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Dragon Heartstrings

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The first time he saw it, though he could hardly remember, he was five. It was a flash, just a moment, but his awareness of it lingered. Later, in the drawing room, he lay sprawled at his mother's feet with pieces of parchment and broken bits of coloured wax scattered around him. Deep in concentration, tongue clamped thoughtfully between his lips, Draco added the final touches to his masterpiece. With one last appraisal, he nodded resolutely, then scrambled to his feet.

"Mummy?" he asked, shyly. She was writing and, when she was writing, did not like to be disturbed. She wouldn't get upset, not like Father, but she wouldn't really hear him, either. He could tell.

"Yes, Draco?" Narcissa replied, distracted glance darting his way.

Draco clutched his artwork in both hands, sweeping his eyes over the figures it depicted. When he lifted them again, they were bright with curiosity and a fond smile tugged at Narcissa's mouth.

"What is it, darling?" she asked. Turning fully to face him, she ran a slender hand through his downy hair and around the back of his head before resting it on his cheek.

He bit his lip, eyes trained on that hand as it left his face. "Why is your hand tied to Father's?"

Taken aback, Narcissa examined her own hand. Artist's hands, her husband would call them, when they were alone. Long and slender, delicately tapered at the pad of each finger. The only addition of note was her wedding ring.

"Our rings?" she asked. "They mean that we are-"

But Draco was shaking his head, fervently. "No," he insisted. "Not your rings. The red string."

Slowly, his little face scrunched with determination, he lifted his drawing and offered it to his mother. A small frown marred her otherwise smooth brow. Everything about Mother was smooth, Draco thought. Her hands, her robes, her smiles. Even her frowns. Still, she was frowning. When she took the parchment, Draco dropped his eyes to the floor and clasped his hands behind his back.

It was a family portrait. All broad strokes and trailing scribbles of colour; an exaggeration of real life and, Narcissa mused, not terribly well done. The scene could have been a portrait hanging anywhere in the manor: Lucius stood stiffly (if a bit tilted), with his long, straight hair, hard jaw, and severe shoulders, beside Narcissa who had yellow squiggles flying around her head to imply the curls she wore and an over-large smile on her face. In one misshapen hand, she held that of her son. Draco's frame, distorted by his own youthful perception, was bigger than it should be and he had a bright red swoop of a mouth.

Narcissa's other hand, though, was connected to Lucius' by a thick red string, joined at each hand by a large knot on the smallest finger. Something about the image niggled at the back of Narcissa's mind. Old magick, naturally occurring. All but forgotten. She smiled, shifting the parchment to look at her beautiful boy.

"That string," she started, waiting for the bright grey eyes to meet hers, "means that the Gods chose me to love your father, and him to love me."

Draco thought about that for a moment, then beamed up at his mother before throwing himself back to the floor and pulling a new sheet of parchment closer to start another drawing.

***

After that, Draco saw streaks of red everywhere he went. On the ankles of shoppers in Diagon Alley, the strings trailing behind them through the street; on the smallest fingers of parents herding their children around parks, dangling hazardously close to swing sets and slides, though never catching on anything; even on the wrist of his tutor, though that thread looked ragged and fell limply, unlike any other he'd seen.

He thought about those people, who their threads connected them to, and how the gods could manage to pick out someone special for so many people. He could even see the red string tied to his own pinky, if he looked hard enough.

But, as time went by and Hogwarts loomed ever closer in his future, Draco pushed his musings aside in favor of the budding excitement. Books and supplies and a wand! And robes, his mother reminded him, as they stepped into Diagon Alley for their big day of shopping.

He left Madam Malkin's in a haze of confusion, that day. Of course, he had friends who were starting school with him. Good friends. Even so, he'd felt a tug when the boy with the shaggy black hair and baggy muggle clothes walked in, followed immediately by a desire to impress him. He'd failed. The first new kid he met who'd become his classmate within the month and he'd clearly upset him. In all likelihood he'd been muggle-born, Draco guessed. He'd probably been confused and embarrassed by how little he knew. But Draco could fix it, he was sure. He'd find him on the train, try to start over.

Standing in Diagon Alley with his mother, Draco watched his string stretch out before him and did his best to reign in his doubts and fears for the upcoming term.

***

With a dull thump, his head landed on the enormous tome laid out before him, startling Draco awake. Rubbing wearily at his eyes, he looked around the table at the scattered books and the hulking forms of Crabbe and Goyle, asleep in their chairs.

They were "studying" in the library. Draco had been looking for the best spell to use for the debut of the dueling club, scheduled in less than twenty-four hours. He needed something with flair, something memorable. He was likely to be facing Potter and he was determined to knock him on his arse. Stupid Potter with his stupid scar and his stup-

No. He wasn't going to think about him. It seemed, every time he let himself think of The Boy Wonder when he was alone, his thoughts drifted to the start of term last year.

Draco had messed it up, again. Only this time it was worse. It was the same boy, but now he was Harry Potter. And he had a red string, too. Draco's eyes had been drawn to the little knot on Potter's littlest finger. The littlest finger on the hand clenched at his side as he glared at Draco. The hand he did not offer, in return. The string curled and twisted nearly to the floor before looping back up, where it ended... Tied to the littlest finger of Draco's own, outstretched hand.

Draco shook the thoughts away and turned his attention back to the library, silent but for Crabbe and Goyle's snores. He smiled fondly. It was no secret, what the student body thought of Draco's friends. Sure, they were a bit slow, they didn't grasp academic concepts well, but they were the best friends Draco could ask for. They were loyal and fiercely protective. Well, to their friends. Sometimes, usually when they were towering over some pitiful first year, Draco was glad they were his friends. He'd hate to be on the wrong end of all that muscle.

As was frequently the case, Draco's gaze was drawn to their wrists, curled closely together where they pillowed their heads. Drawn to the red string connecting them. Frowning, Draco wondered why it was that no one else could see the strings. He'd talked to his house-mates about it in the beginning of first year, but no one could see them, no one had heard of them. They must exist, how else could mother know of them? Mother said the string meant the gods chose Mother and Father to love each other. And that was another issue altogether. What could the gods have been thinking? Why would they choose Potter for him?

Suddenly, if belatedly, a thought occurred to him. He'd been five! He was just a little kid when his mother told him that. Of course, of course she didn't explain the whole thing; just enough to placate him. Excited at the prospect of learning more about this maddening string, Draco leapt to his feet and began searching the shelves, ignoring the little voice in the back of his head, telling him she could have made up the whole thing, just to placate him...

An hour later, however, his enthusiasm was waning and the little voice was growing stronger. He'd look again, maybe ask for help with where he should begin, but later; for now, he needed something to wow the other students. Something with flair. Something memorable…

***

Draco was seething.

He tried - and failed - to focus his attention anywhere but on his string, which had chosen that moment to make itself known.

The strings weren't constant. Well, he was sure they were, but they weren't constantly visible. They seemed to show themselves whenever they felt like it… could they choose? There was still so much about them left undocumented. The books he read over the last few years suggested they were still believed to be myth by the majority of wizarding society. Sometimes, even if they were visible, he still didn't notice them. Others, such as on the Hogwarts Express in first year, and during that fateful duel in second year, they were all he could see.

Like now.

Potter walked stiffly beside Parvati Patil. His bottle green robes stretched a little too tightly over his shoulders and the colour drew attention to his eyes, dark with embarrassment. They entered to a fanfare, he and the rest of the Champions of the Tri-Wizard Tournament and their dates.

Now, he could see Potter's string, taut against the pull, shooting out from him like an arrow. He could almost feel the answering tug on his own hand. Almost wished he could use that string to pull Potter to him - or, at least, to get his attention. Draco was in the mood for a fight, though his ever-helpful mind kept producing other images… Hot, panting breaths, bodies writhing in a way that did not suggest fighting, soft lips pressed to his...

No, he scolded himself. He'd already come to the conclusion, regardless of his traitorous hormones, that the gods had made a mistake. He and Potter, lovers? No, it was a horrible- a horrible mistake…

Turning away from the parade, Draco searched for a distraction. He caught sight of Vince and Greg, huddle together at a nearby table. Their heads were bent close as they poured over the collection of famous wizard cards they brought along to pass the time. In the other direction, Blaise and Daphne stood, arms linked, watching the parade with identical sneers painted across their aristocratic features. With a sigh, he turned to his own date. Pansy was his best friend and he loved her, dearly. But he couldn't understand why she'd asked him to come with her. He knew she liked him - or, she used to - he just thought he'd made it clear that he didn't feel the same. Even if he had, her string promised her to another and Draco wouldn't interfere.

Of course, that begged the question of why he had agreed to accompany her in the first place. And the only answer he had was that… well, there wasn't anyone else, was there? It wasn't like he could march up to Potter and ask him. It wasn't like he wanted to.

He didn't.

With no better distraction available, Draco turned with a sigh and offered his elbow, as jovially as he could manage, to Pansy.

"Shall we?"

Pansy laughed, an annoying little bubble of twittering noise that pulled a smile from him, in spite of common sense and in defiance of logic. "I'd love to, Draco, but you know the Champions get the first dance." She gestured across the Hall to where Potter and his date were taking the floor. Draco snarled. "Why don't you go get us a drink, darling?" Pansy sighed.

Fuming, Draco turned and marched toward the table laden with food and beverages. Hopefully, someone had spiked the punch.

***

"What are you looking at?"

"Hmm?" Draco hummed, attention still divided until Blaise snapped his fingers under his nose. "What?"

"What were you looking at?" Pansy asked again, rolling her eyes.

"Nothing." Which, Draco was sure Pansy knew, meant Potter.

He picked up his fork, eyes sliding back, momentarily, to the Gryffindor table where Potter was sitting, hunched over his supper, looking miserable. Granger was rubbing her hand soothingly over his back and Weasley was glaring, though he didn't seem to be directing it at anyone in particular. Potter's string stood out, bright red against the backdrop of school robes and muted house colors. It wove between unwitting students and platters of food to meet Draco's, where his hand rested beside his plate.

"So, what happened?" Blaise asked, eyes roving speculatively over Draco's body.

He'd just returned from the Hospital Wing. Honestly, he was a bit surprised to see the string still attached. He could summon the image at will, now. Likely, he did so far too often. He still thought the gods had gotten it wrong, but his connection to Potter, and the connections linking those around him, had become something of a comfort over the years. Something constant, something out of the hands of mortals, decisions that couldn't be wrong… only, they still could, couldn't they? Potter had tried to kill him, for fuck's sake. But, attached it was. As it had been while he lay bleeding on the soaked flagstone floor with Potter crouched over him, screaming for help.

Draco knew he hadn't done it intentionally. He knew that Potter, no matter how much he hated Draco, didn't actively want to kill him. He couldn't understand how he even knew a spell like that. It seemed beyond the scope of possibility that Harry Potter would learn, let alone use, a spell so clearly intended to kill. But he had used it, and a part of Draco, the part that constantly feared that he couldn't go through with his task - the part that feared that he could - wished Potter had killed him. Wished the wizarding world's savior had taken the choice out of his hands.

As the war neared, and everyone around him seemed so confident the Dark Lord would succeed, Draco found himself thinking of Severus' string. The torn thread that hung dejectedly from his wrist, snuffing out all hope with its frayed, reticent length. Is that what Draco would have if Potter failed?

When Potter failed, he corrected. He knew the power of the Dark Lord, had felt it in his blood ever since he'd taken the Mark. It slithered under his skin, scorched through his veins, leaving a dark smudge over everything he was. How could one teenaged boy hope to defeat that? How could anyone hope that he would? It was pointless.

As pointless as the longing Draco felt like a suction in his gut when the girl-Weasley leaned close to Potter's ear and slipped an arm around his shoulders.

Cursing himself, Draco turned back to his friends. "Didn't you hear? Potter almost killed me. That disaster shouldn't even be allowed a wand if he's not going to bother learning to use it properly before firing of hexes he doesn't even know."

***

Draco watched him.

He watched him stand when he was called, his broad shoulders squared beneath his smart robes, the dark tangle of hair as wild as ever. Watched him walk proudly to the witness stand, his jaw locked, hard eyes meeting those of the members of the Wizengamot. Watched him speak unflinchingly, voice clear and decisive as he gave his testimony, those intense eyes locked on Draco across the courtroom.

'Draco Malfoy was instrumental it the defeat of Voldemort.'

'Draco Malfoy was coerced into joining the Death Eaters.'

'Draco Malfoy saved my life.'

Draco thought back to that day in the cold remains of his childhood home, when his father had urged him to identify Potter. Those eyes bored into his, becoming more confused the longer he hesitated; clear, deep green, recognisable even through the swollen lids and puffed out cheeks. He didn't need to recognize Potter. He did, of course he did, but he didn't need to. The string, barely a foot long when they were knelt so close, connected them. Always would, he thought now, as it was still connecting them. Through the courtroom, even though Potter had died, it still connected them.

There had been no question of Potter's identity, that day, only what to do with the knowledge. He may not have Potter, he reasoned, but he didn't want a torn string, either.

When the trial was over, when Draco was free, he came. He walked through the crowd, striding up to Draco and Narcissa as if he had the right. Draco supposed he did.

"Thank you, both, for your help." Potter said, tipping forward in a slight bow. When he rose, glance darting between the stunned faces, he flushed, shuffled his feet. Then he withdrew a slim box from within the folds of his robes. "Here, Malfoy. You'll need this next year."

Draco stared, stunned, as he offered the box. His wand. But that was the least of the confusing aspects of this encounter. Draco looked to his mother, a hundred questions burning in his chest, but she merely folded her hands and took a half step back. The message was clear: This is your battle.

"Next year?" he asked, hesitantly reaching for the box.

"Yeah," Potter said. "Eighth year. They want to give us a chance to make up our N.E.W.T.s. Hermione would throw a fit if Ron and I didn't attend. You'll be there, right?"

He sounded nervous toward the end and Draco didn't know what to say. Except…

"No one will want me there, Potter." He lowered his eyes, shoulders hunched, but clutched his wand to his chest, protectively. How could he atone for… anything he'd done?

"Maybe not," Potter sighed with a shrug. "But it's not about what anyone else wants. It's about your future. You spent much longer, much closer to Voldemort than anyone else I know, and you came out the other side. You deserve to move forward. And, besides," he grinned, "I want you there."

Draco's head shot up. Potter wanted him there? Potter thought he…?

"Just…. Think about it, okay? I hope to see you there."

And he walked away, pulling his string with him while Draco did everything he could to squash the little bubble of hope rising in his chest.

