Author's note: This is for Ari, who won a fic from me in a fandom aid auction so, so long ago and has been incredibly patient. A huge thank you to Venivincere and SouthernBets for betaing it for me. My Potterverse fluency was pretty rusty. *g*
This is also my last fanfic—I'm writing original M/M fiction now as Bru Baker. Look me up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or through my publisher, Dreamspinner Press. Fandom has been an amazing place to develop as a writer, and I'm so grateful to everyone who has left me a review or concrit over the years.
I'm Bru_Baker on Twitter, and you can find excerpts of my books and WIPs, plus blog posts and other extras, on my website.
This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
IT took three passes down Inconsequent Alley for Draco to find the dusty broom shop the Healer at St. Mungo's had recommended to him, which only served to make his already sour mood worse.
"You'd think the shopkeeper bloody well didn't want the place to be found," he muttered darkly to himself as he opened the door.
"Yes, well, most of our business is owl-order, at least to start with," a chipper voice answered, making Draco flush with embarrassment at being overheard. "The owner prefers to be off the beaten path, as it were."
"In the market for a custom broom?" the diminutive dark-haired woman asked, her dimples flashing as she smiled broadly, showing Draco she hadn't taken offense at his comment.
"Obviously," Draco snapped, annoyed both at the situation and at himself for letting it get to him.
"Let's start again," the witch said, crossing the small shop and offering him her hand. "I'm Nell. Welcome to Pennipotens. Can I help you with something?"
Draco accepted her hand like the lifeline it was, taking it gracefully and pressing a polite kiss to the back of it before bowing slightly. It obviously surprised her, and she tittered at the formal gesture.
"Draco Malfoy. And yes, I am in the market for a custom broom," he said, regaining some of his composure. "I have some rather unique needs. I was hoping to speak with Mr. Pennipotens about commissioning a broom."
Nell giggled softly, and Draco felt his irritation return. If he hadn't been so desperate to speak to the man about the broom, he would have given it up as a bad job and just left.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Malfoy," Nell apologized, instantly contrite when she saw his frown. "There is no Mr. Pennipotens. The shop name is a bit of a joke. Pennipotens is Latin for 'capable of flight'. The owner thought it was clever, I suppose."
Draco grimaced. He probably should have realized that, but he'd been distracted lately.
Nell whisked him to the back of the musty shop, pushing him through a door and into another room before he could protest. He blinked owlishly in the sudden light, surprised to find himself in a large, sunny conservatory surrounded by lush foliage. His head was still spinning slightly, but he allowed himself to be gently nudged into a wrought iron chair.
"Permeo spell on the doorway," she said apologetically, Conjuring a tea service with a flick of her wand. "Lemon? Sugar?"
Draco looked around incredulously, wondering where they were now. He'd known the broom shop catered to wealthy patrons, but he'd had no idea it was exclusive enough to be able to garner one of the few Ministry permits for the high-level transportation spell.
"Two sugars, please," he said, quite at a loss for how to act. He accepted the cup of tea she thrust at him, his expression bewildered as his gaze wandered. The conservatory was a herbologist's dream, filled with rare specimens of trees and plants that were obviously thriving in the magically controlled atmosphere.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Nell trailed a hand out to caress the leaf of a Screetchsnap plant, which preened a bit under her touch, its stalks leaning toward her for more. "The owner prefers to do business here, since it's absolutely vital that customers feel relaxed during their consultation. The entire process is built on the customer's relationship with the wood that the broom is crafted from, so it really is necessary to be in a more inviting environment."
Draco's brow furrowed at her words. The entire operation seemed a bit cloak-and-dagger to him, not that he particularly cared what the owner got up to as long as the brooms the shop made were top-notch. The Ministry still scrutinized every move he made, though, which forced him to exercise a bit of caution in terms of who he associated with.
"Why have the shop off Diagon Alley, then? Why not locate it somewhere more to the owner's liking?" he asked, settling back in his chair.
Despite his reservations, he could already feel himself relaxing, thanks to the soothing sound of a waterfall somewhere further back in the conservatory. He also detected the faint fragrance of Alihotsy in the air, a small smile settling on his lips when he located the violet-colored blooms nestled in a bed nearby. He doubted that was a coincidence; though ingesting the bloom caused hysteria, it was well documented that the scent had effects similar to those of a mild Calming Draught.
"The owner is a very private man," Nell said, squeezing a wedge of lemon into her own tea and taking a sip. She sighed quietly, allowing herself a moment to inhale the citrus-scented steam before placing the cup back in its saucer and turning her full attention to Draco.
He started slightly when he realized her eyes, which he'd previously thought to be brown, were a stunning shade of violet, not unlike the Alihotsy blossoms. Nell grinned unselfconsciously, obviously quite used to reactions like his. She brought her hand up, running a finger over lightly pointed ears.
"Part elf," she said, violet eyes twinkling.
Draco wasn't sure how to respond and felt a bit embarrassed for being curious, so he merely nodded and took a sip of tea.
"So, Mr. Malfoy," she said, curling her legs underneath her as she settled into her own chair and pulling a Muggle notebook out of her robes along with a self-inking quill. "You're in the market for a broom?"
DRACO bounded up the stairs in a few long strides, arms already outstretched to catch the small body that hurtled itself at him the moment he came into view, just as he'd known it would.
"Oof, easy now," he grunted, making a show of being winded by the assault despite the fact that he could easily carry his burden. He buried his face in shockingly pink hair, breathing in the scent of freshly bathed child. His heart clenched at the familiarity of it, reminding him how close he'd come to losing the boy in his arms just two days before.
"What did you bring me?" the child demanded, rifling through Draco's robes to find the treat he knew would be hidden there somewhere.
"Who says I brought you anything, you greedy little monkey?" he teased, laughing when the squirming boy he still carried in his arms sprouted a tail.
"None of that for awhile, remember? Left pocket," he said, sighing in mock exasperation as a small hand closed around the chocolate frog he'd stopped to buy on his way home from Pennipotens. He dumped the now tail-free brown-haired boy on the sofa, keeping one eye on him as he shrugged off his outer robes and tossed them over the wingback chair by the fireplace.
"Mind the chair, Draco," Pansy said, fixing him with a cross glare. "It's a collector's item."
Draco dropped onto the sofa, his long legs sprawling out in front of him.
"While that may have been true six years ago, I think you'll find the market is quite saturated with items of its pedigree now. I'm afraid that drives prices dreadfully low," he said, laughing when Pansy launched a throw pillow at him. He caught it easily, tucking it under his head and sighing contentedly.
"Just because the Ministry sold off most of the treasures from the Manor doesn't make it any less valuable, you oaf," she said. She frowned at the chair in question. "I never have liked it. Your family had frightful taste."
"Aunt Pansy, Nana Molly says you—"
Draco slapped a hand over the boy's mouth before he could finish the sentence, knowing full well what the Weasley matriarch thought of Pansy. The two women couldn't stand each other, and he honestly didn't want to know what Mrs. Weasley had been saying about Pansy."Aunt Pansy didn't mean it, Teddy," he said, shooting a meaningful look in Pansy's direction. "Now, how about you tell me what you did today?"
NELL sat perched on an empty table, her feet swinging to the repetitive beat of metal against wood. Shavings as thin and delicate as parchment fluttered around her, jostled by the movement of her legs. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the faint scent of banana that permeated the small work room.
"I'm hungry," she said, craning her neck so she could see the man hunched over the slender piece of wood that was just starting to take on the shape of a broomstick.
Nell wasn't offended by the silence that followed. She was so accustomed to the surly attitude of the man she'd been working with for the last three years that she frankly didn't notice the lengthy pause. She knew Harry well enough to know that he wouldn't answer her until he'd finished whatever detail he was carving.
She leaned forward, watching as his strong hands confidently wielded the sharp blade, whittling the peach-hued wood with deft flicks. The small, sure motions were almost hypnotic, soothing in a strange, unquantifiable way. She loved hanging out in the work room for just that reason.
Finally satisfied with the slight curve he'd carved into the body of the broomstick, Harry turned, fixing Nell with a green-eyed glower.
"Get your shoes off that!" he snapped, wiping the thin sheen of sweat off his brow with a swipe of his arm. The room was stifling, since most of the materials he worked with were at their most malleable in warm, humid environments.
"It's a pile of wood," she scoffed, removing her feet.
"It's a pile of wood, she says," he muttered, shaking his head. "I should tell your uncle you said that. Let him come down here and set you straight."
Nell rolled her eyes, tucking her hands under her thighs and swinging her feet again. She knew the indolent pose would annoy him, and annoying Harry was one of her favorite hobbies.
"Fine. It's driftwood. Mermaid harvested, knowing you and your snobbish penchant for rare woods," she said, casting a critical eye over the porous, sun-bleached wood. "Obviously dry-cured, probably for a good month or two."
Harry nodded, bending to rifle around in the small cold cupboard he'd installed under one of the work tables. It wasn't unusual for him to get so caught up in crafting a broom that he didn't leave the work room for hours on end, so he made sure to have snacks and drinks on hand. He grabbed a Butterbeer for each of them and then, remembering what she'd said earlier, an apple for Nell.
"Any idea what I'm using it for?" he asked, popping the top off her Butterbeer and handing it to her, along with the apple.
"Well, it's too lightweight, not to mention magically unstable, to be broom wood." She paused to take a bite of her apple and study the piece of wood thoughtfully.
"Is it?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest as he lounged against the table she was still perched on.
He shook his head and pushed off from the table to crouch next to the driftwood. She hopped off the table and followed, running a hand over the wood. It felt like silk, smooth from years of being battered around on abrasive sand.
"No, you're right. It's too unstable to be made into a broom. It wouldn't stand up to the weight of the rider. But," he said, winking at her when she huffed in frustration, "I'm experimenting with using it as a core."
She nodded, eating her apple and listening to Harry detail how he planned to use the wood. She loved the way his eyes lit up when he talked about his craft. He'd gotten the inspiration to use cores in his brooms to help focus the rider's magic, much like her Uncle Ollivander used them in wands. Harry's innovative approach, not to mention the intricate charms infused in the materials, had made him the stuff of legend in the broom making world, even without his customers knowing their brooms had been crafted by the great Harry Potter. She respected that; he'd shunned his fame, choosing instead to let the quality of the brooms speak for itself.
He was so excited about his latest venture that she was loathe to interrupt, but it was nearing the time for the wards to shut down and she still hadn't accomplished what she'd originally slipped into his work room to do. And since she didn't fancy being stuck there as an unwilling overnight house guest—something that happened often enough Harry actually had a room for her, filled with a few changes of clothes and toiletries—she knew she had to jump in with her news.
"We had a potential client come by today," she said, knowing that would snap Harry out of his thoughts. As much as he loved making brooms, he hated interacting with his clients. Unfortunately, in a business as personal as making customized brooms, it was necessary.
She also knew how badly he'd react to this particular commission. Nell didn't know a lot about Harry's past. Most of what she knew, in fact, came from the history books and unauthorized biographies that had been written about him in the years since the war had ended. What little personal information she'd gleaned from him over the years had been hard-won. Still, she did know why he'd retreated from the wizarding world, installing himself in this remote cottage that was blanketed with more protective wards and charms than the Ministry of Magic itself. What she didn't know, however, was why he'd felt the need to completely close himself off from the people he'd considered his closest friends, disappearing from the wizarding world without a trace nearly seven years earlier instead of turning to them when he needed help."Oh?" he asked absently, busy with gathering his tools from his bench as he tidied up for the night.
It would have been hard to find a witch or wizard in Britain who hadn't heard of Harry Potter, but the few who'd met him as the owner of Pennipotens had no idea that's who he was. He'd even had a few clients—Oliver Wood, for one—whom he'd known rather well. The conservatory, the only place he ever met face-to-face with clients, was cloaked in heavy duty secrecy spells that had been placed there by a team of Unspeakables when he'd opened the shop. The web of spells protecting Harry's identity were so tightly woven that it would take a supremely powerful witch or wizard—or someone Harry had known intimately—to be able to see through them and recognize him.
"He was interested in buying a broom for a young boy. His son, I believe," she said, keeping a cautious eye on Harry, who was still puttering around his work bench. "I think you know him. Draco Malfoy?"
Harry's hand clenched involuntarily around the blade he'd been cleaning, the razor sharp edge slicing through his palm. He hissed in pain, blood welling to the surface as the abandoned knife clattered to the ground.
Nell tutted quietly and grabbed the kit filled with potions, salves and bandages Harry kept on a shelf next to the door. Her heart clenched at the pain on his face, knowing instantly that she'd be spending the night after all. His hand she could heal easily, but the raw emotion she'd glimpsed in his eyes at the mention of Draco Malfoy's name was another story altogether.
DRACO sank into the plush chair, his weariness finally overtaking him. He hadn't had a proper night's sleep since before Teddy's accident five days ago. There was only so much potions could do, though he'd made liberal use of Pepper Up—not to mention the Calming Draughts Pansy had slipped him in the cafeteria at St. Mungo's the day Teddy fell from his broom, breaking three bones and puncturing his lung.
"You should fill that prescription for Dreamless Sleep the Healer gave you," Pansy said sharply, startling Draco.
"I can't. I need—"
"To be able to wake up if Teddy needs you in the night. I know. You've said so the last three nights, and he hasn't once woken up," she said, a light reprimand in her voice. "I'm willing to stay again tonight, you know. If you'd actually take the potion."
He shook his head. Pansy had been here since he'd brought Teddy home, but he couldn't keep her from her own home any longer. He could tell the stress of Teddy's accident and subsequent diagnosis had taken a heavy toll on the eight-months-pregnant Pansy. There was no way he'd let her endure a needlessly sleepless night, and he knew her husband Anthony planned to come take her home by force if necessary—with Draco's help.
"No, no. Go home. You've been a wonderful help, Pans, but you should be resting yourself," he said, standing in an effort to look more chipper and awake than he was. "You're right. He'll be fine. I'll Floo the apothecary and get one of my assistants to bring me the potion. I promise."
She looked at him for a long moment, finally shaking her head and reaching into her satchel to withdraw a phial of amber-colored potion.
"You must be tired if that's the best lie you can come up with, Draco," she chided, pressing the bottle into his hands. "That's a mild sleep aid. Blaise brewed it this afternoon. It's just to calm your mind long enough to fall asleep. You'll be able to hear Teddy if he needs you."
Draco opened his mouth to protest, but stopped when he saw the concerned expression on Pansy's face. He'd accept the potion and pour it down the drain. She'd never know.
"Sure," he said, pressing a kiss to her cheek and escorting her to the Floo. He knew if he didn't see her off himself she'd find an excuse to stay, and he truly was worried about her.
"You won't stay up too much longer, will you?" she asked, her hand already in the pot of Floo powder.
"I'll just lock up, then I'll head straight up," he said, meaning every word.
