Title: Stages of Acceptance

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.

Pairings: Harry/Draco (pre-slash), Harry/Ginny

Warnings: Creature!fic (Draco is a Veela), heavy angst, thoughts of suicide, present tense, mild violence, ignores the epilogue.

Rating: PG-13

Wordcount: 17,500

Summary: Harry, already happy married to Ginny, receives the news that he's apparently Draco's mate. Law and custom don't give him the option of ignoring the news. The stages of his reaction, one by one.

Author's Notes: This is really not a very happy or romantic story, so much as-practical.

Stages of Acceptance

Harry receives the news on the morning of the seventh of May, more than six years after the Battle of Hogwarts, if only by five days. He stands and stares at the letter as it glows in the sunshine and listens to Ginny singing in the kitchen.

His first reaction is to laugh, and the second is to tear the letter up. Then he thinks the obvious, that it's a prank from George, and he relaxes. Shit. George is getting better, if he can make a joke letter that looks so real. Thick creamy paper and a gold Malfoy seal on the envelope and the Ministry's seal at the bottom, raised above the paper as it shines red and blue, demanding Harry's attention.

"Want to see what your brother's done this time, Gin?" he calls and steps into the kitchen, holding the letter out. Ginny turns around, half-smiling. Harry loves that little smile, the way she reacts to any mention of her family. It speaks to everything he loves about the Weasleys.

Then she sees the Ministry seal, and stops smiling. Then she reaches out and takes the letter, and Harry watches her hand tremble, and the second reaction makes him try to take it again, saying, "No, Ginny, it's stupid, I should have torn the letter up, it's nothing, they don't know what they're talking about-"

But Ginny's had time to read the letter now, it's short, and the way she looks at him, the tears shining in her eyes the way the smile did a moment ago, makes Harry's stomach feel loaded with rocks.

"No," Ginny whispers, "no, it's real."

"But..." Harry's tongue feels like a brick in his mouth. With difficulty, he makes it move and say the words that need to be said. "But, I don't understand. How can it be? There's no-Malfoy was never a Veela. And I never heard of anyone forced into becoming a Veela's mate. I mean, Fleur just chose Bill, didn't she? There was no forcing about it. And she was younger than Malfoy is now. He should have known already if he was going to know at all." By the end, he's babbling, and Ginny reaches out and puts a hand on his arm. Harry stops talking and takes a deep breath. His hand moves to cover hers.

"I think he was probably denying it," Ginny says. "But now he knows, and now he's going to die if you aren't with him." She closes her eyes, opens them, forces a smile. "I think it was probably his hair falling out that did it. If there's one thing Malfoy couldn't stand, it's being bald."

Harry laughs, because he can't not, when she wants him to so much. He closes his hand down on hers. "But it still doesn't make sense," he says. "I-doesn't being married prevent this kind of thing? Can't they just tell Malfoy to find someone else?"

Ginny shakes her head and gives him a look that Harry hates, as if she's on a ship and drawing away from the shore while Harry stands behind, unable to go with her. "It's a pure-blood tradition," she says, "because for a while, there were a lot of people with Veela blood, and it tended to manifest at unpredictable times. And a lot of them were the last heirs of families, and they didn't want them dying without heirs. So it became tradition that every other commitment, even a marriage, has to yield to the Veela's need."

"But Malfoy and I can't have an heir," Harry says, and he feels like a lighted doorway has finally torn open in the darkness ahead of him. "So he has to find someone else. A woman. Someone who's right for him. What happens if a Veela mates with another Veela? Wouldn't that cure the need?"

"No, unfortunately." Ginny tightens her hand on his and squeezes. "There's no way around this," she adds when Harry opens his mouth. "I'm sorry, Harry. They've tried and tried, people in the past, and even people in my family. Dad's great-uncle had five kids and then he found out he was mated to a Veela twenty years younger than him. He still had to leave his wife and go to her."

"But Malfoy's a bloke," Harry insists. He sees the doorway closing, but he'll tear it open every way he can, rip at it, make sure the darkness can't close in on him-on them. "He can't want me for kids, and I can't-Ginny, I like women."

"In the plural?" Ginny taps a fingernail against his chin. "That would explain why you were a little uninterested in the bedroom at first."

But she relents when she sees how upset Harry is, and leans against his chest with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Harry," she whispers. "I don't see what else I can tell you. This is the way it is. This is the way things work."

Harry holds her and closes his eyes. He's still sure he can find a glimpse of light somewhere, and make it shine for them. After all, if Malfoy denied it for this long, he must not want Harry, either.

For the first time, Harry is grateful for their dislike of each other as children. It might be the saving of them both.

"Potter. Thank you for coming."

Harry sits down slowly, staring at Malfoy. Malfoy gives him a smile that has knives in it and looks away. His hand clenches on the table in front of him, the table of a small outdoor restaurant in Diagon Alley that opened three years ago, which means neither of them can have bad memories of it. Harry wants to say something, but silence clogs his throat and holds his tongue captive.

Malfoy looks horrible. Half his hair is gone, and what remains hangs over his ears like a clown's straw wig. His eyes are so dull that Harry is amazed he can see out of them, and they have milky cataracts drifting in the middle that ensure his sight probably isn't so good, anyway. His skin is tight over his bones, and here and there Harry sees an ulcer that might be something underneath it poking through. Malfoy wears a cloak and several shirts, but they fit him so badly that they slide aside anyway. His chest looks like something out of nightmares. Harry glances away.

"At least you know I'm not lying now." Malfoy's voice is a thin, papery whisper.

Harry thinks of Ginny and her smiles, Ginny and her kisses, and the children they were planning to have. That steadies him. "I came to ask if you could choose someone else," he says, his own voice a whisper, as if adapting itself to the atmosphere around them.

"No," Malfoy says. His voice manages finality all the better for being so quiet. "I put this off as long as I could. I told myself that dying would be better than this. And then I discovered that it hurt, and that I want to live more than anything." He takes a deep breath, and some of his tension drains out of him, leaving him to sag against the table. "Give me your hand, Potter. I'll show you."

Despite the horror that Harry knows he'll feel if Malfoy insists on pressing Harry's hand to his chest, he holds it out. Malfoy wouldn't want to touch him unless it's important, he thinks. So it must be important.

Malfoy clasps Harry's hand, and gasps. The sound makes Harry whip around, because if Malfoy dies here at this dinky little table, he knows he'll be blamed. There are people in the Ministry who remember their rivalry, who would know Harry is Malfoy's imaginary mate, and who would be pleased to see Harry Potter disappear into Azkaban.

But Malfoy's eyes are shut, a blissful expression showing on his face. His skin shivers and pulls back a bit from his body, still dangling in loose folds but looking healthier. As Harry watches, mouth agape, new strands of silver-white hair sprout from the bare patches on Malfoy's skull and fill a few of them in. Malfoy takes a breath so deep it has to hurt, but his chest suddenly has a bit of muscle definition on it, and he doesn't wince.

Malfoy opens his eyes, and they have a sheen to them Harry hasn't seen before, a sliding sheen, that makes them look like quicksilver. Harry glances quickly away, swallowing. Malfoy doesn't seem to expect Harry to look at him all the time, thank God. Harry wonders how long it will take him to get used to someone whose eyes literally seem to melt out of his head.

"There, you see," Malfoy says, and his fingers caress Harry's palm. They just feel like fingers, though, and Harry's relief that he won't have to feel the same kind of change Malfoy just did jolts through him. "I can only be revived by the touch of my mate." His voice lowers. "I knew what you were our last year at Hogwarts. But I didn't care. I told myself I could survive without you. In the end, the pain got to be too much. Can you live with this?"

Harry looks back at Malfoy. Yes, he looks better. But moving through Harry at the level of his soul is an incredible weariness that he, once again, is expected to give up everything he loves and wants, all his dreams, to save the life of someone else.

He doesn't say that. It would sound stupid and selfish and ungrateful, and he knows Malfoy needs him. Strange sliding, swirling eyes and all. If Ginny had stood up against this, or thought they could, Harry would have fought to his last breath, but he's never been good at doing that alone.

"Yes," he says. "I'll bloody well have to, won't I?"

He can still make Malfoy's face darken, he notes absently, and his hand close down on Harry's hard enough to make it feel as if his bones are going to rupture right through his skin. Well, good. Harry appreciates this is hard for Malfoy, too, but he wasn't married.

"I'll contact you to arrange our bonding in a week," Malfoy says, courteous and clipped, and rises to his feet. Harry watches him out of sight in a silent depression, and goes home the same way, and receives Ron and Hermione's shocked firecalls the same way, too. He knows nothing can be changed, nothing else will happen than what he doesn't want with all his heart, so why should he be enthusiastic?

That depression wraps him like a silver-grey shroud, at least until the day in a week's time when he has to meet with Malfoy for the announcement of their bonding and with Ginny for the annulment of their marriage. Then Harry finds himself standing in the dusty Ministry office apparently dedicated to such things with his hands grasping the edge of the table and his lungs full of horrible, clear air.

"I'm not going to say that," he snaps. "Because it's not true."

Ginny stands there, looking at him. She wears a set of white robes and a cloak that Harry bought her the first week they were married, because he enjoyed how bright she looked in it, her eyes sparkling, her hair a brilliant contrast. She looks at the floor when Harry meets her gaze and sighs a little, one hand opening and then closing.

"It's just a formality, Harry," she whispers. "Just a-a tradition. Everyone here knows it's not true." She smiles at him.

Harry suddenly knows another reason she might have worn white today, and he hates the universe with a passion that burns all other feeling out of his heart. "I'm not going to say that I never loved you and never had sex with you," he says. "Although apparently you can say it. Do you believe it?"

Ginny closes her eyes and sways on her feet. The Ministry official in charge of the ceremony flaps her hands and clucks like a chicken with a hawk stooping down. Harry looks at Malfoy, hoping for a glare or something more than the calmness he's apparently felt so far.

Malfoy, leaning against the wall with multiple layers still gathered around his thin body, lifts his head. His eyes grow briefly piercing, and Harry thinks he hears his voice on two levels, with his ears and inside his head at the same time.

