It took Harry a while to formulate a plan. By ten, he had most of the details sorted, so he gave up on waiting for Ron and Hermione to appear. In truth, he was relieved to avoid them a little longer, given last night. He promised himself to spell more soundproofing into the floors before he went to sleep tonight.
He changed his shirt one last time before leaving – not his best, but probably his nicest – and pushed his cloak all the way into his bag, so there was no longer a missing patch of bag where the hem stuck out.
Pushing his hair back into something resembling order and giving his glasses one last clean, he headed off.
The plan nearly fell apart in its first stage. Happily, he was able to rescue it through some extremely fast talking and suggestions of probable hexing, none of which would stand up in a court of law as a direct threat. It did take four times as long as Harry had expected, though, so it was well after three in the afternoon by the time he made it to Brixton.
Harry took a gamble and Apparated to a quiet corner near The Queen. He debated leaving his cloak on, but the street was moderately busy at this hour, and narrow enough that it was likely he would bump into someone. The locals had enough to contend with without adding invisible pavement hazards.
There were no Malfoys to be seen outside, so Harry waited until two large guitar-carrying locals went in, sidling along behind them. This Saturday afternoon crowd was much more diverse than last week's had been, though the place still smelled as bad. He spotted blond hair over at the same table, and edged his way closer.
He stopped. He had found Malfoys, just not the right ones.
Narcissa Malfoy paused in mid-sentence on seeing him, then recovered magnificently to continue speaking without alerting her husband that there was anything out of the ordinary over his right shoulder.
'You are too harsh on Draco,' she was saying.
Frowning, Harry took a step closer, and could hear Lucius Malfoy's response. 'But my love, the boy needs to see that he is to blame. If only he had been able to carry out the Dark Lord's instructions, all would have been well. I need to talk to him, I need him to understand that.'
'You're a fool, darling,' she told him. 'And,' she said, looking directly at Harry, 'Draco is hiding from you in the beer garden, so you can't tell him anything.'
Harry nodded, and walked quickly around the bar, following the same two men out into the beer garden. They joined the busy table outside the door where a band was gathering, apparently in preparation for a later performance. The only other person braving the brisk air was Malfoy, sitting at the farthest point and looking bleakly at the wall.
If Harry had been uncertain before, the rush of sympathy he felt sealed it. He began to walk across the brick paving, rehearsing speeches in his head. Behind him, he heard the door slam open and a growled 'I am perfectly capable of walking on my own, Narcissa!'
Harry ran the last few steps, grabbed Malfoy from behind and flung his cloak about them both.
He felt Malfoy tense, and his hand reach for his wand, then relax as he realised what had just happened. And then Malfoy put his hands over Harry's and leaned back against him, silent, while his father crashed into the band's table and nearly upset a jug of beer.
The two guitarists grabbed him and steadied him and told him that he should probably give it up for the day before he did himself a damage. They asked Narcissa if she needed anything.
'We were just looking for someone, but he seems to have left. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience,' she replied, smiling.
The guitarists ignored Lucius's protests and insisted on half-carrying him back inside, one telling Narcissa that he would get some coffee and some water, and that they could carry him home if she was close.
At the door, Narcissa paused, and smiled her thanks to the rest of the band, then more generally to the back of the beer garden. 'He's not always like this,' she told no-one in particular. 'He's always been very good to me.'
Malfoy exhaled slowly. Harry felt a slight catch in the breath, and tightened his hold around Malfoy's waist.
'Can we go?' Malfoy asked quietly.
'Where to?' Harry whispered.
'Away,' Malfoy replied.
Harry took them to the edge of his favourite pond on Hampstead Heath. The water was empty at this time of year, save for a few cranky ducks, and the dog walkers on the hills were all concentrating on sticks and spaniels. He swung the cloak off them as they arrived, though he kept one arm about Malfoy's waist for a moment.