He always did a thorough check of the wards before bed, so that wasn't a lie. And he had a pile of paperwork sitting on his nightstand to go through, so he would head upstairs as soon as she left. He was working with Neville Longbottom to try to breed a new variety of aconite that would be easier to grow, thereby making it cheaper to produce. The amount of paperwork the Ministry required for such things was mind-boggling. It would be worth it, though, if they succeeded.
Aconite was one of the main ingredients in Wolfsbane Potion, and the prohibitive cost of the rare plant made the potion inaccessible to many werewolves. Breeding a cheaper variety would do wonders for the potion's cost, he hoped. Draco brewed and provided it at cost to any werewolf who needed it, funded by the exorbitant prices he charged for the line of cosmetic potions he'd perfected. The general public had no idea that his apothecary even carried Wolfsbane Potion, let alone sold it for a fraction of the cost that other brewers did. Draco didn't do it for recognition; he did it for Teddy. It wasn't clear whether or not Teddy would need the potion himself after puberty, but Draco had dedicated himself to the cause as soon as the boy had come into his life.
Draco made his rounds as soon as she stepped through the Floo, knowing it was unnecessary to check the wards but always feeling better for having done it. Bill Weasley had set them for him, knowing that Draco's knowledge of ward charms wasn't great, and Draco would always be grateful that Teddy had an extended family who cared for him enough to ensure his safety, even if they'd initially been skeptical about Draco taking custody of him.
It felt odd to call the Weasleys friends, but they were. After his parents were hauled away to Azkaban, his Aunt Andromeda had rather forcefully taken Draco under her wing. Part of his parole stipulated that Draco had to live under a form of house arrest for three years, and she'd been the only suitable adult to step up and offer to take him on. He couldn't stay at Malfoy Manor by himself under the terms, so he'd had no choice but to accept her offer and move into her house in Devonshire.
It had seemed like the end of the world at the time, but Draco had settled into life with his aunt and Teddy well. She'd been nothing like the ebullient woman in the few memories he had of her before his mother had cut ties with her sister. Grieving for her husband and daughter had taken a deep toll on Andromeda. Still, she'd gone to great lengths to bring Draco into the family, and that included forcing him to get to know the rest of Teddy's family—which included the Weasleys.
Three years of house arrest under his Aunt Andromeda's wing had meant three years of family picnics and Sunday dinners with the people she considered her adopted family. It had been awkward at first, but over the years Draco had come to like and respect all of the Weasleys, with the possible exception of Ron. Draco had even made peace with Harry Potter, who Draco had come to realize was an honorary Weasley just like Andromeda. They'd become friends, spending a lot of time together toward the end of Draco's probation. At least, until Harry's disappearance.
Draco's house arrest had ended the year before Harry's disappearance, but Draco had been comfortable living with Andromeda and Teddy, so he'd stayed. Malfoy Manor was technically Draco's, but it was cold and lonely there without his parents, who were serving life sentences in Azkaban. He toyed with the idea of moving back to the Manor, but he'd enjoyed Teddy and Andromeda's company too much for that. He'd even been going along with Teddy when the boy visited his the Burrow.
His unlikely friendship with the Weasley family was one of the reasons he was experimenting with the aconite; Bill and Andromeda had started a werewolf support organization after the war, and Andromeda had insisted he join the board as part of his rehabilitation. He'd done so grudgingly, but the potions work was fascinating and he'd fallen into it easily.
Draco sighed, kicking off his shoes as he settled into the comfortable chair nestled into a small alcove in his bedroom. After Harry had disappeared, documents had surfaced detailing the inheritances he'd left for Teddy, including Grimmauld Place. Andromeda had chosen to remain in her own home and leave Grimmauld empty, but after her death Draco had reclaimed the house when it had become clear that he was Teddy's next of kin. His aunt's death had been sudden, leaving her no time to designate a guardian for Teddy. Draco liked to think that she'd approve of Teddy living with him in the absence of Teddy's legal guardian, his godfather Harry.
As the hour grew later, Draco became uncomfortably aware of the ticking of the clock beside his bed. He hadn't said anything to Pansy, but the last few sleepless nights hadn't just been because of Teddy's accident. They'd also been because the late-night visitor he'd become so accustomed to feeling breach the wards a few times a week hadn't come since Teddy's stay in St. Mungo's. He'd hoped it was simply because Pansy had been staying over and the visitor hadn't wanted to risk being found out if she happened to check on Teddy in the night, but the lack of visit yet again made him wonder if something else had happened.
Draco rubbed his eyes, setting the parchment he'd been studying aside. It was after 2 a.m., and the sleek black jaguar would have already been and gone by now if he'd been coming. He stretched, strolling down the hall to look in on Teddy before retiring to bed himself.
HARRY paced the conservatory restlessly, tension radiating off him in waves. Nell had tucked herself into a cozy spot underneath a birch tree they were growing to harvest wood for a broom for the Kenmore Kestral's first-string Keeper. The man had been injured in a game a few months ago and was on the disabled list until the Healers could regrow the majority of the bones in both of his legs. The team's owner had commissioned the broom as soon as the Healers had said they expected the Keeper to make a full recovery.
She let her back rest against the warm trunk of the tree, marveling at how quickly it was growing, thanks to the potions and spells she and Harry plied it with. It would probably be ready for harvest in another month, which was a good thing, considering it would take Harry another month on top of that to craft the broom. The new Quidditch season started in three months, and the tight schedule wouldn't give the Keeper much time to become acclimated to his new broom.
The Floo chimed twice, startling her and making Harry stiffen with awareness. He tilted his head, apparently processing the intrusion, and then resumed pacing with the feline grace Nell so dearly loved to watch. As a wizard, Harry was handsome. In this form, though, he was feral and dangerous in addition to being gorgeous. His Animagus form was everything he was as a man, but amplified. She laughed when his head tipped up, his nose scenting the air. She shrugged when met with a green-eyed glare, knowing he'd sensed the shift in her mood. She'd made a move on him once, shortly after her uncle had introduced them. His rebuff had been surprisingly gentle, but it had stung nonetheless. Years later, she laughed at the idea that she'd ever thought them compatible. She hadn't ever known Harry to take a lover in the years she'd worked for him, though she was certain there had been something between Harry and Draco Malfoy before Harry had retreated from the world.
The Floo chimed again, this time a singular note. Though Harry's wards closed the Floo and the portal to the store every day at 7 p.m. sharp, they did allow for messages to come through. She knew he'd initially been against even that, but the Ministry insisted that anyone who lived in Gramary Muir be part of an intricate network of Floo warnings. The Scottish moorland was prone to unique magical bursts and conditions that only existed in remote areas that had never supported Muggle life. The warnings that chimed through the Floo at all hours were essential to staying safe in the isolated, Unplottable chunk of Scotland Harry had chosen to build his home on.
Nell relaxed, grateful that the danger had passed. That particular warning tone was for Geal Smoch, a magical mist with the ability to almost instantaneously cause hypothermia in any human—or animal—that had the misfortune to chance across it. The mist, known as Freezing Fog to the few non-native magical folk who had settled in Gramary Muir, materialized with little to no warning and could disappear just as quickly. It was one of dozens of things on the moors that could kill a hapless passer-by who didn't follow the stringent rules the Ministry issued for anyone traveling or living in the area. The anti-Muggle charms that blanketed Gramary Muir and the half dozen or so other heaths like it in Great Britain kept away all but the most determined non-magical visitors.
She glanced at her watch. Almost dawn. The wards on the Floo and the portal would open again at 7 a.m. She'd have time to dash home for a phial or two of Pepper-Up Potion before returning to open the shop at 9 a.m. Of course, she could step outside the wards and Apparate, now that the Geal Smoch had passed, but she hated to leave the relative safety of Harry's home. In the comfort of the large conservatory, it was easy to forget the harsh moorland that surrounded his house. Harry insisted it was safe if you knew what you were doing, but Nell didn't like to chance it. The only time she ever agreed to wandering the moors was during the late summer when the heather bloomed, and even then she never let Harry out of her sight.
Nell looked out the window into the darkness, knowing that even if it had been light out, she wouldn't be able to see much. Harry had no close neighbors, and he kept the place Unplottable. Its exact location was known only to four people: herself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, a Healer with the Unspeakables and Charlie Weasley.
She sighed, resuming her watch over Harry. She knew he was mostly happy with the isolated life he led, but she couldn't help but wish his virtual hermitage in Gramary Muir was by choice and not necessity. Of course, from what she knew of Harry's history, his life had rarely been about choice.
"CAN I have chocolate chips in mine?"
Draco looked over his shoulder at a pink-haired Teddy, who was perched on a stool at the counter. The Healers had proclaimed him well enough to go back to school today, and Draco had spent the last twenty minutes dashing around the house finding homework and shoes and other miscellany that had somehow found its way out of Teddy's backpack in the week he'd been off classes.
"Sure," Draco said, flicking his wand at the cupboard to Summon the bag. He sprinkled a few over the pancakes that were cooking on the range.
"You remember what Healer Gary said about school, right?" he asked as he slid the pancakes onto Teddy's plate.
"'Absolutely no flying'," Teddy parroted, digging into his breakfast with a gusto that Draco found reassuring. Surely if he was that hungry, he had to be on the road to a full recovery.
"And you're to keep your Metamorphmagus shifts to a minimum," Draco chided, merely shrugging when Teddy glared at him. "No shifting until we're certain your bones are healed. That's final. If I can't trust you on this, you won't be going to school."
Teddy grumbled into his pancakes, his hair turning bright blue in protest.
"Teddy," Draco said, his tone laced with warning.
"That was hair, not bones," Teddy answered, rolling his eyes with all the annoyance an eight year old could muster.
"Teddy," Draco said again, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the counter.
"Daaaad," Teddy whined. He kicked at the table leg sullenly. "Fine."
Confrontation averted, Draco focused on making his own breakfast—a pot of tea that he spiked with half a phial of Pepper-Up Potion. He'd gotten a few hours of sleep the night before, but nowhere near as much as he needed to make up for the sleepless nights that had preceded it.
It still gave him a bit of a jolt to hear Teddy call him dad, although the boy had started calling him that more than three years ago. He'd initially put up quite a bit of resistance—Remus was Teddy's father, and Draco didn't want to try to take his place or belittle his memory—but he had eventually caved to the irrefutable logic of a determined five year old. In Teddy's eyes, a father was someone who took care of you, who loved you and kept you safe. And so Draco had accepted the title with belated grace, being careful to keep the memory of not only Remus, Tonks and Andromeda but also his errant godfather Harry, alive for his adopted son.
"Five minutes," he said, carrying his cooling cup of tea into the sitting room so he could drink it as he gathered the paperwork he'd need for this morning's visit to St. Mungo's. He had just enough time to bundle Teddy through the Floo to school before he needed to leave.
HARRY looked up at the tiny dot circling overhead, pleased that the broom was handling so well. He'd been at work on that particular piece for well over a year, experimenting with charms and potions that would enhance the natural fire retardant properties of the alder the broom had been carved out of, making it the ideal wood for a dragon ignored the tight feeling of regret and jealousy that always formed in his chest while watching a client test-drive a broom. It was the ultimate irony: a natural-born flier with a gift for crafting exquisite brooms, who could no longer fly himself. That part of his life was over, and he had come to terms with it. Most days. But today, watching Charlie soar through the clear blue sky, the unfairness of the life fate had saddled him with seemed particularly fresh.
He'd managed to banish his melancholy thoughts by the time the red-headed dragon keeper gracefully swooped back to earth, landing smoothly in the grass a few meters in front of him.
"She handles like a fucking dream," Charlie gushed, running his gloved hand over the satiny finish of the alder.
"Of course you'd decide your broom was female," he said, rolling his eyes.
Charlie's lopsided grin grew, his brown eyes taking on a playful glint.
"I ride it. It doesn't ride me," he purred, running his hand up the handle suggestively. "Ergo, it's a she."
Harry laughed. Charlie's teasing words burst through the last of the hard knot inside him, making him feel truly at ease for the first time in over a week.
"God I've missed you," he said, stepping forward and letting Charlie pull him into a rough hug.
Long minutes passed before Harry worked up the strength to pull away, resting his forehead against Charlie's cheek.
"So. The broom?" he prompted, hoping Charlie wouldn't ask what had Harry so upset.
They'd been lovers once, years ago before the true extent of Harry's condition became known. Harry had been the one to call things off, to put the rules in place that they were following now. Charlie, with his attraction to all things dangerous, would have happily taken the risk, but Harry didn't want to chance losing anyone else he loved. Besides, Charlie had never been more than a casual shag—someone to satisfy an urge with because Harry couldn't have the person he really wanted. Harry had been honest about it and Charlie had been more than willing, but even now Harry felt guilty whenever he thought about it, feeling like he'd used Charlie unfairly.
Charlie stooped to pick up the broom from where it had fallen, dusting off the handle and cradling it against his body.
"The broom is phenomenal," he said, his playful grin returning as they started reviewing its performance.
DRACO unbuttoned his collar, feeling slightly better when the late summer breeze slid over his skin. It had been stifling in the Healer's office, surrounded by artificial light and the musty, institutional smell he'd always associated with visiting his parents. He shivered slightly in the warm afternoon sunshine, remembering the terror he'd felt when he'd gotten the emergency Firecall that Teddy had fallen from his broom at school and had been rushed to St. Mungo's. Even now, knowing Teddy was healthy and well, the remembered fear made his stomach churn.
The Healer's words echoed in his mind as he walked aimlessly down the sidewalk, trying to process what the man had told him. There had always been indications that Teddy's magic was different, but Draco had chalked it up to being the child of a Metamorphmagus. Turns out, he'd been right that Teddy's magical quirks had been due to his parentage, but he'd been wrong about which parent had caused them.
Draco looked up, surprised, when he realized his wandering had led him straight to the Leaky Cauldron. So much of Teddy's condition was uncertain, but the Healer had been positive that with the proper accommodations, Teddy could lead a fairly normal wizarding life. The broom Draco had been inquiring about was just the first step, and apparently his mind had been on that. He'd visit Pennipotens again today and order it, he decided.
He entered the pub, nodding politely at Tom as he made his way by the bar toward the entrance to Diagon Alley. The custom broom would be an exorbitant expense, but it would be well worth it. According to the Healer, Teddy shouldn't even exist. The virus that infected werewolves usually prevented them from reproducing, but somehow Remus—or, the Healer had theorized, Tonks and her flexible genetic make-up—had been able to circumvent that, resulting in what Healer Gary had called a miracle pregnancy. The problem was that Teddy's magic was unpredictable. Though he had no outward manifestations of his father's werewolf genes—he wasn't affected by the full moon, and silver had no effect on him—his magic was some sort of hybrid between the already-rare Metamorphmagus abilities and the slightly enhanced power a werewolf possessed.
