The Simple Joy of Living

Prologue – One Year After

Harry stumbled into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, one hand holding a bottle of firewhisky, the other braced on the wall for support.

"Myrtle! Murrrtle!" Harry yelled.

"Cease your caterwauling, Potter."

Blinking, Harry turned his head to see Draco staring at him.

"Malfoiled? What are you doing here?" Before Draco could answer, Harry waved his explanation away, sloshing firewhisky out of the bottle as he did so. "Came to see Myrtle."

"She's not here, Potter."

"She's not?" Harry's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What'd you do to her?"

"I did nothing. Myrtle left moments ago to visit the prefects' bath and view the annual celebration held there."

The tension left Harry's stance and a lopsided grin appeared. "Pervy thing, isn't she? Don't need to talk to her anyways now."

He took a few steps, but tripped over his own feet and would've fallen if Draco hadn't caught him and held him up.

Harry looked blearily at Draco. "Thanks, Malfloyd."

Draco tried to push him off, but Harry clung to Draco's shoulders. Draco had to content himself with tilting his head away. "You've been celebrating completing the NEWTs, I see. I suppose a pack of inebriated Gryffindors is close behind."

Harry shook his head. "Nope. Crept away. Don't-don't tell anyone," Harry said, placing a finger on Draco's lips. "Is a shhcret." He stared at Draco for a moment, then smiled. "You have nice lips, Mafloy... Hey, can I call you Draco? Easier to say. Draco, Draco, Draco."

Draco carefully walked Harry back to the wall and propped him up against it, then stepped back and straightened his robe. "Do you mean to say that neither of your little friends or your girlfriend know you're here?"

"Ginny thinks I'm with Ron and Hermi...Hermio... my other friend. The girl one."

"And where do they think you are?"

"They don't care. Too busy snogging and groping and sneaking off themselves. Think they're finally going to do it."

"Do what?"

Harry gave him a speaking look which, unfortunately, Draco translated successfully.

"Aargh," Draco said. "You made me think about naked Weasley flesh. Curse you!"

"Don't want to think about it either. That's why I've got firewhisky." Harry patted his bottle possessively, then took a sip. "Thought up 'til now they'd done it already. You know, last year, before the Battle of Hogwarts. The whole don't want to die a virgin bit like I did."

Draco arched an eyebrow. "It's not gentlemanly to kiss and tell, Potter."

Harry frowned, then shook his head. "Not what I meant. Meant I died a virgin. Or almost died. Was still a virgin when I started living again, too." Harry thought about that for a second. "Good thing, too, seeing how Dumbledore was the only one I saw when dead. Liked him, but not in that way."

Again with the nasty images. Although his mental image of a naked Potter wasn't bad at all, naked Dumbledore made him shudder with revulsion.

"That's one Slytherin rumor put to rest then," Draco said. At Harry's questioning look, he added, "Most of us figured you had to be doing something for Dumbledore to make him favour Gryffindor so much."

Harry pushed off from the wall and weaved toward Draco. "You Slytherthins have dirty minds."

"We do. It's the gift that keeps on giving."

Harry took another sip from his bottle as he tried to make sense of that.

Draco shook his head at Potter and headed for the door. "As interesting as this conversation isn't, I'm afraid I should be—"

"Hey, Draco," Harry interrupted. "Wanna see a big snake?"

Draco stopped to stare at Harry. "If that's your idea of a pick-up line, then I'm not surprised you're still a virgin."

"It's not reeeally a snake."

"I figured that out."

Grabbing Draco by the robe, Harry pulled him toward the set of sinks. He hissed something, then grinned at Draco. "Parsleytongue still works. Thought it wouldn't."

"Why wouldn't—" Draco began but stopped when the sink pulled back revealing a hole in the floor.

"C'mon," Harry said, right before jumping into the hole.

A minute passed while Draco wondered if he should follow or run off to look for help because drunken Potter had conjured up a hole and leapt into it. With his luck, everyone would think he'd killed the prat.

He was about to leave and pretend that he'd never seen Potter, when he heard his name being called.

"Draaaaacooooo."

"You're not dead, then?" Draco shouted back.

There was a long pause before Potter answered. "Don't think so. Doesn't look a bit like a train station."

Draco had always suspected that Potter's brain was strange and scary. This proved it.

"Draaaaacoooo!"

He tried to peer into the hole, but couldn't see beyond the first few feet. "Is it safe?" he yelled down to Potter.

"Yeah. The snake's dead."

"I have no interest in the state of your arousal," Draco muttered. "Not much, anyway." Suspecting that he was going to deeply regret it, Draco sat at the edge of the hole then carefully pushed off.

Moments later, Draco was being hauled to his feet by an unsteady Potter, which meant that there was much clinging and flailing and some resultant shoving away.

"I thought you said the snake was dead," Draco said, looking pointedly at Potter's crotch. He'd definitely felt some life stirring during the aforementioned clinging.

"It is. I'll show you."

"No!" Draco looked around and his level of uneasiness with the situation, which had been hovering around the ewww level, now rose to icky disgust. "You brought me here to try to seduce me? Here in this creepy, dark place full of bones and ooze, and possibly bugs and parasites? Do you know what this will do to my robe or to my shoes? I doubt even the harshest of scouring charms will rid the stench from my skin or hair."

Harry frowned. "You're talking faster than I can listen." Once again, he grabbed Draco's robe. Since he was pulling Draco to a spot that was littered with less detritus of who knew what, Draco allowed it.

They came upon a pile of rocks. Though it looked like one could climb over it, Harry shot a Reducto that cleared the way. He then hissed at a set of doors which opened, revealing a large chamber.

"This is the Chamber of Secrets?" Draco asked.

Harry nodded and continued to drag Draco forward until they were standing near the statue of Slytherin and the huge, moldering, partially eaten corpse of a basilisk.

"Dear God, Potter," Draco breathed out, staring at the basilisk.

Harry grinned.

"You really did want to show me a big, dead snake."

The grin dropped from Harry's face to be replaced by a look of puzzlement. "What did you think I was going show you?"

Draco ignored his question to measure out the length of the basilisk in careful steps. "Dear God," Draco repeated

"Killed it when I was twelve," Potter said in a tone that smacked of bloodthirsty pride. He made a stabbing motion with his firewhisky bottle, spilling some on the floor as he did so. "Killed it with a.... a...."

"Sword?"

"Yeah. One of those." Harry's voice lowered so Draco had to strain to hear it. "Sorting Hat gave it to me."

If Draco hadn't seen the Sorting Hat give Neville a sword a year earlier, he would've thought that Harry's statement was a product of his firewhisky-addled brain.

He returned to where Harry stood next to Slytherin's statue, staring down at the remains of the basilisk. "Ginny told me that she'd always had a crush on me, but the day I killed this thing was the day she fell in love with me."

"I can imagine." Draco said. "We've never got along, but the thought of you killing this monster gets even me hot and bothered."

"Really?" Harry said. He edged closer to Draco and put his hand on Draco's arm. "It gets you hot?"

"Oh, hell, Potter! You did bring me down here to seduce me."

"Not seducing. Asking. And seeing how you're hot..." Harry moved to clutch Draco's other arm but found his hand still full with the firewhisky. "Hold this," he said, shoving the bottle into Draco's hand. Once the bottle was safely taken care of, Harry gripped Draco's other arm.

He looked at Draco in confusion. "Where was I?"

"You were saying how I was hot."

"You are. Hot that is. Even with your stupid hair and your stupid pointy face and your stupid hating me, which was stupid, you are sort of hot."

"I can't believe you, Potter," Draco said in angry exasperation. "You drag me down to a disgusting place to show me a rotting corpse and then insult me. This is the most bizarre seduction technique I've ever heard of."

Harry pushed his face closer to Draco's so that their lips were scant inches away. "Is it working?" he murmured.

Draco opened his mouth to deny it, but then snapped it shut. If the truth be known, he was more than a little turned on. This beat the hell out of silk sheets and candlelight. Silk sheets and candlelight were nice, but he got that every night at home.

"Don't you want me?" Harry asked.

Draco reached up and pushed aside that messy hair, which was strangely neater than usual, (leave it to Potter to get drunk and become less rumpled). Harry was looking at him, his face open and trusting, which was just so wrong. The explanation for it could be seen in his green eyes, which were a bit too glazed to be truly aware of what he was doing and the consequences.

"Given the number of times I've checked out your arse, you'd think I'd jump at the chance to shag you, but the answer is 'No'," Draco said, shaking his head.

Harry's eyes rose to meet Draco's and he pressed closer. "No? Not even if I beg?"

Draco groaned and there was a moment when temptation nearly won out, but he shook his head a second time. "God's punishing me, I know he is," he murmured. Louder, he added, "Sorry, Potter's the answer is still 'No.'"

Harry released Draco. His hands lowered and his shoulders slumped. "You hate me."

"Not as much as I used to. There are even times that I find you fairly amusing, but hating you isn't why I'm turning you down. You're drunk and I won't take advantage of you. I - shit I can't believe I'm saying this - I respect you too much for that, Potter."

"Thought enemies were supposed to take advantage of moments of weakness," Harry pouted. Sliding to the ground, he leaned back and rested his head against the statue of Slytherin.

"You'll thank me later. If you remember, that is."

Harry yawned. "Rather shag you now."

Draco watched as Harry's eyes closed and his breathing became deep and even. He glanced around the Chamber of Secrets and decided that there wasn't much still alive to threaten Potter's safety. The remains of the basilisk called to Draco. It wasn't like anyone would notice if he harvested some scales and a fang or two.

Potter's breathing changed to soft snores and Draco turned his attention back to him.

Draco knew he'd done the right thing. Potter was in love with Weasley's sister. They'd marry, have a tonne of brats, and live in a hovel somewhere.

But...

Keenly aware that he'd never have the opportunity again and no one would ever be the wiser for it, Draco knelt next to Harry. He placed the firewhisky bottle next to Potter's leg, then leaned forward.

Slowly, gently, Draco pressed his lips against Harry's. When he pulled away, his heart was beating faster. He sucked in a calming breath and stared at the boy, no the man, in front of him. One kiss, especially a kiss in which the other participant was unconscious, shouldn't have affected him so.

Harry shifted and Draco hurriedly stood. When there was no more movement, Draco sighed in relief, then turned and headed towards the basilisk.

Behind him, Harry briefly opened his eyes and watched him go.

Twenty-One Years After

Harry walked quickly down the hall of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, faking a busy, harried manner so that none of the Aurors would stop him. It worked. They all gave him an acknowledging nod and let him go by, unhindered.

That was good because Harry wasn't in the mood to talk. His bed at the Leaky Cauldron, while not being uncomfortable, hadn't been exactly restful, either. It wasn't his bed, which he'd had for years. He'd ended up not falling asleep until four and, consequently, oversleeping. He'd then rushed to the office without even a cup of coffee.

Turning the knob, he opened his office door to see a filing cabinet that hadn't been there the day before, a plant that had tiny purple flowers on it on top of said filing cabinet, and a Malfoy seated behind a large wooden desk. Malfoy was leaning back in his chair. His feet, crossed at the ankle, were propped up on the surface of his desk as he intently studied the front page of the newspaper that he held in his hands.

"Oh, fuck," Harry muttered.

Malfoy glanced up at him. "Propositioning me already, Potter? I was reading how you've been getting around these days, but this is still so sudden. By the way, who was your companion last night? Try as I might, I can't spot the mystery person in the photograph The Daily Prophet took of you at the Cauldron. Of course if I had such abysmal taste as to allow myself to get picked up by you, I'd be hiding, too."

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?"

"Didn't you get the memo? It clearly stated that I was to share this office with you, starting today."

"Yes, but I didn't think it would happen before I got here."

"It's nearly ten, Potter. Some of us, who aren't best friends with the boss, actually manage to arrive at work on time."

Harry scowled at him. "I didn't get much sleep last night."

"So I read," Malfoy said, tossing the newspaper down onto his desk.

Potter walked over and picked it up. Half a minute passed as he scanned the article. It didn't lie, but did an impressive amount of implying. It stated that he'd been at the Leaky Cauldron last night, which was true. The article then stated how the Cauldron was known as a place for assignations and rendezvous.

"You look like shite," Malfoy said. "You should tell whatever woman you have tucked away that you need your beauty rest."

"There's no woman."

"Really, Potter? So you're no longer making it a secret that you're more into wands than cauldrons?"

Harry's gaze moved from the newspaper to stare at Malfoy. After a moment, he groaned and closed his eyes. "Please let me still be asleep. Let me wake up, open my eyes, and have Malfoy gone."

"Is that your roundabout way of telling me that I'm the man of your dreams? Whatever will your lover say?"

When Harry scowled in response, Malfoy looked immensely pleased with himself.

* * *

Harry knew that he should've argued harder against partnering with Malfoy. But he hadn't been able to help it. Ron had pleaded with him.

"I'm pleading with you," Ron said.

As Ron spoke with Harry, he was also sipping a cup of coffee and flipping through some papers on his desk.

"That doesn't look much like pleading," Harry said.

Ron glanced up from the papers. "I'm desperate."

Harry folded his arms across his chest and waited.

"You have to do it," Ron added.

"I have to? Is there a prophecy that says that?"

"Yes," Ron stated. "This very morning I went into a trance-like state that said that you and Malfoy were to be partners. There was more, but then Hermione poked me and said it was my turn to make breakfast."

"I think I prefer the prophecy that said I had to be the one to kill Voldemort. At least with that one, there was an end in sight."

"Harry," Ron said, "You know how we've been having problems partnering him up ever since the Confiscation of Dark Artefacts Division was transferred out of the Department of Mysteries and became part of Magical Law Enforcement. Not only is he used to working alone, but every time I assign an Auror to him, they threaten to quit within a matter of days."

"I doubt that will happen," Harry said. "I doubt I'll last days. Hours, maybe."

"The main difficulty seems to be that they find out that he used to be a Death Eater and panic."

"Malfoy wasn't much of a Death Eater."

"Exactly! You know it and I know it. The thing is, no one else does. Also, to be downright frank, he's not the only one having problems with partners."

"Now that wasn't my fault! Thacker was a prat."

Ron raised his hands, surrendering the point. "Agreed."

Harry wasn't mollified. "I walked into the office and found crumpets on my desk. Crumpets!"

"I heard." Ron looked at Harry sympathetically. "I'm sorry about what Ginny did. Going off with Krum like that when she was supposed to be working on an article about Quidditch techniques."

Harry nodded, still angry but not wanting his friendship with Ron to be a casualty when it exploded out of him. "I'm tired of seeing that nickname, Viktor's English Krumpet, all over the papers."

"Think that story's in the back pages by now. Didn't you see the latest? You're the one that's on the front page. Rita's got you boozing and whoring to ease your heartbreak. There's even a survey that gets magically updated every time someone fills it out on who they think will be the one to mend your broken heart."

Harry put his head in his hands. "I'm afraid to ask."

"Hermione's winning," Ron said. "Currently, I'm fourth."

"You're fourth?" Harry asked with an air of disbelief.

"I know. You'd think with our history, I'd be third, at least."

"Ron, you do understand that I'm staying at the Cauldron until Ginny and I agree on who gets the house in our divorce. I'm not there 'boozing and whoring'."

"Right. Right. Of course not," Ron said. "So – you'll accept Malfoy as a partner?"

"Do I have a choice?"

Ron became solemn. "As long as I'm Head Auror, you do."

Harry knew that Ron would give him an out if he pushed, which wouldn't have been fair. If anyone else was sitting in that chair, Harry wouldn't have that option.

Sighing, Harry nodded. "Fine. I'll be Malfoy's partner. But if I end up killing him I'm naming you as an accomplice."

"Always happy to come to the aid of a friend," Ron said, pleased that Harry had agreed.

As Harry left Ron's office, he thought he heard Ron mutter, "Can't believe Luna's in third place."

* * *

Harry watched as Malfoy swung a y-shaped device so that it scanned in different directions as they stood in the snow on the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

"As you sure that thing works?" Harry asked, rubbing his hands together in an effort to keep them warm.

"Of course. I invented it."

"You told me already. That's why I'm asking if it works."

"I'll have you know that I'm quite mechanical." Malfoy frowned. "Though, my Magical Diviner should be picking up something. We must be too far away for it to get a clear signal."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes. I'm sure that's the problem."

"I'm telling you, it works," Malfoy said, as he began to trudge into the Forbidden Forest, his boots crunching in the snow. "If there's something in here that's causing the centaurs to be riled up at Wizards, then we'll find it. Unless you'd prefer to spend our time hunting for the Flaming Toast Culprit."

When they'd been going through their files, familiarizing themselves with each other's cases, Harry had found that Malfoy had one named 'The Not Quite Deadly Flaming Toast Culprit'. "I can't believe this," Harry had exclaimed as he read the file in front of him.

Malfoy had glanced over. "Which file is that?"

"The toaster one."

"Ah, right."

"I don't see how a toaster could be a Dark Artefact."

"It's not," Malfoy had said, "But the person who reported the incident was sure it was dark, so I got the case. The toaster was cursed so that whenever someone got tired of waiting and leaned over to see if it was done, a flaming piece of toast would shoot out at their face. "

"And the person thought it was a Dark Artefact because of that?"

Malfoy had shrugged. "I think he lost his judgment around the same time he lost his eyebrows. We still haven't caught the perpetrator"

Harry had stuck the file at the bottom of the pile and planned to have a quiet talk with Arthur Weasley. When they'd been interrupted and asked to investigate the cause of centaur unrest, they'd put aside their other cases to concentrate on it.

"No, this case is fine," Harry told Malfoy. He pulled his wand from his robe as a precaution as they went further into the woods and the darkness around them settled deeper. The Forbidden Forest was dark even on a summer day. On a wintry day with the sky full of gray clouds, it was nothing but shadows. "How's that Diviner of yours supposed to work, anyway?"

"It works on a similar basis as a probity probe, but has a much longer range. It lights up if it detects magic - yellow for danger and red if it's benign." Malfoy continued to swivel his device from side to side as he walked.

Harry smiled. "You don't know much about the Muggle world. That's all backwards to how it's supposed to be."

"And you don't know much about potions. The closer to clear that a potion is, the more the potential danger. Veritaserum, love potions, the draught of living death in its strongest form – all are clear and thus easier to sneak into a victim's drink. There are exceptions, to be sure. Felix Felicis is a golden yellow, but too much of it can kill you. In general, the farther from clear a potion is, the less likely it is to do you serious harm."

"I passed Potions. No need to lecture."

"You passed, but did you learn? I think—"

Malfoy stopped speaking as his Diviner, which was pointed off to the left of where they were, lit up red. "Benign."

"Wait a minute," Harry said. "What is it?"

Shrugging, Malfoy said, "I couldn't tell you. It could be an abandoned portkey, a lost gobstone, or a crup. As long as it's magical in nature and not a Wizard or a wand, my device will find it.

"It doesn't point to Wizards or wands?"

"Think about it, Potter. If it lit up whenever a Wizard was around, it wouldn't be much use since it'd be lit all the time by the user's presence."

Malfoy started to walk on when Harry stopped him by grabbing his arm.

"I want to see what it is," Harry said. "We're fairly far into the Forbidden Forest. I doubt if it's a lost gobstone."

Malfoy opened his mouth to say something, then stopped. "Fine."

"Fine?" Harry repeated. "No arguments?

"You're the one with years of experience investigating matters while I've been at the Department of Mysteries. I'm sure you've no doubt developed some instincts for such things."

As they turned to the left, Harry felt slightly uncomfortable. Malfoy thought he had developed instincts. If it did turn out to be a lost gobstone, he was going feel like an idiot.

He followed Malfoy between the trees. Malfoy's Diviner, which had only been red at the tip, grew redder and redder until the entire thing was blazing with colour.

"There," Malfoy said, pointing to a spot on the tree.

Harry moved forward and bent to look at the object that was making Malfoy's Diviner go crazy. He didn't think he'd seen anything like it before. It wasn't something he would've noticed at all, even if he'd walked right by it. It was attached to a tree next to a pathway, about a foot from the ground. The oval shaped object was a brownish-grey wood that blended closely in colouring to the surrounding bark and, with its markings, looked like a knot of the tree. The only thing unusual about it was that there was a hole in the center.

"You recognise it?" Harry asked.

Malfoy shook his head. "It seems somehow familiar, but... no, I can't place it."

When Malfoy knelt next to the tree, careful not to touch the magical oval, his shoulders rubbed against Harry's. His breath warmed the air near Harry's face.

Harry looked over at Malfoy as he studied the wooden oval, muttering spells at it which didn't seem to be working. He was completely focused on figuring out what it was and it gave Harry a chance to really look at Malfoy.

He'd aged well. The pointiness he'd had when younger had softened with age. His hair, while perhaps receding slightly, was like it was years before - smooth and pale. His lean build added to his air of grace and elegance. He was more attractive now, than he'd been as a teenager.

Harry stilled. He'd thought of Malfoy as attractive. Quickly, he straightened up and backed away. Malfoy didn't act as though he even noticed, as he worked intently to figure out what the oval did.

"Give me your robe," Malfoy said.

"Why?"

Malfoy turned toward him with an impatient air, so Harry stripped off his robe and handed it to him. Holding Harry's robe, Malfoy smirked at him.

"Do you doff your clothes every time someone asks, Potter?" Malfoy said. "No wonder you get around."

"Shut it, Malfoy. And whatever you're doing, make it fast. It's damn cold out here."

Bunching the robe up, Malfoy waved it in front of the device.

Nothing happened.

Tossing Harry's robe back to him, Malfoy heaved a sigh.

"It could be benign, like your Diviner indicated," Harry's voice was muffled as he pulled his robe back over his head.

"No. It's not. I'm sure of it."

Harry watched as Malfoy waved his hand in front of the strange oval and still nothing happened.

"We could always blast it and see what—"

"Wait," Malfoy interrupted. He stood and walked across the path, examining the underbrush and then the trees on the other side. "Damn," he hissed. He glanced at Harry. "Your Patronus - it's a stag, right?"

"Yes, but I--

"Cast it. Cast it and send it past us."

"Why can't you cast your own Patronus?"

"Mine has two legs. I need something with four."

Having a small inkling of what Malfoy was thinking, Harry remembered how he'd felt when his son, James, had been born and yelled, "Expecto Patronum!"

When his stag formed solidly, he sent it galloping past the tree where the oval was attached. As the stag passed the tree, the end of a thin wire shot out of the center of the oval, crossed the path, and embedded into a tree on the other side. The legs of Harry's stag hit the wire and his Patronus shuddered, becoming less substantial as it crossed through.

"A trip-wire," Harry breathed out.

"A nasty one," Malfoy spat. "It might get the occasional deer, but I'll bet its real target is centaurs. I think we just discovered why they're angry at Wizards."

"I thought your Diviner said it was benign."

"It is benign. To us."

Using his wand, Malfoy cut the device from the tree. From his pocket of his robe, he withdrew a small bag, enlarged it, then placed the trip-wire device inside.

Harry looked at the woods around them. "There's bound to be more."

"All probably next to a path. I suggest—" The next words were muffled because Harry had placed a hand over Malfoy's mouth.

"Shhh. Listen."

From within the woods, starting out as more of a vibration than a sound, came the thudding of hooves. The noise grew louder, and then louder still. Harry glanced down at the Diviner in Malfoy's hands. It was bright yellow, indicating danger.

"Centaurs," Harry murmured. "Coming this way."

Malfoy reached up and pulled Harry's hand away. "Too many of them for the two of us to handle. Apparate to the Hogwarts gate?"

Harry nodded.

* * *

After he and Malfoy had Apparated to the front gate of Hogwarts, they'd discussed what to do. Harry had volunteered to talk to Hagrid. Although Hagrid had officially retired years earlier, he still lived in the same hut at Hogwarts and tended his animals. The last time Harry had spoken with him was when there'd been reports of a quintaped near Hogwarts. Harry had managed to capture the animal with Ron and Hermione's help and get it back to the Isle of Drear without incident. The report had, conveniently and mysteriously, been misplaced.

Malfoy had nodded, more than pleased to have Harry talk to Hagrid, but his gaze had drifted to Hogwarts.

"You'll come back to the office afterwards?" Malfoy asked.

"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "I think I'll stop by and see my children."

