The day Harry sometimes privately called The Day I Finally Offed That Guy, Yeah, You Know The One, had been mild, an all-around perfect Quidditch match type of day. So too was the day Draco Malfoy came to call in Harry's Life Debt. Harry was beginning to wonder if mild weather was a bad omen.
Harry was in between classes at the time. Later he would wonder if Malfoy had known that, and if so, how. He was pretty sure none of his colleagues would have given out that sort of information.
Malfoy, to his credit, had dusted off his manners for the occasion, even going so far as to knock on the doorframe to Harry's office, despite the door being open, and wait for Harry to turn and--after a startled pause--say, "Malfoy."
"Might I come in?"
Harry wanted to deny him. The time when that would have been acceptable, though, was long past. He inclined his head a bit. "What did you need?"
Malfoy slid into the room, his normal grace grating on Harry's nerves. He shut Harry's door with a flick of his wand. Harry frowned. "I rather prefer it open, Malfoy."
"Even eight year olds have ears," Malfoy said, as though this were something he'd learned the hard way.
"And what is it that you have to speak to me about that is so very. . .privileged?"
Malfoy's smile was pained. "You've become quite diplomatic."
"The parents of eight year-olds have a higher standard of communicative delicacy than one might expect."
Malfoy nodded. "Of course."
Harry was about to prompt Malfoy again when he bit out, "Potter. That is. I need a favor."
"Not precisely a favor between us, is it?"
"Whatever terminology suits, I need your help and I will have it."
"Yes, it would be horribly un-Slytherin of you not to claim your debts."
"And yet-" Malfoy cut himself off. "I didn't come to argue."
"No, you came to ask me a favor."
Harry could practically feel his blood stilling in his veins. "You don't brew."
"Not as such."
"That favor then, is not for you."
"Anything that you would need me to acquire for either you or him would be something that you're probably not allowed to have for bloody good reasons."
"First off, you sanctimonious little bugger, you well know we both fought for your side-"
"When you felt like it," Harry scoffed.
"For your side," Malfoy stressed, "and secondly, there are plenty of Potions ingredients which have as much power to heal and they do to kill."
Harry took a breath and fought down the school-days urge he was having to hex the bloody hell out of Malfoy first and ask questions later. "Heal, you say."
Malfoy's chin went up a fraction. "Yes."
Harry knew he'd hit on the key to something, he just wasn't sure what it was. "Are you ill?"
"Do I look ill, Potter?" Malfoy glared.
Harry glared right back. Malfoy gave in first. "They're not for me."
"Then seeing as how my Life Debt is to you, this is really none of my business, is it?"
"Damn you, Potter." Malfoy's words were barely able to make it past the tensing of his lips. Harry thought there might have been tears at the corner of his eyes, but Malfoy had turned his head slightly as if to hide his face. "Shall I beg? Shall I beg for his life? Because despite the fact that all you have ever known is school-era sweethearts and a couple of short-lived affairs of the heart" he sneered the words at Harry, "some of us know what it means to live and die for another. If you think his life is not in anyway connected with mine, then you're a fool."
"You've always believed that."
"I was hoping, desperately, that you would prove me wrong." Malfoy visibly composed himself and looked at Harry. His features were somehow blank and embittered all at once. "Please," he begged, "if the debt means anything to you, please."
Harry wondered why he'd ever thought hearing Draco Malfoy beg would make him smile. "Take back that thing about my love life."
"For the love of- Your love life is exactly what any healthy British wizard's, aged 29, should be. Now will you help?"
"I suppose you have a list?" Harry held out his hand. Malfoy fished a scroll from his robe pocket and passed it to him. Harry let his eyes sweep over the list.
Malfoy said, "He indicated where you could find everything next to the names and amounts."
"I'd actually managed to puzzle that out without asking Hermione or anything." Harry looked up. "I can't just give these ingredients over to you."
"I can't, Malfoy. I'd be remiss. But I will bring them to you and stay while he brews."
"It could take months."
Harry picked up on the undercurrent of hope and desperation in Malfoy's voice. He shut down the ache it startled out of him. "We'll work out a schedule."
"You won't know if he utilizes them without your consent. There will be times when you have to leave, I mean you work-"
"That's why I will personally ward his laboratory."
"It's his lab!"
Harry pressed his lips together. "And those are my conditions. Alternately, you could come back to me with a plan for repayment that involves, say, your life?"
Defeat was not an attractive look on Malfoy. "I'll speak to him about it."
"You'll see that he agrees," Harry said.
Malfoy said softly, "Just find the ingredients. I'll take care of the rest."
Severus' voice was deceptively casual as he asked, "Where have you been?"
Draco hadn't been deceived in a very, very long time. "Would you like to get a few prefatory hexes out of the way and make yourself feel better?"
"We agreed, Draco-"
"No, you decreed and I pretended to obey. When was the last time that actually happened?"
"Last Thursday, on the issue of your vaults."
Draco sat down on the couch across from the armchair in which Severus was perching. "If I used the tactic all the time you'd find some way to subvert my intentions."
"Potter won't help us."
"Not in the way I had hoped," Draco admitted, because Severus' victories--the ones that mattered, anyway--were few these days, and Draco was loathe to deprive him of anymore.
Severus seemed to hear Draco's verbal compromise, and in turn gentled his own voice. "You should not be sacrificing your. . .anything for me. There are other ways."
"My pride is the least of what I would sacrifice for you, and I didn't say he wasn't going to help."
"If he could get us even a few-"
Draco tensed. "He'll get us all the ingredients."
"Then what has you so uncharacteristically silent in victory?"
Draco reached into his robes and withdrew the contract he'd drawn up with Potter before leaving. It was Bound between the three of them, visible to nobody else, signed by Draco and Potter, as the Life Debt was between the two of them. He levitated it over to Severus, who unrolled the scroll and scanned it. "Well, you could hardly have expected anything else."
"I did save his life. With your help, as I recall."
"I killed his mentor. All things being equal, his caution isn't entirely undue."
"I really was counting on you to help me blacken his name freely once out of his hearing."
"Oh, he's a self-righteous, sanctimonious, boring and conceited little imitation of a capable wizard, no doubt. But him wanting to keep an eye on lethal potion ingredients when in the hands of someone he--perhaps not entirely erroneously--considers an enemy isn't exactly what one could call stupid."
"You're just staying calm because you know you could poison him even while he was watching."
"That's not a discomforting thought in all of this," Severus said lightly.
Draco huffed a little and slid off the sofa, crossing to where Severus was. He dropped to his knees and leaned his head on Severus' lap, slightly reassured when Severus made no sound of pain. He didn't look up to see if Severus' lips had tightened, or if his hands had clenched just a little more tightly to the chair, or any of the thousand other ticks that Severus had learned to hide pain from those who weren't looking for it. He said, "Potter is the least of what I would face for you," knowing that Severus, who knew well what Draco's limits were in every other area, would appreciate the comment for what it was.
Severus' hand came down on Draco's hair as if in benediction. "I know."
Much like most everything in Harry's recent life, The Dumbledore Day School had been Hermione's idea. He had just shrugged haplessly and agreed to go along. That was generally easier than arguing with her. Of course, at the time Harry had been preoccupied by the brief fling he was having with Gabrielle Delacour. He'd been filling his mental time off from that with hating how he always ended in the papers for things that every other Auror in the corps did.
Harry had joined the corps shortly after Voldemort's death, still burning with the need for vengeance against the Death Eaters that had left him with nightmares. That drive, twisted in with his inertia, had floated him straight into the job and kept him there for nearly six years. He hadn't even noticed how much getting up in the morning had become something he just did until Hermione had dragged him out of that life.
Hermione for her part, was busy voicing rhetoric about the harm caused by waiting until muggle-born children were eleven to integrate them into magical society. Her devotion coupled with his frustration combined to make Harry easy to convince--not that he'd ever regretted it.
The Dumbledore Day School was the first isle-based grade-age school that taught magical history, culture and basics and was open to all magically-inclined children. Hermione was the public face of the school, as well as running most of its administrative needs. She'd left the relative cushiness of Hogwarts, a position as Head of Gryffindor House and next in line for Deputy Headmistress to start the school, but Harry didn't think she regretted it either.
Ron was a silent partner. He'd made a considerable amount of money as the head coach of the Wasps, leading them to three straights Wizarding Cup titles. Hermione hadn't even tried to guilt him into leaving that. Harry'd thought that if Ron hadn't known just a little that she still loved him despite the break up, he should have known then.
Harry and Hermione had pooled together their resources, hired a couple of teachers, mostly muggle-borns, and put together a school. It had been a hit from their first day open. Harry liked to pretend that had nothing to do with the fact of his name being attached to it.
Usually in the evenings, after all the kids had gone home, Harry would surreptitiously move into Hermione's office, or vice versa, and the two of them would work together until either Harry or Hermione pushed the other to go home. This hadn't been happening as much over the last few months, as Neville had recently been coming around and asking Hermione things like, "Are you hungry?"
Harry was loathe to get in the way of that.
He couldn't help floating into Hermione's office after Malfoy had shown, though, asking, "Have a moment?"
She put down her quill. "Feels like I haven't seen you in a while."
Hermione smiled. "Am I being one of those friends who completely ignores the people who really matter the minute someone notices she's a girl?"
Harry edged his way inside. "Is that it? Or is it that Ron's dating his star chaser?"
"Mostly it's that Neville doesn't seem to care when I have other priorities. Although I did check to make sure the latter wasn't an issue."
"Of all of us, I've always been the one to watch out for Neville's feelings."
"And I should point out that he doesn't need that from me anymore."
Harry smiled at that. "He holds his own."
"Sit down and tell me what you came in here to talk to me about."
Harry sat. "There's a possibility I did something incredibly stupid today."
"I counted, all the children went home with all their limbs."
"Not with the school."
Hermione tilted her head. "Would this have anything to do with the fact that Draco Malfoy showed up on the school's visitor logs today?"
"That's a brilliant spell," Harry said. Hermione's visitor logs worked on the same principle as the Marauders Map had, telling her everyone who made their way onto the school's property. Harry wasn't entirely sure how she'd figured out the magic necessary or how it worked so unfailingly, but it tended to keep them out of trouble more times than not. "You saw him and you didn't come to check the situation out?"
"What, you couldn't have handled him on your own?"
"He came about the Life Debt?"
Harry passed Hermione the scroll Malfoy had left with him. "Look at that list, tell me what you think."
Hermione glanced cursorily over the parchment. "That I know why he came to you. Even if he and Snape weren't on a restricted buying basis, a lot of these need something like an Auror's license to procure."
Part of the condition of Snape and Malfoy's freedom had been a type of parole limiting not only their movement but their actions. "Do the ingredients mean anything to you? I mean, other than the obvious?"
"That Malfoy intends to poison the entirety of the isles and rule as lord in the absence of anything sentient?"
"Slightly foolish plan, but Malfoy's never been a strategizing genius."
"Or there's the possibility that one of them is dying of the Dark Legacy. Snape, more likely, if Malfoy had the energy to come here and ask."
"Extremely rare. Only happens when someone has been exposed to curses over years and years of time. Very few people actually survive long enough for the build up of Dark magic flooding their system to form. . .pathogens, for lack of a better term. Those pathogens then begin their destruction by eroding at muscle and bone, working their way up to poisoning the bloodstream. It's a long, painful way to die."
Harry thought about the flashes of vision, the spikes of pain in his scar when one of Voldemort's Death Eaters had failed him. "Snape was more likely to be exposed to that sort of prolonged contact with the Dark."
Hermione made a face. "Unless Lucius. . ."
Harry remembered the things Dumbledore had spoken of so forcefully to Malfoy in those last moments of his life. "I don't think so. For all of Lucius Malfoy's faults, Draco honestly loved his father."
"As I said, Snape's the far more likely candidate in any case."
Harry cast his eyes toward the piece of parchment Hermione still held in her hands. "And you think that's to help lessen the symptoms?"
"No, I think this is the one cure available. Nearly impossible to brew but then, not everybody is Severus Snape. Or has access to these ingredients."
"Are you sure?"
"No, not in the least. The only reason I even know at all about Dark Legacy was because I read everything there was to read on long-term curse affectations after we- Malfoy, well after."
The feel of rope splinters digging into every inch of his skin and the slow dripping, rolling warmth of his own blood washed over Harry even at Hermione's not-quite mention of Malfoy's rescue. Suddenly, he couldn't help but think he shouldn't have given Malfoy such a hard time earlier.
Hermione was still speaking. "I only found it in one source that I had to beg Madam Pince to hand over. The discussion on cures was pretty scanty, but really, this isn't the type of list one forgets."
Well, not if the "one" being spoken of was Hermione. Harry rubbed at the back of his neck, uncomfortable with having this knowledge, particularly given the way the meeting had gone that morning. "It's Snape. And Malfoy was. . .desperate."
Hermione bit at her lower lip. "Well, for what it's worth, I don't think you did something you shouldn't have. You do have a Life Debt to him, I suppose there are worse things he could have asked. I'm assuming you put some sort of restrictions on the brewing?"
Harry handed her over the contract. She scanned it and nodded. "A life for a life."
Hermione looked at Harry. "Sometimes the symmetry of things is less obvious than we'd prefer it to be."
Malfoy answered the door at Harry's knock. "Took your time, you did."
"You weren't asking for rosemary and clover, Malfoy. There were other countries involved."
"I happen to know you can Apparate. The Ministry's pretty insistent about that in their Aurors."
Harry stiffened at the third voice entering into the conversation.
Malfoy looked back over his shoulder. Snape said, "Are you going to invite our guest in, or not?"
"He's not our guest," Malfoy said, but he stepped aside to allow Harry in anyway. Harry took the invitation as it was, figuring it was the best he was going to get.
Harry held out a large box of assorted ingredients. "Professor."
Snape took the box. "Potter."
Harry followed as the two men walked into a sitting room. Snape handed the box to Malfoy who set it on a table and went through each of the potions bottles, holding them up for Snape's inspection. Harry noticed the way Snape held himself. He had always had a sort of tight, regal bearing, but now it was as though he didn't trust his muscles to return to a standard position if he let them one quarter of an inch from that holding. Harry said, "Dark Legacy. Is it?"
Snape tilted his head slightly, ever so slightly, and even that caused him to clench his jaw. When he relaxed it enough to affect speech, he sneered, "Been speaking with Miss Granger about things that don't concern her once again, have you?"
"She's generally able to tell me whether I've made a mistake or not. And your catamite didn't place a discretionary clause in the contract."
"Been reading a little something to titillate yourself, Potter? Or does Weasley just use big words when talking dirty to you?" Malfoy spat.
"My lover's name is Draco. Malfoy, if you insist." Snape's eyes were no less lethal for the physical pain reflected in them.
"Yes," Draco hissed, more sibilant than Harry had ever once felt in all his talks with snakes. "Yes, it is the Dark Legacy. No doubt you feel that we deserve this, but tragically, you owe me."
Harry bit out, "No doubt."
"Some awfully high quality products there for someone who feels that way," Snape observed, almost lightly. Almost.
"I pay my debts."
"It's nearly more painful than the disease slowly eating my body to suddenly find we have something in common, Mr. Potter."
Draco sneered, "Calm yourself, he only pays if he finds the price to his liking."
Snape opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say was lost as he clamped his mouth shut in what seemed like a wave of overwhelming agony. The lines at the corner of his mouth were the only sign, but Harry had known Snape a long time. That didn't mean anything about the intensity of the attack. When he opened his mouth again it was to say, "If you have the time, Mr. Potter, I should like to begin brewing now."
Harry had paperwork waiting for him to sign. He had a call to make to Ron. He had a fantastic plate of biscuits that the new teacher--who possibly had a crush on him--had made and brought into school. All these things and more were waiting for him at home. He said, "I've some time."
Harry's experience as an Auror had cemented the difference between thinking he wanted something and the reality of that something. His career had been comprised of capture after capture after capture of fleeing Death Eaters. Not once had knowing that they were safely locked away helped Harry to take a night off from worrying about what else he should be doing.
Watching Snape move slowly from cauldron to cauldron, his breath dry and rasping was similar in its surprising emptiness. Harry didn't even particularly want to make fun of him for things he obviously couldn't help. It should have made Harry feel better about himself. He was, unquestionably, the better man.
Somehow, when Malfoy poked his head into the lab, grey eyes disturbingly soft with consideration and asked, "Want to stop for some tea?" Harry didn't really feel all that superior.
Snape said, "Another hour, Draco."
"You've been in here three and you-" but Malfoy stopped as Snape took one look in Harry's direction. "All right. Call if you need me."
Harry snorted, because Malfoy wasn't in inhuman amounts of pain and he could do so without feeling completely villainous. Malfoy just turned from the room and left. Without looking at Harry, Snape said, "I would almost feel sorry for you." He didn't elaborate, and Harry didn't ask. His own ideas about what Snape might mean were more than enough to set him ill at ease.
An hour later, Malfoy came in and said, "Severus. Tea."
Snape had looked about to argue, but something in Malfoy's stance had dissuaded him. He went to the task of putting things into a proper resting mode and left the room. Malfoy followed, only a hint of hesitation in his step. Harry, feeling like he was falling into Snape's pensieve all over again, warded the room and every single one of the ingredients in it.
Neither Snape nor Malfoy had invited him to share in the tea, and Harry couldn't imagine he'd enjoy less, so he let himself out of the house and Apparated back to his place. There wasn't any young boy-toy of a lover waiting for him (or any older partner, whom he could go to for advice and support) but there was a plate of biscuits and enough paperwork to transfigure a palace from, and that was enough for Harry.
He worked doggedly at the never-ending scrolls of bureaucracy that the school engendered until exhaustion became a living, breathing predator hunting him down where he sat. Harry crawled to his bed and hoped that when it caught up with him, it would be kind.
"He's a self-righteous, moronic wanker," Draco said. His own rhetoric was desperate attempt at stoking the anger inside him. Anything would do if it could overwhelm the desperation he felt at Severus' inability to finish a single cup of tea.
"Did you want me to agree, or are you spoiling for some type of fight?"
If make-up sex had been on offer the way it would have been not even a year ago, Draco certainly would have taken the latter option. It wasn't, though. Oh, Severus would have sex with him if Draco asked, or even intimated, but he'd bite his lips the entire time to hold back screams, and not of the type Draco liked to inspire. Unless he was doing so deliberately. "You could remind me how miserably he failed at his remedial potions lessons, just as I was getting good."
"Ah." Severus smiled lightly. "You want your ego stroked, then? Worried about something?"
Lots of things, but most of them had nothing to do with Harry Potter. Severus tried another sip of the tea, grimacing either at the nausea that followed or at the sting of its journey down. Or both. Draco knew how to read him reasonably well but even after twelve years there were certainty subtleties he would always miss. His need to unravel those mysteries was one of the things that kept him with Severus. One of the considerably less important things.
Severus asked, "If you feel that way, why did you save him?"
"You know why I saved him. I've told you."
"Mm. I know that your dislike of humiliation and torture nearly rivals mine. I know that your stomach for the actuality of inflicted pain and death is nearly non-existent. I don't know why you didn't just make sure it was done by someone else. You didn't seem to have much of a problem regarding Albus." Severus' voice went sharp.
Draco knew that there were some things that would never be forgiven between them, even if the Dumbledore thing hadn't been entirely his fault, even if Severus wasn't in fact greatly relieved that it had been himself and not Draco forced to end the old man's life. "He was always going to be testing me. It would never be over. Not until I finally screwed up and-" Draco knew that Severus would understand his shift in pronouns. "With Potter I figured he'd get them to at least leave me alone. Leave us alone."
And, despite all his other problems with Potter, Draco could admit that he had done that much, that Severus and his freedom to travel might be severely curtailed, that they might have to find alternate ways of purchasing items they desired, that the magic they could perform might be restricted, but they weren't constantly called on to justify themselves or their way of living. For the most part, people left them alone. In that, Draco had made the right decision.
Knowing the answer, knowing that it hurt Severus to talk now, knowing that he needed to hear him say the words anyway, Draco asked, "Why did you help?"
Severus tried another sip of the tea. "Because you asked."
Harry brought paperwork the next night. Malfoy answered the door with unwarranted casualness, and asked, "What, not afraid he might try something while you're not looking?"
"If he's going to try something, he'll try it while I am looking," Harry said.
Severus, standing behind Malfoy in the hallway said, "Do not delude yourself for a moment that you would catch me either, Mr. Potter."
Harry wondered if the addition of the mister in front of his name meant anything or if Snape was just screwing with his mind. Probably the latter, given their history. "If you say so. I'd like to get started. I have a job I actually have to show up to in the morning."
"Neither Severus nor I is to blame for the fact that you are constitutionally incapable of telling Granger no."
"What, no name-calling this evening?" Harry asked sweetly.
"Your kind make it too easy," Malfoy told him before turning to Snape. "Do you need anything?"
Snape neither said anything nor moved, but there must have been some sort of understanding between the two of them, as Malfoy nodded and went off to parts unseen.
Harry told himself he didn't envy them. He had relationships of his own that were strong enough to allow for silent communication. Hermione and Ron, for one. And that sort of friendship wasn't something he saw either Snape or Malfoy claiming.
Harry followed Snape to the laboratory. The pace was excruciating but Harry kept quiet about it. He'd kicked the injured puppy enough already in this particular case and he knew it. When he could help Snape, he planned on doing so. Once they were there, Harry undid the wards with a thought, carefully keeping his mind opaque. He didn't much think Snape would try and peek--in Harry's experience the man usually saved moves like that for when he was desperate--but it never hurt to be cautious.
Snape looked at the door to his labs and then Harry said, "Oh, you can go in."
Snape turned his head then, despite the fact that it was obviously a painful action to effect. He looked like he would say something for a moment before he turned his head back and pushed the door open. "Guests first," he said dryly.
Harry wondered for a moment if it was a test of some sort, to see if Harry was willing to turn his back on Snape. Sixteen was a long ways in his past, and Harry was relatively sure that even at his best Snape couldn't overpower him, physically or magically. Snape certainly wasn't at his best. He went ahead into the laboratory. "I'm good with wards." They made Harry feel safe. He didn't say that aloud.
Surprisingly, Snape didn't follow up Harry's simple statement of confidence with a remark designed to deconstruct whatever good opinion Harry had scrounged up for himself.
Harry settled himself in a corner where he could do paperwork without disturbing Snape or vice versa. He was surprised, to say the least, when Snape spoke to him. "I realize that Draco and you drew up a contract around the terms of your willingness to supply us with grade A toxins."
Harry looked up, but didn't say anything. Snape, as Harry had guessed he would, continued. "If you're magically adept enough to maintain wandless, speechless wards, I would imagine you could specify them to a certain area of the lab. Or is that beyond your capabilities?"
"Do you always bait people you're about to ask favors of?" Harry shook his head. "Nevermind, stupid question. Yes, I can specify the area. Why would I?"
"Potion making is my profession, in case you were unaware. Without access to the labs-"
"Draco's inheritance was largely untouched by the fines the Ministry leveled at the two of you."
"As it so happens, Potter, I'm not a kept man."
"He probably wishes you'd let yourself be, the way you're feeling."
"Occasionally Draco's wishes have to be irrelevant, or he would amok with them." Snape was silent for a moment. "And there is the fact that I cannot brew basic symptom-alleviating potions while you're not here and not having the time while you are here."
"I'll change the wards."
Snape didn't say thank you.
Draco answered the door for Potter the third night. "Severus is waiting by the labs."
Potter stepped inside. "I've noticed it's. . .his mobility is impaired."
"He's managing just fine, Potter."
Potter closed the door behind himself and headed inside. Draco figured himself rid of him and went to go find things to do. It was never fun, leaving Severus to Potter's tender mercies. Not that he didn't trust Severus to take care of himself. At his best, Severus could wipe the floor with Draco and Draco well knew it. Severus wasn't at his best, not even nearly.
Draco didn't trust Potter.
Potter stopped. "Malfoy."
Draco sighed. He wasn't in the mood to expend energy on Potter. Not that he ever really was. "Potter."
"I shouldn't have made this so difficult."
Draco stiffened. "We don't need your pity."
"Look, just because you can never admit that you're wrong doesn't mean we all have that character flaw."
"My entire life is an admission of wrong-doing. Yours, on the other hand, is a celebration of all things you. Let's consider how ridiculous I find your last statement for a short moment."
Potter closed his eyes. When he opened them there were shadows that Draco didn't want to see. He said, "I'm saying sorry, Malfoy. Does that make it easier to accept, if I actually say the words?"
Draco knew an advantage when he saw one. "How sorry?"
Potter, for all his other faults, wasn't naïve. "Depends on what you're wanting. I've already bent on shifting the wards and I've come over every single night. Most nights I'm lucky if I get a chance to-" Potter bit off whatever it was he wasn't getting around to. "What did you want?"
"For you to come over an hour earlier."
"He tires easily. By the time you leave in the evenings-"
"I've suggested countless times that we stop earlier."
"He doesn't have forever, Potter! It's a bad enough situation, having to brew the potion in pieces like you're requiring of him."
Potter tilted his head. "An hour earlier?"
