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The Light More Beautiful

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Pansy attempts to squint at her book without appearing to be squinting, which has the unfortunate effect of making her look like she’s got some sort of nervous tic. The sort that Draco’s afraid he’s developing from all the stress he’s under, the most recent source of which is the sheer bloody annoyance of being forced to work with her. It was Pansy’s misreading of the instructions that had led to Draco being forced to rebrew a potion for the first time in his six years at Hogwarts.

With the end of the year fast approaching, with Dumbledore still alive and the Vanishing Cabinet still broken, Draco hasn’t got time to waste rebrewing potions. His parents’ lives hang in the balance, and the scales will be tipped by his success or his failure. And right now he’s stuck here rebrewing a bloody Percipience Potion because Pansy fucked up in class, and Draco wasn’t paying close enough attention to stop her.

Irony, Draco decides, is something he only enjoys when it happens to other people.

And besides. She looks absolutely bloody ridiculous. It’s a small enough irritation, but Draco’s emotional state these days is such that he finds even the smallest annoyances nearly unbearable. With his nerves scraped raw, it doesn’t take much to push him over the edge.

“Honestly,” Draco huffs. “When are you going to admit you need glasses?”

“Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses, darling,” Pansy tells him without pausing in her squinting-not-squinting at the book. “You don’t honestly expect me to find a boyfriend if I look like Speccy over there, do you?”

Draco glances over to the next workstation where Potter’s busily mangling bat spleen while Granger grits her teeth and visibly tamps down the urge to wrest the knife from Potter’s inept fingers and finish it herself. Draco can’t quite blame her. The things Potter’s doing to that bat spleen ought to be illegal. Probably are, in some countries.

“Point taken,” he grumbles. Despite how obviously he’s botching it, Potter’s inexpert technique would earn him nothing but accolades had Slughorn stuck around long enough to see. But he’d fucked off just a few minutes into the remedial potions session, claiming he had papers to mark or some other such twaddle. Reassured Pansy and Draco that they could ask Potter and Granger if they had any questions about the assignment, and Draco had to put his wand away lest he hex someone. Carefully didn’t look at Potter because he didn’t think he could keep his temper if he saw anything like smugness on Potter’s face. Just kept his eyes down and seethed silently. Thirty minutes later, he’s still seething. Merlin, he hates Pansy right now. This whole thing is her fault. “If you hadn’t misread the instructions, we wouldn’t be here.”

“I told you,” Pansy sighs, leaving off her squinting-not-squinting long enough to roll her eyes ceilingward. “You dripped bat blood on the page and the ink smeared. You should be more careful when you’re brewing.”

Draco slaps his knife down on the table. “Are you trying to blame me?” he snaps. Potter remains focused on his work, but Draco’s outburst draws Granger’s attention. He aims a glare at her and lowers his voice. “This is not my fault. This is your fault.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, darling,” Pansy tells him without looking up. She subtly inches the book closer to her face.

Draco sneaks another glance at Potter, the way his dark brows draw together in concentration, how he’s caught his lower lip between his teeth, and Draco has to look away again. It’s taken Draco years to come to terms with the fact that he likes men, but he’ll never come to terms with the fact that one of those men is Potter. Finding Potter attractive is a complication, and Merlin knows Draco’s got enough of those in his life right now.

Not to mention, Draco hates Potter. It’s just that when Potter bites his lower lip like that, Draco also wants to kiss Potter. His hate doesn’t disappear, or even diminish. It just sort of… steps aside a little to make room for the wanting-to-kiss-him thing.

It’s all very confusing.

He gives Potter another glance, avoiding his face and focusing on his hand this time, the awkward too-tight way he’s gripping the knife, the bony wrist and bitten nails, starts to work his way up the arm of Potter’s shabby jumper but thinks better of it and averts his eyes before Pansy can catch him looking. If she saw, she’d want to know why. And Draco can’t answer that because he doesn’t even understand it himself. He hates how Potter looks, with his horrible hair and his stupid glasses and his ugly, ill-fitting clothes. He’s too skinny, all knobbly elbows and knees, gangly and ungainly. He shows too much of his teeth when he smiles and his eyes squinch up oddly when he laughs, and he does it far too often. Draco especially hates Potter’s laugh, hates the strange fluttery-hot-squirmy things it does to his stomach. Potter’s eyes are too bright and his brows are too dark and his teeth are crooked and his lips are always dry and a little chapped. Draco could write whole essays on the physical imperfections of one Harry Potter, but for some incomprehensible reason he also can’t stop thinking about him naked.

He wishes he didn’t know what Potter looks like naked, maybe then he wouldn’t fantasise about it quite so much, but Slytherin and Gryffindor have Quidditch practice back-to-back on Thursdays and he’d forgotten his gloves back in September. Potter had been standing at his locker, his back to the door, and dropped his towel just as Draco walked in, giving him an unimpeded look at his body: the thin limbs and jutting joints, the shadows of his ribs shifting as he breathed, and the slight knobs of his spine dotting a path from where his hair curled damp at the nape of his neck all the way down to the tight curve of his arse. Draco had turned right the fuck around and left, forgetting his gloves for a second time. He didn’t go back again.

Pansy nudges him then in a quick bump of elbows, and Draco realises abruptly that he’s nearly left it too long to add the flobberworm mucus. He takes the uncorked vial she holds out to him and tips it carefully into his cauldron, waiting anxiously while it hisses and bubbles for a few moments before settling back into a simmer. He exhales slowly, then reaches for the minced bat spleen and adds it slowly to his potion, sets the empty dish aside and reaches out a hand.

“Wand,” he says, giving his finger an impatient waggle.

Pansy slants him a look. “What, yours has stopped working?”

“Mine’s hawthorn. Yours is cedar. We’re brewing a Percipience Potion. Any first year would know yours’ll work better than mine for it. Now,” He clicks his fingers and gives them another waggle. “Wand.

