I will love you,
not starting with
your skin or your
organs or your
I will love madly first
your naked soul.
This story begins with Ginny’s tears and her shaky voice yelling to get out, just get out, get out . This story starts with a door slammed shut and your own tears, heavy and hot behind your eyelids. You don’t know when it came to this. You don’t know when things went to shit between the two of you, you don’t know when you started fighting in the kitchen and ignoring each other at the dinner table. If you thought about it, it’d frighten you, because the only future you ever saw was you and her with rings around your fingers and a house full of children. It’s all you ever thought you wanted.
(Later, when you grieve for that future in earnest, you’ll realise it never was your happy ending at all, and you’ll bury every last scrap of it in a shallow grave in his memory, and you’ll cover it in daffodils and nostalgia. But it is not later, not yet, and you’re leaning against the cool wood of the door and choking back sobs, and you still believe you want it in earnest.)
You end up at the Unicorn and Thestral. It’s not a choice, not really, it’s just warm and loud, it’s just got alcohol and your friends, and you hope you can lose yourself in it all. You can’t, of course, the alcohol just fuels the dark, heavy cloud of rain and hurt pulsating just behind your ribs. Ron makes a joke, and everyone laughs, and you just think of Ginny’s words, of how their sharp points have pricked right through your skin and lodged themselves in your bloodstream.
( I’m doing everything I can, Harry. I’m doing everything I can, and I’m killing myself trying to be different for you. Trying to be perfect. Trying to be someone you’ll finally love. I’m killing myself, Harry, and you don’t even see it. )
When you see Malfoy, it is a punch to the gut. He’s sitting at a table, and the low light of the pub is making his hair glow like liquid gold. His eyes shimmer like quicksilver. You remember that you hate him.
(You remember how to hate him because it is what you’ve done your entire life. You remember how to hate him because it’s what you did when the world was still painted entirely in black and white, when it was still easy to know right from wrong, when you were still going to be so bone-shatteringly happy after the war.)
(You remember how to watch his every move because he’s gorgeous, he’s gorgeous, he’s gorgeous—he’s luminous and warm, and you can’t tear your eyes away.)
You bring your pint to your lips, draining the amber liquid in one swallow. The alcohol sets fire to your bloodstream. It doesn’t make anything better. Ron is still laughing, and Draco is still looking at you with his metal-heavy gaze, and your chest is still about to burst from the firework explosion of every human feeling at once.
(But I don’t think it’s me, Harry, I really don’t. I used to think you were so perfect. I used to think all those moments when you looked past me were my fault, but they’re really not, are they? It’s not me, Harry. It’s never been me. And you have no idea how much that hurts.)
Then, all of a sudden, there are three empty pint glasses in front of you, and you can’t take it anymore. You push yourself up, your palms coming into hard contact with the wood of the table. Heads turn to you, suddenly. You don’t look at them. You walk across the room.
“Is there a problem, Malfoy?”
There is safety in those words. It’s something you might have said in the courtyard at Hogwarts, or in the Great Hall, or on the quidditch pitch. Something warm and heavy settles behind your ribs, like a brick, or warm milk, or a pulsating swarm of bees.
(Why won’t you admit you’ve got a problem, Harry? Why won’t you admit you need help? Can’t you see how it hurts you? Can’t you see the strain you’re putting on our relationship? Someday, you’ll wake up, Harry, and I’ll be gone. Someday, I won’t be able to take it anymore and you’ll have to deal with that.)
Malfoy answers with something snarky. You fall back into the familiar ebb and flow of trading blows until you spit out:
“It’s a bit predatory, don’t you think, going after blokes who are too young to remember your role in the war.”
(You want to know what I think the problem is, Harry? Because I don’t think it’s me. Because I don’t think anything I could ever do could make you love me the way I love you. I think the problem is you, Harry. I think the problem is that you’re too much of a bloody coward to take a good look at who you really are, and I think the problem is that you’re too afraid of what you’ll find there. You’re too afraid of not being bloody perfect all the time, aren’t you?)
Wands are drawn shortly after that, words turning to curses and hexes.
You get thrown out of the bar.
This is the part of the story where everything turns into a disaster. This is the part where the world turns on its head and everything spins out of control. This is the part where you come violently against Malfoy in a dingy back alley, with quicksilver in your veins, ashes on your tongue and eyes shut so tight your entire vision turns to white.
It happens like this:
You crowd Malfoy, you push him against the wall with violent words sitting on your tongue and fight-tight fists. You know this, you know the contact of your bodies, vicious and shock-sharp. He’ll hit you, you think. He’ll hit you, and you’ll hit back, and the skin over your bones will stain purple-black with his fists. And you crave the pain, oh, you do. You need the shatter-pain contact of his knuckles with the bone of your jaw. You need the blood-crack of split lips and the taste of iron and salt on your incisors. You need to wipe away the sticky salt-red and smile and taunt, your entire body reckless and alive. You need it like a missing limb or a broken tooth.
(This is the thing about pain: it’s always helped you know where you end and where the rest of the world starts. This is the thing about pain: it’s always helped you to inhabit your body again.)
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you, Malfoy?” you spit, and you can feel the tension between you, and you can taste the hate and the violence in the air. (You are entirely drunk on it.)
Then: Draco moans, and it all goes to shit.
Your body is electric and fight-ready, every cell is awake and alive and screaming underneath your skin with want and need. A dreadful sense of loss, too. The sound goes straight to your spine and spreads, deadly and flammable as lighter fluid, to every inch of your body. It seeps into your bloodstream, and you need something to happen, suddenly. You need to turn yourself inside out, you need to claw at your stomach with fingernails and finger bones, you need to scream at the sky and cry out the ocean you’ve been keeping inside you for longer than you remember.
When Draco shifts his hip against you, the heavens split into halves and lightning strikes your chest. Suddenly, your groin is rubbing against Draco’s firm thigh, and everything underneath your skin catches fire in the wake of that feeling. Draco guides your leg between his thigh, and this is when you lose it completely. It feels better than anything ever has, than anything even has the right to. He’s breathing against your neck, hot and heavy and wet. You moan and whimper, and you grab him by the hip, and you go fast, fast, fast, oh faster, like that, like that. You know in your bones you’re going to come hard, you can feel it in your teeth, and you can’t find the strength to care. You’re going to come against a wall in a back alley, against a man you’ve always felt more comfortable hating, and it is everything your life is not.
Because your life is Ginny and your life is happy and safe, now.
But everything in your life has been so wrong for so long, and Draco is making you feel alive with his solid, warm body, with his bone-sharp hips, with the sandpaper-roughness of his stubble on your neck. And Draco is making you feel right, finally, finally. Draco is filling up all the holes inside your chest, is mending all the cracks along your bones, is braiding the torn filaments of your heart back together and you never want it to end, the motion and the friction, the moans and the desperate grasping at each other, not when it feels this good, not when it’s the only thing that’s felt right since the war.
You come hard, face pressed against Draco’s collarbone. For a blissful moment, your brain is entirely silent, entirely empty, entirely bathed in light and warmth and happiness.
And then, every single feeling you’ve ever had comes crashing down on you.
(You want to know why I think you don’t even look at me? I think I’m not the right shape for you, Harry. I think I have too many curves in all the wrong places for your liking. I don’t think I’m the right gender at all. And how are you going to deal with that Harry? Not today, not in five years, even, maybe. But eventually? What will you do then? Go to bars and pick up faceless blokes? Suck them off in loos and back alleys, and then come back to me and pretend like everything is fine? Is that what you’re going to do?)
