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Perseverance

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The quiet of closing time had descended on the office like a shroud more than two hours ago. All the papers had been neatly stacked on two desks, respectively filling the in and out trays. The desks were adorned with plain lamps and a picture frame of loved ones here, maybe a potted plant there. Only a single lamp was still lit, casting a warm glow on two picture frames, one containing a picture of three happily smiling and waving children in front of an old castle and the other a couple endlessly twirling and laughing while cherry blossoms rained down on them from above.

His tea had gone cold a while ago, but Harry couldn’t be bothered to re-heat it. He stared into the dark swirling liquid, its surface disturbed only by the tiny waves the constantly stirring spoon was creating.

Everyone thought Harry was putting in some extra hours on one of his recent cases, however he knew better. He was waiting for something. Time seemed to pass slowly; Harry’s calm breathing and the occasional clink of the spoon against the side of the mug were the only sounds in the deserted office. Checking his time piece again, Harry decided to make sure that everything was in its proper place. He removed the invisibility cloak from his bag and slung it across his shoulder, before covering his head with the cloak. He made sure that all of him was hidden, then cast a strong silencing charm on his shoes and made his way downstairs.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

‘Not guilty’. He hadn’t dared to hope for this outcome. The Wizengamot had actually listened for once and declared Draco Malfoy ‘not guilty’.

When Draco, after having received his verdict finally left the courtroom through a side exit, Harry welcomed him with an open and happy smile, holding out his hand for him to shake. There hadn’t been many chances to talk after the fiendfyre incident with everything that had to be sorted out. Additionally, when it became clear that Harry would speak at Draco’s trial, any sort of contact had been strictly prohibited.

Draco only took Harry’s hand after what felt like an eternity. His eyes clearly showed that he did it more out of a sense of obligation rather than a deep-seated desire to do so. It made Harry feel cheated, he’d hoped things would be okay if Draco was acquitted by the Wizengamot but apparently he’d been wrong. Reluctantly he let go of Draco’s hand, suddenly feeling insecure and almost regretting his decision to wait for Draco. There was so much wrong with this picture, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. He wanted to shake Draco, yell at him to look at Harry again with the same passion that had filled his eyes whenever he looked at him not too long ago. Who was this individual that stood in front of him, looking for all the world as if he hadn’t just been spared from Azkaban? After the silence between them stretched into uncomfortable awkwardness, Harry finally worked up the nerve to speak.

“What are you going to do now that the whole world lies in front of you?”

The look Draco gave him was withering.

“What do you mean the whole world? It might lie open in front of you Potter, but the only thing that’s waiting for me is a home haunted by nightmares as well as a whole public that’s only waiting for me to step outside of this building to take the law into their own hands and string me up on the next tree.” Draco said angrily. He continued in a calmer, almost resigned sounding voice before Harry could say anything.

“Not that I deserve any better after what I did.”

“Of course you deserve better Draco! You were a victim of circumstances like the rest of us and if the public cannot see that, the Wizengamot would do well to remind it of that!” Harry hastened to assure the man in front of him, at the same time already noting that nothing he was saying seemed to penetrate.

“You appear to think you have done me a favour by saving me Potter,” Draco said, “I already owe you a life debt, why did you have to go and speak for me today? Wouldn’t it have been enough that I owe you my life once already?”

“It’s not about a life debt, it’s about what’s right, Draco!”

The other man angrily pulled up the shirt sleeve of his left arm shoving the tainted skin into Harry’s face.

“Look at it Potter, this is proof of who I am and what I did!!” He snarled, “I do not want to be forgiven. I’d rather throw myself off a bridge than continue this pathetic charade you have the audacity to call a life!”

All colour drained from Harry’s face as fear made his gut clench.

“You don’t mean that. Tell me that you don’t mean that Draco!” He didn’t even care how pathetically pleading his voice sounded.

Draco’s voice was soft, almost inaudible as he replied.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to have been on the other side of the war? The constant jibes, the streams of abuse, being denied entrance to shops, being denied seats in a restaurants although there is plenty of room; how is that a life? Whenever I walk across a bridge, I stop to look at the river, realising how easy it would be for me to just give in…” His voice drifted off as if the thought alone was enough to draw him in.