Pansy rolls her eyes but hands it over. “Why Draco, you’re such a treasure to work with. I’ve got no idea why we’re not partners all the time because you’re a ray of sunshine in this dreary—”

“Fuck off,” he interrupts, dipping her wand into the cauldron and stirring in slow clockwise rotations. “I’m counting.”

Pansy snorts inelegantly, and Draco’s tempted to point out that not wearing glasses won’t help her one whit if she goes around making noises like an angry thestral. But—nine, ten, eleven—he really is counting.

When he finishes and sets Pansy’s wand aside, he reaches for the jar of powdered moonstone only to find her withholding it. Her lower lip sticks out in a determined pout and Draco knows what she’s going to say.

“Pansy…” he tries to head her off. They’ve got about twenty seconds to add the moonstone before their potion goes bad, and Pansy’s timing is shit.

“I used to enjoy working with you in potions,” she says. “I used to enjoy doing everything with you. But this year—”

“Pansy,” he says again in warning.

“—you’ve been so distant.” Her pout eases into concern. “You know you can tell me anything, don’t you? If something’s wrong, tell me and I’ll help you get through it. Anything you need, Draco.”

Draco’s heart gives a painful twist and for a moment he’s sorely tempted. He wants to tell her, wants to tell her everything because then maybe he won’t feel so alone, but he can’t. “If I don’t add the moonstone in the next ten seconds the potion will be ruined.” His voice sounds brittle to his own ears; he can hear the plea for her to please let this go as clearly as if he’d begged her aloud, so he grits his teeth and puts a little steel in it when he adds, “And if that’s the case, I’ll hex you senseless, I swear to Merlin I will. I’m not brewing this a third time.”

Sighing, she hands over the jar. Draco takes it, and if his fingers tremble as he measures out a spoonful, she’s kind enough to refrain from commenting. He stirs it in and watches as his potion lightens from a deep beige to a delicate eggshell white. Perfect.

“This isn’t right,” Potter says, leaning over his own cauldron. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be that colour.”

And that’s all the warning any of them get before his cauldron explodes.

Granger manages to turn away in time, and while her back and hair are spattered in the gunk, she appears mostly unharmed. Potter, however, got a faceful of the stuff and, judging by the way he’s coughing and spitting, hadn’t even managed to shut his mouth. The force of the explosion flung a few stray droplets all the way to Draco’s worktable, spattering his book, and he idly rubs them away before they smear the ink as he watches gleefully to see what might happen next. Misbrewed potions are the leading cause of accidental poisonings, and there’s any number of things that might’ve gone wrong with this one. Not that Draco wants Potter to die, of course, and there’s a bezoar in the storeroom if it looks like that might happen. But watching Potter be violently ill would be the highlight of Draco’s week.

Granger clucks over him like a mother hen, pushing him down into a chair as Potter scrubs at his face with his sleeve. The potion is thick, but it comes away easily.

“I told you the Prince’s instructions were—” Granger begins, then breaks off after taking a good look at Potter. “Harry?”

Potter just shakes his head.

He’s gone all flushed and breathless, and Draco can see from here how his pulse leaps at his throat. The odds of Potter sicking up seem to be growing better by the second, and Draco’s mood is improving right along with it.

“You could look a little sorry,” Pansy murmurs.

“Why?” Draco asks, barely remembering to add in three drops of essence of moondew and keep stirring. He keeps one eye on the cauldron and one eye on Potter, whose face is now more red than pink, and he’s all sweaty like he’s just played a rough match of Quidditch. “You don’t.”

Pansy shrugs. “Yes, but I’m not radiating joy and happiness like you are.”

Draco shrugs back.

Granger gives them both a glare before turning back to Potter. “Harry, what’s wrong? Do you need to go to the infirmary?”

“I think…” Potter begins, flicking an agonised glance at Draco. His face flushes further. “I think we’ve accidentally brewed a lust potion.” His gaze cuts briefly to Granger before he squeezes his eyes shut. “A really really strong one.”

It makes sense. The Percipience Potion shares many common ingredients with most basic lust potions; both of them have the effect of sharpening the senses and focusing the mind, though to very different ends. If Potter skipped a step or accidentally added the wrong ingredient then he might have tipped the potion from one category into the other. In that case, a mixture of asphodel and moondew would probably be Potter’s best bet. It’s hard to say for sure without knowing exactly how Potter fucked up, but he thinks there’s a decent chance of it neutralising at least a little of the effects Potter’s feeling now. He weighs his enjoyment of Potter’s misery against the chance to show off in front of know-it-all Granger.

“I really think you should get away from me,” Potter tells Granger. “Please, I don’t think I can…” He gulps a deep breath and adds helplessly, “It’s really strong.”

...and Draco decides he’d much rather watch. He’s hoping Potter will make a grab for Granger. Not that she’d let him get anywhere with it, she’s far too capable a witch for that, and anyhow even Draco’s not cruel enough to stand idly aside as Potter mauls her. But Potter would probably get just far enough to make a complete and utter fool of himself. It’s not quite the spectacle sicking up would be, but Draco will take it. Maybe Granger will even be forced to hex him. Draco smiles at the thought.

“Hermione, I’m serious. Go away.” Potter glances over at Pansy. “And take her with you.”

Pansy looks up at Draco, and he gives her a nod. “Go on.”

“Harry, I really don’t think I should leave you alone with—”

“He’s a bloke, he’ll be fine,” Potter cuts in.

“That’s not what I meant,” Granger says, glancing distrustfully at Draco

“Unlike you, my potion’s coming along perfectly. I haven’t got time to antagonise Potter,” Draco says. The last few steps are delicate and as much as he’d like, he doesn’t have time to bait Potter right now. It’s rather a shame.

“You see? I’ll be fine.” Potter rubs the back of his wrist over his forehead. “Everything’s fine. Just go.”

“If you’re sure. We’ll just go get Slughorn, he’s probably in his office—” Granger begins.

“Slughorn’s bloody useless,” Potter grinds out through clenched teeth. “Get Pomfrey.” The girls hesitate by the door, and Potter snaps at them, “Go now!”