You run away.
Ginny’s already asleep when you get home, half-drunk and petrified with fear. She looks so small and fragile in your large bed, you’re overcome with the desire to protect her and keep her safe. Then, you realise what you’ve just done, you realise how much it’d hurt her if she knew, and shame rolls over your body like a tidal wave.
You can’t hurt her anymore, you decide. She’s done everything for you; she waited while you were walking to your death, and she held you in the aftermath, and you love her, you love her so much, you’ve always loved her. (You do, oh you do. Don’t you?) You need to be better, for her, you resolve. You need to make it right, take every feeling that bubbled up to the surface when you were held tight in Draco’s arms, when his breath was on your neck and his leg in between your thighs and shove it down, down, down into the deepest pit of yourself and keep it there forever.
(You will take the memory of being touched by a man, of his firm, bony shoulders under your hands and of his stubble on your chest, and you’ll shove it down, down, down and you’ll forget it because you can’t be gay, not when you’ve jumped over so many hurdles already and not when you’re holding your happy ever after in your hands and not when it’d destroy the life you worked so hard to build for yourself. But most of all, you can’t be gay because you stopped being a freak when you were eleven and a large man knocked on your door and took you away, and you promised yourself that those days were over. And you became the golden boy and the sacrificial lamb. You became the hero and the martyr, and you were none of these things, not really, but it never mattered because, finally, you weren’t a freak anymore.)
You climb into bed and softly shake Ginny awake. She looks at you with sleep-heavy eyes. She cries when you tell her you’re sorry, and she kisses you when you tell her you love her, you really do, and you’re going to be better now, you’re going to make her happier now. She falls asleep between your arms, her head resting on your chest, her ginger hair on your face. You can smell the green apples in her shampoo, and when you remember that Draco smelled like cedar and smoke? You shove it down and decide to never think of it again.
You think of it again the very next day.
Draco is standing in the corridor outside your office and every minute detail of the night before comes rushing back to you—the fear and the want, the shame and the recklessness, too.
“I need to talk to you,” you say so you don’t have to think about the way his body felt against you, about the way his stubble rubbed against your jaw, about the way his leg felt between your thighs. (You realise you’ve grabbed his wrist at some point. You let it go like it’s made entirely of sharp needles and burn-glow embers.)
“I’d say so. Have you any idea how impolite it is to just disappear after you’ve come, without even offering some release to your partner?”
The words go clean through your chest. He can’t talk about this, not here, not now. Not ever.
(Because this is the thing about words: they make things real. And you’ve been thinking about what happened in indefinite articles and vague terms since yesterday, you’ve been carefully avoiding naming it, defining it, describing it, for fear that you might make it unforgettable. And still, it is all you can think about.)
“I’m not gay,” you say, because you aren’t, are you? (And would he touch you again if you were? Would he call you love and gently brush his long fingers along the line of your jaw if you were? Your chest constricts with a painful kind of longing at the thought.)
“Oh, of course not,” Malfoy spits, his grey eyes unreadable and cold. “How would it look to the wizarding world, their saviour liking to be fucked by other men? You’re supposed to marry your childhood sweetheart and breed little hero sprogs to keep up morale, isn’t that right?”
Each word is like a blow, straight to your face, and you can feel the copper-salt taste of blood on your teeth. You feel tears, heavy-hot behind your eyes. Shame, too. Of course, Malfoy’s right. Of course. Malfoy sees straight through you, to the darkest parts, the parts you need to keep buried and never think of again. Malfoy knows that he’s struck a nerve with his words: you can tell from the glint in his eyes and from the shape of his scissor-sharp smile. It fills your stomach with liquid-cold fear until nausea wraps its green fingers around your throat and you feel like you’re drowning. You can’t let those parts of you see the light of day again, you can’t. You need to go home to Ginny, you need to take her soft hands in yours, and you need to make her smile, and you need to be happy with this life, with just this life, with this lovely girl and your lovely home. You need to remember it’s everything you ever wanted, it’s everything you survived the war for (and not bone-sharp shoulders, not stubble-rough chins, not comet-blond hair.)
“Fuck you, Malfoy.”
It’s the only thing you can think of. You grab his wrist and tighten your fingers around it. Your joints hurt. You want to squeeze more. You want to hurt him. You want to bring him down and make him sob, you want to ruin him and break him and make him forget how you moaned and whimpered under his fingertips.
“Well, I thought you’d never ask.”
The bastard is looking at you, one eyebrow arched and a challenge in his eyes. His lips are inches away from yours, and you could bite them to stop the words from coming out, you could kiss them, you could crowd him against the wall and...
“Just stay the fuck away from me,” you say, letting go of his wrist and turning away.
(Later, you’ll throw up in the Ministry loo, shame and want and anger leaving your body all at once. Later, you’ll punch the wall, and it’ll stop you from crying, and you’ll pretend that it counts as being fine.)
Ginny breaks up with you two weeks after that.
You can’t fault her, you’ve been a shitty boyfriend. The press is all up in it, of course, and your life is hell for a while. You don’t mind. It keeps you busy, avoiding the reporters and turning away all the owls. It stops you from thinking. Then, Celestina Warbeck wears the wrong dress at a gala or serves breakfast tea at four o’clock or something and the media frenzy dies down.
And everything goes to hell.
You’re sat on the floor of your office late on a Tuesday night after everyone’s already gone home, and you’ve already drunk half a bottle of fire whiskey in a desperate attempt to forget your own name, when you see Malfoy again. You don’t know why he peers through your half-open door. You don’t even ask.
“Come to gloat?” you say instead, taking a swig of firewhiskey from the bottle and staring pointedly at the wall.
“Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself, Potter. It might have escaped you, but the world does not always revolve around you. You do know that my good friend Pansy works in the Ministry, right? You do know that you are not the only human in the building?”
You mutter a curse in his direction and take another healthy swig of firewhiskey. Malfoy’s trying to set fire to your skin with his eyes, and you can’t read any of the emotion in his face. You take another swig, for good measure. It tastes like sadness and self-loathing. (Like grief. Like guilt, too.)
“Are you going to stop staring at some point? Or are insults your kind of foreplay, and we’re going to end up fucking against a wall again?” you spit. You’ve got nothing else to lose, there’s a hole in your chest already, there, just there where your heart used to be. Nothing matters anymore, now, and you savour the words on your tongue—you hope they hurt him, you hope they make him look away in shame or guilt. You hope they break this semblance of normalcy between the both of you, where you pretend that everything is still the same, that you can still trade barbs and be enemies and that the entire world didn’t go down in flames before you even were properly adults, that you’re not battered and broken and entirely out of place everywhere you go.
Draco does not look away. He walks towards you briskly.
“That’s enough, Potter. Hand over the bottle. You’ve had plenty enough to drink,” he orders.
You turn away from him, cradling the bottle in your arms like a petulant child. He crouches beside you, tries to pry it out of your hands. You won’t let go, and the amber liquid sloshes dangerously behind the cold glass. You give the bottle a sharp tug, and then, all of a sudden, you’re flat on your back and Draco’s lying on top of you. The bottle rolls away from you, the liquid slowly spilling on the floor in small, sticky puddles. Neither of you notices.
