Liar


we're in a room without a door

and i am sure without a doubt

they're gonna wanna know how we got in here

and they're gonna wanna know

how we plan to get out

~ Ani DiFranco

*

2017

*

Every single time it happened, Harry told himself it would be the last.

It didn’t make any sense, for one. He was happily married to a beautiful woman (even at thirty-eight, Ginny still managed to turn heads), had three gorgeous kids (even if the boys were more often covered in dirt than not), and had his dream career − everything he ever could have wanted, right down to the white picket fence in Godric’s Hollow (well, the fence was brown, but it matched the decor, according to Gin). Harry had no need to want for anything.

Except...

Maybe the problem was that his life was everything he had been told he should want. Maybe he’d never had a chance to figure it out what he actually wanted. After all, he’d spent the first two decades of his life just running on autopilot, surviving the Dursleys only to be thrown headfirst into a war he was too young to understand, and had still somehow managed to come out on top.

Harry had never made any plans aside from defeating Voldemort. Even though Dumbledore never told Harry he was supposed to die, Harry had known, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he was going to regardless. He’d come to peace with the idea, if it meant saving the lives of those he cared about.

But then he hadn’t died, and had been suddenly left with his entire life ahead of him, and no idea what to do with it.

So he’d married his first love (it seemed like the right thing to do, at the time), he’d bought a house, he’d got his official certification as an Auror, and started a family. It was the epitome of happily-ever-after.

Only...

Harry didn’t really think about the repercussions of what was happening at first; if he had, he never would have done it, never put himself in the situation that led to it. But how was he supposed to know? How could he have had any idea? Even now, thinking about it, it sounded absurd. As far as Harry had ever known, he didn’t even like men.

Perhaps the fact that it was a man had nothing to do with it − but even then, it made less sense.

Harry really had no idea why he kept going back.

“Well?” Malfoy said, glancing up at him with eagerness masked in impatience. “I’ll have you know, I don’t get on my knees for just anyone, Potter.”

Oh, right. That was why.

*

2007

*

The day Draco Malfoy finished his residency at St Mungo’s and was hired on as the official Medi-Wizard Examiner for Magical Law Enforcement was simultaneously the best and worst day of the rest of Harry's life.

Harry had just turned twenty-seven at the time, and was unable to do anything about it except appeal to Robards about the absurdity of the situation.

“According to St Mungo’s, he’s the best they have,” Gawain told him, ignoring the years worth of reasons Harry had laid out to him. “I’ve been requesting someone with experience in the Dark Arts for over a decade, ever since Croaker went Unspeakable on us. Do you have any idea how rare it is to have a medical wizard with expertise in Dark magic?”

Harry didn’t care. He did just fine with their current examiner, wusshername, the waify one with the gap in her front teeth.

“Examiner Hoffsbury is retiring,” Gawain explained. “She’s useless when it comes to Dark Arts, and anyway, weren’t you the one who so frustrated because she − correct me if I’m wrong − ‘wouldn’t know Dark magic if it bit her on the arse’?”

Harry opened his mouth, and closed it. “That’s not the point,” he tried.

“Look, Potter,” Gawain said, folding his arms over his desk. “I know you two have some ugly history, but this isn’t about you, this isn’t even about Malfoy. This is a workplace, and frankly, I don’t give a damn if he cursed your Crup when you were kids, you need to get over it.”

“He has the Dark Mark!”

“A fact St Mungo’s took into account long before accepting him into training, much less allowing him to complete his residency. In fact, I believe it was your testimony on his family’s behalf that convinced them to give Mr Malfoy a chance.”

At that moment, Harry regretted ever having spoken up for the Malfoys. “This is ridiculous. I won’t − ”

“Fortunately, what you will or won’t allow does not matter, as I’m the one giving the orders here, and Kingsley already gave Malfoy his blessing.” His boss gave him a look, daring Harry to challenge him. Harry had learned very quickly that challenging Robards' authority wasn’t something done lightly, because Gawain had no issues with putting Harry Potter on domestic duty for a month if he felt like it. “I gave you a heads-up on this as a courtesy, Harry, because I didn’t want a scene the first time you crossed paths in the corridor.”

Harry closed his eyes and sighed, willing himself to take a deep breath before speaking. “I just think this is a bad idea. We’ll never get on.”

“I don’t require you to be mates, just to work together.” Gawain rolled his eyes at Harry’s look of disgust, and continued: “Perhaps you should consider the advantages of the situation rather than focussing on the negatives,” Gawain told him with a pointed look. “I can assure you, Mr Malfoy was even less excited to work with you.”

*

Harry and his partner specialised in Aggravated Assault and Homicide for two reasons: first, he was the best at Defence they had to offer, and secondly because nobody else wanted to deal with it. People might think that, with Voldemort gone, everything was hunky-dory, but even Harry had been surprised at the sheer amount of Dark magic-related crimes that occurred in the business of everyday affairs.

When Harry had first joined the Aurors after the war, Ron hadn’t joined him immediately. Instead he’d spent time with his family, or more specifically, spent time with George. Harry missed him, but didn’t blame him; he would have done the same, if it had been his brother. Besides, they practically were his brothers, what with the war and Ginny and everything, but just because Voldemort was dead hadn’t meant the trouble was over. So Ron had spent a year helping rebuild Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, and Harry had bypassed ninety percent of his training and got his full certification early.

Ron eventually came back and, like Harry, required very little actual training. Technically they still had to do it, but Kingsley had proclaimed that if they passed their tests, that it was good enough for him. But when Ron had taken his exams, he had surprised them all by not only passing in every area Harry had excelled, but also in the one Harry hadn’t: Tactics.

So Harry had had an extra six months of certification due to Tactical Training that Ron had been able to skip. But he’d apparently done so well to have gained notice, and before he’d even donned his Field-Training uniform, someone from Undercover Ops had swung by and asked Ron if he’d be interested in “something a little more elite”.

Ron had turned them down, of course, and since nobody was about to argue over Harry Potter’s special treatment when it came to selecting his own partner, the two of them tracked down and caught seventy percent of the Death Eaters on the run within their first five years together.

Harry had taken some time off back when James was born, and it wasn’t until he’d returned to work that he learned that Undercover had “borrowed” Ron while he was on leave. It hadn’t actually become a problem until Hermione had also fallen pregnant, and Ron had confided to Harry that she was more than a little worried about his line of work now that they had a baby on the way.

“I’ve got one, too,” Harry had pointed out. “And another on the way.”

“Yeah, but Gin wasn’t out there with us,” Ron had said, not meeting Harry’s eyes. “She’s just worried one day, I won’t come home.”

Harry couldn’t blame her; in the course of their career so far, they’d nearly been killed several dozen times, but maybe the fact that Harry had spent the majority of his life in mortal danger had left him a little numb to the perils of his chosen career. Either way, Harry knew it was only a matter of time before Ron put in his notice.

He was surprised when Ron didn’t actually leave Magical Law Enforcement, but merely transferred; Undercover Operations had snatched him up quickly, and when Harry pointed out that working undercover was perhaps more dangerous than just being an Auror, Ron had just laughed.

“Nah, they’re taking me on as a Handler,” he had told Harry, shrugging. “Did’ya know, half the staff there is made up of Slytherins? Mostly I just sit at a desk all day with ‘em, scheming.”

While it was nice that the every time Harry worked undercover Ron was his Handler instead of that idiot with the lisp (Harry always forgot his name), but it had taken him a while to find a partner to work steadily with once his best mate had cleared out his desk. He’d partnered with Neville for a few months, until McGonagall sent an Owl and he packed up to go be the new Herbology Professor (Harry was pretty sure Hannah had something to do with that, after Neville had nearly lost an eye on their last case together). So Harry started trading partners like Chocolate Frog cards, and had gone through half a dozen in as many weeks before Tracey Davis had caught his eye.

Davis had been a Hit Witch for four years prior, the youngest ever admitted to the division, before Harry had crossed her path and immediately put in a request to Robards to have her transferred. He’d been surprised to find out she’d not only been in his year, but also in Slytherin, which probably would have bothered him if he hadn’t got to know her first.

Like Harry, she was Half-blood, married to the job, and incredibly good at it. She was vulgar and reliable like Ron, hilarious and wicked in ways that reminded Harry of the twins (and worked wonders for interrogation), and didn’t shout at Harry for Flooing her at stupid o’clock in the morning whenever he had a hunch. Within a year, they had a higher solved-case average than half the department put together.

What was better, was she turned a blind eye whenever Harry ignored standard procedure. She always made sure to hold him back if he got angry and nearly took it out on a suspect, and she was as quick with a wand as she was with a comeback. Whenever either of them was doing something not quite by-the-book, she’d cover for him and he’d cover for her, and Robards would, after giving them both a look that stated just how much trouble they would be in if they ever got caught, just sigh and wave them off.

Davis had a long nose with a light dusting of freckles that was only visible when she got in your face, and a wicked right hook that Harry had come to respect. She was also very pretty, even though she made an effort to hide it; she never did up her hair (she kept it short, hardly longer than Harry’s own), never wore any makeup or Glamour around her blue eyes, or bothered with those outrageous heeled boots that had come into fashion. It was kind of a shame, really, since she was a strawberry-blonde, slim woman with curves in all the right places, and (Harry knew, from their sparring sessions) had legs that went all the way up to Scotland.

By the end of the first month with Davis as his partner, Harry was really starting to get worried.

After another fortnight of successful teamwork together, however, Tracey made it very clear that it wasn’t something Harry would ever have to worry about. They had gone out for celebratory drinks after one particularly gruelling case, and she had invited her girlfriend along.

“Girlfriend?” Harry had said, shaking Anne’s hand automatically. “Er--”

“Two years, today,” Anne said.

“Er. Congratulations?”

Tracey had looked at Harry’s raised brows and narrowed her eyes. “Oh, Merlin, I forgot you were raised by Muggles. This isn’t going to be a problem, is it?”

“What? No! I mean, er, I’m just − no, not at all.”

“Is he always this eloquent?” Anne had asked, snickering.

“Outside of interrogation?” Tracey had said, rolling her eyes. “Pretty much.”

*

“Davis is a lesbian?” Ron had said, after Harry had told him during their weekly trip to the Muggle pub on Tottenham Court Road.

Harry preferred it to the Leaky; it was still a short walk from Diagon Alley, but far enough away he could avoid the wizarding press. It was always just busy enough that a group of wizards could mingle without attracting much notice. The bar was long and made of dark, shiny wood that Harry liked to drum his fingers against while watching the Muggle news on the telly, always one ear open to anything strange that could be important.

That night he had been showing Ron how to play pool; the pub boasted two tables at the back with a solitary pendant lamp over each that swung gently side-to-side whenever Ron thumped the edge of the table in frustration.

“Apparently,” Harry had said.

“Is she cute?”

“Davis?” Harry had feigned thinking it over while lining up a shot for the black. “I guess, if you’re into blondes.”

“Not Davis,” Ron had said, rolling his eyes at Harry’s inquisitive look. “Her brother’s in Ops, he’s got a photo of her on his desk. I meant the girlfriend.”

Harry narrowed his eyes down the cue and took his shot; the black dinked against the edge, shot left and slipped neatly into the pocket. “I dunno,” Harry had said, standing up and shrugging. “I guess?”

Ron had given Harry a despairing sort of look. “You lucky sod.”

*

“You poor sod,” Ron said, when Harry told him about Malfoy. “Robards wouldn’t budge, eh?”

Harry swirled his glass, watching the neon light from the television turn the scotch amber and dark again. “It wasn’t his call, anyway. Malfoy’s technically MLE-wide.”

“Oh, lovely,” Ron said, making a face. “I told you you should have let the bastard rot in Azkaban.”

“He didn’t deserve Azkaban,” Harry pointed out.

“A few years inside wouldn’t’ve killed him.”

“And I did owe Narcissa.”

“Maybe he’ll get killed in the field?”

“He’d run away first.”

They both grinned at that, but Harry still didn’t feel any better. “He’s not field certified yet, anyway.”

“Shame. Maybe you can hex him when Davis isn’t looking.”

“She’s my partner,” Harry pointed out. “It’d be like me trying to hex him and expecting you not to notice.”

“Difference is,” Ron said with a smirk, “I wouldn’t stop you.”

“Tracey says I need to lighten up,” Harry went on, shrugging.

“Maybe you do,” Ron said, and rolled his eyes at the look of incredulity Harry gave him. “Oh, come on, it’s not like it was, is it? I’m not saying the two of you need to be chummy, or anything, but I dunno; the Slytherins in my office aren’t so bad.”

“I guess,” Harry said, swirling the scotch in his glass. “But she keeps bringing him ‘round the office; they’re mates, or something.”

“I thought they all tormented her for being a Half-blood?”

“That’s what I said, but she seems to have got over it.” Harry shrugged again. “‘Slytherins stick together’, she says. ‘Malfoy’s not that bad, once you get to know him.’”

*

Malfoy actually wasn’t that bad, though at first Harry refused to get to know him.

The morgue was Harry’s least favourite part of the job. Hoffsbury was so old she had been losing her vision, so it was always too dark (which, combined with the smell of formaldehyde and the dead bodies, was just downright creepy). Hoffsbury was obsessed with research, and normally kept half a dozen bodies out at all times, with various spells ticking away overhead. The dead bodies themselves didn’t bother Harry all that much; there were always spells in place to block the smell, and Harry had seen enough in his lifetime that it had sort of become commonplace for him to be surrounded by corpses.

Harry was aware that he might be a little jaded.

When they entered the room just after midnight, Harry stopped in surprise just inside the door. About two dozen extra candles adorned the walls, burning bright, and he was surprised to see the room was actually painted white (not grey, like he’d assumed). There was only one body this time, the rest − again, he assumed − behind the curtain at the back, kept preserved with Freezing charms until they were able to be returned to their families, if they had any. The desk in the corner had been cleared of Hoffsbury’s mountain of scrolls and replaced with what looked like a very expensive Potions setup, with half a dozen bottles bubbling away. Some of them were smoking.

The door opened behind them and Harry turned around just in time to see Malfoy pull up short. “Circe’s knickers!”

“Wotcher, Malfoy,” Tracey said from beside Harry, grinning. “Didn’t mean to give you a fright.”

“Isn’t that difficult,” Harry muttered. Tracey elbowed him in the ribs.

“Yes, well.” Malfoy exhaled sharply, blowing strands of hair out of his face. “I generally don’t expect the living after eight.”

Malfoy was dressed in plain, dark blue robes that looked Ministry issue (Hoffsbury always wore whatever robes she liked, because old witches could get away with that sort of thing). They made him look pale even in the candlelight, which cast exaggerated shadows along the sharp lines of his face. Sharp was the right word, too; he wasn’t as pointy as he’d been in school, as he appeared to have grown into the nose and chin that reminded Harry less of Lucius and more of his mother. He was half a head taller than Harry recalled, too, but maybe that was because the last year in school Malfoy had always been skulking around with his head bowed. He stood straight now, looking down at Harry with grey eyes that reflected the orange candlelight. The high collar of his robes nearly concealed the faint line of a scar on his thin neck, although he wasn’t as gaunt as he had been the last time Harry had seen him.

Then again, Harry hadn’t seen him since the trials.

“Get used to it,” Harry told him. “We’re always on-call for priority cases.”

“Of course you are,” Malfoy drawled with a hint of condescension, smoothing back his hair. “Well, in that case, I expect you’d like to meet the deceased.”

Harry let Tracey take over from there, only listening in to the important details and filtering out all the irrelevant small talk happening over the cold corpse on the table. Still, he somehow managed to learn that Malfoy was not only married, but that he and his wife had been blessed with a boy the previous January and yes, such a gorgeous child, looked just like him, congratulations, etc etc. Harry thought of how Albus had been born last April, already with a full head of hair and bright green eyes that mimicked Harry’s, and scowled.

“As fascinating as your personal life is, Malfoy,” Harry interrupted. “I’d like to get the paperwork done sometime this week, if you don’t mind.”

Tracey had given Harry a look, but Malfoy didn’t even rise to the bait. “Of course, Auror Potter,” he’d drawled. “Would you prefer the bad news first, or the worse?”

The bad news was that it had, in fact, been a homicide, and done with a wand. The worse news was that it was shoddily done, which made Malfoy conclude that whoever had done the deed had stolen a wand to do it with, which pretty much meant that even if they caught the bastard, it’d be hard to prove without a murder weapon.

“However,” Malfoy continued when Harry groaned, “they didn’t just use the Killing Curse. Whoever wanted her dead wanted her to suffer.” Malfoy waved his wand; medical charms whizzed through the air, displaying complicated runes Harry couldn’t hope to read. “The Cruciatus isn’t something one can cast impartially and have any real effect. It works best when combined with intent, which leaves behind a pretty unique signature.”

“Wait,” Harry said, forgetting for a moment that this was Malfoy. “Are you telling me you can trace it?”

“I can try,” Malfoy said. “I can’t promise you anything, but the body’s fresh, so... yes, I think I might. I can at the very least give you something to go on.”

Malfoy did end up managing to trace it, so when Harry dragged the killer in front of the Wizengamot, they were able to get a conviction despite the fact that they didn’t have the murder weapon. Robards had given them a commendation and Kingsley had congratulated them personally.

“You know, if it wasn’t for Malfoy,” Tracey pointed out.

Harry rolled his eyes. “I never said he’d be bad at the job.”

“He was under a lot of pressure, at school,” Tracey went on, passing Harry another beer. She’d left her girlfriend at home this time, because, apparently, Harry was ‘in a mood’. “He regrets a lot of the stuff he did, you know.”

“I know,” Harry said, and took a long swallow.

“I know you know, otherwise he’d still be serving a sentence in Azkaban,” Tracey said. “But you need to get around to forgiving him for it.”

“Why? He hasn’t apologised.”

Tracey watched him carefully for a moment before turning away to order a shot. She threw back her head to drain it before turning back to Harry. “Would it make a difference?”

*

Malfoy did eventually apologise, sort of.

Tracey was supposed to meet Harry at The Court with her girlfriend; Harry had invited Ron along, because even though Ron couldn’t discuss his cases outside of work he always wanted to come whenever the girls came out together, because he was a pervert.

When Tracey showed up with Malfoy in tow, wearing Muggle clothes no less, Harry nearly choked on his lager.

“I said I was bringing a friend,” she said, when he gave her a dark look.

Malfoy was dressed in trousers that looked freshly pressed, and a navy blazer over a dark grey polo-neck that effectively hid the scar over his jugular. The outfit made him look taller than usual, exposing legs that never managed to look so long in wizarding clothes. It was the first time Harry had seen him in anything less than full robes, and he was surprised to notice that Malfoy’s shoulders had filled out. He was still lean enough to be decent Seeker material, but looked like he could hold his own in a brawl.

Assuming he didn’t scamper off with his tail between his legs, anyway.

Malfoy looked more uncomfortable than Harry felt, and his eyes kept darting to Ron. Ron, oddly enough, just shrugged and ordered them a round. “Wotcher, Malfoy.”

Two hours and several rounds later, Harry was beginning to wonder if he was the only person present that remembered the little git they’d gone to school with.

“Oh, come on,” Ron said, gesticulating wildly. “Birch doesn’t have a chance in Hades!”

“The best angle the Cannons have on him is their Beaters,” Harry pointed out. “But there’s no way they’ll stop Birch getting the Snitch with Flint backing him.”

“All they have to do is delay him,” Malfoy pointed out, “if they rack up enough points.”

“I thought you and Flint were mates,” Harry snapped. “Since when do you cheer for the Cannons?”

“Since they got a captain who knows her arse from a Hoop. Anyway, I’d have thought you went with the Harpies.”

“Only when Gin’s around,” Ron and Harry said together, and Malfoy laughed.

“The Falcons’s Chasers are too green,” Ron went on, once Malfoy had recovered. “Cannons’ll cream ‘em.”

“As much fun as it is to listen to the ins and outs of Quidditch, I’m going to call it a night,” Tracey said, interrupting Harry’s look of betrayal at his best mate. “You boys have fun.”

Harry glared at his partner as she stretched and yawned, pausing only to ruffle his hair with an indulgent smile before slipping out the door.

‘Fun’ was hardly the word. As the night progressed, Harry found himself defending his favourite team alone. He grudgingly gave up after half an hour, nursing a beer a little bitterly while Malfoy and Ron exchanged facts over the Cannons’s new captain like they’d never had a harsh word between the two of them.

“It’s getting late,” Harry pointed out. It was an understatement; it was already technically tomorrow. “Ginny’s going to kill me as it is.”

"Time for one last drink," Malfoy countered, waving the bartender over and ordering three scotches before raising his own in a toast. "It's probably the least I owe you."

Ron, evidently pleased, knocked back his whiskey and clapped Malfoy on the back. “Good man,” he said. “Davis is right; you’re not so bad when you’re not being a twerp.” He stood up and stretched, slipped on his coat and headed for the door. "Hometime, I think."

Against his better judgement, Harry stopped and turned around. Malfoy was still sipping his last glass of wine, and avoiding his eyes. “What?”

Malfoy took a deep breath and looked at him. For the first time that evening, he looked nervous. “I know this isn’t... what either of us expected,” he said. “Working together, I mean.”

“It’s not like you’re my partner,” Harry said, because Malfoy was only the examiner and, at best, a consultant. He wasn’t even in the same subdivision of Magical Law Enforcement, if you wanted to get technical. It wasn’t like Harry saw him every day, just whenever there was some grisly attack or murder involving Dark magic.

Unfortunately, it happened a lot more often than Harry cared for. “It’s whatever, Malfoy.”

“Wait,” Malfoy said again, when Harry started to turn away. “I know. That isn’t what I − ” Malfoy sighed. “Look, I just wanted to apologise.”

Harry folded his arms. “For which bit?”

“Would you like a list?” Malfoy gave him an exasperated look. “An individual, heartfelt apology for every time I made a bad decision? Made fun of Weasley for being poor? Called Granger a Mudblood? We’d be here all week.” Harry tensed at the insult, but Malfoy plowed on: “No, Potter, I think neither of us have the time or the patience for that.”

“So, what?” Harry shot back. “You just expect me to just forget − ”

“No,” Malfoy said, so quietly Harry almost missed it. “Of course I don’t expect you to forget it, any of it, but I do expect you to get over it.”

“I am over it,” Harry lied.

“Liar,” Malfoy said, standing. He took his time draining the rest of his wine. As he tilted his head back, the skin of his neck stretched and the light glanced off the tip of his scar in a flash of mother-of-pearl.

“You still haven’t apologised,” Harry said. “For any of it.”

“I’m sorry for a lot of things,” Malfoy said. “Not all of it, but − you have no idea, the things we had to do to survive. You think you do, but you don’t. I know that doesn’t excuse anything I did, but I’m not sorry for doing what I had to to protect my family.”

“Protect yourself,” Harry corrected.

“And that,” Malfoy said, unflinching. “I thought you understood that much, after what you said at the trial.”

“I owed your mother a life debt.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“I thought you were apologising?”

“I’m trying to. You’re making it exceedingly difficult, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Malfoy − ”

“I am sorry,” Malfoy interrupted. “I’m not sorry for protecting my family − or myself − but I’m sorry for the people I had to hurt to do it. And,” he went on, when Harry opened his mouth to interject, “I’m sorry for the way I treated you and your friends in school.”

Harry just stared at him for a moment, before the bartender swept by and reminded them both it was time they went home. “We’re leaving,” Harry told the Muggle. He looked at Malfoy again, who was watching him expectantly. Harry scowled. “Fine.”

“Fine?”

“It’s too little, far too late, but yeah, fine,” Harry said. “Apology accepted. Whatever.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “So glad we had this chat.”

*

The second time Tracey invited Malfoy along for drinks, Harry actually had a good time.

He still refused to admit it, though.

“I have no idea what is going on,” Harry admitted.

They were in Tracey’s flat instead of the pub, because it was Anne’s birthday and Tracey had insisted they come (and more importantly, insisted they bring presents). Harry had brought a gift, but hadn’t brought Ginny because she was watching the kids, and Ron hadn’t brought Hermione so she wouldn’t tell him off for ogling lesbians.

Harry had no idea why Malfoy hadn’t brought his wife, since she at least apparently knew Tracey from school, but he’d forgotten about it after a couple of drinks.

“It’s very simple, Potter,” Malfoy explained, slurring just a bit. “You take a shot every time Mr Darcy looks displeased in any fashion.”

Harry eyed the television, something Anne, being Muggleborn, had refused to hear of living without. It was playing some rerun of an old Muggle romance based on a book he’d never heard of, written by a woman long dead. It was one of Anne’s favourite books, or something, but there were too many characters to keep track of, and they all spoke in that annoyingly old-fashioned way that was impossible to understand once you were drunk.

It was supposedly a love story, but all Harry could discern was that the girl was apparently in love with a complete prat, which made absolutely no sense.

“He always looks displeased,” Harry pointed out, stretching his legs under the coffee table and resting his back against the couch. They were sitting on the floor, because the girls were on the couch above them and Ron had stolen the armchair. Some of Anne’s friends had been there earlier, too, but quickly fled once the tequila had been broken out.

“Cheers,” Malfoy said. He licked the salt off his wrist, threw back the shot of tequila, and grimaced.

Harry stared at the wet spot on his wrist. “I don’t see why she likes him. The guy’s a tosser.”

“Rich, though,” Ron reasoned, nursing a lager.

“Rich and handsome,” Malfoy added.

“And a tosser,” Harry said again. “They seem to go hand-in-hand.”

“Envy is a sin,” Malfoy sing-songed.

“So is being a tosser. Also, you’re pissed.”

Malfoy immediately drew up straight, tossing his hair back out of his face. “Am not.”

“Yeah, you are,” Tracey’s disembodied voice said, from somewhere above Harry’s head. “Not nearly as drunk as you, though,” she added, ruffling Harry’s hair.

“‘M not drunk,” Harry protested.

“Liar,” Malfoy said, smirking. At least, Harry thought he was smirking. It was hard to tell; everything was a little blurry. “Oh, look! He’s scowling again!”

Harry glanced at the television, then back at Malfoy. “I think that’s the same scowl.”

Malfoy licked his wrist again, eyes bright in the neon light from the telly. Harry fought the urge to do the same, just to see what it tasted like. “Scared, Potter?”

Harry glared at him, but took another shot. He was sticking to scotch while the rest of them drowned themselves in tequila (which, while fun in the moment, always made him feel like an Inferi the next morning). Malfoy was slumped sideways, his shoulder pressing into Harry’s in a way that would have been painful if not for the alcohol’s dulling effects.

Above and behind them, Tracey was sitting in her girlfriend’s lap, and Ron was watching them with interest. “You two should make out,” he declared from his armchair.

Harry tilted his head back to see Anne raise an eyebrow and Tracey, to Harry’s completely surprise, actually blushed. “Tell you what,” Anne said, smirking. “We will if you do.”

She looked from Ron to Malfoy, and Malfoy choked on the beer he was using to chase his latest shot. “Um.”

“Perverts,” Harry added.

“Or you,” Anne added. “I’m not picky. He’s practically in your lap already, anyway.”

Malfoy looked at Harry critically a moment, and shrugged. “I’m game if he is.”

Malfoy was so close, Harry could smell the tequila on his breath. His long legs were stretched beside Harry’s, close enough that Harry could feel the heat of his body through his trousers. Harry considered it, only for a second, but a second was all it took for his alcohol-addled mind to gather a list a mile long of good reasons to make out with Draco Malfoy.

Evil thing, scotch. Harry grimaced. “Leave me out of this.”

“Aw, Harry,” Ron said despairingly. “I thought we were mates.”

“Seriously, Potter, you’re a terrible friend.”

“I don’t see how this is about me, now; she wanted you two, first.”

“Yeah, but I’m married,” Ron said in his own defence.

“So am I,” Harry and Malfoy said together.

“This is amusing,” came the sweet voice from above. “Are they always like this?”

“Anyway, it’s your birthday,” Malfoy redirected, sliding down along the floor until the back of his head was on the couch, looking at the girls upside-down. His thigh slid along Harry’s knee, and Harry shivered. Malfoy didn’t seem to notice. “You’re supposed to get snogged, whether your want to or not.”

“He’s got a point,” Tracey said.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Anne said, and kissed her.

Ron applauded sloppily and Malfoy, right next to Harry’s head, let out a whistle that was so loud it felt like he’d shoved a stake through Harry’s ear. Harry rolled his eyes and reached for his beer. At least, he was pretty sure it was his.

“That’s my beer you’re drinking,” Malfoy said.

It all tasted the same, anyway. “Cheers,” Harry said, taking another swig.

Ron, having got his one wish for the evening, decided to call it a night because he had an early work meeting. Harry was pretty sure that was bollocks, and he was just suddenly horny and had decided to go have sex with his wife.

“If he thinks he’s getting any slurring like that, he’s got another thing coming,” Malfoy said, watching Ron stumble on his way out the door. “Assuming he doesn’t Splinch himself first.”

Harry nodded. “Hermione’s right hook, for one. Assuming he doesn’t Splinch himself.”

Malfoy let out a snort. “Can’t blame a bloke for trying.”

“Speaking of sex,” Tracey said from behind them.

“Oh, please, go ahead,” Malfoy said. “Don’t mind us.”

Tracey went to swat him; Malfoy jerked sideways and actually did end up in Harry’s lap. Harry grunted under his weight, and hoped everyone was too drunk to notice the heat spreading up his neck.

Tracey just sighed. “You two should probably Floo a taxi.”

“But I’ve fallen,” Malfoy whined, “and I can’t get up.” He raised an arm and let it fall back down in a dramatic demonstration.

“I’ve been fallen onto,” Harry pointed out, when Tracey looked at him. “You Floo the taxi; I’ll get him outside.”

“Deal.”

“Drat,” said Malfoy. “Can’t we just sleep here?”

“No,” Tracey said, with finality. It might have had something to do with the way Anne was kissing a line down her neck. “Go on, clear off.”

“Arg,” Malfoy complained, when Harry shoved him off.

Getting up wasn’t the hard part, or even getting to the door; it was the stairs that presented the problem. Somehow they made it onto the street upright, even though Harry had to half-carry Malfoy. He was heavier than he looked.

“Damn and blast,” Malfoy said, when Harry leaned them both up against a parked car while they waited. “Whatever happened to the first show being free?”

“I do not understand this obsession you two have with lesbians.”

“Really?” Malfoy squinted at him. “Are you sure you’re not gay?”

Harry was actually drunk enough to consider it; he looked Malfoy up and down, and thought, had he been single and Malfoy not − well, himself, Harry would take him home and find out. “I just don’t see what the big deal is.”

“It’s hot, Potter,” Malfoy explained, explaining nothing.

Harry scowled. “I’m pretty sure I’m not gay,” he decided.

“Maybe you’re an equal opportunity slut,” Malfoy reasoned, slurring horribly on the word ‘opportunity’. “Do you have a fag?”

“I don’t smoke, Malfoy.”

“Neither do I,” Malfoy said. “But I still want one.” He raised his wand, twirled it experimentally, and said “Accio cigarette!”

They both waited expectantly for a moment, but nothing happened. “Drat,” Malfoy said again. “Where is it?”

“It’s only been two minutes,” Harry said. “Muggle taxis aren’t like the Knight Bus.”

“We could − ”

“Yeah, and be sick all the way home,” Harry said, remembering the first time he’d ridden the bus.

“Drat.” Malfoy sagged sideways into Harry. Harry let him, enjoying the warmth, and the faint tingle it caused in his navel. “You know, I like you a lot more when you’re drunk.”

“Oh?”