Despair made Harry brave, he grabbed the proffered arm and held onto it tightly. His fingers traced the skin from Draco’s palm to his elbow as he looked at Draco steadily.

“It’s just a symbol of the past Draco, it doesn’t mean anything anymore.” He could feel Draco shiver and see his pupils dilate as he slowly pulled the arm up to his lips. Not waiting for permission, he never once averted his eyes from Draco’s, as he retraced the path of his fingers with his lips. Harry slowly released Draco’s arm and continued speaking.

“Promise me you will not do any such thing Draco! Promise me you’ll stop yourself whenever the urge to jump overcomes you. Give yourself some time, things will get better and your feelings will change. We all need to deal with this brave new world; it’s a world we need to create together, to make it better. Who cares what side of the war you were on, this is our chance to make the world right again and you need to be part of it to make it work.” Even Harry was surprised at the conviction in his voice. He was clueless about what the future held for him. For one thing, he thought, there is no madman trying to murder me in my sleep anymore, which probably should count as a good thing.

Draco was silent for a long time before he finally replied.

“But what if things don’t get better, Potter, what then? What if this great change you prophesy never comes? How could anyone bear that?”

“At least give this a chance to let you see what it has to offer?”

“A year! I’ll give it exactly one year to this day, Potter.”

“You promise?” Harry was relieved, a year was plenty of time to make Draco change his mind.

“Yes, I promise, one year and you’ll stay away from me for the entirety of it.” With that Draco stalked away leaving Harry feeling oddly bereft.

“Fuck!” The word didn’t do how Harry felt justice. Just when he thought he’d finally been able to make things right again, fate decided to show him just how wrong that assumption had been. What was he going to do? There was no doubt in his mind that Draco had been serious about ending his life. Life without Draco Malfoy just wasn’t a possibility anymore.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

Like every day for months, Draco had waited till everyone else had left. Harry watched him carefully glancing around the room before making his way to the exit. Draco was easy to follow, he always took the same way home, making one stop in a park and then walking back to his flat. The fact that the Wizengamot although pronouncing Draco “not guilty” had found it necessary to place a binding charm on him that prevented him from apparating made it even easier for Harry to follow him home.

At first Harry had thought he followed him to make sure that Draco wouldn’t harm himself, now he knew better. He simply wanted to see the blond. At dusk in the park, Harry would gaze at Draco from underneath his cloak, watch the troubled expression on his face and long to reach out to touch him and tell him that things would be okay someday soon, to have more patience and hope.

Harry sensed that tonight something was different, Draco didn’t gaze at the flowerbed in front of him like he had for the last few months, he seemed to be holding something in his hands that completely captivated his attention. Worry knotting his insides, Harry stepped closer trying to get a look at what could possibly grab Draco’s attention like that. It was a small nondescript glass phial Draco kept rotating in his hands. The sight was mesmerising.

A gust of cold wind almost dislodged the invisibility cloak and Harry took a few hasty steps back, holding on tightly to the cloak, sending a silent prayer to the heavens that he wouldn’t be discovered. Apparently the heavens favoured him tonight because Draco neither noticed that Harry was there, nor did the cloak slip free of his by now clammy fingers. With autumn and its unsteady weather fast approaching he would soon have to find a different means to keep an eye on Draco.

Harry could see Draco clenching his fist around the phial, his eyes closed and holding onto it as if it was the only thing anchoring him to this world. He was worried, whatever was in that phial couldn’t mean anything good, he’d have to keep a closer eye on Draco in the future.

After making sure that Draco had got home okay, Harry disapparated.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

He knew something was up as soon as he unlocked the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place and stepped inside. Ginny’s coat was on the coat rack beside the door and he could see sickly yellow light seeping through the uneven crack between the kitchen door and the hallway floor. Harry sighed as he took off his coat put it on the coat rack beside Ginny’s and hid the cloak in his bag. This was going to be yet another unpleasant evening.

Resigned to his fate, he walked towards the kitchen, feeling like a convict walking towards the gallows.

Ginny was sitting at the kitchen table, a mug clasped in hand, pretending to read. The grip on the mug was so strained that her white knuckles almost seemed to glow in contrast to the sturdy dark ceramic in her hand. She appeared to have waited for him for quite a while. The lack of steam rising from the supposedly hot liquid in her mug told him as much.