Draco thought about what Potter might not have been saying before. He was tempted to use Legilimency, but word had it Potter had improved his Occlumency and wasn't very keen on having anyone steal inside his private mental sanctum. "If there's something that we can provide to make it. . . Appearances aside, I know how to compromise."
Potter nodded slightly. "You came to me. For him. I was less than gracious, I realize. With good reason, but, less than gracious. All the same, that was pretty human of you. And since you're asking, I haven’t had time to eat."
"Food. That’s doable." Draco laughed a bit, reassured that Potter wasn't going to make this any more difficult than it already was.
"Then you have your hour." Potter took a step down the hall. "He's probably waiting."
"Yeah," Draco said. He watched Potter walk away and made himself not follow, not watch after Severus. Despite the fact that Draco felt it only proper he return the favor, Severus disagreed, and Draco tended to try and respect that. He'd gone to Potter because, blithely cruel or no, Potter was too bloody Gryffindor to purposely cause harm. He could trust Severus in his presence, even now.
Hermione knocked at the frame of the door to Harry's office. Harry looked up and she smiled. "I should introduce myself, it's been a while. I'm-"
"Oh, shut it."
Hermione laughed and walked in the office to take a seat. "Neville and I were wondering if you'd maybe join us for dinner."
"If I tell you that I really can't are you going to think I'm throwing you over for Snape and Malfoy?"
"Well, no, but I am going to start sniffing around for a confundus or two."
"Somehow I suspect I'd be less frustrated with the situation if I were being magically compelled into doing the bidding of my two least favorite still-living people."
"We had to kill off quite a few people to make that statement feasible."
Hermione spread her hands. "Only making a point."
"You're supposed to be on my side in this." Harry pouted.
"When did there suddenly become sides? And what do I get for my support of either one?"
"It's behavior like this that makes people like Neville ask you out on dates," Harry said.
Hermione grinned. "I was trying to pinpoint the cause so I could make sure to keep it up."
"Hermione," Harry said with a hint of exasperation. "Can't you just make the point you came in here to make and go?"
"I came in here to ask you to dinner, so that point's pretty much done and over with. But the point I've progressed to is this: I think perhaps letting go of some of your more overdetermined opinions about Snape and Malfoy might not be a bad plan. It might make this easier on you. Maybe."
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure what exists underneath all that."
"Mightn't it be worth figuring out?" Hermione tilted her head. "I'm not saying you have to like them. I'm not even saying you have to not end up at the exact place you're at right at this very moment. I'm just. . .holy hell Harry, don't you have enough to worry about without psyching yourself up every single evening to go over there for hours and hours? Are you even sleeping when you manage to get home, or are you just spending time trying to get yourself back from wherever you go in order to deal with things?"
Harry avoided the question. "Have I, or have I not been helpful this last week?"
"Harry." Hermione frowned. "I'm concerned about you, not trying to tell you off for negligence toward your duties."
Harry had been the one that the Death Eaters had captured. He'd been the one that they'd tied up in ropes meant to tear at his flesh and then Cursed so that he would move, either in reactionary pain or to avoid the Curse. He'd been the one that they took Charmed knives to, and the one they had taunted with mind manipulations that his newly-developed Occlumency couldn't guard against.
Malfoy had been the one to rescue him, but Hermione and Ron had been the people to build Harry back up into someone with the ability to kill a Dark Lord. The two of them had nursed him, and called him back from nightmares. When he wouldn't come, they had held him through them. She had a right to worry about him, and Harry knew it. He still hated knowing that he was worrying her. "You only sometimes tell me when I'm leaving you all by yourself."
"I tell you when I need you. This isn't like that. This is about you."
"There are certain things a person has to believe about the world."
Hermione made a sound. "Look, why don't I bring something back from the restaurant? I'll bring it over to your place later this evening and we can spend some time together."
Harry shook his head. "I don't get back until late. You and Neville don't-"
"When we want to, we do. I can beg off a night. He isn't, y'know, degenerating from a magical ailment. And I don't care that it's late."
Harry smiled, he couldn't help it. "All right. They feed me though. So maybe some treacle, or ladyfingers."
Hermione stood. "Surely. I'll see you then."
Harry looked down at his desk and tried to remember what he'd been doing when she'd come in to visit.
Draco always made sure that the dinners they provided for Potter were the most decadent he could possibly conjure. Severus finally asked, "Are you trying to impress him, or intimidate him?"
"What good is an act if it can't do both at once?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. "If I didn't know you better, I would think you cared what he thought of us."
Draco tensed and practically flung the words, "He made me beg, he should feel intimidated," at Severus.
Severus tensed in his own right, something that had both him and Draco wincing the next moment, Draco in sympathy. "You can hardly blame him because you did something you should never have done."
Draco rolled his eyes. "You're welcome. I didn't have to think about it, not even for a second."
"You killed your mentor for me. And you know I don't like it when you make me bring that up as a weapon."
"You wouldn't have to if you had any skill at these verbal games whatsoever." Severus sniffed delicately.
"Well, you do have skills and you still push me to it."
"Maybe I like the pain."
"You do, just not that sort." Nor the sort you're in, Draco didn't say.
"Indelicate, Mr. Malfoy."
"Yes, I think we've established that I'm never going to be half the smooth-spoken sophisticate that my father was."
Severus' voice was sharp, "You have other gifts."
"And quite a lot of good they're doing us now, isn't it?" Draco knew himself to be one of the top minds in the world when it came to the creation of defenses against curses and hexes. This was possibly due to the fact that he'd been raised on that sort of magic, and had always innately sensed that he would eventually need to protect himself against it. Or it could just have been because he was brilliant. Draco preferred to tell people it was the latter.
"There are people who would be willing to have you on as a freelance consultant if you could just swallow your pride long enough to actually work with them."
"Weasley's breed plague," Draco told Severus with the utmost seriousness, thinking of the last lucrative consultation offer he'd been sent. After Draco torn Potter away from a still-horcrux-protected Tom (Draco always spat the word mentally) he'd had few choices of where to go. It was between disappearing completely and leaving Severus behind--which really wasn't any sort of choice--or fighting for McGonagall. Taking the latter option left most of the Order knowing just how good he was at building protection spells. This meant, of course, that most of the offers levied at him came from either ex-Order members, or family of ex-Order members, the Weasley twins being no exception. In fact, they tended to be the most persistent, and their offers the most tempting. That truth didn't mean that Draco thought about taking them, or anything.
"Draco, if this doesn't work-"
"It'll work." Draco normally tended more toward the realist end of the scale than the optimist one, but there were some thoughts he simply could not afford to have.
"You will need connections. You should have them now, but so long as I've been around I've been remiss in-"
"I'm an adult, Severus. If I wish to be remiss, than I shall be, and you'll have nothing to do with it."
"Draco!" Severus said the word as loudly as he could. "If you won’t listen to me for you then do it for me."
Draco blinked. "For you." That was something Severus had never asked in all their years together. Not even when Draco was seventeen and just wanted Severus so keenly. Severus had waited, not using that desire against him. Severus had waited until the end of the war, when he was supposed to have been dead, making all of it a moot point. He had waited for Draco to come to his senses, waited for a million things that had never come to him. Draco, all intent and Malfoy self-assuredness, had come instead.
"Draco, I can't continue like this. Being terrified of what will happen to you if my brewing doesn't succeed. It's one more thing."
"And my taking the job offer would help?"
"It's something. Just as Potter's presence, if used correctly, is something. You know better than not to use what you've been given."
Draco did know better, that was the worst part of this all. "I'll think about it."
Severus quirked one side of his mouth. That was the best he could do for a smile these days, but they both knew what it meant. Severus, as usual, had won.
Harry attended all of the Wasp's games, no exceptions. Unlike the Quidditch World Cup, most of the regular season games took place during weekend afternoons, as a pitch took quite a bit of magical energy to light for as long as certain matches could last. Harry had never been so profoundly grateful for that fact as he was now, when it didn't interfere with The Brewing Schedule. Harry wasn't sure which conversation would be less fun: explaining to Ron that he couldn't make a game because he was helping Voldemort's spawn, or explaining to Malfoy and Snape that he couldn't help them with their pesky fatal disease problem because he had a quidditch match to attend.
All in all, that was something he wanted to avoid entirely.
Harry showed up for the game on Sunday afternoon. It was against the Falcon's, who were rebuilding after having four players retire the previous year, and Harry wasn't expecting much of a match. All the same, the Wasp's keeper played with a perfect artistry and their beaters were good fun to watch, so Harry always enjoyed himself at the match.
Harry made his way down to the locker rooms afterward and sought out Ron. He found him talking with Violet, the star chaser that Ron had picked up for the team last season and for himself some time shortly after the last World Cup. "Hello, Vi," Harry said.
She smiled in greeting. Violet was nothing at all like Hermione, which Harry thought was pretty healthy. "If it isn't Harry Potter. What's a nice bloke like you doing at a sure thing like this?"
Harry shrugged. "The tickets were free."
Ron made a disgusted sound. "You, mate, once loved this game the way it is meant to be loved."
Harry still did but he got enough unwanted attention just tying his shoes in the morning without having to expose himself to international athletic stardom. Ron knew this, so Harry ignored him. "That was a good goal, for the thirty, Vi. You were flying pretty today."
Ron said, "I don't need you flirting up my girlfriend, Harry. Or driving my team to overconfidence."
"Just for that, I'm stiffing you with the tea bill. Violet, you wanna join?"
"Thanks, Harry, but the team's going out for something a little harder'n that, and I think that's where my heart lies at the moment." She turned slightly to kiss Ron--even at five foot eight, she had to lean up to do it--and said, "Your place, later?"
"Unless you want-"
"Nah," Violet gave a quick shake of her close-cropped blond spikes, "the flatmate's back in town."
Ron grinned. "See you then. Have something girly for me."
"Piss off," Violet said with a laugh, and ran off to catch up with her teammates. Violet, who was the biggest tomboy Harry had ever met, didn't drink anything but girly drinks. This was a source of endless amusement to Ron, who was a die-hard butterbeer aficionado, and really had absolutely no room to laugh.
Harry and Ron chatted about the game while they were heading over to the local pub that served a pretty decent afternoon tea. Ron was worried about his seeker. The man had been injured toward the end of the previous season and they were having trouble getting him back up to snuff. Harry tossed off some pointers and Ron said, "Thanks."
When they were seated, Harry looked across the table. "Your note said there was something you wanted to talk about."
"Right, I mean, I know we always go out afterward anyhow, but I wanted to make sure you weren't busy."
Harry was silent for a second. "Why would I be busy?"
"Dunno, Hermione mentioned something about you having a lot on your plate."
"It's that time of year."
"Yeah. No, what I wanted. . . Did you know that the twins offered Draco Malfoy a job?"
Harry frowned. "Doing what?"
"Placing intention barriers on their products. I think that's fancy speak for trying to make sure the stuff doesn't get into the wrong hands, like it always seems to do."
"And they asked Malfoy."
"Who turned them down and then came back to them after four months and asked if the deal was still on offer."
The tea service came and Harry distracted himself by pouring a couple of cups out and grabbing a finger sandwich. "Did the twins say what Malfoy's job package included?"
"Flexible hours, freedom to pursue the projects he felt would be most productive, a pretty mind-blowing salary, their resources."
Harry lifted his head from his cup. "All their resources?"
"Well, he can only use the ones that are on the restricted list under their supervision."
Harry took another sip. "I wish I had something to tell you. Maybe it's just the money."
"He's got money," Ron said, surprisingly darkly, given that Ron did as well now.
Ron looked surprised. "Shouldn't I be?"
It disturbed Harry how long it took him to formulate an answer. "The twins are pretty good at looking out for themselves."
"Well, yeah. With the three of them working together, it's everyone else in the bloody world I have reason to be concerned about."
Harry thought that was true even minus the Draco presence, not that that helped anything. "I'll uh. . .see what I can find out."
Ron snickered. "Still have inside sources, eh?"
Harry sighed. He hated not telling his best friend anything but he wasn't in the mood to hear Ron yelling at him, nor to have to wait for Ron to come around and understand why he made the decision to stay silent so long. Also, he wasn't entirely sure Ron would keep the secret; it wasn't Harry's secret, which had always been the determining factor before. Harry wasn't sure why it should matter that it stayed secret, but somehow it just did. "Something like that."
Malfoy was generally around while Harry ate. Harry couldn't always see him, but in the same way that Dumbledore had once been able to find Harry underneath a cloak of invisibility, it didn't take visual signs for Harry to know when someone was nearby. And there was no mistaking Snape for Malfoy; the two had completely different magical signatures.
He couldn't see Malfoy, so Harry called out, "Have a moment?"
Malfoy sauntered into the dining area from one of the adjacent rooms. "Bored, Potter?"
Harry put the quill he'd been marking papers with down. He was, but Malfoy wasn't exactly his idea of a good time any more than the papers to his side were. "Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes."
"My, my. Good news does travel fast."
"We're a tight knit group."
"They offered me a job. I accepted. I checked, it's entirely within the limits of what I'm allowed to do."
"I was more interested in why you suddenly wanted to."
Malfoy smirked. "Boredom."
Harry knew a lie when he saw one, but he also knew when he wasn't going to get the truth. "All right."
Surprisingly, Malfoy sat down at the table. He stared at Harry for a while, but Harry was used to being stared at by people who did and did not like him. Malfoy wasn't any different. Finally Malfoy asked, "Why'd you leave the corps for such a dreary job?"
"I like my job," Harry said. He liked parts of it. Enough of it for the statement to be mostly truth.
"You were a good Auror."
When Harry looked up, Malfoy was regarding him quizzically, as though both the fact of Harry's success and his turning away from it were complete mysteries to him. Perhaps they were. Not many people understood Harry, not even when Harry went through the trouble to explain. "I'm a good teacher, too. And kids worship their teachers so it's not out of place that they look at me with big eyes. They look at Hermione and Douglas and Cressida that way as well. And the glamour of a school wears off, so every once in a while we'll get a reporter sniffing around for something, but most of the time they get discouraged and slink off."
"One would think you'd simply learn how to take advantage of the acclaim and get on with things." Malfoy's voice was surprisingly edgeless.
Harry rolled his neck tiredly. "I suppose that depends on one's point of view."
After a stretch of silence in which Harry ate and Malfoy stared some more, Malfoy said, "You could. . .we have extra beds."
Harry's eyes flew to Malfoy. "Sorry?"
"You can't be sleeping much."
"I-" Harry looked away. "Thanks, truly, but no."
Malfoy's lips set in a nasty twist. "Afraid we might try something on your poor, defenseless, sleeping self?"
"You really think it's that easy to sneak up on me? Even when I'm sleeping?" Harry twisted his own lips in challenge. Then he relaxed them. "It takes me a long time to feel comfortable in a place. I can't sleep until I get to that point. I moved into the flat I'm currently in nearly six years ago when I started with the school and I'm just now getting to the point where I can pull a straight eight hours given the chance."
"There are potions for that sort of thing."
"Snape's never given you his 'masking the symptoms' lecture?"
"Too many times to count. I'm surprised to hear you've heard it, though."
"When. . .when we all had to work together, I would steal sleeping potions from him in small acts of revenge to fend off the desire to, erm, carry out larger acts of revenge."
"And he lectured you?"
"Lecture's a kind word. I still have the scars, I don't know about him."
"But you listened anyway?"
"He," Harry tapped his finger against the table, thinking of the right word, "said some things worth listening to."
Malfoy sat for a few seconds before his eyes widened. "He let you in his head?"
Malfoy's exclamation was a slow, shocked drawl. "Salazar bloody Slytherin."
Harry found himself grinning.
"No wonder the two of you aren't at each other's throats anymore."
"Don't start making it out like we like each other."
Malfoy laughed, a real, amused laugh.
"Malfoy," Harry said softly.
"Thanks for the offer. Really."
"Consider it open," Malfoy said, and stood up to return to his regularly scheduled prowling.
There were times when Snape would stop, just stop and stand there. At first Harry hadn't understood. Then he realized that it was Snape's way of riding out the worst of the pain. An offer to call Draco had earned him the worst glare he'd ever received. Glares didn't so much bother Harry, mostly thanks to Snape's training, but that one had warned him off.
Since then Harry had only been paying marginal attention to Snape's actions in the labs. Snape's life was on the line, it wasn't very logical for him to betray their agreement, and Snape had a type of logic when it came to self-preservation
As such, it wasn't until Harry tuned in one evening and noticed that Snape had been standing still for far longer than usual that he stuttered, "Can I- Is there a potion?"
Snape didn't respond. He did not so much as twitch an eyelash. Harry touched his hand to his throat and the words, "Malfoy, come," echoed through the entirety of the house. Harry heard the crack of Malfoy's arrival just outside the door and knew that the younger man hadn't even bothered with running. The hallways in the house were open to in-house Apparition, but not the rooms themselves. A small precaution, and Harry had once or twice wondered how the compromise had been reached.
Snape wasn't even glaring at Harry. Harry swallowed back the nausea that realization induced.
"Accio non-verminis," Malfoy said, his voice straining in an effort to affect calm. He held out a hand and a vermillion colored bottle glided into it. He unstoppered the bottle and then worked his hand gently at Snape's jaw. "Severus. Open your mouth."
Snape made a sound that was nothing more than a breath. Malfoy said, "I know. Please," and kept rubbing at Snape's jaw.
Snape managed to release his jaw a fraction and Malfoy tipped several drops of the potion into Snape's mouth. The hand that was not holding the bottle never ceased in rubbing at the other man's jaw. Finally, finally, Snape slumped forward against Malfoy. It wasn't precisely an encouraging motion, but it was motion, and that was something.
Malfoy said, "If you can make it to the hall I can side-along us to the bedroom."
Snape mumbled something Harry couldn't understand. Malfoy shook his head. "I know, but you can't. . .you can barely speak. The potion must be properly brewed."
Snape said something else and Malfoy looked near to tears. The thought made Harry taste the word Septumsempra, bitter and coppery. He said, "Snape. Can you open your mind just enough for me to access the process?"
Snape's eyes met Harry's. Harry said, "Malfoy and I can brew. You taught us, you know we can. I never did so well as when I was following your written instructions, and you're in no condition to yell at me, so this will be a bit like that."
With shocking suddenness, Harry felt a burst of amusement in his head that was clearly not his own. The amusement was tinged with sarcasm and pain and Harry said, "All right. Good."
Malfoy put his forehead up against Snape's lightly, so lightly, and Harry couldn't help feeling the love that passed between the two men in the instant of contact, more powerful than the pain, more powerful than the tenderness.
Inside Harry's head, the sensation was a bit like having a glass shatter from the center of his chest. Envy had never felt that way before in him, never been quite so sharp, and Harry decided he'd think up a new word for it later. One a bit less revealing.
Malfoy helped Snape to a seat and the pain was nearly sickening. Harry dampened the connection between the two of them, aware that Snape probably had no idea just how much he had opened up. In his condition, it was somewhat incredible he could perform mind magic at all.
Malfoy pulled away from Snape and looked at Harry with wary eyes. "I'll handle ingredient prep."
Harry smiled in relief. "Right."
Malfoy laughed at him. It was half-hearted, and a little tired sounding, but it was a laugh. "Just. . .listen to him, all right? It's important."
Harry thought about saying something cutting in return, but Malfoy looked like he'd bled enough for the evening, and Harry was never fond of the color red ghosting over his hands. "I'll see what I can do."
And he did.
Draco answered the door at an unmentionable hour the next morning to find Potter, who was sporting bloodshot eyes and a sheepish smile. "You look like something I melted and proceeded to dance in."
"Did I wake you?" Potter asked, somewhat haplessly by Draco's standards. "I wanted to make sure," an odd shake of his head, "well, that he'd slept and that sort of thing."
"An owl later in the day would have worked swimmingly, in that case." Draco yawned.
Potter blinked The Blink of the Perpetually Innocent and Imminently Woundable. "Right. You won't at least tell me how he is?"
Draco stepped back from the door. "It's bloody cold out there, Potter. At least come in and let me tell you over breakfast."
"You were sleeping and I have to-"
Draco reached out and pulled Potter physically over the barrier so as to close the door behind him. It was too early in the morning even for magic, which was saying something. "I don't know if they could have found a git bigger than you to do the dirty work for the side of the bright and fuzzy."
"Neville was next in line."
"Your side really did have all the luck."
"Amazing you didn't switch earlier, really," Potter agreed solemnly.
Draco, despite wanting nothing more than to fall asleep standing up, laughed. "Fried eggs and toast all right?"
Potter said, "I generally stick to coffee, if that's possible."
Draco was unsurprised by this, given that Potter had looked at least a stone under his most desirable weight since he'd begun paying of the Life Debt. "Coffee and toast." Draco didn't know why it was he cared, except that he was constantly having to look at Potter these days. "With jam."
Potter brightened at this. "Do you have good jam?"
In the face of Potter's obvious affinity for the food, Draco was not going to admit that he had a bit of a jam fetish. "What would you consider good?"
"Cherry or peach. Or apple. Mango's nice, too."
Draco grabbed a jar of each and did not look at Potter as he set them down. Potter graciously forebore saying anything beside, "May I have four pieces of toast, please?"
Draco rummaged through the Chilled Box to find the loaf of honey wheat bread he'd bought at last Saturday's Farmer's Market in town. Severus had been rather insistent that Draco learn to interact with the Muggle world and know its ways, in case escape into it (or entirely from it) was ever necessary. Also because Severus found house elves to be consistently underfoot and annoying but wasn't willing to sacrifice the quality of his food despite their absence. He absent-mindedly stuck all four pieces in the toaster. Severus and he had both learned rather quickly that sometimes Muggle cooking tools were vastly superior to cooking spells which could go wrong with surprising ease.
Potter said, "That's a big toaster."
"I like toast," Draco said, glancing at the four jars lined up like soldiers at attention in front of Major Potter.
"It's best when it's right out of the toaster," Potter agreed, in what Draco could only describe as a disgustingly happy tone. "It nearly burns your fingers, and the jam melts a bit so that all the sugar dissolves even more thoroughly."
"You think about food too much." Draco poured some water into a kettle and hit it with a Boiling Charm before pouring it into the percolator and leaning back against the counter while it steeped.
Potter shrugged. "I used to only get cold toast."
Draco didn't have anything to say to that. Instead he remembered why Potter was there, permanent bed-head even more mussed than usual. "He slept. Eventually. It took a couple of more doses of the non-verminis. He should be up by the time you come back. If it doesn't seem like he will be, I'll owl."
Potter tinkered with one of the jam jars. "What does it mean? How long-"
"I don't know," Draco cut him off, not even cruelly, given the circumstances. "There's not a lot of information on it, it takes someone of enormous stamina to survive long enough to contract it and then most who do don't realize what's happened, as it's so rare- There's not much written on the subject. The cure was a complete fluke. Another Severus a few millenia back who figured things out in time to save herself."
Potter was evidently easily distracted by details. "Millenia, really?"
"Dark Magic's been around a while," Draco told him solemnly.
Potter made a face but didn't otherwise pay the mockery any attention. "How long did she have?"
"Evidently years, but nobody's sure how quickly she figured it out. Severus has always had Dark Magic residue problems so it was a while before we realized." Draco curled his hands into fists and fought not to have rage pour like magic out of every cell in his body. "I should have-"
"How good is your Occlumency, with him?"
Draco looked at Potter a long time, trying to figure out his angle. He had a long history of trusting Potter to use any and all information he had on Draco to destroy him. Potter hadn't spread the news of Severus' illness, though. So far as Draco could tell, Potter hadn't gossiped at all about the two of them. To anyone.
Severus was practically paralyzed in another room. Draco was out here by himself. Well, by himself with Potter. It was just the two of them. Draco took a deep, silent breath and chose to leave mistrust behind. Just this once. "As good as everything else," he said, his voice breaking on "everything." He kept his eyes on Potter's, careful not to so much as blink.
Potter stood. Draco looked at the coffee pot. "You haven't had your toast."
"I'll be back in a moment."
Draco frowned. "Where are you going?"
"To undo the wards," Potter said, and slipped from the room.
Draco didn't expect to see Potter after that. Sure Potter had complimented his taste in jams, and eaten all four pieces of toast and even drank three-quarters of the coffee. But without the wards Severus' illness was back to being Draco's problem, and Potter would have nothing to do with it.
Just as Draco had wanted.
Only Potter showed back up again that night. He asked if maybe he could have coffee again with dinner, with a casual, "You make a good pot."
Draco spluttered, "Why are you here?"
"I thought the extra pair of hands made things go faster. I can, um, if I was wrong," and Harry listed a bit to the door.
Draco, who was so sure that it was better with just him and Severus, so very sure, said, "No coffee, you're going to destroy your intestines, but we've got this tea that'll work."
Potter smiled. "Special brew?"
Draco's lips were too numb with shock to smile back. Not that he would have. "Something like that."
Potter seemed relatively unphased by Draco's stiffness. "Whatever works."
"I wasn't expecting you," Draco said, as he walked into the kitchen, which was entirely neat. The only food in sight was the bowl of apples they kept on the table. Draco liked apples, the more tart the better.
Harry picked up an apple and took a bite. He blinked as the sourness of the taste hit his tongue. "Your 'why are you here' gave that away, really."