***

...I know that my actions are unforgivable and I do not expect forgiveness for them. I wish only to express my deepest regrets at my actions and offer my apologies. If there's anything I can do to-

To what, exactly? To earn the forgiveness I just told you I didn't expect? To help you through the suffering I helped to cause? To get you off?

Groaning in frustration, Draco fisted his hands in his hair and glared at the parchment on his desk. This was the last letter, he could bloody well write it! He'd already written dozens, even to Granger (fucking hell, she even wrote back) and Weasley. He could get through Potter's. The new term started in less than a week, he reminded himself, and…

And Potter wanted him there… No matter what he did, that thought - and the hope it inspired - refused to be quelled.

Propelling himself away from his desk to pace the length of the room, Draco shook his head. It was preposterous; Harry Potter wanted a Death Eater back at Hogwarts? Absurd! Except, he'd said as much, hadn't he? Potter wanted him there. To keep an eye on him? To have the reminder of his righteousness and mercy on hand? To keep things interesting, perhaps?

Draco paused when he passed his armoire for the third time and, spinning to face it, he flung the door open to study the reflection in the glass hanging there. His face, always angular, was slowly losing its gaunt appearance, the dark smudges under his eyes had lightened and his hair hung nearly to his shoulders in a stringy tangle. The nightclothes he hadn't seen fit to change in at least a week hung from too-thin shoulders and sagged around boney hips. His skin had a sickly tinge to it, which was fitting as he found he felt a bit sick. All of this could be contributed, of course, to the fact that he'd put off general hygiene, regular sleep, and meals in favor of his self-imposed penance: The letters.

They had been his mother's idea. Narcissa had suggested he write letters of apology to everyone he felt he'd wronged and then burn them. She said it would be therapeutic. Draco felt it didn't go far enough. What would be the point of apologising to people if the apologies were never received? So, he'd finished the first and, before he could change his mind, had sent it. And then the next. And the next. At some point, he'd made a list and begun checking off names as he sent his letters. Until, finally, he'd reached Potter's. Whatever his motives, Potter wanted him at Hogwarts for eighth year. And, against all odds, Draco wanted to return…

Even so, he was not going to if this was not finished… So, he thought with a snarl at his reflection, he'd damn well finish it.

***

"Settle down. Settle down, please."

From his seat at the Slytherin table, Draco glanced nervously around the Great Hall. He was trying to make himself as small as possible, wishing he was anywhere else. He was one of the few eighth year Slytherins to return, along with Theo, Pansy, Daphne, and Greg.

For a moment, Draco let his eyes rest on Greg's tattered string. He'd barely seen Greg over the summer but, every time he had, he'd been quiet, withdrawn. Draco couldn't even begin to know what to say, the loss of Vince was too fresh, too enormous. He wanted to tell Greg about the thread, but what would be the point? Vince was gone and Greg was broken, like his string, he was torn, and nothing Draco could say would fix him. When Greg let him, though, Draco sat close and held his friend, letting him cry. Crying himself.

"Settle down, students." McGonagall's voice pitched above the chatter of the Great Hall. "We would like to get on with the feast, so if you'll give me your attention, I have some important announcements this term." She paused, waiting for the noise to quiet and the students to settle. "Now, I know this is unusual, but we have a great many more students, this year."

"Draco," Pansy whispered, leaning around Theo.

Draco ignored her. He'd been ignoring her for months and he didn't see why he should stop now.

"Draco!" she hissed, louder this time.

With a monumental effort, he angled his body away. He didn't know what to say to her, but he had an idea of what would come out if he tried. It wouldn't be pretty. So, he ignored her, trying not to remember that she was once his best friend, and tuned back into McGonagall's speech.

"... erefore, for the next seven years, eighth year dormitories have been constructed in the lower levels of the Astronomy Tower. Charms and wards have been set in place-" she spoke louder to be heard over the groans of the eighth-year students. Astronomy classes were held at midnight, Draco remembered and groaned inwardly at the idea of classes of students traipsing through while he slept. "-so that classes may be held, as scheduled, without disturbing anyone's-"

"Theo, switch seats with me!" Pansy begged.

"Pans, let it go. Now's not the time!" Theo whispered, harshly. Draco could have kissed him.

"But, I-" She sounded heartbroken and his already shaky veneer nearly cracked. But her voice broke off - Theo must have glared at her - and Draco used the lapse to scrape together the tattered edges of his resolve.

"The Forbidden Forest is, as always, forbidden. Any actions of noteworthy praise will be awarded house points while any fighting, dueling or general disrespect will lose house points. Students caught out of their dormitory after hours will also lose house points and receive detentions. No exceptions." Here, she scanned the crowd, pausing to level a hard stare at few of the older students in warning. "And, last but not least, eighth years will not be permitted to compete in Quidditch-" there was a cry of outrage and Draco sat at attention, eyes immediately seeking Potter across the hall.

He jolted when he found virescent eyes already locked firmly on him and Potter shrugged, as if to ask 'what can we do?' Draco didn't respond, merely stared, his mouth arid as he drank in Potter's form. It had only been a few months, yet Potter looked new. In recent years, he had seemed to harden, his jaw, his eyes, his body. And he was still very much… hard. The boyishness had all but fled with boyhood, lingering only in the mischievous crinkle of the skin around his eyes and the half-smirk stretching his mouth. His skin had darkened further, evidence of the summer he'd spent helping to rebuild Hogwarts. He seemed relaxed, confident, and utterly edible. He had always been attractive, though Draco hadn't always been able to admit it. But, now, he was captivating.

"-joy the feast, and we will see you all in class tomorrow." McGonagall turned to take her place among the professors already seated at the head table. Potter kept watching him, a thoughtful expression on his face, until the food appeared and his attention strayed to Weasley, laughing at the eager enthusiasm on the freckled face as he piled his plate high.

Fuck, this was going to be a long year.

"Malfoy! Malfoy, hold up!"

Draco turned to see Weasley jogging toward him and willed himself not to flinch. What did he want? Surely, it couldn't be good. It wasn't. Weasley stopped just short of Draco, rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath. Before speaking, he began gesturing vaguely between them.

"Looks like… it's you and me… mate," he panted.

Draco stiffened, one arched brow winging up. Mate?

"What?"

Weasley smiled and, straightening, held out a slip of parchment. "We're rooming together. You, me, and Neville."

Draco snatched the scrap out of his hand to examine it himself. "'Rooming together?'" he sneered. "What on earth are you talking about, Weasley?"

Weasley frowned. "Weren't you listening to McGonagall? The eighth years are all sharing dorms in the Astronomy Tower. Pretty sure McGonagall is trying to promote 'inter-house unity' or some rubbish."

Well, fuck.

Though he may not like McGonagall's decision to pair him with Weasley, he could understand it. Best to keep one of the Golden Trio close at all times, even if it had to be the ginger one. But, honestly, Longbottom? Now that the boy was no longer a walking disaster, not to mention the addition of the lofty title of "war hero," Draco found he couldn't think of any suitable insults to throw at him… that would make sharing a room infinitely more uncomfortable for Draco.

"Longbottom?" he asked, petulantly.

Weasley snorted. "Looks like. And he could break you in half, mate, so watch it." Brushing past Draco, he clapped a hand on his back. "Welp, see you later. Room number's on there."

Still off kilter, Draco swung around to watch him walk away, presumably headed toward the dorms. "Longbottom?" he muttered to himself.

And Weasley? He seemed… friendly… No, that couldn't be right. He was rubbing it in, that was all. Laughing at the fact that Draco was stuck with him and Neville Longbottom all year? Yes, that made much more sense. Shoving the scrap of parchment into his pocket, he resumed walking and tried to work up some anger at the Weasel's nerve.

Draco may have found himself wallowing in guilt and self-pity more often than he cared to admit, but that absolutely did not mean he had gone soft. He refused to let anyone pity or mock him, certainly not Weasley. Even so, he couldn't muster the emotion. S'not like Draco could blame him. He'd never given Weasley a reason to forgive him for the way he'd acted for the last seven years, let alone like him. Wincing, Draco recalled the incident involving slugs in second year. Strictly speaking, that had been Weasley's own spell, but the event had undeniably been Draco's fault. He still shuddered when he thought of all the horrible things he'd said over the years. He hadn't even understood some at the time, let alone believed them. But, those were excuses, and pale excuses at that. His actions and words directly contributed to the opinions of Potter and his friends and there was no reason to believe those opinions had changed. Nor was there any reason to believe that they should. He may have been an ignorant, misguided child, but he had accepted responsibility for his actions while he lay in a pool of blood on that cold bathroom floor.

The problem with all of this, now, was that Weasley had seemed sincere. As had Granger in her reply to his letter. She accepted his apology and suggested they study together when they returned to school. Draco hadn't responded, hadn't known how. How should one react to such open acceptance? Potter had seemed sincere, too, as he held Draco's wand out to him, as he assured Draco that he was welcome back at Hogwarts by at least one person, as he turned Draco's world upside-down with a grin…

Something was off. Those three were conspiring, he was sure, but to what end? So far, they hadn't seemed the sort for revenge. And, if they had, wouldn't his incarceration be sufficient? What would be the point of-

"Draco?"

With a start, Draco scanned the empty corridor - where was he? - before spotting Potter striding toward him from ahead.

"What are you doing here?"

What was he-? Indignation rushed through him and Draco straightened his spine, drawing up to his full, objectively not insignificant, height in an attempt to look down his nose at Potter. Blast it all, when had he gotten taller? Only an inch or two, but honestly? Was there anything worse than looking up to meet Potter's eyes? Draco decided he didn't want to know, so focused on a spot just over the man's shoulder before speaking.

"If I recall correctly, you asked me to come." He sniffed.

Potter frowned for a moment before realisation lit his face and he shook his head with a laugh. "No, Draco, here, in this corridor, on this floor. The dorms are two floors up on the other side of the castle."

Draco felt his face heat. What the fuck? He turned his head, hoping Potter couldn't read his embarrassment. "Of course, they are, Potter. What's your point?" he snapped "Am I prohibited from taking a walk unsupervised, now?" It may not be wise, perhaps, to provoke Potter so early on in the term, but what else could he do? Was he supposed to kowtow? He never had, why break a lifelong habit?

"Don't be ridiculous, of course you can. It's just that, well, it's nearly curfew and I was gett-" He broke off, turning his own head away when Draco whipped back around. "Curfew?" he asked, shaking his wand from his sleeve to cast a Tempus. What the fuck?

"Are you okay?" Potter was looking at him oddly again.

"Ho-how did you find me?" How did he wander the castle for three hours without noticing? was a better question.

"I have a map," Potter grinned. "Come on, let's get back before we get in trouble, yeah?"

Draco snorted, but followed after him. "As if you ever get in trouble."

Potter laughed. Laughed. What the actual fuck was going on, here?

"There's a first time for everything." Potter nodded sagely but a wry grin twisted his lips. It was a good look on him, Draco thought, absently, and then scolded himself. So what if Potter and his friends were being nice to him, and he wasn't even convinced they really were, that didn't mean he could let those thoughts in. Those thoughts were dangerous.

"Thank you for your letter, by the way," Potter was saying. "Ron and Hermione were pleased to get theirs, but I was starting to wonder if I'd get one. Saved me for last, did you?" He lifted a hand to rub at the back of his neck when Draco snorted. "I am glad, you know… that you came back. Hogwarts wouldn't be the same without you."

Draco ground to a halt. "Potter, what the fuck? What are you doing?"

He'd continued on a few steps before he realised Draco wasn't beside him, but stopped and turned at the outburst.

"What do you mean?"

"You! And Weasley! And Granger! What are you up to?" He was beginning to sound hysterical, he knew, but so what? He felt hysterical. This was madness! "All of you are behaving as if we've been friends since we were in nappies! I don't get it. Is there something you want? I've already apologized. And I offered my assistance, although I don't know what you'd need it for-"

Potter raised both hands, as if he was approaching a wild animal. Maybe he was. "Hey, Draco," he soothed. "It's okay, alright? Just rela-"

Draco shook his head, incredulous. "What, exactly, about this is 'okay?'"

Pausing, he cocked his head, examining Draco with that same thoughtful expression he'd worn at dinner. "Everything about this is okay," he said, as if it were really that easy. "We're back at school, we're alive. I don't know about you, but that's more than I expected. More than I could have hoped for."

Draco stared. "And that's enough, is it, to forget seven years of hatred and bullying and-"

"I never-"

"Not you, Potter, me! I was awful to you! You were insufferable and pig-headed and fucking rude, but that's no excuse for the way that I-"

"Draco," Potter cut him off, again. "I was going to say I never really hated you. You were annoying, sure, and I let you get under my skin more than I should have, but I've never hated you. And, you know, you saved my life. Beyond that, you apologised to me, to my friends" he shrugged. "I know you said you didn't expect it, I'm beginning to think you may not even want it, but we've forgiven you."

Draco's breath hitched and he was certain his jaw dropped before he set it, stubbornly. "I see."

Potter's eyes flashed, narrowed. "Do you? We know what happened. Hell, Draco, one way or another, I saw loads of it happen. I forgave you a long time ago. Hopefully," he sighed. "One day, you might be able to forgive yourself."

With that, he turned and continued down the corridor. Reeling, Draco followed him, belatedly realising that his arm was aloft in front of him, seemingly pulling him along. He lowered it hastily, darting a glance at Potter's back to be sure he hadn't seen. Stalking a few paces ahead, Potter held his arm held out behind him, his thread a tangled mess around his wrist and forearm as if he'd been worrying it throughout their argument. Which was, of course, absurd; no one could see the strings, let alone fiddle with them…

***

By the time classes were back in full swing, Draco had developed a bit of a routine: He rose at dawn, showered, prepared for the day. After ensuring he had everything he'd need, he swung his book bag over his shoulder and left for breakfast. Weasley would still be snoring heavily beneath his eyesore of a Quidditch poster (The Chudley Cannons, Draco shuddered) and Longbottom would be puttering around, tending to the small greenhouse his corner of the room resembled.

At breakfast, he enlisted all of his willpower not to stare at Potter while Greg chattered on about red caps or nifflers and Pansy groaned into her coffee cup, lamenting the daylight. By the time Weasley stumbled through the Great Hall to the Gryffindor table - yes, he happened to be looking in that direction at the time… yes, every day - breakfast would be half over. Sometimes, after looking up to greet him, Potter would shift his eyes to Draco. Weasley would follow his gaze across the Hall, grin, and wave while Granger smiled his way and Potter nodded with a smile of his own, slow and warm.

Draco always scowled in return, but that didn't deter them. When they had classes together, one of them would plop themselves down beside Draco and hold one-sided conversations during free moments while Draco ignored their existence. That was easier said than done, though.