Teddy had been riding the school brooms for several years during recess, but apparently the closer he came to his magical puberty—which hit most children at nine or ten—the more his magical quirks were manifesting. Unfortunately for Teddy, that meant that the standard-issue Beech broom he'd flown with no problems dozens of times suddenly reacted poorly to his own magical field, bucking wildly and causing the eight year old to fall more than three meters and break more bones than Draco wanted to remember.
Healer Gary said things like this would continue to happen as Teddy came closer to his magical puberty, and the worst part was, there was no way to determine what might cause a reaction. Draco's heart clenched, his chest tight with worry. He wanted Teddy to have a normal life, but how could he send him to Hogwarts knowing he could have a horrible reaction to a spell or potion ingredient at any time? Granted, he was several years from having to worry about it, and the Healer had been hopeful that Teddy's magical quirks would stabilize before then, but the thought of rushing to St. Mungo's again to be by Teddy's bedside tore him apart.
Draco paused briefly before opening the door to Pennipotens, which was much easier to find this time around. The Healer had said this was the only way Teddy could fly safely, and Draco was determined to give him at least that much normalcy. But the cost of the broom, which they hadn't even broached yesterday, was going to put a significant dent in his vault. He'd sunk most of the Malfoy money into his greenhouse venture. While he was by no means hurting for money, dropping what would likely amount to a full year of the salary he drew from the greenhouse business would seriously reduce the amount he'd been saving for the expansion he'd been planning.
Still, he would hand over everything in his vault without hesitation if it would keep Teddy safe and happy. Decision made, Draco pushed open the door.
CHARLIE poured himself another glass of wine, tipping the bottle toward Harry's glass, head cocked.
"No, thanks," Harry said, waving him away. He'd already had two glasses, and a third would likely make him forget why it was a bad idea to kiss Charlie. It wasn't that he was pining for Charlie—he wasn't. But he missed the closeness of intimacy with another person, and he knew how well he and Charlie fit together.
"So you were saying you have a client you're worried about?" Charlie prompted, taking another drink."The wards only work if the person doesn't actually know me well, and I think this person might be able to see through them," Harry explained, absently pushing a piece of broccoli around his plate. "I don't want to chance a Glamour, either. What if my magic surged and I did myself permanent damage?"
Charlie barked out a laugh, leaning across the small table and chucking Harry under the chin teasingly.
"That would be a shame," Charlie murmured, his pupils dilated from the wine.
"Charlie," Harry protested, pulling back from the slightly inebriated man's grasp. "You know—"
"I know," Charlie sighed, sinking back into his own chair. "I wish I could give you what you needed, Harry."
"I know," Harry said, his fingers itching to touch Charlie, just to comfort him. But he knew it would lead to more, and that wouldn't work. Harry's magic never accepted Charlie, and their attempts at forcing it to had been disasterous. Harry's hand tightened around the goblet of water he'd been drinking in lieu of wine for the last half of the meal, wishing for possibly the thousandth time that anything about his life could be normal.
"They're still looking into it," Harry said, his lips tilting into a wry grin, remembering the last time he'd had sex with Charlie. They'd been in a windowless room at the Ministry with half a dozen Unspeakable researchers behind a mirrored window, observing the magical storm that resulted.
Charlie nodded. "Well, if they need more data," he said suggestively, his preternaturally positive attitude rearing its head again.
Harry laughed, once again ridiculously grateful for Charlie's sunny outlook on life. Without it, he doubted they could still be friends after the hardships they'd faced. He still found it miraculous that Charlie didn't blame him for the mess they found themselves in. Of course, it helped that though they shared deep affection and undeniable sexual chemistry, they weren't in love with each other. If they had been, the researchers had told him, Charlie might have been able to help his degenerating magical condition.
"Maybe that's not a bad thing," Charlie said, the playful twinkle in his eyes gone. "I know you think you're doing everyone a favor by hiding yourself away, but anyone who knows you well would understand. You disappearing has eaten Ron and Hermione up, Harry."
Harry shrugged uncomfortably. His life was an isolated one, and while loneliness was one result, so was a sense of safety. Only a handful of people knew where he was, and so long as that was true, he could limit the damage his unstable magic could cause.
"I didn't just up and disappear."
Charlie snorted. "You really thought leaving them notes that basically said 'I know what I'm doing, don't try to find me, it's for the best,' would make things okay?"
Harry bristled. "I send them letters every month, Charlie."
The hurt in his voice seemed to take the wind out of Charlie's sails a bit, and he slumped in his chair, waving his wine glass in Harry's direction before placing it on the table. "I know. I'm sorry. Too much to drink, I'm starting to get maudlin. I know why you did it, I just think you didn't have to exile yourself so thoroughly. Maybe this person coming in to Pennipotens is fate telling you that you need to open yourself up a little and start telling your friends the truth."
Harry nodded silently, his heart still racing at the thought of burdening yet another person with the secret that had driven him into hiding three years and two months after the war ended. He'd seen all the speculation his disappearance had caused over the years—he still subscribed to the Daily Prophet and the other papers, though he'd deny it if asked—including the ridiculous "Harry sightings" over the years, where readers had written in with tips that they'd seen him any number of places. His favorite was the witch from Cambridge who swore he'd been a nude dancer in a Muggle club she and her friends had gone to for a hen party. Charlie and Kingsley had teased him about that for months.
Any of those outlandish stories was better than the truth, though. He couldn't help but think that his secret would be easier to share if it really was that he moonlighted as a stripper.
"I guess I'll deal with that if the client recognizes me," he said, watching morosely as Charlie used his wand and cleared the table.
"I'LL be gone most of the day," Draco cautioned, tucking a peanut butter sandwich into Teddy's lunch box. "You'll go home with Rose. Aunt Hermione will pick you both up from school."
Teddy nodded. It wasn't unusual for him to go stay with Aunt Hermione, Aunt Pansy or even Nana Weasley after school, since his dad was often busy in the lab or away at potions conferences and consultations.
"I should be back by dinner. We'll pick up something on the way home, yeah?"
Teddy nodded again, his mouth full of the sugary cereal he'd begged off his father that morning. Draco had caved, always giving in on mornings like these when he knew he wouldn't be there for Teddy to come home to after school. Pansy said Draco needed to find a nice bloke to settle down with, but he didn't see that as a possibility, not at the moment, at least. His first priority was Teddy and his business, and after that, any spare time, of which there was precious little, was usually devoted to his Wolfsbane potion experiments.
"Can we get chips?" Teddy asked hopefully, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
"Maybe," Draco said, handing him a napkin.
"Do you have a meeting today?" Teddy asked, hopping down from the bar stool and taking his bowl to the sink.
"After a fashion," Draco said, not looking up from his task of sorting through Teddy's book bag to make sure he'd finished his homework.
"St. Mungo's again?" Teddy asked, his voice wavering a bit.
"No, nothing like that," Draco said, forcing a bright smile. "Healer Gary said you're all fixed up for the moment. We won't have to go see him again for another month or so."
"OK," he said with a shrug, grabbing his bag from his dad and bounding toward the Floo.
DRACO'S appointment at Pennipotens wasn't for another hour, so he used the time to check in with a few of his regular clients around Diagon Alley. George had put in an order for a few rare powders Draco was certain he could find when he went on his next potions ingredient buying trip China, and two of the apothecaries he regularly supplied had increased their standing orders, meaning he'd have to spend at least part of the coming weekend in the lab brewing. It was a good thing, though; his reputation as a purveyor of quality potions was growing, and if things kept going at this rate, he'd be able to hire someone to do the books and take care of the sales calls for him. He'd dearly love to offload those responsibilities, since he'd never felt truly comfortable with those aspects of the business.
He tucked the wizarding comic book George had given him for Teddy into his robes, his long legs hastening toward Inconsequent Alley. It was his first meeting with the owner, and he didn't want to be late. He'd heard that the broom-maker was an irritable, impatient man, and he didn't want to give a bad first impression and risk him denying the commission.
Draco had been disappointed not to be able to start the process when he'd stopped in the day before, but Nell had patiently explained that the owner was out with another client testing a broom and wouldn't be back before the end of the day. He'd sensed a bit of hesitancy as she'd scheduled today's appointment, but he'd brushed it off. It was a broom shop; surely the owner wanted new customers? Draco was used to getting a tepid welcome at best because of his reputation. It was almost a bit refreshing to be dealing with someone who treated him poorly as a matter of course, not because he gave a fig who he was.
"Mr. Malfoy!" Nell said warmly as he opened the door to the dusty shop. "Let me just ring the owner and let him know we'll be coming through."
"Please, call me Draco," he said, grinning when she blushed slightly.
"I'm sorry," Nell said, taking a small handful of Floo powder from a ceramic pot on the mantle. "Most of our customers insist on formality. Why don't you look through the catalog while I Firecall? I'll just be a minute Mr.—er, Draco."
Draco laughed, accepting the catalog she shoved into his hands and wandering as far away as the tiny confines of the shop would allow to give her a bit of privacy for her call. He flipped through the glossy pages, admiring the spectacular craftsmanship. Quidditch was one of the few indulgences he allowed himself, both playing on a weekend pick-up team and keeping his box seats for the Kestrals. He recognized a fair few of the custom brooms in the pictures. The owners' names weren't listed, of course, but he'd seen most of the brooms enough to be able to pick them out. It made him a bit more nervous about what Teddy's broom would cost him, knowing that most of the Quidditch elite used Pennipotens.
"He's ready for you," Nell said, startling Draco out of his daydreaming. She cupped his elbow, guiding him toward the familiar door at the back of the shop. "Usually I go along, but he's asked to meet with you privately. Good luck, Draco."
Draco had a brief flash of anxiety at her words, wondering why he would need luck to get through a meeting with a broom-maker. He opened his mouth to say as much, but the retort died on his lips as Nell pushed him through the portal and he found himself face to face with a person he'd never thought he'd see again.
"Draco," Harry said, inclining his head politely. He had his hands clasped behind his back, but his posture was rigid, his eyes full of worry and caution.
"Harry," Draco murmured. He felt breathless, like all the air had been sucked out of the room. He stood there staring dumbly, too startled by seeing Harry so unexpectedly to know where to start.
"Are you alright?" Draco finally asked, gathering his wits.
Harry smiled slightly, shrugging his shoulders.
"I mean, obviously you are, you look fit," Draco babbled, a rare blush creeping up from his collar when he realized what he'd just said. "Not that you didn't, or don't usually—bollocks."
Draco took a deep breath, struggling to find his composure. It was unnerving to be so completely thrown.
"What I meant was, you haven't been by to see Teddy for more than a week. I was getting worried."
Harry's eyes widened at the other man's words, his jaw falling open in shock.
"But, how did you—I've always—"
"You've a beautiful Animagus form, by the way," Draco said, enjoying having the upper hand once more.
When Harry said nothing, Draco stuck his hands in his pockets, fidgeting slightly.
"I left a hole in the wards for you, after Teddy and I moved to Grimmauld," he explained, tracing a crack in the flagstones with his toe. "It's technically your place, anyway. And I never believed that you'd just disappear like that without good cause, no matter what everyone else was saying. I knew you'd be back to check on your godson. So I left the hole for you. And you came."
Harry seemed to wilt at that, like he'd been prepared for Draco to yell, to accuse him of being selfish, to storm out—every reaction but the one he was faced with now: acceptance.
"So. You make brooms, eh?" Draco said, sensing Harry's distress. "It's not a surprise, I suppose. You're a brilliant flier, and you used to carve those amazing figurines. I still have the chess set you made me."
Draco didn't tell him that the chess set in question had never been used to play the game, since Draco had been worried about hurting the delicate wood carvings. It sat on his dresser, untouched save for one of the knights, which Harry had carved in his own likeness. He had used most of their friends for the pieces, casting Draco as the king and Luna as the queen. On nights he couldn't sleep, Draco had taken to absently playing with Harry's knight, using it almost like a worry stone while working through problems in his mind. As a result, the finish on that piece was satiny smooth, and Draco had wondered more than once if the real Harry's skin would feel the same.
"I don't fly anymore," Harry said, his voice a bit hoarse.
"No? That's a shame. You were gorgeous in the air," Draco said, smiling slightly. "Gorgeous out of the air, as well. But we're not here to reminisce about my unrequited crush, are we?"
Draco's starkly honest words startled a laugh out of Harry.
"Not unrequited. But yes, you're here for a broom for Teddy."
Draco nodded, mortified at how loose his tongue seemed to be and scared to open his mouth, lest he confess to something else, like the fact that he'd often wanked to thoughts of Harry over the years.
"Truth spell," Harry said, smirking slightly. "A mild one. I find my customers don't always answer the questions I pose truthfully, sometimes because even they themselves don't know the honest answer. Since the brooms I make require absolute compatibility between the components I use and the rider, I've found it's easier to coax the answers out of people with the help of the spell."
Draco nodded again, still blushing with embarrassment.
"I'm affected, too," Harry offered. He blinked like he had finally realized they were still standing just inside the doorway, and he motioned for Draco to come along as Harry followed the winding path through the conservatory. "It didn't seem fair for me to be immune. It's part of the reason the owner of Pennipotens has such a reputation as a snarky bastard."
Draco laughed, his mortification easing slightly. The sense of fair play sounded a lot like the Harry he used to know, as did the irritability. It was something Harry had hid from most of the world, but his closest friends had often felt the sharp side of his tongue.
"The spell will lift as soon as we go into the house," Harry said, steering Draco past an arboretum. "Nell and I grow all our own materials, including trees. All the ones we safely can, that is."
"Impressive," Draco said, still as overwhelmed by the diversity of plants and trees as he had been on his first visit.
"Especially for someone who never excelled that much at Herbology?" Harry teased, smiling when Draco tried to protest. "Nell's the green thumb, not me. I just tell her what I need her to grow."
Harry stopped when they reached an elaborately carved oak door. He pressed his palm against it, pausing to wait as a rune appeared, glowing brightly before disappearing.
"I had someone come by earlier to write you into the wards. Pretty nasty stuff there for trespassers," Harry explained, going in first and holding the door open so Draco could follow. "Actually, I didn't think we'd make it this far. I expected you to flee seconds after stepping through the door."
"I'm made of sterner stuff than that," Draco said with mock affront. "Besides, that was before you realized I'd known about your nocturnal visits for years. If seeing a gigantic black jaguar sitting on Teddy's bed in the dead of night doesn't send me running, not much will."
Harry laughed, showing Draco into a comfortable sitting room that was very obviously where he spent most of his time. Stacks of newspapers and books were piled up beside the sofa, which was over-sized and strewn with pillows and blankets. What looked like the remains of his lunch sat on a tray on the floor, and Harry grimaced, hurrying to grab the tray and slide it out of sight behind a large plant.
"Er, sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"You've seen my house," Draco said with a grin. "I'm not going to complain about a little mess."
Harry rolled his eyes.
"You live with an eight year old boy. The fact that the house is still standing is a testament to your parenting skills." Harry's jaw tightened at the mention of Teddy, and Draco could see the grief in Harry's eyes at missing out on so much of his godson's life.
