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i.

 

 

For as much outraged protesting as had initially met the announcement that the eighth-years would be sharing a common room, it had taken a relatively short time for it to begin feeling normal, and even less time for the benefits to start being felt by all. Namely, that they were free of the burden of underclassmen in their living space.

It was not unheard of to see inter-house mingling just a month after term began, nor was it only Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff doing so. Dean and Seamus were consistently seen hanging around Stephen Cornfoot of Ravenclaw, while, incredibly, and to the surprise of most, Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis had been seen getting chummy with Lavender Brown, Parvati Patil, and their little group of friends. Neville, meanwhile, had begun spending an awful lot of time around Hannah Abbott. 

There were only two people who had chosen isolation for themselves, and they were Draco Malfoy and Gregory Goyle.

So far, Harry had heard Malfoy speak one time since they'd been back at school, and that had been a weird situation in itself where he'd quietly told Goyle to back off of someone who'd been harassing him.

It was not a new thing for Goyle to act as some sort of bodyguard for Malfoy — this had been the case as long as Harry had known them, along with Crabbe, who was now of course dead — but he couldn't remember there ever having been a time when Goyle acted without instruction of some kind.

Lately, however, Malfoy didn't start fights. In fact he rarely even looked at anybody — Goyle did that for him, hulking over most students menacingly, cracking his knuckles, daring anyone with enough nerve to try something.

The thing was that, as tentatively open as everyone seemed to be about trying to make amends with the Slytherins, the courtesy didn't seem to have been extended to Malfoy. This wasn't surprising perhaps, seeing as Malfoy had been one of the more high-profile trials over the summer, not least of all because of his age, his name, and the fact that he was the only Death Eater who'd escaped a life imprisonment in Azkaban.

Not that he hadn't served some time, because he had. Two months — the same as Hagrid had done, Harry remembered.

Also, he had the Dark Mark. And after an incident right at the beginning of term where some seventh-year Slytherin boys had held him down and torn back the sleeve of his robes to expose it, no one wanted much to do with him or his perennial mark of servitude.

That was apparently when Goyle had taken it upon himself to start overtly body-guarding Malfoy wherever he went. It was just as well, Harry sometimes thought — Malfoy had come back to Hogwarts looking exactly as would be expected of a seventeen-year-old who'd spent two months in Azkaban being guarded by Dementors: frightfully thin, with hollow cheeks and dark rings around his eyes, and within them not a discernible trace of the old malicious fire Harry remembered so well.

It had been satisfying for perhaps one whole minute to think of Malfoy cowering in a cell before the idea had begun to disturb Harry thoroughly, and seeing him this way only heightened that. It would have been so much more satisfying, he often thought, to be able to hate the old Malfoy, who didn't look like a single hex might finish him off.

Clearly most people didn't feel the same way, and it was really Malfoy's good fortune that nobody seemed to fancy getting in a tussle with Goyle or Harry suspected it would have come down to a lot more than vicious verbal taunts.

"Oh, I wish McGonagall would do something," said Hermione nervously one day out in the courtyard, the October sun beating down on them from a perfectly cloudless autumn sky. A little ways away Malfoy could be seen on a stone bench, legs crossed with a book in his lap, white blond hair shining, the hollows in his cheeks especially noticeable in the harsh sunlight. It probably would have been safer for him back in the eighth-year common room, but apparently even he hadn't been able to resist a bit of sun. Merlin knew he needed it. Goyle was sitting beside him but he wasn't reading or doing homework. He was glaring at anyone who walked past them, particularly at anyone who looked like they might want to give Malfoy any trouble.

"It makes me really nervous," she went on, "Goyle's only antagonising people, riling them up. No one would be paying Malfoy any mind anymore if he wasn't standing guard over him this way."

"Maybe," said Harry, tearing his eyes away from Malfoy and Goyle and returning them to the game of Gobstones he and Ron were attempting to play in the grass. Ron had already gotten sprayed twice, sending Harry into gales of laughter. "What's she s'posed to do, though? Tell Goyle he's not allowed to hang around Malfoy anymore? Fat chance."

"Oh, I suppose," said Hermione defeatedly. "I just don't want anyone getting hurt, including Malfoy. He looks terrible."

"He's fine, Hermione," said Ron, rolling his eyes. There were smudges of ink on his face still where he hadn't managed to wipe all of it off. "Not like he didn't go around bullying people for six years. Besides, nobody tries anything when Harry's around, Goyle or no Goyle. You've noticed it too."

"What?" Harry looked up again from the game. "Why d'you say that?"

Ron and Hermione glanced at one another.

"Well, it's because of you he was allowed to come back to Hogwarts after Azkaban, wasn't it?" said Hermione. "You vouched for him."

"Yeah," said Harry slowly, looking back and forth between them, "and so did several other people, including McGonagall and Slughorn."

"Wasn't Slughorn and McGonagall everyone watched take on You-Know-Who in the Great Hall last May, was it?" said Ron. "Believe me, Harry, no one's keen on doing anything they think's gonna rub you the wrong way."

"What do they think I'm gonna do," said Harry, beginning to laugh, "murder them in front of the whole school?"

"I think it's more just that nobody really fancies being singled out for getting on your bad side," said Hermione knowledgeably. "That's all."

"Oh, well if that's all," said Harry with a roll of his eyes. At that moment, he noticed movement from the bench where Malfoy and Goyle were sitting and realised Goyle had stood up. He was hovering deliberately in front of Malfoy, who had looked up from his book and appeared apprehensive. A few boys who looked to be sixth- or seventh-years had slowed as they were passing them.

"Keep moving," Harry heard Goyle say. "Go on."

"Only looking," said one of the boys. His back was to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but Harry could tell he was staring past Goyle at Malfoy. Malfoy, looking very small compared to his current company, was mostly expressionless. But then Goyle started cracking his knuckles and moving forward and the boys continued on their way, looking in Harry's opinion like people who would have been glad to get at Malfoy had Goyle not been there, in view of Harry or not.

The very next day, however, Harry quite distinctly noticed someone glance at Malfoy, then at him, and then move on while they were all waiting outside the Charms classroom. Goyle seemed to have noticed this as well, and he stared at Harry for a second before returning his attention to the corridor at large, anticipating any attacks on Malfoy.

Malfoy himself was pressed closely to the wall, but other than that he showed no sign of having noticed what had happened. Harry wondered vaguely if he was simply becoming used to it by now.

But then Flitwick opened the door, the class began filing in, and with a last glance down the corridor where Malfoy's would-be attacker had disappeared, Harry put it out of his mind.

 

 

 

ii.

 

 

 

The professors didn't seem to think that defeating Voldemort was a good reason to give Harry a break, which left him exactly as bogged down by homework as the rest of his year mates, and for about a week he stopped thinking about Malfoy and Goyle and that whole situation entirely. It was madness, really, the amount of essays piling up every day, and among all the eighth-years it seemed only to be Hermione who was managing to keep up, no doubt thanks to her colour-coded schedule nobody else had the patience for.

All through the rest of October and into chilly November the only thing Harry picked up on about Malfoy was that he apparently spent every waking hour studying, still guarded by Goyle, who had now actually punched somebody. Harry hadn't actually seen this himself — he'd heard about it from Lavender, Parvati, and Tracey, who had been excitedly telling the story to Dean and Stephen in the common room one night. According to them, a Ravenclaw boy and his Gryffindor friend had been taunting Malfoy about Azkaban, and eventually something they'd said to him had pushed Goyle past his limit. The Gryffindor had been the one to receive the fist in the face before both of them had reluctantly scarpered.

It wasn't until an afternoon in mid-November, though, that Harry really started paying attention again, and it was because of Hermione.

"All right, that's it," she said suddenly, startling Harry and nearly causing Ron to fall out of his seat, as he'd been slowly drifting into a stupor over his Potions textbook. "I'm ... I'm going to go ask Malfoy his opinion on this."

"On what?" Ron asked dazedly. Harry took the opportunity to look over at Malfoy, who was sitting by himself closer to the fire, doing work as usual. Goyle was conspicuously missing, likely doing the detention he'd gotten for punching the Gryffindor boy.

"I knew it," said Hermione, sounding exasperated, "you weren't even listening to a thing I was saying, were you?"

"How could I?" said Ron, stretching and yawning. "It's just about the dullest thing I can imagine."

"He's not that good, you know," Harry decided to point out, remembering quite well the way Malfoy had stopped standing out as much when it had been someone other than Snape teaching lessons. Then again, perhaps Malfoy couldn't necessarily be judged by his efforts during a time when he'd been stressing over a suicide mission from Voldemort. "I dunno if he'll be able to help you."

"Well it's not help I'm looking for," said Hermione crossly. "I need somebody to bounce ideas off of and seeing as the two of you can't seem to focus longer than ten minutes at a time ..."

"Too bad the Prince's book didn't survive," said Harry, grinning at the way Hermione's frown deepened. "I could've lent it to you."

"Oh, that's very funny, Harry. Very funny."

She scooped up her book and, looking stubbornly determined, crossed the common room to where Malfoy was sitting. Harry and Ron both turned to watch, as did a few other people who'd noticed. Malfoy himself looked up only when Hermione actually sat down in the chair next to him, and he startled so badly Harry saw him drop his quill. Harry wondered privately whether this wasn't simply Hermione's way of trying to engage him, Potions being a very convenient excuse.

"She's really done it," said Ron, voice filled with awe. "Looks like he's about to bolt, doesn't he?"

He did indeed look uncomfortable, rather like a wild animal who'd been cornered. Harry couldn't tell whether that had more to do with the simple fact of being addressed up here in the common room where he was usually ignored, or if it was fear owing to Goyle's temporary absence. He surely couldn't have thought Hermione would try to harm him in any way, although in all fairness she had slapped him when they were thirteen.

They watched Hermione saying something to him, saw Malfoy's shoulders relax the smallest bit, and then she was laying her book on the table and directing Malfoy's attention to something. For a minute or two he seemed only to be listening, his brow furrowed in a way that struck Harry as oddly docile and uncharacteristically candid. His fair cheeks became somewhat pink, but then he started speaking, so quietly Harry couldn't even hear the muffled sound of it as he had Hermione's.

"You know," said Ron, sounding thoughtful, "sometimes it doesn't even feel like Malfoy anymore, does it? I think I feel bad for him."

"Yeah," said Harry vaguely. He watched as Malfoy flipped a few pages in the book and pointed something out to Hermione, whose back straightened, and then they heard a soft "Oh!" that usually meant she'd finally figured something out.

"D'you think it was Azkaban?" Ron asked, pulling Harry's attention back to their own table.

"What?" he said stupidly. "Do I think what was Azkaban?"

"The reason he's like this. All weird and jumpy and quiet."

"I dunno." Harry rubbed at his eyes and let out a tired sigh. He glanced at the Potions homework in front of him that was only half done and knew immediately it was a lost cause. "Must be part of it, at least. Listen, we should —"

"Oh, shit, look," Ron cut him off, gesturing over to Malfoy and Hermione, where the former had suddenly sprung up from his seat when Lavender and a few other girls sat down nearby. Looking almost panic-stricken, he went off towards the spiral staircase leading up to the boys' dormitories and disappeared, leaving an obviously confused Hermione in his wake. After a moment she got up and came back over to them.

"Well that didn't last long," said Ron.

"My goodness, it was as if someone had shouted at him," she said. There was a troubled look in her eyes. "And, you know, he was helpful, as I suspected he might be."

At that moment the portrait hole opened — they could hear Sir Cadogan yelling something that sounded a lot like a challenge to a sword fight — and Goyle walked in. He made a beeline for the dormitories after scanning the common room and, presumably, seeing that Malfoy was absent.

"You know, Harry," said Hermione, "I reckon you should say something."

"What?" He looked at her blankly. "To who?"

"Malfoy," she said. "I don't know, just ... let him know that some of us believe he deserves this second chance."

"You're the one studying with him now apparently," Ron interjected, looking offended on Harry's behalf. "Why don't you do it?"

"I think it would mean more coming from Harry," she said. "Just think about it."

"Yeah, all right," he conceded, giving a small shrug.

Privately, he doubted very much whether he'd end up taking her suggestion. Hermione wasn't often wrong, but he thought this might have been one of those rare times. If anything, Malfoy seemed quite like he wanted to be left alone, and it would really only make sense for that to apply double to him.

 

 

 

iii.

 

 

 

Over the next week Harry kept a closer eye on Malfoy, but he still made no effort to talk to him. 

Ron was right — it often didn't feel like Malfoy at all. He did things like pressing himself into walls to keep as far as possible out of everyone's way; he never spoke in class, and generally the professors didn't force him to; he was almost never seen in the Great Hall during meals; he hardly even seemed to make eye contact with anyone save for Goyle. Now that he had begun taking closer notice of these things, Harry often found himself staring. It was easy to do, since Malfoy rarely lifted his gaze from whatever book he was reading or the floor.

There was something darkly appealing about him this way. The hollow cheeks accentuated the high cheekbones, the dark circles under his eyes gave them a sunken look and made them appear slightly larger, and because he spent such a large portion of time indoors his skin was as pale as Harry had ever seen it. It was desperately unhealthy, and on Malfoy it fascinated him.

It occurred to Harry that Malfoy could dress himself in a potato sack and sit out on the street with a collecting tin and still anyone who looked at him would know he was of aristocratic birth. It was an inherently impossible thing to miss.

Hermione had tried talking to him again, but it hadn't been all that much more successful than her first attempt. Mostly, Harry thought, this was due to Goyle's presence the second time around: he'd glared at Hermione so relentlessly that she'd given up after just a couple minutes.

During dinner one night, Harry looked up from his food at a gentle prodding from Ron and saw that across the hall, between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables, Malfoy had been stopped by a couple of his own housemates, a boy and a girl. He was clearly not making eye contact, head bowed, the meek antithesis of the Draco Malfoy Harry had known and hated for seven years. He could hear voices but not what they were saying. Goyle was nowhere in sight.

"My god," Hermione said disgustedly upon seeing what they were both looking at — as well as a growing number of people around the hall. "It's pathetic, really, can't they leave him alone?"

"Where's Goyle?" Harry heard Dean say nearby. 

And then, very clearly, he saw the boy shove Malfoy's thin chest, hard.

"Oh, hell no," Harry muttered, already up from his seat with a hand on his wand. "All right, I've had enough of this —"

But at that moment the doors to the Great Hall opened and Goyle walked inside, looking tired and extremely grumpy. At first he seemed not to notice anything, and then all at once he did.

"Get away from him!" Goyle yelled. His voice echoed menacingly around the room. He started towards the Slytherin table, shoving people aside like rag dolls as he went, and Harry saw that both Slughorn and McGonagall were sweeping down from the head table in their direction. Goyle had already reached them, though, and he grabbed the Slytherin boy by the front of his robes, shaking him so hard his glasses fell off his nose.

"Mr Goyle!" shouted McGonagall, a hand on her hat as she strode towards them, eyes flashing dangerously. Slughorn lagged behind her, looking completely out of his depth. "Mr Langley! That will be enough!"

"I'm sick of it!" said Goyle loudly. He shoved the Slytherin boy away from him and he toppled backwards into two seated Ravenclaws, who barely managed to catch him. Back a ways, Malfoy was staring with wide, luminous eyes, looking quite frozen. "I tell you, I'm sick of it! It's every day, Professor!"

"You will come with me immediately," Harry heard McGonagall say, her voice loud but steady. "You too, Mr Langley. Now."

She marched them both from the Great Hall with fire in her eyes and lips as thin and white as Harry had ever seen them. A silence that quickly broke out into hissing whispers was left in their wake, and Harry saw Slughorn speaking quietly to Malfoy as he led him from the hall as well.

"Merlin's bollocks," said Dean, breaking the silence in Harry's immediate vicinity. "You know, I can't even see what they get out of it, pushing him around. He's all skin and bones and he doesn't talk."

"It's pathetic," Hermione said again, her cheeks flushed with colour. She was clearly very upset. "Absolutely pathetic."

"I mean, it is Malfoy," said Seamus quietly. "Can't say I don't get it."

"He spent two months in Azkaban, Seamus," said Neville, speaking up from a little further down the table and surprising Harry. He looked highly troubled. "Do these people think they're a better punishment than the Dementors?"

"Exactly," said Hermione fiercely. "Thank you, Neville, that's exactly it." Neville blushed.

Harry, appetite gone, found that he couldn't rid himself of the mental image of Malfoy with his face lowered, as if the best he could do was hope they didn't hurt him too badly. It made him feel sick.

Maybe Hermione was right, he thought suddenly. Maybe he needed to try and talk to him.

 

 

 

iv.

 

 

 

That was, of course, rather more easily said than done.

Harry gave it his first try just a few days later, up in the eighth-year common room where, yes, Malfoy was collectively ignored (and whispered about behind his back), but at least he wasn't bullied to his face.

"Stay back, Potter," said Goyle the moment he looked up from his chair near Malfoy's and saw him approaching. Harry stopped a few feet away, obliging Goyle's precaution. He even put his hands up in an open gesture of complaisance.

"I just wanna talk to him," he said, indicating Malfoy. Malfoy was watching him with his brows drawn.

"'Bout what?" Goyle growled. Apparently he trusted Harry with Malfoy no more than he trusted anyone else at the school. Maybe even less, going by the thinly-veiled fury in his eyes. It made very little sense to Harry, who would no more have attacked Malfoy out of the blue than shoved him against a wall and started snogging him, but he didn't think he'd be able to explain that to Goyle.

"Not really your business, is it?"

"Damn right it is," Goyle replied harshly. "Anything you got to say to Draco's my business, Potter. So go ahead and say it or piss off."

Harry blinked at him. He moved his gaze from Goyle's hard features to Malfoy behind him, sitting cross-legged in an armchair and watching the exchange silently. The fire threw shadows across his face that made him look a little like a skeleton. It gave Harry the chills.

"Come on, Malfoy," he said, voice lowered. Those unfeeling grey eyes gave up no emotion where they rested on Harry. For just a second he could feel the cold floor of Malfoy Manor on his knees again, could smell the potent blend of fear and hatred and insanity coming off the Death Eaters all around him, especially Malfoy, who for that moment had held Harry's life in his hands. "Call him off, I wanna talk to you."

"Call me off?" echoed Goyle, standing now and showing off every last inch of his formidable height and bulk. Harry stood his ground, though he forced himself not to reach for his wand. "I'm not a dog, Potter. Why don't you just fuck off, he's not interested in whatever you've got to say."

"Take it easy, Goyle," said Harry, lifting his hands again. "I wasn't — I'm really just trying to —"

"Fuck off, Potter!" Goyle repeated sharply. Harry closed his mouth reluctantly, more stunned than anything. "He doesn't wanna talk to you! Get it through your head!" And, when Harry still didn't move, "Go!"

Harry looked at Malfoy again, but Malfoy only lowered his gaze back to his book.

"You're making it worse for him," Harry told Goyle quietly. "That's all you're doing."

"If you make me hit you, Potter," said Goyle, "I will."

With a last glance, aware of the entire common room watching, Harry gave up and went back to Ron and Hermione. Goyle looked around at everyone, as though he was daring the next person to try something similar, but of course no one did.

 

 

 

v.

 

 

 

The only time Malfoy could be found without Goyle, Harry had discovered, was in Potions and immediately after. Goyle actually walked Malfoy to classes they didn't have together, but because of whichever lesson he had at the same time he was usually not there yet right when they got out. The next day, Harry used this to his advantage.

"Malfoy," he said, stopping him just as he was leaving the classroom. Malfoy turned and eyed Harry with only the faintest dimple of confusion (or perhaps that was suspicion) marring his brow. He was otherwise impassive. Ron and Hermione paused a few feet away. "I'd really like to talk to you."

"Clearly," said Malfoy. It was strange to hear his voice, which sounded like he hadn't been using it much. Up close he appeared worse than ever, eyes dull, white blond hair un-styled (yet somehow softer-looking for that), his skin having taken on that greyish tinge Harry remembered from sixth year. The fact that he managed even now to be an extremely aesthetically-pleasing person to look at seemed just about right, though.

"Look," he said when Malfoy offered nothing else, "all I wanted to say was that these people harassing you, they're completely out of order. I vouched for you, know that you belong here, and so do plenty of other people. McGonagall wouldn't have let you come back if you didn't deserve it. I just want you to know that." Malfoy's expression didn't change, but he also didn't look away like Harry had anticipated him doing. He even fancied he could see some highly subdued emotion in his eyes, something Malfoy was no doubt repressing furiously. "I get that, you know, trying to address it formally or whatever would be a terrible idea, but I meant it last night when I said I think Goyle's only making it worse. It's just turning it into a game for people, Malfoy, that's all it's doing."

Malfoy continued looking at him, a slight frown-line appearing on his forehead as his eyebrows dipped.

"I just ... I think you should tell him to stop threatening people," he said. "And if you did want me to say anything to anybody, or anything that would — erm — make you feel safer, whatever, just let me know. Okay? I'm happy to help if I —"

"Potter!"

Heaving a deep sigh, Harry turned to face Goyle, whom he'd been expecting to show up any moment.

"Stay the hell away from him!" he roared, and Harry realised just in time that Goyle was going to hit him. He ducked out of the way successfully (thinking absurdly of Dudley for a moment), but Goyle recovered from the miss and came at him again.

"Back off!" Harry shouted, whipping out his wand finally and stopping Goyle in his tracks when he pointed it at his face.

"Enough, Greg," Malfoy said from behind his hulking form. Several people in the corridor had stopped to watch, but Goyle only had eyes for Harry. He was breathing hard, his mean eyes narrowed. "He didn't do anything."

"Leave him alone," Goyle said. "I'm serious, Potter. Leave - him - alone."

"Greg, we're only trying to help," came Hermione's voice from somewhere to Harry's right. "Please, if you could just —"

"Shut up," Goyle cut her off. "I don't care. You're not helping. Piss off, the both of you."

"All right," said Harry placatingly, lowering his wand when he felt confident he wasn't going to be attacked. "We're leaving."

Malfoy spared Harry a glance before heading off in the opposite direction with Goyle in tow, shooting death glares at everyone they passed.

