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You've been staring at Draco Malfoy for over half your life now.

You started watching him when you were both eleven years old, through years of enmity and broken bones and blood.

You kept watching him when you realised he was trying to be better than the man his father had wanted him to be.

You watched him as he became friends with your friends, and kept watching after you realised he had become your friend too.

You suppose it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise that if you were obsessed enough with someone that you had memorised every plane of his face before you hit your teens, then it was probably only a matter of time before you fell in love with him.

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It starts in the Great Hall, Malfoy’s face always a constant over countless meals. You don't have any understanding of the feeling, at first. You don't know why his face is the first you always seek out, why the gilt and gleam of his sneer is your beacon. You catalogue his every expression and know exactly how he takes his tea. After a while you wonder why, when you're the target of an obsessive, megalomaniacal, all-powerful Dark wizard who has used literal blood magic to reanimate himself back from the dead in order to kill you, all you can bring yourself to care about is the way the clean lines of morning sun kiss the ridge of Malfoy’s jaw as he licks jam off the side of his little finger.

It starts to make a bit more sense, after the battle is over, and Eighth Year has begun, and you have the luxury of your soul and your thoughts being your own again. Voldemort is gone, leaving nothing behind him but a puff of dust on the breeze, another lightning bolt scar on the soft, fleshy pad of your wand hand, and the screaming nightmares of another generation of children who should have been too young to fight a war.

Things with Ginny stopped before they got started - no hard feelings on either side - and now you have the time to notice that the familiar, infuriating itch to slam Malfoy up against walls whenever you're near him is more out of desire to map him with your hands (and your mouth, if he were ever to let you) than to hurt him.

It never happens at school, of course. He’s still Malfoy, and you're still Potter. He's milk-pale and tired-looking, and the curl of his lip has an edge of tension that almost looks like shame. You don't fight each other anymore, but you're still as far from each other as you've always been.

You still watch him, though. You're the first to notice when his Muggle Studies course (taken reluctantly as part of his probation) turns from a punishment into a challenge. The mad light of zeal, that you’d previously only really seen when he was elbow-to-elbow with you 50 feet above the Quidditch pitch, returns to his eyes when he starts his NEWTs project.

He conceives and executes the Hogwarts mentorship programme, and even Hermione reluctantly admits that it's really pretty clever, assigning Sixth Year Magical Mentors to help prepare incoming Muggleborn students for Hogwarts life, and really, Harry, it might have made all the difference for lots of people if someone had thought to implement a programme like this years ago.

Malfoy still seems wary of you all, but he allows himself to be drawn into conversation about the programme and before you know it, he's regularly sitting at the Gryffindor table for breakfast and swiping bits of bacon off your plate while he and Hermione gesticulate wildly and talk ever more loudly over each other, while somehow managing to understand each other perfectly.

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You're having breakfast alone on the day that Malfoy arrives down to the Great Hall in Muggle clothes for the first time. You're trying to catch up on your Transfig reading while you eat your porridge, but one of the new first-years seated near you makes a noise that you can only describe as a strangled squeak.

You look up at the sound, and find you have to bite back something similar and undignified from your own mouth, because Malfoy is in jeans and a slim black hoodie, and he looks like something out of a dream. He's pretending to be unfazed, but you know the set of his jaw and tilt of his chin well enough that you can see he's bricking it. You've never seen him out of wizarding fashions before, and you can't help but think that you might have had your gay awakening a bit sooner if you had.

You're moving towards him before you know what you're doing, breakfast abandoned. As you go to squeeze past him to get out the door, you place your hand at his waist for a split-second. You're close enough to see the faint stain of a flush on his cheeks, and though he looks like a statue, all clean lines and gleaming skin, he's warm and solid to the touch. You nod at each other, and you think he slips you the barest hint of a wink before he turns and stalks down between the tables, heads turning in his wake.

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You're sitting on the ground by the Lake, and Malfoy is sitting on the ground facing you, and he's apologising for pretty much every interaction you've ever had prior to this year.

He looks sickened and queasy and very cross, and you know he's hating having to do this, but he hates the things he did more. You think that he's working his way through his apologies like beads on a prayer string, worrying over them and visiting and revisiting them until they sit right with him. You feel tender towards him, suddenly, though you don't pity him - you know he'd hate that.

It's alright Malfoy, you say. I know you're much less of a shit now, so don't worry about it anymore.

Well, fuck you very much, Potter, he replies.

And all of a sudden you're laughing together, like you never imagined you ever could. You realise you had already forgiven him, even before you heard him say he's sorry and mean it.

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Malfoy is very drunk, but that's ok because you are too. You've been talking at each other very earnestly for about twenty minutes, though neither of you can hear each other over the pulse and thrum of the music. It doesn't matter, you just like to look at the way his mouth moves when he talks.