They go. The door thumps shut behind them and for a long moment, the only sound in the potions lab is Potter’s harsh breathing. Draco picks up the decanter of purified water from his workstation and carefully pours half of it into his cauldron, takes up Pansy’s wand again and gives it a stir.

“Malfoy…” Potter says.

“I’m trying to work,” Draco says, levelling a scathing look at the front of Potter’s trousers. “I haven’t got time for you and your little problem.”

The hand Potter holds splayed protectively over his groin doesn’t quite disguise the way his erection tents the front of his trousers. And despite what Draco just said, from the glimpse he’d allowed himself Potter’s problem is certainly not little. He dearly wants to take another look, but forces himself to keep his eyes on his cauldron. He doesn’t need to give himself any more encouragement to fantasise about Potter.

“But you see…” Potter goes on.

“For the love of Merlin,” Draco mutters. He glances up to find that Potter has stood. There’s something about the way he’s holding himself, a tension through him that reminds Draco of a coiled snake, poised and ready to strike. The back of his neck prickles.

“You’ve made a mistake,” Potter says, fixing Draco with fever-bright eyes.

“Oh?” Draco asks. His mouth has gone dry and he forces himself to swallow. The way Potter’s staring at him is frankly unnerving. He backs up a step and his arse bumps into the table behind him, and he raises his wand. Not trying to get the asphodel and moondew into Potter when he still had Granger for backup is starting to feel more and more like a miscalculation. “And what’s that?”

Expelliarmus!” Potter shouts, and the wand rips itself from Draco’s fingers. Potter tosses it aside as he advances on Draco. “You see,” he continues, “I don’t just like girls.”

It takes a long moment for Potter’s words to make sense. When they do, and everything they imply clicks into place in Draco’s mind, he does the only sensible thing: he bolts.

But Potter’s quicker. A strong Colloportus seals the door a scant instant before Draco reaches it. He wastes a few precious seconds yanking at the handle before he remembers that the wand Potter had disarmed him of was Pansy’s and his own is still safely in his pocket. He reaches for it, but Potter reaches him first.

Strong hands clamp around Draco’s arms and Potter spins him around, slams him backward so hard that the back of Draco’s skull bounces off the door with enough force to make him see stars. And then Potter’s hot mouth crushes over his own. For a single stunned second, Draco lets himself be kissed. The revoltingly bitter taste of the misbrewed potion lingering on Potter’s tongue kicks him back to reality and he wrenches his head to the side. Potter growls and pushes closer to him, rubbing his face against Draco’s neck, thrusting his hard cock against Draco’s hip. His clothing is still soaked with the botched potion, and Draco can feel it seeping through his own clothing, cold and wet against his skin, can feel it smearing along his neck from where Potter’s hair is drenched with it. He tells himself that’s why he shivers as Potter makes a low and desperate sound and presses closer.

This is everything Draco wanted and not at all how he wanted it.

“No, Potter, stop,” he gets out, and Potter shifts his hips, his erection pressing firmly against Draco’s half-hard cock as he bites down on Draco’s neck. Draco gasps, his resolve weakening. Merlin, he shouldn’t be getting hard from this. Potter doesn’t really want it, will be furious when he comes back to himself and realises what he’s done. “You shouldn’t, you don’t really—ah!—want this, you don’t…”

Then Potter sucks at Draco’s neck and all rational thought flies right out of his head. Merlin, he’d never thought, he didn’t think, he had no idea—

And this time when Potter kisses him, Draco kisses him back. He knows he shouldn’t, knows Potter doesn’t want this, doesn’t want him, but Draco can’t help himself. Draco wants this, has wanted it for ages, spends more nights than he cares to admit to lying in his bed staring up at the dark canopy and trying to stop wanting Potter. This might be his one chance to have him. If he does this, maybe he can move on, let go, get over this ridiculous infatuation and go back to hating Potter in peace.

He rocks his hips up, meeting Potter’s rough thrusts, and Potter groans his enthusiastic approval of Draco’s sudden participation. Potter’s mouth is eager against his own, wet and hot and it’d be absolutely bloody perfect if only he didn’t taste like…

The potion. The reality of it, that Potter doesn’t really want him cuts through the hot blur of desire. Potter doesn’t want this, he’s only doing it because he’s under the influence of a misbrewed potion. Draco may be many things, but he can’t take advantage of Potter like this. There are so many lines he’s been forced to cross; this is one he’s got the ability to turn away from.

He shoves at Potter, his hands slipping on the congealing potion down the front of Potter’s clothing. Potter stumbles back a step, and the distance between them aches. Draco knows he should take out his wand, open the door, and leave. But he finds himself closing that distance and hauling Potter close again.

His arousal has become a living thing, expanding until it fills every inch of him, pressing against his skin, boiling through his blood and lungs and brain. Every nerve in his body feels pulled deliciously taut, thrumming with the force of his need. He needs Potter like he needs air, like he needs to breathe. Draco wonders if the faint traces of the potion he’d licked from Potter’s mouth were enough to affect him too, or if this is just how sex feels for everyone. He’d shared a few curiosity-inspired kisses with Pansy back when he was trying to figure out whether his attraction to men was something he could ignore in favour of making a respectable marriage and producing an heir to carry on his family name. At the time, the experiment had resulted in a resounding ‘maybe’ but after this, he knows he’ll never be able to settle for someone he’s not attracted to.

Like Potter’s not really attracted to him. The thought surfaces briefly, barely long enough to even register, before it’s swept back down. Draco slides his hands up the back of Potter’s jumper, the pilled wool giving way to a soft expanse of warm skin.

“Off,” Potter gasps. “Trousers off.”

Draco hikes up his robes and unfastens his trousers as Potter gets his pulled down, revealing his cock swelled thick and red and Draco aches with how much he wants that inside him. Potter’s hand curls around it and he gives himself a rough stroke. A shiny drop of pre-come beads at the tip.

