[personal profile] valentine_veela
Title: Tyger, Tyger
Author: [personal profile] tigersilver
Pairing: Draco/Harry
Prompt #: 135
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 31,321+/-
Warning(s): (highlight to read)*AU; EWE; five years post-Hogwarts; minimal flangst; absolute crack; probable OOCness; distinctly higher survival rate for secondary characters & general lack of canon bloodshed. NC-17 for language and not -bestiality. No, really, it’s not. Just a little furry ‘round the edges, that’s all. *
Oh, wonderful winnett, the moment I read your prompts, I thought ‘tigers!’ and then when I added in the other requirements—‘body transformations into something not typical, licking, snowflakes; scenario: the typical bonding veela mate thing complete with territorial nature, marking, almost animalistic protectiveness; squicks: submissive men, feminized men’, I knew this must be not only ‘tigers’ but Siberian tigers. It was a blinding revelation, as if Dumbledore himself had handed me a lemon drop and said, ‘Suck on this, Anon. It’ll do the job.’ Whether it did or not remains to be seen, but, gosh, I had a spiffing time penning it! I hope with all my heart it pleases you and the prompts you provided, winnett, to the utmost of its very poor ability.
Last but not least, a huge debt is owed to this wonderful fic, by [personal profile] alaana_fair, which features tiger Animagus, and is one of the many worthy, deeply buried (in hyperbole) inspirations for my inexcusable bout of silliness. There are a great many other fantabulous fics referenced, plus cartloads of genuine H/D cliché, which is why, only halfway through, I realized this could only be crack and nothing earnestly serious or original.
Beta: [profile] lonerofthepack
Disclaimer: This piece of art or fiction is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made, no copyright or trademark infringement, or offence is intended. All characters depicted in sexual situations are above the age of consent.



0

For once in his misbegotten life, Harry exulted, he’d landed on all four paws. The other Animagus was right fit—hotter than a blistering bonfire in Hades, to be blunt. All lean, defined muscle mass and perfect conformity to the classic Siberian profile, but with that rarest of Amur tiger coloring: snowy white with darkish thin stripes and eyes of the purest silver tinged blue. And male, oh, so gloriously male!

He must be a natural blonde, this other Wizard—like Malfoy, that pretentious twat—which was fortunate, really, as Harry had a marked ‘thing’ for blonde blokes, especially ultra-fit elegant ones with light-colored eyes. Leftover from his idiotic schooldays crush, no doubt, but Merlin, blondes were his weakness. Especially this one. He even smelled good.

Too, the other Wizard must be a very strong Animagus, because Harry never once glimpsed him reverting to his natural human form in all the two days he’d stalked him through the whip-thin birches and the pine scrub, waiting for the idiots at SOS to alert the poor fellow he’d been assigned a new partner. It was odd, in Harry’s experience. Most Animagi he knew only maintained their Transfigurations for only so long—hours, maybe, or a day or two at the most. Pettigrew had the sole exception. This gentleman—and he was one, considering the way he obsessively groomed himself, the ponce—was unusually gifted in the longevity of his form. And pretty, Harry had to admit, his green-gold eyes relentless on the white ghost barely visible upwind.

Very pretty. Sexy. Alluring. ‘Come fucking hither’, even. Harry fancied the arse off the chap and he might just take his Golden Boy chances and check this pretty boy out on a more personal level without waiting about for that damned SOS letter to be delivered—in Animagus form, naturally, so he wouldn’t be mauled to death by accident.

I

…And this was not atall where he wished to be, Draco concluded fervently.
No, of course not. It was damnably cold for one thing (not that he felt it, but the crystalline edge to the air would’ve burnt the sensitive insides of his nostrils had he been in his human form), and there was little to do in the Amur region (which wasn’t true either, as there was now another Animagus in the vicinity and unfortunately a male at that, so there were of course the constant scuffles for territorial dominance and the pissing—and more pissing!— as well as the usual feline napping and the ritualized pacing of boundaries and all that other instinctual rot that went with Siberians in spades) but scuff about aimlessly till the next Owl from Pansy, Severus or Millie. All in all charity work was not what he’d been expecting when he trotted blithely into the London office of SOS those many months ago, looking for a good cause to visibly donate some of his indecent riches to. Urgently seeking, as well, a bolt-hole from the Press and his much-vaunted Veelism. But Draco wouldn’t think of that bit.

Every decently sized tree trunk for miles and miles had been torn up by that rogue Animagus bastard—like there were that many real trees, here in the bloody frozen wastelands of scrub and brush— and his nose! His poor bloody nose, scratched to pieces where the bastard had clawed it in passing—oh, the insult! His smooth and perfectly groomed flanks would be next if he wasn’t sufficiently agile in avoiding the fuckwit and it wasn’t as if the ninnies in charge of the fledgling SOS Organization had a surfeit of Animagus-trained Healers in their back pockets, readily available! And he was pants at Healing Charms for tigers; who knew if an Episky would even work on a Veela Transfigured form? Draco hadn’t dared, not wanting to expose himself any further than he seemed to be already, at the bleeding mercy of that great nasty git day and night! He’d had to rely solely on his newfound genetic abilities to restore himself to his proper unmolested state and even that had occurred at a rate much slower than he’d expected, which was also unusual, as he was now only set up to be truly vulnerable to his ‘fated’ mate, as per the scads of Veela lore Parkinson had forced him to scan and digest. A tidbit which Draco also wasn’t about to dwell on.

Still, Draco’s personal pains and humiliations—and there were many, were he to recount them, starting with fateful robe fitting at Madame Malkin’s—were an insult only to be overborne by the fact that the other male had several stone on him—and an equivalent number of inches, tip to tail! The git was broader than Draco at the shoulders and haunches and, worse than that, sported a vile, volatile disposition, meaner than a junkyard dog after midnight at times, plus a nearly visible chip on his scruff the size of a boulder about something—when he wasn’t contrarily slobbering all over his unwilling opponent instead, rubbing whiskers, nipping sharp at Draco’s handsome silver mane, even shoving him down muzzle first into the packed snow with all his considerable advantage in paw size and lording it over Draco like some bully in the schoolyard!

Bloody schizo—just what Draco needed in a partner, not!

And ugh! Orangey-gold with reddish stripes and the yellow-green eyes, the Animagus looked like every other common garden variety of Siberian out there, hues frosted over and dulled with a muted sheen courtesy of the perpetual Ice Age of this Merlin-forsaken region’s winter. The wanker was absolutely nothing special when it came to the species, either—no redeeming features whatsoever, not that Draco had actually seen any Amur tigers other than the two females who roamed closely adjoining territories, and they were substantially smaller than both himself and his pestilential rival and obviously lacked this other male’s superior abilities when it came to hunting boar and bear and deer.

Not only that—and as if that all weren’t quite enough, being roughed up whenever his over-grown weed of a compatriot was feeling a tad tetchy or whatever—Draco’s co-SOS Wizard hadn’t the common courtesy to make himself known in any civilized manner, instead simply muscling in on Draco’s region without so much as a by-your-leave. Oh, he’d leave a fresh kill somewhere in Draco’s vicinity—rather like bringing a hostess gift on a call—but there’d been no formal ‘How-d’you-do, I’m—‘ or ‘Nice to meet you. My name is—’. Instead, Draco had learnt the asinine fellow was both a vetted Animagusand the last-moment emergency replacement for Miss Peony Grimshanks, his previously assigned paired monitor, only by way of a suspiciously vaguely worded SOS Owl he’d received nearly two full days after the great prat mauled him the first time.

Constant teasing and tormenting by the other tiger had followed that initial attack, until Draco was sure the sod must have some deeply disturbing psychological issues of his own, which was why he’d volunteered to be stationed out here in bloody nowhere with the rest of the bleeding-heart, do-gooder SOSers. A prickly Draco, hounded unmercifully and in an increasingly evil temper, had batted the unfortunate Organization messenger out of the air and nearly devoured it as a light snack, but then that was the instincts of a natural-born predator for you. And he was that, thanks to Great-Great-Granme’re’s highly unfortunate Russian ancestry.

Well…there was also the git’s sparkle. Draco had to admit it existed, though he didn’t care to think too hard. Fact of the matter was, the other Siberian gave off this rather intriguing incandescence that no feline of Draco’s acquaintance had ever sported. Must be the Animagus Magic that caused it, though he’d never noticed any residual glitter hovering ‘round his own beautiful hide when he’d Transformed, despite the Veela additions to his pureblooded genetics. Nor with Professor McGonagall either, when she’d demonstrated her tabby form for their class in Third Year. Nor with any other Animagus Draco was on speaking terms with, though there weren’t all that many of those.

No, it was only this one, and it had to be, didn’t it? A fit and healthy male Siberian specimen, with eyes more green than gold—just like that stupid Potter’s—and right up Draco’s nose all the fucking time, just when he was gagging for it. Just when his Veela form—got in one, a Siberian tiger—was also gagging for it, mate-wise. It was almost fucking February, time for the Amurs to get amorous. And the resultant highly animalistic level of attraction brought on by all this roughhousing about and offerings of extra protein was positively the last thing poor Draco needed, stuck out here in a perpetual deep freeze and forced to be well-nigh virginal for six whole months before arriving.

To remark that Draco Malfoy, mostly unwilling rookie volunteer for the Save Our Siberians! Organization and mutant Veela-in-hiding, was both irate and morose was to be stating the obvious. If only the damned authorities hadn’t been so grimly determined to keep their monitors paired off for safety’s sake he’d be more than happy enough to slink about (lumber, really—Siberians were the largest of the large), snag the occasional prey beast, nap sporadically and keep a weather eye peeled for the real thing: the elusive Panthera tigris altaica. If only he’d just the usual Veela issues to contend with—feathers, beak, blue skin, overwhelming sex appeal—even that wouldn’t be so bad, but no, he’d had to be a poncing pouf of a tiger— an endangered species, blast it—and an oddball albino one at that! It was a sodding death-knell to Draco’s hope to just get on with crapshoot he called Life these days—find his Mate, shag his Mate, produce Malfoy Heirs with his extra-special Veelish powers—whichwas a nice perk, actually. But what self-respecting male Wizard worth his salt would ever want him when he was like this: gay and all Magical Beastly abnormal and weighing a mean 450 lbs. even on a no-carb diet? And how in Hades would he ever meet his damned ‘soulmate’, whoever that might be, parked here in bloody backwoods Russia with nobody decent to shag for a thousand fucking miles?

If only he hadn’t listened to Millie. The bint had a strongarm that should’ve been at the service of Ringling & Bro’s European division years ago, impressing Muggles—instead she used it unmercifully in the guise of benefice on unsuspecting old Slytherin classmates and backed it up with Professor Snape’s inimitable blessing on Draco’s unwanted adventure into volunteer work. Oh, if only he’d just stayed closeted up in the Manor, and let his mother handle the intricacies of locating an appropriate mate.

But no, t’was not to be. Draco cursed his blasted lousy luck and yearned for midnight on the 14th of February, the end of his proscribed tour of duty and the first day of his triumphant return to civilized life—and shagging. Maybe he’d skive off to New York or Amsterdam instead of bothering with a soulmate—at least overseas he wouldn’t be so terribly well known to the infernal Press.

II

There weren’t too many places one could go to for privacy when one was a Hero with an already immensely huge public following. Fewer still if one had just been outed by a former classmate in delicto flagrante, trou’ ‘round his knees and mid-blow in the Men’s. His iconic green eyes were still reeling from the unending pop of flashbulbs; his much-photographed pate addled with a blur of randy and increasingly personal headlines. Still, Harry Potter was fairly sure Professor Snape had suggested a short working holiday in Siberia in February as a joke, however feeble. Pity that Parkinson had pleaded in all seriousness with him to fill in for a damned AWOL Animagus, batting damp lashes wildly and whinging soulfully about endangered species and how he, the Saviour, should help save them. Pity that Professor McGonagall had chimed in with her two pence about it being such a spiffing excellent idea, Harry going abroad at this uncomfortable time after the wide-spread revelation of his sexual preferences. Pity as well that SOS’s preserve was possibly the only guaranteed Skeeter-free portion of Earth left available—and the only one blessedly empty of hordes of fans, sycophants, irate detractors and members of the Press trailing after him with cameras and microphones and Quik Quills 24/7, shouting out their lashings of intrusive questions, offensive offers of gratuitous sex and derogatory commentary. There were no subscribers to the Prophet, nor even the less-circulated but far more tolerable Quibbler in the vast Amur region; no great crushes of humanity all seeking a piece of Boy Hero—or Boy Hero’s tail—there were no people at all. Scratch that—there were the very few other poor sods stuck out here selflessly tracking tigers for the SOS, but short of the Gobi (and that was out because, well, because), this was one of the least populated places on Earth.

Except for bloody Malfoy.

Bloody attractive Malfoy, who pressed every button Harry had and then installed a few more red shiny ones on his mental dashboard marked ‘Danger!’ when Harry wasn’t looking. Bloody fucking sexy-as-all-Hell Malfoy, who was fit as a man and fit as a Siberian, and the only Wizard male for mile upon trackless mile—eight hundred of them in their assigned territory, if their SOS nanny was to be believed—that he’d have any sort of contact with for the next month.

Bloody impossible Malfoy, whom Harry hadn’t even recognized when he first come upon him out here, though he certainly should’ve, what with that mercury-striped white fur and those icy, sky-tinged eyes, so very unusual—so very Malfoy. But, oh, Merlin, that arsewipe Malfoy was just so very, very alluring—there was really no other word to describe it. Well, ‘shaggable’ was one, but Harry wasn’t quite accustomed to his own shift in preferences just yet, much less all the jargon that seemed to go with.

As if life weren’t difficult enough already. No wonder he’d mortified himself practically pouncing on the nasty little git, given his prior history. But he hadn’t been able to stop himself for some reason—whom did he think he was fooling? There were a great many stellar reasons why he’d been gobstruck at the sight of that amazing white tiger, most of them dating back years. Most of them purely physical and relating solely to his cock. Now, Harry could only hurry along the days till his nominal volunteer post was done with—then perhaps he would visit the Gobi. Or Antarctica. He’d heard penguins were amusing. But only after he’d murdered that git Snape for once and all.

And Parkinson. And bloody fuckable Malfoy, on principle.

But not Professor McGonagall, of course. She was pretty much indestructible—and inviolate.

Plus, she’d meant well.

III

“Tea, Severus?”

“Why, thank you, Minerva.”

“Shortbread biscuit?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

“Kippers?”

“Oh, yes.”

Suitably anointed with the components of a proper Scots high tea, the two long-time compatriots got down to the business at hand: managing Harry and Draco.

“Any word from Potter, Severus?” the Head of Gryffindor and Hogwarts inquired politely after the requisite five minutes of polite sipping and nibbling had passed.

“As a matter of fact…” Snape smirked evilly. There was a certain pleasure in torturing Potter, even if it was from a distance. Even if the boy had somehow managed to insinuate himself in Snape’s stingy good graces over the last few years. Potter was still Potter, although ‘Harry’ had matured into a somewhat more tolerable young man. Barely.

“I have. He’s quite annoyed with me. And Miss Bulstrode. And, for that matter, the entirety of his current circumstances.”

“Hmm. No doubt there’ll be some period of adjustment. Have he and young Malfoy run across one another yet?” There was another lost little lamb to watch over: Draco Malfoy, almost-orphan and reformed cad, newly outed Veela and, from all accounts, a right mess. Except his parents were hale and hearty and his Veeladom had long been suspected. Still a cad, though admittedly charming.

It was more than fortunate that she and Severus still had some influence extending beyond the walls of Hogwarts. Particularly over the Parkinson-funded, Bulstrode-managed Save Our Siberians! Organization, the party responsible for the protection of the highly endangered and crucial-to-the-Wizarding-Women’s-cosmetic-industryP. tigris altaica.

How quaint that it should be that genuine Siberian tiger urine that served as a base for such well-known beauty aids as Sibylline© Wrinkle-Free™ and the Wizarding divisions of Lauder’s and Lancôme’s feminine age-concealment products? How serependitious was it that the Parkinson fortune was in large part now based on the sale of such an important base ingredient as Siberian tiger urine? And how delightful had it been to discover dear Severus still had some considerable sway over the doings of such bright young things as Miss Parkinson and her friend Millicent Bulstrode, now the Managing Director of SOS? Little Millie had always had such an ability to manage—and young Malfoy practically cried out for it.

It was a plan conceived in haste, of course, and cobbled together in a twinkling, but still Minerva liked to think of it as a stroke of genius, worthy of dear Albus, may he rest in Avalon. Two young men, both hounded unmercifully by the Press, both of the ‘alternative’ lifestyle persuasion and both in desperate need of some real honest-to-Merlin companionship, unencumbered with Hero worship and Veela glamour. Both sporting signs of lingering mutual adolescent crushes desperately visible to heads older, wiser and sadly much greyer than theirs.

What could be more obvious than throwing them together in some isolated location and letting old Mother Nature take her course?

IV

On Monday, the other Siberian tracked Draco down again, a determined air in those green-gold predator’s eyes of his, and promptly proceeded to pounce. They wrestled and snarled and did their beastly best to rip each other to shreds for a bit and then called off the animosity to go hunting, being decidedly peckish. Monday evening, relaxing with bellies full of tasty wild boar with a side helping of rabbit, the blighter unceremoniously snagged Draco by the scruff, held him still with one gigantic paw and proceeded to carefully groom him, licking off all the leftover gore with delicate swipes of his huge prickly-soft tongue. He’d done the same in return, naturally—it was only polite—though he hadn’t had to restrain Mr. Wizard (as Draco thought of him in absence of an actual surname) to do so. He was glad of that, as the prat was terribly large and cumbersome. Draco didn’t know why he’d answered in kind—it felt natural, for whatever reason, as if the other male deserved Draco’s attentions—but he flatly refused to worry about it and let himself indulge in the odor of male and pine sap and male, instead. The Animagus’s fur was soft as silk against his open maw, filtering across his gums; deep muscles under a glossy coat quivered ever so faintly as the other Siberian literally purred his pleasure at the service. It was, all in all, the nicest experience Draco had had since arriving in Amur. Almost like a dinner date.

On Tuesday, waking up to a fixed feline gaze not even a foot from his own broad muzzle, Draco decided it wasn’t so bad to have company of sorts. He was warmer—not that cold penetrated his inches thick hide—or at least felt that way, what with the huge bulk of Wizard Number Two sprawled out in the thicket beside him, although the git still hadn’t bothered to properly introduce himself. They padded on in companionable silence later that morning, pissing occasionally and rending willow bark to papyrus strands, watching out for the other three known females said to be on tracts adjoined their territory, and ended up sharing a quiet supper of red deer stag in the gloaming of late January’s frigid twilight. This time Draco purred at once when the rough tongue found him, rolling over on his wide back to allow even more access. But he’d already determined he more than warranted the unsolicited grooming , since he’d willingly offered up the choicest morsels of deer tallow to his fellow Wizard earlier in some silly non-vocalized ploy to impress. And he wasn’t considering that at all, naturally. Bad enough to reduced to ripping his meals apart by sheer force of mandible, much less be humiliated by slavishly doting over an un-introduced assailant.

Tuesday segued into Wednesday and their amicable state continued. Mr. Wizard was a very friendly soul, Draco discovered, with a ready willingness to faff about and make a damned fool of himself. He seemed to enjoy all the infernal white stuff, too, and if Draco hadn’t been positive Mr. Wizard was an Animagus, he would’ve been convinced by the prat’s pleasure in simple snowflakes. Draco had never had much use for them—good for skiing, really, and not much else. Winter was a general bother, except for the holidays (presents) and the opportunity to show off his heavier Italian jumpers and designer cold weather gear. Highland winters had convinced him fairly well that if it weren’t for the sports and the expensive accessories, cold seasons could go hang—he’d take Bermuda or the BVI any day over slush and sleet and bloody snow. But Mr. Wizard seemed to really love the stuff, jumping about it, rolling up huge sodden balls of it and then smashing them with his forepaws, sending lashings of powder showering with a single flex of his tail. And he could move through it with the grace of an Olympian, Mr. Wizard could, fast and sure and all superior muscle. Like he was flying, Draco mused, and promptly stuffed the errant thought away before it reminded too sharply of another flyer.