Draco summoned the tea leaves. "You don’t owe me anything else."
"No," Potter said. Draco thought he sounded unaccountably sad, but shook the idea off as one caused by a lack of sleep.
"And you don't like us," Draco pointed out, without looking at Potter. He didn't think he could say it while looking at Potter, which was odd, but not something he had time to mull over at the moment.
Potter said, "Do you actually like these apples?"
Draco heard the crunch of another bite being taken. "I'm going to make you dinner, you realize."
"I don't get a chance to eat much during the day."
"Is that your excuse for this wind-blown waif look you're sporting?"
Draco turned around to set the tea cup down in front of Potter. "Nevermind. Let it sit for a little while longer." He didn't miss the fact that Potter glanced down at himself.
"I don't like cooking. I live by myself; I'm at work all day long." Potter stopped for a second. "I miss food, I'm just too lazy to do anything about it. And I think too used to going without- Well, yes. Too lazy."
Draco didn't inquire after what hadn't been said. He already knew enough about Potter that he didn't want or need to know. "Severus is a little. . . Sometimes you have to wait his instructions out."
Potter pulled his tea to him. "All right."
"The good news is that if I understand him correctly the cure comes in three stages and we're very nearly done with the first."
"And that will help?"
"I think so." Draco worried at the pot of onions he was sautéing. "Potions were never really. . . I mean, I was all right at them."
"The way he acted, you'd never have guessed you were anything less than brilliant."
"Severus has always liked me." Draco said this softly, without pride of any sort. "Sometimes I think despite his better judgment."
"Well, I suppose someone had to," Potter replied after a bit.
"I offered you a chance," Draco said coldly.
"You were a self-righteous, conceited little shit. I'm not entirely sure you're all that different now, but there are moments when I think you're at least self-aware." Potter didn't even raise his voice.
"You were- are an unflinching prat." Draco kept his even as well.
"At least we know why we don't like each other. That's something."
Draco stirred angrily at the onions, sending several flying out of the pan. He shot them with a silent banishing spell so intense it nearly chipped the hob's surface. Behind him, Potter took another bite of the apple.
When Snape first tried to explain to Harry what feeling another's minds was like, he couldn't have known that it would feel like parseltongue. The way it would slide smoothly in an almost friendly manner at the base of Harry's mind and wind its way up. Harry could only imagine that Snape hadn't known that. That Occlumency took its own form for each person.
If Harry had known the distinct, seductive pleasure of it, he might have fought it. Once he knew, of course, it was too late, and the sensation was already one that he craved. Harry didn't like to pry; he knew it was wrong. The way it felt to slip into Occlumency, have someone there with him, though--his desire for that sometimes almost overcame his moral reservations.
The slide of Snape's mind was interrupted, nearly shattered by the interference of rotting Dark Magic eating away at the rest of him. The sensation made Harry vaguely nauseated and he couldn't imagine what Malfoy, who knew better, experienced. A surge of sympathy shot through Harry so hard that it must have brushed at Malfoy, as the other man threw him a dirty look.
Harry shook his head slightly and concentrated on every word Snape was working his hardest to convey. Legilimency was not the easiest way to convey linear thoughts.
Harry stayed two hours later than he normally would have, working to compensate for the time that was lost in translation, in the need for him and Malfoy to split the tasks and keep moving.
An hour before they quit, Malfoy was drooping nearly as much as Snape. A passing, unwelcome thought flew through Harry's mind as he watched Malfoy drive himself relentlessly on for Snape. Would you do any less if it were Ron?
He told Malfoy, "Close your mind."
"Potter-" Malfoy began wearily.
Harry cut him off. "I'll tell you what you need to know. Shut your mind."
In both their heads, the vague swish of the command, "Do as he says Draco," came across a bit more loudly than necessary. Malfoy glared in Snape's direction but he played nice and did as he was told. Harry imagined he had the fact that Snape was nearly falling over to thank for that.
Harry stopped the proceedings when Snape's directions not only slowed, as they had nearly two hours before, but began to break and repeat, like a CD with a skip. Dudley had been forever scratching the myriad of CDs his mum was always giving him as gifts.
Harry shut his mind then, and said, "You both need some sleep."
Malfoy looked about to fight for all of a second until his eyes strayed to where Snape was hunched over, practically bent in half. He crossed the room clumsily, hindered by his own exhaustion, and ran gentle fingers over the man's back. He whispered something that Harry didn't even try to hear. Harry asked, "Can I help?"
Malfoy's fingers appeared nearly incandescent against the black of Snape's hair as he carded them through. "I wouldn't turn down an extra levitation spell."
Harry knew he wouldn't need Malfoy's levitation spell to augment his, but he didn't say that, just proved the point with actions and let Malfoy lead the way. When they arrived at the bedroom Harry swiped the bottle of pain-killer from the nightstand and coaxed Snape into drinking it as Malfoy had the night before. Malfoy spelled the outer layer of Snape's clothing off and the two of them worked in concert to settle him as comfortably as possible. Harry tried not to flinch at the man's small sounds of agony.
Malfoy said, "There's that bedroom. The one I-"
"It really takes me quite a while-"
"Don't leave," he interrupted, and Harry could all but hear the "please" that followed it. "We're all alone here."
Harry could also hear the stress on the "we're," as though repeating the words wouldn't allow anything to happen to Snape. "I've spelled my floo to stay open to you at all times."
"Potter," Malfoy breathed. Then, "Harry." Then, "Potter." Then, "Please."
If Harry had been pretty sure he'd never wanted to hear that word from Malfoy in a moment of desperation again, he was entirely sure now. "Why?"
Malfoy's eyes burned with a discomforting mix of exhaustion and desperation. "Because if you hadn't been here we couldn't have gotten as far as we did. I'm, well, of course I'm good at taking care of him, we've always. . ." Malfoy trailed off, shaking his head. "Because you're magically stronger than I am and you seem to care enough to help. And I want that combination near should I need it."
Harry wondered if there was more in the unspoken portion of Malfoy's explanation. What he had was enough for him to give in and ask, "It's the one across the hall?"
"I'll order in breakfast for you in the morning. Anything you want," Malfoy said.
Harry took one last look at Snape on the bed. His eyes were closed and he was breathing shallowly, but Harry knew he was listening. Harry walked to the door. "I'll be across the hall."
He decided he most certainly hadn't heard a breaking sob as he left the room.
Malfoy wasn't awake when Harry crept out of the house, and Harry didn't wake him up. He just made himself a bit of coffee while Malfoy wasn't around to lecture him on its detrimental effects and set off for the school. Hermione took up Malfoy's part for him anyway with a slight frown and a, "No amount of coffee will substitute for a good night's sleep, Harry." She ruffled his hair gently, and caressed his cheek once to show she wasn't angry, and that was better than Harry generally got from Malfoy.
For once, Harry was too tired to bother pretending he wouldn't have preferred it was Malfoy ruffling his hair. It had been a while, and Malfoy was a good looking guy. Nothing unusual there. Opposites attract.
Okay, so maybe he wasn't too tired for the slightest bit of defensiveness. Harry sighed, and took another gulp of the coffee.
Hermione grabbed a corner of his desk. "Sit down before you fall down. Can I even trust you with the kids?"
"I haven't lost one yet," Harry said.
"That," Hermione said, "was less than comforting."
"I don't know. I don't suppose some of the junior staff could cover my classes if I took care of. . .whatever it is they generally take care of."
"They're junior staff, Harry. They make syllabi, write up lesson plans, meet with parents, help out where they're needed."
Harry already did all of that. And more. "I could write the lesson plans." Meeting with parents in this state probably wasn't the best plan.
"Did you sleep at all last night?"
Harry hadn't lied to Hermione in a while. Although that was obviously the most expedient thing to do at this moment, he just shook his head. "Not really."
Harry peered up at her. "Huh?"
"Home? That place you rent on a monthly basis despite my persistent attempts to get you to buy a place? Where your bed and a new pair of clothes resides?"
"I just meant-"
"It's not as though you're ever sick. Ever. Just take a health day. Rest up."
"You're not going to yell at me about not sleeping?"
"Were you out at some wild ex-Auror orgy?"
Harry swallowed a mouthful of coffee. Just barely. "With helpless ex-Death Eater maidens at my fingertips for hours on end."
"Only maidens? No lithesome lads?" Hermione shook her head. "Poor Harry."
Harry put his face in his hands and laughed a bit. It took more effort than he would have preferred. "It's somewhat. . .I don't know what it is. Sickening? Realizing that I sympathize with Malfoy and Snape. For them?" Harry shook his head. "I don't even like them."
"Bloody hell, Harry," Hermione said softly. "You've been intimately experiencing one of the worst afflictions known to wizarding kind through his mind. It's only to be expected. You are you, after all."
"Thanks for that."
"You're quite welcome."
"I meant Malfoy. Too. Not just Snape."
Hermione waited to respond to that. "You've always appreciated the finer nuances of love. I've never understood how that was possible, but it was. You. . .you are you."
"He's lithesome," Harry said.
"Yeah. I need to get out more."
"Ron knows all those nice quidditch guys."
Hermione leaned over and kissed his forehead. "For now, just go home. Sleep. Things'll make more sense when you wake up."
"You always say that."
"And I'm always right."
The beauty of it being, she generally was.
Draco woke up in the middle of the afternoon. He was still lying as close to Severus as humanly possible without touching him. Draco glanced at the clock on the wall and swore softly. He brushed a kiss gently over Severus' shoulder, trying not to notice how thin his lover was becoming, and slipped quietly from the bed.
Severus never awoke. Draco tried to just leave the room, but he couldn't without placing his hand above Severus' mouth and nose to see if the man was still breathing. Only when he'd been reassured on that point was he able to go see if the owls had brought any assignments from the Weasleys, or any news that Severus would be interested in hearing.
There was both. Draco took his time poring over the latter so as to be able to tell Severus later. It was too much effort on his eyes to read at this point. Draco knew hearing brought its own sort of pain. Severus, however, seemed to find that infinitely preferable to the one incurred by engaging his eyes for any length of time.
He skimmed over the WWW job contract and sent an owl with the message, will have something for you to test in a week. If he started using a Waking Charm, he could use his days for that. The request wasn't that complicated and Draco was pretty sure he was being tested. He would have felt angered by that, except that it only showed good sense on the Weasleys' parts, and Draco wouldn't have worked for anyone without that.
Draco wandered to the room where Potter had slept the night before. The bed was made. In fact, there wasn't a thing out of place. Draco mused for a few moments over whether Potter was always that type of guest, or if he and Severus brought it out in him.
He made his way across the hall. Severus was awake. Draco could see the change in his breathing. It had become more labored. "Morning," Draco said. He didn't bother to add the "good." It wasn't.
Severus uncurled his fingers slightly in what Draco took as a gesture of beckoning. He slid onto the bed and aligned himself as close to Severus as he could get without hurting the man some more. He said, "That research commune in Lebanon that you took an interest in is starting up an annual conference. Multi-discipline."
Severus made a small sound of interest. Draco said, "And Hogwarts is looking for a new Potions professor. Again. Charms, too. I think the last pair ran off with each other, but I'd have to talk to Daphne to be sure."
Severus' sound corresponded to amusement that time, and Draco made a mental note to have a long chat with Hogwart's Arithmancy Professor Greengrass. Who was the soul of discretion except for in the case of certain other Slytherins, whom she saw as blood kin. Daphne's entire family had been executed as blood traitors early in Potter's hunt for the horcruxes, when the Dark Lord had still believed that casualties could affect Potter's determination. There had already been too many casualties at that point for Potter to stop in the face of more. No, by them Potter had known that the only thing that could bring a real end to the casualties was to kill the Dark Lord and be done with it.
Draco sometimes wished he could ask Potter if family's like the Greengrass's haunted him, but he was afraid the answer was 'yes.' There was only so much Draco could take in the way of virtue.
"Potter stayed here last night. I don't know if you realized."
Severus didn't make a sound. His fingers did brush over Draco's. Draco said, "You should rest."
Draco nearly screamed at the thought that ran forcibly through his head. It wouldn't hurt for you to find someone else, Draco. Someone without the threat of death hanging over his head.
"Shut it, Severus. Everyone has the threat of death hanging over their head, Potter more so than most. You'll be fine. We can't be more than a couple of nights off from the first stage of the cure, and then things will become easier."
Severus made another sound. Draco couldn't determine what it meant, which made his insides quiver. All he said was. "Rest. More brewing tonight."
Harry Apparated to the Malfoy-Snape residence as soon as he'd woken and taken a shower to shake off the last of his sleepiness. He'd slept like the dead from the moment he'd gotten home from the school to the time he woke up, about an hour before his alarm was set to go off. Roughly ten hours. He made it to his destination about a half an hour earlier than he generally showed up.
Malfoy answered the door. "Sorry about breakfast."
"I stole from your coffee bean store."
"Please," Harry said, and stepped inside. "How is he?"
"He woke up once. Mostly he's been asleep."
"And when he woke up?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Same."
"We're close," Harry said, trying not sound as unsure as he felt about all of this. Somehow, though, he couldn't imagine failing. "The two of you have gotten me out of worse spots."
Malfoy's responsive laugh was bitter. "Don't flatter yourself it was personal."
"No." Harry didn't, never had. "Still, they were. . . He had a plan."
"Well, of course the Dark Lord bloody well had plans. Beside the fact that you were his nemesis and that having plans is in the job description of all aspiring Dark Lord types, making a horcrux is complicated." Malfoy banged around in the kitchen, agitation visible in every line of his body. "You can't just kill someone and be done with it. There are rituals to be observed and even if one enacts the final deed with a Killing Curse there was still all sorts of workup. He just decided you deserved more special attention than the rest of his victims. You were the reason he was having to create more horcruxes, you realize? Or had that somehow slipped your mind?"
Harry rubbed at his right shoulder absently, the one part of his body where there were scars that just couldn't be healed. "Thanks for stopping the plans."
"That's-" Malfoy shook his head. "Thanks. Thanks for stopping the plans? That may be the lamest expression of gratitude for snatching someone from a long slow death by torture at the hands of psychotics I've ever heard."
"Thank you for stopping my long slow death by torture at the hands of psychotics?" Harry tried.
"You think you could-" Malfoy cut off whatever he was about to say. "You're welcome."
"I could what?"
"Nothing! Leave it, Potter."
"If it's another favor, I have contacts I haven't talked to yet, I'm certain I could find anything we needed-"
"We don't need anything," Malfoy hissed. "The only reason I allow you to continue coming around is because of the strength of your magic and the expedience of an extra pair of hands, do you understand? You aren't part of us and you never will be!"
Harry blinked at the outburst, not entirely sure how they had gotten from point A to point B. He tamped down on the instinctive anger that was a constant presence between him and Malfoy. Or at least, had been. It had been surprisingly absent for a while and Harry didn't particularly relish its return. Too much work. "If you're suggesting I'd want-"
"Who knows what you want, but whatever it is, you're not getting it from us. We've done our good turn for you."
"Several," Harry said quietly. "I was just offering to return the favor. I didn't want you thinking this was still about the Life Debt."
"Don't be ridiculous Potter, of course it's still about the Life Debt. The Life Debt's why you're here in the first place. It can't be about anything but that."
Harry watched the angry lines of Malfoy's back and thought through the last few turns of the conversation. He had a suspicion, born of the ache in Snape's mind and the blood he could hear in Malfoy's screams, of what all this was about but he wasn't certain and guessing seemed a good way to get himself locked out of their lives without recourse. Instead, he changed the subject with a complete lack of finesse and an utter refusal to care about such things. "Have you been following the drama on up at the Ministry?"
Malfoy whipped around, eyes suspicious. "What?"
"The Scrimgeour-Shacklebolt face off."
"What has that to do with anything?"
"Small talk, Malfoy. Surely that was taught in your Manor?"
But Harry was implacable. "I'm about to eat dinner. I'd like some pleasant conversation."
Malfoy growled, "And what Potter wants, Potter gets." Nonetheless, he was able to fill Harry in on details not even he'd heard. Harry didn't ask about his source, just let Malfoy keep talking.
It took two more nights, but they managed the first stage. Malfoy fed the first dose to Snape in tiny drops. Harry was reminded of a mother bird feeding her chicks. He checked to make sure he'd closed his mind. Snape would wait for an opportune moment to kill Harry if he ever got wind that Harry was thinking of him as defenseless and sporting a beak.
The last words Harry received from Snape before the man passed out were, "Do not panic." He was pretty sure they'd been intended for Malfoy, but was glad they'd reached him all the same. Snape looked dead.
Malfoy said shakily, "I think that's how it's supposed to work. He has to take another dose in four hours."
"And if he's not awake?"
"There are spells to trigger a person's swallow reflex." Malfoy didn't look happy about the option. Harry didn't blame him.
"You want me to stay?"
"And do what, exactly? Hold my hand?"
Harry shrugged. "I suppose. If that's what you need."
"Bugger off, Potter."
Harry had spent most of his adult life learning how to let words wash over him. Malfoy had a way of making him forget everything he'd ever learned. "I'm trying, you pompous git, to help."
"Well you can't!" Malfoy screamed, the last word tearing out of his throat. Then, quietly, as though he had broken his ability to sustain noise, "You can't. You can save the world from people like us, you can hunt people like us to the four corners of the earth, you can run a school full of children and you can play quidditch like a pro, but you can't help him. Us."
Harry had a million answers for that. The one he chose was, "They aren't like you."
Malfoy screwed up his face. "What?"
"You said people like us. Twice. They aren't like you."
"More than you know, Potter. I didn't switch sides for any grand ideologic reason."
"You were seventeen."
"So were you."
"We had different mentors. And your reasons weren't so bad."
Malfoy gasped. "I just wanted them to leave us alone!"
"My point exactly."
"You're not making any sense."
"Let's put aside your use of the pronouns 'them' and 'us', which I feel make my case for me anyway. You did it for the two of you. For your love of yourself and your love of him."
There was silence for a bit. Malfoy finally prompted, "And?"
"What, Dumbledore never cornered you in a dark hallway and gave you some esoteric speech on love and its power?"
"I thought he was being barmy. Or manipulative in some bizarre manner."
"I didn't catch on."
"I suspect he was hoping Snape would catch you up on the rest of the details." Ironic, Harry thought, how that had come to pass.
"You think because I love him-"
"I think because you know how to love. Yes, I think."
"You're crazier than Dumbledore was."
"Thank you." Harry conjured cherry sours and held a handful out to Malfoy. "Always liked these better than lemon drops."
After staring at Harry in utter bafflement for a moment or so, Malfoy plucked a sour from Harry's hand. "I shouldn't have said that you can't help."
"I know I can't save him."
Malfoy nodded. "It's going to be all right, now." He looked intently at where Snape was slumped over the counter, unconscious. "I'll get the next dose in him, and then the next and. It will be fine."
"You can just owl me, when you want some help again."
Malfoy nodded slightly. "If we need something, of course."
Harry turned to go. "All right, then." He was pretty sure he would never hear from Malfoy again. He wasn't at all sure why that made his stomach pitch violently against itself, to and fro, to and fro.
It took Draco two read-throughs to understand that the letter in front of him really was from Potter. Malfoy, Snape. I'm sorry if I'm being presumptuous. The first "p" in the word had a large inkspot next to it, as though Potter had left the pen pressed against the parchment for a while, thinking about what word to use next. Only, as it's been a week, I was wondering how the cure was coming along. Answer if you have a moment, Harry.
Draco rolled his eyes. He could practically hear Potter's hesitant tones in the slight wobbles of his penmanship. He handed the letter to Severus. "Think we ought to answer?"
It took Severus longer to read than it normally would. The first stage had gone according to plan, and the most essential of his tissues were beginning to cast out the corrupted magic and mend themselves. His eyes were evidently considered essential, as were his ears, his stomach, his heart and a few other internal organs. Most of his muscles hadn't made it onto the list and movement or contact was still excruciating.
Softly, because Severus couldn't manage anything more than a whisper these days, he said, "Is there a reason you haven't sent him a missive yet? Seems a rather large breech of etiquette for you to have managed mistakenly."
"I was certainly going to send a fruit basket later, possibly with all that vulgar candy he likes so much."
"I've seen your stash."
Draco's cheeks reddened.
Severus passed the letter back. "My life is worth an entire fruit basket to you, is it?"
Draco's eyes shot up. "Severus-"
"Because your brush off of all he did for us-" Severus paused, as much to catch his breath and get his pain under control as for effort. "I would dearly love to have the luxury of hating Potter. Between the two of us I believe I've far more right to it in many ways. But graciously or no, he did what you asked of him when you asked. And more even when you didn't. It seems that in paying a Life Debt he has accrued one of his own. From me."
"Gryffindors never call in their debts," Draco said. "Too bloody noble. They like their suffering silent."
"Which makes the payment all the harder. If I have to give Potter one thing, it's that he didn't make my debt to James complicated to work off. All he had to do was walk in a room and Trouble Apparated in right beside him."
Draco snorted. "And you think he was innocent of all that?"
"I think curiosity has killed more cats than anyone begins to suspect and foolishness more humans."
"I take it you're going to insist that I send him a letter?"
"He wrote to ask after me, Draco. He hasn't been indiscreet in the least, the only person he's told is Granger, who's never repeated a word that Potter's ever murmured in her direction. His only motive for asking can be that he genuinely wants to know. If it were Daphne or Minerva would you deny them an answer?"
"Daphne and Minerva care about you," Draco said coldly.
"Fear is an unattractive emotion on you, Draco. It's one of the few things you've never been able to wear well."
"Your criticisms are somewhat softened by your willingness to bugger me even when I'm in a blind panic."
"Love is a blind panic, as you well know. That said, your fear of Potter, wherever it springs from, is less than flattering to you overall."
"I do not fear Potter."
"Obviously you do, or you would not be trying to avoid him so hard as you are."
"I dislike him, Severus."
"No, you disliked him as a child. Which only drove you to seek him out."
"I've grown up."
"Not that much," Severus said dryly.
Draco threw him a nasty look. "I'll just go draw up a reply and make all of this a moot point, shall I?"
Severus made a small sound in the back of his throat. Draco flounced off. Severus always watched him intently when he flounced, and for some reason, Draco felt more like being watched than he usually did.
Harry read the note three times, looking for something he knew wasn't there. Potter- Your concern is appreciated. Harry had snorted at that. Given the two and a half days it took to receive a response, he seriously doubted it. The first stage of the cure was a success and Severus is feeling much improved. Draco Malfoy.
In the nine days since Harry had last gone over to the Malfoy-Snape residence, he'd dined with Hermione and Neville twice and turned down another four invitations. He'd played a game of pick-up quidditch with Ron and Violet, written a long overdue letter to Ginny-- who was sure to be cross at the lack of communication, and slept a blissful amount. Overall, it had been a good nine days.
Harry had been miserable making himself wait seven days to write a letter, even more miserable that neither Malfoy nor Snape had contacted him before then, and ten spots beyond miserable at having to wait another two and half days before a response flew in his window.
Finally, he did what he always did when his perceptions about the world as he knew it were crumpling and all his other options were exhausted. He flooed Remus and said, "Meet me for a drink, yeah?"
Their evenings together never ended after one drink. For one thing, the topics of conversation Harry generally called Remus to talk about were of the type that he needed more than one drink to warm up to. For another, Remus seemed to feel that his position as a quasi-father-figure required him to get Harry good and hammered on occasion.
They always chose Muggle bars for these sorts of outings. Remus didn't like enduring the inevitable scowls and glares at wizarding pubs and Harry despised the adulation.
That night Harry arrived first. Remus wasn't much later, only a few minutes. Harry had already ordered them each a Scotch. "First drink is on me."
"All right, but I've got the rest." Remus was less than all right with the fact that Harry had used some of his personal funds to redo Grimmauld Place so as to give it to Remus and Tonks for their wedding.
Harry had told him, in another night of drunken abandon, "I know it's bloody awful and he hated it, but it was his and I'm sort of over wanting to get rid of anything that was his. You'll take care of it. Because it was his."
Tonks had been surprisingly gracious about the whole thing, particularly after she saw some of the funkier renovations Harry had made sure to include for her. And that he'd managed to eradicate Mrs. Black's portrait.
Tonks supported the two of them, so it was actually her money Harry was always getting drunk off of, but Remus stayed home with the kids all day. Since all four kids were the product of an ex-Marauder and, well, Tonks, Harry often thought she got the easier part of the deal chasing down Dark Wizards all day.
Having eaten before he'd come and possessing a rather hearty metabolism, Harry was four hard drinks and two beers in when he managed to say, "I think I might have a crush. Probably."
"Guy or girl?" Remus was nursing only his second drink. Harry eyed him balefully. Remus took a sip, and Harry knew it was mostly to appease him.
"You're usually not so shy with them."
Nor with girls, really, not since Ginny had taught him that everyone was a goober when it came to liking someone else. He should write again and thank her for that. He owed her in back-letters, and it was never wise to piss off a curse-breaker. "Totally unattainable."
Remus frowned. "Is he straight?"
Harry shook his head sloppily.
"Practically married. If wizards had an institution for boy-on-boy marriage they'd be. . . I don't even know, fifteen candles in on their anniversary cake? Something like that."