“I need…” he says, soft and broken and desperate. His other hand twitches toward Draco in a small motion cut short. His fingers curl into a fist. “Can I?”

And Draco says, “Yes.” He drags Potter toward him, who opens his arms to pull him close. “Yes, yes.”

He turns around in the tight embrace of Potter’s arms, lets Potter bend him over the nearest worktable. Potter shoves Draco’s clothing out of the way, and Draco wriggles until the fabric of his robes no longer bunches uncomfortably beneath his stomach. Potter presses him down, one hand warm against the small of his back, and that’s when it clicks in Draco’s mind: Potter’s about to take him dry. For the first time, Draco feels a frissure of real fear sweep through him, sharp enough to pierce the thick haze of desire. He squirms away, one hand reaching for his wand.

“Wait,” he says. “Wait, you don’t want to do it like this.”

Potter pins his hips and presses close again, his cock sliding between Draco’s thighs, and even then Draco can’t help arching his back, rocking his hips so the tip of Potter’s cock drags over his arsehole. Potter leans down and bites the back of Draco’s neck, and Draco moans.

“Just think how much better it’ll be with lube,” Draco goes on, his words coming so fast they tumble over each other. “Think how good it’ll feel if I’m all wet for you, it’ll feel so good when you slide into me.” His cock throbs as he imagines it. “You want it, don’t you, you want me nice and slick for you. I’ll be so hot and tight when you push inside me, stretching me open. It’s going to feel so good if you slick me up first. I’ll be so, oh fuck, I’ll be—”

“I don’t…” Potter hesitates. He’s still thrusting gently between Draco’s thighs, probably not even aware of how his hips keep twitching, pushing closer to Draco. “God, Malfoy. I really need to, to do this.” He angles his hips up and slides his cock up the cleft of Draco’s arse, and Draco shivers as he pushes back into it. “I can’t…”

“The water,” Draco says urgently. He needs Potter to take care of this right the fuck now because Draco can feel his resolve faltering. Already the urgency is fading. He knows distantly, logically, that if Potter doesn’t do something to prep him, then this will hurt. But the rest of him doesn’t care. He needs Potter inside him. “Transfigure it. Come on, I know you’re not useless at Transfiguration.”

Potter pulls himself away, turns and hurries two tables up to Draco’s workstation. He’s only gone long enough to grab the decanter of water but for those long seconds, his absence is nearly unbearable. Draco feels cold without the hot press of his body, lonely without the weight of him. He whimpers, squeezing his eyes shut, and forces himself to remain still until Potter comes back. Potter sloshes water over his hand as he casts quickly, slicks up his cock and swipes lube over Draco’s arse, doesn’t bother to stretch him before he’s pushing inside and fucking Merlin it burns, but even that feels good. Draco’s panting and whimpering, hips twitching, desperate for friction against his aching cock. Potter’s hands smooth gentle down his sides, then dig in hard around his hips. He hauls Draco back against him to meet him halfway for each thrust as he sets up a pounding rhythm, and all Draco can do is cling to the table and let him.

And, Merlin help him, it’s fucking brilliant. The burn eases into a piercing ache that teases the line between pleasure and pain. His cock bounces every time Potter slams into him, the tip brushing against the edge of the worktable with just enough friction to be entirely maddening. Draco wants to take himself in hand and push himself to the edge. It wouldn’t take much, he thinks, he can feel himself hovering close, his climax only just beyond his grasp. And then Potter presses Draco down to the table and leans over him. The change in angle lets Potter’s cock hit something inside him that sends a jolt up his spine on every stroke, still that searing pleasure-pain as before but also somehow more, and seconds ago Draco would have sworn it couldn’t get any more intense but somehow it does and he doesn’t have to worry about wanking himself anymore because in just another four strokes he’s coming, cock entirely untouched.

Draco squeezes his eyes shut as Potter continues to fuck him. If he ignores the hard table beneath him, the sharp smell of potions ingredients, he can almost pretend this is real. He fucking hates that he does this, fixates on the gaping wound of what he cannot have and rubs salt into it with futile wishes that it were otherwise.

This year has been an endless lesson in the dangers of wishing. Everyone’s heard the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it,’ but he’d never understood it until recently. If you’re getting what you want, he’d always thought, how can that possibly be bad?

All his life, Draco had wanted to be important, had dreamed of it for years without understanding that a pawn can be as important as a queen, depending on its position. Important does not mean powerful, and pawns are always expendable.

Potter’s thrusts go shallow and quick, and Draco arches his back, pressing himself hard against Potter’s hips. Potter’s nails bite into the tender skin to the inside of Draco’s hipbones as he pulls Draco tight against him. Draco swears he can feel Potter’s cock throb inside him as he comes with a helpless little cry.

Then his fingers unclench and Potter collapses over Draco’s back, heavy and warm. Draco’s knees feel weak and he’s so tired, and it’s uncomfortable to stay bent over the worktable without sex to distract him. He eases back, and Potter’s cock slips out as they both sink to the floor. He keeps one arm curled loose around Draco’s waist, his forehead pressed to Draco’s shoulder. For a moment, the contact warms Draco until he realises that it’s because Potter can’t look him in the eye.

He shifts slightly, and Potter huddles closer, and Draco lets him. He knows he shouldn’t but the part of him that likes to probe and salt his deepest wounds reminds him that this, his arse tender and aching and Potter curled warm around him, is exactly what he wanted.

He should never have wished for it.

“I’ve never…” Potter says after the silence stretches on.

There’s another long moment of silence, and then Draco takes a deep breath and admits, “Me neither.”

“God, this is fucked up,” Potter says, even as he trails his fingers down the small of Draco’s back and slips two of them into Draco’s arse.

He whines even though Potter is shockingly gentle. His arse is too tender for this to be entirely pleasurable but the edge of pain to it isn’t enough to put him off, and he can feel himself getting hard again. He tilts his hips, lifting up on his knees to make it easier for Potter to press deeper. He whimpers as Potter pushes in up to his knuckles, and the slick sound of Potter’s fingers working in and out of him is deliciously obscene.

