The Ties that Bind

Chapter One: Past Mistakes

Hell on Earth, Harry had determined, was being given everything you ever wanted with one fatal flaw.

"No, Potter, Theodore will not be looked after by a Weasley."

How did my life come to this?

Harry narrowly managed not to be distracted by the fact that Malfoy still insisted on the name Theodore. It was an important argument, but it was not what Harry was trying to discuss at the moment.

"Someone needs to look after him, and you're still in training, Malfoy."

"Unlike some, I don't have the Potter name to trade in on."

Harry stiffened but tried not to react to the jibe. "I didn't—I only meant that you can't call your time your own. There's no way that we can take care of Teddy on our own. We need to come up with a plan in order to care for Teddy while we're both at work."

"And your proposition is that Weasleys mind him."

In that moment, Malfoy reminded Harry of nothing so much as Professor Snape at his most vicious, about to eviscerate you because you'd forgotten what a boil-curing potion did.

Harry had made it through six years at Hogwarts mostly biting his tongue, and he'd finally learnt to look past the tone and deal with the word themselves. (Well, he managed it sometimes, anyway.)

"I don't think that it's a very strange suggestion, actually. Mrs Weasley would be happy to do it and has lots of experience with kids."

"She's a Weasley."

It was said as though that explained everything.

"Not a fact that had escaped my notice," Harry responded dryly, knowing full well that a whole chunk of the Weasleys would have said exactly the same thing in reverse. "Not really the point, though. I'm certainly not suggesting leaving him with Ron."

Malfoy made a face, but Harry just grinned. He loved Ron, but child management wasn't a strong suit—never mind the fact that Ron worked, like Harry, in the Auror department, meaning that they'd solve nothing.

Not even the mention of Malfoy's least favourite Weasley seemed to warm him up to Molly.

Harry tried again.

"Who do you suggest, then?"

"My mother."

Harry narrowly managed to keep from gaping.

"Your mother?" he repeated blankly. "Does she even like children?"

Malfoy stiffened. "What is that supposed to mean, Potter?"

Internally, Harry winced. He seemed to be incapable of not putting his foot in his mouth when it came to Malfoy. He really was trying to get it right, though he wasn't sure that anyone who was witnessing this farce would believe him.

Who would ever have believed that Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter would be living together and trying to raise a small child?

Harry sighed. He felt like all he'd been doing the last two weeks was explaining himself badly and arguing with the other man—while trying to take care of a little boy who'd just lost his guardian.

"I know Mrs Weasley enjoys taking care of kids and misses it now that hers are all grown. I wasn't sure about your mum."

"Because she obviously didn't enjoy taking care of me."

Oh, for fuck's sake…!

"She cared enough to send you care packages when you were in school, and she's the one who wanted you to be nearby at Hogwarts instead of at Durmstrang, isn't she?"

Malfoy was now looking at him as though he'd sprouted one of Fluffy's heads. Harry cleared his throat and hurried on.

"If she'd like to take care of him, too, then couldn't we split the duties? It would probably make it easier on everyone."

"My mother is a Black," Malfoy said haughtily. "She is a relative."

"True," Harry conceded reluctantly.

There was no way to refute this claim. Pointing out that kinship in no way made someone automatically fit to rear children, while true, would likely only make Malfoy think that Harry was insulting his mother again.

"I'm sure you don't want to deny Theodore his heritage," Malfoy pointed out with a hint of smugness.

"Certainly not," Harry agreed, if a bit unenthusiastically.

Remus, Tonks, Sirius, and now Andromeda were dead. It might be insane, but he and Malfoy were in charge of raising Teddy, and they needed to do it right.

This didn't mean, though, that Harry was willing to let Malfoy get his way all the time just because he was stubborn and it was genetically inbred for Malfoys to be arses about Weasleys.

Logical arguments seemed to be his best bet, though, because emotional appeals just made Malfoy look at him like he had dribbled down his shirt.

Harry might have what he felt were very valid arguments about Lucius Malfoy, but Malfoy had been smart enough not to bring up his father. If Harry insulted Malfoy's mother again, they'd be lucky to come to a resolution before they both needed to go back to work on Monday.

The annoying thing was that Harry really had no way of saying what sort of a child minder Narcissa would be. He couldn't deny that she cared more for her son than just about anything, but he still had major reservations about her life values.

If he opened that can of worms, however, he was sure that he'd hear all about what Malfoy thought of the Weasleys’ beliefs and prejudices, and they'd be lucky to make it back to work at all.

"So it's settled, then. My mother will mind Theodore."

Harry's mind whirred. The wizarding world was so damn old-fashioned sometimes. It put so much emphasis on family lines. It was how Harry had wound up stuck at the Dursleys with no serious argument from anyone, was likely why Andromeda had named her nephew guardian of Teddy along with Harry.

It meant that Harry wasn't going to win this argument because it might be imminently logical, but it didn't involve blood. It—

"Hey!" Harry yelped. "Mrs Weasley is related to Teddy. She's a cousin."

"By marriage," Malfoy pointed out with a grimace.

Harry wondered if Malfoy tried to forget the connection as often as possible or if he had just been hoping that Harry, ignorant in so much about the wizarding world, wouldn't know this fact.

Harry decided it was probably all to the best that he didn't understand the family tree well enough to work out how that meant that Molly—and by extension, Ron—were related to Malfoy.

"Still family," Harry pointed out doggedly and pushed for the best concession that he thought he was going to get under the circumstances. "They share the babysitting duties while we're at work."

He thought about saying something about the fact that Teddy would probably have the best chance of turning out halfway normal that way, but he decided it simply insulted everyone, and it was better not to even go there.

Malfoy assessed him with narrowed eyes for a long moment before he finally conceded, "Very well."

Harry tried to suppress a sigh of relief, feeling as though he'd just won a major concession with the Minister for Magic rather than simply arranging one albeit important detail about his personal life.

"It might be easiest for your mum and Mrs Weasley to arrange a schedule that works best for them."

Because Harry could only imagine what would happen if he and Malfoy sat down and tried to come up with one.

"I seriously doubt that would be wise."

Harry suppressed a sigh with an effort. There wasn't a bloody thing that he'd suggested so far that Malfoy thought was a good idea.

"Why not?"

Malfoy was looking at him like he was a moron again.

Seriously. Snape had died at the point that he and Harry might actually have been able to resolve their differences, and Malfoy had stepped into his place with aplomb.

"She killed my mother's sister."

Harry had been expecting Malfoy to bring up the source of the grievance between the Weasley and Malfoy lines, so this response threw him so completely that he simply gaped at the other man.

He swallowed heavily. "Don't you dare go there, Malfoy."

"Don't like to be reminded of the people your side killed?"

"I think the official Malfoy party line is that it's 'our side'," Harry pointed out snidely, infuriated, "and Bellatrix was insane and deserved everything she got."

"She—"

"—killed Teddy's mother," Harry ground out, enunciating each word carefully and keeping a lid on his temper with a monumental effort. "Don't. Go. There. Malfoy."

Malfoy looked as though he wanted to argue but finally seemed to think better of it, and Harry was relieved; he could only imagine what they would think at the Ministry on Monday if the two of them showed up looking as though they'd kicked the crap out of one another.

"I will contact my mother, and you, Mrs Weasley. If available, they shall meet with Teddy tomorrow and make arrangements. Should they be unable to care for him at the requisite times, we will have to look to alternate care-givers."

Harry was willing to bribe Molly with anything to get this settled, and he could only assume that Malfoy would be exercising similar effort over his mother; there was no way that he'd leave Teddy just to a Weasley now.

"My mother will have to be given permission to come here," Malfoy added sharply.

"Of course," Harry agreed quickly, not wanting to get into another argument immediately following the resolution of the last one.

He knew that it grated on Malfoy's sensibilities that Harry was the secret keeper for Grimmauld Place.

Harry was willing to accept pretty much any permutation of babysitting locations just to know that Teddy was going to be safe and well cared for while he was at work.

"When will you find time out of the busy Potter schedule to allow her entrance into the house?"

Ah. Apparently Harry had missed yet another social cue. There probably was something to be said for having Narcissa and Molly spend time with Teddy. Harry wanted the little boy to be happy, but it would be awesome if he rarely felt as out of his depth as Harry so often did.

"If they're both available for ten o'clock tomorrow morning, I could meet your mother at Malfoy Manor."

Harry hoped that that was the socially acceptable way to do it; surely that was more polite than telling her to show up in the street and wait for Harry to go out and get her?

Malfoy was looking at Harry with yet one more look that Harry couldn't decipher.

"I could meet her at the gates," Harry hurried on. "Whatever's most convenient for your mother."

There was still that strange look on Malfoy's face, but then the man inclined his head.

"Potter."

And off he went. Harry scrubbed his hand through his hair and sank down into a chair at the kitchen table.

Idly, he wondered why it was that they always had their arguments on their feet. Were they truly both worried that they were going to need to go for their wands?

Even Harry found this embarrassing. He'd been an Auror for almost a year now. He was twenty-one years old. Surely he could act like an adult.

He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Neither of them had asked for this. Neither of them had expected this. It wasn't easy for either of them, but it was true that they were staying at Grimmauld Place, and that meant that Malfoy was already at a disadvantage.

Harry needed to work on being the better man here.

He needed to talk to Hermione.

"Here is tea for Master Harry."

Harry lifted his head and summoned a wan smile for the house-elf.

"Thanks, Kreacher. I could definitely use it."

If Harry wanted proof that it was possible for people to change, he need look no further. He doubted that the elf would ever be exactly fond of Harry, certainly not the way that Dobby had been, but his civility and willingness to serve had increased so markedly over the last four years that he truly was almost unrecognizable from the elf that Harry had met when Sirius had first volunteered Grimmauld Place for the Order. Even if the elf was still thinking half his old thoughts, the fact that he did it silently rather than audibly was stupendous.

Malfoy living here had only increased the elf's goodwill, and Harry would take every small mercy that he could scrabble together. Kreacher spent a lot of time at Hogwarts now, as Harry preferred that he have the company of other elves than continue to rattle around here mostly alone. He'd been checking in on Harry more frequently for the last three weeks.

Three weeks ago, his life had been normal. Hell, the fact that he could consider any aspect of his life normal by contrast to what was going on now told him just how fucked up the current situation was.

"Is Master Harry needing anything else?"

"No, I'm good. You'll make sure Malfoy has everything he needs?"

"Of course, Master Harry."

Kreacher looked a little affronted that Harry would suggest that he wouldn't take care of the Malfoy scion. Harry kept his mouth shut.

This whole thing was exhausting; he was looking forward to going back to work only in the hope that he'd get back into a routine that didn't leave him dead on his feet by eight o'clock in the evening.

And when you could say that about your job as an Auror compared to your personal life, you were in deep trouble.

Harry took a fortifying gulp of tea and then dragged himself to his feet. He'd better talk to Molly right away. He couldn't imagine her saying no, but if there was one thing he'd learnt recently it was that life could surprise the hell out of you.

~*~

Tea at Malfoy Manor was yet one more experience that Harry had never expected to have. Well, having a cup of tea, as Narcissa had explained, because it was far too early and not elaborate enough to be Tea.

Harry had heard the capital. Or he may have been distracting himself with adding capitals to words that might not need them because he was Having Tea At Malfoy Manor.

Narcissa—as she had insisted Harry call her—had thought that it would get them off to a good start, and Harry hadn't had the heart to refuse. He could only imagine what Malfoy would have had to say, and how did you explain to someone that a cup of tea couldn't possibly ever counterbalance the fact that the first and only time you had been here up to this point one of your best friends had been tortured, your hostess's sister had killed a friend, and your hostess's son….

And your hostess's son had lied and saved Harry's life.

Draco Malfoy made absolutely no sense to Harry. This hadn't really mattered when they had basically ignored one another following the war. It was another matter entirely when they were living together and trying to raise a child.

Malfoy was at Grimmauld Place minding Teddy while Harry retrieved Narcissa, and while part of Harry was relieved about this fact, the rest of him thought that as inexplicable as he was, the Malfoy Harry was living with might actually have been helpful in this situation.

Still, though, it looked as though Narcissa had been trying not to overwhelm him. They were in a reasonably small room, they were sitting at a reasonably small table, and Lucius Malfoy was nowhere in evidence. There was even tea and cakes. All a vast improvement from last time.

"I know this cannot be easy for you, Harry."

Had she always been capable of sounding this sympathetic, or had she practiced since the War? Harry couldn't really know, he supposed, given how little he had interacted with her. And if he was going to survive any of this, he needed to leave his prejudices behind.

Heartfelt agreement wouldn't exactly be diplomatic, though, so Harry settled for a very firm, "I want what's best for Teddy."

"And that is what has brought you here today."

Harry nodded, feeling this was safest, and took a sip of his tea. It was very good.

"That is what has brought us all here," Narcissa continued smoothly, "and a unifying desire, as you have cause to know, can make the miraculous possible."

Harry drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. That had sounded … almost Dumbledore-ish. They had all agreed to take care of Teddy. Harry didn't understand why everyone had agreed, but maybe that wasn't important. Maybe he should concentrate on the bits that he could understand.

So he summoned a smile for Narcissa and took another sip of his tea to cover how out-of-his-depth he felt.

Narcissa continued, probably well aware that Harry was altogether uncomfortable—or maybe just figuring that he had no conversation skills to speak of. Harry couldn't imagine that anything that Malfoy had to say about him had been complimentary.

"This is not to say that this process is painless or necessarily pleasant. Inviting us into your home is—"

"—something I'm totally willing to do," Harry jumped in.

His interruption was rude, probably, and not something that happened to her very often if her slightly shocked look was something to go by, but given how Malfoy had reacted, he wanted to make clear with Narcissa from the beginning that he was okay with it all.

The look she gave him now was a slightly reproving one, the sort that McGonagall had given him that had always made him feel like an idiot.

"Your willingness to do what is required is not in question."

Harry opened his mouth again but stopped between a sudden realisation that he had no idea how he best wanted to protest that and the reproving look that he was once again getting from Narcissa.

"This does not make it pleasant; we would like to minimize the risks that you feel you are taking."

There didn't seem to be anything sensible to say to that comment, either, and he raised his teacup to cover his silence.

"I am willing to Vow your safety and the integrity of your home."

Harry choked on his tea and managed to spray it all over himself and the table, putting down the cup with a sharp clatter as he tried to swipe the hot liquid off of his exposed skin while spluttering and trying desperately to continue breathing.

Narcissa's eyes had widened, but she had otherwise remained remarkably composed.

"May I?"

He looked at her in confusion and saw her reach for her wand. He wondered if someone who'd always been on this side of the War would have thought to ask first.

Cautiously, he nodded, and a moment later, the liquid had been Vanished and a glass of water sat at Harry's elbow so that he could clear his throat.

"Thank you," he croaked out as he gratefully gulped down the water.

She inclined her head, seeming especially regal in that moment, and making her suggestion all the more bizarre.

"Why would you offer to do that?" Harry couldn't help but demand incredulously.

"It's your home," Narcissa said with quiet dignity.

"It's Teddy's home," Harry corrected. "And we're asking you to come take care of Teddy."

"Is that what you're doing?"

For a stunned, altogether breath-taking moment, Narcissa reminded Harry of Sirius so much that it hurt. He was used to thinking of her as a Malfoy and all … strict and stuck up and stuff. But the tone of that question had been the slightest bit mischievous, and he knew that it was exactly how his godfather would have said it.

He swallowed. There was really no way that she was ever going to believe that he had suggested her as a care-giver, and he tried to think of an argument that would settle this once and for all and not result in Malfoy killing him when he got home.

"Do you promise to take care of Teddy to the best of your abilities? To care for him as you have cared for your son?"

"I do."

He met her gaze squarely. His voice was absolutely certain. "Then we have nothing more to talk about. My home is located at number 12 Grimmauld Place."

~*~

"Hawwy!"

Harry caught the blur of motion and swung him up into Harry's arms.

"Hey, there, Teddy Bear, how's it going?"

Teddy's small arms wrapped around Harry's neck like a vine. "S'good. Glad you're here!"

Teddy pulled back enough to beam at him, all big brown eyes and messy hair. Harry wondered how the little boy could possibly have inherited Harry's impossible hair when they weren't even related, but he supposed that would be a mystery for the ages.

Looking past Teddy to the kitchen where Molly and Malfoy had just risen from the table, Harry couldn't really blame the little boy. From the look of it, they had been having tea, the British solution to everything.

He had no idea if Teddy had actually picked up on any of the tension, but he'd spent more time with Harry when Andromeda was alive than he had with anyone else who was here, and he tended to be reassured when Harry was with him.

"I'm glad to be back," he told the little boy truthfully. He might not be so sure how this meeting was going to go, but he was quite certain that he didn't want to spend any more time at Malfoy Manor than he absolutely had to.

He doubted that Lucius was going to want to stay out of the way forever, and Harry still thought it would be better if they encountered one another as little as possible right now.

He carried Teddy back to the table, receiving a hug from Molly as he passed her and then sitting Teddy back down in his chair before turning back to see the three other adults in the room all standing there.

He really hoped that this wasn't going to devolve into a fight. Surely, everyone could behave better than that in front of Teddy?

"Potter's manners are somewhat lacking, Mother," Malfoy pointed out dryly. "Won't you sit down?"

He gestured to a chair, and Harry suppressed a sigh with an effort. He'd gone to get her, he'd told her where his home was. How was he supposed to know that if he didn't also invite her to sit down at the kitchen table, Malfoy would look at him as though he'd deliberately insulted her?

Harry smiled hopefully at everyone.

"Yeah, um, how about you all sit down, and we can have tea and get all the introductions done and stuff?"

Oh, yeah. Malfoy was staring at him as though he was a stupid first year.

Narcissa was smiling faintly, though.

"Tea is efficacious in numerous awkward situations, wouldn't you say, Harry?"

Harry found his lips tipping up into an answering smile, mind boggling a bit about the fact that Narcissa Malfoy was trying to put him at ease.

On the other hand, he supposed that that was kind of the epitome of a good host, and while Harry was technically the host here, he was pretty sure that the good breeding kicked in even when you were at someone else's house.

Harry sat down next to Teddy and received a death glare from Malfoy—who hadn't sat down yet, Harry realized, but was pulling out a chair for his mother.

Shit.

Harry wasn't going to make it through ten minutes with the Malfoys.

He sprang up again, but Molly just waved him back to his chair when he tried to pull hers back.

He was probably blushing red as a tomato and looked like a complete idiot. But really, what was the point of it all? Weren't they capable of pulling out their own chairs? He was pretty sure that Hermione would punch him in the face if he started acting like she wasn't capable of doing stuff on her own.

"It's all right, Harry, dear. I know you weren't raised that way," Molly said kindly as she sat down.

Harry suppressed a frown with an effort. Not having learnt something at the Dursley's had always struck him as one of the better reasons to pick it up later in life. But he'd stayed with the Weasleys on multiple occasions. He knew full well that they didn't act like this normally. Of course, he didn't normally see Weasleys entertaining Malfoys or vice versa, so this was probably company manners.

At least there weren't any rogue house-elves around to destroy the beautiful pudding. In fact, there wasn't pudding at all, because it was just mid-morning, and—

"Kreacher is bringing tea for everyone, Master Harry. He is—"

Harry turned in confusion as the house-elf cut off abruptly, and he frowned sharply at the utterly cowed, servile pose that the elderly elf had taken, hunched in on himself as though he expected to be punished, as though—as though he were in the presence of a master who was going to hurt him.

With a curiously detached part of himself Harry actually felt the blood draining out of his face. He'd thought he'd known what he was doing inviting the woman here, but maybe he hadn't thought it through nearly as well as he should have.

He stumbled to his feet, chair rocking back inelegantly, all eyes drawn to him.

"Kreacher, could you give everyone their tea and then go see how Winky is doing at Hogwarts, please? Excuse me, everyone. I, uh, need to—" No excuses sprang to his frantically reeling mind. "—go now. Enjoy your tea."

He Apparated just as the babble of voices started, mind preserving the look of utter disdain on Malfoy's face, the worry on Molly's, the confusion on Teddy's, and the pained comprehension on Narcissa's.

Harry sank down to the ground, pulled his knees up to his chest, and practiced his deep breathing.

Okay. There was no need to panic. He hadn't cursed anyone or said anything that he was going to regret, so that was good. It wasn't like he hadn't known what had happened to Sirius before this, and it wasn't as though this moment of him being an idiot was going to change any of that.

He knew who had killed Sirius literally, knew all about why the man had been there, had nearly got all his friends killed, and had already destroyed someone's office over the debacle.

He was twenty-one years old and an Auror. He'd agreed to take care of Teddy, and while he hadn't known exactly what that would entail, he'd known that it wasn't always going to be easy.

So it was going to be harder to take care of Teddy when Malfoy wouldn't ever talk to him again. Harry had been through "harder" before, and he was quite sure that he was going to have to live through it again.

He missed Remus and Sirius, missed the people who would sympathise with him right now. There were people he could talk to, of course, but it wasn't the same. Ron would do nothing but insult the Malfoys, and while part of Harry was sure that that would make him feel better, it would hardly help his home life.

Hermione would let him vent and probably help him be practical about the whole thing, which he definitely needed to do, but since he knew that already, he wasn't so sure that it would help. And he didn't want to—These weren't happy memories for any of them, and he hated to bring up the War and make other people dwell on it when he could avoid it. So many people had lost so much, and it was surely better if they could all move on without Harry sobbing drama all over them.

Sirius had gone through the Veil years ago, and Harry couldn't let the past control him.

He had the feeling that he was going to be repeating that to himself a lot over the next little while.

He rose to his feet, brushing the dirt and grass off his trousers. He could only imagine what sort of etiquette rules he'd broken when it came to Disapparating in his guests' faces like that.

Oh, well.

He brushed a hand across the gravestone in front of him.

"Sorry I'm so scattered today, Mum, Dad. I'll try to come back and make more sense later."

He Apparated to the front step and headed in the normal way, figuring that that had to be more polite than anything else that he had done this morning.

Nothing in life seemed to have prepared him for spending a lot of time with Malfoys, and at this point, he simply needed to accept the necessity and figure out how to make it work.

So far, he wasn't doing very well.

He found that they'd all moved to the library. Molly and Teddy were on the floor playing with some blocks. They were much cooler than Muggle blocks, changing colours and sealing together as they were placed so that you could actually build structures that were solid.

The two Malfoys had been sitting in the two armchairs next to the fire watching the play on the floor, but when Harry sheepishly slunk into the room, Narcissa immediately rose and came over to him.

This was a sharp contrast to her son, who was glaring at Harry again.

"I'm sorry," Harry apologized as soon as Narcissa was within range. "That wasn't very good manners."

"To the contrary. While you may have been a little … abrupt, what would you have done had you stayed?"

Harry sighed. "I thought I'd give making a good impression a try, since I've been doing so badly so far, but it doesn't seem to be working very well."

Narcissa patted his arm. "Give it time, Harry."

Across the room, Malfoy looked almost as stunned as Harry was by the contact.

Harry appreciated the vote of confidence from someone, though. In some ways, all they had was time—about thirteen more years until Teddy graduated from Hogwarts—only the longer it took to get everything settled, the more disconcerting it would be for Teddy.

The poor boy's life had been practically nothing but upheaval, and Harry really didn't want to be responsible for any more.

"Thank you for doing this," he blurted out.

She looked at him curiously.

"I mean, this probably isn't what you thought you'd be doing right now, and Malfoy and I can't do it on our own, and you didn't have to say yes, so just … thanks. You keep saying it can't be easy for me, but it can't be easy for you, either."

She smiled at him again, and Harry realised why people actually liked the Malfoys. They were bloody charming when they wanted to be, when they … liked you?

"I am happy to help, Harry. Perhaps if you have a moment while Teddy is otherwise occupied, we could speak with your house-elf in the kitchen?"

Oh, yeah, like Harry wanted to do that.

But it was a very logical suggestion, and Harry found himself escorting Narcissa down the corridor to the kitchen.

"You have made considerable changes to the house."

Harry looked at her in surprise.

"I have not been in many years, but I do recall the … gloom," she said delicately.

Harry snorted and said without thought, "I wanted the Bitch off the wall."

He flushed as soon as he realised what he'd said in front of Narcissa Malfoy, of all people, but her lips had tipped up faintly. Improbably enough, she seemed to be amused. He was reminded of Sirius again, and swallowed, wondering if that was going to be happening a lot more frequently now.

Harry cleared his throat. "Turns out I had to take the entire wall down for that, and then it seemed like I might as well fix up everything I wanted fixed."

"A steadfast resolution. I believe it is more suited to raising a child now."

Harry rather thought so.

They reached the kitchen, and Harry summoned Kreacher and then watched Narcissa demonstrate to him that she would have no problem taking care of small children. She did her best to clarify that she was not his master and that she was to have no power over him.

Harry decided that he'd maybe suggest the elf spend even more time at Hogwarts, but it still seemed … promising. Harry remembered how Sirius had treated Kreacher and hoped that, for once, he was making the very right choice, and no one he cared about was going to suffer as a result.

~*~

Monday morning meetings with Hermione had been a regular occurrence for over a year, ever since the Monday morning following her cataclysmic split with Ron. She'd progressed well past canaries of doom at this point, after all, and Harry had wanted to make sure she wasn't headed for Azkaban.

Thankfully, nothing as life-altering had occurred since, but he had maintained the habit, and since she always made time no matter how busy she was, he was pretty sure she appreciated it, too.

It helped ensure that they stayed connected; it was hard to miss Ron, even though they were not partnered in the Auror Department. While pretty much everyone who wasn't Ron or Lavender took Hermione's side, they had too many friends in common for it to be altogether comfortable, and Hermione stood a good chance of disappearing into the Department of Mysteries and never being seen from again if Harry didn't keep a close eye on her.

"Welcome back," Hermione said warmly, rising from her desk—which was piled ridiculously high with books—to come give him a hug and a kiss. "How are you doing?"

He really wasn't sure how to answer her.

"I'd say it's the most insane thing that's ever happened to me. That's what it feels like at the moment, anyway."

She laughed a little. "Oh, Harry. That bad?"

"You try living with Malfoy and raising a three year old."

She wrinkled her nose. "Pass, if you please. I thought you two were getting on all right?"

He made a face. "Otherwise known as ignoring one another, 'Mione. Now we live together, and we're supposed to be making joint decisions as we take care of a kid."

"How's that going?"

"Molly and Narcissa are taking care of Teddy while we're at work."

Her eyebrows rose.

"Joint decisions," he reminded her. "And I seem to be getting on better with Narcissa than with Malfoy, and it's just … weird," he finished lamely.

She laughed again but said soothingly, "You're doing something you've never done before. It's bound to be a little strange."

They both knew that wasn't why this was weird, but he appreciated the effort and summoned a smile for her from somewhere.

"How can I help?" she asked.

"I need to add Malfoy Manor onto the Floo Network at Grimmauld Place."

"Last I checked, Aurors could do that."

"Thought it might raise fewer questions if you did it."

Her lips tightened, as they always did when Ron was brought up, even obliquely, but then she softened. "Of course."

"And is there, uh, anything special that I need to do if I'm sharing the Secret on paper?"

Her eyebrows rose towards her hairline. "You're still utter crap at research, aren't you?"

He grinned at her. "You're still the best source out there, especially now; all you do is research."

Her look was arch. "You mean all I can admit to you that I do is research."

He laughed. "All right, Secret Agent Woman. Answering my question?"

"You're sharing the Secret. That's all that matters."

He nodded his understanding and cleared his throat. "So, how's the research coming?"

She laughed again but allowed him to change the subject, and Harry reflected that he had the best friends in the world.

He'd defeated the bloody Dark Lord with their help. This had to be easy by comparison, right?


Chapter Two: Past Bedtime

It was a fucking miracle that Harry Potter had lived to twenty-one. The man was an idiotic menace to the wizarding world and hands-down the most irritating person Draco had ever met.

He brought the lights up to full brightness with a murmured word.

"What do you think you're doing, Potter?"

The other man froze, shoulders hunching a bit, and then turned around slowly.

"Oh." He sounded even more clueless than normal. His eyes were too bright. "Hi, Malfoy."

"Hi? Hi! It is three o'clock in the morning, Potter. On a Tuesday," Draco said with disgust.

Potter opened his mouth, but Draco overrode him.

"I don't know what your habits were like when you lived alone." Potter tried to speak again, but Draco kept going, adding cuttingly, "Nor do I care. Though it may have escaped your notice, you are not living alone anymore, and you are taking care of a three-year-old child!"

"Shh," Potter hissed. "You'll wake him."

"Nice time to start caring," Draco sneered. "For your information, I know how to employ Silencing Charms."

Potter snapped to attention, turning for the stairs with too-hasty movements and grasping for the wall; it was abundantly clear—if it hadn't been clear already—that he was very drunk.

"You can't put a Silencing Charm on a kid! What if something's wrong! What if—"

"Shut up, Potter. You may be an idiot, but I assure you, I am not. The charm prevents him from hearing us, not us from hearing him."

Potter stood there, seeming frozen in place.

"Oh. Okay, then."

He wobbled back to the table, and Draco stood there, full of scorn, and seriously wondered why the Dark Lord wasn't ruling the entire world by now.

"Hey! I'm not an idiot."

Draco made a sound in the back of his throat at this absurdly belated declaration and wondered if the other man was getting stupider as he aged.

"You have responsibilities now," he reminded the other man sternly. Had he ever understood that? "I won't stand in the wings like some dutiful housewife and take care of everything while you're off gallivanting."

Potter blinked at him owlishly. His eyes were red and altogether bloodshot but still incredibly green; it was much easier to see now that he had finally stopped wearing those ridiculous spectacles.

"You'd make a crap wife, Malfoy."

With an effort, Draco resisted the urge to do something uncouth like hit his head against the kitchen table—or curse the Saviour of the Wizarding World into oblivion.

That was, unfortunately, a good way to end up in Azkaban.

Potter grinned suddenly and announced as though this were news, "You don't even have the right bits."

Draco's hand tightened on his wand. Maybe he could just curse the other man a little. He was so inebriated that there was every chance he wouldn't remember any of this in the morning.

"Well-spotted, Potter," Draco said acidly. "Since you are being even more nonsensical than normal and some of us have now had an inadequate night's sleep thanks to insensitive prats, we will resume this discussion tomorrow evening after work."

He pinned the other man with a stare. "So help me if you're not home immediately."

Potter was still staring at him as though Draco had ceased to speak English, and Draco suppressed a growl of frustration with supreme effort.

"I trust you can find your way to your bed without breaking your neck."

Self-control in fine shreds, Draco marched up the stairs to his room, bitter once more about the fact that he was on the first floor. It meant that even though he'd brought that ridiculous conversation to a close, he was going to have to listen to the other man stumble two floors above him to get to his room.

He changed into his sleepwear, performed his evening ablutions perfunctorily, and crawled into bed.

He needed to sleep, and he knew it, but he was really too angry to make it likely that he could accomplish it.

He closed his eyes resolutely. He needed to be up in three hours. Perhaps three and a half if he rushed in the morning, which was something he hated doing, but being exhausted at work was a good way to accidentally blow a hole in the space-time continuum—or at least wind up with the crappy shifts.

He let out a breath and pulled his Occlumency lessons to the forefront of his mind. There might not be a lot of Legilimens around, but Draco Shielded anyway. It made him an asset at the Department of Mysteries—and it meant that when he couldn't sleep he was much better at clearing his mind than the average person.

He was having trouble with it tonight, though, and he realised that he was still on edge just waiting for the sounds of Potter stumbling up the stairs.

He was keeping himself awake waiting for the other man to keep him awake. Draco didn't need anyone to tell him that this was dysfunctional behaviour.

He stopped trying to deny that he was waiting for the other man, and as the time ticked on, he felt something that he told himself was not concern edging in with the annoyance.

What in the name of all that was magical was the other man doing down there? Had he decided to make breakfast and was about to light the house on fire? Had fallen really quietly and broken his neck? Passed out in a pool of his own vomit?

Bugger.

Draco padded back downstairs to find the ground floor dark. Draco frowned. There was no way that he'd missed the other man climbing drunkenly up to the third floor.

He found the other man in the library, snoring on his back on the couch.

Draco stood for a long moment, staring down at the other man with a frown.

Had he really decided that it was too much work to get up the stairs? He was a runt, so he fit on the couch much better than Draco would have done, but it still couldn't have been nearly as comfortable as his bed.

He seriously deserved to be left like this for being a completely inconsiderate asshole, but Draco reminded himself that if the other man asphyxiated on his own vomit, Draco was likely still to be blamed for it.

He transfigured the couch into a bed, using the shift in the shape of the furniture to turn Potter onto his side to help prevent Draco's eventual incarceration. Potter curled immediately into the blanket and pillow that Draco had transfigured, and Draco wondered anew how the man had survived in the Wizarding World. Was he really so incompetent that he hadn't been able to manage the simple bit of Transfiguration while drunk? Or so stupid that it hadn't occurred to him?

He waited a moment to ensure that Potter didn't react adversely to any of the changes that Draco had made, and then he headed back upstairs to his own bed, wondering if everyone else loved Potter only because they hadn't spent enough time with him to realise what a moron he was.

~*~

Theodore woke early in the morning, as was his habit, and Draco smirked to himself as he directed the little boy to the library to find a book to read before Narcissa arrived to take over his care.

His grin was full-fledged but brief when Potter shuffled into the kitchen with the little boy a few minutes later. He looked like death warmed over, wincing a little in the face of the loud, enthusiastic chatter.

Instances of justice when it came to this particular man were few and far between, and Draco would take every moment that he could.

Potter, being Potter, didn't thank Draco for any of the steps that he had taken to make the other man more comfortable.

Draco therefore didn't even go to the trouble of pointing out that he had Hangover Potions for just this sort of situation. He would have made the man work for it, of course, but if he couldn't even be polite then he could suffer as far as Draco was concerned.

He made himself tea and felt remarkably better by the time Narcissa arrived. Potter looked as though he wanted to crawl into a hole and die—though Draco could hardly help but observe that the other man had taken great pains to ensure that Theodore didn't realise this.

Still, it didn't really take that much work to hide something from a three year old, even if you were the most inept Saviour of the Wizarding World.

Narcissa's eyebrows rose slightly when she took in the sight of Potter, but she was too well bred to say anything. Instead, she kissed Draco on the cheek, kissed Potter on the cheek—it made Draco grind his teeth every time she did it—and asked Theodore what he wanted to do today.

The little boy beamed at her. "Have a sleepover in the lib'ary like Hawwy!"

The eyebrow rose a little further, Potter flushed a dull shade of red, and Draco smirked some more.