"There's something wrong with him," said Ron a few minutes later as they descended the lawn towards greenhouse three. "Goyle, I mean. Like he's snapped."

"Maybe he has," said Hermione. "He watched his best friend die in his own cursed fire six months ago, didn't he?"

A grim silence descended over them.

"Well I tried, at least," said Harry, opening the greenhouse door and letting Hermione and Ron pass through before him. "I can't do anything if Goyle won't let me."

"You did the best you could, Harry, I'm really proud of you," Hermione assured him. "That's all anybody can do if neither of them will listen."

 

 

 

vi.

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks, as December approached and brought with it frigid temperatures and a massive increase in homework, Harry began noticing a small shift. Goyle was seen around Malfoy significantly less, something he learned was due to some remedial lessons that were being forced on him by the teachers whose classes he was in danger of failing. Quite a few, apparently. This information was shared with him by Lavender, who had been told by Tracey, who had allegedly spoken to Pansy about it.

Instead of using the opportunity to try and talk to Malfoy again, however, Harry decided simply to keep an eye on him from a distance. It was far easier, and he thought Malfoy probably wanted him hanging around about as much as Harry wanted to spend his time hanging around Malfoy. More than once he stepped in — as casually as he could — to pretend to have to ask Malfoy a question when he saw someone drawing too close to him, and although Malfoy never actually said so Harry knew he was aware of what he was doing. It helped that, as Ron had pointed out, people seemed much less eager to try things under Harry's nose than Goyle's. He thought it also had something to do with the lack of Goyle cracking his knuckles at everyone, though. He was under no delusions that it would have stopped had Goyle listened to him and backed off on the guard-dog thing completely, but it was certainly helping for the moment.

The weird thing was that Malfoy kept letting it happen. Harry had thought for sure after the second time intervening that Malfoy would have told him to bugger off, but he didn't. It was quite a good solution for the time being, the only hitch being the fact that Harry could feel himself beginning to obsess. Not over the situation, but over Malfoy himself. He'd done his fair share of that before, of course, but unlike two years ago, there was no mystery to solve this time. He just ... liked watching him.

He liked noticing the way Malfoy was always curled up in chairs in the common room, feet usually up on the seat with him. The way he sometimes pushed a loose strand of hair behind his ear now that he didn't style it anymore. He liked how, when he was clearly deep in a book, he could see Malfoy's narrow shoulders relax, like he'd managed to forget for the moment where he was.

Generally Harry tried to keep his interactions with Malfoy short, but one day about a week into December he actually sat down next to him out in the courtyard due to a group of mixed Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors who'd been eyeing Malfoy in a way Harry didn't like at all.

"Hey," he said, taking a seat beside him on the bench. It was cold but sunny, and tomorrow was supposed to be the first big snowfall of the year. It seemed the whole school was outside soaking up the last of their snow-free days in the grass.

Malfoy glanced up at him, then looked around, like he knew exactly what Harry's presence meant. His eyes landed on the group of students who'd made Harry decide to come over; he watched them for a moment, then looked back down at his book.

"Hi, Potter."

"Er — what are you working on?"

"I'm reading."

"Right." Ron and Hermione had continued on their way inside, and though Harry needed to finish up the homework they were heading to the library to work on, he wasn't about to leave until he felt sure Malfoy was safe. "What book is it, then?"

Malfoy sighed, which brought a very small smile to Harry's face. He flipped the cover back, and when Harry saw the word Macbeth he blinked.

"Wait ... you're reading Shakespeare? That's Muggle literature."

Malfoy stared at him blankly.

"Oh," Harry said, understanding hitting him like a Bludger. He laughed incredulously. "Wait, he was a wizard?"

"Obviously. Do Muggles read him?"

"Yeah, he's like," Harry shrugged, "I dunno, one of the most famous playwrights of all time."

"Weird."

Malfoy went back to the book and Harry glanced at the suspicious group again, only to see one of them quickly look away. He rolled his eyes — did they really have nothing better to do?

"Hermione's always complaining about not having any time to read for pleasure this year," he said, looking again at the book in Malfoy's hands. "I've told her a million times, just because she can fit all these classes into her schedule doesn't mean it's not still too many."

"Potter," said Malfoy, looking up at him again, "we don't have to talk."

It was a startlingly honest thing to say, and Harry could hear the subtext just fine: do what you need to do, it said, but don't pretend you're here for the pleasure of my company.

"Are you calling me a shit conversationalist?" 

He thought he saw Malfoy smile, but it was gone too quickly to know for sure.

"Yes," said Malfoy, "so shut up. I'm trying to read."

So Harry stopped trying to talk to him, and hardly more than a minute or two later he saw the group of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors finally leave, a few of them with sour looks on their faces.

"All right, well ... I'll probably be in the library the rest of the evening," Harry said, standing up. Malfoy glanced up, saw that the immediate threat was gone, and nodded.

"Okay."

"When's Goyle done with his lessons?"

Malfoy stared up at him, like he was mulling over whether or not to answer.

"Soon," he said finally.

"Right." Hesitant to leave but even more hesitant to stay, Harry lifted his bag onto his shoulder. "Well, I'll see you later then, Malfoy."

Malfoy didn't respond, returning his attention to his book. He looked small and vulnerable bundled up in a winter cloak and plain green hat that covered most of his hair, cheeks pink with the cold.

Harry wished suddenly there was something more he could do, but try as he might, he couldn't think of anything more than what he was already doing.

 

 

 

vii.

 

 

 

No more than a week later, as Harry was heading down to dinner late, he was stopped by the Fat Friar, who appeared to be in quite a panic.

"Oh, Mr Potter, good, good," he said, wringing his pearlescent hands, "there's a bit of trouble, I was looking for a teacher. You'll do just fine, please, come with me, hurry."

"Wait —" Harry started, but the Friar was already off, and with a little sigh Harry followed him at a jog. This was so bloody typical, as if defeating Voldemort suddenly gave him authority of some sort at school. He couldn't imagine what 'trouble' was supposed to mean, and truthfully the only thing he was thinking of at the moment was how hungry he was and how he could have been loading his plate up with steak and potatoes in a few minutes if this hadn't happened.

The food disappeared from his mind, though, when suddenly, from around the corner just ahead of them, he heard screaming start. Not just regular screaming, either, but that of someone being tortured. A wave of sickening fear passed over him, bringing him sharply back to the dungeon of Malfoy Manor where he'd heard Hermione's shrieking cries coming from upstairs — back to the graveyard, where Voldemort had cast the Cruciatus curse on him not once, but twice ...

"Oh dear, oh dear, I should have gotten a teacher, I —"

But Harry didn't hear the rest of whatever the Friar was saying. He darted around the corner with his wand out and saw Malfoy on the ground, twitching and jerking and screaming, and a few feet away stood his tormentor, wand aloft, a crazed look on his face.

Without even thinking about it Harry threw a nonverbal Expelliarmus so powerful it blasted the boy backwards, throwing him against the opposite wall. Harry didn't bother catching his wand — he went straight for Malfoy, kneeling down beside him and putting a hand on his chin, making Malfoy face him. His head lolled on the ground, eyes fluttering uselessly, still trembling.

"Go get McGonagall," he told the Friar without looking up, "I'm gonna take him to the hospital wing."

The Friar was off at once, but not before he'd looked disgustedly at the student who'd done it. He was knocked out cold now, and Harry could see a Ravenclaw tie.

"Draco," he said softly, "it's over, you're okay. Come on, can you open your eyes?"

But Malfoy only groaned and curled onto his side, towards Harry.

"I'm gonna help you up, all right?" he said, beginning to stand. "I need to get you to the Infirmary."

To his immense relief, he got a very stiff nod in response.

Squatting now, he carefully managed to get Malfoy upright into a sitting position, and then, with some difficulty, onto his feet. Harry wrapped one of his arms around Malfoy's frightfully thin waist for balance and in that fashion, one slow step at a time, helped him one floor down to the hospital wing, where McGonagall was already waiting along with Madam Pomfrey.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," she said upon seeing them, her face white. Madam Pomfrey immediately took Malfoy from Harry and led him into the Infirmary.

"It was a Ravenclaw," Harry said, turning to McGonagall. "He used the Cruciatus Curse."

"Yes, the Friar said," McGonagall said gravely. "Where is he, Potter?"

"Third floor," he said. "Near that portrait of the wizards playing chess. I, erm — I knocked him out by accident, disarming him. I was just —"

"You're not in trouble," she said. "I'm going to go deal with him. It seems we're going to have to address this issue with Mr Malfoy more formally ... Oh, I don't look forward to telling Filius about this ..." She walked away with a sigh and Harry finally went into the Infirmary, where he saw Malfoy lying on a bed at the far end of the wing.

"Is he okay?" he asked Pomfrey as he approached, stopping a few feet back. "The curse, it doesn't usually do physical damage, does it?"

"He's in no shape to have dealt with something like that," Pomfrey said fiercely. "The curse itself does no physical damage but the thrashing around ... the victim can often become injured as a byproduct ..." She was hovering her wand over him, ostensibly checking that this hadn't happened. "Thought I'd seen the last of it ... an Unforgivable ... after everything ... well, they'll be facing the Wizengamot for this, no doubt about that ..." She pulled her wand back, apparently satisfied, though she was still frowning deeply. She looked at Harry and her face softened a little. "I'm sorry, Potter, I'll have to ask you to wait outs —"

"WHAT HAPPENED?"

Goyle came bursting into the hospital wing in a state of panic, and when his eyes landed on Malfoy Harry saw his face drain of colour. He couldn't help it — he felt bad for him.

"What happened?" he said again. "I heard the Friar ... something about ..." But apparently he couldn't say it.

"I'm fine, Greg," said Malfoy, and Harry spun around to look at him. His eyes were open but he looked exhausted, the dark circles under them more pronounced than ever.

Goyle came closer, pushing past Harry and staring at Malfoy with his eyes wide and scared. It was a look Harry had never seen on him before.

"Did somebody really ...?"

"This boy needs rest," Pomfrey said sharply. "I'm sorry, boys, but you'll have to leave. You may visit tomorrow, after he's slept —"

"I'm not going anywhere!" Goyle shouted. "I'm staying right here, what if they try it again!"

"I assure you, there will be no Unforgivables performed in this Infirmary," said Pomfrey, as if the very idea was offensive to her. "Now please, Mr Goyle, as I've said, Malfoy needs rest —"

"I said I'm not going anywhere!"

"That will be enough!" Pomfrey snapped. "Out with the both of you, now! I won't hear another word!"

"Greg," Malfoy said again, "it's fine, really. Go. I'll see you tomorrow."

Harry glanced at Malfoy before allowing Pomfrey to shuffle them both out of the dormitory, and he and Goyle looked at each other when the doors closed behind them.

"Always you, isn't it, Potter?" he said.

"Come off it, Goyle," said Harry tiredly, "you know I didn't do that to him."

"Just keep your distance, all right?"

"Yeah, and you too," said Harry, eyeing him. "You heard what she said, he needs rest. I've —" He nearly told him he'd been under the Cruciatus Curse before, he knew what it felt like, but he decided it would be pointless. "Just let him be for tonight, okay?"

Goyle glared at him one more time before storming off.

 

 

 

viii.

 

 

 

In spite of his warning to Goyle, Harry snuck back into the hospital wing under cover of his Invisibility Cloak just after one in the morning. He found Malfoy still awake, pale and small in the light of the moon and staring out the window. After making certain Pomfrey was nowhere in sight and hopefully sleeping, Harry took the Cloak off and smiled apologetically when Malfoy jumped.

"Sorry," he said quietly, moving a little closer. "Didn't mean to scare you."

"What are you doing here, Potter?"

Harry shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "I just wanted to see how you were doing without Pomfrey breathing down my neck."

"You did, did you?"

"Yeah," Harry said with a short laugh. He gestured to a chair next to the bed. "Mind if I sit?"

Malfoy eyed him, then shrugged. "Whatever."

He threw the Cloak over the back and sat down. There was a glass of water on the bedside table, as well as a small vase of flowers and Malfoy's book, Macbeth

"How are you doing, then?"

"Fine," said Malfoy. He sat up a little more in his bed, up against the headboard. His pyjama top was slipping just slightly off his shoulder on one side, giving Harry a clear view of the sharp collarbones that were usually hidden beneath his uniform. Malfoy must have sensed him looking, because he tugged it back up. "There were just a couple bruises, Pomfrey healed them in about five seconds. I was sore for a bit, but that's gone too."

"Yeah," Harry said with a nod. "Doesn't last long."

"You've been under it before, haven't you?" said Malfoy. It was difficult to place his expression, but he didn't sound too surprised. Harry merely nodded again. "How many times?"

"Just once. Well, twice, but it was the same night." He laughed, but there wasn't much humour in it. "Actually I've been hit with all three of the Unforgivables."

"That's funny to you?"

"No ... no, I just — it hadn't occurred to me before." Changing the subject back around to Malfoy, he asked, "Why were you wandering around alone without Goyle?"

Malfoy's eyebrows raised. "Weren't you the one telling me it's what I should be doing?"

"What? No, I just said he should quit threatening people. Is that ... were you alone because of me?"

"Don't be stupid," Malfoy said, rolling his eyes. "I was meeting with Slughorn, I told Goyle to go ahead to dinner without me because I'd be late. I truly didn't think that five minute walk down to the Great Hall was going to be a big deal."

"I wouldn't have either," said Harry. "McGonagall's furious, she said she's gonna have to address it. Don't worry," he added when he saw the panic on Malfoy's face, "I'll talk to her, tell her not to make it a big deal or anything, that'll just be worse. I'm surprised that kid was able to ... you know, even do it." He remembered vividly trying to use it on Bellatrix after she'd killed Sirius. Of course it had finally worked for him once not so long ago, although he didn't fancy telling Malfoy about that just now. "Hopefully it wasn't as bad as it could've been. It could be an Azkaban sentence for him, though."

Malfoy went expressionless and looked down at his lap.

"Shit — sorry."

"It's fine," Malfoy said quietly. He tucked a piece of hair behind his ear, and when the movement caused the sleeve of his shirt to fall slightly Harry could see the very tip of the Dark Mark against his pale skin.

"Well, I'm glad you're feeling okay," said Harry, standing up from the chair. "I s'pose I should —"

"Will you stay?" Malfoy burst out. Harry looked at him and he saw Malfoy's cheeks darken a little. "I mean ... sorry, no, that's —"

"No, I can stay," Harry said quickly. "I can ... I can stay if you want me to."

Malfoy's jaw clenched. He licked his lips. "If you wouldn't mind," he said finally, stiffly.

"Course not," said Harry, sitting back down in the chair. "I'll be right here. You should try to get some sleep, though."

Malfoy nodded. He stared at Harry another moment and then slid back down in the bed, blond hair splaying out around his head on the pillow.

Within just five minutes, Harry saw his breathing starting to even out and knew he'd fallen asleep. He wondered if it was a coincidence, or if his presence had had something to do with it. He watched him for a few minutes, taking note of the dull ache in his chest that the sight evoked. He could have left, but he found he didn't have the heart to. He'd said he would stay, and that hadn't meant just until he fell asleep. What if he woke up?

Eventually, as it was nearing two, his eyes started itching with sleep. He put his arms on the bed next to Malfoy's slight frame and rested his head on them, meaning only to rest his eyes for a few minutes, but he too was asleep not long after.

 

 

 

ix.

 

 

 

"Potter."

Harry blinked awake and became immediately aware of a soreness in his neck and his arms, which he realised quickly was because of the way he'd been sleeping. He sat up in his chair and looked dazedly out the windows, through which he could see the very first pale orange rays of the sun peeking out from behind the rolling Scottish highlands. He looked back at Malfoy, who actually seemed to be grinning a little. His cheeks were pink, too.

"Wow, I knocked out," said Harry, taking his glasses off and yawning. There was a painful spot just beside his eye where the frames had dug into his skin.

"You didn't have to stay after I'd fallen asleep."

"Nah, it's no big deal." He stretched his arms over his head and rolled his sore shoulders. "I didn't want you to wake up and I was gone."

"I think I would have been okay."

Harry looked at him again and saw that the colour on his face had deepened. It made him feel ... something, he didn't know what. Certainly nothing he'd ever felt looking at Malfoy before.

"Right, well ... I should probably get out of here before Pomfrey finds me." He stood up, stretched one more time, and replaced his glasses. "You're okay, though? Feeling all right?"

"Yeah," said Malfoy quietly. "Fine." He paused, and then continued, "Potter, do you think ... do you think you might be able to convince McGonagall not to say anything to anyone?"

"I ... don't know," he said honestly. "Like I said, I'll tell her I think it'd be a bad idea to make a big deal of it. I'm not sure it'd be a good idea for her not to say anything at all, though. I don't think anyone else is gonna use an Unforgivable on you, but still. It's getting a bit out of control, Malfoy."

"It'll get worse if she tells everyone to stop picking on me." He brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, looking heartbreakingly vulnerable. If he hadn't known perfectly well it was Malfoy he might have thought it was somebody Polyjuiced to look like him. "When Greg's around it's just the verbal taunts, I can deal with that —"

"Yeah but he's not been around enough lately," Harry reminded him. "And it's not just picking on you, Malfoy. I've heard the stuff they say, bringing up Azkaban and all that, it's not okay. Hogwarts is supposed to be safe. Regardless of whether or not you can handle it they shouldn't be doing it, they're not some elite arbitrators of justice, you did your time." He saw that Malfoy's gaze had dropped to his knees and Harry pitched a sigh. "Look, I'll see what I can do, all right? I'll talk to her."

Malfoy nodded but didn't look up. Just then there was the sound of a door opening from Pomfrey's office and Harry snatched his Cloak up and threw it over himself.

"Thanks for staying, Potter," Malfoy said softly. Harry wanted to respond, but Pomfrey was bustling out of her office now and coming towards Malfoy's bed.

He left the ward carefully, trying not to make any noise when he cracked the door open, and at that very moment he heard Malfoy say something loudly enough to cover the sound and keep Pomfrey's focus while he slipped out.

 

 

 

x.

 

 

 

"Absolutely not, Potter," said McGonagall sternly.

"But, Professor —"

"No," she said, eyes flashing. Harry clenched his jaw. "I don't think I need to tell you that this has evolved into an extremely serious situation. You realise, Potter, that this student very likely learned how to use the curse last year, during ..." She stopped, and her face lost a little bit of colour. She looked suddenly as old as Dumbledore, and exhausted. "You weren't here, Potter. Thank god you weren't here. It was ... we cannot abide by the use of that spell here in these corridors, ever again. Not while I'm head of this school."

"I know," Harry said softly. "Please, Professor, believe me, I know. I'm not saying he shouldn't be punished and I'm not even saying it wouldn't be good to remind everyone that ... you know, that it's never okay to hurt other people. I'm only saying you shouldn't use Malfoy as the example. I really, really believe that'll do more harm than good."

"If I may, Professor McGonagall." Harry's heart leapt and he looked up to find that Dumbledore's portrait was awake and looking down his long, crooked nose at them. McGonagall peered at him with a mixture of respect and ambivalence.

"Of course, Albus," she said.

"I think Harry's right. If you don't mind my saying, you have always had a way with words, Professor." McGonagall's lips pursed, but Harry saw a pink tinge come over her face. "I think you should be able to remind them all quite effectively that the use of Dark Magic or indeed any spell meant to harm others will not be tolerated without mentioning Mr Malfoy by name."

"Everyone knows what happened," Harry added, "it's not like they won't know why you're giving the reminder, but this way Malfoy'll feel less singled out. I think he's afraid it'll just make people come after him even worse and I'm not sure he's wrong."

"It's at least worth a try, Minerva," said Dumbledore gently.

McGonagall was silent. She looked from Dumbledore to Harry, gave a sigh, and Harry knew he'd won.

"I will not use his name," she said finally.

"Thank you, Professor, really —"

"But," she cut him off sternly, "if he is attacked again, if he is hit with so much as a Tickling Charm, Potter, I'll be stepping in."

"Of course," he agreed. His gaze flicked to Dumbledore above, who smiled at him and nodded. "Thank you, ma'am. I'll be ... that is, I plan to keep an eye out for him. I never thought ... when I vouched for him to come back, I didn't ..."

"Neither did I," said McGonagall gravely. "And nor did Horace. It's a troubling thing, to see the extent of the damage that was done last year." Her face softened then, and she fixed Harry with something close to a smile. "Don't worry, Potter. Slow and difficult as it may be, we will get there."

"It is a very fortunate thing," said Dumbledore, drawing both their attention, "that you are in possession of such an incorruptibly good soul, Harry. I know you don't always like it, but especially these days you hold a great deal of power and influence. People will follow your example, if you continue to set it."

"Right," he said quietly. "Thank you, sir. I'm doing my best."

"We know you are, Potter," said McGonagall. "I'm very proud of you, sticking up for Mr Malfoy this way. Albus is quite right — not many possess such a capacity for growth and forgiveness."

"Thank you, Professor."

"Very well — tomorrow morning at breakfast I will make a brief announcement. I'll be counting on you, Potter, to let me know if you see things getting out of hand."

"Absolutely."

"You may go, then. And please remind Mr Weasley that his brothers' joke items continue to be banned from the corridors."

Harry laughed. "I will, Professor."

 

 

 

xi.

 

 

 

Everyone did seem to know why McGonagall made the announcement the next morning, but Harry thought Malfoy had still looked relieved not to hear his name, at least.

When Goyle had his extra lessons, usually in the evenings, Harry took to actually spending time with him in secluded places around the castle, and Malfoy didn't protest it. It was a little awkward at first, their conversations stilted or else nonexistent, both of them simply working on homework, but slowly, after a few days and then a week, it started feeling more normal. That was when Hermione made her first attempt to join them, and when it was successful, she brought Ron along the next day. Of course this could only happen when Goyle was otherwise occupied and they were able to sneak off, because he was still shooting Harry death-glares whenever he got the chance, but it was a start.