You can't believe you're finished with school. Malfoy is going back to Hogwarts as the Muggleborn Liaison Officer. He's excited in a way you've never seen from him; before, everything that brought that light to his eyes would have had an edge of cruelty to it. You feel very stupid, but you are only just realising how much you like him.

Someone dances into you and you're nudged closer to him, so close you can smell the warm, almondy scent of him, and see the faintest film of sweat collected in the divots at the base of his throat. You see his eyes drop to your mouth, as he leans towards you almost instinctively. You think for a second that he might be about to kiss you. You're definitely going to kiss him back.

But then the lights go crazy and the song changes and the whole club is heaving, and he gets swept away from you. Your mouth tingles with frustrated anticipation, and you order another drink.

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The children all love Malfoy, of course. Hagrid tells you that he's one of the most popular people on the Hogwarts staff. You almost don't believe it, but you see him around Hogsmeade a lot in that first year, and he's always surrounded by a gaggle of them. For lots of them, he's been their first introduction to the magical world.

You remember that he was the first Hogwarts student you met, too, when you were both as impossibly small as the students hanging around Malfoy now. You wish he had smiled at you the way he smiles at them now, but you know his smile is all the more lovely for the amount of work he's had to put into it.

He laughs a lot more, these days, and you tell yourself it's totally normal to be transfixed by the delicate expression lines around his eyes.

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You're out, and you're drunk, and you're dancing. You tend to steer clear of clubs in case you end up looking very stupid on the front page of the Prophet. You tend to steer clear of dancing because you're terrible at it. But it's Malfoy's 21st birthday, and he had insisted on both the club and the dancing, and you're not much good at saying no to him anymore.

And here, tonight, in this Muggle club with all your favourite people around you, you actually feel like dancing. It's easy to slip into the roll of the bass when all you have to do is raise your arms and let the heat and press of all the bodies move you with them.

Malfoy is near, his hair flashing blue and purple with the lights, and he's being very thoroughly kissed by a beautiful Muggle boy. You're jealous in a sort of absent-minded way, because you've been friends with Malfoy for a couple of years now, so you're used to seeing him being kissed by other people. It makes the sting a little less sharp when Malfoy pulls away and give you his familiar, sincere, secret smile over the shoulder of his snogging partner.

You're feeling a bit like you want to be kissed yourself, tonight, and since you've gone Muggle you know you won't end up in a cringe-inducing kiss-and-tell, as told to Rita Skeeter.

A hand on your hip at the bar turns out to belong to a tall, smiley redhead, who as well as having nice hands also has a skilful mouth and a very firm arse. You figure all these attributes out up against the wall by the toilets, and it shouldn't really be a surprise that you open your eyes at one point to find Malfoy passing by.

He's looking at you, alright. The sharp curiosity in his eyes shows you that, despite the many rounds of Sambucca shots you did with him earlier, he's alert to every detail; your kiss-swollen mouth; the surreptitious but insistent roll of your hips; the hitch in your chest. He raises an eyebrow at your hungry gaze, and flashes a razor's edge of a smile at you. Then he's gone, slipping past you towards the toilets without looking back.

When the Muggle asks if you want to get out of there, you kiss him once more, apologetically, and tell him it's not him, it's you.

It's the truth.

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Luna is having a party, and everyone is there. You've all been drinking since midday, and though it's still bright outside you feel as though time has become a bit elastic and meaningless. You've been sitting on the floor behind the couch with Malfoy for goodness knows how long, and your stomach is sore from laughing.

You're watching his mouth as he talks, as usual, but it's still a shock when he shifts up onto his knees to move closer.

He's whispering now, eyes alight with the sort of mischief that usually doesn't bode well for you. When you feel the warm brush of his breath so close against your cheek, you have to swallow, hard.

Shall we, Potter? he asks, and he's grinning. (You don't need to ask him what he means).

You like boys, I like boys. We've been dancing around this for ages now. What's the worst that can happen? It's terrible and we laugh about it and never do it again, or it's good and we get a great shag and get it out of our systems finally.

He places his hand on your leg, so slowly and deliberately, just at the place where your knee is poking through a split in the denim. His fingers are cool, his touch a whisper against your skin. You don't think you've ever felt so aware of your body before.

He looks at you then, and his voice holds a quiver of uncertainty when he says, are you trying to tell me you've never thought about this before?

Because you're still behind the couch, and no one is looking, you allow your hand to follow the line of his throat until it rests firm against the curve of his cheek. You barely recognise your voice when you lean into him with a whisper of your own.

You tell him, I wasn't trying to say I've never thought about it, Malfoy. I've thought about it. I've thought about it a lot. I'm thinking about it right now, in fact.

He blinks, and then in a rush you're both pulling yourselves up to standing and making for the Floo, shouting goodbyes behind you as you go.

You think that if you're only going to get to do this once, you want to make the most of it. As he fumbles the Floo jar in his haste, you wonder if he feels the same urgency.

