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"I take it back," Ron squeaked from the backseat. "Muggle driving is not less terrifying than a flying car."

"Shut it, Ron," Hermione said. "Flying cars are certainly more terrifying."

Her phrasing wasn't lost on Harry. And her fingers trembled as she unbuckled her seatbelt.

"It needs new shocks," Harry explained. Though that had hardly been the reason he'd almost run up onto the pavement. Twice.

Harry patted the wheel of his birthday present to himself, a fog-coloured 1961 Morris Minor sedan. He'd figure it out eventually, he knew. Even though he'd not be able to touch it for almost an entire year after this week.

"Ready?" he asked his passengers, but Ron was already shoving Hermione's vacated seat up and disembarking so quickly you'd have thought his underwear was on fire. "Guess so," Harry sighed. He pocketed his keys, stepping onto the pavement right under the Leaky sign.

By the time he'd worked out how to pay the meter, Ron and Hermione were already inside. It seemed loud for a Thursday afternoon when Harry opened the door and stepped into the tavern.

He didn't have to wait long for the din to go nearly completely silent as all heads turned toward him.

There were wide eyes and whispers of "Harry Potter," and "…saved us," and other such proclamations. Harry tried to meander through the pub unobtrusively -- as if he could -- skirting between close tables and giving small nods to people he knew but mostly avoiding eye contact.

It wasn't long – he hadn't even made it to the bar – before cheers started rising up and it seemed everyone wanted to buy him a drink. Hands patted his back, reached for his hand to shake it… Even the gnarled old hag that was a fixture at the far end of the bar lifted her face and gave him a smile. It would have been frightening had he not learned she rehabilitated stray cats for a living and was considered the prevailing medi-witch of her age. Which had been a very, very long time ago.

"Thanks," Harry said, smiling around compressed lips. "Thanks very much. No, that's not necessary, thank you."

He gave Ron a wide-eyed 'help me' face, but the git just downed half a Butterbeer and then shot him a foamy grin. "Want one? They're on the house."

Hermione rolled her eyes and kicked Ron's barstool, but she'd got a tea to go, so she couldn't be too cross with him.

"I'd just like to get going if it's all the same to you," Harry said. Then, "Hey there, Tom. Good to see you."

Ron shrugged, wiped his mouth, and then they were off.

"So what does everyone need?" Harry asked as he tapped the correct brick and sent the wall between them and Diagon Alley to transforming.

Hermione whipped out her list with authority. "Let's see. Ron is due for a new cauldron. I'd like a new rune set. Harry, I have here that you're to get new robes. Maybe we could all meet back at Flourish and Blotts after? Ron, you're meeting your mum at Gringotts, don't forget."

"How could I? I'm Knutless until I do."

Harry couldn't help but snigger a bit at that, but then the wall had become an arch, and all of Diagon Alley waited for them beyond, and Harry thought it looked nearly as awe-inspiring as the very first time he'd seen it.

Some of the shops had yet to fully recover, of course, but many were well into extensive renovations. Ministry emergency funds meant they might actually improve and expand.

Harry stepped out into the street, soaking in the hustle and bustle all around, the smell of sweets rich in the air and the sound of dozens of eleven-year-olds gasping, laughing, and chattering filling his ears.

Predictably, when he stepped into the throng, people took notice. Harry ignored the hushed talk and went and stuck his nose to Quality Quidditch Supply's window just like the rest of them.

"Do you think we'll play this year?" Ron asked by his side.

"Dunno," Harry said. He felt like he'd been saying that a lot. About a lot of things. Ever since the end of the war.

"If we do, I want that one." Ron pointed to the brand new Shooting Star 'Vector'. "She's a beauty."

Hermione harrumphed. "Brooms are not shes, I hate to break it to you."

Ron began arguing with her good-naturedly.

"Well!" Harry interrupted Hermione's thesis statement on broom gender identification. "If I don't get a new robe, I'm going to be stuck in one that looks like a mini-skirt, so… Meet you to get our books in an hour?"

"Right," Ron said. "I'll just be here, licking the glass for a bit."

Hermione kissed Ron's cheek and dismissed herself to Wiseacres Wizarding Equipment.

Harry clapped Ron on the back and then made his way down the alley toward Madam Malkin's, shoving his hands into the pocket in the front of his Muggle hoodie and enjoying the stroll. Though it turned out to be quite a bit shorter than he'd remembered as a nascent Hogwarts student.

He'd remembered the handle on the door feeling huge and as though the door might be too heavy to open. But it was a normal handle on a normal door. Harry pulled it open, making the little bell overhead clatter as he walked into the shop.

Madam Malkin came toward him immediately. She was perhaps a couple inches shorter than before but still in her mauve robes, now complemented by a pair of thick-lensed glasses.

"Hogwarts, dear?" she asked in exactly the same way he remembered from when he was eleven years-old.

He smiled at her. "Er, yes, thanks."

She blinked behind the glasses. "My, but you do resemble Harry Potter now, don't you?"

"I am Harry Potter," Harry said, a bit taken aback.

"Oh, pshaw! Can't fool an old witch like me. He's gone and opened a new Ministry of Magic in America now, hasn't he?" She tsked at him and then led him by the elbow toward the back of the shop.

Harry followed, bemused but unwilling to correct her. It was, in fact, the first he'd heard of this particular venture of his, but it hadn't been the only rumour that had been floated about him over the summer. If he attempted to explain that he was Harry Potter and that, contrary to her sources' information, he was returning to Hogwarts to finish his education, she'd undoubtedly think he was pulling her leg. People liked to think he was doing suitably great things rather than just being an eighteen-year-old boy. But if she asked him again what his real name was, he really wasn't sure what he'd say. He certainly didn't fancy pretending to be Vernon Dudley again.

The question of what he might call himself left his mind completely when she pulled back the curtain of the back room and he entered.

And stopped.

Because there he was.

Harry's mouth went utterly dry.

"Well, come on, young man," Madam Malkin insisted.

Malfoy turned atop his footstool at the sound of her voice and saw Harry staring at him. For several tense moments, they simply blinked at one another.

"I'll pin it crooked if you keep peering around like that, Mr Malfoy," said the wizard fitting his robes.

Malfoy dropped his gaze and turned forward again with a soft, "Sorry."

Harry wasn't sure which was stranger: the fact that he was here at the same time as Harry, or the fact that he'd just said the word 'sorry' without any trace of a sneer.

Madam Malkin prodded Harry up onto the stool beside Malfoy's.

There was nothing for it, Harry thought.

"Hi," he said.

Malfoy's eyes flitted over to him briefly. "Potter." It lacked the vitriol Harry had found himself expecting.

Madam Malkin disappeared between two rows of robes. They closed behind her like the hedges inside the Triwizard Tournament maze. Harry swallowed and hoped she made it back out again. If only to give him something to do besides try not to give Malfoy a thorough once-over.

He was failing at that. Malfoy was being fitted for dress robes, Harry noticed. They were deep green and cinched at the waist, flaring out past his narrow hips so that they'd no doubt sweep the floor in an almost royal fashion. The split in the front of them showed off Malfoy's tight black trousers and fine boots. But when Harry's gaze returned to his face, nothing royal or fine was reflected there.

Malfoy looked… tired. His hair was shorter than usual, and it revealed the harsh line of his jaw, the dour slant to his mouth.

And his ears. His pale pointy ears which were inexplicably red at the tops and—

"Here we are," Madam Malkin said, bursting through the fabric with a glaringly scarlet robe.

"No," Harry said, shocked, before he could stop himself. The woman had braved a veritable forest of robes to fetch him that, but… Well, no.

"Oh, but why not?" she fairly wailed.

Harry glanced at Malfoy to see his lips twitch. Well, at least that hideous robe made someone happy.

"Er," Harry began, "I'm just shopping for plain robes, thanks."

"Oh no, dear," Madam Malkin said with a touch of misplaced alarm in her voice. Of course, her life was robes. Perhaps this warranted a level of alarm Harry himself could never fully appreciate.

He bit back his impatience. "No?"

"No, no. You're one of the eighth years, aren't you, young man?"

"Yes," Harry said warily. Although, he'd happily repeat sixth year if it meant not wearing that bloody thing in her hands.

"Well, I was given specific instructions to fit both regular robes and dress robes," she said.

Harry looked over at Malfoy. He was, indeed, being fitted for dress robes. Either they'd conjured an elaborate robe hoax to play on him before he'd entered or…

"All right." He cleared his throat. "But do you have anything in black?"

She compressed her lips and sighed hard through flared nostrils. "I suppose." She turned and disappeared back into the folds of fabric.

"Should have suffered the red, Potter," Malfoy said. "Now you're on her shit list."

"Language," the wizard pinning his robes admonished.

Malfoy didn't apologise this time. He said nothing at all, actually.

"I'd rather not look like Father Christmas, thanks." Harry shoved his hands into his sweatshirt again for lack of anything better to do with them.

At that, he caught Malfoy smirking. But only for a moment.

Then Madam Malkin had returned. "Oh this won't do." She frowned at him. "Take off that silly jumper at once!"

Malfoy's gaze slid to his own and then fluttered away.

Harry felt heat rise to his cheeks. He didn't know why he was blushing. He had a t-shirt on underneath. But it was a sort of ratty one with a hole in one armpit and another one near the hem. Hermione would have been dismayed had she known.

Still, he stripped off the hoodie, feeling a telling draft of air along his left side before he could get his arm down again. He chanced a peek Malfoy's direction, but Malfoy was staring straight ahead, a muscle in his jaw flexing.

"Here now, try this." Madam Malkin shoved the robes into his arms. "You're not as tall as I'd first thought," she added accusingly.

"Uh, thanks." Harry slipped the thing over his head, and sure enough, it fell past his feet and all the way over his hands. He felt eleven again. And he was increasingly certain Malfoy was right about that shit list.

The bell rang at the front.

"LaPorte," Madam Malkin addressed the wizard fitting Malfoy. "Would you hem this one once you're finished there?" Then she toddled off through the door, leaving Harry there swimming in his robes.

"I told you," Malfoy said.

Harry snuck another look at him. Malfoy stood with his chin held high, but something in his eyes was off. He didn't look cocky. He looked the opposite of cocky, whatever that was. When Malfoy swallowed, Harry's eyes followed the motion of his slender throat.

"All right then, Mr Malfoy," LaPorte said, standing. "I believe you're finished. Would you like to see?" He gestured to a mirror across the room.

But Malfoy was already stripping the thing off. "That won't be necessary," he said. He handed the robe back to the wizard to wrap up and then stepped down off the footstool. Now that he was out of the dress robes, any façade of arrogance vanished. His plain white dress shirt was unremarkable except for the tailored fit and the fact that… Well, Malfoy had never been bad looking. Not even when his behaviour was at its ugliest.

Harry, suddenly very conscious of his lack of hands and feet, cleared his throat and looked away.

"Thank you," Malfoy said to the man who'd fitted him, and Harry fiddled with his sleeves, shocked again by what had come out of Malfoy's mouth. But then Malfoy was speaking to him. "See you, Potter," he said in a very resigned sort of way. He started to walk out.

"Wait," Harry said, turning on his stool and nearly falling over the stupid robe.

Malfoy stopped and frowned at him.

Harry swallowed. "I have your wand," he blurted.

Malfoy's lips parted on a soft gasp. He regained his composure, working that same muscle in his jaw again. "What, with you?" he asked. Harry could tell he'd tried to sound scoffing, but there was real hope underneath.

"Er, no. At home. But… Well, I'll bring it to school. If you'd like."

Malfoy's face turned into a mask. He shrugged. "I'm buying a new one anyway. Do whatever you want with it."

"I want to give it back to you, Malfoy." God, he was like one of the seven bloody dwarves in this stupid robe; it made trying to have a serious conversation ridiculous. It was rather stunning, in fact, that Malfoy wasn't having a laugh at him right this moment.

"Whatever," Malfoy said. "It doesn't matter." Then he turned around and left. Moments later, Harry heard the bell over the door and then LaPorte cleared his throat.

"Are you really Harry Potter?" he whispered.

Harry swallowed, realized his hair was covering his scar for once, and said, "Dudley. Vernon Dudley." Then he spared one last look over his shoulder toward the front of the shop. But there was nothing but the silence Malfoy had left.

 

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The number of people Harry had turned down to take him to the train station was ridiculous.

There were, of course, the Weasleys. But ever since his break-up with Ginny, he'd been guiltily avoiding all of them but Ron. It wasn't as though they blamed or hated him. He just wasn't sure he wanted the awkwardness, and he definitely wasn't sure seeing Ginny on her own home turf would be anything but totally awful for everyone.

Not that he still hurt over it. It had been surprisingly unhurtful really. They'd been kids when they'd first snogged. A war had been starting. By the time it was finished, they were different people altogether.

It was one thing to date the Future Saviour of the World. It was another to fight side by side with someone else. To suffer with them.

Harry didn't begrudge Ginny for falling for Neville. He had turned out awfully fit, after all, and he was one of Harry's best friends. Merlin knew she could not have picked a lovelier person. It wasn't as though he was jealous.

Which had sort of been the problem on his end.

But yeah, with no Voldemort to worry about, Harry didn't need to be chaperoned on the way to King's Cross. So he'd turned down the Weasleys' invitation to have him come to the Burrow and leave from there. He'd also turned down a Ministry escort, Luna Lovegood's three owls, and numerous offers from Stan Shunpike to bring the Knight Bus around to Grimmauld Place.

Harry had a car now. He'd happily drive it there himself and then get around paying for long-term parking with a few handy Disillusionment charms.

Harry loved his car. In fact, if he could, he'd drive it all the way to Hogwarts. As he packed his trunk into the backseat, he once again lamented that he'd have to go without it for so many months. He turned toward the house with a sigh. He'd be leaving it all – this home he'd made for himself. This place where he was finally safe. Not even Hogwarts had given him that. Although it had given him far more precious things than safety.

Harry was walking around to the driver's side when he remembered the wand.

"Bollocks!" He ran back inside, up the stairs, and down the hall.

He walked over to the desk by the window in his room and opened the third drawer down on the left. He lifted the lid on the box and picked it up carefully: ten inches, Hawthorn, core of unicorn hair.

Harry held it up to the late morning light and ran his fingers up the shaft to the tip, feeling the dormant magic that still thrummed there. If asked, he'd be embarrassed to admit he'd taken Malfoy's wand out rather often over the last few months. He wasn't sure why he'd done such a thing, other than the fact that it was fine craftsmanship (which was a laugh of a reason). Maybe he did it to reassure himself that that part of his life had happened – that there had been a time when Draco Malfoy had risked his life in not naming him.

When Malfoy had given the most cursory and pathetic attempt to keep his wand out of Harry's hands. Almost as if he wanted Harry to have it.

As if he'd wanted Harry to win.

Harry placed the wand back in the box and tucked it under his arm as he jogged back down to his waiting car.

He opened his trunk in the backseat and pillowed the wand case between his pyjamas and socks, then he got in the car and started it. Looking up at the house's bleak façade, Harry put the car in gear and pulled slowly away.

 

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"Firs' years! All firs' years, this way!" Hagrid's voice boomed over the train platform. But it boomed no louder than when he'd seen Harry waving from amidst the throng. "HARRY!"

"How are you?" Harry asked, suffering a hug that hurt his ribs.

Hagrid hugged Hermione and Ron in turn. "I'm grand now I've seen you lot! Been busier than any summer before in my life, but… Well, I reckon yeh'll see why when yeh get to the castle. I'd better be goin'. Come by the cabin in a couple days after you've had a chance teh get yer bearings." He looked down at all of them with bleary, blinking eyes. "So good ter see yeh." Then he sniffed and called again, "Firs' years! All firs' years, follow me!"

Hagrid was right. When the carriages pulled within view of the castle, they all leaned forward to get a better view. It was no longer in a shambles – no longer resembling a huge pile of rubbish and broken rock – but it certainly wasn't in the condition Harry remembered so fondly from his childhood either.

Several of the towers and turrets looked half-built, opening up to the sky like great mountain crags rather than enclosing dormitories as they had before. The jagged rock scratched at the darkening sky. Harry was sure it would look almost threatening to the new first years who had never seen it any other way. Scorch marks still marred the stone, and only the light of the stars above cast a warmth about the upper-most reaches of the walls where formerly lit windows had felt like they summoned him closer.

"Where are we going to sleep?" Ron asked.

"Dunno," Harry answered for the umpteenth time.

Harry held his breath as they walked up the stone steps and into the entrance hall, but the door itself was unblemished, the entry floor sparkled, and the stairs leading up to the next few floors were as beautiful as ever. The art was back on the walls that still stood. Peeves flew overhead cackling, and Harry found himself actually grateful for the sound. He let his breath out, and when they walked into the Great Hall for the Sorting and the feast, Harry couldn't help smiling in relief.

Hermione nudged him. She was wearing a small smile of her own, and there were tears in her eyes. They shared no words as they made their way to the Gryffindor table, except…

"This way, dears," Madam Sprout said, giving them a big smile and a wink.

Harry looked at Ron and then Hermione, but then as they began to follow Professor Sprout away from their house table, he saw why. At a table near the front, parallel to the staff table, sat all of Harry's friends.

"Harry!" Seamus shouted, standing and waving madly.

Harry waved back, his smile widening.

There was Dean, too. And Neville. And several other Gryffindors from his year. And…

Padma Patil.

Anthony Goldstein.

And… Millicent Bulstrode of Slytherin.

And Blaise Zabini.

And…

There, near the end of the table. There, with his head down but still completely unmistakable.

Draco Malfoy.

And then it seemed all kinds of obvious. They were eighth years, no longer segregated by House. They were to eat together. Learn together. Maybe even – Harry gulped – sleep together?

Whatever the case, they were certainly to sit together.

"Blimey." Ron sounded rather dismayed.

"Come on," Harry said, budging up his resolve. "We've all got one thing in common."

"What's that?" Ron asked as they found two seats together and one across.

"We're all starving."

He took the open seat at the far end of the table next to Luna.

"Hey, Luna," he said. "No offence, but I thought this was the eighth year table." He gave her a big hug.

"Oh, it is. It's just that I don't really have any friends in Ravenclaw." She sounded predictably merry about this incredibly sad thing she'd just confessed. "I decided to sit here instead. It's wonderfully marvellous to see you, Harry."

"You, too, Luna."

When he pulled back, he couldn't help but cast a look all the way down the table and across to where Malfoy sat. To Harry's surprise, he wasn't ensconced with the other Slytherins so much as… adjacent to them. He'd sat himself beside Padma Patil and across from Hannah Abbot. He was speaking to no-one, but it wasn't long before he lifted his gaze and found Harry staring at him. Again.

Harry felt a strange smile quirk his lips almost involuntarily. Malfoy blinked. A slight frown creased his forehead. His lips parted as if he might speak, even though Harry wouldn't have had a chance of hearing him so far away unless he intended to Sonorus himself. He did nothing of the sort. He did nothing at all. He just blinked at Harry with his parted lips and red-tipped ears, then he dropped his gaze away.

When Professor McGonagall stood and walked around their table to bring out the stool and the Sorting Hat, Harry knew he should be paying better attention. This was the last time he'd ever see it happen. Everything that happened this year had the potential to be the very last of that thing in his life. Harry reckoned he should be watching the first years walk up to the hat with fear in their eyes while getting nostalgic tears in his own.

But all he could do was watch Malfoy.

Harry knew why he was here. He'd have to be a hermit not to know that returning to Hogwarts to complete his education was part of Malfoy's conditional release after the war. Harry had to wonder if that was the only reason he'd come back.

What would Malfoy be doing if he wasn't here at Hogwarts, gazing fixedly at a spot on the table? Would he be in France with his mother? Would he have gone into hiding? Would he be rallying forces to avenge his family name?

Would he be in Azkaban with his father?

Harry didn't know how much goodness there might be lurking in Draco Malfoy's heart, but the war had shown him evil, and Draco Malfoy was not evil. If he were, Harry would not be seeing what he saw in Malfoy's eyes just now as neither of them paid any attention to So-and-So Peterson, "Hufflepuff". He would not see the shame and dejection on his face. Malfoy would not look like he wanted to melt into his chair and disappear.

As he watched, Malfoy's eyes lifted to find Harry's once more. "Ravenclaw!" the hat shouted over-top of Melinda Richardson's head, and Harry found himself nodding down the table at Malfoy while the rest of his friends clapped, and Ravenclaw cheered its newest arrival.

To Harry's surprise, Malfoy nodded back.

 

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After the feast, Professor McGonagall rose and gave a short speech about solidarity and cooperation and living up to Professor Dumbledore's dearest wishes for the school and its students. Harry believed in every word she said, and he listened attentively and nodded.

"And now," McGonagall said, "all Prefects, please refer to the instructions sent to you over the summer and lead your fellow students to their dormitories, please."

Harry looked around. He knew Ginny had been made a Prefect, but she hadn't told him anything about this year's rooming situation. Not that she'd have reason to after they'd split up.

Watching the other students file out of the Great Hall, Harry realised he didn't know much of anything anymore. It was a bit like being a first year all over again. But with an itchy five o'clock shadow.

"All eighth year students, please follow me into the chamber next door, please," McGonagall said in a softer voice.

When they arrived in the room – the very same one in which Harry had been received so scandalously as the second Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament – there was a fire going in the hearth, and it felt much cosier and safer than Harry remembered. Then again, it would, since he wasn't now being asked to combat a dragon, rescue his friends from the bottom of the lake, or navigate a maze full of perils. He wasn't being asked to do anything except be a student. It seemed a little backwards, of course, to become, first, a powerful wizard and then to finish his education, but it was really no different for any of the rest of them, and he supposed that was why the professor had summoned them all here together.

As the last student came into the room, McGonagall flicked her finger and shut the door, enclosing them all inside.

"Well," she said, turning a warm smile on the group. "It is so very good to see all of you back."

Harry could tell she was fighting her emotions, and the fact that his tough-as-nails Headmistress was close to tears threatened his own hold on himself.

"The fact that there is still a school at all is due to all of your extraordinary efforts," she said.

Harry slanted a glance at Malfoy and saw him drop his gaze to the floor. The other Slytherins looked a bit sheepish at that as well.

"Whether you fought against You-Know— Voldemort... or returned this past summer to help us begin rebuilding, you've each made a significant contribution and difference to this institution, and I thank you all."

Bulstrode and Zabini seemed to stand a bit taller, and Harry had to wonder what had gone on here at the school that perhaps the papers had not reported.

"I suppose you are wondering now about a fair number of things," McGonagall went on. "For instance why you were instructed to bring dress robes again this year. I assure you a wonderful surprise is in order, and your formal wear will be put to good use." She smiled, and Harry could tell immediately that he was not going to like this particular surprise.

"When not in class, you may roam about as you like as long as you are back inside the castle and in your dormitory by eleven o'clock."

At this, a collective gasp went up around the room.

"You mean," said Seamus boldly, "after dinner, we could, say, go into Hogsmeade for a Fi—" Dean elbowed him hard, "Er, Butterbeer, so long as we're back by curfew?"

"That is correct, Mr Finnigan. Although you should be fairly warned that any inebriated students on school grounds will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Does that answer your question?"

Seamus deflated somewhat. "Yes, ma'am."

But Harry was erupting with excitement on the inside. Gone were the days of permission slips not got and sneaking about in his Invisibility Cloak with Ron stepping on his feet. They could go out on their own. Just walk straight out through the front door, past Filch, and there wasn't anything anyone could do to stop them.

Harry cast a furtive smile at his friends but then found his gaze flitting over to Malfoy once more. But Malfoy was staring at an old vase on a side table, hands thrust into his trouser pockets, almost as though he wasn't paying attention at all.

Harry wiped the smile from his face, cleared his throat, and went back to listening intently.

"And finally, your dormitories," McGonagall was saying. "As I'm sure you've already ascertained, you will be eating together, regardless of House affiliation. Therefore, you will also share dormitories. I have here," she said, pulling her wand and illuminating a chart on the wall which previously had not been there, "your rooming assignments, but please don't crowd, don't crowd! Oh—" She might have thrown up her hands. Harry couldn't be sure, as he was one of those crowding around the chart.

"Yes!" exclaimed Hannah Abbott, turning to hug another Hufflepuff girl behind her. Together they began jumping up and down.

"You're joking," Bulstrode groaned. She gave Hermione a withering glance and sulked away.

Harry and Ron elbowed each other fiercely, each vying for the next spot in front of the chart. Zabini made it in ahead of them. "Draco!" he called, and Harry's ears perked up. It gave Ron the edge he apparently needed as he shoved forcefully past Harry and stuck his face up close to the wall. But Harry was still listening to Zabini. "It's you, me, Longbottom, and Weasley." The last name was spat, of course.

Harry felt the dual disappointment hit him soundly in the gut.

Ron and he weren't rooming together.

Malfoy and he weren't either.

Which wasn't exactly a disappointment. Wasn't a disappointment at all. He'd just thought maybe it might be interesting. To see Malfoy clean his teeth. To see him in pyjamas. That sort of thing.

But by far the greater grief was being separated from Ron.

From the thunderstruck look on his friend's face, being separated from Harry came in a distant second to the pain of rooming with both Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy. Poor Neville, though a much needed ally, couldn't exactly make up for it either.

"Shit," Ron whispered. "Harry, what am I going to do? They'll kill me in my sleep and cut me up and use my internal organs for dark experiments."

"For Merlin's sake, Ron, no they won't."

"Easy for you to say; you're with Dean, Seamus, and some Hufflepuff I've never met. Never heard of a Hufflepuff cutting anybody up and using their parts for experiments, have you?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer that he and Neville would have each other's backs and could maybe sleep in shifts or something, but McGonagall cleared her throat as loud as a Chinese Fireball with the flu and thus wrangled their attentions again. She then informed them where they'd be sleeping.

"D'you mean Fluffy's old hallway?" Ron blurted.

"Yes, Mr Weasley. But I think you'll find it's been properly converted so that you'll enjoy all of the comforts to which you've become accustomed at this school and probably then some." She smiled at them. "And with that, you're free to go visit your new dormitories and common room and to… reacquaint yourselves," she said.

There was a lot of shuffling and grumbling and excited talk as they all filed out and back through the Great Hall to the entry.

"Where do you think the others are?" Ron asked as they ascended the stairs.

"They've used wizarding space in Ravenclaw tower," Luna said, appearing out of nowhere.

"Neither Slytherin nor Hufflepuff were damaged as much in the battle," Hermione added.

"So we might have the third floor to ourselves at night?" Dean chimed in.

"Brilliant." Seamus beamed.

Harry was about to wholeheartedly agree when Hermione's sigh of exasperation stopped him. "Honestly," she said. "If I'd wanted to go to a party school, I would have enrolled at Beauxbatons."

They reached the third floor landing and ventured into the hall together. Gone were the dark shadows and forbidding corners. Bright sconces lit the way to the door at the end, and happy paintings all voiced their hellos as they walked by. Still, as they neared the fated door, Harry heard Ron gulp beside him.

"Harry," said a Ravenclaw girl from up ahead, "is this where you, ah, where you all had to… get past the… thing… to get to the Stone?"

"Yeah. But I'm sure Hagrid's come through with a pooper scooper by now." Harry tried for a joking tone, but her fraught face told him he'd failed.

"Well," Blaise said. "Who wants to open it?"

Harry opened his mouth to say that he would, but Dean came forward first. "I will. If that's all right with everyone?"

There were nods and murmurs of assent around the group.

Several of the others stepped back as his hand wrapped around the knob. McGonagall had given them the password which, unlike the other common rooms, worked with the lock itself rather than through a painting. "Flesh-eating slug," Dean said loudly.

Ron made a sick face. "Merlin, why?"

The lock clicked open, and Dean swung the door in. They wandered into a room that in no way resembled Fluffy's former abode.

Harry was struck first by the fact that it wasn't a hallway at all but had been expanded into a nice-sized common room, laid out similarly to the old Gryffindor one with a large fireplace at one end, already lit, and lots of comfortable chairs, sofas, tables, and bookshelves.

But maybe the most striking thing about the room was the colour: it was purple. Harry supposed it made sense. It conformed to no House and therefore claimed no loyalties. But it was a tad on the nauseating side – unless you were, apparently, Luna Lovegood, who twirled around, exclaiming, "It's like the night sky over Stonehenge during Chizpurfle mating season."

"Great," Millicent sighed dryly.

Someone had – and Harry had to wonder who – littered the room with House-coloured throw pillows, though. Dean sank into an armchair with a scarlet and gold one and sighed happily, sticking his feet up on the table in front of him.

"Make yourself comfortable, Thomas," Blaise sneered.

"Sod off, Zabini. This is my common room."

"Yeah, well, I don't fancy putting anything of mine where your mud-caked, secondhand boots—"

"Doesn't anybody want to see the dormitories?" Goldstein asked, and there was a murmuring of agreement from everyone.

Two archways flanked either side of the room. Over one was the word 'Women', over the other, 'Men'.

"Women," Hannah whispered.

"Men." Neville gulped. "Who else feels like we skipped a step?"

Harry gave him a grin as they made their way toward the arch, but his gaze slid past and landed on Malfoy, who was looking just as disturbed as Neville.

They entered the hallway past the arch to find three dormitory doors with their names tacked up on parchment.

Goldstein stopped at the first door with his roommates and gave the rest of them a little wave.

Ron's room was next. "Did you see the chess set in the common room, Harry? Want to play later? Soon?"

"Sure." Harry watched him disappear with Neville, followed by Zabini, and last, Malfoy.

Malfoy looked up at the last moment and caught Harry's eye. It looked like he was about to say something, but then he just dropped his gaze and stepped through the doorway.

Harry, Seamus, Dean, and Ned-the-Hufflepuff took the last room.

"Big," Seamus said, finding his bed with his trunk already at the foot and jumping into it.

Harry's bed was against the wall closest to Ron's room with a little window next to it, overlooking the Forbidden Forest beyond. The sun had set, leaving a tangerine glow over the trees, quickly bruising red and purple.

A pillow slammed into his head, and any and all solemnity came to a halt.

Harry smiled, grabbed his own pillow, said, "Dean, you're going down," and joined the fray.

 

no title

The common room that evening was a typical hubbub of activity, made no less inviting by the fact that they were no longer split by house. Not that they were all friends now, of course. The Slytherins scoped out a corner of their own with just a couple added Ravenclaws for flair (including Luna Lovegood, who hadn't seemed to have got the memo that Millicent Bulstrode disliked her -- or that she wasn't an eighth year). But everyone else blended throughout the room, organising their books for the next day, playing games, talking and laughing, and generally just hanging around.

Harry and Ron played three games of wizard's chess while Hermione colour-coded her parchments by class.

"That's brilliant," said Padma next to her.

Hermione blushed and smiled. "Thank you!"

Harry supposed rooming with two Ravenclaws would be especially good for Hermione; she'd finally get the accolades she deserved for being as persnickety as she was.

Ron's huge yawn brought his attention back to the game.

"Need to turn in, mate?" Harry asked. It was after midnight, and the crowd had begun to thin.

But Ron shook his head. "Why do you say that? No, I'm good for another game. Maybe two," he added.

"You're so full of shit. You just don't want to be murdered in your sleep."

"Keep it down," Ron whispered. "They'll hear you."

"And get ideas?" Harry grinned. He looked back over his shoulder at the Slytherin area. It was only Malfoy and Bulstrode now, and Millicent appeared to be falling asleep with a book on her chest.

Malfoy, however, was studiously reading – Harry squinted -- Spellwork for the Pre-Professional Witch and Wizard. He seemed engrossed, a slight frown settling on his brow.

Maybe Ron had a point.

But just then Malfoy looked up and caught Harry squinting in his direction. Harry blinked, trying to look like he hadn't been staring. Malfoy resituated in his chair, turning away slightly, and then went back to his book.

Harry turned back to Ron. "He's harmless." At Ron's stare, Harry amended, "Okay, he's not harmless, but he's…"

"He's what?"

"He's…" Harry looked at his friend. "He's Malfoy."

"You're immensely helpful, Harry," Ron grumbled. "Fine, I'm going to bed. See you in the afterlife."

"Goodnight," Harry said, beginning to put away the remaining pieces. He carefully averted his eyes when Ron walked over to where Hermione sat and kissed her briefly before departing through the arch. But Harry wasn't exactly paying attention to what he was doing either, because one of Ron's knights bit him on the finger, and Harry dropped it to the floor. "Ow!" He stuck his finger in his mouth and went to pick up the bloody thing when he came face to shin with…

Harry looked up. Malfoy was standing there frowning at him.

"Hey," Harry said.

"Can I speak to you for a minute?" Malfoy asked, his tone clipped.

"Isn't that what you're already doing?" Harry leaned forward, ignoring how close Malfoy was standing, and gingerly picked up the knight by its base, letting it dangle from his fingers, swinging its mane ineffectually.

He sat back up again and tossed the piece into the box, shutting the lid resoundingly.

Malfoy looked around the room as if he didn't want to be overheard. Was he about to… tell Harry a secret?

It felt weird to be looking up at him, and Harry would have stood to put them on an even footing except that Malfoy was standing too close.

Malfoy huffed. "I-- You said you might... bring me my wand?"

"Oh." Harry blinked, his whole face losing tension while Malfoy's seemed to take it on. "Yeah, I did! It's in my room, if you want to…"

Malfoy took his cue and stepped back. Harry stood and edged past, leading Malfoy toward the archway.

"Goodnight, Harry!" called Hermione, yawning and packing it in herself.

"Night, Hermione." Harry smiled. Though with Malfoy following him, it felt… odd.

They walked through the arch and down the hall until they'd reached the last door. Harry opened it. "It's just in my trunk. Do you want to come in?"

Malfoy frowned and peered past him. "I'll wait here."

"Suit yourself." Harry left the door ajar as he walked over to his bed and opened his trunk, rummaging through it hastily.

When he turned with the case, it was to find Malfoy leaned just almost into the doorway, watching him. He jumped back when Harry saw him.

"What are you up to, Harry?" Dean called from his bed where he was doing some drawing.

"Nothing. Be right back."

Harry joined Malfoy in the hall, but before he could shut the door, his new companion animal scampered out and began sniffing all around Malfoy's ankles.

"Bugger," Harry huffed. "Gordon, inside."

Malfoy stepped back hastily as Gordon did not obey. "Is that—? You have a ferret?"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Gordon, don't." He attempted to grab the little beast away, but Gordon skittered out of reach, making little chirps of interest at Malfoy's expensive shoes.

"Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?" Malfoy snarled.

"You'd think," Harry sighed. "But no. Gordon, go back in the room." Harry snapped his fingers and pointed.

Gordon sniffed at Malfoy one last time but then scampered away under Harry's bed. Harry finally closed the door to the room.

He thought about explaining Gordon. That, no, he hadn't procured a ferret solely to torture Malfoy but that the thing had accosted him when he'd gone to see about getting a Kneazle. That, even though Harry had not purchased the offending ferret and had left the Magical Menagerie animal-less, Gordon – who had then been unnamed – snuck into the car and stowed away under Harry's passenger seat, scaring the bloody hell out of him when they arrived back at Grimmauld.

It was invite him in or drive all the way back.

The creature had turned sad crup-like eyes on him and wrung his little ferret hands. And that had been that.

But Malfoy was looking at the wand box, and Harry felt it was probably best just to drop the whole ferret thing after all.

"I, uh, bought a case for it," Harry said, thrusting it out. "You can keep it if you like."

Malfoy swallowed. He took the case in his hands and ran his fingers gently over the top. Harry could tell he was dying to open it.

"Go ahead. It's there. Not broken or anything. Still works."

Malfoy frowned, their gazes meeting. "You kept using it?"

"Oh. No. I just held—" He stopped abruptly. Dear Merlin, had he been about to tell Malfoy that he'd held his wand for bloody fuck's sake? And yet the word just sat there, and with every second that Harry didn't think of a cover, it became more and more obvious what he'd intended to say. "—onto it for you." He cleared his throat. "I cleaned it."

Malfoy nodded slowly, as if he was willing to accept that answer. Then he opened the case, and Harry watched his eyes light up. It was only for a moment – only long enough for him to touch his fingers to it for a few seconds. Then Malfoy closed the case once more.

He nodded to Harry, frowning again, business-like. "Thanks."

Harry scratched at a place on his neck. "You're welcome. Thanks for letting me borrow it."

Malfoy's gaze shot to his, and for a moment they just stared at one another. Harry gave him a little shrug. Malfoy, to Harry's shock, gave a tiny, rueful laugh and a quirk of his thin lips. He ran his fingers over the case once more. He turned and took the five steps down the hall to his own door.

Harry turned to head back inside, but Malfoy's voice stopped him with his hand on the knob.

"Goodnight, Potter."

Harry felt his pulse begin to pound inexplicably.

"Night, Malfoy."

Then they each opened their dormitory doors and disappeared inside.

 

no title

Harry dreamed of Quidditch and Transfiguration and that he'd forgotten to wear trousers to breakfast and of different muffled voices murmuring nonsense in his ear. When he woke, it was slowly and to the dawning realisation that he had a huge erection.

It was sort of a new thing lately. So often at school before, he'd wake up from a fresh nightmare. His body could never quite adjust nor his mind ever really relax, and it was all too rare for him to find himself in a state of semi-conscious arousal rather than semi-conscious terror.

That had changed – a lot -- over the summer months.

Harry stretched and thought about taking care of it, but by the sounds coming from the other side of his bed curtains, he knew he was perhaps the last one awake. The sun glinted bright through the windowpane and slanted in through the gap near the bedpost, making Harry squint and blink.

He'd bring himself off in the shower before breakfast, he decided.

And he'd remember his trousers.

He rolled out of bed and gathered up a change of clothes, holding it over his crotch in a way that he knew couldn't possibly fool anyone, and dragged himself across the hall to the bathroom.

Before he could close his hand around the doorknob, though, a damp Malfoy emerged. He was dressed, of course, but his hair still dripped in places, and when he and Harry nearly collided, a bead of water flung off him and landed on Harry's face.

"Malfoy," Harry said, hugging his clothes closer to his pyjama-covered crotch and letting the drop of water drip down his cheek unimpeded.

"Potter," Malfoy said with what Harry was coming to realise was a ubiquitous frown that maybe had very little to do with Harry and very much to do with Malfoy's face being Malfoy's face.

Harry stepped to the left just as Malfoy stepped to his right, though. Then they both reversed it. Malfoy sighed through his flared nostrils. "I'll stand still."

"Right." Harry moved around Malfoy to the door. Malfoy's body still emanated the heat from his shower. He smelled bright and lemony. Harry's shoulder bumped Malfoy's, and he dropped his bundle of clothes, his shield, to the ground. "Fuck."

It was only a split second, but the damage was done. Malfoy's eyes went straight to his tenting pyjamas before Harry dropped to a crouch, grabbing up his things as quickly as possible. He ended up in the humiliating position of clutching his shiny white pants up against an erection that, with the change of position, was trying to peek out of his fly. To make matters worse, he dropped his jumper twice more, too.

To his utter horror, Malfoy actually stooped to help him.

"I've got it," Harry said, probably too tersely.

Malfoy looked right at his stupid pants for all of three seconds, then he licked his lips, stood, gave Harry a short nod, and walked off down the hall, his hair dripping down the back of his neck.

Harry sighed and shook out his jumper.

Now…NOW…his hard-on began to wilt.

He took a short, rough shower, unfairly angry with Malfoy the whole time and glaring at the tile wall.

Breakfast, however, was delicious and erection-free. Ron looked like he hadn't slept a wink, though, with dark circles under his eyes and his face propped on his hand.

"Stay up all night to keep the Slytherins from hexing your bollocks off?" Harry asked him around a bite of sausage.

"Hm? Wha?"

Hermione answered for him. "No, apparently. I guess Neville's developed a snoring problem." She reached out and sifted a tender hand over Ron's bed-head.

"Well, I guess that's irony for you. Did nobody think to Silence him?"

"Yeah, but it kept wearing off," Ron groaned.

"Well, look at the bright side," Harry said. "Maybe Zabini and Malfoy will decide to dissect him instead of you."

Ron seemed to brighten a little at that. Harry pushed the teapot in his direction with a rueful smile. Ron liked Neville well enough, but ever since he'd begun dating Ginny… Well, Ron had been side-eyeing him for flaws, imperfections, and impure thoughts. Which was nice for Harry, since it meant Ron had quit doing those things to him.

The tea seemed to perk Ron up a bit, too, and they all made their way to Transfiguration together with the seventh year Hufflepuffs. Professor Sinistra had taken over for McGonagall when a suitable Transfiguration teacher had not been found, and because she was still teaching Astronomy as well (and was a confirmed night owl) she looked as tired as the students, which relieved Harry to no end.

Charms was just after with the Ravenclaws, and to Harry's embarrassment, both Flitwick and Sinistra had to spend most of their time trying to keep the other students from watching and studying Harry's every move. It was especially embarrassing when everyone watched him fuck up a simple Gripping charm and accidentally pinch Ron hard on the nose instead.

"OW!" he groused, rubbing it. "Incompetent git."

And as humiliating as it was, Ron's perception of Harry as nothing more than the bloke who just pinched the hell out of his nose helped Harry feel less like the Saviour of the World and more like his ordinary self. Mostly. His mistake had seemed not to dampen the almost terrifying ardour of a good deal of the seventh year girls. Unfortunately.

None of that truly mattered, though.

What mattered, to Harry, was Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Harry felt like he'd been waiting for this one class forever. All he knew was that it was an eighth-year-only class. They had not been told who the professor would be, and Harry couldn't help but suspect McGonagall herself. But when they filed into the room, it was mysteriously empty. As in, so empty even the paintings on the walls weren't even paintings. They were empty frames with plain canvases in them, no people or landscapes to liven them up.

And they were placed strangely, too, Harry noticed: all around the room, blank canvas after blank canvas lining the walls, with one particularly large one mounted on the far wall that faced the door.

He looked at Hermione, but she just shrugged.

The rest of the class – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin alike – seemed equally mystified, peering around and murmuring.

"Do you think we have the wrong room?" Hannah Abbot asked.

But the words were no sooner past her lips than he appeared, walking into the large canvas imperiously, his hands disappeared within the deep folds of his black robes.

Harry would have gasped, but he was too busy not breathing at all.

"Professor Snape!" Hermione exclaimed.

Their chatter filled the room until his booming voice quieted them.

"Silence!" The only sound then was Neville Longbottom's book bag dropping to the floor.

When Snape spoke again, his voice was soft and commanding. "Welcome," he said, "to Defence Against the Dark Arts."

Harry shared looks with Hermione and Ron and then turned his stunned attention back to Snape's portrait, which went on as if he'd never died and was standing there in the flesh.

"There will be no extraneous talking, no foolishness -- no late assignments, excuses for tardiness or shoddy spell-work." His eyes flashed over them one at a time, and Harry fought his mixed emotions. He felt sure neither tears nor a smile would be at all welcome at the moment. "You have all, one way or another, proven yourselves worthy of an advanced Defence curriculum, and I will suffer none of you shirking, slouching, fidgeting, gallivanting, or otherwise besmirching this class or each other. Do I make myself clear?"

Ron gulped. Otherwise the room was deathly silent.

"Do I… make… myself…clear?"

"Y-yes, Professor," Hermione managed.

"Thank you, Ms Granger," Snape said with a smile that could not be termed warm. "From the one person least likely to be found guilty of gallivanting anywhere at any time."

When Ron sniggered softly beside her, she elbowed him rather forcefully.

"Let us find out how rusty your skills have become now that there are no Dark Lords to fight," Snape said.

Leave it to Snape to phrase it that way, even after everything, Harry thought.

"I believe we'll begin with a duel," he said next. "Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter, please come to the front of the room."

In the moment before he stepped forward, Harry actually felt the rest of the class take a step back in relief, leaving him and Malfoy standing at disparate angles in the middle of the room. Harry looked at him once, though Malfoy was only looking at Snape as they both walked to the front of the class.

They turned to face one another, a good twelve feet apart. Harry pulled his wand and watched Malfoy slowly draw his own – the one Harry had given back to him just the night before. Harry couldn't decide if it was a benefit or a detriment that he'd held it, too – used it. That he knew its quirks and nuances, the notches in the wood and how they fit his fingers.

"I do so hope it is obvious," Snape said, "that your intent is not to harm but to stun, disarm, incapacitate temporarily, and so on." His sharp gaze raked over them both, and Harry fought a shiver even knowing Severus Snape had been on his side all along. "There will be no Sectumsempra from you, Mr Potter, and Mr Malfoy, no reptiles." He said the word with great disdain, like he'd been insulted by one at some point rather than…

Harry blinked. He shifted his wand in his fingers.

"Bow," Snape instructed, and they both brought their feet together and took the ritual bow before getting into a duelling stance.

"You may… begin."

The last word had not fully left Professor Snape's lips when Malfoy threw a wordless hex that Harry countered with a defensive charge, sending the magic skittering over the floor instead.

Malfoy threw two Stinging hexes in quick succession, and Harry deflected them, too, before casting his own Conjunctivitus. Malfoy's defensive magic met his between them, fluctuated, sending sparks in every direction, and then threw Harry's off to the side.

They stood, motionless but ready, for another five seconds.

"Steady," Snape said. "Stay alert."

Harry cast four hexes in a row, but Malfoy ducked one and subverted the others with his own Oppugno, charming two chairs to come at Harry from across the room.