There came a night during the last week of lessons before the holidays that Goyle went up to bed early after making Malfoy promise to do the same soon. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had joined him after that, and then, around one in the morning when Ron and Hermione went to bed as well, Harry looked around and found that they were alone in the common room.

There was an odd sort of tension he could feel between them that was entirely separate from any of the awkwardness, and had only been growing ever since that night in the hospital wing. On some level he knew what it was — attraction, and not just on a physical level. It was difficult to understand and even more difficult to wrap his head around, but he knew it for what it was and it seemed pointless to try and deny it to himself. He was almost positive Malfoy was aware of it too — it was in the glances they shared, particularly the ones where Malfoy looked away again quickly.

"Are you going to the Weasleys' for the holidays?" Malfoy asked, reaching to place a mug of tea on the coffee table and then bringing his feet up onto the sofa, knees bent, as was his wont. They were very close together, although Harry wasn't sure how that had happened. The arm he had draped over the back was practically touching Malfoy's shoulders. The common room smelt strongly of pine and gingerbread, but underneath it there was something else that Harry realised was Malfoy. Something delicate and almost peachy, which he supposed must have been whatever soap Malfoy used.

"No, erm — we're staying here, actually. All of us, Ron and Hermione and me ... it's our last year at Hogwarts, y'know? We thought it'd be fun."

"Oh," said Malfoy, nodding a little. "That's ... yeah, that makes sense." He looked at Harry, and there was something in his eyes that made Harry's stomach clench. "Obviously I'm staying here as well."

"Goyle?"

"Going home," said Malfoy. "His mother insisted."

"Right." He hesitated, and then continued carefully, "Your mum ... she'll be out by next Christmas, Draco."

"I know," he said quietly. "I've been telling myself that."

"It'll be a good Christmas," Harry insisted. "Really. Ron and I were talking about getting out on the pitch at some point, you should join us. And you and I ... we could play a few Seeker's matches, yeah? Be fun."

Malfoy laughed lightly. "Yeah, maybe. Feels like I haven't played Quidditch in about a hundred years."

For just a second, so quickly Harry almost missed it, he saw Malfoy's eyes flicker down to his mouth. For as small a gesture as it was, it certainly made Harry's stomach explode with want. He glanced down at Malfoy's lips and swallowed, confused and aroused and too aware of Malfoy looking at him, of the tension between them thicker and more poignant than ever, of his hand, which was so close to Malfoy's shoulders, and the leg he had bent on the sofa, nearly touching Malfoy's foot.

"Potter," Malfoy said quietly. His voice made the coil of heat in Harry's stomach throb. This was madness, truly. 

"Erm — yeah, right, me too." He tore his eyes away and cleared his throat. Simply for something to do, he reached for his previously abandoned mug of tea on the table, which had begun to go cold, and still he took a sip. "Bollocks McGonagall banned eighth-years from playing on house teams."

"Honestly, how dare she rob you of yet more attention."

Harry looked back at him with a surge of irritation that died again immediately when he saw that Malfoy was grinning. He hadn't seen him do that in ... well, he'd never seen him do it at all in a way that wasn't malicious, and actually it was quite nice. It didn't entirely erase that lingering aura of defeat, like something inside him had died, but it certainly lessened the effect.

"I'm gonna let you get away with that only because I do feel sort of bad for beating you to the Snitch literally every single time we've ever played against each other."

"Oh, fuck you, Potter," Malfoy said, and though Harry saw him try and stifle it he still laughed. "The worst thing about you is that you really have everyone convinced you're some humble hero."

"Well I am," said Harry, "it's just that they all really like it whereas you find it threatening for some reason."

Malfoy glared at him and Harry smiled. "And you're very funny too, aren't you?" he said drily.

"I think so," said Harry.

"Charming." Malfoy stood up, cheeks glowing a soft pink colour, and he pushed a loose strand of hair behind his ear. "I'm off to bed. See you tomorrow, Potter."

"Yeah, see you tomorrow." He paused. "Hey, Malfoy?"

Malfoy looked over his shoulder with a raised brow.

"A Seeker's match. We really should do that."

"Sure, yeah," Malfoy said, frowning a little. "Let's talk about it when term ends."

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "G'night, Malfoy."

"Night, Potter."

 

 

 

xii.

 

 

 

There was a sharp pain suddenly on his shin that startled Harry from the daze he'd fallen into, staring unseeingly at the fireplace with his cheek propped on his hand. He jolted upright and looked around at Malfoy, who had just kicked him under the table, with a glare.

"What the hell?" he said, reaching down to rub it. "That fucking hurt."

"Quit drifting off then." Malfoy rolled his eyes. "We're almost done."

Harry pressed his palms into his eyes and heaved a great sigh. Across the table, Ron shot him a sympathetic look. He seemed similarly miserable.

"It's actually astonishing you two made it to your seventh year."

"Oh, they wouldn't have if I hadn't hounded them," Hermione assured him. Ron made a throaty noise of outrage.

"I mean, she isn't wrong," Harry allowed, "but you still don't have to kick me." He shoved Malfoy's shoulder, who very nearly fell out of his seat and retaliated by knocking the quill out of Harry's hand.

"Will you two stop, please!" Hermione said with no small amount of exasperation.

"Why would they give us homework over the holidays!" Ron moaned. "I can't focus!"

"Merlin, it's just a stupid bloody Potions essay," said Malfoy. "It's our NEWT year, that's what happens. Granger and I are literally telling you what to write."

"Then just do it for us!"

"Oh, Ron!" said Hermione crossly. "I've told you a million times, you won't learn that way!"

"Unbelievable," Malfoy muttered, returning his attention to his own essay with a shake of his head. The movement caused some of his hair to fall in his face but he didn't seem to notice, because he started writing again. Harry had a sudden, powerful urge to push it behind his ear.

"Well I can't do this anymore," said Ron, shoving his chair back from the table. "I'll finish it tonight, it's not even Christmas, we still have, like, two weeks. Come on, Harry, let's go hit the pitch."

"No, you go on," Harry said wearily. "I've only got a few inches left, I'll meet you down there in a bit. I wanna finish this."

"Suit yourself, mate."

"I'll eat my wand if he even looks at it again before the last day of the holidays," said Hermione when he was gone. She managed somehow to make it sound sickeningly fond.

"His attention span is almost as bad as Goyle's."

"Yeah, and you're almost as prissy as Lockhart, Malfoy."

Malfoy kicked him again under the table.

 

 

 

xiii.

 

 

 

"Look, it's just down here."

Malfoy followed him down the stone steps into the pleasantly-lit corridor lined with portraits of food.

"And you know how to get to the kitchens how?"

"Fred and George," said Harry, stopping in front of the painting with a pear. He tickled it, watched it giggle, and then it promptly turned into a doorknob. Malfoy looked highly unimpressed.

"I really hate this school sometimes," he said.

"Just get your arse in there," Harry laughed.

"Don't talk about my arse."

But there was no hiding the amazement on his face when they went inside and Malfoy saw the enormous room, filled with at least a hundred elves, with its four long house tables positioned directly beneath their counterparts in the Great Hall above. Lately Harry had gotten to see all sorts of new expressions he'd never seen on Malfoy before, but he decided this one was his favourite. 

"It's pretty cool, isn't it?"

About a dozen house-elves rushed up to them offering snacks, pressing cakes and biscuits into their hands, Harry laughing while Malfoy stood there and allowed himself to be weighed down with it.

"That's — thank you, that's more than enough, I don't —"

"You is too skinny, sir!" squeaked one of the elves with a look of disapproval almost uncannily like Hermione's. "You is taking more!"

And though Harry knew Malfoy would never eat all of it he still let them continue until they were satisfied, because actually this had to be his new favourite expression.

 

 

 

xiv.

 

 

 

"There!" said Malfoy triumphantly, going very still as though if he didn't move, Harry's hair wouldn't move either.

A moment later it sprang back into its usual disarray and Malfoy threw his arms up, cursing.

"I told you, it doesn't work!" Harry laughed. "You can't imagine how many times my aunt tried to fix it, she cut it all off once and it grew back overnight!"

"I just don't get it," Malfoy huffed, his cheeks a bit pink. With frustration, maybe. Or maybe something else. "I've never seen anything so defiant."

Once again he began trying to pat it down. It was pointless, but Harry didn't stop him. He rather liked how it felt.

 

 

 

xv.

 

 

 

"Hey, what are you up to?"

Malfoy nearly jumped out of his skin and, on instinct it seemed, tried to cover up the piece of parchment he was writing on. It wrinkled and some of the ink smeared. Harry was able to see that it was a letter, and although the word after 'dear' at the top was covered, he saw the word 'Father' elsewhere and realised with a sinking heart that Malfoy was probably writing to his mum.

"Merlin, Potter, nosey much?"

"Sorry," he said, sitting down next to him, "wasn't trying to be. Is it your mum you're writing to?"

Malfoy looked at him for several moments before finally let out a small sigh and taking his arm away.

"Yes," he said stiffly. "But it's rather pointless seeing as I can't exactly send her an owl in Azkaban. I don't know why I'm bothering."

"I, er ... I could maybe help with that," said Harry, shrugging one shoulder.

Malfoy did not look pleased by this. In fact, he looked uncomfortable, eyes lowering to the parchment. As was the case more and more lately, Harry found himself fighting a mad urge to reach over and touch him, to comfort him physically, to see what all that smooth, pale skin might feel like under his fingers. 

"Potter ..." he said quietly, trailing off with a small shake of his head.

"No, listen," said Harry, "it wouldn't be a big deal. I know Kingsley, I think I could probably have it so you could send an owl there or something and the guards could give it to her."

A muscle clenched in Malfoy's jaw. "Potter —"

"Come on, Malfoy," Harry said, stopping him before he could protest. "Let me help. It's such a small thing."

"It's not," said Malfoy. He lifted his gaze and Harry saw just how fucking exhausted he looked, not far off from the way Harry had seen him after he'd been hit by the Cruciatus Curse. As if right now he wasn't even bothering to put up any sort of façade of normalcy. It hurt Harry's heart to see it, but at the same time it made him feel impossibly happy to know that Malfoy was beginning to trust him enough to let his guard down a little bit.

"Draco," Harry said, voice low. "Let me do this for you."

He stared at Harry for a few long seconds and then lifted a hand, scratching his forehead and letting out another soft sigh.

"All right," he said. 

Harry took out his wand and tapped the letter, fixing the smeared ink and the wrinkled parchment. "I'll take care of it," he said. "Just send it when you finish. You have an eagle owl, right? You'll be using that one?"

Malfoy nodded.

He met Harry's gaze, and it didn't matter that he didn't say thank you. His eyes said it well enough.

 

 

 

xvi.

 

 

 

On Christmas Day, he and Malfoy finally played a Seeker's match. It was completely exhilarating, reminding Harry that those games when it had been Malfoy he was up against, when it had been just the two of them above the rest of the game, searching for that glint of gold, both of them buzzing with the desire to best the other — that was when Quidditch had always been best. 

They played all afternoon, for nearly three and a half hours, and in the end Harry won with seven catches against Malfoy's four. He'd expected Malfoy to be upset about it but if anything he looked better than he'd seen him in months, cheeks flushed with vital colour, grey eyes alive with enthusiasm. Even when Harry had dared to tease him about it afterwards he'd only rolled his eyes, grinning, and shoved Harry's shoulder all while declaring him a fat-headed wanker. It was incredible the way it managed to sound almost fond.

After Christmas tea, he, Malfoy, Ron, and Hermione sat around in the common room for a couple of hours, Ron and Malfoy playing chess, Hermione contentedly knitting, Harry going back and forth watching the game and watching Malfoy. They were back on the same sofa next to one another, close enough that their thighs were almost touching and that Harry could once again smell the delicate scent of his soap.

When he lost to Ron for the second time ("It's good for you, Malfoy," Ron told him, "same as it's good for Hermione") he declared himself thoroughly finished, at which point Hermione — with a very coy grin that nearly made Harry burst into laughter — dragged Ron upstairs to the boys' dormitories. Every other eighth-year had elected to go home for the holidays, leaving the common room utterly empty.

"They're fucking, Potter," said Malfoy the moment Ron and Hermione were gone. "You realise that, don't you?"

"Jesus, Draco," Harry said, grimacing. "Please, just — god, don't say things like that."

"So you agree it's disgusting."

"No! I just don't wanna picture my two best mates having sex, thanks!"

"I mean, have you pictured it, though?" Malfoy went on, eyebrows raised rather theatrically. "Weasley probably grunts like an oaf while he's —"

"Oh my god!" Harry yelled, shoving Malfoy so hard he fell sideways, laughing, onto the sofa. "Shut up! Shut up!"

"It's literally happening in your dormitory as we speak, Potter, so you may as well make peace with it."

"I should hex you."

"Go ahead, wouldn't be the first time."

Harry blinked at him, completely taken aback.

"Oh, come on, Potter," he said, seeing the frown coming over Harry's face, "it was a joke, I wasn't being serious."

"D'you think you could figure out how to make jokes without talking about my friends shagging or me slicing you to ribbons?"

Malfoy rolled his eyes, which forced a laugh out of Harry against his will.

"I s'pose I could try," he said. "No guarantees, though."

"You're so fucking weird, Draco."

"And stop calling me that."

Harry lifted his eyebrows. "What, your name?"

"My first name."

"Why?"

And there it was again, suddenly — Malfoy glanced down at his mouth, so quickly it looked like a reflex. His belly clenched. Something in his resolve crumbled finally.

"Why do you insist on using it?"

The question was absurd and sounded rhetorical anyway, so Harry didn't answer. Instead, with his heart racing, he leaned in closer, and — meeting no resistance — dropping his gaze to Malfoy's mouth at the last second before closing his eyes — he touched their lips together. For a second neither of them did anything, they simply sat there with their mouths pressed together, Harry aware of that sweet, peachy smell more distinct than ever, and then suddenly Malfoy was hesitantly opening his mouth and Harry did the same. The kiss was all lips, slow and clumsy and unsure, and a few shaky breaths passed between them. Harry lifted his hand to Malfoy's face, at first a tentatively half-closed fist that eventually relaxed and cupped his cheek.

"Potter," Malfoy breathed, pulling away slightly, but Harry didn't let him get far.

"Shut up, Draco," he said and reattached their lips, hungry for it now. His cock was hard, hot and throbbing where his jeans had it pressed against his thigh, and he could feel it twitch when he first got a taste of Malfoy's tongue. His brain seemed to be lagging behind, still trying to process the fact that he was snogging Malfoy, but it didn't really matter at the moment. It couldn't, because Malfoy's hands were on his face and then in his hair, and he was pulling Harry down on top of him. His head came down on the arm of the sofa and his legs opened tentatively around Harry, who pressed forward and felt his cock rub against Malfoy's hip. He both felt and heard Malfoy moan into his mouth. The sound of it made Harry's belly twist with an arousal so sharp it was painful.

At a rapid pace their slow, awkward fumblings gained fervour, each passing second giving way to a new flood of remembered emotions between the two of them, all the anger and hatred and pent-up tension, the discord and the miscommunication which had given way lately to something much different, much more, and now, suddenly, an unbridled and utterly bewildering need to touch, and taste, and feel, and consume. They devoured one another, Malfoy's fingers digging painfully into Harry's face, pulling at his hair, while Harry's hands slid beneath Malfoy's shirt in search of skin. More instinct than conscious decision, he ground his hips against Malfoy's and had to press his face into that sweet-smelling neck to muffle his groan at the friction on his cock. And after that he couldn't stop, holding the gasping blond beneath him steady by the waist while he rutted against him, Malfoy pressing up into it and forcing their mouths back together none-too-gently. It wasn't enough — he wanted more skin, more contact, wanted to strip Malfoy naked and taste every inch of him — but it was impossible to pause long enough even to get him out of his shirt.

Malfoy, apparently still in possession of just enough sanity to manage the task, pulled his own shirt over his head and then did Harry's. Beneath him suddenly was a tantalising expanse of pale skin and sharp angles, jutting ribs, criss-crossing scars over a narrow abdomen. Malfoy's hands went back to his face and he pulled Harry down again into a frantic kiss, hips lifting and dragging their cocks together through their clothes. Harry stroked his hands up the sides of Malfoy's naked torso, over the pleasantly tactile ridge of his ribs, feeling the texture of the scars beneath the pads of his fingers, and finally back down to his waist, around which Harry's hands curled almost too easily.

They moved desperately against one another with no attempt at finesse, panting into each other's mouths between frenzied kisses, until Harry felt Malfoy tense up beneath him and arch his back, fingers digging into Harry's shoulders, head tilting back like he had no control over his body in this moment. He made no sound at all, almost seemed to be fighting it as he jerked and quivered through an orgasm, but Harry had to muffle his own cry in Malfoy's neck when he came. He ground his pulsing cock against Malfoy's arse until he was trembling and out of breath and realised he was gripping Malfoy's waist so tightly his nails were pinching the skin.

He loosened them but didn't let go as he lifted his head and looked down at Malfoy, his brain sluggish, skin buzzing, his cock still softening while aftershocks made his nerves tingle.

He hadn't even begun formulating what he might say when suddenly Malfoy was scrambling away from him and then stumbling off the sofa, nearly tripping over his own feet.

"Draco —" Harry started, but Malfoy grabbed his shirt from the floor, pushed a hand through his hair and stared at Harry for another few seconds, and then disappeared up the boys' staircase to his dormitory.

 

 

 

xvii.

 

 

 

Harry hardly slept that night, and the next morning Malfoy didn't come down for breakfast. He said nothing to either Ron or Hermione, and that afternoon he and Ron went out to the pitch for a few hours where Harry spent most of the time trying not to think of the night before and failing completely. Hermione told them when they came back that Malfoy had seemed weird and jittery when he came down and that he'd gone right back up to his room after a quick lunch.

He thought of talking to Hermione about it but decided not to, at least not yet, until he'd spoken to Malfoy first. After another day and then two passed in the same fashion, Harry realised he was going to need to pull some kind of sketchy manoeuvre and quite literally corner him.

So that afternoon while he and Ron were out on the pitch again, Harry continuously kept a discreet eye on the Marauder's Map where he had it tucked into his robes. The moment he noticed Malfoy out of his dormitory and out in the corridors, presumably going down to the Great Hall, Harry made the excuse that he wanted to run inside and grab something to drink.

He ran into Malfoy as he was climbing the stairs up to the second floor. Malfoy, one foot on the first step, took one look at him and went red. He tried backing up and nearly tripped backwards over it, eyes wide as he caught his balance. Harry crested the landing, frowning at him as he backed up again and this time stumbled back against a wall.

"What the fuck?" Harry said. "Can we talk or what?"

"There's nothing to talk about, Potter."

Harry gaped at him.

"You can't be serious."

"Completely." His cheeks darkened even further and he slid along the wall like he was preparing to dart around Harry and make a run for it, only Harry kept up with him, blocking his way. "Get out of my way, Potter."

"No," Harry countered, stepping closer still. Malfoy, watching him warily, seemed to hold his breath. "We're talking about what happened."

"Nothing happened!"

"Oh my god." Harry rolled his eyes, frustrated almost beyond words. He looked Malfoy in the eye and said, "You came in your pants, Draco, and guess what? So did I." Now it was Malfoy gaping, and Harry couldn't help but notice how pretty his mouth was. He also couldn't help noticing that, for as horrified as Malfoy looked, he was also breathing rather shallowly, and there was a glazed look in his eyes that said he was turned on. Harry's cock twitched.

"Potter," he said softly, "please. I don't — I don't wanna talk about it."

"Why? D'you regret it?"

He watched Malfoy swallow. The movement brought attention to the long, slim line of his throat, which Harry knew smelled like peaches and tasted even sweeter. He wanted him again so badly he could feel his body thrumming with it, but he also wanted a conversation. It was difficult not to be aware of the confused feelings beneath that raw hunger, the foundation of the whole thing, a soreness in his chest that throbbed into existence every time he thought about Malfoy lately; it felt to him all too likely he would simply pop like a balloon if they didn't talk soon. 

"No," Malfoy said finally. "Just ... there's nothing to talk about. I have nothing to say."

"Well I do." Slowly, Harry slid first one hand and then the other onto Malfoy's waist, pressing him lightly back against the wall. "How about you just listen?"

Malfoy only looked at him, saying nothing but not protesting either.

"I like ... being around you," Harry said, shrugging modestly. "I like how you're always blushing around me lately —"

"Potter!"

"I love it," Harry insisted, "I love how open you've been with me, how easy it's been to talk to you. It's like there's this ... this whole thing between us we never noticed before, and I want ... I dunno, I wanna see what it is. Beyond the, you know ... the physical thing."

"So, what?" Malfoy said after a few moments, voice pitching slightly higher. "What are you saying?"

He found that it was too difficult to actually get it out — thankfully, he could see it in Malfoy's eyes that he knew exactly what Harry was saying.

"Can I please just kiss you again?" Harry asked. Malfoy's eyes widened and flickered rapidly back and forth between Harry's.

He didn't answer; instead his eyes dropped to Harry's lips, and Harry took that as a yes. He leaned in slowly, bringing their mouths together and pressing his tongue between Malfoy's teeth. Malfoy's hands rose to grip Harry's upper arms, clenching his fingers rhythmically in his robes. The kiss deepened steadily as he relaxed into it, letting Harry work his mouth open and press him into the wall. He brought their hips together and Malfoy made a soft sound into his mouth, but a moment later his hands had migrated to Harry's chest and he pushed him back a little, just enough to break the kiss.

"Someone's gonna walk by," he said faintly. Grinning, Harry dotted several kisses along Malfoy's jaw.

"Doubtful," he muttered, pressing one last kiss to his lips before reluctantly pulling back. "Look, let's talk later, yeah? Tonight, after Ron and Hermione go to bed."

"Potter," Malfoy said hesitantly, "I don't know ... I —"

"Just talking," Harry assured him, "that's all."

Malfoy looked at him, his face as difficult to read as always, and finally said, "Fine. Just come to my room later, then."

"All right," Harry nodded. He dropped a kiss on Malfoy's cheek before leaving and heading back to Ron out on the pitch.

 

 

 

xviii.