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Draco Malfoy is under you on your bed and you can't quite believe you can finally put your hands on him. In the hazy gold of early spring evening light, without your glasses on, his skin has the luscious sheen of double cream. You're frantic with wanting him, and your hands scrabble for purchase on the jut of his hipbones when you reach for more of him. He looks ethereal, rosy with booze and too much kissing, but he feels solid and weighty when you press him hard against the headboard of the bed.

You don't know where to begin with something you've been imagining for so long, so you just try to touch him everywhere. Your mouth is gentle on the wings of his shoulder blades, but he shakes at the lap of your tongue as though you're already inside him. You trace every dip and rise of his spine, and fit your fingers along the fan of his ribcage so you can feel the quickening press of his breaths against your palms. You know he doesn't like being looked at too hard, he doesn't like feeling exposed, but you can't seem to look away.

You whisper something soft and too telling into his skin as you kiss the velvet of his inner thigh, the strung bow of the back of his knee, the eggshell delicacy of his ankle bone. You say his name too many times - Malfoy, Malfoy, Malfoy. When he tells you to stop being a tease, his voice cracks into a gasp. He tells you to stop looking at him like that but you don't know how to stop. You think maybe you've always looked at him like that, and wonder if he just wasn't close enough to see it before.

He pushes you away, then - you see his mouth rearrange itself so it's ready to say something cruel, and he moves as though to leave. And you can't let him, so you make yourself stop touching him - wondering all the while, why must I always be too much for him? - and before he can move off the bed or say something casual and terrible, you push yourself back on your heels so you're spread out like an offering for him.

His gaze on you is like a touch, and you shiver under the weight of it. You snap your fingers to conjure some lube (you know he can't resist wandless and you're not above a cheap trick to keep his interest). It's not brave, but you let your eyes flutter shut before you start to finger yourself open for him. In the expectant quiet of the bedroom, you know he is waiting for every wet sound you make as you work to get deeper, faster. He likes this, you being a bit rough with yourself, and in no time at all he has you splayed out face down, spreading your arse cheeks open with his thumbs and just looking at where your fingers have been.

When he finally takes over, he's almost too gentle, one finger to two to three in a maddeningly slow press and slide. By the time he finally fits his cock inside you and pulls you back hard with the barest hint of a groan, you can scarcely feel the burn you were hoping for. You can do this, you tell yourself. You can give him what he wants without taking too much from him in return.

Though you want to see what he looks like when he comes, you think that he needs his fist in the hair at the nape of your neck and his chest at your back before he can fuck you as hard as he'd like. When you come in his hand, your thighs are glistening and slick with his spunk, and his thumb is pressing just the right side of too hard at your rim. That's your first time with him. You wish he would stay and let you lick him clean and maybe go again in the morning, but he's dressed and through the Floo before you can even try to kiss him goodbye.

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When Malfoy buys himself a Muggle mobile phone, he buys one for you too. You add his name and number to your contacts list. His is the only name in there.

He texts you twenty times a day. Potter, where are you? he writes. Potter, bring me lunch. Potter. Potter. Potter.

Sometimes, when you're with him and he's texting his other friends (his Muggle friends, sometimes his Muggle boyfriends, though the boyfriends never last long) you watch the delicate tap tap tap of his fingers, the way the tendons of his forearms shift and tense with the motion of his thumbs. You imagine yourself settling on the floor at his feet, languid and intent as a cat, and licking every one of those restless fingers before making your way up the delicate tracery of veins at his wrist. You find yourself half out of your chair before you stop yourself, but Malfoy just rolls his eyes at you and then looks back down at the phone, summoned by another beep.

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Malfoy is on his knees but he has still managed to crowd you back against the toilet wall with one lazy press of his hand. With the other, he's touching himself, and he's sucking your cock so slowly that you think you might cry. You can't seem to stop the clench of your hand in his hair, the satiny fall of it tight around your fist. He moans, and the buzz of his lips around your glans sends you sharply and suddenly over the edge, so fast and intense that black spots dance in front of your eyes. You realise you're crooning his name, and you feel like coming on his tongue might be the thing that ends you. Malfoy's mouth could achieve what the darkest of Dark Lords failed to do.

Malfoy uses your t-shirt to pull himself up to standing, presses his face into the curve of your neck, and starts wanking himself in earnest. You knock his hand away clumsily, but his noise of protest turns soft and breathy when you wrap your fingers around his cock and draw your thumb over the slit. He's so lovely like this, warm and taut and trembling at your touch, your nose in his hair and his tongue at your pulsepoint. When he comes, he bites down on the ridge of your clavicle. You hope it marks. When you're cleaning him up, he asks you if you're seeing anyone. His tone is casual, off-hand even, and you're glad that he hasn't seemed to notice that all you can ever see is him. You tell him no - it's just him (it's always just him), and then he says, like it's no big deal at all, that maybe you two should come to some arrangement.