It was Malfoy who stepped away. 'One rescue apiece,' he said, smiling stiffly. 'It's just like the old days.'
'Can we not talk about it?'
'Are you sure?'
'He's not always like that. Today he's remarkably bad, in fact.'
'All right,' Harry nodded.
Malfoy smiled more genuinely. 'What were you doing there, anyway?'
'Looking for you. Again.'
'Oh. Good. Why?'
Harry reached into his bag and pulled out a folded newspaper. He handed it over wordlessly.
Malfoy sat on the grass and smoothed out the front page. Daily Prophet Afternoon Special read the masthead, with a red banner head underneath: Potter Breaks Silence – Exclusive Interview. There was a photograph of Harry looking stern and disappointed beside another slightly smaller heading: Why Are Death Eaters Still Roaming Free? Saviour Demands Answers.
The accompanying story was embarrassing, if factual, pointing out that Harry himself had single-handedly captured no fewer than seven prominent Death Eaters since leaving the wizarding world.
'I didn't mention that six of them had come to my house, conveniently one at a time, and then Rookwood was just good luck …' Harry said as he sat down and nervously watched Malfoy read.
Malfoy looked up at him at last. 'It's not this simple, you know.'
'I know,' Harry agreed. 'But it will mean that there's public support when Kingsley asks for funds to chase down the last of them. And it will take time, and some people will probably just flee the country. But eventually, you'll be able to go back. If you want to.'
Malfoy looked down at the paper and read it again, nodding. 'Thank you,' he said, at last, looking back at Harry. 'But why?'
'You'll think I'm thick …'
'Have for years.'
Harry grinned. He shook his head. 'I worked out what you meant, after you left. And you're wrong. It's not just you.'
Malfoy looked at him blankly
'It's not. Last night, when you said I had nice eyes, it made me happy. And when you turned up all battered, I was so worried about you, and so angry with the people who hurt you. I mean, it's different to how things were at school. We've both changed since then, and I like the way you've changed, and I think you like the way I've changed, too, I mean, you've actually seen that I can do things without having any sort of Prophecy or being Chosen, I can just do things because I think they're worth doing. And, well, I thought this would be worth trying at least …'
Malfoy was still looking at him blankly. Harry stammered to a halt as he realised that he had leapt to a conclusion that he assumed was well-reasoned this morning, but that Malfoy may well have been talking about something else entirely. '… Sorry,' he concluded. 'I thought you'd be pleased.'
Malfoy smiled weakly. 'Oh I would be. I'd be thrilled, except that I obviously accidentally drank one of my own potions this morning and am now hallucinating.'
Harry reached out and pinched him. 'Idiot.'
The smile that crept across Malfoy's face was the most genuine one that Harry had seen yet. 'When did all this come about?'
Harry shrugged. 'It was a few things falling into place. I noticed that you were all strong and lean when you grabbed me outside Gringotts, and I can't say I minded being grabbed, and your hair looks amazing in the sun, and then last night, when I heard Ron and Hermione …'
'Oh Merlin, you too? It was terrifying!'
'I had to spell myself to sleep,' Harry confessed.
'I had to wait for the blessed unconsciousness of drink. They have no shame, I regret helping them. Sorry, I'm babbling because I'm happy, you were saying that last night …'
Harry was horrified to realise he was starting to blush. 'Well, it's just that, I had a brief moment of thinking of you …'
'While listening to them?'
'No! Not like that. God, that's awful, Malfoy …' The two of them succumbed to laughter for a moment. 'No, what I mean is that this morning, after you left, I realised that I should have said you could share with me last night. If I'd been thinking. And you weren't drunk. And I wasn't, either. But, you know …'
And Malfoy apparently did know, because he was nodding and smiling and looking altogether happier to be alive than Harry had ever seen him.
'I was going to be all stoic and resist you,' Malfoy said, confidingly. 'Prove I could overcome my base urges and be a decent friend, or at least perfectly agreeable acquaintance.'