 

 

 

It was nearly impossible to get through the rest of the day. Three separate times Harry nearly told Ron and Hermione what was going on, especially when Hermione, later that evening, brought up Malfoy's retreat back into his self-imposed isolation. He managed to keep his mouth shut, though.

Around ten Hermione went up to bed and then an hour later Ron did as well, at which point Harry made his excuses to stay downstairs. He waited another fifteen minutes just to be sure before going up to the Slytherin dorms and knocking.

And then, after a minute, knocking again.

With a sinking heart, he was preparing to give up and leave when he heard the lock click.

He found Malfoy sitting in a window seat between two beds, setting his wand back down, and he looked devastating in the moonlight. His pale skin was almost translucent; his hair was as white as bone and seemed to be glowing faintly. Up and down the sensual curve of his arched back Harry could see the distinct knobs of his spine poking through his night shirt.

"Hi," he said, closing the door behind him. Malfoy eyed him impassively. 

"I almost didn't let you in."

"Yeah," said Harry with a raised brow, "I noticed. Glad you changed your mind."

He went to the window and sat down beside him. It was cushioned with green velvet that matched the curtains around the beds and looked exactly the same as the ones in his own dorm aside from the colour. Outside was an unimpeded view of the Hogwarts grounds, covered in a thick layer of snow and sparkling as prettily as if it had been enchanted to do so. The sight of it made Harry's chest ache with a potent combination of love and sadness. 

"Can I ask you something?"

Harry looked at him, surprised. "Course, yeah."

"Was it hard for you to come back here? To the school?"

"Erm ... in some ways it was, yeah." He frowned, caught off guard by the question. And not only by the question but the person asking it. He glanced out the window again where he could see the edge of the Forbidden Forest — where he had died last year — and his stomach contracted. "But it's been my home since I was eleven. Nothing could change that." Malfoy was staring down at his hands in his lap. "What about you?"

He shrugged and finally looked up.

"Yeah. I knew things would be ... the way they are. It's weird, because compared to Azkaban it's, like, you know, a bloody holiday. But I'm just ..." He broke off and shook his head, like he couldn't find a word powerful enough to express whatever it was he was trying to say. "I'm always cold," he said, looking at Harry with tormented grey eyes, "I'm always so fucking cold, and I'm ... I'm sad, I'm just ... god, it never goes away. It's so heavy."

Harry, heart in his throat, pulled his jumper off and pushed it into Malfoy's hands. "Put that on. It's hand-knitted, it's really warm."

Malfoy laughed softly, and though he hesitated he did indeed put it on. It was too big on him, yet that managed only to look very sweet. It was red this year and Mrs Weasley had decorated the front with a Gryffindor lion.

"Will this cure the sadness too, then?"

It was obviously meant to be a joke, only Harry didn't smile. Malfoy's dissolved pretty quickly as well, probably when he realised how that had sounded.

"No," Harry said quietly, "but if you'll let me, I'd like to try and help you feel a little less sad sometimes."

Malfoy pulled the sleeves down over his hands, and then suddenly he was scooting a little bit closer, until their knees were touching. 

"You already have been," he said. "I like being around you too, Potter."

"What's gonna happen when Goyle comes back?"

Malfoy pitched a soft sigh. "I don't know. I'm gonna have to talk to him."

"Why does he still hate me so much?" Harry asked. "I mean, does he ..." He tried to think how to put it into words that didn't sound too dramatic, "Is he upset that I ... that —"

"That you didn't die?"

Harry stared at him, then nodded.

"No. I mean ... I don't know. No," he said again, with more assurance. "The thing with Greg is, he's not good at change. He's really bad at it, actually, and lately it's been ... well, you know, nothing but. With ... with Vince and all ... I know it's probably always seemed to everyone like he hasn't even got a brain, that neither of them did, and it's true that they were never the brightest people but they were both my friends, and they always needed me. Vince especially. I always ... I always liked that." A tear slipped down his cheek, and when Harry reached out to brush it away Malfoy gave a quiet, heavily-suppressed little sob.

"Draco ... I'm really sorry about Crabbe."

Malfoy wiped furiously at another tear and shook his head. "My point is, Greg's just responding to all of this the only way he knows how. He's being protective of me, I'm all he has, I'm all he knows. And I'm ... I've obviously not really been myself, it's hard for him. He's just intimidated, Potter. You make him feel insecure."

"I make him ... what?" Harry frowned, trying to make sense of this and coming up short. "Why would I ...?"

"He feels like ... like if you can do a better job of, you know, protecting me or whatever —" he rolled his eyes, but his cheeks had gone very red, "— then I won't need him anymore. Like he won't be good for anything. He doesn't want you coming in and doing what he sees as his job, taking away what's still familiar to him."

It certainly made a lot of sense, only something occurred to Harry that made him feel suddenly suspicious as well as irrationally jealous.

"You don't think he ...?"

Malfoy frowned, and then understanding dawned on him and the look of unmasked revulsion on his face made Harry laugh before he could stop it.

"Jesus, Potter ... no. God no. He's not bent, believe me, he's fancied poor Daphne since we were about twelve."

"Right," Harry said, slightly abashed but still relieved. 

"No, he's just ... lost right now," said Malfoy. "It'll be fine, he'll get past it. I'm much more worried about everyone else."

"What?" Harry said blankly. "What d'you mean, everyone else?"

"Potter, people won't like seeing you around me."

Harry scoffed loudly. "Sounds like their problem."

"Really?" Malfoy said, and there was something serious enough in his tone that Harry frowned at him. "You're sure you still won't care when everybody starts ... I don't know ... questioning your sanity? Your allegiances? Just because you and McGonagall and a couple other people vouched for me so I could come back here doesn't mean my name isn't poison."

"Draco," he said softly, sliding his hand up Malfoy's thigh and then over his hand, "the shit that people say means nothing to me. I've dealt with it before, plenty. I went into that ..." he broke off, swallowed, and continued, "that bloody forest to die for them, to really die for them I thought, and if they have the bollocks to tell me who to spend my time with then fuck them."

Malfoy, looking highly conflicted, let out a small sigh. He kept meeting Harry's eyes and then averting them again, like he couldn't handle it for too long at once.

"You are ... incredibly intense, Potter, did you know that?"

Harry laughed, exasperated and amused and aching, really, to kiss Malfoy again, so he finally let himself do it. Malfoy fell into it like he'd been waiting for it — maybe he had — and one of his hands lifted to Harry's face. His blood boiled, all of that hunger coming back at once and bowling into him like a Bludger to the stomach. He pressed forward, boldly opening Malfoy's legs to get between them and going for the hem of his own jumper, only for Malfoy to stop him with a hand on his wrist.

"Potter —" he said breathlessly, pulling away from the kiss. His thin chest was rising and falling rapidly, his pupils dilated. "Wait, I have to ... I have to tell you something."

"What?" Harry asked, perhaps with a little too much impatience. He took a breath. "Sorry, I ... what is it?"

Malfoy licked his lips. Curiosity temporarily pulled back the reigns on his libido and he looked down at Malfoy with his eyebrows drawn.

"Draco," he said, prompting him.

"I've never ... that is, I ... I'm a ... I've ..." he stuttered, blushing furiously. And it suddenly clicked for Harry, who was grinning before he could think about how that was probably not the most sympathetic reaction.

"You're a virgin?" he said bluntly, and watched as the blush spread beautifully down to Malfoy's neck.

"Yes, Potter," Malfoy said stiffly. His Adam's apple bobbed. "So I just ... I —"

"We don't have to," said Harry quickly, backing off a little. "God, I'm sorry, we —"

"No, I want to," Malfoy cut him off. "I do, just ... Merlin, this is —"

"Draco." Malfoy's teeth clicked shut and he looked at Harry with so much open vulnerability that Harry's chest ached with it. "It's okay. I get it. I'll take it slow, yeah?"

Malfoy breathed in deeply and then let it out as a slightly shaky breath. He nodded. Harry leaned forwards and attached their mouths again, hands going back to his jumper, which he pulled over Malfoy's head along with his night shirt underneath it. He was able to get a better look this time, tracing his fingers along the thickest scar on Malfoy's chest, the one that must have been the deepest. There were four others, long, hectic, jagged white lines cutting across otherwise perfect skin.

"I'm so sorry," Harry said softly. Malfoy shrugged one bony shoulder.

"Me too," he said. "Can we not talk about it right now?"

Harry nodded, but he bent and placed a gentle kiss to the one he'd been touching. He felt the muscles under the skin flutter. Then he removed his own shirt and started working on Malfoy's bottoms. He could tell how nervous he was, the way his fingers fumbled as he helped Harry drag them down his legs and off his feet, moonlight glinting off his skin, his scars, his jutting ribs. He was easily the most beautiful and tragic thing Harry had ever seen, stubbornly retaining all his elegance in the face of what the war had done to him, what he'd done to himself. Defiantly ethereal even with a Dark Mark on his arm.

He licked his hand and wrapped it around Malfoy's slender cock, at the same time leaning in to kiss him again. Malfoy shuddered beneath him, hands lifting to Harry's face like he needed an anchor in all the sensation. He responded to every touch with a kind of innocent awe that told Harry Malfoy wasn't only a virgin, but had either not done any of this in a long time or never at all. It was something he'd never seen before on Malfoy — vulnerability, a willingness to allow someone else to be in control for a few minutes, to admit that he didn't know what he was doing.

He passed his thumb over the sticky head of Malfoy's cock, dipping into the slit, and swallowed his soft moan. He kept his movements even, unhurried, squeezing on every upstroke and nudging the glans. When he felt fingers beginning to dig into his face, he let go and moved his hand lower instead, skimming past his perineum and ghosting his fingers across the tight furl of Malfoy's hole. He felt him clench, felt his thighs tense, and he kissed him again.

"You have to relax," he whispered. Malfoy took in an unsteady breath and let it back out, eyes fixed on Harry's. He felt his muscles loosen, and Harry pressed the very tip of his middle finger inside. Malfoy's eyes closed and his head fell back against the wall. His cheek was so close to the window that Harry could see the heat of it fog up the glass, along with his quietly panting breaths. He gently eased it the rest of the way in, watching Malfoy's face, and stopping only when his knuckles were pressed against his arse. He slid his other hand under Malfoy's leg and lifted it onto his shoulder, giving him a better angle and making Malfoy blush.

He pulled out and then pushed in again just as slowly, giving him time to get used to the sensation. Malfoy's fingers gradually relaxed where he had them digging into his own thigh on one hand and into Harry's shoulder on the other. He was watching the movement of Harry's finger raptly, lifting his eyes every now and then to Harry's face and looking at him like he couldn't believe he was seeing him.

Finally he pulled out (smiling at Malfoy's small whimper) and stuck two fingers in his mouth to wet them, then returned them to Malfoy's arse. He pushed in with both of them, a little less careful than he'd been before, and Malfoy seemed to like it because he closed his eyes again and whined low in his throat. Harry couldn't help himself — he leaned forwards and pressed his lips to Malfoy's neck, tasting its sweetness mixed with the tang of sweat and arousal. 

"Potter," he said softly, and Harry nipped at his skin, drawing out a gasp.

"Please call me Harry," he mumbled. He curled his fingers inside of him. Malfoy's hand went to his hair and he pulled lightly.

"Harry," he whispered, like he was scared to say it too loudly. The sound of it made Harry shiver. His pumped his fingers into him a little more quickly, a little less gently, and he felt Malfoy start panting and squirming beneath him. And then he said it again, his name, but this time it was louder and less controlled, as if he hadn't even meant to do it. "Harry," he pleaded, his muscles clenching around Harry's fingers. "Wait, please, I'm gonna ... I'm —"

"That's okay," Harry said into his ear, speeding his fingers up yet again. "You can come. Touch yourself."

And he did — he let go of his thigh and curled his slim hand around his cock, keening. It took only a few strokes before he threw his head back, mouth open, and the muscles in his stomach started contracting frenetically. He came all over his chest with Harry fingering him through it, his hips bucking frantically and then slowing, until he was twitching and shaking and pushing Harry's hand away. Harry laughed softly and kissed his cheek.

"Feel okay?" he asked, teasing, and Malfoy swatted weakly at his arm.

"Don't be a prick."

Harry kissed him soundly and then climbed off the seat. He toed off his shoes and unzipped his flies and took his cock out, hot and hard and throbbing, and he squeezed around the base to try and stave off the worst of the burning need to just bury himself in Malfoy's arse and fuck him.

"Come here," he said, opening Malfoy's legs again and pulling him close to the seat's edge. Malfoy leaned back against the window, one hand wrapped around a thigh, the other clenched tightly over his chest. He was breathing hard. Harry took his wand out of his jeans and muttered a spell that coated his cock in lube, stroked it a few times, and then pressed his slick fingers into Malfoy once more. Malfoy's toes curled and his hips lifted slightly.

"Still good?" he asked, pulling them out again. He was glad suddenly that Malfoy had come already. He felt a little looser, a little less tense.

Malfoy nodded. "Yeah," he said. His cock was only semi-hard but he looked eager nevertheless, as well as thoroughly debauched with come drying on his chest.

He lined up and prodded gently at Malfoy's hole with the thick head of his cock until it popped through, Malfoy's hands clenching into fists. Harry gave him a few seconds, waited until he felt him relax a little bit, and started pushing inside. He was tight like nothing Harry had ever felt before, which made enough sense considering he'd never met anyone as tightly-wound as Draco was.

He buried himself slowly, an inch at a time, gritting his teeth and watching Draco's face for every expression that passed across it. Eventually, though, he looked up at Harry and he didn't have to say anything for Harry to know what he wanted. He bent forwards and kissed him, chest tight with emotion, and Draco broke it to take his glasses off when they kept getting in the way. He tossed them aside and then eyed Harry, searching his face.

"You look different like this," he said, voice strained slightly. He brought a hand to Harry's cheek and passed the pad of his thumb under his eye. Harry could think of nothing to say.

He bottomed out and brought their mouths back together. It was everything he could do not to pull out and slam back into that tight channel of heat.

"You can move," Draco said softly. "Just ... slow."

Harry nodded, trying not to squeeze too hard where he was gripping Draco's thighs and bending him in half. He pulled out just a few inches and pushed in again, doing this repeatedly, moving inside him while Draco's walls contracted around his cock. Their lips moved together slowly, tasting and exploring, and at some point Draco moved his hand between them and skimmed his fingers lightly along the line of his cock, hard again finally, like he was teasing himself with the touch.

With as much control as he could muster, Harry pulled out all the way and pressed fluidly back inside, making Draco arch his back. He did it again, Draco's hands going to his arms and squeezing, and soon he'd started up a rhythm, fucking him with measured strokes that pulled exquisite noises out of him. Draco's eyes closed and he leaned his head back against the window, tempting Harry with his bared neck, and he didn't bother resisting. He sucked on his skin while he fucked him at an ever-increasing pace, Draco's damp skin creating squeaking noises against the glass where Harry's sharp thrusts made him slide against it.

"Touch me," Draco gasped, "please."

Harry — sweat starting to drip down his temples and his back — wrapped his hand around Draco's straining cock. Draco arched again and made a broken noise. Harry stroked him with quick movements, pulling him relentlessly into another orgasm that shook his body. He only took his hand off when he felt Draco go boneless beneath him, but Draco's hand replaced it almost immediately. He kept stroking himself, twitching with overstimulation and milking out a few more dribbles of come. The sight of it sent Harry into a frenzy — he pressed down on Draco's legs and fucked into him with his control abandoned, and he didn't even need Draco whispering "Come in me" to push him over the edge, nor to do so — the idea of pulling out didn't even occur to him. He came spectacularly, spilling himself into Draco's body with stuttering hips and his fingers making bruises in Draco's skin.

As he slowed and finally stopped, Draco pushed himself off the window and pressed his lips to Harry's cheek, then his mouth. Neither of them spoke for a few minutes — it was not a moment for words. Harry kissed him until Draco seemed unable to bear it and pulled away, looking slightly dazed.

"You okay?" Harry asked, moving a sweaty clump of blond hair out of his face. Draco only nodded. It was then that Harry realised Draco was shivering again, though not from an orgasm this time. He pulled out — eliciting a soft sound from Draco — and grabbed his jumper. "Here," he said, handing it to him, "put this back on."

Draco complied, slipping it on over his head and covering up his come-tacky chest along with all of his scars. He still seemed a little off, blinking owlishly even as his breathing was returning to normal.

"You sure you're okay?" Harry said again, grabbing his wand and spelling away the come dribbling out of Draco's arse.

"Yeah," he said, seeming to come back to himself a little. "It was just ... it was nice, being ..." he gestured vaguely at the air above his head, "somewhere else for a minute."

For as ambiguous as the statement was, Harry thought he knew what he meant. 

"Good," he said, tucking himself back into his jeans. Draco watched him do it. It was starting to dawn on him now: he'd just taken Draco Malfoy's virginity. Brave new world, indeed. "I need you to say it for me, though, 'cause you're acting really weird."

"I'm fine," Draco assured him. This time he sounded more like his old self, if a tad meeker than Harry was used to. If it hadn't been making him nervous he would have quite enjoyed it, in fact. "Really, you can stop looking so worried. Maybe you should think about being flattered."

Harry laughed. "All right, I'll think about it."

Draco hopped lightly down from the window seat, wincing a little, and Harry took him in as he gathered up both of their discarded clothes.

"Are you ...?" Draco started and didn't finish, but Harry took his meaning. He thought of the hospital wing, after Draco had taken the Cruciatus Curse, asking him to stay.

"Yeah," he said. "If you want me to."

Draco didn't say anything. Instead he dropped their clothes in a heap on top of his trunk and then got into bed. Harry grinned and got in beside him.

They looked at each other hardly more than five seconds before Draco was pulling Harry into another kiss, which he went into willingly and with a short laugh. It was lazy and sweet and much easier than talking, Draco's hand on his jaw, and for a few minutes there wasn't even all that much tongue, just soft lips and shared breath. But then Draco pressed his tongue into Harry's mouth, drawing it out into something deeper and languid and with a subtle urgency growing behind it. Soon he was beginning to pant and Harry could feel himself starting to get hard again. No sooner had he acknowledged it than Draco's hand was skimming down his chest and over his jeans, cupping his cock.

He let out a breathy, incredulous laugh.

"Fuck me again," Draco said. He let go in order to start working at Harry's jeans and the pants beneath them, trying to tug them off his hips.

"Slow down, slow down," Harry said, grabbing his hands and kissing him when Draco fought it. "Are you serious?"

"Yes," he said firmly. "Fuck me again. And take those off."

"Okay — okay!" he laughed, going faster when Draco started fiddling with his jeans again. He got up from the bed and took them off, and when he climbed back onto the mattress Draco pulled him between his legs. He looked like a wet dream lying there in Harry's jumper with a Gryffindor lion on it. He decided to leave it on him, both because it was cute as hell and because he was wary of Draco getting cold.

"Hang on," Harry said when Draco started pulling him down. "Turn over. On your hands and knees."

Draco looked at him with wide eyes, like he'd never heard of such a thing before. His cheeks positively glowed with colour, but then he was nodding and he sat up, hesitating, and finally turning over. He went down on his hands and looked over his shoulder at Harry, who was feeling very much like he was receiving some of that good karma he'd been racking up his entire life. The jumper slid up his back a little, exposing two perfect little dimples just above Draco's arse that Harry couldn't believe had been there all this time. He passed his fingers across them, enamored, and when Draco pressed back into the touch his arse rubbed against Harry's cock.

Swallowing hard, Harry moved his hands to Draco's arse and pulled his cheeks apart so he could see his pink hole, a little loose from before and probably sore. He opened him up further with his thumbs, dipping them inside and grinning when Draco made a soft whining sound. Bending down, he dropped a glob of saliva on his hole and then licked over it. Draco keened and went down to his elbows, legs spreading wider. Harry saw him press his face against his arm.

He pressed sucking kisses to the skin around his entrance, letting Draco anticipate what he surely knew was coming before finally tensing his tongue and pushing it gently inside his hole. Draco clenched around him, making soft, muffled sounds into his arm and pressing back into the sensation. Harry used his thumbs to keep him open, plunging his tongue in and out and punctuating it with sharp nips to his rim.

Only when he could stand it no longer did he pull away, reach down for his wand in his jeans, and once again lube up his cock. He fit the head up against Draco's rim but didn't push in right away, rubbing over it and making Draco squirm. He did this until he heard Draco let out a quiet sob and finally started pressing inside. In spite of the way Draco's whole body tensed he didn't go as slowly as last time, sinking all the way in and pulling Draco back against him by the hips, so his cock was fully sheathed. Draco was breathing hard, and he pushed back weakly. Harry swept his thumb over one of his dimples and watched goose bumps rocket across Draco's skin.

He pushed his jumper further up Draco's back as he started fucking into him, the position allowing him to get deeper than he had before, and it wasn't long before Draco cried out and Harry knew he'd finally hit his prostate. He kept that angle, pounding into him and stimulating that little bundle of nerves until Draco was shaking and pushing frantically back against him. It was bliss, watching himself sink as deeply as he could go into Draco's body only to pull out and do it all over again. Draco's hand went to his cock and shortly after that Harry felt him pulsing around him, muffling his shout into the bed. He kept moving until Draco began twitching every time he nudged his prostate, but the moment he started slowing down Draco cried out.

"Don't stop!" he gasped, fucking himself back on Harry's cock, "don't stop, don't stop!"

Any reservations Harry might've had were rendered insignificant in the face of Draco's panic; he started up his rhythm again, battering his prostate while Draco jerked and gasped and kept squeezing his cock. Harry, at the very end of his own self-control, knew it was a matter of seconds now before he tipped over that edge himself. Another shudder wracked Draco's body, his mouth open and eyes closed, like an afterthought of his last orgasm had just caught up to him even though nothing came out. Harry finally spilled over, fucking his orgasm into Draco's trembling form, his sweaty hands slipping on Draco's waist.

When he finally pulled out Draco stayed where he was at first, breathing hard, and when Harry pushed his hair out of his face and looked at him he saw that that dazed look was back.

