"So," Ron said as they left the last lesson of the day, heaving backpacks onto their shoulders and helping Hermione to carry the huge stack of books she had already managed to accumulate. "Shall we go back to the tower?"
The question was uneasy. Hermione bit her lip and Harry shrugged.
"Or we could go for an early dinner and sit out by the lake?"
Harry nodded in agreement, ready to do anything up to and including detention to avoid going to the tower. He suspected by Hermione's relieved expression that she felt the same.
"So," Ron said again, falling into step at Harry's side. "Eighth year sucks, then."
Harry snorted tiredly. "Hear, hear."
There were eighteen eighth years that returned to Hogwarts. Three from Slytherin, four from Hufflepuff and five each from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.
Theoretically it should have been easy. Stick them all in the old East Tower and wait for them to get along. There was no more war, no more Voldemort to cause divisions between them.
In reality it wasn't that simple.
It wasn't that anyone was making things difficult or trying to cause trouble, it was more that no-one really knew what to say. The atmosphere in the tower was awkward and uncomfortable; conversations were stilted and expressions were wary.
Lessons were just as bad. Quiet and wooden. Students unwilling to raise their hand and have their voice shatter the brittle silence. Even Hermione was tentative about speaking out; she told Ron and Harry that she hated the way everyone looked up at her whenever she did, instead of ignoring her as they used to.
Making everything worse was the fact the inter-house Quidditch championship had been postponed. The pitch wasn't safe enough to use, despite efforts to have it put back to how it should have been. It had been disappointing, but expected. Most of the things in the world weren't quite back how they should have been.
With nothing else to do, Harry found himself falling back into his old habit of Draco-watching. Not because he thought Draco was up to anything, but because he was interesting, and it occupied Harry's mind. Draco didn't do much; he sat still and read books and looked afraid of everything around him. Harry didn't mind. When he was Draco-watching he could ignore the awkward tension around him and pretend that everything was normal.
He would have liked to have asked Draco why he was so scared. He'd been acquitted and Harry didn't think anyone really wished him any harm. But asking him would have meant breaking the silence, shattering it like fine china which would never go back to how it was, no matter how many reparos you cast.
It went on and on for what seemed like years, when in fact it was only a couple of weeks. September remained obstinately sunny, as if the weather were pleading with them all just to cheer up. It didn't work, though it did allow them to spread out into the grounds in order to avoid each other.
The situation was resolved, as most awkward situations are, by something completely unexpected.
It wasn't magic that fixed them. It wasn't McGonagall's repeated speeches about how they should all grow up and get on. It wasn't one of them having a big dramatic emotional breakdown. Harry had had his money on Draco being the first one to crack. It wasn't even a fistfight, and several of those had been brewing on days when things were just a little tootense.
It was a football.
"Thank god for crazy British weather," Ron said as they left the cool shade of the entrance hall and walked out onto the lawns, bathed in the soft warmth of autumn sunshine.
"It'll get cold soon enough," Hermione said, slipping her hand into Ron's and making him grin, sudden and unexpected.
"Don't ruin it," Harry said. "I don't like the idea of us all being crammed into the tower together. It'll be excruciating." What he meant by that was it would be excruciating to be so close to Draco. Excruciating to just watch him sit and look scared, trying valiantly to read his book and ignore everyone around him. Hermione and Ron knew that but they were good friends and never said it out loud.
"We should get some booze from somewhere," Ron suggested as they wandered down towards the lake. "That'd loosen everyone up."
Harry snorted with laughter as Hermione scolded, a soft "honestly, Ron," that just made him grin even more.
"Not a bad idea," Harry said, and Hermione sighed, full of the woes of being outnumbered by boys.
They wandered a little further and Harry was still thinking about what a drunk-Draco would look like when he first heard it. A soft thwump sound that at first reminded him of a Hippogriff's feet landing on the ground. He listened carefully, and sure enough another thump reverberated through the air.
"What on earth?" Hermione said, but she wasn't listening like Harry was, she was looking.
"What are they doing?" Ron asked, bewildered and also looking.
Harry turned his head and the source of the sound became clear. Two familiar figures were standing far apart on the grass field at the bottom of the slope, kicking a football back and forth. Every time one kicked it, there was a pause and then the thump of sound a fraction of a second later.
"Football," Harry said, and Ron turned, even more bewildered.
They made their way down to where Dean and Seamus were still passing the ball back and forth, running to stop it when one kicked it wide. They were both laughing and flushed from the exercise, all awkwardness gone.
