in public. There’d been a few times he’d brought the runes to life on Harry’s skin, but he didn’t remember any public licking. That was a bit mortifying.

 

‘Not one that made the paper, no,’ Ginny smirked. ‘Dean’s been seeing one of the photographers at the Prophet and he got his hands on the originals.’

 

‘He what?’ Hermione sounded terribly amused.

 

Draco was not. ‘Why is Thomas handing out photos of me and Harry?’

 

Ginny shrugged. ‘He said he didn’t want them falling into the wrong hands. He’s been passing them all along to George so that the Prophet doesn’t have any of the really incriminating ones.’ Ginny paused thoughtfully. ‘It was a bit weird really. He said he barely even had to ask, the woman writing the articles just handed them over without complaining.’

 

‘It’s a witch writing them, then?’ Draco asked. ‘Do you know who she is?’

 

‘Oh, yeah, it’s Gemma Farley,’ Ginny explained.

 

‘Gemma…the Slytherin prefect?’

 

‘Maybe?’ Ginny replied, sidestepping around a wizard who seemed to be struggling to contain his three small children in all the excitement of the snow. ‘Bit before my time, yeah?’

 

‘That’s good, though,’ Hermione pointed out. ‘That it’s a Slytherin, I mean. We need more positive Slytherin’s in the public eye.’

 

‘Oh, yeah, it’s a good thing, I’m just trying to remember what I ever did to Farley in the year we were at Hogwarts together that she’s being so nice to me.’

 

Ginny snorted. ‘It’s probably about not dragging Harry’s name through the mud.’

 

Draco laughed. ‘Probably.’ It was nice – weird, but nice to think that the woman behind all the insightful articles in the paper was a Slytherin slowly proving that not all Slytherins were bad. Hermione definitely had a point about that.

 

The café Ginny had chosen was halfway down the cobblestone street. Someone had already been through earlier to clear away some of the snow that had fallen overnight but there was a fresh light layer making the stones slippery. The café had a small outdoor courtyard cluttered with impractical tiny tables. Magical fires offered a reprieve from the winter chill and a warded sail kept the snow off the tables. It felt open and airy without being freezing cold. Draco guessed atmospheric charms took the rest of the chill off and a brief perusal of the menu stood on an easel by the entrance to the courtyard met with Draco’s approval.  Not that he needed to read it, he’d been plenty of times before.

 

The fact he didn’t receive a second look from the witch who greeted them was unexpected. Oh, there was a tiny moment of befuddlement when she realised who he was and that he was with Hermione and Ginny, but to her credit she didn’t say a word and directed them to one of the nicer tables right on the street where they could watch the other witches and wizards braving the chill to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales.

 

It was only when he was taking a proper look at the menu that he realised the witch was likely just happy to have someone who wouldn’t blink at the prices listed beside each item in the post-Christmas bustle. He could appreciate a witch who would let a convicted Death Eater sit at a table just because she knew he could pay.

 

 He gave Ginny a look, but she merely smiled winningly and said, ‘You owe us for scaring us yesterday.’

 

‘So I’m being forced to buy you an expensive breakfast?’

 

‘Don’t be silly.’ Hermione raised her own eyebrows at the prices but said, ‘We can pay.’

 

‘Speak for yourself,’ Ginny grumbled. ‘I’m flat broke but you owe me for putting up with my brother after you apparated out of the kitchen with Harry yesterday.’

 

‘Oh, yes, actually that’s fair.’

 

‘Hermione!’ Draco tried to sound betrayed, but he was laughing. He was laughing with Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley over a breakfast that he knew he’d have paid for even without Ginny declaring he owed her. It was truly astonishing how much his life had changed (for the better) in the last eight months.

 

He waited for the waitress to come and get their drink orders before he broached the topic of his disappearance from the Burrow. Hermione seemed honestly more fascinated by the way Harry’s tattoo of Sirius had acted as a warning system and that they’d both heard it than she did about the sudden attack by Death Eaters in a muggle village. Not that she wasn’t bothered by that, she was horrified by the fact that a faction of escaped Death Eaters had made such a public and horrible reappearance, but the puzzle that the bond between he and Harry presented was more interesting to her in that moment. To her, not anyone else. Draco knew how the bond worked now; he didn’t see why they needed to keep talking about it.

