Says The Magpie To The Morning (Sorrow, Take Your Own Advice)

i.

When Blaise finally comes, I've stopped paying attention and moved on to planning what to wear to lunch at L'Oranger with Mother tomorrow and wondering whether to order the navarin d'agneau or the filet de saumon. He collapses on top of me, his ragged breath warm against the curve of my neck. With a bored sigh, I push him off and sit up.

The salmon, I decide. Laurent tends to overcook the lamb.

Blaise rolls onto his back, sweaty and sated, his stomach stickily smeared with my spunk. He smirks at me as he stretches. His prick is still half-hard, thick and curved, but his foreskin has slid back over the head, the slick edges folding in on themselves. He's beautiful against the rumpled cream cotton sheets, long and lean and dark. Everyone wants Blaise. They always have, ever since we were in school. Even a few of the teachers had followed him with their eyes, undressing him mentally as they lectured us on practical applications of magical theory.

Rumour has it that Blaise had fucked Snape our seventh year. I'd asked him about it once, not long after the war ended. Blaise'd just looked at me calmly and walked away. I hadn't known whether to be angry that he'd cheated on me yet again, or viciously jealous that he'd bedded the one professor whom I'd been half in love with since I was eleven.

I slide to the edge the bed, batting away Blaise's hand as he reaches for my hip.

"Give me ten minutes and I'll be ready again," he drawls.

The room reeks of sweat and semen. My thin body is a faint reflection in the black panes of the long, bare window next to the bed, the lights of Muggle London glittering orange-white through my pale skin and silver-blond hair. I can barely make out the blur of my features. A turn of my head and I catch the sharp angle of my jaw, the upturned jut of my nose, both softened by the glare of the bedroom lights against the dark glass. My prick is limp against my leg, come drying slowly over my foreskin and balls.

I feel empty. Bereft. The way I always do after these fucks.

"This isn't what I want," I say after a moment, my voice low. I'm thirty-six years old. I'd expected my life to be quite different by now. How very stupid of me.

The bedroom's cold, despite warming charms and the thick brown velvet coverlet, now bunched at the foot of the bed. Perhaps curtains would help keep the chill of late December at bay, but there's something about the starkly exposed panes of glass across my wall that appeals to me. Blaise says, with a disparaging curl of his lip of course, that I might as well live on an open stage.

Yes. I suppose I might.

I watch in the window as Blaise's reflection shifts gracefully onto his hands and knees behind me. He slides his hands over my shoulders, pulling me back against him as he leans in for a kiss. His mouth is wet and warm. My cock stirs, and I pull away, the mattress creaking as I stand. Blaise's trousers are crumpled on the floor next to the bed. I pick them up and toss them at him as I head for the half-open bedroom door.

"You need to leave," I say without looking back.

***

The warmth of the kitchen is a temporary relief. My bare feet slap softly against the black and white tiled floor. Copper-bottomed pots hang over the Aga and the counters, gleaming in the bright overhead light. A few Christmas cards are propped on the fireplace mantel, mostly tasteful silver and gold creations from Scribbulus Everchanging Inks. The exception is a garishly clad Father Christmas who strips his robe off every few minutes, changing into a nearly naked Alasdair Maddock, Chaser for the Montrose Magpies, who winks and reaches for the pile of green and red velvet at his feet. Pansy'd sent that one, of course. We both have a healthy appreciation for Alasdair's most decidedly non-cerebral attributes.

The man does have quite a scrummy arse.

I've a decent three-storey flat at an almost-fashionable Notting Hill address-- a townhouse shared with a Muggleborn across the foyer. Father would be horrified, of course. I stopped giving a flying fuck about what he thought years ago; Harrington's a pleasant enough chap, twenty years older than me. Sometimes he has me over for a quiche and to share a good merlot he's found at some place he calls Oddbins. I return the favour from time to time by opening one of the bottles of 1996 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières Mother and I managed to smuggle out of the Manor cellar before the Aurors stepped in to clear the rest into the Ministry storage rooms.

There's a half-empty packet of Sobranie Black Russians on the counter; I tap one into my palm and light it with a touch of my fingertip. It's one of the few wandless spells I've learnt. Millicent taught it to me in Astronomy class sixth year, during one of those late Thursday nights. We'd both been bored out of our wits. Our only enjoyment had been sitting on the parapets just out of Sinistra's sight, our telescope between us as we smoked cigarettes hand-rolled from tobacco smuggled in from Savinelli's Pipe Shop the previous Hogsmeade weekend and traded gossip about the rest of the Slytherins whilst staring blankly up at the stars shining above us.

Millie was the quiet one whom everyone ignored, so of course she'd known everything about everyone. She still does. She'd been the first to tell me it was obvious I liked boys as well as girls. She figured it out before I did. According to her it wasn't exactly a surprise given the way I fawned over Viktor Krum.

There's a half-pot of coffee left from this morning. I pour a cup. My wandless warming spell's awful, so it's lukewarm and muddy when I lift it to my mouth. I don't care. I drink it quickly, alternating gulps with short, acrid drags from the slim black cigarette. When I finally set the cup down, my hand's just stopped shaking.

Smoke from the cig curls around my fingers. I watch it curiously as it twists and coils before dissipating. The tile edging on the counter is cold against the small of my back.

I wonder what I'm doing. It's not the first time I've asked myself that. Over the past six months I've begun watching myself in random mirrors and reflective surfaces, wondering whether it'd just be easier to disappear. No one would notice, I tell myself, even as I hope it's not true.

Blankly, I knock the cigarette against the rim of my coffee cup. The ash floats into the dregs, flecking the black liquid.

Pansy insists I'm depressed. People content with their lives always do. Odd to think of Pansy content with a Weasley, for Christ's sake, but life is mad that way, I suppose. Everything shifted after the war, almost imperceptibly, but enough to make House differences seem less dramatic, less important. At least until general elections come around. I'm not certain a Slytherin could ever in good conscience vote for a Gryffindor, after all. There's only so much idealistic self-righteous pomposity one can bear.

Thank God Shacklebolt had the sense to sort Ravenclaw or he'd never have made Minister.

In a way, Pansy's fall from sanity is my own damned fault, a fact that she pointedly reminds me of each time I sulk at her for her wretched taste in men. She wouldn't have started dating the Weasel in the first place if it hadn't been for me and Harry.

Potter. Fucking bastard.

I close my eyes and take another drag, pulling the smoke into the back of my throat before breathing it out again. I'd stopped smoking during the three years Harry and I were together. The day after I left him, the day after that wretched photograph had appeared on page three of the Prophet, I'd gone down to the newsagents on the corner of the street, bought two packets of bloody Dunhills and chain-smoked them through the night.

It's been almost ten months now. Somehow, it feels like forever.

The kitchen door swings open. I sigh. "Piss off, Blaise." I open my eyes and push away from the counter, dropping my cigarette into the coffee cup. The gold foil filter slowly sinks beneath the remains of the coffee, both heads of the Russian imperial eagle eyeing me in disapproval before the cigarette rolls over.

Blaise is dressed for the most part, bare feet shoved into extraordinarily expensive Italian loafers from Milan and black trousers hanging low on his hips. He fastens the cuffs of his red silk shirt. "I can't find my tie."

I reach for the bottle of pinot noir next to the chopping block. I'd used a third of it yesterday for an utterly brilliant beef stew, the remnants of which are still sitting on the lower shelf of the refrigerator. I've a house elf that I borrow on occasion from Mother and Aunt Andromeda, but I've found that I actually enjoy cooking. Blaise thinks I'm mad, of course, but he can't even imagine the idea of hiring an elf rather than owning one. We've no choice, though, Mother and I. Nearly everything the Malfoys once owned has, over the course of the last fifteen years, either become property of the State or been sold off by Mother to one outrageously thieving pawnbroker after another in order to fund Father's pathetically doomed defence. The one time I objected to such madness, Pansy had pulled me aside angrily and told me that whatever her or my opinion of my fucking father might be, she wasn't going to allow me to destroy what little hope Mother had.

She'd been right.

I push the cork out of the bottle with my thumb and take a sip. The wine's bitter against the lingering taste of stale coffee and cigarettes. Blaise wrinkles his nose at me. Drinking from the bottle is so very gauche after all.

I don't particularly give a damn.

"Tie," Blaise says again.

I shrug. "I'll owl it over when I find it." I want him to leave. I'm lonesome; it's why I'd rung him through the Floo earlier this evening, but this hasn't helped. I'd an hour of pushing the melancholy aside, but now it's crashed back over me. I miss Pansy. She'll be back in London in two days, but even then she'll be caught up in the Weasel, more than usual now that she's lost her mind and eloped with the damned fool.

When he leans over to kiss me, I step away. Twenty years after he tossed me over for Daphne Greengrass, Blaise and I are still friends with occasional benefits, but I'm careful to keep our friendship separate from the sex.

"You should go," I say.

He just raises an eyebrow, then shrugs. "The next time you get bored," he says coolly, "owl in advance. My schedule's filling up, and I may not have time for your late-night Firecalls."

I take another swig of wine. "I'll keep that in mind." The green glass of the bottle is slick and cool against my sticky fingertips. I can still smell Blaise on me, can still feel the burn of his cock in my arse. "I suppose I won't see you at the pub Friday. We're toasting Pansy's return from her honeymoon."

Blaise hesitates. A brief flicker of hurt flits across his face--so quickly that if I didn't know him as well as I do I'd have missed it. "Fuck off."

For a moment, I feel ashamed. It was a low blow, and I'm quite aware of that. Blaise and Pansy's breakup was spectacularly painful. Sometimes I wonder if he really had been in love with her. I look away, silent.

He lets himself out. I wait for the click of the front door and the frisson of the wards sliding back into place before I walk back upstairs. The sheets have been wadded in the middle of the bed; a blue flame still dances through their folds and the pungent scent of scorched cotton wafts across the room. I'm annoyed. The damned sheets had set me back a hundred Galleons. Each. Fifteen-hundred thread Egyptian cotton, charmed to never wear out, no matter how many washings.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer hadn't thought to charm them against bitchy queens with pyromaniacal tendencies.

The flame extinguishes when I grab the sheets. Blaise is a prick, but he's not stupid. I throw them into a corner and drop onto the bare mattress, wine bottle still in hand.

All I want to do is drink myself into a stupor.

"Nox," I whisper, touching my wand on the side table, and I'm in darkness.

The holidays are truly the worst time to be alone.

ii.

"I can't believe you married him," I say as I take the stool next to Pansy. "You should have just kept shagging him senseless."

Greg snorts from behind the bar and wipes a martini glass dry before he reaches for the Tanqueray. Fairies twinkle in the cock-eyed swathe of green garland he's tacked up haphazardly behind the bar in honour of the season. "That's what I told her. Your usual?" I nod, and Greg squats down with a grunt, searching for the gin-soaked olives I prefer.

He's owned the Winchester Arms for nearly a decade now, having inherited it from a cousin. Greg's good at running a pub, and the Winchester has pulled the younger crowd from the Leaky Cauldron in recent years, much to old Tom's dismay. It's a good living, Greg says. He pours drinks for twelve hours, then goes home at night to Millicent and their three children. Every month he hosts a pub trivia night, giving the night's profits to an orphanage set up after the war, and he donates twice a year to the Hogwarts Memorial Fund, always in the names of his mother and of Vince. It'd caused a stir the first time, but Greg'd just shrugged it off. If everyone else could give money in memory of their loved ones, he'd said, it didn't seem to make much sense that he couldn't, and Vince hadn't really done anything that the rest of us hadn't. The only difference was that we were still alive.

Harry'd always agreed with him. The bastard had usually won trivia night as well. I'd always suspected him of cheating, but I'd been repeatedly shouted down by the whole pub every time I'd suggested it. Harry'd just smirked at me and gone to collect his celebratory pint.

Pansy taps her cigarette against the ashtray Greg's slid across the bar and blows a puff of grey smoke my direction. Thank God the wizarding world's not yet caught up with the Muggles' idiotic smoking ban. A new gold band glints from Pansy's left ring finger. "In my defence, darling, I was beyond drunk, and, as life's mistakes often do, it seemed a good idea at the time." The faint trace of a smile as she glances across the pub at Ron Weasley, of all people, tells the truth. They've been shagging for two years now, and Pansy's arse over tit for the ginger freak. He is complete antithesis of Blaise, which I've always taken care not to point out to Pansy. We don't discuss Blaise; we haven't since The Incident.

Blaise'd always cheated on her; Pansy'd always known. It hadn't mattered until she got pregnant, and then lost the baby. It'd been a little girl, the Healers said. The day after the miscarriage, I'd taken her to St Mungo's for the dilation and curettage. Blaise had been balls deep at the time in Padma Patil--his own idiotic way of handling his grief. Pansy hadn't said a word when we'd gone back to their flat; she'd just calmly packed up all of Blaise's clothes and books, her face pale and set, then changed the wards to the doors and Floo before she banished every single one of the boxes.

Blaise still hasn't located a bloody one. And he refuses to talk about losing his daughter, but sometimes I see him look at a girl who'd be her age now, running down Diagon Alley's cobblestones and laughing, and I know he's thinking of her. Wondering what might have been.

Pansy's managed well enough with the Weasel. I suppose. He's respectable enough for her parents, pureblooded even if his family isn't Quite Up To Snuff, and he's done rather decently, as much as it pains me to admit it, running that ridiculous shop on Diagon with his brother. Pansy also claims Gryffindors are surprisingly malleable once sex comes into the picture. I think she's off her damned nut. My experience with Gryffindors was composed primarily of screaming fights and brilliant bouts of make-up sex. Not exactly what one would call malleable. To say the least.

"You do realise," I say with a smirk, "that with your wedding anniversary now falling two weeks before Christmas, I only have to get you one present, right?"

Pansy gives me an ominous look. She's always been partial to gifts. "Don't be a pinchpenny, Draco. It's unbecoming." She pauses and tilts her head. "Unless, of course, you spend more on the one than you would've on two. That might be acceptable."

"You're incorrigible," I say. Pansy just smiles and blows a smoke ring at me.

"Oh," she says. "Speaking of presents, I've one for you." She pulls out a narrow, long black lacquer box tied with a gold ribbon. "Open it, open it."

I tug at the end of the ribbon. "You shouldn't have."

Pansy laughs. "And if I hadn't come back with something for you, you'd never have forgiven me." She watches me as I pry off the lid. Ten tiny carved jet magpies, each barely bigger than my thumb, tumble into my hand. Their wings are tipped with mother-of pearl. Pansy curls my fingers around them, a curious smile on her face. "One brings sorrow, two bring joy, three a girl, and four a boy…"

I smile back at her, amused by the old children's rhyme. "Five bring want," I say with a laugh, "and six bring gold?"

"Seven bring secrets never told." She smoothes her thumb over my knuckle. "Eight bring wishing, nine bring kissing…"

"Mad woman."

"Go on," Pansy says, her eyes fixed on me. "You know the last."

I shake my head, still smiling. "Ten, the love my own heart's missing." The magpies stir in my palm and I jump, opening my hand. "What the hell?"

Pansy bites her lip and peers down at the fluttering magpies. "Oh, it did work!"

"What have you done?" I frown at her.

She shrugs and drains her wineglass. "It's just a child's trick, Draco. Stop looking at me like that. I thought it'd amuse you, that's all."

I don't believe her, but I've no chance to press her further before Weasley slides onto the stool on the other side of her.

He nods at me. "Malfoy." His blue robes are surprisingly smart and neat for once. I recognise the cut of Twilfit & Tattings. Pansy'd warned me she was going to toss out all those horrid jeans of his the moment the ring went on his finger. She'd really set to work quickly.

In my opinion, he looks ridiculous, although perhaps that impression might be mitigated slightly if only he'd stop digging at his collar every few minutes. He's already managed to crumple one stay.

"Weasel." I slip the magpies into my trouser pocket. They twist against the wool before settling.

Greg sets my martini in front of me with a pointed look. The two skewers of olives slide against the glass. "Play nice."

Weasley ignores us both. "Hey, baby," he says softly, just before he sticks his tongue down my one-time-girlfriend's throat. At least Pansy and I'd got over that madness by sixth year.

I roll my eyes and make a faint gagging noise. Greg tries to frown at me, but his mouth twitches at one side. "You know the rules. Eloping last weekend doesn't make it suddenly okay to have a pash in front of me," I say loudly, pulling an olive off one of the wooden skewers and popping it in my mouth. The tart, bitter taste of gin and fleshy green olive fills my mouth. It's a distraction at least. "Greg, throw them out. Surely that has to count as public indecency. I know my eyes are offended by all that ginger."

"Drink your martini," Greg says agreeably and he looks over at Weasley, whose hand is pushing Pansy's already too-short black skirt far too high up her pale thigh for my comfort. "Lager or bitter tonight?"

Weasley pulls back with a sigh. Pansy's scarlet lipstick is smeared across his bottom lip. "Guinness. And another glass of wine for my wife." The idiotic look he gives her on the last word is enough to make my stomach heave.

Pansy turns a smugly satisfied smile on me.

"Don't," I say over the rim of my martini glass, "or I will sick up right here."

She pokes my arm with a perfectly red-lacquered fingernail. "How was work?"

I shrug and eat another olive. "Dull. Briefly mad for one glorious moment when Madam Haversham-Wright stopped by with another of those horrible fake miniatures she picked up in Berlin a month ago--honestly, I swear every damned forger on the Continent has Gertie spotted as a mark by now. And then there was more dull. A far cry from the thrill of the solicitor's office, I'm certain."

Pansy looks dubious. "I spent half the day marking up investment contracts with a red quill."

"That's exciting for me." I frown into my martini. Only four olives left. Greg takes pity on me and pops another one in; I grunt my thanks. There is nothing more boring than spending one's life as a senior underwriter in Gringotts' inland marine insurance department. I'm apathetic about my job, but it pays damned well and I'm good at it. The worst, however, are the times I've had to write a policy on a piece of art or an antique that the Ministry sold to some dolt when they auctioned off most of the contents of Malfoy Manor. It's utterly soul-breaking when one is forced to put a price on a piece of one's childhood now in some idiot's possession. I'd almost rather be kissed by a Dementor.

"Harry!" Weasley shouts. His mother had never managed to teach him the importance of one's indoor voice, I've learned over the years. I wince and try not to turn on my stool. I fail utterly. I always do when it comes to Harry.

He's at the door, cold winter rain dripping off the tailored grey Senior Auror robe that accentuates the slope of his narrow shoulders. Hermione Granger steps in behind him in a matching uniform, her bushy curls caught back by a tie at the nape of her neck. They've been partners in the Auror Department for seven years now. No one had expected Granger to choose to waste her life on the Aurors; from what I'd heard, McGonagall had been horrified by her choice, insisting that Granger could do better as a researcher.

Granger'd told her to fuck off--perhaps not in those precise words, but her meaning had been clear. I'd grown to appreciate her for that, Gryffindor or not. I've a secret weakness for women who flip two fingers at authority.

Harry unbuckles the belt of his robe and shrugs out of the heavy wool, draping it over one arm as he waves in our general direction before Terry Boot pulls him into a conversation. I bite into another olive, chewing slowly and avoiding Pansy's too-sharp gaze.

"Shut it," I say under my breath. I can't pull my eyes away from Harry's crisp grey shirt, or the way his black wool trousers hang from his thin hips. I suck the pimento from the olive, swallowing hard. That bloody uniform had always turned me on like nothing else.

Pansy lifts her wineglass to her mouth. "Wouldn't dream of pointing out that you're still arse over tit for him. That would be redundant."

"I'm not." I look past her at Weasley. He's halfway through his Guinness, ignoring us both as he frequently does when a good stout is waved in front of him. That particular fact has been quite useful in the past.

Pansy just quirks an eyebrow at me, the bitch, and laughs. "Of course not, darling."

I glare at her and eat another olive.

The magpies flutter gently inside my pocket.

