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Chase the Wind

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“What’s he doing?” Hermione asks, dropping herself and her books onto the sofa behind Harry.

“What do you think?” Ron replies, sounding amused.

“Ah,” she says, as though that explains everything, and something in her tone almost pulls Harry’s attention away from the common room window, but not quite.

“I’m not doing anything,” he says, even as his nose is touching the glass and his whole weight is on his hands as they push against the stone windowsill.

“So, you’re absolutely not watching Malfoy, then?” Ron says, clearly dubious. “You aren’t, in fact, spying on him like you did last night and yesterday lunchtime and yesterday breakfast time and the night before last and—”

“I’m not spying,” Harry interrupts, conscious that Ron is unlikely to stop on his own, and equally conscious that he has been watching Draco from the window of the common room for almost a week now. “He’s just... he’s up to something.”

Hermione lets out a weary sigh. “Not this again, Harry?”

“No... not... I don’t think he’s up to anything... you know... evil,” Harry says weakly, squinting a little as the autumn sunlight glints across the grounds and temporarily blocks his view of Malfoy’s striding figure. “I’m just—”

“Obsessed?” Ron puts in.

“Fixated?” Hermione offers.

“Secretly in love?” Ginny says from the other side of the room, and all three of them laugh.

Harry flushes and continues to stare fixedly out of the window. “No, just... interested.”

For some reason, his friends just laugh harder, and he isn’t sure how to respond. Granted, his feelings about Draco Malfoy have altered somewhat during the last year or two, but there’s no need for them to be constantly suggesting that he and Harry are... that Harry is... that he wants...

Harry sighs and lets his forehead rest against the cool glass. His skin is all hot and his friends are all horrible buggers and Draco Malfoy is all dark coat and whippy scarf and how fucking dare he be so intriguing? Interesting. He’s... oh, god. Harry is fucked, he knows he is, and there goes Draco, walking along beside a row of tall trees, wand held out and eyes narrowed against the morning sun. The path he takes is now familiar to Harry; it’s the same one he takes each morning before breakfast, each lunchtime, and each evening—all the way along the trees, skimming the edge of the forest, around the vegetable patches and back. It’s almost as though he’s searching for something, and Harry can only assume he has yet to find it.

“What makes you think he’s looking for something?” Ron asks, and Harry cringes as he realises that he has accidentally voiced his thoughts. It’s Malfoy’s fault, of course; he seems to have this odd effect on Harry. The first time it had happened, he had accidentally spent a good portion of Herbology waxing lyrical to Ron and Terry Boot on the unusual way Draco had rolled up his shirtsleeves, and it has only been downhill from there.

“What?” he asks as he turns around to face his friend, hoping that Ron will have forgotten his question and started thinking about breakfast instead.

“I said, why do you think he’s looking for something?” Ron says, sniffing at the air as someone opens the portrait hole and lets in the savoury aromas of bacon and toast. “He’s probably just trying to be all brooding and mysterious, you know... it’s a Slytherin thing, probably.”

“And what would you know about brooding and mysterious?” Ginny teases.

“I brood,” Ron says, affecting a petulant expression.

“Maybe if you’d brooded a bit more over your Potions homework, you wouldn’t have been asking to copy mine last night,” Hermione says, and Ron pulls a face at her, while somehow managing to simultaneously look apologetic.

“I was busy,” Ron says grandly, standing and offering his arm to Hermione, “contemplating the mysteries of the universe. Come on, let’s go down to breakfast,” he adds, dropping the lofty tone. “I’m starving.”

Relieved that the focus has finally shifted away from him, Harry darts one last look out of the window at Malfoy and then hurries to join them.

Draco comes into the Great Hall just as they are leaving, hair ruffled and pale skin lightly pinked by the wind. His eyes meet Harry’s for a moment as they pass one another in the doorway, and then he stalks away, tucking something into his coat as he goes.

At lunchtime, Harry sits at one end of the Gryffindor table and barely pays attention to the rabble of conversation as, yet again, he watches Draco hurry through his bowl of soup and then walk briskly out of the Great Hall, coat and scarf over one arm. More intrigued than ever, Harry abandons his lunch, mutters something about the library to his friends and races for Gryffindor Tower. He knows they won’t believe his excuses, but he also doesn’t think they’ll come looking for him, and he hasn’t quite yet worked up the nerve to brazenly follow Draco into the grounds to see what he’s doing.

Unfortunately, the mysterious ritual is much the same as before, and no amount of pressing himself against the window seems to be helping. It would help if he could just identify the object in Draco’s left hand, but from this safe vantage point, there is no chance.

He is going to have to go outside.

“Why do I have the feeling this is a very bad idea?” he mumbles to himself.

“Erm... are you talking to me, sir?” asks a small voice and Harry whirls around.

A tiny first-year girl is sitting by the fireplace, clutching a white rat and looking terrified.

“No,” he says hurriedly, “and for god’s sake, don’t call me ‘sir’.”

“Sorry, sir,” she whispers, and then: “I mean... sorry. Just sorry. Sorry?”

Struck by the feeling that whatever he says will only make her apologise more, Harry merely flashes a smile at the girl and makes a dash for the portrait hole. He’s sure he doesn’t remember being so tiny and terrified as a first-year, but then again, all of that feels like a very long time ago.

As soon as he opens the front doors and steps out into the grounds, the wind hits him. It’s not a particularly cold day for early September, and the sky is hazy with warm sunlight, but the strength of the gusts takes him by surprise, and for a moment, he stands still as his hair is blown in all directions and his breath is pushed firmly back down his throat. When he shakes it off and starts moving, he looks around for Malfoy, and soon finds him, walking briskly and with purpose along the edge of the forest.

Harry moves towards him, cursing his insatiable curiosity as he finds himself jogging against the wind. He puts his head down and pushes on, catching up to Malfoy as he pauses to look around at the foot of an enormous oak tree, still holding the mysterious object that now appears to be some sort of small glass container.

Harry opens his mouth to speak and then hesitates. As usual, he hasn’t given even a moment’s thought to what actual words he might use in this situation, and, of course, he’s an idiot, but there’s not much he can do about that now. Maybe he should skirt around the issue – ‘it’s a nice day for a walk, isn’t it, Malfoy?’ or there’s the direct approach – ‘Malfoy, what the hell are you doing? It’s driving me mad’. Of course, he could just go with a simple – ‘Hi, Malfoy’ and see how it goes from there.