The entire scene felt staged and Harry knew it was only a question of time before the accusations would start flying. If it wasn’t one thing, then it was another. Lately nothing he did or didn’t do seemed to be enough to make her happy. He absently wondered how long it would be this time until she acknowledged his presence. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t really care anymore. Quickly tiring of her act, it was him who spoke first.

“I didn’t know you planned to come over tonight, I would have come home early if I’d known.” Even to him that sounded like the lie it was.

“Who is she Harry?”

“What?” Harry looked nonplussed, this was a new one.

“I talked to Ron!” She said, as if that was explanation enough.

“You talk to Ron every day.” Harry pointed out, two could play this game. He only wished she would come out with it, so they could get the inevitable row over with, destroy some more of Mrs. Black’s incredibly expensive china in the process and then hopefully reconcile enough for him to kiss Ginny goodbye and finally get some sleep. After all, he had to get up extra early again tomorrow to make sure Draco and that dangerous phial of his got to work okay.

“The woman who you are seeing behind my back. The woman who is the reason you get home later and later every day. Don’t tell me it’s because you put in extra hours at work, we both know that to be a lie.” Her voice was accusing and her eyes sparkled with rage.

“I am not seeing another woman Ginny. You know that I have to work longer hours because we’ve been so busy with the anti-Death Eater hate boiling up again.” He replied calmly, this lie coming out much more smoothly than the one he’d told only a moment ago. A tiny voice at the back of his head piped up and wondered why he even bothered.

“It’s that feisty secretary of yours, isn’t it?” She yelled as if he hadn’t said anything. Oh, so they were yelling already. It was going to be one of those fights then. Resigned to his fate he tried to calm her down, knowing full well that it was no use. They assumed their respective roles far too easily these days.

“Ginny, are you even listening to yourself? I am not sleeping with my secretary. And do you know why you can be sure of that? I don’t even have one!” He sounded more annoyed than he’d expected.

She slammed her mug onto the table, as she got up and pointed an accusing finger at him, spilling what was obviously cold tea everywhere in the process, even on the pages of her open book, which Harry now realised actually was the novel he was currently reading.

“Ron told me that he returned to your office the other day because he’d forgotten some files he needed for a report he was writing, the same office mind you, that you were supposedly working overtime in. He said you were nowhere in sight, your coat and bag were gone and your desk looked like it does every morning, not like you had been working at it for hours. How can I not think that you are having an affair Harry! Tell me where you were and make it good!”

Telling Ginny what he’d actually been doing at this time wasn’t an option at all. She’d never understand anyway and he was sick and tired of having to put up with her jealousy and constantly having to justify himself for his actions. Finally acknowledging a decision he’d made weeks previously, he sighed and dragged a hand over his face in a gesture of exhaustion.

“Look Ginny, I don’t think this is working anymore. This hasn’t been working for me for a long time. We should just admit to ourselves that it’s over and move on with our lives. You cannot tell me that you are happy with the way things are between us. We hardly see each other and when we do, all we do is fight. So let’s not and just call it a day, alright?”

For the first time in months, Ginny appeared to not have a come-back. His revelation seemed to have been the last thing she’d expected. The accusing finger she still pointed at him wavered and looked like the needle in an indecisive compass.

“You don’t mean that!” Her voice sounded shocked.

The irony of having the very words he’d uttered towards the person that had somehow become the centre of his existence in the last year, addressed to him by the person who was the reason those words had to be uttered in the first place wasn’t lost on Harry.

“I do mean it, all of it. Look Ginny, I am really tired, could you please just leave. I’ll owl you or something to let you know when I’ve packed up your things so you can come over and pick them up.” Not that there were that many, he thought absently.

“You’ll regret this Harry, I promise you, you’ll regret those words! And don’t you dare come crawling back to me if she realises what an ass you are and won’t have you anymore!” She shouted as she rushed from the room, grabbing her coat as she went and slamming the front door behind her. The resounding crash still reverberated around the house when the rain of tiny flecks of plaster falling from the wall and ceilings ceased, making the hallway look like it had been hit by a miniature blizzard.

Harry was sure he’d seen tears in her eyes as she brushed past him, but right now he was too tired and worried to care.

