Upon arriving in King’s Cross Station on the first of December, Harry Potter felt a surge of nostalgia and not a little bit of anticipatory excitement. Today he wouldn’t be boarding the Hogwarts Express, but he would be boarding at Platform 9 ¾ and watching the scenery roll by until he reached the familiar town of Hogsmeade. Even though he’d only be gone for a month, and he had absolutely no plans while away, he still felt a sense of anticipation—like his life would change just by doing something of his own accord.
To Harry Potter, deciding his future had never come easily. After all, he’d spent most of his life skipping his schooling because of a prophecy, not because he’d wanted to. The last decision Harry had made by himself had been in a different King’s Cross three years ago, actually.
He felt refreshed just standing and staring at Platform 9 ¾. That is, until someone bumped into him, realized he was staring at a blank wall, and bustled away with her purse tucked under a protective arm. Harry looked after her, raising his eyebrows and grinning slightly, perhaps looking even madder than he had a moment before.
It was probably the bright red uniform he was wearing.
He’d come straight from a night shift in Glasgow, one incident of many involving the recent resurgence of savage werewolf packs all over the United Kingdom. After the war, Greyback’s plan to turn werewolves against society had gained momentum, and now it was rumoured that they were breeding or otherwise changing young children. He’d clocked in so much overtime over the issue in the past month that the Auror Department couldn’t bat an eye at his request for a month-long Christmas holiday, even if they were dealing with a Ministry-wide series of cases.
Ginny had been less supportive of Harry’s decision to leave, understandably. Harry hadn’t clocked in overtime with her in the last few months—it fact, it could be argued that he was avoiding her and the Burrow like the plague. He wouldn’t deny it.
Ron and Hermione had been supportive, though. It had to be the years of shared turmoil that pushed them to accept Harry’s need to get away, otherwise they’d be as worried as the rest of the Weasleys. Asking Ginny to go on a break had been difficult, as much good as it did him, but asking his best friends for the same courtesy was not something he could take for granted.
It was yet another reason why Harry did need to get away—from work and friends and family because, as he had remembered over a cup of coffee one morning recovering from a particularly overwhelming weekend with the Weasleys, he hadn’t ever been alone of his own volition. He had been emotionally abused and abandoned while his aunt and uncle took his cousin on extended vacations… and that surely didn’t count. Having no other place to go during the holidays at school couldn’t count either, because as much as Hogwarts was his home, it was a home chosen for him.
Wartsbridge it was, then. He’d chosen it himself, and he would go by himself. A little town across the lake from Hogsmeade, and on the other side of the Forbidden Forest—several miles worth of towering, dark trees between he and his former home. To be honest, he had chosen Wartsbridge because it was close enough to what he knew to feel comfortable, but far enough away to feel unexplored. He had picked out a funny little home outside of town owned by an old wizard named Barnaby Mason, who clearly did not live up to his family name, for he had built a wooden house. In a tree.
That was as close to crazy as Harry would get this Christmas, he’d decided. But it didn’t matter because he had decided and thus it would be wonderful.
Platform 9 ¾ was much the same as it had always been, except this time around Harry could count the number of boarding passengers on one hand. Instead of the Express there rested a shining black steam engine and four cars, in front of which stood a curvaceous guard with dark hair hidden under her uniform cap.
Harry approached her with his ticket, but within five paces of her was bombarded by her cloying perfume and her gasp of surprise.
“Merlin’s knickers, you’re Harry Potter, aren’t you?” she exclaimed, and Harry raised his hands quickly when she pointed a gloved finger at him.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he muttered, pulling out his ticket. “Do I need to get my ticket checked now or when I’ve found a seat?”
“Oh, yes, uhm…” She batted her eyelashes at him.
“You can find a seat, now, Sir. I’ll find you later.” And then she winked.
Harry smiled, backing away and jumping onto the train at the nearest possibility.
“Could’ve Portkeyed or Apparated…” he grumbled. He had remembered he was a Wizard when it came to one thing at least—his trunk, the same he used all throughout Hogwarts, was shrunken to the size of a ring box in his left pocket. Harry patted it to make sure it was still there, and walked down to the dining car where only one other passenger sat, huddled up next to a window with his cup of tea steaming lazily on the table in front of him.
The guard with the horrid perfume found the other wizard first, tapping his ticket with her wand and notifying him that his stop was next before moving down the aisle and grinning at Harry, making sure to brush her fingers against his when he handed his ticket over.
“Hogsmeade, ey? Going to visit old friends at Hogwarts?” she asked, as if she knew all about him.
Which, he supposed, she did, due to the five (and counting) biographies of the tortured hero Harry Potter that were still bestsellers in the United Kingdom.
“Oh,” the woman sighed, seemingly disappointed. “I’ve been to Hogsmeade once; really liked Madame Puddifoot’s tea shop.”
“I bet you did,” Harry said under his breath, taking his ticket back and placing it on the table in front of him.
“Anyway, I hope you have a pleasant trip and a pleasant stay, Mister Potter.” She shuffled down the aisle, and Harry took a big breath, finally relaxi—
“Actually, Mister Potter… I was wondering if you’d sign my—”
“No! No thank you, sorry. I don’t do autographs.”
The guard huffed and continued on her way, as Harry wondered not for the first time how much easier it must be to be someone else.
Once the engine chugged its way out of King’s Cross, the rows of buildings falling away to reveal rain-slick countryside, Harry’s excitement grew. When they had stopped in Truckleton, Hag’s Nest, and Cauldron Springs, the train crossed the Anglo-Scottish boarder and the countryside gave way to the familiar deep valleys and tall mountains of Scotland.
Harry felt like a first year, twirling his wand nervously and nearly pressing his nose to the glass to watch every transformation of the land. Harry knew then why he hadn’t chosen faster means of travel, why he would brave the masses. For this.
For a completely voluntary month of rest, reflection and perhaps most importantly, solitude.
His relentless enthusiasm lasted him until late into the day, when he’d Disapparated from the Hogsmeade Station and appeared at the corner of Church and Pea Street in downtown Wartsbridge.
There wasn’t much other than a coffee and tea shop, a pub, a church and a couple stores along the main street, but Harry contented himself with a cup of coffee with a scoop of ice cream—sometimes being Harry Potter was nice, if ice cream was the prize—and walked across the Wartsbridge bridge, leaning over the edge to see the stream make its way around already forming ice. When he heard a deep, snorting growl come from beneath the bridge, Harry decided it was time to find Tree House Grove, and not wait to find out if the noise was just his imagination or a very large valley troll.
Harry walked half-a-kilometre, following his Point Me spell, until he came upon a Grove of oak and evergreen trees. He could just see the red-brown panelling of the odd wooden structure through the trees, so he ducked under a low-hanging pine branch and entered the clearing.
The tree house climbed high into the canopy of two ancient oaks, the landing of the front steps seeming to repeat five times over until it reached the front door, a large door with a window of stained glass down its front. In the glass a tawny owl stood watch, or would have, had the owl been awake. Instead it was snoozing in the confines of its wooden frame, amber glass feathers rising and falling in time with its breaths.
“Whew,” Harry said.
The owl opened one eye, then, surprising Harry.
“Too-woo,” it called and then, ruffling its feathers like the clinking of tiny bells, it resettled and closed its eyes.
The door opened on a creak, the house having recognized him.
Harry pocketed his wand, scrambled up the twenty steps and pushed the door open, his eyes falling on a the sight of a quirky living room and kitchenette, from which three doors opened to other parts of the house. The fireplace was going already and, as soon as he’d got five paces into the room, Christmas music blasted seemingly from nowhere like the house was welcoming him home. Was that the Weird Sisters’ first Christmas album?
“Of course,” laughed Harry, shutting the door and removing his gloves. He placed them on the small dining table by the biggest window in the room and went to explore the house.
The door left of the fireplace opened to reveal a walkway, covered from above but panelled with mismatched warped and mottled glass. There were plants of every shape and size in the warm room, with a watering can sitting on a little end table by the door. The same room held another walkway leading to a study with cherry wood walls lined with an odd assortment of bookshelves, likely housing an odd assortment of books. There was a large desk with fresh parchment and ink, paired with a chair, a green loveseat and a floor lamp shaped like a lamppost. In the middle of the room was a spiral staircase.
Harry climbed the stairs to what appeared to be the master bedroom, where muffling charms muted the raspy croon of Myron Wagtail over Gideon Crumb’s bagpipes in the classic song “Mistletoe (Kiss Me I’m Drunk).” The pictures in the brochure had not done it justice. The centrepiece of the room was a luxurious king-sized bed, topped with three duvets and book-ended by a couple of quaintly mismatched bedside tables and two large windows through which natural light filtered into the room. A skylight above the staircase cast a soft glow over the scene, the light green wallpaper soothing to the eye. The door to the bathroom was open, revealing a large room with sink, bathtub, shower, and blue tiled floors.
Harry shook his head. Pulling out his trunk and his wand, Harry paced to the least cluttered side of the room and cast an Engorgio spell on his luggage.
Then, feeling a sudden sense of calm and a little bit of insecurity—after all, what was he to do now that he’d arrived?—he shed his work robes, put on pyjamas and woolly socks and promptly crawled under the several blankets in the large bed.
Harry fell asleep as the late afternoon sun fell behind the trees, the room darkening and the world narrowing to the sounds of the forest while Harry dreamt.
Harry woke sluggishly at six the next morning. Pushing away the cobwebs of a dream that had left a feeling of hopeless longing deep in his chest, Harry stretched. In the dream he’d been chasing after something, what that something was he didn’t know, but he wanted it badly.
He would’ve stayed in bed, trying to fish after the last wisps of unsettling dreamdom, but when 7:30 rolled around, the bed shook violently, creaking and shuddering, and then tossed Harry out onto the floor.
There was a moment where Harry thought to zap the bed with a good stinging Hex, but then he thought better of it, since the bed was a bed and thus inanimate… Maybe.
Suitably irritated, Harry retrieved his glasses shuffled over to the loo to begin his day. A long shower helped wash the annoyance away, but could not push away the image of a resentful dream-Ginny, cross with Harry for leaving her time and again, exclaiming fussily that he didn’t have time to kiss her, wouldn’t kiss her, when he was looking, looking and not finding…
Freshly showered and with nothing to do, Harry Summoned a book from the study downstairs and read until his stomach argued more emphatically for sustenance than did the author about the extinction of Scottish Gaelic spell work in the 1300s. It didn’t take too long, as he hadn’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch. Plus the light-that-looked-like-a-lamp-post kept flickering each time he turned the page, like it thought he was closing the book each time.
He got an owl from Ginny while drawing a bath that evening. She said she missed him. She said she missed him warming her bed. She said she wished he were home and that she wished they hadn’t agreed to go on a break.
Harry dropped the letter to the clammy floor in the master bathroom, breathing in the steam and imagining Ginny months ago, curled against him and sweeping her small hands down his stomach. They made love often before—quick and easy—her soft thighs wrapping around him and her fingernails scraping through his hair. He took himself in hand but couldn’t finish, the slow burn in his belly never rising above a dull hum.
He was beginning to think there was something fundamentally wrong with him.
After Harry was unceremoniously tossed from the bed at 7:30 sharp again, his second day was spent in town, where Harry eventually came to the conclusion that he might’ve benefitted from a bit more planning and a bit less ‘letting go.’ Letting go allowed him to think, which had been a good idea in theory, but looking at his reflection in the mirror that morning and seeing the dark circles from a fitful sleep left him feeling a little less than collected. Concluding that navel-gazing wasn’t his strongest suit, he’d walked through the forest to Wartsbridge proper and spent the rest of the day there, circling round and round in the shops trying to clear this mind. He’d collected a bunch of useless trinkets from the bookshop and the gift store, bought groceries, and sent a letter to Hermione from the town’s owlery, telling her what an interesting holiday he was having already, exploring the house and the town and the countryside, and wasn’t it nice to spend some time to oneself? Also did she know how to get an alarm charm out of a 100-year-old bed?
He ate in the pub that evening and drank a little too much, watching the blond bartender flirt with the witches on the arms of other wizards, wondering morosely why he couldn’t find it in him to do the same. The bartender was charming to him as well, but only to keep Harry happy and drinking, but didn’t pay much mind when Harry’s mood steadily declined as the wizard’s brown eyes flicked back to the witch in the red pullover at the end of the bar, time and again.
He had no troubles getting home, but discovering the ice lilies on the edge of the property didn’t improve his mood either. Picking one from the patch he stumbled up to the house and put it in a vase before bumbling upstairs and crashing atop the bed, his shoes still on.
By 7:30 in the morning, the ice lily had melted, but Harry was too hung-over to care much. The music this morning was loud and obnoxious, and Harry didn’t know how to turn it off, so he ate and spent the day upstairs. He could get in bed after the alarm went off, he found, and spent the next four hours sleeping off his headache.
When Harry woke up in the mid-afternoon, sick with hunger and heart hurting from the remnants of a dream, he pressed a fist to his temple and decided he needed not to fall into a pit of self-deprecation. Especially when he’d gone to such lengths to get out to Wartsbridge and spend some time to himself. He had always been resilient and self-sufficient, so why start going all wishy-washy now?
Harry took some Pepper-Up and made himself more coffee when he got downstairs. While the coffee brewed, he rinsed off some of the remaining tension from last night and dressed in one of his favourite jumpers. Relaxed and increasingly happy, he pulled a novel off the shelves in the study, returned to the kitchen and scooped himself some ice cream to put in his coffee.