 

‘It isn’t that we heard it,’ he tried to explain, despite having no inclination to do so. ‘It wasn’t sound so much as it was a feeling I interpreted as sound.’

 

‘But that’s what makes it so fascinating!’ Hermione declared enthusiastically, adding sugar to her tea. ‘I’m assuming there isn’t any spellwork in place to connect Harry’s tattoo of Sirius to the Dark Mark.’

 

‘Of course, not,’ confirmed Draco. ‘That’s definitely our own magic interacting with the magic in the tattoo.’

 

‘I’ll have to research magical tattoos,’ Hermione’s gaze seemed aimed over Draco’s shoulder as she made a mental note to herself. ‘We couldn’t tell any of this was happening.’

 

‘We didn’t know what was happening at all,’ Ginny put in and went on to explain how, to everyone else at the table, it had looked as though he and Harry had both frozen, eyes snapping to Harry’s arm in unison. ‘It was creepy,’ Ginny mused, ‘but also kind of wicked.’

 

‘This whole thing is fascinating,’ Hermione agreed. ‘I can’t find anything in any of the books I’ve read that talks about a bond like this.’

 

‘I’ll let you write your own paper,’ Draco offered bitingly, ‘if you can tell me everything you know about how the Dark Mark functions.’

 

Hermione’s eyes gleamed and he had only a moment to consider he might have just made a grave error in judgement before she grinned and said, ‘Deal.’

 

She’d already asked him a dozen questions about magical tattoos and whether or not any of the others interacted with Harry’s (and was just fretting about not having any parchment) when the waitress returned and took their food orders.

 

‘I don’t understand how you weren’t even aware of it,’ Hermione muttered after Ginny took pity on her and offered up her napkin and Draco handed over his too which Hermione quickly transfigured into something a bit more workable.

 

Why she had a muggle pen in her handbag, but no paper or parchment was a strange contradiction he’d not expected from Hermione.

 

Draco could only shrug a shoulder as he sipped at his own tea. ‘It started while I was in Azkaban.’ Which he felt was explanation enough, but he still added the reminder, ‘I wasn’t aware of much of anything then.’

 

Hermione’s lips pursed and she muttered something angry about the wizarding prison system that he briefly toyed with responding to, but ultimately decided that wasn’t something he wanted to be subjected to on a cool crisp morning over what could be a pleasant breakfast. Thankfully, she didn’t ask him anything about his time in Azkaban which was a relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could share it with her – the bare bones of his time there in any case – but he needed to be in the right frame of mind to broach the topic and preferably, he’d have Harry there for support.

 

Another seventeen questions, three diagnostic spells and a spirited debate about why it was Luna could see the bond and how they could work it so that Hermione could see what Luna seemingly experienced later, Ginny put her foot down.

 

‘You’re making my head hurt,’ she grumbled. ‘Couldn’t you have saved this conversation for the next time you see Bill?’

 

‘It’s just so fascinating,’ Hermione declared so earnestly that Draco almost felt bad for feeling relieved that Ginny had been the one to finally declare enough. Almost. Not really though because he’d been just one more question away from hexing her quiet so they could properly enjoy breakfast and the strange myriad of people coming out to shop the sales.

 

‘Hermione, I can only take so much magical theory before noon,’ Ginny insisted.

 

‘I just never even realised this kind of magic existed,’ Hermione went on, ostensibly ignoring Ginny. ‘I just thought it was all fairy tales and people being poetic.’

 

‘Mostly I think it is.’ Ginny, resigned to the conversation not quite being through, thought about it for a moment before adding. ‘Witch Weekly is always publishing serials in the back that talk about soul bonds and it’s all terribly romantic, but they always make out like it’s a choice, an actual binding spell or ritual that people commit to and that I guess can be undone. None of us had ever even heard about it happening naturally before.’