Of course, all of that had rather depended on Harry being the one to make the first overture, and now that Draco has turned around and noticed him, the subtle approach has somewhat gone out of the window, along with any chance Harry has of not looking like a lunatic.

“Can I help you, Potter?” Draco says, raising one pale eyebrow and regarding Harry with a blend of cool disinterest and politeness that makes his heart beat just a little bit faster.

“I really don’t know,” Harry says, stuffing his hands into his pockets and wishing to disappear.

“Alright, then,” Draco says slowly, turning around and beginning to walk away.

Flooded with inexplicable panic, Harry blurts: “I was watching you... you know... from the window.”

Draco stops. For what seems like a long time, he doesn’t turn around, just stands there with his back to Harry, who can do nothing but stare at the way the bottom of his coat flaps around his calves in the wind, face burning and insides squirming. Finally, he turns, and though his face is carefully blank, there’s a light of amusement in his eyes that just makes Harry want to turn and run back towards the castle.

“You were watching me?”

“No,” Harry groans, pulling his hands out of his pockets and pressing them against his heated face.

“That’s funny, because you just said—”

“Alright, fine, I was watching you,” Harry says quickly, dropping his hands from his face and attempting a glare. “You don’t have to be a wanker about it.”

“I have no idea what to say to that.”

“Well, that would be a first, wouldn’t it?” Harry snaps.

“Did you really come all the way out here to start an argument with me?” Draco asks. “Because I rather think we can do that any time, and I happen to be very busy right now.”

“Doing what?” Harry asks, eyeing the little container and noticing that the glass has been stained in colours of red, orange and yellow, and that a set of numbers has been etched into the lid.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with you, Potter,” Draco says stiffly, hiding the little container behind his back and fixing Harry with a cold stare. “You really don’t have to monitor every little thing I do any more, you know. The war has been over for a long time now, and in case you’ve forgotten, I actually—”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Harry says, suddenly horrified with himself. It truly hadn’t occurred to him that Draco would take his interest that way, and he has no idea how he could have been so stupid. “It’s not like that... it’s just that I saw you walking around out here a lot and I thought...”

“You thought what?”

“I thought you were interesting... I mean... I thought it was interesting. What you were doing,” Harry says, wondering hopelessly if there is some way to start this conversation again and perhaps succeed in stringing a sentence together.

Draco doesn’t say a word, but his astonishment is clear on his face, and Harry decides to quit while he’s not quite as far behind as he possibly could be.

“Well, it’s a nice day, isn’t it?” he says brightly, and then he turns and walks as quickly as he can back across the grass towards the castle.

He manages to avoid Draco’s eyes all the way through afternoon Potions, which is impressive considering that Snape assigns them as partners, which Harry is convinced by now that he only does to amuse himself. Their communication is oddly polite as they prepare their ingredients and add them to the potion one at a time, and Harry finds he misses their usual back-and-forth quite fiercely. The words haven’t meant anything for a long time now, but they are familiar, comforting, even, and just part of the way that he and Draco relate to one another. The fact that he passes his daisy roots to Draco without a single insulting comment on how they have been cut just doesn’t feel right.

Still, it’s his own fault. All he can really do is hope that one day he will learn some restraint, and in the meantime, that Draco forgets all about ‘I’ve been watching you from the window’.

**~*~**

“So, did you find out what he was doing?” Hermione asks that evening. She adds milk to her tea and settles back into her fireside armchair with an expectant expression.

“Who?” Harry tries and then reconsiders, catching the dangerous flicker of a dark eyebrow. “No, I did not. Why do you ask?”

“Because every day this week so far you’ve been glued to that spot,” she says, indicating the window with her cup, “and tonight you’re sitting here with me and pretending to do your homework. Call me curious.”

Harry sighs. “Well, Curious, I have a lot of work to do this evening, and I assure you, I’m not pretending.”

“I see,” Hermione says, sipping her tea. “Are you very overworked?”

“Yes,” Harry says, darting a surreptitious glance at the fading twilight beyond the window and then forcing his attention back to his piece of parchment.

“Is that why you’re pretending to write with a teaspoon?” Hermione asks innocently.

With a sinking feeling of inevitability, Harry looks down at his right hand and realises that he has indeed been pretending to write with the spoon from Hermione’s tea tray for the last ten minutes or so. He wonders just how long ago she noticed, how she has managed to restrain herself from commenting, and what exactly has happened to the quill he thought he had.

“It’s in the milk jug,” Hermione says, and he stares at her, unsettled as always by her perceptiveness.

Harry decides it can bloody well stay there. He flops back in his chair and rolls up his piece of parchment. Idly, he attempts to balance the teaspoon on his finger and avoids Hermione’s inquiring gaze, focusing instead on the babble of conversation around them, the crackle and hiss of the fire, and the rapidly darkening sky outside the windows.

“I asked him what he was doing,” he admits at last. “It was awkward.”

“So awkward that you can’t bring yourself to look out of the window any more?” Hermione asks, and Harry scrunches up his nose in embarrassment.

“You could say that,” he mutters, and then her eyes turn so beseeching that he tells her everything, including I’ve been watching you from the window, and he watches her expression shift from intrigue to empathy, past horror and exasperation and right through to barely concealed amusement.

“I see,” she says at last, biting her lip and twisting to look out of the window.

“That’s all you’ve got to say? I see?”

“I’ve got plenty more, Harry, but I don’t think you’ll like any of it,” she says, turning back to look at him, expression rather more controlled now.

“What does that mean?” he asks irritably as a stupid little Draco-shaped knot forms in his stomach. What he needs to do, more than anything, is to think about something else, but that really just doesn’t seem to be happening.

“It means that the two of you are ridiculous,” she says, regarding him sternly over the top of her teacup. Harry opens his mouth to protest but she continues: “So, you and Malfoy had one of your bizarre disagreements—when has that ever stopped you from doing something you wanted to?”

“I don’t want to do Malfoy, Hermione,” Harry whispers, face heating.

Hermione’s eyes gleam. “I meant that you wanted to find out what he was up to, but if you—”

“Oh, god,” Harry mumbles, resting his head against the back of his chair and closing his eyes. “Bugger off.”

Hermione laughs. “Fine, fine. I just thought it was odd... it’s not like you to give up so easily.”

Harry opens one eye. “That’s not going to work, Hermione.”

She ignores him, smiling as Crookshanks leaps up into her lap and chirrups a greeting. Harry watches them for a moment or two, tapping his fingers against the rough fabric of his chair arms. His heart races with the effort of staying put as suddenly all he wants to do is sprint out of the common room and chase Draco down, wherever he is. But he’s not going to do that. He has self control. He is rational. He doesn’t need to know.