"I'll write up the report, then and send it off to Weasley." Again, Malfoy looked at Hogwarts for a moment, before turning away. "Holidays aren't too far off," he said and Harry had the feeling that he was convincing himself of something. Harry's meeting with Hagrid had gone well. Hagrid had said he'd be on the look out for the magical ovals next time he was in the forest. Harry had gone up to the castle and spoken with Headmistress McGonagall about the matter, as well. He was more than happy to stay for dinner when she invited him.

"Is there anything I can help you with while I'm here?" he asked the Headmistress as they walked to the Great Hall together.

She hesitated, then shook her head. "There's nothing that an Auror could possibly do. I'm afraid an increasing portion of our students are having difficulty with their studies."

Harry frowned. "Are Albus, James or Lily among them? I could work with them over the holidays, if they are."

"No, your children are doing extremely well, though there are some concerns with Albus' continued manipulation of the point system. I'm still not entirely sure how he managed to have all the houses score the exact same amount of points resulting in a four-way tie for the House Cup for the first time in the history of Hogwarts."

Harry tried to hide his grin. Last summer, James had threatened to beat Albus over the head if he ever did it again, but Albus had been adamant that the point system was divisive.

"But, there are many other students who are not progressing as they should," McGonagall continued. "Most of them don't have anyone at home who could tutor them. It's such a serious matter that I'm arranging for them to stay over the coming holidays for extra lessons."

She would've said more, but they'd reached the Great Hall and his children had spotted him.

James and Lily rushed forward. He listened to their chatter about the last Quidditch game as they pulled him toward the Gryffindor table. Upon reaching it, he paused and looked over at Albus, who was sitting at the Slytherin table, quietly watching him. Giving Lily a kiss on the head and James a pat on the shoulder, he made his way over to Albus and the Slytherins.

Albus introduced him to his friends. Though Harry had met several of them before, he didn't remember any of their names, except for Scorpius Malfoy's.

"Is there bad news?" Albus asked quietly while they ate. When Harry looked at him, he added, "The last time you were here, it was bad news."

The last time he'd visited, it'd been with Ginny to tell them about the divorce.

"No," Harry said quickly, reassuring him. "I was working on a case. That's all. Truly."

Albus only relaxed minutely so, to change the subject, Harry turned to Scorpius, "I was working with your dad."

Scorpius brightened. "Father's here?"

Harry shook his head. "I'm afraid he had to go back." When Scorpius seemed to wilt before his eyes, Harry knew he couldn't leave it at that. Malfoy might be a git, but Scorpius was just a boy.

"You dad had to write up the reports. He takes his job seriously, you know."

The noise level at the table dropped and Harry realized that it wasn't only Scorpius listening, but half the Slytherins.

"He... He impressed me today," Harry told them. "He really knows what he's doing. I think I'll learn a lot from him."

Once more smiling, Scorpius nodded. "My father is extremely clever."

As Harry concentrated on his food, shoving a forkful of green beans into his mouth so that he wouldn't have to say anything else good about Malfoy, he felt a slight tug on his arm. Albus was looking up at him.

"Thank you," Albus mouthed silently and gave him a grateful smile. Harry smiled back.

* * *

Malfoy was eating a Danish when Harry walked into the office the next day.

"I know. I'm late. I was... is that food?"

"Yes." Malfoy held out the box. "Help yourself," he said generously.

Harry picked out a blueberry muffin. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. Mi pastries es su pastries."

Munching on the blueberry muffin, Harry was completely unprepared when Malfoy said, "By the way, Potter, did your last partner, Thacker, ever make a pass at you?"

Muffin bits lodged in Harry's throat. He coughed and continued coughing until he could breathe again, then stared at Malfoy. "Who... What... Why would you ask something like that?"

"It was just a thought that flittered through my head."

"Malfoy, please take this advice in the spirit in which it is given, i.e. from someone who doesn't give a toss about you but still wouldn't like to see you dead – stop doing whatever potions you've been doing. They're rotting your brain. Thoughts like that should never flitter through heads. And who the hell says flitter, anyway?"

"It's a perfectly legitimate word."

Harry decided it was too early in the day to get into it with Malfoy. Instead, he asked, "Did you file the report?"

"There's a copy on your desk."

Plopping down in his chair, Harry picked up the parchment and began to read. It was more detailed and thorough than one he would've written. When he got near the end, he glanced up.

"You took the oval apart?"

"Yes. I was hoping that there would be spells or parts that might identify the maker. Although I found nothing exceptionally distinguishable, I might recognise his work if I saw it again. I thought I'd go through the Room of Miscellaneous Contraptions and see if anything looks familiar."

"I'll go through the files and see if there's anyone who might want to stir up trouble between Wizards and Centaurs or who has a grudge against them."

As Malfoy got up to leave, Harry eyed the box of pastries on Malfoy's desk. He was still a little hungry. "Do you mind if I have another?" he asked.

"Certainly not," Malfoy said. "After all, they're yours. Thacker brought them for you."

Malfoy was gone by the time Harry could think of a reply.

* * *

The next few days passed with Harry only wanting to murder Malfoy once or twice every hour they were together. Harry hadn't found anything helpful in the files and Malfoy had made little headway in the Room of Miscellaneous Contraptions, but as that facility was immense, that wasn't surprising.

Ron had ordered them to stay away from the Forbidden Forest. He'd passed their report onto the Minister, who'd decided to attempt diplomacy with the centaurs. The Minister didn't want a team of Aurors wandering around the Forbidden Forest and possibly mucking things up.

The cases they'd handled in the meanwhile were ordinary – a wand reported as stolen; a missing child who, it turned out, had experienced his first spark of magic by managing to Disillusion himself during a game of hide and seek. The case they were now working was a domestic disturbance.

They'd knocked on the door but, from the sounds coming inside, they hadn't been heard. Opening the door, Harry shouted "Aurors! Put your wands down."

The ruckus continued, unabated.

Malfoy and Harry looked at one another, each muttered a shield charm, and then moved further into the house. They rounded a corner and Harry felt Malfoy yank him hard to the side. The kitchen sink sailed through the space where his head had been and crashed into the wall behind them.

Without asking permission, Malfoy cast Protego Horribilis on both of them.

"Aurors!" Harry shouted again, moving closer to the kitchen. "Put your wands down."

A hissing kneazle dashed past them, slid into the wall, recovered, and scampered away. They watched it go, and then edged closer.

"Aurors!" Harry shouted, this time using Sonorus. The only thing that happened was a pitcher of pumpkin juice flew through the doorway, splattering them as it crashed at their feet.

Malfoy glanced down at his robe, which was dripping with juice. "Oh, that's it! I'm putting a stop to this."

Before Harry could do anything, Malfoy had flung himself through the door and cast two binding spells. By the time Harry could see past him to what was happening, two bodies were thudding to the floor. The room surrounding them was... a shambles was an understatement. The table was on its side. Chairs were smashed. Not a dish or glass was in one piece.

The fact that the young wizard and witch were now unable to move didn't mollify Malfoy in the slightest.

"Look at this," Malfoy shouted, shaking his soaking robe at them, drops of pumpkin juice flying as he did so. "You two are so getting the cleaning bill."

Harry grabbed their wands out of their hands, then ended Malfoy's binding spells. This resulted with the couple rising and hurling accusations at each other.

"Shut it!" Malfoy shouted, his rage overwhelming the couple's. "When Aurors tell you to put your wands down, you're supposed to put your wands down if you don't want to be eviscerated. And we could've done it, too. I still might. Do you even know who I am?"

The couple glanced at one another. The young man said a tad defiantly, "Should we?"

"I'm Draco Malfoy!" Malfoy shouted. The couple looked blank at the pronouncement.

"Malfoy, as in son of Lucius Malfoy."

The couple still looked blank.

"Lucius Malfoy, Voldemort's right hand man," Malfoy added with impatience.

"Oh, Voldemort," the man said. "We've heard of him."

The young witch nodded, agreeing. "Just not that Malroy chap."

Harry and Malfoy stared at them.

"Don't you know anything about the last war?" Malfoy asked.

"It's not our fault. We had Binns in school. We know a lot about Goblin wars, though."

Before Malfoy could explode, Harry decided he'd better step in. "What seems to be the problem here?" He pointed at the woman. "You go first."

"I was at the local pub talking Quidditch when in he walks, acting like I'd been caught with my robe hiked up," she said.

"Ha! Talking Quidditch, she says," the man snapped back. "I think there was more on her mind than scoring with Quaffles. Besides, you can't trust those Quidditch blokes."

"You're preaching to the choir," Malfoy sneered, still peeved about the state of his clothes.

"What?" the man said, eyes switching to Malfoy.

"Nothing," Harry said quickly.

"It's not nothing," Malfoy interjected. "You may not know who I am, but I'm surprised you don't recognise him. That's Harry Potter."

The man's eyes went wide. "The one whose wife..."

"Exactly," Malfoy said with a note of triumph. "His wife left him and he hasn't destroyed household appliances and whatnot."

"Leave me out of it," Harry hissed.

"See! Even though he's practically on the edge of madness, you don't see him attacking the crockery." Malfoy pointed his wand at the couple. "You two had better decide to either break it off or stay together, but if Aurors are called out here again, you'll be in trouble, and if I'm called back out here, you'll wish you were in Azkaban."

* * *

Harry was still angry, even after the reports had been filed and he'd flooed to the Cauldron. Unfortunately, he couldn't put his anger away when the source of it followed him home.

"What are you doing here?" Harry snapped.

Holding a glass of Scotch, Malfoy seated himself at Harry's table. "I decided I could use a drink."

"There are other tables," Harry pointed out before taking a gulp of his firewhisky.

"What's the matter, Potter? Am I cramping your style?" Malfoy glanced around. "Seems to be slim pickings tonight. No Oliver Wood in sight."

Harry flushed. A few nights earlier, he'd stopped for a drink when Oliver had shown up. After a little while, when Oliver had suggested that go upstairs to get away from the Prophet reporters that were always lurking about, Harry had nodded

"This is much better, isn't it?" Oliver had said as he and Harry entered Harry's room. "No worries about reporters and such overhearing us."

The maid had cleaned, which was a good thing because Harry had been in a hurry that morning. He wasn't all that comfortable having Oliver in his room, but he preferred it to having their conversation showing up in The Daily Prophet the next day.

"Sit," Oliver said. He was already using the lone chair in the room, so Harry sat on the edge of his bed.

"So..." Harry said, struggling to come up with a topic. He liked Oliver, but they'd never been very close. "How's Puddlemere look this year?"

"Better than last, but that's not what I wanted to talk with you about. I wanted you to know how sorry I am about everything you've been going through lately. It must be rough." Harry shrugged. He really didn't want to talk about it.

Oliver stood, crossed the room, and joined Harry on the bed. "How are you doing? Really doing?"

"I'm fine. Maybe not fine, but pretty much as well as can be expected," Harry said. He eased away from Oliver, who'd sat down awfully close.

"If you want to talk or if there's anything I can do, let me know."

"Thank you."

"I know a lot of what's in the papers is rubbish, but I'm worried about you, mate."

Oliver shifted on the bed so that he faced Harry. He patted Harry's knee in a comforting gesture, then left his hand there. Harry stared at it.

"Some people – they may not have your best interests at heart. If you need anything, it's much better to go to a friend."

The hand was now smoothing up and down Harry's leg.

"Someone who you know. Someone you can trust. Someone who'll keep your needs in mind."

The hand eased up higher up Harry's thigh, closer to where Harry was now sporting a bulge. It had been a while and Oliver was an attractive bloke.

"Let me help you out there, Harry," Oliver murmured. His hand slid closer and closer.

Before the hand could reach its destination, Harry grabbed it by the wrist, stopping it. He looked up at Oliver.

"I had a bit of a crush on you in school," Harry told him. "Thought at the time that it was admiration because you were older and knew so much about Quidditch."

"Yeah?" Oliver smiled.

"Yeah. You're a great person and I'm not saying I don't fancy you. Hell, I'd have to be dead not to, but... but the thing is that I don't think I'm ready for this." Harry removed Oliver's hand from his leg.

Oliver's smile faded.

"Those stories in the newspaper," Harry continued, "they're not true. I'm not into one-night stands."

"Maybe I'm not interested in one-night stands, either."

Harry smiled gently and rose from the bed. "Still not ready."

"Owl me when you are." Oliver stood, too, then moved toward the door. "I meant what I said about being your friend. If you want to get together and talk, just talk, mind you, that'd be fine."

"Thanks, Oliver. I appreciate the offer."

Oliver opened the door, then paused. Slowly, he lowered his head toward Harry. Harry knew what was coming and tilted his face up. Although he wasn't ready for more, he wanted the show of affection, wanted this indication that he was still desirable. Their lips met in a kiss that wasn't nearly as chaste as it should've been.

A bright flash went off.

Harry blinked and was able to spot the photographer right before he Apparated away.

"Damn," Harry had muttered.

Sure enough, it'd been in the paper the next morning. Even though Harry hadn't bought it, he'd seen a copy of it on Malfoy's desk. Malfoy had obviously seen the photo.

Instead of arguing with Malfoy and telling him that all photographic evidence to the contrary, nothing had happened with Oliver Wood, Harry took a swig of firewhisky and shrugged.

"It looks like you might end up sleeping alone tonight."

It angered Harry, the way Malfoy was so pleased at the possibility that Harry wouldn't be able to find a companion for the night. Not that he'd ever even consider looking. But did Malfoy have to be so smug about it?

Harry took another gulp of his drink. "Maybe I'll have to lower my standards."

"You've been linked with Weasley. Lower it any more, Potter, and you'll end up copulating with primordial ooze."

Harry moved from mild anger to rage. Instead of punching Malfoy in the nose, he settled for putting his glass down and giving Malfoy a slow once-over.

"Tell you what," Harry drawled, pleased that Malfoy was flushing under his continued perusal. "If primordial ooze is busy, maybe I'll let you bend over for me."

Malfoy's face turned ugly and he leapt to his feet. His hand reached out and grabbed Harry's robe, yanking him up.

"Not here," Harry hissed. "We're Aurors. Aurors don't brawl in public with reporters lurking by."

Tugging his robe free of Malfoy's grip, Harry pushed past him, and out the door that led to the Muggle side. He could hear Malfoy stomping behind him. They went a short way before Harry turned, and headed into a nearby rubbish-strewn alley.

"You want to have it out?" Harry challenged. "Then here's the place."

"You haven't changed, Potter, you've just grown older. You still think you're better than everyone else."

"No, I just think I'm better than you."

"Right, because your life's turned out so perfect. Seems the Golden Boy is actually brass. Tarnished brass, at that. I've read the papers. Drinking. Whoring. Not often you see the high and mighty take a tumble into the gutter."

"You don't know anything about it," Harry spat.

"I know that ever since your marriage fell apart, you've been falling apart, too. Your wife left you for Krum – Get over it!"

Harry's fists clenched. "Shut up." Malfoy's response was to laugh cruelly. "Face it, Potter. The Bulgarian seeker caught her snitch."

With a growl, Harry launched himself at Malfoy, tackling him to the ground.

They struggled against one another, pushing and punching. Harry bloodied Malfoy's nose with a quick jab. Letting out a yowl, Malfoy shoved at Harry while twisting his hips, managing to roll them.

Pain sliced into Harry's shoulder and he gasped.

Straddling him, Malfoy punched him in the jaw. He was pulling back for a second punch when he noticed Harry's lack of defense.

"Giving up already, Potter? You've let yourself go more than I'd thought."

Malfoy rose, pushing on Harry as he did so. Harry let out a whimper.

"I didn't punch you that hard, Potter. Were you this much of a—" Malfoy sucked in a breath. "Oh, fuck."

In a flash, Malfoy was kneeling next to Harry, helping him sit up.

"You're bleeding, Potter. A lot. We need to get you to St. Mungo's."

Harry shook his head, then bit back a groan. "No. Not going."

"You've got glass embedded in your shoulder. You rolled onto a broken bottle. We need to get it out."

"Not St. Mungo's. In the papers enough already."

"With the way the reporters have been staking out the Leaky Cauldron, your room's out, too." Malfoy helped Harry to his feet, supporting him by wrapping his arms around Harry's waist. "Are you up for some side-along Apparition?"

"I'm not going to St. Mungo's," Harry protested. He made a feeble attempt to pull away from Malfoy.

"Stop that, you idiot. I'm not taking you there. You're going home with me."

Before Harry could protest, Malfoy had Apparated them out of the alley.

* * *

With Malfoy's help, Harry stumbled into Malfoy's flat and was hauled into a bedroom. Malfoy disappeared for a moment, then reappeared with a potion in his hand which he forced Harry to drink. The potion tasted like bananas and the pain in his shoulder receded soon afterwards.

"I need to see what I'm up against," Malfoy said.

When Harry shifted to take off his robe, the ache reawakened and he gasped.

"Stay still," Malfoy ordered. A few cutting spells later, and Harry's chest was bared. Malfoy then bent, unlaced Harry's shoes, and pulled them off.

"Lie down," Malfoy said, then took hold of Harry to ease him onto his front.

"Well?" Harry said after Malfoy had stared at his back for a while.

"I think we're going to need to call in an expert."

"I told you, I don't want this in the newspapers."

"That's not going to happen. Don't worry about it."

"How can you be so sure?" Harry asked, but his question was ignored as Malfoy left the bedroom, presumably to contact his expert.

A few minutes later, Narcissa Malfoy bustled into the room. A house-elf, carrying a small trunk, was at her side.

"For shame," she told them, "the two of you, fighting like schoolboys." She moved next to the bed to better examine Harry's wound. "Tergeo!" The blood disappeared from Harry's shoulder. "What have you given him?" she asked her son.

"A vial of that potion you gave Scorpius when he fell off his broom."

Narcissa tsked. "That's not going to be nearly strong enough. I suppose the two of you have been drinking. How much did he have?"

"A glass of firewhisky, I think."

Harry spoke up. "Half a glass."

The house-elf had opened the lid of the trunk, revealing a variety of potions. Narcissa picked up a pale pink one, then another one that was coloured lilac. She eyed them both while making hmming noises before deciding on the lilac.

"Take it," she said, handing it to Harry.

Harry looked at it for a moment, then gulped it down. It tasted like flowers. Not only did the pain ease further away, but it gave him a happy, floaty feeling of well-being. Even Narcissa poking at his shoulder with tweezers and doing carefully targeted Accios didn't affect his good mood.

At some point, Harry realized that the Malfoys had left the room and he could hear raised voices from outside the door, but he didn't even care to listen. His mind continued to pleasantly drift along.

"Mr. Potter."

Was someone calling his name?

"Mr. Potter," the voice said again.

Turning, Harry saw it was Narcissa.

"I've already given my son instructions, but you are to rest tomorrow. As tomorrow is Saturday, you shouldn't have your work as an excuse for getting up. I'm leaving a blood replenishing potion, which you are to take in twelve hours. Also, I'm leaving a cream which Draco is going to apply to your shoulder three times tomorrow, starting at the same time you take the potion. Do you have any questions?"

Harry smiled at her dreamily. "You're a good mom."

Her expression softened. "Thank you."

"You're also very pretty. Not as pretty as Malfoy, though."

She seemed amused, but only replied with a second quiet, "Thank you."

* * *

"How's it look?" Harry asked.

Malfoy paused in rubbing in the cream. "Really, Potter. I didn't think you were so vain as to object to a scar on your back."

"You didn't answer my question."

"Fine, then. You needn't worry. The expanse of your luscious back is still unmarred. Your muscles may ripple unhindered."

Harry plopped his head down onto the pillow. "Please don't talk anymore."

Malfoy snickered and continued to apply the cream.

Actually, he thought, staying at Malfoy's hadn't been all that bad. It probably had helped that Harry had slept most of the time. He could blame his tiredness on the amount of blood he'd lost, but he knew that wasn't all there was to it. He hadn't been getting much rest since Ginny had told him she wanted a divorce.

The bed at the Leaky Cauldron couldn't compare to Malfoy's. The mattress was at the exact amount of firmness that Harry preferred, the sheets were soft, and the pillow was perfect. Since it looked more and more like Ginny was going to get the house, Harry would need a new bed. He wondered if Malfoy would mind telling him where he'd got his.

When he tried apologizing to Malfoy for taking his bed, it was waved away. There was a second bedroom, which Scorpius used when around and that's where Malfoy was sleeping.

Malfoy hadn't been too bad about everything either. He'd awakened Harry when it was time to take the blood replenishing potion, done the first application of cream, then allowed Harry to go back to sleep. When Harry had awakened a second time, he'd shown him the bathroom, and supplied him with the bottom half of a pair of black pyjamas. There'd been a discussion as to whether or not Harry should wear a top and it was decided that he shouldn't for fear it might rub off the cream they applied.

Soup and sandwiches were for lunch and then Malfoy applied the second treatment of cream. Being fully awake, Harry felt strange having Malfoy touch him, but shrugged off the feeling. It wasn't as if Malfoy wanted to do it.

The afternoon was spent reading. Harry wrote letters to his children and, when he asked to borrow Malfoy's owl to send them, found that Malfoy had a letter ready for Scorpius. Malfoy built a fire to help ward off the chill that was creeping in, it being a cold wintry day.

At some point, Harry must have fallen asleep on the couch, for he woke when Malfoy entered, carrying a takeaway bag. Snow dusted his robe and his hair was damp, turning its bright colour dark. His nose, which Narcissa must have fixed the night before, was slightly red from the cold.

"It's freezing out there," Malfoy said.

Harry pushed off the blanket that he didn't remember having draped over him, and stood. Malfoy handed him the bag. "I got dinner. Why don't you lay the table while I go change?"

Harry had just found the plates when he heard the shower turn on. Less than ten minutes later, Malfoy emerged wearing a blue dressing gown.

"I put a warming charm on the food," Harry explained as they sat at the table to eat.

They were finishing up when Malfoy heard a knock at the window. He opened it and in flew a familiar owl. "That's Ron's owl," Harry said as the owl dropped its letter next to him. "I wonder what he wants." It looked like a howler. But why would Ron send him a howler, Harry wondered. He tore it open.

"Where the bloody hell are you?" Ron's voice roared. "Call me now!"

Confused at what was going on, Harry looked at Malfoy, who shrugged.

"My mobile," Harry said. "It was in my robe."

"It should be on the chest of drawers in the bedroom, then. Your robe's there, too. I cleaned it as well as I could, but think it's a dead loss."

Retrieving his mobile from the bedroom, Harry dialed Ron's number. Ron answered on the first ring.

"Where are you?" Ron shouted into the phone. "Never mind. We need to talk right away. We'll Apparate to the Leaky Cauldron."

"No," Harry said quickly. "I'm not there."

"Then tell me where you are."

Harry glanced at Malfoy, unsure of the address.

"Tell him to Floo to Number Two, Harcord Residence."

Less than a minute after repeating the address to Ron, through the floo stumbled Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

Instead of greeting him, Ron asked, his tone harsh, "Where were you around one o'clock today?"

"What's going on?" Harry said, moving towards Hermione to give her a hand brushing the ash from her clothes.

He was stopped by Ron's hard grip on his arm. "I asked you a question."

"From the way you're asking," Malfoy said, leaning against the wall and observing the group, "it sounds like he shouldn't answer without a lawyer present."

"Shut up, Malfoy," Ron said, then paused. "Malfoy? What are you doing here?"

"I happen to live here."

Ron shook his head slightly, dismissing the matter as unimportant and turned back to Harry. "I need to know where you've been."

"Not until you tell me what's happening."

Hermione stepped forward. "A few hours ago, as Ron, Ginny, Viktor, and I were leaving a restaurant off Diagon Alley after eating lunch together, someone attacked Viktor. He's in St. Mungo's."

"Is he badly hurt?"

"The healers don't see anything physically wrong, but he was still unconscious when we left. I think—" Hermione began, before being cut off by Ginny.

"Did you do it, Harry? Did you attack Viktor?"

"What? No! Of course, not!"

"Someone did," Ginny continued. "And you have a motive."

Harry stared at the three of them. He could understand Ginny thinking he was capable of attacking Viktor. The more time went by, the more he realized that he hadn't known her at all and she'd probably never truly known him. But surely Ron and Hermione didn't believe he would do such a thing.

"I didn't have anything to do with it," Harry said firmly.

"Do you have an alibi?" Ginny asked. "He does," Draco said, facing the group. "It's impossible for Potter to have been anywhere near Diagon Alley today."

"Stay out of this, Malfoy." Ron barely glanced in Malfoy's direction.

"It's impossible because Potter was with me." Malfoy added.

Everyone turned to look at Malfoy.

Malfoy raised his voice. "He was with me all day. Last night, too."