 

‘You can blame Harry for that,’ Draco informed her, with a sardonic quirk of his lips. ‘Anything weird is absolutely his fault.’

 

Amused, Ginny took great delight in reminding him that the very nature of his bond with Harry said that was completely untrue. He ignored her and the topic of his bond with Harry was finally (temporarily) dropped, thank fucking Merlin.

 

They talked about little things, Hogwarts and homework and how Longbottom was returning to Hogwarts early to help Sprout with the final replanting of one of her greenhouses. When their food arrived, Draco was explaining about the sentient plant at Grimmauld Place he was thinking of having Longbottom look at. They fell quiet after that, the three of them content to eat in silence, watching the swelling crowds as they munched away thoughtfully.

 

Ginny was the one to break the silence wondering aloud whether Luna and her father had arrived safely in Norway and was promptly interrupted by Hermione who blurted out a quite unexpected, ‘I broke up with Ron.’

 

‘Good,’ he and Ginny both replied without hesitation. Although Ginny followed it up with, ‘He needs to realise what a git he’s being,’ when he would have simply left it at that because now he knew they were going to have to talk about Weasley, and Draco had very much been enjoying not having to think about the prat.

 

‘I hope he does,’ Hermione spoke softly with her eyes directed at her plate. ‘I still love him; I just don’t understand how he could say such hateful things about Harry. He was just so thoughtlessly cruel.’

 

Ginny shrugged, a little uncomfortably Draco rather thought. ‘He’s done it before, you know he has. He’s was a right arse when he turned up last Christmas. He’ll come around eventually; he always does. Probably only after we’ve all hexed him another two or three times – Mum’s already got a head start.’

 

Intrigued, Draco asked, ‘What did Molly do this time?’

 

Ginny grinned. ‘Hit him with another tongue-tying jinx the moment he opened his mouth after dinner yesterday. He started in on some really awful things about you while the rest of us were still worrying you were being summoned into a trap and about to die.’ The words were said lightly but there was real concern beneath them, and Draco reached out to squeeze Ginny’s hand.

 

‘I’m fine,’ he reminded her and then smirked. ‘Bet the Weasel loved that. What eighteen-year-old wants to be admonished by his mother like he’s still six?’

 

Ginny grinned but it faded a moment later as she recalled the incident. ‘He said some really awful things, about Harry too, when he realised we weren’t giving his concerns about you enough attention. I’ve never seen Charlie so mad, he threatened to go stay above George’s shop with Hermione – Ron couldn’t even figure out why he was mad! And then Percy suggested Ron thought he knew better than the curse breakers at the Ministry who check all the Ministry employees for enchantments every week, like we haven’t learned anything from Voldemort!

 

‘Dad got really quiet and disappointed – it was horrible. Dad’s not supposed to be the one that gets all serious, that’s mum’s job, but she was so mad she couldn’t even speak to him. She just stuck his tongue to the roof of his mouth and told him she’d remove it again when he could think before he spoke or next time she’d do something worse.’

 

Ginny’s fury was palpable but underneath it was an obvious undercurrent of hurt. She didn’t need to say anything, Draco understood that she simply couldn’t reconcile the brother she’d always sort of looked up to with the man who was viciously hurling slurs at his best friend. Draco could relate, he had never imagined Weasley would turn on Harry quite this way. It was one thing to be angry and disgusted that Harry was choosing a Death Eater but to intentionally hurt Harry with such unexpected bigotry was something else entirely.

 

‘He tried to say something to me yesterday after you left and all that happened,’ Hermione added quietly. She looked sad but firm, as though breaking up with Weasley had to be done and she wasn’t about to let herself feel guilty for doing it.

 

Whatever he’d said to her, Draco could only assume it must have been awful and he very much doubted it had anything to do with him. Hermione might be softening towards Draco, but she loved the Weasel and only another horribly bigoted rant would have driven her to take such action.

 

‘He had to write it all out, but he finally just told me I was being stupid to believe you’d really changed, and that Harry was an idiot for thinking you wanted him for anything other than a way to fix your reputation.’

 

Draco snorted. ‘Even Harry can’t fix my reputation.’