"What the hell are you two doing?" Ron shouted.
Dean belted the ball back towards Seamus and then turned, wiping his forehead with the back of his wrist. Harry caught sight of his collarbones between the undone buttons of his school shirt and looked away before he was caught stealing glances.
"Seamus bought me a football," he grinned. "Want to play?"
There was a long silence. Were they supposed to be doing something as mundane as playing? Didn't going through a war mean they had to grow up and stop with stupid games?
Harry dropped his schoolbag to the floor and pulled off his jumper. "Yeah," he said, tossing his jumper aside. "Go on, then."
Dean grinned again. Ron followed suit and dropped his bag and stripped his jumper off. Hermione rolled her eyes and moved to sit in the shade of a large beech tree, pulling a book out of her bag.
Harry found that whilst he was still the best in the school at vanquishing Dark Lords and playing Quidditch, he was rather average at football. Ron was better, as was Seamus. Dean was in a league of his own, and literally ran circles around all of them.
He didn't care. Ron did, but only in the context that he was happy not to have reverted to the role of second-best sidekick.
Harry found that whilst they were all tearing around on the grass, pointlessly kicking a ball about, things were as easy and simple as everyone had promised it would be.
"HARRY! For fucks sake, use your feet!"
"Fuck off!" Harry hollered back at Seamus, laughing uncontrollably as he turned his back on Ron, trying to keep the ball away from him. It didn't work; Ron sidestepped him and stole the ball away, running away and passing it neatly over to Seamus.
There was a smattering of applause from Hermione, Parvati and Padma, who were watching from the sidelines. Hermione was even actually watching, her book forgotten on the grass next to her hip.
Dean ran over from nowhere and stole the ball back from Ron, kicking it to Seamus who stooped to pick it up, scooping it up against his chest. "Time," he panted, spinning the ball in his hands. "Lessons."
The others nodded, disappointed. They collected their belongings and trudged up towards the castle, chattering loudly about the game, boasting of their skills and mocking each other for lack of the same.
"I knew you could have two left when dancing, but I didn't think you could in football," Dean laughed, nudging Harry with his elbow.
"Alright, alright," Harry grumbled good-naturedly, slinging his jumper over his shoulder. "Just because Seamus played better than you today-"
"He did not!"
"I did too," Seamus crowed from behind them. "You looked like you were playing with Harry's feet."
They all laughed, pushing and shoving each other into the classroom. It was only when they calmed down that they noticed everyone else staring at them. They looked puzzled and awkward, as if they could have no idea why the Gryffindor boys would be so happy and riotous, acting as if they were fourth years all over again.
Harry's eyes found Draco. He was staring at them and if Harry didn't know better, he would have said there was something wistful in that pale face, something that wished he could enjoy something as simple and ridiculous as football.
Harry was running so hard after Seamus that when Seamus skidded to a halt three feet in front of him, Harry ran smack bang into his back. Rubbing his chest, he straightened his glasses to see Justin and Terry standing in front of them. The ball was resting against Justin's foot, no longer bright white but grass-stained and dirt-streaked.
"Can we play?" asked Terry, sounding uncertain. Justin was looking hopeful, as if an answer in the affirmative would cure all evil in the world.
"As long as you're not as hopeless as Harry," Seamus said, and laughed as Harry shoved him, sending him stumbling forwards.
Terry and Justin abandoned their bags and the game became three aside instead of two. By the end of the game they were all laughing, Dean was still the best and Harry was still pants. No-one seemed to mind.
"So," McGonagall said, looking at Harry with a rare and tired smile. "Football?"
Harry grinned. "Yeah. Football."
Three a side turned into almost four a side when Demelza turned up and asked to play. She turned out to be shockingly good. The day after, Ginny asked to play but she turned out to be even worse than Harry. Her football career lasted twenty minutes before she gave in with a good grace and went to sit with Luna and the other spectators, cheering everyone else on.
The tower didn't seem so bad after that. Dean ordered in something called The Sun, and told them about the Muggle football leagues. They each picked a different team to follow, waiting eagerly for Friday to see the updated results. Harry picked Manchester City, and was amused to find that some of the players were more often in the paper because of their antics off the pitch than their good form. Ron had picked Manchester United just to be contrary, and was gutted when City thrashed them on their first head-to-head.
Dean cheered him up by showing him page three of the paper.