“I need you again,” Potter whispers like he’s ashamed.

Draco doesn’t answer, just pushes Potter back enough to kick his trousers off. Then he straddles Potter’s lap, gropes beneath himself for Potter’s hard cock, and holds it steady while he sinks down onto it. At the last moment he loses his nerve, can’t bring himself to look Potter in the eye, so he lets his head rest heavy against the warm curve where Potter’s neck and shoulder meet. Potter fumbles at his robes until he can push his hands beneath them and cup Draco’s arse, encouraging him to move.

He lets Potter guide him into a rhythm that starts out gentle and somehow stays that way, an unhurried rocking that Draco finds easy to lose himself in. Arousal is still curling through him, consuming him from the inside out, but it’s no longer the urgent, desperate thing it was before. It’s receded enough for Draco to think, to really feel. The fullness of Potter’s cock stretching him, fantastic and foreign at the same time. The strange surreality of having another person inside his body. Draco pushes his hands up the back of Potter’s jumper again to stroke along his spine, and Potter sighs at the touch.

The approach of Draco’s orgasm this time is less of a rush and more of a slow build, and he keeps his face tucked snug into the curve of Potter’s neck, where the intimacy of feeling Potter’s pulse hammer against his cheek is slightly less terrifying than what might or might not be in those green eyes.

He’s nearly there when the door opens. Startled, he looks up horrified to find McGonagall and Pansy standing in the doorway. Tries to pull away but Potter’s arms close around him and pull him close. Draco struggles free, gathers his robes around himself, and doesn’t look at either of them as he bolts. McGonagall calls after him, but he doesn’t slow down until he’s almost back to the Slytherin Dungeons. He can’t go in there looking like this, but doesn’t know what else to do.

He darts into a nearby alcove and tries to calm down. He aches everywhere, feels like he can’t breathe, can’t stop trembling. His stomach turns over and for a moment he’s afraid he might throw up. He’s too hot, the air stifling, but he can’t stop shaking.

He just had sex with Harry Potter.

Oh fuck, he just lost his virginity to Harry Potter.

And oh fuck Harry Potter just lost his to Draco.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there before Pansy catches up with him.

“Draco?” she asks, approaching him slowly. “Are you all right?”

He shakes his head, and she makes a small sound somewhere between comfort and concern.

“Did he… Did Potter force himself on you?” she asks.

“No, but I… You don’t understand. I wanted it, I wanted him to. And he wanted, but not really. He won’t when he realises he doesn’t. And I could have stopped him, I could have, but I didn’t…” He’s rambling, not making sense. Draco forces himself to stop and take a deep breath. He still feels uncomfortably warm, and tugs at his tie to loosen it. “I had my wand the whole time. I could have, I could’ve stopped him, I could have done… something.” Could have sealed the door again and had another go at Potter, he thinks. Another flare of arousal twists through him. Then he thinks of McGonagall’s shocked face and he feels sick all over again.

“You couldn’t have,” Pansy tells him gently. “The potion is absorbed through skin as well, as Granger learned the hard way on our way to the infirmary. You weren’t in your right mind. Darling, you didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t your fault.”

He curls in on himself, arms wrapped around his middle, and shakes his head. Because it is his fault. If he’d acted quicker, if he’d been strong enough to resist. If he hadn’t been such a stupid fucking idiot and had spoken up about trying to get Potter to take the asphodel and moondew.

“Come on,” Pansy says, taking him by the elbow. “Let’s get you sorted.”

She bustles him straight to the infirmary. Potter’s already there, sitting cross-legged on a bed with his face buried in his hands. Granger’s sitting next to him, her hand rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades. Jealousy and desire hit Draco at once, like a punch to the chest, knocks the breath out of him for a moment. He wants to shove Granger out of the way, press Potter back and—

Madam Pomfrey is at his side in an instant, blocking his view of Potter, and she pushes a cup into his hand and urges him to drink. Draco gulps down the bitter liquid, tastes asphodel, chokes a little, swallowing fast until the cup is empty. He feels the potion work through his body like a shiver. His skin tingles and his breath catches, and then it’s over.

It’s like he’s been wrapped in a warm haze and thought it normal until everything suddenly snaps back into place. He feels like he’s just downed a batch of properly-brewed Percipience Potion. He honestly hadn’t known he was so affected until now that it’s gone, leaving everything around him clear and bright. Including, to Draco’s dawning horror, what just happened down in the Dungeons. The smell of Potter’s skin, the feel of his hands on Draco’s body, the sweet burning stretch of Potter’s cock filling him over and over—

Draco remembers everything, and he wishes he didn’t.

- - - - -

The days that follow are difficult as more details soon come to light. It turns out that a mislabeled jar was to blame for the incident, and powdered unicorn horn looks remarkably like powdered moonstone. Slughorn was reprimanded for that. Unicorn horn can only be harvested from the body of a unicorn that died of natural causes and must be done within the first hour of death or it loses its potency, and thus it’s one of the most expensive potions ingredients. Draco hadn’t thought his opinion of Slughorn could get much worse, but the sheer scope of his disorganisation is unbelievable. The man ought to be sacked. Snape would never have allowed such a thing to happen.

Meanwhile, rumours abound over what happened in the potions classroom that evening. Draco’s on tenterhooks every time he hears someone gossiping, but to his continuing surprise and relief, no one seems to know anything more than there was an explosion that landed several students in the infirmary overnight. Upon his release, Draco does a bit of research, analysing the effects of the misbrewed Percipience Potion. He learns that because of the unicorn horn, it only works on virgins, and that its potency is drastically increased if the individual in question has any sort of romantic feelings. Potter got a faceful of the stuff, but Draco… He runs through his calculations twice more to be sure, then crumples the parchment and Incendios it to ash.