On Thursday evening, after a long and tiring trek, starting in the very wee hours of the a.m., up a leg of mostly frozen-over river bed that bordered their easternmost range, Pansy Owled Draco a gossipy missive about the doings of the few remaining Slyths of their class and Draco had to leap on his unwanted companion and hold his massive jowls closed to prevent yet another untoward accident to the poor official SOS post owl. Tiger Two immediately slunk off into the night when he caught sight of the letter, sulking and snarling, and Draco had the pleasure of Transfiguring to his old, familiar human form in the midst of a unexpected snow squall acres and acres away from where he’d lost sight of him so as not to be inadvertently eaten. He’d found a densely thicketed glade of sorts in the area days earlier and that was where he spent the remainder of the night, soaking in the claw-footed tub in his unshrunken Gucci Wizarding Tent and trying very hard not wonder how the other Wizard might appear as a human. Attractive, certainly. Dark hair, perhaps? Those same goldy-green eyes as he possessed as a Siberian? Oh, but surely that was merely a forlorn hope—if Mr. Wizard resembled Potter even a little, Draco wouldn’t have a single thing left to ask the Fates for—other than Potter himself. And that wasn’t on.

As of Friday dawn his SOS co-monitor had officially skived off again and, having traversed more than a hundred miles or so since Wednesday morning, most of it through a light seasonal snowfall, Draco was irked—again. He wasn’t precisely tired—Siberians were built to move and they did, all the bloody time—but he was weary. Same old snowflakes, same old brush, same old mule deer entrails mucking up his whiskers and no one to head butt for miles. The misogynist Animagus had been company at least. And he was very, very…fit. Handsome, as tigers go. Unusual, with his eyes being the exact same color as that prat Potter’s.

Speaking of Potter, Draco wondered briefly how the Hero was making out these days. He’d not seen any news of the long expected engagement to the ginger minge before he’d departed posthaste for fucking Siberia but perhaps the Golden Couple were delaying for some reason. Possibly to allow for the bride’s family to scrape up enough Galleons for the wedding, Draco thought. Or perhaps because she was a year younger than Potter and the only female Weasel—parents and brothers just a tad overprotective? But probably it was solely for the purposes of tormenting him all that much longer, Draco was sure, with the infinitesimally minute hope that Potter might miraculously wake up one morning and understand that females were not all they were cut up to be. Gentleman were so much better, particularly self-possessed Slytherin gentlemen, such as Malfoys, who knew what to do when the Press mobbed you. But then, he’d been so assiduously avoiding the papers since his Veela-ness had been Skeeter-cast, Draco wasn’t au courant on all the more recent Potter newsflashes.

By the following Monday, Draco was edging toward frantic. He’d been in the Amur for ten full days and the bastard was contracted to be his dutiful companion during this whole grossly annoying tour of charitable do-gooding and now he’d up and vanished himself completely without an effing trace, leaving Draco to fret and growl and anxiously pick at his various kills all by his lonesome. It was just another sign that he was doomed and cursed, an increasingly moody Malfoy determined, as he apparently couldn’t even keep track of his one officially assigned companion.

It pained Draco to admit it but he hankered after Mr. Wizard’s musky scent. His constant shoulder-butting and stupidly adolescent high spirits. His nearby bulk in the wee hours of the morning, which served to keep the biting winds swooping down from the not-so-distant Arctic Circle at bay. He yearned for those nightly grooming sessions—all that lovely, lovely bodily contact, which made Draco’s heart murmur and his eyes glaze over with feline contentment. And even the rough-and-tumble scuffling that kicked up fountains of snow and sent all available prey into hiding for a ten-mile circumference. Vastly annoying but strangely enjoyable, their little idyll. He’d enjoyed as well mucking about in that childish manner the mercurial Mr. Wizard showed occasional glimpses of; teasing and flirting assiduously whenever he could, showing off how high and far he could leap, how brilliant he was at flipping Mr. Wizard over with a judicious swipe to one of those well-muscled orangey legs of his. They’d made huge, misshapen tiger snow angels one midday, snuffling about in a huge expanse of untrodden white stuff, and he could’ve sworn his companion had snorted with muffled laughter, as deeply satisfied as Draco was with this...this unexpected friendship. They’d leapfrogged over snow banks and dumped whole tree loads of the powdery crystals on one another on a different afternoon, even managed a half-arsed snowball fight of sorts, scooping up pawfuls and flinging them all anyhow, in the spirit of good, clean fun.

Oh, he’d definitely relished every moment, the pleasure of having someone to spend his hours with—someone special. Even if it wasn’t his silly, impossible dream, it came damned close.

Salazar, but Draco wanted to be assaulted once more with that particular malodorous stench of urine, wafting up from the underbrush and telling his sensitive nose that Mr. Wizard was right around the next bend, waiting for him, eyes aglitter with mischief. Oh, gods, but he was fucking feeling soppy over the smell of someone else’s piss! He was pathetic, truly. He was a fool, gasping after someone he didn’t know from Adam and probably wouldn’t be able to stand conversing with in normal circumstances. He—

He missed most everything about the chap, actually. And he absolutely didn’t wish to carry that thought any further for fear he might actually arrive at a vastly uncomfortable conclusion. It wasn’t as though Draco absolutely had to acquire a mate—being only part-Veela had its definite upsides—but in the absence of Potter Mr. Wizard had been hands-down the best thing Draco had hoving on his personal horizon in a very long time. He’d been eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to get to know the prat better, this weird bloke with the smiling eyes and the ongoing habit of easy silence.

Draco hoped to Merlin he hadn’t offended Mr. Wizard in some way, unbeknownst. He was known to put a foot wrong on very rare occasions, being awkward about these things with people he…actually cared for. His usual practiced Malfoy manner wouldn’t quite work, or perhaps it worked too well, but in the opposite direction. Merlin, but it would be downright sickening, being shot down before he’d even had the chance to turn his Veela-enhanced Charm on his new and exceedingly attractive target. Too, he’d been rather looking forward to seeing Mr. Wizard’s inevitable slackjawed reaction to Draco’s full human-plus-Veela glory—counting on it, actually—especially as he was now dead certain the Animagus batted for his team.

If onlyPotter had, Draco would’ve shown that ginger-tufted bitch a run for her money a long time ago, but that was all clearly by the wayside and Mr. Wizard was looking to be a rather pleasant substitute. If Draco could but find him, that was, and there was only the matter of a mere eight hundred odd miles of uncharted wilderness in which to play Seeker.

Tuesday morning brought the unwelcome-but-scheduled visit from their official ‘handler’ and SOS contact, Mr. Granwyck Hines. Mr. Hines was a red-cheeked young tad with a prissy attitude and clearly more at home with parchment and quill than the ruddy frigid conditions with which he was currently surrounded. Draco grimaced instead of politely smiling and kept a tight rein on his infamous Malfoy temper whilst Hines flapped about his clipboard, fussing. He’d been Apparating here and there for two full days, to all the various landmarks he’d memorized, praying with gritted teeth he’d stumble across an elusive Animagus.

“Good to see you’re still with us, then, Mr. Malfoy. Doing nicely, I see, despite roughing it—that’s grand. And so, where’s our famous Mr. Potter got to? Did you mislay— Oops! Ah!

Hines blushed scarlet as winter roses and darted his watery eyes all about in an agony of tongue-biting, self-inflicted.

“Oh, deary, deary me,” Hines gabbled, becoming one giant red splotch and puffing, “—I meant Evans, of course. Harold Evans. Regular bloke; no relation to the famous Harry Potter at all—no, no, no! ‘Course not! Right-oh, then! A-hem! So, ah—have you come across Mr. Evans yet, Mr. Malfoy? He’s supposed to report in to me this morning as well. We’d an appointment booked for eight thirty sharp.”

Eyebrows well up, Mr. Hines gradually took in Draco’s bear-stunned salmon expression and after some moments of extended silence rather visibly decided the Malfoy heir showed definite signs of inbreeding. He sighed heavily and pinched the wrinkled area between his sandy brows, the very picture of a long-suffering minor administrator cruelly separated from his far more important paperwork by a task that clearly would’ve been better handled by a lesser minion. A more appropriately attired lesser minion, for that matter. The Amur in midwinter was colder than a witch’s tit.

“I—ah. I guess I’ll, erm, wait a bit for him, right? D’you have a camp stool or something I can borrow? A brazier?”

Tuesday was an unmitigated disaster all around.

V

Harry slogged through the scrub, expression set and determined. He’d had enough of bloody Malfoy. Should’ve known that poncy shite was still engaged to Parkinson, all these years later—should’ve known he’d never had a fighting chance, even anonymously. Stupid Owl; stupid Pansy—never saying a thing when she was probably laughing her ass off, back in London. He should’ve known the Slytherins had it in for him, ever since Zabini caught him out years ago, drooling after Malfoy in bloody fucking Potions.

It was all a bust and rather than hang about and be tormented, Harry’d decided it was far better to go it alone.

‘Alone’ was bloody lousy. The scrawny bear he’d taken down that morning had tasted off. The scrubby pine forest scattered with the occasional willow and paper birch was endlessly same-colored and boring. The females he’d met milling about the boundaries of his and Draco’s range were useless trollops, only interested in the one thing, and that was not something Harry was willing to offer, in any form he might take. He’d chased them off, snarling.

And Malfoy—oh, Malfoy was a heartless bastard, letting Harry get close like that, only to be not-so-secretly engaged on the side. Fucking two-timer. Fucking sexy, ‘oddly charming as a tiger’ two-timer, more like.

The things he’d like to do to that smarmy bastard! Push his white furry arse down and keep him there, pinned and at Harry’s mercy; let his grumbling animal instincts have their way, unfettered by any stupid long-term prior commitment—fucking Merlin, how long ago exactly had that abortive blow-job been? Harry didn’t even like to think of it; too many lonely, frustrating months had passed since his unwitting outing. And actual years wasted before that, thinking Ginny was the be-all and end-all of his relationships but never doing anything constructive about it. Such a fucking relief to figure out why, finally. Why it was alright to think of Draco Malfoy the way he’d always secretly thought of him—as a fine piece of arse, as a Prince among Wizards, as an object of Harry’s fond and urgent desire. A mate and match for himself, Harry Potter; just as powerful, just as war-weary and with no fucking wiles about him angling for a Hero. Not that his personal epiphany made a damned bit of difference. No, if Draco ever bothered to glance Harry’s way, he’d just see ‘Potter’, the same old annoying schooldays nemesis Harry’d always been cast as.

A dream, then, as it clearly wasn’t going to happen; was never going to happen, not even if they were both just lonely, anonymous tigers wandering about in the wastes of godsforsaken Siberia.

VI

“Young Potter sent me the oddest letter, Severus.”

Snape took a deliberate sip of his Lapsang Souchong and let it roll over his tongue. Nothing like the finest, by way of the Russo-Sino trade route courtesy of his git of a godson. The herring in cream sauce was also appreciated.

“Indeed. By coincidence, so did Draco. Tell me, was there whinging?”

Minerva stifled a giggle—Severus had always had the most acerbic wit and it quite reminded her of her girlhood. She’d had a beau—boy by the name of Gaddeaus Flint, wasn’t it?

“But of course. Thinly disguised, naturally, with the usual blather about toffee-nosed Malfoys and their evident life-long goal of making all Potters miserable. It was most amusing, if not grammatically correct and entirely too slangy overall. In my reply, I directed him to buck up, mind his spelling and keep his eyes focused firmly on his charity work.”

“Hah! As did I, in my most recent letter to my benighted blighter of a godson. Salazar, have mercy! That boy can bemoan the ears off a brass monkey, even in an Owl! Potter this and Potter that and all the livelong day Potter! As if he’d promptly given up all vestiges of that fine Malfoy mind he inherited the moment he laid eyes on the lout—such a waste, those two, with all this unnecessary twittering. Could be busy doing much better things with their lives—more productive, at least. ‘Stiff upper lip’ was my sage advice and I stand by it, Minerva, regardless. He’ll get nothing if he can’t keep his sights on the Snitch.”

“Oh, absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. Not that either of them would listen to us, Severus. We’re just old fogeys. May I offer you more toast, then?”

Snape nodded the affirmative, and promptly ladled a dollop of the caviar Draco had included with his Owl onto the crusty wedge. ‘Old fogey’, indeed. Minerva had at least three decades on him, but it was worth more than his measly pension to say so.

“…Still, they’ve only three weeks left, Severus. Do you think that’s enough time?” Minerva continued, spreading her whole wheat toast points with gooseberry conserve.

“Well. Could you tell if—?”

“I think…yes,” McGonagall answered hastily, the corner of her lips twitching. “As tigers, perhaps.”

“Ah….” Snape savored another mouthful of tea and washed down crumbs of butter cake. “That’s a start.”

“I’ll Floo your Mr. Zabini, then. Begin Phase Two.”

VII

“Good to go, then, Blaise? Got your kit?”

“I suppose I’m ready. The things I do for you, Pans—“

And Draco, dear one. Don’t forget he bailed your pretty arse in the war. Twice.”

And bloody Malfoy, that pathetic sad sack. And sodding Potter, as well, though he won’t thank me for this, you know. No sense of humour when it comes to Draco. I’ll likely have my head ripped off for my troubles.”

“Now…think positive.”

“Do, Zabini,” Millicent chimed in. “Draco needs our help since he clearly can’t charm himself out of a paper bag when it comes to Potter—you, of all people, are well aware he’s been gagging for Harry since the day he met him. It’s sick making. If we can further leverage this situation—“

“Then I’m certain it’s only thanks you’ll hear, darling.” Pansy finished. “Even if it’s in Siberian.”

“The gnashing of eye teeth as they close about my head, more like,” Blaise observed gloomily, belting his fashionable leather driving jacket, which was totally unsuitable for cold weather, and drawing on his Italian gloves. “Well, I’m off then. Don’t wait up.”

“Break a leg, Zabini,” Millicent encouraged him with one last pat to the shoulder. He shrugged it off immediately but couldn’t avoid Parkinson’s quick hug.

“I hope this works—make it work, you bastard, or I won’t forgive you,” she hissed fiercely in his ear and squeezed him much more forcefully than was called for.

Disengaging, Blaise winked at her with his usual saturnine assurance and snagged up the Portkey—a sodden red woolen mitten, crudely embroidered with a holly leaf—and then he was gone, complete with nearly all that was necessary to provide Malfoy and Potter a shove in the right direction and put all the many accessory St. Valentine’s Day plotters out of their long-accustomed vicarious misery.

Criminal, the way Draco lusted after Potter and still did ruddy nothing. Vapid and idiotic, Potter’s not taking advantage of the roaring crush Draco clearly had for him. Really, people should just take what they wanted when they wanted it—like Slytherins did.

VIII

Three days of ‘Alone’ were quite enough, even for a sulky Potter. Besides, it wasn’t as though his miserable outlook had lightened the farther he’d ventured from Malfoy.
He was haunted. Couldn’t sleep, for if he closed his eyes he saw silver and stripes and blonde hair like a sheaf of winter wheat. A pale face, a perfect body, laid out for him on the snow, red mouth quirked in the same old Malfoy sneer but somehow…somehow so much more inviting. A rump smooth as satin, furred like mink, raised up in the wind-chilled air and Draco—yes, Draco—impatiently waiting, squirming under his tongue. He was deep in and arrowing forward and his cock had barbs in his dreams—a cat cock, thick and stubby, given his size, but still more than enough to satisfy; Malfoy yowling in anguish and need as he writhed beneath dream-Harry, grey striped tail straight up, silver grey eyes electrified.

Then Draco complaisant, muzzle moving tenderly against Harry’s, belly exposed, his startling icy eyes only on the one who held him, captivated him, wrestled him into submission and shagged him breathless and gasping. Draco arching that elegant spine of his at an impossible angle, choking on snow and his own spit, split and quivering with the cock that filled him and Harry roaring, roaring—screaming out the name of the man he’d always wanted, wanted for so very long a time, and could not have.

It was dangerous, being alone. Harry couldn’t stand it. And it did no good, really, to run.

There were only a few short weeks left—just over a fortnight—and he was a fucking Hero, for Merlin’s sake, with a job of work to do. If he couldn’t keep his head out of his own arse for two weeks and deal with Malfoy sensibly he might as well off himself right this bloody minute.

With a rumbling sigh, Harry Changed, wand already in hand. A spell was cast, a whisper echoing across valleys and ridges, forest and vale, pine and yew and bittersweet vine, Seeking.

Not ten minutes later, a newly determined Potter was on his way.

IX

Draco wasn’t sure. Not about what to do; not about where to go. He’d no luck in his search for Potter and Hines was Owling him daily now, inquiring after the Golden Boy—‘Mr. Evans’— as if the git had simply up and disappeared entirely. Pans, too, was up his nose; her parchment missives progressively more and more demanding when it came to the details of his daily life.

Draco’s daily life was bleak. He missed Potter, his ‘Mr. Wizard’, his mate. And part-Veelas, it seemed, felt just as strongly as the regular-powered version when it came to their fated mates. Draco was sick at heart, lonely, achingly, brokenly sad, buffeted by the bitter winds of despair—all this after just a few days without him. What would he do when Potter actually upped and married the She-Weasel?

It didn’t bear thinking of. He couldn’t think anyway, his brain consumed with Potter, Potter, Potter. He’d had so little, really—a few days, and all of that in his Veela form—but still they’d been the best days of his life. He was bereft at the idea of not seeing Harry again—it put him off his food; destroyed what little was left of his flagging willpower, made his days and nights arid deserts of empty moments, dragging on. And the dreams—oh, the dreams. If he’d his druthers, he’d never wake up from them, but then…but then he wouldn’t be able to search for Potter, and Potter was. Was. Would always be, as he’d always been—Draco’s life.

X

Blaise Zabini felt that events were moving along fairly well. He’d arrived in a timely manner, procured a native guide and a magically-enhanced Landrover equipped with an equally amped-up jet ski, and arrived at the posited point of contact right on schedule. It only remained to use his special Polyjuice, utter a certain spell, posture, roar a bit in a meaningful and threatening manner and then get the fuck out of the way.

Speaking of—it was ten o’clock on Friday morning, February 3rd, and the two barking mad fools were just where they should be, each approximately a quarter mile away, diagonally across from one another with Blaise smack in the center.

And now was the time. With a fast prayer to whomever it might be that watched over well-intentioned mischief-makers, Blaise downed his potion and spoke.

Just beyond a long crumbly granite ridge, slippery with snow, Harry’s ears perked up and his nostrils flared red. Through a copse of whippy aspen saplings, sunk deep in the drifts, Draco turned his pale head sharply, scenting.

A tiger. A Bengal, full-grown and in excellent health, and right exactly where he shouldn’t be— right in the very midst of Harry and Draco’s established territory, urinating with great insouciance on a virgin tree trunk.

XI

Harry moved—and Siberians are a close second to cheetahs in landspeed records for large cats. Harry moved, and nothing, but nothing, got in his way.

Legs bunching under him, muscles stretching, contracting in knots and liquid smooth reaches under the mobile skin of rusty orange-off-black blur, he bounded up the ridge and launched himself pell-mell over it, the icy transparent crystals barely skimming his calloused pads, exposed scree spraying up wicked shrapnel in his wake. He was all about speed—force—forward motion—and purpose. And it wasn’t conservation, nor was it some arsed up notion of monitoring endangered wildlife—it was only Draco-Draco-Draco burning bright in the forefront of Harry’s conscious mind—what few remnants Harry had left, that is, since there was a hateful intruder on their land. Their home. And this was all about instinct, and life and death in Amur, and Siberian tigers, the pale gods of the North.

Harry roared a challenge as he came and the very ground shook beneath them, jittering snow off branches in shuddering cascades. His great paws thudded a heartbeat into the earth below him, tuning stone and frozen sod and very particles of frigid water hanging dense in the air to a high, clear toll of coming conquest. Somewhere far off in the distance, a localized landslide buried the Landrover and the jet ski. The guide had fortunately already Apparated to safety at Blaise's command.

But there was a pale ghost already before Harry, fast as he was—the misting snowflakes his silver-eyed swift passing had scattered still wafting down softly on Draco and the strange male. A constant rumble filled the clearing with sound as the Veela and the unfamiliar tiger circled each other, subsonic in parts and utterly terrifying—the octave swollen with rage and possession, the basso profundo an eerie vibration of raw threat. The intruder roared in return, his massive head tilting first at the albino right before him and then swinging to the still too-distant Harry, gaping jaws exposing javelin rows of teeth, all expressly honed by natural selection for the purposes of snapping, rending, biting, mauling. And then he reared up just enough to get his back legs under him, tail coiling and supporting, torso rising up, up and over a snarling Draco and the ante was doubled and tripled and the very air froze solid in as it poured steaming from their nostrils.