The moment stretches for an eternity. You try not to breathe, and you try not to think because Draco’s skin is touching your skin, because Draco’s breath is caressing your cheek, because Draco’s eyes are gazing into yours, and they’re bright as stars and hot as molten metal, and you could drown in those eyes, you think. You could die for those eyes.
Draco kisses you. It’s not a pretty kiss. It’s not gentle and soft and romantic. You bite his lip. He claws at your shoulders, bruise-hurt fingers digging deep into the flesh. You moan. You writhe underneath him. He pins you to the floor and kisses you harder. You lose yourself entirely.
“I want you to fuck me,” you whisper into the shell of his ear. He freezes.
“I want you to fuck me,” you repeat. “I want you to ruin me. I want you to tear me to shreds and pick me apart and destroy me.”
Draco doesn’t move, and you think he’s going to push you away, so you murmur into the skin of his neck: “Don’t you want to take the golden boy apart, Draco? Don’t you want to stain him, to taint him? Don’t you want to show him exactly how dirty he is? How inept a saviour? How much of a sinner? Isn’t it what you want, Draco, what you’ve always wanted?”
Draco snaps, at those words, kissing you with so much violence there’s the taste of blood on your tongue. You’re incandescent with want. He sees you, he knows who you are. He’ll show you your place, he’ll force you to be everything you are, everything you don’t want others to see in you. He pulls at your dress robes, his caresses leave raised-red streaks on your chest. You moan and whimper under him.
“You want it, don’t you, Potter? You want someone to finally see you for who you are, don’t you? You want someone to show you your place, someone who won’t pretend like you’re perfect. You’re broken, Potter. You’re broken and bruised—tainted goods. But I’ll have you, Potter. I’ll have you.”
Draco’s babbling against the skin of your back, he’s biting your shoulder and working your trousers open. You’ve never felt so good in your entire life.
When Draco finally starts stroking your cock, your vision blurs entirely and you cover your face with your fingers. The sensation of Draco’s fingers tracing colour-bright strokes of pleasure on your skin is almost too much to bear, and you’re entirely sure you’re going to catch fire or turn to liquid. You’re entirely sure you’re going to physically come undone from the feeling, entirely sure your muscles will dissolve, entirely sure your bones will turn to chalk or dust.
“I’m going to fuck you, Potter,” Draco whispers into the skin of your shoulder. “I’m going to fuck you like you’ve never been fucked. I’m going to make you scream, and I’m going to come inside you, and it’s going to feel so good. Oh, you’re going to be so good for me, aren’t you, Potter?”
Tears rush unbidden from your eyes when you feel his pleasure-stroke fingers inside you.
“Draco,” you moan, because you’re entirely incapable of using words anymore. “Draco, oh, Draco.” His name has become a mantra that keeps you safe, that keeps you sane, that keeps your demons at bay, and his fingers on your skin. You taste every syllable of it on your tongue like citrus fruit and brown sugar. You swallow up all the words he spills onto your naked skin, and you beg for more.
“I want you inside me,” you finally manage when he’s worked you open and pushed you to the brink of madness and desire. The words punch the air clean out of his lungs and silence curls around you for a second. Then, Draco pushes you on to your hands and knees, whispers soft words of praise into your ear ( so beautiful, Potter and you’re doing so well and I’m going to make you feel so good ), and you feel him push into you, slowly. The feeling is bright-sharp, heavy with pleasure and edged with pain. Draco moves tentatively, and the sinful sounds he makes are almost enough to bring you over the edge.
“How does it feel, Draco?” you coax him. “How does it feel, fucking the golden boy? How does it feel making him come undone underneath you? Do you like it? Do you?”
Draco starts fucking you in earnest after that, grabbing your shoulders and your hair, biting vicious kisses into the skin of your back and calling out your name. Pleasure overcomes you, blinding-white and scorching-hot. You make embarrassing sounds, you lose yourself entirely in him, in the motion in the act. You want it to never end—the feeling of him inside you, the sounds of him and the smell of him. You want it to never end, but it feels too right, too good, and you feel your orgasm in your bones a split second before you come all over the floor, Draco’s name on your lips. Draco comes at the same time, clutching at your hair and groaning curse words into your neck.
This is when you realise you’ve just had sex. With another man. And you’ve enjoyed it.
The reality of it hits you like an avalanche.
You can’t be gay. Fuck. You can’t be gay. Not on top of everything else. Not on top of the nightmares and the trauma, not on top of being singled out and hunted down by the press every time a minute detail in your life changes.
(You can’t be gay, because you know, deep down, that behind the masks of the saviour and golden boy, beneath the fragile veneer of glory and fame, under the weight of medals and dress robes—you’re still a freak. And you can’t stand the thought of anyone else knowing it but you.)
“I’m not gay,” you announce to the eerie stillness of the room.
Malfoy’s face darkens. He pushes himself to his feet and puts his clothes back on in angry, brusque motions.
“Could have fooled me, Potter”, he spits, before opening the door and disappearing into the empty darkness of the hallway.
You lie down on the floor. You stare at the ceiling, wondering where your life went so wrong.
You stay there for half the night.
You still can’t figure it out.
When you don’t hear from Malfoy for the next two weeks, you pretend it doesn’t bother you. And why would it? All there ever was between you was a drunken fuck because you were desperate and heartbroken. It happens, you tell yourself. It happens.
You’re not gay.
( How would it look to the wizarding world, their saviour liking to be fucked by other men? )
You owl Malfoy a little more than a month later.
Him and you—it just works, you decide. You’re not gay, of course, but you’re still single. There’s no harm in having a good fuck once in a while. Some of your friends do it. It doesn’t have to mean anything. No one else ever has to know.
It’s just sex you tell yourself, when Malfoy shows up at your door at two o’clock in the morning, unshaven and wild-eyed.
“Getting desperate, Potter?” he taunts as you close the door behind him. “With your fame, I’d imagine witches would be all over you. Maybe you can’t get it up with them, mmh? Is that the problem, Potter?”
“Fuck you, Malfoy,” you hiss through your teeth.
“Yes, that is exactly what you asked me here to do, isn’t it?”
He moves forward towards you, moves in to kiss you. You turn your head.
“I can’t kiss you, Malfoy.”
He steps away. You tighten your fist until your fingernails dig into your palms. You think only of the pain in your hand and not of that in his eyes. You’re not gay, you remind yourself, and you need to be clear with him if this is going to work out. Establish boundaries. That’s what people do, isn’t it?
“I only kiss people I’m in love with. I should have been clearer with you last time, I’m sorry”
“Oh, don’t worry, Potter. I’m not here for love. There’s nothing but sex between us. Absolutely nothing but sex.”
When Malfoy fucks you into the mattress, later that night, it’s rough and vicious. He pulls at your hair, and he leaves bruises all over your skin, and he doesn’t try to kiss you.
You still come harder than you’ve ever come with Ginny.
It becomes a regular thing, after that. He shows up at your door. You meet up at ministry functions, in shitty hotel rooms (but not in his home, never in his home). You trade barbs, you fuck each other, you never stay the night and you never talk about it. And it’s fine, it is, why wouldn’t it be? It’s just sex, after all. People do it all the time. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
Sometimes, after Draco leaves, you take showers so hot they scald your skin, the burn-red caress of boiling water erasing all the evidence Draco bit your neck and scratched your back. It hurts, the water coming into contact with your skin. You tense your muscles. You don’t move. You let the pain bite into your flesh. And if you cry? No one can tell.