"You good?" he asked softly. Draco blinked and finally lowered his arse — then, slowly, he sat up on his knees, and he nodded. "You're sure?"

"Yeah," he said. It was like someone else had taken over instead of Draco Malfoy. His eyes even seemed a little distant. He blinked again, sitting carefully back against his pillows.

"Here," Harry pulled the duvet up and dragged it over them, which at least spurred Draco into moving. He dropped his head to the pillow and Harry could see him coming back to himself again as they looked at one another, Harry still trying to process the last hour.

"So that happened," said Draco after a minute, sounding mostly like himself again. Harry's stomach unclenched a little and he laughed.

"Yeah. Twice. I guess I'm not totally surprised how demanding you are —" Draco kicked his shin and Harry broke off with a shout of surprise. "Ow!"

"I didn't ask for any commentary."

"Well you're getting it," said Harry. "Personally my favourite part is how twice in a row I fucked you speechless —"

Draco kicked at him again, but this time Harry bent his knee and blocked it, laughing. Soon, however, they found themselves kissing again, only this time it eventually tapered out as Draco began drifting off. They didn't speak: Harry watched him fall asleep, wrapped up in a Gryffindor-themed Weasley jumper, and his last thought before going under himself was that he couldn't remember the last time he'd been so comfortable.

 

 

 

xix.

 

 

 

Harry woke up when the sun was just starting to stain the sky pink. He stared at Draco for a few long minutes, remembering last night. He thought about waking him up and then decided against it; he'd let him sleep, and they could talk later. He had no idea if Draco would be upset he was gone when he woke up or if he'd be grateful for the space to think — his gut told him it was the latter.

When he went up to the Gryffindor dorm he found Ron snoring loudly with his arm dangling over the side of his bed, having never pulled his four-poster closed. He grinned at the sight and went about changing quietly into a different set of clothes, glad he wouldn't have to explain his absence overnight. He wanted Ron to have plenty of food in his stomach when he got this news, just so he was in the best possible mood.

He went down to the Great Hall for an early breakfast (he was ravenous) and had just gotten his Daily Prophet delivered when Ron and Hermione showed up, sitting on either side of him. It amused him that they still did this from time to time, nor did it appear to be conscious on their part.

"Fancy flying later?" Ron asked as he loaded his plate up with eggs. "Only a week until everyone comes back."

"Yeah, definitely."

"Ron," said Hermione, her voice just a little too calm, "you should really finish that essay now Christmas is over."

"That sodding essay!" Ron shouted. Harry snorted into his tea. "I'll do it tonight!"

Hermione rolled her eyes as she propped her Ancient Runes book open against a jug of pumpkin juice.

An hour later, as he and Ron were about to leave the common room to head to the pitch, Harry told him he'd forgotten his Quidditch gloves and went back up the boys' staircase. He stopped at the door to the Slytherin dorms and knocked, tapping his fingers against his leg as he waited, and finally Draco opened the door, looking meek.

"Hey," he said, stepping inside and shutting it behind him. "Are you ... how are you?"

"I'm ..." Draco shrugged. The Weasley jumper slipped off his shoulder. "Processing."

"Yeah," Harry said, glancing at a small bruise on his neck. "You're not upset, are you? That I didn't wake you up?"

"No," Draco shook his head. He smiled a little. "I probably would have kicked you out, to be honest."

"That was a possibility that occurred to me, yeah," he chuckled. "Listen, I'm about to go fly with Ron. D'you wanna come with us?"

"You haven't said anything to them, have you?"

"No," Harry said, "not yet. I will eventually if we keep doing this, but we can talk about that later."

Draco hesitated, then said, "I'll come out. But I don't think I can ... erm ... fly right now."

For a second Harry was completely thrown, and then understanding dawned, and he broke into a grin that made Draco roll his eyes.

"Right," he said, thrilled. "Well I'll see you out in the stands then." He ran his thumb over the bruise on Draco's neck. "And you should cover this up if you don't want them to know."

Draco's eyes widened and he ran over to a mirror, Harry laughing as he left the dorm.

 

 

 

xx.

 

 

 

Ron was surprised but seemed relatively pleased to see Draco when he came out to the pitch to watch them fly, and the same went for Hermione when they all went inside later.

It was back to the new normal the rest of the afternoon, the four of them sitting around the common room, Hermione helping Ron finish the Potions essay finally while Draco curled up in a chair with Macbeth (Hermione had been very excited about this) and Harry pulled out his Broomstick Maintenancing Kit. He glanced over at Draco often, and sometimes Draco was already looking at him. There was something dark in his gaze that made Harry feel distinctly hungry for him. 

That night he snuck into the Slytherin dormitory after Ron had fallen asleep and Harry fucked him on the bed, and once again Draco frantically pleaded with him to keep going even after he'd come, even while he was twitching with aftershocks and clearly overstimulated. The same thing happened afterwards where he seemed foggy and distant for a few minutes before returning to a slightly milder version of his normal self. Harry fell asleep there, and this time when he woke up the sun was shining brightly in through the window.

He sat up with some alarm, checked his watch (half past eight), and looked over to see Draco still deeply asleep. He got dressed quickly and went up to the Gryffindor dorm, but Ron wasn't in his bed.

"Shit," he whispered, and went down to the common room.

Ron and Hermione were in two of the chairs, and their conversation came to a halt the moment they saw him. Ron's eyes widened and he pointed furiously at Harry, sitting up straight in his seat.

"I told you!" he shouted at Hermione, still pointing at him. "I fucking told you, didn't I!"

Hermione looked surprised herself, though she was clearly trying to hide it. Harry looked on dully.

"I fucking knew it," Ron said, slamming his fist on the chair's arm. "She didn't believe me, thought you were just out wandering the castle all night. I fucking —" he pounded his fist into his hand, "— knew it. Do I or don't I know my best mate?" he demanded of Hermione. "Do I or do I not know my best mate?"

"No one's ever known Harry James Potter the way you do, Ron," said Hermione drily. "Do you mind letting him speak?"

Ron looked at him and then so did Hermione. 

He sighed.

"Can this not be a big deal?" he said. "He doesn't want you guys to know yet."

"You're sleeping with him then?" asked Ron.

"Yes," said Harry. "Please don't say anything to him."

"Not a word," said Hermione. "We suspected something was going on for the last week or so."

"Yeah," said Ron, "but you didn't think anything had actually happened."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Where's Malfoy?"

"Still sleeping," said Harry. "Have you two had breakfast yet?"

"No, we were waiting for you," said Hermione. "Shall we wait for him too?"

Harry shook his head. "No, it's okay. I don't think he'll come down for a little while and I'm starving, let's go."

He was right — Draco didn't come down until nearly noon, but he looked to be in quite a good mood. The day passed in much the same way as the one before: Draco went to get food from the Great Hall while Harry and Ron went out to the pitch, and he met them out there afterwards, this time flying with them even though Harry saw him wincing now and then. He even had dinner with them at the Gryffindor table in the evening, which drew a couple of stares, but of course there were hardly enough people to make it feel like a big thing. They would deal with that when term started again next week.

Ron spent quite a lot of time looking constipated, and though Draco shot him one or two weird looks he didn't seem to realise anything was going on. 

Harry slept in his room again that night, and the next night after that, neither of them saying so but both perfectly aware they were taking advantage of the last few times they'd be able to do it before their dorms would once again be full. Harry had already begun privately trying to figure out what the hell they were going to do once they didn't have the Slytherin dormitory anymore.

On the very last day of the holidays there was a blizzard, confining them all to the common room. Harry and Ron were playing Gobstones again, Hermione knitting, Draco reading on a sofa (a Muggle book this time that Hermione had, miraculously, convinced him to try). It was extremely pleasant, and Harry was not at all looking forward to everything going back to normal. They hadn't talked about it since Draco had expressed his concern over being seen together in public, but he had a feeling Draco's position hadn't changed much. He didn't need to ask to know he certainly wasn't going to be allowed to do things like put an arm around him or kiss him.

Not for the first time, right in the middle of their game, Crookshanks leapt onto the table and scattered the stones, causing Harry to laugh and Ron to let out a heavily dramatic groan of frustration.

"You were losing anyway, Weasley," said Draco without lifting his eyes from his book. Ron looked very much like he was about to say something incriminating and Harry shot him a warning look. 

"You were losing anyway Weasley," Ron muttered, mocking Draco's drawl in an exceptionally childish voice. Draco actually snorted. "Let's go get lunch, I'm not starting a new game."

"We had breakfast three hours ago," said Draco, finally looking up. "And you ate two helpings of everything. You can't possibly be hungry."

"Who said I'm hungry," Ron scoffed. He stood up from his chair. "I'm bored. Come on, let's go."

"I'm still full," said Draco, "I'm not going."

"Fine." Ron looked at Harry and then Hermione. "Coming?"

"I'm not hungry either," said Harry. Ron gave him a look but said nothing, and soon he and Hermione were out the door.

"Does he ever stop eating?" Draco questioned lightly, having gone back to his book.

"Nope." Harry got up from his chair and dropped onto the sofa beside Draco, who glanced up at him with an arched brow.

"What do you want?"

Instead of answering Harry leaned in and kissed him — Draco pulled away with a little gasp and looked around, wide-eyed, but Harry pulled him back in with a hand on the back of his neck. He was tense for a few seconds before relaxing into it, his free hand lifting to skim his fingers lightly along the line of Harry's jaw. He was just beginning to work Draco's mouth open and get his tongue inside when the portrait hole opened again, and suddenly he heard Ron's voice:

"— don't understand why you need to be reading while we eat," he was saying.

"Because I like reading, Ron," Hermione said patiently. "I'll just be one second —"

Draco jumped away from him so fast Harry hardly had time to blink, making Hermione cut off abruptly to look. His book dropped onto the floor with a muffled sound. Ron and Hermione both stared, first at Harry, who was frozen but having trouble keeping his surprised laughter at bay, and then at Draco, who was pink-faced and looked absolutely startled.

"Er —" said Ron.

"Draco," Harry said, gathering himself and standing from the sofa. "Look ... they already knew, all right? They caught me the other day coming back from your room. I’m sorry, I should’ve told you, I didn’t expect —"

"This to happen?" Draco shot back. His jaw muscles clenched and at first Harry thought this was it, the worst thing that could have happened, the thing that would make Draco — already skittish these days — decide he couldn’t do this anymore.

"Draco —"

"It’s fine," he said. He didn't sound angry anymore, though. He lifted a hand to rub over his eyes and let out a tired sigh. "It's one less thing to worry about, to be honest. Everyone's coming back tomorrow, I'm more concerned about that."

"What are you worried about?" Hermione asked cautiously.

"He thinks people won't take well to seeing him around us," said Harry

"Potter especially," Draco said to Hermione. "I promise you, people won't like it."

"Well fuck them," said Ron, echoing Harry's words from the other night. "People have always got a problem with something Harry's doing, it's nothing new, Malfoy. You literally used to take advantage of it to be an annoying git."

To Harry's surprise, Draco chuckled. It sounded tired, but it was still genuine. 

"Don't worry, Weasley, I'm not just being selfless," he said sardonically. "I'm worried about myself too."

"Of course, I apologise for giving you the benefit of the doubt."

"Do you mean your physical safety?" Hermione interrupted. "Because nobody's going to hurt you, Draco, not after what happened with that Ravenclaw boy. And certainly not if one of us is with you."

Draco sighed quietly and went back over to the sofa. Harry sat down again next to him.

"I s'pose we'll see what happens," he said. "Anyway I have to deal with Greg first."

"Oh yeah," said Ron. He sounded like he'd forgotten about Goyle entirely. "Blimey, what d'you think he's gonna do?"

"Well I'm not telling him about —" He looked at Harry, cheeks colouring again. Ron coughed. "Just that I've been spending time with you three. He'll go along with it eventually, even if he doesn't like it."

"You're sure about that?" Hermione asked uncertainly.

"Yes," Draco said without hesitation. "He's going to be very angry with me for a little bit, though."

 

 

 

xxi.

 

 

 

For the first couple days of spring term Harry didn't get to speak to Draco at all. Everyone was caught up in trying to get back into the rhythm of lessons and there was really no good way for them to plan to meet anywhere, let alone figure out where that place might be.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione were doing homework, the door to the boys' staircase opened loudly and Goyle came stomping out in a fury. He stopped in front of them, looked directly at Harry, but apparently he decided against whatever he'd been about to say because he stormed out through the portrait hole to perilous cries from Sir Cadogan. Looking around, Harry saw that Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini were both watching, which meant the Slytherin dormitory was empty now save for Draco. He thought briefly about sneaking up there for only a moment before deciding it would be stupid. 

"Well he's just told him," said Ron. "Going to assume it didn't go well."

Draco never came down, and Goyle didn't return until well after Zabini and Nott had gone back up to their dorm, as well as most of the other eighth-years. When he saw it was just Harry, Ron, and Hermione near the fire and Ernie and Hannah over at the other end, he stopped and appeared to think. It looked like it took him some effort, and finally, taking them all by surprise, he sat down in a chair.

"What's your angle?" he said to Harry.

Harry blinked at him. "Sorry?"

"Why're you pretending to be his mate?"

"Greg," said Hermione softly, "we aren't pretending. We want to —"

"Wasn't talking to you!" he snapped at her.

"Easy," said Harry at the same time that Ron said "Watch it!"

"I don't have an angle," Harry went on, since Goyle was looking at him again and clearly less interested in either Ron's or Hermione's intentions. "I'm trying to get to know him."

"You hate him."

"I don't," Harry said firmly. "He and I have a complicated history, Goyle."

"Don't see what's complicated about hating each other for seven years."

"Things change," he said. "We're not kids anymore."

"I don't care," said Goyle flatly. It felt a little like arguing with a troll, except some part of Harry couldn't help but admire how much unconditional loyalty Goyle had towards Draco. "You'll only make it worse."

"Nobody bullies him in front of Harry, Greg —"

"Not that!" Goyle growled. "The ... other stuff. His mood." He looked angry and frustrated and scared. "Since Azkaban. You'll make it worse," he said again.

And Harry understood finally. Goyle was not only worried about Draco's physical safety — he was very scared for his mental health, as well.

"But he's been doing better, Goyle," said Harry. "These last few weeks of holiday, he was really good."

"How can you say that," Goyle snapped. "You don't even know him, Potter."

"Everyone can see what he's been like," said Ron, speaking for the first time. "He was talking, went flying with us a couple times. Eating."

This last put a startled look on Goyle's face, as if he hadn't expected anyone else to notice how frightfully skinny Draco was these days. 

"Just give it a chance," said Harry. "I'm not gonna stop talking to him, Goyle. You might as well quit making it so hard for me."

Goyle gave him an appraising look. Harry thought for a second he might try to hit him again, but then he stood up.

"I won't try and stop you long as it's what Draco wants," he said finally. "But I don't trust you."

"Funny," said Ron, rather loudly and with a lot of anger in his voice, "you'd think you would after we saved your life."

It was true, but considering Crabbe had not been saved Harry thought it probably wasn't the most helpful thing to say right now. Still, he understood Ron's indignation and part of him was even glad he'd said it. Goyle only stared at him, face expressionless, and then turned and disappeared up the stairs.

"You shouldn't've said that," said Hermione quietly

"He's a miserable, ungrateful prat."

"I'm not disagreeing," said Harry, "but I think it's worse because he's threatened."

He told them what Draco had said to him that night they'd slept together the first time, about Goyle protecting the one thing that was still familiar to him right now.

"Oh, I hate feeling sorry for people I don't like," said Hermione miserably. Ron put an arm across her shoulders and she leaned into him. Harry thought of the way he'd felt when Dumbledore had first begun introducing him to Tom Riddle's past and knew exactly what Hermione meant. 

"Well it still went better than I expected," said Harry. "At least that part's over with."

 

 

 

xxii.

 

 

 

The next evening Draco sat with them in the common room for the first time, and Goyle didn't join them. They captured absolutely everyone's attention, though no one actually said anything. 

That didn't translate to the rest of the school. Word spread quickly that Draco was hanging around with them in the eighth-year common room, and after their first appearance in the library together the student body seemed to have collectively decided to take it upon themselves to let Draco know their opinion on the matter.

It came in all forms, from an increase in mutterings of "Death Eater" to loud suggestions that he should go on back to Azkaban to be with his mummy and daddy where he belonged. One person even sneeringly asked to see his Dark Mark, and Harry shouted them out of the Great Hall while everyone stared. Afterwards he noticed Goyle watching from the Slytherin table, uncharacteristically deep in contemplation.

He and Draco finally decided to meet in the Prefects' bathroom that weekend. Harry could see right away that Draco was in a bad way, and nor did Draco leave him much time to ask about it. He'd already filled the tub and he pulled Harry — naked and sans glasses — into the warm water, the scented bubbles perfuming the air, making it easy to fall into a leisurely snogging session. Below the water, Draco had wrapped his legs around Harry's waist, and he had Draco pressed back against the edge of the tub, grinding lazily against him. He realised at some point that Draco was going to come just like that, and he wrapped a hand around his cock to help him along. He came with a soft cry into Harry's mouth, Harry stimulating him right through it into the aftershocks. Draco's nails stabbed into him and he made small gasping noises against Harry's cheek. When he finally stopped he saw that Draco seemed slightly unfocused and a lot calmer. He put his hands on Harry's face and kissed him.

"You should fuck me," he said softly. Harry smiled against his lips.

"Should I?"

"Mmm," Draco hummed.

Harry grabbed his wand out of his jeans lying on the edge of the tub and coated his fingers with lube, which felt distinctly strange under the water but still helped ease the slide into Draco's arse. He fingered him open and then lubed his cock and pushed inside. Draco was putty in his hands, weightless in the water, and he made soft mewling sounds every time Harry fucked up into him.

"You look so good like this, Draco," Harry said in a low voice. Draco responded beautifully, whether to the words themselves or just the sound of his voice, Harry didn't know. He arched his back, head pressing into the tiled wall, the long line of his neck gleaming with water that dripped slowly down to the deep valleys of his collarbones. He came again without being touched this time, spurting come onto both their chests and finally reaching for his prick to stroke himself in jerky movements when Harry followed not long after, emptying inside of him.

Draco started kissing him again after a minute and Harry indulged him, though he was still catching his breath. Eventually, after several more long minutes, he pulled out but continued holding Draco against him. He still looked a little foggy but mostly just docile. Harry was beginning to think Draco was very much aware of this fuzzy headspace he seemed to dip briefly into whenever he pushed himself just a little bit past his limits. It never lasted very long, but he was always much more relaxed and content afterwards.

"I needed that," Draco said, hands going to Harry's chest where he began tracing his fingers over a small, circular scar.

"I could tell," Harry teased. Draco might usually have retaliated with something sarcastic and coquettish, but right now he merely smiled. "I'm sorry it's been so bad."

"I knew it would be," he said with a shrug. His eyes lifted to Harry's. "I wish you could still sleep in my room."

"Me too," Harry sighed. "We'll figure out something better than a bathroom, anyway. Nice as this one is."

He kept coming back to the Room of Requirement, but he didn't tell Draco that. He'd check it out himself first, and if it still worked, then he'd bring it up.

They stayed in there for another hour before Draco began to complain about pruning and they called it a night, Harry sneaking in alongside Draco in his Invisibility Cloak.

Sure, they'd gone ahead and allowed everyone to see them hanging out; that didn't mean they needed people to start speculating what they were doing together outside the common room well after midnight.

 

 

 

xxiii.

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks, Draco split his time between them and Goyle. There were plenty more incidents where Harry snapped at someone antagonising him, but there was no physical harassment. Hermione continued to insist in private that he ought to go to McGonagall anyway, because even the verbal taunts crossed some hard lines, but Harry had yet to do so only because he thought Draco would be very upset.

He did, however, begin learning to read Draco's face and his body language in lessons they had together or across the Great Hall where he ate with Goyle at the Slytherin table, flatly refusing to sit at Gryffindor. He learned to anticipate when Draco would need him.

The Room of Requirement, as it turned out, was still very much usable. The Room of Hidden Things was utterly destroyed (he'd checked, with a lump in his throat), but otherwise it provided them with a room that looked quite like their dormitories when they wanted it, except there was just the one bed and the ensuite loo was much smaller.

On days when Draco looked particularly unhappy, unresponsive, expressionless, or all three, he'd get to the Room as soon as he could and Draco would show up not long after, looking relieved to see Harry there. And Harry would do what he could — he learned what Draco liked, what seemed to get him more quickly into that headspace where his entire body relaxed and for a while he was as docile and content as a newborn kitten. Some of it, for Harry, was difficult to get used to, because of the way Draco appeared to be in pain when he was being overstimulated, or when Harry had his cock so far down his throat that tears leaked out of his pale grey eyes. But as they continued this all through January and into February, it became easier.

Draco was also getting along with Ron and Hermione rather fantastically. This was very good, seeing as none of the other Slytherins would talk to Draco still. In fact, their resolution seemed to have doubled since he'd begun hanging around with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Pansy was to be seen constantly with Padma Patil and Mandy Brocklehurst; Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott spent a significant amount of time with Terry Boot and Wayne Hopkins of Hufflepuff; even Millicent Bulstrode had made a few friends and gave Draco a wide berth. 

Whenever Draco was with them, Goyle was invariably by himself, or else hidden away in the Slytherin dormitory.

It wasn't until the middle of February that, one evening when most of the common room had filtered off to bed, he came over and stood in front of them, looking lost.

"Greg," said Draco, blinking at him. "Is everything all right?"

Goyle looked almost startled to find himself among them. He looked round at Hermione, then Ron, then Harry, and then back to Draco.

"Could I, er ..." He looked extremely uncomfortable, fingers fiddling in his lap. For the second time in his life, Harry realised he felt bad for Gregory Goyle. His intuition told him what was coming, but it was difficult to believe. "Could I join you?"

Draco's eyebrows raised. So did Hermione's. Ron blinked at him rapidly, almost comically.

"Of course you can," said Hermione suddenly. They all turned to blink at her instead. "We would really like that, wouldn't we?"

Draco looked nervously at Harry and Ron.