Everyone now turned to stare at Harry.

Harry shook his head. "Malfoy, you don't have to—"

"Don't have to what, Harry?" Malfoy said, stressing Harry's name. He moved behind Harry and wrapped his arms around him. When Harry was pulled back against Malfoy's chest in a protective gesture, Harry momentarily stiffened, before slowly relaxing. "I'm not ashamed of what we are to each other."

Gazes now swung between Malfoy and a hotly blushing Harry. Their eyes widened as they took in that Malfoy was in a dressing gown while Harry was bare-chested.

"Harry's been here all of last night and today, as well," Malfoy repeated. "Most of that time, in my bed. I'll even take Veritaserum to prove it."

"That's... that's... " Ron stammered.

"Good to know," Hermione said, stepping into the conversation smoothly. She gave Harry an apologetic smile. "I told them you didn't do it. That you wouldn't have. You'd think that after all these years, they'd know to listen to me."

"You're with Malfoy?" Ron finally managed to sputter out. "With Malfoy?"

"Harry has been an adult for a long time," Hermione argued. "As a currently unattached adult, whom he chooses to spend his time with is his business and his alone." When Ron looked mutinous, she snapped at him. "Would you really prefer Harry to have attacked Viktor instead of sleeping with Malfoy?"

"Can't I choose option number three?" He looked at Harry, then shrugged ruefully. "She's right. We should've... I should've known better. Sorry, mate."

Harry knew he should set his friends straight. He should tell them that while he'd been with Malfoy, it hadn't been in the way that Malfoy was deliberately leading them to believe. But... it pissed the hell out of him that Ron and Ginny had been so quick to leap to the conclusion they had. It was worth it to see them squirm at leaping to another wrong conclusion.

And, though he didn't want to examine it too closely, being held by Malfoy felt... it felt good. He knew Malfoy was doing it only to drive the Weasleys bonkers, but Harry felt warm and safe and taken care of.

"That's okay," Harry answered, not quite successful at keeping the bitterness he was feeling from his voice.

"No, it isn't," Malfoy sneered at Ron. "You should be groveling, Weasley."

Ginny approached Harry and placed a hand on his chest. He flinched in reaction, but she didn't notice.

"I'm sorry, too," Ginny said.

Malfoy made a small growl-like sound and Harry was pulled back against him tighter. "Hands off, if you don't mind. He's not yours any longer."

Ginny glared at Malfoy as she removed her hand from Harry's chest. "Don't you dare hurt him."

"You mean like you did?" Malfoy replied.

Ginny's face coloured and her eyes rose to meet Harry's. "I never meant to hurt you."

"Did a bang up job of it then, what with it being accidental," Malfoy snapped. His gaze swept the room. "Now that you've all discovered your baseless accusations to be not only baseless, but deeply stupid, I'd appreciate it if you'd leave. We have better things to do."

"As do we," Hermione said. "Aurors are waiting to interview us about the attack."

Ginny hesitated, but Hermione took her arm and they Apparated away. Ron hesitated, studying Harry and Malfoy.

"It does explain a few things. Especially 'bout sixth year," Ron said slowly, as if figuring something out. Giving them a nod, he Apparated, too.

Harry and Malfoy remained as they were for a few moments longer.

"What do you suppose Ron meant by that?" Harry finally asked.

"As if I could ever fathom the reasoning of a Weasley," Malfoy replied. His voice lowered and Harry felt Malfoy's breath warm against his ear. "Are you all right?"

Harry considered saying 'No'. Standing there, with Malfoy wrapped around him, he was becoming aroused. He thought about twisting in Malfoy's arms and pressing closer. He thought about whispering to Malfoy that he wasn't all right and to help him forget. He thought about how Malfoy would laugh at him for it.

Taking a deep breath, Harry stepped forward, out of Malfoy's arms, which dropped away. Without turning to look at Malfoy, Harry went directly to a window and stared out with unseeing eyes, willing his body to calm.

"You shouldn't have done that. Now they think we're sleeping together."

"Correction," Malfoy said. "We shouldn't have done it. I doubt if they would've believed me if you hadn't snuggled so nicely into my arms." He moved to stand next to Harry. "Besides, it's better than having them thinking you attacked Krum because you're one knut short of a galleon."

Harry wasn't so sure about that.

"Tell me," Malfoy drawled, "does Weasley always get that screechy when upset?"

"I don't think Ginny was screechy."

Malfoy smirked. "I wasn't talking about her."

* * *

Things were different after Hermione, Ginny, and Ron left. Before, even though he'd been with Malfoy, he'd felt almost comfortable. That feeling was gone. In its place, Harry was edgy and acutely aware of him at all times.

The remains of their dinner took little time to clean up. Harry and Malfoy threw away the rubbish and stowed leftovers in the fridge. Afterwards, Harry filled the sink with water and Malfoy retrieved a dish towel to dry the plates, glasses, and cutlery they'd used.

Occasionally, as they worked, their shoulders would bump and Harry found himself both dreading and looking forward to these moments. As the last dish was put away and the sink drained, he turned to Malfoy.

"I should be going."

Malfoy looked startled, then nodded. "But there's still the last application of cream to do."

"Let's get it over with, then, so I can leave."

Harry went into the bedroom, not even glancing back to see if Malfoy was behind him, and lay down on the bed. He heard Malfoy's footsteps enter the room and stop. For a moment, nothing happened and Harry refused to turn his head to look at him.

Finally, he heard Malfoy walk to the nightstand, followed by the opening of the jar. The bed sunk as Malfoy sat down next to Harry.

The cold of the cream made Harry flinch, but he bit back a complaint. Up until now, Malfoy had made a point of warming the cream before applying it.

Harry tried to relax, tried to regain the nonchalance he'd had with the first two applications, but it was impossible. He was intensely aware that it was Malfoy's hand on his shoulder. It was Malfoy's hand sliding along the skin of his back. Unfortunately, his tenseness did not go unnoticed.

"God, Potter," Malfoy murmured. "That visit from your friends sure did a number on you. You're all knots. Let me get them out for you"

The hand was joined by another. They began kneading at the muscles of Harry's back, starting from the top and working their way down. As Malfoy rubbed his back, Harry, to his horror, was getting hard. His cock was filling, lengthening.

Harry couldn't help it. He let out a needy groan.

"Feels good, does it?" Malfoy asked.

Malfoy's hands moved lower, down to the small of Harry's back. "You're still so tense. I know the perfect way to relax you."

Please let it be a potion, Harry thought. If Malfoy massaged him any more, he didn't know if he'd be able to continue to lie there and act like it wasn't affecting him. He'd wind up doing something stupid, something humiliating, something that would give Malfoy ammunition to use against him for years.

A hand skimmed over Harry's arse and Harry shot up.

He was on his feet in a flash, rushing about, gathering his shoes, wand, and the remains of his robe.

"I've got to go," Harry said, not daring to look at Malfoy's face. Clutching his clothes, he headed for the fireplace. "I'll floo to the Cauldron, if that's all right with you."

"Harry—" Malfoy began, but Harry wasn't listening.

"Thanks for everything," Harry said, grabbing a handful of floo powder from the bowl on the mantle. He threw the powder and yelled "The Leaky Cauldron". Only as he whirled away did he catch sight of Malfoy's face. He looked upset.

Which was how Harry Potter came to be photographed stepping out of the floo at the Leaky Cauldron, barefoot and bare-chested, and holding a torn robe. Between the photo and the report of the attack on Krum, that day's issue of The Daily Prophet sold out.

* * *

Harry wished someone would be murdered, the messier the better. It wasn't that he wanted anyone dead, he just couldn't take the stifling atmosphere of his office anymore. He didn't think he and Malfoy had said more than two words to each other. But, unfortunately, there wasn't any murder to investigate.

Everyone else, it seemed, was working on the attack on Krum. A buzz of excitement swept through the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. A buzz that bypassed entirely Harry and Malfoy's office. All they had on their desk were old cases and another report of a wand being stolen that he and Malfoy would check out later.

Feeling restless, Harry left his office to wander down the hall and get a cup of coffee with the idea of hanging around the break room for a few minutes.

He'd taken his first sip when Ron walked in, spotted him, and stopped in his tracks.

"Hullo," Ron finally said, moving to the cabinet to grab himself a mug. "Saw the photo in the Prophet."

Harry fought down a blush. He'd hoped that people would see the photo Sunday morning and forget about it by Monday. So much for that.

"Did you and Malfoy have a fight after we left?" Ron continued.

"No," Harry said quickly. "It was nothing like that."

Ron gave him a skeptical look as he poured his coffee. "Hermione read me the riot act yesterday. If I did anything that caused trouble between you and Malfoy, then I'm... okay, I'm not exactly sorry, but—"

It was at that moment when Malfoy walked into the room. He paused for a few seconds, taking in Ron's look of concern and Harry's flushed face, before making his way to Harry.

Malfoy slipped his arm around Harry's waist. "Hey love, you should've told me you were getting coffee. I'd have sent you for a cup for me."

Lips brushed Harry's cheek and he stilled, though his heart was racing. Which was why he didn't protest when Malfoy slipped the coffee mug from his hand.

"I'll just take yours then," Malfoy said with a smile before sauntering out.

"Guess there wasn't a fight," Ron said, and, despite what he'd said earlier, there was a note of disappointment in his voice.

"No," Harry said, still staring at the door after Malfoy.

"Should probably look up the rules about fraternization," Ron said before leaving.

Harry sighed and grabbed another cup off the shelf.

* * *

"What are some parents thinking?" Malfoy exclaimed as they left the Charming Charms School for Young Wizards and Witches. The scrunching of the snow under their shoes seemed to add emphasis to Malfoy's words. "Catching billywigs during a holiday in Australia is one thing. Letting an eight-year old take them to school as a science project is another. Completely mental, if you ask me."

"Hmm," said Harry.

"I don't think it's Auror business to have to coax down a room full of giggling, floating eight-year olds. Next thing you know, they'll be calling us for gnome infestations." "Uh-huh."

Malfoy huffed. "Potter, your lack of reaction to my ranting is seriously throwing off my rhythm. Focus what little attention span you have on what's important – me."

"Sorry," Harry muttered. "I can't concentrate because I keep thinking of Krum."

"Though I can't fault your taste, Mr. Krum has, unfortunately, proven himself to be straight. Proven it with your wife, in fact."

The yelp Malfoy let out when Harry elbowed him in the ribs made Harry grin.

"That's not what I meant. I've been going through the list of possible enemies and it's not adding up. Who would attack Krum?"

"It could have been anyone. One of his legion of fans, turned nuts. One of your legion of fans, turned nuts. There'll be a long list of possibilities, but with your ties to those involved, it won't be us working the case."

"I need to talk to him," Harry stated.

"Who, Krum?"

"Yes. Whoever it was may have been aiming for Krum, but they could've hurt one of my friends instead. I'm going to St. Mungo's to question him about the attack."

Harry felt his arm being grabbed by Malfoy before he could Apparate away. "They won't let you see him."

"I have to try." Harry shook Malfoy's hand away. "He may know of someone who has a motive to kill him."

"He does. You!" Malfoy raked a hand through his hair. "Don't you get it, Potter? They think you're too busy shagging your new boyfriend, which would be me, to bother plotting revenge."

Harry opened his mouth to argue, then stopped and stared at Malfoy.

Malfoy frowned when he saw the way Harry was looking at him. "I messed up my hair earlier, didn't I? Curse my love for dramatic gestures."

"Krum doesn't know that I'm too busy shagging my new boyfriend to plot revenge," Harry said slowly.

"So?"

"So I think I should tell him. Better yet," Harry added, wrapping his arms around Malfoy's waist, "I think we should go to St. Mungo's immediately and show him."

Before Malfoy could say a word against it, which meant that Harry acted incredibly fast, he Apparated them both to St. Mungo's.

* * *

It didn't take long for Harry to find Krum's room on the fourth floor. It was the door with an Auror standing guard shortly past the area of the hall where several reporters were seated.

"Damn," Harry muttered, as he sneaked a peek from the supply closet he and Malfoy had ducked into when they saw the contingent of reporters. "We'll never get past them."

"I could turn you into a toad and put you in my pocket."

"No," Harry said firmly.

"Can I turn you into a toad anyway?"

"No," Harry repeated. "I suppose I could use my invisibility cloak."

"That wouldn't work. Your cloak must be ages old. Probably ratty by now," Malfoy said. "Step back and let me handle this."

As Harry watched through a crack between the closet door and the wall, Malfoy non-chalantly sat down next to one of the reporters, who was jotting something on a notepad. After a minute, he met the gaze of the reporter next to him and gave him a friendly, most unMalfoy-like smile.

"Are you waiting for a friend?" Malfoy asked.

The man shook his head. "Here to cover a story." He nodded his head at the Auror-guarded door. "Krum's in there."

"Krum? Viktor Krum? Really? What happened to him?"

"He was attacked. Aren't many details about the attacker, but despite the Aurors claiming he has an alibi, my money's on Harry Potter."

Malfoy nodded in agreement. "He always did seem a bit not quite right, if you ask me. All that pressure with being the Boy Who Lived and fighting Voldemort and being so self-righteous that it makes your stomach heave must have finally caught up with him and caused him to crack."

The man shrugged and returned his attention to his notepad.

"Bet Potter's been hanging onto his sanity by a Kneazle's whisker for years," Malfoy continued.

Silently, Harry vowed to bop Malfoy hard the next time he had a chance.

"Say," Malfoy said fairly loudly, "seeing how you're a reporter, I bet you know the answer. Was that the Minister of Magic I saw being brought in for a werewolf bite earlier?"

The reporter looked at him. All the other reporters seated in nearby chairs stopped what they were doing and looked at Malfoy, too.

"What did you see?' the reporter asked.

"It was nothing. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm sure, if it was him, they'll need to keep it hush-hush."

The reporters all fumbled for their things and began heading down the hall. Some went to the lift. Others decided it might be faster to take the stairs.

The corridor was clear when Harry exited the closet. "Those poor reporters," Malfoy said. "Harry Potter comes out of the closet and they miss it."

"Hush, Malfoy. I can't believe you lied about the Minister like that."

"I didn't lie. I asked if that was the Minister who'd been bitten. The correct answer was 'No'."

"There's still the Auror to get past."

"Leave that to me, too." Malfoy walked up to the Auror and said, "Smithers. We're here to question Krum."

Harry wondered how Malfoy knew the Auror's name, but remembered that Malfoy, despite being in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for such a short time, already seemed to know everyone's name.

Smithers gave both Harry and Malfoy an assessing glance. "Not supposed to let anyone in."

"Don't worry, Smithers. They sent Potter along with me to keep me in check."

A puzzled expression came over Smithers' face. "Why would they do that?"

"Because Malfoys have been known to use less than approved techniques when questioning people."

"Huh?" said Smithers.

Malfoy folded his arms across his chest. "You know, Malfoys, evil torturers and such." At the lack of response on Smithers' part, he continued. "Lucius Malfoy? Right-hand of Voldemort?"

"Oh, right. Voldemort. I've heard about him."

"You've heard about him?" Malfoy said in disbelief.

Smithers sniffed. "It's not my fault. Had Binns for history. Know lots about Goblin Wars, though." He opened the door he'd been guarding and motioned them through. "Good luck with your questioning."

After the door shut behind them Malfoy looked at Harry. "Doesn't anyone know any recent history?"

Harry shrugged, then moved closer to Krum's bed. "I think he's sleeping."

"Not for long." Malfoy gave the frame of the hospital bed a kick. "Krum! Wake up. The husband you cuckolded is here to enact revenge. Prepare to die."

Krum woke, saw Harry, and his eyes widened in alarm.

"Malfoy!" Harry punched him in the arm.

"See!" Malfoy said, "He's so terribly violent he can't tell his friends from his enemies."

"I'm not violent," Harry told Krum, who didn't appear to believe him from the way he was edging as far away as his position in his sickbed allowed.

Harry turned to Malfoy. "Now look what you've done. I'm here to question him and you've got him thinking I want to kill him."

A short moment of silence followed, then Malfoy got a look on his face that made Harry wished he'd stayed dead years ago when he'd had the chance.

"I'm sorry, Pudding, but I couldn't stop myself."

At Malfoy's simpering tone, Harry blinked. Krum stopped almost falling off the far side of the bed to turn and stare at Malfoy.

"He and your ex-wife hurt you. I know I should be thanking him because if he hadn't broken up your marriage, then where would we be? But I can't help it, Sweetie-Pooh. I can't forget all the nights you spent crying into your pillow, weeping inconsolably."

Krum was now staring at Harry.

"That's enough, Malfoy."

"All that time you spent, wailing and cursing your fate, drowning your sorrows in buckets of butterbeer, because you're such a lightweight that was enough to get you out of your mind drunk."

"Malfoy--"

"Threatening to cut your wrists or jump off a cliff or--" "Malfoy!"

Malfoy paused, then looked at Harry, fluttering his eyelashes at him. "Yes, Cuddlykins?"

"I do not know that word," Krum said. "Vot is a cuddlycuns?"

"Why it's Harry!" Malfoy said before, Harry could say a word. "Isn't he just the cutest thing ever? He has those incredibly detestable glasses, that amazingly atrocious hair, and that blissfully vacant expression when he tries to think."

Krum frowned, trying to make sense of what'd been said.

Harry grabbed Malfoy by his robe.

"Really, Bunsofhoney," Malfoy murmured, causing Harry to immediately let go. "I know you want me all the time but not in front of an audience." Malfoy turned to Krum. "The man just can't keep his hands off of me. And we owe it all to you."

Krum looked at Harry. "Is that vy you vant to kill me?"

Malfoy scowled while Harry pulled a chair closer to Krum's bed and sat down.

"I don't want to kill you. All I want is to hear your version of the attack."

There was a pause before Krum nodded. "As I told the other Aurors, I vos leaving the restaurant, Panache, and I saw this..." Krum shaped his hands to form a circle. "... this object coming towards us, bigger than a snitch, smaller than a quaffle. I reached out, grabbed it, then felt a pain. They tell me it exploded and I collapsed. Ven I woke, I was like this."

"Like what?" Harry asked. "I heard you were hurt, but where?"

Krum looked stricken. "I am vorse than hurt," he said. "I am ruined."

Malfoy stepped forward. "Ruined?"

Krum lowered his head, his voice barely above a whisper. "I have lost my magic. It is gone."

* * *

Squatting, Harry studied the area outside of Panache, the restaurant where Krum had been when attacked. "I wish I knew where everyone was standing when it happened."

"We're not even supposed to be involved in this case. You know that. Weasley will go spare if he finds out what we're doing." Draco stopped talking for a moment, then grinned. "Do you want me to help?"

Harry shook his head and stood. He straightened his robe and began to walk to the Leaky Cauldron. "We probably shouldn't."

"That's right. Go ahead and spoil my fun."

"This is serious. Krum's lost his magic."

"Don't remind me. Having your magic stolen – that's scary."

"Yeah, I noticed the way you jumped back when Krum told us," Harry said. "I don't think magic loss is contagious."

Malfoy scowled at him as they walked. "Well, it does explain why we weren't even interviewed."

"What?" Harry asked.

"You may be Weasley's best friend and The Boy who Killed Voldemort, but if there was even a slight possibility that you might've attacked Krum, we should still have been questioned under Veritaserum. Once they found out that ball-shaped thing had caused Krum to lose his magic, they knew it couldn't have been you and so they didn't bother. The reporters must not know, since they still consider you a suspect."

"Hey," Harry said indignantly. "I could have made something like that."

"The person who attacked Krum put time and forethought into the device. Your idea of forethought is putting your socks on before your shoes."

"That's not true! I can plan."

Malfoy opened the door to the Leaky Cauldron and held it for Harry. "You patently cannot. Take your career, for instance. If you'd made any effort, you'd be Head Auror, not Weasley."

"I didn't—" Harry flushed and went to place his order. Malfoy did the same.

"You didn't – what, Potter?" Malfoy said as they sat down at a table with their butterbeers. "You didn't want to be Head Auror?" He looked around to see if anyone was listening, then lowered his voice. "Potter, are you telling me you turned the position down?"

"Do you know what Head Aurors do?" Harry retorted. "Most of their time they sit at their desks figuring out which Aurors would work well on different assignments, they review reports, they meet with the Ministry, they—"

"I know very well what they do, Potter. What's your point?"

"My point is think about what they don't do. They don't go out and solve cases. They don't get a chance to meet with ordinary witches and wizards. They don't protect people. They don't do what I wanted to do."

"Are you still trying to save the world?"

"At least this time it's my choice."

Fortunately, the waitress came by to deliver their fish and chips and, when Malfoy spoke again, he changed the subject entirely and Harry let him.

"I had my very first butterbeer here, you know," Malfoy said.

"Yeah?"

"Yes. It was on the day I met you. Mother met me at Madame Malkin's after going to fetch something or other and we waited until Father had finished his business at Gringotts. He declared that since I was a young man on my way to school it was fitting that we should have our first drink together. While Mother went home with our purchases, he brought me here."

Harry felt slightly envious. He had good memories of that day. Hagrid had been great, and he could still remember the thrill of getting Hedwig. But, as fantastic as Hagrid had been, he was no substitute for parents.

"We sat at that table, the one over there," Malfoy said, using a chip to point to a booth next to the wall. I'd never been here before. This wasn't the type of place my parents frequented. While my father lectured me on the importance of meeting the right kind of people at school, all I could think about was that on the other side of the wall were Muggles - Muggles who might storm in and try to burn us all at the stake. I imagined all sorts of things I could do with my brand new wand that would stop them."

Malfoy smiled at Harry. "Keep in mind, at that point all I knew was Lumos and Nox, both of which I'd only done with my parents' wands as they held on to them as well."

Harry, however, had heard something that sounded familiar. "The right kind of people? Isn't that who you said you'd introduce me to on the train?"

"I was eleven, Potter. Where did you think I got it from? Besides, my idea at the time of the right sort of people was a bit different than what you might suspect. I had been promised a constant supply of chocolates by my mother. Greg's brother was a source of cigarettes and Vince had a cousin who sent the occasional issue of Wandplay."

Harry laughed. "If you'd told me you'd give me chocolates, cigarettes, and dirty magazines, I might've taken your hand. You could have thoroughly corrupted me."

"A corrupted Harry Potter," Malfoy mused. "Would it really have been that easy?"

Taking a sip of butterbeer, Harry grinned and shrugged.

Malfoy leaned toward Harry, suddenly serious. His voice, which had been lilting when telling his story, lowered to a purr. "And what would it take to corrupt you now?" Harry's breath caught, his gaze captured by Malfoy's. "Mr. Potter!" a female voice yelled.

Turning his head, Harry saw Rita Skeeter bearing down on him. Behind her, was a photographer.

"Oh, shit." He got to his feet, but it was too late to escape without knocking her on her arse. Not that he didn't consider that method for a few seconds.

"Tell me, Mr. Potter, my readers are anxious to know, was it seeing Viktor Krum with your nearest and dearest that made you lose that notorious temper of yours and attack him? And what was that device that you used? Everyone's being oh so secretive about it."

"I—"

"Rita, you look amazing as usual," Malfoy said, pushing his way past the photographer until he was standing next to Harry. "I'm surprised to see you here."

"Where else would I be?"

"You're so right. Why wouldn't you be here? You've always been more than willing to give other reporters a chance to get their stories on the front page of The Daily Prophet." Malfoy took advantage of Rita's momentary confusion to grab Harry by the arm and start pulling him towards the door.

The confusion in Rita's eyes cleared as she followed them. "You'll have to do better than that, dear Draco. That might work on someone else, but I practically invented implication and innuendo. I know there's no other big story out there."

"Ah, Rita, your lack of faith wounds me deeply."

Malfoy and Harry were closing in on the door. Once outside, they'd be able to Apparate away. "My place?" Malfoy whispered and Harry nodded.

"Let me get you the public's sympathy," Rita proposed to Harry. "The ageing hero, rejected by his one true love, goes mad and attacks his rival."

Before Harry could respond, Malfoy laughed harshly. "You're barking up the wrong tree. Harry, here has an alibi. He was with his boyfriend."

Harry and Malfoy stumbled out the door, but Rita was right on their heels.

"Boyfriend? Harry Potter doesn't have a boyfriend."

"He does," Malfoy said. "Me."

Together Harry and Malfoy Apparated away.

Even without an interview with Harry, Rita Skeeter got her front page story, after all.