***

By the time Granger sits down next to me, I've gone through four martinis and twenty-four olives. My robe's on the stool next to me, and I've rolled up my once-crisp white cotton sleeves, tucking the silver dragon's head cufflinks Blaise had given my last birthday into my shirt pocket. It's ridiculously hot in the pub. Greg's always had too heavy of a hand with the warming charms, and it's made worse by the Friday night crush of young wizarding London pissing away the worries of their week with lager and firewhisky. Pansy's been dragged off into a corner by her wretched ginger husband, who's currently trying to slide his hand fully beneath her skirt. Pansy's not exactly fending him off. I snort and roll my eyes. No one should be that eager for sex after two damned years, I think. She certainly hadn't been that eager when we'd dated at Hogwarts.

I'm propped up on one elbow, watching Harry across the room as I doodle aimlessly on a scrap of parchment. We've spoken twice tonight, carefully and politely as always. We've become civil again--or what passes for civil between us--in recent months for Pansy and Weasley's sake.

It's enough to drive me mad.

"Are you smashed yet?" Granger asks with a faint smile, turning the stem of her glass between her fingers. Steam rolls off the bright blue liquid within, billowing over her hand and across the cuff of her shirt. It's one of Greg's own creations, the Hovering Horntail. I've never been brave enough to try it.

I pull my last olive off the skewer with my teeth. "I've another drink to go before I'm unable to roll myself through the Floo."

Greg puts another martini in front of me. "Ah, cheers," I say and reach for the next skewer of olives. There are only three on it. "Greg." I wave the olives at him petulantly.

He's entirely unsympathetic. "You can't eat me out of olives, Draco. I told you already."

"I've paid for them." I glare at him. He weaves into two Gregs for a moment before sliding back together. Damn.

"And I'm still cutting you off. Enough olives." Greg wipes the bar down. I flip two fingers at him and he shrugs. Ruddy fucking bastard. Granger laughs. I just knock back half my martini in one swallow. The gin burns the back of my throat.

"How do you handle it?" I ask Granger, nodding towards Weasley. Pansy's slid over his lap, straddling his thighs as she kisses him. Really, I'm quite certain the majority of that relationship is based entirely on sex. I give it a year or two more at most before they come to that realisation themselves. Weasley grabs Pansy's arse and I wince. "It's nauseating."

Granger glances over at her ex-husband and shrugs. "I never thought I'd say it, but Ron's better off with Pansy than he was with me. I knew we'd made a mistake the day after our wedding."

"That only proves you have a modicum of taste. God only knows what's happened to Pansy's." I make a face as I set my martini down. Pulling an olive off the skewer, I pop it into my mouth.

A wistful look crosses Granger's face and she takes a sip of her drink, wincing slightly as bubbles pop and spark against her lips. "We should have never tried to force it."

"I'd say finding you in bed with his sister didn't help matters." At her frown, I shrug. "Are we not supposed to mention that now? You've been ‘sharing a flat'--" I make quotes in the air with my fingers and even though Granger rolls her eyes as she takes another sip of her drink I catch her small smile--"for years now. Ginevra should just grow bollocks and tell her mother. With any luck it'll put the interfering old bat in St Mungo's."

"Draco," Granger admonishes, but I cut her off with a pointed glare. Molly Weasley made her opinion of me quite clear whilst I was with Harry. There's little love lost between the two of us, and her more recent disapproval of Pansy as an appropriate girlfriend for her precious little Ronnie-kins had only solidified that fact.

I watch as Pansy rakes her fingers through Weasley's hair. I'm bitter, I know. Jealous, even, but not of either of them. It's the ease they have with love that makes my stomach twist. The happiness on Pansy's face as she laughs, tossing her hair back before she leans in to bite at Weasley's bottom lip. It's been so long since I've been happy, I've no idea how it even feels any more. I can't imagine I ever will again. I tell myself I don't care, but I know I'm lying.

"Sometimes I hate them," I snap into my glass, and I know I've had too much gin if I'm admitting that to Granger of all people.

Granger just gives me a sympathetic look. It annoys me.

"Fuck off," I say, and I start to slide off my stool. A hand on my elbow stops me, fortunately, I suppose, since the room had lurched disturbingly when I moved. Bugger.

"Careful," Harry says behind me, and I close my eyes for a moment, breathing out. When I open them again, Granger's watching me, her face expressionless. I look away.

With one hand, I grip the edge of the bar tightly, pushing myself back onto the stool. Greg puts too damned much gin in his martinis. Then again, I haven't eaten anything other than a few water biscuits and olives since breakfast. Stupid of me.

I can still feel the warmth of his fingers on my arm. "Ha--" I cough, his name catching in the back of my throat. Christ. I pull myself together. "Harry." I'm excruciatingly awkward around him, and it annoys me.

He sits on the other side of Granger, tugging affectionately at her curls. A wisp of smoke floats from his glass of firewhisky. I suddenly want a cigarette. "You staying much later?" he asks Granger, and she shakes her head. He doesn't look back over at me. I find myself oddly miffed.

"I promised Ginny I wouldn't be out late." Her eyes flick over towards Ron and Pansy. "I wish she'd see him outside of family gatherings."

"She still feels guilty." Harry gulps half his glass, his neck stretched back. The urge to lick the ridge of his Adam's apple as he swallows is nearly overwhelming. Much to my relief, I resist it.

Barely.

God, I have had entirely too much to drink. I dig out my last olive and bite into it.

"Guilt," I find myself saying, "is bollocks if you don't actually regret what you feel guilty for." They both look at me. I shrug and drain the dregs of my martini glass. "You can thank my therapist for that astounding insight."

"You think therapy is--what did you call it?" Harry gives me a faint smile. I'm not sober enough to resist it.

I run my fingertip around the damp inside of my glass. "Bloody stupid hoodoo, as I recall." I lick away the few drops of gin and vermouth rolling down my finger. "Then you fucked me over and Pansy gave me the choice of going or giving up gin." I look mournfully into my oliveless glass. My head swims slightly. "Therapy seemed less horrific."

Harry sets his glass back down, and I take great enjoyment in his discomfort. We don't talk about our breakup. We never have. Then again, talking was never what Harry and I were good at. He looks back over at Granger. "Will Gin care if I kip on your sofa again?"

Before Granger can answer, I frown at him. "Don't you have a perfectly serviceable, if horrendously decorated flat?" I'm too pissed to care that I'm actually having some semblance of a conversation with him. And the fluttering flop in my stomach each time he pays attention to me is disturbingly pleasant, in a twelve-year-old girl sort of way. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I know I should be ashamed. I ignore that scolding little voice.

"Did," Harry says, and his gaze drifts towards Ron and Pansy. "When they decided to elope, I told them they could have the flat for the rest of the lease." He turns his glass between his fingers. The whisky sloshes and sparks. "Didn't particularly want to move out, but listening to their dating sex was bad enough. I didn't want to suffer through newlyweds fucking." He pauses. "Especially not those two."

All three of us shudder.

"I don't think I'm yet over walking in on them during Luna and Rolf's Midsummer Night party last year," Granger says, blowing steam from the rim of her glass so she can take another sip. "I don't think I want to know what Ron had in his bum."

"You don't," Harry and I say together. Harry smiles again, and I look away, my stomach shivering again. Really, this is just becoming ridiculous. There's a slight pause, then Harry clears his throat. I watch Greg shake a vodka gimlet for Terry Boot. He pours it into a short, chilled glass and settles a lime on the side before pushing it across the bar.

Someone's turned on the wizjuke in the corner, and the newest B'Witching single rolls into the Weird Sisters' Do The Hippogriff. It'd been the hottest song on the WWN my fourth year; Pansy, Blaise and I had danced to it at the Yule Ball together.

Justin Finch-Fletchley pulls a laughing Lavender Brown from one of the side tables and starts writhing against her, utterly out of rhythm and with entirely no grace, both of them egged on by Dean Thomas and what appear to be at least five pints, judging by the glasses spread on the table in front of him. I catch Thomas's eye; he nods at me, flashing me a bright smile. It always surprises me that Harry's friends still accept me as one of them.

But then, the war changed most of us. There are so few of our generation left, it's useless to maintain the prejudices of our parents. No matter what Blaise might think. We've all had to become adults in the past eighteen years, whether we like it or not.

I suddenly feel so damned old.

"So your sofa?" Harry says to Granger, hiding a yawn behind his hand. "I'm a bit knackered after today."

"And slightly pissed?" Granger raises an eyebrow. She hesitates. "I can talk her into tonight, but…"

Harry runs a hand through his hair. His fingers are wide and square, and I can't stop thinking about how much I'd enjoyed sucking them. And also... Merlin. I don't want to owl Blaise again. Not this soon after our tiff Wednesday night. It's unseemly to be thought too desperate.

"Just one more night." Harry drops his hand. His still-thick hair is standing on end. I hate him. I've already begun fighting the backwards march of my hairline. Sod the Black genes. "I know it's a little awkward…"

Harry always has been the master of understatement. He'd dated Ginevra for two years after the war. Everyone had thought they'd get married, including her entire family. Until he'd been caught sleeping with his very male partner in the Auror training program, that is. Ginevra hadn't been best pleased by that, obviously. She's never entirely forgiven him the humiliation.

Not that I blame her. I suspect it's the one thing she and I have in common. Although I suppose my circumstances are slightly different, and I've far less claim to righteous anger, given some of my own past actions. I'm not what one might consider proper relationship material. To say the least.

I roll the wooden skewer along the rim of my glass. "Do you ever stop to think how utterly incestuous it is that we've all fucked each other?" I pop the skewer into my mouth and suck on it. It tastes of gin and olive juice. "You with Ginevra, Granger with the Weasel, I would say me with Pansy, but I'm not certain the occasional hand job during school actually counts as sex…"

They're both staring at me again. "What?" I drop the skewer on the wood of the bar, nearly missing the lip and sending it to the floor. "I'm simply pointing out that it would probably be a great deal more advantageous for us all if we had a larger social circle to pass our exes about in. Not that Granger and Ginevra matter. Lesbians always seem have that problem."

Granger chokes back a laugh. "I'd be offended if it weren't true."

"I suppose it'd help," Harry says, "if a lot of us hadn't died in the war."

We're all silent for a moment, our thoughts drawn back to that day. I can still see Vince, surrounded by fire…

"Thanks for bringing us down, Potter." I push my empty glass away and rub my hands over my face. My skin feels tight and hot.

Harry looks over at me. "You're pissed."

"Observant of you." I drop my hands with a sigh. I'm tired. Sad. Pansy'd have my head for drinking so much if she'd noticed, but all she seems to think about at the moment is Weasley, horrifyingly enough. "I need to go home."

"Harry," Granger says, and he nods.

His hand is gentle on my arm. "Come on. I'll see you to your flat."

I pull away, annoyed. Harry never had thought I was capable of taking care of myself. It'd always irritated me. "I can Apparate on my own, thank you very much." I stand up for a moment, wobbling slightly. Harry catches me when I take my first step.

"Or not." Harry looks at Granger. "I'll be quiet when I Floo in."

She lifts her drink and takes another sip. "Certain you want to kip on our sofa?"

Harry snorts. "Shut it, Hermione." I almost think his cheeks pinken slightly, but I have to be mistaken. It's a trick of the light, or I really am pissed out of my mind. The bastard never blushes. I envy him that.

I glare at them both. "I'm entirely capable of getting myself home," I say with as much icy dignity as I can muster. The room only tilts slightly when I take a step, and I consider this an improvement.

"Don't be a twat." Harry slides an arm around my waist. "Just off Notting Hill Gate still?"

"Number 8 Holland Park," I say reluctantly. I attempt not to turn towards him and bury my face against his chest. He smells brilliant, like whisky and sweat and the faintest hint of cigarettes that he's tried to mask with those Ice Mice he favours. "This is entirely unnecessary, you realise."

"Of course." Harry reaches for his coat and kisses Granger's cheek. "Come on, anyway, you drunk sod. I'll tuck you in."

Granger laughs. "Night, the both of you. Sleep tight wherever you land."

"Oh, fuck off, Granger," I say and I twist my fingers in Harry's shirt, trying desperately to quell my quavering stomach as we Apparate away.

***

We land in the foyer. Harry's had a bit too much drink as well; instead of his usual smooth pop from the ether, we stumble slightly, and I end up against the wall, my shoulders pressed painfully against the paneled wood.

"Ow!"

"Sorry," Harry says breathlessly. I try not to notice how green his eyes are behind his smudged wireframe glasses.

I wince and shove half-heartedly. "Get off me, you great beast."

"That's not what you used to say," Harry murmurs, but he steps away, then looks at me in concern. "You're a bit green."

My stomach lurches as I push myself off the wall. "How utterly surprising after you mangled that Apparition. One would barely believe you'd made Senior Auror by now." I manage to unward the door. I'm half through it when I look back at him. "You can go."

Harry catches the door with one hand. "Right, no." He motions me through. "I said I'd see you in."

I narrow my eyes at him. "And if I refuse?"

"You won't." Harry pushes past me and closes the door behind us. "You look like hell. Where's your sobering potion?"

"Don't have any. What's the point? I get pissed because I want to be pissed." I ward the door again, rather sloppily. Oh, fuck it. Who the hell cares? The only person likely to come knocking me up at an ungodly hour would be Pansy and she'll be too busy riding Weasley's cock tonight to think of checking up on me.

The selfish bitch.

"Hangover potion then?" Harry purses his mouth. "I'd rather not find out you choked on your own sick tonight."

"You needn't be disgusting." I sigh. I know that look. He's in noble Harry mode and I'll never be rid of him if I don't indulge him slightly. "Upstairs loo."

Harry nods. "Go put some coffee on."

I make my way to the kitchen slowly, knocking my hip painfully against the side table in the process. It'll bruise. I'm not certain I care at the moment.

I'm standing in front of the French press, watching the coffee brew, when Harry comes in. He presses a phial into my hand. "Drink."

"Don't order me about." I uncork the phial and take a swallow. It's vile, but I choke it down. My stomach settles almost immediately, but I've still the lovely floaty-head alcoholic feeling. Thank Merlin.

"I thought you liked that." Harry reaches around me and pushes the French press plunger down. Dark, hot coffee swirls up the glass sides of the pot. It smells amazing.

I pour a cup and cradle it in my hands. Beautiful coffee. Lovely coffee. Exquisite coffee. I lift it to my mouth and sip.

Harry laughs. "You should see your face."

"Shut it, Potter." I look at him over the rim of the cup. He leans against the counter, arms crossed and the top two buttons of his shirt undone. I can see the sharp edge of his collarbone and a sweep of pale gold skin. I'd always loved Harry's skin, loved the softness of it, the smoothness, the contrast of his light tan against my ridiculously pale fingers.

He clears his throat, and I realise I've been staring. "I should leave," he says.

"Probably, yes." I set my coffee cup aside. I want to taste that skin again, want to feel his pulse against my lips. I hate myself for it. I hate him more. Still, I can't stop myself from moving towards him.

He doesn't move.

"If you're going to go, Harry," I say softly, "go now."

He just meets my gaze and breathes out. I'm close enough that I can feel the warm huff against my cheek. "I don't want to."

"You should."

"Draco." It's a soft whisper.

Our mouths brush, the barest touch, but it's like water after six months of thirst.

"Draco," Harry says again, and then I'm kissing him furiously, and I don't care that it's a horrifically bad idea because I've wanted this all damned night. "What are we--"

"Don't. Ask." My teeth catch his bottom lip and he gasps, shoving me back against the counter. My elbow sends the coffee cup flying to the floor, where it shatters with a crash. Coffee splashes over tiles and baseboard, and I don't give a damn. I'm too busy rocking against Harry. The press of his hips against mine makes me groan with want. "Just…"

Harry's already unbuttoning my shirt. "God. Your skin," he says breathlessly. "I want to taste--"

I shudder when his mouth drags across my collarbone. "Harry," I choke out, and I tangle my fingers in the back of his thick, black hair. It's been ten months since I've touched him, and I've wanted him every fucking day since. No matter how much I hate myself, I need this, need to rake my fingers down his nape, need to pull at the collar of his shirt until I can feel the warmth of his skin beneath my fingertips. There's a phoenix tattooed on his back, rich black and deep crimson, wings spreading across his broad shoulders and onto his biceps. I need to see it again. Now. "Turn around." My voice is thick, rough, and I jerk at his shirt, not caring that the buttons scatter across the floor.

Harry turns, his open shirt hanging off his shoulders, caught only by his arms. The phoenix is beautiful, the fiery shades of red rolling over his golden shoulder blades in cascades of flaming feathers. I lick my lips and brush my thumb over the inky plumage on the bird's head; for a second, I almost think it turns to look at me.

Then I press my mouth against Harry's skin. I can't resist the tattoo. I never have been able to, not from the moment I'd uncovered it on our first night together. I trace the curve of one red-black wing with my tongue and he shivers. He'd had the work done during his first year in Auror training. He'd known the phoenix, he'd told me one night as we lay in bed, wrapped around each other, my fingertips tracing a swirl of scarlet ink. It'd saved his life.

I've always been damned grateful for the creature.

Harry twists around, pulling me closer. "You're pissed. I'm close to being pissed--"

I just want him to shut that perfect mouth. I kiss him again, sliding my hands to his trousers. I don't care that I'll be consumed with self-loathing in the morning. All I want is to feel this. Right now. Right here. I gasp when Harry bites my throat, his teeth scraping against my skin before he licks the sting away. "Again," I say, as I pull his cock out of his fly with one hand, gripping his hip tightly with the other. Harry groans and nips my jaw, his prick sliding through my fingers, hardening and astoundingly hot.

We stumble backwards, still kissing, and catch ourselves against the nook where the two counters meet. Harry pushes me into it, his hands cupping my face as he kisses me again. The fingers of my free hand catch on his shoulder, drag down his back, pulling him closer. "Harry--"

Harry turns me with a grunt, jerking my shirt off my shoulders. My hipbone presses against the counter painfully, and I catch myself with one hand, wrenching my wrist as I try to keep from falling. It hurts; I don't care. All that matters is that Harry's hands are on my belt buckle, tugging it free before he pulls my fly open. His fingers curl around my cock, tight and warm, and I push back against him with a gasp. He's hard against my arse. My breath catches, and he pushes my trousers and pants to my knees.

"Please," I say. I hate the needy whine in my voice. Hate the desperation with which I grip the edge of the counter. And nothing could feel better than this. Nothing has in months. Harry laughs softly, his breath huffing against the nape of my neck, and I hate him for making me want him so sodding much. I grit my teeth and wriggle my arms out of my shirt, throwing it across the kitchen. Harry's found a bottle of oil and uncapped it. The scent of sweet almonds wafts as he pours it over his palm. A moment later, I feel his thick, slick finger probe at my arse before sliding in. Another one follows, and I lean forward, canting my hips and flattening my hands against the countertop. "Oh, fuck."

"I believe that was the point," Harry says with a soft laugh. He pushes another finger into me and I flex my fingers against the granite, biting back a groan.

I roll my hips back, tightening my arse around his fingers. "Just fucking do it." In ten minutes--less if I know Harry, and I this and I do know this about him--I'll despise myself. I don't care. Maybe if I just scratch this damned itch it'll go away. He'll go away. He has before, after all.

Harry grabs my hips with oiled hands and holds me still. With one soft grunt, the thick, blunt head of his cock is sliding inside of me. I moan and stop caring, it feels so incredible.

"More." My prick is hard, bobbing eagerly in front of me. It takes all I have not to reach down and wank it.

Harry's teeth bite into my shoulder, then he kisses up my throat as he pulls me back against him. His cock slides in further. "I want to fuck you senseless," he whispers and I breathe out slowly. "I've been wanting to for months."

I reach back and grab his hip, digging my fingernails into his skin. "You're the one who fucked us over, Potter." Anger rolls through me. "Couldn't keep your zip done--" I break off in a cry as Harry shoves into me hard, knocking me against the counter before he pulls back, almost drawing out completely. I'm shaking, clenching my arse around the head of his prick, desperate for him not to slide away.

"If you hadn't been such a bloody prig..." Harry slams back into me and he grabs my shoulders tight enough to hurt. He groans. His balls slap the back of my thighs lightly as he thrusts into me.

I spread my legs, leaning over the countertop. "At least I wasn't a slut--oh, fuck..." I scrabble for purchase as Harry's next rough thrust lifts me to the balls of my feet. I haven't been fucked like this in months--oh, fucking hell, in all honesty, I haven't been fucked like this since we split. I slap my hand against the counter, gasping. "Do that again."