Hermione had rolled her eyes and then fixed Harry with a knowing look when she caught him doing exactly the same.
Within the week the weather had turned slightly cooler, but it didn't dampen their enthusiasm for the game. It felt cathartic to run around until they were sweaty and exhausted. The competiveness that tinted Quidditch was absent, which left room for more joking around and laughter. Even better was the fact it there was no magic involved. Harry appreciated the raw simplicity of the game, and how they could forget all about the mess left of the Wizarding World when they played.
They managed to coerce Neville into playing soon after. He was unsure at first, and Harry was pleased that there was finally someone who was as wrong-footed as he was. It didn't stop them both enjoying themselves.
The game turned five-aside with the appearance of Eleanor and the transfer of Padma from spectator to player. Dean's skill as a player had lessened dramatically the first time Padma had appeared on the field in shorts. Harry didn't care about the shorts; he cared about the fact even she was better than him.
Lessons grew louder once more. The teachers despaired and rejoiced in tandem, and McGonagall threatened to ban The Sun newspaper from the school if any more page threes appeared in class.
Dean tried to explain the offside rule, and only Padma understood what it was right away. Hermione found that vastly amusing, but wouldn't tell Ron why.
They all remembered what it felt like to laugh so hard you couldn't breathe. They remembered how it felt to not care about anything, even for a little while. Harry noticed that they were slowly finding the connections that they had lost at the end of the war in a game that they only played for fun.
"PASS IT ON, YOU MUPPET!" Harry shouted down the field, clapping to himself when Ron obliged and sent the ball neatly over to Justin, who immediately sent it on to Demelza.
Being in goal wasn't as bad as he'd anticipated. He had turned out to be pretty good at it. Better than he was at scoring goals. Since Seamus had suggested real goalposts – well, goalposts indicated by piles of discarded jumpers – the game had turned into something that actually resembled a game rather than random tomfoolery. It was still just as fun.
Being in goal had given Harry more time to watch the spectators as well, if he were so inclined. Once, he watched Hermione wave a sign that said 'go Ron' in big orange letters. He'd watched Ron blushing and trying not to grin just after that, too. He'd watched Parvati watching her twin with admiration and a hint of jealousy. He'd watched Ginny watch Dean, and hadn't been in the slightest bit bothered. He'd been watching Dean, too.
Not that he would admit it out loud.
He only really cared about a spectator that appeared at the end of September. Their workload was growing in momentum as the school started to get the hang of being a school once more. It didn't stop them playing, and it didn't stop the others coming to watch. It certainly didn't stop Draco from turning up, sitting halfway down the hill and watching with careful eyes.
He was taller than when Harry had last seen him. He seemed to constantly be getting taller; Harry imagined a twenty foot tall Draco, the top of his blond head brushing the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall. In was funny how Harry imagined twenty-foot-tall Draco to look as scared as he always did nowadays, rather than stamping on first years and gloating about being the tallest.
The next day Theo joined him, and the two of them sat apart from the others. Harry watched them as much as he could get away with. He let in four goals and Seamus threatened to use his head as the ball if he didn't stop staring at Draco. Everyone laughed and Ron and Hermione had exchanged a knowing glance. Harry had felt himself flush, knowing he'd finally been caught out.
"Rooney, why are you such an idiot?" Ron mourned, staring down at the back page of The Sun. It showed a picture of Rooney and the crude graphic of a hand holding a red card.
"Because he's ginger," Seamus cackled from down the table. Ron threw his toast at him.
"At least your team member hasn't been arrested for setting his own house on fire," Harry sighed, buttering his own toast.
"Doesn't matter if he's a lunatic off the pitch, he's good on the pitch," Ron said with a scowl down at the newspaper.
"Yeah, when he's not accidentally stamping on people."
"I don't get it," Ron sighed. "The professionals seem to be constantly fighting about it. We have fun playing football. I didn't think we would considering there's only one ball and no-one flies…"
"They're paid thousands of pounds a match," Dean said. "It's more serious than Qudditch."
"Hush your mouth," Ron pointed a finger at him. "I like football, but not that much."
"You guys noticed how it's less awkward in the tower since we started playing together?" Harry said.
Seamus, Dean and Ron all nodded.
"Except for the Slytherins," Seamus commented casually.
Ron snorted. "Lost cause, aren't they? Can't be saved by football or Qudditch."
Harry didn't agree, but he didn't say it out loud.