After Pigwidgeon arrived with Hermione’s letter, full of heartfelt encouragements about his time alone and reassurance in his Charms skills (which could also be considered a reprimand if he chose to read it as such), Harry finished his coffee. Just as the music switched over to something bluesy, Harry realized he hadn’t opened the last two doors in the main room.
With a backward glance at the tawny owl in the front door, just waking up and hooting a hello, Harry opened the rightmost door, revealing a half-bath with walls decorated in illustrated pin-ups from The Worldwise Wizard in the 1950s. Sufficiently uncomfortable and giggling a little too pitchy to sound normal, Harry went to the last door in the room, which opened up to a staircase in the open air. The frigid wind blew in and drove a shiver up Harry’s spine, but he took the stairs anyway, climbing around the exterior of the house, through the boughs of the beautiful oak trees until he reached an outer deck.
It hadn’t been used in a while, covered in fallen leaves and frost, but it was beautiful. Two chairs faced the west, the winter sun shining down on them through the dark leafless branches of the oak trees. Harry, hugging himself, took a deep breath and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the forest.
He stood awhile, tilting his head upward as if to soak in the weak light of the sun through the white-grey sky. It was a while before he opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as a snowflake fell on his nose, and more still settled silent in his hair and over his thick jumper. He tilted his head farther, feeling icy wet kisses against his collarbone, invigorating and chilling.
“Finally,” Harry whispered, knowing that this was what he had been looking for. Walking toward the two chairs, Harry stepped out from under the shade of the branches, feeling warmed despite the temperature. He took a deep breath, puffing it out in a steamy cloud, before pulling out his wand and beginning to clear the area.
He heard rustling outside. Had he not just finished his third coffee of the day at eleven in the evening, he might have chalked his sensitive hearing up to staying in this ridiculous tree house, where the wind was windier and the night noise was noisier – although there was no wind, tonight. The skylight revealed a beautiful expanse of indigo sky, stars shining like faerie lights scattered through a skeletal canopy. Harry almost forgot what had drawn his attention, fingers rubbing aimlessly over the pages of his latest book, but a loud whisper shot through the dark, unmistakably human and echoing up from under the house.
Harry grabbed his wand and slipped into his boots, hurrying down the stairs and jumping from the higher landing outside the front door. The powdery white layer of snow that had fallen a few hours earlier softened his fall, but nonetheless Harry felt clumsy, gripping his phoenix feather wand and peering out into the darkness.
His eyes widened as a round little unicorn no larger than a Shetland pony ambled out from the tree line, so much whiter than the newly fallen snow that it seemed to glow with its own light. Harry was so transfixed that until the creature made a snack out of the ice lilies nearest the walkway, he didn’t take a breath. What resulted was an overly-audible gasp when he did remember to breathe, which had surely alerted whomever had been outside when Harry had first got the stupid idea to barge out into the night with just his pyjamas on.
“Shit! Georgey…” A tall man seemed to materialize out of the evergreens just then, drawing Harry’s attention. He tossed his hands in the air and puffed out a steamy, exasperated breath.
“What the hell?” Harry exclaimed, realizing the man was addressing the unicorn. What the fuck was a unicorn doing here, besides munching on the ice lilies? And how in the world had any subspecies of unicorn made such a pudgy little animal? When he’d wished for more excitement this hols, he wasn’t exactly asking for this. He’d never thought romping with unicorns would be his style.
The man whipped his wand out and pointed it at him.
“Don’t you dare!” shouted Harry, advancing on the odd pair with his own wand pointed at the man’s chest. Had he forgotten the holly wand upstairs in his haste, he felt sure, he would have woken up the next morning unaware that such an odd event had occurred.
The man faltered, arm still outstretched as the pony—unicorn—swung its head between he and Harry.
“Thank Merlin,” was the response after a moment, the voice young, about Harry’s age and tinged both with a clearly upper class British accent with a few years’ exposure to the Highlands. The man sighed, tucked his wand up his sleeve and knelt in the snow, putting himself on a level with ‘Georgey’ and reaching for his tail. The unicorn pranced out of the way and behind the trees, bobbing his head mockingly. “I was going to Obliviate you!” the wizard yelled at Harry. “I abhor Obliviating people,” he continued, apparently indifferent to Georgey’s actions.
Harry frowned. “I don’t think anyone likes Obliviating people,” he replied.
“No, it… makes me physically sick,” the man replied.
Vying for attention, Georgey flicked his tail, the pearlescent strands shining despite the dark.
“Anyway, what are you doing creeping about in the dark?”
“What am—what am I doing?” Harry shook his head. “You’re the one trespassing on my property—with a unicorn!”
As eventful as his life had been lately, this certainly took the cake in terms of the bizarre.
“Excuse you, unicorns are the noblest and most innocent magical creatures on earth.” The man, whom Harry could see more of as his eyes adjusted, folded his slim arms indignantly.
In that moment, Harry could have sworn he was back in fifth year, arguing with his then rival, a boy whom no one had seen since the Battle of Hogwarts three years ago. An echo of, “Hogwarts has really gone to the dogs!” bounced around in his memory.
Georgey whinnied and trotted out from the darkness again, and the man gave another tremendous sigh, as if the unicorn had just commanded him to do a jig.
“Oh, all right. I am sorry for trespassing. I have to keep an eye on him during his midnight drift and your ice lilies distracted him. Unfortunately, as much as I’m looking after him, he’s the boss—can’t tell a unicorn what to do.”
“Of course not,” said Harry. “Er, what’s your name?”
“I’m Cináed. My friends from the surly call me Phoenix.” The man stood, brushed off his knees and extended a hand.
The surly? Harry shrugged and said, “Nice to meet you.” He lit his wand, raising it above them to cast light around the clearing. “I’m…”
The man, who was smiling charmingly at Harry even with squinted eyes adjusting to the light, was undoubtedly the very person Harry had been reminded of just moments ago.
Malfoy cocked a dark brown eyebrow, the smooth line of it disappearing under his slightly tousled fringe of matching dark brown hair, hidden beneath a silly orange beanie hat. His grey eyes gave him away completely, if not his pointy chin and holier-than-thou posture.
“You seem slightly unsure of yourself,” Malfoy deadpanned. His hand dropped a few inches between them, drawing Harry’s attention to the patterned pullover under a heavy black jacket
“What did you say your name was, again?” Harry asked weakly.
The man looked disbelievingly at Harry. “Phoenix,” he said.
“Sorry. My name is Harry Potter.” Harry caught Malfoy’s hand, covered in soft fingerless gloves, and, after an awkward second in which Malfoy looked even less sure of Harry’s sanity, gave that hand a firm shake.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” muttered Malfoy, just this side of sarcastic.
“Your name’s Phoenix.” Harry might’ve stared awhile longer had he not felt a soft nibble at his thigh, warm breath startling him out of his weird déjà vu.
“Ah… yeah, that’s my nickname. And this stubborn creature is Georgey. His real name is Disgleirio but it’s a bitch to pronounce so he lets me call him Georgey—or Fatty if he steals my supper.”
“Evening, Georgey,” Harry mumbled. Hesitantly, he rested his fingers in the unicorn’s mane, careful not to touch the horn. It was the purest part of a unicorn, even more magical than the blood.
Georgey snorted and nibbled at his trousers again.
“He thinks you smell good,” Malfoy said, kneeling in the snow yet again. Georgey was in charge, it seemed.
And this was turning out to be the most surreal experience of his recent life. And Harry had gone through quite a lot of shit, if he did say so himself.
Malfoy pulled some dried flowers from his pocket and let Georgey gobble them up before standing, readjusting his hat, and shrugging as if to say something along the lines of, ‘Well, you’re a bit crazy, you’re wearing a Snitch-covered pyjama set, and I’ve got to go anyway, so…’
“So, we’ll be getting out of your hair,” he said.
“Georgey, we need to leave.”
Georgey turned and nudged Harry with his nose, peering up with wide eyes at him as if waiting for something.
“Why are you taking a unicorn on a walk in the middle of the night?” Harry wondered aloud, eliciting a surprisingly irritated look from Georgey and an uncannily similar one from Malfoy.
“He’s not mine to walk. I work at the Surly, four kilometres south of here. It’s a reservation and rehabilitation centre for unicorns. You know the herd of unicorns that used to live in the Forbidden Forest near Hogsmeade?”
“Yeah, at Hogwarts?” Harry supplied excitedly, waiting for any recognition in those piercing grey eyes. When none came, he was more disappointed than perhaps was appropriate.
“The herd relocated, and a few people set up an organization to help keep them safe. Georgey’s a rehab member. He was abandoned by his small herd in Shetland because of his disability.”
“He has a disability?”
“For lack of a better word. He’s a Shetland-unicorn hybrid. There are no records of it happening before, so he’s getting unique treatment. He’s of lower intelligence for a unicorn, but extremely high intelligence for a horse. So I’m around to make sure he’s safe being an atypical unicorn while doing typical unicorn things.”
“…And he doesn’t like when I talk about him like he’s not here.”
Harry stared at not-Malfoy, with his dark hair and his orange hat and his talkative nature, and couldn’t help but feel extremely out of his depth. There had been a search for Draco Malfoy for months after the war ended. His mother was so distraught even the lift of all charges against she and her son and the lengthy search employing the Auror Department and other Private Investigators would not lift her mood.
But to see Draco Malfoy not an hour away from Hogwarts, looking more than alive—looking well—brown haired and walking a unicorn with the same arrogance about him… it was strange. Harry fought the compulsion to run to the house to owl Narcissa Malfoy or ask ‘Phoenix’ what in the hell he was playing at.
The thing was, ‘Phoenix’ didn’t seem to realize they’d met before.
“Look, if you want to learn more about the Surly, here’s our information.” He conjured a small piece of folded blue parchment from the air and offered it to Harry, who pulled it from between two long, elegant fingers.
Scotland Unicorn Reservation for Lost Youths
Unicorn Rehabilitation Centre and Residential Centre for the Young Homeless
Centre for the Betterment of Human-Unicorn Relations
Number 7 Forelock Lane
CASTLE VALLEY, SCOTLAND
Harry glanced up at Malfoy just in time to see him tug at a likely cold ear, pierced with a dark stud.
And he’d thought minutes ago that things couldn’t get any more bizarre.
“You can visit tomorrow from seven to four, if you like,” Malfoy offered. “But I’ve got to go. Georgey can walk miles more and warming charms only hold for so long.”
Harry nodded, glancing once more at Georgey, then back at Malfoy.
“But, it was nice to meet you, Harry. Sorry about the trouble,” Malfoy said, for once showing a sliver of contrition.
“It’s alright,” Harry said, voice gravelly with confusion. “Nice to meet you, too… what did you say your name was?”
Malfoy’s contrition quickly morphed into disbelief. His doubts of Harry’s intelligence were written all over his face.
“Phoenix,” he reiterated.
“Phoenix. Okay. Well, goodnight.”
Harry climbed up the stairs to the tree house quickly, but watched ‘Phoenix’ and Georgey disappear into the night from the kitchen window, reluctant to turn away for fear that this was all a dream.
He’d have to visit the S.U.R.L.Y. tomorrow. Perhaps he’d find out more about the dark-haired, flamboyant Phoenix, and why he wore Draco Malfoy’s face. He’d wait on that letter to Malfoy Manor until he found out just what was going on.
Wearing his warmest pea coat and his favourite jumper along with a pair of thick trousers, a hat borrowed from Mr. Mason’s closet and green mittens tugged over his square fingers, Harry caught a carriage to Castle Valley, a village smaller than Hogsmeade and even Wartsbridge. When he reached the little village he spotted Hogwarts castle, turrets peeking out over the vast expanse of tall, tree-covered hills in the distance. On the edge of town coming from Wartsbridge was a river, likely a tributary of the Black Lake, bubbling furiously around the frosted rocks and slick ice that was forming over the water.
He asked the barmaid at the local pub, The Silver Hoof, where the S.U.R.L.Y was located, and she pointed to the North, around the outskirts of the forest and a ten-minute walk along the river.
There was a horse trail that Harry followed for a few minutes until he came upon a manor house tucked into a hillside just at the edge of the tree line, and between he and the manor the hillside stretched until it hit a stream covered with thin ice. There was what looked like a stable downstream, and a paddock with horses, not unicorns, lay between the two large buildings. Beyond all that the hillside swooped up into yet more snow-covered grass scattered with hoof prints leading to and from the manor house, on both sides of the stream.
Harry took a breath, prepared to walk across the bridge that crossed the stream, but a bright light caught his eye. Looking left, he saw a magnificent unicorn stallion, coat pearly white and horn shining brightly in the morning sunlight. The creature shook out its mane and seemed to notice Harry standing awestruck at the bridge, tilting its head toward him. Awed and feeling a little like he should acknowledge the beast’s presence, Harry waved slowly. The stallion bowed its head and drifted out of sight down the hill.
“Well,” Harry mumbled over the collar of his pea coat. And he’d thought staying in a tree house would be the craziest thing he did this holiday. He was on a roll as far as strange experiences went.
The manor house was toasty warm when he opened the front door—unlocked with a welcome sign in the shape of a horseshoe on the dark wood—and… Well, he wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it certainly wasn’t a front hall devoid of activity. If not for the blue walls Harry’d have thought he was peering into Grimmauld Place for all the activity. There was a reception area just before the stairs, but no one stood behind the desk. Instead there sat a bowl of sugar cubes and a sign that read, “BREAKFAST IN THE MESS HALL DOWNSTAIRS.”
Harry wandered around the back of the staircase until he found an open door, yellow light bouncing off of the white paint and sounds of laughter and satisfaction drifting up from whatever mess hall it was, located in the basement of a manor house in Castle Valley.