You're good in bed, Potter, he says. I love having your cock in my mouth. I want you- can I have you?

You're stuttering now, pure disbelief warring with treacherous hope. You ask him, haltingly, does that mean you want to be my boyfriend? You've never had a proper boyfriend- just a few casual fucks here and there, and then few slightly less casual (and sometimes recurrent, though never for very long) fucks. And now, for almost a year of secret and random and entirely brilliant sex, Malfoy.

Malfoy pauses at the question, and looks at you for a very long time. You rarely get to see him like this - still, clear-eyed, thoughtful. You're not sure exactly what your face is doing, and you're scared he's going to laugh at you. Instead, he reaches out and flicks you behind the ear, as gentle a show of affection as you ever get from him, and he says very seriously that no, we don't have to be boyfriends. We can just agree to have regular sex, in bed for a change, rather than all these unplanned toilet trysts. It doesn't have to change anything. We can still fly together, and go to pub nights, and do Muggle brunch at the weekends. We don't have to tell anyone either, it's none of their business anyway. And speaking of, we'd better get back out to them. They'll definitely have noticed that we’re missing. Just...think about it, Potter.

The words are barely out of his mouth before you're nodding, and because you think you might get away with it now, still in the privacy of the toilet stall, you reach for his face and hold him near while you kiss him - once, twice, three times for good luck. He laughs and pokes you in the softest part of your underarm, and pulls you back out into the club.

He dances all night with other people, but at the end of the night he walks home with you to Grimmauld, his shoulder skimming off yours the whole way like sparks from flint.

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Malfoy doesn't believe in love.

You know he sees it as both a cage and a weapon. He told you once, while very drunk, that you were the only person he could rely on to understand. He said you and he were both casualties of too much love. You, abandoned and cast out and lonely, the victim of love’s ultimate sacrifice. He, warped and shadowed by the oppressive presence of a love twisted beyond recognition by lust for power.

You want to tell Malfoy that you'd never cage him. All you want is to wake up with him in the mornings, and get to listen to his stories about work, and maybe hold his hand when you go for a walk, and have lots of filthy sex with him. You would like to keep making him laugh, forever if possible.

It seems fairly simple to you, but you know that you don't really understand love - how could you, after all? You've never known how to talk about it, but you've never had to before. Everyone you ended up loving has always understood. You've been able to show them, by fighting for them, dying for them. That seems a bit much- after all, Malfoy just wants tea in bed and his cock in your mouth (not usually at the same time).

It's ok to love him, you reason with yourself - he doesn't have to know. No one ever has to know.

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Malfoy is lying on your couch with a book, just like he does almost every Sunday. Becoming friends with Malfoy all those years ago meant acquiring Malfoy, and since you started fucking regularly over half a year ago, you find you have even more of him. His half-read paperbacks, covers creased, are left near every comfortable seating spot in Grimmauld. His tin of loose tea leaves jostles for space with your PG Tips in the cupboard. His flying cloak is thrown carelessly on the hook next to yours, his boots nudge toe to toe against yours in the hall.

You throw yourself down at the other end of the couch, just to get the pleasure of his oblique, distracted glare. Then, because he's an arsehole of the highest order, he puts his feet in your lap. He's wearing Weasley socks today, you're not even sure whether they were originally yours or his. There's still such joy for you in getting to touch him casually like this, and when you press against the elegant curve of his arches, he makes a noise that's almost a sigh.

You wish you could tell people about him, about how the slow flick of his pages turning is the most peaceful sound you can imagine. About how the best start to your day comes when you get to watch the lick of the shower spray turn his hair to gold as you brush your teeth at the sink. About how you never thought you'd get to have this, but you do, and you want to keep it forever.

You did try to tell Hermione and Ron once, a few months back. You led with what you thought was a pretty strong opener, which basically consisted of you declaring a little too loudly that you really like Malfoy. It all got a little bit awkward after that, when Ron snorted and Hermione elbowed him hard and very earnestly agreed that, yes, Draco is lovely now, and he really is great fun and obviously doing such fantastic and worthwhile work with the kids, and everyone's so glad you two are getting on so well these days, isn't that right Ron? And Ron had nodded so enthusiastically that you knew he and Hermione must have discussed this before now, and had asked if that meant you were, you know, interested in Malfoy. Because that's totally fine, mate, you know we'd all be on board with that if it's what you want.