"Come on, kick off!" Dean shouted. "Seamus. SEAMUS! Where the fuck is he going?"
The bewildered question was directed at Harry, who was pulling his gloves on, ready to take up position between jumpers. The other players were watching him jog off of the field too. Padma sighed audibly and tossed her neatly braided plait across her shoulder. Dean watched her move, eyes wide and fixed on her chest, and Harry sighed internally.
"Oh, bloody hell."
Ron's exasperated voice was heard even at Harry's end of the pitch. Seamus had jogged past the usual spectators and headed towards Draco and Theo who were sitting some ten yards behind. Harry watched Seamus gesticulating with his hands, watched how Theo and Draco had their faces tilted up towards him.
Harry held his breath and then let it out in one big woosh as Theo and Draco stood up. They left their school bags on the floor and Draco took off his jumper.
"What a tosspot," Dean said, but he sounded amused. Harry didn't know if he was talking about Seamus or Draco or both.
The two Slytherins walked awkwardly onto the field. Draco looked too tall, his arms and legs too big for him. A brief conversation was held between Seamus and Ron, and Draco was sorted on Dean's team and Theo was sorted onto Seamus's team.
Harry expected the start of the match to be just as awkward as the tower had been at the start of the year. He was wrong. Seamus pelted away as if he was being chased by fiendfyre, with Terry and Eleanor tearing after him. The shouting started up as usual, requests for passes, orders to get into position, exclamations and curses. Harry felt the thrum of excitement in his chest as he did every game, watching the ball with careful eyes, edging side to side to get the best position to watch.
The first time Draco was passed the ball he tapped it lightly with his foot as if he was unsure what to do with it. He took a step forwards, the ball moving with him, and then another, and then another. Ron careered up to him, leg extended, and Harry cringed in anticipation of a nasty tackle-
Draco dodged it.
Harry saw the look of surprise on Draco's face, quickly changing into determination. He looked up and passed the ball neatly to Dean, and Harry also saw the look of pride on Draco's face as he watched the ball. He did an odd sort of hop-jump on the spot as if restarting himself and then tore off down the pitch, all inhibitions gone.
It only took fifteen minutes of play before Seamus halted the game. He had a brief word with Dean, and then Draco and Theo were swapped teams. Draco looked surprised but he agreed readily, and Harry didn't miss the look of delight on his face when he realised that he'd been swapped because it clearly wasn't fair to have him and Dean on the same team.
Harry couldn't quite believe it. Not only were most of the girls better than him at football, but so was Draco. The only consolation was the fact that Seamus and Ron – and everyone else, for that matter – had looked just as gobsmacked as he felt.
"Yes, we know," Hermione said patiently, not looking up from her book.
"Really good," Harry said, staring across the room at Draco.
"Yes, we know," Ron said, slightly less patiently. "He has magic feet, now drop it."
Harry carried on staring, expression mournful. "I don't know if I can."
Harry ended up being glad that he was stuck in goal because it meant that he could watch Draco. As the days passed Draco got better and better; he was shockingly quick on his feet and provided Dean an almost equal challenge. He seemed to have an instinctive knack for the game, manoeuvring the ball with skill and something that could almost be called finesse. He made no dirty tackles and played as clean a game as the rest of them.
It was an odd thing of beauty, watching Dean and Draco tangle around one another, fighting for the ball, faces torn between laughter and concentration. They were polar opposites in looks, and that was probably what made them so fascinating to watch.
The glances that Harry used to steal of Dean slowly grew fewer in number. He stopped hoping for glances of Dean's collarbones between the open buttons of his school shirt, and instead waited for glances of Draco's wrists every time he reached out to steady himself, fingers grasping at thin air.
Harry couldn't get enough of watching the way Draco moved.
Aside from that, Harry had never seen Draco commit to anything with as much enthusiasm or dedication. It was amusing to see that his turnabout in character was focussed on a Muggle sport which involved no magical skill or familial prowess whatsoever.
A week after Draco had first joined the game, Harry had found himself rushing out of the castle, nearly knocking some first years down the steps in his haste. He'd been forced into a detention disguised as a study session for the poor quality of his last charms essay, and had spent the entire time fuming as it cut into the time he could have spent watching Draco. And playing football, of course.
Not even bothering to mentally deny why he was running, he legged it down the slope towards the field, itching to join in and play. He wanted to burn off some energy, to run around with his mates and laugh and steal glances. The sun was out and whilst it wasn't warm enough for sunbathing it was definitely warm enough for playing ball.