"I know you'd have stayed if you could have," Draco said quietly. "I don't blame you, and neither does Teddy. Fuck everyone else."
Harry looked so caught off guard by Draco's vehement words that Draco wanted to gather him up and hug him, but he didn't think that kind of contact would be appreciated. They'd been touchy-feely before Harry left, but everything was different now.
"We grew up, Harry," Draco said. "God only knows what drove you into hiding, but whatever it was, I trust your judgment. I don't need to know your reasoning to know you did whatever you thought was necessary."
Harry blew out a breath, the tension in his shoulders easing.
"Yeah. It was." He stepped out of the way, letting Draco fully come into the room and closing the door behind him. The frame glowed slightly before fading, showing that the wards had automatically reset. "Come on in."
Draco followed Harry deeper into the room, not hiding his curiosity as he looked around. It was messy, but in a lived-in way. The haphazard decorations and comfortable furniture looked like they suited Harry. Draco felt oddly at home there, not unlike the way he felt when he visited the Burrow with Teddy. Harry's house and the Burrow were about as far from his childhood home's aesthetic as possible, which might be why he felt so comfortable there. Draco had never really understood the concept of home being an inviting place until he'd moved in with his Aunt Andromeda.
"It's not much, but it suits me. I don't get many visitors," Harry said dryly, and Draco laughed. He was glad to see that Harry's sense of humor didn't seem to have been hurt by his isolation.
It was remarkable, really. For someone who lived in relative seclusion and was isolated from his friends and family, Harry seemed well-adjusted and sane. Draco wasn't sure he would be if he was the one in Harry's shoes.
"I have a workshop in the back. It's where I spend most of my time," Harry said, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. Draco knew that was a sign that Harry was feeling inadequate, a remnant of his childhood.
"I don't need a tour," Draco assured him. Harry's posture relaxed a bit, and Draco had a small internal celebration for saying the right thing.
He'd imagined having a conversation with Harry often, so Draco had a stockpile of witticisms to make Harry feel at ease. He also had a pile of recriminations and insults, but those had been from the darker times when he missed Harry so much it hurt, or when he'd been up all night with Teddy and exhausted.
"Have a seat. I'll get us something to drink and then I want you to catch me up on what you and Teddy have been up to. Charlie gives me as many updates as he can, but he's not at the Burrow much, so it's all second hand from the Weasley gossip chain."
HARRY Conjured some tea as he and Draco chatted, the enormity of what he had just done not hitting him until he'd already poured a cup. He looked down in wonder at the tea, then over to the now neatly-stacked piles of newspapers and folded blankets.
"Oh my God," Harry whispered, sitting back heavily on the sofa before his knees gave out.
"What?" Draco asked, his brows furrowed in concern.
"The tea, the spells—Draco, I don't do magic anymore. Not casual magic like this. Every spell I use is the result of careful concentration. I limit it mostly to my workroom, so if something goes haywire I don't end up blowing up the house. But the tea, the cleaning spells—I just did those without thinking."
Draco moved forward, laying a hand on Harry's shoulder like he was trying to calm him, but Harry shook it off.
"I—you don't understand," Harry said, almost giddy. "You don't understand. I did those things without giving them a second thought!"
Harry jumped up, falling to his knees in front of the Floo. He grabbed a handful of powder, tossing it into the flames and calling out Charlie's Floo address before the flames had even settled.
"Charlie, I just Conjured tea. And cast a Cleaning Charm in the sitting room. And it's still standing. Charlie, Charlie I—"
"I'm coming through," Charlie said abruptly, barely giving Harry enough time to step back to make room before striding through the Floo into the room.
"Have you taken anything, Harry?" Charlie bent to examine Harry's pupils, like he was worried perhaps he was having a hysterical reaction to a potion or plant. "Are you alright? Hurt?"
Harry shook him off.
"Charlie, listen. I straightened up the sitting room with spells, and nothing exploded! I Conjured tea, and it worked. I even felt the wards adjust when we came through—"
"The wards?" Charlie said suddenly, his head snapping up.
Draco gave a small wave from his seat across the room, still obviously confused by what was happening.
"Draco," Charlie breathed, his eyes widening.
"I don't know what's wrong with him," Draco said, his voice full of worry.
"It's Draco," Harry confirmed, his face split by an enormous smile. "It's Draco. It has to be."
"I have to be what?" Draco asked, his concern creeping into alarm.
Harry laughed, drawing Charlie's attention back to him.
"There's some Calming Draught in the kitchen," Charlie said, nodding over his shoulder to show Draco where to go. "Could you fetch it? The blue bottle."
"Of course," Draco said, bolting from the room. He found the kitchen easily, rifling through cupboards until he found Harry's potions stash. He grabbed the blue bottle, hesitating before opening the cold cupboard and fishing out a can of soda, too. Calming Droughts were horribly bitter, and it usually helped to chase them with something sweet.
WHEN Draco returned to the sitting room, he found Charlie and Harry huddled together in an obviously intimate pose, with Charlie's forehead resting against Harry's as they held a murmured conversation. Draco cleared his throat, uncomfortable about intruding on what was clearly a private moment and also torn with jealousy over Harry having that sort of intimacy with Charlie.
"Take this, Harry," Charlie said, holding his palm out for the phial. Draco dropped it into his large hand, unsure whether he should remain or leave now that Charlie was here and quite obviously had control of the situation—whatever the situation was.
"Let me get him up to bed and I'll be back," Charlie said, waving the soda Draco held out away. "These knock him out. He won't need that."
Draco nodded, placing the can on the table and sinking back into the chair he'd been in earlier. He hoped to hell Charlie was able to fill in the blanks, because he had absolutely no idea what was going on, other than that it was quite possible he'd just seen Harry Potter have a nervous breakdown.
He waited an excruciatingly uncomfortable twenty minutes for Charlie to emerge from upstairs, long enough for Draco to have second-guessed himself roughly a hundred times, going back and forth between leaving and staying. In the end, his curiosity and concern for Harry won out, though he'd indulged in quite a bit of non-invasive snooping while he'd been alone.
He respected Harry's privacy too much to go poking into drawers and cupboards, but Draco figured that anything that was left out in the open—like the books that filled the dusty shelves in the corner to the brim and the scattering of magazines and papers on the end tables—was fair game. As was his general observations about Harry's home, like the fact that it seemed to be wired for electricity, unlike any wizarding home Draco had ever been in.
"He's sleeping," Charlie said, his voice hushed as he entered the room and collapsed on the sofa across from Draco. He leaned forward, grabbing the now-warm can of soda, and popped it open, drinking most of it in one go.
Draco waited, knowing that by not initiating the conversation, he'd make Charlie anxious and more likely to open up and tell him things to fill the awkward silence. He cocked his head slightly, watching Charlie as the other man visibly debated with himself over what to say.
"No one can know that he's here," Charlie said in a rush, and Draco nodded. Someone had obviously taken great pains to hide Harry away here, and since Harry seemed to be a willing accomplice to that, Draco would respect his privacy.
"Of course. I'd prefer to take an oath, if you don't mind. I wouldn't willingly spill any of Harry's secrets, but if you're going to share them with me—and I hope you are, because I have a lot of questions and Harry seems to think that somehow my presence sparked something in him—then I want to take measures to protect them."
Charlie looked taken aback by Draco's suggestion, and Draco had to forcefully hold back a sneer. Draco had served his time in punishment for his crimes and was now, according to the Ministry, completely rehabilitated. Most of society, however, seemed to think he'd been able to hide something from the Ministry-appointed Mind Healers and wardens who oversaw his probation. It hurt a bit to realize that Charlie, who Harry obviously held in high esteem, felt the same way. He was the only member of the Weasley family that Draco hadn't really met, since Charlie was always away in Romania.
"I'm sorry," Charlie said. "I just—you aren't at all what I expected."
Draco inclined his head stiffly, gratified when Charlie responded by holding his hands out, palm up, and bowing his head slightly as well. It was an old wizarding tradition that had largely died out, but it seemed the Weasleys educated their children in antiquated rituals like most Pure-blood families did. Draco wondered what his grandfather Abraxas would think to see a Weasley offering formal contrition to a Malfoy.
"I know you have no reason to trust me, but I need to beg a favor. I was supposed to be home in time to pick Teddy up for dinner, but that seems unlikely now. Would you unward the Floo so I can get a Firecall through to Hermione? I won't tell her where I am or who I'm with. We can do the oath first if you'd like."
Charlie looked at him for a long moment before raising his wand, but instead of pointing at Draco's heart, like the oath required, he pointed it at the fireplace and muttered a quiet spell.
"I don't think an oath will be necessary. Besides, if Harry's right, you'll need to be able to speak about him when you go in to meet with his Healers. Kingsley would be the one to administer an oath, anyway. He did all of the rest of ours."
Draco sat forward, concerned. "His Healers? Is he ill?"
"Something like that. Make your call and we'll talk after. Do you want tea or should I get us something stronger?"
Draco would have dearly loved a shot of Firewhisky, but he wanted a clear head. "Tea, please."
"I'll be back in a moment. Go ahead and call Hermione."
Charlie disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Draco gaping at him. Draco couldn't believe that Charlie was willing to trust him just like that, but he was grateful. He made his Firecall quickly, and even though he could tell that Hermione was dying to ask questions about where he was and why he wasn't coming home, she held them back when he assured her what he was doing was important.
Draco talked to Teddy for a moment, his heart clenching when he thought about what Harry's reappearance could mean for him. Teddy missed Harry; Harry's absence was palpable at times. Draco felt it most when he and Teddy watched Kestrals games from the Malfoy family box. Harry was the only other person he'd ever taken there.
When Draco eased back from the fire, Charlie was sitting on the couch. A tea service was laid out on the table, and Draco was grateful that Charlie seemed to realize he needed a moment to compartmentalize and calm himself before they started talking. By the time Draco had poured himself a cup of tea and settled into the wing chair across from Charlie, his Malfoy mask was firmly back in place.
"Harry's had trouble regulation his magical energy since the war. I don't think he really noticed it until a few months after everything settled down, and it was small stuff—a spell to light a candle sending the flame higher than he expected, a Lumos brightening an entire room instead of just one lamp."
Draco was glad Charlie wasn't mincing words, but he hadn't expected him to launch into his explanation just like that. It took him aback, his careful control of his emotions slipping.
"He wasn't joking when he said he only cast spells in his workroom in case he blew something up, was he?"
Charlie frowned, shaking his head. "No, he wasn't. We've warded his workroom with extensive dampening spells to help prevent that from happening, but it's a possibility. It's why he doesn't work unless Nell is at the shop or here—just in case he needs someone to help him if he gets into trouble."
Draco took a breath, trying to imagine a life where he couldn't rely on his magic. His wand had been crippled for the first six months of probation, allowing him to cast only the most basic spells that he'd need for daily life. That had been horrible, and he'd been ridiculously grateful when the sanctions had been lifted and things had gone back to normal. It was a wonder that Harry was still sane.
"He started seeing a Healer about it, I don't know, I guess a few months after that. They tried everything—several new wands, changing his casting hand, treatments to stabilize his magical core, more potions than I even knew existed. He even met with a Mind-Healer for awhile, in case it was a manifestation of all of the stress and trauma of the war. Nothing worked, though. It kept getting worse."
Draco searched back through his memories of Harry, furious with himself that he hadn't had a clue that Harry was going through any of it. He did remember several times when Harry canceled plans at the last minute because he was ill and a few stays at St. Mungo's for illnesses that were never actually explained. Draco had just figured that, as someone who was intensely private, Harry wanted to keep the reasons to himself. He realized now that he'd been right, but he'd never imagined the scope of what Harry was hiding.
"He stopped casting around Teddy right around when the restrictions on my wand were dropped," Draco said quietly. "I always thought it was just his way of helping me celebrate getting my magic back by letting me do all the charms. I even teased him about it, telling him he was just getting lazy in his old age. Merlin, I'm an arse."
"That didn't bother him. He wanted people to think that, Draco. He tried not to cast in public or around other people because his magic was so erratic. Don't feel bad about not noticing—he didn't want anyone to notice. He was ridiculously careful."
Draco wanted to ask about Harry's Animagus ability, since it took a lot of magical control to transform, but he didn't know if Charlie knew Harry could do it or not. For all he knew, Charlie and the others who helped him build this sanctuary for Harry didn't realize that Harry could leave, and Draco didn't want to jeopardize what little freedom Harry had.
"So he's been tucked away here ever since?"
"Not for the entire time. He used to come out to visit me on the Reserve every few months, but even that's been hard for him lately." Charlie shook his head when an alarmed look crossed Draco's face. "No, he isn't degenerating further. He's pretty much stopped all magical use, anyway. It was the panic attacks. He was always afraid he might hurt someone accidentally if something startled him and he reacted by casting."
For someone who'd used his magic in battle situations like Harry, that wasn't an inconsequential fear, Draco guessed. Harry's reflexes, both magical and mundane, had always been sharp.
"The dragons are creatures of pure magic, so he couldn't have hurt them. Plus we keep the Reserve covered with dampening spells to keep them a bit tamer, so that helped Harry, too."
"Are you two dating?" There wasn't a way to ask that wasn't blunt, and Draco's inner Slytherin was cringing at the brash question. Still, he wanted to know. He needed to know. He'd been in love with Harry for years, and now that he'd been let in on Harry's secret, there wasn't any way he was walking away from it unless Harry wanted him to.
Charlie flushed. "No. We were together for a bit, after his diagnosis, but only as a friends-with-benefits kind of arrangement." Charlie glanced toward the stairs with a rueful look. "Not that I'd protest if he wanted more, but he didn't. We're great friends, but that's all we'll be. I always knew there was someone else he was in love with."
Draco held his tongue, wanting to press for more details but knowing that Charlie would be more willing to talk if Draco didn't say anything. A few more beats of silence passed before Charlie started up again.
"His magic acts out when he's intimate with someone. It was small things at first, but it became a lot more dangerous. It didn't scare me, but Harry didn't think it was worth it. I know he couldn't bear it if he hurt someone, so I didn't press it. Besides, it was never anything that serious to him. He'd already fallen for someone. I always knew I was just a stand-in."
Draco's throat went dry. He was almost afraid to ask. What if the person that Charlie was referring to washim? No matter how much he loved Harry, he didn't have Charlie's bravado. Draco had Teddy to think about—he couldn't play fast-and-loose with his own safety. Teddy depended on him.
"That must be lonely for him," Draco said, still not sure if he should mention Harry's nightly visits to see Teddy.
"It is. But he pours himself into the shop, so he has that. And Nell and I stay over every so often, making sure he's eating and taking care of himself. He isn't sequestered in the house—there are magical moors all around here, and he wanders out there often. I like to think that he isn't desperately unhappy."