“You’re less prickly,” Malfoy informed him. As if to demonstrate, Malfoy patted his chest, spreading the tingly feeling further. “You don’t glare at me as much, either.”

“I don’t glare at you.”

“See, there it is again,” Malfoy said accusingly, waggling a finger under Harry’s nose. “That nasty disapproval. I did mean it, you know. When I apologised.”

“I know,” Harry said, swatting Malfoy’s hand out of his face. “I’m over it.”

“Liar.”

“'M not,” Harry protested.

Malfoy sighed, leaning back against the side of the car, letting his head fall on the roof. The streetlight glanced off the smooth skin of his neck, dancing along the jagged, near-invisible line of the scar there.

Maybe it was the booze. Maybe it was the fact that Harry hadn’t slept properly in at least twenty-four hours, or that he hadn’t been laid in almost two weeks because Ginny and he had been working odd hours. Maybe it was just guilt, with a small helping of morbid curiosity. Whatever it was, Harry didn’t stop to analyse it. He reached out and touched the mark, running the pad of his index finger along it from the dip of Malfoy’s neck all the way to his jawline. Despite the cold air of the night, Malfoy’s neck was warm, and smooth. Harry’s finger lingered over his pulse, which was speeding up.

Malfoy went still, then shuddered. Harry pulled his hand back and looked away.

When Malfoy didn’t speak, Harry chanced looking up. Malfoy had tilted his head, and was watching him more carefully than he should have been able, considering how pissed he was. “All right there, Potter?”

“Yeah. Sorry,” Harry said, straightening up against the car; it didn’t help with the tingling at all. “I mean, I’m sorry. For that.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “Sorry for touching me? Or sorry for this?” He raised his chin and ran the tip of his finger along the scar.

Harry followed the movement with his eyes. “That,” Harry said. “Both.”

“Well,” Malfoy said, “thank you.” He leaned in and lowered his voice, speaking low in Harry’s ear. “But you don’t need to be sorry about the other thing.”

For a horrible moment, Harry angled his head away, giving him better access. He could feel the heat of Malfoy’s breath across his ear, down the side of his neck. It felt good.

Two sudden, sharp bleats of a car horn made them both jerk violently away. Harry looked at the street and saw the taxi waiting, headlights glaring through the windows of the car they had been using for support.

“Drat,” Malfoy said.

*

Harry eventually stopped glaring whenever Tracey brought Malfoy along to the pub.

Mostly, he couldn’t argue with the fact that Malfoy wasn’t just good, but bloody fantastic at his job. They’d always done alright with Hoffsbury, but having Malfoy’s expertise in the Dark Arts made it easier to track down the Dark wizards responsible, and even easier to convict them. It actually helped a lot with his home life, too, because with less time spent at work, Harry got to spend more time with the kids. And with James walking and talking now, and Albus already taking his first steps, he knew Ginny appreciated it, even if it meant she had to acknowledge Malfoy was good for something.

There was also that business while they’d been waiting for a taxi, but Harry had put that down to too much booze and not getting laid often enough. Malfoy hadn’t mentioned it, and Harry just followed his lead, and went easy on the scotch for a while.

“I’ve been thinking,” Ginny said one evening, in a way that told Harry a row was likely to follow. “I know we agreed on just the two, but,” she paused to steady Albus, who had been wavering on the spot, “I really wanted a girl.”

Harry sighed; he was really too tired to have that conversation again. “You’re right. We agreed on two.”

“I mean, I’m glad we’ve got Al,” she went on, smiling fondly as Albus landed heavily on his arse. He didn’t start fussing, as James used to, but merely put on what looked like a determined expression and started to push himself upright again. “But girls are so rare in our family − ”

“There’s Rose,” Harry pointed out, even though he knew it wouldn’t make a difference. “Look, we agreed on two because we’re busy enough as it is, and having another − ”

“You think it’s easy for me, sitting on the bench?” Ginny interrupted, eyes darting to the bright, cherry wood handles of the pair of Cataclysm brooms hanging over the hearth. The one on the bottom was well-used; Harry hadn’t touched his in months. Technically, they were special edition brooms only available to professional players, but Harry hadn’t argued when Ginny talked her coach into ordering her two. “And you’ve been around more, since Malfoy took over. I think we can manage it.”

“I dunno, Gin,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We’re still pretty busy as it is.”

“We’ll make it work,” Ginny insisted. “What’s the point of having careers if we can’t have the family we want?”

Harry already had the family he wanted, but that wasn’t even the point. They’d talked about this before the marriage, because while Harry had wanted kids, he didn’t want so many he started missing birthdays. “Maybe,” he said. “Does it need to be right now?”

“I don’t want them to be too far apart. It’d be nice if they were at school together.”

“I guess,” Harry said. “I’m going to turn in. I need to be in early tomorrow.”

“Sure,” Ginny said.

*

2008

*

When Gawain retired shortly after the New Year and Harry got promoted to Head Auror at the record age of twenty-seven, Tracey threw him a party.

Harry had protested (after all, he was turning twenty-eight in a few months, and that’s when Robards had got his promotion), but that hadn’t made a difference.

“I don’t want a party,” Harry reminded her for the umpteenth time. “I want sleep.”

“You can sleep when you’re dead,” Tracey said, ignoring his pleading look. “It’ll be fun.”

It was fun, Harry had to admit, even if most of their co-workers left once the food had run out. Malfoy had come along, which had surprised Harry, almost as much as the fact that he’d brought his wife, who turned out to be something of a bombshell.

Harry instantly disliked her.

“Astoria,” the woman said, when Malfoy got around to introducing her. “You’ve grown up well, Potter.”

“Er,” Harry said. “Thank you?”

“And Draco always made you out to be some sort of especially mentally-deficient troll,” she went on, slanting a look at Malfoy who, oddly enough, blushed. “I never did get to thank you for all you’ve done for him.”

“It was nothing,” Harry said, because it had been.

“Don’t let his modest act deceive you,” Malfoy drawled in her ear, purposely loud enough for Harry to hear him, while slipping an arm around his wife and pulling her close. “He’s only waiting for me to get my field certification before staging an unfortunate accident.”

Harry’s eyes followed Malfoy’s hand on its path around the curve of her waist to settle on her hip, and narrowed. “And here I thought I had everyone fooled,” he remarked.

“He’s really looking forward to it,” Astoria went on, apparently ignoring their jibes. “Merlin, I’m looking forward to it; he’s got too much energy to be cooped up in that lab of his all day long. It’s like I’m raising two toddlers.”

Harry was further annoyed that Astoria, while a Slytherin as well as Malfoy’s wife, was extremely difficult to dislike (he tried, anyway). She was friendly where Malfoy was indifferent, as warm as her husband was cold, and her green eyes lit up whenever she laughed (she had a good laugh, too, and blindingly white teeth − Glamour charms, Harry was willing to bet). As hard as he tried to scowl, he found himself smiling every time she took the mickey out of her husband, which only made him more determined to find some sort of flaw in her.

Harry was relieved when Ginny appeared at his side and asked what was so funny. Astoria immediately turned her charm on Ginny, who looked surprised but much more pleased than Harry. When Ginny found out Scorpius was the same age as Albus, they started discussing playdates.

“Thursdays would be perfect,” Ginny said. “Heck, you can drop him by any time you like; I swear those two have inherited this one’s-” she jerked her thumb at Harry, “-talent for trouble-making.”

“Thanks,” Harry said dryly.

“Are you sure?” Astoria asked, looking genuinely surprised. “You don’t mind? Scorpius can be a bit of a handful,” she added, with a none-too-subtle glance at her husband.

“He can’t possibly be worse than James,” Ginny said, with feeling. “You’d be doing me a favour.”

“Women,” Malfoy muttered, when they escaped under guise of refilling drinks. “If my son ends up being mates with yours, I’ll disown him.”

Harry clinked his glass against Malfoy’s. “Cheers.”

*

A week later, Ginny told Harry she was pregnant again.

“I thought we were going to talk about it first?” he snapped.

“We did talk about it,” Ginny snapped back, folding her arms over her chest. “I told you, I didn’t want them to be too far apart. I’m due in August, so this one’ll be − ”

“Al’s not even two, yet!”

“Stop shouting,” Ginny said, with a warning look up the stairs. “I thought you’d agreed.”

“I said maybe,” Harry reminded her.

“You said − ”

“I said I wasn’t sure!”

“Excuse me for not reading your mind,” Ginny said. “Do you want me to terminate?”

“What?” Harry stared at her. “Of course not. Not unless you − ”

“You know I don’t,” Ginny said.

Harry sighed and took off his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I just, with work and all, I don’t want more than we can handle.”

“It’s just a baby, Harry. We’re handling James and Albus just fine.”

She made it sound easier than it was, really. Despite the good argument she’d made earlier (the World Cup was just around the corner, so by the time she was unable to play, the season would be over and she’d only have to miss a few months of practice the next), Harry was less than pleased with the news. After all, the timing worked out for her, sure, but he’d just got a major promotion and now had a slew of new duties piled on top of his old ones − the last thing he needed now was another baby on the way. As much as Harry loved his sons, Albus had just got past the stage of waking them both up at all hours of the night. Combined with being called into the office (or worse, the field) well after business hours, Harry was lucky if he was able to string four hours together in the span of two days. He’d been looking forward to getting some real sleep, occasionally.

“They’ll be off to school before you know it,” Ginny continued, running a hand through his hair. “And then you’ll be sulking because you don’t get to see them enough.”

“You’re right,” Harry said, giving in. “So, what are we going to name this one?”

“If it’s a girl?” Ginny smiled. “I always thought Lily was a nice name.”

*

Tracey was off on holiday somewhere, and Harry couldn’t rightly drag Ron out to gripe about his little sister. He wasn’t necessarily angry, just frustrated − would it have made that big a difference to wait another year? Harry sighed and briefly considered Flooing Hermione, but she and Ginny had always been close, and anyway Hermione would just end up telling Ron.

Harry didn’t want Ginny to know how much it was bothering him, because he knew he’d eventually get over it, but he still needed to get it off his chest or risk starting a row. But nearly everyone he could think of was either friends with Ginny, or related to her.

Except...

“Finally forgiven me, have you?” Malfoy said, when he saw Harry was alone. When Harry didn’t answer, Malfoy looked at him a little more carefully, and then ordered them both a drink.

“You want to talk about it?” he asked, passing Harry a glass.

“No,” Harry said, and downed the shot. Malfoy directed the the Muggle to fill it again, while Harry looked sideways at him. “Why are you even here?”

Malfoy thanked the Muggle, and waited until he’d left before answering. “You sent an Owl, remember?”

“I meant, why did you come?”

“Because,” Malfoy said. “You asked me to.”

“Liar.”

“Yes,” Malfoy agreed, smirking. He’d started doing that more often, since Harry had stopped glaring whenever they saw one another. “Honestly? I was curious. How bad must it be, that Harry Potter wants me around for company?”

“I asked you to have a drink, not to pry into my life,” Harry said.

Malfoy refilled Harry’s glass, and then one for himself. “Really? Well, then, I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a loss. Prying into your life is the only thing I’ve got any practice at.” He drummed his long fingers against the bench, and Harry watched in mild fascination how the neon light from the telly danced across his pale skin. “I could make fun of your choice of Quidditch teams, if you prefer.”

Harry felt the edge of his mouth twitch, and scowled. “How much do you want to bet the Falcons make it to the Cup this year, too?”

“You sure you want to wager against a Malfoy? I’ve got an entire vault set aside for gambling purposes.”

“Your family doesn’t exactly have the best track record for betting on the winners,” Harry reminded him.

He regretted it instantly when Malfoy winced, but all Malfoy said was: “Touché,” and ordered Harry another drink.

*

At first, aside from Malfoy, only Tracey and Ron came around to the pub for the most part. There’d be others from time to time; Tracey brought Anne sometimes, Dean popped in on occasion, Luna came by whenever she was in the country (which wasn’t often), and there was that memorable time Seamus had shown up with Zacharias Smith on his arm. Even though Ron had given up on the idea of watching Tracey snogging her girlfriend after one-too-many beers, he seemed to enjoy listening to them bitch about work; secretly, Harry thought Ron might have regretted leaving the Aurors, but knew he’d never admit it. Anyway, Ron was due any day now for his own promotion if the office rumours could be believed. Apparently he’d broken every record the department had for successful missions, a feat which earned him recognition from everyone, including his wife. Harry was sincerely happy for him; Ron was rolling around in the attention like a Niffler in a gold vault.

Harry made sure never to indulge in drink too heavily around Malfoy. He wasn’t especially worried, but alcohol seemed to severely limit his judgement and anyway, Malfoy never had more than three glasses of wine himself. Still, Malfoy was more friendly than he’d ever been to any of them, and even with the limited wine, he always got more and more touchy-feely as the night wore on.

Harry didn’t mind.

On occasion Ron managed to get someone to babysit and brought Hermione along (Malfoy was always quiet around her; Hermione acted like he wasn’t there), but once Hermione had come along a few times, then Ginny wanted to tag along, too, and that was when things got awkward.

It wasn’t that Harry didn’t want her there, but their trips to the pub shortly became more of a couples’ night out rather than a end-of-week work ritual. Ginny and Hermione got steady babysitters for Friday nights, and Malfoy stopped coming altogether.

At first, Harry told himself he didn’t mind. It wasn’t until the third week that Harry realised he actually missed the snide remarks, the snarky retorts, and the ridiculous impressions (that got more ridiculous as the evening wore on). He still got to see Malfoy at work, but Malfoy was suddenly all professional, telling them what they needed to know via Floo and cutting any small talk short. Harry found himself talking less and less at the pub, instead watching his friends interact, and wondering what inappropriate things Malfoy would be doing, if he had been there.

“You know, you could ask him to come back,” Tracey said one night. The rest of the group was off playing darts in a corner; Tracey had come back for another drink. “I think he just assumed he was no longer welcome.”

With both Ginny and Hermione there, he really wasn’t. But Harry hadn’t invited them along, either. Harry just shrugged. “Who says I miss him?”

“Even your friends have noticed your sulking,” Tracey said, and Harry winced.

“I’m not sulking,” Harry lied. “Anyway, he’d come if he wanted to.”

“Sure about that, are you?” Tracey said, nodding in thanks to the bartender and retrieving her fruity cocktail. “I had to trick him into coming, you know, the first time.”

Harry raised his eyebrows at that. “Really?”

Tracey shook her head and ruffled his hair. “You two really don’t know each other at all, do you?”

*

Harry wasn’t sulking.

Malfoy had become colder at work, too, though at first Harry put it off to a mood. After a couple of weeks, Harry supposed maybe Malfoy was having marital problems, but then Astoria had stopped in the office for lunch while they were going over a particularly complicated case, and Malfoy had smiled for the first time in weeks.

Whenever Harry reminded him about Friday nights, Malfoy either nodded vaguely or mumbled an excuse, and never showed.

Harry got distracted for a while, what with Lily being born, and stopped worrying about it. It wasn’t until he returned to work that he noticed Malfoy was nowhere to be found.

“He’s on holiday,” Tracey explained, before Harry had even asked. “Left the kid with Narcissa so he and Astoria could have some peace. Greece, I think. White sands, y’know?” she added, looking wistful. “There’s a small Wizarding village by the Mediterranean that has these little cottages you can rent with glass floors over the reef.”

Harry thought about Malfoy and his wife on white beaches with blue water, and scowled.

“Anne and I are going next year,” Tracey went on. “When are you and Gin going to take a week off somewhere warm?”

“You mean whenever we’re not on a case and it happens to be off-season?”

“Oh, come on; I could handle it a week without you.”

“You offering to babysit, too?”

“I prefer dogs, myself,” Tracey said. “No thumbs, can’t use wands, and nobody complains if you muzzle them.”

“Well, at least I know what to get you for a wedding gift.”

“I’m partial to terriers.”

Harry glanced at interdepartmental Floo, which had been lacking in its usual snark as of late. “You would be.”

She followed his eyes and, sighing, ruffled his hair. “Don’t fret. Our terrier’ll back in a few weeks.”

*

2009

*

Six months after Malfoy returned from Greece or wherever, Harry decided he must be up to something.

After all, it explained everything. Why Malfoy had stopped coming to the pub, why he was being less friendly in general, the impromptu holiday, the sudden myriad of vague excuses whenever Harry (or even Tracey) mentioned the lack of his attendance. Maybe he’d got into selling illegal potions on the black market, or was lending his expertise out to Dark wizards trying to avoid MLE. It wasn’t exactly hard to believe, considering his past.

“Oh, no, not again,” Ron said, when Harry asked him to do a little research off the books.

That wasn’t exactly the response Harry had been hoping for. “It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Harry insisted.

“Harry, mate, I love you,” Ron said, patting him on the back. “Which is the only reason I’m not going to check you in St Mungo’s. He’s probably just having trouble at home, or something.”

“That’s not it,” Harry said, with confidence. Ginny and Astoria were still trading playdates every other week, and while he wasn’t exactly pleased that the two of them had become friendly, it did give him an inside. If Malfoy’s marriage was in trouble, Ginny would certainly know about it. Hell, Harry would be pleased if that were the truth. “Trust me. Something’s not right.”

“I know this is a completely wild idea, but have you asked him what’s going on?”

Harry briefly considered checking Ron into St Mungo’s, but thought better than to voice it. “Fine,” Harry said, standing. “Forget it.”

“I know that look,” Ron said, following Harry out into the hall. “You’re not going to start stalking him again like Sixth Year, are you?”

“I never stalked him,” Harry snapped, doubling his pace. “I was following him. And if you recall, I was right about him that time, too.”

“You remember what we used to label wizards who ‘followed’ people around?” Ron went on as he halted, his voice following Harry back towards Auror Headquarters. “Stalkers!

*

Harry wasn’t stalking him.

Besides, it wasn’t like Malfoy worked in another part of the Ministry entirely (he was only down seven levels), and anyway, Harry had responsibilities as Head Auror to know what sort of things he was doing (even if Malfoy technically didn’t work for him). After all, Malfoy worked closely with Magical Law Enforcement, and who knew how many other departments? If he suspected Malfoy was doing something he shouldn’t, Harry had a duty to investigate, whatever Ron said.

Ron had told Hermione what Harry was doing, though, which meant Hermione stopping by his office at regular intervals over the next three weeks mentioning annoying policies that Harry was apparently violating. Harry had refused to speak with Ron for a week, taking it as a personal betrayal; after all, Harry had never told Hermione about the fiasco that happened during Ron’s stag party.

Though, Harry had to admit, since he had thrown the party, he was partly to blame for what had transpired. But that was besides the point.

When Harry didn’t relent, Hermione took him to lunch for a proper sit-down, and mostly focussed on how easy it would be for Malfoy to get Harry chucked if he found out. Harry nodded indulgently, knowing better than to argue with her, and anxiously waited for the cheque so he could slip away back under his Cloak and find out what Malfoy had had for lunch.

After all, he might have spent his lunchtime with a Dark wizard.

As thorough as Harry was, however, Malfoy wasn’t giving him a lot to go on. Over the weeks Harry was definitely not stalking him, he rarely left his lab in the morgue downstairs, and the few times he ventured out it was only to take quick trips to his destinations, hardly stopping in between. He often ate alone in the white-walled room (sometimes Tracey joined him − Harry declined her invitations to come along) and mostly just did his work and kept to himself.

That evening when Harry took the lift down several levels he was actually on a legitimate errand (well, it could have been sent via memo, but he’d been sitting in his office all day and needed to stretch his legs). So when Harry raised his hand to the handle on the door and heard a gunshot, he had every right to barge in without having knocked.

Harry hadn’t heard a gunshot in person before becoming an Auror. The only reference he’d had were from the television shows Dudley used to watch when Harry had been given the bedroom next to his, and Harry had listened in through the wall. The first time it had happened in the field, Harry had been a bit surprised to find that television had it all wrong. It was louder, for one, and happened so quickly that it was over before he realised what the hell was going on.

It didn’t happen often, but occasionally Muggleborns (or more often, their non-magical relatives) resorted to Muggle weapons thinking they could avoid being caught by wizards by not using a wand. Since Aurors (even those, like Harry, raised by Muggles) had very little knowledge of Muggle forensics, it was often true.

Harry hated those cases. Not a month ago, they’d had to release a suspect that Harry would swear an Unbreakable Vow was guilty because they didn’t have the evidence to convict him.

Whatever he was expecting to find when he opened the door, Malfoy holding a revolver under his nose and sniffing it inquisitively wasn’t on the list of possibilities. Before him was a large rack of raw meat, hovering in midair and spinning slowly. A bullet hole impacted one side as it slowly swung around.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Malfoy looked up sharply, apparently unaware Harry had come in. “Potter,” he said blankly; then abruptly his look turned critical. “Have you ever used one of these things?”

“What the hell are you doing?” Harry repeated, one hand swinging the door closed while the other tightened around his wand. He’d had it in hand the moment he’d heard the shot.

“An experiment,” Malfoy said, looking at Harry like he was insane. “Well, have you? You were raised by Muggles.”

Obviously, Harry had caught Malfoy red-handed and now Malfoy was trying to distract Harry from the fact that he was enchanting Muggle artefacts with Dark magic by confusing him with nonsense.

Or something. “What?” Harry asked, lost.

Malfoy’s look quickly turned condescending, eyes rolling briefly before turning his attention back to the firearm. For the first time, Harry noticed Malfoy wasn’t in his robes, simply a pair of trousers and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The flickering candlelight danced across the underside of his left forearm, revealing the scar left by the Dark Mark. Harry glanced at his chest, and noticed the first few buttons of his shirt collar were also undone, revealing the scar there, too.

The memory of the smell of blood mingled with that of fireworks in the room. Harry shivered.

“Finicky little thing,” Malfoy remarked, tossing the gun on the table and breaking Harry out of his thoughts. “Packs a bit of a punch, though. And loud.” He glanced back up at Harry. “What are you doing here, anyway? It’s nearly midnight.”

Was it? Harry glanced at the clock on the wall, and sure enough, the short hand was leaning its way towards the apex. How long had he been upstairs, debating on whether or not to come down here?

Harry returned his attention to Malfoy, who was now holding a small phial of clear liquid in his left hand. He upended half the substance over the top of his right hand before placing the phial back on the table and picking up his wand and uttering: “Lumenare maculos.”

A faint, purple light appeared at the tip of his wand, and as Harry stepped closer, he could see it illuminating an otherwise invisible stain across Malfoy’s right hand − the hand that a moment before held the revolver.

“What is that?” Harry asked, lowering his wand, curiosity winning out over suspicion.

Malfoy looked pleased. “Nox,” he said, and the wand and stain both vanished. “That, Potter, is the fruits of three weeks studying Muggle chemistry.”

When Harry just looked blankly at him, Malfoy sighed and explained further: “Gunshot residue detection is a useful technique for Muggles when trying to ascertain the culprit, as it leaves a trace unseeable to the naked eye and is often overlooked during any attempted cleanup. I suspect this to be especially the case for wizard-related crimes, since our general understanding of Muggle weapons is minimal, at best. The situation is complicated, however, by the fact that certain other pyrotechnic particles leave the same mark. Lacking magic, Muggle techniques for properly identifying the residue are crude and painfully tedious; short of conducting capillary electrophoresis, I have managed to concoct a simple solution that, when combined with the proper light, will identify the substance.”

Harry continued to stare at him. “And in English, that means?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes again, slowly this time, so Harry couldn’t miss it. “What it means, Potter, is − provided your suspect is the guilty party − the next time some pillock uses one of these contraptions to murder one of us, you can prove beyond a doubt that they fired the weapon.”

Harry blinked. “You can do that?”

“Muggle chemistry, while limited, does have its overlap with potions, and therefore is compatible with magic if used correctly.”

This is what you’ve been holed up here doing all month?”

Malfoy gave him a funny look, and Harry tried to look innocent. “Amongst other things,” he replied vaguely. “So, to what do I owe to such a midnight errand? Someone else get murdered?”

“No,” Harry said, trying to remember what excuse he’d been using to come down here. “I, er, needed to see if you’d finished with the Henderson file.”

A pale eyebrow rose slowly. “You could have Flooed.”

“I was nearby.”

“Midnight meeting with the Unspeakables?”

“Not... exactly.”

The eyebrow rose further, and this time accompanied by the edge of Malfoy’s mouth. “Careful, Potter,” he drawled. “As much practice as you’ve got sneaking around where you shouldn’t, Unspeakables aren’t to be trifled with. They get especially titchy about the sneaking thing; I believe they feel they have some sort of patent on it.”

“Right, well, if you’re finished with those files,” Harry reminded him.

“Sure,” Malfoy said, smirk lingering as he retrieved the folder from a desk drawer.

“Thanks,” Harry said, and turned to the door. He opened it and paused, looking back over his shoulder to find Malfoy leaning against the desk, watching him. “You know, that sort of thing,” Harry said, indicating Malfoy’s latest potion with a nod, “would be really useful in the field.”

“I’ve yet to have time to complete my certification.”

“It’s been two years, Malfoy.”

“Yes, well, as I’m at the beck and call of four departments and people keep getting inconveniently kidnapped, attacked and murdered − ”

“I urged Kingsley to approve your request for a budget allowing a couple of interns,” Harry interrupted. He could admit they had a heavy caseload, but not enough that Malfoy couldn’t spare a few hours a week over the past couple of years. “So do me a favour and make time.”

*

Five months later Malfoy had hired three interns, verified they all passed their basic training and put them to work, and still hadn’t put in any time towards his field certification. Harry knew, because as Head Auror, he would be the one overseeing it. Whenever he mentioned it, Malfoy would just roll his eyes and make some snide remark about incapable interns needing constant supervision.

Harry wasn’t buying it. If anything, those interns gave Malfoy more free time to do whatever illegal things he was doing and a convenient excuse to avoid spending time in the field.

Harry told the Weasleys he couldn’t make their annual Christmas Eve party because he had to work. It was an outright lie, and Ginny even raised an eyebrow at the news, but Harry wasn’t worried about it; Tracey would cover for him.

Besides, she owed him for that time with the goblin fiasco. Harry wasn’t above blackmail.

It was last minute, but only because he’d learned the night before that Malfoy had scheduled himself to work. Odd, Harry had thought; why wouldn’t Malfoy take advantage of the week-long holiday they were offered (they were all still on-call, lest some grisly murder or kidnapping occur, but even Dark wizards seemed to take time to enjoy the holidays). It would be the perfect opportunity to sneak about the Ministry unnoticed. More than half the staff went home by early afternoon on Christmas Eve, and ninety percent of them had the next day off.

So at six o’clock on Christmas Eve, Harry stopped by his office and cleared out the inbox. He sent a few memos, made a couple of notes (Greyson was in overtime again, he had to do something about that), and then poured himself a drink from the bottle of scotch he kept in the bottom drawer. He left the wireless on the whole time, listening for anything of note, and even checked the silent Floo-line, in case he missed something.

By nine o’clock everything was still quiet, so Harry finished his drink and headed off toward the morgue.

The hall and lift were empty and dim, and the trip downstairs left him in a thin, eerie looking hallway. Why the morgue was kept on Level Nine, he did not want to know, and he let his feet take the well-memorised twists and turns to the room. He didn’t knock, just paused to cast Silencing charms on the soles of his shoes and throw his Invisibility Cloak on before slowly edging open the door.

The room was dimmer than usual; the only candles lit hovered above the large desk in the corner, which someone had pulled a table alongside and expanded the makeshift potions laboratory onto. Malfoy stood at one end, bent over the desk and scribbling furiously on a scrap of parchment. Harry couldn’t see his face through the large beaker bubbling away with something purple and opaque. Making sure to close the door quietly, Harry stepped into the room.

Malfoy paused and looked up, and Harry held his breath. He hadn’t made a sound, he was sure − had he? Harry was ace at Defence, and Stealth was a close second − he’d had plenty of practice sneaking around at school, after all. But then Malfoy frowned and, after glancing at the door, returned to his scribbling and allowed Harry to let out a slow breath.

When he got close enough to see what Malfoy was writing, he couldn’t hope to read it. Malfoy’s handwriting was about as orderly as a flailing spider dunked in an inkwell, and it mostly seemed to be Arithmancy, which was just as illegible to Harry. He’d just moved to investigate the bubbling potions and their ingredients (surely, some of them must be illegal) when Malfoy spoke.

“As flattering as it is to have you stalking me again, I have to admit it’s getting a little bit creepy.”

Harry froze, fighting the instinct to flee. What had given him away?

“Please, Potter,” Malfoy went on, as if reading his mind. “Even if I hadn’t Trip-Spelled the door, your aura gives you away.”

Harry scowled and pulled off the Cloak. “My aura?

Malfoy just looked at him and rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have a home to go to? I’m busy.”

“I could ask you the same,” Harry snapped. “Why are you down here on Christmas Eve?”

“Astoria doesn’t like the fumes,” Malfoy said, and left it at that. “And I wasn’t lying when I said I was busy. What do you want?”

“Busy with what?” Harry went to poke the bubbling purple beaker, but Malfoy slapped his hand away with his wand − the same Hawthorn wand Harry had returned to him, ten years ago.

“Don’t touch anything,” Malfoy said, gathering up his parchment and spelling it away into a desk drawer. “I don’t just work for you, you know.”

“Nobody else is here,” Harry pointed out.

“So, what, you think I’m working off the books?” Malfoy rolled his eyes again. “Trust me, everything I’m doing is Ministry-approved. Go home, Potter.”

Harry almost did, but he’d already made excuses and was down here, anyway. “What are you so busy with?”

“Work. Unlike some others, it would seem.”

Harry exhaled sharply. “Why are you being so difficult?”

“I’m not − ”

“You are!” Harry hadn’t intended to shout, and took a deep breath before continuing in a lower voice. “What the hell did I do?”

“What?” Malfoy said, eyes briefly flicking upward before returning to his potion. “I don’t know what you’re on about.”

“Liar,” Harry said. “You don’t come to the pub anymore.”

Malfoy paused in stirring the opaque concoction in the cauldron and glanced up again. “Miss me, Potter?”

“No,” Harry lied.

“Liar,” Malfoy shot back, and started stirring again. Harry didn’t bother to correct him. “Why do you think?”

“Because you’re a coward.”

“Ouch, Potter. You wound me.”

“It’s true.”

“Maybe,” Malfoy said, shrugging and turning his attention to another potion. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t.”

“Liar,” Malfoy said again.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“Is this how you interrogate all your suspects? It’s a wonder we ever get a conviction at all.” Malfoy kept his eyes on his potion and tapped the beaker with his wand; it emitted a small bang and began to smoke. “I stopped coming because I was bored.”

“Liar,” Harry returned. “You only stopped when Gin started coming along.”

Malfoy did look at him then. “And yet you have to ask me why?”

“Come off it; Astoria takes Gin shopping every other week.”

“And what part of that makes you think I enjoy her company?” Malfoy drawled. “Or yours, for that matter?”

“I dunno,” Harry said. “You seemed to enjoy my company just fine, before.”

“I’m a bit of a whore when I’m drunk,” Malfoy said, shrugging. “Don’t take it personally.”

Harry raised his eyes to the ceiling, wondering why he had bothered to come down here at all. “You know what, forget it.”

He’d nearly made it to the door when Malfoy called out: “Potter.”

Harry stopped and turned around. Malfoy was looking at his hands, both splayed on the table before him. “What?” Harry said.

Malfoy let out a long breath and stood up straight. “Do I need to spell it out for you?”

Yes.”

Malfoy just looked at him for a moment, then shook his head. “It’s better that I don’t.”