By the time got down to the field the others were already playing. They'd swapped the teams around again but that wasn't what made Harry stumble to a halt, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.
Probably owing to the sunshine, they had defined the new teams by playing shirts and skins. The first thought Harry could make was that it was lucky all the girls were playing shirts, and the second was that it was even luckier that Draco was playing skins.
Harry wished he'd been there when it had been decided. He imagined Draco shrugging and pulling his shirt over his head, just wanting to get on and play. He imagined jokes being cracked and Draco half-smiling, running a hand self-consciously over the back of his neck.
He was all pale skin and sharp angles, spine visible as a long neat line down the middle of his back, twisting as he moved. Long pale arms that Harry could imagine wrapped around his neck instead of being thrown out for balance.
"Oi, Harry! Don't stand there with a stick up your arse, get here!" Ron hollered, and he was shirtless too, freckles dusting his shoulders. The sight didn't make Harry's stomach twist like it did when he looked at Draco. "Shirt off, you're on our team today!"
Harry obliged as if in a daze. He dropped his bag and automatically peeled his jumper off, before undoing the top two buttons of his school shirt and tugging it over his head. Heart thudding against his sternum, he ran in to join the game.
Draco twisted and turned, dodging past Eleanor with an impressively long side step. He looked up and didn't even hesitate before passing the ball to Harry.
Knowing he wouldn't get far with Parvati bearing down on him, Harry took one step and passed it straight back to Draco, who must have moved incredibly quickly to now be on the other side of Eleanor. He caught it mid-run and didn't even glance at Harry.
Harry slowed to a jog, feeling inexplicably disappointed.
Harry pulled his jumper over his head and emerged into the light to see Draco standing in front of him. He was biting his lip, nervous all over again.
"Good pass," Draco blurted out, and then looked as if he wanted to vanish, staring miserably down at his shoes.
"Thanks," Harry said. The disappointment from not being glanced at during the game faded as if it had never existed. "Though you did most of the work. You're good."
Draco looked up, face scared but also hopeful. "Yeah?" he said, and Harry nodded. Draco paused. "My father would hate me playing a Muggle game," he said with difficulty. "I like it."
"You like it because you're good at it," Harry said.
Draco shrugged and didn't deny it. "Yeah, well," he said, fiddling with the strap of his bag. "I like that we can all get on. Be, you know. Friends."
"Yeah?" Harry asked, shoving hands in his pockets to quell the urge to run his fingers over the back of Draco's wrists.
Draco nodded. "Never thought of friends as important before," he said, and then seemed to shrink back into himself, stepping back. "See you tomorrow," he said, and then he was gone, slightly awkward without a ball between his feet.
Harry watched him go.
Harry, Dean and Ron all cringed at the shout, Ron going as far as to put his hands over his ears. Seamus had been growing in volume every day and he'd just all but stopped conversation in the Great Hall with his fat mouth.
Draco stopped mid-step, startled and worried. He had been about to leave the Hall but at Seamus's enthusiastic beckoning he walked over, looking unsure. His eyes flicked to Harry and back again.
"Pick a team," Seamus said as he approached, thrusting a paper clipping in Draco's direction. "We each follow one."
"Why are you asking me?" Draco asked, defensive and unsure. They got along on the field but this was inside. They weren't sure on the rules of getting along inside yet.
"You play," Seamus said impatiently. "Don't make this into a big 'woe is me, we never got on before the war' story. I've got charms in five minutes."
Dean choked on a mouthful of laughter, and Ron covered his mouth with his hand. Harry watched, and to his surprise, Draco simply took the piece of paper. He stared at it for a long time.
"The only green kit is Norwich's away kit."
Draco turned to stare at Ron. So did Harry. Ron shrugged. "Thought he'd like to know."
Draco blinked then looked back at the list. "What do…Queen's Park Rangers wear?"
"Blue and white," Dean said promptly. "Stripes."
"Orange away kit," Ron chipped in.
"They'll do," Draco said, and passed the piece of paper back. His shirtsleeve rucked up as he did and Harry stared at his wrist, the bones visible just below the skin. When he looked up, Draco was looking at him but everyone else was moving away and he had to follow, leaving Draco standing in the hall and watching him go.
It wasn't another shirts and skins game that marked the end of Harry's sanity. It was a five-minute kick around before curfew that took his brain and promptly rendered it to mush.
It was raining.