He knew she was right of course; he would regret this, but not because of the reasons she anticipated. He would regret the strain this break-up would put on his relationship with Ron and the Weasleys in general. Ginny would probably manage to convince at least Molly that he was seeing someone else. Molly would lean on Ron to get Harry to abandon this way of living, getting Hermione on his case in the process. Constant nagging would become a fixture in his life for the next few months, but at least he wouldn’t have to put up with Ginny’s temper tantrums anymore.

Absently covering a huge yawn with his hand, he decided he would clean up the mess she’d made in the kitchen tomorrow and headed for the shower instead.

Feeling the hot spray hit his back was heaven. The tension of the last few days finally lessened and at last some of his worries washed away with the suds of soap that ran down his body. He followed their path with his eyes as they formed little flower shapes on the floor of the bathtub only to gaily dance several Ring-Around-The-Rosies around the drain before disappearing from sight.

His night was filled with bad dreams again like they had been every night when Voldemort was still alive. These dreams were different though, in these dreams he couldn’t save anyone. The Sectumsempra he cast would kill Draco; the fiendfyre would devour everyone and everything he loved, leaving him the sole survivor. The most often recurring image however was that of Draco’s eyes, as his body sank beneath dark waters. He couldn’t forget those grey eyes filled with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and resignation.

When Harry awoke just before dawn, his sheets and pyjamas were drenched in cold sweat. He quickly showered and then made his way downstairs, spelling away the mess from the night before. Looking at the soiled book, Harry gave it up as a lost cause and threw it away. It had been so long since he’d last sat down and read it that he couldn’t even remember what the book was about.

Work was an uneventful affair that day. For the first time in months he actually knocked off early and made his way to the polyjuice archive. Under the pretence of having to choose several disguises for a field assignment he perused the wide variety of Muggle hair available, looking at the photographs that were attached to the respective files. He chose several hairs at random. At the front desk he requested and then signed for a batch of a dozen phials of polyjuice potion. Letting the phials slide into his jacket pockets, Harry began contemplating which hair he should use first.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

He splashed cold water into his face, trying to calm his shaking hands. Watching his reflection in the mirror and following the rivulets of water slowly trickling down his face with his eyes, Harry realized that he was scared. Scared of what the future held, scared for Draco’s life and most of all scared of how far this obsession would take him.

It was one thing to stand guard over Draco in his invisibility cloak but using the ministry’s resources to follow him was completely insane. If he got caught, he would be drummed out of the ministry for sure. And then what would he be? A failed Auror, a failed hero and just another victim of the war that got left behind, because he was unable to adapt to the rapidly changing world around him. If he wasn’t an Auror anymore, how would he be able to protect Draco? His insides clenched painfully at the prospect.

He believed what he’d told Draco after the trial: they had to help create this new world and to make it better, but sometimes, when he was alone the responsibility of it all weighed him down. Nobody had said that life after the war would be easy and Harry hadn’t expected it to be. However, he’d hoped for a sense of closure or at least some form of minor happiness. Instead of the sense of equilibrium he longed for, all he felt was a disturbing aimlessness. He felt adrift between the old and the new world and sometimes he wondered whether this new world was going to be that much better than the old one, having left him with a sometimes overwhelming feeling of purposelessness and not much else.

Harry conjured a small towel to dry his hands and face. These musings were heading nowhere. He’d already procured the potion, maybe the fact that he planned to use it for his private purposes wouldn’t be discovered or maybe they would be lenient because of his “hero status”.

With his worry for Draco finally triumphing over his guilt, Harry picked an ash-blond hair and added it to the first phial he’d encountered in his pocket. The small glass container was filled with enough polyjuice potion to last for approximately two hours. Making sure he had enough time to make it to the park ahead of Draco, Harry downed the potion, making a face, first at the disgusting taste in his mouth and then at the slightly uncomfortable feeling of changing into another person. Checking his reflection in the mirror, he brushed his now chin-long ash-blond hair behind his ears and stowed his glasses inside his bag. He changed into plain Muggle clothing, stuffing his Auror robes and cloak into his bag beside the invisibility cloak and the sandwich that was supposed to have been his lunch but that he had been too nervous to eat. Donning a knee-length pale grey coat he checked his reflection in the mirror, when he was finally satisfied that all traces of Harry Potter were gone, he left the ministry and apparated to the park.