He jumps to his feet and walks to the portrait hole without looking back. He doesn’t need to turn around to witness Hermione’s triumph; it follows him all the way out into the corridor like a warm, prickling cloud. He walks quickly, footsteps clattering on the stone as he hurries through the castle and down to the oak front doors, and he steps out into the deep blue of the autumn evening just as
Draco appears at the bottom of the steps, making his way back into the castle, stained glass bottle in one hand and striped green and silver scarf whipping out behind him.

Harry inhales sharply, pulling in the scent of cold earth and the wind that scrapes the back of his throat. Draco’s eyes, silver in the near-darkness, snap to his, startled for a moment before they narrow in irritation.

“What do you want now?”
Harry shivers, shirt sleeves offering scant protection against the cold. “I... erm... just thought we could talk.”

“Have you been watching me again?” Draco demands, climbing the rest of the steps and coming to stand beside Harry, posture rigid with challenge but eyebrow flickering as he adds, “You know... from the window?”

Harry groans and scrubs at his hair. He hadn’t previously thought it possible to blush with such ridiculous frequency, but as the colour floods his face yet again, he begins to realise that, when it comes to Draco sodding Malfoy, anything can happen.

“No,” he manages at last. “I was talking to Hermione, and she sort of convinced me that I shouldn’t let a bit of humiliation get in the way of my curiosity... or at least that’s how I interpreted what she said. I’ve been wrong before. A lot. I mean, she’s very...” Harry trails off as Draco’s mouth starts to flicker around the corners.

“So I should be blaming Granger for the fact that you’re following me around like that rumour about the ferrets,” Draco says, and his voice is softer now.

“I haven’t heard that one,” Harry lies.

Draco just laughs. The wind lifts his pale hair and ruffles it around his face and he lifts a hand to flatten it down. Harry tucks his hands tightly into his pockets, just in case.

“I’m going inside, Potter. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s freezing out here, and I imagine you have, considering your lack of proper clothing. May I suggest a cloak for your next attempt at espionage?” Draco says, tucking the stained glass container into his coat and brushing his shoulder against Harry’s as he passes.

Startled, Harry says nothing until Draco is almost all the way inside. As the doors begin to close, he calls: “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what you’re doing?”

Draco says nothing and he doesn’t look back, but he raises a hand in a brief, careless wave as he disappears into the dimly-lit Entrance Hall, leaving Harry alone in the darkness.

“Any progress?” Hermione asks from behind her Arithmancy textbook when he returns to the common room.

“Progress on what?” Ron asks, looking up from his sprawl at her feet.

Hermione says nothing, but she glances at Harry’s windswept hair and smiles. He turns away and heads for the dormitory, and it isn’t long before he is smiling, too.

**~*~**

The following day is grey and overcast, and Draco seems more irritable than usual as he makes his way around the grounds before breakfast. Harry, back at his usual window, watches him take off his coat and fling it over his shoulder as the close, muggy atmosphere becomes too much for heavy winter garments. He leans against the window frame and gazes down at the stiff, pale figure, insides leaden with a mixture of frustration and longing.

He can no longer really deny that he wants something from Draco other than the answer to his curiosity, at least not to himself, and even that silent admission makes him feel as though his entire world has shifted into an entirely new and astonishing position.

Because he likes it. He’s anxious and distracted and he feels a bit sick but he has the very real suspicion that he could take on the whole fucking world right now and come out of it just fine because he feels brilliant, and when he once again finds himself working with Draco in Potions, he doesn’t mind at all, because everything is as it should be again. He makes a hash of slicing up the deadly nightshade and Draco rolls his eyes to the ceiling and attempts to rescue it, muttering to himself all the while; he knocks over a vial of ground coral because he looks at Draco’s forearms for a little too long, and when they sit down to write up their results, Draco takes too long with his tiny, neat handwriting and Harry rather enjoys the contact as he kicks him under the table.

“Potter, why are you smiling?” Snape demands, swooping past and glaring at Harry.

“I’m in a good mood, sir, you should try it,” Harry mutters, and Draco looks at him with such startled admiration that he wishes he’d said it louder.

“You do seem happy,” he says, tucking his quill behind his ear and regarding Harry suspiciously. “Should I be worried?”

“Maybe,” Harry admits, pretending not to hear Hermione’s snort from the row behind. She’s been working with Crabbe almost since the start of term and is suffering enough—Harry doesn’t think he’s ever met anyone with a worse memory. Sure enough, just as Draco opens his mouth to speak again, there’s a heavy groan and then Crabbe mumbles:

“You did say four stirs anticlockwise, didn’t you?”

“No, eight clockwise,” Hermione says with admirable patience. “But it’s okay, as long as you’ve added the skink tongues...”

“I forgot,” Crabbe sighs. “Maybe we can—”

Harry and Draco glance at one another and then drop down below their desks as Hermione and Crabbe’s potion bubbles fiercely and then explodes, covering everything in a six foot radius in slimy, green goo.

“Sorry,” Crabbe says, and he sounds like he means it; he always does. Every single Potions lesson.

“It’s fine. When is Goyle coming back again?” Hermione asks weakly, and Harry feels for her.

Crabbe sits down heavily, wooden seat creaking under his weight. “I don’t know. I’ll ask him when I visit today.”

Under the desks, Harry looks at Draco only to find he has chosen that exact moment to look at him. For a moment, they stare, inches apart, hands braced on the cold floor, breathing in the mingled aromas of chalk dust and burned potions, and Harry’s heart beats so hard he thinks he might explode, and then Snape’s cloak is sweeping past them and towards Hermione and Crabbe and all is chaos. Slowly, Harry and Draco crawl out from beneath the desks and watch in silence as Snape springs effortlessly into lecture mode.

“They sort of balance each other out, usually,” Draco says, gazing at Crabbe with a frown.

Harry looks between Crabbe and his friend, dubious. “These two?”

“No. Greg and Vincent. Neither of them is particularly gifted at Potions individually, but they somehow make a rather good team. I think Granger frightens Vince, then he forgets everything even more than usual.”

“She frightens me sometimes, too,” Harry admits, dropping his voice, and when he looks at Draco, it’s clear that he’s trying not to smile. “Do you think Greg’ll be out of the infirmary soon? It’s been...”

“Two weeks tomorrow,” Draco says. He slides back into his seat and Harry does the same. “I don’t know when he’ll be better. Listen, Potter—”

“Harry.”

Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Alright.” He stares at Harry, as though trying to see into him. “Do you actually care about this even a little bit or are you just so pissed off that I might have a secret that you’re willing to pretend to be my friend?”

Startled, Harry opens his mouth and then closes it again. Frowns and shakes his head.

“I’m not pretending,” he says at last. “I want... I wouldn’t do that.”

Draco stares at him again, eyes intense and questioning, until finally he seems to be satisfied.

“Fine. When the bell goes, come with me.”

Harry nods. “Okay.”

Triumphant, he picks up his quill and carries on writing. A minute or so later, a small ball of paper hits the back of his head. He reaches down to retrieve it, and when he flattens it out, he finds a scribbled note from Hermione.

That sounds like progress to me!

**~*~**

When the lesson ends, Harry packs up his things in silence and follows Draco out of the classroom as casually as he can, refusing to look around at Hermione for even a second. She’ll only make him more nervous than he already is, and as it stands, he thinks there is a pretty good chance of him doing something spectacularly stupid. Draco has always brought out his rash, impulsive side, and now that the game has changed somewhat, that quality could prove absolutely ruinous for Harry.

For now, though, Draco is quiet, solemn, almost, as he walks against the flow of students and away from the Great Hall. Harry’s stomach protests but he attempts to ignore the warm smell of freshly-baked bread and concentrate on the task at hand, whatever that is. Draco walks beside him in complete silence, expression resolute, and his eyes flick to Harry’s every now and then as though checking he’s still there. Harry attempts a small smile and almost gets one back before they make a sharp turn and begin to climb the stairs to the hospital wing.

“Is this about Greg?” Harry asks quietly, but Draco doesn’t seem to have heard him.

“Wait here,” he says, indicating the hallway outside the infirmary, and then disappears inside.

Harry sits on the wide stone sill of a vast mullioned window and stares at the door, straining to hear the muffled conversation that is taking place within. Draco is gone for several minutes, and all Harry can do is wonder. The weak sunlight that filters through the clouds warms his back, and as he waits for Draco to re-emerge, his mind races, trying to fit all of this together with the walks around the grounds and the little glass bottle.

Finally, the door swings open and Draco steps out. His expression clearly conveys relief, and Harry wonders if Draco had really thought he might have decided to bugger off while he was inside. For a moment, Draco hovers, uncertain, before he composes himself and settles on the windowsill beside Harry.

“He’s sleeping at the moment, so I couldn’t ask if it was alright for you to come in,” he says at last.

“Greg?” Harry clarifies, surprised to find himself rather taken by this protectiveness.

Draco nods. “He’s suffering a rather unfortunate... transformation. It happened on the second day of term and it’s taking quite a long time to reverse. Madam Pomfrey says these things can take weeks or even months to right themselves.”

“What sort of transformation?” Harry asks, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice.

“Well, that’s the thing.” Draco frowns and looks at Harry sharply. “You’d better not laugh.”

“I won’t,” Harry promises, and hopes for the best.

“He and Vince made Polyjuice potion over the holidays. It’s—”

“I know what it is,” Harry murmurs, fighting a smile already.

“What I was going to say was that it’s not intended for animal transformations,” Draco says, and there’s a slight edge to his voice but Harry barely notices as the vivid image of Hermione’s second-year Polyjuice disaster flashes into his head.

“I know that, too,” he says, looking at the floor. “Hermione once accidentally... you know what? That’s a long story. Please continue.”

“It wasn’t an accident,” Draco says, shifting backwards on the sill and allowing himself to lean against the window. He sighs. “He just ‘thought it would be cool’.”

Harry glances at him. “Ah.”

“Indeed. The thing you have to understand about Greg is that he sort of loses his common sense when it comes to animals. He was furious at me when I told McGonagall about that dragon Hagrid had—said I could have at least let him have a look first.” Draco directs an odd little smile at the floor.

“I never realised he and Hagrid were such kindred spirits,” Harry says, amused.

Draco snorts. “You could say that. The two of them were raising wild Crups together last year. I’m not sure Dumbledore knows about that, either, so not a word,” he adds sharply.

“Not one,” Harry promises, even as he does so planning to get all the details out of Hagrid the next time he sees him. “So... what sort of animal is he?”

Draco lets out a weary sigh. “A bat. A fruit bat, if it matters at all.”

This time, Harry does laugh. He can’t help it. “Sorry,” he splutters, glancing at Draco, but he quickly sees that Draco’s mouth is being tugged into a reluctant smile. “Why?”

“Only Greg knows what goes on in Greg’s odd little mind,” Draco says. “He did mention something about the flying, though... he’s not really a natural flyer and he had some theory about it being safer to transform into a mammal than a bird, not that it really helped.”

Harry grins and flops back against the window beside him, shivering as the cold glass chills his skin through his thin shirt. “So, he’s a bat man,” he says with a snort of laughter. Draco looks at him askance. “Never mind. So, I suppose you come up here a lot?”

Draco shrugs. “I bring him food from the kitchens, which he appreciates, and his homework, which he does not. He doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort, just lonely.”

“I understand.”

“You seem to... I’m surprised,” Draco says, fingers accidentally brushing against Harry’s as he shifts position on the sill.

“Why?”

“People don’t understand Greg. He’s not... he’s not the way you think he is.” Draco frowns and fiddles with his tie. “He’s no academic but he’s not stupid. He loves nature the way Granger loves books, and he’s talented with it... ill-advised bat transformations aside.”

Harry smiles. “I think we all lose our grip a bit when we feel strongly about something,” he says, and when Draco looks at him, his expression is so shockingly open that Harry almost leans over and kisses him. Instead, he wraps his fingers around the stone edge of the sill and focuses very hard on the middle distance.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Draco says softly, and then he seems to shake himself, pulling his bag onto his lap and rummaging around inside. After a moment, he draws out the orange, yellow and red stained glass container. “I take it that you don’t know what this is?”

“I really don’t,” Harry says easily.

Draco smiles and shifts on the windowsill until he is facing Harry, one leg tucked up underneath him.

“This is a Sateneum. Greg collects seasons.”

Harry blinks. “I had literally no idea you could do that.”

“It’s not particularly common, not any more, but some people have decades’-worth of these things,” Draco says. “My grandmother used to have a whole cabinet full. We were never allowed to touch them; she always said they were delicate. Greg’s are pretty hard-wearing, for obvious reasons. He’s been collecting since he was tiny.”

He holds the little object out to Harry and he takes it carefully, turning it over in his hands, examining the vivid autumnal colours and running his fingers over the engraved letters and numbers on the lid that represent the current year and season.