 

‘That’s not the point, Draco,’ Hermione rebuked sharply. The look she gave him was a curious mix of regret and something that he though was loathing but he didn’t think it was directed at him. he hoped it wasn’t. ‘I know we all expected him to be upset that it’s you but it’s not up to him to decide who Harry wants to be with. And it’s certainly not up to him to decide the gender of that person. As long as Harry is safe and happy what should it matter?’

 

Draco couldn’t help wondering if she wasn’t trying to tell herself that. If she wasn’t trying to remind herself that Harry had to make his own choices. ‘It matters because I’m not Ginny,’ Draco replied, warily, not touching on his other thoughts. ‘I don’t fit his little vision of what the Chosen One should want.’

 

Hermione’s mouth dropped open, likely to offer up a false platitude, but she couldn’t seem to think of anything to say and Ginny ended up responding. ‘Plus, you’re a bloke,’ she said grimly. ‘I never even thought that would be a problem. I thought for sure it would be just that you used to be a Death Eater and you’ve done some horrible things. I think if it were just about you – no offense – we’d all be willing to wait him out but the things he’s been saying about Harry…’

 

‘I think it is mostly about me.’ Draco truly hadn’t taken Weasley to be homophobic either. He still wasn’t inclined to believe someone that Harry and Hermione could love (someone raised by Molly and Arthur Weasley) could be so bigoted. And that was coming from someone who didn’t like Weasley and hadn’t had any real respect for him, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Weasley was choosing his words intentionally to hurt Harry the only way he could. Although, somehow, Draco thought that made it worse.

 

Apparently, he’d had more faith in Weasley than he realised, more faith that he loved his friend and was a genuinely good person.

 

For Salazar’s sake, even his own pureblood Death Eater father supported his relationship with Harry. Admittedly, he probably thought he could use it to his advantage but when Draco had brought that up with his mother, she’d told him otherwise. She’d gone so far as to assure him that, yes, his father likely hoped to gain something from being Harry Potter’s father-in-law but that was more a delightful by-product rather than his main reason. His father, despite everything he’d done that had made Draco’s life a (quite literal) living hell, loved him and supported his right to be in a relationship with whoever he wanted.

 

As long as he got grandchildren, of course. That part was nonnegotiable. Not that he or Harry minded, there would definitely be children in their future and given how lonely both of them had been as children, certainly more than one.

 

Ugh. He was too young to be thinking about this. As far as he knew, his mother hadn’t found any poor pureblood witch happy to donate some eggs and her womb, but he supposed it was only a matter of time. Hopefully, Burbage Hall and all the campaigning that was sure to require would distract her few a few years yet. Hopefully, they had a good five years before children became a topic to worry about.

 

‘No,’ Ginny reassured him, bringing him back to the topic at hand. ‘This is about Ron – and maybe a little bit about Harry.’

 

‘It’s always about Harry,’ Draco offered dryly, thinking back on all the other times Weasley had walked away and the tenuous reasoning behind each and every occasion.

 

‘But they will work it out, won’t they?’ Hermione’s obvious anxiety over the issue had Ginny hastening to reassure her that Weasley would come around.

 

‘This is what he does,’ Ginny reminded Hermione. ‘He does or says something stupid and then he walks away but he always comes back once he’s sorted his head out.’ She reached out to squeeze Hermione’s hand. ‘Ron will apologise and everything will be fine.’

 

Draco made a noncommittal sound and then hastily took a bite of bacon when they both turned to look at him. He’d not even meant to make the sound, but he didn’t think it was going to be that easy. Just because that’s the way things had always worked out between them didn’t mean that was how it would be now. Post-war Harry wasn’t the same Harry who had welcomed Ron back during fourth year without even a proper apology – he’d heard about that through the usual Hogwarts gossip, long before he’d gotten the full story out of Harry. He certainly wasn’t the same Harry who was scared he wouldn’t be able to stop Voldemort and welcomed the relief of having his best friend back. he wasn’t the Harry who had forgiven a million little stupid fights just because he was afraid of losing his friend.