He and Granger shared several classes, so she would discuss their lessons, asking his opinion on concepts she found fascinating. Unfortunately, they were topics he was interested in, as well. Weasley talked about Quidditch - which brooms were in favour, which team was likely to win the upcoming match, that new model of snitch Puddlemere was touting - and seemed genuinely interested in Draco's thoughts on the matter. Of which he had plenty, sadly. And Potter… Potter was new challenge. He asked after Draco's mother, asked what his plans were - that evening, that weekend, after finishing school. He wanted to know about the books he read and the music he enjoyed. Draco would bite his tongue and lock his eyes on something or other, but his restraint was wearing thin. They were bloody relentless!

It was overwhelming, the constant proximity to everything that drew him to Potter; his voice, deep and throaty when he spoke in hushed tones; his laughter, rolling and infectious and always a little surprised when Draco muttered something cutting under his breath; his eyes, warm and amused when they met Draco's, sparking little flutters of warmth in his belly. And his heat, all too close and far too noticeable, seemingly generated by an overabundance of energy. The man was constantly moving, running a hand through his hair, tapping his fingers, stretching and retracting his legs under the table - how was Draco supposed to-

Somehow, they seemed to know when Draco was studying. Almost like clockwork, ten minutes after he sat down in the library, the Golden Trio could be found, dropping their books and parchment onto whichever table Draco occupied that day. Pulling out chairs and settling in to study as if they'd been expected. At first, Draco had sputtered and asked them what they were doing, before collecting his own materials and leaving the library.

Yet, still, they came. Every bloody time. How was he supposed to get any work done? Between Granger's frequent attempts to redirect their attention back to their homework, Weasley bemoaning the fact that they had homework at all, and Potter, alternating between passively existing and actively trying to start more conversations with him, his voice low and hypnotic in the quiet library, Draco was steadily losing his mind. Once, he even thought ahead, sitting with Greg, Pansy, and Theo when he got to the library. If his table was full, they'd go somewhere else, right? Apparently not. All that had accomplished was a packed table, more distractions, and less homework completed. At some point, he subconsciously began to sit at one of the larger tables in order to accommodate the ever-growing size of the apparent "study group." The girl Weasley, Longbottom, and a few more Gryffindors Draco didn't really know eventually joined in, even a few students from the other houses, led by Luna Lovegood. It was utter chaos!

After classes, meals, and "study group," Draco tried to take advantage of the pleasant autumn weather while he still could. With a novel (usually muggle fantasy novels; he was trying to understand how they viewed magic and was surprised to learn that they knew who Merlin was. Sort of...), he'd head down to the lake to read by the dying light of the late afternoon sun. On windy weekends, when the sky called to him, he'd take his broom out for a few laps around the castle, thrilling in the illusion of freedom flying provided. And, when sleep evaded him or he found himself woken by distant shrieks and the fading crashes of battle, he'd creep out of the dorm and climb the tower to the observatory to curl up on the wide ledge of a window and watch the night fade into dawn.

***

"Draco?" Pansy's hesitant voice interrupted, one such evening. "Are you okay? I saw you leaving the commo-"

"Leave me alone, Pans," Draco sighed, letting his head fall back against the window frame and drawing his knees to his chest.

He'd been dreaming of fire and flying and woke too hot and uncomfortably aroused. Even his dreams were conspiring to ensure Potter was all he thought about, filling his subconscious with memories of the solid planes of his back pressed close to Draco's chest, the infuriatingly alluring mess of black hair, saturated with smoke, filling his senses until he was throbbing with want. Frankly, he wasn't in the mood to deal with Pansy. He had no desire to add anger to the mix of shame and self-loathing swirling in his stomach.

"Please Draco," Pansy wailed, startling him out of his misery. "I'm sorry! I said I was! I can't take any more of this."

He looked back, when her voice cracked on a sob, to find her wrapping her dressing gown defensively around her slight frame and didn't bother to mask his weariness. "Pans, what you did… Where did it even come from? You said you were staying out of it."

"I was scared, Draco! He was here. I didn't know! You didn't tell me you had-"

"He was there, too," he interrupted. "He was in my home, his cretins crawling over everything, all the time! And I didn't-"

"I know that. But I didn't know about what you did until the trials." She stood in the center of the room, shoulders hunched, her sleek bob mussed from sleep. Gods, he missed her. "I knew how you felt about him but-" she broke off, swinging around to pace to a window on the opposite side of the circular observatory.

Draco rose to follow her, his curiosity piqued. He had suspected Pansy knew how he felt, though she had never said so, outright. She was always the first to tease him for his obsession with Potter but her jabs were interspersed with knowing smiles and amused glances. How much had she guessed?

"I didn't know, and I-" a broken sob wracked her shoulders. "It's him, isn't it?"

"What's him?" he asked, hesitantly.

"The strings you talked about in first year." Sniffling, she turned to face him and wiping tears from her cheeks. "Yours is tied to him."

It wasn't a question, but he nodded, anyway.

"Oh, Draco, I never would have- I thought it was a crush, that you'd - I never would have hurt you like that if I'd-" The tears were streaming, unchecked now, and Draco felt his own sense of guilt rising in his chest.

He'd known. Somewhere inside, he'd known all of it. But he'd buried it in his fury. He'd risked everything by choosing not to reveal Potter and she'd suggested just handing him over. She could have changed everything, had she succeeded, won the war. And, Draco thought bitterly, left him incomplete in the process. He knew she hadn't done it to hurt him, even understood what had moved her that day. Self-preservation, fear, panic. Had he been in her shoes, without his knowledge and experiences, he might have done the same thing.

Finally, his anger drained, giving way to forgiveness. Potter was alive, Voldemort was gone, and his string was still intact. Giving in, he pulled her to his chest, his arms tight around her shoulders, and pressed his nose to her neck. "I know, Pans."

***

"Draco, have you finished your Charms essay?"

Halloween had come and gone and study had begun in earnest. Which meant extended sessions in the company of Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs. They'd been at it for hours, today, and he was more than ready to relax with his newest book; something about a muggle girl who was carried away by a storm? It had witches and wizards.

In the process of rolling up that very assignment, Draco looked across the table at Granger. He nodded. "Only just."

"Wonderful!" she exclaimed, a calculating glint lighting her eyes. "Could you help Harry with his Potions? Ron, Greg, and I are still working on Charms, ourselves."

Draco narrowed his eyes. "I was just going to-"

"Oh, thank you!" she interrupted, as if he'd been about to agree. He definitely had not.

"'Mione," Potter whined, a flush darkening his cheeks. "He didn't agree. You can't just bowl over people until they do what you want."

Granger had the good grace to look guilty and, for a moment, Draco felt for her. It was a moment too long.

"No, Potter," he sighed. "It's okay. What do you need help with?"

Ignoring Granger's beaming smile, he turned to Potter, where he found something else to ignore… Potter was biting his lip, worrying the flesh between his teeth and staring pitifully at his textbook.

"Potions," was all he said, the single word dripping with such world-weary disdain that Draco had to suppress a snort, rolling his eyes, instead.

"Yes, Potter, so I gathered. And with what aspect, specifically, do you need help?"

"Er… ingredients? And stirring. Oh, and heating elements!"

"Merlin, Potter, have you actually learned nothing since first year? I cannot be expe-" But he was grinning, that mop of hair shivering slightly as his shoulders shook with silent mirth. "What? What's so funny, Potter?"

"Relax, Draco." He shook his head, eyes dancing with humor. "I was only teasing. I just wanted to ask if you could explain the difference between Moonseed and Moondew for question eighteen. I just need to check my answer."

Weasley sniggered beside him and Draco shot him a glare before rolling his eyes again and holding out a hand. "I'll look it over," he offered, choosing also to ignore the way his face heated when Potter flashed a grateful smile before passing Draco his parchment.

Scanning the scroll, Draco's eyes snagged for a moment before finding the discussion point he needed. And, surprisingly, there was nothing wrong with it, aside from the nearly illegible chicken scratch Potter called handwriting. He skimmed the rest of the assignment, briefly, and smirked. What do you know? he mused. Potter wasn't completely inept, after all.

"Eighteen is fine," he began, returning Potter's work to him. "Though Slughorn would wet his pants if you added the visual differences between them. Most students don't bother. All of the rest are correct, too. How did-" He broke off, unsure.

"'How did' what?" Potter asked distractedly as he added the physical characteristics of the plants to his answer and Draco sighed.

Nearly two years ago, Potter had shocked everyone when he'd suddenly become good at Potions. He'd always wanted to know, Draco thought. What was the harm in asking? "How did you know to crush the Sopophorous Bean to extract the juice?"

"Oh," Potter frowned. "It was written in the margins of my textbook in sixth year…" He trailed off, eyes becoming unfocused as they shifted back to Draco's. "That book was the reason I passed, that year. That book was how I-" He shook off whatever mood had overcome him and grinned, again. "It's why Slughorn expects me to know what I'm doing, now."

Draco felt an answering smile tug at his lips even though, for a moment, that haunted look was back in Potter's eyes, sending a chill down Draco's spine. He ignored it, forcing his smile wider. "Well, you're doing fine," he assured, rising to his feet. "Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a book and a windowsill calling my name."

"Oh… of course. I mean, I had more questions, but you said all of my answers were good, so… Anyway, thanks for your help, Draco."

He didn't answer, distracted by the smile slipping from Potter's face and the little glances Granger was shooting him. He gathered his supplies and wove his way through tables and chairs, toward the library's exit, lost in thought.

***

"Oi, Malfoy!"

Draco glanced up from his book - what the hell, by the way? The witches were evil and the wizard was a charlatan? There was a "good witch," but she was the worst of all, dragging a lost muggle into the conflict. What kind of magical representation was that? He had owl-ordered the next in the series, hoping the situation would resolve itself there as this one didn't seem to be headed toward a decent ending.

He was walking through the common room, on his way to his dorm, when Weasley called from a corner of the room where he was lounging on one of the many overstuffed sofas. Granger sat squashed to his side with her nose in a book, and Potter reclined in an armchair opposite him.

Hesitantly, Draco picked his way across the room.

"Weasley?"

"Fancy a game of chess?" he asked, indicating the board set between himself and Potter. "I need a challenge."

"Hey!" Potter protested. He opened his mouth as if to defend himself further, then closed it. "I can't help that I'm pants at chess," he finally muttered, crossing his arms with a huff.

Draco laughed. Weasley had been asking for a game, sporadically, since the beginning of the term. He said nobody challenged him, anymore. A couple of days ago, Draco and Greg had been playing a muggle card game when Weasley and Longbottom returned to the dorm. Greg became distracted by the large plant Longbottom carried and wandered over to ask about it. Weasley, heaving a long-suffering sigh, asked after a game, again, and Draco caved. He could only listen to Longbottom's lectures for so long before dying of boredom.

Weasley turned out to be a decent opponent; he beat Draco, three out of five games, that night while Longbottom went on about violent flora and Goyle talked about all the dangerous animals he was learning about from Hagrid. In retrospect, it may have been a rather cathartic experience. He had certainly become more comfortable with Weasley's attempts at friendliness since then. Though, to be honest, Draco didn't buy the story Weasley peddled of McGonagall's giant chessboard.

"Budge up, Potter." Draco jerked his thumb over his shoulder then took a seat when Potter stood with a roll of his eyes.

"Ron says playing me is some kind of torture after finding out that-" he screwed up his nose, rested his hip against the armrest near Draco's elbow, and crossed his arms over his chest. Granger giggled, a surprisingly pleasant sound, and Weasley chuckled as he reset the chessboard but Draco couldn't breathe with Potter so close. "What was it?"

"'After finding out that someone else in this god forsaken place can hold his own,'" Granger recited, eyebrows lifting behind her book.

"Well," Weasley's voice took on a mocking tone. "I can't help it that he's pants at chess, now can I?"

Laughing again, Granger smacked her book over his head. "Oh, honestly, Ron."

"Right, thanks for that. Draco?" Potter asked pausing until Draco met his eyes, again. "Thrash him, yeah?"

That startled a laugh from Draco and he shook his head in exasperation. "You realise that was always my intention, don't you?" he asked, though his voice seemed tight to his own ears.

"Enough talk, Malfoy, let's see what you've got."

Around the middle of their third game, he and Weasley were tied, Potter finally removed his arse from Draco's personal space, apparently tired of half-standing, and Draco exhaled a shaky breath. At last, he'd be able to clear his head and focus fully on the game. It was a wonder he'd managed to win a game at all, really. At least, he thought so for all of the five seconds it took Potter to circle the coffee table and settle himself on the sofa beside Granger. He didn't look at Draco, kept his eyes glued to the game, but now, he was in Draco's line of sight. He was chewing on his lip, again, Merlin help me, his brow furrowed in concentration and his right hand, the one with the string knotted on the pinky, was propping his chin up as he focused on the game. Draco was distracted by the flutter of red every time he lifted his own hand to make a move but couldn't seem to will the image away.

In frustration, he shifted his left hand to his lap, deciding to use his right to play the game, instead. Weasley shifted, as well, while considering his next move. He rested his bare foot atop the opposite knee, drawing Draco's attention to the thread looped around his ankle. Thoughtfully, he followed Weasley's string to its end, tied to Granger's delicate ankle where it tapped lazily in the air about a foot from the floor, and rolled his eyes. No surprise there, he didn't need the string to tell him these two were made for each other.

Surging forward and breaking Draco's train of thought, Weasley made his move. "Rook to E4, checkmate!"

Draco blinked. "Fuck."

Granger giggled again and Weasley threw back his head on a bark of laughter. Potter looked quizzical, a small smile playing about his mouth.

Draco flushed, drew himself to his feet, and held out his hand to Weasley, careful to angle his body away from Potter. Gods, he was hard just from watching the man abuse his poor lip but there was no need to embarrass himself over it. "That's all I've got in me, tonight. Good game, Weaselby."

Potter sucked in a breath but Weasley just laughed and took his hand, pumping it twice. "Back at'cha, Ferret Face."

"Good night, Granger. Potter," he said, nodding to each of them before collecting his book and quickly making his way to bed.

***

Stupid muggles and their stupid ideas of magic!

Draco slammed his book closed, completely fed up with The Fucking Wizard of Oz. He had encountered plenty of wicked witches and evil wizards in his life but, historically speaking, there were many more who were kind. Who would never dream of including a muggle in their political matters. Then he winced. Yes, of course there had been individuals like Voldemort and Grindelwald throughout history but they really were the exception to the rule. And there had been a time, before the Statute of Secrecy, when witches and wizards had openly preyed on hapless muggles… Also, he remembered, there were prophecies; Potter was evidence of that. Maybe this Dorothy had been a witch, like the Munchkins thought. A muggle-born? It was possible, he supposed. But honestly, three villainous witches and a charlatan wizard in one book and an evil stepmother witch in the next? That seemed excessive. Couldn't they meet at least one benevolent magical person?