"Yeah," said Harry. He couldn't quite manage a smile at Goyle, but he put on his most polite tone of voice at least. "You're more than welcome."

"Thanks," said Goyle gruffly. He sat down and there was a long silence; then, out of nowhere, Draco told him they'd just been talking about Quidditch (they hadn't been, but it seemed to ease Goyle a little) and a tentative conversation started. It was a little choppy and Goyle was quiet until he began feeling a little more comfortable, and Harry thought, beneath it all, he just seemed happy to be sitting with people instead of by himself.

It was about an hour later that Ron and Hermione decided to go up to bed and Draco declared himself exhausted as well.

Goyle asked Harry for a word, which he consented to a little warily. Draco gave them a weird, hesitant look, but at Harry's ushering left them alone.

"Potter," Goyle said. Every syllable sounded like a struggle. "I want to ..." His jaw clenched, and his fists. Harry eyed him uncertainly. "You three, you saved me last year. I ..." He let out a deep sigh. "I need to ... I should — we were trying to hand you —"

"Goyle," said Harry, his voice low, cutting him off to spare both of them the pain of an awkward, rambling apology. He shook his head. "It's fine. I understand that you were doing what you were told to do. So was Draco. All of you were. I wish we could have saved Crabbe too."

Goyle swallowed, his Adam's apple moving within his thick neck.

"But I appreciate the apology," Harry went on. Goyle looked down. "And I accept it. And I hope we can look out for Draco together."

Without looking up, Goyle nodded.

"Thanks, Potter."

 

 

 

xxiv.

 

 

 

"I don't believe it," Draco said quietly. "I just don't believe it."

Other people were staring too, all around the library. It was, after all, not something any of them had ever seen before. Harry couldn't decide which the oddest bit was: Goyle and Hermione sitting together, working on homework, or just the simple fact of Goyle's presence. He truly couldn't remember if he'd ever seen Crabbe and Goyle in the library before.

He, Ron, and Draco were at a different table nearby. Hermione had gently asked if she and Goyle could have some space, as it would be easier to concentrate (and, though she didn't say it, Harry knew it was because she'd had a hard enough time convincing Goyle to let her help in the first place). They seemed to be making headway, though.

"Hermione's really good at this kind of thing," said Ron, staring at her fondly. "She's patient."

"Yeah, but Greg is ..." But Draco didn't finish his thought, frowning a little. "Well ... if she can help him pass his NEWTs it'll be a bloody miracle."

That he had a heretofore undiscovered willingness to try new things wasn't the only discovery Harry made about Goyle lately — he also realised Draco hadn't been kidding, and that Goyle clearly fancied Daphne Greengrass, whom he stared at just about all the time. She didn't seem to notice; Daphne was usually caught up with Tracey and Lavender and Parvati and often a few other girls as well, all of which giggled over people like Justin Finch-Fletchley and Anthony Goldstein and, to Harry's immense chagrin, himself. It surprised him to find that he felt sort of bad for Goyle, knowing the chances of him landing Daphne Greengrass, who was really quitepretty, were — to put it nicely — slim. Still, watching Gregory Goyle pine after someone gave him an element of humanity he'd been missing since Harry had first met him aboard the Hogwarts Express seven years ago. 

That, and watching him study with Hermione, of course. 

"He's not bright," said Hermione one night, when it was just her and Ron and Harry, Goyle and Draco in their dormitory. "But he's not as ... well, thick as we believed. He's quite good at memorising dates for History of Magic."

Which was all well and good, except that seeing Goyle doing homework and studying and hanging around Hermione in the library seemed to have shaken the foundation of fear he'd spent so long instilling in the students of Hogwarts, who were becoming less and less wary of harassing Draco even when he was around. It was nothing physical (not since the Cruciatus incident), but Harry could see it in Draco's eyes and body language that the constant reminder of Azkaban, of his parents, of the Dark Mark and Voldemort and the war — it was still getting to him.

It felt silly to even entertain the idea, but some part of him was starting to believe that their time spent together was the only thing keeping Draco from completely spiralling. There were days when he'd come to the Room of Requirement paler than usual, the circles under his eyes so dark he appeared skeletal, devoid of emotion or facial expression until Harry had thoroughly taken him apart to the point, sometimes, of tears.

One afternoon, Harry found himself for the second time with his cock down Draco's throat instead of in a lesson. He still didn't know what had happened, just that Draco had caught up to him in the corridor before he went into the Transfiguration classroom and, in a whisper, asked him to meet. So Harry had turned right back around and gone to the Room of Requirement, waiting only five minutes for Draco to show up as well.

He'd paused only long enough to tear off both their robes before sinking to the floor on his knees and fumbling with Harry's trousers.

Harry had a hand in his hair now, tipping his head just slightly back for a better angle. Both of Draco's were in his lap, clenching at his thighs. Mouth full, throat distended and breathing unevenly through his nose, his glassy eyes told Harry he was getting what he needed out of this. He slid deeper into his throat, feeling Draco gag, and then pulled out to let him suck in a more satisfying breath with a gasp. He lifted a hand to wrap around Harry's cock, sliding through a mixture of spit and pre-come, working him over with soft squelching noises that made Harry's gut twist. When he took him back in his mouth and sank as far down as he could go his nose touched Harry's shirt, so he pulled that off over his head and groaned when Draco swallowed around him.

"That's so good," Harry breathed, petting through Draco's hair and sliding his cock just a little deeper again, feeling the head squeezing into the tight channel of Draco's throat. Draco's hands lifted to Harry's hips, steadying himself, trying so hard to take everything Harry was giving him. The lack of proper oxygen seemed to be contributing to his fuzzy mental state, or maybe it was just pulling him further down into whatever headspace he was currently inhabiting. When Harry finally pulled out again Draco sucked in a rasping breath, his lips swollen, his cheeks and chin wet, and he hardly wasted a second before he was surging forward to press a series of obsessive, sucking kisses to Harry's recently-bared skin, just above the line of his pubic hair. 

"C'mere," Harry said, helping Draco up from the floor.

"Wha —?" He sounded dazed.

"Just c'mere," Harry said again, grinning. There was a part of him that wished everyone else could see this, an utterly docile Draco Malfoy with stars in his pretty grey eyes and a throughly submissive willingness to be manhandled by Harry Potter. But of course there was a much larger part of himself that thought he would simply die if Draco showed this side of him to anybody else.

He led him over to the bed and Draco climbed on, hands going to his flies. Harry helped him out of the rest of his clothes and spread his legs, but for now he ignored his arse. Instead he bent over and laved his tongue over Draco's cock, making him arch and keen.

"Easy," Harry said softly, planting hands on his hips to keep him steady on the bed. He mouthed along the soft skin, dragged the tip of his tongue along the largest vein on the underside, engorged with blood, and finally took the head between his lips. Draco's hands went to his hair but he seemed content to let Harry set the pace, taking him in deeper and slipping a couple fingers between his arse cheeks finally to rub over his hole. Hips twitching, fingers digging into Harry's skull, he reached his orgasm when Harry pressed a finger inside, and he came down his throat with a soft cry. Harry took his mouth off him but didn't relent with his finger, adding a second and continuing to fuck him with them slowly while Draco gasped and twitched and tried to push him away with a kitten-like weakness to his limbs.

Draco's cock started stiffening again when Harry added a third finger, and only when he was fully hard again and leaking pre-come did he pull them out.

Harry crawled over him and put his face in Draco's neck, nose buried in the fine hair at the base of his skull where the smell of peaches lingered beneath the sweat and desperation. He wondered again what had happened earlier.

Deliberately not giving him too much time to recover, he slid his cock easily inside Draco's loosened hole, quickly finding his prostate and focusing on it relentlessly until Draco was trembling and jerking and he saw a tear slide out of the corner of his eye. But he was hard still and his mouth was parted in what looked like utter ecstasy, and Harry felt him come again after no more than a minute or two of ruthless fucking, dragging Harry over the edge with him.

He held Draco while he came down and eventually nuzzled under Harry's chin, remaining in that docile headspace for a while longer before rolling onto his back and then sitting up. He was not entirely back to himself, but he was getting there.

"What happened?" Harry asked. Draco looked at him and then away again. He seemed to know what Harry meant.

"It wasn't anyone's fault," he said finally, staring unseeingly down at his hands in his lap. "My last lesson Flitwick started saying something about the old Muggle Studies professor right before we left ... Burbage ... I, erm ..." He didn't finish, and Harry didn't need him to. He remembered too well the fate which had befallen Charity Burbage, something Draco had watched in person. "It just really pulled me into my head."

"That stuff happens to me too," said Harry quietly. "Over the summer I saw a Mind Healer at Mungo's a few times a week, I'll probably do it again after we graduate. It was really intense but it helped a lot — and she told me that, as long as I kept talking about it and working on all kinds of coping techniques and stuff, it would get better. So ... it can for you too." He paused and then forced his next thought out: "I think you should see a Mind Healer, Draco."

Draco blinked at him. A look of reluctance passed across his face but it wasn't quite as bad as Harry expected it to be.

"I dunno," he said. "I don't ... I don't think that's a good idea for me."

"Just think about it," said Harry. "That's all." And, in an attempt to help Draco find a more positive headspace, he said, "Did you know Hermione's become determined to help Goyle talk to Daphne?"

Draco whipped his head around and Harry laughed, glad to see it had worked so well as a topic-shifter.

"No," he said. "That's a completely fruitless undertaking. In fact, it'll only make Greg more miserable when nothing comes of it."

"Who says nothing'll come of it!"

"Potter, don't be obtuse," said Draco with a roll of his eyes. "Daphne was never swayed by Pansy to join her gang of mindless, worshiping twits and she won't be swayed by whatever romanticised, Gryffindorian tosh Granger gets him to memorise and then nervously shout into Daphne's poor face. Tell her to leave it alone."

"I won't," said Harry stubbornly. "If she's so independently-minded maybe she'll give Goyle a chance! Besides, Hermione wouldn't give him something to memorise, she's just helping him, you know ... figure out what kinds of things to say."

"Fine," Draco said, climbing off the bed and beginning to pull his clothes back on. His snippy movements told Harry he was fully back to himself. "I look forward to saying I told you so." He buttoned his flies and swept a hand through his hair, which fell quite naturally into a more-or-less respectable position. It was the absolute antithesis of Harry's. "You would be one for grand romantic gestures, Potter."

"Oh, I'm not," said Harry, still sitting on the bed, his softening cock tucked back in his trousers. "I can't stand that stuff. I mean, I think it's funny and kind of endearing or whatever when it's other people, but it's not for me."

"Right," said Draco sardonically, pulling on his robes now. 

"I think the quietly intimate stuff is a lot nicer."

Draco looked at him a little sharply but said nothing. Harry gave him a small, teasing smile that prompted a blush onto Draco's cheeks.

 

 

 

xxv.

 

 

 

Ron joined the effort to help Goyle talk to Daphne Greengrass after one evening when Hermione went up to bed early and Goyle offered to let Ron copy off his essay for Defence, which Hermione had helped him write over the last few days.

"It was a really decent thing to do," Ron explained when both Harry and Draco had given him amused looks. "He gets it, Goyle does. These essays are rubbish."

And to everyone's surprise, it was actually Ron who got Goyle to make the first move. They were all in the library when he suddenly, in a hissing whisper, drew their attention to an aisle nearby where Daphne was reaching for a book on a high shelf.

"Go help her!" Ron urged him, practically shoving Goyle out of his seat.

"That's a very good idea, Ron!" Hermione said encouragingly, eyes twinkling at Goyle. "Go on, Greg!"

Draco looked positively startled as he watched Goyle steel himself and get up from his seat. He ambled over to Daphne, who looked at him apprehensively at first.

"What — er — what book are you trying to get?" they heard Goyle ask her. It was not necessarily smooth, but it was nowhere near as fumbling as Harry would have expected.

"Oh," she said, blinking at him. "Hi, Greg. I — that one." And she pointed above her head. "A Glossary of Magical Plants and — that's it, that's the one." He slid it off the shelf and handed it to her, and Harry saw her smile up at him. "Thank you. I appreciate it."

"She seems nice," said Ron quietly, sounding surprised.

"You know, Weasley, you could at least pretend to be less prejudiced against Slytherins," Draco drawled at him.

"Well sure I could, Malfoy," Ron drawled back in an imitation of Draco so perfect Hermione snorted and then slapped her hands over her mouth. "I just choose not to."

"I think that was good," said Goyle, sitting back down next to Draco and glancing quickly over at the table Daphne had returned to. Harry saw her glance back at him for just a second while Lavender, Parvati, and a few other girls giggled. "She smiled at me."

"It was fantastic, Greg," Hermione assured him. "I think if you can work yourself up to it, you might like to ask her go to Hogsmeade together next weekend. You know, for Valentine's Day!"

"No way," said Goyle, even letting out a short, bark-like laugh. "Me on a Valentine's Day date? I can't see it. 'Sides, she'd say no."

"You don't know until you try, mate," said Ron. "I say go for it."

Goyle looked at Draco, who Harry realised was wearing a strange, unreadable expression. It didn't matter what any of them said — Draco's word was the final one as far as Gregory Goyle was concerned. And Draco knew that.

"What d'you think, Draco?" Goyle asked him. "Bad idea, innit?"

"No," Draco said after a moment. "You should do it, Greg. Even if she says no, at least you tried, right?"

Goyle smiled at him a little hesitantly and nodded.

Later, in the Room of Requirement, Harry couldn't stop thinking about the reminder Hermione had inadvertently given him: Valentine's Day was coming up, and he had no idea if he was supposed to acknowledge that with Draco.

"Can I ask you something?" he said, breaking the sticky silence of the air around them twenty minutes after they'd finished fucking. They should have been back in the common room already, but neither had been capable of tearing himself out of bed to start getting dressed. They were becoming lazy about hiding things — Harry knew it, but he hadn't said anything about it yet.

Draco looked at him, searching, pale eyebrows dipping, until a suspicious look came over his face.

"What?" he said carefully.

"I was just thinking, when Hermione was talking about Hogsmeade earlier —"

"No," said Draco, sitting up abruptly. "I knew it, I knew you were lying about hating grand gestures — I'm not going to Hogsmeade with you for Valentine's Day, Potter. It's not happening."

"I wasn't gonna ask you to," Harry said slowly, sitting up as well. "But I s'pose that violent reaction answers my question either way."

"Fine — what was the question?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I just wanted to know if you'd fancy spending the day together. Here, at Hogwarts."

"Why?"

"What d'you mean, why?"

"Are we dating?"

Harry stared at him blankly. Draco's eyebrows lifted.

"Yeah," said Harry finally, a little defiantly. "Yeah, we are."

Draco laughed incredulously. "Oh, are we?"

"I mean ... aren't we?"

"No! No, we're not!"

"Well we certainly fuck a lot for people who aren't dating," said Harry. "What's that about?"

"Ever heard of a casual fuck, Potter?"

Harry gave him a dull look. "Are you really about to try and convince me this has been casual sex, Draco?"

"No, I just —!" Looking flustered, Draco got off the bed and snatched at Harry's jumper to pull on over his head, which Harry didn't bother pointing out was absurdly cute. "Obviously it's not, I'm just saying ... look, we're not dating, Potter. We are not —" he laughed again, a little hysterically, "— dating."

"But you have feelings for me," Harry said bluntly. Draco was quiet for a minute, then —

"Yes," he said. "Obviously."

"Then I don't see the issue," said Harry, leaning back on his elbows. "It's not like we have to tell the school we're together, or anyone other than Ron and Hermione and Goyle for that matter. As if they don't already know it's gone well beyond the sex."

"Why do you need a label so badly?"

"I just wanna know this is real for you," said Harry, deliberately calm. "That's all."

"Well it is," said Draco. His cheeks were pink. "You have more than just my virginity, Potter."

It was the first time, indirectly or not, that either of them had acknowledged that thing between them. Harry had been meaning to for ages now, only he still hadn't figured out how to bring it up. It was thoroughly unexpected that Draco should be the one to do it for him. He sat up straight again and raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah," he said. "I know. You wanna talk about that?"

"Not really."

"Well you brought it up."

"I was just saying," said Draco, a little sharply. "This is obviously not just a ... an arbitrary fling or something, Potter. I realise we're in it quite deep."

"It helps, though, doesn't it?" Harry asked softly. "I still don't know what I'm doing."

"And you think I do?" Draco rolled his eyes and, with a sigh, sat down on the edge of the mattress. "Yeah, it helps. It gets me out of my head for a while."

"What does it feel like?"

Draco looked at him, contemplating, and finally shrugged. "Hard to describe. Just feels really difficult to think. Sort of, like ... hard to make decisions, I guess. But not in a bad way," he added, probably seeing how much Harry didn't like the sound of that by the expression on his face. "I s'pose for someone else it might not seem comfortable, but I like it. I like not thinking, I like just ... trusting you to have control of the situation, so I don't have to. It feels good. I mean — I can feel good, without having my brain all ... clogged up with other stuff for a few minutes. You know?"

Harry moved closer and took his hand, lifting it to press a kiss to the back.

"Well," he said, "I'm glad you trust me to do that for you. Just tell me you're not gonna go off snogging some other bloke and I s'pose I can live without the label."

To his delight, Draco chuckled. "Your only competition is Anthony Goldstein. Otherwise you've nothing to worry about."

"What?" Harry yelped. "Anthony Goldstein?"

"Will you relax, Potter, it's a joke."

"Oh, it was, was it?" Harry said, pinching Draco's side, who leapt off the bed with an indignant squawk. "Came to you awfully fast for a joke."

"I mean, he's handsome," Draco drawled. "But he lacks a certain ... what d'you call it ... big famous saviour of the world aesthetic I usually like."

"Oh, I don't think that's what I'd call it," said Harry, flashing Draco a shit-eating grin. "You were obsessed with me way before I saved yours and everyone else's arses."

Draco picked up one of his shoes and chucked it at Harry, who didn't stop laughing even when it hit him in the cheek.

 

 

 

xxvi.

 

 

 

A few days before Valentine's Day, Goyle actually did it. He had done it, apparently, right after the Slytherins' Transfiguration lesson, so he told Harry, Ron, and Hermione about it later in the common room.

"She said yes?" Ron gasped.

"Don't sound so surprised, Weasley," grunted Goyle, though he was grinning. "Why'd you tell me to do it if you thought she'd say no?"

"No, I ..." Ron shook his head, then burst into a smile. "Well, that's bloody brilliant! Where're you gonna take her?"

"Er —"

"Just have a few drinks at the the Three Broomsticks," said Hermione reassuringly. "Nothing big."

"Just don't take her to Puddifoot's," Harry sniggered.

"Excuse me!" Hermione chided him, going pink. "Ron and I are going there. Just because you have some kind of allergy to romance, Harry —"

"I don't have an allergy to romance!" Harry protested loudly, getting stares from a few people around them. "I just happen not to think tacky pink decorations are romantic!"

"Well what if Draco does!"

Harry spluttered.

"What do have to do with anything?" Draco scoffed, clearly trying for ignorance, but Harry could see that Hermione wasn't buying it, and nor were Goyle or Ron. "Potter's woefully slender grasp on the concept of romance is of no concern to me."

"Sure," said Goyle, "And I s'pose you two will just stay back here and not talk to each other then. And definitely not be on a date."

Ron snorted and Hermione fully burst out laughing.

"Oh, that's very amusing, Greg," said Draco sarcastically. "Very clever." He stood up. "On that note, I'm going to bed."

Still, Harry thought, he hadn't seemed that upset to find out for sure their friends were onto them. And that was comforting.

 

 

 

xxvii.

 

 

 

Harry spent the first part of the afternoon with Draco in the Room of Requirement on Valentine's Day, saying nothing with words but expressing plenty nonverbally anyway. Afterwards they went out to the pitch and played a Seeker's match, which Harry won again, by only one catch this time.

Ron and Hermione came back looking particularly content just before dinner, and Goyle looked quite pleased as well. Daphne was immediately huddled up with her friends upon returning, but Harry definitely saw her grinning as she whispered to them. Clearly they'd had a good time — it seemed impossible, and it filled Harry with an unexpected amount of satisfaction.

As everyone else began descending to the Great Hall, Harry stopped Draco and made him wait. When the common room was cleared out, he took out his Invisibility Cloak and persuaded a suspicious Draco to join him beneath it. He took him up to the Astronomy Tower, where he'd asked Kreacher to set up a small picnic for them, complete with a blanket, food, some candles, and a few bottles of Butterbeer — along with a hefty Warming Charm over the whole setup. It wouldn't have been much, except that beneath the open expanse of stars it felt like quite a lot indeed.

"What," said Draco quietly, "is all of this?"

"Dinner," Harry said with a grin. Draco gaped at him.

"Why did you do this?"

"Well we agreed we didn't wanna go to Hogsmeade," said Harry. "And I think we agreed we like each other —"

"This is a grand gesture, Potter!"

"This is hardly a grand gesture." Harry flashed him a grin and then went to sit down, Draco following hesitantly. "It's a picnic."

"Yeah," Draco drawled, "under the stars. On Valentine's Day."

"So you're admitting I have more than a slender grasp on romance?"

"I said no such thing," said Draco stubbornly. Still, he was already reaching for a Butterbeer, and he was sitting very close to Harry. "I'm just pointing out that you're a liar."

"Why don't you just say you like the picnic?" Harry teased him, leaning closer to brush his nose along Draco's jawline, a hand creeping around his waist. "I can read you like a book, you know."

"Don't flatter yourself," said Draco, but the dry effect of his words was dampened by the fact that Harry distinctly felt him shiver. 

"Look," Harry said, planting a kiss on his cheek and then pulling away to grab a Butterbeer for himself as well. "If this is a grand gesture in your eyes then fine, I lied. But I only meant for it to be something small for us, without everyone else. Label or no label, whatever the hell you feel like calling this that makes you happy, it's something. And I wanted to do something nice for you, all right? Sue me."

"Maybe I will."

Harry rolled his eyes, then laughed. "Can you just stop being prickly and obstinate for a minute and tell me you like it!"

"Obviously I like it! Prat."

"And me?"