It wasn’t hard to find a bench that provided a good view onto what Harry in his mind had started to refer to as “Draco’s bench.” The man he’d been secretly following for weeks wouldn’t be able to see him and even if he did, the chance of recognition was minimal.

When Draco finally arrived, Harry’s heart sped up. Only around Draco did he feel truly alive. With a pang he realised yet again what he’d lost, when Draco didn’t even look up like he usually did but appeared to be even more engrossed in staring at the phial in his hand. Staring at Draco’s tense form, his previous thoughts returned. Protecting Draco filled him with a sense of purpose like nothing else did. Everything he did acquired meaning and what he’d lost in the war didn’t feel like such a pointless sacrifice anymore.

Harry followed Draco to his flat in plain sight that night. When they reached Draco’s front door, the man turned around and spotted Harry who then tried to inconspicuously read the bus schedule right beside him.

He could see Draco fumbling with his keys, frantically trying to open the door. Harry could tell that he’d been caught; Merlin, then again he’d always been shite at undercover work. Glancing from the bus schedule to Draco’s retreating form, he wondered whether this had been such a good idea. Draco had seemed genuinely scared and that hadn’t been his intention at all. Staring at the dark glass of the heavy oak front door, he imagined Draco standing in the hallway staring back at him. Shaking his head at such a ridiculous notion (the man was probably enjoying a nice cup of tea inside his flat by now), Harry disapparated.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

His nightmares haunted him even at work and he found he couldn’t concentrate on the case file he was supposed to be reading. When he’d arrived at the office that morning, Ron, who’d finally returned from an assignment that had taken him abroad for several weeks, had wordlessly handed him a cup of coffee and said they’d talk about “it” later.

Harry tried to focus on the file on his desk, but his attention would drift and he caught himself several times staring into the distance, recalling how the spark of life had faded in those beautiful grey eyes as the dark water closed over him.

It was only when Harry picked up his mug to take another sip of coffee that he realised it was empty. Grumbling he got up and went to the small staff kitchen two doors down from his office to refill his mug.

Hot coffee with a splash of milk and two spoons of sugar in hand, he made his way back. Placing the mug on his desk almost reverently, he stared at the trail of steam rising from the mug as if the coffee was trying to reach a higher level of consciousness by ascending to the heavens or in this case the office room ceiling.

After reading the first two paragraphs of the report in front of him for the fifth consecutive time without any of it managing to even remotely penetrate Harry gave up. Exasperated, he dropped the report onto his desk and closed the file. Maybe he would be able to concentrate better if he stretched his legs for a bit. Mind finally made up, Harry dropped a note on Ron’s desk and left.

It was almost too late to turn back when, after wandering the halls and corridors of the ministry aimlessly for what seemed like hours, Harry realised where his less than faithful extremities had taken him. While he’d let his mind wander, they’d apparently decided to walk along the same path they took every day after work, when it was time for Draco to go home. He found himself in front of the entrance to the “Magical Blueprint and Building Planning Library” and as he’d never been inside, decided to take a look. This wasn’t about seeing Draco, no, not about that at all. It didn’t even take the little voice at the back of his head asking who he thought he was kidding to let Harry acknowledge that it was entirely about seeing him.

The library was incredibly dark, every corridor, even the one leading to the front desk was lined with shelves laden down with scrolls. The shelves reached from the floor to a ceiling that was much higher than it should have been considering the basement of the ministry wasn’t built like a cathedral. A warm yellow glow chased away the darkness in one corner and reflected warmly on the white blond hair of a man currently entirely engrossed in his work.

Harry took a careful step forward, not wanting to startle the man in front of him, racking his brain for why he might have wanted to come here.

Suddenly Draco froze and looked up at him expectantly, he must have made a noise he thought. When Harry didn’t speak, Draco politely inquired how he could be of assistance, stressing Harry’s rank and title.