"Stop being tiresome, Potter. This is a ceremony. Everyone knows it's not true. That's just the Ministry's way of trying to make it seem as though the former marriage means nothing. This is as hard for Weasley as it is for you."

And amidst the burning hatred, amidst the new hatred for the fact that Malfoy won't call Ginny by her married name, comes the numbing realization that Malfoy's right. Harry bows his head, and the shrouds come back, falling around him, concealing real sights from his eyes, concealing the sound of his own heartbeat from his ears.

So he says the words they want him to say-"I never loved Ginny Weasley. I never slept with her. Our marriage wasn't real"-and reaches out to take Malfoy's hand when he steps forwards. It's elegant and very cold. Harry stares at the floor as he repeats the bonding words, and feels Malfoy's hand tighten and twitch against his.

Some people say Veela can feel everything their mate feels. Harry wonders if he can freeze Malfoy to death.

Except he's doing this in the first place because he doesn't want the bastard to die. Harry wonders, instead, if it's possible to just will one's heart to stop beating. Everything the books say indicates Veela can survive the death of their mates after they're bonded; they don't die with them, just without them. That would be one possible solution.

Malfoy moves closer to him, and Harry looks up. Oh, right. The false bonding, the false marriage, has to end with a kiss.

He allows it. Malfoy's lips are colder than his hands.

"This is your new room."

Harry looks around. The room has a faint silvery haze that's accompanied him and Malfoy since they left the Ministry, but he's not sure if that comes from his depression or some magic worked into the walls of Malfoy Manor. Or some Veela magic, come to that. His new mate-well, not an official one yet, not until the extensive bonding ceremony that Malfoy apparently feels the occasion warrants-has magic that's unique to him, after all.

Harry wishes it was the ability to fuck himself, so Harry wouldn't be necessary.

"It's traditional to say 'thank you,' Potter." Malfoy's voice edges into his consciousness, all twitching silver blades.

"Thanks," Harry says, and wanders over to look out the window. It gives him a view of the Malfoy gardens, and white peacocks stalking everywhere. It looks like most of the flowers are white, too. Harry snorts to himself. So the Malfoys like white? Or just thought it was a prudent color to adopt after the war, what with the accusations that might cling to them and tarnish them otherwise. White is the color of innocence, after all.

He remembers Ginny's white robes and cloak, and clenches inside. He turns around to study the bed, which has thick curtains and four posts like the ones at Hogwarts and enough room for sixteen people to stretch out comfortably. He wonders if Malfoy is planning for them to have an orgy. He wonders how lonely and cold he will be in a bed that size without Ginny.

He sits down on the edge of the bed and notes a door that leads to the bathroom. He might need that soon. He'll want to shower to get Malfoy's touch off him, and possibly he'll throw up.

"I can feel what you're feeling, you know."

Harry looks up. Malfoy stands with his arms folded tight across his chest, his face so pinched that he looks like some of the Muggle dolls Harry's seen for sale in wizarding shops. Or, well, to be fair, wizarding ideas of what Muggle dolls should look like. As usual, some wizards are very far away from the Muggle world no matter how close they think they are to it.

"I know," Harry says. "So you know that I'm doing this to save your life, and that's the only reason."

Malfoy shifts from one foot to the other like a stork. "And you should know that you will have a better life here than you have ever had," he says. "More peace. More privacy. I can keep reporters out, you know. I heard about that one who ambushed you at your front door last month."

Harry shrugs. He ranted to Ginny about the reporter at the time, but he'll take a siege of people asking for his photograph and autograph every day over being without her.

"I can give you more than she ever could," Malfoy says, and his voice is a growl, unlike the bird shriek that Veela supposedly produce.

Harry looks up, and Malfoy flinches before he ever sees the expression on Harry's face. Proof that he means what he says about picking up Harry's emotion, Harry reckons.

"We don't talk about her," Harry says. "I'll do whatever else you want-appear at your side, go through this bonding, whatever. But you don't talk about Ginny. If you do, then you'll find me two continents away by tomorrow morning."

Malfoy's face looks like ivory. He bows his head and walks out the door, and Harry can see one strand of silver hair float away from his skull.

Harry stretches out on the bed with his hands behind his own head and curls his fingers into his hair, tugging, trying unsuccessfully to replicate what it felt like when Ginny did it.

"You look wonderful."

Narcissa Malfoy says that to him, and Harry smiles politely at her and then looks over her head. He can feel Malfoy beside him, tightening his fingers around Harry's. For a moment, it feels as if the fingers have claws. Malfoy hasn't yet answered Harry's questions about whether he can transform into a complete, bird-like Veela form, but Harry decides not to take the chance.

Besides, Malfoy has said nothing about Ginny for the past three days, only about bonding preparations. If he wants Harry to be polite to his mother, Harry can do so.

"Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy," he says, and she gives him a wistful smile and reaches out to lay her fingers on the silver-bordered sleeve of his white bonding robe.

"Won't you call me by my first name?" she asks. "I will be your mother-in-law, and you're taking Draco's name. It seems appropriate."

Harry swallows back his nausea. Yes, any chance of anyone other than him named Potter has vanished into the distance. He tried to argue with Malfoy when he announced that Harry would have to take his name when they bonded, but Malfoy showed him precedents and messages from the Ministry that it's so. Harry could argue, and meanwhile Malfoy would die and he would probably wind up losing anyway.

That was the reason Hermione didn't fight for him. She looked up the rules and the laws, but there were no loopholes. Pure-bloods who didn't want to lose their family names looked them up and shut them down long ago.

"All right, Narcissa," he says, and Malfoy flinches beside him. Probably he can feel the cold despair Harry is radiating. Harry can't help that, though. He's here, physically, with Malfoy. Malfoy will live. Harry will do what he requests. Harry can't feel what he wants, though. That's too much of a sacrifice to ask anyone, and if Malfoy's smart enough, he'll realize that.

Narcissa gives him a wise look and steps back. Harry wonders if she knows that he hates and resents wise looks, at least from anyone who isn't Hermione or Mrs. Weasley. Probably not, or she wouldn't have given him one. He really doesn't think that her purpose here is to make him miserable.

Too bad that it ends up doing that anyway.

Malfoy's hand closes like a shackle on his wrist as they recite their vows. Harry keeps his voice calm. Dead, probably, but, well, that's what Malfoys gets for the price.

They vow to stay with each other, to live in the same house-Harry wonders why that's part of it, and then remembers that he'd tried to bargain for being bonded to Malfoy but living elsewhere-to fight for each other, to be faithful to each other. On the last one, Malfoy's eyes shift to Harry's, and he stares at him so hard that Harry thinks he can feel the burn of that gaze on the back of his skull. The inside of the back of his skull.

Harry just stares back. He thinks he has more to worry about on that score than Malfoy does. Harry doesn't want anyone if he can't have Ginny. He never did. The only other person he ever had a crush on was Cho, and he realizes now that what he felt for her was only a pale shadow of what he felt for Ginny.

She's the one he's meant to be with. Sure, it was the perfect, romantic, fairy-tale ending, and when the Daily Prophet's bored with everything else, they try to print stories that hint at doubt about Harry being really happy with his "flame-haired princess," as Rita Skeeter started calling her years ago.

But sometimes heroes get the happy endings. Harry had his. He wanted his. He bloody well did everything he had to to get his: fought in the war, listened to people wiser than him in the end, sacrificed his life, destroyed the monster.

Who knew that he'd just end up fighting a different monster at the end?

Malfoy's hand clamps down again, and Harry wonders what he wants. A happy, smiling, bonded mate who looks up at him adoringly? Maybe he should have tried to fall in love with a woman who would be happy to have him, then. Harry thinks there are plenty, even now.

He knows, in part of his mind, that he's being unfair to Malfoy. Malfoy doesn't have a choice in this, any more than Harry does. He probably does want a pretty wife who will give him children and carry on the Malfoy name.

Harry pauses. That's something he hasn't thought of before. If the Potter name dies out, so does the Malfoy one. They can't have children, Malfoy is an only child, and if he has cousins, Harry's never heard of them. And the vows include nothing about adopting someone or passing the Manor and the money on to someone else when Malfoy is dead. Harry would have heard that. The vows are about the only part of the bonding ceremony he's paid attention to. He vaguely remembers bowls of flowers and clear water and waved-around censers, but so what? He didn't have to look at them.

He finishes the bonding in a slightly better frame of mind, and Malfoy's hold on his arm eases a little.

Five days after the bonding, Harry takes his broom to the Quidditch pitch. He's a bit bored with brooding around his room and the library-which doesn't have that many fascinating books, no matter what Narcissa thinks-and making firecalls to his friends that are filled with strained smiles or long, dragging silences. And Malfoy hasn't pressed him for sex or anything. Harry's grateful for that. It seems his presence is enough to save Malfoy's life. Good.

It seems that he'll survive Ginny's loss and get on with his life, after all. Best to spend it doing something he enjoys.

He stands in the middle of the pitch and takes deep breaths of the wind circling around him. There are sweet scents on it that seem to come from the gardens' autumn flowers, though Harry doesn't recognize all of them. He inhales them until he feels dizzy, and then swings a leg over his broom and shoots into the sky.

He circles there, rising and dipping and shining against the light, or so at least he imagines he looks from the ground. He doesn't fly any particular pattern. It's years since he played, except to help Ginny keep in practice. He dives straight at the ground at one point and then rises again.

Then he notices Malfoy is watching him from in front of the Manor-or behind it, really, it should be, since the pitch is behind the house. Harry flips him off casually and circles into the air again, leaning back on his broom until the shaft points nearly straight up at the sun. He could drop off at any moment, he knows, and he doesn't care. The strain in his lungs and in his eyes makes it exciting.

Something white crowds the corner of his vision, and he turns his head, wondering if the Malfoys have attack swans. Given the peacocks and the utter pretentiousness of most of the rest of the house, he absolutely would not put it past them.