Harry did another shot and admitted, "That's not even really the problem."
"There's a bigger problem?" Remus looked afraid to know.
"He's my," Harry momentarily blanked on the word, "you know, that thing when you don't like someone."
"Enemy?" Remus ventured.
"Yes!" Harry snapped his fingers. "He's my enemy."
"Most of your enemies are dead, Harry."
"Not Malfoy," Harry told him earnestly. "Not Snape either, although that one was a close call."
"Severus almost died?"
Harry nodded solemnly. "Dark Legacy." Then his eyes widened. "That's a. . .that thing when you're not supposed to tell anyone."
"Secret?" Remus bit back a smile.
"Exactly." Harry's vocabulary always went to total rubbish when he was drunk. That and his ability to stop talking. It was why he'd been careful never to get drunk in the days when he'd had information that would get people killed.
"I didn't know a person could survive Dark Legacy."
"There's a cure." Harry eyed Remus suspiciously. "You're supposed to be the Dark Arts Professor."
"The student as has long surpassed the master, Harry. There's a cure?"
"Full of nasty, um. Stuff," Harry concluded.
"Yeah. And Malfoy said that I owed him."
"The Life Debt?"
"Mm." Harry looked down at the table. "I didn't want to. I said I had to supervise. And then Draco made me dinners. I mean, Malfoy."
"Dinners," Remus said, clearly having lost the train of thought and just as clearly sure he wasn't going to get Harry to pick it back up in any meaningful way.
And although Harry was not generally a maudlin drunk, when he looked up at Remus, the corners of his eyes were wet. "I'm just. . .that thing when you don't have anybody."
"Really lonely," Harry said for emphasis.
"Is that all?"
There was a long, long silence before Harry said, "No."
Remus repeated, "Oh, Harry."
Harry woke up to pink eyes and blue curls and said, "Hullo, Sirina."
The six year-old girl who was currently lying fully atop Harry grinned. She was missing two teeth on top and one on the bottom. "Good morning, Uncle Harry."
Harry's gaze flickered to where he knew the clock would be. It read 11:47. He was in "his" room in number 12 Grimmauld, he just couldn't remember how he'd gotten there. Focusing on the issue at hand, Harry wrangled his arm free from where Sirina had it pinned and ruffled her curls. "Blue, huh?"
"Like my eyes?" She batted them.
"Very pink," Harry said.
"I like pink," she told him.
"Me too," he said. "Where're your brothers?"
"Jamie and Brian are making lunch. Cedric's hiding."
Harry tried to suppress his horror at the thought of the nine year-old twins anywhere near the kitchen. "Why's Cedric hiding?"
"Because I told him we were playing hide-and-seek."
Harry sighed and rolled over, making sure Sirina slid gently off him. "We'd best go find him, then, yeah?"
"I guess," Sirina said, sounding less than thrilled by the idea.
Harry wondered where a four year-old hid in a place like this. He did a silent locator spell and followed the tug in his chest until it led him to the big bed in Remus's and Tonks's room. Harry hunkered down on the floor and lifted the bed-curtain to peer underneath. He said, "Hello, Cedric."
Cedric said, "Shh. 'Rina'll find me."
"She's with me. We were finding you so that you could have lunch with us."
Cedric took a second to consider this. "Oh." He crawled out from underneath the bed.
Sirina said, "You're it next time."
Cedric made a face, "Am not."
Harry picked up both kids and settled them on either hip. Sirina was two years older than Cedric, but small for her age and so roughly the same size. "I'll be it next time. But first, lunch."
Harry, to his relief, found Tonks in the kitchen with the twins. The twins were identical and looked uncannily like Remus, with the exception of their eyes being a deep blue rather than wolf-gold. And a notable lack of scars. Tonks was looking surprisingly sedate this morning with the mounds of fire-engine red hair pinned atop her head her only concession to her metamorphmagus skills. Evidently, Sirina was doing well enough for the whole house in that department. Tonks smiled at him, "Wotcher, Harry."
Harry let Cedric and Sirina down carefully. "It is still Saturday, yes?"
"Hermione flooed to make sure you were here and upon receiving and transmitting confirmation of such, Ron flooed to make sure you remember the match this afternoon."
"Whistle blows at three," Harry said. He hadn't had that much to drink.
"Can we go, Uncle Harry?" Brian asked.
Jamie added a, "Please, please, please." Jamie, Harry knew, had a crush on Violet.
"Ask your parents," Harry said.
"You sure?" Tonks asked. "They're scamps."
Harry chuckled. "I'm sure."
She shrugged. "Go ahead then."
The twins scampered to go get their stuff. Harry called after them, "It's only noon."
Remus rolled his eyes. "As if that mattered."
"What about you guys?" Harry asked, looking from Sirina to Cedric.
Cedric wrinkled his nose. "It's cold out."
Sirina asked, "Uncle Ron will be there?"
"Yeah, and I know he misses you. He told me so last week." He hadn't, actually, but Harry felt pretty confident in the statement regardless.
Sirina smiled. "He'll like my eyes."
Harry thought her best bet was Ginny, actually. Ginny, however, was in Thailand, and Ron would like the whole pink-eyed look, so he nodded. "Coming, then?"
Sirina gave a pert little nod and ran off behind her brothers. Cedric crawled up into Remus's lap and settled his head beneath his father's chin. Harry watched the way Remus' eyes blinked pure gold for a second. Nine years of having children and Remus still couldn't get over the little things. Harry said, "Thanks."
Remus looked up at him. "Well, it was that or leave you there. Honestly, Harry."
"You know where my flat is."
"And as a result, I've actually seen your flat."
Harry frowned. Tonks laughed. "He hasn't any right, Harry. I've seen some of the places he lived."
"Extenuating circumstances," Remus said.
Harry shrugged. "I'm at work all the time, that's extenuating."
"Yeah," Tonks and Remus said in tandem.
Harry, who wanted to have a nice day, asked, "What's for lunch?"
When the wards whispered to Draco that Remus Lupin was waiting to be admitted into his house, Draco turned to Severus and asked, "Were you expecting company?"
Severus fixed Draco with his best, "Are you mentally-impaired?" Look. Draco felt a bit mentally impaired. "Erm. Do you suppose I should let him in?"
"It's either that or put up with repeated attempts from him to contact us until we relent from the sheer desire to get rid of him. Believe me when I tell you he will never give up."
Draco stood at the resigned tone of Severus' voice, something the man generally reserved for his failed efforts to gain an Order of Merlin and other irreversible disappointments. "I'll return."
"Scared to handle the werewolf by yourself?" Severus called after him, but Draco knew when he was being baited.
Draco opened the door, not stepping back from the opening. Lupin said, "Hello, Mr. Malfoy. Might I come in?"
"Depends on what you're here for, Mr. Lupin." Draco placed an emphasis on the title, caressing the sentence with a certain overabundance of politeness.
"I wish to speak with you and Severus regarding Harry."
"We haven't done anything to your little hero, and as I've ceased all communications with him, we won’t be doing anything, either."
"Was something in my voice suggestive of such an allegation?"
Draco narrowed his eyes. Lupin sighed. "There are just a few things- It really is important that Severus be involved in this conversation."
Draco still wasn't wild about the thought of letting Lupin inside his territory--the loss of control it suggested was becoming sickeningly familiar--but Lupin was right about that at least. If something involved Severus, he had the right to hear about it. He stepped back from the door. Then, as Lupin crossed over the threshold, Draco said, "I'm not offering you tea."
"Why else would I come at a time unconducive to such an offer?" Lupin walked on past him a bit. "This way?"
Draco gave in and led him down the hall and into the sitting room where he and Severus had been unwinding. They had begun brewing the second stage of the cure, and when they weren't in a lab, they were usually sitting around, allowing their bodies and minds to rest. Draco sat down without offering Lupin a seat. Lupin remained standing, inclining his head slightly toward Severus. "Severus."
"You said this was about Potter." Draco was unwilling to have this intrusion last any longer than was absolutely necessary.
Something that was not quite a smile played at the edges of Lupin's eyes. He fixed his gaze on Severus. "Did you know about Sirius? With James and Lily?"
"That he begged for sexual favors like a dog begs for scraps at a table?" Severus asked. His tone belied a casual intent to wound. Draco always tried to imitate that off-handedness but had never yet been able to accomplish it.
Lupin looked sick. "They loved him. There was merely no legal or otherwise established way to. . . James could be very traditional, in certain ways."
Draco noticed how Severus' eyes flickered toward him. He wondered what that was about but didn't ask, too busy trying to digest the considerable amount of emotional blackmail material dropped into his lap in a matter of seconds. Severus waved a hand. "You haven't come to talk about old times or the folly of the wizarding world's dependence upon tradition."
Everything clicked into place for Draco in a dizzying rush a bare moment before Severus said, "You came about Potter. My, my. How history does repeat itself. Is this blackmail, Lupin?"
Draco wondered what exactly Lupin had on Severus. He didn't ask. Lupin could probably make something up and given the way rumors were infinitely more significant than fact most days, the threat would be every bit as plausible. Lupin shook his head. "No, this is a request. Simple as that. If the two of you are unwilling to give Harry a chance then I won't have him taken in by force. He deserves better."
"I'd imagine you believe he deserves better than us anyhow," Draco said.
Lupin shrugged. "Harry's an adult, and one with a fair amount of sense. I imagine there are things between you of which I've no understanding."
Severus asked, "Both of us, Lupin?"
Lupin's hesitation was miniscule, but noticeable. "Harry would quit before he would even try."
"It's unlikely he realizes there are other options," Severus said silkily. Draco thought he was hoarding emotional weapons as well. "It's Draco he wants, then?"
Lupin didn't say anything, which was answer enough. Draco laughed. "As if he could come anywhere near to what I have with you."
Lupin's eyes darkened. "A chance, Mr. Malfoy, that's all I ask. If you have any-"
Severus cut off whatever Lupin had been about to suggest Draco was lacking. "We owe him, Draco."
"As Mr. Lupin here so eloquently pointed out, a forced relationship is worse than none at all."
"No force, Draco. Merely a try. If things crumble, well." Severus smiled a rather nasty smile. "My debt will nonetheless be fulfilled."
Draco locked his gaze on Severus and considered his words for several moments. "Very well."
Lupin's exhalation of relief echoed loudly in the silence that followed Draco's capitulation. Draco wondered if that was what Muggles meant when they referenced hearing "winds of change" blow.
After the werewolf had taken his leave, Severus said, "You'll have to be the one to owl Potter."
"It was your bargain," Draco told him, with more than a bit of spite.
"I am nothing more than a convenient complication in all of this. Convenient because I owe him, complicated because I get in the way. It's you he wants."
"If he wants me badly enough, I suppose he'll come when you call, won't he?" Draco added a bit of petulance in with his spite. "I went to him with a Debt I had held for over a decade in case of dire need and begged for you life. Pleaded. Very nearly got on to my knees. And in order to pay off your own Debt you turn around and whore me out. You will write the letter."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "You're telling me the concept does not entice you in the least? The thought of Potter on his knees in front of you, hands and knees, perhaps, does nothing to excite you?"
"Do not dare to accuse me of sexually exploiting you for my own gain. You know better."
Draco did, too. There were certain things of which the two of them never spoke. Things like the times when Severus had come back from meetings with Draco's father, or MacNair or LeStrange. How he would return bearing bruises that Draco could have healed with the vaguest wave of a wand. Instead of accepting help, Severus would snap, "Leave them."
When the Dark Legacy had begun creeping upon Severus, leaving rotten-cherry dark stains upon his flesh Draco had thought it was all happening again. He'd been devastated to find out he'd underestimated the situation.
"I'll. . .write the letter," Draco said by way of apology. He didn't plan on being dignified about it. Severus wouldn't expect that anyhow.
"Draco," and this time Severus sounded sorry. "If-"
"You always do this," Draco said flatly. "You always act like someone else is who I want. I'm hardly one to suffer in silence, something you well know. If I'd wanted to leave before now-"
"Where would you have gone?"
"Somewhere. You did teach me most of what you know. I'm hardly incompetent to fend for myself."
"Yes, but you were never good at being alone."
Draco didn't deny that. "It's more than that," he said. He wondered how Severus could still not know it was more than that.
"Come here," Severus said.
Draco reluctantly sidled up to Severus. Severus reached up, the corners of his eyes tightening at the motion. It didn't stop him from swiping an errant hair behind Draco's ear. "For myself as well."
Draco nodded. "You don't have to make things so hard. Not anymore. They do it all by themselves."
"I will write the letter. If you prefer."
"No. Just. . .don't disappear when he comes around."
"I won't leave you."
Draco bit back the plaintive "promise?" that was choking him.
Harry didn't exactly depend on his brains to get him places in life, but he wasn't stupid either. When the letter from Malfoy came with a, Tea? And perhaps those blueberry tarts you like? scribbled roughly somewhere in the middle of otherwise less-than-subtle hostility, Harry was pretty sure something had been said by someone. And that something had probably included the blackmailing of Malfoy or Snape. The thought made Harry's stomach clench up.
He accepted the offer. He would have minded being their charity case, he'd always detested that sort of thing before. Only, it seemed that no matter how many times he tried to pen a reply he couldn't quite say no. He thought the best response would be something that went, Well, that's very kind, but I have better things to do than sit around and be insulted. What the ink repeatedly showed him was, Really? The blueberry things? Magic could be an utter pain in the arse at times.
He did find his way to Hermione's office after school, toss the note across her desk to her and ask, "Is this your doing?"
Hermione read quickly and looked up at him, clearly perplexed. "Harry, I'm not even entirely sure I know what you mean."
Hermione had never lied to Harry, and he didn't think that this would be the moment she'd choose to start. There had been so many better opportunities littering their past. Hermione asked, "Would you tell me why you think someone forced the issue?"
"Besides the. . .Malfoy charm apparent in the letter?"
"That's just him."
"It would take a lot of explaining. Long story short, he doesn't want me around. He's made that fantastically clear over the past few weeks, both in person and communication. Malfoy's not the type to go changing his mind because he rolled out of the bed on another side than his usual that morning."
"It always seemed to me that was how his decision to come over to our side had been reached."
"No. I think. . ." Harry tried connecting all the disparate facts he'd been storing up on that subject since his renewed relationship with the man had begun. "I think he knew that we'd take him, bad deeds and all. A few good deeds, though, and he was on Voldemort's disposal list. He's really quite smart. I don't ever say that around him, but he catches on to things quickly. I think he figured that once we could call him and Snape redeemed we'd see that they were in love and leave off. Which is pretty well what we did."
"Then you think someone's blackmailing him into seeing you?"
"Coercion of some sort."
"Who else even knows that you'd want contact with him? You hadn't clearly admitted it to me until right now, and I had to do some serious inferring. Not that I hadn't wondered, but still. I work with you every day and we've been friends for nearly two decades."
"I had Remus, um, buy me some drinks."
"Ah." Hermione knew all about the ritual. "How's Cedric?" The twins and Sirina attended the school, but Cedric wouldn't be old enough until the fall.
"He's fine. You should go visit."
"You really think Remus walked into the den of the dragon? No pun intended."
"Possible. I may have worried him."
"Are you going to ask him?"
"Dunno. Maybe after-" Harry looked sheepish. "I'm like a dog begging for scraps."
"I don't know if-"
"I don't know either," Harry admitted. "But it's as though I can't stop myself."
"I suppose it's only tea," Hermione said, sounding rather doubtful.
"Hm." Harry tried not to notice the small trill of disappointment that ran through his blood at her words.
Harry didn't particularly like lemon tea but he wasn't going to tell Malfoy that. He had a sneaking suspicion Malfoy knew, anyhow. Malfoy kept refilling Harry's cup, and Harry just kept drinking. He asked Snape, "The second part of the cure?"
"Coming along. I sent you a list of ingredients."
"I know. A few of them are proving a bit hard to procure."
"Chimera's blood?" Snape asked.
"That's one. Remus has contacts in the magical creatures set, I asked him for a favor."
The slight tremble of Malfoy's tightly held teacup told Harry his suspicions were correct. He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry to have. . .inconvenienced you."
He was on his feet and headed toward the parlor door when Malfoy said, "The lemon tea was ungracious of me."
Harry stopped walking. "At least you didn't lie about the blueberry tarts."
"They're my favorite, too." Draco had the grace to look somewhat ashamed of himself.
"I don't know what Remus. . .it was Remus?" Harry continued at the slight incline of two heads at once, "said or what he has on you, but I'll, ah, speak to him."
"He hasn't anything on us," Snape said. Harry knew he was missing something, he just wasn't entirely sure where the lines he was supposed to be reading between were.
"Sit down, Potter," Malfoy said, with an unexpected gentleness. "I've got a rosehip brew waiting to be tried. If you'll give me a moment." He left the room, with Snape and Harry together and unmediated.
Snape said, "Are you always so careless with your most embarrassing secrets?"
"There were good quantities of alcohol involved." Harry was willing to concede that Snape had a point, but not without a decent amount of self-defense.
"Perhaps you should abstain."
"I do, for the most part." Harry caught Snape's eyes. "I trust Remus to do what is best for me. Mostly. He means well, anyhow."
"I have no doubt," Snape sneered.
"Why didn't you just say no?"
"Perhaps the idea of buggering the Famous Harry Potter within an inch of his life appeals."
Harry tried his best not to show any trepidation in the face of Snape's hostility. Though Harry had learned how to make himself impassive enough in the face of free-roaming Death Eaters and angry parents of children, Snape had known him when he was nothing but emotion. It was harder hiding from him. He knew he had failed when Snape rolled his eyes. "I had my reasons."
Bluster seemed like a bad idea with Snape, who was always able to ferret out those sorts of things. Harry said, "The two of you take me at face value."
Harry shrugged. "Yeah."
"At least when you touch me you'll be touching something that you--personally--have created in your head. Better you than the Prophet or Witch Weekly or the latest Ministry rumor. The two of you have at least known me most of my life."
"And none of your schoolmates-"
"Everybody wanted something unbroken after the war. Fresh start. Hadn't you noticed?"
"I had Draco."
Harry closed his eyes. "You still do."
The object of conversation slid back into the room with a second tea tray. "Still do what?"
Harry opened his eyes, focusing them on the blond. "Win. Every time."
Harry left the house with the resolution never to come back. If he had learned one thing from his separate struggles with the Dursleys and later Voldemort, it was never to fight a battle on the enemy's terms. It was the surest way to lose. As no other terms were up for offer, and Harry didn't much like thinking of himself as a homewrecker anyhow, he decided to give up. There were plenty of nice people in the world, he certainly had merely been looking in all the wrong places.
Yes, that was it.
Harry thought about asking his friends for advice. Hermione and Neville had met at school, though, Remus and Tonks in the Order, and Ron and Violet through work. None of those options presented a productive avenue or inspired new ideas. The parents of any of the children at the school seemed potentially problematic and the bar scene made Harry queasy before he'd even had his first drink.
Personals and dating services were a bad idea for obvious reasons. Unless he tried Muggle dating services. . . Harry tucked the concept away for later consideration.
He wondered if maybe his priorities were completely out of order. After all, nobody was supposed to need a partner. Harry was sure Hermione had mentioned that once or twice after breaking up with Ron.
"I might need a hobby," he told Hermione.
"Michaela Braden's father's been after you to join their community quidditch league forever."
Harry thought the hobby was probably going to need to take up more than one night a week and one Sunday a month of his time. Still, it was sweet of Hermione to suggest something he actually enjoyed.
He owled Colin Braden. Unsurprisingly, given how long Colin had been talking the teams up to him, he had a spot as a Seeker within days.
Harry really hoped he hadn't inadvertantly pissed someone off.
And that there were nice looking people of his age playing on the teams.
As it turned out, he got his wish on both the former and the latter. The previous Seeker wasn't too put off by giving up her spot to Harry, whom she'd seen play a few times in her first year at Hogwarts, his sixth. She was pretty and blandly nice and married with two children.
This was something of a trend. Harry asked Hermione, "When did everybody our age settle down?"
"Roughly seven years ago."
"Around the time you left Ron."
"It wasn't going there. Ever."
"You and Neville. . .?"
"I don't know." Hermione looked at him sharply. "I don't worry about it."
Harry took her point. "Think paying someone to have sex with me would take care of the problem?"
"I haven't the slightest. If you do, for your sake, pay a Muggle somewhere at least a thousand miles from here, and use protective charms past where you can see."
Which really took what little romance there was in the idea right out for Harry. "Right," he said softly.
Hermione's look softened then, so much so that Harry thought she might crumble a little. She didn't. He knew that was for him but didn't have any way of saying thank you without breaching whatever barrier she was holding as a last stop between her and tears. "Harry. Maybe. Have you asked around? I mean, Neville might be able to set you up-"
"Nobody seems to know anybody who's single and suitable. They're all, um. Single for a reason."
"That's not you, Harry," Hermione said sternly.
"Well, I was trying to date a very married prat, so it might have something to do with my taste."
"Ginny, Gabrielle, Andre, Uta and Matt where all perfectly nice people."
"You think I should have married Ginny?"
"I didn't say that."
"No, I was asking."
Hermione shook her head. "You weren't ready. She was all you'd ever known, and, while that's not bad I don't know that it's good either."
"Are you glad Ron isn't all you've ever known?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm in love with Neville, so there's that."
Harry put his face in his hands.
Hermione reached over and rumpled his hair. "Maybe you should take a vacation. Go sight see or something. Get away from all this."
Harry looked up. "I appreciate the thought, really, but I don't really want to go somewhere far on my own right now."
"You could see if Ron was up for some male-bonding."
"The season runs forever, he doesn't get that much time off to begin with and I know he'd do it if I asked."
"So. . .?"
"He and Vi have been trying to find some time off just for themselves for practically a year now. Even before they were together. I'd feel like a lousy friend. I'd be a lousy friend."
"I'd offer my own services, but I feel like one of us has to be around in case there's business to attend to."
"I appreciate the thought."
"Hm. Maybe this summer Remus and Tonks would let you join them for the family get-away." Hermione paused. "That would probably be the only thing worse than being by yourself, huh?"
"I suppose Malfoy and Snape could invite me to tag along on theirs and suddenly decide they were into public displays of affection half-way through."
"Maybe not a vacation."
They sat in silence for a while before Hermione said, "I know it's not the same, but I love you Harry. I'd do anything to change-"
Harry settled his fingertips lightly over her mouth. "I love you, too."
After Potter politely refused three invitations to tea--the final one even offering the red tea that Draco often refused to share with Severus, let alone anyone else--Draco switched tactics. Lupin could hardly insist that Draco force himself upon Potter. This left him torn between the sense that he was free of any lingering obligation and the uncomfortable familiarity of the defeat in Potter's eyes at their last meeting. That latter eventually overpowered the former. At which point Draco took drastic measures, and wrote to Granger.
I was hoping you might have some advice on how to meet up with Professor Potter on neutral ground.
Your time is appreciated, Draco Malfoy
Granger's response was, unshockingly, a bit terse.
Leave him alone.
Professor Hermione Granger
Draco, however, had overcome greater obstacles than one fanatically loyal mudblood chit in his time. He penned back:
Honestly, Granger, you have to know that if you don't help me out I'm only going to come to your little school and make an enormous scene. It's what any self-respecting Slytherin would do.
The response wasn't exactly what he'd been hoping for: He plays quidditch two Sundays from today, four PM, the third pitch at the Gaelyn Playing Grounds. Come cheer for him. Still, he supposed it would work well enough.
Draco invited Severus, knowing that even if he had been feeling healthy enough to sit out on the hard bleachers for however many hours the match lasted, he would have refused. Severus said, with a quiet dignity, "You feel I didn't have to attend enough of those whilst indentured to your former institution of education?"
Draco smiled wickedly. "You like watching me with a broom between my legs."
"When the broom isn't metaphorical, certainly," Severus said, and went back to making the notes he'd started about the side-effects of the cure.
Draco dragged Daphne along, partly because she really did need to get away from the school more often than she did, partly because he missed her, and partly because he wasn't going solo to a quidditch match where all the participants and observers could very well end up being ex-Gryffindors. He did have some sense of self-preservation.
Daphne sat down next to him before casting her gaze sideways. "Looks like you weren't kidding."
Draco followed her line of sight to witness Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom all in a row. There was another woman with them. She looked vaguely familiar and it took Draco a few moments to place her as the Wasps' star Chaser. Evidently Weasley hadn't done all that badly for himself once he'd shaken Granger.
Daphne asked, "Why are we here, Draco?"
"I wanted to take you to a quidditch game."
"There are plenty of professional ones, you know. That don't involve your childhood rivals."
Draco winced a little. "I need to talk to Potter."
"About?" Daphne said it mildly, but with the hint that she was going to be persistent if called upon to do so.
"Is that really important? I did buy you enough pumpkin pasties to last through a three-day game."
"I don't enjoy hexing friends in front of an audience, but it's not morally troublesome to me, or anything like that."
"Should've asked Henri," Draco said, referring to Daphne's boyfriend.
"Probably," Daphne replied with a complete lack of any proper level of concern. "Sort of wishing you had more friends right about now?"
Draco very nearly snapped back a smooth, "Yes." Where Draco's small number of friends was concerned however, even words frightened him. "You fulfill the function adequately."