"I've got to go to work," Potter excused himself. "Have a good day, Teddy Bear."

Draco lingered only long enough to positively ensure that they didn't inadvertently manage to arrive at work at the same time. He bid farewell to his mother and Theodore and headed to the Ministry really just wanting the day to be over with so that he could chew the other man out when he was functional enough to understand what Draco was saying.

It was really too bad that the hangover would probably be gone by then. The other man deserved to suffer.

~*~

The fact that Potter arrived home at 8:42pm made Draco contemplate four of the untraceable and deadly potions that he knew how to brew. Unfortunately, he suspected that the fact that he lived with the other man would still ensure that he wound up in Akzaban even if they couldn't prove anything.

Draco had been forced to put Theodore to bed once again, and it was abundantly clear to everyone by now that Theodore preferred to have Potter read him a story. The fact that Draco had now done it for two days in a row was not a trend that Theodore liked, and Draco had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from responding to the little boy's query as to why that was with the response that Harry Potter was a fucking prat.

There were certain truths that you didn't reveal to small children, after all. But no one could blame Draco if Theodore worked it out on his own, so Draco was just going to have to bide his time.

Once Theodore was asleep, he made his way to the kitchen, made himself a mug of tea very slowly and just sat there and got progressively angrier until Potter slunk through the door frame into the kitchen at 8:42pm.

Draco knew it was 8:42 because he cast a Tempus solely for the grim satisfaction of seeing the other man wince at the numbers hanging in the air. Draco didn't even have to say anything.

"Look, Malfoy—" he began.

"I don't really want to hear your excuses," Draco cut him off curtly. "I had my reservations about you being a fit guardian for a small child, but I was well aware that the Saviour of the Wizarding World could do no harm in the eyes of the world. It is quite clear from a practical essay that you are utterly incompetent."

Potter flushed a spectacular red once more.

"That's not fair, Malfoy. Teddy likes to spend time with me."

"The likes of a three year old is hardly a discerning assessment, Potter," Draco said coldly. "The fact that you've barely made it a week without forgetting about him half the time speaks for itself."

"I didn't forget about him!" Potter yelped indignantly.

Draco raised an eyebrow sharply.

The flush deepened.

"I didn't," Potter insisted. "You know Aurors don't have regular hours."

"I know that people who are capable of common courtesy would advise their housemates that they aren't coming home at the anticipated hour, especially when they'd been told to be on time particularly."

Idly, Draco wondered how much one person could flush until they spontaneously combusted. The fact that he would probably still be blamed for that death could perhaps be overlooked for the novelty.

He saw the exact moment Potter decided to bluster through it rather than consider something so outlandish as an apology.

"I don't plan these things, Malfoy. There was a sting, and we weren't given the option of not staying—and we weren't allowed to send notes, either," he added with heavy resentment.

"And if I hadn't been here, I suppose you would have used that excuse to explain why Theodore was left on his own?"

Potter's jaw was clenched tight enough that Draco was surprised he didn't hear bones creak.

"If you hadn't been here, then Molly would have stayed, just like we discussed. She knows that this in an unpredictable job, and she's happy to take care of Teddy whenever my job necessitates it."

"And you think that will explain the situation to a small child who feels abandoned?"

Potter's hands clenched into fists. "Why don't you tell me?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Did you feel abandoned by your father and his Ministry job?"

Draco stiffened, stomach clenching. "Don't talk to me about my father, Potter."

Potter's eyes glittered, hard as the emeralds that they so often resembled. "Then don't accuse me of abandoning my child, Malfoy. It's called work, and it's necessary."

Draco's nostrils flared. "Oh, it was because of work that you got drunk as a skunk last night."

Potter's eyes flickered closed for a moment and then flashed open again.

"That was different. But I had to go."

"Had to go get drunk? Who knew that the Saviour of the Wizarding World was an alcoholic?"

"Shut it, Malfoy."

"Because that supremely logical argument has cleared everything up."

Potter's hands were in fists again, and Draco suddenly wondered how many brawls the other man got into. Did he not have the sense to at least go for his wand?

He looked as though he was holding onto his temper with supreme effort, and Draco wondered if he could prove that the other man attacked first it would excuse the fact that he had utterly trounced him and left him a dribbling pile of mush on the floor.

"Not that it's any of your business, Malfoy, but it was Fred's birthday."

"It is my business, Potter. It became my business when we became the joint guardians of a child and moved in together. And Fred's birthday does not explain why you rolled into the house at three a.m. People with a modicum of standard decency make arrangements for that sort of thing—and don't go out to get plastered in the middle of the work week!"

Potter's lips twitched, but what he said was an extremely tight but cool, "I didn't think I'd be out that late. I lost track of the time."

"You could have avoided drinking and thus this entire mess."

"It wasn't something I could refuse."

"And here we are back at your problem."

"Fuck, Malfoy, would you stop calling it that? I already told you, it was Fred's birthday. We had to drink."

"That explains nothing."

"It has nothing to do with you, Malfoy."

"We already went over this, Potter. Memory loss is a symptom of alcohol abuse."

"Fuck off," Potter snarled, green eyes glowing.

It had been a long time since Draco had been this close to Potter when he was this angry.

Potter had never made sense to Draco, but he was quite sure that the other man was being even more nonsensical than normal. If anyone had the right to be upset right now, it was Draco.

Where did Potter get off acting as though he were the injured one?

Oh, wait. Saviour of the Wizarding World.

"Do you kiss Theodore with that mouth?"

To his surprise, though, some of the tension dropped out of Potter's shoulders.

"You're right. I don't want to say something I would regret." He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I should have let you know I was going to be late, though I honestly didn't think it was going to take that long. There's just … there's some things you can't refuse, you know, Malfoy?"

This seemed like a much more honest question than it had previously, but Draco didn't have the slightest idea what Potter was talking about. Things you couldn't refuse? Draco had become a Death Eater because he hadn't been able to refuse, and Potter was asking for his sympathy because he'd gone out to a party?

"Forgive me for not having a lot of sympathy with your party schedule, Potter."

"Goddamn it, Malfoy. Why are you such a bastard?"

"I'm the bastard? Let's take a look at who's blowing off their responsibilities?"

"Teddy isn't my only responsibility!" Potter yelled.

"Drinking isn't a responsibility!"

"Fred is!"

"Is he your ward?"

"He's dead!" Potter screamed.

"I beg your pardon?"

"He's dead," Potter repeated at a slightly more reasonable volume, though his eyes were still wild.

"You're celebrating the birthday of someone dead?"

Even for a Gryffindor, that was particularly bizarre.

Potter shook his head. "It was for George. He has trouble getting through it on his own, and I couldn't say no."

Draco frowned and tried to work out if any part of that had made sense. The names tickled at the edges of his memory, and Draco pushed for it.

The family tree unfolded in his mind's eye. Ah.

"They were twins?"

Potter stared at him like he was a complete idiot, and Draco had just started to bristle when Potter laughed and dragged a hand through his rat's nest of hair.

"Sorry. Yeah. Why would I assume that you knew anything about the Weasleys? They were twins. So it's not a good day, and I didn't know how to say no."

Draco had seen the other man's hero complex a mile away for years. There was no way that the other man wouldn't have gone.

"You should have let us know," Draco pointed out more mildly this time. Yelling at the other man had had absolutely zero effect so far.

Potter nodded. "Yeah, I should have, even when I thought it was just going to be one drink. I can't always predict work, but I can try to be more careful outside of work, all right?"

He looked so hopeful, and Draco couldn't decide whether he was ever-so-slightly impressed or whether he wanted to hit the man in the face because common courtesy was something that should have been obvious.

"I'm sure Theodore would appreciate your giving being reliable a try," Draco settled on.

Potter stiffened but visibly forced himself to relax again.

"Yeah, I'll, uh, I'll give that a try. How about I look after Teddy on Friday and Saturday?"

Draco tilted his head slightly to the side. Was that Potter's way of apologising? He supposed that was … almost acceptable. A better effort than none, anyway.

Draco inclined his head. "Very well, Potter."

Potter's lips tipped up faintly. "Right, then."

He turned, and it was only at this point that Draco saw the tattered and singed remains of Potter's cloak.

"What happened to you?" he demanded.

Potter turned back in confusion, apparently saw where Draco's gaze was and sort of peered over his should at himself.

"Oh, you know, the sting."

Draco suppressed the little squirm of something like guilt in his stomach. After all, it was hardly his fault if the other man hadn't pointed out that he was injured. Was Draco supposed to sense it?

"And you still haven't learnt to duck?"

Rather than taking offence, Potter laughed.

"Nope. I think it's the Slytherins who learnt to duck. The Gryffindors are the stupid ones, remember?" He sounded positively cordial when he bade Draco good night.

Draco watched the other man go and wondered if the other man had been in pain through the entire conversation.

Gryffindors were impossible to understand. A large part of Draco still couldn't believe that he was living with one. If it continued on as absurdly and painfully as the last few weeks, it was only a matter of time before they killed one another.

~*~

Potter stayed true to his word, for once, and actually came home on Friday on time so that he could take care of Theodore. Draco had to admit that it was a relief to be able to get out of the house and away from Potter and this insane life that he had suddenly been dropped into.

Blaise and Theo wanted an update on the whole situation, but Draco found that after he'd spent a few minutes complaining about the major faults, he didn't want to talk about it anymore.

"I have to deal with Potter every minute that I'm living in that house," he announced with finality. "I don't want to deal with him now that I've escaped it."

Blaise and Theo exchanged a look and then steered the conversation away to other topics.

Draco felt altogether calmer by the time he left his friends, and this lasted all the way until he got down the hallway at Grimmauld Place and found Potter and Theodore in the kitchen drinking cocoa. Theodore was swinging his feet back and forth with far too much energy.

It was after midnight. Draco's eyelid twitched.

Potter looked up and offered Draco a tired smile—which was baffling—and Theodore turned round at the movement and grinned at Draco.

"Hi, Dwaco! Hawwy killed Voldemort!"

This was said with a great deal of enthusiasm, and Draco's eyelid twitched again, and he wondered if he was going to come out of this with a slew of psychoses.

"I am aware of this fact," Draco said as calmly as he could.

"Do you think you could try sleeping again?" Potter asked.

Theodore nodded solemnly, and Potter smiled at him and came to scoop him into his arms. The little boy had never requested that Draco carry him but seemed to enjoy Potter doing it as often as possible. Draco would need to see that this was curtailed before a dependency developed.

They headed upstairs, Potter murmuring about how it was time to clean his teeth again, and Draco made himself tea, wondering just how full of himself Potter had to be to want to start the hero worship that young.

Potter returned twenty minutes later, as Draco was finishing his tea. Potter offered him that tired smile again and moved to put the kettle on again.

"Had to stay until he fell asleep," he explained, as though Draco had been waiting up for him. "Nightmares about Andromeda's death again. Wouldn't calm down in the bedroom."

Ah. This had not been occurring every night, but it happened with more frequency than either of them liked.

"Just to be sure that I understand; after he woke from nightmares, you decided that telling him about the Dark Lord's death would assist?"

To his surprise, Potter grinned at him. "Seems daft, doesn't it? But she disappeared from his life, and he knows that his mum and dad are gone, too. He was worried that something was going to happen to us. I couldn't promise him that nothing would, especially not with our jobs, but I wanted to let him know that it certainly wouldn't be without a fight."

Against his will, Draco's lips tipped up. "So you told him how you defeated the terror of the wizarding world."

Potter shrugged. "Seemed better than saying it was all dumb luck."

Draco wondered what it was about tonight's conversation; maybe it was just too late at night and Potter was sober but sleep-deprived? Or maybe Draco was sleep deprived; what Potter was saying almost made sense.

Potter finished making his mug of tea and sort of gestured at Draco as though he were saying "cheers" with the mug.

"'Night, Malfoy."

"Goodnight, Potter."

Draco listened to the other man head up the stairs, altogether perturbed. Things made more sense when they were fighting.

~*~

The next day, Potter suggested that they alternate Friday evenings and Saturdays with Theodore. They could see their friends or just get out for a little bit longer than normal while still giving the little boy both Sundays with both of them so that he would not feel abandoned or unimportant.

This was not a completely dreadful idea, since it also meant they wouldn't have to negotiate with one another every time they want to do something social. Draco accepted this notion and then wondered why Potter looked so relieved. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but Potter didn't seem to notice.

"I was thinking it would make sense to celebrate Teddy's birthday next weekend." Draco was just about to curse the other man where he stood for assuming that Draco would deal with all of that when Potter continued. "I thought we could both invite our friends over, some of the Weasleys have young kids, and it would give everyone the chance to get to know one another while, you know, there are kids around."

It looked as though Potter hoped the presence of small children would have everyone on their best behaviour. It was probably a recipe for disaster, and it had some obvious flaws.

"Potter, how—"

The other man shoved a bunch of pieces of paper at him. The cardstock was of mediocre quality, and the image of balloons on the front was tacky in the extreme. Draco opened them expecting the worst but was stunned when he read the first line.

The home of Harry Potter is located at #12 Grimmauld Place.

He raised his eyes to Potter, who was looking anywhere but at him. "So, you know, you can invite whoever you want, and I guess we should just confirm numbers, but it'll be nice to have people over, yeah?"

Given the lack of eye contact and the run-on speech, Draco assumed Potter knew these invitations were permanent. Anyone he gave these invitations to would know where Potter's house was forevermore.

The actual words weren't exactly graceful, but otherwise, this was probably the most mannerly action that Potter had achieved so far.

It was also true that Theodore hadn't seen a lot of people outside of the two of them and Draco's mum and Mrs Weasley since this had happened. It would likely be beneficial to widen his social circle.

"This doesn't give us very much time to plan," he pointed out.

Potter made a face. "We just need to tell people to come and make a cake or something, don't we?"

The other man was such a heathen. Draco sniffed.

"Provide me with a guest list by Tuesday at the latest."

Potter's eyes had widened. He looked as though he had no idea what he'd got himself into.

Business as usual, then, Draco thought with a barely supressed roll of his eyes.

~*~

Draco was altogether certain that he had never been surrounded by this many Weasleys in his life. They had spawned, and this meant that in addition to Mrs Weasley and her husband and all their adult children, there was also a handful of manic, red-haired children running around.

It felt rather like a nightmare, actually, although if Draco were being honest, it wasn't really the children, however uncouth, who were the problem.

"What is he doing here?"

Ronald Weasley's voice carried far enough that at least half the party heard it. Granger stiffened as though she'd been Petrified, Draco's friends glared, and Draco glowered at the obnoxious prat.

Potter manhandled the other man out of the library, and Draco brushed past what-was-her-name—Lilac, Lily, some sort of flower—and followed, casting a listening charm at the door once it became clear that Potter had had the sense to charm the room.

"Ron, Malfoy lives here."

"He's an arse!"

"It doesn't matter whether he's an arse or not." Draco stiffened, and Potter continued. "Malfoy and I were both made Teddy's guardians. We both live with him, and we're both throwing him this party. If you don't like it, you are welcome to turn right around and leave!"

"Why are you defending him?"

Potter let out a gust of breath and sounded as though he were very close to losing his temper. "I'm pointing out the realities of my life right now."

"That's a room full of Slytherins in there."

"That's a group of my friends and Malfoy's friends, and if you start in on all Slytherins being evil, I'm going to kick the crap out of you, got me?"

"I'm just saying—"

"Are you trying to make my life more difficult?" Potter asked plaintively.

For the first time, Weasley's voice didn't sound belligerent. "No, Mate, of course I'm not."

Potter laughed, and Draco rolled his eyes. When would the other man grow up?

Draco slipped back into the library before the two of them could catch him.

Back in the other room, he noticed how the Weasleys had ranged off on one side of the room with Theodore, leaving the Syltherins, vastly outnumbered, on the other. They'd blocked off Granger entirely, and all Draco could see now was a sea of red.

Then he realised that the flower-named girl was on the outskirts as well, looking trapped between the Weasleys and the Slytherins.

At this rate, the party was going to be over before it had even started. Draco might not care if this went down as Potter's disaster, but now that he was involved, he needed to ensure that it was more successful than that. Squaring his shoulders, Draco stepped forward and offered his hand.

"I'm Draco Malfoy. Welcome to our home."

Big brown eyes blinked at him in utter confusion, but she at least shook his hand. He actually heard a murmur go up from the Weasley side of the room. It was like they were all eleven again.

"Oh, uh, hello." She smiled a bit anaemically. "You know, we probably haven't been formally introduced. I'm Lavender."

That was it! Lavender Br—

Oh, shit.

Of all the people for him to first politely introduce himself to in full view of the entire room.

Granger wasn't going to speak to him ever again.

"Oy! What do you think you're doing?"

Draco stepped carefully away from the woman as Ron Weasley came barrelling between them, Potter at his heels. He pasted on his best formal and entirely false smile.

"I'm welcoming Mrs Weasley to the party," Draco answered, ensuring that his voice was stripped of mockery.

Lavender slipped an arm through Weasley's, though he was still red and looked as though he wanted to pull a wand on Draco.

"It's all right, Sweetie, we've never been introduced, and Draco was just being polite."

Weasley looked as though this notion was utterly foreign. Lavender squeezed his arm. "Let's go get something to drink, all right?"

Weasley finally allowed himself to be led, though he was glaring at Draco as though he seriously suspected that Draco had been trying to steal his girl.

As if they'd have the same taste in romantic partners.

"Hawwy!" A blur launched itself at Potter.

For once, Draco was altogether delighted by the fact that Theodore had this tendency. Potter hauled the child up into his arms, and there was laughter and cooing and a marked decrease in the tension in the room.

Potter smiled at everyone with that big dumb smile of his.

"Let's get this party started. What would you like to do first, Teddy?"

"Open pwesents!"

Everyone laughed, another one of the Weasley males stepping forward to clap Potter on the back, saying, "Ask a stupid question."

Draco managed to talk Theodore into opening only one gift now and then playing some games in order to get the party back onto the schedule that Draco had carefully prepared.

Most of the Weasleys joined in, and everyone did their best to keep Ronald Weasley and Lavender separated from Granger. At Potter's insistence, there were some absurd Muggle games, including one called Twister where copious amounts of red-headed Weasleys contorted on the floor like they were being subjected to the Cruciatus. It made Theodore and the five other children giggle hysterically. It was hard to be altogether unaffected by so much sheer happiness, even when it was infantile. (Plus, seeing the Weasleys and Potter make fools of themselves was rarely a hardship.)

It was clear to Draco that the Slytherins felt outnumbered, but that was inevitable in a group of this many Weasleys. Granger didn't participate in the games once Ronald Weasley was involved, so she came to speak to the Slytherins. She had almost always been more … reasonable than her friends. Blaise and Theo knew the value of important allies, and it wasn't as though Granger was trying to become friends. Unlike the vast majority of the Weasley horde, she was simply doing her best to ensure that the Slytherins didn't feel as though they were here on sufferance only.

It was galling, but apart from Ronald Weasley's rude introduction, there was very little behaviour that could actually be pinpointed as unacceptable. Really, given the percentage of Gryffindors in the room, most of the guests were on positively decent behaviour.

Draco was still trying to work out why Theodore calling the youngest Weasley male by his name invariably resulted in his blushing, Granger's glowering, and Potter refusing to meet anyone's eyes. Gryffindors were so fucking bizarre.

Theodore clearly enjoyed running around with all the children, and Draco tried to think of Slytherin children they could introduce him to in order to ensure this did not become a problem. Not even to counterbalance the Weasleys would Draco introduce Theodore to Pansy's spawn, but he was sure he could come up with someone acceptable….

Overall, it went much better than Draco had expected. He was pretty sure that Granger had actually got within striking distance of Weasley at least once solely so that everyone else would converge and separate them leading Weasley to lose the thread of the argument that he'd started with Theo.

Potter apparently actually had company manners that he chose to employ infrequently. They managed cake, ice cream, presents, and numerous rather silly games that would suit a four-year-old. There should probably have been more children, but despite the awkwardness, Draco appreciated the opportunity to invite his friends, and he recognized that it was only logical that Potter be allowed to invite all his friends as well, even if he could wish the other man had made other, less-red-headed choices.

Theodore was exhausted by the end of the day, making it easy to put him to bed. He hugged and kissed both Draco and Potter before Potter tucked him in, and it suddenly seemed for a moment as though they were a proper family.

Draco tried to tell himself that that wasn't weird. And that he wasn't feeling something altogether too mushy for words.

When they returned downstairs, there was party detritus everywhere.

"We could leave it to the morning," Potter suggested.

Clearly, he couldn't be bearable for more than short spans of time.

"Unlike you, Potter, I do not like to live in my or anyone else's filth."

Even Draco could admit that it was a little more snappish than Potter's comment had really warranted, but he'd been biting his tongue the entire day playing nicely with so many of Potter's so-called friends and hangers-on.

"Geez, Malfoy, I wasn't suggesting leaving it like this forever, just 'til the morning because it's been a long day."

Draco bristled. "And then in the morning, since I'm the one who gets up early, I suppose I'll just happen to be expected to clean it all up first?"

"I didn't say that," Potter gritted out angrily. "Though if you want to be such an arse about it, you can clean it all up."

"Business as usual!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Potter demanded, as though he didn't know.

"Seriously, Potter, how spoiled are you? The half-finished cups of tea, plate of partly eaten biscuit, books on arms of chairs, clothes shed haphazardly. How do you think they get cleaned up?"

"That's a bit rich coming from someone with a legion of house-elves at home. How much cleaning up did you do as a child?"

"About as much as you, I imagine," Draco sneered, "but unlike you, I've grown up!"

"It's not growing up to want a place to look sterile and unlived in! Dammit, Malfoy, I'm allowed to leave books lying around."

"What you do in your house is your business. But there are three people in the house now, and two thirds of us would enjoy not being overwhelmed by someone else's mess."

Potter's voice sounded a little weird, unlike his own, each word carefully enunciated. "It sounds like you're saying it would be better if it looked like I didn't live here."

"It would be a distinct improvement," Draco muttered.

He had enough reminders of the fact that he was living with Harry bloody Potter that he didn't need to see it every moment the man wasn't in his face.

Potter's eyes flashed green fire, and the hairs on the back of Draco's neck prickled. A sudden wind gusted furiously through the room, and Draco didn't dare move.

The wind disappeared as precipitously as it had arrived, and without a word, Potter turned and walked out of the room. Draco heard the stairs creak a moment later as he headed upstairs.

Widening his attention from Potter and his abrupt departure, Draco felt his mouth come perilously close to falling open in shock.

The room was pristine, cleaned in an instant, it appeared, without so much as a wand, by the infuriated Saviour of the Wizarding World.

Draco swallowed, felt his heart thudding in his chest, and told himself that he didn't now know what the Dark Lord had felt like when Potter had appeared for that final confrontation.

He snorted to himself. That level of rage over cleaning? The man was unbalanced.


Chapter Three: Observing the Past

Hermione had tried to calm Harry down Monday morning, and she had succeeded to a degree. She knew him better than almost anyone and was one of the only people he could count on not to just tell him to kill Malfoy and hide his body and have done. Honestly, there was just enough sense left in him to be sure that that was not something that he should be encouraging—but there was a large part of him that simply wanted to explain what had happened to Ron and let the other man rage against Malfoy for a while and maybe come up with a few outlandish plots to make him suffer.

Seriously, though, Harry just didn't get it. It would seem as though they were making at least a little bit of progress, and then Malfoy would say something completely awful, and it would be right back to ground zero.

It was definitely taking its toll on Harry; he wasn't sleeping very well and now spent his time in his own house feeling like an intruder as he carefully cleaned up after himself and refused to think about the Dursleys. He was feeling the strain of trying to make everything appear normal to Teddy, and his concentration was shot at work. It was one thing when this meant it took him three times longer than it should to fill out paperwork. But he was an Auror. They went into dangerous situations all the time.

"Harry!"

The crunch as Harry landed—breath knocked out of him—told him that he'd broken something despite the Cushioning Charm, but Harry used reflexes that had been honed by years of Auror training, crazy school extracurricular activities, and a formative life with people who hated him to roll out of the way, which at least meant that the spell sent after him exploded into the ground next to him.

He scrambled to his feet and tried to Apparate, but he'd felt himself falling through several layers of wards, so it wasn't really a surprise when he failed. His ears were ringing, which was probably not a good sign, but it wasn't as though he hadn't been through worse.

Slipping off the roof was embarrassing, but the fact that he'd fallen into the middle of this particular ambush meant both that they'd found the wizards they were looking for, and no one else was going to stumble in all unsuspecting. It was just him and Smith—no relation to Zacharias—tonight; if not for Harry, it might have gone quite badly.

He dodged another beam of spell fire and then another and sent off his own in return. In the distance, he heard a sudden roar and realized that Smith didn't seem to think much of Harry's chances and had transformed into his Animagus form and was trying to distract the two who were trying really determinedly to kill Harry.

Harry Disillusioned himself. It wouldn't last, but it gave him a moment to get to better cover and toss out one of the twins' new inventions, which mirrored spellfire. It took at least twice the energy from the caster and normally only gave one good spell, but it meant that when Harry cast the Stunner, he did it from two directions and momentarily confused his targets, as well as giving him the chance to see where they were casting from.

He slipped away from his current location and sneaked far more quietly than ever he had managed when he was at Hogwarts, climbing up the fire escape and listening as Smith got closer to their location, the roaring making it quite easy to do.

He let the Disillusionment fall off of him as though it had worn out, still creeping stealthily and watching out of the corner of his eye, or maybe feeling the weight of eyes following his movement.

The roaring stopped, Harry's signal that Smith was human again, which sucked a bit, because Harry had really hoped to be above the wards for this part, but he was two storeys up and still hadn't passed them.

Here went nothing.

Harry launched himself across the alley.

Spells whizzed through the air where he had been, Harry hit the window ledge on the wall opposite, smacked his face into the brick, and scrabbled at it desperately. The sound of bodies dropped by Stunners made Harry heave a large sigh of relief.

A moment later, he reflected that apparently he should be working out more, never mind extensive Auror training, because clinging to this ledge wasn't nearly as easy as it should be.

"Give us a moment, Love."

"No problem, take your time," Harry gritted out.

There was a huff of laughter but muttered spell work, and Harry felt the wards fall.

"Good to go," Smith told him. "You first."

Harry Disapparated, hitting the ground with a thud but opening his eyes again to find himself in the Ministry—and being regarded with some amusement for his graceless entry.

Harry had always found it difficult to Apparate from a non-standing position to a standing one; his body had completed the fall that would have occurred if he'd stopped holding onto the window ledge; fortunately, he was much closer to the ground, so he was just embarrassed, not injured.

Climbing to his feet, pain shot through him, and Harry amended, not more injured.

Smith Apparated a moment later with the two stunned and Mobilicorpused wizards, more graceful than Harry could ever hope to be, and immediately stepped forward to wrap an arm around Harry, which was just as well because Harry realized that the world had begun to spin rather crazily.

"Time for St Mungo's, I think."

Dizziness swallowed Harry up, and he knew no more.

~*~

By the time Harry got home, it was almost four o'clock in the morning, and Harry's ears were now ringing not from the pain but from the comprehensive dressing down he had been given for being an idiot.

He'd been ordered to take tomorrow off, and if it wasn't quite a suspension, it was a near thing. Harry needed to get himself together, and he knew it.

Seeing a light on in the library, Harry headed in—and froze at the doorway at the sight of Theodore Nott sitting on the couch next to a sleeping Teddy.

He hadn't thought that he'd landed that hard, but maybe it had been going face-first into that wall…. Still, the mediwitch would surely have mentioned if he was prone to hallucinations, wouldn't she?

Nott had been reading but looked up at Harry's entrance.

"What happened to you?" he demanded blankly, but the question was asked quietly, in deference to the sleeping child, Harry imagined.

"Ambush," Harry said succinctly, really not wanting to get into the details right now. "What are you doing here?"

"Draco got called out, and you weren't back yet. I think he judged me least likely to be sleeping."

Harry could feel the swirl of anger tightening his gut, but he'd just been chewed out for being an idiot, and it wasn't like this was Nott's fault. It was true, at least, that Malfoy certainly shouldn't have just left Teddy alone.

"What's Teddy doing down here?"

Nott was watching him carefully. "Nightmare. Wouldn't go back to sleep upstairs, and this was the best I could do."

Harry nodded; it must have seemed very strange and probably alarming to the little boy to have neither Harry nor Malfoy respond to his nightmare.

Harry took off his cloak and then Banished it back to the peg by the door before Malfoy could get into another damn hissy fit about something of Harry's being somewhere inappropriate.

He crossed the room and scooped Teddy up into his arms, trying not to wince at the strain to his aching body. The little boy stirred sleepily.

"Hawwy?"

"That's right, Teddy Bear," Harry reassured him, kissing the top of his head. "Just putting you to bed. Go back to sleep."

Chubby arms clumsily wrapped round his neck, and the little boy curled more fully against Harry.

"'Kay."

Harry carefully carried Teddy up the stairs, not thinking about how much more slowly he was doing this than normal or what Nott was thinking back in the library. Not dropping Teddy was definitely the priority here.

He carefully unwound Teddy's arms from round his neck, got him settled under the covers in the bed and pressed another kiss to his messy hair. He waited a few minutes to make sure that Teddy was settled—he missed that ability to sleep so easily, even taking childhood nightmares into account—stopped off in his room to change out of yet another ruined set of clothes, and came back downstairs to see if Nott was still there.

Harry definitely wasn't going to be able to sleep if the man was just sitting down there, despite the fact that he was exhausted.

Nott was, indeed, still in the library, and maybe it was the exhaustion, but the surreality was hitting very hard again.

"Tea?" Harry asked.

There was a silent moment where they both considered one another, and then Nott nodded and rose to his feet to head into the kitchen with Harry.

Harry wasn't sure whether he'd been expecting Nott to do that or if he'd been hoping that the other man would just stay in the library so that Harry had a few minutes to gather himself together, but it was done now.

He put the kettle on, but then he found that Nott was guiding him to a seat at the table. He sat down and apparently looked as confused as he felt because Nott's lips tipped up a bit.

"You look as though you're going to keel over, Potter. I'm perfectly capable of making tea."

There was something wrong with this scenario, Harry was certain, but sure enough, Nott brought the kettle to a boil, found them mugs and tea and milk and sugar and managed to combine everything quite correctly in order to make them tea.

Harry sighed as the first mouthful slid down his throat. It was a little too hot, but that just meant that it burnt a trail of warmth down to his belly, and he'd been feeling cold for ages.

"This seems like a dream."

Harry hadn't meant to say the words and looked up, embarrassed, but Nott just let out a bark of laughter.

"Tell me about it. I don't think we exchanged two words at Hogwarts, and here I am making you tea in your house."

Tilting his head to one side as he really looked at the other man, Harry considered.

"You know, I think you're right," Harry repeated slowly.

"Hard to notice anyone else when Draco's got your attention."

Harry was sure that this was not a statement that he wanted to agree to, but on the face of it, there didn't seem to be any possible way to deny it. Malfoy had kind of eclipsed all the other Slytherin students put together.

"I had a lot going on in my life."

"When do you not? You look as though you lost an argument with the Hogwarts Express."

Harry's lips twitched up. "Kind of what it feels like, too. It was loads worse before I went to the hospital." He shrugged and offered philosophically, "Least I'm getting paid now."

Nott laughed again. "You know, Potter, you're not at all what I expected."

"You're not really what I expected, either," Harry agreed, since this seemed better than admitting that he hadn't really ever thought about the other man before at all.

Nott looked as though he knew what Harry was thinking, though, because he suddenly held out his hand.

"Theodore Nott. Nice to meet you."

Bemused, Harry nevertheless shook his hand and offered, "Harry Potter. Uh, likewise."

Despite what most people seemed to stupidly think, Harry wasn't at all opposed to Slytherins on principal; he'd just met a few that really, really annoyed him. He knew exactly what his reputation and theirs was, however, and he tended to find that many of them weren't interested in anything to do with him.

Nott, though, at least at five o'clock in the morning in Harry's kitchen, seemed genuinely willing to chat. Maybe he was just waiting until Malfoy got back, feeling the need to stay until the same parent who'd asked him over returned, but there could have been far less talking if that was the case.

And the other man certainly hadn't needed to introduce himself and get them going as though they'd never met before. Harry wondered if this approach would work on other Slytherins or people he'd made a bad impression on?

Harry had lost count of the number of cups of tea that he'd had by the time he was relaying to Theo Harry's first attempt at the stealth portion of the testing for Auror training.

"They seriously wanted your autograph?" Theo said incredulously, laughter threading through his voice.

"Still trying to figure out who put them up to it," Harry said darkly, though he was having trouble suppressing his smile. "I mean, I got mobbed, mobbed by people who just wanted to touch a hair on my head. How the hell was I supposed to move, never mind sneak anywhere?"

Theo dissolved into laughter, and Harry gave it up as a lost cause and grinned at him. This was when he realised that Malfoy was standing frozen in the doorway.

He cleared his throat, amusement dying into a bundle of nerves in his stomach at the look the other man was giving him.

"Hi, Malfoy."

Theo, whose back had been to the door, twisted round.

"Draco! Everything all right? You look a sight better than Harry, here."

Malfoy was looking at Harry with the singular suspicion you normally reserved for someone you suspected of Imperiusing a friend.

"I am perfectly fine," Malfoy drawled.

Harry wasn't even sure who that was insulting; Harry for getting injured, Theo for talking to Harry…. Harry felt suddenly exhausted again, the lightness that had come with speaking to a Slytherin who didn't hate him fading away like a balloon that had been punctured.

"Well, that's good to hear," Theo said good-naturedly as though he hadn't noticed the increased tension in the room. "Guess I'll be going, then. You two make sure that you get lots of sleep."

Harry was pretty sure that was Theo's way of telling them not to get into a fight when they were both tired. If only Harry knew how to not get into fights with Malfoy.

Theo squeezed Harry's arm and offered a, "Hope you're feeling better soon," before drawing Malfoy out into the hall with him.

Harry waved up a Silencing Charm so that he wouldn't have to hear Malfoy demanding to know what was going on or Theo excusing himself. He seriously considered dashing for the stairs while Malfoy was otherwise occupied, but with a sigh, he finished his tea instead.

He took the empty mug and tea things over to the sink because that at least gave him something to do. It was only once he'd tidied everything away that he realised that Malfoy had been gone for a long time.

Cautiously, he poked his head out into the hallway and discovered that there was no sign of the other man. Harry'd been gearing himself up for a confrontation that was apparently happening only in his mind.

He ached to go to bed, but looking at the clock, he realised that in less than an hour, Narcissa would be here to take care of Teddy. He had no idea if Malfoy had also been given time off given the late hour of whatever he'd been called in for, but it seemed unlikely that if Harry also went to bed now either of them would be up for the change over.