"Reducto!" Harry cast on one, and then when the other came at him through the dust of the first, he ducked and rolled. The chair slammed into the wall behind him and broke into pieces, and both Neville and Hannah Abbot screamed a little.

Harry and Malfoy stopped again, standing and panting, the buzzing silence their magic left, a loud and distracting thing.

"Widen your stance, Mr Malfoy, he could knock you over with a light breeze, and don't take your eyes off his, Mr Potter; how else will you know when he's about to—"

But before he could finish, Malfoy threw a Petrificus Totalus at Harry's chest. Harry jumped to the side and sent an Incarcerous, taking Malfoy out at the knees and binding them together. He cast Locomotor Mortis just after, but he knew Malfoy could nullify each in a matter of seconds, so Harry bore down on him, sending Stunning spells that Malfoy deflected from the floor over and over again.

Harry stalked forward even as Malfoy crawled back using both feet and one hand, his wand raised to defend against Harry's assault. Soon enough, though, Harry cast an Expelliarmus that hit the mark and sent Malfoy's wand tumbling end over end across the floor. Harry stood over him, pointing his wand at Malfoy's chest, breathing heavily.

They stared at each other for three seconds. Then Malfoy blinked, and his gaze dropped from Harry's face directly to his crotch.

Harry blanched, the memory of that morning coming instantly to the forefront of his mind. He quickly looked down at his fly, the instinct too strong to ignore and…

"Accio! Incarcerous! Levicorpus!" Malfoy threw one on top of the other.

And before Harry knew it… Well, he was bound hand and foot and hovering twenty feet in the air.

"Shit."

"That's enough," Snape called. "Mr Potter, get yourself down."

And as he did still have his wand in his grip, Harry nullified Malfoy's spells, the ropes unwinding from his now numb wrists, releasing his ankles, as he floated back down to earth.

When he landed, he holstered his wand and dusted off his trousers.

Snape looked at Malfoy, now rising as well. "Juvenile," he accused. "But effective."

Harry walked forward. Zabini clapped Malfoy on the back, and Pansy Parkinson was smirking like some sort of demented feline, but Malfoy himself wore an implacable expression. He looked almost…sorry?

It was spur of the moment, but Harry's body was moving almost before his mind made itself up. He walked up to Malfoy and extended his hand. "Nice misdirect there," he said with a small self-deprecating smirk.

Malfoy blinked at him a couple of times, and his stunned face was really worth it, Harry decided. Then Malfoy reached out and shook his hand. His grip was hesitant, and Harry felt his hand trembling slightly. His own hand was sure and warm and a little sweaty.

While he watched, Malfoy's face transformed. He broke into a smile that could be described as at once smug and apologetic. He shrugged. "Just using all the tools at my disposal, Potter."

"Next time I won't hesitate."

Malfoy's eyes flashed with the challenge.

They dropped their hands away. Malfoy licked his lips and stepped back. Zabini and Parkinson didn't look quite so pleased anymore.

Snape cleared his throat. "How lovely," he mocked. But in his next breath he began instructing them to split off into groups of three and practice some protective spells.

They went their separate ways and did the assignment – Harry with Ron and Hermione, Malfoy back with his crowd -- and Harry listened to Snape and did everything he asked, even when he jumped portraits and scared the bloody hell out of him, showing up right beside Harry just as he was attempting his first full Patronus of the day.

It didn't matter. It was still the most brilliant class he'd ever attended at Hogwarts. His whole body was sore from duelling Malfoy, but he felt like he could do it all over again -- would love to do it all over again.

When Snape dismissed them, Harry felt exhilarated. He strode to the front of the class even as the others pushed for the door.

"Professor," he called when Snape turned in his frame. "Professor, may I have a word?"

"My office hours are three to six Tuesday and Friday, Mr Potter. Please see that you respect that."

"Er, yes, Professor. Of course," Harry said, deflating.

But Snape stopped on his way back out of the frame again. He turned his head to look over his shoulder, not quite meeting Harry's eyes. "Valiant effort today, Potter," he said. And after that, he walked away, leaving an empty canvas in his wake.

Harry took a deep breath and let it out, watching the space where Snape had been.

 

no title

The next couple of weeks flew by, and despite having recurring dreams that he was dressed only in a shirt and socks in his classes -- with someone, again, murmuring nonsense in his ear the whole while -- Harry was having his best year yet.

The eighth years were being kept too busy to enjoy it, however. Hermione, Ron, and he had only been by to see Hagrid once so far, but as Hagrid was only too thrilled to show them his newest hatching of Fire Crabs (and they'd all come away singed), Harry wasn't too keen to return until he'd at least moved on to a less inflammatory species.

Harry hadn't gone into Hogsmeade at all, either, like some of his cohorts had -- just because they could. He was too intent on keeping up with his coursework, which was considerable. But even that was exciting. It was amazing how much more he enjoyed studying without the threat of Voldemort constantly hanging over his head.

But by the first scheduled Hogsmeade trip, Harry was most certainly ready. There was a definite air of anticipation and mischief in the air, and most of the talk centred around getting royally pissed as soon as possible.

In the early afternoon, they headed off. The air was crisp and clean after a hard rain the night before. Everything smelled of pine and ozone, and Harry breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs.

He spent the afternoon with Ron and Hermione, going from shop to shop and enjoying the freedom. The day passed quickly, and when the sun dipped low in the western sky, Harry was shocked to discover the time.

"Anybody fancy sitting down with a drink?" he asked.

They ended up in the Three Broomsticks, waved over to a table near the hearth where many of their friends already sat. Harry noticed that Malfoy and his clan were seated at the next table over. Zabini sniggered at something Parkinson said, but Malfoy only gave a wan smile and ran a finger around the rim of his whiskey glass.

"Harry!" Seamus called over the din of the crowd, and, at that, Malfoy looked up.

Harry greeted his friends. He glanced at the Slytherin table, too, but by the time he did, Malfoy's attention had been drawn away.

The rounds began. Firewhisky, Firewhisky, Firewhisky, with some apple brandy and red currant rum for spice. Hermione tried the dandelion wine and exhibited signs of inebriation before she'd even finished the glass. Nobody was Apparating or flying or even risking a dodgy Floo experience. They were all of age, and it was the first time the lot of them had been out together with the sole purpose of getting pissed.

They were a headmistress' nightmare and a bartender's dream.

Harry felt quite relaxed after his first two Firewhiskies and was slowly imbibing his third, while Seamus and Dean seemed to be having some sort of contest. That was until Seamus made a desperate run for the loo. When he returned, he switched to Butterbeer, and Dean claimed victory with yet another Firewhisky. In fact, he bought the entire table a round.

"Them, too!" Dean slurred a bit, handing his Galleons to Goldstein and Ron, who had offered to fetch the drinks since Dean was properly ensconced against the wall and couldn't be arsed to move.

"Them who?" Ron asked.

"Them!" Dean waved his hand at Malfoy's table. "That lot!" He belched.

Blaise looked sceptical. "You're buying us a round, Thomas?" He squinted at Dean. "Are you having a laugh?"

Dean snorted spectacularly. "Well, yes, but not at you. Live a little Zabini. Or are you… scared?" He leaned forward on the table and blinked blearily in Zabini's general direction.

That caught Malfoy's interest. He looked between Blaise and Dean before his gaze came to rest on Harry.

Harry shrugged.

Malfoy licked his lips, cleared his throat, and spoke up. "He's not trying to poison you, Blaise. Isn't that right, Potter?"

Harry blinked at him. "Well, yeah. I mean, even if that was his intent, he's really in no shape to pull it off."

"See?" Malfoy lifted his hand as if that decided it and then let it drop back to the table.

Harry found his gaze travelling over Malfoy's elegant fingers as they rubbed at a knot in the wood. Over his wrist and the pale hair there. The way he leaned back in his chair, his long legs stretched out before him. Harry blinked slowly, staring at the fine black wool of Malfoy's trousers.

Ron and Goldstein's return, and the many, many drinks they were levitating ahead of themselves, broke Harry's tipsy reverie.

"Fine," Blaise said. "Thanks."

"Ta," Millicent said from her end of the table.

Pansy smiled witheringly.

Malfoy took his glass and raised it to Dean a little. "Cheers." Then he turned his gaze to Harry, raised his glass minutely again, and drank.

Harry felt a searing heat flare up his spine.

Obviously, he was drunk. Totally pissed. The fact that Draco Malfoy looked less like a spectacular git in that instance was just… whiskey goggles.

It was just… maths. It was arithmetic, pure and simple. A little too much whiskey, plus Malfoy being not a git, equals searing heat up one's spine.

He'd felt something similar when he'd snogged Cho Chang – and when he'd made out with Ginny. Sort of. Except for the heat. And the searing. But his spine had definitely been affected in each instance in some regard. Hadn't it?

Not that there was anything similar between the three of them. Cho and Ginny, yes. But not Malfoy. Well, except that they all played Quidditch. Maybe that was it. Quidditch. Harry missed Quidditch. That was really all there was to it, probably. Malfoy might look like a Veela, sitting there all blond and relaxed and saying non-prattish things like "Cheers" and "See?" But he was just Malfoy. And he was in Harry's direct line of vision. And Harry was a little drunk. And missing Quidditch.

Absolutely.

It wasn't like Harry was gay. Or that it would be a bad thing if he were. He just wasn't.

Draco Malfoy was just in his line of vision, and he was licking his lips and smiling at a joke Bulstrode made, and the hairs on his fingers, just under his knuckles, were sort of wiry and nice. His nails were very clean, and his knuckles were sort of wonderful looking. Strong and graceful. Harry imagined them wrapping around a jittery Snitch, careful not to bruise the tender wings and—

"Harry James Potter!" Hermione yelled for what seemed like the third or fourth time.

"Huh?" he asked, lifting his eyebrows at her. They'd seemed to grow enormously heavy.

"Budge up, will you? Ginny's here."

"Oh," he said. "Hey, Gin. Nee. Hey, Ginny."

"Hi, Harry," she said with a soft smile. It was a nice smile.

"How about a Butterbeer for my little sister!" Ron bellowed.

"Oh nice, you arse," Ginny said crossly. "They're really going to serve me now."

"I got you an apple brandy," Neville said and dismantled the Disillusionment charm around it.

A bright smile lit Ginny's whole face.

"Way to go, mate," Goldstein whispered.

Truly, it was sort of epically romantic. Ron was silently furious.

Ginny sat next to Neville and then leaned in and kissed him.

Malfoy's gaze found Harry's. It took Harry maybe five seconds of bleary staring at the plonker to understand, though: Malfoy hadn't known he and Ginny had split up.

Harry gave him a belated and perfectly not-barmy thumbs-up. Malfoy's brows creased into a confused frown.

Yeah. The thumbs-up? That was stupid. Harry dropped his hand to his lap.

Harry pushed his whiskey away and drank deeply from his water glass. Hermione had insisted that they all try to stay hydrated, and right now he could really kiss her, because the water was sweet and soothing down his whiskey-burned throat.

"Anybody have the time?" Millicent suddenly yelled.

"Uh, we can hear you," Pansy said.

"Half ten," Luna said.

"Bugger! We've got to get back!" Seamus went to stand, rammed his chair into Neville's, pitched forward straight into Dean, and then ricocheted onto the floor.

The walk back was cold and perfect. Harry felt his thoughts settle back into his brain where they ought to have been in the first place. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked behind Ron and Hermione, who had their arms linked and only weaved slightly.

They made it into the castle with ten minutes to spare but were shushed by several portraits as they ascended the stairs to the third floor and then walked (some stumbled) down the hall toward their common room door.

"Flesh-eating slug," Goldstein said.

Hannah Abbott and the two Ravenclaw girls, busy studying, looked up as they all crowded into the common room, still talking and laughing, a few of them hiccupping. The fireplace roared to life with a little magic. But before everyone could either get comfortable there or head to bed, Dean stood on a footstool and made an announcement.

"Hey, guys. I have a brilliant idea."

Silence fell as everyone waited to hear it.

"What do you want, a Sonorus?" Pansy asked.

Dean pulled his wand with a waggle of his eyebrows. Blaise made to duck, but then, seeing Dean didn't mean to hex anyone, tried to play it off like he was just popping his neck.

"Accio Twister!" Dean called triumphantly. In moments, a box flew into his hand.

"What is that?" Luna asked.

"It's a Muggle game."

"A Muggle game?" Millicent frowned.

"It's really fun," Dean went on as Seamus grabbed the box out of his hands and began perusing it. Padma grabbed it from him and Ron from her. In that fashion it made its way around the room as Dean explained.

Harry didn't need to see the box. As a young "Muggle" boy, he'd always wanted one. Dudley had three, but of course, he never shared anything, nor would Harry have wanted to play with him. He'd seen it advertised on the telly a few times when he was little, and the kids in the ad looked so happy to be falling all over one another.

Of course, Harry had never imagined playing as a drunken eighteen-year-old wizard.

"Yeah!" Seamus said. "Yeah, let's do it!"

There were various nods and murmurings around the room. Even Blaise appeared intrigued. Malfoy sat in a chair in a corner, looking sullen and withdrawn.

"There's no room here," Ron protested, drawing his wand. "Help me move some of this furniture."

Hermione huffed. "What if some of us don't want to play and would like to have someplace to sit?"

"Why wouldn't you want to play?" Ron asked.

In an uncharacteristic moment of reticence, Hermione just shrugged.

"Well, okay, how about…" Seamus worried his bottom lip between his teeth.

Ned-the-Hufflepuff spoke up. "The Room of Requirement."

"Are you mad?" Goldstein asked.

Pansy looked suddenly quite interested. "Mad genius," she said, smiling broadly. Her eyes cast up and down Ned's chubby frame like she might have him for a midnight snack. Ned, wide-eyed, gulped.

"Are we sure it's... safe in there?" Parvati asked.

"That's a good point." Hermione looked between Harry and Ron, crossing her arms.

"We can check it out and make sure," Harry said.

"Do you really think so, Harry?" Dean asked.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." He felt something stubborn and angry enter his voice. "He's not allowed to take anything from us anymore." He looked around at his friends' faces to see some of them scared, some others resolute. He turned to his best friend for back-up. "Ron?"

"Right," Ron said. "This is our castle. It's our school."

"Right!"

"Yeah, that's right!"

The others, even the ones who'd looked afraid,were nodding now.

Harry glanced at Malfoy in his plush chair. He'd paled, and his wide eyes stared into space, at nothing.

Merlin.

Crabbe had died in there. Harry hadn't thought of that.

But now the others had taken up the cause.

"Room of Requirement," Dean said. "Brilliant."

"Yeah," Seamus added, grinning. "Operation: Take Back the Castle! I'm in!"

"It's after eleven," Padma reminded everyone. "If we get caught sneaking around the school…"

"We'll just have to not get caught," Seamus said. "Who's with us?"

There was a brief silence. Then…

"We are!" Hermione shouted from where she and Ron had been talking, heads together, in the corner. She sounded a bit shrill but confident.

"We are?" Ron asked.

Harry's pulse started to pound with the excitement of, once again, sneaking through the castle. "I'm in, too," he said.

"We're in," Parvati said for herself and her reluctant twin.

"Absolutely," Luna agreed.

"Yeah, all right." Millicent nodded.

There were additional nods and 'brilliants' and such as Dean jumped down from the footstool and they all headed to the door.

Everyone except two Ravenclaw girls who headed to bed.

And Malfoy, still resolutely parked in his chair.

Harry took a deep breath and let it out.

The group had started discussing their options for not getting caught.

"Disillusionment charms?"

"Muffliato might be good."

"Apparition?"

"Oh my God, you cannot Apparate in Hogwarts castle!" Hermione fumed. "Where have you people been studying?"

But Harry was, for better or worse, walking over to where Malfoy sat slumped into gigantic purple cushions that threatened to swallow his lanky body.

"Do you want to come?" Harry asked.

Malfoy looked up at him, surprised. "Er, no. No, I don't think so."

"Malfoy..." Harry stopped, completely unsure how to broach this -- if he even should broach such a tender topic. "I'm sorry... about what happened... in there."

Malfoy frowned.

Harry took another fortifying breath. "A lot of people died here," he said. "I don't want that to be the last word on it. Do you?"

Malfoy's gaze lowered to the floor, and he blinked.

Harry looked over at the others still arguing about how to get from the third floor to the seventh en masse. He looked back at Malfoy. Truthfully, Harry wasn't sure why he was bothering – why he cared about this person who'd intentionally made his life hell.

But the fact was... Harry did care.

Maybe it was remembering the fear on Malfoy's face in that room, believing he was going to die alongside his friend.

Maybe it was knowing Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban and that with one slip, Draco could end up there, too -- that his entire future was riding on this one year.

Maybe it was how Malfoy looked right now: lost and empty.

Harry didn't wish that on him. Not anymore.

He opened his mouth to say something else, though he was hardly sure of what, when Luna bounded over, a benign smile on her face.

"Come with us, Draco," she said.

"I--" Malfoy began. "I can't."

Luna grasped Malfoy's hand then, and he looked at her like she'd lost her mind. "They're not going to expel all of us," she said, "and it would be unfair to punish you more harshly than anybody else."

Harry saw more then in Malfoy's eyes than his questioning of Luna's sanity: He saw indecision. He saw the war there between what Malfoy feared and what he wanted.

"We'll protect you," Harry said.

A tired sneer lifted one corner of Malfoy's mouth. He peered past Harry to the larger group and then blinked his gaze back to Harry's face. "You really believe that?"

Harry looked at Malfoy's friends, who'd barely deigned to glance his way. He looked back down at Malfoy in the big chair. "We'll protect you," he said again and hoped Malfoy understood: whether or not Zabini or Parkinson would put their necks on the line for their friend, Harry would. He was pretty sure Hermione would. And they could strong-arm Ron.

"We're going in groups of three under Disillusionment charms," Luna said. "You can come with Millie and me." She swung his arm to and fro like they were old childhood friends. Malfoy's elbow banged into the chair arm with every pass, but Luna seemed not to mind.

Harry couldn't fight the grin that spread over his face. He kicked at Malfoy's shoe. "Come on then, Malfoy."

Malfoy sighed and stood, pulling his hand out of Luna's and brushing off his trousers.

"Excellent," Harry said.

"Lovely," Luna agreed.

Malfoy followed them to the door to join the others without further comment. Harry felt irrationally excited.

Neville, Pansy, and Goldstein went first. Then Hermione, Ned-the-Hufflepuff, and Hannah. Malfoy, Millicent, and Luna were next. On it went until Ron and Harry were the only ones left.

"Like old times," Ron said. "Want to use the Invisibility Cloak instead?"

"Nah, Zabini'd probably nick it."

"Right then."

"Wait," Harry said.

"What?"

"What did you and Hermione talk about? Why'd she suddenly decide to come?"

Ron shrugged. "Beats me. One minute we're talking about her staying and getting some studying done and me doing this, and the next she's volunteering the both of us."

"Do you think she thinks it's going to get… Well, racy?" Harry asked.

Ron's eyes went very round. "Will it?"

"I dunno. But I'm guessing Hermione reckons it might. Maybe she's coming because she wants to make sure you don't end up sprawled on top of the Patil twins, you know?"

"Blimey…" Ron breathed. "Wait, she's already there! Do you think they've started? Do you think Zabini's got his hands all over my girlfriend right now? Or Seamus? Or Ned-the-Hufflepuff?"

"Or Pansy," Harry supplied. He didn't see the need to remind his friend that their hands went on the mat, not each other.

Ron gave him a very strange look then. Like his face didn't know whether to be happy or angry. "All right, I say we run. Get a move on, Harry."

Harry pulled his wand and cast a Disillusionment charm, and they set off for the seventh floor.

The castle was quiet and still, and it felt odd to not have to stick close to Ron's side and try not to step on one another's feet. They met no-one in the halls, and of the portraits they passed, most were already sleeping. They stepped onto the seventh floor landing and let their breath out.

They looked at one another and then, quick as they dared, made their way to where they knew the door would appear.

"We need the room with our friends in it and the Twister game," Ron murmured.

"You couldn't think of a better way to phrase that?"

Ron shrugged, and it didn't matter anyway, because the door coalesced out of the wall nonetheless.

They smiled at each other, Ron opened the door, and they both stepped inside.

There wasn't much to the space, but Harry supposed there needn't be. There was room for the mat, which was already laid out, and then comfortable chairs for those not playing to lounge in and watch.

"Harry, Ron, you make it okay? Nobody saw you, right?" Dean asked.

"No, we're good. You?" Harry asked, walking into the room. His palms were sweating.

Harry looked around. The room was smaller than before, perhaps because of the damage it had sustained. Someone had worked on it, though. That much was plain. The walls appeared sturdy and mostly unscathed. There was one corner that was charred black, and Harry wondered if it was simply unhealable. If that marked the spot where Voldemort's Horcrux was destroyed.

He thought about coming back sometime when they weren't there together to try to fix it himself.

Casting his gaze about the room, he couldn't help but glance at Malfoy looking apprehensive against the far wall. He may have felt Harry's gaze, because he looked up. Their eyes met. Harry gave him a small smile. Malfoy let his breath out, and Harry could see the tension leave his shoulders. He gave a nod in return that made Harry's chest feel funny.

"Fine, fine," Dean was saying. "Well, Hannah tripped over a suit of armour's foot, but Hermione said she cast a Muffliato, so all's well." Dean turned back to the whole group. "Okay, now that everybody's got their groups…"

"Wait, what?" Ron interrupted.

"You're with Hermione, Ron, no worries," Dean said. "Harry, it's you and Luna."

"Great." Harry figured she'd either be stellar at Twister or simply awful. Either way would be fun.

"Neville's volunteered to do all the spinning tonight – thank you, Neville."

Neville took a little bow, and there was a smattering of applause that ranged from enthusiastic to mocking in speed and volume.

"Right!" Dean said. "Seamus and I are going first. We'll be facing off against… Who drew first from the hat again?"

"We did," the Patil twins answered in unison.

As Seamus and Dean took to one side of the mat and the twins to the other, everyone clapped, and Harry took a squishy-looking chair nearby.

"Right hand red," Neville called.

Everyone hurried to comply and get a good spot.

Neville spun again. "Right foot blue."

Things got a little more complicated as four feet tried to find a blue dot without any right hands moving.

"Ow!" Seamus growled as Dean elbowed him in the ribs, jockeying for position. Pansy laughed so hard she snorted.

"Go, Padma and Parvati!" Goldstein shouted between cupped hands and then clapped.

"Hang in there, Dean!" Ron said.

The first person to drop was Seamus, though, as Neville called, "Left hand yellow," and he and Dean went for the same dot. Seamus' arse hit the mat. "Seamus's out!"

"Gee, thanks, Neville. I hadn't noticed my arse hitting the floor," Seamus said, exiting the mat and rubbing his backside.

"What a loser." Pansy laughed.

Seamus shot her two fingers, and she actually flushed and looked away. Harry made a mental note that rude hand gestures were effective against Pansy's nastiness.

He was so busy watching the sidelines that he completely missed Parvati wiping out with "Right foot green."

"It's all right, Parvati," Goldstein coached. "Get 'em in the semi-finals."

"The what?"

But the game went on, and Dean and Padma hung in there to get stuck in some pretty impressive positions, until…

"Bollocks." Dean slipped, his knees touching.

"Round one goes to Padma Patil!" Neville shouted. He smiled. "This is fun."

"Next up," Dean announced, reaching into the hat, "Granger and Weasley against... Abbot and Ned-the-Hufflepuff!"

There was clapping all around. As they took their marks, and Harry whistled for his friends, his eyes leisurely scanned the room. Blaise Zabini yawned. The Patil twins seemed to be strategising. Seamus and Goldstein had their wands drawn and were trying to get the Room of Requirement to grant them a fully stocked bar. They were failing. Harry laughed just as his gaze landed on Malfoy.

He was sitting on a stool on the opposite side of the mat from Harry, clapping unenthusiastically for Merlin knows who as Neville called out, "Left hand blue!"

Malfoy had unbuttoned the top of his shirt, exposing his pale throat. He was entirely overdressed for a game of Twister, but… Well, Harry had to admit it suited the git. Everything about him was perfectly pressed and tailored. Harry remembered how he looked in Madam Malkin's – resigned, his dignity bruised – and that funny thing in his chest ached a little.

The last time they were in this room together...

Harry remembered the heat from the blaze, how it felt to grasp Malfoy's hand and feel him grip Harry's arm. If he thought about it hard enough, he could still feel the trembling body pressed to his and the burst of speed from the broom like nothing Harry had ever experienced before.

And now here they were again. About to play Twister. Malfoy and his pressed trousers, his humbled arrogance. Harry with nothing left to save.

He swallowed and turned his gaze back on his friends.

"Right foot green!"

Hannah Abbott slipped into an awkward sit on the mat and then sulked off the floor. Hermione was in some kind of yoga pose, and though Ron was out of breath and sweating slightly, he seemed to be holding his own as well, so Harry let his gaze travel once more.

It landed unerringly on Malfoy yet again.

Malfoy's foot dangled and intermittently tapped against the stool's leg, and his arms were crossed now. A wry slant twisted his lips, and Harry absently licked his own. Neville shouted, "Right hand red," and just as Ron fell, Malfoy looked up and caught Harry staring at him.

Harry kept staring at him, and Malfoy stared back. It lasted only a moment – only so long as it took Ron to stagger over to Harry's chair and plop his arse down on the arm.

"She took me out at the knees. Did you see that? My own girlfriend took me out at the knees, Harry."

"Knees," Harry said.

Malfoy blinked away, watching the match again, which was now between a very determined Hermione and a wobbling Ned-the-Hufflepuff who, after two more spins, went down.

"Magnificent. Isn't she?" Ron said as Hermione righted herself and came over to join them, her hair a bushy, dishevelled mess. When she approached, Ron stood and took her hands. "How did you do it?"

"Well, for starters, I didn't leave my socks on, Ronald," she told him, glancing down at his feet.

"What? I have a weird pinky toe."

"The scandal." She leaned in and gave him a lingering kiss. Ron blushed all the way down his neck and up into the roots of his hair.

"Next up!" Dean called. "It's Lovegood and Potter against…" He took an extra long time drawing from the hat, it felt like to Harry. "Bulstrode and Malfoy!"

Harry gulped.

"Take your shoes and socks off, Harry," Hermione advised.

Harry looked at Luna skipping toward him, already barefoot, and hurried to kick off his trainers. He pulled off his socks and wiggled his toes.

"Ready?" Luna asked.

"Uh, yeah." But for some reason, his heart was going like he was about to play for the Quidditch Cup, and the sight of Malfoy slowly stripping off his fancy, black socks to reveal long, pale, bony feet was making Harry a little lightheaded. Which was probably just the lingering Firewhisky sloshing through his veins. Never mind that he'd felt stone-cold sober for about an hour now.

Harry and Luna took their places on one side of the mat as Millicent and Malfoy took theirs on the other. Millicent looked nervous, Luna was the same as ever, and Malfoy looked a little like Harry felt – like their old Snitch-catching rivalry was anything but dead.

Harry rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans and did everything he could to avoid looking at Malfoy's feet again.

The dial spun around the card. "Left foot yellow!"

Simple enough. Everyone stepped one foot onto the mat. Harry swallowed and kept his eyes on Malfoy.

"Right foot red!"

Harry deliberated on which dot might provide the most stability and was about to go for it, when Malfoy's skinny foot landed there first, providing him a nice wide stance. Harry sighed and went for a more conservative dot, while Luna, next to him, practically did the splits to land on hers.

"Impressive," Harry said.

"It's all part of my master plan," Luna informed him with a grin.

"Left foot blue!"

Harry and Malfoy moved toward one another at the same time, their feet coming to rest on adjacent dots.

"Oh, for Merlin's—" Millicent grumbled behind Harry, but he didn't dare turn to look at what sort of state she and Luna were in. All Harry could see was Malfoy. He was so close that Harry could hear the prat breathing.

"Left hand blue!" Neville said with what sounded like imminent glee.

There was an "Oomph" and a thud behind him, and then Luna was sighing, "So much for my master plan. See you, Millie, Draco! Good luck, Harry!" and she skipped off the mat.

Left hand blue. But blue was on the other side of Malfoy. Blue was way over there. Unless Harry bent backward, which he felt sure would be pretty awful. Harry was working out how he was going to get around him when Malfoy bent at the knees, looked behind himself, and then half-fell, half-eased into the very backward position Harry was trying to avoid.

Harry took a deep breath. It was either go for something identical and hope Malfoy's back went out before his did or…

"Harry, you have to move," Neville reminded him.

"Go, Harry!"

"You can do it, Harry!"

Goldstein bellowed something Harry couldn't quite make out between his cupped hands again, and Padma put up extra privacy spells in response.

Harry made up his mind and made his move. He reached forward and let his weight carry him as he landed over Malfoy, his left hand in the vicinity of Malfoy's shoulder. A roar of approval and some giggling went up from the crowd, and Malfoy lifted his head to see where Harry had positioned himself.

"Potter, you git."

"Shut it, Malfoy."

"Bollocks," added Bulstrode before she careened to the side and landed with a string of expletives.

So then it was just Harry and Malfoy.

Just Harry hovering over Malfoy.

Just Malfoy face-up beneath Harry, breathing hard and trembling slightly, the both of them held up by only one arm.

When Neville spun – and had a dial ever taken so long to bloody stop? – and then called out, "Right hand red," Harry was so relieved about getting to put his other hand down, he barely registered where he was putting it. Or why it mattered. A lot.

Malfoy put his hand down and properly bolstered his crab-like stance, and Harry reached over him, planting his right hand next to Malfoy's head.

And, horribly, it was like the mechanisms in a clock all turning, gears interlocking, everything flipping so that it clicked into place to chime the hour.

Harry was on top of Malfoy, their faces mere inches apart, their bodies flush from chest to…

Oh, God.

Harry swallowed. His foot was slipping due to renewed sweating, and he shifted it on its dot a little. When Malfoy grunted, Harry couldn't stop the whisper that escaped his lips. "Sorry."

He couldn't help that his crotch was nestled snugly against Malfoy's -- that he was cradled between Malfoy's bent, open legs.

Harry inched his foot forward once more. And this time instead of grunting, Malfoy just inhaled and held his breath.

"Sorry," Harry said again.

Malfoy's fierce eyes blazed up at him. And that was when Harry felt it.

Plump and stiff along his right hip.

Malfoy was getting an erection.

Harry's eyes widened. Malfoy jerked his face away and exhaled hard. He adjusted his hands, his chest rubbing against Harry's. His whole body rubbing…

"Shit," Harry breathed as his own prick woke to the movement of Malfoy's body under him.

Merlin's fancy pants.

He was getting hard, too.

They were both getting hard.

For each other.

Which Harry would have been readily humiliated by if it didn't also feel bloody fantastic.

"Right hand red!"

"They've already done that! Spin again!" Seamus yelled.

"That's not how it works, Finnigan," Goldstein said.

"Yeah, it is. Their hands are already on red!"

"Yes, but if you look in the rule book—"

The argument went on for a while, and Harry and Malfoy simply had to wait like that, pressed together. Malfoy huffed with the effort of holding his position, and his breath bathed Harry's face, faintly Firewhisky-flavoured and warm. Harry shifted again surreptitiously and whispered, "Sorry." An outsider would only suspect fatigued legs, sweaty hands. But he and Malfoy felt it. Their hard cocks rubbed together through their clothes, and Harry felt that strange thing in his chest explode as he watched Malfoy bite his lip, his brows furrowing, in response.

Seamus had apparently won the argument in the meantime through sheer force of shouting, and Neville spun again.

"Right foot blue," he called.

Oh, there was no way! Literally no way. Plus, it meant at least partially leaving this position, and Harry's body protested that with everything it had. Merlin, Malfoy smelled like the forest – like rain-wet needles and woodsmoke and lemon trees – and his body was trembling against Harry's, and his cock felt really hard. The last thing Harry wanted to do was move away from him. But it was that or take the fall.

With Malfoy under him, however, falling seemed the more pleasant option. Even bony and pointy as Malfoy was.

"Potter…" Malfoy suddenly whispered, his teeth gritted. He dropped his head back, exposing that length of throat, the knot of his Adam's apple, the breath moving through his chest pushing him up into Harry's body.

What would happen if he leaned down and inhaled that spot on Malfoy's neck where his pulse was pounding?

What would happen if Harry opened his lips over the throb of it and tasted Malfoy's fear and arousal on his tongue?

Malfoy's head came back up, his cheeks flushed, and he looked at Harry almost beseechingly.

Harry wanted to lean down and kiss him.

Fuck, he wanted to kiss him.

"Harry, Malfoy," Neville warned.

Because Malfoy, Harry realised, hadn't made for his own blue dot either.

Harry took a breath and tried to sneak his right foot onto the nearest blue dot. His toe touched it. He very nearly had it…

But at the last moment, his left foot slipped out from under him completely. His weight landed on Malfoy, and they both went down in a tangle.

Their friends began a heated argument about whose fault it had been, about who slipped, and Harry would have readily taken the blame since it was all his, but he was too busy being on top of Malfoy for a few precious moments. He looked down into Malfoy's eyes, and Malfoy blinked up at him. Harry's cock throbbed where it pressed against Malfoy's thigh, and Harry could still feel Malfoy's, too, against his stomach.

Harry said the only thing he could think of. "Sorry, Malfoy."

"Not a problem," Malfoy murmured.

"Good. Glad to hear it."

Ron was yelling that clearly Malfoy had cheated, while Blaise scoffed that it was all Harry's doing (and for once, he was right). Luna suggested that it was a mutual falling and everybody should just be friends.

Harry licked his lips as Malfoy stared at him.

"Are you going to move off me sometime tonight, Potter? Or should I Summon you a blanket?"

"I'm going," Harry assured. "The fall stunned me."

"Yes, it was from such a great height." Malfoy rotated his hips minutely and…

This time it was Harry who grunted. Malfoy watched his reaction, still making no move to extricate himself. But when the shouting escalated and it sounded as though Ron and Zabini might come to blows, Harry took a deep breath and rolled off Malfoy's body.

"It was me!" he yelled over his friend. "Ron, stand down. It was me. I slipped. Malfoy won." He'd drawn his knees up and wrapped his arms around them to disguise the state of his cock. When he glanced back at Malfoy, he saw him stealthily untuck his dress shirt to cover his crotch. Harry's face heated, his whole body a riot of arousal and shock and excitement and something that might turn into horror once he thought about it a little more, he wasn't sure.

Malfoy stood and smoothed back his hair. "We slipped at the same time." He held out his hand to help Harry up.

Harry blinked at it for a moment before he took it. Malfoy was stronger than he appeared, and he hauled Harry up easily. "Er, thanks," Harry said. His jeans were a bit too big anyway, so he felt sure the only person who would know from looking at him was…

Well, Malfoy. And he knew anyway.

Merlin, he knew. That knowledge was buffered only slightly by the fact that Harry knew about him, too.

Harry let go of Malfoy's warm hand. "See you."

"Yeah."

They parted ways, walking off the mat in opposite directions, but Harry's heart still pounded like they'd been going for the Snitch.

It pounded like it never had for Cho or Ginny or anyone.

Harry sat back down in his big squishy chair as Dean drew from the hat again and a new game began.

Harry sat in his big gay chair with his pounding gay heart and what was left of his throbbing gay erection, and it was all so bloody clear, he didn't know whether to feel immensely relieved or scared out of his mind.

Because he wasn't just gay. He was gay for Malfoy.

And that was a whole new level of acceptance.

 

no title

They went in threes again back to the dormitory at one in the morning. Harry had only played one more game of Twister, and he'd wiped out right away when Hannah Abbott took his green dot. Luna had gone on to triumph, and Harry readily celebrated her victory even as his gaze kept slipping over to Malfoy.

Yet as they snuck back to the common room, Harry regretted the dissolving of their houses for the first time. What had happened with Malfoy... Well, he needed some space to think about it. Or to actively distract himself from it. How was he supposed to do either one with Malfoy there being all... breathy and fit and aroused. On the common room sofa! Not that he'd be all those things on the sofa. But he was now all of those things in Harry's mind. Harry was scared to think what it would feel like to see Malfoy coming out of the shower now.

Harry wished he could just escape Malfoy's pointy face and sit with his friends and talk about… Gryffindor things.

Except there really were no such things.

Before, his life had been all about Voldemort. It had been about when he'd hear from Sirius next, finding out Professor Lupin was a werewolf, trying to avoid Fred and George's Canary Creams.

But Sirius was gone. Fred was gone. Lupin, Tonks, countless others were all gone.

Voldemort was gone.

There was still school work, which they all had. There was life after Hogwarts, which they all would face. There were their love lives, and Harry wished he hadn't thought those words even before they'd finished making a sentence of themselves in his head.

There just seemed to be nowhere Malfoy wasn't, so Harry took refuge in the one place he could: his bed. Except that…

"Oh Merlin, Gordon, you didn't."

The ferret stood on his hind legs and looked at Harry innocently. Yet all Harry's covers had been stripped off the bed and dragged beneath.

"Made yourself a nice little palace, didn't you?" Harry crawled under the bed to retrieve everything Gordon had stolen. "You have very soft bedding in your enclosure, and I highly doubt—"

Harry's words died in his throat as he pulled his coverlet away from the wall under the bed to find…

Harry squinted and inched forward as best as he could. There… In the wall… He reached his fingers out and touched it.

There was a hole in the stone. Not very large, but big enough that when Harry got close to it he could hear distinct words from the adjacent room.

Ron's room, Harry realised happily.

Malfoy's room, he realised just after.

So that was who'd been murmuring nonsense in his dreams. Perhaps he'd just been hearing Neville snore.

Or Malfoy talking in his sleep.

Harry tried to peer into the hole, but it wasn't a straight shot through. He lay there amidst his bedding, Gordon having crawled in after him to sit on Harry's arse while he listened.

He thought he heard Ron yawning and complaining that he couldn't find his favourite socks. He thought he heard a trunk being moved around on the floor.

Then…

"…dating Longbottom?"

"How the bloody hell should I know?" That was Blaise.

"…just thought…" Definitely Malfoy.

"What? …designs on Potter's ex-girlfriend?"

Harry listened very hard then.

"No…just didn't know…"

There was some rustling, the creaking of bed springs, a heavy sigh.

Malfoy's heavy sigh.

He must have taken the bed against the wall, just like Harry.

Gordon chirruped.

"Shush, you," Harry whispered. But try as he might, he couldn't hear anything else except for some murmuring which was probably Ron across the room, looking for his socks.

"What are you doing under there, Harry?" Seamus asked.

"Er, nothing." He crawled back out again. "My ferret just made off with all my covers."

Gordon, seeming to sense the blame was back on him, ran off into his cage and curled up into a protective ball.

Everyone settled into bed, Harry last because he had to make his from scratch. He also, quite possibly, moved his mattress out from the wall a few inches so that he had better access to whatever words might filter through the hole he'd found.

"Goodnight, you lot," Dean yawned from his bed.

"Goodnight." Harry pulled his bed curtains closed.

He lay there, close to the wall, listening, trying to hear everything, to hear anything. But within moments, he was fast asleep.

 

no title

Harry was completely preoccupied the whole next day with his being gay and all. He picked opportune moments to feel Ron out about it. (He avoided Hermione; she'd cotton on from nothing more than how he lifted an eyebrow, he was sure.)

Before breakfast: "So, you've got a big family. Anybody gay?"

To his surprise, Ron shrugged and said, "In the immediate family, just Charlie. But there are probably others. Why?"

"No reason."

During Herbology: "Does Ginny ever talk about what it was like to snog me?"

A funny look. "Have you lost your mind? She's my sister. Why?"

"No reason."

During Defence: "What do you think of Malfoy?"

"Less of a git than before. Why?"

"No— Ow!" Harry rubbed his arm where the Stinging Hex had hit.

Ned-the-Hufflepuff stood there, looking sheepish. "Professor Snape told me to."

Harry turned to find Snape's portrait glaring at him. "Is Ms Parkinson and Mr Finnigan's duel boring you, Mr Potter? Do you need more advanced work? Possibly during a detention?"

"No, sir," Harry said. Then for good measure, "Thank you, sir."

Snape rolled his eyes and moved into a different frame.

Harry rubbed his arm, left off staring at Malfoy, and watched Pansy Parkinson wipe the floor with his friend. Literally.

After dinner, Headmistress McGonagall gave him somewhere else to put his wayward thoughts, though it wasn't a pleasant place.

She stood, tapped her glass with a teaspoon, cleared her throat, and spoke. "In a week, we will be holding Quidditch try-outs. They will be conducted on the pitch, October 15th, from one to six pm."

Harry and Ron looked at each other.

"I have spoken with the other professors and, unfortunately, due to the fact that it would mean other students not receiving spots they otherwise would have, our eighth years will not be allowed to join any House teams."

Ron's face fell immediately, and Harry turned his gaze on McGonagall, trying to ascertain if this was some kind of early Hallowe'en trick.

"However, the pitch will be open to you for recreational flying whenever there is not a scheduled practice for the teams." She gave them an apologetic smile.

When she'd dismissed them, Harry and Ron just sat at the table staring morosely at the empty space where their plates had been.

"She's right, you know," Hermione said.

"How can you say that?" Ron asked. "We can't play Quidditch!"

"I didn't say it was fair. I only said it was right." Hermione kissed the top of Ron's dejected head. "I need to talk to Professor Sinistra. Meet you in the foyer." She didn't wait for a reply before she hurried away.

"What are we going to do?" Ron asked.

Harry shrugged. "Dunno."

Ron sighed, his mouth twisting in thought. "I guess it is only fair that Ginny gets to be captain."

"She'd be great at it," Harry agreed.

"Say, maybe she'd let us... I don't know... strategise with her?"

"Sure," Harry said, though the disappointment still hadn't quite dissipated.

No Quidditch.

No Quidditch.

He felt like Voldemort had reached into his life from beyond the Veil, or wherever he was if any scrap of his soul still existed, and ripped yet another thing away from him.

And then he promptly felt very overdramatic for thinking it.

Ron broke him out of his self-pitying reverie. "I'm going to draw up some game plans. Show them to Ginny. I mean, she knows Chasing and Seeking, but Keeping isn't her strong suit. I could maybe, I don't know, help. What do you think?"

"Yeah, sure." They stood and talked goal-tending techniques as they made their way into the entrance hall.

But when Harry turned to the stairs to head back to the dormitory, Ron stayed put.

"I need to wait here for Hermione. We're supposed to… I said I'd… We're going on a…"

"A date?"

"Yeah, a date."

"Why couldn't you just say that?" Harry asked. "Look at you. You're blushing like a bloody virgin, aren't you?"

And that was when Ron went so red Harry feared he might expire right there from embarrassment.

Harry's eyes widened. "You— You two are going to—? Tonight?"

"What? Are you kidding, Harry? This is Hermione. No, tonight we're going to talk about it."

"Oh." Harry nodded slowly. "Still. Have you ever…talked about it… you know… before?" He tried not to fidget too much or to in any way outwardly indicate how his skin was crawling from the topic.

Ron looked vaguely miserable. "Only after we've made out for four bloody hours and I'm dying."

"I see," Harry said. He didn't know what else to say. Then, unfortunately, he thought of something. "Can't you… you know… take care of it yourself? There's no rule against that, is there?"

"No, I'm… consoling the one-man band," Ron said. "It's just… Well, I'm sort of mental over her, right? I sort of need it. A lot. And she seems okay with the kissing. She's some kind of sexual… camel or something."

Harry couldn't help but make a bit of a face at that.

But then Hermione came into the foyer and headed straight for Ron with a glowing smile. Harry smacked Ron on the arm, not really knowing what else to do. "Have fun, mate," he sighed.

"Yeah. All right, Harry. Talk Quidditch later?" Ron looked like someone about to go take his N.E.W.T.s.

"Absolutely. See you, Hermione." Harry waved, frankly glad to be shot of the both of them, circumstances being what they were. Harry bounded up to the common room alone.

"Flesh-eating slug," he said, turning the knob and stepping inside.

The room was pretty sparse. Just Goldstein playing chess with Padma, while Luna and Ned listened to the Wireless over by the window.

And Malfoy reading on the sofa in front of the hearth.

Harry didn't let himself think. He just walked where his feet wanted to go and sat heavily right next to Malfoy. It earned him a sardonic eyebrow.

"What are you doing?" Harry asked.

Malfoy, face unchanged, raised his book.

Harry read from the cover. "Advanced Potion Work for the Pre-Professional Witch and Wizard. Volume Three."

Malfoy dropped the book back into his lap. "What of it, Potter?"

"Nothing. It's just not the book for our class. Are you doing a special project or something? Slughorn give you extra credit work?"

"Is this you making conversation? Because I can do better. How's the erection, Potter?"

"Not bad, Malfoy. How's yours?" Harry tried to conceal how exciting it was to be openly talking about their penises.

Malfoy's lips twitched. The tips of his ears went pink again. He sighed. "What do you want?"

He didn't sound like he was offering a one-off, so Harry scooted about a foot down the sofa, giving Malfoy his space. An idea had formulated on his way up to the dormitory. He took a deep breath. "Are you disappointed you can't play for Slytherin?"

"Why would I be?"

"Why would you be -- why wouldn't you be? You were their Seeker. You played… decently."

Malfoy suppressed a laugh. Merlin, Harry had almost made him laugh. It was hard not to smile.

"I'm too busy anyway." Malfoy picked up his book as though he meant to read it again.

