Previously: [It's all Draco can do to nod in reply, gripping the hand tighter in his.]


Harry refuses to back down from his workload despite mental and physical exhaustion. They're both on light duty, although Draco suspects that's largely because the department knows Harry well enough to know that if Draco is put on regular hours again, he'll demand them as well.

The department will settle for compromising with both of them on light hours. Draco, however, is not happy with this.

"No." His voice is deadly calm and even.

Harry, on the other hand, wears his agitation like a cloak. "I'm not infirm, Draco!"

"No, but you are exhausted, and adding stress on top of that will not help."

"I can handle this! I'm not some fragile butterfly, okay? You don't have to protect me all the time! I can take care of myself!"

"You can, but you do not believe in limits, Harry. You are human. That means that, despite what you seem to believe, you do have limits, even if you have yet to find them."

"I know my own limits!"

"Do you?"


Draco shakes his head. "I just can't let you–"

"No. No, no no. You do not get to… no. You don't get to let me do anything! You don't seem to understand that this is my life. You don't get a say!"

"You gave me a say the day you let me in. You don't have to do what I say, but you have to listen. This is not something you can just blow off, all right? The job we do gets very dangerous very quickly. If you are not at 100 percent or better, that's not just dangerous to you. It's dangerous to your partner, it's dangerous to the people you're trying to save, and it's dangerous to you."

"And it's the last one that concerns you," Harry says flatly.

Draco pauses for just a moment. "Yes. It is. Is that a problem? I'm not letting you go, all right? I just got you back."

"But that's exactly it, Draco. I just got back. And I can't… I can't be vulnerable, all right? I can't be useless, not even for a moment. Because they notice. I have spent every moment since I first entered this world being watched. They notice everything, Draco, and they write about everything. And if I ever, even for a moment, show that degree of vulnerability, then they've won. They've beaten me. And that can't happen."

Draco pulls in a breath. "Look… I know what it is to have to watch every single thing you do, to watch what impression you're making at every moment. It's even worse when they're in your house and you never get a moment to yourself no matter how hard you try. But… help me understand. Why does it matter if they win this battle? You've already won the war."

"No, I haven't. Don't you see? I never win, not really. I've beaten them, the ones that kidnapped me, but that doesn't mean I've won. I never win, because there are always more. No matter how many times I win, there are always more."

"You aren't fighting alone."

"No. But I still don't ever get a break from the front lines. This is what my life is. They never leave me alone, not ever. I never get a break, no matter how many times I tell them all that I want to be left alone, because I can't stop myself from helping people. This is what I do, what I'm good at, and I can't… I can't do anything else. But that means I'm never going to be able to escape the spotlight, and that means I can never stop running, can never stop looking over my shoulder."

"Everyone has demons."

"Not everyone's demons are quite so real as mine, I think."

Draco tips his head, conceding. "Perhaps so."

They never really settle anything from the original argument… but Harry goes to work every time the office asks and Draco stops fighting it, so in a way that is its own resolution.


Each time Draco is inside Harry's head, he learns more about what he is doing. He figures out that Harry can do more with teasing, but that he's also more likely to go over his own limits without noticing if he's angry. He learns that every time Harry figures out what he can do, he gets taller and more confident, growing from a little boy into a young man. He figures out how to escape Harry's mindscape gently, preventing the mental shock of the first attempt. He begins to learn the pathways of Harry's mind, seeing that there is some organization to it, even if most of it only makes sense to Harry himself.

Every time he visits, Harry is more reluctant to let him leave, though. This is concerning. Visions of mental dependency dance in his head. Harry slowly gets less vocal about it, but Draco can read a mental projection of Harry just as well as he can read the version in reality. Harry doesn't say it anymore, but he doesn't want Draco to leave.

It's enough to make Draco want to stop going, but Harry cannot heal his mind without assistance, and Harry refuses to stop the reconstruction process when he knows they are making so much progress.

Draco consults textbooks. So does Hermione. They both agree that it could easily become a problem, if it isn't already one now, but they can't seem to figure out exactly what they are supposed to do about it. Especially since Harry refuses to stop, and Draco cannot stop when he knows that Harry so adamantly doesn't want him to.

So he continues, shoving his worry to the back of his mind, far away from his mental projection in Harry's mind. He watches the boy grow as the room begins to slowly take actual shape around them. Conjuring turns out to be even more difficult than rearranging the walls or recoloring things. Building things from a base of literally nothing and simply imagining them into existence does not come naturally for Harry. He gets frustrated easily. There are sessions when they make no progress at all by the time Draco determines that Harry is too tired to continue. Harry exits this sessions tired, moody, and furious at Draco for stopping when Harry insists he could have gone on.

Hermione always hovers over both of them, and even Draco knows her well enough by now to realise that she is going mad over lack of control. She hates not being able to do anything to help them, forced to just watch and hope that everything all turns out all right. She monitors their sessions because it makes her feel useful, even though they both fully acknowledge that she would have absolutely no idea what to do if something were to go visibly wrong. It is, Draco realises eventually, something he and she have in common. They both chafe under inactivity and uselessness.

Waters has started up work again, which is quite comical. He can't quite seem to decide if he should leave the kid (whose name is now Tyler, apparently) at home or bring him along to work. Depending on the day, they either get Waters so worried about what's going on at his home that he's practically vibrating, or they get Waters with a moody tagalong. Tyler, for his part, appears quite fond of Waters, surprisingly. Draco doesn't ever ask, but he assumes Waters must have done something to prove himself to the kid. Prove that his intentions were good, and prove his own competency. From their brief acquaintance, Draco can already tell that Tyler values competency above pretty much everything else there is. If anyone could impress such a lifelong cynic that he was competent, it's Michael Waters, Draco thinks.

The pair are actually a surprisingly good fit together. Waters seems a little less like some part of him is missing when Tyler is around, like maybe some hole has been filled. Tyler looks like… well, he doesn't look good, considering he did still spend somewhere around fifteen years in slavery, but he looks markedly better than he did the day they picked him up. He looks like he might eventually give the rest of the world a chance to prove itself to him. He's still selfish and skittish and… damaged, but then, Draco thinks, who among them isn't? They are Aurors of a generation that lived through at least one war, many of them two wars. Maybe Tyler's scars run years deeper, but it isn't like there's a single one among the Force who doesn't know what it is to live with wounds. They are no strangers to pain.

And maybe that's why the Force seems to work for him. Because they know how not to pry, they know how to tread carefully, and they also know how to treat someone like a human being no matter how wounded he may be. Because they've all been there, at one point or another.