At night the Forest beckons Harry like the ghost of a lover.
The treetops shine almost silver in the moonlight when he glances out the window before bed. He can’t quite name the emotion he feels - it isn’t fear, but it isn’t the absence of fear, either. More an uneasiness, or something on the tip of his tongue that begs to be whispered. An uncomfortable anticipation.
Which is stupid, because he’s finished with the Forbidden Forest. That’s where things go to die, and Harry is alive.
His first night back at Hogwarts had been unremarkable.
The trip there was physically exhausting, with he and Hermione avoiding reporters on the platform and curious students on the train. After room assignments and greeting everyone he called a friend, and with the castle noisy with students welcoming each other back, he was out like a light at bedtime.
The second night, when everyone was settled in, proved different.
Neville was the only other Gryffindor boy who returned. Fresh off the stress and adrenaline of the war, most of Harry's year had moved on. There weren't enough of them to justify new dorms in every house, so they'd been given a suite of rooms on the second floor that had once been reserved for exchange students. He and Neville were in the first boy’s bedroom with the three returning Hufflepuffs.
He never had to go back to the Dursleys again, so Harry had passed the summer with the Weasleys. The noise and clutter of the Burrow had been distracting. Molly Weasley cooked and baked enough for an army, and Arthur’s workshop table was covered with more bits and bobs than ever. Andromeda, looking bone-tired in a way Harry had only seen on Dumbledore at the end of sixth year, came with Teddy, and all the teenagers present clamored to take their turns caring for him.
The Weasleys were a loud and demonstrative family, free with affection, but also with grief. The conversation at dinner turned often to Fred, or Remus, or any other number of people that Harry was doing fine not speaking about, thank you. No one forced him to talk but he could tell his reluctance to do so worried them. He went to bed early; he slept late. All along the white noise of Weasley life echoed in the background, like listening to a seashell but hearing people instead of the ocean.
At Hogwarts it was too silent; even the light snoring of Ernie MacMillian didn’t compensate for the bustle of the Burrow.
Finally alone with his thoughts, Harry laid awake until the dawn peeked through the curtains. That night he was so exhausted he went to bed directly after dinner. Thus started a pattern that would last, to his despair.
He’s standing beside his bed, looking through the window. The glass wavers, the Forest beyond swirling in his vision, and suddenly he is looking into a Pensieve. Warily, he puts his face to the liquid that somehow doesn’t spill out of its vertical container, but before he can dive in, another Harry pushes his face out towards him. Memory-Harry spots him and grins sickly, soil falling out of his mouth.
Harry wakes with a gasp. He’s standing in the Common Room. His hand is against the glass of the window nearest the fireplace, and for a heartstopping moment, he imagines it pulling him in.
Two months later, sleep wasn’t any easier. Harry woke up in the Common Room so often that he’d taken to sleeping there some nights, on the couch. He felt guilty for being so distant with people, but worrying only made sleep more elusive. He told himself he wanted to concentrate on classes. He meant to, but often ended up avoiding, study with Hermione, who was gamely trying to pretend she didn’t miss Ron. Against his girlfriend’s advice, he had gone straight to Auror training. Harry had taken one look at the practice manual - the chart of offensive and defensive maneuvers, the dueling coursework, the list of spells acceptable in the line of duty not allowed for civilians - and excused himself to throw up in the Weasley’s loo. He knew then and there he couldn’t sit in a classroom and listen to an Auror talk about the conditional use of Avada Kedavra. He had never confessed his second experience on the end of that spell to anyone.
Only Ginny had acted understanding about his decision, and Harry suspected it was simply because it meant they’d be together at Hogwarts for one more year. For some reason that irked him, and he made no effort to renew their romance. His avoidance made sense at her home, under the eyes of her parents; it made less sense back at school, and he knew she was irritated and confused. It wasn't her fault; she had no way of knowing her very presence made Harry feel trapped. How could she? He never opened up to her.
Daily he questioned his decision to return. Hogwarts was his home, he’d told himself, and it wasn’t fair that he’d lost it prematurely. A seventh year was a way to stick it fate, to Voldemort himself. Harry Potter would graduate normally like any other student, Saviour-status and drooling Prophet reporters be damned. Behind these walls, he was safe from every vulture and autograph seeker.
But Hogwarts was also like a prison, one that he’d voluntarily signed himself up to be locked inside. At night he felt the urge to dart away, to climb a broom and fly anywhere else, anywhere that didn’t still have scorch marks on the bricks where students take their meals and remembered screams echoing down the halls.
All these thoughts stayed below the surface, a cold dark layer in the depths where Harry had pushed them, the pressure of schoolwork and a strong facade keeping them down. At night when he was alone, when he wasn’t trying to listen to what McGonagall was saying or passing books back and forth with Hermione in the makeshift Common Room and wearing a placid expression like a mask, they broke free and rose like bubbles. And so Harry tried to fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, to fall into a slumber where he wasn’t thinking at all.
“My dear, you’re going to get into trouble!” The voice cuts through the fog of Harry’s dream - he’s taking tea with Nagini, a cup and saucer perched jauntily on her head as she titters in Parselmouth and offers him a biscuit - and he awakes with a start to look up and see the Fat Lady.
“What the hell?” he blurts, earning a huff. “Such language! You know you don’t live up here anymore, dear. Run on downstairs before you are found. I know you can’t lose us house points, but well, once a Gryffindor always a Gryffindor, right?”
He takes the stairs two at a time, managing to avoid Filch. He thinks the Fat Lady is wrong. Harry has never felt less brave.
Harry didn’t want to wake anyone up sneaking back into the dorm, so he set himself up in the Common Room for another few hours of uncomfortable couch-sleep. After a few moments of twisting around, trying to find a more restful position, he looked up at the window, and made a small noise of shock.
It wasn't the first time he’d seen him this term. They shared two classes. But the sight of Draco Malfoy, eyes closed and forehead pressed to the cold glass, was still jarring. Malfoy had been like a ghost, appearing suddenly in class and hiding elsewhere most of the time. He was sharing a room with the Ravenclaw boys that came back; the four of them had refused to separate, claiming their study habits required a harmony only developed after years of living together. That had left the Puffs to Harry and Neville and the last Slytherin, on probation and required to graduate, surrounded by bronze and blue. Only once did Harry ask Terry Boot about the situation, during a small talk attempt. Terry had shrugged, and said that Malfoy seemed to live in the library, if the massive stack of books on his desk was anything to go by. His roommates pointedly didn’t speak to him.
In fact, all the students were quiet on the subject of Malfoy. Everyone knew he wasn’t at Hogwarts by choice, and ignoring him was the best policy. A few second or third years still gave him terrified glances, but the rest of them turned their noses up and went about their business. The only time Hermione had mentioned him, she said it seemed like a fitting punishment. Malfoy had always craved attention, especially Harry’s, and now he received none. Strangely, unlike his roommates, Malfoy disappeared on the weekends, so Harry secretly doubted that he had become as studious as Terry thought.
He also knew there was no way Malfoy hadn’t heard him come in. They existed in the Common Room together for long moments, Harry watching surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, Malfoy holding himself purposefully still. Eventually Harry turned his head away and closed his eyes. Immediately he heard swift footsteps escaping back to bed.
What had Malfoy been doing up so late? What had he been looking at outside? Harry hadn’t been curious like this about anything all year. He found he had missed the feeling.
Twice more that month Harry stumbled into the Common Room from a sleepwalking jaunt to find Malfoy awake. They never made eye contact, and Harry wondered if Malfoy was just as curious about him. He also knew that sometimes when he started the night on the couch that Malfoy must come downstairs to find Harry already asleep. Did he watch him get to his feet like a zombie and wander outside? Did he ever try to stop him? Did Harry want him to interfere?
December came and went, and Harry didn’t see Malfoy up late again before Christmas. He did, however, wake up one night with a blanket over him that hadn’t been there when he fell asleep.
Three days before Christmas hols, he wakes in the hallway outside the Slytherin dorms.
It’s not as precarious a position as it would have been in years past. Salazar’s house still exists, and a number of trepidatious first-years have been sorted there, but their hex-happy days are over. Still, it’s worrying. He could have broken his neck falling down the stairs, or wandered outside and drowned in the Black Lake. He still doesn’t know how no one has seen him this entire time.
The thought of leaving the castle involuntarily troubles him, and he frets about it every night until after New Years, when he finds himself in the courtyard at dawn.
Harry had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays, claiming a need to study, but he wasn't sure if anyone had believed him. There were names he just couldn’t bring himself to say yet, and he knew they would be spoken at Christmas. Hermione had not given him as much trouble as he expected, though, and he wondered if she was secretly happy to get Ron all to herself. Regardless, he felt obligated to show up at meals for a while and appear social after declining the Weasley’s invite.
He’d woken in the courtyard once more that night, and decided to casually ask his smartest friend for her opinion.
“Hermione, what do you know about sleepwalking?” He cursed himself for speaking at all the instant she spun around, her hair following her face a split second later.
“Why? Are you sleepwalking, Harry?”
“No,” he lied. “Only, some of my things have gone missing, ties, socks, stuff like that. I know none of the Hufflepuffs are stealing from me, but I just wondered, when things are moved…” He trailed off, hoping she’d bought it. Luckily the mysteries of boys dorms were just not very interesting and Hermione only rolled her eyes.
“Have any of you thought about actually using the armoires they give us? I’m sure you all still expect the house elves to pick up everything.” She wasn’t entirely wrong, and sighed in exasperation at Harry’s chastised look. “We’re adults now. Learn to take care of yourselves.”
Just like that, Harry knew he couldn’t talk to Hermione about this. She cared, of course, but she picked problems apart, and Harry didn’t want to be dissected. He could go to the library. He could talk to McGonagall. He could even ask Malfoy what he saw when Harry left the couch at night, but instead he stopped sleeping there entirely. He didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to acknowledge anything was different. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to ask Malfoy, since he already knew, but just thinking about confessing his problems to anyone else, anyone who cared, gave Harry such a bad panic attack one day that he skipped Transfiguration and hunkered in an abandoned classroom, shivering and shaking until the feeling had passed.
February arrived, and once or twice a week Harry’s nightly journeys took him outdoors. It was freezing cold outside. He couldn’t figure out what kept Filch or anyone else from catching on. Even coming in the dorm at 3 am didn’t wake his roommates. Instead of telling anyone what was happening to him, he cast a warming charm on himself before going to bed. It was uncomfortable to be under the covers like that, and several times the heat prevented him from sleeping at all. True to pattern, he was so tired the next night he crashed.