The weeks that follow are difficult as well, though in a different way. He and Potter avoid each other, though Draco’s caught Potter watching him in class or across the Great Hall. He looks tired, with dark circles beneath his eyes and his mouth perpetually pinched into a frown. Draco thinks he looks guilty, which is ridiculous. After studying the results of what Potter had accidentally brewed, there was no way either of them could have resisted it. Potter had swallowed some of it and Draco…

What happened was unfortunate, but it was no one’s fault. Last year, maybe even at the beginning of this year, Draco might’ve found Potter’s unwarranted guilt amusing. Probably would have taunted him about it, poked at the open wound of his shame for the pleasure of watching Potter flinch. But with everything else going on, Draco hasn’t got the time or attention for that.

He’s only spoken to Potter once since then, the morning after. Madam Pomfrey had cleared them both to return to class. Draco had taken his time dressing, hoping that Potter would be gone by the time he finished. Instead he’d found Potter waiting for him by the door.

“Malfoy,” Potter had begun, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. “We should…”

“No,” Draco had said. “We shouldn’t. Not ever.” He can’t bring himself to look directly at Potter, but he catches the movement of a nod from the corner of his eye.

“Yeah, okay,” Potter had agreed, sounding relieved. “That’d be best. Never happened, far as I’m concerned.”

And that had been that.

Draco finds that a small part of him is comforted by the fact that no matter what happens in the coming months, whether he succeeds or fails, at least he won’t die a virgin. A smaller part of him is curious whether Potter’s thinking the same thing.

- - - - -

Draco spends most evenings in the Room of Hidden Things, working hard to repair the Cabinet. He dreads what will happen if he fails. He also dreads what will happen if he succeeds, but is able to avoid thinking of that in any great detail.

He taps his wand against the Cabinet, concentrates hard and senses the frayed ends of magic he was working with knit themselves back together. He lets out the breath he was holding and steps back, slides a hand up the smooth side of the Cabinet, closes his eyes and and feels. The magic is there, humming complacently beneath his palm. He can’t find any rough patches, no loose or dangling ends. He can’t even feel the seam where he’d cut into the spellwork. Has he done it? Is this really it?

Draco’s hands shake as he whips the cloth covering from the cage at his feet. Opens the tiny wire door and takes out the bird. He holds it securely with both hands, the feathers downy-soft against his skin. He can feel its tiny heart hammering through its body. It’s a bit of a trick to get it into the cabinet and shut the door before it flies out, but Draco’s had practice. The door is open just enough to push it through, and he withdraws his hand quickly to close it the rest of the way. He hears the sharp-dry rustle of feathers against wood, and then silence.

The lock clicks as he turns the key, and he can feel the Cabinet’s magic shiver. Draco’s heart hammers against his ribs as he reaches for the lock and turns the key again.

He opens the door. The bird is gone.

There’s a long moment of numb shock, and then a wave of sheer relief hits Draco like a Bludger to the gut, elation swelling in him so fast and fierce that he feels his ribs might crack with the force of it. He’s done it, after long months and endless nights, he’s finally done it. Draco refuses to think of what will happen next, of what will come through the Cabinet and the havoc it will wreak. For now, he’s saved his parents. He’ll savour this victory because in the end, it is the only thing that matters.

He closes the door, turns the key, the lock’s tumblers turn over with a click, and again he feels the magic shiver through the Cabinet as the lock engages. He readies the cage and unlocks the door. He opens the door slowly, carefully, with a Stupefy ready and waiting on the tip of his tongue to catch the bird before it flies away.

But what he finds inside is not a bird. It’s a twisted pile of bloodsoaked feathers and snapped bone. Draco can handle all manner of unsavoury potions ingredients, even the most vile of them, without batting an eye. Yet sight of this dead thing has him in the verge of a nervous collapse. Blood feels different when it’s on your hands, it turns out. And if he’s this wretched over a fucking bird, what’s he going to be like when it’s Dumbledore?

Or if he fails in his task, what will he be like when it’s his parents?

The rest of it doesn’t bear thinking about.

The door of the Cabinet slams shut, and Draco’s halfway across the room without thinking. He has so much work to do tonight, reviewing his failure, working out what went wrong, but he can’t stand it. He’s too upset right now, and it’ll be better to face it with a clear head tomorrow. He’ll make better progress if he comes back fresh. It will be easier in the morning.

Draco clings to his platitudes as he slips down the hall, going right instead of left to avoid Crabbe and Goyle standing guard at the end of the corridor, circles roundabout down to the first floor and sneaks into the girls’ bathroom, catching the door before it thuds closed behind him. He can hear the soft murmur of Myrtle’s voice echoing up from the last cubicle. Something deep inside him unclenches and he sighs into it, letting his tension ebb away.

Over the last few weeks since that first accidental meeting with Myrtle when he’d ducked in here to avoid crossing Potter’s path, this has become a safe space for him. A lull amidst the storm that has become his life. Myrtle isn’t the most pleasant company he could wish for and she tends to cry rather more than he’d like, but she doesn’t care about his name or reputation, doesn’t demand anything of him beyond a bit of his time. His relationship with her is uncomplicated; she likes him simply because he comes to visit her sometimes, and he visits her because she’s entirely removed from the tinderbox of Draco’s current situation and sometimes he needs to forget about everything, even if it’s just for a few minutes of conversation with a girl who’s been dead for fifty years.

...whose action is no stronger than a flower...” she’s saying, her voice rhythmic and lilting, and Draco remains silent as her voice drops to an unintelligble murmur, then picks up again. “...against the wrackful siege of battering days, when…” The sole of Draco’s shoe scuffs the floor, and Myrtle trails off. “Draco, is that you?”

He forces a smile as she floats over the top of the row of cubicles, gliding back down to him. “That was very pretty.”