It was less than an hour, after all.

~*~

Narcissa woke Harry with her arrival through the Floo, and Harry looked up blearily to see that Teddy was sitting across the table from him eating cereal without milk that he'd mostly managed to pour into the bowl. It was clear that he'd tried to be as quiet as possible, and the little boy shushed Narcissa before he saw that Harry was awake.

Harry felt tears prick his eyes and came round the table to kiss Teddy on the top of the head.

"You don't ever have to be quiet so that you won't disturb me," Harry told him thickly.

He recognized that this wasn't exactly what he wanted to say. It probably set a bad precedent; surely there would be times where he wanted the little boy to be quiet. He knew that it was different, that Teddy had chosen to do it, and Harry hadn't ever ordered him to and wouldn't ever punish him for disturbing him, but it still … it still hit far too close to home.

Teddy twisted up so that he could kiss Harry's chin.

"You looked sleepy," Teddy said simply.

"I was a bit sleepy," Harry agreed, forcing back tears that the little boy wouldn't understand and which Harry had no interest in explaining to him, especially as Narcissa carefully watched the interaction. "But I'm still here to take care of you, and if you're hungry, then it's my job to get you food, all right?"

"All right, Hawwy," Teddy agreed with more solemnity than Harry thought, on balance, he actually wanted the little boy to display.

But he couldn't have it both ways, and he'd just hope that he'd got his point across in a friendly and non-confrontational manner.

"You want some milk with that cereal?" Harry asked.

Teddy nodded, so Harry moved to the fridge to retrieve it.

"Morning, Narcissa," Harry greeted the woman, pretending that he couldn't tell that she had heard and seen too much.

"Good morning, Harry. May I say that you look a little the worse for wear?"

Harry sighed.

"I've not looked in the mirror yet, but I can imagine. I've got the day off, so if you want—"

Narcissa didn't let him finish the sentence.

"How sensible of the Auror department to give you time to recover."

"But—"

"I want you upstairs and asleep within the next ten minutes, and I don't want to see you all day, do you understand me, young man?"

Harry was torn between laughter and something that was distinctly not laughter because this was so clearly a parental order—and how on Earth had he managed to acquire Narcissa Malfoy as a mother?—but one that seemed to be grounded in concern, one that was ordering him not to help out but to take care of himself instead.

So Harry drew a deep breath in through his nose and let it out slowly through his mouth. Then he repeated the motion a couple more times for good measure. The Auror department had ordered him home to rest. He was lucky that Smith hadn't been badly injured, that things hadn't gone disastrously wrong because he was exhausted and ill-tempered. Here was Narcissa to do exactly what they'd asked her to do, and if he went to sleep now, then he could get up in the late afternoon and actually spend time with Teddy, which couldn't happen when he was out on stupid raids.

"Understood," Harry agreed finally, and Teddy was looking at him with wide eyes but that solemn expression again, nodding his head as though to say that he thought it was the best thing that Harry could do.

Harry sniffed again, kissed Teddy once more on the top of the head and told him to be good for Narcissa and then headed upstairs, passing by Malfoy's floor as quietly as he could, hoping that the other man got lots of sleep as well.

Maybe they could be civil to one another if they'd both had lots and lots of sleep. It was a nice dream, anyway.

Harry was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

~*~

Despite Harry's best intentions, the evening was spent sniping at one another with increasingly snide barbs. Harry really hadn't meant to get into anything contentious, but he was still tired and in pain, and before he knew it, he was needling at Malfoy for getting through easily on training exercises, Malfoy was arguing about his need for attention any way he could get it, and Harry lost his temper.

The stack of dishes he was gathering from the table was slammed back down with a rattle of pottery.

"At least I don't have to hide in the Department of Mysteries!"

"Please!" Malfoy whirled back from the sink. "As if you'd go anywhere where you didn't get to stand in the limelight like the attention-seeking prat that you are!"

"It's not my fault that people pay attention to me!"

Harry waved the dishes over to the counter so that he wouldn't have to get any closer to the other man.

"Random chance, is it?" Malfoy sneered.

"I damn well didn't ask Voldemorrt to come and kill my parents and mark me as his equal, now did I?" Harry snarled dangerously.

"Hawwy?"

Harry froze and then turned to see that Teddy was standing in the doorway into the kitchen clutching his stuffed owl, Hedwig. It looked as though neither he nor Malfoy had been paying any attention to how loud they'd gotten or how long it had been since they'd told Teddy they'd meet him in the library as soon as they'd cleaned up.

"Yes, Teddy?" Harry asked in a choked voice.

"Why are you so angwy?"

"I lost my temper. We meant to have a normal talk while you were out of the room."

"You and Dwako angwy with me?"

Harry sucked in a sharp breath and fell to his knees so that he was level with the little boy, pulling him into his arms and hugging him tightly.

"Of course we're not angry with you, Teddy. We're not ever angry with you," Harry assured him with every ounce of feeling that he possessed.

"Don't like it when you yell," the little boy confessed.

"We won't yell anymore," Harry promised.

Shit. Could Harry be any more of a screw up if he tried?

Teddy hugged him back, tugged Hedwig back up to his chest, and went back to the library.

Harry turned back to the kitchen to find that Malfoy was still standing next to the sink and didn't look as though he'd moved at all since they'd stopped fighting.

Swallowing heavily, Harry said, "Sorry about that, Malfoy. I've been having a rough few days."

Malfoy sniffed but at least didn't tell him off right then and there.

And then Malfoy surprised him.

"Why don't you head into the library, and I'll finish up here?"

Harry eyed the other man, but he seemed serious. It was definitely safer to get them out of the same room, and it would ensure that Teddy didn't worry in the library for very long.

Harry nodded, but at the door, he paused and turned back.

"I did try, you know," he admitted.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

"To become an Unspeakable. They wouldn't let me. Said that I'd make the whole department newsworthy rather than make me unworthy of news."

Malfoy stared at him for a long moment. "Perhaps that was their way of telling the Saviour of the Wizarding World that he wasn't good enough."

Harry suppressed a sigh and left for the library without another word.

~*~

By the time May arrived, Harry felt as though he'd lived the longest six weeks of his life—and he'd lived some pretty long weeks. But he'd never been in charge of a small child before, never needed to be so careful about his own behaviour because it materially affected someone young and innocent, someone who needed to be protected.

Plus, he'd never lived with a Malfoy before, and he was quite sure that that raised any challenge to a whole new level.

They'd been more careful since Teddy had caught them fighting, but it wasn't as though everything was now sunshine and roses. Harry had hoped that as time passed, they would get used to one another. He had even hoped, though he felt like an idiot admitting it even in his own mind now, that they might became friends.

Six weeks had taught him that he was a complete and utter idiot, and the most that he was hoping for now was a cessation of outright hostilities. He was hoping that they would survive the next decade taking care of Teddy, never mind that they'd enjoy themselves or get used to it.

There were moments that were all right, of course. When they both kept a lid on their tempers, when they concentrated on Teddy—and weren't fighting about something to do with him—when Narcissa or Molly were here and acted like the adults that they were that he and Malfoy never seemed able to achieve…. There were whole stretches of time where it was okay, but it felt…. It felt false. It felt as though he and Malfoy, when they were managing to get along, were just faking it, were pretending as best they could to make a bad situation ever so slightly better, and Harry wasn't so sure that they were going to be able to keep it up.

Statistically, they surely had to run out of things to argue about, literally run out of points of raising a child that they hadn't already hashed out to death, and yet it seemed at every turn that there was something new.

"What do you mean, he won't be going?" Malfoy demanded.

Harry swallowed and reminded himself that he had promised not to lose his temper. They could get through this if only they kept their tempers.

"I think I was very clear, Malfoy."

The other man faced off from him with narrowed eyes.

"So, just to make sure I understand: you, Harry Potter, are informing me, Draco Malfoy, that our ward is not going to the celebration?"

Bugger. He could actually hear Hermione's voice in his head telling him that he was an idiot.

"I shouldn't have said it like that," Harry admitted, deflating a little. "I didn't realise we were going to disagree about it. Why do you want to go?"

"Why wouldn't I want to go?" Malfoy demanded as though Harry was a complete idiot.

Harry huffed an incredulous breath. "Oh, let me see if I can come up with a list. Half the people we know died or nearly died? It was one of the worst days of my life—and I'd like to think yours, too."

Malfoy stiffened. Harry should have known better than to make any suggestion that he knew what the hell was going through the other man's head at any point.

"The Dark Lord died that day. That's what people are celebrating," Malfoy bit out. "They're remembering the people who made it possible, including Theodore's parents."

Harry swallowed. "So don't you see why it's better for him not to go?"

Malfoy threw up his hands. "Do you have no sense of family pride? No idea what is owed to your line and your blood?" His lips twisted into a cruel smirk. "Oh, wait. It's not your family or your blood."

Every piece of glass in the room exploded in a shower of sparkling shards. Windows, mirrors, glasses, bottles, beakers, more individual items than Harry could ever have thought about if he'd been thinking at all.

Fortunately for their continued health and safety, the shield that prevented them from being cut to shreds by all the flying glass had been equally unpremeditated.

Malfoy hadn't moved a single muscle since he'd whirled towards the window as it had exploded.

Harry couldn't hear, couldn't think, couldn't seem to stop shaking, knew only that if he stayed in this house one moment longer, he might do something truly unforgivable.

Without thought, he Apparated Teddy to him, and Malfoy had just whirled back to him at the sound of the "pop" when Harry wrapped his arms around the little boy and Side-Alonged them far, far away.

~*~

It took a long time for Harry to realise that his robe and trousers were wet where he was kneeling on the ground. The shaking had finally begun to taper off, and it was only now that it impinged upon him that a warm weight he was holding in a death grip was petting his hair and assuring him that everything would be okay.

Shit.

He sat back, and Teddy looked up at him with huge, solemn eyes, too serious for a child of four.

Harry had helped to put that expression there.

"I'm so sorry, Teddy," Harry exclaimed guiltily. "I'm stupid. I didn't think. I'm so sorry!"

But Teddy was still hugging him, still petting his hair, and still insisted that everything was okay.

As it turned out, it was harder to feel completely bad when a small child was trying to tell you over and over that it was okay. If nothing else, you needed to rally so that you could go back to being the adult and they would stop having to try so hard to take care of you.

Harry practiced his deep breathing for a few minutes. Seriously. The four year old was handling this better than Harry was. No wonder Malfoy thought that he was a complete and utter fuck up.

Thoughts of Malfoy caused anger to swirl through Harry again, but he forced the emotion down into the churning pit that was currently his stomach. Teddy was his first priority.

"You cold?" he asked.

Teddy shook his head. "You kept me warm. Still nice here."

"You remember it?" Harry asked, surprised.

The little boy nodded. "Came last year to see Mum and Dad."

Harry swallowed tears—he'd cried too many today—and nodded carefully.

"That's right. Are you okay to see them again?"

Teddy nodded, so Harry climbed to his feet and then cast a drying charm to take care of the bits of them that had been in contact with the wet grass.

It was quiet, at least, which made for a nice change from the yelling at home. Harry wondered if he should worry that Teddy thought this was a nice place, but then, Harry thought so himself. It was all in how you looked at it, he supposed.

They passed row after row of gravestones until they came to the headstone that proclaimed the resting place of Remus Lupin and 'Dora Tonks.

He was pretty sure that he'd inadvertently insulted Andromeda over this, but he'd been positive that Tonks wouldn't have wanted "Nymphadora" to be carved into rock for all to see. Though Andromeda hadn't explicitly said so and Harry certainly hadn't meant it that way, there was very little people wouldn't do for him in those early days following Voldemort's death. Harry had just been trying to make sure that she and Remus were taken care of to the best of his abilities.

There was aconite in bloom around the gravestone. Remus had asked for it, and Harry wasn't about to deny any request that the man had; Hermione had shown him how to charm the plant so that the flowers were always in bloom no matter the season. The flowers looked pretty, anyway, though Harry remembered to point out to Teddy that the plant was very poisonous and he shouldn't touch it. (Hermione had drilled it into him.)

Harry and Teddy sat down in front of the grave and talked about Teddy's parents. Harry told Teddy as many of the good things that he could remember, as well as talking about the reason that they had died, giving their lives to try to bring peace and freedom to the wizarding world and their son.

It was hard to hang onto even his incandescent rage at Malfoy, almost impossible to feel absolutely gutted about being the outsider once again when Teddy was curled up in his lap remembering his family.

This was what family did, wasn't it? What family was supposed to be? Caring about one another and loving one another? Remembering one another and answering questions?

It did occur to Harry, though, that there had been an easy way to resolve the issue that had led to his losing his temper so spectacularly.

"Would you like to go to the celebration at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.

"What's a celebwation?" Teddy wanted to know.

"Well, it's kind of like a big party." Teddy perked up, as Harry had known that he would, but Harry was trying to be as fair as possible. "There are lots and lots of people, and they've all come together to remember how the war ended, to remember everyone who died in the war."

"Like Mum and Dad."

"That's right," Harry agreed.

"Are there pwesents?"

Harry huffed a laugh that he told himself didn't sound a lot like a sob. "It's not really like a birthday party. There's usually food, though, but also lots of speeches. Sometimes people ask lots of questions if you know someone who had a lot to do with the War."

"You like the quiet," Teddy said far too wisely for a four year old.

"Yeah," Harry agreed on a sigh, realising that he hadn't ever truly stopped to think about how Teddy would feel about it, he'd just assumed that Teddy would feel the same way that he would.

Harry couldn't imagine ever returning to the party, not after he'd bailed five minutes into the first one. Maybe it was okay for everyone else. Maybe when the fucking Saviour of the Wizarding World wasn't there, it was perfectly fine. But it turned into a freak show when Harry was there, everyone wanting to interview him and talk to him and question him about one of the worst days of his life.

Maybe it would have settled if he'd stayed longer.

But Harry hadn't seen any remembrance for all the brave people who had fallen by his side. He hadn't seen much except a salacious interest in what he had done and a demented focus on him in the face of so many dead bodies. He had sworn never again, and so far, he had held true to that promise.

So he hadn't even thought about discussing it with Malfoy, had assumed that Malfoy wouldn't like the memories any more than Harry did. In his mind's eye, though, Harry could see that Malfoy had been wearing a very nice looking set of dress robes that brought out the colour of his eyes. Clearly, he had been all ready to go to the celebration, and it hadn't occurred to him that there was any question of their going.

Harry and Andromeda and Teddy had always come to the grave on this day, but now Harry didn't know if Andromeda had agreed with him or if she had just been giving him what he wanted.

"Would you like to go see what they're doing at the celebration now?" Harry asked, careful to keep his voice mild and the question unloaded.

Teddy was still curled up in Harry's lap, and he shook his head.

"Maybe Dwaco can take me next year."

Harry let out a shaky breath and held onto Teddy a little more tightly than necessary.

It was difficult to speak through the lump in his throat. "Love you, Teddy Bear."

"Love you, Hawwy."

Before they left, they went to see Harry's parents, because Harry had explained that he came to talk to his, too. He hoped that was normal and he wasn't setting the other boy up to have as many problems as Harry did. But it made him feel better, and while he hoped that Teddy would always feel that he could talk to those around him, none of them were actually his parents, not the ones he'd been born with, anyway.

So Teddy said hello to Lily and James and explained that their son was being a very good boy and taking care of Teddy.

Harry swallowed more tears and realised he was going to have to come back and set the record straight about the piss-poor job that he'd actually been doing.

As if to emphasise this point, Teddy's stomach gave a loud grumble, and Harry realised it had been hours and hours since they'd eaten. Teddy just giggled at the noise and agreed readily to finding a place to eat.

When they finished their meal, Harry found all sorts of suggestions for where they could go next crowding up his throat, but he knew that there was really only one option.

"Ready to go home?"

Teddy nodded, so home they went.

Malfoy was sitting in the kitchen nursing a mug of tea. All the damage that Harry had caused appeared to have been fixed. Malfoy looked pale, and his eyes flashed when he saw Teddy in Harry's arms. Or maybe that was just rage against Harry.

Teddy was yawning and agreed to a nap when Harry suggested it, though at this point Harry couldn't tell if the little boy was truly that tired—normally he was more likely to protest—or if he had the good sense to want to get out of the way of the upcoming confrontation. The latter was more awareness than Harry really wanted Teddy to have of the problems going on at home. Of course, the way things were going, you didn't even have to be very smart to notice.

So Harry went upstairs to lay Teddy down for his nap, and he couldn't blame Malfoy for trooping up the stairs and watching it happen and then trooping back down the stairs so that they could yell at one another in the kitchen once Silencing Charms had been cast.

Malfoy opened with, "I nearly called the Aurors."

Harry nodded, noticed how the sick feeling in his stomach was more apparent now, though he wasn't sure if that was because the steadying influence of Teddy was gone or because he was now back in front of the person who had denied him any connection to Teddy and to a family.

"You had every right to. I could have hurt you badly."

Malfoy scoffed. "As if they would have done anything about that."

Harry swallowed and decided not to even go there. "I haven't lost my temper like that in a long time. I apologize."

"Have a few anger management issues, Potter?"

Malfoy sounded almost amused rather than angry, but being mocked didn't really make Harry feel better.

"Only with you," he snapped.

Only with people who attacked his family.

Malfoy's eyes were cold like slate. "And what if Theodore is in the room next time?"

Harry swallowed. Malfoy wasn't the only one who'd had that thought; Harry couldn't blame him for bringing it up.

"I wouldn't let anything happen to him."

"You'd snatch him up and take him away instead?"

Harry realized his hands were clenched into fists and made himself uncurl his fingers one by one.

"I realise it was not appropriate," he said carefully. "I wasn't thinking very clearly."

He hadn't been thinking at all, but he recognized that whatever was going on between the two of them, they couldn't hold Teddy hostage.

Malfoy was just staring at him.

Harry cast around for what he was supposed to say. "It won't happen again."

Malfoy rose to his feet. "See that it doesn't."

Harry was left alone in the room. He hadn't felt this alone in a long time.

~*~

Malfoy regarded him with especially watchful, calculating eyes now, and Harry couldn't figure out if the other man was a bit afraid of him or was just even more certain that Harry was going to screw up.

Harry was on his very best behaviour, striving not to rise to any jibe or stray comment that Malfoy might make for fear that he would lose his temper again and inadvertently hurt Teddy. Harry remembered what it was like to always be on his guard, knowing he might need to dodge blows at any moment, and he would do anything to ensure that Teddy didn't live through the same thing.

It reminded him of what it had been like when people had thought he was the Heir of Slytherin, all that careful watching, only this time, Harry was really seriously fearful that the watchers were right. If he couldn't control himself, he wasn't a fit guardian, and if seven years of schooling with Malfoy had taught Harry anything, it was that the two of them didn't bring out the best in one another. He'd thought that he was well-trained and well past the age of reacting magically without thought, but now it seemed like he was better trained to do damage and more inclined to cause it in the one place he should have been striving to keep safest.

Narcissa and Molly had both asked him if he was all right, and he had shrugged them off as best he could. The person he was most concerned with feigning happiness for—or at least not admitting desolation—was Teddy, but the strain was taking its toll, and he wasn't so sure that the little boy was buying it. He was watching Harry almost as carefully as Malfoy was.

What with his personal life falling apart around him, Harry forgot until it was nearly upon him what the end of May brought. Four years ago, in the aftermath of the war, Ron and Hermione had joined a host of others in a whirlwind of weddings and celebrations.

A year and a half ago, everything had fallen apart, and what would have been their anniversary now marked the epicentre of extraordinarily bad temper and pettiness on both their parts, what appeared to be an annual tradition that Harry could really have done without.

Ron was complaining to Harry because the rest of his family had told him to shove it. (Even his mother, though Harry doubted she'd phrased it quite like that.) To hear Ron tell it, the entire world was out to get him.

Privately, Harry kind of understood the rest of the world's point, but he didn't want to start fighting with Ron on top of everything else. He just thought it would go better if Ron maybe acknowledged that what he'd done hadn't exactly been good.

"You don't know what it's like, Harry. Everyone's against me. As if it was my fault!"

Harry stared at him.

Ron's ears flushed red at the tips.

"It's been ages now! When is everyone going to let it go?" Ron blustered.

Harry suppressed a sigh. "It's an awkward situation, Ron. You're all together a lot, and it's hard to just let the matter go."

Especially when no one was willing to accept any of the blame or apologize for what had happened.

"You're so lucky, Mate. No family to cause you troubles like these."

Harry stood there, frozen, and let Ron's words wash over him. Lucky to have no family. Lucky.

He had Teddy who he was a danger to and Malfoy—wasn't that a laugh—who hated him, and not even his best friend thought they counted.

Hermione, by contrast, tended to get quieter and quieter towards everyone, and Harry had to make especial efforts to see her to prevent that disappearing act. He had always encouraged her to feel that he was "safe," meaning that she could vent to him and not worry it was going to be reported back to Ron, Lavender, or the other Weasleys.

Passing by Hermione's office, Malfoy drawled, "Say hello to Weasley for me, won't you, Potter? You've been spending a lot of time with him recently, haven't you?"

It was a particularly low blow. Harry cast an extra Silencing Charm to ensure that what was said in the office wasn't heard outside of it and hunkered down and just waited for the storm to hit. Hermione looked like she'd been zapped with a spine-straightening spell.

"Complaining about me a lot, is he?" Hermione demanded with that glint in her eye.

Harry swallowed. "We talk about lots of stuff, 'Mione."

"And he complains about me."

She said it like it was a foregone conclusion, which, he supposed, it was.

"Sometimes," Harry conceded reluctantly, feeling that it would be worse to lie.

Hermione's eyes flashed. "And you listen to him."

"Well, I—"

Her voice was arctic. "Back to the little boy's club, of course."

"Hey!" Harry yelped. "That's not fair. I listen to both of you, and I like both of you. I have never said that I thought what Ron did was right, but if I stopped being friends with him every time he did something stupid, you and I would probably be dead by now!"

"As if he ever did anything important!" Hermione snarled.

The vase on the shelf under Hermione's window exploded in a shower of glass, water, and flowers. Hermione jumped in her seat.

Distantly, Harry had to give her credit for the speed with which she'd erected the shield that ensured that none of the detritus got very far. But the rest of Harry was a gibbering mess because he'd just lost control again, lost control over a comment that was stupid but hardly worthy of rage.

Hermione turned back to look at him, then fixed the mess with a wave of her wand.

"I'm sorry," he croaked out miserably.

"Oh, Harry," she said in a much-altered tone of voice. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to put you in the middle."

"I know it's not easy," he garbled out through a mouth that felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton.

"It's impossible!" she agreed, sounding a little bit as though she were going to cry, which was really not good because Hermione normally only cried when Ron was being a complete arse, and he wasn't even in the room right now. "They're still my family, you know? You don't really get to divorce the family, only every time I'm there, they're there, and I just want to hide or maybe curse them. You don't know what it's like, you—"

Harry stood abruptly. "I have to go."

Hermione blinked at him, frozen mid-rant. "What?"

"I have to go," Harry repeated. "Sorry to cut this short. Early meeting today. I'll talk to you later, all right?"

"But, Harry—"

"Goodbye, Hermione."

Harry made himself walk down the hallway normally, made sure all the feelings were locked inside of him where no one could see them.

He didn't know what it was like because he didn't have a family. Hermione was the most rational person he knew, the one who had stuck with him through everything.

There was only thing to be done.


Chapter Four: Giving in to the Past

Draco had known that something had to give, but it still came as a shock the morning he entered the kitchen and saw a letter on the mantle that said "Draco Malfoy". Draco was rushing up the stairs barely before he'd conceived the thought, but to his shock, when he reached Theodore's room, he found the boy peacefully sleeping in his bed.

Returning downstairs at a more moderate rate, Draco plucked the letter from its resting place and opened the envelope.

It was dated this morning and showed that Potter had learnt nothing about letter-writing or penmanship in the years since Hogwarts. There were several crossed out sections at the top of the page, and then the letter began without a salutation.

I genuinely thought that we could do this. It's been years since Hogwarts, and most of what we fought about was circumstance. That's what I told myself, anyway. I love Teddy, and I wanted to give him a good home. I told myself I was capable of it.

But the truth is, I've seen what it does to a child to be neglected, to be pushed aside because of the issues of his caregivers. I would do anything not to make that mistake, but no matter how hard I try, we can't seem to make peace. I thought it was going to get better, but I think now it's even worse than when we started. You're right; I'm afraid I'm going to hurt him, and I would never forgive myself if that happened.

Take care of him, Draco Malfoy. Forget about hating me, give him every good thing that filled your childhood, and live in a shadow-free world. You're a Black; you're his proper family. You have parents who love you. You know all about the Wizarding World. You can give him the life he deserves, a life free of freaks and abnormality and the bloody press. Give him a good childhood, full of happy memories. Give him a safe home, full of people who love him and will always take care of him.

I, Harry James Potter, do hereby relinquish my rights regarding Teddy Remus Lupin and give them over in full and without reservation to Draco Malfoy.

Harry Potter

P.S. I wrote Teddy a letter. You don't have to give it to him, of course. But please let him know that I love him with all my heart.

Draco sank blindly into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. He'd thought … he'd thought that he'd feel more triumph in this moment. He'd thought that Potter would screw this up because that was what Potter was forever doing, and yet—

Potter thought that Draco hated him and yet was giving him full custody of Theodore because he believed that Draco could take good care of the boy without Potter's interference. He'd just given up his rights and not tried to saddle Draco with Granger or Molly Weasley or some other caregiver that Potter felt was appropriate. He trusted Draco, all on his own, to make this work.

This felt more like the ashes of the "victory" of repairing the vanishing cabinet or pointing his wand at a cornered Dumbledore. He hadn't intended this.

He reread the paragraph about taking care of Theodore. Did Potter really think that Draco brought so much to the table? And Potter so little? Yet if there was one thing that Draco could be altogether certain of, now more than ever, it was that Potter would do absolutely anything for that child.

Although, really, why the other man couldn't have said any of this to Draco rather than getting all melodramatic and declaring it via badly written letter while giving up the child he loved….

That was a Gryffindor for you.

Two hours later, Draco had discovered that that was barely scratching the surface of being a damn Gryffindor with their stupid grand gestures.

Potter was gone. Well and truly gone. Granger'd got a letter and been asked to explain it to everyone else, the Auror department had received a letter of resignation, and it was as if the other man had disappeared off the face of the planet.

It was a good thing he evidently hadn't realised where you had to file these sorts of legal statements, or he would already have lost custody of Theodore.

Fortunately, it didn't look good for the Saviour of the Wizarding World to simply disappear, especially when he was employed by the Ministry of Magic. The letter of resignation was suppressed, and Draco and Granger were given permission to pursue inquiries, since they could do so more quietly than the Aurors—or at least without making it look as though it were necessarily a criminal investigation. It would take everyone a little while to catch on.

The first thing Granger did, of course, was corner Draco.

"All right, Malfoy. Spill."

"I beg your pardon?"

She glared at him. "There's no way he'd run like this and leave Teddy behind for no reason. What happened?"

"Why do you assume it had anything to do with me?" he demanded angrily.

"Precedent?" she suggested with silky sweetness that warned him that she was probably going for her wand next.

He sighed and handed over the letter. She had, after all, a much better chance of working out where Potter would run to, and it was stupid not to give her as many of the pieces as he had.

She looked up at him when she finished, shock painted across her features.

"Why would he do that?"

Draco let out a huff of breath. "Because he cares more about Theodore than he does about himself, the stupid wanker. And sticking the two of us in a house and telling us to take care of a kid was the stupidest idea anyone could ever have come up with."

"But I thought it wasn't going so badly," Granger protested. "I mean, I know it wasn't perfect, and there was a lot to get used to, but he said you were compromising, you were trying to make it work."

Draco sighed, wondering why he was telling her all of this but doing it anyway. "And fighting and arguing and attacking one another. He destroyed the kitchen without even going near his wand."

An eyebrow rose.

Reluctantly, Draco admitted, "I said he wasn't properly family."

Granger let out a very unladylike curse, and this surprised a bark of laughter out of him.

"I was talking about how hard it was after the divorce yesterday. I started to say he didn't know what it was like, and he lit out of here like a shot."

"I think he's been hearing that a lot recently."

Something like guilt squirmed in Draco's gut. Potter had mostly heard it from him.

"Idiot man for not letting me finish my sentences," Granger snapped. "I was talking about his nice amicable break-up from Ginny rather than World War Three like me and Ron. Of course he's part of the damn family. How the hell could he think he's not when he's practically Molly's favourite son?"

Draco laughed in spite of himself. He liked Granger more than he ever admitted to anyone, usually including himself. And if they could work together, wasn't it theoretically possible for him and Potter to do the same?

"Where's Teddy?" she asked suddenly.

"With my mother at Malfoy Manor. I haven't told him anything yet." He hesitated for a moment and then admitted, "I hope that it won't come to that."

Granger's gaze was sharp and piercing, and he checked as he hadn't needed to in years to ensure that his Occlumency shields hadn't slipped. She nodded once, sharply, and that was the end of that; suddenly they were looking in earnest for Potter.

Draco had foolishly thought for one fleeting moment that the fact that Granger was Potter's friend was going to be a hindrance, that she'd be too nice. He'd clearly forgotten everything he knew about Hermione Granger.

Over the next twenty-four hours she froze Potter's bank accounts, questioned his house-elf, performed every legal tracing spell, Flooed the Headmistress of Hogwarts, warded his house, flagged him for Portkeys and the Floo Network, ordered the entire Auror department to report to her if they saw him, got most of the Weasleys staking out possible locations, and even ignored Ronald Weasley.

Then she dragged Draco off by the arm and Apparated him to the middle of nowhere.

"Where the hell are we?"

"The Forest of Dean."

"Why?"

"This is Harry's most likely location."

"Why would he be here?"

"Because he'd want to go somewhere familiar but not somewhere where there were any people he might hurt. Because this is an easy location to live in with limited resources."

"The middle of a forest," Draco repeated disbelievingly.

Granger sighed. "We spent a while here when we were on the run from Voldemort."

"Ah," Draco said stupidly.

Granger didn't dignify that with a response, simply setting off, and Draco followed her. They tramped through all sorts of greenery, past flowers and trees in bloom. It was quite beautiful, really, but it was very … empty.

"He'd really just camp out here?"

"I expect so."

"And we're just wandering around hoping to find him?"

"More or less."

"You do remember that you're a witch?"

She shot him a venomous look that reminded him how, once upon a time, she'd slapped him in the face for calling someone pathetic.

"Yes, Malfoy, I am a witch. In fact, I'm the witch who taught Harry the spells to hide from Voldemort, the Death Eaters, the Snatchers, and everybody else."

Draco cleared his throat. "Lovely day for a walk."

Granger rolled her eyes but looked moderately less likely to slay him with her glare. He'd spent seven years at school pretending she wasn't as smart as she really was, and he sometimes still forgot that that was a very bad life choice now that they were both in the Department of Mysteries.

He realised after walking for a few more minutes that she was, in fact, making for a specific destination if her course corrections were anything to go by. She caught his sidelong looks.

"There are a few places that have … significance. I have no idea if he'll go there, but it's a place to start."

Draco shrugged and nodded. It was clear that she knew Potter a whole lot better than Draco did. In fact, Draco was starting to suspect that he didn't know Potter at all.

He'd spent several years training with Granger, though, which meant that it didn't take him too long to realise that she was seriously tense.

"Are you all right?"

She looked over at him in surprise and then he watched a bit of the tension leak out of her shoulders.

"Nothing to do with our search."

"That's not actually what I asked," he pointed out, carefully mild to let her know that he wasn't forcing an answer, but he was offering to listen.

She sighed. "After abandoning us like the biggest wanker on the planet, this is where Ron found us again and just figured we'd forgive him."

Draco had heard bits and pieces of this, rumours over the years, but he was pretty sure that he was missing some large chunks of the story.

"We were on a quest to defeat Voldemort, we needed him, and he just left." Her voice was taut with emotion. "Even after I begged him not to."

"How do I point this out delicately…." Draco trailed off.

Granger laughed, though the sound had very little amusement in it. "Yeah," she agreed. "I said that I forgave him, but you're right."

Draco couldn't believe they were having this discussion. "You didn't."

"I couldn't forget. Deep down, I don't think I ever trusted that he wouldn't leave me again. And then, of course, he did."

"Please tell me you're not blaming yourself for his being an arse?"

She laughed again, though he could hear the other emotions underneath the sound. "I've spent a lot of time blaming him, actually. He could have ended it without humiliating me, but I've never admitted how hard I made it for him. Thanks, Malfoy."

Draco made a face. "I'm going to deny we ever had this conversation."

Her laughter sounded more genuine this time. "Me, too." She cast him a sly look. "Or we could tell Ron and see if his brain explodes."

They grinned at one another and continued on through the forest much more charitably disposed to one another than they had been previously.

They stopped, finally, at a pool in, as far as Draco could tell, still the middle of nowhere. Granger looked around carefully, as though she might be able to detect Potter's presence after all.

She seemed disinclined to tell him the pool's significance, and Draco decided it didn't really matter. This was somewhere where Potter might be, but so far, there was no Potter in evidence.

Granger was staring at him again, and Draco was just about to ask why when she drew her wand and conjured her Patronus wordlessly.

He looked around warily, but the otter that swam out of Granger's wand didn't seem to be here to face any Dementors. The otter looked at Granger and then swam away.

"That didn't happen," Granger said conversationally.

"Right," Draco agreed with a faint sigh, resigning himself to not getting an answer anytime soon but wondering who he could worm the secret out of.

Granger sat down against a tree trunk, and Draco sat down next to her.

"And now we wait?"

"Now we wait," she agreed.

A couple hours in, Granger sent out her Patronus again and then constructed a rudimentary shelter to get them off the ground and out of the rain.

They waited all night, taking turns sleeping fitfully and watching, but there was no indication that anything was stirring in the forest—not anything human, anyway—no matter how many times Granger sent out her Patronus. It was clearly an effort at communication, but it was beginning to look as though it either could not penetrate the shields that Granger had taught Potter, he was ignoring them, or he really wasn't here.

~*~

Draco was tired, stiff, and hungry by the time they Apparated back to London in the morning. Granger went to check up on their other leads, and Draco headed to Grimmauld Place to change before heading over to the Manor to check on Theodore and grab something to eat.

The little boy was enjoying the change of scenery and the chance at a sleepover, but he wasn't stupid; he knew it had been too long since he'd last seen Potter.

"Will he come back if you stop fighting?"