"With that? Surely you can pass Potions without—"

"I don't want to pass Potions, Potter." Malfoy scowled. "I want an Outstanding. Don't you?"

"Not if it means taking a pass on Quidditch. Come on, Malfoy, don't you want to play?"

"We don't get to play." Malfoy's jaw went hard and angular. Harry suspected he was gnashing his teeth.

Harry steeled himself and let his idea out. "What if we formed our own teams?" He didn't want to let himself think about why he was talking about this with Malfoy first rather than Ron. Ron was busy, he rationalised. Malfoy was here. On the sofa.

Looking fit, his dick chimed in.

Malfoy turned his gaze on Harry, and the caustic disbelief there was almost… arousing. Merlin, he had to get this Malfoy thing out of his system and soon. "What are you on about?"

"I'm talking about us. The eighth years. We form our own teams. Play for fun."

Malfoy frowned at him harder.

"Should I take your intense scowling for a maybe?"

Malfoy broke then. Not completely, but enough. He huffed a laugh and shut his eyes.

For a split second, Harry wanted to kiss him.

"I need to read this, Potter." Malfoy righted his book again.

"That's almost a yes, isn't it?"

"Go away." There was a definite lift to the corner of Malfoy's mouth.

"Only if you say that's almost a yes."

"God, bugger off, will you?"

"Say it."

"Merlin's tits, Potter, fine!"

"So you'll speak to the Slytherins? Get them on board?"

"Have you once. Ever. Seen any one of them on a broom?"

Harry frowned. "No, I suppose not. But Hermione hates flying, too. Tell you what. I'll get her if you get one of yours. We need enough for two teams. We can interchange people, but we still need enough just to play."

"Are you always this infuriating?" Malfoy turned his gaze back to Harry again, but it belied his words, travelling over Harry's face, down his body, and back up.

"I think that depends on you, Malfoy."

Pink-tipped ears again.

Yes!

"Enjoy your book," Harry said. Then he bounded off the couch, down the hall, and into his room.

He flopped down onto his bed and pulled the curtains. He tossed up some privacy charms and shoved his hand into his pants.

Then he consoled the one-man band.

Chapter Text

The day of Quidditch try-outs dawned crisp and blindingly sunny. Harry and Ron had decided to sit in the stands and cheer everyone on, Ginny included, even if that did mean they'd only annoy the bloody hell out of her. Harry found himself wanting to run to the pitch with the other students and very nearly did. All that held him back was that Ron was still recovering from a jelly-legs jinx sent his way by one Blaise Zabini for some sort of perceived dormitory infraction. Harry had to admit that Ron may very well have been guilty of it, too. He did have a stubborn streak and could be a bit of a mess after all.

So Harry walked slowly, breathing in the scent of broom wax and freshly-groomed tail twigs.

The try-outs themselves were a bittersweet experience. It was disconcerting to know he wouldn't be flying in any games, that the Snitch was no longer his to catch. Harry found himself simultaneously envious of and excited for the fresh new faces that went zooming by as he yelled, "That's it! Lean into the turn!" and "Bloody great save!"

He already had his eye on two young ones for Gryffindor Seeker, both second year girls but with vastly different styles. He found himself admiring Shelton's daring and McDermot's cunning, Shelton's wild moves and McDermot's efficiency. It was a little like watching himself and Malfoy in action again, and Harry couldn't help the knot of nostalgia that sat in his throat at the thought.

In the middle of the action, Ginny flew over to where they sat and hovered. "Who do you like, Harry?"

"Harry?" Ron complained. "Don't you want to know who I like, too?"

Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Stott and her brother would make great Beaters," Harry said.

Ginny nodded. "Dana's great. And Archie reminds me of--" She stopped suddenly.

"Fred," Ron finished for her.

They looked at one another, Ginny nodding. Ron gave her a sad smile, and Ginny sniffed, turning shrewd eyes back on the try-outs. "Who do you have for Seeker, Harry?"

"You're not going to be Seeker, Gin?" Harry asked.

She shrugged. "I like the Quaffle better than the Snitch."

Harry had to wonder if there was an underlying message there about Neville and him. He decided it didn't matter if there was. He'd never love anything better than chasing down the Snitch. He was pretty sure Malfoy felt the same. Harry cleared his throat. "Shelton or McDermot."

Ginny smiled at him. "My thoughts exactly." She went back to watching the kids go through the drills she'd set for them. "For Chasers I'm going to go with those boys there."

Harry nodded. "Not bad."

"Hey!" Ron yelled, finally having enough of it.

"Okay, Ron," Ginny sighed. "Who do you have for Keeper then?"

"Cordelia Bursnell," Ron said without hesitation. Then he nodded covertly in her direction, indicating a quite large, possibly surly-looking (or possibly just shy) fifth year girl with dark skin and a—

"Whoa!" Harry said as she made a lightning fast grab to save the goal.

"Right?" Ron nodded. "You'd be crazy not to take her, Gin."

"That I would be," Ginny agreed. "Thanks!"

With that she flew off to the centre of the pitch.

"Hey, Ginny, I've got game plans!" Ron stood and yelled after her.

She waved him off without a backward glance, and Harry couldn't help but choke back a laugh at his stricken face.

"Come on," Harry said. "We can plan our own practices."

Harry had told Ron all about his eighth year teams idea over breakfast. Likewise, after Hermione left for the library, Ron told Harry that their talk had gone well and now they had Christmas break "plans". It was more than Harry felt he should know, but he was happy for them nonetheless.

Try-outs had taken hours, and when they entered the castle, the smell of dinner assaulted them.

"Bloody hell, I'm starving, and I didn't even play!" Ron said.

They ate that evening like they were conducting a siege on food itself.

Hermione rolled her eyes but asked, "Good practice?"

Ron's mouth was too busy, so Harry answered. "Brilliant. Except for not getting to play."

"Of course." She reached over and gave Harry's hand a sympathetic squeeze.

"How was the library?" Harry asked. "Like old times?"

She let out a grand sigh. "Gruelling really. As bad as third year. I want my Time Turner back."

"Which classes were you studying for?"

"Arithmancy mostly. But I could hardly get anything done with Malfoy having all the books I wanted checked out for himself."

"You saw Malfoy in the library?" Harry asked casually.

"Mostly just his hair sticking out above a great pile of books. Do you know why he's studying so hard? It's almost frantic. Have you noticed?" Hermione took a bite of her treacle tart.

Ron swallowed finally. "I heard he's got to. If he doesn't get all Exceeds Expectations on his N.E.W.T.s--"

"That can't be right," Hermione said. "I heard he had to abide the law and all Hogwarts rules. I'm guessing he's just working hard to get good marks because he knows how hard it's going to be for him after he leaves here. He'll have a better chance if his N.E.W.T.s are impressive." She shrugged.

"Obey the rules, get good marks... Whatever the stipulation actually is, if he blows it..." Ron made a gesture across his throat with his butter knife.

"It's not funny, Ron," Harry said.

"Oi! It's only Malfoy."

He and Hermione then got into an argument about the wisdom or fallacy of the Wizengamot's decision for Malfoy's probation while Harry slowly chewed his food. When they paused for breath and fuming, Harry interjected, "So he was in the library all afternoon?"

"I believe so, why?"

Harry shrugged. His food had gone bland, and he was no longer having such a fun day. He looked down the table, toward the more Slytherin end. Malfoy wasn't there. Harry wondered if he was even going to eat at all or if he was too busy trying not to get sent to Azkaban.

To Azkaban.

When all Harry had done all day was watch Quidditch like he didn't have a care in the world.

And he didn't even know if that would be considered normal or... Well, shallow. Harry knew that 'normal' was not his speciality by any means.

What was his speciality now that he wasn't trying to save the world? Now that his broom had been grounded? Now that he was…

Gay.

Harry surreptitiously looked up and studied Ron's face across the table. Ron was decent looking. A little odd here and there, but decent. For the first time, Harry scanned himself for… Well, feelings.

He'd hardly begun, though, when he felt the ruddy unholiness of it all strike him in the gut.

"Harry? Are you quite all right? Merlin, you're positively green." Hermione reached across the table for his hand.

"No. I'm… I'm fine. Bit of a bad plum in this pudding. Beware."

Rather than suffer her concern and questions, he excused himself. When he got to the entrance hall and turned to the stairs to head back to the common room, he stopped. The doors to the front were open, letting in the cool air before it turned winter cold. He realised he could walk outside, that he could leave the grounds, that he could go anywhere. As long as he was back by curfew.

He looked back at the dining hall where his friends were. He looked up the stairs again. Then he walked outside and breathed in the fresh air.

As he wandered through the courtyard, he saw Seamus talking with Dean. Harry waved, and they called back, and then started talking together again. Harry imagined kissing Dean. It wasn't too bad of a thing. Not like Ron. He tried to imagine having sex with Seamus. And that was borderline ridiculous. He tried imagining them together, and that was pretty good, actually. Except that they were his friends, and really the whole idea was more off-putting than not.

Harry passed three more boys, one seventh year and two sixth. It was easier imagining a snog with them as he didn't even know their names. It was… okay. The seventh year, the tall one… Harry could see that. He could picture fumbling hands in the dark; trousers yanked open; hot, fast breaths.

Harry cleared his throat.

Not bad. He could be gay with that guy.

He passed Luna Lovegood and Padma Patil, and because this was a scientific experiment, he gave that a go, too. Not much happened except that he started thinking of the two of them together without him at all, and that was pretty good.

Maybe he was bisexual, then.

Maybe he was just a freak.

Maybe it was mainly, mostly…

No. He couldn't even think that. The thought made him want to run back, find that seventh year bloke, and pin him to the flagstones, kissing him until Draco Malfoy was no longer this looming thing in his mind, whispering, "It's me, Potter. It's all me. You're a dodgy, gay, poncy git for me, aren't you? Aren't you, Potter? You and your out-of-control erections. Now come over here, get on your knees, and suck my—"

Harry shook his head to clear it. He blamed Twister. He blamed Dean Thomas. He blamed Ginny for falling in love with Neville. He blamed Neville for getting all fit.

Harry had blamed half the school when he suddenly realised he was most of the way to Hogsmeade and it was getting dark. He pulled his wand and cast a weak Lumos, illuminating the path ahead. He kicked at some stones with the toe of his trainer and watched them skitter into the hedges beside the road.

"Shit," came a hiss from beyond the trees.

Harry noticed a faint silver light fizzling out. He would have thought it was someone else's Lumos except that Lumos was more white light than silver and no one had called Nox. And Lumos didn't fizzle away like that.

Patronuses did. When you didn't cast one properly.

Harry walked into the trees, toward the rustling. He palmed the thick trunks and tried to step quietly. He wasn't sure who he expected to find when he came to a bit of a clearing near a rickety fence. But the fact that it was Malfoy standing there near a broken post, the Shrieking Shack towering beyond, made an odd sort of sense to him. Malfoy stowed his wand as Harry approached. He looked guilty.

"What are you doing out here?" Malfoy snapped at him.

"Taking a walk. What are you doing spellwork out here for?" Harry came to stand a few feet away.

"It's nothing. Just wanted some privacy. Guess I can't have it."

"If it's privacy you want, try the Forbidden Forest. No one will follow you in there."

"Except you," Malfoy sneered, but Harry thought there was also something complimentary in it.

Harry smiled a little. He took a step closer. "So, what were you working on?"

"If I wanted to talk about it, I wouldn't be on my own in the woods, now would I?" There wasn't any heat in Malfoy's voice, though. Harry suspected he wasn't here because he wanted privacy but because, for whatever reason, he needed it.

He knew his alarm bells should be going off. He'd spent the better part of his years at Hogwarts suspicious of Draco Malfoy and for very good reason. But now that he was nearer, seeing Malfoy's pointy profile by the light of the brilliant half-moon, he didn't look so much guilty as ashamed.

"Are you trying to conjure a Patronus?" Harry knew he was being blunt. He knew it was none of his business and that Malfoy would likely tell him so. But… Well, the idea of it sparked something inside of him. That Malfoy, a former Death Eater, would want a Patronus, that he'd feel he might be capable...

That something in Malfoy wanted to be good.

Malfoy kicked at the fence post, dirtying his fine shoe. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter."

"Why would it be ridiculous?" Harry took two more steps forward, daring to stand beside him. He leaned on the fence and stared at Malfoy's jaw working. It was such a sharp jaw, the lines of it perfect and smooth. Harry wet his lips, waiting for his answer.

"You know why," Malfoy said.

Harry blinked at him. Then he scanned the area, looking up into the dark trees.

"What are you looking for?" Malfoy frowned.

"I think you're getting interference here." Harry pointed up to the canopy of dry leaves overhead. "For your first full Patronus, you'll need space." He took a breath and let it out. "Come on." He planted his hand on the post and vaulted over the place where the wood had rotted.

"What are you doing?"

"Come on," Harry said. "I'll show you."

"I don't think…"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Bloody hell, Draco, it's not even close to curfew. Come on."

Malfoy firmed his lips, sighing. He looked around, like any moment his Slytherin friends would pop out of the bushes to make fun of him. Harry waited patiently even though he wanted to grab Malfoy's arm and drag him into the field.

"Fine," Malfoy finally spat, jumping the fence to join Harry on the other side.

"Brilliant."

"We'll see about that."

Harry smiled. "Okay, come here." He walked into the field about ten paces. "Don't worry. We can't be seen from the road here."

Malfoy stepped cautiously up beside him. Harry drew his wand. He looked at Malfoy. "Go on, then."

Malfoy frowned at him, but then he drew his wand, too.

"All right, well, the hardest part of producing a Patronus – and the easiest part, once you get it – is that you have to feel it," Harry began.

And Merlin, it was just like Dumbledore's Army! It was like Felix Felicis running through his veins. It was magic the way it had always felt to him when it went perfectly, when he didn't have to worry about dying or saving anyone and it was only about the fire flying down his arm, into his grip, and blasting out of his wand, an extension of the very best part of him – his heart and his soul and the hope in him. The fierce joy.

He didn't have to teach Malfoy posture or wand grip like he did with most of the others he'd helped. Malfoy already had those things down to an art. Harry could just cue him, and Malfoy would take a textbook perfect stance.

"Good, good," Harry said, almost wishing he had a reason to correct him, just to get to touch him. The straight, strong line of his shoulders, that regal neck, those slim hips and that arse that was just so—

Harry cleared his throat and, instead, focused on the more difficult (and less distracting) aspects, such as the deep, steady breaths, the clearing of one's mind. "And then access your happiest memory," Harry told him, feeling very relaxed and energised himself.

Harry got still, found the quiet place inside himself that was always alive with potential, focused his energy there, put intent into his grip…

"Expecto Patronum!"

The stag erupted into being, shining brightly in the clearing, the moon hanging over its antlered head like a lopsided crown.

Malfoy stared at it as though he'd never seen a stag in his life. Then he swallowed thickly. "I, uh…I should get back."

"What? Why?" With his concentration gone, Harry's Patronus diminished, galloped a couple of paces, and then faded into the darkening night.

"I just-- I think that's enough for now."

"You don't have to conjure a full Patronus, you know," Harry said. "Nobody does on their first try, believe me. A shield form can do a lot of good in a tight situation."

Malfoy holstered his wand, not looking at Harry. "Such as a cutthroat game of Twister?"

As the words sank in, a surprised laugh left Harry's lips. Malfoy slanted him a cautious smile.

"I actually can't see how that would have benefited anyone," Harry admitted.

"Nothing for it but to fall, I suppose."

"Right."

Suddenly the moon was gilding Malfoy's hair, and his pointiness softened, and his eyes shone with something not unlike… friendliness.

Harry had been so busy feeling gay about Malfoy that he hadn't once given himself the opportunity to wonder if they could be…

Friends.

Patronus Practice

"What?" Malfoy asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"Nothing," Harry said quickly. "Are you going back to the castle then?"

"Aren't you?"

"Yes. Yeah. I mean, sure." Harry holstered his wand for something to do with his hands. He hadn't had a destination, after all, so he might as well go back to his dormitory. Even though part of him wanted to ask Malfoy out for a pint so bad he could practically taste the words in his mouth. He didn't feel quite up for that yet, though, so he asked instead, "Mind if I walk back with you?"

Malfoy frowned, but as Malfoy's frowns went, it wasn't altogether harsh. More confused-looking than angry. "I suppose not."

"Good," Harry said, and one after the other they jumped the fence again and made their way back through the trees toward the road.

It was fully dark now, so Harry cast a strong Lumos to light their way. They walked side by side back toward the castle as the air grew colder and the moon rose. Malfoy stuck his hands in his pockets and watched the ground where he walked.

"So, what do you think your Patronus is going to be?" Harry asked.

"How should I know?"

Harry shrugged. "I just thought maybe you'd have a preference."

"Does preference matter?"

"I don't actually know," Harry admitted. "I have a stag like my father's, but it's not like I expected that. I didn't really expect anything. I didn't know to. You know?"

When Malfoy just pensively strode on, Harry pestered a bit.

"So, what would you choose, if you got a choice?"

Malfoy sighed. "I'm not sure. A bird maybe?"

"Brilliant." Harry nodded. "What kind?"

Malfoy lifted his gaze and peered up at the night sky as if he could see it there, flying over them. A smattering of stars winked on. "Something fast," he said. "A blackbird."

Harry envisioned a small, fast blackbird emerging from Malfoy's wand, its wings beating the air and then soaring high overhead. With how good Malfoy was on a broom, it could work. It made sense.

"What, do you think that's bloody daft or something?" Malfoy's brows descended into a deep scowl.

"No," Harry said quickly. "No, not at all. I think it suits you, actually."

"You do?"

"Yeah."

Malfoy sighed, the tension draining out of his shoulders, and Harry relaxed again. It was a new sensation, not wanting to anger Malfoy, wanting to be nice to him, wanting him not to feel bad.

Harry gazed at Venus rising over the nearing castle walls.

He might bloody well like the prat.

They reached the gate, but before Malfoy could walk through to the courtyard and, presumably, go his own way, Harry grabbed his elbow. Malfoy frowned down at his hand but then looked into Harry's eyes.

Harry dropped his hand and swallowed. "I was just wondering. If you'd want to maybe… do this again. Sometime."

Malfoy blinked at him. "Why?"

"What do you mean, 'why'?" Harry couldn't help but laugh. But at Malfoy's defensive jaw-firming, he sobered. "Do you mean why like, 'What's your ulterior motive, Potter?'"

"I suppose so, yeah."

Harry took a chance, reached out, and closed his hand gently on Malfoy's arm. Malfoy looked down at it and then back up at Harry's face, perplexed. Harry realised too late that he was touching right where the Dark Mark would be. But he couldn't pull back now. He couldn't change it. He just needed to say what he intended to say.

"I want to be there when you do it."

Malfoy gulped. "You do?"

"Yeah." Harry smiled at him. Malfoy's shirt was cool against his fingers, but the arm underneath exuded a very pleasant heat. Regretfully, Harry let go. "So? Would you want to?"

Malfoy wouldn't meet his eyes. "When?"

"Are you free Wednesday night?"

"I think so."

"Great. Walk over together or meet there?"

"Meet there?" Malfoy asked, and the nervousness Harry heard in his voice was heartening. It made Harry feel a lot less stupid about his own.

"Yeah, sure. Eight o'clock?"

"All right."

"Okay." Harry smiled.

Malfoy gave him a tremulous smile in return.

"Are you, er, going back to the common room now?" Harry asked.

"No. I missed dinner."

"Oh yeah, that's right. You weren't at the table."

"You noticed?" Malfoy asked.

"Sure. I mean, you're hard to miss. Er, not miss. I mean, you're very striking." Horrified, Harry kept going. "What I mean is… well… your hair…" He trailed off, utterly cringing on the inside. And yeah, on the outside a little, too.

But Malfoy didn't laugh at him. In fact, his ears had gone red again. But, Harry rationalised, that could have been the cold. The temperature was dropping fast, and Harry had begun to shiver slightly.

"Anyway," Malfoy said. "I thought I'd try to get some food from the house-elves."

"Oh, yeah. Brilliant. Just tickle the pear."

"Excuse me?"

"You know. The pear. You tickle it?"

When Malfoy just continued to stare at him, Harry flushed.

"Okay, so you don't know about the pear then."

Malfoy shook his head.

"You're going to need to follow me."

Malfoy looked sceptical, but he followed Harry inside nonetheless. They made their way down the hallway, and when they reached the painting, Harry pointed. "The pear," he said. "Tickle it."

"Are you taking the piss?" Malfoy asked.

Harry laughed. "I'm completely not, no."

Malfoy gave him a thunderous look while still reaching his graceful finger toward the pear. The sight was just almost too funny not to laugh at, but Harry managed.

"Bloody hell," Malfoy said as the door opened and allowed them into the kitchens.

"Told you."

A dozen elves lined up to do the honour of fetching Malfoy a meal, but Harry stopped them and touched Malfoy's elbow.

"What?"

"Well, if you, say, brought back cakes and pies enough for everyone, I guarantee you'd be King of the Common Room." Harry gave him a conspiratorial smirk.

Malfoy slowly nodded. "Do you think?"

"Most definitely."

Malfoy nodded again. "Two dozen of your best cakes and pies," he demanded.

Harry removed his hand again. Fuck, touching Malfoy could get addictive.

Harry was so very gay.

"Look," he said. "I, uh, I need to get back and feed Gordon." It wasn't the truth, but Harry didn't think Malfoy would like the truth, which was that he was afraid people would think it was his idea to bring sweets, not Malfoy's, and that Harry would inadvertently steal his moment. Which, it was his idea, but just because Malfoy wasn't used to thinking of others didn't mean it couldn't, eventually, come naturally, right? And he seemed to like the idea, even if he only liked that he'd curry favour by his action. What did that matter, really?

"I can manage on my own," Malfoy said.

"Good. I'll, uh, see you back there then."

"Yeah. Sure."

Harry turned to leave as five house-elves scurried past.

"Potter."

"Yeah?"

Malfoy frowned at him. "Thank you."

Harry smiled back, realising that maybe Malfoy's frowns were just a form of slightly confused smiling. "You're welcome, Draco."

It felt good to say.

It felt very, very good to say.

 

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It turned out that Harry's Malfoy-brings-everyone-sweets idea was wildly successful, even though Harry himself wasn't there to see it. He'd stayed in the dormitory, and he wasn't sure why.

He heard about it the next day at breakfast. Ron with his mouth full: "Seriously! Malfoy! Can you believe that?"

"He's changed," Harry said, clinking a spoon around in his nearly empty teacup.

"That or he's buttering us up for something," Ron mused. "Or fattening us up. Maybe he plans to eat us." After a moment, he shrugged, apparently accepting that Malfoy had changed for the better. He shovelled some more food into his mouth.

Harry glanced up at Malfoy down at the other end of the table, but he was in a conversation with Parkinson and didn't look up.

He didn't have time to think of Malfoy after that as he had a full morning and afternoon of quizzes in both Potions and Transfiguration. Harry thought they must have been the result of some nefarious late-night staff room group decision to end them all. If the N.E.W.Ts were half as hard, they were well and truly buggered.

It was a relief to go into Defence and find that no such test awaited them.

What did await, however, was Professor Snape pairing him with Malfoy again. Harry couldn't decide if he was elated or frustrated. At least this time they weren't asked to duel at the front of the room with the entire class as their audience. Everyone else was paired off as well, and Malfoy and he took a place off to the side, well out of the way of those students whose wands were known to "backfire" on occasion.

"Hey," Harry said with a small smile.

"Hey."

Harry's hand was sweating where he gripped his wand. He watched Malfoy swallow.

"Take your positions," Snape said. "Bow. And… begin!"

It started off perfectly normal: Expelliarmus, Confundus, Immobulus, Stinging Hexes, Jelly-Legs Jinxes, and the like. Harry dodged, Malfoy feinted, and neither one of them struck true. Malfoy managed to make Harry's left arm go numb, and Harry got off an Aquamenti that drenched Malfoy's shirt, but it hardly stopped him firing off his own Stupefy which Harry ducked at the last moment.

It didn't seem to have gone on for long, but steadily Harry came to realise that the rest of the room had gone strangely quiet. He could hear one or two jinxes going off in the background, but it seemed most of the class had left off. He glanced to the side to find several of his contemporaries immobilised by spells that had hit their targets and others out of breath and shaking hands.

After several more arduous minutes, it became clear that he and Malfoy were the only ones still at it. And Professor Snape wasn't stopping them.

Harry flicked three quick wordless jinxes Malfoy's way, but Malfoy rolled and met them with his own defensive spells. Their magic met between them and sizzled together before skittering off across the room as they regrouped.

They circled each other, now panting.

"Conjunctivitus!" Malfoy threw at him.

Harry dodged. "Petrificus--"

Malfoy swiped his magic through the air and tripped Harry up mid-spell, but Harry managed a Stinging Hex from the ground and caught Malfoy's wand wrist. Malfoy hissed but didn't drop his wand.

Spell after spell, it went like that. The sweat had begun to drip off Harry's hair and into his eyes. It shone on Malfoy's face as well, and he flicked his own hair out of his face. He'd let it get a bit longer again, sort of floppy and pretty, and if Harry wasn't careful--

"Expelliarmus!" Malfoy called, stripping Harry of his wand.

"Brilliant, Malfoy!" Blaise cheered.

Harry thought fast and tried something he'd been practicing on his own – a wandless hex that stunned temporarily. He threw out his hand, and his magic struck like lightning, catching Malfoy in the shoulder. He dropped Harry's wand, and Harry Accio'd it back quickly.

"Go, Harry!" Hermione shouted, and he felt the exhilaration soar through him.

Malfoy recovered fast, and then they were back at it. Half an hour must have gone by. Maybe more. The whole class had surrounded them in a wide semi-circle, and shouts of encouragement abounded on both sides. Harry realised that some of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were pulling for Malfoy instead of him now. Probably the pies, Harry thought. He would have given a rueful laugh if he weren't ducking out of the way of a Knee-Reversal Hex.

Forty-five minutes. It had to have been. They were both dripping sweat and struggling to breathe, still throwing spells back and forth, neither one of them achieving the upper hand. Harry's legs felt weak, and Malfoy looked like he might collapse any time.

Finally, Snape's calm voice rang through the room. "That will be enough."

They lowered their wand arms simultaneously. Malfoy immediately dropped to his knees even as Harry collapsed onto the floor on his back. A great cheer went up around the room, and Professor Snape shouted for silence.

"Your homework will be to perfect one wandless spell from your book. Nothing from chapter eight, please. Only chapters one through seven. I expect all of you to be able to demonstrate your considerable expertise before the winter break. Thank you. That will be all."

"Great job, Harry." "You'll get him next time, Harry." "Bloody amazing, Harry," his friends chorused as they filed past his flat body on their way out.

Harry turned his head on the floor and looked at Malfoy slouched there a few feet away. Several people – not just Zabini or Parkinson – were congratulating him, too. Harry smiled. Malfoy nodded his thanks at the Patil twins before looking up and meeting Harry's gaze. He gave Harry a slow, crooked smirk.

That, more than any spell he'd fired off during their duel, nearly did Harry in.

 

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Harry took a fast shower before dinner and then went down and ate like his life depended on every calorie.

"Want to take the pitch for an hour?" Ron asked when they were finished.

"Merlin, no. I'm too stuffed, mate."

"Suit yourself. Are you going to the library, Hermione?"

She gave him a smile. "I could probably bring my books and sit in the stands."

Harry decided to let them flirt in peace and dismissed himself. He trudged up to the dorms, replete, trying to decide if he was going to practice his wandless spell tonight or maybe work on his History of Magic essay instead.

He checked out the common room, telling himself that he wasn't expressly looking for Malfoy. He was just being thorough. But there was no shimmering blond head. No reason for his heart to skip any beats.

Harry headed down the hall to his room. There was no one else inside when he opened the door and flicked on the light beside his bed.

Harry made to sit down and then stopped.

"What the--?"

He looked at the thing sitting on his covers and frowned.

He peered around, expecting to find a sneaking Seamus or snickering Dean, but no one was there. His ferret, even, slept tucked away in his enclosure – which was a miracle considering what was waiting on the bed so very nearby.

Harry reached down and picked up the cupcake. It appeared to be chocolate with chocolate frosting. He ran his wand over it, checking for any… well… He felt silly even thinking it, but…

Dark bakery magic.

There was none.

And that's when he noticed the note underneath where the cupcake had been sitting. Harry set the cake on the table beside his bed and opened the note. The handwriting was precise, even beautiful. Harry's breath went shallow.

Since you missed out on my magnanimity, Potter. I hope you like chocolate. But really, who doesn't like chocolate?

Good duelling today.

DM

The smile that dawned on Harry's face was entirely involuntary. The blush that stole over his cheeks was, too.

But actually sitting down and sinking his teeth into the cupcake when he was already so very full? That was by choice.

 

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Ginny posted the results of the Quidditch try-outs two days later. She'd chosen Shelton, the player who reminded Harry of himself, for Seeker. He felt strangely vindicated by that, like even if he'd been a crap boyfriend, she still thought he was a good Quidditch player.

It was something.

She'd even invited Ron and Harry to watch their first practice that Saturday. Harry jumped on the chance and decided to bring his broom -- just in case Ginny needed someone to teach Shelton a proper Wronski Feint.

It wouldn't be the same as actually playing, but still, as the day arrived, cold and cloudy, Harry was eager. Ron and he bolted down some food and excused themselves early from breakfast to get to the pitch before anyone else and do some drills of their own.

They'd stayed up late the night before coming up with different plays should Ginny decide she'd like their input. They even had charts and graphs. It had taken Hermione shuffling out at two in the morning ("I can hear you talking Quaffles in my dreams.") to get them to finally leave off.

On the way to the stadium, Harry daydreamed about their first match, how Shelton would snag the Snitch because of his tutelage and Gryffindor would reign victorious.

It was both surprising and disheartening, then, when McGonagall stopped him more than halfway to the pitch.

"Mr Potter!"

He glanced back at Ron briefly. "Yes, Professor?"

She approached him, slightly out of breath. "Mr Potter, there is a man from the Daily Prophet here to see you."

"But I--"

"I know you're going to watch the practice, and it wasn't scheduled until a fortnight from now, but he says he has to catch a Portkey to Egypt this afternoon for a long piece on... Well, something to do with Egyptian goblins and Pharaohs' gold. He says this shouldn't take but ten minutes."

"What shouldn't take but ten minutes?" Harry attempted to hem in his impatience. He looked back at Ron, but his friend had already disappeared into the dark breezeway between the stands. Harry firmed his jaw and turned back to the headmistress.

"He'd like to interview you," McGonagall informed on a smile that told Harry she either had no idea how vile Harry found interviews or was choosing to ignore this knowledge.

He couldn't help it; he sighed.

"Harry." Oh, boy. "Normally, I would not ask this of you, but..." She lowered her voice, whether conspiratorially or from mild shame, Harry couldn't be sure. "Well, you've seen the state of the castle."

"Um...yes?"

"I'll be blunt, Mr Potter. The newspaper has offered a substantial... gift... to the school, if..."

"If I'll grant this interview," Harry finished for her.

She sighed as though he'd already agreed. "Yes. That's it exactly." She smiled.

This wasn't exactly how he pictured his morning going, but... Well, he'd be doing a good thing for the school, right? Casting one last look back at the pitch, he asked, "Just ten minutes? That's all he's asking for?"

"Indeed. I'd consider it a personal favour, Mr Potter."

Harry gave her a smile and nodded. "All right."

"Splendid!" McGonagall clapped her hands together. "Right this way."

She led him, broom over his shoulder, back into the castle, through the Great Hall, and into the chamber adjacent. Harry was at least relieved it wasn't a broom closet with Rita Skeeter waiting for him in it.

"Thank you, Mr Potter," McGonagall whispered as she opened the door for him and then turned to go.

Harry walked into the room and--

Flash!

"Oi! What are you--?"

"Harvey, Harry. Harvey Creevey. I'm Colin and Dennis' da." A pudgy man in smudged spectacles stuck out his hand.

Harry blinked and then belatedly took it. "Oh. I, er, I didn't know you... I mean, I thought... You're a--"

"'Muggle'?" Mr Creevey asked readily. Then he put one hand to the side of his mouth as if to prevent even the portraits in the room from reading his lips. "Between you and me and your lovely headmistress, I'm actually a Squib. I like to say that my boys got all my magic!" He laughed.

At Harry's flabbergasted staring, Mr Creevey went on.

"I was in milk before." He nodded.

"Sir?"

"Milkman, that I was. I've, uh, I've had to learn about wizard photography to work for the paper. It's been a challenge but well worth it." He still had hold of Harry's hand and stepped in a bit closer, lowering his voice. "I decided it would be a good way to... you know... to serve his memory." Mr Creevey's eyes welled up, and he sniffed.

"Absolutely," Harry said, still feeling a bit thunderstruck.

Mr Creevey took Harry's hand in both his own. "Colin adored you, Harry. Just worshiped you, he did."

Harry felt his cheeks flame. His hand had begun to sweat, but the situation seemed to warrant his staying put. "He was a good friend," Harry fibbed. Suddenly, he felt like a horse's arse for avoiding Colin as much as possible for much of their Hogwarts experience. "He was a talented wizard. Very sharp with a camera, too."

Mr Creevey beamed. He let go of Harry's hand and set his own fists proudly on his hips. "Photography runs in the family," he said. "Always had a passion for it myself. I may have taught my boys the ins and outs, but Colin was a natural. That he was. He taught me more'n I taught him, I dare say." He sighed. "Well, I suppose we should get to it so that you can get back to your Quidditch."

"I'm happy to help, Mr Creevey," Harry said. It was true. Still, he fancied he could just almost hear Ron zinging by on his broom, laughing his head off and having the time of his life. Harry shook the image from his mind, feeling selfish and guilty.

They took seats in front of the hearth, and Mr Creevey set in with his questions.

And more questions...

And still more questions.

Harry was surprised at how many he had about the war itself. Being that he'd only asked for ten minutes, Harry had thought it would be mostly superficial rag bollocks -- not bringing up all the old pain, the suffering of his friends, things he didn't feel prepared to take on so suddenly.

Harry found it difficult to answer, but seeing the earnestness... the almost desperate need in Mr Creevey's expression, Harry pushed forward and did his best.

It was, ironically, a huge relief when Mr Creevey moved on to the subject of school, even though that led to questions about Harry's love life. ("I'm, uh, not dating anyone.")

He asked about Quidditch next. ("I'm excited to cheer Gryffindor on to another win this year.")

He asked how Harry's friendships were fairing now that He Who Must Not Be Named was out of the picture. ("Very well, thank you. I would not have made it through without them.")

"And what's your opinion, Harry, of the Wizengamot paroling former Death Eaters to further attend school here at Hogwarts?" Mr Creevey asked then.

Harry immediately bristled at the wording, even though he was trying very hard to like poor Mr Creevey. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure why my opinion matters," Harry said carefully. "The court made its decision."

"Yes, but how must it feel to continue to pursue one's education under the same dilapidated roof, or lack thereof, as former followers of He Who Must--"

"Voldemort, yes," Harry cut him off. "And I think you're speaking of one person in particular, since there really is only one such person at the school at this time?"

Mr Creevey blinked at him. "Indeed, I probably am."

Harry took a deep breath. Creevey was asking him about Malfoy. He was expressly asking him about Malfoy.

Harry recalled the rich chocolate from the illicit cupcake melting in his mouth. He recalled standing in a clearing with him and rooting for him to cast his first Patronus.

Unbidden, he recalled how it felt to hover over him, their bodies touching, trembling against one another...

He also remembered all the shit. How could he forget it? It was just as real, after all.

Merlin, how could anyone forget?

Harry envisioned whatever he said next showing up bold and embellished on the paper's front page:

Harry Potter In Cahoots with ex-Death Eater to Take Over Ministry!

Harry Potter Grandly Absolves Malfoy Family, Casts Doubt on Sanity.

Harry Potter Badly Wants to Shag Draco Malfoy into Floor! Legilimency Footage to Follow!

Harry looked down at his lap and sighed. "The Wizengamot made their decision, and I don't dispute it."

Mr Creevey wrote quickly on his ever-lengthening scroll of parchment. "Doesn't... dispute... it... Well, Mr Potter, that ought to do it!"

Harry felt like troll snot. "Right. Thanks."

"I'll be off then!" Mr Creevey stood. "Mind if I do a follow-up later in the year?"

Harry felt something ugly bloom deep in his gut. He'd talked about his last moments with Sirius; about his own godson growing up without knowing his parents, just like Harry had; about Cedric and Moody and Dumbledore! If Mr Creevey, no matter his good intentions, was asking him to go through that again at a later date...? Harry cleared his throat. "I'll be studying for my N.E.W.T.s and doubt I'll have the time." Or patience. Or fortitude.

"Ah. Very well. I'm glad I got this one, then!" Mr Creevey waved his parchment and made to leave.

Harry let him make it all the way to the door. Mr Creevey was practically through it when a horrible feeling of guilt and anger propelled Harry out of his chair. "Wait!"

Mr Creevey turned. "Yes, Harry?"

Harry turned to him, jaw firm. "Would you take this down, please?"

Creevey whipped out his quill. "Of course!" He laid the parchment on a side table and waited.

Harry closed his eyes. The thought of another interview like this one made him want to Apparate as far away as he could, but if he refused, he'd never get another chance to say the one thing that most needed said.

"Harry?" Creevey prompted.

"Right." Harry took a deep breath, opened his eyes again, and spoke. "Draco Malfoy is an outstanding student. He's working very hard to abide by the rules of his probation, and he should be commended for that. He has the potential to be not just a good wizard but a great one. And he deserves that chance."

Creevey wrote furiously and then lifted wide eyes to meet Harry's steely gaze.

"Did you get all that?" Harry asked.

"Why yes," Creevey said quietly. "Yes, I believe I did, Mr Potter."

"Good. Now I do have a Quidditch practice to get to."

"Of course."

Harry grabbed up his broom from where he'd laid it against the wall and squeezed past Creevey through the door. He jogged to the stadium, breathing hard by the time he entered the pitch itself, only to find the team coming to ground, all sweaty and smiling.

"Great work, Gryffindors!" Ron shouted from his own broom, having obviously got some flying in. "Great work!"

Ginny was at the far end of the pitch with Shelton, and they were talking seriously, heads together. Harry had the sudden poisonous thought that they were gossiping about what a terrible boyfriend he'd been and a worse Seeker -- which he knew was patently ridiculous and indicative of some severely misplaced anger. But there it roiled, under his skin, seething nonetheless.

The rest of the team filed out past Harry, huffing from exertion and smelly as a band of trolls.

"You've been forever, mate," Ron admonished good-naturedly. "Don't worry. I used one of our game plans!"

Harry ground his teeth together.

"Next time, yeah?" Ron smiled at him like it wasn't that big a deal. "Gotta go, I'm starving!" He trotted out of the stadium. Ginny and Shelton followed.

"Hey, Harry," Ginny said as she passed. Shelton just scurried along in her shadow.

Harry stared after them for a long moment, then he turned back to the empty pitch. The bright sun rapidly evaporated the last of the morning clouds. He threw his broom to the ground as hard as he could.

"FUCK!"

 

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Harry spent the next several weeks studying as hard as Hermione ever did. He needed something to take his mind off missing Quidditch practice and the resultant rage he'd experienced toward his formerly two favourite Weasleys. He hadn't accepted any more of Ginny's invitations to attend practices, even though he realised she was asking him because she knew how hard it was for him not to be involved. Actually, maybe he declined because he knew that was why she'd asked him.

Not because she actually needed his help. She didn't. She didn't need Ron's either, but he seemed happy to overlook that fact and had been at all the practices ever since the first.

Harry hadn't stayed angry, of course. He felt pleased for the both of them if he were honest. And they were good at coaching the team; he could tell from the players' smiles and the respect they obviously harboured for both Ginny and Ron. Harry was happy for them. Truly. He just wasn't all that happy for himself.

And it wasn't just Quidditch that had pushed Harry to adopt new priorities. After the interview, he'd lain awake that night wondering what the article was going to say -- which information would be embellished and how, which bits would get eliminated altogether, and what might be added that he'd never said at all. As much as he wanted to think otherwise, Harry didn't quite believe Mr Creevey was going to be that much more ethical than the infamous Rita Skeeter, and he reckoned he'd better prepare for the worst.

It wasn't set to publish until nearly Christmas break, so Harry found himself with plenty of time to stew. He hated stewing, so he elected instead to bury himself in his classwork. He was behind in Potions and History of Magic anyway.

"Brilliant!" had been Hermione's reaction when he'd joined her in the library. Though, truthfully, he thought she probably preferred her new friends for such a thing. She'd really hit it off with the Ravenclaw girls, and Harry almost envied their zeal for such things as memorising star charts and inventing new rune spreads in their "spare time".

He didn't really have anyone he clicked with over school stuff like that.

Well, unless you counted Malfoy and his new-found appreciation for Defence.

Their Wednesday get-togethers to work on Malfoy's Patronus were something that sat nearly always at the forefront of Harry's mind. Malfoy was trying really hard, and he'd got a fair shield form a few times. Harry often found himself thinking of their Wednesdays when he should have been thinking of other things. He'd finished reading the thirty assigned pages for History of Magic one night only to realise he'd been thinking of wand-holding techniques through a good deal of it.

Specifically Malfoy's grip on his wand.

Malfoy's sure, solid grip on his long, hard w--

"What are you thinking about?" Hermione had asked from across the table.

"Hmm?"

"Harry." She'd smiled. "You had the dreamiest look on your face." She'd looked around to make sure they were alone. (It had been nine o'clock on a Friday night, and they were in the library; of course they were alone.) "Are you interested in someone?"

"What? No!" he'd answered a little too vehemently.

Hermione had given him a sideways, mischievous look, but she'd dropped it all the same.

Truth be told, it wasn't just Malfoy's hands and his, er, "wand" that he'd been fantasising about. He'd been thinking of Malfoy casting his fast little blackbird Patronus, the way his face was going to light up, the smile he'd then turn on Harry....

And though he wasn't ready to confide in Hermione (if only because confiding in her meant also confiding in Ron, and Harry didn't think Ron's newly minted Malfoy-tolerance would extend quite that far), Harry didn't really feel any sense of guilt over it anymore. So he liked Malfoy? So he found him attractive? So bloody what? There were worse things, right?

And so the weeks passed rather quickly with Harry getting caught up on all his schoolwork such that a new Wednesday arrived like no time had passed since the last one. But then getting from morning to eight pm was like some sort of slow, agonising death. It always was.

His friends caught him checking the time compulsively at dinner.

"What's going on with you?" Ron asked. "You pull a hot date?"

"No, just..." Harry thought fast. "I'm going into Hogsmeade after dinner to buy Teddy a present." He had not yet confessed his true Wednesday destination, and before today, neither of them had noticed his absences. One of the benefits of them dating, Harry decided.

But God, had he just used his godson as an excuse to see Malfoy? Merlin's saggy arse, what a bastard!

"Ooh, that sounds so fun! Can I come with you?" Hermione beamed.

Of course she did. Girls loved babies, didn't they? Well, some girls loved babies. Maybe Hermione was one of them.

"Er... it's a surprise."

The lowest of the low.

"Oh. Okay." She tucked back into her food, and Ron gave him a sour look for it.

Harry sighed, dropped his gaze, and didn't check the time again.

He showed up early in the clearing and passed the time working on the wandless spell Snape had assigned. Truth be told, it didn't need much work; he'd mastered probably five different ones over the summer on his own. But it was pretty fun, feeling the magic concentrate in the palm of his hand and then sending it out to Transfigure yellowing stalks of grass into a bloom of wildflowers.

"They're just going to die in a couple weeks when the cold strikes." Malfoy's voice came from the darkness beyond the trees.

He emerged from the shadows, sleek and smirking. Harry traded smiles with him. "They're impervious to frost."

Malfoy raised his eyebrows and neared, jumping the fence. Harry's heart hammered with excitement. He always half-expected Malfoy not to show. Yet here he was. Again and again.

"Mind if I test that?" Malfoy asked him, walking up to stand by his side.

Harry shrugged. "Go ahead."

Harry watched as Malfoy, too, forewent his wand, held out his hand, and murmured, "Glacius."

A thin stream of cold air blasted the flowers, tried to crystallise, and then melted from the petals, dripping from them like summer dew.

"Impressive," Malfoy said.

"I could say the same. I haven't taught myself that one yet. Is that what you're going to use in class then?"

Malfoy shrugged. "Maybe."

"Do you know others?" Harry had never met another wizard his age who knew any wandless magic, much less multiple spells, which was why Snape had given them so long to work on theirs.

"A few," Malfoy replied. "You?"

"Yeah, some."

"That's good, because I don't think Professor Snape's going to be as impressed as I am with flowers, Potter."

"Oh?" Harry found himself smiling again. He took a covert side-step, moving just a couple inches closer to Malfoy. The prat smelled amazing.

"Not a chance. Maybe something more along the lines of..." Malfoy turned his hand palm-up, whispered, "Wingardium Leviosa," and levitated the nearest heavy rock, making it hover at face level in front of them.

"But that's a charm, Malfoy. Do you really think Snape's going to lose his shit over a charm?"

Malfoy's lips twitched, and Harry even saw a flash of his teeth as he couldn't contain his smile. "I didn't think anything could make him do that, honestly."

"How about this?" Harry conjured the ball of energy into his palm, amplified it, thrust his hand out, and... "Depulso!" He sent Malfoy's rock hurling through space until it slammed into a fence post and shattered.