"That's- Are you sure, Hermione?" Potter's voice hissed from nearby and Draco looked around for the source.

The library was nearly empty since it was almost time for dinner on a Friday evening. Standing, he peeked through a gap in the shelves closest to him. Potter, Granger, and Weasley sat around one of the smaller tables set among the shelves, various books spread open before them.

"That's what is says, Harry. It's okay, you know how much he's changed. And you've always had a bit of thi-"

"Yeah," Weasley interrupted. "I don't get it. I thought you were friends, now."

Friends now? Were they-

"We are. I like him, but- I don't know. He hasn't changed that much."

Fuck, they were. The Golden Trio were discussing Draco in hushed tones, in the deserted library.

"Harry," Granger scolded. "Try to be open minded. Besides, he did this a long time ago, it doesn't mean that you're actually-"

"What if it does, 'Mione? I mean, I can be nice and all, that's easy. I know he was forced into a lot of what he did, but he still- I mean. And now this?"

Draco's breathing kicked up a notch. What did he do? What was worth a covert meeting of the Saviour and his lackeys? He thought they were past this, they were friends, for Merlin's sake. And he hadn't so much as stepped a toe out of line since school began. Except maybe his midnight trips to The Astronomy Tower but, surely, they wouldn't judge him for that...

"You don't think you could, er-"

"I don't know, Ron. I mean, I may have thought about it, once or twice… But he's never- is he even-? No. No, I have to just- I don't know, act normal?"

"'Cause that's bound to work," Weasley snorted. "How do you plan on doing that? Can you stare at him more than you already do?"

"Ron!" Granger sounded exasperated. "This is different. Draco isn't up to anything now, is he, Harry?"

"No. You're right," Potter said matter-of-factly. "This isn't Malfoy. It's Draco. I can handle this. I just have to, you know, distance myself."

"That's not what I meant, Harry. You shou-"

He didn't stay to hear whatever else Granger had to say on the matter. He was on his feet and out of the library, his breath choking him as it tried to escape his lungs too rapidly. Ignoring the sensation, he continued on until he broke through the castle doors, where he doubled over coughing. Vaguely, he wondered if he'd actually be sick. Wouldn't that just take the cake?

What had he done? What would lead Potter to want to distance himself? Granger said it was a long time ago, but what? As far as he knew, Potter was already aware of every effort Draco had made to humiliate him over the years. Every nasty lie he told Skeeter, every rude gesture and badge he'd made to torment the boy who unwittingly tormented him. Every stupid decision he'd made during the war… Maybe he would be sick.

Still unsteady, Draco staggered toward the lake. He made a conscious effort to still his shaking limbs as he walked along the bank of the lake. Pulling long, deep breaths until his steps were sure, he carefully reapplied his mask of composure until his shoulders carried a semblance of the pride he used to feel. He'd always known Potter would never want him; this changed nothing.

Slowly, he made his way back to the castle to collect his book and head to bed. Dinner was not an option.

***

... use of Dittany, coupled with powdered Moonstone should create a healing anesthetic. Brewing of this potion should be completed when the moon is waning in order to add to the unicorn hair's binding properties and ensure an even, potent blend of the ingredients…

"And, did you know, muggles have these big metal trains that fly?"

"I believe they're called aero planes, Greg," Draco answered, distractedly scratching out a few more lines of the essay he was writing. Slughorn and Sprout had assigned a joint project, asking students to invent a potion and write fourteen inches on its ingredients, brewing process, effects, and uses. It was an interesting assignment but he was struggling to find an adequate binding agent. Soon, he'd reach the stage where he could test the theory and discover whether or not unicorn hair could be substituted with lacewings…

"Trains are already made of metal," Finnigan sniggered, halfway down the table.

"Right! Air-o-panes." Greg was working on a reading assignment for Muggle Studies and his enthusiasm was palpable. "Muggles are cool, Draco. They learned how to fly without magic! Wish I'd known that before…" He trailed off, voice suddenly maudlin. The whole group held their breath and Draco lifted his head.

"I know what you mean, Greg," he nodded. "I do, too. But, you know, at least we're learning it, now. Right?"

Greg smiled, a wide, goofy grin. "Yeah," he nodded, emphatically.

"Ugh," Pansy scoffed from a few seats down. "Just because they've had some intelligent people, that doesn't mean they're cool, Greg."

Draco snarled at her when Greg dropped his eyes, his lips twisting in a self-conscious grimace. Letting go of his prejudices was not an easy process for Greg. Every other day, he asked Draco to explain some nuance of muggle culture or why it was no longer okay pick on muggle-born students. Draco felt a surge of pride every time his friend caught himself in the middle of a slur and switched to a more acceptable term, casting a sheepish glance around to see if anyone heard his slip. He was making progress, all of them were… well, most of them.

"Come off it, Pans. It's not like every witch and wizard throughout history was as smart as Alberic Grunnion."

"Who?" she frowned.

Granger lifted her eyes to level a quizzical look at Draco and answered for him. "Alberic Grunnion was the wizard who invented the dung bomb."

A chuckle echoed around the table. Greg snorted and Granger seemed to be fighting a smile as she ducked her head back down to her homework. Pansy crossed her arms and fumed.

"He was brilliant," Greg and Weasley sighed in unison, in apparent awe of the long-deceased inventor.

Draco could see Potter watching him, an odd look on his face. Draco had been avoiding him since the incident in the library; if Potter wanted distance, he'd give him distance. Struggling to remember where he was going with his example, he continued. "My point is that muggles aren't really any different from witches and wizards. There are just as many clever muggles. They don't have magic, but they learned ways of getting by, anyway." Now he met Greg's eye, shrugged. "I think that's pretty cool."

"Yeah, all right," Pansy grumbled. But Greg was smiling, again, so Draco returned it, then went back to his potion.

***

"Hullo," Potter greeted, shuffling into the Potions classroom. He stumbled for a moment, kicking his stool in the process, before sliding onto it. As a result, he sat closer Draco than usual.

"Potter." Draco tensed but pushed a hand through his hair and dragged eyes away from his notes to meet Potter's. "Merlin, what happened to you?" He looked ragged, on edge. His hair was messier than ever and there were dark smudges under his eyes.

"Inter-house unity happened," he muttered. "How, er… how's your potion coming along?"

"Well, actually! The lacewings proved to be an adequate substitute for unicorn hair to bind the ingredients. I ran the first test on a transfigured field mouse yesterday. The anesthetic component was successful and the mouse didn't die.

"Well that's… good?"

"It is," he laughed. "It means that, even if it doesn't heal properly, at least it's not poisonous. I'm about ready for the next test. I'm going to ask Hagrid if he has any wounded animals he'd-" Draco paused, taking in Potter's expression. He seemed distracted, tapping his fingers against the workbench. He was bored. Sighing, Draco took pity on him. "Basically, it's going well and should be ready by the time it's due."

"That's great, I'm sure Hagrid would love to help," Potter smiled, nudging Draco's shin with his own and, watching him warily, left it there. "So, ah, are you going to play in the pick-up match later?" he asked.

Draco frowned "You know I am. Potter, what's gotten into you?" Potter's eyes darted away, then back several times, but his leg remained against Draco's. He really should suggest Potter move his stool back to his own side of the bench.

"Nothing!" he insisted. "I was just trying to… I don't know, chat."

"Chat? Potter, you always chat." warmth spread from the point of contact, slowly making its way to his brain. He shifted, just enough that they were no longer touching. "You're usually better at it."

He frowned, flicking a glance at their legs, and finally scooted his stool a foot away. "I'm- I don't know. Jesus, Malfoy, why do you have to make it so hard to be nice to you?"

Confused, Draco lifted one pale brow, staring incredulously. So, Potter's behaviour since the trials had been, what? Him not trying? "Then stop," he sneered. "It clearly isn't your forté." Pleased when Potter's jaw dropped, he faced forward again, his stomach twisting, and tried to ignore him for the rest of the class.

It didn't work. Potter kept "being nice." When Draco looked around their workbench for the next ingredient he needed, muttering under his breath, Potter handed it to him before he could spot it. When Draco's buzzer sounded, reminding him to stir his potion, he was still chopping ingredients for the next step. He swore under his breath and, immediately, Potter leaned over to stir the potion and reset his timer. When class ended and Potter reached the door a few steps ahead of Draco, he paused to hold it open for him.

It was unnerving.

And it didn't stop there. He held open any door they were passing through together, flinching almost imperceptibly when their arms brushed. He frequently sided with Draco in discussions, watching intently for his reaction. He even brought Draco a snack, one day, when he'd spent lunch in the library to finish an essay. He rested a hand on Draco's shoulder, sliding it down to his elbow and back up as he scolded him about forgetting to eat. Draco had all but run out of the library, pausing in a nearby alcove to still the wild beat of his heart and will away his growing erection.

It was bad enough that they'd seemed to become friends at all, frequently forcing Draco into close proximity. Now Potter was practically stalking him, again. A full reverse of the way he'd followed him in sixth year, wherein, it seemed, his goal was to kill Draco with kindness. And it wasn't nice. Nice wasn't clamping your mouth closed when someone came into view. Nice wasn't avoiding talking to someone and then stumbling over basic conversation. Or touching someone one minute and pulling away, as if burned, the next. Nice wasn't staring at someone with a perpetual frown and then avoiding eye contact.

After a week of this brand of nice, Draco was fed up. He missed the way Potter used to talk to him. Hell, he missed the way Potter used to fight with him. He missed Potter…

Maybe it was for the best, he thought. He'd clearly become complacent in their "friendship." It wouldn't do to forget their history, to forget who they were. Regardless of the string tied to his finger, Potter would never think of him as one of his actual friends…

"Bloody, buggering fuck!"

Draco slammed into his room, one hand bunched in his hair. He stalked to the window then, changing his mind, turned on his heel and marched back toward the door. He'd had enough, it didn't matter if they were friends, they didn't have to interact at all, for all he cared. He was going to put a stop to it. Potter couldn't treat him this- He couldn't just-

Groaning, he swung away from the door, returning to the window and throwing his hands up with a shout. "What the fuck is happening? What is he doing to me?"

"What's who doing to you?"

Startled, Draco turned to find Longbottom sitting on the edge of his bed, watching him curiously.

"Who asked you?" he snarled.

"I was just trying to help."

"Why? What the fuck? Is everyone losing their minds? Their fucking memories? Doesn't anyone remember that I was a Death Eater a year ago?"

Longbottom stared at Draco for a few moments before answering. "No, Malfoy, no one has forgotten that," he sighed.

"Then why the fuck is everyone trying to be nice to me?"

He glared. "Well, I'm trying because you seem distressed. Ron's trying because you apologised to Hermione before you apologised to him. That and you haven't made fun of anyone all year. Hermione is trying because she's Hermione. And Harry… well, Harry's trying because he likes you. Everyone else is trying because they are."

Draco's gaped at him. "That's just it! Potter doesn't like me! None of you do!"

Longbottom shrugged and Draco deflated. With a long sigh, he dropped onto his bed, propped his elbows on his knees, and buried his face in hands.

"You're wrong. He's not really being nice to me. He's being… I don't know… Polite? He's not treating me the way he treats his friends. I don't even know…"

Longbottom looked a little scared. Maybe he hadn't actually expected Draco to talk about any of this. "No, Malfoy, I-I meant he, er… you know, likes you."

Oh. Oh. What?

Draco snorted and wrinkled his nose. "Well, you've clearly lost the plot."

"No, no, the signs are there," Longbottom insisted, warming to his theme. "Who do you think we're talking about, here? This is Harry! Not 'Harry Potter, slayer of dark lords.' Not 'Potter, bitter rival of Draco Malfoy.' Harry. Harry's a dork. He goofs off with his friends. He falls asleep in class. He flies like nobody's business but can fall off his arse on even ground. You think that person knows how to talk to someone he likes?"

His face was a little red by the time he finished and Draco stared dumbfounded. He actually believed it, didn't he? Wasn't Longbottom supposed to be Potter's friend? Wasn't he supposed to know him better than that?

"Who knows," Longbottom conceded, rising and walking toward the door. "I could be wrong. But just, I don't know, chill out, man."

"Longbottom?" Draco asked, clearing his throat when he stopped and turned. "I still think you're barmy, but… Thank you."

"You're welcome, Malfoy."

***

Longbottom was wrong, of course. He had to be. Just as the gods had, he'd made a mistake. Even so, Draco found himself watching Potter more often than usual. He watched the way Potter spoke to his friends, listened when he could. He was playful, easy going, always kind without seeming false. He seemed false when he spoke to Draco. He spoke, Draco told himself, as if he didn't want to. As if he didn't really have anything to say. Or, at times, as if he didn't trust Draco to accept what he had to say.

He looked closer when Potter interacted with the Weaslette, something he hadn't the stomach to do when they began dating. Only, they didn't appear to be dating, now. She never leaned close, the way Draco longed to. Potter didn't stare at her the way Draco imagined he was staring when he looked up to find Potter's eyes on him. They didn't lean close when they hugged, not as close as Weasley and Granger did. Not as close as Draco held when Potter dragged him from the Fiendfyre. Of course, he could be wrong. Even if he wasn't, though, it didn't really mean anything.

Draco's anger faded and, try as he might, nothing he did brought it back. He wanted it back. Because this, this horrible ache in his chest, was unbearable. No, in spite of what Longbottom thought, it was obvious to Draco that Potter had all but given up on an actual friendship with him. Draco couldn't even hold it against the bastard. He may have been accepted by the eighth-year class but that didn't preclude acceptance from the rest of Wizarding society. Draco was under no illusions that he'd be anything but a pariah once he returned to the real world. Money and charm, even the Malfoy money and charm, could only go so far and, after rising from the ashes of one war, it was too much to hope they could spring back from a second.

"There you are!"

Draco jolted, hurriedly swiping at the wetness around his eyes, before turning to Weasley. "I've been looking all over, mate. I had to pull out Harry's map." He spoke in a rush, crossing the room and tossing himself up onto the ledge where Draco sat watching fat snowflakes drift lazily to the grounds below. "We're getting teams together for another pick-up match, tomorrow; you wanna play seeker still? Also, why are you sitting in the dark?"

"When am I going to get a look at this all-powerful map?" Draco smirked, then sighed. "Actually, I'd rather play chaser." Weasley's face fell and Draco winced. "And I'm sitting in the dark because the blasted sun went out." Thankfully, Weasley grinned at that. Merlin, he was becoming soft.