Draco frowned sharply. They hadn't always succeeded, but Draco had thought that they'd kept most of their arguments out of Theodore's sight and hearing. Potter had caught on more quickly than he had, which was embarrassing—but then, Potter had always spent more time with Theodore than Draco had.

"We both want to make sure that you're happy," Draco told the little boy as diplomatically as he could. "We realised it's hard for you to be happy if we're not. We're trying to sort that out."

Theodore was looking at him with a slightly suspicious look that indicated he'd noticed that Draco had not actually answered his question. He was well on his way to making a fine Slytherin.

"I'll see what I can do," Draco tried.

The little boy beamed at him and then flung his arms around Draco.

"Tell Hawwy I love him, and I want him to come home."

"I'll do my best to pass the message along."

And then Theodore was running off to find Draco's mother, and Draco caught a couple of hours sleep before heading back to the Ministry.

Granger had not stopped since she'd got back, of course, so Draco threatened to Stun her and lock her in her office, and she lay down for a couple of hours while he followed up on all their non-existent leads.

Draco wondered what Potter was eating—and then he wondered how many friends he had who would shelter him and not turn him in if Potter asked them not to. Most of the people who had been at Hogwarts in their year, the DA, and the Order of the Phoenix sprang immediately to mind.

Draco decided to start closer to home and tackle the Auror department. His attempt to question Potter's partner went more oddly than Draco had expected.

Bernard Smith looked, on first inspection, to have been paired with Potter because he was his complete opposite. He was tall, broad, and golden blond with blue eyes and a smile that sat easily on his big lips. He exuded confidence and charm.

"Listen, Love." The smile deepened as Draco stiffened. "Harry's easy enough to understand. When you care about him, you're loyal to him. Of course I'd lie to you about where he was if I knew—but he knows that, and he's loyal to the people he cares about. Since he'd never let me get into hot water with the Ministry, I don't know where he is."

Draco decided he didn't like Smith all that much, but he had to concede that the man's speed psych eval on Potter matched with everything that Draco knew about him, which probably meant that Potter hadn't gone to the man knowing that they'd think he wouldn't. Potter wasn't really up for that much subterfuge, although Draco was quite certain that Smith was.

"By the way."

Draco looked back at the other man, poised to leave his cubicle. Smith flashed him a blinding grin.

"Anytime you want to go out for a drink, Beautiful, you just let me know."

Draco couldn't prevent his lip from curling up in aversion, and Smith's laughter followed him all the way out of the department.

He'd need to look up what House the other man had been in, but he knew where he'd be willing to lay money.

Ronald Weasley was out in the field, which was probably just as well. The beauty about the other man was that Draco wouldn't even have needed to pick a fight to get one.

~*~

On the third day of their search, Granger taught Draco how to send messages with his Patronus. The way she conspicuously didn't mention the Order of the Phoenix told Draco more loudly than words where the skill had originated. Given that she could have made up any origin she wished, he assumed that she wanted him to know.

Once Draco mastered this dead useful skill—Granger didn't even insult him by telling him he needed to be careful about when he used it—she left him to the Forest of Dean and headed off to reconnoitre other possible locations.

She claimed she still thought this one the most likely, but it certainly wasn't garnering results. So Draco spent an unnatural amount of time in the forest sending out his Patronus to someone he didn't know was there. He amused himself with varying messages contained within the Patronus—none of the complimentary, but all of them clear—and contemplating exactly what he intended to say to the other man when he got back.

Draco turned twenty-two alone in a forest and reflected somewhat sombrely that, although Potter owed him a birthday, this wasn't the worst one that Draco had ever had.

To his surprise, Granger brought him a chocolate cupcake with loads of icing and a candle on top when she came to replace him in the evening.

He raised an eyebrow.

"I know everything," she said simply. "Happy birthday."

He laughed. "Thanks."

She smiled at him, impression of all-knowing wisdom slipping away. "Go enjoy your evening. I'll see you tomorrow, all right?"

He'd already told Blaise and Theo that he was going to be busy. He was pretty sure they'd let him commandeer them, and Draco thought about it for a moment, and then he Apparated to the Manor and shared his cupcake with Theodore.

His mother and father, joining them for tea, looked at him askance.

"What?" he demanded.

"I have never seen you share something chocolate with someone else," his mother observed.

Draco felt his face heat at the definitive observation.

"Theodore is family," Draco declared loftily. "He's special."

The little boy beamed at him, and Draco's parents did not point out that he had never shared with them, either.

After the meal, Draco and his mother sat in the drawing room and pretended they weren't keeping an eye on his father as he played with Theodore. Draco was pretty sure that the other man was trying to instil sound defensive strategies as they built with the blocks that had been brought from Grimmauld Place, but as long as Theodore was still having fun, no one was going to argue.

It made Draco's mother smile sadly watching the little boy and her husband work together, and Draco tried not to think about what life might have been like if the Dark Lord had died for sure the first time or if his father had cared less about his Ministry standing.

No Malfoy wanted to be obscure, and Draco knew that his father had been doing what he thought best.

Sometimes, that made it worse.

"Is it possible that Harry has left the country?" his mother asked.

"It's not out of the question," Draco conceded. "We've made inquiries without result thus far. Granger thinks he'd go somewhere familiar, and I'm inclined to agree with her. I think it likely that she has chosen the correct location. Potter's just a stubborn idiot."

There was no way they were going to be able to suppress this much longer. It was a minor miracle that the Daily Prophet hadn't heard yet. He wondered if Granger was Memory Charming as she went….

"He's afraid and feels very alone."

Draco looked at his mother sharply.

"I remember what it was like when I first became a parent," she said serenely. "If I knew where he was, Draco, I would not allow him to suffer."

"You really like him, don't you," Draco said in some confusion.

"He is brave, well-meaning, and loves with all his heart."

Draco swallowed and told himself he was not jealous of Potter and the man was not stealing his mother.

She laid a hand on Draco's arm. "He reminds me of another little boy I care for very deeply."

Draco sniffed. "I am not little."

She smiled, just a little, and Draco went back to watching Theodore and his father, feeling remarkably content given how messed up his life was right now.

~*~

Two days later, Granger surprised him by showing up in the Forest of Dean with Ron Weasley. Draco's eyebrows rose towards his hairline. Granger smiled at him with grim satisfaction.

"The end of the world; just think how confusing Harry will find it."

Draco really couldn't argue with that.

They cast in tandem, and an otter, a terrier, and a swan swam, ran, and flew off into the forest, disappearing from view. Granger wanted them to quarter the area, so they cast three more times to cover all the directions and then paused for a break. Even without Dementors and modified to be a messenger, the spell took a lot of effort.

Granger, Draco realised, looked altogether peaky and sat down before either he or Weasley could check up on her.

"What if it doesn't work?" Weasley asked.

"Then I come up with another plan."

Granger's tone was a little terse, but Draco couldn't blame her; he would never have been stupid enough to ask that question.

Weasley reached out and laid a hand on her arm, and to Draco's surprise, she didn't immediately shrug it off—or curse him before he got anywhere near her.

"Then we come up with another plan," he corrected.

Granger slipped out of his touch now, but she nodded, and Draco surmised that more than simply an appeal to find Potter had taken place to get Weasley into the forest.

Draco felt a little ill at the notion that he had helped bring about this reconciliation, but it really was causing more stress in Granger's life than was helpful for how much she was currently in Draco's life.

"We'll cast again in an hour," Granger said, and the two of them simply nodded.

Draco watched the fine tremor in Granger's hands. He'd never seen her react that badly to casting a spell before—and he'd seen her cast some extraordinary spells. He watched her lean her head back against the tree she was sitting at the base of and try not to look as tired as she obviously felt. He wondered if she'd actually be ready to cast in an hour or if he and Weasley could actually combine forces to stop her.

As it turned out, they needn't have worried.

Less than half an hour later, Granger straightened abruptly a moment before Potter appeared in front of them. He was staring at them like he couldn't believe his eyes, but Draco didn't suppose he could blame him. It would have been stranger only had the Dark Lord made up part of the party.

Granger was on her feet and in his arms a moment later, and Weasley followed suit. Draco stood on the periphery and looked at the Golden Trio reunited and wondered if this was the best plan that he had ever had.

"What's going on?" Strangely, it was Draco that Potter looked at, alarm evident in his voice. Then he continued, "Is Teddy okay?"

Draco's eyes flickered shut for a moment, and then he opened them again. "You really are the biggest idiot in the world, Potter." Weasley stiffened. "You left him; of course he's not all right. And you revealed yourself because you're worried about him; leaving him was an asinine plan."

Potter's face twisted, but he didn't yell at Draco as Draco had been sure he would. "I didn't know what else to do."

"Come home, and I will furnish you with a list of acceptable alternatives."

Potter tried to take a step back, but Granger and Weasley clung to him, and it was clear that if he fled, they'd stay attached.

Draco drew a breath in through his nose and let it out slowly. Merlin grant him patience.

"We need to talk about this, Potter. That is the rational way to deal with problems."

"We're not very good at talking."

It should have been a glib and puerile comment, but Draco could kind of see Potter's point if you reviewed all their previous interactions.

"We can make more of an effort."

Eyes greener than anything in this whole bloody forest met his. "Can we?"

Draco knew what Potter was really asking, and he offered a sharp nod. "Theodore told me to tell you that he loves you, and he wants you to come home."

"Won't that just be confusing to him?"

It took a moment for Draco to understand. "Potter, as I have already said, you are an idiot. Granger's been leaning on the Prophet, the Auror department lost your resignation, and I'm going to burn your blasted letter. You are going home to your son if I have to Mobilicorpus you and drag you there myself!"

Weasley was staring at Draco as though he'd never seen him before, Granger's lips had tipped up into a satisfied smirk, and after a moment of being utterly frozen, Potter had burst into the biggest smile that Draco had ever seen.

Butterflies erupted in his stomach; this whole thing was altogether disconcerting.

"Ron and I will take care of everything at the Ministry," Granger said with a firm hand on Weasley's arm, one that tightened visibly when he opened his mouth.

The redhead wisely shut his mouth without saying anything, and a moment later the two of them had Disapparated.

"What just happened?" Potter asked plaintively.

Draco laughed. "Don't disappear again, and you won't miss so much."

Potter's face fell. "I didn't want to hurt anyone."

Draco sighed, the fact that it was nonsensical to feel down when Potter was down not doing much to stop the dip in Draco's own emotions.

"And you're not going to unless you disappear again. My mother is looking after Theodore at the Manor. Do I need to Side-Along you?"

This last question was asked with enough snideness that Potter straightened up and had no choice but to answer, "Of course not."

Draco hoped the other man appreciated how lucky he was Draco didn't do it anyway.

They Disapparated and reappeared at Malfoy Manor. The reunion went as expected, Theodore absolutely delighted that Potter was back, Potter trying not to cry, and neither of them looking as though they were going to let one another go anytime soon.

Draco thanked his parents for looking after Theodore, and Potter echoed him, not even looking like he was lying about saying it to Draco's father, which only reinforced the fact that Potter was a moron if he'd thought that he could give Theodore up.

They returned to Grimmauld Place, and Potter apologized a lot to Theodore and promised him solemnly that if he ever had to go away again, he would talk to the little boy first. There was some crying after all, on both sides, and Draco left the other man to put Theodore to bed. It took, as Draco had expected, a great deal longer than normal.

"Sorry about that," Potter apologized when he got back downstairs.

He looked surprised but grateful when Draco handed him a mug of tea. He'd already taken a sip before he asked, "It doesn't have Veritaserum in it, does it?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "And you call yourself an Auror."

Potter just hummed and drank more tea.

"We need to—" Draco began.

"Can we sit?" Potter interrupted.

Draco raised an eyebrow, and Potter flushed faintly.

"Sorry, it's just—it's like we expect it's going to end in a duel."

Reviewing their past interactions, Draco realised the other man was right. He sat, and Potter followed suit, smiling cautiously at him. He kept his hands wrapped around his mug on the table, and Draco wondered if this was the other man's way of proving that he wasn't going to go for his wand when they were seated.

Not that going for his wand was always necessary for the other man.

There was so much to talk about that Draco didn't even know where to start. He stared across the table at Potter, and Potter stared back at him.

Seriously, though, they needed to talk about pretty much every aspect of their interaction with one another. Draco needed to yell at the other man. Potter needed to not explode the kitchen again. The list was endless.

Potter seemed equally uncertain where to begin, though this was less surprising given the man's conversation skills and the fact that he had an obvious tendency to run rather than to confront.

And then Potter held out his hand across the table. Draco stared at it blankly.

"Harry Potter," Potter said.

Draco kept staring.

Potter began to look uncomfortable, but he didn't withdraw his hand.

"It worked for me and Theo," Potter explained. "Sort of seems like we need to start over too, doesn't it?"

Harry Potter was offering his hand to Draco Malfoy. Freely. Well aware that Draco could refuse. Hell, aware that Draco was angry with him and could refuse on principle, never mind how he actually felt.

There was a strong part of Draco that wanted to make the other man see how it felt to be refused, but the rest of him was pointing out loudly that HARRY POTTER WAS OFFERING HIS HAND TO DRACO MALFOY.

Yeah. He'd wanted that since he was eleven.

Draco's mother was right. Harry Potter was brave. And Potter had had a point, too, even if he had a piss-poor method of expression. Before his letter, Draco would likely not have hesitated to ignore this gesture.

Draco reached out his hand and shook Potter's. It was smaller than he'd expected, somehow, but it felt callused and strong and warm, and an incredibly childish part of Draco was telling him it felt a bit like when his wand had first been placed in his hand at Ollivander's.

"Draco Malfoy."

They let go before the moment could become more awkward than it already was, but Potter was smiling, and Draco allowed his lips to tip up into a faint smile.

It was a place to start.

Potter looked lost again, so Draco took over.

"Now comes the difficult part; we have to figure out everything that comes after the handshake."

Potter laughed, and Draco told himself that he hadn't been trying to make that happen. Really, though, it was a sound technique. The more at ease the two of them were, the higher the chance of successful conversation.

Draco put the letter Potter had written in the middle of the table and pulled out his wand. He raised an eyebrow until Potter pulled out his as well. They cast together, and the letter went up in a puff of flames and smoke, curling to ashes.

The set of Potter's shoulders had already eased.

Draco reholstered his wand. "I believe it is clear that we are both committed to raising Theodore right. This means we must learn to cohabitate without killing one another."

Potter nodded seriously, and Draco realised that the other man really was concerned about his magical outbursts.

"It is clear that our upbringings are very different," Draco began but paused when Potter stiffened as though he'd been hit with Petrificus Totalis.

"Okay," Draco continued slowly, puzzled. "This is a fortuitous example. I was about to point out that due to our differing upbringings, it's become increasingly clear that we don't understand one another very well when it comes to sharing a household, and this leads to misunderstandings. You, clearly, have just felt insulted or attacked, which was, in fact, not my intention. An accurate assessment?"

Still looking somewhat hunted, Potter nevertheless nodded.

"In our old method of dealing with this, I would attack a weakness and probably mock you, and you would explode and/or run away. In our new method of dealing with this, I propose that we discuss and resolve the issue and then move on to the next one."

Potter stared at him blankly for a moment and then cracked, unexpectedly, a smile.

"Had to work often with Hermione in the DOM, did you?"

Draco cleared his throat and didn't answer, but it was already clear that Potter had, at some point, experienced a similar speech. Draco would forgive the embarrassment for the fact that Potter seemed calmer and less prone to literally explode.

Draco brought them back to the matter at hand, well aware that Potter was trying to avoid the subject. "Is it my upbringing or your own that is the issue?"

Potter was staring at him very evenly, green eyes considering him with enough calculation that Draco was reminded that the other man was an Auror.

"I value my privacy, Malfoy."

"We can't get this sorted if we won't talk," Draco argued.

"Not what I meant," Potter dismissed, not looking away from Draco.

Someone had told him about Skeeter. Draco felt a jolt of pure annoyance at first, at Potter's assumption that he would behave with same way now.

A moment of consideration had Draco laughing at himself; first off, why wouldn't Potter be concerned about precedent. Draco would probably have insulted his Gryffindor tendencies if he hadn't. Second, even if Potter wasn't thinking about the past, if they were starting fresh, then there was every reason for the other man to want to know that Draco was trustworthy. You didn't tell your secrets to a stranger.

Draco frowned at himself. Did he really tend to ignore motivations he would allow for anyone else and have a whole special set of rules for Potter?

Of course, the Golden Boy of Gryffindor tended to have special rules all the damn time.

Draco pushed the thought aside.

"I give you my word that this doesn't go beyond us."

Potter nodded.

Draco waited to see if the other man was going to be courteous and then squashed his annoyance and prompted, "And you?"

"Carry secrets to my grave."

It should have been flippant, or at least melodramatic. From Potter, it had seemed like neither, and Draco was reminded of the hushed tones in which his mother had told him that Potter had been hit with the Dark Lord's Killing Curse and had risen once more.

It was something that Potter never talked about, and Draco was finally getting the sense that it was one of many things.

Here went nothing.

"Our upbringing, Potter?"

Potter swallowed convulsively.

"You've always acted like a spoiled rich kid."

Draco bit down on his tongue until he tasted blood. A splendid start; if he employed the coping mechanisms that had got him through audiences with the Dark Lord, maybe he and Potter would survive this.

"Everything I've seen," Potter added. "The Manor, your parents, your sense of entitlement, your treatment of the Weasleys, the care packages from home, running to your father about Buckbeak."

Who the hell was Buckbeak?

"Dobby, brooms for the Quidditch team, the Quidditch World Cup, the stupid Hand of Glory."

Potter wasn't even looking at him now, and Draco was nearly vibrating with rage and indignation; his method of dealing with the Dark Lord wasn't going to work here because Draco wasn't afraid of Potter. He wondered how much he could curse the other man before Potter would have time to go for his wand and start cursing back.

"It was a lot of stuff," Potter pursued, seemingly ignorant of his danger. "Or it seemed like a lot of stuff back then. You always act like I should know what it's like, and sometimes … sometimes I just wish that was true."

Draco started at the other man blankly, this comment so contrary to what he'd been expecting that he literally could not process it.

"What?" he barked out.

Potter waved a hand dismissively, still not looking at him and not seeming to process the sharp tone in which Draco had asked the question.

"Oh, you know, not really rich and spoiled, but part of a proper family. A loving family."

Draco had committed extraordinarily questionable acts for his family. They were his, he wouldn't give them up for anything, and he wouldn't let anybody insult them, but he was twenty-two, and even he recognized that there was something a little bit … wrong with what Potter had just said.

"Potter," Draco spoke slowly, feeling as though he were standing at the edge of a cliff and about to plunge over the edge without a broom, "what was your childhood like?"

A shudder rippled through Potter. He was pale, the dark circles under his eyes pronounced; whatever he'd been doing out in the forest, it didn't appear to have included sleeping.

Potter's lips shaped the word, but no sound came out: "Miserable."

Draco waited.

"My aunt and uncle hated everything I stood for. They resented Dumbledore forcing me on them, and they swore they would stamp the magic out of me. They wouldn't answer any of my questions, ignored me as best they could, and showered love and attention on my cousin."

In the past, Draco would have immediately accused Potter of exaggerating, of being upset because he wasn't the centre of the universe, would probably have applauded his family for having the good sense not to bow down and worship the Boy Who Lived.

Draco was beginning to have a very good idea of why it was they'd fought so often in the past. Because having swallowed his normal instinctive reaction to lash out at Potter, he actually paid attention to Potter, thought of that night he had come home from the raid and let Draco light into him without even pointing out that he was injured.

Potter, it was becoming increasingly evident, did not react the same way Draco did to a lot of things. That being said, he was pretty sure he knew exactly how Potter would react if Draco pushed too hard on this. How to phrase what he actually wanted to know?

"Did they do anything that they should have been seized by Aurors and imprisoned for?"

Potter blinked at him, a long sweep of dark lashes. Then his lips tipped up slightly.

"Oh, it wasn't so bad as all that."

He remembered finding Potter talking with Theo in the middle of the night looking as though he'd run head first at the Whomping Willow. It seemed to Draco that Potter didn't have a very normal gauge for this sort of thing.

Draco scoured through his memories, refusing to think about the wealth of information about Potter that seemed to be readily apparent.

"It's the little things," Draco said, building up slowly. "Why you sit up with Theodore after his nightmares, why you're so worried about hurting him, ignoring him, leaving him ignorant. Why you want him to have a home where he's safe. Why you got upset when I implied it would be better if it looked as though you didn't live here—and why you freaked out when I said you weren't family."

Potter was breathing heavily, but Draco hadn't broken eye contact, and Potter hadn't fled yet—or destroyed the kitchen, so Draco thought they were doing pretty well. The only sound in the kitchen was Potter's breathing, which gradually slowed and quieted, and then Potter nodded, once, and looked down to his mug.

"I know you don't like them, but the Weasleys are just about the only good example of a family that I have. And I thought I could do better than my past, you know, could learn from those mistakes, but it seemed like everything we did, we were getting closer and closer to everything I didn't want for Teddy."

Draco filled in the blanks. "And you'd do anything, including giving him up, to prevent that."

Potter nodded, still not looking at him.

"You really thought that I'd be able to raise him properly?" Draco couldn't help but ask.

He knew what Potter thought of him, didn't he?

Potter looked at him incredulously. "I may not totally understand why you agreed to this, and I might not agree with every decision that you make, but if there's one thing I know about you, Draco Malfoy, it's that you'll take care of your family."

Draco sat there for a moment, stunned. Draco had a pretty good idea of what past events were forming Potter's opinion, and the fact that the other man could—and was willing to—put a positive spin on them was rather mind-boggling.

They still had a lot to talk about, but for the first time, Draco considered that they might seriously be able to do this.


Chapter Five: Revisiting the Past

Everyone in the universe who knew Harry Potter and knew that he'd left had taken the time to tell him that he shouldn't have run away. (Harry was pretty sure Hermione must have used Memory Charms to keep it out of the Prophet.) His method of dealing with things had been examined minutely and embarrassingly by too many people. He'd been put on probation at work, chewed out by everyone he knew, and scared Teddy.

The last was the only one that actually upset him, though, because if Harry weighed the pros and cons, he could be nothing but happy with the outcome. He still didn't fully understand why it had made a difference, but it was a bit like he'd come back home to a different person, like the Malfoy who'd gone out into the forest with Hermione and Ron to find him—and that was still mind-boggling—was not the same Malfoy Harry had been living with up to that point.

(He was an Auror; he'd actually double-checked to make sure the man wasn't a Polyjuiced imposter.)

Seriously, though, there were actually plenty of points of similarity, but it was like he'd got through to … the inner Malfoy or something. Well, probably not the inner Malfoy, but if Malfoy was an onion, then he'd made it down a layer or two, at least.

And when they weren't both looking to attack one another, it turned out that … they sort of got along. More or less. Malfoy hadn't even used this need to communicate to dig for all of Harry's secrets. They still had their disagreements, but so far, Harry hadn't had anything thrown back in his face. He knew it wasn't going to go perfectly, but he had to admit that it was a relief to not have everything fall apart before his very eyes.

Teddy was happier than ever, now, and he seemed to be including Malfoy more in his actions; Harry wasn't sure if this was because Harry was including him more or because Malfoy was more approachable now. Maybe it was a combination of the two—and maybe it didn't really matter what the reason was so long as they were enjoying the results. It was much easier for all three of them to spend time together when no one was waiting for a bomb to go off.

There was at least a part of Harry that was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but this actually felt pretty normal; he'd spent most of his childhood and all of his years through Hogwarts waiting for that, and Voldemort had been a hell of a shoe.

He knew that they couldn't keep on as well as they were doing right now; it was pretty obvious that they were both on their best behaviour, and that just wouldn't last. But it still made for a nice base, gave them something that they could strive for if they wanted to—and it seemed like maybe they all actually wanted to work for this now.

Harry was very grateful that Malfoy was no longer acting as though Harry offended him with his very existence. He was still giving Harry plenty of strange looks, but Harry was used to that—and he thought Malfoy did some pretty weird things, too.

They lasted for about a week and a half before Malfoy started to get snippy again, and Harry—keeping a tight rein on his own temper—had resigned himself to this being the shortest truce ever when he realised what date was looming.

Hoping he wasn't making a big mistake, Harry arranged for Molly to look after Teddy and asked Theo to book the evening with Malfoy so that he wouldn't make any other plans. (Snippiness of the Slytherin who was living with him notwithstanding, Harry was really starting to think that he'd missed out on some good friendship opportunities thanks to the House system at Hogwarts. Well, Houses and the War, anyway. Sometimes, he wondered what would have happened if the Hat had put him where it wanted. It was hard to imagine losing Ron and Hermione, though, and Malfoy had still behaved like a prat through all the years at Hogwarts.)

Malfoy was supposed to meet Theo at half eight, and Harry didn't have to worry about missing when he was about to leave because there was no doubt that the Malfoy heir was stomping down the stairs. Harry decided it was fortunate that he'd kept his sense of humour because while he was sure that Malfoy wouldn't like Harry laughing at him, the fact that Malfoy acting like a five year old made Harry smile ensured that he wasn't in as dreadful a mood as the other man was.

Which was funny, really, under the circumstances, but Harry had ceased to question this sort of thing.

Harry pulled on his cloak and met Malfoy at the door. The other man looked annoyed already.

"Did I ever tell you about how the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin?"

Malfoy actually gaped at him, and Harry congratulated himself on the perfect one-liner.

"I just want you to keep that in mind when I point out that you're actually going somewhere with me, and Theo helped me out."

He could practically see the other man thinking that this was Slytherin behaviour, and Harry just smiled at him and waited to see if Malfoy was going to flip out yet.

"I have no desire to go out, Potter," Malfoy told him stiffly.

"I know," Harry said quietly, holding out his hand. "Come anyway?"

Malfoy regarded him for a long moment and then put his hand in Harry's.

With what was one of either the worst or best ideas that Harry had ever had, he tucked Malfoy up against him and Apparated.

They walked through the gates and across the grounds, and it took Malfoy a minute to realise where they were going.

Malfoy's breath left him in a rush, and Harry, possibly against his better judgement, kept a tight grip on his hand and arm.

"You listened to me about my childhood," Harry tried to explain. "I wanted you to know that you're not alone, and Dumbledore certainly wouldn't want this to hurt you anymore."

Malfoy's face was waxen, the sun casting long shadows as it sank closer to the horizon. He remained silent, so Harry continued.

"I know it's been five years so you maybe don't want to talk about it anymore. And you certainly don't have to talk about it with me!" he added hurriedly. "But, uh, Snape's dead, and I thought maybe you might not feel as though there are very many people you can talk to."

Malfoy looked like he was still on the verge of bolting, and Harry made himself keep talking. If he wanted to offer an ear to listen, if he thought that Malfoy might trust him to share his feelings, then he really needed to be honest in return.

Even after all this time, the words burned a bit. "As one of the people actually responsible for killing him that night, I assure you that you can't say anything to shock or upset me."

Malfoy frowned sharply. "You didn't kill him, Potter. I cornered him, and Snape cast the Killing Curse."

"Snape fulfilled a promise and ended his suffering. I'd already poured a deadly poison down his throat."

Malfoy was now staring at Harry as though he'd literally never seen him before.

Harry swallowed. "He knew you were trying to kill him. He made Snape promise to do it instead. And he made me promise to make him drink that damn potion no matter what." He cleared his throat roughly. "My point is, nothing that you did on that tower contributed to his death that night. If anything, you confirmed his faith in you when you started to lower your wand."

Malfoy's nostrils flared. His voice was brittle. "You can't know that, Potter."

Harry sighed. "Can't know that unless, as always, Dumbledore knew exactly what he was doing and had me Petrified under my invisibility cloak the whole time."

Malfoy swallowed visibly.

"I'm not diminishing what happened. I don't want to tell you what you're feeling. But I can tell you what I felt, and I can promise you that he's forgiven you and wants you to forgive yourself."

Malfoy was silent for a long time, but then he suddenly started talking.

"No one but Death Eaters knew that I was supposed to kill him. Once Snape did it, I was punished for failing to carry out my duty, but the Dark Lord was pleased about the cabinet, so it sort of came to a draw. I certainly couldn't tell my father that I was upset that he was dead. I didn't even like Dumbledore."

This last was said a bit petulantly, and Harry laughed. He couldn't do much to counter the years of Lucius Malfoy's opinion shared with his son growing up, but perhaps he could control a little of the other damage?

"I was rather stupid as a child," Harry pointed out self-deprecatingly, "and he did a very good job of setting up a clear division between the light and the dark for me. I know he cared about me, but he was also honing a weapon for a war, and he didn't want me to get confused."

Malfoy was silent for another long moment. "Did you just blame yourself for every Gryffindor-favouring, Slytherin-putting down decision that Dumbledore made the entire time we were at school?"

"Uh…."

But Malfoy was smiling. "Gryffindor moron."

Harry returned the smile, relieved.

The silence was less tense now.

"I'd like a few minutes."

"Of course," Harry agreed promptly and stepped back, waving up a Silencing Charm.

Malfoy approached the tomb, and whatever he had to say to Dumbledore was for his ears alone; Harry noticed a fair bit of gesticulating and some angry body language for a while, but given what he'd felt in the year following Dumbledore's death, he certainly wasn't going to cast stones.

The anger faded out of the other man's body bit by bit, and when he finally returned to Harry, he seemed calmer than he had in days.

There was another long silence, and Harry wondered if there was an established etiquette for this sort of thing and he was missing it again.

"You want to get a drink?" Malfoy asked.

"Yes?"

Harry was unable to keep the surprise out of his voice, but maybe that was okay because this was more than a little weird—and Malfoy already thought he was weird anyway.

They walked down to Hogsmeade. (Harry should probably have popped in to say hello to a few people, but he'd decided that trying to do it with Malfoy would be asking for trouble.)

The Three Broomsticks hadn't changed since Harry had last been there, and Malfoy looked as though it was familiar as well. Hopefully, it was a good reminder of their schooling rather than a bad one.

As Rosmerta came to serve them, Malfoy stiffened again and Harry remembered belatedly about the Imperius Curse. Without thought, he reached across under the table and squeezed the nearest part of Malfoy he could reach—fortunately near his knee—and ordered for both of them.

Malfoy's eyebrows had risen towards his hairline, but what he said once Harry had taken back his hand was a very condescending, "Butterbeer?"

Harry just grinned. "You already think my mental age is on par with Teddy's. How can you be surprised?"

Malfoy didn't try to argue this, but he drank the Butterbeer with every evidence of enjoyment.

He ordered Firewhiskey for the next round, though, and several pints later, they were asking one another very personal questions.

"Why don't you hate them? Your relatives?"

Malfoy's eyes were bright and intense. They reminded him more of Sirius than usual in that moment, and Harry blinked the thought away and tried to focus.

"I do, sometimes."

"I mean," Malfoy waved his hand, "why aren't you the next Dark Lord?"

Harry shrugged. "I could give you all the 'of course not, how could you think such a thing' rubbish, but really? Dumb luck? A different outlook in life that Dumbledore took a gamble on and won? I'm not going to make a generalisation about a whole group of people based on one example. I can be violent but I don't think I'm violent by nature. I got herded into the heroic idiots of Gryffindor at a young age? I have no interest in ruling by fear? Or ruling at all, in fact. Voldemort always felt like the world owed him something. He wanted to possess things, and he wanted to make everyone think like him. I just … I just want to be me and to have the chance to be happy and as normal as possible."

Malfoy squinted at him. "You know, I don't think you're quite as stupid as I always thought you were."

Cordially, Harry returned, "And you're not as much of a prick as I always thought you were."

Malfoy smiled, and Harry grinned back stupidly, a warm feeling blossoming in his stomach.

A couple drinks later, Harry announced, "I think you should call me Harry."

"And I suppose you expect me to reciprocate the familiarity?"

Harry blinked at him, confused by the unfair number of syllables.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You want to call me Draco."

Harry nodded, pointing out, "Teddy gets to call you Draco."

"That hardly—"

Harry pouted.

The other man snorted. "Oh, have it your way, Po—Harry."

Harry could get used to this.

~*~

It did not, of course, always go so well.

"No!" Harry yelped.

Malfoy turned to look at Harry and said with an eerily flat voice, "No, Potter?"

Harry swallowed, and Malfoy turned back to Teddy.

"Theodore, go to your room immediately."

Teddy went, but he cast a long look back at Harry as though just waiting for Harry to rescue him. Harry felt kind of like someone had cast a Gut-Expelling Charm on him.

And then Malfoy had whirled on him. "I am growing rather tired of being the villain in this, but if you insist on making me administer every form of punishment, the least you can do is not undermine me at every turn!"

"I don't—" Harry began to protest, but he cut off at Malfoy's quelling glare.

"Let's go over this, shall we? Who disciplined him when he painted the library and damaged several priceless books? That would be me. Who lets him stay up late? That would be you. Who disciplined him when he sneaked outside to try to touch one of those ridiculous automobiles? That would be me again. Who feeds him too much chocolate? You. Who disciplined him when he got into a fight with the little French Weasley? Also me. Reads him one more story even though the last one was it? You. Theodore has—"

"Stop calling him that!" Harry nearly screamed.

"Calling him what?" Malfoy snarled.

"Theodore!"

"That is his name," Malfoy pointed out dangerously, eyes flashing.

"His name is Teddy."

"His birth certificate says Theodore."

"His parents called him Teddy. Andromeda called him Teddy. I call him Teddy. Even your mother calls him Teddy. In fact, everyone who is not you calls him Teddy. Why can't you call him Teddy!"

"His name is Theodore, and I would be only too delighted to have this argument with you, Potter, but I would first like to finish the discussion I started which you have been trying to avoid."

"Huh?"

Malfoy's eyes flickered closed for a moment as though he was looking for patience from somewhere.

The words were hissed: "Discipline, Potter."

Harry felt his face heat; he really had pulled them off on a tangent and conveniently forgotten what had started the argument. Now that Malfoy had pointed it out, the truth of his statement was kind of obvious.

Harry made sure he sounded much calmer when he admitted, "I didn't realise that's what I was doing."

"It was rather hard to miss."

"Can I go make tea while you list the ways I'm too dumb to live?" Harry mumbled.

Draco sighed, sounding tired but less livid when he said, "As long as you make me some as well."

Fair deal as far as Harry was concerned.

They passed into the kitchen, and Harry set the kettle to boil and retrieved the necessary. The silence was tense but not unbearable—or maybe they'd just had a lot of really tense silences since they'd been living together—and they were sitting on opposite sides of the table with piping hot beverages in their hands within ten minutes.