"Fuck, Potter."

Harry smiled at him, and Malfoy smiled back. Harry took a small step closer. Malfoy's smile faded as his gaze dropped to Harry's lips. They stood like that for a moment in the chilly night air. Harry could scarcely breathe.

After several moments, Malfoy cleared his throat. "So, how many do you know?"

"What?"

"Wandless magic. How many spells can you do?"

"Oh. Er, five, I think. You?"

Malfoy shrugged and toed the hard ground. "Twenty, maybe?"

Involuntarily, Harry's jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"

Malfoy just shrugged again. "It doesn't matter." There was something unyielding back in his voice. "They're stupid." He took a long breath and looked at Harry, noticeably softening again. He pulled his wand. "I'd like to learn something that makes a difference."

Harry wanted to argue that there were plenty of practical, utilitarian uses beyond bragging rights to knowing that many wandless spells, but then it occurred to him why Malfoy might know so many: he'd been without his own wand for months.

Because Harry had it.

Harry swallowed and drew his own wand. "Sure. Yeah, let's get started."

They spent the better part of two hours working on Draco's Patronus to not much avail and with the two of them casting multiple warming charms in-between. It had grown wickedly cold. But that didn't mean Harry didn't immensely enjoy himself. He enjoyed it so much, he completely lost track of time.

Malfoy had just almost managed a full, strong shield form ("That's it, Malfoy! Just relax your mind more. Feel it from the centre of your chest, not your head. You've nearly got it.") when Harry's watch chimed a Weird Sisters' tune. "Oh, shit."

The rich silver stream of magic ejecting from Malfoy's wand dwindled. "What?"

"It's five to eleven."

Malfoy's eyes widened. "But it's a fifteen minute walk back. We'll never make it."

Harry swallowed, the idea coming to him swiftly. "Take my arm."

Malfoy frowned. "Why?"

"'Why, why, why?' Because you're kind of crap at Apparating, Malfoy. I can get us just outside the gate, then it's only a run through the courtyard."

Harry could see the wheels turning in Malfoy's mind: risk censure for not making curfew or Side-Along with 'Potter'. Which was worse? He met Harry's eyes, gave a brief nod, and took a step toward him.

Harry took a step closer, too, until they were just inches apart. "Take it." He held up his elbow.

Malfoy tentatively reached up and curled his hand around Harry's arm -- above his elbow, fingers tightening around Harry's biceps. They looked at each other. Harry didn't think he could do it gazing into Malfoy's eyes, though. They'd probably end up in a swamp somewhere. So Harry closed his eyes and felt Malfoy's fingers grip harder. He focused his mind, and then...

The telling crack, sucked through space, only a little bit of nausea, and they were deposited just outside the gates of the castle.

"Go!" Harry shouted.

Malfoy released his arm, and together they took off at a hard run. Their pounding footsteps echoed on the stone. Malfoy's breath came hard beside him, his slightly longer legs giving him the edge over Harry. Harry pulled some extra effort from deep inside and ran faster.

"Plonker," Malfoy panted, speeding up, too.

Harry laughed breathlessly. "It's not... a race."

"The fuck it's not!"

"Bugger!" Harry was gasping for breath as Malfoy hit the stairs ahead of him and took them two at a time. He itched to draw his wand and immobilise the bastard, but he was pretty sure he heard Malfoy laugh as his hand touched the door handle first, and the sound obliterated any and all desire Harry had to win.

Malfoy wrenched the door open, and they both stumbled in, stopping just inside to lean over, hands on knees, and take great, loud gulping breaths.

"What... time...?" Malfoy gestured tiredly to Harry's wrist.

Harry summoned the energy to lift it, and then let it drop again. "Ten... fifty-nine." He slanted a smile Malfoy's way.

Malfoy smiled back, and then gave him a pathetic shove. Harry was just knackered enough to stumble from it. He laughed and shoved Malfoy back.

"Prick," Malfoy said.

"Arsehole."

They looked at each other, panting a little less, and they laughed.

They laughed together.

Harry felt light enough to fly.

Malfoy stood next to him, huffing a sigh. "Bloody hell, I don't think I'm going to make it up those infernal stairs."

"Want me to Levicorpus you?"

Malfoy grinned at him. "And have you smack my head into every stair step all the way up to the third floor? No, thanks, Potter."

Harry shrugged. "Suit yourself. Might smack some sense into you, though."

Malfoy shot him two fingers.

Heat rushed into Harry's cheeks. "Race you to the common room?"

Malfoy rolled his eyes in answer, and they ascended the stairs slowly instead.

It was sort of marvellous. He could smell Malfoy's sweat, and far from finding it repulsive, Harry thought it was bloody wonderful. God, did that make him a freak? That he loved how Malfoy smelled even when it wasn't the scent of his expensive cologne but the salty, muskiness of his exertion?

Harry knew they'd just been doing spellwork -- nothing he couldn't have done with Ron or Hermione or Luna or any other of his friends -- but that wasn't what it felt like, dragging his arse up the stairs side by side with Malfoy.

It felt like they'd been on a...

Well, a date.

And not like the dates he'd been on with Cho where what he mostly felt was out of sorts and as though he couldn't say one thing right. It wasn't even like his dates with Ginny when he'd felt more like himself and had enjoyed her company.

No, this was different.

This was exhilaration.

This was something deep in his gut blooming with rightness.

This was Malfoy.

They arrived just outside the door to the common room, and neither of them made a move to grasp the handle.

Malfoy seemed suddenly in love with his own feet, seeing as how he wouldn't look at anything else.

"I think you're really close," Harry told him, thinking of his shield form.

"What?" Malfoy looked up sharply, taking a hasty step back.

"I meant the Patronus." Harry smiled as Malfoy relaxed again but kept frowning. Harry felt something very Gryffindor come to life within him. He took a step forward, eliminating the space Malfoy had just put between them. "It's going to happen," he said. "You can feel that, right?"

Malfoy looked up at him. "I--" He stalled as though his mouth had gone too dry to speak.

This time it was Harry who dropped his gaze to Malfoy's lips. They were thin and trembling but looked soft.

Soft enough to touch.

Soft enough to kiss...

Harry leaned forward an inch. He closed his eyes.

He held his breath...

no title

The common room door slammed open behind him, and Ron stormed out, his freckled neck red with anger.

Malfoy moved back so fast it was practically Apparition.

"See how you like it if I spend all my time in the library," Ron spat through the doorway.

Hermione's frizzy head shot out, though she kept her body inside. "The library's closed, and I doubt you'd remember where it is anyway."

"Guys," Harry tried but to no avail; Ron went on as though he'd said nothing.

"I'd rather not know where it is than be afraid to leave it."

"Merlin, what does that even mean?" Hermione laughed without humour, and Ron looked like he might explode, unable to answer. "Where do you think you're going, Ron? It's past curfew. Do you want a Howler from your mother?"

"Better than getting ignored by you!" Ron pushed past her back into the common room and stormed off down the hall to his dormitory. Harry heard the door slam from where he stood, dazed and perplexed, out in the hall.

Hermione looked at Harry. Her lip trembled. She took two steps out into the hall, then slumped down the wall and began to cry.

Harry blinked. "Hermione... Shit."

"Yeah," she agreed, her voice muffled from her head resting on her knees. "He's a complete shit."

He'd actually never heard her use that word.

Malfoy appeared as bewildered as Harry felt.

"Hey," Harry said gently, squatting in front of Hermione and placing a hand on her head, smoothing down her hair. Malfoy and he blinked at each other a moment, and then Malfoy stepped into the common room without another word and shut the door, possibly giving them privacy but just as possibly getting away from them himself.

Harry turned his full attention on Hermione. "What happened?"

She lifted a tear-streaked face, but there was hardly weakness in the set of her jaw or the anger in her eyes. "It's like he suddenly expects me to be a different person. Now that there's no war, it's like I should just burn all my books and devote my life to snogging him!" She cast a disgusted look at the door in lieu of Ron himself.

"I--" Harry began. Merlin, this could get tricky. They were both his best friends. Although, he supposed he and Ron had put Hermione in that position, too, when they were on the outs. He sighed. "I doubt he wants or expects you to stop studying."

"Oh really? What did it sound like to you, then?" Hermione's frustration evaporated just as soon as she'd spoken. "I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you, Harry."

He shifted around and sat next to her on the cold stone, their shoulders touching. He reached his arm up and around her shoulders, and she leaned into him easily. She felt good there. They both sighed.

"How did it all start?"

"Well, he found me in the library to tell me about the next game night, and--"

"What next game night?"

"Oh." She waved her hand and sniffed once more, though she was finished crying. "In the Room of Requirement. Dean was supposed to find you and tell you, but I guess he didn't. Were you with Malfoy? Where were you both?"

"Oh. It was nothing. We were just... duelling," he fibbed. He seemed to be fibbing more than usual lately. And while it felt necessary with Mr Creevey, this was Hermione, and that small twist to the truth made him feel slightly sick.

She didn't seem to notice and went on with her story. "Okay, well, I asked Ron what date and he said next Saturday night." She looked at Harry like this should mean something.

"Yeah? And?"

"And that's when Padma and I got permission to catch a Portkey to Wales for the tour!"

Harry blinked at her. "Uh, Hermione?"

"Yes?"

"This is the first I'm hearing of it. The tour of what? What's in Wales?"

She frowned. "You know, the school?"

Harry didn't know, and he shook his head.

She went on, "The Griselda Marchbanks School of Wizarding Law. We got permission from Professor McGonagall to travel and from the dean of the school to tour it and decide if we want to apply. I mean, I know I do. I'm trying to convince Padma to as well. I didn't tell you?"

"No."

She edged out from under his arm and stood. "Are you sure, Harry?"

"Yes, I'm quite sure. But you told Ron, right?"

"Of course, I told Ron! He's the first person I told. And he seemed fine with it. He seemed happy for me."

"Maybe he was."

"Yeah, until it interfered with his plans."

"Maybe he just forgot," Harry ventured.

"Well, maybe, but does that give him the right to be upset with me about it?"

She had a point.

"What game are they going to be playing?" he asked nonchalantly. He loved Hermione dearly, but he couldn't help but wonder if that Twister mat would be involved -- and if he could conveniently fall on top of Malfoy again.

She waved her hand dismissively. "Spin-the-Bottle, I think. But what difference does that make? I have an appointment at the Griselda Marchbanks School of Wizarding Law. You don't just cancel your appointment to see the most renowned law school in wizarding society to make out with a boy whose tongue you already have intimate knowledge of." She blinked, then blushed, though she crossed her arms defiantly.

Harry was having trouble tearing his mind away from its own fantasies now, all of which involved Draco Malfoy's tongue and next Saturday night.

"Harry."

"What? Oh. Yeah. You do have a point, I guess."

"You guess?"

Harry shook all stray thoughts of Malfoy from his mind and stood. "Okay, so what if he's not upset about you going to tour this school? What if..." Harry exhaled hard and gathered his wits about him. "What if he feels like you're... prioritising the future over your present with him?"

She frowned. "But that's ridiculous! I--"

He took a step toward her and softly grasped her elbow. "Do you think Ron will end up going to Wales with you? If you get into the school, which of course you will, but if you decide to go, that is?"

Hermione blinked at him. "Well... I..." Her face fell. "No," she admitted glumly. "God, Harry. So he thinks I'm leaving him?"

"I dunno. Maybe. Maybe he's just afraid of something he doesn't know."

Harry thought of Malfoy in that meadow, striving for a happy memory and coming up short, time and again.

He thought of his own future and how everyone was going to expect him to be an Auror, maybe Head Auror, maybe eventually Minister. He'd turned down three more interviews and knew McGonagall was disappointed. Maybe even worried for the school. Everyone still expected him to save them.

He thought of his Quidditch broom collecting dust.

He thought of kissing Malfoy.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Hermione asked.

"You were thinking about something that's important to you." Harry let his hand drop. "There's nothing wrong with that."

She looked him in the eye in a penetrating way that bespoke more than intellect. "There is if I forget the people I love."

He gave her a small smile and reached out to smooth her hair again.

She returned his sad grin. "Think he'd want to come on my trip with me?"

"You won't know until you ask."

"I suppose you're right." She hugged him. "Thank you, Harry," she said against his cheek.

"I didn't do much."

She pulled back. "You do plenty," she said with a look that insinuated situations far removed from the one they faced in the hallway. It was a common look for her, even if Harry often couldn't read her undercurrent. He felt like he could this time. She put her hand on the knob. "Are you coming in?"

"Sure," he said. "Library's closed, right?"

She gave a soft snort, said the password, and opened the door.

If Harry had been hoping Malfoy would be waiting for him in the common room, he was to be disappointed. There was only Luna Lovegood turning up the Wireless and trying to teach a miserable-looking Millicent Bulstrode the words to Obstinate Owl Post's "Waddiwasi Blues".

"Do you think I should let him cool off and sleep on it?" Hermione asked.

It seemed like sound advice.

He shook his head. "No, I think you should settle it tonight. You'll both feel better."

She nudged him in the arm affectionately. "You're good at this."

"Good at what?"

"Teaching people how to do what's already in their hearts," she said before she disappeared down the boys' -- no the men's -- hallway.

"Hold me, suspend me, launch me to the moon!" Luna sang joyfully while Millicent glowered. "Just don't give me the Waddiwasi blues!"

 

no title

Needing to study for big tests in Transfiguration, Charms, and History of Magic meant Harry and Malfoy couldn't meet that Wednesday night or any night that week at all.

Harry missed getting to see him. Sure, he saw him in class, but they were both so busy that it hardly counted. A glance here, a nod there. It wasn't like getting him alone.

It wasn't like almost snogging.

And speaking of almost snogging...

Saturday night arrived after the coldest day of almost-winter they'd yet had. Christmas break was one week away, and they were due to have their first snow even sooner than that. Harry had slept in and therefore missed Hermione's departure for her Welsh law school. She and Ron had worked things out, and though Ron wasn't making the trip with her, he seemed to bear her no further ill will about it and had agreed to forgo attending the Spin-the-Bottle game in her absence. There had been a lot of make-up making out in the common room Friday night. Harry suspected that if they'd had the privacy...

Well, that didn't bear thinking about. Harry shuddered inwardly and shook his head to clear it of that image.

Merlin, what would they think about him if they knew what he wanted to do to Malfoy?

What would they think of him if they knew he was dying to play Spin-the-Bottle if it meant he could taste Malfoy's lips? If it meant he might have to?

Harry might have awakened late Saturday morning, but he woke so hard he felt like he could duel with his prick. He'd smiled at that, turned toward the wall, and fucked his fist slowly until he came.

And as fast as the week went, the day crept by like someone kept spinning a Time Turner, sending him backwards every few minutes. Harry checked his watch over and over again. And he kept his eye out for Malfoy the whole day, even with Ron by his side like an abandoned crup.

"Mate," Ron had said, "where do you have to be? Are you catching a train?"

Harry had smiled. "No."

And yet, that was how it felt.

He even had a plan all set out: If Malfoy spun the bottle and landed on him or Harry landed on Malfoy, he'd kiss him on the lips, certainly, but he'd keep it short so as not to arouse suspicion that he actually wanted to be kissing the git. Still, Harry was determined that it not be too chaste. He thought three seconds would suffice. He could covertly sneak his tongue to Malfoy's bottom lip in that amount of time, and maybe nobody would even notice.

These were the thoughts that dogged him all day, and yet as the hour neared, Harry found himself worrying that he wouldn't actually get the chance. They were a large group. The odds of him landing on Malfoy weren't solid. He might be doing a lot of fantasising and planning for nothing.

Yet fantasise and plan, he did, and when Ron gave him funny looks, Harry just shrugged it off as preoccupation with the upcoming Quidditch match against Ravenclaw.

Yes, because Quidditch made one hard.

He felt bad about leaving Ron when curfew rolled around and it was time for them to make their shifty forays up to the seventh floor. Harry was relieved when Hannah Abbott and Anthony Goldstein both begged off, too, in favour of a quiet night in.

"Exploding Snap?" Goldstein asked Ron, and Harry felt even better when his friend readily accepted.

His gaze then fell on Malfoy, who'd very decisively closed the book he'd been reading to join the group crowded around the door preparing to go. Harry felt everything inside him burn with anticipation. He met Malfoy's eyes briefly, until Malfoy frowned slightly and looked away, edging closer to Zabini and Parkinson with whom he'd be Disillusioning.

Harry swallowed thickly and then waited his turn with Seamus and Dean.

They made it to the Room of Requirement without incident, although Harry heard, once they were all safely inside, that Parvati, Luna, and Millicent had a near run-in with Peeves on the fifth floor landing.

"But Millie distracted him by casting Piertotem Locomotor on a nearby statue and moving its hand two inches," Luna explained. "It was brilliant."

Millicent looked too stunned by the compliment to be grateful, but at least she was no longer scowling. Stunned was actually kind of a good look on her, Harry noticed.

But then, after he looked away, he couldn't help but notice the room instead.

Specifically, the cushions in a circle around the floor and the bottle, at rest, in the middle of it.

Harry swallowed down the sudden feeling of anxiety that rose in him and that sped his pulse. He looked around the room to see if anyone else might be regretting coming along. Or looking overly randy. Or had chapped lips.

That was when he saw Ginny, and at nearly the same moment, Neville approached him and whispered, "I hope you don't mind, Harry. It didn't feel right not inviting her."

Across the room, Ginny gave him a little smile and a wave. Harry waved back and then murmured back to Neville, "Er, not at all. She's your girlfriend, right?"

Neville gushed out the goofiest laugh ever. "Yeah," he breathed.

Merlin, he had it pretty bad.

Harry patted him on the shoulder. "You okay if she spins and lands on somebody else?" Harry blinked. "Wait. No. I meant--"

"If the bottle lands on somebody else. Oh yeah. We've got our ground rules: Minimal tongue and under five seconds." Neville nodded confidently.

Harry nodded back, impressed. "Sounds appropriate." He tried to imagine what kissing Ginny would be like now that they'd been broken up for months. Now that she and Neville were an exclusive item.

Now that he was dying to shag Malfoy.

Harry cleared his throat and took a cushion on the floor as the others meandered about and did the same. He ended up between Luna and Dean -- and directly across from Malfoy, who'd sat with his Slytherin friends. Harry couldn't blame him for that. Harry, too, needed of a bit of friendly moral support. He resisted the sudden urge to check the state of his breath and wished he'd thought to pop a mint ahead of time.

At least he hadn't consumed any garlic at dinner. Although, if he landed on Pansy that really would have been a benefit.

"So," Dean said once they'd settled and an oddly puritanical silence had fallen over the room. They'd all been so excited to get up here, and now, as Harry looked around, everyone seemed so sombre they might as well be in detention. "How should we decide who goes first?"

Harry looked at him. Actually, everybody did.

"Me?" Dean all but squeaked.

"You, mate." Seamus nodded.

"You're going to be regretting that when the bottle lands on you, you plonker." Dean leaned forward and gave the inaugural spin.

It seemed to take forever, but as it slowed and landed on Bulstrode, Harry let out the breath he'd been holding. When Dean exclaimed, "Well, all right, Millicent! Let's snog then," and Pansy snorted, Harry felt a good deal of tension leave him. He wasn't first, and right then, that was all that mattered.

Dean leaned forward. Frowning, Millicent didn't.

"Well, you have to meet me halfway, right?" Dean asked. A bead of sweat rolled down his neck.

Millicent harrumphed and then scooted forward. She leaned toward him a bit and closed her eyes so hard they seemed to disappear into her face, leaving only a few trembling eyelashes behind.

Dean closed his own eyes, the room held its breath, and their lips met. Three brief, tongueless seconds. Then when Dean drew back, Millicent hauled off and slapped him across the face.

"Bloody hell!" Dean wailed, cradling his cheek, though the slap had hardly been anything that would sting. Likely she'd just been so flustered she'd reacted on instinct and hadn't put much muscle behind it.

"Sorry." Her face went red and her eyes wide. "I don't... I'm not sure why I did that." She sat back on her cushion.

As Dean sat down, rubbing his maligned cheek, Seamus cleared his throat, leaned over to Dean, and said, "We're going to need some alcohol for this."

Thus began a frenzy to get the Room of Requirement to cough up a bar of some sort, which it staunchly refused to do. Again. Probably some of Dumbledore's magic still at work to prevent this very thing, Harry thought. Or perhaps it was McGonagall, since Dumbledore himself was a bit of a rule-bender if not a resolute breaker. Whatever it was, all of their attempts were unsuccessful.

"Hey, guys?" Ned said quietly when there was a lull in spells cast. "My uncle works for Ogden's. I, er, sort of have two bottles in my trunk."

"You what?" Pansy laughed.

Ned shrugged.

In between people patting Ned on the back, they somehow decided that Harry should try to Summon the whiskey. The consensus was that if he could Summon his broom while facing an angry Hungarian Horntail, he could fetch them a couple of bottles of Ogden's.

Harry wasn't as certain, but then again, he hadn't been certain about the broom either and his life had been on the line. This was just... Well, all of them risking another slap from Millicent.

"Is your trunk locked?" Harry asked as the others practically man-handled him toward the door.

Ned shook his head.

"It bloody will be after this," Blaise said under his breath.

Harry pulled the door open.

"Wait," came a voice just behind him. Harry looked over his shoulder. It was Malfoy, drawing his wand. He gave it a decisive flick. "Muffliato. Just in case." His penetrating gaze made Harry feel a bit weak. Malfoy then shot him a half smirk.

"Thanks." Harry cursed inwardly at the breathy quality of his voice. From what? Malfoy standing near him? (Quite near him, really; their arms brushed.) But it probably also had to do with the fact that Malfoy was helping him. That he wanted to help Harry.

That his gaze was so intense as he and Harry stared at one another.

Harry swallowed.

He looked away from Malfoy, (who, again, smelled lovely), cleared his throat, lifted his own wand, and... "Accio Ned's Firewhisky!"

They waited a moment. Silence greeted their ears.

"Do you think it--?"

"Shh! Just wait."

Then a strange sound cut through the quiet. It was almost a whistle. The quick and telling zing of invisible electrons made the air buzz with potential. Harry could sense the sharp sensation of his own magic working across several levels of the castle. He almost didn't have time to duck as the first bottle flew around the corner and into the room. But duck he did. Malfoy's hand shot out and caught the bottle, and Harry was beginning to straighten when--

"Look out." Malfoy's free hand touched hot to Harry's back.

Harry ducked again as the second bottle of Ogden's soared into the room, flew over his head, and slammed right into Neville's stomach, toppling him over and sending him to the floor on his arse.

The room promptly broke into a wild cheer. Well, everyone except Neville, who might very well have lost his breath from it. Ginny sank to her knees beside him.

A few people patted Harry on the back as they shut the door, but Malfoy wasn't among them. No, he was already walking back over toward his cushion. Harry could still feel the heat of his palm in the middle of his back.

"You all right, mate?" Harry offered Neville a hand up.

Neville nodded. "Yeah. Probably just some bruised internal organs."

Ginny gave Harry a small, grateful smile, and Harry awkwardly returned it before making for his own cushion once more.

By the time he was seated, Seamus and Dean had conjured a Wireless and turned up Bloodroot's cover of "Rebel Yell". Pansy uncorked the first bottle loudly.

"Bloodroot bloody rocks," Seamus said, banging out the drumbeat with invisible sticks.

"You like Bloodroot?" Pansy asked after she'd taken a pull off the bottle and passed it to Blaise.

"Fuck yeah, I like Bloodroot." Seamus plopped down on his cushion.

Pansy looked like she wanted to say something else, maybe even something complimentary, but all she managed was, "Well, I guess you can't have crap taste in everything."

Seamus shot her a lopsided smile at that, and to Harry's surprise she quickly looked away. She might even have been blushing.

Blaise passed the bottle to Parvati on his left, and it made its way around the circle. Dean passed the bottle without drinking when it came to him ("Need to keep my wits about me in case another slap comes my way."), and Luna abstained as well, claiming inebriation on life which no-one could dispute. Harry had taken only a small sip, and, when it was his turn, Malfoy did the same.

And then the game began anew.

"Harry," Dean said. And, indeed, Harry was on Dean's left. Did that mean he was next? He wasn't ready to be next. But Dean said, "Your spin, mate," and then everyone was looking at him expectantly. Several people even clapped for him.

"Go, Harry!"

"Spin it, Scarhead!" Pansy called when she came up for air from guzzling more Firewhisky.

Harry took a deep breath. He couldn't help glancing at Malfoy, who had been leaned back on his hands but now sat forward, watching Harry with a mixture of calm and intent. Harry concentrated on the bottle, sent up a little prayer to whoever was in control of these things, and spun.

It seemed like it would never end. Harry cursed having spun it so hard. He was getting dizzy from watching it. He certainly wasn't drunk. Finally, it slowed. And slowed. And stopped. On Luna right next to him.

Harry let his breath out on a small sigh of relief as they easily leaned in toward each other and briefly kissed like they'd been exchanging friendly kisses for years. Really, he could not have landed on a safer person.

"Your lips are really pillowy, Harry," she said.

"Yours, too." He smiled at her.

"Boring!" Pansy blurted.

Malfoy was leaning decidedly forward.

He was watching. Like a bloody hawk.

When Harry met his eyes, Malfoy blinked and then quickly looked away. Harry's heart beat rapidly for reasons having entirely nothing to do with the sweetness of Luna's lips.

She spun then, landing on Parvati.

"Oh, yes," Seamus said under his breath. Harry noticed that most of the boys shifted slightly on their cushions, like a really great Quidditch match was about to start.

"Hello, Parvati," Luna said as she moved to the middle of the circle.

"Hi, Luna." Parvati joined her.

Their lips met, parted, and met again. The entire kiss couldn't have been more than five seconds, but Seamus grabbed Dean by the arm as though he'd likely have a heart attack from the bliss he was experiencing. Harry had to admit, it was probably a lot more entertaining and interesting than Luna kissing him.

When they parted, Seamus whined like a crup left out in the rain.

"What?" Parvati asked cheekily.

"More!" he wailed. "More is what!"

"Quit hogging that whiskey, and maybe there'll be more next time," she said. The room 'oohed' in response.

Harry laughed and, for the first time that evening, felt himself start to relax.

Ned and Dean shared the most awkward peck ever; Neville and Luna had their 'five seconds with minimal tongue' as per Neville's contract.

Then Ginny spun, she landed on Neville, and for the first time that night, there was plenty of tongue.

Really more than enough.

Watching them kiss for all of ten bloody seconds, Harry tried to analyse if what he felt was jealousy. It was tight and odd. It sat high in his chest and made it hard to breathe. But it wasn't quite jealousy. It wasn't envy. He didn't want to be kissing Ginny. He didn't want to be kissing Neville. The thought brought a rueful smile to his lips, in fact, as they parted.

No, it wasn't any of those things. It was something else. And Harry suspected that the something else was a someone.

He wanted that with Malfoy: what he saw as Neville and Ginny looked into each other's eyes... how they just knew how to kiss one another... that there was no time limit; there were no limits at all beyond those of pure public decency.

That was what Harry wanted for himself. He wanted it to be easy to kiss Malfoy. And even if they happened to land on one another tonight, there was one thing Harry couldn't see it being, and that was easy.

The others clapped and whooped for the first real kiss of the night. Except for Pansy, who rolled her eyes. "Salazar, that doesn't even count!"

"Oh, shut it, Pans," Millicent said.

"Did you just tell me to shut it, Bulstrode?" Pansy asked, revving up for a duel, it seemed.

But Millicent wouldn't even look at her -- was suddenly struck with an apparent lack of courage in the face of Pansy's anger -- and just sat there staring down at the floor. Blaise took Pansy's arm as she'd risen from her mat, swaying a bit, and she sat back again on her arse with a quiet thud.

"That's what I thought," Pansy crowed. Millicent's cheeks went a fiery pink. "Spin then and slap someone else, would you? I'm bored out of my mind."

Harry glanced at Malfoy to see him frowning deeply. But then all attention was on Millicent once she spun. Harry had to admit he didn't fancy a slap in the face any time soon. The Ogden's made its way around to him while the empty bottle slowed, and Harry took a fortifying gulp, just in case.

It didn't land on him, though.

It landed right next to him. On Luna.

"Use Protego, Luna. She's got a wicked right hook." Dean winked at her.

Luna spared him a placid glance. "No need." She crawled over to Millicent, bypassing the bottle altogether, sat up on her knees, threaded her fingers gently into Millicent's hair, and kissed her.

It wasn't like the kiss she'd shared with Harry. It wasn't even like the one she exchanged with Parvati. No, Luna kissed Millicent like Neville had kissed Ginny, slipping her tongue into Millicent's very stunned mouth and letting it go on and on.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah," Seamus chanted, squirming.

Parvati slapped him in the arm. "They're not doing it for you, arsehole."

"Does it look like I care?"

Neville let out a hushed, "Wow."

Luna sat back and licked her lips. Millicent slowly opened her eyes and looked into Luna's like she was seeing her for the first time.

Luna shot a look at Pansy next to her. "Still bored?" she asked. Then she pressed a second kiss to Millicent's cheek before coming back to sit on the cushion next to Harry's.

Harry knew he was staring at her, but he couldn't seem to stop. Luna looked at him. "Sorry, Harry, but her lips were even lovelier."

"Is it just me or is Lovegood doing a disproportionate amount of snogging?" Pansy crossed her arms.

"Seems about right to me," Millicent said, though her blush escalated to tomato-hued.

Still, Harry thought it was rather brave of her. And telling. And because of how telling, that much braver. Maybe Luna was onto something with this Bulstrode fixation after all.

"Well, go on then, Draco," Pansy said, nudging him with her elbow, unwilling to uncross her arms. "Give it a spin."

Harry immediately dropped any musing about Millicent or Luna when he heard that -- because this, right now, was the first since they'd sat down that it truly struck Harry full on:

Malfoy was about to spin. Malfoy could land on him, and that would present both untold complications and incalculable excitement.

Or he could land on someone else entirely and give them the kiss that was meant for Harry.

Malfoy could, any moment now, be kissing someone else.

And why hadn't Harry thought of this even once before he'd decided to play this stupid game? Because that was absolutely not on.

Not on!

Oh, Merlin...

Eyes wide with this new and unpleasant knowledge, Harry looked at Malfoy. Malfoy was looking back at him. He wore no sneer or smirk and by all accounts appeared just as nervous as Harry. He leaned forward at Pansy's re-urging, dropped his gaze to the bottle, spun it rather hard, then sat back.

Harry didn't know whether to watch the bottle and where it landed or Malfoy's face so that if it landed on him, Harry would have an unimpeded glimpse of Malfoy's unguarded reaction.

But the temptation to follow the bottle's hypnotising rounds was too much, and Harry, like everyone else, became rapt as it slowed.

It wobbled and careened, and Harry bit the inside of his lip as it passed Blaise, passed Parvati, passed Seamus, seemed like it was going to stop on Dean, and...

It came to rest exactly between Dean and Harry. Just exactly. There was no way to tell which one it might be closer to without breaking out some calipers or something. Harry was shoring himself up to be gracious and even feign relief if the room's consensus was that the bottle leaned more toward Dean or if they wanted Malfoy to spin again. But in the next breath of a moment, the bottle twitched, almost imperceptibly, and suddenly it was pointing straight at him.

Straight at Harry.

Harry brought his gaze up quickly to look into Malfoy's eyes, but his gaze could not be met as he looked anywhere but at Harry. Their friends exploded with reactions that seemed mostly scandalised and mirthful. Not that the bottle had shifted at the last moment -- none of them seemed to have noticed that -- but that Malfoy would have to kiss Harry and Harry would have to suffer being kissed by Malfoy. Dean pounded Harry on the back, and Seamus fell onto his own, laughing and holding his stomach. Such a snort came out of Pansy Parkinson that it sounded like she'd Sonorused herself.

Harry looked at Malfoy's face again, and this time his gaze did lift and meet Harry's. There was something so raw and real there, it was almost frightening in its intensity.

Harry blinked.

Malfoy licked his lips.

Harry slowly rose up onto his knees, and Malfoy mirrored his movement.

"Go, Harry!" Parvati shouted, giving a whistle.

"All right, Harry!" Neville joined in.

Likewise, Pansy was egging Malfoy on, giving him a hearty shove, while Millicent clapped her hands in glee.

Harry crawled on unsteady hands and knees toward the middle of the circle where the bottle sat, pointing at him in accusation: You want this! it seemed to sneer.

Harry gulped. Malfoy crawled toward him, too, just as slowly. His ears were as pink as they'd ever been, and for some reason, that made Harry feel better. Safer. He took a deep breath as they neared each other.

He'd just stick to the plan. Three seconds, hint of tongue to Malfoy's bottom lip. No problem. He'd vanquished Voldemort. He could snog Draco Malfoy.

He was so close now he could hear Malfoy's quick breaths, and Harry realised that he, too, was barely breathing. The rush of blood through his own head was dizzying. He either needed a lot more Firewhisky to pull this off or a lot less.

But then there they were. Too close. Just close enough. And it was either kiss Malfoy or chicken out and head back to his cushion.

And that was absolutely not an option.

Harry felt Malfoy's breath on his lips as they came together over the bottle, hands firmly planted on the floor as though they each needed their familiar soil, refusing to cross into enemy territory.

Except that Malfoy no longer felt like his enemy.

Malfoy felt inevitable.

Harry inched one hand closer, into Malfoy's space.

Malfoy's lips trembled.

Harry closed his eyes, titled his head slightly, leaned that essential inch forward...

Their lips met with a gentle, moist sound.

Malfoy's were soft... as soft as Harry had dared imagine. And they were warm. They were pliant, his breaths against Harry's face quick and scared.

no title

 

One...

 

Two...

 

Three.

The seconds ticked by inside Harry's buzzing skull. He had not attempted to touch Malfoy's bottom lip with his tongue. He'd let that chance go by. But oh, Malfoy's lips. They were perfect. The kiss was perfect. Harry's heart thundered so hard and so fast he feared everyone would see it pounding there, wanting this.

He leaned back half an inch to take a fortifying breath, breaking the kiss. Though it felt less like something breaking and more like defying electromagnetism. Malfoy didn't move. Despite Harry's fears that he might, he did not scurry away. He didn't scoff or play it like he was repulsed and glad it was over. He just hovered there, breathing hard against Harry's cheeks. Harry opened his eyes to meet Malfoy's gaze. They looked at each other for a moment -- Malfoy's eyes shone, dilated and deep and smouldering.

Dear God. Harry had made someone smoulder.

There were snickers around the room, some murmuring, some ribbing. Nothing Harry could actually make out and certainly nothing he cared to try to decipher.

Nothing he cared about at all.

All he cared about in that still, shining moment was right in front of him.

Harry closed his eyes again. It felt like it took as much trust and surrender to do so as to let Voldemort strike him down with the Killing Curse. Before he knew what he was doing, Harry closed the distance and pressed his lips to Malfoy's again. And though he gasped, Malfoy let him. His lips parted, and Harry barely slipped his tongue between, just enough to find Malfoy's tongue and touch it.

Something extraordinary happened then. Like some wild beast set loose after a long, lonely time in captivity.

Malfoy let slip a choked whine at the touch of Harry's tongue.

Pansy might have said, "Holy fucking shit," but it hardly mattered.

Because suddenly they were kissing. Really kissing. Malfoy's lips parted still more, and Harry pressed his tongue into his mouth. Malfoy let all his breath out, tilted his head still more, and started kissing Harry back.

There were hoots and hollers, clapping and expressions of disbelief, but Harry banished it all from his mind. He concentrated on Malfoy. On the tender way Malfoy's tongue met his, how they teased one another, withdrew, met again... and then the ferocity that built until it felt like they might devour each other rather than kiss. They changed the fit of their mouths together, and then Harry kissed him hard, bruising his own lips against Malfoy's, plunging his tongue into his mouth again and again.

It was indescribably, indecently brilliant!

Harry groaned, so aroused it was painful. He wanted to reach up and thread his fingers into Malfoy's hair so badly it frightened him. He wanted to touch that slender jaw with his thumb, to feel, under gentle fingers on his throat, the reverberation of Malfoy's small sounds of pleasure...

Harry wanted to touch him.

He wanted to touch him everywhere.

He balled his hands into fists against the floor to keep from doing just that in front of everyone.

And no sooner had he thought this, done this, than Malfoy pulled back. They were both breathing hard as they separated, barely at first, just looking at each other. Malfoy's eyes were dilated, his lids heavy, and while Harry looked into Malfoy's eyes, Harry's cock twitched hard.

"You are fucking kidding me," Pansy said, and Harry watched something in Malfoy, in Draco, shut down at that. He broke their eye contact, blinking and sitting back on his cushion compliantly.

Harry did the same, though it was less compliant as it was bloody stunned.

"Leave off, Pans," Blaise murmured as Draco's ears went a deep blister red. Harry was surprised at the quiet admonition, at the compassionate expression on Blaise's face. Draco was too busy avoiding anyone else's prying eyes to see it, though.

"Blimey, mate," Dean said next to Harry with something like awe.

Seamus seemed shocked into a mute state.

Luna smiled at him much like she normally did, which was a nice comfort.

Ginny and Neville were holding hands, looking too into each other to give a flying Quaffle about anyone else.

But Malfoy...

Draco...

When he finally lifted his gaze to Harry's, Harry saw emotion after emotion parading there: fear bordering on terror, confusion, possible regret...

But also something almost predatory in nature.

Something that made Harry's body respond as though it were being pulled across the room by a spell.

Something that made him yearn.

And yeah, he was hard. Of course he was hard. No surprises there. But just how hard he was... That was the thing that felt a bit frightening. Harry wanted to let out a giddy laugh.

And his lips... Dear Merlin, Harry's lips felt swollen and ravished and wonderful. Just wonderful. He didn't know lips could feel that wonderful.

He simply hadn't known...

Before Draco could duck his head and look away, Harry shot him a tiny smile with his well-kissed lips. He tried to convey this feeling of fearlessness he was experiencing, though it was probably temporary and therefore utterly dangerous. He let Draco see the unnameable something he felt in his chest, something built of both light and fear. But the good kind of fear. The kind that makes you leap.

Draco looked away. Harry expected nothing else. It didn't feel like a rejection. What else could he do? Strip off his clothes and say, "Hey, Potter, let's go for it"? Harry could sense that he felt it, too -- that it was like a line of magic drawn between them, crossing that invisible and important threshold. And that because of this perfect, liminal sphere they'd made of cushions, Firewhisky, and something veering on fraternity, he and Draco could have that together, and nobody else had to know.

Pansy's spin landed the bottle on Seamus. "Come here, you bloody bastard," she growled. And whether it was too much Firewhisky, too much Luna, too much Harry and Draco, or just too little spotlight, one could never really know. But Pansy launched herself over the bottle, straight into Seamus' lap, straddling him, and she kissed him so fervently, so -- cannibalistically -- that they both tumbled over backward to the floor.

Dean laughed so hard he cried. He passed the Firewhisky to Harry, and Harry took a nice gulp, feeling it calm his crazy insides. Pansy's legs tangled with Seamus'. His surprised squeaks turned into a sort of helpless moaning. Harry could just see his hands where they held Pansy's waist and then shifted down to grasp her arse. Pansy seemed disinclined to prevent this if her own moaning and writhing were anything to go by.

Harry passed the Firewhisky along. Blaise threw up his hands with a hearty, "Oh, for fuck's sake!" and spun the bottle, landing on Parvati even as Pansy and Seamus rolled this way and that.

Laughing, Harry met Draco's gaze across the circle. His laugh died to a smile. And while everyone was distracted by Pansy's full frontal attack on Seamus, the corners of Draco's lips lifted, and he smiled back.

Merlin, he was smiling back.

The game went on, and they didn't land on one another again, but neither did they share the sort of kiss they'd exchanged with each other with anyone else. Harry locked dry lips with Blaise and then Millicent (sans violence). He shared only a slightly softer and more prolonged version with Ginny. It was a kiss which could only be described as three seconds of true closure. She'd blinked at him after and smiled. It had felt like both her blessing and an unnecessary apology. He'd returned the gesture, feeling like a door had snicked gently shut between them.

It was, more than anything, a profound relief.

He'd caught Draco's eye just after but couldn't discern his feelings over it other than that he didn't appear to be enraged, only pointedly interested.

For his part in the rest of the game, Draco exchanged a drab and coerced-looking peck with Ned and then something less fraught with Parvati. He landed on Luna the next time around and suffered through her peppering his face with enthusiastic smacks. Harry had to laugh as Draco's face screwed up with a mixture of embarrassed disgust and involuntary humour. Luna did tend to have that effect on people.

"Thanks ever so much, Lovegood," Draco had said as he sat back on his cushion, thoroughly assaulted by her affection. He didn't look upset, and Harry's heart sang to see him enjoying himself for once.

Through it all they shared furtive glances, small smiles. Harry felt more drunk on those than on the few sips of Firewhisky he'd had.

Pansy got totally pissed such that when Ned spun and landed on her, she had to wave him off, hand over her mouth, while the Room gave her a door to a loo in which to go vomit. Ned's face fell, and when asked if he wanted to re-spin and snog someone else, he just murmured, "No, thanks," with a dejected shake of his head.

The only other eventful snog had been between Dean and Blaise. Not that it had turned into anything like Harry's with Draco or Pansy's with Seamus (who, smeared with burgundy lipstick, still seemed to be recovering). It wasn't anything that could be called romantic, but if Harry had to describe it... well, it resembled a sort of Firewhisky-aided truce.

"You've got the breath of a Bandicoot," Blaise said afterward.

"And you'd know this how?" Dean replied.

To which Blaise had actually smiled. Harry had never seen that expression on Blaise Zabini's face before. It was rather like what happened when Millicent's scowl got replaced by stunned shock.

There were human beings under those facades.

There were scared, maligned kids.

Harry glanced at Draco once more.

Sitting there on a cushion, gangly arm wrapped around one bent knee and waving off another sip of Firewhisky, was a boy who dearly wanted to be able to cast a Patronus.

Sitting there with his hair flopping into his flushed and smiling face was a boy who kissed like his heart was aflame.

Their eyes met once more, and Harry felt the heat of his own blush as Draco licked his lips slowly. For once it was Harry who broke eye contact first, suddenly becoming very interested in Dean's left trainer.

"I simply cannot kiss another one of you," Parvati announced around two in the morning. The group seemed to agree on the whole (though Harry very much would have wanted another go at Draco, of course, even though he, too, couldn't stop himself from yawning).

So, exhausted and fresh out of snogs, the group packed up to depart. It was decided that the last group to leave the room would stash the empty bottles back inside. That group would be Harry, Draco, and Ned.

Harry didn't know if they'd get the Room of Hidden Things or if the fire and subsequent destruction of the Horcrux had disabled it permanently. He sort of hoped that was the case; he didn't want Draco to have to see it otherwise. But when Harry gave him a questioning look across the room, Draco just nodded back, resolute.

Millicent and Blaise had the honour of making sure Pansy made it back to the dormitories without throwing up all over the castle. Neville said he would accompany Luna to Ravenclaw tower and Ginny to the Gryffindor common room before meeting everyone back on the third floor.

Once Harry's group had given the others time to presumably make it back, Harry drew his wand. "Ready?"

The other two nodded, so Harry wrenched open the door, and they stepped out. They let the door shut behind them. Harry checked with Draco one last time, but before Harry could so much as think about a place to hide their contraband, a way-too-intelligent-looking tabby cat rounded the corner of the hallway and then morphed swiftly, becoming the most thunderously frightening version of Minerva McGonagall Harry had ever seen.

"Gentlemen," she said, her voice steely and sleep-deprived. "In my office. Now."

 

no title

Once Harry ascertained that Draco was not, in fact, being expelled or sent to a dank cell in Azkaban, the abject terror bled away. They each got three months' detention, two for "whatever misguided lark you saw fit to conduct after hours" and the other for not disclosing whomever else might have been involved. Because not for one minute did Professor McGonagall believe the three of them had polished off two bottles of Firewhisky in one sitting by themselves. None of them had ratted on the group, and Harry had to fight the feeling of pride and its accompanying smile even as the headmistress chastised them, because he was certain Draco Malfoy had never once in his life kept his silence when ratting out someone else would have bought him leniency.

Yet there he had stood, chin as pointy as ever and lips sealed.

The only other punishment they got was the professor's scathing disappointment, which really was terrible enough. Harry had felt like every good thing he'd ever done had been erased in her eyes.

Still, between that and the detention, it wasn't that much more than Harry was used to; he knew this was the professor's job and she didn't actually think he was a terrible person (though he felt reasonably guilty for drinking on school grounds, he had to admit). However, Harry would have readily gone back to reminiscing about the unbelievably good making out he'd done with Draco; getting caught would have easily been worth it. It had been Draco's response once they left McGonagall's office that truly left an empty feeling in Harry's gut.

He hadn't met Harry's gaze at all, and all of Harry's attempts to talk to him on the walk back to their dormitories were met with stony silences and Draco's strides lengthening as if he wanted to lose him.

What made it worse was that even if Draco had been in a talking mood, Ned was with them, and talking about what had happened -- really talking about it -- was rather out of the question.

They reached the common room and, finally, when Harry couldn't take it anymore, he grabbed Draco's arm. Draco met Harry's gaze for the first time since McGonagall caught them.

But once Harry had his attention, he found he wasn't sure what he wanted to say.

I'm sorry?

It'll be all right?