Sometimes, after Draco leaves, you’d give anything for him to walk back through the door, cradle you in his arms and kiss your hair. Sometimes, after Draco leaves, the emptiness in your chest crushes your lungs and ruptures your spleen, and you collapse to the floor in a panicked, choking heap.
Sometimes, after Draco leaves, you forget how to be alive, because everything’s brighter when he’s around. Everything’s warmer and more beautiful. And those nights? They’re the worst. You stay awake for hours, you stare at the white-grey walls of your room and you realise that you’ve gone and fallen head over heels in love with another man. A man you can’t have. A man you shouldn’t want. A man who will never love you back.
(Sometimes, after Draco leaves, it’s not fine at all.)
You knock on Draco’s door after a particularly difficult Auror raid. You’re raw and tired and vulnerable, and you need him more than you need to breathe. Draco lets you in. Draco ties you up to the bed, and it’s everything you’ve ever needed.
He’s fucking himself on your cock, and you’re crying out his name, the carefully distant “Malfoy” blurring into the round syllables of “Draco”, because he’s been Draco ever since you first fucked against a wall in the back alley of a dingy pub and you’ve only been kidding yourself ever since. He’s moving excruciatingly slowly, lowering himself down the length of your cock, stroking himself, eyes half-lidded and pleasure-blurred. And if you could think clearly, you’d realise he knew exactly what you needed him to do. He made you give up control, he made you let go entirely. He made you feel safe and warm and seen, in a way no one else seems to be able to.
If you could think clearly, you’d realise that you’re entirely fucked, because you’ll never love anyone else like you love him. Not with this all-encompassing intensity. Not with this wild fervour. Not with this bottomless trust.
Fortunately for you, you can’t think clearly, because Draco is still fucking himself on your cock, still making sinful noises as he pleasures himself with your body, still moving in all the ways that make you writhe and moan and beg, so all you can think about is that fuck, he feels good, and fuck, he’s gorgeous. You complain about the ropes tying you down. You beg him to make you come. He sucks at your earlobe, and he pins your wrists down with his soft, warm hands, infuriating and wonderful.
“I want to touch you,” you finally manage. “Please, let me touch you.”
He lets you, and you take an armful of him. You touch him, and you hold him, and you pour everything that you feel into the contact of your skins. I never want to let you go, you let your fingertips whisper against the smoothness of his back. You’re the only person who grounds me, you let your eyes confess. I’m in love with you, oh I’m so terrifyingly in love with you, you wordlessly tell him with every whimper and every moan. You watch him come, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.
He collapses down onto the bed, and you’re still for a while, the both of you. He’s stretched out with his arms above his head, all long, graceful limbs and glorious expanses of ivory skin, and you try to commit the intimate softness of him to memory. You want to hold him. You want to kiss him. You move your hand to caress his skin but you think better of it before you touch him—he’s not in love, you remember. He’ll remind you often enough, with knife blade words and throw-away comments that feel like blows to the teeth. It’s just sex for him, you remember. You’re just a pretty face to fuck, just a schoolboy fantasy to have and to discard.
Your hand hovers aimlessly before falling limply back to your side.
He rolls around without so much as looking at you.
“Close the door when you leave, will you?”
And you know you should get up from that bed. You know you should put your clothes on, and walk out of that door, and forget about this whole disaster of a night.
(Because here’s the thing about Malfoy: it hurts like an open fracture or a heart attack that you love him, but you love him. And you need him like you need air, and you’re entirely certain that if you were to leave, your flesh would turn into chalk and you’d crumble down entirely.)
You wave a gentle cleansing spell over him, and you lie down against his body. You pull the duvet over your body. (It smells like him.) You listen to him breathe deeply in the dark silence of the room and you pretend that you have this. That you have him. You don’t move. You don’t cry.
You fall asleep eventually.
Draco’s still sleeping when you wake up. You feel wrong-footed, waking up in his home. (In his room. In his bed.) You stand up, carefully. You slip on your clothes. He doesn’t need to know you were here, you decide. He doesn’t need to know you didn’t go yesterday, doesn’t need to know you spent the night in his bed.
(He doesn’t need to know that you watched him sleep and, in the soft, silent darkness, pretended you were good enough for him to love you. Doesn’t need to know the awful feelings spilling inside your chest, choking you with shame and unbearable desire for what you can never have.)
It’s not that you don’t want to stay. Oh, it’s not that you don’t want to watch him wake up, it’s not that you don’t want him to smile at you with sleep-fogged eyes. (You’d give your right arm for that. You’d give an eye or your lungs. If it was still yours, you’d give your entire heart, too.)
But you can’t, suddenly. You can’t. You can’t bear to hear ‘it’s only sex’ again. You can’t bear to be reminded that he doesn’t love you. And you know he’ll only ever give you the scraps, the unwanted crumbs of him. It hurts like an iron brand to the chest, and you keep coming back to it all the same. And it’s always so good, but it’s ever enough, is it? It’s never enough, and the black-ink void behind your ribs eats away at your liver and your spleen a little more each time, and when there’s nothing left of you anymore, what will you do then?
You should let it go, you think, fiddling with the silver clasps on your travelling cloak. You should let it go, you should grieve the love that you’re not allowed to pour into the cup of his hands, and you should let yourself wallow for a while, do something stupid. Get a tattoo, climb a mountain. Whatever shit people do when they’re heartbroken.
And maybe you’d even live through the whole ordeal, you think, and there’s a smile living just behind your teeth, and you might even be alright. You might even be alright.
But then: Draco wakes up and everything is a disaster again.
His soft grey eyes are on you and you forget everything about leaving and healing. You want to smile and kiss his forehead. You want to yell at him that you know you’ll never be good enough for him or right enough for him, but would he let you pretend just a little more? Would he love you today, just for a while, would he kiss your hair and hold your hand?
“Oh, you’re awake,” you say instead. Obvious observations, always a suave choice. Small wonder Draco hasn’t asked you to marry him yet with wit that sharp.
“Sorry, I er… I didn’t mean to spend the night,” you add, because your brain and your mouth are apparently not connected.
Draco rubs his neck, naked and glorious amongst the satin sheets. And how can you not be in love when he’s this beautiful?
“No, it’s fine, don’t mention it.”
There’s no emotion in his words. No warmth, no surprise. They’re careful. Measured. Indifferent. Everything inside your chest turns to stone, heavy and cold.
“I’m… I’m not gay.”
The words ring hollow, and you regret them the moment they spill from your tongue, but you’re a statue of pining and grief, and the sea of him keeps eroding at everything you are. You’ve given up everything already, you’ve placed your heart and your life and any tiny chance at happiness you ever had on the altar of this impossible love, you’ve taken every single scrap of feeling that could fit inside you, and you’ve laid it at his feet, and—you’re empty now. Empty and hollow and broken, and all that’s left of you is the golden shell, the medals and the dress robes, the newspaper headlines and the gala invitations. You can’t let him take those too, because who would you be then?
Draco gathers his sheets around him. The world turns into a greyscale scene from an ancient film. The speed is wrong and you’re not entirely sure that if you spoke, either of you would hear the words. There’s something about him, in that moment. Something like hurt or of anger. Something like a storm at sea, relentless and awe-inspiring. (And he’s beautiful, you think, he’s beautiful, and the sight of him goes straight to your chest.)
“Right. Because that would be awful, wouldn’t it? Really fucking disgusting.”
The words feel like lightning, cutting you clean into halves from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.