The stranger returned to his four-footed grounding with a thud just a few yards short of the lightning-fast swipe of silvery paws glinting with feline scimitars, glossy and dead-black, and the answering show of red gums and ivory death. The Veela was coldly furious, his blood singing with a deep Magic, and his lithe form resonated with it, till it seemed his very eyes threw sparks of Damascus-forged fire.

Harry barreled down the hillock and onto the field of battle, ploughing Sherman-tank through the windswept snow, his unflinching gaze gold-rimmed green and emerald bright. He was more than agile for his bulk and deadly quick, a true master of his Animagus form, and he sought now only to place his larger frame between his mate and the enemy. Someone was going to die in this untrackable wilderness and it would not be his mate and it would not be Harry.

Furious, Draco swarmed at him as Harry came up even, nipping, distracting, driving him sideways and back with sheer willpower and presence—and then once more edged his white-armored, steel-taloned mass firmly between Harry and the rogue male. A Malfoy was more than capable of protecting his own—would willingly die to do it, but his Veela senses told him it would not be his loss, not today.

Not today of all days, not when he’d just found him again. Draco would not lose him to boney fingertips and empty eye sockets, and certainly not to a creature born to be the master of all he surveyed, a peerless predator with no match to be found in this corner of world, but a mere creature still—oh, no, the Veela would not allow it. His mate was his, and the enemy would die in quick dispatch and be devoured by whatever lesser predators roamed their range at their leisure. And then Draco and his mate would fuck.

Fuck and fuck and fuck again, rolling across the scuffed snow, entangled and whimper-growling, bones knocking as haunches collided with shattering force, claws barely veiled as one filled the other and the other allowed it—they’d mate and shag and fuck and Draco would take or be taken and there would never again be that remembered desolation throbbing through the hollow cavity of his chest in this lifetime. Never again.

As was the way of the world.

XII

Mr. Zabini knew a sure thing when he saw it—and Death was staring him right in the eyes, grinning like a veritable Cheshire. Double-vision, really, except that one big cat seemed but the ghost of the other—and even though he knew for certain that Draco Malfoy would no more harm him than he’d kill Parkinson or Nott or Bulstrode, Crabbe or Goyle, he knew that ‘Draco’ wasn’t there right now and the Veela was. The enraged beast before him was all Veela, and Veela would do anything necessary for the sake of their precious mates—no matter who or what might be caught in the crossfire. It was fortunate for Blaise, then, that all this time he’d been counting (one thousand one, one thousand two and so on), from the second he’d downed the specially quick-spelled Animagus Polyjuice to the moment the ghost-pale Siberian sidled and hunched and gathered himself to launch into that killing crunch to the spinal cord— and thus Zabini knew, too, precisely at what moment he’d Change back from the quick-wearing potion and lose his ability to Mage into a Animagus tiger. It would be a very close shave, Blaise knew. Like a stropped razor blade. Oh, the things he did for Pans.

When it happened, Blaise was already whispering the words to summon the Portkey safely hidden in the snow just to the left of him, right by the tree where he’d pissed a deliberate challenge earlier. When it zipped to his grasping and fortunately gloved fingers—they’d made leaps and bounds on the efficacy of some potions since the war—tips frozen to icicles even through the cashmere lining, he grasped at the tattered woolen mitten same as he’d lunge for a lifeline in a tsunami and gratefully Apparated the fuck out of there—not a hair’s breadth too soon. Sharp white teeth slammed together on waft of cologne-scented breeze Zabini left behind him, but Harry and Draco, with the enemy abruptly neutralized and then altogether removed, now had eyes and ears only for each other.

If Draco had thought of it—and he did, he did—he’d have thought that if he and Harry ever managed to connect at the right place and the right time and in the right manner, it’d be a conflagration. A bonfire of sheer physicality—a pyre of too long-restrained desire, too oft-denied lust. It’d happen right where it started, be it public or private, curb-side or restaurant or Draco’s townhouse foyer, and it would be downright explosive, with no time to think about social delicacies or ‘ever-afters’—nor anything other than getting cock into arse tout suite. So he didn’t expect Harry’s hushed ‘whuff’ of a question, nor the slide of those glorious cat eyes across his still-charged Veela body, all alight and burning from within with some excessively un-Siberian-like emotion, nor to be randomly nuzzled and butted, with quick, petting touches soft as the bats of a kitten’s paw, as Harry paced quietly in ever smaller circles about him, till finally they leant all their great weights against each other, panting; nose to tail, tail to muzzle, flank to flank, and rubbed pelts and ruffs and whiskers ever so gently—for tigers, that is—marking each other with unique scents and steaming dribbles of saliva. He hadn’t thought to be herded ‘round to face the direction Harry had arrived in, nor led off to a sheltered lee a mile or so from the open expanse of disturbed snow in which they’d confronted the stranger, chivvied all the way by chirrups and small shoves to keep him in motion, nor that Harry would purr.

Harry’s chest rumbled with the vibration, the pale frosted fur trembling, and Draco could only join in with a higher, lighter chorus of his own, now and then allowing tiny mews and squeaks of delight and confusion to escape his desire-dry throat as they padded on, following the stony ridge Harry had erupted over just a short while before. He’d gone from killer instinct to Veela lover in too short a time to process all this; Harry had him beguiled more than ever and Draco could only go ‘whither thou goest’.

In no time at all they’d arrived at what Harry must’ve been aiming for: a long deep gouge dug straight into the rocky hillside, scraped out perhaps by the clutching fingernails of a retreating glacier, and carpeted with packed-down powder at the entrance. It showed signs that a Siberian had spent at least some considerable time there: boar bones cracked for marrow, stray tufts of excess fur, dried blood, the overwhelming odor of rutting male tiger. The sliver of an entryway was narrow and marked all about with yellowed spots of melt and stench; Draco shied at it and lifted his massive head to eye Harry inquiringly. He wasn’t one hundred percent convinced of his welcome just yet despite the Veela imperative and tigers weren’t particularly forgiving when it came to private spaces invaded. But Harry just urged him forward, waiting politely whilst Draco added his own contribution to the marks.

The late morning light reflected a watery value to the cave’s interior, shading it in gradations of greys, pewters, and steely blues, with darker pockets where the granite was sheared and cracked. A thin bed of mosses and scraped lichens was laid out across the majority of the tiny floor space, with flattened leaf litter making up the majority of the cushion; there was barely room to turn about with both of them crammed inside but Draco figured that made sense as a sort of warmth-maintaining measure.

Once inside, settled gingerly on the very edge of what had to be Harry’s bed and nervous as a veritable virgin bride on ‘the Night’, Draco allowed himself the still retreat of silence. He’d have assumed Harry would’ve Changed back by now; that he would, if nothing else than to allow them the more familiar skins of the bodies they’d been born with to shag in, but Harry showed no signs of wishing to do so. It was puzzling at the very least—Draco the Veela, wanting only to consummate his ritual binding to his mate, was terribly pleased by Harry’s tacit choice of tiger form; Malfoy, the heir of the Manor, was perplexed and ill-at-ease when his stubborn schoolboy crush seemed to prefer the Veela over the Slytherin. But in truth, Draco wasn’t sure which he would ask for: if Harry were human, he might say something to ruin this; if Harry stayed stubbornly in Animagus form, it might be animal instinct he was responding to and nothing more. There was no way for Draco to know, short of precipitating exactly the confrontation he didn’t dare risk.

So, it helped the marginally awkward situation a great deal when Harry matter-of-factly laid his bulk down beside Draco and commenced smoothing down his staticky mane with that great prickly tongue of his. A paw the size of a platter knocked Draco sideways after Harry tiger had Draco tiger’s mane in precisely the condition he apparently preferred—satiny with repeated strokes and very elegantly angled back and away from Draco’s exquisitely pale features—and rolled him abruptly to his stripy back to get to the rest of him. The Veela’s long sharp whiskers were meticulously cleaned as he lolled there, paws dangling, his ears damped down and licked in tufts, and all Draco could see in his mind’s eye was his own childish habit of slicking his blonde hair back off his forehead and the scorn in Potter’s eyes when he’d glanced right past him at the Sorting Feast.

It hurt, that memory. So many of the memories he shared with Potter did; Draco wondered if this one would too, later. But for now, at least, Potter seemed happy enough to mate with him and that was all that ultimately mattered. So a quiet Draco groomed Harry in return, the way he’d wanted to for day after lonely day spent fruitlessly searching, his raspy tongue wending all over Potter, everywhere he could reach, until Harry’s pleasured purr was literally shaking him and his back legs were pushing up and treading in place of their own volition, hips rotating with a flirtatious little twist that was damnably curious for a creature who weighed more than a baby erumphant. Lumbering to his feet at last from the tangle of tiger they’d gotten themselves into, Draco rose to the siren call of his sex and twisted his sinewy mass ‘round in the tight space, levering hips and cock behind a still mostly recumbent Harry, and Draco was so stiff and full of want, he was bowlegged and keening.

The first touch to the head of his bulbous cock was excruciating; Harry was tighter than fuckall and his sphincter was completely unforgiving. The angle was wrong; there was nothing to soothe his way in. Draco couldn’t get situated and male Siberians weren’t meant to be in this subordinate position and Harry obviously knew that—Draco thought he’d bolt for a heart-wrenching spilt-second—was sure his mate would throw his scrambling forepaws off and slam him hard into the rough ribs of metamorphous stone that encircled them like a womb. But… he didn’t—Harry did not, those goldy-green eyes half-closed and blinking slowly with what Draco fervently hoped was at least some small measure of pleasure— and Draco managed with effort to insinuate his engorged prick another inch or so; slowly, slowly, his own smoked grey eyes stretched far too wide open and dry as he was gripped in an agony of pressure.

Merlin bloody Merlin, but it hurt to be inside Harry, even a Harry who seemed to want him there. Draco’d always known that, to be sure. He’d pay for this privilege, even if it hadn’t ever appeared to be even the faintest of possibilities looming on the far-distant horizon, for not one of his lurid teenaged fantasies had wrapped themselves completely around the image of Harry desiring him in return.

But a Veela could do it—and did. A Veela had power, of a sort nearly unimaginable to the average Wizard. A Veela was driven by instinct and knew no boundaries when it came to his mate—that was Harry, and Harry was it. The ‘real’ thing; right here, right now, and there were a few tricks a horny Veela had up his sleeve to seduce his mate that an Animagus tiger did not. A silvery trail of Veela lube instantly spread its sticky mess all over Harry’s entrance and Draco’s rigid tackle, leaking copiously down their straining hindquarters, shedding magical sparks and lighting up Harry’s cave like an infestation of fairies as it did so.

There was a sound, tolling so deep it echoed their rapid heartbeats and framed them, so seductive it smoothed the Malfoy performance anxiety away like a magical eraser. It had no place there, mundane worry, plebian regret. This was all about affirmation.

There was an odor, and it was purely wonderful: Amortentia Potion squared; concentrated sex pheromones fired up to their fastest molecular speeds and zooming, straight into feline braincases hardwired for mating, short-circuiting any human frailties that might have lingered unwanted.

Blind to all else that might exist outside their shared retreat, Draco took a mouthful of Harry’s wild mane, tugging it, and snarled imperatively, thrusting with the full force of four hundred plus pounds of muscle. He sank the very tips of his fangs into Harry’s smooth shoulder and Marked him with angel-wing traceries, a swipe of his tongue healing the skin-deep scratches to a silver glaze in the shape of a sideways-scrawled Malfoy ‘M’. A dazed Harry dropped his bulk down on his front paws and muscular forearms like a shot at the sound and the pain, his furry arse finally fully exposed in all its glory, and that’s all there was to it—Draco’s cock was in free and there was no more resistance.

SalazarSalazar-Merlinsotight! Cried the less primal bits of his brain, those that still spoke the Queen’s English.

Love you, Harry—Love. You. So. Much, Harry—

Stay a while—please—

My mate!
The Veela bits exulted, and pounded its chest—and its chest monster—in a whirling dance of victory, complete with feathers, fur, exotic headdress and drum-beats.

My mate!

The Veela in Draco roared in triumph at his conquest and took advantage of the swirl of not-so-subtle magic in the air, seducing Draco in farther into that tight-hot haven, as far as his barbed pecker could penetrate. His shaft swelled beyond bearing and clung to the phenomenally soft walls that surrounded it, causing them to roil and shimmer. Harry yelped when Draco first drew back, and Draco dug his carefully sheathed claw tips into the Animagus’s flanks, and watched Harry moaning and shivering in every muscle with a certain slit-eyed satisfaction, loving every roll of Harry’s well-formed head across the fragrant litter of forest lichen and desiccated fern, every purrup and muffled growl of pleasure. Draco couldn’t kiss his lover as he would’ve liked but he could rub his stiffened whiskers and heavy jowl across Harry’s twitching rump—almost as good as, really—and allow the scent of Harry’s excitement to pour into his flared nostrils. It was intoxicating: Draco snarled joy and rammed himself into the hilt.

Their balls knocked together, rocking warm and wet. Harry hissed and whined on the foreshortened return thrust and then every one after, his rope-thick tail listing off to one side to give Draco better access; shallow, sharp, painful jabs they were in the beginning, confined by his cock’s peculiarity, but building up to a shuddering pressure of immense proportions. Draco was alive with it as it pumped through his chest, his gut, centering in his sizzling hot groin. He felt his testes gather and the answering tightness in Harry arse and knew he was nearly there.

One moment to the next and his comfortable hide was suddenly too hot to hold him; he was scalding inside, throbbing with it; Harry was a fucking inferno that devoured. Draco had nothing to live for but this—this fiery, heart-stopping, death-defying moment—and the inchoate cloud that surrounded them, humid and fragrant with feline sensuality and the layered intricate bonds of strong magicks, echoing subsonically with their moans and growls, the merging of infrasound decibels only they could hear and decipher: swelling, trembling, powerful enough to rattle pebbles off the cavern walls and send the leaf litter swirling into tiny dust devils.

And it was done—Draco screamed and roared and screamed again as he came and Harry followed him, his larger lungs offering up a basso profundo note in a crescendo.

And it was complete—they went down in a massive heap of jittery limbs and tiny breathless mewlings, Draco still draped across Harry, wheezing; Harry twisting as he fell to get a huge forearm wrapped haphazard ‘round Draco’s arctic white ruff and grey-striped forequarters; Draco’s blunted muzzle burrowing wetly into Harry’s cream-colored chest and shoulder, seeking to always have Harry right there to be touched.

And it was final—there would be none other for the Veela in Draco. There would be no one but Harry in this lifetime for Draco, either, and Harry—Harry would be—

XIII

Harry, it turned out, would be interested in more shagging. As an Animagus, thanks so very much. And it was Draco’s turn to get down and dirty with the scratched scrabble floor of Harry’s cave.

Not that he minded.

They’d napped and indulged in a bout of furious mutual grooming and Draco had been just starting to think about hunting up a meal when Harry roughly nudged him face first into a blind corner, eyes bright. Draco had nearly lost it when he felt the first lap of raspy tongue across his backside, looping under the base of his long, slinky tail and all around, circling in finally to pierce him, but he’d borne up manfully and took it. Took Harry’s cock, too, and the Veela magic was no less potent the second time. He learned a valuable lesson: topping a tiger—or bottoming for one, as the case might be—wasn’t exactly a stroll in Hyde Park but it was certainly satisfying.

Every hour, it seemed, there was less and less of the insidious fear that had dogged Draco relentlessly since ‘Mr. Wizard’ –Harry, as he now realized—had disappeared on that that second and far more depressingly momentous occasion. Constant shagging helped, and simple touch. Harry always had a shoulder against him; somewhere a thigh connected, a paw; his tail, his nose, his tongue rubbing—his cock, sawing in and out like a jackhammer. Draco didn’t believe they’d been out of physical contact for more than two minutes at a time since the instant the rogue male had literally vanished from his and Harry’s territory.

It made the Veela in Draco happy, so very happy. Fulfilled and nigh on complacent, though the Malfoy aspect was a tad less accepting of such an easy turnabout of fortune. But Malfoy ‘forgot’ under the heady influence of his own Veela nature, and worked hard to do so every moment their interlude continued, till the light faded into dusk and they reluctantly emerged to hunt and then returned bumping companionable shoulders many hours later, be-gored with deer blood and slinky silent in the light of the moon.

He forgot, when dawn inevitably followed night and they shagged again, Harry hunched beneath him and panting like a locomotive. He didn’t remember or care to when it came up on three full days later and he hadn’t so much as noted the unusual lack of SOS post owls or annoying administrative assistants. A languorous five days passed them by in a flurry of shared kills and hip-knocking, deliriously amusing scrambles through the snow and long, tender bouts of nuzzling, and he’d stopped his anxious count of moonrises altogether and concentrated only the smell of Harry in him and on him and the reassuring odor of himself mixed in with his mate. The cave reeked of it; for Draco the hollowed out scrape in the glacial boulders now defined ‘home’ far better than his boyhood room at the Manor ever had.

But Harry evidently decided he was tired of his hangout after a few more days passed. They set off again one early February twilight, having divested the immediate area of its red deer population for the foreseeable future. Draco took his time marking the cavern’s entrance with his urine before they ambled off, though, and quelled any last little vestiges of his brain that muttered dark things about ‘taking advantage of the circumstances’ and ‘it’s only the Veela in me Harry’s attracted to’. He was not thinking, right?

He’d keep that up forever if it meant Harry stayed with him.

After two days journey, they’d reached the northwestern perimeter of the area Malfoy had originally been assigned. There were tracking charms tied to both his movements and the borders, set in place by the SOS Wizard staff, and presumably tied to Harry as well, which would indicate if they’d strayed into another Siberian’s turf. That was an eventuality to be assiduously avoided, as both sexes of the P. tigris altaica were quite chary of intruders and the only real enemies such large predators had to be concerned with in the wild were each other and perhaps the larger bears, fighting over resources. But the Amur was kind—it boasted plenty of space and the assorted prey animals that went with a taiga habitat. It was very sparse when it came to Muggles, too, and further, had been tenuously warded even by their pitiful skills against poachers and big game hunters.

They turned true north on a Sunday and seemed to simultaneously remember the real reason why they’d been stationed in bloody nowhere. Harry was most definitely on high alert at this point and Draco found himself catching his lover’s excitement, constantly scanning the horizon for alien Siberians as if they were huge, furry Snitches. In all their time in the Amur they’d caught sight only of the previously known bordering females and two of those had shown signs of being mid-estrus cycle, while one had already been expecting. Except for the rude and inexplicable male who’d inextricably shown up dead center in their territory—and Draco had his doubts as to that—they’d not caught wind of another male rutting in the vicinity. It was a crying shame, Draco decided; such wondrous beasts as the Amur tigers should be plentiful in this protected region and yet they were not, their population still recovering from the devastation of years of indiscriminate hunting by all and sundry.

Still, the entire incident with the other male tiger had positively screamed of ‘set up’ and further, of Parkinsonian machinations—at least to a Malfoy and a Slytherin. Draco was not in any way dense; he could sniff out a subplot from miles. It’d be just like Pans to blithely toss him into a ‘situation’ with Potter and let Draco’s Veela take over. Had he been in her Ferragamos, fed up with years of listening to her best friend whine hopelessly about his boyhood crush, he’d’ve done the same, without a qualm.

He’d lay odds the Bengal had been a Wizard, likely Blaise or one of Pansy’s other paramours, and even more Galleons on it actually being Zabini who’d finally forced the issue between him and Potter—though as far as Draco knew, his old dormmate was definitely not a Siberian tiger Animagus. Whatever—there were plenty of ways and means to get around those little details. Slytherin ruled when it came to manipulations of that sort—and he’d have a few choice words with his old friends as soon as he returned, naturally, no matter what the outcome between him and Potter. None of them particularly pleasant to hear.

But all this speculation wasn’t terribly helpful for the cause. It impeded forgetting, a task at which Draco was actively beavering away. Truth was, he was flat-out terrified he’d double-jinx himself if he questioned too closely what was happening between Harry and himself—the emotion that bound them, so warm and convincing and real: a morbid self-fulfilling prophecy, it would be, losing this wonderful gift he’d been given, and once again there’d be no one to blame but himself for the failure. So Draco kept both his reluctant peace and his Veela form, no matter how much he desired an opportunity to run his human fingers through Harry’s unkempt hair or gaze into eyes that weren’t slit-centered or put his eager tongue into a mouth with considerably smaller eye-teeth.