And at that point, you were still working through how to let them know that, actually, you and Malfoy had been waking up together every morning for months now, and before you had started that arrangement, had been fucking in toilets and alleyways (and even once on top of the Astronomy Tower in Hogwarts) for the bones of a year. In the face of their obvious support, it suddenly seemed a bit churlish to have hidden things from them for so long. You suspected that, “it seemed like something so precious and fleeting that I was worried it could end at any time,” wouldn't exactly fly with Ronald Weasley. Not to mind the fact that if you said, “and also the person I love never wants to settle down so I'm scared to try to make things official in case it scares him off,” Hermione Granger would take that as a personal challenge. No, at that point it seemed a bit easier to let it alone for a while, and after standing awkwardly for a few minutes (with your face probably doing something very weird, judging by how they were looking at you) you were very glad when Ron stood to clear the table and bring the pudding out.

You were relieved, afterwards, that you hadn’t said anything. In bed that night, when you had Malfoy tucked against your back and the light of his Lumos gleaming soft against the bed hangings, you asked if Malfoy had told his friends about you. Malfoy’s snort was information enough, though he really drove it home by telling you not to worry, Potter, if I told them I was living in happily unwedded bliss and sucking the Saviour's cock every second night of the week, they'd never believe me.

It's better that way, you tell yourself. Your friends would only complicate things.

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You and Malfoy go on holiday to Ireland for your 25th birthday. You don't want a party and a fuss, but Malfoy takes you out to dinner and when your puddings arrive, Malfoy's got the waiter to put 25 candles on top and everyone in the restaurant ends up joining in with Malfoy's enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday to You. None of them know your name but they clap and cheer anyway, and when you do a bit of subtle wandless magic to help you blow out all the candles at once, Malfoy laughs delightedly and leans over the cake to kiss you on the mouth.

Afterwards, under the opaque skies of a Cork summer night, you walk along the banks of the River Lee and up from the quays to the brow of the city in Shandon, where a small tower stands. A quick Alohomora to the door and you're in, scampering up flight after flight of stairs until you reach a set of ropes leading to the belfry. Malfoy's grin is sharp and gleaming in the half-light cast by streetlamps through the tower window. He flicks the pages of the songbook propped on a nearby easel, before launching the bells into another round of the Happy Birthday song. By the time you can hear the cross shouts of local residents shocked into waking, and see the wavering light of the caretaker’s torch on the stairs, you're laughing so much that you can barely concentrate on your Side-Along Apparition. You think it might be the best birthday you ever had.

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Malfoy gets a text from Hermione asking you both round for drinks. When you stumble out of her Floo, you realise in horror that you've automatically taken Malfoy’s hand. It was just that you’ve gotten used to being able to do that, while you were away. You've gotten used to pretending you could have what you wanted. You drop Malfoy's hand, feeling the cold slide of terror from chest to stomach as you register Hermione noticing. Sorry, you mouth frantically at Malfoy behind her back as you head through to the kitchen. Sorry, I'm sorry. Malfoy's face is a careful blank as he nods. No one mentions it.

You're barely back through the Grimmauld Floo when you're on Malfoy. You wonder whether if you kiss him hard enough, you can keep him from saying anything about the hand-holding. Malfoy kisses you back with an edge of teeth, tugging at your lower lip and then chasing the nip with a swipe of his tongue. Your mouths are warm and smokey from the Firewhiskey, and in the midnight stillness of the old house, every slick sound you make as your mouths meet is as loud as the thrum of your heartbeat in your ears.

You take him where you stand, up against the wall. A whispered charm to loosen and wet him up for you, a shared groan when you thrust all the way into him, his legs locked around your waist and his throat bared to your mouth as you fuck him fast. You finish inside him, much too soon, but the squelch of your fingers fucking him through your own come seems to push him over the edge quickly enough.

Afterwards, he sheds the rest of his clothes and takes you upstairs to bed. You don't turn on any lights. As he lies next to you, you stroke the flat of your hand over his head, crown to nape, the moonlight gleam of his hair flattening and rippling under your touch.

You wait for him to say it.

I can't do this anymore, he says. I thought I could, but I can't. We can…I would like it if we could still be friends.

I tried, you say. I'm sorry, I really tried.

There doesn't seem to be anything else to talk about, and he sits up in the bed and goes to pull on some clothes (your clothes, probably, half of what he wears seems to belong to you). He is magnificent against the darkness, every line of his body an elegant, opalescent curve. You watch his arse disappear into a pair of jogging bottoms and you think, there was a time when I was allowed to touch that, and it's already gone. You swallow.

He looks back at you, over his shoulder. Potter, he says. Potter, it's not fair. You can't look at me like that in bed, but then drop my hand like it's poison when our friends are around. I deserve better than that.

And then you're scrambling to your knees, careless of your nakedness, and you take his shoulders very gently and you say, but you told me you don't want a relationship.

And you can see how it makes him defensive, because his face shutters and his eyes narrow until he looks a little like the old Malfoy, and then he shouts. We are in a relationship, Potter, you idiot. Like it or not, neither of us has fucked anyone else for over a year. I haven't been back to my flat for six months, you oblivious dickhead.