Harry does. I press back; my cock slaps against the front of the cupboards. The head's already slick and wet, the foreskin sliding back behind it. I draw a ragged breath as Harry fucks me, slowly at first, in deep, langourous thrusts, sliding as deep into me as he can. His hand smoothes up my back, fingers soft against each knob of my spine. They curve over one of my shoulders, holding me still as his hips snap against mine, faster, harder. He leans in and kisses my throat, then catches my mouth with his, almost angrily.

His fingers curl around my prick, and I can't bite back a loud moan as he tightens them, holding my cock as he sweeps his thumb over the head. He rubs my wet slit, pulls my foreskin back as far as he can before letting it slide forward again. I shudder, my stomach muscles tightening. "Harry." My voice rises. "Oh, Harry--" I catch my bottom lip between my teeth as Harry's palm glides over my cock, tugging with each thrust of his hips.

I feel raw. Open. Exposed. It's terrifying, and I want more.

I'm silent when I come, my body shaking with each thick, sticky spurt. Harry smears the come down my prick, his ragged, breathless gasps and groans soft in my ear, and then he lifts his fingers to my mouth and I suck them, licking away the salty bitterness of my spunk. It's nearly enough to make me hard again.

A few more thrusts, the slap of slick skin against skin echoing in the kitchen, and then Harry cries out, pressing me hard against the counter, his mouth on the nape of my neck. His body shudders and then we're still for a moment. I don't want to think. Don't want to consider what we've just done.

I find myself turning towards him, his prick slowly sliding out of my arse. "Stay," I say before I can stop myself. I close my eyes. Idiot. Imbecile. Fool.

"I want to," he says, and my eyes flutter open. I blink at him. His breath is still coming in huffs and his eyes are so green. If I hadn't just fucked him, I would now. He brushes his fingertips across my cheek, then leans in to kiss me.

I'm almost entirely certain I've made the worst mistake of my life.

I can't bring myself to care.

***

I wake up alone, wrapped in the duvet. The only signs that Harry's been here are a few stray black hairs on the pillowcase next to me and the lingering scent of come. I'm not surprised--Harry was probably as eager as I was to put this humiliating drunken indiscretion behind us--but it still hurts that he'd left without waking me.

My body aches and it should: I have hazy, gin-tinged memories of stumbling on the stairs and pulling Harry with me as I kissed him, of him throwing me across the bed and crawling over me, his cock hard against my hip, of digging my fingers into his back and spreading my legs, my nails slipping over his soft, sweaty skin as he moved over me, his hair hanging in his eyes, his prick stretching me with each rough thrust.

A magpie sits on the windowsill outside, watching me through the glass.

"Oh, bugger off," I mutter irritably and roll over to bury my face in his pillow. It still smells like him. For a mad moment, I consider never laundering the pillowcase again, and then I realise how utterly pathetic and mockable that would be.

So I sit up with a groan, rubbing my hands over my face before I slide out of bed and lurch down to the kitchen. I don't even bother with pants. Wandering about naked is one of the few joys left to the singleton. Well, that and shagging whomever catches your fancy, which frankly happens a lot less frequently than one's coupled friends would like to think.

There's a cup of Earl Grey sitting on the kitchen counter, a saucer tipped upside over it, charmed to trap the heat inside. A scrap of paper's stuck beneath a phial of hangover potion next to it. I snort, but my heart flutters at the gesture. Typical Potter.

I sip the tea--too much milk, not enough sugar, and scalding because Harry's never managed to get the warming charm quite right--and unfold the note. It takes me a moment to decipher the one line scrawled unevenly across the parchment in Harry's horribly messy handwriting. Honestly, one would think the Saviour of the Damned Wizarding World would at least make an effort at legibility.

Your aunt Firecalled while I was down here. You'd best go by for tea today or she'll set your mum on us both. Sorry. –H.

I nearly choke on my tea. It splashes across the counter as I set the teacup down with a clink. "You utter bastard."

The curl at the end of Sorry seems to shrug up at me. I crumple the paper in my fist and throw it across the kitchen. This is exactly why sleeping with one's ex is a rotten, terrible, horrible, awful idea. I don't even want to know what Aunt Andromeda is going to say, much less Mother.

I grab my trousers from the floor whilst swearing vigourously.

iii.

Rain streams over the bay window of the Islington townhouse Mother shares with Aunt Andromeda. I watch a droplet roll down the thick glass pane until it catches on the sill, seeping between the glass and the wood.

They've lived here since Father was taken to Azkaban. Ironically, he'd escaped the initial influx of Death Eaters, thanks to Harry's intervention--and how bitter I'd been at the time that Potter of all people had been the one to keep my family free. The Ministry, however, had kept looking for anything they could use to bring Father down, and, being the arrogant bastard that he is, he'd finally given it to them two years later. The Minister called it an economic disaster. The Prophet called it morally and ethically reprehensible. Father called it creative business financing. Whatever it was, a discreet investment firm owned by Father and Theodore Nott's uncle bilked a third of wizarding London out of their savings. Gringotts was furious.

At the goblins' urging, the Ministry'd retaliated by tossing Father into Azkaban for the next thirty years and taking everything we owned to repay the firm's clients (and then some). Even now, Mother and I are still cut in the street by half of wizarding high society. It once had infuriated me. Now I don't give a damn. Let them snub me. Most of them end up in my office eventually, needing me for an insurance policy of some sort. I remember their slights, particularly the ones towards Mother, and ethical or not, I always overestimate the premiums on whatever it is they're desperate to insure.

Aunt Andromeda had shown up on the Manor steps the morning after the Prophet had broken the story and packed Mother and me both up. Harry had let her know, though I hadn't found out until years later, that the Aurors would be coming for the Manor and its contents. She didn't tell us that though. We'd never have left. Sometimes I wonder if we should have stayed. At least we might have made it harder for them to steal everything we had to leave behind.

There were too many empty rooms in her house now that Uncle Theodore was gone, Aunt Andromeda had insisted, and she could use our help with Teddy. Mother'd taken the spare room over and I'd stayed a year in Cousin Nymphadora's childhood room, after storing away her posters of wizarding punk bands and transfiguring the pink and black striped wallpaper to a more sedate green brocade. When I'd left, Teddy'd cried for days, Mother'd told me, in an attempt to use my young cousin's adoration of me to keep me under their roof. At the time I hadn't cared. All I'd wanted was to stand on my own, preferably somewhere I wouldn't have to endure Harry bloody Potter once a week for dinner or Teddy's unsettlingly annoying hero worship of the idiot.

I lean against the window and sigh. We've never been able to be rid of each other. Even after all these years, our lives keep crossing in the most annoying way.

What I don't particularly like admitting is that my irritation at those dinners had less to do with Harry's presence than the fact that he'd dragged Ginevra with him to every damn one. Even then I'd wanted him, as much as I'd hated that thought. I still want. And hate in equal measure.

"Two weeks, darling." Mother sweeps into the room. Her tailored grey robe from Madam Malkin's may be two seasons old and the strand of thick pearls roping her neck are cultured Akoyas instead of naturals, but she still looks lovely. Aunt Andromeda follows behind, in the far more sensible long black skirt and nubby grey jumper she favours. They're both in their early sixties now, tall and elegant in their own ways, with hair streaked silver.

The Black sisters have always been beautiful. They still are.

I kiss Mother's cheek, smelling the same tuberose and musk perfume Father always bought for her when he was in Milan. "Two weeks?"

"Since you've last visited." She brushes nonexistent lint from my shoulders.

I sigh. "We had lunch together three days ago, Mother."

"Entirely different." Mother catches my chin and turns my head, her eyes narrowing. "Although it appears you've a reason for your absence? Who is he, dear?"

My face heats immediately under her gimlet eye. "I've no idea what you're on about, Mummy." I pull away with a frown and lean in to kiss Aunt Andromeda. There's a faint streak of potting soil on her forehead. "In the greenhouse again, Aunt Dromeda?

She laughs. "Fighting with the chomping cabbage, yes." She brushes the dirt away.

Mother touches the side of my neck. "You've been a bit slack with your healing charms since your split with Harry, dear." She looks over at Aunt Andromeda. "Wouldn't you agree?"

Aunt Andromeda peers at my throat, then hides a smile. "Boys will be boys, I've learned with Teddy. I've turned more than one blind eye at the reminders of his antics with Victoire."

I glance in the carved gilt mirror hanging over the mantel and swear beneath my breath. There's a purple mark on my neck, half-hidden by the hair curling beneath my earlobe. I cover it with my hand and glare at Mother. "It's not what you think."

"It's entirely what I think," Mother says dryly. She takes a seat and reaches for a teacup, pouring a splash of milk in. Two sugar cubes follow, just as I like, then she hands it to Aunt Andromeda. "It can't be Blaise, he's always so much more careful with your complexion. Or at least the visible parts."

"Mother!" I'm horrified that she thinks about my liaisons with Blaise. Or any liaisons, for that matter.

"Oh, Cissy." Aunt Andromeda picks up the teapot with a laugh. "Don't embarrass the boy. You know they always think they're the first generation to discover sex."

I roll my eyes. I despair of either of them ever seeing me as a proper adult. It doesn't matter I'm half a year from thirty-seven; I'll always be sixteen in their eyes. I press my fingertips against the love bite. I'd kill Harry the next time I see him, but I'd really rather not bring up last night's terrible indiscretion. I tug at my collar, trying to pull it up to meet my hair. It doesn't work. With another sigh, I turn back to them.

Aunt Andromeda waves me towards a chair as she pours my tea. I wince slightly as I sit. "Oh, Draco, dear, Teddy'd like to have dinner when he comes back to London for the holidays, if you're free."

Grateful though I am for the change in subject, I just nod and take my teacup from her. Don't get me wrong; I'm quite fond of Teddy, but I'd really prefer not to discuss Harry's godson at the moment. I'm too raw emotionally, and it'd been Teddy who'd brought Harry and me together in the first place, the wretched brat.

Mother sniffs, her perfect nose wrinkling slightly. "At least you've a grandson, Dromeda." Mother's finally come to terms with the fact that my preference is for men, but she's never quite forgiven me the potential loss of progeny. More than that, however, she's never forgiven me the loss of Harry. Oddly, Mother had approved of him, though Father had sent me more than one scathing owl from Azkaban on the matter. He'd seen it as just another way in which I'd deliberately failed him, of course. It's always about him.

"And at least you still have your child," Aunt Andromeda says lightly. Mother falls silent. Cousin Nymphadora laughs at us from a photograph on a side table. Sometimes I wish I'd known my cousin before she died. I think perhaps I might have grown to like her as I grew up. "Although I'll admit Teddy's been quite the comfort over the years."

I shift in my chair, trying to get comfortable. It doesn't work. I settle for stretching my legs out in front of me.

Mother tilts her head, studying me. "There are potions, darling."

"Oh, do stop it," I snap sharply. Mother just smiles and folds her hands on her lap. I look at Aunt Andromeda. "You told her, didn't you?"

Aunt Andromeda's mouth twitches. "Scone?"

The clotted cream and jam are tempting, but I wave them away. Last night's indulgence notwithstanding, Pansy and I have sworn a regimen for the holidays to keep from coming out the other end a stone or two heftier, and the bitch will know if I break it. "He said you Firecalled."

"Yes." Aunt Andromeda prepares a cup for Mother then herself. "He looked rather disheveled."

"I think it's lovely." Mother sips her tea. "Harry always was good for you. I'd quite like to see you happy again, darling."

I give her an astonished look. "Are you forgetting that we had screaming arguments for two years and then he cheated on me, and thanks to that cow Skeeter the entire wizarding world knows it, thus humiliating me and our family publicly?"

"Don't be so melodramatic." Mother eyes me calmly. A wisp of her hair slips free and she tucks it back behind one ear. "You wouldn't wish to resemble Aunt Walburga."

I'm appalled. "That's a truly awful thing to say to one's son." That damned portrait had given me nightmares when I was little. I still have them at times. My great-aunt was a beastly woman and entirely unsympathetic to children. I'd always been terrified when she'd come to visit the Manor portraits.

Mother raises a perfectly groomed eyebrow. "In any matter," she says, "as I recall, the situation was exacerbated by your own stubbornness?"

"I can't believe you--"

"Enough," Aunt Andromeda says gently, cutting off my bitter reply. Mother purses her lips, but settles back in her seat. I look away, my cheeks burning.

Harry'd embarrassed me near-fatally when that photo of him and Malcolm Baddock in the alley behind the Winchester Arms had been printed in the Prophet. Hypocritical of me, I suppose, given that I'd cheated on him first. But at least I'd been discreet. No one had ever known. Not Harry. Not Mother. Not Blaise. Not even Pansy. It was my secret, my one stupid, inane lapse in judgment that I'd never forgive myself for and never admit to anyone else. Not even my nearest and dearest. They just think I'd been my own foolish self, shoving Harry into the arms of another man out of what Pansy informs me is an idiotic fear of being vulnerable.

Perhaps she's not entirely wrong in that assessment.

We're quiet for a few minutes, the only sound the steady tap of rain against the windows.

"I saw your father last week," Mother says finally. She sets her teacup in the saucer. "He'd like you to come visit, Draco."

I run my thumb over the gilt-edged rim of my teacup. "I went at Easter." Mother had roped me into that as well, after a gentle application of guilt had landed me in the family pew for the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. I love my mother, I truly do. But she's a Black first and foremost, which means she's destined to be a frightful nuisance when it comes to my life. From reading Cousin Nymphadora's journals, it seems to be genetic trait shared between the sisters.

Thank God Aunt Bella hadn't ever spawned. Mother and I had spent most of my seventh year praying to whatever Deity exists that His Lordship wouldn't be fool enough to impregnate her. Not that she didn't try, mad whore that she was. Mother had made certain she wouldn't succeed though. It's not so difficult to spike tea with a contraceptive potion.

"And now it's nearly Christmas." Mother's disapproval is evident.

I sigh. This is a frequent argument, and I hate it. I try to keep my voice even. "I don't want to go."

Mother's mouth thins. "He's your father."

"And he destroyed our lives," I say tightly, my fingers gripping the saucer of my teacup. "Over and over and over again. Not to mention he's made it perfectly clear his opinion of me, and I've little wish to sit there again and let him tell me exactly how I've cocked up--"

"Language, Draco," Mother murmurs into her tea. She's upset. I can tell.

I breathe out slowly. "Can we please talk about something else?"

"The holly are doing quite well," Aunt Andromeda says easily, lifting her teacup. Our brief squabbles never unnerve her; she always points out that she grew up with Aunt Bella's tantrums. "I think they'll be ready for pruning soon, if you'd like some for the mantel, Cissy."

Mother nods. "That would be lovely."

I relax into my chair.

***

When Mother excuses herself an hour later, claiming a headache though we all know damned well she's merely miffed at me, Aunt Andromeda walks me to the Floo in the foyer. "Narcissa means well."

"I know." I reach for the blue and white Delft jar that holds the Floo powder. "I think she sometimes forgets I'm a grown man."

"It's a mother's prerogative." Aunt Andromeda leans against the mantel and crosses her arms. The wrinkles at the corner of her eyes deepen as she smiles at me. "No matter how old you are, we still see the baby that we first held."

The Floo powder's soft and dry against my fingers. I trace a circle through it and it sparks lightly. "I know she wants me to see him--"

"She's still in love with Lucius," Aunt Andromeda says, touching my arm. "For all that I disagree with your father and his philosophies, their marriage was always a love match. And it distresses her to see you at odds with him."

I sigh. "She doesn't know what he said to me about..." I break off and stare down at the jar in my hand. "He is not pleased to have a son who's a poof."

"Your father's a fool." Aunt Andromeda shakes her head. "And, no, I don't think you should be forced to see him, which I've told Cissy more than once. But you shouldn't be angry with her because she wishes you would."

"I'm not." I scoop out a handful of Floo powder. A few ashes flutter from my fingers, landing on the hearth. They glow green for a moment before fading away. Mother and I have been at odds for the past year. Most of it's my fault. I can't bear her sympathy, so I push her away. She doesn't know what to do. We've always been so close, and now I don't tell her anything. "It's just been a difficult day all around."

Aunt Andromeda eyes me speculatively. "Harry?"

"An enormous mistake." I look at her, a wry smile twisting my mouth. "Terribly bad form, sleeping with your ex when you're still half in love with the bastard."

"We Blacks never have done relationships properly." She brushes her fingertips against my cheek. "Are you all right?"

"I will be," I say, and I kiss her cheek. "Tell Mother I do love her."

She nods. "I'm certain she knows already."

"Maybe." I throw the Floo powder into the fire. "Number 8 Holland Park."

I step through the flames; Aunt Andromeda just watches me, her brow creased.

***

Harry's waiting on the other side.

He leans against the dark paneled foyer wall, hands shoved in the pockets of his brown leather jacket. His old Gryffindor scarf is wrapped around his neck twice, and the scrap of pilled red and gold wool should not have the effect it does on my prick. Nor should those awful jeans and ratty trainers.

"What are you doing here?" I snap. I'm not in the mood to deal with Harry's nonsense at the moment. The scarf annoys me as it is. He'd set my old school scarf alight during a rousing row two years ago, the arse. I still haven't forgiven him for that. "Go away, Harry, I really don't want to talk about the inane drunken folly that was last night."

He just looks at me over the rim of his glasses. "I'm just taking you up on your offer." A small smile plays around the corner of his mouth. "You do remember your offer, don't you, Draco?"

Sometimes I truly hate him. Of all people, he knows bloody well I barely remember anything when I'm pissed out of my mind. I just glare at him and wonder if they'd make me share a cell with Father should I murder the Chosen One in the foyer of my building.

Harry steps closer, his eyes fixed on mine. "It doesn't involve talking."

I stumble back. If I were Catholic, I'd cross myself. Get thee away from me, Satan. "I'm quite sure," I say, my voice cracking slightly, "that I offered nothing of the sort."

Harry grins and I want to kiss that arrogant smirk away. No. No, really I don't. He's my cock-sucking, lying, cheating, bastard ex. I'm supposed to dislike him strongly, not want to crawl on top of him and be fucked senseless.

After a moment, he takes pity on me, which is nearly worse. He picks up the satchel at his feet and hefts it to his shoulder. "You said last night I should stay here until I found a flat."

"You can't be serious." I stare at him in horror. "How pissed was I?"

Harry laughs. "Pretty far gone, actually." He gives me an apologetic look. "I wasn't actually going to come back, but it's a bit awkward sleeping on Hermione and Gin's sofa--"

"And you think it'll be less awkward to barge into my flat?" Honestly, there are moments I cannot believe his utter stupidity. "No. Absolutely not. Go find one of your bloody Gryffindors and throw your filthy socks around their sitting room, not mine."

"Draco." Harry touches my arm and I jerk away. "Just for a couple of days. It's nearly Christmas and I'm never going to be able to find a flat quickly--"

I run a hand through my hair. "Could you not have thought of this before your stupid flatmate decided to run off with my best friend?"

Harry shifts from foot to foot. "I just never got around to it, and how was I supposed to know they'd get drunk and bugger off to Gibraltar without telling anyone? Who elopes to Gibraltar?"

"Everyone, Harry!" I want to strangle him with his damned scarf. "You only need to be there twenty-four hours and there's barely any bloody paperwork!"

He blinks. "It frightens me that you know this."

"It frightens me that you don't." I cross my arms over my chest. "Pansy spent half an hour last night explaining it to me. When she didn't have the Weasel trying to get his hand up her skirt, that is."

"Don't call him that," Harry says automatically.

We glare at each other. Harry sighs finally. "Look, I promise. Just a couple of days, that's all, and then I'm gone again. I promise."

"Longbottom--"

"Is at Hogwarts, have you forgot?" Harry shifts his satchel to his other shoulder. "Dean's just started dating Katie Bell, Luna and Rolf are off in New Zealand for the year, and Seamus is back in Dublin with his mum."

I purse my mouth. "I thought he had that housewares shop in Crouch End."

"He did." Harry leans back against the wall. "Went under last spring. He never quite recovered from the credit crunch a few years ago."

"Well, if he hadn't relied on the Muggleborn as customers," I mutter. At Harry's sharp look I roll my eyes. "Oh, don't start with me; you know I'm right. He was an idiot to venture out of Diagon Alley. I suppose I can be grateful Father's not to blame for his financial woes, though."