XIV

Harry was living dangerously and quite aware of it. Reckless for once—hah! Reckless with his heart, more like; he’d finally shed all his earthly inhibitions and allowed himself to wallow in Malfoy’s attentions.

Draco, his heart whispered. Draco, who wants me. That was undeniable and brilliant and not something Harry wished to ruin with mundane explanations. No doubt there’d be some, and they’d be cruel or petty and hurtful, and he didn’t want to hear a word of them, not just yet. He didn’t do well with talking about how he felt or what he wanted; his experiences with Ginny had proved that, over and over, and his whole previously fucked relationship with Malfoy, so…So. Maybe it was all that time spent with the Dursleys, maybe it was the fact that he’d never once managed a normal relationship with anyone, not even Sirius, much less a romantic one. Whatever—it was hard enough to just accept this as a kind of bonus for surviving; he couldn’t expect it to last. Couldn’t bring himself to say what he wanted when he knew what the answer would be without even asking.

No, no. Much better to be pounced on playfully by an oversized kitten, ghost-white and gorgeous and only barely discernable from the snow in certain lights. Far more comfortable to be offered the choicest bits of brown bear and mule deer by a mate who obviously adored him, and allowed for his every desire. Much safer to shag and be shagged until he couldn’t think straight, couldn’t breathe without gasping, couldn’t concentrate on anything but his cock and Draco’s and how excellently well they went together. It was Harry’s new definition of ‘all he ever wanted ’ and he had it all to himself till the 14th of February, the day they’d both be magicked back to pumpkins and hearth ash and his idyllic days of love and lust would cease.

He knew they would; there was no question in his mind about it. Malfoy had hated him from day one. Why would that change just ‘cause they’d shagged? Blokes shagged all the time and it didn’t make them soulmates—or even friends. Malfoy might be just horny or he might be under some sort of charm or curse—one that made Draco gag for a good arse-reaming and deliver up the same in return—and Harry wasn’t about to delve too deeply for once. He didn’t need to know, did he? Maybe Parkinson had slipped Draco a potion for kicks, or Zabini was being his usual devious self or whatever—it could even be the result of a dare—who knew, really, what Slyths got up to in their spare time but fellow Slyths? The fact was, Malfoy and Parkinson were nearly as good as married and he, Harry, didn’t stand a chance with Draco Malfoy in normal circumstances. Not a snowflake’s chance in Hades. So he’d take what he could get and be grateful, as it was far more than he’d ever dreamt of before.

And he had just three days left to completely convince himself of this unalterable Truth and stuff his inner Gryffindor back into its comfortable hole. Which he would, of course. Harry had ever faced up to the more uncomfortable bits of reality. Eventually.

XV

“So, Severus.”

Snape blinked slowly at the determined face of his fellow educational professional and Headmistress, and that was all the startled reaction she received.

“Another missive from our intrepid young Hero, Minerva?”

McGonagall poured, her hands on the teapot deft and sure. Today was a specialty blend of double bergamot Earl Grey Cream tea, prepared by the elves at Wizarding Taylors of Harrogate, and paired especially well with vanilla scones studded with candied citron and dried cherries. Snape acquired two of the piping hot scones immediately and proceeded to slather them liberally with clotted cream and lemon curd.

“Not at all.” Minerva took her time adding the precise two dollops of table cream to her tea and one lump of sugar. Stirring with barely a clink, she pinned Snape to his chair with a grim stare.

“Have you heard from your dear, departed young Slytherins, Severus?”

“Ah, you refer to Ms. Parkinson and company? I have, as a matter of fact,” Snape hurried to report. “Mr. Zabini was successful in his mission and is, indeed, still amongst the breathing.”

“Excellent. And the SOS tracking spells are still in place?”

“They are, to my knowledge.”

“And the two of them are due to Portkey to SOS headquarters in London three days hence, at midnight?”

“As you’re well aware, Minerva. That is the plan.”

“So, tell me, Severus—do we just allow them to do so?”

Both of Snape’s rather severe eyebrows rose at that pointed question.

“You are implying they should not be allowed back in the country, Minerva? Surely, that’s a bit extreme, even for young Potter—“

“Nothing of the sort.” McGonagall pinched her thin lips all the tighter. “I’m only mentioning this as we have no way of knowing whether we’ve been successful. There’s no set rubric established, Severus, and that’s not at all acceptable.”

“We should, say, administer a test?” Snape’s tone was very dark and rich with stifled amusement, rather like Belgian chocolate disguising tiny chunks of toasted hazelnut. Minerva frowned at his levity immediately—or rather, her previously established frown grew, like Topsy.

“Not that either. I simply do not wish to have the exact same scenario repeat itself ad nauseum, as it has for the past five years, Severus. Longer. Harry uselessly mooning about and lurking, doing nothing truly useful with all his potential; Malfoy practicing his dying-swan act and being interestingly pale and morose at every D.A. gathering and end-of-war celebration is not the outcome we’ve all worked so hard to achieve. “

Snape allowed himself an empathetic nod.

“Sadly, Minerva, I know of no actual way of ascertaining as to whether my unfortunate godson and the equally miserable Potter spawn have successfully managed to extract their collective heads from their arses short of asking them to account for themselves outright. Which I, for one, will not do.”

“Then Floo Ms. Parkinson, Severus, why don’t you?” McGonagall snapped. “I’m sure she’s on the up-and-up and can jigger a workable plan if you can’t. Slytherin, isn’t she?”

The crisp crunch of Snape’s almond biscotti breaking in half was quite sharp in the tiny little silence that followed.

“…Why, of course, Minerva. Why didn’t I think of that?”

And Snape smiled. Harry would’ve recognized that evil curl of the lips immediately.

XVI

“Bugger. Now we’ve gotta have fucking proof.” Millie pouted, which really didn’t change her stolid expression at all. She was a big girl; had always been, and time had not added to the expressiveness of her somewhat plain features.

“Blasted stupid Snape,” Blaise contributed, but he didn’t sit up from his lounging pose on the overstuffed sofa, where his dark head was comfortably ensconced in Pansy’s lap.

“Not so stupid,” Parkinson noted and tugged sharply on a hank of silky dark hair in retribution. “And not unexpected. Some of us do think ahead, peoples.”
Millie frowned at Pans, intrigued. Blaise didn’t bother, merely heaving a sigh that indicated his reluctant willingness to be educated.

“Veelas leave a mark, you know. Well, it’s more like a ‘Mark’—very important ritual part of the whole Binding with the Mate process. Think capital letters; it’s that crucial, Potter’ll have one by now, I’m sure, so all we need to do is confirm it. Floo the Creevey’s, Millie. We’ll need a photo.”

Blaise sighed again and raised one eyebrow in a symphony of sardonic inquiry. For the record, all Slytherins could perform a similar eyebrow action but some excelled, while others were merely adequate. Zabini’s eyebrow fell into the former category.

“And as they tumble through the netherspace at midnight on Valentine’s Day and land on the SOS atrium carpet, we simply order the Golden Boy to drop his skivvies and our pet Gryff takes a picture of his bum, Pans? Like that would go over just swimmingly,” Blaise sneered. He’d gotten ‘O’s’ in Slytherin Sneering as well as ‘eyebrows’. He was what is known as a ‘natural’.

“Pish. Non-believer.” Pansy whapped her on-again, off-again lover across the pate rather sharply. “It’ll be on Harry’s neck or shoulder; somewhere visible. Veelas want everyone to know who they’ve been poking, Zabini, unlike you.”

Millie, ever practical, was already in the midst of Flooing Creevey and going over the particulars.

“Hold up, Colin,” she told the wavering greenish visage framed by two elaborate serpent-shaped andirons.

“Pans, he wants fifty percent cut on the profit of sale before taxes, as well as the negs. Sounds like highway robbery to me,” she casually threw over her shoulder, safe in the knowledge that the Floo was equipped with an auto-mute spell the moment one’s attention shifted.

“Greedy little bugger, that twat. No more than fifteen percent tops and a hold on further release to other mags till after the SOS sells the first 10,000 copies of their Celebrities for Siberians Calendar—that’s the only deal I’ll offer. We know Potter’s Mark will pay for itself a hundred vaults over, Millie—that’s a great deal of tiger piss, if you please, and cartloads more personnel salaries and future promo campaigns. Tell him that’s how we play or no go.”

A Quick Quill completed the standard contract Pansy had summoned almost before she’d finished her threat. Bulstrode snagged it out of the air.

“Colin,” Millie turned back to the Floo, jerking her wand impatiently at the cast-bronze Art Deco snakes that guarded it. They opened their fanged mouths wide and once again the elder Creevey could hear her.

“Colin, you beastly wanker. No dice on your counter-offer. This is an exclusive of the like you’ll never get whiff of again. These are our terms and they are more than reasonable; take them bending over like a good little Potter Fan Club devotee or I’ll Floo Finch-Fletchly instead and you and your brother’ll miss out altogether on the op.”

“But—but—Justin’s just an amateur!” Colin squealed, already well aware he was beat. “You can’t do this to me!”

“Quit your bitching, Creevy. You know we can.”

“Damn, damn, damn! Just bloody damnit! Alright!”

XVII

“Didn’t you say you were going to Owl Harry, Hermione?”

“Mnnn. I did.”

“When?”

“Last week. Friday, to be exact.”

“Well? Did you hear from him?”

Ron’s nearly brand-new wife didn’t look up from her notebook, where she was jotting the occasional line in red ink.

“No.”

“Huh? Herm—“

“And I’m not at all surprised, either, Ron,” Hermione interrupted his whine. “He’s in Siberia and he’s in Animagus form for a full month. He’s a bad correspondent in the first place. All of which we knew. He’ll only Owl if he remembers…perhaps.”

“Huh,” Ron huffed quietly to himself, less than half his attention on the telly. Ice hockey was no substitute for Quidditch, really, but he’d gotten used to it over the last two years—had even picked a specific team to root for and boned up on player stats. And Montreal wasn’t all bad as a place to hang his hat, especially as his Mum wasn’t there to boss him around daily.

Speaking of which…

“Hermione, did you make that side wager with Zabini like I asked you to? The one for Charlie and Oliver?”

“What, the very long shot? Yes. Thirty Galleons, wasn’t it?” Hermione stuck the end of her biro in between her teeth and chewed on it meditatively, eyeing a notation on a formula. After a moment, she corrected it and moved her intent gaze to a different line.

“And the odds are?”

“Still quite long. Pansy’s mildly hopeful, at least enough to do something constructive about it; Snape feels that they’ve been arses since Sixth Year and it’s pointless to expect that to change and Ginny’s going about assuring everyone who’s interested it’s a sure thing. Same old.”

“And what’s Professor McGonagall have to say, then?”

“Fifty-fifty and she won’t budge off her fence. Millie Flooed yesterday and told me she wanted proof positive the plan had worked or she wasn’t going to ante up a pence. Had her meager retirement funds to consider and I quote.”

“Well, sure,” Ron waggled his ginger eyebrows at the screen, watching the tiny players circle, circle, snag the puck and then lose it again. The telly people said ‘Boo!’

I would, if I were in her position. I mean—I do. It’s not like we’ve money to throw away.”

“Mnnn.”

“Be nice to know what Harry’s thinking, though,” Ron said thoughtfully after another quiet few minutes had ticked away. A tinny roar of approval sounded from the Muggle television as Vancouver finally scored. Ron raised his beer in lagging, half-hearted salute. “Make it a lot easier to call this one.”

“That’s cheating.”

“Yeah? So? We’re his friends, Hermione. Gotta use whatever advantage we’ve got, eh?”

“Hum…Fine. I’ll Owl Harry again, just in case, Ron, but don’t expect anything. He’s not going to tell us first even if something were to actually happen—you know that. You’ll be the last one to know.”

“Sodding Malfoy,” Ron frowned and drained his beer, crushing the can for recycling just as his wife had asked him to do. He looked only mildly murderous. “Of all the blokes for Harry to be fixated on, it had to be a pillock like him.”

“Mmm-hmm. And it’s not as though we didn’t see this coming a long time ago, Ron, so stuff it. Harry can fixate on whoever he wants and you can just lump it.”

“’S’not even that, Hermione—come on!” Ron leaned far forward enough to snag another brew from the conveniently charmed-to-stay-cold six-pack resting on the coffee table. “It’s not personal anymore—it’s just that the blighter’s so bloody difficult. Harry doesn’t need all this angst crap over and over again. Gets old.”

“Huh. Really.”

With one final note in flourishing red ink, Hermione slammed her looseleaf shut and laid it aside, along with the neatly capped Muggle pen. She sat back in her matching faux leather lounge chair and waved her wand at the low-slung glass table positioned before them.

“Accio can. I knew you’d say that, Ronald. You’re a broken record when it comes to Draco and he’s so much better now than he was. Give him a chance.”

“No—no, Hermione. S’not that—I told you.” Ron waved his wand and muted the tiny screaming people on the beer commercial. “Malfoy’s alright, I suppose. At least he’s not got shite for brains and he’s not looking for a payoff—better than that Goldstein fellow who outed Harry for the Prophet. It’s just that it’s not our plan, that’s all. I don’t think it’s got a snowflake’s chance in Hades of working—they just don’t know Harry like we do.”

“Professor MacGonagall bought into this one, Ron—not just Snape. First time that’s happened in ages. And Slyths are known for their scheming, I believe, and proud of it. Besides, I think Pansy’s on to something here. Plus, the opportunity to set it up practically fell into their laps—it’s like Fate finally wants it to happen… this time.”

A ginger brow went up skeptically and Ronald Weasley turned his flaming head away from the flashing screen and gave his wife of three months a long, calculating stare.

“You bet against me, didn’t you? Me and the dorm? How much, Hermione?”

Hermione Weasley neè Granger flushed ever so faintly at the accusation and took a sip of her Canadian brewski. It wasn’t her preferred butterbeer by a long shot, but in Rome, well…

“Fifty Galleons. And I’m hardly the only one, Ron,” she protested. “Neville did, too!”

“That tosser! Jeez! A little grudging help in NEWT-level Potions from Malfoy and he’s bloody rolling over for life!”

“Ronald! It’s not like any of us Gryffindors have managed to do better—have we?”

“…Point.”

“Right, then.”

“Well…Owl Harry again. Maybe he’ll have remembered to take a quill and some parchment with him this time, the sod.”

“Merlin, yes. We can only hope.”

XVIII

Two days left—just two days. Harry battened down his heart and closed his ears to the internal dialogue with his conscious that had raged in his head for what seemed like forever and just felt.

It was wonderful.

He hadn’t even imagined Malfoy—Draco—could be so very loving. And no, there was no other word for it. All the intent stares, the constant glances, the attention, the unexpected touches to his ears and ruff and flanks—even hours spent grooming Harry’s paws till they were satiny smooth, nails neatly trimmed and gleaming. It was a sensual pleasure he couldn’t wrap words around, having Draco Malfoy worship his body: every inch, it seemed, was of interest, every line flowing into every other and Draco following them all with that raspy tongue, those velveted paws. And in this form, at least, Harry was perfect—no hideous scars, no flaws to repel such a fastidious man as Malfoy, no sullen reminders of his turbulent past or his uncomfortable present. There was nothing between them to ruin it. There was no ‘Harry Potter’, really…that’s what he was trying to tell himself. No ‘Harry’.
Just an animal, a beautiful animal. Just a faceless, nameless Wizard who it seemed an Animagus Malfoy desired.

And that was enough. It had to be, just as the entire interlude would be enough. Malfoy would never realize it was Potter he was shagging if Harry had anything to say about it; never know, and thus never be disappointed, and that way Harry would have something good to remember later.

Forty two hours left. He didn’t want to bother with sleeping—didn’t want to hunt; he begrudged the time wasted on necessary activities, such as eating and sleeping, except that perversely he enjoyed them. Much better to have a partner, someone close by his side who seemed to read his every move and gesture. Life was good indeed…when it was shared.

Thirty six hours. Harry shivered and thrust his silent count-down to the very back of his mind. There wasn’t much sensible occupying it at the moment, what with Draco buried in him, grunting and purring, and the drag in his insides as he was pummeled into bonelessness. Harry tried to get his arse up higher on shaky hindquarters to take full advantage of the seeing-to Malfoy was giving him. Tried to not think about how many more times they could do this before they had to go.

Twenty seven hours and the insatiable hunger was satisfied, at least for the moment. He panted and pulled out, flaccid, flopping down heavily at Draco’s side, and proceeded to lick Draco’s fur back into submission, soothing saliva over the minute scratches on those exquisite stripes, that silky hide, those singularly lovely tufts that perked up from Draco’s pointed ears. They hadn’t budged an inch from his cave since arriving back yesterday, having completed the full tour of the western leg of their perimeter. No other Amur tigers had been sighted; there was no but them. The females in estrus must have found other, more willing males of the species, perhaps deep in the south or the east, or gone without—Harry didn’t care.

Didn’t care, didn’t care. Twenty four hours and then he’d have to figure out a way to distract his temporary lover, dig out his wand and his pack and his Portkey and leave all this winter wonderland well behind.

XIX

Draco had a plan. Well, it should be capitalized. A Plan. It was ‘the’ Plan, finally. It was all a matter of timing, really, but he thought it could work. Had to work, it was so very simple. His happiness depended on it. His very life depended on it, being Veela, and Harry seemed to tolerate him well enough now, to desire him, at least like this. And if it was good this way, then it should be just as stellar when they were once again human. Their mutual chemistry should be more than enough to overcome all the rest—Pans must’ve thought so, too, or she wouldn’t have bothered to place them in this situation.

In retrospect, and though he hated to admit it aloud, Draco trusted Pans not to let him down—to not to be as blinded as he was by the sheer joy of finally having Harry Potter all to himself, deliriously happy to the verge of brainless idiocy. She, at least, was using her noggin; thinking, scheming, far away in London, trying to aid him in his foolishness.

So, he had a Plan. It all depended on how quickly he could convince Harry he was sincere. But it depended first on finding Potter’s stash of Wizarding paraphernalia, though; on disabling his Portkey, on leaving him at Draco’s disposal a little while longer. As Draco was, utterly, helplessly in Harry’s hands, his entire being devoted to one person, one very special person.

He could do this. He’d thought about it enough in the past. He’d run through scenario after scenario; how to speak with Harry so that he wouldn’t inadvertently insult him, what precautions he could take to demonstrate clearly where his heart lay. Ways of manly seduction, sufficient to nullify the stultifying effect of the Wealeyette; ways of extending his hand again in firm, unwavering friendship, to counteract the grievous influence of Harry’s ubiquitous Trio. Every gift, intangible and of worldly value, he might give Harry to prove beyond doubt that he was worthy, that he could be trusted, that he loved.

Loved Harry. Just Harry, not the bloody Hero.

Draco was good enough; he just had to keep reminding himself of that. He could do this, he could. He’d proven himself five different ways from Sunday through the war and after, being selfless, being honest and true and honorable. Merlin, he was practically a Gryffindor already! He just needed a few more days to show Harry he could step up to the mark and make him happy. There was enough in his favor, finally, to risk it. Enough shagging, enough companionship; Draco’s Veela magic—the Mark itself. Harry couldn’t fight the Mark; he couldn’t. No Wizard could, not even Dumbledore could have, had he lived. The Mark was a Veela’s ace in the hole; his overwhelming, irresistible argument. Harry couldn’t leave his accepted mate behind even if he wanted to, even if he outright hated him.

Draco was finally in control of the situation for once. He could turn events to his favor; take the future firmly by the tail. Shag Harry into speechlessness to stem the inevitable tide of hexing, shower him with all that love that rushed through his veins to overwhelm the reluctance, adore him as he’d always wanted—

Just a few more days, then. He’d rummage around their hidey-hole when Harry was asleep and dispose of the Portkey, bury Harry’s wand miles away on the excuse of going out to hunt up dinner. Set it up so that Harry would be forced to stay with him by circumstances, if not by inclination.

Draco licked at the Mark on Harry’s shoulder and let his luminescent grey eyes roam the shadows of the cavern, contemplating. He would find that Portkey, he would. Use his magic to do so. Point Me, perhaps, or whatever it took. Throw a Tracking spell on Harry in case he tried to Apparate out. Close every bolt-hole Harry might look to, direct every path back to himself. Whatever it took. Everything and anything he had at his disposal. There was still his gear, back at the aspen grove where he’d left it, if Harry had finally grown weary of being an Animagus day in and day out. The tent was fully stocked, as he’d barely touched it, spending nearly all his time as a Veela, content with food on the hoof and sleeping on a rough bed of moss and aspen leaves, sheltered by what was barely more than a gouge into an unplotted hillside. There was the suite he had waiting in Amur’s capital city, the best accommodations available, waiting for the moment Harry got tired of roughing it. Plenty of options for staying out of the public’s piercing eye, then.