“So, how do you collect a season?” he asks, handing the Sateneum back to Draco before he manages to drop it.

“It’s a spell—a pretty simple one, but you have to be quick, and you have to be there at exactly the right time,” Draco says, placing the container back into his bag. “Strictly speaking, you can bottle any part of the season, but a true collector wants the very first breath.”

Harry shivers. “That’s what you’ve been looking for? The first breath of autumn?”

Draco nods. “Yes.”

“Well, I hate to sound all Hermione here but aren’t we already in autumn? Haven’t you missed it?”

“Believe me,” Draco says wearily, “I haven’t. I’ve been out five times a day since Greg came up here and I’m still waiting. Besides, a true Sateneur knows that calendars mean nothing to the seasons; they’re just something we’ve made up to make the world make sense.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Harry admits.

“Neither had I. That’s just what Greg told me. I told you he wasn’t stupid.”

“Well, he obviously—hang on a minute—five times a day?”

Draco smiles slowly. “You didn’t see everything from your window, did you?”

Harry flushes. “Fuck off.”

“I don’t think you really want me to do that,” Draco says, and Harry’s stomach flips over.

There’s something in his eyes, something bold and testing and hopeful, that just steals Harry’s breath, and it takes him several seconds to recover himself enough to say, “No, I don’t, actually.”

Draco looks away first, tiny smile pulling at his lips as he glances back at the door leading to the infirmary.

“So, now that you know my terribly thrilling secret, are you satisfied?”

“No,” Harry says carelessly, and leaves it there.

Draco laughs. “What do you want now?”

Harry swallows hard as prickly warmth spreads through his body. Biting back his unhelpful instinctive response, he says, “I want to help.”

Draco’s eyebrows shoot up. “What for?”

“Because... I do want us to be friends, and if Greg has asked you to do this thing, then I want to help you do it,” Harry says firmly.

“He didn’t ask me,” Draco says, surprised.

“What?”

“Greg didn’t ask me to do this,” Draco repeats. “He’d be far too embarrassed to ask for help like that.”

“Oh,” Harry says, puzzled. “Then how did you know?”

“Because he’s my friend, you idiot,” Draco says mildly. “I’ve heard him talk about it before, I know where he keeps his Sateneums... I wanted to make sure he didn’t miss one because of this ridiculous bat thing.”

Harry stares at him, completely and wonderfully astonished. “You are... I don’t know.”

“Try,” Draco says, pale eyes bright.

“You’re a surprise,” Harry says frowning.

Draco smiles, and it’s the first genuine, unguarded smile Harry has ever seen on his face.

“Well, I suppose you can help,” he says with nonchalance that is clearly affected.

Harry grins. “So, how will we know when we’ve found this thing?”

“You’ll just know,” Draco says, expression suddenly becoming serious. He pulls both legs up onto the windowsill and sits cross-legged with his bag in his lap. “It’s a smell... and a sound, a taste, all of it. It’s when you walk outside and the air catches the back of your throat in exactly the right way. You breathe it in and...” He shrugs. “You just know.”

“And then we trap it?”

Draco leans in, sending a warm citrusy scent drifting into Harry’s nostrils. “Exactly.”

**~*~**

Minutes later, Harry finds himself stepping onto the lawn and beginning the ritual he has so often observed from the window of Gryffindor Tower; this time, though, he walks by Draco’s side with wand drawn, ready to cast the spell he has been shown to capture the elusive first breath of the season the moment it should appear.

“Strictly speaking, it can turn up anywhere,” Draco says, eyes narrowed as he tips his head back and inspects the quivering orange leaves above their heads. “More often than not, though, you’ll find it near trees, especially the ones that are clearly on the turn from one season to the next.”

Harry says nothing but looks up, too. Draco’s odd little route around the ground makes sense now, and something about that is rather satisfying. Now, if he can only decide whether he’s hungry or nauseous or turned on or apprehensive, he might be getting somewhere. As it is, he settles on flicking sidelong glances at Draco as they walk, silently examining his coat and his hair and his long, careful strides, his strong fingers wrapped around the empty Sateneum and his sharp, compelling profile.

“What’s the matter?” he asks without looking at Harry. He stops walking and takes a long, deep inward breath, all closed eyes and intense concentration.

“Nothing’s the matter,” Harry says lightly, and he breathes in too, tasting the cold air and the faint tang of something burnt that makes his skin tingle with approval. “Is this it?”

Draco opens his eyes. “No. When you find it, you’ll know. It won’t be long now.”

Harry smiles at him; he can’t help it.

Draco’s face creases into a light frown. “You’re odd, aren’t you? I don’t think I ever really noticed before.”

Harry snorts and resumes trudging across the muddy grass. “I’m odd. Yeah. It’s all me.”

“I can feel you looking at me, you know,” Draco says, falling into step beside him, and Harry bites his tongue a little too hard.

“So?” he forces out, staring fixedly at the line of trees ahead.

“It’s odd,” Draco repeats, and Harry can hear the tapping of his fingers against the glass of the Sateneum.

“Do you want me to stop?” he asks boldly, all in a rush, before he can stop himself.

Draco says nothing, but when Harry steals a glance in his direction, he is hiding a smile.

**~*~**

The elusive first breath of autumn does not announce itself that day or the next, but Harry couldn’t be less concerned. He is now accompanying Draco on all five of his daily rounds—the fourth, very brief, taking place during the break between afternoon lessons, and the fifth after dark, during which Draco has been taking advantage of Notice-Me-Not charms and, to Harry’s delight, Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder.

“I never had you down for a fan of this,” he says, accepting a handful of the powder at Draco’s insistence as they stand in the shadow of the wide stone steps leading up to the castle.

Draco wrinkles his nose. “Everyone loves the Weasley stuff, Harry, some of us just have difficulty admitting it in public. It’s like the Ravenclaws and their secret Exploding Snap club... house pride is a very odd thing.”

“Right,” Harry mutters, as though all of this makes perfect sense. And in a way it does, because here he is, shivering in the castle grounds at half past eleven at night, searching for a season for a half-man half-bat Slytherin with a silvery-eyed madman, and he can’t help but feel that everything is as it should be.

“Come on, then,” Draco says, flashing a breathless smile and walking out onto the lawn. He pauses, gazing back at Harry with sudden suspicion. “Unless you’ve changed your mind, in which case—”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Harry says and runs to join him, relishing the tiny sound of relief that Draco almost manages to muffle in his scarf.