Feeling rather awkward, Harry trudged downstairs, pulling the hat from his head and fiddling clumsily with his mittens before unbuttoning his coat. When he reached the foot of the stairs his eyes met the sight of seven long tables, not unlike the ones at Hogwarts but half as short, surrounded by several groups of witches and wizards his age and younger. They were all eating breakfast, and the ones who weren’t were getting up to get some more.
Harry approached a witch who looked to be in her early sixties and therefore probably the one in charge, who was eating her breakfast at the least crowded table.
“Uh, hullo,” Harry said.
The witch looked up at him and smiled, blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “Hello,” she replied after gulping down some orange juice. “You must be new,” she added with a hint of irony.
“Er… yeah. I mean, I’m not…” Harry put his hat and mittens in his pockets. “I’m not a… lost youth, or anything.”
The witch’s smile widened. “Look a bit lost to me,” she said. Standing, she extended her hand. “I’m Fiona. I run this place, so I know lost when I see it.” She winked, grey hair falling a bit from her loose ponytail. “How about you get yourself some breakfast and come sit with me and I’ll tell you about the S.U.R.L.Y.”
“I’m Harry Po—”
“I know who you are, Mister Potter. Come back here with a full plate and we’ll talk.”
Harry nodded, feeling a little more lost with every second, and shuffled over to the food line. Behind it a purple-haired witch who looked to be in her late teens and a skinny wizard even younger served up bacon and sausages, piling both onto Harry’s plate. Along the line, an old wizard who had to be the cook served eggs, beans, and haggis. There was tea and coffee, but Harry took orange juice while he contemplated how on earth he would eat all of this food.
Almost as soon as Harry sat down across from Fiona and told her he was staying in Wartsbridge for the holidays, a large group of red-cheeked witches and wizards seemed to tumble down the stairs with the racket they were making, and uproariously greeted Fiona and the cook, who was apparently named Herakles. The group, who for the most part wore Muggle stable gear—chaps and gloves and mud-caked boots—talked about their ‘midnight drifts’ while greeting the younger people already eating their breakfasts.
“Those are the nightshift hands.” Fiona said after the bombardment—a kiss on the cheek from most of the group—was over. “We have the most experienced kids do the nightshift because unicorns are nocturnal, so we need the most active members of the S.U.R.L.Y. keeping an eye on the rehabilitation of the unicorns while these kids—” She gestured to the tables behind her. “—work in the stables, do clean-up during the day, help around the house or help with the unicorn foals.”
“Until they graduate to the important stuff!” A wizard with black dreadlocks interjected at the end of the table.
“Each job is important, Daniel,” Fiona replied, shaking her head and cutting a sliced tomato in half before taking a bite.
“Daniel’s only been on nightshift for three months,” said another witch who sat down next to Harry. She had wavy blonde hair, which looked a bit flat from wearing a hat all night, and a pointy nose with a piercing. “He’s still riding the high of his first unicorn companion.”
“How was your drift, Sam?” Fiona asked.
“Fantastic. Betrys is finally learning to rely on herself instead of the horse.” She seemed very proud, clasping her hands in front of her like the unicorn was her child and had gotten an O on their Transfiguration O.W.L.
Harry munched thoughtfully at his sausage as the table began to fill. “Why d’you have horses?”
Fiona flicked her eyes back to Harry, assessing him. “They’re a bit like companions to the unicorns, and they can be ridden. Most of the midnight drifters ride horses to keep up with the unicorns.”
Harry thought of Malfoy, trudging about in the snow with a funny little fat unicorn for hours of the night, and wondered why he didn’t have a horse.
“Except for Phoenix,” a dark haired wizard said, smiling a bit wickedly.
“Speak of the devil,” Fiona said, face brightening when Malfoy reached the bottom of the stairs, looking exhausted and freezing cold, his nose and cheeks red and his trousers dark all the way up to his knees like he’d spent some time standing around in a large puddle. “You look like hell!”
Malfoy rolled his eyes and stomped over to the food, and Harry watched as he snarled at the helpers divvying out breakfast, who just smiled back as if this was a normal occurrence. He was still shivering from the cold and stepping from foot to foot, long legs leaning this way and that to get the blood moving. The black trousers he wore looked comfortable and well fitting, revealing Seeker’s thighs. He was colourfully dressed otherwise, the orange beanie hat clashing with the red parka he wore like Ron’s hair and the Chudley Cannons colours. It wasn’t until Malfoy took off his hat that Harry remembered he had brown hair now… and it was longer… and sort of curly at the edges.
When Harry looked back at his table, Fiona was looking right at him, that assessing look on her face like she knew what Harry was thinking, although he knew beyond a doubt that she couldn’t. Harry Occluded, anyway, feeling vulnerable. Fiona had a bit of a Dumbledore quality to her, even if she was just some witch who ran a unicorn reservation.
Malfoy put his plate down and shed his jacket, lean torso arching a bit as he dropped the parka on the floor. His pullover was grey and too short, because as he squeezed himself between Fiona and the dark haired wizard, the material rode up to reveal a sliver of pale skin. He tucked his hair behind his ears and ignored everyone else until Fiona grabbed him round the shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss on the forehead.
“Bloody freezing,” he whined by way of greeting.
“Good morning to you, too, Cináed,” Fiona said, and Sam laughed quietly when Phoenix stuck his tongue out.
“Phoenix, you are such a snotty little brat,” Sam exclaimed.
“A two-year-old,” supplied the wizard with dark hair.
Sam cocked an eyebrow and gulped down some tea. “Oscar. You are one to talk. Squealed like a child when Withers stepped on his foot earlier.”
Oscar ignored her, instead addressing Malfoy, who Harry had been watching stab violently at his eggs. “You know you wouldn’t have so many problems if you just replaced your wand.”
“You know you wouldn’t have so many problems if you just replaced your face,” Malfoy said without looking once at Oscar, which wasn’t funny really, but Harry couldn’t help but laugh.
Malfoy looked up at that, an appreciative grin slipping slightly when he realized who had laughed. “You showed up,” he said.
“I was curious,” said Harry, simply.
“Harry arrived just in time for no one to greet him upstairs, but luckily he was clever enough to find his way to the food,” Fiona supplied. “I’m guessing you two met last night on your drift.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, flicking his gaze to Malfoy. “Georgey was eating the ice lilies on my property.”
“He would,” Oscar muttered.
“So… are you all... lost youths?” Harry asked. He tugged at the sleeve of his coat.
Fiona smirked. “We’re all lost in a way, aren’t we?” she asked.
Harry would give her that.
“Cryptic, Fiona,” Malfoy muttered.
“You’d likely give some overdramatic explanation, too, Phoenix.” Oscar stirred his tea lazily. “Don’t try to deny it.”
“I’m not lost. I know exactly where I am,” he replied.
“Where are you then?”
“Surrounded by idiots.”
Harry raised his eyebrows, once again reminded of how ‘Malfoy’ this not-Malfoy was. Phoenix. What a name for a Slytherin. And a cold, whiny arse of a Slytherin at that.
Sam flicked an egg at Phoenix, and while he spluttered and swore, she turned to Harry. “I’m Sam Squint.” She extended her hand and Harry took it, their elbows precariously close to the buttered toast between them. “And you’re Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you! So, what makes you curious about the S.U.R.L.Y?”
“Besides it being a unicorn reservation? I didn’t know those existed!”
“We are the first.” Fiona finished off her orange juice and stood. “I founded the reservation after the war, which as you might have guessed was a particular upheaval for the last large unicorn population in the United Kingdom. So I converted my office in the stables into an infirmary and set up a lodge in my home. We had many wounded unicorns and more wounded souls who needed healing.”
“Wow,” said Harry.
“The reservation is on Fiona’s land, and is protected for the herd,” Sam continued when Fiona excused herself. “But, the infirmary and rehabilitation centre are for the wounded unicorns and what Fiona likes to call ‘lost youths.’ That’s us.”
“You don’t look lost. You look right at home,” said Harry.
“Thanks,” Sam said with a smile. “The three of us have been here longer than most, and Phoenix longest of all of us.”
Phoenix smiled briefly and stood only to be gently shoved back into his seat by a returning Fiona who peered at them over her cup of coffee.
“Take Mister Potter on the tour, would you Cináed? I’ve got to run to the stables. Joyce says one of the horses seems a bit colicky.”
“Whinge all you want. I know fifteen more minutes away from your bed won’t kill you.”
“It’s okay, I can come back or something…” Harry began.
Phoenix gestured to Harry, nodding. “See, even Harry Potter agrees with me! And anyway, Georgey wore me out. I’ve got frostbite on at least one of my toes.”
Sam snorted. “I’m sure the famous Harry Potter would let you get changed first. He doesn’t deserve to hear you whinge all the way to Unicorn Point and back.”
Phoenix shot her a murderous glare.
“Come on, darling,” Fiona said, patting Phoenix on the head and giving him the coffee she’d just made. “You invited him; he’s your guest.”
Feeling a little bit like he was back at Privet Drive being talked about as if he wasn’t present, Harry stood. “If it’s too much of a bother—”
Phoenix glanced at him and, looking contrite, shook his head and gestured to the stairs. “Sorry, Potter, didn’t mean… Just go upstairs and I’ll take you around. Oscar will clean up for you.”
Harry stood, watching Oscar flip Phoenix the bird and feeling a little odd that he’d just been called ‘Potter’ by his school rival… who had no idea who he actually was. By the sound of it, he hadn’t known his true identity for three years.
At the top of the stairs, Harry donned his hat and slipped on his mittens while Malfoy talked him through the ins and outs of the S.U.R.L.Y., temperament growing happier as he talked about the unicorns.
“You either help in the stables, the infirmary or the lodge for a while until you learn to work with horses, and then they put you with the unicorns so they’ll get used to you,” Phoenix chattered on as they opened the paddock and walked through the snowy grass, Phoenix patting some of the ponies affectionately while they passed through. “The more time you spend with them the less tetchy they are. But the best part is when a unicorn grows fond of you—I mean, you’ll never be rid of them until they can be released after a year, but it’s key in their recovery to have a human companion. And they’re a bit like friends after a while. Stubborn, demanding, jumpy friends.”
They reached the other side of the paddock, and Phoenix had to wrestle with a wilful horse with long winter coat of chestnut and give it a sugar cube before they could pass through. Even though he swore, he was still smiling as they passed into the shadow of the stables, the smell of hay and horse dung strong in Harry’s nose.
He must’ve been grimacing, because Phoenix laughed and told him he’d get used to it before clearing his throat and adding, “If you come back, of course.”
The stalls were full of more horses until the last ten stalls. Each stall housed a unicorn, supposedly ill or injured, but still quite perfect-looking to the untrained eye. It was true, they did give off a sort of glow, dulled in the confines of their stalls, but still noticeable.
“So you said each stays for about a year.”
“That’s the trend. They heal fast no matter what their injuries, but some die and others can’t go back to what they were before.”
Harry watched the shadow pass over Phoenix’s face, looking more and more like Malfoy the longer they stood in silence.
“Does that mean Georgey’s not your first charge?”
Phoenix shook his head. “No. I’ve had two before. The first was Olwen. She lasted a year but her immune system never recovered after she was attacked by Dementors. She’d been wandering around the Forbidden Forest for weeks. She was probably attacked before the war ended but showed up only after I showed up. She was the first unicorn so Fiona and I didn’t know quite what we were doing yet.”
Harry hummed sadly.
“And then there’s Enfys, who I thought was the most confused unicorn I’d ever met until Georgey. He’s with the herd now. It just took time. They have to prove themselves worthy if they’re not born into a specific herd. And Georgey—” Phoenix slapped one of the stall doors. “—you’ve already met. I got him because I’m the most experienced, and thus I have to walk several miles each night instead of riding a horse like the rest.”
“Why’s that?” asked Harry, peering over the stall door to see Georgey turned toward the corner, rump facing them as if on purpose.
“He’s spooked by the horses. His herd didn’t treat him well, probably roughed him up a little bit by the state of his ears and his legs when we went to fetch him two months ago. He’ll be fine eventually. He mostly does it to annoy me now—either that or he thinks he only gets my attention if I’m closer to his level.”
Passing through the infirmary, Phoenix told him about the other injured unicorns—how Betrys had lost her hearing, Mairwen had a broken horn, and Nye was anaemic, among others—and even a bit about the herd.
“Do you care for the herd as well?” Harry asked as Phoenix held the door for him, directing him to the left so they could cross another bridge and head in the direction of the hill where Harry had seen the unicorn stallion.
“They’re fairly self-sufficient. We don’t see much of them except in the summers. Sometimes we lay hay or dried flowers out for them if there’s an early frost but it’s pretty rare for us to run into them.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “I saw one today.”
Phoenix looked sceptical.
“A big one. It was a stallion. He had a really long tail and he bowed to me when I waved at him.”
Phoenix’s eyes widened. “You saw Padrig? He’s the leader.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know who it was, but I wouldn’t make it up.”
“No, I believe you it’s just—that’s very surprising, is all.”
“I was surprised, too. I had only ever seen a dead unicorn.”
A flicker of Malfoy passed over Phoenix’s features again—and Merlin, was that throwing Harry for a loop thinking—knowing—that this was Malfoy. But, it was a Malfoy without his past. Without the bad memories of school and his demanding father and his withdrawn mother, or Voldemort. This was Malfoy, but less burdened, and certainly less of an arse.
At least, less of an arse in the bigoted, elitist way. Although he still had that air about him, like he only put up with humans. It explained why he seemed happiest with unicorns.
“How did you come to live at S.U.R.L.Y.?” Harry asked, breaking their silent descent into the valley.