But no, it's Malfoy, circling on wide white wings that seem to spring from the middle of his back and extend far past him. They dwarf his body, in fact. Harry stares with his mouth open, and lets his broom fall back to a more normal position. That answers his question about whether Malfoy has any Veela-like traits other than a tendency to die without someone hanging on his arm.

Malfoy sweeps towards him and uses the wings to create a wind that ruffles Harry's hair in passing. Harry snorts and turns to fly after him. It might be different, interesting, to have a Quidditch opponent with wings. It's the first thing he can remember truly interesting him since the death of his marriage.

It seems that Malfoy doesn't intend to make it easy on Harry. He hurtles up, wings parting and closing with a noise like shears cutting thick cloth. Then he falls back towards Harry, wings spread, backlit by the sun so he appears like a black silhouette. At the angle he's coming, he could easily crash into and unseat Harry.

Harry spins the broom to the side, and watches Malfoy pull up a good distance away from him. It has to be a good distance, to accommodate that wingspan. Harry puts the whole distance from one wingtip to the other as a good four meters.

Malfoy watches him for so long, and so silently, that Harry feels more sweat slipping along the surface of his palms. What does Malfoy want? Surely riding on his broom isn't against the rules.

And then Malfoy turns and sweeps away, looking over his shoulder. His hair blows into his eyes, and Harry can see big muscles in his back that he's never seen before bunching and releasing. That's probably why he didn't fly before, Harry decides. Nothing to do with not wanting to. He just didn't have the strength to support those wings when he was wasting away.

He wants Harry to follow him.

That's not a surprise; the invitation is in every line of his body, every curve, from the way his wings beat to the way his legs stretch behind him. He really does look like a bird, Harry thinks, a great big bloody bird, and he resents the part of himself that wants to take wing in response.

But he could go down and back to the Manor. He could refuse to follow. He could. There's no rule that says he has to listen to Draco bloody Malfoy, of course not. And his name is still Harry Potter, if only in his head, not Harry Malfoy. It doesn't even sound right.

Malfoy sweeps back to him, and Harry realizes then that his enormous wings have gone soundless. Didn't they make a noise before? But perhaps it depends on his mood, or his Veela magic, or the nearness of his mate, or something else that Harry doesn't understand and doesn't want to.

Malfoy hovers in front of him, and Harry finds it hard to meet his eyes; they're doing that weird sliding thing again. Then Malfoy stretches out a hand, and Harry watches it come nearer. He knows the fingers will be chill again when they touch him, and probably sharp, the way Malfoy's fingernails felt at their bonding.

But the hand that comes to rest on his is just a hand, without claws, without longer fingers than normal, without the extraordinary coldness Harry thought was a natural part of him. The fingers stroke his, once, and then Malfoy turns and flies away, this time without looking back or looking as if he will turn back.

Harry hovers, hesitates, one more time. But he's already come this far, divorced Ginny and bonded with Malfoy. And he's decided that he's going to survive. That's not the same as cooperating or sleeping with Malfoy, whatever some people at the Prophet might think. But it does make refusing something as small as this seem kind of silly.

So he pushes off and follows Malfoy, darting and weaving at first, but flying straight and up when he realizes that Malfoy isn't weaving all over the place in response. He seems interested in only one thing, aiming for the sun. And Harry follows him in silence, higher and higher, until ice crystals form on his unprotected hands and his breath rises in front of him in white clouds, as silent as Malfoy's white wings.

They fly, and they soar, and Harry only turns back when he knows it's that or fall. And Malfoy turns back in the same instant to fly with him, though they didn't communicate at all and Harry thinks Malfoy could fly on forever, as long as he had some means of giving strength to his wings.

Malfoy soars beside him all the way back, but never looks at him but once, as they're preparing to settle down on the Malfoy pitch again. That's a single, oblique look. His eyes are shining, but they have stopped sliding.

And when Harry goes back into the Manor, some place inside him has taken advantage of the cold to freeze into peace. It's not much, but he feels less desperate, less trapped, than before.

"I told you that you would have to attend parties like this when we were married."

Harry grimaces into the mirror. He wishes Malfoy wouldn't use "married" instead of "bonded," which he started to do the day after they flew together. It makes Harry feel weird. He's never been married to anyone but Ginny, and as far as he's concerned, he's not about to start.

"It's not the party I mind," he tells the mirror, although he knows it is, and that he hates the formal robes that swish around him, green as his eyes, edged with lace as dark as his hair. That's one of Malfoy's affectations, and Harry can't see why. Surely it would pay more for him to be in silver or white or grey, some Malfoy color, like the robes he was bonded in? "It's that it's a party for your bloody father."

Malfoy looms in the reflection behind him, his nostrils flaring. The hands that settle on Harry's shoulders are gentle, nevertheless. "He doesn't come home from Azkaban every day," he murmurs, bending his head so that his cool breath blows across Harry's earlobe. "And he's your bloody father-in-law."

Harry winces. It's true. Even if one considers bonding different from a marriage, it's not that different. "I know," he says. "But I also know what was on his face when you escorted him home today."

He expects those words to explain it all, and doesn't understand why Malfoy's hands pause and tighten as if he's growing claws. Then he says, "You saw joy at being home, joy at being with his wife and son, and you do not understand that? You are less sympathetic than I imagined."

"I mean the way he looked at me," Harry says, and waits, but Malfoy's face remains as still as the surface of the mirror. Harry twists around and stares at him. "Hatred," he says. "Really. You didn't see that? He hates me being here. He hates that I'm your mate." He curls his lip as he says the words, because really, but he has evidence enough that they're true. "He hates that we're bonded."

Malfoy continues to look at him as though he's never seen Harry before. Harry studies him back. Malfoy seems fully-recovered, and he wears the pale robes they bonded in. Harry tries to feel glad about the green ones, seeing that. At least he has life and color, and he's the only one who looks as if he's acknowledging the still-green trees outside, instead of wishing it was always winter.

"That's ridiculous," Malfoy says at last, dropping the words into the sentence like chunks of ice into a glass. "He knows that I need you. He is not a Veela himself, but I am hardly the first one in my family, and he understands the pride of blood."

"Has anyone in your family bonded with a hated enemy before?" Harry asks. "I'd think that would make a difference."

"One of my ancestors bonded with a Weasley, generations back," Malfoy says, laying down the words like the trump card they are. "And that Weasley's blood runs in my father's veins. He will accept this. He does not hate you. He may hate what you remind him of, but you are a Malfoy now."

Harry shrugs. It's not like he expected Malfoy to believe him, not really. He'd just thought Malfoy had noticed himself and has some plan to deal with it.

But he has his wand with him, and he's a trained Auror. On a leave of absence to "deal" with his unwanted bonding or not, his reflexes haven't dulled. He can handle himself.

Harry sees it because he's looking for it.

The party is as pure-blood as he expected it to be, with families of Malfoy's friends and Lucius's cronies and former Death Eaters swarming the place. Harry is the only one wearing any color approximating the green. The tenth time someone stares at him and then at the pale walls as if trying to consider how they could have given birth to him, Harry turns away and sips more of his champagne. He'd tried for something harder, but Malfoy was at his side in seconds to countermand the orders to the house-elves, his arm snug around Harry's waist and his eyes full of snow.

Harry shrugs and scans the room. Lucius is standing at the head of one of the many tables scattered throughout the expanse, loaded with food and drink. Harry has already noticed that most of the families frequent only one table, and assumes that has to do with an intricate pattern of blood feuds and alliances and who's fucking with who at the moment. He might be able to figure out the pattern if he paid more attention, but frankly, he doesn't care that much.

Lucius holds up a large plate of salad, all pale lettuce and onions and egg pieces and something that could be flowers from the Manor gardens, for all Harry knows, scattered on top. He says something, and the table applauds, fingernail to fingernail. Lucius turns the plate to the side and lowers it.

Under it, in the hand that bears less of the platter's weight, is his wand, and from the wand comes the curse that flies at Harry.

Harry whips in a circle, raising Shield Charm after Shield Charm, linking them together with another spell that overlaps their circular edges and makes them stronger than a mere gathering of them could be. When he finishes, he is safe in his ring, and the curse hits the nearest shield and rebounds.

The porcelain vase on an ivory table in an alcove breaks with a brittle sound. Everyone is staring at Harry.

Everyone except Malfoy, who surges through the crowd as if he's swimming. Probably to ask Harry why he broke a priceless ancestral artifact, Harry decides, and yawns. Malfoy and his fancy party can go hang. Harry's not lowering the Shield Charms until Lucius is out of the room.

Malfoy arrives at the outer edge of the ring of Shield Charms, and hovers there. Harry gives him a bored look. Malfoy stares back, and raises his hands as if he thinks he can tear the magic apart.

Harry looks again at Lucius. He's taken a step back, and of course his wand has vanished completely. He could claim plausible deniability, and probably be believed. Harry isn't sure anyone but himself saw where the curse came from, and Malfoy would hate to think his beloved father could hurt his mate.

Harry sighs, tired of the whole thing, and drops the Shield Charms. If Malfoy scolds him, well, it's not as though he cares about losing his reputation in front of these people. And Malfoy might just march him off somewhere so no one has to hear.

Sure enough, Malfoy takes his arm in a grip that'll leave a mark. Harry walks beside him, slowly enough that Malfoy can't drag him. Oh, he wants to; Harry can smell that desire rippling through him. But he knows what the dignity of his party is worth, perhaps, and Harry knows what his skin is worth, and together they can compromise until they pass out of the ballroom and into one of the "small" chambers with a fireplace where guests arrived. It's still bigger than Harry and Ginny's kitchen at home.

Harry realizes how much he would give to be back in that kitchen, and sighs again. It's not ever going to happen.

Malfoy turns towards him and runs his hands down Harry's shoulders to his arms, then around on his chest. Harry glares at him. It's the most intimately Malfoy has touched him since they bonded, and since Malfoy doesn't require more, he thought they had a tacit understanding that there wouldn't ever be more.

"Nothing broken," Malfoy breathed, and his eyes are huge and sliding as he turns them on Harry. "So he didn't hurt you?"

Harry blinked. Huh. Maybe Malfoy will believe him, after all. "No," he says slowly, studying Malfoy's nose and cheeks instead of his disturbing eyes. "I got the Shield Charms up in time."