Can I kiss you again?

Did you like it?

You seemed to like it.

I liked it.

I fucking loved it, Malfoy.

They just stood there, though, Ned hanging back and making it impossible to do what Harry wanted most, which was not talk at all.

Fuck, all he wanted to do was kiss him again.

But Draco's expression was so wary. It seemed even like he might be warning Harry not to. Harry couldn't help it, though, and took one step closer until they were only inches apart. Draco stiffened. He appeared to be holding his breath.

Merlin, he couldn't. Not like this.

"Goodnight, Draco," Harry said.

Draco swallowed, his gaze dropping. "Goodnight."

Harry let go of Draco's arm.

Draco turned and quickly disappeared down the hall.

Ned smiled at Harry, oblivious. "Guess we're lucky, right?"

Harry managed a half-hearted grin. "Yeah. Lucky."

 

The next morning, Ron caught him in the common room before going down to breakfast. "You snogged Malfoy?"

Harry blinked. In all the excitement, he'd sort of forgotten that Ron didn't know. "Er, yeah," Harry said. "Who told you?"

"I heard Zabini whispering to him about it."

"To Draco? Er, Malfoy?" Harry's face went instantly hot. The sensation spread down his neck, and he felt a little dizzy.

"Yeah. So I asked Neville in the loo."

"You and Neville talked about me and Malfoy kissing... in the loo."

Ron stared at him. "Harry. You kissed Malfoy!"

"Yeah, so? That's the game, isn't it?"

"The game says you have to tongue-fuck him for five minutes?"

"Uh..."

"Merlin, Harry, how drunk were you?"

Harry's gaze darted to the side as Malfoy walked into the room. "Er..."

He didn't get a chance to lie or tell the truth either way because Ron went on. "And I heard you, Malfoy, and Ned got it from McGonagall, too! How long's your detention anyway? Will you miss the game against Hufflepuff?"

The whole time Ron talked, Harry's eyes were on Draco. He walked up to Blaise and Millicent by the door and talked with them quietly, ignoring Harry's stare.

"Hey, did you hear me?"

"Oh. Yeah. Er, three months. I don't know about Quidditch."

"Well, don't worry about it, mate. I can't imagine McGonagall making you miss a game. Even if you destroyed the whole bloody castle with one monstrous fart or something!"

"What? Oh, er, thanks, Ron."

Ron rolled his eyes. "Merlin, snogging Malfoy scrambled your brains. I'm glad You Know Who's already dead. There'd be no stopping him with you like this." He clapped Harry hard on the shoulder. "So, ready to head down to breakfast then? You can tell me who else you made out with inappropriately."

Draco didn't say one word to him the rest of the weekend, and Harry's attempts to get him alone to talk had gone abysmally. Harry spent most of his time hanging out with Ron in the common room, and after his friend had gotten over the shock of Harry snogging Malfoy longer than anybody else, his new hobby seemed to be ribbing Harry about it.

It seemed to be everybody else's, too.

And Harry noticed that when they'd start, Draco would find the fastest way out of the room. Harry felt at once bad for him and frustrated with his response. If he was going to be so ashamed of it, why had he let Harry come in for that second kiss at all?

If he was just going to ignore Harry the rest of the year, why had he kissed him so readily, so hungrily?

Why would he talk to anybody but Harry now? Merlin, Harry had even caught him asking Ron if he knew where his Arithmancy textbook was!

Ron.

But it seemed he'd sooner catch a Portkey to Siberia in the middle of winter than be in the same room with Harry. Especially when talk of the game came up.

When Monday morning dawned and he was met with more of the same -- Draco fleeing any room that had Harry in it -- Harry decided he'd just have to do whatever he could to get Draco alone. He wasn't about to spend the rest of the year ashamed of what they'd done and letting it ruin whatever friendship they'd begun to form. If that was what Draco wanted... Well, Harry would just have to make him see that it'd be all right. They didn't have to kiss again if it meant they could still get together and work on Draco's Patronus, if it meant Draco could relax around him again and let Harry make him laugh. If it meant they could be friends.

But maybe, just maybe, they could add the kissing in, too, and the bloody world wouldn't end.

Harry wasn't going to go into this expecting anything, but that didn't mean he could stifle the feeling of hope.

He reckoned he had this week before he left for the Burrow for the break. One way or another, he was determined to work it out with the git.

Harry ended up staring at him all through Charms. They were supposed to be working on Atmospheric spells, and Harry dully registered that it was rainy on his right and windy to his left.

"Mr Potter." Professor Flitwick tapped him on the shoulder. "Your assignment was snow, not the steams of sunshine with which you seem to be bombarding Mr Malfoy."

"What?" Harry startled.

Sure enough. Draco glowered at him from a blinding shaft of golden sunlight that struck only him.

"Sorry," Harry said to Flitwick. He shot Draco an apologetic smile.

Draco rolled his eyes, swished his wand, and encased himself in a bank of fog.

History of Magic had been just as taxing. How was Harry supposed to concentrate on the Unicorn Exodus of 1452 when Draco's hair was falling onto his cheekbone like that? When the way his quill moved over his parchment was almost... sensual?

When, fixating on Draco's lips, Harry could remember how he tasted? The little sounds he'd made when Harry pushed his tongue into his mouth?

When Harry looked down at his own notes at the end of class, there were two sentences about the state of creature rights in the mid-fifteenth century... and then a bad drawing of a unicorn.

Harry sighed.

A new bit of parchment, folded, slid over his work. On the top was written, Don't read this here, you complete tosser.

Harry looked up quickly, but though he recognised Draco's handwriting, Draco himself was nowhere to be found.

Never good at following such directives (especially when the director called him a tosser), Harry hurried to unfold the note and voraciously read it right where he sat:

The bathroom in the dormitory hallway. Half past midnight tonight. Come alone.

And I bloody TOLD YOU not to read this here, didn't I?

"What's that, Harry?" Hermione asked from over his shoulder.

He balled the parchment into his fist. "Nothing. Hey, how was Wales?"

He successfully put her onto the new topic with gusto and only suffered a small pang of guilt as he'd wanted to talk to her about her trip anyway. Still, his mind kept wandering to the parchment in his trouser pocket as they walked from the classroom to the Great Hall for lunch. He really wanted to be happy that she'd had such a wonderful time, and Ron -- excellent boyfriend that he was turning out to be -- looked so pleased for her, his arm slung around her shoulders and a proud smile permanently affixed to his lips as he listened intently.

But Harry's mind's eye kept supplying him with visions of Malfoy and him in a loo stripping off all their clothes.

He could barely eat for the fantasies.

He made it through the rest of the day, but that was primarily because Draco was in Arithmancy while Harry had taken Herbology instead.

He'd almost forgotten about his detention. He made it all the way to the common room before he realised he was meant to be in McGonagall's office in less than three minutes. Running all the way there, Harry arrived out of breath, doubled over as he knocked on her office door.

"Mr Potter," she said in surprise at finding him significantly shorter than expected.

He rose and made to enter, but she barred the way with her arm.

"There's been a change of plans regarding your detention."

"Oh?" Harry supposed it was too much to hope she was letting him off the hook. He peeked into the room to see Draco sitting in front of her desk like a chastised first year.

"You'll be sitting your detention with Professor Snape instead," she said.

"But... why?"

"It's on his request, Mr Potter; you'll have to ask him. I'll speak to his portrait and let him know you'll be in his office directly."

She began to close the door on him, and Harry's gaze once again fell on Draco looking both resigned and posh where he sat.

"It wasn't his fault," Harry blurted before the professor could completely shut him out.

"Excuse me?"

"Draco. It wasn't his fault. We coerced him into coming along."

She raised one eyebrow at him, and Draco turned his head to frown in Harry's direction.

"Is this true, Mr Malfoy?"

"No, Professor," Draco said. "I joined Potter of my own free will. I'll take whatever punishment such a stupid act merits." He then glared at Harry, and if it weren't for the fact that they hadn't quite got round to both wordless and wandless hexes, Harry would have feared for his physical safety. Draco's gaze flared dark and dangerous as it bore into him. Harry swallowed.

Perhaps his loo fantasies were completely delusional.

"Thank you for the truth, Mr Malfoy. Mr Potter, I'd suggest working on your own truth-telling skills with Professor Snape." She then closed the door in his face.

Harry made his way to Snape's office, not wanting to even begin to guess why Snape would have requested such a thing. He arrived, took a deep breath, and knocked. The door was ajar and swung inward with a prolonged creak.

"Professor?"

When he got no answer, Harry stepped into the drafty and badly-lit office. It was lined with bookshelves, all full with tomes the professor himself would no longer be able to access. Aside from hundreds of old but well-organised books, there were shelves and shelves of potions ingredients as well. It smelled exactly the same as he remembered it. Gillyweed and Asphodel. The slightest hint of something softer, like rose oil, completely incongruous.

A lump rose in Harry's throat, remembering how hard Snape had worked to teach him Occlumency and how resistant and enraged Harry had been. How utterly stupid. How ungrateful.

On the other hand, Snape had been a total dick about it, too.

Bygones.

Harry's gaze came to rest on the large empty canvas behind the unused but aptly supplied desk with its lamp, quill stand, parchments, still more potions jars... Harry started to sit in one of the severe chairs set before the desk when the voice came from his left, startling him.

"There will be no need to get comfortable, Mr Potter. We won't be staying long."

Harry turned to see Snape sitting in a smaller portrait, this one endowed with a sumptuous chair and reading lamp. He had a book open on his lap which he shut as Harry watched. He felt relieved that the professor seemed to have a way to read after all, and that contrary to appearances derived from his classes, he had at least one painted canvas in which to relax.

"May I ask where we'll be going?"

"You may ask, but I'll not yet answer." Snape stood from his armchair and walked out of the frame, coming to stand imposingly in the large portrait behind the desk instead. "First, some rules." He clasped his hands behind his back. "There will be no more drinking in the Room of Requirement or anywhere else your little group sees fit for its nocturnal outings. If any of you insists on breaking this rule, you will all be dealt with swiftly and harshly and it will not have been worth the trouble. Is this clear?"

Harry swallowed down the humiliation of, yet again, being chastised by Severus Snape. "Yes, Professor."

"Good. Headmistress McGonagall will be posting a missive to this effect tomorrow, but I'm telling you now, Mr Potter, because you will be directly responsible for everyone's obedience to this rule. Do you understand?"

"But why--?"

Snape's voice rose. "Because like it or not, your words, your actions, carry more weight, and the other professors and myself expect more from you whether you consider that fair or not."

Harry gritted his teeth. "Yes, sir."

He'd never thought of it like that. He'd assumed, hoped, that with the war over he could blend in and be a regular person for once. He felt he deserved that, and a sharp little barb of rebellion jabbed him from the inside at Snape's words.

"We can chat about the unfairness of it all if you like, but for Merlin's sake, let's do something useful while we're at it. Meet me in Gryffindor tower at the place where the stairs to the former boys' dormitories end, and be careful not to fall over the edge, Mr Potter. I'm no longer in a position to help you quite so readily. The password into the common room is 'Elder Wand'."

With that, the professor walked out of his frame, leaving Harry to make his own way to their rendezvous point.

Harry hadn't realised how much he missed his old dormitory until he stood in front of the Fat Lady's portrait. He'd managed to avoid this part of the castle since they'd returned. But seeing it now... The memories flooded through him like magic pervading his skin, seeping underneath, reawakening parts of him he'd denied.

"Elder wand," he said to the Fat Lady.

"Good to see you, lad." She smiled warmly at him as she swung inward.

Harry stepped into his old common room and looked around. Everything was so similar, though there were still scorch marks along two of the walls. Doors now led off the common room on either side, which Harry assumed would take him to newly crafted dormitories since the tower itself had been too badly damaged.

Was this his punishment? To see this? To feel it again?

"Hi, Harry," Ginny said from where she sat in front of the hearth with a book open before her and an essay parchment unrolled to the floor.

"Hi, Gin."

"Who let you in?" she asked, though it wasn't at all accusatory.

"Oh, er, Professor Snape. I'm... meeting him here."

"Oh," she said, surprised.

"I need to go." He didn't relish staying and trying to explain something he himself wasn't sure of yet.

"See you at dinner then?"

"Yeah. See you then."

She went back to her essay, and Harry avoided the wide eyes of the other younger Gryffindors lounging around the room as he made his way up the winding staircase that had been a part of his life for so long.

The further up he climbed, the more the walls seemed to be crumbling. Near the top of what remained of the stairs, a painting had been hung on one of the more sturdy blocks of stone. It consisted of another chair and a rug, sparse but comfortable. As Harry looked at it, Snape walked into the frame and sat.

"Draw your wand, Mr Potter."

Harry scrambled to do so. He'd thought Snape was going to give him some talk about the state of the tower and somehow equate it to Harry's crumbling morals. But apparently he was here to be put to work.

Snape then instructed him on spells Harry had never encountered before, advanced Mending spells in conjunction with Sealing, Dark Magic Removal, Stone Healing... things that weren't even in any of his books. Things he hadn't thought he was ready for. Yet here was Snape, barking instructions as though Harry had every capacity for this work.

Harry focused intently and tried to memorise all that Snape told him about how to hold his wand, which kind of flick to use, how to pronounce the foreign spells. He began working under Snape's supervision and was surprised at how quickly he was able to pick up the complicated magic. He dropped a couple of smaller stones at the beginning, but Snape advised a slight adjustment to his swishing, and after that the work went shockingly well.

Harry felt an enormous sense of accomplishment as he personally rebuilt the tower, one stone at a time -- as he remade the stairs and drained the area of any remaining Dark Magic.

"I told her we didn't need Galleons," Snape murmured once beneath his breath, and Harry felt great pride suffuse him.

"Is this my detention then?" Harry asked once he'd got the hang of repairing the stones.

"Were you expecting to be hung upside down by your toenails in the dungeons?"

Harry winced a bit. "No, I just--"

"Thought I'd have you doing something pointless?"

Harry shrugged.

"What in Merlin's name would be the good in that?" Snape frowned in the same stoic and intense way he always had.

Harry set a particularly large stone into the wall and began the Sealing spell.

"Mr Potter, have you thought about what you're going to do once you leave Hogwarts?"

"Er..." Harry concentrated on finishing the Seal before he tried to answer. "I, er, I don't really know, I guess."

"I had thought your ambition was to become an Auror."

"It was," Harry said. He switched to the Stone Healing magic once the Seal felt permanent, now pulling with his magic rather than ejecting it out.

"It's not any longer?"

"I'm not sure."

"That much is obvious."

Harry frowned. "With all due respect, what's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Harry, that if you put too much consideration into Mr Malfoy's future and not enough into your own, he could very well become the Auror and you the person that empties out his rubbish bin."

Too struck by the use of his name to let the rest sink in, Harry asked, "Professor?"

Snape rolled his eyes. "I may be briefly consigned to this frame, but I'm not blind, Potter."

"Er, what do you mean, sir?" Harry had begun to sweat. The stone he was attempting to lift almost slipped free of his magical grasp.

"Infatuations are unavoidable. Some would say they're even one of the joys of your age group." Snape shuddered his disagreement. "Since it's mutual, though, I suppose there could be minimal harm to your psyches. To your marks, however..."

Harry felt like the top of his head might explode and fly off, taking what was left of his meagre brains with it. "You think he's... infatuated... with me?"

"Put down your wand, Mr Potter."

Harry did as he was told, his heart in his throat.

"That is precisely your problem," Snape said. "Him first, you second."

"But--"

"Your dalliance with Mr Malfoy is your business, and I do not care to be privy to the details, but know this, Harry: you cannot cease to be who you are."

Harry gnashed his teeth in response to that. "I know very well who I am, thank you, and I thought you of all people would understand how bloody sick of that I get. Sir."

Snape looked out at Harry from his frame more intensely than most breathing people could.

"Besides," Harry went on, looking away, "why can't I be myself and become an Auror or a Quidditch player or whatever else I might want to be and... and have a..." He flushed as he forced the word out. "And have a boyfriend, too?"

Merlin's tits, he'd said it.

He'd said it to Snape.

He'd come out. To Severus Snape.

Bloody buggering hell.

When Snape said nothing and Harry got brave enough to peek at his reaction, he saw that Snape now wore a wry smirk. It was almost... affectionate. Or maybe that was merely the light striking his canvas in just the right way.

"Professor," Harry said, suddenly struck through with fear. "Please don't tell him I said that. We haven't even-- That is to say--"

"Mr Potter, my resume positively abounds with more situations than I'd ever care to count or even remember in which I kept my silence on matters more important than your love life."

Harry swallowed. He looked at the stone steps before him. "I'm aware of that, sir. Thank you." It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough. Not when he'd been trying to think of a way to thank this man for months.

"Harry," Snape said softly.

Harry lifted his stunned gaze to see a look of sad compassion on Snape's face the likes of which he'd never thought to hope for.

Harry felt tears threaten behind his eyes. "I just want things to be normal." And he hadn't even known how true and difficult and real those words were until he'd said them.

Snape sighed. Harry got the feeling that if he could he would have reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know, Potter."

Harry understood the sadness, the regret and the pride, that he saw in Snape's eyes. He understood all too well. He nodded.

"Now," Snape said. "Pull your wand. Half an hour more, and you'll have repaired a quarter of this tower, Potter, and you'll have more than earned your dinner, I should say."

Harry felt the compliment burn inside him pleasantly and got back to work. Snape didn't mention his future or Draco or "infatuation" again, letting Harry rebuild the castle stone by stone, absorbed in his work even more than his own thoughts for once. He'd repaired so much of the staircase that he'd had to move Snape's portrait -- twice! -- to keep up.

"That will be all," Snape finally said, though it felt like five minutes, not half an hour. "We shall meet back here the Tuesday after the break and continue." He'd dismissed Harry for dinner, and Harry was halfway down the stairs when Snape called out.

"Mr Potter!"

Harry turned back quickly. "Yes?"

Snape stood in front of his chair, frowning. "Forget everything I said." Something burned in his eyes that Harry had never seen there before. "Make your mother proud and be, before anything else, happy." Then, in a swirl of robes, he was gone.

You have your mother's eyes...

Harry swallowed against the emotions unfurling inside him. He walked out of the Gryffindor common room in a daze. He sat down to dinner with no appetite.

"How was detention?" Ron asked.

"Fine."

"Fine? Seriously?"

"Yeah. I mended walls."

Ron raised his eyebrows but then went back to eating his roll. Hermione was chatting with Parvati, so it gave Harry some time to think about what had just gone on while he ate food he hardly tasted.

Professor Snape knew he was gay. He knew Harry wanted Draco and seemed to believe Draco wanted him back. He'd advised Harry to think of himself and his future in the wizarding community and not expect a normal life only to rescind everything and tell him to be happy.

More confused than ever, Harry glanced down the table to see Draco talking with, of all people, Luna Lovegood, who had once again strayed from her house table. Something Luna said made Draco laugh. His face transformed from it, his eyes dancing. He said something in return, still chuckling, and Luna's face lit up. Draco smiled at her and then turned his head to find Harry watching him. Slowly, his smile diminished, though not enough to become an actual frown. He looked away, though, and went back to eating.

Well. At least McGonagall hadn't outright killed him.

He was still here.

He looked unharmed.

He was still bloody beautiful.

Half-past midnight. Five more hours. Harry didn't know if he'd survive it.

He thought of what Snape had said first and reckoned he'd better spend those hours studying. He really couldn't just sit there and moon over Draco Malfoy twenty-four seven anyway. That bespoke his former obsession, not happiness.

"Hey, Hermione?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"Would you want to go to the library with me after dinner?"

Her gaze flitted to Ron. "I, er, can't tonight. I'm sorry, Harry. Ron and I... We're..."

"Oh, no problem." Harry thought it might be better if he was alone after all since he'd likely be fighting Draco-fantasies and Hermione tended to catch him at it and ask questions.

Maybe, if things went well in the bathroom meeting, he could start honestly answering them soon.

Harry spent a couple of hours in the library studying. He spent a couple more in the common room playing Exploding Snap with Dean and then composing an owl to Teddy.

He went to bed at the same time as the others. He never saw Draco once the entire evening, and he felt like maybe he'd dreamed getting that note from him, and all he'd find in the men's bathroom was a shiny row of house-elf-cleaned urinals.

Harry waited until the others were as asleep as they were going to get. It wasn't like he'd never gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom before, though, so he didn't expect an interrogation. He just didn't fancy rousing anyone enough to make them consider joining him.

Unless Malfoy intended to hex Harry's balls off. And then he might regret not bringing along some back-up.

He entered the bathroom five minutes early, and since Malfoy wasn't there yet, he decided taking a piss wasn't a bad idea. He finished, tucked himself away, washed his hands... And then he waited.

He felt stupid for just standing there in the middle of the bathroom. He checked his watch to find that it was only twelve thirty-two. He took a breath and was considering pacing when he heard a door down the hall slowly open and then close.

Harry's heart jumped into his throat. Reflexively, he felt for his wand but encountered no relief at it being tucked into the waistband of his pyjamas. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his thighs and for the first time considered what he was wearing. He supposed it could have been worse. A pair of dark blue pyjama bottoms and a Weird Sisters t-shirt weren't haute couture, but at least it wasn't a flashing neon Weasley jumper complete with singing socks. And yeah, he had those.

Harry schooled his breath as he listened to the footsteps in the hall coming closer. Every emotion in his body had time to course through his blood from head to feet and back again with how long it took Draco -- or whoever the fuck it was -- to make it down the hall to the bathroom.

He took three steps toward the door, ready to charge out into the hall, shouting, "Take your bloody time, Malfoy!" when the door swung in, and Draco stepped inside.

"Hey," Harry breathed out, but Draco said nothing. He closed the door, drew his wand, and locked it. Then he shoved his wand away again and advanced on Harry, his face a potent display of both fury and...

Oh Merlin, and want.

Despite his own wanting, Harry backed away.

"I can't bloody believe I got detention for snogging you, you bastard." Draco stalked toward him, chin down, eyes hard. "And here I am." Harry's back hit the wall. "Back for fucking more."

At that, Draco took Harry's face in his hands, brought their lips together, and then pressed hard into Harry's mouth with his tongue.

"Mmm!" Harry groaned, yet it wasn't a complaint. "Mmm..." He grabbed Draco's narrow hips, pulling him closer. Draco tasted cool like apples, but his mouth was hot, his tongue forceful. It took Harry a few seconds to catch up to him. His mind was spinning, his body shocked by the suddenness of having exactly what it wanted.

When Draco's mouth lifted off his for a moment, Harry said, "Technically, it wasn't for snogging me. It was for--"

"Merlin's bollocks, Potter, shut up!"

Draco pulled him into another rough kiss, and this time Harry joined him. Their tongues met, and Draco moaned. He grabbed Harry by the t-shirt and dragged him toward the nearest shower stall.

Draco's hands slipped under his shirt, and the feeling of those hands on Harry's skin... Harry bit Draco's bottom lip and rejoiced at the gasp that elicited. He pulled out of the kiss and ripped his glasses off, lifting his arms at Draco's urging and letting him tug the shirt off altogether. Both glasses and shirt fell to the floor, and Harry didn't care. He lifted Draco's shirt, too, and stripped it off in a hurry, their mouths parting only so long as it took to do so.

Harry stumbled into the shower after Draco, trying to yank the curtain closed without breaking the kiss. Draco's back hit the wall this time, and Harry let his hands roam up Draco's sides, over his chest, into his hair where he couldn't help but tug. Draco pulled him closer until their bodies pressed tight together, skin to skin.

So much naked skin. And Draco was letting Harry touch it!

Harry licked between Draco's lips and ran his hands up and down his back. Draco's nails raked down Harry's sides. Harry gasped.

"Sorry," Draco whispered but didn't sound like he meant it.

"The fuck you are, Malfoy. Do it again."

Draco did, and Harry bit his own lip this time to keep from... He didn't know what: growling? coming? smiling? All he knew was how those nails felt leaving shallow welts along the surface of his skin. They felt perfect.

Draco's eyes lit up at Harry's reaction and he flipped them again so that Harry's back collided with the wall, hard. He dipped his head to the crook of Harry's neck and bit and sucked and made little sounds like maybe he loved it. Their cocks pressed together through their pyjamas, and Harry felt pre-come spread a nice warm stain on the front of his pants.

He didn't yet care. He couldn't care. He felt too brilliant.

One of Draco's hands went into his hair, and he leaned back just enough to reach between their bodies. Harry held his breath, believing him to be going for his cock, but Draco's long fingers brushed over Harry's stomach instead, moving through the line of hair that led down into his trousers.

"I like this," Draco said in a disarmingly honest way that made Harry shiver in response.

The backs of Draco's fingers moved up and down that line of hair. Up and down, slow and decisive. Fuck, it was amazing -- just Draco's hand touching his stomach like that.

Draco's eyes darkened with desire.

"Bloody hell," Harry said. He pulled Draco to him once more, and then they were kissing like they wanted to make each other bleed, their hands everywhere.

After several of the best minutes of Harry's life, he pulled back just enough to let his eyes feast on the skin he was getting to touch. Draco's body was pale and thin, of course, but there were muscles underneath. His nipples were small and dark. He was breathing hard, looking at Harry with a question in his eyes.

"Like what you see, Potter?" It was half arrogance, half bated breath.

Harry took it all in -- the hair flopping into his pointy face; his sleek, nearly hairless chest; the faded Dark Mark; the impressive tent to his trousers. "Fuck yes."

Draco's lips crook'd up in a smile that bespoke both relief and arousal. He pressed his face back into the side of Harry's neck. He seemed to really like doing that, and it felt amazing, his hot breath on these tender places Harry had not even known were there until Draco breathed on them, bit down on them, whispered dirty things against them.

His hands held Harry's waist and gripped harder when he asked, "Why'd you have to be so bloody fit?" His fingers dipped into Harry's pyjama bottoms then, not quite skimming his arse. Harry thunked his head back into the cold, hard wall and groaned. His cock twitched against Draco's body through their thin trousers.

Bloody hell, Draco's hands moved again, and he was messing about under the waistband of Harry's pants, deft and curious fingers dancing over the swells of Harry's arse. Harry's wand, no longer securely held, fell into one leg of his trousers, and he so didn't care. Fuck, was Draco going to take his trousers down? Were they going to do... that?

Harry's cock jumped at the thought, even though his mind ran rampant with both an insane level of desire and an equal measure of fear.

What would Draco think that he'd never done anything with another boy? He'd hardly done anything with Ginny, even. A hand in her bra and her riding his completely clothed leg. And it had felt nothing like this.

Draco's mouth on his neck steadily stole the fear and replaced it with how-fast-can-I-get-these-trousers-off frustration that was nearly painful.

"Potter," Draco whispered, his damnable fingers running this way and that, finally dipping low enough to skate over the crease between the globes of his arse. Harry bit his lip to keep a desperate moan inside.

Harry let his hand move back up into Draco's hair. It was softer than he'd dared imagine. The back of Draco's neck was hot to the touch.

"Mmm, want to see your cock," Draco said just beneath Harry's ear.

"Fuck... Okay." Harry wasn't sure if he was supposed to strip completely, though -- Draco hadn't expressed any desire to see his legs after all -- so he just pushed his trousers and pants down to the tops of his thighs, letting his hard cock spring free.

He briefly wondered if he should be embarrassed by it for any reason. He'd seen the other boys' dicks, of course, but not hard. Certainly not so hard they were dribbling a stream of pre-come down the bobbing shaft. Harry swallowed as Draco edged back and looked down... and then just blinked.

"Well, what?" Harry asked when the impatience and burgeoning humiliation threatened.

Draco's hands lit shyly on Harry's hips. They shook. Harry watched his face, the way his pupils dilated suddenly, the black edging out the grey. How his Adam's apple moved in his throat. Having those beautiful hands touching him and so close to his waiting and ready cock... The stupid, needy thing throbbed, jerking up under Draco's rapacious gaze. Draco licked his lips. "Potter." It came out a near-whisper.

Before Harry could ask for some reciprocity, because he was frankly dying to see Draco's cock, the bathroom doorknob jiggled.

"Shit," Harry said. He wanted to shout every obscenity he knew and some he didn't. He had his cock out for Draco Malfoy, for fuck's sake! This person could go pee somewhere else, couldn't they? Bloody hell, they could pee anywhere else for all Harry cared!

But Draco raised his gaze to Harry's and smirked. He put his finger to his own lips and drew his wand. He summoned their shirts then reached past Harry and turned the shower on. Harry gasped, though the water wasn't too cold nor too hot; it never was. It was just shocking to suddenly be wet. To be wet with his trousers still on but pulled down.

To be wet and hard and very much not alone and about to get less so apparently, because then Draco flicked his wand and unlocked the door.

"Stupid bloody door," Seamus muttered as he entered.

Draco put his finger over his lips again and shook his head. Harry let his gaze drop to Draco's soaked body, the water making his trousers cling to his hips, dragging them down, outlining his erection. And if that outline was anything to go by, Draco Malfoy was bloody hung.

Harry raised his gaze again. They looked at each other as Seamus shuffled around out there, murmuring to himself.

"Who's in there?" he suddenly called.

Draco pointed at Harry.

"Erm, it's Harry."

Draco smiled at him. He looked down at Harry's cock again. He licked his lips.

"Little late for a shower, innit?"

Draco sank onto his knees in the spray. Oh fucking God...

"I was, uh, itchy," Harry said. That earned him an amused shake of Draco's head like Harry was unbelievably daft. He pulled Harry's trousers down a bit more so that his pants no longer cradled his balls and they swung free. "Oh my God," Harry breathed.

"What?" Seamus asked.

"Nothing." Harry's voice came out shrill and choked.

Draco wrapped his hand around Harry's cock, and Harry wanted to die from it. He squeezed his eyes closed only to open them back up again when Draco leaned in and rubbed the head of Harry's cock over his parted lips. "Oh fuck." Harry banged his head back against the tile.

"You all right?"

"Yeah. I, er, I dropped my shampoo." Harry stared down at Draco on his knees -- at Draco stroking his hand up and down Harry's cock -- at Draco smiling at him and then opening his mouth and...

"Well, goodnight, Harry!"

"Goodnight!" Harry shouted, gritting his teeth.

He heard Seamus' footsteps, the door opening and closing. Draco licked the pre-come from his slit.

"Bloody fuck," Harry panted. "I haven't... Malfoy, I've never..." Harry's cheeks flamed hot even as Draco rubbed his cock over his lips again, apparently enjoying doing so almost as much as Harry enjoyed having it done. God, his lips were brilliant! If just his lips were that brilliant...

Harry felt almost afraid of getting a blow job from him.

Dear Merlin.

A blow job.

Harry had so rarely connected that word with something that could and might very well be done to him. He'd feared that perhaps he'd end up this unlucky sod who died never having had the pleasure of a mouth on his cock. And frankly, he had died without it. He just happened to be back. And he happened to have a wet, hungry-looking Draco Malfoy on his knees and getting ready to blow him, it appeared.

Harry swallowed hard.

Draco's hand moved almost lazily along his shaft. "You're not going to chicken out on me, are you, Potter?"

Bloody hell, of course he'd turn into a bastard about it. Harry's jaw went tight. Draco leaned in, closed his eyes, and rubbed Harry's cock over his cheeks. "Well? Are you?"

"Sod off, Malfoy, or put it in your mouth and-- Oh fuck!"

The whole head of his cock was in Draco's mouth, and his tongue lapped round and round it, his cheeks hollowed as he sucked on it and oh holy hell!

Harry made fists at his sides until Draco took Harry's hands in his own and gently placed them on his head. Draco's mouth made the most beautiful bowed shape around Harry's prick. Harry ran his fingers into his hair. Draco blinked up at him, something angelic and obscene about him all at once. Harry shivered, he held Draco's head, and he thrust minutely forward, pushing another inch into Draco's mouth.

Draco gagged, and Harry pulled out quickly. "Merlin, I'm sorry. Are you all right?"

Draco nodded. "Yeah. I just-- Never mind. Do it again, would you?"

"What, choke you?"

Draco smiled at him shyly now. "No. But do that thrusting thing. I... I liked it. I just wasn't ready."

"You're sure?" Be sure, be sure, be sure, be sure!

Draco's answer was to fit Harry's cock back into his mouth, swirling that hot tongue around the crown again.

"Shit." Harry leaned his head against the wall for a moment, his mouth dropping open as he felt what Draco's mouth was doing to him all the way down to his toes. Draco was watching him, sucking gently. Harry threaded his fingers into that silky hair. "Yeah?"

As much as he could, Draco nodded.

Harry thrust -- just a little bit. His cock eased past Draco's stretched lips. This time there was no gagging, only a soft moan around his cock that sent electric shocks through Harry's thighs. He pulled back again. "All right?" he asked. Draco ran his hands up the backs of Harry's legs, cupped his bare arse, and squeezed.

Harry tightened the muscles under Draco's hands and thrust again. He wasn't going very far in, but he hardly cared. Just watching it happen and feeling that sly tongue pressed to the underside of his shaft had Harry ready to come right then and there.

Someone was sucking his cock.

Draco Malfoy was sucking his cock.

Harry found himself smiling -- smiling down at Draco on the floor of the shower, soaked to his skin, his blond hair dripping all over Harry's tightening hands. Harry began thrusting in rhythm, half his cock now moving in and out of Draco's mouth.

Draco moved his hands, feeling Harry's arse until finally his fingers slipped into the crease itself. Harry could feel it building, his bollocks drawing close. Draco's tongue was so hot, the suction so perfect as Harry strove forward, and then his finger... Draco's finger found the tight pucker of Harry's anus and drew a graceful circle around it, exerting just the slightest pressure.

"Oh my God." Harry didn't have time to warn him as he started coming. His cock spurted semen into Draco's mouth and all Harry could say was, "Malfoy, Malfoy, fuck fuck fuck Malfoy..." as he emptied and Draco swallowed some and let the rest run out past his lips and down Harry's shaft, dripping onto the floor and washing away. His hand worked on Harry's cock quickly, bringing Harry off even as his pretty mouth gasped away and the rest splattered his lips and chin.

"Merlin, sorry. Sorry," Harry panted.

But Draco smiled up at him, that deviant finger still circling his anus patiently while he licked Harry's come from his lips. Harry whined as Draco rubbed the last of it out of him, his cock against the sweet softness of Draco's cheek.

He'd always thought of him as a pointy git. Yet his cheek... Merlin, it was so bloody soft.

Harry loosened his hands in Draco's hair, and Draco left off his arsehole, rising off his knees.

"That was... Fuck..." Harry stammered.

Without a word, Draco took Harry's hand and moved it between his legs. Looking into Harry's eyes, he pulled his own trousers and pants down just enough, and he wrapped Harry's hand around his cock. Harry looked down at it. It was as wide as his own and even longer. Harry knew from peeking at his roommates that he was pretty big. But bloody hell, Draco's dick was huge! And it felt fucking exquisite in his hand.

Harry tried an experimental pull on it. Draco's breath shuddered out of him, and he closed his eyes.

"Good?"

Draco nodded vigorously.

Harry did it again, adding a twist at the end like he enjoyed doing to himself. Draco made a quiet, high sound at the back of his throat.

So Harry did it again and again and again and again.

He alternately watched his hand working Draco's cock and then blinked up to observe his reactions. Which were bloody beautiful. Harry had never thought he'd see Draco Malfoy's composed chill melt for him like this, his brows creasing, those little sounds coming out of him, his breath hitching.

"Potter, I'm close," he said, and they were the loveliest words ever.

Harry thought about dropping to his own knees and getting a taste of it when he came. But then Draco wrapped his hand around the back of Harry's head and, in the middle of the deluge, they kissed again. And as they kissed, Draco's cock pulsed in Harry's hand as he came, whimpering against Harry's wet mouth.

When it was over, Draco leaned back, and they searched one another's eyes. Harry couldn't help smiling. Draco held his hand under the water and then splashed it on Harry. Harry laughed and splashed him back.

"You tosser, I'm an utter wreck," Draco said. "These trousers are silk, you know."

"I'm not the one who dragged us in here, Malfoy. I'm not the one who turned on the water." Harry was still smiling. He felt like he might never be able to stop.

Draco stripped off his trousers and held them up with a look of prattish disgust. Him standing there like that without a stitch of clothing and with that look on his face was very possibly the sexiest thing Harry had ever seen. He could hardly look away as he followed suit and stripped off his own clinging pyjamas.

"Why'd you even lock the bloody door in the first place if you were just going to let any ol' person in, you wanker?" he asked.

Suddenly there was a hand on his chest, pushing him hard back into the wall. Draco's gaze bore into his own. "It wasn't to keep them out, Potter. It was to keep you in." He shoved away and picked up his soaked shirt. "At least until I'd snogged the shit out of you."

Harry's heart pounded as hard as it had while he'd been inside Draco's mouth.

God, that mouth. It could hurl the snidest of insults, cast the perfect charms, whisper filthy things in his ear, and whimper and whine so sweetly while he came.

Bloody fucking hell, that mouth.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry knew he was in terrible trouble.

"I'm just glad the plonker wasn't here to take a shit," Draco added, turning off the water.

The laugh erupted out of Harry before he was ready for it, and Draco shot him a wicked smile as he stepped out of the shower.

"So," Harry said, picking up his own shirt and glasses and following him. "How many times have you done that then?"

Draco fetched them each a towel. "Do you mean counting this time?"

"Yeah, counting this time." All humour was gone now as Harry's gut twisted up, waiting for some horrid number. Waiting to be one in a very long line of cocks. Not that it would be in any way wrong for Draco to have more experience than Harry. But, well... He just didn't really like the mental images parading through his brain at the idea.

But Draco dried his hair with his towel and didn't meet Harry's gaze as he said, "That would be one, Potter."

"What? Are you kidding?"

"No, I'm not bloody kidding. Sod off."

His first.

Harry had been Draco's first.

His heart swelled, and it became difficult to breathe deeply.

"Malfoy, look," Harry said gently, cleaning and then donning his glasses, understanding now something he had not before. "I didn't mean it like that. I--"

Draco whirled on him, but it didn't feel quite so threatening without his posh clothes in place. In fact, it was rather lovely to be whirled on by a naked Draco. "I don't care how much you want to snog me or how much I might want to do it back or..." He waved his hand at the room in general. "Or any of it. I can't get any more blasted detentions, Potter! Not until-- I just can't, all right?"

"Yeah," Harry said, still dripping everywhere. "Sure. I understand, Draco, I--"

"And this can't get around to the whole school. Do you understand that?" He scowled then, looking around himself. "Where the fuck is my wand?"

"You could Summon it." Harry bent and picked up his own from the puddle he'd made on the floor. He shook the water from it, and it threw off a few orange sparks.

"I bloody know I can Summon it, arsehole." He stomped over to the shower, found it, and snatched it up.

Harry wasn't sure why he was still smiling with Draco yelling at him, but he was. He began to spell-dry his clothes, and Draco did the same, still making his demands, still starkers. "I can't afford a drop in my marks. And don't expect some simpering ponce of a boyfriend sniffing after your hot arse and holding your hand in the Quidditch stands, do you hear me, Potter?"

Harry's smile grew. Draco'd just said he had a hot arse whether he realised it or not. And not only that. He'd said the word. He'd actually said "boyfriend". Harry now knew what this was. As he watched Draco frowning and running his wand over his clothes in an almost frantic fashion, Harry knew: they were going to do this again.

They were going to do this a lot.

And Draco, for all his posturing now, knew it, too. That was the whole daft reason for the posturing. He wanted to keep doing it as badly as Harry. But whereas that idea thrilled Harry to no end, it obviously scared Draco nearly senseless.

"Yeah." Harry set his shirt aside to don his pants and trousers. "All right, Malfoy."

"Good." Draco yanked his shirt down over his head, sending his hair this way and that. Harry had never seen Draco dishevelled before.

It was bloody gorgeous.

He sucked my cock!

For the first time since they'd exited the shower, Draco looked at Harry. "I suppose you want another snog, then." He lifted his pointy chin, snobbish gaze full of challenge.

Harry walked up to him, into his personal space, pressing Draco to the wall without yet touching him. "And what if I do?"

Draco's darkening gaze dropped to Harry's lips. He got a new, wicked glint in his eye. "I always knew you wanted to snog me, Potter."

Harry fought a smile. "Is that so, Malfoy?" He braced his hands on the wall on either side of Draco's head. He leaned in. Draco's warm, fast breaths bathed his lips.

The doorknob rattled again, giving them only a moment to step away from one another before Blaise walked in, scrubbing at his face tiredly.

"Oh," he said when he saw Draco and Harry standing in the middle of the bathroom.

Harry quickly grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head. "I'll just take my piss then."

He glanced at Draco only long enough to see him roll his eyes. "Bloody good for you, Potter. Blaise," he added. He took long, arrogant strides until he was through the door and gone.

Harry sidled up next to Blaise at the urinals and pulled out his freshly blown cock, still sensitive from Draco's mouth. Heat rose into his cheeks.

Again, he thought, as he stood there not pissing.

He'd bloody well just had sex.

And they were going to do it again.

 

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They did it again the next day between Potions and Charms, in fact. Draco pulled him into an empty, dark classroom, kissed him hard, and before Harry knew it, they had their cocks out and were slap-fighting over whose hand would go where.

Harry came in Draco's fist in approximately ninety seconds; Draco, over Harry's knuckles, just after.

They cleaned up and straightened their clothes, still panting. Draco left the room first, checking both ways down the hall furtively (and giving Harry a really nice view of his arse), and Harry followed a minute later, face still hot.

"Today, we'll be working on strengthening your privacy charms," Flitwick announced.

Harry fought down an absurd laugh. Draco and he had used about three each just moments before, and they'd been quite strong. Really, 'O'-on-their-N.E.W.T.s strong. Harry raised his gaze to find Draco's across the aisle. They shared subversive smiles, and when Flitwick walked by, Draco ducked his head and cleared his throat, and it was just this beautifully sublime moment that Harry wanted to phial away to view for years to come.

He really needed to buy himself a Pensieve, he decided.

You, Harry, are in terrible, terrible trouble. He was pretty sure that voice in his head belonged to Hermione. He was just as sure that it was right.

But the next night found him meeting Draco in the clearing to practice his Patronus like always. Harry had thought they might begin a little differently this time and moved in to kiss him once Draco jumped the fence.

"I really think I ought to use what energy I have at my disposal for the spell, Potter," Draco said, pulling back.

"Oh. Right. Yes. Absolutely."

Draco grabbed his wrist. "But after..." His thumb brushed lightly over Harry's pulse point, and the sensation went straight to his cock.

Draco's shield form was particularly vibrant during their practice, and apparently the appropriate way to celebrate that, or at least Draco's preferred way, was to push Harry against the fence, drop to his knees, and suck him off.

Harry held the back of his head with one hand. "Oh, fuck. Malfoy..." Draco bobbed his head, hummed, moved his hands up under Harry's shirt, warm and sweet. Harry grasped onto the fence post for support as he came.

Draco whined around his prick, his brows knit, and wanked himself until he came on the ground at Harry's feet.

"I sort of... thought I'd do that..." Harry said.

Draco pulled off and smirked up at him, his colour high and eyes sparkling. "You think you can just touch my cock whenever you'd like, Potter?"

"Well, I hadn't planned on doing it during Defence or anything, but..."

Harry tucked himself away, and Draco rose from the ground. When Harry finished with his trousers, he realised Draco had left his unfastened. Draco looked into his eyes and took Harry's hands, wrapping Harry's arms around himself and settling his hands right where his trousers hung low on his hips. Harry studied Draco's face for permission. He slipped his hands into the back of his pants and grasped his arse. Draco's breath hitched. His pale lashes fluttered.

"Bloody hell," Harry said before he kissed him. He massaged Draco's arse and marvelled at his soft skin, his tense muscles, the way he started to make those little sounds again, grinding gently against Harry's body.

They kissed through the deep cold that came on, the snow flurries that lit in their hair. Harry's hands squeezed and caressed, his fingers dipping into the crease. Draco moved quicker, then, his cock hard once more. Harry found and then circled Draco's anus with his middle finger, and Draco moaned into his mouth.

Unreal. That this was Draco Malfoy. That Harry was still himself. That, after everything, they'd ended up here in the silent snow together, Draco shivering and coming and clinging to Harry's neck while Harry stroked over this amazing little unknown part of him, this secret warm place.

They walked back to school slowly even though it was freezing. Nothing so fantastical happened as holding hands. There was the ubiquitous bickering, of course, and Harry tried not to trip over any pebbles in the road from staring at the way the tiny snowflakes got stuck in Draco's eyelashes and how beautiful he was even as he proceeded to insult every player on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team.

"By the way, nobody I've spoken with wants to play pretend Quidditch," he said then. "They're all acting like they're too posh for that, but they're really just afraid they'll make fantastic fools of themselves."

Harry shrugged. "To be honest, I haven't got around to asking anyone. Hermione's always studying. Ron's too busy pretend coaching. Luna'd probably end up playing for the wrong side." He slanted a glance at Draco, now grinning at his Luna remark. "We could just... do stuff on our own."

"We're already 'doing stuff' on our own." A mischievous smile twitched at one corner of Draco's lips.

"You know what I mean, Malfoy."

"You, me, and the Snitch?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"First one to it wins bragging rights the rest of the year?"

"Well, I guess there is that. But I just thought it'd be fun to have a reason to fly again."

"Yeah. Sounds all right."