And you can't help it then, but you start to laugh. It's the relief, and the shock, and wondering why you had both been so stupid. But it's the wrong thing to do - he stares at you in disbelief, and then he's whirling out of your arms and moving out the door before you can get the breath together to stop him. He tells you to go fuck yourself. He tells you it's over. He's gone before you can tell him you're in love with him.

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The next morning you're late for your coffee with Ron - you're tired, and hadn't been able to find Malfoy, and he's not answering your texts. Ron is already sitting at a table spread with various pastries and two huge mugs of coffee when you arrive. He laughs outright at the state of you, and you can't even bring yourself to glare.

He allows you to take a fortifying sip of coffee before he says, well at least you're looking better than Malfoy does this morning. The state he was in last night!

You look up at this, because you can't even find Malfoy but Ron has somehow run into him? And Ron continues, mouth full of croissant - yeah mate, he's at the Burrow. Charlie took him home last night, he's back from Romania for the week and he was out dancing last night and apparently bumped into Malfoy trying to drink the bar dry at Fiendfyre down Knockturn. Judging by the noise they made when they got in, they were fairly sozzled. And they surfaced just as I was leaving and Malfoy looked like death warmed over.

Ron's slowing down now, eyeing you warily, and you can actually feel yourself blanching with the sheer shock of it. And Ron's asking, mate, you ok? Only me and Hermione thought maybe you and Malfoy might be...you know, a thing?

And then you stand, shaking, to leave, because you don't think you can listen to him talk about Malfoy as though he's hardly anything to you. But when you turn on your heel to Disapparate, all you can think is that he's at the Burrow, he's with Charlie and he's at the Burrow. Which is how you manage to pop straight into Molly Weasley’s kitchen at 8.30am on a Wednesday morning to find Malfoy practically sitting in Charlie Weasley's lap, eating what looks suspiciously like a full English.

Of course there isn't really much you can do once everyone has gotten over the fright of you appearing out of the blue, looking like you haven't slept (you haven't) or brushed your hair (you haven't) and maybe a bit like someone just died (they haven't, but fucking hell it does feel a little bit like that). And you don't want to make a scene in front of the Weasleys, who are essentially your family, and for one thing would be very hurt to know you'd hidden your relationship from them for so long. So you end up with your own plate of bacon, eggs, beans, toast, and sausages, and you're shuffled into the table next to Arthur and across from Malfoy, and you have to just sit there and eat.

Malfoy is white as bone and bruised-looking around the eyes, and he's staring determinedly down at his plate. You can't stop watching him as you eat. You're cataloguing every inch of him, and you know you're being incredibly rude to everyone and you know you're ignoring the conversation going on, but you can't bring yourself to care. Over the slightly loose neck of the black hoodie Malfoy is wearing (and you knew it was one of yours, the thieving prick) you can see a mark. It's reddish purple and half-healed and could only have come from a mouth. You stop with the fork halfway to your mouth and you think, this is what despair feels like. Charlie is smiling at Malfoy, like he's proud to be next to him, like he's lucky to get to pass him the butter and pour his tea. You hate him then, for a moment. You want to lean across the table until your face is within spitting distance of his open, fond, Weasley face, and you want to hiss your secrets until he understands.

You want to tell him that Malfoy was probably still wet from your come when he went home with Charlie last night. You want to ask Charlie if he could smell you on Malfoy when he took him to bed. You feel feral, savage - like an animal trying to mark its territory. And Malfoy must see it in your face because he's standing abruptly and very politely asking everyone if they'll excuse him while he has a quick word with Potter outside.

The sun is already high, and has burnt off the film of summer dew from the grass. The sky feels endless above you when you step out into the back garden.

Malfoy’s tone is too polite, too reasonable, when he asks you what the fuck you're doing. You can't answer him properly when he's talking past you like you're nothing, so instead you crowd into him, hating yourself for wanting to be nearer always. You stroke your thumb over the mark on his neck and your voice is lethal when you whisper, did you think of me when he did this to you?

You arsehole, he says as he knocks your hand away, that was you. Your mouth, Potter. I didn't fuck Charlie last night. But actually, now you mention it...

He tells you that Charlie has asked him out, and that he's thinking of saying yes. He tells you that Charlie thinks he's special, that Charlie put his arm around him as they walked like it was no big deal. He tells you that Charlie is a good kisser, and because you're hurt and a dickhead you reply, I know - and he's not a bad fuck either (and it's true, you and Charlie were together a few times, years back. You're perfect for each other on paper, but he's too much like Ron and you're too much his baby brother’s friend, so nothing ever came of it).

Malfoy flinches away like you've slapped him, but when he speaks again he's icily calm. Perhaps then, Potter, you'll head off home and allow me to finish my breakfast with someone who actually respects me and likes being around me? Someone who would like to make me happy?