"Good," Malfoy says, and moves closer to him, crowding him back towards the wall. Harry stands still, though, because like hell is he going to move just because Malfoy tells him to, and glares back. Malfoy twitches his shoulders for a second like he'll grow and spread his wings, and then seems to realize there isn't room for them in here and lowers them again.

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you," he says, his voice low and slow as honey.

Well, this is new. Harry stares at him blankly for a moment before he can decide what to do. And then, it seems simplest to shrug and say, "It's fine. I saved myself. I got the shields up in time, I told you."

"He should have known better than to threaten my mate," Malfoy says. "I thought he did know better. And I should have been the one to protect you. You shouldn't need to feel unsafe here." He bends closer and lets his nose rest on Harry's neck, which Harry thinks is weird. If Veela are birds, shouldn't they not care that much about how a mate smells? It should be how they look and sound. Maybe that's why Malfoy was so insistent about the green robes, though Harry doesn't know what they're going to do about sound. It's not like Harry has a sweet singing voice, or a singing voice at all, really.

"Come with me," Malfoy says, but he doesn't move. His voice has taken on a lulling quality, and Harry stiffens, turning away.

"Not to sleep with me," Malfoy says, and Harry can feel his lips move into a smile against the skin of his neck. "I'm not trying to seduce you. I just want to bear you company."

"You have a lot of people to talk to back in the party," Harry says, and he's relieved when Malfoy moves his head back so that he's looking Harry in the eye. "People I don't want to talk to."

"I wasn't proposing to go back there." Malfoy links his arm through Harry's. "Have you seen the view from the tower?"

"What are you talking about? The Manor doesn't have a tower." Harry takes a step towards the door on the far side of the room, to unlink his arm from Malfoy's, and finds that it doesn't work as expected, since Malfoy keeps walking right along with him. After a moment, Harry shrugs. So the Malfoy heir won't be at the Malfoy party to welcome his arrogant bastard of a father back home. Fine. Maybe that's all the punishment Lucius deserves.

"It does," Malfoy says. "It's hidden. We needed a part of the house to remain that way in case someone ever cornered us and threatened to massacre our entire family." His hand is light and steady on Harry's arm, no coldness at all.

"So you could escape into it," Harry says, and shakes his head. He doesn't understand the way pure-bloods think. It never would have occurred to him to set up a house with a place like that.

He does have to wonder, though, what the Potters might have done to their own houses when they had them, when there were more of them. He doesn't know anything about his father's family, really. Only his mother's, and more of them than he wants to know.

"Yes, so we could," Malfoy agrees, and uses the slight pressure of his hand on Harry to turn him in the direction of a back staircase. Harry ascends it, examining the wide marble steps for signs of dust. None. Well, of course not, not in a house with house-elves. "But we use it for stargazing now. Not enough of us left to need accommodations so spacious."

He shoots a glance at Harry, and his eyes have stopped sliding but still shine more than they should, more than human eyes should. "Though there are now four of us, where there were only two."

Harry grimaces out a smile, and watches the walls slide by as the staircase slides up, continually twisting and turning. The higher they rise, the colder he gets, since open windows and marble without tapestries pace them. Malfoy casts a Warming Charm without comment, and Harry grunts. Malfoy can take that as a "thanks" if he wants.

Abruptly, the staircase ends in a thick door of white oak, which Malfoy opens. Harry blinks as they step out on the tower, a small, flat place with a parapet of glistening stone and wards.

They are very high, higher than Harry has been since he came to the Manor except when they flew. He tilts his head back, and seeks out the stars. They're white and cold like everything else, but they're free of this building, and this fate.

"I would have left you alone if I could."

Harry blinks and glances sidelong at Malfoy, then remembers that he can feel Harry's emotions. He gives a limp shrug. Like everything else at the moment, it exhausts him. "I know," he says, and walks to the far side of the tower, staring out over the gardens. Lights wink here and there. He wonders if the elves have put up lanterns or captured live fairies in jars, the way they did sometimes at Hogwarts. "Not like you wanted this any more than I did."

"It's going to last for the rest of their lives." Malfoy's voice is true neutral, the way Harry knows Hermione wished she could sound when she gave him the news about there being no way out of the Veela bonding.

"I know," Harry says. "Hence why I haven't tried to escape or kill you."

"It could be more pleasant, in many ways," Malfoy says, and steps up beside him. His hand touches Harry's shoulder, and turns Harry's body around. Harry keeps his face resolutely looking towards the gardens. Malfoy can make of that what he will.

What he makes of it is to stoop down and fasten his lips on Harry's in a gentle kiss, tilting his own head to do so.

Harry stands there, because he has said he'll do what Malfoy likes provided they don't talk about Ginny, and this is a lot less worse than being pressured to go to bed or something. He stares out over the gardens still, and notices some lights are winking off. Maybe the house-elves are dousing the lanterns, or letting the fairies go. For the first time, Harry thinks that Malfoy's leaving the party, whether or not anyone saw Lucius hurl the curse, could still break it up pretty effectively.

Malfoy pulls his head back, and looks at Harry, panting and breathless. Harry tries to look innocent of why he would.

"You're so..." Malfoy says, and his voice trails off. A few days ago, Harry would have known that sentence would end in an insult, but now Malfoy sounds-different. Harry doesn't really know how to classify it, but he's sure it's different. He stares at Malfoy, and Malfoy reaches out and stirs a hand through the fringe above Harry's scar, murmuring something soundless.

Then he turns and leaves the tower, almost running. Harry stands there, blinking and entertaining the odd feeling that he's the one who drove Malfoy away, instead of the other way around.

And not sure if he likes that, come to it.

"I wish to apologize for my husband's behavior."

Harry starts and glances up from the breakfast of toast and fresh fruit that the house-elves seem to serve every morning. Harry asked for some treacle tart once, just to see what would happen, but they only brought him slightly sweeter fruit than usual. Harry assumes Malfoy told them only to feed him healthy shit or something, and gave up. It's not as though he has to have power over the Manor's house-elves to be happy here. He's not really sure that anything could make him happy here, and as long as he thinks that, he can preserve a layer of distance between himself and the inhabitants of the house.

Narcissa stands in the doorway of the small dining room where Harry usually eats, smoothing down a white gown. Harry smothers a snort. She makes him feel underdressed, in his old jeans and tattered shirt, but, well, this isn't a fancy party and she can always leave if she feels uncomfortable.

"I did not know Lucius would do that." Narcissa looks him in the eye, something she hasn't really done since his bonding. Mostly, they pass each other on the staircases, and Narcissa looks pleased, or distant, or kind, but always occupied with something else. "Please accept my apologies."

"I...sure," Harry says, blinking, as wrongfooted as with Malfoy on the tower last night. The Malfoys are ice sculptures, not human beings. "I never thought you had anything to do with it."

Narcissa's mouth tightens, looking like a flaw in a marble sculpture. "If I had had anything to do with it, he would not have managed to complete the incantation, I assure you." She looks directly at Harry. "You will meet him again without resentment?"

Harry shrugs. "Sure," he says again. "But not without a hand on my wand."

"Yes," Narcissa says. "How can I ask for complete peace between you, when Lucius still insists that he does not see the need?" She turns to the window in the dining room, the one that shows the Quidditch pitch. Harry doesn't know if it's a real view or an enchanted one, he thinks the geography of the house might be wrong for a real one, but he doesn't care. It's the reason he's chosen to eat here. "We must all live together for years to come. I thought the problems would come from your end, Harry, not Lucius's."

Harry can't blame her for thinking it, and once again, her anxiety meets the shroud over his emotions and simply dissipates. He nods. "I know. Well, I was all sullen and stuff when I got here. You were right to think I might go around cursing your priceless heirlooms for fun." He pauses. "Sorry about the vase, by the way."

"It was my sister's, and hardly a gift I will miss." Narcissa smiles at him suddenly. "You are being gracious and as easy to get along with as you can. I hope that you will be more than that in the future."

"Kind?" Harry wonders what she means, wonders whether she thinks he can get Lucius favors or something. Harry refuses to do that, and doesn't have as much power as an Auror as everyone thinks, anyway. "If it doesn't cost me anything."

"Invested," Narcissa says. "As if you care whether we live or die. As if you are here, not in some world of windows and dreams. Draco can live with you as a mate as long as he has your physical presence, but he would flourish with your spiritual one, as well."

Harry stares at her. Then he pushes his chair back from the table and turns away, although more than half the food remains on his plate.

"Harry," Narcissa says from behind him, and her footsteps follow him, quick and light in the slippers that it seems everyone wears around here. "I did not mean-Draco still needs you, do not take your displeasure at what I said out on him-"

"I agreed to do what he needs," Harry says, and stops, because he doesn't want to look as if he's running away. He keeps facing the other way, though. He moves his tongue across his lips, and grimaces. All the food tastes like oily ashes, now. "And he can kiss me, and I won't sleep with anyone else, and I'll live in Malfoy Manor, and I won't say anything bad about your family, ever. But to ask me for more than that? No. I'm sick and tired of giving everything up for someone else because they need it. I was all right with it when I was seventeen because I thought I would either die or I'd get the rest of my life to do what I wanted. And now it turns out I won't. No. Sorry." He realizes that he's shaking, and clenches his hands into fists at his sides. "I can't give him more than this."

"Harry, I did not mean that you would be his perfect, happy, smiling husband, and-"

And now she's referring to the bonding like a marriage, when Harry telling himself it isn't is one of the few things that allows him to stay sane. He runs, not caring what it looks like, and bolts up to his room, locking the door.

Someone knocks on it hours later. Ha. Someone. Harry knows only one person in this bloody house who would bloody knock like that. He lies on the bed and says nothing, staring at the ceiling.

"I'm leaving food here for you," Malfoy's voice says, exquisite in its unconcern. "You may eat it or not, as you like. I will leave you in your privacy for the rest of the evening." And his footsteps go away.