He’s following a beautiful sound in his dreams. It’s like Phoenix song, but when he gets closer to the source, it turns into a shriek like the egg from the Tri-Wizard Tournament. At last the bird itself appears. Somehow he knows that if he could coax the Phoenix to burn itself, he could use the ashes to resurrect those he loved, but every time he comes close to catching it, it dives into a pool of bubbling mercury. When he finally approaches the basin, a hundred silver spiders emerge and cover him, filling his mouth and nose. He wakes up clawing at his throat and glamours the marks the next day.
Tonight was one of Harry’s stay-awake nights. He half-heartedly read something for Charms, and tried to write an essay. The covers were stifling, but he hid underneath them anyways.
And then, almost for old time's sake, he opened the map.
Harry remembered staying up late in sixth year watching Malfoy's dot moving around the castle. Things felt poised on a knife edge back then. Anticipation had nestled deeply in him as he waited for the next stage - the next meeting with Dumbledore, the next memory to watch, the next time Voldemort made himself known.
The next misstep Draco Malfoy made doing whatever the hell he was trying to do.
Any sane person would say that Harry is better off now. The war is over. No more waiting for the other shoe to drop, for another friend to be killed, to be killed himself. He could focus on school and life and anything else an 18 year old boy, or man, should be doing. But a part of Harry missed sixth year. A part of him still felt the same way he did then, looking around corners, even though he hadn’t any more reason to. At least then he had a goal.
Malfoy had a goal that year as well. Now with hindsight, Harry sees how desperate the other boy was. When the scene had unfolded on the Astronomy Tower, it was entirely too clear that Malfoy wasn't happy to be a participant. Suddenly Harry felt guilty for his strange nostalgia about a very awful time. He wondered what Malfoy was doing now.
According to the Map, Malfoy was near the Greenhouse. It was very cold, and very dark, so Harry was confused by what he could possibly be doing down there. It’s one thing to be solitary; it’s another thing entirely to hide outside in freezing weather. Maybe he has a project he’s checking on, Harry thought to himself. He stared at the unmoving dot with Malfoy’s name for about an hour.
Surprisingly, he dozed off and woke the next morning in his own bed for once.
Several weeks later Harry had been up most of the night watching the map again before he finally collapsed. Dawn came and went, and Harry nearly slept through breakfast. He was only awoken by Neville, who prodded him carefully on his way downstairs. Harry opened one bleary eye to see his friend already dressed and showered.
“You’re gonna miss breakfast again, Harry. Unless you run. Want me to bring you a scone to Charms?”
“You’re a pal, Neville.” Harry sank back down to the pillow.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Harry sighed. “I’m just tired.”
Neville paused in the doorway, looking like he was considering his next words carefully. “You look tired a lot, Harry. Do you think you’re sick? You should go see Madame Pomfrey. I know you try to just do things by yourself, but you don’t have to anymore. The world isn’t going to fall apart if you have a cold or something.”
“I’m fine,” Harry shot back, more irritable than he meant to. “I’m fine. I’ll take two scones, if that makes you feel better.” The look on Neville’s face said that it didn’t, but it would have to do.
Harry skipped a shower and dressed quickly. If he was late to class Hermione would worry about him, and he didn’t need that as well. He couldn’t find his tie, and he dug hastily through the pile that had developed at one end of the dorm. Red and yellow clothes were mixed together haphazardly.
He caught up to Neville outside of Charms, and gratefully accepted the scones. “Sorry I was a prick earlier. I’m not a morning person, as you’ve gathered over the years.”
Neville glanced at him with his lips in a firm line. “It’s fine. Next time I’ll just let you sleep through class if you want.” Harry cringed. Neville was much better at sticking up for himself these days.
“How’s your Herbology project going?” Harry asked, attempting conversation. “I know that’s your major coursework for the year.”
“It’s fine. Keeps me at the Greenhouse a lot, even in the cold,” Neville answered as they found their seats. Harry perked up at the mention of the Greenhouse.
“Is Malfoy taking Herbology?” He hadn’t meant to be so abrupt, and Neville rolled his eyes at the eagerness in Harry’s voice. “Don’t bother with Malfoy, Harry. He’s stayed quiet. We all know how you get.”
“I don’t ‘get’ like anything with Malfoy,” Harry said lamely. “I only saw him lurking down there a lot.”
Neville’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t take Herbology or Care of Magical Creatures anymore, why were you down there?”
Nevermind,” Harry snapped, turning away to sit at a different seat. That would show him for trying to talk with people.
There’s a tugging at his ankle, soft but insistent. Harry looks up from the Marauder’s Map to find himself on a bench situated along the path to the Greenhouse. Before he can figure out what he’s doing there, the tugging grows harder, and he’s pulled off the bench to the ground. Gravel digs into his cheek, and he lifts his head to see that a quickly growing patch of Devil’s Snare is pulling him towards the Forest. Every tendril has a mouth, and a forked snake tongue within. They surround him, hissing and winding around his arms, his body, his neck. One presses against his ear and whispers:
“Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?”
No, Harry thinks distantly, he’s in the Greenhouse, and when he comes to along the very path from his dreams, he knows it to be true.
Harry hadn’t taken anything from the dreams as an instruction, but this time he couldn’t help it. As soon as he woke outside that night, he crept the rest of the way down the path to the Greenhouse. He leaned around the corner of the back shed, and saw a faint glow. Sure enough, there was Malfoy, smoking what looked like a Muggle cigarette. Harry had no idea where he’d gotten such a thing; he tried to imagine Malfoy going into a corner shop to buy them but that was ridiculous. He backed away and returned to the castle before Malfoy could spot him, but he couldn’t stop wondering what the hell was going on.
The next time Harry woke outside he was prepared. He’d stuffed the invisibility cloak down his pyjamas, so when he woke he was able to sweep it over his head and check out the Greenhouse without fear of being spotted. Sure enough, there was Malfoy, smoking again. Harry stared at him for about ten minutes, which he knew was excessive. There was something about Malfoy’ distant gaze as he puffed on the cigarette, the embers glowing with each inhale. He was looking out into the Forest, and Harry desperately wanted to know why. Did it call to him, too?
When he decided it was time to give it a rest, Harry turned back toward the castle, but he wasn’t as stealthy as he hoped to be, and a branch snapped beneath his feet. Malfoy’s head whipped up, and he called out.
“I know you’re there under that cloak of yours, Potter.” He tossed the cigarette down and ground it out with the toe of his shoe. “Everyone has heard about it by now. What do you want from me?”
His cover blown, Harry emerged from the cloak. “Just taking a walk. Same as you I suppose,” he added in a challenging tone, daring Malfoy to tell him what was really going on. He only earned a raised eyebrow.
“Quite.” Malfoy paused for a long time, then shrugged, pulling a small box from his pocket. “Do you want one?” Harry blinked in disbelief at Malfoy’s casual tone. He rattled the box, expecting an answer.
“What, a cigarette? No,” Harry shook his head. “I mean, I’ve never had one. Seems a bad idea to start.”
Malfoy snorted. “I guess I couldn’t expect a goody-two shoes like yourself to pick up vices.” Harry bristled.
“I’ve got vices. No one’s perfect.” Tell that to the Prophet or the younger students, of course. They didn’t believe him.
“And what naughty things does Potter get up to in his spare time then, eh?” Malfoy taunted.
These were the most words Harry had heard from Malfoy all year, and he strangely felt that he wanted to keep them coming. It was comforting, the old back-and-forth. Malfoy and Potter. Enemies of old.
“Oh, you know. Curfew breaking, sneaking around. Lying.”
“None of that is new.”
“Why do I need new vices? Aren’t my old ones good enough?”
A troubled look fell over Malfoy’s face. “All mine are new. Maybe-”
“Nothing.” He pulled one cigarette from the box and turned away. Harry approached cautiously. “Maybe what, Malfoy? If you’re going to insult me just do it. You never cared before.”
“Maybe I’m just more broken than you,” Malfoy sighed. “Not an insult. I just thought you might be affected more than you are, after everything. I guess not. Good on you, Potter.”
Harry was stunned. Malfoy expected him to break? No one else did. They had presumed he would talk out his grief uninhibitedly, and then get over it, and when such talk wasn’t forthcoming, that he was fine. The few times someone did notice anything, they dropped it quickly. It was almost a relief to have someone assume that he wouldn’t be ok.
“I’m here because I was sleepwalking,” he blurted out. Malfoy looked taken aback, but he didn’t interrupt. “I’m having nightmares. I mean, they aren’t all scary, some are just… weird. But I end up outside.”
“Is that new?” Malfoy asked after a lengthy pause.
“It never happened before the war. I mean, I’d have nightmares sometimes, but they weren't all real.”
“It's a nightmare, by definition it isn't real.”
“I mean, they weren't mine…” Harry trailed off, unwilling to get into the specifics of his vision from Voldemort with Malfoy, especially considering that some of the later ones had involved him.
Malfoy didn't seem inclined to push the issue. He suddenly remembered the cigarette in his hand, and pulled out a lighter. Harry couldn't help but smile.
“You went all the way Muggle with those things, huh?”
“Yeah, well.” Malfoy lit the cigarette and took a long drag. He didn't cough at all, and Harry wondered how long he'd been smoking. “In for a Knut, in for a Galleon. Besides,” he added with a wry grin, “when I tried to light them with my wand, I always ended up setting half the thing on fire.”
For some reason that set Harry off, and he broke out into near hysterical laughter. Startled, Malfoy's eyes widened, and Harry snapped his mouth shut so fast his teeth clacked.
“I'll be going then,” he mumbled, pulling the cloak back over his head and rushing back up the path away from Malfoy.
When he thought about it later, Harry decided the conversation had been so funny because it was out of the blue. He would have never imagined such a thing as Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy sharing a laugh over Muggle stuff, not before the war. Maybe he should pick up a new vice or two. The rest of his life wasn't going as he'd planned anyways.
Harry is following a trail of Chocolate Frog cards down to the Forbidden Forest. Disapproving faces look up at him from each card - Cedric, Snape, Dumbledore. He hurries from card to card, hoping to find someone more friendly, and it brings him to the tree line. Suddenly a root appears and he snags his foot, tumbling forwards and slamming into an old oak. Choking on the breath that's been knocked out of him, he looks up at the trunk. Nailed to the oak are two cards, with the portraits of Remus and Tonks. They shake their heads in sad disappointment at him, before bursting into flames. Faster than he can blink, the whole Forest catches fire. As Harry tries to escape, the roots close in. The last thing he sees before the smoke overcomes him is Malfoy, standing at the Forest edge, lighting a cigarette off the licking flames.