* * *

Harry had recently developed a hatred of being late. Even being a minute late caused Malfoy to beset him with prattle about special privileges given to best friends with additional snide remarks concerning heroes that are defeated by time, both literally and figuratively. It hadn't helped that, when he left his room at the Leaky Cauldron, after sneaking in late the night before, three different people with copies of The Daily Prophet in their hands, had wanted to ask him about his relationship with Malfoy.

Part of him couldn't understand how everyone could so easily believe that Malfoy was his boyfriend, just because it had been printed in the newspaper. True - he'd lately been getting along much better with Malfoy than he'd ever thought possible. Also true - except for Ron, Malfoy was the best partner Harry had ever been assigned to. But that wasn't saying much. Harry's previous partners had been twits. As Harry hurried down the hallway at the Ministry, he spared a glance at his watch to see if he would make it to the office on time and didn't notice Thacker rounding a corner, consequently bumping into him and knocking them both to the ground.

"Harry!" Thacker said. "I was hoping I'd run into you at some point." He grinned as he got to his feet. "This wasn't quite what I had in mind."

"Sorry," Harry said.

He reached for Thacker's hand and let him help pull him up, then frowned when Thacker didn't immediately let go.

"Are you all right, Harry?"

Nodding, Harry gave a slight tug on his hand, but Thacker had a strong grip on it. "I'm fine."

"The reason I'm asking is that I'm worried about you. Specifically, worried about you and Malfoy."

Harry tugged again. His hand was still caught.

"What about me and Malfoy?"

"Nothing. It's just that I realize things haven't worked out well for you before. You've been hurt. But... you do know that you can do better than Malfoy, right?"

"Malfoy and I are doing all right together." This time when he tugged, Thacker let go.

"Yes, but you never really gave me a chance. I know I messed up badly and I'm sorry. I'm sure, though, that I could make it up to you. If you'd let me, that is." "Malingering in the hall, Harry?" Malfoy said, suddenly appearing next to them. "How terribly plebian of you, especially when you have a perfectly good office in which to malinger." He turned to Thacker. "If you'll excuse us, Harry and I have work to avoid doing."

Harry shot Malfoy a scowl as they walked together toward their office, leaving Thacker behind them.

"What was that all about, anyway?" Malfoy asked, strangely intent on Harry's answer.

"I think he wanted to try being partners again," Harry said with a shrug.

* * *

"I can't believe she wasn't even sure when it went missing," Malfoy said. His indignation caused his stride to be faster than usual and Harry had to hurry to keep up as they walked to a point where they could Apparate.

It was a simple case of a wand going missing. Leave it to Malfoy to get so worked up about it.

"You heard her. Ms. Stanley said she kept it next to her bed. It's not like she put it in a drawer and forgot about it or something."

"How do people live like that?" Malfoy asked. "She doesn't even have any house-elves."

"You don't even have any house-elves."

"Yes, but I will once I become Lord Malfoy. I'll have house-elves and I won't have to live in deprived circumstances."

Harry shrugged. "I don't think most people feel deprived not to have house-elves. Especially not Ms. Stanley since she's Muggle-born. Her husband's a Muggle. Her family is all Muggle, except for her. I suppose she regards magic as a tool, not a way of life."

Malfoy stopped and stared at Harry. "You don't think of magic like that, do you?"

"No, but it was different for me. It's not like I had a lot of ties to the Muggle world. No Muggle friends, awful relations. I much preferred the world of magic."

"Good," Malfoy said, and continued walking.

"Good? What do you mean good?"

Malfoy ignored him. "As this was the second missing wand case in a matter of days, I took the liberty of setting up an appointment with Ollivander this afternoon. He's retired, but when he heard it was you wanting the interview, he was happy to cooperate."

Harry frowned. "I don't like using my name like that."

"I know," Malfoy said smugly. "Isn't it a good thing that you have me to do it for you, then?"

* * *

The interview with Ollivander went about as well as Harry expected. In other words, not well at all.

Ollivander had greeted him at the door to his flat which was situated not far from Diagon Alley. When he'd seen Malfoy, though, his countenance had darkened. Though Malfoy had sat quietly and let Harry be the one to speak, the answers they'd received were terse.

Yes, Ollivander remembered the wands – holly with a Veela hair core and hawthorn with a unicorn hair. No, he wasn't aware of any reason why someone might take them, there was nothing unusual about them. It was late by the time they left Ollivander's home, and Harry felt exhausted, having expended a great amount of fruitless effort to pull more elaborate responses from the man.

"I don't think he likes you," Harry told Malfoy as they trudged back towards the Ministry. Everything had taken longer than it should have. They were still half a mile from the Ministry and, between the lateness of the hour and the cold weather, the streets were all but empty. Harry had considered going back to the Leaky Cauldron instead of the office, but he didn't think he could take reporters or nosy people asking him questions.

"Now why would you think that he doesn't like me?" Malfoy said. "The man was the soul of courtesy to me. Much more courteous to me as a guest in his home than my family was when he was a guest in ours."

"Have you ever apologised to him?"

"What would be the point?"

Harry stopped walking. "I don't know, maybe because you're sorry?"

"How much I or my family regrets the past is unimportant," Malfoy said. "There are some things for which no apology is sufficient and no forgiveness will ever be achieved." "I don't know about that. I've forgiven you for everything."

There was a moment of charged silence, causing Harry to realize what he'd said, and look over at Malfoy.

"Which is why," Malfoy said, when he finally spoke, "that no one should ever let you out without a keeper."

Harry was about to argue, when Malfoy tackled him to the ground, covering Harry's body with his own.

Over their heads whizzed a brightly glowing sphere.

Malfoy swung his wand toward it and uttered a spell. The sphere became trapped in a crackling circle of energy. Harry pushed Malfoy off, rolled out from under him and leapt to his feet. The sphere had come from the north and he took off in that direction as he did detection spells, searching for the one who'd sent the sphere at him. Rounding a corner, he was in time to see a dark figure Apparate away.

"Damn," he said as he slowed and lowered his wand.

Around the corner hurtled Malfoy, almost running into him.

"He Apparated away," Harry said, before Malfoy could ask.

Malfoy nodded, then turned back the way he'd come. "I think you almost became a victim to the thing that got Krum. I've got it in a magical stasis trap."

"Is it deactivated, then?"

"No, but it's not going to explode and steal our magic, either."

"Good. We should get it to the Department of Mysteries. Have their experts see if they can figure out how to work it and reverse the effects on Krum."

Malfoy shot him a glance. "Potter, I was their expert."

They returned to where the sphere was still imprisoned by the stasis trap. Taking a bag from his robe, Malfoy enlarged it then, careful to use his wand and not touch it himself, he put the sphere, trap and all, into the bag. He reduced the bag and placed it back in his pocket. "We need to report the attack on you and turn this in, though Lord knows what those idiots who still work in the Department of Mysteries will do with it. Most likely, put it on a shelf and hope that information turns up."

"Or," said Harry slowly. "You could take it home and work on it yourself."

Malfoy started in surprise. "You're telling me that we should lie and say we haven't got it?"

"No, I'm not saying that we lie. I'm saying we don't report it."

"Not report it? That's ludicrous! Someone attacked you, Potter. They'll probably try again. The Aurors need to know you're in danger."

"I can take care of myself."

"Hah! If I hadn't been around, it would've beaned you. Besides your life being in jeopardy, if we don't tell the Auror Department, you'll be keeping information from them that might help them solve the case."

"You want to report the attack. Okay. You win. We'll tell Ron that we saw the sphere fly at me. But then we'll say it flew off. You said yourself that you're the expert on weird magical things. It will be more productive if we keep it so you can examine it."

Malfoy thought about that for a moment, before nodding. "But you're taking the fall for this if it blows up in our faces."

"Agreed," Harry said. He looked at the pocket Malfoy had stuck the sphere into. "But be sure that thing doesn't blow up in yours."

* * *

"I want you to stay at Grimmauld Place," Ron told Harry.

Harry sighed. Every time Harry had been attacked since Voldemort had been defeated, Ron was positive that the perpetrators were surviving Death Eaters and always panicked. Occasionally, he'd been correct. There had also been that one time, years before Harry had married Ginny, when it had been Romilda Vane pretending to be a Death Eater. Of course, Death Eaters didn't tend to wear form-fitting robes and complain about the hoods messing up their hair.

"Grimmauld Place is yours, after all," Ron continued.

Harry shook his head. "No, it isn't. I gave it to you and Hermione on your wedding day."

"And we refused it, which is why it's still your name on the deed."

"Even if it is still mine, I can't stay there. Think about it, Ron. Soon it will be Christmas. Who comes to stay with you every Christmas?"

"My parents, Bill and Fleur, Percy and Angelina, Charlie's family - if they can make it. Everyone's brood, of course. George comes for the day, then you and Ginny stop by—" Ron stopped. "That's it, isn't it? With all us Weasleys, you don't think you'll be welcome."

"It's the same reason I moved to the Cauldron instead of moving in with you after Ginny and I split up. It'd be awkward," Harry put a hand on Ron's shoulder. "I love you all, but you're Ginny's family."

"But... it's not right. Especially seeing how it's your home, not ours. I'll talk with Hermione, then my parents. Mom and Dad can have Christmas dinner at the Burrow. Hermione and I will stay in town and spend Christmas with you."

"Your parents don't have room at the Burrow and it will break Molly's heart not to have a family dinner."

"My mother will get over it. I want you somewhere safe."

Ron wasn't going to back down unless Harry came up with another reason for him not to move in. So - Harry came up with a reason.

"I'll be somewhere safe. I'm moving in with Malfoy."

"You're what? Isn't that rather fast? Not long ago, you hated him."

"Just because you and Hermione moved forward in your relationship at glacial speed, doesn't mean we all work that way."

"Yeah, but...." Ron swallowed back his objections - which must not have agreed with him because he looked ill. "It's your life, I suppose. I'm still going to do all I can to keep you safe, though."

Before Harry could ask what he meant by that, Ron called his secretary and asked him to send for Malfoy.

"Why do you want to talk to Malfoy?" Harry asked. "What I do in my personal life is my business."

"Yes, but you've been attacked. As Head Auror and your boss, it is my responsibility to make sure that you're protected."

Malfoy walked in, hesitated briefly when he saw Harry already there, then sat down. "What do you want?"

Ron sighed. "Would it hurt you to show me a modicum of respect?"

"Actually, I believe I would find it quite painful, indeed."

"Might I remind you that I hold your career in my hands?"

"Eww. A Weasley is holding my career. I feel violated."

Before Ron could do something that Malfoy might regret, Harry decided to interrupt. "I'm not sure why you want to talk with Malfoy, anyway."

"If you're going to be living with him, then I want to know what security measures he has up."

Malfoy looked quickly at Harry when Ron said 'living with him'. Harry avoided his gaze just as quickly.

"Also, I'd like to send a couple of specialists to his home to see if they can improve on any protection spells he has." Ron turned to Malfoy. "Unless you have any objections."

"Since it is all being done because Harry is going to be living with me and seeing how I want Harry to be well protected while he lives with me, I suppose it will fine."

Ron nodded. "You might also want to think about having a Secret Keeper. As your boss, I should know who you choose."

"Hermione," said Harry.

"Pansy," said Malfoy.

Both Harry and Ron turned toward Malfoy.

"Pansy?" said Harry.

"Parkinson as in 'Let's throw Harry to Voldemort' Parkinson?" asked Ron.

"Yes," Malfoy stated firmly. "In the first place, no one would suspect that she was the Secret Keeper."

"That's for sure," Ron snorted.

"Secondly, Granger might be persuaded to reveal the information to save her children, Weasley here, or several others, justifying such an act by assuming Harry would be able to manage if attacked. Most Gryffindors would do the same. Pansy has no such close ties, most of her relations being either in Azakban or currently on the outs with her."

"Stop calling my wife Granger. She hasn't been one in years. And would Parkinson even have to be persuaded to tell? If approached, she'd sell you out in a second."

"Not in a second. I predict there would be lengthy negotiations. Pansy would see the information as being extraordinarily valuable. Her price would be truly prodigious. Few would be able to meet her demands and she'd never part with the information if they didn't."

"I'd feel better if we weren't relying on someone's greed to keep Harry safe," Ron said to Malfoy. "Isn't there anyone else?"

"There's always my mother, I suppose." Malfoy held up a hand as Ron started to object. "The woman betrayed Voldemort for me. She'd never tell anyone."

"I'll agree to Narcissa," Harry said.

Plans were made and less than a half hour later, Harry found himself walking back to his office with Malfoy by his side.

"So now we're living together, Potter?" Malfoy said.

Harry winced. "I'm sorry. Ron was pressuring me to stay with him and Hermione and so I lied to him. I didn't know it would snowball like this. If you want to get out of it, say the word and I'll go back and confess."

Malfoy waved the offer away. "Don't bother. You'll be safe and that's what's important. But, in the future, if you decide that we're marrying I would like some advanced notice. After all, proper wedding robes have to be ordered months ahead of time."

"You're such a prat," Harry muttered.

"And you love me for it."

Harry didn't reply, mostly because he was beginning to fear that Malfoy might have a point.

* * *

Harry walked into the office the following day at almost eleven. Before Malfoy could even say a word, Harry spoke.

"Don't even start on me. I told you I was meeting with Ginny today. We've settled the matter of the house and the custody of the children. This year she's getting them for Christmas and I've got them for New Year's and we're splitting the summer."

"Welcome to the joys of divorce," Malfoy said, saluting Harry with his coffee cup. "I don't get Scorpius for Christmas, either. I hope the rest of the negotiations went well. Mine was filled with screaming fits, promises of bloodshed, and wildly thrown hexes until my solicitor threatened to quit if I didn't shut up. As it is, Alphecca and I get along extremely well, as long as we never see each other."

Alphecca? Harry wondered, but refused to ask.

"Our meeting was very calm. She's still worried about Krum, so that probably put a damper on things. Also, I told her that I'd be staying with you." Harry shook his head, remembering. "I don't understand Ginny. She's never liked you. Hated you, along with the rest of your family."

"Funny how some people can't get over having their minds controlled and almost losing their life when eleven," Draco muttered.

"But, she didn't seem upset that we're together. Which we're totally not," Harry added hurriedly. "There was no shock or outrage. No surprise at all in thinking I'm seeing a man."

"Hmm... how was your sex life with her, anyway, Potter?"

Harry picked up a paperweight off of his desk and tossed it at Malfoy's head. Malfoy snatched it out of the air as if it were a snitch. "It was fine, you git."

"No confusion, then about where things ought to go?"

Harry scanned his desk for something else to throw. His hand hesitated next to his Auror Service Award - Twenty Years, but decided against throwing it, settling instead for shooting Malfoy a dirty look. "We have three children, Malfoy. I think that's proof enough that we were doing it right."

"True." Malfoy began tossing Harry's paperweight up in the air and catching it. "It's easy enough to suss out why she doesn't seem to care that you're with a man. Ginerva Weasley is pleased because losing her has obviously turned you gay."

"What?"

"Yes," Malfoy said, melodramatically. "Her parting had caused you so much pain and suffering that you've decided you never want another woman in your life. In desperation, because you still have needs and urges that you can't control, you have turned to the male half of the population, hoping that perhaps by sinking yourself into the pleasures of gay sex you might someday be able to put the agony of her loss behind you. Too bad it will never work, for she was your one true love and you will die bitter and alone with her name on your lips."

Harry stared at Malfoy for a moment and then burst out laughing. "You truly believe that's what she's thinking?"

Malfoy smiled. "If she dies first, things will be different. You'll build a shrine to her. After this glorious monument to your lost love is finished, you'll know your life's work is through and so you'll kill yourself on her grave, using the Sword of Gryffindor, most likely."

"I'm not the type to commit suicide."

Malfoy paused in playing with the paperweight and turned to look at Harry. "That's not what all the histories written about the war say."

The amusement dropped from Harry's face. "That was different," he mumbled. "It doesn't count. I didn't have a choice."

"You do know why it worked and you were able to defeat Voldemort, right?"

"Of course. It was love. Because of love for..."

"Not that," Malfoy said, dismissing Harry's explanation. "The reason it worked was because Voldemort was a Slytherin and no Slytherin would ever expect anyone to pull such a stupid, self-sacrificing stunt like that."

Harry stared at Malfoy. "A stupid, self-sacrificing stunt?" he repeated.

"Yes. It was a pure Gryffindorish act, which was why Voldemort never suspected nor prepared for it."

"A stupid, self-sacrificing stunt," Harry said again. "You know, I think I must have missed that particular description when they were awarding me all those medals and such for saving the world."

"That's because it was fellow Gryffindors doing the awarding. If Snape had lived, he would have had a thing or two to say about it."

"Snape was aware of the necessity of it."

"That still wouldn't have stopped him from making scathing remarks about it."

"That doesn't mean anything. Snape could make scathing remarks about my breathing."

"That's because you do it so badly," Malfoy said, then ducked when Harry's Auror Service Award flew across the room at him.

* * *

"It's an epidemic," Malfoy said on their way back to the Ministry.

"It's only the third case," Harry answered.

"As I said, an epidemic. Right now, it's wands that were left in coat pockets and on tables. The next thing you know, they'll be taken right out of people's hands. It's fortunate all the victims are fully capable of living like Muggles until they replace them. I know some Wizards who would starve."

"Like you?" Harry asked.

"I am quite capable of fending for myself."

When Harry looked at him askance, Malfoy continued.

"Give a wandless Wizard a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach him the intricacies of mobiles, Muggle money, and the wonders of takeaway and he can have fish and chips any day of the week. It's like having house-elves, only slower." He sighed. "I miss having house-elves."

"I don't see how that's possible. You think of everyone as house-elves."

"True," Malfoy said after a moment's consideration.

* * *

"Did you take apart the sphere?" Harry asked Malfoy later that day while they were finishing up their reports.

"Not yet. Knowing that it might explode and take away my magic is making it a bit tricky. Besides, we have more important matters to discuss."

"More important matters than Krum being made into a squib and me being attacked by the same person?"

"Yes. My parents want to meet you."

Harry gaped at him, astonished. "I've met your parents. It didn't go well."

"Not as my boyfriend you haven't."

"I'm not really your boyfriend."

"They think you are."

"But your father hates me. I put him in Azkaban."

"My mother saved your life."

"Doesn't matter. She hates me, too."

"My mother is insisting. She's using the fact that we requested that she be our secret keeper as leverage. I've taken the liberty of accepting for you."

"I'm busy," Harry said quickly.

Malfoy folded his arms across his chest. "Busy doing what?"

"Busy hiding from Malfoys."

"Potter, are you afraid of my parents?"

"Yes! Well, that and the idea of a formal dinner with them."

"You've been to formal dinners at the Ministry before and I've seen you eat. While your manners aren't exceptional, they aren't appalling, either."

"I didn't have your parents staring at me while I ate, either."

"You'll do fine."

Maybe, Harry thought, if there was enough time, he could practice his table manners. Perhaps take a few lessons in deportment. Buy new robes. Create a fake identity and escape to South America.

"When's the dinner?"

"Tonight."

"Tonight!" Harry shrieked, then felt embarrassed at making such a sound. "I can't do it tonight."

"Why not?"

"I'm-I'm moving into your place."

"Potter, you have a trunk at the Leaky Cauldron. One trunk. Somehow I think you'll manage to have dinner with my parents and get moved in."

"Your parents are going to kill me," Harry moaned.

"That's nonsense, Potter," Malfoy said. "Didn't you learn anything during the war? We don't kill those we hate. We simply incarcerate them in the cellar."

Somehow, that didn't make Harry feel any better.

* * *

Malfoy had been right. It hadn't taken Harry long to move his trunk from the Leaky Cauldron into the spare bedroom of the flat that Scorpius usually used.

"Now," said Malfoy, flipping open the lid to Harry's trunk, "Let's see what you have that's appropriate to wear to my home."

"Stop pawing through my things, Malfoy."

"Draco," was the muffled reply. "You have to call me Draco in front of my parents, so you might as well get used to it." He pulled his head out of the trunk, holding an orange shirt with two fingers. "Please tell me that this is a rag that Housekeeping at the Leaky Cauldron left in your room by mistake."

"You can toss it, if you want," Harry said while testing the bed to see if it was a good as the one in Malfoy's room. "It's too tight across the chest and rather threadbare. I only use it when exercising or mucking about in the yard."

Malfoy looked at the shirt again and placed it back in Harry's trunk. "Perhaps it has possibilities, after all."

Harry rolled his eyes. Malfoy was so weird. Harry gave him justification to throw away the shirt, so of course Malfoy decided to keep it, just to be contrary.

"Wear this green robe," Malfoy said, turning to face Harry and tossing said robe to the foot of the bed. "Also, I think we should discuss affectionate displays in order to show my parents how we feel about one another."

Harry stilled. "Affectionate displays? Do you mean kissing and hugging and stuff?"

"Yes."

"You think we should kiss in front of them to make them think we're a couple?" Unable to help it, Harry's eyes were drawn to Malfoy's mouth.

"I think we shouldn't. No kisses, under any circumstance. We'd be awkward and my parents, who are fairly astute, would realize the truth."

Harry tried very hard to squelch the disappointment that ran through him. "Okay. No kissing."

"But you may, if you wish, hold my hand."

"Really?" Harry said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "Can I?"

"I don't allow just anyone to hold my hand, I'll have you know." Malfoy headed for the bedroom door. "You'd better get dressed. My parents, I'm sure, are awaiting your arrival with bated breath."

Harry wondered if Lucius had ordered the cellar readied in anticipation.

* * *

As Harry sat on the Malfoy's sofa in the Malfoy's formal drawing room, after eating a seven course meal while Narcissa made painfully polite conversation and Lucius glowered from his chair at the head of the table, Harry realized that he'd been worried about the wrong things.

He'd worried about his clothes, his manners, losing his temper if Lucius should goad him and having the entire evening turn into an exchange of Unforgivables. He hadn't spared a single thought to the thing that was proving to be most difficult to endure.

Malfoy's hand.

No, make that Draco's hand. Maybe if he used the name Draco in his head, he'd manage to say it aloud without stumbling over it.

After the third such incident, while they were having cocktails before dinner, Draco had volunteered that the war had caused Harry to develop a stutter. The elder Malfoys had looked slightly taken aback, though Narcissa had murmured her sympathies. Harry, in the meanwhile, had kept calm by imagining a variety of ways to enact revenge on Draco.

A few conversational mishaps occurred, such as when Harry noted that they'd redecorated since the last time he'd been there. Each mishap caused the revenge Harry had planned to grow more violent. Then Draco had picked up Harry's hand and all thoughts of revenge had skipped down the lane while whistling a happy tune.

Draco didn't just hold Harry's hand. He squeezed it. He stroked it. He caressed the palm with his thumb in a way that made Harry's blood run rapidly to other parts of his body that wanted to be squeezed, stroked, and caressed..

Harry had disentangled his hand and thought very unsexy thoughts so that when they rose to go into the dining room, his robe fell relatively straight.

The house-elves were efficient and there was almost no lull between courses, so Harry was able to keep his hand safely away from Draco. But then they'd finished and adjourned to the drawing room and Draco had sat next to Harry on the sofa. Harry now had to deal with not only the feel of Draco's hand in his, but the way Draco had casually rested their joined hands on his thigh - the same thigh that was pressed against Harry's, the warmth seeping through layers of fabric and making Harry feel as if he might be running a temperature.

Draco's hand wasn't the smooth, aristocratic hand that Harry would've thought he'd have. True, the fingernails were trimmed neatly and buffed, but the hand was slightly larger than Harry's. Similar calluses from holding wands dotted their palms, as well as ones from riding brooms, which made Harry wonder if Draco still played the occasional game of Quidditch.

And if Draco didn't stop stroking the sensitive skin of Harry's palm, Harry was going to go crazy.

It made following the conversation difficult. It was only when he heard "Mr. Potter" that Harry glanced up.

"Pardon me?" Harry said to Narcissa, who'd been the one speaking.

She gave him a smile that looked a little forced. "I was telling Draco how charming your great uncle Charlus was. He was always one of my favourite relatives." At Harry's confused look, she added, "My great aunt Dorea and your great uncle Charlus were married."

Harry looked over at Draco. "Did you know that?"

"Yes, but stop panicking. It's a distant enough relationship that any children we have should be perfectly normal."

Lucius, who'd been sipping an after dinner cognac, choked. Patting his mouth with his handkerchief, he gave Draco a stern look. "That was in poor taste."