“Malfoy − ”

“You really don’t get it,” Malfoy said, his voice suddenly quiet. “Look, I’ve − been a bit of an arse, I know, but − I’m sorry, all right? Just, I’ll stop.”

“That’s not what − ”

“I’m busy Fridays, anyway,” Malfoy continued over him.

“We can do it another night.”

Malfoy pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“Hi, I’m Harry Potter.”

“Exactly. You do realise how hilarious this is, right? That Harry Potter suddenly wants to be my friend?”

“That isn’t − ”

“Do you play Quidditch anymore?”

Harry blinked at the change of subject. “Er. Not really,” he said, and thought longingly of his pristine, outrageously expensive broomstick over the fireplace. “Why?”

“Would you like to?”

You play?”

“Every Sunday,” Malfoy said. “Pucey lets us use his pitch, and Flint comes around unless he’s out of the country. Even Wood stops by, from time to time.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “You actually want me to play Quidditch with you?”

“Why not?” Malfoy said, and shrugged again. “I, ah, wouldn’t invite your other half along, though; Flint wouldn’t take kindly to it.”

Considering Flint played for the Falcons, the Harpies’s unofficial rival team, Harry could understand that. “Are you seriously asking me to play with a bunch of Slytherins?”

“Well, you’d be Seeking for my team, of course. I’m not an idiot,” Malfoy said, smirking. He glanced at Harry, and the smirk grew. “Scared of playing with the snakes, Potter?”

“You wish,” Harry said. “I’ll see you Sunday.”

For the first time since Harry had known him, Malfoy smiled at him. Not a smirk, not even with a wicked twist − an actual smile. It was the kind of smile he used to bestow on Pansy Parkinson, the sort of smile nowadays he only had for his wife. It lit up his entire face, a thing which Harry had never thought of as pleasant before.

Harry just stared, and Malfoy said: “All right, then.”

Harry almost asked him about the pub thing again, but didn’t want to push his luck. He could always ask Malfoy after a couple weekends of Quidditch, anyway. “Are you planning on going home tonight?”

“Why?”

“It’s Christmas.”

“You’re here.”

Harry shrugged. “The kids are already asleep. So long as I’m there with presents in the morning, they’re happy.”

“And your wife?”

“Last I checked, you had one of those, too.”

“Astoria took Scorpius to spend the holiday with her family,” Malfoy said, shrugging. “They don’t like to, ah, associate with those of us tainted.”

The scar on his arm flashed in the light as Malfoy turned it over.

Harry frowned. “Sorry.”

Malfoy shrugged. “Fuck ‘em. Astoria’s the only decent one of the lot, anyway.” He glanced at the clock, then back at Harry. “Well, while you’re here,” he said, waving his wand; a bottle of wine and two glasses appeared on his desk amongst the potions.

Harry eyed the wine, then Malfoy. “You’re offering me a nightcap?”

“Why not?”

Harry licked his lips. “No touching?”

Malfoy smirked. “Promise.”

*

Ginny wasn’t angry about the Quidditch thing, even though Harry thought she would be. The moment ‘Malfoy’ was out of his mouth, he had been expecting a row.

“Good for you,” was all she said, wrestling James into one of his new jumpers. It had deformed-looking reindeer on it, presumably frolicking, but to Harry looking as if they were having some sort of fit. Thankfully, James was still too young to appreciate Molly’s sweaters.

James yawned hugely, and wavered on the spot until Ginny steadied him. He was the only one still awake. After waking at 5:30 a.m. in excitement over presents, Albus and Lily had both proceeded to run rings around the house for the next four hours, before passing out on the floor beneath the tree for a nap their parents desperately needed.

Ginny looked back when Harry just stared at her, and rolled her eyes. “I mean, I think it’ll be good for you, getting up in the air a bit.”

“And Malfoy?”

“What about him?” Ginny did her best to smooth James’s hair, sighing when it popped defiantly back out of place. “You mentioned you two were getting on better.”

That much was true, but Harry hadn’t expected Ginny to be so forgiving, considering what had happened to her at school.

“Speaking of being social,” Ginny went on, “some of the girls have a night out every other Wednesday, so maybe we could trade off; I’ll watch the boys on Sundays for you. Sound good?”

“Er, sure,” Harry said, thinking he needed to make sure Molly had those nights free as well to babysit lest anyone get attacked by Dark wizards on a Wednesday.

“What?” Ginny said.

“Nothing. I just thought you’d be upset I was playing without you.”

“And have to deal with you sulking every time I wiped the pitch with you? Please,” Ginny said, leaning up to kiss him. “I need my own time, too.”

*

2010

*

At eleven a.m. on the first Sunday of the new year, Harry landed on his arse in Adrian Pucey’s Floo.

“Are all of his landings that graceful?” asked a voice Harry didn’t recognise.

“Makes you wonder how he ever managed to defeat the Dark Lord.” Even without the voice, the comment was unmistakably Malfoy’s. “But it’s not his landings I’m concerned with.”

When Harry rubbed away the ashes from his glasses, a slim hand appeared in his view. “Heya, Harry.”

“Cho?” Harry half-coughed the name, and allowed her to help pull him to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

“Doesn’t keep up in current events much, does he?” That was the unfamiliar voice again.

“Oh, leave off him,” Cho said, helping dust the ash off Harry’s cloak. “I don’t like the Floo, either,” she whispered.

Harry pulled out his wand and cleaned his glasses properly; clear-visioned, he gave her a proper look. She was prettier than he remembered, still slim but with more curves than she’d had in school. He didn’t get long to look before a much less appealing sight stepped up beside her and slung an arm over her shoulder.

“Potter,” Flint said. “Don’t get any ideas.”

“I’m married,” Harry reminded him.

Flint seemed to consider that information, then just glared at Harry. “Don’t get any ideas,” he said again, and Cho rolled her eyes.

Harry took a proper look around the room. There were only the five of them: Cho and Flint, who apparently were an item (how that happened, Harry didn’t even want to know), Malfoy standing off the side with who Harry could only assume was Adrian Pucey (Harry only had a vague recollection of him from school; he was tall and broad, and Harry could tell at once that he would be a formidable Keeper), and himself, still covered in Floo dust. The room they were in was unnecessarily swank, high-ceilinged with marble floors, and with Quidditch paraphernalia all over the walls.

“Put your eyes back in your head,” Malfoy said, making Harry blink and turn around. He nodded at the case in Harry’s left hand. “Please tell me you’re not still lugging around that Firebolt?”

Malfoy was beside himself with indignation when Harry unwrapped his broom and let him inspect it. Even Flint looked surprised.

“I thought the Cataclysm model was team-issue only,” Cho said, with a dark look at Flint and crossing her arms.

“They were,” Harry confirmed, smirking at the less elite, albeit still-expensive Hypersonic models she and Malfoy were holding. “Being famous is good for some things, it would seem.”

“I can’t believe you,” Cho said, shaking her head.

“Well, at least he admits it.” That was Malfoy again. “Can we play?”

“If you’re done gawking at his broomstick,” Pucey said, with a rude hand gesture.

Harry fell in step beside Cho as the made their way out of the house and down the lane that led to the makeshift pitch Pucey had adjacent. “Are you Seeking for Flint, then?”

“Me? No. I mean, sometimes I’d trade off with Malfoy, before we got you. Tried Keeping for a while, too, but I’m too small,” she said, shrugging. “I mostly Chase, now. I like it better, anyway.”

“Wait, why were you and Malfoy trading off? Who Seeks for Flint’s team?”

“Vell, hello there,” a deep voice said, as they stepped onto the green. Harry looked up, and saw Viktor Krum smiling back at him. “It has been a long time, Harry.”

Seeking against Viktor Krum was nothing like Quidditch had been in school. For one, there was none of the usual taunts or teasing − the players kept their concentration on the game instead of dividing it between playing and distracting one another, and Harry was genuinely a little terrified of Flint’s skill with a Beater’s bat. That had been the best call Birch had made when he got captain for the Falcons − taking Flint off the hoops and making him put those massive shoulders and dodgy temper to use.

That, and Krum could fly. Not to say that Malfoy had no skill on a broom, though Harry had to admit he made a much better Chaser than he ever did a Seeker. Krum made flying look effortless, and while Harry wasn’t too shabby, he was sorely out of practice and barely managed to keep up. The first game was close, anyway, although Harry had a sneaking suspicion Krum wasn’t trying all that hard.

“You are too hard on yourself, Harry,” Krum told him, when Harry had implied as much after the match. “I admit that at first I thought to go easy, but by the end I vos having to try very hard indeed. You are very skilled considering you have had no professional training. Also, I am not having to dodge his Bludgers,” he added, with a nod to Flint, who was snogging Cho rather obscenely up against the side of the broomshed. “I do not look forvard to games against the Falcons; he alvays manages to break a few bones.”

Harry could empathise; Flint had nailed him two minutes in with a shot to his kneecap that had nearly put him out of the game. Harry would be limping for a week.

Goyle was there, too, Beating for Malfoy’s team, and Harry had to admit his skill had improved, considering he’d saved Harry from at least a dozen of the twenty shots Flint had aimed at him during the game. He nodded at Harry on his way to the lockers, and didn’t respond when Harry tried to thank him. Sighing, Harry looked around; everyone else playing was a friend or reserve teammate he wasn’t familiar with, and since Cho was occupied, he decided to head off to the showers.

Malfoy was talking to some Bulgarian player Harry recognised by face only, and excused himself when he saw Harry. “Potter,” he called, and Harry, wincing, detoured on his way to the changing room. “How’s the knee?”

“It’s fine.”

“Liar,” Malfoy said, with a wicked grin. “Was that your first fair loss?”

“Considering I’ve mostly played against you? Yes,” Harry said, unapologetic. He wasn’t a sore loser; he’d flown well, he knew that, but he was up against Viktor fucking Krum. “You’re the one who wanted me to Seek.”

“Worth it,” Malfoy declared, waving a hand dismissively. “Give it a couple of weeks, we’ll whip your arse back into shape.”

Harry scowled; he was fit enough, as far as he was concerned. He nodded towards the showers. “You coming?”

“No, I’ll shower at home,” Malfoy said, waving him away.

Harry started forward, but his knee blossomed in renewed pain and he didn’t even realise he was falling until Malfoy caught him. “Easy,” Malfoy said, yanking him upright. “I need you in working order for the next game.”

“You’re sweaty,” Harry noted, as Malfoy pulled him inside.

“Perhaps a mild concussion, too,” Malfoy said, smirking a little. Well, he might be right. The lights inside did seem rather painfully bright. “Do you want to go to St Mungo’s?”

“No,” Harry said. “I want to shower. Help me get this off.”

Malfoy helped him with his uniform, starting with the bracers. The laces were really beyond Harry, who was focussing on keeping his wand on his knee with a mild Freezing charm. He stopped when Malfoy got down on his knees, and carefully started unlacing Harry’s boots.

Harry tried to focus on the locker just behind Malfoy’s head, but his eyes drifted down to follow the path of Malfoy’s fingers as they carefully tugged the knots loose and began to pull the laces free. Even with thick leather and trousers between Harry’s skin and Malfoy’s fingers, his skin tingled everywhere Malfoy touched.

Harry’s ears were pounding so hard he was having trouble just remaining upright. Maybe he really did have a concussion.

“You can manage your shirt, I assume,” Malfoy said, and Harry realised he’d been staring.

“Er. Yeah,” Harry said, and started to pull it off. It was harder than it should have been, considering he’d been pulling shirts off his head his entire life, but something about undressing in front of Malfoy (on his knees, there between Harry’s legs) made it difficult. Harry ended up with his elbow stuck inside the hole for his head, and knocked his glasses off in the process.

“Or not,” Malfoy said, tugging the shirt free and handing Harry back his glasses. “Are you sure you don’t want − ”

Malfoy abruptly stopped talking as Harry reached out to cup Malfoy’s chin with his hand, fingers curling against his throat. Malfoy closed his eyes, lines furrowing his brow, but he didn’t pull away even as Harry’s thumb brushed against his bottom lip, pulling it down, revealing a line of wetness inside.

“I’m fine.” Harry licked his lips and pulled back, taking a deep breath and shivering; the sweat on his chest and his back was cooling rapidly in the empty changing room. When he put his glasses back on, he saw that Malfoy wasn’t looking at him-- well, he was, but not at Harry’s face. “Er. Are you all right?”

“Fit as a fiddle,” Malfoy declared, standing so quickly that it left Harry feeling lightheaded. “I’m overdue at home. I trust you can at least handle your trousers without killing yourself?”

“Yes. Thank you. Hey,” Harry called, even as Malfoy kept walking. “You coming on Friday?”

Malfoy didn’t even bother to turn around, just called out: “I’ll see you at work, Potter.”

*

Malfoy wasn’t at work the following day, but Harry didn’t think much of it. As cool as the git had played it after the match, Harry had seen the hit Flint nailed in his gut (and winced in sympathy) during the final few minutes. Still, it made work hell, because it meant Harry got to spend the day trying to get any sort of opinion out of Malfoy’s interns while his knee throbbed relentlessly, until Harry decided that, unless some particularly grisly murder cropped up, he was going home early.

When Harry limped through the door, Lily was bawling at the top of her lungs somewhere out of sight, James was shouting at some boy his age through the Floo, and Albus was running full-tilt towards the kitchen until he connected solidly with Harry’s injured knee.

“Bloody fuck,” Harry said out loud, before he could stop himself. Albus blinked up at him, apparently in surprise to find Harry suddenly in his way; seeing it was, indeed, his father, Albus shouted “DAD!”, wrapped his arms around Harry’s knee and squeezed.

Harry was barely able to disentangle himself before James vaulted over the back of the couch (Harry had had words with him about that, but he always seemed to forget) and tackled him from the other side with a loud whoop. Albus joined with enthusiasm, and Harry went down hard.

“Harry? Are you − good grief, you two. Let him breathe.”

Harry did his best to smile up at Ginny from the floor, but with both boys piled on his knees, it came out as a grimace.

“You’re home early.” Ginny had Lily in her arms; the toddler had quieted when she saw Harry, and was now grinning. “Sorry, Harry; they’re still a bit drunk on cake.”

James leapt to his feet at the word ‘cake’. “It was WICKED!”

“Cake was wicked?” Harry managed, climbing gingerly to his feet.

“Scorpius’s birthday party,” Ginny explained, raising an eyebrow. “I told you I was taking the boys.”

“Oh,” Harry said, having forgotten. It certainly explained why Malfoy hadn’t been in. “Er. How was it?”

“Mr Malfoy throws the BEST parties,” Albus informed him, jumping up and down in place.

“They had DRAGONS!” James supplied, in case it wasn’t clear that the best parties always had dragons. “Real ones!”

“I talked Astoria into hiring Charlie,” Ginny explained. “Remember?”

Oh, right, with the Pygmy Ridgebacks. They’d talked about that, what, four months ago? “Right,” he said. “I’d forgotten.”

James was tugging on the sleeve of his robe impatiently, growing bored with the grown-up talk. “Scor got a Minisonic for his birthday!”

Yeah,” Albus added, staring at his father with huge eyes just in case Harry hadn’t taken the hint.

“Sorry,” Ginny said again, looking genuinely apologetic. “We just got back, not half an hour ago. They’ll pass out any minute.”

Harry grinned and leaned in to kiss her. “It’s all right,” he said, stooping to drop a kiss on Lily’s head, too. “Seriously, though: how was it?”

“You should have come,” Ginny told him, ushering the boys back into the living room. “It was a lot of fun. The kids had a good time.”

“Er,” Harry said again, trying to imagine Ginny having fun at Malfoy Manor under any circumstances. “Was Malfoy − ”

“A complete gentleman,” Ginny said, and rolled her eyes at the look Harry gave her. “I know, I was shocked. Who knew that lurking under all that sarcasm and condescension, there were some manners?”

Harry then tried to imagine Malfoy having manners, or behaving like a gentleman. It gave him a headache.

Ginny seemed to read his look and smiled. “Honestly, I think he’s just terrified of doing something wrong, knowing you’d kill him.”

“I wouldn’t kill him,” Harry said, following her into the kitchen. Ginny raised an eyebrow again over her shoulder. “I might almost kill him.”

“Aw, you’re sweet.”

“Shut up,” Harry said, grinning. “Anyway, there wouldn’t be much left to kill once you were finished with him.”

“True,” Ginny conceded. “Are you hungry?”

“Not really,” Harry said, resting his arms on the table to take some weight off his knee.

“Tea? I’m having a cuppa, anyway.”

“Sure, thanks.” He glanced around the kitchen, and noticed the bin was empty. “Did you take the rubbish out?”

Ginny lit the fire under the kettle with her wand before turning around. “Yes. I also answered the Floo and Owled the cheques like you asked. Did the washing-up, too. I figured you’d be couch-bound with that knee. Speaking of which, guess whose team’s private Medi-Witch knows a charm that’ll sort it right out?”

Harry leaned over the table to kiss her again. “I love you.”

Ginny smirked. “I know.”

*

Over the weeks, Harry did his best to ignore the empty bar stool on the Friday night pub trip, drinking heavily when he first arrived in an effort to dull his mood before it could sour. If anything, the alcohol made it worse. He found himself frequently leaving early, using excuses of wanting to spend more time with the kids, exhaustion, and even made-up paperwork to go home, sometimes only half an hour after arriving.

If anyone noticed, they didn’t show it. Ginny seemed content to spend the time catching up with Ron and Hermione, and Tracey was occupied with Anne, so Harry would go home − or, more often, back to the office − and keep himself as busy as he could until Sunday rolled around.

Sometimes, he would just take the opportunity to grab his broom and fly, determined to get the upper hand on Krum, who had been flying non-stop since he was six. It was beginning to show at the games, too; Harry had caught the Snitch just four games in, to everyone’s surprise (except Malfoy, who merely nodded his approval at Harry after the match, and walked away). Harry was hurting more often than not due to Flint’s alarmingly good aim with a bat, but getting to spend two to five hours pelting through the air on Pucey’s pitch more than made up for the injuries sustained. Harry hadn’t had so much fun in years, and the extra exercise over the past three months had already added another half a stone in muscle.

It helped with his sex life, too − for, as Flint often demonstrated with Cho immediately after touching down, nothing set a bloke’s blood on fire like a few hours of vigorous flying. All the times Ginny had dragged him upstairs immediately following one of her own matches suddenly made sense. She seemed surprised at his sudden change in appetite, though. He knew he had asked for sex more often than she would have preferred over the years, but she had never once turned him down and she didn’t seem inclined to start.

Really, he had every reason to be happy, so for the life of him Harry couldn’t figure out why he was in such a crap mood.

Then there was also the same old nonsense with Malfoy; even if Harry was playing Quidditch with him every Sunday, it wasn’t the same as before. They spent most of their time in the air, and rarely talked outside of the pre-match strategy. Pucey’s changing rooms put those at Hogwarts to shame, but Malfoy always left directly after the match, preferring to shower at home.

While Malfoy had warmed up at work, he continued only to spend as much time with Harry as was strictly necessary, as far as Harry could tell. Sometimes he even sent an intern instead, which annoyed the hell out of Harry because they could never look him in the eye and whenever he asked them a direct question they’d stutter: “I’ll have to consult with Mr Malfoy”. Harry wanted to tell them to ask Mr Malfoy why he just didn’t come himself if they weren’t capable of answering one single fucking question without asking his opinion.

“Take it easy,” Tracey said, after the girl left close to tears. “It isn’t their fault, whatever the fuck is going on with you two.”

“Nothing is going on.”

Tracey sighed. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Malfoy still hadn’t completed his field certification, either, although the eldest of his interns had (Montgomery, the weedy one − he had shifty eyes, and twitched whenever Harry made a sudden movement). Montgomery at least was able to perform whatever spells Malfoy had devised to help in a forensic nature, but was the same as the other two when it came to having an original thought.

“For Christ’s sake,” Harry said. “Is it his blood, or isn’t it?”

“It is blood for certain, and definitely male,” Montgomery wheezed. “I can’t say to the owner with certainty, however, until I’ve − ”

“Consulted with Malfoy,” Harry finished for him, giving up. “While you’re at it, tell the arsehole to get his fucking certification done, would you?”

“Will you please stop terrorising my interns?” Malfoy demanded the next day, slamming the door to Harry’s office open with a flourish. “They’re just doing their fucking jobs.”

“I’m not terrorising them,” Harry said, because he wasn’t.

“Alma came down sobbing last week,” Malfoy said, folding his arms and glaring down his nose at Harry over the desk. “And Montgomery has threatened to quit.”

“Good riddance,” Harry said. It wasn’t his fault that Malfoy’s interns were incapable. “If you’d just get field certified already − ”

“That again?” Malfoy snapped, throwing up his hands. “Listen, Potter, it may have escaped your notice, but I have responsibilities here other than to be at your beck and bloody call. Just because I’ve got interns does not mean they do not require a massive amount of training to be of use to anyone, myself included. Not to mention the fact that I, unlike you, am not married to my fucking occupation.”

“Come March, it’ll have been four years,” Harry pointed out. “Montgomery got it done in four months.”

“Montgomery was in training for MLE for two years before I hired him. He’s also twenty-two, and has no wife or son at home to occupy whatever free time he has.”

“I have some of those, myself, if you recall.”

“I try not to,” Malfoy snapped.

Harry was on his feet before he realised he’d moved. “What the hell is that − ”

“I can’t cast a fucking Patronus!”

Harry blinked. “What?”

Malfoy just glared at him and turned to leave.

“Malfoy,” Harry said, and Malfoy paused with the door half-open. “Is that − look, if you need some more time − ”

“Four years, and I don’t get so much as a wisp of bloody smoke,” Malfoy said over his shoulder. “So I suggest you get used to the fucking interns, Potter.”

*

Harry hated those fucking interns.

Alma had quit, because it was either that or Harry would have had her fired (she’d moved the body before they got there! Moved it!), but Malfoy had replaced her within a month with another girl who was, if possible, worse. This one was too mentally deficient to even respond when asked a direct question, and talked so quietly that Harry was tempted to cast a Soronus charm on her just so she’d speak with a normal voice.

“I’m over here,” Harry snarled. “Look at me when you speak!”

“Hey, look, a clue!” Tracey grabbed his elbow and dragged him to the far corner of the room. “Will you knock it off?” she hissed, peeking over his shoulder. “If you keep making them cry, Kingsley’s going to fire you.”

“No, he isn’t,” Harry said. He was pretty sure Kingsley wouldn’t fire him. Probably. “Anyway, she’s a fucking idiot.”

“She’s eighteen, Harry,” Tracey pointed out. “She’s just here to collect what we tell her to and take it back to − ”

“Malfoy, who, if he was here, could do it on site while we spent time doing our fucking jobs instead of coaching his interns!”

Tracey looked him over and set her jaw. “Right,” she said, and pulled out her Flexi-Floo; it was a small rectangle about an inch thick that opened like a book, open on one side to mimic a hearth, and a box of Floo Powder on the other that automatically dispensed when you tapped it twice with your wand, which Tracey did before handing it over to him. “Floo Edwards, and tell her she’s taking this case.”

“What?” Harry said. “This is our − ”

“Not anymore,” Tracey said, initiating the Floo-call for him. “We’re going to spar.”

“But − ”

“Worried I’m going to kick your arse?” Harry blanched, then glared at her. “Edwards can handle this.”

The sparring did help, as annoying as it was for Harry to admit it. It was similar to sex in the way that it let Harry get out a lot of his frustration in a more productive fashion that he couldn’t possibly get fired for. Unless he started having sex at work, but that was entirely another matter.

Tracey flopped backward onto the mat beside him, breathing hard, sweat beading on her forehead and shoulders. “Those Quidditch games are doing you a world of good,” she said, reaching up to massage the side of her neck. “Christ, I think you pinched a nerve.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, tenderly nursing the new bruise on his ribs merging with the two-day old one left by one of Flint’s Bludgers. “And those games do me as much harm as good.”

“Still, I think that’s the first time I had to cheat to beat you.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh, relax, I know your type; it’s like a physical inability for you to rough up a girl properly. Unless she’s a Dark witch,” Tracey added, smirking. “Maybe you should get Malfoy down here, and give him a few lessons, eh?”

Harry snorted, rolling carefully to his feet and retrieving his glasses. “He’d go down on the first punch, squealing.”

“Arse,” Tracey said, even as Harry pulled her to her feet. “Though, I dunno. Before I transferred, we got called in for a domestic case back in, oh, Merlin − ‘02, I think it was? ‘03, maybe. Shortly after he and Astoria got hitched. Oh, no, not for that,” she said, seeing Harry’s look of alarm. “Took a swing at her father, apparently.”

“He hit her father?

“Allegedly.”

Why?

Tracey shrugged. “Couldn’t get a word edgewise out of either of them when we got there; everyone just insisted it was just ‘a misunderstanding’. ‘Family business’, y’know, the usual Pureblood society crap. Geoffery had a big fat lip, though.”

“Huh,” said Harry. He thought about Malfoy trying to punch Geoffery Greengrass who, while in his late sixties, was as wide as he was tall and by no means someone to trifle with lightly. “He’d still squeal.”

“You could also just try talking to him.”

Harry sat up and squinted at her. “Why do you care?”

“He’s my friend. You’re my partner.” Tracey sat up, still massaging the side of her neck. “You were getting on all right, there, for a while. What happened?”

Harry thought about Malfoy whispering in his ear, fingers ghosting down his chest, and Malfoy kneeling between his legs while slowly unlacing his boots.

“Nothing,” Harry said. After all, it was the truth.

*

Later that week, Malfoy appeared on the doorstep of number twelve, Grimmauld Place exactly thirty-seven minutes late.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Malfoy said, when he stepped inside the living room, eyes raking over the dusty interior. “Very recherché.”

“Shut up,” Harry said. “You’re late.”

Malfoy shrugged. “I was busy.” When Harry raised his eyebrows, Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Scor has a cold.”

Harry winced. “Sorry.”

“That’s what nannies are for,” Malfoy said, and shrugged again. “Where’s Davis?”

“Couldn’t make it,” Harry lied. “Drink?”

“Do you have wine?”

Harry wasn’t sure; he preferred scotch himself, but raised his wand and said: “Accio wine.” A few seconds later, the cellar door banged open and a dusty, ancient bottle landed in his hand.

“Elf-made? Nice,” Malfoy remarked, taking the bottle from Harry and smoothing away the dust on the label with his thumb. His eyes widened. “Merlin.”

“What?”

“It’s very old.”

“Is that... good?” Harry asked, because he knew nothing about wine.

“One way to find out.” Malfoy followed Harry into the drawing room, which was the cleanest of them all. Harry hadn’t spent a lot of time at Grimmauld Place since the war; he intended to fix it up, someday. Even with all the bad memories, it had been Sirius’s, and if that meant Harry was being sentimental, fuck it. “So, what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until the morning?”

Instead of answering, Harry dug out the bottle of Firewhisky from the ancient cabinet and poured himself a glass. “Do you know how to remove a Fidelius Charm?”

Malfoy took the wine glass Harry offered, and filled it before answering. “It’s difficult,” he admitted, swirling the liquid in his glass. “I know the theory, but employing a Cursebreaker would be your safest bet.”

Harry had already talked to Bill about it. “Right. Anyway, while we’re here,” Harry said, sitting down on the sofa; Malfoy eyed the space beside Harry, and instead took a seat on the chair opposite him. “I thought we could talk about your Patronus issue.”

Malfoy levelled a look at Harry. “Davis wasn’t ever coming, was she?”

Harry shrugged. “Do you want to leave?”

“I might,” Malfoy said. “Depends on the wine.”

With that, he took a sip, his mouth making funny shapes as Harry imagined him turning the liquid over and around his tongue. After a moment, he swallowed. Harry raised his eyebrows.

“Preserving charms,” Malfoy said with a sigh. “Clever woman, my great-aunt.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Malfoy glared at him. “Is it some sort of disability you have, being unable to mind your own business?”

“It’s just a question, Malfoy.”

“Not all of us are born with the natural ability to cast powerful charms at will,” Malfoy shot back. “Pardon me for being mediocre.”

“I’d hardly call you mediocre,” Harry said, and Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “You can trace a magical signature three weeks old to a wizard through a stolen wand,” he pointed out. “I’d say that’s well above average.”

“Curses and charms aren’t the same thing.”

“Some would say curses are far more difficult.”

“Some would say that those with an affinity for Dark magic lack talent with the Light.”

“I would say those people are making excuses.”

“Are you planning to get to the point some time this evening?”

“My point,” Harry said, “is that I can help you. If you want.”

“Offering to tutor me, are you?” Malfoy tilted his head back, exposing the long line of his neck, and Harry watched him drain the wine in one long swallow. “Merlin help me.”

“It wasn’t easy for me, you know,” Harry told him. “When Lupin showed it to me. It’s not like he taught me the charm and I was able to cast it instantly.”

“How long?”

Harry shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“I want to know.”

“It was you, actually,” Harry admitted. Malfoy blinked. “That day on the pitch, when your lot dressed up like Dementors during the game,” he explained. “That was the first time I properly cast it.”

“Story of my life,” Malfoy said, shaking his head and pouring himself more wine.

“I want you in the field,” Harry said. “I’m tired of all this back-and-forth crap. It just delays everything, and when we’re on a trail, I’d rather not have to stop to find a secure Floo to reach you for help.”

“And what do you think you can do about it?” Malfoy demanded. “I’ve done the training, Potter. A corporeal Patronus is required for field cert, and the fucking instructors have said they’ve done all they can.”

“What memory do you use?”

Malfoy looked at him for a moment, then looked away. “No,” he said. “No, Potter. This − this isn’t going to work.”

“The first time I rode a broom,” Harry said. “That’s what I tried, the first time.”

“You would.”

“It was months before I found the most powerful one.”

Malfoy took another sip of wine. “The answer’s still no.”

“Come off it,” Harry urged. “Whatever it is, I won’t judge.”

“Oh, that’s rich, coming from someone who’s made a career out of judging me.”

“I was a kid, Malfoy; get over it.”

“Fuck you,” Malfoy snarled, and Harry blinked. “I was a kid, too.”

“My point,” Harry went on, “is that I figured out it wasn’t the memory that counts. The instructors are idiots. The memory itself isn’t important − it’s the feeling behind it.”

Malfoy just stared at his hands. “You know,” he said eventually, “Snape was the only one of us that could cast it.”

Harry followed his gaze a little more carefully, and saw that Malfoy was staring at his left forearm.

“I always thought it was ironic,” Malfoy went on. “That that miserable git could manage it. I had no idea how he did it.”

Harry almost told him, but that was a story that would have taken all night. Besides, it wasn’t his story to tell. “Snape was... exceptionally good at keeping secrets,” he said instead. “His was from feeling, too.”

“He offered to teach me, back in Sixth Year, but I turned him down. After all, why the hell would I need to know how to cast it?” Malfoy laughed weakly.

“I’m offering to teach you,” Harry pointed out. “I’ve done it before.”

“And when do you propose we do our little tutoring sessions? At work? I’ve enough shit to do, what with − ”

“I thought,” Harry interrupted, “that we could miss every other Quidditch game until you’ve got it down.”

“You want to give up half your weekends to do this?”

“I want you in the field, is what I want.”

“More than Quidditch?”

“More than dealing with your fucking interns.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “They’re not that bad.”

“They’re not you,” Harry said. “Anyway, I’ve been meaning to fix this place up, so I can do that while you’re practising.”

Malfoy stilled. “Planning to move in?”

“I thought I’d give it to Teddy,” Harry said. “Hell, he’s twelve already. I’ve been putting it off for a while.”

“And while you change the curtains,” Malfoy said, relaxing, “I’m supposed to just figure this out?”