He’s completely unsurprised to wake just inside the Forest, the dawn’s light sneaking through the canopy of trees.
All his nightly journeys ended in the Forest, now. There had been a sense of inevitability to his nightmares, and Harry hoped that now he'd arrived at the apparent destination, they would stop. Instead they became more abstract than ever. More often than not, he didn’t see the images of the dead, the visages of his friends, or even Malfoy. Harry now beheld colorful patches across the sky over watercolor tree tops, and sparkling paths of crystal bending away from the Forest. He wasn't sure there they led, but he had a sneaking suspicion that most of them ended up in a stark white train station. It would have been beautiful, if not accompanied by such a sense of unrest.
Knowing where he would end the nights that he managed to fall asleep was something, at least. Harry bound his wand to his thigh, bundled the Cloak in his pyjamas well, and cast his warming charm. It felt a bit like preparing for battle, and in this he was experienced. Girding himself for the night ahead was better than the half-life he lived during classes, faking a smile at dinner and pretending to consider his future. He’s put on such a good front for so many months, he’d hate to give away how absolutely messed up everything was this late in the game. All he had to do was get to graduation, get a flat, and he’d never have to see the Forest again.
In the last hazy bits of his dream, Harry heard a voice cut through the fog in his brain. Is there an animal speaking to me in the Forest? Am I an animal? Do we speak? Whats-
“Potter!” Harry tried to move and only got as far as shaking his head. Suddenly someone else was shaking him.
Blinking, Harry returned to himself and stared stupidly at Malfoy, who was holding him by the shoulders looking upset.
“This has to stop!”
“I… what has to stop?” Belatedly, Harry realised that Malfoy must be referring to his habit of leaving the castle at night. “Oh hell, Malfoy. I know that. What are you doing here anyways?”
The pale boy pinked up, two spots of red on his cheeks. “I saw you wander in here like a dazed Kneazle. Someone had to stop you. Merlin knows it’d be my hide if you managed to get yourself eaten by something in here and they found out I knew.”
“Why aren’t you by the Greenhouse?” Harry asked absently as he tried to get his bearings, peering through the trees toward the distant lights of the castle. He glanced over at Malfoy, who was scowling.
“Just because you found me there once does not mean I spend all my time there.”
Harry knew better but wisely decided not to contradict Malfoy, who was pulling out a cigarette. Harry flashed back to his dream of the Forest, gone up in a conflagration, and he shuddered. Malfoy took note.
“You really don't approve, do you?” He twirled it between deft, long fingers.
“I don't care what you do.” It was mostly true. Harry didn't much care what exactly Malfoy got up to, he just wanted to know what it was. Like the knowledge itself was a goal; Harry was satisfied when he could see Malfoy's dot on the map or see him in person. It didn't really bother Harry if he smoked, or anything else. “I still don't want one, though,” he reiterated. Malfoy laughed, and it was a clear, almost bell-like sound. The pleasure that suffused his face was startlingly attractive. Harry figured that Malfoy barely laughed anymore, and had to enjoy it while he could.
“That wasn't a joke,” Harry added.
“Oh, I know,” Malfoy answered. “It's just, well, it's strange. Us, talking like this.”
It was exactly what Harry had thought once before. “Yeah, so strange it’s hilarious.”
“Theatre of the absurd.” Flicking the lighter back and forth, Malfoy considered the slim paper tube in his hand. “You know, I don’t think I really want one, after all.” He slipped it carefully back in the box, and sat down under a tree. Cautiously, Harry joined him, a respectable distance away.
“Do you even like those?” Malfoy shook his head in the negative. “Then why do you smoke?”
“Honestly? It was just something to do. There’s a boy, a Ravenclaw sixth year, who sells things he picks up when he goes home. His parents are Muggle and own some kind of shop. He doesn’t really care who buys, as long as they pay. There’s a sort of comfort in that, being judged the same as anyone else as long as your gold is good. I only wanted…” Malfoy trailed off.
“You wanted to talk to someone,” Harry guessed. No one else would speak to Malfoy. He must have approached the Ravenclaw just to have a conversation with another human being. The thought made Harry inexplicably sad.
Malfoy sneered, although his lip didn’t hit the heights it used to. “I don’t need anyone. I don’t need attention, like some people.” He glared at Harry, but Harry was too tired of all their old fights to rise to the bait. He only arched an eyebrow. “You know that’s not true, so you can cut the crap.” Malfoy deflated.
“Yes, well. Other than unusual Muggle candy, he had a limited selection. It was these or prophylactics, and those aren’t really for use alone, so. Smoking it is.”
Harry tried to imagine Malfoy fumbling with a Muggle condom, and giggled in a way that couldn’t have been nearly as attractive as Malfoy’s pealing laugh. “Oh, god. Why does he even have those? Didn’t all the boys learn those spells by fifth year?”
“Not everyone is confident enough with their charmwork to point a wand at their bits.”
Picturing all the ways it could go wrong, Harry shuddered. “I’ve never tried.”
“I’ve -” Malfoy suddenly stopped, and peered at Harry suspiciously. “Why are you talking to me, anyways? We’ve established I’m a sad lonely idiot, what do you get out of this?”
“You don’t expect anything out of me, Malfoy.” Harry was comfortable enough with the other boy to open up, even though they’d only spoken the once at the Greenhouse. He felt as if their silent détente in the Common Room months before had counted as conversation, in a way. “You’ve seen that I’m fucked up, and you aren’t rushing to help me or fix it, or appalled I’ve got issues in the first place. And you aren’t going to run off and tell anyone, are you?”
“We’re all fucked up,” Malfoy answered bluntly. “Only fools don’t see that, and only cowards don’t want to deal with it. Now me, I’m a coward, but we already knew that. I didn’t suspect Gryffindors would be so afraid of their own problems, though.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“No, you’re only sitting in the Forbidden Forest telling me your woes. Me, whom you loathe.”
“You aren’t so bad.” Malfoy scoffed. “You aren’t! You don’t give me shit anymore.”
“I give you plenty of shit.”
“Not about stuff that matters.”
“If you mean the sleepwalking, I’m not about to break my perfect record of never speaking up in class, and I’m most certainly not going to a professor to tell them I’ve found Harry Potter walking around the grounds in a stupor.”
“There you go, then.”
“Doesn’t stop me from spreading rumors.” Harry could tell he was only joking, so he let Malfoy continue. “Hmm, I suppose I could tell the Prophet you’re a virgin,” he said slyly.
“Maybe I’m just unsafe,” Harry teased back.
Malfoy snorted. “You are too considerate for that. I’m sure when you finally deflower the Weaselette, you’ll have candles, roses, and the perfect list of charms.”
Harry readjusted where he was sitting; his legs were getting stiff. He moved to lean against a pine, which brought him a foot or so closer to Malfoy. “I’m not with Ginny anymore, you know.”
“No? Such salacious gossip, even I should have heard that.”
“It just didn’t happen.” Like so much of Harry’s life after the war. Happy times, solid relationship, path to a job and the future his for the taking. “A lot didn’t happen.”
“No. No, I suppose it didn’t.” Malfoy didn't pry for further details. Instead he leaned his head back against the trunk, and watched Harry through half-closed eyes for so long that he felt like he was being studied. Eventually pale lashes closed over grey, and Harry sat back against his own tree.
Sleep must have come suddenly, because the next time Harry opened his eyes, the sun was rising. The still-warm embers of a cigarette were all that remained of Malfoy.
“There’s going to be a memorial wall,” Hermione told him at breakfast.
“A war memorial?” Ginny asked softly. Harry stayed silent.
“Outside,” Hermione confirmed. “They got the idea from a Muggle memorial. It’s going to have the names of everyone who - fell.”
It wasn’t like Hermione to use euphemisms, and Harry wondered if it was for his benefit or Ginny's. He hoped it wasn't his; he didn't need to be coddled.
“I think it's important,” Hermione continued, “to tell stories and remember. When Voldemort returned no one wanted to believe, because no one talked about it. Don't you agree, Harry?”
He didn't answer her pointed question, because he didn't know if he agreed or not. He had no desire to share stories. What business of his was it to decide if other people wanted to? Voldemort was gone anyways..
Ginny frowned at his unresponsiveness, her jaw firming in that way he hated, the look that said he was about to be scolded or made to feel guilty. “It will be something we can touch, right? Something tangible. I would like that. We can't just walk around here and go to classes like it never happened.”
“Everyone else seems to,” Harry muttered under his breath. He didn’t know what made him so upset about that, when he himself wasn’t talking about anything to do with the war.
Hermione looked at him strangely. “Not everyone. You know there are groups, support meeting and such. McGonagall posted the notices ages ago.” She set her plate aside and leaned over closer to Harry. It made him want to squirm away, but he stayed still.
“Look, you’ve been in a daze for months, and no one wants to talk to you about it. They’re all too scared to upset you. But bottling it all up is doing you no good, Harry. You look like hell.” Ginny’s mouth opened in shock at Hermione’s bluntness, but she didn’t interrupt. “I know you sneak out - I’ve seen you come back in the Common Room in the morning sometimes. You aren’t the only one hurting -”
“Yeah, I know, we’re all fucked up. I don’t want to mix my issues with your issues and everybody else’s issues in a big ball of fucked-up-ness!” Harry wasn’t even sure what he meant by that, but he did know he didn’t want to discuss this, and at breakfast no less.
Ginny jumped into the conversation. “You’re like a ghost, Harry. All you do is go to class and sleep. I know Hermione thought it was good you were being more studious, but you’re dulled.”
“Is this gang up on Harry day? Did you guys plan this? I’m going about my life. I’m not going to put my problems on anyone else, it’s not their responsibility-”
“Is is!” Hermione shushed Ginny, gesturing at the still half-full Great Hall. “It is,” Ginny continued in a quieter voice. “We’re all responsible for each other.”
“I don’t want that,” Harry said, standing up and pushing his plate away. “Just one more thing Harry has to do, eh? Win the war, be the hero, take care of everyone else afterwards. They don’t need to hear me whinging. No,” he batted away Ginny’s hand that was rising to pull him back down, “leave me alone. You’ve just been waiting to pounce on me.” The Hall seemed to tilt in his vision, and he gasped. “I have to get out of here.”