Harry shrugs. "Well, I'm not about to bunk up with Mrs Finnigan, and, no, don't even think of suggesting the Burrow, Draco."

"I don't see why not."

"Because." Harry sighs. "I can't take being fussed over or peppered with questions about Ron and Pansy. You won't do either of those." He smiles. "And I might get lucky again."

The last stings. "Oh, no, you won't."

We're both silent for a moment, looking anywhere but at each other, then I huff, annoyed. I don't like any of this. At all. "Hotel?"

"Come on, Draco," Harry says softly. "It's Christmas." He hesitates. "And you asked me."

"I was drunk!" I run my hands over my face. "I was idiot enough to shag you; I really don't think I can be held responsible for any offers of hospitality I made at the moment."

Harry looks away. The faint smile slips off his face, and he just looks tired and wan and lonely. "You're right," he says finally. "I'll find someplace else."

He's just opened the front door when I sigh. "Oh, fuck it all. Fine. But just a couple of days and then I want you gone."

The door closes with a soft thud. "All right." Harry looks back at me. "I appreciate it."

I sniff and unward the door to my flat. "I'm sure you do." I turn the handle, hesitating. "And no sex. At all. Full stop."

Harry licks his bottom lip. "You're certain? Last night was…" He grins and trails off, raising his eyebrows.

"Last night I was out of my mind with the devil's drink, and yes, I'm quite certain." I poke a finger at his chest, glaring. "I'm not shagging you again, Potter, so don't try it. It's a horrible idea, and we've only just started to be civil. I think we can both agree that last night was a dreadful cockup that shouldn't ever occur again and move on."

"Sure." Harry nods. He doesn't look convinced. "Whatever you'd like."

"I mean it, Harry." He's broken my heart once before. I'll be damned if I let him do it again. "You sleep in the spare room."

Harry brushes past me. "If it makes you happy," he says, and I shiver at the soft warmth of his breath against my cheek as he steps into the flat.

The flutter of wings against the foyer windows catches my attention. A magpie flies past, followed by another and another, and after a moment, two more. Five for want. Oh, for God's sake. "Subtle, Pansy."

When I see her next, I'm going to kill her. The Weasel be damned.

I close the door behind us.

***

***

"Pansy," I hiss through the Floo. "I know you're there. Stop bloody hiding from me, you horrid cow!"

After settling Harry in the spare room, I've managed to escape to my study. I'm huddled over the hearth, lighting another Sobranie from the green flames of the Floo. The jet magpies are lined up on the brick next to me. "Pansy!" I blow a stream of smoke into the fire just as Pansy's head appears. She coughs and glares at me.

"It's the middle of the night, Draco."

I draw my knees up to my chest and take another drag off my cigarette. "It's only half-seven."

Pansy frowns and pulls her dressing gown tighter around her chest. "Well, it's dark outside. What do you want?"

"An explanation, to begin with." I scowl at her and pick up one of the magpies, thrusting it towards her. Pansy doesn't even blink. "What did you do? What is this really?"

"Nothing." She brushes a lock of dark hair off her forehead and studiously avoids my eye. "Ron'll be out of the loo in a moment. I have to go--"

"Harry is sprawled across the bed in my spare room at this precise moment, doing God only knows what."

Pansy stills. "Potter?"

"What other Harry is there?" I'm all too aware of the shrill tone my voice has taken on. "Yes. Harry-bloody-Saviour-of-the-Wizarding-World-Potter." My shoulders slump. "I shagged him last night and in a fit of drunken stupidity evidently invited him to take up residence in my flat, and I blame you, you wretched bitch, and I demand you tell me exactly what these--" I wave another of the magpies at her "--these things are."

Pansy waits until I draw a breath. "They're magpies. And you shagged him? Really? Was it good?"

I lean forward, the heat of the flames warming my face. "What did you do to them?"

"I didn't do anything," Pansy says petulantly. "I bought them in a ratty old shop Ronald dragged me into when we were in Warwick--"

"Who in their right mind honeymoons in Warwick?" I ask, taken aback. "If this is what becoming a Weasley does to one--"

"You know quite well I'm from Warwickshire, so leave it." Pansy rolls her eyes. "And I did have to bring him to see Mummy as an apology for swindling her out of planning a proper wedding, and can we go back to the part where you shagged your ex who cheated on you again?"

I sigh. "We were pissed. It was a mistake." I feel oddly raw and vulnerable. I don't care for that. "No doubt egged on by your meddling." I crush my cigarette out on the grate.

"Oh, do grow up," Pansy snaps. "I wasn't meddling. I bought it because it reminded me of you and me when we were children. And if the old bat who sold it to me mentioned there was a small charm on it, what difference does that make? It was just supposed to make you happy. That's all."

"Really." My hands are shaking. I curl them into tight fists, digging my fingernails into my palms. "Because I utterly fail to see how having Harry underfoot is going to make me happy, Pans."

We glower at each other, then Pansy's face softens slightly. "But you still want him."

I scoff and look away.

"Draco."

"Don't," I say quietly. "Just, don't." I look back at her and for the briefest moment, what little composure I have slips. "I have to go." Before she can say anything, I reach for the Floo disconnection. The green flames bank, taking Pansy with them.

I sit in silence for a moment, curled in on myself.

There's a soft knock on the door. "Draco," Harry says, his voice muffled. "I thought I'd scramble some eggs for dinner, but your cooker doesn't quite like me, I think..."

I laugh, and it's almost painful. "It doesn't like anyone," I say, and I push myself up.

Harry gives me a rueful smile when I open the door. There's a streak of egg yolk on his cheek. He still looks bloody gorgeous. "It's spitting flames at me."

At this rate I'm going to be drunk-Flooing Blaise before New Year's, I suspect.

I follow him downstairs with a sigh.

***

I avoid Harry as much as possible the next day. I even offer to accompany Mother to services at St Alban's, just to avoid sitting across the breakfast table from him, watching the furrow in his brow as he tries to figure out the Prophet's Sunday crossword.

I'd gone to bed early the night before, claiming a non-existent headache. Harry'd given me an odd look, but he'd shrugged and settled down with the wireless to listen to the Pudd United-Cannons match as he flipped through the copy of Roderick Plumpton's memoirs I'd just bought.

Mother pats my hand as we take our seats in the family pew, and the Reverend Doctor Watkins beams at me from the lectern as he leads the tiny (and aged) congregation in an uneven rendition of O come, O come Emmanuel, his purple stole flapping with each wild swing of his arms. I hold my breath as the sleeves of his alb barely miss the candles in the Advent wreath. I almost wish he'd set himself alight. It'd at least be more entertaining than his sermon.

Afterwards, he stops Mother and me at the door. "Lovely to see you again, Draco," he says in his booming voice. "We've lost so many of the younger ones in recent years, I'm afraid. Terrible thing, terrible, but it's wonderful to see the prodigals returning, eh, Narcissa dear?"

Mother murmurs something polite, her fingers tightening on my arm, and I manage to hold my tongue and smile thinly.

Honestly. The things Harry forces me to endure.

After lunch with Mother and Aunt Andromeda, I wander about Knockturn, purportedly for a bit of Christmas shopping, or so I tell Mother to keep her from accompanying me. I just want some time to myself to think. Or not to think, as the case may be. Old Borgin's nearly ready to throw me out of his shop when I finally decide to head back to the flat. It's been dark for at least an hour or two.

Harry's gone, thank God, most likely to the Burrow. With a sigh of relief, I toss my cloak on the sofa, kick off my shoes, and head to the bath for a long soak with a cup of tea. I enjoy bathing; there's something impossibly warm and comforting about a steaming bath on a winter night. Blaise claims I just want to crawl back in the womb. I generally point out that his fucking anything that walks past isn't all that different and at least I get clean.

I'm curled up in bed reading the copy of Fifteenth Century Fiends I purchased in Flourish and Blott's when I hear Harry come in. A quick Nox, and I lie still, barely breathing, as Harry's footsteps stop at my door.

He knocks lightly. "Draco?"

I don't answer.

A moment later, he walks away.

I breathe out again. I'm such a coward.

With a sigh, I pull the duvet over my head. It takes quite a while before I fall asleep.

iv.

"I bloody hate the damned holidays," Blaise says, putting a martini in front of me as he sits at the table, a firewhisky in his other hand. "Mother's insisting I spend Christmas Day in Somerset."

"Don't you have to meet your latest stepfather anyway?" I glance across the pub at Greg. He raises a pint of lager at me and I nod.

Blaise shrugs. "I don't know why I bother. This one will be gone soon enough, and I'm supposed to be entertaining Gabrielle Delacour on Christmas Eve. I'm not mad enough to throw a French Veela who looks like an angel and fucks like a whore out of my bed Christmas morning in favour of Mother and whatever fat, rich fool she's seduced this time."

I give him a baleful look and swirl my skewer of olives around the rim of my glass. "Some of us will be forced to spend the holidays with elderly female relatives, you realise." I sigh. I really do hate being alone this time of year. The past few Christmases had been easy with Harry about. At least I was guaranteed a date for the endless rounds of dinners and parties.

"And I've no pity for you at all." Blaise drains his firewhisky. "I don't suppose you'd care to meet after work tomorrow and help me find an appropriately expensive gift with which to appease Mother when I tell her I'll not be home for goose and pudding?"

"Can't." I pop an olive in my mouth. "Already slipping out of work early to do a bit of shopping with Pansy." I look at him sideways. "Diagon Alley, then Harrods."

Blaise rolls his glass between his fingers, not meeting my eyes. "Oh. Of course." Every Christmas since we've been out of school, Pansy's insisted on a shopping jaunt to the Muggle store to purchase what she considers to be quaintly laughable gifts to foist off on her nearest and dearest in addition to their actual presents. Last year I'd received a curiously squat round thing that rumbled about the floor when I'd pressed a button. Harry'd laughed and called it a roomber or something or other. I'd told him I wouldn't fuck him until he made the bloody thing stop following me through the flat. Terribly unnerving. Muggles must be even lonelier than I am if they're reduced to such creatures for company.

"If I see anything worthwhile, I'll owl you," I say after a moment, and he nods.

I despise being caught between the two of them, but I've no choice. I'm not good at giving up people who care for me--there are so few of them as it is. Still, it annoys me, this awkward social dance. It's been four years; I wish they could just let go of it all. I know they can't, but it would be so much easier.

"Harry's staying with me." The words tumble out before I can stop them. The juicy tidbit is a peace offering of sorts, and the wolfish delight that spreads across Blaise's face eases my guilt slightly. I shift uncomfortably in my chair.

"Potter?"

Really, I'm beginning to think all my friends are thick. "Yes, Potter." I take a sip of my martini. "Go on. Say it. I've lost my mind, letting him sleep in my spare room."

"Is that what the youth are calling it now?" Blaise raises an eyebrow. I've always hated him for that particular talent. Every time I try, both my eyebrows shoot towards my hairline and I look a right fool. "Is his arse still as delectable as you used to claim it was?

"Don't be a twat," I say, suddenly irritated.

Blaise gives me a surprised look. "But you're sleeping with him, of course. And as I recall, you used to give me rather detailed blow-by-blows in the past." A dreamy expression crosses his face. "I still wank to those on occasion."

"First, that's disturbing, stop it, and secondly, I'm not sleeping with him this time." I hesitate, my cheeks warming. I'm not about to admit to Blaise I have already. He's a bloody nosey parker at the best of times. I'd never live it down if he knew that.

"Right." Blaise doesn't look convinced. "A year ago we had to throw water on you both to keep you from shagging on the table in front of everyone. And now you expect me to think you're not spreading your legs for him? What the hell are you doing here with me instead of fucking him on your kitchen floor?"

I just glare at him. Mainly because that's exactly what I'd rather be doing at the moment. Damn. I chew another olive, sucking the gin off my thumb.

Blaise's mouth drops. "Oh, my God, you're really not shagging him are you? No wonder you've been a miserable tit lately. You're sexually frustrated."

"I am notsexually frustrated." My voice rises and the Junior Undersecretary of Magical Finance glances over at me. Double damn. I run my hand through my hair. It's been a hell of a Monday. "And I haven't been a tit," I say through clenched teeth.

"You have."

I tighten my fingers on the stem of my glass. "Not because of Harry." I don't want to admit to Blaise that I'm lonely and at loose ends. He'll just mock me and tell me all I need is a shag. That's his solution to all of life's problems. It doesn't seem to have made him any happier.

"Mm. If you insist." Blaise leans back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other elegantly. His tailored wool robe is spotless, his pale blue and gold brocade tie perfectly knotted. He frowns down at the impeccable crescents of his manicured nails. "Just shag him--" I roll my eyes "--and be done with it. You'll have him out of your system and then you can go back to being your charmingly neurotic self."

"I'm not neurotic," I snap. Blaise just looks at me. I scowl. "Not very."

Blaise leans forward. "Shag him."

"No."

"Then shag me." Blaise touches my hand. I pull away. Blaise's smile fades.

"I'm not in the mood," I say tightly.

Blaise presses his lips into a thin line. "Don't tell me you're still in love with him. That would be utterly pathetic." I look away, and Blaise laughs. It's not pleasant. "You stupid fool," he says slowly, settling back in his chair. "Of course. You're mooning over him."

"Don't be an idiot." My fingers tighten on the stem of my martini glass. "Malfoys don't moon over Gryffindors."

"I wouldn't be so certain." Blaise's face is studiously blank. "Although Lucius would be horrified by the repetition of your appalling lack of taste, wouldn't he? If you must embarrass the family by being a nancy shirtlifter, you could at least choose someone with a more appropriate bloodline."

My breath catches. With a flick of my wrist, my martini splashes against his face, the gin dripping down his cheeks onto the immaculate wool of his robe.

The bar falls silent.

Blaise's jaw is tight. He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face.

"Potter always was bad for you," he says, his voice low and tense. "Your father had that spot-on."

"Fuck off." I'm shaking. My glass tips over when I set it down, clinking against the wood of the tabletop. I should never have shown Blaise those owls from Father. Never give a Slytherin ammunition.

Greg's there, with a damp teatowel for Blaise. He puts a hand on my shoulder. "Come on then, Draco. Best go home, I think."

I don't look at Blaise as I walk away.

***

Harry's in the kitchen when I walk into the flat, washing a saucepan in the sink. The smell of burnt curry lingers in the air. It's more than I can take.

"What are you doing?" I don't stop to draw a breath or let him answer. "I never said you could destroy my flat--"

"I'm just washing up," Harry protests. A teatowel prances across the counter and tumbles into the pan as he sets it aside. It swirls happily against the polished steel.

I grab a plate from the waiting stack of dishes and throw it at him. He ducks and it smashes against the tiled wall behind him, china shards scattering across the counter. The crash is an odd relief.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Harry snaps.

I turn on my heel and storm out of the kitchen.

A half-hour later he knocks on my bedroom door. I don't bother to answer; it doesn't stop him from pushing it open anyway. I'm sitting on the chaise next to my window, reading, or pretending to as I stare out the window. I can see him reflected in the glass.

"Are you all right?" he asks hesitantly. He leans against the doorjamb, his hands in his pockets. I don't look around.

"I'm fine." My voice is calm. Steady.

Harry chews his bottom lip. "You didn't seem to be." He gestures vaguely toward the kitchen.

"I am now."

He sighs. "Draco--"

I put my book down and look at him. "I just had a difficult day." An understatement if ever there was one.

"Oh." He shifts from foot to foot, looking uncertain. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." I look back out the window. Guests are arriving for a party across the street. I can hear their faint laughter and cheerful hullos through the wavy glass panes. "You wouldn't understand," I lie. "The intricacies of insurance are beyond your comprehension." As the intricacies of my own heart are to me.

"You could try--"

"No." I'm more forceful this time. I just want him to go away. To leave me bloody well alone. It doesn't matter that I was unhappy before this madness began. At least then I knew what my life was. Now I'm just miserable because I'm so close to what I want but having it would only bring more misery, and I'm adult enough to realise that fact.

God, I loathe being grown up.

Harry doesn't say anything for a moment, and then he huffs. "You know," he says finally, "you're so damn good at hiding everything that I never knew what you really felt. About us. About anything. The only times I ever thought I might be reaching you was when we fucked. At least then you couldn't shut me out."

"Go away, Harry," I say softly. My throat aches.

He slams the door behind him.

I stare out the window, trying not to think.

***

"Do they really use this for cooking?" Pansy asks, frowning down at the contraption on the shelf. The red enamel gleams as twinkling white lights from the thick green garland wrapped around the pillar behind us glint off the dull silver bowl. "It looks more like something your Uncle Rodolphus would have enjoyed." She pokes at one of the wiry hooks lying beside it.

"Not amusing, Pans." I'm not in the mood for reminders of that particular branch of my family tree.

We're in the kitchenware department on the second storey of Harrods, and already I'm tired and cranky. We've three more storeys to go; I wanted to throttle Pansy and her exasperating good cheer in the cab on the way over from Charing Cross. I don't know why we bloody well can't just Apparate, but every year Pansy insists on the novelty of taking a Muggle black cab from Diagon Alley to Harrods. It entertains her, and an entertained Pansy is a delightfully droll Pansy, so I've always indulged her desire to slum it for an afternoon once a year. This Christmas, however, I just don't have the patience.

Pansy purses her mouth at me. "Don't be such a sadsack. Where's your holiday spirit?"

I glare at her. "About to garrote you with that mixing hook."

"Is that what it's for then?" Pansy eyes the display again. "And I don't really think you can garrote someone with a hook, darling. Besides, a Killing Curse is much less messy." Pansy's never cared much for the sight of gore. It offends her sensibilities. "Oh, did I tell you I've finally convinced Ron that a house elf is a necessity?" She smiles brightly. "Amazing what the threat of withholding blow jobs will cause a man to agree to."

I can't help my snort of amusement. "Gryffindors are rather simpleminded, especially when their cocks are hard."

Pansy hmms her agreement. "In my experience it applies across the board to men--including yourself." She pets the mixing hook. "Molly would probably be offended, wouldn't she?"

"Yes. And I assume you're making a snide comment about her cooking skills."

"Well, they are frightful. Mother's elf is so much better at béchamel, even Ron thinks so..." Pansy sighs and steps away from the mixer.

I roll my eyes. "The Weasel will think anything you want him to as long as you fuck him."

"I know. It's lovely. It's even better now we're married, and he's legally forbidden to look at other women." Pansy beams smugly at me.

"Is that the way marriage works now?"

"For him it is." Pansy shifts her enormous dragonskin handbag from one arm to the other. Honestly, I've no idea what the hell she puts into it, but she insists she can't carry it and all the shopping bags, so I'm holding them all. Damn chivalry to hell and back. "And how is your Gryffindor coming along?"

"He's not my Gryffindor, and he's an annoying twit." I pull her away from the kitchenwares and we head for the ridiculously ornate gold Egyptian escalator that links all seven floors of the building. Honestly, the aesthetics of Muggles are utterly frightful at times. I look sharply at Pansy. "Did the Weasel say anything?"

"No. I think they met for lunch yesterday, but that's all Ron said." Pansy gives me a shrewd look. "Is there something he should have told me?"

I shrug. "Not at all." A change in subject is necessary, I think. "Mother's nagging me to see Father again."

Pansy stops next to a tall display filled with crystal. "You should, you know. He's your father." She runs a crimson fingernail along the rim of an etched bowl.

"He's an arse," I snap, "and how many times do I have to point out that I've no interest in speaking to him ever again? I wish everyone would stop pushing the issue."

"I'm not pushing anything." Pansy's brows draw together and she scowls. "I'm not saying he's not a bastard, Draco. God knows he is. But he's not the most horrific father in the world. He never knocked you about like Vince's father did him, or turned a blind eye to his own brother diddling his child like Millie's father. He loves you--"

I look at her in disbelief. "He told me he'd disinherit me for being a poof!"

A Muggle woman with hair a shade of blonde that is most certainly not found in nature glances over at me as she passes us. Her nostrils flare slightly. I bare my teeth at her, and she sidesteps us quickly.

Pansy flicks a bit of lint off the sleeve of her black wool coat. "There's hardly anything for you to inherit any longer, so that's a moot point and he knows it." She sighs. "I just don't want you to regret not seeing him one day." She turns her head, but I catch a glimpse of her too bright olive-hazel eyes. Her father had died a few years ago and she still misses him terribly.