“I’m not homophobic or anything!” is your brilliant reply, and you’re not entirely sure you should be allowed to speak ever again, not when you keep saying the worst possible things at the worst possible times.
“You’re not? Well, you’re doing a great job hiding it.”
And he’s right. Of course, he’s right. He’s gay, isn’t he? He’s out about it, too. Of course, that’s what it looked like to him. Of course. And what can you say? You can’t tell him you love him so much you can’t breathe sometimes. You can’t tell him about the tidal waves of feelings and how you think you’ll burst with them. There’s your heart at his feet, beating and bloody, ripped straight from your chest, and you can’t tell him about that either, so you settle for not saying anything at all.
(Then: sadness washes over his face, and you wish you had told him something. Anything.)
“I’m going to the bathroom,” he says, draping the sheets around him and getting out of bed, “and when I get back, either you’ll have your shit together, or you’ll be gone, understood?”
He crosses the room slowly, without looking at you. There’s the weight of the entire world on his thin shoulders. As soon as he closes the door behind him, you run away.
Later, you’ll think back to this moment and you’ll wonder why you decided to run. Later, you’ll drink and drink and drink and let alcohol dissolve reality around you, and you’ll will yourself back to that moment. You’ll close your eyes tight, and you’ll imagine what would have happened if you’d run after him, if you’d told him you loved him, if you’d fought for him, but in that moment, you don’t do any of these things. Instead, you rush down the stairs and bolt onto the street and run until you’re out of breath. Then, you collapse, half panting and half sobbing, onto the dirty, rough concrete of the pavement.
And when you finally push the door of your flat open, you undress in calm, deliberate motions, and you take a shower. The water does not burn you. You do not punch the tiled wall. You do not even scream or cry. You decide you’ll never see Draco again and you don’t feel a thing.
There are nights when you feel everything at once, and your chest is so full of despair and sadness, of shame and anxiety that you think you’ll combust from the intensity of it. There are nights you spend lying on the floor, half convulsing and half crying, and you can’t bear it, you can’t, you can’t. Your blood turns to fire ants, and they’re burrowing into your chest, digging tunnels through your flesh and into your bones and you’d do anything for it to stop, but nothing works, nothing works, nothing works. And you don’t know how to stop being alive, because alive burns all your nerve endings, because alive shatters all your bones. The sounds are entirely too loud and the colours entirely too bright and the air you breathe is made entirely out of steel wool and wasp stings, and you can’t live like this, you can’t.
(You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.)
There are nights when feelings drain away from you entirely, and the world turns monochrome, all cotton-wool and wrapping foam. There are nights when you feel so empty you can’t believe anything would ever fill you up. You feel so empty you wish the fire ants were back in your veins. You feel so empty you want to claw at your skin until you see your blood, until you’re reassured that it’s still there, that you’re still alive. And you can’t remember how to exist anymore. You can’t remember how to be human, how to smile or how to cry. All you know is the pulsating emptiness behind your ribs and the unbearable feeling of loneliness and pain, and you can’t live like this, you can’t.
(You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.)
In the rare moments that you’re not feeling too much or nothing at all, in the rare moments when you can remember how to function in this world, you think about Draco.
You find yourself on Draco’s doorstep a week later. You have no idea if he’s going to open the door and you have no idea how he’s going to react. You haven’t thought about it. About any of it, if you’re honest.
You’d been lying on the floor of your bedroom again, crushed under the weight of every emotion you’d ever felt in your entire life. There were ants in your bloodstream and your heart was beating like a tribal drum against your ribs, and you were half-convinced you’d have thrown up your liver and lungs if organs worked that way. And you knew how to deal with that, you did. All you needed to do was hold on until it passed, was fight the waves of nausea and choke back the tears. (You couldn’t.)
“I can’t live like this, I can’t,” you’d sobbed into the skin of your wrist while a violent wave of nausea wracked your body, making it convulse and shake. “I can’t live without him. I love him, fuck, I love him. I’m fucking gay, and I’m fucking in love, and I can’t go on pretending I’m not.” Your voice grew louder and louder with each word, and you couldn’t bring yourself to care because you needed to tell someone, anyone, about everything you were going through. And suddenly, you weren’t going to be fine at all. Suddenly, none of it mattered any more: all your fear and carefully crafted protection from the world, the press headlines and the interminable interviews, the inevitable hate letters pouring from every window and the word “gay” branded upon your forehead. Suddenly, all that mattered was how sad and defeated Draco had seemed the last time you saw him, how he’d seemed to want you to admit you were gay, to want you to stay or go after him or show him it mattered, what you did together.
And, just like that, there was hope, growing brighter and brighter inside your chest, until you turned into a lighthouse.
And it was all you could think about, that hope. The brightness of it dispelled all the shadows of your doubts and your fears. It filled you entirely with something anxious and restless until you pulled on your travelling cloak and stepped outside. It’s all you could think about, and now, you’re standing on Draco’s doorstep and it suddenly dawns on you, the immensity of everything you’re doing. Everything it means. How terribly badly it could backfire.
Draco opens the door. You stop thinking again because he’s here, pained and lovely, struck by your presence as if by lightning. You don’t tell him you love him, but you walk up to him, slowly, and he lets you (he lets you, he lets you) and it is a first step.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” you say into the crook of his neck as if it could somehow explain the ants and the emptiness, the nausea and the loneliness. He pulls you closer, fists his hand in your hair, and you can’t find it in yourself to tell him more. Not now, not now, not when he’s warm and soft against you, not when you love him so much and you’ve missed him like a thunderstorm.
He pulls you into his bedroom and pushes you onto the bed and you don’t resist. Every cell of you is alive with the sight of this beautiful boy, every inch of your skin is singing from his touch. You run your hands all over his body, and your mouth, and your tongue. You pour everything you feel for him into working him open. He moans and writhes under you and it fills all the holes in your chest.
You lose yourself in the motion of fucking Draco until your body is made out of light and you feel the pleasure rolling down the mountain slopes of your chest like an avalanche. You’re holding him, and you’re calling out his name, and he’s matching every thrust of your hip, whispering dirty come-ons ionto your naked skin.
You're kissing him.
You aren't entirely sure how it happens, but you are sure that it happens and it’s all that matters because Draco's mouth is on yours, soft and sweet and impossibly warm. You kiss him, and you kiss him, and you kiss him, and this is it, isn't it? This is what the poets write about, this is what the singers sing about. This is everything humanity has been celebrating since the beginning of time, and it's glorious, and you've only just come to understand why.
You kiss him through his orgasm, and you kiss him through yours, and when the waves of pleasure finish coursing through your skin, you're still kissing. You want to kiss him forever. You want to die right then and there, with his mouth still on your skin, because it would mean you’d get to die happy and that’d be enough. Draco keeps kissing you, and your chest is alight with the intimate knowledge of all the perfect ways his mouth fits against yours, so you don’t die. So you kiss him. (You kiss him. You kiss him.)
You don’t mean to turn back into an Auror the minute your boss’ Patronus gallops through the room. You don’t mean to dart up from the bed and start gathering your clothes, but your boss’ voice is frantic and talks of raids gone wrong and hostages, and what else can you do?
Because here’s the thing about you: your body’s filled to the brim with the mindless routine of all the days you rolled your tired body out of bed, numb and exhausted and animated only by your sense of duty. And you’ve been so busy crafting this careful identity for yourself that you can’t quite remember you really are. You don’t know who Harry is when he’s not the hero and not the Auror, not the golden boy and not the protector. You can’t believe it’s never bothered you before.