Harry took a grateful sip and made himself speak because this whole thing always ended in disaster if they didn't talk, and as per usual, Harry was an idiot. Plus, if he got this right, he might save hearing what a fuck-up Malfoy thought he was.

"I have some, uh, triggers surrounding the punishment of children. I wasn't thinking about making you do it; I was too busy being relieved that I didn't have to."

"You like to be the hero."

The words were sneered.

Harry stared down into his mug, watching the way the brown shifted subtly as the steam curled up towards him.

"More, I don't want to be the villain, not that I was thinking that consciously."

"It's the same thing, Potter."

Harry hated the way Malfoy spat his name when he was angry. Snape had been able to do the same thing, and it made Harry want to hit them both.

He shook his head. "It's not. Not in this case, anyway. I don't have very many good examples of childhood discipline."

Malfoy scoffed. "Getting away with murder through seven years of schooling is not an acceptable excuse for letting Theodore do anything he wants."

Harry stiffened. "That might be the way it looked on the outside, but I assure you, that's rarely what happened, and it certainly wasn't the norm. I wasn't emulating laxity, I was overcompensating to avoid excessive force."

"Crashing a car into the grounds? Hiding a dragon? Sneaking to Hogsmeade? Entering a forbidden contest? Forming an illegal army?" Malfoy's voice was rising with each interrogation point. "Normal students would have been expelled. Harry bloody Potter won the Tri-Wizard Cup!"

The mug he was holding shattered, but Harry barely noticed because he was on his feet and screaming, "How dare you! I didn't win the Tri-Wizard Cup, I was lured to a graveyard to resurrect a madman and watch a good man die! While your father bowed at Voldemort's feet and helped make it happen! You think I wouldn't undo every moment of that year to bring Cedric back?"

"Stop it, Potter."

"You think I was rewarded?" Harry demanded incredulously, feeling ill. "I didn't even put my name in the damn Cup."

For some reason, Harry felt like sobbing, but the rage that was boiling through him fortunately ensured this couldn't happen.

"I was up against students years my senior facing dragons and fucking Unforgivable Curses—

"Potter."

"—while being ostracised thanks in no small part to you while rushing all unknowing towards torture and what should have been certain death in—"

"Harry!"

Harry sucked in a sharp breath at the unexpected yelling of his given name and realised that Malfoy had come round the table and was standing right in front of Harry. Harry was gasping and felt a bit as though he couldn't breathe.

Malfoy's voice was curiously gentle. "You're bleeding and you've scalded your hands."

He looked down and found that the other man was right. The tea had leaked across the table and dripped onto the floor. The shattered ceramic had done a number on his hands as it broke, and Harry's blood had now mixed with the tea to make quite a mess.

"Oh."

Malfoy pushed Harry into a chair. Harry thought that he should resist—they were fighting, and Malfoy was an asshole—but he seemed to be shaking and his legs didn't seem to be holding him up so well.

Malfoy disappeared, which surprised Harry a little but was probably just as well because Harry didn't want to explode the kitchen again.

He practiced his deep breathing and felt his heart rate lower out of heart attack levels. The pain started to kick in as the adrenaline wore off. All things considered, Harry had preferred it when everything was numb.

He was still sitting there when Malfoy returned, and he'd come with several potions and jars.

He made a strange noise in the back of his throat that Harry couldn't identify, and then the mess disappeared off the table.

Harry was pretty sure that he should thank the other man and equally sure that he couldn't do it.

Malfoy, Harry realised, was crouched next to him.

"May I look at your hands?"

His voice was very gentle. Harry felt a bit as though he was having an out-of-body experience, his hands lifting of their own volition for Draco's inspection.

"This charm may sting a little. We need to remove the pieces of ceramic."

Harry said nothing, did nothing, and felt the little pricks of pain as the charm washed over his hands and the wounds were cleansed.

Draco waited a beat and then held out an unstoppered potion vial.

"This will heal the wounds."

Harry couldn't use his hands yet, but Draco seemed to know that. Seeing nothing but the time Teddy had tripped and cut his arm, realising he was being treated like a skittish child, Harry nevertheless leaned over and quaffed the potion that Draco tipped carefully into his mouth. It tasted a bit like burnt toast, for some reason, with a hint of something … grassy underneath, but at least it wasn't completely vile.

He looked down and watched as the wounds began to close over.

"Doesn't that hurt?" Draco asked.

He sounded vaguely ill.

Harry shrugged, the last of the skin knitting back together and sealing up Harry's blood back inside of him.

"Not like the cut Wormtail made to bring Voldemort back."

There was silence for a long tense moment, and then Draco proffered the jar, lid now unscrewed.

"This is for the burn. It's not severe, so it's a topical cream. May I?"

Harry was pretty sure that he had never heard the other man be this polite to him. Ever.

He held out his left hand, and Draco carefully scooped some cream out of the jar.

"Palm down."

Harry flipped his hand over and breathed out through the bliss of the cool cream on the burnt skin. The back of his hand wasn't as badly damaged as the palms, but giving the palms a little more time to heal seemed very prudent, and the tea had sprayed everywhere.

The red that Harry had barely noticed as abnormal faded away leaving a healthy skin colour.

Draco carefully turned Harry's hand over, cradling Harry's hand with his left one so that he could carefully apply the cream with his right. The touch was rhythmic and soothing.

"Why aren't you a healer?"

Harry hadn't really intended to speak, but the question had slipped out.

Draco's eyes flew up to his face for an instant before dropping back down to his hands.

"Who'd come to me to be healed, Potter?" Harry could hear the defence mechanisms in place and the conscious effort Draco made to let them go. "I don't exactly handle pain well."

Harry wondered which was the real answer and then conceded that the answer was probably altogether more complicated than that (and probably none of his business). Just because Harry could play Quidditch—even though he loved flying and being a Seeker—didn't mean that he'd given more than a passing thought to doing it professionally.

"Other hand," the other man said, perhaps before Harry could probe more deeply.

Harry took back his left hand and held out his right, so mesmerised by his tingling, pain-free left hand that he didn't think about—

"What's this?"

Harry tried to snatch his hand back, but Draco was faster, fingers locked around Harry's wrist, twisting and lifting so that they could both see the back of Harry's right hand and the pale, unblemished skin.

Harry tugged. "It's nothing, Malfoy. I'm fine. Let me go."

His efforts were futile. He could probably have made the other man let him go. It might or might not have required a wand. But Harry was kind of tired of fighting, and unless he Obliviated the other man, his suspicions were well and truly raised.

So Harry released the low-level Glamour. The thin white scars were even more apparent against the reddened skin.

Malfoy read out the words uncomprehendingly. "I must not tell lies. Potter, what is this?"

There was a sour taste in his mouth. "Discipline."

"Harry."

Harry let out a shaky breath. "Detention with Umbridge. Blood quill."

Malfoy's hand tightened like a vice around Harry's wrist for an instant and then released him abruptly. He climbed to his feet and disappearing out of the kitchen. Harry wrapped his arms around himself and contemplated just leaving, only he had told Teddy that he wouldn't ever do that to him again, and he knew, even though he wasn't feeling it right now, that he shouldn't run. Just because it had worked in the past didn't mean it was the best choice.

Plus, he was exhausted, and he didn't have anywhere he wanted to go. He should probably go lay down, no matter that it had to be all of four o'clock in the afternoon.

And then Malfoy was suddenly back.

"Why didn't you ever tell anyone?"

"At the time, I didn't think anyone would listen. Afterwards," Harry shrugged, "I usually forgot about it."

"You put a Glamour on it."

"So I could forget about it," Harry reiterated pointedly, hoping Malfoy would take the hint.

Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "You kept that Glamour on it all the time?"

Harry nodded.

"People can't do that, Potter. They can't just attach a Glamour and forget about it."

Harry stiffened. "Well, as you are so fond of reminding me, Malfoy, I am not normal. And that is just one more freaky thing to add to the long list in my freaky life. I—"

Malfoy's fingers had settled, lightly, on Harry's arm, where it was crossed over his chest. He could barely feel the pressure of the touch, but it felt … momentous anyway, and cut him off mid-rampage.

"You aren't normal, Harry." Malfoy's voice was gentle again, but before Harry could light into him, the other man continued: "You're extraordinary. You can do little things as well as big things that no one else can do, but that doesn't mean you should do it alone."

Harry really didn't know what to say to this.

Draco produced another vial.

Harry gave him his best overly-suspicious look. "Are you channelling Snape?"

Draco snorted. "I like Potions, Potter."

Harry bit back the urge to point out that he might have liked them, too, if Snape hadn't done such a good job of hating him—or pretending he hated him or something—and half the people in the class hadn't been determined to sabotage him.

This was water under the damn bridge, and normally Harry didn't think much about this sort of thing anymore. Living with Malfoy was stirring up a lot of crap that he maybe hadn't dealt with as well as he thought he had.

"I guess someone has to," he snarked rather weakly, but it made Draco's lips tip up a little, and that was better than fighting some more.

The other man held out the vial again.

"It helps with scarring."

Plaintively, Harry asked, "Why does no one tell me about these things?"

Draco's eyes flicked up to Harry's forehead, though the scar had been gone since Voldemort had died for real, gone just like all the Dark Marks to show that he would never return.

"It doesn't work on curse scars, not ones like that."

Harry sighed and took the vial, downing the contents and then trying not to gag them back up.

"What the hell was in that?" Harry gasped out.

Draco went to get him a glass of water. "Do you really want to know?"

Harry gulped the liquid gratefully, desperately trying to wash the lingering residue off his taste buds. If Draco was asking? "Never mind."

He turned his attention back to his hand and watched in surprise as the silvery lines faded away.

"Dumbledore said scars were useful," he said, a propos of nothing.

"Sometimes, they need to be forgotten," Draco responded.

When he reached again for Harry's hand, Harry let him take it and smooth the burn cream over it once more until the last of the pain and redness had faded away.

Draco released Harry's hand, and Harry stared down at it feeling oddly bereft.

"Why are there any scars in the wizarding world?" he wanted to know.

"The potion is ineffective on a lot of curses or wounds that are otherwise resistant to healing. Plus it combines with the ingester's intent and magic; if the receiver isn't strong enough magically, it has no effect."

Harry's eyes rose to Draco's as he yelped, "Why didn't you tell me that!"

Draco's eyebrows rose. "Because it wasn't in question."

Harry subsided again, confused. "Why are you being so nice to me, Malfoy?"

Draco snorted. "Every time I think I've got you worked out, you surprise me again. Every time I think you're just being an arse, you reveal some deep dark secret that you've somehow kept hidden all this time which explains everything."

Harry considered several possible ways of responding to this before settling on, "Sometimes I'm just an arse."

The other man laughed outright, most of the tension in the room dispelling.

Harry sighed. "I was just trying to avoid anything to do with punishing Teddy; you kept stepping into the void, so I didn't have to think about it."

"I can—"

"No," Harry said firmly.

Draco looked at him in surprise.

"That's not fair to you, me, or Teddy. We work together, and that means we share the crappy tasks as well as the good ones. You were sending him to his room." Harry gritted his teeth and ignored the way the lights in the kitchen flickered. "That's perfectly normal."

Draco's eyes had flickered up to the ceiling. "You know, it astonishes me that the Dark Lord survived for as long as he did."

Shocked amusement dispelled the sharp coil of anxiety in Harry's belly, and the lighting evened out. "Bite your tongue, Malfoy. All evidence to the contrary, I'm normally pretty in control of myself. It's just you."

"So it's all my fault?"

Draco's lips had tightened, but given what it sounded like Harry had said, the question had been asked remarkably evenly.

Harry shook his head hurriedly. "No, no, I mean, I'm the one who keeps reacting this way, but I just … I keep reacting this way to you." He huffed a breath. "You've always gotten under my skin."

"The feeling's mutual," Draco muttered. "Wanker."

Harry couldn't help but smile and tried again. "Teddy's a good boy, but he acts out just like everyone else. Not correcting that isn't going to do him any favours in the long run." Visions of spoilt blonds of several varieties danced through Harry's head. "You haven't proposed anything unreasonable."

"A hell of a lot of reasonable things seem to have been taken to unreasonable extremes with you."

Harry sighed. "Yeah. Could we maybe leave the door open? Not, uh, ever lock it?"

Draco's eyes bored into his, but it wasn't as though the inference wasn't obvious. Thankfully, Draco didn't push the point.

"Of course."

Harry tried to smile, but he was pretty sure it came out more as a grimace.

The other man hesitated a moment before he said, "I'd rather get all issues I know about out of the way right now. Is there a particular … issue associated with my calling Theodore by his given name?"

Harry actually stopped to consider why it bothered him so much. "Uh, not really, I guess. I think I thought you were mostly doing it to annoy me, not because you actually wanted to call him that."

"You are so conceited."

"Pot? Kettle."

They grinned at one another, and Harry had to wonder why he'd been so wound up.

"It seemed disrespectful to me," Harry continued, "like you were dissing Remus and Tonks, and you know how I get when people do that, but you're right, it is what they named him. We are definitely not always going to behave the same way towards him, and if that's what you want to call him, that's your business." Belatedly, Harry realised, "You've never tried to make me call him your way."

Draco rolled his eyes. "It has been clear for years that getting you to do anything other than what you want is usually more trouble than it's worth. It's a family name. I have sought, therefore, to preserve it."

"That makes sense," Harry conceded.

He tried for a moment and failed to imagine how nicknames would go over in the Malfoy household. Drake? Luke? No, Loose?

Shit, no wonder Draco didn't go there.

"Nice nicknames just seemed … nice to me. Affectionate," Harry tried to explain.

"There are other ways to demonstrate affection."

"Of course," Harry agreed readily.

Draco's eyes narrowed. "Give me the whole story."

"What?"

"Before I inadvertently make you break the kitchen again. Just tell me all of it."

Harry rolled his eyes. Draco was reminding him more and more of this weird mixture of both Ron and Hermione in the way that he treated him in "nice" mode.

"I just…. To me, Teddy is his name, and that meant that you were not calling him by his name, and my memories of … not being called by my name are not pleasant ones. But you're right about Theodore, so it's fine now. I was overreacting. Teddy seems okay with it, which I should have been paying more attention to and which is really all that matters."

Draco was looking at him closely again. Harry was very glad that Hermione had successfully taught Harry to Occlude. He didn't think that the other man was stupid enough to try anything, but it was nice to know.

"'Scarhead' may not have been my best effort."

It was definitely an apology, though it had not been phrased as such, and it surprised a laugh out of Harry. "Oh, don't even go there. I refuse to get into a debate about Weasels or Ferrets, okay?"

Draco nodded, face remarkably untroubled for a deadly ferret reference. Harry couldn't begin to explain why it felt okay to tell Draco this when he hadn't even told Ron and Hermione, only maybe it was the distance that he needed.

"I didn't realise until I started school as a little kid that my name wasn't 'Boy' or 'Freak'." He swallowed heavily. "They had all these affectionate—albeit over-the-top—nicknames for Dudley, and I didn't have a name at all." Harry looked down at his hands. "There's just so much stuff where I'm afraid I'm going to screw it up for Teddy, that I'm not going to know better, and I'm going to mess him up."

He stared in surprise at the hand that Draco had set over his and then up into bright grey eyes.

"You forget, Harry, that you don't ever have to worry about that. You react with your heart, and that means that you might sometimes blow up the kitchen, but you'll never neglect Teddy."

Harry let out a shaky breath and tried to smile at the other man. Draco squeezed his hand and let go as he rose from the table.

"I'll go talk Theodore about what he should not do with the ash from the fireplace, as lovely a drawing medium as it is, and you should get some rest."

"I could—"

"Next time, Harry. Better to have me send him to his room and me retrieve him."

Harry made a face. "Hero to the rescue. Right. Sorry."

"That wasn't an accusation. Maybe next time we can do it together. Gear you up slowly."

"I do seem the sort to need a multi-step program, don't I?"

A piercing gaze, and then, having ascertained that Harry was joking, Draco drawled, "Potter, you are a multi-step program unto yourself."


Chapter Six: Past Expectations, Present Tense

The end of June finally marked Draco's graduation from training and his official instatement as an Unspeakable. Granger was officially graduating as well, although her connection to Potter had ensured that she was brought in "unofficially" a lot more frequently than Draco was, so it was closer to a graduation in name only.

Draco had spent most of two years stewing about that to greater or lesser extent, but these days, it seemed like a lot of effort. She tended to ignore him when he got snide, and unlike a fair portion of the department, she had never snubbed him for being a disgraced Malfoy.

There wasn't a graduation ceremony, of course, seeing as how they were Unspeakables and all, but Harry threw him and Granger a little party anyway, ensuring that Theo, Blaise, and Draco's parents were invited as well as the bevy of Weasleys and various and sundry others that always seemed to attend a Potter/Weasley function.

Harry's partner was there, too, and he spent the entire evening making Theodore giggle and flirting outrageously with anything within reach. He spent a lot of time with Harry.

"I don't like him," Draco told Harry when Smith was finally off bothering someone else for a little while. "He's so, so…."

The man transformed into a bear, ignoring the shrieks and the way most people jumped so that Theodore could be helped onto his back and have a bear ride.

Harry was completely unfazed, grinning widely. "Isn't it great? He doesn't care about any of that Saviour of the Wizarding World nonsense. Treats me just like everyone else. I love it."

Draco watched as Smith knocked tables, books, knickknacks and a chair over—because he was a bear in a library.

"I hate your friends, Potter," Draco whined, but even he noticed that it wasn't with a great deal of heat.

Harry was still grinning. "You're one of my friends, Draco."

He slipped away, and Draco was left standing in the corner of the room, stunned.

They'd worked through a number of issues and become more amicable as they tried to figure out how to raise Theodore, but neither of them had ever said anything like that before.

Draco stared after the other man, watched how he scooped the delightedly shrieking Theodore off Smith's back and got Smith back into human form before setting Theodore onto his now-human shoulders so that the Auror could carry him around that way.

Harry was such a contradiction. He carried his heart on his sleeve, was so obvious, and then you discovered that half the things you knew about him were a lie, and he'd hidden more secrets than you could begin to imagine. Draco had spent years honing how to get a rise out of the other man, but he'd missed a lot about why his jabs were effective.

It was distinctly odd. Harry—because it was almost impossible to think of him as Potter now unless he was angry—had told him a lot about his life. Draco was certain that it was by no means all of what he had been through, but it was some pretty large and delicate parts.

He had accepted Draco's word that he wasn't going to spread anything around, and he didn't appear to be waiting for reciprocation. They were both reacting strongly on these issues, and Harry's assumption seemed always to be that he was the one who was being weird or abnormal.

That said, of course, he was the one who kept breaking things and running away. On the other hand, Draco couldn't help but notice that no matter how injured Harry had been by the mug and tea, none of it had injured Draco, nor had the larger destruction of the kitchen when Harry had shielded them.

Yes, Harry was much more complex that seven years of schooling with the Gryffindor prat would have suggested—though Draco supposed that he was just kidding himself if he didn't admit that he'd noticed some of that already in the later years.

Potter had wielded a terrific amount of power after the War, and he could have had brought down Slytherin House with a few words. Instead, he had welcomed all the seventh year students back, including those he knew had not exactly been neutral.

At the time, Draco had assumed that the lack of wielding of that political power was indicative of stupidity on the other man's part. Now, though, he suspected that Harry had known exactly what he was doing.

A Slytherin would never have done it—but then it was unlikely a Slytherin would ever have been in Potter's position.

Draco was coming to realise more and more, though, that the consummate Gryffindor persona was exactly that; it wasn't untrue, but it certainly wasn't the sum total of Harry's make-up.

~*~

"Please, Harry? Pwetty please?"

Draco was pleased to hear that they were finally starting to successfully train some "r" sounds into Theodore's vocabulary. The little boy was trying, anyway, and Harry had agreed that a tutor for the fall was not out of the question.

It had been easy to see that Harry was worried about Theodore continuing to have fun and be a kid, and once Draco had laid that concern to rest, it was easy to get what he wanted.

"I don't know, Teddy Bear." Harry affected a very doubtful tone of voice. "What do you think, Draco?"

Theodore turned on Draco. "Please, Dwaco!"

The more excited he was, the more prone he was to lisping, but it was a work in progress.

Over the child's head, Harry was giving Draco similar puppy dog eyes. He'd been doing a lot more of that lately, not only being silly, but also ensuring that the decisions that Theodore perceived as good were joint as well the ones that he perceived as bad.

Draco, not that he'd confess this, was enjoying both parts. The puppy dog eyes, though he would never admit this to Harry, were impossible to resist.

"As long as you're on your best behaviour," Draco cautioned.

Theodore nodded earnestly, face wreathed with smiles, and Draco sent him off to pack.

Harry winked at him and then went to prepare his own things.

~*~

An hour later found them settled on the coast, towels and umbrellas and even a picnic basket laid out where they could watch the water rolling in.

Theodore was building a sandcastle, altogether delighted by the outing.

"Did Malfoys do trips to the seaside?" Harry asked.

Draco almost wished he could disappoint the man's assumption, but lounging around in the sun near Muggles was definitely not high on his parents' list of acceptable activities. Draco would have said the same, but this was actually rather pleasant so far.

"Trips to France, usually. What about you?"

Harry was silent for a moment, eyes hidden beneath sunglasses, staring out at the water.

"My family went to the seaside, yes."

Draco wondered if Gryffindors typically fell for that sort of wording.

He kept his tone light. "We'll have to make sure we enjoy ourselves, then, if it's our first time."

Harry's lips tipped up faintly, and he relaxed into his chair.

The trick about Harry, Draco was discovering, was not needling him for information. Sometimes, questions had to be asked, but getting what was required and then leaving it alone was clearly something that Harry hadn't experienced much of. Short term, it might be less effective, but when the other man volunteered more overall, it provided a good return on investment. Harry lied when he felt he needed to, but it was increasingly clear the longer Draco knew him that he didn't like to lie.

They weren't allowed to lounge for long; Theodore wanted help with the sandcastle, and once Draco and Harry had joined in, their competitive sides took over, and they both struggled to outdo one another in building improbably fantastic structures.

There was a small chance that Draco might have felt bad about cheating with magic until he caught Harry doing the same. Harry winked at him, and Draco was reminded, as seemed to happen more and more frequently, that the Sorting Hat had apparently wanted to put him in Slytherin.

They kept building and building, Theodore urging them on with shrieks of delighted laughter and sloppily-executed but well-meaning help.

By the time the little boy declared them done, they were all covered in sand and the multilevel castle—complete with moat, functioning drawbridge, stables, and outlying town—was a wonder to behold.

Draco was more proud of this bit of dirt than any Malfoy ever should be, but he decided he simply didn't care.

And then Harry pulled off his shirt and picked Theodore up to carry him down to the water, and Draco's mouth went dry. The man was all golden skin and sleek muscle. He might never be tall, but who needed to be tall when you could look like that?

Draco'd thought they had some good training in the Department of Mysteries, but he was beginning to suspect that they were far outclassed by what the Auror department put its employees through.

Harry swung back, a giggling child slung over his shoulder.

"You coming, Draco?"

"In a minute."

Harry smiled and headed for the water, and Draco told himself he was waving at the upside down Theodore, not staring at Harry's backside.

He swallowed. Draco had always been quite good at deluding himself when it was necessary, but he'd been working on his self-awareness since he'd found himself on the wrong side of a war. Watching a half-naked Harry Potter stride into the ocean, he couldn't help but think that this was a losing battle, too.

Bugger.

It had been one thing when he noticed it in passing during their years of school and suppressed it utterly because the other man was a complete prat and wanted nothing to do with him. It was another when he occasionally noticed the greenness of the other man's eyes or the aesthetically pleasing line of his back while they were in Grimmauld Place; he could ignore it then because the man was unhinged and combative, and this whole thing was clearly going to fall apart.

It was another thing entirely when Grimmauld Place was starting to feel like home and Harry did ridiculous things like tell Draco he was a friend. They might argue, but they invariably made up, and it was peace time that was beginning to feel like the norm, not the exception.

There was this little part of Draco that was starting to ask—

But Draco steadfastly ignored that part of himself. Harry had never given any indication that he was interested in anyone apart from the Weaselette. They needed to get Theodore through puberty, and then he could think about doing something that might ruin their entire relationship.

"Draco!"

Harry and Theodore were both calling for him from the water, and he knew it was only a matter of time before, wet and sopping, they came to retrieve him; Gryffindors were predictable like that. Removing his sunglasses and divesting himself of his own shirt, Draco strode down to the water, marvelling anew at Muggles and the idea of smearing a cream onto your skin to prevent burning when it would immediately wash off in the water.

The water was still a little chilly as it washed over his toes, but it was refreshing after their long work in the sun on the castle.

Harry had thought the sun-blocking potion was brilliant, and Draco had again wondered how the other man had survived so many years in the wizarding world with such a dearth of knowledge. He needed someone to take ca—He needed to spend more time listening to Granger in lecture mode, Draco told himself firmly.

Harry and Theodore tackled him in his moment of inattention, and he went crashing into the water and came up spluttering. They both looked delighted, and he threw himself at them, determined to even the score.

~*~

Theodore was asleep before they even got him upstairs; they'd stayed longer than they should have, lured by the fun they were having and the late-setting sun.

"He'll sleep soundly tonight," Draco observed.

Harry pulled the door nearly to.

"Me too," Harry admitted.

He still looked … looser than he had before they'd spent their day at the seaside. As though some tension had bled away and not come back. Draco would like to see it stay that way.

"I will as well," Draco conceded.

Harry grinned at him, his face shadowed in the dark of the hallway with only the light of Theodore's night light spilling out the partially closed door. Eyes and teeth shone in the darkness.

"Goodnight, Draco." His voice was soft.

"Goodnight, Harry."

They parted ways on the landing, Harry heading up one floor and Draco down.

Draco could get used to days like this.

~*~

If there was one event that was high on Draco's list of experiences never to endure, it was being woken by Ronald Weasley in the middle of the night.

The Floo was set to take messages and alert those in their bedrooms, and at the insistent noise soon growing to positive yelling, Draco stumbled downstairs to find the fire full of Ronald Weasley's face.

Really, it was enough to turn Draco off fires altogether.

"What took you so long?" Weasley demanded. "Were you nailed up in your damn coffin?"

"How witty, Weasley," Draco snarled. "Unlike certain other people's accommodations, there are different floors and separate bedrooms in my home."

Weasley's face darkened. "You f—"

"Uncle Won?"

Draco turned to see that the Floo call had gone on long enough to override the Silencing Charms on Theodore's floor. He looked as tired as Draco felt, Hedwig clutched to his chest.

"Where's Harry?"

Draco whirled back to the fireplace, cursing himself for a fool. It had been him Weasley was calling for, not Harry, and there was only one reason that Weasley would be doing that. The look on his face now confirmed it, all traces of irritation gone, something altogether harder and more serious in its place.

"Come to St. Mungo's. Now."

Draco seriously considered punching Weasley in the face but finally decided that it would take too long.

He scooped Theodore up and headed down the hall for their cloaks.

Theodore made no objection to the hurried treatment, just clutched again at Draco as soon as they were dressed.

They stepped out onto the front step, and Draco swore in his head at Harry, who still hadn't realised, as far as Draco could tell, that he was the only one who could Apparate from inside the house.

He was a stupid, clueless Gryffindor, that's what he was, and if Draco concentrated on that, then he didn't have to—

He cut himself off sharply. It was simply best to concentrate on the known variables, that was all.

St Mungo's was as Draco remembered it; he was not pleased. It was an unacceptable mixture of sterility and chaos, crowds and emptiness. It was supposed to be a place of healing, but sometimes, all you could see was illness, injury, and death.

The reception witch did not want to tell him where Harry was, and he'd started by asking nicely.

Draco cursed Weasley anew.

"Your function is to provide information. I am requesting information."

"The information is confidential. I can't just tell anyone."

"Do you know who I am?"

The last lingering shreds of fake politeness dropped away completely.

"I know exactly who you are."

Draco seriously considered just cursing her.

Theodore raised his head from Draco's shoulder.

"Where's my Hawwy?"

Eyes swimming with tears and lower lip trembling, Theodore got an answer—and directions—in all of two seconds.

Draco decided he would come back and curse her later when there were no witnesses. Or perhaps suggest her for an investigation by the Department of Mysteries.

For now, he hurried down the myriad corridors, took the lift—twice—and knew that he'd reached his destination when he found the door guarded by Aurors.

Great. Just what he needed. He hadn't exactly planned to be an Unspeakable this evening, though the next time he was summoned out of his bed in the middle of the night thanks to Harry, he'd damn well come better prepared.

Theodore raised his head again, and Draco swore he could actually feel him preparing the "cute" appeal, but the Aurors nodded at him and opened the door. Head held high and small child in his arms, Draco sailed between them.

It was a little disconcerting not to have the fight that he'd been gearing up for—he knew there was more than one Auror who thought he'd gotten where he was thanks to a lot of money and no abilities—but his indignation fell away at what was inside the room.

He knew immediately that it was bad because Kingsley Shacklebolt, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, was there. When he got called in in the middle of the night, there was a serious problem.

Draco scanned the interior of the room, frowned, and scanned it again but still came up empty. There were several mediwitches and wizards bustling around efficiently. Five of the beds were occupied. Three of them looked as though they were a family, a man, woman, and boy all dark-haired, all looking mostly uninjured but sleeping.

The other two in the room, a man and a woman, looked as though they'd been in a duel. Of the body parts that were visible, Draco could see that the man's arm was immobilised, and the woman had a long narrow slash healing across her cheek.

They were both awake, and eyes clouded with pain or not, they were watching their surroundings. Aurors, Draco was sure of it.

But neither of them was Harry.

Draco realised that Shacklebolt was at the end of the ward, and there was a door behind him. He crossed the ward quickly, preparing to do battle if necessary, but Shacklebolt simply opened the door and waved him inside, dark eyes carefully assessing.

The door closed behind him, but Draco only had eyes for what was in front of him. There was Weasley, standing at one side of the bed.

On a second bed, there was a blond girl who looked wan and miniscule wrapped up in the bed covers. She looked vaguely familiar, but Draco dismissed her as unimportant. Sitting between the two beds was Smith, and he was holding Harry's pale, limp hand.

Draco's stomach jolted. Harry didn't look as though he'd been hit by the Hogwarts Express, he looked as though it had run over him more than once and then exploded. He was a swollen mess of burns and lacerations, far too still for such a normally active person, but the worst of it, by far the worst, was that when Draco stepped closer, he couldn't feel Harry.

It took him a moment to even work out what was causing the powerful sense of aversion that he was feeling. Normally he felt a tug, a faint hum of power that settled against him. Now, he couldn't feel anything at all.

Theodore began to cry, and it was this noise that alerted the others. Weasley looked up, eyes narrowing. Smith glanced at them briefly and then his eyes darted away again.

Draco's attention regained by the little boy in his arm, he swallowed heavily and cuddled Theodore closer.

"It's all right," he reassured him, though he didn't know anything of the sort. "It looks bad, but that's why Harry's here in the hospital, right? So that they can heal him."

Theodore nodded against his shoulder, and Draco was glad that he had appeared to have sounded more convincing than he felt.

"C'I sit with him?" Theodore wanted to know.

Draco conjured an improbably tall chair so that Theodore could be on level with the bed without sitting on the bed itself and possibly injuring Harry or inhibiting his care. Theodore curled up immediately, his little hands reaching for Harry's unoccupied one.

Up close, Harry looked even worse.

Draco swallowed a lump in his throat and demanded, "What happened?"

Smith didn't even look at him, and Weasley was silent for long enough that Draco didn't think he was going to get an answer.

"An attack on one of our safe houses."

"I take it that it is due to Potter's stupidity that he is in here looking like this while everyone else looks nearly unscathed?"

Had Draco thought about it, he would have acknowledged that this was perhaps not the time for this sort of remark, but they all had their ways of dealing with stress, and Harry looked nearly dead in that damn bed.

He wasn't expecting to have Weasley and Smith launch themselves at him, screaming, forgoing wands entirely to get in one another's way as Draco was slammed up against the wall hard enough that his head rebounded and stars danced in front of his eyes. He ducked out of the way of a fist to the face, got hammered in the gut instead and doubled over, kicking out at nearby legs.

Weasley crashed to the floor and reached for Draco, Smith landed another couple of punches that Draco was sure had hit Weasley as often as him, and Draco had nearly got his hand on his wand when—

"What do you think you are doing? This is a hospital room not a wrestling arena, and there are children present. If I have to go for my wand, you are all going to regret that fact, am I understood?"

They scrambled to their feet, Smith immediately limping over to the bed with the now-awake little girl in it, Draco to a horrified looking Theodore, and Weasley as far away as possible from the enraged-looking Hermione Granger.

Draco couldn't help but admire her for the fact that the Head of Magical Law Enforcement standing behind her had had nothing to do with the breaking up of the fight.

Granger stepped all the way in, and Shacklebolt joined her and closed the door.

Smith pulled the little girl into his arms, and Draco's brain tardily supplied the fact that she had been at Theodore's birthday party.

"Do you really think Harry's stupid, Draco?"

Draco huffed out a breath and sat down in the chair next to Theodore, pulling him into Draco's lap. Draco knew Theodore had asked the question very seriously because he'd gotten all those "r" sounds.

Well aware that everyone in the room was listening, Draco chose his words with care.

"I think that sometimes, Harry makes unwise choices." Theodore was staring at him with huge eyes that were threatening tears again, and even knowing that he might be doing it for effect didn't stop it from having one. "He doesn't always take care of himself very well, and it's not good to end up hurt in hospital, is it?"

Theodore shook his head, settling back against Draco now. So that would be one in seven people in the room who'd forgiven him for his comment, not that Harry had heard it. Actually, the little girl might not have, either, being woken by the fight. One in five then. It was beneficial that he didn't care about the opinions of most of the people in the room.

"Is he going to be okay, Daddy?"

Although her hair was too golden, she looked almost more like a Malfoy, all elfin and delicate, especially compared to her father. Now that she was sitting up, he could see that she was in a hospital gown and was therefore presumably not here simply because her father was.

"The mediwizards are doing everything in their power to make sure that he's going to be, Cupcake."

What was it with the man and asinine names for people?

Not the point, of course, but Draco was dwelling on it because if he didn't, he would have to acknowledge the careful way that Smith had avoided lying to his daughter.

Big tears welled up in her eyes, and Draco reflected that perhaps it was simply something that they all learnt as children these days, the ability to be pathetic beyond belief and make everyone want to fix whatever was wrong.

Smith scooped her up into his lap.

"Now, now, Cupcake, don't you worry. St Mungo's has some of the best professionals in the wizarding world. And our Harry has pulled through many an event that would stop a lesser mortal."

He conjured a handkerchief and held it out to her with a flourish.