I feel a right tit. "Pans..."

"Don't tell me it's different," she says quietly. "Because in the end, it doesn't matter."

After a moment, I nod. "I'll think about it." I won't really, but it's a small concession to make under the circumstances.

"I'll take that." She gives me a faint smile. I'm certain she knows I'm lying through my teeth. "Now. You can buy me a flute of champagne and a tart at the chocolate bar before we head upstairs. Must have proper sustenance, after all, don't you think?"

I groan and offer her my arm.

***

It's nearly half nine when I finally manage to escape. Pansy'd insisted I have supper at the flat. With the Weasel. I'd reluctantly agreed, if only because she'd promised to open a bottle of wine I'd been eyeing in her collection since August.

I stagger out of the Floo pleasantly tipsy, shopping bags in hand. All in all, despite Pansy's complete inability not to be somewhat of a meddlesome cow, it'd been an enjoyable evening, made even more so by the few sharp barbs I'd been able to shoot the Weasel's way. Pansy'd just patted him on the hand, offered him another beer, and whispered something in his ear that I'd prefer not to know since it'd made him smile widely and lean back in his chair, raising his beer to me with a far too chipper Cheers, Malfoy.

Merlin only knew what they'd got up to once the Floo had closed on me. And only Merlin would want to know.

Humming Good King Wenceslas because I can't help myself, I unwind my scarf and slip out of my coat, hanging them on the hook just inside the door. I can hear Harry's laugh from the sitting room, and I frown. If he's brought one of those damned Gryffindors into my flat without warning me...

I push open one of the sitting room French doors and stop, my mouth falling open. The room's dark, save for the glow of the fairy lights on the Christmas tree in the corner and two thick beeswax candles floating next to the sofa. Harry's sprawled across one end, rumpled and sexy in his untucked white shirt and frayed jeans, his bare feet propped up on the carved mango wood trunk table I'd had custom-made in bloody Jodhpur--for God's sake, he knows better--a nearly empty bottle of cabernet sauvignon between his thighs, and Blaise--bloody fucking Blaise of all people--is next to my Harry, leaning towards him, a half-full wineglass in his hand. The bastard has on his black silk shirt, the one that I know he only wears when he's on the pull--Christ, how many times have I been out with him at one club or another when he's his eye on some man or woman he's decided he wants in his bed. I know that look on his face.

Blaise puts one hand on Harry's thigh. "You might top me off," he says, and his fingers trail up the inside seam of Harry's jeans towards the bottle of wine.

Harry laughs at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "Might could do." He reaches for Blaise's wineglass. Their fingers brush, and Harry, the arse, smiles at Blaise.

My wand's in my hand before I can think. "Stupefy."

Blaise tumbles off the sofa with a thud. The wine splashes across the worn blue and cream Aubusson. I don't care. I'm shaking with rage.

Harry stands up and takes my wand from my hand. I barely notice.

In a daze, I walk over to Blaise I crouch over his prone body and grab the front of his shirt with both hands, twisting the silk between my fingers and jerking him up an inch or two off the floor. He stares up at me with blank eyes. "I am going to kill you,"" I spit out before I let him drop back. His head thumps dully against the rug.

Harry jerks me up to my feet. "What the hell are you doing?" His fingers dig into my shoulders, and he's glaring at me, his eyes dark and bright in the flickering light of the candles beside us. Through the open vee of his collar, I can see a fading love bite on his throat, just above his collarbone, and my stomach tightens. Without thought, I slap him.

"Are you mad?" Harry stumbles back, his hand flying to his reddened cheek. He stares at me. "You can't just Stupefy someone for no reason at all--"

"I had reason," I snap.

Harry's mouth is a thin line. "If he wants to press charges against you for assault, I have to take you in. You realise this, yes? There are laws and regulations, Draco. Jesus."

"Get him out of my flat." My voice is high and thin and uneven. I flinch, but I don't look away from Harry's sharp gaze. "Now."

After a moment, he nods and hands me back my wand. I turn on my heel and stomp into the kitchen, flipping the lights on with a flick of my wand. The soothing tones of Harry's voice and the strident anger of Blaise's drift across the hall. I fill the kettle with water and slam it onto the cooker. My hands are still trembling.

When Harry walks in, I'm leaning against the counter, shoulders hunched and arms wrapped tightly around myself.

"He's gone," Harry says. He sets the two glasses and the bottle of wine on the counter.

I don't say anything. I just stare out the window. The bare branches of the tree outside are black and spindly against the orange-charcoal glow of the clouded night sky. It looks like it might snow.

"Draco." Harry moves around the centre island towards me. His brow furrows in concern. "Are you okay?"

I still don't answer. I feel cold, inside and out. I'm not certain what to say. What to think.

Harry's fingers close around my arm, warm and heavy. I start to shake again. "Don't," I whisper. I can't look at him.

"Don't what?" He's next to me now. I can smell the wine on his breath. "Tell me."

I shake my head. Talking was never what we were best at.

Harry touches my face, lightly, turning me to look at him. His eyes are soft and gentle. "It wasn't anything. I wasn't going to--"

"He can have anyone he wants," I say angrily. "Anyone at all. But not you." I draw in a harsh breath and I press my palm against Harry's chest. My fingers twist in the white cotton of his shirt; I can feel the warmth of his skin. I can't meet his eyes. My throat's tight. "Not you, Harry," I choke out.

He doesn't pull away when I kiss him, and his mouth is soft and open against mine. "Draco," he says into the next kiss, and I push him against the refrigerator, my hands tangling in his thick hair as I slide my tongue across his.

I can't breathe. I don't want to, and when Harry scrapes his teeth across my bottom lip, I groan and press up against him desperately. I roll my hips forward and Harry grabs my arse, pulling me closer. I can feel his prick through the denim of his jeans, and want shudders through me.

Harry bites down my throat, and I know he's leaving marks. I don't care. I stretch my neck, twisting beneath his touch as he rakes my hair back with his thick fingers. He sucks just beneath my earlobe, and when his tongue drags across my bruised skin, I moan softly and turn my head to catch his mouth with mine again.

"Baby," Harry says, his hands sliding down to the small of my back, and I still. He'd stopped calling me that weeks before we'd split.

I don't think it'd been our infidelities that had ended us. Eventually we would have moved past them. Or I would have, at least. I think, perhaps, Harry might have as well, if he'd known about Stewart Ackerley and me. It'd only been once. Harry'd requested to be sent on an assignment to Scotland just after we'd had a vicious fight and he had been gone for days. I'd been drunk and lonely and so damned angry at him still, and when Stewart had chatted me up in a dark corner of a Knockturn Alley club, I'd said yes, like a fool.

The sex had been incredible. I'd clawed at the bed, begging for more, knowing with each thrust that Harry'd be furious. I hadn't cared then. I'd just wanted to be fucked, to prove to myself that I was my own man. That Harry bloody Potter didn't own me.

In the morning, however, I realised what a fool I'd been. I'd sworn then, as I sicked up over the filthy loo in the empty room, that no one would ever know how senseless I'd been.

But it'd been the two months between that morning and the night I'd walked away from the fight that had destroyed us. Father'd been up for a parole hearing at the end of March, and for weeks leading up to it, the media, from the Prophet to the Quibbler to the bloody WWN had been filled with angry diatribes condemning Father and his crimes (and, at times, Mother and me by association). I'd needed Harry then. Needed him to distract me, to calm me, to tell me everything would be fine and that Father wouldn't be released. At first he'd done that, and I'd been able to shrug off the nasty looks and snide whispers that were thrown my way every time I stepped out in public. And then, something had changed. Harry'd withdrawn more and more. He stayed at the office. We barely spoke. The few nights he'd slept over, he was gone before I woke, always leaving a note claiming there was work waiting for him. I hadn't pressed the issue. I'd still been so bloody guilty about Stewart. It was easier to pretend it hadn't happened if Harry wasn't around.

And then I'd opened the Prophet one morning at breakfast, and seen Harry'd looking up at me from page three, a disheveled and obviously well-fucked Malcolm draped around his neck, and the only explanation Harry had given me that night was I've been humiliated by you for months.

With that one sentence, he'd pulled the rug out from beneath me. I hadn't even been able to reply. Instead I'd just walked out of his bedroom, shoulders stiff, nodded at Pansy and Ron on the sofa, both trying to pretend they hadn't been listening to our screaming, and Floo'd home.

Harry had been the one person I'd thought would never hold Father's actions against me. I'd been wrong.

We hadn't spoken for three months. Not until Ron and Pansy had sat us down separately and informed us we would be civil to each other or they'd hex our bollocks off. The first time we'd seen each other had been my birthday party at the pub in June.

And now here we were again.

I pull away. "I can't." I don't look at Harry. "This is..." I trail off. "I can't."

"Draco." Harry reaches for me, but I sidestep him. "Talk to me. Please." The pleading tone in his voice almost sways me for a moment.

"We've nothing to say," I say quietly. "I'm not sure we ever did."

Harry swears. I glance back at him from the door. He leans over the island, his hands splayed against the tile counter, his head bent. I want nothing more than to walk back to him and kiss him again, hard and angry and rough. I want him to throw me on the floor and rip my trousers off, then pull my legs over his arms and fuck me until my throat's hoarse from begging and my arse can't bear another thrust.

I breathe out, my fingernails digging into my palm. I want him. I do. But I don't trust him not to hurt me again.

The kettle, cheeky bastard that it is, begins to whistle Ninetta's aria,Deh, tu reggi in tal memento, from The Thieving Magpie. The cheerful, rising screech echoes in the silent kitchen. Harry looks up. Our eyes meet. I turn and walk away.

Harry doesn't stop me.

***

I push open my bedroom door. The light from the hall stretches across the floor as I fling myself onto the bed, rolling over onto my back. I run my hands over my face.

He has to go. I can't keep doing this, can't keep feeling as if my entire body's been scrubbed raw. It's too much to ask.

A soft chirp turns my head. The magpies are lined up on my windowsill, their carved mother-of-pearl wings fluttering. Nine gleam jet black against the white paint of the sash, the light glinting off their breasts, the tenth is hidden in shadows. A sudden rage twists through me.

"Fuck you, Pansy," I snarl, and I throw a pillow at the window, sending the tiny birds scattering. One hops out from the shadows, tilting its head as it peers up at me.

I bury my face in the coverlet.

I feel so achingly, achingly alone.

v.

Nothing is duller and more mind-numbing than sorting through insurance applications and files of property photographs and blueprints for the small lies and careful omissions that everyone seeking coverage indulges in. After a while, the task takes on an almost peaceful, meditative quality, which is exactly what I need this morning.

I've been sitting at my desk for nearly three hours now, pouring over the application for a block policy for Jonas Chuzzlewit, Jewellers. My mind's just reached a pleasant state of stupefaction when a knock on my door disturbs me.

Blaise leans against my door jamb, long and lean in a fitted robe so dark green it's nearly black. A bright yellow cravat peeks through his collar.

"Piss off," I say, and I turn back to my actuarial tables.

A folded note lands on my pile of paper. My name's scrawled on it in Aunt Andromeda's sensible script. "Your aunt wants you and Potter to come to dinner tomorrow."

"She might have owled."

Blaise shrugs. "I told her I'd deliver it."

My fingers clench my quill. "Just ran into her in the street, did you?"

"Madam Primpernelle's Beautifying Potions, actually." At my raised eyebrows, he rolls his eyes. "I was looking for a post-coital gift for Gabrielle, and she was purchasing that skin potion your mother swears by." He hesitates, his cool demeanour slipping for a moment. "And I wanted to talk to you."

"There's nothing to discuss." I set the note aside. "Get out."

Blaise drops into the chair across from my desk and crosses his ankle over his knee.

I scowl at him. "That's not what I call getting out."

"What I was trying to do last night was for your own good," Blaise snaps. He drums his fingers against the arm of his chair. "You don't need him--"

"I know what I need and I don't," I say tightly. "Having you tell me you were only seducing my ex so I wouldn't get hurt again is most certainly not on the need list."

Blaise leans forward. "Draco."

"Stop it." I drop my quill on my blotter. It rolls over a stack of papers, leaking ink. "I don't want to hear your excuses, Blaise. If you haven't noticed, I'm a bit irritated with you at the moment. I'll let it go eventually, but if you don't get out of my office in the next thirty seconds, I will curse your prick so you spend the next two weeks utterly unable to come, and you know damned well I'm a dab hand at that particular spell."

"Oh, for Circe's sake." Blaise's nostrils flare in anger. "Do you even listen to yourself? You never got over him, Draco--"

"Perhaps I don't want to!"

We both freeze.

I'm horrified. I look away from Blaise's knowing eyes. "I didn't mean that."

"Yes, you did." Blaise sighs and leans back in his chair. "This isn't good, you realise. You're far too emotionally invested to have him staying with you. It's a mad idea."

I'm quite aware of that fact. I rest my elbows on my desk, my fists pressing into my cheeks. "I'm going to tell him to leave tonight."

Blaise nods. "I think that's probably wise." He smoothes a wrinkle from his robe. "Buy you a drink down the pub?"

"It's not even half eleven."

"Your point?" Blaise sniffs.

I pick up my quill, dragging the feather across the back of my hand. "I'm still angry with you." I sound petulant. I don't care. I'm not going to exonerate Blaise that easily, and he knows it.

Blaise stands with a sigh. "Fine. Sulk then and be done with it. When you're ready to admit I was trying to take care of you, let me know and I'll buy a round. I owe you from last time, anyway."

"Sorry for dousing you in gin," I say reluctantly.

"It wasn't the first time." Blaise gives me a half-smile that I don't return. "And at least I know you care."

I stop him at the door. "Don't ever touch him again, Blaise." I look at him evenly. "That, I won't forgive you."

He looks back at me, his dark eyes appraising. After a moment, he nods. "All right." He closes the door behind him; my school Quidditch gloves swing from the hook on the back.

I stare down at my paperwork. I can't concentrate. With a sigh, I push back my chair and reach for my cloak.

"Think I'll do a few property inspections this afternoon," I tell the junior underwriter as I step out of my office. "If you need me, owl."

I don't wait for her to respond.

***

I spend the afternoon sitting on a bench in Hyde Park, watching the Serpentine and tossing scraps of pasty at the ducks. I try not to think. I do anyway.

It's dark when I finally Apparate home. I'm dreading it, terrified that Harry will be there, terrified that he won't be. I know it's the right thing, but tossing him out before Christmas does seem harsh. I keep telling myself it's that that worries me.

When I push open the door to the flat, the smell of beef and thyme washes over me.

"Harry?" I call out hesitantly. I'm almost afraid I've been burgled by cookery students, but then Harry comes around the corner with two wineglasses and a bottle of shiraz that even I approve of. "What are you doing?"

"Apologising?" Harry smiles at me and hands me a wineglass. He tilts the bottle over it; the shiraz swirls against the sides. "I was a bit of a tit last night."

I rub my thumb against the side of the glass. "A bit."

Harry pours his own glass then sets the bottle aside. It floats next to him. "I'm sorry." He clinks his glass against mine. "Thought I'd make it up to you with dinner."

I follow him into the dining room. The bottle of wine bobs behind us.

The table's set with my best china and cutlery, which Mother had passed down to me from Grandmother Black. Candles burn brightly in the ostentatious heavy silver candelabra that I only pull out on special occasions. I trail my fingers along the freshly polished wood of the table, stopping at one place setting. I could almost be standing in the Manor again. My throat tightens. "You cooked."

"Actually," Harry says with a laugh, "I bought it at Waitrose. Beef carbonnade from their takeaway counter. I did roast the potatoes though."

I look up at him. "You did this for me?"

Harry nods.

"Because of last night?"

He nods again.

"You're a fool, Harry Potter. But a clever one." My voice catches in the back of my throat. I can't tell him to leave. I don't want him to.

Harry pulls my chair out. "Sit and I'll dish you up."

I touch his wrist as I sit. "Thank you," I say quietly.

He just smiles. I look away.

Why face the truth when it's so much easier to pretend?

***

The truce, forged over beef carbonnade and those excellent potatoes, leads us straight into the lion's den of dinner with Mother and Aunt Andromeda.

"Really, I can't believe you made me wear a tie," Harry grumbles as we walk up the steps to the townhouse. He tugs at it, loosening the Windsor knot I'd had to tie for him. I smack his hand away and he glares at me. "Andromeda's not going to care what I'm wearing. I've come over in my Auror robes before."

"Yes, well," I say, rapping the doorknocker sharply, "you're having dinner with my mother tonight, and she'll care."

Harry rolls his eyes. "She never has. She likes me anyway."

I scowl at him.

The door's thrown open by a tall, gangly boy with spiky blue hair wearing a faded Weird Sisters t-shirt and ripped jeans. "Hullo, hullo," Teddy cries out, beaming at us both. He launches himself at Harry, nearly knocking him backwards. I catch Harry's arm just before he tumbles off the top step.

"Don't maim your godfather on the front walk. What'll we tell the neighbours?" I ask, and Teddy turns his bright smile on me.

"Would have thought you'd have done it by now," he says cheerfully.

I'm saved from his smothering embrace by Mother's soft cough. "Do let them come in, Teddy." She kisses Harry's cheek as he steps into the foyer. "Lovely to see you again, dear. You look quite well."

"Narcissa." He smiles down at her, as he follows her into the house. It's always disturbed me that Mother and Harry get on so well. He says it's because she saved his life the night the Dark Lord died. I think it's because she indulges him. Most off-putting.

"Oi." Teddy grabs my arm, holding me back. "We need to talk about that," he whispers, nodding after Harry. "Kipping on your sofa, is he?"

"It's not what you think, you wretch," I say tartly, "so do get your mind out of the gutter."

Teddy just grins and pushes me through the door.

***

Dinner's a pleasant enough affair, once I relax. Teddy's a blur of good cheer kept in check by Aunt Andromeda, and Harry remembers which fork to use for his salad course. Mother's far too attentive to Harry for my comfort, but she doesn't do anything frightfully dreadful, other than suggest discreetly that Harry and I should make our current living situation more permanent. Harry, thank God, pretends to misunderstand.

At least I think he's pretending. There are times he's so oblivious one wonders how he made it to Senior Auror. I've always suspected his scar was more responsible for his rapid promotion than anything else. Not to mention his utter thickheadedness. He might as well have been dropped on his head when he was a toddler; I'm fairly certain the Dark Lord's curse had the same effect.

After Tilly's cleared the dessert plates, her ears flopping as she scurries around the table, Mother and Aunt Andromeda shoo us into the sitting room with a bottle of whisky and Teddy. "He wants to see you both, darling," Mother murmurs, catching my arm. "Don't make it difficult."

"In other words, don't start an argument with St. Harry, demon son of mine?" I take the whisky from her. "Oh, for Christ's sake. I don't know why I'm always the one being lectured about annoying Harry. He's far more likely to irritate me, all things considered."

Mother just gives me The Look, and I stomp off, shutting the sitting room door more forcefully than may be necessary.

Harry just looks up at me. "Everything all right?"

I shove the whisky at him and drop down into a chair. "Be grateful you're both orphans," I snap.

"Best open that quickly," Teddy says to Harry, nodding at the bottle of whisky, "and pour it straight down his throat before he throws a proper strop."

"Merlin keep us all!" Harry eyes me in mock fear, his mouth twitching. "You might be right at that."

I flip two fingers at them both. "Open the damn bottle, you bastards."

With a grin, Harry Summons three glasses from the sideboard. I want to straddle his lap and kiss that bloody smirk off his face. Instead, I take the whisky he offers me and knock it back, holding out my glass again. "Another."

Harry pours three more fingers in without comment. I sink back into my chair in relief.

We've gone through nearly two-thirds of the whisky before Teddy's run out of stories to share with us about his current position as office manager for the Serbian branch of the Society for the Tolerance of Vampires.

Harry shakes his head. "I still think you'd be safer working for the Auror force. We could use your abilities."

"I like the neck-biters," Teddy says easily. They've been carrying on this argument since Teddy left Hogwarts in June, according to Aunt Andromeda. She's on Harry's side, of course. Much better to spend your days chasing down Dark wizards than risk waking up one morning exsanguinated. I think they're all off their nut. I like my paper pushing.