"Mm," Daphne said, a small smile biting at her lips. "What about, Draco?"
"I. . .I'm seeing if he'll respond to being asked on a date better in person than he has by owl-post."
Daphne looked stricken. "For the love of all things magical! Draco, tell me you haven't put me between yourself and Severus while you cheat on him."
"What?" Draco blinked. "No. No. Severus knows what I'm doing here."
"And he thinks you asking Potter to climb into bed with the two of you is a perfectly sound plan?"
"Don't be crass, Daphne." Draco sniffed a bit for emphasis. "It's tea, not fornication."
Daphne stared at Draco for a moment. She turned her gaze back to the field. "I'm cheering for Potter."
"We had discussed that, yes."
"He obviously needs someone on his side."
Potter let the snitch go about its merry way a few times throughout the match, allowing the other team's Seeker to save face. Draco saw him do it. It made him think about hitting Potter. Or possibly kissing him. The latter was far more upsetting to contemplate. Draco had never suspected he had a thing for sweetness.
Draco and Daphne successfully managed to avoid having to speak with the Gryffindor contingent. Potter made it somewhat easier by eventually approaching them. He nodded his head, sweat slicking back the black mess of hair and making the scar all the more visible. Draco always thought he was entirely used to everything about Potter, and then certain impulses--the impulse to reach out and hide the scar--would remind him he wasn't.
Potter said, "Professor Greengrass, Malfoy."
Daphne twisted her mouth into a moue of discomfort. "Daphne. You're making me feel ancient."
Potter flushed a little. "Daphne."
Draco decided to do something he very rarely did then, something he was only good at when he knew how very much was at stake: he went on the offensive. "Good game, Harry."
Potter, to his credit, managed not to gape. He did try out the name, "Draco," like it was in a language he'd never before spoken. "It was, erm, nice of you to come watch the game."
"Since you seem reluctant to join me for tea I thought I might buy you a congratulatory butterbeer." Draco kept his voice and his gaze casual.
Potter glanced over at where both Granger and Chaser-girl had their hands on Weasley's arms. "No doubt you and Daphne-"
"Oh, I'm leaving shortly," Daphne said. "Papers to grade, I'm sure that's something you can sympathize with. And if I'm not done by the time my partner comes to pick me up for a date this evening I may very well find myself single again. No, you two go ahead."
Henri worked as the Ministry liaison to Hogwarts, a position created in the hopes of avoiding future Umbridge-like fiascos. As a result, he understood perfectly the demands of Daphne's job, and even if he hadn't, adored her far too much to leave her over a couple of missed dates. There were times when Draco really did love her beyond all reason.
"Oh. Um." Potter looked so politely unhappy at the way things were going that Draco very nearly took pity on him. "Won't Snape expect you back?"
"I told him I planned on dragging you out afterward." Draco said this softly, willing Potter to catch on to exactly what he was being told. Then, he added with quiet sarcasm, "He even gave me some pocket money to aid in the cause."
Potter pressed his lips into a thin line. "Is this. . .would you like me to beg? Would that make us even? It was only the two of us in that office and there's quite a few more people standing around, but if that's what you need to stop," Potter threw his hands up, "stop this game you're playing, then-"
"Don't," Daphne said, something cold and desperate in her voice. "Harry, no. Whatever this is about, and believe me when I say I probably have less information than you, it's not about that."
Draco knew Daphne had begged for enough things in her life--things that had gone ungranted--to be less than pleased at the thought of anyone else doing so. Besides which, she was right. The idea, which he had always thought he would love, made him feel a bit like he had suggested that he be the one to beg. Or actually begging. "I just want to buy you a drink," he said tiredly.
"And I just want to move on to someone I can have," Potter said, perhaps even more tiredly.
"Give me an hour," Draco said. "One hour, and if you choose, you can move as far as you wish."
With one last, lingering glance at his friends, and a small flick of his hand, Potter said, "I've an hour to give you."
"Butterbeer? Wine? Something harder?" Draco thought choosing the third might help this interaction immensely, but he wasn't going to push the issue. There were larger issues to push.
Draco nodded and signaled to the bartender who cocked an ear. "One mead, one mulled wine," Draco shouted across the intervening distance.
"Go sit down," the bartender called.
Potter led the way, finding them a table tucked between two others. It was too tight for Draco's tastes. He could tell that Potter was also less than thrilled at having people surround him. The place was full of people out to have a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the local pub, though, and there wasn't much choice to be had.
When they were seated, Draco took a breath to talk, only to find that he couldn't remember any of the things he'd meant to say. He cast a silencing spell around them, a subtle one that made Potter smile a bit. Potter asked, "Is what you have to tell me that interesting?"
"I didn't think so, but with you everything seems to get more interesting than it originally was."
Potter nodded dolefully. "Fair point. That alone would be good reason to stay away."
"That, and your penchant for trouble and the fact that you've never liked me and the fact that I genuinely do care for and love Severus."
The bartender showed up with their drinks. Potter took a long pull. "If you brought me here to tell me all the reasons you don't like me, honestly, Draco-"
"That's the problem isn't it?" Draco sipped at his wine neatly. "There are reasons, so very many reasons, for me to accept your defeat and let you walk away. All of them are good, solid, smart reasons."
Harry looked away.
"And none of them have to do with me not liking you."
Harry's head whipped back so fast Draco was a little worried it would hurt later on. Draco said, "If I invited you to tea now-"
"There would still be all those reasons. There would still be Snape."
"Severus can be surprisingly flexible in the way he views tradition, morality, sex. You." Draco pursed his lips. "That last one being the most surprising."
"Yes," Potter said.
Draco fought for a way to explain how it wasn't a sign of complete impending insanity, either. "When I was sixteen, Severus swore an Unbreakable Vow to my mother to help me in any way he could. It was a specified Vow, and he's long since fulfilled the terms. Only, you wouldn't know it."
"This is his way of helping you?"
Draco took another sip. "I think he understands it to be more complicated than that. He's not entirely sure-" he swallowed convulsively, "he's less than positive about the efficacy of the cure."
"And I'm his, what, security plan for you?" For all that the words sounded it, Potter's tone wasn't hostile. Draco thought he might have detected a hint of jealousy, however, and he wondered at whom it was aimed.
"You're something he thinks we should try. In case it works." Draco considered telling Potter what Lupin had said, that Potter was nigh well genetically inclined to find this sort of thing appealing, but Draco knew that Potter cherished the few untainted memories he had of his parents. He couldn't really predict how Potter would react to the news of his parents' sexually liberated practices.
After a bit of a pause, Potter admitted, "I'm not sure I can risk it not working out."
Draco gaped. "You're Harry Potter."
"Well, all right, good that one of us knows who I am. Care to explain that concept for me?"
"Your name is practically synonymous with taking-that-huge-bloody-risk-that-nobody-expects-to-go-your-way. But it always does."
"The Tri-wizard Tournament, the Dark Lord, about six of your exploits as an Auror, that bloody school you left the corps for- People have started saying the 'Potter touch' where they used to say Midas."
"Stands to reason my luck generally fails in other places, doesn't it?" Potter asked, looking vaguely sickened at Draco's revelation.
Draco never really paid attention to all the whisperings and articles surrounding Potter's love life, but he caught the inference. "You can't imagine for a second that we won't be like anything you've ever had before?"
Potter stared at Draco for a second. Then he laughed, the small, genuine sound bubbling off his lips. "I can't imagine that you would be."
Draco raised his glass to that.
Malfoy began sending Harry letters. Notes, really. Little notes to let Harry know how their day had gone, that the twins were driving him to homicide, to ask how Harry was, to tell him, "We completed the second stage. You should come say hello."
Harry followed up on the suggestion. He brought wine. Good wine. Or so Neville, who knew about things like grapes, had told him. It must have been passable, because Malfoy poured them each a glass without saying anything, which was more encouraging than any response Harry could have reasonably predicted.
Malfoy also served finger sandwiches. Harry took more than his fair share, not having eaten since his morning cup of coffee. Snape said, "Maybe you'd like to stay for dinner."
Harry flushed. "Busy day."
"It's that time of year," Snape said, with the air of someone who had lived by an entirely different calendar than the rest of the world for far, far too long.
"Mm," Harry said. "It's more than that. We've had three children turn out to be squibs in the last year, a far larger number than ever before. Two of the children are showing signs of a troubled home life since it's become clear that their magic isn't developing, and the third is having problems socially. Hermione and I have had to scramble to put together activities to help the kids understand and handle difference."
Malfoy sipped at his wine. "What do you do with the squibs?"
"Keep them in the program until that becomes dangerous for them and then work with the parents to find appropriate muggle schools."
"Do you think the parents actually send them to the schools?" Malfoy looked genuinely curious.
"In the past, yes. With these two that I mentioned. . .we're working on making sure the children will be all right. Hermione's about to start up her own version of Children's Services."
"Children's Services?" Malfoy frowned.
"Muggle authorities will often take children away from homes where they aren't being treated properly," Snape said, a chalky bitterness underneath the bland explanation. Harry didn’t completely understand, but he sympathized all the same.
"In certain ways, wizards are very old-fashioned." Harry picked at some lint on his robe.
"History and tradition are worth preserving." Malfoy stiffened.
Harry could nearly see the defensiveness rolling off Malfoy. "I'm not saying otherwise. I'm merely suggesting that protecting children might be more important than the so-called sanctity of the family, particularly when everybody knows squib children are at risk. For that matter, so are children infected by Dark Creatures, and certain children who end up in different Hogwarts houses than genetic precedent would dictate." He looked at Malfoy hard on that last.
Malfoy just shrugged. "Most of the time the system works."
Harry barely held back a sound of disgust. He stood. "Thanks for the sandwiches. I'll get dinner on my own."
"Potter," Snape said, his voice as level as a brand-new desk and as demanding as if Harry were still eleven, "sit down."
"I'm sorry, professor," Harry was surprised himself at his choice of address, but didn't regret it when Snape's eyes widened ever so slightly, "a lack of empathy happens to be one of my larger pet peeves."
"Draco focuses his empathy."
"I am still in the room," Malfoy pointed out. The tips of his ears were an odd shade of pink.
"Focuses," Harry said to Snape.
"His empathy for those who have lost loved ones is nearly overwhelming. For children without parents, for people who are alone. What you ask for is for him to create empathy outside of his realm of experience. Do you believe that's entirely fair?"
Harry wasn't ready to give up. "He could bloody well try." He turned his eyes on Malfoy. "You could try."
Malfoy stared at Harry for a bit. Finally he said, "Why is it such a crime for me to be unable to understand why someone would want to be taken from his family? Not even Severus wanted that, and his family was awful."
"Did they feed him?" Harry asked without even thinking about the question.
Malfoy's eyes went a slate shade of grey. "Of course they fed him. What kind of family doesn't feed it's child?"
Harry drew his robes around himself protectively. "The kind that Children's Services removes a child from."
"But that's." Malfoy stopped and then started again, speaking very slowly, as if slowing his words down would make them more understandable on a thematic level. "It's their child."
Despite himself, Harry found it somewhat endearing that Malfoy couldn't think of this in any other terms. He sneaked a look at Snape, who was nearly smiling. Nearly. Harry said, "I need visual aids," and swiped another sandwich.
Snape said, "Stay for dinner."
Harry nodded; his mouth was full.
Harry began brewing with them again. Not the number of hours he had before, but he would stay for the first hour, maybe two. They never touched him unless their hands brushed accidentally in the handing of a stirring implement, an ingredient, a flask. Harry accepted this. Much like taking the small amounts of food the Dursleys had given him as a hungry child, he knew to take what he could get.
After the second stage of the cure noticeable physical changes began to occur in Snape. His skin tone warmed, and his breathing was less labored. Walking, standing, sitting and other sorts of physical activities still pained him enormously, and he could only read for short amounts of time. His speaking voice became less gravelly, however, less pained.
Harry brought a chocolate torte from a little place he knew in Switzerland, within the distance of a couple of Apparative jumps. He didn't go very often. It was upscale; Gabrielle had introduced him to it. Harry always felt out of place inside, even when he'd had her on his arm, all golden and graceful and speaking perfect French. But the bakery was run by wizards who used only one hundred percent pure medicinal chocolates in their products, and the end results were nearly orgasmic.
Harry presented the torte--it had a design etched atop it in the cocoa powder, a steaming cauldron--with a shy hesitancy. "Um, I thought, to celebrate. It won't mix badly with the cure, right?" It hadn't occurred to him until that moment that medicinal chocolate could often be used as an ingredient in potion brewing, and therefore might contain properties to which Snape couldn't be exposed.
Malfoy took the torte from him with the cautiousness one would exert with a child. "Did you make this?"
"No." Harry laughed. "I told you I don't like cooking."
Malfoy looked at him suspiciously. Snape said, "I think he's trying to intimate that you have a tendency to go out of your way for others when it pleases you."
"Well, Switzerland's a bit out of the way, I suppose." Harry liked it though. The mountains were stark and clean and pretty, something he'd always wanted to see as a child.
Harry couldn't tell, but he was relatively sure Snape sounded amused. Harry shrugged. "I don't know of any wizarding bakeries nearby."
Snape said, "It shouldn't interfere with the cure in the least."
Malfoy turned toward the dining room. "Dinner, first."
Harry wasn't going to argue. He was hungry. Apparition would do that to a person sometimes. Dinner was elaborate, three full courses. Harry didn't doubt for a second that this was Malfoy's own way of celebrating. It was sort of nice to be allowed in on that, even if he had brought dessert. Harry knew for a fact that being on the decorating committee didn't always get someone invited to the dance.
It was reassuring to see Snape actually eating again. He didn't come near to the amounts taken in by either Harry or Malfoy, but Harry had always had a fierce appetite when food was available. As far as Malfoy went, Harry knew he'd been more hit and miss around meals than he was used to of late, and was simply making up for that when the chance was afforded him.
Malfoy made them wait a bit before dessert. He told Harry about his latest efforts to create more broad-ranging deception charms for the twins's use on several products. Harry returned the favor by regaling them with his latest version of the-things-kids-say-when-they-think-nobody's-listening. Snape didn't say much, but Harry knew that both of them were keeping an eye on him, watching for tell-tale signs of amusement or disgust or any of the other emotive clues Harry had learned how to read. Malfoy was, of course, better than him at it and knew exactly when Snape was ready to move on to the torte portion of the evening.
Malfoy served them each up a piece. Harry noticed that his was the largest. He smiled in Malfoy's direction when the other man was looking elsewhere.
From the first bite Harry was too busy enjoying the dessert to pay attention to much else. But Malfoy's gasp of carnal delight was hard to ignore. Snape said, his voice approaching as low and smooth as Harry always remembered it being, "It is quite. . .
perfect, is it not?"
Malfoy took another bite. Harry tried not to watch the way his throat moved when he swallowed. Malfoy said, "You do know the only way something like this tastes better, do you not?"
Harry shook his head slightly. There was something he was missing, he just wasn't sure what it was. Snape said, "Come here, Potter," and there was a note of softness on the "Potter" that Harry had never heard before. Harry went. He stood before Snape who said, "You'll have to kneel."
Harry frowned but lowered himself onto his knees. Snape said, "What Draco is speaking of, is the taste of truly pure magic chocolate on someone else's tongue," and took for himself a taste.
Harry had a mere second to think, "You weren't who I wanted," before he was taught the error of his ways, Snape's tongue pressing at his, warm and slick and bittersweet with the chocolate. Harry grasped for purchase in the heavy cotton of Snape's inner robes. He barely even felt when Malfoy ran his hands along his back.
He gasped, perhaps even whined a bit at the crash of air against his lips as Snape pushed their mouths apart. He wasn't given time to form words as another mouth covered his and all he could do then was devour. Malfoy's lips were larger, softer than Snape's and Harry couldn't resist biting at the lower one.
Malfoy bit back.
Snape pulled them apart, keeping Harry balanced even as Malfoy backed away. Harry panted. He looked up at Snape in bewilderment. "Why?"
Snape smirked. "It seemed like you might need a taste."
Malfoy, primly perched at his chair once more, his fork poised over the remains of his portion of torte, said, "Finish up, Potter. There's brewing to be done."
Harry didn't know if anything could taste good again after that. He followed directions anyway. It was obvious what came of being a good boy.
Severus continued to find ways of leaving Harry damp, wide-eyed and silently aching. Draco waited until one evening after Harry had left to ask, "Is there some plan that I don't know about?"
Severus quirked his eyebrow. "You aren't enjoying yourself?"
"I've willfully turned down the opportunity to have Harry bloody Potter beg me four times in the last month. Meawhile, the person I want to be on my knees sucking off keeps pawning the wizarding world's savior on me instead. Said man, whom I have always trusted, is keeping me out of the loop as to how he plans on resolving the aforementioned issues. So that's a complicated question." Draco slid his gaze lazily over Severus.
Severus closed his eyes for a moment. "I do not feel well enough for more than what I have been offering."
"I know," Draco said softly. "I'm not asking- I don't want what you cannot give. I just want what you can give to be mine."
Severus' eyes blinked open and he studied Draco. "Can you not taste it on him?"
"The only thing I taste with him half the time is the deadly amounts of coffee he ingests."
"Severus. I don't know what it is you're talking about."
"His desperation. His. . .the way he knows how this works but never seems to expect it to."
"This is the part where I explain once again that the only person I have ever romantically loved or cared to love in that way is you, and I haven't a clue of what you're trying to tell me."
Severus kissed Draco slowly at that. Draco could taste the awe that had never quite faded from their moments of contact. Severus said, "If he knew how to beg us for the small touches that we give him, he would." Another kiss. "You'll never have to beg."
Severus kissed his way down Draco's body, pushing Draco up as Severus made his progress. He took Draco's cock in his mouth and Draco groaned, "Severus, no," but put up no more resistance, knowing that anything he could do would only hurt Severus.
When Severus had swallowed and eased his way back up the bed, Draco turned on his side to him, trying his best to focus. "I wasn't asking."
"No," Severus said, pain evident in the breath he took just to get the small word past his lips, "you don't have to."
"I don't like being in people's debt," Draco told him.
Severus well knew this about Draco. "I'll have you work it off soon enough."
Draco smiled in anticipation. Still, he was not one to be derailed, not even with long awaited, fundamentally good sex. "Potter."
"He wants what we can give him. Can you tell me that feeling alone isn't good for you?"
Everything about Potter was good for Draco, except how things got inordinately more complicated the second they weren't kissing. "I can't explain this to you, but I don't want to use him. Other than the way he acted at first he's been, well, good about this. At a time when I really needed that."
"I don't have a plan, Draco," Severus admitted.
"It. . .happens."
"No, you're pretty insistent on having a plan."
"I thought using him would be fun. I'm having to rethink my original strategy."
Draco thought that over. "When did you change your mind?"
"I don't know."
Draco just kept looking at him. Severus broke. "When he took the wards down."
Draco tried to keep from making a noise. "Before even? Lupin?"
Severus curled the corner of his mouth. "That, and your infatuation, were a convenient bit of luck."
"Why didn't you just ask?"
"You get nervous when we don't have sex for a while. You tend to think that material and physical attention are the only ways a person can show love. It's unsurprising, given the team your parents made, but it makes me hesitant to deal with emotionally taxing issues between us when my ability to pleasure you is limited."
"If you could never touch me again-"
"I said hesitant, not unable. It's just who you are, Draco."
"You want this."
"I want to see where this goes." Severus ran a finger lightly over the skin between Draco's eyes, down his nose.
"And there's really no plan?"
"Not an overarching one, as such."
Draco twisted his lips up a bit but settled down into a sleeping position. "This could get interesting."
"You don't think it already is?"
It was almost too much, sometimes, when Malfoy would greet Harry with a kiss. Granting the action the word "kiss" was nearly laughable. More than anything it was a swipe of lips, an offhand brush of contact meant to translate to, "Hello."
For Harry it was a second of connection. The second didn't bother him. The yawning lack of touch until Snape or Malfoy decided to take pity on him, or play with him, much later on wore at Harry's reserves. He knew better than to ask for more. To ask for more was to admit to his own need aloud. This would not only have the adverse effect of making the need real, it would supply Snape and Malfoy with even more of a Harry-personalized-offensive-arsenal.
Harry wasn't about to be the one to hand over weapons for the use against him. At least, not as long as he could resist doing so.
There were times when he came close. There was the Sunday afternoon when Malfoy decided Harry had best take tea on Malfoy's lap, and had pressed the issue with one solid arm wrapped over Harry's chest. And the time Harry had been helping a tired Snape in the lab, and Snape had, for just one moment leaned his forehead against the back of Harry's neck. Certainly there was the time the two of them waylaid him in the entry hall and gave him a proper hello kiss.
Harry finally broke on a Tuesday, three days from the completion of the third stage of the cure. They weren't even kissing when it happened. Snape had absently skimmed his fingers along Malfoy's leg as Malfoy walked past him. Harry had never thought of the two of them as openly affectionate but if one paid attention there were hundreds--thousands--of small touches, of moments when they stood just a bit too close, of words that meant nothing to anybody but them.
That single touch, one which Harry was relatively sure he hadn't even been meant to see, everything he wanted from them coalesced, hard and intractable inside of him. He knew they couldn't give him moments like that, touches that meant nothing more than, "I'm still here." He knew that. "Please," he gasped. "I can- Anything."
Snape said, "Have you completely lost your ability to form grammatically correct sentences, Mr. Potter?"
Malfoy said, "You can't touch him."
Harry knew all about warnings with more than one meaning. Harry asked, "You, then?"
Malfoy and Snape shared a look. Snape said, "The idea of watching isn't entirely abhorrent."
Slowly, Malfoy turned his gaze back to Harry. "Anything?"
For one brief, oddly beautiful moment, Harry quailed and nearly ran. His gaze caught on Malfoy's fingers, long and resting gently on the sleeve of Snape's robe. The fear didn't exactly leave him, but it was washed underneath a deluge of far more important need. "Just promise you'll touch me."
Harry wasn't sure exactly what he'd said, but Malfoy's predatory look softened slightly. He muttered, "Material and physical."
Harry didn't understand, but he wasn't about to interrupt Malfoy's thought process, not when he was pretty sure it was going in the direction he wished it to. Sure enough, Malfoy curled his upper lip a bit. "Our room," he said. "Oh, and I don't want to have to bother undressing you when I get there."
Harry's glance flickered in between Malfoy and Snape. The latter looked wryly amused. Harry was relatively positive he should leave the house and not come back. Instead he made his way to the two men's shared bedroom and dropped his clothes in a hasty pile in the corner. He stood in the center of the room, unsure of whether Malfoy had meant for him to be on the bed or not. In the lack of any specific instructions it seemed best just to wait. Harry forcefully didn't think about what he was sacrificing for the reward of touch. He just needed to get this out of his system, that was all.
Then he could leave and not look back.
Malfoy entered the room by himself. Harry peered behind him intently, but Malfoy stepped inside the room and closed the door. "Scared, Potter?"
Harry smiled at the familiar challenge, and said, "You wish."
What Harry wished was that he was as foolhardy as he'd been in second year, when he hadn't known enough to feel frightened.
Malfoy stalked toward him, fully dressed and completely in control. "You're far more powerful than either Severus or I."
"Combined you might-" Harry stopped at the look Malfoy gave him, and nodded.
"That sets us ill at ease." Malfoy crossed his arms.
"And humiliating me equals the score?" Harry might not appreciate it, but he could understand the impulse. Lord knows he'd had it with the Dursleys more than enough times. Overwhelmingly without nudity involved.
Malfoy asked, "Humiliating you?"
"I did just beg and then run like a kicked puppy at your command before undressing myself for your pleasure."
"Humiliation wasn't the point." Malfoy brought out hands warmed from his body heat and the inside of his robes and laid them gently over Harry's shoulders.
Harry closed his eyes at the embarrassing swell of pleasure caused by even that slight touch. "Then what was?"
"In order for us to trust that said power differential won't be an issue, we need to know that you trust in us. Enough to obey and realize that we won’t allow you to be hurt."
"Why is it important that you trust me?"
Malfoy blinked. "I don't understand."
"For you this is just. . ." Harry trailed off.
"Do tell, please Potter."
"I thought you were, that is," Harry faltered, "I thought maybe your sex life needed some spicing up and I provided an opportunity."
Malfoy moved his hands up, covering nearly all of Harry's neck with them. "You helped us when nobody else could have or would have."
"There was a Life Debt-"
"Despite the argument I put forth, we both know you could have refused. It wasn't my life."
"This isn't about Severus and me getting bored with each other."
Harry made sure to have direct eye contact as he asked, "What is it about?"
Malfoy smiled wryly. "Don’t know. Want to find out?"
Harry, to his consternation, really, really did.
Harry tensed when Malfoy's whispered spell curled itself around his wrists and ankles, his chest and stomach, binding him face upward on the bed. Snape had settled himself in a large armchair directly at the foot of the bed, where nothing would escape his notice. Harry was more concerned about his inability to escape, full stop. He tried to quell down on his incipient terror. His stomach was having none of it, clenching and very nearly heaving. He didn't notice he wasn't breathing until black spots began to appear at the edge of his vision. Why Malfoy would do something when he knew, when he had found Harry bound in-
"Harry," Malfoy called him back to the present. "Feel what I haven't taken from you."