Panicking Harry’s mouth spilled forth a jumbled mess of words that somehow revolved around Grimmauld Place and him needing to have a look at the plans. He was so busy berating himself for the bullshit his excited mind had come up with that he didn’t even hear what Draco said in reply. When the man started to walk towards the shelves behind his desk, Harry followed him, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Why does the man have to be so beautiful, Harry thought desperately as he found his eyes drawn toward the perfectly shaped buttocks clad in tailored trouser again, like they had been so many times before. He still remembered what they felt like under his hands, remembered the scent of Draco’s skin and hair and how it felt having that lovely warm body pressed against his. For the life of him he couldn’t remember why at the time he’d thought that this wasn’t what he’d wanted.

Lost in thought, he didn’t notice when Draco stopped and almost knocked him over.

Draco spoke sharply with him and Harry mumbled an apology, finally voicing his desire to speak to Draco again.

“Potter, as much as I enjoy your company, I have work to do, I don’t have time for private conversations.” Draco said. That stung. Not as much as the “Potter” did when it had been “Harry” in the past. He only wished Draco would give him the chance to talk to him, let Harry touch him again, kiss him and maybe be with him.

He didn’t pay any attention to what Draco said next, something about cataloguing systems, only looked at him, unable to school his features into a mask of indifference, instead displaying his feelings of hurt and betrayal for all the world to see. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

When they appeared to have reached their destination, Harry was quiet, not knowing what to say and at the same time not ready to take another verbal battering from the man in front of him. He watched Draco select several scrolls, levitate them onto a nearby table and inspect them. As Draco bent over the table, Harry’s mind filled with all the possibilities on how this could have gone, if things were different between them.

As Draco returned the scrolls to their rightful place, apparently not having found the one Harry had requested, Harry tried to think of things to say to Draco to let him know how things stood, how he felt and that he was sorry. When Draco reached up to take down one of the scrolls from the upper shelf, his shirt got pulled out of his trousers and a patch of smooth pale skin was revealed at his lower back. Harry didn’t notice taking several steps forward but suddenly he found himself face to face with Draco who was still clutching the scroll he’d just liberated.

Harry stared into Draco’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity before taking another unconscious step forward and crowding him into the shelf finally close enough to inhale the glorious scent of Draco’s skin. Cutting off Draco’s protest with his lips, Harry poured everything he’d wanted to express in words, but couldn’t into the kiss. He was desperately trying to recreate all the moments from their shared past in this single kiss. Draco was tense and unresponsive under his onslaught but this only caused Harry to try harder, he had to get through to Draco that he still mattered, that they still did.

The breath rushed out of his lungs as he painfully connected with the shelves behind him and then suddenly found himself on the floor, with scrolls tumbling down from above and hitting him on the head. He stared up at Draco who at the same time wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, as if he was trying to remove a taint Harry had left there. And finally Harry understood that this would never happen. Draco wanted to remove all traces of him, of what he’d so carelessly abandoned back when he’d thought other things mattered more. This was all his fault, but why wouldn’t Draco let him explain, why wouldn’t he let him make things right again?

“This is your scroll Potter, take it and get out.”

“Draco, I…” Harry began, wanting to say he was sorry, sorry for messing everything up, for his cowardice and for not standing up for Draco when it’d mattered.

“Take it and get out, get out now before I forget myself!” The crumpled scroll was forced into his hands. Harry sat there slumped on the floor, leaning against the shelf and watching Draco’s retreating form as he stalked off into the darkness. How will I ever be able to make things right again, he wondered? After many long minutes he finally got up, took his scroll and left the library. He took the long way around, hoping to spot Draco at his desk one last time before he left, but apparently having anticipated his move Draco was nowhere to be seen. Sighing, Harry made his way back to his office in despondent silence.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

When he took the potion that night, he didn’t even check what colour the hair in his hand was before swallowing down potion and hair in one smooth gulp.

The park was cold and dark and he was early. Harry began to pace to try and keep himself warm and to get rid of the agitation that was starting to cloud his judgement. Why had he kissed Draco, who so obviously had wanted to remove all reminders of them together from his life? The answer was as simple as it was disturbing: because it had made him feel better than he had felt in weeks, because seeing Draco every day but not being able to touch him was a poor substitute for having Draco safely wrapped in his arms. Even having an unresponsive Draco close to him had felt better than this forced restraint. At least there’d been recognition in his eyes. Harry was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he almost didn’t notice when Draco arrived.