'May as well try the base urges first,' Harry suggested. 'If it doesn't work out, we can look at scratch Quidditch games.'
Malfoy shook his head, and reached forward, pulling Harry's face to his own.
It was, as far as Harry could tell, an excellent kiss. Certainly not the sort of thing that ought to be left to stand alone without grounds for comparison. Malfoy's lips were full and strong, and Harry realised it was startlingly thrilling to have someone's hand be able to cradle the whole back of his neck with their fingers tracking through his hair. When they finally sat back from each other, both looked a little stunned.
'I think the base urges could work out,' Malfoy said.
'Looks promising,' Harry agreed.
'And you don't mind that I mostly want you for your body?'
'It's a better reason than most. At least I know you're not after my money, and you're certainly not a fan.'
'Certainly not,' Malfoy agreed. 'Though I confess to liking you a bit as a person, but I'm sure that will fade the minute you do something hideous.'
'I'll have to rely on my eyes.'
'Your shoulders, actually. Have you ever looked at them properly?' Malfoy looked, and so properly that Harry felt himself starting to blush.
'I like your neck the most,' he said. 'So far.'
Malfoy's grin was positively wicked.
Harry noticed the sun. Rather than doing something convenient, like shining through Malfoy's hair or lighting up the nice line of his collarbone that Harry could see with his coat pushed back like that, it was starting to sink towards the horizon.
'Oh, bugger …'
'It's a bit public … Sorry. What's wrong?'
'Dinner party, tonight. People are arriving at six.'
Malfoy looked at his watch. 'It's after five. You should go …'
'Don't be stupid, you're coming with me. It's Justin and Celeste, plus Ron and Hermione. Unless … do you think you ought to go home instead?'
'Not tonight. I usually stay out when he's like this.' Malfoy forced a bright expression. 'Besides, free dinner!'
'Kreacher always cooks enough for ten, you'll be evening up the numbers and saving me from gluttony.'
Malfoy smiled. 'I'll probably drink too much to Apparate home again.'
'I'm counting on it. Though that will probably be about one glass, yeah?'
'A few sips of wine, I was thinking.'
Harry hoped that the grin on his face didn't look half so ridiculously fond as the one on Malfoy's, or he would be giving himself away entirely.
'So, Granger and Weasley are still at your place?' Malfoy ventured.
'Yes. I'm thinking that I'll just walk in holding your hand and take you up to my room and Hermione will look knowing and Ron will pretend the whole thing is not happening.'
'Good plan. And in your room, we'll …'
'Have to find some halfway decent clothes to wear for dinner before we head straight back downstairs, I'm afraid.'
'All good. At least you have a nice big bed for later.'
'It's nice to see you focussing on the important things in life, Malfoy.'
'You were thinking it, Potter.'
Harry allowed this could be true. 'Come on,' he said, climbing to his feet and extending a hand. 'Let's get you home.'
The hills were bare of walkers, so Harry put his arm around Malfoy's waist, and slipped them sideways through the space of London.
They were no sooner through the front door than Hermione's voice sang out from the first floor. 'Where have you been, Harry? We missed you all day!'
'I'm betting they only got out of bed for lunch,' Malfoy whispered.
'I'm betting you're right.' Harry reached out and took Malfoy's hand firmly.
'Are you sure?'
Harry considered that there might be a moment of awkwardness with Ron, but they had survived worse. And if it came to it, he could always point out how thin the floors were in this house, which would be guaranteed to send Ron off into at least a minute of mortification before he came to the conclusion that some things were just worth the embarrassment and weirdness.
Hermione came out of the drawing room at the sound of two sets of feet. She was wearing a party dress and had her hair loose. 'Oh, Malfoy, you're … Oh.'
She watched them climb the stairs for a moment and then nodded. 'Right. Lovely. I'm just going to see how Ron's going with getting dressed. You two had better hurry I think Kreacher is planning to have drinks in the drawing room, starting as soon as the clock strikes six.'