"Dry your tears, that's a good girl. We'll give Harry the chance to rest, won't we?"

This worked better than anything else he had tried so far, and she soon fell back to sleep in his arms. Theodore, Draco realised, had done the same in Draco's.

It was awfully late, after all, and far too emotionally fraught for small children.

Draco rose carefully and went to put Theodore in bed with Smith's daughter; the other man might be opposed to Draco on principal now, but he wasn't about to deny the sleeping child.

Practically speaking, it meant that once they'd both returned to Harry's bedside, a Silencing Charm could be cast that would prevent them waking the children again.

"Does anyone have any injuries that need to be looked after?"

It seemed like an obviously stupid question until Draco remembered that they had injured one another. He shook his head, and the others followed suit, which resulted in several choice remarks about idiotic men and Granger healing Weasley's bleeding nose and pulling, improbably, a bruise salve out of her bag.

She apparently saw Draco's look.

"Months on the run with them. I learnt to be prepared."

Draco nodded, Weasley looked mutinous, and Smith just kept looking miserable, not even seeming to have the energy to be angry at Draco anymore.

Once they were healed to her satisfaction, she conjured three chairs and used pointed glares to get everyone else sitting. Shacklebolt seemed altogether satisfied with allowing her to run the proceedings.

She approached the bed and peered down at Harry for a long moment. Draco had a sudden flash of insight that this was far from the first time that Granger would have been at Harry's bedside as he recovered from something absurd. She looked an odd mixture of clinical and as though someone had nearly killed her best friend.

"Would someone care to explain how his magical reserves got this low? Where was everyone else?"

Draco made a face when no one protested this question, though he conceded reluctantly that it had been a little more diplomatic than his own, though he'd meant the same thing.

Smith's face was a mask of misery.

"We were at the safe house."

A beat.

"And where was Harry?"

"Rescuing Rosemary. They … took her, wanted me to ensure they could attack during the transfer from the safe house."

Draco laughed.

Murderous glances were sent his way from multiple quarters, though Granger's glare kept everyone in their seats.

"No, but seriously," Draco pointed out, "they kidnapped a small child? A small child Harry knows? And thought that they could leverage her against the Ministry? Dumbest plan ever."

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a choked off laugh escaped Weasley's mouth. Granger's lips twitched, and only Smith looked too upset to appreciate the utter stupidity of the villains of the piece.

Draco faced the other man seriously. "There is not a single thing in the world that you could have done to change what happened tonight. Harry would go to the ends of the Earth to save a child, and I assume that in this case, it was important that no one else realise what was happening."

Haltingly, Smith explained the details of what had happened, Smith acting as though he was complying with the demands, Harry disappearing with that look in his eyes. Weasley had shown up and managed to communicate that he'd been sent by Harry and warned the others of impending doom.

Weasley took over to explain that the dicey bit had occurred when they needed to act before hearing anything from Harry if they were going to save the family they were protecting. They'd made the call, protected the family, and caught most of those taking part in the attack, but they hadn't known if they'd just consigned Rosemary and/or Harry to death.

One of the houses linked to their activities had exploded in a magical fireball, and they had all rushed to the location. They'd about given up hope when Rosemary had suddenly appeared and said that Harry needed help. They'd brought him to St Mungo's and had been working desperately to save his life ever since.

Almost as though mentioning them had summoned them, a bevy of mediwizards trooped in next, scanning Harry and administering multiple potions, checking to see if his status had changed since the last set of tests.

"Any change?"

It was Granger who asked, and no one seemed surprised that she'd put herself in charge. Draco was a little puzzled by the dynamic with Shacklebolt, but otherwise, Smith was in no state, and Weasley or Draco doing it just meant there'd be another fight. Granger was clever like that.

"The magical drain is of most concern. His levels are dangerous low, almost so low that the magical coma wouldn't engage, which is critical to give him a chance to recover. It will be at least twenty-four hours before we see if the magical coma was induced early enough to allow his body to heal, and at least twice that to see if his magic begins to reassert itself."

No one had anything to say to that, so they waited until the mediwizards had all left.

"He was in the explosion, wasn't he?"

It wasn't really a question, given the evidence, but Draco asked it anyway because it should have been impossible.

Weasley surprised Draco by answering. "It looks that way. His shielding protected Rosemary."

Involuntarily, Draco looked over at the little girl, whole and virtually unblemished in the bed beside the battered Potter.

"Fucking Gryffindor," Draco muttered. No one gainsaid him. "Guess it's going to be a long night."

No one argued with him about that, either, and they settled in to wait.

Eventually, Shacklebolt had to go, but he asked Granger to contact him if there were any developments and told his two Aurors that he'd check in with them again the next day.

And then they waited.

~*~

They had one man in a coma, one man who felt responsible for putting him in said coma. Two men who strongly disliked one another and were prone to snide remarks or violent outbursts when upset. Two toddlers who were traumatized by the events. And one very fed up Hermione Granger.

It turned out that making the group of them wait in a room together ranked just slightly lower than the Dark Lord going up against Harry Potter in terms of stupidest idea ever.

There was fidgeting, snarking, snoring, taunting, crying, yelling, and very stony silence.

That was the first hour or so.

And then it started all over again. When Granger had to threaten to take away their wands and Petrify them to keep the peace and he and Weasley had looked at one another and actually considered attacking anyway just to do something, they knew that this was going to be very tedious and likely very problematic.

He was pretty sure that she pulled some strings to get Shacklebolt to pull Weasley back out into the field so quickly. He was honestly surprised that he won out over Weasley, but then he realised that Theodore would trump best friend status so it actually made sense.

Draco had forgotten all about his own work, but fortunately, Granger appeared to have taken care of that for him, too.

He remembered a time when he had been competent all on his own, remembered when he had competed with her in a not altogether healthy fashion, wanting to prove that he could be the best recruit the Department of Mysteries had. And then he would look over at the still unmoving body in the bed, pale and so lifeless without that thrum of magic that called to Draco, and he'd think that he didn't care so much about being functional.

He wondered if it affected Granger less, or maybe it was just that she was used to it, used to needing to be competent while Potter was near death.

The first day passed, and they were told that the body was continuing to heal thanks to every potion they were pouring into it, but there was still no sign of magical recovery.

Draco had never seen Harry this still for this long, and he was adding it to the very long list of things that he hated about Harry being injured, not even the part of him that pointed out that he would be as annoyed as ever the next time Harry got all fidgety at home and distracted Draco enough to make him change his assessment now.

Theodore and Rosemary woke, and Rosemary returned Harry's invisibility cloak to Draco of all people, and explained amongst tears that Harry had found her, hidden her in the cloak, and told her to stay hidden until she saw her dad, Draco, Granger, or Weasley. She remembered the boom from the explosion, and she remembered the squeeze of Apparition, and then she had woken up on the street with Harry. She'd realised that he was badly injured, but he'd given her clear instructions, so she had kept them hidden until she had seen her dad.

They all studiously did not look at one another, and no one pointed out that he shouldn't have been able to shield them and definitely shouldn't have been able to Apparate out of the exploding building with a Side-Along and not Splinch them.

It was absolutely miraculous, but none of them seemed able to settle on whether that made it more or less likely that he would pull through. Eventually, surely, he was going to attempt something that even he couldn't get out of.

Staring down at the form who was beginning to resemble Harry more and more as the swelling subsided and the burns healed, Draco wondered if that was really the secret of it. Harry seemed willing to give everything to what he did knowing full well that it might cost everything to do it. It explained, Draco was pretty sure, why he was in Gryffindor no matter what the Sorting Hat might have said. He really had no instinct for self-preservation.

But then, if he had, it was likely that most if not all of the people in this room would be dead, including him. The paradox of Harry Potter.

They passed the forty-eight hour mark, and by then, no one had got enough sleep, Smith was getting progressively more wired, and Granger was reaching the limits of even her superhuman abilities to keep everything together and plan for all contingencies.

Draco slipped a sleeping draught into her tea, and the children sat with Smith and Draco so that she could sleep in the other bed for a few hours. Draco had given Theodore to Smith and sat Rosemary in his own chair. Smith hadn't protested, but since his first attack on Draco, he'd just gone into … acceptance mode. He wasn't fighting anyone on anything and was clearly waiting for the fatal curse to be cast.

Part of Draco wanted to blame the other man for what had happened. But he couldn't blame him for having a child, and he certainly couldn't blame the other man for the hang-ups that Harry had around small children being used as pawns in a larger game. Smith could have tied Harry up and made him swear he wouldn't go off on that rescue mission, and everyone in the room knew that Harry would still have managed to do it. He'd definitely made his own choices—and Draco would just have a few words to say to the man when he woke up about what he thought about those choices.

The fact that the man had and used an invisibility cloak and could still come out of an encounter looking as though he'd been run over by the Hogwarts Express was criminally unfair. It was like Potter went out of the way to be ridiculous.

The thought of losing Harry now was insupportable. They'd fought so much in the beginning, and Draco had wanted it to fall apart then. But he couldn't imagine doing this without Harry now, couldn't imagine raising Theodore on his own. Who would call him Teddy Bear and feed him too much candy? Who would counterbalance Draco's desire for order and neatness and rules? Who would grin at Draco, covered in sand, and make him think that just because he'd never imagined his life turning out like this, it wasn't the best thing that could ever have happened to him?

~*~

When Granger woke, she yelled at Draco for a bit and then hugged him, and Draco tried to pretend this wasn't the weirdest two days he'd experienced in a while. His mother and Molly Weasley both tried to visit and were barred from the room. Harry wasn't allowed to have visitors, and he wondered whose authority had permitted the group of them free run. He wasn't going to question it.

They both offered to take Theodore, and Draco could see the sense in it, but Theodore didn't want to go. He was probably in better spirits than the adults in the room, and he and Rosemary helped Draco keep his temper when he was faced with a lack of answers and the same four walls surrounding a comatose Saviour of the Wizarding World and Pain In Draco's Arse.

Rosemary wasn't going anywhere until she knew if her hero was going to be okay, and it was probably better to have the two children keeping one another company anyway.

As the third day dawned, they were all getting more than a little desperate. Smith had stopped talking, and Hermione—she'd insisted by now, and Draco hadn't had the heart to resist—was trying to take up the slack and keep both children in good humour.

There were plenty of stories that Hermione could tell the two of them about Harry, all sorts of adventures that weren't too dark and terrible, at least not when you looked back upon them. She seemed to have the goal of pointing out once again just how much Harry had made it through over the years and therefore why they shouldn't be overly worried now.

It was odd hearing it all from Hermione's perspective, and it made him realise that Harry had been a lot more circumspect than Draco had expected, both currently and back when they were in school.

He was starting to get a better handle on the other man, though, and he realised that there was plenty that Harry would never say, deeds that he was never going to draw attention to.

Hermione, it seemed, had no such compunction, and since she was Hermione, she was turning it into an educational exercise as well.

"Basilisk venom is one of the most poisonous magical substances in the world, which meant that Harry thought that he was in big trouble that he wouldn't be able to get out of this time."

Theodore and Rosemary were staring at her with huge eyes.

"He told Ginny how to get out of the Chamber, but at just that moment, Fawkes came flying down and cried great big pearly tears onto the wound. And what do you think Harry remembered?"

There was silence, and Draco found himself wanting to jump in and answer—but he was supposed to be pretending that he wasn't hanging on every word of these stories, and he knew full well that Hermione wasn't questioning his knowledge.

"Healing!" Theodore said suddenly.

"That's right," Hermione agreed, sounding altogether pleased. "Phoenix tears have healing properties, and Harry was healed and able to get Ginny and Ron and Lockhart back to safety."

Harry had been twelve. Draco had mocked the Weaselette a lot over the years, but having heard the full story for the first time, he didn't think he could really blame her. Who wouldn't have fallen at least a little bit in love with their rescuer under circumstances like those?

"Phoenix heal Harry?" Rosemary asked.

"Yes, he did."

Theodore tugged Hermione's sleeve. "No. Phoenix heal Harry now?"

For an instant, Hermione looked as though she'd taken a cutting curse to the stomach, but she rallied presently.

"That's a very clever idea. But Fawkes is the only phoenix we know, and he disappeared after Dumbledore's funeral."

There was a moment of profound silence as they all contemplated what might have been, and then Hermione was clearing her throat and resuming her tale.

She was quite circumspect overall, almost always glossing right over whatever Draco had been doing that had been trying to make Harry's life difficult. Most of the stories were definitely still told with a Gryffindor bias, but given some of the utterly insane things that they had wound up doing, Draco actually understood why they acted as though the normal rules didn't always apply. Maybe it sometimes counted as discipline being lax, but it came at a hefty price.

Draco had never known any of the details about Sirius Black. Or the Philosopher's Stone. Or the time-turner. Or any of a dozen other "little" facts that demonstrated the insanity of Harry Potter's life.

He wondered how Harry was going to feel about all of this having been shared, actually, but Hermione seemed to feel that they were all trustworthy and the cause noble.

Theodore and Rosemary certainly liked the stories, and he suspected that neither he nor Smith were as good at hiding their interest as they pretended.

But in amidst the stories there was still just this one little room. There were still the trooping mediwizards, all useless, the rounds of spells and potions, ineffective, and the steadily-growing knowledge that this was taking too long, that they were well outside the window for when there was supposed to be an indication that Harry's magic was returning.

No one said it. No one wanted to be that first person to suggest that they had given up hope. Draco couldn't quite wrap his brain around just how much the other man had infiltrated his life, how the thought of living without those green eyes and that stupid hair made Draco breathe a little faster and fight off the urge to panic.

Weasley kept coming back for visits, and his mother and Draco's teamed up for an altogether disconcerting stronger insistence that this might not be the best place for Theodore right now.

Draco asked the little boy what he wanted to do, and when he insisted on staying, Draco put his foot down.

Maybe it was the wrong decision, but Draco was his guardian, and it was his to make.

Even Hermione ran out of stories eventually. They grew increasingly restless. Harry barely breathed in the magical coma, and it was as though they were all gathered around a body. Draco had never voluntarily spent this long in hospital before, had never subsisted on food this awful, and had never spent so long locked up with this many Gryffindors without a break.

Rosemary was crying more, Theodore was growing quiet and more withdrawn, and Hermione was starting to get rather waspish. Draco was beginning to think that a knock-down, drag-out fight with Smith might snap him out of his infuriating funk—or at least make Draco feel better.

There were so many things he'd never said to Harry, so many things that he'd expected to have years to think about. So many risks that he had been unwilling to take. He'd told himself it was because of Theodore, but sitting here in this horrid little room, Draco had to wonder if it wasn't just because he was a coward, unwilling to take the sort of risks that Harry took without hesitation.

Draco could barely breathe, anxiety prickling up his spine. He couldn't sit still, he felt as though spiders were crawling all over him. (He was so going to mock Weasley about that when Hermione wasn't looking.) He jumped to his feet, drawing everyone's attention. He needed to get out of here before he exploded.

He had his hand on the door when it hit him like a bolt out of the blue. They'd all been getting more restless and fidgety, and the feeling had lessened as Draco got further away from Harry.

He crossed the room to Harry's bedside in three long strides.

"Harry Potter, open your eyes right now!"


Chapter Seven: Letters from the Past

Harry hated being an invalid. It ranked right up there with everything he'd been through with Voldemort. He felt useless, powerless, felt as though his body had given up on him. He didn't like lounging around, didn't like not being able to do whatever it was that he needed to do.

Trust issues, Hermione said it was, a belief ingrained by the Dursley's that Harry needed to be functional at all times so that he could take care of himself at all times. An unwillingness to rely on others and let them take care of him.

Harry thought she was full of crap, but she just ignored him if he said so, which meant that he had no useful outlet to express his irritation because everybody was being so nice to him.

It was better once he was at least allowed to go back to Grimmauld Place, although he was almost getting more attention here than he had in hospital. Here, at least, it was all people he knew and not being locked in one room to prevent reporters and strangers from inviting themselves into his life and asking annoying questions.

(He didn't know who had let slip the news of his injury and convalescence, but it was all over the Prophet. And since it involved rescuing a small child, they had mostly taken the line of it being amazingly heroic rather than an indication that he was a thrill-seeking menace to the wizarding world.)

Molly and Narcissa were tag-teaming the mothering, bringing him food and popping in to check on him, chiding him if he stayed up too long, tried to walk more than about three steps on his own, or otherwise overextended himself.

Hermione was already the bossiest person he knew, and she certainly hadn't let up now, bringing him books to read, telling him what to eat and generally having a commentary about every aspect of his life.

Teddy was overjoyed that he hadn't died and left him the way that Andromeda and his parents had done. Somewhat improbably, Harry hoped that everyone had sort of blinked and missed all the crying that Harry had done with the little boy in those first days.

Abandonment issues, Hermione had said, and Harry didn't think she'd just been talking about Teddy.

Harry had never seen someone beat himself up so much as Smith was doing about how Harry had almost died because of him. Harry didn't see it that way at all, Smith refused to see it any other way, and Harry was at his wits' end.

It had taken Hermione snarking that now he knew how they felt for Harry to really understand what the problem was. Because he still felt guilty about the things he had dragged them into; they had always insisted that they had come of their own free will knowing all the risks, but Harry hadn't ever truly seen it from their point of view until this moment, knowing full well that he took all responsibility for what had happened to him. It hadn't really had anything to do with Smith, not in a way that should make him desperately guilty. He hadn't asked, he hadn't tried to compel—and really, it would have been okay if he had, because Harry was still the one to decide what he was going to do.

He apologize to Ron and Hermione for being a plonker back in the day, and then he closeted himself up in his room with Smith and just kept talking to him about Harry's own life until it stopped looking as though the man was on the razor's edge and about to explode. (Harry had been there and done that, after all. It was not a nice feeling.)

"I'd do it all over again," Harry told him, finally getting back to the matter at hand. "I'd do it all over again even if this wasn't how it ended. Even if she hadn't been your daughter."

Smith let out an explosive sigh. "I know you would, Love. I just…. Shit. Yeah, all right, I get it."

Harry wrapped his hands around Smith's and squeezed. "You can be sorry. You can even feel a bit guilty; we're both human, and I know I've never been able to stop completely. But don't let it consume you. And don't ever think that I'm anything except happy to be your partner."

The other man's eyes flashed to his, something breathtakingly vulnerable there, and Harry tugged with his hands until the other man was perched awkwardly on the edge of the bed and Harry could wrap his arms around him and hug him close.

Smith was stiff and unresponsive for a long moment and then he sagged against Harry and clung to him a little too tightly.

"How are you feel—"

Harry looked up to find that Draco had frozen at the door at the sight of Harry and Smith hugging on the bed. Harry hugged Smith tighter for a moment before he allowed the other man to pull away, not wanting him to think he was embarrassed.

He smiled at Draco. "You know me; I'm ready to go back to work tomorrow. It's everybody else who keeps insisting I can't do it."

Draco and Smith scoffed almost identically, and Harry stuck out his tongue at them. He knew why he couldn't go back to work yet, but that didn't mean that he liked it. He'd apparently done such a number on his magical reserves that it was a miracle he'd survived at all, and while the miracle had continued with him waking up and being functional, his magic was nowhere near up to par yet. Draco had been given strict instructions to keep Harry's wand, and Harry had had to promise on everything he held dear that he wouldn't try to do magic yet.

No one had wanted to tell him what would happen if he did use magic, but he gathered that the strain could damage his magic beyond repair. He'd spent just about half his life so far not knowing that magic existed and not knowing that he was magical, but he had to admit that the thought of going back to that way of existence now was kind of terrifying. (It didn't help that it was associated irreparably with the Dursleys in his mind.)

So Harry was doing his very best to behave, not to push anything, to be patient and let his body recover at the speed that it wanted.

It wasn't easy, though.

"I should get going," Smith said, rising to his feet.

"What? I thought you were staying longer."

Harry tried not to sound petulant—the last thing he wanted was the other man feeling like he had to stay to try to make Harry feel better—but company was just about the only thing keeping him going these days.

"I'll come back again tomorrow or the next day," Smith promised. "Some of us actually have jobs to do, Love, not lives of leisure."

Harry stuck out his tongue again, and Smith smiled, seemingly satisfied with Harry's mood. Harry knew that he was making an effort, and that was certainly the best teasing he'd heard from the other man since Rosemary had been kidnapped.

"Bring Rosemary by when you get the chance."

Smith nodded, said, "Cheers, Ducks," to Draco, and headed out.

Draco rolled his eyes. "I think I liked him better when he wasn't talking."

Harry threw the nearest thing to hand at the other man, one of his bed pillows. It fell rather short, and Draco regarded him haughtily.

"Don't say such things, Draco Malfoy," Harry ordered. "He was horrible like that."

"You prefer him like this?"

There was something Harry couldn't identify in the tone, but Harry said incredulously, "Of course I do. None of my friends should be guilt-ridden, least of all over me."

Draco finally sprawled on the end of the bed. "How are you actually feeling?"

Harry couldn't help but smile. Once upon a time, he would never have imagined Draco sprawling on a bed anywhere, certainly not on the end of Harry Potter's. But he sprawled like he belonged there, head propped up on bent arm, looking relaxed but serious in his question.

"Bored?" Harry tried.

Draco's lips tipped up. "Give us a few useful adjectives, Potter."

Harry sighed. "A bit tired, but nothing out of the common way these days. I was a good boy and didn't try to do any magic, if that's what you're asking."

Draco was looking at him closely. "You look a bit off, today. I'm not sure—"

Harry stiffened. "Don't make me break my word and curse you."

"We only want you to get better."

"And no one wants to get better more than I do," Harry pointed out, annoyed. "I need to see him."

Draco stared at him for another long moment. "Very well. But you're to take it easy, and you're not to protest when I tell you it's bed time."

Harry made a face. "I'm not Teddy."

"Then don't act like a four year old."

Harry huffed but stopped arguing. It wasn't as though this behaviour was new. Inexplicably, Draco had become the worst mother hen of all, around far more often than Narcissa and Molly were, especially now that they were taking care of Teddy at their respective houses; it had been agreed that Harry would convalesce more quietly and be less likely to overexert himself if Teddy was not here with him.

Harry had argued against it, still said it was a stupid idea, but privately, he admitted that they were right. He would have wanted to play with the little boy, would have felt that if he was here day after day not doing anything, not really injured just … slowly getting better, he should definitely be doing something useful like minding Teddy.

Draco had cut him off at the pass, and Draco had determined that he was the one who decided if Harry got to come downstairs for dinner and to spend some time with Teddy before bed.

Draco helped Harry carefully down the stairs since it was apparently bad for Harry to Apparate; even if he went Side-Along with someone, his magic would apparently try to exert itself, especially if he was Apparating to known locations.

Sometimes, he thought that people were making these rules up just to torture him.

But down the stairs they went, step by careful step, Draco hovering as though he thought that Harry was going to take a header at any moment. It was a little bit stifling, actually, but Harry reminded himself that it meant that people cared about him—that Draco cared about him?—and he should be grateful for that.

It was certainly a far cry from what it had been like when he was growing up, which was both a good thing and the reason that it made him so uncomfortable now. He'd been trained to do something completely else, to take care of himself and to hide weaknesses.

Hermione kept telling him that it was a useful experience for him. Draco said it was good for him.

Harry wanted to hit them both.

It was worth it, though, to get downstairs and to get to eat dinner with Teddy. Teddy was always delighted to see Harry, delighted by every improvement that Harry made and almost as anxious as Draco, Hermione, and Smith that he didn't do something that would set back his recovery.

Kreacher had been coming over from Hogwarts more often in order to make the meals. Draco could cook, but most people agreed it was perhaps better if he didn't.

They read together in the library after dinner or did whatever other quiet activity Draco could come up with until he decided that Harry had exercised enough for the day and helped him climb back up to his room.

Harry always denied that he was exhausted by this point, but Draco was getting awfully good at seeing right through him. He was a little sharper than normal, today, but Harry kept carefully quiet. This couldn't be easy for him, suddenly saddled not just with a four year old but now with an invalid housemate, and the last thing Harry wanted to do was get in a fight. On top of all the other reasons this was a bad idea, if Harry lost his temper, he might use magic without even thinking about it.

"Thanks," he told the other man a little uncertainly once he was safely settled back in bed.

Draco was silent for a moment.

"Goodnight, Harry."

Harry suppressed a sigh. "Goodnight, Draco."

~*~

Harry's days were rather monotonous. Various people came to visit him, which was nice, but the routine didn't really vary much. There was apparently nothing that could speed up the process of his magic trickling back the exact opposite of the way that he had expelled it, and doing very little to exert himself was the only way to ensure that he didn't interrupt the already painfully slow process.

Harry wanted to know why everything always happened to him, but most of the people around him seemed to think it was because he was stupidly reckless and did things that no sane person would do.

(Harry had started keeping his opinion on the matter to himself after that little rant from Hermione and Draco.)

It was a week to his birthday, and Harry had given up thinking he'd be healed and ready to go back to work, but he'd like to be at least functional enough to have a couple of people over. He wasn't kidding himself about the likelihood of Draco just putting his foot down and forbidding it if he thought Harry wasn't up to it.

Draco was spending more time with Teddy, which Harry did his very best to be okay with. He knew that it was a logical division of labour now, and he also knew that up until this point, he'd spent more time with the little boy than Draco had; if it did make him feel a little jealous now, then he wasn't just trying to be the better man, he probably deserved it.

He tried at first, therefore, to ignore the commotion a floor below him, but when there was a shriek, squeals of laughter, and then the unmistakable sounds of surprise and discovery of some sort, Harry sneaked out of bed and carefully down the stairs.

He found Draco and Teddy staring at a floorboard in the hallway outside of Teddy's bedroom.

"What are you doing up?" Draco demanded, sounding put out and not even looking up from the floor.

Harry swallowed. "You're not my father, Malfoy."

Draco's head snapped up, and he sounded rather horrified when he agreed, "Certainly not."

Harry contemplated turning right around and stomping back up the stairs, but at just that moment, Teddy announced proudly, "Found a hiding place!"

Harry swallowed, blinked a few times, and focussed on the happy and excited child. "Did you? Is there anything in it?"

"Don't know yet! Come see!"

Harry drew a deep breath and did so, and if anyone found it odd that he crowded down on the end with Teddy as far away as it was possible to get from Draco when they were all crouched around a floorboard, no one said anything.

"What makes you think there's anything in there?" he asked curiously.

"We were playing horsey," Teddy told Harry happily.

Draco was studiously not looking at Harry, but his cheeks had tinged pink. Harry really wished he'd been there to see that.

"It was super fun," Teddy continued. "Then boom! We fell on the floor 'cause Draco's arm went through the floor and he couldn't keep us up."

Harry frowned. There's weren't any trick floorboards anywhere in the house; Harry had demolished most of it and checked everything with a fine-toothed comb when he'd renovated.

He reached out but his fingers touched the regular wood of the floor just before Draco knocked his hand away.

"Merlin, Potter, what sort of training did they give you in the Auror department?"

Harry flushed and snapped, "Something that was altogether more action-oriented than slinking around in the shadows at the DOM."

Draco stiffened, and they might actually have got the fight that Harry was itching for when Teddy interrupted.

"C'I try?"

"No!" they both yelled at the same time, and when Draco shot him a pointed look, Harry flushed and subsided.

Draco began to cast standard detection charms, and Harry wished he was allowed to use his fucking wand.

The spells revealed nothing nefarious, and after exchanging nervous glances, Draco reached forward and—hit the wood of the floorboard, just as Harry had.

It seemed like an awfully serious wind-up when Draco hadn't even wanted Harry down here to begin with, only then Teddy was pushing forward.

"Me too, me too!"

And when he put his hand out with Draco's, the two of them suddenly sunk below the floorboard.

It needed more than one person?

Only when Harry reached out his hand, he hit floorboard despite seeing Draco's and Teddy's arms disappearing into the wood.

Draco pulled his hand out. "It might be only two at a time."

But Harry was not surprised when his hand still hit the smooth surface of the wood even with Teddy's little arm still reaching inside.

Because this was the House of Black, and he was the only non-Black under its roof.

Harry stood up abruptly.

"I'm going to make tea."

Teddy looked up at him with huge eyes. "There might be tweasure!"

There was a lump in Harry's throat that was making it very difficult for him to breathe. "I'm just going to sit down for a few minutes with the tea. I'm a little tired."

Teddy had been given several lectures from Draco and Hermione on the importance of not tiring Harry right now, so the little boy let him go without more argument. Draco opened his mouth, but Harry just glared at him until he shut it again.

He walked very carefully down the stairs with a white-knuckled grip on the banister, feeling two sets of eyes follow him down.

It was a relief to get to the kitchen. Harry found that he was breathing hard and needed to sit down before he could even go for the kettle. He tried to get his breathing under control and told himself that he was not going to cry over something as stupid as this.

And then he put his head down on his arms on the table and cried a little anyway because on top of everything else, fucking up his magical core had screwed up his emotional balance. And really, Harry Potter had already been a fair bit of a mess. Making it worse just … sucked.

He'd make a crap Auror on top of everything else right now, too, because he didn't even notice that he wasn't alone until a small child was trying to crawl up into his lap.

"It's okay, Harry. You're okay."

Dammit. At least he hadn't blown up the kitchen before having this emotional breakdown.

He pulled Teddy up and studiously didn't look at Malfoy where he stood on the other side of the table. The puffy red eyes were a dead giveaway, and it wasn't as though Harry could have Glamoured over it even if he'd thought of it right now.

Teddy threw his arms around Harry's neck, and Harry hugged him back, burying his face against Teddy's shoulder and hoping that the rest of the world would disappear when he wasn't looking.

After a moment, he heard Draco move, and then he heard the sound of the kettle being put on. He felt like an idiot for being caught not having even done the one stupid thing that he'd said he was going to do, but it wasn't like there was anything he could do about it. And he really could use a cup of tea and didn't actually have any interest in making it for himself.

Harry practiced his deep breathing, luxuriated in the warmth and cuddliness of Teddy. Really, what was some stupid spell to tell him who his family was? Voldemort had been obsessed about blood and bloodlines, and look where it had got him. There were way more important indicators out there.

He lifted his head and kissed Teddy's hair.

"Sorry about that, Teddy Bear. Did you find any treasure?"

"Found letters for you."

Harry frowned. "For me?"

Teddy looked uncertainly at him and then back at Draco. "Draco said."

Harry transferred his confusion to the other adult in the room. "Letters for me?"

Draco was watching him carefully. "Yeah. Well, sort of. Maybe you want to look at them after tea?"

Harry wanted to tell the other man to fuck off and stop coddling him, but having just had one emotional outburst, he didn't really want to have another. That sort of proved Draco's point; Harry wasn't at his best, and he'd been tired before he even came downstairs.

"Sure," he said with difficulty.

Teddy settled happily against him and drank cocoa that Draco had prepared for him while Harry drank his tea. Draco sat across the table and drank tea of his own, watching them very carefully. It was starting to make Harry nervous.

Teddy chattered about what a great day he'd had, and Harry tried to stay engaged as much as possible. The little boy certainly shouldn't be ignored just because Harry had a bad habit of getting injured on the job.

By the time they'd finished their beverages, it was late enough that heading up to bed didn't seem unreasonable; the horsey with Draco appeared to have tired Teddy out, and he was happy that Harry was coming up with them.

Draco read the story, and Harry didn't ask if it was because he thought Harry was tired or out of sorts, and Teddy was soon settled comfortably.

Harry studiously did not look at the hidden spot that was not accessible to Potters or Evanses. He made his way up the stairs, not saying anything about the shadow that followed him up. That was perfectly normal these days, after all, and Harry just felt uncomfortable about it now because he was feeling cranky about everything.

They reached his room, and Harry sat down on the side of the bed and pretended that he wasn't exhausted. Draco's face showed nothing but concern as he pulled a handful of letters off Harry's shelf where he had apparently put them before coming down to find Harry in the kitchen.

"I'd suggest that you wait until tomorrow to read these, but I'm pretty sure you'd read every single one tonight just to spite me."

Harry huffed a laugh that almost sounded right.

"I'm sorry," he said tiredly, feeling a bit miserable and suddenly like a complete wanker. "Today's a bad day, I guess, and you've been so patient, and—"

Draco laid a hand over Harry's and squeezed it reassuringly.

"Shut up, Potter."

Harry shut up.

"It's a miracle you don't have more bad days given what you go through. You're allowed to have bad days. We're not going to stop caring about you, and we're not going to leave."

Harry sucked in a sharp breath.

Draco bumped their shoulders together and didn't let Harry pull his hand away.

"We might not ever have seen this coming in a million years, but we agreed when we both accepted to take care of Teddy that we'd live here together and raise him. And we might have fought one another tooth and nail to begin with, but we've come a long way since then, and we're still doing it. We're his family, Harry, and we're going to keep being his family until we die."

Harry couldn't seem to clear the lump out of his throat enough to speak. His eyes were stinging with tears again, the relief at his unvoiced fear being quashed absolute, and it was altogether embarrassing.

"Shit, Potter, it's okay to need help sometimes."

Harry thought that was a bit rich coming from Malfoy of all people, but he still couldn't find his voice, and maybe that was just as well because the other man twisted and wrapped his arms around Harry, and Harry might sort of have ended up sobbing in the other man's arms.

Harry cried himself into an exhausted sleep, rousing only slightly when Draco laid him down and helped arrange him on the bed and then pulled a blanket over him.

Sleep overtook Harry once more.

~*~

Harry awoke feeling more refreshed than he had in a long time. This good mood remained undimmed for at least three minutes until he remembered the complete and utter fool that he'd made of himself the day before.

He'd sobbed—sobbed—all over Draco Malfoy.

Wow. That was … pretty screwed up. Only as embarrassing as it was, Harry found that he still felt better than he had done the day before. This felt better than a regular "good" day as opposed to a bad one, too, although since it had only gone on for about ten minutes so far, he maybe shouldn't put a lot of stock in it yet.

But he got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast immediately, though it was apparently closer to noon. He made himself toast and bacon and eggs and ate it all ravenously. Then he made himself seconds and ate all of that too.

It wasn't until he was sitting at the table with tea and the Prophet that he realised two things: he had the mysterious letters to read today, and he had neither turned the kettle on nor washed the dishes by hand, and yet he was, demonstrably, drinking tea, and the dishes were, quite clearly, not dirty.

Harry stayed at the kitchen table not panicking for a few minutes. Whatever he'd done, after all, whether intentional or not, couldn't be undone, so there was no use getting overly upset about it.

Those two instances were pretty minor uses of magic, so he'd just need to be careful from now on and not do anything ridiculous like Apparate to Hogwarts or—

Harry drew a deep breath and acknowledged that it was going to be one of those days.