Draco didn't like to think of Harry wandering around on desolate, dangerous moors for fun. Everything about Harry's situation made his heart ache.
"Is there any hope for a cure?"
"The Healers think that Harry's magical core is damaged. His only chance of it stabilizing is finding someone compatible enough to get a transplant from."
Draco opened his mouth to respond, but Charlie cut him off. "I know, people would line up and fill Diagon Alley for the chance to help the famous Harry Potter. But his magic is very picky—that's why it acted up when he and I fooled around together."
"Does he know who his magical core would be compatible with?" Draco had an idea of the answer, given what had happened with Harry accidentally casting spells earlier. He didn't want to jump to any conclusions, though.
Charlie looked him dead in the eye, his mouth drawn. "Now he does. You. I knew that the two of you were very close before he left and I always figured you were the one he was hung up on, but I had no idea that his magical core agreed. I doubt Harry knew, either."
Draco stood, energy thrumming through him. "What are we waiting for, then? Do you have the incantations? What do we need to gather for the transplant?"
Charlie held a hand out and shook his head. "There's more to it than that, Draco. It's a very dangerous thing, a core transplant. Core instability is rare, but transplants are even rarer. Most people prefer to live with the symptoms of the instability than risk the ramifications of a transplant. Even if a person finds someone their core is compatible with, which isn't easy, something like a quarter of the recipients don't survive the transplant. And even if they did make it through, their magic was changed forever. The transplant is almost like a bond—sharing pieces of your magical core ties two people together. It isn't as simple as just giving Harry some of your magic. It's not something to jump into lightly."
Draco balled his fists at his side, frustrated. "So we'll research it and find out where those people that died went wrong. The Healers wouldn't have suggested it if they didn't think it would work, would they?"
"A few of the donors have died as well, Draco. That isn't a chance you're likely going to be able to convince Harry to take," Charlie said gently.
"Well, I'm bloody well going to try."
Charlie offered Draco a tired smile. "Good. But it's not something we can tackle tonight. How about I show you up to Harry's room so you can get some sleep?"
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think we should ask Harry about that first?"
Charlie laughed. "Trust me, he's not going to kick you out of bed. Besides, I think it would be good for his magic to have you near. I'm going to take the guest room, so it's either his bed or the sofa for you."
Draco looked down at the lumpy sofa, wrinkling his nose.
"That's what I thought."
HARRY woke up surrounded by warmth. It was a foreign feeling—the house was heated by the large fireplace downstairs, since he hadn't been able to get Muggle contractors out to put in any sort of non-magical furnace. Charlie and Kingsley re-upped the spells on it often, but it couldn't compete with the damp, cold air on the moors. Harry had gotten used to sleeping in layers and piling blankets on the bed—and still waking up freezing at least nine months out of the year.
This morning he was luxuriously comfortable in his blanket cocoon, though. Harry stretched languidly, jolting with surprise when his hand met with firm, smooth skin. Harry turned over, his eyes widening as he realized someone was in bed with him. He scrambled for his glasses on the nightstand to confirm that the blob in front of him with blond hair and pale skin really was who he thought it was.
"Draco?" he muttered, shivering as he sat up, blankets pooling around his waist. The air was just as cold as it usually was in the mornings; clearly Draco's body heat had been what had been keeping it at bay under the covers. Harry had to admit that it was very nice way to wake up to.
Draco didn't stir as Harry shuffled around, propping himself against the headboard and pulling the sheet up to wrap back around him. Harry's mouth was dry and his head faintly throbbed, which he knew meant he'd taken a Calming Draught. He used potions sparingly these days, since their effects were never quite predictable anymore. What had happened? Why was Draco in his bed?
The door creaked open and Harry looked up. Charlie padded in, coffee in hand. Harry took it from him as Charlie perched on the edge of the bed.
"You probably don't remember much of yesterday evening, do you?" Charlie said quietly, leaning in so Harry could hear him.
"I remember I had an appointment with Draco and I figured he was going to be able to see through the Glamour, but no. I don't remember anything after that."
It was a testament to how turbulent Harry's life was that missing an entire evening from his memory wasn't something that got him worked up. It was par for the course in Harry's world, unfortunately.
"He did see through the Glamour. And then you brought him home and started casting spells."
Harry's mouth dropped open. He scrambled over, closing the small distance between himself and Draco so he could peel back the bed clothes, examining Draco for injuries. If he'd been casting spells, there was no way that Draco hadn't been hurt.
Draco mumbled and shifted, burrowing further into the blankets and away from Harry and the cold air. Charlie grabbed Harry's hands, letting the quilt fall back around Draco.
"You didn't hurt him. You cast wandless, instinctive magic, Harry. And it worked."
Harry stared at Draco's sleeping form, at a loss for words.
"I told him to sleep in here. But it was safe, I promise. I cast dampeners and a monitoring spell, just in case."
That explained how Charlie had materialized so quickly after he'd woken, Harry realized.
"That's a little creepy, you know."
Charlie gave him a toothy grin. "Well, it was a win-win for me. On one hand, I was keeping you and Draco safe. And on the other, if for some reason you threw caution to the wind and had sex, I had a front-row seat."
Harry laughed, digging behind himself to find a pillow to throw at Charlie. The movement woke Draco, who blinked blearily a few times before registering that he was in Harry's bed.
"Morning," Draco said, sitting up and rubbing a hand over his face. He startled slightly when he saw Charlie, but then seemed to shrug it off, inclining his head to include Charlie in the greeting.
"This must be a lot for you to take in," Harry said apologetically, not quite meeting Draco's eye.
Draco snorted. "Waking up to my bed partner wrestling with another man?"
Harry flushed, but Charlie just shrugged. "Probably won't be the last time."
"No, I didn't figure it would be," Draco said wryly, shaking off the last vestiges of sleep. He scooted closer to Harry. "If you'll have me in your bed again, that is."
"Love him, love his best friend," Charlie said as Harry gaped at their easy banter.
Draco nodded solemnly. "I've accepted Harry's co-dependence," he said before both he and Charlie broke out in to laughter.
"I think you need to catch me up," Harry said slowly, looking between the two of them. "What exactly happened last night?"
Their laughter died out, but both still had fond smiles as Charlie explained what Harry had done. He and Draco traded off back and forth as they filled Harry in on what Charlie had told Draco, with Harry becoming more and more agitated as the conversation went on.
"That wasn't yours to tell," Harry snapped at Charlie when they'd finished. He looked instantly contrite, but Charlie waved off his apology.
"I know. But I also know you, Harry, and you wouldn't have told Draco any of it. He could be your cure, Harry. You should at least let the Healers investigate it."
"It's dangerous, Charlie!"
Draco covered Harry's clenched fist with his own hand, the warmth and gentleness making Harry's fingers open instinctively. Instead of moving away, Draco twined their fingers together loosely.
"It could be dangerous. We don't know. I want to at least try, Harry. If there's something I can do to help you, I want to do it."
Harry's jaw set angrily, his lips thinning to a pinched line. "I don't want anyone to sacrifice themselves for me just because I'm the great Harry Potter. This is part of the reason I went away! I'm not going to ask anyone to tie themselves to me for the rest of our lives just because I can't cast a Lumos without blowing up the room!"
"It's more serious than that, and you know it," Charlie said angrily. He turned to Draco. "Living with a damaged magical core weakens the immune system. Harry's health has been going downhill for years, but he won't admit it."
"It is what it is, Charlie," Harry said tiredly, resting back against the headboard. He tried to shake his hand free of Draco's, but Draco wouldn't release it.
"It might not have to be, though," Draco said softly. "Harry, I want to help you. Not because you're Harry Potter, but because you're Harry. You're Teddy's godfather, you're Charlie's best friend. You're the man I fell half in love with after the war—the one I fell the rest of the way for watching you take care of Teddy these last few years."
Charlie looked like he wanted to question that, but Draco shook his head and Charlie stayed quiet. Harry could have laughed—he'd kept his nocturnal visits to Grimmauld Place a secret not because he thought Charlie would disapprove but because he thought he'd approve too much. Charlie would have taken it as a sign that Harry was comfortable leaving the moors, which he wasn't. He just loved his godson—and Draco—enough to risk it so he could see them.
"Right." Charlie clapped his hands, standing up. "We're all going to get dressed and I'm going to make breakfast. I already Flooed with Kingsley this morning. He's bringing the head Healer from the Unspeakable team you've been working with by in a little bit, Harry. There's no point in arguing about it until we know exactly what we're facing."
Harry's pinched look eased a bit. "You sounded just like Mum Weasley there, you know."
Charlie grimaced. "There's no need to be mean."
"I'd really prefer to do this in a controlled environment, Mr. Potter."
The Healer looked extremely uncomfortable standing in the middle of Harry's messy workshop, but Harry didn't care. He'd spent months going in for testing at St. Mungo's, followed by over a year of trudging through the never-ending cavernous offices that the Unspeakables had set up underneath the Ministry. He knew testing his magic was dangerous, but the workshop was well-guarded against magical surges.
Besides, if they were really meant to be testing the compatibility between his magic and Draco's, then a sterile lab environment wasn't the right place for it. Harry never felt comfortable in Healer Carlton's lab; the pressure of all of the magical energy that surrounded the Ministry was too much for him in this condition. It never failed to give him a raging migraine.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Draco?" Harry wrapped his fingers around Draco's wrist and squeezed it lightly. Healer Carlton had explained some of the risks, but they hadn't given Draco any of the particulars about Harry's condition.
Harry knew that was a conversation they needed to have at some point, but he was reluctant to dive into it before they knew whether or not he and Draco were compatible. He didn't share that part of himself with anyone he didn't have to, no matter how much he loved them. Even Ron and Hermione had no idea. Keeping the truth of his condition a secret was the main reason he'd left; Harry didn't want to have to deal with the looks on his loved ones' faces when he told them why his magic was in decline.
"This is just a preliminary test. If your magic proves compatible, we'll start researching the transplant. This isn't something we'd lead you into blindly, Mr. Malfoy," Healer Carlton said, his tone kinder than Harry had ever heard it. That was cause for concern, in Harry's opinion. What exactly did they think the transplant would entail? Harry knew they'd talked about it before, but only vaguely. He wouldn't do anything that put Draco at risk.
"Traditionally we'd test for magical compatibility by having you cast something with each others' wands, but I don't think that's prudent in this case," the Healer said. He took his own wand out of his robes and paused in front of them.
"With your permission, I'll extract a small sample from your magical core. Mr. Malfoy, I don't expect there to be any complications for you aside from a small sting when I cast the spell." He looked over at Harry, his lips turned down into a frown. "Mr. Potter, I'll be honest. I have no idea how the spell will react to your unstable core. That's why I'd really prefer to do this in a laboratory."
Harry squared his shoulders. "Trust me, Healer Carlton, this workshop has taken a beating over the years from miscast spells. If my magic goes awry, it will be contained in here."
Charlie cleared his throat and stepped away from the position he'd taken over by the wall. Kingsley was hovering in the closed doorway, obviously trying to give Harry and Draco at least the illusion of privacy. Wizards considered their magical cores to be extremely personal, and any dealings with them were kept private. Normally they would not have an audience while they were testing their compatibility. Harry's unique situation made their presence necessary, though.
"I helped ward the workshop myself, using the same spells we blanket dragon reserves with. If the spells hold up to an angry two-ton Hungarian Horntail, I'm pretty sure they'll hold for Harry."
Harry gave Charlie a weak smile, knowing he was trying to cut the tension. He and Charlie had undergone a similar test early on, and it had been disastrous. Half of the laboratory had been destroyed. The fact that Charlie wasn't pushing to move them to the Ministry for the test was a testament to how much he believed Draco was a match. It eased something in Harry, relaxing him as Charlie had intended.
"Whenever you're ready, Healer," Draco said, his tone haughty. Harry knew that meant Draco was uneasy. He slid the fingers that were still wrapped around Draco's wrist down, twining their fingers together and squeezing hard before stepping away to let the Healer in close so he could work on Draco.
Draco flinched slightly when the Healer's wand touched his skin, but he made no other outward sign of discomfort. Harry watched, fascinated, as Healer Carlton drew his wand away, an opalescent strand of magic hanging from it, not unlike an extracted memory. It looked alive, with a rainbow of colors swirling inside of it.
"Figures your magic would be as gorgeous as the rest of you, Malfoy," Charlie drawled, and Harry and Draco both laughed at the stern, disapproving look the Healer shot at him.
"Everyone's magical core looks different. They're like fingerprints. The swirls are unique to each witch or wizard," Healer Carlton said. He gently nudged the strand into a waiting phial, leaving it uncapped and handing it to Draco to hold. "It will be more comfortable and retain its freshness longer if you hold it," he said.
When Harry and Charlie had been tested for magical compatibility they'd used the wand test, so Harry had no idea what to expect his own magic to look like. He wasn't even sure if his core was whole enough to allow a sample to be taken.
"I want you to sit down, Mr. Potter," Healer Carlton said, leading Harry to the high stool he used when he was carving. "I'm not sure how you will react to the core sample being taken. If you feel unwell at any time, let me know and we'll stop."
Draco and Charlie both came forward, not touching Harry but near enough that if he fell they'd be able to catch him. Harry gave them a rueful grin. He tried not to let himself think about how much his life would change if this transplant actually worked. He'd been a virtual hermit for so long that Harry had forgotten what it felt like to walk in crowds or go out to a restaurant. The prospect of returning to the wizarding world was as terrifying as it was exciting.
The Healer's wand was cool as it touched his forearm, but as soon as Healer Carlton incanted the spell Harry felt like his arm was on fire. He could trace the spell as it wound through his body, curving closer and closer to his heart and spreading burning tendrils through him as it moved. Harry held back his startled cry, but he couldn't keep the grimace off his face. His eyes were squeezed shut in response to the pain, but he heard both Draco and Charlie exclaim in concern.
"'M fine," he gritted out, his jaw clenched.
When the spell wrapped around his magical core, Harry couldn't help but groan. The burning intensified, solidifying into a weight on his chest that seemed to compress his lungs. He sucked in as much air as he could, fighting against the constriction.
When Healer Carlton pulled his wand away, the pain abruptly ended, leaving Harry slumped on the stool. Draco rushed forward and grabbed his shoulder, keeping him from slipping off of it. Harry raised his head, which felt heavy and muddled, and let Draco wrap his arm around him. Harry leaned into the embrace, letting Draco take the majority of his weight.
The room was silent, and when Harry was finally able to look up, he immediately saw why. Whereas Draco's core sample was luminescent and colorful, Harry's was fragile-looking and grey. There were a few muted colors swirling in it, but those were far overpowered by the dark tendrils that had wrapped around the strand, almost like they were choking the vibrancy out of it.
Actually, that was a pretty apt description, Harry realized. He knew his magical core was unstable, but he'd never really given any thought to what it would look like. He turned his gaze down at the floor, feeling sick.