Harry tried to follow the instructions, tried to figure out what they meant. Panicked, he nearly resorted to Legilimency before he caught on. Legilimency. He still had his magic. Before they had given him potions (ones he still suspects were of Snape's making) to stifle that, but if Harry wanted to he could reach out and overpower Malfoy's magic. "Oh."
"You're stronger than either of us," Malfoy said again.
Harry relaxed into the other man's magic, surprised to feel that the bonds didn't scrape at his skin. The Healers had done away with the physical abrasions all along Harry's body from the ropes. There were no scars where anybody else could see them. In his head, however, Harry could often still feel the damage. After a moment, Malfoy asked, "All right?"
Harry searched, found his voice, and said, "All right."
He was rewarded by the touch of Malfoy's tongue on one of his balls. Harry arched up into the bonds, nearly glad to have the support system along with the inability to move. Malfoy slid his fingers in between Harry's skin and the invisible magic holding tight over his stomach.
Malfoy took his time with the one ball before moving on to the other. When he finally withdrew, Harry whimpered to see him leaning back, obviously not intent on touching Harry's cock even just a little. Harry felt the tap of Malfoy's wand against his skin a second before the bonds multiplied, wrapping over his legs and his shoulders, his cock. Another tap and he was moving, flipping over, his arms and his legs stretching within the bonds to hang stomach-down from the bedposts. It should have been uncomfortable but the magic at his chest and stomach kept him comfortably cocooned.
At his back, Malfoy asked, "Harry?"
Harry felt for his own magic again. Still there. "Please talk."
"I'm going to flog you," Malfoy said. Harry stiffened. Malfoy made a 'tsk' sound with his tongue. "Not whip, Harry. Not cane, not paddle, not even a crop. Certainly not a cat. If you need me to stop, say. . .Hogwarts."
Harry repeated the word inside his head. It was a good choice. Even with everything he had undergone within its walls, Hogwarts represented safety to him. Home. Harry marveled at Malfoy's insight for a moment before the first stroke of the flogger caught him. It was. . .soft. Suede? Silk? Something soft, almost a whisper across his skin. His cock protested against its equally soft bonds.
"Harry?" Malfoy asked again.
"Just," Harry gasped at the warm impact of a second stroke, "count, or something. I need to hear-"
"Three," Malfoy said, and came through with the promised stroke. He paced them, speeding up at times, slowing down again. Harry lost himself in the build up of heat, they way the bonds would give just enough for him to move with the blows, the sound of Malfoy's steady, unfailing count.
At thirty-five maybe, forty perhaps, when the intensity of it was becoming too much, too much, too much, Malfoy stopped. Harry was about to remind him to talk when the wet heat of Malfoy's tongue made contact with Harry's bum and Harry couldn't remember what words meant, let alone why he had thought them so important.
Fingers joined the tongue at some point, fingers as wet and nearly as warm as the tongue and Snape was saying something, ". . .beautiful. . .abandon. . .hands" something, but all that was important was the slide of voice in time with those fingers, the tongue.
Harry missed the tap of Malfoy's wand that resituated him into a sling-like bond. He hung, ankles suspended above his shoulders, hands bound at his sides. Malfoy knelt up on his knees, aligning his cock with Harry's ass. He threaded his fingers into Harry's, and leaned in for a kiss, the first one since all this had started. When he leaned back he said, "Harry, listen to me."
Harry was having a hard time understanding words, let alone finding them. "Huh?"
"Harry, when you're ready, say 'Severus.'"
"Severus?" The word felt unfamiliar on Harry's tongue.
"He'll release the cock ring."
"Severus," Harry said again.
Malfoy smiled. "Not yet, Harry. Not until it can't wait," and he slid in all at once, smoothly and deep, so deep. Harry forgot how to breathe.
Malfoy bent over and connected their mouths, breathing gently into Harry's until he remembered, "Yes," that was how things worked. He nearly forgot when Malfoy pulled almost entirely out and then slid back in, over and over again, varying the pace and the amount of withdrawal, but not the depth or the drag of his cock over Harry's prostate.
Harry wanted to call out that word, the word he'd been given as a way of collecting his prize but dimly, dimly he could recall that this was about trust, about them trusting him and it seemed less than honest to give in even a second earlier then he absolutely had to.
So it was that when the word did finally spill off of his lips it was nearly by accident, a pure side-effect of Malfoy pushing in with all of his weight, pressing Harry into the depths of the magical bindings. He couldn't tell if it sounded frantic or merely ready. He couldn't even feel the removal, just the sudden unbearable pleasure of completion, just Malfoy's hands on Harry's chest, Malfoy's mouth on his forehead.
Harry thought he might have passed out. He couldn't remember Malfoy finishing, couldn't remember anything but the world sliding into focus a few minutes after it had all ended. Malfoy's hands were still intertwined with Harry's.
Over Malfoy's shoulder, Harry could see Snape watching both of them. Harry smiled tentatively, not even sure his mouth muscles were responding appropriately.
Snape said, "Beautiful."
Malfoy undid the bonds one-by-one. Even still half-stupid, Harry appreciated the fine control that took. Harry couldn't understand how the removal of each "strip" of magic could leave him feeling at once so relieved and so entirely. . .chilled. When they were gone, Malfoy guided Harry down to the bed. Harry was shaking.
Malfoy frowned. "Cold?"
"Shock," Snape said. His voice wasn't coming from the direction he'd been sitting the entire time. He'd moved to the side of Harry that Malfoy wasn't taking up.
Somehow, between the three of them they got Harry under the covers. Harry wasn't much help at all. Malfoy came with him; Snape remained an anchoring depression on his other side. Harry lay there, waiting until the shaking wore off. When he was pretty sure he could remember how to use his legs, he said, "I should get going."
"Really?" Snape asked, and Harry didn't have to think hard to recognize his tone as that of amusement.
"Have school tomorrow." While that was certainly true, Harry's dawning awareness that despite some of the best sex of his life he still wanted these men to just keep touching him and the accompanying terror that inspired was really a more significant impetus for his leaving.
"You aren't comfortable?" Malfoy purred. Purred, the wanker.
"Oh no, this is lovely," Harry reassured him as politely as he could. Diplomacy was always useful when one was trying to extricate oneself from a sticky situation. "I just have problems sleeping in unfamiliar places."
"You still consider this unfamiliar?" Snape sounded vaguely miffed.
"It took me two years to consider my flat familiar. It's hardly personal." Harry struggled to sit up. Snape's hand pressed down on him and Harry was unwilling to force the issue, given that Snape still wasn't feeling all that well.
"If you don't start now, then, the longer we'll all have to wait before you can get a decent night's sleep with us." Malfoy yawned.
"Look, Malfoy, Snape-"
"I told you he still thought of us that way," Malfoy said over Harry's head.
"Maybe he isn't used to being on a first name basis with his sexual partners," Snape said.
Harry growled. "I'm still in the room."
"Harry." Malfoy put a hand on Harry's cheek so that they were looking straight at each other. "Why do you think I chose bondage? I could have. . .well, the possibilities of what you were allowing me to do were endless. Why choose the one thing that I knew was an unpleasant part of your memories?"
"I thought it was because of that." At least Harry had thought that, in the first flush of fright. It was easiest just to fall back on old assumptions and use them to find some anger through the fear.
Behind him, Snape stilled. Something that Harry thought might be hurt flashed in Malfoy's eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly. Malfoy said, "All right. I probably deserved that."
Harry couldn't help the, "sorry," that came to his lips. "What was the reason?"
Malfoy sighed and looked up at Snape for help. Harry rolled slightly to his side in order to watch Snape, who seemed to be thinking carefully about his next words. Finally, Snape asked, "I take it you've never allowed anyone else to tie you up?"
Harry had never allowed anyone else to so much as pin his wrists at his side with their hands. "No," and just because until now he couldn't have imagined doing so, he added, "No."
Snape narrowed his eyes. "He explained that this was about trust?"
"About you trusting me." Harry nodded.
"And the other way around," Snape said.
Harry thought about Malfoy's count floating over his head, as warm and constant as the impact of the flogger. "Implicitly."
"He wanted to show you that he could make the things you most feared into something that made you think of safety. You did feel safe in his magic, did you not?"
Harry couldn't say, "yes," aloud; he simply couldn't. He said, "It was cold when he took them away."
Malfoy's apology to that was a whisper of a finger over the ridge of Harry's shoulder. He sneaked the same hand down to around Harry's waist and anchored it there, as warm and solid as the magical bindings.
Harry took a deep breath. "I thought this was just. . ."
"About what Snape and Malfoy wanted?" Snape asked, a small sneer making the question sharp.
Harry searched for the right explanation. Finally he settled on, "Things don't normally go the way I wish they would."
"What did you wish for with us?" Snape asked, whispering the question into Harry's ear.
"I didn't- It wasn't-"
Harry pulled his thoughts together. "I haven't wished coherently in a long time. It's useless."
"But the wish felt like something," Malfoy said knowingly.
Harry closed his eyes, the other man's breath still a lingering presence against the side of his neck. "It felt like this."
Snape said, "Stay, Harry," punctuating the sentiment by carefully arranging himself next to Harry under the covers.
In light of the way the offer felt, Harry figured sleep could wait at least a few hours. At least.
Hermione was waiting for Harry when he got out of teaching his first class of the morning. "Not to sound clichéd-"
Harry walked alongside her as they made their way back to the office area of the school. "Why, when it's worked so well for you all these years?"
Hermione shoved at him gently. ". . .but you look different this morning." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Harry glanced sideways at her. "You are kidding, right?"
"I've known you a very long time, Harry Potter."
"Too long," Harry grumbled. Then, in retaliation, he asked, "What did Draco blackmail you with?"
"First time I've heard you call him Draco."
"I'm working on it. Don't change the subject."
Hermione had the grace to look chagrined. "He said he'd come here. Make a scene. I didn't think you needed that on top of everything else."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry wasn't angry. He didn't know if he would have been had things not gone so. . satisfactorily. It wasn't like her, though, to keep things from him. That was more his style.
"Because I wasn't sure he was going to show. Even given the blackmail. He's Malfoy."
"Harry." Hermione sounded like she didn't want to talk about whatever she was about to bring up. "Have you. . . That is, well, Ron seemed somewhat unaware that you had even been in regular contact with Malfoy."
"Would you believe me if I said that at first it was that I didn't think it was anything and then when it clearly was I didn't know how to explain what had been happening and it all just got completely out of my control?"
Hermione was still for a couple of seconds. Harry could see her untwisting his twisted pile of an explanation. Finally, she smiled a bit. "Actually, that was almost exactly what I had assumed."
While Harry knew that anything he did to upset Ron would eventually be forgiven, that didn't stop his nerves from rearing their heads. Harry tried his best to avoid having to be forgiven, particularly by Hermione and Ron. "Is he-"
"I ran a bit of interference."
"A bit as in 'I owe you my first born' or a bit as in 'he was surprisingly calm once Vi and I got the first three drinks in him'?"
"The former. You could ask Vi about the latter. I left fairly early in the evening."
Harry slipped inside his office. Hermione followed, shutting the door behind them. Harry looked at her apologetically. She laughed. "Harry, he loves you. Even when he's being Ron, he loves you."
"I'm sleeping with two people who were probably higher on his list of mortal enemies than Voldemort."
"I do hope it's more than just sleeping," Hermione said lightly. "And the willingness to stand up to megalomaniacs with a penchant for casting Unforgivables for someone isn’t limited to life-and-death battles of good and evil. Also, isn't this sort of similar to that?"
Harry threw a crinkled-up memo at her. She caught it, laughing. "Look, just go talk to him. He's doing that thing where he thinks you don't trust him."
"I'm an idiot."
"Yes," Hermione said, succinctly. "But you're my idiot."
"How does Neville feel about that?"
"We all make exceptions for you, Harry, we always have."
"Perhaps that's why I'm shite at relationships."
"Or perhaps the people you've chosen before have made the wrong types of exceptions."
"Oh, there's a right type?"
"I'm not a fool, Harry. Emotionally or otherwise. I make the decisions I make in regard to you because you've earned whatever rights I grant. Same with Neville and Ron and even Ginny."
"And Draco and Severus?"
"I've got my eyes open."
"Well," Harry said, "that's one of us."
But he trusted her sight.
Ron, never one to beat around the bush, answered his door for Harry. He didn't, however, let him very far into the house before saying, "As everyone knew before me, I'll assume any objection I could have raised has already been covered?"
"Can we do this over tea?" Harry asked.
"I'm likely to dump it on your head."
Harry sighed. "What would you have said?"
"That you were barmy."
"And that would have been so different to say then as opposed to now?"
Ron spoke more loudly than strictly necessary. "Then as opposed to now? What is that- Oh bloody hell, Harry. Tell me you haven't gone and slept with the Terrible Two."
"Well, Ron, we can't all date a string of gorgeous and famous women and know that they're actually dating us for who we are rather than our name recognition." Harry knew he sounded tired. He wouldn't mind it winning him some pity points from Ron. There were few people he would take quarter from, but Ron happened to number among them.
"I’ll have you know that my name is nearly a household word." Ron didn't say it bitterly. In fact, Harry knew he was already thinking about other things, so he stayed quiet and let that happen. Ron finally said, "They made you miserable, Harry. And you sometimes have this thing where you don't know how to be happy."
"It's not that," Harry said, pretty sure that he was right.
"So they make you happy?"
Harry closed his eyes. "There are moments of that."
"That's not what I meant."
"I know, but you have to admit, it's something."
Ron leaned up against the wall. "Yeah, all right. You deserve better."
Harry called up his best puppy-eyed expression. "You think you can restrain yourself around the tea, now?"
"Oh, for- Come on, then." Ron ambled down the hallway and off to the left, into his kitchen.
Harry asked, "Maybe some of those scones you keep around?"
Ron looked over his shoulder. "You been eating?"
"Draco makes sure I have dinner."
Ron's easy motions faltered for a mere instant. "Huh."
"I'd think that he just liked his men with a little body to them, but, well. Severus."
"You're going to have to not call them by their first names around me."
"Ron," Harry said. "Can you truly not imagine that this is hard enough in my head without you making extra trouble?"
"Can you not imagine that I think I should make it a little harder anyway?" Ron slammed a tea cup down hard enough to break it. He fixed it with a rather emphatic reparo.
Harry looked at the cup. "What would be good enough for you?"
"Not for me-" Ron spun around to look at Harry.
Harry wasn't going to back down. "For. You."
"Can you even trust them?" Ron asked, his voice just the tiniest bit plaintive.
The remembrance of magical chords whispered over Harry's skin. "Yes. I can."
Ron seemed to take in Harry's lack of hesitation. He poured the tea, his concentration a little too focused for something routine. When he looked up he said, "That isn't exactly something you give away."
"I'm past my death wish days."
Ron handed him a cup. "Not funny."
Harry stole a scone. "They don't want to hurt me. I can't exactly tell you what they do want." He took a bite. "I can't exactly tell you what I want. All I know is that I've been able to eliminate that as a possibility."
Ron sipped at his own tea. He said softly, "You can hurt someone without intending to."
"Yeah, we've done that to each other once or twice."
Ron's smile was knowing. "There's that."
"I'm sorry I didn't say anything. I didn't think it was anything. Then it was, but I didn't know what it was so it was hard to talk about. And then we were here, and I was without a Time Turner."
"Messing around with time's bad for you anyway."
Ron just pushed the entire plate of scones at him. "You're bordering on ugly with the weight-loss, mate."
Harry took another scone, too relieved to bother coming up with a suitable response.
The third stage of the cure had to be taken in specific doses over a period of four days. On the second day, Draco sent Harry a letter at the school: The twins keep all types of topical potions at their place. Stop by there and see if they have any chocolate-based ones?
Harry had learned how to read Draco's handwriting. There were stresses in all the wrong places.
Severus had reacted so well to Harry's torte that he and Draco had immediately begun exploring other ways of treating the symptoms of the Legacy with chocolate. To Harry's surprise, there were several ways in which medicinal chocolate could be ingested or applied, not the least of which was topically. Such a method required supplementary ingredients, but could also act with far more expediency than other options.
Harry bailed out on Hermione early. He said, "Can we reschedule the faculty meeting?"
She asked, "How's Snape feeling?"
"I have notes about the new textbooks and everything." Harry liked being in charge of the new curricula, it was sort of exciting to see things changing all the time. Particularly in regard to advancements in the different magical fields.
"On your desk?"
"In the notebook you gave me for Christmas." It was bound in red leather with the letters "H" and "J" and "P" done in calligraphy and gilded. She had told him it was for special things, but Harry thought the school was special. Hermione and he had put it together and made it work all by themselves.
"Send them both my best." Hermione waved him off.
Once he got there, Harry tried to be patient with the twins, who legitimately didn't know what was going on. Granted, they probably wouldn't have stopped their teasing if they had. He found what he needed and promised to stop by some day when he didn't need a favor before Apparating to Severus' and Draco's place.
The door was open to him as it had been since that night and Harry went straight to their bedroom. He opened the door quietly, glad he had thought to do so when a mere peek proved that they were both sleeping.
Harry tiptoed to Severus' side of the bed. He laid a Calming Spell over the man before unstoppering the cocoa-based potion and pouring a little onto his hands. It smelled more like cinnamon than chocolate, but Harry knew that scents could be deceiving, particularly to one who wasn't trained to understand their specifics. Harry brushed aside the collar of Severus' shirt and began by rubbing a little of the potion into the hollow of his collarbone. Draco had taught him that trick two weeks prior. From there, it was up the line of the Adam's apple, and a bit to the side, over where the man's pulse was faint, but steady. Harry let his hand rest there for a moment.
Severus awakened at the cessation of motion, the Calming Spell keeping his heartbeat regular. He murmured, "Harry."
Harry tipped some more of the potion into his hand and began rubbing it into Severus' earlobes. "I'm not sure what this stuff is called, but it's pure concentrate, so far as I can tell."
"If I die, I'm sure that will be a comfort to Draco."
"As you still have your morbid sense of humor, things can't be as dire as all that." Harry kept his voice low. In his sleep, when he couldn't maintain even the most basic of glamours, Draco's eyes were ringed with perfect circles of midnight black, his cheekbones sharper even than Harry's most days. "How are you feeling?"
"Like you did me a bad turn all those years ago, saving me from Voldemort's vengeance."
"Seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
"Gryffindors aren't known for their tendency to think ahead," Severus agreed ruefully.
Harry turned Snape slightly onto his side so that he could massage the potion into the back of Severus' neck and along the upper length of his spine. "Oh, but we make the moment worth it."
"Potter," Severus said. His eyes closed in response to the gentle motions of Harry's fingers. "When I feel well enough to do anything besides lie here, I will make certain you regret your clumsy lewdness of a second before. And truly appreciate the beauty in well-crafted anticipation."
Harry was already beginning to appreciate it. In truth, he had been since that first chocolate-drowned kiss. In that moment his mind had thrown out any lingering sense of who Severus had been to him in a physical sense, and began to reconstruct his former professor. Harry wanted Draco. But he had an insatiable curiosity about Severus that only seemed to become more urgent the longer it went unsatisfied. Harry moved his hands from Severus' neck and moved the covers slightly, tucking up the hem of his nightshirt so as to get at the backs of his knees, another hot spot for circulatory transportation of externally applied potions.
Severus panted a little at the touch of Harry's fingers to that spot. Not a good pant. Harry asked, "Too much?"
"Nerves a bit raw there."
Everywhere, really. Harry lightened his touch from a rub to a caress. "Better?"
"Manageable," Severus bit out. "Did you Spell me? I can't yell at you quite properly."
"I didn't want you to hurt something if you panicked upon waking."
"How considerate of you."
Harry ignored him. "I'm just going to work the backs of your ankles and then you can fall right back asleep."
The worst came after the final dose of the third stage. Draco met Harry outside his bedroom door with a, "Heard you coming."
Harry thought it more likely that Draco had taken the effort to spell the house to tell him when Harry showed. He didn't rub it in. Instead he said, "I came right after school," and brushed his fingers tentatively against Draco's. While Harry had figured out that Draco needed touch every bit as much as him, and for vastly different reasons, it was still a bit hit and miss as to whether Draco would accept touch from Harry. Harry understood how a person could trust someone not to hurt him and still have the muscle-memory of distrust overrule that, so he never pushed the issue.
To Harry's surprise, Draco didn't just accept, he melted into Harry. Draco was roughly the same height as Harry, if not an inch or so taller, but he managed to tuck his head beneath Harry's chin. Their chests rested tightly up against each other.
Harry reacted instinctively, responding in the way he knew he'd want Draco to react if Harry were the one reaching out for affection. He curved his arms around Draco, pressing his hands over shoulderblades and spine and anything he could reach. "Shh," Harry said, although Draco hadn't made any noise.
"He's fine," Draco said, "he's fine," and Harry knew self-reassurance when he heard it.
"Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better." It was a cliché, Harry knew, but one that he'd found the truth of the hard way.
Draco's breath was a bit unsteady against Harry's neck. "Stay for a bit."
"All night, sure."
"You don’t sleep when you're here."
Harry wasn't sure that Draco had noticed he wasn't exaggerating about that. "There are other reasons to stay."
"Are there other reasons to skip meals?"
Harry squeezed his arms ever so lightly. "You think I'm lying to you?"
"I think you're mildly cracked."
Harry couldn't read Draco's tone. Finally he settled on a probing, "You like it well enough when we're in bed."
"I like it well enough almost always. Doesn't mean we shouldn't work on finding some sort of human-compatible reparo."
Harry bit back a laugh of pure, utter happiness. "Well, one problem at a time."
After a second, Draco said, "I've been trying. I can't seem to let go just yet."
Harry bent his neck and touched his face to the top of Draco's head. "A few more minutes won't hurt anything."
"All day, he's been-"
"And you've been here, by yourself. But that's all done."
"I never thought I'd need- It's. . .you mustn't think that we haven't been all right all these years. He's always been able to provide the things I've needed, and I'd like to think that he feels the same way."
Harry did laugh a bit at that. "Have you never once noticed the way he practically gravitates to you, physically? If you haven't been everything he's needed, you've been everything he could have possibly asked for."
"He's been both for me," Draco said softly.
"And you think that we are the same things to all people? It doesn't work like that."
Draco asked, without venom of any sort, "And you would know how?"
"That's not so different from how other things work. I've had friends since I was eleven."
"I had minions when I was three."
"I believe you," Harry said with a dose of fondness he would not have believed possible. Draco shifted slightly in his grasp. Harry asked, "Ready?"
Draco slid his hand up Harry's arm and latched on before extricating himself from Harry's grasp. "Don't- Just let me hold on."
Harry was hardly going to complain.
Once through the worst of the third stage, Severus began to truly improve. Harry, who had never prided himself on his attention to detail, could hear the difference in his breathing patterns, see it in the way he moved, even feel it when Severus would on occasion throw a vaguely thoughtful glance his way.
Roughly a month into brewing the fourth stage potion, Harry received a note. It showed up at Harry's flat just as he was leaving for work.
I believe I promised you regret as you'd never known it before.
Although Harry lived alone, it was spelled so that only he could read it. Harry nearly orgasmed right there.
He was catching on enough, however, to know that this was part of the game. He poured himself another cup of coffee and went to educate children.
He caught up with Hermione after first period. He asked, "I know we had that finances meeting planned this evening, and that the books have to be finished by the end of the week, but I don't suppose we could move the meeting to tomorrow?"
Hermione looked distressed for a moment but then seemed to pull herself together. "I can reschedule a bit." Then, with a thoughtful glance at him, "You're no good to me like this anyway. Go get whatever it is out of your system."
Harry Apparated to the Malfoy-Snape house as soon as the final child had left the premises, was inside the door a minute later, and in the sitting room twenty three seconds after that. He stood in the doorway and stared at Severus, who sat regally on the sofa. "Please," Harry said desperately.
Severus made a "tsking" sound. "Impatience is such an unattractive trait in a young man, Harry."
Harry noticed Draco off to the side, thrumming with a fair amount of anticipation himself. Harry said, "Impatience would have been me at your door at 6:07 this morning."
"I think, just this once, I'm going to have to disagree with you, Severus." Draco's voice sounded throaty, ready. "Patience is infinitely less attractive."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Younglings." He leveled his gaze at Harry. "Stay where you are." He didn't add the "or else" but Harry was smart enough to know there was one. And to realize that he didn't want to find out what would happen if he ignored the unspoken threat.
As if dismissing Harry's presence completely, Severus turned to Draco and ordered, "Come here."
Harry didn't think he'd ever seen Draco move so fast in his life, including. . .well, including all the times that there had been lives at stake. Draco was usually conscious of how he moved, how he looked, how his presence affected others, particularly Severus. Now, though, there was nothing, just the undeniable need to be in Severus' arms.
Harry watched as they flowed together despite Draco's haste, as Severus' lips pressed against Draco's, as Draco's hands clasped firmly around Severus' ribs, caressing and cradling. He stayed where he was and suddenly appreciated just how well Severus knew him. Physical pain, not even the kind he remembered at the hands of the Death Eaters, was nothing to his need to be involved by them, included in this, touched.