'Thanks, Hermione,' Harry said, continuing up the stairs.
'You look lovely,' Malfoy added over his shoulder. 'So she's going to have a word with Weasley so he doesn't hex me, right?' he added as they turned off to Harry's room.
'A word, and possibly a slight kicking.'
Getting changed for dinner was made more difficult by the fact they were taking their clothes off and in the same room. A halt was called to experimental kissing early on when it became apparent that it would lead to them either abandoning the dinner, or else being in no fit state to walk down to it.
Harry reached out to touch the fine scars on Malfoy's chest when Malfoy took his shirt off. Malfoy took Harry's hand in his and ran his own fingers over the lines sketched into it through too many battles.
'Stop it. It's all in the past,' Malfoy said. 'I'm more interested in the future. The future looks a lot more entertaining.'
He did have enough sensible clothes to dress two men for dinner, a legacy of too many funerals after the war, and too many meetings with council since. He couldn't shake the feeling that the two of them were playing dress-ups, though, but that oddly added to the sense of occasion.
The doorbell clanged loudly, and Harry heard Hermione opening the door and greeting their guests.
'Come on, we're late.'
Kreacher was wandering about the room with a tray of filled champagne saucers, Ron took two as Harry and Malfoy walked in.
'Hello Justin, Celeste. Sorry I'm late, it's been quite the day.'
'I see,' said Justin, raising one restrained eyebrow at Malfoy.
'Hello Harry,' Celeste said, hugging him. 'Introduce me to your young man.'
'Celeste, Draco Malfoy. Malfoy, Dr Celeste Fletchley.'
'Obviously you were at Hogwarts School of Surnames,' Celeste teased, holding out her hand.
'It's very good to meet you,' Malfoy replied, taking it. 'Potter has been telling me all about you and your work. I must say, I never would have picked you for Finch-Fletchley's cousin.'
'My uncle married an Ethiopian supermodel,' Justin informed him.
'It's more that from what Potter tells me, you're amazingly organised and productive. We used to call Justin Flighty Finch-Fletchley back at school. Try saying that three times fast. Stop pulling that face, Justin, we were just jealous that half the girls in Slytherin were head over heels for you.'
Celeste laughed. 'He's utterly charming, Harry, you must keep him and never introduce him to Rob.'
'Who's Rob?' Malfoy asked.
'Never mind,' Harry replied, eyes on Ron.
Ron was shaking his head, but smiling. 'Really?' he mouthed.
'Yeah,' Harry replied, just as silently.
Ron shrugged. 'OK.' He turned and picked up a tray of canapes from the buffet. 'Small salmony thing, anyone? Malfoy?'
'Thank you, Weasley, that's very kind.'
Harry managed not to laugh as he caught his own expression of approval mirrored on Hermione's face.
'Champagne for Master Harry's friends. Drink it up, it's last century's, it needs to go,' Kreacher muttered, wandering through again.
'It's delicious, but I shouldn't,' Celeste said. 'Unlike some, I have to drive home.'
'Indulge,' Malfoy said. 'You can stay here, there's a spare room already made up and everything.'
Harry smiled, and changed his drink into his left hand so that his right could dangle beside Malfoy's unoccupied left, where any accidental entangling would be perfectly understandable by others.
While small talk swirled around him, he made a short mental list: talk to Kreacher about serving the courses a little more quickly than usual tonight; reassure Justin that he was not Imperiused and had not lost his mind; soundproof the floor; soundproof the walls; and order in bacon. They would definitely need bacon and Darjeeling.
He looked up at Malfoy's quiet voice. The others were debating whether the London Eye was a marvel or an eyesore, while Malfoy was looking at him quizzically.
'You were miles away,' Malfoy said.
'No I wasn't.' Harry squeezed his hand. 'I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.