"Yeah, been meaning to get someone in to fix that," he quipped, then shook his head. "But what d'you mean, chaser? You've always played seeker!"

Draco lifted his shoulder in a one-armed shrug, irrationally irritated. "Yes, well, I never actually wanted to. Even this year, I just…"

Weasley sagged. "You wanted to prove you could do better than Harry," he finished before nodding, resolutely. "Okay, chaser it is. Don't know what we're gonna do for a seeker, though. Harry said to ask you, said he didn't want to play, and only one other person is interested."

"What do you mean, Potter didn't want to play?" Draco asked, incredulous. "He loves Quidditch."

"I don't know," Weasley sighed, slanting a curious look at him. "Something about letting you play seeker so you could be on our team. He doesn't want to play against you, anymore, I think."

Draco's face hardened. Of course, he didn't. Just more evidence that Draco wasn't even worth his time anymore. Oh, good, Draco mused, darkly. The anger's back. Just in time.

"Where is he?" he asked, coldly. His hands shook where he fisted them in the folds of his robes.

"Um… The common room, I think?"

***

"Potter!" he bellowed when he crashed through the common room door, Weasley sidling in behind him. Then again, when Potter jolted up from a slouch near the fireplace, messy head swinging around to face him. "Potter, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

The other occupants of the room looked his way, interest written on their faces, except for the few Hufflepuffs who were fleeing as quickly as possible. This is what they were used to, something they hadn't seen in over a year: Potter and Malfoy fighting.

"Draco?" Potter asked, getting quickly to his feet. "What's wrong?"

"Sorry, mate," Weasley grumbled when he passed. "I didn't mean to set him off…"

"What's wrong? What's wrong?"

"I told you it was a bad idea, Harry." Granger's voice filtered through the haze of Draco's anger, but only just.

"What the hell isn't wrong?" Draco screeched. "You talk about forgiveness, act like we've been friends our whole lives, out of absolutely nowhere. And then, suddenly, you're barely speaking to me! Now you don't even want play Quidditch because, Merlin forbid, you should have to play against me?"

"Draco, what are you talking about?" He was standing closer, now, and looked sort of panicked, hands twitching. Draco pressed on, he was so tired of this.

"I'm talking about you, Potter! Sending Weasley to get me on his team because you don't want to play against me! Couldn't even be arsed to find out that I don't even want to play seeker!"

"What? You're a bloody brilliant seeker!"

"Oh," Draco scoffed. "So, you don't want the challenge? Well, if you ever fucking talked to me, anymore-"

"I do talk to you!"

"No, you stutter at me. Merlin, Potter, you could at least tell me you've given up on trying to be my friend, instea-"

"That's not-" Potter began, but broke off, his face flushed crimson.

"That's not, what, Potter?" He shoved a finger into Potter's shoulder, only knocking him back a negligible fraction, but Draco cheered inside when his face darkened. Finally.

"That's not what I'm doing, Draco," he ground out, eyes hardening, his hands curling into fists for the first time since they'd returned to Hogwarts. This was the best part of fighting with Potter, Draco had almost forgotten. This transformation, from scrawny pacifist to God of War, was breathtaking.

Draco had to remind himself he was furious. "Then what the fuck are you doing, Potter? Enlighten me!"

"What do you want from me?" he shouted. "I didn't ask for this! I just wanted to be your friend, and then-" he scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it stand on end, and swung away to pace. "Damn it, Draco, I've been nothing but nice to you for weeks!"

"Yeah, well, I fucking told you to stop!"

"I thought, 'I can do this,'" he continued as if Draco hadn't spoken. "'It doesn't have to change anything. I can still be civil for fuck's sake!'" Then, he stalked back, brandishing a finger in Draco's face. "And I told Ron to ask you to play seeker because I thought you might like to. And because I didn't want to be against you, for once in our fucking lives! I was trying to be nice, you insufferable git! Since you don't want that, tell me, what the hell do you want?"

Draco didn't know what to say to that. It wasn't what he'd expected. Potter was standing a foot away, again, panting. Anger twisted his features and vibrated from him, his arms crossed over the rapid rise and fall of his chest, a muscle ticking in his jaw. And Draco was hard. Fuck, he was supposed to be hexing Draco, not… not standing there looking like a wet dream, not trying to reason. Potter didn't reason, he-

Before he knew he was moving, Draco lunged across the distance and pulled Potter's mouth to his, swallowing his yelp of surprise. Distantly, he heard a whoop and the gasps of the gathered students, but they were forgotten almost instantly. Potter's lips, slack beneath the onslaught, were warm and soft. The barest hint of toffee sweetened them and Draco was lost. He wasn't doing this, he told himself; he was losing his mind, not tracing his tongue along the seam of Potter's lips, shoving into that hard mouth. Not twisting his fists in Potter's robes and moaning, low in his throat...

Not making a bloody fool of himself.

That thought sent panic racing through Draco's chest and he ripped his mouth from Potter's, pushing him away. Fuck! What was he thinking? Potter said he was trying to be his friend, not-

A hand, tight around his wrist, cut off his thoughts and he jerked his eyes back to Potter's. The intensity there shook him, stunned him. The bright green irises were barely visible, his pupils were blown so wide.

"Thank fuck!" he groaned, pulling Draco hard against him, his other hand flying to the back of Draco's head. "Oh, thank God," he breathed and crushed his lips back to Draco's.

What was happening? some small, faraway corner of his mind demanded. This was… inconceivable. Draco pushed the voice back and threw his free arm around Potter's shoulders, dragging him closer as their tongues tangled. He shuddered and Potter released his wrist to wrap his arm around Draco's waist, one hand sliding down to press firmly into the small of his back. This, he thought, dimly as his hand sank into Potter's hair for the first time. This was what he wanted, what he'd always wanted. Fuck, it was all he'd ever want; the hot tongue sliding roughly over his, the cold press of glass and metal against his cheekbone that insisted this was, indeed, Potter he was kissing. Fisting the hand in Draco's hair, Potter tugged, slanting his mouth to push deeper, deeper, dragging a shuddering gasp from Draco. His hips snapped forward, grinding against Draco's rapidly filling cock and leaving him lightheaded, although, that could be the lack of oxygen.

He didn't care, breathing was overrated. Potter was kissing him; he'd never need to breathe again. Potter's tongue; searching, tasting him, lapping at the roof of his mouth and tracing the line of his teeth, Merlin, this was all he'd ever need.

"-rry! Malfoy!"

No! Five more minutes, please? Draco thought, wildly. I don't want to wake up!

"Seriously, get a fucking room!"

Potter pulled away and, without thinking, Draco chased him for a moment, blinking when his surroundings registered. Nearly the entire eighth year class was gathered, expressions ranging from mildly nauseated to highly amused. Weasley stood the closest, an odd mix of emotions playing across his pale face. Draco tried to move away, again, but Potter held him tight and only grinned when Draco shot him a warning glare.

"Come on, guys. We're happy for you and all, but please, take it somewhere else?"

"You can use our room, Harry!" Finnigan shouted, quickly followed by Theo's outraged "No they can't!"

"It's okay," Weasley said with a grimace. "They can take our room, right Nev?"

Longbottom shot Draco a smug smile. "'Course."

Potter, who hadn't taken his eyes off Draco since the interruption, nodded. He wrapped wide palms around Draco's hips, lifting and guiding his legs around his waist. The long limbs folded gracefully around Potter's hips and Draco squeezed his thighs, holding tight. Once they cleared the common room, Draco let his hands roam, finally free to touch, to explore what he'd spent years denying, excusing, and eventually accepting would never be his. He latched his mouth to Potter's throat, because he could, a laugh escaping when Potter groaned and stopped in the corridor, propping Draco against the door.

"Fuck, Draco, I need to-" He grasped blindly for the doorknob. "Holy fucking hell-"

Out of patience, Draco reached behind himself, clinging to broad shoulders with one arm for balance. Potter's hands gripped his arse to support his weight and he ground his cock against Draco's, echoing his groan when they brushed. It wasn't enough, not nearly enough, and Draco rolled his hips, arching his back and rocking helplessly against Potter. Still swiping at the door desperately, he cried out in triumph when his hand landed on the knob, twisting it with a violent jerk.

Potter wasn't prepared. He stumbled forward when the door swung inward, smashing Draco painfully against the doorjamb as the momentum carried them into the room.

"Fuck, Potter! Watch where you're going, you oaf!" His words immediately forgotten, Draco dragged Potter close again, capturing his bottom lip and tugging it between his teeth. Unwrapping his legs, he lowered himself to the floor and shuffled backwards until their progress was halted again, this time by a tall wooden post. "Fuck!"

"Oh, shit," Potter gasped. "Are you okay?" He was breathless, drawing Draco's attention to his own heaving chest.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, just-" His hands were scrambling, tugging frantically at Potter's robes. "Fuck, Potter! Get these off!"

He chuckled and grabbed at Draco's hands to still them. When he looked up, Potter was watching him, gaze searching. He must have found what he was looking for because he smiled, slowly, and flicked one wrist, vanishing Draco's robes with a thought.

Draco gasped at the sudden sensation of cool air against his heated flesh, the rough drag of Potter's robes against his cock. Delighted, he edged sideways until the post was no longer digging into his shoulder blade and let himself fall, tangling a fist in Potter's robes to drag him along. "Of fucking course!" he laughed. "Now do yours!"

"What?" Potter muttered, burying his nose in Draco's collarbone before sinking his teeth into the tender flesh at the side of his throat. "God, Draco, you smell amazing."

Draco moaned, arching into the hands mapping his ribs. "Gods," he cried, and then, remembering: "Oh, fuck, Potter, the door! Hey!" Before he could consider the consequences of his words, Potter was gone, leaving a shiver in his wake. He levered himself up to his elbows, releasing a relieved sigh when he found him, slashing his wand at the closed door.

"Sorry," Potter murmured when he'd finished. "I can't do wandless locking and silencing spells, yet."

"Potter."

"Harry."

Draco ignored him. "Take those fucking robes off and get over here."

Grinning, he found the clasps Draco had struggled with moments before and pulled the robes off, leaving the material to pool where it fell and revealing the thin tee shirt and loose denims beneath. Slowly, he reached for the hem of the shirt, shuffling back toward the bed as he lifted it over his head. Draco watched, hungry for every scrap of sun-kissed flesh Potter bared, and stroked himself absently. When the shirt was gone, he stood at the foot of the bed, fingers lazily flicking open first the button, then the zip of the hideous denims. Dark eyes slid, just as lazily, over Draco where he lay sprawled across the bed. They widened when they reached his chest, and panic twisted his face briefly before he forced himself to continue. Draco knew they'd be discussing the scars later, but tried not to think about that. Right now, Potter's eyes were on Draco's cock, relief flooding his features, as if he'd expected his arousal to wane.

Draco fought the urge to cover himself, squeezing long fingers deliberately around his cock, and let Potter look. He wanted him to look. In spite of the scars crossing his chest, he had wanted those eyes on him for longer than he cared to admit. His gaze fell to the string on Potter's finger but only for a moment. The finger was pushing the last of Potter's clothing away and Draco forgot the string in anticipation of what else would connect them. The mere thought sent his mouth watering and his mind blank.

Eyes roving slowly, Draco held his breath and studied him. Foreskin stretched tight over the rosy glans and moisture pooled at the tip, already beginning to spill down the hard length. Potter's hand dropped to grip the base and Draco shuddered, the breath leaving his lungs in a rush. Not for the first time, Draco wondered how he would taste, how he would feel resting against his tongue, sliding down his throat. But there wasn't time for that.

He scrambled to his knees and hooked a hand around Potter's neck to pull him forward until their lips met again. While he licked into the hot, sweet mouth, he let his other hand trail down, over the broad chest that was already damp with sweat. His thumb paused to flick over a nipple a few times before moving lower, long fingers tracing the soft hair below his navel and Draco thrilled in the quiver of the hard muscles beneath - Potter was trembling and it was because of Draco - to where it met his groin, and lower. Reverently, he wrapped his hand round the base of Potter's cock and drank in the little gasps and moans mingling with his own. He tugged once, twice, and Potter's hips chased the movement, pumping into Draco's hand.

Potter whimpered when he withdrew to trail his hand over one hip and leaned back, toppling them onto the bed where he locked both hands hard over Potter's arse and rutted against his hip, gasping at the delicious friction against his aching cock. "Wait! Wait, Draco, wait," he huffed, throwing his hand out. "Accio lube!"

When the jar rattled out of its confines - the drawer of Draco's bedside table - and into Potter's waiting hand, he blinked at it for a moment. "You have lube…"

"What? What? Yes, of course I have lube, you dolt!"

Chuckling, he dipped his head, resting it for a moment in the crook of Draco's neck. "Sorry, I expected a bottle to come from Ron's side," he laughed.

Rearing back up, he ignored Draco's warning growl and wrenched the jar open, plunging in three fingers to scoop out the slick substance. He rested his weight on his clean hand, reached between them to coat his own and then Draco's cock. The slight graze ripped a groan from Draco as Potter lowered himself slowly, aligning their hips so they glided together.

Draco whimpered, bucking helplessly up into the slide, but shook his head as Potter's weight pressed him into the mattress. "Please, Potter-"

"Harry," he moaned. Planting his hands under Draco's armpits, he lifted his weight a little to rock against him. "Please, Draco, say my name."

"Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry," he chanted, beyond fighting it. "Please, please Harry! Fuck me- please, I need-" he broke off on a gasp when Harry closed his mouth over the spot he'd bitten earlier, sucking and lapping at the bruised flesh.

"Yes! God, yes! I will, I will-"

"Now, Potter!" He was clutching at shoulders and fisting his hands into unruly hair, bucking a frantic counterpoint to Harry's rhythmic rocking. Gods, he was so close!

"Now?" Harry whined. "Draco, I can't- I- fuck, I won't last. Ne-next time!"

Next time? He wanted to do this again?

A whine began, low in his throat and Draco captured Harry's mouth, crying out as he came, his body spasming and his cock pulsing warm wetness into the space between them. Harry was right behind him, his body rigid, his cock jammed hard against Draco's as he rode out his orgasm.

"God," Harry groaned, rolling onto his side. "I hope we landed on your bed."

Draco's head shot up, instantly, but he let it drop again when he heard Harry laughing. "Fuck you, Potter."

"Mmm, maybe later," he hummed, sliding a hand across Draco's waist, smearing the cooling spunk across his belly, and pulling him snug against his sweat-slicked side.

"Huh-uh," Draco protested, sleepily. "I get to go first; you said…" He smiled when Harry's laughter rumbled against his cheek.