He probably had Hermione to thank for the fact that neither girl ran after him. As he walked quickly from the Hall, he glanced to the side, and was surprised to see Malfoy at the end of the Slytherin table, holding a piece of toast and watching Harry with a quizzical look.
Harry didn’t bother trying to sleep, or preparing for a nightly walk. Instead late that evening he headed straight to the Forest. If he did sleep, he’d end up there anyways, and if he didn’t, he’d be away from the stifling atmosphere of the castle.
He was only a little surprised when Malfoy appeared around midnight.
They sat near the same oak Malfoy had chosen a few days before. Harry finally spoke after a few minutes of amicable silence.
“No fags today, eh Malfoy?” The other boy rolled his eyes.
“No need to sound so common, Potter. And no, not today. It’s Friday, so I don’t need to wake up early or be on my toes.” Harry wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that.
“I never see you on the weekends.”
“I don’t socialise, you know that.” Except with me, Harry thought. It gave him a weird sense of glee, to be Malfoy’s sole companion.
“You were at breakfast this morning, though. What’s up with that?”
“I just felt like it,” Malfoy said cagily. Harry fixed a skeptical look at him, and he huffed, blowing a bit of his blonde fringe out of his eyes. “Fine. When I called myself a coward before, it bothered me. I’m still not going to converse with people, but I don’t have to hide at mealtime. I wanted breakfast. So, I had breakfast.”
“Do you not eat otherwise? When I miss breakfast, people bring me things.”
“The elves bring some things to my room. It won’t be hot, though. I wanted warm toast, the butter doesn’t melt otherwise.”
“I can’t believe you risked the whole student body for warm butter,” Harry snickered. “You’re still kind of spoiled.”
“Why do you miss breakfast so often?” Malfoy challenged, deflecting.
“I sleep in,” Harry shrugged. “The sleepwalking isn’t really restful, so if I manage to actually fall asleep, I try to stretch it out as long as I can.” A shadow fell over his face. “Neville gives me shit about it.”
“Tell Longbottom to mind his own business,” Malfoy said. “Granger and the Weaselette, too. I saw them hounding you today.” Harry was a bit charmed that he cared. “Teenagers are supposed to sleep in, anyways. Everyone walks around school, carrying on about their futures, being all mature.” He spat the word out like it was filthy. “It’s all a front. They should be grateful they’re back here and have time to be children a little longer. If they wanted to be so stuck up and well-adjusted they shouldn’t have come back to a place with a curfew. Not that I mind it, of course.”
“I feel like I never had time to be a child. What else are teenagers supposed to be like?” Harry asked curiously, wondering if Malfoy thought about his own future at all, or was just being idle and breaking curfew as a sort of rebellion.
Malfoy halted his tirade and thought for a moment. “Well, hell if I know,” he said with a dawning smile. “I've never had time to just be a teenager before, either. I guess boys are supposed to sneak firewhisky, get in fights and wank.”
Harry barked out a laugh. “We have the fighting down pat. Not sure about the rest.” He knew as he said it that wasn’t even true. He and Malfoy didn’t fight anymore.
Glancing furtively around, as if they weren't the only people in the Forest, Malfoy reached into his robes and produced a small golden flask. Harry's jaw dropped.
“You can't be serious.”
“Father obviously isn't using his stash anymore. I took the whole dry bar out of his office when we left the Manor. You could start a pub with it.” He took a long swallow and passed it to Harry, who eyed it suspiciously. Malfoy scoffed, hurt. “I'm not going to poison you.”
“No, that's not it. I've just never been drunk before.”
“We're not going to get drunk, Potter. Just take the edge off.”
“Is that how you've been dealing with things?” Malfoy shrugged.
“It's one way. Only on the weekends, mind. I can't imagine showing up to Transfiguration a with a hangover.”
“Bottoms up, then,” Harry said, tipping the flask back. He sputtered and coughed while Malfoy laughed.
“The look on your face!” He reached for the flask, but Harry stubbornly took another large swig before handing it back.
“Merlin, that's fierce.” Malfoy continued to chuckle with amusement as he downed some more with a practiced air.
He looks fit when he's laughing, Harry realised with a jolt. He’d already considered the fact that Malfoy was objectively attractive, and more so when happy, but that was simply observational. This was different. There was a warmth spreading through Harry that he once doubted he would ever feel again. Suddenly he imagined touching Malfoy’s face, stroking the pinkness that was rising with every swallow of firewhisky. He wondered if Malfoy knew how easily he blushed, if he’d ever looked at a mirror when he was embarrassed, or drunk, or - dear Merlin - aroused. He wondered if Malfoy knew exactly how beautiful he was.
Had he thought Malfoy was beautiful? He was sleep deprived. He opened his mouth to say goodnight, but instead came out with:
“So, firewhisky, check. No one has it in them to fight anymore. Does that leave wanking?” Harry imagined his blush matched Malfoy’s. His drinking companion paused with the flask halfway to his mouth, then smiled, an evil little glint in his eye that reminded Harry of years past, when Malfoy would try to get him into trouble.
“I thought you were afraid to cast at your bits, Potter.”
“Why would I need to cast protection spells on my own?” Harry asked, puzzled, and a little incredulous that Malfoy would talk about such things. Then again, he’d started it. Malfoy passed over the flask and waited for Harry to take a sip before replying.
“For cleanup, you imbecile. Especially in a shared room.”
“Ohhhh.” The third sip of whiskey went down easier, and Harry felt warm inside. “Yeah, I just go in the shower. Quidditch was great,” he added.
Malfoy’s gorgeous laughter echoed through the Forest, and Harry had a moment of fear - what if they attracted something dangerous on these nights out? It was quashed by the sight of Malfoy taking the flask back for another draw, his long, elegant neck pulsing as he swallowed. Harry’s mouth felt dry, despite the liquor.
“I miss those showers, too. All the adrenaline after a game, peeling off the layers of the uniform, the possibility of being caught by your teammates. It was certainly invigorating.” He waggled his eyebrows and Harry couldn’t breathe. He grabbed for the flask, but Malfoy slipped it in his robe pocket.
“All gone, Potter. Maybe next time if you’re lucky I’ll bring scotch.”
He got up and headed toward the castle, only looking back for a moment. “I trust you can find your way back.”
As Harry watched his retreating form, his mind whirled. Malfoy had basically acknowledged they would continue meeting up in the Forest. He’d told Harry how he liked to wank. And he trusted him to take care of himself, even though he knew how messed up Harry was.
It felt like the start of something, but Harry didn’t know what.
Harry is walking through the Forest. It’s a lovely day; sunlight streams through the trees, casting a golden glow around him. Ahead is a shining object. As Harry gets closer, he sees that it is a crystal coffin, bathed in light. He fears who he might see in the casket, but approaches anyway. Somehow he knows it’s only a dream.
Lying on a cloth of red silk is Harry himself.
He trips over his feet in his haste to back away and ends up on his arse. A rustle in the trees behind him draws his attention, and Malfoy comes striding through the bushes. Harry has thought of him all through his waking hours, why should this be any different?
Malfoy steps up the bier where the coffin lays, and pats his pockets. Harry realises he is looking for his wand. He doesn’t seem to have it on him, and he places his hands sadly on the coffin lid.
“I can’t get you out,” he whispers. “You have to help me.”
Harry doesn’t know how he expects a dead person to help. But the body in the coffin is Harry, and Harry is also here, right? He tries to tap Malfoy on the shoulder, but his hands go right through him.
Frustrated, Harry pulls his own wand out - the Phoenix wand that he repaired after the battle - and lays it on the lid. Malfoy notices it after a moment, and picks it up.
The lid rises. Harry doesn’t know why it had been locked in the first place. Malfoy touches the tip of the wand to Harry’s lips.
Harry doesn’t recognise the spell at all, but the Harry in the casket flutters his eyes.
Breakfast had been over for some time, but Harry stayed seated at the table, lost in thought. He hadn’t found the spell from his dreams in any of his Charms textbooks, and was considering going to the library. The word sounded French, maybe there was a dictionary. He needed to figure it out before he saw Malfoy again. The dream had been unsettlingly erotic.
A late owl fluttered in and landed beside him. Puzzled, Harry took the letter it held out in it’s claws, and gave it a few leftover bits of bacon. Who could be writing to him with such nice stationary? Ron’s updates all went through Hermione.
Something cold settled in Harry’s stomach when he saw it was from Andromeda, but he read it anyway.
I hope this letter finds you well. I’ve heard very little about your school year from Molly lately, only a bit from Hermione at Christmas.
Ah, the thinly veiled guilt trip.
I’ll likely find out soon enough for myself. Minerva has invited me to the memorial dedication at the end of term. I’ve been told there will also be a plaque put up by the Ministry for each Auror who was lost in the battle. While it still hurts my heart to discuss Dora with anyone, I think it would be unfair to keep Teddy home from the dedication.
More about that damned memorial. If it bothered Andromeda to talk, she shouldn’t have to.
Perhaps when we see each other again we can discuss your plans for the summer. It did not escape my notice that you weren’t up to the energy levels of our friends the Weasleys when I visited last year. I may have some advice on Grimmauld Place, if you are keeping it. There are certainly many Black family secrets left to uncover there. I had previously planned to invite you to stay with me, as I have the room, but speaking of family, my sister has come to stay with me, and I’m not sure how you would feel about that.
Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about it, either. She had saved his life. But just the thought of seeing her brought up uncomfortable memories, and considering what he was going to do with Grimmauld Place, which was left to him by Sirius…
Harry’s breath began to quicken.
Regardless of her presence, please be assured that I know you care for Teddy, and as his godfather I will make certain you are able to spend time with him.
Be well and I will see you soon,
Harry pushed away from the table, the spell from his dream forgotten.
For a moment, Harry thinks he is underwater. Everything around him is blue, and silver pulses of light swirl like waves. A hand takes his, and he jolts, spinning around.
Sirius stands behind him, with his playful grin. Harry’s heart leaps at the sight of him.
“Hey, godfather,” Sirius says.
Harry is confused. “Yes, you are, you still are,” he replies.
“We both are!” Sirius gestures wide with his arms. “And this is what godfathers do.”