Phoenix shot an assessing glance at Harry then cleared his throat. “Fiona found me far north of here early after the war ended. I only remember waking up against the side of a building in a Wizarding town in Northern Scotland, and nothing before that. She found me and took me home, and I was out of it and in need of care so I agreed. She has been very kind to let me stay.”
“Even if you’re a grump to everyone?” Harry joked, but slipped on an icy rock and fell in the snow.
Snickering, Phoenix helped him up, muttering something about karma before mentioning, “I don’t think you know me well enough to say that yet.”
Harry shook his head and clenched his fists feeling the warmth of Phoenix’s hands through his mittens.
“Merlin, you’re warm,” Phoenix took the words out of Harry’s mouth and rubbed his hands together.
Harry withdrew his wand and tapped Phoenix on the head, blanketing the taller wizard in a strong warming charm. And again, Phoenix looked more like Malfoy in that moment than ever… except Harry had never seen Malfoy look so awestruck. He even looked a bit handsome with the blush on his cheeks—if one were attracted to pointy, amnesiac men.
Harry shook his head, wondering if his fall had knocked a few brain cells out of his ears.
“Thank you,” Phoenix said finally.
“So d’you have any idea what happened to you to make you lose your memory?”
“Sam says I suffer from Dissociative Fugue, but that implies I’ll wake up one day my old self and won’t remember any of these years at the S.U.R.L.Y.” Phoenix bit his lip. “She’s very fond of her Muggle psychology. I think I’ve been Obliviated, considering. The only things I remember of my past come to me in my dreams.”
“What do you remember?”
“Nosy,” Phoenix shot back quickly before turning his head and exclaiming, “Ah, we’re here.”
Harry looked in the direction Phoenix was gazing and saw a tall waterfall, at the base time-smooth rocks and boulders sat cluttered under the likely frigid falls, and at the top the land split into two of the tallest hills Harry’d ever seen. They led up into mountains, surely, but all that could be seen was the white sky above and the evergreen trees down below.
“This is Unicorn Point, Fiona calls it that mostly because we’re standing on an outcropping right now. But isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yes. It is.”
“I think we should call it Unicorn Falls, but she says her family named it a couple generations back so she won’t change it. Can’t say I understand the family duty thing.”
Harry shook his head, at a loss. “Huh.”
“This is where we’ve had the most herd sightings. I’ve never seen Padrig, though. And for him to greet you...” Phoenix trailed off, looking a little admiringly at Harry. “The lore around here says that’s good luck just to get a glimpse of him!”
Harry laughed. “Good. I need all the luck I can get.”
Phoenix smirked. “I didn’t think Harry Potter was the type to need luck.”
“Oh, Merlin, no. I’ve only survived this far in life because of luck.”
Phoenix took a breath, shaking his head. “I think thousands of people would disagree.”
When had either Malfoy or Phoenix become a fan of Harry Potter?
“I’m planning on quitting my job after Christmas, so… having the rest of my year go my way would be nice. And I just recently broke up with my girlfriend.”
“Huh,” Phoenix said, puzzled. “I didn’t think you were that type either.”
“What? To break up with my girlfriend?”
Yawning, Phoenix replied with an enigmatic, “Not that.”
Harry followed Phoenix back to the lodge, confusion warring with curiosity—was it wrong to want to befriend this new Malfoy, now that the old one only existed in dreams?
Harry had very little time to consider whether the reason he liked Phoenix was because he was a completely different Malfoy or because he was completely like Malfoy, because he was woken from a dream (wherein a Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match had been interrupted by a unicorn) at 4am by a loud whinny and an angry shushing noise below his tree house. It was two days after visiting the S.U.R.L.Y. and already it seemed to be a staple in his life while on vacation.
Armed only with his wand and a sense of ironic déjà vu, Harry stumbled downstairs and outside. He only just remembered to put on shoes before demanding the tawny owl open the door and allow him to see just who was trying to eat his ice lilies, this time.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” was the immediate greeting when Harry, rubbing his eyes and tugging his collar around his neck to keep away the cold, stepped off the last step and into the snow.
“Hi,” said Harry, slipping on his glasses and watching Phoenix chase after Georgey, who was nickering gleefully as he cantered around the clearing. “Hello, Georgey,” Harry added.
The unicorn trotted over to him and promptly stuck his muzzle up Harry’s pyjama shirt, breath tickling. Harry yelped and threw his hands upward, avoiding the short but still sharp horn that was wiggling around in the air with the movement of Georgey’s head.
“Oh my—Georgey you must be the most inappropriate unicorn I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting,” Phoenix exclaimed, slapping his fingers over his eyes and sitting in the snow.
Georgey blew hot air onto Harry’s stomach one last time, eliciting a startled giggle from Harry, before backing away and whinnying again. He trotted in a circle around Phoenix and then promptly rolled in the snow, pearly hooves reflecting the moonlight above them.
“That was odd.” Harry pressed his hands against his stomach as Phoenix looked resignedly over at Georgey.
“Well, he clearly likes you. He did that to me five times over before I could get him to stop.”
“How has the midnight drift been?” Harry asked, watching Georgey settle down in the snow in a fit of grace never seen before in the creature.
“Much like this actually. He got crazier when we came near your property, though.” Phoenix scratched at the back of his head, looking a little fond and a lot exhausted. “I’m tired out already.”
“You want some coffee?”
“No, thank you… I’m… I’m fine.”
Georgey looked at Harry before seeming to glare at Phoenix. Phoenix glanced at Georgey when the silence stretched too long, and apparently giving in to Georgey’s silent command, stood and said, “Actually, I’ll take that coffee. Don’t let me fall asleep on your couch or anything, though. We can’t leave Georgey to drift on his own, yet.”
“You aren’t worried about leaving him out here?”
“No, we just need to leave enough time to get back to the S.U.R.L.Y. I think all Georgey wanted was to come by here and eat your ice lilies.”
Harry smiled and squatted in the snow to rub a thumb over Georgey’s ear before nodding at Phoenix and leading him up to the house.
“Wanna go up to the deck? It’s the best part of the house. I can reinforce your warming charm.”
“Well, if you insist.” He winked.
Phoenix was subdued for the most part when Harry, blushing, left him to sit by the fire. He took his orange hat from his head, leaving behind a mess of fine, soft-looking brown hair. As much as Harry liked Phoenix, it was a bit unnerving to see Draco Malfoy with dark hair. The eyebrows were especially bizarre.
“Why are you so tired, tonight?”
“Didn’t get much sleep earlier,” Phoenix explained. “It was more difficult than usual to sleep through the day.”
Harry poured the newly brewed coffee into a mug and Summoned the ice cream from the freezer. “D’you like vanilla ice cream?”
Phoenix sat up. “Who doesn’t? But don’t put it in my coffee, for Merlin’s sake!”
Harry halted with a scoop of ice cream over Phoenix’s mug. “What’s wrong with ice cream and coffee?”
“Everything is wrong with that. It’s sacrilege.”
“I have a sweet tooth!”
Harry watched Phoenix’s laugh transform Malfoy’s face, cheeks rosy and grey eyes bright. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an understatement?”
Harry pulled a bowl out of the cabinet above the sink and pushed the one scoop off the spoon with his finger. “You take your coffee black, then?” he asked after licking his finger clean.
Phoenix licked his lips. “Uhm, yes. Thanks.”
Harry walked Phoenix up to the deck, and directed him to one of the moonlit chairs before handing him his coffee. He was thankful for the dark when their fingers brushed against the warm earthenware, causing Harry to blush. Phoenix watched Harry carry his bowl to the chair opposite with a gaze Harry wasn’t that unfamiliar with. He’d just never seen it in this context, certainly. He and Malfoy had exchanged plenty of those glances, but Harry’d always associated them with not a little bit of malice—it had been sixth year after all. Still, since he couldn’t see this new Malfoy looking at him with that much malice—even if he had residual hatred lingering in his clouded memories. No, it wasn’t malice. Harry just felt like he was being x-rayed… or otherwise assessed. He wondered briefly if he’d passed the test.
“This is gorgeous,” Phoenix said. He looked up through the branches of the oak trees. “It’s nice seeing the sky so high up.”
“So… why haven’t you been sleeping?” Harry stirred his ice cream around the bowl before scooping a spoonful into his mouth. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Dreams,” Phoenix supplied simply, looking from the sky back to Harry. “I have this recurring one. Fiona thinks it’s a memory from my past.” Phoenix tapped against his mug absent-mindedly before grinning self-deprecatingly. “And Merlin, wouldn’t that be my luck?”
“Is it a bad dream?”
Phoenix sipped his coffee. “It’s how I got my nickname. I dream about this giant cathedral of a room… and it’s on fire. Everything is on fire and the fire has faces. I’m running away from it but everything is swallowed up in the mouths of the flames, heat biting at my heels. It traps me.”
Harry knew what Phoenix was talking about, of course. Clearing his throat, he watched as Phoenix became steadily more tense as he remembered the Fiendfyre. And really, who wouldn’t hate to relive that night three years ago? Harry sometimes dreamt about it, too. But he usually had someone with him to wake him, and he’d had time for the memories to lose their force.
“I barely get out, plastered to someone else on a broomstick. It’s stupid, but every time I wake up I can almost taste the smoke and smell burning wood… and burning flesh.” He shuddered. “You’d think it would go away, but no matter how many people I talk to about this stupid dream it never gets any better.”
“Merlin,” Harry swore quietly.
“Sorry, I’m being ridiculous. It’s just a dream.”
“No,” Harry interjected. “You’re not being ridiculous. Believe me, you are preaching to the choir about dreams.”
Phoenix nodded. “I’ve read the history of the Second War. And your biography.”
“Which one?” asked Harry, failing to hide a wry smile.
It was Phoenix’s turn to be embarrassed. “I’ve read more than one. I felt like I was missing something in our history, considering it was just before I lost my memory. You’re a lot less… heroic than I imagined, though.”
Harry bristled at that. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“In a way. You’re less entitled and poncey than I expected. And you wear all your emotions on your face—heart on your sleeve, and all that.”
“They write you differently, which I suppose I should’ve realized. Fiona told me I shouldn’t scoff at you… but I didn’t really get what she meant until I met you the other night.”
Harry rubbed at the nape of his neck. “Thank you,” he said finally.
Phoenix finished up his coffee and stood slowly. “Well, I think I’ve extended my welcome. Thanks for the coffee.”
They ambled back downstairs, sighing with the heat that blanketed them when they entered the living room.
“Oh, Fiona would really love if you came back another day… if you’re not busy. She wanted me to pass that on if I saw you again.”
“Yeah, alright. I’ll be sure to do that.” Harry took the mug and bowl to the sink and rinsed them out quickly as Phoenix put his coat and hat back on.
“Sorry for trespassing… again. Blame Georgey; stubborn, fat creature.”
“It’s alright. I… actually enjoyed talking with you,” Harry admitted.
“Such a tone of surprise,” Phoenix deadpanned.
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
Phoenix rolled his eyes and passed through the door silently when Harry opened it to the night air. Phoenix descended a couple steps before turning around hesitantly and looking hopefully up at Harry.
“Actually, would you mind casting a warming charm on me again? My wand doesn’t like them very much.”
Harry nodded, tucking the wand question away for another night. “If you’ll answer my question.”
“Alright, go ahead then,” Phoenix replied, looking wary.
“Why did you choose the name Cináed?”
Phoenix smiled a little, turning his collar up against the cold. “Fiona chose it for me. It means ‘born of fire’,” he murmured. “Probably only positive thing I got from those first few weeks of dreaming about that fire.”
“That’s why everyone calls you Phoenix.”
“Yeah. Bloody clever of them.” He closed the distance between them again and shivered violently when Harry cast the charm over him, humming happily into his gloved hands. “Thank you, Harry.”
Harry watched him disappear into the night with Georgey, knowing that he couldn’t not see that wizard again. It felt good being around him, as strange and torn as it made him feel, wanting for him to know his past but realizing with increasing understanding why Phoenix might not want to find out just how he came to be who he was, where he was, when everything seemed so much easier for him, now.
Harry Apparated to Castle Valley the next afternoon, feeling fresh despite his sleep loss and consequent tossing-out-of-bed early that morning.
Fiona wasn’t there to greet him, but she’d instructed the receptionist to show him a seat in the living room while he waited. Harry made his way to the living room in back, surprised when he came upon a yellow room with a fireplace and several plush chintz armchairs and one large blue sofa. At the other end of the room, next to a desk with a photo of the whole group of youths, midnight drifters, and Fiona and her staff, sat what looked like several years’ worth of newspapers. Fiona was a character—the type to find value in things and people that others would overlook. Smiling, Harry sat close to the fireplace and Summoned a newspaper from the stack. It was a copy of the Quibbler.
“Harry!” was Fiona’s enthusiastic greeting, just as Harry had finished the ‘Are you a natural lithomancer?’—which he was not.
“You arrived just in time!” Harry laughed, welcoming the squeeze to his shoulder and following her to the basement, where they talked about the funding of the S.U.R.L.Y. and the pressures of the Ministry to close them down because of costs.
“We don’t get much from the Ministry anyway, but they’re threatening to shut us down. We will be shut down, too, if we don’t get enough money before the end of next year. I have Gringotts loans to pay off,” she muttered over her potato leek soup.
Harry stirred his own soup thoughtfully. “Do you have support from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures?”
“I don’t have any connections in the Ministry at all, and no time to go up there myself for a hearing!”
“I’m convinced they want to close us down because they’re finding themselves low on unicorn blood in the Department of Mysteries Potions Testing Lab. Who knows how they get their hands on the stuff legally,” said Herakles, who had joined them at the table between waves of dinner attendees.