Sighing, Harry shifted a little, summoning his wand, and Draco felt the tingle of a cleaning charm sweep over him. Then, he removed the locking and silencing spells from the door before drawing the curtains on the bed and reapplying the same spells to them. Finally finished, he tucked his wand under the pillow and wrapped his arms tightly around Draco, settling in. Draco sighed, happy for the first time in longer than he could properly recall. He still wasn't sure this happening, but he wasn't going to complain.

"Goodnight, Draco," Harry murmured, pressing a kiss to the crown of Draco's head. All he could manage in return was a garbled, unintelligible grumble and Harry chuckled. "What was that?"

Draco drew a gasping breath and groaned. "Go the fuck to sleep, Potter!"

***

Shifting in his sleep, seeking warmth, Draco shivered. The first thing he was aware of, when consciousness finally broke through, was the fact that his toes were freezing. The Astronomy Tower wasn't any warmer than the dungeons, he'd learned. Whimpering, he kicked his feet out, looking for the blanket he must have kicked off sometime in the night.

"Oi, watch it," a voice scolded from the foot of the bed.

"Weaselby!" he whined. "What have you done with my blanket?"

Weasley didn't answer and Draco's eyes flew open, a moment later, when his cock was engulfed in wet heat.

"What-" he began before the night's events flooded back. Not Weasley. Potter - no, Harry - was in his bed. Harry was chuckling around a mouthful of Draco's cock, sending tingling vibrations through his spine. Fuck, Harry had Draco's cock in his mouth.

Moaning, Draco arched his back, hands flying to Harry's hair. "Oh, fuck… G-good morning to you, too," he panted. The lips around him quirked and then Harry sucked, rising slowly up the shaft. "Oh gods!"

"Good morning, sunshine," he chirped, lifting off of Draco entirely to aim a lopsided grin at him.

"Potter!" Draco growled, but Harry just laughed, sucking him in again.

Lifting up on his elbows, Draco watched his length disappear, again and again, into Harry's mouth. His lips stretched wide, his eyes closing on a moan, Harry swirled his tongue around the sensitive glans, traced the vein along the underside of the shaft. He pushed down until his nose rested in the coarse hair at Draco's groin before rising again, after a moment, and closing his teeth around the base. Moving slowly, lazily, he scraped them up the shaft and Draco dropped back onto the bed with a groan, writhing when Harry tongued the foreskin. He suckled at the tip before pulling away again, the obscene pop mingling with Draco's gasping moans.

"If I recall correctly," Harry murmured, pressing trailing kisses over Draco's thighs and lapping at the tight skin behind his bollocks. "I made you a promise last night."

Draco's mind raced, trying to find the memory - so much had happened last night! - but the thoughts scattered before he could grasp them. His focus narrowed to the hot breath ghosting over his skin, the fingers digging into his flesh, prying his arse open, and - oh, fuck - the bold strokes of wet fire swiping across his hole. Harry slid a hand under Draco's thigh, lifting it into the air and guiding it until his foot rested on the warm skin of his shoulder.

He worked his tongue tirelessly, lapping at the furled entrance, circling the tight muscle and pushing past it to taste. Even when Harry closed his lips around him and sucked, Draco could still feel that tongue probing the edge. Mewling little cries were falling from his lips, but he couldn't stop them. Soon, a rough, blunt finger joined the questing tongue, slipping easily into him and plunging deep, and he stopped trying.

"Harry," he whimpered, throwing one arm over his eyes. His jaw clenched and his head flew back into his pillow. "Oh, Merlin, Harry, what are you…"

Harry released him, crawling up the bed to spread out, laying half over him. Hooking Draco's leg over his forearm, he smoothed his hand down Draco's chest, over his belly. He paused to palm Draco's weeping cock for a moment, without actually wrapping a hand around it, the bastard, before trailing back down between his cheeks. He ran his hand through the cleft, teasing brushes across Draco's opening that left him panting.

"Please," Draco whimpered, straining against Harry and rocking his hips desperately. Harry crushed his mouth to Draco's, sliding two slick fingers into him, twisting and curling them in search of Draco's prostate while he plundered his pliant lips.

"Jesus, Draco," he muttered, brushing his lips across Draco's jaw to leave a path of biting kisses down his throat before coming back to his mouth. "You're fucking beautiful…"

Draco curled into him, canting his hips, panting and pleading. "Oh! Yes, Harry, oh fuck! Now, now, now…"

But Harry only kissed him again, adding a third finger and pumping into him. "I've wanted you for so long, you have no idea." He was panting, his breathing ragged in Draco's ear, sweat dripping from tangled hair and running down his heated face. "Can I have you? Can I, Draco?"

"Yes, yes, Harry! Anything, just-"

Lightning fast, Harry removed his fingers, shifted Draco's leg to throw it over his shoulder, and settled between his thighs.

"Now, now, please Harry, now…" Draco chanted, his breath hitching when Harry finally, finally entered him, sheathing himself in one long stroke and clutching at Draco's hips with sweaty, lube slicked fingers.

Draco wrapped his arms around Harry's neck, craning his neck to reach for a kiss. He missed but was content, for the moment, to suck at the spot where his lips landed on Harry's jaw. It was so much, the stretch of his arse around Harry's cock, his hot breath rushing over Draco's face, his eyes searching Draco's. He was so very full, surrounded. The smell of sex, and morning and Harry, mingling, clashing. Intoxicating.

"Potter," Draco groaned, finally breaking their heated gaze, turning his head and arching into Harry. "For fuck's sake, move!"

Harry's laugh ended in a sharp intake as he slid out, slowly. "So bossy, Draco," he teased. "Fuck." He pulled back too far and slipped out of the tight, slick channel. Shuffling a little, he shifted until Draco's hips rested on his knees, then sank back in, the new angle sending a thrill through Draco as Harry's cock brushed the sensitive bundle of nerves deep inside him.

Setting a bruising pace, he began to thrust in earnest, capturing Draco's mouth and shoving a hand between them to grasp Draco's cock. His fist pumped in time with his hips, calloused fingers dragging over the shaft, wrist twisting over the head every so often.

"Ha-Harry-" Draco's muscles protested, refusing to hold his arms up, and he let them fall to the bed where his hands grasped weakly at smooth sheets. "Oh, Merlin, Harry, harder! I'm so close, so close" he sobbed.

"Come on," Harry grunted, hips pistoning faster, harder. "Come for me, baby."

Draco didn't need any more coaxing; his orgasm raced through him, scorching nerve endings and forcing a whine from his throat. His vision tinged black around the edges as subconsciousness threatened. When the fire settled down to a glow, Harry's rhythm had become erratic, his breath gasping out with each thrust and Draco gathered what strength he could to clench his muscles around the cock thrusting into him. He fisted a hand in Harry's hair, yanking his head down to swallow the sound of his climax.

And Harry kept thrusting, hips stuttering, cock sliding through his own spunk, until his muscles gave out and he collapsed onto Draco's chest.

"Oh my god," he panted. "Jesus fucking Christ!"

Draco choked out a surprised laugh, lowering his leg, slowly. "I'll say…"

With a groan, Harry rolled them until he was on his back, Draco's head pillowed on his chest. "You," he panted. "Are bloody amazing."

He grinned, burrowing into Harry's side and letting the praise warm him. "I know. It's about time you worked it out. Ow, you brute!" Draco laughed again when Harry pinched him. "Fine. You weren't half bad, yourself. Now, what time is it?" he asked, stretching. A dull ache that swept through his body, intensely satisfying.

Harry heaved a sigh. "I don't know."

Levering himself on one elbow, Draco looked blearily around before remembering. "Where's my wand, Potter?"

"Hmm?"

"My wand. It was in the pocket of my robes. The ones you vanished last night…"

"Oh. Didn't vanish them, just sent 'em to your hamper. Hold on." Groaning with the effort, he reached a hand above his head to root around under the pillow for his own wand before passing it to Draco. "Here."

Draco stared for a moment, then took the wand, kicking himself. It's just a wand, you idiot. Get it together! Swallowing his nerves, he waved Harry's wand, casting a quick cleaning spell and a Tempus.

Six-fifty.

"Ugh," Draco groaned. "We have to get ready for breakfast. Weasley's probably even there, by now."

Harry laughed. "That's good, isn't it? Wouldn't want an audience this morning." Draco threw a pillow at his head before slipping off the bed, Harry's laughter following him out. Depositing Harry's wand on the bedside table, he turned toward his hamper; he needed to find his wand and fresh robes.

Getting ready for the day with Harry was strange, to say the least. He was used to being the only one up and about in the morning, not to mention he usually had the luxury of taking his time. When he returned from a ridiculously short shower, Harry was removing the spellwork from his bed hangings. Then, he borrowed a dressing gown and towel, and stole a kiss, before slipping out to get his own shower. By the time Draco slung his bag over his shoulder and stepped out of his room, Harry was walking back from the direction of his own, dressed and smiling, his hair a decidedly wet rat's nest. It was all rather strange.

"Shall we?" Harry asked, sticking his elbow out to Draco.

"Absolutely. We should have time for a bite before-" he broke off when he glanced up at Harry. "Wait," he stopped him with a gentle pressure on his arm. "You look like you've been mauled. Hold still."

Harry grinned. "I have been," he quipped while Draco shot a healing spell at the love-bite on his jaw and Draco smiled, in spite of himself.

"Yes, well…"

With a laugh, Harry wrapped an arm around his waist and hauled him close, claiming his mouth in a kiss that was over far too quickly for the depth of promise it offered.

"Come on, sunshine," he smiled, releasing Draco just long enough to take his hand. "I'm starved."

***

Judging by the reaction in the Great Hall that morning, none of the eighth years had said a word about the night before. Murmuring flared to life when they walked in, hand-in-hand (Draco had tried to shake him off when they got to the door, but Harry wouldn't let him. "They're going to find out, eventually, after that performance," he insisted). That was to be expected, as was the shocked gasp that echoed around the Hall when Harry bent to brush a chaste kiss against his lips before releasing him to make his way to the Gryffindor table.

Fighting a flush, Draco ducked his head and headed toward the Slytherin table, slipping into the vacant seat beside Greg.

"Good morning, Draco," an airy voice greeted him.

Confused, Draco glanced around the table, then behind him, before he saw Lovegood peeking around Greg's substantial form with a wave.

"G-good morning, Lovegood."

"Oh, please, call me Luna."

"Oh. Of course. Good morning, Luna," he corrected.

"I trust you slept well?" Her eyes twinkled merrily and Draco shot a glare at Greg's nervous profile. Apparently, not every eighth year had kept their mouth shut.

He offered a small smile to Luna, though, finding it didn't bother him as much as he would have expected. "Splendidly, as it happens."

"Wonderful! I know I always sleep better when I've had a good…" she paused when she caught the look on Draco's face and scrunched up her nose in concentration before continuing. "... Workout."

Pansy cackled from Draco's other side and he dropped his head to the table with a groan.

"Thank you, Luna," he grumbled, but he was smiling.

***

Things just sort of continued that way. Harry, it would seem, had a thing for public displays of affection. He quickly developed a habit of invading Draco's personal space; scooting his chair closer and throwing his arm over the back of Draco's during "study group." Catching his wrist when they passed in the corridors between classes to pull him in for a kiss. Bending down to nuzzle the top corner of Draco's ear with his nose before taking his seat beside him in class.

Draco would sneer and push him away, muttering about horny lions but, the truth was, he found himself holding his breath, waiting for those moments.

And, even better, Harry had stopped being so bloody nice to him. Sort of. He still held doors and offered help, but he no longer stuttered through small talk or stopped talking halfway through a sentence. He claimed it had been nerves that influenced the change in his behaviour and flushed when Draco told him Longbottom's theory. Now, though, he teased and flirted and discussed any number of things.

After an hour-long argument, they decided they would both play seeker on opposing teams because "no one else is even a challenge for me, Draco," and "I suppose you would just spend the whole match staring at my arse if I wasn't actually posing a threat to your game," and "you're damn right, I would, Malfoy!"

At night, with the curtains drawn, even though everyone was still in the common room, they talked. About the war and their families. Less than a week after that first night, Harry broke down, loud, messy sobs wracking his shoulders as he burrowed into Draco's arms, and apologised for the spell that nearly killed him in sixth year.

"Harry, please, stop," Draco soothed. "I know, okay? I know you didn't mean to hu-"

"But I did!" he wailed. "I can't believe I almost-"

"You didn't, though." Scolding the Boy Who Lived was interesting, but not what he'd had in mind for the evening. "You have to stop. I refuse to do this every time you touch me. I forgave you a long time ago. Now, stop blubbing and fuck me, already."

They talked about classes and what careers they were interested in pursuing - Draco's potion was a success and Harry suggested he go into medical potion brewing.

"Please, Potter. Because everyone will line up to buy potions from a Death Eater," he scoffed, careful to keep his voice low to avoid the wrath of Madam Pince Everyone else, except Granger, had fucked off to the dorms, unwilling to study through a Sunday afternoon.

"You aren't a Death Eater, Draco."

"Yeah, yeah, and I never really was. We've been over this. But, do you really think the rest of the Wizarding world will see it that way?"

"Yes! Maybe." His eyes flicked away for a moment when Draco lifted a brow. "Fine, I don't know, but isn't it worth finding out?"

"What-" Draco broke off, afraid to speak his fears aloud, but charged ahead. "What if I can't do it? What if they don't accept me? Is it worth it, then?"

Harry's eyes softened and he reached across the table to cover Draco's hand. "That's when it's the most worth it. Are you going to let what others think of you dictate your life?"

Draco glanced to the other end of the table where Granger was staring him, challenging him, even as Harry challenged him, to say he was. To give in and officially stop fighting. But he found he couldn't. He'd spent enough of his life worrying about the opinions of others, falling in line, doing what was expected. Enough was more than enough.

Eventually, Draco ranted, in a way he'd never before allowed himself, about his father and the expectations he had for his heir. How long he'd known that he'd never be able to meet those expectations. Not entirely, and not without risk.

"Even before taking the Mark," he said, tracing the dark smudge of it on his bare arm. They were cuddled close together to fend off the permeating chill of early winter and the dark memories it carried. "Father and I weren't speaking. He barked orders and I followed them. I still haven't told him I'm-"

Harry covered his hand, stilling the nervous movement. "It takes time. You're allowed to wait until you're ready."

Draco sighed, more comforted by his support than he'd expected to be. Dragging in a breath, he went on. "I have told Mother, though."

"How did that go?" he asked a grin coloring his voice.

"Awkward," Draco laughed. "But well, I think. She asked me if I was seeing anyone and if I was interested in setting up a date with 'that lovely Longbottom boy,'" Draco shuddered and Harry laughed, wrapping his arms tighter around Draco's waist and burying his nose in his hair.