“Sonnet LXV, it’s one of my favourites.” Myrtle gives him a nod and her eyes go all dreamy in a way that reminds Draco uncomfortably of Luna Lovegood. “Jacob Wheeler,” she sighs, floating a few inches higher. “He was a boy in my year. Fancied himself a poet, always going round with books of poetry, Keats and Coleridge and Byron and Browning, the boy one not the girl one. But he always liked Shakespeare the best. I memorised Shakespeare’s sonnets for him, all 154 of them, so we’d have something to talk about if he ever—” She bites off her words, sinking back to the floor. “And then he asked that cow Olive Hornby to the Yule Ball instead of me.”

“That’s a lot of poems,” Draco says desperately, eager to steer Myrtle off the topic of Olive Hornby. Once she starts in on Olive Hornby, she usually doesn’t stop. “How long did it take you to memorise all of them?”

“Oh, not very long at all,” Myrtle says, and by the darkening of her face Draco can tell that this topic isn’t going to be any more pleasant. “I didn’t have any friends, you see. It’s a very efficient thing, not having friends. I’ve so much more free time.”

“You’ve got a friend now,” Draco cuts in before she has a chance to get worked up and start crying. He hates it when she cries. “You’ve got me, haven’t you?” For a moment he’s not sure how Myrtle will take that. Sometimes when he tries to say comforting things to her, Myrtle accuses him of being patronising and retreats to her toilet for a sulk.

But tonight it works. Myrtle beams at him, and Draco honestly has no idea how this has become his life. The high point of his day is chatting with dead girl whom the rest of the school avoids like the plague. He wishes, not for the first time, that he could confide in Pansy instead, but he can’t risk it.

Even with Myrtle he can’t risk speaking plainly about his assignment. Instead he’s forced to talk in circles around the topic, hinting at it here, alluding to it there. Not that he’s afraid she’d let it slip to someone by accident—even the other ghosts don’t seem to want anything to do with her so who would she tell?—but a secret is only truly secret if one person knows it. Draco’s father is fond of saying that two people can keep a secret so long as one of them is dead, but Draco’s still reluctant to tell Myrtle.

Maybe one day he’ll grow desperate enough to fully confide in her, but he’s not yet at that point.

Still, she can tell that something’s bothering him.

“It can’t be so bad as all that,” Myrtle sighs, pouting. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? That’s more than I’ve got.”

He can’t tell for certain whether she’s trying to comfort him or if this is more self-pity, so he settles for a neutral, “That’s true.”

“And as long as you’re alive, there’s a chance things will change,” she says, then brightens, simpering and batting her eyelashes. “And if you die, you’re always welcome to share my toilet.”

- - - - -

Late that night, tucked snug into his bed, Draco thinks about Myrtle’s words. He’s still alive, and so long as he’s alive that means there’s hope.

It’s a ridiculously Hufflepuff-ish sort of thought. Except, Draco thinks with a frown, there’s nothing Hufflepuff-ish at all about his situation. Hufflepuffs are all about loyalty and unity, sticking together no matter what. And Draco is all alone in this.

Gryffindor, then. No cunning here, just a strange and foolhardy sort of bravery that’s pitted him against the world. There’s death on one side and people who wouldn’t spit on him if he caught fire on the other, and only a narrow path between the two. He’s trapped no matter which way he turns, and the only way out is to continue forward into the heart of it. He wonders whether this is what Potter feels like all the time. He’s got his sidekicks, Weasley and Granger, but they can’t understand what it’s like, not really. The Dark Lord is a terror that cannot be imagined—Draco never had, especially not from the shining picture his father’s words had painted—and Potter has been the sole focus of his attention for years now. The Dark Lord’s side wants Potter dead, the other side expects him to be their Saviour, and what choice does he have but to keep moving forward?

Draco is edging dangerously close to empathy now. He frowns again and does his best to put Potter from his mind.

One nice thing about what happened in the potions classroom is that it seems to have called a ceasefire to the open hostility between himself and Potter. But then, Draco supposes even the darkest of clouds must have their silver linings.

- - - - -

It doesn’t last.

Three weeks later, Potter corners Draco in Myrtle’s bathroom and cuts him open from hip to throat.

- - - - -

Draco’s first thought upon waking is how disappointed he is that Potter hasn’t managed to off him properly. He thinks longingly of the deep sense of peace that came over him just before he blacked out. Everything would be so much easier with him dead.

But he’s not dead and it’s not easier. Draco’s second thought is panic-infused dread about how much his injury will set him back in his work on the Cabinet.

Not much, as it turns out. He’s out of the infirmary in just two days. Doesn’t even have a scar, though his ribs ache and according to Madam Pomfrey he should expect mild pain for up to a week as he finishes healing.

He tries to put the whole mess from his mind as he settles back into his routine as best he can. He avoids Potter for obvious reasons. He avoids Myrtle, who sulks because he didn’t die to keep her company for all eternity. He avoids Pansy, who wants to coo over him and offer him unwanted comfort him about his near-miss. He avoids Crabbe and Goyle, who want to talk at length about the horrible curses they’ll use on Potter if they ever catch him alone. He has nightmares every night of bleeding out on a bathroom floor, of the Dark Lord killing his parents for failing to complete his task, of himself murdering Dumbledore. He dreams of crushed birds and the black inside of the Cabinet swallowing him whole. He dreams of Hogwarts burning.

The only small consolation in all of this is that Potter’s guilt seems to have grown so massive that he can’t even stand to look at Draco, much less speak to him. He’d been somewhat afraid Potter would try for another conversation when Draco was released from the infirmary. But Potter’s nowhere to be seen, and this suits Draco perfectly well. He could gladly live the rest of his life without exchanging another word with Harry Potter.

- - - - -

That doesn’t last, either.

Less than a week later, Potter corners Draco in another bathroom. Not Myrtle’s, Draco hasn’t been able to bring himself to go back in there. Doesn’t think he ever will.

He’s just drying his hands when the door opens and he starts, thinks for one wild moment that this is another nightmare when he looks up to see Potter standing in the doorway, blood spreading across the tiles, cold water, Myrtle screaming—

“What do you want?” he demands, levelling his wand at Potter.