When they part ways in the Entrance Hall after an unsuccessful but—at least in Harry’s mind—very enjoyable expedition, there’s something about the silence and the velvety darkness and the cautious warmth in Draco’s voice as he says goodnight that makes Harry’s heart ache wonderfully.

When he returns to his dormitory, Ron is still awake, sprawling sleepy-eyed on top of his blankets and flipping through a Quidditch magazine. He looks up when Harry creeps into the room and flops back onto his pillows, clearly relieved.

“You’re back,” he yawns. “Thank fuck for that.”

“Were you waiting up for me?” Harry whispers, walking quietly to his bed so as not to wake his other dorm-mates.

Ron nods wearily. “It was the only way I could get Hermione to go to bed.”

Harry rolls his eyes and sits down on the edge of his bed, kicking off his shoes and wriggling out of his trousers so that he can dive under the covers and shake off the biting chill of the night.

“Did she think Draco was going to murder me or something?” he asks.

“Who knows?” Ron says, yawning again and turning out his lamp. “I don’t know what goes on in her head most of the time. She just said to make sure you came back.”

“Right,” Harry says faintly. “Well, ’night, mate.”

Ron says nothing, but lets out a snore that sounds like a tractor. Harry sighs and closes his eyes.

Hermione knows what’s going on here, of course she does. She’s probably sitting up in bed right now, reading some enormous, dusty old book and quietly scheming his love life away, and Harry can’t even find it in himself to be embarrassed. Feeling drowsy and warm inside, he pulls his blankets up to his chin and fall asleep with a smile on his face.

The next morning is bright, crisp and cold, and Draco is hopeful as they head out on their morning and lunchtime rounds, but the Sateneum remains stubbornly empty. When they return to the castle, Draco looks so defeated that Harry has to fight the urge to grab him by his fancy wool coat and kiss him until he smiles again. He has seen Draco smile more in the last few days than in the rest of the time they have known one another and those smiles are fast becoming addictive. The more Harry gets, the more he wants, and he finds himself saving up stories and jokes and all manner of silly things to amuse Draco on their walks.

He's lost beyond all hope and he knows it. Draco probably knows it, too.

"I'll meet you at the steps at three," he says to Harry, stuffing the Sateneum into his bag and disappearing down a corridor and out of sight.

He doesn't wait for a response and Harry stares after him for a moment, wondering vaguely what he should do with his free period. Of course, he should probably be working on the Transfiguration essay that’s due in two days, but he doubts he’ll be able to summon the concentration required in his current state of mind. He looks back across the Entrance Hall at the bright, clear sky. The conditions are perfect for flying, and he doesn’t need his focus for that. Flying is about instinct, confidence, muscle memory, and no amount of accidentally thinking about Draco Malfoy is going to ruin that for him.

Mind made up, he runs up to the dormitory for his Firebolt and then out onto the lawn, where he jumps on and kicks off as hard as he can, pelting into the air and over the trees, laughing as the chill breeze slashes through his clothes and hair. He pushes on upwards, flying higher and faster until his eyes water and he can barely breathe, and then he slows, hovering high above the green carpet of the forest and the pointed spires of the castle. Gripping the handle tightly, he lets his legs dangle for a moment, feeling the familiar swoop in his belly as he looks down. The lake sparkles below him in the pale afternoon sunlight, surface rippling gently. Every now and then, an enormous leaping fish or curious tentacle breaches the surface with a crash, sending squawking birds scattering from the surrounding trees.

He circles slowly, tucking his feet back onto their rests and leaning forwards, turning his face into the light and taking long, deep gulps of air that is rich with earth and sweet with woodsmoke and sunshine, cold in his chest and cleansing against his skin. Caught in a haze of sensory pleasure, he dips lower, skimming the edge of the forest and reaching out a hand to lazily rustle along the crispy, golden leaves as he passes. When one catches between his fingers and pulls itself free, he smiles and tucks it into his jumper, pulling in another delicious breath and letting his eyes fall closed.

Draco would love this, he thinks, and then his eyes snap open.

This is it. This is everything Draco had said it would be. Landing softly on the grass, Harry looks around at the clear sky, the leaves, takes in the soft but cold wind and the smell of the air, the birds calling and the water rippling and the feeling of hushed, gentle change that seems woven into everything. It’s here, and Draco is missing it.

“Bugger, bugger, bugger,” Harry mutters, raking cold fingers through his hair and desperately trying to decide what to do next. He wonders if Greg, sitting alone in his hospital bed, can see and feel the precious arrival of the season, powerless to do anything about it. “Not helping,” he tells himself firmly. What he needs to do is find Draco; he has the Sateneum, and there may still be time.

Draco definitely has a lesson... runes, Harry thinks triumphantly. He’s almost certain Draco said something about Ancient Runes. Hermione is in that class, he thinks, staring at the castle in the distance and trying to remember where the hell she goes for it. He casts around in his memory for a few seconds but comes up blank, and, deciding not to waste any more time, he kicks off into the air once more and flies back to the castle. Deciding on impulse that it will be less intrusive to look into the classrooms from the outside than go bursting through the doors, he hovers at each window in turn, peering through the glass in search of Draco.

In the first few classrooms he finds nothing but improbably tiny students, turning beetles into buttons and levitating goose feathers and bits of parchment. In a third floor classroom, a couple of cheeky-looking boys notice him, and soon the entire class has been distracted away from Professor Binns by the sight of an unexpected Harry Potter on a broomstick. Harry gives him all a sheepish little wave and continues on his search, desperate to find Draco before this year’s first breath of autumn is lost forever.

He is just about to give up and start searching from the inside of the castle when he spots Hermione’s distinctive mass of curls as she bends over her desk, just visible through a tiny round window, hidden away under a sloping roof. Relieved, Harry pulls his broom closer and finds a second round window, through which he searches for Draco, finally locating him several desks over from Hermione, frowning at a large book and scribbling away with a shiny black quill.

He’s much too far from the windows for Harry to get his attention without disturbing the entire class, and if he’s honest, he’s heard things about Professor Babbling and he doubts it would end well for him if he tried it. He’s going to have to ask for Hermione’s help, and fucking hell, isn’t that just going to add fuel to her probably-very-accurate theories. Harry sighs.

He flies back to the first window and taps on it gently. She looks up at once, expression rapidly shifting from surprise to pleasure to confusion.

“What’s the matter?” she mouths, eyebrows knitted.

Harry hesitates, suddenly feeling awkward, but then the wind swirls around him, lifting the rich, clean scent into his nostrils and he forces himself to say it. “I need Draco.”