Teddy crosses his legs in front of him, slouching down in the chair. "They're not any more dangerous than you've said my dad was."

Harry doesn't look convinced. Thinking back on Lupin, I'm not certain I am either.

Teddy shrugs. "Anyway, they're letting me organise a benefit concert this spring in Belgrade. I've already got Blodwyn Bludd and Lorcan d'Eath to agree to perform, and I'm close to signing Phoenix Tears. Can you imagine?"

Actually I can't. I'm quite aware they're the hottest band on the WWN at the moment, but they sound like a pack of howling banshees to me. I'll take the Weird Sisters any day. I 'm rather certain that makes me less than hip in my young cousin's eyes. I hmmm in feigned appreciation anyway.

Harry just chuckles into his whisky.

Teddy's eyes shine. "It's going to be epic. We're calling it Fang Aid."

I exchange an amused look with Harry. "Charming."

"I bet we could sell more tickets if you were involved, Harry." Teddy taps his finger against his mouth, scrutinising his godfather. "Maybe even arrange a special V.I.P. pass through your fan club..."

"That's still around?" I look at Harry speculatively. "Aren't they all middle-aged housewitches by now?"

Harry flips two fingers at me and drains his whisky. "Don't be misogynous."

"No, really," I say, pondering. "I might actually sit through that horrific screeching Teddy calls music to see forty-year-old women tossing their knickers at you."

That earns me a bitter glare from the both of them.

"Right," Harry says, setting his glass aside and pushing himself out of his chair. "On that uplifting note, I'm off to the loo for a slash. Back in a moment."

Honestly, the man can be so vulgar at times. I should not find it ridiculously attractive.

He's barely stepped out the room when Teddy leans forward, his glass of whisky cupped between his palms.

"So," he says slyly. "You're back together with Harry then?"

I sigh. I've been dreading this particular inquisition. Teddy can be even more persistent than Mother--he's young, foolish and, for a Ravenclaw, utterly lacking in tact and subtlety. "No."

"He's living with you though." Teddy frowns at me.

"It's a temporary situation until he locates a flat of his own." I swirl my glass, watching as the whisky splashes up the sides.

Teddy doesn't say anything for a moment. He looks disappointed and I feel a faint stab of guilt. Teddy'd been the one to push Harry and me together, at a Christmas Eve dinner four years ago. He'd been fourteen and just sharp enough to realise that perhaps there was a bit more to my and Harry's antagonism than could be explained by schoolboy rivalry. He'd manoeuvered us beneath the mistletoe and insisted we fulfill the kiss.

Harry'd taken me to bed twenty minutes later, much to Mother's scandalised delight and Aunt Andromeda's eternal amusement.

"Don't look so glum," I say to Teddy over the rim of my glass. The whisky's smoky and sharp. "It's not your fault your godfather is an insufferable twit."

Teddy meets my gaze evenly. "I don't believe you."

"How long have you known him?" I raise my eyebrows. "Surely his twitdom isn't a startling revelation."

"Not that." Teddy flaps his hand at me. "I mean about you and him." He takes a long swallow of his whisky. "According to my grandmother, you're still in love with him."

I cough. My glass nearly slips from my fingers. I catch it just in time. "What?"

"You told her," Teddy starts, and I cut him off with a hiss.

"I did nothing of the sort," I snap, lying through my teeth. "Andromeda's growing batty in her dotage--"

"Hey," Harry says from the doorway. Teddy and I both stop. My cousin's face flushes and he looks away.

I turn in my chair. Harry's leaning against the door jamb, his hands in his trouser pockets, his tie loose and slightly askew. He smiles at me faintly. "I think I might be ready to go home," he says lightly. "If you'd rather stay and chat…"

"No," I say, standing. "I'm certain Teddy and I will have another chance to catch up before the holidays are over."

Teddy just looks up at me, his eyebrows drawn together. "I'm off to see Victoire tomorrow."

"Then after." I squeeze his shoulder, digging my fingers in. He winces. "Perhaps."

Harry rests his hand on the small of my back as I walk past him. I tense, but he doesn't move it. I'm all too aware of Teddy's sharp gaze on us. "We should say good-bye to your mother."

"What are you doing?" I narrow my eyes at him.

He gives me an inscrutable look. "Being polite."

"Stop," I say. "It's disconcerting from you." I pull away, flustered and annoyed.

I can still feel the warmth of his palm.

***

Mother walks us to the door. She smiles at Harry. "We'll see you soon again, I do hope."

He kisses her cheek. "If you'd like."

"I would very much, as you well know." Mother says as she squeezes his hand. She looks over at me and her smile falters slightly. "You'll allow me a moment with my son, won't you, Harry?"

Harry glances over at me, eyebrow quirked; I nod. For a moment it feels almost as if we've slipped back into time. It's damnbly easy to fall back into that shorthand of subtle gestures three years together taught us. My cheeks warm.

"I should probably check in with Hermione anyway," Harry says, and he pulls a quill and a Moleskine notebook from his robe pocket. It's charmed to connect into a Ministry network of such notebooks. All he has to do is scrawl Granger's name and the message, and it'll show up in her notebook. Gringotts has considered implementing a similar system. I hope to all that's holy they don't. It's annoying enough to be constantly accessible by owl.

I watch Harry as he walks down the steps to the pavement, stopping to sit on the next to last one. Mother leans against the door, studying me.

"You seem tense," she says. "You weren't earlier."

"Talk to your great-nephew," I mutter. "Aunt Andromeda should keep her mouth shut."

Mother raises a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Bella used to say the same thing when we were children."

I'm not overly thrilled to be compared to my barking aunt. "Was there something you wanted?"

"Yes." Mother hesitates for a moment. "Your father--"

"Oh, don't, Mummy." I sigh, exasperated. "We've already had this conversation."

"And I want to have it again," she says sharply. Her plum fingernails dig into the black paint of the door. "For me, Draco. Please. He's upset."

"And I'm not?"

"You know how your father can be." Her voice takes on a beseeching tone that makes me falter. I hate to see her distressed.

I cross my arms over my chest, pulling my robe tighter. It's freezing out tonight. A brisk breeze blows down the dark street, sending the few dried leaves scattering. I look down at Harry. His dark hair gleams in the light of the streetlamp. "I'm not changing my mind," I say finally. "I've nothing to say to him."

Mother presses her lips together and looks away. "You can't hate him forever," she says quietly.

I'm not so certain.

She sighs. "Bring Harry back, darling." She touches my cheek. "I know you don't want to hear this either, but he's good for you. He always has been."

Mother lives in her own fantasy world. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm starting to think Father and Blaise were both right about Harry and me. "I think you're recalling a different relationship from the one I experienced."

"Perhaps." Mother tucks a lock of hair behind my ear. "Or perhaps it's a mother's wish to see her son happy." Her eyes are sad as she studies my face. "I do, you know."

"I know." I kiss her cheek. "Good night, Mother," I say as gently as I can, and I walk down the steps to Harry.

He looks up at me, then back at Mother. "You all right?" he murmurs quietly. His hand brushes my hip.

I don't answer for a moment. "I think I will be eventually," I say, and slip my fingers through his. I try to hide the shiver that goes through me at his touch.

Harry notices anyway. "Cold?"

"Not particularly." I just look at him. His cheeks pinken.

We Apparate.

***

"Hey," Harry says from my bedroom doorway, an hour later. "Miles Davis?"

I look up from Act Three of Malecrit's Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré mes Pieds. Davis's Kind of Blue is circling on the cabinet turntable in the corner that had once belonged to my grandmother, the stylus charm shimmering above the dark vinyl. Harry'd bought me the record for my birthday last year; I'd scoffed at him for even thinking I'd care for a Muggle musician, and an American at that, at least until Harry'd dropped the record on my turntable and played it for me the first time, a small smile on his face.

I'd been utterly entranced, just as the bastard had known I'd be. Harry had always enjoyed challenging my assumptions. It's one of his more annoying traits.

"Yes," I say, setting Malecrit aside. The slow, almost mournful piano and trumpet of Blue in Green suits my mood tonight; I've set the stylus charm to repeat. "Don't even bother to say I told you so."

"I think I did that last year." Harry steps into my bedroom, carrying two whisky tumblers filled with a faint green liquid. He wearing in pyjama bottoms and nothing else; I'm trying not to notice how low the navy plaid flannel rides on his hips, but it's difficult to ignore the sharp jut of his hipbones and the narrow trail of dark hair beneath his navel, not to mention the glimpse of crimson and black phoenix wings curled around his upper arms. His hair is mussed and still slightly damp from a shower.

I shift on the chaise, pulling a throw over my own pyjama-clad hips. The last thing I want is for him to realise what effect he still has on me. I'm sure he suspects, but I need all of the distance I can get.

"Gillywater and gin," Harry says, holding out a glass to me. Ice clinks against the sides. "You always used to like a nightcap after a visit with your mum."

"Thank you." I can't take my eyes off of the smooth pale gold skin of his chest, the pink-brown of his nipples. I sip the drink; he's made it just the way I like it, heavy on the gin.

Harry sits on the edge of the chaise. My eyes are drawn to the phoenix tattooed on his back. He hunches his shoulders and the inked wings flex. "You seemed a little unnerved when we left. Want to talk about it?"

"Not really." Davis's trumpet trembles on a high note, sending a shiver down my spine. A drop of water tumbles from Harry's hair and slides down the curve of his neck. I look away; my fingers clench my glass as I lift it to my mouth.

Harry just watches me for a moment, his eyes dark behind his glasses. He licks his lip. "You--" He falls silent.

"What?" I ask, feeling apprehensive.

He drains his drink and sets the glass aside. He stares at the window, studying our reflections in the dark panes. "Why did we really stop, Draco?" he asks finally, looking back at me.

I don't answer. Harry tugs at the throw over my legs, sliding it off to pool on the floor next to us. "Don't," I say softly, but he smiles and shifts, straddling me, one knee on either side of my calves. "Harry--"

I'm stopped by his fingertips against my mouth. "Shh." His thumb drags slowly against my bottom lip, and I can barely breathe. He takes my drink from me, setting it on the side table next to his before he slides closer. He pulls his glasses off, and lays them alongside our drinks. His eyes are dark green as he smiles down at me. "Nox," he whispers, and the room falls dark, the only light coming from the street outside and the small fire still smouldering in the hearth.

"We really shouldn't even--"

Harry kisses me. His lips are soft and dry and warm. He pulls back just enough to look down at me. "I want to," he says. He smoothes my hair back from my forehead with a featherlight touch that makes my head spin. Christ.

"No, Harry. I'm not doing this again." I splay my hand against his chest, intending to push him away. Instead my fingers drift over his firm muscles, sliding across one nipple. Harry arches against my touch. His prick rubs against my hip, and my breath hitches.

"Please," he says against my mouth, and I can't stop myself from sucking on his bottom lip. I can feel him shudder beneath my palms. "I want you."

I touch his face; he turns his head to kiss my fingertips, drawing one into his mouth to suck lightly. His teeth scrape my knuckle and I groan. "Harry."

He's already pulling at my wool and silk t-shirt, tugging it up over my head and throwing it to the floor before he leans down to press his mouth against the pulse in my throat. I stretch beneath him and my fingers dig into his shoulders. Our skin is hot and smooth against each other. We fit like puzzle pieces of longing and doom.

"This is a bad idea," I say, arching my neck as his tongue drags down towards my collarbone. Harry's hands catch my hips, holding me still. I groan again. "Such a bad idea."

"Not according to your cock," Harry says with a soft chuckle against my jaw.

I shift my legs beneath him, my toes digging into the chaise cushion. "My cock is a fucking traitor," I say, petulant. I breathe in sharply when he bites my throat. "Oh, God."

Harry just laughs and sits back. His arse presses against my prick. My hips thrust against him. He laughs again.

"Bastard." I sit up and scrape my fingernails down his chest, pleased when he hisses as they rake his skin. I should send him away, make him go back to his room, anything, but my body wants him--I want him--and I'm so bloody tired of fighting myself. One more night won't hurt. It's just sex. I fuck Blaise all the time and it doesn't mean a damned thing. Harry shouldn't be any different.

I sit up, pushing him back to the end of the chaise. His pyjama bottoms are tented, the buttons at the placket straining. I can see pink skin between a gap in the flannel, and it makes me want to suck him dry. My hands pull at Harry's waistband. "Let me see you."

Harry raises his hips slightly, watching me as I draw his pyjama bottoms down. I can't stop myself from licking the underside of his prick, drawing the foreskin back with my tongue before I close my mouth over it.

"Fuck," Harry says, and his head falls back, hanging over the edge of the chaise as his hips twist beneath me. I stroke one finger beneath his balls, massaging the soft skin above his arsehole. His pyjama bottoms are bunched at his knees, the drawstring in the waistband stretched tight as he spreads his legs and grabs the side of the chaise in clenched fists.

I suck him leisurely, taking him into my mouth in agonisingly slow increments. I love the way he stiffens in my mouth, the way the head of his prick presses into my cheek when he shifts his hips. His breath is coming in ragged gasps, and his skin is flushed and damp beneath my hands.

"Draco." Harry presses one foot against the arm of the chaise. His bare toes flex against the brown velvet. I draw back and swirl my tongue across the head of his cock, dipping lightly into the slit. "Oh, God--"

His stomach muscles tense, then shiver. I let him pop out of my mouth. His fingers card through my hair. "I want to fuck you," he says breathlessly. "I want your legs wrapped around me and that tight arse on my cock." He tugs at my hair, pulling my head back. I look up at him; his eyes are glazed and bright. "I've been thinking about it every fucking night, Draco. You don't know how many times I've wanked myself the past few days thinking about you." He groans and arches against me.

Oh, I think I might. I slide up him and catch his mouth with mine, the salty-bitter taste of him still on my tongue. His hand curls around the back of my neck, holding me still as his tongue presses into my mouth, dragging over my teeth, pushing deep until I can barely breathe. The trumpet trills on the record, bright yet aching, and Harry rolls us over.

We fall onto the floor, half onto the Aubusson rug. Neither of us care.

Harry kicks off his pyjama bottoms hastily, planting rough kisses down my throat as his hands tug at my pyjamas. He pulls back long enough to jerk them off my legs, and then he slides back up, covering my body with his. The edge of the rug bites into my hips.

He catches my wrist, holding me still as he presses his mouth to the faded skull on my left arm. A shiver runs through me. Harry's one of the few men I've fucked who's never been given pause by that particular remnant of my youth. With his tongue, he traces the curve of the serpent across my skin and I gasp.

"Fuck me," I say, too far gone with wanting him to care. I drag my mouth along the sharp curve of his jaw. "Fuck me however you want…" I nip his earlobe, then suck it lightly. "Just fuck me, baby," I whisper into his hair, and he shudders.

He sits up, his knees in between my thighs. I have the distinct feeling I'm making a horrible mistake. I don't care. It feels too good to care.

I need him.

"Harry." I reach out.

"Expergifico." Harry's fingertips slide over my skin, barely touching me, but I arch beneath them, feeling the subtle burn spark the nerves across my entire body.

"Oh," I say, and I draw in a harsh breath, moaning softly when he brushes my cock. I shift my legs, spreading them wider. My skin is on fire, prickling, tingling wherever Harry caresses me.

Harry leans forward, his fingers curling around my balls. He kisses me and his mouth burns warm and spicy like boiled cinnamon sweets. "Mitigo," he whispers against my lips, and my skin cools instantly, leaving me languorous in the aftermath of pain and ridiculously aroused.

I twist my fingers through his hair, rubbing my cheek against his. This. I love how this feels. "Inside of me, Harry." I bite the curve of his ear.. "Don't make me get demanding."

With a soft laugh, Harry pulls back and drags his fingers along the inside of my thighs, pushing them further apart. He looks down at me, at my cock hard and pink and wet against my belly. His fingertip traces the ridge of my hipbone.

"Harry," I say again, near exasperation. "Fuck me."

He just smiles and Summons the lubricant from the drawer next to the bed. The tiny phial glitters in the light from the streetlamps as it flies across the room; Harry catches it in one hand, his eyes never leaving mine. He uncorks it and slicks his fingers with the gleaming golden oil.

The Aubusson scratches my shoulders, but I press into it anyway as Harry slides one finger into me. Another quickly follows, and he twists them as he presses them deeper. They burn for a moment before the oil slicks my tender skin. I grip the edge of the rug with one hand, and grab the side of the bed with the other, pushing against Harry's hand. The record hisses and pops before the stylus charm resets and the piano begins again, soft chords echoing in the room, still but for our breathing.

Harry pulls his fingers away, looking down at me, his face unreadable. He touches my cheek with slick fingers. "You have no idea how much I want you," he says softly.

I can't tear my eyes away from him. My heart clenches. I'm suddenly terrified. "Harry--"

"Shh." Harry lifts one of my legs, leaning back to look down at me as his cock slides into me slowly.

I swallow, opening to his slow breaching of my body. I still can't look away from his face, no matter how much I want to.

My lips part; Harry leans in and kisses me, soft and sweet. "You really are beautiful, you know," he says, and he moves, rocking into me. A flare of brilliant pleasure shoot through me and I've no idea if it's from his cock or his words.

I groan, wrapping my legs shamelessly around his hips. "Oh, God." I turn my head and press my mouth against his jaw. "Harry."

We move together, Harry's hips undulating against mine slowly. I anchor my hands on his shoulders, feeling them clench with each deep thrust. My cock is pressed between our stomachs, rubbing slickly against heated skin.

This isn't what I expected, this tenderness. I'd wanted to be fucked hard, shagged senseless. This… this is undeniably better than anything I could have imagined.

I look up at him, watching him as he watches me, our eyes locked on each other. The pleasure is so slow and intense it's almost unbearable. We're silent, save for quiet gasps and groans. The soft, languorous crescendo of Blue in Green washes over us, the music slipping across my sweaty skin with each slide of Harry's body.

Harry arches into me, closing his eyes for a moment. His arms are shaking as he holds himself over me. I press my mouth to his shoulder, dragging my teeth down his bicep, over the swirls of red and black ink. I can almost feel the feathers against my tongue. His skin tastes salty and musky. I suck lightly, before pulling away.

"Oh, Christ," Harry chokes out. His arms give way and he falls onto me, rolling his hips against mine hard, his balls slapping against my arse. "God, how you feel."

I drop my foot back onto the floor, flexing it against the smooth wood as I push up into his next thrust. "Please." My hands slide down his back, resting in the dip of his spine for a moment. I rock my hips forward again. "Harry, please--"

"Fuck." Harry grabs my arms, pulling them up above my head. I writhe in his firm grip. He has the strong, lean body of an Auror, muscled and taut from the required hour of physical training every day. His skin is stunning in the light from the window, shadows dancing across his smooth shoulders.

I push against him, my legs spread as wide as I can get them. My cock slaps against my stomach.

We're staring at each other, unable to do anything else as our bodies rut together, faster and harder, our breath coming in sharp, short gasps.

With a groan, I wrench my hands from his tight grip and grab his shoulders, shoving up with my hips hard enough to throw him off balance. We roll over, grunting, and I end up on top of him.

Harry's heavy hand curls around my neck, pulling me into a rough kiss as his hips jerk up, his cock slamming into me. My thighs tighten as I press down against him, and I brace my hands against the floor, holding myself up.

I'm breathless when I pull out of the kiss, Harry's fingers still sliding through my hair. My arse aches, and I don't care. I want this, him, all of him. "Harry." My voice rises. I'm shaking. Gasping.

Harry grabs me, holding my hips still as he thrusts up. His face is flushed red and damp; his hair sticks to his forehead. His eyes are glazed, unfocused. "Baby," he says, and he bites his lip as he shoves into me with a groan. "I'm--oh, Christ, Draco--"

He comes with a sharp cry, his body trembling, his fingers digging painfully into my hips. He falls limply against the floor as I ride him still, his come slickly smearing across the folds of my arse just above my thighs as his cock slips out of me.

I've just reached for my prick when Harry pushes my hand away, shoving me back onto the floor. My head thuds painfully against the carpet, but it doesn't matter because Harry's swallowing my cock, sucking hard.

My hips jerk up and I reach for his head, my other hand flailing out wildly. It slaps against the floor and I push up, gasping, straining as I come hard and fast into Harry's mouth.