“I know someone who works there. Hermione Granger—I’m sure you’ve heard of her. She’d really love to help your cause,” Harry offered, shrugging bashfully when Fiona smiled widely and patted him on the hand. “I’ll put in a good word for you!” he insisted.
“Here they come,” Herakles grumbled, standing slowly and shuffling back to his station while biting at an asparagus.
Harry watched the same crowd as he’d seen the other morning descend the stairs, except they were all in pyjamas and looking puffy-eyed and well rested. Harry spotted Phoenix, watched him walk sleepily to the line and get a big pile of food, his hair tied back and his pyjamas an appropriate deep red. He was barefoot, Harry noticed.
“Careful you don’t hurt yourself staring,” Fiona whispered, laughing when Harry straightened up in his chair, scandalized.
“I wasn’t staring.”
“Welcome back, Harry!” A bright-eyed Sam said to him, sitting next to Fiona this time. “We’re glad to see you around again.”
“Especially Phoenix,” added another wizard—Andrew, if Harry had heard right the other morning.
“Especially Phoenix!” Sam agreed. “He was very excited to tell us about your ice cream and coffee habit over breakfa—”
“Sam.” Phoenix’s voice cut over her, and Harry whipped around to see him standing just behind Harry, glaring daggers at Sam as he held his plate and a cup of tea in both hands.
“Did you have a good talk, then?” Fiona asked as Phoenix settled in next to Harry, not looking at anyone or anything but his herbed chicken.
“I think so,” Harry said, turning a little to see Phoenix’s reaction. “Sleep well?”
Phoenix nodded and took a rather deliberate gulp of his tea. His fingers wrapped around the warm teacup reminded Harry vividly of his dream just before waking this morning: grey eyes had peered up at him from below as warm-fingered hands caressed him all over, making him shake apart. He’d woken up the hardest he’d been in a while, and it had only taken three strokes before he was coming into his cupped hand, toes curled and stomach twitching.
“Glad to hear it,” he croaked.
They didn’t talk much for the rest of dinner, but when Phoenix rose to leave to prepare for his midnight drift, he asked, “You’ll be back again?”
“Yeah. I like it around here,” Harry said.
Phoenix looked too pleased to pass it off as the after effects of his caffeine boost.
The next two weeks were spent between Castle Valley and Wartsbridge, and almost all of those weeks were spent with Phoenix and Georgey at one of those locations. The nook in his mind reserved for solving the Draco Malfoy mystery made room for learning more and more about his new friends, swallowing up as much information about Phoenix more for the contentment it gave him than for the intellectual curiosity. He was curious of course. He felt a little selfish, though, falling asleep at night to the memory of Phoenix’s rants about the inconvenience of owl post, or his enthusiasm for liquorice wands, or his laughter at one of Harry’s jokes.
He didn’t even find it in him to be irritated when the bed tossed him onto the floor after he’d indulged in another wank, this time thinking perhaps more specifically about a young wizard in an orange hat, tall and lithe and stripping off his winter coat and the rest of his layers until he was pale, naked and staring intensely at Harry as he touched himself.
It wasn’t a look Harry had seen on Phoenix’s face, but on Draco’s. Harry tried not to investigate that new development in favour of addressing his increasing weakness for the male sex.
He wasn’t as disturbed as he might’ve been earlier in life—Merlin, to discover his sexuality, his Malfoy-sexuality, while at Hogwarts battling werewolves, Deatheaters in disguise, Deatheaters in the open, Inferi, and even Voldemort. No wonder it had taken time to reach this point.
It was a wonder he’d even discovered his dick before now.
It wasn’t long though before hiding his attraction from Phoenix was no longer possible, and Harry had known early on that that would be when he was in deep.
After three days of 2am coffee breaks, Phoenix invited him on his first midnight drift.
“It’s been a while,” Harry said around a smile as he invited Phoenix in. It was snowing heavily out and Harry got a glance of Georgey peering up at the sky before shutting the door and going to get the coffee ready.
“Can I use your loo?” Phoenix asked, and Harry pointed him to the water closet before spooning some ice cream into his mug and pouring coffee over it. Phoenix’s cup was Christmas-themed, this time and it got Harry humming “Deck The Halls” until he heard the toilet flush and saw Phoenix’s face.
Phoenix laughed then, snickering to himself. “Quite a collection of photos you’ve got in there.”
“Oh, I don’t have—this isn’t my house. I wouldn’t—”
“Finish a sentence?” Phoenix retorted, smirking. “It’s alright. I believe you. You really don’t seem the type.” Harry watched Phoenix laugh his way to the door.
“You’ve said that once to me already since we met. I’m beginning to think there’s something wrong with me.”
Phoenix’s eyes snapped up in a frown. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Harry sipped at his coffee, drinking it too hot so to distract himself from Phoenix’s honest gaze.
“I’ve got an idea when you’re finished making the coffee.”
“Come drift with me.”
Harry paused watching Phoenix’s face for reactions.
“That is… I mean, only if you’d—”
“Finish your sentence?”
“Oh, har har. I meant, only if you’d like to come with me. I know I’ve been disrupting your sleep schedule for the past week.” He looked a bit sheepish.
“That would be great,” Harry said.
They’d drifted almost all the way to the S.U.R.L.Y. by the time their warming charms wore off, and Phoenix looked wishfully over at Harry as he cast an Impervious charm on his shoes.
Harry cast the warming charm on Phoenix then himself, and additionally on Georgey when the unicorn looked petulantly up at him.
“Thanks,” Phoenix murmured, shaking his head fondly at Georgey.
“May I ask why you don’t cast warming charms on yourself?”
Phoenix smiled embarrassedly. “The wand I use… it’s a huge snob. It’s very stubborn when it comes to charms. Spell casting is pretty easy unless I get too creative, and household spell work is the absolute worst. It’s like, I get this feeling of disdain whenever I try to clean my boots myself.”
“Can you Apparate?”
“Yes, but I can’t keep myself warm,” Phoenix replied sulkily. As if his words were spells themselves, he pulled his coat higher around his neck and pulled his hat down to cover his ears.
“Why do you use it then?”
Phoenix bristled visibly at Harry’s question, lips tight.
“It was my mother’s wand. I’m sure of it.”
Harry frowned. “Is that why you don’t replace it—you’d rather be keep an object that you can’t even confirm was your mother’s than be safe?” He could tell he’d pushed too far by the look on Phoenix’s face.
They came to the edge of town, and Phoenix sped up as if Harry would just give up on following him. When he’d stewed too long, he exclaimed, “If you had only one thing left of your past life, Harry, what would you do?”
Harry stopped in his tracks, feeling a bit like he’d been punched. He was reminded of his Invisibility Cloak that he’d left at home.
“What the fuck would you do if you’d lost your memory and the only way you felt you could stay afloat was because you felt connected to one thing?”
Georgey looked agitated, trotting ahead to get away from their negative energy.
Harry shook his head. “Phoenix, if you’re so sure you’ve Obliviated yourself, why don’t you try and reverse it?”
“You’d have more than just an echo of your mother, then, wouldn’t you?”
“Do you want me to do it?” Phoenix yelled, pointing the wand at his head.
Harry deliberately did not reach out to Phoenix like his reflexes told him. It was all talk.
And, sure enough, Phoenix growled out something unintelligible and threw the wand to the ground. He stormed after Georgey, shoulders hunched.
“You’re afraid,” Harry called softly to Phoenix’s retreating back, because if Harry was shaking in his boots with fear from just that, Phoenix had to be seriously wondering whether he’d be swallowed up by the ground at any moment.
The rest of the evening was spent in silence, so Harry felt lucky that his wand felt no limitations. He Apparated straight to his bed and crawled under the covers, trying not to think of what would have happened if Phoenix had cast the counter-curse.
What they would have become in a few short moments.
“Psst!” A voice whispered loudly. “Harry Potter—wake the hell up and drift with us!”
Of course Harry knew who it was, not even bothering to look out the window before putting on his warmest clothing, stuffing his woolly-socked feet into his boots and rumbling down the stairs. He Summoned two non-spill mugs and poured newly brewed coffee into them (he may or may not have made some in case Phoenix needed another chat by the fire). This was a much more interesting option, to walk and talk into the wee hours with Phoenix and Georgey at his side. Just like the other night, except he hoped that this night wouldn’t end in a row.
After popping some sugar and milk into his own mug, Harry hurried out the door, nodding at the tawny owl before running down the stairs. He was going to apologize to Phoenix—tell him he didn’t need to rush things or hurt himself, tell Phoenix that he just wanted to help.
The image that greeted him was definitely not what he’d expected and it stopped him in his tracks. All thoughts of apologies scuttled away in place of the surprise at the scene he came upon. Against the light of the full moon towered a large draught horse, whose sable coat would have made her indistinguishable from the dark trees had Phoenix not been standing in stirrups upon that horse in a bright green winter jacket. He had the reins in one hand and the other hand outstretched.
“Ta-da…” Phoenix exclaimed awkwardly.
“What—wow, Phoenix… That is a very large horse.”
Phoenix cocked an eyebrow and put a hand on his hip. “What an astute observation.”
Harry looked down at the mugs in his hand.
“This is Kylie. She’s a Shire and she’s very friendly.”
As if to demonstrate, Kylie bowed her head and snorted at Georgey, who came closer and sniffed at her muzzle.
“She’s gorgeous. And Georgey’s not spooked? Incredible.”
“Kylie’s got to have the sweetest disposition of all of our horses. She’s harmless unless she steps on your foot.”
“How am I going to drift with you? I can’t keep up with two horses!”
“You’re going to get up here with me.”
Harry choked on his own spit. “Wh—what?”
Kylie stepped nervously when Phoenix flung his hands in the air, taking the reins with him for a moment. “C’mon Harry, this is me trying to apologize. We can start over in style.” Phoenix whined, “Don’t make it more difficult than it is!”
Harry laughed and cast, “Wingardium Leviosa!” on both of the mugs. They floated up toward Phoenix and rested in the air as Phoenix and Harry struggled to get him onto the tall horse. Eventually all it took was for Phoenix to grab Harry’s arse and startle him onto the horse sideways. After that it was Harry shuffling around while Phoenix doubled over laughing. Harry may have been distracted by his current dilemma, but not distracted enough not to notice the warm quality of Phoenix’s happy laughter. Had he ever heard Draco laugh?
Phoenix quieted considerably though when Harry straddled the mare’s warm, wide and dipped back—no saddle, probably for their comfort—and pressed up against Phoenix. It was all business after that, retrieving the mugs and distributing warming charms.
When Harry rapped him smartly on the head, Phoenix shivered at the sudden heat and blew the steam off the surface of his black coffee. He lifted his elbows when Harry tentatively reached around with one arm to hold on to something while they moved. He trusted Phoenix, but it was a long way from the ground when he wasn’t in control—it wasn’t like broom riding, certainly.
“Knew you were useful,” Phoenix said in thanks, and they trudged through the snow, this time to the east.
Harry drank his coffee down to avoid acting on the compulsion to squeeze Phoenix round the middle. “Do you take a different route every night?”
“It keeps me from getting bored and if it’s an issue, Georgey will choose a different path. I think he’s as restless as I am sometimes.”
“Fiona thinks I can’t stand still, and when I do stand still I get irritable.”
“You just need a little adventure. That’s all,” Harry replied.
As they reached the edge of town, Georgey turned north toward the foothills. They followed him leisurely. All the while, Phoenix chattered about a funny dream he’d had where he’d turned into a ferret.
Harry did squeeze him round the middle this time, but it was to keep steady while he laughed his arse off.
“It is not funny! I’m not a ferret—if I were an animagus I’d be much more noble, like a…”
Phoenix jabbed him in the ribs, jostling the coffee from his hands, but Harry was too pleased with his joke to care.
“Shh, Harry,” Phoenix whispered on a breath.
It was then that Harry realized Kylie had stopped and was standing stock still, mirroring Georgey’s stance a few paces away. They were probably one hundred paces past the tree line of the forest far from town, and the horses had heard something that neither Phoenix nor Harry could sense with their own ears.
All the same, Harry felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck, and Phoenix’s fingers were suddenly curling in a death grip on his thigh.
Then, Phoenix swung his leg over Kylie’s neck and landed in the foot of snow.
“I need to protect Georgey,” Phoenix muttered, hushed.
Harry whispered harshly, “You need to protect yourself!” Harry jumped down as well, pulling his wand out. The moonlight lit up the snow but the trees around them were dark and the silence heavy.
Suddenly, a loud, eerie howl broke the quiet of the forest, and just as the hairs had risen on Harry’s neck, his stomach plummeted.
A werewolf. They weren’t supposed to have travelled this far north. The Ministry had confirmed the arrest of the pack near Glasgow last week! If they ever lived through this Harry’d have to Floo Kingsley and put in a report about the sighting.
Kylie’s response was a shrieking whinny and a thunder of hooves as she galloped in the direction they’d come.
“She’ll go home.”
“No, Phoenix, it’s a werewolf!”
As if Harry’d introduced the creature himself, the thing ran into the clearing and, seeing them, rose up on its hind legs and howled again.
“Oh, Merlin,” Phoenix swore, and then they were running, west through the forest, Georgey screaming at their heels.
The creature let loose another blood-curdling howl as they leapt across a small creek, Georgey quickly leaving them behind as he advanced into a gallop. They followed him through the forest, chests heaving and ribs aching and legs burning, shooting hexes and jinxes over their shoulders as the werewolf remained several paces behind in hot pursuit.