"Good thing Neville's straight, that would be uncomfortable," he murmured before sucking Draco's ear between his lips, effectively ending the discussion.

Harry told him about his muggle relatives… and his cupboard.

"A cupboard, Potter, really?" They sat cross-legged across from each other on Harry's bed, where they had been working on the last of their homework from the winter holidays.

"Yes." he nodded, then frowned. "Kind of like a broom closet. It was under the stairs, so as long as the staircase, but with only about three feet of space I could actually move around in."

"Fuck."

"Yeah," he nodded. "The only reason they moved me into a bedroom was to try to keep me from getting my Hogwarts letter."

"But… how did they get away with that? How can anyone get away with treating Harry Potter that way?"

Harry laughed but there was little humor in it. "Hagrid told me that I was famous, the night I met him. Suddenly, everyone knew my name. Well, the world I grew up in had about twenty people who knew my name, and most of them had a habit of shouting it at me."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not." He smiled when Draco snorted. "Can you imagine what I'd be like if I'd been raised like that? If I'd gotten everything I ever asked for, more friends than I could ever really spend time with? I am who I am because of them. It was painful, still is sometimes, and I know that they shouldn't have treated me the way that they did, but it doesn't help me to stay angry at them."

Draco was silent for a while. The thing was, he could imagine what Harry would be like if he'd grown up that way. Taking a deep breath, he told him so.

'Yeah?" Harry asked, smirking. "How's that?

Draco didn't lift his head, staring instead at his legs, crossed beneath him. Nor did he acknowledge the humor lacing Harry's question.

"You'd have turned out like me," he murmured.

When Harry didn't answer, Draco chanced a glance at his face, found him studying him, head cocked slightly. Then he smiled.

"Do you really think so?" he asked.

Draco frowned. "A selfish, cowardly, egotistical, racist fighting on the wrong side of the war? Yes."

Harry scooted closer, reaching forward to cup Draco's face in his wide palms. "I would be so proud to be like you, Draco. You're loyal, brave, compassionate. Maybe it took me some time to see it, properly, but you're someone who owns their mistakes and admits when they're wrong. And I've seen the way you are with Goyle. I know it doesn't always feel like it, but your experiences made you the man you are, too."

He brushed his thumbs over Draco's cheekbones, wiping away tears he hadn't realised were falling.

"You're one of the strongest people I've ever met."

Draco fell forward, taking what Harry offered, if only to stop the flow of emotions he wasn't prepared to analyze.

Later, when Harry's chest rose and fell with the deep, even rhythm of sleep, Draco studied their string. He pulled his hand away and watched it go taut for a moment before extending to accommodate the distance. Watched it loop and drape gently when he brought his hand back to Harry's chest. He tried to grasp it, to wrap his fingers around it, but it slipped through them like water, never even touching his skin.

"Draco," Harry breathed, shifting slightly. "Go to sleep. We've got Hogsmeade tomorrow…"

So, smiling, Draco settled his head on Harry's chest and closed his eyes, letting the gentle motion lull him to sleep.

***

"Weaselby!"

Weasley jolted, looked around, and then grinned. "Afternoon, Malfoy. Ready to knock Harry out of the sky? Er, figuratively, of course."

Draco blinked at him for a moment, then turned to address Granger, sitting beside him. "Wow, Granger, I'm impressed. You've got him on five-syllable words with intangible definitions. Well done."

"Oi!" Weasley squeaked, but Granger was giggling and his lips turned up in response.

"Why, thank you, Draco. It's been a long road but we're making progress."

Weasley glowered and Draco laughed.

"Did you want something, Malfoy?"

"Oh, yeah," he grinned. "Have you seen Harry? We were going to warm up before the match."

"I'm sure you were," Weasley grimaced. "I think he's in his room."

Draco nodded. "Thanks."

The door was closed when Draco got there, so he knocked gently.

"Harry?" he called. "The match is starting soon; do you still want to warm up together?"

There was no answer. Draco frowned and tried the doorknob. The latch clicked and the door swung open with a low creak. Making his way through the quiet toward Harry's bed, he smiled when he saw Harry there, snoring lightly. He loved seeing Harry like this, all that energy at rest, laugh lines and tension smoothed over with sleep.

They had to get going, he knew, but Draco couldn't bring himself to disturb him. Kicking off his shoes, he slipped into the bed, slowly as not to wake him, and tucked one arm under himself before laying his head on Harry's chest. He sighed. Then scrunched up his face when he heard the crinkle of parchment under his shoulder. Squirming around, he reached for the page. He'd have to talk to Harry about doing his homework in-

Draco lost his thought when his eyes landed on the crumpled parchment and he bolted upright. What the fuck?

"What the fuck?"

Harry jerked awake, blinking myopically. "Draco? When'd you ge-"

Draco rounded on him. "What the fuck, Potter? Where did you get this?" he demanded, shaking the parchment in front of his nose.

He rose, made to grab it back, but Draco had the advantage of being fully awake.

"Where did you get it, Potter?"

Harry glared at him, sitting up. "Narcissa sent it to me."

"She what?"

"She sent it to me. We've been talking since the trials and I- I told her I was trying get to know you. She sent that, said it was 'the real Draco.'"

"Do- do you know what this is?"

"A drawing you did as a kid? I thought maybe it was jump-rope, or something, but Ron said wizards don't have a game like that. Hermione said it looked like-"

Draco ignored the fact that Harry had shown the drawing to his friends, he couldn't expect that he wouldn't. He sucked in a breath. "That it looked like what?"

Harry lowered his eyes, a flush rising on his cheeks. "She said it looked like a myth she'd read about, once." He was mumbling; Draco had to strain to hear him. "A red string that ties people to their soul mates."

Draco let out his breath in a whoosh, casting his eyes back to the drawing. The drawing was of two small boys in wizard's robes, standing side-by-side. One blond, one black-haired, and they were connected by a long, red string. They were smiling, crooked wax smiles, and the black-haired boy had a jagged line etched from one temple to the other.

They were going to have this conversation. Had to, he knew, so he took a steadying breath and collected his thoughts. When he spoke, at length, his voice was small, quiet.

"I was five, the first time I remember seeing it. The next day, I drew a family portrait, including what I'd seen: A red string connecting my parents together by their hands. I didn't know what it was, so I showed the drawing to my mother and asked. She told me that it meant the gods had chosen my parents to love each other." Harry gasped and Draco shook his head. "It was an easy answer, one you give a child. Love, to me, meant my mother, my friends.

"And Hagrid was right, everyone knew your name, your story. I grew up hearing about you and I would imagine we'd be friends, one day. So, when Mother told me that, I-I drew this. Just two kids playing together."

Harry shuffled closer, set a hand hesitantly on Draco's knee.

"Do you still see the strings?"

Draco nodded. "Everywhere." He let his gaze rest on the knot tied to his pinky. "Not all the time, but when I choose to look."

"And do you- I mean, have you- D-do you know who yours is connected to?"

Draco nodded, not daring to look at him.

They sat in silence for a while, almost longer than Draco could bear, before Harry spoke again.

"Well, er, we'd better get going. Th-the match…"

Draco nodded again and rose. He could almost convince himself he didn't feel his heart breaking.

***

Weeks flew by, very little changing but for the slow passing of the snowy season. But everything felt different.

Harry knew. He knew and-

Draco couldn't bear to think of it. Why had he let this happen? He'd spent seven years agonizing over the connection, trying to deny its implications or actively will it away. Yet, for almost as long, he'd been longing for what it offered. Harry. For Harry to be his, to look at him, see him, choose him.

But he hadn't. He had come so close, stepped up to the threshold and turned away, taking Draco's heart with him. Seven years on this treacherous slope and Draco had finally slipped.

Still, little had changed. Harry made no move to end their relatio- arrangement, and Draco would not be the one to do so. He knew he should, but the idea physically hurt, squeezing around his already aching heart and stealing what peace he could find. So, he didn't. They still slept together, still studied together, played Quidditch, talked. But, it felt forced again.

Well, the sex was still quite good - better than, really. Draco couldn't imagine another man touching him the way Harry did, his fist around Draco's cock, his tongue buried in Draco's arse. And then his fingers. And then his cock. Prying Draco open, tearing him apart with each stroke and thrust. Rebuilding him with searching kisses and roving hands. And he refused to think of Harry touching anyone else the way he touched Draco.

But the talking, the affection, they seemed perfunctory, like Harry was caught in a loop, distracted and disinterested. Sometimes, at night, Harry held him so tightly, Draco could barely breathe. He'd taken to waking Harry, sure he was having nightmares, but he never wanted to talk about them so Draco went back to sleep, an emptiness settling around his heart that he couldn't shake.

One evening, long after his dorm mates had fallen asleep, Draco was woken by a quiet knock on the door. Harry jerked, immediately rising to answer and quietly followed the visitor out of the room. When he glanced toward the bed, Draco feigned sleep but listened intently until their footsteps had faded some. Jumping out of bed, he raced to Harry's room, retrieved his Invisibility Cloak, and made his way to the common room, hoping they wouldn't go farther than that.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Granger was saying when he rounded the final corner. "The string isn't something that can be changed. Every book says the only way to sever it is death. Do you really want to take that route?"

Harry flinched. "Of course not. It- it has to be wrong, it has to be a mistake. I can't live like this forever, 'Mione, I'll go mad."

"I'll keep looking, Harry, but I really think you should talk to Draco about this. If he loves you-"

"He does. I don't doubt that. Jesus, Hermione, the way he looks at me breaks my heart. Fuck, I should have just left him alone."

"No, you should trust him. I'm sure he'll understand."

That night was awful. Understand? If he loves you, he'll fucking understand? What the hell kind of advice was that. If he loves you, he'll let you go? He was fucking trying, wasn't he? And so much for that since, apparently, Potter could see how fucking stupid he was, anyway.

It was times like this, when they were surrounded by their friends, that were the worst. Draco could see the strings that connected, or didn't connect, the couples around him. Weasley and Granger, Pansy and Theo (though he wouldn't be the one to tell them), Finnigan and Thomas, even though they each had a girl on one arm. Just ahead of him, Greg walked arm-in-arm with Luna and weren't they unusual? Greg's string had been cut short, but he'd never seen one on Luna. Even so, it pleased him, in a dull sort of way, to see them together, Luna giggling and Greg's cheeks stained red from more than the bitter wind. The Weaslette had the most puzzling string. Hers shot up to the sky today, pulled south as if by a strong wind. Draco theorised her soul mate was a quidditch player, though there were a few other possibilities…

"Hello, Draco."

Startled out of his musings, Draco jumped. "Fuck, Luna, don't do that!"

She merely smiled, serenely. "You're swarming with wrackspurts, did you know? That's why it was so easy to startle you."

Draco shoved his hands into his pockets. "Is that right?" His eyes flew to the back of Harry's head and his current weekly goal: Boring holes through to the other side.

"Yes. Oh my, there are so many! No wonder you're so distracted."

"Er, remind me again, what are wrackspurts?"

Luna tilted her head for a moment before straightening and offering a dirigible plum earring to Draco.

"They're creatures that float into your ears and make your brain go fuzzy. Wear this. It'll help keep them away."

Hesitantly, Draco accepted the fruit. A flash of red caught his attention and he gasped. Luna's string. He jerked his head up, eyes searching hers.

"What's the matter, Draco?"

"I-it's nothing. Sorry."

She glanced down to her wrist, shook it like she was settling a bracelet, and Draco winced.

"Is it my string?" she asked.

Draco stopped short and Luna turned, watching him.

"You…?" But, nobody could see them. Not since he'd started school! He swallowed, tried again. "You can see it?"

"Of course I can. I can see yours, too."

"I'm sorry. That it's torn, that is. I mean-"

"It's okay, Draco. It's always been like this, for as long as I can remember."

"Ho-how did it happen? I mean, I think I know how it happens. Severus' was torn. A-and Greg's is… now…"

"Yes, I know. Professor Snape was in so much pain. More than Greg is, I think. He's surrounded by people who care about him."

"What about you?"

"Oh, I'm okay. I'm surrounded by friends, too. And I have my father…"

"That's- er, that's good. But, how did-"

"Oh, you meant my string. It's been like this my whole life. But, that's okay, too. It doesn't have to be the end. You know, since there are so many people in the world, not having a soulmate doesn't have to mean I'll be lonely."

Draco thought about that. It was looking like Greg had found someone. Would he? Would he be able to move on when Harry let him go or would he end up like Severus? Bitter, alone, and taking his frustration out on the people around him? He had to know and here was someone he could talk to about it, for the first time in his life.

"What if-" he began. "What if the person someone is attached to doesn't want to be attached?"

Luna studied him for a bit, her pale hair glowing in the sunlight, lifting in the frozen wind.

"I just mean, would that person be able find someone else? To move on, you know? What would happen to their string? I've- I've just been wondering, you know, s-since Severus…"

"I think Professor Snape wouldn't let himself move on. Anyone can. It hurts, but you keep going." She had a wistful look in her eye when she met his. "But I don't think you'll have to worry about that, Draco."

"Draco? Luna? Are you guys coming?" Harry called, jogging from the crowd to where they'd stopped. When he reached them, he slipped an arm around Draco's shoulders and bent to nuzzle the top corner of his ear. "Come on, you two, it's freezing. We need butterbeer."

Luna smiled, then circled around to hook her elbow through Harry's other arm. "That sounds wonderful, Harry."

Draco allowed himself to be led down the rest of the path to Hogsmeade but didn't join their conversation. He would be able to move on, Luna said. He could get through this. He hadn't had the time to ask, but he didn't think the string would tear if the lover's decided not to pursue a relationship. That seemed excessive. He'd likely have this reminder for the rest of his life.

Great.

Maybe he could be like Severus. Finish school, become a Potions Master, take a job at Hogwarts, and spend the rest of his life terrorising the students. Maybe even terrorise future little Potters.

Draco shuddered as an image filled his mind of a towheaded child, laughing as Harry swung him high in the air. He choked back sob.

"Draco?" Harry's arm tightened and he turned so he could see Draco's face. "Are you okay? What's wrong?" He stopped, stepped into his path, studying his face. "Sunshine, what the matter?"

"N-nothing," he insisted before he realised he was crying. He shook Harry off, wiping at his eyes. "It's nothing. I'm fine, let's go."

"Draco…" Harry didn't say any more for a moment. When he looked back, Harry was staring at Draco's hand, frowning. He swallowed, dragging his gaze up to Draco's. Pain etched across his face and Draco's heart clenched, painfully. "Is there anything I can do?"

Love me, you arsehole! But he found a watery smile for him. Fuck, it hurt.