Privacy—that was what was needed. Just him and Harry, with no outside distractions.

Words, too. He had words enough inside him. Stumbling over themselves to be said. If Harry would just listen, but then he could make Harry listen. Could arrange it. Could shake off this feeling of guilt that he wasn’t going about this the right way; hadn’t from the start—where was ‘right ‘and ‘wrong’ when Veela magic was involved, anyway? There was the Bond, undeniable. That was all there was to it. Harry needed him, whether or not he realized it.

Harry wanted him, had to have him. Yes, it was only the rawest, most elemental form of magic, just animal instinct, but that was a start, wasn’t it?

What was he thinking? He had to—had to. To do otherwise was not bearable. He could not give this up.

XX

Granwick Hines was irritated. It was Tuesday. And chilly. And he was behind schedule. None of these things pleased him, but then this entire posting had not pleased him. Nothing went as expected; Ms. Parkinson and Ms. Bulstrode were always after him to do this and do that and not do other things, routine tasks that were necessary and crucial. Like the regularly scheduled weekly interviews with participants, or the gathering and preparation of carefully collected data that was so important for the continuation of SOS funding. No, no, they’d told him; just turn this pair of co-monitors loose and let them alone, if you please, Mr. Hines. But Mr. Hines did not please. This was his job, by Jove, and he wished to be allowed free leave to accomplish it as he saw fit. But that’s what came of dealing with celebrities—people like Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, both famous in their own way, both out-of-hand and damned difficult to manage. And privately Trust-funded employers, damn their collective eyes.

After fifteen fruitless minutes spent waiting at the check-in point, Granwick decided to Apparate. He knew all the coordinates for this territory like the back of his hand, plus there were the tracking spells on both Misters Malfoy and Potter to aid him. He’d have his exit interviews completed to his particular specs within the hour, and then wash hands of the two of them, and his micro-managing, overwrought superiors.

**

Draco, Harry noticed, was oddly nervous. He was pacing to and fro, tail swishing, and the activity had pulled Harry right out of a sound sleep. He took a moment to admire the beauty of Draco moving, his body rounding fluidly within the narrow confines of the cavern as he turned, his superbly icy gaze intent, and then rolled his achy body over and up.

He brushed past Draco with a few well-placed licks and an affectionate purrup, quietly reassuring him as to his state of general well-being and his urgent need to mark. Draco knew him well enough now to realize he’d likely bring a fresh carcass back with him, so no worries that his half-hour of hard-earned solitude would be interrupted.

Outside, Harry raised his huge head and scented the morning: a bright white swirl of eddying snowflakes in brisk breeze rising up from the frozen river tributaries; the odor of sky-bound sap, eddying up twigs and branches, faintly; the movements of a herd of musk deer across a turf-matted clearing two miles away. Carefully pacing to a point downwind of the cave’s aperture, Harry took a luxuriously long leak, and then shook himself, shedding his Animagus form for the first time in weeks.

“Relashio,” he murmured, voice quiet but rusty from disuse. “Finite.” A wave of his forefinger took care of the childishly simple SOS tracking spell. Likely, whoever was watching at SOS Headquarters wouldn’t notice its absence, as he and Draco had been practically running in harness for nearly a fortnight. But he had to be ready for tonight, and that required being Untrackable.

“Relashio!” he said again, irritably shaking off another, peskier Tracker. He didn’t know where that one came from and didn’t care, but he was having none of it.

Harry decided he’d occupy himself with snaffling up a little snack to tide them over while that blasted fellow Hines rustled his paperwork and waved his ever-present clipboard. Draco could cover for him, all unknowing. Hines himself wasn’t a threat, as long as Harry was Glamoured as he’d been during their first—and last—official interview, three weeks ago, but he daren’t risk it with Draco right there front and center. They’d have their one last day—Harry was no longer counting the hours, just the minutes—and he’d make bloody certain it was perfect…and then he’d quietly Portkey straight out of Malfoy’s life. With luck and a modicum of planning, Draco would never learn his identity until it was much too late for retaliation. If ever.

The Gobi would be a nice change after all this stupid snow. Right? Right!

With a muffled thud, Harry was back on all fours, shaking himself into his second skin, and bounding off toward the beckoning scent of breakfast, blithely ignoring the Owls frantically winging after him.

**

Draco fretted. He’d located Harry’s wand and Portkey easily enough. The git had barely even taken the slightest steps to hide them—Draco would make certain Harry took his personal safety more seriously in the future. He was Draco’s precious one, and it would be up to Draco to protect him—far more thoroughly than that ginger-haired bitch had managed!

Problem was, there was his lovely Harry, passed out like a huge, hairy lump right in front of the narrow seam in the lichened rock in which his kit was hidden. Malfoy didn’t want to wake his mate—Harry was likely tired, given last night’s gymnastics and this morning’s exertions—but he needed to take care of the first phase of the Plan as soon as humanly possible.

That overly punctual blighter Hines would probably fetch up at any moment, too, and Draco hadn’t planned for a face-to-face confrontation with Harry first thing in the morning. Much better to stick with his Veela form until the very last moment and then sweep Harry away to seclusion during the confusion of the aborted Portkeying. That was Phase Two, which would hopefully be followed by Phase Three: declarations of endless love and heated, passionate shagging, order of events immaterial.

It was reassuring when Harry finally cracked one gold-rimmed emerald eye open, bleary and unfocused. Draco preened a bit when both finally rested upon him with clear appreciation, and happily allowed his mate all the access he might desire to Draco’s vulnerable throat area and his nape. Harry took a moment to swipe him thoroughly across the muzzle with that wicked rough tongue of his before he made his way out the cavern entryway.

Draco purred, very pleased with himself. Potter would first piss and then hunt—he handled breakfast and Draco took care of dinner; they had a rather nice routine down—so here was his perfect opportunity handed to him on a platter, just as planned.

**

Click.

In the back corner of the classroom, on the second highest shelf, a small Chinese figure emerged from a stylized pavilion and struck an equally tiny brass gong, just the once.

Bong.


Snape frowned suddenly, audibly hissing, and all the First Years in his morning class quivered in their seats. The frown was on the magnitude of ‘Cauldron Exploded, Purple Poisoned Goo Absolutely Everywhere, Second Degree Burns Ensuing’, but that hadn’t actually happened, though not for the lack of student aptitude. They all remained fearfully silent, though, having learned quickly that drawing Snape’s attention unnecessarily was not wise.

“Uehara!”

“Sir!” Black eyes blinked right back at Snape’s tightly drawn features.

“You will monitor this classroom for the next ten minutes and should anyone so much as breathe incorrectly, you will note this and inform me the moment I return.”

“Yes, s-sir!” The Japanese boy with the American accent was now quite obviously trembling. Even exchange students knew that Professor Snape leaving his classroom unattended was unheard of; allowing a mere First Year student to take charge was on the level of tickling the Leviathan for jollies.

With a customary billow of black robes, Snape withdrew to his private office and a gaggle of barely respirating Firsties hurriedly got back to work. It helped the situation considerably that they were Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws mixed, but still—everyone present was quite positive something must be very, very Wrong With the World.

**

Ping. Ping. Ping. Pangpangpang. Bloop. Pangpangpang. Bloop

“Ms. Parkinson! We have a Situation!”

“Damn and drat! It’s the first thing in the bleeding morning, Aloysius! I haven’t had my latte yet—“

“Ma’am! You left orders most particularly that you personally were to be informed if either Mr. Potter or Mr. Malfoy ended the Tracking Spell before times—well, Mr. Potter did. Has. What would you wish us to do now?”

“Blast and drat! Double bloody blast! Hold up for a half a sec—let me get my head sorted. Millicent—where in Salazar are you?! Blaise!

**

“Oooh! That Harry!”

“Wha? Wha’, Hermione? Wha’s’wrong?”

“He went and did it—I just knew he would—obstinate, asinine git that he is! Throwing away a perfect opportunity like this—oh, I’ll just murder him!”

“Eh? Hey! Where you goin’?”

“Merlin! Now what shall we do?!” Ron’s wife was already out of bed and had her wrapper on, feet stuffed into fluffy antlered moose slippers and muttering fiercely to herself.

“Well, Floo McGonagall first, obviously—then Parkinson—not what I needed, Harry, you great big berk! Just you wait till I get my hands on you—!”

The bedroom door slammed shut behind her agitated back and Ron was left blinking at it in the dark, wondering sleepily who the poor sod was that was going to get the what for, and feeling vaguely very glad it wasn’t him. For once.

Shite.

“…H-Hermione? Did you just say ‘Harry’?!

XXI

When things fall apart, they tend to do it quickly.

Grantwick Hines Apparated in before Draco had the chance to remove Harry’s Portkey, wand and miniaturized camping gear.

Instead, Draco was subjected to a forty-five minute series of rigorous questions for which there was no respite—short of using an Unspeakable Curse upon the SOS representative.

Harry made his kill only a mile away, deftly slashed and ripped off a snack-sized chunk for Draco’s morning tea, and arrived back at the cave approximately one minute, twenty seconds after Hines’s aggrieved departure, the air still echoing with the administrative assistant’s lament bemoaning the terrible lack of Mr. Evans’ presence on this, the last official day of their assignment.

Owls of all sizes began arriving: a Boreal SOS owl with a huge parchment scroll tied to one leg; a Tawny with a much smaller, patchouli-scented, lilac-papered message; a Great-Horned that clearly meant business and was attached to piece of hastily ripped-out spiral bound notebook paper; and finally a young Snowy, blinking furiously in the bright sunshine of the Amur region morning and bearing a medium-sized sensible parchment with a Hogwarts seal.

With a possessive snarl and a geometrically increasing sense of desperation as the number of aerial messengers multiplied, dive-bombing them, Draco all but dragged a goggle-eyed Harry back into their temporary love nest by the scruff of his neck and wrestled him bodily to the floor, the chunk of fallow deer falling by the wayside and ultimately discarded just before the thin slit in the hillside that led into Harry’s hideaway, where it lay, leaking bloody trails across the urine-marked snow and disturbed rubble.

The irritated owls, finding the narrow entrance suddenly and inexplicably warded, their targets vanished within, circled and hooted for upwards of ten minutes till one by one they dropped their missives down a convenient vertical aperture in the weather-worn granite, and then departed, duty done. With a staccato series of pops, all four letters appeared on the inside, neatly stacked by the narrow entryway.

Harry moaned like a banshee and nearly clawed the letters apart under the brunt of Draco’s attack. They rolled and wrestled across the confines of cave floor, scattering moss and leaves and stray tufts of fur, and Draco whimpered and chirruped with lust and terror combined. He swiped at his mate’s Mark with his tongue repeatedly, resorting at last to flinging his entire bulk across the larger Siberian, furiously bearing down with his heavy forequarters to keep Harry off-balance and using every Veela trick in the book to entice and seduce—tongue and twine and the heady scrape of incisors—till at last his bewildered mate tremulously managed to raise up his narrow hips and signal his readiness.

They met in a clash that should’ve shaken the entire hillside, but really only just led to more raucous moaning and loud feline noises of sexual satisfaction. Draco pounded in with hardly any preparation and a tonsil-rattling plunge and Harry rocked and teetered precariously as he dug his claws into the floor and met the onslaught with equal passion, then both settled into a rhythm now very well established, and for moments on end there was no conscious thought involved for either party.

Rock and sway, with velveted paws gripping Harry’s hips tightly; push and shove, and Harry arching his back into the seductive roll.

Only the continuous subsonic groans like rave music thudding and the slick squish of flesh gripping flesh made elemental music; the blur of liquid muscle straining and the brush of striped orangy hide twisting sinuously under a living blanket of silver-grey ardor gave color to the dark interior. Adoration abounded; Draco nipped at one of Harry’s ears possessively and snarled his pleasure and Harry twisted his massive head to curl his tongue across his mate’s nose, goldy-green eyes nearly closed to better savor his lover’s every move, every inhalation. Musk rose, the heavy odor almost visible in vivid streaks through the air, pouring from the heat that cloaked their bodies in motion, and the cavern stank of its treacly light, cloying and dark. They gyrated and slammed to-and-fro and Harry’s Mark throbbed in time to the pulse of the cock lodged deep within him, and a wall-eyed and panting Draco drowned himself willingly in the rapture that was Potter.

Things fall apart, and some are supposed to—the heart can only take so much strain, the nervous system only so much stimulation: a Cruciatus of sexual exhilaration is still an Unspeakable. It was deeply unfortunate that Zabini choose to literally pop in right at the moment of orgasm, but then that was true to the established tenor of Draco’s day.

“Salazar!” Blaise exclaimed, subjected to t he echoes of a veritable cacophony of snarling, yowling and grunts, his horrified brown eyes fixed on the telltale bloodstains that decorated the trampled snow outside Potter’s cave. “Merlin—they’ve gone and fucking murdered one another!”

XXII

“Lucius!”

Severus Snape’s tone was quite peremptory, but then he was rather irritated. His expression, wavering in the lime-green fire of the Malfoy lord’s study hearth, amply reflected this. Malfoy Senior winced visibly at the pursed lips and the narrowed black eyes and reluctantly lifted his head from his paperwork with a much put-upon sigh.

“Lucius, I need to speak with you this instant. Kindly provide me the dubious favor of your full and undivided attention.”

“What, Severus? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

The Lord of Malfoy Manor rustled his papers about meaningfully and narrowed his eyes at his old Slytherin dormmate. Of course, they’d been more than that to each other over the intervening years, but beyond and above all that, Snape was still the unbearably knowing one who’d patiently coached a young Lucius through his Potions homework for seven solid years and therefore was de facto still the one who could call in any number of favors at will if he chose to.

It was almost worse than a life debt, in Lucius’s view, but he was generally prudent enough to keep that opinion to himself.

“Oh, yes—‘busy’,” Snape sneered. “‘Busy’ enough that you’ve lost sight of your son and heir’s rather pathetic circumstances, Lucius. So completely occupied with the endless amassing of additional Galleons you’ve neglected to inform him of all of the varied intricacies and implications of Veela Mating.” Snape’s voice was oily and dark as his hair, freshly tonic’d and just as flammable.

He paused and the flames revealed the faint derisive flare of his nostrils.

“As is your scared duty.”

Malfoy opened his mouth and slammed down his sheaf of deeds but never got as far as speaking, for Snape’s voice was already slicing the pleasant morning air of the study into so many ragged little shards.

“Shame, Lucius. I do believe my godson would well and truly appreciate the sharing of such knowledge at the current moment, torn as he is by the spectre of his long-sought Mate momentarily departing his immediate sphere. Pity—“

“What?” Lucius demanded, infuriated and now inexplicably swimming in a positive ocean of guilt, so much so that he swept the fifty-parchment contract he’d been reviewing right off the immaculate embossed leather work surface of his widen oaken desk. With a ‘thrup’ noise, it landed heavily on the floor, all askew, just like his peaceful morning.

“It’s a pity, I said.”

“Arrgh! Just spit it all out, Severus—I can’t very well mend my evil ways as an inadequate parent if I’m not apprised of my most recent failure, now, can I? At least tell me in what way I’ve trespassed this time!”

“As in, it’s a pity you were just too caught up in the daily grind of rebuilding your reputation not to get around to it, Lucius, in a responsible manner. You have done that boy grievous harm. I shouldn’t wonder if he disavows you.

Lucius Malfoy was still a very impressive man, especially with his long silver-blonde hair carelessly flung back by a manicured hand and his eyes alight with seething emotion. His well-bred nostrils flared like an Arabian stallion’s and he visibly startled, revealing the whites of his eyes. Snape allowed himself the most minuscule of a satisfied lip twitch, enjoying greatly the now gaping crack in his long-time compatriot’s composure.

“Ah? You need further details, Lucius? Well, then—allow me to elucidate. You have ‘failed’, as you so correctly put it, to advise my godson that his newfound mate is truly bound to him, Lucius, which, as I recall from our salad days in magical Creatures, is always the case in the early days of any Veela bond, and thus the unfortunate Mr. Potter physically cannot be more than a certain geographical distance from your heir without Draco’s prior consent and approval. Further, it seems that the person solely responsible thus far for educating my godson has been Ms. Parkinson—at least a trustworthy source, as far as any Slytherin can be considered trustworthy, but certainly exceptionally limited in her resources when it comes to Veela particulars. I doubt she bothered much past googling ‘Veela’ on the Internet. Loyal a friend as she may be, Lucius, she is no Granger and she is certainly not Veela, unlike you, Lucius.”
If Malfoy had wanted to get a word in edgewise, he’d have been hard-pressed. Snape was by now unstoppable.

“Further, you have fallen down on the job at a crucial juncture in your son’s life, Malfoy, and now our dear Madame Headmistress requires iron-clad proof of the binding; Mr. Zabini’s health was very nearly seriously endangered by all reports; numerous nosy Gryffindors are descending en masse on my quiet institution of learning, whilst your only son—the fruit of your loins, Lucius; you do remember him? Think of him at all?— is no doubt suffering needless agony and I—I, an innocent bystander and likely soon-to-be-fleeced investor in this latest, greatest, truly insane scheme of the Hogwarts United Plan to Unite Potter and Malfoy, thus ridding the unfortunate Wizarding world of this ongoing, nauseating, endless travesty of tragedy in the persons of two star-crossed young lovers, Merlin vomit at the very notion—I, personally, have been put to a great deal of trouble, Lucius. I have been forced to ‘get involved’, actively, in a matter that surely should’ve, in a saner world, required only father and son, Veela to Veela, mano ‘a mano, as it were. And that is where you have failed. I must just say, Lucius: what were you thinking?”

“I—“ Malfoy stopped, looked oddly uncomfortable and then tried again. “Draco—“

“Yes?” Snape encouraged silkily. “You? Draco?”

“He—“ Draco’s father couldn’t quite seem to get his mouth around whatever it was he attempting to communicate.

“He?” parroted Snape in a singsong tone, both brows cocked up in masterful way, intimating he was in the process of speaking with a recognized village idiot from a notably shoddy hamlet as opposed to a redeemed ex-Death Eater, restored Ministry employee, active and philanthropic socialite and a known Galleonnaire.

“Well…” Malfoy Senior’s shoulders slumped finally and he glanced furtively about, as if to search out any lingering house elves or damnable Weasley Extendible Ears. “Listen, Sev! You absolutely can’t let Narcissa know of this—promise me!”

Snape promised no such thing, only kept his eyebrows cocked and at the ready. Lucius, waiting nervously in the drawn out silence, very slowly flushed an attractive red shade.

“Sod it, Sev, you arse! Fine!

With a backwards shove to his heavy carved oak desk chair, Malfoy flung his well-clad self in the direction of the hearth. Clearly not at all happy about developments but also clearly unwilling to be overheard, he eased his dove-grey superfine wool knees onto the carpet and stuck his head as close to Snape’s as he could in the flames, eyes still darting fearfully around the room.

He was the very Pictionary™ definition of ‘sneak’.

“Y’see, old man, it’s like this.”

Snape’s thin brows climbed another dangerously infinitesimal amount at the use of the term ‘old’.

“Yes?” he responded, and the simple unisyllabic word took on the wavery, strained elastic stretch marks of a molecule-thin patience, frosted over by years of dealing with a mercurial and at times obsessed fellow House member. For all intents and purposes Snape was, apparently, now dangerously close to his very last nerve. And Lucius Malfoy was, metaphorically, likely to be found outfitted in hobnailed tap shoes.

“I…er…I…I forgot,” Lucius murmured, practically swallowing right back down the very softly spoken confession of his lack.

What!? You sodding, dimwitted, insufferable prat!” Snape roared, and no doubt even Narcissa, happily pruning deadheads off the winter chrysanthemums in the Second-Best Winter Forcing Greenhouse, heard him.

Fortunately for all concerned, she did not inquire further at that point.

XXIII

“Tea, Severus?”

“Why, thank you, Minerva.”

“Scone? They’re currant today, I believe.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

“Clotted cream?”

“Oh, yes. Please.”

“Tea, Molly?”

“Please, Minerva.”