And you're gaping at him, because you're not sure quite how things could have gotten so mixed up between you, and yes of course you do want to see Malfoy happy but you just have a horrible cold feeling at the thought that it's Charlie who will be the one to make him so. And as usual you think so much that you leave it too late to say anything at all. His smile is brittle and too sharp then. He tells you he'll see you around. He walks back into the Burrow and you Apparate home.

----------------

Malfoy does seem happy, and that's the only thing that makes it bearable. You still see him, but mostly in public and mostly with other people around. Sometimes Charlie is there. They seem to be taking things slowly, but he sits close to Malfoy and looks delighted to just be near him. Malfoy isn't demonstrative but when Charlie places a hand at his back, or kisses him hello, he gets pink and pleased-looking. You probably stare too much, and you're definitely too quiet around them, but at least you're not embarrassing everyone with the nakedness of your pain.

As the weeks pass, Malfoy starts to come round again sometimes. He pops in with a custard Danish for you at the weekend, and proceeds to eat half of it while leaving buttery fingerprints all over your newspaper. He arrives on Tuesday with a curry, as if you had never stopped your weekly Indian feast routine. You still come home from work to find the house empty, but sometimes there's a book with its page turned down on the windowsill next to the couch, abandoned next to a cup with an inch of still-tepid tea in it. You buy more Earl Grey next time you're in Tesco.

Once, after you've been flying together one evening, the swoop of his smile seems so familiar and tender that you forget and go to kiss him. He smiles at you while he pushes you back, and it's so sweet and sad that it breaks your heart again. He tells you that Charlie is too good a man to deserve to be second-best. You agree.

You go home and, hating yourself every second, you wank furiously to the thought of them fucking. It's too easy to imagine - you know what they're both like in bed, after all. Afterwards, you wonder when you'll start to feel better.

----------------

Languid summer haze rolls into a mild autumn. Malfoy is trying so hard to be your friend that it's almost a relief when the new term starts and he goes back to stay at Hogwarts. He firecalls most evenings to tell you about the worst of the days’ events and student pranks (a disturbing number of which seem to involve explosions. You're sure there wasn't the same commitment to combustibles back in your day). At weekends, you visit and you sit next to Malfoy at the staff table. He laughs and laughs the first time a student asks for your autograph. By the end of the month, they're already bored of seeing you around the place.

You always dread Halloween, but this year is worse than before, you think. For the past few years, long before you ever thought you had a chance with Malfoy, but after you became friends, he's spent the evening with you. This year, he's going to the Burrow for a fireworks party. Last Sunday at lunch you heard Charlie telling Ron that he was excited to invite Draco, that it felt like a step in the right direction towards making things official. You were very proud that you didn't start working your feelings out through a bottle of Firewhiskey there and then. Your self-control only extends so far, though, and on Halloween when you fly to Godric's Hollow your knapsack is clinking.

There's a bench in the garden there. You and Malfoy chose it together and put it up five years ago. It's not as comfortable when you're on your own, but you shore up your Cushioning charms and settle in for a long evening of self-loathing and loneliness.

You're not sure what time it is when he finds you. At some point, you've slipped off the bench. The ground is loamy and densely-fragranced at your cheek, and the stars wink overhead. Malfoy is leaning over you, and you don't know if the smokey-sweet crispness of bonfires is coming from him or the empty bottle of Firewhiskey at your chin. You came, you say - though the words aren't really cooperating, and your mouth feels separate from your face. You grab for him, desperate to be sure he's really there. He's a reassuringly solid warmth under your hands.

You realise how cold you are, then, and once you think of it, the shivers start. He tuts, and casts a Warming charm absent-mindedly, and his dear, familiar magic washes over you like an embrace. You started without me, I see, he says. You've done some real damage to that bottle, Potter. Care to let me escort you home?

You realise too late that your eyes are prickling, and when you tell him you thought he wasn't coming, your voice is so broken-sounding that you feel flayed raw. You know you're going to be sick, then, but you manage to heave yourself up and lean into the overgrown verge, so it misses most of you and avoids Malfoy's favourite dragonhide boots completely.

He's very gentle when he Side-Alongs you home, and it seems like just a slow blink before you're clean and in bed and feeling a bit less lonely. He's sitting beside you and when you reach for his hand he lets you clutch at it. You choke out, I fucked up, but you're still slurring a bit and he mishears you. I know you are, he says, and his hand is cool silk on your whiskey-warm cheek. He says, but it's ok. I'm fucked up too.

I didn't see Charlie today, he tells you. We broke up, not that there was much of anything to break, really. He's hurt because I told him I would be spending this evening with you and not going to his party. He seems to think you're more important to me than he is. And it's true, you insufferable twat.

Your eyes are closing now, and his kiss is feather-light on the shell of your ear. You tell him that you love him, but you're in the murky gap that comes just before the plummet into sleep, and you can't be sure that he heard. Your last memory is of promising yourself that you must tell him properly in the morning.