Seeing Draco running after the ball, wet hair plastered to his forehead and white school shirt clinging to his thin frame was enough to short circuit Harry's brain and convince him that he was fucked.
He was well and truly lost when Draco jogged up to him, looking uncertain. "Playing?" he asked hesitantly.
Harry couldn't do much more than stare at him. He reached up to wipe the raindrops off his glasses.
"Do you ever think about how strange this is?" he asked, the words hanging there as the rain continued to fall.
Draco went back to looking scared. "Well, yeah," he said with a bit of a helpless shrug.
"I like you more now you're not so much of a brat," Harry said, unable to help himself.
Draco looked affronted, the closest to his old self he'd been in a long time "Excuse you?"
"You used to be-"
"Yeah, I used to be," Draco interrupted him, and there was the shadow of anger in his expression. "Why are you bringing it up now?"
"I just thought-"
"Save it," Draco said bitterly, wiping his hand with his face. "I guess I'm still the same old Malfoy to you. Merlin forbid that I'd actually learn from everything that happened."
He walked off without another word, and Harry didn't have it in him to explain that he wasn't trying to piss Draco off, but rather working up the courage to tell him he would quite like to kiss him.
"I'm impressed," McGonagall said. "I didn't think you'd find anything that would bring you all together again, least of all a Muggle sport."
Harry nodded despondently. Yeah, they'd been coming together alright, right up until the moment he'd cocked it all up just by saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.
"What have you done to Draco?" Ron demanded, jabbing Harry with a finger. "He won't play."
Harry pushed his hand away with a frown. "I didn't do anything. Why do you care about him, anyway?"
"Because he's good at football and he's not a massive arse anymore," Ron said, as if it were that simple.
Harry looked down at his feet, feeling ashamed and confused and lost. Maybe it really was that simple. It really did feel that simple when they were all outside playing…maybe if he stopped thinking about it all too much he'd find it actually was.
Harry heard the noise even before he rounded the wall that bordered the edge of the courtyard, the sound familiar. A few of the others were on the field, having a kick about before they went in for the night. Draco hadn't been with them, and Harry hadn't been able to stop himself from hunting him down on the Marauders Map.
The courtyard was warm, catching the last of the evening sun. It was empty save for the single figure who was kicking a ball hard against the wall at the far end, catching it with his feet and body as it returned, only to line up and kick it back again.
It reminded Harry of a childhood spent playing all by himself. Long summers alone, wishing that his shadow would come to life and play with him. His heart clenched at the memory and the sight of Draco, nearly grown-up yet still playing by himself.
The ball was bright white and new. Draco was still tall and lithe and Harry wanted to touch him so badly he ached.
Draco faltered at the sound of Harry's voice and missed the ball as it rebounded off of the wall again. It rolled along the courtyard to Harry's feet, and he stopped it by putting a foot gently on top of it.
Draco turned and scowled. "Give me my ball back."
"I wanted to talk to you," Harry said.
Draco's hands balled into fists. "Give it back," he said fiercely. "I only got it this morning."
"Why get your own?" Harry asked, his voice echoing slightly against the walls. "Why not play with us?"
"You didn't want me to play," Draco said, his voice bitter.
"I didn't say that," Harry said, and rolled the ball under his foot. "I just-"
"I apologised," Draco burst out, looking frustrated and miserable. "I know I was a dick. I wish every damn day that I'd been different but I can't, so I just want to get on with my life. I like playing football with you guys, I like being friends with you all. I'd give anything-"
He broke off, looking ashamed of how close he had already come to begging.
"I'm sorry," Harry said, and Draco froze in place as he never expected to hear it.
"Yeah?" he asked, and when Harry nodded he swallowed and looked down at his feet. "I am too."
Harry bent down to pick the ball up, spinning it in his hands. He stepped over to Draco and passed it to him, looking Draco in the eye as he did. "Come and play," he said. He knew he was looking at Draco in a way that he normally kept hidden, looking with interest and want. He couldn't be bothered to hide it, not when Draco was looking back in a way that was tentative and more than simply platonic.
"What are you doing?" Draco asked carefully, reaching out to take the ball and resting it on his hip, held in place with his forearm.
Harry shrugged and neither of them moved. Harry waited and waited and when Draco still didn't move, he took that as his go ahead and leant in to kiss him.
Draco must have been expecting it because he didn't recoil in shock or gasp or pull away looking scared. He simply tilted his head and let Harry kiss him.