“What do we do?” Harry looks all around him, but can’t figure out where they are. When he glances back, Sirius’ eyes bore into his, black like his name, black like a hole that is sucking Harry straight down into a void.
With perfect clarity Harry becomes conscious of where they are and screams. No sound comes out.
Dark shapes appeared in Harry’s vision, and he continued to silently scream as he flailed and smacked the hands that grabbed at him.
“Fuck, Harry, calm down!” As the shapes resolved into trees, Harry realised he was in the Forest, and stopped swatting at Malfoy’s hands.
“Are you done?” the other boy asked. When Harry tried to answer, he found he had no voice.
“I had to cast a silencing spell on you, you would have had the whole castle down here the way you were shouting.” With a Finite Incantatem, Harry’s vocal cords worked again, and he tested his voice.
“Oh my god.”
Malfoy lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, quite. Do you want to talk about it?”
Harry shrunk back in on himself. He was half-lying down, with Malfoy seated beside him. “I was in the Veil. In the Department of Mysteries, there’s a veil between worlds, between life and death. I was inside it.”
Malfoy looked troubled. “I know about it, yes.” Harry understood his father must have told him, or told someone else in his earshot, about the fight at the Ministry.
That hadn't been Malfoy’s fault, though, and he’d been so considerate with Harry, that he felt the need to reassure his - well, maybe not friend, but companion.
“Thank you for waking me up.” Malfoy waved him off.
“Don’t worry about it. Do you know what brought that on? It was much worse than just sleepwalking.”
Harry had a good idea. “I got a letter today. It made me think about certain things. It was from Andromeda Tonks, she mentioned… well, not my godfather, but his house, and he was in the nightmare.”
Malfoy gazed out into the Forest with a strange expression. “My mother lives with her.”
“Yes, she said that.”
“Why did she write you?”
“I’m her grandson’s godfather. I guess he’s your cousin,” Harry said, the fact just dawning on him. “Anyways, she’s coming to the memorial dedication.”
“Right, that thing.”
“There’s also some sort of plaque wall. I don’t know.” Now that he was outside the confinement of the castle, with only this newly sympathetic Malfoy at his side, Harry felt able to let some of his frustrations loose.
“Why does everyone insist on making Hogwarts a memorial of some kind? We aren't going to forget, not those who were were there. And it doesn't matter to people who weren't there, not really. It's not going to bring anyone back, or -or stop it from happening again, there was Grindelwald and no one learned, and there's been loads of muggle wars and a whole fucking lot of memorials and they just kill each other anyways, what’s the point of making me talk about it, God!” He broke off, wide-eyed and frantic, and just stared. He felt like he was looking through Draco, to a vanishing point in the Forest he could never reach.
Draco simply returned his gaze, until Harry's shoulders slumped.
“I just don't want to talk.”
Draco shrugged. “I wasn't asking you to.” That was true. He’d asked about the nightmare, but that was an immediate thing. Malfoy didn’t ask him to expound on his feelings in general, or at least he didn’t demand it. Harry could talk to him but he didn’t have to, and Malfoy wouldn’t react in the way he feared his friends would. Whatever that way was, Harry hadn’t quite unlocked down in his mind, but it definitely wasn’t how Malfoy would respond.
“You never make me talk.”
“I never will.”
Harry suddenly felt boneless and tired in a way that didn’t only have to do with sleep deprivation. He leaned over and tried to adjust his head on his arm in several different positions, before sighing. They were in a clearing, and the nearest tree to lean on was fifteen feet away. His feet felt like lead, but he’d have to move.
As he prepared to stand, Malfoy noticed, and put his hand out to stop him.
“Here,” he said, stretching his legs out in front of him. Harry couldn’t believe it - was he offering his lap?
“Don’t make a big deal out it, Potter,” he said quietly.
Harry was too tired to argue, and laid his head across Malfoy’s thighs. He felt the muscles jump beneath him briefly, before Malfoy settled back on his elbows. It couldn’t be that comfortable. Harry closed his eyes, planning on just resting for a minute before suggesting a move to the treeline.
When he opened his eyes again, the stars had definitely changed position, and Harry had a vague sense that fingers had been stroking his hair.
He pulled away slowly and stood up. Malfoy looked a bit dazed, like he couldn’t believe what he’d been doing.
“Thanks,” Harry mumbled, and turned to leave the Forest. “I’ll, um, see you tomorrow,” he said swiftly before escaping.
Harry is wandering down the seventh floor corridor. A small cloud of butterflies bobs merrily in an unseen breeze, and when Harry walks through them, he notices that several are actually Snitches. There’s a noise like a door sliding open, but when he turns, only a flat wall is there - and Malfoy leaning against it. He pushes off and glides toward Harry, a sway in his walk.
“You look like you just walked out of Madame Puddifoot’s,” he says, gesturing toward the butterflies. Harry reaches up and plucks one of the Snitches from the air.
“This is for you,” he says, holding out his prize. Malfoy takes it gently, his long fingers clasping shut on the Snitch. He squeezes his hand, and opens it, and instead of a Snitch a small flame dances on his palm.
“You’re going to get burnt,” Harry tells him, alarmed. Malfoy simply laughs.
“You’ll save me again, won’t you?”
A sudden heat rises in the corridor, like a wildfire is spreading towards them, invisible. Malfoy and the butterflies waver in Harry’s vision like a mirage.
He’s only made it to the Common Room when he wakes, sweating from the warming charm. It’s finally late enough in the year to stop casting them.
They’d both shown up at the same time. After only a brief moment of hesitation, Harry sat down and gestured for Malfoy to join him. He was still unsure how they’d become so relaxed around each other in so short a time, and he knew that no one else would be able to appreciate their accord. Harry liked having something to himself, liked having Malfoy to himself.
Malfoy pulled a bottle and two small objects from his robe, which he unshrunk to reveal glass tumblers. He poured a small amount of the dark liquid in one glass and handed it to Harry. It smelled like a concentrated version of the Forest, and Harry took a trepidatious sip. To his surprise, he found he liked it much better than firewhisky. The burn was different, delicate and earthy.
“This is really good, thanks.”
“Well, I promised.”
They sipped their drinks for several minutes, Harry sneaking glances over at Malfoy to watch him lick a stray droplet from his full bottom lip. He suddenly remembered the spell he’d been researching the day before, which had fled his mind after the terrible nightmare and subsequent confusing head-in-lap incident. Part of him was embarrassed to ask, given Malfoy’s involvement in his dream, but Harry still had an insatiable curiosity that his recent mental troubles had evidently not quashed.
“Do you know any French?” he asked, deciding to just go for it.
“I had lessons since I was five,” Malfoy answered, a hint of snootiness in his voice. “Why?”
“There’s a word I wanted to know.” Malfoy waved his hand in a ‘go on’ gesture. “What’s ‘baiser?’
Malfoy’s hand shook, and a splash of scotch escaped the glass. “I beg your pardon?!” His reaction startled Harry, but he pressed on. “It’s a spell.”
“It is not,” Malfoy glared, “and that was good scotch.”
“It is so!”
“What the hell do you mean by a spell?”
“You know, those things we’ve been learning here for 8 years? If I was to point my wand at you and say “baiser,” what is that?
Malfoy set the glass down carefully. “Who said that to you?”
Harry certainly wasn’t going to tell him about the dream. “No one. It was in a story I read.” He could tell that Malfoy didn’t believe that by the look on his face.
“Well, Potter, it means I want to fuck you.”
It was Harry’s turn to spill his scotch. “You want to what?!”
“Not me, you fool. ‘Baiser’ is ‘to fuck.’ It’s vulgar slang. ‘Un baiser’ just means a kiss.”
“Oh.” Dream Malfoy had touched the Harry in the coffin on the mouth with his wand. “I think it meant the second one. There were lips involved.”
Malfoy had recovered enough to tease Harry. “Oh, there are lips involved in the first as well, I’d wager.” He laughed at Harry's mortification. “I had no idea you blushed so prettily, Potter.”
“Hey! You’re all pale, you blush way prettier than me.”
Both boys realised what they’d said, and stared into their glasses. Harry gathered the courage to speak first.
“It was in a dream. Not a story. I watched someone say that. But I don’t know French, so I don’t know how that got in my brain.” Malfoy regarded him oddly for a moment before responding.
“You may have heard it and not remembered. Or your dreams were trying to tell you something.” The idea of having visions again chilled Harry, and he threw back the remainder of his scotch before standing up.
“Did I say something wrong?” Malfoy had the same cool, uncaring look he always wore, but Harry could detect the fear in his voice, that he’d somehow scared Harry off, either by talking about dreams or the fact they’d basically called each other pretty. Maybe Malfoy had come to depend on these meetings as much as he had.
“No, it isn’t you.” Harry had things to mull over, but he didn’t want the other boy to worry that he wouldn’t come back. “I need to take a walk. I’ll see you around though, Malfoy.” He didn’t wait for an answer, somehow knowing that Malfoy would spit back that he didn’t care if he saw Harry around, or didn’t need him. He’d deny Malfoy his defensive responses this time.
Harry opens his eyes, and sees stars against a black sky. When he sits up, he feels like he is floating through space, before his eyes resolve the Black Lake in front of him, the same inky color as the heavens. This dream is calmer, more spacious than some others, and he wonders if it will turn abstract like many of his ones of the Forest.
It feels as if hours pass while Harry is alone with the universe above him. A ripple on the lake catches his attention, and he gazes into the cold waters.
Like a mirror, his reflection stares back, before looking to the side and smiling lazily at an unseen companion. Harry has never seen such an erotic look on his own face. Malfoy appears, and Harry turns left and right, but the real boy is nowhere to be found. The Harry and Malfoy mirrored in the lake start touching, and Harry knows what is coming, and thinks about skipping a stone to break up the scene, just to save himself the awkwardness.
Instead he is compelled to watch as they begin to kiss. There is no sound, but they look as if they are sighing and moaning in pleasure. Malfoy has gained several inches on Harry, over the past couple years, and it’s more noticeable in this position as he bends lake-Harry under him, devouring his mouth. Lake-Malfoy threads his long fingers in messy black hair, and then pulls back in a gasp. Harry can only see them from the waist up, but he’s pretty sure his reflection has just slipped a hand down lake-Malfoy’s trousers.
When Harry wakes, he is in his own bed, his cock tenting his pyjamas.
The term was drawing to a close, and Harry still had no idea what was supposed to come next. Neither Hermione nor Ginny had confronted him after his blowup, and he guessed it was because they thought they’d be able to have another crack at him when he was back at the Weasley’s house. He certainly had nowhere else to go.