Harry sits up, staring at the door, and blinking. Huh. His chest feels as though there's more air in his lungs, and after a while, he goes over and opens the door and finds the tray. There's soup and sandwiches on it, under a Warming Charm.

And, on a smaller plate, a portion of treacle tart.

Harry takes it back into his room and eats it, slowly enough that half of it drips through his fingers sometimes between bites. He continues breathing the unexpected air and even eats some of the soup and sandwiches.

He knows everything about Veela and what they need; it's not as though the Ministry wasted any time drumming that into his head when he tried to challenge the necessity to bond with Malfoy. It hadn't occurred to him that one of the things they might need is to give people things.

"How is it, mate? Really."

Harry sighs and leans closer to the fire. He stopped talking to Ron and Hermione at all for about a week, because every conversation ended with Hermione in tears or him and Ron shouting. They all agreed, basically, but Ron thought Harry should have fought on anyway, for Ginny, and Hermione thought Harry should try to get along as best as he could in his new life, and Harry didn't want anyone to say anything, he wanted to sit back and sulk.

So now it's especially good to watch Ron's face floating in the fire and see real concern there, without the brooding anger. Harry hopes that, now it's been almost a fortnight since the bonding, Ginny might be a little better, and that source of Ron's defensiveness might have disappeared.

"It's not intolerable," he says. "They don't make me do chores like the Dursleys, at least, or tell me I'm a freak all day long. I can use magic. I play a lot of Quidditch, and I read a lot."

"Got any better at chess?" Ron asks, and then makes a face. "Not that there's anyone there you can really play it with."

"No," Harry agrees, smiling as he settles back against the couch behind him. He doesn't sit in the Malfoys' furniture often, but there's no escaping it; they apparently object to having just bare floor in front of the fireplace. "And no one who could give me a trouncing like you do, anyway."

Ron grins at him. Then his grin falls away, and he says, "Mate...come back soon. I know you have a few more weeks of holidays, but it's boring around here without you. Not to mention that they're keeping me at my desk until you come back, and what's Hermione going to say if I start gaining weight around the middle?"

Harry nods back. "I'm going to tell Malfoy that tonight. There's no reason for me to stay away from work when I'm as settled as I'm ever going to be, and I don't hate my life anymore." He stands up. "See you tomorrow."

Ron gives him one more grin, and then his face fades from the fireplace. Harry stretches some of the kinks out of his shoulders and neck and turns towards the doorway behind him.

He pauses when he realizes that Malfoy is standing there. He wears a white cloak with a trace of blue around the edges that wraps him like the wings, and watches Harry intently enough to leave a burn mark on the carpet.

"You wish to go back to work?" he asks.

Harry folds his arms. "Well, yeah. You knew my holiday was temporary. Or did you really think I would quit my job to live in the Manor like your kept mistress?"

"Spouse, if anything," Malfoy says, though his cheeks flood with color. "We are married. And yes, I did hope that you would avoid situations that could put your life in danger, as your job will inevitably do."

Harry shuts his eyes and counts to twenty so hard that he thinks he can he actually see the numbers appearing on the back of his eyelids. "We're not married," he says. "I've told you. The only wife I've ever had and am ever going to have is Ginny."

"You don't have a wife," Malfoy says, drawing near. "You have a husband. And you will note that I was careful to use the gender-neutral form of the word."

Harry, blood flushing and flashing just below the surface of his skin, opens his eyes to glare, and finds Malfoy so close that he starts. Malfoy reaches out and skims his fingers down the center of Harry's palm, his eyelids fluttering shut as he sighs.

"I can't keep you from your Auror job," he says. "I know that. But be careful. Remember that you have someone to come back to now."

Harry is so angry that he just turns and stalks out of the room, because God forbid that he punch his bonded. Malfoy walks close behind him, and murmurs something Harry can't hear over his heartbeat. He whirls around. "What?" he snarls.

"I said," Malfoy murmurs again, his eyes lingering on Harry's flushed face, "that someday you'll give me some of that passion. You can't keep it in check forever, and you're already past the stage of major depression."

Harry turns and punches the wall. He watches marble dust drift up and smiles at the impression he leaves in the stone. Accidental magic rode along with his hand, of course, because he never could have done that on his own otherwise, but it feels bloody fucking good to have done it.

Blood runs down his knuckles. Harry sucks at them as he walks away, leaving Malfoy and silence behind him.

Harry shuts the door behind him and closes his eyes for a second, overwhelmed. The Auror job today was color and life and vividness, noises and people screaming at him and memos fluttering around his head. By contrast, the Manor is so quiet and drained of life that he sways a little.

This is the real reason he could never live comfortably here, he thinks as he shucks his cloak and tries to hang it up on a peg near the front doors. Of course, a house-elf appears to take it with a deep bow. Harry sighs in disgust and makes for the stairs. Everything around him is pale, as though it's been bled to death. Harry thinks of the vampire-drained corpse that he saw today, and smiles.

"Mr. Potter."

Harry halts with one foot on the bottom step and looks up. Lucius stands five steps above him, his arms folded, his robes as white as everything else around here. Harry takes a deep breath. This is the first time they've seen each other since the party where Lucius tried to curse him, and Harry wonders who let him out of his cage now.

He should just avoid him. There are plenty of alternate routes to his room, as Harry has reason to know in his quest not to spend time with Malfoy. But Lucius has called him by his proper name, at least, the one that Harry still thinks of as his and spent today insisting the other Aurors call him. That's enough to get him some hearing time.

Harry folds his arms and leans against the nearest wall. He raises an eyebrow at Lucius, and waits.

Lucius seems to understand the implied invitation. His smile is very thin as he comes down the nearest steps and stops, still about four meters away. Malfoy's wingspan, Harry thinks, irrelevantly. He would shake his head to clear it of such thoughts, but Lucius is watching him.

"You do not want to be here any more than I want you here," Lucius says. "If I told you there was a way to break the bond and leave Draco alive, would you take it?"

"Not without researching the hell out of it to make sure that Malfoy would still be alive at the end of it," Harry says frankly.

"You call my son by his last name, still? All the more reason for you to accept this." Lucius leans forwards. "I have no motive to kill my son, Mr. Potter, only you. I would want him alive to continue my family line. Will you listen?"

Harry thinks about it, then shrugs. The worst that happens is that he wastes a little time, and what else is he going to do with his evening? Read, go over Auror paperwork, eat, sleep. His life is really no more confined than it was when he was living with Ginny, physically, but the color is gone from it when he's here, as if he's become a vase or a set of robes himself.

"You find someone willing to trade with you, to take your place in the bond," Lucius says. "As it happens, there is someone willing to do that, a young woman whom I would have wanted my son to marry in the first place, had it been my choice. Astoria Greengrass. She wants the prestige of being a Malfoy, and she finds Draco attractive enough. You need not worry that she would try to harm him, or behave inappropriately." From Lucius's tone, it's clear which he considers the greater crime. "She would take his last name and take over the bond to the Veela. She and Draco could get properly married later, after the consummation." His voice changes to something like an ice knife. "I assume you and Draco have not yet done such a thing?"

"No," Harry says, and feels his face color up again. Lucius watches him, and Harry would give anything to hide that moment of weakness from him, except to walk away. "But-I don't understand. Why haven't you already mentioned this to Malfoy? It seems to me that he'd leap at the chance to be free of me and take over a bond to someone else."

"It could not happen until he had a bond in place," Lucius says. "Until then, there was no place for Astoria to step into, only the unfulfilled longing for a mate that the Veela would never surrender. Now, we can appeal to his human side."

Harry feels relief and hope cascade over him, and he takes a deep breath of them. "Fine. Then let me discuss this with Malfoy-"

"The Veela side will still never surrender you," Lucius says sharply. "Draco has a physical bond to you at a deep level, considering that your presence, and touch, and closeness, healed him. We must make the substitution magically and at a distance, so that by the time Draco realizes what has happened, he will already be bonded to Astoria."

Harry pauses. He can feel the way he felt when he saw Ginny weeping over that letter, when he realized it was real, when he realized that he would have to give up everything that mattered most to him.

"I can't," he says at last. "I can't do this without discussing it with him first."

"Why not?" Lucius's voice is quiet, and his hands clasp for a moment in front of him as if he's wishing for his cane, though Harry doesn't think he's seen him carrying it since arriving back at the Manor from Azkaban. "You know that he will be happy. His Veela side will be content with the substitution, and his human side never wanted you in the first place, or he would not have waited until he nearly died to contact you."

"I know," Harry says, and tugs hard at his hair for a moment, wishing he understood himself. The tug seems to help things come clearer, the way it sometimes did when Ginny touched him, and he sighs. "But I had my whole life taken away and my marriage changed without any choice of what to do about it, and I know Malfoy considers us married. I can't do the same thing to him. I want to talk to him about it. And I'm sure he'll say that it'll be fine and he doesn't care. But-"

"Have you not listened to me?" Lucius takes a step closer, looking at Harry as if they'll duel in a second. "His Veela side cannot be conquered unless we surprise it."

"I don't want to conquer anyone," Harry snaps, clenching his fists in front of him, wondering when he started wanting to punch Lucius instead of Malfoy. "I just want him to make the choice. He fought his Veela side for six years instead of bonding with me. I think he can do it now."

"You will be wrong," Lucius says, and his voice is like small bells being pounded with a hammer. Harry shakes his head. Malfoy Manor is influencing him more than he thought-well, maybe that and the old books he's been reading. The library is running out of things that interest him. "You will regret it if you mention it to him."

"If I do, and he's completely unreasonable, and this is the only way," Harry says, and then stops. It doesn't matter if that is true. He still can't take someone else's life away from them the way his was taken. Even the person who took his.

Life would be so much easier if he was just evil.

But Lucius completes the sentence in his head in his own way, and nods in stately satisfaction. "That will do well, Mr. Potter," he murmurs. "I will need one day to prepare the ritual and one day to complete it. In two days, you will have the right to that name back. And the right to your wife, if you want her." He goes up the stairs.

Harry stares at his back. Then he turns around and walks in the direction that he's avoided ever since he moved into the bloody bloodless Manor, towards the rooms that Malfoy occupies.