 

Although, Draco would concede that saving Harry’s life probably was apology enough under those circumstances.

 

‘What does that mean?’ Ginny demanded.

 

‘You made a sound,’ Hermione said at the same time, narrowing her eyes at him. ‘Don’t you think he’ll apologise?’

 

Draco hesitated to say what he was thinking but, in the end, he wanted them to understand why that might not be the case and why it wasn’t a bad thing if Harry and Weasley didn’t just automatically fall back into their friendship.

 

His mind healer would be so proud.

 

‘I do think he’ll apologise,’ he admitted, and he honestly did think Weasley would apologise, once he’d gotten over the need to hurt Harry and gotten around to apologising for all the homophobia – and demonstrating it had been him lashing out and not what he actually believed. Which, again, did not make it better, he still had to think the slurs, had to consider them and say them and, Merlin, write them down.

 

‘But…?’ Ginny joined Hermione in narrowing her eyes at him.

 

He sighed. Well, if he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly. ‘How much do you know about Harry’s time with the Dursleys?’

 

Taken aback by his question, Hermione answered more honestly than she perhaps might have another day. Though maybe not. She, after all, was trying to support his relationship with Harry – although some days he didn’t know why and he wasn’t sure she did either. ‘I know they didn’t like him very much.’

 

Draco couldn’t help but scoff at the wild understatement. ‘They hated him. Surely you know that.’ He spoke calmly in a low tone so as not to be overheard but he took a moment to cast a quick privacy charm too. He wanted to convey just how serious he was about this and didn’t want to worry that he was betraying Harry to random strangers. It was bad enough he was attempting to explain things to Hermione and Ginny, although he knew Harry wouldn’t mind.

 

‘Harry didn’t have friends,’ he stated bluntly. ‘He didn’t have a single adult in his life that loved him. You need to understand that he was isolated, that he was the only person he could trust or rely on and then – first thing he does on the train to Hogwarts and a new life – he meets a boy his own age who finds him interesting and wants to talk to him and be his friend.’

 

‘That can’t be true,’ Hermione tried to dismiss his assertion with a frown but even as she was saying it, Draco could see the connections she was making, little things that were making more and more sense to her now that he’d blatantly pointed Harry’s isolation out to her. Again. He could have sworn he’d had a conversation with her about this, or a conversation around her about this?

 

Draco wondered if she was thinking all the way back to first year and a Harry who was kind, who abhorred bullying (hadn’t he disliked Draco for exactly that?), but never said one word to Weasley about his treatment of a young and friendless Hermione. What if she was thinking about third year, when he tried so hard to stay neutral in the almost year-long fight between them when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to properly stand up to Weasley about treating Hermione so poorly. Did she think about fourth year and the way Harry so easily forgave the boy who had been so quick to believe he’d put his name in the goblet for the fame and glory? Because that wasn’t Harry and even fourth-year Draco had known that. Bloody hell, anyone with eyes who even looked at Harry during that announcement would have known.

 

‘For a long time, Hermione,’ Draco explained patiently, ‘you and the Weasel were Harry’s entire support system. You were all he had in the world for years.’

 

‘But that’s not true!’ she insisted. ‘Harry had plenty of people in his life who cared about him.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Ginny said slowly, thoughtfully, ‘but how many of them did Harry realise were in his life?’ She turned to look at Draco. ‘That’s what you mean, yeah? Mum and Dad would have helped him in a heartbeat if he’d said something. Hagrid too.’

 

‘Almost anyone would have helped him if he’d said something,’ Draco said, with all the embarrassment that would have caused Harry, he didn’t think it was a lie. Assuming Dumbledore let them, of course, but that was something else entirely and he wasn’t about to bring that up with Hermione just yet, that was something Harry would have to bring up when he was ready to finally talk about Dumbledore grooming him to die.

 

Harry would actually have to tell Hermione that he’d died.

 

‘But no one knew.’ He thought that’s what it boiled down to. ‘Harry never saw any of the people in his life as his because it never occurred to him that they might care for him like that – also probably never occurred to him that there were adults who could and would help,’ he added thinking about all the times Harry could have reached out to Sirius or Lupin – or even his cousin Nymphadora. He thought about the times he had tried, and it had gotten him exactly nowhere. Draco shook his head. ‘Harry had you and Ron and that was about all he knew.’