"Yes, Father," Draco said, not seeming one bit bothered by the reprimand.

"I inherited a portrait of my grandfather, his siblings and their spouses." Narcissa turned to Lucius. "Where did we have that placed? Do you remember?"

"I believe it's on the second floor portrait gallery at the very end. They tend to be annoyingly loud at times."

"Would you care to meet them?" Narcissa asked Harry.

Harry, who'd never met any portraits of relatives, even ones fairly distant, quickly stood. "I would. Thank you. He'd have known my Dad, wouldn't he?"

Narcissa rose from her chair and nodded. "I'm sure he did. Although he was much younger than your grandfather and siblings with that much difference in age are never too close, he would still have met him." She thought for a few minutes. "Your great uncle Charlus died before Draco was born so I'm afraid he wouldn't have known you."

When Draco stood, ready to join them, Lucius spoke.

"Draco, I was hoping that we might have a word alone. Perhaps it would be best if Mr. Potter and your mother viewed the portrait without you."

Draco's glance went to Harry, who shrugged. "It's okay with me."

Leaving Draco behind, Harry followed Narcissa down a hall and up a series of stairs. After another hall, they came to the portrait gallery and at last to the portrait in question. Introductions were made and Charlus was so absurdly pleased to meet "James' boy" that Pollux, Casseopeia, and Irma frowned at his exuberance while his wife, Dorea, looked on indulgently.

It was with some reluctance that Harry said his farewells and left to return to the drawing room.

"Thank you," he said quietly as he and Narcissa descended the stairs.

"It was nothing."

They reached the bottom of the stairs and Harry turned to face her. "It wasn't nothing. I never met my grandparents. Not on either side. This was as close as I'll ever come to knowing them. I don't know how I can repay you."

"If you wish to—"

From the drawing room, the rumbling of voices raised in anger could be heard, though no words could be made out. Concern flickered in Narcissa's eyes.

"I suppose we'd better go break that up," Harry said, already moving quickly the way they'd come.

Harry was almost at the door to the drawing room when it swung open and Draco stormed out. Spying Harry, Draco grabbed him, pulled him tightly against him, and kissed him hard.

Harry would like to think that he'd stood there stiff and hadn't responded. Or, at least, that he'd managed to kiss Draco back. But he'd done something much worse.

He'd melted into the kiss.

There was no other term for it. Draco's mouth touched his and Harry's knees weakened. He leaned against Draco, depending upon him to keep them upright. He lost all awareness of anything and everything other than the feel of Draco's lips, the taste of Draco's tongue that swirled in to meet his, the desire for it to go on and on, never ending.

By the time Draco pulled back, Harry was breathing hard and nearly stumbled. He tried to convince himself that it was from shock, but knew it to be a lie.

Draco grabbed Harry's hand and held it tightly before turning to glare at Lucius. "I think it's past time for my boyfriend and I to go home."

As Draco dragged him toward the front entry, grabbing their outer cloaks on the way and then pulled him outside where they could Apparate away, Harry caught a flash of Lucius' face.

Oddly, the expression there was not one of anger, but of satisfaction.

* * *

As soon as they'd entered Draco's flat, Draco had let go of Harry's hand. He flung their outer cloaks onto a chair, for they'd never even had the chance to put them on, then strode to his liquour cabinet. There he poured himself a liberal amount of brandy. He gulped down some before remembering his manners.

"Would you like some?"

"No, thank you." Harry went to the chair and picked up their cloaks to hang them up. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No."

"I wouldn't mind. It's not like I'd argue with you if you said Lucius was a disagreeable bastard."

Draco let out a harsh laugh and shook his head. "I'd rather not."

Having finished hanging up their cloaks, Harry walked over to Draco, who had already poured himself a second glass of brandy.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked. He moved closer. "Is there anything I can do?"

Draco raised his eyes to meet Harry's, his stare so intent, it made Harry feel open, naked. He occluded automatically, but didn't sense the probing that went with Legilimens. As Draco continued to stare, Harry found himself holding his breath, as if he were standing on a precipice that he hadn't known was there and it would take only the shifting of his weight for him to fall.

Then Draco lowered his gaze. "No. There's nothing you can do."

Nodding, Harry was heading for bed, when Draco's voice stopped him.

"Harry, what would you give to get something you want? Something you've wanted badly and for quite a while. What lengths would you go to? Would you be willing to forfeit your past, your future, for a wisp of a chance to achieve your goal? Would you give up all that you are?"

Harry smiled. "You're talking to the person who did a stupid, self-sacrificing stunt in order to defeat Voldemort. I've died to achieve a goal."

Draco moved next to Harry, so close that their clothing brushed. "How did you feel when you did it?" he asked quietly.

"Scared," Harry said, his voice barely above a whisper as he remembered. "Afraid it was going to hurt to die. But... but I couldn't not do it. I didn't know if it was going to work, but I had to take the chance. I had to try."

Draco absorbed that, then took a deep breath and nodded. "Thank you for telling me."

Harry turned to go, then hesitated. He turned back to face Draco, who looked vulnerable, stripped somehow. Without pausing to consider consequences, Harry leaned forward, and brushed a soft chaste kiss against Draco's lips.

"Good night, Draco," Harry said, then headed for his bedroom.

As he shut the door, Draco was still standing in the same spot and staring after him.

* * *

If there was one thing Harry was completely rubbish at, it was buying Christmas presents. He'd moved on from boxes of chocolate frogs and similar for Ron to expensive booze, though he still resorted to books for Hermione. Although buying presents for the children and various other relatives had been Ginny's responsibility, he'd always helped. Besides, the children were pretty vocal about what they wanted – James and Lily being mad for Quidditch supplies, while Albus usually wanted a special day out together as his gift.

Now he was faced with the prospect of purchasing a Christmas gift for someone who had everything he wanted.

Harry was standing in Diagon Alley, wondering if it was too late to call upon George and see if he could create a particularly nasty trick to give to Malfoy that he could play on others when a distraught woman walked past him. A woman he recognised.

"Ms. Stanley?" Harry called out, hurrying to catch up with her.

"Yes?" She turned to face him while wiping her eyes with a tissue.

"Is something wrong? May I be of assistance in any way?"

"No. There's nothing you can do. I'm afraid I'll have to figure something else out."

"What's wrong?"

She looked back the way she had come, back to Ollivander's Wand Shop. It wasn't Ollivander's anymore, of course. He'd retired years earlier and sold it to another wandmaker called Duringdorm. Everyone still called it Ollivander's, despite the name change.

"I went to get a new wand, but none worked."

"None?"

She shook her head sadly. "Mr. Duringdorm fetched almost forty wands for me to try, but barely a flicker came out of any of them."

"There are other wandmakers. I have a friend who's made all the ones for my children. She's out of the country at the moment, but perhaps she could help you when she returns."

"I don't know." Ms. Stanley looked up at Harry. "Are there any leads to finding my old one? Although I didn't use it much and was never very strong magically, I was fairly attached to it."

"We're still investigating. There aren't many leads."

"Please let me know if you recover it."

"We will," Harry assured her.

With a strange feeling of disquiet, Harry decided to visit the wand shop. As he entered, he noticed immediately that it was no longer the dusty place he remembered from boyhood. Not a speck of dust was anywhere. Rows of shelves filled the store. Each set of shelves was labeled with a type of wood and each shelf in that set was labeled with types of cores.

The bell above the door had tinkled a merry tune when Harry entered and a short, smiling man came out of the back room and moved behind the counter. This had to be the proprietor, Abel Duringdorm. He wore a sparkling white apron over a white robe, shirt, and trousers, along with white gloves on his hands.

"May I help you?" he asked, then his eyes widened. "Why you're Mr. Potter! What may I do for you, sir? Are you interested in a new wand?"

"No. I was just curious. I haven't been in here since I was young." Harry glanced about again, studying the changes in the place. "It looks as if you have things organised."

Duringdorm nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, tidy surroundings and a tidy mind make a tidy life."

Harry blinked at the man's manner, then dismissed it. Ollivander had been a little off-putting and Luna, who'd learned the craft from Ollivander and had made wands for the children of all her friends, would never be considered normal.

"A woman was in here earlier. Ms. Stanley."

"Yes." Duringdorm's expression switched to pitying. "Such a sad case. I told her that I would be happy to continue looking for her. Even my Wandmatcher didn't help."

"Your Wandmatcher?"

"Yes." Duringdorm reached under the counter and pulled out a machine with a dark brown base and a top that was formed by swirls of different woods, with thin lines separating them that had to be types of cores. At the bottom of the base were dials. "As I haven't the experience Ollivander has, I use the Wandmatcher. When someone needs a wand, they place their hand on the wood and core types. The dials at the bottom point to whatever reacts best to their magic."

"That's very interesting," Harry said. He found he liked Ollivander's method better. It had seemed much more mysterious and magical.

"Would you like to try it, Mr. Potter?"

Harry shook his head. "That's not necessary."

"But aren't you curious to know if it works? Don't you wonder if Old Ollivander matched you up with the right wand all those years ago?"

Harry glanced at Duringdorm sharply. "It was the right wand."

"Are you sure? Try the Wandmatcher and find out."

"It was the right wand," Harry said, giving his voice an edge, "because it was the twin to Voldemort's."

Duringdorm stilled. A moment later he relaxed. "Yes. I had forgotten. Forgive me."

"I actually came in here to ask you questions about a rash of wand thefts," Harry said, becoming the professional Auror to ease past the awkwardness of the moment.

A few minutes later, Harry left the shop with no further information concerning the missing wands. However, his feeling of disquiet had grown.

* * *

"Where the hell were you?" Draco asked as soon as Harry walked into the office.

"I went to Diagon Alley to do some last minute Christmas shopping," Harry said as he took off his heavy overcloak.

"I did a quick check of Diagon Alley. You weren't there."

"I had to make another stop." Harry turned around and was surprised to find that Draco was directly behind him, his face flushed and angry looking.

"Did you forget that you were attacked not so long ago? That the nut who attacked you is still out there?"

"I've had more dangerous people attack me."

"You're about to have one attack you now! I'm so mad I could Crucio you. Do you have any concept of how worried I was? I almost went to Weasley for help. To Weasley!"

"I'm sorry," Harry said, pushing past Draco to go to his desk where he took his seat.

"You should be. If something happened to you, I...." Draco stopped. He took a deep breath before starting again. "If something happened to you, I might end up partnered with someone like Thacker or Smithers. You should have some consideration for my future."

"You're right. It would be terrible if my death caused you to have an unsuitable partner."

"It would be." Draco's voice was much calmer. "I would suffer horribly."

Harry nodded and opened up a new case file that had been delivered to his desk.

"So," said Draco. "Did you get a present for me?"

Harry decided to make Draco suffer horribly right then and not answer.

* * *

Harry was pleased to have the flat to himself for once. Draco had left, acting nonchalant, which had made Harry suspicious. As it was almost Christmas, he had to assume Draco was attempting to be sneaky about purchasing him a present.

The doorbell rang and Harry was tempted to ignore it. Sighing at his disturbed evening, he went to open it and was surprised to see Narcissa Malfoy.

"Mrs. Malfoy."

"May I come in?" "Sure," Harry said stepping back. He gathered up the Quidditch magazines he'd been thumbing through and indicated for her have a seat. He offered to make her tea, which she politely declined.

"Draco's not here at the moment," Harry said. "You're welcome to wait for him if you want."

"It's you I came to see."

"Me?" Harry tried to hide his panic. "Why did you want to see me?"

"There's a matter that I find I need your help with. As you might remember, I've helped you in the past and thought perhaps you might return the favour."

Was this Narcissa Malfoy calling in the life debt he owed her? But what would she want from him? The thought flickered through Harry's head that maybe she wanted him to kill someone.

"Depending upon what the favour is, I might be willing to do it," Harry said.

Narcissa nodded gravely. "This favour is something that you most likely will not like doing. It will undoubtedly go against your nature and your better judgment."

Oh, God. She did want him to kill someone.

"But it's very important to me that this be done," Narcissa continued. "It's important to my family. You, Mr. Potter, are the only one that I can think of who might be able to accomplish it."

She must want him to kill someone of consequence. Had the Minister recently pissed her off? "I think," Harry said, "that you've wasted your time in coming here. I know that I owe you a life debt, but I refuse to kill anyone for you."

Narcissa blanched. "Kill anyone? When did I say anything about killing anyone? Although both Lucius and Draco often infuriate me, doing away with one or both of them is not an option."

"Lucius and Draco?"

"Yes. The night you came to our home for dinner, Lucius said something so very ill-conceived, that it's caused a rift in our family. Since that night, Draco has refused to come to our home for any reason. This includes refusing our invitation for Christmas dinner. I'm asking that you intervene, if you would. Though I know that you and Lucius have had moments of enmity in the past, I would be grateful if you encouraged Draco to make peace with his father."

Moments of enmity in the past, Harry repeated silently to himself. That was a rather insane way of putting it.

"Please," Narcissa said. "They're my family."

It was at that moment that Harry knew that, while Draco and Lucius each probably thought that they were masters of manipulation, neither of them could hold a candle to Narcissa.

"Okay," Harry said glumly. "I'll talk to Draco."

"Thank you." Narcissa gave him a smile filled with triumph. "I'm sure you will succeed, as you do at most everything." She rose to leave, then paused. "As Draco's partner, you are more than welcome to join us for Christmas dinner, of course."

"I have other plans," Harry lied. He'd have to go out and make some fast. "Besides, I wouldn't want to intrude upon a family gathering."

"But it wouldn't be an intrusion. Why, you're practically family yourself."

Practically family with the Malfoys. Harry wondered if his parents, Sirius, and Remus had all rolled over in their graves.

* * *

"Wake up! It's Christmas."

Harry groaned and pulled the covers over his head. Maybe Draco would get the message and leave.

He didn't. He tugged the covers back down until Harry's face was visible again.

"Come on, Potter. I want to open the presents everyone gave me."

"What are you?" Harry grumbled. "Five?"

"No. I'm someone who is curious to see if others value me as much as they should and have expressed it properly in their gifts."

Harry groaned. "I'm working a double shift today. I was hoping to get some more sleep."

"Sleep is for the weak and for those who don't have presents waiting for them. Come, Potter. Our possible haul awaits us."

Giving in, Harry flung back the covers and rolled out of bed. Half-asleep, he grabbed his dressing gown and pulled it on. When he turned, it was to find Draco staring at him, a stunned look on his face.

"What?" Harry asked.

"You don't wear pyjamas," Draco said.

"I prefer not to. I'll wear them if I'm a guest in someone's home and Ginny liked me to wear them, but I went without for those years when I lived on my own before marrying Ginny. If you'd feel more comfortable if I wore them, I will."

"No!" Draco said hurriedly. "I'm fine with you sleeping in the nude. You needn't wear pyjamas on my account. Really."

"You had such an odd expression, though."

Draco shrugged. "I was thinking 'Merry Christmas to me'."

"I've never known anyone so into presents," Harry said.

* * *

Draco kindly allowed Harry to make a pot of coffee and then bothered him every thirty seconds or so to ask if he was done yet. At last they sat down next to the floo and began to sort through the presents that had been delivered through it. Draco's pile was tremendous, but Harry was pleased to see that he had several from his friends and children. A lovely wrapped box from Draco and an equally lovely wrapped box from Draco's parents dominated his pile.

"Me first," Draco said, grabbing the heavy, jangling box Harry had done his best to wrap. He opened the box, then arched an eyebrow at Harry. "You gave me money?"

"It's one hundred and four galleons, but that's only part of the present. As for the main part of your present, it's more like you're borrowing it for the next year."

"You're lending me my present," Draco said slowly, trying to understand.

"Since I'm making a hash of explaining, maybe I ought to show you." Harry rose and opened the broom cupboard door. "You may come in now."

From the closet emerged a large-eyed, large-eared, fairly young house-elf.

Draco turned to stare at Harry. "You're giving me a house-elf? Granger is going to kill you. No, I get it. You're actually giving me blackmail material against you because if I tell Granger, then she'll kill you."

"I'm loaning you the house-elf. This is Kreacher's son and, although he's always lived and worked at Hogwarts, he considers me his family. He didn't want any payment, but I negotiated that I, well you, would pay him two galleons a week for the year. That's what the galleons are for. Using Wizarding space, I've already created a good-sized room for him behind the broom cupboard."

"I've got a house-elf?" Draco said, beginning to get excited. "Someone to clean for me? Someone to cook my meals? Someone to blame when I can't find the book I'm reading?"

"No beating him," Harry warned.

"Of course not," Draco replied quickly. "I've got a house-elf!" he repeated happily. Draco grinned at the short creature. "I think we'll get along splendidly. I'll be your master and give you orders. You'll be my servant and do whatever I say. It's the perfect arrangement. What's your name?"

"Wait!" Harry said, wanting a minute to explain things to Draco. He didn't get it.

"I is Kinky!" the house-elf proudly proclaimed.

Draco blinked. "You're Kinky?"

"Yes. Kinky will be in the kitchen, making Master Draco his breakfast."

After the house-elf had left the room, Harry braced himself for Draco's explosion. When he managed to look, it was to see Draco smirking at him.

"I must hand it to you. You do give unique gifts. No one else has ever given me a Kinky house-elf for Christmas."

"I didn't mean to. Kreacher married Winky, who was Crouch's ex-house-elf. His show of loyalty to his family during the Battle of Hogwarts caused her fall in love with him. Kreacher and Winky made Kinky."

"They made kinky? Shouldn't that be 'they got kinky'? And shame on you, Potter, for speculating about house-elf sex."

"Oh, shut up."

"I think I like Kinky," Draco said.

Harry groaned. If he had to listen to Kinky jokes for the next twelve months, he was going to go crazy.

"Maybe I should open up my present now." Harry said, hoping that would stop all the kinky talk. Opening the extravagantly wrapped box, Harry found inside one of the bags that Draco seemed to be constantly pulling out of his pocket.

"This will come in handy," Harry said.

"Your present is in the bag, you idiot. I reduced it."

"Oh."

Harry opened the bag and pulled from it a large portrait. Depicted was an elderly woman, napping. He looked to Draco for an explanation.

Instead of answering, Draco leaned forward and tapped the canvas. "Ma'am?"

The woman blinked, then looked with kind eyes at Draco. "Why hello. It's so pleasant to see you again."

"Likewise. Ma'am, I have someone who I'd like you to meet. This is Harry Potter. Your grandson."

The woman's face brightened. "My grandson? How fortunate!"

Harry, in the meantime, could hardly breathe.

"Harry," Draco said, "I'd like to introduce you to Adelaide MacMillan Potter."

"Ma'am," Harry said, unable to move his eyes away from her.

"Ma'am?" she said. "You must call me Grandmother. I insist."

Draco rose from his chair. "If you'll excuse me, I'll go see how Kinky's doing in the kitchen."

Harry nodded. He'd have to thank Draco later for both the present and for giving him some time alone.

After Draco left, his grandmother asked in an appalled whisper, "Did he just say that he was going to see kinky doings in the kitchen?"

* * *

"Did you have a nice Christmas?" Ron asked Harry and Draco. The three of them were meeting to go over the progress, or the lack of such, on their various cases.

"It was okay," Harry said. He'd kept busy, working two shifts so that he didn't have to think about how much he missed his children. Although he'd spoken to them by floo and listened to their excited chatter about presents and so on, afterwards, he'd felt more alone than before.

Malfoy had shown up at the start of Harry's second shift, having volunteered for it himself. He'd seemed fine, almost happy to be there, so Harry had assumed that Christmas dinner with his parents had gone smoothly.

"The Christmas shifts were relatively quiet," Harry told Ron. "There were a few incidents of public drunkenness, plus one family fight that turned into a brawl."

"I had a terrific Christmas," Draco said. "I especially enjoyed my Christmas present from Harry. He got Kinky for me for Christmas."

Ron coughed. "Too much information."

"It's not like it sounds!" Harry protested.

"Harry, I'm trying to be a good friend to you," Ron said. "But I'm also your boss and all I ask is that you keep it out of the office. Please."

Reluctantly, Harry nodded. "There was a house-elf involved," Draco piped up.

"Aaargh!" said Ron, clapping his hands over his ears.

Draco grinned at Harry. "I wonder who else I can tell about your gift?"

* * *

"Where have you been?" Harry asked Draco as he came into the kitchen, three hours later than normal. In a short amount of time, he'd grown used to Draco being around, but over the last few days, he'd been scarce. Tonight, Draco had left work and not come home. Harry had eaten the dinner that Kinky had cooked, then spent most of the evening alone, reading at the table with a cup of tea.

"I'm still working on taking apart the Stomp," Draco said while pulling open a tin filled with biscuits that Kinky had made. He grabbed two, then looked at Harry. "Want one?" Harry shook his head, so he put the tin back.

"Stomp?" Harry asked.

"Sphere That Obliterates Magical Powers - Stomp."

"At least it's better than 'Spew'. You're not planning on making badges are you?"

"I don't know. Should I? I like badges. I still have my 'Potter stinks' badge somewhere," Draco said, before biting into a biscuit. "How does 'Stamp out Stomps' sound?"

"Spare me," Harry replied, making Draco grin.

"I've tweaked the stasis charm on it so that I can start taking it apart without letting any of its magic leak out.''

"That's good."

Draco sat down at the table and glanced at the brochures Harry had left scattered on its surface. "What's this?"

"A waste of time, as it turns out. I'd thought to take James, Albus, and Lily on a short holiday. Talked to Ginny and, with all that's going on with Krum, she'd prefer the children stayed close by, so the holiday's out. The problem is - I don't know what I'm going to do with them. They might end up staying the entire time with her."

"They can stay with us. Scorpius will be returning from France and staying, too. There'll be so many of us that we can pretend to be Weasleys."

"You're joking, right? I mean about us staying here, not the Weasley part. This place is much too small."

"You misunderstood. Scorpius and I spend our holidays together at the Manor."

Harry's eyes widened, then he shook his head emphatically. "No! No. I'm not spending several days with your parents. And what about my kids? Lucius will probably make snide remarks about them being half-bloods."

"Three-quarters," Draco corrected, then rolled his eyes when Harry glared at him.

"It's not going to happen."

"There's plenty of room at the manor. Both of my parents have been perfectly fine around Albus when he's spent time at the Manor before. I don't see what the problem is."

"If you don't see what the problem is," Harry snapped, "then maybe you're the problem."

"Oh," Draco said. "Now I understand."

"What?" Harry asked, not sure what had precipitated the change in Draco's demeanor. "What do you understand?"

"You don't want your children around me. You're ashamed of having me as your boyfriend."

Harry leaned over the table towards Draco. "I'm only going to say this once," he said calmly, "so I want you to listen carefully. You're listening, right?"

Draco nodded.

Harry stared into his eyes. "Draco," he said through gritted teeth, "you're NOT my boyfriend."

Draco's smile was as close to wicked as possible. "Yes, but everyone thinks I am and if you don't spend the week with me, they'll suspect that you're hiding me from your children, ashamed of our love."

Harry slumped in his chair.

"Come on, Potter. Stay a few days with your children at the Manor. It's a big place."

"I can't think of anything worse than spending my few days off at the Manor with our children and your parents."

"You could spend that same time with your children in the same house as your ex-wife and a magic-deprived Krum. You could be sleeping on the sofa while those two are canoodling in your bed."

Harry stared at Draco. "Generally, when someone says that they can't think of anything worse, you're not supposed to suggest something."

Draco smiled. "Is it my fault that I'm relentlessly helpful? So? Should I owl my parents to get the east wing ready?"

"Kill me now."

"Watch it, Potter. Relentlessly helpful here."

"Yes." Harry put his face in his hands. "Owl your parents," he said, voice muffled.

* * *

"This is not going to work," Harry said as he and Draco took the lift to the Ministry Atrium. Ginny was supposed to meet him there with the children. Scorpius was being dropped off there by Malfoy's ex-wife, as well.

"It'll be just like that Muggle film I saw," Draco said.

"Guess Who's Coming for Dinner?"

"You invited someone for dinner?"

"No," said Harry. "I meant was that the film you were referring to?"

"The film I was talking about was, I believe, titled Dawn of the Dead."

Harry stared at Draco. He realized he'd been doing a lot of that lately. "Dawn of the Dead? The movie about people taking refuge from zombies in a shopping centre? This situation reminds you of that?"

"Yes."

"People died in that movie. A lot of people!"

"Why do you think I thought of it?"