Several new faces had joined the professor’s ritual afternoon tea party on the fated day of February 14th, a holiday of sorts sacred to lovers everywhere: the Weasley-Granger’s of Montreal, Canada; Ms. Parkinson, London and Wilts.; Ms. Bulstrode, also of London; Assistant Professor Neville Longbottom, Hogwarts Staff; Mr. Gregory Goyle of Spinks, Sparkwright and Nestlerode, Attys At Law; the Weasley’s Senior, retired; Madame Pomfrey, Hogwarts Staff; Professor Flitwick, Emeritus Charms Professor, Hogwarts Staff; and a very uncomfortable Lucius Malfoy, of Malfoy Manor, Wilts, accompanied by a very disapproving and whey-faced Mr. Percy Weasley, his brand-spanking-new PA.

“I’m weary of dealing with the consequences of your forgetfulness, Lucius,” Snape had pronounced, much earlier that morning. “He’s hired!

Additional members were present by proxy, including a variety of recent war heroes, ex-Death Eaters, ex-spies, Ministry officials, distinguished Members of Wizamgot, Quidditch professionals, assorted ‘other’ interested parties and a selection of notable foreigners.

The Hogwarts House Unity Plan was nothing if not organized in purpose and varied in membership. All Houses were represented, and any number of graduating years, as the membership had swelled over the intervening period between Harry Potter’s infamous Sixth Year debacle with Draco Malfoy and the present day. In addition, honorary memberships included alumni of other fine educational institutions, such as Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, the Ministry’s Auror School and both Wizarding Oxford and Flamel University.

With no small amount of pride, Headmistress McGonagall regarded the organization as being just as inspired as the late, great D.A., if, sadly, not as immediately effective. Created solely for the purpose of relieving the cronies and intimates of one Harry Potter, aimless young Hero-At-Large and Defeater of Evil Incarnate, and one Draco Malfoy, aimless young scion of wealthy family and somewhat battered reputation, aka a prominent Former Death Eater’s Heir and turncoat for the D.A.’s sake, of the ongoing soap opera neither of the two participating—if in their right minds and stone cold sober—would ever, ever refer to as a ‘troubled courtship’, nevertheless, the H.H.U.P! was believed by all its many members to be a valid response to the need for a task force specifically engaged to tackle the equally troublesome chore of placing the two previously mentioned young persons in courteous and romantic alignment with each other. Preferably without bloodshed or tears.

In addition, and not incidentally, a rather splendid opportunity for gambling was engendered by the concerted efforts of H.H.U.P! and there were several members who functioned solely as bookies for the eternal Potter-Malfoy near-miss romantic non-events. A rather substantial pool had been collected since Sixth Year and, like the National Lottery, promised to make one or more participating and fortunate Wizard a Galleonnaire for Life!

Even Ginevra Weasley, most recently known as ‘Harry Potter’s longtime girlfriend’, had converted, and with a religious fervor only echoed by UFO kidnapping survivors. This was, in part, because she wished to help pay for her upcoming lavish wedding to the radically impoverished young businessman Dennis Creevey, but also because she truly believed that it would take an act on the part of the late, great Wizard Merlin himself to orchestrate a harmonious relationship between her own former, deeply repressed, romantically stunted steady Harry ‘Oblivious’ Potter and the notoriously flashy, lady-slaying and all-around Slytherin Sex God, Draco Malfoy.

But now, with young Malfoy’s ace-in-the-hole Veeladom tossed into the mix and the masterfully serpentine scheming of such dangerously rapier sharp minds as Snape and Parkinson—not to mention Blaise Zabini, currently just returned from risking his life and limb on a dangerous scouting mission—it seemed that the H.H.U.P! might know sweet success at last. People were betting on it.

“Everyone present is served, then? Good! Then let’s get on with it. This is a nothing less than council of war, ladies and gentlemen,” the Headmistress announced, sharp eyes direct and cutting over the brim of her tea cup, and everyone sat up a little straighter and guiltily dragged their fingers back from the plates of nibbles circulating the long, oval table. “We will end this matter today, for once and for all, and successfully, or I’ll have every single head here on a silver platter and serve you all up to the ghost of, ah-hem, He-Who-V-Voldemort, myself!

XXIV

With a shuddering groan and a final faint warble of satiation, Harry fell off his exhausted legs and rolled over, an equally worn out Draco flopping down beside him a half-moment later and laying his sleek head across Harry’s shoulders familiarly. They were both too winded to share the usual noises of repletion and mutual admiration that usually followed a bout of shagging and far too shaky to attempt anything more strenuous than simply lying there, waiting for heart rates to fall back to something approaching normal and normally sharp vision to clear.

But a restless night before and the cat-like urge to nap after physical exertion caught up with them and first Harry and then Draco nodded off. Perhaps it was the tension that not even a fabulous shag could alleviate, or perhaps it was simply that Harry’s body was done with its assumed form for the moment, but at some point later in the morning, when the sun was just about slip past its meridian but was still sending golden-dusted shafts through the slit of the cave entry, Harry woke, sprawled with his pants round his ankles and his back muscles frozen solid under a hefty weight.

He gasped and then swallowed the tiny sound abruptly; this was unexpected and also unfortunate, as the last thing he wished was for Draco to discover just whom he’d been banging for nearly a month. Harry had resigned himself to anonymity; welcomed it, actually, as a way and means of achieving at least one of his very few wishes of the heart with the least amount of attendant humiliation and additional suffering. Malfoy would, Harry was certain, be both furious and vengeful if he found out. They had worked together off and on during the war effort, but it had been an uneasy truce at best and, to Harry’s knowledge, Malfoy had never lost his ingrained contempt for ‘Saint Potter’.

With that in mind and escape as an immediate goal, he eased himself from under the weight of the Animagus’s heavy jowls and carefully let Draco’s muzzle slide onto his huge paws. He pulled his jeans back up to his narrow waist and rebelted them and then snuck with utmost caution around the shimmering bulk of pale fur to retrieve his stash.

At the door, he glanced back for one final look at what he was leaving behind. It was earlier in the day than he’d originally expected; he’d envisioned not parting from Malfoy until the very last moment, the minute the SOS Portkey went into effect at midnight, and it was now only barely after noon, judging by the angle of the sunlight. It was regrettable, to have lost a few more hours of paradise, but his castles were merely air-dreams anyway and his partner’s emotions had never progressed beyond simple lust.

Still, that didn’t prevent Draco Malfoy from being beautiful. He was entrancing in all his forms and moods, at least in Harry’s humble opinion, and it physically hurt to even think of leaving him, no matter how imperative it was that Harry do so. Silky pale fur and a sleek body and fit as a—a beast, Harry thought fondly, and let his eyes roam lovingly over Draco one last time.

He would not forget, not ever, and his brief time spent with Draco would be forever precious. But it was over, and it was time he accepted that.

The letters, stained now with various spews of bodily emissions from their last wild bout of shagging, and dusty from the floor, still lay in an untidy heap where the owls had left them. Harry glanced through them, recognizing the SOS’s official seal, Hermione’s neat writing, McGonagall’s copperplate and the scented lavender paper Parkinson preferred. His mouth tightened in shame; that was the last thing he needed added to his already overburdened sense of guilt: the outright betrayal of a friend, for Pansy was one, despite all the past stupidity of Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. She’d really come through at the end of the war, whether at the Malfoy’s urging or on her own, he’d never been certain, but the wealth and insider knowledge she’d brought to the overburdened Order had been pivotal to their efforts to disarm the remaining mindlessly zealous Death Eaters, and influential in bringing over a mess of other fence-sitting Slytherins. Zabini, for one, an excellent strategist; Bulstrode, for another, singlehandedly responsible for adroitly managing her weak-minded father and other equally frightened Death Eater wannabes into defecting. Nott, who was a master at concealment spells and espionage; Crabbe and Goyle, lumbering bulwarks both of bulk and raw courage, ready and willing to bash the heads and break the wands of any gutless minions who tried to harm their mates. The Greengrasses and the Flints and even the horrified relatives of Peter Pettigrew, who flung themselves on the Order’s bosom for mercy and offered up crucial information on the last of the Death Eaters’s hidden bolt-holes.

No, Harry had needed them, his Slytherins, all of them, from sneering triple-turncoat spy Lucius and cold-eyed double-agent Draco to the unfortunate pillock Harper, drafted reluctantly into the thankless position of Snape’s Second Potions Assistant, and without them all Voldemort would still be rampaging, prophecy or no.

He was sorry, then, that he’d taken without asking; had stolen trust away from Pans and Draco, even if they’d always played fast-and-loose with each other’s affections, as was the Slytherin way. It was shame of a soul-deep sort, to know he’d been, however briefly, ‘the other man’. The best solution—the only solution—was to disappear for a while. He owed Malfoy that, at the very least.

With the dogs of guilt snapping at his heels and the pain of anticipated separation from Draco gouging at his aching heart, he stepped outside, finally, and stood blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight. The Amur region was desolate and isolated, wild and lovely, and only birdsong broke the silence as he raised his wand, prepared to Disapparate.

“Oi!” yelled Blaise Zabini, obviously startled. “You’re alive, Potter!”

“Uh,” said Harry, blinking harder and attempting to reconcile the sight of an elegantly clad man-about-town with the raw beauty of the landscape that surrounded them. He lowered his wand reflexively and searched his suddenly empty head for an intelligent response.

“What in Hells did you do to Draco, you bastard?!” Zabini demanded, stalking forward. “What’s with all this fucking blood?!

“Er—“ Harry replied, goggling at Blaise’s searing stare and threatening stance. “I just—“

“Just what, Harry?” Malfoy inquired, and Harry spun in his tracks and dropped everything he was clutching from suddenly nerveless fingers.

The blonde git was perfectly coiffed and perfectly clad and altogether perfect in every way, just as though he hadn’t been laid out every which way all over the floor of Harry’s adopted cave but a minute ago, passed out from vigorous, animalistic shagging. Harry blinked and scrabbled at his feet for his belongings, not daring to say another, possibly incriminating, word.

Get the fuck out of here, Harry! Screamed his overwhelming inner directive. Now!

XXV

Draco’s pale eyes snapped open the moment Harry slipped through the narrow cut in the stone. He was awake and hyperactively alert, all his Veela senses screaming that his mate was moving away from his touch, his grasp, his sphere.

This was not to be bourne, not without instant counteraction, and Draco shimmied into human form and sprang to his feet. A quick wand pass and he was his usual immaculate self and already in motion, making for the entry, with but one thought in mind: stop Potter!

“Just what, Potter?!” he snarled, and his tone was very dangerous indeed, with definite overtones of Siberian tiger. His mate did not leave him; his mate was essential to Draco’s wellbeing; his mate would not be going anywhere without Draco right by his side—and he was terribly, terribly angry that Harry would even consider it.

Potter opened his mouth and dropped whatever it was he was holding and Draco lunged, nearly shifting back to his Veela form but withholding himself from that step with great effort. He would frighten Harry into bolting if he did that; he knew it, as clearly as he could feel the mass of confused emotion seething under Harry’s struck-stupid posture.

“Get out!” he shrieked at Zabini instead, and showed his eyeteeth with intent, “Get the fuck out, Zabini, or I’ll bloody fucking rip out your entrails! How dare you come near him again—how dare?!

“Shite!” Blaise exclaimed and took two steps backward, stumbling awkwardly over the deer loin in the scarlet-smeared snow. “Shite! Shite! Shite! Tiger!

“Draco—“ Potter managed, but it was a stifled groan, lost under the force of the lips that descended on his and devoured them. He collapsed, his shaky knees unable to bear the shock of his life and the weight of his ex-lover, and whacked his ringing head quite hard on the frozen ground.

Star—Harry saw stars, swirling through grey eyes that were alight with something he’d never seen before. No—wait.

“Harry!” Malfoy growled, and ravaged his captive all that much harder with a mouth that would not take ‘no’ for an acceptable answer, grinding his hips viciously into his mate’s trembling thighs, letting his morning erection seduce stupid lovely Potter to willing porridgy lust.

“Harry!”

“Gah!”

Harry had seen this look before, this lambent gaze full of heat and hunger. Without conscious thought, he relaxed into mute acceptance and allowed Draco to put his hands wherever he wanted, the fiery brand of his mouth wheresoever it might latch. His shoulder ached oddly, throbbing, and he was already spreading his legs and thrusting his pelvis up invitingly, welcoming Draco’s obvious interest with a contented little purr, rubbing sinuously against the stropped-steel length of it like a rutting animal.

“Mine! Mine-mine-mine-and don’t you dare forget it, you arsehole!” Draco informed him, and it was as if invisible darts pinned Harry’s body to the yellow-and-red-and-white field melting below him, and he could do nothing but say ‘Yes!’ with every fibre in his willing being. Gods! But he was helpless against the tongue that was rapidly reducing him to steaming lava, the press of heated limbs that made him weak and boneless and accepting. Merlin, there was something unnatural about fucking Draco Malfoy that just unmanned him. He was never like this—never!

“I’m going to fuck you, Potter,” Malfoy told him, ice eyes glittering with a burn that was definitely not hatred in any universe. Harry whined wordlessly and bit Malfoy’s nipple through his shirt.

“I’m going to pound you into the bedrock, you git, till you can’t even walk straight!” Harry was informed. It was an utterly brilliant thing to hear; Harry grinned right back at his assailant, loving every second.

“Shite!” Blaise murmured again, aghast, and Draco spared him one more burning, killing glare, raising his wet mouth from Harry’s convulsively swallowing throat with vicious reluctance.

“Get out, Blaise,” he ordered, “or I’ll fucking destroy you. He’s mine—not yours, not the ginger bint’s, not—!“

“Don’t want him!” Blaise gabbled, pulling his flyaway brain cells into order and figuring that letting Pans know the plan was successful was much the better part of valor than staying here in the frigid air to watch two ninnies shag each other’s arses in the dirty snow—ew!—and the unidentified but definitely disgusting smears that marked it. Besides, if he’d ever been attracted to Potter—which he had, in a ‘Wow, he’s sort of shaggable when he’s all fired up!’ kind of way—he certainly wasn’t going to admit that to Potter’s maddened, magically powerful, abnormally over-possessive Veela mate.

“Going, mate—I’m g-going!”

Pop!

“Draco…” Harry sighed, oblivious to the little side-drama of Malfoy threatening to murder his fellow Slytherin and bestest friend, and happily consented to having his jeans shredded off his blushing thighs by inch-long talons—so sexy!—his knobby knees grabbed—so forceful!—his bared legs shoved practically behind his head and his clenching, aching arsehole taken, taken, taken—oh, fuckall, Merlin, bring it on!—all before he could draw the next breath.

XXVI

“Which does not mean I’m going to waste my time speaking to you, Malfoy!” Harry stormed, sending Draco hateful, poisonous little glares as he tromped the confines of the cave. “You tricked me, you toerag, and then you lied about it—“

“When the hell did I lie?” A startled Draco asked, but Harry plowed right on by him, stirring the leaves and moss on the cave floor into a dusty vortex.

Said you were a fucking Animagus and now you say you’re a fucking Veela instead and now I’m fucked even more, fuck you, than I was already, what with your idiotic Mark on me and your cheating—“

“When the hell did I cheat?!

“Lying ways and your ‘What, me worry?’ attitude and who’s going to be the one explaining this to Parkinson, I’d like to know? You are, that’s who, you utter stinker! Slimeball! Bastard! A-hole!”

“Wait—what does Pans have to do with this, Harry?” Draco was genuinely confused at this point, as well as irritated, worried and horny. Their mutual morning wood generally took two solid shags to ease and they’d only had one—granted, it had been a very good one, if a little short on ambiance, but still—

“Oh, ho! You would ask that, wouldn’t you, Mr. I’ll-Shag-Fucking-Anything-That-Moves’? Well, it’s going to be you, Malfoy, bending over to get back in with your fiancé because I’m fucking decamping to the Gobi and I’m not coming back for a year, maybe more, so you can take your stupid Veela Mark and shove it up your lying, cheating bunghole—!“

“Harry! Harry—“

“Don’t you dare ‘Harry’ me, Malfoy, you prick! You can call me ‘Potter’ or ‘Pottyhead’ or ‘Scarface’—I don’t fucking care what you call me, but it sure as shite won’t be ‘Harry’, ‘cause you’re. Not. My. Friend!”

“Oh, for Salazar’s Sake!” Draco exclaimed, rolling his eyes. “You’re mad! Petrif—“

“Protego! Oh, no, you fucking well don’t, Malfoy!”

“Oh, come on, Harry—be reasonable! Incarcero—!”

“Silencio!”

A hush descended on the cave, broken only by the sound of Harry’s panting and the frantic swish of Draco’s wand as he struggled to remember wordless spells of release.

“Now,” Harry enunciated, finally back to breathing normally some minutes later, though still speaking through teeth that were tightly clenched. “I’m being more than ‘reasonable’, given the circumstances. I’m leaving, thank you, and if I never, ever see you darken my personal horizon again, Malfoy, it will be too soon!

The ‘pop!’ of Potter’s Disapparation was the saddest sound a muted Malfoy ever heard.

*

Pop!

…However, Draco’s inner agony was fairly short-lived, which was fortunate, as Veelas—even part-Veelas—tend to die horribly painful deaths without their soulmates.

“Bloody Hell!” Potter grumbled. He waved his wand tetchily in Draco’s direction. “Tell me how to get this fucking thing off!”

“No!”

Pop!

“Stupid. Fucking. Potter!!” Draco shrieked, and Incendio’d the letters for the fuck of it.

Two minutes later, he shut his eyes very tight and concentrated hard.

*

Pop!

Draco’s tent was erect, standing proud and golden in the little clearing of aspen he’d made camp in originally when he’d first arrived in the Amur. Little flags fluttered from its mock battlements, in hues of green and silver and red and gold, with rampant lions cavorting amidst tangles of sinewy serpents. It all looked very stylized and in the tradition of the Romantics or perhaps the Pre-Raphaelites and Draco could appreciate a pleasant tableau as well as the next cultured person.

Now, that’s a surprise, Draco smirked. Not.

Sauntering suavely, well aware that Potter was inside his tent somewhere and preferably close enough to the king-sized bed to obviate the need for further non-productive attempts at intelligent conversation, he ducked through the doorway and stood blinking in the dim, watery afternoon light.

“Buggering bastard!” Potter shouted, and hexed him.

Legs going every which way beneath him, Draco stumbled and practically fell to his knees, only his strict Malfoy heritage and years of limbo lessons keeping him upright.

“Expelliarmus!” he yelled back. “Annoying Potter!”

He snagged Harry’s wand as it zoomed past him and took a deep, calming breath. He needed it; Harry was a stubborn cuss, right down his cute little ankles.

“Finite. Now, listen to me, Harry, and listen well.”

“Hate you!” Harry hissed, green eyes burning. “Prick! Ponce! Putrid dickwee—!”

“I have never, ever cheated on you—I’d rip off my wand arm before I did that, you idiot,” Draco declared, clinging to his fragile patience with all his might. “I have never, ever lied to you—except maybe by omission and it wasn’t as if you even bothered to ask whom you were shagging, you prat—and Pansy Parkinson is not. My. Fiancé.”

“Not listening! Tralala!” Harry intoned, his hands clapped over his ears, “Oh, no, no, no, Malfoy! Not listening—not!

“Nor was she ever, Potter, except by purely accidental error on my parent’s part in Fifth Year and that, as you may recall, was a very long time ago! Now you, Scarhead, are another matter entirely. You are my Mate. My once-in-a-bloody-lifetime, destined, preordained, let-nothing-but-death-part-us Mate! Which means, Pottyface, that you are mine and I am yours and you’re going to get fucking nowhere without me—do you hear me, Golden Boy? Do you?

“Nope,” Harry snarled, dancing closer, and made a grab at his wand. He almost had it, too, but Veelas are pretty quick when it comes to pouncing, especially Siberian Veelas, who absolutely delight in pouncing. They’ll do it all day if allowed.

“Hah!” Draco exclaimed triumphantly, and snagged Harry’s wrists. “Now I have you, you little devil!”

“Don’t think so, Malfoy,” Harry mocked and twisted his arms in a particular way, bringing his head up sharply and knocking Draco’s chin so far back it hit the soft walls of the tent behind him. Except that the walls were not soft, because this was a Wizarding Tent, owned by a Malfoy, and thus a mobile fortress, a Mini-Me of Malfoy Manor. The construction was all marble and granite, all the time.