Potter holds his hands up, his wand held loosely between thumb and forefinger. “I’m not going to try anything. Here. Look.” With his movements slow and exaggerated, Potter tosses his wand aside. It hits the tiles with a clatter, echoes hollow as it rolls away.

“I could kill you,” Draco says. His heart is pounding and he wills his hands to not tremble.

“You could,” Potter agrees, hands still held up. “But you won’t. You could have killed me on the train at the beginning of the year, I was entirely helpless, but you didn’t. You’re cruel, and you’re spiteful, and you’re petty. But you’re not a killer, Malfoy.”

Draco’s fingers tighten around his wand. “You’re willing to bet your life on it?”

“Haven’t I just done that?” Potter points out, so fucking calm and reasonable that Draco wants to hex him for it.

He draws in a shaking breath. “You know nothing about me.”

“I know you’re trapped,” Potter says, low and calm like he’s talking to skittish animal. It makes Draco furious. “I know you’re being forced to do things you don’t want to do.”

“You don’t know anything—”

“I do,” Potter cuts in. “I went back, after. I talked to Myrtle. She told me everything. It wasn’t much, but I could piece together most of it from what little you’d told her.”

A hot rush of anger boils up in him. He only had one person and even she’s betrayed him. One person, Draco wants just one person in his fucking life to not let him down, and he hates her, and he hates his parents, and he hates Potter, Merlin how he hates him.

The sick feel of deja vu doesn’t hit him until it’s too late. He’s already slashing his wand at Potter and shouting, “Crucio!”

Potter flinches, and it takes them both a minute to work out that nothing’s happened. Draco’s stomach twists in a nauseating mix of frustration and relief. His wand hand drops limp to his side, and Potter risks a step closer.

“Intent,” he says with a wince. “You’ve got to mean it. I wish I’d known…”

A phantom pain lances across his chest and Draco feels sick with the memory of blood, cold water, screaming. And then the terrible sense of calm that came over him, the sweet relief that he didn’t have to try anymore. “What do you want?”

“To help you,” Potter says, and he looks so earnest about it that Draco wants to curse him. “Myrtle couldn’t tell me exactly what you’re planning to do, but it’s bad, isn’t it? And you shouldn’t have to… Look, I can help you. If you’ll let me, I want to help you.”

“Why are you doing this?” Draco asks. His voice echoes small in the tiled room.

“I owe you,” Potter tells him. “I nearly killed you, and… and what I did before that. So I’m giving you a way out.” Slowly, he reaches into his pocket and, even more slowly, withdraws a chipped teacup. He sets it on the edge of the nearest sink with a sharp click of porcelain on porcelain. “This is a Portkey. It’ll activate at midnight and will take you somewhere safe.”

Draco had no idea how badly he’d wanted a way out until Potter sat one right in front of him. But he can’t, he can’t just leave. His parents, his whole life. Everything.

“I don’t…” he begins, but falters. He tries again, “I can’t…”

“Malfoy,” Potter says, his voice terribly gentle. “Take it. Please.” And then he retrieves his wand from the floor and leaves the room.

It’s not until after the door has closed behind Potter that Draco realises Potter never actually apologised for nearly killing him.

- - - - -

Draco retires early that night, early enough that there’s no one around to comment on the oddity of him climbing into his bed fully-clothed and with his shoes still on. He draws the curtains around himself, sits his packed bag up near the headboard, sits the teacup down near the foot, and settles in to wait.

He honestly has no idea what he should do, whether he should take the escape Potter’s offered him. The teacup represents an unknown, and Draco’s never felt comfortable dealing with uncertainties. He needs facts and plans and the comforting rigidity of details. What Potter’s offered him is the equivalent of stepping blindfolded over a ledge and trusting that the ground will be there beneath his feet, that the drop won’t be enough to kill him. What’s here is familiar; what’s out there could be anything.

By eleven o’clock, Draco’s made up his mind. And now that he’s chosen a side, he needs to do everything in his power to ensure that his side wins.

He digs parchment, quill, and ink from his bag and begins to write. He writes all about the Vanishing Cabinet and the Dark Lord’s plan to invade the school. He writes all about his mission to kill Dumbledore and the ways he’s failed. He writes down everything he knows about the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters, their strategies, their suppliers, their spells, their spies. He names everyone he’s ever seen come to the Manor, everyone he suspects of hiding behind a silver mask. At half-past eleven he slips from his bed and sneaks out of the dorm. He doesn’t know how to get past that stupid stone gargoyle and into the Headmaster’s office, so he does the next best thing and breaks into McGonagall’s. He leaves the note on her desk and is safely back in his bed ten minutes before midnight.

With thirty seconds to go, Draco nearly loses his nerve. He takes a deep breath, holds it for a count of five, lets it out slow. He has to do this. He has to leave. If he stays here, his only options are to see his parents murdered, or to become a murderer himself. If he leaves, he can become anything.

Twenty seconds.

He loops the strap of his bag firmly over his shoulder. This is everything he’ll have to start his life over. He’s not stupid enough to trust that he’ll be safe wherever Potter’s arranged to have him sent. The Portkey is a way to get past the school’s wards, and from there Draco’s getting the fuck out of the country as fast as he can.

He doesn’t want to leave England, doesn’t want to leave his mother and his father and his friends and the only life he’s ever known. But that life is already gone, isn’t it? The Dark Lord has already destroyed everything Draco held dear. His parents are no longer the proud and influential people he’d grown up idolising, and Draco’s friends are terrifyingly eager to embrace the casual violence it takes to be a successful Death Eater. And even Hogwarts no longer feels safe. He can’t trust anyone. He’s pieced together enough of the story of Pettigrew and Potter’s parents to shatter his belief that there’s anyone he can ever trust completely.

He has no choice. Draco is every bit as trapped as he was before Potter gave him the teacup. The only difference is now he just might live past June.

Five seconds.

He wraps his hand around the chipped cup and counts down.

This isn’t the end, he reminds himself.

This is only a beginning.