I'm going to let it go, Harry repeated to himself as they stepped out of the lift. I'm going to let it go.

He couldn't let it go.

"Who are the zombies?" Harry asked.

"Oh, look," Draco said, pointing to where James, Albus, and Lily stood with Scorpius. "There are the children now."

* * *

Sometimes, Harry thought, you see the way the tree branches are blowing from the wind, yet you still fail to recognise the symptoms of a coming storm. When they'd flooed to the manor, he'd watched carefully as Narcissa and Lucius had greeted his children. Narcissa had politely asked them questions about their journey there, and both she and Lucius shook their hands. It was only when Lily was introduced that anything untoward happened. On the part of Lily.

Instead of returning the greeting to Lucius, she'd blushed and with a small giggle had escaped.

Assuming she'd grown shy during the recent term, Harry had stepped in and smoothed things over as best he could. He'd then been distracted by Narcissa explaining that each child would have their own room, if they wished, then turning to Harry and saying that she'd taken the liberty of having his luggage placed in Draco's room.

As Narcissa led the way with the children following along behind her, Harry had grabbed Draco by the arm and pulled him aside.

"Did you know that your mother was going to put us together?"

"No. I had no idea she liked you that much."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"When Alphecca and I were engaged, my mother assigned her the Turquoise room, which is in the west wing next to the room where the ghost of my great-great-grandfather Castor, who fancies himself to be an opera singer, resides. Alphecca was not pleased."

"So – what are you going to do?"

"It's a big bed. We'll survive."

Scorpius had shown up at that point, sent by Narcissa to hurry them along.

It was that evening, when he was making sure his children were settled in for the night, that he learned of the problem that he'd failed to see coming.

Harry entered Draco's bedroom, too upset to be bothered by the sight of Draco sitting up in bed, reading a book. Harry plopped down on the bed and covered his eyes with his arm. "I should have never defeated Voldemort."

Draco glanced at him and then placed the book he'd been reading facedown on his lap. "Why do you say that?"

"Because if I hadn't defeated Voldemort, I would've died. If I'd died, I wouldn't have children who would live to torment me."

"What did Albus do now?"

"It wasn't Albus, for a change. Not James, either. It's Lily." Harry moved his arm and looked at Draco. "She told me that your father was pretty, then asked what the likelihood was that your mother might be dying of some terribly tragic, incurable disease."

Draco started laughing. Harry hoped he'd choke.

"It's not funny! My daughter has a crush on Lucius Malfoy. He's old! Too old!"

"Old enough to be her grandfather," Draco supplied.

"Yes!"

"Face it, Potter. As a Pureblood, he doesn't look nearly his age. By the time she's one hundred, the difference between them will scarcely matter."

"Bite your tongue." Harry pushed himself off the bed and opened the suitcase he'd packed. It was empty.

"Where are my things?"

"The house-elves have unpacked them for you. You'll find your toiletries in the bathroom and your robes pressed and hanging up." Draco picked his book back up and started reading again.

"And my pyjamas?"

"I thought you didn't wear pyjamas."

"Seeing how I'm staying in your parents' house, I think I should."

"You really needn't bother," Draco said. When Harry continued to look at him, Draco relented and pointed to a chest of drawers against the wall. "Fine. You'll probably find them folded in a drawer next to mine. Try the third one down."

"Thanks."

The chest of drawers had several photos on it, and Harry took a minute to glance at them. A picture of Draco dancing with Pansy at the Yule Ball during fourth year, their movements jerky, caught Harry's attention. He could've sworn at the time that they'd been experts. Another picture showed Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle together. He didn't remember Crabbe and Goyle being so small. When they saw Harry, they pointed and hid behind Draco. Harry recognised Scorpius in another photo, who must have recognised Harry, as well, for he smiled and nodded. An unfamiliar woman in a photo ignored Harry to concentrate on the blond baby she held in her arms. The last photo was of Draco's parents taken some years before. Lucius sneered at Harry. In retaliation, Harry mouthed the words 'I killed Voldemort.'

"Having trouble finding your pyjamas?" Draco asked from the bed.

"Still looking," Harry said, quickly yanking open a drawer. He glanced back to see if Draco had observed what Harry had done, but he seemed to be once more absorbed in his book.

In the drawer, Harry found his pyjamas. He considered taking them into the bathroom to change, but decided against it. After all, Draco was busy reading. Still feeling uncomfortable, he kept his back turned to Draco and took off his clothes. When he finished donning his pyjamas, he turned back to find Draco watching him avidly, book discarded.

Harry flushed. "Voyeur much?"

"As often as possible," Draco stated. "Now if you're done making faces at my father's photo, I'd like to go to sleep."

* * *

Activity filled the next few days. The children roamed the grounds. Scorpius, with Albus' help, was pleased at being able to show James and Lily all of their favourite haunts, including the spots that were haunted, which were comprised of several rooms, the family crypts, and, of all places, a garden shed.

Harry and Draco had been coerced into a Quidditch game and Lily had been assigned to their team. Harry and Draco had looked at one another, assured of their victory.

They'd been beaten. Badly.

As they left the field, Harry overheard James asking to be shown the cellar.

"No," Harry stated firmly. "You're not going there."

"Why not?" Draco asked.

Harry didn't want to say what he was thinking - that he and Draco were finally finding their way toward getting along with each other. Voldemort, the Death Eaters – that was behind them. Dredging it up again could only lead to trouble. Didn't Draco realize that having the past brought up again might end up affecting how the others thought of Scorpius?

"I don't think it's a good idea," was what Harry said instead.

"Nonsense," said Draco. "I'll lead the way. Everyone can get cleaned up after we've seen it."

The boys, with Lily close behind, clamoured around Draco as he strode toward the Manor.

"All of you have heard about the Malfoy cellar, haven't you?" Draco asked. They nodded, but Draco went ahead with his tale, anyway. "During the war, when Death Eaters roamed the highways and byways of England and beyond, they would nab people they suspected to be enemies of the Dark Lord. If the prisoner was deemed important enough or thought to have useful information, they were brought to Malfoy Manor. Under the Dark Lord's orders, they were questioned under torture. When they weren't suffering the torments of the Cruciatus Curse, they lingered in the cellar of the manor."

Draco pointed to James, Albus, then Lily as the group entered the Manor. "Your father and Uncle Ron spent time in the cellar, while your Aunt Hermione was being tortured by a mad woman. That mad woman's name was Bellatrix. She was my aunt. I know this because I was there."

There was a respectful whoosh of indrawn breaths, as the four children listened to Draco.

"The cellar was dark and dank. The perfect place to cause courage to fail and for hope to be lost. Many people left the cellar, never to return. But only a handful of those who left escaped."

"If you've read Dean Thomas' book, you'll know how brave Harry Potter and resourceful Ron Weasley arrived and how, with the help of a house-elf, managed a rescue. But Thomas didn't tell everything in his book, either because he didn't know it or he meant to spare the reader."

Harry moved closer. He'd been there and the cellar hadn't been all that scary. What had been scary was listening to Hermione's screams and wondering when Voldemort would be summoned. He followed the group down the set of stairs that he remembered leading to the cellar.

"I, too," Draco continued, "can't tell you all that went on in the cellar. I do know that after your father and his friends escaped, I journeyed down there to see if anyone remained. Someone did. A dead someone. Near the door was Peter Pettigrew, the servant who'd resurrected the Dark Lord and was given a silver hand to replace the one he'd sacrificed. Pettigrew had been choked to death. Choked to death by his own silver hand."

Draco stopped at the cellar door. "Are you prepared? Are you ready to view this place in which unspeakable evil occurred?"

Everyone solemnly nodded. Harry found that he, too, was nodding.

With a flourish, Draco flung open the door and cried, "Lumos!"

The children crowded in to look. There was a long pause as they studied their surroundings.

"Darn. It's just a cellar," James said.

"I don't even see any blood on the floor," Lily complained.

"Which goes to show you," Draco said, "that it's not the place that's important. Evil can exist anywhere." He clapped his hands together. "Now hurry up to your rooms and make yourselves look respectable. Dinner will be soon and, as it's New Year's Eve, I think the house-elves are planning something special for dessert."

The children raced past Harry, leaving him alone with Draco.

"I've always remembered it differently," Harry said. "It is just a cellar."

Draco nodded solemnly. "It still gives me the occasional nightmare, though."

Harry put his hand on Draco's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Let's leave this place."

Together, they walked back up the stairs.

* * *

Harry was surprised to see Teddy Lupin at the bottom of the stairs when he went down after dressing for dinner. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I thought you were in Romania working with dragons with Charlie?" He gave Teddy a warm hug.

"I was visiting Grandmother. She's not feeling well, but she sent me on to celebrate. I was about to take a stroll in the gardens before dinner. Will you join me?"

Harry nodded. "I understand you visiting your Grandmother," Harry said as they walked out of the Manor and into the gardens, "but why are you here?"

"The Malfoys always have a few family members over for New Year's Eve. I believe, years ago, they'd hold a party, but those days are long gone."

For some time, not many would have been willing to attend a party held by the Malfoys, Harry thought. However, that might be different by now.

"I didn't realize that the Malfoys considered you family."

"I've known them all my life, but I think it took a while before they considered me something other than an unfortunate relation of Grandmother's. I don't remember the first time I ever met Uncle Lucius," Teddy said to Harry. "I was too little. Grandmother and Aunt Cissy were trying to mend fences so there were visits back and forth. When we came here, I'd be running around and Uncle Lucius would scowl and yell at me for chasing the peacocks or being in a room I shouldn't be in. Occasionally, I'd hear him mutter about me being part mongrel."

Harry bristled. Teddy had been his responsibility and if Lucius had been calling him names, then it was up to Harry to put a stop to it.

"Relax, Uncle Harry," Teddy said, laying a hand on his arm. "That was long ago. It stopped after the school administrator of the Charming Charms School for Young Wizards and Witches came close to kicking me out."

Harry started. "She tried kicking you out? When was this? Why didn't I know about it?"

"I think you were on your honeymoon with Aunt Ginny. There'd been some objections about me attending by a few of the parents, what with my dad being a werewolf and all. Anyway, Grandmother got word of what was going on and called on her sister for help. Not only did Aunt Cissy show up, but Uncle Lucius, as well. I remember we were all in a meeting, listening to the administrator explain how sorry she was but there was nothing for it, when Uncle Lucius asked that Grandmother, Aunt Cissy, and I step out of the room because he wanted to have a word with her in private."

Harry was intrigued. "What happened then?"

"About ten minutes later, they both came out. The administrator was falling over herself with apologies and saying how it'd all been a mistake and for me to go back to class."

"What did Lucius tell her?"

Teddy shrugged. "I never did find out. I figure he went Pureblood Lord Malfoy on her arse. My point is that it might take a while for Uncle Lucius to consider you family but, if he ever does... well, family's important to him."

Harry and Teddy walked along the path in silence for a few minutes until Teddy stopped and pointed to a bush. "I worked with Professor Longbottom on this plant during my last term at Hogwarts. It was grown in the greenhouse and I wasn't sure how well it would do taken out of it, but it seems to have settled in." He looked up at Harry. "It's winter now and it's barely hanging on, but you should see it in the spring. It has the most marvelous blooms."

"I'm sure it does."

* * *

The group entered the drawing room after dinner to await midnight. Teddy excused himself, mentioning that he was meeting friends.

"I bet he's going to see Victoire," said James.

"Most likely," Albus agreed.

"They'll probably kiss at midnight," Lily gushed. "It's so romantic." She glanced over at Lucius, then blushed.

Harry, who'd been observing the interaction, felt nauseous, and it wasn't caused by the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding or all the desserts he'd sampled from the variety the house-elves had made.

Draco scooted closer and murmured in his ear, "My mother handled your daughter's crush."

"How?"

"She sat Lily down and told her that if she dies under suspicious circumstances, then she'll make sure that your daughter never has a second's peace from being haunted. However, if she dies from natural causes, my father will be Lily's, with my mother's blessing."

Harry thought about that for a moment. At last he spoke. "Do you know of any spells that ensure a long-life and health?"

The evening passed fairly pleasantly. Lucius ordered a house-elf to bring champagne for everyone, including the children. Harry's children glanced over at him and Harry nodded his agreement to it.

"One glass only," he warned.

At midnight, the bells tolled and everyone stood. As the kids whooped, Lucius kissed Narcissa. Harry, feeling as if he were on display, leaned forward to give Draco a kiss. Draco, annoyingly, made no move to help Harry, so when they kissed, it was all Harry's doing. He brushed his lips against Draco and was a bit peeved to see, when he pulled back, Draco smirking at him. He would've kissed him again, but his daughter's movements caught his eye and he stilled.

Lily was approaching Lucius. She hesitated and glanced at Narcissa for permission. Narcissa nodded.

"Happy New Year, Mr. Malfoy," Lily said quietly before going up on her tiptoes.

Lucius bent his head, allowing her to kiss his cheek.

"Please, my dear, call me Lucius," he told Lily, who smiled brightly.

"I swear, he's doing that just to irritate me," Harry hissed to Draco, while glaring at Lucius.

"Probably. Say, how do you think your daughter would be as a step-mother? Would she spoil me rotten? Rottener?"

Harry switched his glare to Draco, who grinned.

"Perhaps you should go wish my mother a Happy New Year," Draco advised. "A happy and healthy New Year."

"Perhaps I should," Harry said, his gaze taking on a determined glint.

He marched over to where Narcissa was standing. "Happy New Year, Narcissa," he said. He swept her into an embrace, bent her back over his arm, and kissed her thoroughly. When he pulled her back up to a standing position, she was prettily flushed.

"Oh my," Narcissa said, fanning herself with her hand.

Harry looked triumphantly at both Lucius and Draco, neither of whom was pleased.

In the meanwhile, Albus and Scorpius were eyeing each other.

"Next New Year's," James said loudly as he stomped out of the room, "I'm going to Bulgaria."

* * *

Harry woke to the feeling of a firm, insistent pressure against his arse.

Over the last few mornings, he'd grown used to the feeling of Draco's body against his. That first night had been difficult. He'd awakened each time there'd been contact between them and scooted over, only to find that Draco followed him, as if seeking him in his sleep. By morning, Harry was at the very edge of the bed. But before, it had always been an arm or a leg flung over him.

This was definitely not an arm or leg.

Behind him, Harry could hear Draco's even breathing, signaling that he was still asleep.

Harry lay quietly, adjusting to the feel of that part of Draco against him. The corresponding part on his own body was reacting and he knew he should shift over. Shift away. Instead, he pressed back.

The even breathing changed as Draco woke. The body against his stilled.

"Harry?" Draco said softly.

Harry closed his eyes and tried his hardest to pretend to be asleep. After a moment, Draco rolled away, then left the bed.

"Fuck," Harry heard Draco mutter as he entered the en suite bathroom and shut the door.

Silently, Harry reminded himself that Draco wasn't interested in him. Naturally, he would be bothered by having rubbed up against him during the night.

* * *

Being back at the office felt weird, as if he'd been gone for months instead of days.

He'd volunteered to escort the children back to Hogwarts, since they wanted to return a few days before the term started. Draco had supervised Kinky's packing of their luggage. Quietly, Harry had stood by while the children said their thank yous to Narcissa and Lucius and only winced a little when Lily took the opportunity to kiss Lucius' cheek once more.

Okay, maybe he had winced more than a little, but at least he hadn't started swearing until he was alone later.

He'd said his own good-byes and thanks, then took the children, using the portkey he'd made earlier, to the gates of Hogwarts. James and Lily had bid him quick good-byes and then ran ahead to see their friends who'd stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays. Albus lingered, talking of inconsequential things and upcoming exams, until Harry had put an end to it by moving forward and wrapping him in a hug.

When Harry had pulled away, it was with some surprise that he saw Scorpius step forward. Tentatively, Harry gave him a quick hug, as well.

"Take care of my father," Scorpius had murmured.

"I will," Harry had said, without a moment's hesitation.

Harry looked over at Draco's desk. His promise was going to be hard to keep if Draco was never around. The door went flying open as Draco hurried into the room. "I've done it!" he cried.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Harry asked.

"Oh ye of absolutely no faith whatsoever." Draco grabbed Harry's wrist and pulled him out of his chair. "Come see. Let me show you how marvelous I am."

"Can't I take your word for it?" Harry asked, but allowed himself to be tugged along in Draco's wake.

They passed Thacker in the hall, who looked at them with a forlorn expression. He was evidently still bothered that he wasn't getting a second chance to be Harry's partner. When they passed Ron, Harry tried to stop and say something, but Draco dragged him onward.

"I said to keep it out of the office," Ron muttered.

Draco pulled Harry onto the lift and finally let him go. He pressed the button for Level Nine.

"We're going to the Department of Mysteries?" Harry asked.

"Correct. Obviously all those years spent as an Auror weren't entirely wasted."

"What's up there?"

"There's a Department. It's full of Mysteries."

Harry punched Draco in the arm. "I meant, why are we going there?"

"I've been using my office up there. It's where I've been working to take apart the Stomp like the one that attacked Krum."

"You still have an office in the Department of Mysteries?"

"Yes, but don't tell anyone. Everyone's so secretive that they think that someone else in the department is using it."

The lift opened and Harry followed as Draco strode to the rotating room, then to a door.

"That takes you to the Death Chamber," Harry said. He'd visited a few times when he'd felt down and wanted to feel closer to Sirius.

"It's the door to my office," Malfoy said, flinging it open.

Harry stared in astonishment at the room that contained a desk, a couple of chairs, all sorts of tools, a workbench, and a variety of objects that he failed to recognise. "I could have sworn..."

"Potter, does the word 'magic' ring any bells for you? How about 'mysteries'?"

Harry stepped into the room and looked about. "How big is the Department of Mysteries?"

"I don't think anyone's sure. I've heard, quite by accident, I certainly wasn't eavesdropping or anything, that there's a team that's mapping it out after several people became lost. The problem seems to be the multi-dimensional aspect of it."

Draco led Harry to the corner of the room. The Stomp that had been used to attack them was floating in its magical stasis trap. As Harry stepped closer, he felt a current pass through him. He looked at Draco questioningly.

"I thought, for further protection, to create a secondary protection around it. I'd hate to lose control of it or do something that caused the entire Ministry to lose their magic."

"Could that happen?"

Draco shook his head. "It turns out not with this particular device. Too small. It wouldn't be able to handle it. I doubt it'd be able to handle our magic together. Still, I wasn't going to take any chances with it." Bending down, Harry peered at the Stomp closely. Draco had taken off the outer shell so one could see its inner workings.

"What does it do?" Harry asked.

"On contact, the Stomp sucks the magic out of a person or object and stores it. Once the magic is absorbed, it triggers a small explosion to keep everyone away, and activates a return function, like a portkey."

"A return function? Returning it where?"

"I couldn't tell you," Draco admitted. "With the stasis trap around it, it failed to go anywhere when I triggered it." He stared at the object. "Fascinating bit of workmanship. I could show you how it works, but it doesn't explode anymore. I'm afraid I wore that bit out. But I haven't got to the best part yet."

"What the best part?"

"I reduced a probity probe, stuck it in the stasis trap, and touched the Stomp with it."

"Where'd you get a probity probe?"

"Nicked it. The important thing is that the Stomp pulled the magic out." Draco pointed to the center inside the Stomp. "That tiny glowing speck of nothing is the magic that was imparted to the probe to make it work. Now watch carefully."

In silence, Harry watched as Draco performed a complicated set of wand wavings and uttered spells of which Harry had never heard. The tiny glow disappeared. Draco eased the probity probe out of the entrapment area. He ran it over Harry's body and it indicated that he had a magical device concealed when it went past his wand.

"Do you know what this means?"

"That I have a wand in my pocket?"

Draco thumped Harry on the head. "It means that if we find the Stomp that stole Krum's magic, we can restore it to him."

"Oh, yeah. That, too."

"Sometimes, Potter, I'm tempted to bop you on the head."

"You just did."

"I always was bad at resisting temptation. But I haven't told you the most exciting part yet."

Harry, not wanting to be bopped on the head again, stayed silent. Draco didn't need his encouragement anyway to continue.

"The most exciting part is the way the magic of the Stomp is joined to its physical body. The person who created it, spelled it on in layers. One layer leading to another, letting it soak in, versus creating it and adding the magic later. It's the exact same way the oval we found in the Forbidden Forest was made.

Harry perked up since this wasn't just Draco rhapsodizing on how brilliant he was but an honest to god clue.

"They were made by the same person?"

Draco shrugged. "I can't say positively that it was the same person, but there are definitely similarities."

"But what would someone who wanted to attack me and Krum have against the centaurs."

"You're the Auror," Draco said. "That's for you to figure out."

* * *

When Harry had refused Hermione's invitation to come over during the holidays, she'd insisted on meeting him for lunch once he returned to work. At a small restaurant off Diagon Alley, Harry hoped to discuss Draco's findings with her. All Hermione seemed to want to discuss was Draco.

"You and Draco are getting along well then?" she asked as they walked out of the restaurant after finishing their meal.

"For the third time, Hermione, I'm not secretly being abused or anything. I wouldn't put up with it if I were."

"You did have a perfectly awful childhood and studies have shown that—"

"Enough."

"Fine. Just tell me that he treats you well."

"Draco..." Harry paused as he thought about it for a moment. "Okay, he still treats me like I'm an idiot half the time, but I'm doing better than I was. I feel normal again. Better than normal. He may not be good to me, but I think he's good for me. I'm enjoying being alive."

Hermione smiled. "I'm glad for you, then. I do love you."

Harry smiled back. "And I love you." He gave her an affectionate hug, which she returned.

"Potter," Harry heard Draco say. He released Hermione to see Draco and Goyle standing near them. Goyle was holding a bag that showed he'd purchased an item from Flourish and Blotts.

"Not only do you sneak away for lunch, but now I find you consorting with Granger."

"Weasley," Hermione corrected.

"I wasn't consorting," Harry said.

"If there was any consorting, I missed it," Goyle added.

"Actually," Hermione said, "we were consorting."

"See! Even Granger admits to consorting," Draco said.

"Weasley," Harry and Hermione both said together.

"Besides," Harry said. "Look who's talking. You were obviously secretly meeting with your childhood sweetheart."

Draco and Goyle both looked appropriately appalled.

"I didn't know you liked me like that," Goyle said, easing slightly away from Draco. "Not that it makes any difference. I'm still your friend. My wife might not be so understanding, though."

Draco pointed his finger at Harry. "You are going to die a long and horrible death at my hands."

Harry laughed.

"We weren't doing any consorting, though," Goyle said. "Draco thought I should buy this book about inter-house marriage as my daughter's marrying a Hufflepuff."

"You have a daughter old enough to marry?" Harry asked. He suddenly felt old.

"Yes, my oldest. Olive. Don't know how this book is going to help me with my son-in-law."

"Read it," Draco told him. "And if that doesn't work, you can always use it to hit him."

Harry couldn't help but laugh again.

"Draco is good for you," Hermione murmured. Harry turned toward her to comment when he saw, flying toward them, a Stomp like the one Draco had taken apart. He pushed Hermione to the ground and pulled his wand from his pocket, knowing that he wasn't going to be fast enough. It was too late to spell it away.

It was almost upon them when Goyle smacked the Stomp with his book, sending it flying into the wall. It collapsed into a small, smoking heap.

Once the threat of the Stomp was gone, Harry looked in the direction from which it had come. A figure was moving quickly around the corner of a building. Harry raced after it, his wand out and at ready. He could hear footsteps running behind him and knew it was Draco.

They rounded the corner, but no one was in sight so they continued on, hoping to catch up. As they reached the end of a building they spied a person for a split second before he Apparated away. This time, as it was around one in the afternoon, there were no shadows hiding his face.

"That's Duringdorm," Harry panted, as he slowed to a halt, their quarry having escaped.

Draco stopped beside him. "The wandmaker?"

"Yes. I talked to him not long ago. I know it was him."

When they returned to where the attack had occurred, they found Goyle helping brush dirt from Hermione's robe.

"I don't know how to thank you," Hermione said shakily to Goyle.

"Owed you and Weasley a life debt." Goyle glanced at the shattered Stomp. "Don't know if this qualifies as repayment."

"I think it might," Draco said, stepping forward and examining the remains of the Stomp. He spelled a magical stasis field over it for protection, then levitated it into one of his magical bags. He placed the bag back inside his pocket. "You certainly defeated it."

Goyle shrugged, embarrassed. "It was instinct. Spent too many years as a Beater."