They'd reached the castle. The entrance hall was toasty warm, and Harry hadn't realised how cold he'd been -- how his face ached with it. They made their way up the stairs talking of this and that. Sometimes their arms touched. Whenever they did, a frisson of heat would race up Harry's spine, but he never let on. Draco didn't either. But they continued to walk close, letting it happen.

There were no kisses goodnight. There was only "Potter," and "Malfoy," and Draco joining Blaise for wizard's chess in the common room while Harry sat with Ron and Hermione and talked in front of the hearth.

Thursday morning, Professor Binns announced a surprise essay test to be taken the next day, and Professor Flitwick told them they'd be charming regular Muggle toy tops into magical devices meant to warn of danger. They'd been charming nonmagical objects into magical ones for years, but this one would take work more intricate than they'd been challenged with thus far. To be tested on such a thing with nearly no notice...

Well, neither Harry nor Draco had the time to duck into any abandoned classrooms or empty loos, much less take a couple of free hours to go Snitch hunting.

"Hermione," Ron pleaded at dinner. "Just one hint. Please? I'd do it for you."

"You'd also eat twelve Canary Creams if it would get you an Acceptable on that essay." She eyed him over her pumpkin juice.

"Do you... have twelve Canary Creams?"

Hermione's straight face dissolved into affectionate laughter then, and she reached across the table to give Ron's shoulder a shove.

Harry couldn't help but smile as well. Truthfully, he'd probably spend the rest of the year as a canary if it meant he'd pass what was sure to be a gruelling test. A sharp kick to his chair interrupted his musings.

"Potter." Draco stood frowning down at him.

Harry, on the other hand, smiled openly at him. He could smile at the shit; it was pretty well-documented that they'd become friends, after all, which was thrilling all on its own. Minus the shared orgasms. "Hey."

One of Draco's eyebrows went up. "When you're quite through stuffing your face with that treacle tart, would you want to--?" He cast a wary look at Harry's friends.

"Would I want to what, Malfoy?"

Draco sighed. "You've been nodding off in Binns' lectures lately. I thought you might benefit from my expertise."

"Oh, did you?" Harry rested his chin on his hand and watched Draco get pointier by the moment.

"Quite. If you want decent marks tomorrow, you'd do well to study with me tonight." He lifted his chin and looked down his aristocratic nose. "The common room sofa. Twenty minutes." He didn't wait for an answer and strode away.

"What a git," Ron said, choking back a laugh. "You going to do it?"

Harry grinned at him and shrugged.

In fifteen minutes he was in the common room sharing the sofa with Draco. They were studying for the most boring test ever given, and it was bloody brilliant. They argued about facts and dates and interpretations. Harry had never cared more about the actual history of magic -- but now that Draco Malfoy was telling him he was wrong... Well, he suddenly found himself raising his voice over whether tickling hexes were invented in 1577 or 1582.

They talked Goblins and Unicorns and Giants, Werewolf rights, the Great Cauldron Strike of 1710, the opening of Saint Mungo's. They poured over their books, compared notes (Harry carefully hid his bad unicorn drawing)... At some point Millicent showed up with a huge tray of hot chocolates. They each took one and sipped while they studied. Or fought. Or, even, from time to time, agreed.

They were in the middle of memorising dates when a high-pitched chirrup came from the vicinity of Draco's left ankle. He gave Gordon a withering look. "Potter, why do you have a ferret?"

Harry patted his lap, and Gordon scaled the sofa arm, but instead of curling up on Harry's legs, he scampered onto his shoulders and draped himself there like an old witch's shawl. It was a posture of which he was fond and he often rode around warming the back of Harry's neck when they were home. He probably missed it, Harry reckoned.

"He was sort of an accident. I was looking for a Kneazle."

"Not an owl?"

Harry's throat tightened, and he shook his head.

From his expression, Draco seemed to understand. "You didn't find a good Kneazle, then?"

"I guess my heart just wasn't in it. But this one," he nudged Gordon with his cheek, "stowed away in my car and rode all the way home with me."

"You have a... car?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah. Bought it for myself for my birthday."

"A Muggle car?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Harry laughed. "They're fun, Draco." The name was out of his mouth before he could take it back. It wasn't like he hadn't said Draco's name before. He just hadn't... like this. He hadn't since they'd started having frenzied sex in dark rooms and clearings.

Draco registered it, frowning slightly.

"I'll take you for a ride sometime," Harry said.

"You will?"

"Yeah. Unless you're scared." Harry smirked at him.

"I'm bloody not." Draco scowled deeply.

Gordon chirruped and walked along Harry's shoulders to lean out and sniff at Draco.

"What's he doing?"

"Bothering you. What's it look like?" Harry opened his book again.

"Potter. Get him off me!"

Sure enough, Gordon had made a brave leap and now sat upright on Draco's lap, looking at him like he was wonderfully daft. His little hands curled in on themselves as he tilted his ferret head.

"He's not going to hurt you. He appears to like you, actually."

Draco made a face.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Come here, Gordon." He patted his leg. But the stubborn weasel only moved off Draco's lap, sitting on the sofa between them and continuing to stare at Draco as if his thinly-veiled horror was fascinating and vaguely endearing. Harry supposed it was. "You can study like that, can't you?"

"If I must," Draco spat.

They went back to it, and after a few minutes of being petted only by Harry, Gordon decided it wasn't worth his time and took himself back to the dormitory.

They studied late. Ron and Hermione came and went, the former giving Harry a look like he might be someone else with Harry's face Polyjuiced onto himself, while Hermione gave him a warm smile. She even said goodnight to both of them, and Harry's heart did a bit of a flip that she'd included Draco. Ron, with that expression stuck on his face, backed out of the room.

By midnight, Harry was yawning too much, his book beginning to blur. "I need to pack it in."

"Yeah. Me, too." Draco closed his books and gathered his notes while Harry stretched, sinking down the couch until he'd nearly slid to the floor. He caught Draco side-eying him while he ostensibly ordered his things. Harry's shirt had ridden up, and Draco's gaze went right to his stomach.

To the line of dark hair he'd stroked.

Harry could perfectly recall his voice, deep and unguarded: "I like this."

Harry swallowed and looked around. As late as it was, they still weren't alone. Bulstrode and the Patil twins were talking quietly in the corner, and Goldstein was still trying to Transfigure a table into... Well, Harry couldn't quite tell what it was supposed to be. It looked like a cross between a golf club and a manky old boot. All that mattered was that they could hardly do anything.

They stood.

"Well," Harry said.

"Well." Draco was back to frowning. "Goodnight, Potter."

"Goodnight. Draco." Harry gulped, his pulse speeding.

Draco hesitated but then turned and left the room.

Harry followed but more slowly. His body felt like it weighed a few tonnes. He was so tired, he knew once his head hit the pillow he'd be asleep within minutes. Gordon's food dish sat nearly empty, so he refilled it and gave him some fresh water before changing into his pyjamas and crawling under the covers. His roommates, except for Dean drawing in the bed farthest away, all slept.

Harry pulled his bed curtains and put up some privacy spells, deciding he'd have a fortifying wank. He stroked his cock on the outside of his trousers at first, closing his eyes and picturing Draco on his knees in the clearing. That turned into Draco on his knees in the shower that first time, because honestly, a wet Draco was a better Draco, Harry reasoned.

But then all reason bled away when he heard it -- muffled, faint, but also unmistakeable:

"Potter..."

Harry held his breath in order not to gasp aloud, in order to strain to listen, to hear anything else that might float to his ears through the hole in the wall. Harry squeezed his cock and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. Those sweet back-of-the-throat sounds started coming to him -- rhythmic, resonate -- and then again, on a hitched breath, "Potter..."

Harry closed his eyes and moved his hand. Suddenly, the fantasy became exactly what was happening: Draco on the other side of that wall, wanking and saying Harry's name. Harry rolled onto his side and opened his eyes again, as if staring at the hole in the stone might help him hear better, might connect him to the experience more fully.

On Draco's next moan, almost plaintive in nature, Harry shoved his trousers and pants down and conjured some lube. He started thrusting into his fist.

"Potter... Potter..." Harry could almost convince himself he heard Draco's panting breaths from the other room, even though they were his own.

Harry braced a hand against the stone and fucked the circle he made of his fingers.

"Nnnnggh!" Draco whined.

Harry couldn't help it; the vision in his mind morphed without his express permission. He dissolved the wall. He joined Draco in his bed. He rolled Draco over, face down against the mattress, and he--

"Potter... Fuck me. Fuck me, Potter."

Oh God, yes!

Harry fucked his slippery fist fast, his body jerking obscenely, imagining being inside Draco. Imagining pushing his own cock into that tight whorl Draco had let him touch and stroke. That soft, warm place...

In his mind, Draco bore back into him, wanting him to do it.

"P-potter..."

Harry could tell that Draco was coming. He was having an orgasm from the thought of Harry inside him. It was too much. It was more than he'd hoped for. Harry squeezed his eyes shut as the sensation rocketed down his thighs. He shot over his hand, onto the sheets, the wall, slowing his strokes and groaning out his own release.

It was easily the best wank he'd ever had.

Harry turned his face into the pillow to muffle his panting breaths. His whole body went limp. One last whine issued through the wall.

Harry's hand slid down the rough stone.

He smiled.

 

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Harry was going over his notes from their study session one last time as he ate his eggs, so when the owl dropped Hermione's Daily Prophet in front of her, he startled.

Still, he wasn't much interested in its contents. He went back to going over dates and shovelling toast into his mouth.

Until...

"Harry, your interview published," Hermione said.

His stomach immediately knotted up, and he rudely snatched the paper right out of her hands.

The title of the article wasn't too terrible: Cheering from the Stands: Harry Potter's Post-War Life. Though it wasn't entirely flattering, at least it was true.

Harry went through the rest, devouring Creevey's words as quickly as possible to determine if he'd been at all misrepresented. When he got to the part about Draco, he breathed a sigh of relief.

When asked how he felt about attending school with a former Death Eater, one Draco Malfoy, son of notorious Voldemort supporter, Lucius Malfoy and his wife, Narcissa, Mr Potter's answer was hesitant but ultimately unswerving:

"Draco Malfoy is an outstanding student. He's working very hard to abide by the rules of his probation, and he should be commended for that. He has the potential to be not just a good wizard but a great one. And he deserves that chance."

"What is it?" Ron asked.

"It's fine. Sorry," Harry said to Hermione, handing her paper back. "It's--"

"What the fuck is this?" Suddenly, a new paper, opened to the interview, landed in his food, and Draco towered next to him, seething.

"What do you mean? It's an interview I had to do." Harry draped his arm over the back of his chair and looked up at him.

"So, you just had to say all that about me?" Draco stood with his arms uncrossed, looking ready to draw his wand.

"Draco, what are you on about? I didn't say one bad word about you. Did you even read it all the way--?"

"I read every bloody word, Potter, and I don't need you coming to my rescue! I sure as hell don't need you bringing any more attention to me or my family than there already is on us. My father's in fucking Azkaban! You don't think I live with that every bloody day? You don't think--"

Harry had had enough, and he stood abruptly, making Draco take a step back, yet still they ended up chest to chest. "He asked me. He fucking asked me about you, Malfoy. What was I supposed to do?"

"Ever heard of 'no comment'?" Draco huffed a mirthless laugh, his face twisted into a cruel mask that Harry hadn't seen in many months. "Oh, that's right. I forgot. You love your bloody spotlight."

"You know that's not true." Harry fought to control his temper, which rose steadily with every breath he took, every word from Draco's mouth. "He asked me, and I told the truth. What would you have done?"

"I'd have told him to go fuck himself! I'd have hexed his shrivelled little bollocks off! I'd have--"

"Got sent to Azkaban yourself? Fantastic idea, Malfoy!"

Harry had said it sarcastically, of course, but Draco flinched as though he truly meant it. For the first time, Draco's anger faltered, flickering in his eyes.

"Draco, just listen for a moment." Harry reached for his elbow, but Draco jerked back.

He went hard and cold. "I'm going to be late for Arithmancy. Just go have your fun at the Burrow with your red-headed freak family and leave me the fuck alone, Potter."

With that, he turned and strode out of the Hall even as Ron called after him, "Hey, you arsehole!" and Harry just stood there, thunderstruck to his bones.

Chapter Text

It snowed heavily the third night at the Burrow, and Harry woke to the sun blaring off the white surfaces of everything as though the world meant to blind him permanently. The sun shot through the window of Ron's room and bounced off Harry's recently charmed Wailing Warner. He covered his eyes and rolled away, groaning.

At least he'd been able to make the bloody thing. He had been so distracted in class, trying to see Draco's face, to know what he was thinking.

Defence had been even worse. They'd all unveiled their wandless spells that day, and it brought back all the sensory memories of messing about with Draco in the clearing. When Harry had been called upon to demonstrate his spell, he'd borrowed Neville's Remembrall and chosen Wingardium Leviosa to levitate it. He'd meant it as a hidden message to Draco. Since the arsehole wouldn't speak to him, Harry tried to say it with magic: that this was what was real between them. What they'd shared mattered, not some barmy interview.

But Draco had gone up in front of the class next, his eyes hard as stones. Harry should have guessed he'd have his own message: he Depulso'd the still-floating Remembrall, smashing it to bits against the wall.

"Not again," Neville had groaned.

Harry had sighed, his heart heavy as he watched Draco stalk back to his place among his friends.

He hadn't seen Draco again before they left for the break.

The glaring sunlight finally won in Harry's battle for more sleep, and when he trudged downstairs to find Neville and Ginny groping in a hallway, he wished it really had blinded him. But he could see them all too well. They broke apart when they noticed him, but he just murmured a good morning and proceeded to the kitchen, uncaring that they were madly in love except that their hands all over each other reminded him of what he was pretty sure he'd lost.

And he didn't even know if it was his fault.

Ron insisted it wasn't.

Hermione wasn't as sure.

Ron didn't know why he cared so much.

Harry didn't feel like explaining.

Mrs Weasley greeted him for breakfast, and he ate heartily, as he had the last three days, and then he rode his broom around the garden with Ron, George, Ginny, and Charlie until lunch.

There was a pervasive comfort to the familiarity, the undaunted stoicism of this family. His family. He knew they were all worried about the morose walks he'd take for hours in the snowy countryside every day between lunch and dinner. But they let him have his space and never failed to be there for him upon his return, when he was freezing and starving and ready to smile about something again.

It felt good to be around Hermione and Ron at the same time. It wasn't until now that he realised how often he'd chosen Draco over them all these weeks, yet also how often they had chosen each other as well. Not that any of them harboured any hard feelings about it. Now that they were all at the Burrow, it felt like old times. They sat around together and talked and laughed late into each dreadfully cold night.

They were doing just that the evening of the third day, the next day being Christmas Eve, when a regal-looking eagle owl landed on the outside ledge of the window of Ron's room and tapped. Harry recognised the bird instantly, and the muscles between his ribs all seemed to tighten.

They let the bird in on a gust of blowing snow.

It flew directly to Ron and held out its leg, looking at none of them, as if it wouldn't deign.

"What do you reckon?" Ron asked. He opened the letter and read:

"Weasley,

I must sincerely apologise for the 'red-haired freak family' remark. I didn't mean it. I was just angry at Potter.

Have a nice Christmas.

Draco Malfoy

"Is he serious?" Ron asked, agape.

Hermione took the parchment from him and read it over herself. "Seems to be. Harry?" She handed the note to him.

He took it reluctantly. "Why are you asking me?"

"Okay, are you serious?" Ron asked. "You've only spent half your time this year hanging out with him. I thought you two were friends now. Or... well... were." He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly.

"We were," Harry said, his eyes drinking in Draco's careful script.

"Are you going to accept his apology, Ron? The bird's waiting," Hermione said.

"What kind of a git would I be if I didn't?"

Hermione's face softened into a smile, and she leaned over and bestowed a lingering kiss on his lips.

"What about you, Harry?" she asked when she sat back again, leaning against the side of Ron's bed with him.

"He didn't apologise to me."

"Oh, come on."

He blinked at her. "What?"

"You really don't see?"

"See what?" Ron appeared as confused as Harry felt.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Well, he obviously sent this note to apologise to Ron because he wants to talk to Harry. Not that his apology to you isn't sincere," she added, touching Ron's elbow.

"But why would he apologise to me if he really wants to talk to Harry?"

"Don't be daft, Ron."

Ron simply blinked at her.

Hermione shot Harry a look. "I'm not sure Harry wants to talk about it. Why don't you compose your owl, and then let's go down to the kitchen. I heard Fleur telling Bill she was going to make her grandmother's apple brandy recipe tonight."

While Ron composed (a succinct "Apology accepted. Happy Christmas."), Hermione gave Harry another one of her speaking looks. Harry gulped and dropped his gaze, hoping like hell that she didn't actually know what her look hinted at.

Once Draco's owl had flown off into the blurry wall of grey-white, they went downstairs and joined the others in imbibing and listening to Celestina Warbeck on the Wireless.

Except that Harry didn't hear a word she sang. He was too busy remembering the last time he and Draco kissed.

 

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On Christmas Eve, Hermione, Ron, Neville, Ginny, and Harry all went shopping in Diagon Alley for some last-minute presents. Technically, Harry had finished all his Weasley (and Hermione and Neville) holiday shopping, so that's not why he was in Diagon Alley with the rest of them.

No, he was there because, despite their falling out, and despite his complete certainty that he would never actually give it to him, Harry needed -- like he needed his wand -- to buy something for Draco, too.

It didn't matter if Draco was being an irrational dick. Harry still liked him. Harry'd still kissed him, touched him.

He was still the first boy Harry had had sex with.

And though it had only been a few days, the fact remained that Harry missed him.

He wondered what Draco was doing -- if he'd taken his holiday with his mother, if he'd stayed at the school, if he felt alone.

If he did, it was entirely his own fault, of course. But...

Harry browsed Flourish and Blotts, picking up and putting back books on Quidditch, advanced spellwork, about all sorts of subjects he had no idea if Draco Malfoy would be interested in.

He ran his hands over the brooms and Snitches at Quality Quidditch Supplies.

He perused the big boxes of chocolates at Sugarplum's.

Someone tapped his shoulder while, with some last minute desperation, he priced a sterling silver cauldron. He turned to see Ginny smiling softly at him.

"Hey," he said.

"You're not buying me a cauldron for Christmas, are you, Harry?"

"Oh. Er, no."

"That's good."

"Why? Stupid gift, is it?"

"Depends on who it's for," she said, moving to stand beside him. She looked at the tag. "That's a pretty expensive cauldron. I'm guessing that would be for a particular Slytherin?"

"What?"

"Well, former Slytherin." He could feel her peering at his profile, but he couldn't manage to turn his gaze and look back.

"It's on sale," he said.

"Harry." She reached out and took his hand. "It's okay."

He let out a nervous laugh but was shocked to find some pre-tearful thing tightening his throat. "What are you on about, Gin?"

"You know exactly what I'm on about. It's okay that you like him." She squeezed his sweating hand. "It's okay that you love him."

He jumped back as though she's tried to jinx him. "I do not love him!"

Her eyebrow went up. "But you're at least willing to admit that we're talking about the same person, right?"

Harry swallowed. Something wild and horrible felt ready to gnaw its way out of him, starting inside his stomach. "I--"

Ginny lifted her free hand and cupped his cheek. Her expression was deeply understanding. "He must have changed a lot to get you to feel like this."

He flinched. "I don't feel like anything. He's my friend maybe... was my friend... I don't know." He looked at the floor. It blurred.

"Maybe it's time to quit lying to yourself." When his jaw hardened under her hand, she stepped in closer and lowered her voice. "Harry, you deserve to be happy. And Malfoy," she laughed, "though not my favourite person, deserves better than a barmy old cauldron. I mean, Merlin, Harry."

Harry laughed around the emotion thick in his throat. "You think?" His heart pounded. Just continuing this conversation without correcting her felt like an admission.

A confession.

A relief.

She pulled him to her and held him close. Her arms felt good, like they'd never not be friends. He held her back, and they stayed like that for a long while.

When he pulled back, he sighed. "So what are you doing here?"

She gave him a wan smile. "My boyfriend actually wants a cauldron. Well, not wants but needs. He goes through them quite quickly." She frowned, releasing him.

They held hands for a moment, her smaller soft ones in his. "Ginny..."

"Yes, Harry?"

"Could you forgive him?"

"Malfoy?"

Harry nodded.

"I trust you," she said. "I'll follow your lead." She gave his hands a squeeze and then turned away, running discriminating fingers over the new bronze cauldrons down the aisle.

"Does that mean you'll start teaching Shelton my moves?" he called after her.

"Oh, hardly. She's got her own." She gave him a warm smile, picked up a medium-sized cauldron, and was gone.

 

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Minutes later, Harry found himself in Twilfitt and Tattings holding a tie the same grey of Draco's eyes and with thin Slytherin-green stripes. The thing cost about half what Harry's car had.

He felt like a wanker, pushing it across the counter for the sales person to ring up.

"Would you like this wrapped, sirHarryPotterohmygod!" She'd only looked up to address him at the last moment, and Harry cringed a bit.

"Yes, please."

"Sorry! Right. One moment." She blushed.

Harry watched her wrap Draco's tie with a wobbly wand.

He shoved his own hands into his pockets and tried not to think of all the reasons why he shouldn't be doing what he was doing.

Thinking what he was thinking.

Feeling what he was feeling.

 

no title

Harry didn't know what he'd been expecting. When he returned to school, the first sight that greeted him upon entering the common room was Draco's snidely laughing face. He sat with his Slytherin friends in front of the hearth, and the laugh that rang out of him sparkled with nastiness.

At least that's how it sounded to Harry.

When Draco's gaze landed on him, though, all humour drained out of him, he blanched, and he looked away as quickly as possible.

For just a moment, seeing him, Harry couldn't breathe.

It wasn't until he achieved the relative privacy of his dormitory that he exhaled.

"Hey, Harry, Happy Christmas," Dean said.

Gordon scampered over and made a rather painful run up Harry's legs and then his back, settling himself in scarf-mode around his neck. "Happy, ow, Christmas. Was he good?"

"Oh yeah. Smartest ferret I've ever seen, too. Though I don't guess I know that many." Dean frowned.

Harry deposited his things in his trunk. When he came to the shiny silver box, he took great care to bury it beneath his socks.

Having extricated Gordon and given him his special Christmas treats, Harry returned to the common room to find Draco gone from his group and an intensely glowing Ron and Hermione entering.

They'd gone off on their own Christmas night to who knows where and... Well, they'd obviously executed their "plans", and that's all Harry really wanted to know about it. That and they were stupid happy. Emphasis on the stupid.

Harry hated them.

And he adored them.

And he hated them some more.

"I love snow," Ron said to no-one.

"It is magnificent... how it glistens on the trees like diamonds," Hermione added.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Look, I could really use a game of wizard's chess." He sounded a bit unhinged and dramatic even to his own ears.

"Oh. Yeah, mate. Sounds good." Ron kissed Hermione briefly before he sat down to play.

They'd been at it for a couple of hours when Ron nudged Harry's foot under the table. "Hey, what's with you? You usually don't lose that badly to me."

"Hmm?" Harry had sort of drifted off into his own thoughts. And yes, he'd been keeping an eye on the common room to see if Draco came back. "Sorry. I guess I'm just tired."

They played an hour more, and still Draco didn't show. Finally, Harry trudged off to bed. He made sure the hole in the wall was unobstructed, and he lay there facing it, waiting, listening, frustrated as hell.

He waited for words that never came.

He slept badly and dreamed of Grindylows trying to drown him.

The next day, though he had atrocious dark circles under his eyes, he went down to breakfast like everything was normal.

He'd decided to give Draco a week to get over being an arsehole and to come apologise. One week. That ought to be sufficient, he thought.

He went to his classes, did his wall-mending detention with Snape, went to Quidditch practices, studied, hung out with Ron and Hermione (who became much more themselves and therefore more tolerable after a few days back).

Yet at the end of the week, Draco had not sought him out. He hadn't even met Harry's eyes once. It was as though Harry no longer existed for him.

Just go have your fun at the Burrow with your red-headed freak family and leave me the fuck alone, Potter.

He'd bloody apologised to Ron for fuck's sake. But apparently the 'leave me the fuck alone' still stood. Harry felt an irrational hatred of him boil beneath the surface of his skin. So much that he'd thought was gone came rushing up: memories of Draco's cruelty, his indifference, his elitist ignorance.

Not as accessible, or maybe just not as satisfying to his bruised ego, were the pictures in his mind of Draco scared for his life and that of his family, Draco unwilling to name Harry, Draco fighting feebly over his own wand, Draco looking ashen and defeated, terrified.

No, it served to fuel Harry's rage at him to remember the worst, to think that maybe this was who Draco really was and had been all along. That he, Harry, had been a fool -- a sex-sniffing ridiculous tosser -- to ever believe differently.

But Draco had apologised to Ron. He could have just let that insult stand. In fact, it must have taken enormous courage to write what he had, to send it, to drop all defence and wait for forgiveness that might not ever come -- that might, instead, come back as recrimination and a renewed grudge.

And then there was what Hermione had said about it -- that he'd done that because the person he really wanted to apologise to was Harry. But that was obviously a load of crap, being that Draco wouldn't even look at him now, couldn't suffer being in the same room with him.

After all that they'd done.

After one bloody week of touching each other, kissing each other, not being able to wait to get one another alone, of panting in the dark and Draco letting him hear those aching sounds of pleasure....

Now this shit.

One week turned into two weeks, which turned into a month, which turned into two.

Eight weeks their silence went on.

Harry didn't seek him out in his Patronus clearing, and he doubted Draco would still use it anyway. Winter melted away to the first Spring rains. N.E.W.T.s were fast approaching.

They'd be leaving Hogwarts soon.

Their lives were almost ready to start.

Harry hated Draco for being okay with this rift between them. God, it had been better when they were enemies and at least Draco would uninhibitedly snark at him!

To make matters worse, Snape, again, asked Harry what he wanted out of life. Harry, again, had no answer. He supposed he'd go ahead and join Auror training. Ron seemed reasonably excited for it, even more so when he found out that the Ministry Floos were linked with those of the Griselda Marchbanks School of Wizarding Law. Harry reckoned they could have a lot of fun together, catch some bad wizards, live out their lives as heroes, best friends, crime-fighting buddies.

It could be brilliant.

And yet, he felt no actual fire for the idea, and he could tell Snape wasn't buying his crap either.

"What would make you happy?"

There was that bloody word again. Such a strange word on Snape's cold lips.

"I don't know." He levitated a stone block.

"What would make you happy?"

"I don't KNOW!"

"What would--?"

"I don't bloody know!" Harry shouted. "All I do know is that I fucking DON'T KNOW and the year's almost over and everybody expects me to do whatever it is they expect me to do, and Draco Malfoy won't fucking talk to me, all right?" He was panting by the time he finished.

"Set the block down."

"What?" Too late, Harry realised his magic was thrumming, faltering. He lost his grip, and the block fell several stories before Harry thrust out his wand, stopped its descent, and laid it down carefully. "I'm sorry, Professor."

"Stow your wand and take a drink of water."

Harry followed the orders, not realising how thirsty he was until he gulped it and drained the glass.

"Good," Snape said. "Now. Have you tried talking to him?"

"Well... er... no?"

Snape rolled his eyes.

"Well, what am I supposed to say? 'It's time you apologised for being a total dick, Malfoy?'"

"I'm sure just about anything is better than nothing, Mr Potter. Though perhaps you could work on your opening remarks."

Harry swallowed, ducking his head. He hadn't really considered that it might be his place to go to Draco. Not to apologise anyway. But... Well, maybe Snape had a point. He'd often had enlightening things to say during their detentions together, and when he wasn't giving Harry good advice (like how to get an Outstanding on his next Potions exam), he was a really good listener, Harry had discovered.

And... he cared. He affected the same cool stand-offishness he'd been infamous for in life, but Harry saw through it now. Harry saw what he hid underneath.

He felt the years, the decades, of Severus Snape's commitment to the cause and the love he'd had to sacrifice for it all. And Harry knew he could not have done the same.

"Perhaps it was unwise of me to pair you with Abbott in duelling," Snape mused. "But she does need toughening up if she's going to enter Auror tr--"

"No! I mean, yes. Abbott. I mean..."

Snape raised an oily eyebrow at him. "So you'd rather I not pit you against Mr Malfoy again."

"No. Not yet," Harry felt the need to qualify.

Snape frowned but nodded. Then he seemed to drop the subject altogether. "Very well. Back to work. You have half an hour more, Mr Potter."

Harry worked diligently. He was almost to the top of the staircase, and he wondered if, when he was finished, he'd get to rebuild the boys' dormitory. He felt sure he could do it from memory alone; the shape and shade of the stone walls, the placement of the windows, the warm lighting...

This, more than any other place, was Harry's home.

"Next week will be your last detention with me, Mr Potter. We'll meet in my office, same time."

"Okay... But why--?"

"My office. Do not be late." The professor left his frame quickly, his black robes snapping.

The only thing to happen of any consequence the week following was that Harry ran into Draco coming out of the shower the next Monday morning. Well, Draco wasn't coming out the shower. Harry was the one who, having forgotten to grab his shirt, came out of the bathroom in only trousers, his hair dripping down the back of his neck, to find Draco, crouched in the hall and, of all things, harassing Harry's ferret.

Or, at least, Harry had thought it was harassment. If harassment could take the form of luxuriant petting and covert whispers.

Harry stopped short in the hallway, for a moment unable to breathe. Again.

Draco saw him and abruptly stood, his face going hard and cold in an instant.

"What were you doing luring Gordon out of my room?" Harry asked.

"I didn't lure him out. He was already in the bloody hall, Potter."

"Well, what were you saying to him? You didn't... You wouldn't h-hurt..."

"No!" Draco shouted. "I wasn't saying anything!"

And that was a bald-faced lie. Harry had heard him. A bead of water dropped onto Harry's chest and ran down his body. Draco's gaze went right to it. He swallowed.

"Malfoy," Harry said, not knowing what words would follow, only knowing he felt compelled to say something, to say anything. That hearing the git's voice felt stupidly amazing after so very long without even a 'Sod off, Potter,' much less feeling his breathy whining right in Harry's ear as he came.

And though he appeared tired and the shadows under his eyes rivalled those he sported sixth year, Draco still looked good. Merlin, he looked so good. Harry clenched his hands into fists to keep from running them all over Malfoy's unwilling body.

Draco's gaze took in Harry's stance, and he firmed his jaw in response, mistaking it for anger. "I'm late." He strode away quickly.

"Malfoy!" Harry ran after him.

"No, Potter!" Draco moved fast through the common room. "You fucking can't have everything you want!"

Luna dropped her books right in front of Harry, barring his way. "Whoopsie."

Millicent bent down to retrieve them for her.

Draco had disappeared out the door before Harry could side-step them, and by the time Harry wrenched the door open himself, the hallway was empty.

"Blast!" Harry leaned his forehead against the doorframe.

A dainty hand came down on his shoulder. "It'll be okay, Harry."

He looked up to see Luna standing there with Millicent's arm around her. He blinked at them. Merlin, when had that happened? He remembered the Spin-the-Bottle game and supposed he already knew the answer. He just hadn't been paying good attention. Not having to fight a Dark Lord had possibly rotted his brain a bit. He hadn't stayed sharp.

Or maybe they'd been hiding it -- like he and Draco had before...

Well, before there was nothing left to hide.

"Cheer up, Potter," Millicent said. "You'll just have to wear him down." She looked at Luna who gazed up into her face so lovingly it was like the room was suddenly filled with sunlight.

Yeesh.

Then it dawned on him what Bulstrode had said. "Wait, what?"

She laughed. "You heard me. Now don't make us late for breakfast."

"Yes, Harry, please do practice your brooding in a different doorway if you would," Luna said sweetly.

He jumped to the side and watched them wander down the hall, now holding hands.

Harry blinked. He looked down at himself, realising he was still half naked, and went to get dressed for the day.

The next evening, he dutifully arrived at Snape's office -- on time -- and knocked on the door. Again, it swung inward, but this time the professor greeted him promptly.

"You will take yourself immediately to the Quidditch pitch where you will await further instructions," he said from the large portrait behind his unused desk.

"But, Professor, I--"

"We will not be finishing the tower tonight. If the completion of the task has become important to you, come see me during my office hours, and we can set a time to continue. Now, go."

"But--"

"Quidditch pitch. Further instructions." Snape waved his hand at Harry in dismissal and then wandered out of his frame to Merlin knows where.

Harry sighed. He thought about hiking back up to the dormitories to get his broom, just in case. But Snape had left little room for error in his orders, and they'd been to take himself to the pitch right away, no detours.

So Harry turned and left, shutting the door behind himself.

The evening was cloudy but not as cold as it had been, the winter chill finally giving way to spring balm. In fact, it looked like it might very well rain soon. Harry eyed the thunderheads as he walked down the path to the stadium.

There were two tiny people standing in the middle of the pitch when he arrived. Harry squinted. He recognised the hat as Professor McGonagall's, and...

And that bowed blond head could be no-one else's.

Harry marshalled his resources -- because suddenly his mouth was dry, his hands shook, he felt simultaneously enraged and ecstatic. He strode forward, making his legs take him there at a reasonable pace. He half wanted to run toward the prat. The other half of him would have been happy to Disapparate on the spot. If only that were possible.

As he drew nearer, he saw that McGonagall held two brooms and a Snitch.

Draco lifted only his eyes, not his pointy chin, and glared at Harry.

Harry swallowed. He could so easily remember those hard eyes softening for him, those lips parting in arousal. He could remember the feel of Draco's hair getting caught between his fingers.

No. It was no use thinking those things. He could see by Draco's eyes that that time was well and truly over.

Harry tried with all his might to put his own mask on, to not show Draco his thoughts or what seeing Draco was doing to him. But he could still feel it there, and he doubted his ability to hide it all.

There was just so bloody much.

"Gentlemen," McGonagall said when Harry stood before them. "This is your last detention." She thrust a broom at each of them. "For the next hour, you'll fly. You'll search for the Snitch. If one of you catches it before the hour is out, you release it and catch it again. It does not matter who catches it. No house points will be awarded to anyone. There is no tangible merit to catching it. Any questions?"

Draco simply hung his head, so Harry asked the obvious one. "Why?"

"Because Professor Snape and I say so." She raised an eyebrow at him.

Harry took his broom reluctantly. It smelled brand new, all sandalwood oil, twine, and magic. "Is this the new Shooting Star, 'Vector'?"

"Indeed it is, Mr Potter. Mrs Malfoy made a generous donation: one for every Quidditch player in the school."

Harry glanced at Draco, whose ears shone berry-red in the dusk.

"So... we just fly around for an hour," Harry said.

"Yes, and try to catch the Snitch. If neither one of you has caught it when the hour is up, send your Patronus to me, Harry, and I'll come fetch it down. Though with how highly skilled -- yet out of practice -- you both are, I find that scenario quite an unlikely one. Enjoy, gentlemen."

With that, she strode away, chin held high.

Enjoy?

Harry watched her go until she disappeared into the tunnel leading out of the stadium. Then he turned to Draco, who she'd left holding the Snitch.

"What do you suppose they've got Ned doing?" Harry asked for something to say.

"Let's just get this over with, Potter." Draco didn't meet his eyes as he tossed the Snitch into the air where it hovered for a split second and then shot off at great speed into the sky. In the next moment, the stadium lights came on, illuminating the pitch. Draco mounted his broom and kicked off.

Belatedly, Harry followed. He rose up into the air. A nearly full moon was just rising, its buttery light diffuse through the mist that had begun. The moist air felt good against his face as he began circling.

At first it was hard to concentrate. He keep wondering what in Merlin's name they were even supposed to be doing. He could make no rational sense of it. Fly around for an hour? What good would that do? How was this a more valuable use of their time than rebuilding the castle? Not that he knew what McGonagall had been having Draco do, but Harry had come to feel proud of his work with Snape. This... Well, it was just flying. And the fact that he had to do it with his former-nemesis-turned-former-lover...

Lover.

Merlin's beard, had he really just thought that word?

Had that been what they were?

Could it be that he'd lost something so frustratingly incalculable? So infuriatingly... perfect?

After a few minutes soaring over the goal posts, diving slowly and surveying this place that was so utterly familiar to him, Harry began to shed his thoughts, even the freshly painful ones. They flitted from his mind one by one, joining the fast-moving clouds as they sped by the bright moon.

Harry watched Draco circle opposite him, sometimes taking a higher vantage point and sometimes dipping below to get a better view of the ground. As ever, he was graceful, efficient, his body leaning over the broom as he narrowed his eyes or leaned back arrogantly while he hovered, fixing the fit of a glove.

The way Draco flew was mesmerising. He had a natural ability to find and ride thermals, and the effect was that he glided effortlessly, his long fingers gripping the broomstick with confidence, the lean of his body fluid and at ease, until--

Zip!

Draco went into a shallow dive toward the far side of the pitch. A moment later, Harry saw it, too, twinkling in front of the stands. He hugged his broom, leaned down strong, and felt the combination of his own magic and that embedded in the broom itself.

It was as fast as his Firebolt had been but possessed even more fine control so that the turns he took were immediate with little to no skid.

Draco made it to the Snitch before him, but it took off up toward the goal posts just before he could swipe it, and Harry, seeing this, cut him off quickly, pulling in front of Draco on the rise back up.

The laugh came out of him unbidden. And just like that, Harry was bloody flying again.

He resisted the temptation to check behind to gauge Draco's positioning and if he had a chance of overtaking him. Harry kept his eyes glued to the Snitch now bopping through the goals and weaving this way and that, careening toward the sky and making Harry pull up on his broom abruptly.

Which was when Draco flew by him like he was sitting still. Merlin, he was going so fast, his wind shear nearly knocked Harry's glasses from his face.

Harry flattened himself to his broom and charged after him, up and up and up, farther from the lights of the stadium, up into the night, into the rain as it started to hammer the pitch.

The Snitch shone ahead of them, veering left sharply. They turned at the same time, and Harry came up on Draco's left, close enough to hear him breathe.

Harry chanced a sideways look at him. Draco's face was intent. He seemed to be turning his anger at Harry, misplaced though it was, toward the Snitch itself. His eyes sparkled dangerously, and he met Harry's gaze briefly, careening to the side on purpose and driving Harry's broom away from himself.

But that aggressive move cost him when the Snitch dropped out of sight.

"Fuck!" Draco yelled, pulling up to a slow stop.

Harry followed suit. "Where did it go? Did you see it?"

"No, you git, I was too busy trying to keep you from running me aground!"

"I did no such thing, Malfoy! You're the one who--" But then it shimmered, close to the ground, near the centre of the pitch. Harry leaned hard, took a hair-raisingly sharp dive, and felt his stomach stay in the sky somewhere.

Brilliant!

Draco was on his tail; Harry could hear him cursing back there. Harry smiled, his whole body alight with it.

He missed the Snitch that time, too, though, and so did Draco. He gave Harry a withering look, like losing it had been entirely Harry's fault, then they both rose once more to get their bearings.

It rained harder still, and soon they were soaked to the bone, but still they flew. Harry couldn't feel the cold at all. His body seemed to be generating extra heat along with the adrenaline. He'd forgotten how intoxicating it was, how engrossing, how it took all of him: every muscle, every thought, every breath.

They found and chased the Snitch three more times. It had probably been close to an hour, maybe more, but Harry wasn't ready or willing to pack it in and confess failure to McGonagall. Draco didn't appear to be ready to back down either.

They'd each taken to hovering over an opposing goal post while they watched. Harry saw Draco see it first. He leaned over his broom, shook water from his eyes, and then took off hard toward one of the tunnels.

Harry glimpsed it halfway there. It was just flitting about, fluttering its little wings as though taunting them.

When they came within a few feet, it zigged straight up, and they followed. They chased it hard, each of them pushing their brooms beyond their limits. When the Snitch dove right, so did they, in sync, perfection. Harry felt the high of it. He could smell Draco's sweat, the forest-wet scent of their brooms. Everything was him, Draco, or the Snitch.

"You, me, and the Snitch?"

And after arguably the most tumultuous year of their crazy relationship, here they finally were.

They were both so close. Harry let go of his broom to stretch his fingers toward it. So did Draco. Their brooms were so close, they nearly collided. Harry gritted his teeth and growled, his broom surging forward, almost incomprehensibly fast. But it was that very move that cost him. Because the Snitch swerved slightly right, and Draco had only to stick his hand out as it flew right into his palm. He closed his fingers around it tightly, and Harry saw the triumphant smile burst radiant onto his face when a moment before it had seemed nothing like that would ever be possible again. Something inside Harry lit up at the sight of it.

"Harry, look out!"

He turned his head quickly, but the ground came up too fast. Harry pulled up hard, losing control of the broom, barrel-turning, and then half-crashing into the muddy pitch, rolling once with a loud, "Oof!"

It took him a few seconds to get his bearings, to check that he'd not broken any bones. His side was sore, but other than that he thought he was pretty much all right. Due to Draco's warning. If it hadn't been for that, he'd likely have spent a few nights in the hospital wing. Maybe even St. Mungo's.

Harry rolled onto his hands and knees, muddy as hell. He slowly stood. A few feet away stood Draco Malfoy, holding the Snitch and forgetting to hate him. The smile on his face was beautiful: warm and intensely alive. Nothing of the past in it. Nothing of the future. Just right now, in the hard rain, holding the Snitch, and smiling at Harry.

"Cast your Patronus, Draco," Harry said, shocked to hear the words tumble from his own lips.

"What?"

Harry shouted over the rain pounding the ground at their feet. "Pull your wand and cast your Patronus!"

Draco blinked at him. Then, holding the Snitch in one hand, he drew his wand with the other. He breathed heavily, the wet dripping off his chin, his lashes. He whipped his hair out of his face. He raised his wand. Harry saw it in his eyes, and he knew.

"EXPECTO PATRONUM!"

The thing leapt from his wand, huge and brilliant. It's four legs spindly and fast, its eyes large.

Its antlers, majestic.

It was a stag.

It was a stag, just like Harry's.

Oh my God...

For a moment, Harry thought Draco was going to be all right. He looked a little faint, but that was to be expected. Harry gave him a reassuring smile. Seeing it, Draco's own face fell. Happiness wore down to disbelief, to something like disgust. To rage.

"What have you done to me?" Draco wailed. "What have you...?" The Patronus diminished.

Draco shoved his wand away, threw down his broom, and ran.

 

 no title

"Have you seen Draco?" Harry had burst into the common room, eyes wild as he searched it for Slytherins. Luna was almost as good. "Luna! Have you seen him?"

"He came through, but then he went back out again," she said. "You should ask Blaise."

"Right. Thanks." He ran down the hall and banged on the dormitory door. After three seconds, he banged on it again, this time harder.

"Oi!" he heard Ron shout, but it was Zabini who flung open the door, frowning.

"I need to find Draco. Have you seen him?" Harry panted.

Blaise sighed. He stepped out into the hall and shut the door on the others. He looked this way and that.

"What? What is it? Do you know where he's gone?"

Blaise nodded, still frowning.

"Where? Blaise! I-- I need to talk to him."

"You can't tell him I told you."

"Why? Did he tell you not to tell me?"

Blaise nodded again. "But I told him he should stay and have it out with you. For the record, I've tried to get him to talk to you. I've told him he can trust you with it, but..."

"You have? Trust me with what? Why--?"

"The article. It really upset him, Potter."

"I realise that, but why? I mean, for Merlin's sake, I said good things."

Blaise nodded again. "I know. Look, Potter, you have to understand. He's done everything he can to try to disappear into the woodwork this year. He's trying so hard to..."

"To what?"

Blaise sighed. "To not be him."

"His father?"

"You can't tell him I told you all this. He's very private. It's complicated. He both loves and hates Lucius." A muscle in Blaise's jaw twitched. "You don't know what that's like."

Harry remembered what he'd seen in Snape's mind -- the cruelty, the sick enjoyment his own father had got out of torturing another weaker kid. It wasn't the same -- Blaise was right -- but...

"Where is he, Blaise?"

Blaise looked between his eyes as though weighing it all. Then he exhaled. "Astronomy Tower."

Harry took off at a run.

"Potter!"

Harry turned back to find Blaise frowning at him.

"You do know what the stag means, don't you?"

Harry hesitated. "He told you?"

"He told me."

He nodded slowly. "Yeah." Harry swallowed. "Yeah, I think I do know."

"Good," Blaise said. Then he turned and went back into his room.

Harry ran out of the common room, down the hall, around corners. He hit and took the stairs to the Astronomy Tower two at a time.

He rounded the corner to find Draco sitting with his back to the wall, knees drawn up. When he lifted his face, Harry saw red-rimmed eyes and wet cheeks. Draco sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve like a child. "Come to gloat, have you?"

Harry thought of a million and one things he could say, half of them true. Nothing so true as how badly he wanted to kiss him, though.

"You're the one that caught the Snitch, not me."

Draco gave a sick little laugh. "Why are you here then?"

"Oh, I don't know, Draco. Maybe because I give a shit." Harry fought the desire to gnash his teeth. God, how could he feel so many conflicting feelings for this one balled-up person, crying in a corner. This one horrid, beautiful soul. He sighed. "Why was it so important that your Patronus be a bird?"

"It's not. It's not important." Draco wouldn't meet his gaze.

"Bollocks."

"So what if it was, Potter?" Draco shouted. "It's not! It's over!"

"What's over? What are you talking about?"