You don’t mean to switch back into an Auror and let everything that was important to you slip into the background as you put other people first out of habit and muscle memory, but you do. And it’s only when you feel the honey-warm brush of Draco’s magic on your skin that you realise what this looks like to him.
You try to offer a clumsy apology, you teeth catching on all the words. He doesn’t let you finish your sentence.
“Don’t apologise, you don’t have any obligations towards me,” he cuts in with flint-hard hurt dancing in his pupils. Your chest fills with the deafening sound of fissuring ice shelves. You did this, you realise. You put this hurt in his eyes.
(The thought of it is unbearable.)
You want to tell him how wrong he is. How different things are, this time. You want to hold his face, and you want to tell him you’ll never reject him again if he’ll have you. But time’s running out, and you have a job to do, and you’ve never been good with words, have you? You’ve never known how to use them unless it was to goad or hurt. So you just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head, and it’s confused and wrong, but Draco agrees to see you again, and it’s good enough, you think.
It’ll be okay.
It’s not okay.
The case Robards called you for turns out to be a disaster. It’s a hostage case, and several of your colleagues are in danger, and the adrenaline burns clean through your veins. You get hit with a curse on the side of your neck, and still, you keep fighting. And when it’s finally over, you’re on edge and in pain, and everything around you tastes like war and death. Ron grabs your hand and squeezes.
“I know what you’re going through,” he does not say because no one says those things here.
“I was there too. I remember it too. It’s unbearable tonight,” he does not add because you’re Aurors, and you’re professionals, and you’re not supposed to be affected by these things.
(You’re an Auror, and you’re a professional, and some nights, you can hardly sleep because these things— things like war and death and having curses fired at you—they sit on your lungs and crush your airways.)
When the journalist shows up, you’re tired and depressed and the side of your neck has turned an upsetting shade of purple. You’re ready to go home, roll yourself into bed and have a good cry about everything. You’re doing a pretty good job of ignoring him and his pointless pleading for an interview, until he opens his mouth and says:
“The public deserves to know you are gay, Mr Potter!”
“What did you say?”
“The public wants to know about you, Mr Potter, about your life. Such a great hero for the wizarding world, people look up to you, they care about you. They’d love to hear about your new boyfriend.”
You open your mouth. The journalist doesn’t let you talk.
“You can’t deny that you are gay, Mr Potter. We have pictures proving the fact. But we would appreciate confirmation, perhaps an interview? It would be a shame if we had to publish those pictures without your approval, now, wouldn’t it?”
Pictures. Shit. You try to think when they could have caught you with Draco. You remember you knocked on his door in the middle of the night, dishevelled and frantic. Of course, you know what it looked like. It looked like exactly what it was.
You’re tired and in pain, and you’ve just realised you aren’t going to be able to go back home quite yet. You’re still a bit drunk on everything that happened with Draco, on his skin and his hair and the softness of his mouth when he kissed you. And this, perhaps, this is why you turn reckless all of a sudden.
“What of it?”
It feels good, saying it out loud. Freeing.
“Yes, I’m gay,” you continue, “is that a crime? Do you find there’s something wrong with it, perhaps?”
The journalist looks surprised for a second, but then, his dicta-quill is taking notes, and you’ve gone and made a statement because of course you have. (Lately, every word that spills from your tongue is something that should stay forever in your mouth.)
“Will you go on record and tell us about your whirlwind romance with Mr Sterling?”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
He never saw you on Draco’s doorstep, he saw you with your fucking colleague and thought there was a story in your early morning coffees and casual chats. You want to tell him there’s nothing here, you want to tell him Nicholas has been disgustingly in love with Orion for as long as you have known him, that they’re planning a future together and they’re picking paint colours for the nursery. But then—then, he’ll ask you about your love life and you’ll have to tell him about Malfoy—and what if Malfoy doesn’t want to be in the paper? What if it disrupts his private life?
( What if he doesn’t want to be your boyfriend? sits in the middle of your chest like a stone.)
You mutter something about needing to consult Nicholas about how much to reveal to the press and invite the dicta-quill wielding nuisance to interview you in your home the next day.
( What if he’s still not in love? What if you were wrong about this too? )
When you finally get home, after a long talk with Nicholas and too much paperwork, you close the door gently behind you.
Then: you scream for ten minutes straight.
( What if he publicly rejects you? )
You meet Draco in Diagon alley, and he avoids you.
The interview was a disaster, of course, and the papers are dripping with drivel about you and Nicholas, about your perfect romance and how much you deserve a man who makes you happy. Draco must have read it, you know, and Draco must have believed it, too. He’s broken, when you see him, the way the face of a cliff is broken when sheets of it crash down into the ocean below. It’s a deafening kind of broken.
(An awe-inspiring one, too.)
You try talking to him, but it’s no use. He can’t hear you over the screaming in his chest. (And you understand, you want to tell him, you do. You understand how it much it hurts to be rejected and betrayed. You know how it feels to burn with shame until you want to disappear.)
You want to tell him everything, but you can’t remember the words. So you stand in the middle of Diagon Alley with a knife through the heart and a boulder on your tongue, and you can see the cracks in the careful porcelain of Draco’s jaw. Of Draco’s throat. (Of Draco’s heart.)
When you finally remember the syllables that make up his name, he Disapparates.
You yell at him to wait.
You grasp at the thin air where he was a second ago.
He’s not there, and you are alone.
You send him an owl.
You punch the wall next to the bed, and it leaves a dent in the plaster.
You send him another owl. A third. A fourth.
Your hand is black and blue and swollen at the knuckles. You’ve cried, and you’ve yelled, and you’ve begged every single item of furniture in your house to tell you, just tell you how to make him come back. Tell you how to make it right.
You’ve forgotten how many owls you’ve sent. You keep sending more.
There’s a bottle of firewhiskey on the table.
Your hand doesn’t hurt anymore. You can’t move your fingers.
You owl Draco again. Your owl comes back with the parchment still tied to its leg. Unopened. You owl Pansy, then, out of sheer desperation.
You don’t know what to do with yourself. Everything hurts and your chest is on fire. You’re not going to make it through the night, not without seeing him, not without making this right.
You Apparate to his doorstep, with a declaration of love on the tip of your tongue. He’ll listen, he’ll have to, you try to convince yourself as your good hand makes contact with the cool wood of the door.
He doesn’t answer.
You knock again.
When you’ve finally realised he isn’t going to answer you and you’ve gone almost entirely mad with the loss of him, you pick the lock and break into his flat.
It’s familiar and immaculate. Empty, too.
You collapse on the floor, and you pretend its cool embrace can protect you from the void inside your chest.
You wake in your bed with vague memories of Apparating home and drinking your way through an entire bottle of elf-made wine. You don’t even register the headache that’s splitting your skull open; all you can feel is the unbearable sense of loss, crawling all over your skin like a million small, black spiders. Being alive is being on fire, and it is enough pain to make you start screaming right now and not stop for years.
( You’ve lost him, You’ve lost him. You’ve lost him. )
By the time the clock strikes ten, you’ve sobbed on the floor, and you’ve let the waves of nausea shake your entire body, and you’ve almost firecalled Ron eight separate times.
( You could have had him if you’d just told him, but you’ve gone and hurt him and lost him forever and there’s nothing about this that is not your fault. )
You end up firecalling Lee.