“He’s fucking—waiting until we get tired!” Harry shouted, voice hoarse.
“Won’t have to wait that long!” Phoenix screamed back.
And he was right. Just as they reached the edge of the forest they ran into a dead end, Georgey wailing his distress at the solid wall of rock in front of them.
Harry spun around as Phoenix skidded to a halt next to Georgey, pointing his wand as he stood in front of the small unicorn.
Harry stepped in front of both of them, knowing how little of an effect Phoenix’s wand would have on a magical creature such as a werewolf.
A roar announced the werewolf’s arrival, but Harry anticipated it, shouting an aggressive, “Impedimenta!” at the werewolf’s chest. The creature dodged the spell at the last minute, but Harry was ready with another one. He yelled, “Reducto!” but the werewolf lunged at him at just the right moment. Instead, his spell hit a nearby tree, exploding the trunk with a shower of splinters.
“Shit—Harry!” Phoenix yelled, just as Harry shouted a stronger hex.
He was sure he’d hit his mark, but the werewolf swiped at him, and before Harry knew it he was slamming against the wall of rock that had been five feet behind him moments before.
There was screaming, and Harry wasn’t sure whether those screams were shouts of defensive magic or sounds of maiming, but he didn’t have to wait long to find out. There was another howl, but it was cut off, growl transforming into a wounded whimper.
“Georgey?” Phoenix yelled, horrified.
Harry opened his eyes, clutching at his head. What he saw sent a shiver down his spine.
Phoenix was standing over both the werewolf and Georgey, who was still standing, but tarnished with the blood of the werewolf.
“What’s going on?” Harry shouted, voice gravelly.
Georgey looked over at Harry, his horn dripping with blood.
Phoenix sobbed and dropped to his knees in front of Harry.
“Merlin… You’re bleeding!”
“I didn’t know unicorns could kill,” Harry said.
“You’re probably concussed!” Phoenix yelled, taking his hat off and pressing it to the bloody spot on Harry’s head. “Fuck!”
Harry pulled himself up and pressed his hand against Phoenix’s. “I’ve had worse,” he joked. “But it would be nice if you were a bit quieter. My head’s throbbing.”
Phoenix laughed, cupping Harry’s cheek with the other hand. “Sorry. You hurting anywhere else?”
“Oh, you know, just everywhere.”
“Merlin, I should get help,” Phoenix muttered, glancing at Georgey, who had lain in the snow and rubbed snow over the blood on his horn until it was glisteningly clean again.
Phoenix stood and took out his wand, but it wouldn’t work for him, too stubborn in his anxious state to obey his will. Phoenix tried several more times before he was shouting obscenities again.
“Damn it all!” Phoenix swore and shook his wand nervously, pacing as Harry sat in the snow, colder every second.
“Phoenix—Phoenix, use mine,” Harry rasped, fumbling with the phoenix feather wand with one hand and clutching his head with the other. Georgey came over and nibbled at Harry’s shoulder, feeling Harry’s unease. He was feeling a bit nauseous, now that he thought about it.
“What? Oh, d’you think—?” Phoenix crouched down, jostling a spooked Georgey away with his shoulder and taking Harry’s wand with frantic fingers. There was a moment where Phoenix seemed to pause, shaking gone from his bones as he stared down at the wand.
Another throb of nausea shivered through him on the crest of a wave of pain in his skull. “Send a Patronus.”
“You can do it.”
“But it’s not even my—”
“It will work,” Harry interrupted the beginnings of Phoenix’s panic attack. He’d used Draco’s wand for months years earlier, without any troubles at all—it had been almost friendly in his hands. “It’s a phoenix feather core.”
“Oh, of course. Can’t get much more bloody appropriate than that. EXPECTO PATRONUM!”
A great bird, obvious in its magnificent form burst forth from Harry’s wand and zoomed high into the canopy of trees until it broke though and disappeared from sight, flying west toward the S.U.R.L.Y.
Harry collapsed back into the cold snow, hands wet with blood through the fabric at his temple. The last thing he saw was Draco’s face, eyes shining with worry and cheeks pale.
“Harry, stay with me…”
Waking was slow, and his eyes felt pricked through with needles when he opened them, revealing a brightly lit room. There was a light on in the corner, and looking at it for even a moment made Harry’s head throb, so he closed his eyes and groaned.
“Harry?” said a sleep-raspy voice to his left.
Harry turned toward the sound, body sluggish and achy, and pressed his face into the cool pillow. He was warm, and his head was wrapped in gauze, and he remembered a dream in which Draco Malfoy had fed him soup while complaining fluently about the inconvenience.
“Why do I find myself in this state so often?” Harry mumbled, stretching his arms slowly.
“You were talking in your sleep. Is that a common occurrence, too?”
“Had a funny dream…” Harry trailed off, before the memory of the night before came flooding back. He sat up despite his aching body, and Phoenix shushed him hurriedly, pressing cold hands against Harry’s shoulders. “Are you alright?” Harry asked.
“Hush—Merlin, you’re jumpy for a concussed person.”
Harry pushed himself up on his elbows despite Phoenix’s protests. “Is Georgey alright?”
“He’s fine—I’m fine. You’re the sick one, which means you stay in bed. Concussed people don’t flail about inquiring about unicorns.”
Harry sighed. “As long as everyone’s safe.”
“Save for the werewolf and your skull, everything is perfect,” Phoenix said, leaning on the featherbed and resting his clasped hands against Harry’s hip through the duvet.
Phoenix paused, picking at some pills in the duvet fabric. “You fought with the werewolf. Got yourself a head wound when you hit it with an Impact Hex. It threw you against the rock and was going to bite you.”
Harry watched Phoenix’s face as he retold the story. It was fresh on his face as he played with one of his earrings, distracted.
“Georgey stabbed it through the heart.”
Phoenix looked at Harry, grimacing. “He gored it with his horn.”
“I didn’t know that could happen,” Harry muttered.
“Unicorns are much more about protection and goodness of the heart than youth or purity of the body. The unicorn stereotype was originally reinforced in schools and churches and eventually became such a part of wizarding culture that it’s now the assumption that the creatures abhor human contact.”
“That’s… that’s odd.”
“What, did you think everyone at the S.U.R.L.Y. was a virgin?” Phoenix huffed out on a laugh, resting his forehead against his cupped hand as he leaned on an elbow.
“…No,” Harry replied hesitantly.
“Right,” Phoenix countered, disbelieving.
Harry rubbed at a knot in his neck. “It just didn’t really occur to me.”
“Harry,” Phoenix chuckled. “You are such a—”
“Gryffindor. Yeah, I know.”
Phoenix frowned. “Er. I was going to say idiot, but… sure?”
Harry caught himself. Phoenix didn’t even know about the houses at Hogwarts? He sunk back into the pillows, ignoring the insult. “Kylie got back to the S.U.R.L.Y.?”
“She woke everyone up and spooked the horses but yes, she got back alright.”
“Oh good.” Harry nodded, sending pain lancing through his head.
“Go back to sleep, Harry. I’ll check on you tonight, but I think taking a day or two to recover might not be a bad idea.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to look after you,” Phoenix said simply, squeezing Harry’s arm as Harry avoided eye contact. Harry could feel his face heating, stomach tying in knots. “C’mon, go back to sleep. I’ll wake you for lunch.”
“The alarm charm,” Harry began.
“Taken care of.”
Despite the many questions and tasks running around in his mind, Harry obeyed Phoenix and fell back against the pillows. “Sorry we can’t ever be around one another without fighting or hurting ourselves. Have to send a report to the Ministry, too…” he mumbled, but sleep had taken him before he finished his sentence.
It did take a couple days to recover, but Harry asked Phoenix on the third day of complete boredom to take him on another midnight drift—talking down Phoenix's unease about exposing Georgey and him to danger again. A bribe of more coffee was all it took to convince him, which was silly because Harry’d likely have made him coffee either way.
They did not ride a horse this time, instead staying close to the S.U.R.L.Y. as they walked through the light snowfall. The more they walked and talked the more difficult it became to hide his feelings for Phoenix, laughing too much and perhaps even flirting.
“I feel like I’ve known you forever,” Phoenix said a little too nonchalantly, kicking up some snow as they were on their last leg toward the lodge. The snow landed on Phoenix’s eyelashes and he tried blinking them away, but they clung like lingering kisses.
Harry cleared his throat, nervous.
“Was that weird to say?” Phoenix asked, unaware of Harry’s current distraction.
Harry looked up at the sky. “It just… caught me off guard,” Harry replied and after a moment looked askance at Phoenix, who was watching him closely.
Phoenix shook his head then, pulling his hat over his eyes and nose for a moment to make a funny noise into the orange knit. “Merlin. We only met a fortnight ago.”
“I know what you mean, though,” Harry offered in place of, “I have known you forever.”
Phoenix smiled, then, and Harry felt warmed to his bones, even if his warming charm had worn off three minutes prior.
Harry looked around then, remembering they hadn’t been walking around in the moonlight alone. Where was Georgey?
“Where is he?”
Phoenix pivoted on the spot, smile falling from his features to be replaced by fear. “Georgey! Disgleirio!”
“Georgey!” Harry echoed, grasping at Phoenix’s elbow for reassurance.
There was a nickering, just barely audible to their ears, which seemed to travel out from several hundred paces into the Forbidden Forest.
Phoenix lunged toward the tree line, uttering a pained, “Fuck!” as he went.
Harry followed him, wand at the ready. They would not be caught off-guard this time, but he hoped to hell that they wouldn’t have to go through another traumatic event like the other night. Harry could still smell the rank breath of the werewolf as it snarled in his face.
Phoenix called several more times, each time hearing a distant whinny as they advanced, deeper into the forest.
Harry’s heart pounded, and his stomach clenched with worry. He knew what lurked in here. Phoenix echoed the same feelings in his features. His shoulders were hunched, preparing for the worst.
When they did reach Georgey, the scene in front of them bore no resemblance to whatever gory or otherwise horrific images they had been entertaining.
Georgey stood stalk-still, head bowed submissively and tail held low, nose brushing the perfect, sparkling snow as the little creature bowed to a group of twelve magnificent unicorns.
In front stood Padrig, proud and imposing, flanked on both sides by several mares and a few adolescent colts and fillies. The younger ones still had the remnants of their summer coats, creating the effect of silver or gold tipped fur that glinted ethereally in the moonlight.
Harry felt compelled to yell out to Phoenix, to swear and shout at the incredibility of this encounter, but he couldn’t find the words…
Phoenix turned a centimetre toward Harry and looked with wide eyes at him, an awestruck smile on his face. Harry watched transfixed as Padrig walked forward, stepping through the snow like he was gliding through water or floating on a cloud, and Harry knew immediately why everyone at the S.U.R.L.Y. called a unicorn’s walk in the moonlight a ‘midnight drift.’
Soft wool brushed against Harry’s knuckles, and without thinking he took Phoenix’s hand in his, feeling a sense of utmost peace and contentment as Padrig lowered his head and touched his horn to Georgey’s. The little unicorn gave a sad whinny, tail twitching, until the other unicorns advanced and crowded around him, snuffling and nuzzling at Georgey. Just then Harry noticed several more silvery eyes just beyond the trees, and Phoenix nodded. They were looking at the herd in its entirety, and the unicorns… the unicorns were accepting Georgey into the herd.
Harry squeezed Phoenix’s hand in a death-grip, and knew that Phoenix, too, was holding his breath.
Padrig lifted his head and looked at Harry and Phoenix, seeming to look through them with his silver gaze.
They bowed to Padrig, holding each other’s hands more tightly still, and the great unicorn nickered in acknowledgement.
Then, Padrig turned and walked out of sight. The others were soon to follow, but Georgey stayed back a moment. He looked back at Phoenix and Harry once more, whinnying happily, before disappearing with the rest of the herd, leaving Harry and Phoenix alone.
It seemed an age before they could find the words to speak.
However, when their tongues untied, Phoenix jumped into the air, whooping loudly and happily. He was crying, and settled only so he could wipe at his eyes, and smile beatifically at Harry.
If Harry had been lost before, it was nothing compared to the Bermuda Triangle kind of lost he felt right now, looking at Draco Malfoy who was the happiest Harry’d ever seen him.
Phoenix hiccoughed and then, seeming to gather courage, crowded into Harry’s space and wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck, leaning down to kiss him.
His lips were chapped but warm against Harry’s, and his fingers teased at the hair at Harry’s nape. And Harry… Harry couldn’t get enough of him, all the while wondering what the odds were that he’d end up kissing his long-time rival under the stars after seeing an entire herd of unicorns?
“I can hear you thinking,” Phoenix muttered after breaking the first kiss. His breath was moist and was beginning to fog up Harry’s glasses.
“Mind if we do that again, then?” Harry asked apologetically, and Phoenix closed his lips over Harry’s bottom one. Harry opened up as Phoenix pressed his fingers to Harry’s jaw, and it wrenched his gut when Phoenix’s tongue touched his.
Phoenix’s gut seemed to agree, judging by the small moan he let loose from the back of his throat. Harry mapped out Phoenix’s mouth, trying desperately to eliminate the remaining space between them.
They gasped happily against each other’s mouths, and Harry wrapped his fingers around one jutting hipbone, thumb pushing up under Phoenix’s jacket and layers of clothes until he reached smooth, hot skin.
“Harry, fuck,” Phoenix said eloquently.
“Mhm,” Harry said, tilting his head up and licking into Phoenix’s mouth.
They kissed for ages, it seemed. It wasn’t until Phoenix complained of his feet falling off that they parted, huffing laboriously and smiling somewhat embarrassedly.