 

‘But how could he not know…’ Hermione trailed off, face pale and eyes shimmering with the threat of tears. ‘How did I never notice?’

 

‘You were a child,’ Draco reminded her, surprisingly gentle, because it really wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t Harry’s. There was a lot of blame to be placed firmly on the Dursleys but plenty more on Dumbledore and Mrs Figg. Plenty of blame to be placed on anyone who didn’t offer Harry the safety and support he needed to have him even thinking he could reach out for help.

 

‘We should have helped him,’ Hermione dismissed his words, voice thick. ‘He had to know that we would have helped him, it shouldn’t have mattered that we were just children.’

 

‘It does though. You were just a kid, Hermione, why should you have been the one to fix everything? Don’t you think you were already doing enough? You and the Weasel were Harry’s entire emotional support system for the better part of seven years.’ Draco paused, considered his words and then said, ‘I spent a lot of time watching Harry, I’ll admit it, and do you know what I noticed? The isolation, the way he didn’t talk to anyone but the two of you. Maybe he’d talk to the twins occasionally,’ he conceded. ‘And sometimes the others in your house but only in your year or those on the quidditch team. Is it really any wonder that, at first, I thought that he thought he was better than everyone else – the famous Boy Who Lived? But that’s not Harry, I know that now, I’ve known it for years.

 

‘Harry just didn’t think anyone wanted to talk to him, he didn’t know how to reach out and talk to other people who didn’t talk to him first and being famous hardly made it easy. It was simpler just to ignore everyone, that way his fame never got in the way. That was just at Hogwarts, mind you, I think it got dramatically worse when he went home for the summer. Just imagine it, Hermione,’ he implored. ‘Every summer when he went home, he was shut out. He was completely cut off from the wizarding world and the only support system he had.’

 

Hermione seemed to be struggling to stay quiet and listen, but Ginny once more reached out to squeeze her hand. Draco thought Ginny had seen some of this, thought she might have suspected it at the very least. Hadn’t she spent some time on the fringes of Harry’s life? There’d been years where he barely even noticed she existed, at least Draco had always had Harry’s attention. Poor Ginny had, and he would never say this to her face, just sort of been there until Harry’s brain decided he liked the way she was just always there.

 

He’d always assumed Hermione understood the isolation Harry experienced every summer, especially after he’d returned fifth year an angry teenage mess. Though perhaps she’d assumed his time was more like her own, spent in study and exploration of the magical world even if it was done in secret – after all, it was to be expected given his relatives hate of magic.

 

‘You were his friends, and you very rarely wrote to him.’ He could have said something about the letters they did send him, the ones full of hints and clues that they were together or even just regularly exchanging mail, but leaving Harry out of it, but he thought Hermione was looking guilty and stricken enough.

 

It was just – did they not understand the terrible loneliness? The anger and hurt and even betrayal he’d felt knowing that his friends were off together just being together when he was locked away, miserable and alone. It made Draco’s chest ache to think about what Harry had been through – all because he was told by Dumbledore that he needed to be at the Dursley’s to keep him safe. To protect him from Voldemort. Never mind the fact that Harry had wandered the neighbourhood simply to escape the horror that was the Dursleys, never mind that when he’d chosen to go after Harry it had been perfectly simple to find him.

 

Draco didn’t even want to think about the true reasons Dumbledore had wanted to keep Harry so isolated. Thinking about Dumbledore used to fill him with so much guilt over his actions in sixth year but now thinking about the late headmaster filled him with rage.

 

‘Things are different now,’ he went on. ‘You went away for the summer just like you always did but this time Harry wasn’t isolated at the Dursleys. He wasn’t hidden away in the muggle world where he didn’t get to have any freedoms and he’d have to pretend to be something he wasn’t – which was dramatically different to how things have always been. Harry spoke with a mind healer regularly, he had proper meals everyday with the Weasleys. It didn’t matter that you and the Weasel were gone because he could see for the first time that he had other people, that he had Luna and me and he’s got family now in Teddy. I think, for the first time, Harry can see how much he’s loved and wanted – not just needed to end a war. Without you and Weasley to hide away with, Harry could finally start to make proper meaningful connections with other people.