Draco's arm tightened around him, pulling Harry closer into Draco's warmth. "It's not you, Harry. It's whatever curse you were hit with," Draco said softly. Harry's heart clenched; he knew he'd have to tell Draco the truth soon. Even Charlie didn't know the particulars—he also thought Harry had been hit by a curse from a rogue Death Eater a few months after the war had ended. Only the Healers on his case and Kingsley knew the truth.
Healer Carlton's face was mostly blank, but Harry could tell from the way the man held his wand that he was having a hard time staying professional. Harry didn't blame him; he wouldn't want any part of himself touching the strand of compromised magic, and that was even knowing that it was inside him.
"I'd recommend that everyone but Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy leave the room when I combine the two strands," the Healer said. He held his hand out for Draco's phial.
"I'll stay," Charlie said stubbornly.
Kingsley looked like he wanted to protest as well, but Harry shook his head. "I'm not going to be responsible for offing the Minister for Magic, Kingsley. You'll be right outside the door. It'll be fine."
Kingsley bowed his head in agreement and slipped out. When the door shut behind him, Charlie raised his own wand, moving it in a complicated pattern that left the walls and the door glowing faintly.
"I'm sure it's going to be fine," he said placatingly, though he kept his wand in his hand in case he needed it. "But there's no reason to be reckless, yeah?"
Harry smiled, reaching out to grab Charlie's hand briefly. He could feel Draco tense beside him, and Harry leaned further into Draco in response. Draco had joked earlier about Harry and Charlie being a package deal, but it was true. Charlie was the best friend Harry had, and he wasn't going to give that up. Draco would have to learn how to deal with it.
"I'm going to combine the two strands now. Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy, I'll need you two to hold the phial once both strands are in."
Harry and Draco slid forward, hands joined and still leaning heavily into each other. Harry held his breath as the Healer released the strand of his magical core into the phial to join Draco's. There was barely room for both of them to wrap their fingers around the small phial, but they made it work.
He watched as Healer Carlton stepped back to where Charlie was stationed against the wall, and Harry shifted his focus back to the phial. It felt like it was warming up in his hand, but the two strands weren't moving.
"Should they be doing something?" he asked, looking over his shoulder at the Healer.
"Sometimes the reaction takes a moment, and I think that would be especially true in your case, Mr. Potter. Mr. Malfoy's core sample will be doing most of the work, and it will take it a moment to adjust to yours."
Harry took a breath, waiting in silence as more and more time ticked by. Just when he was ready to call it a bad job and put a stop to the experiment, the strand of Draco's core twitched. Harry's core sample moved lethargically, but Draco's started vibrating, moving so quickly that its swirls blended together into a colorful blur.
He met Draco's eye briefly, the two of them both tense as they watched the core samples move in the phial they held. The glass was definitely warm now, almost to the point of being uncomfortable to hold.
Harry watched as Draco's strand seemed to break apart, dissolving into hundreds of tiny sparks. The sparks burrowed into Harry's damaged core sample, working their way into all of the tiny fissures that were visible even to the naked eye. Amazingly, they seemed to be transferring their bright colors, the grey receding as Draco's magical core lit Harry's from the inside.
Draco squeezed the hand he was holding, his excitement clear. Harry's sample had fully revived, taking on opalescent glow of a healthy core sample. There were still streaks of grey running through it, but they were far outnumbered by the colorful, vibrant swirls that the sample had developed.
"It's beautiful," Draco whispered, his eyes alight as he looked at the sample in their hands.
Harry and Draco both jumped when Healer Carlton appeared at their side to inspect the phial. They handed it over to him, both of them a little giddy with what they'd just witnessed.
"That's good, right? Is it all right that there's still some grey? It's better, isn't it?"
Healer Carlton held the phial up, inspecting it from all angles. "I'll need to take it to the laboratory to study it more in depth, but this is very encouraging. I don't want to get your hopes up unduly, Mr. Potter, but at this point I'd say that it looks like Mr. Malfoy is a match."
He stoppered the phial and placed it carefully in a case that was charmed to cushion it, treating it like it was something rare and precious. With as closely as most witches and wizards guarded their magical cores, Harry figured it probably was—there weren't many chances for Healers and researchers to work with actual magical cores. Most of the work in the field was theoretical only.
"I'll be in touch as soon as we have a better idea of what the transplant will entail and how it would be received, Mr. Potter. Given the stabilizing effect you've described Mr. Malfoy having on you, I'd recommend you keep him close for the time being. I'd still warn against you trying to cast any spells yourself, though."
Harry nodded. Accidental magic from the day before aside, he hadn't tried to cast anything. Nor did he want to—not until he was certain it was safe, at least. If the transplant worked, Harry would have to re-learn how to go about all of his daily routines all over again. He'd been living as a virtual Muggle; having full access to his magic would be like that first year at Hogwarts all over again.
"Do you think if I'm with him he's stable enough to be around others?"
Harry's heart leaped at Draco's question. He knew Draco was thinking about Teddy; the chance to see his godson without needing the protection of his Animagus form was almost too exciting to consider. He hadn't talked to Teddy since he'd left, and even the comfort of wrapping around the boy as he slept hadn't been enough to ease the void that leaving Teddy had opened up inside him. He missed him desperately.
Healer Carlton pursed his lips as he considered Draco's question, and Harry was glad he was giving the issue serious thought instead of just answering off the top of his head.
"It should be all right. I wouldn't advise going out into any crowds, but having one or two people here shouldn't be a problem. Just take it slow and back off the contact if it causes flares in Mr. Potter's magic."
Harry couldn't stop the wide grin from crossing his face. He wouldn't risk Teddy's safety by using him as a test subject, but Teddy wasn't the only person Harry had been missing.
After Kingsley and the Healer left, Harry felt like he was a hive of nervous energy. His magic stayed calm throughout, though, which was a very good sign.
"Who do you want me to bring round?" Charlie asked as he leaned against a high-backed chair in Harry's kitchen.
"What if I don't want to see anyone?" Harry asked, but he couldn't hide his smile.
"Right. So, who do you want me to go get? Probably not Ron, since his temper will get the best of him. Hermione is arguing a case in front of the Wizengamot today, so she's not available. George, maybe?"
"What about Neville?"
Both Harry and Charlie looked at Draco in surprise.
"What? He's always been the most level-headed of your group. And I know he believes you wouldn't have left without a good reason."
Neville had been one of Harry's closest friends before he'd gone into hiding, and he'd often gone out to Quidditch matches and pubs with Harry and Draco while Draco had been living with Andromeda.
"You still see him, then?"
Draco gave Harry a fondly exasperated look. "Of course I do, Harry. He's one of the only connections I have to you, aside from Teddy. Neville and I meet up for lunch at least once a month. He's been quite forthcoming with stories about your mishaps at Hogwarts."
Harry laughed, feeling free in a way he hadn't felt in years. Things were coming together. He wanted more from Draco than just a magical core transplant, and it seemed like Draco wanted the same. Knowing that he'd kept up with one of Harry's friends while Harry was gone made Harry warm inside. Draco truly cared about him, and if Neville felt comfortable enough to gossip about Harry's antics, that meant Neville really liked him.
"Yeah, call Neville," Harry said, his smile stretched so wide that his cheeks ached with it. He was a bit out of practice with actually being happy—it was like his muscles didn't know what to do.
"Actually, I need to run home and see to a few things. After I check in with Teddy and make sure Pansy can keep him another night, I'll drop by Neville's and bring him back with me. Does that sound all right?"
Harry was a little worried about how his magic would react to Draco leaving, but it wasn't practical for Draco to always be around. It would be a good test, having him leave for a brief bit.
"Will you be okay if I duck out too, Harry? One of the Horntails is due to lay any day now, and I wanted to be there in case there were any problems."
"That's fine, Charlie. I'll Floo you when we hear from the Healer, yeah?"
Charlie pressed a quick kiss to Harry's forehead and wrapped him in a tight hug. Harry returned the hug with equal enthusiasm, watching Draco out of the corner of his eye. There was no sign of jealousy, though, and Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief.
"Say hello to the other dragon keepers for me, will you? And Draco, you'd best get going if you want to catch Teddy before he leaves for school."
When he was alone in the kitchen, Harry let himself sink into one of the uncomfortable chairs. He sat there for a long while, just trying to process everything that had happened in the last twelve hours. He was still there when Nell let herself in, swirling into the kitchen in a rush of frenzied activity and lavender perfume.
"You have a broom due for the Kestrals' chaser in two days and a client consultation this afternoon," she said, grabbing his hands and pulling him up out of his chair.
"I'm sure whatever happened was momentous, given that Charlie came through into the shop and told me to close up early. And I want to know all the details, I do. You can tell me about it while you're working, because the Kestrals are headed to the playoffs in a week, and the chaser is going to need all five days to adjust to the new broom, so delivering it late isn't an option."
Harry sprang forward, giving Nell a quick hug before darting off to his workshop. Nell's special brand of pragmatism was exactly what he needed to help him pass the time until Draco showed up with Neville.
NEVILLE looked up from his worktop, already pulling off his dragonhide gloves as Draco approached.
"Is it all right to take you away from this for the afternoon?" Draco asked, nodding toward the pots scattered across the surface.
"I'm trying to cross-breed a Venomous Tentacula and a Gurdyroot. A herbologist in China has had some success with it, but I've been splicing these two buggers together for weeks and all of my experiments either wither and die or the Tentacula eats the Gurdyroot. I was pretty excited to get your owl this morning—any excuse to get away from this for a bit is good with me."
Neville took off his goggles, leaving a large smear of potting soil across his cheek. Draco bit back a laugh, reaching out to dust it off with his thumb.
"Why don't you go get cleaned up and then we'll grab some lunch? You don't mind if we do takeaway, do you? I have somewhere I'd like to take you, but there isn't much to eat there, I'm afraid."
Draco chuckled at his own private joke, thinking about scavenging the moors around Harry's home looking for a curry shop.
"Is it about Teddy? He's doing better, isn't he?"
Neville came to the house for dinner a few times a month, and he was one of Teddy's favorite babysitters. Usually Draco was able to leave Teddy with Pansy when he had to travel for work or had late meetings, but Neville had taken him more than a few times.
"He's fine. I'm having a new broom made for him, actually. One that won't react badly to his magic. I'm working with the owner of Pennipotens. It's a custom broom shop. Have you heard of it?"
Neville washed his face in the sink that was part of the worktop and scrubbed his hands with a foul-smelling concoction that Draco made for him. It stripped all of the plant venoms and oils from his skin. Draco had invented it for Neville after he'd had a particularly violent reaction when the turnip he'd been dicing for dinner came into contact with residual bubotuber pus on his fingers. He'd been in St. Mungo's for three days.
The soap was actually one of Draco's better sellers these days at the apothecary. He had owl orders for it from herbologists and potions masters across the world.
"Never heard of it. Then again, I don't fly, so I wouldn't have, would I?"
Draco had wanted to probe lightly to see if Neville knew about Harry, but it sounded like he didn't. Neville was surprisingly shrewd when he wanted to be and better than just about anyone at keeping a secret, so it hadn't been out of the realm of possibility that he'd have information about Harry that he hadn't shared.
"We'll stop by there after we grab some food. I'm thinking Rodenberry's."
Neville cocked his head and shot Draco an odd look. Draco shrugged lightly, grateful when Neville didn't question it. Draco hated fish and chips, which was the only thing Rodenberry's sold, but it was Harry's favorite place to eat. Since Harry's main visitors were Charlie and Kingsley—who were both great men but likely didn't think about things like Harry missing takeaway—Draco doubted Harry had eaten it in quite awhile.
Draco kept their chatter light as he and Neville picked up their food and made their way toward the Diagon Alley storefront for Pennipotens. Draco didn't want to risk talking about Harry anywhere that wasn't protected against eavesdropping, and he also didn't want to spring Harry's presence on Neville without some sort of prior warning. He figured the store's arboretum would be the best place to tell Neville about Harry, since it was private and would also be a place that Neville would feel comfortable, surrounded by trees and plants.
"He's been anxious all day waiting for you," Nell said as he and Neville walked in.
"He knew I had things to take care of," Draco said, handing Nell her own box of takeaway. He didn't know her well, but he could tell that like Charlie, Nell was an important part of Harry's life. As such, a bribe wouldn't go awry, he figured.
"Is this what I think it is?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Nell let out a giggle of delight. "You're definitely a keeper, Draco Malfoy. He'll be thrilled. I always offer to go out and get him whatever he wants, but he usually doesn't take me up on it."
"He has an over-developed sense of guilt."
Nell rolled her eyes as she dug into her bag for a chip. "That's an understatement."
Neville shifted uncomfortably next to him and Draco grimaced, feeling like a heel for not introducing them.
"Nell, this is Neville Longbottom. He's a good friend," Draco said, noting the way Neville's hand seemed to linger in Nell's a fraction longer than necessary for a handshake. From Nell's wide eyes, she was just as taken with Neville as he was with her. "Neville, this is Nell. She runs the front of the shop here."
"Nell Ollivander," she said, and Draco's brows rose in surprise. He hadn't realized, but now that she'd given her surname, he could see the family resemblance. It also explained the attraction, since Neville was drawn to earthy things and, if Draco's guess wasn't wrong, Nell had more than a little earth magic about her.
"He's expecting us. Is it all right if Neville and I step through? I wanted to show him the conservatory and arboretum first, and then we'll go on to the house. Could you Floo through to let him know we're here?"
Nell nodded, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. She'd obviously caught on that Neville was in the dark—and in for a huge surprise.
"Will do. I'll be closing up a little early today, so I'll pop back in an hour or so," she said sweetly, but Draco didn't miss the warning there. He was glad Harry had someone who was so fiercely protective of him.
"I'm sure we'll still be there. See you in a bit," Draco said, winking at her when she broke away from staring at Neville again.
Draco opened the door, ushering Neville through when the other man paused on the threshold, dumbfounded by what lay on the other side.
It wasn't unlike Draco's first reaction to the place, and he was gentle as he pushed Neville through the door and closed it behind himself.
"They grow all their own wood for the brooms they make," Draco said, following Neville as he wandered through the arboretum.
"These are all wandwood trees," Neville said, reverence clear in his voice. He reached out and touched a tall Yew tree, his eyes sliding shut. Draco knew that some people could feel the magic that emanated out of powerful trees and plants, but he hadn't known Neville had that gift. It made sense, he supposed, with Neville's talent for growing things.
"That's what makes the brooms here so special," Draco said. He took a breath, waiting until Neville had opened his eyes again and rejoined him on the gravel path. "It's also because the man who makes them is so special."
"Are you bringing me to meet your boyfriend?" Neville teased, and Draco flushed.
"Actually, I am. The thing is, you've met him before."
"Have I, now?" Neville looked interested and more than a little wary, which Draco thought was fair, given the cloak and daggerness of the whole set-up.