“I can help you, if you’ll let me. I can’t do it for you, but I might be able to tell you where you’re going wrong.”

“Maybe I just can’t fucking cast it.”

“The only person who had no hope of casting one was Voldemort,” Harry said, and noticed that Malfoy still winced at the name. “He didn’t know how to love.”

“Oh, is that all? The power of love?” Malfoy sneered. He tilted his head back and drained the rest of his wine, swallowing thickly. “I’m not an idiot, Potter. It just − it isn’t that easy, for me.”

“Then you’re probably focussing on the wrong thing.”

“And what do you suppose?”

“Can’t really help you with that unless you tell me what you’ve already tried.”

“I suppose you would have me use my wife,” Malfoy snapped, tone suddenly vicious. “Or my son, perhaps?”

Harry shrugged. “If that works for you.”

“Fuck you,” Malfoy said again. “I do love them.”

“I never said you didn’t.”

“Just not as much as some, apparently.”

“I don’t use Ginny,” Harry told him. It was the truth. “Or the kids. Not even my friends.”

“Then what − ”

“Sirius.”

Malfoy raised his eyes to Harry’s and studied him for a moment; Harry realised, too late, that Malfoy had figured it out.

“Really,” Malfoy said. He looked away for a moment, apparently lost in thought, before abruptly looking back at Harry, who was waiting for the smartarse remark.

It never came. “Even after all this time?”

Harry thought about the ghostly doe in the forest, and shivered. “Always.”

*

Harry didn’t tell anyone about the sudden change in Quidditch plans apart from those he actually played Quidditch with. He didn’t really think about it at first, and Ginny didn’t notice because revamping Grimmauld Place left him just as sore and filthy as a day out on the pitch did. When he realised a couple of months later that he hadn’t told her, he decided not to bother; after all, she might mention it to Astoria, and then Malfoy would know he’d told, and he might stop coming altogether.

He nearly stopped coming anyway.

“Fucking useless,” Malfoy snapped, flinging his wand away. It collided with the wall in a shower of sparks, and rolled under a dresser.

Harry sighed and Summoned the wand, noting that, even after all these years, the Hawthorn wood still hummed warmly in his grip. “Honestly, I think you’re just trying too hard.”

“Shall I start trying less, then?” Malfoy drawled, snatching the proffered wand from Harry’s hand. “I’d rather be playing Quidditch.”

So would Harry, truth be told. He’d put off fixing up Grimmauld Place for a reason − it was a sodding mess, and was going to take years at this rate. But he had managed to train teenagers to cast a Patronus, and if it meant Malfoy could go into the field instead of those God-awful interns, it was worth the dust and occasional bite from unfriendly household furniture.

Not to mention, Malfoy still refused to come to the pub. At least Harry got to talk to him twice a month this way; work really didn’t count.

“Eat,” Harry said, tossing him a wrapped chocolate. He’d learned rather quickly the kind Malfoy preferred over the last month by bringing an assortment and watching for which ones Malfoy ate first. Today, his order for a trunkload of the salted caramel dark chocolates from Honeydukes had been waiting just outside the door. If Malfoy noticed, he didn’t show it. “Just, take a break. I could use your help with this, anyway.”

Two hours later, both of them were covered in dust, Harry had more splinters than he cared to count, and the curtains had attempted to strangle him − twice. Malfoy had just laughed and laughed for, although still susceptible to the dirt and splintery wood, he seemed immune to the house’s more magical homicidal tendencies.

“Burn them,” Harry muttered, massaging his throat. Malfoy, still snickering, lit the torn-down curtains ablaze; they shrieked as they curled in on themselves, leaving behind only ash. “I’ll get new ones.”

“New ones won’t help,” Malfoy informed him. “It’s the house that hates you, not the decor.”

Harry sneezed; dust came out. “What do you suggest, then?”

Gesundheit,” Malfoy said, making no move to help Harry to his feet. Instead, he flopped backward onto the sofa and folded his arms behind his head. “I suggest demolishing the building and starting over.”

“What?” Harry said, sitting up on his knees. “You think I should tear it down?”

Malfoy shrugged. “It’s just a house.”

“It’s the Black family home.”

“So? We tore down the Manor, and my family’s had that for twice as long,” Malfoy said, and blinked when Harry just stared at him. “Merlin, Potter, do you ever read the Prophet anymore?”

Harry didn’t ask why they’d torn down the Manor (he knew the answer), but he still found it hard to believe. It certainly explained why Ginny had taken the kids to Scorpius’s birthday party without a fuss. “I’m,” Harry started, and stopped, because he wasn’t sorry. He was glad the place was gone. “Where do you all live?”

“My parents spend a lot of time abroad these days. Astoria and I have a place just southwest of Cricklade,” Malfoy said. “It’s not the Manor, but it’s all right, I suppose.”

“I’m not tearing it down.” Harry didn’t know how to explain why − it would certainly be easier, just to demolish the place and let builders take it over. It would save him the headache of trying to remove the Fidelius Charm, too. “I can’t,” he said. “It’s just... it was Sirius’s.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. Even from across the room, Harry could see the beginnings of a smirk. “Sentimental, Potter?”

“Fuck you,” Harry said. “I don’t expect you to understand it.”

“I understand better than you think,” Malfoy said, his expression completely blank. “Anyway, did you want to get rid of the rest of the curtains this afternoon? Or shall I go back to trying not to try too hard?”

“It might help if you told me what memory you were using,” Harry pointed out. “I’m coaching blind, here.”

“We could be playing Quidditch.”

Harry groaned. “Well, the faster you get the hang of it, the sooner we can go back to Quidditch.”

“I didn’t ask for this.”

“Do you want to leave?”

“Are you giving me that option?” Malfoy said, sitting up.

“You’re here of your own free will.”

“If I left, would you drop this?”

“Probably not,” Harry admitted.

“Stop terrorising my staff?”

“I don’t terrorise them.”

“Quit asking me to come along every fucking Friday?”

“I don’t ask you every Friday,” Harry said, because he didn’t. Did he? “Why are you being such a prick about this? I’m just trying to help you.”

“Liar. You’re trying to help yourself,” Malfoy said, crossing one leg over the other. He was only dressed in trousers and a white shirt − having removed his robes while practicing − allowing Harry to follow the long lines of his legs earlier as he paced back and forth, trying to cast the charm. “Tell me this: what’s in it for me?”

“My eternal gratitude?” Harry offered, only somewhat sarcastically. He really did hate those interns. Malfoy just raised an eyebrow, and Harry sighed. “Are you seriously asking for a bribe?”

Malfoy’s grin was feral. “So, next Sunday,” he said, casually inspecting his nails. “You’d let me borrow that broom of yours, yeah?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fucking Slytherins.”

*

“I think Astoria’s lonely,” Ginny said.

“What?”

Harry strained to turn around from his spot on the floor without dislodging Lily and Albus, who were using his lap as a makeshift pillow. James had rolled off him a while ago, and was snoring loudly over the low hum of the wireless.

Maybe the past several months of Quidditch/Patronus practice was beginning to cause some friction for Malfoy at home? But that didn’t make any sense, Harry reasoned, since Malfoy had been playing every Sunday before he’d invited Harry along. “What do you mean?”

Ginny took a seat on the sofa, pulling a blanket over James’s prone form. “I mean, she doesn’t really have a lot of friends.”

“Oh,” Harry said, not sure what it meant, or why it was something he needed to be concerned with. “You’re her friend, aren’t you?”

“I think so. It’s hard to tell, sometimes. She’s actually pretty shy.”

Harry thought back to the first time he’d met the woman and squinted. “Are we talking about the same person?”

“Don’t mistake Pureblood society training for an outgoing personality,” Ginny said, sliding onto the floor to scoot up behind him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, carefully avoiding Albus’s head and Lily’s right arm and leg. “Did you know, she only gets to see her family every other Christmas? And only for a few days, even.”

Harry thought back to last year, when he’d had a nightcap in the morgue with Malfoy on Christmas Eve because Astoria was with her family. “Why?”

“Sometimes I forget you were raised by Muggles,” Ginny said, with a sigh. “Why do you think my family has nothing to do with that culture? We’re Pureblood, sure, but... her marrying Malfoy was about as bad as if she’d married one of my brothers. They call us blood-traitors, but for the Malfoys, they − it’s like the Goyles, and the Lestranges, Harry. Anyone even remotely mentioned being in connection with Voldemort. They get... shunned.”

“Most Purebloods did support him,” Harry pointed out.

“But they weren’t all publicly supportive. They can pretend they were on the right side all along. I know we made a lot of fun of Malfoy for being a coward, but at least he had the bollocks to admit he was wrong. These people, they just... they’re hypocrites. All they care about are their reputations.”

“Sounds like she’s good to be rid of them,” Harry said, thinking of the Dursleys.

“They’re still her family.” Ginny sighed, working her hands into his shoulders. Harry closed his eyes and leaned forward, giving her better access. “Her older sister − y’know, that bint that ran around with Parkinson − she married the German Minister’s son. Good match, far as they’re concerned. But Astoria never gets to see her; Daphne’s husband has forbidden it. Bad for his image, apparently.”

“If they’re so concerned about image, why the hell did they let her marry Malfoy?”

“She didn’t have much of a choice. It was either Malfoy or some old fart in Belgium, apparently.” Ginny shuddered, and kneaded harder; Harry let out a sigh as the tension evaporated under her touch. “At least she knew Malfoy.”

“They’re an arranged marriage?” Harry said, surprised. “People still do that?”

“A lot of Purebloods do. Malfoy’s parents, Sirius’s, heck, even my great-uncle Ignatius.”

Harry tried to imagine being forced to marry someone he didn’t love, much less a complete stranger. It seemed surreal that that sort of thing still happened − sometimes, wizards seemed horribly old-fashioned. “She’s unhappy with him, then?”

“What? No, she adores him,” Ginny said, sounding as dumbstruck as Harry felt. She slid one hand up his neck and into his hair, and Harry closed his eyes while her fingers massaged his scalp. “Far as I can tell, anyway. He dotes on her something ridiculous, and seems to be really good with Scorpius.”

Ginny hesitated, and Harry turned his head; her mouth was making a funny shape, something torn between a smile and a grimace. “What?”

Ginny’s mouth worked for a moment, and finally settled on a smirk. “Apparently, he’s rather good in the sack, too.”

Harry blinked. He’d been feeling rather sorry for Astoria, right up until that point. “Please spare me the details.”

She tugged gently on his hair. “I’m sure he’s got nothing on you, babe.”

“Thanks,” Harry said dryly.

Albus let out a wet snort and rolled over, right off Harry’s lap and on top of James. James stirred just long enough to shove him off, and promptly went back to sleep.

Ginny rested her head on his shoulder, watching them fondly. “Anyway,” she went on. “My point was, what would you think if I invited them ‘round for Christmas this year?”

“Er,” Harry said. “I don’t think Malfoy − ”

“Al and James would love to have Scor around.”

“ − or his parents − ”

“Are spending the holiday in Dubai.”

“ − I really don’t think Malfoy − ”

“Well, would you consider at least asking him before saying no?” Ginny slid her other hand into his hair and let her nails dig in a little, and Harry groaned. “I didn’t want to mention it to her until you’d spoken with him, just in case he’s a prat about it.”

“I don’t think he’ll be a prat about it, I just...” Harry leaned back, resting his weight against her chest. “I just think it’d be a little awkward.”

“Scorpius’s party wasn’t awkward.”

“Birthday party. Not Christmas.” Harry sighed; on one hand, he knew she was just trying to be nice, and he loved her for it. But on the other, he knew it was a singularly bad idea − after all, Malfoy still didn’t come around to the pub for a reason, even though Harry wasn’t entirely sure what the reason was. “If you really want me to, I’ll talk to him.”

“I do,” Ginny said, leaning forward to kiss that weak spot on his neck, and Harry sighed. “Now help me get these little demons into bed, so I can thank you properly.”

*

Christmas was awkward as hell.

Malfoy had looked at him like he’d sprouted an extra head when Harry had asked him what he thought of the idea, and Harry didn’t blame him. But the moment Harry had mentioned Astoria, Malfoy had just nodded and said, “Sounds... delightful.”

Truthfully, Harry had been expecting a lot more protesting, even outright avoidance − after all, that was Malfoy’s usual way of dealing with things that made him uncomfortable.

When Christmas morning rolled around, Harry slept in. He didn’t get to do it often, what with the entire department of Aurors constantly Flooing him for one thing or another, but as today was going to be especially trying, Harry had all incoming Floos redirected to Tracey for filtering purposes. If something actually needed his attention, she’d know to bother him. Otherwise, he was officially taking the day off.

He took a long shower, dressed, and then ate his breakfast to the sounds of small feet thundering up and down the stairs whilst presents were unwrapped and dispersed in a series of thumps, squeals and various other noises of enthusiasm. By the time Harry was sipping hot cocoa on the sofa, James and Lily were both asleep (the latter in Harry’s lap, snuggled up with her new Pygmy Puff; James had curled up under the tree, arms wrapped around his Minisonic) and Albus wasn’t far behind. He was yawning hugely but determined to stay awake, it seemed, to play with the Snitch Harry had given him. It was a real one, too, not one of the training versions most people got for their young children.

Albus was only going on five, but Harry already knew what position he’d be playing. So far, he’d caught the Snitch twice, even though he was just barely three feet high.

Harry was actually in the kitchen when the doorbell rang later that afternoon. Since he was elbow-deep in the sink, Harry let Ginny answer it while he tried to dislodge the croaking mass in the drain.

“Bloody fuck,” Harry muttered, when his wrist got caught.

“Language, Potter. There’s children present.”

Harry twisted around, and saw Malfoy over his shoulder, relaxing against the door jam. Somewhere in the living room, Ginny was talking and the sound of three boys shouting was thundering up the stairs.

“The only child I see here is you,” Harry snapped, wrenching free. His hand flung globs of chocolate and dishwater everywhere, some still in the shape of frog limbs. “Also, Happy Christmas.”

“Little early to tell,” Malfoy countered, coming closer. “What are you doing?”

Harry sighed, running the water to clean his hand off. “James has got it into his head that the plumbing equals freedom for Chocolate Frogs.” Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “He refuses to eat them,” Harry explained. “Magical animal cruelty, he says.”

“Right,” Malfoy said, then smirked. “Granger babysitting a lot, is she?”

“Not anymore,” Harry said, with feeling. He massaged his wrist with a dishtowel, leaning back against the sink. “Want a drink?”

“Yes,” Malfoy said instantly, “but... that’s probably a bad idea.”

Harry nodded. “Pumpkin juice?”

“Sure.”

Harry got him the juice, then set back to cooking. Malfoy watched him with interest, apparently unbothered by whatever their wives were up to in the other room. The moment Harry took the roast out of the oven Malfoy found a fork from somewhere and stole a potato.

“Skip breakfast?”

Malfoy was chewing thoughtfully, and held up a finger. He swallowed before answering. “Not bad, Potter. Since when can you cook?”

“Since I was five?” Harry had spent most of his childhood cooking, yet people seemed continuously surprised to find him doing the cooking instead of Ginny. “How do you think I feed the kids whenever Gin’s away for a game?”

“Takeaways?” Malfoy said, shrugging. “Neither Astoria or I can cook to save our lives; that’s what the house-elves are for.”

“Not all of us have house-elves,” Harry pointed out.

“I suppose.” Malfoy smirked. “So very domestic of you, Potter.”

“Shut up,” Harry said, and threw an oven glove at him.

It didn’t start getting horribly awkward until tea, when Ginny came into the kitchen and had Scorpius help her set the table. Harry retreated with Malfoy into the living room for a while, and watched Albus and James chase the Snitch around.

Astoria had Lily in her lap and was plaiting her hair.

It was all very surreal. Harry wasn’t sure what bothered him more; the fact that Malfoy’s wife was plaiting his daughter’s hair, or that his wife had Malfoy’s son helping her set the bloody table.

“So,” Harry said.

“So,” Malfoy said, the edge of his mouth twitching.

“You have a beautiful home,” Astoria said politely.

“Er. Thanks,” Harry said. “You’ve a nice, er,” Harry thought frantically for a moment, “cloak.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Malfoy pinch the bridge of his nose. Astoria smiled brightly, however. “Thank you,” she said, running her hands along the fabric. “It’s Mooncalf.”

Of course it is, Harry thought. Her boots were probably infant unicorn skin, too. “Er,” Harry said. “That must have been expensive.”

“Well,” said Astoria, with a fond look at Malfoy. “Draco does spoil me something rotten.”

The only person Harry had ever really hated, aside from Voldemort, had been Bellatrix. He’d hated Sirius when he thought he’d killed his parents, and even hated Pettigrew for a while. He’d hated Snape for a long time, even after his death, until he realised how unreasonable he was being and got over it. Harry liked to think he didn’t hate very easily; he disliked plenty of people, sure, but hate? He hadn’t really applied the term to anyone since the war.

But right now, Harry hated her. “Does he,” he said, his voice cold.

“Potter − ” Malfoy began, his tone sharp.

“Dinner’s ready!” Ginny called from the kitchen.

“Thank Merlin,” Malfoy said, practically jumping out of his seat.

Dinner itself was easier, but that was mostly due to the kids who, unlike their parents, didn’t have twenty-some years of baggage and were happy to share a meal. Lily spent the entire meal showing ‘Mrs Malfoy’ her collection of charmed Pegasus figurines, James and Albus argued over who got to play Seeker on the game they intended to play the next morning, and Scorpius was − well, eating quietly and watching Harry with wide eyes, as if he was the second coming of Merlin.

At some point Albus let his Snitch loose, which would have caused a lot of havoc had Harry’s hand not shot out on reflex and caught it before it nose-dived into the pudding.

“Whoa,” Scorpius and James said together, in small voices of awe.

“Daaaaaad,” Albus whined. “You ruined it!”

“You’re father’s always been a spoilsport,” Malfoy told him. “Don’t worry; next time you come ‘round for tea, you can let loose as many Snitches as you like.”

Cool,” Albus said, and stuck his tongue out at Harry.

Harry rolled his eyes, but didn’t bother replying. The kids made short work of dessert, and then were excusing themselves to go play with their newly acquired presents.

Which left the four adults at the table, without further distraction.

“That was a lovely meal,” Astoria said.

“Harry’s the cook,” Ginny said with a smile. “The most I can manage is a cheese toastie and the occasional pancake.”

Oh dear God, Harry thought. They were sitting around the kitchen table talking about pancakes.

“So,” Ginny said to the silence. “Wine?”

“Yes,” Harry and Malfoy said together. Ginny raised her eyebrows, and Malfoy continued, “Wine would be excellent, thank you.”

The wine helped, even if Harry was itching to dig out the bottle of scotch in the back of the cabinet. He found if he timed his intervals right, he could drink at the precise time needed to avoid having to respond to whatever banal conversation was going on.

Ginny and Astoria did most of the talking, though Astoria managed to lasso Malfoy into the conversation from time to time. Harry stoically sipped his wine, and tried not to focus on how his thigh had come to rest against Malfoy’s and, as a result, Malfoy’s leg was bouncing convulsively on the ball of his foot.

Even jumping up and down, his leg was a firm, warm comfort in the awkward bits of conversation. Every brush of Malfoy’s leg sent little warm shocks across Harry’s lap, which was as relaxing as it was exciting. Harry appreciated it, because it was something to think about other than playdates and growth charts and upcoming birthday parties. It made sense, he supposed, that with the four of them there they mostly talked about their children; it was perhaps the one thing they all had in common.

“I hear little Albus is already a natural Seeker,” Astoria said conversationally.

Ginny smiled, genuinely proud. “In ten years time, he’ll be beating his father to the Snitch.”

Harry snorted, and opened his mouth for the first time in half an hour without the intention of sipping his wine. “We’ll see about that.”

“You should start taking him to your Sunday games,” Ginny suggested. “In another year or two, I mean; let him watch some professionals play. He’d be thrilled to meet Viktor, too.”

Harry and Malfoy exchanged a look. “Yeah,” Harry said. “In a couple of years.”

Harry got his silent prayer for an excuse to leave a few minutes later, when James came running into the kitchen declaring a snowball war had broken out and that Albus was ‘cheating, the little snake!’.

It turned out Albus had lifted Ginny’s wand right out of her pocket while she’d been busy pouring the wine. Harry plucked it out of his hand and gave him a short talking-to about fair fights and taking things that didn’t belong to him, and then took up sentry on the back doorstep to serve as a referee.

Malfoy was already there. “Careful, Potter,” he said, wrapping his cloak around his shoulders. “That one’s headed straight to Slytherin.”

Harry glanced sideways at him. “If that’s where he wants to be, I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Really.”

“Really.” Harry looked back at the kids and leaned back against the wall. “I was supposed to be, you know.”

“What?”

“The Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin,” Harry explained. “But I told it no.”

Malfoy was quiet a moment. “Why?” he asked eventually.

Harry shrugged. “Honestly? Mostly because of you.”

“Huh,” Malfoy said. “Well, I guess I screwed myself, then.”

“What do you mean?”

“All I ever wanted from you, was to be friends,” Malfoy said, sounding wistful. “If you’d been in Slytherin...”

“I still wouldn’t have been your mate,” Harry pointed out. “You were a little prick.”

“You weren’t perfect, yourself.”

“You started it.”

“You were being a twat.”

“You insulted my friend.”

“He insulted my name.”

“Well,” Harry said, “for the record, I thought your name was kind of ace.”

Malfoy laughed. It startled Harry, hearing it so close, and so − genuine. It wasn’t a sound he could associate with Malfoy, even now, while he was laughing. “And yet, you still address me by surname only.”

“Force of habit,” Harry said, smiling as James landed a snowball right in Scorpius’s face. “Happy Christmas, Draco.”

“Happy Christmas, Harry,” Malfoy said, and then his nose scrunched up. “And please never do that again. It’s weird.”

*

2011

*

Harry celebrated the new year by going on an undercover mission that lasted four months.

It was the kind of case they all dreaded, because it meant he was so deeply under that he couldn’t go home, lest risk blowing his cover or putting other people in danger. It also meant he got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Ron, which was nice, and Ron arranged for as many Owls home as was safe, but the Floo was off-limits. Tracey wasn’t there, either, because it was risky enough sending one person − not to mention that Harry was investigating an illegal Polyjuice brothel with a bad habit of witch-trafficking. Tracey would have been in a lot more danger than he was. He could have passed the case on to another team, of course, but Tracey and he had been following this particular gang of wizards for nearly two years, and he wasn’t about to let someone else take it over. Besides, out of all the Aurors they had, Harry had the most experience with Polyjuice.

Tracey didn’t mind being left behind, she said, because as his partner she became Acting Head Auror in his absence and ‘got to boss everyone else around’.

Harry missed his kids terribly. He was used to not seeing Ginny for weeks at a time, what with her being away for games half the year, but he was accostumed to seeing his children every day. He’d also missed two birthdays, even though Ginny passed a message through Ron that promised James and Albus understood (James not so much, Harry knew, but Albus thought it was ‘cool’ that his dad was a ‘spy’). Harry also missed Tracey, because she was a constant presence at work, and he missed playing Quidditch every other week almost as much.

He missed Malfoy something awful, too, but didn’t realise it until the first Sunday rolled around and he realised that Malfoy wouldn’t be meeting him at Grimmauld Place as usual.

The first thing Harry did when he got out was go to the Burrow to pick up the kids. Molly fluttered around him, all wispy greying hair now, and made comments about how being undercover was no excuse not to feed a man properly. Albus had adopted a Jarvey he found in the garden chasing gnomes, and James and Hugo had built a fort in the living room that Harry was forced to ‘come see, it’s so cool!’ before he’d had a chance to take off his cloak. Harry thanked Molly and Arthur for keeping an eye on the children but excused himself and the kids from dinner, because all he really wanted to do was go home.

Ginny was away for the next week at a game, but Harry was happy enough to have the rest of the week to himself and the kids. After four months undercover he was due for a month-long holiday and had plenty of time to catch up. Right then, he just wanted to sleep.

Putting the kids to bed was easy, because while Molly fed them sweets, she also had learned plenty of tricks to tire seven kids into exhaustion over the years − three was a piece of cake. Harry collapsed on his bed with a grateful sigh, too tired even to bother undressing. When he first took on the assignment, he’d been looking forward to his four weeks of freedom afterward, but now... all Harry could think about was going back to work.

More precisely, all Harry could think about was seeing Malfoy.

It hadn’t been the first time in his four month absence he’d thought about Malfoy, and it wasn’t as if Harry hadn’t missed Ginny, too. But the months of being alone had given Harry a lot of time without everyday distractions to think about things. The sort of things that led to dreams that should have horrified him, but left him waking in a hot sweat and with an aching hard-on.

The undercover operation had also given Harry time he’d needed to think − think about the dreams, about everything that had happened over the past few years, or more importantly, what had almost happened. Whatever was or was almost going on with Malfoy had to stop.

Harry wished his subconscious would get itself into gear and follow suit, because those thoughts he was getting any time he was horny were getting really distracting.

What annoyed the hell out of him was that he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why this was happening (or almost happening, whatever). He didn’t even like Malfoy. Hell, he didn’t even like men. At least, he still liked having sex with his wife, and the idea of waiting another week to get laid made him groan a little in frustration.

There was, of course, the upcoming Sunday just around the corner. It was technically one of the Sundays Harry was supposed to meet Malfoy at Grimmauld Place, but... all things considered, Malfoy hadn’t made any progress and Harry was beginning to consider the possibility that Malfoy had been right; maybe he just didn’t have the will to cast the charm after all.

If Harry called it off, he knew Malfoy wouldn’t argue. Malfoy had been pulling away for years, ever since Anne’s birthday party, because apparently he had more self-control than Harry did. It was probably for the best, and it meant they could go back to playing Quidditch every Sunday, and only spending whatever necessary time together at work.

It also meant Harry would have to put up with those fucking useless interns of Malfoy’s, but he supposed the lesser of two evils was probably for the best.

*

Having had near five months of Malfoy-free time, it was easier than Harry expected to convince himself he’d imagined it all from the beginning. If Malfoy missed Harry on the Sundays of Harry’s holiday, he didn’t Owl or Floo to show it; the message was pretty obvious.

At first, it had seemed like Malfoy had been very clear and coming on strong, but the more Harry thought about it, the more it seemed like mixed signals. And then, abandoning nights out at the pub and the avoidance at work had been a pretty clear sign to bugger off, if Harry had ever seen one. Perhaps it had been Malfoy’s way of telling Harry he’d misunderstood, and that it was all in Harry’s head.

Harry could deal with that. It would be like before, with Tracey, before Harry knew she preferred women and he didn’t have to worry about it becoming a problem. Once the possibility of temptation was removed, Harry would get over it and forget about it. Things could go back to normal.

The last week of his holiday, Harry Floo’d the office for the contents of his inbox. Tracey had kept it fairly empty, but there were a few items marked for his personal attention that he figured he’d get a head start on before going back.

Kingsley had written him a long note, mostly thanking him for his work with the undercover case (though there was a mention of Greyson’s excessive overtime, damn it, Harry knew he’d forgotten something), a few paragraphs praising Tracey’s work in his absence, and a little post-script at the bottom adding that Instructor Harrington had a half-dozen new recruits ready for introductory fieldwork as soon as soon as Harry returned.

Harrington also inquired as to Malfoy’s field certification status, as he’d cleared Malfoy for his test back in 2008, right before Harry had become Head Auror.

Kingsley had very subtly pointed out that he was sure Harry had his reasons for never clearing Malfoy − not something silly like their history, because that would be highly unprofessional and, not to mention, immature.

“Are you going to play today?” Ginny asked him the next morning over breakfast. “Not that I mind you being home,” she added, kissing his cheek on her way to the sink with her dishes, still moving gingerly from her last game, “but you’ve been bouncing off the walls for weeks.”

Harry drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Why not?”

Harry shrugged.

Ginny leaned up against the table and raised an eyebrow. “Something you want to tell me?”

“It’s nothing,” Harry lied. “I can always play next week.”

“That’s what you said last week.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“I want you to be happy,” Ginny said. “And to be honest, the last few weeks, you’ve been miserable. I know you want to spend time with me and the kids, but I’d honestly rather have you working overtime and gone half the weekend if it means the time you are here, you’re in a good mood.” She sighed and ran a hand through his hair, tugging a little. “I get it, you know,” she continued. “You’ve spent your whole life on edge, and you get restless just sitting around the house. The job helps, and honestly, I think Quidditch helps a lot, too.”

“Sex also helps,” Harry pointed out, a little sourly.

“Yeah, well, you take a Bludger to the pelvis and then tell me how awesome sex sounds,” Ginny said, ruffling his hair. “Our Medi-Witch says the bruising should clear up in a couple of weeks.”

Harry almost pointed out that she had another serviceable orifice nowhere near her pelvis, but thought better of it. “It’s fine,” he said, forcing a smile.

“Such a grouch when you don’t get your wand wet,” Ginny joked, smoothing his hair back and leaning down to kiss his forehead. “Go work out some of that energy, will you?”

*

When Harry got to Grimmauld Place, he had to step back outside to make sure he was at the right house.

The first thing he noticed was the brightness. The windows in the living room that had been covered in a layer of grime were so clean they might not have been there at all, and let in the sunlight just breaching the row of houses across the street. The light illuminated the room, which looked alien to Harry; the dark carpet and wallpaper had been replaced, and every wooden surface of the room gleamed in the sunlight. The furniture was the same, but clean and repaired, so that it looked brand new.

Peeking back into the hall, Harry saw the portraits were gone, and so were the house-elf heads along the stairs. Harry walked slowly, eyes raking over the transformation, all the way to the drawing room, which had undergone the same changes. Even the tapestry had been cleaned, and upon closer inspection, repaired. Sirius was woven back into the tree, as was Tonks and every other relative that had been blasted off before.

“It’s a work in progress,” said a voice behind Harry. “But it’s coming along well, don’t you think?”

Harry finished studying the old family tree before turning around to face him. “Did you do all of this?”

“I might have borrowed a few house-elves,” Malfoy admitted, smirking a little. “They’re a little better at sorting these old houses, and are redoing the kitchen as we speak.”

Harry looked at the tapestry and back to Malfoy again. “I can see that,” he said, slowly. “But... why?”

“Why not?” Malfoy drawled, shrugging nonchalantly. “What else was I going to do, with you gone?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Play Quidditch?” he suggested. “Or, I don’t know, practice the charm you’re having so much trouble casting?”

Malfoy must have figured it out from Harry’s tone alone, because he paled and stepped back. “I suppose a ‘thank you’ is out of the question, then.”

“You want me to thank you for wasting my fucking time?”

“This was your idea,” Malfoy pointed out.

“Because you lied!” Harry snapped. “You could cast the spell the whole time!”

Malfoy shook his head. “I can’t,” he said.

“Can’t or won’t?

“What the hell do you want from me?”

“How about the truth?”

“Forget it,” Malfoy said, and exhaled sharply. “This was a terrible idea.”

He turned to leave, but Harry crossed the small space between them in two quick strides and grabbed his arm. “Malfoy − ”

Malfoy tried to yank his arm away, but Harry tightened his grip. “Let me go!”

Harry did, and Malfoy backed up so quickly that he slammed his back into the wall by the door. His face was flushed and he was breathing heavily, strands of hair sticking to his face.

“Four years,” Harry said. Malfoy kept his eyes on the floor, refusing to look at him. “All this time, you could have − ”

“Did it ever occur to you,” Malfoy interrupted in a low voice, “that I just didn’t want to?”

“No,” Harry said, because it was just an excuse. “Why wouldn’t you want − ”

“Maybe I just didn’t want to see your fucking face any more than I had to?” Malfoy snarled.