 

‘So no, I don’t think he’ll forgive Weasley as easily this time because he doesn’t have to worry about being alone. He’s never going to be alone again and now he knows that, now he can see it every day in all the stupid little ways I show him I love him and you two stand by him, he can afford to take the time to process how Weasley hurt him, he can take the time to learn to trust him again. If he even deserves it.’

 

Silence hung heavy in the air once he’d stopped speaking. Both Hermione and Ginny were deep in thought, processing everything he’d just told them. Hermione had tears in her eyes and Ginny had gone pale beneath her freckles.

 

He could tell them more; he could ask them if they understood why Harry never asked questions about his family. He could ask them if they’d never wondered why he didn’t correspond with Lupin during fourth year (or fifth or sixth) or why he’d never spoken up about the abuse he suffered – survived – at the Dursleys. He could point out Harry’s inability to recognise his own self-worth in his sacrificial tendencies and the absolute ridiculousness that was Dumbledore letting two twelve-year-olds and an eleven-year-old go after the philosopher’s stone.

 

Draco could talk about the way Harry hadn’t felt comfortable confiding in anyone in second year and the terror of fourth year. Most of fifth year. And the way sixth year had confirmed for him how alone he truly was when no one would take his concerns seriously. The one time he’d tried desperately to talk to an adult, and they’d all blown him off. Worse still, Snape and Dumbledore had known he was right and done nothing to put his mind at ease, they’d done nothing to reassure him that things were being taken care of.

 

What did it say about Harry’s life once he’d arrived at Hogwarts that third year, when everyone thought Sirius Black was out to get him, was the most normal year he’d had? And who in their right fucking mind would force a seventeen-year-old boy to defeat the Dark Lord?

 

‘Why didn’t he ever tell us any of this?’ Hermione wondered. She wasn’t crying but her voice was thick, her hands shook as they reached for her tea.

 

It was Ginny who answered, voice rueful. ‘Because he didn’t know it wasn’t normal in the beginning. He didn’t realise it was something he should talk about. And then he realised that even if he did talk about it, nothing would come of it. How many times did he talk about wishing he could stay at Hogwarts for the summer? Or how excited he was to think he might be going to live with Sirius?’

 

Draco wasn’t aware Ginny knew about that and judging by the surprised look on Hermione’s face, she hadn’t known it either.

 

Hermione looked at Draco as though seeing him properly for the first time. ‘He told you all of this?’

 

‘He fed me his soul,’ Draco reminded her dramatically (Ginny snorted). ‘And I fed mine right back.’

 

‘I need time to process this,’ Hermione murmured. She started to gather her things; the napkins she’d scribbled her notes on and the muggle pen went into her handbag and she stood from the table abruptly. ‘I just – I need to think.’

 

Draco called out to her as she started to walk away. ‘Hermione!’ When she turned to look at him, he said firmly, ‘It’s not your fault.’

 

She gave him what was probably supposed to be a wry smile but was all grimace instead. ‘Some of it is.’

 

She apparated away with a soft crack before he could say otherwise, leaving him with Ginny. He eyed the youngest Weasley warily and found himself asking, against his better judgement, ‘Are you alright?’

 

She shrugged, gaze a little distant. ‘I think I already knew most of that. I watched him too, remember?’

 

He looked around at the busy street, searching for some way to ease the mood and his eyes locked on a small narrow shop squeezed between a second-hand bookshop and a milliner’s. He’d never been in there before, but he knew what he’d find when he went in. Perhaps it was time he paid the shop a visit instead of expecting Ezekiel to come to him? He did have some time before he absolutely had to be at the Ministry.

 

‘Ever thought about getting a tattoo?’ he asked.

 

When he turned to Ginny, one brow quirked in a challenge, he was met by her wide grin.