I'm still shuddering, my thighs tense, as Harry licks my prick lightly. When I touch his hair, utterly unable to form coherent words to tell him it's too much, I'm too sensitive, he pulls back, sliding up to curl his body around mine. I press my face into the curve of his neck, breathing hard. Harry strokes his fingers down the ridge of my spine, a light, careful touch.

After a long moment, I turn my head. "That was…" I trail off. Not just sex, my mind supplies helpfully. My world shifts, the bottom falling out from beneath me as I realise what I've done.

Not just sex. Fuck.

"Yeah." Harry traces a circle on the small of my back. I tense, and he draws back, eyebrows pinching together in worry. "Are you okay?"

No. No, I'm bloody well not okay. I stare at him. I'm in love with him. I'm still completely in love with him. It's not sex. It's not just wanting him. I really am still in love him. I sit up abruptly. I can't do this. I bury my face in my hands. I can't. "I can't do this."

Harry touches my arm. "Hey."

I jerk away. "Don't." I can't look at him. I press my fingers to my temple. "I have lost my bloody mind. I can't have sex with you. I can't be around you. It's a horrible idea."

"Why?" Harry actually sounds perplexed. I almost laugh. How thick can he be? Oh, wait, Gryffindor, right. Incredibly, obtusely thick, especially where their cocks are concerned

"Because," I say, trying to keep my voice even and failing utterly, "madness like this happens--"

Harry sits up behind me. His hand brushes my hip. "Draco--"

"Don't touch me!" I'm nearly hysterical. I can't be in love with him. It's the worst thing in the world for me right now. I know this. And I can't bloody well be friends with him because, like a halfwit Hufflepuff, I obviously can't stop loving him. Circe's tits, I loathe myself.

Harry's silent for a moment. Davis's trumpet quavers softly against the quiet roll of the piano. "I'll…" He hesitates.

"What?" I say dully. I can't look at him. I can't have what I want with Harry, and I've never been good with being denied what I crave.

I must appear as shaken as I feel because Harry says, "I'll find somewhere else to stay."

I don't answer. I can't squeeze a word from my throat. Harry waits, but when it's obvious I'm not going to reply, he sighs and pushes himself to his feet. He stops in front of me. I stare at his bare legs.

"Draco, I'm sorry," Harry says.

I shake my head. I've no desire to hear it. I lean against the side of the bed. I feel empty. Lost. "I should have just kept with Blaise," I say quietly. "I knew what I was getting into there."

"Maybe you should have," Harry says. The suppressed fury in his voice surprises me. What bloody right does he have to be angry with me?

I look up sharply. "At least Blaise has never humiliated me."

Harry's jaw tightens. "You know, honestly--" He breaks off. "Forget it. I'll leave."

"If you're going to get out, then get out." Perversely I don't want him to. I want him to tell me I'm being a fool. To tell me that he loves me. That we can fix this. I want the Saviour of the Wizarding World to try saving me from myself.

"Fine," Harry snaps.

When the door slams shut behind him, I sit still for a long moment before standing up. My legs wobble slightly; I catch myself against the footboard of the bed, then push myself upright.

The vinyl scratches when I pull the record off; the screech echoes in the suddenly silent room. I stare down at the record for a moment, then snap it in half.

The front door bangs. I sink onto the edge of the chaise, the broken record clutched tight in my hands and stare blankly out the window as my heart shatters.

***

"He's gone," I say. I'm sitting on at the fireplace in my bedroom, my knees drawn up to my chest. I've managed to put on a dressing gown, but that's all. My bare feet are pale against the dark hearthstones.

Pansy blinks sleepily at me through the flames. "What are you on about?"

"Harry." It's taking everything I have not to fall apart. I rock forward, shaking. "He's gone." My voice cracks.

It only takes Pansy a moment. She swears and calls something back to the Weasel. "Move out of the way, Draco," she says, and by the time I pull back, she's tumbled through, her breasts nearly sliding out of the thin silk slip she's wearing.

"Jesus, Pans."

She snorts. "It's not as if you haven't seen them before. Besides, you're not exactly dressed for dinner either." When I don't look back at her, she snaps her fingers. "Focus. Potter?"

My stomach clenches. I curl in on myself, pressing my forehead to my knees.

"Draco." Pansy's voice gentles. She touches my arm. "Did you argue?"

I shake my head. "Worse."

She studies me silently for a moment, then her eyes widen. "Oh, you didn't."

"I did." I let her draw me against her. I lean my head against her shoulder. "And then he left."

Pansy strokes my hair. It slides over her fingers as she pushes it back from my face. Only she still touches me like this. "He's a bastard."

"We already knew that." I look up at her, and I know my mask's slipped. "I love him Pans." The words feel hollow and heavy as I say them. "He may be a bastard," I say bitterly, "but I'm the fool."

"Don't, Draco," she says.

"You know it's true."

She just hmmms and rocks me. "Breathe," she says softly against my temple. "Just breathe."

I close my eyes and nod. The steady brush of Pansy's fingers through my hair calms me as it always has, ever since we were children.

I breathe. And try to forget.

vi.

The flat is oddly empty without him.

Ridiculous, I know. He's only been gone a day and a half, and I'm quite used to being alone. I prefer it, even. More space. More silence. More stillness. And I'm not having to shove his horrid feet off inappropriate pieces of furniture all the time.

I hate it.

Mother sends Tilly over when I ask for her, saying only oh, Draco in that gentle, weary tone she uses to let me know how grievously I've disappointed her when I tell her Harry's gone. It doesn't matter. I'm too disappointed myself to care.

I put Tilly to work scouring all traces of Harry from the flat, beginning with the sheets from the beds in the spare room and my bedroom. I can't bear the smell of him. It hurts too much.

I'm dressing in my room, tugging a well-worn jumper over my head, when I step back and something cracks ominously beneath my heel. I look down.

Two of the magpies have fallen from their perch on the mantel, and I've stepped on them, crushing them beneath the heel of my boot. They lie broken on the wood floor; one small wing flutters for a moment before it stills. My stomach twists as I kneel down to scoop up the shattered pieces of jet. It's only a charm, I remind myself, but they feel like living things. The other eight hop to the edge of the mantel, peering down at me as they chirp softly.

I'm more distraught than I'll allow myself to admit. I brush the bits of bird into the bin and try not to panic. I'm being ridiculous, I know. Charmed or not, they obviously have nothing to do with the insanity my life has veered into as of late. Still. I can't help but whisper eight bring wishing beneath my breath as I stroke the smooth black back of one of the remaining magpies.

I'm definitely round the twist if I've become fond of the damned things.

I escape to the coffee shop around the corner. Muggles are preferable to the wizarding world at the moment. I don't want to chance running into Harry--or anyone who knows him, for that matter, which severely limits the places I can hide. I've even owled in ill to work today. It's the day before Christmas Eve. No work will be pressing, and I'd rather avoid the holiday well wishes, not to mention whatever ridiculous party Tigg's planned for our section as a half-arsed apology for being a doltish bastard all year.

I will miss old Fezziwig's homebrewed currant wine, though. Damn.

An hour spent watching the Muggle passersby, laden down with bags and bent into the biting wind, calms me somewhat. At least I can be grateful I'm not one of them.

A sharp rap on the window startles me. Millicent's peering in at me, the baby on her plump hip, chewing on a cloth Hippogriff. She waves, then hurries to open the door.

"Hello, love," she says breathlessly, leaning in to kiss my cheek as I stand. She's utterly unconcerned by the nearby Muggles eyeing her black wool robe curiously. "Take Imogen for me, yes?"

Imogen's already reaching for me, cheerfully babbling on in a language I only understand a few words of. "What are you doing here?" I ask, catching the wet Hippogriff before my goddaughter shoves it into my face.

"Your house elf said you were around the corner."

I drop the Hippogriff onto the table. "That's not what I meant."

We sit. Millie strips off her gloves, smoothing her dark, windblown curls back. She's not what most people would call pretty, I suppose. She's too tall, too solid with her squared shoulders and her heavy jaw and her distinct lack of feminine curves. One could never consider Millie delicate or gamine. Still, as the few looks cast her way since she's sat down attest, she's striking in her own way, dark and pale and utterly lacking in giving a damn.

She leans back and watches me with Imogen for a moment, a small smile on her face. She's always told me I'd make a good father one day, whenever I decide I'm ready to do my duty for the Malfoy name. I think she's mad.

"Well?" I demand. Imogen pulls off her bright pink velvet hat and drops it. I catch it before it hits my coffee cup. She settles in my lap, pounding her fat palms against the table with a giggle. I'm secretly charmed. Millicent and Greg have, God knows how, produced lovely brats.

"Pansy Firecalled yesterday," Millicent says bluntly. "She's worried. Says you didn't return her owl last night." She breaks off a piece of my biscuit and hands it to Imogen, who stuffs it eagerly in her mouth. "I think she panicked a bit when you closed off your Floo, refused to answer your door, and didn't show up at the office today."

I stroke Imogen's dark hair off her forehead. It's soft and silky beneath my palm. "I just wanted to be alone."

"Yes, well, I was sent to make certain you hadn't done anything damaging to yourself." At my sharp look Millie shrugs. "You know Pansy leans towards the melodramatic at times."

I sigh. "I'm fine, as you can see."

Millie eyes me.

"What?" I tip my coffee cup and swirl the dregs. Imogen reaches for it, bouncing on my knee; she scowls at me when I move it out of reach. It's remarkable how like her father she looks as she does so.

"She told me about Potter." Millie's never said much about my relationship with Harry, not during the years we were together nor after we split. "She said she didn't know what you were thinking."

"Neither do I." I wince as Imogen leans forward and clamps her mouth around my arm, gumming my jumper sleeve. I pull her back gently and shove the Hippogriff at her. She takes it cheerfully and bites its cloth wing.

"Sorry," Millie says. She leans over to wipe drool off her daughter's chin with a paper napkin. "She's teething."

As if I couldn't tell. Imogen squirms in my lap, her patent leather shoes drumming against my thigh. I sigh again. "Sometimes I envy you and Greg, you know. You make it look so easy--marriage, children, life in general. Meanwhile Blaise sleeps with anything that'll spread his legs for him, be it man, woman or house elf--all right, perhaps not the latter, but one never knows with a Zabini--Pansy's married a Weasley for God's sake, and I'm nearly forty and I can't manage any sort of relationship that, let's be frank, isn't neurotic and in all likelihood self-destructive."

Millie rests her elbows on the table. "You're only thirty-six."

"Practically forty." I brush my fingers against my receding hairline. Millie just rolls her eyes.

"It's actually not easy, you know," she says after a moment. "Greg and I put rather a great deal of work into our marriage. I don't think any of you quite understand that. Even Pansy. Those two haven't entirely got past the sex every night on the kitchen table stage."

I make a face. "I didn't need that image for any of you."

Millie rolls her eyes. "At least she's trying with Ronald." I flinch at the Weasel's name. I'm still utterly disturbed by that marriage. "How many actual conversations did you and Potter have over the years?"

"We talked," I protest.

"A three-hour screaming argument that ends with you shagging furiously does not count as a relationship-building conversation," Millie says dryly.

I give her a baleful look. "I don't see why not." I hesitate. "So how do you do it?" Imogen tries to stand. I hold her steady and she reaches for her mother, pft-pft-pfting as drool drips from her chin.

Millie pulls Imogen over the table and settles her in her lap. "By trying to talk about things other than sex to begin with." She bounces her daughter slightly. "Or the children, for that matter."

"I don't do talking," I say with a slight sneer. "I'm a man."

Millie laughs. "And Greg's not?"

I ponder that for a moment. She has a point, and Greg, though highly unlikely to, could, if he wanted, knock me to the floor with one well-placed punch. "I'm a Malfoy?" I say finally.

"Slightly more appropriate," she agrees. "Most definitely places you higher on the neurotic scale."

"I think that's more the Black side." I run a finger down the side of my coffee cup. "And perhaps a bit of Grandfather Abraxas. Oh, Christ, I'm fucked."

"Do you actually want Potter?" Millie asks. She watches me, her eyes gentle. "In more than the obvious way, of course."

I chew my bottom lip. "What I want I can't have," I say quietly. I sigh. "I don't want to think about this anymore, Millie. Distract me with some decent rumourmongering?"

Millie just squeezes my hand. "Well, I happen to know a bit about Blaise and this Veela of his." She arches an eyebrow at me.

"Gabrielle?"

"I certainly hope there's not another one." Millie takes a sugar packet from Imogen's grasping hands and sets it aside. "She won't sleep with him."

My jaw drops. "You're lying."

Millie shakes her head. "Hasn't yet. And won't until he stops shagging everyone who walks past." She gives me a pointed look. "Including you."

I sit back, flabbergasted. "And he hasn't kicked her to the kerb yet?"

"No." She leans across the table and lowers her voice, despite the fact that no one's about save Muggles and I highly doubt they give a damn about Blaise's sex life. "I think he may actually fancy her."

"No. Really?" At Millie's nod I budge my chair forward. "Tell me more."

Millie laughs, and my spirits start to rise.

Perhaps I'll make it through the holidays after all.

***

By the time Millie leaves me on the steps of my building, I'm feeling distinctly more chipper.

Tilly's in the kitchen, putting on a pot of lamb stew, and the flat is scrupulously clean. I stop in the doorway of the spare room. The bed's spotless; the floor's clean. My room's the same. Pristine.

There's not a trace that Harry was there.

Until I spot the box on the bed.

It's small, barely larger than the palm of my hand. I recognise it immediately. I'd given it to Harry on our first anniversary--our first Christmas together, actually, if one didn't count the first day we spent in bed together as a proper Christmas. It's carved teak, lined in white silk and charmed so that only the two of us can open it. We used to leave messages to each other in it when we were dating. Harry'd kept it on his bedside table.

I drop my coat and sit on the edge of my bed, turning the box over in my hands. I'm almost afraid to open it, but I finally pull the lid off.

Empty.

I breathe out, barely registering that I'd been holding it in.

"Tilly," I shout after a moment, and she pops into the bedroom, hands wringing. "Where'd you find this?"

She blinks at me. "It is being under the spare bed, Master Draco sir, and Tilly is not knowing what is being done with it, so she is leaving it here for Master Draco sir to be telling Tilly where to be putting it in its proper place like good elves do!"

I smooth a thumb over the top carving. It's of a Seeker, clad in medieval garb, plunging towards the ground in search of the Snitch. I wonder if Harry left it on purpose; if there's a reason…

"Master Draco, sir?" Tilly bobs in front of me. Her long, elvish fingers brush my arm. "Is you being all right?"

"Oh," I say. "Yes. Of course. You can go back to cooking, if you'd like."

She hesitates, eyeing me worriedly, then leaves.

I stare down at the box. Oh, bugger it all. I want to see him. I have to see him.

Mad or not.

I grab my coat and stand, the box still clutched tightly in my hand.

***

"Harry's not here," Granger says when she opens the door to her flat. She's dressed in loose pyjama pants and a far too tight t-shirt.

"Oh," I say, eyeing her fluffy white rabbit slippers with horror. Their ears flop slightly and their noses sniff my boots. "He left something at my flat. I thought I'd drop it off for him."

"He went drinking with Ron." She hesitates, then pushes the door wider. "Do you want to come in?

"Please." I follow her into the flat. Ginevra's sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through the Quidditch section of the Prophet, her dark red hair pulled up into a ponytail. She looks remarkably young.

"Malfoy," she says. She glances at Granger, then back at me before she folds the paper and sets it aside.

I unwind my scarf and tug off my gloves as Granger waves me into a seat at the table. "How are the Harpies faring this season?" I nod towards Ginevra's team jersey.

She smiles. "Quite well, thanks. Reckon we might have a chance at the pennant this year."

"Would you like something to drink?" Granger asks. "Coffee? Tea? Beer?"

"The beer's Harry's." Ginevra gives me a pointed look. "I'd drink it if I were you."

"Still annoyed with him, are we?"

She grins at me. "Sometimes." She picks up the cup of green tea at her elbow. "You know how he can be."

"Without doubt." I look back at Granger. "Beer, please."

Granger rolls her eyes, but opens a bottle and hands it to me. She sits next to Ginevra. The three of us look at each other uncomfortably then I sigh and dig in my pocket for the box. I set it on the table.

"He left it under the bed in the spare room." I hesitate. "I gave it to him a few years ago. It was an..." My throat catches. I cough to cover it. "An anniversary present." I shift uncomfortably in my chair. "I'm not certain if he meant to leave it. If you know what I mean."

Ginevra and Granger exchange a look.

"What?" I ask. I take a drink of the beer. It's bitter and sharp against my tongue.

"Probably deliberate," Ginevra says. She pokes at the box. "It'd give him a reason to come see you again." She looks sharply up at me. "If he wants to, all things considered."

I feel my cheeks warm. "You can't seriously think that would be a good thing." I ignore the fact that I'm here for that very reason. Yes. Hypocritical, I know. I'm a Malfoy, for God's sake. We've made hypocrisy into an art form.

Ginevra just shrugs. "No. Probably not."

"I'm sure it doesn't mean anything." Granger crosses her legs as she stretches back in her chair. I can see her nipples through the thin cotton of her shirt, and I look away, lifting my beer to my mouth again. "You know how haphazardly Harry packs."

"True." Ginevra studies the box, then glances back up at me, brushing a stray wisp of her hair back behind her ear. "You could have owled it."

Her gaze is probing. I can feel my cheeks warm, but I don't look away. "I could have."

"Why didn't you?" Granger asks. She leans forward, her elbows on the table as she fixes me with a patented astute Auror scowl. It unnerves me; I spent far too much time in Ministry holding cells just after the war, being deposed.

I'm silent for a moment. "You know why," I say quietly. "I thought he might be here."

The admission embarrasses me. Neither Granger nor Ginevra say anything. I stare down at the Prophet next to my elbow. Seven members of the Montrose Magpies wave up at me, cheerful, their black and white Quidditch robes fluttering in a breeze. Christ. I can't even get away from the damned things here.

"You need to tell him," Ginevra says finally. She stands up, her hand on Granger's shoulder. "He deserves to know."

"Know what?" I look between them. "There's something you're not telling me?"

Ginevra gives her girlfriend a long, level look. "You know I'm right."

"I know," Granger says. She doesn't look happy. "I just don't think it's mine to say--"

"Harry's obviously not going to." Ginevra looks back at me. "It's about why he cheated on you."

My stomach flops. I grip the edge of the table. "What do you mean?"

"Ask Hermione," Ginevra says. She touches Granger's hair lightly as she steps away.

Granger waits until the door closes before she sighs. "Damn," she says. "Damn, damn, damn." She gets up and walks to the pantry. "I can't get through this without another beer. Do you want one?"

I shrug; she takes that as a yes and brings back two bottles. She hands one to me as she sits.

"What's this about?" I ask. I'm not certain I want to know.

Granger twists her bottle, her thumb scraping at the edge of the label. "Stewart Ackerley."

I nearly drop my beer. I catch it just before it tips onto the tabletop. A bit of beer splashes on my hand; I wipe it off with my thumb. "What do you know about Stewart Ackerley?" I say finally. I refuse to confirm or deny.

"Oh, come off, Draco." Granger sets her beer down with a thump. "Don't give me that shit. Just stop. We know, all right? Harry knows. He always bloody has, and I told him he should talk to you about it, but he wouldn't, because of everything that was going on with your bastard father at the time--"

"He knew." I can't breathe. "He knew?" I thought I'd hidden it so well. No one knew. No one. I'd threatened Ackerley within an inch of his life if he went to the papers.

Granger runs her hands over her face, pushing her hair back. "Nelson Ackerley is an Auror, Draco. He also happens to be Stewart's older brother."

"Oh, God." I can see where this is going. "He didn't--"

"By the end of February the whole department knew." Granger's mouth thins. I draw in a ragged breath, my hands splayed on the tabletop. I feel lightheaded; I don't want to know any more. Granger just soldiers on. "Harry told Nelson to fuck off," she says, "but Nelson wouldn't stop. He always had it in for Harry to begin with, and they're both possibilities for Head Auror when Dawlish retires next year. Nelson wanted to humiliate him and you gave him the perfect way to do it." She looks at me. Shame washes over me. It's an emotion I loathe, and I'm horrified to show it in front of her.