“Right,” Harry said, stepping closer. “That’s why we’re here. Because you don’t want to see me more than you have to.”

Malfoy tried to back up again, and looked surprised when he realised he was still up against the wall. “Yes, because you gave me so much choice in the matter.”

Harry stopped moving. “Show me.”

Malfoy did look at him then, wide-eyed. “Go fuck yourself.”

“What’s the big deal?” Harry didn’t move any closer, but it was hard. Malfoy’s chest was still heaving. “It’s just a spell.”

“It’s none of your business,” Malfoy snapped. “I am none of your business.”

“Stop making excuses.”

“I’m not − ”

“You are,” Harry interrupted. “And you’re not very good at it. Grow a pair, would you?”

Malfoy’s eyes narrowed, and Harry knew he’d hit a nerve. Good, Harry thought; reasoning with him didn’t seem to work, and Harry could settle for antagonising him if that’s what it took.

“What are you so scared of, anyway?” Harry pressed, when Malfoy’s gaze shifted to the floor. “Chances are you’ll never need to use it in the field. It’s just a precaution, and anyway, you’ll never be anywhere I’m not.”

Malfoy’s gaze snapped back to Harry in a flash. “I don’t need you to protect me, Potter.”

“Then prove it.”

Malfoy drew his wand so fast that Harry reflexively pulled out his own, expecting an attack. But Malfoy aimed his wand past Harry and snarled the incantation, and for a moment, Harry thought he’d cast it himself by accident. But the Patronus sprang from Malfoy’s wand, fully-formed and huge, bounding across the room in a great leap. The animal landed lightly, a mirror of Harry’s own, swivelling its pronged head around the room looking for any source of danger. The light of it filled the room, brighter than any Harry had seen other than his own, and pulsing in time with his heartbeat.

Finding nothing, the stag gave a ghostly snort and stamped a hoof. When Malfoy didn’t direct it further, it dissolved with a toss of its head and left the room feeling dark.

Harry resisted the urge to turn back to Malfoy and say, There, was that so hard?, because as Harry stared at the spot the stag vanished, all of Malfoy’s apprehension suddenly made sense. After all, Malfoy had only been cleared to get his certification just as Harry had received his promotion. There was no way he could have avoided Harry finding out, since as Head Auror Harry was responsible for overseeing his field certification, unless he avoided taking the exam altogether.

“You wanted to know what the big deal was,” Malfoy said quietly, breaking the silence.

Harry let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. “Has it...”

“Always been that way?” Malfoy finished for him, his voice flat. “Yes.”

“Since when?”

“Does it matter?” Harry finally looked at him, and saw Malfoy was looking away, towards the window. “You wanted me to cast it: mission accomplished. And your stupid house is finished, so we can go back to Quidditch − ”

“I only went to Quidditch because of you,” Harry blurted, then snapped his mouth shut.

“Don’t you dare,” Malfoy snarled, looking back at Harry. “Don’t make this about me.”

“Why do you think I kept bugging you about the pub?” Harry didn’t want to talk about this any more than Malfoy seemed to, but they had been studiously avoiding it for years and still ended up here anyway. “I just wanted to − ”

“I don’t care what you want. What you want can get fucked.”

Harry thought about that for a moment. “Well,” he said, “actually − ”

Malfoy caught his eye, and the edge of his mouth twisted upwards. Harry grinned; he couldn’t help it. “That wasn’t an invitation,” Malfoy said.

“No?” Harry asked innocently. “Because it sure sounded like − ”

The smirk vanished. “No,” Malfoy repeated. “I can’t.”

“That again?” Harry took a step closer. “You’re a terrible liar, Malfoy.”

Still flush up against the wall, Malfoy looked terrified. It shouldn’t have been exciting, it shouldn’t have made Harry’s trousers grow uncomfortably tight, shouldn’t have made Harry want to close the gap between him and lunge. After all, there wasn’t anything appealing about Malfoy looking terrified...

Except the way his chest heaved with every gasp of breath, or the way a flush was creeping up his long, pale neck, or the way he was drawn taut like a coil about to spring. The fine sheen of sweat along his throat glittered in the strands of sunlight sneaking through the drapes, and Harry was close enough that he could smell a trace of that stupid cologne Malfoy always wore to hide the scent of formaldehyde, and masked in the much more potent smell of him.

He looked at Malfoy’s eyes, two silver rings flecked in amber, and Harry could see it unfolding already, the tension between them spreading and tangling together. Soon the threads would go taught and snap, and then Malfoy would twist away and they’d go back to − what? Malfoy looking away whenever Harry tried to make eye contact? Going out of his way to avoid Harry, being just enough of a presence to drive Harry mad?

No, Harry couldn’t go back to that. He didn’t even understand what was going on, only that he needed to figure it out, and it was now or never.

“Malfoy,” Harry said, lower, moving forward.

“Don’t,” Malfoy said, holding up a hand. “Don’t do this.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“Liar.”

Harry took another step and reached out, brushing the hair from Malfoy’s face. Malfoy winced, but didn’t move away when Harry leaned in. “Maybe,” Harry acquiesced.

Malfoy backed against the wall until he had nowhere else to go. “No.”

“Hey.” Harry leaned his forehead against Malfoy’s and inhaled. He smelled like Floo powder and soap. “It’s all right.”

“This is anything but all right,” Malfoy whispered back, but didn’t push Harry away. “I won’t.”

“You won’t do it?” Harry asked, tilting his head. “Or you won’t let me?”

“Potter − ”

Harry exhaled hard over Malfoy’s lips. “Do you want me to stop?”

“Yes,” Malfoy said at once, but still didn’t move. Maybe he couldn’t, just as Harry couldn’t stop. “No. I don’t know.”

“Relax,” Harry breathed, closing his eyes and leaning in. “Just − ”

Malfoy twisted away so quickly Harry almost lost his balance. Malfoy half-staggered against the wall and stumbled away, sitting down hard on the sofa with his head in his hands.

Harry hesitated a moment before moving to follow; he could hear Malfoy chanting under his breath: “No, no, no, no, no.”

Harry frowned, and came closer. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” Malfoy exclaimed, wringing his hands in his hair. “Fuck, Potter. Where do I start?

Harry stopped in front of him and looked down at the knots his fingers had made. “Is it because it’s me?”

“Among other things,” Malfoy said, deadpan. He blinked when Harry sank down to his knees, between Malfoy’s legs. “What are you doing?”

“It’s all right,” Harry said again, tugging Malfoy’s hands free from his hair by the wrists.

“No,” Malfoy said again, but didn’t stop Harry from slipping his hand under his shirt at the waist. His skin felt fever-hot, and broke out in gooseflesh under Harry’s fingertips.

“Why?” Harry asked, leaning up, tucking his face inside the crook of Malfoy’s neck. “Because it’s wrong?” he said, lips brushing the edge of the scar there. “Because we shouldn’t?”

“Potter,” Malfoy started again.

“Or is it just because you’re a fucking coward?” Harry growled, tracing the curve of Malfoy’s neck with his nose.

“We can’t − ” Malfoy stopped and swallowed thickly, his Adam’s apple bobbing against Harry’s mouth.

“Stop saying that,” Harry said. “I’m tired of fighting this.”

“I’m not.”

“Liar.”

“Potter,” Malfoy said again, closing his eyes, “please − ”

“Please what?” Harry murmured against his neck, drunk on his smell and dying to taste it. “Please stop?” Harry bared his teeth and dragged them along Malfoy’s skin, just hard enough to leave two trails of red he soothed with a quick swipe of his tongue. Malfoy tasted of tang and sweat and shuddered as Harry trailed further down towards his collar. “Or please don’t?

“Merlin help me,” Malfoy snarled, seizing Harry by the hair and pulling him up. “I fucking hate you,” he whispered into Harry’s mouth, and Harry kissed him.

It was, truthfully, the last thing Harry had been expecting to do. He’d sort of been running on autopilot before, not really planning out his moves, and sticking his tongue in Malfoy’s mouth wasn’t something he’d ever really contemplated. Touching his scar, tasting his skin, finding out if his legs really were as long as they looked − yes, those things had crossed his mind. But snogging?

Kissing Draco Malfoy was very different from kissing his wife. Malfoy’s nose got in the way, for one, pressing painfully against Harry’s and knocking his glasses askew. He also used his teeth more, catching at Harry’s lips and nipping hard enough to bruise. Harry twisted a hand in the hem of Malfoy’s shirt and pulled him in, sucking fiercely on Malfoy’s tongue when he swept it inside Harry’s mouth.

Malfoy’s fingers pulled sharply at his hair, and the pain lanced down Harry’s spine to his prick like a jolt of electricity.

Harry didn’t even remember moving, just felt the impact through Malfoy’s body as Harry slammed him into the hardwood floor. Malfoy cursed and tightened his grip on Harry’s hair, tugging him down and Harry bore down on him, one hand sliding under his shirt. Malfoy groaned and arched into the touch, his hands sliding down to clutch at Harry’s hips even as he chanted: “No, no, no, fuck Potter, we can’t − ”

Harry grabbed his wrists and dragged them over his head, encircling them in one hand. Malfoy didn’t go easy − he fought, and he was stronger than he looked, but Harry had more weight and gravity was on his side. Harry was straddling him, but once he got Malfoy’s arms out of the way, he shifted, sliding his right thigh between Malfoy’s legs and pressing down hard with his hip.

Malfoy’s head slammed back into the floor, exposing the long line of his neck for Harry to explore. He hissed when Harry bit down on the junction of his shoulder and sucked a bruise, all the while grinding hard into his groin. Even through their clothes, Harry could feel the hard length of Malfoy’s cock against his navel.

“I hate you,” Malfoy hissed into Harry’s open mouth.

Harry sucked his lower lip into his mouth, and bit down hard. “Liar.”

Malfoy bent his knee and shoved his thigh between Harry’s, mimicking his movements. Harry shuddered at the friction and buried his face in the curve of Malfoy’s neck, slick with sweat and sweet against Harry’s tongue. He knew he should have felt something about what was happening − guilt, shame, fear, or some fucked up combination of the three − but all he could focus on was the pressure against his prick, eclipsing any other coherent thought. Harry hadn’t had sex in months, and all he wanted right then was to get off.

If Harry was going to be honest, he’d wanted to do this for years. The past few months of frustration just made it easier to accept.

Harry wished he could look back on it and say that it had been mind-blowing, that it was so perfect that everything clicked into place and made sense, but it wasn’t any of those things. It was too short and violent and downright messy, more awkward even than the first time he’d had sex with Ginny. It took far too long to get the rhythm right, and unlike Ginny, Malfoy fought him every step of the way − never enough to make Harry stop, just enough to inflict as much pain as possible. His nails clawed down Harry’s neck and chest, his forehead cracked against Harry’s and he bit hard whenever Harry swept his tongue in his mouth. He was never rough with his leg, though − his thigh was firm and hot against Harry’s cock, giving just enough pressure to drive Harry out of his mind.

All the while Malfoy was making these sounds, soft and sharp and breathless (and swearing every other breath) beneath him. Harry could feel the sounds through the slick skin of Malfoy’s neck, hear them right beside his ear, and knew right then he’d never be able to have a wank again without thinking about this.

“Touch me,” Malfoy said, breathless and twisting his head away from Harry’s insistent mouth. Harry held himself up with the hand braced over Malfoy’s wrists and slid the other lower, flat against Malfoy’s chest. Malfoy squirmed underneath him. “Lower,” he growled.

“No,” Harry said, and shoved his hip down. He kept his hand on Malfoy’s chest, ghosting over a nipple and twisting; Malfoy cursed and increased the pressure of his leg, and Harry lost hold on one of his wrists. “Fuck.”

“Come on,” Malfoy hissed, using his newfound freedom to twist his hand back into Harry’s hair and pull. Harry groaned and let himself be yanked down, and went back to making a meal of Malfoy’s neck. “Harder, you son of a − ”

Harry bit down and Malfoy keened, going rigid underneath him before his body gave a prolonged shudder.

Even as Malfoy relaxed, Harry kept tearing at his neck and grinding into his leg, unsure if he was more pissed off or turned on. He tightened his hold on Malfoy’s one wrist to the point it had to be painful, but Malfoy didn’t even try to pull away, just yanked harder on his hair and twisted his calf around the back of Harry’s knee, pulling Harry down as he arched his body up again.

“Fucking hell,” Harry groaned into his neck and twisted his hip, trying to fix the angle and Malfoy hissed. Harry slipped his other leg between Malfoy’s and pressed forward, forcing Malfoy’s legs apart over his hips, covering Malfoy’s mouth with his own to swallow the noise Malfoy made.

Harry never thought he’d come like that, still clothed and frotting against Malfoy on the floor, but the knot of pleasure in his groin tightened sharply before exploding, spilling out of him with a breathless curse.

Under him, Malfoy groaned at the sudden increase in weight; Harry had to suck in a few lungfuls of air before he managed to roll off him.

Malfoy was still breathing hard, chest heaving and eyes closed. He was a little blurry to Harry without his glasses, but he could see enough detail to notice the red welts decorating Malfoy’s neck.

“Malfoy,” Harry said.

“Shut up,” Malfoy snapped, keeping his eyes closed. “Just − shut up, Potter. Not a Goddamn word.”

Harry shut up and just watched him, waiting for his breath to come slow and even before Malfoy sat up, slowly, moving gingerly like he was in pain. Harry just stayed on the floor, trying to ignore the rapidly cooling wetness inside his trousers, and still wrapping his head around what the hell had just happened.

When Malfoy rolled to his feet and started to leave, Harry pushed himself upright. “Where are you going?”

“Home,” Malfoy said, his back to Harry.

“Malfoy,” Harry said again. “We need to talk about this.”

“No,” Malfoy snarled, slanting a glare at Harry over his shoulder. “No, Potter, we do not. In fact, what we need to do is never speak about this again. Ever.”

Harry watched him go, and then collapsed back onto the floor with a heavy thud.

Well, shit.

*

Harry spent the night at Grimmauld Place.

He didn’t even Floo home, because how could he? Harry couldn’t look himself in the mirror, much less look Ginny in the eye. Hell, she would probably take one look at his face and just know.

Harry tried to sleep on the couch at first, but the smell of sex lingered in the room, and the wet spot in his trousers was getting uncomfortable. He tried Vanishing the mess, but afterwards still felt filthy. Upon investigating the master bedroom, Harry saw that the house-elves had been to work there, too − and the loo across the hall. Harry ran the shower, stripped off his clothes and stood under the hot water until it turned his skin red and his fingertips pruned.

He could still smell the sex on his skin afterwards, but at least felt cleaner. He knew he should eat but couldn’t muster up the appetite, and collapsed instead onto the bed with its new sheets and tried to calm down.

Except Harry spent the rest of the evening not sleeping, and around four in the morning decided to give it up and get an early start on his transition back to work. The office was unsurprisingly deserted, and Harry had to forcibly resist the urge to go down to the morgue to see if Malfoy hadn’t been able to sleep, either.

Even if Malfoy was there, what could he say? Malfoy had made it pretty clear that it wasn’t something he was willing to acknowledge, and Harry really didn’t want to press his luck. Malfoy had also made it pretty clear over the years that he had no problems avoiding Harry if he wanted to. And avoiding him would probably be a good idea, Harry knew, but it didn’t make him like the prospect any more. It had taken over a year just to get him to come around last time, and sex hadn’t even come into the equation.

There was, of course, the whole thing with having sex with Malfoy, who was a bloke among other things, but Harry figured he’d worry about crossing that bridge again if he ever got another chance to.

Malfoy never showed for work that day, but being away for near half the year had left Harry with plenty to do, so he tried not to notice. He put off going home as long as possible, but when tea time rolled around and Harry’s stomach started to growl, he if figured worst came to worst and Ginny figured it out, he may as well get it over with.

Ginny smiled at him when he walked into the kitchen, still dusting Floo powder off his trousers. “Hey, you,” she said. “Feel better?”

“Er,” Harry said, because admitting that, yes, he felt a lot better seemed akin to admitting guilt. “Fine. How are you?”

Ginny squinted at him, and Harry tensed. “Oh, bollocks,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You haven’t slept, have you?”

“What?” Harry said.

“You’re tilting, hun,” Ginny said, and steadied him. “When I said work off some of that energy, I didn’t mean until you keeled over.” She looked at him fondly, and Harry felt sick. “Go on upstairs. I’ll join you after I put the kids down.”

Harry didn’t argue, even though he was starving. His throat was too tight to eat, anyway.

*

Malfoy still hadn’t taken the test to get his field certification, but Harry had technically seen him cast the spell and knew for a fact that Malfoy was more than capable of casting a Shield Charm and well-practised in sneaking around, so he pushed through the credentials anyway. Malfoy didn’t say anything about it and never showed up in the field, instead sending Harry his most inept interns to do his forensic gathering, because he was a git and liked to give Harry migraines.

The first month was hard, but Harry had been distracted by the new recruits and his thirty-second birthday, which apparently required a party since he’d avoided the last two. Ron had invited Malfoy, but he hadn’t come, and Harry had been grateful. There had been lots of booze and Harry was pretty sure he would have done something stupid.

Malfoy at work was the same as he’d always been, strictly professional and, while no longer cold, not exactly friendly, either. He still avoided Harry’s eyes unless spoken to directly, and didn’t storm into Harry’s office whenever Harry snapped at one of his interns for being incapable, but to be honest, Harry had sort of given up on intimidating the kids. They tried their best, he knew, and while they weren’t Malfoy, they were getting less useless with the more experience they gained. Besides, Harry knew if he let them piss him off Malfoy would gain some sick satisfaction from it, because he was a sadistic bastard.

It could be worse, Harry told himself. He told himself that every time one of interns screwed up, every time Ginny slipped into the bed beside him, and every time Malfoy nearly met his eyes before looking away.

It could have been worse, Harry knew. He just felt like it could have been a lot better, too.

The first time Harry spoke privately with Malfoy after the incident wasn’t until Lily’s third birthday. Scorpius had come along because, well, because he was mates with James and Albus now and apparently that bond extended to their little sister. Harry watched them run around the living room with Rose and Hugo, and wondered how the hell they’d all ended up here.

Teddy was there, too, but at fourteen was convinced he was ‘too old’ for the silly festivities of birthday parties. He spent most of the party sidling up to Victoire and trying to discretely drop Chocolate Frogs down the back of her dress. That one had been properly Sorted, for sure.

They ended up alone by accident, the other adults having gone inside for drinks, standing awkwardly by the back door while the boys chased Albus’s Jarvey around the garden. It shouted insults at them and vanished inside a tree root, emerging seconds later from another to taunt them. Albus tried to pounce on it in vain while James and Scorpius held back, heads bent in whispered conspiracy on how to proceed.

“Have you disowned him yet?” Harry asked, feeling uneasy in the silence.

“Astoria won’t hear of it,” Malfoy replied easily. “She thinks your spawn are a good influence.”

Harry watched the two boys break off, using Albus to triangulate positions around the base of the tree, and crouch down in wait of the Jarvey’s inevitable appearance to taunt them.

“James, maybe,” Harry said, surprised that he actually meant it. He loved his kids, but he expected James to be, well − like him, sort of like Albus, always causing more trouble than he could handle. But James had enough of Ginny’s common sense to keep things from getting out of hand; it was Albus you had to watch out for. “But Albus and him come as a pair.”

“I dunno, I like your little midgets,” Malfoy informed him. “Much more tolerable than you were, at that age.”

“You didn’t know me until I was eleven.”

“Yes, well, you acted like you were five when you were eleven.”

“Only to you,” Harry returned. “What can I say, Malfoy; you’ve always brought out the worst in me.”

Malfoy looked at him, and then Harry realised what he'd said and how it must have sounded. Before he could take it back Malfoy’s lips twisted into a sneer. “Yes,” he said. “I suppose I have.”

He left Harry standing alone, and it was quiet aside from the Jarvey’s muted insults from inside the tree roots and the shrieks of the boys trying to capture it. Harry wanted to follow Malfoy and tell him that wasn’t what he meant, that he’d only been half-serious, but Malfoy was inside with his wife and with Ginny and Ron and Hermione and all of those other people that didn’t − couldn’t − know what had happened.

It annoyed Harry, because it had been the first time Malfoy had carried on a casual conversation with him since what Harry was referring to as the Incident in his head. It wasn’t that he never got to see Malfoy, or even that he never got the opportunity to talk to him, but Malfoy was once again dodging every attempt Harry made to exchange so much as a single word with him. It was like he was expecting Harry to jump him again, right there in front of everyone, like Harry had no concept of the possible consequences. Or maybe he thought Harry realised, but just didn’t care.

Harry was beginning to think he didn’t care, so long as it meant Malfoy would fucking talk to him.

He and Malfoy had returned to Quidditch-only Sundays as originally planned by an unspoken agreement. Harry only went because he knew Malfoy wouldn’t show up at Grimmauld Place, and Malfoy showed up because he knew he could avoid any awkward exchanges with Harry by strategically placing himself around other teammates at all times. Harry thought it would help, what with getting up in the air for a few hours, but if anything it made it worse. Flying just made his blood run hot and filled his head with distractions, and every time he touched down he had to forcibly resist the urge to drag Malfoy into the showers and throw him up against a wall.

He couldn’t rightly work it out with Ginny, though, since all he was thinking about was Malfoy, and the thought of having sex with his wife while thinking about sex with Malfoy made him feel ill. So instead Harry often accompanied Viktor and his teammate (Dimitrov, Harry eventually learned) to an exclusive pub they favoured, and spent the night dulling his erection with outrageously expensive whiskey.

So far, it was working, but it had only been a couple of months. Harry figured either Malfoy would cave and talk to him, or Harry would snap and make Malfoy talk to him. And that’s all Harry really wanted, really; he could live without the sex. It would suck, but he could manage. Problem was, if Harry had to make Malfoy do anything, he didn’t know if he could stop at just talking.

After cake had been distributed, Lily had opened all of her presents, and Teddy had been punched by Victoire for slipping a Chocolate Frog up her skirt, Harry poured himself a drink and escaped into the back garden. The setting August sun was warm against his back and Harry walked past the broomshed and leaned against the tree beside it, just out of sight of the house. It had been hard enough, being in the same room as Malfoy and his wife, but to see him talking to Ginny and playing chess with Ron and laughing at Teddy’s antics had left Harry feeling like he was going to explode. How could he just act normal with all of them, when Malfoy had nothing for Harry, not so much as a smile or an unnecessary word?

Ron joined him not too long after, and Harry tensed. God, he hadn’t even thought of what Ron would do, if he found out.

“Hey,” Ron said, leaning in by Harry’s shoulder.

Harry kept his eyes straight ahead. “Hey.”

Ron rested his weight against the tree and shoved his hands in his pockets. “You going to tell me what’s going on?”

Harry blinked and looked at him. “Nothing is going on,” he said. It was technically true.

“Uh huh,” Ron said, “How long have I known you?”

Harry thought about it before he realised it was rhetorical. “Nothing is going on,” Harry repeated.

“Look,” Ron said, turning his eyes to the sky. “You know I try to stay out of it, because Gin’s my little sister and you’ve always been like a brother to me, but I also have to live with Hermione, so I hear about it anyway.” He took a breath, looking uncomfortable, before continuing. “Point is, she’s just worried about you. Says you’ve been really unhappy since you came back.”

“I’m fine,” Harry said. He wasn’t, but the reason had nothing to do with the undercover operation.

“I handled the reports,” Ron reminded him. “I know what those arseholes were doing. It would have bothered anyone.”

“I’m fine, Ron,” Harry said again, relaxing a little. Of course Ron thought it was the case; Harry offered him his glass by way of changing the subject. “Really. Just tired.”

“All right,” Ron said, taking the drink and sipping it. “You’d tell me, though,” he said, clearing his throat and handing the glass back, “if something was on your mind?”

Harry took another drink. He thought about Malfoy on the floor, cursing and sweaty and coming, and swallowed. “‘Course.”

*

2012

*

If Malfoy noticed Harry’s black mood at work over the next few months, he didn’t mention it. He continued to keep their interactions to the bare minimum and, annoyed and angry that it bothered him, Harry let him. It became easier over time to dismiss the memory of their rut on the floor, and Harry had even started having sex with his wife again, which seemed to convince Ginny that he was all right after all. He might have got himself well and truly hammered to manage it the first time, but after that it became easier to believe Ginny really had no idea what had happened.

Truthfully, Harry wasn’t sure what had happened, either. After a few months, he convinced himself that it had just been a fluke, a string of unfortunate circumstances that had ended up with a bad experiment. They’d got it out of their system, and moved on.

It didn’t explain why Harry had to have a wank while thinking about Malfoy every Sunday evening, but Harry put it down to Quidditch’s effect on one’s sex drive and left it at that.

Harry’s temper wasn’t any better during their Sunday Quidditch games, but there at least he could put it to good use. He’d got better at dodging Flint’s Bludgers over time, and the aggressive nature of his flying helped him outstrip Krum more than half the time, too. Twice he’d managed to foul and on one memorable occasion he’d snatched Goyle’s bat right out of his hand and sent Flint’s Bludger spiraling back at him, knocking him into a goalpost.

Flint had declared Harry must be using Muggle steroids. Malfoy thought it was hilarious.

The trouble didn’t start until Krum and Cho both had to miss a Sunday in February. Krum, due to being out of the country on an official game of his own; Cho, because she was seven months pregnant and unable to safely play. Which left Harry playing Seeker for Flint’s team against Malfoy.

“But I’m his Seeker,” Harry tried to point out, pre-game.

“This isn’t the Cup, Potter,” Flint drawled. “You and Malfoy are the only Seekers we have.”

“Adrian can Seek,” Harry said.

“But Adrian isn’t an idiot,” Adrian said, rolling his eyes. “Malfoy’s the only one with half a chance against you.”

“Look at it this way,” Flint said, smirking. “At least I won’t be aiming for you this time.”

He had a point. Still. Harry looked at Malfoy, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet during the exchange. “You’re all right with this?”

Malfoy shrugged, not looking up from polishing his broomstick. “I’m game if you are.”

Harry thought about sitting on the floor, up against Tracey’s couch, Malfoy’s warm weight up against his side, and frowned. “Fine,” he said.

It was by far the most brutal game they had to date. Krum was an amazing flyer, but Harry had forgotten how well Malfoy had flown and, more importantly, how well he cheated. Still, he was on a Sonic and there was no way he’d outstrip Harry even if he used every trick he knew. Flint was just as − if not more − merciless with Malfoy when it came to Bludgers, but Malfoy knew Flint and dodged them with a lot more ease than Harry had ever managed. Goyle seemed to have stepped up his game, too, determined to protect his best friend and nail Harry out of the sky.

Things got really ugly when Harry spotted the Snitch among a flurry of snowflakes, and dived.

Malfoy was on him in a flash, using the height he’d kept on Harry the whole game to lasso gravity into boosting him some extra speed. He nearly cut Harry off, slamming into his shoulder and throwing Harry violently sideways.

“Motherfucker,” Harry muttered and bared his teeth. He curved wide, swinging back in and gliding back into the slipstream Malfoy had left behind. With the Cataclysm between his legs, it was easy for Harry to regain lost speed, but then Malfoy kicked out and forced Harry to duck under him and come around the other side. It made Harry fly into the wind, which slowed him a crucial amount, but the Snitch was still fifty yards ahead and Harry had time to make it up.

Harry glanced sideways and saw Malfoy glance at him and grin. Harry couldn’t help but laugh; it was the first time he’d smiled at Harry in months.

Forcing his eyes back to the prize, Harry fell back a pace and realigned himself behind Malfoy. He merged back into his slipstream, waiting until the wind changed before surging forward, spinning just as he came within reach. Malfoy swerved as Harry predicted, but the corkscrew tactic had worked; Harry was facing out as he blew past, leaving Malfoy nothing to hit except a ball of swirling snowflakes.

Cunt!” Harry heard Malfoy shout into the wind, and he grinned again. Harry hadn’t had this much fun in ages.

The Snitch was just ahead, dancing almost playfully amongst the falling snow, oblivious to the two hell-bent torpedos headed its way. Harry had already started to extend his hand when he noticed the shadow over him, blocking out the sun peeking through the clouds. Malfoy had risked climbing high again to try cutting him off again, but he’d never make it on that Sonic. Harry thought maybe he should have insisted Flint trade brooms with Malfoy for the game, since Harry and Krum were always evenly matched on their identical models. Considering how well Malfoy was doing without the advantage, Harry wondered if he’d have caught the Snitch at all if Malfoy had a proper broomstick under him.

Harry was surprised at the realisation that the prospect of Malfoy catching the Snitch didn’t actually bother him like it used to. Whether Malfoy had been cheating earlier or not, every move he’d made in pursuit of the Snitch had been more than fair. Hell, Krum slammed Harry around just as much and weighed about three stone more. That, and Malfoy had done all of it while avoiding Flint’s Bludgers, which was a feat in itself. As far as Harry could tell, had Malfoy had the right broom between his legs, they would have been shoulder-to-shoulder all the way to Snitch. It would have been sheer luck to whoever caught it.

Actually.

Harry pulled up at the last moment, two seconds before the sheer force of momentum would have propelled him into the Snitch, and watched Malfoy slam down ahead of him and scoop it up instead. A Bludger shot past Harry’s nose a heartbeat later, following Malfoy’s spiral down, but slowed when the magic from the Snitch declared the game at an end.

Harry had barely touched down and hoisted his broom over his shoulder before Malfoy was on him. “Potter! What the hell was that?”

Harry blinked, still heading towards the changing room. Even with the rigorous game, Harry’s fingers were numb and he was due for a hot shower. “What was what?”

Malfoy walked backwards in front of him, sneering, and held up the Snitch. “That fucking stunt you just pulled?”

Malfoy kept walking even as his back hit the door and shoved it open. It was either that, or let Harry walk into him. “I don’t know what you’re on about.”

The changing rooms were near empty as usual, because without Cho around to snog Flint was already on his way home, and Pucey’s own shower was just a short flight up to his mansion. Krum and Dimitrov were the only players to use the showers here with any regularity, and both of them were away at a real game. Only the thick-shouldered woman that played Beater alongside Flint (Charlene Willows, but everyone called her Charlie) was there that day, and took one wide-eyed look at the two of them before slipping off into the women’s showers. Harry leaned his broom against the wall before following, turning left into the men’s instead of right.

“Just because Flint’s stupid enough to buy your excuses,” Malfoy snapped, stopping Harry with a hand to his chest, “doesn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention. You threw that catch.”

Harry looked down at his hand, and Malfoy quickly removed it. “So?” he said, sidestepping Malfoy. “It’s just a game, Malfoy.”

“Just a − ” Harry turned just in time to see it, and his hand went out on reflex, catching the Snitch Malfoy had hurled at his head. “That isn’t about the game!”

“Really?” Harry said, turning around. “Then tell me, Malfoy: what is it about?”

It was only then Malfoy seemed to realise where they were, standing in the middle of the deserted men’s showers. Granted, they were both still fully clothed in their Quidditch uniforms, but the moment they’d stepped inside the room had begun to fill with steam as the half-dozen taps turned themselves on.

“This isn’t working,” Malfoy said.

Harry started to undo the cloak from around his neck. Technically, he should have undressed in the changing room, but whatever. “It’s working for me,” Harry lied, tossing his cloak aside and kneeling to start unlacing his boots.

“Liar,” Malfoy said instantly, crossing his arms. From this angle, Harry was looking up his legs, still clad in his Quidditch leathers. The steam from the hot water was beading on the surface, and running down his legs in long, waving rivulets. “Have you told your wife?”