Draco reached for Severus' buttons and it was plainly obvious how comfortable he was with this. It was a comfort that even over a year of wanting hadn't been able to interrupt. His fingers glided over the instruments of ordered apparel. Harry wondered that he didn't use a spell, it seemed much more Draco's speed, but there was something so intimate in every slide-and-pull motion of his fingers. Harry would have been content with that, even that, even something that didn't involve skin.
Still, he stayed where he was. He had never before wished to be back in his cupboard, never thought about how merely hearing the laughter and love taking place outside of that prison was preferable to seeing it. Seeing it and knowing it wasn't his to take. Knowing he wasn't part of it.
Buttons finished, Draco advanced in his undressing efforts. He was whispering things, "Please," and "So long," and "My way," and "Please."
Severus gave him a smile that Harry had never seen, but he knew what it meant: Yes.
So Draco went slowly, revealing Severus' skin slowly, like one might a secret that he had kept for a long time. Harry saw them as secrets that they were letting him in on but only enough so that he would know when things were private, strictly for them. Harry tried to learn, he did, but there was so much of Severus' skin, long and white white white. Draco's mouth was nearly always against it, not ever in the same place.
Harry swallowed back his own need and anchored himself by curling his hands against each side of the doorframe.
Draco undressed for Severus, then. He had regained his sense of pacing by this time and was performing. He watched Severus watching him, and peeled back each piece of clothing as if what waited underneath was a revelation. For Harry, despite having seen it before, it was.
When Draco, golden, sharp, fluid Draco, was completely undressed, he slid back to his knees and stopped messing around with his mouth. Severus panted, harsh and nearly pained, at the contact of Draco's tongue with his cock. Draco hooked both of his hands on the undersides of Severus' knees, and kept at what he was doing.
Harry remembered that mouth, remembered all its tricks and realized in that moment that Draco must know exactly what tricks work with Severus. Draco's sexual growth had begun with Severus, and Severus' sexual maturity had grown with Draco.
Harry tightened his grip on the wood. Like the door to his cupboard, it was the only thing keeping him where he was ordered to stay.
Severus melted into Draco's ministrations, his body loosening in ways Harry hadn't imagined to be possible, his sounds perfectly harmonized to the motion of Draco's head. Despite Severus' obvious pleasure it took a while, quite a while before he said, "Draco." Harry had never heard someone deliver a warning in such a clearly plaintive tone.
Draco slid off obediently. He reached to the side and pawed through his clothes for his wand. Finding it, he first tapped his own leg, then Severus', then tossed it aside once more. Draco lifted himself onto the couch, supporting himself on his knees, splayed out on either side of Severus' legs.
Then, without any build up beside a barely-muttered, "Too bloody long," he slid down onto Severus. The expression on his face betrayed a momentary stretching burn, and then the spark of Severus' cock brushing over and past his prostate.
Draco brought his hands to Severus' shoulders, using them as leverage. His toes curled into Severus' legs, his head occasionally lowered to swipe at Severus' neck, thrown back against the top of the couch in a sort of contained abandon.
Harry, although he understood himself to be disobeying the letter of Severus' command, took a step back. It was either that, or a step forward. His hands, however, stayed as they were.
Draco said, "Love. . .missed this."
Severus said, "Love you."
"Yes, that," Draco agreed before driving himself down with particular force.
It didn't take long. Harry hadn't imagined it would, not after a wait like that. Not with Severus still at less than full health. Harry watched as Severus arched into Draco, wordless with pleasure, with intensity. He watched as Draco slid into Severus, mewling and whimpering, an entity of completion and noise.
Harry watched as they finished, grasping on to each other even more tightly, as though afraid to suddenly lose one another in the aftermath, when things might fly apart without warning. It was. . .forever, Harry couldn't have said how long before their eyes turned toward him, seeking.
Severus said, "Let go of the door, Harry."
But Harry couldn't. If he let go there would be two options: to go to them, and accept that this was how things were, him forever at their mercy should they decide that was their prerogative. Or to leave, and accept that this was how things were, him forever longing to return and give them leave to treat him this way, so long as they paid him any attention at all.
"Harry?" Draco asked. He slid backward, off of Severus, not so graceful as the moment before, or even as he normally was.
"Regret," Harry said, looking at Severus. He could hear in his voice--to his horror--that he was crying.
Unexpectedly, he discovered a third option. He went to find the nearest washroom and threw up what little he had eaten that day.
Harry wasn't sure whether he'd forgotten to lock the door, or if the house just responded more readily to its occupants' spells. Shortly after the dry-heaves began, however, hands were at his forehead and neck sweeping back his hair, and at his shoulders, flat and supportive.
Someone's wand tapped against his side and Harry felt his stomach muscles forcibly relax. He didn't want to slump against the toilet, not with the both of them watching him now, but his leg muscles seemed about as useful as those in his stomach. He talked his arm muscles into at least keeping him upright.
Severus put a glass to his lips. "Rinse."
Harry took some of the water into his mouth, dutifully rinsing and spitting. Severus raised the glass to his lips a second time. "Again."
Harry obeyed. On his other side, Draco raised a different cup to his lips. This one was warm to the touch. Draco said, "Small sips."
The slightly warm hot chocolate should have been too rich, the smell of it suggested to Harry that it would be. The first small sip completed the work of the Relaxing Spell, though, and actually began to heal the abused muscles and nerves of Harry's stomach. Harry wanted to take a larger sip but was used now to Draco saying things for reasons, and so stayed with smaller intakes.
When he was certain that he could get himself into a standing position and stay there he pushed himself up from the floor and onto his knees. He said, somewhat stiffly, "Thank you."
Severus' hands held him down. "I can't believe I'm the one having to do this, seeing as how I was in considerable amounts of agony at the time we had this conversation, but can you recall even just a bit the second part of what I said to you that day?"
Harry took the hot chocolate cup from Draco and took another sip. It was helping with the pounding in his head as well. He concentrated and came up with, "Something about anticipation."
Harry made his brain do the work. "That was just. . .to get me-"
"Not just," Draco said firmly. "That was about us and what we do and me having him for the first time in over a year and letting you see that. We're not exhibitionists, Potter. It wasn't just because you wandered by and we wanted someone to show off for."
"Just was a bad word," Harry said. "I meant to- It wasn't punishment, it was foreplay?"
Draco rolled his neck in a motion betraying his frustration. Severus, still behind Harry, said, "Shower first. Then we talk somewhere that is not the washroom."
Harry gave himself a moment to accept that he was going to have to leave their presence while still entirely unsure of his place in it, and nodded his head. Draco, though, helped him to his feet. "Come on, then."
"You're?" Harry asked.
"Well, all three of us are certainly in need of one, wouldn't you say?" Draco asked by way of response.
Harry didn't care about that, only that he would not be left to himself. He remembered there being a time when he had thought that being left alone was all he wanted.
I've been told youth is a time of foolishness, Harry thought wryly.
For all that the three of them were in a somewhat confined space, naked at the same time, the shower was just a shower. Severus massaged at Harry's scalp, and Draco took quite a while letting go of his hands after handing him the soap, but they all managed to clean themselves and step out from under the spray without the exchange of a single kiss.
Draco altered some of his nighttime wear with a few easy spells so they would fit Harry. Harry couldn't help snuffling a bit at his own arm for the smell of Draco.
Harry wasn't sure who had made the decision of where they would sit and talk. They ended up in the kitchen, Draco steeping some lavender mint tea and Severus rummaging around for the half an apple tart they had left. Harry was hesitant on his first bite of the tart, remembering well how Draco took his apples, but the sugar and the baking process seemed to have transformed the bitter devils into something delightfully sour-sweet and crispy-soft.
Harry washed his first bite down with a bit of tea. "Sorry."
Severus raised an eyebrow. Harry shrugged. "I guess I ruined your plans. And, well, made a mess of your washroom."
"And obviously you don't trust us any further than the distance you can still see us without your glasses," Draco's observation carried a deceptively blithe tone.
Harry blinked. Severus sighed. "Has anybody ever told you anything about the relationship between Black and your parents?"
Harry shook his head vehemently. "We're not talking about them. There are certain things. . . I accept that you hate them, I even accept why, but you can't bollocks up what I have left of them. I will leave before I allow that."
Severus stared at him for a moment. "Interesting boundaries you have, Harry. However, I hadn't planned to indulge my spite in regard to the characters previously mentioned."
"Oh," Harry said. Draco rolled his eyes and took a sip of his tea. Harry floundered around to find the thread of conversation and reinitiate it. "No, people haven't, that is, I really don't know much at all. Just that he was my godfather, so obviously they trusted him with me. And she died for me, so I suppose that must have really been something."
"They were lovers, Harry," Severus said softly.
Harry choked on his tea all the same. When he recovered he asked, "The three of them?"
"Not many people knew."
Harry looked at Severus. "How did you?"
"There was a long period of my life where I made it my business to know things. Particularly of the people who might. . . Well."
Harry frowned. "Lovers."
"The wizarding world, Harry," Draco said, "can be somewhat old-fashioned."
"I'm amazed you've noticed. You've never been much of one for compare and contrast."
Draco rubbed at the back of his neck. "It's foolish not to know at least a little about the things which scare you most."
Harry agreed with that. "So then my parents and Sirius, they just didn't have a way of," Harry searched for the right word. He couldn't find it, "being what they were. Doing as they did."
Neither Severus nor Draco made fun of his verbal stumbles. Severus said, "That didn't make it wrong."
Harry smiled a little, his mouth twisting with the attempt to show mirth of any sort. He made sure to meet Severus' and Draco's eyes before saying, "Yes, well, they loved each other, didn't they?" He was insanely grateful not to hear his voice crack on any of the words in the question.
"Do you think us incapable of such an emotion?" Draco asked, a deceptively mild bent to his voice.
"Obviously not with each other," Harry shot back, unable to help himself.
"However, people like us must only have so much of such an emotion, a capacity, as it were, and we have evidently exhausted it on each other," Severus told Draco.
"When you say it like that, it sounds stupid," Harry said.
"There's likely a reason for that," Draco told him.
Harry considered the table. "Are you saying-"
"We're saying to give us a chance, Harry. A real chance. Not a chance that's all about your preconceived notions and you assuming that the things we do wrong are the only things we do."
"You have to," Harry paused, "You have to realize that I scare easy."
"The Boy Who Lived?" Severus asked entirely without his customary sneer.
"The Twice Defeater of He Who Shall Not Be Named?" Draco chimed in.
"Very easy," Harry confirmed.
"Yes," Severus said, looking across the table at Draco, "we were beginning to notice."
Harry sent an owl to Remus the next day that read: I'll bring 'Rina and the twins home with me after Hermione and I finish up. He left off the be there but felt that it was rather implicit.
When he'd gotten the kids to eat a snack that wouldn't corrode their insides and settled them down to work on their assignments, Remus said, "Severus said something, then."
Harry took the nearest seat. "I'm thirty years old, Remus. There wasn't a point, any point, at which you thought maybe you could tell me the truth about Sirius and my parents?"
Remus sat down across from Harry. "Ah."
Remus waved a hand. "I expected Mr. Malfoy to have said something about that and in a troubling manner some time ago."
"And you wanted that to be the way I found out?"
"No, Harry." Remus shook his head. "Of course not. Rather it's that. . .have you ever become so accustomed to keeping someone else's secret, to thinking that keeping that secret means that you're keeping some part of them, that it's only the most dire of circumstances that causes you even to speak about it at all?"
Harry didn't precisely, but he had enough of an idea. He had never been able to fault Remus for his loyalties. "So you did go to them."
Remus considered his hands for a moment. "You were miserable."
"No, you were miserable, and I thought that perhaps you didn't have to be and if I've made that worse I can't even begin-"
Remus looked up. "I haven't?"
Harry shook his head. "Things were looking a bit grim for a while, I won't lie."
"But they told you about James and Lily and Sirius?"
"To try and make me see that I wasn't just their play piece. Severus even managed to stop besmirching my lineage for long enough that we could all have the conversation." Harry didn’t feel the need to mention that this might have had to do with him having just nearly thrown up his boot soles.
"And you want me to tell you more. Tell you the things he wouldn't be able to, even if he wanted."
"I want," Harry closed his eyes, "I want to know my parents in the way that I would have if I'd grown to be this old with them around. The good things and the bad things and the way they balanced each other out. The way they made an unconventional relationship work and the worst fights they had. How they got over the fights. What Sirius thought when I was born."
Harry shifted forward some. "I want you to look at me and see that I'm old enough for you to stop sifting through your memories, only bringing up the ones that you think won't hurt me. Do you really want your children to grow up seeing you as perfection itself? I mean, how does that help them?"
Remus flickered his eyes at the doorway to keep track of three of said children. "I can't give you what my children have, Harry. No matter how much you or I might want that."
"No, but you can give me what you have."
Remus inhaled slowly. "How much time do you have?"
Draco often found comfort in the things that could be controlled. The temperature of the house, or how clean the photo frames in the hall were, or the exact amount of time a soufflé needed to be cooked.
He and Severus were alike in that way, Severus having his potions with their thirty-eight clockwise strokes and finely ground cockroach eyes. Lucius had often wanted Draco to focus his detail-oriented mania on "more important pursuits." Those pursuits usually required other elements--a certain amount of power, the right position of the sun, though. That defeated the whole point of Draco's need for predictability and order.
The night after The Talk, he made a soufflé.
A chocolate-hazelnut soufflé topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel liqueur.
Harry walked in late with a sheepish expression. "I had to get some questions answered." He held out an expensive label of cognac.
Draco kissed him with the bottle between them. "We forgive you."
Draco took the bottle from Harry. Harry asked, "Where's Severus?"
"Working on the fourth stage. I offered to help but he's feeling well enough to need his own space again and the lab is-"
"His domain," Harry finished, his cheeks heating to a pleasant red.
Draco set the bottle on the counter and went to press himself up against Harry. "You're such a turn on when you're unsure of yourself."
Draco could feel the blush escalate. Harry muttered, "So, always then?"
"I have a theory about how much you're going to turn me on when you know you can, as well."
"Tell me the theory."
"I bet you can guess," Draco whispered, and went in for another kiss. Harry's mouth was pliable and eager against his, taking in what Draco gave. Draco let the rush of power that Harry's willingness to allow him his way lent flood through him, let it lend strength to the arms wrapping around Harry, to the press of his tongue inside Harry's mouth.
There were some details that Draco liked regardless of their conformation to the dictates of outside forces.
Draco felt Severus come in, the slightly off-feel of his still recovering body and magic, the space he took up, the comfort that automatically pressed in on Draco whenever he was near. He knew Harry couldn't feel that last, but Harry had his own way of sensing these things, as he applied enough force to break off the kiss and pant, "Severus."
Draco gave his lover a look, mischievous and completely unrepentant. Severus, interpreting the look correctly, said, "I believe Draco wishes me to teach you a few things, Harry."
"Later," Draco said, nearly giddy at getting his way. "I made a soufflé."
Severus said, "Imagine my shock."
Harry clearly did not understand. He didn't ask either. "With mushrooms? I like mushrooms."
Draco filed the information away into the slowly growing corner of his mind that housed the things he knew about Harry Potter. "A dessert soufflé, you perfect little heathen. Have you not had dinner?"
"I have, Remus fed me. I just wasn't going to turn down anything you offered."
Severus asked softly, "Did he tell you what you needed to know?"
Harry tried to hide his smile. Draco found his utter failure to be something of a turn-on as well. "And more."
"Then you most likely know better than I do how a relationship of this sort works," Severus told him.
Harry's look of shock was too comical for Draco to hold back his laugh. Severus managed, but only just. Draco knew how very close that tremble of his upper lip meant the other man was. Draco said, "Somehow I'm terribly certain we all bring our areas of specialty to this endeavor. Now seat yourselves, and I'll attend to my soufflé."
Severus shared a familiar look with Harry. Draco had never seen Severus turn that look on anyone other than himself. Draco expected something feral in response, something primitive and possessive. Instead, it made him look forward to the events of later that evening all the more.
There were a few things which Draco didn't mind being out of his control.
"How would you like a little payback?" Severus asked, casually, leaning backward in his chair and considering the nearly non-existent remains of his soufflé.
Draco knew for whom the question was intended. It took Harry a bit longer to figure it out. Which was part of the fun, of course. When he did his hands curled into fists, like they sometimes did when he was afraid they were going to. . .Draco wasn't sure what Harry was afraid his hands were going to do, but it was obviously something. Harry asked, "Payback?"
He was sweet when befuddled. Truly.
"Well," Severus raised his eyebrow and gave Draco a sideways glance, "Draco here has tied you up and flogged you."
Severus was never sweet; it was part of the charm.
Harry's look of shock was utterly priceless. "Oh. I haven't any sort of- I don't really do that. Normally."
"But you sleep with two men every other night?" Draco couldn't help getting in on this, just a little bit. Severus always made the best plans. Unsurprising, given how long he'd had to depend on his plans for survival.
Harry's answer, after a bit, was a slow-forming smile. "A boy can hope, can't he?"
"If every other night is your grand ambition, Potter, we'd best find ourselves someone more ambitious." Severus looked as though he didn't care.
Harry focused in on Severus. "I don't want to hurt him."
"Did I hurt you?" Draco asked.
"Go to our room, Draco," Severus said. Despite desperately wanting to know what else Severus had to say to Harry, Draco knew an order when he heard one. And he knew the only way he'd get exactly what he wanted this evening was to listen to orders. He went.
He undressed when he got there and laid down naked on the bed. It hadn't been in the order, but Severus knew how to improvise and unexpected nudity still had the effect of shocking Harry into that gorgeous reddened state of his.
Draco was not disappointed when Harry walked into the room and said, "Oh." His mouth stuck slightly in its curved shape and the pinkish color of his lips crept upwards into his cheeks. Severus smiled wryly. He Summoned a length of silk rope. Draco's cock jumped nearly out of his skin. Severus said, "On your stomach."
Draco tried to listen to the words passing between Severus and Harry, but it was too much effort in addition to trying to figure out whose hands were whose. Particularly once they had applied the blindfold. It didn't take terribly long to understand that Severus' hands moved with confidence, tightening the bonds that he was teaching Harry's more tentative hands to make. Draco knew this formation, it was one they hadn't played with in quite some time. It bordered on cruel, tucking Draco's legs beneath him, drawing his wrists up to the nape of his neck, leaving scant areas of his body uncovered by the rope. Except his back--his back was completely exposed to whatever torment Severus chose to inflict.
Draco recognized the crop from its first teasing sting. That would be Severus. At first the hits done by Harry were obvious. Too light, too heavy, ill-placed, too quick, too slow. As he learned, however, the hits melded into each other, until Draco couldn't differentiate one lover's application of touch and fire to his skin from the other's.
Severus let him sigh and groan and moan and even whimper little words, but when the first sob passed from Draco's lips, the crop stilled. Severus leaned over Draco, the heat of his chest almost too much against that of Draco's back. "Tell me what I can do."
Draco thought about it for a moment, thought about whether he'd had enough. He trusted Severus, though, to know his limits and it was always brilliant being taken there. "Anything."
The bindings changed then, and this time Harry's hands were shaking slightly, but more assured in their workings. Draco felt his arms being brought up, tied over his head to keep him upright. His knees were bound sideways against his torso. That burned a bit, but no more than his back and the feeling was almost companionable.
The first strike of the crop against his inner thigh made Draco jerk in his bonds. He heard Harry say, "Maybe-"
Severus must have shaken his head or done something, though, because a second strike came, and a third and a fourth.
Severus let him scream this time, let the pain build until Draco didn't realize it had stopped when it did, didn't realize it until four indecipherable hands were working some type of cream into them, something soothing, nearly too blissful. Draco moaned, "Please."
Severus said thoughtfully, "I think he wants something," and a long, familiar finger, still covered in soothing cream, slipped inside Draco's ass.
Draco panted. Severus said, "Join me," which didn't make any sense until a thicker, less familiar finger, also coated, slid in next to Severus'. Draco couldn't make a sound at that, it was just too good.
There was whispering and Draco didn't care, didn't care what was said so long as, "Oh, oh," so long as Severus put his cock inside Draco's ass just like--Draco's eyes, useless to him anyway, rolled up inside his head--that.
More whispering and suddenly there was a slight burn in his ass, something else pushing alongside Severus' cock. Draco whimpered a bit, but Severus said, "Shh," and Draco shushed.
The burn was pretty intense and Draco bit his lip in order to follow Severus' order but then, when he figured out what was happening, with Severus flush up against his chest and Harry pressing himself gingerly against Draco's artfully welted back, the image, the idea was nearly enough to bring Draco off by itself. He broke his silence to moan, "Harry, in," just as Harry pushed up that final length.
They were still for a short bit before they began moving together and it was too much, it was, and Draco didn't care, not at all, so long as they stayed there because it was perfect. Severus whispered, "You've always been greedy."
Draco couldn't disagree.
He had no idea if they came at the same time, no idea, because at some point two hands had intertwined around his cock and begun to work at it, at first too gently. Draco had growled at that, but Harry had simply laughed, the git. Eventually, eventually they had given Draco what he wanted. Then he was coming. His mind filled with pleasure and intensity and his own need to breathe. At that moment, nothing else could be as important as those things.
It took a while for him to hear the, "Draco. Draco?" that Harry and Severus were intermittently whispering into either of his ears, to realize that the blindfold was gone and the room too bright. He said, "Want my hands," and when Severus gave him back the use of them, he utilized it to hold both men to him, inside him.
Harry thought he was staying quite still. For hours he allowed Draco--who was quite the active sleeper--to bend and twist and slide over him. He must have given himself away at some point, as an obviously-awake Severus asked, "Would a potion help?"
"Did I wake you?"
Harry was beginning to think he wasn't going to get an answer when Severus said, "Tonight was perhaps a little much. I need a pain reliever."
"Something light, the levamentum."
Harry didn't even really have to think the spell anymore. Magic always came easy these days, but more so the spells he had known longer, or ones that had proven particularly loyal to him over the years. Summoning was nearly like breathing for him. He would often realize what he had done so only afterward, when the wizard-raised children or other staff were looking at him oddly, the children aware that their parents couldn't do such things and the staff faced with the bracing fact that Harry's fame had a great deal to do with his deeds and much less to do with who he was, day in and day out.
Severus just took the bottle from him with a tired, "Thanks."
Harry knew the potion had begun its work--they never took long--when Severus returned to his earlier question. "Now, is there one that works for you?"
"Not really. And I don't like taking enough to make them work."
"I'll have to see what I can do about that when I've some time for experimentation."
"That's sweet, but I'll become used to sleeping here and then it won't be a problem."
"About how long do you think?"
Harry didn't answer.
"The trauma had to manifest somehow, I suppose."
"Believe me, Harry. The trauma manifested itself ten times over. And not just in your sleeping patterns."
"If that's your way of saying that I can't keep it together enough to suit you, I'm too tired to be playing interpreter." Harry wasn't particularly upset, though. The thing with Severus, he was beginning to figure out, was that at his most cruel he was often pretending to be kind.
"It's my way of saying you make things more complicated than they have to be."
"That's a bit like Dumbledore calling McGonagall twitter-pated, but all right."
"I picked up on the context."
"I was complaining about having to translate earlier."
Severus' understated laugh seemed to fill the darkness. Harry tried to breathe some of it in. "This is a bit complicated, really. Even if it weren't the three of us it would still be three of somebody. But it is us."
"And despite the fact that you can't sleep at night, Voldemort is dead, Harry. So are Lucius and Narcissa and Bellatrix and quite a few others, largely at your hands."
"I like a tidy bit of revenge now and then."
"I thought maybe I was that," Harry said, "for a bit."
"My dad probably is turning in his grave. Sirius, too."
"There were easier ways for me to accomplish such a goal."
Harry's eyes had adjusted completely to the dark. He rolled over carefully so as not to wake Draco. He fixed his gaze on Severus. "You don't like easy."
Harry could see the arm that Severus had around Draco tighten. "No, not really."
"When I was eleven-"
"I could feel the Mark beginning to pulse on my arm again and was less than pleased about the situation."
"So you took it out on me."
"For the most part, Harry, I remember Potter and Black as students. I didn't much see them after that time."
Harry took a second to follow the thought through. "Ah."
"I don't see him when I look at you. Or even a way to get at him."
"Step in the right direction, that is."
There was silence for a bit. Severus asked, "Have you tried spells?"
"They generally have to be done by someone with a great deal of power. I've a few friends around who could probably. . . I don't like asking. It's sort of- And then they're there when I fall asleep and I don't trust much of anyone like that, outside of Ron and Hermione. Neville can do it when he puts his mind to it. I've asked once or twice."
"Combined Draco and I could probably manage."
"Not until you're better."
"Shouldn't be long now." Severus had the oddest type of optimism, one based completely on the precepts of reality. Harry admired it.
"Maybe I'll ask then."
Severus disentangled his arm from Draco to bring it up to the back of Harry's neck. "We would try, for you."
When Violet returned from her long-awaited Hawaiian trip with Ron, she wore a gold band with three black pearls on her finger. Ron wore a look of shell-shocked satisfaction.