"Do you think I'm up here because I'm playing a game of hide and seek? That I wanted you to find me like this?" Draco stood suddenly, throwing his arms out. His shirt was untucked on one side, his hair still damp from the rain. "Do you think I should be just so sodding happy? Do you think I wanted a bloody great gay stag, you bastard? Do you?"

Harry blinked. ...a bloody great gay stag... His heart was pounding. Lightning crackled through the sky, the thunder booming off the castle walls. But then, because Draco Malfoy got under his skin like no other wizard or witch alive or Muggle for that matter, he found himself shouting back, shouting over the rain that still came down in sheets. "No. No, I don't. With the way you've been acting the past several weeks, I imagine it's got to piss you off beyond measure for your Patronus to have anything to do with me. Never mind that it was fucking beautiful, Malfoy! Never mind that you bloody DID IT! Now tell me, damn it! Why did you need it to be a bird?"

"I just did, all right!"

"Why, Malfoy?"

"Because!"

"Because why?"

"Because I needed to get a message to him!" Draco spun away, his hands going over his face as he shook.

"What?"

Just as quickly as he'd turned away, Draco turned back, now enraged. "It was supposed to be a bird! It was supposed to be a bird! Something small enough to get in! Something to fly to... I haven't seen him! Don't you understand, they won't even let me SEE HIM!"

Harry swallowed. "Your father."

Draco broke into new sobs, falling back against the wall again, and as if too exhausted to stand, he slid down.

"You wanted to send your Patronus to your father in Azkaban."

Draco buried his face in his knees.

Harry exhaled. He didn't know what he'd been expecting. It just wasn't this. The futility... the loneliness of it... the near hopelessness... That Draco had worked all year long for something so far beyond his reach, so out of his control.

That his heart had held onto that hope against all the odds.

Tears filled Harry's eyes, and such compassion as he'd never felt made his heart positively ache. He walked forward slowly and crouched in front of Draco, not daring to touch him. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Draco dried his eyes once more with his sleeve and then lifted his face, his expression full of false pride.

Harry frowned. "Did you think I wouldn't want to help you?"

"Contact my Death Eater father? Why ever not?"

"Draco, you were a Death Eater, and I've bloody snogged you stupid."

Draco's face split into an almost insane and most definitely involuntary smile. "Why, Potter, are you saying you want to snog my father?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "May I sit next to you?"

Draco turned his face away, which Harry took for grudging assent. He sat down with his back to the wall, his whole left side touching Draco's right.

"What could you have done?" Draco asked, his voice so small.

"Well, I don't know, but... Bloody something, Malfoy."

To Harry's immense surprise, Draco turned his gaze on him, and he smiled, genuinely smiled at him, though it was a sad and broken smile. "You would. Wouldn't you have?" He gave a quiet laugh. "Saviour Potter."

"You can make fun of me all you like but--"

"I'm not making fun of you, Harry."

Their gazes met. Draco's grey eyes were almost blue from the tears. Almost, almost blue. Harry felt like he could fall straight into them and never emerge. Except that Draco's gaze dropped to his lips, his eyelids grown heavy. For a moment it felt like Draco wanted to lean into Harry's body, to fall against him and let himself be held.

Harry asked, "Want to get out of here?"

Not taking his eyes off Harry's lips, Draco nodded.

Harry's heart beat hard through his whole body. He stood and offered Draco his hand. Draco took it. Harry pulled him to his feet.

"Let's go, then."

 

 

no title

They hadn't even stopped back at the dormitories. Harry spelled their clothes clean and dry, then he took Draco's hand. "Come on."

Outside the gates of the school, Draco asked, "Where are we going?"

"You'll see. Take my arm."

All the enmity from the last several weeks seemed to melt away as Draco looked at Harry and wrapped their arms together, once again taking Harry's hand. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on where he wanted to go, breathing out, and then--

WHOOSH!

They landed in the parking lot at King's Cross.

Draco looked around. "Why...?"

Harry pulled his wand and removed the Disillusionment charm from his car. "This is why."

"Is that...? Potter, is this your car?" Draco walked forward slowly, extricating himself from Harry and reaching out a hand, not quite touching the car as though it might bite him.

Harry jogged over and opened the passenger side door for him. "I thought we could both use a bit of a break."

When Draco hesitated, Harry tried again.

"Do you...? Would you like to, Draco? Go on a drive with me, that is?"

Draco frowned for a moment. He swallowed and gave the car a worried look. Then all of that cleared from his face. His whole body seemed to relax the death grip he'd had on it. He nodded. "Yes. I'd like that."

Harry gestured toward the seat, giving him an encouraging smile, and Draco sat cautiously.

"Watch your fingers."

Draco quickly folded his hands into his lap with wide eyes. Harry smiled as he shut the door and then jogged around the back to the driver's side. He fit the key into the ignition, but when he realised Draco had made no move to buckle his seatbelt, Harry hesitated and then leaned over him, taking the belt and pulling it across Draco's body.

"You attach this here, like so," he said. "It's a Muggle contraption that keeps them safe if they crash."

Draco turned even wider eyes on him. "There's to be crashing?"

Harry huffed a laugh. "Don't worry. Crashes don't happen a lot." At Draco's continued wariness, Harry said, "I've never crashed. And I put wards on my car, too."

At this, Draco visibly relaxed. He ran his hands over the dash, explored the visor, pulled at the seatbelt, testing it. This car was to Draco Malfoy what Harry's first flying broom had been to him.

Harry started the car, and Draco startled.

"Don't worry. That's supposed to happen. It has an engine that runs on gasoline."

Draco wrinkled his nose. "How atrocious."

"Yes, well, when you're head of the Muggle Liaison Office, you can work on introducing magic to Muggle transportation systems." Harry backed out of the parking space, resting his hand on the headrest of Draco's seat to look behind.

"What the--?" Draco braced against the dash as Harry switched into 'drive' and manoeuvered out of the parking lot.

Harry explained the mechanics of cars to him all the way out of London, and Draco half-listened and half-tensed.

It wasn't until they got out on the country road Harry'd discovered last summer and he opened it up and sped along that Draco started to relax again. It seemed to have been the congestion of London traffic -- the stopping and starting -- that had him on edge. Once they were really driving, he let go of the dash entirely. He even rolled down his window, as the rain had slowed back to a mist again -- and Harry took surreptitious glances at his lifted chin, his nearly closed eyes.

"What do you think?" Harry asked.

"Mmm. It's a bit like flying low to the ground, isn't it?"

Harry smiled.

Draco turned his head against the headrest and looked at him. "So, Potter. Do you have a destination in mind?"

Harry shrugged. "Not really. Sometimes I just drive up and down this road."

"Where does it go?"

"I dunno. All over?"

The rain began again, striking the windshield in a quickening cadence. Draco rolled his window back up. "Is it safe to keep going forward now?"

Harry chuckled. "Yeah. It's safe. I promise not to do anything reckless."

"Must take great restraint on your Gryffindor heart to make such a promise." A soft smile graced Draco's lips, and he closed his eyes.

Harry turned the radio on, and they drove on without speaking, listening only to the tapping of the rain on the hood and some Muggle music playing softly.

He wasn't sure how far they'd gone when Draco sighed. At least, Harry had thought it was a sigh. When he peeked over, he saw the thin track of a fresh tear on his face.

"Draco?"

"Could we, um, stop for a bit, Potter?"

"Oh. Yeah. Sure." Harry bit his lip and looked for some kind of turn out. It was very dark now, and the rain was coming down hard. It was the countryside, and though farm houses dotted the landscape in the distance, Harry didn't think they'd take too kindly to a couple of teenaged wizards stopping for a while along their drives.

"There," Draco said, pointing. "That tree."

"Okay, I'll try," Harry said. And at first it seemed impossible to get to, this big beautiful tree standing on its own in a vast field. But as he slowed the car, Harry saw the tire tracks through the grass and in between a break in the fence leading off to the left of the lane. He signalled, though there were no other cars in sight. He looked for a 'No Trespassing' sign but saw none. There was no house on the horizon here, only hills rolling away to a very distant forest.

Harry pulled in near the tree, putting the car in park and then cutting the engine and the headlights. He didn't take the key out, though, leaving it turned in the ignition enough that the radio and the dash lights remained on. If he ran the battery down, he could always jump it with his wand. He'd had to do that after he learned the hard way not to leave the headlights on overnight. 

The End 

Draco unbuckled his seatbelt, and Harry followed suit. The rain pelted the car, obscuring the view in moments.

"I hate him, you know." Draco said the words to his hands, tangled together in his lap.

Harry's lips parted, but no sound came out. He had no idea what to say to the confession.

Draco shot him a wry smile, a few stubborn tears stuck in his lashes. "Don't worry. I know you hate him, too." He looked back down. "I just wish that's all I felt."

"Why won't they let you see him?"

Draco shrugged. "I guess they think he could be a bad influence on my development into a respectable wizard. They don't know that nothing he does could make me want to be like him anymore." He shook his head. "And still I can't bloody stand the idea of him in there."

Harry almost couldn't believe that Draco was telling him all this. It felt like an extraordinary occurrence, like an eclipse or the passing of a comet. The last thing he wanted was to cock it up. "Maybe I can help."

"With which part?"

He'd have to tread carefully here. He wasn't entirely sure he'd want Lucius Malfoy's sentence commuted after all. "Maybe if we talk to McGonagall, she can work out a way for you to visit."

"Maybe," Draco said, but he didn't sound like he believed it.

They sat in the loud kind of quiet only a hard rain could produce. A new song, slow and sad, started on the radio.

"Potter?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry." Draco's lip trembled.

They were the only two words Harry had ever longed to hear from him, yet now that Draco had said them, all Harry wanted to do was tell him it was okay. Even about the things that weren't.

But Draco wasn't finished. The words began pouring out of him, unstoppable as the deluge. "I'm sorry I was a bastard to you for so many years. I'm sorry that I didn't know any better, and that once I did know better, I just kept being a bastard.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you why I wanted a Patronus. And I'm sorry I got angry at you for saying nice things about me in the paper. I'm sorry I wasted your time, and I'm fucking sorry I've been too scared and ashamed and bloody stupid to even talk to you when all I've wanted these past few weeks was to--"

He turned his frightened gaze on Harry as though he'd said too much.

Every word ripped through Harry. Every word dissolved a little more of the barrier he didn't even realise he'd fortified in order not to feel the loss of him -- to be okay with the fact that Draco didn't want him anymore.

Yet there he sat. Wanting Harry.

"I'm sorry, too," Harry said. He looked at his own hands, fingers tracing the bottom of the steering wheel above his thighs. He shook his head. "I should have come to you. I mean, I bloody knew I needed to talk to you, but fuck, Draco, you piss me off so much sometimes, and--"

His words were cut short as suddenly Draco's lips pressed to his, his hand cupping Harry's jaw, and as Harry gasped, Draco's tongue sought entrance, and Harry gave it. Harry grabbed him up, pulling Draco's body close. They kissed, hard and deep. When Harry plunged his tongue into Draco's mouth, Draco made one of those sounds, the ones that Harry had so missed, and Harry answered it, pulling him even closer until Draco straddled his lap.

Draco cupped his face and changed the fit of their lips. He smelled like hot rain, like Quidditch and ozone. Without thinking, Harry ripped the jumper over Draco's head and then dropped trembling fingers to his shirt and fought to get it open. Once he had, Draco helped, shrugging it off his shoulders and tossing it aside while still they kissed.

Harry's arms came around Draco's naked torso. He gripped at his wiry muscles and soft skin, running hungry hands up and down Draco's back.

Draco gasped out of the kiss and looked into Harry's eyes as he tenderly removed Harry's glasses, folded the arms, and set them behind on the dash. When he turned back, he pulled Harry's jumper off, too, and then worked on his shirt and tie. Harry drank in the sight of Draco's chest, his stomach as he breathed quick and warm in Harry's face. Draco slipped the tie free of Harry's collar and flung it behind himself where it draped over the steering wheel. He pushed Harry's shirt off his shoulders. They kissed again, but then Draco's mouth moved to beneath Harry's ear, the side of his neck, his throat, licking and humming and sucking softly. He bent and bit along Harry's collarbone. Harry let his head drop back against the seat. "God, Malfoy..."

At the sound of his name, Draco pulled back slightly. His eyes held a question, a hesitation. He unfastened his own trousers. Harry stroked a hand through Draco's hair before he rose up enough to shove his trousers and pants down around his thighs, his neck bent at an odd angle from the low roof of the car.

Draco climbed off him, plopping his naked arse back down on the passenger seat to kick off his shoes and finish with his trousers. Harry went to remove his own and accidentally leaned on the horn.

"Bugger."

Draco beamed a bright smile at him. Harry's gaze dropped to his hard cock, the way it stood out from its dark blond nest of hair and bobbed as Draco moved to strip off his socks. Merlin, he'd honestly thought he'd never see Draco naked again unless it was to walk in on him in the showers.

And now he was voluntarily stripping for Harry.

He was smiling.

He was ethereal and so very solid and human all at once.

"Do you want to...?" Harry glanced at the back seat, swallowing past the nervous lump in his throat.

Draco nodded silently. He started to crawl over the back of the seat while Harry ditched his shoes in the foot well. Harry unapologetically gawped at Draco's arse as he went. Draco grabbed Harry's jumper at the last moment, and Harry frowned a question at him. But Draco was already folding it, then lying back, his head on it like a pillow, hand loosely grasping his own cock as if to reassure it while he waited for Harry to join him.

Bloody fucking hell...

Harry finished with his own clothes and crawled into the backseat, too. Draco smiled at him shyly. He bent a knee, resting it against the back of the seat, and opened his other leg.

Overwhelmed, Harry ran both hands through his own hair. "Fuck, you're beautiful."

Draco's lips curved up slowly, his eyes alight. The tips of his ears blushed. His own gaze fell to Harry's stomach, then his cock, which was leaning to one side, heavy and dark.

The rain pattered on the roof overhead as Harry took Draco's legs in a tentative grip. He swallowed, licking his lips. "I want..." he whispered. Draco tilted his head at him, waiting. "Fuck, I want..." He slid his hands up Draco's thighs and leaned down over him. He pressed a kiss to the underside of Draco's dick and heard him inhale sharply.

"Is this okay?" Harry murmured against the warm cock brushing his lips.

Draco whined, high and tight in the back of his throat. Harry guided Draco's cock into his mouth and sucked.

He could hardly take any of the length, not even half, but Draco seemed not to mind. He seemed not to mind in the least. He whined some more and thrashed his head as Harry moved on him, let it fill his mouth, meeting his stretched lips with his own hand.

Draco made these little "nn, nn, nnnn" sounds that thrilled Harry endlessly. He ran the fingers of one hand up to flick and rub at Draco's nipple while he sucked, just to see if that changed the sounds he made. It did. Draco's neck arched as he pressed up into Harry's fingers, and he whimpered.

"Potter," he gasped.

Harry hummed around the thick cock in his mouth and bobbed his head faster. Fuck, it was good. It was so good. The slick, warm taste, the impossibly soft skin, how he could feel it throbbing with life on his tongue... The whole thing was marvellous, and Harry didn't want to stop.

But...

"Potter!" Even as Draco pressed his chest into Harry's pinching fingers, he dropped a hand into Harry's hair and pushed. "Harry, stop, I'm going to come!"

Harry reluctantly lifted his mouth. It felt swollen, like the first time they'd kissed.

Draco had said his name.

Again.

Harry smiled at him, still playing with the sensitive nub of his nipple under the rough pad of his thumb. "Isn't that the point, Draco?"

"I have to tell you something."

"Was I not good? You can tell me what to do... what you like..."

"No, it's not that. Bloody hell, what part of 'I'm going to come' makes you think it wasn't good, you idiot? Could you just come up here for a minute?"

Harry crawled up his body. Their cocks touched and nestled together as Harry came to rest between Draco's legs. They gasped, one right after the other. Harry laughed a little. He couldn't help it. That this was happening -- his naked skin against Draco Malfoy's... He could feel the blood pumping through Draco's body as if it were his own.

Draco's eyes shifted between his. "I want you to do it." As he breathed, his stomach would touch Harry's only to retract on his exhale. It felt so utterly intimate. Harry could have gotten lost in the sensation of it, except...

"What?"

"You know what. I want you to do it."

Harry's eyes widened. "You...? You do?"

Draco nodded. "Do you want to?"

"Are you kidding?"

Draco blushed, his gaze dropping to Harry's lips. He whispered it: "I want you inside me."

Harry swallowed nervously. His cock ached for it so badly it nearly hurt. "You're sure?"

Draco nodded.

"You do know I've never done this."

"I haven't either." He wrapped his hand around the back of Harry's neck. He tilted his hips up, rubbing their pricks together.

"Oh fuck," Harry moaned.

Draco exerted a gentle pressure at the back of his neck, pulling him down. He placed his lips at Harry's ear. "I want you to fuck me, Harry."

Are You Sure?;

Harry dropped his head to Draco's shoulder. "Shit, Draco, don't say it again or I'll come."

He felt Draco smile against the shell of his ear. He felt the tremors in his body, the fear and the excitement combining until they were interchangeable, wound up tight together... Until Harry didn't know if Draco was the one shaking or if it was him.

He pulled back only enough to find Draco's lips and kiss him. He did it slow, opening Draco's mouth under his own and dipping his tongue barely inside. Draco met him, mewled, shifted his hips again. Harry groaned and kissed him harder. He held out his hand and focused on the glove compartment, pulling with his magic until it popped open and the little jar of lube he kept there flew to him.

Draco broke the kiss and raised an eyebrow at it.

Harry shrugged. "I have a wank here and there."

Draco smiled at him. "That's hot, Potter -- you beating off in your car."

"Really? I'd thought it was more, I dunno, pathetic."

Draco shook his head. "No. It's hot." His hand trailed down Harry's body. His fingers sifted over the trail of hair on his abdomen, up and down... up and down. Harry's cock jerked toward the touch. Draco's eyes twinkled as he looked up at Harry. He left off touching him to take the jar, opening it while Harry's breath went ragged. He slicked up Harry's cock, the loose circle of his fingers moving up and down the length.

Harry closed his eyes and stopped breathing altogether. He braced against the seat and over Draco's head and rocked his hips. Draco went back to stroking his stomach while he wanked him and Harry thrust. "Yeah," Draco whispered. "Merlin, that's so hot."

Harry opened his eyes to see Draco there beneath him, smiling. He'd have appeared relaxed if not for the faint trembling, the hint of anxiety in his eyes.

"I mean, if that's how hot you look fucking my fist, Potter..."

Seeing the smile that lit Draco's face, all Harry could do was growl -- and snog the shit out of him.

He could have kissed him all night, too, even though he was beyond ready to fuck. But Draco started doing something between their bodies, letting go of Harry's bobbing dick and picking up the lube again. Harry pulled back to watch him as he slathered a goodly amount on his fingers and then reached down and...

"Holy hell," Harry breathed as he watched Draco slowly work a finger into his own arsehole.

Draco's mouth opened on a soft sigh as he pushed it in and pulled it out. Harry squeezed around the base of his cock for a few moments just to get a hold on himself. He'd never seen anything so provocative in his whole life. Draco's body rippled as he did it, his stomach muscles tensing so he could reach, his neck arching and exposing the long column of his throat.

He added a second finger more slowly, but soon he'd widened his leg as far as it would go, pulling his knee in toward his shoulder, and Harry felt like the luckiest bloke alive getting to see this.

"I think..." Draco gasped. "I think I'm r-ready."

"Yeah?"

Draco nodded. Harry got a hand under his knee and pushed up. Draco scooted down a little more. He draped his other leg over Harry's shoulder, and the gesture was so sweet and dirty, Harry could hardly stand it -- the feel of the hair along Draco's leg brushing his shoulder and back...

Harry took his cock in hand and aimed it. He had to feel around quite a lot to get himself lined up with Draco's arse. But then he found what he wanted, that slickened whorl, so warm and pliant. He nudged. "Yeah?"

"Mm-hmm." Draco bit his lip, his brows knit. He waited, heel tense against Harry's back.

The rain ran down the windows, the roar of it drowning everything else out. Harry looked down into Draco's eyes... and he pushed.

It took a couple of tries, but then--

Draco gasped as Harry felt himself pop inside, just like that.

"Does it hurt?" Harry managed.

Draco shook his head. "Keep going."

Harry braced as best he could. He watched Draco's face for signs of pain. He drove forward slowly, slipping in an inch at a time. Draco's hands came around his upper arms and held tight. His eyes widened.

"Okay?"

Draco nodded.

Harry licked his lips and pushed until he was all the way in and he felt Draco's arse against his pelvis. "Draco... Merlin..."

"What?" Draco asked. "Do I feel okay?"

"Okay?" Harry wanted to laugh at the dolt. "You feel bloody amazing! You're so tight, though. Am I hurting you?"

There were tears caught in Draco's lashes again, but he smiled up at Harry. He shook his head. "I feel..."

Harry adjusted his position, and Draco gasped again.

"Sorry."

"No... It's not bad. I feel..." His eyes blazed with arousal. "I feel so full." He rocked his hips and bit his lip.

Harry took the hint and rolled his hips, pushing his cock into Draco's arse gently.

"Oh God..." Draco sighed. He let go of Harry's arms to brace his hands over his head.

Harry thrust into him a little harder, feeling the way relax a little. He closed his eyes for a moment, nearly overcome. He swallowed thickly and opened his eyes again, peering down at Draco's transformed face, the almost-bliss he saw there.

Harry went faster. It felt so bloody good to go faster. The friction, the wet slap. He tensed his buttocks and whipped into him, and Draco just groaned, his brow creased again, his cock going all the way hard once more between their bodies.

Finally (Copy)

Merlin, Draco liked it. He liked it maybe as much as Harry liked doing it to him. Loved it, even.

Draco dropped a hand down and started fondling his own cock. His clever hand slipped over the glistening head time and again. Harry's name fell from his lips -- a mantra or a spell. When he came, he mewled those little throat sounds and arched, and the way his arse clamped down on Harry's cock, the way it fluttered...

"Oh God," Harry said. And even as Draco's sated body relaxed, Harry tensed. He started fucking into him hard, gritting his teeth as Draco sighed and smiled up at him and whispered to him, encouraging him, bringing him off as much with his words as his body: "That's it, Potter. God, yes, fuck me. Fuck me, damn you. Come in me. Harry, come in me."

Harry threw his head back as it happened, as he filled Draco Malfoy's arse with his warm semen, and Draco's hands roamed his body, his leg sliding off Harry's shoulder so he could pull him down, rest Harry's forehead against his own, the both of them shuddering... shuddering... as the rain continued to fall.

 

 no title

They weren't that late. Frankly, Harry was shocked that it was a quarter past eleven when they walked through the castle gates. Almost as shocked as he was by the three Aurors standing there with Headmistress McGonagall.

Fear flashed hot through his body. Draco tensed beside him. Harry looked at him, but before he could voice the words, "It'll be okay," the group descended on them in a flurry of robes.

Harry caught phrases here and there: breakout attempt... unknown suspect... Lucius Malfoy...

They separated him from Draco, and the fear inside him turned deathly cold. "Wait, what? What are you saying?" Harry struggled with the Auror pulling him to one side.

"There was a breakout attempt on Lucius Malfoy's cell tonight," the Auror said. "We need to take your friend in for questioning."

"What?!" Harry watched as the other two Aurors took an intimidating stance facing Draco. Professor McGonagall raised her hands in front of her, as if to try to slow things down.

Draco's wild eyes found Harry's.

One of the Aurors stalking him pulled her wand.

"No!" Harry shouted. He struggled against the man holding his arms. "You can't do this! Let him go! He's innocent! He didn't do anything!"

"Mr Potter, calm down," McGonagall said sternly. Her gaze held a strong warning, but Harry simply couldn't obey it.

"Wait! If you need to question him, do it here! You don't need to take him away, do you hear me? I'll tell you everything you need to know! Let go of him!"

"Mr Potter, this is Ministry protocol," the Auror holding his arms said. "Now quit fighting me or we'll have to arrest you, too."

"Fine! Great! Arrest me, too," Harry said. "Draco was with me all night, so if he did anything wrong, he must have had my help, because he never left my sight!"

At least that stopped them manhandling Draco toward the gates. The witch frowned at him. "You were with him all night?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Yes."

"And where were you?"

Harry caught Draco's frightened gaze and swallowed. "We were in my car. Parked off the A12 just north of Eye."

"You were in a... car? A Muggle car?"

"Yes, I own a 1961 Morris Minor sedan. Fog-coloured." Harry raised his chin in defiance. "It's in the King's Cross lot now if you want to check it for magical signatures." And holy fuck would they get them if they checked! Harry had no doubt they'd be strong, pulsing even, with what he and Draco had done.

"So..." the third Auror finally piped up. "You were in a parked car, with Mr Malfoy, all evening?"

"That's correct."

"Is this true?" the witch asked Draco.

He nodded. "Yes. It's true." And of course his ears went red. Better than going to Azkaban, Harry thought.

Their grip loosened on Draco, and Harry felt like it might almost be safe to breathe again.

"Headmistress McGonagall, under light of these new, er, circumstances, we'll need to ask that you prevent Mr Malfoy from leaving the school grounds until we've investigated this matter fully."

"I assure you that won't be a problem." She gave both Draco and Harry death glares.

Harry lifted his chin in response.

They let Draco go and began to walk toward the castle gates.

"Wait!"

They all turned at the sound of Draco's voice.

"My father! What's happened to my father? Is he-- Is he all right?"

Harry's heart broke for the agony in his voice.

The witch stepped forward. "Lucius Malfoy is safe and secure in a new cell. If your alibi checks out and we find the person responsible, you'll be free to move about as you wish." She turned to go again.

"Will I be able to see him?" Draco pleaded. His voice softened when she turned back once more. "I just want to see him."

She looked at the other Aurors and then back at Draco. She sighed and turned her gaze on McGonagall. "I think we can probably arrange something. If your story checks out."

Harry was surprised when it was McGonagall who answered. "It most certainly will." She placed her hand on Draco's shoulder.

"Very well, ma'am. Thank you for your time. We'll contact you with any further questions." The Auror nodded. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight." The headmistress waited until they were through the castle gates then drew her wand and cast five warding spells in quick succession. She turned on both of them. "You are not, either one of you, allowed off school grounds until the end of the year, do you understand me?"

"Yes, Professor," they answered.

"If three Aurors show up here again, I'm punishing the both of you before they even say two words! I don't care if you did anything wrong or not!"

"Yes, Professor."

"Mr Malfoy, go to your dormitory at once and don't come out for anything but breakfast."

Draco cast Harry a loaded look. "Yes, Professor." He turned and strode through the courtyard and into the castle.

"Harry." McGonagall said his name on a frustrated exhale. "Walk with me, please."

They strolled without haste over to a garden bench where she gestured for him to sit and then joined him.

"Please don't punish Draco. It's my fault we were late."

She shook her head as though every word from his mouth increased the likelihood of a nasty headache. "Harry," she said. "I know it's your fault. Have you any idea how hard that boy is trying to be good?"

"Yes, Professor. I have."

"Then I must implore you to help him last the rest of this year. I know he wasn't the one to break into Azkaban, of course, but he's really just one perceived injustice away from trying it himself."

"Well, if you know that... With all due respect, why aren't you doing more to help him?"

She just smiled at him. "Do you assume that while you've been mending the castle with Professor Snape, Draco has been made to write lines in my office? Is that what you think?"

Harry simply blinked at her.

She sighed. "Mr Malfoy has not been sitting his detentions with me. He's been sitting them with Albus Dumbledore."

Harry's mouth went dry. "What?"

"Draco Malfoy's education at this school is of utmost importance, Harry. Not only because of the conditions of his probation but because..." She faltered and seemed to find it difficult to keep looking Harry in the eye. "Because we failed him."

"Professor?" Harry frowned.

"It was our responsibility to teach him properly, to help him become a good wizard and a good person." To Harry's surprise, tears filled her eyes. "We were supposed to keep him safe. We failed. On all counts."

"So his detention..."

She smiled, but the sadness was still there. "That boy needs more good people to simply talk to. You're one of those people, you know, Harry." After a moment, she cleared her throat. "Although, I doubt you'd need to run off in your Muggle car to just talk."

Harry could feel how wide his eyes were. Words stuck in his throat when he parted his lips to say something. She beat him to it regardless.

"By the way, if you and your friends want to use the Room of Requirement for one last party before school lets out, I'll allow it -- so long as you can keep Mr Odgen from supplying any more of his family's wares."

"Mr... Ogden? Do you mean Ned? Ned's an Ogden? Like... the Ogdens?"

"Yes, as in the Firewhisky, Harry. There's to be no more of that on school grounds. Can I trust you and your friends to abide by this simple stipulation?"

"Er, of course. Absolutely, Professor."

"Good. Then I shall ask only one more thing of you."

"Yes?"

She placed a gentle hand on his leg. "You and Mr Malfoy have every right to pursue your feelings for one another. Just, please. Don't encourage him to break any more rules. I've already had to pull teeth at the Ministry as it is to get them to agree to discuss his visitation rights. Don't give them any reason to deny him that. No matter how big of bastards they are."

Harry's eyes widened again.

"Oh, not Arthur or Kingsley," she amended. "But he can only sack so many people at once, you know." She sat back. "So? Do you think you can be good for the rest of the year? Or do I need to transfer you to Durmstrang to keep you from abducting Mr Malfoy away in your sex car?"

"No," he said hastily. "No, I'll be good." He felt the blush seep down his neck.

She smiled at him. Her eyes twinkled. "Thank you, Mr Potter."

"Er, you're welcome, Professor."

"N.E.W.T.s are in a few weeks, Harry. I know you're more than qualified, but make sure you don't snog your evenings away entirely. Follow Ms Granger's example and study even though you're already brilliant have a perfectly fit boyfriend, yes?"

"Y-yes, ma'am."

"And Professor Snape would like a word with you in his office after you've taken your N.E.W.T.s"

"Okay. Thank you, Professor."

She started to stand up and then stopped. "Can you keep a secret, Mr Potter?"

He gulped. "I suppose so."

"I'm meeting with Gringotts tomorrow on Mr Malfoy's behalf. They're training new curse-breakers starting next Fall. With his Defence and Arithmancy marks, I think he'd be brilliant. Don't you?"

Harry smiled. "You're helping him find work?"

"Well, I'm only steering him in that direction. Three Quidditch teams already have their eye on him, too."

"They do?" Harry scanned himself for the jealousy he thought he'd feel hearing that, but all he encountered was... profound happiness. It bordered on joy.

"Oh yes. They'll likely be after you, too, you know. But," she said, a warning tone coming into her voice. Then she seemed to second-guess herself. "Well, just don't sign with any teams until after you've spoken with Professor Snape."

"Er, okay?" Was Snape starting his own Quidditch team or something? Harry found himself both amused and intrigued by the thought. What would they be called? The Surly Gits. The Oily Occlumencers. Total Bastard Heroes. Harry smiled to himself.

McGonagall stood. "Well," she said. "I promised Professor Sinistra I'd play her a game of witch's chess if she'd brew her famous blueberry tea for me. You may say your goodnights to Mr Malfoy, but he is not to come out of that room, do you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Very good, Mr Potter. Very, very good indeed." She smiled warmly at him and then took herself at a brisk walk back toward the castle.

"Professor!" Harry called after her, jogging to catch up.

"Yes, Mr Potter."

"Lucius Malfoy," he said. "Do you have any idea who'd want to break him out? It wouldn't have been..." Merlin, he didn't even want to suggest it. But he had to. "Mrs Malfoy?"

"No, I don't think so," McGonagall said readily, prompting Harry to exhale his relief. "Do you know what's truly interesting about it, Harry?"

He shook his head.

"There were no magic markers whatsoever. Not Dark. Not anything. What do you suppose that means?"

"I don't know, Professor."

"Neither do I." She gave him a curt smile this time. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Harry climbed the steps of the castle slowly. The rain had completely stopped now, but the stone was still wet and dark under his shoes. As he walked across the entrance hall to the stairs, his mind was filled with questions about what had happened tonight in Azkaban. If the curfew hadn't been in effect, he felt sure he would have gone to the Ministry himself to investigate.

Maybe he really ought to become an Auror.

And yet, if he were to become one... Merlin, he'd be one of the people tasked with apprehending and imprisoning people like Draco's father.

Draco.

His boyfriend.

Who he'd had sex with.

Who he'd fucked.

Oh, who was he kidding?

Who he'd made love to.

Would he risk whatever this was between Draco and himself for an old dream he wasn't even sure he wanted anymore?

As he took the stairs slowly, he frowned at the fact that the year was almost over and he still had no idea what he wanted to do with himself.

McGonagall had said the Quidditch teams would try to recruit him. And he had felt something akin to joy flying with Draco again tonight.

Yet how much of that was flying?

And how much was it flying with Draco?

"Bugger," he muttered to himself, no closer to an answer now that he'd reached the third floor landing.

Bugger.

He smiled to himself. Merlin, he'd done that word tonight. He'd buggered someone. He'd been deep inside Draco's arse. They'd fucked. It seemed both an obscenity to think about it like that and some sort of indescribable bliss. His smile grew bigger, and he had the insane desire to dance rather than walk down the hall to the common room door.

N.E.W.Ts could wait. Jobs could wait. Even getting to the bottom of the breakout attempt could wait.

Harry had made love to his boyfriend, and all he wanted was to kiss him one last time before falling into his own bed and passing out cold.

He reached Draco's dormitory door and gave a soft knock. Bloody hell, he could hear Neville snoring from all the way in the hall.

It was only a few seconds before the door cracked open, and Draco's face appeared. He looked completely conflicted. "Potter, what are you doing here? I can't leave the room, remember?"

"I know," Harry said, an irrepressible smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "She said I could say goodnight to you as long as you stay inside."

"She did?"

Harry nodded. "And I wanted to tell you that..." He knew the words he wanted to say only a moment before he said them. And he meant them. "I'm glad your father's all right."

Draco blinked. His brows knit. "You are?"

Harry peered past him to see Blaise reading on his bed (studiously not looking up) and Ron and Neville (obviously) both already asleep. He reached out and took Draco's hand in his. "Yeah. I am. And they'll find out what happened. Don't worry."

"Do you really think it'll be okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." He gave Draco's hand a squeeze.

"Harry..."

"Yeah?" Harry's heart did a freaky little flip.

"I'd really like to kiss you."

Harry leaned in. "I'd really like to kiss you, too."

Their lips brushed. They brushed again. Harry touched his tongue to Draco's bottom lip and marvelled that it was the very thing he'd thought it would never be.

Merlin, but kissing Draco Malfoy was the easiest thing in the world.

When their lips parted on a soft, moist sound, Draco whispered to him, so close their lips touched, "I can still feel you. Inside me."

"Oh my God. You just made me hard, you bastard." Harry laughed quietly.

Draco smiled back at him in delight, his gaze dark with arousal.

Harry squeezed his hand. He wanted to touch him everywhere.

They kissed again -- once, twice, three more times, rough and happy.

Neville snorted like some sort of ungulate.

"Bloody hell, how do you live with him?"

"I really don't know."

Blaise suddenly put down his book and pulled his wand. "Silencio." He went back to reading in the new silence.

"Merlin," Harry said. "It's a wonder I can't hear him through the hole in the wall."

"Through the what?"

Harry blinked. "Er... I guess I should have... There's a... There's a, er... There's a bloody hole in the wall between our rooms, okay?"

He'd expected Draco to get all uppity pissed off about it -- like he irrationally did most things it seemed -- but the slow smile that spread across his face surprised Harry. "Do you mean I really did hear you? Wanking? I didn't just imagine it?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah. I sort of... wanked when you did."

Draco's ears went adorably pink. "Oh fuck, I said your name." He dropped his gaze, embarrassed. "Shit. I said your name."

Harry glanced over his shoulder to check that Blaise was still reading, then he slid his hand into Draco's hair. Draco lifted his gaze once more.

"Draco," Harry whispered. "I bloody loved it."

Draco gave him a bright, shy smile. He looked over his shoulder in Blaise's direction, too. When he turned back, he said, "I, er, need to go."

"Yeah. Me, too."

"See you at breakfast?"

"Yeah, of course."

Draco leaned in and kissed him quickly one last time. Harry backed away with an absurdly goofy grin on his face; he could feel it.

He'd turned to his own door and was about to open it when something important rang out in his mind. "Draco!" he whispered.

Draco, halfway to closing himself inside his dormitory once more, peeked back out, eyebrows raised and hopeful. "Yes?"

"Do you still... hate your Patronus?"

Draco's face relaxed. Something shone in his eyes that Harry didn't think he'd ever seen there before. "I never hated it, Harry."

"Even though it's a 'great gay stag'?"

Draco smiled tenderly at him. "I cast a Patronus," he said. "I think I deserve to be fucking proud of that."

Harry smiled. "I--" God, the words that almost came out of his mouth! Those words... Harry swallowed. "I'm proud of you, too."

Harry closed himself inside his room before he could cock things up completely. He checked that Gordon had food and water, and he changed into his pyjamas. He crawled into bed, his body suddenly weighted down with invisible bricks. Merlin, he was exhausted.

He got under the covers, the spring night still cool and crisp.

Harry turned on his side and smiled.

"Goodnight, Draco," he said.

"Goodnight, Harry," came the reply.

Harry shut his eyes.

 

 

no title

The weeks leading up to N.E.W.T.s were positively mad. Harry felt like he didn't get to see Draco nearly enough. Which wasn't exactly true. They'd managed a couple of stolen mutual wanks in forbidden places. They'd chatted each other up on the common room sofa. Harry had gone to bed achingly hard more times than he cared to count just from Draco's smooth voice telling him the things he wanted to do next time he got Harry alone. The only plus side to that was the hole in the wall. And Merlin, was that a pretty big plus.

But most of the time had been spent deep in their books.

To Harry's delight, Hermione had happily included Draco in their library jaunts. Ron had even joined in, fearful of Trolling out of Potions. They'd studied amicably together, the four of them, and though he and Draco never kissed or held hands or showed any overt affection to one another in their presence, Harry felt the looks Ron and Hermione exchanged with one another, and he knew it likely wouldn't be long before they cornered him about it.

Still, they were being really decent to Draco, and Draco, for his part, was pretty decent back. He helped Ron finally understand what was missing from his Pepperup Potion, even if he did sneak in a snide comment or two in the process.

The day of N.E.W.Ts, everyone was a bit of a wreck. Including Draco. Harry noticed him scowling more than he had in months, checking his parchments for answers compulsively, barely eating at breakfast, and avoiding Harry's gaze as though this were somehow vital to his success.

Harry finally caught up with him in the entrance hall between their Defence exam and Charms, the last N.E.W.T. of the day.

"Hey. You all right? You've avoided me all day."

"Of course I have, you daft git." Draco leaned in and whispered in Harry's ear. "I'd rather not have to take my N.E.W.T.s with a raging hard-on, thanks."

Harry blushed and nodded. "Okay. Just as long as we're all right."

Draco shot him a private smile. "We're brilliant." Then, "You did beautifully in Defence, didn't you? I did, of course. Charms won't be a challenge. I'm not anticipating anything less than an Exceeds Expectations from either of us." Then he lifted his chin toward Hermione. "It's her you should be worried about."

"Hermione? But she'll ace it. She always aces everything."

Draco shrugged. "She looks pretty green to me."

"Okay, well, if you're good..."

"Yeah, I'm fine," Draco insisted. "Totally flaccid and likely to throw up. Just how I like my N.E.W.T.s."

Harry laughed, gave his hand a surreptitious squeeze, and then made his way over to Hermione, who, indeed, looked practically frantic with fear.

"What's up?" Harry asked.

She immediately whirled on him and seized his shoulders in her hands. "What if I don't want to go to law school, Harry? What if I want to become an Auror? Or work for Gringotts? Or raise and care for blast-ended skrewts? Or have seven babies? Or become Headmistress of Hogwarts? Harry, what am I doing with my life?"

"Merlin!"

"I know, right?" Ron said, coming up next to her. "She's gone 'round the twist. What do you reckon?"

Suddenly she shrieked, "Oh my God, I've forgotten my Wailing Warner! The one Professor Flitwick said to bring because we'd be asked to remove the charm and change it back into a toy top!" She patted her robes as though they were on fire.

"Hey," Ron said gently, extracting it from his own robes. "Your arms and pockets were so full of your notes this morning that you asked me to hold onto it for you. Remember?"

Hermione slumped. "Oh, Ron. Thank you."

He nudged her chin up with his knuckle. "Listen to me, Hermione. You can be anything you want. Anything at all. Me, I've got about three or four decent options. And that's fine by me."

"Ronald Bilius Weasley, you're a first rate wizard, and you--!"

He cut her off. "No, hear me out." He took both of her hands in his. Harry couldn't help sneaking a peek at Draco, who was frowning and reciting something under his breath. Draco raised his gaze and saw Harry looking at him. He gave Harry a smile and a wink before going back to it. Harry smiled back and then focused on his friends once more.

Ron went on. "I could probably get hired on by a Quidditch team to sit their bench for the season. I could go into Auror training and bust my arse and never feel quite good enough. I could do some cool shit. But do you know what I really want?"

Hermione shook her head.

"I want to help George run the shop. What would you think of that?"

"Are you sure?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I'm pretty sure."

"Oh, Ron, I think if that would make you happy then it's absolutely brilliant!"

"You do?"

She palmed his cheek and nodded.

Ron smiled, and Harry felt like he was watching something that ought to have been private. But he was grateful nonetheless.

Ron turned to him. "What about you, mate? Are you going to take a Bludger bat to me if I don't want to become an Auror or a Quidditch star with you?"

Harry squeezed his friend's shoulder. "What potions are you on, you plonker?"

Ron smiled back at him.

"Besides," Harry said. "I don't have a bloody clue what I want. At least you're sure about something, right?"

"Thanks, mate." Ron turned his attention to Hermione again. "Now, I've got something to ask you, but I don't want you to give me an answer yet, all right?"

"Oh God..." Hermione went back to looking green.

"Oh, not that. At least, not yet anyway. I, er... Well, George and Angelina are moving out of the flat over the shop. They're building a cottage close to Mum and Dad. If you think you might like to... Well, that is... Just think about it, okay, but we could try it, you and me... Living together? If you wanted to! But--"

Hermione shut him up with a long, deep kiss.

It went on forever and was becoming a bit embarrassing when Professor McGonagall announced, "All seventh and eighth year Charms students! Please proceed into the Great Hall to sit your last N.E.W.T."

Harry and Draco were seated quite far from one another, a fact which Harry knew Draco would appreciate (and that appreciation did wonders for Harry's self-esteem, so it was fine). The essay part of the exam was brutal, but thanks in large part to Hermione's library drills, Harry felt he did well.

The practical application was where he wasn't sure what went wrong. He did fine casting charms and charming the objects given him during the exam. He'd known they'd be surprises in order to truly test their spur-of-the-moment abilities.

It was the Wailing Warner that flummoxed him. Try as he might, Harry couldn't remove the charm and revert it back into a top. It stayed stubbornly a Wailing Warner until Harry was forced to give up when time ran out.

He shook it as he made his way to the double doors.

"What's the matter, Harry?" Neville asked him.

"I couldn't remove the charm from it."

"Blimey. Why do you think?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know, but I promised Teddy he could have the top. I mean, not that he even understood me or anything, but..."

"You can give him mine," Neville offered. But when he held it out, Harry saw that it was now square-shaped instead of round.

"Er, thanks, Neville, but he's probably way too young for it anyway, come to think of it."

"Right. Plus... yeah... it's square and all."

"Yeah. There is that." Harry nodded. He thrust the damnable Wailing Warner into his pocket, and they made their way out of the Great Hall slowly.

A palpable sense of relief pervaded the air. Everyone seemed to exhale all at once. The talk was lively, and giddy laughter erupted here and there as they all collectively realised that they were truly finished.

Harry saw Draco's blond head near the stairs where he was talking to the Patil twins. Harry was more than ready to talk to his boyfriend about how he'd fared, but before he could take three steps in that direction, a familiar voice stopped him.

"Mr Potter! Oh, Mr Potter!"

"Oh. Hello, Mr Creevey." Harry put on a polite smile. He supposed he should since the man hadn't twisted his words in the article he'd written despite Harry's fears that he might.

Mr Creevey shook his hand hard. He was sweating even though it was cool for a late Spring day. "Good to see you, Mr Potter. How did you like the article?"

"Oh, it was... It was good. Thanks."

"My boy, you're quite welcome." His eyes darted to and fro.

When he said nothing more and continued to absently shake Harry's hand, Harry cleared his throat. "Was there something I could help you with, sir? Are you looking for someone?"

"Oh. Why, yes I am, actually. Clever boy!"

Harry gave him a wan smile. All he wanted was to extricate himself and see Draco. Plus, there was a party planned for that night in the Room of Requirement, then tomorrow evening Professor McGonagall was throwing an end-of-the-year Ball. And he really needed to pack.

"Anyone I can help you locate?" Harry asked.

"Yes, yes... I'm looking for... for Draco Malfoy."

"Oh, er... Are you looking to interview him?"

"Yes, precisely. I'm looking to interview him." A bead of sweat rolled down Mr Creevey's cheek from his temple.

"Well..." A tight feeling developed in Harry's stomach. "He's quite private. I don't know if--"

"It would only be for a moment. For a short piece. You know..." Mr Creevey's eyes scanned the room rapaciously. His grip on Harry's hand had grown nearly painful.