He showed up at the Forest around midnight and found Malfoy already there, looking moody. He’d received an owl at breakfast, and Harry could only assume it was from his mother. There wasn’t really anyone else left to write to Malfoy, after all.
Harry sat down next to him and pulled out three scones. “I saved these from breakfast. I thought I might want a snack later.” Malfoy sneered at the pastries.
“Disgusting, Potter. I don’t want something that’s been knocking about in your pockets all day. They’ll be stale now, in any case.” Harry shrugged and bit into one that was dotted with cranberries. It was hard, but he wouldn’t give Malfoy the satisfaction of being right.
As they lapsed into their customary silence, Harry turned his dream earlier that week over and over in his head. It didn’t feel like one of his nightmares, and he’d never left his bed. Did that mean it was a good thing, to think about snogging Malfoy? He couldn’t lie to himself and say he’d never considered it. After they’d discussed wanking, Harry had daydreamed about what might have happened if he’d never woken up in the dream about Malfoy rousing him up with a kiss-spell.
As the night wore on, Malfoy continued acting strange, opening his mouth to say something, then snapping it shut like he thought better of it. Harry was worried he’d somehow read his mind, and found out the secret desires he was harboring. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore.
“Out with it already, will you?” Malfoy looked at him nervously from the corner of his eye. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You’ve been trying to say something to me all night. Is it something bad, or an insult? You can tell me. We’ve been talking like this for while, Malfoy. I’m not going to curse you or anything. I thought you appreciated that by now.”
After a few more tries, Malfoy managed to get his mouth to stay open and say words. “I don’t want you to call me that anymore.”
Harry was perfectly confused. He knew he wasn’t the most perceptive at the best of times, but he really, truly couldn't recall calling Malfoy anything terrible recently. How could he?
“Call you what?”
“No, Malfoy, I don’t know,” Harry answered, irritated.
“That.” Harry looked at him blankly, and he sighed in resignation at having to spell it out.
Harry stood there gobsmacked. “You don't want me to call you by your name?”
Malfoy shifted uncomfortably. “Well, it’s not who I am anymore, is it? With my Father gone, and Mother living with Andromeda, and the Manor not in our possession anymore… What point is there in being a Malfoy? Everyone hates that name, anyway. No sense in keeping it.”
“I don’t hate it,” Harry replied, rather unnecessarily. “But I can call you Draco if you want. You gonna call me Harry?”
Malfoy - no, Draco now - crinkled his pointy nose, a gesture Harry found strangely adorable. “It sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? But it’s only fair. We’ll get used to it.”
“We’ve gotten used to a lot, meeting like this, being friends,” Harry said easily, before he recognised what had come out of his mouth. “Er, I mean. Um. You know.” He glanced over at Draco, and was surprised to see a small smile on the other boy’s mouth.
“Yes, I know.”
They sat in companionable silence until the moon rose high, and Harry found himself slowly leaning over as his eyelids drooped. He remembered how nice it had felt to place his head in Draco’s lap, but didn’t know how to ask for it. Somehow Draco sensed that he needed the tactile comfort, and put an arm around Harry, drawing him down to lay on his shoulder. Harry’s breath quickened, and he imagined that Draco must be able to feel the sharp puffs air against his neck. The warmth and closeness eventually calmed him and lulled him into a light sleep.
It must have been over an hour later when Draco finally roused him. “Come on Harry, get up, it’s really late.” Blinking, Harry realised that he’d not moved from his position cuddled up against Draco.
“Sorry about that.”
Draco shook his head. “You must have needed the rest. Try to get some more sleep tonight, ok?”
Harry found himself charmed by the kind tone in Draco’s voice, and he didn’t want to move. Grudgingly, he lifted his head from his comfortable position. Draco looked down at him with concern in his eyes.
“How are your nightmares?”
“They've turned into dreams.”
“I suppose that’s better.” He stretched his long legs out in front of himself. “Are they nice dreams, or just strange?
“I dream about you.” Harry must have been half-asleep still, to admit that. He glanced up at Draco, afraid of what he might see.
“Careful, Harry. If anyone overheard that they'd take it the wrong way.” Draco's smile was sharper than usual.
“I don't think it would be. Wrong, I mean. Uh, the wrong way! Taken wrong, not wrong-wrong. Not that it's wrong!” Harry hadn't tripped over his words like this since Cho in fifth year.
Draco pursed his lips. “You don’t think “I dream about you” sounds strange?”
“No, I…” The Prophet had called him the bravest wizard alive, but it must have been a lie like everything else they printed. “It would, um, just if someone thought it was funny - not funny ha-ha, but-” Harry broke off abruptly, and took a deep breath. ‘I mean, they wouldn’t be wrong. About the way. That I meant.” Draco looked equal parts puzzled and scared, and Harry knew he had to explain himself better.
“I dreamed you kissed me.”
“Oh,” Draco said softly. He blinked several times. “Was that - was that ‘un baiser?”
“Yeah,” Harry admitted shyly, looking away again. “And that’s weird, because like I told you, I don’t know French, how’d it get in my dreams? So maybe it is like a vision? Which is scary, because of the rest of it, but, oh I don’t know…” He trailed off.
“What was it like,” Draco whispered. Harry turned back, and found that his face was very close.
“I don’t actually know. I was just watching. The first one, you said ‘baiser’ like a spell and only touched my mouth with your wand. In the second I was looking at us in the lake as a reflection.”
Draco bit his bottom lip, the very lip that Harry had been obsessing over. “So you don’t actually know what it felt like to kiss me.”
“I wouldn’t know anyways,” Harry reasoned. “Dream-you isn’t you, after all.”
“No, I suppose not.” Harry watched fascinated as Draco licked his lips. Was he turned on? Did he like the thought of kissing Harry?
Harry inched even closer. “I wanna know,” he murmured.
And then they were kissing.
Harry couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Draco’s mouth was actually on his, their noses were actually brushing up against each other, Harry’s tongue was actually darting out to taste that plump lower lip. Draco made a delicate sound in his throat, almost like a cry, and his hands came up to clutch Harry’s shoulders. Harry buckled under him, and whimpered his name.
Even after all the years of ‘Malfoy,’ it was surprisingly easy to call him Draco.
Harry didn’t know if five minutes or five hours had passed, but eventually they both drew back to catch their breath. It had been surprisingly chaste for a kiss that felt so monumental. Harry pulled a hand through his hair and sighed.
“You weren’t wrong about it being late,” he said grudgingly. “We should get back.” The last thing they needed was for people to see them sneaking in the Common Room together in the morning light.
Draco nodded in acquiescence. “Do you want to walk together, Po- Harry?”
Harry elbowed him. “You’re the one who wanted to use first names, you’d better get used to it.” He stood, then offered a hand and pulled Draco to his feet.
They walked back up the hill to the castle in silence. About halfway there, Draco started to snicker. For a terrifying moment, Harry thought he was going to yell that it had all been a joke, or say the kiss had been a mistake, or it could never happen again, but Draco simply grinned.
“I said ‘baiser’ and touched your mouth with my wand?”
“Uh, yeah?” Was Draco making fun of him?
“I told you it was vulgar!” After a moment, Harry caught on.
“Not what I meant by wand!”
They hushed their laughter, but not their smiles, as they entered the castle, where they eyed each other nervously. They had never come back together before. Finally Draco gestured down the hall.
“Go to the kitchens and get something for breakfast tomorrow. You’re probably going to sleep through it.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine.” He reached out and touched Harry’s hand gently. “Goodnight.”
Harry watched Draco’s arse unapologetically as he ascended the stairs. There would definitely be more kissing.
Harry wore a smile all though the next day, which did not go unnoticed by Hermione. She managed to corner him after classes on the way back to the dorm.
“Harry, you seem well today.” He shrugged. “I guess.” He wasn’t going to share the reason with her, of course. He and Draco were his own special thing.
“I wanted to ask how preparation for your exams was going. Are you revising alone?” Harry felt kind of bad for backing out of studying with her. He’d tried so hard at the beginning of the year. He never knew when the questions about his health would start, though, so he’d avoided it. And while his performance in class suffered when he was tired, he had actually been able to read much more than he ever did his first six years at Hogwarts.
“I think I’ve got it, Hermione. There isn’t much else to do but study, after all.”
She narrowed her eyes. “That’s not true. You just don’t participate in anything.”
This again. “There’s less than a month of school left. We’ll be at graduation before you know it.”
“Are you looking forward to that?”
Harry gave a non-committal ‘hmm.’ “I guess.”
They reached the door and Hermione reached out to stop him. Her patience had obviously worn thin. “Can you tell me anything Harry? Anything at all? Do you know where you are going to live? Have you applied anywhere? I know nothing about you anymore! Ron asks all the time, and I’m putting him off so I don’t worry him.”
“Go ahead and worry him!” Harry said angrily, slipping out of her grasp. “He can join the club!”
“You’ll have to think of something to say when he comes here for the memorial dedication!”
“I’ll tell him everything is fine!”
“It’s not fine, Harry!” She yanked the door open and shoved past him. Before she went to the girls rooms she looked over her shoulder. “You’re going to have to talk to someone eventually!”
“Maybe I am!” he yelled at her retreating form. He felt a wash of guilt at the thought of worrying Ron. Wasn’t that what he was trying to avoid by not talking to people?
Harry stormed down the Forest earlier than usual. Terry Boot had still been awake in the Common Room, but Harry didn’t give him a second look as he left the castle, only putting his cloak on when he’d crossed the courtyard. He had long since given up caring if anyone knew he was leaving.
He paced awhile he waited for Draco to arrive. When he finally saw a glimpse of blonde hair through the trees, he grinned nervously.
“Hey, Draco,” he said, tasting the other boy’s name on his tongue. It felt better than yelling at Hermione.
“Hello,” Draco answered, looking pleased. Harry had been worried that things might be awkward after the previous night, even though they’d seemed fine when they parted, but it didn’t look like Draco was anxious.
They met halfway, under a large oak, and Draco’s smile was so brilliant that Harry just had to kiss it.