It’s not that you’ve carefully planned it, of course it’s not, because grief takes up all the space inside your skull, heavy and thick. (A sponge sodden with dirty dishwater.)
You end up firecalling Lee and declaring that if Draco won’t listen, you’ll just have to yell at the entire world until he hears.
Lee doesn’t understand a word of your grief-drunken speech. And you must look entirely insane, in that moment, standing in front of the fireplace in nothing but your boxers and an old, alcohol-stained t-shirt, half-sobbing and half-screaming words he doesn’t have the context for.
But he’s lived through a war, Lee has, and he knows how to keep a cool head. He makes you repeat yourself. And then, he makes you explain it all from the beginning.
“It’s your choice, Harry,” he tells you when you’ve finished talking, “It’s your private life and no one gets to decide what you want to do with it but you.”
“I’m not going to tell you not to do it, but—is he worth it, Harry? Is he the one who’s going to make you happy? Is he worth everything you’re going to have to go through if we do this interview?”
You nod. You don’t even need to think about it. You know he’s worth it. You know you want him. (You know he’s the one, you realise, and the knowledge of it spreads through your veins like liquid nitrogen.)
“Okay,” Lee says softly. “Okay, Harry. It’s your choice, and I respect it. I’ll see you tomorrow for the interview.”
Pansy stumbles into your living room the same afternoon, brandishing your drunk-panic message.
“You will explain to me exactly what this is about, Potter,” she demands, all high heels and sharp nails. “And if you even think about hurting Draco more than you already have, so help me, Potter, I will end you.”
You go through everything once again, as she taps her foot restlessly on the wooden floor and nods sharply every time you finish a sentence. You’re glad the chat you had with Lee did at least spur you into taking a quick shower and getting dressed in appropriate clothes because when you make it through less than three sentences before your voice turns sob-broken and shaky, she doesn’t offer any comfort. Her dark eyes pin you down, silently appraising how honest your grief is, and you have never felt so small in your entire life.
“Look, Potter. I’m not going to coddle you, here. You’ve hurt him. You’ve been hurting him for months, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve begged him to just walk away from you. You’re very distraught now that he’s gone, of course, but how do I know you’re not going to go straight back to hurting him the minute he comes back?”
You don’t say anything. She’s right, of course. You’ve spent months hurting Draco because you were too wrapped up in fear and anxiety, because, for all that you are a Gryffindor, for all that you are good at rushing into danger, you were never quite brave enough to own up to who you were, to let others see you, judge you. (Love you, too.) And now, you’ve gone and fucked everything up, and it’s all your fault. You start crying again.
“You’re right,” you tell Pansy, wiping your eyes roughly with the back of your hand. “I’ve been too wrapped up in my own head and my own problems to really look at him. I didn’t think it would matter so much, he kept telling me he didn’t love me, and I thought… I guess I thought it was okay, and refused to acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t.”
Pansy softens a bit at your words. She uncrosses her arms and rests them gently in her lap.
“I guess I thought that because he didn’t love me, I had the right to hurt him as much as he hurt me,” you finish. You feel defeated and broken and entirely overwhelmed by everything, like reality is suddenly too much for you to take in.
“Oh, he loves you.” Pansy says the words like she would spit a cherry stone, hard and quick and like she doesn’t want them in her mouth.
(In the hollow cave of your chest, your heart suddenly grows loud.)
“I… What? How do you know? Did he tell you that? He’s never said it to me. Wait, no. It’s not that he’s never said it. It’s that he kept repeating he wasn’t in love. Every time, Pansy. Every time we met, he’d say it. Again and again and again. He's never once given me a hint he liked me at all, and... it hurt. Every time.”
(You don’t mean for the words to sound bitter as they roll from your tongue but they do.)
“I know he’s an idiot, Potter, I’ve met him. Everyone knows that he loves you, and if you can’t see that, then you might just be the one person in the entire world who’s even more of an idiot than he is.”
“I love him too.”
The softness of your words, or perhaps the meaning of them, surprises Pansy. She stops rubbing at the bridge of her nose with stress-headache fingers and looks at you. For the first time, her black eyes are filled with silence, and not with judgment or annoyance at all.
“I love him too,” you repeat, “and I’m ashamed it took me so long to be able to say it out loud. I’ve never been this in love with someone in my entire life, Pansy. And I can’t bear the thought of losing him. And it’s been awful what we’ve had. It’s been broken and full of anger and lies, and it’s left me empty and hollow some nights. But it’s still the best thing I’ve ever had. It was brilliant and exhilarating because it was him, Pansy, because there is no one else in the entire world I’d rather have. And I’d go through it again without as much as a second thought if I had to make that choice again because the fact that it was him—it made it all worthwhile.”
Pansy’s quiet for a little while. She stares at your face with think-serious eyes, like you’ve somehow written hidden answers in the lines around your eyes or the skin of your cheeks. You stare at your knees and the floor and you try not to tell her how certain you are that he’s the one.
“Fine,” she exhales even though you’ve not asked her for anything at all. “I will intercede in your favour, Potter, but only because my best friend’s been moping over you for the past few months, and because he’s currently locked up in his childhood home, having an idiotic breakdown over you. And, if you hurt him, Potter—if you hurt him, I will kill you myself. Have I made myself understood?”
You nod. You don’t thank her. You don’t think she’d take kindly to it if you did. Instead, you tell her about the interview on the radio that Lee is letting you do. You just want Draco to hear it, you say, just that, and you’ll let him make his choice once he knows the truth.
She leaves after promising that she’ll make Draco listen to that interview if she has to tie him down herself, and threatening you twice more for good measure.
You close the door behind her.
Then: you sit and stare at the wall.
You don’t recognise your life anymore. Inside your chest, winter has turned into spring. The frozen grounds of your ribs have thawed and there are all sorts of things growing on your lungs now.
( Oh, he loves you. )
It feels lush and lovely, and you can’t remember the last time you felt so alive. You’ve felt alive with Draco, yes, but it was a different feeling altogether. You were a lightning storm, then, or a forest fire, wild and dangerous, destructive and ravenous. You were the kind of alive that can only stay alive until it’s devoured everything in its path, the kind of alive that was always going to starve away sooner or later. There are vines hanging from your ribs, now, weighed down by orchids and lush fruits.
( Oh, he loves you. )
There is an entire rainforest under your skin, filled with a million tiny lives and a million tiny deaths, and you’re not sure how to deal with it.
(You’re still waiting for the vines to break your bones, for the fruits to poison your bloodstream, for the orchids to clog your lungs.)
Tomorrow, you think. Tomorrow, everything will be said and done, and you’ll know.
( Oh, he loves you. )
Tomorrow will make you or break you.
The interview comes and goes. You do well, you think. Well enough that you don’t want to pick up all your words from the floor to shove them back into your mouth. Lee shakes your hand and thanks you and—it’s done, you think.
(All you could do is done.)
You walk back home. You have no idea how you feel. Fragile, perhaps, like any word could break you. Free and light. Empty, too. You've done the right thing, you tell yourself. You've done the right thing, and it's the first step towards healing.
You don't expect Draco to come back, you realise. And it might have broken you at any other point in time, but you've just talked about who you really are for the first time in your entire life, and hundreds of people listened, and Lee shook your hand and thanked you, and the world didn't end, and you can't let it matter.