Harry’s eyes snapped up sharply. “Have you?

“No. And that’s why this isn’t working,” Malfoy said, watching as Harry kicked his boots aside and started to undo the bracers over his forearms.

“You’re not making any sense,” Harry told him. If Malfoy kept watching him like that, Harry was going to do something both of them would regret. “I can take a hint, Malfoy. I’m over it.”

“Liar,” Malfoy said again. Harry tugged the last strap loose and chucked his bracer to the floor before starting to remove his shirt. When it came over his head, Malfoy was still there, only closer. Harry held his ground and Malfoy’s gaze. “Admit it. You want it to happen again.”

“You’re the one who followed me in here,” Harry pointed out, undoing his belt.

Malfoy caught his bottom lip between his teeth. “If you think avoiding me’s going to − ”

“Avoiding you?” Harry interrupted, forgetting about his belt for the time being. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Malfoy tilted his head, eyes raking over Harry’s chest and lower. “People are beginning to notice.”

“To notice what? That I don’t give a shit any more?”

“That something is off,” Malfoy clarified. “With you. With us. They don’t know what, but it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out.”

“There is no ‘us’,” Harry reminded him.

“Maybe that’s the problem.”

Harry’s glasses were so foggy by that point that he couldn’t make out Malfoy’s expression, but his tone of voice was enough. “Now you want to do this?”

Harry could see the foggy blur that was Malfoy move closer, and then Malfoy was pulling the glasses away and Harry could see him clearly. He was still fully dressed in his uniform, standing in front of Harry, who was only in his trousers and already wet from the steam. “I’ve always wanted.”

“Have you.” When Malfoy didn’t answer, Harry thought back to Hogwarts, and tried to understand. There’d never been a shred of any desire there, he was sure, other than maybe a desire to beat one another bloody. “I can’t,” he said, when Malfoy just looked at him, waiting to see what he would do.

“You managed to do it before.”

“I fucked up,” Harry said, and regretted it when Malfoy’s features hardened. “I don’t mean − look, it’s not that simple, all right? We’re both − and the kids − ”

“Who’s making excuses now?”

“They’re not excuses, they’re reasons.”

“What they don’t know won’t affect them,” Malfoy said smoothly.

“So you just plan to keep lying, then?”

Malfoy shrugged. “I’m good at it. So are you.”

“You’re terrible at it. And that doesn’t make it right.”

“Oh, are we going with right and wrong, now?” Malfoy drawled, and before Harry had even realised he’d moved, Malfoy’s hands were on his belt, tugging it loose. The thin (and now, soaked) trousers Harry was wearing did nothing to help hide the obvious tent he was pitching. “You’re already lying to them, Potter. All I’m suggesting is that you keep it up.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Really?” Malfoy slipped the belt loose and tossed it away, toying with the button of Harry’s trousers. “Enlighten me; what’s the difference?”

Harry tried to think of what the difference was, but all he could concentrate on were Malfoy’s hands, slowly undoing his zip. “It’s not the same,” was all he could manage.

Malfoy just smirked, and sank down to his knees. “Your argument is invalid, Potter. Organise it.”

Harry would have given his broomstick for a wall to lean against when Malfoy tugged down his trousers, but had to make do with keeping himself upright. He wanted to grab Malfoy by the hair and drag him into a stall, under the spray of a shower, but lost all ability to move as Malfoy just sat there on his knees, fully clothed and staring at his cock.

“Well?” Harry said, when Malfoy continued to stare.

The edge of Malfoy’s mouth twitched, and he licked his lips. “Oh,” he said, blinking suddenly, and pulled out his wand. He said an incantation Harry had heard before, but only in the line of duty − having had only one intimate partner before Malfoy, Harry had never had reason to use it before.

“I’ve only ever slept with my wife,” Harry felt the need to point out.

“Really?” Malfoy actually looked surprised.

“Really,” Harry said. “Despite whatever you’ve read in the Prophet.”

“Huh,” Malfoy said, looking a little pleased and still baffled. “So you and Chang never − ”

“No.”

“Huh,” Malfoy said again, almost smirking. “Flint’ll be pleased. But better safe than sorry, regardless.”

Harry’s cock was beginning to feel a bit neglected, considering how close it was to Malfoy’s face. “Got around, have you?”

“A little here, little there,” Malfoy said, shrugging. He ran the tip of his finger along the underside of Harry’s cock, smearing the precome leaking from the head. “Before I married Astoria.”

Harry grabbed the base of his cock and squeezed. “And have you,” Harry began, pausing briefly when Malfoy licked his lips again, “have you done this before?”

Malfoy did smirk then, eyes flickering up to Harry’s. “Once or twice.”

“In that case,” Harry said, tangling his free hand into Malfoy’s hair, “get on with it.”

Malfoy’s lips parted as he let out a breathless laugh and Harry pulled him forward, too frustrated to be patient and too turned on to care about the consequences. Malfoy opened his mouth, but tilted his head to the side, sliding his mouth along the side of Harry’s cock instead of swallowing it. Despite the heat of the room, Malfoy’s mouth was hotter still, and Harry bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. Water beading on Harry’s skin turned into small streams that ran down his chest and abdomen as he sucked in a deep breath, desperately inhaling the humid air.

It certainly wasn’t the best blowjob Harry had ever had, but it was definitely the filthiest; more open-mouthed and sloppy than anything he’d gotten from his wife. Malfoy was less careful with his teeth, too, and smirked whenever Harry tensed, but never used enough pressure to cause any real pain. When Malfoy finally got around to using his hands, stretching back the foreskin and suckling gently on the head of Harry’s cock, Harry jerked his hips forward while holding Malfoy’s head in place.

“Fuck,” Harry hissed, pulling back. “Jesus, Malfoy. I want to fuck your mouth.”

Malfoy hummed around the head of his cock in, as far as Harry was concerned, encouragement. “Jesus,” Harry said again.

Malfoy didn’t even try to pull away, just hollowed his cheeks and let Harry brutally fuck his mouth, his hands twisted too tight in Malfoy’s hair. Harry could feel him gag and almost stopped, but Malfoy tightened his hold on Harry’s hips and Harry took it as permission to keep going.

“Touch yourself,” Harry told him. “Fuck, Malfoy, just − ”

Harry didn’t have to tell him twice; Malfoy dropped one of his hands to fumble with his own trousers, even as Harry thrust into his mouth. Malfoy’s hand was moving so quickly Harry couldn’t even see his prick, but the knowledge of what he was doing was enough. Harry jerked Malfoy’s head back by the hair, using one hand to fist the end of his cock, keeping the head on Malfoy’s lips. Harry wanted to watch, tried to, but couldn’t help his eyes rolling back into his head as he came, breath spilling out of his mouth in a low moan.

When Harry opened his eyes and looked down, Malfoy was teasing the head of his cock with his lips, mouth still full and filthy with Harry’s come. Harry pushed his hips forward, pressing his prick back inside that hot cavity of velvet. He hissed as Malfoy sucked too hard, just the once, before sitting back and swallowing thickly.

Harry had no idea when Malfoy came, but he must have, because he tucked himself away before standing. He was barely on his feet before Harry seized him by the collar and pulled him forward, resting their foreheads together.

“That was,” Harry started, stopping to swallow and try again.

“Dangerous?” Malfoy supplied.

“Stupid,” he finished. “We can’t keep doing this.”

“Not here, surely,” Malfoy said.

“Not anywhere, Malfoy.”

Malfoy chuckled. “Then one of us had better move.”

“What?”

“You really think this isn’t going to happen again?”

“It won’t,” Harry said, even though he knew it was a lie. “It can’t.”

Malfoy tilted his head and leaned in, mouth brushing against Harry’s. “It can, and it will.”

“No,” Harry said, even as Malfoy kissed him.

Harry kissed him back because, well, because he’d already had his cock in that mouth today. In for a dragon as well as an egg.

Malfoy made a noise as Harry shoved his tongue in his mouth that, under any other circumstances, would have been outright embarrassing. It would have been funny anyway, if Harry hadn’t stumbled over his trousers, still tangled around his ankles and slammed Malfoy back into one of the stall doors, which flew open at the impact and landed them both on the tile floor.

“Bloody fuck,” Malfoy hissed, massaging his head.

Harry groaned his agreement. Malfoy may have served as a cushion to his fall, but he wasn’t exactly soft and Harry’s knees had still hit the floor hard. Harry pushed his soaking fringe out of his eyes and blinked. “Your head is bleeding,” he said.

Malfoy stared at his own hand in amazement for a moment, and then laughed. “I honestly don’t know what you’re worried about,” he said, collapsing back into the wet tiles with a grunt. “We’re likely to kill one another before anyone finds out.”

*

Harry had no idea how Ginny didn’t figure out what was going on.

It was both a blessing and a curse, really. On one hand, he was utterly relieved, because every time he worked up the courage to tell her, it deserted him the moment she came home and scooped Lily into her arms. On the other, it made things that much harder, and Harry wondered on more than one occasion if the guilt alone was worse than any reaction Ginny was likely to have if he just got it off his chest.

But it wasn’t just about him, he reminded himself. If he told Ginny, he’d be bringing Malfoy into it, too, and Malfoy had been very clear on that never happening.

“It’d kill her,” Malfoy told him a few weeks later, when Harry admitted he’d thought about just telling Ginny and dealing with it.

They hadn’t done anything since the Quidditch showers, partly out of Harry’s guilt and partly because Astoria had been, as Malfoy put it, “Requiring my attention.” Harry had to forcibly remind himself that whatever that meant, he had no right to be angry about it. It didn’t really help, and Harry had been on edge since until Malfoy had slipped past him in a corridor at work and mentioned that they should skip Quidditch that weekend.

“She’s more likely to kill me,” Harry pointed out. “And then you, probably.”

“I meant Astoria,” Malfoy said, and Harry looked up. “This isn’t just about you, Potter.”

They’d fucked anyway, despite the sobering conversation about the fact that they were both married to different people. It seemed in bad taste, talking about each other’s partners when they both knew why they were there. Harry was waiting for the row before it began, and sure enough found himself throwing Malfoy up against the wall not five minutes later.

It was much like the first time, with both of them still clothed, hips grinding together and Harry making a meal of Malfoy’s neck. Except this time Harry pulled back just long enough to flip him, throwing Malfoy’s chest into the wall and pressing against him from behind.

Malfoy didn’t even fight it, just tilted his head to the side and exposed his neck. It was already covered in a network of bruises and teeth marks, tells that Harry sincerely wished Malfoy wouldn’t have to heal later. Harry pressed his hips forward, wedging his cock between Malfoy’s buttocks and bit down on his shoulder, groaning as Malfoy pushed back against him and rotated his hips.

Harry pushed off him to wrestle open his trousers before reaching around and doing the same to Malfoy’s, just enough to tug them down and expose his backside. Harry slid the tip of his cock against the naked flesh, hot and smooth and dry. “Fuck,” Harry said. “We really need to start bringing lube.”

Malfoy’s shoulders shook a little as he laughed. “What are you, a Muggle?” he taunted, and tugged his wand out of the wrinkled pocket of his trousers. “Swish and flick, Potter.”

Harry blinked. Well, lube hadn’t really been an issue before. He’d only been having sex with Ginny before this, and while lube was still plenty useful in bed at home, it wasn’t always necessary, and anyway Gin had a jar of the stuff she preferred in the drawer of the bedside table.

When Harry didn’t take his wand, Malfoy exhaled sharply. “Honest to Merlin, I don’t even want to know,” he said, pointing his wand back towards Harry’s hand on his hip and then uttering an incantation Harry couldn’t quite make out. It was obviously the one Malfoy had been intending for Harry to cast, because Harry’s hand suddenly became slick.

Harry buried his nose in the hair at the nape of Malfoy’s neck, breathing in deeply as he wrapped his hand around his cock, spreading the oil over himself. “I want you to touch yourself again,” Harry told him, but pressed forward when Malfoy went to comply, halting him. “Not like before,” Harry continued. “Slower. I’m not in a rush.”

Malfoy let out a long breath and rested his forehead against the wall. “Merlin,” he muttered. “Are you going to − ”

“No,” Harry said. He wasn’t even sure if he knew what Malfoy was going to ask, but was a little too intimidated by the prospect to ask for clarification. “No, I just − ” Harry stopped trying to get out the words and communicated with his hands instead, sliding a hand under the curve of Malfoy’s arse towards the apex of his legs, slicking the skin there. “No, don’t,” he bit out, when Malfoy started to spread his legs. “Just. Yeah.”

Harry pushed his cock against the oiled skin, shoving it forward between Malfoy’s thighs. Malfoy, apparently catching on, increased the pressure and pressed back, coaxing a groan from Harry. It wasn’t as snug as he would have liked, but it was tighter than Malfoy’s mouth and nearly as hot. Not that Harry hadn’t considered the other possibility, but he had no idea where to even start with that and it wasn’t something he could just go check out a book from the Ministry Library to read up on.

Besides, he had other things on his mind, like getting Malfoy out of his fucking clothes. The other times they’d done this, Malfoy had somehow remained entirely clothed, and Harry had had enough of that. Harry tugged his shirt up to his ribs, still thrusting forward until his cock was buried to the hilt between Malfoy’s legs.

Malfoy didn’t seem all that concerned with assisting, however, so Harry had to settle for pushing his shirt up to his shoulders and sliding his hands around his chest, running the flat of his palm down and across his abdomen. He could feel Malfoy’s stomach tighten at the touch, his breaths becoming more and more ragged as Harry's hand travelled further down.

Malfoy hissed sharply as Harry’s hand followed the line of his hip and joined the hand Malfoy had around his cock, gripping his fist harder and pumping with him. “Fuck,” Malfoy muttered.

“Yeah,” Harry murmured into his neck. He slipped his hand lower, bowing over Malfoy’s back, and cupped his hand around Malfoy’s sack and tugged. “You like that?”

“Fuck,” Malfoy said again. “Potter − ”

Harry jerked his hips forward, cutting Malfoy short. “Tell me,” Harry whispered in his ear, tugging again before curling his hand around Malfoy’s cock. He took his time, running his fingers along the length, exploring. It was similar and completely different all at once, and Harry wished he knew how it felt to Malfoy, with Harry’s hand on his cock. “I wanna make you come.”

“Fucking hell,” Malfoy panted, dropping his forehead against the wall. “Harder than that.”

“Like this?” Harry squeezed the solid heat of Malfoy’s prick in his hand, sliding up slowly to the head. Malfoy shook his head against the wall, so Harry tugged harder until Malfoy let out a gasp.

Harry laid his forehead between Malfoy’s shoulder blades and exhaled. Closing his eyes made it easier to match the rhythm of his hand to his hips, stroking up as his hips pulled back, squeezing back down as he thrust forward. Malfoy’s entire body dithered, shuddering against Harry’s chest and hips. Harry felt his cock pulse in his hand, spilling hot and thick over his fingers.

Harry bit down on his shoulder and growled, thrusting hard and losing his angle. His cock pressed up between Malfoy’s buttocks and Malfoy tensed, squeezing, and Harry bit down harder in order to curb a scream.

“Merlin bloody motherfucker,” Malfoy snarled into the wall, shuddering again.

When Harry’s head cleared, he noticed the metallic taste. He pulled back to see he’d bitten down too hard; hard enough that Malfoy was bleeding. “Shit,” Harry breathed, sobering up quickly. “Are you all right?”

Malfoy laughed, the vibrations transferring through to Harry’s chest. “I don’t break that easily, Potter.”

Harry studied the mark, touching it gingerly with the tip of his finger. It was a small oval of shallow depressions, the perfect imprint of Harry’s teeth. It wasn’t bleeding all that badly, just enough that it welled up around in the indents. When Malfoy didn’t move, Harry leaned in and mouthed the wound, licking the blood away and soothing it with his lips.

Malfoy sighed and leaned back against him. “So,” he said casually. “Same time next week?”

*

2013

*

Meeting at Grimmauld Place every other Sunday became a habit again, but it wasn’t enough; Harry would have gone twice a week if Malfoy had agreed to it, or at least every weekend, but Malfoy was insistent the pattern stay the same.

People were less likely to get suspicious, he said. Bollocks, Harry thought. Nobody in their right mind would have believed the two of them were shagging, even if they had walked in on it.

Sometimes, even Harry still couldn’t believe it.

He wasn’t entirely sure what kept him going back. Sex with Malfoy was drastically different than sex with Ginny (mostly, just more brutal; having sex with Malfoy was about as much fun as fighting with him, only much more satisfying), but in the end sex was just − well, sex. There had to be something more, Harry reasoned, that kept him awake on Saturday nights, unable to relax enough to sleep with the promise of what the next day would bring.

Malfoy hated Harry trying to analyse it. “It’s just sex, Potter,” he’d tell him.

“Liar,” Harry would shoot back. Because if that were true, Harry could just have sex with his wife and go back to terrorising Malfoy’s interns. Besides, if it was just the sex, Harry was pretty sure he wouldn’t look forward to going to work more than he looked forward to coming home, because Malfoy and him weren’t having sex at work. Well, not yet. Harry was starting to think about the logistics, though, because waiting two weeks in between liaisons when Malfoy was just a few levels down was really starting to drive Harry mad.

So, yeah. Sex was definitely a part of it, but just a part.

Throughout the year, the overpowering guilt had eased and the burning need to confess soon followed. Harry was starting to think he’d been worrying over nothing. Besides, his relationship with Ginny (both at home and intimately) had actually improved, and Harry had nearly convinced himself that the thing with Malfoy wasn’t as big a deal as he originally thought it would be.

After all, it wasn’t as if anyone aside from Malfoy actually knew about it.

The more time that passed, the less terrifying it seemed, but the thrill of it never diminished. A year and one month from the first time they’d crossed the line, Harry was well-settled into the routine, even if he was still impatient about the two-week wait in between private visits. Sometimes they had a couple of drinks first, especially when Malfoy was in a sulk because Astoria had wound him up (he never went into details, just shook his head and told Harry to mind his own business) and needed to loosen up. Sometimes Harry had hardly walked in the door before Malfoy dragged him up against a wall, or over to a couch, even down onto the floor.

They never had sex in the bedrooms, not because the idea of having sex in a proper bed was somehow unappealing − they just never made it that far up the stairs.

It was more like awkward teenager sex than proper sex, too, because neither of them took the time to completely undress and half the time one of them didn’t even bother. As long as Harry had access to Malfoy’s neck and cock he was pretty content, though he’d started exploring the phenomenon of Malfoy’s flat chest on a few recent occasions. Malfoy’s reactions only encouraged Harry, who was about fed up with fucking just Malfoy’s mouth and thighs and hands and wanted to explore a little more.

When Harry pushed Malfoy into the living room and Malfoy went to open his zip, Harry shook his head. “No,” he said. “Shirt first.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow, but undid the first few buttons of his shirt before pulling it over his head. His chest gleamed in the orange light of the fireplace, the flames tracing the line of his scar from his navel to his neck. Not for the first time, Harry wondered if Malfoy was getting in any exercise outside of Quidditch, because it was a pretty impressive sight.

Malfoy sucked in a sharp breath when Harry knelt in front of him, carefully unbuckling his belt and sliding his trousers down his legs. Malfoy never wore anything underneath, and Harry knew it was just for his benefit, because seeing Malfoy every other day at work with only a thin layer of fabric between Harry and his cock, was just plain torture. Harry pulled his trousers all the way down, tugging until Malfoy stepped out of them, and ran his hands from Malfoy’s ankles to his hips, miles of unblemished skin coated with a fine layer of invisible hair.

His cock was still soft, nestled prettily in an array of platinum curls, and Harry leaned in to inhale his scent, burying his face in Malfoy’s hip. Malfoy’s hands tangled in his hair, curling with encouragement. Harry felt a bit drunk on the smell of him, that soft mixture of soap and skin that was only unique in a way that Harry could identify as Malfoy.

“Potter,” Malfoy said, breathless.

“Sit down,” Harry ordered. Malfoy hesitated only a moment before moving away, sliding his naked arse onto the sofa just a few feet back. Harry crawled the short space between them, bottom lip trapped between his teeth, and reached out to run his hands over Malfoy’s thighs as soon as he was was close enough. “I want to taste you.”

Malfoy exhaled sharply, pink flushing across his chest. “Have you ever − ”

“No,” Harry said, unconcerned. He looked up when Malfoy didn’t respond, and smirked. “Does that turn you on?”

Malfoy’s prick, already starting to swell, twitched. “The Chosen One’s about to suck me off,” Malfoy drawled. “What do you think?”

Even if Harry had never sucked a cock before, he’d gotten a pretty good idea of the sort of thing Malfoy liked just from jerking him off. Still, it was new territory in Harry’s sexual experience, and just because he was good at looking calm under pressure didn’t mean he wasn’t nervous as hell.

Harry used his hands at first, because that he knew how to do. Malfoy’s cock responded instantly, growing hot and deep pink in his grasp, lengthening with every stroke. It still amazed Harry how different they were in every way; Harry was short where Malfoy was tall, dark where he was pale, hairy where he was smooth. Even their cocks looked nothing alike; Harry’s was a tad shorter and thicker, and turned a dark red and purple when fully erect. Malfoy’s was long and lean like the rest of him, pale up to the tip, where it turned a violently dark pink when Harry tugged back the foreskin.

When Harry licked his lips and leaned forward, he really had no idea what to expect. Well, he had some idea, but that experience was limited to only the taste of himself, through Malfoy’s mouth and a few teenage experiments long past. It was a lot stronger than the taste of his own come in Malfoy’s mouth, mostly bitter but with a sweet tang from his skin that made Harry groan a little and suck harder.

“Christ,” Malfoy said, twisting his hand back into Harry’s hair. “I’m sorry, did you have a Portkey to catch?”

Harry ignored him and kept at it, pulling back a pace or two for every one he went down until he managed to fit most of it in his mouth. It wasn’t easy; Malfoy’s prick was too long to fit comfortably, and when Harry tried to go further he nearly gagged.

Harry had forgotten how good that felt, until Malfoy’s hand tightened in his hair and his hips jerked. “Careful, Potter,” Malfoy murmured, and Harry looked up and caught a ghost of a smirk on his lips. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

Harry narrowed his eyes and Malfoy’s smirk vanished, twisting into something that could have been pain. He had his free hand by his mouth in a fist, and bit down on a knuckle as Harry hollowed his cheeks and pulled back. “Oh, hell.”

Harry took his time, moving slowly despite Malfoy’s whispered threats to speed up. Sitting on the couch where Harry could press down on his hips didn’t leave Malfoy in a position to do much about it, and anyway, Harry was purposely using the opportunity to experiment, figuring out what made Malfoy curse and twitch, or made his eyes roll back into his head and moan, or twist in on himself and the hand in Harry’s hair tighten and pull.

By the time Harry got around to getting his own cock out, Malfoy was begging him to let him come.

“Merlin, you’re a right bastard,” Malfoy snarled when Harry pulled away to remove his own shirt. Harry ignored him and stood up, shedding his own trousers and kicking away his shoes before pushing Malfoy down across the sofa and crawling over him. “I thought you wanted a taste?”

“I do,” Harry said, and kissed him to shut him up. It was the only way he’d found so far that actually worked, short of shoving his cock inside of his mouth.

Harry had become quite adept at casting Malfoy’s lubrication spell wandless, and whispered it into his mouth before wrapping a slick hand around both their cocks. Malfoy’s hips rose to meet his, thrusting into the tight fist of his hand, the spine of his prick rubbing deliciously against Harry’s own.

They’d got better at this, too − establishing a rhythm together, and lasting a lot longer than they had the first few times around. But Harry’s inexperience must not have mattered all that much, because Malfoy was twisting and cursing and then coming all over their stomachs not long after. Harry deepened the kiss, because kissing Malfoy while he was losing himself was perhaps the hottest thing he’d ever done. Ever. It was one of the few times Malfoy let go, and instead of biting back his moans, he just let them out, and Harry swallowed them like he was dying.

“You really need to start doing that more often,” Malfoy managed, breathless, when Harry pulled away. “Like, all the time, for instance.”

“Mm,” Harry hummed, kissing his way down Malfoy’s neck and following the line of the scar − his mark, one Malfoy would never be able to erase − all the way down to his navel, cleaning the mess there with his tongue. It was bitter and stringy and, honestly, kind of disgusting, and Harry couldn’t get enough of it. He’d barely swallowed it down before he came himself, spilling over his fist and onto Malfoy’s thighs.

He went to clean that up, too, because he wasn’t about to pass up any excuse to lick Malfoy’s legs.

“That’s truly disgusting,” Malfoy informed him. Harry glanced up, and saw him smirking. “I didn’t mean you should stop.”

“Git,” Harry said, before licking a long stripe up Malfoy’s thigh to his groin, and mouthing his softening prick. He sucked the head gently, cleaning that too, before sliding his mouth over the softer flesh of Malfoy’s balls.

Malfoy groaned and spread his legs. “I’m going to need at least a few minutes, here.”

Harry climbed back over him and straddled his hips. “Lightweight.”

“Sex addict,” Malfoy shot back. “You’re insatiable, you know that? No wonder you’re having an affair. It’s a miracle Weasley ever manages to get on a broom.”

“It’s Potter,” Harry reminded him.

“No need for insults,” Malfoy returned smoothly. “You know, I’ve actually come to quite like her, otherwise.”

Other than the fact that she was married to him, Harry knew. “Don’t be an arse. She’s my wife.”

“Which you love to keep reminding me,” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes.

“You’re the one that keeps bringing it up.”

“Yes, well, one of us should keep our priorities in order, here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “I mean, I’ve been nothing but polite to your wench,” he drawled.

“Now who’s calling names?”

“Not to her face,” Malfoy pointed out. “She thinks I’m charming. Kind of hilarious, really, considering − but you’ve got some nerve telling me off, the way you treat Astoria.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“Stop answering me with more questions,” Malfoy snapped. “You know exactly what I mean.” Harry really had no idea. Malfoy looked at him a moment, and seemed to realise it. “Oh, for Godric’s sake − you really don’t, do you? How you look at her, talk to her? Good grief, Potter, she thinks you hate her.”

Harry did hate her. Well, at least very extremely disliked her. “I don’t hate her.”

“You know,” Malfoy went on, “it’s in very poor taste, being jealous of someone else’s partner.”

“I’m not jealous.”

“Liar,” Malfoy said, smirking up at him.

Harry narrowed his eyes, and ran both hands up Malfoy’s bare chest. He could barely see the hair there, but could feel it against his fingertips as Malfoy arched slightly, his heartbeat speeding up beneath Harry’s palm.

Harry let his right hand linger there, and ran his left up to Malfoy’s neck. He traced the red marks his teeth had left, one at a time, before moving his hand under Malfoy’s jaw, locking the valley between his thumb and index finger around Malfoy’s windpipe.

Malfoy sucked in a slow, deep breath, but didn’t move. He was watching Harry’s face with heavy-lidded eyes, and his breaths grew shallow when Harry leaned in and increased the pressure. Harry waited for Malfoy to lash out, to tell him to stop, but he just lay there beneath him, chest slowly rising and his prick growing steadily harder against Harry’s hip.

“I’m not jealous,” Harry told him. He used his other hand to rearrange Malfoy’s arms, pushing them over his head one at a time until he could gather both of Malfoy’s wrists in a one-handed grip. “Like you said, it’s just sex.”

Malfoy started to speak, but Harry squeezed a little and the sound turned rasping; he inhaled instead, deeply, his chest heaving with the effort.

Harry eased up a little to let him breathe before pushing him down again. “I don’t hate her,” Harry continued, because he realised it was true, and it was important that Malfoy knew it. “I just... don’t like the fact that she gets to see you like this.”

The edge of Malfoy’s mouth rose. “Trust me,” he said, voice coming out a whisper because Harry still had a hand around his throat, “she doesn’t get to see me like this. Nobody does.”

Harry leaned down and kissed him, still holding him by the wrists and the throat, kissed him hard enough to hurt, scraping his teeth over Malfoy’s bottom lip. Malfoy groaned into his mouth, wrists straining against Harry’s hold, his erection twitching between their bodies.

Harry pulled back long enough just to whisper into his mouth, “Keep it that way.”

*

2014

*

Fucking Draco Malfoy quickly became as regular to Harry as having breakfast every morning.

Well, not as regular, although Harry still wished it could happen more often. But Malfoy had remained adamant about keeping to their pattern − it seemed to be working out, after all. They still went to Quidditch enough that the people they played with didn’t suspect anything was amiss, and spent enough time at work and at home respectively that nobody outside of that circle was any the wiser.

Harry knew as well as Malfoy what was at stake, but couldn’t bring himself to care. He wanted more, and told Malfoy as much.

“Sometimes, I think you want to get caught,” Malfoy had said in reply, and Harry was starting to believe him.

Over time, Harry had begun to notice some of the little things, too, and was surprised that instead of worrying him, it actually left him feeling more content. Like how Malfoy liked to power nap between shags, and made soft little noises in his sleep that he’d deny adamantly whenever Harry mentioned it. Or how whenever Harry would put on one of Sirius’s old Muggle records, Malfoy would complain loudly about the rock ‘n roll, but half an hour later Harry would catch him singing along softly under his breath; and how even mind-shattering sex did nothing to stop Malfoy’s jitteriness, always in constant motion even when he was doing nothing − shifting his weight, gesticulating with his hands, drumming his fingers along the table, bouncing his leg on the ball of his foot − like he was on an eternal caffeine high. The little things became part of Harry’s life, twice a month, every other Sunday, and he wouldn’t have given it up even if it meant getting rid of the guilt.

The guilt which, despite being suppressed, was still very much a problem. It liked to rear its ugly head randomly without warning whenever Harry was with Ginny or the kids, and remind him what was at stake.

It wasn’t the first time Harry had wondered if whatever he was getting from Malfoy was worth the risk, and it wouldn’t be the last. By now, Harry knew the conclusion would always be the same, even if he wasn’t sure exactly what he was getting from Malfoy that was so damn important.

Harry had a rare weekend to himself, because Ginny was away at a game and the kids were having a sleepover weekend at Ron and Hermione’s for Hugo’s seventh birthday party. Even Scorpius had gone, for although he wasn’t close to Ron’s kids, Ron had invited him since he was James’s and Albus’s best mate.

Harry had no idea what Astoria had planned for the weekend, if anything at all, and really didn’t care. He arrived at Grimmauld Place the following afternoon with a bag of shopping, a bottle of scotch and a jar of lube.

Malfoy walked into the bedroom at half-past six, just in time to see Harry finish changing the bed.

“So,” Malfoy said, raising an eyebrow, “this is the ‘urgent case’ you’ll be ‘requiring my services’ for until morning?”

“Tomorrow evening,” Harry corrected. “I don’t have to pick up the kids until eight.”

Malfoy just watched him for a moment, and then sighed. “Potter, this isn’t − ”

“I’m not going to argue with you about this,” Harry interrupted. “Are you hungry?”

Malfoy sighed. “I could eat,” he said, shrugging.

Harry made seafood, because while Malfoy liked it, Ginny didn’t, so Harry rarely got to cook it. Malfoy hovered over his shoulder the entire time, pretending to help but mostly just getting in Harry’s way. Harry didn’t mind, because he honestly found Malfoy’s rampant curiosity with everything kind of endearing.

After dinner, Harry didn’t bother with the usual foreplay guised as banter. He took Malfoy by the wrist and led him up to the bedroom, and told him to undress.

Malfoy’s forehead creased, and Harry realised with some surprise that the git was actually pouting. “Are we in a rush?”