Draco tensed as if he hadn’t been expecting such a bold move, but he quickly relaxed into the kiss, and before Harry knew it, they were snogging against the tree. He remembered how his lake reflection had started touching Draco; he wasn’t sure if they were ready for that, but his hands also itched to move from just grabbing Draco’s shoulders. Slowly he let one hand drift down his back, to finally grasp at one sharp hip bone. Draco made a sound low in his throat, and Harry knew that if he pulled him in any closer, Draco would feel his erection. Before he could decide if that was a good thing, Draco broke the kiss. He nipped Harry’s jaw once, causing him to shudder, then looked him in the eye.
“You’re eager tonight. You looked troubled when I came down, what’s wrong?”
Harry cursed Draco’s perceptiveness. “Nothing. I just liked last night so much, I wanted to do it again.” Draco simply raised one eyebrow, and Harry tried flattery to distract him.
“Kissing you is the best thing that's happened all year. Everything else makes me feel nervous and pressured.” Ugh. That had not come out right. What was it about Draco that made Harry babble all his feelings?
Draco pulled back a bit, discomfort on his face. “I like this too, Harry. But I don’t want us to be a way for you to avoid your problems.”
“Us?” Harry teased, sidestepping the issue. He leaned in for another kiss, but Draco moved away.
“We don’t have these meetings in the Forest much longer. Sooner or later, the rest of the world is going to be there.”
Harry groaned. “Not you too. Hermione already gave me shit earlier today. Can’t we just go back to the snogging?”
“You just want a distraction,” Draco said, looking hurt.
Harry sighed petulantly, and flopped down to the forest floor. “Can you blame me?” Draco sat down gingerly beside him.
“We can talk if you want.”
Harry let his head hit the trunk of the oak with a thunk. “If I talk, will you kiss me again?”
“Maybe,” Draco said with a grin. Harry was suddenly aware he’d been manipulated.
“Ugh, fine.” Stubbornly he remained silent for a bit longer, ripping some grass up with his hands, before sighing in frustration.
“Can you tell me how you deal with everything? I know you’ve got a mess of things in your head, you have to. You said you’re a coward, but you don’t seem like you’re running. Tell me, please.” Harry was aware he sounded like he was begging, but Draco took his hand and give it a quick squeeze, and acquiesced.
“I just let myself feel it, you know?”
“I don’t. Explain it.” Draco took a deep breath.
“I want to be sullen, I want to be quiet, so I am. I’m lonely, but I don’t want anyone to look at me. All through the war, the whole time that He was living in my house, I felt like a thing under glass, like a specimen. Constantly looking over my shoulder. I’m sure I was expected to come back here and hold my head high, try to weasel my way out of everything the way my father had the first time, throw around the money I have left - and there is a lot of it, don’t believe the papers - and try to rebuild the name. Well, I don’t want to do that. I don't care about the name, or the Manor, or power.” His eyes were bright, and there was a challenge in his voice. Harry remembered that tone from Quidditch, but this was better. Much better.
“I wasn’t living for myself. So now I am. I owe the Ministry probation, and I deserve that, I do. But I don’t owe anyone else shit. You know, for a month or so I thought I was going to Azkaban as an adult,” he admitted.
Harry was shocked. “I had no idea. I read in the paper that your father had agreed to plead to everything and give up information in exchange for dropping the charges against your mother, but they only mentioned you in passing, said you had been determined to be a minor.”
“That was for sixth year. I was seventeen when everything happened at the Manor, and some of the Wizengamot considered it collusion. Nevermind I was basically a prisoner as well. I could have gotten out before that, and you know it, and I know it. I could have turned my back on my family and turned traitor. I would have probably died for it, but better to die for the right side than live on the wrong one, right?” He laughed humorlessly. “My parents agreed to abandon any legal challenge to the seizure of the Manor and the entailed vaults. They gave up the Malfoy legacy to have my adult charges dropped. The Ministry was practically salivating over the estate, and I was such a nothing, a nobody, they dismissed everything quietly. Father goes to Azkaban, Mother loses her home, and I come back here. But yes, for a month before that deal was made, I had very serious charges hanging over my head, and I truly thought I’d do thirty years.”
He shuddered, and Harry held his hand tighter. He began to understand Draco’s attitude upon returning to Hogwarts. The mind-numbing terror he must have felt, staring down the horror of Azkaban at only eighteen, and then being told he could return to the place he’d called home for the last seven years instead?
“You must have been so relieved,” Harry whispered, and he gently brushed a strand of pale blonde hair out of Draco’s eyes. He recaptured Harry’s hand and held it to his cheek.
“I was, but I also felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I guess that feeling’s never really gone away. But,” he kissed Harry’s palm, and smiled at him, “to answer your question, that is how I deal. I just let myself feel what I need to. I give myself permission. Luckily for me, I only want to be quiet. I think you want something different. I think you want to be angry, to have other people allow you to be angry. Harry, you don’t need their permission.”
“I don’t want to be angry,” Harry protested.
“Maybe you should be. You didn’t ask for any of what happened to you, and you dealt with it well, but it was still bullshit. You know that. It’s ok for other people to know that. It’s ok for you to be unhappy or depressed. You should deal with it, but for yourself, not them.” Draco bent over so his forehead was touching Harry’s. “Stop being guilty for how your grief makes other people feel.”
“It’s not that easy,” Harry said. His throat felt tight. “They were affected by this too, and it’s because of me that it happened.”
“It’s not!” Draco insisted fiercely. “It’s because of Voldemort.” Harry gasped; he’d never heard Draco use that name before. “Every one of us was pulled into it. You don’t have to be brave now, Harry. You aren’t the Chosen One anymore.”
You aren’t the Chosen One anymore.
Harry burst into tears.
Draco pulled back, alarmed. “I'm sorry, what did I say?”
“Everything was on me!” Harry cried, his face in his hands. “I don't know how to stop being that. And everyone is so fucking concerned all the time, but they shouldn’t bother with me, they have their own problems and I’m the cause of it, no one would have died if Voldemort hadn’t come after me!” The sobs welled up from somewhere deep inside him, and he found that he was unable to cease, having allowed the dam to break.
“Shh, shh.” Draco was obviously unsure how to console someone who was weeping. He finally settled for placing his hands on Harry's shoulders. “You can stop, you're free. He's dead.” Harry only cried harder at that.
“No! You're still here. You've still got your fire, Harry. I should know, you direct it at me.”
“No, I mean…” Harry gulped back the rest of his tears and forced himself to regain composure. How long has that been building up? he wondered. He also realised he'd been about to tell Draco his deepest secret.
“I'm not ready to talk about that yet,” he said more to himself than Draco. The other boy responded anyways.
“Whatever it is, you don't have to discuss if you don't want. But don't hold back on my account.” He wiped a tear from Harry's cheek. “You can cry if you need to, as well.”
“I think that's all I have in me for now.”
Instead of pressing the issue like Ginny, or approaching it from a logical angle like Hermione, Draco simply pulled Harry in close and held him until he had brought himself back to a somewhat placid state. Eventually the sudden gush of emotion evened out, and Harry was simply left in the arms of a boy he'd come to adore. Grateful and feeling affectionate, he nuzzled his nose up against Draco's jaw, smelling the orange and spice scent of whatever cologne he used. He wondered if Draco had put it on to impress because he knew he'd be seeing Harry, and maybe end up close to him, or if he wore it for himself no matter what. There were so many things left to discover about Draco, and Harry found that he wanted to uncover all his secrets. He tugged on Draco’s sleeve to get his attention.
“Now can we go back to the snogging?”
“I give up, you’ve got a one-track mind,” Draco chuckled. “Yes, we can go back to the - oof!” Harry leaned over as soon as he heard ‘yes’ and pressed his mouth to Draco’s.
The kiss quickly grew heated. Harry still felt like he was vibrating with emotion, and wanted to turn it into something good. Their hands moved from hair, to shoulders, to back, to waist, and Harry eventually ended up in Draco’s lap. This time there was no hiding how hard he was, and as he ground down against Draco, he could feel an answering arousal. They panted into each other’s mouths, and Harry started to move more deliberately.
“Merlin, Harry, you’re going to make me come in my pants,” Draco moaned, and Harry pressed into him harder as Draco dug his fingers into his arse.
“Do it, come for me.”
“I want you to come with me.” Harry didn’t think that would be a problem, not with the way Draco was wiggling under him. They kissed desperately, rubbing their cocks together through their trousers and pants, until Draco arched up into Harry with a cry. The feeling of spreading wetness under him was incredibly sexy, and Harry jerked against Draco as he stained his own clothes with spunk.
When the sticky feeling became too much, Harry got off Draco’s lap, but he stayed pressed up against his side, kissing his neck. Draco hummed a pleased little sound, and reached for his wand. The cleaning charm tickled. Harry giggled, and resumed his exploration of Draco’s soft skin. Draco reached over and ruffled his hair.
“You’re tempting.” Harry licked his collarbone, and then started to seize up in laughter.
“I just let you cast at my bits.” Realisation dawned on Draco, and he joined Harry in laughter.
“See? It just takes confidence.”
The air outside is cool but there is a hot body against his. Harry and Draco are by the Black Lake, but this time it is them and not their reflections that kiss and touch. Harry is pleased with this dream, as it is one he can re-enact when he wakes up.
Yet when he looks at his surroundings, he does not see the castle, or the Greenhouse, or any other feature of the Hogwarts grounds. The Forbidden Forest encircles them, and is growing by the minute.
“Shhh, my little ghost,” Draco whispers in his ear, tugging at it with his teeth. It hurts, and Harry tries to pull away.
“You’re only going home. You come to me every night, you know you want it.” Harry sees that Draco’s eyes are not their normal lovely shade of grey, but instead are green as leaves. Everywhere he touches Harry, leaves begin to sprout, and Harry knows he is in danger. His scream bubbles up too late - his mouth has turned to bark.
Harry came to standing at his door. He’d wanted to catch a few hours of sleep before going to meet Draco, so they could stay up late together. He’d locked it from the inside before going to sleep, hoping that no one would get up to use the bathroom. He didn’t want to worry Draco with sleepwalking anymore. It wasn’t very sexy, after all.
When he got to the Common Room, Draco was sitting by the window. Harry approached him and stroked his hair.
“Why did you wait for me?”
“I’d rather us walk down together, both awake. I mean, if you want to go tonight. Everyone else is asleep, we could just sit here.”
The dream had been closer to a nightmare, which worried Harry, as his dreams had been moving in a more pleasant direction. “Maybe we could stay here, for a while at least.”
The two boys arranged themselves on the largest couch, close enough to stretch their hands out and clasp them, but not so close that an unexpected housemate would think anything of it. Before long, however, they’d crept closer by degrees, until Draco was leaning over Harry. “Do you want to go now?”