Harry frowned. The feeling in his gut intensified. "Well, I don't know if the timing is right. We just finished our N.E.W.T.s, you see, and--"

Creevey's eyes lit up for a moment, seeing something -- or someone -- over Harry's shoulder. He walked past Harry without excusing himself, muttering under his breath. Something like '...look so like your father...'

Harry's breath caught.

In the next instance, his pocket let out a piercing cry. Harry's hand went to it automatically.

The Wailing Warner.

"Oh my God..."

Creevey's hand went to the pocket of his brown tweed jacket.

"DRACO!" Harry yelled.

Draco turned at the sound of his voice, eyes wide but unafraid.

Creevey was close, within steps of him. He withdrew his hand from his pocket...

Harry thrust his palm out. "Incarcerous!"

The ropes caught Creevey's arms, pinning them to his sides. They wrapped around his legs from thighs to ankles, and he went toppling to the floor. Several students skittered out of the way. Someone shrieked.

Harry fumbled into his robes and pulled out his wand. He stood over Creevey. "Don't you bloody move. Someone get McGonagall!"

Creevey rolled at his feet, turning face up. He was crying. "I can't," he sobbed. "I can't... I can't... I'm sorry, Colin. I'm sorry!"

Draco came to stand beside Harry, frowning down intensely. "What's going on?"

"I think he came here to attack you."

Draco looked at him. "What?"

"I think he's the one."

"The one what?" Comprehension dawned in the next moment. "The one that... tried to break my father out of Azkaban?"

Creevey simply cried at their feet as Harry nodded. "But I don't think he was trying to free him. I think he was going to kill him."

Draco peered down at the man rolling on the floor. "Is that... is that true?"

Creevey wept. "I'm sorry, Colin. I couldn't. I couldn't do it. I thought--"

"Why?" Harry asked. His throat constricted, and he thought he might be sick. "Why Lucius Malfoy? Why Draco?"

Creevey turned red-rimmed, wet eyes to him. "Someone... had to..."

"Had to what?"

Creevey gulped. "Pay."

"Voldemort paid!" Harry shouted, and several people around him gasped.

Creevey shook his head. "I--"

"Draco did nothing to your son," Harry said, teeth grit.

Draco put a hand on Harry's arm, as though he should stop. Harry frowned at him.

"I was... powerless. The death of He Who Must Not Be Named..." Creevey's lips parted, and his mouth worked, as though there were words he couldn't speak. "I... It still hurts," he cried. "I needed to make it stop hurting. How do you make it stop hurting? I'm so sorry...."

He dissolved into wretched, soundless weeping, and Harry didn't know who he was sorry to: his son, Draco, himself.... It was a tragic and horrible sight, this man transfigured by pain and bewilderment. No Imperius. Just the depth of his own grief.

Professor McGonagall arrived on the scene. "Mr Potter, is it true that you believe he was about to attack Mr Malfoy?"

"Yes, Professor. He was reaching for something in his pocket."

The headmistress knelt down, reached into Mr Creevey's pocket, and pulled out what Harry readily recognised as a gun.

Shocked murmurs went up around the entrance hall.

"Stand back, students. Please stand back."

At that, Ron and Hermione showed up and started ushering people back away from Creevey. Bulstrode and Zabini joined them, and together they created a perimeter around the man on the floor.

McGonagall pulled her wand and immediately Transfigured the gun into a bouquet of flowers, which she handed to Seamus Finnigan. His eyes went wide as Quaffles. Then she whipped her wand overhead, produced her Patronus, and sent it directly to the Auror Office.

She took down the spells protecting the castle gates, and within minutes -- enough time in which to ask Creevey every question under the sun -- booted steps rang out against the flagstones, and ten Aurors charged up the steps and into the castle.

"Merlin's beard," Seamus said.

"Finnigan," McGonagall said to him. "Give them the flowers." She turned her attention to the Head Auror. "They can easily be Transfigured back. He had a gun."

"He was here to kill Draco Malfoy," Harry said, his wand still steadfastly trained on the man.

Creevey had stopped rolling on the ground, but his whispering was incessant. "I couldn't do it. I wanted to do it. I couldn't do it. Forgive me. Please forgive me!"

Two Aurors knelt to haul him up and cart him away, but a quiet yet strong voice from Harry's side stopped them. "Wait."

Draco stepped forward.

"Please, wait."

"What is it, Draco?" McGonagall asked.

"I just... I need to say something. If I may."

"Just a moment," she said to the Aurors bearing down on their perpetrator.

Draco came to stand at Mr Creevey's feet. He blinked down at him. Silence filled the room except for the sound of Creevey's ragged breath.

Draco licked his lips. "I'm sorry for your son's death."

"Draco," McGonagall said. "You were not responsible--"

"I need to say this." He looked at her with perfectly calm eyes. Harry's heart pounded so hard, he could feel it moving his robes.

Draco knelt next to Mr Creevey. "My family did horrible things before and during the war. I don't blame you for hating us. And I'm sorry you lost someone you love. I just need you to know that."

Mr Creevey broke into horrible sobs of grief.

Draco stood slowly, and the Aurors moved in and helped Mr Creevey to stand. They removed Harry's spell and secured ones of their own and then escorted Mr Creevey out the doors while they all looked on.

Except Harry could only look at Draco. "Why did you do that?"

Draco swallowed, his expression resolute. "Because it needed to be done."

McGonagall called on Flitwick and Sprout to help the students disperse while she went with the Aurors to the gate. She instructed Sinistra to watch Draco until she could get back.

Harry stood by his side, awed by him. They looked into each other's eyes.

Ron walked over. To Harry's shock, he patted Draco's shoulder. "You've really changed, mate."

Draco gave him a nod of thanks, his confused smile-frown in place. Ron removed his hand, and Harry acted on instinct alone. He took Draco's face in his hands and kissed him in the middle of the entrance hall, soft and lingering.

The world nearly dissolved as Draco parted his lips and Harry wrapped his arms around him.

But Harry still heard Ron sigh dramatically, "I knew it."

 

no title

While they awaited Professor McGonagall's return, Harry and Draco sat on the bottom stairs. Their friends crowded around them before Sinistra ordered them to their dormitories.

"Are you all right, Draco?" Padma had asked.

"If I were you, I would have clobbered that old git," Seamus had said.

"Oh, bollocks!" Pansy scoffed. "He who looked terrified to be holding a bunch of flowers."

"Oi!"

"Oi yourself!"

They proceeded to make out.

Luna hugged Draco; Parvati told him she was glad he hadn't been hurt.

Ginny came over and smiled at them both. "I heard what you said, Draco. It was nice of you. But the past is the past. All right?"

"All right," Draco said quietly.

"See you two at the party tonight? Eleven o'clock?"

"Oh, um..." Harry began, looking at Draco to see how he felt about that.

But before he could answer, McGonagall returned. And she had an Auror with her.

"Mr Malfoy," she said.

"Yes, Professor?"

"This is Auror Cassandra Browning. She's going to escort you to visit your father now. If you'd like to go see him, that is."

"Really?"

She smiled down at him. "Really."

Harry slid his hand into Draco's and squeezed.

"Thank you," Draco said to McGonagall, then to Auror Browning. He looked at Harry, hesitating.

"I'll see you later," Harry said with a small smile.

Draco nodded. He stood, slipping his hand out of Harry's. He went with the Auror but turned at the door. He gave Harry a short nod and a tremulous smile.

Once they'd gone, McGonagall said, "I believe you have an appointment with Professor Snape."

"Oh! That's right. With all the commotion... Thank you, Professor."

He stood quickly and set off down the hall.

"Mr Potter!"

He turned. "Yes?"

"Brilliant work today." She smiled at him and then turned to enter the Great Hall once more.

Harry made his way to Snape's office. But when he saw the door, a sense of dread skittered up his spine, and he wasn't sure why. It wasn't as though he was afraid of Snape -- not anymore. He'd come to think of him as a sort of mentor, actually. He'd come to think of him as... human, kind, strangely thoughtful. And just a bit grouchy.

Harry told himself he was being daft and knocked. He opened the door a hair. "Professor?" He stepped into the room.

Gone were the potions jars.

Gone were most of the books.

Gone were the quill stand and the severe chairs, though the latter had been replaced with squishy ones instead.

The feeling of dread increased as Harry slowly walked into the room. "Professor? It's Harry. I--"

"Yes, please do sit," Professor Snape said from the frame to the left.

"Hi." Harry smiled to see him there. He'd almost got the sense that Snape was gone what with the change in scenery. It was a relief -- and a pretty profound one -- to see him moving from his homey frame into the large canvas behind his desk as Harry sat.

"Hello, Mr Potter, and my, have we been busy today."

"Yes, sir."

"Bit of a disturbance, was there?"

"Yeah, Mr Creevey, Colin Creevey's dad, he--"

"Yes, he went a bit 'round the twist, didn't he?"

"You could say that."

"Came here to kill Mr Malfoy?"

"That's correct."

"And you stopped him, did you?"

"Well, I had a hand in it."

Snape waved his hand and rolled his eyes. "False modesty. I have no desire for this. In fact, it too closely resembles lying."

Harry swallowed. "Yes. I stopped him."

"And did I hear correctly that you also had an issue in your Charms exam?"

"Well, I couldn't get my Wailing Warner to go back to being a toy top. I don't know what's wrong with it. Or me," he hastened to add.

"Hmm. One would think it knew."

"Knew?"

"That you would benefit more from its staying the same than you would an Outstanding on your Charms N.E.W.T."

"You... think it malfunctioned on purpose?"

Snape raised bored eyebrows.

Harry sighed. "Sir, if I may... The headmistress said you wanted to see me specifically after my exams. She said not to sign with any Quidditch teams before I spoke to you. Could you tell me why that is?"

"Which teams have you heard from?" Snape asked, ignoring his question.

"Er, I've got owls from the Falmouth Falcons and the Tutshill Tornadoes."

"For Seeker, I assume?"

"Yes, sir."

"Starting?"

"I believe so."

"Impressive, Mr Potter."

Harry cleared his throat, unprepared for a compliment from this man who, even now, seemed too enigmatic to predict. "Er, thank you."

"Has the Auror department contacted you yet?"

"No, sir."

Snape waved his hand again. "They will. I give them until tomorrow morning. So what of being an Auror, Mr Potter?"

"Professor?"

"Surely stepping in and saving Mr Malfoy's life both confirmed how suited you are to it and that you'd be fulfilled by such a career path?"

Harry opened his mouth but then found he had no idea what he wanted to say. He shut it again and frowned. "I don't know. I guess all I felt was... relieved. Maybe it just hasn't sunk in yet."

"Or maybe you're meant for something else."

"Do you mean Quidditch?"

Snape made a face like Harry was being purposefully obtuse.

"Well, what?" Harry snapped.

At this, the corner of Snape's mouth lifted in a smile. "Why don't you scan your two-track mind for all the myriad things the Saviour of the World might do with himself? Tell me, Harry. When you look back on this year of your life... what made you the happiest?"

"The happiest?"

"Yes. Forget about everything else -- your marks, the expectations of others... Close your eyes and tell me when you were happy."

"Sir--"

"Close them!"

"Merlin, all right!" But though he was frustrated with Snape's caginess and eye-rolling, when he shut his eyes, he was almost immediately more relaxed.

Harry took a deep breath and let his mind go with the question.

What had made him happy?

What had made him truly happy?

It took only one inhale, and he went straight there: into the clearing, wand drawn, Draco by his side.

"All right, well, the hardest part of producing a Patronus – and the easiest part, once you get it – is that you have to feel it."

As though it was happening right there in Snape's office, Harry's heart swelled; the fire of anticipation raced through him.

To his surprise, he went back even further -- to fifth year and the Room of Requirement, to Dumbledore's Army. He remembered everything: correcting Cho's flick when she set her friend's robes on fire, congratulating Neville on his Expelliarmus, watching Hermione pummel Ron with a hex...

The smile curved his lips before he recalled where he was and opened his eyes.

"That," Snape said, "is what you're meant to be doing."

Harry frowned. "But you don't even know what--"

"Now that the school year is over, I'm going to be retiring."

"Wh-what?" The frisson of dread was back. "What does that mean?" Harry sat forward in his chair.

His squishy chair.

No potions. No quill stand...

"What do you mean 'retiring'? If you don't mind me stating the obvious, sir... you're... deceased."

"Yes, thank you, Mr Potter. I am, indeed, aware."

"Then..." Harry shook his head. "Why would you have to retire? I mean... don't you sort of have eternity to do whatever you want?"

"I do," Snape answered quietly. "And I'd like to go home."

Harry blinked. "Home? Where is that?"

Snape smiled at him, something in it sad and lonely and yearning. "Beyond the Veil, Harry. My home is beyond the Veil."

The sharp jolt of emotion came from deep inside, where Harry had stuffed the pain of the war, of all he'd lost. "But... But you wouldn't have to. You... You could stay, if you wanted to. You could stay and teach, right? Why would you only stay for this one year? What's the point of that?" Harry cursed the tears that rose and blurred his vision. "Why wouldn't you stay?"

"Have you really not guessed, Harry?" Then he rolled his eyes. "Merlin, you really shouldn't be an Auror, should you? Deduction is not your strong suit."

"Quit insulting me and tell me what you mean!" Harry stood abruptly, the chair scraping along the floor.

Professor Snape-Harry

"What I mean, Harry, is that I came back to teach you. I came back here to..." His eyes held grief and longing and... Love. Impossible though it was. Harry saw love shining from him.

And then, suddenly, a glow appeared around the canvas of the painting in which he stood. Snape closed his eyes, there was a brief flash of pearly light, and then the portrait was empty... And, instead, Snape's ghost hovered behind the desk. He opened his eyes once more. "I came back to be on your side for once."

Harry couldn't stop the gasped breath that he then held. "You're... a ghost?"

"I am what I have needed to be at any given time."

Harry blinked, and a tear fell down his face. "So... classes? Why--"

"I've found it advantageous to remain two-dimensional a majority of the time."

An abrupt, nervous laugh left Harry's lips. He swallowed. Snape was right there -- right before him, shimmering and nearly real. His words finally sank in. Harry's bottom lip quivered horribly. "Professor," Harry said. "You were always on my side." He looked into Snape's intense gaze and lifted his chin. "I never... There's no way I could ever..."

"Your mother," Snape interrupted him. "Your parents... would be so proud of you, Harry."

Harry broke at that. He dropped his chin to his chest and cried. "I don't want you to go." He felt eleven years-old all over again. He felt miniscule. Insignificant. He looked at his open hands, empty once again. Like always.

"They'll keep a canvas for me. And if you stay on and take my place as Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, you may just see me again someday."

"If I what?" Harry lifted his watery gaze once more. He sniffed.

Snape smiled at him. "Can you think of anyone better? Professor McGonagall and I have spoken, and she's ready to hire you day after tomorrow. If you want the job. If you think it might make you happy."

"I--"

"No need to answer now. Just because she would hire you in a heartbeat doesn't mean you can't enjoy your last hours as a student at this school." Snape waved his hand again, as if he was simply finished being emotional about it, and Harry should be, too. "Go to your party. Dance at the dreadful ball your headmistress is so gleefully putting on tomorrow night. Enjoy the fact that despite your Charms exam marks you can take any job anywhere you like. Go be Draco Malfoy's... whatever you want to call yourselves."

"Will I see you again?" Harry's heart squeezed inside his chest.

Snape sighed. "You don't need me anymore, Harry."

"We haven't finished the tower."

"You don't need me to do that. You're perfectly capable, and if you wanted to I'm sure Professor McGonagall would be happy to--"

"It would make me happy to finish it with you. You keep going on about what would make me happy. Well, that would." He stubbornly swallowed down his remaining tears, even though they threatened to overwhelm him. If Snape had been solidly physical rather than a floating phantasm, Harry would have held onto him and not let him go. That or punched him.

"Forgive me, Harry, but there is somewhere else I need to be." The glimmer in Snape's eyes said everything he'd never put into words. Harry wondered what it must be like on the other side. Could Snape reunite with his mother? Is that who he missed so terribly? Was there any such thing as jealousy beyond the Veil? Would Severus Snape befriend James Potter? Sirius? Professor Lupin?

Harry thought about what had happened for him this year: being taught by Snape; seeing bonds form, friendships, between his old friends and his new ones, some of them Slytherins...

Falling in love with one of them.

He thought he'd feel fear thinking those words. They opened him up for new worlds of hurt, after all. But he wasn't afraid. Something settled in him that until now he'd merely worn like a cloak.

It felt real now. It felt a part of him.

He supposed if that could happen here in this physical life of duality, polarities, wars, and feuds -- that he could love Draco Malfoy -- well, then why couldn't Snape be welcomed into a place he'd defined as home by the very people who had rejected and reviled him but whose hearts Harry knew to be true and good? Maybe that explained Snape's longing to return. Maybe that's what heaven was. Maybe it was reuniting with everything this world had torn away.

Snape had watched Harry's thoughts, and now he said, "You're ready. Aren't you?"

Harry nodded. "I'm ready."

Snape smiled at him. "There's always him, you know. Albus Dumbledore. I don't think he'll ever leave this school."

Harry smiled. It was, indeed, a consoling thought. "I'll miss you," he said before he let himself think about it too much.

"Harry..." Snape said. Then he turned and floated through the portrait behind the desk, through the wall, and out of Hogwarts for good.

Harry stood in the silence. He stood in the room that might become his, two remaining tears sliding warm down his face.

 

 

no title

He spent the rest of the day in a quiet mood. Not sullen exactly, but nothing he could really share.

Except with Ron and Hermione. They'd gone down to the Great Lake together to hang out. None of them talked about how close they were to leaving, how much their lives might change. They didn't talk about Ron working with George, about he and Hermione shacking up... Harry did tell them what Snape said, though, about him becoming Defence professor.

"Oh, brilliant!" Ron said.

"Harry! Oh my God, congratulations!" Hermione threw her arms around him and hugged him only to pull back and interrogate him soundly. "You are going to take it, aren't you? Oh, you'll be perfect! But there are so many options, and this is just one. But there's nobody more qualified or better suited--"

"Merlin's saggy arse, Hermione," Ron said.

"Too much?"

"Maybe a bit."

They'd enjoyed the dying day, skittering stones across the surface of the mirror of water. Ron joked, and Harry and Hermione laughed. They talked of their good memories. And when it was time for supper, they rose, dusted themselves off, and went inside.

Harry, of course, scanned their table eagerly, but Draco had still not returned. He tried not to be worried. He only failed a little bit.

After the meal, Professor McGonagall kept their table. "I have a deal for all of you."

They looked at one another.

"Er, yes, ma'am?" Seamus asked.

"You may use the Room of Requirement for your festivities, but you must be back in your dormitories by midnight, so I should think you'd like to get things started a little earlier than curfew. Say ten o'clock?"

Murmurs and smiles and nods of agreement abounded.

"Very well. Also, under absolutely no circumstances will there be any alcohol consumption on school grounds. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Professor," Ned said guiltily.

"Now, now, Mr Ogden, there is no need for further remorse. You've done your time with Professor Sprout. Besides, I've taken it upon myself to supply you with refreshments for your engagement. I hope they will suffice."

"Yes, ma'am!"

"Thank you, Professor!"

"Good!" She clapped her hands together. "Then have a lovely time, and don't forget to be back in your dormitories by midnight. I've instructed the portraits and the House ghosts to inform on you all if this rule is broken by even a minute. You're dismissed. Oh! And do air out your dress robes for tomorrow evening's ball!" She looked rather ecstatic at the prospect.

Ten o'clock rolled around, and still Draco had not returned.

"I'm sure he's fine," Hermione said, a supportive hand on his shoulder.

"Yeah, I'm sure they haven't gone and locked up your boyfriend, Harry," Ron added before Hermione slapped him quite hard on the arm. "Ow." He rubbed it. "Sorry."

"Oi! Let's go!" Dean shouted.

Murmurs of enthusiastic assent went up from everyone.

They were halfway down the hall when Harry called, "Hey, wait a minute!" He dug in his pockets and found a manky piece of parchment. "Anybody got a quill?"

Hermione rolled her eyes, reached into her bottomless bag, and produced a crisp, clean parchment and fancy eagle-owl feather quill, self-inking.

"Thanks." Harry gave her a smile and quickly composed his note against a wall.

Before he could tack it up, Pansy snatched it from his hands.

"Hey!"

She read aloud, "Draco. Gone to RoR. Ask for 'eighth year party'. See you soon. Harry p.s. I hope it went well."

Luna, Parvati, and Hannah aww'd in unison.

Pansy smiled, less demonically than usual, and let him snatch the parchment back without having to Stupefy her. "It's nice, Potter," she said with a smirk and then walked off, arm in arm with Seamus.

Dean and his new best friend, Blaise, along with Ron, Neville, and all the other boys it seemed shoved, chuckled at, and wrestled with Harry. He fought them off, annoyed and embarrassed, his cheeks and the back of his neck hot.

"Go on now, honey buns, tack up your note," Dean said, smiling.

"Go on, Harry," Ron joined.

Harry pasted the parchment to the door with a Sticking charm and then suffered renewed teasing, wrestling, hair tousling, ribald remarks, as his friends manhandled him down the hallway.

And he had to be honest with himself that... Well, it felt really good. He knew if Draco had been there he might have hexed them all into the hospital wing, but, though it was a touch humiliating, Harry understood what it meant: they accepted him. They accepted them, him and Draco, and Harry felt his heart warm as much as, if not more than, his cheeks.

They entered the Room of Requirement to find that McGonagall had gone all out. There were tables lined with scrumptious snacks of all kinds, a punch bowl that automatically refilled with pumpkin juice as it emptied, Chinese lanterns hung all about, and a Wireless already playing some new punk band Harry had never heard of but found he liked.

Plus there were cushions, chairs, sofas, rugs...

Everybody got whatever drinks or food they wanted and took seats around the sumptuous space.

"You know we could have just done this in the common room," Padma said.

"Yeah, but this is all illicit," Millicent replied, earning her an ear nibble from Luna, who had draped herself on Millicent's lap in a big, soft armchair.

"Hardly," Ginny said. "I mean, McGonagall set this whole thing up, didn't she?"

"Yeah, but we can pretend," Goldstein said.

Harry sighed, resigned to the fact that perhaps Draco wasn't coming at all. He could only hope that meant good news rather than dismal. He started to take a seat on a cushion -- when the door opened again behind him. He swivelled around quickly and all his breath left him.

"Draco!" Pansy called.

A chorus of 'Hey, Draco!' and the like went up around the room as Harry stood and walked over to him. He stopped just short of throwing his arms around him, though, instead just squeezing his hand for a second.

"I didn't know if you'd come."

Draco smirked. "I got your note. Must have just missed you."

"How did it go?"

Draco squeezed his hand back. "Good." His eyes shone a warm blue-grey, more relaxed and unclouded than Harry had seen in a while. "Tell you later?"

Harry smiled and let go of his hand. "Yeah. Sure."

They walked over to the seating area, and Draco joined Blaise, speaking quietly with him.

"So, what are we playing this time?" Ned asked between bites of cauldron cake.

Silence met him for a moment, and Harry was surprised when it was Hermione who flung out the first suggestion. "Truth or Dare?"

Ron turned to her. "Brilliant."

She blushed.

Everyone else seemed to like that idea, too, and they all took their seats accordingly. Ron and Hermione took the sofa behind Harry's cushion. Draco sat in a chair across from him, his gaze finding Harry's and going dark and meaningful. Harry's body responded, blood moving faster and directly toward the one place that seemed to like Draco the most. Harry cleared his throat and looked away just as Draco's smirk became truly filthy.

"Who starts?" Dean asked. When everyone, again, just stared at him, he rolled his eyes. "Oh, bollocks."

"Shouldn't have opened your big mouth, Thomas," Blaise said with a smile.

"Sod off, plonker. Okay, you! You, then. Truth or dare, Zabini?"

Blaise's eyes went wide as the tables were turned on him. "Er... Dare?"

Dean rubbed his hands together. "Show them," he said. "Go on. Do the thing."

"Bastard!" Blaise said. "No!"

"Okay, but anyone who refuses both a truth and a dare gets jinxed or hexed."

"Really?"

"Yep," Ron agreed. "That's how we've always played. Taken a fair few Bat Bogeys to the face." He nodded. Ginny appeared rather proud.

"Fine," Blaise groused. Then, disgruntled, he stripped off his shirt.

"Salazar's shorts, what's 'the thing'?" Pansy laughed.

Blaise stood. He sighed. Then he made his chest muscles jump and dance.

Everyone whooped and laughed and clapped, including Harry who'd had no idea Blaise was gifted in this manner. Hermione snorted in her mirth and promptly fell into Ron's side giggling.

"Bloody fantastic!" Goldstein yelled. "Say, can you teach me that?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Blaise said, yanking his t-shirt back over his head. When the laughter and talk died down, he asked, "So, what? Now I ask someone?"

"Yep," Pansy said, shoving him in the shoulder.

Blaise sighed. "All right." He looked down at the floor for a moment, and when he looked up again, his gaze seemed to beseech Parvati Patil. "Truth or dare?"

She gulped and looked around. "Uh, dare?"

"Okay. Right."

Pansy shoved his shoulder again.

"Bloody hell, would you stop that?" He cleared his throat. He was sweating. "Parvati," he said. "I dare you to go to the Ball with me tomorrow night."

She blinked wide eyes at him. "You mean as your... date?"

Blaise nodded.

She smiled. "Well, after that display of unbridled masculinity..." Blaise ducked his head, so she continued quickly. "Yeah. Er, okay. I'll go with you."

Murmuring abounded, and Padma hugged her sister gleefully while Parvati blushed and avoided Blaise's very relieved gaze.

"My turn then?" she asked. "Okay. Erm... Ron Weasley."

"Yes?" Ron's head jerked up.

"Truth or dare?" Parvati hugged her knees to her chest and waggled her eyebrows at him. The Weird Sisters came on the Wireless.

"Uh, truth?"

And to be honest, Harry didn't hear the question. He'd stopped listening, because he knew all of Ron's truths already, and Draco was across the way, his legs arrogantly spread. He looked like he wouldn't turn down a blow job if Harry offered. Harry couldn't help eyeing the inseam of his trousers where he knew a beautiful, thick cock waited, and maybe someday soon he'd have to see what it felt like to take it up his--

"Harry!" Ron shouted near his ear.

"Fuck, Ron, what?"

"I said, 'truth or dare'."

"Oh. You did?"

"He did," Luna said.

"Oh. Okay, then. Er, dare?"

Ron grinned at him, his arm around Hermione's shoulders. He lifted his chin toward Draco. "Go and kiss Malfoy like we all know you want to."

Harry's jaw dropped.

Everybody clapped.

"Come on, mate. Hermione and I missed your epic Spin-the-Bottle snog."

And there his two best friends sat, smiling at him like they'd planned this.

Holy hell, they'd planned this.

Harry clamped his mouth shut again. "I'll get you for this," he said quietly.

"Oh, as if you're not dying to!" Ron said plenty loud enough for Draco and everyone else to hear. He gave Harry a gentle shove with his foot, not bothering to extract himself from Hermione's vicinity.

Harry's gaze fell on Draco, whose ears were tipped pink but who also had not tired of his scandalous smirking. Harry's heart thudded against his breastbone.

"Want to take the jinx?" Ron asked sweetly.

Harry slapped at the foot that kept shoving him. "Hell no." He allowed a small smile. Then he proceeded to get up and walk over to Draco's side of the room. Draco watched him as he neared.

"Let 'im have it, Harry!" Seamus goaded.

Draco smirked up at him. Harry placed a hand on either side of Draco's head on the armchair in which he sat. He leaned forward. Their eyes closed as their parted lips met.

"Whoo!" Dean yelled, and Goldstein joined him.

Harry smiled against Draco's lips. Then he deepened the kiss. He took it slow, licking into Draco's mouth and feeling him lick back. Draco exhaled a soft moan. Harry's cock went hard while they kissed. Draco's hands wrapped around his wrists, and he tilted his head to take it deeper. And it was fucking brilliant.

They kissed until Pansy groaned, "Enough already," and then Harry pulled back. Draco's eyes were hooded, his lips slightly swollen.

Harry pushed off the chair and smiled. Everyone clapped again, and he gave a few eye-rolling nods and a cheesy bow before pinning Draco with one last look and taking himself back to his cushion, aching erection and all.

When he sat, Ron patted him on the shoulder. Harry shot him two fingers.

Hermione smiled at him like he'd just got married. "Your turn."

Harry looked across the room at Draco, who was taking his own ribbing from his friends.

"Malfoy," Harry said.

There were some oohs.

"Yes, Potter?"

"Truth or dare?"

Draco's gaze was unwavering. He thought for a few moments, then said, "Truth."

Harry took a deep breath before asking something he'd wanted to know for months. "Did you use wandless magic to make the bottle point at me that night?"

"Oh, you are so busted!" Millicent exclaimed.

Seamus snorted.

Draco didn't open his mouth to speak. He simply pointed his graceful finger at Harry, aimed it at his crotch, and then made a downward swipe. Harry's fly inched open, and he gasped. Harry's hands went to it immediately, fastening himself back up again. "Arrogant prick," he said, a little embarrassed, a lot thrilled by it.

Draco just gave a shrug.

Harry wanted to shag him so badly he had to ball his hands into fists. He shook his head at him. But he couldn't quit smiling.

"If we can all agree that that was a yes?" Blaise looked around the room, and everyone nodded. "Your turn, Draco."

Harry wrapped his arms around his knees, his lips still tingling, as Draco turned his attention on Luna. "Truth or dare?"

"Oh, it's me? How nice! Truth, please, Draco." She smiled at him.

"Top or bottom, Lovegood?"

"Why, Draco," she said. But it was Millicent who turned all rosy and couldn't meet anyone's eyes. Luna whispered to her, Millicent nodded, and then Luna declared, "Top mostly. You?"

"Not your turn," Draco said. "But thanks for not making me hex you."

"Any time."

Draco slanted a look at Harry briefly, and it was like they were in the backseat of the car together again in that moment.

The game went on. Hannah Abbott had to sing all the words to the latest Celestina Warbeck ballad at the top of her lungs; Neville had to tell everyone that he'd never measured his dick and so didn't know how long it was (while Ginny surreptitiously held up seven fingers); Pansy flashed her tits; Padma admitted she'd never had an orgasm, and Goldstein looked like he'd do anything to take that dare.

It came Ned's turn, and he chose dare. But when Padma requested that he kiss Pansy, he begged off.

"It's not that you're not... You're really quite..." He swallowed. "But I think I have a... a girlfriend now. She's agreed to go to the Ball with me, at least." He shrugged.

Pansy grinned, but just like in the hallway with Harry, there was something almost human in it. "Do tell, Ogden. Anyone we'd know?"

"Er, Astoria Greengrass?"

Pansy sat forward. "Brilliant. But Ned. Do you think she'd mind if I gave you a kiss on the cheek?"

"I'd mind!" Seamus blurted.

She waved her hand back at him in dismissal.

"Er, no, I guess not," Ned said.

Pansy stood and went over to his cushion. She leaned down and pressed a long, sweet kiss to Ned's cheek. He closed his eyes and exhaled. When she leaned back, Harry thought he whispered, "Thank you," but wasn't sure.

Harry heard a little hum behind him and turned to see Ron and Hermione snogging one another. He smiled, even as Ned asked, "Draco, truth or dare?"

"Me, Ogden?"

Harry turned back to the game with renewed interest. If Draco was going to have to flash his nine inches (give or take), Harry wanted to see it, even though he'd already seen it. You couldn't really see that enough.

But Draco chose truth. Which was probably just as well, as Ned might have asked him to make out with someone else or something.

Yet what came out of Ned's mouth was nearly as shocking. "How do you feel about Harry?"

Harry gulped and looked to Draco to respond.

"How do I feel about Harry, hmm?" Draco slouched in his chair, looking as relaxed and posh as ever. He fiddled with the arm, picking at the fabric with apparent distaste. A mischievous smile curved his lips as he looked at Harry then. "Well, he's a complete git, isn't he? Why do you think I hated him all through school?" He took a deep inhale, and the warmth in his gaze made Harry's own breath nearly stop. "I mean, Saviour of the World... Who needs it? Especially one so infuriating, annoying, infuriating--"

"You already said that one," Pansy said.

"Yes, well, it bears repeating." He smiled at Harry, sending tendrils of magic through Harry's whole body. "Anyway. He's a prat, right? Anyone who knows him knows this. He's insufferable... drives you straight out of your head. Which is why it helps that he's so fit."

A few of the girls laughed.

But Draco's expression turned serious as he went on, and it was as though there was a tunnel between them, everything else fading away.

"Harry Potter is the most intolerable, frustrating, and incomprehensible bloke I know. Which I suppose is why I've fallen so bloody hard for the ponce." Draco sighed like this annoyed him, yet Harry felt tears spring up behind his eyes and hurt his throat. "Does that answer your question, Ned?" he asked, gaze boring into Harry's.

Ned only nodded urgently.

"So it's my turn, then?"

"Your turn," Blaise told him, squeezing Draco's shoulder.

"Very well. Potter. Truth or dare?"

All that came out of him was a strangled whisper. "Truth."

For the first time since he began his little speech, Draco's mask of calm faltered. He blinked and licked his lips. "How do you feel about me, then?"

At this, Harry smiled. "Malfoy," he said. "I feel exactly the same."

They shared a look that Harry felt through every cell in his body.

Then the game continued. They all shared and laughed, and sometimes things got quite sombre. Luna asked Neville what he'd lost in the war that had been the hardest.

He thought for a long while, and the room went silent in respect. After several moments he said, "What I lost, I lost before the war. I lost my parents." He looked at Ginny. "The war didn't take anything from me. The war gave me everything." He took her hand, and a tear fell down Ginny's face.

It went like that. Several people shared things that Harry never thought he'd be privileged enough to hear: how Blaise had refused to torture a young Hufflepuff when ordered to by the Carrows... and how he'd been tortured instead; how Millicent had been responsible for the rebuilding of the greenhouses over the summer, practically by herself. Hermione shared what it was like to Obliviate her own parents into not remembering they had a daughter... and about travelling to Australia over the summer to reverse the spell, not even knowing if she could. Ron held her, his chin atop her bushy head.

"Did you do it?" Pansy asked, sitting forward, elbows on her knees.

Hermione nodded. "Yeah. I did."

Pansy nodded to her. Hermione nodded back.

Then just when things got heavy and too dark, Seamus did his best Professor Binns impersonation, and the room erupted in gales of laughter, until Hermione had tears rolling down her cheeks, and Blaise and Dean collapsed against each other in fits.

At exactly ten to twelve, a voice interrupted them, and everyone gasped.

"Good evening, students," Dumbledore said from a portrait on the wall that before had stood empty. "I've taken it upon myself to be the one to remind you that you must return to your dormitories before midnight."

"Professor Dumbledore!" Luna said.

"Hello, Ms Lovegood." Dumbledore smiled. "Very good to see you. In fact, it's very good to see you all."

They got up more or less en masse and crowded around the portrait.

"We don't have time to chat," Dumbledore warned them. "Suffice to say, I'm very proud of the work you've all done this year. Now, don't ruin it by being late back to your various common rooms, yes?"

"Thank you, Professor."

"We miss you, Professor."

"Goodnight, Professor."

They began to file out, but Harry hung back.

"Hello, Harry," Dumbledore said.

"Hello, sir."

"Don't be late, Harry. Not to stay and talk to an old codger like me."

"But sir--"

Dumbledore shook his head. "Not to worry, my boy. I suspect we'll be seeing quite a lot of each other next year. Perhaps?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah. I think so."

"Very well. Off with you. And you, too, Mr Malfoy. Thank you for keeping an old portrait company this year and calling it detention." He winked. "Goodnight to you both." And with that he opened a catalogue of knitting patterns and began to read.

Their group, minus Luna and Ginny, arrived at the eighth year common room with two minutes to spare. Dean yawned and stretched while he said his goodnights. Seamus and Pansy made out in a corner. Padma curled up with a book in front of the hearth.

Ron said, "Sweet dreams, love," to Hermione, and Harry realised he'd never heard them use endearments before. It was so... adult and... real. Ron then slung his arm around Harry as they made their way down the men's hall, Draco walking ahead of them. "I guess his arse is sort of... perky," Ron whispered in Harry's ear.

Harry laughed and fake-punched him in the ribs.

Draco turned and gave them a sly smile over his shoulder.

"Look at him. Fancy git knows."

"Goodnight, Ron," Harry said, extricating himself.

"Night, Harry. Night, ferret boy."

"Don't call him that," Harry sighed.

"Why not? He's got your ferret all tucked away asleep on his pillow." With that Ron made his way inside their dormitory.

Sure enough, Gordon lay curled up on Draco's bed in complete disobedience to Harry's instructions that he stay in Harry's dormitory if not his own enclosure, which Harry had taken pains to fill with top-notch... ferret things.

"Do you have anything to do with this?" Harry asked.

Draco smirked at him. "I have silk sheets, Potter. What do you think?"

"I think I like the sound of that myself," Harry said, snaking his arms around Draco and settling them just above his "perky" arse.

"I thought you might." He leaned forward and pressed a long, chaste kiss to Harry's lips.

"Mmm." Harry pulled back. "Hey, do you want to find someplace to talk? I wanted to hear about you seeing your father."

Draco fiddled with a wayward (weren't they all?) strand of Harry's hair. "Can we talk tomorrow? I'm so tired, Harry."

Harry.

"Yeah, sure. Tomorrow's fine. Before the Ball?"

"Yeah. Sounds good." He frowned. "So which robes did you get finally? Not the red ones."

Harry laughed. "Good Merlin, no, not the red ones. I guess you'll have to wait and see them tomorrow night."

"I guess I will." Draco grabbed Harry's arse in one hand and squeezed. "Bet they look good on you, though."

Heat rushed to Harry's face. "Not as good as yours. Now give me back my ferret."

"Gordon!" Draco called, releasing Harry and crouching when the little vermin ran to him. Draco scooped him up, smiling, then seemed to realise he was smiling and stopped, clearing his throat and handing him over. "Speaking of tomorrow. Maybe you can help me decide which Quidditch team to sign with."

Harry's eyes widened, and the smile that took over his face actually hurt a little bit. "You're going to play professionally?"

Draco shrugged. "What do you think?"

"I think I'm going to have the fittest, hottest, most sought after boyfriend in the bloody world. Merlin, I'll be beating them off you with a bludger bat!" Harry laughed.

Draco's eyes sparkled. Probably at his casual use of the inflammatory word "boyfriend". He sobered, though. "Do you really think I should? That I can?"

"Would flying make you happy?"

Draco blinked. "Yeah. I think it might."

"Well, you're certainly brilliant enough at it. So there's your answer."

"And you'll make a bloody amazing Defence teacher."

"You heard?"

"Everybody's heard." Draco smirked.

Harry sighed. "It's scary. Isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"I just keep reminding myself that it's not happening tomorrow. That we still have one more day to be students. It's our first year just being that, you know?"

Draco nodded. "One more day."

"One more day."

"I think we should make the best of it," Draco mused.

"What do you mean?"

Draco's eyes lit up, and he smiled a slow, mischievous smile the likes of which had Harry hard in moments.

The likes of which he thought he'd never see on that pointy face... and that Harry wanted to melt into for the rest of his life.

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

Hermione stepped into the Great Hall arm in arm with Ron. She wore a raspberry-coloured gown she'd picked out over Christmas, and Ron looked brilliant in his new dress robes -- which she'd also picked out (unbeknownst to Mrs Weasley). There were zero ruffles of old lace in sight. Thank Merlin.

"Hey!" Dean called, waving them over to where he stood sipping a Butterbeer with Seamus, Pansy, Blaise, and Parvati.

Hermione waved, Ron followed suit, and they made their way over.

"McGonagall sure loves a fancy party," Ron said, looking all around.

Hermione had to admit that the professor had truly outdone herself this time. The charmed sky was indigo night with brilliant lavender and green stars. Streamers rained slowly down in all the House colours. Candles levitated and danced warm light all around. She'd even hired Bloodroot as the band. Not that they would have been Hermione's first choice, but one couldn't be so picky.

It was all so beautiful and extravagant and... final.

"I can't believe this is our last night here," she sighed. Ron's arm tightened around her waist, and they shared a sad smile.

"Butterbeer?" Blaise offered, and they each took one.

Hermione stood and took it all in for a few minutes, watching Ned dance with Astoria Greengrass in the middle of the floor. A few moments later, Luna and Millicent floated by. Padma, Goldstein, Hannah, and a host of others had formed a circle in which some atrocious dancing took place. Hermione smiled.

"So, Weasley," Pansy shouted over the music, leaning in. "Is it true you're going to work with your brother?"

Hermione's stomach immediately tightened. The sound of Pansy's voice still had that effect on her, even if she hadn't been significantly horrid in weeks.

"Yeah. I start in a month." Ron nodded. Hermione reached down and laced her fingers through his.

"And you, Granger? What did you decide on?"

"Oh, erm, I received a scholarship," she confided against her better judgement. "To the Griselda Marchbanks School of Wizarding Law." She waited for the snide remark.

"Holy fuck, Granger! Good for you!"

"Thanks!" Hermione said, relieved. Perhaps it was safe to talk with Pansy Parkinson without fear of either spontaneous cruel humour or hexes flying about after all. "And you, Pansy? What are your plans?"

She shrugged. "Shag the life out of this one all summer," she said, nudging Seamus so hard he spilled his drink. "Then... Well, I'm not sure. Maybe travel. I've always wanted to see America."

"Yeah, baby, let's go learn to surf in California!"

"It's Kansas, you idiot. And don't call me that!"

A moderate row broke out. Hermione tugged on Ron's hand, and they inched away.

Neville and Ginny came off the dance floor panting.

"Gin!" Ron said. "Congrats on the Quidditch Cup!"

"Thank you!" She beamed. "I owe it all to Cordelia or else Ravenclaw would have taken it easily."

"Good Keepers are hard to find." Ron nodded.

Ginny punched him in the arm. "Yeah, but you were all right."

"You're more than all right, newest Chaser for the Hollyhead Harpies." He nudged her with his elbow.

"Yes, that's brilliant, Ginny!" Hermione said. "And you look amazing, by the way." Ginny wore a strapless dress that showed off her dauntingly strong arms, and it was clear she was more than ready to handle any Quaffle thrown at her. "And Neville," Hermione added. "Congratulations on becoming Herbology apprentice professor!"

He nodded and shuffled his feet. Ginny beamed even brighter.

"I guess you and Harry will be seeing a lot of each other next year." Hermione sipped her Butterbeer.

"Yeah, that's so cool he'll be teaching, too! Where is he? Have you seen him?"

Hermione scanned the room. Ron peered around as well, and Hermione checked her watch. "What do you suppose is taking him so long?"

"I don't know. He was still getting dressed when I came down," Ron said.

Hermione frowned. "And the other one? Where was he?"

"Uh, come to think of it, I don't know."

They looked at each other. The dawning comprehension made Hermione smirk. She saw the same recognition in Ron's eyes.

"Those tossers," he said.

"What?" Neville asked.

But Hermione just smiled. "I'm sure they'll make it eventually." She hugged Ron to her tightly and stared up into the magical night sky. Ron pressed a warm kiss to the shell of her ear, and she shivered.

A silver comet passed overheard.

 

 

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Draco's hair whipped back with the wind, and Harry clutched his seat and shouted over the rushing noise of it. "Merlin, fuck, Draco, how fast are you going?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Draco's foot press down further on the pedal.

"Do you really care, Potter? Merlin's tits, we're flying!"

Draco slowed just enough to take a corner, and then the trees fell away on the ocean side of the car. All of a sudden there was only water, rising in cresting waves and washing ashore with a booming crash. The setting sun glinted orange and pink off the spindrift, and Draco gunned the engine, taking Harry's car fast down a shallow hill.

"You're mad!" Harry shouted at him.

Draco only grinned and bit his lip, hands tight on the wheel.

Seagulls winged overhead, and Harry let himself relax, leaning his head back against the seat. He'd put nearly a dozen charms on the car this time. They were perfectly safe, even though Draco seemed to think he could treat the vehicle like a broom despite having never driven before.

Harry turned his head on the seat and looked at his boyfriend, smiling, an easy laugh ready on his lips. He let his gaze wander Draco's body, lingering on how his arms looked tensed like that, the muscles hard. Harry'd got him to wear one of his t-shirts and a pair of his jeans, and he looked indecently hot to say the least.

He was also wearing the expensive tie Harry had bought him for Christmas and finally presented to him before they'd decided to bugger off the Ball. It was knotted perfectly at his throat, absurd with his casual attire -- and bloody sexy.

But more than that, Draco looked happy.

Harry rested an arm behind Draco's seat and watched his profile.

Draco turned his head and saw Harry staring. "Want to find a good tree?" he asked, smirking.

Harry nodded, breaking into his own smile. "We have a couple of hours before they send out a search party, I think."

Draco waggled his eyebrows.

Harry's robe, his dress robe, which he'd discarded to the backseat before they'd taken off on their little impromptu adventure, got picked up by the wind and tossed around for a moment. Harry turned to grab it, but before he could get his hands on it, it went flying right out the window.

"Shit," Harry said, watching it float and tumble away.

Then he laughed -- because everything was fine. It was all fine.

He rested his head back again as Draco sped them down the road. He played with the ends of Draco's soft hair.

Harry closed his eyes.

 

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