Harry was always in a rush when it came to getting Malfoy undressed, but that was beside the point.

Harry didn’t answer. He lay back on the bed, crossed his legs at the ankle and folded his arms behind his head. Malfoy glared at him. “I think you enjoy this just a bit too much.”

Harry smirked. “Shut up and take off your trousers.”

The edge of Malfoy’s mouth twisted, but he didn’t argue further. Harry waited until he’d undressed before telling Malfoy to come to the bed, standing up so Malfoy could slowly strip off his clothes. Harry only moved when necessary to assist, but otherwise watched Malfoy’s hands, long fingers deftly undoing buttons and Harry’s zip before tugging the fabric away. When Harry was bare, he maneuvered Malfoy down to the bed, climbing over him and burying his face in the curve of his neck.

Malfoy arched his hips, rubbing his half-hard cock against Harry’s, his skin dry and hot and soft. This, Harry thought, was what it was about − not the sex itself, but these little erotic moments that came before and after, where Harry just wanted to bury himself inside of Malfoy’s warm, long limbs and never let go.

When Harry surfaced to whisper in Malfoy’s ear, the body beneath him went still. Harry immediately kissed him again, sucking Malfoy’s tongue into his mouth and working a hand between their bodies.

“So that’s the reason for the impromptu romantic weekend,” Malfoy drawled, when Harry had to breathe again. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a pervert?”

Harry leaned on his hands, head hanging low over Malfoy’s. “Only you,” he said, dragging his lips over Malfoy’s jaw. He reached out to grab the lube off the nightstand, popping the already-loosened lid off with his thumb.

Malfoy eyed the jar. “That’s rather presumptuous, even for you.”

“Shut up and roll over.”

“Wait,” Malfoy said, catching Harry’s wrist. When Harry narrowed his eyes, Malfoy rolled his. “You can be such a virgin sometimes, I swear. Give me your wand.”

Harry scowled, but wandlessly Summoned his wand. He didn’t hand it over, though. “What’s the spell?”

“Technically, it’s a slight variation to Scourgify,” Malfoy drawled, and held out his hand. “But let’s have the one with a medical degree cast the internal sterilisation charms, shall we?”

Harry handed his wand over.

Malfoy cast the spell non-verbally, but Harry knew the moment it took effect because of the fleeting discomfort that flashed across his features.

“All right,” Malfoy said, tossing Harry’s wand aside. “Um. Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

“Not really,” Harry admitted.

“So, what, you’re going to wing this?”

“I didn’t have any idea how to kill a Basilisk that one time, but I managed pretty well.”

“Merlin help me,” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes. It didn’t help cover up the rising blush over his cheeks; Harry liked the image. Malfoy actually looked kind of pretty. “Just... I haven’t before, so − ”

“Don’t worry,” Harry interrupted, kissing him gently. It was hard not to snog him senseless; the knowledge that no one else had had Malfoy this way seemed to inflate Harry, filling him with a need to make sure no one else ever did. “I won’t hurt you.”

Malfoy just looked at him for a moment, and then rolled over.

Harry didn’t hurt him, but it was hard; as much as he wanted to take his time he nearly lost control, almost pushed too far too quickly, but every time he looked up at Malfoy’s face, the urge subsided. Malfoy’s expression varied between discomfort and pleasure and sometimes just pain, but the latter were always fleeting and the noises he was making were all encouraging. Harry’s fingers were cramped and slick from the effort, but it was more than worth the transformation it caused; Malfoy’s sounds became less clipped and more drawn-out, his expressions less tight, and by the time Harry added a third finger, Malfoy’s toes were curling against Harry’s knees.

When Harry finally pulled his fingers away, Malfoy was a boneless heap beneath him, past all forms of coherent communication. He tensed when he felt Harry line himself up, but relaxed when Harry leaned down to mouth his shoulder.

“Relax,” Harry whispered. “I told you; I won’t hurt you.”

Malfoy groaned and raised his hips. “I know.”

Sinking into Malfoy’s tight hole was about the best experience Harry’s cock had ever had in its twenty-odd years of sexual experience. And that included shoving it down Malfoy’s throat until he choked on it.

It wasn’t the best sex they’d ever had, but it was definitely the most intimate. Malfoy eventually relaxed when his body became accustomed to the intrusion, and his moans went uneven when Harry started to thrust with vigor. Harry tried to be gentle, tried to keep his promise, but it wasn’t easy − he felt like he was no longer in control, that the roaring beast inside his chest had taken him over, filling him with the need to turn Malfoy inside out. Harry had him in a chokehold and was slamming into him before he realised what he was doing. Malfoy’s moans vibrated through his forearm as Harry dragged his teeth down Malfoy’s back.

“Oh, God,” Harry gasped against Malfoy’s slick skin, lost inside sweet velvet heat. “Malfoy, fuck − you’re so fucking tight − ”

Malfoy let out a muffled cry beneath him, arching his back and clamping down hard on Harry’s prick. Harry gritted his teeth and shuddered. “God,” he gasped, “I’m going to come. I’m going to come inside you. I’m going to − ”

Harry stopped talking and bit down, because it was either that or scream. Malfoy’s body locked against his, hard and hot, and Harry thrust as deep as he could and held it, biting into Malfoy’s shoulder until his cock ceased pulsing.

Afterwards, all Harry wanted to do was roll off of Malfoy and go to sleep. But Harry also wanted to make Malfoy feel good, as good as he’d made Harry feel. He pushed himself up he rolled Malfoy over − but found Malfoy had already come against the bedsheets without Harry ever having touched his cock.

Malfoy glanced at him through heavy-lidded eyes, his face and neck still red from Harry’s chokehold, and pulled him down into a kiss.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said, when Malfoy pulled away. “Are you − did I − ”

“Hurt me?” Malfoy asked, looking knackered but amused. “I told you, Potter; I don’t break that easily.”

Harry grinned at him. “So, you wouldn’t mind giving this another go in a couple of weeks?”

“A couple of weeks?” Malfoy repeated in a bored drawl. “I was thinking tomorrow, perhaps after lunch.”

Waking up with Draco Malfoy was about the strangest thing that had ever happened to Harry, and that included the time he’d sort of died and had a chat with Dumbledore in the shadow of King’s Cross.

Malfoy in the morning was, in a word, adorable. He was a heavy sleeper, Harry discovered after some prodding, scrunching up his nose and burrowing further under the covers when Harry tried to lure him awake with a kiss. His cock was awake before he was, and Harry took advantage of Malfoy’s semi-conscious state to explore, experimenting with different tactics until Malfoy’s eyes fluttered open and he tangled a hand into Harry’s hair and pushed his head down.

The afternoon that folowed was the most weirdly comfortable day Harry had had in years, and it was far from perfect. They’d barely stumbled out of the shower before they got into their first argument, and it wasn’t even about anything important; Malfoy wanted his eggs poached for breakfast, and Harry wanted to make omelettes. Technically, Harry could have made both, but that wasn't the point.

“It’s just fucking breakfast,” Harry snapped, too frustrated to care. “Whatever, I’ll make them your way.”

“No,” Malfoy snapped back. “Don’t you pull your ‘whatever’ shit with me. Make your fucking omelettes. I don’t care.”

“You do realise we’re arguing about how eggs are prepared?”

“No, we’re arguing about what a stubborn prick you are.”

I’m a stubborn prick? I told you, I don’t care either way. They’re eggs. You’re the one who’s making this into a big deal.”

Harry was waiting for Malfoy to sneer, to turn on his heel and leave. Waiting for and dreading it, because he couldn’t figure out how to stop it from happening. What did Malfoy want from him? All Harry had wanted was a night; a long night and a relaxing day where neither of them had anywhere to be, or anyone to miss them. It shouldn’t have been that hard.

“This isn’t about the eggs!”

“Then what − ”

“I don’t want you to just give me what I want!” Malfoy snapped, and Harry stared at him. “I want − can you please just make the fucking omelettes?”

“Okay,” Harry said, bemused. “I’ll make the omelettes.”

They ate breakfast in silence, but before Harry could bring it up, Malfoy leaned over the table and kissed him. “Thank you,” he said, breath ghosting over Harry’s lips.

Harry blinked. “What for?”

Malfoy smiled, which left Harry feeling a mix of bewildered and deeply pleased. “Breakfast.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Er. You’re welcome? It wasn’t any trouble.”

The rest of the day was easier after that. It was, if Harry was going to be honest, the most relaxing day he’d had in years. Even with the stupid little tiff before. Malfoy was good-humoured the rest of the afternoon, and while they still had the usual back-and-forth, it was always with the slight twist to Malfoy’s lip that meant he was enjoying it.

The only thing that could have made the day better, Harry realised around seven o’clock, was if the kids were there, too.

“I should probably make a move,” Malfoy said, slipping a hand into Harry’s hair and digging in his nails. Harry sighed and shifted closer, giving him better access and nuzzling into his neck. “Wouldn’t be prudent to show up at Weasleys’s together.”

Harry knew he was right, but that didn’t mean he was happy about it. “Half an hour,” Harry said, and placed a wet, opened-mouth kiss on his neck.

Malfoy sighed, but leaned in. “Like I said; insatiable.”

*

2015

*

Ever since Malfoy got his field certification, he still sent interns out to meet Harry for a case at every opportunity just to annoy him.

In retrospect, Harry wished the night he nearly got himself killed had been one of those cases.

Malfoy almost always arrived on the scene early. Half the time, he beat Harry and Tracey to the body. “I like to establish cause of death before you idiots trample all over everything,” he’d explained.

This time, Malfoy was late. Harry was too impatient to wait for him, even though he knew Malfoy would be talking his ear off about contaminated evidence. The murder (Harry always assumed the worst) had occurred in an abandoned building, and was only discovered because an old witch’s Kneazle had stumbled onto it while pursuing a rat.

Unfortunately, the Kneazle hadn’t mentioned that whoever committed the crime also left a nasty gift for anyone unlucky enough to stumble over the body.

Harry was setting up a perimeter when Malfoy arrived. He’s barely stepped into the room before he froze, mid-step, eyes darting quickly to the side. Harry had raised his eyebrows, because Tracey had already checked to see if the building was clear.

“What is it?” Harry had learned quite quickly that Malfoy in the field was sort of like having a bloodhound on the scene. He could sniff out magical residue just by touching something, or even just being in the room in the right spot. Malfoy didn’t answer Harry, just narrowed his eyes and shifted his gaze to the body, and beyond it, to Harry’s left. Harry followed his gaze, and saw the door to the closet, near invisible in the dark corner.

At once, Harry realised what was wrong; they’d used the traditional spells to check the area, but spells could be fooled if you knew to expect them. Harry caught Malfoy’s eye, and slowly drew his wand.

It happened so fast that it was over before Harry realised what he did. The sudden pause in their conversation must have tipped the guy off, because the closet door slammed open and the darkness emitted a shock of green light.

Harry suddenly flashed back to when he was fourteen, crouched and dirty and confused in a graveyard, Cedric Diggory’s face illuminated in neon green.

The lamp beside Malfoy’s head exploded. Malfoy hit the floor, but he didn’t need to − Harry’s curse hit the cloaked figure in the chest a heartbeat later, and it crumpled.

Malfoy sat up and winced. “And that,” he said, “is why I send you my interns.”

Harry couldn’t even laugh; his heart was still in overdrive. He fell to his knees beside Malfoy and seized his chin in his hand, tilting his head up and to the side. “Are you hurt? Did it graze you? I thought − ”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, Potter.” He looked past Harry, but didn’t pull out of his grip. “Did you just kill him?”

“He’s lucky that’s all I did,” Harry snarled.

Malfoy gave him a funny look, but then Tracey burst back into the room and Malfoy pushed away quickly and to his feet. “Hello, Davis. Nice of you to join us.”

As relieved as Harry was that Malfoy was unharmed, the feeling didn’t last long. The reality of what happened sunk in quickly when Tracey saw the second body, and asked Harry why he hadn’t just Disarmed him.

It was a valid point. Even if the wizard had been using deadly force, Harry had an obligation to at least warn the man to drop his wand or try to Disarm him. But when the curse had hit the lamp beside Malfoy’s head, Harry hadn’t exactly been thinking about protocol.

Tracey was mostly upset because it meant paperwork, and more annoying, meant that the Ministry’s version of the Home Office would be paying them a visit first thing Monday morning.

Harry wasn’t all that worried. The Head of the department was Wicklow, an old witch that was quite fond of Harry. She always looked like she wanted to pinch his cheeks; he’d charmed his way out of more than one sticky situation in the past.

“Wicklow retired two months ago,” Tracey reminded him while sitting in his office, filling out their reports. “Her replacement is due in a couple of weeks.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Well, they’re likely to have forgotten about it by then.”

Tracey levelled a look at him. “You killed a man, Harry.”

“I killed a Dark wizard,” Harry corrected. “He nearly took Malfoy’s head off.”

“I’m not saying you were wrong,” she went on. “I just... it usually bothers you a lot more than this.”

“I couldn’t risk Disarming him; if he’d blocked it − ”

“Name one person you never managed to Disarm,” Tracey interrupted.

“Voldemort?” Harry suggested.

“Oh, so that’s who you thought he was?”

“It’ll be fine,” Harry said. “By the time Wicklow’s replacement gets here, it’ll be old news. And I made the right call.”

“I know you did,” Tracey said. “But you know they’re going to investigate it anyway.”

Harry shrugged. “But you’ve got my back, right?”

Tracey rolled her eyes. “Don’t I always?”

*

2017

*

“Why aren’t we dropping him down the shaft to Level Nine again?” Harry asked her, out of the corner of his mouth.

“Because Kingsley said we have to behave,” Tracey muttered back, and gave a strained smile to the man before them both.

“Mr, er,” Harry said, and looked at the parchment Tracey was holding attached to a clipboard, “Pessimal, I assume?”

Magistrate Pessimal,” the man corrected, standing straight as a board. Even still, he only came up to Harry’s jaw. In a word, he was very... neat. He looked like the sort of person who dry-cleaned their underwear and trimmed their nose hairs every morning. “I assume the Minister has briefed you on my duties here, Head Auror Potter?”

“Kingsley mentioned it,” Harry said, because he hadn’t really been paying attention at the meeting. Kingsley had ordered all the major players in MLE present for the announcement, which of course had included Malfoy, who by no accident had come to sit directly next to Harry. “And unless we’re in court, you can call me Harry.”

“Head Auror Potter,” Magistrate Pessimal went on, “it is my duty to alert you that I am here on behalf of the Inspectorate of Magical and Moral Integrity Office to ensure that all protocols are being followed correctly. I am also at liberty to interview your employees, with or without your knowledge or permission, in the course of my investigations.”

“Your investigations,” Harry repeated, and wouldn’t have realised the tone he used if Tracey hadn’t elbowed him. “What exactly are you... investigating?”

The little man smiled at him. “Oh, everything, Head Auror Potter. Absolutely everything.”

Magistrate Pessimal excused himself and scuttled away. Harry and Tracey exchanged a look.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Harry admitted.

“You and me both,” Tracey said.

*

Magistrate Pessimal was turning out to be a royal pain in Harry’s arse.

For one thing, he followed Harry everywhere. Whatever hope Harry had of catching Malfoy alone was dashed within the first week, because even when Harry slipped the little twat’s tail and ducked under his Invisibility Cloak, he would appear shortly after Harry took it off, clipboard in hand and quietly taking notes. Harry was beginning to wonder if he had a secret Marauder-like map of the Ministry stashed away in his robes.

“You know I’ve arrested people for stalking me,” Harry told him one day.

“I am merely observing your activities,” Magistrate Pessimal assured him. “Please, go about your duties. You won’t even know I’m here.”

That was bollocks, because Harry’s entire career banked on him being aware of his surroundings. Still, he had to give up on shaking the little bastard, because it took more effort than it was worth, and Harry still had plenty of shit to do without having to worry about his new shadow.

Harry wasn’t the only one the Magistrate was driving mental. Tracey had threatened to hex him at least a dozen different times, and other members of the Auror squad were beginning to discuss a mutiny.

“He sat in on my interrogation!” Greyson snapped at Harry, a week later.

“He follows me into the loo,” Harry told him, without pity.

“He corrected me,” Greyson went on, ignoring Harry. “In front of a suspect! Told the sonofabitch that I was lying to him, and now the pillock wants a solicitor!”

Harry sighed. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. Technically, they weren’t allowed to lie outright, just permitted to omit truths that might otherwise convince a suspect to hold their tongue. “It’s only for a few weeks,” Harry pointed out. “If you end up killing him, please do it off company property.”

Greyson left mumbling to himself, and Harry thunked his head on his desk. Two more days. Well, technically a day and a half. Friday was already just about over, and Saturday would be a blur of hyperactive children, and then Harry could get all the frustration out of his system by fucking Malfoy until he was cross-eyed.

“Head Auror Potter,” a voice said, entering his office without even bothering to knock and interrupting that happy little thought. “Were you aware that your subordinates make a habit of lying to peoples of interest?”

“They lie to us,” Harry pointed out, eyeing the clock on the wall: 6:45. He was pretty sure it was screwing with him, because he’d swear he had read 6:30 over half an hour ago. “Fair’s fair.”

“I think it would be prudent to schedule a departmental meeting first thing Monday morning to address the difference between what’s fair and what is within the law,” the Magistrate continued smoothly.

“You do that,” Harry said, making a mental note to have someone Floo in a fake emergency first thing Monday morning.

“Where are you going?” the Magistrate said, when Harry stood up. “We still haven’t been over the budget reports, and I wanted to discuss the training procedure you’ve laid out for the newest recruits − ”

“I’m going home,” Harry interrupted. “Sorry. Lily’s got a cold.”

“How unfortunate,” Magistrate Pessimal said, without an ounce of emotion. “Would you mind if I went over the reports in your absence? The Office wanted to review them on Monday, so it’s either that or if you could come in Sunday evening − ”

“Knock yourself out,” Harry said, stepping into the Floo before he could start talking again.

*

2017

*

Harry knew it was only a matter of time before they got caught, but that didn’t make him any more prepared for it.

He was lying in bed with Malfoy, watching him sleep, when he felt the wards go off. It was the last weekend they’d have together until September − Malfoy was taking Scorpius to the World Cup before he went off to Hogwarts for the first time, and by the time they returned things would be too hectic with preparing for the school year for them to have a spare Sunday to spend together. Harry was tracing the line of Malfoy’s shoulder with his fingertips when the magic woven into the house shuddered, tickling the back of his neck.

“Bugger,” Harry muttered, and rolled out of bed. Malfoy snored on.

Tracey was halfway up the stairs when Harry stepped out into the hall, having quickly covered himself in a dressing gown. She blinked in surprise when she saw him, and Harry realised too late that even if the scent of sex and the tousled bed-hair weren’t dead giveaways, the love bite on his neck would have been enough.

“You didn’t answer your Floo,” Tracey said, clearly uncomfortable.

“I turned it off,” Harry replied, cursing himself. “What is it?”

“It’s Quirke,” Tracey said, recovering quickly. “Accident. She’s at St Mungo’s; they haven’t stabilised her yet.”

“What happened?”

Before Tracey answered, Malfoy emerged from the room, looking half-asleep and well-shagged. “Potter, what − oh, hi, Davis.”

“Draco,” Tracey said, straight-faced.

When no one said anything for several moments, Malfoy cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “this is awkward.”

“Anyway,” Tracey said, “I’ll just meet you there, yeah?”

“Sure,” Harry said.

When Harry arrived at St Mungo’s ten minutes later, he spent the first half hour alternating between interrogating Zeller and talking with the Healers, who had at least managed to stabilise Quirke and said they’d know more after the diagnostic spells were analysed. Harry retired to the private waiting room, Zeller’s report in his hands and with a massive headache.

Tracey took the seat across from him. “I hear Quirke’s stable.”

“For now,” Harry said. “I have to Floo her family.”

“Already did,” Tracey said and Harry nodded, grateful. He hated Flooing the families − it was the only part of the job he hated more than the paperwork.

They sat in silence for a while, until Harry couldn’t stand the feeling of her eyes on him. “Look,” he said, “about Malfoy − ”

“When I said I wished you two got on better,” Tracey interrupted, “this wasn't exactly what I meant.”

Harry rested his head against his hands, trying to will away the tightness in his throat. “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Oh, so you’re only accidentally having an affair, then?”

Harry lifted up his head to glare at her. “And it’s really none of your business.”

You are my business,” Tracey pointed out.

“Not my sex life.”

“If it interferes with your ability to work, it is!” Harry blinked when she shouted, because Tracey never raised her voice; Harry was always the hot-tempered one. “I’m not judging, Harry, but this − you can’t pretend like this isn’t a big deal.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

Tracey fixed him with a look that made him cringe. “You’re only lying to yourself, you know.”

*

Sending Albus off to Hogwarts had been harder than James, because James was so sure of where he’d end up that the possibility of getting Sorted into any other House than Gryffindor didn’t even occur to him. It hadn’t helped that Scorpius was adamant that he’d be joining him, while both of them assured Albus he was ‘a snake, for sure’.

Harry knew it was inevitable, and wasn’t surprised when Albus sent an Owl home that very evening lamenting that Scorpius had been Sorted into Gryffindor with his brother, and Albus had indeed ended up in Slytherin.

I don’t mind it, being a Slytherin, Albus had assured his father. It’s just, I don’t really know anyone here. He didn’t come right out and say it, but Harry knew his youngest son was mostly worried that, being a Slytherin, James and Scorpius wouldn’t want to be friends with him any more.

The next day, Harry had received an Owl from James expressing the exact same sentiment. Tapping into his own Inner Slytherin, Harry took the Owls and mailed them to their respective subjects.

James never replied. Albus sent another Owl, a week later, with one line: Cute, dad. Real cute.

Lily was intolerable once Albus had left. Having always had her older brothers around to keep her company (in spite of complaining loudly at how annoying they were), she was suddenly left in an empty, quiet house. Her moods became erratic, varying widely between indifference, indignation, and downright neediness. Ginny took a few weeks off, much to her reserve’s joy, to spend some extra time with her because Harry really couldn’t ask Dark wizards to stop being evil while his daughter suffered a pre-teen crisis.

It didn’t become an issue until Harry got home late on the second Sunday in October, and found the house was dark.

“Gin?” He looked up the stairs, but didn’t find her until he tried the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, lit with the glow from a solitary candle. Lily was nowhere to be seen.

“Lil asleep?” he asked through a yawn. God, what time was it? He really needed to get better about getting some proper sleep in before seeing Malfoy. “I was thinking of getting takeaway tonight; too knackered to cook.”

When Ginny didn’t answer, he looked at her properly. It was hard, in the dark, but the tense line of her shoulders made his stomach twist. “Hey,” he said. “You all right?”

Ginny put her hands flat on the table and looked up sharply. “Is it that easy for you?” she said, so quietly that he had to strain to hear her.

Harry frowned. “Is what easy for me?”

“To lie to me,” Ginny snapped, her voice breaking on the word. Harry froze. “Lily took James’s broom out today. Hit a tree. She’s all right,” she went on, as Harry’s heart sped up, “broke her wrist, and has a couple of nasty bruises. But I Floo’d Pucey, because I thought you’d want to meet us at St Mungo’s.”

Harry’s stomach dropped. “Gin, I − ”

“ − only play every other Sunday, apparently,” Ginny went on, staring blankly past his shoulder. “Imagine my surprise, when Adrian said you should be at home.”

Harry looked at the floor. “I was − ”

“Not at the Ministry, either, because naturally that’s the next place I tried,” she continued. “Davis answered your Floo.”

Harry closed his eyes.

“She even tried to cover for you,” Ginny said, sounding darkly amused. “Naturally, I’d suspected you were with her, but obviously that wasn’t the case. So there was really only one other place to look.”

“Gin,” Harry said.

“Don’t,” Ginny bit out. “I saw you, Harry. I saw you both. You really shouldn’t leave that Cloak of yours lying around,” she added, smirking darkly. “Anyone could borrow it.”

Harry wavered a moment, unsure of what to say. He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down. Ginny got up and walked to the other side of the kitchen.

“It isn’t − ”

“If you say ‘it isn’t what you think’, so help me, I will hex you.”

“ − something I can explain,” Harry finished. “It just... sort of happened.”

“Obviously,” Ginny said, voice tight. “So, how long has this been going on?”

Harry winced. “Does it matter?”

Ginny folded her arms and closed her eyes. “I want to know.”

Sighing, Harry looked away. “A while.”

“Harry.”

“It’s complicated.”

“You don’t say.”

“I meant,” Harry said, and stopped. “We − the first time we − it was about a month after I came back from that undercover op with the trafficking case.”

When Harry chanced looking back, Ginny still hadn’t opened her eyes. “That was years ago, Harry.”

It had been. Harry didn’t say anything, because he had no idea what to say.

“So, what,” Ginny said, finally looking at him. Her eyes were red and wet, but she wasn’t crying − he knew she wouldn’t, not until she was alone. “My cunt is out of commission for a couple of weeks, and you go and get your oats from Malfoy?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Then enlighten me, Harry,” she snapped, “what was it like, exactly?”

“It was...” Different, Harry thought. Exciting. Thrilling. Dangerous. “I don’t know, exactly. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Then help me understand,” Ginny said. “Please, make me understand what it was that was more important to you than me. Than our children.”

“This isn’t about the kids.”

“It is now.” Ginny hugged her arms to herself, still standing on the other side of the room. “If you’d just told me − if it had been a one-time thing, then maybe − ”

“You’d be able to forgive me?” Harry knew it wouldn’t have made a difference, whether he’d had a one-night stand or an ongoing affair, least of all with Malfoy.

“I just want to know why,” Ginny said, a little exasperated. “We were happy, weren’t we? You never − I had no idea, Harry, if you’d just said something − ”

“This isn’t your fault.”

“Don’t even give me that ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ crap,” she snapped, a sudden flare of temper surfacing.

Harry clamped his mouth shut, having been about to say those very words.

When Ginny didn’t say anything else, Harry stood up. “Look, I know it won’t fix anything, but for what it’s worth, I really am sorry.”

“I know,” Ginny said. “I just wish it was worth something.”

Harry swallowed. “So,” he said, “now what?”

Ginny shrugged. “I don’t know, Harry.”

“Gin − ”

“If it weren’t for the kids − ” Ginny cut herself short, sniffing. “I guess it’s a stupid question, if you’d even be willing to stop.”

“I’m willing,” Harry said. “I just don’t think it’s realistic.”

“Well, then,” Ginny said, mouth twisting. “I guess it’s easy, then.”

“What’s − ”

“I want a divorce.”

Harry’s mind reeled, even as the rest of his body went numb. “I... guess that’s only fair.”

“Fair is hardly the word for it.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I just... I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”

It was true. It was the first honest thing he’d said to her in years.

Ginny sighed and turned away. “You never do, Harry.”

She left Harry alone in the kitchen; a moment later, he heard the front door open and slam closed, the sound echoing through the empty house.

Harry rested his elbows on the counter and buried his head in his hands.

*

It wasn’t until the next morning that Harry realised the first thing Ginny might have done was Floo Astoria.

“She really doesn’t want to speak with you,” Hermione said through the Floo. “I can’t blame her. I mean, Harry, how could you?”

“I am not having this discussion right now,” Harry said. He felt bad enough, after last night. Hermione could lecture him later. “Is she all right?”

“What do you think?” Hermione said. “And I’d be careful at work, if I were you. Ron’s likely to do something stupid.”

Harry had expected as much, but knew he deserved it. “I just wanted to make sure she lets Malfoy talk to his wife, first.”

“And why would she care?”

“Because this wasn’t his idea,” Harry said, because it was true. “I’m the one who started this.”

Hermione gave him a look that made the knot in Harry’s throat swell up all over again. “I don’t even want to know,” she said.

“Oh, really? That’s a relief.”

Hermione scowled at him. “I don’t want to know now,” she reiterated. “Right now, I need to be her friend, not yours.”

“I know,” Harry said, hating himself for putting every one of his friends into this awkward position.

“But I see your point,” Hermione went on, shockingly reasonable as always despite the circumstances. “I’ll talk to her.”

Harry sighed. “Thank you.”

The next thing Harry did was Apparate to the Ministry with his Invisibility Cloak, just in case Ron was haunting the lifts. Then Harry realised that Ron, lacking Harry as a target, might have gone straight to Malfoy in an effort to have an outlet.

Harry burst through the doors to the morgue, wand already drawn. “Potter,” Malfoy said without looking up, “I know self-control isn’t your strong suit, but we can’t keep doing this at work. It’s − ”

Harry seized him by the collar and kissed him not − to shut him up, but to keep himself from talking. After all, it might be the last chance he got to do it. There was no telling how Malfoy would react to the news.

Malfoy made a small noise into his mouth but didn’t pull away, just let Harry shove him against the desk, scattering potion bottles everywhere, some shattering on the floor. Harry wasn’t in the mood but Malfoy apparently was, already hard when Harry pressed flushed up against him.

“Good morning to you, too,” Malfoy said, breathless, when Harry forced himself to pull away. Then he looked at Harry properly and blinked. “What is it?”

Harry closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Malfoy’s. “Gin knows.”

Malfoy shoved him so hard Harry nearly fell on his arse. “What do you mean, she knows?

“I mean, she knows,” Harry repeated. “About us.”

Malfoy paled. His chest was heaving, and not in a way that was at all enticing. “When?”

“Last night.”

“How did she − ”

“Lily got hurt. She’s all right,” Harry added, when Malfoy looked alarmed. “But when she Floo’d Pucey − ”

Malfoy closed his eyes and held up a hand, and Harry stopped talking. After a moment, Malfoy said, “Has she − ”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so,” Malfoy repeated. “Well, that’s reassuring.”

“Malfoy, I’m − ”

“Don’t,” Malfoy bit out. “Just... I’ve got to go,” he continued, opening his eyes and looking at the floor.

“Malfoy,” Harry said again. “Are you going to − ”

“Are you mental?” Malfoy snapped. “How thick are you? I wasn’t kidding when I told you it’d kill her.”

Harry thought that was just a tiny bit dramatic. “She’s going to find out eventually,” he pointed out. “It’s only a matter of time. I just thought you’d want to − ”

“What I want,” Malfoy interrupted, “is for you to leave.”

Harry’s stomach dropped. “Okay,” he said. “I − I know this isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll get through it. It’s going to suck, but we’ll get through it.”

“‘We’ are not going to do anything,” Malfoy told him. “‘We’ doesn’t even factor into this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She is my wife!” Malfoy snapped, so viciously Harry winced. “There is no we; there never was. It was just an affair. A mistake,” he went on, each word like a punch to Harry’s gut. “We’re done, Potter.”

*

Harry left in a daze, and completely forgot to put his Cloak back on. The moment he opened the door and stepped back into the hall, he regretted it.

“What the hell are you doing?”

The neat little man straightened up quickly, as if he hadn’t been trying to listen in by the keyhole. “Head Auror Potter,” Magistrate Pessimal said. “I thought you were taking a personal day?”

“I am,” Harry told him, glaring when Pessimal followed him back into the lift up to Level Two. “I just had to take care of something.”

“Well, while you’re here, I wonder if we might have a quick word?”

‘Words’ with Pessimal were never quick. Harry sighed. “Now’s not a good time, Magistrate.”

“It’s generally never a good time to discuss the sorts of things I handle,” the Magistrate prattled on. “However − ”

“What part of ‘not a good time’ did you not understand?” Harry snapped, stepping off the lift the moment the doors opened.

“Do you recall an incident that occurred approximately two years ago?” the man went on, nearly jogging to keep up with Harry. “The Pennington Case? Abandoned building, suspect still on the scene when Aurors responded − you and your partner, actually, and our resident M.E.?”