Draco didn't push the kiss any further and neither did Harry. After a lingering moment he pulled back gently, cautiously. Draco opened his eyes, and they were bright.
"Is this okay?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Come and play?"
Draco nodded, and together they walked from the courtyard down towards the field. Harry debated reaching out to hold Draco's hand but he didn't.
"Seriously, Harry," Ron panted, leaning forwards with his hands braced on his knees. "It's a wonder that you save any goals when you're too busy staring at Draco's arse."
"No worse than Dean staring at Padma's tits," Harry retorted, all out of denials. He knew he'd been looking and it was a fair cop on Ron's part.
At least there weren't any questions evaluating Harry's sanity. Ron just laughed and turned away to shout something offensive at Seamus, running after the ball as if it were worth all the Galleons in Gringotts.
"Can I sit with you?"
Draco's question was rushed and awkward, just as he was. He stood by the sofa, twisting his fingers together and looking as if he and Harry had never had a civil conversation, let alone kissed.
"Sure," Harry said, and watched Draco glance around before hurriedly sitting down next to Harry, limbs stiff.
Harry knew why Draco was so uncomfortable. They could talk and laugh and shout all they liked out on the football field. They would even talk and occasionally even kiss fleetingly when they managed to find a minute to be alone together. But they still didn't talk – or even really acknowledge each other - in the tower. They gave each other space, time to be with their old 'friends'.
With that one awkward question, it had become clear that Draco wanted to change things. Harry had seen it coming if he were honest; knowing Draco's need to feel included and part of the gang, he had been surprised that Draco hadn't told everyone about them kissing the moment it had happened.
But no. It had seemed that Draco had at least grown up enough to realise Harry wouldn't have appreciated any gossiping about them, if there even was a 'them'. Instead, there he was, awkwardly asking Harry's permission to be seen with him inside the tower.
"Here," Harry offered, shifting the newspaper he'd been reading across a little so that Draco could see if he wanted. Draco glanced at him but didn't say a word. He edged slightly closer, his shoulder brushing Harry's.
The sofa in the tower had seemed huge before that moment. The minute Draco had sat down it had shrunk, making Harry hyper-aware of his presence and floundering over what to do with his limbs.
"Thank you," Draco said quietly, eyes on the paper. "How are QPR doing?"
Harry knew that Draco knew already, and was just finding an excuse to talk. "Okay," he said, pointing to the table printed on the inside of the back page. "They beat Bolton."
"Ha," Draco said, sounding more like his old self than he had in weeks. "Read it and weep, Terry."
Harry smiled. "Well, I'm beating everyone."
"No, Man City are beating everyone," Draco corrected. "You are awful."
"I've still got the record for quickest catch in Quidditch," Harry said, wanting to defend his honour at least a little. "And the most winning catches."
"Old news," Draco said, and it took a while for Harry to realise that Draco was teasing him. Underneath the shaky smile, Draco still looked worried. He looked scared that Harry would decide he wasn't worth the time of day.
"You're a git," Harry said softly, and he'd then noticed just how close together they'd drifted. The Sun was forgotten.
"Takes one to know one," Draco said bravely, and his eyes had flicked down to Harry's mouth. It had been as if they were the only two people in the tower; neither of them had even bothered to look around to see if they were being watched. All Harry cared about was just how close Draco was, their shoulders and knees brushing, their faces angled towards one another and their breathing shallow.
Eyes flickering between Draco's eyes and mouth, Harry leant in and in that moment their relationship went from outside only, to inside as well. Draco didn't just sit there and accept the kiss as he usually did; he exhaled shakily and reached up to put his hand on the back of Harry's head, opening his mouth under Harry's.
A tingle had run down the length of Harry's spine and his breath had hitched in his chest. His kissing experience had been somewhat limited, but Draco had shifted closer to him and then they were hesitantly touching tongues for the first time, taking the kiss further than they'd dared before.
Harry had never known anything like it. It felt daring and thrilling and a little bit naughty, what with the way their tongues flicked and thrust against each other. He wanted to pull Draco closer, he just wanted -
"Fucking hell. No dicks out in the common room, lads, you know the rule."
Harry pulled away from Draco to glare at Seamus who had been standing there looking very pleased with himself. Ron was looking at them with an odd sort of unwilling fascination and Dean was watching thoughtfully, spinning the football between his hands. Draco moved away from Harry, trying to surreptitiously wipe his mouth on the back of his hand.