“Well, I hope we see a lot more of the herd, if this is the result,” Harry said.
Phoenix giggled, looking a bit giddy, and grabbed Harry’s hand as they walked back to the S.U.R.L.Y.
“What’s going to happen to Georgey?” Harry asked as they reached Unicorn Point.
“I think they recognized his bravery—when he killed the werewolf to protect us—and knew he was a true unicorn, then.”
“What an ending to Georgey’s story here.”
Phoenix looked wistful. “I’ll miss him.”
Harry squeezed Phoenix’s hand.
It would be time for breakfast soon, and Harry looked forward to the bumping of knees and the touching of thighs and the jostling of elbows, to the surreptitious smiles but fairly obvious attraction as they sat together over their meals.
“Happy Christmas, Harry!” Sam shouted over the bustle as a large group of S.U.R.L.Y. witches and wizards decorated the lodge for the holidays.
It was the twentieth of December, but the whole group was putting up faerie lights and decorating a large Christmas tree in the living room while four of the staff played jovial tunes by the fireplace.
Fiona walked over to Harry and gave him a hug. “Happy Christmas. How are you?”
“I’m well, thank you. Is this why you wanted an extra hand today?”
Fiona laughed and passed him a mug of eggnog spiked with too much rum, and Harry was left to enjoy himself for the rest of the afternoon.
When he found Fiona again, she was under the arm of a slightly tipsy Phoenix.
“Harry!” Phoenix hugged him, and held onto his sleeve as Fiona asked him how the decorations of the front porch were progressing.
“Oscar and the others are almost finished and they’re whining for some rum.”
“Sounds like a good incentive to me,” Fiona laughed.
Harry was slightly distracted by Phoenix’s fingers against his wrist.
“Oh—Fiona, I talked with Hermione and she’s agreed wholeheartedly to submit your grant proposal to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She says you’ll hear back before the New Year.”
Phoenix smiled widely as Fiona choked on some eggnog. “Harry Potter, you are wonderful—EVERYONE!”
The whole group stopped talking and merry-making to listen to Fiona.
“Our grant proposal will be reviewed by the Ministry before New Years!”
There was cheering, and now more music, but Phoenix had grabbed his fingers and led him away before anyone could thank him properly. Harry found himself slammed against the wall in the hallway, just enough out of the way that they wouldn’t draw attention to themselves.
“I’m going to come visit you tomorrow morning,” Phoenix whispered, smiling and leaning down to brush his lips against Harry’s.
Harry was reaching up, craning his neck to get at Phoenix’s pink mouth, but Phoenix had his shoulders pinned and was enjoying himself too much to stop.
“C’mon,” Harry whined, and moaned happily when Phoenix gave in, sliding a hand up under Harry’s shirt to rest against his stomach as they kissed.
“Let’s get back to the party, shall we?” Phoenix suggested breathlessly after kissing Harry senseless.
“If we have to,” Harry mumbled, wishing they could stay just a little longer.
Harry woke up early the next morning, feeling jittery even though Phoenix hadn’t mentioned exactly when or why he was coming over. He’d showered, made the bed, and lit a fire in the fire place by the time the sun had risen in the sky, all the while remembering that long kiss he’d shared with Phoenix just before leaving the S.U.R.L.Y. late last night.
As if his thoughts had summoned him, Phoenix knocked loudly on the door, waking the owl, which hooted irritably.
Pressing the heel of his palm against his trousers, Harry walked slowly to the door. Seeing Phoenix’s silhouette through the stained glass, Harry bit his lip and opened the door.
“Good morning!” Phoenix said, smiling and dipping down to lick at the seam of Harry’s lips.
“Mnh,” replied Harry, welcoming the advance.
“This is okay, yeah?” Phoenix asked.
Harry grabbed the back of his neck and pulled Phoenix against him. “Yes,” he said. “Now shut up and give me a proper snog, will you?”
“Bossy,” Phoenix muttered, laughing when Harry pushed the door closed and wrapped an arm around Phoenix’s waist.
Phoenix pressed against him, going pliant in his arms and letting him slot a thigh between his legs.
“So, suppose we moved this to a more comfortable location…”
Harry froze, but Phoenix didn’t pick up on it at first, hands slipping up under Harry’s t-shirt and tracing the edge of his denims.
“We shouldn’t. Phoenix…”
“Is that your closet gay speaking or am I not what you want?” Phoenix’s fingers caught the edge of Harry’s boxers, face flushed and eyes downcast.
“I want you more than—more than anyone, but—”
Phoenix’s smile bloomed, flushing his cheeks. “Then what are we waiting for?”
Harry frowned, thinking about the consequences, but Phoenix was looking at him in that way…
“Fuck,” Harry muttered, grabbing Phoenix’s face and kissing him hard on the mouth. “Get upstairs; I’ll follow you.”
When Phoenix left the room, Harry took a little time to pull violently at his hair and then, suitably prepared to sleep with his school rival, followed him up.
Phoenix was naked on the bed, chest heaving as he’d obviously thrown his clothes off in a hurry. Harry paused, drinking in the sight of the man in front of him.
“Hi,” he said, face heating.
Phoenix was blushing as well, rosy from his ears to his chest, and cock red between his legs, resting against his taut stomach. There was no echo of a Dark Mark, nor any sign of the Sectumsempra scars down his chest. They were likely Glamoured with a strong spell. So strong that even Phoenix wouldn’t notice them.
Harry stripped down slowly and crawled on the bed toward Phoenix, laying down beside him and pressing him into the duvet, fingers wrapping around Phoenix’s left wrist and rubbing affectionately over the stretch of unmarked skin.
“Harry,” Phoenix said between kisses. Harry had his other hand on Phoenix’s hip, but hadn’t moved any further down. Phoenix grabbed his arse and pulled him closer.
“I want you to fuck me.”
Harry’s cock twitched longingly at the request. “Okay.”
“Don’t sound too excited.”
“I just don’t know…”
“You’re a quick study, I’m sure,” replied Phoenix, and with a swing of his leg over Harry’s hip, he proceeded to guide Harry’s fingers to the cleft of his arse. After conjuring oil from thin air, he slicked their fingers and helped Harry open him up.
Harry was rock hard, cock hot and leaking in the crook of Phoenix’s thigh as they rocked together on their sides. It wasn’t long until Harry was gritting his teeth trying not to come, but Phoenix just smiled wickedly and took those oil-slick fingers and wrapped his hand around Harry’s length.
“You gonna come?” Phoenix rasped, mouthing a little sloppily at Harry’s neck as he slicked up Harry’s thigh with precome. “Fuck, c’mon, Harry.”
It wasn’t the first time Harry would come that day, and it wasn’t the even the best time, but it was mind-blowing.
Phoenix shuddered, twitching but holding off his own orgasm, fingers slipping clumsily on Harry’s still shuddering cock.
Harry was useless until Phoenix kissed his way down Harry’s heaving stomach and swallowed his sensitive cock down, working him back to hardness with enthusiastic moans and then, after rolling a condom on him, sinking onto him with a sigh.
This time, Harry made sure to pay more attention. To Phoenix’s jutting hipbones and his clenching thighs, to the way he squeezed around Harry when he rolled his hips just so, and the way he lit up when Harry thrust just so. It was even better when Harry touched his leaking cock.
When Phoenix came it was like fireworks. He rolled his hips straight through, even with his stomach twitching rhythmically and his head flung back, spilling ropes of come onto Harry’s chest as he grabbed frantically at Harry’s hand, trying to stay anchored.
“Ah—Harry, oh Merlin—”
Harry came with Phoenix’s tongue in his mouth, hips juddering up into Phoenix and hands clenching at his back.
Laying in a post-coital haze with a blissed out Phoenix in his arms was even better than expected, almost as good as the sex itself. And that was saying something.
“That was fantastic,” Phoenix mumbled sleepily, nose tickly at Harry’s collar bone.
“So good,” Harry agreed, pulling Phoenix, sweat-slick and lethargic, more fully against him.
Harry fell asleep with a hand in Phoenix’s curls, one of Phoenix’s own hands fanned protectively over Harry’s heart.
Harry landed on the floor with a jolt, the alarm on the bed somehow back in place, and looked groggily around to realize that Phoenix wasn’t in the room. He took a moment to appreciate his extensive aches and pains before continuing his search through the tree house.
Phoenix wasn’t in the study either, so Harry hurried to the living room, knowing something was wrong.
“Phoenix?” Harry called, peering out from the plant room and then heading to the door to the deck. He was sitting in one of the chairs and he had a coffee in hand. He hadn’t taken a sip, but from the look of things he’d been outside for a while. He was staring out through the barren trees, a troubled expression on his face.
“Who’s Malfoy?” he asked when Harry’d spent too long watching him brood.
Harry’s stomach plummeted. “…What?”
“Did you know you talk in your sleep?”
Harry watched him with widened eyes. He didn’t know what to say; he couldn’t…
“I noticed it that night when you were injured. You talked to me and called me Malfoy.”
Harry was silent.
“I thought it was funny at first, since you obviously thought I was someone else. I thought you just had a friend I didn’t know about—and you could… You could have so many friends I don’t know about, and I—” He cut himself off and rubbed restlessly at his sternum. “You did it again this morning. I was trying to get out of bed and you—” Phoenix paused, taking a breath so he wouldn’t get carried away with himself. “You pulled me against you and said, ‘No, Draco. Five more minutes.’”
“Who is Draco Malfoy?”
Harry ran his fingers through his sleep-mussed hair, looking imploringly at Phoenix and pleading, silently, ‘Don’t make me do this to you…’
“Who the fuck is he? Is he your lover?”
Harry couldn’t give him an answer. “I can’t…”
Phoenix put the cup of coffee down on the table. “Wrong answer, Harry.”
With that, Phoenix Disapparated with a loud CRACK, leaving Harry alone with his guilt.
As worried as he was, Harry gave Phoenix a couple hours to himself before Apparating to the S.U.R.L.Y. The lodge looked as it always did, but Harry couldn’t ease the roiling in his stomach. He’d gotten carried away. He hadn’t wanted to hurt Phoenix—Draco—at all. He had wanted him to know, but he’d been so selfish. He’d wanted for Phoenix to like him as he was, not hate him as Draco had done. And he’d known Phoenix was scared. They’d argued over it two weeks prior.
Harry opened the door to the front hall and found a harried-looking receptionist peering distractedly at some files on the desk, but from the look of things, Phoenix had been here. The tension in the place was palpable.
He found Phoenix sitting in the living room surrounded by a sea of old Daily Prophets, headlines from the last several years jumping off the pages: Malfoy Heir Goes Missing; Draco Malfoy, Dead or Alive?; MALFOY CASE CONTINUES; Narcissa Malfoy Donates Millions to Missing Persons Organizations; DRACO’S DISAPPEARANCE DUPES DEPT. OF MLE; Malfoy: Running From The Law or Running From His Troubles?; Malfoy Therapist Admits Draco May Have Obliviated Himself.
“I asked Fiona first—about this Malfoy bloke—and her answer was that she wanted to give me as much time as I needed,” Phoenix began in a monotone. He hadn’t even moved when Harry entered the room. “How much time would I need if I knew where to start?”
Harry kneeled across the pile of papers from Phoenix, at a loss for words.
“All it took was a photograph from the latest article to know. I’m blonde and angry-looking but I’m me.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to, Phoenix—”
“Don’t call me that—how could you call me that?”
Harry put his face in his hands. “I tried to tell you, and you were so scared to know, and you seemed so happy!”
“You selfish prick.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed again.
Phoenix’s jaw tightened as he swallowed. He looked down at his younger face in the newspaper. “It says I likely Obliviated myself,” he said. His mother’s wand was clenched in his hand. “I wouldn’t likely be able to return my memories with this wand.”
“Shut up, Potter,” Phoenix snapped, and he sounded so like Malfoy it hurt.
“I fell in love with you,” Harry admitted, clutching at his hair.
“Give me your wand.”
Harry sucked in a breath.
“Give me your fucking wand or I’ll take it from you,” Phoenix growled.
Harry closed his eyes, and pushed his wand toward Phoenix, only giving it up when Phoenix pried it from his clenched fingers.
“I was in love with you before I even met you,” Phoenix said, voice cracked, and Harry knew that it was a goodbye. Phoenix pointed Harry’s wand at his head and uttered a complex string of Latin, and on a great flash of light, he fell backwards, slammed to the floor with the force of the counter-curse.
Harry watched, breath held, as Phoenix’s face crumpled. Harry could see the memories coming back, years and years of them, all unlocking inside his mind until it was as though his head were bursting with emotion. Harry’d experienced it low-scale in Auror training, but to gain a lifetime back in seconds…
It was Draco Malfoy then, who cast Harry’s wand away from him as he sobbed uncontrollably, and doubled over with agony, took his mother’s wand from his pocket and pointed it at Harry, his face shining with tears, but his eyes angry.
Harry’s reaction was so visceral that the windows shook with it. The fire in the fireplace snuffed out like a candle, and the lights in the house flickered. Harry took a heaving breath, realizing he’d flung Draco onto his back again, but it didn’t hurt him.
“Phoenix,” Harry began, “Draco…”
The man gathered himself up again, stood shakily and, tilting his chin up so Harry could clearly see the hurt written into his posture, he Disapparated.
Ages had to have passed before the receptionist peered around the corner by the door, followed by Fiona, who cleaned up the mess with her wand as Harry sat, shattered, amongst the remains of his and Phoe—Malfoy’s argument.
When Fiona pulled him up and into a chair, rekindling the fire and sitting close so she could hold his hand, Harry finally looked at her.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said quietly.