Draco and Harry looked at one another.

"And Krum spent too many years as a Seeker," Harry said.

Draco nodded. "He must have seen it and reached out to grab it."

"When it was never meant for him in the first place."

Both Harry and Draco turned to look at Hermione.

"Hermione," Harry said, "I want you to go somewhere safe and stay there."

"But I don't understand. Why would anyone be after me? Tell me." She looked at Harry in a way that made him think she was close to stamping her foot at him in impatience. "I won't sit at home and wait. I refuse."

"We could body-bind her," Draco suggested.

Hermione glared at him. "Don't make me slap you, Malfoy."

"It'd be for your own good."

"Me slapping you would be for your own good. It might knock the stupidity out."

"Ha! Like a mere slap could—" Draco stopped, then scowled at Hermione.

"Stop it! Both of you," Harry said. "We need to get into Duringdorm's shop and see if there are any clues as to where he's gone. We also need to figure out Duringdorm's motivation. Is he a Death Eater bent on revenge? Why is he after Hermione and me?"

"Don't forget the centaurs," Draco said.

"Centaurs?" said Hermione and Goyle.

"Draco has a theory that the same person who created the spheres also created a trip-wire device used to harm the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest."

Hermione shook her head. "That sounds highly unlikely."

"Draco's pretty smart about these things," Goyle said.

Harry nodded. "I have to agree with Goyle. Draco's good at what he does."

"But that makes no sense. Who would be after you, me, and centaurs? The only time...." Hermione's voice trailed off for a moment, then she looked at Harry. "Did Umbridge have any children?"

"Ugh," said Goyle. "Who'd marry Umbridge?"

Although Harry agreed with the sentiment, he didn't voice it. "I don't know."

"I'll head to the Ministry and find out," Hermione said. "You three go find out what you can at Duringdorm's shop."

As Hermione hurried off, Draco turned to Harry. "Does she even realize that she has no authority over us?"

"Or me?" Goyle added.

Harry headed for Ollivander's old shop. "It's usually best to do as she says."

"Because she's always right?" Draco asked, following him.

"Because she gets bloody furious if you don't."

Harry wasn't too surprised when he arrived at the shop to see that Goyle had come, too. Hermione had ordering people around down to a science. Becoming a mother had only intensified it.

Pointing his wand at the door, Harry said, "Alohomora!" When the door didn't budge, he spoke a stronger spell. It still didn't work.

"Maybe we should try a window," suggested Draco.

"Let me try," Goyle said, pushing past Harry and Draco. Instead of using his wand, he lifted his foot and kicked it hard. The door flew open.

"Thank you," said Harry.

"Don't mention it."

With wands drawn, Harry and Draco slipped into the shop. It took no time at all for them to determine that Duringdorm wasn't there.

"Let's see if he left any indications to where he's absconded to."

The three of them started opening drawers in the front part of the shop and looking through cupboards.

"Hey look," Goyle exclaimed a minute later. "Didn't know Duringdorm had two Wandmatchers. I only saw the one before."

Draco paused in glancing through the account books. "What? I thought he only had one, too. I was interested in it, having never seen anything like it before when I brought Scorpius in. He told me it was unique."

Harry headed over to see the Wandmatchers, too. When Goyle reached out to touch one, he grabbed Goyle by the robe and yanked him back. "Don't touch it."

"Why not? All my kids have used them. It's perfectly safe." Goyle moved forward and again Harry tugged him back. "I don't like it. I don't like it at all."

Draco joined them in staring at the two Wandmatchers. "They're not identical. The one with the white base," he said pointing, "is the one I examined a few years ago."

Harry pointed to the second one. "The one with the dark brown base is what he had on the counter not long ago when I was questioning him. That's the one he kept wanting me to try."

"Did you?"

"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "Despite him being pretty persistent about it."

"I wonder..." Draco said. He withdrew the bag from his pocket and dumped the smashed Stomp onto the counter. Carefully, he placed the bag onto the Wandmatcher with the dark brown base.

"Is something supposed to happen?" asked Goyle in a whisper.

"I'm not sure," said Draco. "Perhaps the opposite, I think."

Using as much caution as he'd done before, Draco picked the bag off the Wandmatcher. "Let's see if this bag still works."

It didn't. Draco opened it repeatedly, but it refused to enlarge.

"The spells I worked on it are gone," he concluded. "I'd have to respell the bag for it to work again."

Harry took a deep breath. "Then the Stomps aren't the only things that steal magical power."

Draco nodded. "But he's had the Wandmatchers for years. The Stomps must be the new and improved version, stealing all of one's magic, not just some of it."

"Used exclusively for those unlikely to wander into his shop and ask for a new wand," Harry added.

They contemplated the Wandmatchers for a moment before Harry broke the silence. "We'd better see what's in back."

Together, the three men, Harry in the lead, walked to where they'd earlier discovered an office, workshop, and living area.

"I'll take the office. Draco, you investigate the workshop. Goyle, you handle the rest."

"Does no one remember that I don't work for them?" Goyle muttered as he headed toward where the bed was.

Harry had opened the main drawer of the desk when he heard Draco call out for him.

"Hey, Potter," Draco said, as Harry strode over to him. "It looks like you were expected."

Harry frowned and moved closer. An envelope sat in the middle of Duringdorm's work table with his name clearly written on it in big block letters.

"I wonder what he wrote," Draco said, reaching for it.

"Don't!" Harry shouted, as Draco's hand went toward it. Making a split second decision, Harry grabbed at the envelope, too, touching it at the same time as Draco.

The suction of a portkey swirled them out of the shop and away.

* * *

Harry found himself in a dimly lit room that contained one door and a heavily boarded window, which thin streams of light seeped around. Against the wall was a cot with a small mound of blankets on it. A small table sat near it. On the opposite side of the room was a bucket. Other than those items, the room was unfurnished. Harry looked over at Draco who seemed puzzled, yet relatively unperturbed.

Harry grabbed him. "You idiot!" he shouted.

Draco tried pulling back, but Harry wasn't letting go. "I didn't know it was a portkey."

"Damn it, you should've. Why weren't you given proper Auror training when you transferred?"

"I don't know." Draco looked at Harry's hands, still tightly gripping his robe. "It was a mistake, okay?"

"It was a mistake that could get you killed! We need to get you out of here."

Harry let go of Draco and tried to Apparate. He couldn't. He looked at Draco, who was having a similar problem.

"They must have anti-Apparation wards up," Harry said. He was about to say more, when he heard footsteps from outside the room.

"We've got to hide you," Harry whispered furiously. "Those blankets, there on the bed. Get under them. Or under the bed. It doesn't matter, just hide."

"What? I'm not going to hide. I'm perfectly capable of fighting in a tight spot."

"Draco," Harry pleaded, desperate. "Please. Do it. For me."

Giving Harry an uncomprehending and worried look, Draco nodded and did as he was told, scooting under the cot. He'd barely finished casting a Disillusionment charm on himself when the door was opened.

Harry flung himself at the people on the other side, hoping that surprise would be on his side. He managed to stun several with Stupefy before being hit with an Expelliarmus.

Wordlessly, Harry summoned his wand back to him.

"Petrificus Totalus!" a voice shouted above the fray.

Harry felt it hit him, making his body stiffen. By the time Harry's wand returned to him, he was lying flat on his back, unable to move.

"I knew you would find me."

Into his line of sight came Abel Duringdorm. Except for the lack of an apron, he was dressed as he was before, in white robe and gloves. "You didn't fool me at all when you came into my shop so soon after that Mudblood. I knew you suspected that I was behind the disappearance of wands. I had no alternative but to leave my little present for you to find so that you might follow me here. Now we can deal with matters on my terms."

He turned toward one of the robed men surrounding him. "Barrett, bring me my strongbox and be as quick as possible."

"I can't allow you to interfere," Duringdorm continued to Harry. "Surely you must understand that. All those Muggles stealing magic, using it as if it were their own. They had to be stopped. My mother knew what needed to be done. She saw it as her duty to the Ministry to cleanse it of the filth. It broke her heart to be accused of crimes against Wizardkind when she'd been doing what was necessary."

He picked Harry's wand up from where it lay on his chest. "I'll take this, shall I? After all, you shan't be needing it again."

Barrett returned, bearing a metal strongbox. Duringdorm opened it, revealing two rows of Stomps. Two spots in the top row were empty and Harry decided that one spot must be for the smashed Stomp left sitting on the counter of the wand shop and the other was for the Stomp taken apart in Malfoy's office. That meant that the one that attacked Krum was in the chest. He examined them as much as he could in the few seconds available and noticed a slight charring on the Stomp at the end of one of the rows.

Duringdorm chose a Stomp, then turned to face Harry. "I am well aware that you come by your magic legitimately through your father's blood, but I'm afraid that you will never understand what must be done. You will oppose me and that I can't tolerate. It's a pity, but I have no choice in the matter."

He bent over Harry, bringing the Stomp closer and closer.

Harry stared at it, desperate to move, to escape, but unable to do anything but wait for his magic to be stolen.

"Please don't try to struggle," Duringdorm said. "I don't wish for you to hurt yourself."

The Stomp touched Harry's forehead, not far from his scar, and there was a small burst of smoke. The Stomp disappeared from Duringdorm's gloved hand and reappeared in its proper place in the strongbox.

Harry immediately scrambled to his feet, knocking Duringdorm and Barrett down in the process, the Stomp having taken the magic of the binding spell with it. He was halfway across the room when a second binding spell hit him in the back. He fell on his face.

Barrett rolled him over to his back. From this position, Harry could see Duringdorm spelling dust from his robe.

"Take him back to the room and lock him in," Duringdorm ordered Barrett. "We'll decide what to do with him come morning."

A smudge of dirt remained on Duringdorm's robe despite his cleaning spells. He glared down at Harry. "You have been most unruly," he said, before kicking Harry hard and knocking him unconscious.

* * *

"Harry?"

Harry opened his eyes to see Draco leaning over him, a Lumos shining from Draco's wand.

"Hey," he said. He tried to smile, but pain radiated from his jaw. It was then he remembered where he was and what had happened. He was a prisoner and he'd lost his magic.

He struggled to sit up on the cot, but Draco, sitting next to him, placed a hand on his chest, keeping him down.

"Take it easy," Draco said. "I've done a mild healing spell so it doesn't hurt as much as it should, but it's still swollen and bruised, in case they check up on you. I also cast a strong Muffliato charm so we shouldn't be heard."

"You're okay?" Harry asked. He ran his hands over Draco's arms, his body, seeking reassurance that Draco was alive and unharmed.

"I'm fine," Draco said. As Harry continued to examine him, Draco grasped his wrists. "I'm fine," he repeated. "I wasn't the one out there, fighting an evil group of crazies, remember?" He ran his gaze down Harry's body. "Any other injuries I should know about?"

Harry nodded. "Duringdorm took my magic." Draco flinched. He paused before taking a deep breath. "We'll get it back."

"You think you can restore it, but you don't know for sure. You've never done it," Harry said.

"I said we'd get it back."

"But what if we don't? I've lost my wife. I've lost my home. Now I've lost my magic." Harry closed his eyes, overwhelmed by it all.

"You haven't lost me."

Draco clasped Harry's face, forcing Harry to open his eyes and look at him. "And you're not going to, either."

"Thank you, Draco," Harry said quietly.

"Don't mention it. Besides, it proves my theory. I always suspected of your little trio during school that Granger had the biggest balls. I mean, my God, how whiny can you be?"

A wave of affection ran through Harry for Draco. His world could go topsy-turvy, but Draco would always be there, acting like a prat.

"But you're smarter than you look," Draco continued. "That was good thinking, having me hide like that. Now, when we get the chance, we can make a break for it. I never knew it was in you to be so sneaky."

"That's not why I had you hide," Harry said.

"It wasn't? Then why?"

For a moment, Harry didn't speak. He wasn't sure he'd be able to get the words out. At last he whispered. "Kill the spare."

"What?"

"Voldemort. That's how he ordered Cedric killed. They'd only expected for me to touch the Triwizard Cup and be portkeyed to them. Just like Duringdorm only expected me."

"You were afraid they'd kill me."

Harry nodded. "I couldn't let that happen. It was bad enough with Cedric. With you...."

"Harry," Draco said softly.

"What?" Harry asked, his voice equally soft.

"Have you ever thought about getting intensive therapy? Because I think the whole Voldemort thing made you stark raving insane."

Harry's wave of affection swiftly became swamped by a huge wave of irritation. Consequently, Draco's ouch when Harry poked him in the ribs was immensely satisfying. It almost didn't bother him when Draco added, "Violently insane."

* * *

It was pitch black when Harry woke again.

"Go back to sleep," Draco murmured, so near to Harry that he could feel Draco's breath against his face.

"Have you slept at all?" Harry asked.

"A little. I'm finding it surprisingly hard to sleep, what with us being prisoners, our guards having a raucous 'We've captured Harry Potter' celebration outside, and said Harry Potter practically on top of me. Do you think I ought to see a healer for it?"

"Sorry," Harry said, trying to shift away from Draco, but there wasn't any room on the small cot.

"Forget it," Draco said.

Harry felt an arm wrap around him, pulling him back to where he'd been.

"Besides, you're warm and it's dreadfully cold. The blankets are too thin to do any good."

"I'm so glad to hear that you've found a purpose for me in your life," Harry said. "Now that you have, I suppose I'm to spend the rest of my nights in your bed."

He meant it to be amusing, but as soon as the words fell out of Harry's mouth, he knew he'd failed. Draco stilling next to him told him so, as well.

"Would you?" Draco asked, sounding serious. "Would you spend the rest of your nights in my bed?"

Harry was never very good when it came to talking. He did much better when he acted, so he acted now.

Putting a hand on Draco's body, he slowly slid it up, over his chest, then higher until he came to Draco's face. Using his hand cupping Draco's cheek as a guide, Harry moved so that he could place a kiss on his mouth.

He partially missed Draco's lips, but the kiss was still good. The second kiss was better.

* * *

"You did do the Muffliato charm, right?"

"I told you I did."

"Good. I-I tend to be a little vocal."

"Vocal? This might get interesting. Do you babble, curse, order your partner about? Tell them what to do and how to do it?"

"Shut up, Draco."

"Ah, you verbally abuse them."

"If you keep talking, it's going to be morning and they're going to walk in here, having decided to kill me. I'll die a virgin."

"If I didn't know you had three children, I might fall for that line. Are you sure I can't do a Lumos?"

"No, we can't risk it. They might decide to check on me."

"Damn. I wish I could see you. I'm afraid I'll wake in the morning and find it was all a dream."

"Does this feel like a dream?"

"Oh, fuck, Harry. Stop that. I want to be in you when I come."

". . ."

"Harry? You do want to do this right?"

"I do. I really do."

"Good. I'll have to use a charm to get some lubrication. It won't be as good as some oil I have at home."

"It'll be fine."

"Okay, lift up a bit. It's going to take some time to stretch you. You're pretty tight."

"Draco – about that virgin thing...."

". . . "

"Draco?"

"I thought... The Daily Prophet said...."

"Lies."

"Damn it, Harry. Now, I really want to see your face. I want to see your eyes. I want to see your expression when I slide into you. The first person who's ever been inside you. Maybe... maybe we should wait. I've already waited this--"

"Please, Draco. Do it. I want you to. I want you. I... Oh God, God, yes. Fuck me, Draco. Fuck me now!"

"A-ha! You do order your partner about."

* * *

Draco was shaking Harry awake. This time the room was dimly lit so it had to be morning.

"Get up. I've been listening and they've quieted down. Probably dead drunk. I think now's our chance." Harry rose and grabbed his trousers from the floor next to the cot. Draco, standing nearby, was already fully dressed. "When was the last time you heard anything?"

"About half an hour ago." Draco's eyes went to Harry's body.

Instead of making Harry feel shy and hurry his dressing, it made him pause. He straightened, allowing Draco to look his fill.

"I took the liberty of doing a cleaning charm on you earlier," Draco said, moving closer. He touched a spot on Harry's hip where he'd sucked a mark on it hours before. "I didn't do a healing charm. I probably should've, but I wanted to see this."

Draco knelt at Harry's feet and tongued the mark he'd made.

Harry groaned as his body reacted. "This isn't the time."

"No, it isn't," Draco agreed. He shifted his head and took Harry's cock entirely into his mouth and gave it a quick suck, before pulling back. He stood, turned his back on Harry and walked several feet away. "The things I'm going to do to you when we do have the time...."

If Draco didn't shut up, he was going to make it very difficult for Harry to dress.

* * *

They moved around the room, Draco quietly body-binding the sleeping men. Occasionally, there'd be a snort or snuffle or a few restless turns, but none woke before being spelled.

There'd been a moment of worry earlier, when Draco had used his wand to unlock the door, but all those on the other side had been asleep.

As they approached the door that led to the rest of the building, Harry hesitated. "There might be people awake in the next room," he said. "Remember, your priority is to get away and bring back help."

Draco didn't answer.

"Draco—"

"My priority, Potter, is to find that strongbox you told me about and get your magic back."

"The Auror rulebook—"

"Don't talk to me about rules. You were always quick enough to break them in the past."

"Then I'm staying here," Harry said. "If I go with you, you're more likely to be caught and, without my magic, I'll be dead weight."

"Potter!" Draco hissed.

Harry backed away from the door. "You'd better hurry."

Giving Harry a look of angry frustration, Draco cast a Disillusionment Charm on Harry, then on himself.

"Stay safe," Draco ordered, before slipping through the door.

Harry had no intention of doing so. If Draco was going succeed, he might need a distraction.

He counted to one hundred, then did it again, then did it a third time. When he finished, he took a deep breath and stepped over a couple of bound men to reach the window. He opened it and waited a few seconds. When no alarm sounded, he slipped through it.

As he stepped onto the snow outside the building, the sound of a Caterwauling charm rang out. Harry wasted no time sprinting across the field towards the nearby woods. He was within fifty yards of it when he was hit with a Trip jinx and fell. He righted himself, not even bothering to wipe the snow from his face and began running again, this time keeping a lower profile. A Jelly-Legs jinx hit him and he stumbled, and then fell a second time.

This time, still under the effects of the jinx, he was unable to get back to his feet. In no time at all, he was recaptured. A couple of robed men grabbed his arms and dragged him back to the building, not caring that he couldn't get his legs under him.

They pulled him back into the building, through the foyer, which he'd never seen before, past several doors, until they reached the room where the bound men were.

In the room, Barrett and Duringdorm stood and watched as the two robed men dragged Harry to them. While Barrett was clothed in a dark, non-descript robe like the others, Duringdorm was once more dressed in white with gloves.

"Are you sure you don't want me to undo the spells?" Barrett asked, looking about at his bound men.

"Let them remain as they are. It will be a proper punishment for being so derelict in their duties." Duringdorm's gaze fell on Harry and he stormed toward him. "Put him there," he said, pointing to a chair.

The men unceremoniously dumped him into the wooden chair with such force that clumps of snow that had been clinging to Harry's robe were jolted off. Spells bound his hands with ropes to the arms of the chair.

"You know the secret," Duringdorm snarled, moving closer.

"What secret?" Harry asked, with no need to feign confusion.

"The secret that Muggles use to steal magic from Wizards. The secret my mother tried to learn, but never could. I took your magic, but you did this." He pointed to the bound men around him. "You must have stolen magic from one of my men. Tell me, how did you do it?"

"There isn't any secret," Harry said. "The only one I know who can steal magic is you with your devices."

"You LIE! Surrounding me is proof of your lies."

"I'm not!" Harry was glad there wasn't any Veritaserum around. Although he was telling the truth, if questioned under the potion he might not have been able to hide Draco's involvement.

Duringdorm reached out and grabbed Harry's scarred hand. He ran a finger over the words that had never quite faded. "This tells me that you're a liar. My mother knew it. I know it. You lied back then and you're lying now."

"I didn't and I'm not!"

"Someone else might believe you, but not me. I know better."

Duringdorm began to peel off his gloves. At the sight of the flesh beneath them Harry sucked in his breath in horror.

The skin of Duringdorm's hands was crisscrossed with so many letters, so many words, that it was impossible to make out what had been carved into them. In some spots there were only thin red lines or curves. In others, the wound was so deep that the gleam of bone shone through the flesh.

"I know better," Duringdorm repeated. "I know what those marks on your hand mean. Now tell me, Mr. Potter, how do Muggles steal magic from Wizards?"

"They don't," Harry said. "Those with magic are born with it, just as I was. Just as you were."

The blow snapped Harry's head back and caused his ears to ring.

"You must not tell lies," Duringdorm said.

Harry spat out a mouthful of blood and glared at Duringdorm. "What are you going to do? Carve it into my hand like your crazy mother did?"

Duringdorm smiled and Harry felt a chill run down his spine.

"I can do much better than that," he said. He turned to Barrett, who'd whitened. "Give it to me."

Barrett gulped and nodded. From an inner pocket of his robe, he withdrew a knife in its sheaf and handed it to Duringdorm.

Duringdorm pulled the knife from the sheaf and stepped closer to Harry. "First we must prime it," he said. He set the tip of the knife against the back of Harry's hand. Slowly he pushed down until the skin was penetrated and blood welled.

Harry hadn't flinched, but he did breathe a sigh of relief when the knife was removed and Duringdorm stepped back.

"My mother was fond of her quills, but I've improved on them," Duringdorm said.

He raised the knife and began writing letters with it in the air.

At the same time, Harry let out a scream as those same letters were carved into his torso.

"Liar," Duringdorm said, when he finished.

Harry looked down at his robe. Blood was seeping through. The 'L' was legible, but the other letters were blotches of crimson.

"Now perhaps you'll tell me what I want to know. How do Muggles steal magic from Wizards?"

"They don't," Harry said through gritted teeth.

"Liar," Duringdorm said again. He raised his knife once more.

Harry screamed as a second 'L' was carved into his chest.

"Sectumsempra," Draco's voice shouted.

The knife, along with Duringdorm's hand, went flying off in a spurt of blood. Draco let loose with more curses, rendering both of the robed men who'd recaptured Harry unconscious. Barrett made an effort to fight back, but Draco blocked the Entrail-Expelling Curse and sent back a Binding curse in its place.

He marched over to where Duringdorm lay whimpering, holding his bloody stump. Harry watched as Draco raised his wand, his hand shaking, his whole body trembling with rage.

"Don't," Harry said.

He didn't think Draco heard him, so he said it louder. "Don't. He's not worth it."

Draco nodded jerkily, then said "Petrificus Totalus and Duringdorm stilled. He then placed a freezing charm on the stump so that Duringdorm wouldn't die of blood loss, before moving to Harry.

"You're bleeding," Draco said as he sliced the ropes that bound Harry to the chair. "We've got to get you to St. Mungo's."

"You were supposed to go for help."

"I sent my Patronus instead. I told you that my priority was to get your magic back."

"Did you find it? Did you find my magic?"

Draco nodded. Once Harry was released, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the reduced strongbox, then spelled it to its normal size. He opened it.

Harry blinked. In the two rows of the strong box was the one he'd spied before that he thought was Krum's. Of the empty spaces, only one remained. The second spot was now filled with the smashed Stomp.

"That one," Harry said, pointing to a charred one near the middle.

Draco nodded and handed the Stomp to Harry, then lifted his wand. "This should work," he said. "If it doesn't...."

"Then we'll try something else," Harry finished.

Harry closed his eyes as Draco spoke the words of the spell that Harry remembered hearing before in the Department of Mysteries. He couldn't say he felt much different after Draco did the spell. Perhaps a little stronger. Perhaps the pain eased off a bit.

"Did it work?" Draco asked.

Harry opened his eyes. "I need a wand."

Draco strode over to where Barrett lay petrified and undid the binding spell on him. "Where's Potter's wand?"

"I have it here. In my pocket."

"Too bad," Draco said. "Now I don't get to torture the information out of you." As Barrett flinched, Draco cast a second binding spell on him. He then reached into Barrett's pocket and removed Harry's wand.

Harry tried not to grab for his wand when Draco held it out to him, but he couldn't help holding onto it more tightly than usual. Straightening his shoulders, he swished his wand and yelled, "Lumos!"

A bright light shone from the end of Harry's wand. Both Harry and Draco let out audible sighs of relief.

"It's over," Harry said.

"Not quite," a voice said from the doorway.

Three robed men stood there, part of Duringdorm's group. Their wands were pointed at Harry and Draco.

"Put your wands down," the leader said. Harry knew he couldn't. He couldn't risk losing his magic again.