“Hah—ah!” Draco exclaimed, in pained surprise. Harry helped himself to his wand and smirked.

“Oops! Darling—did I hurt you?” the Golden Boy warbled cheerfully. And then he snarled and all that sweet boyish innocence dissipated like a sudden rainstorm in the very middle of the arid Gobi .

“Now, get this blasted Mark off me, Malfoy, or I’ll be forced to really hurt you and believe you me, I can.”

XXVIII

“So, how do you think it’s going?” Ron asked a still twitchy Blaise, handing over the cup of strong, black tea Hermione had just passed to him. “Sugar?”

“Please.”

Blaise put seven lumps in his Oolong, rendering it solid, and then proceeded to add a splash of something from a silver flask he had stashed in his pocket, which made the sickly sweet brown goo bubble viciously and turn clear. Without further ado, he gulped it down, like a shot.

“Ah! That’s much, much better,” he sighed and actually wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, a sign that he was truly shaken by the events of the past hour or so.

“Darling,” Pans intervened. “We’re all waiting on you.” She frowned at his uncharacteristic lack of couth but let it go, knowing that his morning had likely been stress-filled, though not as much as hers.

“Alright, all of you,” Minerva claimed attention as only an elderly Scottish witch with a broomstick permanently up her arse and a hair-trigger wand-hand could. “Let’s go over the day’s events as we know them. Ms. Parkinson, since you’re so very pleased with the sound of your own voice, do begin.”

Pansy blinked, taking in Lucius Malfoy’s sickly smile, Professor Snape’s disapproving glare, Granger-Weasley’s almost-as-good-as- Snape’s glare, the Headmistress’s gimlet-eyed stare of expectation and the jittery excitement of several stray Hufflepuffs, who were allowed to sit at the same table solely because this was H.H.U.P!, and by Merlin, this was all about Unity! With a capital ‘U’.

Huffing stifled exasperation, she related her abrupt morning wake-up call of Potter’s magical leash-slipping. Various others then reported in on unopened Owls, Snape provided Lucius a short, scathing intro and the father of one the contestants finally stood up and spoke.

“Well, I’m sure you’re all wondering exactly why it is that my Heir is a Veela,” he began sonorously. Twenty-two minutes of solid oratory later, no one cared.

“…and all this Veela business has nothing to say to Draco’s natural state of exceptional pure-bloodedness, as Veelas are, in fact, very pure. And so, last month my highly-strung son fled to London after yet another disappointingly rank contretemps with that scrawny Gryffindor chap we are all forced to bow down to, Harry Potter, and I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him privately since,” Lucius wrapped up, entirely unconscious of the additional frowns he earned by his reference to Harry Potter, ‘Saviour-of-Us-All’, as ‘scrawny’.

“And you felt no need to Owl him, Mr. Malfoy? Perhaps warn him of the stringent strictures Veela face when it comes to mating before he ventured out to an inaccessible area in the sole company of a very personable, highly magical, excessively eligible young man?” former Professor McGonagall inquired, tapping her wand casually against the tabletop.

“Oh, no, really; why would I, Minerva? It was hardly likely he’d run into Potter in town so I wasn’t particularly concerned. And I certainly wasn’t advised by H.H.U.P! that he was planning to up and bolt off to the wild with the little Potter rotter. You do know my boy absolutely abhors Potter, don’t you?” Lucius raised a brow. “Always has.” Malfoy Senior seemed rather proud of that. Percy Weasley meanwhile made studious and complete notes with his Quik Quill, possibly with hopes of incriminating his new employer later.

Snape glared.

“You imply, Lucius, that you were aware well in advance of this contrived S.O.S. assignment that Potter was to be my godson’s soulmate?” he sneered.

“Of course I was! Could hardly miss it—that is why we’re all present and accounted for, is it not?” Lucius raised the other eyebrow.

“And you didn’t feel any need—any obligation—to share this information with us, your fellow H.H.U.P! members, prior to Draco’s assignment to the Amur?”

Lucius smirked and flared his nostrils elegantly, thus completing the full Slytherin Look to perfection. Blaise and Pansy occupied themselves with admiring a true master of the old school.

“Why should I, may I ask? I’ve money on this too, you know. Why should I give up whatever miniscule home field advantage I might have in my favor? Tell me, if you were in my shoes, would any of you?”

“I didn’t know you followed American baseball, Mr. Malfoy,” Colin Creevey commented in the midst of the unbearably mortified silence that had settled over the occupants of the oval table. “So, which team do you fancy? I like the Orioles, myself.”

“No, no, boy. The Yankees, of course.”

“Giants,” McGonagall spat out, carefully selected a new tea cake. “Only team worth their while in the entire Eastern division.”

“What! Are you mental?” Ron exclaimed. “It’s gotta be the Red Sox!”

“Care to bet on that, young Weasley?” Flitwick inquired, and so the H.H.U.P! continued on its charmed existence, still Unified.

XXIX

“Potter. Harry,” Draco said, whilst executing a blindingly rapid movement that allowed him to back Harry into another delightfully solid wall. The tent’s vestibule wasn’t large by Manor standards, but then, most tents don’t have anterooms, so there were several convenient hard vertical surfaces to choose from before one even entered the formal parlor.

“I love you. Plain and simple. Truth. I swear it.”

“You’re a—“

Draco kissed him, hard and sweet. It felt wonderful and did marvels for his bruised Veela feelings of recent mate rejection and his even more battered Malfoy pride. When he finally lifted his head to allow Harry breathing room, he was sure they’d gotten the worst over with.

“A fucking nit, Malfoy,” Harry continued, completely unabashed and still furious, though his gaze was not quite as razor sharp as it had been. “Jerking me around like a fucking puppet—“

Draco kissed him again, sucking the air right out of his lungs, and then tongued his way carefully down the column of Harry’s throat. He growled happily at the bloom of red marks there and began to deftly shift Harry’s newly Reparo’d shirt off his shoulder, seeking to fondle his permanent brand of possession.

“Taking advantage of me—“ Harry gasped, and rolled his eyes up in his head when Draco made contact. The Mark glowed and a delicious heat spread instantly through Harry’s body, warming muscles made tense with shock and prolonged exposure to sub-freezing weather. He found himself clutching at Draco’s upper arms and speaking into his collarbone. It was very comforting.

“Teasing,” Harry moaned, “always teasing—you fucking act like you might actually, you freakish twat, and then—“

“Love you,” Draco informed him, and drew circles ‘round the edges of the Mark with his tongue. “Love you always.” Harry’s shirt slithered off with a whisper.

“…As if you fucking own me or something. I’m not your plaything, Malfoy—“

“Bed,” Draco murmured, and bit Harry’s earlobe eloquently. There was this lovely musky odor between them, reminiscent of great beasts mating, and this marvelous sound, low and deep and—he undid Harry’s Levis and looked up with his earnest grey eyes, staring Potter into blushing silence.

“And, for the record, you own me, Harry. You always have—body and soul.”

“Draco.”

“Bed. I want to love you, Harry—let me, please.”

“Mmm,” Harry said, “Bastard Veela,” and Round Two ended without another snarl.

*

“I don’t want to go back yet, Harry,” Malfoy whined, and wrapped himself a little more tightly around his precious.

“What’s the time?” Harry inquired sleepily and rolled over.

“Tempus. A quarter after four, Harry, give or take two minutes. Hungry?”

“Um. Starving. I want steak, though—a real fry up, with masses of potatoes and a huge green salad. Er. Don’t know why I want a salad, but I do. Don’t normally fancy greens.”

Draco grinned at his mate and playfully rolled him over again, so that Harry straddled him, blearily off-kilter.

“’S’all that protein, day after day. Bad for your digestion. We’ve got to watch your girlish figure in the future, love. But I’ve got full room service laid in, Harry, so whatever you want—“ he ran a palm down Harry’s bare chest slowly, “—just order it.”

“Whatever?” Harry’s eyes gleamed dangerously and Draco shivered.

“Anything,” he replied, and smiled.

“Then…dessert first, please,” Harry waved a hand and a chilled can of whipping cream appeared between his fingers. “Maraschinos, I think, and chocolate sauce—piping hot.”

“Harry!” Malfoy flinched, and shuddered at the sticky burn on his thighs. “Ouch!”

“Caramel,” Harry muttered, busily decorating his human ice cream with lashings of toppings, “rainbow sprinkles, and candied pecans and—hmm, crunchy—fresh strawberries.”

“Gods, Harry.”

“Screw salad,” Harry announced, and dove in.

*

“So, when did you know you were a Veela, Malfoy?”

“Call me Draco, Harry.”

The sheets were being changed by the tent elves and Harry and Draco had retreated to the humongous en suite.

“Whatever. When did you know?”

“Do you like this one? Smells like vanilla,” Draco murmured. “Let me wash your mop, Harry—it’s awful, sticking out sideways like that.”

“Are you capable of providing a straight answer to a simple question, Mal-Draco, or is constant obfustication your natural state?” Harry splashed him, getting bath salts in Malfoy’s prurient, glittering gaze very deliberately.

“Creep,” Draco muttered, blinking and scrabbling at his streaming eyes. “Six—no, seven months ago, now,” he admitted grudgingly. “Why? What does it matter?”

“Just curious,” Harry examined the sybaritic hangings surrounding their ornate tub. The figured green-and-silver snakeskin print looked to be waterproof. Good, he thought. There might be further splashing.

“It isn’t important, Harry, not in the long run,” Draco offered, getting back to his self-appointed task of massaging expensive product into Harry’s gorgeous hair. “As I loved you anyway.”

“Huh,” Harry snorted. “That’s believable, Malfoy.” Clearly not, but Harry wasn’t featuring budging out of the bath tub, either.

“What?” Draco demanded. “Why not? Surely you knew I was after you—It couldn’t have been be more obvious I was practically gagging for your attention if I’d made ‘Harry Rocks!’ badges instead of those silly ‘Potter Stinks’ ones. And what about all that stalking? Don’t tell me you didn’t notice the stalking!?”

Harry grimaced. Draco blushed.

“I was just…shy,” he mumbled, nose poked in Harry’s seal-black tangle. “’Cause you didn’t like me.”

“Pfft! ‘Shy’, Malfoy? Pull the other one—it’s got bells on!”

“Not hardly! What about that bloody hippogriff, then? I was only trying to impress you and it almost took my effing arm off, Harry!”

“Right. You were faking.”

“I was not! I’ve got the scars to prove it—look!”

There were a lot of scars, Harry decided...and the remnants of the Dark Lord’s mark, faint streaks imbedded in Malfoy’s pale forearm. And other, deeper lines where fine skin had healed reluctantly, lanced across the plane of Draco’s firm chest, silvery in the sheen of scented bathwater.

Harry examined them, wriggling himself around within the confines of Draco’s thighs and taking the time to run his fingertip over each and every one. The essence of cinnamon oil in the fragrant water beaded up, tracking his delicate strokes.

“Harry…” Draco breathed, and closed his eyes, tilting his head back. “Don’t—unless you want more.”

“I always want more, Draco,” his mate replied, following fingertip with tongue, lavishing kisses over faded welts and the muscle memory of agony. “Indulge me.”

“Ngh. Shift then—like that. Up a bit—yesss,” Draco crooned. “That’s it, love. That’s it.”

“Yeah—now move, Malfoy. Prove just how much you love me,” Harry commanded.

*

“Obsessed,” Malfoy commented, over dinner. Harry stiffened at the word and then deliberately shook the tension out of his neck when Draco kept his eyes on his plate.

“That’s what Pans and Blaise told me. Spent far too much time drooling after you, they said. Bloody obvious.”

Harry chewed and nodded, disbelieving.

“It was embarrassing, you realize,” Draco continued, dabbing genteelly at his mouth
with a linen serviette. “Chasing you, and you never so much as looking my way.”

“Hum,” Harry popped another morsel of filet into his mouth and resumed mastication.

Better to let Malfoy talk; eventually, the git would reveal himself to be a cheating liar, and then Harry could go back to his original intention of forcing Malfoy to remove the stupid ‘M’ tattooing his shoulder.

“Except Sixth Year—you did notice me Sixth Year, finally,” Draco huffed, buttering a roll. “The worst possible timing, of course. Just my bloody luck.”

Harry raised his brows sardonically. It was a knack he had.

“It would’ve been nice if my stupid parent had bothered to mention he was switching sides again, but, no. No, he had to let me make an arse of myself, and endanger Snape, and kill Dumbledore and make you despise me even more.”

“You didn’t kill Dumbledore,” Harry remarked, contemplating his steamed marrows. He scooped up a bite of garlicky mash instead. “I know that much, at least.”

“No, really?” Draco mocked and did the Slytherin eyebrow thing, which generally infuriated Harry. Right now it only amused him—no, actually, he was finding it to be rather attractive. Argh!

“Like a Sixth Year schoolboy could actually take out the most powerful wizard on the planet—you think?” Draco curled his lip. “As if. The Dark Lord was mad as a hatter, Harry. Which I’m profoundly glad of.”

“Why’s that?”

“Attention deficit, Harry. Completely ADHD. Couldn’t keep his mind—what there was of it—on any single subject for more than two minutes together. Saved your life, that.”

“Oh?”

“Rather. If he’d thought to use Occlumens instead of gloating, d’you think I would’ve gotten away with that little sidestep in Father’s library? Don’t think so. I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

“Er. True.”

“And Looney and Ollivander and those others? He left them up to me, Harry, a known failure. Very poor judgment there, I tell you. I couldn’t get away with much, of course, not with Aunt Bella breathing down my neck like a bloody vampire, but at least I managed to do a little towards redeeming myself.”

“Uh—yeah,” Harry agreed. “You did.”

Draco consumed three small bites of his potatoes and left the rest alone. He took a sip of the merlot they were sharing and stared at Harry, who stubbornly refused to say anything further, such as “I really appreciated that, Draco, the way you laid your life on the line for me,” or perhaps “Merlin, you were certainly very courageous, Draco—I admire you so much.”

“But…you still weren’t impressed, were you, Harry?” After several very long minutes, Draco had to admit it, even though it galled him. “I barely got a glance out of you all during that lamentable excuse for an education McGonagall called Eighth Year, and then you had the nerve to take up with the Weasley female again, when clearly she was only grasping after your coattails for vicarious fame and fortune. It was horribly…disheartening.”

Draco would’ve liked to say more about the ‘Weasley female’ but he rather thought Harry wouldn’t like it. Besides, it would only serve to make him seem petty, lording it over his now-vanquished rival.

“And so…you did nothing, Draco. For five years.” Harry’s eyebrows were arching up again in the smarmy curve—when had he learned to do that? Draco wondered, and forcibly wrenched his fond attention from Harry’s handsome features and back to the challenge barely concealed in his last comment.

“Of course I ‘did’ things! I attended every single function you did, Harry, and did absolutely everything I could manage to chat you up—“

“You call that ‘chatting up’?!” Harry swallowed down his last bite of steak, nearly choking on it. “You bloody assaulted me, Draco—remember that Ministry New Year’s Eve party? Remember the Memorial Tea?”

“Well, er—I had been drinking—“

“You punched me, Malfoy!” Harry slammed his napkin onto the table and snatched up his wine glass. “And hexed me, and then you had the fucking nerve to bite my neck!”

He glugged down several Galleons worth of Italian wine.

“What can I say? Champagne has always affected me oddly,” Draco mumbled, two spots of high color blooming across his usually composed, patrician face. “And I wouldn’t have been able to do anything if I didn’t—Dutch courage, Harry.”

What?!

“Dutch courage, Potter!” Draco returned sharply. “I needed it—you hated me; you always hated me—how was I supposed to get you to listen, tell me that?!”

Now it was Harry’s turn to stare, and he did. Malfoy had a very nice flush going—they’d nearly killed the bottle between them—and his breathing was rapid. He looked…excited, Harry decided. And he smelled good, even from across the width of the table. And he was fit.

“You know what, Malfoy?”

“What, Harry?” Draco snapped back.

“We’ve managed three civil conversations in a row—a bleeding lifetime record for us. That’s enough for today, alright? Let’s shag before we screw this one up further.”

“Four, Harry. And—yes. Let’s.”

XXX

The atrium of the SOS headquarters on Pickerel Place was packed to the gills with H.H.U.P! members. Both Creeveys were present, sporting cameras and various bristling bits of additional equipment. Lights were set up ‘round the room and focused on the enormous hearth, which was currently empty of anything but a nice five-log fire. It was a dual-purpose unit, a luxury item used both for Floo connexions and Portkey access, as Pansy Parkinson flatly refused to purchase anything less than the best for her pet charity.

Parkinson and Zabini had sprung for a Wizarding caterer, so there were uniformed (Black Watch tea cozies, white bobbles) house elves passing tidbits and various sorts of alcoholic beverages and an overflowing buffet table set up to one side. Hogwart’s starchy Headmistress and her attendant satellite professors were established on various comfortable chairs and sofas in the center of the room, with the best view of the fireplace and the incoming guests of honor.

Gryffindors hunkered off to one side, in a loose pack near the punch bowl and the champagne fountain, and traded ancient Potter-Malfoy anecdotes amidst gales of laughter—all except Hermione Granger-Weasley, who was tapping her foot and staring intently at the roaring flames. She seemed oddly out-of-sorts and her husband, Ron Weasley, was visibly nervous. Millicent Bulstrode stood with them, face impassive, which for her expressed a great deal of excited anticipation.

Luna Lovegood, who for some reason belonged to every known Wizarding organization and several Muggle ones, including the RSPCA, the DAR and the UKOLUG, was circulating the room, helpfully pointing out the presence of wrackspurts. She often did this, leading some of the more knowledgeable victims to declare they hadn’t any issues with the creatures till Lovegood came along to draw attention to them.

Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy were off in another corner, entertaining the senior Parkinsons, Weasleys and other parental folk of the Wizarding Boomer generation with hilarious tales of the servant problems they’d incurred in Hungaria and their new Muggle-engineered electrical carriage. Narcissa and Molly had their heads together over Bonding details and were attempting to hash out whether the Muggle fashion for tuxedos should prevail in the upcoming media event that would be Potter-Malfoy wedding or whether the boys would be happier in traditional robes and matching, monogrammed silk skivvies.

At approximately five minutes to midnight, the room quieted down as if at an invisible signal. Minerva McGonagall rose to her feet, slightly tipsy due to the late hour and the Firewhiskey, and rapped her wand on Snape’s pointy hat for attention. (Pointy hats were felt to be de rigueur by some of the more conservative Wizards, especially for formal occasions. Lucius never wore one as it mussed up his hair, which he often proclaimed to be his crowning achievement.)

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here in anticipation of the—“

“Blah, blah, blah,” Hermione muttered. “Get on with it, already.”

Ron snorted with nervous laughter and had to immediately disguise it as a racking cough, in dire fear of his mother.

*

“Whas’a’matter?” Draco asked. It was the dead of night—or felt like it. He opened one eye, rather wary, and felt around under the bedclothes. No Harry.

“Where’s our Portkeys, Draco?” Harry was up, clad in an elegant paisley robe, and poking about on the top of the dresser, wand in hand, Lumos lit. “In here?”

What!?” Draco levitated—yes, levitated—out of the mussed bed in one bound and deposited himself, starkers, between Harry and the bureau.

“Tempus! ‘S’almost twelve, Greenwich! Salazar, Harry—no! You can’t leave now—“

“I didn’t say I was leaving, Draco. I just asked where they were,” Harry replied calmly. He feinted left and tried to grab the topmost knob, a decorative twist made of solid sterling. “Come on, Draco—let me by.”

Draco recoiled, blocking him instinctively, shaking his head in the negative, spread-eagled with his hips and back plastered across the numerous drawers that made up the case of the dresser, firmly holding all of them shut tight. His grey eyes were wide and a tad wild.

“Don’t trust you, Potter. You say that and then you’ll leave me anyway,” he retorted, scrabbling for his own wand blindly, arm at an awkward angle as he tried to reach behind himself. A second later an errant knuckle knocked against it and it rolled off the polished wood and clattered to the parquet flooring.

“Shite,” Draco exclaimed softly, voice wavering. “Say something, Potter!”

“I did; don’t you remember? I only asked where they were, Draco—no biggie.”

“Something else, Harry! Like what’s really going on here! Don’t lie to me, Potter—not now!”

“So I could disarm them, Draco,” Harry smiled. “They’re dangerous, just sitting about like that; anybody could activate one. That’s the only reason I want them, love. Believe me; it’s fine, alright?”