The headmistress's Floo was probably closest, so Harry passed through the gates onto the grounds and headed into the castle.

It was empty, he realised after a long moment, and then he realised that it was the end of July. He didn't even know if McGonagall would be around. No way to know unless he checked, he supposed.

And as it turned out, he didn't have to worry about getting past the griffin without magic, either, because the headmistress emerged just as Harry arrived.

She looked … not just surprised but something that was a little closer to alarmed, though that emotion faded once she saw him.

"Potter, what are you doing here?"

Harry thought of all the ways that he could answer that question.

"I'm having a bit of a weird day."

Her stern face softened. "So Miss Granger's correspondence remains superior to yours, and you are meant to be convalescing at home?"

"I'm supposed to be regaining my magical strength," Harry answered, looking at her closely, "but given that you came out of your office like you were expecting to meet an army, I'm guessing I've, uh, got my mojo back?"

"Let's go to the Infirmary, Potter."

Harry hadn't gone to school here in three years, and it was suddenly as though he'd never left.

Off to the Infirmary he went, and despite his protests, Madam Pomfrey was retrieved from wherever she had been that was not here.

She tutted over him a lot, as was her habit, and confirmed what he had already gathered, namely that his magic was back with a vengeance.

Fortunately, she could also confirm that using it didn't seem to be having any deleterious effect, and she seemed to think that his body had over-replenished itself.

"If you were a well, Potter, you'd run yourself perilously close to dry with your stunt with the Aurors. You then covered over the well and determined not to use it to give yourself the chance to recover. Your magical level rose slowly day by day, but this isn't a precise science. We're not really designed to do what you did, at least not to those extremes. Your body had reached its capacity but is continuing to try to replenish your now-filled reserves. It should settle once you've used it a bit."

Harry considered her for a long moment, digesting her response.

"So, you're saying this completely ridiculous thing happened because I actually followed instructions and didn't use my magic at all?"

Pomfrey huffed a breath indignantly. McGonagall's lips tipped up a little.

"It's certainly not an issue we had when you were under my care," the mediwitch agreed with a mock evil eye. "Well, go on then, Potter. Give us a spell."

He blinked at her. Right. A spell. With the two formidable women staring him down, Harry's mind went completely blank, but after a moment of frantic scrambling, he made the beds in the hospital wing fly around the room.

"Really, Potter?" Professor McGonagall's Scottish drawl expressed her incredulity well.

So Harry transfigured the beds, animating them so that they danced around the room. She looked mildly more impressed with this. He added in the bedside cabinets and then started with the potions vials and bottles until the air around them was swimming with items that couldn't normally move like this.

"Potter," McGonagall asked, "where's your wand?"

Everything in the room stopped moving as though a switch had been flipped. Harry came perilously close to dropping the beds back to the ground but managed to keep a hold of the breakables. After a moment of paralysing stillness, everything moved back to its correct location.

He cleared his throat and turned back to the two women.

"Uh, at Grimmauld Place?" He presumed. "Draco took it so I wouldn't do any magic."

They exchanged glances.

Pomfrey decided this required a whole other set of tests, and then they tested his abilities some more. The quality of the "hmms" that they were exchanging now suggested to Harry that something distinct had changed in their assessment of what had happened, but they just assured him that it was nothing to worry about.

He could do almost anything they asked him to. It felt like stretching muscles that had long been dormant, stretching muscles that had just been itching to be used. And he was pretty sure by the end of it, though no one was saying as much, that it was unlikely that he needed his wand anymore.

When he wanted to know why it had felt for so long like he had no magic and then suddenly as though he had an overabundance, Madam Pomfrey had raised an eyebrow.

"Perhaps your body was wise enough to recognize that it was the only way to get you to heal; had you felt as though you were getting steadily more well, you would have injured yourself anew overextending before you were ready."

Harry considered protesting but realised it would fall on deaf ears.

By the end of the tests, it felt as though everything had settled a little more, though, as though he wasn't going to Apparate to China just because he'd had the thought. He felt better than he had in a long time, and ultimately, he wasn't going to question it. His life was like that.

His stomach rumbled loudly.

"Would you care to stay for dinner, Potter?" McGonagall asked.

Harry's head snapped up. "Dinner?"

Tempus informed him that it was just shy of five.

"Shit," he said, forgetting his audience and already running towards the door. "Sorry, got to go."

"Potter!"

"Thanks for everything! Draco's going to kill me."

There was a small chance, a very small chance…. He sprinted for the gates, realising en route that if he'd had any sense, he would have Flooed from the Infirmary.

It would take longer to go back, now.

He Apparated the second he was off the grounds and reappeared in the kitchen.

Bugger.

Draco was kneeling at the fireplace talking frantically to Hermione, from the look of it. He turned around very slowly when Harry appeared, and Harry blanched.

"I'm so sorry!" Harry gasped out, trying to catch his breath. "It was all a big accident, I had no idea what I was doing, and then I lost track of the time, and I got back just as soon as I realised. Everything's okay, it's all fine, and I'm sorry if I worried you."

Draco's eyes narrowed. "Goodbye, Hermione," he said without looking at the fire.

"Goodbye, Draco." She shot Harry a look of exasperation. "Goodbye, Harry."

"'Bye, Hermione," Harry said, eyes going back to the man who was slowly advancing on him.

Harry cleared his throat. "I really am sorry, Draco. I didn't even know what I was doing, I just did it!"

He watched Draco draw a deep breath in through his nose and let it out looking as though it pained him.

"Start at the beginning," he said shortly. "Then I will decide if I am going to kill you."

Grimacing, Harry did as instructed, detailing the whole day. He was pretty sure he caught Draco suppressing a smile a couple of times, and he knew by the time he detailed the sprint out of the Infirmary that the other man had basically forgiven him.

"Really, it was all an accident," he pointed out one more time.

Draco pulled out his wand. "Accio Harry Potter's wand."

It came zooming into the kitchen and smacked into Draco's palm. He held it out.

"You're an idiot," he told Harry, but he sounded almost … fond. Exasperated, but no longer homicidal.

"I know," Harry agreed, taking the piece of holly and smiling at the warmth that flowed up his arm.

If he was right, he didn't need his wand anymore, but it was still here for him.

Draco not only insisted that he sleep on this new wellspring of magic before he consider telling the Auror department that he was ready to return to work, he insisted that Harry go to bed in good time.

"You've only been feeling better for one day. Just because you're having a good one doesn't mean there aren't any more bad ones coming. We all want you to be well, Harry, but we don't want to rush into it."

Reminded, suddenly, of all the "bad" of the day before, Harry beat a hasty retreat before he blushed so much that the other man wanted to know what his problem was.

It was only once he got back upstairs that he realised he'd forgotten again about the letters. Tonight was a much better night to read them; he still felt wired and nowhere near ready to sleep.

He changed into his pyjamas, though, washed up, and then settled onto his bed with the small pile.

His stomach jolted. The letters were addressed to Sirius Black.

The writing looked a little familiar, but he couldn't quite place it; it wasn't until Harry opened the first one that he understood why.

Remus had graded Harry's DADA papers in third year, but his style had changed a bit since he'd been a teenager.

He swallowed heavily, wondered for a moment if he should read the letters, and then acknowledged that Sirius had saved them and Harry couldn't let this go.

The first letter was very short.

Sirius,

Stop writing me. I don't want to hear any more of your excuses.

Remus

The "stop" had been underlined three times, so angrily that the quill had torn through the paper in a couple of places.

It appeared that Sirius hadn't stopped writing, though, because the correspondence continued, though the next letter wasn't much longer.

Pomfrey nearly caught this! Can you please think of someone other than yourself for once? That, though you probably haven't noticed, is what got you into this mess in the first place.

Grow up.

Whatever Sirius had written next had apparently upset Remus even more, enough that he actually wrote considerable more. He'd dated the letter properly, and if Harry was doing the math right, it was from their sixth year.

Sirius,

For the last fucking time, no, I am not being unreasonable! How dare you say that to me?! I don't want to talk to you, so that would be why I'm not responding to your efforts to make me talk. You think that you can smile that stupid smile, and everyone will forgive you anything. And yes, I know I've always been the most likely person to do so, but this situation is different.

Do you honestly not grasp that? You didn't just use Moony against me, you did it for a laugh. Every month I have nightmares that I'm going to wake up a murderer, that I'm going to hurt someone because I don't know what I'm doing. And you tried to make that happen. You can tell everyone all you want that it was just a joke, that you just wanted to scare him, but you, Sirius Black, made it a distinct possibility. It's not about almost getting expelled, and it's not about Severus Snape—that's a whole other issue.

You used the scariest and most terrifying part of me for your amusement. I have damn well little enough control over my life that I can't let you take that away from me, too.

Because you know what? You've said you're sorry a hundred times, but you haven't convinced me that you wouldn't do it again.

It's over, Sirius. Let it go.

Remus

Harry stared blindly at the letter. Definitely sixth year, then, and Remus had apparently had a few years to get over what had happened by the time Harry learnt about that stupid "prank". From the letters so far, he honestly couldn't imagine Remus ever talking to Sirius again. He hurried on to the next one. It was dated three weeks later, and the writing was a little shaky.

Sirius,

I wasn't aware you knew anything about the mating habits of wolves. But the point is moot. It isn't any of your concern anymore. If the howling disturbs you, stop listening for it. No one else is complaining.

R

The next letter was from later the same day. Harry had to wonder if they'd been allowed to use school owls to send letters within the school back then or if Sirius and Remus were just determined to break the rules. He realised that these letters had to be following the full moon, and he wondered if Sirius should really be pushing Remus like this; his handwriting really looked unsteady, and he was presumably in the Infirmary for a reason.

And what did the mating habits of wolves have to do with anything? Harry really wished he had Sirius's letters to Remus.

Sirius!

Don't ever joke about that. I wouldn't wish this curse on my worst enemy, and I could never wish it on you, you daft bugger.

You know who and what you are. You have always been too handsome, too charming, too funny, too smart, and too arrogant for me—don't think I haven't noticed that you've somehow conned me into writing your good traits in this letter, as though you needed your ego stroked and I'm not the one who's supposed to be not talking to you.

Oh, Siri, what am I going to do with you?

Confused, Harry hurried on to the next letter, which was dated two days later.

Siri,

It serves you right! Don't even think about moaning to me. If you choose to sneak into the hospital wing, lose track of the time kissing me senseless, and then get caught sneaking back to the Gryffindor dorm at an inappropriate time of night, you have no one to blame but yourself.

It's not an 'overly harsh' punishment given what you got up to the last time, you nutter. You're lucky you weren't expelled on the spot.

Best behaviour in detention, Sirius, I mean it—because I'm expecting you to be free tomorrow night, do you understand? Pomfrey says she's pleased with my progress, and I should be back in the Tower by then.

Love,

Remus

Harry read the letter over three times, but it said the same thing each and every time. He was pretty sure that his entire world view had just shifted, rearranging itself to what had apparently always been there but which he had been too blind to notice.

He closed his eyes and tried to think of Sirius and Remus when he had seen them alive together. He thought of them reunited once they had realised that Sirius was innocent. Thought of the happy reminiscing. They'd definitely seemed like friends, but … had Harry just been clueless, as always? Had he missed signs that were obvious to everyone else?

With Tonks and everything, with Teddy, Harry had just always assumed….

He realized that there was one more letter beneath this one, and that the envelope was different. The others had clearly all been written together, but this one looked a little newer.

He pulled out the letter and checked the date. December 25th, 1981. Harry was alive and celebrating his second—His heart lurched. He was alive, but his parents were dead. There would have been no celebrating Christmas for him, stuck at the Dursleys for the first time, nor for Sirius, who must have been in Akzaban by this time, imprisoned without a trial.

Full of trepidation, Harry started to read.

Sirius,

You'll never read this, of course. Maybe I won't even send it. I'm sure they don't take letters in Azkaban, and I wouldn't actually want you to read it, not now. Perhaps I'll send it to Hogwarts. That's where everything started, after all, isn't it? Where we were happy? I'm sure they return or destroy letters to old students all the time.

It's Chrismas, Siri, and I'm all alone because James and Lily and Peter are dead. You killed them, and I'll never see you again. I'm quite maudlin tonight, you see. Pulled out the letters that you sent me in sixth year and tried to understand what happened.

How could you do it? What could he have offered you? I know how much James meant to you, saw the look in your eyes when you bounced Harry on your knee and he laughed, when Lily rocked him to sleep—

Damn. I promised myself I wasn't going to cry. I can't help thinking that there's something I might have done differently, that if I'd been someone else, if I'd been able to give you the child you wanted, it might have been enough. I might have been enough.

How pathetic is that? But I knew you weren't happy at the end, and I knew it was my fault, but I couldn't—I didn't know how to tell you, and it tore apart my whole life. I wasn't sure if you knew that as a wolf I could get pregnant, and I spent so long worrying how to tell you, worrying that you didn't really want a child with me. Worrying about the dangers; Poppy said werewolf pregnancies were notoriously difficult. She urged me to tell the other father, but I dithered … and then it was too late. If I hadn't told you I was pregnant, there was no way that I could tell you….

She was going to be beautiful, Sirius. She was going to have your hair and my eyes and laugh all the time. She was going to be kinder than you and smarter than me, but I was so scared—

We were all so scared then, though most of us were pretending.

Some of us were pretending more than others.

I'm writing this all down because I'm in love with someone who doesn't exist anymore. It terrifies me to think about how long that's been true. So I'm going to send this letter. Or maybe I'm going to burn it. And then I'm going to move on. I'm going to leave England, I think; I can't bear it anymore. All I see is you and what might have been. I'm going to remember you fondly when you were you, and I'm going to bury my heart where no one is ever going to find it.

Because you're right, of course. Wolves mate for life.

I love you,

Remus

Harry didn't realise he was crying until the first of the tears dripped onto the letter. He quickly moved the letter out of harm's way and brushed the tears off his face with fingers that trembled.

He wondered when Sirius had got the letter. Harry wouldn't put it past Dumbledore to have tucked it away and suddenly sprung it on the other man. Harry knew full well that the headmaster had had plans within plans and known far more about most things than he ever admitted.

He wished Remus and Sirius could have had a second chance. But he imagined Sirius getting that letter, and then he tried to imagine the other man confronting Remus about it. What could they possibly have said at this point? It was a letter Sirius was never meant to receive, and it contained nothing but heartbreak.

Harry thought about Sirius locked in this house when it had been grim and foreboding, trying to make Christmas cheerful.

It made Harry's heart ache, and he curled up in bed and thought of what might have been until he fell asleep.


Chapter Eight: Habits from the Past

It was a few minutes before midnight when Draco found Harry in the kitchen.

"What are you doing up?" Draco demanded.

The last few days seemed to have born out the fact that Harry had made a full recovery, but Draco couldn't forget that a week ago, he'd been barely functional. He'd gotten used to being able to show his concern, and he wasn't doing such a brilliant job these days of turning it off.

Harry looked guilty at being caught and then annoyed that he felt guilty.

He'd gone back to work yesterday, had managed just fine today as well, and there seemed to be little doubt that he'd manage fine tomorrow. Draco wasn't his keeper or anything—but it was nearing midnight and he had work the next day.

"S'nothing to worry about," Harry mumbled, sounding vaguely embarrassed now.

"Who's worried?" Draco asked casually. "You're an adult; you can stay up past your bedtime if you want."

It was the right thing to say, finally; the tension disappeared from Harry's shoulders, and he smiled a little.

He had been strange, the last few days, and Draco wasn't altogether certain how to deal with it. He knew that it couldn't be easy, that Harry had started to worry that he would never get his magic back, and then it had come back suddenly and uncontrollably.

He'd gone back to work hurriedly and seemed to be managing a return to his normal routine. Draco couldn't help but feel, however, that something was still off, something that he couldn't quite put his finger on.

It might have been the letters to Sirius Black. Draco had been trying to be respectful, and he hadn't read them. Now, he sort of wished that he had, so that he knew what he was dealing with or knew that he needed to keep looking for another cause.

Their life went a lot more smoothly when Harry was happy, after all.

His mind pointed out to him that this was not his best effort ever, but he ignored it. This was, after all, the only possible thing to do when you were Draco Malfoy and you were finally admitting to yourself that you fancied Harry Potter.

Harry regained his attention.

"It's silly," he admitted.

"So? You're allowed to be silly."

Harry relaxed again, and Draco wondered what had him so wound up. It was like he was back to imagining that Draco was going to attack at any turn, but they'd been past that behaviour for a while. Hadn't they?

He'd let the stress of the situation get to him a few times during Harry's convalescence, but so had Harry. It had mostly worked, or so Draco had thought. Had he missed something completely?

The clock on the wall chimed midnight, and there was a sudden flurry of movement from the open window.

Owls, Draco realised after a moment of alarm and a surreptitious movement for his wand which Harry didn't appear to have noticed, focussed as he was on the birds and their deliveries.

He thanked each of them and gave them treats from the tin that he'd apparently got out in anticipation.

The last owl left, and Harry stared at the table with deep satisfaction and an emotion that Draco struggled for a moment to label. Delight. Childish delight. There was something innocent about the pleasure in Harry's eyes.

Harry began to open the parcels, and by the second item, Draco realised.

"I'm sorry."

Harry blinked up at him, looking almost as though he'd forgotten that Draco was there.

"Happy birthday, Harry," Draco said, more sensibly. "I didn't realise."

Harry shook his head. "No reason for you to have done."

What Draco was really thinking, though, was that this was a hell of a time for the Gryffindor know-it-all to clam up. Normally, she could be counted on. How could no one close to Harry have let this slip so that Draco could have prepared?

"You always get everything at midnight?" Draco asked for something to say.

Harry smiled fondly, lost in memories. "Hagrid showed up at midnight when I turned eleven. Gave me my first ever birthday cake. It sort of became a tradition after that."

Not for the first time, Draco considered hunting down Harry's relatives and doing something very painful to them. He might not have enjoyed being a Death Eater, but he'd learnt a thing or two. He was pretty sure that he could even get Hermione to help him. She might usually be hopelessly Gryffindor, but she went ape-shit when someone hurt Harry. The longer Draco spent in Harry's company, the more apparent it became that Harry's relatives didn't just deserve to be ignored, they deserved to be obliterated. If Hermione had been putting up with this sort of thing for more than a decade, she had to be on the very edge of snapping.

Draco wasn't going to ruin Harry's birthday by bringing it up now, however.

Harry continued: "I usually get together with the others at some point, circumstances permitting, but this part is for me."

Draco stood, suddenly feeling awkward. "I'll go."

Harry reached for him, hand hovering just sort of touching him. "No, I didn't mean that. Just look at all this stuff. I need help opening it all, right?"

Draco considered him for a moment, the earnest expression and the fact that Draco had given him an easy out. "You need help all the time, Potter."

Harry grinned, clearly pleased, and handed him a package.

It had Weasley's messy scrawl on the front, and Draco narrowed his eyes at the other man.

"This means war."

Harry laughed, and they set to work.

It was an impressive array, even if a great deal of it came from Weasleys. There were two birthday cakes—Hagrid, who had baked it himself, and Hermione, who assured Harry that she had not—and a truly enormous array of sweets, mostly from Ronald and George Weasley.

There were some gorgeous-looking chocolates that Draco coveted immediately, and had it been anyone but Harry and his birthday—okay, and maybe Theodore—Draco would have attempted a slight of hand.

Hermione had also sent a basket of fruit and several books. From Longbottom and Lovegood there was an improbably coloured flowering … some sort of plant that Draco did not recognize that made Harry grin and immediately give it a space of prominence on the windowsill in the kitchen.

The headmistress had sent Scottish shortbread and a pair of socks that made Harry go misty-eyed, and Draco, unable to reconcile this to either one of them, reflected that there was still plenty he had to learn.

The Weasleys with the French child had sent French pastries and a framed photo of all of them playing that ridiculous game at Theodore's birthday party. Everyone was smiling and laughing. One of the other ones—he'd lost track by now—had given Harry dragonhide gloves.

The female Weasley had sent—

"Is that a professional Snitch?" Draco couldn't help but ask enviously.

"Yes?" Harry said, clearly confused.

"Do you know how hard those are to get outside of a league?"

"Uh … now I do?" Harry sounded sheepish. "She just always says she wants to make sure I have fun."

Draco didn't think the woman was on any team, certainly not in the UK, but he was not about to ask.

He stared at the table, and there was one unmistakable conclusion.

"Is this a sign that I should cook more?" Draco asked flippantly.

Harry's face darkened for a moment, and then Draco watched as he consciously tried to will away the expression.

"It's been okay for years," he said finally.

Since they had been inundated with food at Hogwarts, there was only one possible conclusion to draw from this.

Harry's relatives were going to have to die.

The other man was clearly trying not to think about it and Banished everything non-food related back to his room. Hermione's cake had candles that were designed to light when removed from the packaging, and Draco's breath caught as he watched Harry's face light up with that same delight as when he had viewed the deliveries.

It made Draco want to do highly unwise things like kiss the other man senseless.

It would definitely break the mood when Harry broke his nose.

Harry served them each a large slice of cake, and they ate in companionable silence as Harry read the notes that had come with the gifts. The man had horrible gift-opening etiquette, but Draco couldn't seem to bring himself to mind as much as he ought.

It was after one in the morning when Harry packed up the cake once more and rose to his feet, stretching. Draco studiously did not watch the long lines of his body when he did that.

Harry smiled at him, open and content.

"Thanks, Draco."

"Happy birthday, Harry."

~*~

Two days later, Draco found a little box on the middle of his bed. Inside were six of the delectable chocolates that he had most desired from Harry's stash, and a note in Harry's chicken scratch.

You already know I'm stupid, right? Happy belated birthday. Harry.

Harry could actually be observant. Who knew?

Draco popped one of the chocolates into his mouth and suppressed a very undignified moan.

Life was good.

~*~

By Monday, he was far less sure of this assessment.

"Excuse me?" Draco demanded.

Harry's eyes were spitting fire, and Draco had spoken not only because he was incredulous but because he was pretty sure that Harry would have been far less diplomatic.

"It's to be a joint endeavour between the Auror Department and the Department of Mysteries," Twitter explained just as though that was the point that they were concerned about.

Actually, it was rather unusual, but it was pretty far down the list of points they wanted to bring up.

"You'll have four weeks to research and investigate without causing undo disruption."

They glared at her stonily.

"It will foster inter-department cooperation," the witch continued.

It would be the first job that Harry had gone on since he got back. He was being paired up out of his department and with Draco. He could still practically see the rant forming behind Harry's eyes about coddling.

Draco might have thought he were overreacting if it weren't for the "mission" in question.

Harry spoke up before Draco could, and Draco was relieved, under the circumstances, that Harry's words were brittle shards of glass but icily calm. "Teaming up an Auror and an Unspeakable to investigate reports that schoolchildren are losing time, rendering them unable to complete their homework."

Of course, if Harry were the one to freak out, he might get a tap on the fingers. Draco would be lucky not to get a formal reprimand. Perhaps he should really be allowing the other man to react as he wished.

Still, he had to admire the other man's delivery.

It went right over Twitter's head. "It shows that the Ministry is concerned with all its citizens."

Harry's eyes had narrowed, and Draco could see that beneath the level of Twitter's desk, Harry's hands had curled into white-knuckled fists.

"Children and incomplete homework," Harry repeated.

"The Ministry has always been concerned about its children, Mr Potter."

Harry erupted out of his seat, and Draco came with him, wrapping an arm around him and digging his fingers in until he hit skin.

"Thank you, Twitter," Draco said loudly. "We'll begin to investigate immediately."

The moment they were out of the office, Harry shook angrily out of Draco's grasp.

"Harry—"

"Don't talk to me right now, Malfoy."

Draco stiffened and made no effort to go after Harry when he stalked away. Yes, Draco could slip out a "Potter" when he was annoyed with the other man, but that had been an awful lot of venom in a rather public place for something that surely wasn't Draco's fault.

And sure, it was insulting, especially the fact that they were being assigned the case at the beginning of August; the four weeks of "investigation" wasn't even a clever lie and made it abundantly plain that a dusty report had been pulled out of a drawer where it had been ignored until the Ministry wanted Harry Potter on a case of no significance.

He was less sure about the reasoning around his own involvement. Harry and Smith could easily have taken a look at the case. Or did they worry about Smith being able to handle Harry after what had happened and they expected Draco to do so?

Looking down the corridor that Harry had disappeared down like an enraged Saviour of the Wizarding World, Draco reflected that if there was one thing that he was not certain of right now, it was of his ability to understand Harry, never mind exercise any measure of control over him.

Clearly, they weren't really expected to find anything, but this still had the potential to go wrong. When Draco recounted the conversation to Hermione later, she seemed less concerned with Harry and more desirous of knowing the precise words that Twitter had spoken.

"Focus," Draco demanded.

Her eyes still had that unfocussed look that indicated she was somewhere else entirely.

"We're talking about your best friend here, Hermione. Pay attention."

She mumbled something about characters and then snapped back to him.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about Harry just yet. You've known him long enough to be well aware he doesn't like to be treated differently because he's Harry Potter, and that's what he thinks is happening now."

"You think something else is going on?" he asked in surprise.

She smiled at him brightly. "Maybe the Ministry just thinks that he'd have some experience with ridiculous excuses for not getting homework done."

Draco laughed and wondered if he could get away with repeating this suggestion to Harry at some point.

Hermione was probably right. They were both taking this too seriously. They worked for the Ministry, and that meant that sometimes, they were going to be stuck doing jobs that they thought were ridiculous. It wasn't dangerous, it wasn't morally objectionable, and they were still getting paid.

A little bit of ridiculous wasn't going to kill them, was it?

~*~

By the time the first week of their investigation drew to a close, Draco had more doubts than beliefs that everything was going to turn out all right.

It wasn't so bad when they were home. Probably thanks to Theodore's lightening influence, Harry was more or less even-tempered and could sometimes forget about how annoyed he was about work. He clearly liked spending time with Theodore, but Draco was beginning to doubt that the same was true of him. He was spending almost no time alone with Draco at home, and it was even worse at work.

Oh, he'd spend time with Draco, of course, because he had to, but he was sullen and withdrawn, shying away from Draco's touch, averting his eyes, and avoiding him as much as their joint job would allow.

Draco told himself that he was annoyed and maybe a little embarrassed because otherwise he was going to have to admit that he was hurt.

They'd never been together in a professional situation before, after all, and the way Harry was treating him, well … if his goal was to show people that he thought Malfoys were worthless, it was coming across crystal clear.

Harry had never struck Draco as the type of person to do that. He'd always disliked Draco openly because of the way Draco had behaved, and once they'd worked their way through that, once they'd both realised that they could act like regular people around one another, it had been … good.

Draco had thought it had been good, anyway.

The man had bought him chocolates, for fuck's sake, just because he'd seen the way that Draco had eyed the ones he received. Wasn't that significant?

It might have been the party that did it, though Draco couldn't identify a particular event that would cause this exact reaction. The weekend after his birthday, Harry had invited him out for what turned out to be his birthday celebration. Too many Weasleys had been there, again, including the Weaselette, and Smith had been there as well.

There'd been a lot of drinking, a lot of dancing, and a lot of flirting (by everyone who was not Draco). Weasley, of course, had not been pleased that he was there, but Harry had seemed, at the time, to ignore him, and Hermione had given him the evil eye often enough that they didn't have to worry that he would cause a scene.

But maybe that had been it. Harry had invited Draco to a social event for him, and perhaps when Draco hadn't been looking, he had realised how that looked, had realised that he didn't want to be associated with a Malfoy.

He'd said Draco was a friend, but no one else had overheard, and they'd had the buffer of Theodore.

Perhaps he had changed his mind. No one said he couldn't do that, but Draco was pretty sure that there were normally reasons for that sort of about-face. And really, it would need to be a monumental event or realisation. The man was still friends with Ronald Weasley, and that man had committed more egregious errors in the seven years of their schooling—never mind the abandonment when they'd been on the run from Voldemort—than Draco could easily count.

Harry Potter was loyal to a fault, for fuck's sake, and that meant that he had decided that Draco was not worthy of his loyalty.

Draco was unexpectedly torn between asking for forgiveness for he didn't know what fault and punching the other man in the face and telling him to fuck off—and that made him a little short in turn.

Theodore was starting to look at them closely, and Draco knew that it wasn't long before he started asking awkward questions. Strangely, Harry didn't appear to have noticed; normally, his preoccupation with Theodore's happiness outweighed every other concern.

It had made that first week of internal information-gathering particularly annoying. They'd had to wade through piles of old paperwork to try to find out what—or more properly if—any investigation had already been done, they had to speak to Lancer, the Auror who'd initially taken the report—a favour for a cousin, as it turned out—and they hadn't even been able to mock the whole episode properly because Harry wasn't really speaking to him. He'd half start jokes or shared laughter and then seem to remember who he was talking to and shut down again.

It was driving Draco mad.

The next week, once the family was back from holiday, they interviewed Lancer's cousin's child.

Frederick Tempest was thirteen, brown-haired, blue-eyed, and ruler of the universe. It became immediately clear why his mother had brought the matter all the way to the Ministry; Frederick had told her to, and Frederick got everything he wanted.

He thought it only his due that Harry Potter had come to investigate the matter, though he was sorely disappointed in the length of time it had taken to respond to the report, and he was considering lodging a formal complaint to the Ministry.

It would have been hilarious if he didn't know exactly what Harry was thinking when he kept casting side-long glances at Draco but then not saying anything.

Not talking to one another became rather mutual after that.

Absurd as it was, it was the case assigned them by the Ministry, so they were now looking at class lists and virtually non-existent dossiers—because these were school children—and trying to find students who were not cronies of Frederick who might independently verify this absurd claim as to why his homework had not been ready to submit on time.

His four most ardent hangers-on had indeed backed him up completely, but they were parroting his speech to them practically word for word, so this corroboration was completely useless.

They had a meeting with the headmistress and Frederick's head of house in an hour, and Draco had gone to pull the records on the woman, on the truly off chance that she was actually some evil mastermind who was … drugging up her charges and making them lose time. Which no one noticed because … she was very good at hiding it….

Yes, it was ludicrous, but that was the whole case.

He was almost back to Harry's cubicle, where they'd set up base because, quite frankly, the Aurors had less to hide than the Unspeakables, when Harry's voice made him freeze and the hackles on the back of his neck raise.

"Excuse me?"

This was the tone of voice Harry reserved for someone who accused him of betraying Dumbledore and shacking up with the Dark Lord. Who the hell had pissed him off that much?

The other person wasn't quite loud enough for Draco to make out words, just a murmur in a cadence that he didn't recognize. Not Weasley or Smith, anyway.

Harry's voice was clear and cold and could have slain small armies with its menace. "While what I think of my assignment doesn't actually have any bearing on anything, I have no complaints about any part of it, do you understand me?"

Draco's jaw nearly dropped open. Hermione had told him she hadn't heard Harry rant more since the year Umbridge had taken over Hogwarts.

Another response that Draco couldn't hear. He longed to cast a Listening Charm, but this was the heart of the Auror department; they tended to notice that sort of thing. It was only a matter of time until he got caught eavesdropping, but he wanted to know what the hell was going on.

The lights flickered ominously above Harry's cubicle.

Shit. Unexpectedly, as far as Draco was concerned, ever since Harry had recovered from the explosion, instances of uncontrolled magical outbursts had dropped off sharply, as though being able to do everything wandlessly meant that he could channel what had previously been uncontrollable.

He'd never heard of the other man having a problem at work before—nor of any that weren't related to Draco.

It could go badly for Harry if people thought that he was magically out-of-control, if they realised just how much power he had at his disposal.

Draco readied his wand and prepared to just charge in and hope for the best when Harry's voice froze him in his tracks.

"Draco Malfoy achieved his position in the Department of Mysteries through hard work and a great deal more intelligence than you will evidently ever possess. He has never needed any favours from me, though I do in fact owe him a life debt; unlike you, who sat at your desk and made no attempt to win the War, Draco Malfoy was in the middle of it, and he chose to save my life at great risk to his own. I'm working with him because I trust him."

Draco could do nothing but stand there. The voice of the other person had finally risen high enough that Draco could hear him blustering.

"There are lots of people who are concerned. You're living with a Death Eater!"

"I don't know how you missed the memo, but Draco was fully pardoned. I'm living with an Unspeakable, and what either of us does at home is absolutely none of your business," Harry said coldly. "Nor is the fact that I have been able to shake Imperius since I was in fifth year and came out of my first confrontation with Voldemort when I was a little over a year old and defeated when I was seventeen, but I'm telling you anyway as a word of warning. The next time you're concerned about me, I invite you to remember who you're talking to. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with the Minister about staffing."

Draco dove out of the way just in time, Harry marching out of the office with determination and rage tightening every line of his body.

The unfortunate Auror slunk out a moment later. Draco didn't even know his name, though that wasn't going to be the case for long.

There was a slight shuffling behind him, and Draco turned to discover that apparently, he wasn't the only one who had heard Harry. Half the Auror department seemed to be hiding down the same corridor Draco had chosen, and they were all staring at him with various looks of shock, consideration, or amusement.

Well, that last was only Smith.

Harry's partner clapped Draco on the shoulder. "Never does things by halves, does he, our Harry? As if he'd let someone he didn't trust take care of a child he loves." Apparently, not everyone had thought of it like that before; Draco could actually see the expressions of confusion clearing from some of the faces around him. "Good thing Grover isn't staying. He's bringing down the intelligence of the entire department."

"He's not staying?" Draco asked in confusion.

The look Smith gave him was a pitying one. "Harry never does things by halves, remember? All right people, back to work."

~*~

It turned out Smith was altogether correct; by the end of the impromptu "staffing" meeting, Grover no longer had a job, and Draco's entire work existence had been rewritten.

Well, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was certainly what it felt like in those first few days. And while the thought of Draco being treated better only because they were all scared that Harry was going to pop up and get them fired was not nearly as good as them actually respecting Draco and realising that he had actually got there on talent, it was an improvement to being snubbed and insulted.

It certainly made his work easier, and it was hard to be too upset when it was actually kind of funny, especially because Harry was pretty much the least-threatening person Draco knew and a whole bunch of assholes were now afraid of him.

And then, of course, there was the part of it that was altogether serious. Because Draco had just learned definitively that Harry was not embarrassed or ashamed to work with him, was not only willing to chew out someone who truly insulted him, he'd gone to the Minister to get rid of him.

It could probably have been done through regular channels, eventually; the man had not been well-liked, competent, or a decent human being, as it turned out. But Harry had skipped all those steps and gone straight to the Minister as he could do only because he was Harry Potter.

He'd used his fame for Draco. He hated being treated differently for being the Saviour of the Wizarding World.