Harry tried to look sultry. “You think we can do what we want up here?” The smouldering gaze Draco fixed on him was much better than his own try.
“I don’t know, what is it you want, Harry?” he murmured, running a hand down Harry’s side before cupping his arse. They both leaned in for a kiss, but the slamming of a door above them made them jump back.
“It’s just someone going to the bathroom,” Harry whispered. Draco seemed twitchy, and Harry was a bit offended.
“Are you ashamed to be seen with me?” Draco rolled his eyes.
“Don’t tell me you want to become the hot topic around here. I’m not ashamed, but it’s a bit contrary to our avoidant tendencies, wouldn’t you agree?” Harry couldn’t argue with that.
“I wish the Room of Requirement still worked,” he said, and then immediately felt terrible as a dark look came over Draco’s face. “No, you’re right, let’s go to the Forest,” he said hurriedly. “We can use my cloak.”
Draco had never been under the cloak before, though he knew about it, and all the way down to the Forest, Harry watched Draco’s fascinated expression.
“How do you get down here anyways?” he asked once they had reached their customary oak tree.
“Excellent Disillusionment charms,” Draco answered. “I am known for my charmwork.”
“You’re gonna need that when I’m done with you,” Harry grinned, yanking him over and pressing him to the tree.
Their kissing and frotting was more confident now. Draco squeezed Harry’s arse the way he knew would make him arch up, and Harry licked Draco’s neck and collarbones until he gasped in pleasure. He snaked a hand down between their moving bodies, and cupped Draco through his trousers.
“I’ve tried this in a dream. Can I do it for real?” Draco nodded frantically, and Harry pulled his zipper down.
The feel of a cock not his own was strange, but satisfying. Harry moved his hand up and down experimentally, finally finding a grip and speed that made Draco groan and shake. It was over much too fast; Draco stiffened and cried Harry’s name as he striped his shirt with come.
Harry waited until Draco came down from his high to start opening his own trousers.
“Expect me to return the favor, do you,” he asked, still a bit breathless. He didn’t wait for an answer before pulling Harry toward him to do exactly that.
Harry didn’t last much longer than Draco had. The warm hand on his cock, the taste of Draco’s skin, and the sheer passion between them had his own orgasm upon him in minutes. He bit down on Draco’s neck as sticky wetness spread between them.
True to his word, Draco’s Scourgify was perfect.
They descended on trembling legs to lay beside one another, still kissing lazily. They’d come down fairly early tonight, and so were able to nap briefly before returning to the castle, casting knowing looks at each other before going to their respective rooms to catch some more sleep before morning.
As the last few weeks of term flew by, Harry didn’t worry about his exams. He studied by day, and met up with Draco most nights. Sure enough, he passed with grades that pleased him - not up to Hermione’s standards, but enough to ensure he had options. Everytime he tried to think of those options, however, he found he couldn’t breathe. Being with Draco soothed him, but that had brought a new issue to light. What would happen to their relationship when school was over? What was he to Draco? Would graduation spell the end for them? Graduation also meant the memorial dedication. Despite the fact that Harry had made progress discussing his feelings with Draco, he still suffered, and his nightmares returned.
The roar of the crowd envelops him, and as Harry spins around on his broom, he can see colors flying on flags and people jumping and cheering in the stands. Time is called, and he descends slowly to the pitch. Madame Hooch runs up, breathless.
“Ok, Harry, it’s time to switch out the team. Seekers stay in.”
“Switch out?” Already his teammates are dismounting and handing their brooms off to figures in black robes and silver masks.
“You have to change brooms, of course. The opposing team already has.”
Aren’t the Death Eaters the opposing team? Harry can’t see anyone else on the field. He turns to make his way to the equipment shed, but Hooch stops him.
“You need new wood.” She gestures to the Forest. “Go get a branch.”
Harry is loathe to enter the Forest on a broom, but he’ll have to fly if he wants to make it back in time for the game to restart. As he grazes the treetops looking for the perfect one to break a branch from, the crowd noise fades. The sky turns orange, and Harry lands in a clearing.
It’s quiet. Suddenly Harry doesn’t want to return to the game, with the expectant crowd and the team of enemies playing on his side. He makes his way into a thicket of bushes and begins to strip. As each item of clothing is removed, a tree reaches down with twigs like hands to take it. Shirt, trousers, socks. Harry is naked now, and the thorns around him should cut him, but he is unharmed. He lays down in the loamy soil and lets the trees begin to cover him up with dirt.
I can just take a nap here until the game ends, he thinks.
The sky darkens and it feels like eternity passes. Surely everyone has left the pitch now, and it’s safe to go back. But Harry can’t dislodge the earth that’s packed in on him. As he lifts a hand to try to dig free, he sees that the thorny branches did indeed cut him - why hadn’t he noticed? - and his blood is mixing with the soil to create a thick slurry that pulls him down like quicksand.
So much blood, shouldn’t he be dead?
No matter. He will be in moments, subsumed into the forest floor.
Harry came to on his knees, gasping for air, Draco’s hand on his back. They were further in the Forbidden Forest than they’d ever been, and Draco’s eyes darted around nervously. “Can you stand?” he asked. Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak yet.
The moved closer to the edge of the Forest where they customarily met, and Draco helped a shaking Harry sit down against the oak Harry now thought of as theirs.
“I thought this was over, Harry,” Draco said sadly. “I haven’t seen you sleepwalking lately.”
“I come down here instead of sleeping, and get so exhausted I can’t dream at all. And I have been sleepwalking, a little. I locked myself in dorm.” Harry can’t quite parse Draco’s expression. Is he exasperated, or anxious?
“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” Harry said, sincerely meaning it.
“No, don’t think that way. I’m worried about you, yes, but that’s because-”
Harry tilted his head. “Because you care about me, yeah?”
Draco turned his face away abruptly.
“Hey, don’t do that, Draco. I’ve opened up to you.”
“Yes, well, you need it.”
“We both need it.” Harry reached out and laid his hand on Draco’s cheek, and tipped his face back toward him. “Do you want to hear about my nightmare?”
He recounted the dream in as much detail as he could remember. “The most terrifying thing,” he finished, “was that at the end I’d given up. I wanted to stay here, stay dead.”
Draco leaned over until their foreheads touched. “Harry, you’re so alive. I wish you could feel it. I try to let you feel me, hoping you’ll be able to share it.”
And because he cared about Draco, too, he needed to tell him the truth. Even if it stuck in his throat like a clod of dirt from his dream.
“Did your mother ever talk to you about this place? About what happened here?”
Draco stared off at some point beyond Harry’s shoulder. “She told me that she lied to Voldemort when he tried to kill you. She didn’t know what spell or strategy you used to escape the Avada Kedavra, but that you were alive and she told him you were dead.”
“I was.” Draco’s grey eyes went wide with shock.
It’s Harry now who avoids eye contact. “It’s a very long story. But Voldemort killed something in me that needed to die, and I went with it. I was able to return because we were still linked. But I went halfway to whatever the afterlife is. I spoke to Dumbledore.” Draco inhaled sharply. “I had things to finish, so I came back. That’s when your mother came over to me. You know the rest of the story from there.”
Draco took Harry’s hands in his, and traced over his fingers, his knuckles, his palms. Eventually he came to his wrists, and pressed against the pulse flowing through them.
“You feel like everything ended there and that’s why you can’t move on. You did what you were made for, so why bother with life. But feel your heartbeat, Harry. It quickens when you’re afraid, and when you kiss me. You’re still so very alive, and you’re still in the world, and I promise you have more to do. You just get to choose now.”
It was one of the most beautiful things Harry had ever heard. He raised their joined hands to his lips and kissed the tips of Draco’s fingers. “You should be a psychologist.”
Draco cocked his head. “That’s like a Muggle Mind Healer, right? Too much responsibility. I need to be free.”
“What are you doing when your probation is over in August?”
“Likely just travel for a bit. I was thinking of Curse-breaking as a career, but specifically with dark artifacts that old families want to get rid of, or that the Ministry has seized. The Manor was full of them, and I know they’re just sitting in a Ministry vault under stasis charms. Or maybe I could just do magical repair work.”
“You've put a lot more thought into your future than I have.”
“You’re earned your idle time.” He smiled trepidatiously at Harry. “You could - you could come with me? I mean, just a for a little bit. Meet me somewhere in France, work on your language skills.” His voice was teasing, but Harry could hear the tension underneath. “I’ll probably only be able to get an apprenticeship on the Continent, no one here will hire me. We could see each other for a little bit longer…” He trailed off, and Harry realised that Draco expected whatever they had to end with school, and that he was unhappy with that.
“I’d like that,” he confessed. “I don’t know what this is, but I don’t want to see it end. I think going to find you at the Greenhouse was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” Draco let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Why did you come down there, anyways?”
“Stalking you felt like old times,” Harry admitted. “And you seemed so different. I wanted to know how you’d done that.”
“By not sublimating and repressing my feelings about dying and survivor's guilt,” Draco said wryly. Harry jabbed him with an elbow.
“You said you didn’t want to be a Mind Healer, stop sounding like one.”
They curled into each other, too exhausted emotionally to to move on to the snogging portion of the evening but desiring closeness.
“Do you think you’ll be ok at the dedication? You can skip it if you want, Harry.”
“No, I’ll go. But I give myself permission to leave if I need to.”
Draco nodded in satisfaction. “You should Floo to wherever you’re staying instead of riding the train, as well.” Harry agreed, and then it dawned on him that he didn’t know where Draco was going to live.
“Wait, where are you staying for the summer? With your mother?”
“I’ve been putting that decision off, but I guess so, if Andromeda will have me. It’s only for a few months.”
“Good,” Harry said firmly. “I can visit you. Andromeda will be here at the dedication, if you ask her with me at your side, she’ll probably say yes.”
“Mmm. it’s going to be a crowded house, whatever shall we do?” Draco whispered into Harry’s neck, giving him a quick kiss.
Harry turned so their lips met.
“Is there a forest near Andromeda’s house?”
Their laughter echoed through the trees.
There is indeed a forest near the house. Harry dreams of sunlight trickling through oak and hawthorn leaves, of golden apples and ripe strawberries. The forest here is connected through the roots to the primeval Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. It offers him the fruit, proof of life, and Harry in turn shares it with Draco.
They wake tangled together.