Draco eyed the trio with disdain. "You are joking, right? Do you even know who you're dealing with?"

The trio glanced at one another blankly. "Should we?" asked the leader.

"I'm Draco Malfoy. Son of Lucius Malfoy."

The trio now looked confused. "So?"

"Lucius Malfoy, the Death Eater. Right hand to Voldemort."

"We don't know all that much about the last war," the leader confessed. "We had Binns."

"Oh, fuck it," Draco said, "Confringo!"

The blasting curse, aimed at the doorway, caused it to collapse about the three men. While they were trying to get out of the way of the shattered wood, Draco sent binding spells at them. Two hit their target, but the third missed, hitting a chunk of door instead.

The third man was aiming at Draco when he was hit with a stunning spell from behind and fell slumped to the ground

"Harry?" a voice called. "Are you in there?"

"It's Ron," Harry said.

"We're here, Weasley," Draco shouted.

"Oh. You're there too, Malfoy?" A redhead poked around what was left of the door.

"Please, Weasley, try to contain your excitement. It's embarrassing me."

Hermione pushed past Ron. "Harry!" she said as she ran toward him. "You're late," Harry told her, as he watched not only Ron, but a horde of Aurors enter the room.

"Blame Ron. I was more than willing to come after you ages ago, but he felt the need to get a team together first."

"How did you find us so fast anyway?" Draco asked. "I didn't think my Patronus would retrieve you that quickly."

"Simple. When Goyle contacted me to tell me what had happened, I broke into Draco's desk and read his notes on the Stomp." She glanced at Draco and said in an undertone, "Not nearly as good of a name as Spew."

"Go on," Harry said, before Hermione and Draco could get into an argument about the relative merit of their lame acronyms for things. He felt woozy and wanted to hear the explanation before he passed out.

"I read Draco's theory that the Stomp would return to its place of origin. Using that knowledge, I placed a tracking spell on it and then triggered it by using an owl I borrowed from a nearby shop. Which reminds me, I need to restore that owl's magic or the Magical Menagerie's owner will be perturbed at me."

Ron, who'd been overseeing the Aurors arresting people, made his way to where Harry, Draco, and Hermione were. He gave Harry a quick one-arm hug, making Harry wince from pain in the process. "Sorry it took a while to get organised. Hermione grew so impatient, she came close to commandeering my men to come after you."

Ron turned to Draco, giving him a look that Harry found impossible to interpret. "Your Patronus got to headquarters right before we left."

Draco seemed to be made uncomfortable by that information, but covered it by picking up the strongbox and thrusting it into Ron's hands. "Take this. One of the Stomps contains Krum's magic. But don't foul up, Weasley, and give him the owl's magic instead," he added.

"A little respect," Ron muttered, as he went back to check on how his Aurors were doing. "That's all I ask." "Are both of you all right?" Hermione asked, eyeing the blood on Harry's clothes with concern.

"He's hurt," Draco said.

"I'll be fine," Harry protested. He looked at his wand, which he held clenched in his fist. "Everything's okay."

He pushed himself to his feet, took a few steps, and stumbled. He would have fallen if Draco hadn't caught him.

The last thing he heard was Draco's, "I'm taking him to St. Mungo's."

* * *

When Harry opened his eyes at St. Mungo's, he was startled to find Ginny seated next to his sickbed.

"Where's Draco?"

"I don't know, Harry. I believe he had reports to write or something. Isn't that always the excuse you gave me?"

"Let's not get into that. Please, Ginny."

"That's not why I came here, anyway. I wanted to thank you. Viktor has his magic back. Later, he'd like to thank you, too."

"You should thank Draco. He's the one that figured it out." Harry glanced at the door. "Are you sure he's okay? I didn't think he was hurt, but maybe—"

"Malfoy's fine, Harry." She gave an exasperated sigh. "You're the one who was bleeding all over the place. What did he do? Use you as a shield?"

"No! It wasn't like that. Not at all."

"I wouldn't put it past him."

"Ginny," Harry said, voice low. "Don't. I know you'll never like the Malfoys and I can't say that I blame you, but leave Draco alone."

"You're saying he's changed?"

"Maybe. Maybe I've changed, too."

Ginny looked at him. Really looked at him in a way she hadn't in years. "You love him," she said at last.

Harry nodded. "I do."

"Then I'm happy for you. I am. I'll even do my best to accept him in your life, but if a few comments slip out..."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Ginny leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "I care about you, Harry. I probably always will."

"Me, too."

"Well," Draco sneered from the threshold of the room. "Isn't this a cozy little domestic scene."

"What?" Harry said.

"Oh, spare me the explanations, Potter. It's as plain as day what's happened. You're once again the conquering hero, saving the Wizarding world. Female Weasley has seen the light and rushed back to your side. Excuse me while I go and vomit from the sweetness of it all."

As Draco rushed out of the room, Harry struggled to rise to follow him, but couldn't.

"I'll catch him and explain matters," Ginny said, hurrying after Draco. She returned a few moments later. "I'm sorry. I tried, but he Apparated away." She looked at Harry's upset expression. "I'm sure he'll understand," she assured him.

Harry nodded, but wasn't quite so positive.

* * *

Harry knew he was going to be late again. This time, however, Draco was to blame. If Draco hadn't locked him out of the flat with his trunk of belongings the day before, then Harry wouldn't have had to spend the morning looking for a place to live.

He'd stayed the night at the Leaky Cauldron again. Today, though, he'd gone out looking at houses and found a nice place near Godric's Hollow. The house had plenty of bedrooms for the children and a good-sized garden. He'd have to floo to work everyday, but he did that most of the time anyway.

He stepped up his pace, eager to see Draco again and try to make him listen to reason. Upon reaching his office, he flung open the door, ready to argue his point and stopped.

"Hi, Harry," Thacker said. "Don't worry about being late. The case we've been assigned has some research tied to it so I got started without you."

"Where's Draco?"

"Malfoy? I don't know. I was told this morning that I was being reassigned as your partner."

Harry spun around and headed toward the Head Auror's office. He passed Ron's secretary without stopping and opened the door.

Ron glanced up from a report he was reading. "Harry! So good to see you back."

"Why is Thacker in my office and where's Draco?"

"That's not my fault. I fought it. I swear I did."

"What happened?"

"It seems that the Department of Mysteries decided they'd been a bit hasty sending Malfoy down here. They wanted him back and the Minister sided with them."

"I'll talk to the Minister then."

"Don't bother. Malfoy made it pretty clear that he'd prefer being back with them."

"He did?" All Harry's righteous indignation fled and his shoulders slumped. "That's it, then." So - he wouldn't be seeing Malfoy at work. Maybe he'd be able to corner Malfoy in a week or two, after he'd cooled off.

"Thacker's looking forward to working with you again. He told me how everything was a big misunderstanding before."

Harry nodded and he turned to leave. "That seems to be going around."

* * *

It was Sunday and Harry knew he should've gone into the office at some point over the weekend to try to catch up with the paperwork, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. The office, even when Thacker was there, felt horribly quiet without Draco. Instead, he spent most of Saturday purchasing furniture. He bought a kitchen table, the necessary appliances, and the various dishes and whatnot, then did a creditable job of setting up the pantry.

The only thing he'd bought for the rest of the house was a sofa that sat by itself in the middle of his living room. One thing he'd also managed to do was hang up his grandmother's portrait in his front hall.

He'd not bought a bed. He still had a thoroughly unreasonable hope of getting Draco's opinion on that. He'd slept on the sofa instead.

It was getting late and he was considering retiring for the night when there was a knock on the door, causing Harry to frown. He didn't know how many people knew he lived here, but it wasn't all that many. Deciding it was most likely a mistake, Harry opened the door to find Lucius Malfoy on his front step.

For several seconds, Harry stood there, dumbfounded. Lucius' fist clenched his snake-headed cane in a way that made Harry wonder if he was about to be hit by it and, in self-preservation, he moved back a few feet.

Lucius, being as arrogant as always, took that as an invitation and stepped inside. There was nothing for it but for Harry to close the door behind him.

His living room, with its lone piece of furniture, was currently under inspection by Lucius and, if that curl of the lip could be read properly, was failing miserably.

"If you're looking to buy, I'm not selling," Harry said. "I only just moved in."

Malfoy's mouth twitched, but he nodded. "I am fully aware of that. In fact, I also know how much you purchased it for. I believe you overpaid."

Okay, maybe Harry had paid too much for his house, but he'd needed a place fast and this was what he'd wanted.

"I can afford it."

"I'm sure you can," Lucius said. He reached into his robe and drew out an envelope which he handed to Harry. "This might help."

Puzzled, Harry opened the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper inside. He stared at, his eyes widening. "What is this?"

"Consider it a token of my gratitude."

"And what have I done to earn this much of your gratitude? This is more than ten years of my salary."

"You and my son are no longer together. I am given to understand that was your doing."

"You're buying me off? You're paying me to break up with Draco?" Harry knew his voice had become low and angry, but he didn't care.

"Nonsense. You have already broken up with Draco. I am only ensuring that this state continues." As Harry continued to stare at him, Lucius made an impatient movement with his head. "Surely you realize how unworthy you are to be a companion to my son."

"You fucking bastard," Harry growled. "And to think, I intervened with Draco to put your argument behind him." Harry held up the cheque he'd been given. "Here's what I think of you buying me off. Incendio!"

With a swish of Harry's wand, the cheque burst into flames.

"I'm going to protect Draco from you," Harry said, his voice low, "if it's the last thing I ever do."

Lucius Malfoy gave him a short nod, then spun on his heels to leave.

Something... something was wrong, Harry thought, as he watched Lucius head for the door. This attempt to bribe Harry was clumsy and unnecessary. Lucius was in the doorway when Harry called out. "Wait!"

Slowly, Lucius turned and Harry knew. He knew what Lucius was really after.

"You-you-you Slytherins," Harry said, full of frustration. "You knew I'd be insulted and tear up the cheque. You knew that the first thing I'd do is go running to Draco. That's what you wanted. That's what you almost achieved. What I don't know is why."

Lucius sighed and suddenly looked much closer to his real age. "Might I sit down, Mr. Potter?"

Harry nodded and motioned to the sofa. "Just... just don't try to manipulate me again."

"That I cannot promise. I might as well promise not to breathe."

"Slytherins," Harry repeated. "You were going to tell me why you did this. Why you staged this little drama."

"I did this because I am a father. I wish for you to put aside whatever differences you have with Draco and return to him at once."

"That's not going to happen."

"Your breakup can be easily remedied."

"It wasn't a breakup," Harry snapped. "We were never together. Not really. We were pretending to make it easier to investigate the Krum attack."

"Perhaps you were pretending, but Draco was not."

"You're wrong. Draco's not interested in me. Maybe he was for a while, but I don't think he is anymore."

"I doubt his involvement with you is as transitory as you suppose. The first time you came to dinner, I spoke to Draco about your relationship. I told him that I didn't approve of his seeing you and insisted that he end it. He refused."

Harry stared at Lucius. What he was saying couldn't be true.

Lucius gave a slight laugh. "He even claimed to have been harbouring an infatuation for you for some time."

"He was lying," Harry said, voice shaky. "He must have been."

"I told him that if he continued with your relationship, I would disown him. He would no longer be a Malfoy."

"You disowned him?"

"I threatened to. He called my bluff. Instead of acceding to my demands, he thundered from the room. Finding you outside, he firmly established his claim, didn't he?"

The kiss, Harry thought. He still remembered how possessive it had felt. Then he remembered something else - Lucius' satisfaction at watching Draco drag him away.

"You were testing him," Harry said.

"Yes. Draco can be impulsive. I had to know that he was serious. That his heart was committed and it wasn't some grand plan for restoring the Malfoy name and reputation."

Lucius started to say more, then paused. His eyes took on a distant look. "I've always wanted the best for Draco. He's my son, my heir, my family. To know that my actions in the past, my associations, have done him harm has been a constant source of pain over the years. I would not see him hurt again. Not if there was anything in my power that I could do to stop it."

Many a time, Harry had wished that his children could be entirely free of the publicity of being Potters. As the years had passed, they'd adjusted. Flourished, even. But there was still the persistent worry that some crazy would attack them for who their father was, that what he'd done would come back to haunt him through his children.

How much more painful must it have been for his Lucius to see Draco under Voldemort's rule? To watch as Draco was witness to atrocities and then forced to commit them, as well? To be helpless to protect him? To know that he was the reason Draco was in that situation?

For the first time in his life, Harry felt akin to Lucius. Then he remembered who he was dealing with.

"Is any of that true? After all, you've already shown what lengths you're willing to go to in order to get Draco and me back together."

"It's true," Lucius said, "Sometimes, but not often, the truth serves as well as a lie."

Harry decided that he would never particularly care for Lucius. However, as things were going, it looked like he was going to have to deal with him for the rest of his life.

* * *

It took Harry three hours to figure out how to open the door to Draco's office in the Department of Mysteries and not get the Death Chamber instead. When he finally did manage it, the office looked not just empty, but unused.

Harry marched down to Ron's office. When Ron saw him, he promptly finished up his meeting with a pair of Aurors and sent them away.

"What's wrong?" Ron asked.

"Do you know where Draco is?"

"Of course. Don't you?"

"No. I haven't talked to Draco in almost a week. He broke up with me." Harry looked at Ron. "I thought you knew we weren't together. I thought that's part of why you didn't want me to bother fighting Draco's reassignment."

"I didn't know. I can't believe he broke up with you."

"He got the wrong end of the stick about something. He thought Ginny and I were getting back together, which we aren't."

"I still can't believe he broke up with you. That git loves you."

Harry stared at Ron. "Why do you say that?"

"I didn't think he cared a knut for you until I saw his Patronus. Harry," Ron said, "his Patronus is you. Not you as you are now, but young you. Maybe seventeen or so. The age you were when you defeated Voldemort."

Harry was suddenly desperate to see Draco. "You said you knew where he was."

Ron nodded. "He's at Hogwarts. He's in charge of returning magic to the Muggleborn children. We also asked Luna to come back and help Ollivander give them all new wands. Not only did Duringdorm steal some of their magic, he intentionally gave them wands that didn't respond well to the magic they had left."

"I'm off to Hogwarts, then."

"Do you need some help? If he doesn't want to listen, I could knock him out or sit on him or something. In fact, it would be my pleasure."

"I think I can handle this on my own." Harry had moved toward the door, when Ron spoke again.

"I've never liked Malfoy. I doubt I ever will. But, for what it's worth, good luck."

"Thanks, Ron."

As he hurried toward the exit of the Ministry so that he could Apparate to the Hogwarts gate, he hoped that everyone was right about how Draco felt.

* * *

Harry waited in the hallway outside the classroom where Draco was working with a Muggle student. As the student left with Draco's instructions to go see Ollivander, Harry stepped inside.

"I need to talk with you."

Draco glanced up at him, surprise evident on his face, before looking back down at the papers on his desk. "I'm busy."

"You're not. Headmistress McGonagall said that was your last student for today."

"If you've come to apologise for dumping me, you needn't bother," Draco said, standing up.

"Me dump you? That's a laugh. You were the one who dumped me."

"Was I supposed to wait until I got your and the Weasley's wedding announcement?"

"I'm not—"

"Is anything wrong?" A male student dressed in Slytherin colours, poked his head into the classroom. "I heard shouting."

"Nothing's wrong," Harry assured him. "Mr. Malfoy and I were having a slight disagreement about something."

"Malfoy?" the boy said, perking up. "Draco Malfoy, father of Scorpius Malfoy?" He stepped into the room towards Draco. "I've heard the Muggleborn students talking about you, sir. You're quite a hero."

"Yes, I am," Draco agreed. He eyed the boy and stepped closer. "How old are you?"

The boy smirked and gazed up flirtatiously at Draco. "Old enough, sir."

"But young enough to get detention if McGonagall hears about the way you're acting," Harry said. "Now get out of here."

As the boy ran off, Harry turned on Draco. "We need to talk in private. Some place where no one will interfere if we start yelling."

Grabbing Draco's wrist, Harry pulled him out the door and down the hall. At one point, Draco pulled his wrist out of Harry's grip, but continued walking.

When they went through a door, Draco looked around and shook his head. "The girls' bathroom, Potter?"

Ignoring Draco for a moment, Harry ordered the sink to move, opening the tunnel to the Chamber of Secrets.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Move it," Harry said.

"We could have this discussion someplace where, I don't know, maybe where there isn't a rotting corpse of a basilisk?"

"Get in," Harry said.

When Draco jumped into the hole, Harry felt a ray of hope as he followed. Draco had to still care if he was going to risk dirtying his robe.

In silence, they walked to the Chamber of Secrets. Once there Malfoy stopped and looked at Harry with a belligerent expression. "Fine. We're here. What did you want to talk about?"

"Did I ever tell you that this is where Ginny said she fell in love with me? She'd had a crush, but this is where that crush turned to love."

"So – you brought me here to torture me with talk of your eternal love?" Draco drawled. "Good place for it, then. When I start to scream in agony as my ears bleed, no one will hear."

"Shut up and listen for a minute."

"One minute?"

"Make it five," Harry said.

"Fine. You have five minutes, then I'm going go see if I can find that admiring young lad who was so taken with me earlier."

"This place is important to me," Harry said. "Not only because of Ginny. And not because I fought a basilisk and defeated Tom Riddle here. You see, I had a bit of a crush on a boy. A boy I didn't particularly like. After taking the NEWTS, I got some courage, mostly from a bottle of firewhisky, and went to look for him. When I couldn't find him, I thought Myrtle might know where he was. When looking for her, I found him instead. I brought him here."

Draco nodded. "Go on."

"This is where I got my first kiss ever from a boy. You thought I was too drunk. That I wouldn't remember," Harry said, moving closer to Draco. "But how could I forget? I brought you down here, hoping that we'd fuck and maybe I could get over my crush. Get you out of my system. Instead, you got all noble and refused to take advantage of me."

Harry glanced away from Draco, toward the statue of Salazar Slytherin. "I don't regret marrying Ginny. I could never regret it. It gave me James, Albus, and Lily."

"But," Harry said, turning back to face Draco, "that night my crush turned into something else. This place is where I fell in love with you."

Draco was staring at him now. Harry hoped he'd keep quiet and let him finish.

"They say that things come in threes. I'm hoping that, perhaps, it will happen again - that here, in the Chamber of Secrets, you'll fall in love. That you'll fall in love with me like I fell in love with you."

"Potter," Draco said, shaking his head. "You want things to come in threes? Fine, then. Here are three things. Potter, you are such an idiot. Only an idiot would drag me down to this dark, dank, and frankly, disgusting place. Only an idiot would profess his love for me in said disgusting place. And only an idiot wouldn't know that I was already in love with him."

As Harry realized what Draco was saying, his smile grew until he was beaming. He grabbed Draco and dragged him close. "You mean it? You love me?"

Draco grinned. "Didn't I just say that? Obviously, you're more of an idiot than even--."

Harry's kiss shut Draco up. Every time Draco broke away and started to say something, Harry shut him up with another kiss. Finally, Draco stopped trying to speak. After a long while, it was Harry who drew back.

"I love you," Harry said.

"I got that." Draco glanced around and wrinkled his nose at the smell. "Now, if you don't mind, can we go somewhere else? Perhaps someplace with a bed?"

Harry nodded and took Draco's hand before walking back the way they'd come.

"And, for the record, Potter, if anyone asks, you professed your love on a beach under a bright full moon, because this place is truly atrocious."

Epilogue - Eighteen Months Later

"I fought Death Eaters at the Ministry and was almost strangled by tentacles from a brain." Ron said.

From across the table, Goyle stared at him. "You and your friends turned me, Draco, and Vincent into giant slug things. I spent half the summer oozing."

"Tie," they both said together and took a drink.

"What's going on here?" Harry asked, having overheard that last exchange. He sat down next to them. Having both Harry and Draco's friends and family together at their joining ceremony was proving interesting. Luckily, there'd been no bloodshed. So far.

"We're deciding who had the harder time being friends with you lot," Ron said. So far, I think I'm winning." He turned back toward Goyle. "Sixth year – fought Death Eaters that got into Hogwarts."

"Draco made me polyjuice into girls all year. And Potter hit on me once."

"I did not!" Harry said.

"You said I was 'pretty'."

"I knew it was you."

Ron and Goyle both looked at Harry.

"Harry, that actually makes things worse," Ron said, then turned to Goyle. "You win."

Goyle smiled smugly as he took a drink.

Harry folded his arms across his chest. "I came over to tell you two that Draco and I will be leaving soon."

"Are you still not telling anyone the mysterious location of your honeymoon?" Ron asked.

"I think Hermione knows, and before you say anything, we didn't tell her. She guessed." He glanced over at the dance floor. "It's a wonder that she and Draco can dance together while still arguing like they are."

"Always thought that they'd be the ones that ended up together," Goyle said.

Ron looked startled. "What?"

"Didn't know that Draco was gay. After Potter, she was the one he was most obsessed with. Figured he had a thing for her."

"But he hated her."

Goyle didn't reply, just shot a glance at Harry.

Ron stood up. "I think I'm going to go cut in."

A minute later, Draco joined Harry and Goyle at the table. "That Granger—"

"Weasley," corrected Goyle and Harry.

"She's bright, but has the most wrong-headed ideas about things. And what's with Weasley? He came over like he thought I was about to steal her away or something."

"Never mind that," Harry said. "We need to say our good-byes."

Draco turned to Goyle. "Good-bye, Greg."

"Bye," Goyle replied.

"Okay, I'm ready. Let's go."

Harry shook his head and got to his feet. "We have to at least say good-bye to your parents and the children."

Sighing, Draco stood as well. Slowly, Harry and Draco made their way around the room until they reached Lucius and Narcissa, who were speaking with Teddy and, of all people, Thacker.

"You're taking your leave now?" Lucius asked.

Draco nodded.

"You did tell Ginerva that if there are any problems that she could contact us, I hope," Narcissa told Harry. "We consider James, Albus, and Lily as much our grandchildren as Scorpius."

"Perhaps we should do something to correct Lily's recent appalling lack of taste," Lucius said. He stared at where Lily had pulled Neville Longbottom onto the dance floor. "Thrown aside in favour of a Longbottom – it's insulting."

"I'm sure that she'll come to her senses soon, sir," Thacker piped up. "Why, anyone with two eyes can see that you are the better man."

While Lucius preened, Narcissa murmured to Harry, "I'm going to have to beat that one off with a stick. Fortunately, I believe my wand counts as a stick."

Harry grinned.

"I wouldn't worry about it, Uncle Lucius," Teddy was saying. "She's young yet. Give her a few years. She's bound to grow out of her infatuation with Professor Longbottom."

Although Teddy missed it, Harry saw Lucius eyeing Teddy speculatively. He gave Lucius a small shake of his head. Lucius simply smirked in reply.

Hugs of good-bye ensued, along with a very stiff handshake between Harry and Lucius.

Right before they left, Harry and Draco gathered their children together and said their good-byes. Promises to write and to be good were made. Harry assured Albus and Scorpius that just because he and Draco were now married, that did not make them related in a way they'd have to worry about in the future. He then tried to forget the entire conversation had ever happened. Perhaps he'd use an Obliviate Charm later.

* * *

"Home at last," Draco said, taking off his robe.

Harry lay on the bed and bounced a little. He was always much quicker about taking off his clothes because he could then enjoy watching Draco strip. "Do you think anyone other than Hermione is going to guess that we're hiding out at your old flat instead of taking a trip?"

Draco began unbuttoning his shirt. "Doubtful."

"I love this bed," Harry said, bouncing a bit more. "That's the reason why I married you. For this bed."

Draco's eyes took on a lustful gleam as he pulled off his shirt. "I'm glad you like it, because you're not going to be leaving it for the next two weeks."

"And how do you suppose to keep me here?"

Draco toed off his shoes, then his socks. Taking his sweet time of it, he undid his trousers, letting them fall to the floor before stepping out of them. "Enticements to lure you in." He got on the bed and straddled Harry's body. "Next, I plan to exhaust you until you're unable to move."

He lowered his head to kiss Harry. After several minutes of ravishing Harry's mouth, he moved to nibble kisses along Harry's throat, then down to his collarbone.

"And if that doesn't work," Draco murmured, raising his eyes to meet Harry's heated gaze. "I'll tie you to the bed."

"Mmm....kinky," Harry said.

There was a distinctive popping sound as a house-elf appeared.

"You called, Masters?"

The End

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