“How long have you known?” Harry asked.
“A year, thereabouts. I’d started collecting the news when the war started up again, but the habit stuck. I didn’t put the pieces together until the front page article last January.”
Harry closed his eyes and leaned into the cushion at his back. “God, I’ve fucked things up beyond repair.”
“Things were cocked up long before you arrived, Harry. You can’t be the tortured hero all the time—that spot was reserved for Phoenix when I brought him here three years ago.”
Harry swallowed, throat clicking. “When I came out here wanting solitude,” he began, “I didn’t mean for it to be like this.”
“Does he have his memories back?”
“I have a question to pose for you,” she said after a moment. “Do you love him?”
Harry smiled, chest hurting. “I was beginning to.”
“And you fell in love with him knowing exactly who he was and who he had been?”
“Then give him a week.” Fiona squeezed his hand. “Give him a week, and then go after him.”
“I don’t know where he went.”
“You don’t know where Draco Malfoy would go after three years of being lost?”
Fiona ruffled his hair affectionately and then left Harry to his own thoughts.
Harry gave him a week. A very long, lonely week where the days were spent thinking about the last couple of weeks, and the deck where he’d spent clearing his lungs and talking at length with Phoenix was now too icy to weather.
Most of his time he spent in bed, until on Christmas Eve when he received an owl from Ron inquiring as to whether Harry had misplaced his manners and therefore his ability to communicate, or if he’d offed himself with all the coffee and ice cream he was regularly drinking.
Harry wrote back to Ron with a promise to explain himself later, and on the same day he wrote to Ginny to end their relationship once and for all.
Fiona owled him later that day as he was soaking morosely in the bath:
The S.U.R.L.Y. has just been donated two million galleons from an anonymous source in Wiltshire.
He didn’t need much more confirmation or incentive than that.
Harry Apparated to Wiltshire at the gates of Malfoy Manor just in time to see Draco, newly blond but still pierced, help his mother into a carriage and heading into the town of Riverspell.
It took an hour to find the right place—a little chapel on the edge of town called Wylye Church, outside of which was parked the horse drawn carriage—but Harry stood at the back while the service went on, watching Draco sit sombrely as he held hands with his mother.
When the organist trilled out the first few notes of the final hymn, one Harry’d heard during his stay in the tree house likely during one of his chats over coffee with ‘Phoenix’ a couple weeks ago, Draco stood abruptly and walked along the edge of the pews in order to exit the building entirely.
He saw Harry just as he opened the church door, and paused, letting the cool air in and drawing attention to himself. He clenched his jaw and left, but Harry followed close behind, ignoring the irritated glances of the other churchgoers.
Draco stood in the halo of a street lamp, holding himself as he shivered.
Harry took Draco’s silence as permission to join him and stood silently for a moment, watching Draco exhale a steamy, shaking breath.
“May I?” Harry asked, and Draco nodded when Harry raised his hand over Draco’s head. Tapping on the ash blond locks, not slicked back but loose in healthy waves, Harry watched as Draco shivered one last time and straightened up, comfortable again.
“Why are you here?” Draco asked. There was a hint of that sneer Harry had almost missed, but it was muted heavily by the hurt in his eyes.
Harry clenched his hands, willing himself not to reach out. “I needed to tell you something.”
“Did Fiona tell you where I was?”
“She told me there was a sizeable donation made to the S.U.R.L.Y. from Wiltshire. No matter how anonymous it was, she knew—and I knew—it was you.”
“It was my mother, actually,” Draco muttered. “And if we’d been trying you wouldn’t have even guessed.”
Harry was doubtful, but he stayed silent as Draco watched a few snowflakes drift slowly to the cobblestone street, melting instantaneously as they met the wet pavement.
“So,” Draco began, clipped. “What was this thing you found so important to tell me that you had to come all the way to Riverspell and interrupt our Christmas Eve service?”
“You didn’t look too happy to be there, anyway.”
“Potter,” Draco gritted out.
Harry grinned wryly. “I wanted to tell you… First—that I’m sorry.”
Draco scoffed, rolling his eyes and folding his arms. “Really, Potter?”
“I am! I was cruel to never tell you who you were. I wanted you to make your own decision and I was worried… I knew things would be different when you did find out.”
Draco looked at him, a hard expression on his face. He was waiting.
“I didn’t want things to be different because I loved you. I fell in love with you in three weeks’ time and it is unbelievable and likely unwise and…”
“Too perfect,” Draco muttered, shaking his head.
“Yeah. It was.”
Swallowing, Draco jiggled a leg and turned to Harry. “Is that all?” he asked edgily.
“No, you impatient arse.”
Draco cocked an eyebrow and waited.
“The thing is,” Harry whispered. “The thing is I knew who you were the moment I met you. And I still fell in love with you.”
The snow was falling harder now, beginning to stick to the ground and decorating their hair and coats with a white dusting.
“I fell in love with you knowing who you were, and I fell in love with you probably because of who you’d been. And how much of you was still there despite the Memory Charm.”
Draco bit his lip hard.
Harry cleared his throat, scuffed his shoe against the kerb. “It’s fucked up, but… I fell in love with Draco, not just Phoenix.”
Draco made a low sound in the back of his throat as his eyes watered.
“Okay,” Harry said, nodding as he watched Draco try and control himself. The most obvious change in Draco since becoming ‘Phoenix’ was his distinct lack of Slytherin detachment. Harry liked it. “I’m done.”
“Oh, fuck it,” Draco ground out, pressing the heel of his palm to a temple before advancing quickly on Harry, grabbing Harry’s collar and crashing their lips together.
Harry gasped, startled but pleased, and allowed Draco to plunder his mouth until the taller man bit his lip. Then, Harry grabbed Draco’s jaw and bit right back, lapping at his tongue and bruising his lips.
They might’ve gone on for ages, if the distinct clearing of a throat, uncomfortable and restrained, hadn't interrupted them.
Harry watched Draco’s face, still holding his scarf as Draco looked guiltily at his mother, who stood just outside the door of the church. A few other witches and wizards passed between them, looking curiously at Harry and Draco standing just inches from one another.
Harry let go of Draco with a pat to his scarf, and looked askance at Narcissa Malfoy while Draco tidied himself up with a sharp tug to his waistcoat.
“Good evening, Mister Potter,” Narcissa said finally. She walked over to them, dark green robes swaying. She extended a delicate hand to him.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs Malfoy,” Harry said cheerfully enough, taking her hand and bowing. “Did you enjoy the service?”
“I did, thank you. But I do know that you did not come to Riverspell for a Christmas service.”
Harry smiled weakly, surprised when she placed her other hand under his, clasping it firmly.
“My son says you took care of him while he was gone and you were his reason for returning home. And he told me you saved him from a werewolf attack?”
Harry looked at Draco, who looked back with an expression that was three-quarters challenge and one-quarter embarrassment.
“Thank you, Harry,” Narcissa said, squeezing his hand finally and letting go.
“Mother, if you would wait in the carriage while I say goodbye to Potter?”
Narcissa glanced knowingly at her son before turning to Harry one last time. “We would be much obliged if you would join us for tea sometime after the holidays, Mister Potter. Perhaps just after New Year’s Day?”
“I would love to. Thank you, Mrs Malfoy.”
She nodded and walked away, heels clicking.
Draco cleared his throat, drawing Harry’s attention. He looked a little lost.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t love you back,” he said finally. “And odds are you can read me like a book—I haven’t had to lie in a long time. The Memory Charm did that for me.”
“Draco,” Harry said, reaching for his hand. Draco folded his arms again.
“I need time.”
Harry nodded, looking away.
“It doesn’t mean that I want to,” he added, leaning to catch Harry’s eye. “I Obliviated myself, Harry.”
“I love you,” Harry said, clenching his fists again to stop himself from reaching for him again.
Draco smiled, tears spilling over. “I think we both know that I had an eye for you even before the war began.”
Harry chuckled. “Was that love, too?”
“We also know I do not have track record for healthy relationships.” He wiped his eyes and sniffed, glancing at the carriage waiting outside of the glow of the streetlight.
“Is it bizarre that I still want to call you Phoenix?”
“Not really, although I’d rather you called me Draco. Phoenix is unbearably Gryffindor.”
Harry laughed, and then: “Okay, I’ll leave you to the rest of your holiday. Is it alright if I kiss you once more before going home and throwing myself a pity party?”
Draco nodded, and wrapped an arm around Harry’s neck, strangely reminiscent of their first kiss just weeks ago in the middle of the forest.
“Owl me in a month,” Draco mouthed against Harry’s lips as they parted. “Promise?”
Exactly thirty days later, Harry looked outside the window of his flat to see a heavy snowfall outside. It was falling undisturbed, as it seemed everyone had agreed to preserve the blanket of white that covered London in a sleepy spell.
Harry didn’t feel tired at all, despite the restless sleep he’d had the night before. He was nervous. He was running over the last month in his head, and he was hoping that Draco would have it in him to forgive Harry’s faults. As much as Harry had hurt him, he’d only wanted to keep him happy.
And Harry couldn’t keep Draco happy all the time, but he wanted to try his hardest.
He penned a letter that afternoon with a simple message:
“It’s snowing in London, today. It reminded me of you. Will you drift with me?”
The response was almost immediate, as far as owl post goes. The message was even simpler, and the sense of urgency in the scrawl—still elegant for its haste—could be felt through Harry’s fingers. Uncontrolled magic had its perks.
The message read, Hyde Park, 8pm.
Harry barely thought of anything else the rest of the day. Thankfully it was a Saturday and Harry wouldn’t be called in for a shift until Tuesday, but he still felt like all the rest in the world wouldn’t calm him for this.
It was no longer snowing when he Apparated into a secluded area in Hyde Park that evening. There were very few people about, which was both eerie and calming. Harry trudged through the snow until he found a bench along a walkway lined with naked trees. He cleared the snow of the bench, cast a warming spell, and waited.
He only had to wait two minutes. Draco appeared from behind a tree, looking nervous but well under his orange beanie hat—
“Well I thought I’d never see you wear orange again…” Harry said, standing and shoving his hands in his pockets so as not to make some gesture that Draco might not be ready for.
“I went and retrieved some of my belongings from the S.U.R.L.Y. Said hello to everyone, ran into Georgey in the forest.” Draco smiled, lips barely peeking out from over a grey scarf. “They got the grant from the Ministry, by the way.”
Harry nodded. “Hermione told me the other night. She’s pleased to have found another cause, from what I gathered from Ron. And how is Georgey?”
“He seemed very much unconcerned. He was actually a little peeved, if I was reading him right. I think he disapproved of me making you wait.”
Harry thoroughly agreed with Georgey in that moment—he was missing Draco more right now than he had in the last month now that Draco was standing right in front of him.
“Can I hug you?” Harry blurted. “Or something? I’m barely containing myself, here.”
Draco laughed weakly, muttering, “Gryffindor,” before grabbing Harry’s arms and pulling Harry toward him. He wrapped both arms around Harry’s shoulders and pressed his face into Harry’s neck. His nose was cold. Harry swallowed thickly, squeezing Draco around the waist and laying his cheek on Draco’s head.
“Thank you for being patient,” Draco said quietly, his breath warm.
“Missed you,” Harry replied, just as hushed. “Is that stupid to say?”
Draco leaned away and traced the line of Harry’s collar, watching him thoughtfully. “Yes,” he said finally. “But I like it anyway. Shall we walk?”
They walked, and Harry was glad when Draco did not flinch away when Harry held his hand.
Draco told him about catching up with his mother, meeting his aunt Andromeda and her grandson Teddy for the first time, and about working with a new therapist for whom he had great respect.
“I talked about you in therapy, actually. Quite a bit.”
Harry blushed, ducking his head as they made deep footprints in the snow. “What did you say?”
“Everything I could. It was mostly anger—drudged-up emotions from school that were fresh when I unblocked my memories. But Dr. Hummings got down to the root of it pretty quickly.”
Harry stopped, pulling them to a stop where the sky was clear above them. “You’ll have to be a bit less cryptic than that, Draco.”
“She knew that I’d been infatuated with you from the start. That my pride had gotten in the way and that I hated you the moment you rejected me in order to tamp down the hurt.”
It looked to Harry like Draco had struggled with that particular epiphany already, but admitting it still stung.
“She figured out that I still loved you—even before I told her about my time in Castle Valley. When I told her you’d found me in Scotland and were the reason I was back in Wiltshire, she looked less than surprised.”
“You still love me?” Harry asked.
Draco leaned in and pressed a dry kiss to his lips, smiling slightly when Harry chased futilely after him. “Yes.”
“Do you—” Harry cut himself off, swallowed thickly. “Do you want to give this a try?”
Draco squeezed Harry’s fingers.
“Do you want to give us a try—you know—without the memory loss or the werewolf attacks or the unicorns?”
“D’you think we could do it without all the ridiculousness? I think it comes with the territory, doesn’t it? Dating Harry Potter?”
Harry laughed deeply, threading his fingers into the hair at Draco’s nape and pulling him toward him, nipping at his lips until Draco opened up to him. The kiss wasn’t as angry as their last kiss or as exhilarated as their first, but Harry was moaning into Draco’s mouth in no time, pressing himself up against Draco’s belly. He wanted to get closer, climb inside and stay there in Draco’s chest.
“Perhaps this is unadvisable, but I really want you to take me home,” Draco groaned as Harry sucked a bruise into his neck.
“Fuck, yes. That is the most unadvisable,” Harry replied, laving at the sore spot he’d made before returning to Draco’s lips. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
Draco’s smirk was deadly. “Apparate us?” Draco asked, and Harry did.