You know the weightless exhilaration of declaring you're gay on national radio will fade, and you know that by the time you're alone in the soft silence of night, sat in your living room with nothing but the endless stream of your panic-yearn thoughts and the sound of a ticking clock, you'll go entirely mad with longing and sadness again. But it is not dark yet, and the soft sunset is kissing the cobbled streets in peach-golden hues, and you'll be alright. Eventually.
You'll be alright.
You don’t expect to be wrong, about Draco, but you are because you find him waiting for you in your living room and the surprise punches all the air straight out of your lungs
(You didn't deserve it, and he came back to you.)
Every single feeling comes rushing back to you, and you feel your ribs fissuring at the tidal-wave impact of love and loss and longing. You reach out to him. You touch his hair. You need to know he's real. You need to know you're not imagining it entirely.
(Then, your mouth is on his, and there isn't a shadow of a doubt anymore.)
You don't speak for the longest time. You've never been good with words, and what is there to say? Nothing, or perhaps everything. Perhaps every single word in the English language crowds in your mouth, and you don't know which one to begin with. You don’t know, so you kiss Draco until both of you are out of breath, exhausted and exhilarated all at once. When you finally part, his eyes are closed, soft blond eyelashes on soft porcelain skin, and you’re overcome with a wave of indescribable emotion, sadness and hope blurring into one. You cup his face in your hands, caressing the skin behind his ear in soothe-soft strokes.
“I can’t believe you came,” you whisper like you’d pray a soft Ave Maria in the hallowed silence of a church.
“I was so scared I had fucked it up completely,” you add because the words crowding your mouth want to spill out and because you’ve lied quite enough for an entire lifetime.
Draco doesn’t answer. His eyes are still closed, his entire face tense. He’ll break, you think, if you touch him too roughly. He’ll shatter like glass or turn to dust. And you—you’ve been quiet for so long, and you’ve been careful for so long, and you can’t keep the words on your tongue anymore. Everything you are spills from every pore of your skin, and your words dance around your head in the silence of the room.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” you continue, “I know I’ve kept you at arm’s length because I was afraid, Draco, I was terrified. Of what it meant that I could never stay away from you, that I always sought you out. I tried to tell myself that it was just out of curiosity, but…”
You run out of words, suddenly. It is overwhelming, acknowledging this. You let out a heavy sigh. You’ve gone this far, you remind yourself. You’ve told him this much. And you’re still afraid that he’ll reject you, still afraid he’ll tell you he never loved you, still afraid it might have been just sex to him—but you’ve lied so much already, and you’ve hidden so much already, and if he breaks you? You know you’ll heal. You know you’re strong enough, now.
“This is all so new to me, and honestly, I’m a bit scared, but I want to be with you. I’d like to try,” you confess. “If you’ll let me.”
Tears roll down Draco’s delicate cheeks. The salt-wetness of them kisses your fingers, and you don’t know what it means. You want to wipe the wetness away, want to soothe the sadness away, but you’re not entirely certain he’d let you. You’re not entirely certain where you stand at all, and your anxious-wait heart sends blood crashing against your ribs in frantic waves.
“I… I really need you to say something, Draco.” (A soft, sad plea, whispered by a breaking boy, in a broken voice.)
“I don’t know what to say, Harry,” Draco finally says, and the sound of your name on his tongue for the first time fills you up like lightning or high tides. You’ve been calling him Draco since that first time in the dirty-dark of a back-alley, but he’s called you Potter all the while. ( Careful now, Potter and That’s right, Potter, keep it quiet and Don’t worry, Potter, I’m not here for love. ) Tears sting behind your eyes, but Draco continues before they can fall, and you swallow them down.
“I’m afraid you’re going to pull out at the first homophobic slur thrown at you because those are bound to come. I’m afraid people will be angry with me for stealing you, for having the gall to tarnish you. But mostly I’m afraid that—I’m afraid that if I get what I’ve wanted for so long, I’ll end up losing it, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to recover from that.”
Draco’s words go straight through your chest. He’s always shown you his own mask, you realise, and you haven’t noticed because you’ve been so worried about protecting yourself, because you’ve been so worried about painting yourself in all the appropriate lies that you’ve never stopped and considered the possibility that he was doing exactly the same. You feel defeated. You’ve done all the right things, and you’ve taken all the risks, and you’ve opened yourself up—and still, it might not be enough. (What if you still can’t let go of the armour you’ve worn your entire life? What if you still can’t heal?)
“I guess I haven’t been that reliable, have I?” you say, hands falling away from Draco’s face and down to his shoulders, his arms. You can’t bear to stop touching him, so you let your hands take his instead of falling limply by your sides. “Maybe you were right before, maybe I am too broken, but—”
“Please don’t repeat what I said a long time ago. I still hated you back then, I wanted to break you, but you’re not broken, Harry, no more than I am.”
His words are quick. His face is pained. You stifle a laugh. Of course, you’re both broken. Of course, it was never going to be easy, you and him, because there have always been expectations placed heavy onto your shoulders, heavy and cold, because you grew up around a war, like trees around metal fencing. There are cracks in your sense of self, and they run too deep to ever heal without leaving pink-ribbon scars, raised and smooth and shiny-skinned. Of course, you’re afraid and hurt, but you’re never going to be any different, you realise. This is who you are: broken and half-healed. You can’t be anything else, not right now, not when you’ve only just started to put dow your shield and show yourself to the world.
Yet, it doesn’t matter.
You’re hurt and afraid and it doesn’t matter because life is giving you a chance at being your broken, half-healed self with the man you love by your side, and you want it more than you’ve ever wanted anything in the world.
You drop the last remnants of your shield, and you grasp that chance with both hands. You feel it pulsate, warm and gold, against your skin.
“I don’t know if that says anything about me, though. I guess… I guess we’re both a bit broken. But… do you think we can build something from this if we’re willing to work on it?”
You’re naked. You’ve laid yourself bare before Draco, and it feels better than you ever thought it could. Look, you want to say. Look at me. This is who I am. Look at all the cracks running through my bones. Look at all the scars marring my skin. They’re for you. They’re all for you. You can have everything I am if you’ll have me. You can have everything I might be if you’re willing to stay long enough.
Draco nods, and joy fills your throat, sweet and tart like lemon sorbet. You take him in your arms, and you hold him because you’re allowed to, now. You’ve gone through hell, and you’ve made it to the other side, where there is sunshine on your skin and a smile on your lips, and where you can wrap your arms around the fragile form of Draco and never let go.
“Then tell me what you need, Draco,” you whisper against the crook of his neck because you know he’s broken too. Because you know it won’t be easy, being with Draco Malfoy. You know there are fissures running along his bones too, cracks on his heart and bruises on his skin, and you’re going to have to learn how to love him in ways that don’t hurt him.
“I need time,” he says after a while. You kiss his shoulder. “And I need to take it slow. And I don’t want the public to know, at least not now.”
“Anything,” you soothe. “Anything you want.”
It’ll hurt, later, the way your broken edges cut into each other’s skins. You never think it won’t, because how could it not? But you offer everything you’re able to give all the same because he’s worth it. And he’ll tell you he loves you, months down the line, when you’re naked and satiated and still so very much in love. You’ll cry at the words. They’ll heal you, too. And in the soft darkness of your bedroom, you’ll listen to Draco’s sleep-rhythmic breaths and you’ll be so happy that you think your bones might break from the intensity of the feeling.
It’ll all be worth it because you’ll forever love him, with every single inch of your being, so when he tells you he wants you, he’s wanted you for longer than he can remember, you answer, “You have me. You have me for as long as you want.”
And you never regret it.