Harry wrangled a little Ron-and-himself-only time, and treated Ron to a congratulatory pint. He said, "You might've told us what you were thinking. We would've planned a welcome back engagement thing."
"Believe me, mate, had I known. . . I wouldn't have had Hermione find out that way. Not that I think- There's always a little, well, you know. I swear, though, we went on this dive and she came out of the water and was shining the way the she sometimes does when she's in the sky and I just," Ron shrugged, "just asked."
"Ron." Harry couldn't help it; he laughed. "You're the foremost strategist on the quidditch field that the sport has seen in at least seventy years. You couldn't, I dunno, think a bit ahead?"
Ron chuckled a bit. "Most of the time, the only thing I can think when I'm around her is how I want to be around her some more. I suppose in that, it was a pretty good tactical move."
Harry couldn't refute that. "Ron, um. Not entirely changing the subject from that last thought, you think you could start getting me at least one extra ticket to the games?"
Ron took a long pull from his butterbeer. "But however will you choose whom to bring?"
"Severus really only likes watching when the competition is really good, he could care less about most of the early season games. And Draco will give his seat up the minute he thinks Severus might ask."
"I know you pretty well, Harry. I know every single one of the reasons you don't like to play the name game. All the same, I have to wonder at times like these why you don't just use the whole 'I'm The Harry Potter' thing. It would make getting what you want for the people you want loads easier."
Ron's point was valid. He could have a whole stadium to himself for certain games if he expressed the wish. There were certain debts that were never fulfilled, and given that several of the key people of the British wizarding world were ex-Order members, Harry tended to have quite a bit of pull when he desired. "Because I'm not The Harry Potter with them, and I don't want to be."
"You always were. I mean, in a different way, but the name still fit."
Harry tried to explain. "Before I started calling them Severus and Draco, they stopped being Snape and Malfoy."
"I'm still in an adjustment period with that, just so we're clear."
"Tell me you. . ." not understand, Harry wasn't willing to ask that, "tell me that this doesn't change things between us."
"You tell me that about me marrying a girl who's not Hermione."
Harry looked at Ron in some surprise. "You honestly think that bothers me?"
"I feel like I've broken promises."
"It wasn't as though you left her, mate."
"We fell away from each other," Ron said. It hadn't been as neat as all that, but Harry thought that it somehow fit all the same.
"I like Vi. I could learn to love her, I'm sure. I'm happy for you."
"I don't like them, Harry."
"I know," Harry started to say, but Ron kept talking.
"I don't like them, but when I look at you lately I see something that I always wanted for you when we were kids, but had no way to describe, not even to myself."
Harry shook his head slightly.
"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror, lately? I mean, you look tired, which isn't surprising, but it wears well on you, which it never used to do. You look balanced, like you've stopped allowing things that have happened to tug backward at you. You look," Ron tilted his head to the side, "not just happy for me, but happy."
Harry fingered the rim of his butterbeer. "So you'll come through on the tickets?"
Harry grinned. It felt like he couldn't stop.
There were pictures in the paper after Draco came to their first joint game with Harry. Pictures with snide captions. Harry didn't actually get the paper, and Hermione had long learned that he preferred not to know. He wouldn't have found out at all if Draco hadn't looked so completely shocked when Harry found him in his kitchen after the longest staff meeting of Harry's life.
Harry wasn't entirely sure what it was that was making Draco look at him as though he were non-corporeal. He said, "Sorry I'm late. We had to fire one of our staff. There was a staff meeting to inform everyone of the change and then it was all a bit like the restaging of- Draco?"
Draco said slowly, "Severus and I had a fight. He's holed up in his labs. I don't think he's even brewing."
"That's new," Harry said, although he imagined they had to fight some of the time. Everyone fought.
"Sometimes we both say things we don't mean."
"The two of you?" Harry asked lightly. "Hard to comprehend, really."
"The fight was over you."
Harry felt sick to his stomach. "And you lost? Well, at least it wasn't straws."
"Straws? What do- Nevermind, it's probably something inane and Muggle."
"Just like me," Harry quipped tightly.
"Oh bloody- Not a fight like that, Harry."
Harry had to sit down; the relief was too overwhelming. "Tell me what it was like."
"I said you wouldn't come back. I said that things like image mattered to you."
Draco frowned. "Don't tell me you're fool enough not to take the paper just because it bothers you."
Draco looked like he wanted to shout expletives but evidently decided it wasn't worth his while. He just tromped about the room, finding the paper and setting it down in front of Harry. Who read the captions and said, "Nice picture of us, don't you think? We should cut it out."
"What did Severus say?"
"That the caption was right about me."
Harry laughed. He tried to look contrite at Draco's glare but it was a poor attempt and they both knew it. "He fights dirty, doesn't he?"
"Well you're not helping any." Draco's tone was angry, but the words were said softly enough for Harry to know that he was actually covering hurt.
"Why should I have to? You don't believe Severus actually thinks that. The two of you are just taking out emotional strain on each other. As far as the bloody caption, well. Both of us know a good time was had and who we are, both just as people and to each other. Why should you or I care what this rag dreams up?"
"You'll still share your tickets, then?"
"I didn't ask my best friend to pull strings just so that I could give up after one date. It was a good date, too."
Draco smiled at that. "A date, Potter?"
"What would you call it?"
"Something with more dignity."
"I'm not hearing any suggestions."
Severus' voice floated through the doorway. "He isn't maligning your person, so you wouldn't."
"Shut it, we're not fighting any more and you well know it," Draco said. He looked relieved all the same when Severus just stepped inside the kitchen and went to pour himself some water.
Harry declined to mention the complete irony of Severus Snape defending his person. But he tucked the knowledge away, safe where nobody, not even Severus or Draco, would be able to find it. "How's the fourth stage coming?"
"Slowly," Severus said.
"But surely?" Harry asked.
Draco and Severus didn't even look at each other before rolling their eyes at him.
Draco surveyed Harry from over his shoulder. Harry came up and wrapped himself over Draco's back. "Severus in the lab?"
"Either that, or cheating on us."
"I'm going to be optimistic for the moment."
"As opposed to your normal carrying of the pessimist's banner into the field."
Harry smiled. He closed his eyes and sunk down a bit onto Draco. "What are you making?"
"Oh good, I haven't had that yet. Feel like sharing any details?"
"It's a chicken tikka thing I'm trying."
Harry opened his eyes and looked down. Sure enough, the pan held a vaguely Indian looking dish. "Where'd you learn about chicken tikka?"
"It was in a cookbook," Draco said defensively. Too defensively.
"You've been buying Muggle books? I didn't know you understood Muggle money."
"I don't," Draco said, obviously horrified at the mere intimation. "I didn't know, all right. Wizarding cookbooks don't look all that different, as food doesn't move in the pictures, or at least, it shouldn't. It was in with the rest of the cookbooks and I flipped through and it had some stuff I'd never heard of before, and I wanted to impress Severus."
Harry sifted through the enormous amount of information Draco had just handed him. "You wanted to impress Severus?"
"This was back when I thought it was the things I did and not the things I meant by the things I did that would catch his attention."
Harry asked, "When was that?"
"At first, right after I'd gotten us free. When I thought he'd leave me, since it was pretty obvious he didn't need to save my life anymore."
Harry didn't know what to say to that. Severus hadn't left, so reassurance seemed pointless. "Why are you just trying the tikka now, if you've had the book for so long?"
"If you think I'm trying to impress you, Potter-"
"Hadn't suggested anything of the sort."
Draco made a small sound of defiance. "You have to get off me now."
Harry didn't take offense, just backed away from him. "Need any help?"
Draco threw him a distinctly unimpressed look. "You're about to fall down, Harry. Go sit."
"I'm perfectly alert," Harry said, managing to hold off on a yawn until after he'd gotten the words out.
"Well, now that I've been reassured on that score."
Harry took the near-scolding in stride. "I was thinking I'd go home and sleep, after dinner."
Draco spelled three plates to his side, and busied himself in the minutiae of dinner preparation. "I could come with you."
Harry tried to figure out if he'd actually heard what he thought he'd heard. "To my place?"
"Assuming that's where you plan on sleeping."
"Won't Severus have something to say about that?"
"I was planning on you extending the invitation to him as well."
Harry blinked. "Invitation?"
"If you don't want me, Potter, all you have to do is-"
"My bed isn't very big. Not like yours."
"I've seen your transfiguration skills, Harry."
"Does Granger do all your thinking for you?"
"A good percentage," Harry threw back absently, more out of habit than intent. He was busy considering what Draco had just offered. "Why?"
"Why would we come back to your place with you?"
"You haven't slept since you started coming here. At least not for any decent amount of time. You're going to keel over from sleep deprivation."
"But if I just go home. I mean, that is, don't take this the wrong way, but I don't need you there to sleep."
"We like having you to roll over."
Harry asked, "Why?" again.
Draco poked at the contents of the pan in front of him. "Maybe because you're Harry Potter."
"Why?" Harry asked again, willing Draco to change his answer.
Draco must have heard something in the question. "Maybe you feel right."
Harry's place was more well-furnished than Draco had expected. Given the amount of time Harry spent at their place, and his deplorably plebian tastes, Draco had nearly been expecting white walls with the random Quidditch posters and a mattress lying around somewhere, perhaps even hidden out of sight.
The flat was tiny. Draco knew Harry could afford better. However, it was also rather domestic. Certainly there weren't many plates or pots or anything in his kitchen, and what was there was mismatched. His living room offered a matching sofa and loveseat set with positively decadent cushions, and his bedroom offered a rather sizeable postered bed. Draco fingered the hangings on the bed. "Blue?"
Harry looked defensive. "Hermione found some psychiatric study that said it was a soothing color. And once I got used to sleeping in the bed, well," he reached out and fingered the brilliantly soft material of the equally blue comforter, "I like blue."
There was a small balcony off of Harry's bedroom. It hosted quite a few potted plants. Severus asked, "You know how to tend?"
"I don't, really. Neville thinks everyone should have plants so he takes care of them for us. I think they're all pretty easy to maintain, he only has to come over about once a week."
"It's mostly Flitterbloom," Severus said. "Interesting taste, Longbottom has."
"I like Flitterbloom," Harry said, peering out onto his balcony. "And daisies. Petunia never grew daisies, said they were cheap."
Draco laughed, both at the thought of someone named Petunia growing anything and at the fact that Harry had practically just called himself cheap. He wandered back into the living room. There were pictures everywhere. They all had people in them, Lupin and Draco's cousin with their brood, Granger and Longbottom in a garden somewhere, Weasley and his quidditch tart up on brooms, people Draco only vaguely recognized who must have been Harry's fellow aurors. There was a knit blanket thrown over the otherwise inoffensive couch that had Weasley garishness stamped all over it, and a small collection of books on the windowsill covering topics from quidditch to the current state of wizarding education. There were also a few Muggle ones which looked well-pawed.
Severus came out of the bedroom and settled himself on the couch. Draco could feel Severus' gaze falling down on him. He didn't look over his shoulder, unaccountably fascinated by the summaries on the backs of Harry's Muggle books. All of them seemed to be about things that weren't real.
He didn't hear Harry join them and so was somewhat startled when Harry asked, lightly, but with a note of trepidation, "Do my living quarters pass your standards of acceptability?"
"For living?" Draco asked, still mostly distracted. "Hardly. But I suppose for you, they'll do."
Severus made a noise of amusement. Draco put the book he'd been perusing down and turned to face his lovers. Harry was dressed in sky blue pajamas. For a second Draco saw the boy he'd always fought with. He blinked and the man was back again. Harry grinned at him. "They do quite nicely."
Harry was so lamentably middle class. Draco supposed it was one of a plethora of things he'd have to forgive. Severus, for all his original lack of funds, had the imagination of someone with money.
Severus' voice had long ceased to sound like an intrusion in Draco's mind, so it took him a bit to even realize that was where he was hearing the voice, and not aloud. Severus said, He's falling asleep on the couch.
I suppose we could take the bed, then.
Severus smirked. "Harry."
Harry startled. "Er? Oh, sorry."
As it turned out, Harry's bed, on top of being very blue was exceedingly comfortable. Draco found himself wondering why it was that he hadn't thought this idea up sooner. Harry, whom Draco had never actually seen sleep, was practically a different person in that state. Realizing that Harry was actually sleeping Draco raised a tentative hand to his back, just to feel if the muscles were actually as loose as they looked. Harry muttered something softly, but didn't wake.
Severus said, "Maybe we should get some blue bedding."
"Spells are probably going to be necessary anyway. At least at first."
"Undoubtedly." Then, with absolutely no change in his tone. "Suppose we should take advantage of him in his sleep?"
Draco didn't want to admit it, but he'd never felt less like taking advantage of Harry. Harry's mouth was slack open; his hand was curling lightly into Severus' skin, as though to reassure himself they hadn't left. There were so very many things Draco could imagine doing at that moment, running the spectrum from harmless fun to malicious hexing.
He looked over at Severus, not bothering to hide his confusion. "I think I'd kill anyone who did."
Severus said, "I suppose I'd best not try, then," and curled over Harry rather protectively himself.
Draco watched until they were both breathing evenly. Only then did he place himself so that he would be the first in harm's way and allow himself to be soothed by Harry's blue confection of a bed.
Right before Severus took the potion constituting the last part of the cure, he said, "This will probably make me lose consciousness for a bit."
"Define bit," Draco said.
"The records indicate a span. My best approximation for my height and weight and the manner in which the previous stages worked upon me would be four days."
"Four days?" Harry jumped up from where he had been sitting. Draco stayed where he was. He had gotten used to Severus' tendency to downplay just about everything except petty grievance.
Or not so petty.
He considered going over to Harry and calming him, but Harry was amusing and oddly comforting when he got himself all worked up over things like this. Harry threw his arms out. "And you didn't feel the need to mention this until now?"
Severus looked at Harry curiously. "Would mentioning it earlier have changed something?"
That obviously stymied Harry, as he sat back down with a stumped look on his face. "Well, no."
"I suggest that for however long it takes, you return to your flat at night, and sleep, Harry."
Harry actually made a face at Severus. "It's only four days."
Draco thought that rather depended which side of the four days you were on, but Harry's actions of a moment ago were proof enough that he knew that as well, so Draco stayed quiet. Severus' look was quite scathing enough.
Harry's gaze traveled between Draco and Severus. "Was that your way of saying you want to be alone? I thought we'd gone over the whole you-can't-really-be-subtle disclaimer tag I come with."
Severus rolled his eyes. Draco said, "He just wants to make sure you sleep. Could you stop being a suspicious prat?"
Harry said, "Oh, hello pot. Yes, lovely to meet you. Charmed, I'm sure."
Draco laughed. "Shut it."
"Just, I mean, as though I'd be able to sleep anyway. Ah, yes, my lover is lying unconscious, hopefully in a healing state but these things are always a bit touch and go, and I'll just be over here, taking a bit of a kip."
"It does sound stupid when you put it like that," Draco said.
"I wonder why that would be," Harry said, with the clear air of the Long Suffering Gryffindor.
Severus smirked. Draco returned the expression. Harry said, "Right, so I'll be coming back here after work, then."
"Depending on your tendency toward co-dependence and well-past idiotic nobility, I brewed you something as well," Severus said.
Harry frowned. "You were supposed to be concentrating."
"We aren't all incapable of doing more than one thing at once," Severus told Harry.
Harry let it roll off of him. "You'll have to teach me the skill some day."
"Threaten me with having to teach you ever again once more and I will refrain from taking the last of the cure, Potter."
"Yeah, yeah," Harry said. "You brewed something for me?"
"I told you-"
Draco wondered what Harry had told Severus was, but whatever it was, Severus cut him off with a sharp shake of his head. "It's a short term solution, Harry. Just take it the next few nights. Then we'll go back to your place nights until Draco and I can find a spell to ease the transition from your place to ours."
Harry shifted in obvious discomfort. Draco said, "If he says it will work a certain way, it will."
"I know that," Harry said, looking at neither of them. Draco thought about the way Harry never noticed that he hadn't eaten in far too long until food was placed in front of him, at which point he would eat as though his body had no limits on how much it could accept. He wondered if Harry was so used to things being bad in certain ways that he had become wary of the steps taken to make them better. Daphne could be like that at times.
Draco left it, though. Harry had survived this long as he was. Either he and Severus could help or they couldn't, but stripping back the scabs on Harry's wounds most likely wouldn't help. Instead he asked Severus, "You want something to drink first?"
Severus cracked the seal on the bottle where he'd stored the final potion. He looked down at the liquid's surface and then back up at Draco. "I'll see you when I awaken," was his only answer before he left the room, bottle in hand, heading for their bedroom.
Harry asked, "Aren't you going to follow?"
Draco answered, "Aren't you going to bloody well touch me?"
Harry had made his way to Draco and wrapped himself around him so quickly, Draco was left to wonder if he had even asked, or if that had been in his head, and Harry had just known.
At the first hint of conscious stirrings from Severus, Draco was stretched out alongside him, his lips touching to Severus', like some sort of fairy-tale gone awry in a pleasant enough manner. Harry watched, expecting to feel the sharp sting of seclusion any moment. The feeling which filled him in its place was equally sharp but nowhere near painful. Harry gasped.
"I've barely regained consciousness, Mr. Potter. Do try and keep your libido under control."
"It's your fault," Harry said, perfectly fine with the dose of petulance in his response.
Draco laughed. Harry thought it was the first time he'd ever heard the man laugh without spite or worry or fear interfering with the sound somehow. Harry knelt at the side of the bed and angled his mouth up. Draco obliged him with one kiss before turning his attentions back to Severus. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I haven't moved in a really long time."
He hadn't, either. It had been bothersome enough for Harry, who went to work in the mornings and came back in the evenings. He could only imagine what it had been doing to Draco's head. The two of them had moved Severus onto his sides to prevent bed-sores, but nonetheless, his absolute stillness had been disconcerting.
Draco had held up fairly well, clinging onto the notion that Severus knew, really knew what he was doing. That, and the blowjobs Harry was doling out like points to Slytherin in Potion's class.
Severus pushed Draco off of him and hauled himself up into a sitting position. He closed his eyes for a moment but when he opened them they were sharp and clear and familiar.
Harry asked, "How do you know if it worked?"
"It worked," Severus said.
Which wasn't really good enough for Harry. "How do you know?"
Severus threw him a severely annoyed glance. Harry didn't look away and after a bit, Severus was the one to back down. "Will visible proof be acceptable to you?"
"Anything with an explanation attached would be acceptable to me," Harry said. He grinned a little. Severus was surprisingly hot when annoyed.
He got hotter a second later as he grabbed his wand from the nightstand and stripped himself completely, twisting to the side so that the muscles of his back stretched. "See anything different?"
Harry did. A curse scar had once graced Severus' back, over the right kidney. It was a scar left from a fire-based curse, not one of the Unforgivables, but ugly enough. The scar was gone. Harry's eyes widened. "Are they all. . .?"
Draco smoothed a hand over the shoulder facing away from Harry, the one that bore a physically inflicted scar. Harry hadn't asked how he'd gotten it, but if there was one thing Harry knew, it was the difference in types of scars. Draco kissed the spot and said, "No."
Something about that was reassuring to Harry. For a moment he'd had the oddest sense that he would have to re-learn Severus entirely. That was stupid, of course, Harry didn't think of himself as his scar and he probably had more reason than most. Draco looked relieved as well, though, which made Harry feel a bit less guilty.
Severus, for that matter, unwound a bit.
Draco was already checking the rest of Severus' body with his hands first and his eyes second. Harry reached out and followed his example. Severus sighed appreciatively, untwisting himself so that he could lean back against the pillows. He closed his eyes. "I really have just woken up from the potion induced equivalent of a coma."
"Yeah," Draco agreed absently, his fingers tracing over the skin of Severus' thighs.
"Mm hm," Harry chimed in, his own hands busy with Severus' forearm and the inside of his elbow.
Severus said, "Boys," with as much derogatory intent as he seemed able to summon before smiling a bit.
Harry leaned up and kissed Draco's hands, his lips traveling over knuckles, and, in the crevices between fingers, inner thighs.
It took eleven weeks and four days for Draco and Severus to find a spell that worked to make Harry sleep without having side effects such as him sleeping for thirty-six hours without end, having vivid dreams from which he could not wake, or sleepwalking (into walls, most of the time). Compared to the eight months it had taken to cure Severus of Dark Legacy, Harry felt like he'd gotten off easy.
The testing process was slow and Harry learned that both Draco and Severus were far more patient with these sorts of things than he was. The two of them laughed at Harry a lot. Harry sometimes allowed himself to sulk over their attitude, but if he stayed away for more than a couple of days, he came to expect one of them to show up with some sort of peace offering.
Draco came first, to Harry's apartment, with a plant that Harry had never seen. It went well with the rest of the ones on the balcony. Harry asked, "Isn't that sort of counterproductive to getting me out of this flat and in with the two of you?"
Draco agreed that it was but Neville gushed so much about the new acquisition the next time he came over to take care of the plants that Harry figured it would find itself a satisfactory home in the end.
Severus came second, to the school, with chocolate, really good chocolate. Harry wouldn't have been mollified except that he offered to share it with Hermione and then spent the better part of an hour putting her through her paces on early Potions knowledge acquisition. The screaming match which ensued might have given the casual passerby the notion that neither of the two weren't enjoying themselves, but Harry knew better.
Draco made the third move, setting up a chess match with Ron. Ron won, and Draco gave him his ticket to the next quidditch match which Ron promptly turned over to one of Vi's friends. Harry stayed home from the match. Draco said, "You're probably ruining all of my best efforts to be. . .nice."
Harry lazily licked a bit at Draco's lips, trying to get rid of the distaste flooding that last word. "Ron'll forgive me."
Affronted, Draco pulled back. "Are you suggesting I wouldn't have?"
"It's better when you don’t need to," Harry said. Draco didn't seem to have an argument for that.
Severus took the fourth with an appearance at one of Harry's quidditch matches. Harry came up and sat next to him on the bleachers after the game. He was covered in sweat and filth and so kept himself carefully from touching Severus. He said, "I would come back, you know."
Severus looked at the field. "Given some time, I assumed."
"So why. . .why the grand gestures?"
Severus turned an amused smirk Harry's way. "You really do have low expectations, don't you Potter?"
Harry shrugged. He didn't really see anything wrong with his level of expectations.
Severus said. "Do you remember what you did the week after the cure took effect?"
Harry grinned. "Had a lot of sex."
Severus rolled his eyes. "What are you, sixteen?"
"Closer to it than you."
"Other than that."
Harry racked his brain, since this was obviously significant, but nothing came to mind. "I don't know. I mean, I remember that being the week Mandy Shacklebolt came down with low-grade dragon pox and gave it to half the school. Everything else is largely a blur."
"In the middle of your outbreak you asked if we thought maybe we should have a celebratory dinner. You said you had thought we could invite Daphne and her fiancé."
"Well, Daphne," Harry said, "I didn't know she was engaged at the time."
"Why'd you do that?"
Harry hesitated. "I don't understand the question. Draco had brought her to a game a while back, I figured the two of them were friends. I don't know any of your other friends so it was all I had to suggest."
"I meant why did you care at all if we had friends outside the house?"
That was an easier question. The response was harder to say aloud. "Because I care." Harry made sure that his voice didn't waver.
Without smiling, Severus said, "We don't like it when that goes missing."
With an equally straight face, Harry told him, "The two of you can be arses at times."
"Too long on our own."
"Not really a good excuse."
Severus nodded. "We know."
Harry came back with him after that, and used their hot water. Draco made dinner for the three of them. It was another eight days before they found the right spell, nights spent alternating between their place and Harry's so that Harry would be getting some sleep regardless
On the morning after the first night the spell actually worked, Harry woke up completely entangled in Draco's limbs. Severus was easy enough to disengage from but Draco took some serious work and it wasn't without waking him that Harry managed it. Draco looked at him blearily. "Worked."
Harry kissed his forehead. "Yeah, see you after work."
Hermione came to Harry during the day though and asked, "I know you're kind of crazy right now, but I was really hoping we could do dinner this evening. There're some things I need to talk with you about."
She had that line at the corner of her eyes that she only got when things had been weighing on her for quite some time and Harry didn't even consider refusing. He flooed the residence to tell them he'd be running late. Draco chewed him out a bit but Harry stood his ground. Draco and Severus were one thing, but Hermione was Hermione.
Only when he and Hermione arrived at the restaurant, Draco and Severus, Ron and Vi, Daphne and Neville were all sitting at a table, making what seemed to be pleasant, if strained conversation. Harry turned to Hermione. "What-"
She just led him to the table and put him into a seat across from Severus and Draco, in between her and Ron. She took her own next to Neville. Draco mouthed, "Surprise," at him.
Harry asked, "What are we celebrating?"
"Life," Draco said.
"Sleep," Severus added.
"Friends," Daphne put in.
"Love," Neville said softly.
Ron looked at all of them, his mouth just a bit ajar. "Let's order, shall we?"
Harry picked up his menu, keeping it low enough to mouth, "Thank you," over the top.
Severus and Draco pretended to ignore him. That was fine. There was always later that night.