He doesn't have a clue what Malfoy will do about it, but he owes him the truth.

Malfoy glances at Harry once, then looks away. He stands in front of the fireplace, facing it, gazing into the flames. Harry has no idea what his reaction will be to what he's just described, probably incoherently: Lucius's approach to him, Astoria, replacing the bond, the reason why Lucius wants to keep it secret from Malfoy. Harry wonders if he should just leave. Maybe Malfoy will make up his mind to keep his Veela side in check and accept another mate. He might make the decision best in silence and peace, too.

Harry backs up one step, and Malfoy turns around and stares at him. His eyes have a brighter shine than usual, as if they're backlit like some of the Muggle devices Hermione has shown Harry in the past, but they don't slide around. Harry can meet them.

"Why would you do something like this?" Malfoy asks. "Why tell me? You could have been free."

"Because I have very strong feelings about fucking with other people's marriages," Harry mutters, and rubs the back of his neck. "Not that I consider it a marriage, but I know you do."

"So it's compassion for me," Malfoy says. "Pity. The two things that you are so good at, and that make you more of a Gryffindor than anything else would."

"I'd call it fucking empathy, myself," Harry snaps, and his face flushes, because, damn it, this is exactly the reason that he'll never get along with Malfoy and anyone who thinks he will is delusional. Malfoy doesn't care about attempts to help him, or spare him pain, or whatever. He'll just twist them around so he can argue with Harry. Harry shakes his head and turns away. "You can have two days to make up your mind. Lucius said that's how long the ritual would take. But after that, yes, I do hope to go free. You can have someone else you want, and I'll have the woman I love."

Malfoy moves. Harry finds himself held in a strong but loose embrace, arms around his waist, before he's taken three steps, and Malfoy saying softly into his ear, "I don't want anyone but you."

Harry rolls his eyes. "The Veela in you doesn't want anyone but me," he says. "You were healed because of me. But it doesn't go further than that. Think about it. Don't you want to get married and have children?"

"I haven't decided what to do about children yet." One of Malfoy's hands rests casually but firmly on his hip. "And I'm already married."

"So was I, but that didn't stop you," Harry snaps, and closes his eyes. Four years with Ginny, and he still feels that he barely scratched the surface of what he could have had with her. They were so young together. What would they have become, what would they have been, if Malfoy hadn't interfered?

"I took what I had to if I was going to survive," Malfoy says, and his voice lowers until Harry's amazed he can still hear him. "I won't apologize for that. But yes, I am sorry that it cost you so much."

Harry blinks into the distance. "Why do I believe you?" he asks after a moment.

"You're giving me the chance, now, to be sincere." Malfoy's arms tighten. "Yes, I wish that this had worked out some other way. For my sake, so I could have had a mate who was glad to be with me. But for yours, so you could have the marriage you wanted. I do, actually, care that you're happy."

"Because you can feel it, right," Harry says, and he's happy that it makes sense, that he's found the explanation for Malfoy's recent un-Malfoyish behavior. He reaches down to remove one of those arms from his waist.

Malfoy's arms tighten once more, and he breathes into the back of Harry's neck, "More than that. I do take marriage seriously. My family always has. That's why my father's plan of switching my mate for someone else is offensive to me. He knows only that Astoria has the right ambitions and the right blood. He knows nothing about whether we could work together in public or in private. We might be amicable, or we might make a scandal together. He should know better than that."

"Meanwhile, of course, you and I get along wonderfully," Harry snaps, and turns to glare at him. Malfoy doesn't back off, which leaves their lips a lot closer than Harry's comfortable with. He glances away and clears his throat.

"You haven't made a public scandal," Malfoy says. "You did acquiesce. You still won't let me do as much for you as I want to, but you have accepted a few gifts from me, and you don't insult me constantly. You didn't even report to the Aurors that my father tried to kill you, as would have been well within your rights. He is free of Azkaban and my family looks respectable in the press thanks to you." He rubs one of his hands over Harry's stomach, his fingers curved so that his nails feel claw-like again. "Yes, you've done much that you didn't have to."

Harry breaks free of him, because his stomach has always been stupidly sensitive, and it continues to be despite the claws and the layers of clothing between them. He glares at Malfoy again. "I didn't do it for you. Not for you as a person. Just because it's the right thing to do."

Malfoy watches him with a faint smile and heavily-lidded eyes that glow like a cat's. "I know that. But even that is more than I would have thought you would do for someone who changed your life and who you used to hate. It makes me look forward to the day when you'll change your mind." He turns away before Harry can have the satisfaction, and adds over his shoulder, "And no, I won't accept the substitute my father wants to make. Leave it to me to break the news."

Harry rolls his eyes and retreats to his rooms. Crazy, the lot of them. Is it any wonder that he doesn't want the last name of Malfoy?

Malfoy waits until the next day, until Harry is ready to leave for work and Lucius is obviously trying to corner him for another discussion of the ritual. Then he floats off the top of the staircase and down on wide, utterly silent wings, to land between them.

He's just lucky that the entrance hall of the Manor is wide enough that he can do that without damaging his feathers, as far as Harry's concerned.

Lucius raises one eyebrow, or at least Harry thinks he does before Malfoy moves his wings so he can no longer see Lucius's face. Harry chokes on feathers brushing his chin and takes a step backwards. There's little space between his back and the wall, but Malfoy probably likes that, the kinky bastard.

"You won't harm Harry," Malfoy tells Lucius. His voice seems to make some of the more delicate ornaments on nearby tables ring, but then, they're china and they ring when Harry steps too heavily near them, so that's not conclusive evidence that his voice is really echoing everywhere. "You will do nothing that could bring harm to him from a distance, either. I will not live with Astoria Greengrass or anyone else you attempt to bind me to. If the bond is disrupted, I will simply dissolve it, then go and find Harry again. With my strength restored, I would last more than long enough to find him and resume the bond."

Harry wants to ask who gave Malfoy permission to address him by his first name, but he figures a united front is their best defense against Lucius right now, and he remains silent.

"You could have a marriage that would produce children." From the sound of it, Lucius's face has frozen and he's barely moving his lips. "You could have a wife who would not shame you."

Malfoy takes a step forwards, and his wings narrow and angle in, pointing at Lucius. Harry cocks his head. He's not sure, but he thinks he can see light gleaming from the edges, as though they've sharpened.

"My mate does not shame us," Malfoy says. "Had he done so, I would have perhaps been amenable to this plan. But he has not, and I am not. He is mine."

Harry hisses. He doesn't fancy belonging to anyone but himself, thanks.

Malfoy glances back at him once. His eyes are doing the sliding thing again, but Harry catches enough of his expression before he looks away to know that Malfoy doesn't care, just like he doesn't care about Harry's dislike of calling their bonding a marriage. Harry sighs. He reckons that he'll just have to live with Malfoy saying things he doesn't like. It's his actions that might make this livable or not.

"You know that I will not stop finding a way to bond you to someone else," Lucius says, almost casually, as though he assumes Malfoy's distracted with looking at Harry and won't hear.

Malfoy turns back, and moves his wings in a complicated pattern. Then he says, "Harry, look at this."

Harry leans forwards, sighing a little. He will have to do something about the first name, because even if some of the rest of it's livable, that's definitely not. But he reckons he can oblige Malfoy this once.

Malfoy has his wings angled so the tips cross together behind his father's throat and the edges rest against it. Malfoy doesn't move, and there's no sign that it strains him to keep those wings aloft and that close and tense. Lucius is the one who half-stands on his toes, his throat working with what seems like an obvious effort to keep from swallowing. Harry watches him, and then looks at Malfoy. Does Malfoy want Harry to see how awful he can be even to his own father?

No. Malfoy watches him with those burning eyes again, and then reaches out and puts a hand on his arm, caressing him. It's no more than Hermione has done sometimes, but Harry still retreats a step. He doesn't want someone who can hold his father hostage touching him like that.

Malfoy drops his hand, but says, "If he threatens you, Harry, he's gone. I would tolerate his language and his threats against you if not for the fact that he has already tried to curse you. By that, he has gone further than I can tolerate. You need not worry about him again."

Harry blinks. "I wasn't really worrying about him," he says at last. "He was just-another part of my life. Just another enemy."

Malfoy turns his head with slow clicks and stares into Harry's eyes. Harry stares back, blinking. Malfoy looks as if that's a big deal to him, but Harry's not really sure why. So he doesn't think about Lucius as a serious threat. Does Malfoy assume everyone in his family should be?

"So you refrained from acting against him not because you wanted to spare the family shame, but because his threat didn't matter to you," Malfoy says at last, voice full of a strange rustling. "I should have guessed."

"It's not," Harry says, and stops and thinks. He responds to the rustling and the way that Malfoy's eyes leave him, although he shouldn't, right? Let the bastard suffer. But Harry doesn't want to.

"I didn't think about the papers," he says. "And you're right that I never thought of pressing charges. But I do take it seriously when someone tries to kill me. It's just that it's happened so often, I don't separate that one incident out from other incidents. Voldemort tried to kill me a bunch of times, too. He didn't succeed. Neither did your father. So it was something I could let go. And I didn't have any fear that it would happen again, because this time we were both on guard."

Malfoy takes a step towards Harry, moving so that he leaves his wings in place around Lucius's throat. "So my being on guard made some difference to you," he murmurs, and his fingers settle on Harry's shoulder as though he's handling a butterfly.

"Yeah," Harry says. "It made me feel safer. I would have had to move out of the Manor if I thought you'd approved it, because the wards and house-elves here obey you. They wouldn't have kept me safe."

Malfoy pauses, then gives him an almost-smile. "I can accept that," he says.

He turns back and lifts his wings delicately from Lucius's neck. "I would consider whose intervention bought this period of grace for you," he says, his voice as cold as ever. "If you persist in trying to hurt him, then my threat stands. Harry asks for your life, and I intend to give it to him. But remember that I need not do so."

Lucius tries not to rub his throat, but perhaps he can't help wanting to trace the thin lines of blood that remain there. In the end, he turns and goes up the stairs without another word. What else can he do?