"No, Harry. I'm fine, just a little tired." He tucked his arm around Harry's waist, held him until his arms encircled Draco's shoulders again, then tilted his head up. "And cold. Come on, let's go get that butterbeer."

***

Harry was watching him.

As N.E.W.T.s grew closer, Draco was uncomfortably aware of Harry's gaze. Sometimes he just stared, as if lost in thought. Other times, he would get this look of fierce determination, eyes locked in what appeared to be a battle of will with Draco's hand. Like he was trying, as Draco had for years, to will the connection away.

Draco's heart ached. He longed for the courage to talk to Harry, to convince him that it didn't have to be so bad, being connected to him. They didn't have to pick out flowers and dress robes, or anything. What they had, right now, was enough. It wasn't like Harry was trying to end it; maybe he could.

But he didn't.

The words stuck in his throat every time he opened his mouth. He knew he wouldn't say them. He knew, come graduation, he would let Harry walk out of his life, or he'd walk out of Harry's. He tried to be grateful for what he had, for what little he could take and, sometimes, he succeeded. But he couldn't do it forever and he'd really rather it ended before he grew to hate Harry, again. It wasn't his fault fate had tied them together, after all.

"Oh no!" Frantic, locked in her N.E.W.T.s revision setting, Granger tore through stacks of parchment, quills, and books. "Where did I put my Arithmancy notes? Draco, have you seen them?"

"I've got them, Hermione," Pansy answered, shoulders hunched over the sheet of parchment where she was scribbling hastily. "Just a moment…"

"'Mione," Weasley soothed, a hand rubbing circles over her shoulders. "Relax, baby. You're a genius, remember? You'll do fine." Draco ducked his head when Weasley leaned close for a kiss, but continued to peer through his lashes, envy curling in his stomach when she leaned into him and sighed. She rested there for a moment before Pansy finished with her notes and passed them back.

Without a word, Draco stood and left the table, realising only once he'd gotten halfway to the dormitory that he'd left all of his work behind. It didn't matter.

"Draco?" he heard Harry call.

He ignored him, walking faster until he was safe in his bedroom where he flung himself to the bed after shooting several spells at the door. Well, 'safe' may not be the right word, he thought when Harry quickly unraveled his spellwork before following him in.

"Draco?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Go away, Potter."

Harry dropped Draco's bag on the foot of his bed, widened his stance, and crossed his arms. "Not until you talk to me. I know something's wrong Draco. You haven't talked to me in weeks!"

"I don't fucking want to talk to you!" he shouted, burying his face into his pillow. "I want you to go the fuck away!"

"Obviously," Harry muttered. "But I'm not going anywhere."

Draco snarled, launching back to his feet. "Yes, you are! You're going to leave, anyway, so just fucking go!"

Stepping forward, Harry caught his wrist and pulled him close, wrapping one arm around his waist and cradling his head in the other hand. Draco struggled, pushing at his shoulders and twisting his body, panic coursing through him.

"I'm not leaving," Harry murmured against his hair. "I'm not going anywhere. We can fix this, Draco. I'm sure Hermione will help. If the two of you work on it, you're boun-"

Desperate, suddenly clinging, Draco turned his head to capture Harry's lips, to silence him. Gods, he did want to hear this. He poured everything he had into the kiss, everything he was afraid of losing, everything he couldn't say. Slipping a hand up to rest on Harry's jaw, he slanted his lips, angling the kiss deeper and grasping at Harry's hip to pull them closer.

"Draco, I-"

"Fuck me, Harry," Draco panted. "Please. I don't want to think about later, I don't want t- Please, just-" he brought his hands to Harry's waist, tugging his shirt up over his chest and locking his lips around one nipple, glad that Harry had removed his robes in the packed library. Hesitantly, Harry lifted his arms, allowing Draco to pull the shirt over his head and catching his glasses when they snagged the material.

He took Draco's mouth again, catching him against his chest and holding him close. He kissed Draco with a kind of burning intensity but refused to deepen it further. When he pulled away, dark eyes locked on his and Harry bent, circling his arm around Draco's knees and lifted him. In three long strides, he carried Draco to his bed and lay him carefully on the blankets. Then he was stretching out beside him, kissing him again and running a hand, slowly, from Draco's shoulder to his waist and back.

Draco sighed when Harry finally slid his tongue between his lips, licking lazily into the recesses of his mouth, tracing his teeth. He worked at the clasps of Draco's robes with one hand, while Draco's own frantic hands continued to roam, desperate to memorise Harry's body but too unsteady to do so with any kind of direction. Harry sucked tender kisses against his throat and Draco moaned, bucking up, trying to find some friction.

When the robes hung loose, Harry shifted, rising above him on his knees to guide the stiff fabric down his shoulders, off his arms. He dropped it to the floor before returning, moving on to the buttons of his shirt, repeating the same process, and Draco let him, unable to speed the process but unwilling to end it. He needed more, damn it!

Harry paused, ghosting gentle fingers over him, eliciting quiet gasps while he watched, transfixed. Finally, he moved to undo Draco's trousers, trailing his fingers under the waistband before slowly, slowly lowering them. He bent to tug them from Draco's calves, pressing a kiss to his ankle. When Draco moaned, he did it again. Then again, blazing a trail of smoldering kisses and soft nips back up his body, taking a moment to lave the soft flesh of Draco's thigh.

Draco was trembling when Harry finally closed his lips over his weeping cock, taking just the head in and suckling. Leisurely, he slid down Draco's cock in slow, sweeping motions that had Draco on the edge before he realised it, before he could anticipate it. But Harry did, pulling away, dropping kisses to his thigh, massaging the shivering muscles of his legs until he came back down.

He mumbled something against Draco's pelvis before running his nose up the underside of his cock, then slipped back over the crown as probing fingers circled the tight, wrinkled skin of his entrance.

"Please," Draco whimpered. "Please, Harry, more-" And, when one wide finger breached him, he bucked his hips back, trying to impale himself on the slick digit. "More, damn it Harry, please!"

But Harry controlled the pace and, try as he might, Draco couldn't rush him.

He opened him slowly, agonizingly slowly, brushing a finger against his prostate, lingering over the withdraw, pausing to delay Draco's release before resuming the unbearable build. By the time Harry finally crawled back up to capture his mouth in a burning kiss, Draco was incoherent, a puddle of liquid want, able to do little more than cling to his mouth.

"I need… L-let me touch you… Harry, I- fuck…" He was shaking, his arms limp at his sides. There was nothing he could do, even if Harry let him.

"Shh," Harry soothed. "I've got you, baby. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here."

Then he was sliding in, filling Draco, shattering him. Sobbing, Draco hooked his arms around Harry, burying his face in his neck, gasping in his scent. He kept the infuriating pace, each thrust painfully slow, deliciously deep and all Draco could do was hold on.

"God. Oh my god, Draco." He gasped with the effort, straining to maintain his rhythm, to keep himself from slamming into Draco's slick hole. But Draco didn't want him to. He was going to fall apart if Harry kept going like this. He was losing himself, bit by bit, surrendering everything he was…

So, he begged.

"Harder, harder Harry, please. I need more, I need- I need-"

Harry only kissed him and angled his hips so he was dragging against Draco's prostate with every mind-numbing stroke. When his orgasm came, it startled him, engulfing him, carrying him away from himself. Harry shifted until he could reach between them, closing his hand loosely around Draco's cock to ease him over the edge. Moments later, he stilled, groaning as he emptied himself into Draco.

Then he eased himself to Draco's side, pulling him along, panting into his hair. "I'm not going anywhere, sunshine, I'm right here."

Unable to control himself anymore, Draco let the tears fall, hoping Harry wouldn't notice.

***

And so, it ended. N.E.W.T.s were completed, classes were dismissed, and they had about a week before the Hogwarts Express carried them back to the real world. Draco was broken. He didn't know what to do. He knew he had to end it, that he was running out of time. But, every time Harry looked at him, touched him, he lost his nerve.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, the first after their exams, he found himself beside the lake. The group of unlikely friends were lounging, relaxing, with the exception of Granger, who could be heard worrying over obscure questions she might have misunderstood on an exam she completed three days before. But Weasley shushed her, much to the relief of his peers. Luna and Greg sat with Finnigan and Thomas playing a game they learned in Muggle Studies. (Well, Thomas may have already known it.) Pansy, Theo, Longbottom, and the Weaslette - even though she wasn't graduating this term - were discussing their dream jobs, their excitement tangible.

Harry and Draco were sitting in the grass beneath a tree closer to the lake, Draco struggling to focus on the novel he was almost finished with while Harry played idly with the fingers of his left hand. He had to do it. He couldn't wait any longer. Worrying his bottom lip, Draco tried to formulate an adequate speech.

"Harry, we need to tal-"

From his spot, sprawled on his back between Draco's thighs, Harry gasped, his fingers gripping Draco's hand, hard. Draco lowered his book, peering over Harry's head, and then froze. Harry was holding Draco's hand close to his face, his gaze trained on Draco's littlest finger. It was almost as if-

"I saw it, Draco!" He turned, his eyes bright with excitement, to look at Draco.

Draco jerked his hand away, pushing Harry off of his lap. He'd been trying to see it? Why? "Congratulations," he muttered, rising to his feet.

"Draco! Wait!"

Heads were turning and a few of their friends looked like they might call out but Draco spun away, strode back toward the castle. Then he changed his mind and paused, turning to face Harry.

"What do you want me to do?" he cried when he was closer. "I don't know! I don't know what to do about it, okay? I can't change it!"

Harry stopped a foot away, lowered his head with a grimace. "I know Draco. I don't expect you to do anything. I jus- I just- I talked to Hermione, she said there was no record of anyone trying to sever the strings. But that doesn't mean we hav-" He broke off, cocked his head, turning his wrist curiously.

"No, it doesn't mean we have to," Draco snarled. Gods, he couldn't breathe, how could he talk?

But Harry didn't seem to hear him. He held out his right hand, his eyes slowly crossing the distance between them, obviously following the string to Draco's hand.

"It's- it's attached to me, Draco."

Draco sighed. "It doesn't fucking matter, Potter." His shoulders slumped, the fight draining from them. No, he wasn't surprised, but it still fucking hurt. "I'll leave you alone, there's no need to actually sever the thread," he murmured, turning to leave again.

"You- What?" Harry's hand around his arm stopped him.

"I'm sorry! We can't fucking change it! It doesn't mean anything. At least, it doesn't have to. It just… is what it is."

Harry dropped his arm, straightened his back, and shuttered his eyes. "I thought… oh, god, you don't want it to be me. Fuck," he swore, turning on his heel and pacing away a few feet. "Of course, you don't, why would you want to be tied to me of all people?"

"What the fuck are you talking about, Potter?" Draco shouted. "I've never wanted it to be anyone else! I've been dealing with this for years! Years, damn it! You're the one who doesn't want this!"

"I don't-" Harry spun back, eyes flashing. "I don't want this? What the fuck are you on? Of course, want this! I'm in love with you, you twat!"

"You asked me and I told you- you- you what?" Draco reeled back a step, staring, gobsmacked, at Harry.

"I love you, you fucking idiot." Harry glared, crossing his arms petulantly. "You told me you knew who your string was attached to, not that it was me."

Draco gaped. "Who else would it be?" he asked, weakly.

"I- I don't know, Draco. Christ, how should I know?" Before he could blink, Draco was in his arms again, crushed against him. "I thought I was going to lose you," Harry babbled, his fingers flying over Draco's cheeks and hair. "I thought you weren't mine to keep."

"And you want to keep me?" He was grinning. Like a loon. When had that started?

"God, yes!" And then Harry kissed him, offering everything Draco hadn't let himself believe could be his. His hands groped blindly at his shoulders, clutching him, claiming him.

"Oh, God, Draco tell me you're mine?" Harry begged, leaning back to pepper kisses over his cheeks, his jaw, his hair. "Please? Tell me I get to keep you, I can't-"

Draco stilled his face with shaking hands, his vision blurred by the tears flowing unheeded from his eyes, to meet Harry's. "I've always been yours, Harry," he said, laughing incredulously. "The gods chose me to love you."

Epilogue

Sitting with his eyes closed, Draco soaked in the warmth of the sun on his eyelids, the cool of the breeze that ruffled his hair around his ears. The sun-warmed wrought iron of the garden chair soothed his aching muscles. It had been a long week - the potion he was working on was being stubborn, but held such promise that he refused to scrap the project. Now, though, he was content to sit in the garden at his aunt's house, surrounded by the shrieks of laughter and the smell of roasted meats and spring blossoms.

"Papa, papa!"

Opening his eyes just in time, he caught the little blond missile as he shot forward, launching himself into Draco's lap.

"Goodness, Scorpius, what's your hurry?"

"Can I have some ice cream, papa?" Scorpius chirped without preamble. "Only, Rose and Hugo are having some but Aunt 'Mione said to ask daddy and daddy said to ask you."

Draco smiled, lifting his eyes to see Harry strolling toward them with a dark-haired toddler squirming in his arms. Harry smiled, lazily, and his heart clenched.

"I suppose it's all right, Scorp."

The bright eyes widened and he beamed before wriggling out of Draco's lap and running toward Harry with a shouted "Thanks papa!"

His little legs ground to a halt when he reached Harry, then carried him off again after Harry ruffled his hair. Shaking his dark head, he continued toward Draco.

"As if that boy needs any sugar…" he muttered under his breath. "Say hi to papa, Jamie." Harry lifted the pudgy little hand in a wave and Draco snorted. "What do you say, sunshine? Want to come in for some ice cream?"

Draco rolled his eyes and lifted his hands to take James when he threw himself forward. "In a minute," he smiled. "Give me my baby and a kiss, first."

Laughing, Harry passed James to Draco and bent to nuzzle the top corner of his ear before tilting his face up for that kiss. Then he took his hand, lacing their fingers and tangling their string, and dragged him to his feet. Together, they walked toward the house where Teddy was shouting to be heard.

"What kind of ice cream do you want, Weaselby?"

"Oi! Watch it, Lupin!"

Draco sniggered, jiggling James until he was shrieking with laughter. "That's my boy."

Harry wrapped his arm around Draco's shoulders and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Ron's gonna clobber you for that," he informed him.

"S'all right, I've got a big bad auror to protect me," he said, casting a sidelong glance through his lashes.

"Sorry, not this time, Doctor. Ron brought the ice cream. I'm afraid I can't risk missi- oof!"

Draco cooed at the baby, pretending he hadn't just elbowed his husband like they were children. But he laughed when Harry bent and swept Draco into his arms. Clinging tight to James, he let himself be carried to the house and braced himself for the teasing jabs his family and friends would start throwing the minute Harry carried him through the door. It was worth it.

The End