"What did Harry do?" I don't want to ask. I wouldn't be surprised it involved bruises, knowing Harry.

"Decked him in the middle of a staff meeting when he made a snide remark about you."

I know I'm pale. I swallow hard. "Stupid Gryffindor." I can barely get the words out.

Granger looks evenly at me. "He wouldn't let me tell anyone. Not Ron, not you, no anyone. He said you'd just been an idiot and that you were more upset about your father than you wanted to admit."

"I was." I'm numb. I stare down at my hands. The Malfoy signet ring gleams on my right hand. Mother had given it to me the day after Father went to Azkaban. She'd told me he wanted me to have it. I trace the coiled dragon with a fingertip. "When we broke up, he told me I'd humiliated him." I look up at Granger. "I thought he was talking about Father. It's why I left. If I'd known he was talking about…" I falter, then draw a deep breath. "I wouldn't have…" I press my lips together to stop them from trembling.

"Draco," Granger says gently. When she touches my hand, I pull away and shake my head. My whole world's been rocked.

The only sound in the kitchen is the steady tick of the clock on the wall. I twist my ring on my finger, trying to breathe.

"I never meant to hurt him," I say at last, my voice raw and soft. "What I did--I always regretted it."

She's silent, her long, slender fingers stroking the side of her beer bottle. She sighs. "What are you going to do?"

I've no damned idea. I breathe out slowly. "Does he love me?" If anyone knows, she will.

Granger hesitates, then she nods, a small, barely perceptible tip of her head. A curl falls across her cheek. "Why do you think," she says softly, "he showed up on your doorstep Saturday afternoon?" She gives me a tiny smile. "He's been in love with you for a long time, Draco. Even before he knew it."

My throat aches and my shoulders are tense. "That doesn't mean he'll want me back."

"It means you can try," she says. "If you think he's worth it." She looks at the carved box sitting on the table between us. "He left that for you to find. I know Harry."

I reach for the box, picking it up and turning it over in my hands. "Will you think I'm a coward if I say I'm terrified?" I glance up at her.

Granger laughs, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "I'll think you're human." She lays a hand on my forearm. I don't pull away this time. "Sometimes Ginny still scares me to death."

"He's forgiven you, you know," I say, far too abruptly. I've no idea why I'm even helping the Weasel, but it seems a fitting exchange for tonight. "Both of you. He's happy with Pansy."

"I know." Granger sighs. "But Gin…"

"I'll have Pansy speak to him." I've obviously lost my mind. "Perhaps if he makes the first contact…"

Granger smiles at me, and she leans across the table and kisses my cheek. "You're a decent enough sort, Draco Malfoy."

My mouth twists, but I'm secretly pleased. I look down at the box in my hands, opening it carefully. "You'll give this to him?" I ask.

"Of course." Granger watches me, her curiosity obvious. "Why?"

I slip the signet ring off my finger. It thuds softly against the white silk of the box. I close the lid and hand the box to Granger. "Just do."

She looks up at me as I stand. I drain the last of my beer and set the bottle down. "You'll be all right?" Granger asks.

"Perhaps." For the first time in months, the smile I give her is genuine. "I suppose we'll see."

With a nod, I Apparate.

***

I sit curled into the corner of the sofa, a bottle of pinot blanc in one hand. The only light in the room comes from the twinkling fairies as they flit past the glass ornaments of the Christmas tree in the corner and the soft glow of the Muggle streetlamps filtering through the sheer gauze of the sitting room curtains.

On the wireless, the London Wizarding Symphony is playing their usual Christmas concert. We'd always listened to it every year, my family, settled in the downstairs parlour of the Manor. I'd be sprawled on the Axminster, book in hand, a plate of Christmas biscuits at my elbow, trying to ignore the pile of presents beneath the tree with my name on the tags. Mother would stretch out on the sofa in front of the fire, a scrap of embroidery in her hand, and Father would sit in his favourite chair next to her, drinking whisky as he listened to the music, his eyes closed.

He'd been a patron of the Symphony then. When I was five he'd insisted that I begin to attend matinees with him on Sunday afternoons after church. I'd nearly fallen once from our box in Linbury Hall. Father'd been too caught up in the music to realise I'd leaned over the railing. If it hadn't been for Pansy's great-aunt Prudence in the box next to us and her quick Levitation charm, I'd have cracked my head on the stage below.

After that, Mother'd insisted that a house elf accompany us. Dobby'd been less than thrilled to keep me out of trouble, I must say.

Last year I'd taken Harry to hear the Symphony play. He'd sucked my cock in the loo halfway through Lipnitsky's Besensymphonie. It'd been much more enjoyable than most of my previous excursions to Linbury Hall, I have to say.

I keep waiting for him to step through the Floo. Surely he will. He has to when he sees the box. He'll know. I know he will.

By the time the clock on the mantel strikes midnight, the bottle's empty and I'm morose. The embers in the fireplace gleam orange-black in the shadows. The fairies are asleep on beribboned boughs. Even the Muggle streetlamps have dimmed, their light muted by the soft rain striking the window panes.

I suppose I have my answer.

With a sigh, I set the bottle aside and push myself from the sofa. It seems as if I'll have plenty of time to get used to be alone again.

I ward my Floo and go to bed.

viii.

Christmas Eve morning brings a torrent of rain and an excruciating headache.

I roll out of bed, cursing myself for opening a second bottle. I need tea. Or something stronger. I draw on my pyjama bottoms, tugging the drawstring tight, and shuffle downstairs to the kitchen.

The kettle's only begun to sing--it appears to be in the holiday spirit as I'm fairly certain the off-key screech is its rendition of I Saw Three Ships--when an owl taps against the kitchen window. I throw open the sash, shivering as the cold rain strikes my face. The owl, large and grey and ill-tempered, drops the note, not even bothering to wait for me to toss him a treat before he swoops back out into the storm. I almost think I see the flutter of black and white magpie wings in the tree, but when I peer out into the pouring rain, there's nothing in the bare branches.

Or at least nothing I can see.

Damn Pansy.

I take the kettle off the cooker before it drives me mad, and pour a mug of tea, letting the leaves seep as I carry the mug to the table and sit. I unfold the note. It's not properly sealed. It's not even written on parchment, or at least not decent stuff. The paper has a waxy, odd feel to it that I'm all too familiar with.

Azkaban. Standard issue to the prisoners.

I look down at the thick black scrawl across the middle of the grey-white paper.

Happy Christmas.

--Father

I slump into my chair, completely knocked off-kilter. There's no demand to see me. No diatribe railing against my improper lifestyle choices. No insistence that I do my familial duty. No screed detailing all the ways I have failed and humiliated past generations of Malfoys, not to mention my father.

The greasy black pencil smears at my touch. It's Father's handwriting. No one else could make an F so bloody imperious.

I‘ve no idea what to think, much less do, without the dependable anchor of his disapprobation.

My tea grows cold as I sit, staring out the window at the steady fall of rain.

***

The Azkaban receiving rooms are wretched. Cold and damp, the walls exude an aura of despair. Lichen grows in one of the corners, ruffling and green on the stone floor. I don't bother sitting in either of the two rickety wooden chairs charmed to stick to the wall.

Instead I pace, nervous and tense. I don't know why I'm here, but it's Christmas Eve, and, bastard or not, my father is my father. Mother was right.

When the door creaks open behind me, I turn, my arms folded tight across my chest. The guard steps in first, pulling my father after him. "You got ten minutes," he says gruffly. "Maybe fifteen, if he don't behave like he usually do."

Father bares his teeth at the guard, snapping them loudly. The guard glares at him, then shuts the door, leaving us alone. Father looks at me, his features falling into the usual expressionless mask I'm familiar with. I wonder if I've made the right choice in coming.

"Draco." Father's voice is raw and hoarse. He moves towards me, then stops at my flinch, his face wary.

I step back and study him. He's thin, bone-thin. I can see the indentations in his wrist below the frayed hem of his sleeve. His striped shirt hangs off him, and his once-long hair has been cut raggedly, falling at his shoulders in uneven locks. He looks old now, far past his sixty-two years. It unsettles me, even though I know he hasn't changed since Easter.

I'd been so damned angry then.

"Why'd you owl?" I ask finally.

Father licks his cracked lips. His skin is waxy white. "It's Christmas."

"That's not an answer." I meet his gaze. Father looks away.

"Because you're my son," he says after a long moment. "And whether or not we agree, that one fact will never change." He glances back at me. "No matter how you might wish it to." Father sits on one of the chairs. It creaks beneath him, but holds steady. He gestures towards the other. "You may as well sit. Or lean against the wall. I don't really care either way."

I hesitate, then gingerly sit next to him.

We're silent, then Father looks over at me. "Why'd you come?"

I rub my thumb over an invisible spot on my robe. "Because you're my father," I say. "Even if you're a cocksucker."

" Language, Draco," Father says. "And I do think that description is more aptly applied to you." But there's no sting in his words. He smiles faintly over at me--so quickly I nearly think I've imagined it--and holds out a bony hand.

I'm hesitant to take it, but when he squeezes my hand, I curl my fingers around his for a moment before I pull away.

"You're embarrassed of me." Father leans back carefully in his chair, resting his head against the wall.

I nod. "Do you blame me?"

Father turns his head to look at me. The wrinkles creasing his face are deep. It's hard to see him like this. When I think of him, he's always the beautiful, tall, proud man of my youth. Now only the arrogance remains, hanging around him in muted, tattered shreds. "No," he says. "I'd feel the same if I were you."

I twist the hem of my sleeve between my fingers. "Maybe," I say slowly, "maybe that's not so important today." I meet his eyes, and Father nods. My cheeks warm. I'm not comfortable with the surfeit of emotion the past few days have provoked. To hide my embarrassment, I fumble in my pocket, finally pulling out a small package. I thrust it at Father. "Here."

He takes it, surprised.

"Open it." I shift in my chair. It groans ominously, but holds. I watch as Father tugs at the tissue paper, pulling it away to reveal a box of praline chocolates from Belgium.

He touches the gold lettering on the cream box top. "My favourites."

"I know," I say quietly. When he looks over at me, I give him a faint smile. "I might have stopped by Brussels before I came over."

"Happy Christmas," Father says, and I nod, a lump closing my throat.

Perhaps it will be happy after all, if only in the small things.

***

I'm so lost in thoughts of Father that I barely register Harry's sitting on the steps to my building, smoking a cigarette, when I walk up. I draw up short, my breath catching. I try to say something, but I'm not entirely certain I'm not imagining him there. My fingers tighten around the handle of my umbrella.

The rain's slowed to a misting drizzle, and Harry, of course, hasn't bothered with either an Impervious or an umbrella. His trainers are soaked, as are the frayed hems of his jeans, but at least he's managed to cast an Impervious over his glasses and the worn leather jacket he'd inherited from his godfather. His cheeks are pink from the cold, and his hair is covered by an atrociously crimson knit cap. Damp curls cling to his skin, poking out from under the cap.

"Hey," Harry says softly. He drops the cigarette and grinds it out with the heel of his trainer. There's a bottle of wine in a paper bag between his thighs.

I stop at foot of the stairs. Rain drips from the silver tips of my black umbrella. "What are you doing here?"

He smiles and the corners of his eyes crinkle. "Waiting for you."

I sit next to him, the umbrella covering us both. With a start, I recognise my old Slytherin scarf wrapped around his neck. The tassels are gone on one end, the yarn singed and badly darned. I touch it, letting the still-soft knit slide through my fingers. "But you burnt this."

"I started to." Harry unwinds the scarf from around his neck and drapes it around mine. "I put it out after you slammed the door."

A 94 bus rumbles past towards Acton Green, a streak of red on the wet, grey road. I twist my old scarf around my wrist. "I don't even remember what we were arguing about."

"Something stupid, no doubt." Harry's fingers close around mine, warm and familiar. His touch is almost hesitant.

I don't pull my hand away. "It was always something stupid," I say. "Usually that you'd done."

Harry just snorts.

I let the scarf tassels drop into my lap. "I can't believe you kept it. And even attempted to mend it."

"Yeah." Harry strokes his thumb over my knuckles. "Dunno why." His shoulder bumps mine. "I meant to give it back, but then…" He trails off, then drops my hand.

We sit there, watching the rain fall, tiny drops rippling in the puddles at our feet. With a sigh, Harry digs into his pocket. He pulls out my signet ring, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. "I almost didn't open it," he says finally.

I watch him rub the worn gold. "But you did."

"Eventually." Harry drops the ring in my hand, closing my fingers over it. "Hermione told me she talked to you."

"Yes." I can still feel the warmth of his skin lingering on the ring. I clutch it tightly; the edges bite into my palm.

Harry rests his elbows on his thighs and stares down the narrow path from the steps to the street. I left the wrought iron gate open behind me and it clanks against the fence, the wind blowing it into the brick. "I always knew," he said quietly. "You don't know what it was like, what they said about me…" He closes his eyes and rubs his hands over his face, pushing his glasses up. They fall back onto his nose, slightly askew. "I was so fucking in love with you, and you…"

"I'm sorry," I say just as he says, "I guess I never mattered."

We both stop, looking at each other. I draw in a deep breath.

"You matter. You always did," I say, slowly. This is difficult for me. I don't particularly care for admitting I was wrong. I glance over at him; he's watching the cars rolling past us on the street. "Harry…"

He chews his bottom lip, his fingers rubbing at his left wrist. "You really broke me," he says at last. "I didn't even know why you did it--I thought maybe it was everything with Lucius--"

I put my hand over his. "No." I don't really want to discuss this, but I know we have to. If there's any chance--and Merlin, I want there to be--we have to communicate. As much as the thought of this conversation makes me queasy. "I was angry with you. We'd fought, and then you went bloody asked to be sent to Scotland just to get away from me. Mother'd planned that party for us, and I had to go alone, and God, Harry, I wanted to hurt you, and I was pissed which really isn't ever a good combination for me…" I sigh. "It was only that one time, and I regretted it terribly." I look at him. "I still do."

"You should have told me." Harry's voice is rough, raw with emotion. "I had every right to hear it from you."

"I know. I thought I could make it go away."

"I would have forgiven you," he says quietly. "We could have got through it."

My throat aches as I swallow. I nod and pray we still can get through this.

Harry touches my cheek. "I didn't set out to get caught with Malcolm. I just…wanted to hurt you too."

I roll the umbrella handle between my fingers. "You succeeded. Admirably."

"I'm sorry."

The rain has stopped; irregular drops still slide from the branches. "I would have forgiven you too," I whisper, looking out over the wet boxwoods in the front garden.

Harry's hand settles on my knee. "I know."

We fall silent again. A burst of chatter from a tree arching above us catches my attention. A magpie hops along the bare branch, tilting its head towards me as it chacker-chackers. A second one flutters down next to it, studying us with one bright eye.

"Shouldn't they have flown south by now?" Harry asks, following my gaze.

I roll my eyes. "Blame Pansy." He just gives me a puzzled look. I shake my head. "Maybe one day I'll explain."

"Will there be a one day?" Harry leans towards me. His eyes are dark green behind his smudged glasses. He has the most beautiful lashes, dark and thick and curving against the lenses of his glasses. It's all I can do not to kiss him right there.

"Do you want there to be?" I'm almost afraid to ask.

Harry nods slowly. "I've missed you so damn much." His breath is a soft grey huff in the cold air.

I can't breathe, but that doesn't seem important right now.

"Draco," Harry says softly.

I stand. Harry looks up at me. I hold out my hand. "Will you come inside?"

A small smile curves his mouth. "I might." His fingers curl around mine and I pull him to his feet. "If you don't mind."

"Would I have asked if I did?" I shake the umbrella as we walk up the steps.

Harry leans against the narrow side windows as I unward the front door. "You can be a bit perverse at times."

I give him an acrid scowl. "It's not usually intentional." We step into the foyer; I stick the umbrella in the stand next to the door.

Harry catches my arm. "I've really missed you," he says softly, pulling me up against him. The bottle of wine in his hand presses against my hip. I don't care. The look in Harry's eyes is all that matters at the moment. "I want to kiss you."

My hands rest on his shoulders. "Am I supposed to send you an engraved invitation?"

Harry laughs, a throaty, rich roll of amusement that makes my toes curl in my loafers. My shoulders hit the wall, the carved paneling digging into my shoulders.

"I love you," I say just as his mouth brushes mine. I can't stop myself. I look away as Harry pulls back and stares. My hands tense on his shoulders, but I don't move them. I have to touch him. I need to. I close my eyes, face averted, heart in my throat. I've ruined everything.

Harry catches my chin, turns my head towards him. He kisses me again, soft, light, his lips barely moving over mine. "Me too," he whispers. His mouth brushes mine again. "So damn much, Draco." Another kiss.

I reluctantly open my eyes. Harry's smiling at me. "You're such a twit, Potter," I say, but I kiss the corner of his lips.

Harry turns his head, catching my mouth with his. I moan softly, my hands going to his hips, as his tongue presses against mine. The kiss is rough and eager and everything I've wanted.

"You're not fucking anyone else," Harry says as he drags his mouth along my jaw.

I stretch my neck. He trails a line of bites down it. "Neither are you." I lean forward and kiss him again, sucking his bottom lip. When I scrape my teeth across it, he groans, pressing his hips against mine, and I hiss. I tighten my grip on his hips, my fingers digging into the damp denim of his jeans. "Stop."

Harry pulls back slightly, blinking. "What?" He rocks his hips forward, and I try not to gasp.

I'm breathing hard. So is he. "I want to talk," I say.

"Talk." Harry looks at me as if I've lost my mind.

I nod. "We're really good at fucking," I say. Harry laughs softly, and I smile. "Really, really good. But we've never really talked." I lean my forehead against his and hook my fingertips through his belt loops. "Maybe that's what's missing…" I draw in a shaky breath.

Harry's silent for a moment, then he cups my cheek. "Okay," he says. He kisses me again, a gentle press of lips. "I wanted to talk anyway." He smiles against my mouth. "And then fuck."

"Wretch." I can't help but laugh. When he steps back, I glance down at the bulge in his jeans. "Think you can concentrate?"

Harry raises one eyebrow. "And you're not in the same situation?"

He does have a point. I kiss him again, quickly. "Happy Christmas," I murmur.

"Mmm." Harry tucks a lock of hair behind my ear. "Happy anniversary too."

"Of course. I'd nearly forgotten." I school my features into an innocent look.

Harry smacks my hip. "The hell you had."

Still smiling, I unward the door to my flat and push it open.

"In any case," Harry says as he walks in, "I was going to get you pissed and try to take advantage of you--"

"Not that you could," I say dryly. I pause. "Usually."

Harry grins and hands me the bottle of wine. "Let's make it an anniversary celebration instead." He purses his mouth. "Can it still be an anniversary if you've broken up during the previous year?"

"I think that's depends on what happens next." I pull the wine from the paper bag. It's a pinot noir from New Zealand's Martinborough region. The label stops me in my tracks. "Ten Magpies?"

Harry looks back over his shoulder as he shrugs his jacket off. He stuffs his hat in the pocket. "Is it a bad vineyard? Some bloke at Oddbins recommended it." He eyes me. "What's so funny?"

I just lean against the wall, laughing, the bottle clutched in my hand. "Go get two glasses. We're going to toast Pansy and the magpies."

"Is this that thing you were going to explain?" Harry hangs his jacket on the coat rack. He holds his hand out; I pass over the bottle. Our fingers brush and I shiver and smile at him.

"Where do I even begin?" As I follow him into the kitchen, I glance out the sitting room window. The two magpies fly past, one after another, a blur of black and white. I stop and watch them as they soar over a rooftop, wings spread wide, dark shadows against the grey sky.

Harry's hand is warm against the small of my back. "Beautiful, aren't they?" he murmurs, looking over my shoulder.

I nod, still watching as they disappear into the clouds. Harry slides his arm around me, pulling me close.

Joy to the world indeed.

------------------------

One brings sorrow,

Two bring joy,

Three a girl,

And four a boy,

Five bring want,

Six bring gold,

Seven bring secrets never told,

Eight bring wishing,

Nine bring kissing,

Ten, the love my own heart's missing.

--The Magpie Rhyme, Warwickshire variant

~*~

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