"It's Harry," he said softly, reaching out and putting a comforting hand on Neville's elbow when he lost his footing on the gravel and stumbled a bit.
"I don't know the whole story, but something went wrong with his magic. It made him dangerous to be around. That's why he left. I don't know why he didn't feel like he could tell any of us, but frankly, I don't care. I've found him again, and I'm not letting go this time."
"Harry's here?" Neville said, his voice faint. He looked around until he located the second door. "There?"
Draco nodded. "The doors are modified Portkeys. I don't know where this garden is, but Harry's home is on Gramary Muir."
Neville seemed to shrink back at that. "Gramary Muir is one of the most dangerous magical places on earth."
"Which made it an ideal place for someone to go when they didn't want to be found," Draco said, his voice tinged with sadness.
"Oh, Harry. What did he get himself into? And why wouldn't he tell us?"
"He didn't want to risk anyone else's safety, so he hid himself away somewhere he couldn't hurt anyone but himself. As for why he didn't tell anyone—well, he's Harry. He thought he was making it easier on everyone by disappearing."
Neville huffed out a laugh, shaking his head. "That does sound like our Harry."
"Do you want to come through? He's expecting you. I know it's a lot to take in, but he'd really like to see you."
Neville was still for a moment, clearly using the trees and plants around him to help ground himself. "What changed? I know Harry, and he wouldn't just decide to see people if he thought he was still dangerous. Have the Healers found a way to cure whatever curse he's under?"
"I don't know the specifics, but his Healer ran some tests this morning and it seems like things are getting better," Draco said, hedging a bit. He didn't know if Harry would want the details known, and he found himself reluctant to share something so personal as well.
Neville studied Draco for a second but nodded, not pursuing it any further. That was one of the reasons Draco liked Neville so much—he was very intuitive and knew when he shouldn't press. It was almost Slytherin.
"All right, then. Let's go. Harry used to hate soggy chips, and I doubt that's changed over the years."
NEVILLE had left soon after dinner. It was obvious that he'd wanted to stay longer, but Harry had seemed dead on his feet. Draco didn't know if the exhaustion was normal for Harry or if it was just a product of how taxing the last day had been. By the time he'd taken Neville back through to Inconsequent Alley and come back, Harry had been half-asleep. It had taken all of the skills Draco had amassed as the parent of a young boy to coax Harry upstairs to bed, but once they'd settled in underneath the covers, Harry's fatigue had seemed to vanish and he'd been full of questions about how Neville had handled the news.
Harry's magic hadn't flared once during Neville's visit, and Draco had promised to bring Teddy by after school the next day now that they knew it was safe. He could tell Harry was both excited and nervous about being able to see Teddy, but he also knew that wasn't the only thing on Harry's mind.
Draco didn't push, content to just hold Harry until Harry either felt comfortable enough to share what was on his mind or fell asleep. He didn't have to wait long. After a few minutes of silence, Harry started talking.
"It isn't a curse. What happened to my magical core," Harry said softly. Draco had to strain to hear him, but he didn't want to move Harry so he could hear him better, afraid that an interruption would make Harry stop talking.
Harry shifted, turning his face so his lips weren't pressed into Draco's shirt. He didn't move the rest of his body, still cuddled up on Draco's chest.
"I didn't notice at first. The Healers said it should have been instantaneous, my core's reaction to the injury, but it wasn't. Or maybe it was and I just didn't notice," Harry continued, his voice more audible now but still barely above a whisper.
Draco brought a hand up to rest against Harry's back cautiously. When Harry didn't flinch, he started to rub small, soothing circles, and Harry relaxed against him.
"Everyone knows that Voldemort had stumbled upon a way to make himself nearly immortal, but not many know what that was."
Draco knew, but that was because his father had been part of the Dark Lord's inner circle.
"What no one knows, aside from Healer Carlson and now you, is that I was one of the things that was keeping him alive."
Draco's hand paused at the top of its circuit across Harry's back. "You were a Horcrux?" He couldn't keep the horror out of his voice, but when Harry tried to push up to roll off of him, Draco regained his composure and tightened his arm, keeping Harry flush against him.
Harry didn't speak until Draco's hand started rubbing circles again. Draco had to work to keep his own breathing even and not let it match Harry's. He could feel his own heartbeat fluttering like a rabbit's, but refused to let Harry know how stricken he was.
"I was," Harry said, his voice stronger than it had been before. "I'm surprised Voldemort told his followers how he'd achieved immortality."
"Only a chosen few. My father told me one night when he was drunk on Firewhiskey and rambling. He regretted following the Dark Lord in the end, but it was too late. He wasn't someone who allowed defectors."
Harry swallowed a bitter laugh. "I can see how he'd react poorly to that, yes."
They'd talked about Draco's role in the war extensively while Draco had been living with Andromeda. It had started as a condition of Draco's parole—that he find a peer to talk with, in addition to his Wizengamot-mandated therapy sessions. When Harry had volunteered, Draco had figured it was just a way for Harry to push Draco's crimes back in his face and look down on him, but it hadn't been. After their first few stilted, angry sessions, they'd had a huge fight about it and Harry had admitted the real reason he had agreed. Harry was already traumatized by what he'd seen and done during the war, so little that Draco could say would shock him. That wouldn't have been the case with most of the rest of their peers. Harry had volunteered to shoulder the burden not because he wanted to know, but because he hadn't wanted others to know.
It had been infuriating at the time, even if it did make a sick sort of sense. Draco had seen it as just another heroic act from Saint Potter. As he'd gotten to know Harry, though, Draco had realized that it had been a selfish act on Harry's part, too; Draco was one of the few people their own age that Harry could talk about the war with and not have to worry about scaring. He'd never shared anything about Horcruxes or how exactly he'd killed the Dark Lord, though, and now with the final piece of the puzzle, Draco understood why.
"I didn't know," Draco said when Harry made no move to continue. "I knew about a few of the others, but not about you."
Harry blew out a breath, settling himself more comfortably against Draco again as the tension leeched out of his shoulders.
"I didn't either, not until the end. I don't think he meant to make me one; it was an accident. But until I severed that piece of him, he'd have been able to come back. I didn't know if I would survive it or not; I really thought it would kill me as well."
Draco clenched his jaw, unable to imagine making such a choice.
"I'm glad it didn't."
"There have been times I wished it had," Harry said, bitterness seeping through into his tone. He curled tighter into Draco's embrace. "Not often, but sometimes."
Draco didn't know what to say to that. He wasn't sure he needed to say anything at all. It seemed like Harry just needed to talk, so he continued rubbing Harry's back and ducked his head to rest his chin against the top of Harry's head.
"When Voldemort used Avada Kedavra on me, it killed the bit of his soul that was attached to my magical core. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't. It had been part of me since I was a year old, and my magical core had grown around it."
Harry shivered, and Draco stretched a hand out to grab the duvet, pulling it up so it wrapped around Harry's shoulders. With the blanket covering them, he felt braver, letting his other hand push up under Harry's T-shirt so he could massage his bare back.
"I'd always had an easier time with magic than I should have, especially since I grew up Muggle. Healer Carlton said that was the influence of that piece of Voldemort's soul—he said it was like a memory. My magic was more instinctive because my magical core knew it could do things, since it had those imprinted memories of Voldemort's magic."
Draco's mind was reeling. How had Harry dealt with living with part of the Dark Lord in him? He couldn't imagine what it would feel like to realize that something that evil was inside him.
"I thought my Parseltongue ability had come from that, too, but it turns out I had that on my own. I guess my great-grandfather was a Parselmouth, but since the Potters were a Light family, they kept it a secret. Kingsley found a note about it in an old Potter family tree."
"There's no way to know what my magic will be like without the taint of his on it," Harry said quietly. The hand he'd had clenched in Draco's shirt released, his fingers resting lightly on the crumpled fabric. "I might not have enough magical strength for a Lumos, who knows."
Harry's voice caught, and even though he was obviously trying to sound flippant, Draco could hear how afraid Harry was about what would happen. Magic was a huge part of their lives, and Harry had been living without his—or without reliable access to his, at least—for years.
"I'm sorry, Harry," he said, nestling his face further down against Harry so his cheek was resting against Harry's forehead. Draco pressed a quick kiss against the warm skin.
"Either way, if the transplant works, I'll be safe to be around people. I'd give up my magic entirely for that," Harry said. This time his voice sounded stronger and surer. "We looked into removing my magical core as a solution, but very few wizards survive that."
Without access to a magical core—even a weak one, like Squibs had—witches and wizards were susceptible to all manner of Muggle diseases. Draco had heard horror stories about the Dark Lord experimenting on magical beings, trying to extract their magical cores to bolster his own. They'd all died painfully.
"I won't go through with the transplant if it could hurt you," Harry said, sitting up and looking Draco in the eye.
Draco pushed himself up so his back was against the headboard. "I know."
"I mean it, Draco."
Draco reached out and took Harry's hand, squeezing it. "I know. Nothing is without risk, Harry. But I won't go through with it if the Healers think it's dangerous. I wouldn't do that to Teddy."
Harry held Draco's gaze for a moment before nodding. Draco looked down at their entwined hands. In his memories, Harry's skin was always warm and golden, but now they were practically the same color. Draco doubted it was because Harry was suddenly more prodigious about applying sunscreen charms—it had to be because he rarely went outside anymore. It made Draco's throat constrict; he knew how much Harry loved to be outdoors.
"Okay," Harry said, and Draco looked up in time to see a small smile curve Harry's lips.
"Okay, you're going to give this transplant a real shot?"
"Yeah. If the Healers say it's a good idea, we'll do it."
Aside from cuddling, they hadn't really touched since Draco walked into Pennipotens' conservatory, but he couldn't help himself. Caught up in the moment, Draco surged forward, his free hand coming up to cradle Harry's jaw as he kissed him. Harry was still, but before Draco could draw back, Harry started to return the kiss, his hand coming up to brace against Draco's shoulder.
They'd danced around their attraction to each other before Harry's disappearance, but they'd never done more than bump shoulders or sit just this side of too close to each other at Quidditch matches. For a while, Draco had wondered if Harry had left because he'd been afraid of what was developing between them. Then Harry had started visiting Teddy in his Animagus form, and Draco had realized that nothing that trivial would have kept Harry from his godson.
He'd fantasized about having Harry in his bed often over the last few years, but Draco didn't let any of that desperation bleed into the kiss. He was aware that Harry hadn't had much physical contact since he'd isolated himself, and Draco didn't want to overwhelm him. He was also mindful of the warnings Charlie had given him, taking it slow so they'd be able to back off if Harry's magic surged.
There was no tell-tale odor of burnt ozone lingering around them as Draco broke the kiss, though, nor was anything in the room amiss. Harry opened his eyes, and Draco could tell that at this distance, even without his glasses Harry could see clearly. It sent a thrill through Draco when Harry didn't back away, seemingly content to linger in each other's space. Harry watched Draco for a few more beats and then leaned forward, kissing him again. It was much briefer, and this time Harry was also the one to break it.
"I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this would be a bad idea," Harry said as he sat back, letting the blankets fall and fill the space between them. Their hands were still joined, though, and Draco counted that as a win.
"I'm going to have fun testing the boundaries," Draco answered, smiling so Harry knew he was at least partially teasing. He did want more with Harry, but he'd waited years to get this far; Draco wasn't going to balk at taking things glacially slow now that they were actually together.
"You say that, but it's probably going to involve nudity in a glass-walled observation room at the Ministry."
Draco didn't care if half of the Unspeakables had to watch; he'd take Harry any way he could get him. "Don't care."
Harry snorted out a laugh. "You'll care."
Draco tugged on Harry's hand, sending him tumbling into an ungainly heap against him.
"I've been attracted to you since sixth year, Harry. I'll take you any way I can get you, even if it's in the front window at Pennipotens with half of Inconsequent Alley watching."
Harry blushed, hiding his face against Draco's collarbone. "First we'll deal with the transplant, and then we'll see."
THEY'D been waiting for hours.
Neville had been pacing the corridor at St. Mungo's for the better part of it. He was so visibly agitated that one passerby had congratulated him on his new arrival, thinking he was a nervous father awaiting the birth of his child.
Charlie found that hysterically funny, but he knew that was just the adrenaline driving his giggles. Mostly, at least. Neville's expression was priceless, and it gave the group a good laugh. Even Neville joined in after a minute or two. That bit of stress relief had been more than an hour ago, though, and the more time that passed with no word from Healer Carlton, the more worried everyone became.
It wasn't like they didn't know exactly what was happening. They did. The Healers had been very clear about how long the transplant would take and what recovery would be like. But it was one thing to hear about it with Harry sitting beside him and another to be separated from Harry and Draco while they were at their most vulnerable, just waiting aimlessly for news.
Harry and Draco had undergone all sorts of tests in the last month working up to the transplant. There had been more compatibility tests, stress tests for both their magical cores and their bodies to make sure the strain of the transplant wouldn't cause harm, psychological tests to ensure they understood the risks.
Draco would feel magically drained for a good number of weeks after the transplant, but the Healers thought his magical core would regenerate relatively quickly. It was a medical fact that Pure-bloods recovered from magical core trauma faster than their half-blood and Muggle-born counterparts, something that Charlie had half-expected Draco to brag about when Healer Carlton had told them about it. Instead, he'd surprised Charlie, brushing off the news of his apparent magical superiority without comment and asking about what that would mean for Harry as a half-blood.
That had been the turning point for Charlie. He and Draco had been friendly over the last few years, but it hadn't been until Charlie had seen in that moment how fully Draco had turned his back on his upbringing that he'd truly counted Draco as a friend. Part of Charlie still wished he could be what Harry needed, but he knew they were better off as friends. He was just glad that Harry had found someone who cared for him as much as Draco did.
Most of the Weasley clan was gathered in the waiting room at St. Mungo's for the transplant. There was some uncomfortable silence when Blaise and Pansy had arrived for Draco, but Neville bridged the gap, sitting with them and eventually drawing them into the mass of Weasleys before he'd abandoned sitting altogether to pace. Pansy and Blaise seemed to be worried about both Draco and Harry, which made them all right in Charlie's book.
Fleur was back at the Burrow with the children, but Teddy had been allowed to come to the hospital. He'd been over the moon at having Harry back in his life, and the stress of waiting for news of the transplant was taking a heavy toll on him. He was curled up in Bill's lap, fast asleep.
The procedure wasn't difficult, exactly, but it needed to be absolutely precise. Charlie had gone with Draco and Harry to most of their preliminary appointments, mostly to offer moral support but also because even with Draco's calming presence, Harry was worried his magic might surge. Charlie took a leave of absence from the dragon reserve so he could be there for Harry, since his defensive spells were top-notch. He hadn't needed to do more than put out a small fire when Harry's temper had flared and he'd set the drapes alight in Healer Carlton's office, but it had been nice to spend time with Harry, Draco and his family.