Hermione’s mouth twitches. Harry flushes and pulls a face at her, and she grins and holds up her hands, rising from her seat and weaving through the desks to whisper to Draco. When she straightens up, Draco’s eyes snap to the window and Harry wastes no time in gesturing frantically, attempting to convey ‘It’s here! Get out here now!’ without words.

Draco looks confused for a moment and then his eyes widen and he grabs his things and strides to the front of the room. Harry isn’t sure what he says to Professor Babbling but when she nods seriously and waves him out of the room, Harry streaks down to the front steps to meet him; he only allows a split-second glance at Hermione before he turns away, but it’s enough to know that he’ll be hearing about this for weeks to come.

Feeling nervous and exhilarated, he touches down on the grass and goes to stand his broom against the castle wall but Draco, appearing breathless and dishevelled at the top of the steps, stops him.

“We should use that—it’ll be quicker,” he says, dropping his bag and grasping the Sateneum tightly in one hand. “If we fly over to those trees, we might just get it.”

Harry blinks. “You want to fly over there... together?”

“Well... yes,” Draco says crossly. “Do you want to help or not?”

“I do, it’s just...” Harry hesitates. It isn’t as though he has anything against the idea of sharing a broom with Draco, but it suddenly feels shockingly intimate and he doesn’t know why. Shaking himself, he climbs back onto the Firebolt and looks at Draco. “I do. I want to help. Get on.”

Draco presses his lips together in a thin line but he sits on the broom behind Harry, resting both hands lightly at his waist. Harry burns at the touch, taking to the air before he has time to think about it, swallowing a gasp as Draco’s fingers slip to his hips and tighten, the cold glass of the Sateneum pressing into his side almost painfully, Draco’s breath warm against his ear as he leans forward and shouts above the wind:

“Where did you find it?”

Harry points, indicating the area around the golden-leaved sycamores.

“Pull up level with the tops of these trees,” Draco instructs, and Harry obeys, heart pounding. “Hold this,” he adds, pushing the Sateneum into Harry’s hand and unexpectedly curling his fingers around Harry’s as if to say ‘careful’.

“I’ve got it,” he says pointlessly, but when he twists around to look at Draco, his expression is one of gratitude and anxiety. “It’s still here,” Harry finds himself saying. “I can feel it.”

Draco’s mouth lifts at one corner. “So can I.” And then, in an almost whisper that Harry feels rather than hears: “Open it.”

Fumbling slightly, Harry opens the glass vessel and holds it out expectantly.

Draco draws his wand in a slow, circular movement, murmuring the incantation over and over again, face and voice uncharacteristically serene but free hand still gripping Harry’s hip for dear life. Slowly, the air beside them pulls itself into a loose swirl, drawing tighter and tighter, smaller and smaller, fading from white to yellow and orange to deepest, richest red. Harry shivers as the powerful magic brushes over him, seeming to sweep everything warm and pleasurable and thrilling into a sharp little point of light inside him, stealing his breath until it bursts, flooding him with wellbeing as the glimmering ball of autumn air drops into the Sateneum and Harry slams down the lid, trapping it inside.

Carefully, he fastens the catch and stares down at the beautiful little object. The season is swirling around inside the stained glass Sateneum, jewel-bright and alive. He thinks perhaps he understands now, why a person would be willing to spend so much time looking for this thing. He feels wonderful, ridiculously so, and he has done nothing but hold the container. He turns his head to look at Draco and finds calm grey eyes staring back at him.

“Is it always like that?” he asks, voice scratchy.

Draco smiles. “I don’t know. I’ve never done it before.”

“You seemed pretty sure of yourself,” Harry says, speaking without thinking.

Draco laughs softly, just as the wind stirs up around them and drags the broomstick several feet to the right, sending them almost crashing into the tallest branches of the nearby sycamores. Turning away from Draco, Harry tucks the Sateneum inside his sleeve and wraps both hands around the broom handle to steady them.

“I don’t know if I should be more impressed with my performance or your naivety,” Draco says, fingers tightening at Harry’s hips, and it takes him a moment to realise that he is being insulted.

“I’m not naive,” Harry says crossly, raising his voice against the wind. “I just prefer to believe that people aren’t lying to me. I’ve tried being suspicious all the time and it just makes me tired.”

Draco shifts closer, warmth bleeding all along Harry’s back. “So, you weren’t suspicious of me when you watched from your little window?” he challenges.

“No!” Harry shouts, staring down at his hands and dragging in a deep breath. The sweetness has disappeared from the air, and all he feels now is cold and fed up. “I wasn’t suspicious, you Slytherin tosspot, I was fucking fascinated—is that what you want to hear?”

Draco lets out a small sound of astonishment that is almost lost to the rushing of the wind, and then he is pressing a warm, surprisingly soft kiss to the back of Harry’s neck before pulling away as though hit with a stinging hex. Harry stiffens, staring at the rustling trees in front of him as millions of tiny shivers pass under his skin. He catches his breath.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Draco says quietly. “I apologise.”

“Don’t,” Harry says, heart pounding as he twists around to look at him.

Draco stares at him, expression unreadable, and then the wind rears up and takes advantage of Harry’s inattention, this time sending them spiralling down towards the lawn. Adrenaline spiking, Harry pulls up and quickly regains control of the broom, and when Draco leans in and suggests they return to the castle, Harry complies without a word.

The Entrance Hall is pleasantly warm and quiet, the silence broken only by the occasional rumble of magic and voices from nearby classrooms, and they stand there in the dappled sunlight, tangled in uncertainty but quite unable to look away from one another. After an agonising minute or two, Harry pulls the Sateneum from his sleeve and holds it out to Draco.

“I suppose you’ll want this,” he says, trying to sound casual instead of bound up with such confused need that he doesn’t know whether to grab Draco or run out onto the lawn and scream at the top of his lungs.

Draco takes the Sateneum and frowns. “Aren’t you going to come with me?”

“To give it to Greg? I thought you... sometimes you don’t make any fucking sense, do you know that?” he snaps, raking both hands through his hair violently and fixing Draco with all the challenge he has left in him.

To his astonishment, Draco smiles. He turns on his heel and stalks away, pausing only to call, “Are you coming or not?”