“What about it?” Harry said, not stopping. His office was only a few paces ahead. If he could get to the door, he was pretty sure he could slam it in Pessimal’s face and escape through the Floo before he managed to unlock it.

“I was reviewing the reports you and Davis filed,” Pessimal explained, wheezing. “Oh, no, everything’s in order, I just had some followup questions regarding the circumstances that led to the necessity of using deadly force.”

Harry pulled up short, right outside his door. “He fired a Killing Curse at Malfoy,” Harry said, voice low. “What part of that was unclear?”

“I just found it odd that you, famous for your expertise with the Disarming Charm, would immediately resort to lethal action.”

He tried to kill Malfoy, Harry wanted to shout, but managed to contain it. “If he had blocked my attempt to Disarm him, Malfoy could have been killed.”

“Perhaps Mr Malfoy also could have used the opportunity to have Stunned him.”

“Tell you what,” Harry snapped. “Next time we get jumped by a psychotic Dark wizard in the field, you can stand in the line of fire and take your time deciding what the proper course of action is. And if you’re through wasting my time, I have to − ”

Harry opened the door as he said the words, and never finished. Ron hit him before he’d had a chance to step over the threshold.

“You’re lucky Hermione took my wand,” Ron snarled, standing over him and massaging his fist.

Harry winced, but didn’t bother getting up. He was pretty sure Ron would just hit him again, and Harry would let him. He was deeply thankful to Hermione, though. “I was just about to Floo you.”

“Don’t bother,” Ron said, stepping over his prone form and past the Magistrate, who was staring at him with open-mouthed shock. “Magistrate,” Ron said, nodding at him. He paused to sneer down at Harry. “It’s less than you deserve.”

*

As far as Harry could tell, Ginny didn’t end up telling Astoria. She didn’t tell the press, either, because unlike Harry, she had some sense of shame. Harry really didn’t even consider the possibility that the Prophet would get wind something was amiss until the divorce was finalised, and even then, it had been years since he’d had reporters stalking him. They probably wouldn’t even notice.

When Harry opened the paper on one late December morning and saw the headline, he realised he’d been an idiot.

HARRY POTTER’S SECRET AFFAIR

WITH EX-DEATH EATER CAUSES SCANDAL!

Well, Harry had to hand it to them − they certainly got right to the point.

Malfoy didn’t come into work that day. Harry hadn’t exchanged so much as a casual word with him since that day in the morgue, but that hadn’t stopped Harry from noticing every move he made, what days he was late or not in at all, what days his eyes looked sunken and shadowed, as if he hadn’t slept in days.

It made Harry’s heart ache to see him like that. He sometimes caught Malfoy looking at him, too, but Malfoy always looked away the moment he’d noticed Harry was already looking his way.

Harry didn’t even know if Malfoy had ever told his wife about the affair, but he supposed it really wasn’t his place to know. Malfoy had been pretty clear: whatever it was they had was over, and he had done nothing but stick to it. As much as Harry wanted to confront him, to demand to know how Malfoy could just walk away, every time he worked up the nerve, it fled the moment he saw Malfoy’s face.

He looked so miserable. Harry could hardly handle the fact that the reason he looked that way was because of him; he couldn’t bear to make it worse.

Well, whether or not Malfoy had told her didn’t matter now − she knew, one way or another. So did the rest of the world, and it became apparent within minutes as the first Owls started to arrive.

Harry ignited his Floo and set up a charm to deliver all the Owls directly into the fire. Some of the Howlers got through, but Harry’s aim had done nothing but improve over the years of being an Auror and he didn’t mind the target practice.

Harry only read the article in an effort to figure out where the press had gotten the information, but the Prophet was as helpfully vague as always when it came to naming its sources. The most Harry had been able to decipher was that whoever had given them the scoop worked at the Ministry.

Then Harry sat back and thought of everyone at the Ministry that worked closely enough with him and Malfoy that would have the sheer gall to go to the press, someone who obviously didn’t know Harry well enough to know it would be the last thing they would ever do.

When Pessimal knocked on his door later that morning and Harry ignored him, the idiot didn’t take the hint. Secretly, Harry was viciously pleased when he heard the lock click as the Magistrate disarmed the locking charm, and was on his feet before the smaller man had stepped through the door.

Harry didn’t even wait for him to speak. Harry picked him up by the collar and slammed him into the wall.

“Potter!” Pessimal squawked. “What are you − put me down this instant!”

“It was you,” Harry snarled. “I know it was you. Nobody else would have the − would be stupid enough.”

“What on earth are you − ”

The Magistrate shut up quickly when he felt Harry’s wand at his throat; he seemed to notice for the first time that Harry was holding him up with only one arm. “You see the title on the door, don’t you? Head Auror? Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out?”

“I − ”

“You,” Harry snarled, “are a fucking idiot.”

“Harry,” a deep voice said from beyond the doorway. Harry narrowed his eyes at Pessimal before shifting his gaze, and saw Kingsley standing there, Tracey standing behind his shoulder looking guilty. “Please stop shouting; you’re alarming your employees. And please put Mr Pessimal down.”

Harry glared a moment longer before dropping him; Pessimal crumpled against the wall. “Sir, I − ”

“Should join me in my office,” Kingsley finished for him. “Mr Pessimal, I will request that you wait here for me; I’ll be back to speak with you shortly.”

When Kingsley closed the door to his office, Harry immediately started to speak. “Sir, I − ”

“Did not just assault the Magistrate for the Inspectorate?” Kingsley suggested. “Good to hear. Because there’s only so much your celebrity status can get you out of, and I think we both know that your image isn’t exactly positive at the moment.”

Harry shut his mouth. He’d already lost Ginny and Malfoy; he couldn’t lose this, too.

“Whether or not Mr Pessimal is responsible for this morning’s article, I have to insist that you resist throwing him against any more walls, or I will be forced to do something neither of us will enjoy.”

Harry kept his mouth shut, and nodded.

“Glad we understand one another,” Kingsley said. “That said, I think it might be prudent for you to take some time off until things calm down.”

“But sir, I − ”

“I understand how difficult your situation is, Harry. But you have to consider my own; we really cannot have reporters trying to sneak into Auror Headquarters trying to get a quote or a picture to continue fueling this fiasco. I think in the long run, it would be best for everyone involved.”

Kingsley didn’t mention Malfoy, but he didn’t have to. “I’m sorry,” Harry said. “You’re right. I just... I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“Nobody ever means for these things to happen,” Kingsley told him, and for the first time, Harry realised Kingsley wasn’t actually reprimanding him. “I’m not judging you, Harry. You’re only human, and people make mistakes. People screw up. That doesn’t mean all the good they’ve done should be ignored.”

“Yeah, try telling that to the Prophet,” Harry muttered darkly.

Kingsley smiled a little darkly. “I think a couple of weeks will be enough,” he went on. “In the meantime... I’m not just your boss, Harry. Feel free to Floo, if you need anything.”

“Er. Thanks,” Harry said, even though Flooing the Minister of Magic to complain about his personal life wasn’t something he would ever consider.

Kingsley nodded, and Harry took it as permission to leave. He stopped at the door, though, and said: “You might want to make sure Pessimal sees a Healer. I think I broke something.”

“Duly noted,” Kingsley said, with some amusement. “Take it easy, Harry.”

*

When Harry finally escaped Kingsley, he went back to Grimmauld Place and immediately Floo’d Ginny.

“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Ron said, his voice flat. “Can’t really blame her.”

Harry was getting tired of it. “I know she’s your little sister, but she’s also my wife.”

“Ex-wife,” Ron corrected instantly. Harry winced; the divorce had officially gone through a couple of weeks ago, and he still wasn’t used to it. “What do you want?”

“Five minutes.”

“Fuck off.”

“Ron, it’s okay.”

Harry could have choked on his relief to hear Ginny’s voice in the background. Ron scowled at Harry one last time before moving aside, and was replaced with his sister. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Ginny said. “Five minutes.”

Harry sighed. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“You mean now that the entire world knows you were sleeping around behind my back?” Harry winced. “As well as can be expected. I’ve had to withdraw for the season, and Lily’s really upset. She has no idea why you’re not here.”

Harry closed his eyes. “If you want me to tell her − ”

“She’s nine, Harry,” Ginny interrupted. “Three minutes.”

“If there’s anything I can do,” Harry said, desperate.

Ginny sighed, brushing her hair out of her face. “You can stop Flooing me every time this comes back to bite you in the arse, for a start.”

When Harry didn’t answer, Ginny seemed to take some pity on him. “Look, Harry, I don’t hate you. I wish I could, but I can’t. I wish I could blame you for all of this, but I’m not an idiot. When something like this happens, generally both people have a hand in it. But,” she continued, when Harry opened his mouth, “you are the one who put us in this position, and now we’re all paying the consequences.”

“I’m sorry.” What else could he say?

“You should be,” Ginny said, the pity vanishing in an instant. “Which reminds me, you need to stop by Hogwarts. James and Scorpius are both serving a three-week detention for getting into a duel, and Albus hasn’t turned in his homework for over a week and flunked his last Charms quiz.”

Harry’s stomach twisted. “All right,” he said. “I’ll go tomorow.”

“Thank you.” Ginny sniffed wetly, and sat up. “You’ve had your five minutes.” The look that crossed his face must have reminded her of something she still had a fondness for, and she continued: “I just need some time, Harry.”

“All right,” Harry said again. “Fair enough.”

She didn’t even bother saying goodnight. Harry stared at the fireplace as it went dark, and wondered what he’d been thinking that first time he’d cornered Malfoy right there in the drawing room.

The trouble was that he hadn’t been thinking, and because of that Harry had lost almost everything in his life that he’d ever cared about.

*

Returning to work helped. It gave Harry something to do, other than try to explain to his sons the reason why he was no longer married to their mother was because he had been sleeping with their best mates’ father. James kept insisting it had to be some sort of mistake, and Albus hadn’t spoken to him in weeks.

It should have meant he got to see Malfoy more, but when Harry returned to his office it was to learn by way of Tracey that Malfoy had taken some extended personal leave due to the fallout of the article, and hadn’t answered any of her Owls.

Harry told himself he had no right to Floo Malfoy to see how he was doing. After all, if it hadn’t been for Harry acting before thinking, neither of them would be in this situation.

The Floo came in two days before Christmas, while Harry had been having breakfast in the office and sorting through his inbox.

Most magical homes were equipped with wards that would activate if Unforgivables were cast on the premises these days, and while it wasn’t required, most people were more than willing to have Magical Law Enforcement contacted if foul play occurred inside their homes. Granted, more often than not, it was a family member that set them off, but seven out of ten cases of domestic homicide were unplanned crimes of passion, and it made the Aurors’ jobs that much easier.

Harry ignored the bing in his office Floo, because he had two dozen teams of people on staff and at least half of them were on the clock because Christmas was around the corner and domestic cases were putting them all into overtime. That, and he really just wasn’t in the mood. After all, reporting to the scene would likely mean seeing Malfoy, and he’d made it pretty clear that he wanted some space. Besides, they didn’t want to give the Prophet reporters camped outside the Ministry any more opportunities for an exclusive.

When Tracey flung open the door to his office open, Harry had just been debating whether or not to spend the morning field-training the most promising pair of recruits they had. And by field-training, he meant taking them down to the sparring room and showing them what-for to blow off some steam.

“Hey,” he said, not looking up, “fancy scaring the crap out of Zeller and Quirke this morning?”

Harry glanced at the door when Tracey didn’t respond, and immediately sobered up. Her face was white. “It’s Malfoy,” Tracey said.

Harry was on his feet before he realised he’d moved. “Who responded?”

“Edwards and Li.”

Harry nodded, and grabbed his cloak on the way to his Floo. “Tell them we’re taking it.”

“Already did,” Tracey said.

Harry paused at the fireplace, looking back. “Are you coming?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve just got to − I’ll be there in a minute.”

Harry didn’t know what could possibly be more important, but was too on edge to question her. He just nodded again, and stepped into the Floo.

He technically didn’t know Malfoy’s address, but it didn’t matter. The emergency Floo set up an immediate hotline between his office and the scene of the crime, so Harry found himself whooshing through a green spiral of unfamiliar hearths until he was spit out onto a dark hardwood floor, and stood up to find himself inside Malfoy’s living room.

The wards must have alerted St Mungo’s, too, because a team of their emergency mediwizards was already on the scene. They were talking in low voices at the bottom of a wide staircase, and looked up and nodded at Harry as he went past.

It wasn’t a good sign; whoever they had Floo’d in to save was beyond help.

When he got to the top of the stairs, his destination was obvious. The hall was dim save for one open door, through which he could see the bright sunlight.

Edwards and Li were just inside, waiting for him. Li looked upset and Edwards seemed uncharacteristically solemn, intercepting Harry on his way to the body they’d covered with a cloak on the floor.

Harry couldn’t take his eyes off it. “What happened?”

Edwards opened her mouth, but it was Li who answered. “Suicide, I think.”

Harry’s mouth went dry. “Suicide?”

“Seems that way,” Edwards said, looking queasy. “No evidence of foul play, and the curse was definitely cast with that wand.”

Harry followed her eyes to the discarded wand, lying a few feet away from the body. It was a pointy, twisted little thing, made of bright red cherry wood.

“That isn’t Malfoy’s wand,” Harry said.

Li squinted at him, but before he could say anything, Tracey appeared at Harry’s side. “No,” she said, apparently having overheard. “It’s Astoria’s.”

Oh.

Harry was overcome with the need to sit down, or lie down, or at least find something to lean against. As if reading his mind, Tracey pressed her shoulder to his, and Harry leaned into her gratefully.

Astoria’s wand. Which meant the body under the cloak was Astoria’s, not Malfoy’s, and that was − well, that wasn’t good, but it was a relief.

“Harry,” Edwards said, “did you want to − ”

“No,” Harry said quickly. “I’m sorry, I can’t − you can handle this.”

Edwards and her partner exchanged glances, but she nodded and turned back to the body. The reason for Tracey’s absence suddenly became clear; Montgomery had come with her, and was peeking beneath the cloak while a Quick-Quotes Quill hovered at the ready for any details he noticed.

Harry turned to Li before Montgomery exposed the body. “Where’s Malfoy?”

Tracey slid a hand around his arm. “Harry, I don’t think − ”

“Where?” Harry said over her, in a tone that reminded Li who signed his paycheques.

“Downstairs, in the parlour,” Li said. “But we already interviewed − ”

Harry didn’t wait for him to finish, just turned on his heel and headed back into the hall. Tracey had the good sense not to follow him.

Finding the parlour wasn’t easy, because despite how modest Malfoy had been about his ‘little place in Cricklade’, the house was massive. It practically was a mansion in itself, though it lacked the centuries-old decor that had adorned Malfoy Manor.

When Harry eventually pushed open the right door, he found Malfoy curled up on the sofa within with a half-empty bottle of whiskey in his lap.

Malfoy didn’t look up when Harry closed the door, or when Harry made himself cross the dozen paces between them. He was staring out the window, which looked out on a small field surrounded by willow trees.

“Malfoy,” Harry said. “I’m sorry.”

Malfoy didn’t answer, just lifted the bottle to his lips and Harry watched the amber liquid spiral down the bottleneck into his mouth. His hands were steady, but locked so tightly around the neck of the bottle that his knuckles were white. Harry couldn’t see his face from this angle, but was glad for it; he wasn’t sure if he could handle looking Malfoy in the eye right then.

When Malfoy finally swallowed, all he said was, “Scor found her.”

Harry closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“So you’ve said,” Malfoy replied, his tone flat. “What are you doing here, Potter?”

Harry didn’t answer; any one of the million reasons that spun through his mind felt like the wrong thing to say, considering the circumstances. “I wanted to see you,” he settled on. “I wanted to − ”

“See if I was all right?” Malfoy supplied, with a cut-off laugh. It sounded bitter. “Well, here I am: what do you think? Do I look all right, to you?”

Malfoy looked anything but all right. He looked like he’d been the one that died, his profile drawn taut and ashen in the pale morning light. When Harry didn’t answer, Malfoy sniffed wetly and took another swig from his bottle. “You’re not working this case, Potter.”

“I know,” Harry said.

“Then why are you here?”

“I just,” Harry said, feeling more helpless than he had that year in the woods, looking for pieces of Voldemort’s broken soul. “I thought − I just want to help.”

“Help,” Malfoy repeated, with that bitter laugh again. “You really want to help me, Potter?”

“Anything,” Harry said, without hesitation.

“Then go home,” Malfoy said, still not looking at him, “and leave me the hell alone.”

*

Harry hated every minute of it, but he left Malfoy alone.

It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t easy to think what Malfoy would do if Harry so much as spoke to him over the following few months. Malfoy had taken Scorpius out of school, requested some personal leave, and not said a word to anyone (as far as Tracey knew, anyway) about where he was going or for how long. Harry spend the entire first month wondering if he'd ever see him again.

When Malfoy quietly returned to work, Harry wouldn’t have even known abut it had Tracey not let it slip, because Malfoy did not return to field work. At least, he never responded to cases in which Harry had any connection to whatsoever. He stayed in his lab and sent his stupid interns, and Harry, for once, didn't complain about it.

It hurt, but Harry couldn’t blame the kids. He tried his best to hide it, and reminded himself every time that it wasn’t Montgomery’s fault that Malfoy wasn’t there and he had no reason to take it out on him.

Though, if Harry hexed him, that might force Malfoy to show up.

What made it harder was that with him living at Grimmauld Place, Harry was totally and utterly on his own. Harry hadn’t been so alone since he’d found out he was a wizard and gone to Hogwarts all those years ago, back when he lived with the Dursleys and his only friends had been Mrs Figg and the spiders that lived in the cupboard under the stairs with him. Despite the affair, Harry still considered Ginny one of his best friends, and not seeing her on a regular basis was strange and more unpleasant than he’d ever imagined it could be.

He supposed the fact that he’d even imagined it should have been a clue where all of it had been heading, but it was a little late to dwell on what-ifs. The damage was already done.

The worst part was easily the kids. James and Albus were at school when the affair had gone public, and Harry could only imagine the fuss they’d cause when Ginny turned up to pick them up from the train station without him. It wasn’t that they didn’t understand what was going on, per se, but couldn’t seem to grasp why. They were going to have Christmas with Ron and Hermione, Harry knew, and even though Hermione had assured Harry that he was invited and that Ron promised not to hex him for the duration of Christmas Day, Harry had arranged to spend the last two days of the holiday with the kids instead and had already Owled off their gifts.

Lily was still too young to understand what exactly was happening, and it had broken his heart when she had Floo’d him a few weeks ago asking him if she had done something to make him leave.

Most of all, Harry missed Malfoy. He had been such a constant presence over the past decade that Harry didn’t know what to do with his free time any more. So mostly Harry worked, and spent time with Tracey whenever Kingsley kicked him out of the office for the weekend. Harry considered asking Pucey if Malfoy was still playing Quidditch, because if he wasn’t then Harry could really use the exercise to blow off some steam. But Pucey was Malfoy’s friend, not Harry’s. So was half the team, and Flint was a professional at wielding a large bat.

So Harry was genuinely surprised when Viktor Krum Floo’d him early on New Year’s Eve.

“Dimitri is hosting a small party for the celebrations,” he explained, when Harry asked what the occasion was. “For the New Year? I thought you vould like some company.”

Harry definitely could use some company. He didn’t think he deserved it, but then Krum had mentioned a cask of single-malt that was older than Harry, and Harry had decided a night out might do him some good.

Harry was thoroughly sloshed by the time midnight rolled around, or at least was drunk enough to laugh when two random, beautiful women got into a tiff over who got to snog Viktor as the clock struck twelve. Viktor just looked alarmed, and used the crowd of his teammates (watching in amusement, some jeering) to escape before a victor could be decided.

“Why not just have them both?” Harry suggested, when he’d managed to stop giggling.

“It vas more fun when I vas young,” Viktor admitted. “These days, though, I find I cannot stand most of the vomen. They are only interested in my fame or my fortune, and vhile it remains amusing, trust me vhen I say it gets old very fast.”

Harry nodded, sobering a little. “I guess,” he said. “But I can’t imagine getting laid every night gets old.”

“You vould be surprised,” Viktor said, and Harry was surprised. Then again, he’d never had the opportunity to explore that bonus of his fame, and it was too late, now. “Anyvay, I am seeing someone.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” Viktor admitted, smiling a little sheepishly. “She is very shy, this girl, so ve have not told many people yet. She is a bit intimidated by all the attention.”

Harry could empathise. “How long have you been dating?”

“Two years, come March.”

“Wow,” Harry said. “Is it serious?”

Viktor smiled again. “I am hoping so. I vill find out in March, for sure.”

Harry thought back to when he’d asked Ginny to marry him. It seemed like it had happened in another lifetime, another reality entirely.

Viktor seemed to read his expression, and frowned. “Oh, I am sorry, Harry, I did not mean to − ”

“It’s okay,” Harry said, because he was happy for him. “You love her, then?”

“I don't know if it is what you vould call love, per se. You see, in my country, vizards and vitches do not equate love with zese silly romantic things you English do,” Viktor explained, explaining nothing. Maybe Harry really was too drunk to be having this conversation. “My mama and papa, you vould think they despise one another − but love is not about finding someone that makes you happy, my papa alvays says. It is about finding a person that makes you less unhappy vith everything else.”

Harry thought about that, and lifted his glass. “Your father’s a smart man.”

“He vill be flattered to hear you think so,” Viktor said, filling their empty glasses. “How are you doing, anyvay?”

Harry stared at the scotch. “I dunno yet,” he admitted. “I mean, I’m managing. Thank Dimitrov for the invitation, by the way.”

“Dimitri,” Viktor corrected. “I vill tell you one thing I know for sure: you are tougher than you look. You vill pull through this. It vill just take some patience, but in the meantime, you are alvays velcome here.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, and meant it. “I just wish there was some way to make it suck less.”

“I am not a religious man, but I do believe all things happen for a reason. It is just not alvays clear what the reason is, but in the end I hope it vill bring you peace.”

Harry raised his glass. “I’ll drink to that.”

*

2018

*

Harry started spending every Sunday night with Viktor and his friends, and things got better for a little while. Malfoy had returned to work by mid-February, but he didn’t so much as spare a glance in Harry’s direction. Not that he was often in the same room as Harry − he always sent interns into the field now, even when Harry wasn’t the lead on a case, and even made Montgomery go to the staff meetings in his place.

It wasn’t helping Harry’s state of mind, but Harry could hardly complain. Tracey looked a little concerned at Harry’s lack of interest, but had better taste than to bring it up. There wasn’t anything anyone could say − Harry knew it all came back to him, that he was singularly at fault for every single horrible thing that had happened, and wouldn’t know what to say to Malfoy even if he’d bothered to make eye contact.

A month after Malfoy returned to work, the day after Viktor’s engagement party, Ginny surprised Harry by stopping by Grimmauld Place.

“I tried to Floo, but you weren’t answering,” she explained, when he opened the door and stared at her. He hadn’t had a private, in-person conversation with her since the divorce. Ron or Hermione or the kids had always been present, and even then Ginny didn’t spend a lot of time speaking with him. “Can I come in?”

Harry let her in, and followed her into the living room. “What’s wrong?”

“The kids are fine,” Ginny said, taking a seat on the couch. “They miss you, and we really need to talk about reshuffling our days with the pre-season coming up.”

“Anything you want,” Harry said at once. “I’ll make it work.”

Ginny nodded. “Thank you.”

Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. “So,” he said. “I know you didn’t come over here just to ask about custody dates.”

“No,” she admitted. “I wanted to check on you.”

Harry just stared at her, and Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’m still angry with you,” she told him. “But I miss you, and I still care about you.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. “Er,” he attempted.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Stop trying to be charming. It won’t work. We’re not having post-breakup sex.”

“Um,” said Harry, who hadn’t been thinking about sex until she mentioned it. Come to think about it, when was the last time he’d − Harry shook his head. “I wasn’t − ”

“And still so gullible,” she said, smiling at him for the first time in months. “But seriously: how are you doing?”

Harry wished people would stop asking him that. “I’m fine.”

“Liar,” Ginny said at once. “I know you, and I know what you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“You think everything that happened is all your fault.”

Because it was my fault, Harry thought, but didn’t answer.

Ginny levelled a look at him. “See? You’re doing it again.”

“It’s not like I’m innocent, here.”

“Astoria’s death wasn’t just on you, though.”

“What?”

Ginny sighed. “You really didn’t know her at all, did you?”

“No,” Harry admitted. “I didn’t.”

“Well,” Ginny said, suddenly standing. “I would tell you to stop blaming yourself, but you won’t.” She approached him slowly and Harry would have backed up, if he wasn’t already against the wall. “Just promise you’ll Floo me before you do anything stupid, will you?”

And then Harry got it: despite everything he’d done, in spite of everything that had happened, Ginny still cared about him. It made him feel a little better, until he realised he didn’t deserve it and suddenly felt worse.

“Okay,” he lied. “I will.”

*

What Ginny had said didn’t make sense until a month after Harry turned thirty-seven, when Malfoy walked into his office for the first time in almost a year.

“Shut up,” Malfoy said instantly, before Harry had even said anything. “I have something to say.”

Harry clamped his mouth shut, and waited while Malfoy paced the space in front of his desk. He looked thinner and paler than he had in years, more like his sixteen-year-old self than a grown man on his way to forty. Harry noticed his hair was starting to thin, too, and wondered how long that had been happening, and why he never noticed it before.

Harry also realised in that moment that he didn’t care; he wanted to run his hands through it, anyway.

“Er,” Harry said, after a few minutes of silent pacing.

“Quiet,” Malfoy snapped, so Harry shut up and waited again. He didn’t have to wait long. “This sucks,” he began. “This really sucks, and it’s mostly your fault.”

Harry took a slow breath. “With you so far.”

Malfoy stopped pacing for a heartbeat to glare at him. “You’re also an idiot.”

Harry couldn’t argue that, either, so he just nodded.

“I don’t know what the hell you were thinking,” Malfoy went on, and Harry knew the tone − Malfoy was on a tirade, and there was no point in stopping him to ask for clarification until he’d finished, because when he got in a stitch he had a one-track mind. “Hell, I don’t know what either of us were thinking.”

“We weren’t thinking,” Harry pointed out. “Not with any part that spoke sense, anyway.”

“Stop trying to be funny, you’re terrible at it,” Malfoy snapped. “My point is, I can’t − I want to blame you. I want to hate you for it, I want to throw it all on you and-- and for a while, I did, but I was upset and considering the circumstances, I think that I was justified in being a little biased.”

“You were right.”

“I’m pretty sure I told you to shut up,” Malfoy reminded him. “My point is, I wasn’t right. I was upset and that’s understandable and fine and I’m not apologising for that, but I was also kind of a prick.”

“You were always kind of a prick,” Harry pointed out.

“Thanks, Potter.”

“I didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it.”

The edge of Malfoy’s mouth twitched, and Harry closed his eyes, unable to do this without thinking back to how it had been before the press and Astoria’s death, when it had been too complicated to handle but wonderful anyway.

“Anyway,” Malfoy said, recovering. “I just − I know you, and I know how you think, and I − I know how it must have seemed, especially considering how thick you tend to be, but Astoria and I weren’t − ” Malfoy paused to take a deep breath, looking away. It only took a moment before he turned back to Harry, composed. “It was never perfect. Hell, even when I married her, I knew it was only a matter of time.”

“A matter of time until...”

“Yes,” Malfoy said, looking away.

“But,” Harry tried, then stopped.

“She was a good actor,” Malfoy supplied. “And it’s none of your business why, and anyway I won’t speak ill of her, because despite everything, I did care for her. I still do.”

“I know,” Harry said. “I care about Ginny, too.”

Malfoy squinted at him. “Do you still love her?”

“Yes,” Harry said, without hesitation. “I just don’t think I’m in love with her.”

Malfoy seemed to think about that for a while, mulling over the words. Harry let him, and just waited. “Were you ever?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said, honestly. “We were pretty young. I know I thought I was.”

Both of them froze when someone knocked on the door, but relaxed when only Tracey poked her head through. “Oh,” she said, looking as shocked as Harry felt. “Sorry, I − ”

“It’s fine,” Malfoy said quickly, “I was just − ”

“Leaving?” Tracey interrupted. “The hell you were. I can wait."

Malfoy blinked when she slammed the door closed.

“Apparently I’ve been in a permanent sulk,” Harry explained.

Malfoy’s head snapped around. “You’re always in a sulk about something or other.”

“Yeah, well, it’s been a rather trying year.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“Dunno, but someone told me not five minutes ago it wasn’t mine.”

“Obviously, that someone is a twit.”

“Obviously.”

“And clearly misinformed.”

“And clearly deranged.”

Malfoy’s mouth twitched again. “I miss you.”

The creature inside Harry’s chest that had been dormant for a year stirred, ears perking. “I miss you, too.”

Malfoy just nodded, as if that much were obvious, because how could anyone not possibly miss him? “But I can’t,” Malfoy began, and the beast braced itself for his next words, “I just can’t − I don’t know how to do this, without fucking it up again.”

“We could start with dinner,” Harry suggested.

Malfoy hesitated, and Harry tensed. “Dinner,” he repeated, eyes shifting to the wall while he thought it over. “Just dinner?”

“Whatever you want.”

Malfoy nodded. “I think I could manage having dinner.”

“Okay,” Harry said, unable to react properly because he was still in shock, and he was worried if he did something rash like leap over the desk and snog Malfoy, Malfoy would vanish into thin air. Any moment, he was waiting to wake up and realise it had all been a sick, twisted daydream. “How’s seven o’clock?”

“Make it six,” Malfoy said. “Scor gets back from practice at eight.”

Harry nodded; the sooner the better. “How’s he doing, by the way?”

“Better,” Malfoy admitted, looking pleased. “He missed seeing your midgets all summer, though.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I’ve been meaning to talk to Gin about that. She just needed some time.”

“Fair enough,” Malfoy said. “So, I’ll see you in a few?”

Before the word ‘Yeah’ was out of Harry’s mouth, Tracey burst back into the room. “This is really sweet and I hate to interrupt, but there’s been a double homicide down in Knockturn and Greyson’s in overtime again.”

“You up for some field time?” Harry asked, turning back to Malfoy.

Malfoy sighed. “Murderers,” he drawled. “They’re so terribly inconsiderate.”

“There’s always takeaways,” Harry suggested, when Tracey left to fetch her cloak.

“Dinner at a murder scene? Very romantic.”

“Says the git who eats his lunch in the morgue.”

“I’ll have you know that it’s very clean down there.”

“Yeah, aside from all the corpses.”

Malfoy stopped Harry with a hand on his arm before he could open the door. Harry barely turned around before Malfoy shoved him against the door, leaned in and kissed him.

“Or we could just skip dinner and have sex,” Harry said, after Malfoy pulled away. “I’m not picky.”

“Murder calls, Potter. How can you possibly think about sex at a time like this?”

“Asks the bloke who just snogged me up against a wall.”

“Temporary insanity,” Malfoy insisted. “I don’t know what came over me, some sort of evil spirit possessed my body, a poltergeist, perhaps − I wasn’t in control of myself, and can’t be held accountable for my actions.”

Harry missed him so much in that moment that it physically hurt to make himself not touch Malfoy, kiss him everywhere and demand that he promise to never leave him alone again.

“And just so we’re clear,” Malfoy went on, following him out of the office. Harry slanted a glance at him, and saw that Malfoy was blushing. “I’m not in love with you, or anything.”

Harry grinned. “Liar,” he said.


* fin *

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