"I'm not a damsel in distress," Harry says, when he's pretty sure Lucius is beyond earshot. "You don't need to protect me."

"But I want to," Malfoy says, and gives Harry a smile that has more edges than his wings ever could, no matter how he sharpened them. "And that means that you're going to get protected, and you should deal with it." He lifts his wings and flutters once, creating a downdraft that blows Harry's cloak off, and returns to the first floor. As he stands there, looking over the railing, he adds, "We could continue this discussion, but I know that you have to go to work."

Harry hesitates. For the first time since he took his leave of absence, he doesn't want to rush out of the Manor as soon as is humanly possible.

But he does have to go, and while Malfoy's smile is more inviting than before, it still has the edge. And they're never going to agree about how much protection Harry needs, not when he was defending himself successfully from Death Eaters at fourteen and he's an Auror now.

In the end, he turns and goes.

"Harry. How are you?"

Harry shifts his weight and then stops. He has no idea what to say, but he doesn't want to look as if he's going to piss. This is the first time he's firecalled the Burrow and got Ginny, but of course it was going to happen eventually. She's been better about this than he could have asked, not to shut down the Floo connection immediately. That means he has to man up, too.

"Ginny," he says, with an awkward bob of his head. "I-doing better than I thought I would, actually. Malfoy hasn't forced me to sleep with him or anything like that. How are you?"

Ginny smiles at him, though with the sheen in her eyes that makes Harry think she might default to tears soon. She clasps her hands in front of her and shakes her head. "Not as well as that," she says. "A lot of-thinking about it, and crying, and I'm still not playing Quidditch." She gives him a smile suddenly that makes Harry remember so many things they fly past his mind's eye like autumn leaves. "Bronwen says she doesn't want me on a broom until my mind is there, too."

"I'm glad," Harry says softly. "You should have the right to think about it. And-Ginny, I'm so sorry-"

"You couldn't have stopped it," Ginny says, quickly, to prevent him from saying words that, Harry only thinks later, might have hurt her. "If it had been something like you falling in love with someone else and sneaking around with them behind my back, then I'd have the right to be angry. But it wasn't. I know you wouldn't have gone with Malfoy if you had any choice."

"You have the right to be angry," Harry says. "Of course you do. It's just chance, nothing anybody did-"

"That's why I don't." Ginny sighs. "It would be easier right now, but it would make me feel worse in the end, and I really don't want to blame you, or even Malfoy. I want to maintain a friendship at least."

Harry swallows thickly. "Maybe someday. Not right now. I can't, Gin. Not yet."

Ginny nods. "I understand. Do you want me to go get Ron? Or Hermione, or whoever you were firecalling?"

"No." The last thing Harry wants right now is to talk to anyone. "It wasn't anything urgent. I'll call them later."

Ginny smiles at him and cuts off the Floo connection. The fire is as red as her hair for a moment, and Harry isn't entirely sure which one he's seeing. He keeps staring at the hearth long after it closes.

"You're still in love with her."

And of course Malfoy is here. Harry stands up with his back creaking and his spine cracking, and shakes his head. "Yes, I am," he says, not seeing why he needs to say more than that for Malfoy. They have a truce. As long as Malfoy doesn't say anything insulting about Ginny, he abides by it, but Harry would still prefer not to listen to anything he says about her, ever.

Malfoy moves closer. Harry wonders idly if he's getting used to the sound of his feet on the carpet or if the git's just not trying to be as quiet as usual. "I hope that I can earn that someday."

Harry glances at him in shock. Malfoy looks back at him, his eyes human for once. He does set his jaw and his neck when he sees Harry's expression, though. Apparently Harry shouldn't be shocked that sometimes Malfoy says things that can qualify him for Gryffindor.

"You shouldn't try," Harry says. "I'm not attracted to men."

"I said nothing about sleeping with me," Malfoy says. "I said something about being in love with me."

"One leads to the other."

"Not always," Malfoy says calmly. "For example, I know you spend time talking to your friends, laughing with your friends, and fighting beside them. But would you say that we're friends?"

Harry hesitates. Then he says, "No?" But the question hangs in the air, because he and Malfoy aren't allies-except possibly against being forced to do things by Lucius-and aren't enemies, and aren't mere acquaintances, and aren't co-workers, and aren't lovers. Either Harry has to invent a new word for what they are, because Malfoy doesn't fit into any of the categories that he knows and understands, or he has to admit him into the one category he never thought was possible.

"It might happen," Malfoy says. He looks calmer and sleeker than Harry remembers him since the day of the bonding, when most of his physical problems had begun to heal, but he also has a faint smile lurking along the side of his mouth, which rather ruins the bloodless image he usually projects. "Just don't count me out before I've begun. I'd like to be your friend. More than that, too, your husband in truth, but your friend first."

Harry hesitates again. To refuse Malfoy permission to try feels incredibly petty. And after all, if he doesn't think Malfoy will ever succeed, where is the harm in giving him the permission?

"All right," he says at last. "If you want to try."

"Thank you, I do," Malfoy says, and then leaves. Either he knows from Harry's emotions that it's the best thing he can do right now to further his cause, or he's trying to give Harry some time alone. A gift. Harry wonders whether it might not be both.

And whether someone who would do that, instead of pressing up close to him and insisting on sharing his personal space and time as he always assumed Veela would, is all bad.

"Won't you come eat dinner with us some night, Harry?"

Narcissa said that with fluttering eyelashes and an actual hand on his this morning, and that's why Harry is sitting in the main dining room now. It's a dining room big enough to hold a table fit for seven people, maybe, not the thirty or sixty Harry would have expected. The table is made of fine, polished mahogany, but it's not like he's upset to see that, not when it has actual color. The fireplaces around them are small enough to make the room feel cozy, and the windows look out over the gardens, as all of Harry's favorite ones in the Manor do.

Harry thought the Malfoys would serve some kind of weird dish in such high fashion that he wouldn't know what he was eating, but instead, it's duck in orange sauce, which even Hermione's made a few times before. And there's a salad, too, and some kind of rich ice cream for dessert. Harry leans back with the taste of vanilla in his mouth and is more than content.

Malfoy and Narcissa have talked throughout dinner, names of people Harry doesn't know and rumors of politics he doesn't care about leaping from mouth to mouth. Malfoy only spoke to Harry to ask him if he wanted more duck or tell him where he'd dropped his napkin. Now, though, he turns to him and says, "I know Weasley's favorite team is the Cannons, but I don't know yours. And I should. What is it?"

Harry raises an eyebrow at Narcissa, wondering if she'll be bored by Quidditch talk, but she's eating her own ice cream and says, "Mine is the Falcons, for the games they won when I was a girl. They made such a magnificent effort they should have gone all the way to the Quidditch World Cup the year I was seventeen."

Harry blinks and reassembles his thoughts. "I don't have a single favorite," he says at last. "I mean, I go to watch the Harpies play-I went to watch the Harpies play." He falls silent, staring at the far wall, and wonders if he'll ever again be able to watch Ginny swoop through the sky with the same emotions of pleasure and sidelong glee at watching her fans surge to their feet, cheering. They could do that, but she only ever belonged to him.

Malfoy doesn't leave the conversation lying in the middle of the floor, as Harry assumed he would. "But that was excusable because your wife was playing," he says, swirling one finger idly through the remains of the orange sauce. "You were afraid that favoring any one other team with your attendance could cause rumors to start?"

Harry nods, glad to find that he's so well understood. "Exactly. I do like watching the Wasps, and the Arrows aren't bad. I just have to make sure that I can turn my laughter at the Cannons into coughing that Ron understands."

"He probably hears a lot of it," Malfoy says, and meets his eyes, and smiles. "I'm sure he understands your coughing as-supportive, in its own way."

"Did you ever see Jacob Midgen, who used to play for the Falcons?" Narcissa sighs and looks at some distant past that, Harry has to think, probably wouldn't please Lucius. "Now there was a Seeker."

Malfoy counters with Viktor Krum, and Harry backs him up. Narcissa tries to describe some of the moves Midgen made that won her admiration, and Malfoy dismisses them all because he didn't play in the World Cup at seventeen. At least half the conversation is an argument between Malfoy and his mother over various Seekers, which becomes a discussion between Harry and Malfoy over whether Seekers really are the most important players on a team.

And when Harry goes to bed that night, if he isn't more happy than he was before, he's at least more comfortable, and able to admit that he can talk about Quidditch with Malfoy. That might not make them friends, but it gets them closer.

"I wish I had known before how much you liked roses."

Harry starts. He came out into the gardens to get away from Lucius's determined attempts to corner him with a book that's probably full of Dark magic, and found a single rose blooming in a glasshouse near the back of a long aisle of trees he's never gone all the way down. It's a pure, deep orange-red, not so much blood-colored as the color of a Chinese Fireball. Harry's lingered beside it for ten minutes, soaking in the hue and remembering a time he bought ten roses like it for Ginny on their first real Valentine's Day together.

"I don't, particularly," he says, and turns towards Malfoy with his hands in the pockets, ignoring the way Malfoy scans his face as if he can pluck the truth from Harry's eyes.

"Yes, of course, and you often stand there studying things you don't care for," Malfoy says. For a moment, a shimmer stirs next to his shoulders. If he had his wings out, Harry imagines, he would probably cross them behind him. As it is, he simply crosses his arms and lifts an eyebrow.

Harry glances away. He's not sure what makes him more awkward, Malfoy catching him caring about something or Malfoy caring what he cares about. "It's the color," he mutters at last, when the silence has stretched out well past the point of tension and Malfoy shows no interest in moving out of the doorway. "This place is all white and grey and silver and blue. I want something else. It wouldn't have to be Gryffindor colors. Green would be fine. But my room feels so cold, even with the fire blazing."

Malfoy blinks. When Harry turns back to him, he's doing it more than once, his eyes fluttering and twitching. Harry finds it as disturbing as he does when Malfoy's eyes go all shimmering and sliding, and scowls.

Malfoy stops at once. "Harry," he says softly, "if you had told me you wanted that, I would have done it. You have the right to ask for any decoration you like for your rooms."