Harry groans, hesitates for perhaps a quarter of a second, and then follows him. At the door to the hospital wing, he hangs back, flicking an uncertain glance at Draco, but he merely ruffles his windblown hair back into place and leads the way into the infirmary and then inside a curtained-off little cubicle, in which a pyjama-clad figure is dangling upside down from a wrought iron lantern bracket and reading a very tattered copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Harry stares; he can’t quite help it. The individual in front of him is unrecognisable as Gregory Goyle, even as he says ‘Hi, Draco’ in his deep, ponderous voice and stretches his enormous leathery wings in order to half-flap and half-glide down to the bed. Greg’s face is covered in soft, dark brown hair and the eyes that fix on Harry are liquid and huge.

“He’s not going to tell anyone, is he?” he says uncertainly, clutching his book to his chest in hands that are also covered in fine hair and appointed with impressive claws.

“I won’t,” Harry promises, and Greg’s tall, pointed ears twitch in his direction. “Did you tell him I was coming?” he whispers to Draco.

The ears twitch again and Greg laughs. “I’ve been expecting you for days. He does nothing but talk about you. Do you want an apple? I’ve got loads.”

“Thanks, I’m fine,” Harry manages, chancing a sidelong look at Draco and biting down on a smile at the hint of colour on his face and his cross little glares in Greg’s direction.

“If you can keep your mouth shut for a second or two, I’ve got something for you,” Draco says, producing the Sateneum and showing it to Greg.

The large shiny eyes widen impossibly and Greg scrambles to the end of the bed where Harry and Draco are standing, knocking everything from his bedside table as his wings flap with excitement.

“Is that my...? You... is that my season, Draco?” he demands breathlessly. “Is it?”

“Yes, and fold those in before you break it,” Draco says, clearly pleased.

Greg pulls in his wings and tucks them behind him obediently until Harry can only see the very tips and the bumps on his back where they poke through his stripy pyjama fabric.

“How did you know?” he asks, furry face lit up with pleasure.

Harry has never seen him like this, so full of enthusiasm, and he only half listens as Draco explains the ins and outs of the mission, prickly with guilt at assuming for so long that Greg was completely dull-headed and passionate about nothing but stuffing his face. As Draco talks, Greg turns the Sateneum over and over in his furry hands, eyes darting from the swirling season to Draco, to Harry, and then back again.

“So, it was all very thrilling in the end,” Draco says nonchalantly, and Harry wonders if he means to brush their fingers together like that. “And very dangerous. We could have been killed.”

Harry snorts but Greg nods seriously, apparently taken in by Draco’s theatrics.

“I felt it come, you know,” he says, glancing at the nearest window. “This afternoon. I asked Madam Pomfrey if I could just nip out... you know, with a Disillusionment Charm... but she said no. I can’t believe you did that, Draco!”

Draco frowns, radiating discomfiture all of a sudden. Harry takes a deep breath and laces their fingers together for the briefest of moments, squeezes and lets go. Draco’s eyes widen but the quietest hint of a smile pulls at the corner of his mouth.

“Do you want to see it?” Greg asks, and when Harry drags his eyes from Draco, there is such a look of sly amusement on the batlike face that he wants to duck down behind the bed and hide.

Instead, he nods and says, “Absolutely” and Greg hunts around for his wand, finally finding it under the bed with the rest of his scattered possessions. He places the Sateneum on the sheets and casts a spell that Harry has never heard, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. The spell draws a large, shimmering dome over the little glass vessel, sealing it in completely, and when Greg reaches inside and opens the Sateneum, the magical bubble is flooded with all the colours of autumn.

Harry smiles as he watches Greg plunging his furry head into the dome, knowing instinctively that he is experiencing every last bit of the season he thought he had lost forever. Closing his eyes, Harry is back on his broomstick in an instant, fingers brushing against crunchy leaves, ears full of bird calls and splashes and the wind against his face, then Draco’s eyes and his smell and his fingers tight at Harry’s hips. The memory of his mouth, warm and unexpected against the back of Harry’s neck, makes him shiver, and when he opens his eyes, Greg is still lost in his seasonal bubble, but Draco is staring right at him, eyes dark and mouth slightly open.

“You meant it,” he whispers, brushing fingertips against the inside of Harry’s wrist.

Dry-mouthed, Harry stares. “What?”

“You meant it when you said you didn’t want me to apologise.”

“Of course I meant it,” Harry snaps, exasperation crackling under his skin and making him fight to stay on the spot, to grip the rail at the foot of the bed instead of pulling Draco to him by his wrists and kissing him right on his inexplicable mouth.

Draco smiles slowly. “Let’s go,” he whispers.

“But—”

“He’ll be in there for hours,” he says, stepping closer to Harry and frying the few remaining sensible circuits in his brain. “He’s probably forgotten we’re here already, trust me.”

“Okay,” Harry says easily, and the flush of surprise on Draco’s pale skin is very rewarding.

Quietly, they leave the infirmary, stepping out into the sunlit corridor, and Harry doesn’t waste another second. Heart full and ready to burst, he grabs Draco by the shoulders and kisses him, right there in the middle of the hallway. Draco freezes for a moment and then seems to come alive, threading his fingers through Harry’s hair and kissing back, letting out a barely audible gasp that sends sparks through Harry’s body. He presses close, determined that there should be no uncertainty this time, revelling in the heat they create together and running his palms down over soft cashmere to the small of Draco’s back as their connection grows fiercer, and bright, hot relief surges through Harry’s veins.

When they pull apart, breathless and blurred around the edges, Draco drops his head to Harry’s shoulder and lets out a wobbly breath that is warm against his skin. Harry closes his eyes against the afternoon sunlight and idly tucks his fingers into Draco’s belt loops.

“You know, we could probably save some time if you don’t always assume I’m lying to you,” he says.

“Old habits die hard,” Draco says, but Harry can feel the smile in his voice. “What is that?”

“What is what?”

Draco takes a step back from him and then unceremoniously sticks his hand up Harry’s jumper, groping around for a moment before retrieving a golden sycamore leaf.

“I have the feeling I’m going to regret asking this, but why do you have a leaf up your jumper?” Draco asks, holding the leaf aloft by its stem and gazing at Harry with one eyebrow raised.

“I was... saving it for later?” Harry attempts, shrugging.

“I was right about you,” Draco says, eyeing Harry as though he is a madman. “You’re odd.”

“What does that make you, then?” Harry asks, trying to take back his leaf, but Draco tucks it into his pocket and steps out of reach.

“It makes me brilliant,” Draco declares. “Are you coming? Potions starts in a minute.”

Harry wrinkles his nose but starts walking down the staircase at Draco’s side. “Are you going to be nice to me for a change?”

Draco says nothing, but he laces his fingers through Harry’s and doesn’t let go.