----------------

Of course, it turns out to be too late. The sky has the lowering gloom of a winter mid-morning by time you’re shocked out of sleep by the emergency chime of the Floo. Sick dread wars with the Firewhiskey sourness in your stomach as you stumble to answer it. Everything feels wrong.

It's McGonagall, and she's pinched and severe with worry when she tells you that Malfoy is hurt, and badly. He was taking the first years on a day trip to Muggle Edinburgh, she tells you, and of course you remember Malfoy talking about the trip, preening at his own organisational skills and delightedly managing to book a proper Muggle coach for the full experience, Potter.

They'd been picked up outside Hogsmeade, and you can picture it, Malfoy in his hoodie and battered jeans, laughing at the children and blowing into his cupped hands to ward against the biting crispness of a Scottish winter morning. The coach had crashed - nothing sinister, just terrible bad luck and winding Scottish roads and black ice. The children were mostly ok, but only because when the skid started, Malfoy had put up an extended Protego to try and cushion them from the worst of the impact. He himself had hit the roof when the bus overturned but had managed to keep the protective bubble over the children until the bus stopped moving. He had some damage - a ruptured spleen, some internal bleeding, broken bones. Nothing the St Mungo's Healers couldn't have fixed, but the effort of keeping such an extensive Protego up over so many people had depleted Malfoy’s magical reserves badly. The Healers couldn't use magical means to fix his physical injuries until they managed to replenish his magical core. It's a time-consuming and delicate process, Mr Potter. As his next of kin, I suggest that you proceed to St Mungo's as a matter of urgency.

You're already half-dressed in clothes you don't remember summoning, and when you Floo through to St Mungo's they send you straight up to the fourth floor. McGonagall is there, and Hermione has been called in as the consulting Healer. Malfoy is stiller than you've ever seen him, unconscious under the pulsating bubble of an isolation charm. The slow drip drip drip of the replenishing formula and the steady whoosh of the core monitor echo in the room like wordless prayers. You sit, helplessly.

You're not sure how much later it is when you think to ask McGonagall to firecall the Manor.

Lucius and Narcissa are grey-faced and furious when they arrive, and as they enter the room you can hear Lucius haranguing Minerva about the fact that Harry Bloody Potter has been sitting at my son's bedside for the last two hours while no one thought to notify his mother and me that our only son has apparently been gravely injured on school business.

McGonagall is well able to handle Lucius, of course, and her voice is crisper than usual when she informs Lucius that Mr Malfoy had deliberately chosen to appoint Mr Potter as his next of kin almost three years ago, and as such his wishes had to be respected.

It's only hitting you now that Malfoy - emotionally reserved, fiercely private Malfoy - had gone to Professor McGonagall three years ago and essentially made a declaration of love for you to her. Three years ago you hadn't even kissed yet. You stand up and you're stammering, because you can't seem to get the words past the lump in your throat. I, I, I, I'm his… he's my…

Eloquent as always, Potter, says Lucius snidely. But you just tell him to piss off, because you're not twelve years old anymore, and you've never been scared of Lucius Malfoy, and anyway you can't be intimidated by that sneer when you've kissed a similar one off his son's face more times than you can count.

You cross the room to Narcissa though, because you know Malfoy loves her, and she's looking stricken by the sight of him lying unseeing in the bed nearby. You kneel in front of her, and you take her hands in yours, and you very gently tell her everything. You tell her about how long you've loved her son; how you tried so hard not to push him away but somehow did it anyway; how you want to make him happy but you're scared you won't know how; how you are going to try anyway, once he wakes up, if he'll have you. She cries a bit, and gives you a chilly and awkward sort of hug, and tells you she thinks you'll do a very good job.

It would have been a perfect moment for Malfoy to wake up then, and witness the touching scene, but because he's a contrary bugger and is also fairly badly injured, he takes another day and a half before he opens his eyes, and another day and night before he's feeling lucid enough to listen to you and do a lot of strenuous eye-rolling as you talk.

You hold his hand as though it's something precious, and you explain it all, right from the start. He looks unimpressed but he is listening, and towards the end he's definitely starting to smile a bit. You run out of things to say eventually, so you finish up on a high note and tell him that you are in love with him and would like it if he would love you back and try to help you not fuck things up again. He looks a bit pained at this, and suggests that perhaps it wasn't entirely your fault, and that maybe you should both try to (and here he really does look a bit appalled at himself) communicate more and tell each other how you feel.

It all sounds a bit like hard work but you know from experience that nothing could be worse than not having him, and then he's smiling at you like he does the moment before he whips his broom around for a dive, and all of a sudden things seem very clear. It's so simple, really. You're very sure that you can work as hard as you need to if it means you get to make him smile like that every day.

He reels you in for a kiss then, and there's an awful lot of tongue and gasping and groping for someone who's supposed to be an invalid.

And you think maybe, just maybe, this feels like it could be your happily ever after.