Harry could barely make out the phial from where he stood across the flowerbed. He wanted to walk up to Draco and demand to know what was in it that kept him so engrossed every time he took the thing out. But of course he couldn’t just walk up to him, being polyjuiced as a ginger-haired bloke and all. A cold wind was blowing through the park when Draco finally caught him staring across the flower bed.

Draco seemed flustered as he made his way home more quickly than Harry had ever seen him; he almost had trouble keeping up. The scene from the night before repeated itself Harry pretending to read the bus schedule, Draco being even more fidgety with his keys and almost dropping them, before disappearing into the house. Glancing at the house that contained everything he wanted in this world, Harry sighed deeply and disapparated.

~.o.O.0.O.o.~

Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was dark, cold and empty when he unlocked the door. Ginny it appeared hadn’t been back, not that he had expected her to. The old house had never felt less like home than it did now. He’d always thought his home after the war would be bright and beautiful, filled with his friends and their laughter. Maybe life after the war and growing up is all about letting go of one’s dreams, he thought. Then again, he wasn’t willing to let all of them go that easily.

He trudged up the stairs, changed and went to sleep. As soon as he closed his eyes, his nightmares returned with force, leaving him trembling and covered in cold sweat if he managed to wake up at all, before his alarm went off, informing him that it was time to go back to work.

Recurring nightmares made Harry’s life a living hell for the next few weeks. The only ray of light in his otherwise bleak life was the times he spent watching Draco to make sure that he was okay. He’d abandoned the idea of polyjuice potion after seeing what effect spotting him had had on Draco.

From the look of it, it seemed as if neither of them was getting enough sleep.

As the anniversary of their conversation outside the courtroom drew ever closer, Harry continued to worry. Nothing seemed to have changed in Draco’s attitude towards the new world. He still refused to be part of it, refused Harry’s owls and seemed to be more and more convinced that he’d get to take the easy way out in the end.

Harry followed Draco home every day worried the man would break the promise he’d made, it hadn’t been an unbreakable vow after all. When the anniversary finally came around, Harry knew something was wrong the minute Draco didn’t show up at the park. He’d taken to carrying his invisibility cloak with him at all times in case he’d have to quickly disappear from sight but still stick around unseen.

Every room in Draco’s flat appeared to be flooded with light when Harry arrived outside the plain building and all the curtains were drawn. He could see a single shape moving around the flat, walking from one room to the next and looking more relaxed than he’d had in days. Harry waited for Draco to turn off the lights and go to bed so he himself could retire, but Draco didn’t appear to be wanting to be that forthcoming.

Something was wrong, he could feel it in his gut. It wasn’t like Draco to be staying up this late. Harry covered himself with the cloak, cast a hasty Alohomora on the door and walked through the dark entrance hall up to the second floor.

He stopped in front of Draco’s flat and thought about what he was about to do. If his gut instinct was wrong, he’d be breaking and entering. His Auror career would be over because Draco would never agree to keep this quiet. Worry gnawed at him because no noise came from within the flat. Before he could change his mind, he started to dismantle the wards. The feat done, he unlocked the door and slipped inside the unfamiliar flat.

It took him a moment to get his bearings before he could start searching room by room. He found Draco sitting at the kitchen table dressed in his best robes, holding the small phial like he was holding a glass of exquisite wine. Harry almost jumped out of his skin when Draco began to address the empty air in a festive voice, holding the phial up as if he was about to deliver a toast to an invisible audience. It was the creepiest thing Harry had ever experienced.

“Well, Potter, congratulations on saving the world, on vanquishing the darkest wizard of all time. Thanks for trying to save me, even though I didn’t deserve it. Here’s to you, may you be happy with the life you chose and may you be able to forgive me for not letting you save me this time.”

It took too long for Harry to figure out what Draco had meant by that. He could only watch as Draco downed the entire contents of the phial. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, Draco toasting to his audience, the contraction of his throat as he swallowed and his form slowly slumping forward as his hands slipped off the table.

Harry rushed forward in a panic, but the distance seemed to stretch into infinity. By the time Harry reached Draco’s slumped form, he’d already lost consciousness.

“Draco! Merlin no! Please no! What have you done?” Harry yelled, his pain and panic evident, dragging Draco’s lifeless form to the floor cradling him to his chest as tears streamed down his face.

His voice was almost inaudible as he whispered. “Please don’t leave me, I love you!”

TBC