Malfoy blinked at his mate, ever-loving Veela rising, and nearly removed himself willingly from the knobs poking nastily into his spine, simply to make Harry happy.

“N...no,” Draco gulped, his inner Malfoy surging forward in a tide of self-preservation. Desperately, he searched Harry’s face for clues; tiny tells that might reconcile the sense of purpose he knew was lurking under the hundred decorative red-and-gold speckled amoebas inscribed in Harry’s wrapper and the deceptively pleasant air his handsome mate wore across his broad shoulders like a mantle.

“Harry, you r-really want to go back?” he demanded, not knowing what else to say in the face of facts as presented. “To her—to them?”

In answer, Harry stepped forward, just enough to align him chest-to-chest with his lover, and placed a soothing palm gently against the Veela’s rock-hard jaw, caressing it. He smiled again, a warm inviting thing, emerald eyes clear and honest as the day was long, shared mirth in every line bracketing his mobile mouth. With the other, he gestured wordlessly, and a hidden drawer hissed open right above Draco’s left shoulder. It contained but two objects.

“What’s wrong, Draco?” Harry purred. “Don’t you trust me?”

Draco shut his eyes defensively against the charm of Potter, trying very hard to think his way clear of something that, by its very nature, had not a thing to do with cogitation; this situation was exactly what he’d been trying to avoid, all along. It was untenable. He opened them again a scant ten seconds later, and met Harry’s watchful gaze fearlessly.

“I’ve got two minutes, then. So, what do you know about Veela, Harry?”

*

Inside the bureau, a particular magick was brewing. Take two standard Ministry Portkeys, keyed for the London SOS—one a woolen mitten, like Zabini’s, but white and dry, with a snowman appliqué instead of a holly leaf; the other a discarded Muggle CD jewelcase, the aging plastic crazed and the hinge half-broken. Add an antique dresser from the Malfoy collection of inherited objects of uncertain purpose; a set of drawers that didn’t always open in the same dimension or even the same universe. Ensure that all are in close proximity, and are well within the spillover area from the auras of two excessively powerful young Wizards—and their wands. Two Wizards coping poorly, as it were, with a fair amount of emotional pressure—oh, and include the radical wild card aspect of one of those Wizard’s peculiar genetic disposition, a mutation commonly identified as ‘Veela’. Wait for the witching hour—twelve o’clock midnight—and see what might interesting events might result.

*

“A little,” Harry said. “I mean, Bill’s married to Fleur—you remember her, right? From the TriWizard?”

“Yes,” Draco’s voice was clipped and very cool. “Nothing, then, of significance. I’ll give you the potted version, then, shall I?”

Harry’s brows went up again in that intriguing little arch. Draco edged a bare foot forward just enough to snag his wand between his toes and gripped it, maintaining eye contact all the while with his beloved.

“Sure. Whatever.”

“Veelas have one mate, Harry, and one only. The soulmate, determined by the Fates, and quite, quite irreplaceable. When a Veela meets its mate, it Marks him or her as soon as their courtship is successful. The Mark cannot be removed, Harry. It’s not a charm or a spell or a hex or any magick a Wizard can alter.”

“Uh-huh,” Harry shrugged. He’d run into immoveable objects before; they did not impress him.

“Right. One minute, forty-five seconds. To continue: without their mates, Veelas die. Very simple concept. It doesn’t take long and it’s fairly awful. Here’s the bad part, Harry: you can leave me, if you wish, Mark or no. It won’t be easy, since the Veela allure is very strong in the early days of a—a relationship,” Draco’s voice faltered. He cleared his throat immediately, though.

“But it can be accomplished, if you choose. When you do, I’ll attempt to prevent it—that can be quite a sticky wicket, Harry, as I’m by nature possessive and the Veela blood only exacerbates that. And I’m strong and a Slytherin, so you should know what to expect in terms of tactics.”

The smile left Harry’s face altogether.

“Really?” he asked, seeming genuinely interested at last.

“Less than one minute now, Harry. If you persist, which you will, being you, Potter, you’ll eventually manage to elude my clutches and I’ll eventually die, bereft. In short order, actually, and, as I may have mentioned, in a welter of pain and despair.”

“Despair,” Harry echoed, frowning.

“Twenty seconds.” Draco brought his right hand up and laid it carefully over Harry’s, pressing it more closely against the stubbly skin of his jowl.

“I’ll let you have the Portkey, Harry, if that’s what you truly desire, but I can’t promise I won’t chase you. So—tell me the truth, please, Potter. Will you leave me?”

Harry opened his mouth to reply. With lightning reflexes reminiscent of his tiger Animagus, he grabbed Draco’s other hand, his left one, lacing his fingers through digits that were as pale and cold as the frigid air of the Amur, and very casually forced their pressed palms into the open drawer, tweaking the Portkeys so that they just rested against the tips of their intermingled fingers.

Draco’s wrist ached from the odd angle; it was very quiet.

*

Pop!

*

In the atrium of SOS Headquarters, London, everyone in the room held their breaths, collectively, staring intently at the fireplace. It was midnight, or close enough so as to make no difference, and if they blinked too often or for too long, they might miss it.

*

“Right,” Draco said, carefully eyeing his surroundings and interrupting the cusp of Harry’s reply. “Nothing happened.”

Harry closed his mouth firmly and cocked his head. A strong humming noise surrounded them, and wafts of cool air entered the room through a series of vents on the ceiling. Several fans switched on, magically attuned to thaumostats and thermostats placed on the exterior of the tent.

“No,” Harry replied, after some consideration. “’S’cuse me for a sec, Draco.”

He stalked off, leaving a puzzled Veela contemplating the cherry wood louvres that provided entry to the master bedroom and rubbing his wrist where Harry had bent it backward.

“Accio wand,” he murmured, absentmindedly. It sailed majestically from the floor to his hand, and he caught it with his usual deft acuity.

After a thoughtful moment, Draco shivered in the freshly chilled air and snagged his own robe from the foot of the bed, donning it quickly and following Harry’s path out the door.

“Is that breakfast?” he asked the empty dining room, rhetorically. Fresh fruit, dates and pastries were arrayed on the table, and a tall and excessively ornate coffee pot was steaming gently. Orange juice full of pulp and demonstrably freshly squeezed filled a Baccarat crystal carafe to the brim. “This early?”

In the distance, the tent door slammed and Draco spun on his heels, suddenly in a tearing hurry.

“Harry?”

*

“And where, may I ask, are they, Severus? Parkinson?” the Headmistress inquired, in a tone that indicated a distinct lack of patience. “Lucius?

“W-Well, I don’t know, exactly, Minerva,” Lucius mumbled. He looked all about him rather frantically, as if hoping for a miracle, yet still managed to avoid the narrowed eyes of his wife, Narcissa. AKA, she who is known as ‘Mrs. Malfoy’, and consequently, a far more dangerous tactical fighter than he.

“Your guess is as good as mine, really.”

Granger-Weasley’s arm shot up, waving madly, as she forgot herself in all the excitement. The room was awash with speculation and gossip, comment, remark and outlandish postulations.

“I know!” she cried out, practically dancing in place. “I know, Professor!”

*

“Gobi,” Harry relayed, with a certain degree of disgust in his voice. “At least we’ll be warm and toasty. Go on back to bed, Draco. I’m just going to hit the loo.”

“Gobi?” Draco asked, trailing after his mate, frowning. “As in desert? That kind of Gobi?”

“Yep.”

“But…but why the Gobi, of all places?” he asked the bathroom door, slinging his robe off haphazardly for the tent elves to attend to later.

“’Cause I wished it, I suppose, and you wished to be where I was, so—yeah, Gobi.” Harry got back into bed and patted the mattress when Draco merely stared at him.

“Come on. Sleep, or you’ll be tired later, and I want to ride the camels this morning.”

“What?” Draco asked, faintly. “Camels? Evil beasts, Harry. They spit.” He clambered under the covers, though, and settled himself around his mate, tugging Harry closer and closer till Harry grunted.

“Merlin! Let me breathe, at least! Stupid Veela!”

They closed their eyes and prepared to sleep, Draco still considering camels and deserts and the unreliability of Ministry Portkeys.

“Harry?”

“Um?”

“What were you going to say when I asked you? You know—just before we ended up here, in the godsforsaken desert?”

*

“Gobi? As in, desert?” Snape goggled, a truly terrifying sight. “Are you certain, Miss Granger?”

“Granger-Weasley, sir. And yes, I am. According to my Arithromancy calculations, and given the various factors and vectors involved, it is the most logical destination. Plus, you know how unreliable Ministry Portkeys are these days—I blame the manufacturers, actually. They use those cheap souvenirs, most of them, and it really affects the quality.”

“Severus!” Minerva interrupted. “It’s very clear—Ms. Granger is of course correct—she always is, remember?—and there’s but one possible course of action left for us.”

“Ye-es, Headmistress?”

“Granger-Weasley, Professor,” Hermione slid in, smoothly and with the ease of one long-used to correcting.

“Up the ante!”

“Oh, brilliant, Minerva!” Narcissa exclaimed, and raised her champagne flute in a toast. “An excellent idea! I may even recoup my losses!”

“Hear, hear!” Molly echoed, toasting in turn.

’Losses’?!” roared Lucius, finally turning to face his helpmeet of thirty-some years. “What ‘losses’, darling?”

Arthur Weasley wisely kept his mouth shut, knowing when to choose his battles.

“Place your bets; place your bets, Wizards all!” Nott called out, and adjusted his green visor. “Snap to it, now—we haven’t got all night here!”

*

“That I’d stay, of course. Er, with you. What, are you mental, Malfoy? What’d you think I was going to say? Go die?”

The blonde was quiet for a moment, and then he adjusted himself so that he was even more closely entwined ‘round Harry, his pointy chin resting against Harry’s temple.

“Brilliant,” he whispered, dropping a kiss there in passing. “Fucking brilliant. You’d better still be standing by that statement when I wake up, Harry.”

“Yeah…you are, rather. Um, definitely fit. And I will. Be standing, so don’t worry. Idiotic Veela.”

XXXI Epilogue

“Lying,” Draco muttered. “We. Need. To. Be. Horizontal.”

“Yes,” Harry agreed. He would’ve agreed to anything at this moment, with Draco’s mouth slavering greedily across his Mark. “No.”

“Gods, Harry! How can you be so—so—“

“Like this,” Harry said and jerked his mate onto his knees, pitching him forward. “Like this.”

Draco retaliated immediately, latching teeth on Harry’s nipple. “Um,” he moaned.

His lover gasped at the sweet-salt tang, or must’ve—Harry was gasping at the feeling of being devoured—poking the nub hard with his agile tongue tip, nibbling round the aureole and tugging gently at the tiny dark hairs scattered nearby.

“Oooh,” Harry arched into a delighted curl, pressing himself into the burn and the nip. He drew his attacker’s shiny head level with his own after a scant moment; such teasing was unbearable.

“Stop, you wanker.”

“Coward,” Draco smirked, and managed to define ‘sultry’, the bastard.

“Sit, now,” Harry directed, ignoring the git’s fruitless attempt to waylay him, nudging calves and thighs into position, cupping Draco’s arse to align him, squeezing since he had the perfect opportunity and the mounds of flesh were ripe as peaches. “Carefully.”

“Ah—ah-ah-ah--that’s good, Harry. Oh—ah!

Draco complied, allowing Harry to breach him with a finger—two fingers; happy enough to do it this way; happy with anything that gave him Harry’s full and divided attention.

“Ready for more?” His arms were shaking with effort; Draco was no small weight, sagging like that, with head lolling.

“Please.” Manners—such wonderful manners, Harry grinned, even when I’m shagging him stupid. Bloody Malfoy.

“Love you,” Harry smiled, ‘cause he couldn’t not say it. Draco melted into his grip like hot wax, his eyes wide-open and startling innocent. Lovely.

Long, slow slide and the usual stellar meshing together of flesh, cock into hole, hole clenching. Nothing ‘usual’ about it: it laid him wide open every time. Harry halted his invasion several times, pausing simply for the pleasure of watching Draco squirm atop him, sucking him in.

“Harry!” He could tell this was utterly maddening; he’d been there, himself, just recently. Lovely.

Oh, yes—that was brilliant, the way his reddened lips pursed and then opened silently, parting just enough to poke his pink tongue through; the intense frown of concentration on his face—the flash of ice grey darkened to a mysterious pewter.

“More?”

“Harry—please!”

Draco was seated, at last, angled just right for maximum contact of Harry-cock to Draco-prostate, and Harry could at last enjoy the full results of his restraint: continuous tremors working their way down the pale man’s body, tiny tidal waves of pleasure; fluttering eyelashes, long and dark on the tips; a cock that wept clear sticky liquid profusely and jangled hard against Harry’s taut midsection. And sounds—little noises, squeaks and moans and breathless pants that screamed of desire, fulfilled; desperation, answered; love, requited.

“Oh, Harry…” and Draco yanked his hair to get at him, seeking a kiss to seal the deal—more like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or perhaps it was just seeking the actual act of drowning, lost in another person one loved more than oneself, more than anything.

“Harry, move,” Draco pleaded, rocking forward on his knees to offer a dollop of heaven.

“Ngh,” Harry said.

“Move! Fuck me, Harry!” Commanding now, Draco was Malfoy, perched atop Harry like he was a throne.

Harry needed no urging.

He wondered if in twenty or thirty years they’d be this limber; if, in fifty years, Draco would be able make him hard merely by drawing breath—in a hundred, would they even have the energy to bring aging, wrinkled bodies together, panting, cumming, tasting death for a brief, shining moment?

He wanted it, though, even if they were reduced to holding hands and sharing lap blankets, forgetting lubrication charms halfway through due to senility, snarking about sex instead of actually doing it, breaking fragile bones trying anyway because of all things—of all the things in this world that were wonderful—this was it, this welcomed meeting, the closest they could possibly manage to merging self into self—this was it. HarryDraco, DracoHarry, harrydraco, dracoharry, on and on, till the syllables were nonsense and they were defined solely by the boundaries each cast ‘round the other.

This was it.

“Harry—love you!”

On and on, Draco’s voice rising—he was shattering, splintering in Harry’s arms and Harry knew it. Was completely swamped with possessive satisfaction at the blonde hair sticking to Draco’s forehead, the sweat in rivulets down his spine, the uncoordinated jerk as he reeled into an impossible arc and shot.

“Dra—!”

Fighting for oxygen to say the name, the only name—he was there; Harry was there, too. Pumping up, thighs shaking, bed rocking, light collapsing into wet, heavy darkness. Sweet.

“Harry, love you.” There wasn’t even sound anymore—no breath to it—only a slow lip movement across the scar on his forehead, the other mark that Draco had told him was beautiful—dashing; daring; handsome—and gracefully allowed him to keep hidden, even in the private confines of the bathtub.

“Draco.”

The whispering mouth was still moving, as was his own. Their arms wrapped around each other, hands still, they nuzzled noses and rubbed cheeks and chins and ears that blushed yet with ebbing heat; lashes drifting and tangling, dry kisses travelling and quick licks for tasting, blonde and black tresses tumbling restlessly through and over and under, eyes closed to heighten sensation.

For a split-second, Harry wished he could purr satisfactorily as a human, but maybe it was better to use words, this time.

“I love you.”

*

“Ow! Blasted Bactrian beasts! My arse’ll never be the same, Harry.” Draco was grumbling constantly on the same theme, and had an extra pillow at dinner for a cushion.

He’d flat out refused to use a healing spell, though, saying he’d bear his pain like a badge of honor, so Harry hid his grin and fought back sympathy. His own arse had been battered, too, after three hours of a lumpy leather-cloth contraption and enough seasick swaying to make him yearn for the cold, clear days in the Amur—not that it wasn’t cold here, too, with night-time temperatures that made the Amur seem like the Riviera.

But they were not tigers now, only men, with a tent for shelter and a limited time left to avoid reality. There were people waiting for them back home; concerned, curious people, who would ask questions and demand details and poke and pry into what didn’t concern them.

“Alright, Draco, what’s the plan?”

Malfoy’s grey eyes twinkled—funny, how Harry would’ve never believed that possible till he’d actually seen it—and he grinned.

“Honeymoon, of course.”

“Hmm. Where? And for exactly how long?” Harry figured they might have two more days of peace and quiet before the Aurors descended and arrested Malfoy for Hero-napping. Then it would be a snoot full of Skeeter and rapidly downhill from there.
Draco tilted his head, gauging Harry’s rapidly souring mood.

“Several years? Starting here?”

Harry thought about objecting immediately, but then…this was a Slytherin he was dealing with, and a Malfoy.

He nodded instead, contrarily deciding at that moment he was no longer willing to cooperate with any plans others had for him. Except maybe Malfoy, who was clever, and obviously just as interested in avoiding the public eye.

“Suits me, but—“

“But?” Definitely a twinkle in those grey eyes and Draco was preening as if he’d just inherited Honeydukes and Zonkos combined.

“The catch?”

Draco laughed, full and loud, and threw his roll at Harry, butter side up. Harry caught it, avoiding the butter, and took a bite.

“Draco?” he prompted, chewing.

“Oh—but I do love you, Harry. No catch, I promise,” Harry’s schoolboy rival snorted merrily, and selected a pomegranate. After looking it over carefully for bruises, he Summoned a sharp knife and began to dissect it. Harry waited, mostly patiently.

Draco cleared his throat after a minute or two, having gutted the fruit and ruined the tablecloth.

“Look, you’re known for saving things, right?”

Harry nodded; that was the problem, yes.

“And there’s most definitely many things in need of saving, yes? Siberian tigers, for one.”

Harry nodded again. He was starting to see a picture and it seemed to involve a much larger tent. Maybe a Hummer—he’d always wanted a Muggle car to tinker with.

“Well, there are plenty more endangered species, Harry, and their plights are in just as much in need of support as Parkinson’s pussycats, and you are ‘Saint Potter’, so—“

Harry stuck his hand out, the one with the remains of the roll. Malfoy eyed it carefully before he raised his grey gaze to Harry’s sparkling one.

“Deal, Draco…provided you honor a few conditions,” he said, and laughter was already bubbling up in his voice, set free by a wonderful paradox. Who knew it would be another magical brand that would save him—an unalterable magical Mark that should, by right and reason, tie him tighter even than Voldemort had, but actually presented him the world to roam on a fucking silver platter?

“Which are?” Draco’s response was perhaps a tad bit tentative, but then he wasn’t immune to Harry’s smile. He frowned, but his well-cut lips quirked again in reluctant response to Harry’s mercurial lightheartedness, and Harry found that look of wary willingness to be utterly adorable.

“Nothing major, love.” Draco instantly blushed at the endearment, fumbling the knife in his stained fingers. Oh—yes, Harry liked very much the telltale flush; a honeymoon lasting ‘several years’ would not be a hardship.

“One—you handle the publicity.”

“Done,” Draco replied promptly, composing himself. “I wouldn’t let you anywhere near the media in any case; you are but an inarticulate Gryffindor, after all, good only for rousing pre-battle speeches—though I may ask you to deliver a few of those, Harry,” he mused speculatively, back to affecting hesitancy. ‘For the cause, whatever it may be.”

“Right. Only a few, though, and I get to choose. Two—your mother handles the wedding—Bond—whatever Wizards call it. We, er—we can do that, right?”
“Yes—yes,” Draco practically fell out of his chair getting round the table, sinking to his knees before Harry’s seat, hands everywhere across Harry’s thighs, hips, forearms. “You mean that, Harry? No kidding?”

“I mean that,” Harry laughed, and poked his hand—and his roll—in Draco’s direction, offering again.

Draco took it with both hands, deftly avoiding the butter, and then tossed the roll away so he could press fervent kisses against Harry’s knuckles. His striking eyes were glittering—or so Harry thought, though it was hard to be certain under the fall of blonde-white fringe.

“Don’t shake yet,” Harry warned, ever the Gryffindor. “There’s one more thing.”

“Um,” Draco said, and Harry was positive he’d never seen Draco so inarticulate except during orgasm. “R-Right.”

“Three—we only do this camping and saving business for a couple of years, max. I want a home eventually—a real one, with you, and a garden and a dog, maybe, or something—a place that’s ours, Draco. I never had a true home before—well, maybe Hogwarts—not one I could rightfully call my own and I need that. But only if you’re there—it won’t be right without you.”

Done!,” Draco sighed—sobbed—laughed?—and shook Harry’s hand long and hard and firm, cradling it warmly within both of his own with utmost care, much the way he held Harry’s heart.

Finis


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