Draco shoved his shoulder. "Yes," he bit out, Harry positively beaming at him as he snatched at a bread roll. "And you."

He thought it was probably a bit premature to decide he was in love with Draco Malfoy, but he liked the idea well enough anyhow.

 

 

 

xxviii.

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks, as homework piled up again and people began getting somewhat used to seeing Draco and Goyle hanging around Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Draco faced a fraction less harassment — blatant harassment, anyway. He was still deliberately bumped into in corridors, mutterings and whispers continued to follow him most places he went, but Harry thought he seemed to be, if not learning how to deal with it, at least learning how to tune it out some.

The result was that there were days when the sex didn't involve Draco going into his headspace at all; in fact (and this had become one of Harry's favourite things in the world) Draco could be quite smiley when he was in a good mood. It wasn't something he liked more or less, necessarily, but rather in a different way. Being able to get Draco to a place where he could find peace for a little while was satisfying in its own very particular way — fucking him while he was wearing a heartbreakingly beautiful grin and breathlessly calling Harry a wanker was satisfying in quite another.

Goyle had begun talking to Daphne somewhat frequently in the meantime. Harry saw her smile at him all the time and he never missed a chance to hold a door for her or ask how her day was going. In fact, if he wasn't much mistaken, Daphne didn't seem to mind at all — he could have sworn she even seemed to wear a bit of a blush every time Goyle grinned at her.

Near the middle of March, Daphne came up to him for the first time, and it was while all five of them were sitting together in the common room one evening.

"Daphne," said Goyle, blinking up at her like the rest of them. She was blushing again very slightly and fiddling with the blond plait hung over her shoulder. Harry discreetly looked at Draco, knowing he was probably feeling affected by her sudden presence for more reasons than just one: not a single one of his Slytherin housemates had acknowledged him all year.

"Hello, Greg. Draco," she said. Then she nodded at the rest of them. "Hi, everyone. Erm — Hermione." Hermione looked taken aback. "I was wondering ... d'you think you could help me with that Charms essay?"

For a moment Harry was stunned, but then a crazy idea occurred to him: what if she just wanted to be around Goyle? This seemed to be Hermione's thinking as well, because suddenly she was very enthusiastic.

"Of course!" she said a little too excitedly, shoving Ron out of his chair so hard he stumbled. Goyle, after all, was in the next seat over.

"Oi!" Ron said indignantly. "Could've just asked me to move!"

Hermione ignored him, already having whipped her essay out of her bag and placed it on the table in front of them. Daphne had put hers down as well, and Harry saw her tuck a strand of hair behind her left ear, nearest Goyle. 

"I never expected our NEWTs to be this demanding," Daphne said, flashing a smile around at them. "You've always seemed so good at keeping up with everything, Hermione."

"She's a miracle, she is," said Goyle. Daphne turned instantly to look at him, eyes sparkling. "I might actually get a few NEWTs because of you, Hermione."

"Well if I've done anything at all, it's just to help you focus a little better," said Hermione firmly. Harry caught Ron's eye and grinned. It was very funny to see other people experiencing the benefits of being friends with Hermione after they had gotten used to it for seven years. "You're perfectly capable of doing all this stuff. I think most people could use a little help focusing." Here she shot Harry and Ron a look which wiped the grins off their faces.

"Not Draco," said Daphne, shooting him a hopeful smile. "He's always been good at studying."

Draco, who had said nothing so far, merely nodded his acknowledgment. It was a clear attempt at engaging him in friendly conversation, perhaps because she was feeling guilty for having avoided him like everyone else until now, but if Harry knew anything about Draco it was that he would accept this very Slytherin form of apology in his own time.

Hermione began talking to Daphne about the Charms essay and deliberately included Goyle in the conversation; Ron got up to go join Neville, Hannah, and Ernie nearby, where they were playing a game of Exploding Snap; Harry looked at Draco, who turned to look at him as well, and he lifted an eyebrow.

"What?" he said.

"Nothing," said Harry, grinning and pinching Draco's side, too quickly for anyone to have noticed, yet Draco still punched his shoulder for it. "You're interesting to watch, that's all."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"You're fucking creepy, Potter."

Harry pinched his side again and Draco, with a loud scoff and pink cheeks, got up from the sofa, announcing he was going to bed. He shot Harry a glare, who beamed back at him and watched him fondly until he'd disappeared behind the door leading to the stairs, wishing only that he could have followed him up there.

 

 

 

xxix.

 

 

 

Daphne started spending time with them semi-frequently. At first it struck Harry as odd that this didn't ignite a similar desire for reconciliation in the other Slytherins now that Daphne had made the first move, but upon further reflection he decided it perhaps wasn't that surprising after all. He didn't actually know how close Draco had ever been to any of them beyond what he'd always seen around school: appreciative laughter whenever Draco had been taunting him, mostly. For all he knew, Draco's time had been spent solely in the company of Crabbe and Goyle when he'd actually been inside the Slytherin common room, and because Draco flatly refused to talk about it this was the assumption he had to go on, and he was nearly positive he was correct anyway.

Part of him had half a mind to confront them about it. It irked him, especially about Pansy Parkinson — did she truly think she was that much better than Draco, even with his Dark Mark, when she'd been the one to point him out in the Great Hall, all too willing to give him up to Voldemort if it meant saving her skin? And what of Theodore Nott, whose father had been in Voldemort's inner circle just the same as Lucius Malfoy? Another part of him realised it would be pointless; they were children as much as Draco had been, as much as he'd been, and if distancing themselves from Draco and his Dark Mark made them more comfortable, well ... they only had three more months left until none of them would ever have to see each other again if they didn't want to.

By the time April rolled around Draco's and Goyle's presence had become so normal that there had been occasions where Harry slept late on weekends and went downstairs to find Goyle and Ron playing Exploding Snap or chatting about Quidditch on their own, or else Draco and Hermione doing homework together, just as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A few times people like Dean, Seamus, and Stephen included Draco and Goyle in their "hello"s, and once Harry could have sworn he saw Parvati smile at Goyle.

But Draco didn't talk about it, and Harry didn't try and force him to. Nor did he try and make him talk about what the hell was going to happen to them after graduation, which was approaching quickly along with their exams.

With the stress of their NEWTs upon them more heavily than ever, Harry watched as Draco subtly withdrew back into himself. Not to the extent he'd been doing it before, of course, but he was eating less, looked to be sleeping less, and most telling of all, the frequency of his need to be in his headspace increased quite a lot.

It was, Harry had come to decide, a coping mechanism, the same as his practises of mindfulness and deep-breathing were coping mechanisms his Mind Healer had taught him. And that was fine — great, even — but he also didn't think it would fix anything, which was why he was building himself up to broaching the topic again of Draco seeing somebody.

At some point, anyway. For now this was still fine.

That was easiest to tell himself when he was watching Draco shiver and shake beneath him, eyes glazed over, pink mouth parted, wrists pressed to the mattress above his head by Harry's hand while he fucked him.

"Come again," Harry said into his ear, slowing his hips down to a leisurely pace. Draco shook his head weakly from side to side on the pillow.

"Can't," he breathed.

"Yes you can," said Harry. "Come again. You can do it."

Draco pressed his head back into the pillows and whined — he had come twice already in the last twenty minutes. It had taken Harry some time to learn how to safely push Draco this far, and he'd only done it after Draco had agreed to pick a safe word last month after initially fighting it.

"I can't, Harry," he said in an utterly wrecked voice. "Please, I can't."

Kissing him soundly, Harry pulled out and replaced his cock with three of his fingers, evoking a broken noise from Draco. But he didn't protest — he didn't fight Harry's grip on his wrists and he didn't try to wriggle away, he only arched into it even though his prick wasn't hard anymore. Harry pumped steadily into him, watching his face raptly. He found his prostate and Draco jerked, his cock twitching, stomach muscles jumping. He was covered in his own come, making the filthiest, most beautiful picture Harry was sure he'd ever seen.

"Are you gonna come for me again?" he asked, stilling his fingers inside Draco and rubbing directly against that bundle of nerves. A few tears leaked out of the corners of Draco's eyes and he made a high, needy sound in his throat. His cock was once again filling, thickening, beading pre-come.

"Harry," he gasped, "I —"

"Are you?"

He twitched and tugged weakly at Harry's grip, not in an effort to break it, but rather, it seemed, just to feel it there. He nodded and let out a sob.

Harry started moving his fingers again and kissed Draco's warm, flushed cheek. Only when Draco began squirming did he pull them out and, releasing Draco's wrists to hold his hips steady, slide his cock back into him. Draco arched and squeezed around him, arms falling to his sides so his hands could ball in the sheets.

Harry pumped into him slowly, letting him feel every inch, bottoming out and pulling back and pressing in deeply again. He kept this pace as long as he could, jerking Draco's body with each thrust, until the need to come began to consume him.

One of Draco's hands lifted to his arm, squeezed, and Harry felt him reach a third orgasm, completely dry and wracking his body soundlessly. He didn't last much longer, emptying himself into Draco with a helpless groan. He kept moving until he felt his cock starting to go soft and pulled out, his come dribbling out around him. He would have dearly liked to roll over onto the bed next to Draco and pass out, but another thing he'd learned was that when he pushed Draco this far, he needed Harry's attention for a little while afterwards or he became horribly anxious. 

So while he did roll over onto the bed, he didn't go to sleep. He pulled the duvet up over them and moved some hair out of Draco's sweaty face. He responded to the touch, curling in towards Harry and letting his eyes slip closed. It was still incredible to Harry sometimes that this could be the same Draco Malfoy he'd always known, the one he'd tried to beat to a pulp in fifth year after the first (and his last) Quidditch game of the season; the one who'd broken his nose on the train and tried to send him back to London; the one he'd hated.

For around fifteen minutes Harry simply held him, stroking his back soothingly, drifting in and out of thought. Eventually he realised Draco was looking at him, and that he seemed a bit closer to home.

"What are you thinking about?" Draco asked quietly.

"Stuff," said Harry, grinning. Draco rolled his eyes.

"Tell me."

"I dunno," he said, rolling onto his back and yawning. "Lots of things. Exams. Graduation." He thought of an owl he'd received just a week ago — a letter he'd hidden from everyone and opened in private. A letter he hadn't told anyone about yet. "D'you wanna know something? I haven't even told Ron and Hermione."

"What?"

Harry turned his head to look at Draco, meeting his eyes. Draco lifted onto his elbow, pale eyebrows dipping. 

"What?" he said again. "What is it?"

"They've accepted me into Auror training," said Harry. The words, spoken aloud for the first time, gave him a case of excited butterflies. There were nerves, sure, but he was excited. It felt incredible. Draco, to his mild surprise, smiled.

"You haven't even taken your NEWTs yet," he pointed out. "You're serious?"

"Yeah, Kingsley owled me last week. I'd told him — well, I'd only mentioned in passing, really, that I was still thinking about it over the summer, being an Auror, I mean. I've wanted to since fourth year," he explained. "He wrote me saying if I was still interested, now commencement's so close, he could guarantee me one of the five spots that'll be open this summer. I still have to pass the required NEWTs, obviously, but barring disaster ..."

"Only you, Potter," said Draco with another roll of his eyes, dropping back down. He looked pleased, though, which tickled Harry endlessly. He felt, if possible, even happier about the whole thing. "Well they'd have been mad not to, wouldn't they? You already passed the ultimate Auror test last year."

"What about you?" Harry urged. "You haven't told me anything about your plan."

Draco shrugged; some of the good humour drained from his whole countenance. "Well I used to have a plan," he said, looking at Harry again only briefly. Harry's stomach clenched with pity. "Now I ... I have to make a new one, I suppose." He pushed himself up to a sitting position, the blanket pooling in his lap. His ribs stood out through his skin, making it look paper-thin. "I'm scared," he said baldly. Harry, taken aback, sat up as well. "It won't be easy getting a job with my name. With ..." He held up his left arm.

"No," said Harry truthfully. "It won't. But it won't be impossible. D'you know what you wanna do?"

"I used to wanna be my dad," he said sardonically. Yet there was sadness there too. "A politician. Well-connected, lots of influence everywhere. That sort of thing."

This was, Harry realised, an echo of the part of Draco who still hadn't grown up yet. The bossy, bratty child who wanted to emulate his father, not quite knowing what that meant, only fantasising about strutting around in expensive robes, pulling strings, manipulating laws, getting what he wanted. Had Voldemort never come back, perhaps that was exactly the life Draco would have had. But his expression now told Harry he had already come to terms with the death of that particular childhood fantasy.

"I know I'll have to work," he said. "The Ministry took everything from us. I mean, everything. Seized our vaults and the Manor, all our assets." Harry, of course, knew all of this, but he didn't interrupt. "Well we housed the Dark Lord ... highly punishable crime, you know. My mum'll have access to her individual vault when she gets out of Azkaban because she doesn't have the ..." He didn't raise his arm this time, and Harry didn't need him to. "But it won't sustain us for the rest of our lives. Her Black inheritance and the Malfoy vaults were where most of the money was. I've always been decent at Potions ... I s'pose I might try and get a job at an apothecary or something."

"Sounds like a good start to me," said Harry. "Things will fall into place."

Draco nodded mildly. After a moment, with his gaze in his lap, he said, "I miss my father."

Harry's stomach clenched painfully; there were two entirely different emotions he was feeling at the same time. On the one hand he could feel not one drop of sympathy for Lucius Malfoy, a monster of a person who deserved to be behind bars for the rest of his life, in Harry's most humble opinion. On the other hand he felt terrible for Draco, who had certainly participated in Voldemort's regime but only ever as a puppet, as a product of his environment, and regardless of everything else it was his dad. And Draco had worshiped him.

"You know," he said against his better judgment, "I've been wanting to tell you ... I don't think anything'll happen before your mum gets out, but I've been pushing Kingsley since the day he took office to get rid of the Dementors from Azkaban." Draco looked up at him very suddenly with saucer-wide eyes. "He agrees with me they're foul and don't belong there, there's just a lot of red tape he's working through. It'll happen, though. And, er, when it does, you can visit your dad. That'll change everything, not having Dementors around the prisoners."

"This is ... you know this for sure?"

"Absolutely," said Harry. He saw Draco start tearing up but he didn't look away. "I won't work for a Ministry allying itself with Dark shit like Dementors, and like I said, Kingsley agrees. Dumbledore was always fighting it."

Draco dropped his gaze again and wrapped his arms around himself. "It was horrible," he said. "Being in there. Around them all the time. It was only two months but after the first three days I remember thinking —" he shook his head, eyes haunted and staring at a fixed point on the duvet, "— this is it, I can't survive this. Not even two months. I don't really know how I did, if I'm being honest. And even when I left ..." He didn't finish, but Harry understood. Even when he'd left, he hadn't really left

Harry pulled him in with an arm around his narrow shoulders and Draco didn't tense for a second, immediately putting his face in Harry's neck and breathing out a sigh against his skin. It was a perfect time to bring up the idea of Draco talking to someone again, but he couldn't get it out. Instead he held him and stroked a hand up and down Draco's chilly arm.

"Let's stay here tonight," Draco said suddenly, without lifting his head. "Just this once, it's already late anyhow. Theo and Blaise'll just think I went down to breakfast early when they wake up."

Harry, who had absolutely no qualms, gave a little nod. He used his wand to snuff out the candles around the room before settling under the covers. He draped an arm over Draco's waist and found his lips in the dark.

 

 

 

xxx.

 

 

 

The first time Harry saw Goyle holding hands with Daphne he felt a pang of jealousy. He’d never been one necessarily to hold hands in the corridors with whomever he was dating, but it still would have been nice, at least, to have the option. 

As the days continued getting nicer, they sometimes took their work outside to sit under a beech tree near the lake, Daphne included. It was terrible for Harry, Ron, and Goyle’s focus, but it was impossible to stay indoors with the sun shining so temptingly through the windows.

"I’m gonna fail the History of Magic NEWT," said Ron miserably one day, flat on his back in the grass and twirling a quill above his head. "I can’t be arsed to remember these stupid dates."

"Have Greg help you," Hermione said distractedly. She was scribbling away on a piece of parchment, constantly checking a book. "He’s really good with that."

"He can’t help me remember things, Hermione," said Ron testily. Goyle grinned and looked at Harry, who grinned back. "That’s not how memory works."

"Actually, he uses a lot of mnemonics," said Daphne. She was leaning against Goyle's beefy arm, an open book in her lap she wasn't paying much attention to. "So really he could help you, technically."

"I'm parched," Ron announced loudly. He sat up and looked at Harry. "Let's go grab a few bottles of pumpkin juice, Harry."

Knowing what he was doing, Harry indulged Ron anyway. He was thirsty, and it would be good to take a break from the Transfiguration notes he'd been going over the last forty-five minutes. They left Hermione with Draco, Goyle, and Daphne and went inside to the Great Hall, where they each grabbed three bottles of pumpkin juice and headed back outside, only to be met with an entirely different scene than the peaceful one they'd left.

Everyone was on their feet, for one thing. Hermione and Daphne were back a few yards from Draco, who stood motionless behind Goyle. Goyle had his wand on someone, who had their wand on him in return. Harry dropped the bottles and immediately reached for his own; peripherally, he saw Ron do the same.

"What's going on?" he asked, approaching slowly. 

"Malfoy called my girlfriend a Mudblood!" the boy shouted. Nearby, a girl with short brown hair stood looking uncomfortable but determined. 

"Well I said I was pretty sure he —"

"Course he did, it's him!" the boy spat, cutting his girlfriend off. He looked fiercely at Harry. "This is who he is, Potter, we've all seen the Mark on his arm, we read the transcripts from the trials. He's still just a baby Death Eater, how can you of all people not see it?"

Draco shot Harry a hollow look, and he saw that even Goyle looked suddenly nervous beneath the fury. 

"Draco," Harry said after a few moments of silence, looking at him. Other students outside were gathering, shameless in their eavesdropping. "Did you call her that?"

Draco shook his head slowly.

"He didn't say it, Harry," said Daphne quietly. "We would've heard him."

"You can't be serious, Potter!" Goyle yelled furiously. "You know he wouldn't! He was talking to me the whole time, that crazy bint's only hearing what she wants to hear!"

"You shut your mouth!" the boy shouted. "Your dad was Death Eater scum too, Goyle! Don't know how you've convinced Potter here —"

"Are you calling me stupid?" Harry said loudly, drowning him out. The boy looked suddenly horrified. "Well? Do you think I'm an idiot?"

"Of course not," said the boy finally, teeth gritted. "Potter, come on, you know I'm just saying —"

"I know what you're saying," Harry cut him off again. "What's your name anyway?"

"Ryan," he said bitterly.

"All right, Ryan, well I promise you I have a lot more information than you do about Draco Malfoy," said Harry. He saw Draco wince slightly, as if hearing his own name spoken aloud was painful. "I would be really surprised if he was using slurs these days and seeing as no one else seems to have heard him say it, I feel pretty confident your girlfriend must have misheard. So how about we all just lower our wands," he said placatingly, "and move on from this. Okay?"

The boy sneered, but after a moment or two he lowered his wand. Goyle did the same, and then Harry and Ron followed suit. He watched the boy — Ryan — until he turned away, not without shooting Draco and then Goyle a look full of loathing. His girlfriend gave Harry a slightly fearful glance.

"Come on," said Harry, looking at Goyle and nodding towards the oak front doors. He would deal with Draco later, in private — right now his main concern was getting Goyle back to the common room. He kept shooting worrying glares at Ryan, who was shooting them back. Hermione and Daphne were gathering up all their things from under the beech tree.

"Screw them, Goyle," said Ron firmly. "Nobody cares what they think anyway. Let's go."

After a tense second Goyle nodded and started following Ron. Harry gave Hermione a significant look and she and Daphne, arms laden with books and parchment and quills, went to Draco to silently accompany him. Harry kept glancing back at Ryan and the group of friends he and his girlfriend had rejoined, not trusting him entirely.

And it was a good thing, too. They were halfway towards the doors when he looked back to see Ryan holding his wand again and aiming at Goyle, who was a much easier target than Draco. Harry knew instinctively he did not have time to grab his own — instead he leapt forwards and made contact with Goyle a millisecond after a spell was shouted, shoving him to the ground and taking the full brunt of the jinx himself. Instantly it was as if every inch of his skin was on fire, and though he couldn't remember opening his mouth to scream he could hear himself screaming, could feel it tearing his throat, and then all was black ...

 

 

 

xxxi.

 

 

 

He woke up in the hospital wing, which was nothing new. He remembered vaguely the feeling of burning and looked down to see that his chest and right arm were covered in bandages, and he could feel that most of the rest of him was too under the blanket. He felt achey and tingly and uncomfortable and had the horrible intuition that beneath them he was regrowing badly-burnt skin. His left arm seemed to be okay, though, and so did his face, which was something, at least.

The golden light of evening was filtering in through the large windows and Harry finally noticed that the chair next to his bed was occupied, and even though it was blurry without his glasses he knew by the white-blond hair and the shape of his body who it was. Draco was curled up in it with a book on his lap but he wasn't reading it. He was staring out the opposite window, looking ethereal bathed in the glow of the setting sun, and had clearly not realised Harry was awake.

"Hey," Harry said, and smiled when Draco jumped so badly the book fell to the floor. He was up out of the chair instantly and at Harry's side, looking like he wanted to touch but was afraid to do so. "How long have I been out?"

"Just a few hours," said Draco. Finally appearing to come to some decision, he reached out and pushed some of Harry's fringe off his forehead. It was so gentle, so full of unspoken emotion, that Harry had to swallow past a growing lump in his throat. "How do you feel?"

"Not horrible," said Harry honestly. "What did he do, burn all my skin off?"

"Pretty much," Draco said lowly. "Jesus, it was horrible. Hermione knocked you out when you started screaming bloody murder. Pomfrey says you'll be fine but it was ... it could have been really bad." He looked incredibly shaken; Harry lifted his good hand and took Draco's, lacing their fingers together. Draco, after heaving a deep sigh, bent and brought their lips together. He was excessively gentle, which made Harry smile again. "You know," Draco said, pulling back only to sit down on the edge of the mattress, careful not to bump Harry, "you're far too willing to sacrifice yourself for other people."