"What?" Harry asked bluntly, annoyed at being interrupted.
"Is this," Ron asked accusatorily, pointing between the two of them, "going to interfere with football? If you fall out you're not allowed to storm off in a strop."
"Who says we're going to fall out?" Harry asked defensively, though the question had sounded a bit redundant even to his own ears.
Ron sent him a don't-be-thick look.
"Well, if they do fall out, we put them on different teams," Seamus said, clicking his fingers triumphantly, as if he'd discovered something incredible. "Then Draco'll thrash them, just to annoy Harry."
"Shotgun having Draco on my team then," Dean chipped in.
"No way, you two aren't allowed on the same team-"
"Just because you're to pussy to take us both on-"
"No, you just want Draco to do all the work whilst you eye up Padma-"
Harry turned exasperated eyes on Draco, who was watching the bickering match with a confused frown and a slightly open mouth. "Does everything revolve around football now?"
Draco shrugged. "Not everything," he said, and his eyes flicked down to Harry's mouth and back again, a small smile on his face.
Harry grinned. "Pick up where we left off after a kick-about?"
Draco grinned back, and suddenly he didn't look scared of anything. "You're on."
"No football in the corridors! Goodness!"
Harry grinned and Draco stooped to pick up the football, looking apologetic. McGonagall glared at them both.
"Should I be worried about the amount of time you two are spending together?" she asked, eyebrow raised. "Put Madam Pomfrey on standby, maybe?"
"I think we've grown out of that, Professor," Harry said innocently. "We're actually being very pleasant to each other nowadays." Draco went pink and looked at the floor.
The suspicious look didn't go away. "You two make me nervous," McGonagall said tartly. "I keep waiting for wands to be drawn."
"We bonded," Harry shrugged. "Draco's better at football than me so he finally got over his inadequacy complex."
Draco gaped at Harry, looking torn between affronted and embarrassed. "God, shut up."
"Honestly," McGonagall shook her head. "You two-"
They never found out what she thought of them as she broke off and swept away, still shaking her head. Harry didn't mind. Draco evidently didn't either, because the moment McGonagall was out of sight he reached out to take Harry's hand.
It was inside, and everyone could see. Harry didn't mind in the slightest.
"You're looking very smug," Harry said quizzically, squinting up at Draco. The weather had gone cold in the past week, though not cold enough to deter them from sitting outside. Jumpers had been transfigured into blankets to spread on the cold ground, and long-lasting warming charms were all the rage.
Mouth curved in an almost smile, Draco shrugged, looking out over the lake.
"Well, I've staked my claim on the Chosen One," he said. "Everyone's jealous of me."
Harry made an indignant noise in the back of his throat and reached up to swat at him. Draco laughed and pushed him back down. Disgruntled, Harry laid back down with his head returning to Draco's lap.
Draco had stopped looking so scared and was more like his old self again. Harry didn't mind; Draco was obnoxious enough to be amusing but not obnoxious enough to be annoying.
Most of the time.
"You're an arse."
"I'll kiss your arse later if you forgive me."
Harry laughed. He couldn't help it. He laughed even harder when a familiar football appeared from nowhere and hit Draco smack in the back of the head. He jerked forwards sharply with a startled cry, mouth hanging open in shock, lifting a hand to clutch at the back of his head.
He looked around wildly and then started shouting all the curse-words he could as he spotted who was responsible.
Seamus, Ron and Dean just laughed even harder. Harry did too. Draco pushed him off his lap and leapt to his feet, threatening to chuck the ball in the lake. Dean was too quick for him and took off with the ball between his feet. It didn't stop Draco from trying.
Harry leant back on his elbows and grinned, watching Draco steal the ball away from Dean and make an abrupt about turn to shake him off. He didn't glance away even as Ron flopped down by his side.
"I stand corrected," he said, nodding over towards Draco and Dean. "Football cures all. Even Slytherins."
Harry laughed like he'd wanted to do for years; loud and bright and without worry. He scrambled to his feet and called Ron a loser, running over to where Draco, Seamus and Dean were still scrapping over the ball, pushing and shoving and generally making a wonderful mess of things.
Draco and Dean simultaneously called him an idiot, Seamus started shrieking in feigned terror, warning all of the horror that was Harry's two left feet. Ron tried to push him over and Harry shoved him back, laughing so hard it hurt.
He was still rubbish at football, but he felt like a brilliantly normal eighteen year old.
At the end of the day, he didn't mind at all.