Healer Carlton brought in a specialist from Switzerland who was supposed to be the most knowledgeable Healer in the world on the topic of magical core transplants. Even with her expertise, though, there was a risk of the transplant not succeeding, either due to the transplant not taking root or because of the high chance of an infection.
"Should it be taking this long?"
Charlie looked up but didn't respond. It was the thirty-second time Ron had asked the question, by Charlie's count. He knew his brother was worried about Harry, but he wished he'd find a more productive way to show it. Or at least a quieter one. Charlie and Teddy had been the only people allowed to see Harry and Draco before the transplant started, and Ron had asked Charlie to tell Harry he was sorry for the way he'd treated him. Charlie had refused, not because he doubted Ron's sincerity but because he refused to even consider that Ron wouldn't get the chance to apologize himself afterward.
As three hours slowly ticked into four, though, Charlie's own doubts began to rise. Kingsley showed up two hours ago when the procedure should have been finished, but even the presence of the Minister for Magic wasn't enough to pressure the Mediwitches into giving them an update on the transplant. The transplant was a closed procedure because of the delicate spellwork, meaning no one was allowed in or out of the room until it was finished.
Just as Charlie was getting ready to join Neville in his pacing, the door opened and Healer Carlton stepped out. He looked exhausted, his robes crumpled and his surgical mask pushed up on top of his head, but he was smiling.
"We need to keep them in isolation for the next twenty-four hours because there were a few complications that make the risk of infection more serious, but both Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy are doing well," he said, reaching out and shaking Charlie's hand.
"Mr. Potter's magical core was more severely damaged than we'd anticipated, and we were left with no choice but to open up his magical channels fully to achieve the transplant."
Charlie grimaced. That had been one of the possibilities that the Healers had warned them about, but everyone had hoped it wouldn't be necessary. It was a procedure the Healers said they'd only resort to if all of the less-intrusive methods had been exhausted because opening up a wizard's magical channels greatly lowered the immune system response.
"Is Draco in isolation too?" Pansy shouldered her way through the mass of Weasleys, a concerned look on her face.
Healer Carlton looked at Charlie, who nodded. Harry and Draco had given Charlie permission to make medical decisions for both of them, including who to share information with.
"Medically speaking, Mr. Malfoy could have been released into the general ward for his recovery. But we thought it was best to keep them together, given Mr. Potter's weakened magical state. The transplant seems to have been a success, but Mr. Potter's heart rate and blood pressure rose dangerously when Mr. Malfoy was not in the room. We're keeping them together as a precaution."
"How long will Harry need to be here?" Charlie knew that Harry hated St. Mungo's. He'd recover much better at Grimmauld Place.
"We'll re-evaluate tomorrow, but I don't expect the complications will be a cause for us to keep him any longer than we'd anticipated. If he checks out all right, he and Mr. Malfoy can go home tomorrow evening."
"Will the home house-elf aid still be sufficient or will they need extra help?" Hermione asked, her quill poised over a piece of parchment. Charlie swallowed a chuckle. It didn't surprise him at all that she had a list of questions to ask the Healer. She'd jumped into the magical core transplant research as soon as Charlie had broken the news to her and Ron about Harry's condition and the possible treatment. They'd both been to see Harry several times, even though Ron hadn't been speaking to Harry since his return.
"I'll be staying with them as well, so it shouldn't be a problem," Charlie said, catching the Healer's perplexed look. Hermione was an assistant undersecretary in the Office of Magical Creatures at the Ministry, and she'd been instrumental in unionizing freed house-elves and finding them new occupations. She'd found a house-elf whose previous master had been a Healer and set him up as a home house-elf aid for people who were recovering from long illnesses, accidents or surgeries. He was at Grimmauld right now, modifying one of the guest rooms to be a make-shift hospital room for Harry's recovery. The home house-elf aid was unnecessary, in Charlie's opinion, but he knew that arranging the help made Hermione feel like she was being useful, and he didn't want to take that away from her.
Like the rest of the Weasleys, Hermione had been overjoyed when Harry had returned. She'd also been angry and hurt, but everyone aside from Ron had mostly worked through that. Charlie had taken the brunt of their anger, since he'd known where Harry was all along even though he couldn't tell them. He was all right with taking the fall for it—especially if it meant that they forgave Harry faster. He knew how much Harry had missed his friends and family.
"Can we see them?"
Teddy's voice was tentative and scared, and Charlie saw Bill put a strong arm around him and pull him into a side hug.
"Not today, but Mr. Malfoy will be available for Firecalls later this evening," the Healer said.
Teddy's slight smile fell, and Pansy rushed over to take him from Bill, promising a trip to Fortescue's before he went to the Burrow for his sleep-over with his Weasley cousins. The volume in the waiting room went up considerably as the group gathered there all began talking at once, asking questions about Harry.
"All right, it sounds like Healer Carlton has everything under control here," Charlie said, clapping his hands together decisively. "Let's clear out for the rest of the day. Harry and Draco will be in isolation until tomorrow, so we're not doing them any good here."
Six weeks later
DESPITE the complications during the transplant, Harry was healing remarkably quickly. Healer Carlton had given Harry a clean bill of magical health at his last check-up, which had apparently been more than enough reason for Mrs. Weasley to insist on a party at the Burrow. Harry was still restricted from casting spells, but now that his magical core was fully restored he could start working with a magical energy therapist who would basically reteach him how to use his magic, much like a Muggle physical therapist had helped him relearn how to properly walk after he'd broken his leg in four places falling off the Dursley's roof cleaning the gutters when he'd been eight.
Not that Harry was complaining. He was eager to reconnect with his magic, even if it meant doing it in a controlled setting at St. Mungo's for the foreseeable future. He was just glad to be able to use it at all, and he was especially glad to be able to be around other people without putting them in danger.
After spending so long away from his family, he jumped at any chance to see them. It had been awkward at first and there had been a lot of anger and tears, but once everyone understood that he'd left because he and his Healers thought it was necessary to protect everyone, they got past it. Ron was still a bit angry with him because of the secrecy, but Hermione had spoken to him at some point and his hostility had calmed to more of a pout, which Harry could deal with.
He understood Ron's reluctance to jump back into their friendship. Things would never be the same between them, and Harry understood that. He should have been honest with everyone when he left, but he'd been too embarrassed and depressed to see that it would have been easier to handle with their support. Harry had thought that a clean break would be easiest for all of them, since visits would have been too dangerous with his unstable magical core. He could admit now that he'd been wrong, but there was nothing he could do aside from apologize and do his best to be there for everyone now.
Harry hadn't realized just how much he'd hurt everyone until that afternoon, when he'd announced Healer Carlson's findings and Hermione and Mrs. Weasley had dissolved into relieved tears. Charlie told him the family had been braced for bad news, expecting Harry to go back into seclusion on the moors if the core transplant hadn't been fully successful. He wouldn't have, but he could understand why they'd been worried.
The mood at the party had lifted considerably after he announced that he was healthy and that he'd accepted Draco's invitation live at Grimmauld. Harry had worried about announcing that before they had a chance to talk to Teddy about it, but he supposed Draco knew best. Harry had been living with them for the past six weeks, so it probably wouldn't come as a shock to his godson that he was making the move permanent.
Harry wasn't surprised when Teddy made his way over to them as the family dispersed, but the fierce hug Teddy gave him was unexpected. As was the way Teddy stood back and put a hand on his hip, his expression stern as he spoke to Harry.
"You made Aunt Hermione cry again. Victoire said she cried a lot when you first left, but I don't remember that. She isn't sad that you're staying, is she?"
Harry seemed unable to answer, so Draco swooped in, tousling Teddy's hair. "No, sometimes adults cry when they're happy, too. We're all happy that Harry's back."
"You're staying? As you? Not as the big cat? The cat is cool, but I'd rather have you as you." Teddy shot Harry a skeptical look, and Harry huffed out a laugh.
"Yes," Harry managed, his voice sounding hoarse.
"Remember when I told you all about what a big hero Harry was during the war? With your parents and Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron?"
Harry looked stricken, but Draco ignored him, focusing on Teddy, who nodded solemnly. He and the Weasleys had always been open with all of the children about the war—they knew the gist of what had happened, and Draco and his family's role in it.
"Well, he was being a hero again when he left us. There were circumstances beyond his control that made it dangerous for him to be here, so he went away to keep us safe. You were always in his thoughts, though, and he never stopped loving you."
Teddy rolled his eyes, and Harry almost laughed out loud. His godson looked so much like Remus and Tonks, but his expressions were pure Draco.
"I know that. It's why he came to see us every night."
Draco's brow furrowed. "Us? He slept at the foot of your bed every night, Teddy. He came to check up on you."
Teddy snickered, shaking his head in exasperation. "He sleeps on your floor, too. There's always hair on your rug. I heard the house-elves complaining about it."
Harry blushed, looking down. "I resent the implication that I shed."
Draco choked on a laugh. He was so happy to have Harry back in his life, but Draco had worried that Harry was only with him because he was the key to getting his magic back on track. Knowing that Harry had felt comfortable enough to sleep in his room in his Animagus form meant the world to him.
"But you're not denying it," Draco said, his smile growing when Harry met his gaze and winked.
"I'm definitely staying, Teddy. I've missed so much already, and I'm not going to miss a second more if I can help it. You don't mind me living here with you and your dad, do you?"
Draco held his breath, waiting for Teddy's answer. They'd talked about Harry's situation briefly, in broad terms. Teddy always saw deeper into situations than adults gave him credit for, Draco knew, and he didn't doubt that Teddy had picked up enough family gossip through eavesdropping to know more than the basics he'd shared with him.
"Well, no. This is your home, isn't it? Dad and I were just waiting for you to come back," Teddy said, shrugging. "Dad said your magic is a little funny, like mine but in a different way. That my magic sometimes needs extra things on the outside, like my new broom, so it works right, and your magic needs something extra on the inside to focus it. Dad's that something, right?"
Harry looked taken aback, but nodded.
"Cool. I'm going to fly, is that okay, Dad?"
Harry had finished Teddy's broom earlier that week, and they'd barely been able to coax him off of it for meals. It was sitting propped up against the shed right now, with Charlie, George and Bill gathered around it, inspecting the spells. Harry caught Charlie's eye when he looked over, grinning and waving when Charlie cat-called and pointed at the broom.
"If you promise to stay in the wards, and you come down when we're ready for dinner. No arguments. And an adult has to be nearby."
Teddy's grin lit up his face. "You're the best!" he said, Teddy darted forward, giving Draco a quick hug. After a slight hesitation, he squeezed his arms around Harry's waist as well before running off to join his cousins in the yard.
Draco watched Teddy lope across the grass, a bemused grin on his face. He'd learned over the years never to underestimate the boy, but Teddy was still capable of surprising him with his empathy and his insight. Draco knew that part of Teddy's maturity was the fact that he'd lost his parents so young; even though Teddy had never known them, Andromeda and Harry had both made sure Teddy knew about Tonks and Remus and how much they'd loved him.
"Just like that?" Harry asked, still dumbstruck.
Draco moved closer and put an arm around Harry's shoulders. "Just like that. You've always been part of this family, Harry, even when you couldn't be here with us."
Harry pressed his face into the curve of Draco's neck, embarrassed at how emotional Teddy's easy acceptance and Draco's proclamation made him. What he had with Teddy and Draco felt too good to be real. It wasn't perfect—after all, Draco was still Draco, there were going to be be times they fought—but it was light years away from the way Harry had been living for the past few years.
"I'm never going to be able to thank you enough," Harry said, his hoarse voice muffled by Draco's neck.
"You don't need to thank me," Draco said, squeezing Harry's shoulders again.
Harry took a breath and straightened, turning so he and Draco were face-to-face. He wrapped his arms around Draco's waist, smiling when Draco responded automatically by bringing his other arm up to rest on Harry's shoulder, completing the hug.
"That's a shame. I'd already thought of several ways to thank you," Harry said, nudging his hip forward so it brushed against the front of Draco's trousers. "They were very creative."
Draco made a strangled sound and turned them so Harry's back was to the crowd on the lawn. He didn't dislodge Harry's hip, though, or stop him when Harry snuck his hand up the back of Draco's shirt to rest against his skin.
"Maybe I was too hasty," Draco said, his voice cracking when Harry's hand slid from his back to his waistband, his fingers tucking under the fabric and barely touching the top of his arse. "I did risk my life for you, after all. I suppose some gratitude is only to be expected."
Harry laughed, squeezing Draco's arse affectionately before removing his hand. He could hear thunderous footsteps approaching behind him.
"We can continue this later at home," Harry said, pressing a quick kiss to Draco's lips before pulling away and turning to greet his nieces and nephews.
"Aw, I wanted to scare you!" Hugo said, his lip puffed out into a pout. "Aunt Fleur said you and Draco were in your own little world and Dad said you wouldn't notice if a hippogriff sat on you."
"A flobberworm would have heard you coming, and they're deaf," Rose said snottily, glaring at Hugo when his lip started to tremble and tears filled his eyes.
"Rose, didn't we talk about being nicer to your brother?"
Draco's gentle reprimand took Harry by surprise, but the children didn't seem fased by it. Harry knew that Teddy often played with his Weasley cousins, but he hadn't fully realized that meant Draco was involved with the Weasleys, as well. Apparently he was close enough to be lecturing Ron and Hermione's children about decorum, which was shocking considering how poorly Ron and Draco's relationship still was.
"I'm sorry, Hugo," Rose said. There was no hint of contrition in her voice, but it was enough for Hugo, whose face immediately brightened.
"Can we go flying, Draco?" he asked, bouncing up and down. "Teddy wants to fly but he said he's not allowed to unless a grown up is there. Mum and dad are inside and Uncle Bill is inside with Aunt Fleur. Will you go with us?"
"Since I'm so tickled to be your fifth choice for adult supervision, how could I possibly say no?"
Hugo blinked at him, but Victoire laughed. "He means yes, Hugo. Come on!"
That set the entire group off, Rose protesting that she wanted to play Gobstones with Draco instead of flying and the others echoing Hugo's request. Victoire, who was very vocal about her plans to be Seeker for her House Quidditch team when she reached Hogwarts, was the loudest, insisting he and Draco teach her all their tricks.
"Next time you're coming up with us," Draco shouted as the children hustled him away, and Harry couldn't help the grin that spread over his face.
Getting back up in the air paled in comparison to the thrill of being able to be Draco, Teddy and the rest of his friends and family, but Harry couldn't deny that it was the part of his recovery that he was looking forward to most. He'd ended up using the dry-cured driftwood that Nell had been so curious about as the core for his own broom. It was anchored in place with a piece of his fur from his Animagus form and a piece of Draco's hair. Nell had teased him about it relentlessly, but it was for more than sentimental reasons; Draco was always going to be Harry's anchor, both magically and otherwise.
Harry knew private time between them was going to be hard to come by with Teddy in the house and the multitude of family and friends that always seemed to be around, but that was all right. He was home.