Draco was a little confused. None of Harry's behaviour recently had suggested that this sort of action was remotely possible. Harry hadn't even mentioned it, seemed to honestly think, the idiot, that Draco might not find out about it, as if everyone in the Ministry hadn't known in under twenty-four hours.

It was especially puzzling when Harry's behaviour towards Draco remained fairly similar to how it had been since that damn party. He was more careful to be friendly when they were at the Ministry as if to ensure no one had any reason to question his happiness working with Draco, but he was still behaving distantly at most other times.

Draco decided to give it a couple of days to see if Harry would say anything on his own.

Two weeks before school started up again, they went to Hogwarts and had a strange meeting where everyone agreed that Frederick was a self-entitled little tosser—not the word they actually used but clearly what they wanted to say—who would absolutely make up a ridiculous story to cover up his own failings. It seemed conclusive, except there was just a hint of something underlying what they were saying.

That they were telling the truth, Draco didn't doubt, but for the first time, he began to wonder if there was actually something going on. He'd cornered the new Slytherin Head of House separately, and with great reluctance, she'd confessed that while she knew it was complete nonsense, and it was no doubt just in her head now because Tempest had made up that silly story, there had been a few moments at the end of last term where it had seemed to her that she'd lost track of the time and maybe … not been aware of the time passing now and again.

Draco didn't know her well enough to be certain of how sensible she was, but there was definitely that itch under his skin, that prickle of awareness that told him that they needed to keep looking into this.

Harry thought that Draco was making a bit much out of what was probably nothing.

"Tempest is a spoiled kid who's used to getting his way in everything."

"That doesn't mean something couldn't have happened to him!" Draco snapped.

Harry blinked at him. "True," he conceded, though he sounded confused, as though he couldn't figure out why the point needed to be made. "It just seems like a bit of an improbable story, doesn't it?"

"Because nothing improbable has ever happened to a student at Hogwarts before."

Harry laughed and said altogether cordially, "Fair point."

Draco let out a frustrated breath and cracked. "Potter, you're not making any sense. You seem all rational and normal in one moment, and then you get me convinced that you're ashamed to even be seen with me." Harry sat up straight as though someone had cast Petrificus Totalus on him. "And then you chew an Auror out defending my honour and get him sacked." A dull flush flooded Harry's face. "I don't understand what's going on."

For a long moment, Harry just sat there, motionless, pink staining his cheeks.

When he finally collected himself, he said, "I'm sorry, Draco. It's me. I—I discovered something unexpected, and it changed everything, and I haven't been able to work out how to deal with it yet, but I didn't realise—I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

Draco stared at him, needing more than that, which Harry evidently realised because he licked his lips, looked everywhere but at Draco, and then kept talking.

"You know the letters you found?" He didn't actually wait for a response. "They were from Remus to Sirius. From when they were at Hogwarts together."

Draco waited for an explanation that actually explained anything, and when Harry stayed silent, he prompted, "You knew that already."

"I didn't know they were lovers!"

Harry looked surprised that the words had come out of his mouth, and he flushed spectacularly once more.

Draco stared.

"You know, with Tonks, and no one ever said anything, I thought—"

Ice flooded Draco's veins.

"You thought they were straight."

Harry nodded.

"And everything's different now that you know the truth."

Harry nodded once more, and Draco suppressed a grimace.

He wouldn't have thought Harry would have this prejudice, but it wasn't like he knew to the contrary. Someone at the party must have tipped Harry off about Draco—it was clearly only the fact that the other man was so remarkably clueless that he hadn't figured it on his own.

And because Harry was an idiot, he was overcompensating, getting someone sacked for commenting about Draco. Meanwhile, he was nervous around him and wouldn't let Draco touch him anymore and didn't want anything to do with him.

The other man not being interested was bad enough; Draco repulsing him was infinitely worse.

He felt a little sick to his stomach.

He rose to his feet.

"I don't know why I'm surprised, Potter."

~*~

They interacted very little over the next few days. Draco had continued to investigate at Hogwarts, looking for more evidence of something peculiar going on, and he'd snarled at Harry that since Harry thought it was all nonsense anyway, there was no reason for him to come.

So Harry stayed at the Ministry, and the glimpses that Draco caught of him showed him looking miserable, which simply wasn't fair, because Harry was the one being a prejudiced asshole.

They both tried to pull themselves together when Teddy was present, but he was still looking at them funny, knowing something was going on.

It was kind of hard to miss, these days.

So far, he hadn't found anything at the castle that corroborated Tempest's story, but it was a matter of pride now that he prove Harry wrong. Really, he needed September so that he could easily question all the students. He couldn't show up one by one at their homes with a story as ridiculous as this. They'd either laugh in his face or be certain that he was hiding a much more serious problem. If he caused widespread panic, he was certain that he'd be suspended—and the last thing he wanted to do right now was spend more time at home.

He'd gotten desperate enough to just roam the grounds, as though a clue would leap out and attack him with its proof.

Maybe he needed to confront Harry. You couldn't just tell a man that you hated what he was and then expect everything to go on as it had. Potter didn't get to run roughshod over everybody else's existence just because he was the Saviour of the Wizarding World.

Yes, Draco would confront him, and then they would figure out what they were going to do. Andromeda's will had specified that they needed to live together with Teddy, but Draco wasn't so sure he could be civil if the other man was going to react privately like Draco was anathema to him.

He realised that he'd been paying no attention to his surroundings, which mattered very little from a case standpoint but was perhaps somewhat less clever from a life and limb standpoint; he'd come perilously close to the Whomping Willow, and it was scarcely the only danger on the Hogwarts grounds.

Shaking his head at his own folly, he made his way to the gates and Apparated to Grimmauld Place and found it empty. A Tempus informed him that it was almost six, which meant that Theodore should have been home, and Harry should have been making dinner. He rolled his eyes. It would be just like Harry to use the excuse of Draco being a little bit late to be impulsive and take Theodore off to dinner out and then blame Draco afterwards.

A message would have reminded him of the time. Draco snorted to himself. Of course, if Harry had sent him a message indicating that he was late, he would have stayed extra long just to spite the other man. Draco was getting awfully wound up over this.

He made himself tea, relaxing in the routine, and had just settled down at the table with the steaming mug when the front door slammed shut. Three guesses as to who had entered so charmingly.

There was silence for a moment, and then the sound of someone running. Harry appeared at the door a scant moment later, staring at Draco as though he'd never seen him before.

"Problem, Potter?" Draco demanded.

Harry flew into the room, and Draco rose hurriedly to his feet. Harry punched him in the shoulder hard enough to make him rock back a step.

"How could you, how could you!"

"Potter, what—"

Draco's very sensible question was cut off by Harry's mouth closing over his.

All of Draco's thought processes stumbled to a halt.

Harry was kissing him.

Harry's mouth was on Draco's mouth. Harry's lips were pressing hard and demanding against Draco's.

Harry was—

—was ripping himself away, was stumbling back several steps, was babbling out apologies.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I know you didn't want—I'm sorry." He ran a hand through his hair, making it even messier than usual. "It—it won't happen again. I won't—Shit."

He was pretty sure Harry didn't notice that the chair he dropped unseeingly into hadn't been there an instant before, conjured without thought, it seemed, by the Boy Who Made No Sense.

Harry looked wrecked.

"I just ruined everything, didn't I?"

"That rather depends," Draco drawled, sitting down more prosaically in an existing kitchen chair. "Why did you kiss me?"

"It won't happen again! I know you don't—"

Draco cut him off. "I'm not interested in my motivations, Potter, I'm interested in yours. Leave everything else out."

His words were sharp, but they stopped Harry babbling. Harry drew several deep breaths, and Draco couldn't stop staring at the other man's mouth, so red and so recently pressed against Draco's own.

"I wasn't thinking," Harry admitted finally, face still red. "Obviously, or I wouldn't have done it."

Obviously. Draco's hand twitched, and he seriously considered going for his wand. He probably couldn't get a Memory Charm out quickly enough, but he could at least cause the man some sort of pain.

He said nothing, however, did not move, and Harry resumed.

"I was just reacting. I was so angry with you but so relieved to see you, and I'd just spent all day out of my mind thinking what would happen if I never saw you again, all the things I hadn't done or said, and then you were here, in the kitchen, and I just—my emotions got the better of me. But, uh, all evidence to the contrary, I can actually—usually—control myself, and I would never want to do something that makes you uncomfortable, so I promise that I won't ever do anything like that again if you'll please, please, just come home."

Draco considered this and realised that amidst a whole bunch of babble that revealed far more extensive abandonment issues than Draco had known about Harry had confirmed that he was convinced that Draco didn't want Harry to kiss him while Draco had been convinced of the opposite.

"Potter," Draco began, and the other man actually flinched. "Harry," he amended. "You told me that everything changed when you realised that Remus and Sirius were gay."

Harry nodded.

"What changed?" he pursued. "Exactly?"

The Gryffindor flushed crimson. "I always thought they were just friends. Thought everything they felt for one another was friendly. When I found out I was wrong, it made me look at my friendships and realise that just because I'd been with Ginny didn't mean, that is—"

Draco had been so incredibly wrong. Embarrassingly wrong. He'd been so ready for Harry to reject him that he hadn't stopped to consider any other possible reasons why Harry might suddenly be shy around him and yet still get someone sacked for him.

Of course, the fucking Gryffindor moron might have tried speaking coherently, not just jumping right over his sexual identity crisis and apparently sudden realisation that Draco was shaggable.

Harry was kind of adorable when he was flustered, but the longer he remained that way, the longer he wasn't kissing Draco again.

"Stop talking, Potter," Draco ordered.

Harry duly stopped.

"Come over here and kiss me again."


Chapter Nine: Past and Present Collide

Harry stared at Draco, unable to believe what he had just heard.

"Excuse me?"

"Don't make me repeat myself."

Draco was still sitting there looking entirely serious and altogether edible, and there was nothing that Harry wanted to do more than kiss the other man, but—

He wet his lips, swallowed, and found his voice.

"I don't understand."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Let me break it down for you. We cannot kiss when it is physically impossible for our lips to touch. I am disinclined to stand up, and therefore—"

"Shut it," Harry told him, but he was laughing, something like giddy relief dancing through him because Draco was both teasing him and ordering him to kiss him.

Maybe in a normal relationship that would be a bad sign, but here, with them, it gave Harry the reassurance that he needed to cross the room to Draco's side. Once he got there, he was a little less certain about what to do—just lean down and kiss the man?—but Draco had apparently anticipated him. He grabbed Harry by the hips and tugged.

Since it was sit on Draco's lap or run into his legs, Harry found himself straddling the other man's thighs, faces now virtually the same height. Not solely running on emotion as he had been the first time, he noticed just how bright Draco's eyes were from this close, just how gorgeous his skin was when it was delicately flushed, just how tempting his lips were—

Well, okay, that was a lie. Harry had appreciated the lips the entire time.

He leaned forward, and Draco met him halfway. Unlike last time, when he'd clearly been taken by surprise, now Draco was altogether a participant, mouth hungry, fingers digging into Harry's hips.

Harry might have been embarrassingly slow to work out what he wanted, but he'd spent a lot of time since his birthday party imagining it—and it all paled in comparison to the reality of kissing Draco, to the heat of his mouth and the strength of his lips and the silky softness of his hair.

There was the sound of a whimper, and Harry was pretty sure that it had been from him, but he didn't care because it was worth it just to be able to run his hands through the silk of that hair and feel Draco lean into the touch.

Draco's tongue slipped into Harry's mouth and Harry's hands tightened involuntarily on Draco's hair. He released it abruptly at the whine from the blond, but Draco just kept kissing him, tongue tangling with Harry's. Hoping this meant Draco wasn't that upset, Harry cautiously delved his fingers into the shorter hairs at the back of Draco's neck, cradling his skull, and Draco made an approving noise.

Oh, he could definitely get used to this. He could do this forever. He could—

Bugger.

He pulled back to find that Draco's eyes were gratifyingly hazy. They were both breathing heavily, and there was nothing Harry wanted to do more than keep kissing him, but he slid off the other man's lap instead and sent off four Patronuses, one each to Hermione, Ron, Kingsley, and McGonagall.

Draco was frowning now. "What was that for?"

"Let everyone know you're back." Harry moved to the fireplace and grabbed the Floo powder, intending to Floo the Manor for Teddy.

"What do you mean, back?"

He froze, powder clenched in one fist, and turned back to Draco. His normally immaculate hair was mussed from where Harry had been touching it, and there was still pink in his cheeks. His lips were slightly swollen, and he was the most beautiful thing Harry had ever seen.

It felt like he was swallowing around shards of glass.

"Are you not staying, then?

Draco looked at him like he was out of his mind. "What are you on about, Harry? Of course I'm staying; I live here!"

Harry started breathing again, though his stomach still felt as though tap-dancing spiders had taken up residence there. (Wouldn't Ron be horrified.)

"Right," Harry agreed, trying to figure out what he was missing. He spoke cautiously, not wanting to accuse Draco of anything: "I thought we sort of agreed that we'd keep one another up to date about protracted absences, you know, for Teddy and stuff."

And so Harry wouldn't panic and send everyone he knew out on a manhunt.

Draco's look was pitying. "I saw you this morning at breakfast."

"Wednesday morning at breakfast," Harry corrected.

"Thanks for that."

Draco's tone was dry, as though Harry had been stating the very obvious, as though—

"Draco," Harry demanded, "what day do you think it is?"

"Really, Potter?"

Harry dropped the Floo powder and stepped hurriedly up to Draco, ignoring the mocking in Draco's tone.

Dead serious, he said, "Really, Draco."

The mockery fell away from Draco, and he sat up straight in his chair. "Wednesday the twenty-first. I saw you at breakfast this morning."

Slowly, Harry shook his head. "Today's Thursday. You didn't come home last night, Hermione was the last person to see you, and I set everybody looking for you this morning and sent Teddy to the Manor. I knew you were angry, but I didn't think you'd just leave without even a note, so then I was worried that something had happened, and there was no trace of you anywhere."

Draco was looking at him as though he wanted this to be a joke but knew that Harry wasn't kidding.

"We weren't talking," Draco repeated the events from his point of view. "Molly came to stay with Teddy. We both went to the Ministry, but I stayed in the Department of Mysteries to be sure we didn't have to spend any time together. And then in the afternoon, before Hermione got too suspicious, I went to Hog—"

They stared at one another.

"Shit," Harry swore.

Blankly, Draco said, "I think you owe Tempest an apology."

"I might even owe Twitter an apology," Harry agreed.

Not that either of them had known exactly what was going on, clearly. Tempest would already have gone to the Prophet, and Twitter wouldn't have let Harry anywhere near the case with a ten foot pole.

"The school opens in twelve days," Draco pointed out.

"Professors probably come back this weekend, if they're not back already."

"We have no idea how big this is."

"People are going to freak out."

"Not if we don't tell them."

Harry eyed the other man. Draco looked at him like he was stupid again.

"We can't let this get into the paper. We certainly don't have enough information to allay anyone's fears. McGonagall can give out an excuse to keep the teachers away, and you and I can investigate. Theodore should stay on at the Manor so that we can stay at Hogwarts if necessary."

"We have no idea what we're up against."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "When has that ever stopped you?"

Harry laughed. "True. All right. I'll get everything set up with McGonagall, and you go explain everything to Teddy, and we can meet at Hogwarts. I doubt there's anything we can do tonight, but I have the feeling we should get there as soon as possible."

He suddenly couldn't shake the feeling that they were working against the clock—and they hadn't even known there was an issue until a few minutes ago.

Draco was gazing at Harry with a look that Harry couldn't identify, and he was worried that he'd overstepped his bounds—right up to the moment that Draco strode up to him and gave him a bruising kiss on the lips.

He pulled away right before Harry said, "Screw it," and kissed him back regardless of what time was busy doing at Hogwarts.

Draco smirked at him.

"You're sexy when you take charge."

Harry gaped at him, and Draco sauntered over to the fireplace and Flooed to the Manor.

Harry kept standing there, mouth tingling from the pressure of the other man's lips against it, and tried to figure out what the hell had just happened.

Then he grinned. Draco was right. When did Harry ever know what he was doing? It was a hundred percent worth it for something like this. The sooner Harry got going, the sooner they would be meeting up again, and investigation or no investigation, there had to be time for snogging at some point, right?

With renewed purpose, Harry knelt down in front of the fireplace and threw in a handful of Floo powder.

~*~

By Friday morning, Hogwarts had been cleared out for a "Ministry Training Exercise", Hermione had joined them, and Harry wished that he'd not been sensible and slept in his own guest bedroom last night.

Well, to be honest, he wasn't even sure if sleeping elsewhere had been on offer, and he was pretty sure that he actually wasn't ready to jump to that quite this quickly, but he'd definitely been enjoying what kissing they'd managed so far, and he was still kind of basking in the fact they seemed to be getting on.

It was strange, really; he'd spent so much of his life fighting with Malfoy, and now he didn't feel right unless he was getting along with him. It only went to show you how much the world could change, he supposed. There was a time he hadn't even known that magic existed, and now he was on the grounds of a magical castle trying to find holes in time. Or whatever it was that they were looking for.

Draco didn't look altogether delighted by Hermione's presence, which Harry hoped was because he'd wanted some alone time with Harry. But much as Harry had wanted to prioritize his love life—seriously, how long since he'd had one of those!—there was something serious going on, and Hermione's time-turner use in third year made her the closest to an expert that they had right now. The destruction of the DOM's time room during the fight for the prophecy had kind of put a damper on their research abilities, apparently.

They had no idea what they were looking for and no idea how much danger they were in. If what had happened to Draco was any indication, there was no warning and no way to know that anything had happened until you met up with someone in regular time and they told you how much time you'd lost.

They spent most of Friday searching the castle. Now that they knew what could happen, they at least weren't going to panic if one of them disappeared for a bit, though the complete unknown of the damage was a bit sobering. Draco had disappeared for a day. What if you could disappear for a week? A month? It made Harry feel a bit ill.

But this was the job. They'd gone from a case that he was sure was just a milk run to something that could have very serious consequences, but he faced those most days as an Auror. He didn't like the unknown quantity of this force, he supposed, but it wasn't like he hadn't been up against that before.

It was definitely better that they were doing this than that school children were disappearing through cracks in time.

They each had watches and were timing how long they were gone and then comparing it to absolute time in the Great Hall. They'd walked the entire room in a grid to determine that there were no disturbances there, and after admitting that they had no idea if the disturbances moved, they'd decided that it was the best chance that they had. McGonagall and the professors who stayed on for the summer or had been back before McGonagall had sent them off again had regularly eaten in the Great Hall to no ill effect. If time had changed for such a large group together, it was more likely that the effect would have been noticed before now.

By the end of the day, Harry had lost almost twenty minutes, Hermione just over ten, and Draco fifteen. None of them had noticed it exactly when it was happening. They'd checked back at the Great Hall more than once through the day, which had shown them that sometimes the jump was just in increments of a minute or two, the sort of thing that no one would have noticed.

It seemed at the moment, then, that the castle was safe enough, though none of them were willing to let the students come back at this point.

"We need to know what's causing the problem," Hermione said. "This isn't like any time travel I've ever heard of before, and no spell I've tried has detected it."

No spell any of them had tried had detected anything. He had even checked with Kreacher to see if it was something that house-elves could detect before they had all been relocated for their safety as well.

Clearly, they weren't thinking about this the right way, but they were all at a bit of a loss.

~*~

It was Tuesday before they were all in the same time at the same time again, and they agreed that they couldn't move forward without a plan (and possibly the entire Department of Mysteries and a whole bunch of Aurors). Harry and Draco had both checked in separately with Teddy and assured him that they were fine but their investigation meant that they couldn't come home yet and sometimes were out of contact for longer than they liked.

They discovered little of importance beyond solidifying what they didn't know and the few slim things that they did. Even when someone was in one of these cracks—Hermione said they appeared to be more like folds—in time, neither the person nor the fold could be detected. Outside on the grounds, the folds appeared to be larger—but they'd guessed that already from Draco, and just as Draco had said, you had no idea you were in one until you weren't anymore.

Unlike his first foray, however, the weather had not been the same from day to day, nor was it always a round twenty-four or so hours that they walked through. Hermione had gone from midday in a light drizzle to the middle of the night. Draco had suddenly walked into a downpour eighteen hours later, and Harry, in about six steps, had walked through twilight, what felt like gale-force winds, dawn, mist, midnight, and more rain. (He'd been the one to bring them to Tuesday, and he'd had an encounter with the Whomping Willow that was embarrassingly reminiscent of third year.)

"At least all the folds seem to bring us forward in time," Hermione pointed out.

She exchanged a look with Harry, and he thought about third year and the possibility of scores of Harrys, Hermiones, and Dracos interacting with their past selves all over Hogwarts.

"While you were gone," she said blithely, as though he hadn't been stepping through time, "we tried backing up as soon as we hit a noticeable new time. It didn't bring us back to the old time, and sometimes we didn't even move again. I think the folds are moving."

It didn't seem wise to experiment further. The students were scheduled to come back in less than a week, and they'd lost practically that much time learning the few facts that they now had. They needed to be able to see the folds, but no spells had worked at detection, nothing had—

Harry bolted out of his chair.

"I have an idea!" he shouted on his way out the door. "I'll be back soon. Well, it depends if it needs to be modified. But I shouldn't be too long. Don't experiment!"

He ignored their yelling after him, sprinted to the gates—so far, no folds this far out—and Disapparated.

~*~

Hermione and Draco looked equally annoyed when he returned a few hours later. Harry would have been more worried if he was less excited.

He beamed at them.

"Come see if this works."

He was hopeful.

He ignored their questions as they made their way outside, and once they'd reached the grounds, he walked them carefully away from the castle to as near as where they'd been able to work out that there weren't any folds.

He Unshrunk what he'd brought, pulling one out of the bag.

Draco's eyebrows rose towards his hairline. "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes: Fantastic Fog. Potter, what the hell is this?"

Harry grinned and pulled the lid off. A stream of fog billowed out of the container, creeping out over the grounds.

He tossed the bag at Draco, who caught it reflexively.

"Open the others. Come on, guys. Do you have anything better to do?"

Looking as though they thought he'd gone off his nut, Draco and then Hermione reluctantly followed suit, spraying more and more fog across the grounds of Hogwarts.

Harry opened the last container, hoping that there was enough to serve their purposes.

"Is it changing colour?" Hermione asked dubiously.

Harry peered and grinned triumphantly. The fog had penetrated far around them, and there were flashes of different colours sparkling around them, pink and blue and green and yellow, all bright and lurid because this was George and Fred's joke shop they were talking about.

"Indeed it is, Hermione," Harry said with a grin.

"And how does this help us?"

He beamed. "It helps us because this fog changes colour on timed intervals."

They were both staring at him.

"It's a party trick, of course. I got George to modify it so that the colours change once an hour instead of every few minutes, and these canisters were quite a bit bigger than the normal ones. But it means we know that over there where it's red, it's three hours later than right here. He gave me the whole list of progressions."

They looked flabbergasted for another moment, and then Hermione had thrown her arms around him.

"Brilliant, Harry."

Draco was staring at him intently, and for a moment, he thought that the other man was still upset with him. And then Draco licked his lips and Harry abruptly recognized the look. He flushed, felt heat course through him, and couldn't wait until he and Draco had a few minutes alone.

But just at the moment, they had work to do.

Harry gave them each a list of the fog colours in case they got separated, and then they followed the grey fog, carefully twisting around the coloured bits. They couldn't see the future per se this way because it wasn't visible, but the fog was a gas, and it seemed to bleed a little around the edges of the fold, a little bit of the colour from the future, alerting them of an area that they needed to go round.

They were heading towards the largest concentration of colours.

"If we can find the epicentre, we'll hopefully find the source of the problem."

Harry and Draco exchanged looks, and he was pretty sure that Draco was wondering the same thing that Harry was; how did they think they were going to be able to sort out something that could cause folds in time?

Clearly, Harry and Ron had been a bad influence on Hermione over the years, because they were evidently crossing that bridge when they came to it and going into this without a plan.

It was obvious by the time they got there.

"The Whomping Willow," they all said at the same time.

The tree looked a bit as though someone had decorated it with coloured streamers there were that many folds adorning it.

"Um," Hermione's voice was a bit high-pitched. "I hate to bring this up now, but remember how we posited that the folds moved?"

Harry and Draco turned to see what she was looking at. They were surrounded. There didn't seem to be any area that had enough solid grey for them to make their way back to Hogwarts. It hadn't actually harmed them yet, but what if more than one time touched them at once? Could bits of them end up in more than one place? Could they be sent years into the future?

This was distinctly not good.

"Fortunately," Draco drawled, "Slytherins are fond of exit strategies. I asked McGonagall to allow Apparating off the grounds. She modified the wards before she left."

The folds were definitely getting closer.

"Outside the Shrieking Shack," Hermione suggested.

Apparently, she and Harry had been thinking the same thing.

"Where?" Draco asked.

Harry threw his arms around the other man.

"Go."

There was a flash of colour, and then the squeeze of Apparition as Harry fought to focus.

When Harry opened his eyes, his arms were still wrapped around Draco, but there was no sign of Hermione.

"Did you notice what colour the fold was?" Harry asked.

"Yellow?"

Harry'd kind of thought blue.

Draco cast a Tempus, which told them that it was a little after five in the evening, but they didn't know which day, nor did they know what time it had been when they'd Apparated from Hogwarts. For that matter, they didn't know if Hermione had been caught in one of the folds, too.

"I hope nothing's happened," Harry worried.

"We haven't been harmed so far," Draco said soothingly. "She's probably just a bit ahead of us and will show up any minute."

Harry allowed himself to be soothed mostly because he didn't know what else he could do. If she didn't show up shortly, they'd have to go back to Hogwarts again, but searching might prove impossible. They could start searching for her elsewhere, but then they wouldn't be here if she showed up.

It seemed best to wait here for at least a little while first.

"What can we do to pass the time?" Draco asked.

He hadn't let go of Harry completely, Harry realised belatedly, and Harry could feel the heat of him through his robes, and he was beautiful and looking at Harry with that look in his eyes, and Harry could not have stopped himself if his life depended on it.

They lips met once more, and Harry surrendered wholeheartedly to the kiss, wondering rather nonsensically if they couldn't have cut through months of animosity if one of them had simply jumped the other.

Of course, Harry had only just realised he fancied the other man, and Draco had clearly thought he was a complete arse for ages, but—

Draco's hands migrated to the arse in question, and Harry whimpered, his train of thought skittering off into nothing.

Harry couldn't believe that they'd only kissed a handful of times; he'd never get enough of this, and he couldn't wait until they had some proper time to explore everything in depth. Draco tasted like something minty, and—

A clearing throat interrupted them.

They jumped apart to behold a very amused Hermione Granger standing beside them. Harry flushed crimson.

"Oh, hey, Hermione, we, uh, thought that you must have hit a fold and would come out after us."

"I arrived before you, actually, and when it became apparent that you wouldn't be arriving immediately, I went back to George for more supplies."

She gestured, and they turned and saw that while they had been otherwise occupied, she had "fogged" the Shrieking Shack. If they'd thought the Whomping Willow was bad, the Shrieking Shack looked as though it had been spray-painted, the colours were packed so tightly together.

Looking carefully, Harry couldn't pick out any grey.

"This is going to be a problem," Draco said.

"At least we found the epicentre," Hermione pointed out. "That's a lot more than we've had up to this point."

Harry tilted his head and looked at the Shack, letting Draco's and Hermione's words wash over him. He'd assumed, and he was pretty sure that the others had as well, that the epicentre was the centre of the explosion in the sense that the folds were all propelling out, moving further and further away, and that's why it had started effecting people last year and was clearly getting worse.

Staring at the Shack, Harry had to abandon that theory because there were simply too many folds here. It was like a reverse explosion, with the folds travelling back to this point. He was pretty sure Hermione was still right, though, that this was somehow the centre, but everything was now heading into it, all these folds in time, packing down to whatever was at the centre.

It was there, Harry was sure, that they'd be able to stop it.

But as Draco had said, it would be a problem getting there. Well, they certainly couldn't walk, but Harry was more than familiar enough with the location to Apparate.

He knew exactly what Hermione and Draco would have to say about that idea. And yes, it was foolhardy and probably quite dangerous, but there was something just on the edge of Harry's hearing, something that told him that it was all going to be all right, that it was all right for Harry.

Centre of the explosion. A well overflowing with magic. A little girl who had been untouched by a magical fireball. A school full of children.

Harry whirled back to Draco and kissed him, hard. He drew back, gasping for breath.

"What was—?" Draco started to ask, caught between a smile and alarm.

Harry Stunned both of them.

Yeah, they were so going to hate him for this.

Certainty that it was time.

Harry drew a deep breath and Apparated.

He wasn't sure what he expected, but the simple, normal-looking room on the ground level of the Shrieking Shack was not it.

Harry had just one breath to think that that was a hell of a lot of build up for nothing, and then a lot of things happened at once.

The hair on the back of Harry's neck stood on end. A rushing sound filled the room. Flickers of colour were suddenly everywhere, all scudding towards Harry. Just as he moved to cast a shield charm, a piercing musical cry rent the air. Harry froze, and the flickers converged. Harry fell to his knees, battered. Something black was in front of him and something red trilled again, encouraging. Harry covered the black with his body, trying to protect it. More flickers. It was like being battered by invisible snippets of gale-force winds. Another trill, and Harry cast, feeling the magic well up, bubble out, pour around him.

The wind grew stronger, and Harry buried his face in the black, closing his eyes and concentrating on the feel of the magic, the pulling sensation, like a drain stopper had been pulled and he was poised precariously over the drain, the water rushing towards him, through him, down and away. The shield was all that was keeping him here, keeping him grounded in this one place and this one time, he knew it, and he clung to it with everything in him, not letting himself think about how much he could drain his magical well again before he ran out of luck.

Stopping in the middle was an even surer way to sign his own death warrant, he was certain. Another trill, encouragement, and Harry redoubled his efforts, feeling his arms shake and sweat drip off him and this strange liquid feeling inside of him, like he'd taken Madam Pomfrey's metaphor way too far and there really was a magical well inside of him now.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.

Harry noticed the silence first, then realised that the pressure had disappeared. His shield was gone, he realised next, dispersed with the end of the time storm?

Harry might have considered this further if he hadn't suddenly been elbowed in the solar plexus and had to roll out of the way of attacking limbs. Fawkes trilled again, now solidly birdlike and staying well out of the way—smart bird—as Harry waded in.

"Hey, hey, you're all right, you're safe."

He got a blow to the face for his efforts.

"Oi!" he roared. "Look at me!"

Black eyes met green, and Harry didn't blink.

"Potter?" A hoarse voice whispered finally.

Before Harry could answer, the man collapsed.

Harry checked his pulse frantically, pleased to find one, and sat down next to the unconscious man. The unconscious, healed man because Harry had just checked his carotid. Fawkes hopped over, and Harry reached out a hand to pet him. Fawkes gave a pleased trill and leaned into the touch, so Harry just kept doing it because that, at least, made sense.

He was still sitting there when Draco and Hermione broke down the door. They looked enraged and desperately anxious, but most of that faded to confusion when they saw who Harry was with.

"Is that—?" Hermione asked.

"Yup," Harry said. "An apparently not-dead, time-travelling Severus Snape. And Fawkes," he added as an afterthought. "Welcome to my life."

Then he fainted, too.

~*~

Harry had lost almost three days to the Shrieking Shack. Draco and Hermione, when the Stunner had worn off, had tried to go after him, but they couldn't Apparate. It was like the Shrieking Shack was in too much flux to let them lock on to where they wanted to go. The fog was twisting and moving and converging, and there'd been absolutely no way in.

They'd been stuck outside, worried and picking more and more creative ways to kill Harry once they got to him, and then everything had suddenly gone, the last of the fog sucking away into the Shack as though it had never been.

Harry had woken up in hospital with Snape, where exhaustive tests had shown that really, they were both fine. Inexplicably fine, but fine nonetheless. Oh, Snape was a little rough around the edges, kind of confused, and more than a little temperamental, but no one found that very unusual.

Harry and his non-medical degree had inaccurately assessed Snape's death in the Shack during the Final Battle. Snape had apparently been experimenting with antivenin given the likelihood of getting attacked by Nagini at some point, though he had hoped that it wouldn't be that severe an attack. He hadn't expected to survive it, but then Fawkes had shown up to heal him, and Snape had only known that he needed to get out of there.

No one knew how it had happened, and quite frankly, no one hoped to replicate the results, but between the potions, the phoenix, the healing, and Apparating, Snape had gone through time rather than space.

No one else had said anything, but Harry was pretty sure that either Fawkes had done a damn fine job healing the other man or he'd aged backwards in the four years he'd been missing. Harry was positive that he hadn't looked like this when Harry had last seen him—although given that situation, maybe it was just normal that he looked a lot better now.

It was all totally bizarre, of course, but like Harry had said, he was kind of used to the totally bizarre in his life, and he was trying hard not to think about whether half the stuff that had happened to him recently had happened when it did so that he'd be ready for this moment. Fawkes seemed pretty pleased with himself, and Harry was pretty sure that he was never going to get any definitive answers.

Hermione and Draco had performed tests all day Saturday—Harry hadn't been allowed out of hospital yet—and determined that there was no trace of a time fold anywhere in the vicinity of Hogwarts or Hogsmeade. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief, staffed rushed back to the school for their interrupted prep, and the students were allowed to come to school as planned the next day, just as though nothing unusual had happened.

(Some of them were a little puzzled by the amount of coloured fog that was floating around the grounds, but they thought it was pretty cool. George had got another Ministry contract out of it, and he and Harry had gotten very drunk and agreed that Fred would have found it hilarious.)

On second September, Harry finally got to leave the hospital after assuring everyone—none of whom believed him—that he'd take it easy.

He swung by the Minister's office first to ensure that the posthumous pardon he'd ensured Snape got stuck now that it wasn't posthumous anymore. Hermione had agreed to keep an eye on the man since what had happened fell closest to the purview of the DOM.

Arriving home, he found that Draco and Teddy were waiting for him.

"Harry," Teddy yelled and launched himself at Harry.

Harry caught the little boy and hauled him up into his arm, eyeing Draco so that he didn't give voice to his protest that Teddy needed to be more careful with Harry. Harry felt fine.

"Hey there, Teddy Bear," he said roughly, hugging the little boy to him. "I missed you."

"Missed you, too!" Teddy exclaimed. "Glad you're back."

Hugging Teddy and staring at the worried but happy Draco, Harry had never made a more heartfelt declaration: "There's nowhere I would rather be."

~*~

finite incantatem

~*~

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