"Obviously I didn't expect this to happen."

"You would've done it even if you had," said Draco.

Harry shrugged but didn't deny it, because he thought it was probably true. "Well I'm sure that's what they'll want in an Auror, right?"

Draco didn't say anything right away. He fiddled gently with the blanket covering Harry up to his midriff, mindful of the bandages. Harry watched him curiously.

Then he said, "I'm going to have to spend an enormous amount of time worrying about you, aren't I?"

Something hopeful flickered in Harry's chest. Even all the dull, throbbing pain couldn't stop it from blossoming.

"After Hogwarts, you mean?"

Draco looked up and met his eye, and Harry saw that yes, that was exactly what he meant.

"I don't know what you think you're gonna have to worry about," said Harry, keeping a straight face. "Voldemort tried to kill me, like, five or six different times and couldn't manage so I doubt anyone else will."

Draco, apparently against his will, laughed. Harry saw a few tears trickle out with it.

"You're so fucking charming, aren't you, Potter?"

"D'you think so?"

"No," Draco said firmly. He was wearing a soft smile. Harry chuckled. "You're lucky you saved the world or you'd have nothing going for you at all. Well," he added, rolling his eyes, "I s'pose you're sort of fit."

"Only sort of?"

"Potter!" came Pomfrey's voice, and suddenly he noticed her bustling over to his bed. Draco had slid lightly off the bed and was arranging his face into a neutral expression. "When did he wake up?"

"Only just," Draco lied. "I was about to come and get you."

"How are you feeling, Potter?" asked Pomfrey, pulling out her wand and hovering it over his bandages. "Any pain?"

"Hardly," said Harry. "Mostly it's just a lot of tingling."

"Well that's good," said Pomfrey, "that's very good. That jinx ate right through most of your skin, it's a good thing Miss Granger thought to knock you out. It'll be a bit of a rough night ahead of you but you'll be fine by morning." She set a potion down on his bedside, caught sight of the apprehension on his face, and he swore he saw her mouth twitch with a smile. "It's not nearly as bad as Skele-Gro," she said. "Skin is much easier regrown than bones."

Still, he grimaced a little before tipping it into his mouth and forcing it down his throat.

"I'll be back in a few hours with more," Pomfrey told him, taking the empty goblet. "Visiting hours will be over in an hour," she added to Draco, and then shuffled away back towards her office.

"Shall I get Granger and Weasley?" Draco asked. "They'll want to know you're awake."

"Sure, yeah, that'd be great," said Harry. "You'll come back too, won't you?"

Draco smiled, then leaned down to kiss him again. Harry lifted his good hand to Draco's cheek and took note of the way his chest expanded. He was enamored, infatuated. Had Draco not pulled away he could have continued kissing him for hours.

"I'll grab your Invisibility Cloak," said Draco, "so I can stay here with you tonight."

Harry's chest expanded even further. "You don't mind?"

"Don't be stupid," Draco said. He ran a hand through Harry's hair. "Of course I don't."

 

 

 

 

xxxii.

 

 

 

"Potter," said Draco, "I want to ask you something."

From his place on the grass, flat on his back, Harry turned his head and squinted up at Draco, who was sitting beside him. The smell of spring was heavy upon them and he could hear the gentle swishing sounds of the giant squid’s tentacles on the surface of the lake. Most other people were outside as well, and all of them could see Harry and Draco sitting intimately close, with no one else around them. They were far enough away that Harry couldn’t hear whether anyone was talking about them, nor did he care. 

They’d been out here at least half an hour, since they’d finished their last NEWT, saying nothing and enjoying the feeling of being free — no more exams, no more homework, no more classes. Not just for the year, but forever. At Hogwarts, at least. 

"What’s up?" he said lazily. 

"D'you really think you're going to want to keep doing this after we leave here?" he asked. Taken aback, Harry lifted onto his elbows and gazed up at Draco with his brows drawn.

"Doing ... this?" Harry echoed slowly. "Dating, you mean?"

Draco rolled his eyes and looked out at the lake with a little sigh. Harry sat up fully.

"Why is that so hard for you to say?" he asked. "I mean, look, we've been sleeping together nearly six months and you said yourself it's not just that. That you have feelings for me." He slid a hand onto Draco's lower back and leaned towards him, dotting a few kisses along his jaw. "I know you'd lose your mind if I slept with someone else."

Draco whipped around to glare at him so fast their noses bumped and Harry pulled back, blinking.

"See?" he laughed after the initial shock, and this time he kissed him chastely on the lips. "Me too, Draco, believe me. I couldn't stand to think of you with anyone else. So yes, the answer to your question is I'm positive I'll still want to be dating you when we leave Hogwarts. You know, you still haven't told me what your immediate plan is, by the way."

Draco shrugged and looked down at his lap. "I told you, I'll apply to some apothecaries —"

"No, I mean immediate," Harry said softly. "Where are you living?"

He didn't answer right away. Harry kept the hand on his back.

"I'm staying with my aunt," he said finally. "That's where I was that week between leaving Azkaban and coming here. She's letting me come back until I figure something out or until my mum gets out."

"Andromeda, you mean?" Harry asked, surprised. He'd seen her plenty of times over the summer when he'd gone to visit Teddy but she'd neglected to mention her nephew would be staying with her the final week of August, or that he'd be going back to her after Hogwarts.

"Yes," said Draco. "She showed up to take me to her home when I was released, I'd never even met her before. I only knew because she —"

"Looks exactly like Bellatrix," Harry said, cutting him off. "Yeah. It's uncanny."

"And she was in a few old pictures my mother never threw out," Draco added. "They were hidden in her vanity, but I found them when I was little."

Hidden from Lucius, Harry assumed. And Bellatrix as well, probably. She wouldn't have wanted her family to know she still harboured love for her middle sister, and perhaps even missed her. 

"She was very kind to me," said Draco softly. "She told me that you're Teddy's godfather."

Harry grinned. "Yeah, I am. I've really missed seeing him, I can't wait to visit after graduation."

"Well," said Draco, "I s'pose I'll be there when you do."

Harry watched him for a moment, stalling, building himself up to the task of floating a suggestion he'd been contemplating for a few weeks now.

"I actually ... had another idea," he said. His heart began pumping more quickly. Draco looked at him, dipping his eyebrows. "This is just ... I mean, it's just an idea, you can obviously say no."

"Potter ..."

Harry licked his lips. He saw on Draco's face that he'd already had an intuition what Harry was about to say.

"What if we lived together?" he finally forced out, cheeks burning. "I was already planning on getting a flat in London after we graduate and ... and I dunno, I just think it would be really good if we could see how that works, y'know?"

Draco stared at him, then averted his gaze to the lake. Harry saw his jaw working as he thought.

"I have no gold, Potter," he said quietly, looking at him again. "Nothing."

"No, I know," Harry assured him. "Obviously. That's why you're planning on staying with your aunt. But I mean ... it doesn't really matter, does it? I'd be renting it anyway, and I'd really love to have you there. Once you find a job we can start splitting it."

"You realise," said Draco slowly, "that living together is hugely different than sharing a common room."

"Of course I do," said Harry. "I've been thinking about this a while. I just ..." he searched for the right words, "I wanna do stuff right now, d'you know what I mean? Whatever feels right. And this does — you can stay with me instead of your aunt, which will be nice for you I'm sure and believe me, it'll be great for me as well, I wasn't keen on living alone. Plus I can fuck you whenever I feel like it —" Draco shoved him and Harry laughed. "I'm serious, though, I'd really love it if you'd think about it. And if we can't stand it then you move out when you get a job, simple as that."

"Simple as that, is it?" Draco drawled.

"It really and truly is," Harry said, dropping a hand to Draco's knee and squeezing. "I know a lot of things between us feel really confusing sometimes but there's nothing at all complicated about how much I like you."

He saw Draco swallow and then look past Harry at something, which he turned to find was a small group of students watching them. Harry found that he couldn't locate even a small part of himself that cared.

"Okay," Draco said suddenly. Harry's heart leapt.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Okay." He pushed some hair behind his ear and looked heartbreakingly beautiful in doing so. "I'll come and live with you. Just as a trial run."

"As a trial run," Harry agreed, grinning. "I'm gonna teach you how to cook."

Draco made a face of such utter disgust that Harry burst into laughter.

 

 

 

xxxiii.

 

 

 

Commencement took place the day after everyone else left for London on the Hogwarts Express. Because it didn't fucking matter anymore, Harry and Draco spent the night in the Room of Requirement.

Around nine, after a round of lazy and satisfying morning sex, they went to the Great Hall for breakfast and found Ron and Hermione just getting started, with Goyle and Daphne across from them, all at the Gryffindor table. Ernie and Hannah were at the Gryffindor table too with Neville, and Neville was speaking to Goyle.

In fact, a greater majority of people were sitting at the Gryffindor table. Seamus, Dean, and Stephen were there, along with Parvati, Lavender, and Tracey. Other people were spread out haphazard at the other tables regardless of house, as if on this the day of their graduation they had matured suddenly past the divisiveness of houses even in the Great Hall where those lines had always remained hard. 

Families and friends and relatives began arriving around eleven and at one o'clock the ceremony took place out on the grounds, where a beautiful stage had been set up near the lake. Harry spent much of it standing there and trying to process the fact that this was happening, he was graduating from Hogwarts, all of the Weasleys there watching save for Fred, whose absence was glaring and painful. Painful too were the absences of Sirius and Remus, of Tonks and Mad-Eye, most of all Professor Dumbledore, who should have been the one giving the speech rather than McGonagall. Harry hadn't missed him so fiercely in a while.

"We are all here today because of strength and determination," McGonagall told the watching crowd, with the graduates behind her. "Because we never allowed Darkness to win. Because we persevered, through hardship and death and loss, striving for a hopeful future. And," she said, "because of Harry Potter. As the first graduating class of a new era, I would like all of us — not only our graduates — to remember what bravery looks like." Harry bowed his head, wishing McGonagall had at least warned him she'd be doing this, and to his surprise he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Parvati Patil, positioned beside him because of their last names, and she was smiling at him warmly. He smiled back. "I would like us all to remind ourselves that however dark things may sometimes feel, however hopeless, love and light and justice will always come out on top just as long as we are willing to persevere. Were Professor Dumbledore here today, he would tell us to remember the actions of Harry Potter one year ago on these very grounds, to seek to emulate that selflessness and bravery in our lives every day. I am so proud of this group of graduates." Here, Harry could have sworn he heard McGonagall's voice tremble, but she quickly brought it under control. "I remember like it was yesterday evening calling their names to try on the Sorting Hat, and it gives me no greater pleasure than to watch them leave this school with bright futures ahead of them. To the Hogwarts graduating class of nineteen-ninety-nine," she said, and turned now to face them, smiling, "you have every one of you made this school proud. Congratulations."

There was a great swell of noise from the graduates, all shouting together and throwing their pointed hats in the air. With a chest full of emotion, Harry fought through the crowd towards Ron like there was a magnet between them and threw his arms around his very first friend, wondering with sudden laughter if he was truly about to start crying. Ron squeezed him tight, said "well, we made it, eh?" and then released Harry to hug Hermione, who had come bounding over to them. Harry clutched at her next, laughing again when he felt her positively sobbing into his robes. Many people were clapping his back and wishing him well and finally, feeling his heart swell further, he found Draco's white head of hair and didn't bother with a hug, pulling him forwards and kissing him right on the mouth. It was short and sweet and Draco broke it to put his face in Harry's neck. Harry held him close and rubbed his back, knowing how emotional this probably was for Draco without any family here.

"She made it sound like I did some big thing, didn't she?" said Harry, successfully getting a wet laugh out of Draco.

Goyle came over to them next and enveloped Draco in such a tight hug Harry nearly felt compelled to tell him to ease up, but Draco was grinning and seemed perfectly okay. While Draco and Goyle went to Goyle's mum, Harry, Hermione, her parents, and the Weasleys finally congregated together, sharing hugs and laughter and tears and congratulations. 

There was a feast in the Great Hall afterwards and then, much later on, a party in the eighth-year common room. An enormous amount of alcohol was involved, which meant that for the first time Harry got to see Draco completely sloshed. Nobody was being rude to him either; the Slytherins weren't necessarily talking to him, but nobody was giving him a hard time.

He, Draco, Ron, Hermione, Goyle, and Daphne all found themselves at some point sitting around the fire, and Draco was drunk enough that he'd consented to being pulled into Harry's lap. In fact he kept trying to start snogging Harry, which Harry sometimes allowed and other times cut Draco off with a laugh because he was in the middle of a conversation. Either way, it felt very nice to have an inebriated Draco in a very good mood cuddled up to him in front of anyone who cared to look.

"He's sort of sweet like this, isn't he?" said Daphne, grinning at the way Draco had his face buried in Harry's neck at the moment.

Draco lifted his mouth to Harry's ear and whispered, "Tell her she sounds like a Hufflepuff."

Harry snorted. "He says you sound like a Hufflepuff."

Ron choked on his firewhiskey and Goyle sprayed some of his all over Crookshanks, who was in his lap. The latter leapt down, looking highly affronted.

"Tell him," said Daphne, "that he looks like a Hufflepuff."

Even Draco laughed at this, though it was muffled against Harry's skin.

"Goyle," said Ron, "you ever played a game of drunken Gobstones, mate?"

And while the group's attention shifted to that, Draco began peppering kisses along Harry's jaw.

"Are you gonna sleep in your dorm tonight?" he asked softly.

"Yeah," said Harry, "I think so. Last night and everything."

"And tomorrow night you're sleeping with me, in our bed."

Harry smiled helplessly and squeezed around Draco's waist.

"Yeah, that's right. Well ... probably one of the mouldy beds at Grimmauld Place, actually, I doubt we'll find a good place by tomorrow night. But yeah." He turned his head and kissed Draco soundly. "Definitely together, wherever we end up being."

"What's Grimmauld Place?"

"I'll explain tomorrow when I'm not tipsy."

Draco scoffed. It was loose and drunk-sounding and adorable. "You're annoying, Potter."

Harry pinched Draco's side and he squealed, but Harry could feel him smiling against his cheek.

"I have to tell you something really important," Draco said, voice suddenly even lower. There was laughter in it, though, which told Harry it was likely to be something silly, which was definitely his favourite thing about drunk Draco so far. He was so ... uninhibited. So unworried about looking stupid.

"All right, what is it?"

"I have to whisper it!" Draco said urgently. Harry laughed as Draco cupped his hands around his ear, giggling a little.

"You're just laughing in my ear."

And Draco continued giggling for a minute before finally getting himself enough under control to whisper, "I love you."

Harry's stomach dropped and he turned to look at Draco in shock. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes were shining and he didn't look embarrassed in the least. He brought a hand to Draco's cheek and kissed him, first on the lips and then the cheek, back to his ear.

"I love you too," he said softly. And god, did he ever. It felt like flying, saying it finally.

And though he intended to sleep in his dormitory with his Gryffindor dorm mates that night for the last time, he still pulled Draco away to the Room of Requirement for an hour, where the fucking felt more like lovemaking and every kiss reverberated in his soul.

 

 

 

xxxiv.

 

 

 

They spent a week in Grimmauld Place before they found a flat they liked. A week after that, Harry began Auror training. In mid-August Draco finally found a job with an apothecary whose owner was too impressed with his skill to turn him away because of who he was.

He didn't move out when he had the money — it never even came up.

He and Draco had dinner together every night. Sometimes with friends over (usually Ron and Hermione or Goyle and Daphne or all four at once), sometimes by themselves, often in front of the telly with his feet in Draco's lap and a container of takeout. Other than the Weasleys', he'd never known a place to feel so much like a home, and this one was his

Draco started seeing a Mind Healer. Within just a month Harry started noticing differences — mostly it was that he began letting Harry know when he wasn't feeling good, and together they were able to find things to do to help him cope. It was good for Harry, too, who was certainly still recovering mentally himself, and would be for years to come, he knew.

Sometimes Draco needed Harry to help him find that headspace still, but mostly he didn't need it anymore, not with the mind healing — these days he wanted it simply because he enjoyed it, and Harry did too.

In September, Narcissa was released from Azkaban. Draco was spending the night with her at Andromeda's and had convinced Harry to do the same. In truth, he wasn't much looking forward to seeing Narcissa, but he hadn't said this to Draco. It was mostly that he was afraid to see her; he hadn't faced anyone who'd been in that clearing in more than a year (besides Hagrid, but that was far different) and he didn't like to think of the way that might trigger something.

It turned out okay, though. He waited at the house with Teddy and when Andromeda, Narcissa, and Draco showed up, Harry even managed a small smile for her. She looked greatly the worse for wear but definitely still lucid. He remembered what Sirius had told him about what had kept him sane in there and wondered what grim thought Narcissa had held onto the last year and a half.

"You'll be staying in Nymphadora's room," Andromeda told Narcissa, her voice very soft. She looked nothing at all like Bellatrix at the moment. "It's just upstairs, I'll show you. And you can take a nice hot shower too, how's that, Cissy?"

"Feeling all right?" Harry asked Draco, who hadn't said anything since they'd walked inside. Harry had Teddy on his hip, one hand under his padded bottom, and he was busy fiddling with a few of Harry's disobedient curls. "Your mum seems like she's okay. I mean ... not okay, but ... you know. Okay."

"Yeah," Draco agreed. "She is. Or ... she will be, at least. I'm just processing, I s'pose. That's all." He went over to Harry and kissed him, then ran a few fingers through Teddy's hair. "It's because of you she wasn't in there longer. She knows that. She'll thank you, when she's ready."

"She doesn't need to," Harry said. "Come on, we should make some dinner, yeah? I'll bet your mum hasn't had a good meal in over a year." He looked at Teddy and, smiling, kissed his forehead. "You wanna make some food, Ted?"

"Food!" Teddy yelled excitedly, grabbing at Harry's glasses. Draco started laughing and gently prised them away, returning them to Harry's face. Harry kissed his cheek.

Narcissa napped after her shower and he and Draco, with Teddy's limited but enthusiastic help, put together a sprawling dinner. Narcissa didn't eat much of it, but that was partly because she wouldn't stop holding Draco's hand with both of her own. Draco seemed unwilling to let go of hers either.

After dinner, while Narcissa and Andromeda spent some time alone together, Harry and Draco took Teddy out in the backyard to play in the grass. It was a gorgeous night that still clung to summer, not even a hint of autumn in the air, and it smelled like the honeysuckle that was choking the yard. Teddy ambled around on his fat legs, tripping often and requiring Harry to run around after him helping him up. Draco seemed to like watching this.

"I have some good news for you, by the way," Harry said, sitting back down next to Draco in the grass when Teddy started busying himself with a pile of sticks. "Kingsley came by my training today to tell me he's got the bill through finally about the Dementors. First January they're gone from Azkaban."

Draco blinked at him.

"I didn't even know ... you haven't mentioned it since ..."

"Well I didn't wanna get your hopes up or anything," said Harry with a shrug. "And it's not really a pleasant subject. But yeah, it's gone through. I've no idea how your dad's doing, but at least it won't get worse."

Draco sighed. He rested his head on Harry's shoulder and Harry put an arm around him.

"It's good just to know they'll be gone, honestly," he said softly. "You really are a saint, Potter."

Harry laughed softly and squeezed his shoulder. "Yeah, well. If I'm gonna throw my name around it's gonna be for stuff like that. I wish it could've been sooner, but at least your mum's still sane, yeah? Can't imagine what she was holding onto in there."

Draco was quiet for a minute. He sat up straight and Harry saw a couple tears spill over his cheeks.

"She didn't love my father anymore," he said quietly. Harry hadn't really expected an actual answer, so his eyebrows lifted in surprise. "She wanted out too at the end, just like I did. I think that ... I think she's glad he's still in there." He wiped a tear away. Harry's stomach clenched painfully. "I think she was glad of the way things turned out ... that a year in there felt almost like it was worth it for everything to just ... be done with already. D'you know what I mean?"

Harry nodded solemnly. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I think I do." He was fiercely curious whether it was true but supposed it wasn't something he'd ever find out for sure.

Teddy, having grown bored of his pile of sticks, came toddling over and caught himself before he fell on Harry's knees. He looked up at him, smiled toothily, and suddenly his hair turned pitch black and he was making grabby-hands like he wanted Harry to pick him up.

"That child is in love with you," said Draco, something tender in his voice, as Harry — grinning helplessly — lifted the baby onto his lap. 

"Well I'm in love with him too," said Harry. "And incidentally I'm in love with you as well."

Draco rolled his eyes and laughed, another tear spilling out. Harry, arms securely around Teddy, watched as Draco sat with all the painful things he was feeling right now, watched as he actually felt them instead of pushing them away, afraid of them, refusing to let them have their moment.

"Daco," said Teddy with some concern, reaching out a pudgy hand towards him.

"Yeah, that's Draco, Ted, that's your cousin," Harry said, kissing the baby's soft cheek. "You wanna hold him?"

"Oh — no," Draco said, suddenly looking nervous. But Harry, smiling, lifted Teddy up and transferred him to Draco's lap. Draco looked utterly shocked, his hands flying to Teddy's sides to awkwardly keep him upright. "I'm really not good with kids —"

"He's not even two, Draco, just make sure he doesn't fall," Harry laughed. "You don't have to have a conversation."

Draco kept his hands securely around him and a soft smile came over his face when Teddy put a thumb in his mouth and rested his head against Draco's shoulder.

Narcissa came out shortly after that and Harry went back inside to help put Teddy to sleep, leaving Draco and his mum to talk privately for a while.

Harry showered and brushed his teeth and got into bed in Andromeda's guest bedroom. He was half-asleep when Draco finally came into the room, took off his clothes, and got in beside him. Even in a strange bed in a home that wasn't theirs, it felt normal.

"Everything good?" he mumbled sleepily. Draco hummed into the kiss he planted on Harry's mouth.

"Really good," Draco said softly. Harry thought he sounded exhausted and content. "So good."

Harry smiled. He draped his arm across his waist and pressed his face into Draco's neck, smelling sweat and grass and peaches.