"It's your house," Harry says, wondering if he's missing something here.

"But they're your rooms," Malfoy says. "Belonging to you. They still would even if our bond ended somehow, or you ended up moving out. They're yours for life." He sniffs. "It's obvious you've never lived in a proper house, if you've never had your own room, to yourself, that you could do what you liked with."

Harry's face heats up. Of course Malfoy can't know about the cupboard or Dudley's second bedroom, but yeah, between the Gryffindor boys' bedroom and the temporary, changing shelters of their year on the run and then the bedrooms he shared with Ginny, there's never been something like that.

"I've fucked up again, haven't I?" Malfoy pauses, and then says, "Sorry. This is-difficult for me. Even with the best will in the world, I still insult you sometimes."

Harry gives a little grunt and shrugs. "It doesn't matter," he says. "I can live in the rooms the way they are. I like them all right. And I'll stop complaining about them if you stop calling me Harry."

"That deprives us both of something we want, for no reason except that you feel it should happen," Malfoy says. "I propose a different bargain. You redecorate the rooms any way you want, and I keep calling you Harry."

Harry hesitates again. He's doing that a lot lately. But-

Who can it hurt, really? That's the thing. He and Ginny are separated for good, everyone keeps telling him, and he knows his friends don't want him to be miserable for life. Come to that, Harry doesn't want that, either. And he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life doing the same things, wandering through the library and the Manor gardens, feeling more like a ghost than someone who belongs here, and he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in rooms that look as though they've been hollowed out of the inside of an egg.

"All right," he says, and Malfoy smiles at him, and they walk back through the light snow to the Manor together.

His room feels a lot nicer with dusty golden paper on the walls and green curtains on the windows, and even some blue trim here and there-dark blue, nothing like the icy shade the Malfoys favor. And Malfoy approves everything he chooses, and sets the house-elves to making it a reality, and glows at Harry's side like a sun.

When Harry falls on his bed and laughs, spreading his arms out, Malfoy watches him with hunger he doesn't bother to conceal. But he makes no effort to touch Harry, just talks to him about possibly changing the colors in the bathroom, too, and Harry's never been so much in charity with him as when they go down to dinner together.

"But how are you, really?"

Harry hesitates. He's over at Ron and Hermione's house for dinner, their new house that they just earned enough money to buy, and he's had the tour of the back garden-"We have garden gnomes already, look!"-and the spare bedroom for guests and the kitchen that's the biggest room in the house, because Hermione is determined to beat Mrs. Weasley at cooking someday. So far, they've talked about ordinary things, and Ron's looked relieved that Harry doesn't have some tale of woe to spread. He's never been that comfortable talking about feelings, Ron hasn't.

But now it's his turn to do the washing up, so he's in the kitchen doing that, and Hermione's leaning forwards across the table to stare at Harry, and Harry shifts in his seat and wishes he hadn't drunk his champagne so fast, so he would some excuse to fiddle with his glass.

"I've been better," he says finally. That's true. He was better every day of his marriage with Ginny, for a start. "But it's helped, going back to work, and Malfoy doesn't try to act like a git every second now. We've had some-okay dinners together, and talked like friends."

"There must be more to it than that," Hermione says, staring intently into his face. "You're more relaxed and happy than you were six weeks ago."

"Well, yeah," Harry can't help saying. "Because six weeks ago, I was getting divorced."

Hermione sighs. "I know, but that's not what I meant. Six weeks ago, you wouldn't have made a joke like that. I thought you would do anything rather than get married to Malfoy-"

"Bonded to him-"

"Bonded, fine." Hermione shrugs, but still doesn't let his hands go. "I just wonder what made you less miserable."

Harry runs his tongue along the inside of his teeth, considering what to say. It doesn't always make sense to him, either, that he went from considering suicide to being indifferent to actually caring about his life again. But then, what else was he going to do? Brood in his room for the rest of his life? It's the same way he got over his grief for Sirius: it hurt, and it hurt, and it hurt, and eventually it reached the point where either he did nothing but yelp in pain forever or he tried to think about something else. And eventually he did come back to himself, and although he'll always miss Sirius, that's not the most important feeling in his life, or the most important loss, even.

Maybe he's not really a hero. Maybe he's more a survivor, and he's been that way from the time he survived the Killing Curse, and after a certain point, he always picks himself up again and decides he's going to live.

Yeah. That makes sense. That's what he chose when Dumbledore told him he had a choice, after all.

He tries to explain that to Hermione, and he thinks lots of things get tangled and lost, and at the end of the evening, he's not entirely sure she believes him. She might think it's just all a lie to make up for losing Ginny.

But he goes home with renewed confidence, and if Malfoy asks, Harry decides, generously he thinks, that he'll tell him.

"Happy Christmas, Harry."

Harry blinks when he unwraps his gift from Narcissa, the way he did when he saw that he had a gift from Narcissa. He got her something, of course, a scarf that was so pale a blue it looked white when he saw it hanging in the shop at Diagon Alley. And he got Malfoy a silver model of a phoenix that was in the same shop, because, why not? It would look tacky to have nothing for Malfoy on Christmas morning.

And maybe the phoenix's wings look a little like Malfoy's wings, when he extends them. Doesn't mean he'll make the connection or that Harry has to admit it.

But Narcissa got him a chess set. Harry touches the edge of the ivory box, carved with his name, that holds them, and wonders who he'll play with.

At the same moment, Malfoy rises smoothly to his feet across the room and walks over to Harry, who sits near the glittering Christmas tree (silver ornaments and pale fairy lights only, of course). He hands Harry a small box that makes Harry immediately suspicious. "If this is a ring," Harry starts.

Malfoy rolls his eyes, and if his smile is a bit strained, it's only a bit. "As though I would presume," he murmurs. "You've told me more than once how you feel about our marriage, Harry. No, this is something else, something that I think you'll find more than useful."

Harry stares hard at him, but neither Malfoy nor his smile go away, and Harry finally unwraps the present, deliberately tearing the paper (silver. Narcissa's was white). He finds it's a bigger box than expected, but all that means is that it might hold a necklace. Or one of the ridiculously huge bracelets that Harry sees some of the Malfoy ancestors wearing in their portraits.

He lifts the lid, and in it is a wand holster.

Harry's thought of getting one for himself, but he never has, and the one Ron bought for him last year turned out to be a joke from George's shop that would make his wand fly across the room whenever he wore it for more than five minutes. Harry lifts this one out and stares. It's made of supple, fine leather that has an almost savage gleam, and Harry knows without asking that it's dragonhide. He's never seen that used except for boots. Maybe it's different in wand holsters, or maybe this was treated differently, because it blazes warm against his fingers.

Harry turns the leather over, and impressed into it are flying figures: Seekers and Snitches.

Harry knows he's smiling in pleasure, instead of irony, and he knows that Malfoy can see it, and he doesn't have to be a Veela himself to feel the smugness practically radiating from him. For once, Harry doesn't care. This is a beautiful thing, and he's going to use it.

"Thanks," he says, looking up at Malfoy to give him his own smile.

Malfoy looks at him in a way that tells Harry his smile is a better gift than the phoenix, and Harry knows who he might play chess with.

It's the last day of the old year, and Harry sits outside in the Manor gardens, near the glasshouse where he found the rose. He sits on the snowy ground, because he can, and looks up at the stars. It's a piercingly clear night, and the only thing that clouds his sight of the constellations is his own breath rising up in front of him.

Footsteps crunch across the ground, heading towards him. Harry waits. They settle down beside him, and the sweep of a pale cloak disturbs the snow far enough that Harry can see dark earth for a moment before Malfoy covers it with his arse. Harry rolls his eyes. Of course. One can't have color around a Malfoy.

"What are you doing?" Malfoy's voice is soft, almost lulling.

"Stargazing," Harry answers in the same tone, and tilts his head further back, to demonstrate, in case Malfoy had his head up his arse for eight years of Astronomy at Hogwarts. Well, of course he did, he always did, but maybe he took it out sometimes.

Malfoy's silent for long minutes, long enough for Harry to start to feel comfortable again. Then Malfoy murmurs a Warming Charm, and it covers Harry in a rush, stopping the shivers he was barely beginning to feel.

He turns and looks at Malfoy, and finds Malfoy looking back.

There's pride in those gleaming eyes, and smugness, and possession. And uncertainty. He doesn't think of Harry as his all the time, because he can't. Harry still went and had Christmas dinner at the Burrow, and he was there all of Boxing Day. He's still never initiated a kiss with Malfoy. He still loves Ginny, and he knows part of him always will.

There's not much between them, not yet. But Harry is starting to think that someday, there may be, and that's not such a bad thing. And if this was never what he would have chosen, still, he knows that it hasn't taken away all his choices. He still has his friends. He still has his work. He still has his brilliantly colorful bedroom, and the small sitting room that Malfoy decorated for him five days ago, when he came home from the Burrow.

Home. Harry thinks about that, and decides it might fit. Maybe. This is sliding around him, still, like Malfoy's eyes when he's gone Veela. It doesn't always work. It doesn't always feel right. Sometimes, though, it does.

And he suspects those times will come more and more often as time passes. Harry is a survivor, not a hero. The heroic thing to do would be to fight endlessly to be with Ginny or die grandly when he was separated from her. But he's not like that, and he's found some pleasure and some companionship here.

"I want to give you a New Year's Gift," he tells Malfoy.

Malfoy blinks. "You don't have to," he says carefully. "The sitting room was something I wanted to do for you, not something you have to answer as an obligation."

That Malfoy can recognize Harry might not want obligations from him is as strange as it is wonderful, but Harry can think about that later. He has to say this right, or Malfoy won't believe him, and Harry wants him to.

"I know," he says. "This is really-a gift you wanted long ago, and one you've given me, and one I didn't want to give you back until now."

Malfoy's wings shimmer into being, but he keeps them high, stretched, his attention and his breath both fixed and still.

Harry smiles. "Draco."

And, as he leans forwards slowly, as slowly as a stalking heron, and Harry touches his lips in a dry, chaste kiss like a promise, and his wings fall and wrap around them, he is.

The End.